Friday, December 19, 2014

Just Another Example Of "Barak Obama's Failed Policies"

If you follow this space you know that I have often written about the Republican’s constant criticism of “Barak Obama’s failed policies.” Republicans are quick to blame any domestic or foreign policy setback on “Barak Obama’s failed policies. Voters bought into the Republican narrative, fired the Democrats, and placed control of the legislative branch into the Republican’s hands.

I prefer to deal in facts rather than political talking points.

Consider this…

Yesterday we witnessed yet another example of the effect that the president’s “failed policies” are having on our economy.

The DOW rose 421 points yesterday. That marked the largest single day growth in the last three years.

The DOW Jones Industrial Average has risen over 10,000 points since Barak Obama took office.

Allow me to repeat this FACT once more.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen over 10,000 points since Barak Obama took office.
Americans with enough money to invest seem to be doing quite well under “Barak Obama’s failed policies.”

And corporate America seems to be flourishing under “Barak Obama’s failed policies” as well. Last year corporate after tax profits rose to a record 10% of gross domestic product. Add to that 57 straight months of positive private sector job growth and even the middle class is starting to realize economic relief under “Barak Obama’s failed policies.”

Just think where we might be economically if Republicans had stopped the entire obstructionist “BS” and worked with the president to pass, oh I don’t know,a comprehensive jobs bill that included the repair and moderization of our crumbling infrastructure. Or increased the minimum wage incrementally over the next ten years to put more spending money in people's pockets.

It’s too bad the voters listened to the Republican talking points instead of looking at the facts.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Obama Working On His Bucket List

Yesterday President Obama informed the country that the United States will resume diplomatic relations with Cuba. The surprise announcement brings to a close 56 years of economic embargos and isolationist policies imposed on the Castro regime during the Cold War.

The Cuban government has a long history of oppression and civil rights violations. For the last fifty six years the Unites States has tried to use economic embargos and a host of isolationist policies to push the Cuban government toward democratic reform. In making his announcement the president stated that embargos have not worked and their continuation no longer serves the United States best interests. He believes that engaging the Cuban government on a host of policy issues we will over time bring about the desired reforms.

As one might expect the president’s announcement brought harsh criticism from the right. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, whose families experienced Castro’s oppression first hand, were quick to weigh in. Both promised to do everything in their power to reverse the president’s policy once the Republican controlled congress returns next year. An incensed Rubio said that he would go so far as to block the president’s eventual nominee for Cuban ambassador: “I reserve the right to do everything within the rules of the Senate to prevent that sort of individual from ever even coming up for a vote.” Other lawmakers threatened to block funding for the president’s plan; including money for a new embassy.

Most of the hair on fire criticism of the president’s action has been wrapped in indignation over his ‘giving in” to an oppressive regime that has a horrific record on basic human rights. This coming from the very same people who as recently as last week came out in full support of the CIA’s use of torture to extract information from detainees. If there is one thing that we are very adept at in this country it is setting a very high moral standard for others while re-setting the bar much lower for ourselves.

The president obviously understands that he is a lame duck president. He understands that the obstructionist tactics used against him in his first six years will take on a whole new dimension when the Republican led congress reconvenes in January. He understands that if he intends to get anything accomplished in his remaining time in office he will have to use whatever executive powers are at his disposal. By way of his executive action on immigration reform and now his announcement on Cuba the president has demonstrated that he intends to do just that. The president has a bucket list. Republicans can expect him to act on it.

The president believes that he can make more progress with Cuba through diplomacy and engagement than he can through isolation and embargo. Maybe he’s right…maybe not. It is a fair debate.

But any criticism coming from this country that calls into question another power’s record on civil rights is hypocrisy at the highest level.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Meet the new boss...same as the old boss"

While you were sleeping the 113th session of the Congress of the United States of America recessed for the final time. Lawmakers headed for home with the knowledge they had participated in the least productive session of congress in American history. During the past two years the 113th managed to pass just over 200 bills. You have to go back to 1947 to find a more unproductive bunch. Harry Truman labeled that session “the do nothing congress.” They passed over 900 bills.

“Thank God it’s over” exclaimed Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) as he headed for the exit.

Amen to that.

While the 113th may have ended there is unfortunately little reason to believe the 114th session will be any different.

Depending on whom you talk to, voters handed Republicans control of both chambers of congress ostensibly for one of two reasons: to halt the president’s agenda and/or to end the gridlock that has paralyzed congress for the past few years. The voters want to see progress. It appears at first blush that they may be disappointed.

Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader McConnell have promised to collaborate on legislation that will attempt to tear down President Obama’s accomplishments “piece by piece...bit by bit.” Should Republicans act on that promise President Obama will certainly be waiting with veto pen in hand. The president's decision to “go it alone” on immigration reform are a sure sign that he has no intention of bowing to the newly elected legislative branch. Those who protest that “elections matter” might consider the Republican response to the president’s two resounding victories in 2008 and 2012.

What does all of this mean? It means is that there is little chance that any substantive piece of legislation will be passed during the president’s final two years in office. It would appear that the 114th will look very much like the 113th.

The American people have spoken. They voted for “divided government.” To the victor go the spoils.

Welcome to the 114th session of the Congress of the United States Congress. Where the good of the country is an afterthought…and progress goes to die.

“Meet the new boss…same as the old boss.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Classic Cheney

The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture has unleashed a furious debate over the use and effectiveness of so called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT’s) in keeping our country safe. No conversation about the subject is complete without the irascible architect of the controversial program weighing. So it was no surprise to see former Vice President Dick Cheney show up for an interview with moderator Chuck Todd on last Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

Dick was at his combative best as he navigated the path between protector of our democracy and war criminal. He pushed back hard on any and all assertions that the program constituted torture. And he was adamant that the intelligence committee’s report was biased and its findings taken out of context.

Here are some of Dick’s most notable statements on the subject. We’ve taken the liberty of adding the “context “that Dick argued was missing from the intelligence report.

- Dick said that the EIT’s did not constitute torture because: “The program was thoroughly vetted by the Justice Department lawyers and they agreed that the program did not constitute torture. We were very careful not to cross that line.” Dick failed to mention that several of those same lawyers later recanted their findings saying that they were pressured by the White House to find a way around the law to make the program legal. Dick also failed to note that the while the US Justice Department has standing when it comes to interpreting US law it has no standing in interpreting international law. By signing the Geneva Convention/ Accords the US agreed to abide by international law. No one is disputing that the EIT’s are in violation of international law.

- On the question of why the detainees were held for years without due process during which time they were subject to EIT’s. Dick said that the detainees were not entitled to due process under US law because they were not US citizens but rather enemy combatants. This is true. And since Dick knew this to be true it calls into question his reliance on the Justice Department’s interpretation of US law. The detainees were not entitled to protection under US law and therefore the Justice Department’s findings on the legality of their treatment are irrelevant. The detainees were entitled to protection under international law; which the EIT program violated.

- On several occasions Dick asserted: “The program worked and it saved American lives.” Current CIA Director John Brennen gave a press briefing in response to the committee’s report. In written remarks he initially seemed to corroborate Cheney’s comments stating: “Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom EIT’s were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives.” However he later clarified by saying that it was impossible to know whether the detainees provided that information because of the EIT’s, calling the cause and effect relationship “unknown and unknowable.”

- Moderator Chuck Todd, citing several of the techniques used against detainees, asked the former Vice President if he believed they constituted torture. Cheney avoided the question by restating that the Justice Department had vetted the program and found it legal. Todd then recounted the gruesome incident where a detainee’s dinner was pureed and used as an enema solution; asking Cheney if he believed this act was torture. Dick’s response: “I’m not a doctor.”

- Dick pointed out that the EIT program has kept our country safe since the 9/11 attacks. “Have we been bombed since?” Cheney asked to make the point. Cheney failed to note that President Obama discontinued the program in January of 2009.

- Chuck Todd asked Dick about the moral concerns being expressed by some over the use of EIT’s. Cheney replied: “These terrorists murdered 3,000 innocent citizens on 9/11. Whatever we did pales in comparison.” This is an emphatic statement from the former Vice President that in his mind the end justifies the means.

The interview ended with the former Vice President stating emphatically that he had no regrets and that he would do it all over again.

Had I been interviewing Dick I would have asked a few additional questions.

I would have asked: “If this program was legal and so effective then why did you hide it from the American people? Why did you set up secret black sites to conduct these “legal” interrogations? Why did you hire off the book contractors or the security services of other nations to implement the EIT’s? Why did you lie to the American people and tell them we didn’t torture people when surely you knew that we were operating in violation of the Geneva Accords that we authored? Why didn’t you trust the American people with the truth? Aren’t they entitled to the truth?

Recent polls show that a majority of the public agrees with the former Vice President. 52% of those polled said they approved of the CIA’s use of torture to keep the country safe.

I guess I’m in the minority.

You see I believe that Dick Cheney and the Bush administration failed our country. They failed to keep us safe. Then in the aftermath of 9/11 they allowed their fear, anger, embarrassment and thirst for revenge to guide their actions. In so doing they conceded whatever moral high ground we may have held, took us to an unnecessary and unwinnable war, broke international laws and reduced us to the equivalent a third world dictatorship. They did all of this in our name. And then they covered it up by lying to us.

