Saturday, January 30, 2010
Monday, January 25, 2010
reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate to 57. The Democrats can no longer prevent a
filibuster. This means the long awaited health care reform bill's chances of passage have
just evaporated. In other words, unless the House decides to pass the Senate bill as it is;
it probably won't pass. With 41 votes, the Republicans can not only prevent this bill from
passing; they can stop all future Democratic bills even if the majority of Senators are in
favor. Health care reform is dead in the water.
The Republicans win. There is great joy in GOP-ville. Why are they so happy? What
exactly did "they" win? What does this victory accomplish? What monumental achievement have
they prevailed upon? First, they have kept 30 million Americans from being able to obtain
health insurance. Second, health insurance companies will continue to deny coverage for pre-
existing conditions. Third, the same insurance companies will be able to cancel your policy
if you get too sick. Finally, there will continue to be states where one company controls
as much as 70% of the market with no competition.
Along with preserving the status quo, the Republican victory guarantees Americans will
continue being forced into bankruptcy by health care catastrophes and a larger and larger
percentage of our Gross Domestic Product will go to pay for health care at a time when other
nations will be spending similar amounts of their treasure on education, innovation, creating
jobs, and new industries. If ever a victory can be termed Pyrrhic, this one fits the bill.
Once again, independents were the largest voting block in Massachusetts; and once again
they voted Republican as they did in the Virginia and New Jersey governor's races. Who are
these independents? Do independents want what they can't have? Are they intent on opposing
the current trend whatever it may be, no matter what the cost?
In 2008, independents overwhelmingly voted for Obama and his promise to "change direction"
in Washington. Obama ran on reforming healthcare. Independents said yes to his vision. Now
we are told 2010 will be the year of the outsider, and that incumbents and those in power are
in trouble because independents are now voting to elect people who oppose change. Independents
seem to be voting for whichever party is publicly committed to opposition as a guiding principle.
Independents seem to have become a grouping of the electorate which offers no solutions and
whose raison d'etre is to oppose any president who is currently in office.
Independents now appear to be endorsing a Republican strategy which will result in no
healthcare reform, Guantanamo staying open, a continuation of two wars, no banking reform
(leaving in place the rules and practices which led to the economic meltdown), and no energy
reform designed to reduce greenhouse gases will go anywhere in the Senate.
So, Obama gets elected to change the status quo; but after a year of trying, Independents
seem to be saying "enough"! By voting Republican, they have returned to power the very ones
who desire to prevent Obama from achieving the very goals they favored when they voted for him.
Is it possible that Independents, like adolescents, are impulsive? Are they quick to make
decisions but just as quick to change their minds? Are we to expect them to oppose all changes
out of obstinence, inexperience, or fear?
The vote in Massachusetts was a vote for political gridlock. I've known Independents who
say they prefer a government where nothing can get done because if the politicians can't
accomplish anything, they won't be able to cause any further harm to them. It, of course, begs
the question of what do we do about healthcare or any of the other intractable problems we face
as a nation. Is it good to have a healthcare system where Americans pay twice as much as any
other industrialized nation and yet get half the benefit? Is it good that our current health
system will soon be eating up to 22% of the federal dollar, leaving almost nothing for anything
else? Is the current system of granting health insurance companies virtual monopolies in a
supposed "free market" economy something that does no harm?
So I ask the question again, what is an independent and what do they want? Obama and the
Democrats didn't help the situation. By compromising on every issue he proposed, the President
cooled the ardor of his base. By elevating opponents and idealogues from the other party and
refusing to draw any lines in the sand over which he would not step, the President sent a
message to his base that their interests were not his top priority. By taking the half-a-loaf
is better than none approach to deal making (but not even getting half-a-loaf in return), the
President's base has become disheartened and dispirited. In Virginia, New Jersey, and now
Massachusetts, they did not turn out in large enough numbers to offset the erosion of the
Independents. Independents, who are quickly becoming key players in national politics whether
they want that responsibility or not; seem to have no idea what direction they wish the nation
to go in, if any direction at all.
Is it possible Independents have no idea what they want? Is it possible Independents simply
have no clear vision? Could it be that a larger and larger percentage of our electorate has no
idea how to progress and move forward in a global environment where our competitors are getting
stronger? Is the electorate capable of understanding our vast domestic environment where so
many problems need to be fixed or improved in order to simply maintain our economic, social,
and moral health? Have we become a nation where the largest or fastest growing segment of the
voting population is more comfortable with paralysis than with progress? Does the vote in
Massachusetts show who we have become as a nation which is no longer able to deal with big
problems? Have we somehow become a people only capable of going to war? Is raising military
budgets and a willingness to expend our blood and treasure on the world stage become the only
policy around which our politicians can form a political consensus in Washington?
