Monday, November 25, 2013

Pause and Be Thankful

Please join me in reflecting a bit about some events over the last few months. The news has been dismal about the Congress, the Government shutdown, the healthcare roll out, international tensions, elections and natural disasters. Yet, if one stops to really consider what is happening and how ordinary people are going about their lives, we can see much which has happened for the good of others.

Elections in New York City ended the Bloomberg era and brought a Democratic progressive into office as Mayor. He has already spoken out against the "stop and frisk" practices of the NYPD and promises significant changes in this policy area. He has also, in the city where Wall Street is king, spoken out about economic inequality. I await action in this area.

Elections in New Jersey and Virginia brought governors from two different parties into office. Chris Christie in NJ rode in, still on the tailwinds of Super Storm Sandy. Whether he rebuilt areas wisely or well is yet to be seen, but he presented the perception of a caring politician, bullied those who would disagree and hinted at bi-partisanship with his embrace of the President. His state still disagreed with him on the issues of women's rights, choice, a minimum wage bill and immigrant rights. The future holds many questions for him as he moves into his second term, being touted by many as ready to demonstrate Presidential form in preparation for 2016. In my mind, he does not possess the temperament, the philosophy, or the depth of a necessary world view to be heading in that direction. But for many, since he is not a wild eyed tea party foot stomper, he is given the undeserved mantle of moderate.

In Virginia, Democratic fund raiser and entrepreneur Terry Mc Auliffe defeated the Tea Party favorite Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Virginia was closely won by President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, but went Republican in an early Tea Party sweep of Virginia offices in 2009, so it is a decidedly "purple state". Several issues made this race closer than it should have been, in my mind. The Daily Show described the public choice as one being between choosing cancer and a heart attack. First, neither candidate was a strong performer with a large following.

Cuccinelli rigged the selection for the Republican ballot by foregoing the usual primary where the election would be open to all in the party in favor of a convention where he could control the delegates and the nominating process. The Democrats chose to have a primary which was mostly pro forma for McAuliffe. Cuccinelli was also linked to the "pay to play" scandal which the current Governor McDonnell is mired in with Federal investigations ongoing. Both the AG and the Governor became part of the anti-choice issue, mandatory vaginal ultrasound pregnancy matter, and climate change denial debates in recent years in Virginia, which made the atmosphere, in my mind, seem somewhat surreal. Yet despite all of these perceived negatives on the Republican side, the Democratic candidate did not produce major inspiration amongst the Democratic faithful.

Off year elections are often known for low turnout and lack a compelling reason for voters to show up with no national races on the ballot. This year was no different, as about 2.2 million voters took part in this election, compared to over 3.8 million in the Presidential election last year. Terry McAuliffe won with about 48% to 46% with a libertarian candidate taking a small percentage.. It is not yet known whether or not the Democrats will sweep all state-wide offices as the AG race is still considered within the margin for a possible recount. Suggestions were made that the Republican role in the Government shutdown hurt their side, but the issues with the healthcare roll out hurt the Democrats.

National figures such as President Obama and former President Clinton campaigned for Terry McAuliffe, while Governor Scott Walker and Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio stumped for the Cuccinelli campaign. Others noted that the shutdown was a major negative and that the AG ducked out of an event when Senator Ted Cruz was speaking, even though they have both been touted as Tea Party favorites.

Some claimed that since the national party and figures such as Reince Priebus and Chris Christie decided to keep this race at arms length, Cuccinelli's campaign was hurt in the final turnout.

Do these races have national implications for the 2014 races? I think it is hard to predict from this distance as voters often have short memories. Currently neither party is actually held in high esteem, although the Republicans still seem to be taking the hit for the shutdown and may take more if this show is replayed in January.

The President took a major hit with the ACA website debacle, but may regain positive poll numbers if the website situation and enrollment improve soon.

Certainly foreign affairs with destruction of biologic/chemical weapon from Syria, negotiations with Iran, and the wind down in Afghanistan are all positive events which should rebalance the slate for the President. Usually, foreign events do not poll high, but each of these situations could have prolonged military issues and now seem to be defused. The "Bomb Iran, Bomb Syria" chorus from Senators McCain and Graham have been stilled for a while at least and I do hope they are eventually silenced. The "nuclear option" exercised in the Senate last week may finally allow the President to have an effective team of officials and judges in place in order to pursue at least part of his agenda, since there appears to be little that will get done legislatively.

