Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Strength At Home = Strength Abroad

We got a bit of a late start on our blog today.  We found ourselves preoccupied with a shooting at our old high school. No big deal!  It’s just another senseless act of gun violence that has become commonplace in this country.
The president just finished his third news conference of the year.  As expected the first question was about Syria. 
The president is on record as saying that regime’s use of chemical weapons would “cross a red line” in terms of his administration’s response to the violence that has taken the lives of over 80,000 Syrians.  There is now some evidence that the Syrian regime has in fact used chemical weapons against its own people.  So reporters naturally want to know precisely what the president intends to do about it.  The president said that he is still looking for verification that chemical weapons were in fact used.  He was unwilling to be specific as to the options he is considering.
The fact is the president’s options are extremely limited.
The neo-cons, led by Senator McCain are rattling their sabers for war.  They claim that the president’s unwillingness to step into the Syrian fray will embolden Iran and North Korea to defy the international community’s orders to disarm their nuclear capabilities.  They claim that the president’s reluctance to engage Assad is creating a power vacuum that our enemies are more than willing to fill.  They claim that as leader of the world’s lone super power he has a moral duty to intercede.
But this country is in no position to enter into another war…and the president knows it. 
Not only is the nation war weary; but our military has been stretched to the limit.  And with an aging population, crumbling infrastructure, an ineffective school system, high unemployment, historic levels of poverty and $16 trillion dollars of debt  he has to wonder how can he justify spending another $2 billion a week to blow the hell out of the Syrians?
All of which brings us to the point of today’s ramblings.
Our foreign policy is directly linked to the health of our domestic economic condition.  As long as we are suffering economically we will forever be at risk on the international stage.  Yet in spite of this obvious state of affairs we do nothing to fix it.
The key to a strong economy is a strong middle class.  Yet we stand back and watch as our rich get richer while the middle class gets poorer.  According to every single study we researched; since the economic recovery began the top 1% wage earners have enjoyed a 28% increase in their average income while the remaining 99% of Americans have watched their incomes fall by an average of 7%.
Not only does this disparity in income continue to grow but the reckless business practices that brought about these economic problems continue as well.
For example, we were told that we needed to bail out the banks to avoid another Great Depression.  We were told that the government bailed out the banks under the condition that they lend that money to small businesses and homeowners.  We were told that systems were put into place to guarantee that the reckless environment that flourished before would never be allowed to raise its ugly head again.
But the banks used that money to reward their CEO’s and shareholders.  And the sins of the past were never repaired and rarely punished.  Wall Street flourishes while Main Street suffers.
Why…because the banks are deep into the pockets of the politicians. 
Don’t believe it?  Take a look at www.OpenSecrets.org.  This website tracks where our politicians are getting the money for their election campaigns.  Bank America, J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo head the list.
The system is rigged to favor the rich.  The politicians, the ones with the power to change things, would rather see the country suffer than risk a politically difficult vote.  Gridlock is preferred to democracy.  We have $89 trillion in unfunded obligations.  46% of those living in New York City are living below the poverty line.  Not one US airport can be found in the top 25 rankings in terms of efficiency, cleanliness and security.  The list goes on and on.
The country wants Washington to fix the problems we have here at home and let someone else worry about the Syrians. 
Winston Churchill once said: “Americans always do the right thing…after they have tried everything else.”
We are not so sure that is the case anymore.  We seem to stumble from one manufactured crisis to the next with no clear long-term plan.
We are in an economic mess, and anyone that doesn’t believe that this condition has a very real effect on our foreign policy does not understand how the world works.
If we want to be strong internationally…we have to be strong at home first.       



Monday, April 29, 2013


We’ve been writing lately about how the decisions made in congress have very real consequences and how they are often made with little sense of reality.
Today marks the six month anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall on the Jersey shore.  As we viewed the images this morning on our television screen we could not help but think about how horrible that time must have been for the millions of residents that suffered Sandy’s wrath.  Surely things were better now.
 Only then did we realize that the video we were watching was not taken six months ago…it was taken over this past weekend.  As the critical summer tourist season draws near, much of the Jersey shore still looks like a war zone.  Tens of thousands of people are still homeless; businesses are still shuttered.
We were reminded of the mess that congress made over the authorization of $53 billion in relief aid to the area.  You may recall that congress had essentially just voted to raise taxes on individuals making over $400,000.  Having recently enacted this politically charged piece of legislation Speaker Boehner did not want his members to face another vote authorizing more spending.  So he broke his promise to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and put off the relief aid vote until after congress returned from a two week recess. 
Christie was apoplectic.  Congress was unmoved.
It took ninety days of political infighting for congress to pass the Hurricane Sandy relief aid.  Ninety more days have passed…the funds have yet to reach the Jersey Shore.
Governor Christie understood what congress did not…every day that Washington delayed on the front end meant even longer delays on the back end.  Imagine how much closer to normalcy New Jersey residents might be today had relief aid been pouring in from the very beginning.
But Congress doesn’t always make decisions in a political vacuum…especially when it serves their own interests.
Take the recent furlough of 47,000 air traffic controllers.  Flights delayed…tens of thousands of people waiting in long line to get through security.  Members of congress about to join those long lines as they s prepare to go into their spring recess.
 Is it just a coincidence that in a matter of minutes congress was able to pass a bi-partisan funding bill that returned the controllers to work and eliminated the long delays? 
How about the bill on insider trading! 
You may recall; several months ago “60 Minutes” did an expose’ showing that members of congress were legally allowed to trade on insider information which they became aware of in the course of executing the congressional duties. 
The public was outraged.  A common citizen would face some serious jail time for doing the same thing.  Yet our lawmakers were making millions on this convenient loophole
Congress reacted to the scandal immediately.  Just days after the story aired congress passed a bill making it illegal for members to trade on inside information made known to them while performing their duties.
Last night 60 Minutes reported that congress had quietly overturned most of the key components of that insider trading bill.
It takes Washington over six months to pass legislation to help millions of citizens injured by the second most costly storm in our history.
Yet when it comes to awarding themselves “perks” or eliminating any chance of being inconvenienced… it only takes them a matter of minutes to get the job done.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Blinded By Ideology

