Apr 132010
Writing about Sen. Richard Shelby’s speech bashing Washington spending:

“Lost in the moment is this irony: Shelby’s anti-spending message is being delivered in a government-built museum to which he frequently steers public money.”

Ben Evans, Huffington Post

Senator Shelby as Chairman of the Senate Commi...
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Senators Shelby and Cochran are emblematic of the dysfunction that has crippled American politics. People complain about our ineffective Congress, but rarely are the incumbents who cause the gridlock replaced. According to the Constitutional Rights Foundation, since World War II, incumbent senators have won reelection 75% of the time. This happens precisely through the dynamic presented in Ben Evan’s article: Congress brings home the pork and other federal spending, which helps them get elected. But then they go back to Washington, where they’re indentured to their campaign benefactors, and they work hard to stall any legislation that serves the people at the expense of business.

Oddly enough, Mississippi and Alabama are in the sweet spot of advantage in this little game of bait and switch. The Tax Foundation numbers for fiscal 2005 show Mississippi to have the nation’s second highest rate of return on federal taxes at $2.02 per dollar paid. Alabama is not far behind at number 7 and a respectable $1.66. In spite of all their anti-government spending rhetoric, these Republicans do a great job of bringing home the bacon.

Unfortunately, they do an even better job of clogging the wheels of progress. When Senator Shelby is not pulling pork to Alabama, he’s in Washington making sure he performs for the $1.8 million he’s received since 2008 from the securities and big banking sectors, amongst others. More than 2 years since the Bear Stearns collapse and still no financial reform . . . he’s doing a great job, isn’t he?

The delicate art of hypocrisy is an integral part of success in our nation’s capitol. Some politicians are better at it than others, but I’m confident that junior members will improve — they’re learning from the best.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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Apr 122010

“You can’t handle the truth!” This emphatic, yet matter-of-fact declaration of Col. Nathan Jessup climaxed the intense courtroom questioning portrayed in A Few Good Men. It also seems to be the behind the scenes belief held by those we entrust with the future of our nation. In industry, the practice is known as “Mushroom Management” — where those in charge keep their minions in the dark and just feed them manure. In politics, it has another name: Standard Operating Procedure.

There are few things upon which our Congress can muster bipartisan support. They can’t get together on healthcare, and based upon recent events, even national security will likely be debated along party lines. Still struggling in the aftermath of the banking bailout, one might think that financial reform would be a good candidate, but no, our elected “representatives” can’t move on that ground either. How about a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Stevens? Okay, I’m joking, but seriously — maybe on jobs? No freaking way; good paying jobs run counter to corporate profitability. There is, of course, bipartisan support to maintain the big-money control of government; you’ll not be seeing any meaningful campaign finance reform or rules limiting the flow of politicians into the lucrative ranks of corporate lobbyists. But when it comes to actual policy making, both parties seem to agree on one thing — the best way forward is to NEVER TELL THE WHOLE TRUTH.

On this one topic, we have widespread bipartisan support. In fact, our national leaders have artfully divvied up positions and the related talking points to ensure that we mushrooms will continue to mold. The Republicans proudly proclaim the virtue of reduced taxes, deregulation and small government. The Democrats counter that social services are essential and therefore advocate for increased government programs. Both sides have their valid points, but neither side wants to come clean on the consequences of their actions. I personally would love it if we could keep adding services while simultaneously cutting taxes, but I’m not child. I no longer believe in Santa Claus; I know you can’t keep reducing government revenues while increasing spending; I resent being continually lied to, and I want Washington to understand that I CAN handle the truth!

The truth is that we can’t afford to stay on our current path. We’re presently headed into fiscal oblivion, and I don’t think anyone is going to like it there. We need our elected officials to start leveling with us about costs and benefits, and we need an open, unbiased dialog that will allow the American people to select priorities based on facts instead of half-truths.

Of course, getting our politicians to stop their continual maneuvering and turn instead to factual discussion won’t be easy. The facts are just not very election friendly. Nobody ever got elected running on a tax-increase platform, although Ross Perot did prove that Americans will respond when shown the facts. Unfortunately, tax increases are an essential part of what will be required to pull out of our national nose dive. Our present system allows nearly half of the population to escape without paying any income tax and is in dire need of reform. But only through open and honest dialog can we ensure that such tax reform is handled in an equitable fashion.