As we enter the Holiday season and many pause in their personal lives to reflect on what is working in their lives, I suggest that we can be pleased with much which has happened. There is still so very much to do, I admit, but I see more people being signed up for health care every day, despite major obstructions.

How soon will it be before the Red State Governors begin to get pressured from their communities for not expanding health care options in their states or for setting up their in-state exchanges? I see people donating to food banks to compensate for the devastating effects that the Republicans have caused with the food stamp cutoff. And sometimes karma works in odd ways, as the Florida Tea Party Republican Congressman who demanded drug testing for food stamp recipients was himself convicted of cocaine use and distribution and is taking a leave of absence.

So as you may take a pause this week, cook your Thanksgiving meal, visit with family or just kick back and watch football, please think of some positives we can find and use them to move a hopeful message forward. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

To Govern Or Not

As I write, Washington DC is caught up in the throes of the Federal Shutdown. Government employees have been sent home, unless they were considered essential, in which case they were told to work with the knowledge that they will some day get paid back pay. Those Capitol Police responding to an incident where the grounds were on lockdown were in fact working without pay.

Furloughed FEMA workers have been asked to return to duty so they may deal with a hurricane threat in the Gulf States. A Park Service employee staffing closed gates has been berated by a Republicans Congressman for doing her job. Government is said to be non-essential except when government services are necessary – does this make any sense? Some restaurants in the area are offering free food to furloughed employees to show solidarity – and maybe increase foot traffic. Many local businesses and Metro are seeing decreased revenues because the volumes of usual workers are not there. In fact, the only benefit I have heard of is a lower volume of traffic in the area.

The Democrats say that a clean Continuing Resolution (CR) with no strings attached can be passed in the House but that the Speaker is too afraid of the Tea Party Caucus to bring it to a vote. The Senate said they will not vote piecemeal, or for bills with conditions attached but will pass a clean bill. The President stated he will not negotiate until the debt ceiling is raised and a CR is passed. I agree that he should stand firm here. So is there a real stalemate here or do we have a situation which was started without a plan B for an exit strategy? Does anyone sense a feeling of unreality? Does anyone note that this is not to get rid of the sequester or to pass a budget. It is just to continue finding at current levels for six weeks until a real budget can be passed. This crisis was manufactured as the spending hit the end of the Federal fiscal year and no more funds had been authorized.

It seems to me that Washington is becoming a division of Disney and we are all living in Fantasy Land. You know the place where little girls become princesses, fairy godmothers grant wishes and frogs turn into princes? The House of Representatives appears to be living in this state of unreality. They are claiming that NO really means YES and that saying something makes it so. This type of magical think-speak should disappear as one becomes an adult, and usually does in the absence of severe mental illness. But what else could lead one to believe the possibility that passing a "defunding Obamacare" motion 50 times makes it happen? Are they all wishing upon a star?

Well, according to the New York Times today, a loose organization of very rich right wing conservatives (Koch Brothers and Former AG Ed Meese to mention a few) has been pushing for this day for years and revel in it happening now.

They have funded anti-Obamacare ads and campaigns since the introduction of the legislation and have increased them recently. It matters little to them that many of the claims they make are untrue (remember "death panels?"), misrepresentations ("tear up your Obamacare cards" -- they do not exist) and meant to create divides in the country between the young and the old.

They are running scurrilous ads showing a foreboding figure as an ACA Uncle Sam performing pelvic exams on vulnerable college students. Groups have been founded such as Young Americans for Liberty and Generation Opportunity which target young people and college students. The Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity have also signed on to wage this battle. And of course, the me-too guy, Senator Ted Cruz, has been grandstanding for many of these causes. In an unheard of breech of etiquette, he has berated the House into many of these ill-considered moves, and then of course, stepped aside when they have been seen to be ineffective.

In the meantime reality has demonstrated that the sign up for the ACA has been a success, even as websites crashed and phone lines rang busy signals. Why? Because millions and millions of Americans surged forward in a visceral response to the nonsense on Capitol Hill, and signed on to the exchanges or Federal sites. There are said to be over 35 million Americans without healthcare at this time, and this does not include undocumented adults who are not qualified.

Some have reported that almost 9 million either logged on or signed up in person in the first few days. People in some places were said to be in tears, because they had waited for so long for the sign up day. Even though the implementation does not start until January, they wanted to be first in line.

