Tuesday, June 30, 2015

This & That

CHRISTIE – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will formally announce his candidacy today becoming the fourteen Republican to officially throw his hat into the ring. Christie enters the race with a gubernatorial resume’ that is certain to raise eyebrows among the Party faithful. New Jersey ranks near the bottom among all 50 states in every economic metric. The economic downturn is such that according to Forbes New Jersey has ranked #1 among states Americans are fleeing three of the past four years. Its $40 billion in unfunded pension liabilities has resulted in Moody’s issuing nine credit downgrades during Christie’s time in office. His approval rating ranks last among all sitting governors.

To his credit Christie has put himself out there; holding hundreds of town hall meetings throughout the state. He is the only Republican candidate to give serious policy speeches on substantive issues like funding Social Security and the effects of Medicare and Medicaid on long term debt. He has gone head to head with the teachers unions…and won. But his blunt ‘telling it like it is” personality, once thought to be entertaining and refreshingly honest, is now viewed as abrasive and rude. At this point he faces an uphill battle to just get on the debate stage.

YOU’RE FIRED – A lot has happened since “The Donald” launched his presidential candidacy two weeks ago. NBC fired him and UNIVISION announced that it would no longer be airing Trump’s Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. It seems that both networks were a bit put off by the offensive comments Trump made towards Mexicans during his announcement speech. Trump said that if he is elected he will build a wall along our southern border “and make Mexico pay for it.” The reason that he wants to build a wall is become” the people that Mexico is sending over the border are “not their best…they’re bringing in drugs…they’re rapists.”

Trump says that NBC cancelled its business relationship with him “Because I am strong on immigration and NBC is weak, very weak on immigration. They are mad because I told them that I could no longer do “The Apprentice” because I’m running for president.”

I imagine NBC is far more concerned about its relationship with the 55 million Mexican viewers that live in this country than it is with anything The Donald may bring to the table. After all Mexicans now make up 17% of the US population. Tough to win the White House without the Latino vote. Then again Trump insults 55 million Latinos and rockets up to second place among GOP candidates in the latest NBCNEWS poll. I guess that's what it means to speak to the GOP base.

GERRYMANDERING – As you may know, every ten years the party in power gets to redraw the voting districts. Typically these decisions are made in a partisan fashion with the goal of helping the party in power to maintain its majority in the future. Yesterday the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that will put a crimp this unfair and arbitrary practice.
Fifteen years ago the State of Arizona decided to eliminate the contentious gerrymandering practices that plagued their state. Proposition 106 amended that state’s Constitution and removed redistricting power from the partisan state legislature and placed it in the hands of and independent bi-partisan redistricting commission. Republican state legislators, infuriated by the decision, sued; and appealed their losses all the way to the Supreme Court.

Yesterday, in a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled in favor of the bi-partisan panel. The ruling could have nationwide repercussions as several states have adopted similar bi-partisan solutions as they try to break up the partisan gridlock that results from drawing districts that are ideologically entrenched.

This ruling could go along way toward repairing a political system that places more importance on elections than it does on governing.
The Court took a big step forward today. Not big enough to make up for its disastrous ruling on "Citizens United" but a step forward nonetheless.

Now if we could only find a way to get term limits on the Court's docket.

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Hope" and "Change" Return

Barak Obama, like most American males, loves sports. Deep down he is a frustrated jock…wishing he could “ball like Michael” or “grind like Tiger.” He loves his hometown Bulls and White Socks…shooting hoops with friends or playing 18 on the weekends. He is fond of sports metaphors. He been heard of late to proclaim that he is “in the fourth quarter of his presidency.” That’s jock speak for “lame duck”.

Truth be told…when voters handed Republicans control of both chambers of congress in the mid-terms…it looked more like he was down two scores with less than a minute to go. When the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act it looked like “game over” for Team Obama.

But something happened after that mid-tem beat down. The grizzled old veteran President Obama was summoned to the sidelines. His replacement…the energetic and inspirational Candidate Obama… who had been languishing on the bench for the last 4+ years.

Candidate Obama sparked new life into an administration that had been sleep walking since the passage of Obamacare. Frustrated by the obstructionist tactics of his opponents, Candidate Obama took the ball into his own hands.

He gave temporary amnesty to 5 million immigrants. Gays were allowed to serve openly in the military as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was pushed aside. He formed a coalition to engage Iran in a formal discussions about its nuclear development programs and he resumed diplomatic relations with the Cuban government. He took the fight to ISIS even though a cowardly congress shirked its responsibilities to authorize his actions. He chastised congress for slow walking his abundantly qualified nominee for Attorney General.

Candidate Obama has been on a roll and last week things got even better.

He worked with Republicans and was awarded fast track authority on his important trade deal with the Pacific Rim. On Thursday the Supreme Court ruled in his favor on ACA subsidies thereby guaranteeing that Obamacare would remain the law of the land at least until a Republican sat in the White House. On Friday the Court ruled that gays have the right to marry…another win for Team Obama.

Then, with a nation mourning the loss of nine innocents, he gave an impassioned speech that not only buoyed the country but laid bare the depths of his empathy and the strength of his character. He challenged the country to make the hard choices and not be distracted by the hate and distrust that keeps the country from moving forward.

