Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Short and Not So Long of Rovian Politics

Karl Rove was back in the news last week. He was testifying before a congressional committee investigating the firing of eight Assistant Attorney Generals in 2007. There has been much speculation about Rove’s role in the firings while a key White House political operative. The firings reeked of political maneuvering and compromised the integrity of our legal system. Prosecutions and decisions not to prosecute surrounded the politicization of the Justice Department during the Bush years, especially during the tenure of Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. It remains to be seen whether Rove will at some point have to answer for his involvement in this travesty as well his likely role in the compromising of a CIA undercover operative in the Valerie Plame case. Other cynical machinations abound that were intended to provide cover for the Bush administration’s questionable to illegal activities and to assure the domination of the Republican Party for years to come.

Rove has been widely credited for his role in bringing George W. Bush to the White House. It was a strategy that brought together the moneyed class of America and the working class of the Christian religious-right under the umbrella of the Republican Party. Rove came to be known as Bush’s Brain. The early successes of this political merger led to predictions that the GOP would dominate national politics for perhaps decades. How has the Rovian Strategy played out? One assessment would be that the legacy of Bush’s Brain is an inoperable tumor.

The election of African American Barack Obama to the presidency of the USA would not likely have occurred if not for the backlash against Bush, Rove and their minions. This backlash has also been seen in the Congress where the Republican Party now finds itself in the minority in both the Senate and the House. The number of registered Republicans has substantially declined. A significant number of long-standing Republican congress people are not seeking re-election, as they see the writing on the wall. The Republican Party’s strength is now limited to a few southern states and a couple of western states characterized as the “Mormon Corridor”. The heart of the GOP is now a narrow political base bottom feeding on fringe ideas. Their mantras are anti-abortion, anti-gays, questioning Obama’s birth certificate and bemoaning the fate of the White man. Their heroes are the likes of pundits Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and politicos Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. The common theme of these “conservative” voices is fear, divisiveness, negativity and more fear. At a time when this country desperately needs ideas to overcome much of the damage that this group has wrought, they have little to offer. Their strategy is to oppose everything but their narrow failed vision. This is the state of the Party that rumbled into town on the Rove Express. What happened to the projected political dominance so giddily anticipated just a few years ago?

Certainly the divide and conquer Rove strategy proved short-term successful in the sense that they gained entrance to the White House. Bush did not win the popular vote in 2000 and it took a questionable decision by the Supreme Court to get seated in the Oval Office, but they got there. They then proceeded to politicize virtually every aspect and department of government, break rules of accepted procedure and ignore the warnings of an imminent terrorist attack that resulted in 9/11. Bush and VP Dick Cheney subsequently used this attack to misleadingly justify the Iraq War where the safety of troops and treatment of wounded took a back seat to the imperialist focus of the Neocons. They broke national and international laws with respect to human rights and torture. They broke national laws with illegal wiretaps, allowed the special interests of corporations to take precedence over worker and product safety and they ignored and secreted scientific reports on the damaging effects of global warming.

As busy as the Bushites were they found time to inject the catechism of the religious-right throughout the federal government while ignoring the constitutional requirement of the separation of church and state. By the end of the Bush administration the average American was significantly worse off in 2008 than in 2000. The focus of the Republican Party under Bush was to be the advocate of special interests and by the presidential election of 2008 the majority of Americans were seeing that the Republican Party was as naked as the king in the children’s parable.

In a democracy, lies, manipulation and misdirection can lead to short-term political success. But unless such an effort actually destroys that democracy, incumbency will be short-lived. We may never know all of the details about how our country was derailed by Rovian tactics but for the time being we have survived. In a free society, a political philosophy that does not ultimately serve the interests of the majority of the populous cannot gain long-term traction. The ultimate failure of Karl Rove to achieve Republican Party dominance bodes well for the future of our country, if we can first survive the mess left behind.

Farewell, At Least for a While

In June 2007 I began offering my unsolicited view of the news, otherwise known as a blog. It was my way of expressing displeasure with the abominations perpetrated by the Bush administration and the terrible leadership exhibited by our national legislators. What I originally believed would be a few short notes to friends blossomed into 125 blog posts. Although Stephen Views the News has been a very small voice in the world of blogging it is gratifying that my comments have been visited by people from 46 countries, almost 1100 cities and you. This adventure has been a labor of love, an interesting challenge, a vehicle to learn more about my country and how it functions and a venue to participate in the dialogue. New friends met along the way have been a special bonus. The positive feedback I received has been an encouragement and the criticisms an impetus to further evaluate my positions and better understand opposing points of view. What could be healthier in a free society?

I share these thoughts because recently I have felt it is time for a break. This current post encompasses much of what I have written about these last two years and therefore serves as an apropos dénouement.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

* Just love them Golden Oldies – There are so many great songs that I fondly remember from the 1960s. There is Devil with A Blue Dress, Johnny B. Goode, Hang on Sloopy, Sugar Pie Honey Bunch, Heatwave, Mustang Sally and so many more. However, my very favorite song is the one sung by a group that is still as active today as 45 years ago – The Conservatives. The song is titled, “Medicare Will Result in the Rationing of Medical Care.” Members of this doo wop group included, Ronald Regan, Bob Dole, George H. W. Bush and Barry Goldwater. Actually, the song was off key then and the current version is equally dissonate.

