Monday, April 07, 2014

Time For A Diet

  I like ice cream.  My favorite is Blue Bell Home Made Vanilla.  It's flavorful, creamy (of course), and a great base to add fresh peaches, blueberries, some walnuts, etc.  It's really, really good.   I unfortunately indulge too much as anyone who has recently seen my waistline can attest.  I was enjoying a bowl of the aforementioned delight while watching the final round of the Shell Houston Open yesterday when I realized I am enjoying this way, way too often and need to scale back.   I also started thinking about the recent case decided by the Supreme Court; McCutcheon v. FEC.  I know, I know, why would someone watching a golf tournament start thinking about a Supreme Court case?   Was it brain freeze brought on by the ice cream?  No, it was the act of consuming the ice cream that got me thinking about the case.  So forgive me the somewhat awkward analogy, but I suddenly realized that our politics needs to go on a diet just like I do.  
 
Why? would one ask does our politics need to go on a diet?  Well, the perpetrator of the bloated waistline in our politics is not Ice Cream, rather it is the system's insatiable appetite for money.   Ah, there it is;  The ever needed, always tempting, very sweet and yummy, highly caloric and very bad for you if consumed in mass quantities item our system just can't seem to push back from. 
 
Now, with McCutcheon v FEC decided, like it's cousin, Citizen's United v FEC, our Supreme Court had once again made it harder for our system to inject some discipline and get it's addiction under control.  McCutcheon was decided last week, on a party-line basis and a 5-4 decision with Roberts writing the majority opinion that allowing no limits on how many candidates one person can donate to doesn't constitute a "quid pro quo" situation or harm the election process.  The Court decided that sufficient regulations existed to protect the process and in holding with the appellate court's decision it would infringe on the plaintiff's first amendment protections.  The issue at play was that Mr. McCutcheon, a wealthy businessman from Alabama contributed to 16 different candidates for Federal elections, and was not allowed to contribute to another 12 that he wanted to due to a Federal Election Commission  (FEC) regulation that curbed the aggregate amount of contributions by an individual.   The Court decided in Mr. McCutcheon's favor, and now, if you so choose, you can donate to any number of candidates up to the federal limit of $5200 per person.  
 
Doesn't sound like a big deal does it?  After all, $5200 per person is not that much.  So what is the big deal.  Well, the big deal is this.  This case, along with Citizens United, which basically held that restricting political contributions by corporations, associations, labor unions were both violations of first amendment protections.  Essentially, this Supreme Court has decided that realistically there are no limits of money that can be applied to the political process because money is speech.  Now, it's a nice sentiment. It's nice to think that if you want to support someone politically you should be able to do so, whether via a political contribution or your service being volunteered to answer phones, stuff envelopes, etc. etc.  The problem is the same problem I have with ice cream.  The political system can't seem to moderate itself and deal with the money responsibly.  All it wants is more and more.
The amount of money in the system has grown to a point of ridiculousness.  the 2012 presidential elections spent a collective $1.8 billion dollars to end with the election of President Obama.  Congressional elections are just as outrageous.  Consider the data below:
 
Dollars Spent by Winners of Congressional elections
 
Year - 2012:  House Winners average spend:  $1.5M - Senate Winners average spend: $10.3M
Year - 2010:  House Winners average spend:  $1.4M - Senate Winners average spend: $8.9M
Year - 2008:  House Winners average spend:  $1.3M - Senate Winners average spend: $7.5
Year - 1992:  House Winners average spend: $556K - Senate Winners average spend: $3.3M
Year - 1986:  House Winners average spend: $359K - Senate Winners average spend: $3.0M
 
So in 26 years, the price for a congressional seat has gone up 4.4 times, or over 400%.   It's not surprising really, as the cost of a congressional seat has a lot of value.   It an interesting point to note that on the day that a member of the United States House of Representatives is sworn in, from that day forward that member must raise $2,187 per day (730 days over a two year term) in order to keep pace with the spend of a winning candidate.   How does a candidate do that?  Well, they have fund raisers like Mr. McCutcheon, interest groups like an industry association, corporations, and Political Action Committees, and finally the party committees who all contribute.  Nonetheless, it is a mind-boggling activity when you think Congress actually has a day job.  How hard is it? Well, you try picking up the phone and talking to your best friends, family, and neighbors and asking them for two-grand a day. Do that for two years and see how many friends, family members and neighbors you still have let alone anyone who will talk to you. 
 
Look, campaigns are expensive.   Media buys are expensive. Travel, hotels, staff, etc. are expensive.  It's not surprising, because it is a sales campaign to convince a group of people to put their trust in this person.  Takes a lot of face time, talking, publishing of papers, etc. etc.   It's really not hard to understand that it takes a lot of money to run and win. 
 
The problem here is this.  Now that there is an ability by anyone, pretty much anywhere to donate however much money they want, the cost of democracy only goes up.  It's not a long leap to connect the dots that those who have a lot of money, whether they are organizations or individuals, can "buy" a lot of goodwill through their donations and contributions.   Favors are currency in politics. Debts are always called in, and you can bet that if the AFL-CIO or Charles and David Koch pour a lot of money into your campaign and you get elected, there will come a time when they come calling.  It will be expected that you vote a certain way on a piece of legislation, or keep a piece of legislation from coming to a vote, or whatever the favor is they extracted by helping to make you a member of Congress.  "A member of Congress always pays their debts", whether they want to or not.
 
The question the general public needs to ask themselves is this:  Do I really feel unlimited money in the system is the best way to elect our representatives?  If you do, then fine, the system is working great for you and you do not need to worry.   If you feel like no, the system is overweight, bloated, hypertensive and diabetic from all that "ice cream" it is eating, then you need to get busy and do something about it.  We've all seen the "pledges" that Grover Norquist exacts from the GOP about raising taxes.  Well, perhaps we should also have a pledge requirement for congressional candidates to not take private money contributions other wise we vote them out of office.  
 
The fix is simple, it is public financing.  We used to have it.  We've thrown it on the ash heap of history an look at what it has wrought.   We have a President now (Yes, Mr. Obama) who turned his back on public financing and raised almost a $1B in each of his elections.  So both parties are at fault here eating like pigs at the dessert buffet of political contributions. It needs to stop.  We need to stop the purchasing of elections, or at least make every member of Congress as well as the President start wearing the logo's of their "sponsors".  At least it would make watching CSPAN a little more interesting.
 
American political system:  put down the spoon and step away from the ice cream.  Please.
 
 
Tell me what you think.
 
regards,
Dennis

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hubris

Hubris: -Noun
1. Excessive pride or self-confidence;arrogance

Chris Christie's recent difficulties with respect to the George Washington bridge lane closure scandal are yet another example of Hubris in our political system and in our politics. 

The story is not new for New Jersey nor for this country.  I went and saw American Hustle last night, which was a stylized account of the Abscam sting operation in the late 1970's and early 1980's which netted a series of New Jersey politicians in a bribery and corruption scandal.  It got me thinking about Mr. Christie and the notion of political leaders abusing their power in general.

Mr. Christie is a leader.  Of that there can be no doubt. He swept into office in 2009 running as a conservative Republican in one of the bluest Democratic states in the country.  He was of course helped by the feckless and questionable practices of his predecessor, John Corzine, but nonetheless, won. He and his team proceeded to implement the policies he ran on and with significant Democratic support, accomplished much of his objectives. Christie's characteristic brashness and aggressiveness was front and center in his actions.  He is a person who is massively convinced of his capabilities and one who doesn't take criticism well.  Mr. Christie is often characterized as a "bully".  Certainly, some of his appearances at press conferences or in the media suggest that label is appropriate. 

Here's the thing about bullies, even if they are competent: At some point in time, your actions will have a rebound effect.  The more you alienate people, especially those who are suspicious of you in the first place, the more fuel you give to the eventual "payback" that will be coming. Call it Karma, or whatever you want, but it seems to be a fact of nature that what goes around comes around.