His resume’ includes saving the banking industry, saving the auto industry, health care reform, pulling the country back from next Great Depression, taking an economy that was hemorrhaging 700,000 jobs per month and turning it into an economy that is producing 200,000+ jobs per month, record corporate profits, record highs on Wall Street, raising the wages for all federal employees, equal pay for equal work, ending formal military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and getting bin laden.

Just a few short months ago we began what appeared to be the fourth quarter of a lame duck presidency effectively stymied by an intransigent opponent. But Candidate Obama came off the bench and returned “Hope” and “Change” to the White House and to the country.

You can hate the policies...but you cannot question the effort.

There is still a little time left on the clock. It will be interesting to see what transpires as time winds down on this Hall of Fame career.

Friday, June 26, 2015

SCOTUS Does The Right Thing

Minutes ago, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage.

The ruling means that marriage equality is now the law of the land. Now all Americans regardless of gender, sexual orientation or place of residence can marry the person they love and enjoy all the constitutional rights, protections and privileges afforded heterosexual couples.

This is a historic day for the country and a huge step forward for our society. For now we can truly say that all citizens...regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation...are equal under the law.

Thursday, June 25, 2015



The collective sigh you heard this morning was a bi-partisan sigh of relief from our nation’s capital in response to the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act.

In a 6-3 ruling, the Court decided that the government was allowed to provide tax subsidies to help poor and middle-class families buy health insurance regardless of whether the coverage was purchased through a state or federally run exchange. The Court rejected the challenge that the law allows for subsidies to be paid only to those purchasing coverage through an “exchange established by the state.”

Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority explained that rather than focus on a specific word or phrase the law must be taken in its entirety:

“In this instance,” Roberts wrote, “the context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase…Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets not to destroy them…If at all possible we must interpret the act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

In a bitter dissent Judge Antonin Scalia accused the Court of rewriting the law and then got in a personal dig:

“The Act that Congress passed makes tax credits available only on an “Exchange established by the state.” This court however, concludes that this limitation would prevent the Act from working as well as hoped. So it rewrites the law to make tax credits available everywhere. We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”

Truth be told the Court could have gutted the law by holding to the letter of the phrase “exchange established by the state.” However reading the entire body of the Act makes it clear that the intent was to provide subsidies for all purchases whether made through a state or federally run exchange.

Normally housekeeping issues such as this are resolved quickly via the passage of congressional amendments. But this time the toxic, partisan atmosphere in congress reared its head and a court challenge was filed.

This is the second time that the president’s signature law has been challenged in the courts only to come away with a win. In this particular instance the 6-3 margin augmented by the normally conservative Chief Justice Roberts’ assent signals that from a legal standpoint the book on the ACA is closed.

As you might expect Democrats were both relieved and ecstatic. Defeat in the Court would have destroyed the most important accomplishment of the Obama administration.

Republicans dutifully played the part of wounded warrior; lashing out in dissent of the Court’s ruling. But behind closed doors they were just as pleased as Democrats with the decision.

Had the Court struck down the subsidy provision the law would have crumbled and millions of Americans would have found themselves forced to opt out of coverage that they could no longer afford. The blame would have been placed squarely on the shoulders of the Republican Party which authored the legal challenge and made repealing Obamacare its number one priority since the day it was signed into law.

Though Republicans have been united in their opposition of the ACA they have never reached consensus on a detailed alternative. A dissenting ruling from the Court would have forced Republicans to immediately come to a consensus for a replacement. The infighting between the far right, who have always wanted the law repealed in its entirety and the more moderate members who have wanted to tweak certain provision,s would have rendered the Party immobile and impotent; further cementing the image of a party unable to govern itself much less a nation. Republicans wanted no part of that optic. Particularly in the middle of a national campaign. Far easier to faux rail against the evils of Obamacare than to actually provide a governable alternative.

The president got in right today when he addressed the press from the Rose Garden shortly after the Court rendered its ruling:

“After more than 50 votes in congress to repeal or weaken this law…after a presidential election based in part on preserving or repealing this law…after multiple challenges to this law before the Supreme Court…the Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”

The Republicans next best shot at getting rid of the Affordable Care Act is to win the White House in 2016 and maintain their majority in the House and Senate. Then they can make their dreams come true and “repeal every single word of Obamacare.”

Perhaps by then they’ll have figured out a plausible alternative.

The NRA Is Smiling

As the City of Charleston buries it’s dead there is an emotional yet misguided response that is sweeping across the country.

I’m not talking about the sudden politically motivated rush to remove the confederate flag from government facilities. It's about time.

Word is that black churches, particularly those in the south, are beefing up their security measures to ensure the safety of their parishioners. Some are going so far as to enlist armed security guards to ward off would be intruders.

First our schools…now our churches. Once thought to be safe havens now serve as killing fields. Now it appears that we will turn them in to armed camps.

There has been a lot of talk since the Charleston massacre about the Confederacy, its flag, and the part they may have played in the taking of nine innocent lives. There has been all too little discussion about the epidemic of gun violence that is rampant in our society and the part the “gun culture” may have played in those murders.

I guess politically it is much easier to take down a flag than to deal with the root cause of the problem.