Time and energy does not permit linking to every absurdity The Conservatives have put forth in opposing healthcare and health insurance reform but examples include: every American already has good health coverage; reform will result in the euthanasia of the elderly; a government bureaucrat will decide what treatment a patient will be allowed; America already has the best healthcare in the world; we must protect the health insurers; reform will result in the rationing of health care. It reminds one of “The Twist” by Chubby Checker.

Medicare is a government-sponsored health care program that provides health coverage to virtually all of the nation’s elderly and a large share of people with disabilities. While the program is not perfect, as Igor Volsky notes at ThinkProgress.org, “it has dramatically improved access to health care, allowed seniors to live longer and healthier lives, contributed to the desegregation of southern hospitals, and has become one of the most popular government programs.” The fears and lies promulgated by the forces that oppose healthcare reform today are a cabal of conservative Republicans and some Democrats who are in the pocket of the insurance industry and are fueled by millions of dollars in spending by the health insurance industry intent on protecting their monopolies and profits. It is a familiar tune but inaccurate history and terrible policy for the majority of Americans. As a participant in Medicare I have never experienced interference in my choice of doctors, medical facilities or treatments. I have seen no evidence that supports such claims. Perhaps some of the old songs are not as good as I would like to recall. At the same time, if intelligent healthcare reform is not enacted soon, many people will be left with that groovy song from the Temptations - “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”

Although I believe that President Obama waited too long to become forcefully involved in the healthcare and health insurance reform discussion, he said in a speech in North Carolina on Wednesday, “First of all, no one is talking about some government takeover of health care. Under the reform I’ve proposed, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. And if you’re one of the 46 million Americans who don’t have coverage today, you will finally be able to get quality, affordable coverage…. the truth is, we have a system today that works well for the insurance industry, but it doesn’t always work well for you. What we need, and what we will have when we pass these reforms, are health insurance consumer protections to make sure that those who have insurance are treated fairly and insurance companies are held accountable… We will stop insurance companies from denying you coverage because of your medical history… We will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms, colonoscopies, or eye and foot exams for diabetics, so we can avoid chronic illnesses that cost not only lives, but money… And we will stop insurance companies from placing arbitrary caps on the coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime.” We are now “In the Midnight Hour” (Wilson Picket) with respect to healthcare reform. We should not let the naysayers do “Somethin’ Stupid” (Frank and Nancy Sinatra).

* How does the Republican leadership feel about their Party? – An interesting post by Markos Moulitas at dailykos.com notes that “Republicans flee congress in droves.” Seven of the 41 Republican senators have announced they will not seek re-election and Arlen Specter has switched parties. There is somewhat of a satisfying feeling seeing so many of the legislators who rubber-stamped Bush policy that resulted in so much pain for this country leaving the national scene for lucrative lobbying jobs or to bask in the comfort of their government–provided retirement plans and healthcare coverage. I am reminded of the song by Vanilla Fudge, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”

* Speaking of sounds – Over the last few weeks my ears have begun hurting from one of the ugliest sounds imaginable - the sound of racism. No, I did not expect meanness, hatred and divisiveness from those who harbor racism to disappear with the inauguration of Barack Obama. I also did not believe that such maliciousness that we currently see could gain its current traction in the 21st Century in the United States of America. Once again my naïveté causes me to blush. Or is that redness on my face anger?

Free speech does not allow the silencing of Glenn Beck and fellow conservative talk shlocks who spew racist rhetoric in order to appeal to a wacko listening core. Free speech does not allow the muting of the bile excreted by a rejuvenated white supremacist coven in this country. At the same time, decency requires that we speak out about such outrages. And while on this subject, I say to CNN’s Lou Dobbs, who is giving voice to and exposure to the idiots who have been termed “birthers” (those who question the validity of Obamas birth certificate), I find your “journalism” to be as appealing as afterbirth.

Richard Cohen, President of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a major force in the fight against racism said, “But Dobbs is playing a dangerous game. By promoting paranoid conspiracy theories that originate in extremist circles, he's fanning the flames of racism among a segment of society that can't accept a black man in the White House. And we've already seen a wave of violence committed by racial extremists since Obama was elected.” The SPLC is sponsoring a petition to CNN titled, “Tell CNN to Stop Peddling Racist Propaganda.”

Criticism should vociferously be directed at CNN for allowing Dobbs to play a ratings game that appeals to the lowest instincts and divides our country. This is not intelligent discourse and certainly does not serve the interests of this country. More than enough of such crap is already available on FOX News. At a time when our country is overburdened with problems and challenges the network that bills itself as the best source for political news has made itself a source of a problem. Although Dobbs knows no shame it is a shame on CNN.

In a “man bites dog moment” you have to love this video clip made available at CrooksandLiars.com where Bill O’Reilly (Faux News, of course) and Bernie Goldberg theorize that the Birther controversy is a plot by liberals to make the conservatives look nutty. Memo to Bill: You do not need our help.