We will also need to need to address our entitlement programs, which will mean more people paying in larger amounts to Social Security and Medicare. It will also mean extending ages of eligibility, adjusting COLA increases, and reducing benefits for certain individuals. This is all very tough medicine. It’s going to have a negative impact on a large number of Americas, which is why no politician will engage in a serious effort to address the shortages. This is the year that Social Security finally goes upside down, but it’s also an election year. I’ll not be holding my breath waiting for the politician honest and courageous enough to champion this cause.

Maybe we can at least get Congress to be honest in discussing the federal budget. Even with the huge TARP bailout, more than half of federal spending for 2009 was for the military and health (26.5% plus 5.4% interest on debt for military and 20.1% for health). With slices of the pie this large, is intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer that these areas must be addressed.

There may be some hope that military spending will soon gain a measure of scrutiny. With total costs for the two wars now over $1 trillion, and another $128 billion allocated for this fiscal year, people are beginning to take notice. Couple this huge price tag with the crippling effect the recession is having on state and local economies, and it’s likely that more and more officials like Matt Ryan, the mayor of Binghamton, New York will begin to take action. Mayor Ryan will be installing a digital “Cost of War” clock on the Binghamton City Hall. According to the Mayor, his city’s “War Tax” will reach $138.6 million by this September, and he wants the clock, “where everyone can see it, so that my constituents are urged to have a much-needed conversation.”

Conversation is always the first step, but unless our politicians can agree to check their campaign rhetoric at the door, there’s still not much hope of progress. We’ve certainly had substantial “conversation” about healthcare, the second largest slice of the federal budget. But far too much of what was communicated to the public about healthcare was either unadulterated bulldung or at the least a hedging of the truth.

It’s true that there were some bizarre stipulations in the legislation, but they are far from representative of the hyperbolic assertions made by leaders of the opposition. Sadly, the controversy surrounding the healthcare bill was centered in falsehood. Rather than discussing the real issues pertaining to passing a healthcare bill without healthcare reform, the disingenuous campaign by conservatives left a scorched earth path of misconception and false belief. Even today, in the aftermath of passage, we have asinine calls for repeal and a new wave of pro-business propaganda that will again pollute the well of public opinion.

When President Obama took office, I thought he could be the person to bring real change to Washington. My reaction to what he’s done thus far is tepid at best. From the stimulus package to the healthcare bill, President Obama has given far too much control to the Democrats in Congress. This is not to say that I think he should move right and strive for bipartisan progress, actually far from it. I believe instead that, unlike Congress, who should be held responsible to act on behalf of the constituencies who elected them, the President represents us all. The President is the only elected official in Washington in this capacity, and as such should be above partisanship. President Obama needs to face the entire nation as a nonpartisan. He needs to distinguish himself above the lies and rhetoric. He needs to look us in the eye and level with us regarding the state of the economy, and he needs to open a real conversation where we can discuss what ails us, what priorities we want to set, and how we can get back on track.

Barack Obama is the leader of the greatest country in the history of the world. He can still be amongst the greatest leaders in our history. He just needs to leave politics behind and trust that we will support him — that We the People can handle the truth.

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Apr 102010
September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...
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September 11, 2001: Two airliners strike the World Trade Towers, 2973 people die, the entire planet watches in horror . . . America weeps. It is the single most deadly attack, by a foreign enemy, ever on American soil. Islamic fundamentalists claim a resounding victory, but wounded and stunned, America unites and vows not to let terrorism win.

As I look back on that day, tears well up in my eyes. I still feel the shock and the pain, for though I did not directly experience loss, I feel as though I was personally attacked. The assault was not waged upon my person, but at my beliefs, upon an integral part of who I am. I believe that most Americans feel this way. We will forever carry the sadness of that day in our hearts, but because of what happened afterward, it will always share its place with a sense of national pride. We did come together as a nation.

But it’s now almost nine years later. Our nation’s largest banks have nearly collapsed, saved only by a massive government bailout. Our jobless rate is at levels not seen in a quarter century. We continue to amass virtually unimaginable levels of national debt, and we still have thousands of American troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting the War on Terror. Things have changed drastically since 2001. For most Americans, those changes have been for the worse — the worst in my lifetime. That realization begs me to ask the question: “Have we allowed the terrorists to win?”

