Tuesday, December 31, 2013


To those of you who have so generously given of your time to follow this space…THANK YOU!
Words cannot express our heartfelt appreciation for your support.
May 2014 bring you and yours happiness, peace and prosperity.
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year Mr. President!

2013 is drawing to a close.
It has been one helluva year.
If you happen to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, you have to be glad it’s over.
The president started the year poised to aggressively move forward on his very progressive agenda.   Buoyed by a sound electoral thumping of his political opponents, the president believed that he had a mandate to implement his vision for the country.  He made his intentions clear in his State of the Union address.  “Elections matter” he said. 
But no sooner had those words left his lips than a series of events occurred that tore those best laid plans to shreds.
- It is discovered that government agencies are tapping the phones of AP reporters.
- The IRS is found to be targeting conservative non-profit organizations.
- Erik Snowden reveals that the NSA is data mining Americans phone calls and internet activity.
- The Benghazi Mission is overrun by terrorists and the Libyan Ambassador is killed.
- The critical rollout of the Affordable Care Act is a disaster when the website crashes.
- The president ways in personally to pass legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales.  The measure fails to win congressional approval.
- The president pushes for a major jobs bill.  The measure gains no traction in congress.
- The president pushes for a comprehensive immigration reform bill.  The measure dies in congress.
- The Boston Marathon falls victim to a terrorist attack.
- Tea Party conservatives succeed in shutting down the government.
- The president presides over the first budget compromise in a decade.  But it fails to extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans.
In the midst of all this negativity, 2013 has held some positive moments for the president.  Twelve more consecutive months of positive job growth run his string to 45 and counting.  The economy continues to grow.  The GDP grew by 4.1% last quarter…the largest growth in the last five years.  Housing starts are up.  The auto industry is booming.  The DOW posts record highs seemingly every other day.  The rich ARE getting richer.  But it is the poor and the middle class that returned this president to office.  They are not fairing so well.
The president has one more year to get something done; one more year to break through the gridlock, the obstruction, the obfuscation and yes the racism that plagued his administration throughout 2013.  Then all thoughts will shift to Hillary and Christie… and this president will become the lamest of ducks.
We have always believed that rightly or wrongly a sitting president gets the credit and the blame for everything that happens on his watch.  Overall we would consider 2013 a loss on the political scoreboard.  Presidential losses don’t bode well for the country. 
Let’s hope he can put a win on the board in 2014…for the country’s sake.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Happy New Year!...You're Cut Off...

1.3 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits today.
Congress couldn’t find the money to extend these benefits for the long term unemployed.  The money is needed elsewhere.  There are armies to fund and roads and bridges to build in countries far away.
Democrats hope to revisit the subject when they return from their holiday recess.  Republicans have no interest.
Republicans say that these benefits create a culture of dependency.  They consider the recipients druggies and slackers who prefer to scam the system rather than earn a days’ wage.  They feel that they are doing the unemployed a favor by cutting these benefits; encouraging them to become less dependent and more productive.
Let’s examine the logic behind that train of thought. 
If by cutting “government handouts” we encourage the poor and the unemployed to be more independent and productive; then why do we give tax breaks and subsidies to major corporations and the very rich?  Are these tax breaks and subsidies not “government handouts” as well?            
The vast majority of the long term poor are those who want to work but have been unable to find a job.  They are not druggies or slackers but people who through no fault of their own have lost their job.  They want to support their family and pay their bills.  But there are 3 applicants for every 1 job; and the longer they remain unemployed the harder it is to find that one job.  So they turn to unemployment.  And for that they are labeled as losers.
The average recipient of unemployment benefits receives $1,166/mo.  It’s hard to support a family and pay your bills on $1,166/mo…$13,992/year. 
Republicans believe that these “slackers” snort this money up their noses or blow it on booze.  Several Republican governors set up laws that require applicants to pass a drug and alcohol test before receiving benefits.  99.98% passed…sober as a judge.
The truth is these “slackers” will put that $13,992 right back into the economy…buying food, diapers and medicine.  Cutting off these benefits hurts not only the unemployed but the economy as well.
We can build schools, bridges, roads and hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan…but we can’t take care of our own.  The money is needed elsewhere.
1.3 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits today.
Apparently, we are doing them a favor.
Happy New Year!  You’re cut off!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! 
Wishing you and yours a joyous and peaceful Christmas Day!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Does Budget Reflect America's Values?