Christie is also known as an efficient and effective leader, with a tightly run administration that makes very few mistakes with respect to political  messaging or actions.  His history, whether as a U.S. Attorney fighting corruption or as a governor is one that suggests that no action such as the bridge closure in Ft. Lee would be something that would be done by an administration underling, without someone in the Governor's office knowing about it.  Mr. Christie explained in his explanatory press conference that he had no idea what his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly had done". Ms. Kelly is, right now, perceived to be the instigator of the traffic snarl by virtue  of an email that says to David Wildstein, the head of the Port Authority on the Jersey side, "Time for some traffic problems".   Mr. Wildstein's reply was simply: "Got it". 

It is difficult to believe that such an action would be taken without the Governor knowing about it beforehand or afterward, which is exactly what he says is the case.  How can an administration run so tightly have such a massive event take place and the Governor not be aware of it?  Is it possible?  Perhaps.  Is it possible that Mr. Christie placed so much trust in his staff that he simply didn't pay attention to the matter until it spun out of control? Again, perhaps. However, it doesn't seem likely. Mr. Christie acted swiftly according to him.  Mr. Wildstein and several others associated with the scandal resigned quickly.   Ms. Kelly was summarily dismissed by the Governor who said he did this because she "lied" to him.  

There is an active investigation underway and I'm not going to comment on the matter as I'd prefer to see the investigation play out and make a fact based comment on what happened and who was involved.  What I will comment on is the "tone" that seems to be in place in Trenton.  Mr. Christie's press conference was full of sadness on the part of the governor that his trusted people had "lied" to him. He spent a significant amount of time bemoaning how he had been victimized by betrayal.  There was very little acknowledgement of the troubles that the lane closure had caused to the people in Ft. Lee or the travelers on that bridge. This press conference was all about Governor Christie, who seemed "shocked" to find his lieutenants would do something like this without his knowledge, which of course would never have happened had they asked him for permission to do it.  Also, to tone, is the seemingly swift retribution that occurs if Mr. Christie's wishes are not heeded.  Whether it is firing internal staff, which he seems to do regularly, or external actions against people who don't endorse him or his plans.  See the Mayor of Hoboken to get more details about political payback.

The story is weak tea to me.  Either Mr. Christie's story is not accurate, or if it is, he is purposely setting a firewall between he and his staff so they can do his bidding, but keep him distanced from being touched by any responsibility.  It reminds me of the phrase attributed to King Henry II regarding his friend, the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, when he said "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?".   His followers, acting on the presumed desires of the King, murdered Becket in Canterbury much to Henry's chagrin, because after all, he was his friend and would never want him murdered.  

So again, the whole thing needs to be investigated and the facts brought to light.  Mr. Christie is an effective and efficient leader, and I truly hope there is nothing to this.  My instincts say otherwise, but we must let the facts bear out before deciding Mr. Christie was involved or not.

Hubris drives us to act irresponsibly because we become convinced that our way is best, and all others are just noise that must be avoided. This is a folly that infects politicians quite a bit.  Whether it is Christie or Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon or Huey Long, the idea that you are above the standards that the rest of us should follow is a dangerous thing to believe.   Mr. Christie, if found to be in the clear of this issue has an opportunity to reset a tone of what I call "effective but humble government" in New Jersey, which could then serve him well in his presidential ambitions.   Mr. Christie can turn this by invoking a philosophy that he was hired to do a job for the people of his state versus the idea that they were pleading with him to "lead them".  He can make his administration more accessible to the people and media. He can stop the bullying and focus on action without animus.   He can turn this lemon into lemonade.  If he wasn't involved.  If he is found to be lying, then he is done, and Hubris is the cause more than anything else.  If he was involved and it ends his political career, it will be too bad, because here will be another talented person who went into public service only to see their talents and energies overwhelmed by their missteps.   It's a story all too familiar.

Tell me what you think.

Regards,
Dennis

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Good Governance? Not from Republicans.

In my last column on this blog, I spent the majority of the article criticizing President Obama and the administration for the woeful mess they have made of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (aka "ObamaCare").  Indeed, the problems with the web-site, the misleading statements by the President, and the monumental lack of good management on the part of HHS are worthy of intense criticism.  Most of the wounds with the roll-out are self-inflicted wounds by the administration.  Couple that with the sweetheart gift to the Republicans that now allows them to bleat "I told you so" relative to the roll-out and the problem just gets compounded.

But,  there are two sides to every story, and the one that must not go untouched is the intensive and blatant attacks by the GOP (in Washington primarily, but also with several governors) to sabotage the Obama Presidency from the outset.   There has been in my life-time (54 years) no administration that has taken more focused hatred and intentional obstruction from Congress than this one. 

There was a time when the Republican Party gave a damn about America.  Even up through George Herbert Walker Bush's administration, the GOP in Washington would actually work with the Democrats to improve the lives of the American people at large.  But now, and effectively since the 2010 elections which swept the toxic "Tea Party" caucus into the House of Representative and elected odious people like Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz into the Senate, the GOP in Congress has made it their life's mission not to uphold their Constitutional oaths and not to do the People's work of enacting legislation.  No, their life mission, beginning the moment that President Obama took the oath of office in January of 2009 was to sabotage him and obstruct every attempt at governing the President has done.

Whether it is the record number of filibusters in the Senate (The Senate, since 2009, has filibustered over 241 times against legislation or appointees by the President.), or the ridiculous and money wasting exercise in futility of voting to repeal the ACA over 40 times by the House of Representatives, the GOP has made it clear that they aren't interested in getting anything done.  They aren't interested in the economy. They aren't interested in poverty.  They aren't interested in National Security.  They aren't interested in governing.  What they are interested in is defeating President Obama and or making his signature legislation (the ACA) fail.

This systematic and insidious obstruction is the clearest example I have ever seen that at the national level, the GOP doesn't want government to function.  The icing on the cake in this sad tragic-comedy is the government shutdown, where for over 16 days, the GOP obstinacy with regard to the ACA lead to over 800 thousand government workers being furloughed, several corporations laying off people (Lockheed Martin laid-off over 3000 people), and an estimated $24 billion dollars of the damage to the economy according to Standard and Poors.  All because the GOP (the House specifically with support from Ted Cruz) refused to put a clean Continuing Resolution for funding the government on the floor for a vote.  Which, had Mr. Boehner done, would have passed easily with both Democratic and Republican support.

But, Mr. Boehner is running scared.  He is afraid of losing his job. So what does he do? He shuts down the government and for a while almost 1 million people lose their jobs.  So frightened is Mr. Boehner of a Tea Party revolt that would remove him from his speakership that he has surrendered his power to the lunatic fringe of his party who would like nothing more than to see the federal government implode upon itself.  We actually had a US Congressman (Representative Ted Yoho R-FL)say on live television, that taking the government to default by not raising the debt ceiling would be "good for the economy as it would stabilize the markets".   So rather than allow the government to keep functioning, they shut it down.  Then they complain about the government being shut down and attempt to run through small funding measures to open the pieces of government (like National Parks) they started getting flack about.

The President's approval ratings are sitting now at about 39% approval.  That's the lowest he's had since being elected.  The dip in approval is justified, given the colossal cock-up relative to the ACA and the lack of leadership he has provided in trying to make Washington work.  But, if you think that is bad. The GOP members of Congress' approval rating ranges from 18 - 21% depending upon the poll you look at.  That's almost a 20 point swing to the negative for the GOP.  So, as bad as the President is doing right now, the GOP in congress is doing worse.  It's not surprising, because they don't even try to hide their obstructionism behind arguing about policy, it is just blatantly opposing the President.

Let's not forget, the ACA is a plan based on a Republican think tank (The Heritage Foundation) who developed the framework in response to the Clinton Health Care proposals of the early 1990's.  It was modeled on the plan implemented by then Governor Mitt Romney who, along with the Democrats in 2004 implemented state-wide coverage in Massachusetts.  Guess what?  It's working there.  98% of the folks in Massachusetts have health care and it is overall cheaper than before.

So, even with the President modeling his plan on a conservative think-tank's plan and a Republican governor's plan, these guys are dead-set against it.

The lack of positive legislation coming from this Congress (jobs bills laying dormant; immigration bills laying dormant; background checks for guns being "shot-down" in the Senate), the lack of fiscal responsibility from this Congress (40+ times voting to repeal legislation that in no way the President would sign nor would the House have the votes to override a veto if it ever got through the Senate), the shut-down of the government costing this economy over $24B in the space of a month's time should tell you that the GOP is not concerned about this country. They are concerned about "winning". Whatever the hell that is.

