Monday, April 18, 2016

POLITICS: The Bernie—Hillary Conundrum

A few thoughts on the Bernie/Hlilary primary conundrum:

Been seeing/reading Facebook posts and other opinion sites documenting this current battle between the Democratic candidates. The deeper this nomination process goes, the more animus appears to be growing between supporters of each candidate—kinda like April 2008 when Obama and Clinton battled for the nomination (when Clinton was ahead in delegates and super delegates, etc etc). But I'm guessing, like 2008, when a victor is clear, the vast majority of Sanders and Clinton supporters will wisely support the winner in the general election because, well, ANY of the current GOP candidates is a horrible alternative for the nation.
So as an admitted Sanders supporter, I offer this modest snapshot of the two candidates that, I think, is a fair characterization of the difference primary voters are currently grappling with:

— Hillary Clinton may be one of the most qualified people to ever run for the White House in US History. Certainly one of the most seasoned politicians of the modern age. She has a clear record, has endured two decades of GOP and media antagonism, and is a truly formidable debater. But we know very well Clinton's positions—both as a Senator and Secretary of State she has a verifiable record. She is hawkish towards war—her votes bear that out. She is an acolyte of the Democratic Leadership Council (which got her husband elected in 92) that favors corporatism rather than the progressive/liberal views of the Democratic party's history (see Rahm Emanual as another example of DLC ideology). She opposed as First Lady the Bankruptcy Bill sponsored by credit card companies in the late 1990s, but voted FOR it after being elected Senator of New York (by her own admittance).

— for Sanders' supporters (like myself), Clinton will be a FAR superior choice than anything the GOP has to offer. BUT: she will be a CORPORATIST status quo choice. Banks and stock markets will do fine, international corporations will continue to prosper, our terrible trade policies will persist, but not much will change systemically in our economy or military-industrial complex, which means not much will change for the VAST majority of Americans.

— Sanders, on the other hand, is attempting to revolutionize America and its economy. REALLY tough sell—especially to complacent Americans who like buying cheap shit from overseas. It's a completely fair criticism of Sanders' campaign that he won't be able to do ALL the things he talks about. He won't—unless he gets a Democratic Senate (not an impossibility with the large number of GOP senators up for election) and House (unlikely this year even if seats are gained). But wouldn't it be better for MOST Americans to have a president who will fight/veto and negotiate with the recalcitrant conservatives from a farther left perspective than, regrettably, an Obama or Clinton who will negotiate from the middle (or middle right) with today's GOP?

— Sanders also has a verifiable record—in the House and Senate. As has been made clear by countless videos (C-Span especially), Sanders has been VOTING against corporate domination of the US economy for decades. His political and voting RECORD show that time and time again, Sanders has voted for legislation that helps American citizens and against what helps corporate, international trade, and the industrial military complex efforts gain more financial and legislative control of the country. Aside from his terrible vote to allow immunity to gun manufacturers (abhorrent from my perspective), there are few instances where Sanders voted to allow the military and corporations to abuse taxpayer money. Which is NOT true of Hillary Clinton.

We are in a new Gilded Age—the disparity of assets and money concentrated among a tiny percentage of the US population in the top .01% is actually much worse (in adjusted dollars) than during the Gilded Age.
We need a Teddy Roosevelt to serve as trust buster—to commit the federal government's resources to break up big banks, monopolistic corporations, and international companies hiding assets/profits to avoid paying "their fair share." ANYTHING less than a Teddy Roosevelt approach at this point will assure the continued concentration of wealth and wage deflation in America. (Obama had the rare window to assert TR's ideas in 2009—but he opted to work with the GOP.)

Back to the original conundrum:
Is Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders most apt to serve as the trust buster American citizens need in 2016?
Clinton will maintain the status quo—do you doubt it from her voting record? But she's still better than a Republican.
Sanders will AT LEAST put up a TR-style fight (even against corporatist Democrats)—do you doubt it from his voting record?

So let's stop quibbling about this one vote from Sanders or Clinton or this insinuation from campaign staffers. The body of each candidate's political work EXTREMELY clear:
Hillary will maintain things as they are
Bernie will try to upend things as much as he can.
To PRETEND that either candidate will do something different is naive and allergic to facts . . .

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

POLITICS: Our Supreme Court Has Five Rubes, Five Flat Earthers, Or Five Ideologues—Your Choice

There's plenty of Supreme Court watching going on these days, particularly with the Affordable Care Act—commonly know as Obamacare—awaiting a ruling later this week. But one of today's rulings sums up the regrettable fact that five our current Supreme Court justices are either total rubes, bona fide flat-earthers, or embarrassing ideologues.

In the case of American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, the state of Montana's 100 year old law prohibiting corporations from making "an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political party that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party" was struck down by the homunculi majority on the Supreme Court. The people and state of Montana passed the law in 1912 after the corporate abuses of the Gilded Age made it abundantly clear that businesses with seemingly unlimited funds would use as much money as needed to buy the votes of politicians at the local, state, and national level. You know—the same gripe President Teddy Roosevelt made against the Robber Barons when he busted up corporate control of America. Kind of like the world we live in now, no?

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations could make unlimited donations to any political campaign or candidate because—get this—money is the same as speech. If anyone can show me where in the Constitution the Founders equate money with free speech, I'll buy you an indulgent dinner at the fine dining establishment of your choice. Of course, I'll win that bet every time—because there's NOWHERE in the Constitution that the Founders make the semi-retarded assertion that money is somehow the same as speech. If they believed such a thing, those educated, elite, wealthy, land-owning men of the 1780s would have included that key fact in the Constitution, don'tcha think?

