Archive for February, 2010

Healthcare summit, or healthcare nadir?

February 26, 2010

There was a big meeting at the Blair House in Washington DC yesterday. They called it a “summit”. It was a healthcare summit. A summit is one of those fancy words that sounds important, and it has two meanings: it means a “high point”, or a “meeting of the heads of government”. In this case, the “Healthcare Summit 2010” was supposed to be both: a meeting of government bigwigs that was of the highest importance to get things done.

As usual, all these big shot governmental leaders got together over the promise that they would make progress on healthcare reform. They were going to all come together to voice their ideas on how to reform the embarrassment we call the “American Healthcare System”. And predictably, they all got together and bickered, and whined, and postured, and pouted, and accused, and misstated the facts. And they brought their props, and their canned party lines, and their baggage.

And nothing got done.

Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) brought the 2,000 page House bill and plopped it on the desk in front of him. He’s never read the damn thing, but he had it sitting there as if to make the silent point that the bill is too big, and therefore it costs too much.

John Boehner (R-Ohio) kept saying that we needed to start over “with a clean sheet of paper”. Sorry, the only thing the Republicans have contributed to the process is exactly that–a clean sheet of paper. Like the kind of paper that average American citizens could wipe their butts with. Republicans didn’t bring any new ideas, but they brought the clean sheet of paper.

And then there was Johnny-on-the-spot McCain (R-Arizona) whining about the fact that it took the President a year to get this process on TV. McCain is so full of sour grapes about losing the 2008 election that he can’t do anything but moan and groan about process and procedure. He doesn’t care about actually getting things done, he only cares about nitpicking the politics–just like when he was running for President. To paraphrase President Obama: “Sorry John, the campaign is over, and you lost. Now please go away unless you are willing to help.”

And the Democrats were full of their own stupidity. Their party line is to keep on saying “we are closer than people realize” to getting things done. If the Democrats were only “closer” amongst themselves, this reform would have passed in the fall.

So please don’t call it a summit. There was no high point. Nothing got done. And to this voter it was the opposite of a summit. It was a deep, deep nadir. Defined as “the lowest point in the fortunes of a person or organization”.

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The Big Government Myth

February 22, 2010

Ronald Reagan: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Bill Clinton: “The era of big government is over.”

Hypocrisy is the name of the game when politicians deride so-called “Big Government”. Republicans are often characterized as anti-big government, free-market capitalists who believe that if you put the power in the hands of the people the people will govern themselves. Democrats are thought of as reluctant big government advocates, who are forced to over-regulate everything because the people need government to keep the playing field level; they don’t want to grow the size of the government, but circumstances dictate the need to do so.

Fact: Democrats and Republicans both LOVE big government, each in their own way. Democrats love big-government for social programs, and Republicans love big government for military spending.

Exhibit A: In his eight years in office, Ronald Reagan increased government spending by 69 percent. He increased defense spending by 92% to force a stalemate with the USSR. By 1989 the US economy was growing, and so yes the size of government spending as a percentage of the economy had indeed shrunk under Reagan–an anemic decrease from 22.2% to 21.2%. Bottom line–US government spending was over 20% of the economy when he took office and it was over 20% the day he left. Conclusion: Reagan supported “Big Government” and failed to live up to his “government is the problem” mantra.

Exhibit B: From 1993 to 2001 Bill Clinton increased government spending by 32%, including only a 4% increase in defense spending–the cold war was over and 9/11 was unimaginable at the time. But Clinton’s numbers benefit from a booming economy that equated to a government spending decrease from 21.4% to 18.5%. In my book a 2.9% decrease is a wash when you factor in the technology boom of the internet and the lack of any serious military threat. Bottom line: Clinton’s government spent more than his predecessors, just like Reagan.

W increased government spending by 68% including a 126% increase in defense spending, and Obama’s spending is scraping almost 22% of the economy–so they are both infected by Big Government-itis.

Here’s the point: with over 300,000,000 people under its responsibility, the US Federal Government needs to spend money so that we have a well-protected, well-served, functioning American way of life. Democrats and Republicans pointing fingers at each other does no good because both sides are guilty. Got an enemy? Spend money on the military. Got a bad economy? Spend money so the whole ship doesn’t sink. Big government is only bad when it wastes money, but that is why we have elections–if you don’t like the stewardship of your tax dollars then elect someone else with better fiscal principals. The size of government is not the issue, it’s the management of the government we should be concerned with. When you put it in that context, as long as it takes care of the problem there is nothing terribly wrong with big-government spending.

