Thursday, July 31, 2014

Take all the time you need...

While packing flip flops and sun screen for their upcoming five week summer vacation, the House of Representatives actually managed to get some work done.

Sanity made a brief appearance in the lower chamber where the Republican led House approved a $17 billion bi-partisan emergency bill designed to provide comprehensive reform to the scandal ridden Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill will fund the hiring of specialty doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers and mental health professionals as well as establish of 27 new VA medical facilities in states across the nation. The Senate is expected to pass the measure before recessing at weeks’ end.

Unfortunately for the country, the kumbaya moment was fleeting.

Insanity quickly returned as the House approved a resolution authorizing the Speaker to sue the president. The lawsuit alleges the president’s use executive powers in delaying the mandate requiring businesses to provide employees access to health care under the ACA constitutes an abuse of the powers granted to him under the constitution. The resolution passed along party lines with the exception of five Republicans who voted “no” because the document failed to include a call for the president’s impeachment. Though this frivolous suit has no standing it will cost the American tax payer $3 million adjudicate. A pittance really when you consider that Republicans spent $79 million to cast 50 failed votes to repeal the ACA.

Tomorrow, Boehner, Reid and McConnell will slip on their board shorts and Hawaiian shirts and head for the exits. They will leave behind a desk piled with important unfinished business. Immigration reform tops the “to do list.” As they board their flights the Infrastructure Trust Fund will run out of money, and the Department of Transportation will cease reimbursing the states. Education reform, minimum wage, voters’ rights, gun reform laws, poverty, long term debt, Middle East turmoil, Russia and the Ukraine, et cetera, et cetera remain unresolved.

No worries! They’ll be back in five weeks!

Based on past performance…there’s no need to hurry back.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lacking Understanding, It's Time To Step Aside

In a recent opinion piece about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote the following:

“It no longer makes sense to look at the Israeli-Palestinian contest as an independent struggle. It, like every conflict in the region, has to be seen as a piece of the larger 30 Years’ War. It would be nice if Israel would withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank and wall itself off from this war, but that’s not possible. No outsider can run or understand this historical process, but Israel, like the U.S., will be called upon to at least weaken some of the more radical players, like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Hamas.”

Thank you, Mr. Brooks, for your analysis. I concur that “No outsider can run or understand this historical process.” Absent that understanding, I am at a loss to comprehend how the United States can expect to broker a lasting peace. Over the past fourteen years we have clearly demonstrated our inability to affect positive change within the region. In fact our very presence in the region seems to do little more than add fuel to the flame. When we are “called on to at least weaken some of the radical players” it seems that our engagement only makes matters worse.

I believe that it is time for a war weary nation to step back and let those who better understand the complexities take the lead.

Monday, July 28, 2014

It's Up To Us!

At the end of this week congress will adjourn for its five week summer recess.


A humanitarian crisis has overwhelmed our southern border. The VA is a train wreck. Our infrastructure is crumbling and outdated. Our education system is failing our children. Research and development has virtually ground to a halt due to lack of funding. Our schools have become killing fields. The middle class is disappearing. 50 million Americans live in poverty including 16 million children. 47 million are on food stamps…

…and the most ineffective congress in American history is headed for the beach.

They might as well go home given their activities in recent days.

Moderate Republicans spent the last two weeks holding hearings to discuss Boehner’s politically motivated lawsuit against the president. Tea Party Republicans have sequestered themselves behind closed doors to discuss impeachment. Meanwhile Democrats have done nothing but ridicule the Republican hearings and closed door meetings.

There are rumors that congress may have cobbled together enough support to pass some sort of VA reform measure before heading for home. No surprise here. There is nothing that our elected leaders fear more than facing a town hall of angry veterans who want to know how a congress that is so good at sending soldiers off to war is so inept at tending to their needs when they returned home.

VA reform should have been put to bed months ago. Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders and Neo-conservative John McCain sponsored a bill that passed through the senate with bi-partisan support. But Boehner refused to allow a vote in the House. He felt that the bill cost too much money and he didn’t want to force his members to go on record with a “no” vote that they would have to answer for later.