What 2010's Citizen United 5-4 ruling did was allow the 1% (aka The Robber Barons) to donate unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns and outside organizations—effectively buying politicians with gross amounts of money and with the full backing of the Supreme Court. In 2012, a big election year, we can already see the wonders of Citizen United at work: a wealthy gambling man from Las Vegas named Sheldon Adelson donated more than $22 million to a handful of Republican candidates in the course of about six months. I bet that is exactly what the Founding Fathers imagined when they ensured freedom of speech in the First Amendment—they simply forgot to include the part about speech meaning the same thing as money.

But here's where the rube/flat-earther question comes in with Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy: in their original 2010 Citizens United ruling, the justices claimed that "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption."

Read that again: "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption."

Are these guys total rubes? Either these five sages of the court have NEVER even glanced at American history of the past century (highly unlikely, of course), or they are all belong to some weird association that believes the earth is flat and that the emails they receive from a representative of a prince from Gambia who has half a million dollars ready to send to them if only they will email their bank information and a few thousand in processing fees.

No, the odds are very good that these five justices are simply ideologues that believe the moneyed and powerful really should make the key decisions for our country—kind of like the feudal system that worked out so well for Europe a four or five hundred years ago. 

Want to see another great example of the willfully ignorant rube in action?

Will we have to wait twenty years for a decrepit Chief Justice John Roberts to appear before the Senate to admit that he was wrong to think that excess amounts of money donated by corporations to politicians actually did "give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption"? Roberts ain't no rube, and he ain't no flat-earther either. But he's an ideologue alright. Unfortunately, his adherence to an utterly feudal 16th century sense of noblesse oblige and laissez faire economics is more important than our belief in the tenants of the U.S. Constitution. But don't fret—Roberts' apology will be broadcast world wide in 2032. And then we'll all feel vindicated, right?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

POLITICS: The Republican Party is America’s Cancer

I know it sounds blunt, maybe even over the top, but it’s true: today’s elected Republican party is a cancer in America. “Dividing abnormal cells”—that’s what cancer is. The Republican party of the past 30 years has become a very abnormal organism whose sole purpose appears to be dividing as much of the country as it possibly can and killing the federal services that actually help American citizens. And since January 20th, 2009, the Republican cancer has been in full blown activation.

Let me make a clear distinction: I am talking about the governing, elected Republican politicians of the Grand Old Party. While there are certainly conservatives in our country who adhere to the Party's poisonous ideas of the past three decades, it's the elected men and women with governing and legislative power under the GOP banner who have repeatedly chosen to advance and make laws that have infected our body politic and economy.

 Cancer is an insidious disease. It doesn’t make any sense. It infects a body’s system and very quickly it can inhabit major organs. It can ravage a body so nefariously that treatment isn’t even possible once its discovered. Doctors can radiate it, treat it chemically, and send it into remission only to have the cancer return again in equal strength years later. It’s a horrible disease, and I’m guessing any reasonable person reading this wouldn’t even stoop so low as to wish it on their worst enemy.

But cancer is the perfect metaphor for the modern Republican party. In the past 30 years, the GOP has managed to infect just enough Americans to keep our country in a vicious circle of treatment, remission, and full-blown attacks, ultimately leaving a body politic and nation in a nearly perpetual state of serious illness.

From the mid-1940s until the early-1980s, America thrived, growing to be the most dominant economic and military force on the planet. American citizens enjoyed unprecedented income growth, economic and educational mobility, and a flourishing middle class. It wasn’t perfect, no doubt, but America’s leaders—regardless of party affiliation—found ways to work together to help the nation flourish. President Eisenhower built the federal highway system, a massive government–fueled jobs/stimulus program. President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency to protect citizens and our air and water from the destructive practices of our own manufacturing sector. He almost established the first steps toward a nationalized health care system, which was ultimately curtailed by resistance from none other than Senator Ted Kennedy, who wanted a much broader plan. Nixon also opened up trade with China back when we had strict trade policies with all of our international trading partners.

I single out these two past Republican presidents to help make the contrast to today’s Republican party. Those initiatives that Eisenhower and Nixon signed into law were legislation that helped the vast majority of American citizens. They improved people’s lives, albeit in different ways. They were good ideas that became good laws because of an outmoded concept called bipartisanship—Republicans and Democrats working together to compromise on solutions to help the country. In 2012, neither Nixon nor Eisenhower would stand a chance with today’s malignant GOP.

Even Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of the Republican party, would be Tea-Bagged out of today’s cancerous GOP. He certainly cut taxes at the beginning of his first term, which seems to be the modern GOP’s solution to EVERYTHING (“Got hit by a tornado? Boy, cutting your taxes sure would be the best solution to the rubble of your home . . . “). Reagan’s presidency is where we are introduced to the first real cell division in the modern Republican Party cancer: cutting taxes on “job creators” spurs economic growth. I’m sure you’ve heard this illogical phrase over the past 30 years. Trouble is, it doesn’t work. It never has—EVER in the history of humankind. It didn’t work under Reagan. And we just experienced the severe results of this inane tax policy in this country since 2001 with the Bush II administration. We’re still suffering the debilitating effects, despite a supposedly “liberal” Obama administration.

Cutting taxes on the “job creators” to spur economic growth has a more familiar historical name: feudalism. It worked out great for Medieval Europe alright.