But there is something terribly wrong with big-government bullshit.

Somebody Is Lying To Us

February 19, 2010

What I love the most about the internet is how much information is available out there. No politician can make a public comment that just disappears into the ether by escaping a reporter’s ear anymore. Someone is always there to capture it, and put it on permanent digital record that can be discovered by anyone at any time. And now that the economic stimulus is one-year old, we get all these contradictory and politically-charged statements about it that make a reasonably intelligent person wonder who is lying, and who is telling the truth?

The White House says the stimulus was $787 Billion.

The GOP says the stimulus was $862 Billion.

How can this be debatable? Didn’t anyone write the actual number down? $75 Billion is a lot of money. Even fast-food restaurants give you a receipt for a $3 meal. There must be a record of this somewhere.

Outgoing Democratic Senator Evan Bayh: “If I could create just one job in the private sector, that would be more than Congress has done in the last six months.”

Republican Congressman Eric Cantor on the stimulus money that was awarded to his district in Virginia to build a high-speed rail system: “…with this money we can create a lot of jobs.”

Now that’s a switch! A Democrat criticizing the stimulus and a Republican praising it. Well, not really. This next gem from Cantor restores normalcy in the universe.

Eric Cantor: “After all the rhetoric and an $800 billion economic stimulus plan, here are the results…4,022,000 total jobs lost with unemployment reaching its highest point in 25 years.”

And then there’s always the hocus-pocus of tax cuts…

House Republican Leader John Boehner: “Unfortunately, the trillion-dollar spending plan authored by congressional Democrats is chock full of government programs and projects, most of which won’t provide immediate relief.”

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Hundreds of thousands of middle-class families are benefiting from the largest and fastest middle-class tax cut in history.”

And GDP voodoo…

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence: “I think the Obama Administration to date has failed to address our economic crisis by applying the principles and ideals that have characterized our free market economy for generations.”

Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak: “In the last 6 months of the Bush administration we had a -6% growth in GDP. Last quarter it was positive 5.7%.”

But the heart of the economy will always be jobs. You’d think it would be simple enough to figure out how the US is doing on the jobs front. GOP Congressman Boehner even spent tax-payer money on a 35-page report called “Where Are The Jobs? A look Back At One Year Of So-Called Stimulus.” It’s a scathing critique of the economic stimulus plan. Just click the link and read it for yourself.

To which The US Department Of Labor’s Bureau Of Labor Statistics answered with this beautiful little chart that shows job loss and creation from the last year of W’s administration through the first year of the Obama administration:

So there it is–the great economic “debate”. You’d think that analyzing the economy would be pretty black-and-white because taxes, and jobs, and the GDP–they’re all just numbers right? Can’t we find the truth in the numbers?

Numbers don’t lie. But people do.

Bye-Bayh Supermajority (and good riddance)!

February 16, 2010

Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (D) dropped the “bomb” yesterday, and declared that he will not seek reelection this fall. And he made this announcement 24 hours before the filing deadline for candidates who want to represent the Democratic party. I guess that’s Bayh’s way of sticking it to Harry Reid for bobbling the supermajority that was handed to him in 2008.

Many Democrats will lose sleep over this, but not me. In some ways this is a blessing in disguise. There’s a lot of pressure involved with having a supermajority in the US Senate, and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did not handle it well at all. Reid was too concerned with playing nice with the GOP, and being bi-partisan, that he forgot to do what the people elected him to do–deliver on the Progressive agenda the Democrats promised in the 2008 campaign. When you have a supermajority of 60 votes, you are shielded from the filibuster and essentially given the right to push through any legislation you want. It sounds easy, but in this day and age of career politicians Harry Reid was too concerned with getting reelected this fall, and wanted to appeal to the broadest swath of Nevada voters as possible. This meant crossing the aisle and extending a hand to the GOP. And when he did, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell slapped him.

And then started “The Great Democratic Dropout of 2010”: Christopher Dodd (Connecticut), Ted Kaufman (Delaware), Roland Burris (Illinois), Byron Dorgan (N. Dakota), and now Evan Bayh all decided not to run for reelection. At a time when the Democratic party should be celebrating victories in healthcare reform, financial reform, and a jobs bill, they have nothing to show for the full year in which they had an opportunity to get things done. So who can blame these Senators for quitting? They are probably just as frustrated as the rest of the country by how broken the Federal Legislature is.