There is an old adage in politics that says a country’s budget mirrors the values of its people.  
If that is true then you have to wonder just what exactly we value as a country.
The Senate passed the House budget by a 64-36 vote.  The budget now goes to the president’s desk to be signed into law.  When it comes to America’s values, this agreement poses more questions than answers.
-We must not value jobs…because there is nothing in this budget to encourage job growth.
-We must not value the unemployed worker…because this budget does nothing to renew the unemployment benefits set to expire on December 28.
-We must not value our veterans…because this budget cuts their benefits in 2016.
-We must not value those living in poverty…because this budget continues to cut food stamps and makes no mention of the farm bill nor increasing the minimum wage.
-We must not value our children…because this budget does nothing to address the fact that our children continue to lag behind those in other developed nations in math, reading and science.
-We must not value fair taxation…because this budget fails to mention tax reform.
-We must not value the needs of the fastest growing segment of our population…because this budget fails to address immigration reform.  
-We must not value our long term financial stability…because there is nothing in this budget that deals substantively with our deficit or long term debt.
-We must not value the continuation of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security…because this budget does nothing to address their impending financial demise 20 years from now.
-We must not value our word…because this budget does nothing to guarantee that we will pay the debts that we have already incurred.
-And finally, we must not value our economy…because the failure to address all of the above imperils our future economic prosperity.
What this budget DOES provide is a guarantee that our politicians will not have deal with a politically perilous government shutdown for another two years…
…and it gets them home for the holidays.  


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Hat's Off To The Obama Administration!

Hat’s off to the Obama administration.
The White House announced the delegation which will represent the US at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Most notable on the list of dignitaries are two openly gay athletes: tennis great Billy Jean King and two time Olympic ice hockey medalist, Caitlin Cahow.
Notably absent from the list:  President Obama, Vice President Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama.
The chattering class sees this as a direct rebuke of the harsh and often brutal anti-gay policies of the Putin government.  If that is their intent…well done!  The White House isn’t saying.
President Putin will undoubtedly note the hypocrisy of the gesture given our own discriminatory shortcomings.  He would be right…we still have a long way to go.
Our diversity is a large part of who we are as a country.  We should embrace the advancements that we have made in terms of equality and diversification while acknowledging that our work is far from over.  Bringing everyone to the table is hard, messy work.  But we should never allow the difficulties of the journey to deter us from reaching our goal…a nation where all men are created equal.
To its credit, the Obama administration has celebrated our diversity while leading the way to a more tolerant and inclusive America.
We applaud this very proud and public display of who we are as a country.          

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Snowden Vindicated?

In a scathing rebuke of the government’s controversial surveillance program; Federal Judge Richard Leon found that the NSA’s bulk collection of American’s telephone records is likely a violation of their fourth amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Leon’s 68 page opinion pulled no punches.  He disputed the government’s assertions that the NSA program was a key component in the governments’ fight against terrorism noting that the government failed to cite one instance where the program “actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack.”  “I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations involving imminent threats of terrorism.” Leon referred to the program as “indiscriminate,” “arbitrary” and “Orwellian.”  Channeling our Founding Fathers, Leon said that James Madison would be “aghast” at the scope of the agency’s collection activities.
The government responded to the ruling with a brief statement:  “We’ve seen the opinion and are studying it.  We believe the program is constitutional as previous judges have found.  We have no further comment.”
While this ruling is limited to the plaintiff’s noted in the complaint, and is “stayed” pending a certain  government appeal, it is noteworthy as it is the first time that the NSA program has been adjudicated in open court.  Previously, warrants authorizing the collection of American’s metadata were obtained through the FISA Court.  Deliberations in the FISA Court are held in secret with only one side, the government, providing testimony.  This historic venture into open court will certainly pave the way for a wide range of challenges to the program’s authority and legality.  The Supreme Court will have the final say.
This is what Eric Snowden said he wanted all along…a deliberation of the constitutionality of the NSA surveillance program in open court.
The jury is still out on Edward Snowden.  Whistle blower or traitor! 
One thing is certain.
Without Edward Snowden’s revelations…we’re not having this conversation.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Empire Strikes Back

On Thursday the US House of Representatives passed a budget!  The bi-partisan agreement passed by a 332-94 vote.  Given the toxic atmosphere that pervades Washington; any compromise is cause for celebration.  
Speaker Boehner used the opportunity to take a “victory lap.”  For the second day in a row the Speaker criticized outside conservative groups for “misleading their followers” and “pushing members to places they didn’t want to go.”  “When groups come out and criticize an agreement they have never seen you begin to wonder just how credible their actions are.”  “They have lost all credibility.”  “They are using our members and they are using the American people for their own goals…This is ridiculous.”
Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who led the budget conference committee, took to the House floor to defend the bill and chastise the far right opposition.  “We tried defeating this president.  I wish we would have.  Elections have consequences.  And I fundamentally believe that to do what really needs to be done we are going to have to win some elections.’  In the mean time, let’s try and make this divided government work.”
Conservative Wall Street columnist, Peggy Noonan echoed the sentiment:  “Tea Party lawmakers and their supporters should recognize an opportunity when it appears.  They suffer from a reputation of selfishness.  They only have to look to their base.  They only have to take care of themselves, and do. The Republican Party must operate nationally and make an impression on a big and various nation of 315 million.  There are moments when the Tea Party has to tug Republicans to the right.  This is a moment when cooperating-backing a deal that is better than the absence of a deal-would be statesman like. The thing about statesmen is that they are taken seriously.  And it isn’t only democrats who would benefit from looking serious.”
Make no mistake; this is a very small deal.  It does virtually nothing to address the major financial woes that we are facing.  But the significance of the deal isn’t in the details.  The significance here is that a compromise was achieved and moderate Republicans and their supporters are using this compromise to fight back against the right radicals that have controlled the Party and the government for the past three years.
Boehner isn’t just speaking out against the Tea Party members that have held his party hostage for the past two election cycles.  When Boehner attacks “outside groups” he is criticizing organizations that control the purse strings to the conservative movement.  Groups like Heritage Action, American Freedom Works and Club for Growth pour tens of millions of dollars into the Party coffers…backing Republican candidates…and funding primary challenges against incumbents not deemed “conservative enough.” 
Boehner, Ryan and Noonan are attacking the hand that feeds them.  We’ve not seen that before.  THAT is very significant.
Will this budget deal mark the end of an era of government gridlock and polarization?  Will it break the Tea Party hold on the Republican caucus? 
We hope so!
For this country runs best when we have two strong political parties that are willing to stand by their principles while finding common ground for the good of the country.               

