Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy America

     Occupy Wall Street protesters are unquestionably giving voice to millions of Americans who feel betrayed or left behind by an economic system designed and maintained to benefit the 1% (or fewer!) living at the "top of the heap".
     Occupy Wall Street has sparked a national dialogue/debate about priorities and values that terrifies the privileged few by opening up a floodgate of pent-up frustrations.  The movement is criticized for not having forged a snappy set of demands or specific goals--something that the 24/7 news media can categorize, analyze, and then editorialize into insignificance.  Perhaps the real strength of Occupy Wall Street can be found in this initial ambiguity.  Maybe there's simply so much to be angry about that it's proving to be a little overwhelming trying to narrow the list.
     Think about it for a moment... The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that were launched by George W. Bush, which President Obama continues to wage, have now sucked roughly 1.3 trillion dollars out of our treasury and have left us in economic chaos.  The cost in terms of human casualties is immeasureable.
     The banking industry, which received roughly $650 billion dollars in taxpayer-funded bail-out money (through the Troubled Asset Relief Program signed into law by George W. Bush in October of 2008) foreclosed on over one million homes in 2010.  In 2011, after dealing with some bothersome paperwork irregularities, the banks are on track to repossess another 800,000 homes.  Unfortunately, there's been no one able, or willing, to bail out the average American.
     Meanwhile, officials in the Defense Department are expected to require another $1 billion above the initial estimate of $6 billion dollars to figure out where all the money allocated to the Pentagon has actually gone over the past ten years or so!  Yet the budget for the Defense Department in fiscal year 2010 increased, once again, to $680 billion dollars.
     While the unemployment rate continues to hover above a national average of 9%, CEO bonus payouts have made a significant comeback:  William Johnson of H.J. Heinz received $8,589,063 million, Lawrence Ellison of Oracle took home $6,453,254, John Chambers of Cisco received $4,600,000, Mark Parker of Nike received $4,441,875, and the inimitable, scandal-plagued Rupert Murdoch of News Corp pocketed $4,368,800.  A more complete list, easily found online, makes for fascinating reading.
     To put this all in a context folks like Glenn Beck, Paul Ryan, and Eric Cantor might possibly understand:  there's an awful lot of "ammunition" feeding the sense of anger and frustration out there.  This might mean trouble for them... one can sense the vested interest behind the fear in Rep. Ryan and Rep. Cantor's criticisms of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  The Doctor Kevorkian of Medicare (Ryan) has an estimated net worth of $3 million, while Cantor's is approaching $5 million.  That's a lot of wealth to protect.  Beck, not unexpectedly, went to his crazy place and stated the protesters will "kill everybody" in order to foment revolution.  Incidentally, his net worth is estimated at over $85 million.
     It's unrealistic to expect politicians from either party to speak for, or even understand, the 99%.  Nancy Pelosi's net worth is estimated at $35 million, John Boehner's at $3-5 million, and Mitch McConnell's is anywhere from $17-20 million.  These pale by comparison with Rep. Michael McCall of Texas and Rep. Darrell Issa of California; $294 million and $220 million respectively.  Given their financial stake it's doubtful that comprehensive and equitable proposals or solutions will come from CEOs or this current "mob" (thanks, Eric) of politicians.
     We may see aspects of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that make us feel uncomfortable, or that we disagree with, but I'd be willing to bet we'll discover many more that resonate with us--and perhaps even inspire us.  We all need to acknowledge the basic message:  it's time to speak up and change the direction of our nation.  We are the 99%, and it's time to Occupy America.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Palestinian Statehood Now

In 1993's Oslo Accords, Israel acknowledged the PLO negotiating team as "representing the Palestinian people".  In return, the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist in peace, and accepted UN Security Council Resolutions 242 ( and 338 (

Two years later a right-wing Israeli extremist gunned down Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin following a peace rally in Tel Aviv.  Rabin was widely viewed as the the one Israeli politician who seemed capable of bringing about a genuine peace.  Then in 1996, as Israel prepared for elections that would pit Labour's Shimon Peres against Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu, Hamas embarked on a deadly terror spree throughout the country.  Netanyahu subsequently came to power, and Oslo effectively ended as he increased the pace of illegal  settlements on the West Bank.  In 1996, the settlement population totaled 140,00.  By June of 2009, the estimated total had grown to some 300,000.  Since 1967, Israel has built 120 settlements and over 100 "outposts" (settlements by another name) on the West Bank.