The reason Reagan is the font of this cancer is because he and his administration sold just enough Americans on this crazy idea that we shouldn’t have to pay taxes for all the stuff we want our government to do to not only win two elections, but to infect an entire generation of knuckle-draggers for decades to come. But see, even Reagan didn’t buy his own bullshit. He lowered taxes in 1981 when unemployment was 7.5%. By 1983, all those job creators alleviated of burdensome taxes had created enough jobs to run the unemployment rate up to 10.8%. (See—it doesn’t work.) But in order to pay for all the services the American people wanted their federal government to provide, Reagan started borrowing money like an earnest junkie. He tripled the national debt to it highest levels ever and he grew the federal government unlike any of his predecessors. Over the remaining seven years of his presidency, Reagan raised taxes on individuals 11 times! So much for the magic elixir of tax cuts.

But what Reagan’s welching on his anti-tax stance proves is that even the patron saint of today’s GOP understood that the federal government had to provide services for American citizens and that the government needed tax money to pay for it—just like it stipulates in our Constitution. Reagan and his crew weren’t very good at paying for things—it would take President Bill Clinton’s administration to show the Reaganites and the GOP how you pay for government and turn up a surplus—but what was distilled from the “Reagan Revolution” by his faithful followers was the cutting taxes part. NOT the part where you actually have to pay for anything the government does.

Recent history proves how this economic Republican cancer came to full force under George W. Bush:
• two tax cuts, the last one in 2003 relatively unnecessary and geared primarily to the very highest income earners in the country (no, not you).
• two completely UNFUNDED wars. One may well be have been legitimate (Afghanistan), but the Iraq War was one of this country’s most shameful swindles.
• Medicare Part D in 2003 was a new federal program to help subsidize the high cost of many prescription drugs for seniors. Great legislation, something that actually helps American citizens—except for one thing: the Republicans didn’t devise a way to pay for it. Because today’s GOP can’t fathom raise taxes, they just went ahead and slapped this multi-billion (multi-trillion if never addressed over the decades) program on the U.S. credit card.

The larger point is that none of this was paid for—Bush and the GOP put it all on the country’s credit card. Historically, when America goes to war, Americans are required to pay for it with higher taxes either during the war or after the war is over. Not so in the Republican cancer ward.

Vice President Dick Cheney famously said, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” And the modern GOP couldn’t have agreed more: between 2001 when Bush took office and 2008 when he left, the national debt grew from 5.9 trillion to 10.6 trillion —and that’s not including the credit card wars and Medicare Part D. Those went on Obama’s deficit spreadsheet.

Do you get the picture?

The modern Republican Party is an economic cancer on America because they don’t want to pay for anything the federal government does—yet they’re more than happy to put us all on the credit line for wars, subsidies to the special interests that fund GOP campaigns, and making damn sure the wealthiest 1% (again—that’s not you!) are alleviated of as much tax burden as possible. Imagine a political party running on that platform? “We promise to spend more of your money than you can imagine on wars and the machinery of war, give your money away to our wealthiest corporations like Exxon, and use your money to subsidize the regrettable tax burden on guys like Warren Buffett and Donald Trump. To do all this, we’re going to get rid of all that socialist nonsense that true Americans hate anyway: food stamps to feed poor families, money to fund the EPA to keep our air and water clean, and all that Commie stuff like Medicare and unemployment insurance that you and your employers have been paying into for years. We’ll still be running huge deficits every year, but doesn’t that sound like a pretty great deal? Pray on it. You’ll see the light. And by the way—those liberals want to spend your money on wussy stuff and take your guns away and make us all gay Muslims.”

Jude Wanniski
Would you vote for that party? Obviously not—nobody in their right mind would. But there are too many terminal cases in this country that gobble up the cancer the GOP has been offering for decades. It has been a very purposeful, concerted effort since the 1980s. Don’t believe me? Would you believe someone who served both Reagan and the first President Bush? Check out Bruce Bartlett’s recent column on the origins of today’s cancerous Republican Party. The key idea here is the “Two-Santa Theory” proposed in 1976 by a man named Jude Wanniski. Bartlett’s column is more complete in its explication of Wanniski’s theory, but the basic idea is that if the Democrats are going to be the Spending Santa Claus, creating large programs that benefit Americans (virtually all of them paid for, by the way), the Republicans should be the Santa Claus of Tax Reduction. Wanniski even admits that “Only the shrewdness of the Democrats, who have kindly agreed to play both Santa Clauses during critical periods, has saved the nation from even greater misery.” Real shrewd—it’s called having people PAY for what they want their government to do.

Adherence to Wanniski’s Santa Clause of Tax Reduction concept has been the guiding principal, the ONE commandment of the modern Republican Party. And it’s the ideal complement to my GOP as cancer assertion: only cancerous cells can believe that spending money while reducing income is a good idea. It’s abnormal division, bad cell evolution, and embarrassing elementary school math.

Grover Norquist
There is a purpose to such hair-brained economic policy, and it was voiced succinctly by one of the most powerful non-elected figures in the Republican Party: Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform who has connived every elected Republican politician in today’s Congress to sign his “no new taxes” pledge, once said he would like to shrink government “down to the size where it can be drowned in the bathtub.” Consider that metaphor. Norquist’s ultimate goal is to kill the federal government—the organizing government that the founders outlined in the Constitution. Of course, there are places in the world that would seem a perfect fit for a guy like Grover and most of his GOP comrades—it’s called Somalia. If the GOP is America’s cancer, Grover Norquist has been one of the busiest mutant cancer cells.

