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.

 

GOP is Still the SOP – Same Old Party

Republicans offer nothing new at New Hampshire debate.

I was really hoping someone would step forward last night and offer an actual plan for creating jobs in this country. Instead it was just a seven-headed rhetoric monster. None of them had a solution.

I spent the night in a political pumpkin patch for this, Linus?

 

Cutting taxes was the mantra. But no one explained how cutting taxes would create jobs. When the moderator specifically asked Pawlenty for proof that cutting taxes would create jobs, he dodged the question. When it was pointed out that Bush cut taxes and by the end of his second term we were losing 750, 000 jobs a month, there was again, no answer. But when asked how the former governor would create the 5% annual growth for ten years projected by his economic plan (a growth rate never seen by this country in its entire history, not even after WWII) his answer was, you guessed it, cut taxes.

Many other old standards were trotted out. Unleash regulation on oil, even though domestic oil production has gone up under Obama. Bailing out Chrysler and GM was wrong even though it saved American manufacturing jobs well beyond those two companies. Medicare won’t survive unless it’s changed, but repeal affordable health care because, among other things, it changes Medicare. Social Security is insolvent, even though it’s not. Restore the integrity of our armed forces by making its members lie about their sexuality. God and freedom are the best thing ever, unless you’re a muslim, then you better just watch your ass.

And the best one of all. Ronald Reagan. I worked with Ronald Reagan, I helped pass laws with Ronald Reagan, I delivered pizza to Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan signed into law gun controls, abortion rights and funds to fight AIDS. Ronald Reagan created huge deficits and, you guessed it, raised taxes. If he were running today, he wouldn’t even make it past the security guards, let alone find himself on stage with the rest of these posers.

Even though I disagreed with most of what was said last night, the biggest disappointment was having nothing new to disagree with. SOP.

Has Rush Lost His Touch?

Or were his numbers always inflated?

Just like the Enya song says, Rush's ratings are starting to ... sail away, sail away, sail away.

 

It seems that Rush Limbaugh’s numbers have been plummeting since October of last year. So far, he has lost one-third of his audience, and the trend shows no sign of stopping. In a report from Crains Business, the recent Arbitron ratings show a huge hit for Rush and for Sean Hannity (-28%). While they remain one and two in talk radio, the rapid and immense slide has to be alarming. Of course, neither man will admit any chink in their armor.

Ironically, such lack of professional introspection has probably contributed to their decline. Both shows screen calls severely, and if a dissenter does get through, they are generally crushed by the host’s heavy hand. In fairness to Hannity, he occasionally brings on proponents of opposing viewpoints, but few that aren’t so weak as to set off the straw-man detectors. Of course, they can run their show any way they want, but the absence of strong opposition makes for a fairly boring program. Most of their content sounds something like, blah-blah-blah, commercial, commercial, ad, promo, commercial, blah-blah-blah, unless of course, they are making some outrageous comment that is aimed at stirring up a response. And I have a hunch that any consultant or program director that mentions this flaw is summarily dismissed, so there is little chance that their formats will change in the near future. 

Defenders of Limbaugh have already started to rebut the early reports of his demise by arguing that the method of measuring ratings has changed. Apparently, Arbitron has moved from a survey-based system (prone to name-recognition bias) to a system involving more raw data. But if the ratings are simply more accurate, then Limbaugh’s numbers have been inflated all along. No less reason for concern, when advertisers find out.

Perhaps the most intriguing fallout from this news will be how Premiere Networks Radio reacts to the numbers. Premiere has articulated little concern over the decline in market share of their number one and two stars. But if they continue to push Limbaugh and Hannity with limited regard for their marketability, it will lend credence to the argument that critics on the left have long made – that right-wing talkers are owned by right-wing financiers with a greater interest in pushing their agenda than having their on-air products be profitable. That would be the ultimate hypocrisy from a devout promoter of the “let the market handle it” philosophy such as Limbaugh. Of course, one of the major elements of content on Limbaugh’s show, after blah-blah-blah, is hypocrisy.

Time to Put Up or Shut Up, Tea Party

With no viable presidential candidate and their hands out to lobbyists, the tea party is starting to show its true colors.