House Republicans have turned obstruction into a science. Senate Democrats have turned the pocket veto into an art form.

So how do we change the culture of Washington gridlock? How do we return the art of governing to our nation’s capital when Citizen United rewards fund raising over intellectual competency? I wish I knew.

I do know this! It’s up to us, the voters. A vast majority of us want to see progress in our government. It's up to us to make that happen.

We can reward politicians who choose governing over obstruction. If a politician wants our vote he/she should have to be “for” something not just “against” everything. We can do this. We can throw out the incumbents who place a premium of job security at the expense of progress. We can demand term limits so that governing takes precedent over campaigning. And we can boldly entrust control of the House, Senate and White House into the hands of one political party…if we can stomach the consequences.

All of these solutions are problematic. But they are all feasible.

It’s up to us!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Big Sticks and Unintended Consequences

BIG STICK – The EU is expected to announce today its much anticipated “stiffer” sanctions against Russia for the bombing of flight MH-17. Those sanctions must include Russia’s energy and banking industries if they are to have any substantive affect on Putin. In the past the EU has been quick to express their outrage over Russia’s incursion into Georgia, Crimea and the Ukraine. But they have been unwilling to back up their rhetoric with tough economic sanctions because they have been fearful of what the blowback would mean to their own economies. The EU’s tepid response has emboldened Putin’s aggressive behavior. Will the murder of 290 innocent civilians bring a more substantive response?

Russia’s is one of the world’s major producers of oil and natural gas. Its weakened economy is highly dependent on the revenues generated from oil and gas exports. Basically Russia is one of the world’s largest gas stations and its only customer is the EU. A boycott of Russian hydrocarbons by the EU would be a body blow to the Russian economy.

While France, Germany, Italy and the Brits wring their hands over the economic repercussions for hitting Russia where it hurts; little Holland has no such qualms. Holland, through its Shell Oil Company, is one of Russia’s major investors. It would most certainly take an economic beating were it to agree to cease doing business with Putin. But Holland wants justice for the 150 Dutch citizens who died on MH-17. 78% of the Dutch citizens say they support tough sanctions against the Russian energy industry even though they know it will hurt them at home. Will the rest of the EU have the courage to stand behind the Dutch?

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES – Sarah Palin is in the news…again. Normally we would not waste our time or yours by commenting on the machinations of a failed candidate whose only purpose in life is self promotion. But the former part time governor of Alaska’s inflammatory rhetoric may have struck a nerve that ends up hurting her and her party in ways she didn’t anticipate.

The subject of Ms. Palin’slatest detour from reality is the impeachment of President Obama. Palin is out on the campaign trail lining her pockets while voicing her support for Tea Part candidates. Her oft repeated message is clear: “We need to impeach this imperialist president for his abuse of power and his continual violation of our laws as stated in the constitution.” While her screeching mantra is like fingernails on a blackboard to those on the left, it is gaining traction with the right. We are already seeing victorious Tea Party primary candidates pick up on her call for impeachment. If you are a Democrat, that could be a very good thing.

If you hearken back to the 2012 campaign you will recall that Republican state legislatures all across the country passed a series of new, stringent voter I’d laws. The Republican talking points said that new laws were passed to quell the tsunami of voter fraud that was sweeping across the country. Apparently there being no evidence of voter fraud was of little relevance to their cause. In truth the laws were passed to quell the surge of minority voters heading to the polls in support of the president. If you can’t beat them…stop them from voting. The Republican push for voter suppression was further proven when those same Republican state legislatures cancelled or scaled back early voting in minority districts while leaving the early voting hours in place in predominantly white districts. The bottom line is that the Republican efforts to suppress minority votes infuriated the minorities. They responded by surging to the polls in record numbers; sweeping the president to a landslide victory. Could Sarah Palin’s nonsensical Tea Party push for the president’s impeachment call minority voters to the polls like the voter I’d train wreck did in 2012?