I used to find the term Independent attractive. It was the opposite of an idealogue. It
meant someone who looked at both sides of an issue and somehow became politically committed to
a moderate middle ground. I am not so enamored anymore. What I'm seeing now are Independents
who appear to be saying "a pox on both their political houses", but who have no vision of their
own and no clue how to divert us from the doldrums of our suicidal national status quo. Faced
with a President who stood for change and acted on his promise and an opposition committed to
killing whatever the President suggests, meritorious or not, Independents are saying yes to both;
resulting in a victory for simply doing nothing, which is not an option.
There is great joy in GOP-ville; but it will be short-lived because the same Independents
who turned on them in 2006-2008 will do so again. The real question now is, has America passed
its prime? Are we fated to end up on the trash heap of history along with all the other great
nations and empires, a vague chapter in history books for our great grandchildren to puzzle over?
So, as we stand at the abyss, let me ask once again, what is an Independent? Until we
figure out who they are, one thing is for sure, they are calling the shots...reluctant be they
may. (to be continued...) What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please
send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, January 22, 2010
since the first anniversary of his inauguration is upon us. My assessment is a mixture of
disappointment and hope. I am one of the people saw in Obama what I wanted to see. I thought
he was in favor of change (I guess because he used the word so much). I wanted a lot of change.
I wanted a change in foreign policy, domestic policy, the environment, national security, and
a change away from exclusion and towards inclusion. I wanted to change the influence of the rich
and powerful and see the rise of organizations like MoveOn.org and other grassroots organizations.
I saw Obama as a progressive. I was wrong. He is a pragmatist and not a progressive. He has
yet to show me any issue where he will draw a line in the sand and refuse to budge (very similar
to Bill Clinton). He is a believer in the half-a-loaf philosophy of politics. He will accept
half-a-loaf rather than choose to be defeated over a principal. The result is usually not
satisfying and very frustrating. My initial read of his first year in office is he is willing
to accept much more of the status quo than I want him to accept; and he is far more mainstream
than I would like him to be.
Much to the chagrin of his enemies, most economists and observers believe the economic
stimulus package he pushed through Congress along with actions of the Federal Reserve prevented
a total economic meltdown. He inherited a number of disasters, but the economy was the most
pressing. The stock market, banking system, economic growth, and the jobs market are all better
now than they were when he took office. He accomplished this with virtually no help from the
Republicans. In fact, one of the most obvious characteristics of his first year is the total
abdication of responsibility by the Republican Party. It's obvious Republicans believed
anything he proposed they would oppose. Republican members of Congress publicly declared
their intention to bring the President down and adopted a scorched-earth policy towards his
legislative efforts. The pragmatist Obama seemed to bend over backwards to accommodate his
opponents and ignore his base. There was no principle he wouldn't negotiate over and he gave
power to regressive interests while ignoring the desires of those who worked hardest to get
him elected. In Obama's first year, being opposed to him got you far more access, attention,
and deference than any supporter was able to garner. The result has been a significant drop
in enthusiasm among his base which became evident in the Virginia and New Jersey governor's
races. His opponents are poised to turn out their base in droves for the midterm elections;
while his base may stay at home or find little motivation to make the calls and knock on the
doors necessary to get out the vote and win elections. This lack of enthusiasm has to be laid
directly at Obama's performance in his first year.
In foreign policy and national security areas the President set a new tone, but also
continued many of the policies of the Bush Administration. Obama supported a renewal of the
Patriot Act. He continues to use national security as an excuse in court to prevent
investigations into illegal conduct or abuses of the Bush Administration and to keep prying
eyes away from his own policies. He is on record as supporting the holding of prisoners without
charging them or bringing them to trial. Guantanamo was supposed to be closed by now. He used
executive orders to end torture and close secret prisons, but by avoiding congressional action
he is free to reverse those orders at any time. He has made an effort to change the world's
perception of American foreign policy including a speech in Cairo to the Muslim world. A recent
poll in Afghanistan shows a drop in support for terrorist attacks directed towards Americans.
However, his expanding the war in Afghanistan with no definition of victory and no
acknowledgement that he is deepening America's involvement in a deadly civil war. He initially
took a hard line on Israel, demanding a total freeze on new building in the settlements; but
has done nothing since Israel announced its intention to build hundreds of new houses in East
Jerusalem. His middle east policy has accomplished nothing so far.
Obama appointed the first Hispanic member of the Supreme Court. The jury is out as to
whether Sonia Sotomayor is a real progressive; but most observers feel she will be a balance
against the Scalia wing of the court.
