Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dysfunctional Democrats

Congress is fleeing Washington for their local districts to campaign for the upcoming Midterm elections. But an overwhelming majority of Americans are not likely to vote November 2, despite the fact that the outcome will have serious consequences for them.

Republicans are counting on the Tea Party movement to put them over the top in many key races. They are embracing so-called Tea Party candidates who believe evolution is a myth, float "second amendment remedies" to win back government and talk of repealing the Civil Rights Amendment. "The political class is really dysfunctional," former Florida Governor Jeb Bush observed in an interview on MSNBC. Well governor, if Democratic voters sit out this Midterm election, the young, Hispanic, African American and blue-collar workers, you haven't see anything yet!

Should Republicans gain control of one or both houses of Congress they will set about to dismantle President Obama and all of his legislative achievements. They will work to unwind regulatory reform and oversight so that Wall Street firms and the banking industry can return to their profitable practices of the past.

Republicans will immediately attempt to repeal the historic Affordable Care Act and bring and end to health care reform. That means insurance companies will again be able to set lifetime caps, will be able to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, and will be able to bar parents from keeping their children on their health care policy until they are 26. That also means that more than 30 million uninsured Americans will have no health care coverage, other than the local emergency room. And it means that health care costs will continue to skyrocket for all Americans.

Republicans will bring a halt to stimulus spending, much of which went to help states keep teachers, policemen and firemen employed. And Republicans will attempt to make major cuts in education spending, just at a time when America's students are falling behind many of those in other countries.

How will Republicans turn the American economy around? Start with extending all of the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year. Doing so will add $4 Trillion to the US deficit over the next decade. President Obama proposed not extending the tax break for the wealthiest 3% of Americans, families with more than $250,000 in income, which Republicans opposed even though it would have saved $750 Billion over the decade. Yet the GOP continues to blame Democrats for the deficit. Meanwhile, Republicans have proposed building an expensive missile defense system which would set off another costly arms race with the Russians.

Republicans will roll back more than just banking reform. They will work to overturn government supported environmental regulations and initiatives, as well as efforts to develop alternative fuels. Instead, it will be "drill baby drill." They will also seek to restrict or overturn social reforms, including such controversial issues as immigration, civil rights, "don't ask-don't tell" and Roe vs. Wade. And many Republicans are on record for privatizing Social Security and altering Medicaid and Medicare.

If that is not enough incentive for Democratic voters, GOP control of the House will lead to several expensive committee investigations into a whole range of issues. For instance, whether President Obama was actually born in America, whether the 14th Amendment should be repealed and whether Congressman Joe Sestak was offered a job to stay out of the Pennsylvania senate race.

For sure, President Obama has made some mistakes. But he has also had several meaningful legislative victories. Some in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are unhappy that President Obama's reform measures did not go further, so they have threatened to sit out the Midterms. This spurred Vice President Joe Biden to ill advisedly call them "whiners." But if these dysfunctional Democrats fail to vote this Midterm, they will only have themselves to blame for the chaos that will ensue to the detriment of the American people.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2010 Football

It is no secret that I have been a Chicago Bears fan all of my life, and a Louisiana State University Bengal Tiger fan since I can remember.

I went to some Bears games at tiny Wrigley Field, even when the crossbars were placed at the back of the endzone. Of course, looming just a couple feet away was the solid brick left field wall covered with dead ivy. There Gayle Sayers, Willie Galimore, Doug Atkins and Dick Butkus toiled under the demanding leadership of Bears founder and coach George Hallas. These were the "Monsters of the Midway!"

I attended LSU Tiger games in the 60's. I lived in the Stadium dormitory when I attended the school. The team had suffered several poor seasons after winning the national championship in 1958 with the help of Bill Cannon. He was the fleet-footed running back who once bulled over eleven Ole Miss players to score a game winning touchdown, and event that is repeated every year on local radio. In the past decade, however, LSU won two BCS championships.

Here's the deal, so far this season LSU is 3-0 and the Bears 2-0. I just want you all to know that I am NOT getting my hopes up. In both cases I feel like I am standing on thin ice and the temperature is rising. In both cases I see real issues on both sides of the ball. In both cases the QB is not consistently good. In both cases I see plenty of tough competition ahead. In both cases I do not see a head coach who will make winning an imperative.

LSU will lose 5 games, Arkansas, Alabama and Florida for sure. The Bears, well, I say they lose 6 games. In both cases, pretty good years. But Les Miles may be looking for a new job.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Twin Towers

Terrorists struck a staggering blow at the heart of America when they attacked New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. In a moment the whole world changed.

On 9/11, terrorism became a global threat against all humanity. Terrorism transformed itself from an insidious disease affecting a single country or region, into a life-threatening cancer that would quickly metastasize across all borders to other countries in the form of "sleeper cells."

