Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Is America really a Progresisve country and not center-right?


 

I often ask who in their right mind would want to be President of the United States.  The stress, the personal attacks, the ungrateful electorate, subjecting the family to the microscope, and the constant second guessing.  Why on earth?  Why on earth would anyone want to seek a second term?  Well Barack Obama has successfully run for president twice and he will lead this nation for the next 4 years.  While expectations were higher in 2009, Monday’s inauguration speech certainly raised the hope of millions Americans.  Of course conservative commentators were quick to criticize and label the President’s speech as nothing more than liberal partisan talking points.

But was the President’s inaugural address a liberal or progressive manifesto?  Was it derisive and contemptuous of Conservative ideals?  Did he spike the football?  Did he ignore the real economic problems facing the country?  Was it a laundry list sop to the interests who got him re-elected?

Firstly, the idea that President Obama’s speech was progressive depends on what one calls progressive.  Merriam-Webster defines the noun as “one believing in moderate political change and especially social improvement by governmental action.” Keep that in mind.  I strongly urge people to watch the video of the address or read the text, but in the meantime here are some telling passages:

·         Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

·         Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

·         Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune.

·         But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action

·         We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class

·         We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.

·         We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.

·         We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.

·         We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.

·         But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream.

Is that progressive?  One would think referencing the Declaration of Independence would be considered conservative.  Saving the planet and opposing perpetual war seem very conservative in nature. But that is only half the equation. 

Conservative commentators are fond of saying that we are center right nation.  Well if that is true:

·         Why does a majority of Americans support same sex marriage and equal benefits to these couples?

·         Why does a majority of Americans support the notion that Americans should not be denied health insurance for an existing condition?

·         Why does a majority of Americans support immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship?

·         Why does a majority of Americans support banning military style weapons?

·         Why does a majority of Americans support Roe vs. Wade?

·         Why do twice as many Americans believe climate change is man-made compared to those that do not?

Is it possible for us to be right leaning and progressive?  It would have to be if you were to believe conservative commentators.  Or does it mean we are a progressive nation and the President is in the center?  Or is the President progressive and America is Center-left.

Perhaps we are more enlightened than we tend to believe, and the conservative commentators are in denial.

What remains to be seen as whether the president’s words become legislation or executive order.  Those that oppose may run the risk of further isolation.  How progressive.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why Pledge Allegiance?

Do you swear?  No, but I know all the words.  That is a line from a Three Stooges short where Curly is being sworn in to testify in a courtroom.

The Pledge of Allegiance, recited hundreds of millions of times since its creation in 1892, has frequently been the center of controversy.  So how could this little phrase be so controversial:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Let’s take a look at the history of the pledge.

Did you know that the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Socialist Baptist Minister? The National Education Association requested the pledge be written to demonstrate the unity of our growing diversity in public schools. A believer in the absolute separation of church and state, it is safe to say that when his ubiquitous pledge was modified in 1954during the Joseph McCarthy led anti-communism, anti-atheism, anti-enlightened histrionics to include the words ‘under God’ he would have been mortified. It seems that “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” has a history of being quite controversial because the catholic Church opposed it during World War I because it was making American Catholics, more American than Catholic.

On a regular basis there are court challenges about “under God” as some claim that the insertion violates the establishment clause.  In all cases, the courts have struck down those claim saying the words are more about patriotism than religion.

But the issue, isn’t the words or whether only half the states in the country require the pledge be recited in school.  The issue is what do school kids, all citizens for that matter, think the words mean?  What do the words mean to these young people?  Has anyone asked a classroom of children to share what the pledge means to them?  What it means to “pledge allegiance”?  Why is the flag important?  Why pledge to a piece of cloth, possibly made in a  foreign country?  What is liberty?

I am not being flippant or glib. I conducted a similar study with employees who had copies of our quality policy on their ID badges, on cards hanging in offices, in posters in the cafeteria, and signs in meeting rooms.  When asked to internalize what the words meant, employees typically thought for a few minutes and then were able to share what they do every day in support of the policy.  The point being, having the words parroted back is of no value.  Understanding, comprehending, internalizing; living the words in everything one does is most important. 