We are a nation awash with guns. The NRA would have us believe that the only way to curb the gun violence is to add more firearms to the mix. A simple review of the violent crime statistics in every other modernized nation will tell you that is simply not true.

The purpose of the NRA is to promote the interests of gun manufacturers and gun enthusiasts. There is no doubt that the NRA is extremely good at its job. I don't believe that the NRA condones violent crime or the shooting of innocents. But they are not above using highly publicized incidents like the one in Charleston to promote their narrative.

Background checks for all gun purchases would be a good first start in reducing violent crime in our country. 90% of the country favors background checks on all gun purchases. Even the NRA claims to be against placing firearms in the hands of felons and the mentally ill. But they want no part of background checks. Using Charleston as an example; they say that a background check would not have stopped Dylann Root from purchasing the gun that he used to commit his crime. That is true. But of the 400,000 gun related deaths that have occurred in this country since 9/11; 40% of them were committed by persons who would have failed simple background checks and therefore been denied purchase of a firearm. Certainly there are lots of illegal ways to get a gun. Background checks is not a perfect solution...but it is a good start. However 40% fewer guns means 40% less revenue to the gun industry. Therein lies the true incentive. Sure, the NRA is all about protecting the constitutional rights of its members. But at the core of that narrative is keeping the lucrative revenue stream flowing.

The NRA mantra is simple...the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Unfortunately the good guys rarely seem to be around when you need them.

And so rather than make the hard choices we pat ourselves on the back for removing a symbol of hatred and violence from our midst.

Meanwhile our churches and schools arm themselves for protection.

More and more guns are sold.

The gun violence escalates.

More guns are sold in response.

The NRA is smiling.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

This & That

HARSH REALITY – Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney was a Senior Pastor of the Emmanuel AME Church of Charleston, South Carolina and a Democratic member of the South Carolina State Senate. On Wednesday June 17th Reverend Pinckney and eight of his fellow parishioners were shot and killed as they met for a bible study in the church. Their killer…Dylann Roof…a self-proclaimed advocate of white supremacy. Their sin…being black.
Today the body of Senator Pinckney will lie in state under the State Capitol rotunda. Tens of thousands of mourners are expected to arrive at the Capitol to pay their respects. As they enter the Capitol grounds they will file past a standard bearing the Battle Flag of the Confederacy; which proudly waves at full staff high above. The very flag that Dylann Root proudly waved as a symbol of his fealty to white supremacy before he took Clementa Pinckney’s life.

SARAH PALIN – FOXNEWS announced that it will not be renewing the former Alaska Governor’s contract. Palin served as a paid contributor for the network where she offered her expert opinion on a host of issues that she never researched. To her credit Ms. Palin never allowed her lack of preparation or knowledge to stand in the way of expressing her uninformed views. The entertainment value of her appearances will be sorely missed.

LOUISANNA GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL – Republican Governor Jindal is expected to formerly announce today that he will be seeking his party’s nomination for the presidency. Governor Jindal has the lowest approval rating of any governor in the country.

NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTY – Republican Governor Christy is expected to formerly announce his candidacy next week. Governor Christy has the second lowest approval rating of any governor in the country. Are we seeing a pattern here?

DONALD TRUMP – A recent Suffolk University poll has Trump running second among Republican presidential hopefuls. That makes me smile! We must have “The Donald” on that debate stage. Keep up the good work, America!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

These Are The Serious Matters Of Our Times

Today I would like to take a moment to step back from the ridiculous debate that has dominated the news. You know the one I’m referring to. The ridiculous debate over whether the Battle Flag of the Confederacy…a symbol of hatred, violence, divisiveness, bigotry, white supremacy and the subjugation of the black race…should be displayed on the South Carolina statehouse grounds. A statehouse where the elected government in session is supposed to represent ALL the citizens…even the black ones.

Before leaving the subject allow me to offer a tip of the hat to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for calling upon the state legislature to remove the flag. While I applaud her seemingly heartfelt decision I must admit that I wonder why it took the slaughter of nine innocents praying in a church to come to this sudden shift of conscience. Perhaps the good governor and her Party’s presidential candidates were simply tired of being embarrassed as they stumbled to find the politically correct answer to the question of the flag’s continued display. Perhaps the governor and her Party’s presidential candidates were growing weary of getting beaten up in the press for their acceptance of campaign donations from hate groups like Council of Conservative Citizens. Regardless of the motivation, Governor Haley was right when she said that although “the flag represents a part of South Carolina’s past it does not represent its future. It’s time to take down the flag.” Governor…it’s way past time.

It should be noted that it takes a 2/3rds vote in the South Carolina legislature to take down the flag. A whip count shows that 65% of the members who were willing to speak publically said they would vote in favor of the flag’s removal. 35% said they would oppose. But only 50% of the state representatives were willing to go on the record leaving the other 50% still waiting for the political winds to determine which way they will vote. The answer to this entire fiasco is obvious. But even the obvious can prove difficult for some political leaders; forcing them to search deep within themselves to find righteous principles long forgotten.

Now let me turn the page and move from the ridiculous debate over the flag to a far more serious subject in the annals of Republican politics…the upcoming Republican Presidential Debates.

Play close attention as I will be asking for your help at the end of my comments.

