Monday, December 31, 2012

Plenty Of Blame To Go Around

Today is Monday, December 31, 2012…the day the country OFFICIALLY steps to the edge of the fiscal cliff.
For those of you who may have a life outside politics; the fiscal cliff is a combination of self imposed spending cuts and tax increases designed to scare the beejeezus out of legislators and force them to deal substantively with the country’s debt and deficit.  Naturally, Washington has waited until the eleventh hour to have any meaningful dialogue on the matter.  Consequently, as the midnight deadline approaches, it appears that the final episode of the 112th Congressional Clown Show will produce little more than a temporary agreement to keep middle class tax cuts from rising while tabling the core issues of our fiscal mess (defense, entitlements, tax reform) until the debt ceiling debate in February.
We cannot express strongly enough how utterly irresponsible this congress has been in legislating this matter.
This problem was a decade in the making.  It started when the Bush administration passed the infamous “Bush Tax Cuts” without establishing any means to pay for them. 
The Obama administration continued this flawed policy by extending the expiring tax cuts for an additional two years while once again making no effort to offset them with spending cuts.    In an effort to bring the matter to a conclusion congress agreed to the “sequestration” tax increases and spending cuts that are set to take effect at midnight tonight.  This “fiscal cliff’ deadline was set two years ago.  For two years we have watched Washington lawmakers avoid the issue; placing their own political self interest ahead of the well being of the country.
The truth of the matter is no one in Washington…from the president on down…is willing to make the tough political decisions necessary to place our fiscal house in order.
Once upon a time the president established the Simpson-Bowles Commission to develop a plan to reduce our debt and deficit.  But when the commission published its findings the president barely cracked the spine on the report.
The Republicans ripped the president for ignoring the findings of his own commission.  They praised Simpson-Bowles as sound basis for curing the county’s financial woes.  But when it came time to negotiate they ran away from the $2.6 trillion in revenue increases in the SB report and offered the president a meager $800 billion.
Democrats in congress say they are serious about reducing the debt.  But they won’t touch three of the four biggest drivers of our long term financial obligations: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Republicans in congress say they are serious about reducing the debt.  But they continue to feed a bloated defense budget; ordering aircraft, missiles and vessels that the pentagon says they don’t want or need.  All to cater to local defense contractors back home.
Democrats want to solve our financial problems by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans…even though the increased revenue from those tax increases will only run the country for 7 or 8 days.
Republicans say they don’t want to raise taxes on anyone.  Yet they are willing to watch taxes go up on everyone rather than raise the rates on 2% of Americans while keeping rates the same for the remaining 98% of the country.
So how does this happen? 
Tom Brokaw says it happens because: “The system is rigged.  Seventy-five percent of the members of congress come from gerrymandered districts in which they are bulletproof.”  In other words they are more concerned with local politics and their prospects for re-election than they are the national good.
Republican Senator Tom Coburn says that it happens:” Because congress no longer functions the way the founders intended.  Deals are done in backrooms.  It used to be that bills were brought to the floor.  They were amended and then voted on.  If the passed they were sent to the other chamber…where they were amended.  They went to conference.  And then they were sent to the president for signature.  But that doesn’t happen anymore.  Bills aren’t put on the floor because everyone is afraid to cast a vote that may get them sent back home.”
We agree that both of these scenarios are instrumental in developing the gridlock that permeates Washington.  We also believe that there is a lack of leadership.  Boehner and Reid have combined to make this 112th congress the most inept and impotent congress in our history.  But the president must shoulder his part of the blame as well.  It’s not enough to be right on policy.  You have to sell it.  And while we understand that this president is loathe crawling into the trenches of everyday politics…that’s his job.
But the blame for our financial difficulties does not stem solely from Washington politics and gridlock.  The American people must bear their share of the blame as well. Because it is the American people who penalize Democrats if they dare suggest modifications to entitlements.  It is the American people who penalize Republicans if they dare to raise taxes. 
The ugly truth of the matter is that the American people have demonstrated that they are more than willing to “saddle our children with the burden of our debt” if the debt reducing alternative is the elimination of programs or the reduction of benefits that they receive now. 
How does this happen?
There is plenty of blame to go around.    


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Boehner Still Holds The Key

Today is December 26th.  Only five days remain before the country goes over the fiscal cliff.
One would think that our illustrious members of congress would be in Washington feverishly working out a deal that would save the country from another recession. 
Sadly that is not the case.  Most of them are still at home, enjoying their families and trying to explain to their constituents why their membership in the most unproductive congress in US history matters. 
Speaker Boehner has withdrawn from the fiscal cliff negotiations having suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of his own party.  He says that it is now up to the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to craft a plan that will be able to pass the gridlock of the House.
Not so fast my orange friend.
While Boehner might like to wash his hands of this whole mess it is he and he alone who will decide if we go over that cliff. 
You see, no matter what the president and Harry Reid cobble together it is certain to include a tax increase.  And the Tea Party members of Boehner’s caucus say that they will never, ever, ever vote for anything that includes an increase in taxes.  So the only way this gets done before the cliff jumping begins is for Reid and Obama to put together a bill that passes the Democrat controlled Senate.  Then Boehner must be willing to call for a House vote on the bill that includes a small handful of moderate Republicans who are willing to vote for passage with the House Democrats.  Boehner has vowed that he will not call for a vote on ANY bill unless it is supported by a majority of his Republican caucus. 
So unless Boehner is able to control the Tea Party radicals or is willing to go back on his vow…nothing will pass.
Happy Holidays!          