After all, there is no value in 31 words unless you analyze and appreciate the meaning.

 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty Asked the Wrong Question


Last weekend I took in Zero Dark Thirty. The torture scenes were graphic, though I think the Mr. Blonde ear removal sequence from Reservoir Dogs still takes the cake, and the film quite gripping.  The big controversy pitting the movies producers and director aligned with some ‘unnamed’ sources versus Senators McCain and Boxer and ‘official’ CIA sources about whether ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ a.k.a. torture led to the location of Osama bin Laden.  The movie takes the position that torture opened the door to finding the courier who led the CIA team to the compound in Abbottabad.  It also portrays that a lot of dead ends and wild goose chases came from bogus information derived from the torture sessions.

But are we asking the right question?  Instead of asking if torture worked, should we be asking if torture is moral?  Effectiveness versus morality. And it’s the latter that needs to be asked.  Instead we are told throughout the movie and by countless Bush administration officials that our ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were not illegal as defined by White House and Justice lawyers.  And that’s the rub.  The argument has always been about legality (remember the absurd statement that waterboarding isn’t torture because America doesn’t torture?) which leads to a boatload of CYA.  The president and his team will want legal cover and the guys on the ground will want to make sure they are not hung out to dry.  But did any of the decision makers ask if it was moral? 

But if we decide torture is immoral, how do we feel about drone attacks?   Are we less critical of President Obama because he is a Democrat compared to a Republican President Bush, certainly the media seems to give him a pass.  Are we hypocritical based on political party?  Or are we desensitized by drone attacks because they open remotely and the hits happen in some far away land?  Is it because the media reports them as ‘suspected terrorists’?  Even when a wedding party is wiped out or a dozen Pakistani soldiers are killed because some drone operator thousands of miles away made a mistake or had a bad day?  Many arguments against drone attacks are not on moral grounds, but, once again, question the effectiveness of the program as detractors claim the program is so hated in the region that we are creating more terrorists with every attack.

President Obama was very clear in his public messages regarding torture, shutting down our black rendition sites, and seeking to close Guantanamo detention facility.  Soon after led by the Cheney Cabal, the neocons went out of their way claiming that President Obama had made us less safe because of the new interrogation rules of engagement.  Did the political angle come into play?  Did the President pivot to a new strategy that would seem less despicable and more effective? 

These are not small questions and they shouldn’t be trivialized.  But because it’s the war on terror, we often feel justified in the strikes or as Cheney said “embrace the dark side”?  The War on Terror will not be won because it is not a battle in the traditional sense. But are we losing ourselves in its prosecution?  Have we let out primal visceral selves take over?  Or is eye for an eye and crossing the dark side legal, legitimate, and necessary? 

I think we have entered a dark time.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Monday Mishegas - Jan 7, 2013


 

·         Republican hack John Fund says “The most effective response (to Newtown) would be to let our citizens carry weapons in all public places.”  Really, because Americans have shown to be the most rational, dependable, trustworthy, levelheaded people on the planet.

·         Arizona’s three ring circus continued with Arizona GOP Chairman Tom Morrissey, Gila County Republican Party Chairman Don Ascoli and former Graham County Republican Chairman John D, Rhodes objecting to the certification of President Obama’s 332-206 victory because they believe the President has not produced a “legitimate” birth certificate.  You know you are a RWNJ when even Jan Brewer says you’re wrong.

·         War monger and Fox News contributor John Bolton had this to say about Secretary State Hillary Clinton “You know, every foreign service officer in every foreign ministry in the world knows the phrase I am about to use. When you don’t want to go to a meeting or conference, or an event, you have a ‘diplomatic illness.’ And this is a diplomatic illness to beat the band.”  Well here is some news Mr. Bolton: Mrs. Clinton is our Secretary of State while you can only dream of that job.

·         Boy, I am really going to miss Jim DeMint in the Senate.  <Sarcasm>

·         French actor Gerard Depardieu has been welcome in Russia as he tries to escape the new higher tax rates in his native France.  Meanwhile 99% of Americans say Gerard who?  Yeah he’s the fat jerk who urinated on a flight to Dublin when he was told the lavatory was locked. Au revoir bag de douche.

