Sunday, May 31, 2015

Bluegrass Battle

The Senate returns from another vacation today to once again take up matters of national importance at the very last minute. The subject of this rare Sunday session…the Patriot Act…which is due to expire at midnight tonight.

Presidents Bush and Obama have stated that the authorities granted under the Patriot Act are critical to national security and the war on terror. Given that these two party leaders have reached an agreement on the matter you would think that there would be consent within congress and a quick renewal of the legislation. And you might expect that any difference of opinion on the matter would be between the Republican war hawks on the right and the kumbaya bunch on the left. You would be wrong on both counts. Once again the battle rages within the Republican Party.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the senior senator from Kentucky, wants to see the bill pass. In fact he has thrown all of his political weight behind the bill by promising that he would get the bill passed by the midnight deadline. Senator McConnell’s promise should not be taken lightly. He has a long history of pulling compromises on weighty measures from the flames of certain defeat.

McConnell’s major opposition on the floor today will come not from the left but from the junior Republican Senator from his home state of Kentucky; presidential hopeful Rand Paul. Paul has been outspoken in his isolationist leanings and his opposition to what he sees as a violation of our civil liberties under the Patriot Act. In recent days he orchestrated a 10+ hour filibuster against the renewal of the Patriot Act and publically blamed the war hawks in his party for the rise of ISIS and the mess in the Middle East: “The war hawks of my party have been wrong on foreign policy for the past twenty years.” In a direct challenge to McConnell’s leadership, Paul has promised to do everything within his power to stop the bill from renewing. Needless to say his comments have not been well received inside the Republican caucus.

When voters handed Republicans control of the Senate, Majority Leader McConnell confidently promised that the chamber would set aside the gridlock that had characterized the previous six years and return to the job of governing. Thus far his success has not matched his rhetoric. Today he will face another test. Once again his primary opposition will come from within his own party; this time from his compatriot from the Bluegrass State.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

It's Not About Religion. It's Politics!

Sometime within the next 30 days the Supreme Court will hand down verdicts on two landmark cases.

The first will decide whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will remain the law of the land as written or whether 8 million Americans will be forced from the insurance rolls. The second will determine whether same sex marriages will become legal under federal law granting those couples the same rights and privileges as traditional married couples.

Evangelical Christians believe that there is currently a war being waged in this country against their religious freedoms. They see these two court cases as important battles to be waged in this war. They see a verdict in favor of the ACA and the legalization of same sex marriage as an infringement on their first amendment rights.

The ACA requires that business owners provide health care coverage for all full time employees that includes coverage for contraceptives. Evangelical Christians say that the requirement to provide coverage for contraceptives is in conflict with their religious beliefs and therefore an infringement on their constitutional rights to practice their religion.

As respects same sex marriage… evangelicals believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. They say that forcing them to abide by a law that recognizes same sex marriage constitutes a suppression of their right to freely practice their religious beliefs.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a practicing member of the Catholic faith. As such I can say without reservation that no matter what the Court rules on these two issues it will have zero effect on my ability to exercise my religious beliefs. That is because this evangelical argument is about politics not religion. Their argument simply does not hold Holy Water.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the ACA, Christian business owners will not suddenly be required to use contraceptives. They won’t be permitted to impose their faith based boycott of contraceptives onto their employees either.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of legalizing same sex marriage, Christians will not suddenly be required to enter into same sex unions. They will simply have to come to grips with the fact that members of the LGBT community who are legal US citizens are entitled to the same marital rights and privileges as their traditionally married brethren.

Evangelicals are using their religion to gain a political advantage.

There’s nothing “Christian” about that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lesson Not Yet Learned

The recent fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to ISIS forces raises serious questions about the president’s strategy in the region. Questions that were actually answered years ago.

The American people have made it clear that they want no part of another ground war in the Middle East. The president, much to the consternation of his critics, has listened to the people that he has sworn to serve. He has employed a strategy against ISIS that calls for US military support from the air coupled with Iraqi forces on the ground. US warplanes soften the targets from the air while Iraqi forces take and control territory on the ground. It is a military strategy that has been used for as long as airplanes have been dropping bombs. It is a strategy that hinges on the Iraqi’s ability and willingness to engage and defeat their enemies.
Such was not the case in Ramadi.

By all accounts Iraqi forces outnumbered ISIS rebels by a 10-1 margin. Yet upon receiving the first word that the ISIS attack was imminent most Iraqi soldiers threw down their weapons and fled. ISIS fighters rolled into Ramadi and found little resistance. What they did find was a treasure trove of US supplied arms, tanks and supplies that had been abandoned by the fleeing Iraqi army.

The unwillingness of the Iraqi army to standup to its enemies should come as no surprise to American military strategists. In the lead up to both the first and second Iraq wars the Iraqi military was hailed as one of the best trained best armed armies in the world. Saddam’s vaunted Iraqi Revolutionary Guard manned the world’s fourth largest military. Yet in both conflicts the Iraqis fled when faced with the reality of facing America’s massive military might. Mass Iraqi surrenders were commonplace…often occurring before a shot was fired.