* “People are asking me about the race problem.... I know of no race problem. The great problem that confronts the American people to-day is a national problem -- whether this great nation of ours is great enough to live up to its own convictions, carry out its own declaration of independence, and execute the provisions of its own constitution.”

Spoken by Frederick Douglas in the year 1893

Thursday, July 23, 2009

* The Buchanan Watch, aka, the White Man’s Burden – Keeping an eye on Pat Buchanan is not especially challenging since his more-than-weekly public comments expressing a depressing level of racism and Caucasian entitlement continues unabated. During his recent conversation with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC Mr. Buchanan said that white men built this country. I am not sure what the implication is for today’s world but I would point out that a good portion of the white man’s early success was predicated on slave labor. That is not exactly a white feather in the white bonnet of the white man. Since it was slaves who physically built the White House perhaps it would be more accurate to call it the Black House.

Buchanan and his ilk are fond of thumping their pathetically selective interpretation of the bible so it seems appropriate to quote the bible: In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God (Genesis 5:1). Now there are some who make the arrogant assertion that it is white, conservatively Christian American folks that are God’s image. I wonder if God was having a bad hair day when creating blacks, Jews, Asians, American and Indian Indians, Muslims, Buddhists, Australoids, Cao Dais and atheists? One wonders if God has a hernia from laughing at these fools and red eyes from crying over their ignorance, self-absorption and diminishment of the human spirit.

* The alarm has sounded but we remain somnambulant – As healthcare reform dominates the news our society continues to keep a closed eye to health. In an article “The High Cost of Cheap Food” by Megan Nix that was first published in the Denver Post she notes that 27% of children are obese (a category beyond just being overweight) and, for the first time in 200 years, today's children have a lower life expectancy than their parents. Food processors and agribusiness are dominated by a few corporations whose business model is dominated by profitability – a formula that ignores the welfare of the individual and the common good. The result is over-processed foods too often lacking sound nutrition. The result is livestock pumped with antibiotics resulting in humans becoming immune to antibiotics and leading to the emergence of superbugs (more virulent strains of bacteria). The raising of livestock in unsanitary conditions is leading to the threat of super strains of E-coli, amongst other dangers. Yes, America is facing many challenges and many of them are not yet on the radar screen for the vast majority of its citizens. At a time when Conservatives call for less government the exact opposite is desperately needed because we have allowed food production to be concentrated in too few hands and at the same time reduced the oversight of these operations.

An article in the Brattleboro (VT) Reformer offers a case in point of how concentration (monopoly) in the dairy industry and an antiquated and complicated national pricing system is resulting in the demise of small dairy farmers. A good example of the negative effects that occur when a mega-corporation is permitted to expand its influence unabated is Dean Foods. Silk is a brand of soy milk that developed a strong customer base by producing a product made from American grown organic soy. Silk was committed to supporting domestic organic farmers. The “organic” designation for American grown product requires strict growing standards resulting in a higher cost. Once Dean Foods acquired the company: “Multiple Midwestern farmers and farmer cooperatives in the heart of American soy country were told by Silk they had to match the rock-bottom cost of Chinese organic soybeans -- a price they simply could not meet. Organic agriculture is labor-intensive, and China's edge comes largely from its abundance of cheap labor.” I would add that Chinese produced products too often have proven to be unsafe and too often lack the oversight of production and efficacy. Examples include toys, ingredients for baking and pet food, wallboard, pharmaceuticals and food products.

Silk has since abandoned even the “organic” element of their product since it is even cheaper to use soybeans that in some cases are processed with the neurotoxin hexane. “The use of hexane poses risks to workers in the plants and possibly the consumers of the product and is listed as an air pollutant by EPA. In Illinois alone, 5 million pounds of hexane are released into the environment by food processors Bunge, Cargill and Arthur Daniels Midland.” And, irony of ironies, “hexane-processed soymilk can still be labeled "natural." It is enough to drive a health-conscious person to drink!

* American suicide bombers (this is not a typo) - Meet Glenn Beck, Bill Kristol, John Bolten, Jim DeMint and a host of other Republican-Conservative legislators and commentators who are so intent on Obama failing that the American people can go to hell. They perform as winsome cheerleaders advocating and rooting for his failure. Their myopic pandering to their narrowing base is, in fact, wishing for America to fail. We are seeing the culmination (and demise) of a political, social and economic philosophy that brought America to its knees during the Bush Administration. They have little constructive to offer and find comfort in the wounds inflicted upon America by their policies. As Obama and the American people attempt to recover from their influence these cheerless “leaders” bloviate and prance as patriots hoping that their treason-like rhetoric is seen as something else. “Despicable” is their coat of arms.

* When inmates reform the prison – Who is one of the leaders of healthcare reform in the Senate? Meet Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Unfortunately, at a time when intelligent healthcare reform needs a man of and for the people we have a shill for the health insurance industry. “Health-related companies and their employees gave Baucus's political committees nearly $1.5 million in 2007 and 2008, when he began holding hearings and making preparations for this year's reform debate.” According to an email this week sent by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), “Health insurance premiums have doubled since 2001, while health insurance industry profits have soared 428% in that same time.” Baucus is their advocate, not ours. No one can predict at this time what form health reform will take. The odds against meaningful reform are substantial given that the so many of the decision makers are owned by the elements in the health care system whose economic interests oppose reform.