We wrote recently that we tend to view current events through a very narrow ideological prism, paying little attention to the long term cause an effect of any one particular event.
First let’s take a look at our politics. 
Kelly Ayotte is a Republican Senator from New Hampshire.  She won her last election by a 23% landslide.  The people of New Hampshire supported the recently defeated background check legislation by a 75-25 margin.  Ayotte chose to listen to the very vocal minority and voted against the bill.  Polls taken after the vote show that Ayotte’s approval ratings are now upside down.  She’s lost 15 points in her approval ratings while her “disapproval” ratings have gone up 11 points since the last polls were taken.
Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota broke party ranks and joined Republicans in opposing the bill.  She said her office was inundated with calls from constituents voicing their opposition to the bill.  Polls show North Dakotans supported the background check legislation by an overwhelming 90-10 margin.  Heitkamp said she didn’t believe the polls.  Neither did Mitt Romney.
Ayotte and Heitkamp join a host of lawmakers who have historically been hesitant to vote against the NRA for fear of facing its money and grassroots activism come election time.  That insular thinking will have consequences.  The NRA and the gun lobby have made a serious miscalculation about the county’s desire to curb gun violence.  Lawmakers who join the NRA in their ever shrinking ideological bubble will learn that lesson at the next election.    
We see the same insular thinking in our foreign policy.  The Boston bombers are domestic terrorists but their actions were fueled by our foreign policies.
 Lawmakers in Washington are now playing Monday morning quarterback with the events surrounding the Boston bombings.  Word has leaked out that the Russian government warned both the FBI and the CIA about the radical leanings of the eldest bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  Naturally congress wants to know who knew what when.  We are already hearing rumblings from the neo-cons about tightening our security while conducting a scorched earth policy to destroy whoever radicalized these two bombers.  The far left is all concerned that the reaction to the bombings will infringe on our civil liberties.  And opponents of immigration reform cite the bombings as reason to kill all talk about pathways to citizenship. 
These lawmakers fail to understand that when we insert ourselves into the affairs of a foreign country under the guise of “protecting our interests” we tend to step on toes.  Those policy decisions have consequences.  And those consequences are playing themselves out on our shores with ever increasing frequency.  We can play the blame game all we want.  We can tighten our borders, tap into emails and eavesdrop on phone conversations all we want.  But as long as we continue to operate under a foreign policy of entitlement and self righteousness we will continue to be attacked.  Any thought to the contrary is blinded to reality.                        

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


This would be funny…if it wasn’t so sad.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY.) made headlines recently when he stood in the well of the Senate for thirteen hours to filibuster the administration’s use of drone attacks against US citizens.  “No American should be killed by a done on US soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”
Yesterday Rand Paul said the following:  “I’ve never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat. If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and fifty dollars cash, I don’t care if a done kills him or a policeman kills him.” 
What just happened here?

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH.) are leading the charge against the furlough of 15,000 air traffic controllers.  The furloughs are the result of the sequestration cuts; a bi-partisan agreement that enacted automatic spending cuts thought to be so draconian they would force both parties to reach a debt/deficit agreement.  It seems that McConnell and Boehner don’t appreciate the long lines and flight cancellations brought on by the cuts. 
While Republicans are in a tizzy over flight delays they have been noticeably silent about the effects the sequestration cuts have had on unemployment benefits, teacher layoffs, Pell grants and Head Start programs just to name a few.
Republican want to cut, cut, cut…!  Cuts have real consequences.

The Obama administration says that the air traffic controller furloughs are necessitated by the sequester cuts.
The Aviation Administration says that the number of flights have decreased consistently since 2008.  Yet their operating budget continues to increase each year.  Their 2014 budget is scheduled for another increase; in spite of the decrease in flight operations and the furlough of 15,000 controllers.
Can you say “manufactured crisis for political purposes.”