American taxpayers ponied up over $25 billion borrowed dollars to train and arm the Iraqi army only to see it turn tail once again at the first sight of conflict. If the Iraqi people are unwilling to fight for their own country then why should we?

Please spare me the neo-con talking points about all the reasons that we need to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria:

“We need to maintain access to the Iraqi oil.” No we don’t. Our oil and natural gas reserves are larger than that of any other country including Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Europe is far more dependent on Iraq’s oil supply than we are. Why not let Europe figure out how to protect those interests.

“We need to make certain that the trade routes in the area remain open.” The US Navy can make certain that those trade routes remain open from the safety of international waters.
“If ISIS is allowed to prevail they will establish a caliphate in the region that will reign terror on American interests.” Before ISIS there was Al Qaeda. After ISIS another group will take its place. There is no military solution here. Unless of course we are willing to occupy the entire Middle East with American troops…forever.

“We need to plant the seed of democracy in the region. Once the locals see the benefits of a democratic way of governing they will come around.” Under the watchful eye of the American military democratic elections were held in both Iraq and Afghanistan; Malaki and Karzai named the respective victors. These two fine gentlemen rewarded our efforts by extorting tens of millions in CIA funneled bribes while they got cozy with Iran, Russia and the Taliban.

“We need to stem Iran’s influence in the region.” See above.

“We need to demonstrate American leadership.” Please!

The Middle East is complicated. Any reliance on the locals to set aside centuries of conflict to suddenly link arms with “American infidels” is both simplistic and foolhardy.

There is no military strategy in the Middle East. One would think that after all these years we would have learned that lesson.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Case Closed!

Over the past few weeks we have been subjected to news coverage of a number of Republican presidential hopefuls stuttering and sputtering in an attempt to answer some version of this hypothetical question:

“Knowing what we know now…would you as president have gone into war with Iraq?”

To me the answer is quite evident. But then I’m not trying to curry favor with the right to win the Republican nomination.

According to the media it took Jeb Bush four times to get it “right.” First yes…then no…then maybe…then no. Current poll frontrunner Marco Rubio chose the path of deflection saying: “the world is a safer place without Saddam Hussein.” Jeb is struggling to remain loyal to his brother. Marco is living on another planet.

The problem with this entire line of questioning is the premise of a hypothetical…because we did in fact know then what we know now. We knew that there was no connection between Saddam and 9/11 and that Saddam did NOT possess a nuclear weapon. We know that the Bush administration was well aware of these facts at the time but chose to ignore them in order to make the case for war. We know this because the guy who delivered the intelligence to President George W. Bush told us so.

In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, Michael Morell served as Deputy Chief Director of the CIA. His job at that time was to personally provide the president with the most up-to-date intelligence information that the CIA had and to make certain that the president had a clear understanding of that intelligence. He served as the president’s personal briefer.

Appearing this week on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Mathews” to promote his new book; Morrell said that he advised the president that the CIA had no intelligence to connect Saddam with 9/11 nor was there intelligence to indicate that Saddam had acquired a nuclear weapon.

Mathews then played a news video of Vice President Dick Cheney saying that we had intelligence that Saddam did in fact have a nuclear weapon. Matthews asked Morell if Cheney’s statement was true.” Morell, obviously uncomfortable with the question deflected that his job was just to inform the president of the facts the CIA had gathered not to determine how it was used. Mathews asked again: “Was that a true statement? “No,” Morell said. “That’s not true.”

Mathews then quoted excerpts from Morell’s book where Morell writes that the CIA told the president that there was no connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda “but senior officials, most significantly the Vice President, continued to imply that there was a current connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. This was inconsistent with the analysis but the implications continued, all to the detriment of the American people’s understanding of the truth.”

Morell also implicates the Vice President’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby saying “Libby’s attempt to intimidate a top CIA official was the most blatant attempt to politicize intelligence that I saw in thirty-three years in the business, and it would not be the last attempt by Libby to do so.”

Over the past twelve years we have heard many voices weigh in on the legitimacy of the Iraq war. There are those on the right seeking to defend the Bush administration and those on the left eager to garner a political advantage from what we know now to be one of the worst foreign policy decisions in our history. For me these were all political hacks bearing a huge political agenda on their shoulders.

I have been reluctant to believe the narrative that the Bush administration took us to war on a lie because I found it hard to believe that any person or persons could be capable of sending men and women into harm’s way under false pretenses. In the foggy world of “intelligence” where things are rarely as they seem, the “war was based on faulty intelligence” theory seemed the most plausible.