If anyone tells you the GOP is the party of fiscal responsibility, laugh in their face and ask them what they have been smoking, because I want some.

Tell me what you think.

Regards,
Dennis


Tuesday, November 05, 2013

2nd Term Blues

 

"Doctor, Doctor, give me the news, I've got a bad case of 2nd Term Blues".   With apologies to Moon Martin and Robert Palmer, I had to steal a line from their great tune "Bad Case of Loving You" and reword it a bit for this post. 

So, Mr. President, how is it going?  Not so well obviously.   The situation relative to your standing in the polls is deteriorating.  The landmark program that you, and no other President before you was able to pass into law is running as bad as advertised.  You haven't been able to get a long term budget deal done with your opposition party.   All, in all, I would think you might be ready for your 2nd term to be over. 

However, you still have work to do on behalf of the people who sent you back to Washington.  You have got to get your act together and focus on the next 3 years being run as smoothly and competently as the last 2 have been run incompetently. 

You are suffering from a bit of buyer's remorse from the people who sent you back for your 2nd term.  I supported you and voted for you because I still think you are the best person for the job considering your competitor.  I'm very angry with you right now because you have committed a couple of the most grievous sins a politician can make; getting caught lying, and giving a utterly ridiculous opposition party ammunition to make your life harder.  What's going on? What happened to the well-oiled and crack team of political experts that helped you win two terms as President?  What happened to you?

I realize governing is not easy.  It is extremely difficult even in the best of times.  No easy decisions come to your desk.  It must be a monumental headache every morning for you to wake up and see what John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz are up to.  It must be hard to control your temper when the lies that are being said about you are continually covered by the "media" over and over again.  But, young man, you have to get past all that and focus.  You have to stop making mistakes that give this Republican Party a stick to beat you mercilessly, which is what they are doing.   Most importantly, you have to stop trying to walk back a lie by spinning.  It's cheap and doesn't wear well with you.

The launch of the ACA has been by all accounts poorly done.   The fact that over two years of planning and design time were available to your team and they still didn't get it right cannot be overlooked.  You guys messed this up big time.  While your intentions are very good and proper, the execution of the intended plans has done more harm to your goal of getting Universal Health Care for all than any GOP obstruction ever could.  What you and your team has to do is make sure the technical problems are fixed as fast as possible and when that is done, in humility apologize to the American People for this monumental screw-up.

The fact is that the poor roll-out has given the Republicans a chance to say "I told you so", and ramp up their fund-raising against you, you "Kenyan, anti-colonialist, Muslim, communist, so and so".  You've given fodder to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, two people that will strip a carcass of all of its flesh without a second thought.  Will any Republican step up and say "You know, I didn't like this law, and I voted against it, but it is now the law of the land and incumbent upon all of us to ensure that it is implemented as well and efficiently  as possible"?  Of course not.  They will use this as a club to beat you and any Democrat over and over again in 2014 and beyond.  So, get this fixed, and get it fixed now.  You have a small window before the 2014 campaign season starts.  Not only that, get the damned thing fixed for the benefit of the American People.  If you allow this program to fail because of the terrible implementation, then shame on you.

Secondly, stop the spinning on the lie.  You know what I'm talking about:  "If you like your health care plan, and your doctor, you can keep it".   Sound familiar?  Well, over and over again since 2009 you have said this. No, you didn't have the asterisk on the end of the phrase that said "if the insurance companies don't change the policy", or "insurance plans in place at the time of the law were grandfathered", etc., which all may be true, but that is not the point.  You blatantly misled the American People about this.  Forget the fact the insurance plans that are being canceled are "junk" plans that provided almost no coverage for serious medical events. Forget about the fact the new plans are better and from a cost of coverage stand-point more affordable in most cases.  Forget about all the benefits the program is now providing and will continue to provide.  Forget about saying this until you come out and say "I made a mistake".  You, as the leader of this country have to be big enough to go to the people and say you messed up.  You told them something that turned out not to be true. Now, were you intentionally lying about this or is it an unplanned circumstance that was not foreseen?   It doesn't matter. It reads like an intended lie and always will until you apologize for it and put it behind you.

You have the ability to recover from this.  We all make mistakes. We can get better.  Focus on getting the plan implemented correctly and focus on being a more humble and honest President.  Those are the things you can control.  Stop worrying about the GOP.  They hated you when you took the oath of office in 2009, they hate you now, and they will hate you tomorrow.  You cannot control that.  What you can do is make sure you don't let down more than 30 million people that desperately need health insurance as we know people are dying because they cannot get health care.  That must be your focus.

I like you and think you are well intended.  Be the president we all think you can be and get focused.

Sincerely,

Dennis Sherrard

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thank you Mr. Cruz


 
The United States of America owes Mr. Ted Cruz, freshman Republican senator from Texas a big thank-you.  He has done this country a massive favor.  The strident Texan (by way of Canada), has through his dedicated assault on the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) crystallized the Republican Party's thought processes and behavior in a manner that only one who is blind, deaf and illiterate could not see.   Mr. Cruz's efforts, which resulted in a government shutdown for over two weeks have shown a spotlight on the reality of the Republican Party's objectives of the 21st century.  

Before Mr. Cruz, the GOP could somewhat hide under the cover of being the "loyal opposition". But no more.  Mr. Cruz and his band of merry-men including Mike Lee (R-Utah) have ripped the bandage off the wound.  They have shown the GOP for what they are:  Destruction oriented politicians.   Their hatred of this president has grown to the point of obsession.  The GOP has, since President Obama was elected made it clear they would oppose every effort the President made to enact policy, but this recent example has become something more.   The Republicans have consistently worn a mantle of "fiscal responsibility" blaming Democrats for financial malfeasance in dealing with the country's budget.  They have accused "big-spending Democrats" for exploding the debt and deficit and have pleaded with the country to follow their lead of austerity and tax-cuts.   Mr. Romney's failed election bid was built on a notion of just getting the government out of the way of business and everything would be fine.  However, this "Cruz Crew" has taken things to a new level.  They have decided it is better to not have a government at all than to allow that "insidious and disaster in the making" health care plan to be implemented.

Cruz, through his antics (faux-filibuster, "secret" meeting with 30-40 like-minded members of the US House of Representatives) has clarified the GOP for us today.  No longer a party of reasonable people with conservative views on the government and economy, the GOP has become a group of zealots who have made it their mission to destroy a president and nothing whatsoever will stop them.  Mr. Cruz derided the Republicans in the US Senate for voting to open the government and raise the debt ceiling.  He accused them of being weak-kneed and if they had just stood with those "brave and courageous" members of the House, they could have carried the day.  Mr. Cruz doesn't give a damn about the US Senate.  He doesn't give a damn about the US House of Representatives.  He cares about destroying ObamaCare.  The reason he cares about destroying ObamaCare is that he wants to be President of the United States.  

Unlike Mr. Romney, who had the unfortunate fact of having implemented ObamaCare when it was known as RomneyCare, and which has been a success in getting people covered and having access to insurance and health care in Massachusetts, Mr. Cruz has no such baggage.   He is free to label this as "socialism" and "government run amok".   Mr. Cruz is not stupid.  He knows and in fact has said that there is a window of opportunity against ObamaCare, stating that "Once it's implemented, and people begin to like it, we'll never be able to get rid of it."   Think about that.  He's essentially endorsed the program in a backhanded way.  

Forget about the fact that the program is a Republican born policy.   The framework was published as a response to the health care policy attempts of the Clinton administration in the early 1990's by the Heritage Foundation.  Adopted and put in place by Mitt Romney during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, the policy is a sweetheart deal to insurance companies.  Mr. Cruz though, will have none of this. He will not admit one benefit of the program of which there are many.  He will not admit it will have a positive impact on the cost-curve of health care expense which it is already doing.  He will admit nothing positive about the program.   As a result, he is pulling the GOP along with him in his "Zealot Express" train that will not acknowledge anything except that the law needs to be repealed.  The Republicans have been solid in their opposition of the law, attempting to repeal it more than 40 times in spite of an election that confirmed the people choose it over the GOP solution (which there is none), a Supreme Court affirming its constitutionality, and poll after poll showing that the US population approve of the components of the law even if they don't like the overall policy.