The Republican Party in its infinite wisdom has ceded the logistics of the upcoming debates to the Party’s communication department…FOX/NEWS. Given the large number of Republican presidential hopefuls there could be as many as 20 candidates fighting for the nomination when the debate schedule begins. FOX has informed the Party leaders that having all 20 hopefuls appear on the debate stage together is an unwieldy proposition. So FOX has informed the Party that it will winnow down the field by allowing only the hopefuls who are ranked among the top ten in the most recent national polls to appear on the stage.

“Houston, we have a problem.”

The recent NBC NEWS/WALL STREET JOURNAL poll shows that Carly Fiorina comes in at number ten on the list. The poll leaves serious politicians Kasich, Jindal, Pataki, Graham and Santorum sitting at the kids’ table. And here lies the travesty that I need your help to avoid.

If the polls continue as they are; joining these serious candidates at the kids table will be a not so serious politician…Donald Trump.

Donald Trump has stated that he is running for president. I take him at his word.

We need Donald Trump in these debates. Only Donald Trump can give right wing policies the spotlight they so richly deserve. Only the bloviating Trump can be counted on to put political correctness aside and add entertainment value to what will otherwise be a buttoned up snooze fest. Admit it…no matter the question nor to whom it is directed…you will be paying little attention to what the other candidates’ are saying as you wait on the edge of your seat for Trump’s response. He won’t answer any of the questions without first engaging in a narcissistic rant untethered from any point of reality. It will be epic television.

NARRATOR: “Mr. Trump, how do you respond to Governor Bush’s position on Common Core?”

TRUMP: “He’s a loser. “Bush, Rubio, Perry…they’re all losers. I’m VERY rich.”

We must have “The Donald” in these debates. And that is why I need your help.

If you are contacted by ANY pollster between now and the debates and they ask if you could see yourself supporting Trump’s run for the presidency…I’m begging you please say “YES.” Only by moving Donald Trump into a Top 10 position in the polls can we assure ourselves of a televised event unsurpassed in modern history.

Does Trump have any shot at winning the nomination? Doubtful! But then this is the party that sees Ted Cruz as a serious contender. Unlike the other candidates, Trump has more than enough of his own money to keep him in the race till the end. That financial freedom allows him to say whatever crazy thought enters his head without fear of offending some billionaire benefactor.

“Trump Unchained!” It could be epic!

So say “YES” to “The Donald” and allow the clown show’s biggest attraction to appear on the big stage.

I said we would move on from the ridiculous debate in South Carolina to a far more serious subject in the annals of Republican politics. This is as serious as Republican politics gets.
It’s not my fault that it continues to border on the ridiculous.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Chasing Shiny Objects

First of all let me say that the love, compassion and sense of community demonstrated by the people of Charleston in wake of the recent mass murders are an inspiration to the nation. The amazing families of the victims; their willingness to grant forgiveness in the face of such tragedy, demonstrates a strength of character that we can all aspire to reach some day.

If only we as a country could mirror their grace, compassion and fortitude in dealing with the important issues of our time. Instead we chase the next shiny object.

As Charleston begins the healing process the president calls on the country to deal with the gun violence that plagues our nation. But rather than focus on a deadly national disease that has taken 400,000 American lives since 9/11, the debate focuses on the Battle Flag of the Confederacy that flies in front of the South Carolina statehouse.

Inquiring minds want to know…”Why wasn’t the Confederate Flag lowered to half-staff in honor of the dead.” “Why is a symbol of white supremacy and the subjugation of an entire race still displayed in front of a government building?” Some breathlessly clarify that the flag in question is not the “official flag of the Confederacy,” but rather the “Battle Flag displayed by Lee’s Confederate troops as they road into battle during the Civil War.”…as if such a distinction matters. Others, such as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson point out that the flag wasn’t displayed atop the South Carolina Statehouse until 1961, when it was raised as a “middle finger to the anti-segregation movement that was sweeping across the nation during that time.” South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, appearing on “Meet the Press” informed us that the state legislature finally responded to the furor over the flag’s display by reaching a compromise that allowed to the flag to be displayed “behind the statehouse where it would not be seen.” The current location in front the state house “was NOT the compromise location” the congressman booms.

While this history lesson may be both educational and entertaining it misses the far more important question at hand…what are we going to do about the gun violence in our country?

Should a symbol of white supremacy and the subjugation of an entire race be displayed in front of…or behind…the South Carolina statehouse... or any place else for that matter? Its a ridiculous question and a ridiculous debate. The answer seems obvious. NO...of course not! It should be displayed in a museum where all the history of that time…both good and bad…can be brought to light for all to see. But that decision is up to the citizens of South Carolina.

Better that we as a nation discover some of the fortitude and focus shown by the grieving families in Charleston. Stop chasing shiny objects and concentrate on the weighty matters of our time.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Nothing Changes And Everything Remains The Same

Another mass shooting. Nine black innocents slaughtered. This time a church serves as the killing field.

Another community grieves. The nation shakes its head in sympathy.

The outrage rings anew. The chattering class searches in vain for context. Voices are raised. Fingers are pointed. Guns…mental illness…racism are to blame.

Another community grieves. The nation shakes its head in sympathy.

The NRA says that this incident is not about guns. The killer used a handgun purchased through a loophole in the law.

