Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Closing This Chapter

I'm going to be perfectly honest with everyone: this politics shit is stressful.

I've spent my entire adult life (all 12 years of it so far) paying enough attention to politics to give myself a good idea of what I'd be doing in the voting booth on Election Day, but rarely any more than that. I always had too much else going on -- work, school, personal issues -- and, frankly, other interests that took up too much of my time.

And, if I'm still being honest, there was still an underlying cynicism: the idea that, no matter who I voted for, no matter whether the person had an R or a D (or, improbably, an I) after their name, things wouldn't really change all that much. But I never wanted to let my right and responsibility to vote go to waste, so I always tried to do the best I could.

(Side note: apologies to liberals everywhere about 2000; I did in fact vote for George W. Bush back then. I was young, it was my first election. I tried to make up for it in 2004, but we all know how that went.)

But in the lead-up to the 2008 election, a funny thing happened: I started to care more than usual. I was actually watching debates and reading different news sites. I watched both conventions; even though I thought I'd be voting for President Obama, I didn't want to completely rule out voting for John McCain, because I remembered liking him back in 2000.

Then Sarah Palin came along, and my mind was made up.

My vote for Barack Obama wasn't just a personal endorsement of his ideas for this country, it was also an acknowledgement that he woke something within me. I was inspired like never before to do my part to shape this country the best way I thought possible; that my contribution, however small, would make a difference.

Fast-forward almost three years, and I'm at my wit's end. Not because I'm disenfranchised with the President (it is possible to disagree with someone without degrading them or writing them off completely), but because the reality of things is so damn stressful. In the case of politics, at least, the axiom "ignorance is bliss" really does have some truth to it.

After all, if you never hear about searing budget cuts, you'll never stress over them.

I understand operating in Washington requires a fair bit of compromise. I understood that in the health care debate; though I preferred a public option, I knew it would never get the votes to pass -- and frankly, tanking the entire bill for that one idea out of ideological purity would be impractical.

Same goes for extending the Bush-era tax cuts (I hated that they did it, but if it meant extending unemployment benefits, then there was really no other choice). Same goes for not nominating Elizabeth Warren to run the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Ideological purity makes for great soundbites; it works wonders for riling up a base in the name of donations or support for primary elections. But in the confines of actual governance, such rigidity of principle gets the country nowhere. Even when Democrats held both chambers of Congress and the White House, ideological purity was impossible when it came time to actually craft legislation and make policy.

More than anything, this is what rankles me about the Tea Party and establishment Republicans; the idea of ideological purity not only makes them look extreme (abolish the Department of Education, anyone?), but it makes governing little more than a high-stakes game of chicken.

Need proof? Just look at this manufactured debt ceiling crisis.

Ronald Reagan, patron saint of the Republican Party, would not be welcome in today's GOP. He raised taxes, he expanded the size of government (not to mention the federal deficit), he grew Social Security -- and during his presidency, the debt ceiling was raised 18 times.

Think Eric Cantor or Allen West or Rand Paul would welcome him today?

Ultimately, this ideological rigidity presents a conundrum for the GOP in 2012; how can the party select a candidate capable of winning a general election when the primary is nothing more than everyone trying to out-right-wing each other? Nice-guy moderate Jon Huntsman might be electable to the general public, but he has no prayer of winning his party's nomination. By the same token, do you really see Tea Party queen Michele Bachmann winning the general election?

For the past three years, I've done everything I can to enact change in this country. I'll admit, I'm a fairly liberal dude; I think everyone (including the rich) should pay their share of taxes. I think there's really no point for all this endless war -- especially now that we've killed Osama bin Laden. I think everyone should be eligible for Medicare. I'd like to see us fund education the way we fund the Pentagon.

On top of voting (in every election, not just the presidential election), I've joined activist groups, signed petitions, made donations to candidates and causes in which I believe. I started this blog, in the hope of getting my voice out there and finding others who share my views. I'm constantly writing the White House and my members of Congress, imploring them to fight for or against legislation.

Even with the stresses of my job, even with personal issues that pop up every so often, I've kept fighting the good fight. But increasingly, I find that it's not really doing any good. The corporate-owned media (which is not nearly as liberal as it's accused of being) still distorts and misinforms. Corporations still hold more sway over elected officials of both parties than the American people, crafting legislation that does little, if anything.