Palestinians have been waiting for a viable solution to their plight since 1948.  Arab leaders have offered lip service on their behalf  when it's expedient to do so (though more often than not they choose to ignore the matter), and the world community has effectively abandoned the Palestinian people.
Is it any wonder then that President Mahmoud Abbas has stated his intention to seek recognition for a Palestinian state at the United Nations this week?  If not now, when? 
The United States has threatened to veto this effort (in addition to threatening economic sanctions and withdrawal of U.S. government funding from the U.N.), but President Abbas maintains that if Palestine is recognized by the international body he will resume negotiations with Israel over all the issues that divide the two sides.  The difference would be that negotiations would now take place between two states, not one powerful state that holds all the cards and a supplicant begging for a few favors.

The impasse has lasted far too long already, and the settlements only continue to multiply.  Why not do what's morally right and support a Palestinian state now?  It's time for all of us to recognize they're people too, people with rights that include full sovereignty over the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.  Peace through justice... imagine that.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bill Clinton's Common Sense

     I'll admit it right up front:  after the Monica Lewinsky affair, "common sense" was not an attribute I thought I'd ever assign to Bill Clinton.  But here we are in 2011, and the Tea Partiers are clearly determined to bring about the downfall of our nation, while the Republicans are falling all over themselves carrying out Tea Party edicts.  In other words, these folks are incapable of offering constructive ideas in the face of our economic stagnation--just more of the same:  when in doubt, surrender more of the nation's wealth to those who are already sitting pretty.
     On the other hand, in a recent Newsweek article Mr. Clinton offered up numerous common sense ideas for job creation.
     To begin with, he argued that in lieu of tax credits for start up companies, Congress should once again allow these credits to be converted into cash equivalents for every employee hired.  This had been a part of President Obama's energy policy, but last December the Republicans in Congress refused to extend this benefit--in effect saying "this is a spending program, not a tax cut... we only approve tax cuts."
     The former President maintained that the way we produce and use energy today could result in the same massive job growth that information technology provided during his administration.  He estimates, for example, that retrofitting buildings all across America would create over a million new jobs.  Citing the Empire State building project--which saw hundreds of jobs created, greenhouse gas emissions cut substantuially as overall electricity usage decreased by close to 40%, Mr. Clinton then argued that since 7000 jobs are created for every billion dollars in retrofitting, the construction industry would be kept busy for years--with effects from a million new jobs rippling all through the economy.  Schools, colleges, hospitals, state, county, and local government buildings throughout the country from coast to coast are ripe for retrofitting.
     While infrastructure initiatives would result in massive job creation, there aren't the votes in Congress to pass another stimulus package.  Clinton believes we need to unlock that money and take steps to get U.S. corporations to invest some of the $2 trillion they've accumulated. (Clinton points out that TARP and the stimulus saved us from a second Great Depression.  It worked, but didn't entirely "fix" the economy since an $800 billion stimulus simply couldn't fix a $3 trillion hole.) Mr. Clinton maintains that cutting government spending with the economy currently receiving so little private investment is incredibly risky, and will further increase the deficit as tax revenues fall.
     With regard to corporate taxes, Mr. Clinton acknowledges ours are the second highest in the world.  He advocates lowering the rates while simplifying the tax code and broadening the actual tax base.  This way, all
corporations will pay a reasonable amount of tax on their profits.  In other words, lower the rates to be competitive, but eliminate the loopholes that cause widespread discrepancies.
     Clinton is certainly ready to support individual state initiatives if that's where good ideas are originating.  While noting there are 3 million posted job vacancies (and filling them faster would make a huge difference to the economy) he cites a Georgia program where after vacancies go unfilled for a certain period of time, the state offers businesses money to train potential employees.  During the training, companies aren't yet employers, so they don't have to start paying Social Security taxes, or benefits.  Potential employees are trained the way the company desires, then they hire those who successfully complete that training.  Lag time is reduced, and a job vacancy is filled.
     In addressing the issue of rules and regulations that can often delay shovel-ready projects by up to 3 years, Mr. Clinton states that the federal government should be able to issue waivers(where there are no environmental concerns) to the states to speed up the starting time for construction projects, for example.
     There you have it, a number of solid, thoughtful ideas.  Pretty refreshing, wouldn't you say?  Alas, I doubt they'll ever be given the very serious consideration they deserve while the "nattering nabobs of negativity" (thanks you Spiro Agnew) Boehner, Cantor, Ryan, McConnell, etc. carry out their plans to undermine the President by any means necessary.  I suspect they'd rather torch the country than "compromise", or worse yet, have to forego the media spotlight.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Rick Perry to Execute Another Innocent Man?

