Oct 232010
Photo portrait of John F. Kennedy, President o...
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Article first published as Prostituted Government, America up for Sale on Technorati.

Baby Boomers are likely to remember the words spoken by John F. Kennedy during his inaugural address.

The youngest man ever elected president took office and wasted no time in reminding the American people of how different the world had become and of the responsibility placed upon our great nation. He pulled no punches in identifying the true enemies of humanity: “tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.” And he concluded his speech with both a commitment to the task at hand and an admonishment for all Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

What would be the reaction today to a president asking for such patriotism? Yet in 1961, JFK’s call to unity and selflessness was arguably the hallmark of his address. His were words that could well have been spoken by Jefferson or Adams, even by Patrick Henry himself. How sad it is that things have changed so, in less than 50 years.

President Kennedy spoke out of love and respect for a nation built on high moral principles. He spoke of a nation that held the power to “abolish all forms of human poverty.” He called on all Americans to join him in the fight . . . and America responded with dedication and applause.

Today, the tables have turned. Americans don’t ask what they can do for their country; they don’t even see poverty as a mutual enemy. The new prescription for prosperity in America is not to fight tyranny and band together for the common good — it’s a call to social Darwinism, to every person for themselves. Fifty years ago the predominant mindset was one of abundance, where through unity we could achieve anything. Today, America is figuratively much smaller and weaker. The grand vision is all but lost. The belief is now in scarcity and a sense that only the few can truly prosper.

This change in paradigm has nothing to do with inevitability. It was and still is completely avoidable. The sad truth is that Americans have been sold a bad bill of goods wrapped in the trappings of good business. We sit now in the most dire economic straits in nearly a century, and instead of pulling together to fight our common foes, we’re allowing ourselves to be divided by those who benefit from our lack of unity.

Thomas Jefferson once said that, “Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.” This truth has been long understood and accepted, yet this is exactly what we, the American people, have allowed to happen in our country. The unity of the Kennedy era has been lost to the government-is-the-enemy doctrine espoused by Ronald Reagan and movement conservatism.

The 21st Century American political system thrives on a state of dynamic tension where the two sides debate the same issues ad nauseam. Never reaching resolution, this ebb and flow produces, at best, incremental change, and in the end is essentially a lesson in futility. The structure is based on a two-party, zero sum shouting match where the only people who win are those who benefit from maintaining the status quo.

What’s needed is an alternative to this Sisyphean drama. We need real progress. We need a return to morality in politics, where money is confined as the currency of our capitalism and not of our democracy. Sadly, what we have instead is a near complete departure from anything of the sort.

Not only does truth in politics seem to be at an all-time low, but with the Supreme Court’s ruling on “Citizens United,” where corporations were granted personhood, the stream of falsehood and mudslinging deceit is so constant as to be virtually inescapable. America is now the great political prostitute of the planet, with more money being spent to buy votes through misinformation than at any time in any place. Hurray for America!

Is this really the political process that the American people want?  Is there any way that this caricature of democracy can lead to a government “of the people, by the people and for the people?”

This new dynamic has no place in the American political system. The Founding Fathers perceived the evils of corporate greed and did everything they could to ensure that the democracy could withstand their siege. Thomas Jefferson warned us of their thirst for control, “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” But modern conservatism has ignored his warning.

The conservative court’s decision that corporations are people has created a situation where, not only are vast sums of money being spent by corporate interests to influence the 2010 election, but the American electorate isn’t even afforded the right to know who’s behind the spending.

Under their new found freedom to influence elections, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending record amounts of money. Where their total for the 2008 elections was a mere $33.5 million, they promise to spend $75 million in 2010. And not only is the Chamber raising record amounts for its campaign spending from U.S. corporations, like Prudential Financial, Dow Chemical, A.I.G., Goldman Sachs and Chevron  Texaco, but they’re bringing in huge amounts from foreign companies who have a stake in American jobs, trade policies and tax regulations.

Of course, it’s easy to understand why the Republicans in the Senate fought to defeat the Disclose Act, which would have required disclosure of funding sources, since the vast majority of the corporate money is going to either support Republican candidates or defeat Democrats — a full 93% of the Chamber’s 70 ads, according to the New York Times. This statistic might help explain why only 10% of groups running ads in support of Republicans have revealed their funding sources, while 50% of Democratic supporters have.

