Archive for December 2009

Senator Whine

December 23, 2009

For the year 2009, there were multiple candidates for “Whiner of the Year”, a prestigious award giving to the Senator (regardless of Party) who complains and says no, to what has been proposed, the best. The finalist this year were bi-partisan and deserve our special recognition:

Honorable Mention – John Ensign. John complained about media coverage of his affair with the wife of a key staff member by comparing his extracurricular activity to Bill Clinton’s one with Monica Lewinsky. Ensign, of course, felt Clinton’s justified impeachment but his did not violate any ethics rules at all.

Honorable Mention – Ben Nelson.  Ben played the “no public option” tune as a hold out for the 60 votes Democrats needed to force a vote on the health care reform bill.  Not content with “no public option”, Ben added his need to see strong anti-abortion language included.  Not just any language, but language that satisfied the Counsel of American Bishops.  Nelson whined that he wanted health care reform but could not see past these two issue.  Fortunately, behind doors compromises sent truck loads of money to Nebraska, and Ben joined the 60 vote majority.

Third Place – Joe Lieberman. Joe is normally a contender for this award, so it is no surprise to see him in the top three. Joe, with tears forming in his eyes, said he wanted nothing more than to vote for a “good” health care bill but he simply could not vote for one that gave Americans a choice between high priced private insurance and any lower cost “public” option. Joe said is was a matter of conscience.  Thankfully, Americans private insurers took pity and sent their truck loads of money to Joe’s campaign treasure chest.

Second Place – Mitch McConnell. Mitch, who wears shirts and suits that seem to button up tightly just below his chin (leaving no neck showing), intoned that the Obama Administration was reckless in passing the “Stimulus Package” and would leave the next generation to pay for it. Mitch labeled all Democrats as fiscally irresponsible and urged voters to return Republicans to office (forgetting, I guess, that under “W”, budget deficits went from surplus to large negatives and the national debt doubled).

First Place – Lindsay Graham. Lindsay hails from South Carolina and is hopelessly compromised between the time warp of conservative and bible belt thinking and his military training as an educated JAG officer. Linsay thought the surge was great and John McCain was his hero. This year’s award, however, results from Lindsay’s participation in the uniform “no” that Republicans have voted against health care reform. Consistent with all other Republicans, Lindsay has offered no comprehensive ideas on reform and seems to find the inclusion of 30 million more Americans and the elimination of “pre-existing conditions” as insufficient to motivate his support. Instead he says he’s against the “process” used by Democrats.

This years finalists and these winners all displayed that serious (I’m a Senator, you know) look when they uttered these words. Whining is an art and these men deserve our recognition.

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The Complain Train

December 22, 2009

The Polar Express is a popular movie about a magical train. President Obama is hearing the whistles of “the Complain Train”. This train has a tinge of magic, a lot of mystery, and a whine to it, and it is coming right at him. Gays decry the lack of action on “their” issues such as defensive marriage act and “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Women complain that there are not enough women in high White House posts (Blacks say the same about blacks). Feminists complain that the White House is pandering to the anti-abortion crowd. Progressives are complaining about the lack of consumerism legislation and the fact that both Iraq and Afghanistan still are under US military engagement. Republicans, on the other hand, just say no.

To a large measure, Obama has made his own bed through all his campaign promises. Now it is time to fulfill those promises. Politically that is not easy.

Here is some advice for these whiners. The President has been in office less than one year. On almost every social issue the Country is seriously fractured on public opinion. On every economically related domestic issue, the lobbyists have already staked out the high ground (not morally but financially) and the members of Congress are fully mortgaged to these interests. Therefore the complainers must ask themselves two questions:

Do you want an immediate up or down vote on your issue and take the outcome good or bad?

Do you want to see President Obama remain strong in the polls and do his best to make progress on these issues over his 4 year term?

It simply blows my mind to think that any Republican Administration (just look at the last 8 years) is going to be sympathetic to any of these issues. Arguably there could be Independents and Democratic challengers (to current incumbents) who might be a more preferred member of Congress.   At the 2010 and 2012 elections there will be opportunities to elect a more helpful Congress. Please remember that probably the greatest contribution that a public opinion strong President Obama can make towards these complaints is when he nominates the next Supreme Court Justice. Another John Roberts and we can turn out the lights on any items in the progressive agenda.

Tiger’s Syndrome

December 20, 2009

The swirl around Tiger Woods’ Thanksgiving evening automobile crash has been a tremendous shock to many people. Tiger was not real, he was the ideal. He represented sports greatness and a super clean personal reputation. He was what most well coiffed, expensive suited politicians appear to be. He appeared to be above the rest and in his own way acted that way.

