An Argument for Anarchy (June 1, 2010)

Anarchy

It’s hard to imagine that the American public has ever felt more powerless in a given period of history than it does now, with the possible exception of the Great Depression. However, even during that awful fiscal and social crisis, there seemed to be a sense of agency – a pull yourself up by the bootstraps mentality that told citizens to wake up and each day and keep fighting. The idea was that if you toiled hard enough after suffering a bad break, recovery was possible.

It’s certainly hard to grab ahold of that sensation now. Millions of jobs have been lost since the “Great Recession” began in 2007. But this time, we sit in the middle of an economic rebound that doesn’t include employment creation. The eliminated positions in finance, construction, manufacturing and other industries may never come back. Companies have learned to do more with less, aided by the technology ironically developed by thousands of H-1 visa workers who find that their services, and thus their vision of the 21st Century American dream, are no longer required.

Oil leaks into the Gulf by the millions of barrels, and we are told this environmental catastrophe may last another couple of MONTHS before we can even begin cleanup. We accept this with a resigned weariness that is beginning to take the shape of a national spirit. We didn’t vote to authorize this deep well drilling, and if there’s nothing the Federal Government can do about it, then certainly John Q. Public can’t solve the problem either. We must all sit our hands and wait patiently for the villain in this nightmare, British Petroleum, to figure a way out of this mess before the Gulf region becomes an ecological holocaust. Fishermen lose their livelihoods, animals die, plants are coated in black sludge and still we must wait for the same non-information to be spoon-fed to us each evening on the nightly news.

Millions of families lost their homes in the housing bust, and their retirement savings in the market crash of late 2008. Individuals and their dependents try to climb out of their personal fiscal craters while Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan and other agencies responsible for the mess post more robust profit earnings than ever. The always inept Congress debates punishment while these corporations laugh all the way to the bank.

What is the lesson taken away from these developments as well as the BP saga? Big business, not middle America, is what matters. Most of us can feel free to take a long walk off a short plank for all that our little lives mean in the grand scheme of Federal health. Just ask the families who lost loved ones in the BP oil rig explosion. Their bodies were never found, yet this is not a headline.

Where voices were once heard, raised up to effect a shifting of the national consciousness, and beget change, a organized movement is now required. The Tea Party was written off as a fad until Glenn Beck and his multi-media platform gave it some validity. Candidate Obama’s surge to victory on the shoulders of small donors already seems so antiquated.

So what’s the solution? How do we, to borrow a phrase from the Tea Partiers, “take back America?” How do we return the USA to its heyday as a Republic that is actually run for the people, by the people? Because it seems that preserving the status quo is what has actually become un-American – not as Mr. Rand Paul claims, criticizing the corporations who are slowly breaking our spirits.

The system is shattered and those of us (including me) who were naïve enough to believe that one man as President could fix it, are removing the pixie dust from our eyes to find, to our shock, that we may just need to start from scratch. America has become the proverbial ship that is so off course that it may be sunk before it ever finds the right path.

With each passing day, I am beginning to wonder if that is such a terrible idea to consider.

And Then There Were 58…Bayh, Bayh Evan (February 16, 2010)

Bayh

http://news.yahoo.com/s/bloomberg/20100216/pl_bloomberg/a6qybv5vkza4

Aw nuts!

If there is one thing I admire about the hard Republican right, it’s their apparently insatiable appetite for battle. Over the last 12 months, the “Party of No,” has used its spare energy for nothing beyond intense ideological and bureaucratic grudge matches – and seems to relish the confrontation. Like Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple as well as Pixar, the people who have taken you back to the Revolution – literally to the 1770s with the resurgence of the “Tea Party” – seem to thrive on adversity and their underdog status. It’s like they are daring anyone in Congress to actually try something. Democrats are body checked at every turn.

But the bullying gets so much easier when your opponent takes his toys and goes home. It has always stymied me to come up with reasons why those most wed to change (many, but not all of the left leaning Dems) appear to have the weakest stomach when it comes to fighting for it.
Today we learn that Evan Bayh, a former two-term Indiana Governor, and two-term Senator, who has never lost an electoral contest, is leaving the game. His reason: “‘There’s just too much brain-dead partisanship’ in Congress, Bayh told ABC, and the American people need to vote out those who are ‘rigidly ideological.’”

Alright, I feel you there Evan, but how does your resignation help us to achieve that goal? By vacating your formly Democratic seat, aren’t you just opening it up to Republican takeover, a prospect not impossible in semi-conservative Indiana?