Senator Max Baucus (Dem-MT.) is one of four Democrats who voted against the bi-partisan bill to require background checks on all commercial gun purchases.  He said that he broke party ranks due to the “overwhelming opposition to the bill voiced by his Montana constituents.” 
Recent polls show that voters in Montana SUPPORT background checks on all commercial gun purchases by a 95%-5% margin.
Max Baucus announced yesterday that he would not seek another term in the Senate. 
So not only was Baucus wrong about his constituent’s opinions when he cast his vote…he was not bound by any electoral considerations either.

The NRA has successfully defeated a bill that would have required background checks on all commercial gun purchases while strengthening the laws on gun trafficking.
Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and DzHokhar Tsarnaev are NOT licensed gun owners in the state of Massachusetts.
So one must ask…where did they get the guns? 
Not from a licensed dealer.

The Russian government says that they repeatedly warned the FBI about the radical leanings of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
So why didn’t the Russian government pick him up when he was in their country for six months?

Monday, April 22, 2013

We Agree With Maureen!

We were going to write a piece this morning about how the cowardice and dysfunction that is rampant in our federal government reared its ugly head in the vote on background checks.  We were going to write about how this popular president was unable to persuade not only his opponents but his supporters to stand against the gun lobby and vote for legislation that was supported by 90% of the American people.
We had it all planned out in our head.
And then New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote an op-ed that says it so much better than we ever could.
In a recent op-ed titled “No Bully in the Pulpit” Dowd makes the point that this president continues erroneously believe that he can use rhetoric and emotion to persuade congress to do his bidding.  But as Dowd notes:  “That’s not how adults with power respond to things.”
Make no mistake; the president can be very, very effective in using his soaring oratory to motivate the masses. We all remember his call to action during the State of the Union address when he called for an up or down vote on gun control legislation:  “The people of Newtown deserve a vote.  Gabby Giffords deserves a vote…”  And we could feel his pain, and anger, as he stood with the Newtown parents and chastised the Senate for their “shameful actions” in failing to pass common sense background checks on all gun purchases.  He fails to understand that while his eloquence may motivate the nation it has little or no impact on congress. 
He, like many eloquent speakers before him, mistakenly believes that the speech itself marks the beginning and the end of the argument. 
We thought that the president had learned this lesson.  In a 60 Minute interview held after the election the president admitted that his biggest mistake in his first term was: “believing that getting the policy right was enough.”  He admitted that he had not understood “the importance of selling it.”  He has taken to the stump to successfully sell his agenda to the people.  But that effort has yet to prove effective in moving congress.  
There is little doubt that this president is never going to move his Republican opponents to join his side of an argument.  But surely he should be able to control his own Democratic caucus. Sadly four Democrats joined with Republicans in cowing to the gun lobby.
Dowd lays out her case for how the president should have reached out to those senators straddling the fence on gun control.  She suggests the president use a light hand on the reins:  “How can we make this a bill that you can vote for and defend?  You work with us, we’ll work with you.”
We would suggest a different tack: “If you break ranks on this I will see to it that you are “primaried” in the next election.  I will veto any piece of legislation that you support.  I will make your days here in the Senate a living hell and I will see to it that this term in office will be your last.”
Too harsh?  Perhaps!  But in 2007 and 2008 George W. Bush got everything he wanted from congress even though he had an approval rating in the low 30’s and Nancy Pelosi as minority leader.  Why?  Because they knew that if they crossed him, be they Republican or Democrat, he would beat them up come election time.
The Senate is a dysfunctional mess.  It takes 60 votes to get anything done.  If today’s senate were in power in the 1960’s civil rights legislation would be little more than a pipedream.
The president continues to use a velvet glove when a firm hand is required.  He has yet to learn that in leadership it is often more effective to be feared and respected than liked.
This congress does not fear him.
Check out Maureen Dowd’s op-ed online in the New York Times.               

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Viewing Life Through An Ideological Prism