There are Republicans in the Congress who aren't as visibly strident about this as Mr. Cruz is, but just as committed to denying this President any success as the vocal Texan.   Starting from the day of the election in 2008, Eric Cantor and other members of the GOP decided not to cooperate with the President.   Think about that for a moment.  They willfully decided to obstruct and attempt to deny this President any success.  How messed up is that?  As a leader in the government, members of Congress are sworn by their oath of office to defend and uphold the U.S. Constitution.  Well, last time I checked there was a whole section in the Constitution about the executive branch.   Committing to deny the executive branch success is in my view an abrogation of their oath of office.  The government is not set up so one party can deny success of the other party.  It is set up to govern.  This group of Republicans have shown their stripes. They don't want to govern.   They want to deny and obstruct.  They want to be destructive.  They want failure.  They want shutdown.  It's taken Cruz and his efforts to display this for all to see, but now it has to be understood that the GOP is not the loyal opposition, defending policy because they legitimately believe it is in the best interest of the country.  They are a group of people so angry that this President was elected that they will do anything in their power to deny him any measure of success.  They will sink the economy.  They will hurt people intentionally. They are blind with rage and purpose.  They are in a word:  fanatics.

So thank you Mr. Cruz. Thank you for showing us what your group of compatriots really are.  We will remember this come 2014.  And by the way, the notion you have a snowball's chance in hell of being President in 2017?  I think you can kiss that good bye.

Tell me what you think.

regards,
Dennis

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Over the Cuckoo's Nest


"The world is grown so bad, the Wren's make prey where Eagles dare to perch."  That phrase, from William Shakespeare's Richard the Third, pretty much sums up my feeling about our American political system today.  Translated into today's idiom, "The lunatics are running the Asylum", the utter lunacy that pervades Washington D.C. these days is growing like a cancer that cannot be excised by surgery.  In most cases, the patient dies, but, ever optimistic, I am hopeful that one day the sleeping masses in our country will wake and decide they have had enough with the comedic enterprises of the United States Congress.

To be clear, this is not a screed against Republicanism or Democratic ideals from a party perspective.  it is an article about crime.  The crime is hijacking the United States government.  The Republican party has for some time been hijacked by a seething and narrow-minded group of people who's idea of progress is to stop the wheels of governance from working altogether.  Except of course when it comes to deciding what a woman does with her body. Or, who we decide to snoop on in our never ending paranoia about the bogeyman under our bed.   Now, with the growing influence of the Tea Party, the entire government has been hijacked by these zealots.  No substantial legislation can get passed due to Tea Party opposition.  No attempts at progression (Background checks anyone?) to improve the circumstances of the people at large will be allowed to get passed because the Tea Party has reasonable Republicans so cowed about being challenged in a primary that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, a position once so powerful, it "ran" the government, is taken to not consider any legislation on the floor unless a majority of the majority agrees.  Which of course, this will never happen because the Tea Party won't allow it.  God forbid something actually passes the house that might help the 47 million people in poverty, or help a family who's home was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy rebuild, or get a job, or get training, or get medicine, or get food.  It really has come to that.  John Boehner is the most impotent Speaker in US History because the Tea Party has the establishment Republicans wetting themselves about getting a primary challenge.

There's enough material to write a couple of books about this, but I don't want to get sick to my stomach for a longer period than necessary so I'll just focus my bewilderment at two actors in this play:  The "Tea Party" darlings in Congress and the people who put them there.

First of all, to the "people" (I use this term loosely, because the word "people" implies cognitive ability) who elected people like Louis Gohmert, Mike Lee, Steve King, Michelle Bachmann, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marsha Blackburn, and the rest of the Tea Party caucus.  What the hell were you thinking?  You, who started this movement with righteous indignation about the dysfunction of government and the out of control spending have by your actions made the situation significantly worse, bordering on making it non-repairable.   What started as a small, grass roots movement of middle class people who, feeling disaffected by Government largess to the Banks and mega-corporations who seemingly get away with everything they do with impunity, began to call for change in how we deal with these issues.  When you were yelling about TARP, I understood.  When you were raising hell about spending on two wars we didn't need to be in I was with you. When you said we need to reduce the wasteful spending in Washington and focus on limited but good governance I was with you.  

But, you lost me when you sold your soul to Charles & David Koch.  You lost me when you decided that all government is bad, except that part that sends you your Social Security and Medicare checks.  You lost me when you got co-opted by the lunatics in the religious right who decided all of a sudden that old-white men knew better than women what to do with their bodies.  You've sold your movement to a group of people who only care about winning and not about governing.  You're lost and descending into Gehenna if you don't wake up and realize you're being taken for a ride by a bunch of people who care nothing about you and in fact will use your anger and action to make sure you never, ever get their level of wealth or power. 

You bleat on and on about the second amendment without understanding the ramifications of your words and actions.  We've seen over and over again what the gun culture in this country brings and it is nothing but heartache.  But, you can feel supreme that you are "protecting the Constitution".  What claptrap and utter nonsense.  What you are really doing is protecting Winchester, Remington, and the rest of the gun manufacturers' bottom lines.  They don't give a care about your rights, they care about how much ammunition they sell to people like George Zimmerman, or those sick people who shot up Tucson Arizona, Aurora Colorado or Newtown Connecticut.    You decry government spending but then support people who will not take curbing government spending seriously.  You rage about immigration, but then bitch when your vegetables aren't fresh at the store, or that someone wants to charge you more for mowing your lawn, or roofing your house, or any other job that you wouldn't do that an immigrant will gladly do because it's a hell of a lot better than where they came from.  You want border security because you've bought into the lies of people like Steve King from Iowa who suggests that people coming across our borders have calf muscles the size of grapefruits because they are hauling 75 lbs. of pot across the border.   You go town hall meeting and accuse the President of the United States of being a communist.  You accuse him of being born somewhere other than the United States.  You accuse him of being a despot.  You accuse him of being Hitler.

Anyone with a modicum of rational thought can look at this cornucopia of paranoia and lies and understand there is something very wrong with the people who think this way.  If you don't understand what is going around you, you're contributing to the continued slide of turning this country who once put a man on the moon into a nation of idiots, where Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are considered to be reasonable voices.

Your vision of America is a scary place.  It is White, Christian (in the worst possible definition of Christianity), militant, and homophobic. Anyone who doesn't look like you, think like you, love like you, worship like you are to be derided.  Anyone with a differing opinion is labeled a communist, a "islamofascist", a queer, or any other 5 cent pejorative your small minds can conjure up.

Your attempts at "taking our country back" have failed because, you didn't realize who you were trying to take it back from.  You focused your fury on those who are different, and all along the fox was in the hen-house stealing your eggs.  Why?  Well because they look like you, they cover themselves with a cross and a flag and fool you into believing what they are selling is the cure for your ills. "let's strip all those lazy no-good people off of food stamps, welfare and any government assistance.  They don't deserve to eat".  "let's not give health care to people in a more cost effective manner because well, those folks who can't afford insurance don't deserve it and can just fend for themselves."  Who is telling you this?  The money people, that's who.  They want you mad at the "others" while they reap billions of dollars of profits and bonuses and vacation homes in places you would never be welcome.  They have taken you for a ride and you have gladly jumped on board. 