The President has not pushed for true reform of Wall Street or banking regulations. While
Congress fiddles around the edges, no one is proposing real reform. Calls for regulation of
derivatives, returning to the days when investment banks were separate from FDIC-insured banks,
limits on energy speculation, and more transparency in the system have been ignored. Banks are
not lending to Main Street while continuing to engage in trading practices which caused the
economic problems to begin with. The President seems helpless to do anything about it.
The House passed an energy reform package including a cap and trade provision intended to
reduce the amount of greenhouse gases the U.S. produces. It is held up in the Senate and doesn't
have a great chance of passing.
In his first year, the President presented an image of a calm, deliberative leader who
doesn't rush into decisions and who does not panic easily. He projected an image abroad of
a man committed to diplomacy over unilateral military action; and he seems to have a vision
for how he wants the nation to progress.
President Obama reminds me alot of Bill Clinton. Why is it progressives seem all too
willing to compromise on issues of importance to them while regressives see no need for
accommodation? Compromise does not guarantee success despite the "half-a loaf is better than
none" philosophy. President Bush did not compromise on anything. He wanted to go to war in
Iraq and he did. He wanted to cut taxes for the rich and he did. He wanted to spy on
Americans illegally and he did and the Congress endorsed his actions. He wanted to pack the
Supreme Court with regressive Catholics and he did. He even wanted to get rid of the estate
tax so the uber-rich could transfer their wealth to their children tax free and he got that too.
Congress did not stop him once. He made no deals with progressives. The best position to be
in with Obama seems to be as his enemy or opponent (same as Clinton). He is willing to bend
over backwards to reward you and to seek out your opinion and input. He abandoned a public
option, expanded Medicare eligibility, a government-run insurance exchange of health plans,
the importation of drugs from Canada, and numerous other progressive ideas in order to get a
healthcare agreement. He continues the war in Afghanistan, has eased pressure on Israel, and
has no peace talks ongoing between Israel and the Palestinians; and like Clinton, he appears to
take his base for granted while courting his opponents and doesn't seem to get much out of
the deal. He is a pragmatist when so many of us wanted a progressive. Many want to compare
him favorably to Roosevelt and Johnson; but that seems a bit premature.
Obama's first year may be the toughest rookie year since Lincoln. Neither Roosevelt nor
Johnson had to conduct two wars while also confronting serious economic and domestic issues.
He could have been another Hoover and watched the economy implode; but instead acted quickly
to shore it up. He may sign the most sweeping social legislation since Medicare. Yet those
who fought to get him elected are troubled and restless. His party will take a hit in November.
How big a hit will depend on the unemployment rate, foreclosure rate, and whether Americans
believe we are getting our country back on track. He can expect no help from Republicans,
something even Johnson and Roosevelt didn't face. I am disappointed by his first year, but
is that his fault or my fault? What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals.
Please send them to email@example.com
Monday, January 18, 2010
Faux News commentator Britt Hume has a solution for all of Tiger Woods problems.
Convert to Christianity and all will be forgiven. Sounding like he was channeling Oral Roberts,
Hume offered this advice in an attempt to resurrect Tiger's career, a simple fix to put him back
into the good graces of his fans and sponsors.
On Hume's advice, all Mr. Woods needs to do is become a Christian and thereby
experience forgiveness and redemption. Hume claims only Christianity provides the
opportunity to be forgiven and redeemed. He believes Tiger is a Buddhist, or at least his
mother is; therefore, even if he says he's sorry, rebuilds his marriage, and wins the Masters,
he's still out of luck.
Buddhism, according to Hume, offers no provision for forgiveness or redemption.
If Tiger says he's sorry, and does so at the mega-church of his choice; Americans will watch
him on TV, buy Gillette razors by the boxcar, and wear Tag Hauer watches to church on
Sunday. Christianity for Hume is a sacerdotal washing machine designed to wash and rinse
Tiger's soul. Is this what Christian conversion has come to mean in America?
It helps that Tiger is portrayed as a Buddhist. Most Americans don't know any
Buddhists and have no idea what Buddhists believe. They might think of meditation and
corpulent statues, but not much more. Americans are mostly illiterate when it comes to
Christianity and the other great world religions. For example, imagine for a moment
Mr. Hume saying Tiger should abandon being Jewish and convert to Christianity in order
to experience forgiveness and redemption. His career would not be long for this world.
The reality of politics and religion has a long reach and Buddhists are a safe target for
evangelization it seems.