·         Rand Paul’s 19 year old son was arrested at the Charlotte Airport for being drunk and disorderly.  I am sure Ron Paul will tell you that it is the constitutional right for his grandson to be a drunken douche nozzle.

·         Gun ownership in the U.S. is the highest in the world at 88.8 guns/100 people.  Second highest is Yemen at 54.8 guns/100 people and Iraq has 34.2guns/100 people.  But only 1 in 18 Americans is considered an active hunter.

·         Neocons are attacking Chuck Hagel because he opposed the surge in Iraq.  The funny thing about these neocons is they attack anyone who opposed the surge but at the same time, these same neocons can’t admit that the invasion was a mistake to begin with.

·         For those deficit hawks that claim the US should have adopted an austerity program like the British, you may want to know that Britain is on the verge of a triple dip recession. 

·         I worry about the future of the newspaper.  TheAtlantic.com reported Google made $20Billion in ad revenue, a figure greater than all U.S. print media combined.

 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The U.S. Economy: Is this the new normal?


Another jobs report, another sign of a tepid recovery.  For two years in a row we have averaged approximately 153k jobs/month.  Unfortunately, that is not enough to truly spur the economy into higher gear.  And while, many people like to look at the unemployment rate as the bell weather indicator of the state of employment in this country, there are other, perhaps more telling, numbers, and the picture is not to good:

·         Participation Rate: 63.6%

·         Long Term Unemployed (unemployed for >27 weeks): 4.8 million

·         Discouraged Workers (Not looking for work because they do not believe there are jobs): 1.1million

·         Not even counted: 3.3million who have not even looked for a job over the past year.

·         Public Sector Employment: 13,000 jobs, mostly in education, were cut in December

And while on the plus side, the 155k jobs included increases in several sectors, including construction, manufacturing, health services, and food services, government and central bank stimuli are ending.  The question, can the economy stand on its own two legs?  Let’s be honest though, it is not like we’re going all gangbusters to begin with.  2% GDP growth, while better than the Eurozone, is still lackluster.  The U.S. economy is driven by 70% consumer spending and the remainder comes from business to business and government spending, and while American households have been repairing their balance sheets, consumer spending cannot carry the weight alone especially with the renewed payroll tax and chronic unemployment.

So while economists argue whether the stimulus worked, it did, whether Keynesian Economics works, it does, whether we have a revenue or spending problem, we have both, and policy makers argue the right mix of revenue vs spending, and who is to blame, America is stuck in the left lane on the expressway behind a lost senior citizen.  Nobody can move, nothing can happen, everybody blames the other guy, and the media is infatuated with picking winners and losers. 

Throughout President Obama’s 1st term all we heard from conservatives was uncertainty was preventing companies and small businesses from hiring and investing; uncertainty from Obamacare, tax rates, financial  and environmental regulations, etc.  Well guess what, we are now past the Obamacare uncertainty, though Michele Bachmann didn’t get the memo, Dodd-Frank is now law , albeit many rules need to be written, the only uncertainty remains is establishing a long term Budget Control Act.

But is uncertainty a real issue or another red herring?  Corporate spending as a percentage of GDP fell dramatically through the Reagan years from over 13% to under 10%, but climbed back up to 13% during the Clinton years.  Today we are stuck around 10% of GDP.  Corporate cash hoarding is not new and isn’t completely tied to economic uncertainty, the fact is companies have maximized productivity gains and investment in labor is no longer an economic driver.

Have we reached a new normal where unemployment remains chronically high, wages depressed, corporate profits maximized, and all we have to reinvigorate the economy are more bubbles?  Consumer debt won’t fuel it, nor should it, corporate cash is sitting on the sideline, and government austerity has taken over the roundtable debate while investment is now a four letter word.  What should we do?

Here is the Diggaduh Five Point Plan:

1)      Invest in education, energy, and infrastructure (air traffic control systems, roads, and services) even if it swells the debt in the short term.