So, it wasn’t about reform after all. Changing Washington, offering a choice beyond the corporatist Democrat vs. corporatist Republican paradigm … those were the promises made by the tea party. They have clearly failed to deliver.

Is there tea in their mug, or pork?

After the  joint press conference (debate?) given by the Republican candidates willing to show up last week, I don’t see tea party views being exclusively espoused by any one candidate, not one with a chance of winning, anyway. Ron Paul is probably the most notable of the names, but legalizing heroin is not a tea party priority and even less likely to be in the Republican platform come convention time. The tea party heavyweights, Bachmann and Palin, haven’t managed to announce yet. (That Fox money will have to end as soon as the official word is given. Kind of  an ego-centric rationalization for someone wanting to change Washington for the good of America.)

And just how much change does either one really want? Palin is a rhetoric regurgitation machine with no plan for anything, unless “reload” can be considered a policy. And Bachmann might lose favor with the tea party faithful when they hear that she is pushing for $633 million dollars in taxpayer money for a bridge, yes a bridge, in her district. Sounds like an ear-mark to me. And she also has taken a quarter of  a million dollars in farm subsidies since 1995. That’s not a problem in her ag-minded Minnesota district, but it could be a problem when courting a national tea party constituency.
 
And speaking of taking money, the tea party freshman seem fairly adept at it. After vowing to change Washington, it looks like business as usual. As reported in the New York Times and Washington Post as well as by the Sunshine Organization, the “reformers” have beaten a path to K Street, knocking on the doors of big oil, big coal and big pharma lobbyists with their hands out. Meanwhile, they didn’t repeal health reform, they haven’t made a dent in the deficit and they probably won’t stop the debt limit from being raised. They did manage to get the President to release an official document from 1961. Wow. I wonder how much taxpayer money was wasted on that endeavor.
 
Presidential elections are about winning the “middle”. So far, the tea party has done little to appeal to the middle. They rail against the deficit, but the repeal of  health reform (according to the CBO) would actually add to it. Besides, jobs are polling as a higher priority than the deficit among likely voters. And the tea party has no jobs program, aside from cutting taxes, which hardly matters to someone who is unemployed.
 
The tea party better start producing or they might suffer the same fate as their platitude-laced signs the day after the election. Left out in the rain. Forgotten. Someone else’s mess.

Beware the Iodines of March

Some facts and common sense about Three Mile Island

Recently, I was confronted (by someone whose views and intellect I respect) with the premise that there were no lingering health issues from the Three Mile Island accident. I was told that reports to the contrary were simply urban myths of the “Paul is dead” or “Elvis is alive” variety. The following are undisputed facts about the incident. Decide for yourself.The two main reports on the matter, published by Columbia University and the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Studies use the same data to reach far different conclusions. Both reports cite an increase in birth defects and cancer in residents living near the nuclear plant during the accident. In the five years following the accident, cancer rates in the same area jumped 64%.  This is not disputed. The controversy arises from divergent explanations of the cause. The Columbia U. report attributes the spike in cancers and deformities to increased smoking, stress and depressed income levels. The USNIE study states that the only explanation for such spikes is the radiation released during the mishandling of the partial meltdown. They also claim that the initial low levels of radioactivity reported by MetEd (the operator of the facility) were not consistent with the symptoms observed in the local population and that actual figures could be 2-10 times higher than the ones assumed by the Columbia U. report.

It’s not a big reach to say that any information released by MetEd is suspect. They were indicted and prosecuted for falsification of safety records at the same Three Mile Island facility where the accident occurred.

A class action suit by nearby residents suffering from various forms of cancer was denied by Judge Sylvia Rambo. Her summary judgment effectively ended any other cancer-related tort actions against the company. The judge did not rule on the case of birth defects and to date MetEd has paid out over $15 million in out-of-court settlements related to birth defects since the accident. That’s a lot of voluntarily forfeited assets for a company that denies any wrongdoing.