This program will not be perfect, and I am certain we will see some bumps in the road, but the response puts the lie to the claims of the right that the American people do not want this. The rich may not want it, but real people who have been denied care for many years see this as a lifeline. They no longer have to sell their homes in order to pay for chemotherapy, or watch their child struggle with congenital conditions. Seniors who are covered by Medicare are also seeing the benefits as the drug program donut hole slowly disappears until it goes away completely in a few years. The recent college graduate or grad student allowed to have coverage on a parent policy can also see the benefits as they may enter the work force in a job without coverage. Americans know that this has and will be a help to them and their families.

So why is the House continuing to beat this drum?

In a recent speech Hillary Clinton spoke of our "living in an evidence free zone where ideology trumps data and common sense."

Only when the American people speak out and let the Congress know that enough is enough will this nonsense stop. Why should a few hundred people with a lot of money hold the country and its laws hostage to an ideology without a heart? Why does the right continue to deny the legitimacy of this President and the law deemed Constitutional by the Supreme Court? Why are a few allowed to threaten the pensions of the many by threatening to deny the increase in the Federal Debt Ceiling?

The big banks and other Wall Street types profited greatly by the downturn, but real people lost much of their savings and saw their home equity disappear in the foreclosure mess. In an era of decreasing incomes, is the dwindling middle class going to stand by and again see our investments made worthless in another artificial financial crisis? An interesting discussion about this was presented in a film I saw recently -- "Inequality for All" with Robert Reich in which the former Secretary of Labor under Clinton speaks about the widening gulf between the rich and the rest of us. He provides a lesson for us all here. Go see the movie if you can.

So what can or should we do? First of all call your representatives -- let them know that this situation on Capitol Hill is untenable. (My representatives are all Democrats, so I can get little traction here. I must rely on those of you from the Red States.) Make some noise, vote in the primaries in the next year. Get some good candidates chosen who can replace these Tea Party types who care little about the Americans who might be poor, have diverse nationalities or believe in the real American Dream. If you are in a safe district, volunteer somewhere else by phone banking, help by registering new voters. Let's get our country back from those who would destroy it! Do let me know your thoughts here.

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Supreme Court – and us

... "And this is the way the world will end -- not with a bang, but a whimper," T.S. Eliot wrote of empty men in his poem Hollow Men. He spoke of those who did not leave a positive mark on their world. And, although the Supreme Court does now include three women, it is the nay-sayers, those negative ones who are making the biggest marks.

The three women (Ginsberg, Kagan and Sotomayer), plus Justice Breyer form the liberal block and are some times joined by Justice Kennedy. Often, however the frequent 5-4 majority votes reflect the Conservative view. Think of decisions such as Citizens United -- which has been considered the worst court decision in decades, remember the result of the Bush v Gore election decision, take note of all of the worker petition results in recent years, such as Lilly Ledbetter, when the employer side won. But in the decisions this week, for the most part, we have seen either in the majority or in sputtering dissent, the words of hollow men which do not ring true for most of us. In my view, the Supreme Court ended this term of 2012-13 with bangs and whimpers. Or one could put it in baseball terms, some balls, some hits, some errors…no home runs.

  • Affirmative Action: Here my theory seems to not hold -- as this decision to not decide (in itself – a pass on a conclusion) was by a 7-1 vote to send it back to the lower courts which they instructed to re-write the guidelines. Justice Ginsberg in her dissent, took note of the de facto segregation in Texas and the need to consider race to continue diversity. According to this article: "Monday’s decision let stand, for now, a longstanding but fragile societal compromise, one that forbids quotas but allows using race as one factor among many in the admissions process."

Many, however, believe that this is yet another blow to affirmative action in the long run, as it encourages public universities to further diminish the role of race as a consideration in admissions policies.

  • Voting Rights Act: On this issue, the Justices chose to look at the Act in the broadest fashion, acting not only on the matter relating to the petition of Selby County Alabama, but on this section as a whole and how it pertains to pre-clearance requirements. In current law, counties or areas which have had a record of poor voter rights are required to get prior Justice Department approval to permit changes in election procedures. By ruling that racial disparities are no longer seen in voter registrations the Court indicated that this section of the most successful civil rights legislation was no longer necessary.

By a stroke of this decision, they said we are a color blind nation -- minorities have achieved parity. In this decision they closed their eyes to matters of voter intimidation, poll challenges, decreased hours and polling places in minority neighborhoods and voter ID regulations in many red states. They ignored the hours long waits to vote in places such as Florida or Virginia. The proof now required, demands one to show discrimination after an election, rather than forestall it before it happens. As Congressman John Lewis said after the decision, "this vote placed a dagger in the heart of this law."