Friday, December 21, 2012

NRA: Arm The Schools

The NRA promised to provide us with “meaningful contributions that would prevent tragedies like the Sandy Hook murders from ever happening again.”
This morning, in one of the most self serving and bizarre news conferences that we have ever witnessed, NRA Executive Director Wayne LaPierre told us that the way to stop events like Sandy Hook from ever happening again is to provide armed security at every school in America.

(NOTE: There WAS an armed security guard on site at the time of the Columbine shooting.)  
Mr. LaPierre called on congress and local authorities to provide the funding that would put armed guards at each and every school in America by the time the children return from their holiday vacations.  He noted that the NRA sponsors a nationally acclaimed security training program that they would be willing to offer free of charge.
Mr. LaPierre said that: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”

As one pundit noted: "According to the NRA, the way to protect our children is to marshall an army of George Zimmerman's and turn them loose in our schools."
At no time did Mr. LaPierre address the assault weapons or the place they play in the proliferation of violence in our country.  In fact he blamed the media for propagating the unfounded vilification of assault weapons and the individuals who own them.  Mr. LaPierre attributed the cause of the mass shootings to deranged monsters and the media that glorifies them.  He also blamed the entertainment industry that produces graphically violent video games and once again the media for failing to report on the affects of these videos on our children.  Finally he blamed the parents who allow their children to watch these videos.
Mr. LaPierre took no questions and was interrupted twice by protestors carrying signs.
It is hard for us to know where to start.
First of all mass murders like Sandy Hook do not just occur in schools. If we are to follow Mr. LaPierre’s logic then we should have armed guards at every mall, cinema, grocery store, church, temple, mosque, civic center etc.  Are we to become an armed society where everyone carries a gun as a matter of course?  In Mr. LaPierre’s world…yes.
Second, the United States of America is not the only country that produces violent video games.  Japan and Great Britain produce the vast majority of violent video games viewed worldwide. Yet their gun related instances are infinitesimal when compared to ours.  Could it be that is because they have very stringent gun laws?
Finally, we are not the only nation that has citizens that are mentally challenged.  Once again their gun related instances pale in comparison to ours.
Our violent crime rates are off the charts compared to those in every other industrialized country.  The only difference is the proliferation of firearms in our society.  Mr. LaPierre would like to see that number increase.
This was not a press conference.  It was an advertisement on behalf of the NRA presented by a cold, self serving man who is out of touch with the majority of Americans.
The Republican Party dances to the tune of the NRA.  Their members court “A” ratings from the NRA and count on NRA funding for their campaigns.  Republicans are so in bed with the NRA that they have remained noticeably silent on the Sandy Hook shootings this week awaiting today’s much anticipated words of wisdom.
Now Republicans have their marching orders.
The way to combat the proliferation gun violence in our society is by increasing the proliferation of guns in our society. Brilliant!
This is the "meaningful contribution" that the NRA waited a week to tell us...the same nonsense that they preach after every gun related tragedy.  Their answer to gun violence is to put more guns on the streets.

Congratulations to Wayne LaPierre and the NRA.  With today's out of touch tone deaf "press conference" you may have galvinized the anti-gun community in a way that they have never been galvinized before.  


Tea Party Crazies Embarrass Boehner Again.

John Boehner’s “Plan B” is now history.
Speaker Boehner was unable to take his “Plan B” proposal to the floor when it became clear that he didn’t have the votes within his own caucus to pass the measure.  An embarrassed and severely weakened speaker sent his caucus home for the Christmas holiday with no indication as to when they might meet again.
The speaker will hold a press conference today during which he is expected to wash his hands of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations.  He will say that it is now the responsibility of the president and the Democrats in the Senate to put together a package that will avoid the cliff.
“Plan B” was a bad plan that was poorly executed by the speaker.  You never call for a vote on a bill unless you have first counted noses to make sure that it will pass.  Speaker Boehner misinterpreted the willingness of 30-40 Tea Party members to put their partisan ideology ahead of the will of the country.  He thought that by publically announcing that the House would pass his “Plan B” he and other party moderates could persuade the Tea Party coalition to come along for the good of the party.  He was wrong.  He is without question one of the most ineffective speakers in our history exceeded only by the impotence of the do nothing House chamber over which he presides.
Now it will be up to Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell and the president to put together a plan that can pass the Senate.  That WILL happen.  Then it will be up to Boehner and House Republicans to decide whether or not the country will move forward or go over the fiscal cliff.
The Republican Party is in disarray, held hostage by Grover Norquist, the NRA and a small minority of Tea Party crazies that would rather see the country crash and burn than give up in their ideological dogma.  They are tone deaf to the will of the country.  Instead of talking about taxes and jobs and small government conservative values that have stood the test of time they talk about birth certificates, contraception, gay marriage, fair pay and self deportation. 
A year ago Boehner and the president had worked out a deal that was far better for Republicans than the one currently on the table.  But when Boehner took it to his caucus the Tea Party crew shot it down.  We now know that last Monday the speaker and the president had worked out the frame work of another compromise.  Once again the radical right forced the speaker to walk away.  And last night they embarrassed Boehner once again.  This is not a political party with a distinctive brand and a set of core values.  It is a little more than a gaggle of warring factions fueled by blind ideology and the desire to preserve their jobs come Election Day.
Consider that one week ago Adam Lanza took the lives of 26 people…20 of them 6-7 year olds.  One week later…in the wake of one of the most horrible tragedies in American history…we have heard nothing from the leadership of the Republican Party. 
The NRA has scheduled a news conference this morning where they promise to put forth a strategy that will stop instances like the Sandy Hook shooting from ever happening again.  This morning Joe Scarborough, former four term conservative Republican congressman and current host of MSNBC’s  “Morning Joe” revealed that he had reached out to several of his Republican friends including members of party leadership and asked them to appear on his show to discuss gun control.  He was told:  “we can’t talk to you until the NRA holds its news conference.”
From our prospective…that says it all.
The Republican Party is on the verge of irrelevance held hostage by a radical few. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Houston...We Have A Problem"

