Wednesday, November 05, 2014

So, That Happened

Well, what a night.  If you are like me, it wasn't a very good night.  The 2014 mid-terms swept Republicans into control of the Senate, boosted the majority in the House of Representatives and swept several Democratic governors out of office.  It was a massive victory for the GOP.  It remains to be seen if it is a massive victory for the country.  Certainly, there was a bow-wave of Republican energy in the election.   The overwhelming victories the party of Reagan racked up cannot be attributed to anything other than the people of this country want the GOP to govern.  At least the people who voted.   Now, it's very early to point to the exact reasons why the elections turned out the way they did.  There will be months of analysis of exit polls, discussions and debates on why things went the way they did. There will be accusations, there will be explanations, there will be whining from my side of the aisle, there will be gloating from the other side.  All of that has its time and place and will eventually be out there for us all to talk and debate about. But, in advance of all of the talk that will fill the radio and TV time in the near future, let me offer up some observations on what happened.

1. The country is sick of politics and government in general. The political machine in this country has become a never-ending cycle of attacks, cynicism and gamesmanship focused on nothing more than trying to convince one side is the devil and one side is the angel.  The money that has been poured into the process on both sides of the political spectrum is astounding, and it's become tiring to continually watch and hear the governing process in this country tear itself apart. People are rightly disgusted with the process and last night it was manifested in two ways:  The first is voter apathy.   It's still early to see the exact numbers, but turn-out seemed to be lower than usual for mid-terms.  Now, for older voters, it seemed like that turn-out was up, but for the below 30 year old crowd, it was pathetic.  This is a sign of apathy from the electorate and disconnection of the government to the people.  So, the party that openly despises government in general won in large numbers last night. Why?  Because they seized upon the anger, frustration, and general unhappiness that the people have with the government and did a brilliant job of focusing all of that energy on one specific person.   The President of the United States.

2. The country is massively dissatisfied with the President.  President Obama's job approval rating is sitting about 40% and has been this way for a long time.  Interestingly enough, the party that won big last night have a general job approval rating in Congress of something like 14%.  However, it's easy to focus on one person than a group of people, and it's apparent that the country has had it with the President.   Either by voting against him or not voting at all, the young man who offered "Hope and Change" in 2008 has taken another major loss in the mid-term elections.   It's not surprising that the party out of the White House loses ground in Congress in mid-terms.  This is especially true in the mid-terms during the 2nd term of a President, any President.  It's happened to every 2 term president since Reagan, but this thumping was massive.  The President's own party ran away from him in almost every race.  It's clear that the folks who were energized to support the President were far outdone by the folks who were energized to oppose him. 

3. The election seemed to be not about issues but anger.  Core conservative ballot measures, such as Personhood bills went down in defeat everywhere they were on the ballot.  Marijuana legalization referendums passed everywhere they were on the ballot except Florida.   So, on specific issues that were on the ballot, seemed be tilted towards more progressive attitudes.  However, this didn't hold true for the people on the ballot.  Candidates such as Joni Ernst in Iowa, a Tea Party favorite, took Tom Harkin's open Senate seat rather handily.  She and several others on the ballot last night voiced the anger at Washington and could pose big problems for presumed Majority Leader McConnell after the new Congresss comes in to office next January.  All over the country, expressions of distrust and dissatisfaction with Washington's lack of action were voiced with the candidates who won. 

4. Conservatives have made their case.  I'm totally surprised that Sam Brownback won reelection in Kansas.  Same with Pat Roberts in Kansas.  Both candidates were deeply flawed and in Brownback's case, his track record for the state has been horrible. Yet, he was reelected.  Rick Scott, the deeply unpopular governor in Florida won reelection over a former Republican Charlie Crist.    In Texas, Wendy Davis's campaign was obliterated by Gregg Abbott, a conservative candidate with the charisma of a snail.   As a liberal, atheist, gay-rights and tree-hugging, union loving voter, this of course saddens me deeply, but you have to acknowledge when you are on the wrong side of the country's perspective, and it's clear that I am. The conservative movement in the country is strong, and it is likely to make the 2016 presidential race very competitive. 

All in all, this was a blow-out.  There's no other way to describe what happened and one must congratulate the winners.  They did the work, pounded the pavement, convinced the voters they were on the right side of the issues and were successful.   I hope this energy translates into something good and useful for the country.  Even with our differences in political views, the people are much closer together than it seems. All of us want the country to have a good economy, security from harm, and an ability to leave a place better for our kids. So, we have once again an opportunity to do something useful.  I hope the GOP will leverage this massive victory into something positive. I hope the President will find a way to work with this new Congress and throw out the last 6 years of obstruction and grid-lock.  It remains to be seen what will come of this, but every two years we have a chance to reset, start fresh and do something good. We've not done that in a long time, and I think that is what the country emphatically told us last night.