But I find Mr. Morell’s account to be credible. He has no apparent axe to grind and as the guy in the room he certainly knew the details of what he was delivering to the president. And to those who would question his credibility given his newly published tell all; he could have made easily made a ton of money writing the same book from the other side of the fence. His job was not to advocate a position but to merely deliver the facts: facts which the Bush administrated distorted to make the case for war. One only need consider the lack of WMD’s or nuclear weapons found after the invasion to corroborate that the Bush/Cheney narrative was false. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Tenet and Wolfowitz took us to war on a lie. Can there be a more heinous breech of duty?

There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who would like nothing better than to bring harm to the United States. The intelligence community is charged with sifting through millions upon millions of pieces of data to ferret out those persons and organizations that wish us ill will. It would seem to be a nearly impossible job. A job made all that more difficult when the “evildoers” are roaming the halls of the White House.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Your tax dollars at work"

“Your tax dollars at work!”

You undoubtedly recognize this phrase. It is sometimes used as means of informing a person or persons that the government is paying for a particular project. More often than not it is used in sarcasm to express one’s frustration over the failings of our federal government.

Regardless, it begs the question…are the tax dollars we send the Washington being used in a manner that is in the best interests of the American people? A recent breakfast conversation motivated me to find out the answer to that question.

There is an old axiom that says: “you can always determine the priorities of a government by how it spends the people’s money.” If that is in fact true…and if we are to believe what the polls say are the people’s primary needs and concerns…then there are some serious changes that need to be made.

In 2014 the American people sent $3.1 trillion dollars in tax revenue to the federal government. According to the National Priorities Project each hard earned dollar that we sent to our fearless leaders was apportioned in the following manner:

Military: 27 cents
Medicare & Health: 26.5 cents
Interest on the Debt: 15.3 cents
Social Security, Unemployment & Labor: 8.4 cents
Veteran’s Benefits: 5.8 cents
Food & Agriculture: 5 cents
Government: 3.4 cents
Education: 2.5 cents
Transportation: 1.9 cents
Energy & Environment: 1.6 cents
International Affairs: 1.5 cents
Science: 1.1 cents
Housing & Community: .1 cent

If you check the math you will find that a 83 cents of every federal tax dollar goes toward funding the top five on the list: Military, Medicare/Health, Interest on Debt, Social Security/Unemployment and Veterans Benefits. What little funds that remain are spread out among the rest.

Unfortunately our federal tax dollars are insufficient to meet the country’s needs. To make up the shortfall we borrow. In 2014 the government borrowed 14 cents of every dollar spent…$492 billion in total. As of January 2015 the national debt stood at a just over $18 trillion dollars. Economists estimate that within the next ten years the federal taxes we send to the government will only be enough to fund the military, “entitlements” and interest on the debt. Everything else will have to be paid for with borrowed funds.

So we go back to the original question…given the amount of debt we continue to incur…are we spending our money wisely.

For example…we spend a significant share of our tax dollars on the military. 27 cents of every dollar plus an additional 5.8 cents on veteran’s benefits. The Iraq war…the most costly political error in our history…cost 4,500 American lives and $1.7 trillion in treasure. Estimates are that the benefits paid to Iraq war veterans over the next 40 years…and the interest expense to borrow the money necessary to pay those benefits…will cost an additional $6 trillion dollars. That’s $7.7 trillion for an ongoing mistake.

And make no mistake the Iraq war is not over.

The latest military strategy in Iraq calls for American fighter planes to conduct airstrikes against ISIS targets. Meanwhile the Iraqi Army…which the US taxpayers spent $20.2 billion to train and arm…is supposed to do the heavy lifting on the ground. The Obama administration continues to spend millions of borrowed funds on ineffective bombing raids against ISIS targets. I say ineffective because two days ago ISIS fighters retook the city of Ramadi…a city that hundreds of Americans lost their lives to secure. ISIS was able to retake Ramadi because the Iraqi Army threw down their weapons and ran.

Last Friday congress passed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act which appropriated $89.2 billion for the military to conduct wars on our behalf. The largest air force in the world is currently manned by the United States Air Force. The second largest air force in the world is manned by the United States Navy. The US maintains 11 nuclear powered aircraft carriers. The rest of the world has 2. The US military has the capability of blowing up our enemies 10 times over. Yet we spend more. So much so that we spend more on our military than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, India and Germany COMBINED. 27 cents of every tax dollar. And then we wonder why our children are lagging behind other industrialized countries in education (2.5 cents) and our roads, bridges, trains and airports are outdated and in disrepair (1.9 cents). We lead the world at nothing except the ability to blow things up.

I fully realize that there is more to fixing things like education, roads and bridges than simply throwing more money at them. It’s all about setting priorities, goals and a plan for the future while providing the necessary funds to succeed. We talk about leading the world but the only thing of consequence that we lead in is our ability to blow things up.

The numbers don’t lie. The priorities are clear.

"Your tax dollars at work."

Is this the road that we want to continue to follow?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fools on the "Hill"

The United States is at war in the Middle East!

I realize that this is not breaking news to those of you who follow this space regularly; and I don’t mean to insult your intelligence. I ask that you bear with me while I take a moment to bring certain factions of our society up to speed.