We have a tendency in our society of view current events through a very narrow ideological prism…a type of vacuum or bubble if you will.  We tend to pay little attention to the long term cause and effect of any one particular event.
Take the recent bombings in Boston.  They are a product of decisions that we have made in the past.  And they will have a causal affect on our future.
Naturally the drama and tragedy of the bombings and the events that followed have gripped the nation.  (That is of course unless you live in West, Texas.)  But there seems to have been little thought about how decisions that were made in the past got us here, nor how these events will affect our society’s future.  For while the bombings and subsequent manhunt were playing out in Boston there were events occurring in other parts of the country that are very much linked to that horrible event.
Mere minutes after the bombers struck the pundits and experts weighed in. We listened while conservative pundits bemoaned the fact that Boston did not have CCTV cameras mounted on every street corner; even as they criticized the president for his intrusive big government policies.
“Had the cameras been in place, the authorities would have no problem identifying the perpetrators.  In cities throughout Europe, like London for example, they would be able to identify these bombers in an hour.  But here we sit chasing our tails.” 
Apparently it is not intrusive for the government to be able to track your every footstep.   
Naturally these same voices had a definite opinion as to the origin of the perpetrators.  Their general consensus was that they were undoubtedly Middle Eastern terrorists…Al Qaeda or some similar faction. 
And then the blame game started.  Within minutes of the explosions the ideological finger of bias and hatred was pointed at the president.  It was his fault because: “he hasn’t given the authorities the money they need to stop these guys from coming in.” This gem of political punditry ignores the fact that this president has deported more illegal immigrants in four years than the Bush administration did in eight.  And the cut backs in police, fire and border security funding are the direct result of austerity measures instituted by conservative Republican governors and conservative state and local officials.  Austerity measures have consequences.   
Of course we now know that these were not Middle Eastern terrorists but brothers from Chechnya who came to our country seeking asylum over a decade ago.  Friends and neighbors expressed disbelief.  Tamerlan, the eldest, was a boxer who represented New England in the National Golden Gloves competition.  He wanted to fight on the Olympic Team. Dzhokar, the youngest, was an excellent student on scholarship.  He became a naturalized US citizen on September 11, 2012. 
We know that Tamerlan was arrested in 2009 on a domestic assault and battery charge for assaulting his girlfriend.  We also know that the FBI had been tracking his movements, travel history and internet activity for over two years.  In fact they interviewed him as recently as 2012.  Something was definitely up with Tamerlan that caught the attention of the authorities. 
So the question that comes to our mind is: given all the attention that the authorities had directed toward Tamerlan…how was he able to acquire all the materials necessary to make multiple IEDs?  Not to mention enough firepower to hold the entire city of Boston hostage?
While all of this was taking place in Boston there we events going on in Washington that were very much related.
The US Senate, in an act of utter cowardice and self-preservation, voted down legislation which would have required that a background check be made on all gun purchases.  Rather than go against the NRA and the gun lobby, the Senate said “No” to legislation that was supported by 90% of the country.  Once again this poses an obvious question.  How did Tamerlan and his brother get their hands on the guns?  Did they buy them at a gun show where Tamerlan’s record would not have been an issue?
The NRA will view this situation as evidence that we live in a violent society and law abiding citizens need access to firearms to protect themselves from people like the Tsarnave brothers.  If the NRA and the gun lobby had their way they would flood the country with guns and let the good guys chase down the bad guys.  For as NRA executive Wayne La Pierre famously said:  “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 
But MIT security officer, Sean Collier was a good guy with a gun.  He was shot to death in his squad car.  MBTA police officer Richard Donohue was a good guy with a gun.  He graduated from the same police academy class as Sean Collier.  He’s in critical condition in a Boston hospital after being shot in an exchange of gun fire with the Tsarnave brothers.
And where were all of these gun advocates who just had to own a gun so they could protect their families?  There had to be hundreds if not thousands of them in the Watertown area alone…right?  Certainly their firearm expertise and their stated willingness to place themselves in the line of fire to protect their loved ones would have been a big help to the authorities in apprehending these dangerous fugitives…right? 
Thankfully they were where most gun advocates find themselves in times of trouble…hiding behind locked doors…peeking through the curtains.  Can you imagine the carnage if hundreds if not thousands of George Zimmerman wannabes were roaming the streets of Watertown in search of Dzhokar Tsarnave.
And then there is the issue of immigration reform.  Right wing radicals would have us seal up our borders and kill the diversity that is the very essence of who we are. 
Whenever the media talks about immigration reform the conservative media interviews someone with a Hispanic name.  It’s as if all illegal immigrants are Hispanic.  The conservative idea of immigration reform is to round up the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants and ship them back over the Mexican border.  We could do that if we wanted to dry our fragile economy into a recession.  We could do that if all the illegal immigrants came from Mexico.  But one of the many problems with that narrow minded plan is that only about half of the illegal immigrants in this country come from Mexico.  The other half come from Asia, Europe, Africa and other South American countries. 
The Tsarnave brothers were here legally.  Until just a few days ago they went about their business like the rest of us.
Our log winded point in all of this is that when we talk about gun control, immigration reform, intrusive big government, the economy and a host of other topics we need to stop examining them through the prism of narrow minded ideology.  These issues are all intertwined in the fabric of our democracy.  They are complicated and have far reaching affects on our society.  They need to be discussed thoughtfully and in a timely manner.
Or more tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombings are destined to occur.    



Wednesday, April 17, 2013


According to the Associated Press: 
“A nonpartisan commission’s review of the country’s anti-terrorism response after the 9/11 attacks reported Tuesday that it is “indisputable” the United States engaged in the practice of torture and the Bush Administration bears responsibility.”
The Constitution Project’s findings are the result of an exhaustive two year review of evidence available in the public record.  The AP reports: “the investigation was conducted by a bi-partisan task force that came from a broad range of ideological perspectives and professions.  It includes both former Republican and Democratic policymakers and members of Congress, retired generals, judges, lawyers and academics.”
You may recall that the Bush Administration went to great lengths to justify the CIA’s use of what they shamefully referred to as “enhanced interrogation” techniques in the questioning of prisoners.  Jack Yoo of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel penned a great piece of fiction that became the legal cornerstone for President Bush’s authorization of what we have always known to be torture.
The Constitution Project acknowledges that brutality has occurred in war before. 
“But there is no evidence that there had ever before been the kind of consideration and detailed discussions that occurred after September 11, directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.”
Defenders of the Bush Administration have challenged similar findings in the past and they will no doubt do the same here.  They will say that if these “enhanced interrogation techniques” saved one American life they were worth it.  They will call the president’s critics, weak, unpatriotic and hypocrites:  “It’s ok to kick down doors and kill people; but they get all squeamish if we hold a guy’s head underwater too long.”
According to the Geneva Convention, in times of war kicking down doors and killing enemy combatants is legal…water boarding detainees is not.
We claim to be a nation of laws.  Are we?  It seems that we tend to bend and break them to suit our needs. 
The nonpartisan Constitution Project doesn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know.  It says that we tortured detainees in violation of international law at the direction of the President of the United States.  Bush supporters can spout all manner of justification.  But the facts are that the United States of America committed war crimes.
Nothing will come of this.  President Obama has already stated that he will not pursue the matter.  Dick Cheney will continue to bloviate about his place in history. 
And the country will be all the worse for it.              