Tell me what you think.

regards,
Dennis

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

"Young men, soldiers, Nineteen Fourteen
Marching through countries they'd never seen
Virgins with rifles, a game of charades
All for a Children's Crusade
 
Pawns in the game are not victims of chance
Strewn on the fields of Belgium and France
Poppies for young men, death's bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed
 
The children of England would never be slaves
They're trapped on the wire and dying in waves
The flower of England face down in the mud
And stained in the blood of a whole generation
 
Corpulent generals safe behind lines
History's lessons drowned in red wine
Poppies for young men, death's bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed
All for a Children's Crusade" - From "Children's Crusade", Sting, "The Dream of the Blue Turtles", 1984.



Today, we (some of us anyway) will pause and reflect for a moment about Memorial Day.  Initially called "Decoration Day", to honor those lost in the Civil War, Memorial Day became an official Federal holiday in 1967.   The day's meaning is really not lost on anyone. We will celebrate the sacrifice of our soldiers' loss for our country.  Usually, our politicians will soap up the day with speeches calling these fallen heroes and that they made their sacrifice for "freedom".  To be sure, some of that is true, but it is also true, that like many issues that should be much more important and prevalent to us daily, we as a country don't really think that much about the sons and daughters we have lost in combat.  We think even less of those who were fortunate enough to survive combat and make it home, but are unfortunate in the respect that they carry the physical, mental and emotional scars of bearing situations that most of us will never experience in our lifetimes.  

We're a country of war.  We were born of war during our revolution, and have been embroiled in military conflict in almost every decade of our existence.  The horrors of the Civil War, where brother fought against brother was the most egregious loss of life in combat in our history.  Over 700 thousand perished in the war.  In our nation's history, there is only one decade that there were no recorded deaths from military conflict.  That decade?  The 1820's.   That's right.  In every decade since the 1770's, American soldiers have fought and died in conflict except in the 1820's.   Total lost in the conflicts across our history run to 1.3 million dead and 1.5 million wounded.  In our recent history, the "war on terror" has claimed over 6,700 dead and more than 50 thousand wounded.

We of course honor our fallen and wounded on Memorial Day. We know they have taken a task many of us wouldn't (including me) sign up for.   Their deaths are a horrible payment that has been made for a country that on about every other day of the year generally ignores them.  We've seen the general attitude in Washington from both parties to make the soldier a tool that is used for political purposes and then cast aside until they are needed again to promote some policy, gain advantage during an election or accuse the other party of some level of ineptitude, misconduct, or other sin.

The recent events with the Veteran's Administration highlight what I'm talking about.  In 2008, President Obama, made dealing with the backlog of claims filed by veteran's with the V.A. one of major talking points of his campaign. He was going to clean the mess up and get the care to our veteran's that was needed.  He appointed General Erick Shinseki, a retired general who got it right about the number of troops needed in Iraq and was summarily booted out by the Bush Administration for telling the truth.  President Obama put General Shinseki in charge of cleaning up a bloated and inefficient administration that's sole purpose was to make sure veterans got the services they needed when they left military service.  Health care, financial assistance, educational assistance, and other services are provided by the V.A.  In many respects they do a good job.  Once you can actually get medical care, it is usually very good. The problem is handling the claims.  We have well over a million veterans alive today dating back to the Korean War and some from World War II.  It is a big job to ensure these people get the services they need.  While the current administration has indeed made some improvements, they are still failing.  Worse, now, it turns out that some of the work done by the V.A. was to "cook the books" and basically lie about the improvements on reducing claims backlogs.   This is a moral stain on an administration (Obama's) and on a system (V.A.) that should be better than this.  We know how this goes.  A directive comes from the President to fix the problem.  His secretary of the V.A. crafts the policy requirements and delineates it down to the organization.  The organization attempts to comply by the policy and some, fearing loss of job, shame or reprimand or whatever, lie about their progress.  They cook the books to say things are better.  They are found out.  The lie becomes public.  The lie becomes scandal.  Now it becomes political.  The other guys are now very interested in the troubles at the administration even though they voted to cut funding from the very organization they are now so concerned about.  The President has to speak about the problem and of course declare how mad he is about this.  Calls for General Shinseki's head on a platter abound, not only by the talk show punditry (most of whom never served a day in their life.  Rush I'm talking about you), but also by members of Congress, from both parties, because they are "shocked!, shocked! to find out there are troubles at the VA!).   It is monumental hypocrisy to hear criticism from Congress about this.  It makes me want to vomit how hypocritical they are on this topic.