Democrats are very concerned that voter turnout will be light and predominantly white; as is typically the case in mid-term elections. If that happens, Republicans could strengthen their majority in the House and gain control of the Senate. Were that scenario to occur, a vote to impeach would not be beyond the realm of possibility. Sarah Palin’s Tea Party call to arms just might motivate an unintended audience.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dems Have A Better Chance Of Winning Than The Pundits Think

As the local mid-term campaigns ramp up we are starting to get an idea of what the party strategies will be going into November. Both Democrats and Republicans will try their best to “nationalize” the local House and Senate races.

Democrats will attempt to tie local Republican candidates to the “most ineffective, do nothing congress in our history.” Whether the Republican candidate is an incumbent or a challenger the labeling will remain the same…” Vote Republican and you sign up for another term of partisan Washington gridlock.”

Republicans on the other hand will attempt to tie their Democrat opponents to the president: “He/she is Obama’s candidate. Vote Democrat and you sign up for another round of policies that hurt businesses and weaken our standing around the globe.”

The pundits believe that the Democrats are in danger of losing control of the Senate and even more seats in the House. We are not so sure.

Democrats have a reasonable chance of making their strategy work. This particular congressional body really IS the most ineffective congress in our history. They cannot count one substantive piece of legislation since taking control of the House in 2010. Their only claim to fame is that they wasted taxpayers’ money by voting unsuccessfully to repeal Obamacare 50…yes 50…times. The only approval rating lower than Obama’s belongs to congress and the Republicans.

Republicans have a tougher road to climb because their anti-Obama assertions are simply not true. Since Obama took office we have seen a dramatic climb from the near economic depression that we were facing under Bush 43. The country is no longer teetering over an economic cliff but growing albeit slowly. The banking industry, once on the verge of collapse is now stable. The auto industry, left for dead is now thriving. Construction is up. Retail is up. Housing stars are up. The DOW is posting record highs. An economy that was hemorrhaging 700,000 private sector jobs per month is now creating 220,000 private sector jobs per month. Yesterday Apple posted quarterly profits of $7 billion dollars… that’s billion with a “B”…in one quarter. If the president’s policies are so bad for business then how does one explain away these remarkable results?

On the international front, we are certainly far better off than we were when the president took office. The Iraq war is over. US troops will be out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. Osama bin Laden is dead. Has our reputation in the international community suffered over the last decade? The answer is an emphatic yes. But you can point directly to Bush/Cheney’s ill conceived invasion of Iraq for the root of that hatred. Obama was elected principally on the promise of disengaging us from that “war first” thinking. He has kept his promise. While the neo-cons will refer to his weak and feckless policies; the truth is the president has heard the American people and he is acting accordingly. And if America’s strength and leadership skills have been so badly weakened under this president, then why does the free world still call on America to solve its problems.

The campaigns will kick into high gear as we head into August. We think the Democrats have more to work with than the pundits think.

Waiting On Europe To Respond

Representatives from the EU met in Brussels yesterday to discuss possible economic sanctions against Russia for the downing of Malaysian Airline flight 17. The commercial airliner was allegedly shot down by a Russian made surface to air missile fired by Russian backed separatist rebels. Russia has denied the claims.

Attendees at the summit said that they had reached agreement on some course of action. However details will not be released “for a couple of days” ostensibly to allow investigators, who only recently were granted access to the crash scene, time to determine their findings without fear of reprisal from the rebels.

The European reaction to the downing of Malaysian Airline flight 17 has been disconcertingly quiet given the magnitude of the event. Aside from the Brits who have joined the US is voicing their outrage, the remaining EU members have been quiet as church mice. Italy has gone into hiding. Germany, the strongest of the EU economies, has gone out of its way to maintain its cozy relationship with Putin. And the French announced that the would go forward with their lucrative contract to supply Russia with amphibious missile systems. For what better way to express your outrage at the taking down of a commercial airliner by a surface to air missile than to sell more of them to the very guy who supplied the missile in question.

