Monday, November 12, 2012

My Ideas for Keeping the Government on a Tight Leash

Not to sound too idealistic, but I thought the government of the United States was supposed to be working for us, the little guys (and girls).  Did I miss a memo?  A lot of what comes from them seems to be edicts from on high to us, the unwashed masses.  They seem to have lost sight of who's working for who.  Over half the members of Congress are millionaires – who are they supposed to be representing here?  Not me.

Look, we send these men and women to Washington with a simple order: fight for us.  And many seem to have an altogether different purpose.  Perhaps it’s time we set up some rules to ensure that these people remember who brought them to the dance in the first place.
With that in mind, I humbly offer the following revisions to the deal we give elected officials in Congress:

  • Your income will reflect the average income of your constituency, as per IRS records.  If your people are poor, so are you.  Let’s see you fight for better jobs now, douchebags.

  • If both houses of Congress and the President sign off on a balanced budget, you get a $100,000 bonus.  If you fail to get a balanced budget through, then you get a 10% pay cut.  Watch a bunch of people get very good at math, very quickly.

  • Re: campaign ads: if you put out an ad making claims about your opponent that are proven to be false by an independent panel, then you forfeit the election.  No exceptions.

  • You pay 50% towards your health insurance, and only after being on the job for 90 days.  We the people will pay the other 50%.  And you get the same crappy Blue Cross HMO the rest of us get.  Have fun with that.

  • You (and your family) are forbidden to make additional income from book deals, public speaking or other sideline ventures during your tenure as a Congressman.  If you do, that money gets donated and split evenly between PBS and Planned Parenthood.  You need extra money?  Get a paper route.

  • Any campaign fund raising you do goes to a pool used for all candidates, not just you or your party.  Hard to get enthusiastic about those $10,000 a plate dinners when you know some of it may be going to the other side of the aisle.

  • Any money you take away from education, the poor, the elderly, or the sick in the budget, you must take an identical amount – in percentage – from the military budget.  Fair’s fair.

  • Incumbent Congressmen should be required to be re-elected by more than a simple majority.  If it’s for a second term, you should have to win by 60%, a third term would require a 70% vote and so on.  The idea that we’ve got six-and-seven-term Senators is just a bad idea.  Let’s get some fresh blood in there.

  • No retirement pension unless you produced a balanced budget during every year you serve.  Go make a living like the rest of us, you freeloaders.
These are are just a few thoughts on keeping our elected representatives playing fair.  What are yours?

Friday, November 9, 2012

New Comes the Prophecies

Having been re-classified as "irrelevant" and "out of touch" by the majority of the electorate this week, the political dodo bird that is the Republican Party has wasted no time in telling us how we'll be sorry.  They're like the crazy ex, standing on the sidewalk at two in the morning, drunk, screaming up at your bedroom window, "they'll never love you like I do, you bitch!".

Yeesh, enough already.  Let it go.  There will be other elections, you know?

But rather than take what happened on Tuesday as an object lesson, a cautionary tale, an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, they want us to understand that it was our mistake, not theirs.  We screwed up.  They were right, and we were wrong.  And now we're going to pay for our folly.  They're predicting the end of everything good and sacred in America (if it's not gone already), massive inflation, another recession, double-digit unemployment, terrorist attacks, plagues of locusts, you name it. 

But before we sink too deeply into buyers' remorse, let's take a moment to consider their history when it comes to prophecies:
  • They also told us Iraq had WMD's.  Hans Blix and those inept U.N. weapons inspectors were wrong and we were right.  They had pictures and everything.  How'd that work out for us?
  • They told us Iraq would be a "slam dunk" and we'd be in and out of there in six weeks. 
  • They told us we would be greeted as liberators.
  • They received a memo on August 4 2001 entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack U.S." and said "no chance".
  • They told us that cutting taxes for the wealthy would spur economic growth and reduce unemployment.
  • They told us they could prove Obama was born in Kenya.
  • They predicted Romney would win in a landslide.
To be sure, Democrats make predictions that don't come true as well. We all do. But usually Democrats' failed prophecies don't get innocent Americans killed or cost us trillions of dollars.
So believe whatever you want, but before you buy into the Romney camp's Doomsday prophecy for America, ask yourself, is there any reason to take them seriously on anything?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Why Are Republicans Losing (Again)?

So the results are in, and even with arithmetically-challenged Florida's lack of willingness to commit, the GOP got shellacked.  With the exception of the Tea Party Fluke of 2010, this is the third election in the past four cycles where the country has sent the Republicans a message: thanks, but no thanks.

Why?  Are we still that bitter over Bush?  Well, some of are.  But we Democrats try to focus on what's ahead.  We only look over our shoulder when it's about remembering what to avoid going forward.