There is no change. Part of that is President Obama's fault, but most it falls at the feet of the dysfunctional system in which he works. Congress is broken -- especially the Senate. Even the Supreme Court, once thought above all reproach, has succumbed to the excesses of political power. State legislatures and governors are as beholden to corporate interests as their federal counterparts.

I can't fight them all, and it genuinely feels like things won't get better, no matter what's done. With unemployment as bad as it is, and the special interests as entrenched as ever, I'm not really seeing results to match the effort I've put in over the last few years.

Look, I'm no fool; I knew this wouldn't be easy, and I knew that even if we did enact some changes, they would be modest at best. That's how this system apparently "works," particularly when the public face of the Republican Party is so obstructionist and reactionary that virtually every debate starts to the political right. But it seems like nothing is getting accomplished, and I can't keep putting myself out there, subjecting myself to more and more stress, only to see the further erosion of this country.

I suppose, in some way, that's what the other side wants. I think they want liberals so upset and disenfranchised that they stop fighting; that way, the Republicans' regressive agenda of stripping away rights for the middle class and regulations for the corporations can be fully enacted, disastrous consequences for the country be damned.

So even though this will be the final post I write, I will not be completely going away. I will still be at the polls, for every federal, state and local election. I will still write to Congress and the White House, to make sure my opinions are expressed. I may even still donate to candidates on occasion.

But constantly keeping track of everything going on? Keeping this page updated with views and opinions that are quickly degrading to little more than "Boy, I'd like to slap (insert name of Republican fucktard here) upside the head"? That's not right, and it's not healthy, and I can't let myself morph into that sort of person.

So this blog is ending. It might re-surface later on, in some form, if I find myself re-energized and not nearly as jaded as I currently am. But in a lot of ways, it feels like I've been stuck in the bottom of a well, screaming into the open in the vain hope that someone will hear my words and take heed.

The past few years have shown me that no one really hears it --- either because they don't want to, or because there are so many other voices screaming in their ears that my voice (and others like mine) gets drowned out. Either way, there are better, less stressful ways to do this.

I thank the few readers I had for their support. I'd like to say a difference was made, but I don't see it. This is one instance in which I'd love to be proven wrong.

Good night, and good luck.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Debt Ceiling Debate Misguided

There's no question our federal deficit -- and our debt -- need to be addressed. In the long term, our government has to get both of those things under control, both for the sake of our national economy and our standing in the rest of the world.

But in the short term, with our economic recovery slow and the latest job numbers showing no sign of improvement, focusing solely on deficits is problematic.

Never mind the fact that virtually every reputable economist argues that a reduction in spending makes a slow recovery worse. Never mind the silly debate over the debt ceiling -- which before now has never been controversial and might even violate the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Right now, with unemployment at 9.2 percent, only one thing should matter: jobs.

We need to stop people from losing their jobs -- in the private and public sector. We need to make sure those who have lost their jobs have a lifeline while they undertake the arduous task of finding another job. We need to train people for new jobs, especially if they're coming from industries that are no longer in demand.

Most importantly, we need to make sure there are jobs out there for the unemployed to take. We need to stop companies from purposefully refusing to hire the unemployed.

The non-partisan CBO estimates the stimulus passed in 2009 saved or created 3 million jobs -- which is to be lauded -- but the bill could've been so much larger and so much more effective. In the meantime, Congress shifted its focus to health care reform, Wall Street reform, the DREAM Act, the START treaty, Iraq, Afghanistan, the deficit, repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell ... pretty much everything but jobs.

When Republicans took control of the House last November, they rode the electoral wave mostly because of the lack of jobs; a weak economy and high unemployment never favors the incumbent party. But Congressional Republicans have focused on everything but jobs: de-funding Planned Parenthood, restricting choice, repealing the Affordable Care Act, refusing to let tax rates rise on the wealthiest two percent.

And now, holding the economy hostage in debt ceiling negotiations.

Republicans want to keep tax rates where they are -- if not lower them even more -- and refuse to allow any deal that includes tax increases. They want Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the table, regardless of the fact that Social Security does not contribute to the deficit. Depending on who you believe, the Obama administration might be willing to put Social Security on the table.