We understand that the EU is dependent upon Russia for its energy needs. We understand that a significant percentage of European jobs are vested in products and services exported to Russian shores. Yet it is hard to comprehend how the EU can allow the murder of 290 of its citizens to pass with little more than a shrug.

So how does the administration convince the EU members to set aside their individual needs and join the US in condemning this atrocity? One way would be to release the classified information that the US claims to prove unequivocally that the Russian backed separatists fired the missile that brought down the Malaysian airliner. Perhaps if the Europeans could see the proof first hand perhaps they would be emboldened to act.

Yesterday, the administration summoned the media to the White House where they promised to unveil this previously classified information. Instead they showed reporters the same videos and photos that have been on social media since the plane crashed.

If the administration has concrete proof that the separatists downed the plane then they need to release it immediately. Let the world see firsthand what actually happened. Then call on the world to act by demanding that Russia bring an end to the violence in Ukraine by withdrawing its troops and ceasing its support of the rebels. Impose the strictest possible sanctions on the Russian leaders and the Russian economy as a whole until the withdrawal is complete and a formal ceasefire is signed. Demand that the individuals who fired on the plane be brought to justice in an international forum.

Atrocities like this cannot be allowed to go unpunished. Unfortunately is it once again up to the US to lead the world to a just and peaceful solution. Step number one is convincing Europe to get on board.

Monday, July 21, 2014

It's Complicated!

Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants stream across our southern borders.
The Hispanic Caucus begs the president to come to the border and view the situation firsthand.
The president declines; explaining that he is interested in solving problems not engaging in photo-ops.
Instead, a mere 200 miles north of the border, he attends three fund raisers where allows himself to be filmed drinking beer and shooting pool.

A Malaysian passenger jet is shot down in the Ukraine by Russian backed separatist rebels using Russian supplied anti-aircraft weaponry.
The separatists refuse to allow international access to the crash site.
The bodies of the victims remain unattended for days, decomposing in the heat.
The president attends another series of fund raisers.

The Middle East is falling apart.
Hamas fires over 1600 missiles into Israel.
The missiles are launched from within residential neighborhoods, schools and hospitals.
Israel responds with a massive air and ground offensive that slaughters hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians.
The president attends more fund raisers and is filmed eating burgers and fries with a supporter.

Those who roam the halls of government are outraged.
They call the president “weak” and his foreign policy “embarrassing.”

The American people have a different view.
A war weary nation has made it clear that it has no interest in any further American intervention in foreign affairs.
They want their president to attend to matters here at home and let the rest of the world solve its own problems.
Recent polls show that 89% of Americans will base their vote on the handling of foreign policy matters.

The president is channeling the American people.
And in doing so he is looking weak.

By and large we agree with the president’s strategy of diplomacy first.
But we would like to see him be more forceful in his articulation of that strategy.

The president wants comprehensive immigration reform.
Go to the border.
Show the plight of the terrified children seeking safety within our borders.
Make it clear that this wouldn’t be happening if not for Republicans blocking his every effort to implement immigration reforms.

Call out Putin for the thug he is.
Initiate economic sanctions that hit him personally.
Target Gazprom and the banking industry where Putin makes his billions.

Yes, the president needs Putin.
He needs Putin in dealing with Iran…and Syria…and North Korea.
But the president cannot let Putin’s complicity in the murder of 290 civilians go unchallenged.
Putin has proven that given an inch he WILL take a mile.
The president told the world that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be crossing a red line.
Assad crossed the line.
The US did nothing.
An emboldened Putin took Crimea.
Again, the US did nothing.
Now Ukraine is in the crosshairs.
Surely we are not the only one to see the connection!

And where is Europe in all of this?
Aside from the Brits, Europe has been reluctant to respond to the downing of Malaysian Flight 17; virtually silent on Putin’s advances in Crimea and Ukraine.
They are more concerned with the economic repercussions of offending Putin than seeing that justice is served.
Better to let the US do the heavy lifting. Typical!
Call them out.
Tell the world that Europe is more interested in cheap oil and selling ships than they are in the deaths of 290 of their countrymen.