The sense of unity that spread across our great nation in the aftermath of 9/11 is all but completely lost. In its place is a growing division of the people that threatens to destroy the very soul of our country. How has this happened? Sure, it’s in part a sign of the difficult economic times, but I fear it’s more than that. Even in the most desperate times, American democracy has endured, always upheld by our standard of honest debate and open discussion. But our national “conversation” has changed. Dialog, moderation and compromise have become vestiges of the past. Rancor and vitriol are now the staples of the day, and the only rule seems to be that there are no rules.

Indeed, the political climate in America today increasingly rewards those who don’t follow any rules, those who will twist the facts, ignore the truth and otherwise do whatever’s required to advance their positions . . . and their careers. Sadly, thoughtful response and honest deliberation are rapidly becoming liabilities. You no longer need to understand the complexities of any given situation; all that’s required is a scatter gun of incendiary rhetoric and the willingness to indiscriminately pull the trigger.

It may have been foreign terrorists who initially set the wheels in motion, but we need not look beyond our shores for those to blame for the forces tearing our nation apart. What ails us today is not fear of foreign aggression but rather the internal politics of fear. George W. Bush was quick to seize the day. He positioned himself as the great protector and leveraged the 9/11 attack to justify all manner of aggression and indiscretion. In the process, America lost a significant part of its identity. We might have come away from this great tragedy a stronger nation, but instead the power of fear was evoked . . . and regrettably, it worked. As a result, we learned the wrong lesson, and the politics of fear are now tacitly accepted as part of American politics.

In no way do I want to diminish the significance of what happened on 9/11 or to ignore the horror of violent terrorism. But still I feel compelled to suggest that, in the end, the politics of fear will bring far more devastation than any overt terrorist plot. As I’ve written in other posts, America is in dire fiscal straits; we are threatened on many fronts, and instead of working with the current administration, the Republican Party has veered so far to the right that it is quickly losing any semblance of legitimacy. They are guilty as charged of now being the “Party of No.” But of much more serious consequence is the fact that they’ve become the Party of Fear.

Once the upholders of legitimate conservative views, the Republican Party has been taken over by self-serving opportunists who don’t so much as blush when they twist the most flimsy shred of truth into patently false assertions, accusations, and indictments. For them, the truth matters no longer; the SOP for the GOP has become: saying whatever it takes to instill fear into their loyal conservative following. They prey on hard working Americans, fill their heads with nonsense designed to elicit a fearful response, and thus gain their misinformed support.

It doesn’t seem to matter to these individuals that their lies and distortions are destroying our country, that the hate they work to spur clouds the issues and prevents the dialog needed for resolution. Does Michele Bachmann really not understand the destructive  impact of suggesting that the Democrats were moving toward “mandatory service” for America’s youth, where they would be forced into political “re-education camps?” Who does Sarah Palin serve when she insists upon the validity of her claim that the health care legislation would bring “death panels,” and that it was “evil?” When House Republican Leader, John Boehner’s claims that the health care bill will bring “Armageddon” and “ruin our country,” is he just trying to make a substantive point? Just today, at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, former Speaker, Newt Gingrich called President Obama “the most radical president in American history,” and accused the President of saying, “I run a machine. I own Washington and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Is this form of hyperbole appropriate?  Is fear mongering really an acceptable form of intelligent exchange?

Make no mistake about it; regardless of your philosophical goals, when fear is your primary tactical method for achieving your short term objectives, you are a terrorist. Our current Republican leadership has cast their lot; they’ve chosen their tactics and must now wear the mantle associated with their actions — they are political terrorists. And while their form of terrorism may appear more sanitary than the bloody world of suicide bombers, it is far more dangerous. Their methods are destructive, their process deceptive, and their results are insidious. Republicans have become adept at scaring Americans into fighting against their own best interest.

When we were threatened by Islamic terrorists, calls went up from liberals and conservatives alike, asking where Muslin moderates were, why they had not spoken up to decry the radical rants of their religion’s extremists. Today I wait to hear those voices of moderation rise amongst American conservatives. When will they speak up and demand that their party cease the inflammatory politics of fear, return to the table, and once again engage in meaningful conversation. If those voices remain silent, then although we survived the 9/11 terrorist attack, we may not survive the political terrorism of the Republican right.

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