Dick says he’d do it all over again.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cruz Throws GOP Under His Campaign Bus

Ted Cruz has his sights set on the White House. Anyone who gets in his way will find themselves thrown under the Cruz campaign bus. Anyone! That includes his party caucus.

The Ted Cruz Self Promotion Tour rolled into Washington D.C. last Friday. Party leaders had just agreed to postpone until Monday a vote on the government spending bill. (You see senators don’t work on weekends.) The senate chamber recessed for the weekend; the senators headed for home. Senator McConnell waved off reporters as he headed for the exit. “See you Monday!” he said.

But Ted Cruz had a final act to play. As the lights dimmed and the final curtain fell Ted Cruz called for an encore. Using the powers vested in him by the constitution, Cruz defied leadership and called for a procedural vote to debate the constitutional legality of the president’s executive orders on immigration.
Senators were forced to scurry back to the chamber. Many had already left for the airport. To say there were a few pissed off lawmakers would be an understatement.

Cruz made his impassioned case. It fell on deaf ears. One half of the Cruz’ GOP caucus joined Democrats in voting “No” to his grandstanding motion. Afterward several GOP lawmakers sought out reporters to excoriate the senator’s theatrics. Their anger was not simply a matter of inconvenience. Ted Cruz’ had dealt his party to a significant political setback; one that they would feel for years to come.

You see by entering his motion Cruz in effect re-opened the session. With Democrats still holding the majority, Majority Leader Harry Reid realized that Cruz had given Democrats an opportunity to use the rare weekend session to their advantage. Reid and his caucus used their majority to ram through 24 presidential nominations. Some of these appointments had been sitting in limbo for years. Well qualified candidates whose approval had been blocked by Republicans for purely partisan political reasons. Those approved included six critical federal judgeships. Cruz’ grandstanding had handed the Democrats and the president a huge victory.

Cruz didn’t care. Ever the narcissist, Cruz had gotten everything he wanted out of his little charade. If you want to win the White House you have to first win your party’s nomination. Cruz had successfully auditioned for that nomination by appealing to the GOP base. He had made the case that he was the only Republican willing to stand in the way of “this imperialist president.”

Ted Cruz has his sights set on the White House. Anyone who gets in his way will find themselves thrown under the Cruz Campaign bus. Anyone! That includes his party caucus.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Worm Has Turned!

There is no question that over the past six years the Republican Party has been successful in thwarting President Obama’s agenda. By all accounts they have turned “obstruction” into an art form.

When the Republicans secured control of both houses of congress in the mid-terms my concern was that Democrats might learn a lesson from their Republican counterparts. The lesson being that obstruction works. What is good for the goose… Yesterday my concerns were legitimized.

Yesterday, in one of the most bizarre scenes that I have ever witnessed in politics, the House passed a $1.1 trillion dollar spending bill to fund the government. The reason that this was so strange was the manner in which the battle lines were drawn. Instead of the usual partisan bickering along party lines you had President Obama joining Speaker Boehner and Harry Reid in lobbying for passage of the bill while Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren joined a host of Tea Party types in calling for its defeat. Strange bedfellows indeed!

It seems that the White House along with House and Senate leadership had cobbled together the bill without consulting their respective caucuses. At the last minute Republicans added a few little pieces to the bill that had nothing to do with funding the government. One line increased the level of contributions that an individual could make to a political campaign from $32,420 to $324,200. The other stripped out a provision in the Dodd-Frank banking bill that removed FDIC protection from the banking industries risky derivative trading operations.

Trading derivatives is risky business. Many call it “gambling” not “investing.” Prior to the recession banks engaged in these activities secure in the knowledge that they were federally insured. But when these trades became toxic in 2006-2007 they took the banking industry, the economy and the government down with them. Dodd-Frank said never again. The legislation allowed for derivative trading but banks would no longer be backed by the FDIC. Pressured by banking industry lobbyists to reinsert the protection, Republicans put the language back in and said that if the Democrats wanted a spending bill it would have to include the derivative provision.

The president was willing to swallow this bitter pill because the bill included the funding he needed to put his immigration reform measures into affect. Boehner knew he didn’t have enough votes among his caucus because the right wing wanted nothing to do with the “imperialist president’s’ executive orders on immigration. So the Speaker, fearing his party would be blamed for another costly government shutdown, pleaded with Pelosi to whip her caucus into helping pass the bill. Pelosi was having none of it. She was incensed that Republicans had inserted the derivative language into the bill and furious with the president for signing off on it. She took to the well of the House to publically chastise the president for going along with what she referred to as a “blackmail bill; making it clear that she would prefer a government shutdown to succumbing to the blackmail.

While all this was going on in the House, Senator Elizabeth Warren was doing her best impersonation of Ted Cruz in the Senate. Warren is to the far left what Ted Cruz is to the far right. A staunch supporter of banking reform Warren went to the well of the Senate twice to make impassioned pleas to House Democrats to withstand the pressure from Wall Street and vote against bill; even if it meant shutting down the government.

Eventually 57 Democrats joined 162 Republicans to pass the bill and avoid a shutdown. The Senate followed by approving a two day extension of current funding and will take up the full bill next week. With Warren leading the liberal opposition in the senate, passage is no sure thing.

We are accustomed to watching the conflict between moderate Republicans and the radical right wing of the party. Yesterday Republicans sat in the peanut gallery as a stunning role reversal took place...Democrats Warren and Pelosi ralling the far left in clear defiance of party moderates and the president.

Democrats have learned that voters reward obstructionist politicians who stick to their guns…no matter what. Republicans taught them well. Elections didn’t matter to Republicans in 2008 or 2012. Why should they matter now?

That strategy may prove beneficial to the Democrats.

But I’m not sure how it benefits the country.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"We did what we had to do."

Yesterday was a very bad day for this country.

The Senate Intelligence Committee released its much anticipated, highly controversial report on the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The report concludes that the CIA misinformed or failed to inform congress, the White House and the public of the use, effectiveness and brutality of the of the techniques employed by CIA operatives in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.

The report is graphic in nature as it details the disturbing manner in which detainees were treated as the country struggled to recover from the events of 9/11. Detainees were humiliated, physically beaten, psychologically tortured and maimed. Two detainees died in CIA custody as a result of their treatment.

In response the CIA offered no apologies. The agency remains firm that the enhanced interrogation techniques used were legal and instrumental in obtaining actionable intelligence that saved American lives. They assert that congress was fully briefed on their activities and that any assertions to the contrary are disingenuous.

The Justice Department stated yesterday that the gruesome events outlined in the report will not result in its reopening of a criminal investigation into the CIA’s treatment of detainees.

I don’t know where to begin.

Let me say in fairness that the report does seem prosecutorial in nature. The committees’ findings are the result of a five and a half year review of over 6 million pages of CIA memos, briefings and emails. The committee did not interview White House or CIA officials to get their side of the story.

It should also be noted that the report was written without benefit of providing the context during which the CIA was operating at the time. The World Trade Center towers had just been attacked. 3,000 were dead; thousands more injured. The country was paranoid that more attacks were coming. CIA officials were called in and told essentially: “You screwed up. Don’t let it happen again.” The pressure to find the perpetrators was enormous. The thirst for revenge was palpable.

That said I find the agency’s response to the report both curious and telling.

The initial CIA response was to object to the release of the report for fear its revelations would enrage our enemies and put American lives at risk. The content is factual…its release dangerous.

Then, no longer refuting the legitimacy of the content, the CIA moves on to its next defense; that the resulting intelligence made it all worthwhile; the end justifies the means. As one former Bush staffer put it: “We did what we had to do.”

Deflection is next; this in the form of deflecting blame back onto congress. What did congress know and when did they know it?

Last but not least is the defense that to me is a false equivalence. Defenders of the CIA say its critics are ok with US foot soldiers kicking down doors and shooting people…sometimes innocent civilians. They’re ok with dropping bombs from drones on “suspected terrorists” that kill innocent civilians as well. But they get all squeamish about the CIA water boarding a guy that we know wants to kill us. This deflection misses the salient point that the former are considered acceptable under international rules of engagement. The latter is a violation of international law under the Geneva Convention.

This circular firing squad will continue in the weeks and months to come. It misses a far greater point.

As a nation we claim to hold a high moral standard. We proclaim ourselves to be “a nation of laws.” Unfortunately that’s not true. We are actually a nation of convenience that follows the law when it suits our needs. In this country the application of the law depends on who you are. In this country depending on who you are you can get away with selling junk mortgages as AAA instruments, selling arms for hostages, shooting an unarmed youth, choking an unarmed citizen, outing a CIA covert operative, lying to the American people, violating the Geneva Convention or engage in war crimes. Morals and laws don’t matter. In this country, depending on who you are, the end justifies the means.

This we know. The Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America violated international law by torturing detainees. The agency was operating under authorization granted by the highest office in our land. These activities constitute war crimes against humanity and should result in criminal prosecution under both United States and international law. In this country that will never happen.