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Writer's Block? No Worries!

A friend of this space recently commented that it must be hard to find topics to write about five days a week.  Actually it is quite easy.  As long as we have the Republicans Party there will never be a shortage of material worthy of comment.  Take for example the three ring clown show the party has produced in the last 24 hours.
As you know Republicans in the senate have used the filibuster on a historic number of occasions to thwart the president’s agenda; so much so that it was taking 60 votes to get anything passed in the chamber.  Harry Reid had threatened on several occasions to use his majority leadership position to change the rules to where a simple majority vote would allow a measure to pass; the so called “Nuclear Option.”  In the past Reid always backed down after cooler heads prevailed.  That all changed last month when in spite of Reid’s renewed threats to “go nuclear,” Republicans  dared Reid to act by blocking three of President Obama’s nominees for the DC Circuit Court.  Reid went “nuclear.”  The rules were changed to a simple majority vote.  Thanks to Mitch McConnell’s miscalculation, Republicans in the senate now find themselves powerless to stop any of President Obama’s appointments.
McConnell threw a hissy fit.  Instead of boning up on the art of compromise, McConnell doubled down.
NBC NEWS is reporting that as we write this senate Republicans are in the midst of an all night “talkathon” in protest of the Democratic rule change.  That little temper tantrum forced a 1AM confirmation vote on President Obama’s latest nominee to the DC Circuit Court; Nina Pillard.  Thirty hours of debate are allotted for each nominee.  Republicans forced Democrats to use all thirty hours by refusing to yield back any time. 
Harry Reid has vowed to keep the chamber in session until all eleven of the president’s nominees have been confirmed. 
If Republicans continue with their tantrum, the process could keep the senate in session through Saturday evening.
“Break out the cots Martha!  The old white guys are havin’ a slumber party.”
It seems to us that by orchestrating this colossal waste of time, Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues are confirming the very point Harry Reid was trying to make; which is that elections have consequences.  The Democrats hold the majority in the senate.  The use of the filibuster throws a huge wrench into the chamber’s ability to conduct the people’s business.  It should be used judiciously and only on matters of extreme importance.
In the midst of all this nonsense, one question keeps popping in our head:  
Jobs? Jobs? Jobs?
Writer’s block?  No Worries!  The Republicans always see us through.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Obama/Castro = Chamberlain/Hitler?

Leave it to the United States Congress to turn a worldwide day of mourning into a political food fight.
World leaders came together yesterday to eulogize Nelson Mandela.  President and Mrs. Obama led the US delegation.  They were joined by president’s Bush 43, Carter and Clinton.  Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Ted Cruz were also in attendance.
As the president mounted the platform to take his place among the world leaders, the first one to greet him was Cuban President Raul Castro.  President Obama shook Castro’s hand and exchanged a few brief comments before moving on to greet the other dignitaries.
As one would expect in today’s toxic political environment, the president’s detractors fell all over themselves to make political points over the meaningless handshake. 
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, of Cuban descent, noted that: “if the president was going to shake his hand he should have asked him about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba.”
Representative Ileana Ross-Lihtinen (R-FL) who fled Cuba as a child, called the gestured: “nauseating.”
Senator John McCain compared the handshake with Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Hitler.
Senator Cruz walked out of the venue as Raul Castro rose to deliver his remarks.
Meanwhile the congressional budget conference committee was announcing with great fanfare that they had avoided a government shutdown by reaching an agreement on a two year budget deal. 
Lost in the euphoria of moment was the fact that the deal does absolutely nothing to address the primary causes of our fiscal difficulties.  No mention of tax reform, entitlement reform, immigration reform, education reform or health care.  It simply kicks the tough, politically toxic decisions down the road while allowing this congress to avoid another politically disastrous government shutdown.
The bar in congress has been set so low, that an agreement on ANYTHING” is cause for celebration.
This is what they do!
Congress is good at finding a microphone whenever it can make political hay.  But when it comes to actually doing the people’s business they are nowhere to be found.
That’s the legacy of the 113th Congress of the United States of America.  Long on rhetoric…short on substance.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Economics 101