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Violence Is Violence!

It was suppose to be a day of celebration. 
It became a day of tragedy.
By now you all know the events that occurred in Boston yesterday. 
Two explosions…seconds apart.  Three dead…over 140 injured. 
Martin Richard was eight years old.  He had just re-joined his mother and sister after hugging his dad at the finish line of the iconic Boston Marathon.  Suddenly a massive explosion tore through the crowd.  Martin Richard died.  His sister lost a leg.  His mother remains in critical condition. 
Lives lost…families shattered…all in a matter of seconds.
The media swarms.  Speculation runs wild.  Conspiracy theories abound. 
 Who did this?  Was it Al Qaeda?  Was it Hezbollah?   Was it a terrorist group or someone operating alone? Are their roots in the Middle East…or in the Midwest? 
“What we DON’T know right now is far more than we DO know.”
The president addresses the nation.  He utters the phrase that we have come to know by heart: 
“We will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice.”
We will react…quickly.  Security will immediately be tightened.  Police presence in public places will become increasingly more obvious.  We will scrutinize what happened and we make every effort to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again.
At the risk of being crucified for politicizing this horrific event we have to ask:  “Why?”
Why does it take a massacre like this, like 911, like Sandy Hook to bring our collective conscience to bear on the violent society in which we live?  Every single day innocent families just like Martin Richard’s are shattered by gun violence…over 2,500 since Sandy Hook.  Are their lives any less notable than Martin’s?  Are their tragedies any less horrific?
Our elected leaders will seek out every media outlet and pose for every camera they can find to condemn the senseless act of violence that occurred in Boston.  Yet they choose to do nothing to curb the gun violence that snuffs the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year under far less publicized circumstances.
Violence is violence! 
We do everything we can to stop foreign born terrorists from doing us harm.  Yet we do little to halt the violence perpetrated by our own citizens.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Happy Tax Day!

Happy Tax Day!
The president’s tax return has been released, and as you might expect it is generating criticism from the right.
The president made over $650,000 last year and paid taxes at an 18% rate.  The president’s critics at FOXNEWS are using this information to paint the president as a hypocrite on the matter of taxes: “He wants to raise taxes on small business while he is only paying 18%...If I’m paying 36% why is a rich guy like the president paying only 18%.”
First of all…if you are paying 36% in taxes under the current tax code…you need a new accountant.
Go back and look at any speech on taxes that the president has made since taking office in 2008.  Look at any stump speech that he made in the last campaign.  He always said the same thing.  He said the Republicans want to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the middle class while protecting loopholes for millionaires and billionaires.  He said that the tax rates for the richest among us should go up: “so that guys like me who can afford to pay a little bit more pay their fair share.” 
The clowns at FOX are making the president’s argument for him.  Why IS a rich guy like the president paying taxes at a lower rate than his staff?
Just another example of why research polls examining where people get their news show that viewers who consider FOXNEWS their primary news source are the "most uninformed" on matters of politics and current events.      

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Who You Gonna' Call?"

This story has been buried by the tsunami of media coverage focused on the gun control debate.  But we think it bears noting.
The Republican leadership met recently to discuss their position on various matters of foreign affairs.  The issue that spurred this conclave was the aggressive posture being posed by the North Korean regime. 
So if you are a Republican lawmaker and you want to bring in the top conservative guru on foreign affairs, “who you gonna’ call?”
Dick Cheney!
Dick did such a bang up job of dealing with another wacko dictator, Saddam Hussein; who better to advise Republicans on the recent aggression of Kim Jung Un.
Cheney has reportedly decided that we are in deep do as respects North Korea’s current nuclear aggression due to President Obama’s failure to put the regime in its rightful place in the past.
It should be noted that at the exact time that Dick and George were taking us into a war in Iraq over weapons that didn’t exist…North Korea was going about the business of successfully building its nuclear capability.       

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


It is 12 noon eastern as we write this and it has been a very, very busy hour in Washington.
GUNS:  “I don’t consider background checks to be gun control.  I consider them to be common sense.”

With those words Rep. Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey may have uttered the most important statement ever issued in the entire gun debate.  Toomey effectively separated background checks from gun control and in so doing may have paved the way toward passing the first substantive gun violence legislation in over a decade. 

