I Know the President is Listening (In) – But Are You, Congress?

Congress has the power to tear down the Patriot Act, but will they?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Congress passed the Patriot act, they can repeal it. At the very least, they can tweak it. But are they even listening to our complaints?

I have heard a great deal of rhetoric, but very little actual determination on the part of our representatives, those empowered and obliged to protect our rights. Upon the revelations of Mr. Snowden and his involvement with the N.S.A. last week, I contacted the offices of all three of my members of Congress. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

It has been a week and no response. This is shameful and we will not let it go.

Now the NSA has revealed more taps without warrants. If we allow this to go on, the shame will be on us as well. Just ask yourself, why was this program kept secret? The initial, obvious and pat answer from the security hawks would be that the program could not work if it was made public. But think about that. The program has been exposed and do you think it’s being shut down. Not a chance. So it appears that the hiding was from us, not the terrorists.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Two Hundred plus years old and the meaning is still crystal clear. What is being allowed is wrong. It’s time for Congress to act.

VOTE

Today isn’t your first chance, but it is your last of 2012, to vote for President (as well as many other offices and issues).

Vote. People have died for this privilege. Vote. It’s as simple as that.

VOTE

Mayor Bloomberg is a Fraidy Cat

First he was afraid of terrorist trials, now he is afraid of … books?

In 2010, Mayor Bloomberg spearheaded the effort to turn away the high-profile trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. New York was the Justice Department’s preferred venue to prosecute this terrorist and serve justice, showcasing America’s commitment to Democracy and the rule of law. Bloomberg’s justification for preventing the trial from taking place in Lower Manhattan was that it would “cause disruption.” Little did we know his true fear … that all those people coming to town for the trial would bring books with them. Ahhh, the horror.

When the police destroyed the People’s Library at Zuccotti Park, the outrage was loud and instantaneous. The Mayor gave assurances that the books were safe and unharmed. It turns out, that was really not the case. Of  the  thousands of books that were confiscated, a little less than 1300 have been returned. About 500 of those were damaged beyond use. Almost 3000 more are still missing.

The Mayor's darkest fear.

 

In Zuccotti Park, Dostoevsky and the Bard had joined Hemingway, Jefferson and Luke in spreading democracy. Mr Mayor, you built your communications empire on the power of words. Please wield that power responsibly. Return, restore and replace these books. All of them. Even Bloomberg By Bloomberg. I’m sure there’s a section on free speech in there somewhere.

For more information, read this.

Ohio issue 2 could be a preview for 2012

The battle to repeal senate bill 5 could be a harbinger of the coming presidential election.

Update: Since this post was published, senate bill five was overwhelmingly repealed.

When John Kasich, Republican governor of Ohio, signed S.B. 5 into law earlier this year, it was a decided victory for the Tea Party. But, similar to Wisconsin, the outcry against the law, which eliminates most collective bargaining rights (including strikes) for public employees, met a loud and active response. But unlike Wisconsin, where the focus was on recalling those who voted for the offending bill, Ohioans took a different approach. They started a petition that resulted in getting issue 2 , the repeal of the union-attacking S.B. 5, on next Tuesday’s ballot.

Governor Kasich could see a referendum bid ending badly for his administration. As soon as it became clear the issue would make the ballot, he called for negotiations. But smelling political blood, the opposition rebuked him. The latest Quinnipiac polls show they were correct in doing so. The law is being crushed 57% to 32%.

The ramifications for next year’s general election are manifold. Big money has arrived, unions on one side and groups like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks on the other. Ohio is traditionally huge in deciding Presidential elections, and if these poll numbers hold, it appears the Republicans have work to do before next November. Issue 2 is also the first place where the Occupy Wall Street movement could have a political effect. Although reluctant to back any one candidate or piece of legislation, OWS (through Occupy Columbus) is backing repeal of the law. It is interesting that the group allows speakers at their events to have the podium, no matter whether they are for or against it.

Unions represent infrastructure for the political left. If they take a hit in Ohio, you can expect Republican governors across the country to follow suit. But if the polls are to be believed, such overreach could backfire and feed the flames of the OWS movement.  Learn more here.

Want to Refute a Republican? Show them the 7’s

Are Obama’s policies failing, or are Republicans strangling the recovery?

Update: This post has been updated since the initial September 2nd posting to include a link to the statement by S&P and a more precise mark for the Dow on January 20th, 2009.

Even the most staunch Obama critics won’t deny, he was handed a crap sandwich in 2009. And no one thinks we have come back nearly far enough. But the narrative that Obama is making things worse simply does not align with the facts.

Confuse them with facts.