Just when it looked like Democrats and Republicans were close to a deal that would avoid the “fiscal cliff” the wheels came off the wagon.
The president campaigned on the promise of raising taxes on those individuals making over $200,000 and those families making over $250,000.  He said he would not budge on that promise.  Then he did; raising the number to $400,000.  And there is little doubt that he would go to $500,000 if that cemented the deal. 
The president said the he would not place the burden of avoiding the fiscal cliff on the backs of the middle class while giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires.  Then he did; agreeing to Republican demands to adjust the cost of living indexes for entitlement programs…a move that will save the government about a trillion dollars in benefit payments over the next decade.
He said that he would reach out to the business community to get their pulse on the changes needed to revive the economy and create jobs.  Then he did; hosting a number of industry leaders at the White House.  As a result, CEO's who had previously opposed the president’s efforts to reach an economic deal are now firmly in his corner.  CEO’s want a deal; even if it means that they pay higher taxes.  Certainty trumps tax rates.
The president says that he has met the Republicans half way.  By any measure he is correct.  You know that the president has given in on some of his core issues by the savage attacks he is receiving from his own base.
So where are the Republicans?
The president was expecting some type of counteroffer to his $400,000 proposal.  Instead Boehner announced that the House would vote today on a bill that kept the Bush tax cuts in place for all but those making over $1,000,000…period…a plan the speaker refers o as “Plan B.”  Eric Cantor then added to the mess with $200 billion in spending cuts that slashed the social safety net.
If passed in the House this “Plan B” has no chance of passing the Senate.  And even if it does the president has pledged to veto it. 
So what is Boehner doing?
Basically trying to save his speakership.
Boehner doesn’t really care about going over the fiscal cliff.  What he cares about is avoiding a deal today that may cost him his speaker ship when his caucus votes on the matter on January 3rd.  So he proposes this $1,000,000 bill with two thoughts in mind.  If it passes the House Boehner can say that he has his caucus in line and that he is in a stronger position to debate the president on cutting expenses and raising the debt ceiling.  If the bill fails he may look weaker; but he is gambling that when the country goes over the fiscal cliff Americans will place the blame on the Democrats and the president for shooting down legislation that raises taxes on millionaires.  Meanwhile he will have bought the time he needs to secure his speakership and the bargaining power to reach a more favorable deal with the president.  Boehner is taking a big gamble here.  He wants to keep his speakership.  But to do that he has to bow to the far right in his caucus who have yet to get the message that the president won the election.  Essentially Boehner is putting his speakership ahead of the will of the people. 
If you look at the proposals on the table the two sides are about $250 billion apart over ten years.  That’s chicken feed.  There is a deal to be made.  But Boehner still has the problem of getting his caucus in line.  Many of his more conservative members still refuse to raise taxes under any circumstances.  In the end Boehner may find himself forced to do something her really doesn’t want to do…bring a bill to the floor that passes the House with only a bare minimum of Republican votes.  If that happens before the end of the year Boehner’s days as speaker may be drawing to an end.
Elections matter.  The president has the country’s support and the very large megaphone of the bully pulpit.  The business community is on board.  And in the country has little patience for ideological pettiness in wake of the Connecticut shootings.  Everyone wants a deal…now.
Houston...Speaker Boehner has a problem.         

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

This & That!