General Shinseki should resign.  Not because he cooked the books. He didn't.  But, he is the leader of this organization, and as the leader, he bears responsibility and accountability for its actions.   The resignation of this man, would be the honorable thing to do and General Shinseki is an honorable man.  I don't think he will resign because I believe the administration will pressure him to stay.  If he does resign, the noise level will not reduce, it will enlarge.  The opposition to the President will not say that this was the right thing to do and we'll support the President in getting this fixed. No, they will use it as a cudgel to beat this administration and the Democrats about the head for the next two elections.   Oh, and by the way, if the situation was reversed, the Democrats would behave exactly as the GOP are doing now, so this isn't a condemnation of one party over another. It' a condemnation on the US Congress and by extension the rest of us about how pitiful and pathetic we are when it comes to taking care of those who come home from combat.   Yellow ribbons and America First! magnetic badges on the backs of our SUV isn't enough.  There are many veteran's organizations doing fine work in attempting to help out returning soldiers and the families of those who lost loved ones in conflict.   Veteran's of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, The USO, The American Legion, Wounded Warriors, etc. are all focused on helping veterans.  I would encourage all of us today to pick up the phone, get on the Internet and contact one of these organizations and give money to these folks to help our soldiers and families of soldiers.

I believe we go to war too easily and too often.  I was supportive of the attack on Afghanistan in 2001 to respond to the attacks against us in New York, Pennsylvania and in Washington in September of that year.  A response was necessary and important.  What we are doing there 13 years later I have no idea.  Why we went into Iraq is not clear, but it certainly was not because the regime in power at the time had weapons of mass destruction they were about to use against us as advertised.  I'm not cynical enough yet to believe it was simply a geo-political land grab, but cannot be sure.

I think we need to dramatically change the way we send our sons and daughters into harms way. I have a three point proposal that I think will help us think about this a little better and perhaps not have so many to mourn and remember in subsequent Memorial Days:

  1. Before we commit military forces to conflict situations, we must have a declaration of war.  The US Constitution requires it and we should respect that. We've not had a declared war since World War II.  In every conflict since then, we've had something less.  The reason I think is because Congress is too frightened of being on the record to send kids off to die.  They will "authorize the president certain powers", then if things go poorly castigate the poor devil mercilessly afterward.  This was what happened with the Iraq War.  Democrats such as Joe Biden, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton all used the weasel worded authorization to distance themselves from the resulting fiasco.
  2. Institute the Draft during Conflict times.   We have effectively separated America into two factions since the draft ended in the early 1970's.  Those who serve for economic or other reasons, and those who don't.  We have essentially divided the country into those who suffer loss and those who don't.  We know due to the demographic data that most of our military come from lower economic standing. I said most. There are some wealthy families that have members who serve and their participation is no less noble or dangerous.  However, most of us do not feel the pain of service, and if we instituted the Draft again during conflict situations, it might make us all think about this a little harder and with more conviction. 
  3. Tax to Pay for the War.  In this last conflict, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, we have essentially been told to ignore the cost of the conflict, and it would be taken care of.   We've not been asked to sacrifice, even if it is just from our wallets.  During World War II, which lasted less than half the time the Afghanistan conflict has, taxes were raised, rationing was established and everyone had to participate, whether they were in the military or not.  Victory gardens were grown by families in order to allow the big farmers to produce food for the military.  Metal was collected and melted down for use by the military. Auto manufacturers converted factories to tool up for tanks, planes and other military uses.  The country was at war, not just a few soldiers.  Everyone had to pay. Everyone was engaged. It became personal and real.   Unfortunately, we've not seen this in the last several conflicts going back thirty or forty years.  Soldiers were someone's brother, sister, son or daughter.   The majority of us were told to "go shopping".   So my proposal is to tax the rest of us to pay for the war and its aftermath (not only the rebuilding of the country we blow up, but also the rebuilding of the lives of the veteran's and their families when they come home).  We must become part of the process and not an idle observer.  We owe it to those who sign up and offer to go get themselves killed on our behalf.  
Ultimately, if we could see these three actions become part of the fabric of our decisions to go into conflict I think the result would be fewer adventures that aren't necessary, fewer casualties as a result of fewer conflicts, and if, as it is sometimes necessary, we go to war, we do it together.

I honor those lost, and I want to see us find a way to make this day one of reflection of not only for those who were lost, but those who were saved because we got our collective act together.