The Republican Party portrays itself as the standard bearer for the free enterprise system.  As such one would assume that they would have a thorough understanding of the economic principles upon which that system is based.  So it is somewhat surprising that their policies often conflict with the concept that stands at the very core of the free enterprise system…supply and demand.
Take for example the current negotiations over the expiring unemployment benefits.  Republicans see unemployment benefits as a “handout.”  They argue that these benefits encourage recipients to become dependent upon government assistance, stifle the country’s creative spirit and produce a nation of slackers.  They believe that discontinuing unemployment benefits will empower recipients to become more self reliant; to find their own creative path toward economic independence.
If we assume that Republicans are correct, that eliminating these government “handouts” will encourage creative economic growth and productivity; then why are they unwilling to apply those same economic principles to wealthy individuals and corporations? 
Republicans are steadfast in their support of tax breaks and loopholes that allow wealthy individuals and corporations to pay little if anything in the way of federal taxes.  They fight tooth and nail to preserve billions in government subsidies paid to wildly profitable corporations.  Are these tax breaks and subsidies not “handouts” as well?
When confronted with this bit of hypocrisy Republicans typically respond with the age old “trickle down” theory of economics.  This theory says that by giving tax breaks and subsidies to the very rich you encourage them to build plants, produce goods and services and create jobs for the masses. The employees in turn use their hard earned wages to buy products and grow the economy.  
So where are the jobs?  Why are millions unemployed?  Why is the economy still struggling?
What we have in this country is a “demand” shortage brought about by a lack of money in the hands of the true” job creators”…the middle class and working poor.  Corporations build products because there is a demand for the product.  Corporations can build all the widgets they want; they will sit in warehouses if there is no demand from the middle class. 
If you want to spur the economy you have to get money into the hands of the masses.  Unemployment benefits do that. Tax breaks for the rich do not.  Unemployment benefits put money into the hands of US citizens who use the funds to buy food, clothing, medicine etc.  Tax breaks for the rich fund stock portfolios and create jobs overseas.  There is a reason Wall Street is flourishing while Main Street is struggling.
Republicans believe that if you give “handouts” to the middle class and working poor you encourage a society of slackers and bums.  But if you give “handouts” to corporations and the rich you encourage productivity and creativity.  The facts simply do not support that theory.
Growing the economy is all about supply and demand.  As the standard bearer for the free enterprise system Republicans should understand that concept.

Monday, December 9, 2013

This & That

-The word out of Washington is that the bi-partisan budget conference committee is close to reaching a two year deal that will avoid another costly government shutdown.  Facing a December 13th deadline, there are reports that a deal could be reached by the end of this week.  This comes as no surprise as the House is scheduled to leave town at week’s end for holiday recess; not to return until January 7th.  Nothing motivates congress to act like a delay in their vacation plans.
While any budget agreement coming out of congress is cause for celebration, it appears that this particular version lacks any real substance.  It does little to reduce the $17 trillion dollar debt.  It does not address Medicare or Medicaid, the programs primarily responsible for that debt.  It does not raise taxes. And it does not reduce the sequestration cuts in any substantive manner.
If the leaked details of this agreement are in fact correct, this budget accord fails to address the country’s financial woes in any substantive way.  It does however kick the proverbial can down the road, avoid another embarrassing, costly and politically harmful government shutdown and allow the members to attend to their holiday shopping.  Well done!

-Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Senator Rand Paul.  One of the topics currently being debated by the budget conference committee is the continuation of unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans.  The benefits are set to expire on December 28th.  Senator Rand Paul believes that these benefits should be discontinued.  He says that these benefits do nothing more than to encourage people to become dependent on the government.  Paul believes that congress would be doing recipients a favor by cutting off their benefits…empowering them to become more self reliant.
Spoken like the well-to-do son of a doctor who has no concept of reality.  The vast majority of the people collecting unemployment want to work.  They are embarrassed to find themselves in the unemployment lines, never believing that this would be their fate.  But a sluggish economy dictates their reality.  Supporting ones family takes precedent over pride. 
Apparently Senator Paul is unaware that we are still working our way out of the country’s worst economic downturn since the great depression.  Roughly 1 out of every 6 Americans lives in poverty.  The income disparity in this country between the haves and the have not’s grows ever wider.  Senator Paul believes that the way to close that gap is to widen it.  Many American cities have tried Senator Paul’s’ idea of empowerment…most notably New York.  It didn’t work.  If the good Senator really wants to empower people and get them off the unemployment lines…then he should stop all the crazy talk and pass a jobs bill.
-Speaking of income disparity, the poor and the unemployed…you should check out this New York Times piece: “The Invisible Child.”  This is a must read if you are interested in learning about the realities of living in the self proclaimed “greatest country in the world.”