It is hard, both as a staunch liberal, and as a lover of the textbook (rather than actual) political process, to find much to celebrate these days. Though I do not place the blame on Obama, who has nonetheless developed into a curiously “lame duck” first term chief, “Change” becomes an ever dimmer possibility with every news cycle. The divided electorate seems more fractured and unwilling to come together to get work done than at any time in our history. And that is dangerous, because we have a comprehensive list of real problems that need solving now.
I would beg Senator Bayh to reconsider, but I am sure he has already fielded calls from Majority Leader Harry Reid, possibly even the President himself.

I am daydreaming of a targeted flood, a la Noah, that could wash away Capitol Hill and give it a fresh start. It appears nothing short of that is going to move American democracy forward. I guess Evan Bayh shares my dream. It’s just that I thought we went through the process of electing officials so they could help us, not get bored/frustrated/annoyed and give up. If Senators get disillusioned and quit, how do they expect us to stay engaged?

State of the Union (January 28, 2010)

obama-state-of-the-union

I listened to every moment of the President’s address before the joint houses of Congress (and a very dour and censured looking Supreme Court) last night. In many respects, I thought Obama did a great job. He said a lot of tough things that needed to be said, that most of us are aware of, but rarely hear come from the mouths of our elected leaders. Such as the fact that he has increased deficit spending in the last year, but felt that given the choice of two evils: letting America go belly up or adding to our long term monetary problems, he had no option but to go with the latter. He also reminded us, as God I have wanted Obama to do so many times in recent months, that a great reason everyone is so panicked about the deficit is because of the fine legacy of fiscal “conservative” George W. Bush.

In general, I thought our President came off as committed and firm, aware of his mistakes, but ready to get out there and keep trying, because damn it that’s what we elected him to do and America has some serious problems that need fixing.

As one of my young co-workers eloquently stated over happy hour beers last evening, “I don’t trust government, but I do trust Obama.” I think that about sums it up for me too, so while I felt somewhat re-energized after the President’s address, I felt the keen sense that his commitment to change is only as good as the worthless Congress whose help he requires to get things done. I am as liberal as they come, but I would be remiss here if I lay the blame solely at the feet of the minority Republican coalitions in the House and Senate.

In fact, the ironic feature of Obama’s address last night was that we could not, for one visual moment, get away from the symbol of Democratic incompetence and arrogant gamesmanship – that would be House Leader Nancy Pelosi. This woman is as guilty of anyone else on the Hill of misleading, disappointing and delaying the life improvement of so many Americans. As much as I wanted to let go and get into the rhythm of the diverse messages the President was disseminating (are we REALLY near the end of the hateful “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”), it was hard to do with the constant presence of the elected official who failed to pass anything of strength or importance in the House this last year, despite the benefit of an overwhelming majority.

In fact I found that I was more attuned to the resurgence of hope that Obama was trying to engender when I left the room to fold my laundry and ready my things for the next work day. Eddie always watches the TV at top volume, a habit that normally irritates the beejesus out of me. However, on this occasion, Eddie’s hearing loss enabled me to take most of it in from the opposite side of the house, free of Nancy’s mystifyingly smug and empowered visage.

Joe Biden is pretty useless too. His penchant for foot in mouth PR gaffes has relegated him to status as the 21st century’s answer to Dan Quayle. However, it is his very lack of being able to affect anything that renders his image benign. Let him stand behind Obama and smile like the Ed McMahon to his Johnny Carson. But for the next State of the Union, can we find another seat for Pelosi?

Two Years After SCOTUS Gutting, GOP Rep Insists Congress Is Ready To Amend Voting Rights Act (February 26, 2015)

Charlie Dent

In June of 2013, the United States Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a contentious 5-4 ballot divided along ideological lines. From his naive and privileged white male perch, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.wrote for the majority, “Our country has changed…While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

Two months later writer Ari Berman of The Nation, apparently a little wider-eyed than the conservative SCOTUS wing, wrote a piece entitled The Voting Rights Act Is in Peril on Its Forty-Eighth Anniversary. In it, he observed:

“The Supreme Court’s decision in late June invalidating Section 4 of the VRA threatens to roll back much of the progress made over the past 48 years. Since the ruling, six Southern states previously covered under Section 4 have passed or implemented new voting restrictions, with North Carolina recently passing the country’s worst voter suppression law. The latest assault on the franchise comes on the heels of a presidential election in which voter suppression attempts played a starring role.”

