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Immediately after President Obama took office in Jan. 2009, I began to see unsubstantiated bumper stickers appear with slogans like, “How’s all that change workin’ out for ya?” and “Don’t blame me, I voted for McCain!” which I found both hilarious and saddening since the president had not even unpacked his suitcase before ignorant voters were blaming him for the state of affairs.

It was as if the direct links to the previous 28 years of Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush were completely erased the moment a black Democrat assumed office. After all, the president had not even addressed congress, much less signed any new legislation. But sure, the recession, the financial collapse, the burst of the housing bubble, the bank bailouts—all of which occurred before Obama took the oath—yeah, that was all his fault.

In other words, Republicans were all too willing to criticize the president for things that had nothing to do with his administration, and could not have since he wasn’t in office when they happened, and had no evidence (tangible or otherwise) to back up their claims.

If conservatives were so willing to blame President Obama for things that did not happen during his tenure, surely they will be equally anxious to decry the role of government and the office of the executive after witnessing decidedly sharp and notable declines resulting from several years of flawed, foolish, dyed-in-the-wool Republican policy from a puppet governor. Won’t they?

So let us examine the current affairs in the state off Wisconsin, shall we? Read the rest of this entry »

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Election Day approaches. I stay outside of the fray of political ads and commentary. I care not what the talking heads or SuperPACs want me to think or believe. Besides, I’m not really one for marketing ploys. Nonetheless, a decision looms, and I’ve still not made up my mind.

No, I’m not on the fence between President Obama or Governor Romney; there is almost nothing on the Romney platform that entreats my consideration, much less my vote. The problem is, there’s not much of the President’s record of the last four years that attracts me either. Sure, in toto it’s far more than the Republicans have offered (or even thought about), but compared to the high hopes and soaring rhetoric of 2008 it appears we’ve fallen woefully short.

There are a handful of things I like from this administration, namely its views on women’s rights, progressive taxation, fairness in immigration, and finally, though bungled terribly, gay rights. With some significant exceptions, I’ve also been proud of their shrewd foreign policy, knowing full well that Secretary Clinton deserves most of the credit. And while I’m glad there’s been a step in the right direction on health coverage, the political missteps and far-too-concessive approach that enveloped it left a bitter taste in my mouth and conclude it a hollow victory at best.

That’s about where my congruence with the President ends. Read the rest of this entry »

Despite all the hubbub—all the protests, tea parties, and lies about death panels—it seems that the media, the government, and practically the whole damn populace continues to miss, well, everything about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and what it means for health care in the United States.

They miss what it does, what it doesn’t do, what it’s called (Obamacare? Really?), how it came into being, what the truly good parts are, what the truly bad parts are, and how this legislation walks the fine line between two more extreme options: the current system, which condones an unchecked health insurance industry that can discriminate against anyone at any time by denying coverage, leaves 50 million people uninsured, and sticks the rest of us with the bill, or Universal Health Coverage for all (also known as single-payer, government health coverage, or socialized health insurance).

Let me first disclose that I am not a fan of PPACA as a whole. And while it puts an end to some of the worst practices of the health insurance industry, which is good, it also rewards that same industry with a slew of new customers. That’s bad.

Before I dive into this quagmire, Read the rest of this entry »

I find myself disgruntled lately.

Shocked? I’m sure not, if you’ve read most of my other posts. But you’re probably asking, “What’s got you this time?” So here it is: our ridiculous two-party system of government.

I’m sick of Democrats. I’m sick of Republicans. I’m sick of party politics constantly trumping public policy. I’m sick of bickering, and empty promises. I’m sick of gerrymandering, and stalwart tactics, and of the threat of filibuster (because they don’t actually filibuster anymore you know). I’m sick of misleading 8-second sound bites by majority/minority leaders that exemplify denial and puerility more than reason and cooperation (of course, our attention spans and inane media have a lot to do with that – but that’s for another time).

On issue after issue, threat after threat, problem after problem, the whole idea of passing laws and enacting public policy expeditiously is secondary, if not tertiary, to protecting “The Party” and weakening the opposition. Read the rest of this entry »

I watched footage of American bald eagles yesterday. Not for the first time of course; I’ve seen plenty before. But in watching this bit of video, shot over 30 years ago, I once again beheld what a magnificent creature the bald eagle is, how it is symbolic of our country, and why it has been our national bird since 1782.