Tell me what you think,

Regards,
Dennis
 


  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy, Race and Bigotry Issues in America

Well, we've had a considerable amount of time over the past two months with these two men.  They each have a few things in common:  They are old, they are white; they are fairly wealthy, and by their words, they are presumably racists.   Mr. Bundy, whose fame is more related to his thievery by not paying grazing fees for more than 20 years recently mouthed off with the now infamous phrase "I know something about the Negro".  Mr. Bundy recently had a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency responsible for managing federal property.  Mr. Sterling on the other hand was thrust into the news when a recorded conversation of him and his alleged mistress showed he had some rather controversial views about who his girlfriends should take to his team's (The Los Angeles Clippers) basketball games.  Both have recently made some very inflammatory remarks about African Americans. Mr. Bundy, seems to believe African American's who are on government assistance would probably be happier if they were still slaves, and Mr. Sterling simply cannot believe anyone would believe he is a racist even though he has had a long history of discrimination against African Americans and Latin Americans. 

The statements made by both of these men are of course repugnant.  They have both attempted to walk back their statements and have only dug themselves into a deeper hole by doing so.  Check out Mr. Sterling's "apology" interview with Anderson Cooper here:

Now, both Mr. Sterling and Mr. Bundy are pretty wealthy, so their attitudes don't come from not having access to good education or a lack of ability to associate and mix with people from other ethnic backgrounds.  They easily could and in Mr. Sterling's case have, engaged with people of different colors, points of view and perspectives.  What they have chosen to do is emblematic of what a lot of people in this country do regardless of income, social standing or, in fact skin color.  They have chosen a perspective that those who look differently from them somehow are "less".    The concept shouldn't be lost on us, as we all have these biases and prejudices to some degree.

The issue at large though is the idea that because we look different or worship different than each other denotes that we are indeed different than each other.   This is nothing new.  Hundred's of years ago, in the play "Merchant of Venice",  Shylock said: "If you prick us do we not bleed, if you tickle us do we not laugh, if you poison us do we not die, if you wrong us do we not revenge?"   Of course, the matter at hand in Shakespeare's play was Jewish and Christian antipathy, but it nonetheless displays that probably since we have been able to think, we've decided that we should categorize people by what they look like, who they worship, who they love, how much money they make, etc. etc.

But back to Mr. Bundy and Mr. Sterling.  They are indicative of racists in the most descriptive sense:  Loudmouth people of privilege who have decided for one reason or another they are better than African Americans and Latin Americans.   These guys are easy to spot. They display their attitudes generally through words or actions.  In Mr. Sterling's defense in this matter, he was outed by a recorded phone call, which I also have a problem with, but I digress.  These types of racists are common and we see them often, whether it is someone like this or someone who parades around in a ridiculous looking bed sheet spouting idiotic terms like "white supremacy". 

The bigger problem is the subtle racism that still occurs over 50 years after Dr. King's "I have a dream speech". The job not given, the loan not secured, the cab ride not available: these are all examples of what I'm talking about and it is as prevalent today as it was in the 1950's.  No, we don't have forced segregation and different drinking fountains for "white" and "colored" people, and there has been significant progress in some areas of racial importance.  However, this stain on our collective soul is still here and we have to work hard to eradicate it.  Racism comes from hatred.  Hatred comes from fear.  Fear comes from lack of understanding and knowledge.    What we need is wisdom.  Wisdom is the understanding and knowledge through experience that we are all much more the same than we are different.  We have the same hopes and desires for ourselves and our children. We all want to be secure and happy.   We can't get there by hating.  We can't get there by classifying people as somehow being less deserving or worthy than us because of our color.

We have made some great strides in our attempts to throw the notion of racism into the trash can of history but we have much left to do.  As exemplified by Mr. Sterling and Mr. Bundy, there are still pathetic people out there.  They are to be pitied for their views as much as they should be rebuked. They are small minded people who, if they maintain their views will never have their eyes opened to the possibilities and promise of a society that as Doctor King said:  "they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"

Our country has had lesson after lesson that setting people apart because of skin color is simply wrong.  Whether it is our own history or that of countries like India and South Africa, we can see what is achieved once the institutionalized racism of policy and government is cast aside.  If we can get there ourselves by getting rid of our own institutionalized biases then we will have a much better place for ourselves and our kids.

Mr. Sterling and Mr. Bundy: you've done us a service by reminding us that racism is alive and well in this country and we need to find more will and effort to eliminate it.  So thanks for that. I pity both of you for your views, and hope that before you breathe your last breath that you come around. It's sad to go through life with points of views like those you hold, and maybe, just maybe you can change. I hope so.

Tell me what you think.  Where are you on this issue?

regards,
Dennis

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