What about this idea that Christians are the only ones to experience God's forgiveness
and redemption? On this, we have Jesus's very own words and they clearly state that to
live like Him, or to "follow" him, one had to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, and
forgive an infinite number of times. According to Matthew's gospel, in order to be admitted
to the presence of God you have to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and
visit prisoners. Whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters you do for Jesus
himself. He told the rich young man to sell everything he had. He said the meek and
peacemakers would be blessed and inherit the earth. He advised people not to judge others
or pray or fast in public and to be motivated by love of God and neighbor. To be like Jesus
is to live every moment of your life in relationship to God and your fellow man. And as we
all know, relationships depend on how we live our lives. Relationship is key.
As for redemption, we are told Jesus's death and resurrection redeemed "the world".
Whatever redemption or salvation is, it was a one-time event. We have been redeemed;
that's the "good news" of the gospels and it is done. But, the idea of redemption presented
problems for the early Christian Church bureaucracy. If we are all redeemed by Jesus's
sacrifice, why do we need a "church"? If we are all saved, why do we need to be governed
by rules and why do we need an intermediary to help us achieve this goal? No church, no
priests, and no pastors; what kind of world are we talking about here?
This so troubled St. Augustine, that he came up with the concept of original sin. Yes,
Jesus's death and resurrection redeemed the world, but...not quite. It seems some felt
Jesus wasn't as powerful as we thought. His death and resurrection weren't strong enough
to wipe out the stain of the original sin of Adam and Eve. They felt the only way you could
erase that sin was through baptism.
Since St. Augustine, others took it upon themselves to isolate other scriptural verses
claiming one has to be born again or to "accept" Jesus in order to earn forgiveness and
redemption. This is in spite of St. John's gospel, Chapter 9, where Jesus assured the blind
man at the Pool of Siloam that we cannot inherit sin!
One of the earliest heresies in the years after Jesus was caused by the teaching of
the Gnostics. They taught that in order to be saved you needed to acquire a special "gnosis"
or knowledge. Only those who achieved this highest form of enlightenment could be saved.
Wisely, the early Christian community rejected this notion that there was only one way to
salvation. Today, those who suggest you have to be born again or baptized represent the
worst of the rejected beliefs of old by insisting human rules can limit the way God's grace
and reach can touch us and heal us.
Tiger Woods has to decide what direction he wishes his life to go. He can reconcile
with his wife and lead a long married life or he can divorce. He has to decide what kinds
of relationships he wants and the value of his word. He has to give serious thought to his
children and decide if he wants the depth, power, and intimacy of a loving relationship or
wants to continue to bounce from one cocktail waitress to another.
However, if Tiger Woods decides to live as good a life as he can, if he uses his vast
wealth and prominence to help the least of his brothers and sisters, if he is able to be a good
and loving father and a caring friend to the people in his life, if as a Buddhist he is able to
control his ego realizing nothing is permanent and work his way along the eight-fold path
to perfection; this will work. In other words, if Tiger Woods is a good man striving to be
the best human he can be, whether he is a Christian or not is irrelevant. The key is the kind
of life we live. The key is the ripples we create in the world and how well we develop our
humanity. If God created us, part of God's divine nature is within us. The more we love
each other and humanize ourselves, the more we become divine ourselves.
Britt Hume and those of his ilk are like the Pharisees of Jesus's time. They are more
concerned about the rules than how one lives. Jesus once asked them after he performed
a sign on the Sabbath, if the Sabbath was made for man or man for the Sabbath. Jesus was
not kind when he responded by calling the Pharisees "whitened sepulchers", bright on the
outside, but dead on the inside. Nothing has changed since that day; Jesus has no patience
for those overly obsessed with "law" and labels. The Pharisees are still among us. Jesus
said we are forgiven if we sincerely ask for forgiveness and change whatever behavior is
interfering in our relationships. We are redeemed because Jesus opened a new relationship
to God which each of us can benefit from and that forgiveness is open to anyone who can
live up to the challenge he gave us.
At times we all fall short. We all sin; but the good news is we get to work on getting
it right over and over again even if we wear lime green pants, hit a ball with a stick, and
rely on the message of the Buddha to help us navigate through life in all its pain and glory.
God is not the exclusive franchise of anyone or any religion. God's spirit among us
is but a whisper; but it survives to this day in spite of man's laws and labels. And what does
this whisper speak of? Ooh! It's the soft sound of a lover's sigh when you wake up in the
morning and say "Oh darn, another day". The whisper says it doesn't have to be this way...
and you know in your heart that life can be more than you've made it.