     Rick Perry could be at it again.  He's anxiously awaiting the opportunity to add yet another notch to his grisly "execution belt".  There are 234 notches there already, and it includes a number of individuals who had substantial claims of innocence (notably Cameron Todd Willingham, but undoubtedly including others).  The lengths to which Perry goes in attempting to score death penalty points with the red-meat brigades, it's a wonder his campaign bus doesn't tow a death chamber gurney out behind it for maximum effect.
     Larry Swearingen was convicted in 1998 for the horrific kidnapping, rape, and murder of a 19 year old college freshman named Melissa Trotter.
     Three days after Trotter disappeared, police arrested Swearingen on (non-related) outstanding warrants.  When Melissa's body was discovered in the pine woods of Sam Houston National Forest some three weeks later, Swearingen was charged with capital murder.
     Although there was no direct evidence linking Swearingen to the murder, he was convicted on circumstantial evidence (including the fact that he was one of the last people to have seen Melissa prior to her disappearance) and sentenced to death.  (To read an excellent and detailed account of the case, see Jordan Smith's piece here )
     Medical evidence does not support the state's case, however, and actually points to a different killer.  Dr. Llyod White, a deputy medical examiner in Ft. Worth was the first to call the biological evidence into question.  In addition to the fact that the male DNA found in Trotter's fingernails does not match Swearingen's, there is tissue evidence supported by more than a half dozen Texas forensic scientists that is completely inconsistent with the state's theory of Trotter's death.
     In late 2007, Dr. Joyce Carter who was the chief ME in Houston, and who had performed the autopsy, recanted her trial testimony (which claimed Trotter had likely been dead for 25 days).  In fact, a 2009 analysis of the preserved histological evidence (never made available to the defense) revealed Trotter had likely been dead for only two or three days before being left in the woods--in other words, weeks after Swearingen was behind bars.  Dr. Stephen Pustilnik, the ME for Galveston County stated "the way biological tissue reacts during decomposition, there's no doubt about it.  Period.  End of story."
     The cellular structures of Trotter's lungs, heart, and vasculature were clearly intact--these are basic structures that break down quickly after death and certainly would not have remained intact in a body exposed to the elements for a month.
     Texas courts and prosecutors have a spotty record when it comes to accepting scientific evidence.  The doctors in the Swearingen case are adament that the science in question is undeniable.  They argue it's simply not possible that Trotter was killed and her body abandoned at that location by Swearingen.  Dr. White states this conclusion "is affirmed beyond all reasonable doubt."
     One can only hope, and pray, that this matter will be resolved swiftly and fairly in Swearingen's favor, and that the case doesn't wind up anywhere near The Lord High Executioner.  We know with certainty what Governor Perry would do...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rick Perry "Superstar"

