Tag Archives: partisan politics

So There’s An Imaginary Forest. . .


Really, there’s an imaginary forest. This forest has trees and plants, but no animals, nothing that can hear, except you. Suddenly a wind picks up and a huge tree starts falling to the ground. Now think, if you weren’t there did it make a sound?

How long did it take before you said, “Of course.” Not very long, I’m guessing. It isn’t such a simple question though. Let’s talk a little about our sense of hearing. Hearing is an example of mechanosensation, meaning that our hearing organs, the ears, are interpreting the movement of molecules around us and sending that information to our brains. Sound is a wave, which means it is not a physical object. It is really just energy that causes molecules to vibrate. They bump up against other molecules and transfer that energy. That happens countless times until some of those molecules bump up against your eardrum. That information is then translated into nerve impulses that shoot up your auditory nerve to your brain. Then you hear something. This happens extremely quickly and is going on constantly. So a tree falls and vibrates the world around it eventually those vibrations make it to your ear and you think “I think a tree is falling.” Hopefully you look around to make sure it’s not falling on you. People usually argue that sound waves are still sent out even if no one is there and so the tree still makes sound.

The presence of sound waves isn’t the question, however. The real question is what is the very nature of sound. Is sound something that exists in the environment? Or is it merely our brains interpretation of something in the environment? Does the physical sensation of sound exist outside our heads or is it created by our brain? Imagine if humans lacked a sense of hearing. We could still discover sound waves in the environment. We could make machines that would detect them. We might still call them sound waves, but they wouldn’t mean the same thing to us. If we lacked a sense of hearing it would fundamentally change the way we think of sound, because our brains would not interpret that information the same. In essence, sound as we know it would not exist. So is the “tree in the woods” question really so simple? Should you have answered so quickly?

The “tree in the woods” question is perhaps not important in our lives. People certainly have more important things to worry about. The nature of sound and hearing doesn’t usually make the top 5. What’s the problem with that? The problem is that we answer so many important questions with the same quick, “of course.” Questions about government, politics, education, any number of important things get brushed aside and we just believe what we repeatedly hear. That’s why FOXNews can say the President is spending $200 million a day on an Asia trip and people believe. “Do politician’s waste our tax dollars? Of course.” We can be convinced that teachers have easy jobs and are overpaid. “Teachers only work 9 months a year, of course they’re overpaid.” We don’t demand thorough arguments and answers, so we don’t get them.

When I was a child I dreaded hearing one of my say four words. “Because I said so.” I hated it, because it was simply not an answer. I’ve always asked questions and I wanted a real answer but sometimes “because I said so” was just easier. For example, my mother would tell me to put on my coat. I would ask why, and she would say “because I said so.” She could have said, “It’s the middle of winter and if you don’t put on your coat you’ll have hypothermia before we reach the car.” That would have taken much longer I  would’ve needed an explanation of what hypothermia was. She went with brevity instead.

I only mention this because we are getting “because I said so” arguments and we’re responding with “of course.” The new Republican budget was unveiled recently. In a video Rep. Paul Ryan, showed that his budget would avoid a debt crisis. How? Well he had a graph and he said so. He doesn’t want people asking too many questions. We are being force-fed a mantra that tax cuts for the rich will create jobs. Republicans say it so often I’m beginning to think they have a “millionaire tax cut” button. Why do tax cuts for the rich create jobs. Because they said so. You could argue that the people who really create jobs are consumers, because they buy products and services thus creating demand for more products and services. This in turn employs more people to manufacture and sell those products and to provide those services. Virtually all of those consumers are not wealthy. So perhaps cutting taxes for them would make more sense than cutting taxes for the rich. You could make that argument. They would rather you didn’t. I’m amazed at the number of people who just assume the “tax cuts create jobs” argument is  true without taking the time to think about it. This brush-off by the public is how we ended up with “death panels.” Sarah Palin hopped on FOX and did some “golly gee Democrats want to kill old people,” number and we were off to the races.  Pres. Obama might not be a citizen. Why? Donald Trump says so. He said so multiple times so it must be ultra-true. These questions are far more complicated and take far more attention than we are willing to give. Yes, people are busy. They have families, and jobs and any number of things to do, but we are at the beginning of the next presidential campaign. If we want real leadership, we have to demand it.