But that's a post for another time.

I mentioned before that in years past, raising the debt ceiling has never been an issue; in fact, the debt ceiling was raised five times during George W. Bush's two terms in office. Apparently, we can keep borrowing money when it comes to fighting needless wars and giving the rich tax breaks that stagnate the economy ... but the second we want to borrow money to provide health care and take care of the middle class, it's a problem.

There's also a potential conflict of interest for Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the Majority Leader in the House, who may benefit financially if the country defaults on Aug. 2.

A recession is not the time to slash spending. Now is not the time to lay off teachers, police officers and firefighters. Now is not the time to punish seniors and the middle class for a recession caused by Wall Street and its handlers in Congress.

Now is the time to invest in job-creating programs, invest in infrastructure spending, which will provide jobs and strengthen this country's infrastructure for years to come.

The Republicans are playing with this country's economy -- not just in the debt ceiling debate, but by blocking numerous bills in Congress designed to create jobs -- because they know a poor economy will benefit them at the polls. They don't want the economy to get better, because the Democrats control the White House and the Senate.

And if you think the GOP would suddenly care once it got control of those branches back, then you're being naive.

Remember last month, when I quoted Keith Olbermann's point about the malfeasance of one political party and the timidity of the other? The debt ceiling debate is a perfect illustration of this; the Republicans are purposefully holding the American economy hostage, and we may see a Democratic administration giving in to the GOP's demands, and abandoning core Democrat principles, in order to prevent a default(when, really, all the President would have to do is invoke the 14th amendment and all of this would be moot).

The Republicans are playing with the middle class and seniors; they're playing with people's lives, and deliberately ignoring the unemployment crisis, thinking it will sweep the party back into power come November 2012. Electoral gains -- and massive contributions from the GOP's corporate benefactors (thank you, Citizens United) -- are the endgame here.

The only question is, what are we going to do about it?

Make yourself heard!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

For It ... Until They're Against It

The reality of the political flip-flop -- as opposed to the comfy flip-flop that's popular in the summertime -- is nothing new; politicians have been changing their positions on issues for decades, particularly when an election approaches and a candidate is trying his or her best to pander to a segment of the electorate.

How else can one explain once-moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty tacking further to the right as the Republican Party tries to decide who's going to run against President Obama in the 2012 election?

But we've seen a ton of filp-flopping in the last three years, and just about all of it has centered around the Republican Party's deep-seeded mistrust (I'm reluctant to say hatred) for the president. Elected GOP leaders and their corporate backers are so set on making sure President Obama doesn't succeed that they're willing to abandon their own ideas once the president gives his stamp of approval.

Rather than list all of the examples myself, I'll allow Rachel Maddow to take over from here. She outlined this recent phenomenon on her show on Monday, noting the party's priorities of making President Obama look bad -- even if it means risking the country's economy.

Because let's face it, a broken economy benefits the GOP in the coming elections, suffering Americans be damned.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

'As I Was Saying ...'

"This is to be a newscast of contextualization, to be delivered with a viewpoint that the weakest citizen of this country is more important than the strongest corporation. That the nation is losing its independence through the malfeasance of one political party and the timidity of the other."

With that mission statement on Monday, June 20, 2011, one of the most reliable and forceful progressive voices in America returned to the airwaves. Keith Olbermann returned with the debut of the newest edition of Countdown With Keith Olbermann on Current TV Monday night, and save a new set, a new channel and some other small tweaks, the show seems to have changed little in the six months since it last aired on MSNBC.

Which is a good thing.

The theme music is (largely) the same, as is Olbermann's "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?" opening. The format of the show is largely unchanged -- though "Oddball" is now called "Time Marches On." His "Worst Persons in the World" segment, complete with organ music, returns, though Olbermann seemed to be trying to make it extra-clear this segment is supposed to be sarcastic.

Olbermann had three of his contributors as guests -- filmmaker Michael Moore, author and former Nixon administration member John Dean and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas (now that he no longer had to worry about crybaby Joe Scarborough) -- and the topics ranged from Libya to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to the state of the GOP presidential candidates to a little MSNBC-bashing, for good measure.