     Governor Rick Perry's entrance into the 2012 presidential race carries with it an abundance of questionable claims.  He maintains that the economic "success" of Texas is a direct result of his policies.  A closer examination of this "Texas miracle" is certainly in order!
     As of August, 2011 Texas does have an 8.2 unemployment rate, which is lower than the national average of 9.1%.  However, there are 25 states with a lower unemployment rate than Texas.  According to a March, 2011 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 9.54% of hourly paid workers in Texas are paid below the minimum wage versus a 6 % national average.  As of 2011, 26% of Texans do not have health insurance, versus a 17% national average.  Hmmm, not a great start here.  I'm sure it gets better!
     In 2009, Perry signed Grover Norquist's pledge to oppose and veto any/all efforts to increase taxes.  In past years, Perry had utilized a variety of tax mechanisms/increases to pay for public schools.  Now, in 2011, Texas ranks 50th in the nation in "kids" with a high school diploma by age 25.  Texas has the 43rd lowest high school graduation rate, ranks 49th in verbal SAT scores, and 46th in average math SAT scores.  It looks as though the Perry/Norquist tandem has cost kids dearly.
     Perry has supported tort reform to limit malpractice lawsuits against doctors, and in 2003 he sponsored a constitutional amendment to cap medical malpractice awards.  While this doesn't help "the little guy", the giant pharmaceuticals (among others) most likely appreciate it.  That brings us to 2007, when Perry issued an executive order mandating that Texas girls receive HPV vaccince (which protects against human papilloma virus--deemed to be a contributing factor in certain strains of cervical cancer).  Gardisi, manufactured by Merck, was the only HPV vaccine approved by the FDA at that time.  Apparent financial links between Merck & Perry have been reported, including a $6000 campaign contribution and Merck's hiring of former Perry Chief of Staff Mike Toomey to handle its Texas lobbying work!
     Naturally, Perry does not believe there is valid scientific proof of global warming.  He opposes any regulation of greenhouse gas emissions citing the "devastating implications" for the Texas economy.  He has attacked the Obama administration's handling of the recession, and turned down $555 million in stimulus money for unemployment insurance.
     He has labeled the Texas economy as "recession proof", yet has taken 23 foreign trips (to bolster business) from 2004-2010, trips that included a vacation on Grand Cayman and an "education policy retreat" in the Bahamas.  To date, the state of Texas has footed over $1 million to cover the cost of "security details".
     Governor Perry does achieve a high "success rate when it comes to executions.  As of August 10th this year, 234 have been carried out since Perry took office.  He's apparently so fond of the process that in 2004 he vetoed a ban on the execution of mentally retarded inmates.  He certainly appears to struggle with the concept that individuals who are likely innocent ought not be executed.
     Perry has a long history of making questionable remarks; recent examples include suggesting Texas might secede, accusing the Federal Reserve of treason, and stating Chairman Ben Bernanke would be treated "pretty ugly" if he ventured into Texas. 
     Looked upon by many as the GOP's savior, he does fit the bill in many respects.  In addition to positions outlined above, he's anti-choice, gets an A-plus rating from the NRA, and he demonstrates a keen ability to cloak himself in religious right trappings & dogma.
     However, a close examination of his record should serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the country.  It tells a far different story than the one Rick Perry likes to spin.  I, for one, pray earnestly for public scrutiny!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Judson Phillips, Tea Partier Extraordinaire

     Like many of my contemporaries, I've struggled with identity issues from time to time.  Now, thanks to the Tea Party Nation's one and only Judson Phillips, any questions I may have had have been resolved, once and for all.
     This weekend, while campaigning in Wisconsin for one of the Republican state senators facing a special recall election, Mr. Phillips spoke these words:
     "I will tell you, ladies and gentlemen, I detest and despise everything the left stands for.  How anybody can endorse and embrace an ideology that has killed a billion people in the last century is beyond me."
     So there you have it, spelled out clearly for all to behold.  I am, quite simply, a mass murderer... guilty of genocide.  Thank you, Mr. Phillips, I will cherish this knowledge forever.  Heck, I may even chisel these words onto stone tablets, since you certainly possess the moral authority of the ancient prophets.  Don't you?
1)  You who states that only landowners should have the right to vote.  Wrong.
2)  You who referred to those protesting against Gov. Scott Walker's policies (and thereby exercising their rights to free speech and assembly) as "Nazi storm troopers".  Wrong.
3)  You who immediately labelled Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' would-be assasin as a "leftist lunatic".  Wrong.
4)  You who endorse openly carrying weapons at political rallies.  Wrong, and see #3 above for potential consequences.
5)  You who openly admit to religious intolerance ("I have a real problem with Islam") and deem a congressional candidate "unfit" because he's a Muslim (Keith Ellison in Minnesota's 5th Congressional District).  Wrong.
     Thank you, Mr. Phillips, for contributing nothing of substance or value to the national discourse and for making me prouder than ever to be a liberal.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Redux Mr. Smith