Toomey joined Dem. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin in announcing a bi-partisan agreement on background checks that will close the gun show loophole and tighten up the laws governing internet sales.  The Senate is expected to begin deliberations on the bill tomorrow.  It appears that the filibuster threat from the right may have been quashed by an avalanche of criticism from the Sandy Hook parents, the president and from within their own party.  Perhaps they understand that trying to filibuster the issue would be far worse for them politically than voting “No” on the record.

The Heritage Foundation and the NRA have already criticized the bill.  And it will take a 70-75 vote majority in the Senate to shame John Boehner to allow a vote in the ever dysfunctional House. 

But this is good news!  Kudos to Toomey and Manchin for having the political courage to do the right thing.

BUDGET:  Toomey and Manchin’s announcement was upstaged by the president who formerly announced his budget to a White House gathering.

The president’s budget includes specific reforms to entitlement programs; reforms that have been taboo to his liberal base.  The president tied those reforms to an overhaul of the tax code which would raise revenues by cutting tax loopholes that favor major corporations and the very rich.

Republicans, led by Paul Ryan and John Boehner attacked the budget for raising revenues.  But their criticism is not credible because the president’s proposal includes entitlement and tax reforms that Republicans have proposed in the past.

Kudos to the president for offering a specific, substantive, balanced plan to reduce the debt and deficit.

IMMIGRATION REFORM:  The bi-partisan Gang of 8 announced that they have reached agreement on comprehensive immigration reform bill.  They are expected to reveal the details later on today.

Guns…budget…immigration…  Do we dare think compromise?      

A National Disgrace!

“We support our troops.”
When it comes to military matters, regardless of one’s political persuasion, the one area that we all seem to agree on is that “we support our troops.” 
You can debate an administration’s policies on foreign affairs.  You can disagree with the rationale for going to war.  You can second guess military tactics.  But no matter what side of the debate you stand you always, always end by saying:  “…but we support our troops.  We support the young men and women who put themselves in harm’s way in defense of our country.”
The problem is we don’t.  In fact we have let them down in extraordinary fashion.
Veterans returning home from combat have to wait up to 600 days to have their applications for benefits reviewed by the Veterans Affairs Administration.  There are cases where Purple Heart recipients have waited over 1,000 days to receive medical benefits.  Over 600,000 new claims for injury or illness received during active duty service have been pending for more than 125 days.     
Many veterans are unable to work due to their disabilities.  So while the VA backlog sucks their application into a deep black hole, bills go unpaid, bankruptcies and foreclosures occur and an already stressful situation becomes exponentially more stressful.
Why is this happening?
The VA is the poster child for big government bureaucracy.  It is a governmental behemoth of 270,000 employees charged with administering benefits to over 4 million veterans.  It suffers from bureaucratic gridlock, poor management and antiquated systems.
97% of all veterans’ claim files are paper files.  Not digital…paper.  You can only imagine the train wreck of lost documents and miss -filed correspondence that is rampant when trying to keep track of over 40 million pieces of paper.   The VA is currently converting these files over to the Veterans Benefits Management System.  VA Secretary Eric Shinseki expects the transfer to digital files to be completed “sometime in 2015.”  Budget cuts mandated by sequestration compound the problem.  Meanwhile over 1 million new claims pour in each year.
This is a travesty that is not going away anytime soon.  As modern science reveals never before known affects of combat, more and more veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam are joining our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in seeking benefits.
The president has been virtually silent on this issue.  He needs to spend some of his political capital to point the glare of the national spotlight this relatively quiet scandal.
“We support our troops!”
No, we do not.
This is a national disgrace!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Do We Really Live In A Democracy?