Do you remember the Bridge at Selma? I do, and I remember the powerful speech that President Johnson gave after that horrific day in which he promised that the Voting Rights Bill would pass.

That was a short 50 years ago, but the words still ring true. The Justices live in Washington and cannot be unaware of the political climate. In fact they seem to have placed their political hats on in this decision, because they clearly have not made this decision on the merits of the case. Here they are following a recent trend. When having to right a civil wrong, they rule very narrowly and when being challenged on political issues they rule broadly on the conservative side. Salon has proposed that Congress make the Law applicable to all 50 states and thereby negate this decision -- a very novel approach.

  • DOMA and California's Prop 8: The discriminatory Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was found to be unconstitutional by a 5/4 divided Supreme Court. That section of DOMA only permitted man/woman married couples to enjoy Federal rights and benefits, and specifically excluded same-sex couples from exercising those same rights. It is unfortunate that Congress passed DOMA in 1996 with large margins, and President Clinton signed it. Subsequently, Mr. Clinton has renounced this law, which has long been a beacon for the religious right.

In fact states were mobilized during the 2004 Presidential election with the so-called Moral Majority anti same-sex marriage equality movement. Some say this Karl Rove engineered campaign actually paved the way for a Bush victory. Legalizing discrimination is contrary to what we define as our American Way of life, yet as one can see, it surely happens. It is still legal in some places to discriminate against gay or transgendered job applicants. Again, this seems contrary.

Here, the Court ruled narrowly allowing married gay couples to apply for Federal benefits only in those states where their marriage is legal. So if one lives in one of the 13 states where marriage equality is in effect, one can file a Federal Tax return as a married couple or apply for spousal insurance coverage on a Federal job. If one lives in a state such as Virginia, where this is not the law, one's status is unclear at this time.

Surely the justices should have done a better job on this matter. While they looked at California’s Proposition 8, they sent it back with no real decision, concluding that the parties contesting it had no "skin in the game," i.e. that they did not have legal standing to oppose it. So as of now, marriage equality is now the law in California and a several years wait for implementation has ended. By not acting broadly, by not deciding these questions as a national issue, the Court has again failed the rest of us. Once again, discrimination is not legal -- I am not saying it does not happen -- but rather that it should not... but that is a discussion for another day.

Where should we go from here? How can we make our Court less tied to party or class and more tied to the Bill of Rights? How can we get our dysfunctional Congress to enact provisions such as immigration reform and real voting rights reform? I do not have the answers as I pose these questions in a real quest for information. Let me hear from you and learn your solutions to the real problems -- the ones involving each of us in some way. Because, if we see wrongs and do not speak out, we then perpetuate them.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Some Thoughts of Summer and a Farm Bill

Tonight, all was right with my world as I drove home from work. The evening sky was pink tinged, the day had been mild with a slight breeze and low humidity and we were on the eve of the summer solstice. The tiger lilies were dotting the country roads as I traveled. Could the fields of Queen Anne's Lace, Black-eyed Susans and summer cornstalks be far behind? Turning on the classical music station, I heard waltz music, which brought memories of films with grand ballrooms, and visions of swirling dancers and fabulous costumes from long ago epics. The strange tornado that hit our Maryland suburbs last week seemed far behind us tonight.

But my reverie was interrupted as I heard news about the House of Representatives defeat of the Farm Bill tonight. Finger pointing had already started with Republicans blaming Democrats and vice-versa. Speaker Boehner and his Majority Leader Cantor did not count their votes well as many members of their own party also voted against this bill. Maryland's Steny Hoyer accepted none of the blame voiced by Cantor, claiming that Democrats voted against a bad bill not as a result of poor bi-partisan ship. Not that I minded this defeat, as Hoyer was correct. This was a bad bill.

But in what has come to be typical of this divided Congress, the Democrats and the conservative Tea Partiers both voted against this bill for vastly different reasons. The Tea Party folks wanted to cut and restrict food stamp funds even more than the rest of their party. Essentially they wanted to cut $40 billion over ten years with half of that cut coming from the food stamp or SNAP program which supplements food for poor families. Rep McGovern (D) of Massachusetts claimed that over 2 million people would be cut from the program which has grown as the numbers of unemployed rose during the Great Recession. The Farm Bill is typically funded for 5 years but this House has been unable to pass one over the last two years. The Senate has passed a companion bill which has a more modest $5 Billion decrease in food stamp funding. Both Bills had punitive measures imbedded in them. Senator Vitter of Louisiana, one of the poorer (per capita income slightly over $30,000) states in the country wants to deny food stamps to any convicted felon. What part of that "paying one's debt to society" does he not understand?