I originally posted this over a year-and-a-half ago when I began this blog. Given the recent debacle--otherwise known as the debt ceiling debate-- the country witnessed in the House and Senate, I found myself thinking about this film yet again. I decided to re-post this, with a few edits, in order to remind myself why I refuse to lose all faith, and why I'm still interested in political possibilities. It also reminded me to look for the truly positive examples in life, and Alex Petroff springs to mind (see "Paging Ben Affleck: Working Villages International is calling...")
     For those not familiar with "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", it's a1939 film by producer/director Frank Capra (see "It's A Wonderful Life"). Many consider this classic comedy/drama to be Capra's greatest achievement. James Stewart established himself as a leading actor in the role of Jefferson Smith, a wide-eyed innocent idealist who is plucked from obscurity to fill out the term of a Senate seat left vacant by the sudden death of Senator Samuel Foley, a largely spineless and compliant character in the decidedly corrupt political machine presided over by boss Jim Taylor. Taylor, along with Governor Hopper and Senator Paine, are determined to appoint someone who won't ask questions, or do anything that might disturb the machine's backdoor dealings. Political parties aren't identified, nor is the state in question... instead, Capra leaves us with the realization that this could be anywhere, and corrupt politicians come in all flavors.
     Jefferson Smith, however, seems to believe in the basic decency of every person he encounters, and he maintains a passionate love affair with the United States. He's a wide-eyed patriot who reverently recites the words of Lincoln and Jefferson, and is awe-struck by the sights and sounds of Washington D.C. Smith feels unworthy to join the Senate, and is completely unaware he's being set-up by those he respects most. Initially too stunned by this betrayal to defend himself, he finally takes to the Senate floor and initiates a filibuster to postpone a bill boss Taylor has engineered, and to prove his own innocence & integrity.
     The film's climactic scene illustrates the difference one good person, standing on principle, can make in the face of overwhelming adversity.
     When it was first released, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" was attacked by the Washington press corps and by politicians in the U.S. Congress, both of whom labeled the film as anti-American and pro-communist for its portrayal of corruption in the government. Today, it is recognized as a paen to individual strength, integrity, and decency.
     In this day and age of out-of-control partisan bickering and gridlock, I, for one, am missing Mr. Smith.

Paging Ben Affleck: Working Villages International is calling...

     A little good news can certainly provide some very welcome relief, particularly in the aftermath of a polarizing debt ceiling debate, reports on the scorching heat and worsening drought afflicting much of the country, and 500 point free falls on the stock market.
     So here's a story that proves one person, dedicated to his or her vision, can still make a difference.
     Alex Petroff founded Working Villages in 2006; the idea had originated as his thesis at Hampshire College in Amherst.  Rather than solve problems at the symptom level, Alex envisioned that Working Villages would address the root causes of hunger, unemployment, and violence using a developmental model that could be adjusted to almost any region in the world.  Based on Gandhian principals, Working Villages would build communities that developed local self-sufficiency through appropriate technology and small scale agriculture.
     As a result of his experiences in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Alex focused on locating the project in Congo.  He hoped to provide a new life for people devastated by 8 years of warfare resulting in the deaths of over 4 million men, women, and children.  After receiving approval from both local and national governing officials, the Working Villages "model" came to life in the Ruzizi Valley, at the northern tip of Lake Tanganyika.
     Several years later, the Ruzizi Project has introduced cutting edge organic farming techniques and produced over 90 different crop varieties.  In this rich valley soil they routinely cultivate cabbages wighing 10 pounds or more and corn stalks that soar over 14 feet.  Currently, 100,000 pounds of rice are harvested each month, making WVI the largest food producer in South Kivu province.  In addition, model houses are being built in preparation for full village construction.  In order to meet these farming and construction goals, WVI now employs 625 (paid) worker.
     Recent news dispatches from Congo have reported on continuing violence--including horrific mass rape.  Yet in the midst of this adversity, Alex's vision continues to thrive as lives are saved and transformed.  The word "hero" is grossly and inappropriately tossed about in this day and age, but if Alex isn't a hero, then he's the closest I'll ever come to meeting one.  Take a look:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Normalize Relations With Cuba