2)      Reform the leviathan of a tax code that incentivizes investment and punishes hoarding. 

3)      Establish long term plans to insure Medicare and Social Security remain solvent

4)      Establish long term plans to reign in discretionary spending tied to specific economic measures that can only be overturned with 2/3’s majority.

5)      End all subsidies and tax credits, except in the case of nascent industries support achieving long term goals in education, energy, and infrastructure.

I realize the above lack the necessary details, and that is up to legislators to fill in the blanks.  Simply, we need will all need to modify, not give up, some of our sacred cows in the long run while in the short term we wisely invest and spend.

 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Sandy Roll Call: 354 Yeas and 67 Nays On Increasing NFIP Debt



---- YEAS    354 ---

Aderholt
Alexander
Amodei
Andrews
Bachmann
Bachus
Barber
Barletta
Barrow
Barton
Bass
Beatty
Becerra
Bera
Bilirakis
Bishop (GA)
Bishop (NY)
Bishop (UT)
Black
Bonamici
Boustany
Brady (PA)
Brady (TX)
Braley (IA)
Brooks (IN)
Brown (FL)
Brownley (CA)
Buchanan
Bucshon
Burgess
Bustos
Butterfield
Calvert
Camp
Campbell
Cantor
Capito
Capps
Capuano
Cárdenas
Carney
Carson (IN)
Carter
Cartwright
Cassidy
Castor (FL)
Castro (TX)
Chaffetz
Chu
Cicilline
Clarke
Clay
Cleaver
Coble
Coffman
Cohen
Cole
Collins (NY)
Connolly
Conyers
Cook
Cooper
Costa
Courtney
Cramer
Crawford
Crenshaw
Crowley
Cuellar
Culberson
Cummings
Davis (CA)
Davis, Danny
Davis, Rodney
DeFazio
DeGette
Delaney
DeLauro
DelBene
Denham
Dent
Deutch
Diaz-Balart
Dingell
Doggett
Doyle
Duckworth
Edwards
Ellison
Ellmers
Emerson
Engel
Enyart
Eshoo
Esty
Farenthold
Farr
Fattah
Fitzpatrick
Fleischmann
Forbes
Fortenberry
Foster
Frankel (FL)
Frelinghuysen
Fudge
Gabbard
Gallego
Garamendi
Garcia
Gardner
Garrett
Gerlach
Gibbs
Gibson
Gingrey (GA)
Granger
Grayson
Green, Al
Green, Gene
Griffin (AR)
Griffith (VA)
Grijalva
Grimm
Guthrie
Gutierrez
Hahn
Hall
Hanabusa
Hanna
Harper
Hartzler
Hastings (FL)
Hastings (WA)
Heck (NV)
Heck (WA)
Hensarling
Herrera Beutler
Higgins
Himes
Hinojosa
Holt
Honda
Horsford
Hoyer
Huffman
Huizenga (MI)
Hunter
Hurt
Israel
Issa
Jackson Lee
Jeffries
Johnson (GA)
Johnson (OH)
Johnson, E. B.
Johnson, Sam
Jones
Joyce
Kaptur
Keating
Kelly
Kennedy
Kildee
Kilmer
Kind
King (IA)
King (NY)
Kingston
Kinzinger (IL)
Kirkpatrick
Kline
Kuster
Labrador
LaMalfa
Lance
Langevin
Lankford
Larsen (WA)
Larson (CT)
Latham
Latta
Lee (CA)
Levin
Lipinski
LoBiondo
Loebsack
Lofgren
Long
Lowenthal
Lowey
Lucas
Luetkemeyer
Lujan Grisham (NM)
Luján, Ben Ray (NM)
Lummis
Lynch
Maffei
Maloney, Carolyn
Maloney, Sean
Marino
Markey
Matheson
Matsui
McCarthy (CA)
McCarthy (NY)
McCaul
McCollum
McDermott
McHenry
McIntyre
McKeon
McKinley
McMorris Rodgers
McNerney
Meehan
Meeks
Meng
Messer
Mica
Michaud
Miller (FL)
Miller (MI)
Miller, George
Moore
Moran
Murphy (FL)
Murphy (PA)
Nadler
Napolitano
Neal
Negrete McLeod
Noem
Nolan
Nugent
Nunes
Nunnelee
O'Rourke
Olson
Owens
Pallone
Pascrell
Pastor (AZ)
Paulsen
Payne
Pelosi
Perlmutter
Peters (CA)
Peters (MI)
Peterson
Pingree (ME)
Pittenger
Pitts
Pocan
Poe (TX)
Polis
Posey
Price (NC)
Quigley
Radel
Rahall
Rangel
Reed
Reichert
Renacci
Rice (SC)
Richmond
Rigell
Roby
Rogers (AL)
Rogers (KY)
Rogers (MI)
Rohrabacher
Rooney
Ros-Lehtinen
Roskam
Ross
Ruiz
Runyan
Ruppersberger
Rush
Ryan (OH)
Sánchez, Linda T.
Sanchez, Loretta
Sarbanes
Scalise
Schakowsky
Schiff
Schneider
Schock
Schrader
Scott (VA)
Scott, Austin
Scott, David
Serrano
Sessions
Sewell (AL)
Shea-Porter
Sherman
Shimkus
Shuster
Simpson
Sinema
Sires
Slaughter
Smith (NE)
Smith (NJ)
Smith (TX)
Southerland
Speier
Stewart
Stivers
Stockman
Swalwell (CA)
Takano
Terry
Thompson (CA)
Thompson (MS)
Thompson (PA)
Tiberi
Tierney
Tipton
Titus
Tonko
Tsongas
Turner
Upton
Valadao
Van Hollen
Vargas
Veasey
Vela
Velázquez
Visclosky
Wagner
Walberg
Walden
Walorski
Walz
Wasserman Schultz
Waters
Watt
Waxman
Webster (FL)
Welch
Westmoreland
Whitfield
Wilson (FL)
Wittman
Wolf
Womack
Yarmuth
Young (FL)
Young (IN)