But that’s why Roberts and his cohorts threw the ball back at Congress, right? Surely our elected officials wouldn’t stand for rampant modern disenfranchisement efforts after so many fought and died for truly universal suffrage.

I guess the court’s right wing is so deeply committed to the study of law, they haven’t paid much attention to the news since Obama took the oath of office in January 2009. The most recently adjourned 113th Congress produced just 22 percent of it’s “Do-Nothing,” 1947-1948 counterpart. Suffice it to say the Voting Rights Act is every bit as imperiled on its 50th anniversary this year, as it was on its 48th.

Maybe it’s because I just stepped out of the ballot box this week, casting my vote in an effort to unseat Chicago’s machiniest (yes, I just invented a word) Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Maybe it’s because most of the volunteer faces I saw at my local polling place making the magic happen were African-American ones, but I’m more irked than usual by Capitol Hill’s failure to act.

On last Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press, Republican House Member Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania spoke with Chuck Todd about the fate of the VRA. Despite actually supporting a Congressional rewrite of the law, Dent provided the usual rhetorical cover for his less noble party mates on the subject of voter ID restrictions (the ones that in many states allow for concealed weapons permits to be presented, but not student identification):

“Well, I do support voter ID. I think Republicans will insist on voter ID being protected. I’m from Pennsylvania. I have witnessed voter fraud. We had a state senator thrown out because of absentee ballot fraud in the 1990s. I lived through that.

It was awful. It was a stolen election. And we’ve seen it. We had a candidate for Congress in Maryland not so long ago in 2012 who voted in both 2006 and 2008 in Florida and Maryland. She had to drop out. So, there is real fraud out there. And I think you can be against discrimination and against fraud. Those two ideas are compatible.”

After hearing Dent’s comments, a rather simple observation occurred to me. What is the common denominator in the Representative’s two fraud examples? Both were perpetrated by politicians rather than private citizens. I think most of us are still waiting for the “awful” tales of our next door neighbor running to the ballot box multiple times just for kicks. In the fraudulent absentee ballot scenario, is there any doubt it was a conspiracy cooked up by the state senate candidate and his or her staff?

It should be no surprise by this time, but whenever present-day Republicans point a finger and cry “foul,” you can be reasonably sure the crime is an inside job. But when justice, common sense and decency fail to get them to move, sometimes a little shame is the most effective weapon. If Dent hopes to be taken at all seriously after his television appearance last Sunday, may he repeat his words early and often to his GOP colleagues:

“I think many Republicans recognize that the Voting Rights Act is the single most important civil rights legislation ever passed in American history. And we also take seriously the fact that we do need to amend the Voting Rights Act, given the court’s rulings.”

113th Congress Produces 22% of “Do-Nothing” 1947-1948 Counterpart (December 20, 2014)

Do-Nothing-Congress

Similar to overpaid NFL “star” Jay Cutler’s reign of terror as the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears, the best thing we can say about the 113th session of Congress is that it’s over. Setting a new standard for lethargic mediocrity, the body, which formally adjourned this week, passed just 200 bills over the last two years. By comparison, the 80th session of 1947-1948, affectionately referred to as the “Do-Nothing Congress,” shepherded a whopping 900 pieces of legislation. Harry Truman’s clever branding of Washington’s stuffed shirts was accurate at the time, but seems quaintly innocent from the vantage point of late 2014.

In an Associated Press piece entitled, 113th Congress Ends With More Fights Than Feats, writer Alan Fram observes (somewhat poetically), “The tempestuous 113th Congress has limped out of Washington for the last time, capping two years of modest and infrequent legislating that was overshadowed by partisan clashes, gridlock and investigations.” Limp is right. What little paperwork did make it to the President’s desk did nothing to address the nation’s broken immigration system, declining infrastructure, archaic and biased tax code, unlivable minimum wage and a host of other dire issues rendering America less functional.

Of course, despite maintaining a despotic stranglehold on the House of Representatives, none of this should be blamed on the GOP. Just ask them:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: “How many times did we have the point of the week?… It was designed to make us walk the plank. It had nothing to do with getting a legislative outcome.”

Michael Steel, spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner: Republicans passed “jobs bill after jobs bill…But Washington Democrats — including President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders — have utterly failed to act.”

Moira Bagley Smith, spokeswoman for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise: “Considering the Senate is sitting on over 350 pieces of House-passed legislation from this Congress, I believe Senator Reid’s chamber single-handedly has earned the title of ‘least productive…’The contrast in productivity between these two chambers couldn’t be more obvious.”