Now, I understand that producing charts and indexes isn’t going to pull the crowd in around you at the water cooler, so here is an easy tool for remembering where we were, economically, when the President was inaugurated. The number 7.  GDP was in a free fall at an annual rate of negative 7%. We were hemorrhaging jobs at a rate of minus 770,000 a month. The Dow had crashed to 7949 (okay, a 949 snuck in there, but you get the picture). And unemployment was at 7.7%. To compare those numbers to where we are now, just peruse the business section of any local newspaper. Most of those indicators are referenced on a daily or weekly basis.

So, for instance, today’s big number, zero. Zero jobs added in August. A big fat goose egg. Sounds terrible, and it’s not great, but remember the  7’s. Zero jobs added is far better than 700,000 jobs lost. Next, look at the stock market. Remember 7949? Even after a rocky August following the debt ceiling hostage taking by House Republicans, it still closed over 11,000. That’s a nearly 50% increase in 30 months. Oh President, please stop with your horrible policies. You’re killing my 401k (???). Let’s look at GDP. It’s limping along at 1%. But it was dropping at negative 7% when Obama took office. Turning a train that big around that fast is no small task.

And last, the big number. A number so big, it gets its own paragraph. A number so big, it will make or break the President in the next election. Unemployment. It stood at 7.7% in January 2009. It now stands at 9.1%. Unemployment is a lag indicator. In fact, the unemployment rate peaked at over 10% in early 2009. And it was starting to come down, ever so slowly, but at least it was headed in the right direction.

Enter the tea party in January 2011. When the new Republican majority took office, they said the focus would be jobs. Instead, they read the constitution into the record, passed a budget that would end medicare but not deficits and brought us to the brink of default, causing a first-ever downgrading of the U.S. bond rating. The following are two excerpts from the S&P downgrade statement:

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.

And …

Compared with previous projections, our revised base case scenario now assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012, remain in place. We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues,

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/text-of-sp-downgrade-of-us-rating-2011-08-05

But enough about the freshmens’ glorious job-creating, freedom imploring, liberty impregnating policies. Let’s look at those pesky little numbers since THEY took office. In January 2011, when the Tea Party was sworn in, we were gaining jobs at a rate of 200,000 a month. Today, as we said, zero. GDP was growing at 2.5%, now it’s at 1%. The Dow was at 11,700, now it has dropped to 11,400. Unemployment has gone from 9.0% to 9.1%. And they’re criticizing the President’s record?

It is obvious, they both have a great deal of work to do. But you don’t. It’s easy. Just remember the sevens and you can master any Obama basher. Of course, when they say, “No way, that’s not what Sarah and Michele say”, just refer them to those pesky numbers .

Raise Your Hand And Repeat After Me …

Live, in the Iowa debate, all the Republican presidential hopefuls took the “no tax increases” oath.

[Update: The day after the Iowa straw poll, Tim Pawlenty dropped out. Rick Perry jumped in, and yes, in the September 7th debate he joined his ultra-conservative counterparts by raising his hand and taking the oath. Ross Perot has yet to be sighted.]

The moderator repeated the question, upping the stakes, asking if they would take a ten-to-one deal. Not one of them would. For clarity, he even asked them to raise their hands if they would refuse such a deal. They all raised their hands like good little Grover Norquist marionettes.

To me, this was the most revealing part of the debate. It means even if a bill offering 5 trillion dollars in cuts linked to only 500 billion (about half of what would be raised by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire) in new revenues came to their desk, they wouldn’t sign it. Such rigid ideology is not what this country needs and it’s not what the public is looking for. A majority of Americans favor higher taxes on the upper crust as part of a balanced approach to deficit reduction. None of the candidates on stage wanted to acknowledge that, not even Romney, who used just such a balanced approach to help balance the budget in Massachusetts.

Last week’s Standard and Poors announcement specifically listed the Republicans’ unwillingness to budge on revenues as a major reason for the downgrade. It appears none of the candidates even read the report. Or they don’t understand it. They continue to push the policies, lower taxes for the richest Americans and de-regulation, which led us here in the first place. They seem more interested in keeping their pledges to the kingmakers on “K” Street than fixing the problems on main street.

Hopefully, when Rick Perry enters the fray this weekend, he’ll bring Ross Perot and some pie charts along with him.

Everybody’s Ticked – It Must Be Democracy

The debt ceiling bill disappoints the far left and far right.

Half empty or half full?

 Like most major legislation passed by Congress, the debt ceiling bill has its critics on both the left and right. That’s because it was generated through weeks of negotiations and debate which ended in compromise. And that’s what democracy is all about.

The bill directs major cuts but doesn’t harm Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. There is a promised vote on a balanced budget amendment, but no guarantee of its passage. The debt ceiling was raised high enough to get us into 2013 and oh yeah, the country didn’t default. Bonus!