I wrote 402 words about the tree in the woods question. Imagine how many more words could be written about taxes, healthcare, and education. All of these discussions are going on in the federal government, and state governments. In the movie “Uncle Buck” there’s a scene where Macualay Culkin is asking rapid-fire questions of his Uncle Buck. Buck (played by John Candy) tells him he asks a lot of questions. Culkin replies, “I’m a kid. That’s my job.” When did we quit that job? When did we become so disillusioned that we decided it wasn’t worth asking anymore? We need to take up that job again, but it won’t work if we just accept any answer. So we have to ask, How many “because I said so” arguments are we going to accept before we ask for real answers? How many times are we just going to say, of course?  I used to think that Americans were just apathetic when it came to holding government accountable. I was wrong. We just don’t want to take the time to really examine the questions. So, I’m extending an invitation. It’s to a rally. A rally where we start asking the tough questions and demanding real answers. Where is this rally? It’s on your computer, in you living room, in your statehouses, or an imaginary forest. It’s anyplace where we know that sound exists because we make sure that people can hear us.

Republican’s Cut Spending By Funding NASCAR?


The spending battle continues and today it got just a little more ridiculous.  The House is nearing passage of its spending cut bill. they want to eliminate $61 billion from the budget for the rest of this year. Not surprisingly the money will come from a bunch of programs they don’t care about. You know the ones that don’t make corporations any money. The bill would prevent funding for Planned Parenthood and the Obama Healthcare law. So we’re going to make it harder for women to get medical care in case of an unplanned pregnancy. Especially since her insurance company may just drop her coverage because they can.

The National Endowment for the Arts would see a huge cut in funding. This makes sense because we don’t really need museums, theaters and symphonies.  It’s not really necessary to appreciate history and music. I’m sure they would appropriate that money if they could guarantee it was going to the Creation Museum in Tennessee.

In an action of real arrogance they are trying to prevent funding for so-called “policy czars” in the Obama Administration. These include the guy who makes sure that the financial institutions that received help from TARP obey certain rules about executive compensation. I wonder why Republican’s wouldn’t want that guy around. My guess is that their friends on Wall Street are complaining about not making millions of dollars while they destroy the economy. The Republicans say the reason is that these posts should have been confirmed by the Senate. Not long ago Senate Republicans and Democrats came to an agreement to cut the list of jobs needing Senate approval. Now the House wants them to add some. I think the House should stay out of the Senate’s business.

In case you don’t buy the Wall Street argument, the bill will also cut the budget of the SEC. With the money the SEC had the past couple of years they couldn’t manage to regulate the financial industry. This year they’re supposed to do it with less money, and implement the new financial reform. The House also passed an amendment to eliminate Nancy Pelosi’s initiative to make the Capitol more environmentally friendly. It would have cost $1.5 million. That was deemed to expensive. They did it by voice vote, so we don’t know who supported it.

Don’t worry though. As the AP’s Andrew Taylor reports in a 281-148 vote the House approved letting the Pentagon spend over $7 million to sponsor NASCAR teams. That seems like money well spent.

The Tea Party: Fed Up Fiscal Conservatives Or Anti-Obama Crusaders?


2009 saw the birth of America’s latest political outsider movement. In the 90’s it had been Ross Perot and the Reform Party. After that we had Ralph Nader and the Green Party. Today, in the age of Obama, we met the Tea Party. What was unique about the Tea Party was that they had no singular leader. There was no face of the movement. They were touted as everyday Americans fed up with Washington. An upstart grassroots movement meant to overthrow the establishment and put the power back in the hands of the people. That may be how it started. It didn’t last that long.

Since its inception the Tea Party has seemed to be a conservative movement. They claimed to have members from all walks of life; all political ideologies. They had only one core message. Control the deficit. Get government spending under control. Keep government limited. The banner at teapartypatriots.org reads: “Fiscal Responsibility, Limited Government, Free Market.”  Fiscal conservatism is supposed to be a Republican cornerstone. In the past 20 years that has changed. People who desire a balanced budget do come from both sides of the political spectrum. In fact, the only time recently that we have had a balanced budget was with divided government. When government has been completely in the hands of one party or the other the budget has not been balanced.  For a group of people to rise up and demand accountability from the government about its finances, and its intrusion on personal freedom, should be no surprise. That’s what the Tea Party’s message was. That’s what the Tea Party said they had been speaking out against for a long time. That wasn’t what happened. That version of history didn’t exist.