Before you go assuming that this post will be merely a flag-waving testament to my patriotism, drawing parallels between our own ever-struggling republic and the freedom and inspiration of a soaring eagle, I beg of you, don’t be hasty. Beauty is only skin (or feather) deep, and my analogy delves much further than the shallow tint of an eagle’s silhouette backed by wind-furled Old Glory on the rear window of your neighbor’s GMC Sierra (likely built in Mexico, of course).

I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t at least acknowledge that aspect of the eagle-nation analogy. So I’ll start there. Please, bear with me.

Call me sentimental; the flight of a soaring eagle is inspiring and does make my heart swell with Patriotism. Grace, guts, and glory are all exemplified in that seemingly effortless flight. Read the rest of this entry »

Laziness. Freeloading. Gaming the system.

That’s what I often hear many conservatives rail against. Nothing gets a blind rightie’s hackles up more than a story about a person who gets paid by the government to sit at home rather than go to work.

Frankly, I don’t blame them. It does suck to hear those stories, stories of someone taking advantage of the way things are in order to do as little as possible. It makes even more sense knowing that anger over such stories usually comes from working, middle-class conservatives who sell over 250 days a year to someone just to make ends meet, especially when no matter what they do, those ends never do seem to come together.

It’s true. You can find cases of a governmental bureaucratic system encouraging laziness. For certain people, in certain situations, it makes more financial sense to not take a job, because they get more money out of the government than they would from an employer.

What amazes me is that the statement above is used as a case against welfare, rather than a case for higher wages. Read the rest of this entry »

Congratulations, President Obama, you finally found your Presidential voice! Such a shame that it came so late.

It was a great speech-probably your best SOTU-employing powerful, statesmanlike language and stroking progressive ideals to the brink of political orgasm. Yes, it was a terrific speech; and it should be because the way things are looking, it’s likely to be your last.

This year, it’s easy to throw out a bunch of great ideas and bold initiatives, backed with powerful rhetoric; you’re talking to a congress that has already vowed to do nothing. But beyond the applause and standing O’s, past the bright Source4 spotlights and television cameras, there are legions of lamenting liberals, a plethora of pissed-off progressives, and an assload of angry Americans who are having trouble pairing the leadership in your language with the awkwardness of your administration.

For three years you’ve portrayed yourself as stumbling buffoons, unsure of your agenda. Your message has been fragmented and murky. Your communications have been guarded and timid. Your domestic policy wandering and perfunctory. We have come to expect very little from you in terms of actual leadership, and it shows in how easily Republicans have been able to effectively frame every – single – issue, successfully derailing your game plan before you’ve even left the huddle. Read the rest of this entry »

It seems we’re looking at yet another legislative session, in both state legislatures and congress, where partisan gridlock will be preventing any effective, relevant, or necessary legislation from passing. Just read about what’s going on in Wisconsin, Colorado, and the upcoming congress (here and here).

Most Americans have been screaming for three years for our legislatures to do something to help us, the common citizen. And despite hollow promises of “a laser-focus on jobs” and “reaching across the aisle” from legislators, it seems all of their time is spent arguing over non-job-related bills with obvious political motivations and assurances of furthering our political and ideological divide.

Naturally, this has me frustrated, pensive, and reflecting back on a different time.

There have always been political and ideological divides, to be sure. But at a time of such crises, with such a struggle occurring in so many households across the country, one might think that a few, maybe even a small majority of lawmakers, could actually push aside the inflexible and overbearing will of their parties and simply start to do something.

Perusing recent legislative history, bipartisanship seemed to be more commonplace. Look at Nixon’s Impeachment, the Reagan-O’Neill cooperation, the bipartisan vote to censure President Clinton, or the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold).

We’ve worked together before, even amidst other bitter ideological divides. So why can’t we seem to do it now, especially in light of the dire circumstances of so many Americans? Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a century-old law banning corporate spending in state and local political campaigns, thereby ignoring the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling from almost two years ago.