In a grand idiosyncrasy in the design of the American democratic system, Senator Baucus represents a state that contains three-tenths of one percent of the country’s population but 100 per cent of the health insurance industry.

* Headline of the Week – “Obama may have to wait for health care package.” Perhaps a more accurate headline would have been: Tens of millions of Americans may have to wait for health care!

* Achtung! – As our military continues to dismiss openly gay troops (12,500 in the last 15 years), the Army is impotent in addressing the growing number of white supremacists among its ranks. “Army policy states that commanders can take disciplinary actions, including reclassification of soldiers who are active white supremacists. They cannot, however, dismiss them. The heaviest penalty a commander could impose is to bar reenlistment.” A report in the military publication “Stars and Stripes” noted that dozens of active-duty personnel can be found on a Neo-Nazi site characterized as Facebook for the fascist set. What do these storm trooper wannabees reveal? Favorite book: Mein Kampf. Favorite movie: the Nazi propaganda film “Triumph of the Will.” Dislikes: “anyone who opposes the master race.”

Last month Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) attached an amendment to the 2010 defense authorization bill that would expressly ban the “recruitment, enlistment or retention” of anyone tied to an extremist group. Hastings noted: “The problem is that in many instances, recruiters and commanding officers are looking the other way. The US Government should not be providing the highest quality of military training in the world to individuals who hope to use that training in a ‘race war’ or in an effort to overthrow the United States Government.” Ya think?

* Well, how is that working out? – The effects of George Bush’s evangelically-driven sex education policy are becoming evident. They can be characterized as an itchy and oozing eruption in the groin area. The Center for Disease control reports, “years of falling rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease infections under previous administrations were reversed or stalled in the Bush years… birth rates among teenagers aged 15 or older had been in decline since 1991 but are up sharply in more than half of American states since 2005… number of teenage females with syphilis has risen by nearly half after a significant decrease while a two-decade fall in the gonorrhea infection rate is being reversed. The number of Aids cases in adolescent boys has nearly doubled.” I suggest we pass on the Kool Aid and pass the condoms.

* “Sure there are dishonest men in local government. But there are dishonest men in national government too.”
Richard M. Nixon

Thursday, July 16, 2009

* When “black” was more beautiful – In the 1950s and 1960s an organization of black churches and ministers forged the way for the civil rights movement for African Americans. This historic and game-changing force was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) led by Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young. Freedom loving Americans will always remember and honor their leadership and their sacrifices. Against long-held prejudice and less-than equal rights they believed that nonviolent civil disobedience could help end segregation and foster social justice for blacks. Their diligence and persistence led to legal decisions and legislation that finally provided African Americans the rights granted to white males when our country’s founders declared independence from England in 1776 and formed a less-than-perfect union that would take 200 more years for its stated freedoms to be all-inclusive.

I note this background because today the SCLC should be the target of sit-ins and marches for what has become its civil-rights hypocrisy. While fighting for the equal rights of African Americans the SCLC has decided to incarnate as George Wallace when it comes to equal rights of gay Americans. The SCLC is “seeking to remove the president of its Los Angeles chapter,” Rev. Eric P. Lee, in response to his role in organizing opposition to California’s same-sex marriage ban, Prop. 8, last fall. The cry for freedom during the civil rights movement for African Americans was “We Shall Overcome.” I suggest they change their rallying cry to “One and Done.”

* Was it good for you? – NY Times columnist David Brooks wrote about sitting next to a Republican senator at a dinner. Brooks claims the senator had his hand on Brooks’ inner thigh throughout the dinner. When asked the name of the senator Brooks declined to reveal his identity. It seems reasonable to inquire why Brooks did not just get up from the table. Either he was secreting his tumescence or he did not want to miss dessert.

* You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink – I thought about this adage listening to Senator Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) remarks during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The senator related how her parents had purchased the Encyclopedia Britannica in order to enhance her education as Sotomayor’s mother had done for her and her brother who would later become a doctor. The stories resonated for me because my parents had also purchased a Britannica set for me and my brother. My mother had completed high school but my father did not, having to leave school to help support his family. Fortunately for me and my brother our parents realized the need to be proactive in our learning. I was the first in my family to attend college. There is no question in my mind that this would not have occurred without the diligence and encouragement of my parents to ensure my intellectual development.

My understanding of the importance of a parent’s role in the education of their child was further broadened when I worked as a substitute teacher to fund my graduate work. Some of this work was in neighborhoods where parent involvement in their child’s education was too often minimal to none. It did not require an advanced degree to comprehend rather quickly which students received parental oversight in their studies. Probably the most important element in the education process, the role that parents play, is the one receiving the least attention in attempts to improve grade school learning. As I follow reports on the problems and failures of education in America the system is to blame, teachers are to blame, lack of funding is to blame along with television, movies, electronic games and the bogeyman. It is doubtful if any combination of educational programs and teacher incentives will achieve success in educating children if the parents are absent from the equation. What I observed over 40 years ago is as pervasive, if not more so, today.