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thursday, December 5, 2013

GOP "Officially" Considers Impeachment

If you tune into conservative media outlets or engage conservatives in a debate about the nation’s current state of affairs, at some point the topic of impeachment will enter the conversation. While impeaching President Obama has been a frequent topic among the conservative community it has never officially been discussed within the halls of congress.
Until now…
The GOP led House Judiciary Committee met this week and the number one topic on the agenda…the impeachment of the President of the United States. 
Hate is a very strong word…but Republicans “hate” this guy.  They hate his policies.  They hate his executive orders.  They hate his “too cool for school” attitude and his unwillingness to engage in backroom politics.  Some hate him because they believe he is foreign born and therefore an illegitimate president.  Some hate him because they believe he is a Muslim intent on infusing Sharia Law into the government.  Some hate him because he is black.  They called him a liar to his face and refused to take his phone calls.  Hate is a very strong word…but they “hate” this guy.
Republicans could not defeat him at the polls. They could not defeat him in the courts.  They could not scrounge up enough votes to overturn his policies.  They’ve tried to obstruct him with filibusters and procedural games only to sit by helplessly as he imposed his will through executive orders.  So they turn to the “I word.”  “What else can we do” lamented one committee member.
Any discussion of impeachment is without merit.  The president has not committed an impeachable offense; he is simply guilty of not giving into Republican demands.    Even if Republicans could get such a vote in the House it would never pass the Senate.  The fact that Republicans have elected to officially address the subject in committee, ratchets the discussion to a whole new level.
Our economy is struggling, our infrastructure crumbling.  Our education system is failing to prepare our children for the future.  Millions of Americans are out of work and recent graduates see no hope for the future.  Income disparity threatens the very fiber of our Republic.  Yet, instead of addressing these pressing issues congressional Republicans waste time discussing a fantasy.
The 113th Congress has passed just 55 pieces of legislation thereby making it officially the least productive congress in our history.  Congress’ approval rating stands at 9%; the lowest in our history.
Someone needs to be removed from office…and it’s not the president.      

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

We Continue To Fail Our Children

We are failing our children!
According to a 2102 study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), our children continue to fall behind their global peers in mathematics, reading and science. 
500,000 15 and 16 year olds were tested as part of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  The program is designed to test the math, reading and science skills of students from across the globe.  The students represented 65 countries and 80% of the global economy.
US pupils ranked 36 among the 65 nations, producing below average scores in mathematics and average scores in reading and science.  Shanghai-China ranked #1 followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.  The United Kingdom ranked 26th.  
Quoting from the PISA report:  “Just over one quarter (26%) of the 15 year olds in the United States do not reach the PISA baseline Level 2 of mathematics proficiency, at which level students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life.  This percentage is higher than the OECD average (23%) and has remained unchanged since 2003.  By contrast, in Hong Kong-China, Korea, Shanghai-China and Singapore, 10% of students or fewer are poor performers in mathematics…Only 2% of students in the United States reach the highest level (Level 6) of performance in mathematics, compared with an OECD average of 3% and 31% of students in Shanghai-China.  The proportions of top performers in reading and science in the United States are both around the OECD average.”
This is pretty damning stuff.  We are not providing our children with the “skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life.”  What does that say about us as a society?
Critics will place blame with the failings of inner city schools or single parent households or poor teachers with tenure.  But only 15% of our students attend inner city schools and we are guessing that there are poor teachers and single parent households in Shanghai too.  Yet they seem to succeed while we continue to fail.  We have thrown billions of dollars at the problem without any measurable success.  The numbers don’t lie.
We don’t have the answers…but we know where to find them.  Instead of re-inventing the wheel why don’t we set aside our “American Exceptionalism” for once and examine how other countries are finding success.
Shanghai is a city of 23 million people.  Students in Shanghai perform at a level at least one year more advanced than the average in math, reading and science.  How do they do it?
Sophie Brown @ CNN.com provides an excellent analysis of the East Asian success story.  According to OCED advisor Andreas Schleicher:  “Shanghai…and most East Asian school systems excel precisely because they are capable to leverage the academic potential of disadvantaged students much better than many Western nations do, and because they are able to break the downward spiral between disadvantage, lower performance and lower levels of student engagement…they have devised powerful strategies to attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and to get the strongest principals into the toughest schools…they have convinced their citizens to make choices that value education, their future, more than consumption today…students not only believe they control their ability to succeed, but they are prepared to do what it takes to do so…students in most Asian countries believe that achievement is mainly the product of hard work rather than inherited intelligence…teachers have high expectations for every student and realize that ordinary students have extraordinary talents…and nowhere does the quality of a school system exceed  the quality of its teachers.” 
Translation...success comes from hard work and accountability.  The bar is set high and both students and teachers are expected to reach it.
We are failing our children.  It is time that we set aside the false notion of our genetic superiority and come to grips with the fact when it comes to education the only thing we are doing exceptionally well… is failing.  The solutions are out there.  All we have to do is summon the courage…and the humility…to put them into practice.
Kudos to Sophie Brown @cnn.com for her work on this important story.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Can Something Good Come From Their Suffering?