The Wall Street Journal says this is not about racism. The killer engaged in racially charged rhetoric, frequented racist websites, adorned himself with racially charged symbols, entered an iconic black church and murdered nine black individuals.

The mental health industry says “We’re doing all we can.”

Another community grieves. The nation shakes its head in sympathy.

The president offers his condolences. He says that mass shootings like this do not happen anyplace else in the world. “At some point” he said “we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.” By one account it is the fourteenth time that he has expressed his condolences in the wake of such violence.

Another community grieves. The nation shakes its head in sympathy…

...and then?

Today the healing process begins. The community will bury its dead. Families and friends will forever mourn the loss of loved ones. The nation will move on until the next senseless mass killing when the outrage will begin anew. Between now and that next tragic day...nothing will change.

A top the South Carolina State Capitol the American flag and South Carolina state flag wave in the breeze. Today they fly at half-mast in honor of the nine dead.

On the public square in front of the South Carolina State House there flies another flag…the Battle Flag of the Confederacy. Today the “Southern Cross” proudly flies at full staff.

No, nothing will change.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

This & That

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR - Republicans have made no secret of their desire to repeal "Obamacare." GOP presidential hopefuls have said that if elected repealing Obamacare is job #1. Killing Obamacare is one thing everyone in the GOP agrees on. As we have seen in the past, ideological bravado tends to get a bit weak in the knees when it runs headlong into reality.

Sometime during the next two weeks…perhaps as soon as tomorrow…the Supreme Court will hand down a decision that could strike down subsidies for millions of Americans who have enrolled in Obamacare through federal exchanges. The affect would be to gut the president’s signature piece of legislation at its very core.

You would expect Republicans to be hopeful that the Court would hand down such a ruling. After all they filed the suit against Obamacare that has led to this signature moment. But instead Republicans are deeply concerned that a ruling in their favor may ultimately be a disaster for the Party. GOP concerns are twofold: #1…a ruling against Obamacare would leave 6 million previously insured Americans without the subsidies they were counting on to purchase coverage and lay the blame squarely at the feet of the GOP. #2…should the Court rule in their favor, Republicans have no plan to replace Obamacare. Some conservatives would leave the existing law in place for a few months to allow themselves and their states time to find a path forward. Others would move to kill the law in its entirety immediately and start over. Neither option would get past a presidential veto.

After five years of trashing Obamacare you would think the GOP would have a plan in place in the event their efforts were successful. Their lack of foresight only further calls into question the Party’s ability to reach consensus and govern.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM – Donald Trump is running for president. At least that is what he announced yesterday in a rambling 45 minute off script rant.

Trump was typical Trump…confident, boastful and controversial. He told us he was so rich that he didn’t need anybody else’s money to fund his campaign and backed it up by passing out a document that showed his net worth at over $8 billion. He blasted Bush and Rubio; discounting them as serious contenders. He referred to those illegally crossing over the border from Mexico as rapists. There was little substance here but the entertainment value was off the charts.

Trump may be a pompous ass, a narcissist and a buffoon. But he is a buffoon with a message that resonates with a significant segment of the far right; a position that Ted Cruz has made a career out of exploiting. Unlike Cruz, Trump has a ton of money to carry that message forward. Unlike Kasich, Jindal and Fiorina he will be on that debate stage. And when the bright lights come on the only thing that will matter is “The Donald.”

I find it hard to believe that the Republican Party would ever nominate Donald Trump as their candidate for president. But then this IS the party that believed Sarah Palin was qualified to sit a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.

Get your popcorn ready! It’s gonna’ be a show!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

No "Schmooze"...You Lose!

The President of the United States is the arguably the most powerful person in the world. Yet governing from the Oval Office is incredibly difficult; particularly when governing under the yolk of lame duck status. The job becomes almost impossible when you are trying to do it alone.

A lame duck president has one eye on the innumerable problems of the present and the other on the rapidly closing window of opportunity to cement his place in history. So much to do…so little time. Meanwhile the country, as well as the president’s own party, are interviewing for his successor. The president’s accomplishments are either derided or distorted…his failures highlighted on the stump. When these two forces collide the results can be highly embarrassing for the most powerful person in the world. Particularly when the president has no one but himself to blame for the result.

Such was the case with the defeat of the Pacific Trade Agreement.

It is no secret that reaching a trade agreement with the Pacific Rim countries was extremely important to this president. Its passage was to be one of the pillars of his legacy. But the deal fell through because the president’s own party turned its back on him. It turned its back because the party was more concerned with upsetting the union leaders than it was its own titular head of state. Democrats threw the president under the bus in part because in the last six plus years he had done nothing to build relationships strong enough to turn back the pressure from labor.

Look at the 48 hours proceeding the vote.

The president went to Capitol Hill to lobby his Democratic Caucus to back him on the bill. Save mandated visits for his State of the Union address he had not visited the Hill in over two years.

The president made his case in a closed door meeting.

He answered no questions.

He took no comments.

He then left the Hill and went off to play golf with his buddies. Not a congressman in the group.

Only 29 Democrats voted with him.

As one law maker put it: “You can’t just show up when you need something.”