As an American citizen these illegal activities were conducted on my behalf…in my name. I for one categorically reject any and all assertions that the tactics used are not war crimes in violation of international law. Those who wish to continue to assert that these government authorized tactics are acceptable are proving once again that the application of law in this country is a matter of convenience. I wonder if they would feel the same if CIA interrogators were pureeing their dinner and force feeding it to them via a tube inserted in their rectum.

There is a moral standard here as well as a legal one. Both lines were crossed.

You can debate the definition and value of torture for the rest of your days.

But please spare me the assertion that we are a nation of laws.

Monday, December 8, 2014

"The American People Are Smart!"...or are they...

“The American people are smart! They usually get it right.”

We hear this statement often in politics…usually uttered by politicians lobbying for an issue or trying to save their jobs. Most recently we heard it from Republicans after they were handed control of congress in the mid-terms. Republicans tell us that the mid-terms were a “repudiation of the failed policies of the Obama administration.”

“The American people are smart! They usually get it right.”

At the risk of getting myself into a great deal of they are least not in this particular case.

On Friday we received the latest jobs report. The numbers show that last month the economy produced 321,000 new private sector jobs. That makes 10 straight months of 200,000+ private sector job growth…57 straight months of positive job growth…. 10 million new private sector jobs since Obama took office. Economists worldwide trumpeted the results. “This is what a growing economy looks like” they said. Those same economists are projecting a 3% growth in the US economy in 2015.

Perhaps the most notable number in the report is that wages finally took an upturn; coming in at a 0.4% increase…double what economists had expected.

This is good…very, very good. Particularly when compared to the crumbling economy and 700,000/mo. in private sector job losses that the president inherited. Yet the American people voted to remove the Democratic Party that produced these results; handig the reins over to the Republican Party that did everything it could to stand in the way.

One of the leading pocket book issues that people fixate on is the price of gasoline. Remember when ISIS was barnstorming across Iraq gobbling up the country’s oil reserves. We saw gas prices spike in anticipation of a crude oil shortage. Republicans happily laid the blame on the “failed policies of the Obama administration.” The American people bought into the hype. Obama is to blame.

The President ordered military action against ISIS. The gas Iraqi oil reserves were secured. Now gas prices are plummeting; down 12 cents in the past two weeks alone. Some parts of the country are seeing prices at $1.99 per gallon. Does the president get any credit?

This is good…very, very good. Yet the American people voted to remove the party whose leader took the action that resulted on lower gas prices.

The Republican Party has been trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act since the day it was passed into law. The American people bought into the message that the ACA was just another failed example of government overreach. Yet the individual components of the policy remain widely popular. The goal of the ACA was to reduce the cost of health care and make affordable health insurance available to all Americans. During the first year of the ACA, health care costs decreased by 4%. That marks the first time in 30 years that we have seen health care costs go down. 7 million previously uninsured Americans now have affordable health insurance. There are 30% fewer uninsured Americans today because of this law.

This is good…very, very good. Yet the American people voted to remove the party responsible for these positive results; handing power over to the party that has promised to repeal the law the day they are sworn in.

Republicans have been in a huff over the president’s executive actions on immigration reform. Before the mid-terms they warned the country: “If this imperialist president has his way on immigration millions of illegal immigrants carrying the Ebola virus will swarm our borders. ISIS militants will pour over our borders by the thousands.” Tom Coburn evened warned that “we’ll see anarchy in the streets if the president acts alone.”

The president made good on his promise and issued his executive orders. Contrary to the hype the country did not go up in flames. In fact polls taken after the president made his announcement showed that 50% of those polled agreed with the president’s actions on immigration. 22% said he didn’t go far enough. That’s a 72% approval of the president’s executive action.

This is good…very, very good. Yet in spite of their approval of the president’s actions the American people voted to terminate the party that finally did SOMETHING on immigration reform and turned the reins over to the party that has turned its back on the largest growing demographic in our country.

In my opinion these are all positive actions taken by Democrats and the Obama administration that have improved the lives of millions of Americans. Not to mention the whole saving the auto industry, saving the banking industry, saving the economy, pulling the country out of a deep recession, getting bin laden, etc. etc. Yet the American people voted to remove Democrats from power and hand the reins to the party that has turned obstruction into an art form.

Democrats and the Obama administration had a strong record to run on in the mid-terms. They weren’t smart enough to get out that positive message.

The American people weren’t smart enough to figure it out for themselves.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Progress In Congress!

Just when you thought that any hope of substantive legislation emerging from this lame duck congress was lost…

Thanks to the Associated Press we have learned that the federal government in its infinite wisdom has been paying millions of dollars in Social Security benefits to suspected Nazi war criminals.


The AP reports that the Justice Department has been using a loophole within the law to persuade Nazi suspects to leave the US in exchange for keeping their Social Security benefits. If the suspects left the country voluntarily, or simple fled the country before being deported, they could keep their benefits.
These individuals, who have lost their American citizenship, are suspected of committing crimes against humanity. The AP cites the case of Jakob Denzinger, a former guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp, who fled the US in 1989. Denzinger now lives in Croatia and collects $1,500 per month in Social Security benefits.

The AP reports that the Social Security Administration refused its request to provide the total number of Nazi suspects who received benefits and the dollar amounts.

Yesterday our fearless elected leaders in the US Senate passed a bi-partisan House bill that would shut the loophole and terminate any future payments. The bill is headed to the president’s desk for signing.

Normally I would ask why we are paying/bribing suspected war criminals to leave the country rather than turning them over to the appropriate authorities, but I’m afraid the answer would make my head hurt.

On a positive note...the most ineffective congress in American history passed a piece of legislation!!!

Well done!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The System Is Broken!

A Grand jury is a panel of citizens that is convened by a court to decide whether it is appropriate for the government to proceed with a prosecution against someone suspected of a crime. A Grand Jury is charged with looking at the information presented by the prosecutor and determining whether or not there is “probable cause” to take a case to trial. “Probable cause” by definition is “a reasonable amount suspicion supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true.”

Grand juries are not charged with determining guilt or innocence. Their findings do not require a determination “beyond all reasonable doubt.” Their decision does not require a unanimous vote. Suffice it to say the bar a prosecutor most cross to obtain a Grand Jury indictment is set pretty low.

That is unless you are trying to prosecute a white cop for using excessive force against a black male.

On July 17 five Staten Island police officers approached Eric Garner with the intent of arresting him for the illegal sale of loose cigarettes. The subsequent exchange between police officers and Eric Garner was caught on tape.

The police had previously questioned Garner several times about the illegal sales; all of which Garner denied. Garner was obviously frustrated and agitated by the officers’ presence. The officers told Garner to put his arms behind him so that they could cuff him and take him in for booking. Garner, a large man well over 300 pounds resisted by swatting away officers’ attempts to secure his arms. The officers swarmed Mr. Garner and attempted to wrestle him to the ground. In the scuffle that ensued one of the officers, Daniel Pantaleo, locked Garner in a chokehold and pulled him the ground. The New York Police department banned the use of the chokehold tactic because if used improperly it can result in serious injury or death. Officer Pantaleo secured Garner in the chokehold as the other officers struggled to place him in cuffs. Garner is heard on the tape pleading with officers that he could not breathe. “I can’t breathe.” Garner repeated eleven times.

Garner was pronounced dead later that same day. The New York City Medical Examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide.

Yesterday the grand jury announced that it would not indict Officer Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.

Our justice system is broken…particularly when it comes to the degree of force used in meting out justice young black males.

Five well trained police officers…five…arrive on the scene to arrest Garner for illegally…selling cigarettes.

One of the trained officers employs a chokehold tactic with full knowledge of the fact that the tactic had been banned by his department specifically because it can cause serious injury and death.

Garner can be heard pleading several that he cannot breathe.

Garner is dead.

The medical examiner rules that his death was a homicide.

The entire event is caught on tape.

And yet our justice system says…nothing to see here.

Perhaps Garner’s death was not caused solely by the chokehold administered by officer Pantaleo. In ruling Garner’s death a homicide the medical examiner said that the pressure on the neck, compression of the chest and the position in which Garner was held on the ground were contributing factors. That finding might indicate that Officer Pantaleo may not have been solely responsible for Garner’s death. But surely there is probable cause to indict him for his participation!

A man is dead. The medical professionals have ruled his death a homicide. Whether he was a saint or guilty of selling illegal cigarettes…whether he was combative or compliant…whether he was black or white...he is dead at the hands of the police. If we are the nation of laws that we claim to be then justice must be served. The problem we have is that in this country “justice” has a far different meaning if you are a black male.

The only good thing that might come of Eric Garner’s death is that this particular case of excessive force against black males happened in New York. Nothing garners more attention than those events which offend the sensibilities of New Yorkers. Ferguson, Missouri will eventually fade into yesterday’s news. But let the same thing occur in New York and it is memorialized forever. Perhaps the glare of the big city’s lights illuminate a path toward equality and compromise between law enforcement and the minority communities they are paid to serve.

Let’s hope so. Because our justice system is broken

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Republicans At War With Republicans

President Obama and newly elected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will sit down this afternoon for a one on one conversation. It will mark the first time that the two party leaders meet face to face since Republicans swept control of congress in the November mid-terms. Rumors that Kentucky bourbon will be served have yet to be confirmed. Oh to be a fly on the wall. Can you say “awkward?”