Happy Thanksgiving!  Happy Black Friday!  Happy Small Business Saturday!  Happy Cyber Monday!
Hopefully you and yours’ were able to spend a few quality moments together before engaging in that most cherished of holiday traditions…shopping.  Nothing speaks to the very fiber of the holidays like storming the ramparts of the local Wal-Mart to grapple for overpriced items artificially reduced to encourage such frenzy.  Just as the pilgrims could not wait for their Native American guests to leave so they could flood the local general store in search of bargains on hard tack and corn meal; we too understand the true meaning of the holidays.
But we digress…
Unfortunately for the souls traveling on the 5:54 AM train from Poughkeepsie to New York City, this holiday season will be remembered for something quite different than turkey and holiday bargains.  A commuter train carrying 100 passengers jumped the tracks on Sunday killing four and injuring sixty.  Survivors who frequent the route said that the train was moving at a much higher speed than normal as it entered the Bronx.  There are reports that the incident took place near the area where another train derailed this past July.  Officials are still investigating.
As expected, the New York media went crazy…for nothing sets the world’s most self aggrandizing media on fire like an incident in their self proclaimed “greatest city on earth.”  Once they were able to stop hyperventilating they searched for something, anything on which to focus their incredulity; settling on the city’s expansive train system. 
A torrent of criticism rained down on the city’s transportation system.  Liberals and conservatives crossed ideological lines to trash the city’s infrastructure.  “Worn, loose rusty rails,”  “Chucks of concrete are falling on the tracks,” “Dirty,” “Unsafe,” “Inefficient” “Third world system.”
Setting aside for a moment the emotional outrage…they are correct in their assessment of our nation’s infrastructure.   85%-90% of our country’s infrastructure was built between 1950 and 1970.  It is old, outdated, inefficient and in many cases, dangerous. Many of our highways and bridges are rated “functionally obsolete.”  Ask any world traveler and they will tell you that our infrastructure lags so far behind the other industrialized nations that returning home to our airports and rail systems is like returning to a third world country.      
On August 1, 2007 more than 100 vehicles were traveling over a bridge on I-35W when the bridge collapsed plunging motorists into the Mississippi River. 13 people died that day.  145 were injured.
But that was Minnesota.   The outcry lasted for but a minute…and quickly faded.  Yes, studies were done to determine the quality and condition of our infrastructure.  We learned enough to know that it was bad…outdated, inefficient and dangerous.  We learned that the greatest nation in the world could not safely or efficiently move its people and products from one place to the next.  Then we did nothing.
Our economy is struggling.  We desperately need more jobs.  We desperately need to modernize our infrastructure if we are to compete with the rest of the world.  A comprehensive transportation bill would go a long way toward curing those economic ills. 
Will the tragedy of this train crash in our largest city motivate us to tackle this very real problem?  Will the suffering of those poor souls motivate us to get off our collective asses and do what is necessary to compete in a world economy?  Can something good come from their suffering?
Or will we just go shopping?             

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

We’d like to take a moment to step back from the world of politics to say “Thank You!”
“Thank you” to our colleagues who have patiently and generously given their time to mentor and support our endeavors.  Hopefully your kind efforts have been rewarded.
“Thank you” to all of you that we have never met but who have graciously invited us into your busy lives.  We appreciate your interest.  Whether you agree with us or not…thanks for being there.
Most of all, we’d like to thank our family and friends.  Your support and encouragement means the world to us.
Happy Thanksgiving!        

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Country Turns A Blind Eye Toward Mental Health Issues

The Connecticut State’s Attorney’s office has released its report on the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.   Twenty year old Adam Lanza murdered 20 children and six staff members before turning the gun on himself.
The report paints a very disturbing picture of a troubled youth who exhibited all the signs of a walking time bomb.
Adam Lanza had a deep fascination with video games, guns and mass shootings.  Lanza spent most of his days locked in his room playing violent video games including one titled: “School Shootings.”  Lanza was obsessed with mass shootings.  Investigators found a spread sheet documenting a chronology of mass shootings over the years.  Lanza seemed particularly fascinated with the Columbine shooting of 1999. 
Lanza’s room itself was off limits to visitors; the windows draped in black plastic bags.  He communicated with his mother via email.
The home was a veritable armory.  Photos in the report show a vast array of firearms and ammunition.  Lanza was carrying over 30 pounds of munitions when he entered the school.  He still had over 250 live rounds on him when he took his own life.
Adam Lanza was clearly a very disturbed young man with an obsession for violence.  Yet his mother catered to his violent peccadilloes.  She encouraged his use of firearms, took him target shooting and wrote him a check just days before he went on his shooting spree, so that he could buy himself a coveted pistol for Christmas.
On December 14 we will mark the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, one of the most horrific and gut wrenching shootings in our history.  Twenty young children’s bodies ripped apart by a mentally disturbed young man who did everything but shout from the roof tops that this terrible day was coming.
It is a condemnation on our society that a year has passed and we have done nothing to prevent this terrible tragedy from reoccurring.  We continue to turn a blind eye to the mental health issues that plague this country because we are paralyzed by the constitutional freedoms that we hold so dear.  Imagine the uproar if the authorities would have questioned Lanza’s mother about allowing her clearly disturbed young son unfettered access to those guns.  Imagine the uproar if a retailer had refused to sell the shooter that much coveted Christmas present.
We cannot imagine the grief and suffering that will envelop the Newtown, Connecticut community a few days from now.  There is little we can do to soothe their anguish because there is nothing we can do to bring back the innocent.  What we can do is take steps to make sure this never happens again.
It is time to address the mental health issues in this country.  It is time to properly fund our mental health institutions, educate the public and amend our laws so that tragedies like Sandy Hook never happen again.     