For those newcomers who may have stumbled into this space while taking a break from posting pictures of themselves and their pets on Facebook…and the members of the United States Congress...this just in.
America is at war!

Nine months ago President Obama began authorizing air strikes against a terrorist group known as ISIS…the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. You may have seen some of their handiwork posted on Facebook. Those videos of the guys in orange jumpsuits being beheaded by a big dude wielding an oversized steak knife…that’s ISIS.

As I said the president has been bombing ISIS strongholds for the last nine months. 3,700 airstrikes to be exact; at a staggering cost of over $2 billion borrowed US dollars. Serious stuff!

When the president began these attacks many members of congress rose up in arms screaming that he didn’t have the authority to engage in military action without first receiving authorization from congress. “According to the Constitution only congress has the authority to declare war” they said.
The president argued that he didn’t need authorization because congress had already granted him the authority under Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) legislation passed in 2001.

But after listening to months of bitching on the Hill, the president acquiesced and sent congress a request for a new AUMF against ISIS. The president put on a happy face and said that he was pleased to have congress officially weigh in though he didn’t feel the vote was necessary. Sometimes you gotta’ do what you gotta’ do to keep piece in the family.

So after months of bitching and complaining you would expect that congress would flex its military gravitas, meet its constitutional obligations and pass a new AUMF. Instead they did nothing.

Until Friday.

On Friday the Republican controlled House passed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act which provides funding for the military. Included in the bill are $89.2 billion borrowed dollars for war funding. The bill also includes over 100 amendments dealing with matters ranging from border security , Merchant Marine retirement benefits, drones and the purchasing requirements for anchors and mooring chains. Noticeably absent from the bill…Authorization for Use of Military Force against ISIS.

When questioned as to why the AUMF was not included in the war funding bill the response from the Republicans was that “the defense bill was not the place to debate the war.”


The truth here is that congress wants no part of taking a “war” vote. They will sabre rattle, call the president’s foreign policy feckless and criticize him for “Leading from behind.” But when it comes to actually going on the record to send Americans into harm’s way…the silence is deafening. Political careers have been cut short just for being on the wrong side of a war vote.

So what we have here is the Republican led congress agreeing to fund to fund a war that they have not agreed to authorize.

Only in congress…

When Republicans won control of congress they promised the American people that they would set aside the obstructionist tactics that had ground our government to a halt. They promised to get back to doing the people’s business. They promised to govern. As far as authorizing the ongoing war against ISIS…not so much.

But they did pass another anti-abortion bill.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Yes Mr. Speaker, It Is All About The Funding

As one might expect the tragic derailment of Amtrak Train # 188 has resulted in partisan finger pointing as the political blame game begins anew.

Speaker Boehner bristled when a reporter asked if Republican efforts to cut Amtrak funding were responsible for the crash.

“Are you really going to ask such a stupid question? Listen, they (Democrats) started this yesterday. It’s all about funding. It’s all about funding. Obviously, it’s not about funding…The train was going twice the speed limit…twice the speed limit at the curve, That’s the only relevant issue. The train was going twice the speed limit. Adequate funds were there. No money was cut from rail safety and the House passed a bill earlier this spring to re-authorize Amtrak and authorize many a lot of these programs…It’s hard for me to understand that people take the bait on some of the nonsense that gets spewed around here.”

Methinks he doth protest too much.

The truth of the matter is that Republicans have a history of cutting domestic programs; including Amtrak. They favor cutting programs, as opposed to raising taxes, as the preferred method for reducing deficits and long term debt. Not 12 hours after the Amtrak #188 crash the Republican controlled House Appropriations Committee voted to cut Amtrak funding by $250 plus million dollars; a 15% cut from last year’s funding. In the end the committee approved $1.4 billion in funding; 1 billion less than the White House recommended.

Boehner is correct in that the crash occurred because Amtrak #188 went into a 50 mph curve at 106 mph. But the PTC safety system that the NTSB said would have stopped the train and avoided the accident, while installed was not yet fully operational due to piecemeal funding.

Democrats are not blameless here. When they held power in congress they chose to spend their political capitol on other issues…such as Obamacare.

Take a look at the voting record in congress for Amtrak funding and how it dovetails not just by party but by the electorate’s dependence on mass transit. Northeast corridor…mostly blue states…high population…high concentration of mass transit assets…high approval rate for Amtrak funding. Western states…mostly red states…low population…little in the way of mass transit assets…low approval rate for Amtrak funding. It’s not rocket science.

Speaker Boehner’s comments and for that matter the entire Amtrak debate misses the bigger issue. Amtrak and its funding are but a piece of a much larger puzzle.

We continue to ignore the fact that our entire infrastructure is in decay and out of date. Every economist that I can find says that investment in infrastructure is a critical component to achieving sustainable, robust economic growth, full employment and long term prosperity. And with today’s low interest rates…they say that there is no better time to borrow and make that investment. But we’d rather used borrowed money to blow stuff up.