The Buddha was a prince when he heard God's whisper and Jesus sacrificed his life
as an example for others to follow. The early Christians understood this; but somehow
the Pharisees have chased the spirit of God into buildings and books when the only place
it can exist is in the calm freedom of our individual hearts. The "church" is people in loving
relationships with each other. You've been tricked if you see God's hope for his kingdom
on earth as being anything other than this. Either today is the day we begin trying to live
in loving relationship to one another and God or it's simply another day of pointing fingers,
finding fault, and blaming others for the mess we've made of God's home...his home in our
hearts. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them
Sunday, January 17, 2010
The nation's big bankers are entering bonus season, and are about to receive bonuses
in the eight figure territory ($10,000,000+). President Obama's economics advisor, Christine
Romer, says she's offended. Media commentators of all stripes and many economically savvy
Americans understand what is going on. They understand the bailout money provided to the
nation's big bankers by the taxpayers had few strings attached and didn't prohibit bonuses. In
addition to the billions in bailout money that made headlines across the nation, how about the
additional trillions (yes, trillions) the Federal Reserve pumped into the system off radar, so to
speak. These banks were allowed to borrow money from the Fed at ridiculously low rates and
then allowed to lend or make trades at higher rates of return, resulting in billions in profits
for which these bankers are once again rewarded. The commentators know, Christine Romer
knows, and the bankers themselves know that these are flush times if you are a big banker.
Does anyone seriously think the bankers don't know what's going on? That somehow they
don't understand and are innocent? That they don't get it?
The New York Times revealed recently that Goldman-Sachs sold packages of sub-prime
mortgage securities and then bet these same packaged securities would fail. They made
billions in profits. They knew what they were selling their clients was shaky at best and a
disaster at worst; and then they bet against those same clients who paid them for advice.
The strategy was golden, literally. Oh yes, they get it. They will pay extraordinary amounts
to individuals as bonuses, knowing they are operating within the law. Business will continue
and the bonuses will continue. They get it and they also got it.
These bankers made a conscious decision to use TARP money and the easy Fed money
to engage in the very same trading activity that led to the problem which almost brought down
our economy; but this time instead of getting the prison sentences they deserve, they're
rewarding themselves with huge bonuses.
I'm offended by the actions of these bankers. It's not like when a sports coach uses a
little known rule to give his club an advantage over their opponent. He didn't write the rules;
he just took advantage of the rules as written. In sports, it's the job of the coach to "work"
the referees during a game. They talk, yell, and beg constantly trying to get the officials to see
the game their way. They may lose individual battles, but they don't care because their goal
is to win the game by getting a key call to go their way at a crucial moment. In 1999, bankers
had finally "worked" the officials (Congress) long enough to get the Glass-Steagall Act repealed
enabling investment banks to be considered full service banks insured by the FDIC and backed
by the taxpayers. At that point, they became too big to fail. The difference in this case is that
these bankers are the guys that wrote the banking rules, and there's the rub.
It's an understatement to say the Bush administration was "friendly" to Wall Street.
As if on cue, the financial "bubble" started to inflate. The Security and Exchange Commission,
the FDIC, the Federal Reserve, the Commodities Commission, the Treasury Department, and
Congress were perfectly aware of the dangers and spoke of it often as the "bubble" grew; but
showed no interest in reining in the risk these banks were taking. The banks took more and
more risk, confident that the government would step in if it looked like they might go under.
They were too big to fail. They took advantage of everyone who gets a simple paycheck and
somehow manages to live within their means. Did I say I was offended? Let's check that, I'm
mad as hell! I want something done to keep this from ever happening again.
Congress has yelled and screamed and stomped their feet even threatening to hold their
collective breath until they turn blue if Wall Street isn't brought to task. They've held hearings
and appeared on TV and written op-ed pieces about how profligate Wall Street has been and
how they won't put up with it anymore. They created a "pay czar" to control the salaries of
some corporate executives and threatened to tax big bonuses. They produced lots of smoke,
but little of substance has been done. How could this be?
At the same time our country is in the death grip of an ongoing financial crisis, Wall
Street is pouring money into lobbying Congress to prevent any significant reform from passing.
The bills being considered in the House and Senate do nothing to rein in the extremely risky
business of trading in derivatives and other exotic schemes. Wall Street wins, we lose; as they
have managed to stop every significant change in the banking rules from passing. Unbelievable!
How much worse can it get? How about having their banking buddies in top positions within
the Obama administration. Obama's people come from Goldman-Sachs and other major Wall
Street firms. Obviously, no one in Washington is interested in changing anything. Members of
Congress know that playing along with Wall Street garners millions in political contributions.
They really do get it.