The dysfunctional occupants of the United States Senate are at it again.
Yesterday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined thirteen other Senate Republicans in proclaiming that they would filibuster any attempt to bring gun control legislation to the floor for a vote.
You may not be aware of this but Party Leaders do not join filibusters.  They leave it to the backbenchers of the party to do the dirty work.  But Mitch McConnell is in danger of losing his seat and his powerful position.  And Mitch McConnell is not a dummy.  He understands how weak he is in his own state.  So McConnell has calculated that he needs to curry favor with the far right to avoid a primary challenge come 2014. He believes that joining this filibuster is the way to do it.  Never mind that 92% of the nation favors stricter laws on gun ownership.  What’s important to McConnell is not the will of the people but the will of the far right special interest groups that fill his re-election coffers.
Senate Majority Leader is no better.  Reid went to the Senate floor and chastised his Republican colleagues for refusing to allow a vote on gun control legislation.  Senator Reid would like us to forget that it is as a result of his incompetence that Republicans have the opportunity to play these obstructionist games.
You see ever since Barak Obama became president the Republicans have used the filibuster to block his agenda.  They have used the filibuster hundreds of times more than any previous party in our history.  They have basically changed the rules.  Whereas the framers wrote that a simple majority vote should rule in terms of passing new laws; the Republicans, through use of the filibuster have altered the rules so that it now requires 60 votes to pass anything.
During the past election season Senator Reid vowed that if Democrats were returned to the majority he would exercise his power to change the Senate rules in such a manner as to reduce the power of the filibuster and return Senate procedures to the way the founders intended.  But when the time came Harry backed down.  He agreed on a handshake deal under which Republicans “promised” to only use the filibuster on important matters.  Harry agreed on this casual, watered down agreement because he feared that one day his Democrat Party might be in the minority and might want to abuse the power of the filibuster themselves.  Forget about the framers and the voters; it’s all about the Party and preserving one’s cash cow.
This whole thing is ludicrous! 
Who in his or her right mind filibusters an issue that is favored by 92% of the American people?  The answer of course is those who know that they will lose he debate.  Republicans don’t want an open debate and up or down vote on gun control because they know that they will lose.
Vice President  Joe Biden will participate in a round table debate on gun control this Thursday on MSNBC’s popular “Morning Joe.”  The host of the show, former Republican congressman and unabashed conservative Joe Scarborough invited the NRA to participate.  They declined saying that they were “too busy.” 
The NRA has railed against Biden’s efforts to pass stricter gun control laws.  They have accused Biden of “shredding the Constitution” in violation of their Second Amendment rights.  Yet when offered the opportunity to make their case before a national audience by debating the #1 proponent of gun control laws…they are too busy.  The fact is they don’t want to debate the issue because they know that they will lose.
The United States Senate is often referred to as “The world’s greatest deliberative body.”  Others have called the Senate “one of the most powerful political bodies in the world.”
We prefer “the most dysfunctional, out of touch self promoting social club ever assembled.”
If fourteen Senators can prevent the will of 92% of the people from even coming up for a vote then the question must be asked...do we really live in a democracy?               

Monday, April 8, 2013

Congress To Tackle Gun Control...Maybe!

Congress returns from recess today and we are told that that the various components of gun control are on this week’s to-do list.
The President will take his gun control message to Connecticut where he will be joined by some of the parents whose children were slaughtered in the Sandy Hook shootings.
Last night many of those same parents were interviewed on “60 Minutes.”  The interview is certainly   worth watching.  Not for the raw emotion displayed by those who have lost their young innocents.  But for the clear headed, rational, chilling oratory of what our society faces with absolute certainty if we don’t do something about gun violence in this country.
Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and a few other misguided Senators believe that stricter gun control laws are the first steps toward having they government take away all their guns.  They have proclaimed that they will filibuster any attempt to bring stricter gun control laws to the floor for a vote; laws which are now supported by over 92% of the voters. 
Senator Paul and his cohorts should be forced to watch this interview.  They should be forced to see what happens when radical conspiracy theory ideology meets the realities of life.
It is hard for us to fathom how anyone watching this could come away unconvinced that we have a serious gun problem in this country. It is even harder to fathom how lawmakers could be so insensitive to the will of 92% of the people that they would block the issue from even coming to a vote. 
We cannot help but wonder what the conversation in Washington would be like if one of their own were sitting among those parents, grieving over the loss of a child.  Our guess is that the conversation on the Hill would be very, very different.     
The Sandy Hook victims, their families, their friends and millions of other Americans who a have suffered as the result of gun violence deserve a vote.


Friday, April 5, 2013


President Obama will release his budget proposal next Wednesday.  In a move that is certain to anger his base, the President will formally offer to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits; an offer designed to reach a deficit reduction compromise with his Republican opponents. 
The President’s proposal will tie any reduction in entitlement benefits to an increase in revenues by way of closing tax loopholes that favor the wealthy.
The administration says the President’s budget will cut the deficit by an additional $1.8 trillion over the next decade.  Together with the  $2.5 trillion in spending cuts that the White House and Congress already agreed to, the deal would bring the total deficit reduction to $4.3 trillion over the next ten years.
We have been waiting for the President to have the political courage to formally address the real cause of our long term financial woes…entitlements.  Yes, the president has nibbled around the edges before.  He has mentioned in vague terms his willingness to address entitlements on several occasions.  He even included some aspects of entitlement reform in the “Grand Bargain” that John Boehner turned his back on.  But this is the first time that this President has sent Congress a specific, detailed proposal that takes this very politically charged issue head on. 
It’s amazing how clear headed politicians can become when not facing re-election.
Will the President receive some blowback from this proposal?  Absolutely!  Republicans will rip apart his request for additional revenues.  They will say that he got his tax increases when Congress agreed to keep the Bush tax cuts in place for all but the wealthiest Americans.  Democrats will criticize him for even mentioning cuts to the heretofore sacrosanct entitlement programs.
But the President has been politically savvy with this approach.  His budget falls somewhere in the middle of the right wing austerity measures in Paul Ryan’s budget and the tax and spend freewheeling of the budget proposal offered by the Democrat led Senate.  Obama comes across here as the moderate adult in the room.  He is betting that he can pull members from both sides toward a middle of the road compromise.
The important thing here is that the President of the United States will formerly offer a budget that puts country over party.
That is leadership.  That is what the people want.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Connecticut Lawmakers Step Up