* The Buchanan Watch – For the third week in a row Pat Buchanan has managed to catch my attention with his insidious and harmful remarks. Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Buchanan said, “Todd Palin, ought to take Levi down to the creek and hold his head underwater until the thrashing stops.“ Buchanan was criticizing former almost son-in-law Levi Johnson for his remarks about Sarah Palin. Mr. Buchanan once again joins fellow pundits Limbaugh, O’Reily, Savage and Beck on the Psycho Babblers Express. I say shame on the house of MSNBC for continuing to give Buchanan a forum.

* From ThinkProgress.org:
"I will not vote for -- and no senator should vote for -- an individual nominated by any president who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their personal background, gender prejudices, or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of, or against, parties before the court." -- Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), 7/13/09

"When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account."-- Judge Samuel Alito, 1/11/06, during his Senate confirmation hearings as nominee for the Supreme Court. Sessions voted to confirm Alito as a Supreme Court Justice

I watched with interest as Sotomayor did attempt to explain to Sessions that she feels it important to be aware of her experiences and prejudices when hearing a case to ensure that this background does not impact her decisions. It is not a concept requiring membership in MENSA to understand but Sessions did not get it. Maybe his parents did not provide him with an encyclopedia in his formative years.

* Speaking of Senator Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions – I get a warm, fuzzy feeling when a U.S. Senator is actually qualified to be interrogating someone appearing before his committee. When Sessions accused Sonia Sotomayor of being a racist he brought to the discussion considerable experience. You can read details at the link but one example that tells you all you need to know about the senator from Alabama: “Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a ‘disgrace to his race’ for litigating voting rights cases.” It is interesting that one man’s idea of “disgrace” is another’s idea of nobility.

* Real heroes – A reader sent me a copy of Ben Stein’s final column “Monday Night at Morton’s.” I am not that fond of Stein’s comedic and acting endeavors and even less so of his politics. However, he offers a wonderful commentary about what is important in life and that the real heroes in our society are not the movie and sports stars. It is a highly recommended read available at this link.

* “Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.”
William Sloane Coffin, Jr. (1924 – 2006) Christian clergyman and long-time peace activist with international stature

Thursday, July 9, 2009

* A time to grieve, but for whom – If anyone other than his family is grieving at the death of Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1967, I suggest stripping off the black cloth of mourning. This once head of Ford Motor Co. and eventual president of the International Monetary Fund proved to be one of the best and brightest but also one of the worst leaders in American history. He intentionally misled then President Lyndon B. Johnson and the American people about a North Vietnamese attack on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin – an attack that never occurred. McNamara’s deception led to the bombing of North Viet Nam and resulted in the escalation of a war that would claim over 58,000 American lives, 350,000 American casualties and untold numbers of Asian lives. For many of the American military personnel who survived Viet Nam tragic lives followed from loss of legs and arms, mental illness, joblessness, homelessness and a host of illnesses from exposure to the chemical known as Agent Orange. I for one do not wish that Mr. McNamara rest in peace. I suspect that in the future the same will be written about several members of the Bush administration for their criminal and immoral role in the Iraq War. Amen.

* If you reside in Pennsylvania the foul odor assaulting your senses is not environmental, it is political. Former state senator Vincent Fumo was recently found guilty of a long list of crimes (137 to be exact) and he is about to be sentenced. The Philadelphia Inquirer featured an article about the well-connected pols who have stepped forward pleading for leniency at the Fumo sentencing. Below is my letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Tuesday’s front page article “Rendell lends support to Fumo” epitomizes the stench of Pennsylvania politics and failed leadership. Vincent J. Fumo is the poster boy for and has been found guilty of pay to play politics, fraud, misuse of office and funds and destroying evidence among a list of crimes that is longer than his years of “service.” There is no question of his egregious and criminal acts. Now that he is about to be sentenced, who steps up to ask for mercy? There is the governor of PA, U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady, and former PA Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala. The “good old boy network” is not good for the citizens of PA and it has gotten very old. The aphrodisiac of power knows no shame!

* Un-American – This is a term we have heard quite often this decade. It is an accusation usually hurled by Republicans/Conservatives at critics of an unprovoked war, individuals who support the rights of gay citizens, citizens that believe torture is immoral, and lovers of freedom offended by the government spying on citizens. I thought about this when reading of Switzerland’s opposition to its international bank UBS disclosing data to U.S. tax authorities on 52,000 Americans who are holders of secret Swiss bank accounts. If one were hiding money in a Swiss bank it seems reasonable to conclude it is being done to avoid taxes, to avoid paying one’s fair share. It is clearly an un-American act and yet I have not heard the lapel flag pin faux patriots offering their outcry. Maybe some of them are waiting until they move their hidden accounts to the Cayman Islands.