This is a remarkable ruling by the Montana High Court (a 5-2 decision in a conservative state, no less), and it lends credence to the arguments against Citizens United that have been made by the majority of Americans, legal scholars, and many members of both parties for the last year.

It will likely be overturned, of course. If the plaintiffs appeal, the US Supreme Court naturally will simply rescind this ruling, likely with another 5-4 majority decision. But for the first time, a notable panel of jurists has openly written in a majority opinion that the US Supreme Court’s ruling last year was, in essence, a steaming pile of feces artfully molded to appear as though it stood on legal grounds.

The Montana Court’s decision is useful and important, but not really a surprise to us, right? I mean we, the uneducated masses and wanna-be lawyers of the nation who love to wax legal on the weekends, have been calling “Bullshit” on Citizens United for two years! Read the rest of this entry »

It takes a certain fortitude to enlist in the military.  A fortitude that, I am not ashamed to admit, I never had.

Despite a deep respect for those in my family who served in the armed forces and a lifelong fascination with all things military, at a young age I knew in my heart that I didn’t have what it takes. Be it a disinclination to take orders without question, fear of a painful death, or a reluctance to kill others in the name of possibly misguided policy, I was fully aware then and now that I would not have made a good soldier, sailor, or marine.

It is this same awareness that makes me so grateful for the men and women who have and continue to serve our nation.  Fortunately not everyone has the same hang-ups and hesitancy that I had as a youth, and because of that I am blessed with the privilege of liberty and the honor of holding our veterans in the absolute highest regard, honoring them, and thanking them as often as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

As the Republican 2012 lineup jockeys for position, a familiar and all-too-misleading premise continues to be tossed around – that the United States Government should be run like a corporation.

I categorically reject this notion. It is dangerous and offensive to our citizenry and the American way of life. Let me explain why.

First of all, corporations are solidly and solely executive-based organizations. The policies of a corporation are not created by a legislature. They are handed down as edicts from the executive branch: Presidents, VPs, executive officers. Little to no input is taken from the majority of Read the rest of this entry »

Ten years ago this month I was going through a rough patch. By “rough patch” what I mean is emotional stress. Alienation. Feelings of hopelessness and despair. I treaded dangerously close to what some might call a “nervous breakdown.”

9/11 had just happened; the country was still reeling from a fast and furious attack. Vengeance, hatred, and fear were becoming the recurring thoughts on talk radio, in op-ed columns, from Washington, and in everyday conversation. Sikhs were being attacked on the street by ignorant Americans (this trend has continued 10 years later). Racial profiling of Arabs and religious profiling of Muslims suddenly seemed not just acceptable, but was being demanded.

The United States had just started bombing the hell out of Afghanistan, a remarkably poor country that had been consistently war-torn for over 20 years. The first echoes of the eventual invasion of Iraq (TOTALLY unrelated to 9/11) were rolling out of a power-drunk administration. The country’s thirst for blood was conquering all logic, reason, and restraint.

Even people’s attitudes were angry, and fearful, and vengeful. I found I couldn’t relate to or talk with anyone. Old friends, with whom I had long been in line in terms of policy, I now found myself at polar opposites with. Newer relationships, already tenuous, seemed in danger of fracturing at even the slightest mention of current events. My older brother was talking about dropping out of his lucrative and long-studied-for career to instead enter the military.

We (the country) had been cold-cocked. We were dazed, confused, stumbling, and looking anywhere for someone to hit back.

Up was down. Black was white. Nothing was comfortable, no one was familiar and, in short, I couldn’t find anything to believe in. One day at work, while trying to pen a response to a racist and upsetting email from an old friend, I suddenly broke down in tears. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t type, I couldn’t think. My coworkers were very understanding. They listened, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

Ten years later, I find myself in a similar spot. And it hasn’t been an easy ten years either. Read the rest of this entry »

In case you hadn’t heard, the US Congressional approval rating just hit an all-time low. According to a recent NBC poll, the country’s approval rating of Congress just dropped again, to a measly 12%. It’s amazing that so few Americans have confidence in what the founding fathers had intended to be the most powerful branch of the US government.