For Tiger, it was privacy. He demanded that the public see his personal image in advertisements and promotions, or in walking up the 18th fairway as a picture of composure. He refused to let the public see his family or look into his private life.  One was left to assume Tiger’s private time was the same as we saw on TV.  This drive for privacy, in and of itself, is not a problem. What is a problem is when the private part of life is significantly different than advertised. You are, in effect, lying to the world.

John Ensign is one of the political poster boys for being two faced and hypocritical. Having had an affair, in no way makes him a better or worse public servant. The same is true for Tiger whose many affairs would not effect his golf skills in the slightest. But Tiger’s well manicured image is as much a fraud as is John Ensign’s.

The parallel may go even further. Ensign is suspected of having paid to silence the woman and her husband, and had used his office to get a job for the husband. It was not just a job but one that could lobby directly with Ensign (a probable violation of Federal law). Woods has been linked with a nutritionist and strength expert.  No proof of any illegal drug use, but…

For sure John Ensign and Tiger Woods are not the same person. With one, hypocrisy was in your face with invocation of god every 10 seconds, and with the other, the photo ops with loving wife and children covering for flings with lots of pretty women. Different, but somehow very similar.

A Loss

December 19, 2009

It appears near certain that the public option or anything that puts pressure on insurance companies to reform through competition is dead in the health care reform bill Congress is currently debating.  For the insurance industry, this was do or die.  Any type of “best in class” heath care would mean an end to the ridiculously high executive salaries as well as huge amounts of stock value.  If insurance companies faced competition from public options, there would be a lot of losers but, for everyone else, there would be far, far more winners.

It appeared that there could still be two major steps forward (hard to imagine only two in 2000 pages)in the bill even without the public option.  National health care, as experienced in all other modern, industrialized, and wealthy countries encourages all citizens to participate in “preventative” medical care and assures that no one will be denied health care when they need it for any reason.  This implies that everyone must belong (and pay for it) and that no part of the health care delivery system can deny care to anyone for any reason.  The current US reform legislation mandates universal participation (or close to it) and prohibits insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or whatever arbitrary reason they may elect.

This is truly a huge step forward.  Unfortunately is does not attack two very serious deficiencies, namely

  • The absolutely high cost of health care as currently delivered, and the equally high yearly increases currently being experienced
  • The surcharge resulting from private insurance companies’ inefficient (maybe by design) administration and their Wall Street driven profit margins

Both of these lie at the heart of US health care costs and will inevitably need to be addressed.

What has played out before America is that the stakeholders in this debate are fully co-opted, mean spirited, or simply not mentally up to the task of governing.  We have seen Senators Cigna and Aetna show the power of campaign contributions.  We have seen Senator Merck argue with a straight face he was worried about the safety of importing drugs that sell in other countries for fractions of what the same drug sell for in the US.  Why worry about it and instead legislate that the US consumer must be offered the best world price?  We have seen the even more evil Catholic Church and its allies argue, with tear filled eyes, that they support health care but must vote against it (through Senator Rome) because bill language is not restrictive enough on abortion.  This may be the most despicable act in modern times where a religious institution drapes itself in the robes of humanity where in fact it only seeks the enrichment and longevity of their own institution (like any other for profit institution).

Reports of bill details may top even the spineless, moral rudder-less position of the catholic church (women make up half of all catholics and they are getting figuratively screwed by the all male Rome hierarchy).  It appears that the Senate bill contains language where the health insurance companies could raise rates as much as 300% for people who currently are denied coverage due to pre-existing condition, sex, or age.  Hello, is there anyone home?  The whole idea was that everyone was in one large pool, and rates were determined for everyone by the pool (transparently). What are people thinking?

Shame on Oklahoma…?

December 17, 2009

An email that is circulating now, and serves to entertain the insecure, anti-government, non-thinking types has been copied and is shown below.  I have added my views, in italics, on these clearly pandering views.  I still wonder how people can read this, believe it is the best course for the nation, and cheer that this represents America?

1. “Oklahoma law passed, 37 to 9, had a few liberals in the mix, an amendment to place the Ten Commandments on the front entrance to the state capitol.  The feds in D.C., along with the ACLU, said it would be a mistake.  Hey this is a conservative state, based on Christian values…!   HB 1330

                Guess what………. Oklahoma did it anyway.”