The Swiss claim that such revelations would break their banking laws. Not reporting money to the IRS to avoid paying taxes breaks U.S. law so in a very real sense the Swiss are aiding and abetting criminal activity by U.S. citizens. In response to the Swiss intransigence perhaps the U.S. should impose a 500% tariff on Swiss cheese and watches. The other alternative would be to follow the propensity of our Neocon brethren and drop a bunker bomb on the Swiss vaults.

* Speaking of what it means to be an American – Conservative icon Pat Buchanan offered this interesting perspective in an interview this week: “I put democracy far down the line. I think a devoutly Christian, conservative, traditionalist country—even if it’s a monarchy—is fine with me.” I guess that being a real conservative means never having to say you are sorry for ignoring the Constitution of the United States of America or the history of what brought settlers to the new world - fleeing the religious persecution that took place under a monarchy. It is obvious that being extremely intelligent does not preclude one from being a fool.

* Speaking of big cheeses - A report in the Washington Post offers an interesting insight into the lobbying efforts of the healthcare industry to influence or impede legislation on healthcare reform. In this historic battle you and I are David versus Goliath:

~ The healthcare industry is spending $1.4 million per day as it attempts to influence legislation.
~ “The nation's largest insurers, hospitals and medical groups have hired more than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress in hopes of influencing their old bosses and colleagues… At least three of every four major healthcare firms have at least one former insider on their lobbying payrolls”
~ “The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) doubled its spending to nearly $7 million in the first quarter of 2009, followed by Pfizer, with more than $6 million.”

It will require a great deal of citizen action to overcome the mountain of resources being utilized by the folks that have brought us the current state of affairs in healthcare and who wish to maintain the status quo. Seventy-six percent of Americans want a public option to healthcare. As overwhelming as this statistic may be the healthcare industry and their friends/advocates/hired guns in Congress stand in the way. Change will only happen if we the people assert ourselves.

Health Care for America Now has a petition you can sign that will be forwarded to your Representative at this link. Change.org offers a letter to your Senator about healthcare reform at this link. If you want to contact your elected officials directly Project Vote Smart, at this link, provides the tools to locate your congressmen’s contact information to let them know your vote will depend upon their actions. If you want to become more active in the effort to achieve healthcare reform Organizing for America has a site where you can sigh up for an event to make phone calls or canvass door-to-door at this link. If you wait for the next increase in your health insurance premium or co-pay it may be too late.

In case you are accepting the band aid solutions the health insurance industry claims it will institute to improve healthcare and control costs a Senate committee report noted the following: “Health insurers have forced consumers to pay billions of dollars in medical bills that the insurers themselves should have paid.” Insurers have systematically underpaid for so-called out-of-network care. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo described the underpayments “as a scheme by health insurers to defraud consumers by manipulating reimbursement rates." Who do you trust?

Some resources on healthcare reform:
~ Physicians for a National Health Program
~ California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee
~ Health Care for America Now
~ The U.S. House's Health Care Reform Discussion Draft
~ National Health Care Policy Study Group

* “One reason the Kennedy and Johnson administrations failed to take an orderly, rational approach to the basic questions underlying Vietnam was the staggering variety and complexity of other issues we faced. Simply put, we faced a blizzard of problems, there were only twenty-four hours in a day, and we often did not have time to think straight.”
Robert S. McNamara, “In Retrospect” (a memoir), 1995

Postscript: One wonders if this week Mr. McNamara is explaining to his maker how he did have the time and mental acuity to intentionally mislead his country into an unnecessary escalation of war marked by death, destruction and tragedy for millions of human beings?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Conservative Perspective – Political Pornography

As I troll, surf and stalk what is happening in the news I often stumble upon such absurdity by so-called Conservatives that I do a check to ensure I have taken the correct medication for the day. In a clear-headed world such lewdness of logic could not be taking place. More often than not I ignore such offense to reason. When I have noted these mental burlesques they have been featured in a segment designated Derriere Orifice of the Week. This was indeed a special week!

* Senator John Ensign (R-NV) and Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC), advocates of family values, opponents of gay rights and pontificators of how others should conduct their lives, were exposed for extra-marital affairs. Perhaps these disgraced icons of the holier-than-thou movement should pay more attention to what their own sexual organs are doing. Republican sexual indiscretions have become so prevalent that TalkingPointsMemo.com has developed a Sex Scandal Flow Chart, where all roads must lead to hell. Truth be told, I would not care less what happens in the private lives of politicians if not for those instances where their hypocrisy is palpable. The sanctity of marriage begins with one’s own zipper remaining in the up position. And what does it say about Senate Republican leadership that during their regular Tuesday luncheon meeting, following Ensign’s mea culpa apology to them, they showered him with applause. Good job John, another notch on the chastity belt!

* Noted natural healer and airwaves polluter Rush Limbaugh offered an alibi for Sanford’s love tryst in Argentina. Limbaugh said, “Sanford flew out of the country to have an affair because ‘President Obama drove him over the edge’.” The background of “over the edge” involved Sanford opposing the acceptance of desperately needed money provided in the Stimulus Plan for South Carolina. Sanford lost this fierce battle with his state legislature as he desperately attempted to establish his conservative credentials for a presidential run in 2012. The Limbaugh Prescription: committing adultery is the homeopathic approach to dealing with stress. Whatever bothers you, just get laid and blame it on the President.