But this is what the modern GOP has been trying to do since the 1980s: explode the deficit and national debt to such immense proportions that we as a country cannot afford to pay for the programs that help American citizens. And then blame the bad economic policy on the Democrats. Medicare, Social Security, FEMA, the EPA, food stamps, any and all regulatory policies—these are all federal programs that our citizenry has voted for and supported and PAID FOR over the past 75 years. The vast majority of Americans agree that these are all valuable and worthwhile programs, and we remain perfectly willing to pay taxes in order to keep these programs viable. But not the GOP. They’re infected, corrosive, and they would prefer to get rid of these programs. Again: Republicans are a cancer to America.

So in 2008 our economy collapsed and the Republican Party has not done one concrete thing to help you or me or the rest of the country in its efforts to recover. They opposed the 2009 Stimulus package, the federal loan to automakers to keep the industry alive, the Affordable Care Act, closing loopholes for U.S. companies who move their businesses overseas, student financial aid expansion, Wall Street reform, the credit cardholders’ bill of rights, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (assuring equal pay for equal work for women), FHA reform, expanded benefits for Veterans, repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Disclose Act (making political money contributions transparent) . . . the list goes on and on. Since our economy collapsed in 2008, the GOP has only been interested in legislation that cuts taxes, keeps regulation off the very industries that tanked our economy, maintains funding for war and production of war machinery, and drilling for more oil. Most recently, the GOP has taken great interest in limiting women’s rights to health care services and promoting laws that involve inserting items into pregnant women’s vaginas because women certainly don’t know what’s best for them.

Simply: the Republican Party is America’s cancer. There is little to nothing that today’s Republican Party is offering legislatively or idea-wise that will help this country as a whole or help most everyone reading this. Cancer doesn’t help or make things better or solve itself—cancer only degrades and degenerates. And ultimately kills. And there’s only one way to even attempt a cure of this horrible cancer: cut it out, radiate it, and blast it with chemo. Only then will the country stand a chance of survival.

The good news is that all three of those treatments are available every two, four, and six years at the ballot box. Hopefully this year will be a step toward treatment. Granted, there are places in this country where the body politic is so riddled with this Republican cancer that its citizens are beyond cure (see Mississippi, Alabama, etc.) But for the rest of the fully upright country, treatment is urgent and necessary if we want any chance of beating the Big C. We’ve struggled to survive 30 years of the Republican Party’s abnormal dividing cells, and it has been metastasizing aggressively the past few years. We don’t have too many years left before the prognosis is terminal.

Endnote: One should not infer from this blog post that I exonerate the Democratic Party from the past 30 years of decline in this country. I don’t. But the Democratic Party’s contributions are of a different—though sometime complementary—nature. I’ll detail those in a future post. But there are stark differences between the two parties: one is trying to drown our form of government in a bathtub; the other at least tries to throw out a life preserver. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

POLITICS: The Tea Bagger Emperors Have No Clothes—The GOP Reveals Its Hand, Abandons Its “Pledge to America,” and Proves It Really Doesn’t Care Much For You

Hey Tea Baggers!
How’s that whole “Pledge to America” thing working out for ya?

Remember last fall? When the Republicans told you that jobs were THE BIGGEST PRIORITY for America? And they were going to incentivize job growth with more tax cuts? And repeal Obamacare? And cut government spending? And end TARP? And strengthen border patrol? And allow you to buy health insurance across state lines? Remember the GOP had 20 of these “Pledges” to America?

Do you know how many of these items the GOP has enacted six months into their takeover of the House of Representatives?

One. They passed a 2011 funding bill that cut a meager $350 million dollars of government spending. But they needed the help of a bunch of reasonable Democrats to pass the modest bill.

Guess how many jobs-related bills the GOP has offered in the House since they took power?
(L to R) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
That’s right—ZERO. Not one. Not even talk of a jobs-related bill, let alone actual legislation put on paper. And remember: the GOP told us in 2010 that if we vote for them, job creation would be their number one priority. Of course, the GOP and their Tea Bagging consorts had no real intention of creating jobs to help the economy—but enough easily duped voters believed them to vote them into office.

What legislation HAS the GOP House been busing themselves with for the past six months?

Only the really important stuff that helps the average American working family, of course.

H.R.3, the “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act,” passed in May. Good thing, too—the 30-year-old Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion since it passed in 1976, didn’t go far enough apparently. Of course, the Senate has ignored this waste-of-time, redundant piece of legislation, with no hopes of getting anything but a Presidential veto.

Here’s another legislative gem that was more important to the GOP than passing substantive job creation legislation: last week the House re-argued and tried to repeal the 2007 Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, signed by their own Republican President Bush, that phases out the use of incandescent light bulbs staring in 2012 in favor of energy-efficient bulbs (like fluorescent or halogen bulbs). In 2007, it was estimated that the law would save the U.S. some 6 billion dollars in energy costs annually. God forbid Big Government tell us to save money on energy—we’re Americans, damnit. We prefer wasting money and energy. Thankfully, enough sober Republicans voted against their own party’s ill-conceived crusade against energy-efficient light bulbs and defeated this year’s all important illumination bill.

The GOP House DID pass one piece of substantive legislation: a budget—the Paul Ryan budget that “reforms” Medicare by shorting your parents and grandparents of their medical coverage and raises the costs to those seniors by thousands of dollars each year. Those same seniors who have been making down payments on those very Medicare benefits every week they’ve worked since the mid-1960s—before Representative Paul Ryan was even born and long before he’d first sipped the hallucinatory tonic of Ayn Rand that he and other neo-Conservatives seem so addicted to.

The Democratic Senate easily voted down the Ryan budget—with the help of four sane Republicans and Tea Bagger Rand Paul.