One of the biggest disappointments in this circus of greed and power has to be Democratic
Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts. He looks great in front of a camera and he is
always good for a quick jab at the rich and powerful. He's also chairman of the Financial
Services Committee in the House and the bill he supports is weak, watered down, and will do
little to prevent the economic risk-taking which continues to devastate our economy. Another
gross disappointment is Senator Chris Dodd (D, Connecticut), author of a provision allowing
AIG executives to get their eight figure bonuses. As Chair of the Banking Committee, he too
hasn't pushed for any real changes; which means you can be sure any bill he vets will be
toothless. Members of Congress may succeed in increasing oversight of the Federal Reserve,
but they have failed miserably at any serious re-regulation; and that translates as good news
for Wall Street.
You couldn't get a clearer example of how far Congress has moved from the people than
the weak nature of these bills. The public is "mad as hell" and wants the end of "too big to
fail". Main Street is offended by the bailout of Wall Street. Taxpayers are apoplectic over how
easily Congress spent trillions of their dollars to shore up the financial system, and yet argue
endlessly about simply providing more aid to create jobs and continue unemployment
compensation for Americans who have already lost their jobs. If you ever needed proof that
money trumps public opinion, this is it.
Former Fed Chairman Paul Volker has an answer. Pass a new version of the Glass-
Steagall Act. Once again, separate the investment banks responsible for taking ridiculous risks
from the local and community banks responsible for local lending and the health of local
economies. Simply put things back the way they were. If the investment banks like Goldman-
Sachs want to take risks, let them; but the taxpayers should never have been on the hook to
bail them out. If a local or community bank fails, it is in our interest to bail out depositors
to keep confidence in the system. The good news is that local banks historically take fewer
risks. Putting things back the way they were would virtually eliminate the concept of "too
big to fail".
Congress has to regulate derivatives. There have to be laws to make the practice more
transparent and risk visible to all investors. Investment banks have to be prohibited from
selling a product and benefiting if the product fails. All conflicts of interest should be
addressed and eliminated.
As problematic as big bonuses are, the big banks hope the public will focus on the
superficial while their lobbyists go about watering down and weakening any attempt at real
banking reform. Don't fall for it. Let them have their bonuses if need be, but hit them where
it really hurts by making them assume the risks they take. This in itself will take care of the
bonus problem. Right about now you might be expecting me to plead with you to call your
Congressman and demand some REAL reform, but it goes deeper than that. Our national
economy links all of us together. We're all both innocent and guilty. The bankers are guilty
because they've pushed their deals a little too far and got stuck with some overvalued paper.
The homeowner acquired more house than he could afford. The investor and the broker both
want sure bets and the politician simply wants to make everybody happy. The fact is that
nobody is happy when a deal's gone south and we taxpayers are beat. We aren't strong enough
to clean up any more "spilt milk"; plus our savings are gone. The time for our politicians to
make the hard decisions we trusted them to make is past due. My question to YOU is: Are
you going to spend your evenings in front of the TV or are you going to educate yourself and
get involved? The answer you arrive at has everything to do with our nation's future. We all
get it, and get it right, or we all lose it together. What do you think? I welcome your
comments and rebuttals. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, January 15, 2010
Newsweek ran a profile of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. It seems Barbour might
want to run for President. He is buoyed by recent Republican victories in the Virginia and
New Jersey governor's races. The Newsweek piece says Americans are disenchanted with
Obama and will reward the Republicans in 2010 with more seats in Congress, thus opening
the door to a strong challenge to Obama's reelection. Barbour is the former head of the
Republican Party. He is described in the article as a man with a confederate flag on his office
wall signed by Jefferson Davis, a picture of a confederate army unit wiped out at Gettysberg,
and as the founder of one of the most powerful lobbying firms in Washington. He helped
turn the South Republican in the 60's and 70's which followed the Southern strategy of
Richard Nixon playing white voters against black voters. All of this adds up, according to
Newsweek, to a formidable challenger to the President.
The victories by Republicans in Virginia and New Jersey were hinged on the vote of
Independents, the fastest growing political group in the nation. Independents voted
overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008. Most political scientists believe about 35% of the
electorate is currently Democratic, 35% Republican, and 30% Independent or decline to
state (Independent defined as those with no major party affiliation or those who take the
guarantee of voter privacy seriously). As Democrats and Republicans vote party line, the
Independents are becoming major players in many elections. In Virginia and New Jersey,
for instance, Independants swung the races in favor of the Republicans. So, here's my
question: Exactly who are these Independents? Will they be attracted to a "good ole' boy"
who still reveres the Confederacy, is a power broker/lobbyist who loves SUV's, and only
believes in recycling if it means throwing out Democrats and electing Republicans? Are
these Independents already disenchanted with our Democratic President; the President
who plans to expand healthcare, prevent economic collapse by throwing vast sums of money
at the rich, continues to maintain two wars he promised to end, and hasn't been able to put
a dent in the unemployment rate?