To claim that you are a group fed up with fiscal irresponsibility in 2011 means you need to account for some things. First off has to be why did you show up just now . The earliest references I can find to the Tea Party movement are in 2009. Our fiscal house was certainly out-of-order by then. It had been for some time however. Pres. Bush’s budget proposals led to the highest budget deficits in U.S. history. They were not only record-setting in number of dollars, but even if those dollars are adjusted for inflation. The first time the deficit has gone down since FY2002 (Pres. Bush’s first budget proposal) was FY2010 (Pres. Obama’s first budget proposal.) Yes Pres. Obama passed nearly a trillion-dollar stimulus package and the Tea Party was upset. Pres. Bush pushed a nearly trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street. Tea Party members today will tell you they were against it. They weren’t upset enough to protest. There were no raucous town hall meetings. Where was the anger over fiscal irresponsibility spanning a decade of deficit spending that ended with a collapse of the economy not seen since the Great Depression? Where was the anger over TARP? Where was the anti-establishment feeling against Washington run amok? It didn’t exist.

It doesn’t get any easier to explain the Tea Party’s desires for limited government. The Tea Party really gained traction during the debate over healthcare. The original healthcare reform proposals included a provision known as the “public option,” or the “government option,” depending on which party or media outlet you listened to. The idea was that the government would provide an option for citizens to buy health insurance from a government program if they could not obtain it through an employer. Republican’s denounced it as a “government takeover of healthcare.” Town hall meetings about the reform descended into chaos across the country. Finally the “public option” was removed from the final bill. The Tea Party movement generally seemed to be against the bill even after the “public option” was taken out. As the Tea Party Patriots website says, they are for limited government. Are they? The healthcare bill does put government into the healthcare field, but only slightly. It doesn’t even give the people the freedom of government help. It only helps people deal with private companies. That’s something the “free market” Tea Party should be happy about. The real problem is that this is small government intrusion compared to what has happened over the past decade. After Sept. 11th, the Bush Administration used the fear of the American people to start a war and engage in the largest expansion of the federal government in 50 years. They created a new cabinet level post. They established a new level of bureaucracy over the intelligence community with the NID(National Intelligence Director.)  It later came out that they authorized the NSA to conduct a warrantless wiretap program that circumvented all laws set by Congress for surveillance.  Was that limited government? Was that the freedom ensured in the Constitution? Where was the Tea Party outrage? Where were the calls to end the invasion of our rights? They didn’t exist.

The real story of the Tea Party lies beneath the rhetoric and anger of everyday people. Everyday people may have had the passion for the movement but they didn’t make it happen. The major Tea Party groups all have strong affiliations with some more familiar organizations like American’s For Prosperity. So what’s wrong with that? American’s For Prosperity is a front group funded by the Koch brothers. The heads of Koch Industries. Charles and David Koch are far-right Libertarians with a lot of money. Combined they have more wealth than anyone but Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet. It doesn’t end there. Tea Party rallies were organized by all kinds of conservative groups. Tea Party leaders have often been linked to conservative groups. A quick survey of the Tea Party Express website shows that they endorse only Republican candidates, and sometimes far-right candidates over more moderate Republicans. All this points to a movement funded by ultra-conservatives to achieve an ultra-conservative agenda. The Tea Party may have started out with a message of fiscal responsibility, but that has been lost. They are only the pawns of the conservative money movement. They are the far-right’s “Anti-Obama Army.”  When Obama comes out and endorses something they will be right there to refute him. That is why Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann have become Tea Party darlings. They oppose Obama no matter what. They will attack him and his supporters no matter how ridiculous it sounds. Evidence doesn’t need to exist.

Third party movements have made huge changes in American politics. The Whig Party shook us in the mid-19th century. Teddy Roosevelt’s third-party bid nearly won the presidency in 1912. The Reform Party can be credited with electing and keeping Bill Clinton in office. Without the Green Party Al Gore would have almost certainly been president. The Tea Party does not seem to be destined for that outcome. A movement based on opposition to a man instead of issues has no future. Until Obama, they were not against a decade of fiscal irresponsibility. Until Obama, they allowed government to expand unchecked and intrude into our lives. Until Obama, they didn’t exist. After Obama, they won’t exist.