It is no secret that this president abhors the back room politics that makes Washington run. “Schmooze” to this president is like “ooze” is to the rest of us…something to be cleaned off the bottom of your shoe. This disdain for building relationships…with friend and foe alike…has cost this president countless times in the past. It most certainly cost him on this trade deal.

Governing as a lame duck president is difficult.

Particularly when you go it alone.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

So Much To Do...So Little Resolve To Get It Done

One of the big items remaining on the president’s Legacy Bucket List is securing a trade agreement deal with the Pacific Rim. The president believes that America’s future economic growth flows through the Far East and he is highly motivated to get a deal signed.

In order to avoid watching any eventual deal get lost in the quicksand of Washington politics, the president has asked congress to “fast track” any deal that the president brings to the floor. “Fast Track Authority” means that congress authorizes the president to enter into a trade agreement and agrees to pass or reject the deal with a simple “yes” or “no” vote; relinquishing any authority to amend or filibuster the proposal.

As you might expect the idea of “fast tracking” this bill or any other for that matter has met some resistance in congress. However, this time the battle lines are not following the usual partisan path that lawmakers have walked some many times before. This time it’s the Republicans standing on the president’s side of the battlefield.

Actually it makes sense. The Republicans favor a trade deal with the Far East because the big corporate donors that fill Republican coffers say it is good for business. Anything that is good for the business community is good for Republicans. And if relinquishing the right to amend or filibuster the agreement gets it done sooner rather than later…fast track here we come.

Democrats are opposed. They say that trade agreements have a way of lowering wages and costing American jobs. At least that is what the union leaders that pour huge campaign dollars into Democratic pockets told them to say. To Democrats fast tracking a trade agreement is just paving the way to lower wages and fewer good paying jobs.

Keep in mind what our elected leaders are quibbling about is whether or not to grant the president fast track authority. Once a deal is secured it still has to pass a yes or no floor vote. We haven’t even gotten to the details of the agreement.

Oh, by the way…members of congress can read the details of the tentative agreement before it comes to the floor. All they have to do is go to this vault in the bowels of the capitol building where the latest version is displayed under lock and key. There, your congressman can read the 1,000+ page agreement. Note taking and photos are not permitted. Apparently this is a common occurrence for some pieces of legislation that are deemed sensitive enough to be held close to the vest until they are brought to the floor for deliberation.

Seriously? Are we living in Putinville?

And so goes another day in the halls of the latest version of the Do Nothing Congress. Congress could be passing a job producing infrastructure bill to repair and modernize our crumbling transportation system. But that involves agreeing on how to pay for it. They could be working on the government funding bill that is due in the next few weeks. But why worry about shutting down the government today when you can deal with it at the eleventh hour. They could be voting to approve a host of judicial appointments that the president has presented. But Senate Majority Leader McConnell says that there won’t be any further judicial appointments for the remainder of the president’s term in office. Why? Because he can. They could be working on immigration reform or authorizing a now ten month old military campaign against ISIS. But “war votes” are congressional suicide and deporting illegals is messy. Lindsey Graham has yet another abortion bill he would like them to consider. They might find the time to look that one over. Or maybe they’ll just chill. Nice work if you can get it.

If you ask any elected official why congress can’t seem to get anything done I guarantee that most of them will tell you: “It’s complicated.”

Being a single parent raising two kids on a minimum wage job is complicated. Having a mortgage and two kids in college when Bain Capital closes down your plant is complicated.

Failing to get things done because you are more worried about keeping your $174,000 job than you are about doing the business of the people that elected you to congress is NOT complicated.

It's unconscionable.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Loser By Any Other Name

If you think about American foreign policy the first thing that generally comes to mind is the ongoing war in Iraq…specifically the fight against ISIS. So it came as quite a shock when the president announced in a matter of fact manner: “We don’t yet have a complete strategy against ISIS.”

The president went on to clarify his comment stating the reason that we don’t have a “complete strategy” is because the key components lie in the hands of our partners in the region and are dependent upon the degree to which they are willing to participate in the campaign. As such the president referred to the “strategy” as a “work in progress.”

As you might imagine a statement by the country’s Commander-in-Chief regarding the lack of a strategy in an ongoing military conflict left the war hawks apoplectic. Senator McCain almost had a stroke. Clarifying comments notwithstanding, the president’s detractors in congress view his comments as further evidence of both a failed Middle East policy and personal incompetence. Never mind that they have failed to perform their constitutional duties in authorizing a war that has been raging for 10 months.

The Defense Department stepped in and tried to clean up the mess saying the president made the honest mistake of confusing the country’s “strategy” with its “plan.” We have a “plan” to defeat ISIS” said a pentagon spokesperson.” “We are still working out the details of a strategy.”

“Strategy”…”Plan”…whatever! Call it what you will it is doomed to failure.

The reclaiming of the Iraqi city of Ramadi by ISIS forces has the White House and the DOD in a tither. The president is expected to announce today that the latest strategy/plan is to insert in an additional 500 US troops near Ramadi to act as “trainers” for Iraqi government forces. The problem with this “training” strategy/plan is that it is reliant on support from the Sunnis. However the Sunnis, distrustful of the sitting Shia led government…are sitting on their hands. A thousand years of violent conflict doesn’t go away just because we wish it so. One thing the White House and its detractors can agree on is that any successful “strategy/plan” in the region is critically dependent upon the support and participation of the Sunnis.