Friday, November 22, 2013

Reid Goes "Nuclear" on McConnell

Over the past five years senate Republicans have creatively used any number of procedural rules to advance their agenda.  Their primary weapon of choice has been the filibuster. 
Republicans have strategically and systematically used the filibuster to block presidential nominees to the judiciary, render government agencies powerless and circumvent written law; all for the stated purpose of impeding the president’s agenda.
Republicans oppose the formation of the Consumer Protection Agency under the Dodd-Frank Bill.  The bill became law.  Republicans filibuster the president’s nominee to chair the agency thereby rendering the agency powerless.
Republicans oppose the National Labor Relations Board.  The board was enacted into law by congress.  Republicans filibuster the president’s nominees to sit as commissioners on the board thereby rendering the board powerless.
Major Republican donors oppose the FHA.  Republicans can’t oppose the FHA because the real estate lobby will go crazy.  So Republicans filibuster the president’s nominee to head the FHA thereby rendering the agency powerless.
Republicans filibuster the president’s nominee for Secretary of Defense…while the country is at war.  They filibuster cabinet appointments, under secretary appointments, judicial appointments…
If Republicans don’t like a law and they don’t have the votes to repeal it…can’t find the votes to defund it…can’t find the votes to amend it…then they will filibuster anything they can to render the law moot.
Republicans have used the filibuster more times during the Obama administration than it was used in the PREVIOUS SEVEN PRESIDENTAIL ADMINISTRATIONS COMBINED. 
Majority Leader Harry Reid said it best:  “In the entire history of the Republic, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominees.  Half of them have occurred during the Obama Administration.”
Over the past five years Republicans have made such liberal use of the filibuster that as a matter of course it now takes 60 votes to get anything past in the senate.  The concept that “majority rules” is a long lost thing of the past.
That is until yesterday.
There are currently three vacancies on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.  The DC circuit is considered the second most important court in the land because it is in this court that has jurisdiction over executive orders.  The most important court in the land is of course, the Supreme Court.  Many justices serving on the DC Circuit find themselves appointed to the Supreme Court    
The court is currently divided equally between four judges appointed by Republican presidents and four appointed by Democrats.  There are currently three vacant seats. 
The president, as he is required by the constitution, placed the names of three abundantly qualified individuals into nomination.  Leader Reid warned Minority Leader McConnell that there would be dire consequences if McConnell’s caucus filibustered the appointments.  Reid warned McConnell that Democrats were tired of Republicans holding the government hostage through use of the filibuster.  Reid warned McConnell that if Republicans filibustered the president’s nominees to the DC district court he would use his authority as majority leader to exercise what is known as the “nuclear option.”  In translation it means that Reid would change the current rule which required 60 votes to end debate and replace it with a simple majority vote.
Reid had had threatened to “go all nuclear” on the Republicans before.  But each time cooler heads prevailed.  They reminded Reid that at some point in time the power in the senate was bound to shift.   Democrats had been in the minority before and had not been bashful about using the filibuster to delay Republican nominees. 
But this was different in Reid’s eyes.  Republicans had been unabashedly using the filibuster to circumvent laws passed by congress.  This was obstructionism gone rogue.
McConnell believed that Reid was bluffing.  Republicans filibustered all three of the president’s nominees.  Reid had had enough.  With the president’s support Reid went “nuclear,” changed the rules and forever altered the way business will be conducted in the senate.
There are currently 93 vacant seats in the federal courts.  McConnell challenged Reid on the three vacancies in the DC Circuit.  McConnell overplayed his hand and lost.  Now the president can fill all 93 vacancies and there is nothing republicans can do to stop him.
Republicans went nuts!  McConnell warned that Democrats would rue the day “sooner than you may think.”
McConnell is correct.  Democrats may well lose the senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016. If that should that happen Democrats will find themselves without the filibuster to stem the Republican tide.
And that is exactly how it should be. 
If a party wants to rule as the majority then it needs to make its case to the voters and win an election.  A minority party should not be able to use procedural tactics to circumvent the law.  And a president, Democrat or Republican, should have a mandate to pick his own team.
Republicans like to talk about how they are the defenders of the constitution.
You won’t find the word “filibuster” mentioned anywhere in that document.