You have to ask yourself what these people are thinking… First it is clear that they have not read or understood the Constitution. the first amendment straight forwardly prohibits, either the establishment of, or the outlawing of religious groups. Putting the 10 commandments in front of the State Capitol is for sure a move that violates the 1st amendment. But even more to the point (and why this thinking is so limited), if the 10 Commandments can go there, why can’t something from the Koran, or something form Confucius? This is the aspect of the “let me wear my religion on my arm” segment of America that I do not understand. Why can they put up what they want as covered by the Constitution, and not accept that the same Constitution provides that other religions can do the same?

2. “Oklahoma recently passed a law in the state to incarcerate all illegal immigrants, and ship them back to where they came from unless they want to get a green card and become an American citizen.  They all scattered.  HB 1804.  Hope we didn’t send any of them to your state.  This was against the advice of the Federal Government, and the ACLU, they said  it would be a mistake. 

               Guess what………. Oklahoma did it anyway.”

Here is an example of hidden insecure prejudges. It clearly should be the law of the land that undocumented or illegal aliens should be sent back to their countries of origin. The problem arise when we conflate the issue of undocumented and people who are not valuable and necessary for the future prosperity of the US. We must remember that most people who object to undocumented workers do so because they are either worried about their own job or they are envious of someone who is getting ahead by hard work.  Not to be overlooked is that most everyone in America is descendent from some immigrant from some former time.

3. “Recently we passed a law to include DNA samples from any and all illegals to the Oklahoma database, for criminal investigative purposes.  Pelosi said it was unconstitutional.   SB 1102

               Guess what…….. Oklahoma   did it anyway.”

I did not know that Oklahomans were so simple minded. The issue here is one of right to privacy, again Constitutionally protected. We have seen recently an increasing number of cases where convicted felons have had their cases overturned given new information. The starkest cases have involved long term sentences or even the death penalty where one would have expected the authorities to have taken great pains to insure a fair trial. Even if we assume each of thes circumstances was the result of an honest mistake, why would we want to take a bigger step in authorizing these searches of peaceable (until proven guilty) citizens?

4. “Several weeks ago, we passed a law, declaring Oklahoma as a Sovereign state, not under the Federal Government directives.  Joining   Texas , Montana and Utah as the only states to do so.  More states are likely to follow:  Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolina’s, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, West Virginia, Mississippi, Florida.  Save your confederate money, it appears the South is about to rise up once again.  HJR 1003”

What are these people smoking? There was a war fought, called the Civil War, for the same reasons. It was called then “nullification” and Southern States argued that they could reject any laws that the Federal Government passed that they (the Southern States) felt violated their state’s rights. This is “carte blanche” for any State to do what ever it wanted and thumb its nose at the Federal Government.

5. “The federal Government has made bold steps to take away our guns.  Oklahoma, a week ago, passed a law confirming people in this state have the right to bear arms and transport them in their vehicles.  I’m sure that was a set back for the criminals (and Obamaites).  Liberals didn’t like it —  But …Guess what……….. Oklahoma did it anyway.”

This second amendment right may or may not be an issue. By that I mean, it can be reasonable argued that the right to own “a” weapon might be protected under the Constitution or might be a reasonable civil right, like the right to own a bicycle. The right to own automatic weapons or to purchase as a private citizen dozens of guns per month was clearly not the intent of the founding fathers, nor is it sensible today.

6. “Just this month, my state has voted and passed a law that ALL driver’s license exams will be printed in English, and only English, and no other language.  We have been called racist for doing this, but the fact is that ALL of our road signs are in English only.  If you want to drive in Oklahoma , you must read and write English.”

Really simple and real stupid. If you have a multi-lingual community and you choose not to have signs in another language, you are exposing everyone to a safety issue.  Road signs might be in one language but there must be classes and explanation booklets to translate.  Saying simply, learn english, is like saying abstinence is a good protection for AIDS.

These emails are hard to understand other than they are “support group-like” propaganda for a very insecure group of people. They are not rare any more, and they are not restricted to states like Oklahoma. There is a large (and possibly growing) group of people who fear and claim they detest government. In the past this was a small group who felt they could do it on their own. Today’s group is full of Medicare hawks who decry government and socialized medicine (“I don’t want the Government messing with my Medicare”), but do not make any connection with themselves, Medicare, and socialized medicine. These same people shout that they do not want government standing between them and their doctor, yet seem oblivious to the fact that insurance companies (whose main goal in life is profits, not health care) already stand between them and their doctors. The hypocrisy of this whole situation is so great as to be almost comical.

So maybe it is not shame on Oklahoma as much as it is shame on all these insecure anti-anything people.

Shame on Oklahoma…

Why So Little Bipartisanship?