Republicans are livid over the president’s decision to go it alone on immigration reform. McConnell is certain to make that point. I expect the conversation might go something like this:

MCCONNELL: Mr. President, as you might imagine my members are pretty upset over your executive actions on immigration reform. Perhaps your staff failed to inform you that elections were held a few weeks ago. My party…the Republican Party…won control over both houses of congress! Maybe you didn’t get the memo. Elections DO matter, Mr. President. I think we can agree on that.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (CHUCKLING) It’s funny to hear you say that. “Elections DO matter!” That’s a good one! Yes Mitch…can I call you Mitch? Yes Mitch, I DID get that memo. I decided that I would follow your experienced leadership and respond to those November election results in the same manner that you responded after I thumped McCain and Romney in 2008 & 2012. I ignored them. Look Mitch…if your members don’t like the way I handled immigration reform then all they have to do is pass an immigration bill that I can sign. Send it to me and we’ll have a real nice signing ceremony here at the White House. I’ll even supply the Kentucky bourbon.

Pleasantries aside the two leaders will hopefully move on to a serious discussion about the country’s business.

First up…passing a continuing resolution that will fund the government and avoid a government shutdown. The current funding bill expires on December 11.

McConnell has promised publically that there won’t be any government shutdowns. Say what you will about McConnell’s politics; he is a savvy political leader who has a tight rein on his members. If McConnell says he has the votes…he has the votes.

The Republican controlled House is another story. Speaker Boehner has yet to demonstrate that he has any control over his caucus. The right wing is incensed over the president’s executive orders on immigration reform. They see his announcement mere days after their mid-term victory as an intentional slap in the face. They have not been shy about the remedies they seek. Talk of censure, impeachment and shutdown are rampant.

You may recall that less than a year ago the right wing’s refusal d to pass a funding bill led to a 16 day shutdown of the federal government. The shutdown resulted in the furlough of 8 million government workers and a $24 billion dollar hit to an already shaky economy. The Republican brand took a huge PR hit and congressional approval ratings dropped into the single digits. No matter! The lunatic fringe has vowed to shut the place down again if Republican leadership does not take sufficient steps to reprimand the “imperialist” president for violating the constitution.

Because Speaker Boehner is bad at his job he continues to placate the radical right. This time he is offering a two part plan.

Part 1 would be to take a largely ceremonial vote on a bill that would dismantle the president’s executive orders on immigration. This is “ceremonial” because even if the bill passes the House it will never pass the Senate. Part 2 would be a vote on a bill that would fund government operations through September except those Homeland Security operations necessary to carry out the president’s executive orders.

Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson has testified that such a measure would not stop the president’s immigration efforts. It would merely slow down the construction of additional detention centers and reduce the number of additional law enforcement personnel the president wants assigned to protect our borders. Republicans have long criticized the president for not doing enough to strengthen our borders. Passing this bill would only prevent the president from giving them what they want.

While moderates seem to favor this convoluted approach the right wing crazies want nothing to do with it. They want the president punished for his executive actions. Nothing less will do. Why? Because this is the Tea Party factions last hurrah. The newly elected Republican caucus will have a far more moderate temperament than the existing bunch. So the far right wants to get their pound of flesh now…while they still have the chance. Boehner is reduced to playing referee.

The fight over how fund the government is not between Democrats and Republicans. The fight is between Republicans and Republicans. How this will end is anybody’s guess. Republicans have 8 days remaining to figure it out.

Meanwhile 8 million government workers search for holiday bargains; wondering if they’ll have pay checks to cover the bills.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Republican Party!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What Have We Learned From Ferguson?

The election of Barak Obama as the nation’s first black president was seen by many as a transformative event; an affirmation that the racial discord that has plagued our country since its birth was finally drawing to an end. Six years later many would argue that Barak Obama’s election has only served to exacerbate racial tensions. Recent events in Fergusson, Missouri suggest that they may have a point.

Over the past few months Ferguson, Missouri has served as a microcosm of the racial divide that still tears at the very fabric of our country.

A young black male decides to rob a convenient store…a handful of cigars the reward for his effort. Minutes later a confrontation with the responding white police officer leaves him dead in the street. Violence erupts as whites and blacks alike take to the streets in protest. Vandalism and looting are widespread. Fires rage. Small business owners can only watch as their livelihood goes up in flames. Police respond with military grade weaponry donated by the federal government. High powered assault weapons and tactical vehicles are used against the protestors. It is a scene one might expect out of a third world country.

For ninety days the predominantly black community awaits a grand jury decision on whether to indict the responding white officer. Tensions are at razor’s edge. Law enforcement officials promise local business owners that this time their businesses will be protected. The National Guard is brought in. A “no indictment” announcement is expected. When the anticipated verdict is announced the city erupts once again. This time there are as many protestors from outside the community as from within. Their goal is to create chaos and use violence to unleash their pent up frustrations. The community is set afire once more. Law enforcement fails to protect the business community. Instead they move to protect public facilities while confining protests to a few city blocks. They stand back and watch the city burn. Twelve businesses are burned to the ground. Several more are vandalized and looted.

So what do we have to show for all this violence and misery? In the end, another young black male is dead, a white police officer is acquitted and a predominantly black community will take years if not decades to recover. Inequality and a a lack of trust in law enforcement still reign supreme.

Yesterday the president took steps to “reduce the simmering distrust between police and minority communities” and thereby lessen the likelihood of incidents like those in Ferguson from happening again. He proposed a three year, $263 million dollar plan to assist community policing and training. Included in the plan are tighter controls on the use of military grade equipment and the federal funds local communities use to buy them. Also included is $75 million for 50,000 new body cameras to be used by police officers.

This is a good step and the president should be applauded for taking it. Anything one can do to easy tension between police and minority communities is a step in the right direction. And if you are going to make military grade equipment available to local law enforcement agencies it is probably a good idea to make certain that the officers are properly trained in the use and deployment of same.

But this is a very small step to repair the racial divide that is still a monumental national problem. The “simmering distrust” between minority communities and local police will not be resolved by training videos and body cameras. For law enforcement to be effective there has to be a partnership between the law enforcement community and the civilian population. That will only occur if law enforcement officials recruit local residents to work within the law enforcement apparatus. Law enforcement has to work from within the community…not outside it.

And community relations are only a part of the problem. The seeds for anger and violence are sewn by despair. What we have witnessed in Ferguson these past few months is what despair looks like. It is what happens when people feel that there is now way out of a desperate situation. We hear more and more about middle class families struggling to survive financially; fearful of what the future may hold for their children. Imagine what it must feel like to the poor and disenfranchised. Nothing good can come from hopelessness.

The president is doing what he can do to close the racial divide. As with immigration reform, he is trying to move the country forward. But he can only do so much.

Economic inequality, racism and the systemic distrust of all things government have coalesced into a national quagmire that is far from resolved. We can work toward closing the racial divide that exists by preaching about how we are all God’s children and lecturing police on being more sensitive to minority concerns. But until we find a solution to the unfairness of economic inequality that plagues this country; particularly that which exists along racial lines; we will never live up to that pronouncement that we claim to hold so dear...that all men are created equal.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this national day of giving thanks I have much to be thankful for.

I am thankful for my family and friends. Your love and support throughout this journey means more to me than you will ever know.

I am thankful for like minded people who share my world view. You have let me know that my words have meaning. Your support allows me the great comfort of knowing that I’m not crazy.

I am thankful for my detractors. You keep me grounded… forever reminding me that while I am always entitled to my own opinion I am never entitled to my own facts. You make me a better writer.

I am thankful for those of you who have made this space part of your daily routine. And I am thankful for those of you who only stop by for an occasional visit. You have given me the most priceless gift any one person can bestow upon another…your time. For that I am eternally grateful.

Last but not least I am thankful for John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and all the politicians, world leaders, talking heads and media darlings that populate the political landscape. Your antics have provided a wealth of material that knows no bounds. Thanks to you “writers’ block” has never been an issue. I am particularly thankful for the politicians and political operatives who dwell in the far reaches of ideological reality. It is my fervent hope that you will continue to prosper in your alternate universe; crafting your world view in a windowless room…talking points scripted in a crack induced haze. For without you this space would not exit.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri...A Glimpse Into The Future

Ferguson, Missouri – As fires burned and shots rang out the president called upon the nation to engage in calm, peaceful protest and substantive discourse. The split screen shot of these simultaneous events was as telling as it was chilling. The “haves, “cool, calm and collected, patiently seeking peaceful dialogue and reasonable solutions to the nation’s inequality. The “have nots,” tired of broken promises, angered by a future that offers nothing but more of the same. Everybody is talking. Nobody is listening.

This is what despair looks like. This is what happens when all sense of hope is swallowed up by hopelessness.

There is a deep, deep divide in this country; a divide that runs not only along racial barriers but socio-economic barriers as well. Those at the top of the pyramid reap more and more of society’s benefits while those at the bottom sink deeper and deeper into despair. Middle class parents once believed that their children would live a better life than they did. Now they pray that their kids can maintain the status quo.