Good luck with all of that.  You've been remarkably successful with your efforts to date though.  You've gotten the screaming fringe elected into office and run out of town reasonable men and women who believed that government actually serves a purpose that is larger than our individual wants and needs.  People in the congress from Dick Lugar and Bob Bennett just to name two have lost their jobs to the far right who can't spell legislation let alone understand the process.  The idea that those who won the primaries would actually be better in government than those replaced is proven to be laughably wrong.   Ted Cruz, the smart and intelligent fanatic from Texas who won the Senate seat vacated by a reasonable human being, Kay Bailey Hutchison, has risen to the top of the circus by calling out ridiculous and false accusations against the democrats and in particular the President himself.  Ted Cruz, who may actually be a contender for the presidential election in 2016 is a fanatic.  A brilliant fanatic, but a fanatic none-the-less.  Those of you who like fanaticism have a new poster boy.  Those of you who think government should be a system of cooperation, compromise and production, pay close attention to this man because he is dangerous.   Mike Lee, the far right wing conservative who replaced another very conservative legislator from Utah, Bob Bennett, has done absolutely nothing productive while in office except to obstruct any legislation that is brought forward or supported by the president.  Michelle Bachmann, well, nothing really needs to be said about this woman, other than I have no sense of understanding why the people in her district voted for her.  She's not passed any meaningful legislation that helps anyone. She's spent a significant amount of her time running for a job she had no chance of winning, and she's been vocal about the "anti-Americanism" in Washington and Congress.   Yet, this woman captures more minutes on news programs than probably any other member of the US House of Representatives.   She makes Rand Paul look almost reasonable.   Louis Gohmert, the congressman from Texas, who believes "terrorists" are coming across the border to have "anchor babies" and therefore we should repeal the part of the 14th amendment that states people born in this country are citizens by birthright, is another member of the Tea Party caucus who's utterances are almost empty of rational thought and only serve to show how low a bar, the electorate who put this man in office will go to keep their narrow world-view intact.   An example of his brilliance is his response to the Supreme Court overturning DOMA (which if anyone bothered to think about was a right thing to do even in conservative circles because it is a clear example of Governmental Over-reach from the outset.  But, because it's "icky" and about not allowing same sex couples to marry, it was GREAT!.)  

Here's Mr. Gohmert's response:
“For them — I don’t know what kind of cloistered walls this court has been behind,” he opined. “They were not aware that the most wise man in history, Solomon, said there’s nothing new under the sun. And this isn’t new, and it’s been tried over and over. And it’s usually tried at the end of a great civilization.”

Oh, by the way,  if you've actually read your bible, you'd know that Solomon is probably not the best authority to cite in this circumstance, since the man was an avowed polygamist with hundreds of wives and concubines.  Anyway, Mr. Gohmert is the proto-typical Tea Party standard bearer:  
  • Strident and unbending view of what is right with no room for compromise.
  • Utter contempt for the US Constitution with the exception of the 2nd Amendment
  • Belief that government assistance to those less fortunate is wrong
  • Complete and total disdain for the US Government
  • Belief that those who aren't the right color are somehow less equal and therefore non-important
  • Lack of recognition that women make up the majority of the electorate and that they are flat out tired of old white men deciding what they can and cannot do about their health care decisions.
The Tea Party, as represented by the elected officials they have sent to the federal government, state houses and local governments have no recognizable similarities as to the group that started the movement in 2008.  That's really a shame, because that group, actually had some worth-while ideas.  This group, this current incarnation of the Tea Party, is like the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

This group makes me miss Ronald Reagan and that is saying something.   Hopefully, one day the country will wake up from this nightmare and send these lunatics packing and recognize that governance is necessary, and good governance should be the goal, not the elimination of government altogether.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Tough Week


This past week has been tough on us.  We've seen our friends and relatives in Boston harmed terribly by the acts of a couple (at least) of mad men who decided for some unfathomable reason to place bombs at the Boston Marathon.  The carnage that ensued saw three people killed and scores injured, some seriously.  The ensuing days saw another person killed by one of the bombers.   Once again, we have been wounded physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.  The attacks occurred on Patriots Day in Massachusetts, a holiday that is extremely important to the Commonwealth and to many other Americans as well.  The day was one of celebration, with a Red Sox game, the race, and untold parties thereafter.  But, not this time.   During the race, two bombs exploded near the path the runners were on and scarred this event forever.

The people of Boston to their credit, have stood up and said this will not deter us from being who we are.  During the explosions, people ran toward the explosions to help their friends and those they didn't even know who had been hurt. The first responders and security personnel acted with speed and compassion to assist those who had been injured.  The police, along with help from federal security agencies launched into an immediate investigation to find the perpetrators of this heinous act.

Through the use of cameras, social media, and good old detective work, the suspects were identified fairly quickly, and by Friday one of the suspects was dead with another caught and in custody.  The two suspects were brothers, one 26 years old and the other 19 years old.  Both were born in former Soviet Republics (one in Kyrgyzstan and the other in Chechnya).  Both lived in the Dagestan area of the Chechen Republic before immigrating to the United States over a decade ago. 

Boston is picking up the pieces and like Bostonians always do, they will carry on and move forward.  I admire and respect the way they have dealt with this terrible event.  I hope they are spared future tragedies like occurred last Monday.

The other event that occurred last week that needs mentioning is the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas. West is a small town of Czech origin just north of Waco.  About 3 thousand people live there now, but it has always been a small farming community.  My dad graduated from high school there in 1943 and when you visit to pick up any number of Czech delicacies (Kolaches are terrific there), you can see the town is still pretty much like it was when my father was a resident.   The explosion of the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured over 150 more, many who were residents at a nursing home that was located within close proximity of the plan.  The explosion occurred after a fire had started at the plant.  First responders were on the scene quickly and had begun to evacuate people close to the plant when an earthquake like explosion that leveled a 3-4 block radius around the plant occurred.  The fertilizer that exploded is thought to be ammonium nitrate, a fairly common agricultural fertilizer, but one that is also highly explosive and indeed has been used in bombings such as the Oklahoma City bombing in the mid-90's that killed over 160 people and launched bomber Timothy McVeigh into the spotlight.  While there is no reason to think this incident in West was anything more than an industrial accident, one has to wonder why schools, nursing homes and residents were built around this plant which has been in the area for over 50 years.

So, once again, our country is a victim of violence. One instance, an intended attack on people enjoying a pleasant day in Boston and watching a race, and another, seemingly accidental that shook the foundations of an entire community in North Central Texas. 

Violence is with us constantly.  Whether it is overt and intended, or the result of an accident, people are killed or hurt daily.  Automobile accidents kill on average about 30 thousand Americans each year.  None of them for all intents and purposes intentional.  We have about the same amount of deaths from gun violence per year in this country.   Many other forms of violence take our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and our friends from us routinely.  It is something when we experience it, find it extremely difficult to grasp and cope.   When it is personal, it is more painful than reading about it in the paper or on the news.

There are many causes of violence many of which get much more press than they should and others that are rarely spoken of at all.  The aforementioned automobile fatalities barely get mentioned on the news unless there are multiple deaths and some level of sensationalism associated with it.  When a person or a smaller group of people are killed as a result of gun violence, we may not read about it unless it was a local event.   When a attack occurs however, it is suddenly reported across the country with non-stop coverage most of which is useless.   The blast in West, Texas killed more than 4 times as many people than the bombing in Boston did, but the difference in news reporting on the events is staggering.  Why?

Well, for one reason, when a terror attack occurs, regardless of whether it is foreign or domestic, fear comes into play. Fear causes people to understandably want more information about what happened so they can protect themselves or their families, and find out how to avoid the "bad guys" that may be at large if the suspects haven't been apprehended yet. 

I think fear drives us more than we want to let on.  We get non-stop information coming from the blogosphere, twitterati, the media, and other sources all hyping up the issue and causing us to think irrationally about the incidents.   Take the terror attacks on US soil or on US property/military bases that have happened in the last 40 years.  The death toll in those events in total was approximately 4,000 people with the majority of the fatalities coming with the attacks on 9/11/2001.  Compare that with the number of automobile fatalities, influenza deaths, gun violence deaths in just the last 10 years, and the results are staggering.  Of the three categories I've described (Auto fatalities, Influenza fatalities and gun violence fatalities), there have been about 900 thousand deaths.   That's right,  each of these categories average about 30 thousand deaths per year. That's more than 225 times the amount of deaths attributed to terror attacks since 1970.  Each year almost 10 times as many people die from gun violence or the flu, or an auto accident than the entirety of deaths caused by terror attacks in over 40 years. 

It's understandable that we are concerned about terror attacks on us.  They are real. They have happened in this country and will likely continue to do so whether it is from a foreign attacker or a domestic one.  We seem to move into a state of hyper-reaction when something like this occurs.  To me, it is very similar to the attacks on the school at Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or Aurora, or Virginia Tech, or any other site of recent massacres due to gun violence, the only difference being in our response as a government to the events.