So why is this a good thing? For starters, Evan Bayh was a very conservative Democrat and didn’t necessarily agree with the Democratic agenda. And I think that because of people like him the party has lost its identity, which contributed to their lack of cohesion and progress. If the Democratic party can retain 52-55 seats held by true Progressive Democrats in the election this fall, then there will be a will to fight the GOP fanatics instead of fighting internally within the party. Sure this will leave them open to the filibuster, but then the GOP will ultimately need to come up with some actual solutions and ideas of their own instead of playing Nancy Reagan Politics (“Just Say No”).

The Democrats have been in the driver’s seat and they went nowhere. Now they will have a chance to turn left at the next GOP stop light and drive a true Progressive agenda. If they don’t, then we may be seeing the end of the Democrats as we knew them.

But perhaps that will (finally) open up a lane for the Progressive Party Express.

Miranda Rights and Wrongs

February 11, 2010

It seems like every week there’s a new episode of political “gotcha”. This week features the Democrats and Republicans arguing over reading suspected terrorists their Miranda Rights, specifically regarding the dust-up over the “Christmas Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (remember: even if a whole plane of people watched you try to ignite a bomb in your underwear, you are still considered a suspect until you’ve been convicted).

When he was pulled off of the flight to Detroit and handed over to the FBI, Abdulmutallab was Mirandized. In other words, he was advised of his right to remain silent, and how his words could be used against him, and that he had the right to speak with an attorney before answering any questions for his own protection (you can read the actual Miranda warnings guidelines here). This sent all the politicians into major spin mode:

GOP: We can’t give terrorists the same rights as regular criminals!

DEMS: But Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist and he was Mirandized!

GOP: Yeah but he was an AMERICAN terrorist!

DEMS: But W’s FBI read Shoe Bomber Richard Reid his Miranda rights!

GOP: Reid was an American! (Newt Gingrich actually said this)

DEMS: No he wasn’t–he was British!

GOP: Was not!

DEMS: Was so!

GOP: Nya-nya-nya!

DEMS: Up yours!

(Okay, so that ending is not an actual transcript of an actual dialogue, but to most Americans that’s what the constant partisan bickering sounds like.)

Bottom line: your Miranda Rights are guaranteed when you are taken into custody for interrogation by the cops or the FBI, whether you are a US citizen or a foreigner. Don’t believe me? Well here’s a link to the US Constitution and the Bill Of Rights where you can see for yourself (trust me, I read it).

And here’s the punchline: after being Mirandized, Abdulmutallab sang like a bird and gave the FBI all sorts of juicy information such as the names and locations of key players in Al Qaeda. The FBI did the right thing and got the kind of information that we actually need to fight the war on terror.

If you don’t like the rules, then amend the Constitution. Otherwise shut the hell up. After all, you have the right to do so.

The World In The Palm of Palin’s Hand

February 9, 2010

It’s kind of a modern-day version of Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned.

If you want a great example of why nothing ever gets accomplished in this country, just look at these two photos and guess which one is the lead story in American news media.

If you guessed “Iran commits to increasing it’s enriched uranium to 20%” you’d be dead wrong (pun intended).

Uranium enriched to 20% is nuclear weapons-grade. Yeah, yeah, I know Ahmadinejad says this is for “peaceful reasons” such as energy development and creating isotopes for treating cancer patients. There’s also a bridge in Tehran he’d like to sell me.

Meanwhile over in Teabag-ville, the media is obsessed with Sarah Palin’s address to the Tea Party summit this weekend and how she had to write talking points on her hand so she could “stay on message”. We all know that she’s a nitwit, but she’s a powerful nitwit in the political world so we can’t seem to focus on the things that really matter. Like that pesky little guy in Iran thumbing his nuclear nose at the rest of us.

Something about this smacks of our pre-9/11 distraction to me. While Bill Clinton was being impeached for his affair with Intern Lewinsky, our whole country and the Western world took our collective eyes off the ball, allowing Al Qaeda to infiltrate the US and put their murderous plot into action.

My point here is that our government is so deeply mired in politics, that it’s now impossible for them to do the peoples’ business. Instead of reforming healthcare, they’re too busy bickering about procedure. Instead of creating jobs, they’re trying to save their own. And instead of putting the time and energy required into dealing with world peace and terrorism and domestic safety, they’re obsessed with playing a dangerous game called “gotcha”.