In the handling of TMI, MetEd seems to have followed the same path as other corporations when dealing with a catastrophic industrial accident of their own making. Deny. Deceive. Delay. Deny responsibility. Deceive investigators and the public. Delay legal outcomes until victims exhaust legal funds or die. This model was used by Dupont after Bhopal, Exxon after Valdez and BP after the Gulf.

The following list is no myth: Paula Obercash, Gary Villella,  Leo Beam, Joseph Gaugan, Lori Dolan, Jolene Peterson, Ronald Ward, Pearl Hickernell, Ethelda Hilt, Kenneth Putt. All lived near Three Mile Island, all developed cancer. All have value as human souls. Remember them in your prayers.

[In case you are curious, sources for this information include the Washington Post, National Geographic, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Judge Sylvia Rambo’s own statement for summary judgement. Hardly the fifth column.]

Meltdown, shmeltdown. Look honey, I can see my shadow!

My Cyber Apple

Rush Limbaugh adds teachers to his list of scapegoats.

I wonder if Rush Limbaugh ever brought an apple to his teacher. If he did, it probably had a worm in it. On his February 17th show, in regard to the protests in Wisconsin, Limbaugh stated, “… all the parasites of government are now coming out … that’s exactly what they are, parasites.” He also claimed, erroneously, that public sector union members make double the average American worker’s income. The average income for all Americans across all occupations, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is $45,485. The average teacher’s salary, according to the American Federation of Teachers, is currently $47,602. That’s nearly identical, not double.

So, contrary to what the drug-addled hypocrite is spewing, teachers are not some special interest group looking to sink their parasitic fangs into the taxpayer’s wallet. They earn average wages while performing extraordinary services vital to the future of our society. As Thomas Jefferson professed over two centuries ago, a democracy is impractical without a citizenry that is educated. Instead of vilifying teachers, we should thank them.

The following is a list, in no weighted order, of some of my favorite teachers:

My parents (my father by vocation, my mother by inspiration), my niece, Dr. Jim Black, Mrs. Wade, my cousin, Jesus, Todd Steenhard, Mr. Snelson, Carl Sagan, Lao-tzu, Mrs. Shaver, Mr. Thuot, Paul K. Haeder, Robert Gover.

Thank you.

Who are some of your favorites?

Perks of the educator.

A Brief Moment of Hope

Before the left and right tell you what to think about President Obama’s State of the Union address, think for yourself.

Before Malloy and Big Eddy start crying “sellout”, before Hannity and Beck and the drug-addled hypocrite remind you that a marxist wrapped in an American flag is still a marxist, take time to let the President’s own words sink in.

The birth of hope.

Hope. Picture it any way you want.

Why dwell on what divides us? Why not focus on an America where we help each other out instead of tearing each other down?

I like to envision a future where we lead the world in green technology, a time when I can visit my family 300 miles away after just an hour train ride. I look forward to an innovative new education system that rekindles wonder and imagination in our youth. I look forward to a windmill in every back yard instead of an SUV in every garage. I look forward to an Iraq and Afghanistan that use books instead of bullets to define their destiny. All these things are within our grasp. The Declaration of Independence was not penned with pessimism, it was signed with hope for the future, theirs and ours.

So keep in mind, when the merchants of partisanship start to rant, they are free to tell you what they think, they have no right to tell you what you think.

Perhaps no one said it better than George Bernard Shaw. Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

Be the change you’re waiting for. Dream.

First He Thought He Was Roosevelt – Now He Thinks He’s Truman

OBAMA USES TAX COMPROMISE TO PREPARE FOR “DO NOTHING” CONGRESS

When Barack Obama took office, many historians, including the President himself, drew a parallel between his position and that of Franklin Roosevelt. But having brought the country back from the brink of disaster apparently wasn’t enough to prevent a self-proclaimed “shellacking”. His crime: not lowering unemployment enough and not spurring a quick enough recovery. How soon people forgot the six figure monthly job losses under Bush. How often do we even speak about Iraq or Afghanistan anymore? No, today’s battle is about maintaining tax reductions for the top two percent of the country while cutting unemployment benefits for the jobless right before Christmas.

Yes we can.