Many on the left are upset with President  Obama. They think he gave away too much to the tea party radicals. But soon I think the tea party will be the group that starts complaining. By agreeing to the super committee and its triggers, the Republican leaders have opened the door to revenue hikes (mostly in the form of corporate loophole elimination) and cuts in defense spending, two sacred cows they were unwilling to approach during budget talks. If the super committee can’t agree on deficit reduction legislation and get it passed by the year’s end, deep cuts in defense will automatically be triggered. Medicare will also be cut, but not on the benefit side. Providers (doctors and hospitals) will take the hit. This will likely cause a further rift in the Republican party. These triggers are intended to press both parties into action, but it seems most of the pressure will be on the GOP because if the triggers are set off, Obama’s own OMB will decide where the cuts are made. Can you say, “Goodbye, red-state pork. So long, faith-based initiative. See you later, expensive weapons systems. Auf wiedersehen, intrusive TSA body scanners. Paychecks are going to be a little late Congress.” Okay, so the last item is a bit fantastical. I’m allowed to dream, aren’t I? 

Some have likened the tea party tactics, threatening default and economic catastrophe, to political terrorism. But I guess it’s okay to negotiate with terrorists every once in a while, especially if the terrorists happen to be really poor negotiators.

It’s Up To You New York, New York

Gay rights get a big lift from Albany.

New York lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, have come together to do the right thing. In legalizing same-sex marriage, they have shown that this republic can still function on behalf of its citizens – can still chart a course as noble as the American heart. I applaud them.

And to the republic, for which it stands.

 

In the sticky heat of another New York summer, two hundred and thirty-five years ago, our founders fought the British in the marshes and estuaries of what would one day become the Empire State. Although the battle was lost, Washington and his troops were able to escape and regroup for what would unfold as a decisive winter campaign. The battle of New York was a key step in our nation’s independence. Over two centuries later, New York once again plays a pivotal role in an ongoing struggle for liberty. On behalf of my friends, Chuck, Kim, Beth, Lola, Andy, Karen and Sharon, thank you.

 

Tax This – The Citizens’ Survey

Like most adult Americans, I’ve begun to think about maybe starting to perhaps kinda almost commence doing my taxes. Conceivably, it could happen sometime between the Winter Olympics and March Madness. Or not.

That's right, it's tax time.

The public’s general lack of enthusiasm for filing a return could be mitigated if the IRS added some incentives. Perhaps a comment form, or better yet, a survey, mailed out with every tax manual, allowing us to critique the stewards of our tax dollars. When you buy a toaster they include a consumer survey, why not when you write out a big fat check to the government? The results could be read on the floor of the House and Senate every April 15th, during mandatory sessions of Congress.

A sample survey might look something like this:

1) Do you think stimulus tax dollars should be spent on the companies that created the financial crisis, or the people who are suffering from it?

2)Do you think your tax dollars should go towards everyone’s health insurance plan or just the health insurance plan for members of Congress?

3)Do you think your tax dollars should be spent to finance elections or should corporations be left to take care of that? (See questions one and two above.)

Maybe it would be more enlightening to just let people choose where a discretionary portion of their tax dollars, say 5%, should go. I’m sure there would be a significant discrepancy between Congress’ agenda and the priorities of the American public. Talk about voting with your dollars.

As simple as this plan is, I’m sure it will never happen. Sounds too much like … Democracy.

Representation Without Taxation

The Supreme Court will address corporate influence on federal elections today when they hand down a decision on the “Hillary, the movie” campaign finance case before them. At least five of the terms in that last sentence will make most people’s eyes glaze over, but listen up. The idea that corporations should hold the same rights as people is lethal to true democracy. Not instantly, like a bullet, but incessantly, like carbon monoxide. Corporate influence hides in the shadows and hallways of Washington D.C. You can’t see it, you can’t taste it and exposure to it will lull you to sleep, but given too much, your democracy stops breathing. 

Do you smell something?

 

The idea that corporations have the same right to free speech as an individual is an invention of the court. It’s not in the constitution, it’s not in legislation, but it will continue to be found in arguments before the bench until it is shot down, an action this current, very corporate, version of the court will likely never undertake.  

I find it ironic that these corporations, entities that will move cash and facilities offshore in an instant to improve profits, argue for their rights as if they were citizens of this country. They want representation without taxation. Corporations, by nature, are beholden to no one but their shareholders. They are citizens of no country, and prove it time and time again.  

In case you missed the headlines: Exxon, AIG, Dupont, GM, United Health Care, Firestone, Ford, Enron, RJ Reynolds. All of these companies, and more, have damaged this country’s health, environment and/or financial stability without remorse. Until corporations can be incarcerated, until corporations can bleed, they will not deserve to be considered citizens of this country.  

If you doubt the influence of corporations on lawmakers, doubt no longer. There is no greater example of Congress bowing to lobbyists than the current health insurance debate. Over two-thirds of the people in this country support some form of public option, yet it won’t even appear in the final bill. Apparently our elected officials fear corporate dollars more than the voices of the people.  

That’s my argument, one this current court would never give the time of day. But why should they listen to me? I just obey laws, pay taxes and vote.