Connecticut lawmakers, responding to the people’s call to address gun violence, have passed the most comprehensive gun legislation in our nation’s history.  Governor Dan Malloy is expected to sign the bill into law today.
The bill adds more than 100 types of guns to the state’s list of banned assault weapons.  It limits the capacity of magazine clips to 10 rounds.  It bans the sale of amour piercing bullets and requires background checks for all gun sales.  It establishes safety standards for schools, allows mental health training for teachers and expands mental research within the state.  It creates the nation’s first registry for people convicted of crimes involving the use or threat of use of dangerous weapons.
Connecticut joins Colorado and New York as the only states to pass tough gun control laws.  Maryland is expected to follow suit in the near future.
Meanwhile, over the past year ten states have passed laws that actually weaken the gun laws currently on their books.
And in Washington six Senators have taken the coward’s way out, saying that they will filibuster any attempt to being any bill to the floor that restricts the use of firearms.
61% of Americans want more stringent gun control laws.  90% of Americans favor universal background checks for all gun purchases.  We applaud the Connecticut state legislature for responding to the will of the people.
But Washington D.C. is another matter.  Politicians in Washington don’t listen to the people.  They only listen to the constituents who fund their election campaigns.
Kudos to the Connecticut legislators for doing the right thing!  They have exhibited a sense of responsibility and political understanding that is foreign to the members of Congress.
What will it take to bring Washington to its senses?  Will another Adam Lanza need to roam the halls of Congress before our spineless leaders stand up to the NRA and the right wing conspiracy theorists?
Make no mistake…there are many more Adam Lanza’s out there. 
If Congress does nothing…it is only a matter time before we hear from them.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Failing The Children

If you pay any attention to the national news you are no doubt familiar with the ongoing debates over gun control, debt reduction, spending cuts and entitlement reform.  Washington insiders and the national media are constantly reminding us about the fiscal and political ramifications of these weighty topics…how long it will take Paul Ryan’s budget to proposal to actually balance the budget or how Senator So and So’s re-election prospects will be affected by his stance on gun control.  But there seems to be very little discussion about how decisions coming out of Washington specifically affect the lives of every day Americans.
So we’d like to take just a few moments to dig into the weeds of how Washington’s decisions on gun control and the sequestration spending cuts affect the most defenseless of our citizenry…the children.
According to recent polls 61% of Americans favor stricter gun control laws.  Over 90% favor universal background checks on all gun purchases.  In spite of these overwhelming numbers gun advocates led by the NRA have succeeded in removing a ban on assault weapons and extended capacity magazines from the discussion.  Although background checks are still being considered there is little chance that any watered down proposal that gets through Senate will make it through the House. 
The NRA says that background checks would be “inconvenient and a paperwork nightmare for legal gun owners.”  They say that background checks will lead to a national registry of guns and gun owners; a violation of our right to privacy.  They say the only purpose for a gun registry: “is to tax them to take them.”
The NRA has proposed their own gun safety legislation which includes allowing all citizens to carry their firearms with them at all times, arming teachers in schools and providing for armed security guards at every school in the country.
So in the real world according to the NRA, John Q. Citizen could sell one of his guns to a friend without a background check.  This is called a “casual sale.”  That friend, who may or may not be mentally stable, would be allowed to carry his/her firearm into a school.  Mary Math Teacher, who might be having a very bad day, would be allowed to carry her firearm into her classroom.  And is there any guarantee that the security guard hired to protect the children could not just as easily turn into their worst nightmare.
The sequestration cuts recently passed into law by congress focus on slashing discretionary spending.  Government programs like food stamps, unemployment benefits, aid to dependent children, education and a host of others are being cut because congress does not have the will to tackle entitlement reform and defense spending…the true drivers of our fiscal woes. While discretionary spending only represents 8-12% of our national budget it represents 100% of the programs that millions of everyday Americans need to survive.
 According to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration: “Head Start provides federal grants to local public and private non-profit and for profit agencies to provide comprehensive child development services to economically disadvantaged children and families with a special focus on helping preschoolers develop the early reading and math skills they need to be successful in school.”  The Head Start program in Indiana is being cut due to the passage of the sequestration cuts in Washington. 
Yesterday parents in the small town of Columbus, Indiana gathered in a local school auditorium to see if their child would be among those who would receive Head Start benefits.  A lottery was conducted with the names of the lucky children pulled out of a hat.  Thirty six sets of parents wept upon learning that their child was not one of the chosen.  The long term ramifications for their child are incalculable...not to mention the economic impact on their families as they cope with time off work and finding alternative child care.
The US spends more per capita on education than any other country in the world.  Yet our children continue to rank in the middle of all industrial countries in terms of math, reading and science proficiency.
The sequestration cuts will also scale back food stamps.  16,000,000 children in this country are living in poverty.  22% of all children reside in families living below the poverty level. One in four children lives on food stamps.
We like to say that the United States of America is the greatest country in the world.  But if we cannot keep our children safe from violence…if we cannot find the means to educate them…if we cannot even feed them properly…
…then one must question how “great” a nation we really are.
The decisions that are made in Washington have very serious day-to-day consequences. 
Just ask the children.