Over the next several weeks and months the media will debate the circumstances surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown. They will dissect every comma, semi-colon and period of the testimony given to the grand jury. The “haves” will argue that justice has been served. The “have nots” will respond with charges of race. The debate is valid; but it misses the bigger point.

Ferguson is not just about race. It is about the ever widening gap of inequality between the “haves” and “have nots.” It is about what happens when the equality gap is so wide that those at the bottom lose all hope of ever reaching the top.

A democracy cannot survive if those at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid have zero prospects for a better future. Violence and anarchy will eventually bring it to its knees. Inequality in this country is growing at an alarming rate. If we fail to find ways to narrow that gap, events such as those occurring today in Ferguson will no longer be a media sensation.

They will become the norm.

Monday, November 24, 2014

"...they went home!"

If you follow the news you know that the congressional response to the president’s executive action on immigration reform contained a level of hyperbolic vitriol that can only be classified as incendiary. Congress was so incensed by the president’s actions it seemed that calls for his impeachment might actually find purchase. Pundits sat on pins and needles eagerly awaiting a congressional body blow response to the president’s offensive tactics.

Congress did respond…but not exactly in the way pundits expected.

Friday night marks the end of the weekly news cycle. The week is over…the Saturday news cycle is slow…no one is really paying close attention to the inner workings of Washington. Friday night is the time when political operatives like to release bad news. It’s the time when they release information that is damaging in some fashion to their cause with the hope that no one will notice. The Friday night information dump is commonly referred to in Washington parlance as: “Put it out with the trash.” It seldom works but they do it anyway.

Last Friday night congress responded to the “constitutional crisis” caused by the president’s actions in a curious way.

First off, buried amidst all the inane press releases and minutia in last Friday night’s news dump was the Republican led Judiciary Committee on Oversight’s final report on the “Benghazi Crisis.” After two years of multiple congressional hearings, hate speech, conspiracy theories, accusations of treason and tens of millions of tax payer dollars, the committee found…


No evidence of a White House cover-up. No evidence of wrong doing on the part of the State Department. No evidence of failure on the part of the military to respond; just the fact that a series of horrific and tragic circumstances resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

The lame duck congress also announced that it would only be in session for eight days over the rest of the year.

That’s it! That was the legislature's follow up to their hair on fire reaction to the president’s executive action on immigration reform. Raise hell and then do...


And then they went home!

Yes, they went home early for the holiday.

If congress was serious about the legalities and seriousness of the president’s executive actions they could have crafted a substantive response.

Instead they went home.

Eighteen months ago the senate passed a bipartisan bill on immigration reform. Passage in the House is all but assured. All Speaker Boehner needs to do is allow a vote in the House to pass the measure and the president’s executive actions would be rendered null and void.

Instead they went home.

The country is at war with ISIS. Congress needs to take up a vote to ratify the president’s actions or demand he bring the troops home.

Instead they went home.

“60 Minutes” just aired a report that 70,000 of our bridges are in such a bad state of repair that they are considered “structurally deficient.” Our airports and shipping ports are in equally bad shape. Everyone on both sides of the aisle agrees that we need to repair and upgrade our infrastructure. They question is where do we get the money. Given that the government will run out of money on December 11 congress could have entered into debate over ways to include an infrastructure bill into the continuing resolution.

Instead they went home.

A continuing resolution to keep the government running must be passed by December 11. Rather than engage in last minute political brinksmanship and threats of government shutdowns that only serve to heap worry on the millions who rely on the government; congress could have voted on the continuing resolution and put the matter to rest.

Instead they went home.

Our education system is failing our children. Our children continue to rank in the middling middle of all other industrialized countries in the areas of reading and math. Congress could have stuck around to discuss ways that we might improve our education system so that our children might better compete on the world stage.

Instead they went home.

Even though our economy is steadily improving the positive result have yet to find their way to the middle class or working poor. Congress could have hung around and had a serious discussion about raising the minimum wage or equal pay for equal work.

Instead they went home.

Our country faces a long list of problems. If congress would put as much effort and energy into governing as they do in crafting hate speech and conspiracy theories we would all be better off.

Friday, November 21, 2014

What Really Happened Last Night?

Last night the president finally made good on his six year promise to reform the country’s broken immigration system. Using his executive powers, the president announced a plan that will protect 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation; allowing them to legally live and work in this country for a period of three years.

The president, seeking a middle of the road compromise between those who would grant amnesty to all 11.7 undocumented immigrants living in this country and those who would round all of them up for deportation, made it clear that his authority was limited: “This is not granting amnesty or a pathway to citizenship. Only congress can do that.”

The Republican response was of a nature that can only describe as “apoplectic.” So palpable was their rage that many were literally frothing at the mouth. Even some of the most moderate and reasonable conservative political analysts were worked up in lather over the “imperialist” president’s “power grab.” Steve Schmidt, former manager of the Mc Cain Campaign and by all accounts a reasonable voice in all things politic, was furious, stating pointedly that by taking this executive action the president had squandered ANY possibility of ANY legislation getting passed by the incoming congress.

As expected, calls for impeachment, law suits and defunding were plentiful.

There are two old adages in politics: one is that when you are complaining about the process you are losing on the policy. The other is that you can always tell how thoroughly you have defeated your political opponent by the magnitude of their frustration and outrage. The president has backed Republicans into a corner on this issue and the only thing they can do about it is rant.

Somewhere in the recesses of all the cheers and jeers is the truth about what happened last night. Did the president act within his authority or did he violate the constitution in what amounts to an illegal abuse of power? And depending upon the answer to that question; what can the president’s political opponents do in response. Here are the facts.

The president’s actions are not in violation of his powers under the constitution. There is a provision within the immigration law called “deferred action.” This provision grants the executive branch the almost unlimited power to “defer” administrative actions within the law. The president cannot eliminate provisions within the law but he can temporarily defer them if he deems it necessary. The president did not grant amnesty or a pathway to citizenship. He did not violate or rewrite the law. The president has elected to “defer” deportation of certain classes of undocumented immigrants for a period of three years. Every president since Eisenhower has used their executive powers to make changes within the scope of the immigration law. In recent years Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43 all sited deferred action with impunity.

Republicans have a number of options to consider.

They can sue the president. Over the past six years they have threatened to sue the president over a whole host of issues. None of these threats have found their way into the courts. Recently Speaker Boehner threatened to sue the president for delaying the corporate mandate under the ACA. That suit has yet to be filed. The reason that these idle threats have no substance is because Republicans have no standing in these matters. In order to proffer such a complaint they have to prove standing…that they have been in some way injured by the president’s actions. As elected officials they have no standing to make that claim. In order to sue they would have to find someone who was injured by the president’s executive action.

They can refuse to approve the funding mechanisms that allow the president to move forward. The problem here is that most of the funding for immigration policies under Homeland Security comes through fees and fines that do not fall within congressional prevue. The small amount of funding congress CAN withhold will have little if any affect on the president’s plans moving forward.

In a fit of anger they can shut down the government. The last time Republicans tried that approach their approval rating dropped into single digits. Not the way you want to start your term majority party in both houses of congress.

Republicans can refuse to pass any legislation that would further the president’s agenda. Over the past six years they have proven quite adept at this course of action. However the voters have made it clear that they want to see their elected officials get things done. This past November they made their frustrations clear by voting out the party in power. There is every reason to believe that voters will do the same in 2016 if progress is not evident.

They can impeach the president for abuse of power. Here they would have to prove that the president violated the constitution. As stated previously the president is on solid legal ground. He has not violated the current law nor has he created a new law. He has simply deferred a portion of the immigration law for a temporary period.

There is one other option. The president’s executive orders will not go into effect until January 1, 2015. It will be 180 days until the first application under the new orders can be filed. There is ample time for Republicans to act.

During his remarks the president made it quite clear that he is willing to work with congress to provide a permanent solution to our immigration problems. He offered the incoming congress a clear path to accomplishing that goal; an unfettered path that the newly elected Republican majority can follow without delay to overturn his executive orders.

They can pass a bill.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Political Calculus

The president will address the nation tonight where he is expected to announce his plan to implement immigration reform by means of the executive powers granted him under the constitution. The president has on numerous occasions promised to take this action if congress failed to act. Clearly frustrated by the lack of any movement on the Hill toward reform; the president has finally chosen to act alone.

As expected, news of the president’s intentions brought a hair on fire response from the right. Mitch McConnell said that the president’s actions would “poison the well” for any hope of future compromise. Speaker Boehner warned that if the president “continued to play with fire he might find himself getting burned.” Governor Rick Perry, himself a defendant in a suit alleging his abuse of power, announced that the state of Texas would sue the president in like kind. Various members of the conservative caucus responded with threats of impeachment, defunding the president’s agenda and a government shutdown.

Certainly the president and his staff have made the political calculus that in spite of these threats it was in the country’s best interest to move forward at this time. Those who follow politics are probably asking: “Why now?” Perhaps these are some of the considerations bandied about the West Wing.

- Recent polls show that 52% of the people oppose the use of executive action to implement immigration reform. True but 57% of those polled believe that immigration reform is the right thing to do. The president campaigned on this issue and won…twice. After promising for the better part of six years to enact reform, the White House has apparently decided that it could not back down again.