So why then do we not treat the events surrounding gun violence with the same rapid reaction and response politically that we do terror attacks?   Remember, in 2001, we suffered the most heinous and violent terror attack every launched against this country.  It killed about 3 thousand people.  Those deaths were tragic, needless and required a response.  What was our response?  Two wars, over 5 thousand US troops killed.  hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans killed with millions displaced from their homes.  We spent over a trillion dollars on these wars and we are still fighting in Afghanistan over 11 years later.  The reaction to this compared to the reaction of gun violence deaths in this country in one year was staggering.  Imagine, if we spent the resources we have on fighting terror on influenza protection, gun violence reduction, or better auto safety? 

I'm not trying to be a cold-blooded accountant here looking at cost-benefit ratios, but I do think we have lost a sense of perspective on how we respond to these issues.  We've seen the results of our attempts to curb gun violence with a failed measure that would simply expand an existing law.  Congress recoiled from dealing with this matter like it was poison.   So, to me, we have lost a sense of perspective about these things.  Why do we respond so quickly and aggressively on a terror attack and don't on something that kills significantly more people?

The failure of the gun legislation last week still grates at me.  I do not understand why we cannot make a reasonable decision on issues like this when the evidence that something needs to be done is so massively apparent.  We know, as a government we can have an impact that will improve public safely.  We've seen progress when sensible regulations are put in place to support public safety.  As an example, since the FDA was established, we've seen fewer deaths from tainted food.  We've seen better rules around drug safety.  We don't seem to have a problem with food inspectors looking at our food.   With regard to automobile safety, since 1970, annual automobile deaths have declined by 38% in large part because of better regulations on safety such as seat belts, airbags, speed limits and the like.  We don't seem to have a problem with registering our cars, getting them inspected, and taking driving saftey courses so we can drive a car. Why then can we not get legislation in that would potentially save thousands of lives lost to gun violence? 

I think the politicians are simply cynical, craven and opportunistic with respect to the gun issue.  If you want more on that, read my post on the subject from a couple of days ago.  But in terms of the American People, I believe it comes back to fear.  Fear of government is continually brought up as a reason not to "infringe" on the 2nd Amendment.  Many people are afraid that any gun legislation would lead to registration which would lead to confiscation, and that can't be tolerated in their opinion.  They believe that as along as they can buy their guns, it will keep the black helicopters and the government storm troopers at bay.  It is an unfounded fear and one that borders on paranoia.   But, the fear of the government motivates them to take up such illogical positions and suggest that their "right" is more important than stemming gun violence fatalities. 

The people of Boston conquered their fear.  The people of West have done this as well. They are rebuilding and defiant in the face of  these tragedies.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if the United States Senate showed the same courage as these people?  So much has hurt the people from Boston and West, yet they pick themselves up and move forward, all the while Congress is mired in place because of fear.  Fear of the NRA or Guns For America. Fear of the lunatic fringe who believe their rights supersede yours or mine.  It is pathetic. 


Tell me what you think.

Regards,
Dennis

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Changes To Indies Are Us



You will notice some changes to my site as I've gone to a new template that is a little easier on the eyes and is organized a bit better than the previous site.  I hope you find it to be an improvement.  Also, while most of my readers know my political position is liberal, I do not hold a liberal position on all issues.  So, I've re-instituted a graphic (see above) that will show my stance on a specific topic or issue.   I'm very liberal in most social issues, moderate to conservative on fiscal matters and will some-times hold a very conservative position on a few issues.   This should allow you to at a glance get a sense of where I come down on the topic discussed in the column. 

Give me some feedback on the new format.  I'd like to know how it looks.

Tell me what you think.

Regards,
Dennis

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Utter Lunacy

Once again, the US Congress never misses an opportunity to disappoint.   Yesterday, on a cloture vote, the Senate failed to get the 60 vote super-majority to move the bill forward for a final up or down vote.  Essentially, the filibuster wins again, and the Republican senators and the four Democratic senators who voted against the cloture motion (I take out Harry Reid's "No" vote because it was a procedural vote that allows him to bring the bill back to the floor at a later point) have insulted the American people who by just about every poll taken support expanding background checks on gun sales to include gun-shows and Internet sales by at least an 87% majority.    The tyranny of the few have once again stopped democracy in its tracks.  These craven people who voted against this bill, who have no reasonable argument against the bill, who simply are either afraid of the NRA or getting primaried in the 2014 elections by the far right have let the country down.

There is absolutely no reason why this bill should not have been passed.  It confirms and protects the 2nd Amendment.  Sponsors Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) who are both A rated by the NRA and conservative, crafted a bill that protected private sales between individuals and focused the checks solely on commercial sales.  Additionally, in response to the lies from the NRA and the other lunatics who believe this leads to gun registration, they (Toomey and Manchin) expressly put in the bill a criminal penalty (felony) for anyone who holds information on the background checks that could potentially be used as a register.  Let me say that again.  The bill expressly forbids registration and could put anyone doing this in prison for up to 15 years.  So, the lies spewed by the gun-lobby and the others who for some unfathomable reason believe extending an existing law to cut-off unchecked sales at gun shows or on the Internet are just that:  they are lies.

The minority who voted this bill down because of the idiotic filibuster rules know this.  They know there is nothing that infringes on rights in this bill. They know there are protections for private sales in this bill.  They know there are criminal penalties for registration in this bill.  So why did they vote against it?  Because they don't want to run the risk of losing their jobs.  Pure and simple.  This is politics at its utter worst.  Because of their actions, and if we don't get some reasonable protections against unfettered gun sales, criminals will still be able to go to gun shows and buy guns.  Terrorists if they choose to will be able to purchase guns on the Internet.  Straw purchases (purchases of multiple guns for the purpose of resale) will still occur and provide gangs with the weapons they need to shoot up their neighborhoods. In other words,  people will continue to get shot by weapons that just might have not been as easy to come by had the bill passed.

The President was righteous in his anger in his speech yesterday. He called it "A pretty shameful day for Washington".  He was right.  It was shameful.  Those who voted against this bill are cowards.  They are patently un-American in this instance.  I guarantee you, if some idiot walked into the Senate chamber and started shooting up the place they'd have a gun control bill passed so fast the ink wouldn't be dry on the paper before it hit the president's desk.  

If you think this vote was good for America, I feel nothing but pity for you.  You obviously have been brought into the camp of those lunatics who believe in black helicopters, FEMA concentration camps, and big brother coming to take your "rights" away.   This bill does nothing of the sort, and it doesn't even get anywhere close to paving the way for registration or any other nefarious governmental overreach you can imagine in your tiny minds.  How do I know?  Well, simply put, I lived through the Assault Weapons ban passed in 1994 that expired in 2003.  Guess what?  No black helicopters.  No government seizing your property and taking away your guns.  No concentration camps.  The frenzied and moronic suggestion that this will lead to a police state is simply pathetic.  

Kudos to the Republican Senators:  McCain, Toomey, Kirk and Collins who voted in favor of this bill.  That showed spine, intelligence and compassion for those who are lost to gun violence on a daily basis.

For those who voted against it. I will use my voice, my money and my energy to see you opposed by someone who has the courage to do what is right and it is my wish you never darken the door of the US Senate again.

Cowards.

Tell me what you think.

Regards,
Dennis

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Craven, Cynical and Shameful


Yesterday, Senator Harry Reid indicated he will be bringing a bill aimed at applying gun control regulations, principally in the form of expanding background checks and criminalizing gun trafficking. Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY announced he would be joining 13 other Republican Senators in filibustering any such legislation.  Mr. McConnell's spokesman said: "While nobody knows yet what Senator Reid's plan is for the gun bill, if he chooses to file cloture on the motion to proceed to the Reid Bill (S.649), Senator McConnell will oppose cloture on proceeding to that bill."

OK, so what McConnell said essentially was he would join the 13 other Republican Senators who have already said they will filibuster any additional gun legislation.  That means he will work with his comrades to not let the bill get to floor of the Senate for a vote.  A vote.  They are scared of a vote.