Some Congressmen, even those who were in line to receive farm crop subsidies themselves, (Rep. Fincher of Tennessee has received over $3 million in subsidies himself) even as he and others railed against monies for the poor. This Congressman was quoted recently saying that if people want to eat, then they should work, they should not expect handouts. Darkly warning against fraud, some members claimed people traded food stamps for tattoos. (This claim was absolutely disputed by the Agricultural Department.) Somehow they are overlooking the fact that the average food stamp allotment is approximately $5.00 per person per day. Since many people spend more than that for a latte on the way to work, that should give some context to this argument. During the recent Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich repeatedly claimed that President Obama was the food stamp President. This program is certainly better that the previous program which gave away surplus foods such as dried beans, powdered milk and cheese. Congress seems to absolve itself of any blame in this situation, just gets bogged down in posturing. Well, maybe if the Congress would pass a JOBS bill, then fewer people would need to apply for food stamps.

What I do not understand is how our country has become so mean-spirited. What is it about the people who were elected by the Tea Party that made them be so self-centered and lacking in charity towards one's neighbors? Why are they so threatened by the services that are among the best things that this country has to offer -- in my opinion. In my estimate, we have changed so much from the era of robber barons, with exploitation of workers, and poor houses which were so prevalent about a century ago. We have created a network of social services which serve as a safety net to keep families out of abject poverty. There are emergency shelters, food banks and services such as Medicaid and Social Security to aid those in need. We educate poor children through programs such as Head Start, provide food for the frail in Meals on Wheels programs and give health care through city clinics or Planned Parenthood. And soon we will implement the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare to many), bringing the United States closer to the majority of nations who provide health care believing that health care is a right, not a privilege. We have created a caring country that these social misfits now want to dismantle.

Perhaps certain social scientists will, in future generations, venture to study this subset first seen in the 2010 election as an aberration common only to the early 21st Century. They appear to be overwhelmingly white, mostly male and mostly not from the Blue states. (Other hangers-on such as Michelle Bachman and Lindsay Graham tried to rub the tea party lamps and find their genie, although Michelle has decided to read the tea leaves of her narrow win last year and retire.) Some of the TP members were defeated in the 2012 Presidential year election. One could hope that more will find defeat in 2014. Meanwhile some non Tea Partiers in the Republican Party are fearful that they will be defeated if they do not turn further to the right and follow these fringe members, so they are passing nothing of consequence. They are not doing the peoples work. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell has obstructed rather than governed and moved to create paralysis in courts and governmental appointments.

So how did my summer reverie disappear -- it didn't take much did it? Help me find a way to restore the society that cares about the least among us. Perhaps you have an idea about how we can bring back sanity and functionality to our government. If so, tell me here.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Musings

I do love walking the dog on a holiday morn. The hustle and bustle of usual days is absent and one can actually hear the crackle of branches as the squirrels dart from tree to tree in the nearby woods. The honks of geese flying overhead signal that nature is proceeding naturally. The cardinal pair crossing back and forth along my path add a bright note to the walk. The male, with his scarlet plumage leads the way, as his less flamboyantly feathered mate follows. In the distance, a cacophony of inside dogs bark as we near, heralding our presence -- no longer a silent trek.

But solitude and semi-silence give way to thoughts of why we celebrate this day. When I was a child, my family tradition of Memorial Day was one spent traveling to several cemeteries. First we cleared the graves of the debris from the winter, then planted flowers or placed a bouquet in a vase inserted in the ground. And we remembered the grandparent, aunt, uncle or sibling who had died. We also visited the part of our local cemetery set aside for the veterans of our community. All had identical headstones white marble without adornment, perhaps a cross or a star, and the name, rank, service identity and dates of birth and death and maybe a place of death. Sometimes a veterans group would have placed a small flag next to the headstone. But here we remembered those who served our country -- and when I was growing up most did serve. Many families had Gold Star mothers denoting a son who had died. In those days the active duty fighting force was all male.