Examples of these “350 pieces of House-passed legislation” include more than 50 votes designed to kill or weaken the nowclearly successful Affordable Care Act. And if you can’t recall the reported avalanche of awesome Republican jobs bills, you are not alone. Meanwhile in the Democratic-led Senate, legislation designed to raise the federal minimum wage, create equal pay for women, improve the student loan morass and extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, proved DOA in the House.

So goodbye and good riddance 113th Congress, with your 15 percent approval rating. Better luck next year. Oh wait.

Per writer Aileen Graef of UPI, “When the 114th Congress enters its first session in January, it will be controlled by the Republican party which has already vowed to fight the White House on contentious issues including healthcare and immigration. With President Obama waiting to meet the new Congress ready to veto, it spells a grim future for productivity and approval ratings.”

As I suggested shortly after the November midterm elections, frustrated voters who thought they were sending President Obama and the Democrats a message at the ballot box (“Do something!”) were speaking to the wrong party. There’s no reason to believe that the 114th session will be any more productive than the last. Stonewalling has proven a GOP ballot box-winning strategy. Nothing will change until we demand it, and stop rewarding sandbaggers with additional terms in office.

Who Needs Congress to Raise the Federal Minimum Wage? (March 6, 2013)

poor-eat-rich

President Obama’s now legendary State of the Union address, delivered before a joint session of Congress last month, touched on several notable issues that the POTUS plans to incorporate into his second term agenda. As of midnight last Friday, we now know that one of the Presidents’ goals: the negotiation of a budgetary deal that would take the place of the unpopular sequestration maneuver, was a dismal failure. In part, the inability to secure a new plan can be blamed on an important miscalculation on the part of the POTUS. Believing (incorrectly it seems) that the GOP would place concern for the immediate cuts to defense spending above its commitment to opposing him at every turn, Obama played the waiting game – and lost.

So that’s one down from the State of the Union with many to go. The increasingly comprehensive paralysis on Capitol Hill inspires little confidence that deeply partisan issues like gun control and immigration reform will be dealt with in an expeditious and logical fashion. The majority of Americans have been placed in the same uncomfortable position as the Commander-in-Chief: gamely rooting for members of the House and Senate to do the jobs to which they’ve been elected, while suspecting a whole lot of nothing in the end. Our collective silver lining gut feeling, which is all we really have to sustain us at this point: is that somehow, someway, Congress will be divested of its ability to hold the fiscal, social and foreign policy of the nation hostage. It’s perfectly arguable that the rise of a viable third political party has never been more necessary.

We’ve grown so accustomed to our “do nothing” government as the root cause for so much of what ails our country, it’s often easy to forget that we really don’t have to depend on lawmakers to come to the rescue. Sometimes the solutions are just sitting there staring ordinary citizens and the private sector in the face.

Take, for example, President Obama’s stated intent to advocate for an increase in the Federal minimum wage. During this portion of the State of the Union address, the President framed the issue in this context: “Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour…This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families.”

The minimum wage, which currently sits at $7.25 an hour, has held steady since 2009. The President is proposing an increase to $9.00 that would take effect in 2015. This is the sort of common sense idea that one might expect could be embraced by members occupying both side of the political spectrum. Of course, that’s not true. The opposition from the business community is to be expected, and upon remembering that most of the Republican Party rests comfortably inside the corporate pocket, most of us are well prepared for yet another showdown.

But in considering the potential squashing of another effort to assist the beleaguered working and middle classes, it occurs to me that this isn’t an issue that should require Congressional intervention. In anyone else tired of reading about the record-breaking profits and hoards of cash enjoyed by American companies, even as workers struggle to hold onto jobs that pay them flat wages?

Call me naive but I’d like to see the media machine hold some freaking feet to the fire. For example, why is pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb planning to layoff nearly 500 additional workers, when 2012 fourth quarter profits were up over 22 percent? Why isn’t Anderson Cooper keeping the company and scores of other greedy operations like it, honest with these types of questions? Why is it continually viable to discuss making the economy work for business, without any concern for the people who are responsible for the flush state of a company’s bottom line?

Against the backdrop of a government “for the people, by the people” which does seem to serve all parties except individuals’ sense that revolution is inevitable grows more palpable. With regard to the increase of the Federal minimum wage, with a little partnership from the media, we shouldn’t need Congress to act. The Tea Party is supposedly all about individual initiative, right?