Watching the GOP go through its five stages of grief, I think I can see the fatal flaw in their logic: they're stuck in denial.  Losing (badly) on Tuesday does not seem to have shaken them out of their dream state either.  So in the interest of helping the wounded opponent off the field, I have some advice to offer, maybe a little insight as to why they keep getting hammered: they aren't really Republicans.

The way I see it, they're not about fiscal responsibility, not really. They're not conservatives when it comes to spending money. If that were the case, we'd be seeing balanced budgets coming out of the Republican controlled House of Representatives. We're not. They like spending money just as much as Democrats do, maybe even more. The differences are, they think we can promise tax cuts across the board and it won't affect the bottom line, and they just want to spend the money on other things, like war and drilling for oil.

Republicans claim they're all about personal responsibility and keeping government small, but ask them how they feel about gay marriage, and see how intrusive they think the government ought to be. Ask them about gay couples adopting. Ask them about abortion. Ask them about legalizing (and taxing) marijuana. Suddenly these "small government, personal responsibility" Republicans reveal themselves to be anything but. They think that being a "social conservative" makes them a Republican. It doesn't. It just means they're scared of change and want to go back to the 1950's morality. But we're past all that, and there's no going back.

In point of fact, there hasn't been a Republican who lived up to the party's ideals since Eisenhower. This current crop of pretenders that claim to be Republicans have no idea what the word actually means. If they did, and if they acted out those principles, there might actually be a contrast in the candidates at election time worth discussing.  During the final Presidential debate, most of Romney's responses to Obama amounted to "I agree with him, but I'm white."  The Republicans, furious over a President who would support universal health care and gay marriage, nominated a candidate who, as governor, supported universal health care and gay marriage.  To the undecided voters out there who refuse to pledge allegiance to either party, this choice was a transparent farce.  Republicans can easily establish themselves as a true alternative by insisting on staying mum on social issues and making themselves about balanced budgets (with or without lowering taxes).

If the GOP wants to return to relevence, they're going to have to be willing to re-define what it means to be a Republican. Let go of the social conservatism and focus instead on balanced budgets.  Cut spending on big-ticket things like wars (particularly the unnecessary ones). De-funding PBS and Planned Parenthood is not the path to fiscal solvency. Quit voting yourselves raises, at least until you get unemployment down to 4%.  Make getting Americans back to work your #1 priority. Start taxing the rich and corporations, make them pay their fair share (fair, meaning the same tax rate the Middle Class pays in personal income tax).

Otherwise, just find something else to call yourselves, because your current game plan (which is a losing one, in case you hadn't noticed) is not a Republican one.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Burned Out

In my youth I did a brief stint as a pizza delivery boy, first for Pizza Hut and then for Domino's.  It was a fun job, and there was plenty of free pizza.  And in my youth, I could pack away as much pizza as I wanted without gaining weight (ah, youth).  But eventually I grew sick of pizza, free though it was.  My point is, there is such a thing as "too much of a good thing" if you stick around long enough.

Since then, my tastes have changed.  I still love pizza (in moderation) but I find myself these days becoming a news junkie and in particular, a politics junkie.  But even for the most avid news and political junkie there reaches a point where enough is enough.  The election season has the media saturating us at every turn.  Commercials, radio spots, you name it.  Thankfully California is not much of a swing state, so the powers that be wisely don't waste their money or our time telling us which way to vote.  It's assumed we've already decided.  I know I have. 

Last week I took a trip to the east coast and it seemed every commercial was political.  I suppose that the state I was in (New York) is more up for grabs than California, so I was bombarded with ad after ad.  It was exhausting.  And I have to believe that despite what the polls show, there aren't that many undecided voters out there.  I especially can't believe there are enough out there to determine the outcome of the election. 

I mean, we've all pretty much made up our minds at this point, right?  We've certainly seen enough, heard enough, and had enough information made available to us at this point that we can't honestly say we're still undecided.  What could a candidate possibly say or do in the next few weeks that would tip the balance?  If they start singing a different tune at this point - even a little bit - they'll be crucified in the press as a "flip-flopper", a panderer, someone who will say anything to get elected.  This is the point, in the last few weeks before the election, where they need to be running on their track record.  It's a little late in the game to re-invent one's self, isn't it?

In this country, a little less that half are eligible to vote.  Of those, less than half actually will vote.  And of those, 90%+ have decided what they're going to do.  And yet, this is the time - the "big push" - when more money is going to spent on political ads than at any other time in the process.  Millions (possibly billions) of dollars are going to be paid to ad agencies, pollsters and assorted kingmakers to tip the scales in one direction or another.  And I for one have had enough.