When Pres. Obama took office, he eased family travel restrictions to Cuba (currently there are no limits on the number of trips that may be taken) and encouraged travel opportunities for religious, cultural, and education groups.  Now, two Florida Republican congressmen (David Rivera and Mario Diaz-Balart) are seeking to overturn these limited reforms and turn the clock back to Bush-era restrictions:  travel once every three years, and a $1200 cap on annual remittances.  The Republican-controlled Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen--a fellow conservative Cuban-American--has recently approved just such a bill.
It would appear Rivera, Diaz-Balart, and Ros-Lehtinen have difficulties with the concept of time.  Specifically, they have difficulty acknowledging the year we're living in.  It's 2011 folks, and even if one were to accept their claims against the Castro regime (without taking into consideration the complete & un-edited historical backdrop leading to Batista's overthrow in 1959), it's quite obvious to everyone that the clock is ticking down on Fidel and Raul.  Change is coming, and the question is have we closed and locked the doors on our own opportunities to participate in that change?  Every major country already 'recognizes' and trades with Cuba:  trade with Venezuela, China, Canada, and Spain alone tops $7 billion.
The Cuban-American community itself is no longer unanimous in its support of the ultra-conservative, confrontational approach advocated by these three Representatives.  Diaz-Balart wouldn't know this, of course, since he's refused to meet with or receive petitions signed by more than 1500 Cuban-Americans in his district who oppose this bill.  His rationale for his actions:  he won't meet w/anyone who does business with totalitarian regimes.  I have a sneaking suspicion he would have done business with Pinochet or Franco in a heartbeat!
It's 2011, and it's time for the U.S. embargo to end and the current travel guidelines to be liberalized.  Let's show the courage to do what's right.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tea Party Treason?

WordNet Dictionary defines treason as:  A crime that undermines the offender's government.  Disloyalty by subversive behavior.
"The Economist", a widely respected "outside" voice, reports "the Federal government now has to borrow about 40 cents of every dollar it spends.  A prolonged inability to meet 40% of its obligations would sow economic disarray, trigger litigation, and raise doubts about its ability to meet any obligations."
Closer to home, New York's Sen. Charles Schumer cites projected August revenues of $172 billion and obligations of $307 billion.  This means that huge areas of government spending would go unfunded and we'd be faced with impossible choices.  "If we fully pay Social Security, Medicare, the troops, and interest on the debt, you'd have no one guarding our borders, inspecting our food, or manning the air traffic control towers.  America would come to a grinding halt."
Tea Party leaders in the House of Representatives such as Bachmann, Jordan, and Buerlke have opposed all efforts to arrive at a reasonable compromise which would significantly deal with the debt ceiling and debt reduction.  In their extremist zeal they've even voiced their opposition to John Boehner's recent non-starter of a proposal.  They openly advocate in favor of defaulting, consequences be damned.  If the Tea Party prevails, the country faces grave financial harm, and as defined above, I would maintain their actions constitute treason.  In the name of their extremist agenda, they're apparently more than willing to see their fellow citizens suffer.  Disgraceful, to say the least.  Is it also criminal?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