50 Years Later...I Still feel The Pain

Where were you the day they shot JFK?
If you are old enough to have lived through the Kennedy assassination you have probably been asked that question at least 50 times over the last 50 years.  Those of us old enough to have been cognizant of the events of that crisp November day most certainly remember where we were… and what we felt when we learned that they had shot the president.
Just one month shy of my twelfth birthday, I was laying on the couch in my parents’ living room watching TV.  I was sporting a new set of braces on my unruly teeth; having spent the morning in the clutches of a cruel and unfeeling orthodontist.   I was feeling quite sorry for myself; my only solace, a day home from Sister’s Felicity’s interrogations.
I still remember the state of shock and disbelief that swept over me when they cut into local programming to announce that the president had been shot.  I remember hoping against hope that the wounds were not fatal…that somehow he would pull through.  And I remember to this day the pain deep in my stomach when they confirmed that the president had died from his wounds.
My mother burst into tears.  I had never seen my mother cry before that day.  That day we wept together.
The Kennedy Campaign opened my eyes to the world of politics.  As a youngster I remember watching the convention the night he won the nomination.  I understood little of it.  But the crowds, the signs, the whole spectacle was fascinating. 
I didn’t understand Kennedy’s politics. Hell, I didn’t understand politics period.  What did I know of civil rights?  Two of the kids that I played with every day happened to be black.  The only thing that separated me from them as far as I was concerned was the manner in which they kicked my ass on the makeshift ball field that we frequented after school.  All I knew was that Kennedy was young and inspiring and I wanted him to win.
I remember watching Kennedy debate Nixon.  I remember Kennedy’s cool, calm demeanor.  I remember the beads of perspiration on Nixon’s lip.  Kennedy made me feel safe.  Nixon gave me the creeps. 
I vividly remember the Cuban missile crisis…pictures of Khrushchev pounding the desk with his shoe…the constant air raid drills.  It was all very real…and very scary.  Kennedy saved us.  Only later in life did I learn that he saved the world from a nuclear holocaust.
The days following the assassination were a blur.  I watched Jack Ruby murder Lee Harvey Oswald on live television.  The funeral was surreal.  The flag draped coffin lying in state…the rider less horse, empty boots riding backward in the stirrups…the sound of the drums. 
I remember watching Jackie Kennedy closely.  Perhaps it was because she was the last remaining link to a fallen president and a time lost forever.  Or perhaps it was because her features were similar to those of my own mother.  I watched how she carried herself and how she ushered her children, and with them a nation, through an excruciatingly difficult time. I remember watching John John’s salute…
And then, suddenly, it was over…
The press had dubbed the Kennedy years in the White House: “Camelot.” It truly was a magical time.  The young energetic president, brimming with vitality…his stunning, intelligent cultured wife…their two beautiful children…all packaged together at a moment in time that resonated with masses.  Kennedy gave us sense of hope and the promise of a better future…that we as a country could do anything.  A “New Frontier” was ours for the taking.
Then, in a flash, it was gone.  And we were left bewildered and very afraid of what the future might bring.
I have lived through the horrors of 9/11 and witnessed the impact that day had on this country.  But for me nothing compares to the sense of sorrow and loss that came over me on that fateful day of November 22, 1963.
They took something from us that day.  They took something from me.  And try as I might I can’t seem to get it back.
So every year, for the past 50 years, I remember the anniversary of that terrible day.  The sorrow and emptiness in the pit of my stomach returns as I remember what we lost…
…and what might have been.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

ACA Reducing Health Care Costs

The Affordable Care Act was designed to accomplish two very important goals: 1.) make affordable health care available to every American and 2.) reduce the cost of health care in this country.
The jury is still out on goal #1.  Even though parts of the law have been in effect for three years the enrollment piece has only been up and running for 6 weeks.  The difficulties with the website have been well documented.  They are inexcusable.  Presumably they will be fixed.  History will eventually determine to what extent the botched rollout will have on reaching this long term goal.
There is however ample evidence that the ACA is well on its way to achieving goal #2.
USA TODAY highlights a new report which states that over the past three years our “health care spending has risen by the lowest rate ever recorded.” 
The White House Council on Economic Advisors states that health care costs from 2010-2013 rose only 1.3%.  The report further states that for the first time in history Medicare spending over the same period did not increase while Medicaid spending decreased by 0.5%.
According to Council on Economic Advisors Chairman, Jason Furman “If just half the recent slowdown can be sustained, health care spending a decade from now will be $1,400 per person lower…Reduced health care costs for employers could lead to 200,000 to 400,000 new jobs per year by the second half of the decade.”
The USA article goes on to say that due to the cost reductions the Congressional Budget Office “reduced Medicare and Medicaid spending projections in 2020 by $147 billion since 2010.”
Health care experts agree that the reduction in spending is due in part to the Affordable Care Act.  Republicans of course disagree.
Brendan Buck, a spokesperson for Speaker Boehner is quoted in the article saying that the slow growth in health care spending “was the result of the terrible economy under President Obama, not his health care law.”
Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research responded to Boehner’s political attempt to throw cold water on the report: 
“The idea that it is the economy is just silly” said Baker.  “In 2008-2009…fair enough, but now that we are four years out, no one could say that with a straight face…Suppose the opposite were happening.  Suppose growth went up 8%.  Does anyone doubt that we would be blaming President Obama and the Affordable Care Act for that?”
The early returns indicate that the ACA is in fact reducing the cost of health care.  Whether the cost reductions are sustainable is yet to be determined.
Health care spending encompasses 1/6th of our economy.  It’s a really big deal!  Republicans have no alternative plan.  So when it comes to the ACA all they can do is highlight the negative and lie about the positive.  It is easy to criticize.  It is difficult to govern.