By and large, this was the Countdown progressives knew and loved. Olbermann wasn't kidding in the press leading up to the premiere that the show would remain largely unchanged. This might've been simply because it was his first episode on a new network and Olbermann didn't want to stray too far from the familiar; it'll be interesting to see how the show evolves in the coming weeks and months.

I have two minor quibbles with Olbermann's return on Monday, the first of which actually has nothing to do with Olbermann himself. Current TV is not available through my cable provider, and seeing as how I live in an area where my cable company has a monopoly, my choices are either the cable company or satellite.

Current TV's website allows you to enter your zip code to find where the network is carried in your area. If it is not offered, Current gives you three ways in which to convince your provider to carry Current TV. Time will tell how successful those efforts are, but in the meantime, those of us without the network will have to find other ways to get our dose of Keith.

Secondly, when Olbermann and Dean were discussing Justice Thomas' glaring conflicts of interest, Olbermann raised the question as to why Congressional Democrats were not screaming for Justice Thomas to recuse himself from cases in which there are conflicts of interest and/or resign. It was a fair question to ask, considering how Republicans would smell blood in the water if a liberal justice were accused of the same thing; however, one very important point was ignored.

There was a member of Congress -- a Democrat, no less -- who was hounding Justice Thomas regarding his conflicts of interest. But he resigned last week, in part because his own party wouldn't support him amid a scandal that was, admittedly, disturbingly tame.

So not only are Democrats not pressuring Justice Thomas, but they kicked out the one guy who was. This is that timidity Olbermann mentioned above.

All in all, it's wonderful to have Keith Olbermann back on television. There are legitimate concerns about Current TV's reach, or what Olbermann can do with a little-known network that isn't available everywhere, but if his previous work in establishing and re-branding ESPN and MSNBC are any indication, it just might work.

Moreover, Olbermann's no-nonsense approach and adherence to the facts is desperately needed in today's media climate, and his frustration gives a voice to progressives who can no longer find such a passionate, forceful voice among their own representatives.

This is why I fill so much space on this blog with Olbermann's work; his voice fills a void that desperately needed to be filled; if the progressive we put in office will not speak up and fight for us, we need someone in the media who will -- and Olbermann, all his personal issues be damned, is that person.

Liberals need Olbermann; more importantly, though, the country needs him.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Matter of Priorities

You will find no condemnations of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) on this page with regards to his Twitter photo scandal. You will find no sophomoric jokes, no links to any of the stories or calls for his resignation.

You will find no mocking of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump getting together in New York for crappy pizza. You will find no shaming of the former Alaska governor's continued ignorance of all things American -- in this instance, the history of Paul Revere.

Sure, these topics are salacious, amusing and borderline pathetic. But they're not important.

They don't matter as much as the debate over raising the debt ceiling (a prospect that, most of the time, is hardly controversial). Or the debate over the Republicans' plan to replace Medicare with a voucher program for seniors to purchase private health insurance. Or the latest jobs report, continuing the narrative of a jobless recovery.

The media should instead be focusing on Republican tactics -- both on the federal and state level -- to restrict access to choice and defund Planned Parenthood. Or the upcoming debate on (once again) letting the Bush-era tax rates expire.

The above topics are the sorts of things that need to be reported on and discussed. The beltway media and the rest of the country's journalists (setting aside sports and entertainment reporters, because of the specialized nature of their fields) should be focusing on actual issues right now, regardless of how amusing or sexy they might be.

Rep. Weiner's package has no bearing on this country's unemployment rate, and since Palin has as much of a chance at winning the presidency as I do, she's not nearly as important as making sure we reduce the federal deficit without harming this country's middle class and seniors.

Every journalist or pundit who has spent air time or printing ink or web storage on the likes of Rep. Weiner and Palin instead of any of the other topics mentioned above have failed -- both their profession and this country. It is but another example of everything that is wrong with American media (and, when extrapolated, everything wrong with American politics).

People need jobs. People need to know the economy is recovering and they're not one decision away from financial ruin. People need to be reassured that the banks and the corporations and the insurance companies can't screw them over anymore. People need to know President Obama and Congress are on their side, not the monied interests.