I have always been of the mind that legislation should always have an up or down vote. Why you may ask?  Well, for one thing it is a waste of time for legislation to be written, get through committee and then simply die because a senator or group of senators disagree with it.  That is not representative government. It is tyranny of the minority.  I have disagreed with the filibuster since I first understood what it was about.  It slows down an already glacial process of getting laws passed and makes a dysfunctional organization such as the US Congress even more so.   Debate?  Sure.  Argue until your heart is content on the policy, on the merits, on the efficacy of the bill.  But, then go vote on it.   Elected officials are sent to Washington,  their statehouses, their county and municipal offices to do the people's bidding.  Not the bidding of an interest group, not a lobbyist, but the American people. Time after time, for reason after reason, the US Congress has prostituted itself to monied interest over the welfare of the citizenry.

This particular issue on gun legislation has me more upset than usual at the ship of fools that comprises the US Congress.  The reason for it is this:  The gun legislation that Senator Reid wants to bring to the floor is already watered down and won't include an assault weapons ban or a ban on high-capacity clips or magazines.  The rationale for this is it wouldn't pass a vote. OK, I get pragmatism and understand that Reid is trying to get something on the floor that has a high probability of passage.  Even still, closing the gun-show and Internet sales loophole on background checks that comprise 40% of all gun sales in this country and tightening up straw-purchases (purchasing large quantities of firearms to sell on secondary markets or purchasing for someone else) does nothing but make sense.   Currently, if you or I walk into a store that sells guns, they are required by law to do a background check.  I've purchased guns before and the check takes all of 10-15 minutes tops.  Less time than it takes to go get your Driver's license renewed by the way, and I don't hear people wailing about the infringement on their freedoms in that regard.  But, I digress.  This group of 14 senators have decided for whatever reason to not even let a bill as logical and reasonable as that to the floor. 

Why?  Well, for starters they are cowards.  They are afraid of the NRA. They are afraid of primary challenges from some lunatic who thinks it should be OK to go by any gun you want any time you want (Are you listening Ted Cruz?).  They are afraid that if they voted against a bill such as this it would come back to haunt them because reasonable people would likely decide they are a bunch of nuts and would vote against them next time around.  Voting for the bill would inflame the righties, so they would just as soon not have the vote come up at all.  That way, they can claim to whomever is asking that they are against gun-violence and something should be done, but never have to put any skin in the game and stand up for what 90% of the American people want, which is the extension of a law already on the books to cover the 40% of gun sales that aren't included now in background checks.  How pathetic.

Don't get me started on Senator's Cruz and Paul's contention that the background checks are diminishing the 2nd Amendment. That is sheer idiocy. Why? Well, for one thing background checks are law right now, and have never been challenged on their constitutionality.  Why? Well, it wouldn't even make it to the Supreme Court, because as Anton Scalia, no liberal justice himself stated in the Heller opinion, that the government has the right to limit arms sales even while the right of the people to bear arms for defense, etc. is constitutional.   So, it is foolish to stand on the "diminishing freedoms" argument like Cruz and Paul are doing. 

The issue of "diminishing freedoms" is a red herring, best left to conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones who are dead set in their beliefs that the government is just waiting for the right time to round up all of us and put us into FEMA camps.  No reasonable citizen in this country believes this nonsense and for US Senators to play up to the fears of the insipid and ignorant is shameful.

I don't care if you buy a weapon. I care if that weapon is used dangerously, or if it is stolen.  I care if it falls into the hands of a lunatic like Adam Lanza.  I care if I can't go to a movie anymore without thinking that it is entirely possible that a crazy person like James Holmes might break in and start spraying the movie theatre with semi-automatic weapon fire. I care if my youngest daughter can't go to her class at college without thinking that a mentally disturbed kid might break in and start shooting up the classroom like the Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook killings.   Your rights to weapons do not supersede my right to life.  It doesn't supersede the kids who live in West Dallas, South Chicago, Compton, or anywhere that there is massive gun violence because of gangs.  Guess where these guys get most of their weapons?  Not from gun stores who do criminal background checks I can assure you.

It is high time we put an end to this madness of the belief that if we implement stronger gun control laws that somehow the Republic will fall.  We had an assault weapons ban from 1994 - 2003 and surprisingly, no black helicopters came, no concentration camps were filled and no one really had their rights infringed.   What did happen?  Well, we say a reduction in mass killings like Sandy Hook.  So don't tell me that better legislation won't have an impact because it will and it has.

As to the filibuster of this legislation, the fourteen senators have shown what they are made of:  Jello.  They are craven in their fear of not keeping their jobs.  To me that is justification enough to remove them from their jobs.  And Senator Harry Reid, you had a chance to change the rules on the filibuster when the new Congress started and you didn't.  You indicated you had a "handshake deal" that the Republican minority wouldn't abuse the filibuster.  You got taken.  You got bamboozled.  You got played.    This is your fault as much as it is these lily-livered senators who will filibuster a piece of legislation that is sorely needed and now will likely never come to a vote.  Not even a vote.  Shame on you Harry Reid.

I'm pretty mad about this folks.  It is unconscionable for the Congress to keep screwing over the American People.  If you feel like I do that this is the height of irresponsible behavior, call or write your representatives and senators and tell them so.  If you don't, if you think these fourteen are for some unfathomable reason to me doing the right thing, I would just say this:  Get pictures of those children killed in Sandy Hook and look at them. Think of the birthdays, the marriages, the anniversaries that will never come. Think of the events as simple as going to a ball game or going to school that they will never experience again. Think if it was one of your kids.  What would you say to that?

Tell me what you think.

Regards,
Dennis

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The GOP and CPAC

And so another CPAC convention has come and gone.  The convention of activist conservatives convenes every year in Washington to discuss conservative ideology, yell and say ridiculous things about Democrats and most recently, President Obama, and to conduct a straw poll of who the conservative darling of the moment will be their choice for President in the next election.

Unsurprisingly, the convention made much of going after President Obama again and decrying the "socialist path" the President was attempting to force down "real Americans" throats.   All the problems of the United States, and probably the world, solar system, galaxy and universe are either blamed on liberals or directly at President Obama.

Sigh.  Did the GOP, who CPAC almost totally aligns with in their choices for elective leadership, not learn anything from the last election?  Well, if the events at CPAC are any answer to that question, then it is a resounding NO.  Let's take a look at who were the featured speakers at CPAC:

1. Rand Paul
2. Ted Cruz
3. Marco Rubio
4. Donald Trump
5. Mitt Romney
6. Sarah Palin
7. Wayne LaPierre

Quite the line up of dignitaries isn't it?  What is even more telling is who wasn't there.  Governor, Chris Christie, who, as the leader of a very Blue State in New Jersey, and enjoys a 70% or better approval rating from both Democrats and Republicans in his state was not invited.  Why?  Well, some might say it was because he got too close to President Obama during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  That, my friends is heresy in the tiny bubble the Conservatives at CPAC live in.  He became a traitor to the cause of deriding all things Obama and therefore was sent to the penalty box for his crimes.  In typical Chris Christie fashion, he said "fine, I hope they have a good time" and went on his way being Chris Christie, who for all intents and purposes is probably the only Republican in the country that stands even a remote chance of challenging the Democratic candidate and winning. 

Also not invited this time was GOProud, the interest group of Gay Republicans, who were guests at the last CPAC convention.  The lesson of November 2012 to this group wasn't "well, we got our tails kicked by a new demographic in this country and gays are part of it, so we need to figure out how to embrace the gays, women, minorities, etc. or we'll go the way of the Whig party".  No, it was double down on the small mindedness that got them soundly thumped in the election.  As Mitch McConnell so adroitly put it, "When you get your tail kicked, you get back up and keep fighting".  That was their message; Dont' change, Don't think, Don't believe in the facts for a minute.  Just keep doing what you're doing and simply be louder and more annoying.

But let's focus on what these luminaries of the right, those darlings of the Tea Party (well, perhaps not Mitt Romney) had to say. Over and over again, they trumpeted nonsensical hyperbole regarding the assault on LIBERTY that this dastardly, potentially Muslim, probably Kenyan, definitely Marxist/Communist/Islamofascist President was engaged in against America.  Marco Rubio, the cherub faced Cuban-American Senator from Florida responded to the President's statement that the GOP didn't have a plan for curing the economy's ills by saying "sure we do, it's called America".  This was the type of claptrap that was spewed forth and eaten up by the attendees like popcorn in a movie theatre. They loved it.  Ms. Sarah Palin, that erstwhile "leader" of the GOP touted that President Obama perhaps should have had a "background check" in responding to sensible plans by both clear thinking Democrats and Republicans on attempting to stem the tide of gun violence in this country.  Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the NRA was happy to stand up and shout to the roof-tops that everyone else was crazy and he wasn't when it came to our nation's gun policy.