America did not see it coming. New York City had never seen an attack of this scale. Suddenly this horrifying act shook and stunned the city, the nation and the world. It was the worst of times that brought out the best in people. New York City firemen and policemen flew into the face of danger and uncertainty to help innocent victims from all walks of life. In the end more than 3000 people perished as a result of the attacks and the subsequent collapse of the Twin Towers.

There is now a construction site where the Twin Towers once stood. It is still a nasty scar near the center of the financial district. Thousands of tourists walk by every day to match the present site with indelible images of the burning buildings locked in their memories.

People who worked and lived in the area then will carry the emotions of that day forever. Tens of thousands still have trouble sleeping. They are haunted by the sounds of bodies crashing to the ground; victims who chose to jump rather than burn to death. Or the unimaginable sounds of the towers collapsing to the ground. Thousands of "heroes" suffer from lung diseases and other life shortening illnesses. The human toll is staggering.

As a result of these attacks, security at airports and other transportation hubs throughout the world has been greatly heightened. Homeland security is now an important concern for every nation and a major global industry. Suspicions have been elevated as most everyone casts a wary eye on those around them. Uncertainty and fear have heightened divisions and mistrust among religions and peoples. The extreme voices are wreaking havoc on sanity and stability.

The terrorist attacks led to costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in these conflicts. The wars are draining America and are being used to fuel hatred among Muslims against the US and its allies. Never mind that terrorists have killed perhaps millions more innocent Muslims in the name of Allah than anyone else. Meanwhile, the terrorists have been wounded but they have not been stopped.

For decades the Twin Towers dominated the Manhattan's skyline like two centurions guarding over the city's financial district. These towers symbolized the power of America's free-market system and the strength of its Democracy. They reflected the energy, optimism and ambition of New York City and its diverse people. New Yorkers are resilient. But they will never forget.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Failure to Communicate

It is likely that most voters will, in Sara Palin's own word, "refudiate" Democrats in November's midterm elections. According to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, an overwhelming majority of Americans think their country is heading in the wrong direction, and only one quarter believe the economy will improve during the next year.

The fact is most Americans have not recovered from the recession brought about by the disastrous economic policies of President George W. Bush. One in six Americans is looking for a job, and the average time needed to get a job has ballooned to a record six months.

President Obama was elected to put America back on the right track and to fix America's ailing economy. So much for the "Change You Can Believe In" promised by presidential candidate Barack Obama. And the Obama White House has made their share of mistakes. As a result, it is likely that both houses of Congress will undergo a change in control this November as Republicans sweep Democrats out of their leadership positions.

Meanwhile, the White House has tried to pin blame on obstructionist Republicans and failed Bush economic policies. But the charges are not swaying the public. In fact, 58% of those polled by NBC/WSJ believe that, when it comes to the economy, Republicans will do things differently than Bush. And likely voters from the generic poll favor the GOP over Democrats by 49% to 40%. Even though President Obama's personal approval rating is okay, he clearly is not an asset in many Congressional districts where his presence on the 2008 ballot helped sweep many Democrats into office.

For sure Republicans have been playing with a weak hand. But they have been disciplined in their efforts to stall any Obama initiatives simply by saying "no" and to fan the flames of discontent through distortion and misinformation. They have helped feed a narrative that President Obama is a disengaged elite socialist in favor of more government, more debt and more taxes. Some have even questioned whether the president is a natural born American or a Christian. And the GOP's efforts are paying off.

But this is big league, rough and tumble American politics. There are no surprises here except that the White House has consistently failed to communicate effectively with Americans. For instance, the White House assured Americans that passage of the "stimulus" package would keep unemployment from going above 8.5%. They handed Republicans a metric by which to deem the measure a failure and a waste of money. Yes, most economists believe the stimulus package prevented unemployment from getting worse, but most Americans have not benefited from it and therefore believe Republicans.

The president used enormous political capital and resources to get historic health care reform passed. But to this day most Americans do not understand what is in the bill or what it will mean for them. This lack of clarity, and the fact it will not be fully implemented for years, has created an information vacuum easily filled with fear tactics and distortion. And since the political battle for passage was more unpleasant for most Americans than a root canal, today many view health care reform as a negative!

The Republicans are staunchly defending the so-called "Bush tax cuts" which are scheduled to lapse at the end of the year. The cuts are funded entirely by taxpayer debt, more than $3 trillion worth since they were enacted. President Obama wants to let the portion of tax breaks going to the wealthy lapse to lessen the government deficit, but Congress will have to sign off on this proposal. Republicans have convincingly responded that President Obama wants to increase taxes and stifle the economic recovery.

Thirty years ago President Ronald Reagan survived a recession, major losses during his first midterm elections and a lower approval rating than President Obama at a similar time in his first term, to be reelected. But President Reagan had an outstanding team around him that understood the importance of clearly communicating to the American public and how to leverage the media. Of course, an economic recovery helped lift President Reagan to victory.

Today it appears that the American economy will take years to recover. And, with Republicans controlling at least one chamber of Congress, Washington is likely to be in massive gridlock. A failure to immediately communicate clearly and effectively to the American people will assure a one term presidency.