Regardless of the outcome, it’s too late for the 2010 election. American politics has fallen into an abyss of moral decay. Monied interests are so firmly in control of the process and the tyranny of the elite is so prevalent that both Kennedy and Jefferson have to be turning in their graves. Tea Party patriots, as misguided as they may be, have the right idea — the American people need to take their country back. Hopefully, between now and the 2012 election, they’ll figure out that the government is not the enemy, and that it’s actually the instrument of their collective will.

One person, one vote — that was the intent. That is the only system that can work, and it can only be sustained through an informed, not misinformed electorate. Let us all hope that we might return to the high moral principles of our past, of our founding. Let us understand once again that we are One Nation, One People – E Pluribus Unum.

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Oct 062010
United States Senate Action on Cloture Motions.
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Article first published as Can Republican Obstructionism be Morally Justified? on Technorati.

In 2008, our nation experienced the most devastating blow to the economy in nearly 80 years. When President Obama took office, the country was hemorrhaging nearly 600,000 jobs per month, and instead of helping address the crisis, the Republicans in the Congress united to obstruct any and all actions taken by Democrats. This complete refusal of an entire party to participate in the process of government is without precedent. Is there really any moral justification for self-serving obstructionism?

The only action taken by the Congress that enjoyed widespread Republican support was the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), which was initiated under President Bush and served mostly to save the Wall Street banks and protect the profits of the very wealthy. But once Obama took the helm, regardless of the fact that unemployment was already at 7.6% and climbing, the Republicans, to the person, decided that their chances for reelection and a return to power were better served by blocking or at least stalling any legislation to promote economic recovery.

The Stimulus was the first major effort of the Congress to help middle and working class Americans. With 3.6 million jobs already lost in the recession, the Democrats were quick to assemble some form of relief. The legislation could certainly have been better formed, but instead of offering thoughtful amendment, instead of participating in the process of government they were elected to serve, the Republicans sat on the sidelines and used the media to launch every form of unsubstantiated ridicule and criticism they could muster. Even to this date, and in spite of the widespread acknowledgment of positive impact by economists, Republicans still attack the stimulus without substance.

But this was just the beginning. On and on the story went, with Republicans in both chambers working against anything that might prove beneficial to the average American. With 47 million people not covered with health insurance, the Republicans fought healthcare reform, and arguably prevented a system that could have reduced costs from being implemented. With the financial system that created the collapse of the economy still intact, Republicans fought against legislation to plug the holes and prevent a similar crash from occurring in the future.

Republicans in Congress fought against job aid to the states. They blocked lifting of the cap on liability for BP’s Gulf oil disaster. They obstructed the closing of loopholes to prevent further offshoring of American jobs; they filibustered small business stimulus; they’ve even set records for the blocking of presidential appointments. There really is no doubt that the Republican agenda, as set by the Party leader when President Obama was elected, Rush Limbaugh, is to do everything in their power to ensure that the President fails — no matter what the cost to average Americans.

Without a filibuster, House Republicans have been unable to obstruct at the level of their party brethren in the Senate. As a result of this discrepancy, the current Congress has passed 420 pieces of legislation through the House of Representatives that are presently stalled in a Senate where the Republican minority filibusters anything and everything, just because it can.

The Senate filibuster, which was insightfully omitted from the Constitution by the Founding Fathers for exactly the reasons of obstruction we now see being played out, has only existed in its present form since 1917.  But after decades of sparing use, the last two Republican minorities have made the filibuster much more prevalent in the Senate than the vote. The last Republican minority set the all-time record for filibusters at 139, but the present crop wasted no time in trying to keep up. Those 420 blocked bills are the result of 118 filibusters through the middle of September.

Over the course of going on two years of a Democratic Presidency and Congress, the Republicans have found nothing that they could support as a party. They have been the categorical “Party of No,” and have not joined the majority in passing a single piece of major legislation to address the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Things are so bad that the Republican minority even recently blocked defense spending.

The only thing that Republicans have joined together to support since Bush’s TARP is the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. But of course, even this support only materialized in opposition to the Democratic position to extend the cuts for only the middle class.

Republican voters need to ask themselves whether or not they really want to support a party that will fight to protect the rich, that will even promote the falsehood that tax cuts for the rich benefit anyone but the rich. They need to ask themselves if they really want to support a party that will deliberately obstruct the very process of government they are sworn to protect. And most importantly, they need to ask themselves if they can support the utterly immoral tactic taken by Republicans to sit idly by and allow Americans to suffer so that they could improve their chances of regaining political power.

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Oct 012010
Image by The Wolf via Flickr

The Tuesday debate between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman illuminated the drastic contrast between the two candidates. It was a classic battle of public servant versus business tycoon. The two combatants presented diametrically opposing views on most topics, but nowhere was the contrast more stark than in their divergent commitment to honesty.