People do not need to know what Rep. Weiner is packing. People do not need to know that many middle schoolers have a better understanding of American history than Palin.

Shame you, mainstream media. Shame every last one of you.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Problem With Paul Ryan's Medicare Plan

Ezra Klein -- he of MSNBC, Newsweek and The Washington Post, is one of the best writers covering politics in Washington, largely because he's a policy wonk with the uncanny ability to explain complex legislation in such a way that non-wonks (read: just about everyone else) can understand it.

Today, I read on his Washington Post blog a detailed (yet easy-to-read) rebuttal of the Medicare proposal put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) -- you know, the one that would dismantle Medicare and replace it with a voucher program to help senior citizens purchase health insurance.

Rather than engage in partisan talking points (I get the sense that Klein's a fairly liberal dude), he sticks to facts and details. He even supplies charts!

Read Klein's post here -- and feel free to make this thing viral.

Deficit and Unemployment Linked

Even with America still facing an unemployment crisis -- the latest numbers continue pointing toward the narrative of a "jobless recovery" -- politicians in Washington and the media which covers them have instead focused on the deficit.

Whenever federal and state lawmakers argue against extending unemployment benefits, they often frame the argument in terms of the deficit. Instead of focusing on jobs, Congress (including a newly-elected Republican majority in the House) shifts its attention to matters related to the deficit.

The budget plan forwarded by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), which would replace Medicare with vouchers for seniors to purchase insurance from private companies, was introduced in an effort to rein in the deficit.

The debate over the Bush tax cuts that took place back in December was framed around the deficit -- because raising taxes (even on a small percentage of the population) would mean more revenue, which is half the federal budget formula.

Republicans' refusal to raise taxes -- and in some regard, their insistence upon lowering taxes even more -- has made the revenue portion of the deficit debate a dicey one.

The current debate over raising the debt ceiling, which is necessary by August to prevent the country from defaulting on its debts and likely causing another recession, has been accentuated by Republican lawmakers requiring more spending cuts -- you guessed it -- in the name of deficit reduction.

Even debates over America's military action -- officially, we're only at war in Afghanistan (even though we still have troops in Iraq and we're doing who the hell knows what in Libya) -- are framed, in part, along the deficit. Proponents for ending America's wars argue that ending military action would save billions of dollars the country doesn't have.

They're not wrong.

But there's one thing that will help the deficit that almost no one is talking about: lowering the unemployment rate.

Remember what I said earlier about revenue being half the budget equation? Well, taxes are government revenue, and with almost 10 percent of American's working population not working, that's less taxable income available to local, state and federal governments.

It's really quite simple: put more people back to work, that means more people are earning paychecks -- which also means more people are paying taxes. A lower unemployment rate translates into more government revenue.

Think back to when President Clinton was in office; it's no coincidence that he left office with a massive budget surplus while he saw unemployment dip to 5.6 percent. His 1993 Economic Plan, which raised taxes on the wealthiest earners, also had a lot to do with it, but don't discount the simple formula of putting people to work and collecting taxes from their paychecks.

Look at your pay stub; though different states have different tax laws, everyone sees taxes taken out for federal, local and state governments, for Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security. If you don't collect a paycheck, you're not contributing tax dollars to those revenue streams.

If you're out of work for a lengthy period of time, you might even be taking money from the government, in the form of unemployment benefits. Also, debates over the solvency of Social Security and Medicare have been steeped, in part, on how many people are working, and thus paying taxes into those programs.

I'm not saying this is the only fix; putting people back to work will not solve all, or even most, of our problems. But if we're taking on the federal deficit, every option that doesn't unnecessarily burden the middle class and/or the elderly deserves consideration.

I realize that job-creating programs will require government spending -- and thus borrowing. Stimulating the economy in this way requires a certain amount of investment, and you know conservative deficit hawks will scream over it, like they scream over everything else.

But a short-term investment would go a long way toward putting Americans back to work (which was the intent behind the stimulus package, and an argument for why it should've been more robust); tax cuts for the wealthy do not create jobs, but economic stimulus does.

And the more people work, the more taxes they pay. Which reduces the deficit, all without cutting necessary programs.

See how simple that is?