- Republicans say that the president is ignoring the will of the people. Fresh off a resounding victory in the mid-terms they are quick to point out that “elections matter.” The White House no doubt agrees. But while the Republicans were winning local elections in gerrymandered districts the president was winning two general elections for the presidency. The same Republicans who are now proclaiming their recent victory as a mandate are the same ones who scoffed at such talk on the part of Democrats after the president thumped both McCain and Romney in the generals.

- After losing control of both the House and Senate the people expect the president to be more conciliatory and accepting of the Republican agenda. To enact reform would be taking a more combative stance that might appear off putting to voters. For six years the president has been hammered by his base for not being tough enough in fighting for his agenda. This stems from the president’s deep seeded dislike for back room politics. But this president is very competitive. He hates losing. Tired of dealing with the obstructionist tactics of the right the president finally decided to fight for what he believes in.

- Republicans are threatening impeachment, defund the president’s agenda and shut down the government. The White House no doubt welcomes these threats. In fact it would not be beyond the pale to think that the White House is baiting Republicans to act on their rhetoric. Let Republicans follow through on these threats and see how that plays in the eyes of the voters; particularly blacks, Latino and Asian voters in 2016.

- Republicans say that the president should defer this executive action for six months to allow the newly elected Republican congress time to act. One a year ago Speaker Boehner asked the president to give him six months to get his caucus to pass a reform bill. It has been a year and Boehner has yet to deliver. Why should the White House believe that anything will change when the new Republican caucus takes office?

-McConnell says that the president’s executive actions will poison the well for any hope of future compromise. The White House no doubt believes that McConnell’s words are just empty rhetoric. Republicans campaigned on tearing down the president’s agenda not finding a collaborative way to move it forward.

- Republicans vow that if the president follows through with his plans they will sue and take the matter all the way to the Supreme Court. The White House calculates that this is probably true. But in all likelihood the president will be back home in Chicago by the time the Roberts Court rules. And even if the Court rules against him he will have fulfilled his promise to pass reform. Let the Court and the Republicans who brought the suit explain to millions of immigrants how they are being stripped of their freedom and sent home.

The president has made the political calculus that the time to move forward on immigration reform is now. The next few months will tell us if his calculations were correct.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Keystone Debate...Making Decisions In A Vacuum

The Keystone Pipeline is dead…at least for this year.

The Senate failed to pass a bill authorizing construction of the much debated pipeline by a 59-41 vote. All 45 Republicans voted for the measure. But only 14 Democrats were willing to cross party lines in support; leaving the bill one vote short of the 60 needed for passage.

Presumptive Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to bring the measure up for vote again in January when the newly elected Republican majority will assume control of the chamber.

Word from the White House is that the president would veto the bill if it reached his desk.

Over the past several years we have listened to a heated debate over positive and negative aspects of allowing Canada to transport its tar sands crude oil across our country via this pipeline. The most common arguments have centered on growing jobs and the economy versus concerns of environmental and ecological damage. This debate misses a larger point.

Recent geological findings of oil reserves within our borders have determined that the United States has the capability of becoming the world’s largest oil producer by 2025. At the same time we have agreement on both sides of the political aisle that we need to become less dependent on fossil fuels and increase our investment in the development of clean renewable energy sources. Thus far we have done nothing but throw a lot of partisan hot air at this important issue. Our elected officials are voting on energy policy in a politically charged vacuum that could produce costly long term consequences.

We need to develop a long term energy plan. Do we invest heavily in the development of the massive oil and natural gas reserves that that lay beneath our feet? Can we follow this path in way that is safe for the environment? Do we turn away from fossil fuels and invest in the development of renewable sources of energy like wind, solar and nuclear? Or do we co-ordinate our investments between the safe extraction/use of fossil fuels and the development of alternate and perhaps more efficient energy sources?

Today’s vote should have been over whether or not the Keystone Pipeline is a viable component of a long term energy strategy…not a strategy in and of itself.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Keystone +Landrieu = Bad Politics

Last Friday the House passed a bill authorizing the Keystone Pipeline. The Senate is expected to pass its version of the bill on Tuesday. The timing of this sudden push for authorization is representative of all that is wrong with our politics.

For the past six years we have debated the plusses and minuses of allowing Canada to ship its oil across our borders. Proponents of the pipeline argue that the project will create 50,000 jobs and provide an economic boost to the economy. Opponents of the project counter that the pipeline simply allows Canada to ship its oil across our borders, produces only 10,000 temporary jobs, poses an ecological threat to our environment and affords little if any boost to the economy.

For his part, the president has spent the better part of his presidency stalling…awaiting one more economic or environmental study that would bring clarity to the debate. Now, two weeks after the mid-terms it appears that congress is fast tracking the issue to gain passage before the end of the year. Like it or not, the president will be forced to act.

So why the sudden rush to get something done on the Keystone Pipeline?

Mary Landrieu.

Mary Landrieu is the embattled Democratic senator from Louisiana who is in serious danger of losing her seat. She faces a runoff election in January against Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy. Recent polls have Landrieu trailing Cassidy by 16 points.
Earlier this year Landrieu co-sponsored a bill authoring the pipeline. You see the pipeline will bring Canadian crude oil to refineries located on the Gulf coast of Landrieu’s home state; providing local jobs and growing the local economy. Minority Leader Reid, ever the president’s gatekeeper, accommodated the president’s base by refusing to allow Landrieu’s bill to come to a vote.

We now turn the page to post mid-term politics. Democrats will lose control of the senate at year’s end. Landrieu, with her senate seat in serious jeopardy, is desperate to demonstrate to her constituents that she still has the power to make things happen. Reid wants to prevent Republicans from picking up an important 54th senate seat. Suddenly the very same Landrieu bill that Reid rejected earlier in the year will stand for a vote on the senate floor.

This vote has nothing to do with the merits of the pipeline. If not for Democrats cowering to the special interests of rich environmentalists, a debate on the merits could have been held months or even years ago. This vote is about politics. It’s about propping up a vulnerable senator before handing control of the senate over to the Republicans. It’s about a putting job security ahead of the country’s best interests. It’s about all that is wrong with our political system.

If the Keystone Pipeline bill passes it will find its way to the president’s desk for signature.

The president should sign or veto the bill based solely on its merits. Period!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Progress...Or The Return Of The Silly Season?

Since the election there has been a lot of talk on the Hill about “coming together to get things done for the country.” Talk is cheap. Within the next two weeks congress will be forced to deal with two major issues which will go a long way toward determining if the members are willing to back up their campaign rhetoric with productive action.

IMMIGRATION REFORM – The word out of the White House is that the president is prepared to back his promise to go it alone on immigration reform. A formal announcement is expected next week. Details of the plan are still being finalized but rumor is that the president’s executive order could pave the way for amnesty for as many as 5 million illegal immigrants.

As you might expect the Republican response was less than accommodating. Threats ranged from a lawsuit to a government shutdown to impeachment.

Here is what should happen.

The president should issue his executive order and enact whatever immigration reforms he believes he has legal authority to issue under the law. He has campaigned twice on this issue and promised on three separate occasions this year to act alone. If he wants his party to hang on to the minority vote in 2016 he can’t back down on this issue.

Republicans have three viable options. The House can pass the Senate bill that already has BI-PARTISAN SUPPORT. Everybody wins! Republicans really don’t want to pass immigration reform for two reasons: they don’t want to give the president a “legacy win” and don’t want to give illegal immigrants amnesty nor a path to citizenship. What Republicans want is to round up all 11 million illegal immigrants and send them packing. They do however understand that is never going to happen. Their next best option is to pass the senate bill and attach something they want…like lowering the corporate tax rate. Again, a win, win! The last viable option is to sue the president for overstepping his authority, thereby allowing the courts to decide. Absent passing a reform bill, the court system is the best, most reasonable way for Republicans to voice their objection. The court system will take years to work itself out. Reform will ease its way into becoming the law of the land. Not ideal from a Republican point of view. But shutting down the government or impeaching the president is NOT what the people want. Either of these actions will erase all the positive gains Republicans accrued in the last election.

KEYSTONE PIPELINE – It appears that a bill authorizing the Keystone Pipeline is destined to pass through congress with bi-partisan support. The president has made it clear that he does not believe the pipeline will produce anywhere near the jobs nor economic gain that its supporters claim. A straight veto may sit well with the president’s base but it will enrage party moderates who know the pipeline will eventually pass and want something to show for it. The president should veto the bill and send it back with an amendment for something he wants…like an incremental increase in the minimum wage to $10.50 over the next five years. Both parties get something they want. The president should have leveraged this issue long ago. But his disdain for backroom deal making has allowed the controversy fester for six years. Republicans control the legislature. Give them the inevitable but get something for it.

The Republican victory in the mid-terms has backed the president into a corner. He can either come out fighting for what he believes in or sit back and watch his legacy diminish. Early returns indicate that he intends to fight back. Talk is cheap! You have to give a little to get a little.

This is how government is supposed to work.

The question is...will deal making and progress return to the hill?