Speaker Boehner says it’s not about the funding. Yes it is. China spends 9% of its GDP on infrastructure. India spends 7%. We spend 2%.
If we want to compete on the global stage…if we want to be considered a world power…then we have to be willing to invest in our infrastructure.

Yes Mr. Speaker, it is all about the funding.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Living In The Eisenhower Era

You are no doubt aware of the fate of Amtrak Train #188. Traveling at 106 miles per hour the commuter train entered a sharp curve at twice the posted speed limit. All seven cars derailed killing 7 and injuring 146.

What you may not know is that mere hours after this tragic accident occurred the Republican led House Appropriations Committee voted 30-21 to reduce Amtrak funding by $252 million dollars…a 15% cut from last year’s funding. The vote stands in stark contrast to the White House recommendation to increase the Amtrak funding from $1.4 to $2.4 billion.

For over 40 years the NTSB lobbied congress to approve a nationwide automated safety system for the country’s railways. The system uses sensors, mapping, satellites and GPS coordinates to automatically slow down or stop trains that are entering into harm’s way.

In 2008, after a tragic train wreck very similar to the circumstances surrounding Amtrak Train #188, congress finally adopted the NTSB’s proposal for a Positive Train Control (PTC) system; allowing the industry 7 years to comply. The deadline is December 31, 2015. But members of congress have joined railway lobbyists in seeking more time.

Due to a lack of funding the railroad industry has struggled to install the system. While the PTC system is up and functioning in various locales across the country it was not in place in the section where Amtrak #188 met its fate. The NTSB has said that the PTC system in all likelihood would have prevented this week’s tragedy from happening. No matter…yesterday the House Appropriations Committee rejected a measure that would have provided $800 million to speed up completion of PTC. What the hell…fiscal conservatism trumps safety any day! Right!

The little game of transportation Russian roulette that congress is playing is not limited to PTC and the commuter train industry.

Last week I commented about the increasing number of oil tanker car explosions that have been occurring. The need to distribute our nation’s new found oil wealth has resulted in an explosion (pun intended) in the number of oil tanker car derailments. Billions of gallons of highly flammable and toxic crude loaded in flimsy, outdated and unsafe tankers cars, are being transported right through the middle of towns and villages all across our country. When these cars derail they produce an enormous explosion and fireball that local communities are ill-equipped to handle. Add the resulting ecological and economic loss and you have one very expensive mess. Congress finally ordered the rail industry to replace the outdated equipment with new models that are exponentially safer and naturally more expensive. They have 15 years to comply. The oil industry is pushing back hard because any increase in shipping costs has a direct negative effect on their bottom line profits.
And then there are the bridges…

A few years ago I wrote about a bridge in my town that spans the Ohio River called the Brent Spence Bridge. Because the bridge sits at the confluence of Interstates 71 and 75 it serves as a major connector for commerce traveling from Michigan and the Great Lakes through the Deep South to the ports and refineries on the Gulf. 17% of our nation’s commerce crosses this bridge each day. The US Department of Transportation has classified the bridge as “functionally obsolete” and notes that the crash rate from 1995-2003 was one of the highest among the nation’s “functionally deficient” bridges.

The 52 year old bridge is outdated, crumbling, dangerous an inefficient. It is also a key component of our nation’s infrastructure.
Plans to replace the bridge were first discussed in 2008. In 2011 President Obama used the Brent Spence as the backdrop for an important speech on creating jobs and rebuilding our infrastructure.
The cost of replacement…$2.5 billion. As of this writing the plans are still in the preliminary stages. Estimated cost of the delay…$189 million.

We are really good at analyzing things and defining specific problems. But when it comes to bold forward thinking…looking to the future…acting rather than re-acting…not so much.

We are also very, very good at developing well thought out and creative ways of fixing problems. But we get bogged down in political minutia when it comes to putting those plans into effect.

If we truly want to be a World Class Country with a World Class Economy then we need to set special interests aside and build a World Class Infrastructure.

We cannot be an “exceptional” nation as long as we allow ourselves to be hamstrung by an infrastructure crafted in the Eisenhower Era.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Warren, Dems Throw Obama Under The Bus

Barak Obama is in the fourth quarter of his presidency. Like any president nearing the end of his time in office, visions of the legacy he will leave behind flutter through his conscience far more frequently than before. Mistakes made…opportunities missed…become even more onerous with each dwindling tick of the clock.

The president believes that the path to securing America’s future economic growth passes through Asia. He has made it clear that one of the top entries remaining on his bucket list is to build a strong trade agreement with the countries of the Pacific Rim.

Any trade agreement which the president might envision would require the approval of a Republican controlled Senate that has demonstrated little interest in helping him to build his legacy. Fully recognizing that his trade initiative would get bogged down in the political quicksand inherent in this august body; the president chose a different tact.