So six months after the GOP stormed into control of the House of Representatives, they have barely accomplished one of their “Pledge to America” promises.

Call former Speaker Nancy Pelosi whatever you want, but she passed a hell of a lot more legislation in her first three months as Speaker than John Boehner and his pack of Tea Bagging jackasses have in twice the time.

But what Weeper of the House Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor have revealed is where the GOP’s true priorities lie, and no matter your political stripe, be it right, left, or somewhere in less-informed “independent voter” in-between, their priorities have NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. Seriously. Unless you’re a multi-millionaire or a major corporation—and if you’re reading this blog, odds are pretty high that you’re neither—the Tea Bagging GOP has little regard for you or your family. As their name suggest, the Tea Bagging GOP are too busy straining their mouths open so wide for the financial testes of guys like the Koch Brothers, Exxon, BP, big pharma, and any swinging pair on Wall Street to pay you and your family’s modest needs any attention.

Look at the actions of each political party and you’ll see who they are representing, and it is clear as day that the GOP is not representing the people who voted them into office. Somehow, over the past couple of decades, the Republican Party has repeatedly been able to get perfectly reasonable adults to vote against their own best interests. It’s a horrible talent that deserves a modicum of admiration. For example:

• 2010 Affordable Health Care Act: By all independent analysis, the albeit imperfect Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 will help allow millions more Americans to afford some kind of health insurance and at that same time save the entire federal health care system billions of dollars. But the Tea Bagging GOP have tried to pass legislation to repeal the law or gut key provisions of the law—some that are already enacted and are helping American families (i.e. not being dropped for preexisting conditions, coverage for post-college children). Why does the GOP want to get rid of this law before it is fully enacted? Because the GOP represents large corporate insurance interests, big pharma, and corporate hospitals, and even though the 2010 Health Care Act ensures millions of new customers for corporate insurance companies, the GOP doesn’t like the fact that the regulations and price limitations imposed as part of the deal might curtail corporate insurance and corporate hospitals’ ability to raise premiums and overcharge for services. So how does that represent or help you and your family? It doesn’t. Not one iota.

• Negotiating Medicare Drug Prices: As part of the GOP Medicare Part D plan passed in 2003 and signed by President Bush, seniors were given a program to help offset the rising costs of prescription drugs, which is generally considered by most people to be a very good thing for seniors and shows that, see, the GOP does represent the average American citizen and not strictly the elite and corporate pharmaceutical interests. But the devil’s in the details, of course. When the GOP passed this bill, they included no way to pay for it—unlike the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, which included the revenue to actually pay for the programs. By 2008, the GOP Medicare Part D plan was already adding $50 billion a year to the national debt. But the real poison pill, if you will, is that the GOP demanded—and passed—a stipulation that the federal government, meaning you and me, was not allowed to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices for Medicare Part D prescriptions. Which means that, although seniors get a much needed break on prescriptions, the pharmaceutical companies can charge the government, meaning you and me, the highest prices and make the most profit. The Democrats tried in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 to eliminate this provision and allow the federal government, meaning you and me, to negotiate for cheaper prescriptions for Medicare, but the GOP House and Senate voted against it. The federal government negotiates drug prices with big pharma for the completely Socialistic Veterans Affairs medical coverage, so why not for Medicare, which is a much larger program than the VA? You know why—cause the GOP, even when they kinda representing some Americans, are mostly interested in representing corporate interests. Not you.

PS. The GOP House Representative that steered the bill through Congress, Billy Tauzin, retired from the House in 2005 and took a multi-million dollar job as the president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. He maintained that post just long enough to make sure that negotiating prescription prices for Medicare or the Affordable Health Care Act never became law. Think Billy represented you at any point?

• Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Remember how the economy tanked in 2008 and plunge the country into a financial crisis that cost all of us billions of dollars to bailout the very financial institutions that created the crisis? Of course you do—we’re all still reeling from its effects. While very little was done to prevent the same crisis from happening again—thanks primarily to the GOP’s opposition to any regulation, but with a healthy assist from the timid White House—there was one potentially strong piece of legislation passed by the Democratic House and Senate that could actually help people like you and me. The CFPB is designed to be an independent federal watchdog that makes sure financial institutes inform consumers in clear language about the risks involved in financial products, as well as blowing the whistle on deceptive and abusive practices in the financial sector. The CFPB is to serve as a representative for us, the consumers, with little influence from Congress. The pit-bull Elizabeth Warren came up with the idea and has been in charge of getting the Bureau set up. Of course, since the Tea Bagging GOP took control of the House in January of 2011, they have attempted numerous legislative maneuvers to make sure the CFPB has little to no actual power against the financial institutions. Remember, the sole purpose of the CFPB is to be independent and to protect the consumer—you, me, and everyone we know. But that kind of crazy thinking doesn’t sit well with the GOP Tea Baggers because, obviously, they don’t really care much about protecting us.

Just this week, as the CFPB officially opened its doors, the Tea Bagging GOP House voted to change the Bureau to be lead by a five-person panel instead of one primary consumer advocate and to make the bureau less independent—meaning less able to represent you and me—by making every recommendation from the CFPB easily overruled by Federal regulators. The very same federal regulators, often hand-picked by geniuses from Goldman Sachs, Chase Bank, Bank of America, etc., who buried their heads in the sand and ignored the very illegal financial products that busted the economy in 2008. The Democratic controlled Senate won’t pass this idiotic legislation, and the President has already said he would veto any bill that undermined the CFPB’s authority to protect consumers—remember, that’s you and me. The GOP threatened to filibuster the appointment of Elizabeth Warren to head the CFPB, so of course Obama caved, but his selection to run the new agency—Richard Cordray of Ohio, who took on Bank of America and other lenders for the “robo-signing” foreclosure scams when he was Attorney General of Ohio—seems a worthy leader for the CFPB. But guess what? The GOP has already declared its opposition to Cordray. Surprised? No. Because once again, today’s Tea Bagging GOP does not represent you or me—but they do worry quite a bit about the well-being of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and other such institutions that contribute mightily to the GOP money sack.