The unpopularity of the Vietnam war brought an eventual end to the draft, but all young men today are still required to register for selective service. (With greater equality mandated for women -- will their registration be required next?) All three of my brothers served in the military during the 60s and 70s -- one was stationed in Vietnam. But even though the draft was supposed to be service by all, some managed to get deferments such as Dick Cheney -- who later seemed to have few doubts about sending a new generation to war. Bill Clinton, who also escaped the draft, seemed more reluctant toward foreign involvement. Today -- with an all volunteer army -- we do not see the Gold Stars in the windows or share the mourning of neighbors. We, as a nation, are mostly insulated from the daily cost of lives lost or soldiers wounded in the war. The war as fought on TV is mostly sterilized and not in the raw footage we saw from Vietnam which served to influence public opinion. Embedded reporters are seldom seen to report critically of their experiences.

The Washington Post regularly carries photos of the fallen. Their serious official photos give few hints of who these men and women -- mostly all young -- really are. We know little of their families, their dreams and aspirations, their laughs and sorrows, their wishes never to be realized. We are told they are serving to preserve the American dream, to keep us and ours safe and able to enjoy freedom. The Post also carries news items about the funerals at Arlington cemetery and shows little children standing with a young mother, too soon draped in black, holding the folded flag of honor.

This Memorial Day the Post also told the story of a recent vet who had lost both legs and an arm and who was being honored in his Massachusetts home town with a parade in his name. I grew up in such a town and know the sentiments that the people share in this and other towns across the country. After Vietnam, when people erroneously blamed the returning veterans for the mistakes of their elected officials, many said never again and today go out of their way to thank a veteran. The motorcyclists who come to Washington from across this country each Memorial Day and participate in Rolling Thunder are also paying a public tribute.

President Obama spoke this week about America not wanting to be a nation engaged in endless war. War should not define us as a people. For a country which claims to embrace the peacemaker, we have done little to demonstrate this. As Republican Senators McCain and Graham beat the drums for more action in the Middle East, they are not taking the pulse of the people. We are weary of wars. Our troops have been deployed again and again over the last ten years. We have left Iraq. We are leaving Afghanistan it is time for respite for our nation and our troops who have served so valiantly. Yes we do need a military as there are bad people in the world, but how much military is enough? Couldn't we decrease the Pentagon budget, stop building our military machines in all 50 states, so no one will fight against them and come up with a rational assessment of needs, wants and a real budget?

It is time we put the Defense budget on a diet and made it balance out. There is a great bumper sticker out there about making the Pentagon hold bake sales while our communities receive adequate funds . . . good thought but not realistic. However monies spent on defense are dollars not being spent to improve our social safety net, repair our infrastructure, bring people out of poverty and plan for the future, so as a nation, we are poorer as a result of war. Let those who want war go and fight -- leave their comfy Senate offices and tolerate some deprivation in the desert. (I know Senator McCain served his duty and was in a prison camp, but that should have taught him to use war as a last resort -- not the first.)

Perhaps we should give medals to the peace makers and not just to generals who serve their time and earn their stars. World War l began almost 100 years ago, and we have had a century of war. Let's work to make the next century one of peace. Iraq was the first war we entered without provocation. Let it also be the last. If we do not see ourselves as war mongers but rather as a country that stands on a world stage as a leader and an example of how freedom and democracy should work, then we must make our actions match our words.

Peace to all on this Memorial Day.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Random Thoughts for a New Year

In reviewing the year just passed, as I am wont to do annually when the New Year arrives I see a jumble of events, wins and losses on the political scene and peaks and valleys with environmental issues and many other issues that left an impact.

What was the impact overall of 2012? The economy saw the stock market continue to climb. The big banks and big oil continued to sock away billions while the American worker made only modest gains as salaries flattened, benefits decreased and the jobless rates declined only modestly. So as we look across the abyss of fiscal cliffs, tax rates, deficits and ineffective solutions where should we go?

We saw a turbulent political campaign awash in money and negativity end in a resounding second term victory for President Obama over unsuspecting loser Mitt Romney. Red states appeared to grow redder and blue states maintained their status as well. The country continued to be divided. We saw class divides increase as the tax rate battles overtook the Congress and paralyzed effective legislative functions. The 212th Congress passed into history as one of the least accomplished legislative bodies in the last century.