Are you an Independent? Could you envision voting for a Republican in one election
and a Democrat in another? What issues will cause you to draw a line in the sand over which
you won't step or vote for anyone who does? If Tom Campbell were the Republican nominee
for governor running against Democrat Jerry Brown, I could vote for Campbell. Does that
make me an Independent? How are we to define this new political phenomenon in today's
Congressman Barney Frank once said the purpose of government is to give money away.
Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat depends on who you want to see get the money.
Former San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto once said he wanted to live like a Republican, but
vote like a Democrat. Democrats have traditionally been the party that believes government
has a role to play in society. It's the government's job to protect the powerless from the
powerful. Government must buffer the excesses of rampant free market capitalism through
oversight and regulation. Government should strive to ensure equal opportunity and equal
access to all Americans to the corridors of power and influence. Republicans, by contrast,
have traditionally believed in a weak central government. The market should be left free to
pick the economic winners and losers. Governmental interference in the free workings of
the market will always be problematic. Republicans have traditionally opposed everything
from Social Security to Medicare to strong labor laws, along with Head Start and a woman's
right to choose.
Up until recently, Republicans and Democrats were fairly similar when it comes to
foreign policy. Democrats took our nation to war four times in the 20th century. So far,
Republicans have taken us to war twice in the 21st century. Democrats and Republicans
supported a containment policy vis-a-vis the Soviet Union; and both parties supported
dictators and totalitarian states as long as these leaders and nations were friendly to us.
Both parties have been strong supporters of Israel; and both parties welcomed normalized
relations with China.
Perhaps the widest separation between the two parties is on social policy. Conservative
Republicans, who are in favor of smaller government, support government restrictions on
abortion and access to birth control. They are in favor of the government telling individuals
what kind of sexual activity is legal in the privacy of their bedroom. On the other hand,
they don't believe in the separation of church and state and in never passing laws infringing
on the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. Democrats favor laws expanding the rights
of women, gays, and other minorities. Democrats believe in legal abortions and the wide
distribution of birth control technology; but even this is becoming one of those gray areas.
Democrats in many states favor the decriminalization of marijuana for medical use and most
oppose the death penalty. Many Democrats and Republicans support the government spying
on you and both parties voted for the Patriot Act.
So, who or what is an Independent? In Virginia, the Independent voters favored the
candidate who they perceived would address transportation issues and restore the economy.
In New Jersey, Independents seemed to move toward the candidate who would address rising
property taxes and declining tax revenues. They wanted someone who would manage the state
well; and in both states Independents seemed to vote for the candidate who proposed the
clearest agenda for addressing local problems. In both races, the Republican candidates
deliberately played down social issues. In both states popular right wing figures like Sarah
Palin were ignored. In both races the Republicans promised to be good stewards and played
down ideology, all of which attracted the Independent voters.
So, what is an Independent? How do Independents feel about reforming healthcare,
the economic stimulus package, energy legislation, and expanding the war in Afghanistan?
What do Independents believe about a woman's right to choose and ending "Don't Ask,
Don't Tell" in the military? What is the Independent position on fighting terrorism, more
foreign aid to Pakistan, and the rising threat of an economic and militarily powerful China?
Do Independents believe the President should have let the banks fail, especially if the
federal government stands by as its states go bankrupt and millions of Americans lose their
homes? Are Independents happy or sad that nothing of substance came out of the
environmental summit in Copenhagen? How do they feel about Israel building hundreds
of new homes in East Jerusalem?
Were Independent voters in Virginia and New Jersey turning the clock back to a different
era or were they sending a message that the new role of government must be to get things
done, not just attack each other? What is the middle ground between Democrats and
Republicans, and can Independents occupy and hold that ground with any sort of consistency?
As I have written before, the terms left and right, liberal and conservative have no
meaning any more. Is the rise of the Independent voter a reaction to the way politics are
being done in America? One thing for sure, the two old "traditional parties" are not weary
of the game; for the prize of political supremacy in the U.S. far surpasses anything common
folk could ever imagine.
The year 2012 doesn't seem like a long way off, but it's an eternity in political time
keeping. I am certain of only one thing. If Republicans think nominating a confederate-loving,
SUV-dependent, wealthy K-Street-lobbyist to run for President is a sound strategy; Democrats
will be non-plussed. However, if they run someone who plays down ideology, promises to
make government work, expands the rights of Americans, and focuses on an expanding
economy and more jobs; it could be a very interesting race. But, "interesting" is not what
the United States needs right now. We don't need another diverting, dramatic, or feel-good
Presidential race. The people of our nation are crying out for change, REAL change, not more
political showmanship and empty promises. Since I still can't identify or define an
Independent, perhaps you might like to weigh in with your definition. What do you think?