December 14, 2009

Experts have claimed that both political parties have become so calcified in their ideological convictions that the old days of bipartisanship are not to be seen again. They also point out that the luxury most members of Congress enjoy, thanks to gerrymandering, that their seats are safe election to election. But is this the principle reason? I wonder.

It is of course true that most politicians claim to be left, right, or “moderate” but moderate Republicans or Democrats do not vote very often differently than their caucus. The one exception might be when “pork” is involved and a Congress person’s home district is the beneficiary. This behavior, while at times regrettable, is understandable.

Logic, however, would suggest that safe seats should lead to more, not less, bipartisanship. Historically the Senate’s six year term was prized because it allowed the holder to take a statesman’s view of matters and not be worried about standing for reelection every two years. But there is no evidence in today’s Congress that either safe seats or Senate seats are any more likely to trend “bipartisan” than highly contested or House seats.

I would suggest we look at money as the root of this problem. First there is the money freely thrown at Congress members, allegedly for campaign purposes. There are hundreds and hundreds of lobbyists who know how to make a dollar sing. Congress members have grown accustomed to the music and don’t want the song to end. Second, there is the shear force on public opinion that special interests can make with money. This money buys news print space, TV air time, and even national sold books and author tours. A wise Congress member must be careful of his/her position, especially if it bucks some national opinion fostered by special interests. And, third, there is the really big rewards that flows to the party organization from patronage, lucrative regulatory enforcements favors to party backers, and granting governmental contracts of all sorts. With the size of government so large, no party can afford to be out of power for long because the sources of money will flock to the other party in a heart beat.

I suspect these are irreversible trends. The old days of statesmanship and bipartisanship are gone. One can find them only in history books. The only hope for the future that I see is the introduction of a real third party. It might be nice to think of three parties, the right, the left, and the middle, and who ever makes effective coalitions get its legislation passed.

The middle party has a potential platform right before it, ready made based on unmet needs. They could begin with being champions of monetary and fiscal responsibility, role models for strong ethical performance by Congress members, legislative practitioners that rely on facts and data, and above all, people dedicated to government programs that work (and elimination or modification of those that do not).

Maybe out of these ashes, a new phoenix will rise.

Unite or Change

December 13, 2009

As the year groans to a close, a large number of people have grown disenchanted with Barack Obama. To be sure, a lot, even more, still like the person they elected President and many strongly support his performance. But why have so many people changed their opinion of Obama?

One reason given is that so many (approaching a popularity of 80%) originally supported him and that is simply unsustainable. No one can be that popular for a sustained period. Another reason given by his long term detractors is that he has shown his inexperience and “socialist” tendencies, and the “wise” American people are expressing their disapproval.

My view is a bit different. This year has been filled with anxiety for most Americans. It began with the near collapse of the international banking system and the instant vanishing of most Americans’ retirement 401K values (down between 40-50%). Unemployment kept rising as if there was no stopping, and recession followed by depression seemed underway. After a few months of hectic government action, the world slowly stabilized, and stopped getting worse.

The President chose to move on health care reform (probably for political reasons relating to mid-term elections since he was unlikely to retain the majority margins he had). The health care debate brought out what is so poor about American politics where spin or even outright mistruths that sway voters regardless of the veracity of the spin are considered fair game. For almost 6 months, Americans have been bombarded with charges such as “government getting in the way of your doctor” (as if private for profit insurance companies are not there already), death panels (as if end of life choices are not an individual right), socialized medicine (as if Medicare which is highly rated by those enrolled would not serve everyone well), and reform measures will cost too much (as if the current system was solvent and would last as is). Americans heard so much of “I told you so” and “no, you have not told the truth”, that they could not tell who was speaking the truth.

Add to this the bailing out and forced restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler along with the TARP loans to most of the large banks and AIG.  These were very controversial, and honestly debated by experts on whether they were the best moves given the circumstances. Americans listened and wondered who was right.

President Obama has experienced a year of unprecedented economic and social problems and has chosen to act on many. But he has not acted on all his campaign promises (for example, the defensive marriage act, don’t ask-don’t tell, and deficit reduction). For supporters of these initiatives, there is disappointment. For most people, however, there is simply disgust at all involved in the political process. Politicians appear lacking intelligence, fully co-opted by special interests, and isolated from the actual best interests of Americans.

President Obama has elected (or been forced) to be on the road of change and the casualty has been efforts to unite. Obama will be judged mainly if the programs he has push to bring change actually work. If they do not, the voters will speak with a loud voice. On the other hand, if they do work, President Obama will be in a position of tackling an even more difficult task, that of trying to bring unity and civility to Congress.