The Senate has made what was supposed to have been an extraordinary parliamentary maneuver -- the filibuster -- into a daily mechanism for stalling bills and prohibiting the President from processing his people into expected governmental appointments. Even with the efforts of the Justice Department under the Civil Rights Act, untold numbers of voters were impacted by voter suppression efforts as registrations were stifled and polling place access was diminished mostly across the South. Yet still democracy prevailed and an election has passed into history with a mostly democratic process.

Partisanship has reached into the depths as Republican governors and legislative bodies, who claimed they were voicing the will of the people, passed laws limiting rights of women and others and where bargaining rights for union members were trampled. Even as teachers were laying down their lives to save our children, some were denying them their rights as civil servants and portraying them as hogs at the public trough. Shameful!! Due process was disregarded and minorities were made suspect. Undocumented immigrants were told to self deport and 47% of us were told we did not matter. Many of the 98% who disagreed with the wealthiest amongst us, took to the streets and parks of our larger urban areas in an attempt to say look at us -- we are here and we do indeed matter and Occupiers became a new group which demanded an audience. In Maryland, we saw the Dream Act and Civil Marriage rights pass, both were positive and forceful moments in a year with little to cheer the progressives in our midst.

Tragedy from powerful automatic weapons stuck several times this year: a movie theater in Aurora Colorado, a Sikh Temple in the Midwest, and most unnervingly, in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Yet, we as a country cannot seem to say no to a powerful gun lobby which wants to promote more violence by not restricting any firepower -- not even that from weapons whose only clear use is for the military. When will we as a country learn how to have this conversation and reiterate that a civilized nation does not require automatic weapons in order to promote freedom and democracy? It is time for VP Biden to really make this point to the Congress and to our country as he leads this task force on gun violence. If not, I fear we will never turn this tide and our children and neighbors will continue to die. Aren’t 30,000 deaths a year by guns enough? (Two-thirds of these deaths are suicides by use of a gun. The remainder are guns used against others. Isn't that a very sad statistic?)

Next, we will have to address the issues of ineffective mental health efforts across the country and find a way for the mentally unstable to receive care before they commit a violent act, even as we acknowledge that most people who suffer from mental health issues are not violent. Mental health services are often cut at the local level, which is one reason I do not support block granting state Medicaid funds. Once the country moved away from institutional care, local services were supposed to fill the gaps. This has never happened in an adequate manner across the country. Perhaps, once the ACA is fully implemented, we will see some improvements.

Global climate change continues to impact us as we saw a storm of unprecedented force hit New Jersey and New York only a year after a similar storm had caused great damage. As we see these high impact storms with increasing frequency and ferocity how can one deny that change is happening? As coastal communities continue to erode, how can we continue to rebuild and restore and not prepare for the future by moving further inland? It seems imperative that we need to utilize the best and brightest here on this planet to solve this issue of climate change before we spend monies to invest in flights to other planets. What good will those efforts do if our own planet is being ravaged due to our inability to change our habits?

So, now as we move into 2013 and get ready for a new inauguration what do you think should be emphasized at the Presidential level? What issues would you like to see pursued at the local and state levels? Let me know your thoughts. Tell me some future topics you would like to see discussed in this blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The People Speak

After thousands of TV ads, months of speeches, and miles of newsprint, the voters have spoken and have resoundingly re-elected Barack Obama to a second term. Governor Romney and the Republican Party are both said to be in a state of shock as they thought they had the election in the bag. The predictions of Karl Rove, Morris and others that Romney could not lose have been exploded. Rove, calling the network tallies incorrect shows how far off the mark he actually was.

Relying on a pollster which over-sampled Republicans was only one of their major errors. It didn't work for younger voters, either.

Funny, somewhere along the way, they forgot to talk to the "other America". You know who I mean, the real Americans who work every day and maybe live paycheck to paycheck who need their home mortgage deduction or their job based health insurance, but who do not see themselves either as freeloaders or victims. The ones who did not believe the lies Romney told about the Jeep business moving out of Ohio, but who did see the workers at the Bain owned plant in the Midwest being required to train their Chinese replacements before the plant work was sent to China. The real Americans who paid a higher percentage of their earnings in taxes than the man who refused to share the details of his tax returns, even though he had required his VP candidates to do so.