To his credit, Jerry Brown shared his beliefs and priorities in a direct and sincere manner. It’s unlikely that he won over any supporters with his eloquence or flawless articulation, as he did spend a fair amount of time sputtering and at times trailed off into incomplete thoughts. But all things considered, it’s hard to see how viewers who hadn’t already made up their minds would not be at least somewhat captivated by his frankness.

The current Attorney General spoke on both his past record and his plans for the future with openness and candor. When asked about his personal pension, currently due to be over $78,000, he replied that at age 72, he was “the best pension buy California has ever seen,” and he added that should he win in November, the buy would get even better. And at only 20 minutes into the debate, Brown was just getting warmed up with a personable style that would show throughout the event.

Brown’s absence of guile even touched the sharp edge of fumbling when asked why Californians should trust his commitment to the state in light of his past flirtations with the presidency. The former 3-time presidential candidate’s response was a candid “Age! You know if I was younger, I’d run again.” But Brown didn’t leave it there. Instead, he continued, “Now I have a wife, so I’m home at night and don’t try to close the bars in Sacramento.” Endearing? Possibly. Foot in his mouth? At least a couple toes. Honest? There is no doubt.

Most of the debate proceeded in similar fashion, with Brown often shooting from the hip and Whitman being more scripted and sticking to her talking points. But the real fulcrum for revealing their individual veracity came on a question from a college student asking Brown if he would roll back UC and CSU fee hikes from recent years. Brown’s response was “Not my first year, not with a $19 billion deficit. We have to get real here.” His answer was certainly not what the student wanted to hear, but it may have very well been music to the ears of those who want real solutions.

When the same question was posed to Whitman, the former eBay CEO seemed to forget about the state’s deficit and spoke instead of her plans to add $1 billion to higher education. She did take the time to elaborate on the topic, revealing that she would get the money from cuts in welfare, but failed to explain why she wouldn’t apply the savings to the budget shortfall. She also failed to be honest about the situation with welfare in California.

Whitman’s spin on the welfare issue is indicative of her general attitude toward the truth. California’s welfare state being a talking point of her campaign, she reiterated her “facts” on the matter at the debate. The situation according to Whitman is that the welfare problem in California is so bad that there are five times more welfare cases than in New York but only double the population. This really does reflect a problem, only the problem is with Ms. Whitman’s penchant for skewed “facts” and wild spin.

California’s population is indeed roughly twice as large as New York’s, but that’s about the full extent to which Whitman’s “facts” and the truth actually coincide. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are a whopping 1.4 million recipients of welfare in California and only 389,586 in New York, for a ratio of 3.6:1. Still significantly higher than the corresponding population ratio but not the 5x multiplier pushed by Whitman. The truth is that Whitman’s deception is based upon completely ignoring New York’s separate state welfare program (SSP) and looking solely at their TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients — a completely disingenuous comparison, since the combined TANF/SSP totals are what impacts the state budget.

And Whitman’s skewing of the caseload numbers doesn’t even begin to convey the degree of her dishonesty. Misinformation Meg relies on the New York welfare comparison to frame a picture of an out of control California government and the dire need for fiscal reform. She uses a distorted caseload number to make her point but oddly never mentions expenditures. Why? Because based on the most recent data available, New York spent nearly as much on public welfare as California. The 2008 totals were $33.4 million compared to $35 million. New York’s per capita expense was $1,710, and California’s a comparatively meager $955.

This much focus on Whitman’s distortion of the welfare story may seem a bit much. If it was an isolated instance, it could appropriately be overlooked, but such is not the case. The truth is that Queen Meg’s deception has been evidenced consistently throughout her campaign. Her ads openly attack Jerry Brown on his record as governor, lying about his records on taxes and jobs. She pretends to be factual on his record as mayor of Oakland but instead presents a fictitious tale of slander. She lies about state spending, talks out of both sides of her mouth on immigration, posits fallacious nonsense about tax cuts and job creation, spins some seriously illegitimate yarns on California’s business situation and does it all with conviction and a smile.

Politicians in general are not known for their truthfulness, so maybe Meg Whitman has just come down with a serious case of politi-deception-itus. Whatever the case, the Red Queen seems completely unable to curtail her deceit and refrain from perverting the truth. When it comes to Whitman, the old joke seems to fit like a glove: how do you tell when Meg Whitman is lying? That’s right — just look and see if her lips are moving.

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