Those are only three specific examples of legislation either passed or supported by the Democratic party that the GOP Tea Baggers oppose. All three would substantively effect and benefit you and me and our elders and our children. But the vast majority of Republicans oppose all three. If you consider yourself a conservative—or even a Tea Bagger—you have to ask yourself why? The GOP may TELL you they oppose these things because it’s too much government control or it’s “socialism!” or that we need to keep government out of our everyday lives, but if you believe that, then you’re frankly not very bright. Or you’re simply an ideologue that can’t distinguish facts from self-defeating rhetoric. Because the GOP and the Tea Baggers really don’t care that much about you or your family—they care solely about representing the elite financial powers in our country that in turn support the GOP with healthy election contributions. Everyone of these pieces of legislation was designed to protect you and make your life and financial situation more secure, so how can you possibly support a party that wants you to may more for your prescriptions, allow the medical insurance and corporate hospitals you deal with on a regular basis to overcharge you for their services and cut your policy benefits, and protect and defend the financial services industry that just screwed you and so many people you know from 2008 until this very day?

Think of it this way: if someone came to your door and said “We need to have all your food and your entertainment center and your car and all the money you have in your bank account because these really awesome folks up on the hill in the gated mansion are having an amazing party and we don’t want it to stop or slow down because they might not create a new job or invest in an American enterprise if the party dies,” you’d tell that jackass to get the hell off your property. But that’s what the Tea Bagging GOP is asking you to do. But some of you, who OBVIOUSLY weren’t invited to that awesome party and never will be, don’t seem able to understand this simple fact. By turning over all your shit so that awesome party on the hill can continue uninterrupted, do you think that maybe one day, if they let you, you could maybe work as a waiter at that party and—oh please-please-please—serve those millionaires drinks as a proud, freedom-loving American Tea Bagging thousandaire?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

POLITICS: A Simple Truth

Sometimes Bill Maher is really funny, but sometimes he and his crack writing staff come up with some brilliant satire. As one who really couldn't care less about the whole Casey Anthony story, the fact that so many people in this country (and across the globe, I'm sure) wasted so much of their valuable time following the horrible tale says more about the mettle of our citizenry than the unfortunate facts of our judicial system. But the analogy that Maher makes here, specifically the depressing lunacy of a populace that continues to to be duped and votes against their own best interests, is spot on and regrettably far too true. Who really gives a shit whether Ms. Anthony is guilty or not when the very place you live is being fleeced by chiselers, politicians, and "the job creators"? Satirists Swift, Twain, and certainly Vonnegut would be proud of this gem:

Friday, January 07, 2011

MUSIC: Death Shuffle

I’m sitting here late at night paying some bills and doing some busy work when Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” pops up on my iTunes shuffle. Unexpectedly, I can’t stop listening to it. It’s about a relationship break-up, but there are some devastating lines that go beyond the break-up and I can’t get past them when Dylan sings them the way he sings them. Especially this one: “Yer gonna have to leave me now, I know / But I’ll see you in the sky above / In the tall grass, in the ones I love / Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go.”

The more I listen to this 3-minute song, for about 20 minutes now, the more upset I get. I want someone to think this of me when I leave. When I die. To feel the way Dylan obviously feels when he sings these lines. The more I listen to this amazingly complex song, the more people I begin to think of. I think of my mother and my father and my sister and brother—our one time family unit of my childhood memories that has sometimes made me lonesome now that it is gone. I think of my wife leaving me, be it flight or something far more horrible, and it’s a kind of lonesome that hurts in my chest when I hear Dylan sing “I could stay with you forever and never realize the time.” I think of an old girlfriend, and this song breaks my heart the way the teenager in all of us has his heartbroken. And then I’m shocked at the thought of my sons and how I fear the lonesomeness when they go—not away to college, but from this earth with me still here. It’s unbearable. Unbearable.

I can’t listen to this song anymore. I hit advance on my iTunes control panel and am dealt a shuffle knockout punch.

This appeared on his very last album, the one he was making while he knew he was dying of cancer. It’s an acoustic guitar song, obviously a love letter/farewell to the people closest to him. I love Warren Zevon, perhaps one of the most unheralded songwriters of all time. But I can only hear this song at certain times when I know I can handle it. And after Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” I know damn well I can’t handle it. But I listen anyway. Repeatedly.

And it crushes me . . .

“Shadows are falling and I’m running I’m out breath
Keep me in your heart for a while
If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for a while
When you get up in the morning and you see that crazy sun
Keep me in your heart for a while”

I immediately think of our fall visit to my father-in-law’s gravesite, the first time I saw the headstone that was placed a year after his death. My wife Carolyn and our boys standing in the chilly air, reflecting for a few moments in our crazy breathless lives on this one gentle man. I’ll be doing this more and more, I recall thinking at the time. Many of my friends have lost parents in the past few years. I’ve been lucky so far, but I know soon enough I will be the one standing at one of my parents’ gravesites, devastated, lonesome, keeping alive that part in my heart.