* Right-wing anti-tax activist Grover Norquist offered an interesting perspective on recent Republican adultery. Norquist said, “It does indicate that men who oppose federal spending at the local level are irresistible to women.” Oh to have had this knowledge when I was single. Who would have thought that approaching a woman in a cocktail lounge as a tight-assed, anal-retentive bible thumper with a Shirley Temple in hand would have her disrobing and fogging up my eyeglasses?

* One of Maryland’s most prominent Republican organizations, Republican Women of Anne Arundel County, issued a letter by the organization’s President, Joyce Thomann. Her letter began “Dear Friends” and went on to say, “Obama and Hitler have a great deal in common in my view. Obama and Hitler use the “blitzkrieg” method to overwhelm their enemies. FAST, CARPET BOMBING intent on destruction. Hitler’s blitzkrieg bombing destroyed many European cities – quickly and effectively. Obama is systematically destroying the American economy and with it AMERICA.” I do have issues with Ms. Thomann’s grammar but, more importantly, this is a good example of what happens when rain closes the country club golf course. Idle hands are the devil’s tools.

* Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) is the poster child for Attention Deficit Disorder and the mindless meanderings of a mercury-tainted cerebral hemisphere. Her malapropisms and malcogitation (sic) are legendary and the congresswoman from Minnesota is a frequent flyer on the Derriere Orifice express. She has announced that she will break the law by not filling out her 2010 Census questionnaire. Her explanation included that the Census led to the internment of Japanese Americans in the 1940’s. This link attempts to analyze Bachmann’s irrationality and historical to hysterical errors. I suggest two aspirin one hour before reading. One wonders if the citizens of her district should be interned for electing her to congress. If one guessed that her public display of idiocy took place on FOX News you are exempt from completing your census form. And what does it say about your assertions when right-wing nut Glenn Beck thinks you have lost your census?

* Eight Supreme Court justices ruled that a school’s strip search of an Arizona 13 year old girl accused of having prescription-strength ibuprofen was illegal.” The eight justices range in philosophy from liberal to moderate to conservative. But there are nine SC justices and the ultra conservative and reactionary Justice Clarence Thomas offered a dissenting opinion. Thomas said, “the court was making a “deep intrusion” into the administration of public schools and their efforts to fight the scourge of drug abuse.” Yes, the eternal challenge for a democracy is finding that elusive balance between the common good and individual freedoms. Someone should explain to Justice Thomas that “No Child Left Behind” had nothing to do with students baring their behind by lowering their Calvin Klein underwear.

* Just when you thought that Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher’s career as spokesperson for the conservative mind was over he floats to the top of the septic tank. At a speaking engagement to Americans for Prosperity in Wisconsin “The Plunger” said more than once, referring to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), "Why hasn't he been strung up?" Ah, the voice of Conservatism – cogent, articulate and erudite while conveying the ideals and principles of American freedom and democracy. I expect that Joe’s next appearance will be in Anne Arundel, Maryland at the annual Spaetzle Cook Off.

* Let my people go – Republican Representatives John Culberson (TX), Peter Hoekstra (MI), and David Dreier (CA) all compared their minority status in congress to the plight of the Iranian protestors. With the exception of living in a democracy and not being shot at or bludgeoned for their views their analogy is spot on. I suggest that they will feel better if they take the advice of the leader of their Party, Rush Limbaugh, and just get laid.

* Recall Republicans going ballistic when President Obama said that one of the characteristics his Supreme Court nominee should possess is empathy. Some would say that Republican opposition stemmed from the fact that they do not understand the meaning of the word. Well, there is some evidence that at least one Republican can express empathy. Meet Missouri state representative Cynthia Davis. As chairwoman of the Missouri House Special Standing Committee on Children and Families she was critical of a government program that provides food during the summer for thousands of low-income Missouri children who rely on the school cafeteria for free or reduced-price meals during the regular school year. “A report by Feeding America found that one in five Missouri children currently lives with hunger.” Here is where the empathy thing comes in. Ms. Davis extolled the virtues of hunger because “hunger can be a positive motivator.” Rumor has it that Ms. Davis has been selected Woman of the Year by the Republican Women of Anne Arundel County.

* Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell (R) signed the US Senate vacancy bill which takes away the governor’s power to appoint someone to a vacant US Senate seat. Rell said, “this bill gives directly to the people of Connecticut the decision on who would fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate… Since taking office as Governor, I have done everything in my power to make Connecticut a model for all states when it comes to openness, transparency and citizen participation in government." “Republican lawmakers had called the bill a "power grab" during lengthy debates in both the House and the Senate.” Lacking empathy and the concept of democracy, Republicans conclude that giving the citizens the right to elect their officials “is a power grab.”