Or is the silly season back once more?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Well Done Governor Walker!

Newly re-elected Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker is feeling pretty full of himself. And why shouldn’t he? Last weeks’ victory was his third electoral win in four years. After his initial election to the governor’s mansion he blew up the public workers’ union, stripped their benefits down to bare bones, withstood a recall vote and squelched a statewide push to raise the minimum wage. Last week the Governor was rewarded for his efforts with a second term. Walker is so popular among the party movers and shakers that he is considered a serious candidate for a place on the 2016 ticket.

Brimming with confidence from his recent victory, Walker has set his sights on the slackers and misfits in his fair state that can’t seem to take care of themselves. Walker has decided to go after those who dare to apply for welfare and unemployment benefits. He wants to drug test them.

You see Walker believes that most folks who apply for government benefits are losers who game the system and use the money to buy drugs. So Walker has decided to drug test anyone applying for social safety net benefits within his state. Never mind that several other states have implemented the same discriminatory laws only to find that drug use among those applying for benefits is not only statistically non-existent, it pales in comparison to the general population. But Walker is undeterred. After all, says Walker: ‘The people of Wisconsin are entitled to know where their hard earned tax dollars are being spent.”

I agree! In fact I think that Governor Walker’s policy should be expanded to the federal level. Any person applying for or currently receiving government funds should be drug tested. Let’s weed out the slackers!

Let’s start with the 535 members of the newly elected Congress of the United States of America. These folks take home an average of $179,500 in government funds plus some very lucrative benefits and perks. Talk about slackers! I mean is there anyone in this country who is considered “gainfully employed” that works less than our elected leaders in congress? Shouldn’t we make certain that they aren’t sniffing that lucrative compensation package up their nose? After all, aren’t the American people entitled to know where their hard earned tax dollars are being spent?

I was thinking that maybe we should expand the drug testing to include the CEOs and board members of the major corporations and banks that get handed billions in government subsidies each year. Farmers too! After all is paying a guy NOT to grow stuff any different than paying a guy not to work? We certainly don’t want to discriminate! I mean if you are going to test the poor and the struggling middle class shouldn’t you test the rich as well…just to be fair? Be it “handout” or “dole”; “tax credit” or “subsidy” it’s all the same thing, right?

There are those that criticize Walker for “waging war on the poor.” Let’s eliminate that controversy; let’s drug test the “movers and shakers” as well.

Well done, Scott! I’m sure everyone will be more than happy to comply.

Same old...same old!

The lame duck session of congress returns to work this week facing a plethora of unresolved issues. The continuing resolution to fund the government expires on December 11. The defense budget needs to be approved. Certain tax credits for wealthy individuals and businesses expire at years’ end. A host of presidential nominees have yet to be confirmed; including forty five still vacant ambassador posts and the president’s choice for attorney general. Immigration reform is yet unresolved. And then there is the president’s request for an additional $5 billion to send 1500 additional troops into the war with ISIS; a war congress has yet to approve.

You would think with all that on their plate congress would be anxious to start “being about the peoples’ business.”

Not so much!

The first word coming out of congress was that given the limited number of scheduled days in session between now and the end of the year (15) it was unlikely that they would be able to get much accomplished. And given their limited schedule they will too busy to consider confirming any of the president’s nominees. According to congressional leaders it would be inappropriate in any event to consider such weighty measures in a lame duck session. Better to wait until the newly elected congress is sworn in come January.

What we have here is simply more of the same obstructionist policies that Republicans have successfully practiced since 2010…the exact same obstructionist policies that they promised to stop during last weeks’ election. What’s really going on here is that Republicans don’t want to act on anything during the lame duck session. Better to wait until the next congress is sworn in where the newly elected Republican majority stands to gain a better result. Alleging that some of these matters are too important to be debated during a lame duck session is pure nonsense.

On October 10, 1973 Spiro Agnew resigned as Vice President over allegations of tax fraud. Gerald Ford was appointed the new Vice President. When Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974 Ford was elevated to the presidency. His choice for Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller was confirmed by a lame duck session of congress.
On December 19, 1998 a lame duck session of the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Bill Clinton. That same lame duck session accepted the resignation of the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich and later his replacement Speaker-Elect, Robert Livingston. Livingston’s surprise resignation paved the way for Dennis Hastert to assume the post. He was confirmed by that same lame duck congress. Hastert would go on to become the longest serving Speaker of the House in our country’s history; serving from 1999-2007.

President Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch, should be a slam dunk. She has been vetted by congress four times and confirmed by congress four times for previous posts. She was nominated by the president in part because she had already been deemed acceptable by congress. But because obstructing is still more important than governing, her nomination will remain unconfirmed until the new congress is sworn in.

The additional funding for the war on ISIS is another example of Washington nonsense.
Under the War Powers Act the president can authorize the use of military force if he believes that the country’s national security is threatened. However if congress fails to authorize the president’s unilateral action within 60 days the president has 30 days to cease the military operation and bring the troops home. Several members of congress have been openly critical about the president’s strategy against ISIS. But they have refused to go on the record with an up or down vote. The war against ISIS is costing the country $8 million/day. The president wants congress to authorize an additional $5 billion to send 1500 additional troops into the battle. The 90 day period has expired. The war is technically in violation of the constitution. Rather than terminate the military action the president wants to expand it. Yet congress does nothing. And now it appears that they will sit on their hands at least until the new congress takes office because it is “inappropriate for a lame duck session to weigh in on such important matters.”

Congress likes to criticize the president’s actions but the truth is they don’t want to get anywhere near and up or down vote on the issue. Political careers can be inexorably altered by a war vote. Better to sit back and let the president take the heat. It is far easier to criticize than to assume responsibility.
And then there is immigration reform.

The president has said that if congress fails to act on immigration reform by the end of the year he will use his executive authority to enact measures himself. Speaker Boehner has said that such action on the president’s part would “poison the well.” Senator McConnell said any attempt by the president to enact reforms would be “like waving a red flag in front of a bull.” Several Republican lawmakers have been more blunt, stating publically that such executive action would warrant impeachment.

And so goes the first week of the lame duck congress.

How is that new “kumbaya” atmosphere of compromise working?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thank You!

I’m not a fan of war!

You might say: “Duh! Who is?

I can point you to a number of distinguished members of congress who believe that the military option is the first and best response to any international conflict.

I disagree.

I believe that the military option should be exercised when and only when all other measures have failed and only in those situations where OUR national security is threatened.

That said I believe in a strong military. I believe that a strong well armed well trained military is the best deterrent to keeping our enemies a bay. Without a strong military I believe that there are those abroad who would be more than willing to come to our shores and end our way of life.

The key to using military force is knowing when and how to use it effectively.
Take the current military action being waged against ISIS. Surprisingly I agree with Rand Paul that the war against ISIS is illegal. The War Powers Act states that if the president believes that our national security is threatened, he can order the military into action for a period of 60 days without getting congressional approval. If congress has not weighed in within 60 days the president has 30 days to end the military action. Yesterday marked the 90th day of conflict against ISIS. Congress has demonstrated little political interest in voting on the issue. Winning elections does not necessarily require one to grow a back bone. This war is in violation of the constitution. The president should stop the conflict and bring the troops home.

Instead the president has announced that he has asked congress to provide funding to send another 1500 troops into Iraq; bringing the number of troops in theater to 3,000. Ostensibly these troops will be used to train and mobilize the Iraqi army to take the fight to ISIS. Does anybody in his right mind believe that 3,000 US military personnel are going to be able to accomplish in short order what 160,000 US military personnel could not in over a decade?

This is a failed strategy that has zero chance of success. These 3,000 “advisors,” hell the entire ISIS operation, is nothing more than a stalling tactic to hold off ISIS and appease our allies until some presently unknown better solution can be discovered. There is no military solution in the Middle East. These troops are risking their lives to be used as pawns in a political game. The fact that congress and the American people are allowing that to happen is unconscionable.

That is why I respect the military. Time and time again they volunteer to put their lives at risk for people they’ve never met in far off lands they never knew existed. Time and again they serve as political pawns, moved them about like inanimate objects by those who dwell in the comfort and safety of our shores. Yet they continue to serve. .

Certainly some volunteer because they like the idea of killing bad guys and blowing things up; others because they see the military as a way out of a seemingly dead end existence. Regardless of their motivation, once engaged they demonstrate a sense of duty, camaraderie and sacrifice not found anywhere else in our society. Regardless of their motivation; the fact that they volunteer knowing full well that they may ultimately give their life for their fellow man has earned them my deepest sense of respect and gratitude. As a writer I sit here today knowing that it is ultimately the sacrifice of those who currently serve and those who served before them that allows me to pen my thoughts without fear of retribution.

So on this day I say thank you to those who serve and those who served before them; who sacrificed their lives so that I may live mine.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Can Compromise Emerge From Dysfunction?

Now that the mid-terms are over our elected leaders must now consider the task of governing. In the aftermath of the Republicans’ resounding victory we have heard politicians on both sides of the aisle echoing the same sentiment: “The American
people have sent us a message. They want us to get things done.”

The question is…will they? Will congress move forward in a bi-partisan manner to do the peoples’ business or will we see more of the partisan obstruction and gridlock that has plagued Washington over the past several years.