ISIS, like Al Qaeda, is just another cockroach to crawl out from under the woodwork. You can crush it but another will quickly take its place. The only “winning strategy” in the Middle East is indefinite occupation by an overwhelming force.

Or is that a “plan”?

“Strategy” or “Plan” it’s a loser by any other name.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Voting Rights Still A Partisan Topic

“The right to vote.”

These four words form the cornerstone of our democracy. The right of every citizen to have a say in the path that we follow as a nation.

One would think that this particular concept in this particular nation would rise above partisan political discord. Sadly that is not the case.

Over the course of the past few years the Republican Party has sought to use this most precious right as a means to gain political advantage. Conservative state legislatures from coast to coast have passed voter registration laws that are intended to make it more difficult to vote for those demographics that typically vote in opposition to their conservative views. They have reduced early voting hours, outlawed private voter registration campaigns, ended same day voter registration and imposed onerous voter identification parameters. All done under the false premise of eliminating voter fraud. Imagine the hue and cry if Democratic state legislatures imposed such restrictions on the right to bear arms.

Hillary Clinton returned the topic to center stage last week while attending an event in Texas. In a rare policy address Clinton railed against restrictive voting laws and suggested that all US citizens should be automatically registered to vote upon reaching their 18th birthday. She also tried to earn some political points by calling out governors Christie, Perry and Walker for passing restrictive voter registration laws.

Governor Walker, eager to score points of his own, responded: “Most Americans favor photo IDs…Secretary Clinton is out of touch with a majority of Americans.”

And so it goes.

I tend to agree with both Clinton and Walker.

I believe that the concept of automatically registering all 18 year olds to vote has validity. But that doesn’t address the millions of elderly, poor or infirmed citizens that are not properly registered.

I am also one of those Americans who believe that it is reasonable to require that a photo ID be presented in order to be able to vote. But I understand that there are millions of Americans that do not have the economic nor logistical means to acquire such and ID.

At the risk of offending the conspiracy theorists…how about a compromise. Register all the 18 year olds. Issue government paid ID cards to all the rest. There are ways to find common ground that serves all Americans.

Conservatives will complain about the cost. “Won’t such a plan be expensive?” Probably! But certainly no more expensive than what it cost for congress to take 48 separate meaningless votes on anti-abortion bills that had no chance of being signed into law.

Republicans desperately want to win the White House. Controlling the White House and both chambers of congress would enable the GOP to push through conservative legislation that has been decades in the making. Governors Christie, Perry, Walker and 16 of their colleagues believe they have the leadership skills necessary to lead their Party and the nation in this endeavor. Perhaps they could start by offering a substantive bi-partisan solution to this most worthy of issues. Find a way to enable ALL citizens to exercise their right to vote.

The demographics of this country are changing. Leading the country is about representing the rights of ALL the people. Not just the well-heeled white ones.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Playing To The Evangelical Base IS Killing The GOP

Scott Walker is a shooting star in the Republican Party. During his term as Wisconsin’s governor he took on the powerful state employee unions and emerged victorious in three gubernatorial races including a recall. There are many in the GOP ranks that would like to see him at the head of their 2016 ticket.

Yesterday, Governor Walker said that he would support a 20-week abortion ban without exceptions for rape and incest. In what may prove to be Walker’s Todd Aiken moment he said this about pregnancies caused by rape and/or incest: “I mean, because I think for most people who are concerned about that, it is in the initial months where they are most concerned about it.”

The North Carolina state legislature will vote on a bill today that would allow state employees such as a judge or magistrate to refuse to marry a couple if they felt administering those vows would infringe on their religious beliefs. Translation…if the bill passes a judge or magistrate could refuse to marry a same sex couple, mixed race couple, transgender couple or even a heterosexual couple if that employee felt that the marrying the couple would infringe on the state employee’s religious beliefs. The bill has already been voted into law and the governor has vetoed the bill. But the GOP led legislature believes that it has enough votes to overturn the veto.

In 2012 there were roughly 20 million Americans who identified themselves as “Evangelical Christians.” The evangelical vote was 27% of the electorate that year. 79% of the evangelical vote went to Mitt Romney. George W. Bush received 78% of the evangelical vote. John McCain received 73%. In the 2014 mid-terms 78% of evangelical/born again Christians voted Republican.

Republicans believe that they must win the evangelical vote in order to win elections. So they follow a strategy that speaks to the interests of that evangelical base. As you can see they have been rewarded for their efforts. Evangelicals by and large vote Republican.

The problem for the GOP is that the evangelical population in this country is declining and the evangelical influence on our society weakens each and every year. Yet Republicans continue to play to that base…a strategy that has put them on the losing side of the popular vote in five of the last six national elections.

There are a large number of independent and moderate progressive voters who would welcome a compelling substantive discussion on smaller government, reduced spending and a strong but limited foreign policy. But any meaningful opportunity for political compromise goes out the door when Republicans start telling people who they can love, who they can marry and what they can and cannot do with their bodies.