Who then is sane? He who is not a fool.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, aka, Horace (65 BC to 8 BC) Roman lyric poet

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Some Disappointments in Obama

Readers of this blog may find this heading surprising in light of my support of Barack Obama as a candidate in the Democratic primary contest, in the presidential election and in the early days of his presidency. I have no doubt that his election over John McCain was to the American advantage. There is much that I approve of since Obama has taken occupancy of the oval office. Previous blogs have praised a number of his decisions including that the U.S. will no longer allow torture, closing Guantanamo Bay prison, making healthcare reform a major priority, upgrading consumer product safety, reigning in the abusive tactics of credit card companies, returning the concept of “protection” to the Environmental Protection Agency and bringing back diplomacy to America’s international relations.

I never expected that I would agree with everything that the Obama administration does. There is a full understanding that most of what Obama attempts will be strongly opposed by Republican congressmen from the viewpoint of ideology, appeal to their hardcore base or attempts to simply save their political derrieres by re-writing history and blaming every ill on the Democrats and Obama. Joining Republican obstructionism is a considerable number of Democrats who, regardless of the state they come from, reside in the pockets of special interests. Obama faces formidable foes and the circumstances of an economy and financial structure in crisis, war on two fronts and countries such as Pakistan, Iran and North Korea that present daunting challenges. Has a President ever taken office in the U.S. inheriting so many challenges?

My problem with Obama involves policies and decisions that did not have to be so weak. There have been decisions that have gone against campaign promises, that have contradicted positions previously taken and in some cases have mirrored George W. Bush’s egregious policies. The vast bulk of Obama’s presidency is yet to unfold. Some areas of improvement that I would like to see:

* Transparency – Open government was a mainstay of the Obama candidacy. “Transparency” was a signature issue on the campaign trail. There have been a number of instances where the Obama Justice Department argued in federal courts to block the release of information about torture and other issues and, like the Bush administration, blocked public access to the White House visitors’ log – especially when it came to secreting the names of the coal industry’s representative visitors, not unlike Secret Dick Cheney’s meetings with oil and gas interests. The downside to secretive government was made evident in the last administration. Public trust can only be established through consistent and responsible behavior by its elected representatives. Only a fool would blindly trust a politician or anyone else for that matter. A democracy best functions in the daylight. When Bush secreted his activities behind opposition to the Freedom of Information Act and the bleat of “state secrets” I had had enough. For Obama to do the same is appalling. McClatchy news services offers examples of Obama emulating Bush. Michael Isikoff of Newsweek authors an article, “Obama Closes Doors on Openness.” During his second day in office Obama promised "a new era of openness in our country." One can only hope that the “new era” will still be in the early stages of his presidency.

* Wiretapping-Spying on American citizens – Many wise legal and constitutional minds cautioned against the provisions of the Patriot Act in spite of government assurances that there are safeguards in place to protect the rights and privacy of citizens. As it became evident under Bush and as it is playing out under Obama, these safeguards are as effective as the Abstinence Only program to protect against teen pregnancies. A recent NY Times article titled “E-Mail Surveillance Renews Concerns in Congress” demonstrates that individuals working in these eavesdropping programs regularly spy on citizens without legal justification and even former president Bill Clinton was illegally spied on. There once was a game show titled “Who Do You Trust?” Today’s answer would be, “No one.” When Obama was a senator he said that warrantless wiretapping was illegal. Does the lofty view from the White House change one’s principles and beliefs? Recall in the first days of his presidency George W. Bush gushed about the importance of following the rule of law. We all saw how that played out.

* Gays in the military – Returning to the Obama campaign trail, his comments and positions on gay rights matters would belie what has taken place since Obama took office. He has not stopped the military’s dismissal of gay service people under the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” At a time when their services are more needed than ever gays in the military are being fired. Obama has the authority to suspend such activity until congress changes the law. He has remained silent.

* Gays not in the military – There has been a rising tide of anger and frustration by the gay community with Obama “slights and deferred promises.” First his Justice Department argued in a legal brief, “The brief insists it is reasonable for states to favor heterosexual marriages because they are the “traditional and universally recognized form of marriage.” In arguing that other states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages under the Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause, the Justice Department cites decades-old cases ruling that states do not have to recognize marriages between cousins or an uncle and a niece.” Conclusion, gay marriages are equivalent to incest! During his candidacy Obama declared he would work to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). During his presidency his legal office is defending a law that deprives a segment of our population their equal rights.

* Shadow Army – When the Bush administration realized that it could not fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the existing size of the U.S. military it began hiring contractors to perform traditional military responsibilities. The waste, abuse and illegal activity that ensued is well-documented. And the paramilitary presence of Department of Defense (DOD) contractors continues to grow. In a recent report by Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) there are now over 240,000 DOD contractors in Southeast Asia – including 132,000 in Iraq and 68,000 in Afghanistan. The report also raises concerns about the poor or inadequate training some of the (contractor personnel) receive, particularly Third Country Nationals hired to guard US bases and facilities: “Poorly trained and ill-equipped contractor employees providing security for our operating bases put American forces at increased risk of harm.” Some fresh thinking is required and old habits changed. Recall that there have been too many instances of these contractors committing rape and murder, building shoddy military facilities that have resulted in the electrocution of U.S. military personnel, and supplying our troops with tainted food and water.

This is not change we can believe in.

* Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
Barack Obama speech, February 5, 2008