The president said that the biggest thing he learned from his first term was that there is more to governing that just getting the policy right.
Messaging, haggling, arm twisting, implementation, optics and theater all play an important role.
It seems to us that the president has yet to learn that lesson.

Yes, it’s complicated.
A truly great leader figures it out.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

McCain's Outbursts Not Helping

You have to hand it to John McCain…he is consistent.

Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 had barely crashed into the ground and there was McCain blaming the incident on President Obama.

McCain said he didn’t want to speculate on who the perpetrators were that actually shot down the commercial airliner. Then he speculated that if the Russians were involved “there will be hell to pay.”

While McCain didn’t want to speculate on who pulled the trigger he had no qualms about blaming the president’s refusal to provide the Ukrainian government with weapons as the root cause for the escalation of violence in the region; calling the president’s handling of the crisis: “embarrassing.” If we are to follow McCain’s logic…had the president sent weapons to the Ukrainian government then the Russian government or the pro-Russian separatists would not have fired a surface to air missile at a defenseless commercial airliner.

The US government in all probability already knows who fired on the airliner but they have not yet decided how or when to release the information. US satellites have been monitoring the area non-stop since Putin invaded Crimea. They know where the Russian troops and separatist rebels are stationed. The technology can easily determine from which side of the Ukraine/Russian border the missile was fired. But when and how you announce such an accusation is as important as indentifying the perpetrator. Better to give Putin the opportunity to explain. Yet here was McCain big footing the situation for political purposes.

The missile was probably launched by one of the poorly trained pro- Russian separatists without any authorization from Moscow. Perhaps they thought they were firing at a Ukrainian military aircraft. Regardless, it is Putin who put the weapons in the separatists’ hands so it is Putin who will shoulder the blame.

Imagine if you will that President Obama had sent similar weaponry to the Ukrainians and a poorly trained Ukrainian had accidently or intentionally shot down Malaysian Flight 17. What tune would McCain be singing then?

At times like this the world’s lone superpower needs to speak with one clear voice. That voice belongs to the person elected by the people to speak on their behalf…the President of the United States.

McCain’s self serving political outbursts are not in the country’s best interests.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Republican Civil War

In American politics the Republican Party has historically been labeled as the bastion for supporters of a strong military. It is a label that they carry proudly. Led by neo-cons like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, Republicans have always believed that the best way to protect our country’s borders is by inserting our military might into any foreign policy equation. Critics say that Republicans have never met a war that they didn’t want to fight.

Given their history, it is interesting to observe the current civil war raging within the party between the neo-cons on the far right and the isolationists on the party’s more moderate left. As conflicts rage in the Middle East and Russia flexes its muscle in the Ukraine, the conflict within the party has reached a fever pitch; fueled no doubt by the upcoming mid-terms and the prospects for 2016.

The neo-cons, led by fiction author Dick Cheney and his uniquely unqualified daughter Liz, are lobbying hard for the US to intervene in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine and the Ukraine. They ridicule the president’s foreign policy and blame his unwillingness to unleash America’s military as the root cause for the conflagration in the region.

On the other side of the argument are the Republican isolationists. Led by presidential hopeful Rand Paul they argue that America has no business entering into a regional civil war that has been raging for centuries. They argue that a war weary nation can ill afford to spend resources it doesn’t have on foreign conflicts that do not impact directly on our national interests.

This internal conflict will continue to fester through the mid-terms and into the 2016 general election. The victor will craft the Republican Party platform for 2016 and play a crucial role in determining the next occupant of the oval office. The outcome is hard to predict; what with the country weary of war yet ever fearful of another 9/11. This much however is certain.

Contrary to Mr. Cheney’s assertions, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did NOT make us safer. What they did accomplish was to create a whole new generation of Muslims, raised amid the death and destruction of innocents; they are now hell bent on bringing their revenge to our shores.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Optics Matter

Optics matter!