---- NAYS    67 ---

Amash
Barr
Benishek
Bentivolio
Blackburn
Bridenstine
Brooks (AL)
Broun (GA)
Chabot
Collins (GA)
Conaway
Cotton
Daines
DeSantis
DesJarlais
Duffy
Duncan (SC)
Duncan (TN)
Fincher
Fleming
Flores
Foxx
Franks (AZ)
Gohmert
Goodlatte
Gosar
Gowdy
Graves (GA)
Graves (MO)
Harris
Holding
Hudson
Huelskamp
Hultgren
Jenkins
Jordan
Lamborn
Marchant
Massie
McClintock
Meadows
Mullin
Mulvaney
Neugebauer
Palazzo
Pearce
Perry
Petri
Pompeo
Price (GA)
Roe (TN)
Rokita
Rothfus
Royce
Ryan (WI)
Salmon
Schweikert
Sensenbrenner
Stutzman
Thornberry
Weber (TX)
Wenstrup
Williams
Wilson (SC)
Woodall
Yoder
Yoho


Amash
Barr
Benishek
Bentivolio
Blackburn
Bridenstine
Brooks (AL)
Broun (GA)
Chabot
Collins (GA)
Conaway
Cotton
Daines
DeSantis
DesJarlais
Duffy
Duncan (SC)
Duncan (TN)
Fincher
Fleming
Flores
Foxx
Franks (AZ)
Gohmert
Goodlatte
Gosar
Gowdy
Graves (GA)
Graves (MO)
Harris
Holding
Hudson
Huelskamp
Hultgren
Jenkins
Jordan
Lamborn
Marchant
Massie
McClintock
Meadows
Mullin
Mulvaney
Neugebauer
Palazzo
Pearce
Perry
Petri
Pompeo
Price (GA)
Roe (TN)
Rokita
Rothfus
Royce
Ryan (WI)
Salmon
Schweikert
Sensenbrenner
Stutzman
Thornberry
Weber (TX)
Wenstrup
Williams
Wilson (SC)
Woodall
Yoder
Yoho