WHERE ARE THE REPUBLICANS?  The Republican Party has been very quiet these past few days on the issue of gun control.  As the groundswell of support for banning assault weapons and extended capacity clips grows Republican legislators seem to have retreated into hidey holes.  Surely, in the after math of the murders of 20 6-7 year olds Republicans could find it within their hearts to ban weapons that are intended for use in war.  Joe Manchin had the courage to speak out as did a few conservatives in the media.   But by and large Republican legislators have been silent.  Perhaps they are awaiting their marching orders from the NRA.  The NRA has promised to release a major policy statement this Friday.  Then Republicans will know what to do.  Stay tuned.
LOOKING TOWARD 2016!  While we wait for Republicans to do the right thing on gun control there are a few who have chosen a very different path.  Republican Texas Governor Rick Social Security is a ponzi scheme Perry Virginia Governor Bob trans-vaginal ultra sound McDonald have decided that the best way to protect our children is to arm their teachers.  They are seconded in this brilliant strategy by the always ridiculous Republican Congressman from Texas; Louis Ghomert.  Both governors are eyeing White House bids in 2016.  They are most definitely GOP presidential material.  And what could be better than having the support of a lunatic like Ghomert.
WHERE IS JOHN McCAIN? The AP reports that an independent panel charged with investigating the September 11 attack in Libya that killed a US ambassador and three other Americans has concluded that “systematic management and leadership failures at the State Department” led to “grossly inadequate security” at the mission in Benghazi.  In other words…the blame for the death of four Americans lies at the feet of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her management team.  Now that we have the results of this independent study; why haven’t we heard from Senator John McCain?  The good senator was more than willing to eviscerate UN Ambassador Susan Rice for her accounting of the attack on the Sunday news shows; even though he knew full well that she had nothing to do with the security measures at the Benghazi mission.  But he seems unwilling to level the same diatribe at Secretary Clinton; the person ultimately accountable for the tragedy.  Could it be that McCain’s torpedoing of Rice’s nomination as Clinton’s replacement was simply payback for he attacks on him during the 2008 campaign.  Or could it be that he knows that attacking the powerful and popular Hillary Clinton would destroy his already marginal hope of retaining any position of power within the Senate?  Senator McCain is a war hero who has served his country with honor. We salute his years of service.  But he is also a grumpy old man who is still bitter over his campaign loss to the president and the part Ambassador Rice played in his defeat. 
SPEAKING OF HILLARY CLINTON…  Mrs. Clinton, succumbing to the effects of dehydration, fainted last week and suffered a concussion from the fall.  She was schedule to appear before Congress tomorrow to answer questions on the attacks on the Benghazi mission.  Her office has informed Congress that she is still recuperating and will be unable to testify.  State Department officials William Burns and Thomas Nides will appear in her place.  Hmmmm...  Football players get their bell rung all the time and are back on the field the next day…  We’re just sayin’.  The last time somebody substituted for Clinton to answer questions on Benghazi it didn’t go so well.  Burns and Hides might want to get some pointers from Susan Rice.                            

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

This Is A Time For Action...Not Politics

As the city of Newtown begins to bury it’s innocent we can’t help but feel the some good will come from this horrible tragedy.
We are encouraged by the conversation coming out of Washington regarding the use of firearms and the role they play in the culture of violence that is pervasive in our society.  For too many years the words “gun control” could not be uttered without an avalanche of defensive rhetoric from the far right and the NRA.  But yesterday the NRA website went dark and pro gun advocates have remained silent.  In fact several notable guns rights advocates like Mark Warner and Joe Manchin said that the time had come to discuss sensible gun control laws. 
There are still those on the fringe who believe that once gun control advocates succeed in passing even minimal gun control legislation it is only a matter of time before the government starts confiscating their guns.  Frankly that is plain ‘bs.”  No one is talking about taking away their right to own a hand gun.  But Warner Manchin and others have stated clearly that there is simply no need to own an arsenal that includes semi-automatic assault rifles and extended capacity magazines.
We are also encouraged that the discussion is not just about guns but also about how we deal with mental illness and the role the entertainment industry and parenting plays in the in the growth of violence in our country.  
As the days pass and we learn more we can see in hindsight how all three may have played a part in the Newtown tragedy.  We know the Adam Lanza had some behavioral issues.  We know that his mother and first victim, Nancy Lanza was deeply concerned about his mental state.  We know that Adam spent hours alone playing video games typical of young male adolescents. And we know that Nancy Lanza was a gun enthusiast who owned several firearms and that she often took Adam to the local firing range to shoot.  Finally, we know that the guns that this mentally challenged young man used in the assault were legally owned by Nancy Lanza.
Certainly there are questions that have to be asked.  Why would a parent who is concerned about their child’s mental health allow and even encourage that child’s use of firearms?  Was Nancy Lanza able to find the professional help she needed given that we have greatly reduced the number of available mental health facilities due to lack of funding?  What role did Adam’s endless hours of watching violent video games play in desensitizing him toward the realities of violence?
We may never know the answers to the questions…but we have to keep asking if we are to prevent these tragedies from happening again.  No single piece of legislation will stop the epidemic of gun violence in our country.  But we have to come together to find a comprehensive solution. 
There is a change in tone and rhetoric in Washington that is palpable.  It provides the president with a window of opportunity to make a real difference in the culture of violence that has become systemic in our society.  The president needs to act and act quickly to put forth a comprehensive plan that will begin to curb violence in our country.
The country has made it clear that enough is enough.  The opposition has been silenced.  It is time for the president to lead.  But he must act quickly before this opportunity dissipates like it has so many times before.

Monday, December 17, 2012

This Feels Different!