Republicans have a real opportunity to win both houses of congress and the White House in 2016. But if they continue to play to the declining evangelical voter the only way they will see the inside of the Oval Officer is as an invited guest.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Livin' In A Dream World

The 2016 Republican Presidential Tour is now performing in the key state of Florida. They have chosen the ever popular Disneyworld to wheel out their latest hits. The theme for this musical extravaganza is the Economic Growth Summit hosted by Florida Governor Rick Scott.

You remember Governor Scott. He’s the guy who passed legislation requiring all unemployment and food stamp applicants to first pass a drug test before receiving benefits. I emailed Governor Scott awhile back and asked if he was requiring that Florida based corporate CEOs and farmers pass drug tests before receiving their tax abatements and subsidies. I haven’t heard back yet. I’m sure he’s busy.

But I digress…

Unfortunately if you listen to the playlist the headliners are offering today they sound an awful lot like the old classics. The key to economic growth they wail, is lower taxes. Cut the corporate tax, revamp the tax code and lower personal income taxes on the top earners and the bounty will fall like manna from heaven on the middle class and working poor. No doubt that is music to the ears of the well-heeled members of the audience.
The problem with this economic melody is that it’s been played before...to less than stellar reviews from the masses.

I’m sure you remember that old standby “The Bush Tax Cuts.” For ten years the Bush Tax Cuts stood at the top of the charts. It had a good run but all it produced was a tanking economy, massive job loss and canyon sized dose of income inequality. The rich were able to buy all the latest releases while the middle class could barely afford the electricity that powered their tinny sounding radios. Republicans are trying to remix the old sound with a new arraignment but it’s coming out flat. The sound is particularly off key when mixed with some of the old “small government, reduce spending” chords that we have come to expect from this group.

Take former Texas governor Rick Perry for example. He used to play with a group out of Austin but he’s going solo now. He ran afoul of the law a while back and has been indicted on a corruption beef. But he’s still belting out the hits as he awaits his trial. Rock on! His latest ballad sounds just like one of his old hits. He croons a sad song about the evils of big government. He just wants the feds to leave him alone. The funny thing is when Perry was playing in Austin his great state of Texas took in more in federal funds than any state save California.

Even though Rick has left to make to his own way his old band mates are still singing the same tunes. Texas has been deluged with torrential rains and flooding. The lead singer that replaced Rick is begging the feds for more resources to clean up the mess. How are you going to pay for the increased resources if you keep cutting tax revenues?

Then list of performers at this concert is incredible. But the songs sound so similar it's hard to tell one rocker from another.

Lindsey Graham was supposed to be in Orlando but he had another gig. He’s been playing the war drums for as long as anyone can remember. His latest is a new rendition of the same old song: “Let’s Blow Stuff Up.” Lindsey is upset that the show in Iraq was cut short. He wants to station at least 10,000 troops there…forever. “You can never leave” he warbles with that southern twang. The problem here is troops cost money. Lots of it. So how do you feed, clothe, arm and train these guys if you keep singing about cutting tax revenues.

You get the picture. These guys keep singing about the glory days when Reagan was knocking out one hit after another; captivating audiences with his folksy charm. But there are a lot more artists coming in from overseas now and it’s hard to reach the top of the charts playing the same old songs.

This Economic Growth Summit offers little more than a different rendition of the golden oldies. The fantasy of revisiting the glory days of the past.

Perhaps that is why they chose the Magic Kingdom for a venue.

Monday, June 1, 2015

While You Were Sleeping...

That sound you hear is the NSA shutting down its computers.

It seems to me that keeping the country safe should rank pretty high on the federal government’s “to do” list. And given the ever increasing number of people that we have managed to piss off it also seems appropriate that government use whatever legal means it may have at its disposal to accomplish that task.

At the same time I cherish my privacy and I have a deep seeded aversion to people sticking their nose into my private business.

So when it comes to the NSA randomly gobbling up metadata on citizens’ conversations I am as they say “conflicted.” Conflicted because while I fully realize the value the NSA program and the good intentions of its operatives I am well aware of the human frailties that lead to overreach.

The conflict between national security and civil liberties is an important and substantive debate that we need to have. The Patriot Act is an extremely controversial piece of legislation that lies at the very epicenter of that debate.

At 12:01 this morning certain provisions of the Patriot Act…including the data mining authorities…expired. They expired in part because our elected “leaders” in the senate waited once again until the eleventh hour to enter into the debate. What should have been a substantive debate about a very important matter was governed by a stop watch. If procrastination and political cowardice form the bedrock of good governance then we are in excellent hands.

As I say I am conflicted about the expiration of these provisions. But I am steadfast in my disgust with leadership’s lack of spine. McConnell and his cronies knew these provisions were going to sunset and he knew that the debate for their renewal would be heated. Yet time and time again he refused to bring the matter to the floor; opting rather to entertain politically motivated votes on bills that would never get passed the president’s desk. McConnell gambled that by waiting until the eleventh hour he would force the senate to pass a short term extension and in essence do what congress does best…kick the controversial can down the road. McConnell gambled and lost…bested by Rand Paul, the junior senator from McConnell’s own state.

If you believe that the NSA data mining program was an infringement on your civil liberties then you probably see yesterday’s outcome as good for the country. You may be right.

The outcome may be good for the country...but it wasn’t good governance.