John Boehner's True Colors

True colors.  That's what John Boehner has been so clearly revealing these past few days.  It's a complicated pallet, to say the least.  For example, which color would one choose to illustrate his complete aquiescence to big business interests and the wealthy elite?  On the other hand, yellow stripes seem to be the popular choice to represent cowardice; Boehner has repeatedly demonstrated political cowardice in dealing with the big, bad, and uncompromisingly crazy Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives.  Perhaps a blank canvas best captures his vascillation and indecision; one minute he's thinking he might possibly owe something to the country that's given him everything, the next he's paralyzed by the inability to decide to stand up to the aforementioned TP.  Then there's duplicity.  First he feigns good will and the appearance of being willing to negotiate seriously with the President, then he abruptly turns and walks away when he hears the distant siren calls of Eric Cantor, Rush Limbaugh, and countless other reckless practitioners of demagoguery.  This duplicity would best be captured by weak yet contrasting tones.  Finally, egoism.  What ultimately matters to Boehner is what's best for our perfectly tanned and impeccably well-groomed Boehner.  Nothing else matters in the end.  Color branding once again brings us back to yellow to represent egoism.
John Boehner still has the opportunity to step up to the plate and show us heroic colors.  Stand with the policeman, not the big oil boss; with the nurse, not the millionaire hedge fund operator; with the teacher, not the billionaire bankers.  Keep it simple, Mr. Speaker, all that's required is for you to support closing existing tax loopholes, raise the corporate tax rate to a reasonable level, and bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan ("mission accomplished").  Please do what's right and choose new colors, Mr. Boehner.  Carefully.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Debt Ceiling Talk and the Assault on Common Sense

In the political stalemate surrounding the budget talks and the decision as to whether or not the debt ceiling will be raised, it seems as though common sense has been dragged to a back alley and been beaten senseless.
Before demanding cuts in Social Security, Headstart, and Pell Grants, why not take a step back from the cliff and logically review the financial status quo?
There's an inherent lack of fairness in our tax system that urgently needs to be addressed. How is it possible, for example, that Exxon-Mobil turned a $19 billion profit in 2009, and received a $156 million tax rebate from the IRS? Citigroup, in addition to receiving $45 billion in bailout funds (not to mention the federal government agreeing to absorb potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in losses on "toxic assests") turned a $4 billion profit, and paid no tax. These are but two examples from a very long list of corporations that are not only avoiding paying any federal income taxes, they're actually receiving huge refund checks from the IRS!
No one is arguing that our budget woes could, or should, be solved on the backs of these large corporations, but conversely we're all in this together, and fairness ought to have a place at the table. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group estimates $210 billion in revenue would become available by closing off-shore tax havens. Another $23 billion would be generated by making sure hidden profits made by hedge fund and private equity managers are accounted for. There's not an ounce of common sense in the fact that millionaire hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than teachers or police officers.
There's not an ounce of common sense in allowing corporations that shift hundreds of billions of dollars overseas every year to shift their tax burdens (responsibilities) to the rest of us.
Accorting to The Big Picture, corporate taxes as a percentage of federal revenue were 27.3% in 1955, as opposed to 8.9% now. With government increasingly "off their backs", one wonders what's happened to all that additional revenue? It doesn't appear to have been funneled into job creation!
Just as we can't afford not to raise the debt ceiling (defaulting on our obligations = soaring interest rates), it makes no sense not to include sensible revenue enhancements (raising taxes) as a key component in tackling our financial crisis. Close loopholes, raise the tax on corporations (albeit slightly), and ask those who are currently earning millions of dollars to pay their fair share. And, just in case common sense is still a viable option, how about bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan? As of 12:58 p.m. EST, the cost of these wars was $1,223,006,125.00 and growing

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thug On the Run: Breitbart @ NetRoots Nation