“We can’t tolerate this anymore.  These tragedies must end.  And to end them we must change.  We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true.  No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.  But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.  Surely we can do better than this.  If there is even one step that we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and Communities from columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.  In the coming weeks I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”
The president addressed the mourners in Newtown, Connecticut last night and with these words called on the nation to change a culture of violence that has been metastasizing within our society.
Certainly we have witnessed tragedies similar to this before.  We have heard the rhetorical drumbeat for change.  But this feels different.  Perhaps it is the age of the innocent victims.  Perhaps it is because this tragedy occurred at a time when children should be eagerly anticipating the joy of the holidays…not fearing for their very lives.  This feels different.     
There are those on the right already accusing the president of using this tragedy to politicized gun control.  If that is the case then so be it; because the culture of violence in this country has gotten out of hand.  We applaud the president’s remarks and we would encourage him to take every available opportunity to make certain that this time the conversation leads to action.
There are decent, responsible gun owners out there who are calling for change as well.  In the past 48 hours we have head many of them calling for a ban on assault rifles, armor piercing ammunition and extended capacity clips.  As one gun enthusiast said: “I like to hunt and target shoot…and I want a pistol in my home to protect my family.  But I can’t name you one instance where someone used a semi-automatic assault rifle or an extended capacity clip to protect himself or his home.”
Perhaps that would be a good place to start.      
It should be noted that this conversation cannot only be about guns.  If we are to be successful in making our society safer then the conversation has to include the way we deal with mental health issues and the graphic violence that is pervasive in video games, movies and television. 
It’s also about parenting.  For if we allow our children to sit in front of a video screen and watch graphic violence for hours on end is it any wonder that they become desensitized to the real affects of violence in our society?
Our government spends trillions of dollars keeping us safe from terrorists who mean to do us harm.  Yet they stand idly by as we slaughter ourselves. 
Since Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated in 1968 over 1,000,000 Americans have died from gunshot wounds.  This carnage needs to stop.
The tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut offers an opportunity for something good to develop from something so horrific. 
This feels different.  Let us hope that it really is.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Time Is Now!

They said it again…
They said the same thing yesterday…
They said that the days immediately following a mass murder such as the one that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut are not the time to debate gun control.  They said this is a time better spent on mourning and reflection and healing.
They said the same thing after Columbine. 
They said it again after Virginia Tech…and Tucson…and Aurora…
They said it again just a few days ago after Happy Valley, Oregon…
They say it every time…yet nothing ever changes.
If the aftermath of the senseless massacre of twenty 6-10 year olds is not the appropriate time to talk about gun control…then when in God’s name is?
If not now…when?
We were shocked and saddened by the loss of lives so young.  We shook our heads as we heard the media talk about post traumatic stress disorder and grief counseling for the young survivors.  And then we watched in horror as a reporter jammed her microphone into the face of a 7 year old survivor while she asked him to recount for the viewers the details of the terror he had just experienced.
Today the massacre at Newtown, CT is the front page story in every newspaper in America, and every news channel is revisiting  the horror that enveloped the K-4 graders in this quiet bedroom community.  But as we watch the nation mourn we are reminded that in Brooklyn and Chicago and Detroit and the 9th Ward of New Orleans, millions of minority K-4 graders live with the fear and pain and horror of gun violence each and every day.  Yet for some reason their stories fail to capture our attention.   
-There are roughly 310 million non-military firearms in the hands of US citizens.
-There are roughly 312 million US citizens.
-40% of the firearms purchased legally in this country are acquired without a background check.
-A domestic violence situation is 43 times more likely to end up in a fatality if there is a firearm in the home.
-30 US citizens die as a result of gunshot wounds each day….11, 000 per year.  That is the equivalent of commercial airliner crashing to the earth and killing all aboard each and every week.  If a commercial airliner crashed to the earth each and every week would we not do something to stop it from happening again?
We vilify the terrorists who murdered 3,000 of us on that clear September day.  We start two wars to bring them to justice.  Yet three times that number dies at the hands of our own gun wielding citizens each year.  But we do nothing.    
“We are a nation of laws.”  One need only consider our use of water boarding, rendition and “enhanced interrogation techniques” to understand the fallacy in that statement.  What we are in fact is a nation of cowboys held hostage by the NRA…a nation where far too many people use the power of a gun to compensate for the myriad of inadequacies coursing through their veins.  And because so many of us use guns as a spinal replacement we are loath to strengthen gun control laws that do very little to keep us safe.
The NRA is king and the politicians do its bidding.  The barrel of Adam Lanza’s Glock wasn’t even cold when the NRA began threatening us not to use Newtown as an  opportunity to screw with their right to own a gun.  The NRA is good at citing the Constitution.  They like to impress we uneducated masses with their unlimited knowledge of the “Founders” intentions when they gave us the right to bear arms.  Somehow we doubt that the founders considered the possibility of mentally unstable individuals massacring seven year olds huddled in a classroom.
A tearful president offered the nation’s condolences to the families of those who were lost and the survivors whose loss is yet to come.   It was the fourth time in his presidency that he has had to give such a speech. 
He said that “our country has been through this too many times…And we are going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”  We were glad to hear the president utter those words because it is only through presidential leadership that change will occur.
This senseless carnage must stop.  It is time for the country to stand up to the NRA.  Because those of us that abhor gun violence have rights as well.  We have the right to send our kids to school without fear that they will murdered while practicing their ABC’s.  We have the right to walk through a mall without fear for our lives.  We have the right to go to a movie without keeping one eye on the exit door.
Twenty children were murdered yesterday.  If this isn’t the time to talk about gun control then such a time will never come.
And the slaughter will continue.               