Also spoken about at the convention was a new bogeyman, Karl Rove, and they were quick to point out that Mr. Rove's post election analysis of not picking winners was flat wrong.  It was simply that they weren't conservative enough.  Interestingly enough, the "true-believers" still invited Mitt Romney to the party.  One wonders why.  Romney of course did his usual bit about how the Democrats won because they gave stuff away, but no self-reflection on the idiotic campaign he ran nor was there any acknowledgement of the stupidest move a politician ever made in a Presidential campaign:  The 47% statement.  No, the CPAC audience welcomed the former Governor with open arms.

While CPAC may be good for ginning up passion and stoking the furnace of fund raising for candidates, it is also very bad medicine for the GOP.  When you have lunatics like Donald Trump and Wayne LaPierre as headliners at your event, then you don't get taken seriously.  Clear headed Republicans, who know it takes compromise and deals to get something done in Washington are persona non grata at this shindig.  The aforementioned Governor Christie, intelligent and reasonable members of Congress like Steve Rigell from Virginia, former Senators like Dick Lugar and Olympia Snowe, former Chairman of the RNC Michael Steele, and many others didn't get to speak or weren't invited altogether.  Their type of conservatism is old-hat, not welcome and was to be shunned.

That's too bad, because this country has stated very loudly that it wants reasonable people in the room making decisions on our behalf.  The election of 2012 was clear.  The people sent the President back to work with a 51% majority.  The Democrats gained seats in the Senate.  While the GOP held the House of Representatives, their majority declined and actually more popular votes were passed for Democrats than Republicans in the election.  The GOP is very fortunate that the states under Republican leadership in the Governor's office and legislatures were able to Gerrymander districts in their favor, which allowed them to keep the House.   So what did the GOP and in particular, this crop of Conservatives that attend CPAC learn?  Nothing.  No, forget about the election.  Forget about the fact that the majority of people want a balanced approach to the economic problems in the country as the President has offered. Forget about the fact that a majority of the people in this country want sensible gun legislation passed. Forget about the fact that Latinos, women, young people, gays, blacks and other voting blocs went to the President by shattering margins.  No, none of that matters as long as they can gather in Washington, recite tired, idiotic phrases that sound like the title of a Stephen Colbert parody book then they will be happy.  Obstruct, destruct, deride, never compromise.  Those are their watch-words and credos.  That is their religion.  That will be their downfall.

I believe in reasonableness in solving problems.  That is why I have such a hard time with these zealots from the GOP.  They seem to think that if they just don't budge and "stay true to their principles" that they have won something.  Meanwhile, we continue to have a weak economy, we continue to see more jobs shipped overseas, we continue to see growing inequality in incomes and wealth.  But, no, it is much more important to deny any potential victory for President Obama and the Democrats because that would mean they would have to compromise one of their principles.  Well, good luck with that folks, because the American people are clearly fed up with you.  All you need to do is go back and read the election returns and exit polls.

Your time for obstinacy and obstruction has passed. You are now simply clownish and comedic in your approaches and if we are fortunate, you will soon be as irrelevant as the buggy whip.


Tell me what you think.

regards,
Dennis

Monday, January 21, 2013

New Beginnings

Today is a day of celebration for two reasons.  The first and the most obvious is the ceremonial inauguration of President Obama for a 2nd term.  The second, and while well known, but not so obvious is the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday.   Now a federal holiday, Dr. King's birthday is important to recall today because perhaps without his work and sacrifice, the inauguration of President Obama might not have happened.

The day is important for our country for many reasons, but perhaps the most important one is the symbolic affirmation of our democracy.  President Obama was reelected in November of last year, so there is no transfer of power with this inauguration, but it is important to remember that at no time in our brief history has power transferred as a result of violence.  No soldiers who executed a coup, no tanks in the streets, no dictatorial fiat of continued leadership.  Ours is a government that has been fortunate to adhere to the views of the governed and our transfer of the leadership of this country has been peaceful.  That is a remarkable achievement over the course of our history as a nation.  Even with a war between the United States and the Confederacy, the election and affirmation of President Lincoln's second term was done without force. Perhaps the most poignant and fitting speech done in a 2nd inaugural, President Lincoln appealed "with malice toward none and with charity for all" called for unity amongst all Americans, even those taking up arms to break away from the country.

The 57th inauguration of the President, this President being the 44th to be sworn in, is a sign of new beginnings, of new hope and optimism for the future.  The ceremony that occurs every four years gives us a sense of what may be possible. It is a joyous occasion for those who love this country.  We can take this day, even if it is just for one day, to revel in the brilliance of our constitutional construct; that we have a government of and by the people, who through their voice have decided how we will pursue the future.   President Obama's 2nd term comes with many of the trials and difficulties that his first term experienced. Work is yet to be done to get our economy healthy, continue the advance of civil rights, draw down and extricate ourselves from the battlefield. But today, we can also think of what may be achieved.  What is the next big thing this country can do?  We have an enormous gift of wealth and energy.  Our abilities are equal to our aspirations.   Time and again, one of the 44 men who stood at the podium in front of the Capital have challenged the country with goals that have in one sense or another moved our collective experience forward.  Whether it was Lincoln talking about ending slavery, FDR providing courage in the face of economic despair, or JFK laying out a vision for a "New Frontier", these few who are brought into this office through the electorate have echoed the voice of the people and that is right and proper.

What will be our objective as we start this new term for President Obama?  How will we challenge him to ensure the betterment of the country?  What are we willing to do to continue this experiment of democracy that began so long ago in New York in April of 1789?  

President Obama is a member of a very exclusive club. Only 43 men (Grover Cleveland counts as two since he was elected to office twice in non-consecutive terms) have held this office.  He is also a member of a more exclusive club, one of only 17 who have been elected to two terms in office.  The people of this country saw fit to return him to work with a majority of both electoral and popular votes and expectations are high.  His first term was one of methodical success, neither soaring in achievement or miserable in failure, he dealt with a legacy from his predecessor that we are still recovering from. Now, after four years of intense partisanship, difficult choices and many disappointments as well as successes he begins again.  Traditionally, the second terms of Presidents are difficult and things portend the same for this President. But, again, on this day of optimism and hope, we can only wish him well, because if he succeeds in improving the economy, maintaining our security and establishing a perspective in this country of fairness and community, then we all succeed.  I wish him well.

I also wish Dr. King were alive today to see this event.  Obviously he would be proud to have witnessed the first inauguration of Mr. Obama and would have looked at it as a fulfillment of his life's work.  He would have been proud of the fact that an African American had been elevated by the people to the highest office in the land.  He would have also been the first to hold the President accountable for his actions and challenge him consistently to be true to the work that all of those who came before him in order to be faithful to the Constitution and those who consent to be governed by it.  Dr. King was taken by a madman while doing the work he believed in. He was working to support the sanitation workers (of all races) in Memphis who were bargaining for a better life.  He spent the majority of his adult life in the pursuit of bringing justice for all people regardless of the color of their skin.  He would see this inauguration as both an affirmation of progress toward that goal but also a challenge that more needs to be done.  He would likely have said that while we have seen this substantial progress, many are still being left behind. Many need to be lifted out of poverty and despair and he would have been as aggressive with President Obama as he was with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in order to see America meet its promise of a society that is more interested in the content of one's character than the color of their skin.

Tomorrow, we will get back to the arguing, debating and political gamesmanship that makes up our government.  We may see the same old arguments and positions coming forward perhaps as intractable as always.  I hope not. I hope this day gives us a new opportunity to start anew. I hope the intransigence in Washington can ease just a bit. I hope, that we can all decide that working together is more effective and productive than working apart.  The divides in this country are as bad as I've ever seen them in my lifetime.  I hope that today, those walls begin to crumble and we start building towards a better future together.  I hope.

So, I hope you will join with me today reflecting on the great potential we possess to make this country achieve those goals and objectives written down both in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution that we are all created equal and we must work, very hard to form a more perfect union.

regards,
Dennis