  • They forgot to speak to the 47% disparaged so dismissively at the secretly recorded fundraiser remarks in Florida. (Speaking of fundraisers--who knows the ultimate effect of the billions spent on this election?)
  • They disregarded the millions of first generation Americans of color whose parents had immigrated to this country from across the world who now, as citizens, proudly contribute to their communities.
  • The issues of immigration were mentioned only in terms of building fences and self-deporting. President Obama's limited program of allowing those who came here as children to apply for legal identities was also widely put down.
  • They did not speak to the millions of women who visit Planned Parenthood each year for wellness exams, or who know that access to birth control is a financial issue as it allows them to balance their economics, job opportunities and family size.
  • They fanned the flames of racism with "Code-speak" talk of welfare and food stamps, forgetting the fact that the numbers of welfare recipients account for less than 5% of our population (or about 6 million of our over 310 million people) and are almost split in thirds between Whites and African Americans with a lesser number of Hispanics and "others". The 46 million people on food stamps include the young, elderly, the disabled and those below the poverty line and out of work, accounting for less than 15% of our populace.
  • The oft-repeated promises to disband "Obamacare" threatened many who had finally managed to receive health care coverage for their young children with pre-existing conditions and their young adults while they worked in entry level jobs. These are important family issues, seemingly disregarded by those who said they valued families.
  • While Romney competed aggressively in the battleground states, he lost them all. The recently "red States" of the South also saw some slippage as Florida went for Obama, while he barely lost North Carolina and again carried Virginia.
  • Some have said the Republicans are becoming a party of angry white men. While I will not go that far, I conclude that since Romney won a majority of white voters--who are a decreasing majority in this country--that there will be continued diminishing returns if this is the only outreach of the party.
  • The Republicans dismissed the "Occupy Wall Street" movement without taking time to listen to their words of disillusionment with the increasing inequities between the 2% and the other 98%. They know that the trickle down economics of not taxing the rich or so-called job creators have not worked.
  • They forgot that in this media age, one cannot successfully change the message from state to state or month to month and not be called on it. In the end, Romney was seen by many as untruthful and having no message of value.

Conversely, while the Obama campaign--which I volunteered for--kept the same message from the start of the campaign to the end. It meant something that the Obama campaign reached out not only to their usual Democratic urban base, but also fought for voters in Iowa, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado. In each area, the campaign worked with community members who shared their issues of jobs, education and healthcare and security for their retirement years. In each state, the Obama message of fixing Medicare, securing Social Security and expanding healthcare and job opportunities really resonated. Reducing the costs for college and expanding Pell grants means a lot to people whose home values had toppled and there was no equity to tap into to pay for college. It meant something that Obama recognized that the rich should pay their fair share and the government should not overly burden the middle class which forms the bedrock of our society.

A coalition of volunteers of every race, every nationality, old and young worked on this campaign for a long time. Call centers were populated by these diverse groups for many months working side-by-side with common goals. When contacts were made in various communities they saw people, such as themselves, engaged in the political process and caring enough to listen to them. A message was also sent when Republicans denied this duly elected President legitimacy, and continued to claim his birth certificate and citizenship were bogus. This disrespect shown by the Republicans in the Congress to the office of the Presidency, let alone to the person of the President, was unprecedented.

Many asked if this would have happened to a white President and saw these attacks as racist. This further fueled resolve amongst communities of color to re-elect this man again. The President won 93% of the Black vote, 73% of the Asian and Hispanic vote and about 45% of the white vote. 55% of women voted for him. Still the President won with over 50% of the vote and received over 60 million votes. Romney got 47% of the vote or about 57 million votes. Although the Electoral College split well for Obama with 332 votes, and 206 for Romney, this election cannot be called a landslide. It is however, in my opinion, a vindication of the Obama message and he can say he does have a mandate to resolve the fiscal issues left over from this Congress' inability to do so.

Finally, the efforts by Republican Governors, legislators and others to suppress the vote in states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Georgia, Texas and elsewhere, sent a huge message to voters of all races. Whether it was a requirement for voter IDs, decreases in early voting or reductions in polling stations, the message was clear: we are going to make it more difficult for people to vote and even more difficult in Democratic areas. As a result, voters came out and stood in lines for hours and hours, in heat, in the rain and in the dark.

At places in Virginia and Florida, voters were still in line after the networks had announced that President Obama had won. These people wanted to make a statement. They wanted to vote and felt that their vote mattered. The vote tally is still not complete in some states as provisional ballots are still being counted, but it appears that the final turnout numbers might be lower than in 2008. The Supreme Court is going to take up the Voting Rights Act to see if it is still needed. A look at these lines should have provided the answer.

What do you have to say about the election? Let me know.