The president tried to force a vote on trade promotion authority which would allow the administration to present the trade deal for a straight up or down vote without any amendments or prospect of filibuster. The measure failed by a 52-45 vote.

But this time it wasn’t the Republicans who thwarted the president’s initiative. It was members of his own party that threw him under the bus. Only one Democrat, Senator Tom Harper of Delaware, stood by the president.

The details of the trade deal really are not that important at this time. Senator Harry Reid was already working on a compromise before the final vote was cast. The bigger story is Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and the part she played in defeating the leader of her own party.

For the past several weeks Senator Warren has been the number one voice in opposition against the president’s bill; expressing her concerns that the bill would deflate American wages and cost American jobs. She was particularly vocal in speaking out against the president’s attempt to fast track the bill via the trade promotion route: “If this bill is a good as the president says it is then let’s see all the details and then sit down and have a vigorous debate.

The president chose to make the debate personal; referring to Senator Warren by name as one of his party who were spreading false information about the details of the bill and its effects on American jobs.

In the end Senator Warren won…and in the process dealt a huge blow to the president and his legacy.

Senator Warren has been in the senate but a minute. But she has used her limited time wisely; and has emerged as a driving force with the Democratic Party. She has proven herself to be fearless in taking on the banks and the major corporations. She has become the standard bearer for the middle class and she has single handedly moved the party toward its more progressive roots. Yesterday she took on the president…and won.

Much to the dismay of many on the left…Elizabeth Warren is NOT running for president. However, while she may not officially be a candidate she will have a tremendous influence on the party’s nominee, the upcoming election and the long term future of the Democratic Party.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

This & That!

CONGRESS – This is a busy week for Congress. The institution well known for doing nothing finds itself in the uncomfortable position of considering four very weighty measures.

First up is the contentious trade bill that has Democrats fighting Democrats over not only the details of the bill but the transparency of the negotiations. The Obama administration wants congress to allow the president the authority to finalize a major trade deal with Pacific Rim countries; reserving only the right to vote up or down without any opportunity to amend or filibuster the agreement. But the left wing of the President’s party led by Elizabeth Warren says no way in hell. “The devil is in the details.” She said. “If this is such a good deal for the American people then let’s see the details and have a healthy debate before we sign off on it.”

Congress will also take up a new military spending bill. With the Middle East in flames and ISIS striking civilian targets here at home there are those who will argue for an increase in our military capabilities. They will meet opposition from both Democrats and Republicans who feel that our interventionist policies have proven ineffective and that the country should take a more hands off approach. Noticeably absent will be the long awaited congressional approval for the ongoing war against ISIS. Never go on the record about sending our men and women off to battle if you don’t have to.

Then there is the weighty matter of the renewal of the Patriot Act and the NSA’s controversial data mining operations. Do these policies keep us safe or are they an infringement on our civil liberties.

One would think that these three items would be more than enough to test the limits of a body loathe to accomplish anything. But no matter the number of items on the docket, in a Republican controlled congress there is always time to consider another anti-abortion bill. And so they will. This bill is essentially the same bill offered earlier this year that even conservative female legislators found so off putting the leadership could not find enough votes to push it through. But nothing entices the Republican Party like social issues. Whether it’s at the local, state or federal level; Republicans are always willing to entertain social issue legislation that stands in stark contrast with the majority of the electorate.
JEB DOUBLES DOWN – Yesterday I commented on how I believe that Jeb Bush disqualified himself from ever winning the White House when he named his brother…former president George W. Bush…as his go to guy on Middle East affairs. Yesterday, in an interview on FOXNEWS Jeb doubled down on the issue.

Bush was asked hypothetically if as president, knowing what we know now about the result of the decision to invade Iraq…would he still order the invasion. Jeb said “Yes.”

I understand that it is hard to turn your back on your brother. I understand the need as a Republican candidate to carry the Republican shield of a strong military, American leadership abroad and American "exceptionalism". But being conservative doesn’t mean being stupid. There is no one, other than those in the Bush administration who were instrumental in instigating the war that believes invading Iraq was a policy worth repeating. To look at America’s longest war with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and state emphatically that you would do it all over again demonstrates either a lack of awareness or a level of deceit that is beyond the pale.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Jeb DQ's Jeb

Sometime you can’t just take it back…

The Brits elected their new government last week. The entire process…from the mandatory resignation of the current Parliament…through the campaigns…the actual voting…and the post-election celebrations and concession speeches…took 38 days.

38 days!

By contrast it takes us roughly 600 days to elect a new president. Beginning with the exploratory committees…setting up a PAC…the unending fund raisers…the primaries…the countless debates…the national conventions…the actual campaign season…the voting…and the dozen or so presidential balls…it takes us 600 days to elect a new president.

600 days!

No one can expect any candidate for the presidency to navigate his or her way through the 600 day gauntlet of the most intense and invasive public scrutiny known to man without making a misstep or misstatement along the way. Some faux pas are easily forgiven and forgotten. Crazy Uncle Joe Biden has put together a pretty successful political career in spite of being the poster boy saying stupid stuff.

