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.