BOEHNER – Speaker Boehner is suing the president. Why? Because the president unilaterally granted business owners a one year grace period to implement the “mandate provision” of the Affordable Care Act. The suit claims the president acted illegally in modifying the provisions of an existing law without seeking the approval of congress. The suit will cost $3,000,000 tax payer dollars and in all likelihood not be resolved until after President Obama has left office.

The Republicans oppose the Affordable Care Act primarily because of the mandate which requires businesses to offer health care coverage to their employees. One would think that any delay in implementing the controversial mandate would be met with a round of applause from the right. But in this dysfunctional congress anything this particular president does…even if it is something that conservatives would approve if implemented by a Republican president…is viewed as grounds for legal action or even impeachment.

Boehner knows that this suit is as lame as Sarah Palin’s call for Obama’s impeachment. But he’ll go along with the charade to appease his base. Even if this little piece of theater costs the taxpayers $3 million.

OBAMA – The president was in Texas the past two days to attend a series of fundraisers. One would expect that while in the area he would take opportunity to travel 250 miles south and view firsthand the humanitarian crisis taking place on our southern border. We are referring of course to the tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children that have flooded the border in recent weeks.

The president declined. He said that he wasn’t interested in photo-ops or theatre but in solving problems. A White House spokesman said that the president wasn’t visiting the border because he knew that his political enemies would just spin the trip for political advantage.

The president says that he isn’t interested in theater. Then what would he call his much ballyhooed tour of storm ravaged Atlantic City with Governor Christie…or his surprise visit to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan…or his trip to visit the parents at Sandy Hook?

The US government spent $3 trillion very controversial/politically toxic dollars to secure Iraq and Afghanistan. The president travelled tens of thousands of miles to tell the troops personally how much he appreciated their efforts. Yet he won’t take a short road trip to get a firsthand look at a crisis on our own border that affects millions of Americans…because of POLITICS?

The president had the opportunity to send a positive message to the people living along the border and to stress the importance of his number one goal…passing comprehensive immigration reform. His decision to let the moment pass is mind boggling.

Everything a president does sends a message. Everything he does is scripted theater. We don’t want a president whose decisions depend on which way the political trade winds are blowing. We want a president who bases his decisions on what is best for the country.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Does this mean...?

CHICAGO – 60 Chicago residents were shot and killed over the Fourth of July weekend. Only 5 of the victims were shot by police. So where are all those “good guys with guns” that the NRA says are going to keep us safe? Does this mean the good guys were on holiday?

SUPREME COURT – The Supreme Court ruled that business owners do not have to provide their employees access to health care that includes contraceptives if providing such courage violates the owners’ religious beliefs. Does this mean that a business owner who is a Scientologist does not have to provide employees access to health care…period.

FREEDOM of SPEECH – The Supreme Court ruled that state laws which require protestors at abortion clinics to stay at least 35 feet away from the clinic are in violation of the protestors’ right to free speech and therefore unconstitutional. Does this mean that protestors at political conventions and presidential appearances who are currently restricted to zones well out of camera shot will now be allowed into the convention halls? Will we see them front and center at presidential appearances?

IMMIGRATION – Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, many of them unattended children, have flooded our southern boarders over that past several days, overwhelming the border patrols. The children have been housed in holding centers. But the centers are overflowing, forcing the authorities to move bus loads to neighboring communities to be held until the government can figure out what to do with them. Protestors, fearful of the effects on their communities, have set up roadblocks to keep the buses from entering their towns. The president is scheduled to attend fund raisers in Dallas and Austin later this week. His staff says he has no plans to visit the border to assess the problem first hand. Our government has sent 300 advisors and $500 million dollars to Iraq to stop Islamic extremists from pouring over the Syrian and Iranian borders. Yet the immigration crisis along our own border remains unresolved. Does this mean that the government is more concerned with the security of the Iraqi border than it is with our own?