But some misstatements break through the political veneer and give us a view into the very soul of the candidate. Sometimes those misstatements give us a clear picture of who that candidate really is. Sometimes that view is so damaging that no amount of political damage control can ever erase the vision from our eyes. Mitt Romney’s commentary on the “47%” comes to mind.

Last week Jeb Bush made such a statement.

Candidate Jeb Bush has been forced to endure the inevitable comparisons between himself and his famous father and brother: George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush…our nation’s 41st and 43rd presidents. Jeb Bush has made it his mission to state with great clarity that while he loves and respects his father and brother: “I am my own man.”

As the former governor of the state of Florida no one is questioning candidate Bush’s domestic policy bona fides. But his lack of foreign policy experience has proven to be grist for the mill of the insatiable fourth estate.

Last week while attending a fund raiser he was asked who he would lean on for advice when it comes to the weighty issues of the Middle East.

His answer…former President George W. Bush.

George W. Bush…the man under whose watch the country endured the worst attack ever perpetrated on American soil. George W. Bush…the man who chaired the national security team that led our country into one of the darkest periods in American history. The man who to this day, in spite all evidence to the contrary, says the invasion of Iraq was “the right decision.” The man who to this day believes that “enhanced interrogation techniques” do not constitute torture. The man who directed this country to circumvent the rule of law in pursuit of revenge. George W. Bush…the man who spends his days painting portraits of his dog while Iraq still burns. This is Jeb Bush’s go to guy on all things Middle East.

Sometimes there are statements that are so lacking in awareness they can only serve to disqualify a candidate from ever attaining the office he seeks.

This is such a statement.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Conspiracies, Contraceptives & Consequences

CONSPIRACIES – Are you familiar with Jade Helm 15? If not you most certainly will be soon.

Jade Helm 15 is the code name for a series of military training exercises to be held from July 15- September 15 in several southwestern and southern states. The exercises are designed to allow Special Forces units to train in a variety of topographies and climates.

Simple enough! Right?

Not if you are among those in the great state of Texas who believe that the government is preparing to impose martial law and take away all of your firearms. In their eyes Jade Helm 15 marks the initial stages of a conspiracy that these folks have been predicting for years.

And they have proof!

You see they have maps which show that there are closed Wal-Mart stores in close proximity to where a number of the military exercises are scheduled. They also have maps that show that these closed facilities are above large bunkers that that are inter-connected by a series of tunnels. It is their belief that the military will use these bunkers and tunnels to overwhelm law abiding gun owners; impose martial law and take their firearms.

These folks are serious about this. And a number of their elected officials are taking it seriously as well. Rep. Louie Gohmert has spoken out a length about the concerns that he has; questioning the need for the military to conduct military exercises on private land. Sen. Ted Cruz said that he intends to question the DHS at length about its intentions. Sen. Rand Paul said he would do the same.

We are used to seeing the far right lash out at the civilians leading the federal government. Normally the military is considered in high regard. Not this time. The Blackhawk helicopters are coming.

Keep an eye on Cruz and Paul. It will be interesting to see how they walk the tightrope between appeasing the conspiracy crazies who influence the Republican primaries while maintaining an aura of reasonable electability to voters in the general election. But the first order of business is winning primaries. So let the crazy talk begin.

CONTRACEPTIVES – As you may know the United States Congress holds prevue over Washington D.C. law. There is a law in D.C. that says that an employer cannot fire an employee strictly because the employee chooses to use contraceptives. Yesterday the Republican controlled House voted to overturn that law thereby making it legal for a D.C. employer to fire an employee for using contraceptives.

Sen. Ted Cruz said that he will sponsor like legislation in the Senate. Sen. Rand Paul said that he would support such a bill.

When Republicans won control of congress they promised to stay away from the controversial social issues that killed them in the general election. But as I said…the first order of business is winning primaries.

CONSEQUENCES – During Barak Obama’s six plus years as president the United States has become the world’s largest producer of oil. We produce more than Saudi Arabia…more than Russia…more than all of them. We’re #1!

Along with the benefits of producing large quantities of this valuable commodity come the logistical issues of moving it from one point to another. Most of the oil we produce is moved by rail. You have no doubt seen these mile long trains…hundreds of tankers filled with valuable, flammable crude…snaking their way through communities throughout the United States. The problem is that most of those tankers are obsolete and unsafe. And a large portion of the tracks on which they run are in the same condition.

There have been a number of train derailments in recent months; five already this year. When accidents occur the result is a catastrophic economic and environment disaster. The explosion starts with a huge fireball and sends large plums of toxic smoke billowing throughout the surrounding area. The fire cannot be extinguished; only contained until it burns itself out. Whole communities are destroyed or at the very least evacuated. Meanwhile the spill fouls streams, rivers, fields and roadways. The cleanup cost is enormous and can take months.