Friday, December 14, 2012

Somewhere John McCain Is Smiling!

UN Ambassador Susan Rice has withdrawn her name from consideration for Secretary of State. 
In a letter to the president, the ambassador said that she came to the conclusion that her confirmation would be “lengthy, disruptive and costly to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities.”  In the end she took one for the team.
Ambassador Rice had come under withering criticism from Senator John McCain and a small group of his entourage for her statements regarding the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi.  The criticism was unfounded as the ambassador was simply reading from unclassified talking points provided by the intelligence agency.  Rather than attack the person(s) responsible for talking points and consulate security: golden boy CIA Director Davis Patreus, and the formidable Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, McCain and his buddies chose attack the messenger. 
Upon learning of the verbal attacks on his ambassador and long time friend, the president was effusive in his praise of her accomplishments and animated in his defense of her role (or lack thereof) in the Benghazi affair.  The president’s comments where laced with a noticeable anger rarely exhibited by the “too cool for school” Obama.
So the question has to be asked…if Ambassador Rice is as uniquely qualified as the president says she is; why didn’t he nominate her right then and there.  Why didn’t he stand up to McCain and say… “She’s the most qualified person.  She’s the right person for the job and for the country; and therefore she is my nominee…If you disagree I’m happy to have that discussion.” Instead the president left her twisting in the wind.
Perhaps he was listening to those inside the White House who were asking if he really wanted to have this fight.  After all there will be several contentious debates in the upcoming weeks and months over tax reform, entitlement reform, immigration reform, the debt ceiling etc.  We’ll never know.  But from a purely political perspective…the president caved in on this one.
This is not the first time that this president has been strong on rhetoric but weak on action.  And don’t think for a moment that Republicans don’t sense that very fact.
McCain’s dislike for Rice is legendary.  She was one of then Senator Obama’s chief surrogates during the 2008 campaign.  She publically questioned whether McCain was qualified to hold the Oval Office; citing his short temper and weak economic bona fides as disqualifiers.  And McCain is still bitter about his loss to Obama in the general election.  Over the past four years McCain has gone out of his way to be a thorn in the president’s side.  Susan Rice was just too easy a target to pass up.  And now he has her professional scalp for a trophy.
Republicans have always been far more willing than Democrats to fight until the bitter end for whatever their cause may be.  Even today after getting bludgeoned in the November election we see Republicans refusing to admit defeat as they resume their obstructionist tactics.
The Republicans may have won this battle but they will pay a price.  They seem to have already forgotten that one of the reasons they lost last November was due to their policies against women and minorities.  Kicking a well educated, well qualified black woman to the curb will not be soon forgotten.
As for the president; he is no doubt getting an earful from his base.  The president caved on Guantanamo, single payer health care and extending the Bush Tax Cuts just to name a few. Now it appears he has caved in on Susan Rice.  You can bet his base will be watching to see if he follows up on his promise to raise taxes on the rich.  If he caves on this…the reaction won’t be pretty.
Somewhere John McCain is smiling.            

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Grand Bargain" Not So Grand

Are you one of those who are caught up in these “fiscal cliff” negotiations?
Do you believe that the country’s financial situation is so dire and the prospects for a deep recession so grave that the two parties will certainly come to an agreement before the end of the year?
Do you believe that these negotiations will end with a bi-partisan agreement that will put the country on firm financial footing for the next decade?
If you are among those who share in this fantasy then prepare to have your bubble burst; because these “fiscal cliff” negotiations are only the beginning of a long and complicated process that will take months if not years to complete.
The president and Speaker are merely nibbling around the edges of what truly needs to be done to get our fiscal house in order.  They are trying to reach an agreement on a meager $4 trillion dollar/ten year package at a time when the country faces $88 trillion in unfunded obligations.  Even if they succeed in reaching this “Grand Bargain” there will be more work to be done.
And we are already seeing signs of their kicking the proverbial can down the road.
The latest word out of Washington is that the parties will agree to stop gap measures that will remove the “fiscal cliff” from the equation by pushing the time table to a date certain in the future…a sort of “Sequestration II.” For example they may raise taxes on the top 2% and freeze the rates on the middle class; thereby allowing the president to make good on his campaign promise.  In exchange Democrats will agree to a bazillion in spending cuts including a massive overhaul in entitlements if a compromise is not reached by a future date certain.  This will give Boehner the ammunition he needs to corral support within his caucus.
Bi-partisan compromise!!!!  Hooray for the country!
That is until that future date arrives and nothing has been done…again. 
Entitlement reform, tax reform, immigration reform, defense funding…these are extremely complicated issues that are the foundation of any substantive plan to fix our fiscal woes.  Yet nothing is being done.  These problems have existed for years.  Congress set the sequestration limits and dates to force Washington to make the hard decisions.  Yet here we sit…arguing over a 2% tax increase for the very rich…an increase that will have virtually no affect on our long term financial security. 
And now we are looking at the very real prospect of delaying these decisions again.
These ‘fiscal cliff” negotiations are not the end game.  They are merely the beginning.
Next stop…the debt ceiling debate in February.     