I keep listening to this beautifully heartrending Zevon song over and over again, piling on in a way, so drippy and weepy that my rational self is getting annoyed but I can’t seem to stop. Why? Why listen again to Zevon singing “Sometimes when you're doing simple things around the house / Maybe you'll think of me and smile” when I know each time it will only make me even more sad? I know I will be forced in the coming years to deal with the death of my parents, and some friends, and ultimately with my own “running out of breath.” Now, in my 47th year, sitting here listening to this song over and over, I am more certain and can see more clearly that there is a finite end to the road ahead and that there are some things and people and hopes and dreams that have simply gone by the wayside. Forever. The simple plea Zevon sings about is such a basic human desire—to be connected and remembered—that the weight of its humble request seems unbearable and uplifting all at the same time.

In the picture I have included here, I was 6-years-old, celebrating my brother’s 1st birthday with my 4 year-old sister and my Irish grandparents. (I keep this picture on the wall near my desk.) The house we lived in seemed big to me (it was actually quite modest), and the backyard behind us in the picture seemed MASSIVE to me (it too was modestly sized). The sun is always golden in my memory of these years, and I can’t tell you how many times I tromped and twirled and stomped and leaped around that backyard, conquering monsters, scoring the winning touchdown, or staring out across our yard into the wooded area behind our house, the late afternoon sun streaking across the poplar trees, and dreaming of the planets I would discover or the great soccer player I would be or any number of amazing things I was sure would happen once I got to be a grown up.

Now I’m a grown up. And I sit bleary-eyed at my desk, ignoring the bills I have to pay and loving every second of what these two songs are able to do to me.

Isn’t music amazing?

Monday, December 06, 2010

POLITICS: Tax Dodger—How Obama's Political Ineptitude is Costing American Families

At some point, you have to take a stand. Draw the proverbial line in the sand. The person you are dictates that you must, unwaveringly, stake out certain territory on which you simply will not compromise. Your belief system demands that you cannot budge on this issue or idea because, if you do, you will not be able to look yourself in the mirror or look at your friends or your children and feel even remotely good about yourself.

Regrettably, I’m coming to the realization—like many Americans—that President Obama isn’t capable of such a principled stand. Nor does he possess the political savvy and skill to be an effective leader. Not a great leader, mind you—just a bare minimum leader who describes a destination and fights unwaveringly to get there.

As the saying goes, this dog don’t hunt. This dog doesn’t want to wade into the cold water and get wet and dirty and go for the kill. And unfortunately for many Americans who voted for Obama, myself included, it appears we have a dog that prefers to stay safe and dry and cozy near the fire of corporate and Republican policy. Oh sure—this dog has a lovely bark, an inspiring bark even, but as too many citizens who responded to that alluring yap are beginning to realize, that’s all it is: a lovely bark. No bite. And apparently not much in the way of a spine, either.

What the vast majority of Americans need right now is a dog that hunts, that fights, that gets its ears chewed and its face scraped and its nose slashed but will not give up on them no matter what. We need a leader—an actual leader that stakes out a claim, draws a line in the sand, and says “Here’s the line that I will not cross—what else do you have for me?” With the economy still sputtering, a job market on life-support, and a housing environment unseen in this country since the depression, we need a leader who will battle and brawl to change the corporatist ideology that has ruled our policies for the past 30 years and has created the economic mess we’re in, that has pushed the devastating canards of international trade, a deregulated financial industry, and the borderline retarded concept that the government should do many things for the people but the people should not have to pay for any of it.

We need a President who uses the bully pulpit his office affords to put political pressure on elected officials who support the very policies that have crippled this country, to rally the American citizenry because it sees their leader scrapping and battling everyday for the policies that benefit the people and not the corporate interests that have so infected our way of life. It doesn’t matter if he wins every battle—so long as the family of four in Topeka witnesses their President doing everything he can to help them, to address their needs and concerns, to change the way our country has been rigged against that family’s best interests, the President will gain the dedication and respect and even activism of millions of similar families across America who are fighting to stay afloat.

But we don’t have that President. We have President Obama. He fought through the primary against Hillary Clinton. He fought against John McCain to win the general election. Obama just won’t fight FOR you or me.

How is it that after the worst financial collapse our country has seen in 70 years, after all we’ve learned about the risky and shady and illegal dealings of the banks and financial industry, after all the cries from politicians and citizens alike to reform the system—and all the temperate speeches Obama gave about how Americans need to be protected from this catastrophe ever happening again—that 2010 finds the very people whose actions created the financial meltdown of 2008 are making MORE money than they ever did before? That’s President Obama’s leadership—tepid new financial regulations that don’t substantively change the way Wall Street and the banking industry works and doesn’t actually prevent too big too fail institutions from failing and being bailed out—again—by you and me.

Obama’s leadership also brought us Health Care reform—where the insurance companies get millions of guaranteed clients and billions in guaranteed income and the American people get a few very modest, albeit important, concessions from the insurance industry. We get to pay MORE money to the very people who have been exacting exorbitant premiums from us for less coverage—by law.

It seems to be Obama’s way: make a heartfelt speech about protecting the average American, and then negotiate away any meaningful change to the system in order to say he’s accomplished something and not upset the corporate interests pulling the strings.

Obama is a corporatist who is great with the lip service to the American people but is too afraid to risk personal defeat or a well-earned nosebleed to actually lay himself and his ideas on the line for the very people who put him into office. It’s fear over hope. Capitulation over change.

So are we surprised that Obama is about to fold like a shirt—again—to the demands of the minority party over the expiration of the Bush tax cuts?