With our country on the brink of economic collapse and fighting wars on two fronts, Obama looked to the past to guide our future. He read books on FDR and quoted him. There were even rumors of a fireside chat resurrection.

Faced with this new dynamic, it appears Obama has changed his choice of posthumous advisor. Now he is channeling Truman. Anyone who actually listened to what the President was saying during the mid-terms (instead of getting distracted by witches and tea party nominees that think autistic children are “faking it”) knows that this compromise is basically the agenda he put forth on the campaign trail. Having signed health care and small business legislation into law, he said we must focus on extending unemployment benefits and tax cuts for the middle class. He also wanted acceleration of the tax shelter for depreciation and other small business incentives. All of that is in this compromise. The only thing he didn’t want was the extension of tax cuts for the super-rich, and since his own party failed to engage in that fight last summer when he wanted them to, it was something he had little problem letting go of.

Why the comparison to Truman? Truman won re-election against Dewey in 1948 running against what he called the “do nothing” congress. He railed (literally) against the opposition’s tactic of hamstringing his every proposal, not even supporting the more moderate portions of their own presidential candidate’s platform. With Mitch McConnell’s proclamation of ousting Obama as job one, it appears one historical slot has already been filled. It’s only natural that Obama take the part of Truman and Palin or Gingrich step in as Dewey.

While radicals on the left are ready to storm the Bastille and radicals on the right are happy to pour boiling oil on them while they do it, the other seventy percent of us want a democracy that works. Obama has moved in that direction with this compromise and helped millions of Americans in the process. He has also positioned himself as the one trying to get something done in Washington. (Despite what Fox  and the Republican leadership want to tell you, this was the actual message sent in November, stop fighting and move forward). The economy is still growing, slowly, but in the right direction, people are starting to see the benefit of the medical reform law, the pump has been primed for small business and taxes have not been raised. That’s not at all a bad record to run on, especially if the unemployment numbers show any movement down in the next two years. If the Republicans want to do nothing, Obama is now in position to play right along. But since they are the one’s with the “change” ball in their court, they had better show some results. Otherwise, their recent triumph will soon be remembered like a really bad episode of Sesame Street, brought to you by the word “no” and the letter “tea.”

 One last parallel. Under Truman, the U.S. armed forces ended segregation. Though unpopular at the time, it was the right thing to do and eventually offered a place where merit and promotion could be color blind, no small contribution to the legacy that was fulfilled on Inauguration Day, 2009. Perhaps within the next sixty years we will see an openly homosexual woman or man elected to the highest office on merit of leadership, and not rejected by prejudice, due in some part to the ending of “don’t ask, don’t tell” under Obama. I think that is a comparison he would be happy to live with.

Hope in the Summer of Five Weddings

Two summers ago we were all filled with tentative hope. It didn’t matter if you were an Obama, McCain or Paul supporter. After eight years of lethal incompetence and absentee leadership, we were all looking forward to a change. Now, amidst deepening unemployment, endless war and yet another disaster in the gulf, it seems hope remains as elusive as it was in 2008. Whether you choose to blame the President or Congress, Republobstructionists or Demowimps, lobbyists or bureaucrats, one thing is for sure – hope is not being incubated inside the beltway. Looking for

A lucky one.

 inspiration from this current crop of politicians is like looking for a walrus in the Gulf of Mexico. (Unless you’re perusing a BP crisis response plan). Between bloated deficits and bloated sea turtles, faith in the future is under siege.

My hope’s castle: marriage.

Between the middle of June and end of July, our aggregate of friends and family have engaged in no less than five weddings. Amidst the flurry of nuptials, we witnessed three friends, a cousin and a daughter join lives with their loves. I was lucky enough to attend most of these ceremonies, each time inspired by the loving couple at the center of the whirl. With bad news hovering over their heads like oil-soaked pelicans, they embraced their collective futures with smiles, laughs and tears of joy. It’s them against the world. After seeing the honesty and depth of their love, the world better watch out.To Chelsea, Karly, Adri, Alex, Todd and all your new spouses, (and  Cami, my wife of nearly sixteen years) thank you for the reminder of what truly gives us hope … the people we love.

A feast of love.