What’s Kris Kobach Really Up To?


A couple of weeks ago newly elected Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach unveiled his new plan to eliminate voter fraud in Kansas. A video of him explaining it can be found here. He ran his entire campaign on this issue. The plan would require voters to show a government-issued photo i.d. when they went to vote. Government issued I.D.s range from a driver’s license or passport to state university issued I.D. cards as long as they have a picture. This provision seems reasonable enough. It turns out only 2 other states have such a requirement. Why so few? The issue is much more complicated than it appears on the surface.

Mike Hendricks points out some of these in an editorial in the Kansas City Star. Kansas is not a state of large cities. Most Kansas residents do need a driver’s license just to get around, but not all.  The elderly are a good example. When I was 17 I met a very interesting lady. Her name was Francis J. Koppers. She was 99 years old. I was a cashier at the local hardware store. Mrs. Koppers walked up to my register with a woman who I assume was her daughter, and wanted to pay for her purchase with a check. I asked for her driver’s license, because I was supposed to. It didn’t cross my mind that I was speaking to a very elderly woman. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Oh dear, I haven’t driven a car in 30 years.” I didn’t know what to do. It turns out that Mrs. Koppers was just giving me a hard time. She had a state issued I.D. It isn’t hard to see why she wouldn’t though. This was a woman who was 2 months short of her centennial birthday. She was born in 1899. She was older than the automobile itself. She still had the right to vote, though.

There is an even larger point here. Mr. Kobach’s intentions seem less than justified. He admits that only one case of voter fraud has been prosecuted since 2000. He says that’s because of a lack of resources among local prosecutors. I would question whether it doesn’t have to do with a lack of evidence. Mr. Kobach’s record would point to the fact that he is more xenophobic than righteous. He was a major architect of the controversial immigration law passed in Arizona last year. I understand that Mr. Kobach may want to prevent people from voting who do not have the right, but I don’t feel it’s that big of a problem. Republicans won every statewide office in the 2010 election. Remarkably the numbers were the same. Every election ended roughly 60-40. People weren’t even voting for candidates. They were voting for parties, and this time around Republicans were on the winning side.

Mr. Kobach’s problem is that he wants to win, no matter what. He is willing to spread a myth that voter fraud is a widespread problem when it is not. He knew that the Tea Party was in full swing. America’s fear of illegal immigrants and Muslims is at an all time high. White America is scared from the overblown media coverage of a rising minority population, and a growing Chinese economy. He knew he could use that to further his own extreme agenda. Mr. Kobach’s history points to a desire to keep white America where it is, on the top. It points to an attitude that minorities are always acting against the interest and values of this country. In this op-ed in the Wichita Eagle, Mr. Kobach argues that voter fraud is not generally motivated by financial incentive but a corrupt desire for power. I doubt Kris Kobach has ever encouraged voter fraud, but politics can be a game of a different kind of fraud. A “corrupt desire for power” is something that perennial candidate Kobach should think about.

News Flash: I May Have Been Too Cynical


Senate Democrats and Republicans worked out a compromise over parliamentary tactics that slow down legislation. I can’t believe it, but the 112th Congress is being bipartisan. Granted it isn’t about major reforms, and  they might be small concessions. It is something to be hopeful about though. While they didn’t take a strong move to reform the filibuster as some Senator had hoped, they did agree to eliminate the practice of “secret holds.” “Secret holds” allowed any Senator to prevent a vote on a presidential appointee for any reason they saw fit. They also got to do it anonymously.  No more said the Senate leadership and we can be happy for that. Along with eliminating holds, they’ve decided to reduce the number of presidential appointments that require Senate approval by 1/3. That’s a substantial step to address a confirmation process that sometimes takes months or years.

What will be most interesting to watch is the “hand-shake agreement”  between Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell, in which they both agreed to use tactics that limit the other. Sen. Reid promised to rarely limit the ability to offer amendments. Sen McConnell said he would rarely require unneccessary procedural votes.

This is by all accounts a small victory for bipartisanship, but it is a victory. As long as the Senate lives up to its promises, the next two years might just signal a change in Washington. As we all know, however, promises are easy. Talk is cheap. Living up to promises has not been Washington’s forte. Let’s hope this is a change.