Designed to expire at the end of 2010—designed that way because the Republicans couldn’t pass the tax cuts by a simple Senate vote, so they did it by reconciliation—the Bush tax cuts are partly responsible for the horrible deficit currently saddling our country. In 2008, candidate Obama, like the VAST majority of the American people, felt that the Bush tax cuts that benefitted primarily the top 3% of income earners in this country should be allowed to expire. Even a year ago, President Obama said that the tax cuts that benefitted the wealthiest Americans should be allowed to expire (and no, that group doesn’t include you, and most likely never will be, so don’t get your panties in a bunch). Over a decade, those new tax revenues could bring in 700 billion to a trillion dollars. Quite a dent in the deficit everyone’s so worried about.

But now the political heat is on, and Obama (and his team) are AGAIN revealed as lacking leadership and even the most basic political skills. This is exactly when we need the President to step up and say here’s where I draw a line in the sand: I won’t accept ANY extension of the Bush tax cuts for the top 3% millionaires and billionaires. Period. The tax cuts have damaged our economy over the past 9 years, they haven’t created any jobs, and we need to start paying down our deficit with that additional tax revenue. That’s where Obama needed to start the negotiations—behind his line in the sand. From there, the Republicans (and some misguided Democrats) would have to negotiate. If the GOP countered with its usual answer—“No”—then the President would take every opportunity he could in the media to put the pressure on the GOP by pointing out facts like:

• the GOP won’t extend expiring unemployment benefits for working families
(a few billion dollars cost) but they insist on preserving tax breaks for 3% of
the country (hundreds of billions added to the deficit)

• the GOP won’t vote to close tax loopholes that allow companies to move their
jobs over seas and off-shore (more tax revenues to offset the deficit, possibly
more U.S. jobs), but they insist on preserving tax breaks for 3% of the country
(hundreds of billions added to the deficit)

• the GOP won’t vote to pay for the medical expenses incurred by first responders
at Ground Zero on 9/11 (seven billion dollars—for the heroes the GOP praised
years ago), but they insist on preserving tax breaks for 3% of the country
(hundreds of billions added to the deficit)

There are many other examples Obama could use to make the case to the American people that the GOP is not really concerned with the average worker and that most Republicans are beholden to corporate special interests (as are some Democrats). Make it really simple: Republicans are looking out for Wall Street and the Democrats are trying to help Main Street.

With Obama’s speaking abilities, he should be able to clearly explain why it is important for the Bush tax cuts for the American millionaires and billionaires need to expire and return to the still modest Clinton-era tax rates. Just look at the math: in eight years of lower taxes for the top 3%—the “job creators” claim the GOP—only 3 million net jobs were created. That’s barely over 300,000 jobs created per year for eight years. When that same 3% of Americans paid slightly higher taxes in the 1990s, a little over 3 MILLION jobs were created each year. Which tax rate has been best for you?

Obama could easily be winning this fight and forcing the GOP to change its position. Hell, the American people believe what candidate Obama ran on regarding the Bush tax cuts—recent polling shows that a clear majority of Americans want to the tax cuts for the upper 3% of Americans to expire. Not even a majority of Republicans believe the rates should be extended!

So why has Obama essentially given in to the GOP desire to extend the tax cuts? Why hasn’t he been using his bully pulpit to cudgel the GOP at every possible opportunity? Why, when the majority of the American people and his own party want to let these tax rates expire, is Obama unable to stiffen his backbone and draw that proverbial line in the sand?

I think it’s because he can’t. Because he doesn’t have the will or he’s too prideful to fight such a bare-knuckle battle. And this is connected to he and his team’s lack of political skill. When the majority of the people who put you in office back a policy you ran on—like the public option for health care, like reform of the financial system, and exactly like the expiration of the ill-conceived Bush tax cuts—you have to be a near political incompetent to lose the argument and negotiate away your principles. But that seems to be Obama’s unique ability: to lose the battle before he even begins to fight it.

So if Obama agrees to extend the Bush tax cuts temporarily, say for two years as has been reported, what are the political results of such a poor decision? Obama further alienates the people who voted for him, the very people who have been slowly realizing this dog don’t hunt and will have little to no incentive to support him as passionately as they did two years ago. But more importantly—and this is where Obama’s lack of political savvy is most evident—it means that this very same tax rate issue will be front and center in 2012 when he’s trying to get reelected. Handing the GOP—again—an issue that they can browbeat Obama and the Democrats with for an entire election cycle.

Even if nothing is done about the Bush tax rates expiring before the end of the year, Obama has a better chance of standing on principle and winning the tax battle. Remember when Newt Gingrich and the GOP shut down the government in the 1995? Clinton let them do it—he was making a principled stand—and it only took a few weeks before the American realized what the GOP was doing and turned severely on Gingrich and company. And guess what happened to Clinton’s approval ratings? They soared. And Clinton won the fight.

Obama may be an obviously intelligent person, but he’s not the brightest political bulb in the box. What did he say throughout the campaign about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result being the definition of insanity? He should heed his own words. Obama continues to reach out to the GOP expecting a different response and all he ever gets is a repeated haymaker to the chin. We don’t need a Jesus wannabe as President turning his other cheek. We need Jack Johnson to start landing some haymakers of his own against the GOP and for the American worker.

But if Obama lacks the strength of character to fight, to get sullied in the battle of American politics, then we need to start looking for someone who will. Our country simply can’t afford another two years of Republican policies endorsed by an admittedly moderate Democratic President. Obama’s decision on the Bush tax rates will say a lot about who he is willing to fight for. If he agrees to an extension of the tax rates, as the GOP wants him to do, then we know which Street Obama is most committed to. And few of us live in that neighborhood.