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

You Can't Make This Stuff Up!

We recently wrote about some of the opportunities for compromise that have been mutually agreed upon by Democrats, Republicans and corporate CEO’s…opportunities that would grow the economy and avoid the impending economic fiscal cliff.
Given the enormity of the country’s economic issues one would assume that congress is feverishly mining these opportunities for ways to create jobs, strengthen the economy and build a better quality of life for the American people.
Not so much!
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spent his time yesterday salivating over the thickness and luster of retiring Senator Ben Nelson’s hair.  To the casual observer Senator Nelson appears to be sporting a toupee.  But Senator Reid assured his fellow legislators that Nelson’s quaff was in fact very real and that Nelson would allow you to pull on it any anytime to prove the point.  Senator Reid admitted to suffering from serious envy over the thickness and luster of Senator Nelson’s bouffant. 
On another matter, come next February congress will be asked to raise the country’s debt ceiling limit.  The debt ceiling allows the country to borrow the necessary money to pay its ever increasing bills; and up until last year was automatically increased without decent.   You may recall that last year Republicans held up the increase in order to extract spending cuts from their Democrat counterparts.  The failure of the participants to find a long term solution for the country’s spending problems caused the credit reporting companies to lower the country’s credit rating.
Senator Reid decided that the best way to avoid another cantankerous debate come February would be to cede the unbridled authority to raise the debt ceiling into the hands of the president; a move that was certain to anger Republicans.
Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell knows a purely political power play when he sees one.  McConnell did not believe that Reid had the votes within in his own caucus to pass the bill.  So McConnell decided to embarrass Reid by bringing the matter to the floor for a vote; certain that the bill would be defeated and would make Reid look weak.
It turned out that Reid DID in fact have the votes.  So McConnell was forced to filibuster his own bill In order to keep it from being passed.
Such are the inner workings of the most ineffective “do nothing” congress in American history.                  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

If Only "Politics" Would Get Out Of The Way

If only “politics” would get out of the way…
There is a great article in “Politico” today that discusses the very real possibility of an economic boom if not for the partisan political gridlock in Washington.
Over the past three months “Politico’ staffers interviewed a host of politicians and corporate CEO’s.  Some of the conversations were off the record.  Many were not.  They found a bi-partisan consensus on numerous issues that if passed into law would cause an economic boom in this country.
Top Democrats, Republicans and CEO’s agree that it all starts with taxes. They agree the best thing for the economy in the long term is to simplify the Tax Code, reduce rates and end loopholes for both individuals and corporations.  Tax reform would raise more money to pay down the debt.
There is also broad consensus that Congress should cut government spending including large cuts from the bloated and outdated defense department budget.
Leaders agree that the eligibility age for Social Security needs to be raised, the growth rate needs to be cut and the cap on income that funds the program needs to go up.  They also concur that Medicare needs to undergo a drastic reformation to avoid becoming insolvent in the next dozen years.
There is bi-partisan agreement that we need to take advantage of the massive oil and natural gas reserves that would bring us energy independence and reshape out views on foreign policy.  And there is broad consensus that we need to make it easier for high-skilled immigrants to stay in this country.
Certainly the devil is in the details.  But achieving consensus on these issues becomes much easier if elected officials place the good of the country ahead of political ideology.
 “America is poised to grow faster if we have good policy” said JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.  “Businesses have capacity, they have liquidity, and they’re well capitalized.  Housing has turned.  The table is being set pretty well.  If we add good policy to that we can lift off.”
This article confirms our belief that the current fiscal cliff negotiations are nothing more than nibbling around the edges.  If we want to build a growing vibrant economy we need to think bigger.  But we continue to be stymied by political gridlock.  There is a consensus that we can do more.  That we can make the tough decisions that will eventually have to be made if we want to make this country great again.
If only “politics” would get out of the way.
Check out the entire article at   


Friday, December 7, 2012

"Jim DeMint".."Think Tank"...Seriously?

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint has announced that he will resign his senate seat and accept the position of President of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
DeMint, a Tea party conservative, has been largely responsible for bringing such notable candidates as  Todd “Legitimate Rape”  Akin, Richard “God’s Will” Mourdock, Christine “I Am Not A Witch” O’Donnell and Sharron “It’s Not My job As Senator To Develop Jobs In my State” Engle to the national stage.  Each of these flawed candidates lost their election, costing Republicans what should have been easily winnable seats. 
DeMint leaves the senate after seven years of service during which time he failed to offer one piece of legislation that passed into law.
“Jim DeMint”…”think tank”… we call that a contradiction in terms.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Caution: Don't Overplay Your Hand