Politico recently reported on Andrew Breitbart's attempt to crash the Netroots Nation gathering in Minneapolis. Fresh from his grandstanding at Rep. Anthony Weiner's resignation, Breitbart apparently arrived with camera crew in tow, believing his arrival carried with it some sort of messianic level of importance that had best be documented. Unfortunately for him, he was barred from the conference hall, so most of those in attendance never realized he was there. The few who had the dubious pleasure of encountering him in the lobby immediately surrounded him, questioning his lack of credentials--documenting this showdown with their own cameras. Mr. Breitbart, who normally delights in being the center of attention, turned tail and quickly retreated--a thug on the run.
For those unfamiliar with Mr. Breitbart, and I suspect the ranks are legion, here are a few career highlights, courtesy of Wikipedia.
A devotee of muckracking journalist Matt Drudge, Breitbart has written several books on the usual right wing targets (the media, Hollywood) and frequently appeared on Fox News (surprise!). In the hours following Ted Kennedy's death, Breitbart demonstrated class and empathy when he apparently referred to the late Senator as "a special pile of human excrement" and "a prick".
Breitbart played a supporting role in the 2009 ACORN video sting, but his greatest claim to fame, or infamy, was his character assassination of USDA employee Shirley Sherrod in 2010. Taking two short video excerpts entirely out of context (from a forty minute speech), he cost Sherrod her job and her good name. After an initial feeding frenzy, the truth won out, but the damage had been done. Bad news will always capture the headlines, while follow-up corrections are lucky to make page 38. Breitbart never issued an apology, though it's comforting to know Ms. Sherrod filed a dfamation suit against him in 2011.
There are already too many polarizing voices in out nation's political discourse; we don't need Andrew Breitbart causing additional wounds and creating deeper divisions. Show some decency, Mr. Breitbart, and keep quiet.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rick Perry for President? Really?

In the midst of a national frenzy surrounding the Casey Anthony verdict, the state of Texas executed a Mexican national, Humberto Leal Garcia. No one disputes or denies the viciousness behind his brutal rape and murder of a 16 year old girl in 1994. However, Mr. Garcia was never granted his legal right to contact the Mexican Embassy, and his execution took place in spite of appeals from the President, the State Department, the United Nations, and the Vatican (among others). Texas Governor Rick Perry, rumored to be considering a run for President, apparently felt his "tough guy" stance might prove politically expedient.
It makes you wonder what he might do in the case of a man who was actually innocent.
Oh wait...
In 2004 Perry oversaw the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man who had been convicted for the alleged arson murder of his three young children. Except, the evidence used to convict Willingham is now universally regarded as having been the product of shoddy science and obsolete investigation techniques.
This developing consensus was brought to Perry's attention before the execution, but he simply chose to ignore the facts. Willingham, naturally (and quite correctly), maintained his innocence right up until his execution on 2/17/04. Not only had Perry denied motions for clemency, he subsequently responded to a question as to whether or not he'd executed an innocent man by flippantly stating "he was a wife beater". Perry has consistently done his best to thwart any investigation into the truth of the matter. In fact, he went so far as to remove three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission days before that body was set to meet in order to discuss a report that cast serious doubt on the evidence used to forever silence Willingham. That meeting never took place.
Governor Perry's arrogance and indifference have somehow played well in Texas; hopefully he'll receive a much different reception elsewhere.
It's seven years too late, but Cameron Todd Willingham's voice deserves to be heard.
Rick Perry for President??? Really?

Abandon City

"Abandon City" was a song recorded by Todd Rundgren & Utopia in 1977. It describes an overwhelming urban chaos and the desire to escape it ("everybody over the side"). The state of mind engendered by that song is one I'm occasionally very familiar with when it comes to politics in these "United "States. The anger and divisiveness of the political discourse leads to paralysis, and eventually apathy in my case. I feel an overwhelming sense that "no one really listens to one another", so "what's the point?". Then, of course, things only get worse out there!

So, while still attempting to remain as level-headed and even-handed as one can reasonably expect, it feels as though it's time to resume my own end of the ongoing national dialogue. We all have a part in that dialogue, whether we choose to participate or not. Each of us has a voice, and I'll use this forum as a way of exercising mine--even if no one else will ever read it! Much like jotting down the "pros" and "cons" of a given situation, this is my opportunity to look at the facts, make a point, or simply vent.

I suspect it's time for me to focus on a different Rundgren lyric: "somehow, someday, give us just one victory and we're on our way".