The most recent derailment occurred yesterday just outside the little town of Heimdal, ND. Ten tanker cars are still burning. The town has been evacuated.

North Dakota is one of the country’s most conservative states. No fan of the federal government, North Dakotans have made it clear that they would like the federal government to keep its nose out of their business. As fiscal conservatives the state legislature has worked hard to balance the state budget without raising taxes.

Most of the firefighters that are working to contain the Heimdal spill are volunteers with little or no training in such a mammoth undertaking. That is because the state legislature slashed funding for first responders by more than half.

While there has yet to be a determination as to the cause of the accident there is no doubt that the tracks and supporting infrastructure on which trains traversing ND depend is outdated and unsafe. The state legislature slashed the track safety and repair budget by 60%. When state transportation officials were asked how they intended to make up the difference and keep the tracks safe they said they would rely of the federal government to take care of it.

Recently the federal government passed regulations requiring railroads to replace their outdated and unsafe tankers with newer, more properly built models. But the regulations give the railroads five years to comply. Meanwhile billions of gallons of highly flammable crude will make its way through our communities; transported in unsafe, outdated tankers over crumbling tracks and bridges.

No word on Senator Cruz or Senator Paul’s position on the matter.

I have written often about the need for our country to engage in a comprehensive program to rebuild and maintain our crumbling infrastructure. If our elected leaders ever decide to engage in such an ambitious project it will take decades to complete. Meanwhile communities like Heimdal will suffer the consequences of our political procrastination.

My thanks to the staff of the Rachel Maddow Show for bringing these stories to light.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Freedom of Speech Brings Responsiblity & Consequences

“In any war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.”
Pamela Geller, American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI)

The American Freedom Defense Initiative believes that our country is in danger of being taken over by Islamic extremists who threaten our way of life. Of particular concern is the threat these “savages” present to our freedom of speech. The AFDI cites the attacks on the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, as evidence of the threat.

So the AFDI decided that an appropriate response would be to stage an event which they billed as “an exercise in free speech.” The “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” invited participants to display their drawings of the prophet Mohammad…good taste not being a pre-requisite for admission.

Two heavily armed suspects approached the event and opened fire on a security guard. The two suspects were shot and killed by police. ISIS has claimed credit for the attack.

When asked if her if AFDI bared some responsibility for the attack, founder Pamela Geller pushed back. She said blaming the attack on AFDI was like blaming a rape on the victim because she wore a short skirt. The fault she said, lies with the extremists who threaten our right of expression: “We will not abridge our freedom of speech in order to not offend savages.”

We are fortunate to live in a country where we have the freedom of self-expression. I believe that along with this precious right comes the burden and responsibility to use it wisely.

Ms. Geller and her organization are well within their rights to stage such an event. She has the personal freedom to refer to followers of Islam as “savages.” Just as she has the right to proclaim on the AFDI website that President Obama is the love child of Malcolm X.

We have the right to express ourselves. We also have the responsibility to consider the consequences of that expression.

We have the right to walk down the streets of Ferguson, Missouri and call every African American the “N” word.

We have the right to stroll through a Jewish neighborhood and proclaim the Holocaust a hoax.

We have the right to walk into a police station and call every cop there a fascist.

We have the right…but there are consequences.

I will forever defend the right of the AFDI to hold its event. I also have the right to question the wisdom of insulting over 1 billion Muslims; 99.9% of whom agree with the AFDI’s views against the extremists.

Why hold such an event? To what end? ISIS will use this AFDI event as a recruiting tool. It will foment more hatred within the extremist community. It will endanger the lives of service men and women serving overseas and American citizens traveling abroad. And it will propagate a lie; that we in this country see ALL followers of Islam as savages and threats to our way of life.

The right to freedom of speech is precious. It must be used wisely.

For there are consequences.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

There Is No Excuse For This!

Freddie Gray was murdered in the Sandstown-Winchester area of Baltimore.

The unemployment rate in Sandstown-Winchester is 51.8%. The national average is 5.8%

The median income in Sandstown-Winchester is $22,750. The national median average is $51,000.

A black infant born in Sandstown-Winchester is 9 times more likely to die before the age of 1 than a white infant.

The Eight counties surrounding Sandstown-Winchester have mortality rates that are worse than North Korea’s. The mortality rate in Sandstown-Winchester is worse than the mortality rate in Syria.

Sandstown-Winchester is not alone. There are communities across this country that are just as bad if not worse.

There is no excuse for this.

In the wealthiest most prosperous country in the world there is no excuse for this.

This has nothing to do with police brutality or racism or the laziness of the “takers’ and the 47%.

This is about a conscious decision to focus our resources overseas while entire communities here at home are dying. It’s about spending $1.1 trillion borrowed dollars on an unnecessary and unwinnable war in Iraq while economic despair turns cities here at home into war zones. Add another $2 billion per week for the war in Afghanistan.

Think where we would be right now had we invested that money into our communities…into good paying jobs, education, research and infrastructure.

There is no excuse for this.