Every second term president thinks about his legacy.  President Obama is no exception.  The Affordable Care Act, the auto bailout and the elimination of Osama bin Laden will certainly secure Barak Obama’s name among our most accomplished chief executives.  But the president runs the risk of tarnishing that legacy with the ongoing negotiations about the fiscal cliff.
Secretary Geithner said yesterday that the White House is willing send the country over the fiscal cliff rather than continue to provide tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.  Perhaps this is nothing more than negotiation bluster.  But if the president is serious about plunging over that cliff he needs to rethink his position.  Because when history recounts the events that put the country into another deep recession it will not remember the names Boehner, Geithner or Cantor.  But it will most certainly note that Barak Obama was the president that took the country over the cliff in order to make a political point.
If legacy is important, and believe us it is, the president needs to be very careful here.
The president is negotiating from a position of strength. 60% of the American people say that we should raise taxes on the wealthy.  While achieving that sense of fairness is important a more critical need for the country is finding an equitable path toward fiscal security.  A “Grand Bargain” would fulfill the president’s campaign promise on taxes and inject a sense of fiscal responsibility that has long been absent in Washington.  Legacy secured!
The president and congress seem to agree that they will retain the Bush tax cuts for the middle class.  The president has therefore urged congress to pass that agreement into law as a standalone bill.  Providing that sense of security for the country would be a very good thing.  But it would kill any chance of a Grand Bargain.
Let’s say Boehner is willing and able to get enough members of his caucus to pass such a bill before the New Year.  Maybe even bump the taxes on the top 2% up a couple of points.  After all, the president DID win the election.  Both sides would undoubtedly then agree to push back the sequestration cuts until sometime after the new congress takes office. 
Fiscal Cliff avoided!  No tax cuts for the middle class!  Victory for the president!
Not so fast.
Next February the parties will have to deal with raising the debt ceiling.  The Republicans will surely announce that they will refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless the president agrees to draconian cuts on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other social programs.  They will remind the president that Republicans agreed to his terms on taxes…now it is his turn to swallow the bitter pill.  And make no mistake; the cuts that Republicans will demand on those social programs will make the tax increases on the rich seem insignificant. 
Raising taxes on the rich is a major component politically but a relatively insignificant aspect of financial reform.  The rich won’t feel a thing.  But social programs are the real drivers of our debt.  And since 98% of the American people depend to some degree on these social programs; the steep cuts that Republicans will demand are really going to hurt.
The president has an historic opportunity here to create a Grand Bargain that will be good for the country and monumental for his legacy. Raise taxes on the rich for short term stimulus; and reform “entitlements” for long term spending cuts. 
The President holds a strong hand.  He needs to be careful to not overplay it.



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Just More Political Noise

Are you tired of hearing about the “Fiscal Cliff?”
So are we…especially since it doesn’t really mean anything in terms of the country’s fiscal solvency.
Here’s why!
Since the November election all that we have heard is that the president wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and that Republicans do not.  This ideological argument has overwhelmed the news cycles for weeks.  The truth is that the raising of taxes by 2-4 points on 2% of the country is as infinitesimal as a pimple on an elephant’s ass in terms of the real fiscal problems facing this country.
According to economists, the United States of America currently has $88 trillion of unfunded liabilities and no idea whatsoever of how we are going to pay for them.  Our funding mechanism, the tax code, is subpar at best and ill equipped to meet the challenge of the burdensome debt. 
Congress likes to say that our debt to GDP ratio is 65%; good when compared to other industrialized countries.  But unlike other countries we don’t factor in the debt accumulated by state and local governments.  When we do, our debt to GDP ratio rises to dangerously unhealthy 120%.  Not good!
Economists say that the only way to make any headway toward true solvency is to reduce the debt by $9 trillion over the next ten years.  Yet our elected leaders can’t find common ground on even $2-$4 trillion in debt reduction for fear of losing their jobs come next election.
We hear all this talk about taxes yet the root of the problem lies within the sacrosanct social programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  Any discussion about long term fiscal security that does not take in “entitlement reform” is a waste of time.  And to those who say that Social Security doesn’t add one penny to the debt and deficit…while that is true, Social Security DISABILITY is an obligation that will run out of money in two years.
The fact is our political leaders don’t really give a damn about the debt and deficit.  If they did they would allow the sequestration tax increases and spending cuts set for 12/31 to roll into effect.  While these measures would slow the economy and have serious consequences for millions of Americans they would be a major step on the road to fiscal solvency.
While we are not advocating that Washington take this course of action,  it should be noted that it is tough measures like this that are eventually going to be required if we are serious about putting  our financial house in order.
All this hand wringing about taxes is just political noise.   

Destroying The Republican Brand

The “Most Exclusive Club in the World,” the United States Senate took to the floor yesterday for the purpose of ratifying a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled that is modeled after the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.
The treaty states that nations should strive to assure that the disabled enjoy the same rights and freedoms as their fellow citizens.
The treaty was first proposed by George W. Bush.  It has been signed by 155 nations and ratified by 126 countries including France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia.  Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Senator John McCain spoke in bi-partisan support of the treaty.  Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, confined to a wheelchair, offered his support.  The disabilities community and veterans groups also voiced their support for passage.
Sounds like a no-brainer!  Right? 
The ratification fell five votes short of passage, 61-38, with Republicans casting the 38 “No” votes on the convoluted notion that “the treaty could pose a threat to national sovereignty.”
Senator Kerry referred to the vote as: “one the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate.”
Republicans continue to do everything they can to destroy the “Republican”  brand in the eyes of the American people.