I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to email@example.com
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is under attack for being a racist. He probably is
a racist, but then again we all are. America is a nation built upon the principal of white
supremacy. The late historian John Hope Franklin once told me until the United States
admits to the above observation, we can never start a constructive discussion about race.
Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.) is also accused of being a racist.
These two politicians are in trouble because of remarks they made about race; but there
is no comparison between the two.
Trent Lott made a toast at a dinner honoring South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond.
Thurmond had run for President as a Dixiecrat in 1948. He was an unabashed segregationist
opposed to all attempts at integration including opposition to President Truman's order to
desegregate the military. In his toast, Lott exclaimed his belief that if Thurmond had been
elected President "...we wouldn't have had all the trouble we have had in this country".
Lott proclaimed his support for a completely segregated society. He didn't do this in 1948,
but in 2002. Thurmond was one of the architects of the Republican Party's "southern
strategy" along with Richard Nixon and others. The strategy entailed pitting white voters
against black voters. Republicans played on the fears of white southerners that the Democrats,
who pushed through the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and the Public Accommodations
Act, would continue to expand rights for minorities at the expense of white jobs and white
culture. The strategy worked to perfection and the South became a solid block of Republican
white voters and remains that way today. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, he is purported to have said "Today we lost the South". The
"southern strategy" was designed to take advantage of the national racism in this country;
and Thurmond, Nixon, and Lott worked it for all it was worth. Lott went on to actively
oppose the holiday honoring Martin Luther King, the renewal of the Voting Rights Act,
and other racially charged progressive issues. Lott's personal history and his congressional
voting record showed his continuing efforts to deny minorities equal rights and his praise
for Thurmond condemned him as unrepentant.
Harry Reid made a comment about the electability of Barack Obama. He said since
Obama is light skinned and has no "negro" accent, except when he wants to have one, Obama
has a good chance of being elected President. Reid's comments are insensitive because how
someone looks or speaks should not be the subject of a question about Presidential
electability, especially if they are black. However, Reid's comments happen to be true from
a purely pragmatic point of view. His take on the American landscape is that Americans will
be more comfortable with a black candidate as long as he is not too black. Ironically, Reid's
remarks should stimulate discussions on whether he is right or not. If he is right, what does
that say about race relations in this country? Reid encouraged Barack Obama to run for
President. Reid has been a strong supporter of civil rights legislation and the expansion of
minority rights. Reid is a member of a Democratic Party with numerous minority members
in Congress. The Republican Party does not have one single African-American member of
Congress. Reid is a member of the Democratic Party which has pushed through all the major
Civil Rights legislation. As President Obama said, Harry Reid has always been on the right
side of history.
There is no equivalency between Lott's and Reid's remarks, their voting records, or
the political parties of which they are members; and this is the most disquieting thing about
this latest kerfuffle. Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, Texas Senator John Cornyn,
and others have called on Reid to step down just as Lott had to step down after his remarks.
Hanbaugh and Faux News have joined in the chorus of calls condemning Reid.
Reid isn't going to step down. His party understands the difference between his remarks
and Lott's, and they know both Senator's backstories. However, I am troubled by the attempt
to conflate Lott's and Reid's comments and the claim that they are similar in content, meaning,
and intentions. Race is still one of the most difficult and touchy subjects in this country. That
public figures could get away with comparing Lott's and Reid's remarks is proof of the failure
of journalism to do it's job and call out those who want to say the comments reflect the same
prejudice and bigotry. Why this condemnation of Reid from a party with the history of the
Republican Party hasn't resulted in cries of "hypocrite" is astonishing. That Reid's remarks
have not sparked an open dialogue on whether he was right; and if so, what that says about
the subject of race in this nation is tragic.
Harry Reid and Trent Lott are both racist! The difference is Reid has worked to change
public policy by expanding the rights of minorities and heads a party with a history of doing
just that. He represents the party that recently elected our nation's first black president.
Trent Lott, on the other hand, publicly praised segregationists when he wistfully suggested
Thurmond should have been elected President. He is a member of a party which embraced
a strategy to amplify racism for political gain. He is a member of a party which has fought
expanding minority rights and doesn't have a single African-American member in Congress.
America is still a nation built on the concept of white supremacy. Americans still have
yet to confront racism and its effects on everything from education to employment to
interpersonal relationships. If you want proof, just look at the Republicans and how they
would compare Reid's and Lott's comments simply to gain political advantage from the
comparison. Their actions show that we as a nation have a long way to go before we can
honestly expect to rise above the temptation of judging and likewise being judged on anything
other than character. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals.
Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org