Even more amazing, however, are the re-election rates of those very same members of Congress. Historically, congressional re-election rates are quite high. Normally hovering around 95% in fact.

What can we glean from this inconsistency? It appears that while the vast majority of people disapprove of Congress as a whole, an even larger majority doesn’t believe their representative is part of the problem. I know I don’t. My representative is ethical, responsive, resistant to special interests, and generally an all-around good public servant in my opinion. Perfect by no means, but acceptable in most ways. Or so I believe.

Nonetheless, Congress stinks. I know it; you know it; we see it every day in headlines and sound bites. Problems are either addressed too late, poorly, or left ignored altogether. It seems that the issues – OUR problems – are nothing more than opportunities for political jockeying by the key players in both power parties. When things like humans-Americans-losing their homes, their jobs, or their health insurance are used as nothing more than chances for politicians to display their political ideology, something is seriously wrong.

Well, I have a solution. What if we fired them all? What if every two years we fired each and every one of them? That’s right, 100% turnover in every congressional election. Read the rest of this entry »

After thinking quite a bit about my recent post on wages, I may have come up with a fairly reasonable suggestion.

The premise of that post was that in order to get ourselves out of our current economic woes, we need to get more money in the hands of a lot more people; in other words, increasing the buying power of the lower and middle classes.

Now the argument from the right will be, as it always has, “lower their taxes!” But that argument always falls apart when you look at the numbers. The median (average) household income in the US in 2009 was just under $50,000 (Source: US Census Bureau 2010). At that level, the tax rate typically ends up being taxed at the 15% rate (sorry for the Wikipedia reference, I try to avoid it, but the IRS site is simply too complicated – and slanted toward justifying lower taxes for the wealthiest individuals, but I’ll explain that elsewhere). So even if we reduced taxes for this quintile by 1/3 (resulting in a 10% tax rate, which is pretty low), this would translate to a meager $2500 of extra income at that level. Yes, that’s better than nothing, but I suggest a different method. Instead of lowering their taxes, why not get employers to pay them more?

So first, I’ll write an appeal to any and all business owners, corporate executives, and everybody else who might have the power to increase somebody’s wage (that means everybody who can vote too). Please, PLEASE, I beg of you, consider rewarding those who work for you, especially the best and most valuable of them. You won’t regret it. Not only will it entice the best of them to stick around, and work harder, but when people have more money, they will spend it. And if every business owner raised wages, everybody would have more money to spend, which would mean more potential business for your business.

Unfortunately, as a nation, we can’t just ask employers to start paying their people more. Despite it being in their best interest to do so, businesses are just as scared as people right now. So how about an incentive? Read the rest of this entry »

*Note: I wrote a draft of this post many months ago. Between then and now I caught Robert Reich giving his American Public Media 2-minute address on NPR’s “Marketplace” on June 29, 2011. It was titled “It’s the demand side, stupid!” He addressed this very issue and did it paralleling my own post title which originally was “It’s about wages, stupid!” On one hand, it sucks to be robbed of my assumed originality in these thoughts. On the other, it is reassuring to have one of the world’s leading (and most ignored) economists trumpeting the same cause with many of the same arguments. You can hear Mr. Reich’s commentary here. It is spot on and speaks directly to this issue.

Throughout the recent recession and its aftermath, somehow the national discussion has been usurped by ideologues that seem to gravitate back to one area – job creation; which I agree has a rightful place in the discussion but should not be the focus of our long-term economic strategy.

From the right, we hear that we need to focus (again…still) on supply side policy that will “allow” businesses to create more jobs, as though they were somehow chained and bound from hiring people now. We’ll dig into the fallacies of this argument elsewhere, but for now let’s just identify the base of this argument which is that lack of jobs is the real problem and therefore job creation, of any kind, is good.

From the left we hear that the government must spend a lot of money (money it doesn’t have anymore, and didn’t have under Reagan, Bush I, Clinton’s first term, Bush II, and now Obama – but they ALL spent it anyway) in targeted areas and on government projects, which will increase business revenue, which will, in turn, create more jobs. So again, the base of the argument is that lack of jobs is the real problem.