Enough already with the ads, the half-truths, the cherry-picking, the quotes out of context.  Enough misrepresenting the other guy.  Enough doomsday prophecies.  Enough scare tactics.  Enough phony character assassinations.  We have news sources aplenty out there to compare and contrast perspectives.  Granted, most of us get our news from one or two sources.  We either sidle up to Fox News and get the right wing spin or MSNBC for the left.  Some of us seek out neutral middle ground from the networks or CNN, but it's a fool's errand.  Virtually all of our media is bought and paid for by some nefarious corporate bogeymen who sit in cigar smoke-filled board rooms and decide what to tell the unwashed masses.  We are as educated as they want us to be.  If we look to foreign news sources like BBC or Al-Jazeera, we will see a different spin, but even then we're hearing someone's perspective on the truth, rather than the truth itself.  In the end, the most responsible thing we can do is to hopscotch to as many different sources as we can and try to distill the pure truth of it, and vote based on what we believe.

In the end, they're all politicians, folks.  They lie, cheat and steal.  Power corrupts, and these are folks looking for power.  Do the math.  The best you can hope for is a candidate who occasionally lets themselves get bogged down in a moral conundrum whenever the chance comes to enrich the rich at the expense of the rest of us.  Who you vote for in November will matter, but nowhere near as much as the ads would have you believe.  I say, vote.  Not because the ads tell you to, but because it's your right.  Vote because it's your civic duty.  Vote, because if you don't then you've got no right to whine about what are leaders are doing with the country after the election.  Vote because it's your country, damn it, and you've got a stake in this too.  If you don't like who's running (who does?!), then hold your nose and vote for the lesser of two evils.  Don't get your hopes up, but don't give up either.

There, I'm done.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Patriotism and the Ten Commandments

    First, let's just address the obvious: people are going to read this and call it religion bashing.  It's not.  I don't believe in the Christian bible, but I have no problem if you want to believe it.  That said, one of the Right Wing's tactics for the last 30+ years has been to try to mend together being a good patriotic American with being a good Christian.  It's actually an older idea than that, hearkening back to out 1950's Red Scare and our efforts to make a public statement about our collective faith by peppering references to God in our currency as well as the Pledge of Allegiance.

    It should be noted before we get started that the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution make no reference to Jesus, the Bible, or Christianity.  Something to keep in the back of your mind.
      My goal here is not to attack patriotic Christians, but rather to examine the Ten Commandments (the foundation of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and to see how they jibe with our Constitution and our capitalistic economy.  You may come to different conclusions, and that's okay.  This was never meant to be anything more than one person's opinion:

      (* For those of you keeping score at home, we'll be using the Ten Commandments as listed in Exodus 20:2-17, NKJV remix)

      1“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me."  This one's pretty easy.  Our Constitution establishes no state or national religion, and actually goes out of its way to distance itself from being affiliated with any one religious perspective.  The idea here is that the first commandment is not only rendered moot by the Constitution, but anyone trying to enforce it in these United States might very well find themselves on the receiving end of a lawsuit.

      2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments."  Again, the First Amendment's got your back on this one.  There is nothing that suggests that being a good patriotic American means you have to acknowledge or embrace any one god.

      3“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain."  Again, freedom of speech, First Amendment, you know the drill by now.  You can totally choose to respect this commandment if you like and you'd still be a good American (albeit a little dull), but breaking it has nothing to do with your patriotism.  In fact, it's an absolutely protected right.  Still think we're a Christian nation?
        4“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it."  For years, not working on Sundays was the law of the land, generally referred to as blue laws.  These days, good luck finding a business that closes on Sundays.  They're there, but only as the exception rather than the rule.  In the tug-of-war between our religion and our need to provide for our families, religion took a back seat.  That said, I do see the value in taking the occasional day off.  Even the most ardent atheist needs a break once in a while.  I don't want the hospitals and fire departments to be close, ever.  It's fine if the doctors and nurses, the supermarket checkout girls, the cops and the firefighters take time off, as long as there's someone around to cover their shifts.  I don't want to face the prospect of watching my house burn down on the Sabbath because the law forbids anyone from helping me put the fire out.

        5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you."  I've seen way too many examples of bad parenting to believe that this should be enforced across the board.  The bad mothers and fathers, the neglectful, the abusers, the molesters, the ones who don't make time for their kids, they shouldn't be honored.  Parenting - at least good parenting - is a tough job, and the ones who do it well should get a little respect and recognition.  But if you do it right, your kids will grow up to honor you by living happy and productive lives.

        6. "You shall not murder."  No argument here.  But while we're at it, let's use this as a pretext to abolish capital punishment, war, and the sale of assault weapons.  No?  So much for "America is a Christian nation" then, I suppose.

        7. “You shall not commit adultery."  Fact check: evangelical Christians, the ones always yammering about how America is a "Christian nation" have the highest divorce rates.  Enough said, right?  RIGHT?!

        8. “You shall not steal."  Again, no argument here.  But try telling that to the bankers, Wall Street, and the IRS.