If this first week is any indication I’d say we are likely to see more of the latter.

Republicans won this election with one common message: “We are not Obama.” They offered nothing in the way of substance; just the message that all the things that make people anxious are Obama’s fault. Ebola, Benghazi, the IRS, the NSA, the VA, ISIS, Syria, Iran, the botched rollout of the ACA, flat wages etc… all skillfully laid at the president’s feet. They offered nothing in the way of a substantive plan to address these issues. Now, faced with the prospect of actually governing, the lack of a plan moving forward is painfully obvious. There is no plan because there is no consensus within the Republican Party. The biggest hurdle Republicans face is finding consensus within their ranks.

Democrats are not much better. While Republicans were declaring: “We are not Obama” Democrats were responding with “Neither are we.” Instead of sending a strong populace message in support of raising the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, amnesty for “Dreamers” or any of the other widely successful policies of their party’s leader, they ran away like rats off a sinking ship. Now that the election is lost Democrats are back to supporting their core policy values while blowing off the loss as a simple case of typical low liberal voter turnout for a mid-term election. Democrats find themselves trying to explain to voters why they are back on the Obama bandwagon after having abandoned it in the weeks leading up to the mid-terms.

From where I sit this dysfunction within the parties make governing all but impossible. Recent events on two key issues make this point.

ACA open enrollment begins on November 15th. Today the administration opened up the website to give potential buyers a sneak peak at the plans that are available. Speaker Boehner wants to repeal the ACA and has pledged to makes repeal one of the first orders of business for the newly anointed Republican majority. Presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that any notion of repeal is nonsense. McConnell knows that he doesn’t have the 60 votes he needs to pass repeal in the senate. He also understands that even if he did, a president named Obama is not going to sign bill repealing a law called “Obamacare.” And McConnell understands that the votes aren’t there to overturn a presidential veto. But members of McConnell’s caucus vehemently disagree. Senators Cruz and Mike Lee agree with Boehner that repeal of the law is critical in establishing their newly awarded authority. Cruz has promised no end of obstructionist measures if his demands aren’t met including a government shutdown. McConnell has state flatly that there will not be any government shutdowns. It’s hard to see where any form of “governing” emerges from this internal squabble.

Immigration reform is another topic where there is vehement disagreement between the parties and within the caucuses themselves. Democrats want amnesty and a pathway to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants. They differ on which ones. Republicans understand the need for reform but want no part of amnesty or a path to citizenship. The president has promised to use his executive authority to implement reforms by the end of the year. Over the past year the president has made several similar promises but failed to deliver. Republicans have threatened all sorts of repercussions if the president acts on his own; from defunding any reform measure the president might issue to refusing to confirm his recent appointment to Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. The fact is that all Republicans need to do is pass an immigration bill and send it to the president to sign. Once the bill is signed into law it supersedes any executive order the president may have issued. But Republicans can’t agree among themselves on a bill. While the president procrastinates and Republicans squabble tens of millions of Latino and Asian voters are watching; deciding for themselves which dysfunctional party will best represent their interests in 2016
Republicans are really good at staying on message…but they have no plan. Democrats are sound on the issues that matter to most Americans…but they stink at getting their message across.

Are we to believe that from this dark cloud of dysfunction a beacon of compromise will emerge?

I just don't see it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Equality, Hypocrisy, Nonsense and Failed Promises

EQUAL UNDER THE LAW – I thought I read somewhere that in this country we believe that all men are created equal. Apparently that is not the case in Cincinnati, Ohio where the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reigns supreme. Yesterday the Court upheld gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. The ruling stands in stark contrast to the vast majority of cases decided in favor of gay marriage since the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act in June of 2013. 32 states recognize gay marriage. In summary, the 6th Circuit ruling states that gays are not permitted to marry, not permitted to adopt and should not be allowed to have their names placed on their partners’ death certificates. Gay marriages performed legally in other states will not be recognized within the 6th district. The ruling in all probability means that the matter will be heard by the Supreme Court sometime next year.

I for one am mystified by the ruling but not totally surprised given the conservative backwater region in which the court resides. Am I mistaken or are gays born in this country not considered American citizens. Are they not required to pay the same taxes as straight folks? Are they not required to abide by the same laws? Then why are they treated as “less than” when it comes to the rights and privileges of marriage? There are millions of examples of gay couples living in healthy relationships and raising children in a warm nurturing environment. Why are they subjected to this type of bigotry?

HYPOCRISY - This ruling by the 6th Circuit Court is just another example of the hypocrisy of conservative ideology. Conservatives want the government to stay out of their lives. Except for the bedroom! When it comes to bedroom issues you’ll find conservatives creeping under the covers with a flashlight.

FAILED POLICIES – During the mid-term campaigns we heard all sorts of nonsense about how “the failed policies of the Obama administration are hurting the economy.” Yesterday the DOW closed at record 17,550 points…the 21st record high this year. Had Democrats given full throated support to their own successful policy initiatives instead of running away from them Tuesday’s ass whipping might have been avoided.

IMMIGRATION – In his post election news conference the president promised that if congress failed to act on immigration reform he will act on his own “by the end of the year.” You may recall that the president had previously promised to use his executive powers to pass immigration reform measures “by the end of the summer.” At summer’s end he promised to act “before the election.” In the days leading up to the mid-terms he promised to act “after the election.” Perhaps if he had kept one of those promises the Latino community would have ventured out to the polls. Instead they stayed home and Mitch McConnell is moving into Harry Reid’s office.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Republicans Roll! But can they govern?

The votes are in! The people have spoken! Boy, have they ever…

Riding a massive wave of repudiation against the president and his policies Republicans took control of the Senate, increased their majority in the House and took ownership of the governor’s mansion in states they never dreamed possible. If this were a Little League game they would have invoked the mercy rule.

Republicans won in red states, blue states and purple states. Needing six seats to gain a majority in the Senate Republicans quickly won seven with Virginia, Louisiana, and Alaska still in play at this writing.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the man who turned obstruction and gridlock into an art form, was rewarded for his efforts with a sixth term and presumably the most powerful post in the Senate chamber.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, the man who busted the public worker unions, squashed efforts to raise the minimum wage and lowered taxes for millionaires and billionaires; won his third state election in four years. Two years ago Walker was facing a recall vote. Today he is the hero of the Republican Party and a serious contender for a place on the 2016 ticket.

Maryland, the bluest of the blue states, elected a Republican governor. And in a direct slap at the president, his home state of Illinois did the same.

The talking heads called this a “wave” election. A “tsunami” would be a more appropriate term. For Democrats last night’s results were far worse than the self acclaimed “shellacking” the president bemoaned in 2010. Today he will wake up facing the very real prospect of having to deal with both Boehner and McConnell from a far more weakened position.

So what happened?

The way I see it McConnell and the Republicans gambled that obstructionism would halt the president’s agenda and that the voters would lay at least half the blame for the gridlock on the president. At the same time Republicans understood that while the economy was improving the vast majority of Americans were not feeling it. So Republicans worked hard to attach Democratic candidates to the perceived failed policies of the Obama administration.

Democrats could have promoted any number of successful Obama policies that are popular with the masses. Instead they sought to distance themselves from a president and an agenda that they had publically supported for the past six years. Voters saw through the hypocrisy. Tired of the games and fully believing that Washington is disconnected from their daily lives; voters decided to shake things up by laying their frustration at the feet of the president and his party.

In my estimation this was not a mandate for Republicans but rather a repudiation of the president’s inability to find a way through the gridlock.

Now that the votes are in and Republicans are in control the question remains…can they govern?

In his victory speech Mitch McConnell was more eloquent and conciliatory than I ever believed possible. He graciously complimented his opponent on a well run race saying: “she has earned my respect.” He spoke of compromise saying that he and the president “have an obligation to work together….In the past I have shown willingness to compromise at critical times. I hope the president will give me the opportunity to demonstrate that once again.”

But while McConnell was talking about compromise Senator Cruz was on FOXNEWS singing a different song. When asked if he would support McConnell as Senate Majority Leader he refused to answer the question. When asked what he impact this election would have in the future Cruz said he was looking forward to Republican led hearings on Benghazi, the IRS, the NSA and thorough investigation “on the abuse of power by this lawless administration.”

Cruz, Rubio and Paul all have presidential aspirations. All have very different views of what the Republican Party should look like and stand for going forward. Before McConnell can find any common ground with the president he is going to have to reconcile the differences within his own caucus; a far tougher task than defeating his Democratic opponent.

Republicans should be wary and not get too full of themselves over this resounding victory. The battle ground this time was primarily in conservative leaning red states. Yesterday the electorate was older and whiter. In 2016 the war will be waged in predominantly liberal blue states. The electorate will look far different. If Republicans are to ride this victory to a win in the 2016 general election they are going to have to prove they can get things done. If the internal bickering continues to get in the way of progress the only way Republicans will see the inside of the White House is by invitation.

Last night was a huge night for the Republican Party. Will they make the most of it...or will they squander it? Can they govern...or is political gridlock their only political plank? The electorate will be watching.

The 2016 campaign starts today.