The argument from the right is then used to support their tired, old, and now 30-years-disproven theory of reducing taxes on big business and the wealthy to spur job growth. The argument from the left is used to defend higher taxation rates, thereby increasing government revenue, and therefore spending, which perpetuates our debt-spending cycle and leaves us in the financial mess that we’re wallowing in.

Don’t misread me, jobs are important. And yes, with roughly 10% of Americans out of work and upwards of 25% un- or underemployed, creating more jobs would certainly help increase consumer spending and tax revenues as well.

But unemployment is not the cause of the recession; it is merely a symptom. Recessions are caused by people not buying things. When people don’t buy things, businesses don’t make/provide things. When businesses don’t make/provide things, they can’t afford to pay people and often go out of business. When businesses cut jobs or stop being businesses…unemployment.

So why aren’t people aren’t buying things? Let’s look at some probable explanations:
1) They’re unemployed – sure, about 10% of the country can say this now.
2) They are working too hard at their job(s) to enjoy things 
- About another 15% of the country can say this.
3) THEY DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FREAKING MONEY! – 90+% of the country can attest to this one. Read the rest of this entry »

In order to add credibility to the arguments made below, I will fully and freely disclose the following: I am a gun owner. And I really enjoy shooting.  Not hunting, mind you. I don’t hunt. No, I like guns, always have. Handguns, rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic, lever-action, revolvers – my tastes run the gamut, as most gun enthusiasts’ do.

In my youth I owned a lot of G.I. Joe and COBRA action figures and they came with miniature weapons which I loved learning about. By the age of 10 I could recite the standard list of firearms used by all of the Joes: M-16, M60, Browning .50 Caliber, M1911A1 Auto-pistol, etc. I also, in my youth, learned safe-handling and a healthy respect for firearms as well. I’m very thankful to my dad and other mentors for that important guidance.

I’ll also state that I’m not a fan of the idea of concealed carry. Not because I don’t like guns, but because I don’t trust people. Not everyone is smart, rational, or responsible. And that means that even if someone is shooting at people in a public place, I can’t count on concealed carriers to use caution rather than fear or rage when they start shooting back. The only thing worse than a child being killed by a gunman is a child killed by someone who was trying to shoot the gunman.

That being said, I’m going to examine the 2nd amendment-based argument which was the basis of two recent supreme court rulings concerning Washington D.C. (District of Columbia v. Heller – 2008) and Chicago (McDonald v. Chicago 2010) regarding handgun ownership. This argument is constantly parroted by gun rights proponents, so I think it is important to point out its flaws so that we can instead focus on why the recent rulings were, in fact, a travesty, a federal government power grab, and an assault on local governance, which most “States’ Rights” and “small government” advocates should have been up in arms about (pardon the pun). Read the rest of this entry »

Something’s missing here.  You know what it is?

Accountability.

It’s something I learned about early on and is a trait I have endeavored to enhance in myself.

I think that is what the American people need most. A lesson in accountability. It seems a large portion of our eroding moral fiber is a direct result of a lack of accountability. Everyone wants to blame anyone else for their own actions. It’d be easier to immediately admit wrongdoing, and do what you can to minimize the damage. But we’d rather someone else be held accountable, just so long as it isn’t us.

And who can blame them? When Insurance, and Big Tobacco, and Big Oil, and Health care, and the financial and banking industries, and you-name-it refuse to accept responsibility for their actions, why shouldn’t we? Insurance companies fight tooth and nail against all kinds of legitimate claims.  Hospitals deny removing the wrong body parts. Chemical companies deny responsibility for poisoning our environment and our bodies. Tobacco companies deny using chemicals to make us more addicted to their smokes; deny marketing to young people and children. Hell, they even denied that smoking was bad for you!  Banks and the financial industry…where do I even start?  Time and time again we find ourselves sucking up the negative affects of their bad decisions, funding their bailout because they’re “too big to fail” and then watching in helpless horror as the captains of their miserable, greedy, manipulative industry walk away with tens of millions in bonuses after bringing the world to the brink of economic collapse.

But then, who can blame THEM? When our government is obviously incapable of holding itself accountable for anything. Read the rest of this entry »

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