If Congress and the President could spend 100% of their energy and focus on the issues instead of reacting to what Sarah Palin said to the Tea Party, or what Nancy Pelosi said about John Boehner, or what Mitch McConnell said about Rham Emmanuel, maybe the world would be a safer place. Maybe we’d have affordable healthcare. Maybe Iran would comply with the rest of the world’s wishes. Maybe the recession would have never happened.

Until we as a country smarten up and focus on the issues instead of the ideologues, we can expect the world to become an even more dangerous place. Ahmadinejad watches CNN too, so he knows we’re not paying enough attention to him.

BOOM!

D Is For DEMOCRAT

February 4, 2010

D is for DEMOCRAT; someone who is registered or aligned with the left wing of the political spectrum. The party with majority control of America’s Federal Government beginning in 2008.

D is for DISAPPOINTING; Democrats had a super-majority in the Senate for a year and got nothing accomplished.

D is for DEMAGOGUERY; how Democratic opposition scares the voting populace in America.

D is for D+; the grade I am giving the Democratic party for their performance from 2008-to date.

D is for DAFT; the way the Democratic party acts in the face of opposition.

D is for DE FACTO; the Democrats control the 2 out of 3 branches of government, but the GOP actually runs the show.

D is for DEADLOCKED; Democrats argue amongst themselves over everything, and they achieve nothing.

D is for DAMAGED GOODS; Harry Reid as the Democratic leader of the US Senate.

D is for DICHOTOMY; the difference between Democrats being in charge, and actually taking charge to get things done.

D is for DERELICTION OF DUTY; the shameful failure to fulfill one’s obligations (see DEMOCRAT).

D is for DISAFFECTED; how most Democrats feel these days.

D is for DOA (Dead On Arrival); the state of every bill introduced by the Democrats because of the GOP’s ability to rule from the minority position.

D is for DON’T ASK DON’T TELL; the most shameful Democratic idea ever.

D is for DUBIOUS; the state of Democratic power.

D is for DUPLICITY; Democrats promised to reform healthcare, and then they didn’t. No excuses!

D is for DIDDLY-SQUAT; what I got in return for electing Democrats.

Election 2010: Insiders vs. Outsiders

February 3, 2010

Politics in 2010 has become a battle between the Insiders vs. the Outsiders. As in, “Send me to Washington so I can put an end to ‘politics as usual'”. The problem with that logic is that politicians don’t change Washington; Washington changes politicians.

This November’s election is building up to be a campaign against all the incumbents. Incumbents are always blamed for not getting anything done because, duh, they are the ones with the jobs to do so. But incumbents are not inherently bad–the system is. With the filibuster, and career politicians, and the internet exposing every “misstatement”, how can anyone expect anything to get done? If a Republican or a Democrat wants to vote for something from the other party, they can’t do it for fear of losing their job. Because of our entrenched two-party political system, American politics have turned into one big Coke vs. Pepsi battle: both are essentially the same product in different packaging. And both of them fear the rise of a third competitor.

Voters tend to talk about “throwing the bums out”, but whenever we get a chance to do so we fall back to our inbred political positions and vote for the candidates we think we know. Two examples of this surfaced in the Illinois primaries last night.

In the race for the US Senate seat once held by Barack Obama, Illinois has decided to send one of two political insiders to DC in the fall: State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) and US Representative Mark Kirk (R). Giannoulias is indeed a DC outsider, but he is a political animal with a slightly tainted background from when he ran his family-owned bank into trouble with loan regulators. And Mark Kirk has been in DC for a long time with deep roots as a supporter of the W/Cheney administration. Whomever IL elects in November, they will be sending a political INSIDER to Washington.

It has been said that President Obama was not supportive of Giannoulias because this country is very anti-banking these days, and Alexi’s background in that industry will be like feeding chum to a shark tank when Mark Kirk’s ads begin to break. And no doubt the Giannoulias campaign will show many pictures of Kirk hugging W to remind voters of his right-wing voting record from last decade. The voters will wind up sending one of these two bad options to DC (my prediction: Mark Kirk will win), and nothing will change.

There’s an old saying that the “voters get the kind of politicians they deserve”, which is so true. We talk a good game about changing politics, but we keep sending the same politicians back to work. Politicians will never change the system–only the voters can do that by electing outsiders. So until the voters of the US become fed up with the underperformance of our elected officials and decide to send real outsiders to Washington, we have no one to blame but ourselves.