        9. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."  I have no problem with this one.  Lying under oath (perjury, if you will) is a crime, and it ought to be.  But can you imagine a world where the American media was forbidden to lie?  

        10. “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's."  Okay, here I'm going to channel my inner Gordon Gecko: greed may not be good in itself, but the desire to keep up with the Jones' is the cornerstone of our capitalistic free market.  Do you really NEED all that crap you buy?  No, but we do anyway.  We buy to reinforce our social standing with shinier cars, bigger homes, big TV's, computers, cell phones, and expensive clothing.  Can you imagine how quickly our economy would tank if we took coveting out of the equation?

        Bottom line, boys and girls, is this: we are a secular nation.  The next time someone tries to cram the "Christian nation" argument down your throat, remind them that only three of the ten commandments are actually law here in America: not murdering, not stealing, and not lying under oath.  Everything else is fair game, and some of the commandments, if truly enforced, would end America as we know it.

        I'm just saying.

        Friday, March 16, 2012

        The Latest in Double Standards

        My views on abortion and women's rights in general are well-established: I believe that the law should give the same rights and privileges to people, regardless of their plumbing.  This applies to wages, opportunities, and rights.

        Lately, the GOP - fresh out of ideas on how to speed up our economic recovery - has resorted to its tried and true methods of getting the base stirred up: legislating morality.  They're telling us that America is a Christian nation (it isn't) and that those few sad non-Christians out there need the Christian Taliban to enact all sorts of legislation to help us tell right from wrong (we don't).

        The latest wave of bad ideas from the Far Right has them attempting to roll back women's rights that were firmly decided 40 years ago: their right to terminate their pregnancies and their right to birth control.

        Specifically, the attack is on insurance companies and the government paying for birth control.  Let's just set aside the obvious observation - that it's 99% men who are telling women what's what.  My only point here is that if I, as a husband, don't get to dictate policy to my wife, why should a bunch of men who never met her get any say?  I'm grateful that most of this silliness is taking place in flyover states in the Midwest.  Can you imagine some fool trying to push these ideas here in lovely, liberal California?  We might just have to bring back tarring and feathering.

        But I digress.

        Let's take a look at this issue from the perspective of the insurance companies (and the government, while we're at it).  The issue here for them is dollars and sense.  Pop quiz: which is cheaper - to pay for a woman to be on the pill, or to pay for a pregnancy?  You can't blame the insurance companies and the government for offering to cover the cost of birth control.

        Employers who object to their employees using birth control baffles me.  I get that people are entitled to their own ideas of right and wrong, and that some religions (foolishly) frown upon birth control.  And that's fine if that's you.  You don't want to use birth control, no one is going to make you.  But how is the sex life of your employees any of your business?  Let me get this straight: you'd rather have your employees to take medical leave when they have a baby, hold their job for them while they recuperate from childbirth, and then deal with the better-than-average chance that they'll leave anyway rather than pay for daycare?  Is hiring their replacement what makes them "job creators"?  I'll admit, their logic escapes me.

        But this current rash of attempted legislation - forced (unnecessary) ultrasounds and other proposed laws designed to generally shame women and restrict their overall rights - flies in the face of their stand two years ago, when President Obama's healthcare reform was being pushed through Congress.

        You see, the whole argument against "Obamacare" was that government has no business getting involved in health care.  Or did I miss the point?  I watched as pundits like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh decried the President's effort at overhauling the health care system.  On and on they raged, insisting that big government has no place in health care.

        What changed?  Are they now in favor of Obama's health care reform?  No, even now, state supreme courts are choked with challenges and efforts to derail health care reform.  Ask them about "Obamacare" and why they object, and you're bound to get some variation of the argument that big government should stay out of the health care industry.  That is, I suppose, as long as we're not talking about a pregnant woman.

        One of the worst things you can do in an effort to prove a point is to use inconsistent logic.  Either government has the right to step in between doctors and patients or they don't.  There is no "I before Except After C" here.  It's one or the other, campers.  If you objected to healthcare reform on the basis of big government meddling with private healthcare, then you're obligated to shut the hell up when it comes to women's pregnancies and their options. 

        If you don't trust women to make their own decisions with regard to their pregnancies, where does it end?  Do you trust them to choose whether to breastfeed?  Do you want a say in which brand of diapers they buy?  Are you going to tell them what religion to raise the child with?  Stepping in and interfering with a woman's rights when she is pregnant opens up a dangerous precedent. 

        The bottom line here is, mind your own damn business.  What happens in your bedroom is your business, and what happens in other people's bedrooms is not.  Just like what you and your doctor decide is between you and your doctor.  What someone else and their doctor decide is none of your damn business.  Unless it's your pregnancy, butt out.  And to the Right Wing in general, I would suggest keeping your mouths shut unless you've got a good idea on getting unemployment down to 4%.

        I'm just saying.