News Flash: Partisanship a Thing of the Past


Reports from Washington are rolling in. The partisan divide has been crossed. Compromise is the name of the game. Bipartisanship reigns supreme.  In just about one hour, Republicans and Democrats will hear the State of the Union and they will sit together. Apparently, this year they are abandoning the standard separation in a show of unity.

I’m tired of this. Is it really possible that anyone on Capitol Hill believes this makes a difference. Do the members of Congress really think that because they can sit next to each other for a couple of hours anyone will think they actually working together. It bothers me to think that our elected officials hold us in such high regard.

If Congress wants to make the public think they are working for the benefit of the country, they should just do it. I’m tired of politicians thinking that a show of bipartisanship doesn’t actually have to involve working together. I hope that in a little while the President might say the same thing. I suppose we will see.

Today’s Breakfast: Healthcare Rehash


So the House decided to repeal the healthcare law. Great use of the people’s time and money, but it happened so let’s talk about it for a minute. My humorous side is real unhappy about this. Mostly because they called it “The Repealing the Job-Killing Healthcare Law Act.” That’s just a ridiculous name. First of all, it’s a little early to call it “Job-Killing.” Second, the Law Act part seems redundant. Third, what do Republican’s hope to possibly gain from this stunt.

As soon as John Boehner said this was going to happen, Democrats got real excited.  The get a second chance to record all the sound bites about wildly popular parts of the bill. Democrats came down with healthcare Tourette’s. Everybody was talking about “no more preexisting conditions, no more dropped coverage.” They even brought out people who are excited because they can keep their kids covered to age 26.

All Republicans did was say it was a government takeover. Obamacare is socialism. Americans like a lot of this bill though. The only thing people really seem to have a problem with in the bill is the mandate to buy insurance. Republicans are challenging that across the U.S. The real problem is that they aren’t opposed to individual mandates. They came up with them. It had broad support from Republicans in the 1993 healthcare law that President Clinton failed to pass, and in the Wyden-Bennet bill in 2008. As Ezra Klein at the Washington Post argues, the problem is purely partisan.

I think that’s where Republicans lose. Sure, they will fire up the base. Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachman will go on a rampage. Sean Hannity’s head might just explode. The real issue is that House Republicans are saying we have to repeal everything. So they want insurance companies to drop people’s coverage when they get sick. They want insurance companies to discriminate against those who already have medical conditions. If Republicans were saying they wanted to repeal the mandate, it would still be hypocritical, but it wouldn’t be such blatant politics. They want the grand showmanship of total repeal, because they don’t care about healthcare. They care about winning, and they think this is the easiest way to do that. They are banking on the idea that Americans won’t do their homework. Rank and file Republicans and Democrats won’t. They will vote with their party because they always do. Those of us who choose to be independent of the parties must do ours. It’s important that people realize that these issues are much more complex than either side wants you to think about.

The individual mandate may seem wrong, but insurance is a tricky business. If they are going to cover everyone who walks through the door, someone has to pay. It takes the monthly premiums of a whole bunch of people to pay the monthly cost of cancer treatment for one person.  If we want insurance coverage when we need it. We have to be willing to pay for it when we don’t.  In other countries it is considered a civic duty to be insured. If Americans felt that way we would all be better off.

As Americans we tend to cling to our freedoms in the most peculiar way.  Opponents of the mandate have said it suppresses their freedom. They should be able to choose to be uninsured.  For virtually everyone that’s just crazy. No one who has any common sense would choose to be uninsured unless they were filthy rich. I must admit that I was uninsured for a long period of time once in my life. I was in my early twenties, and I will readily admit that I had no common sense. As a nation we have to act with some common sense. If we believe that people should be able to afford health insurance then it will take the work of the government and the insurance industry. The American people must also be willing to pitch in.

The biggest hurdle is thwarting the business lobby. The law requires companies to provide insurance or face penalties. Business doesn’t like that.  You would have to be crazy to think that this week’s repeal measure doesn’t have something to do with Republicans shoring up support among Big business. There is a ton of cash in business and they want it when the next election rolls around. With all the money corporations put into our campaigns, it’s fairly amazing that any elected official was willing to vote for the healthcare bill. This is why the right has taken to opposing Obama so passionately.  I’m not even sure how many people who yell about fiscal responsibility realize that Obama’s first budget brought the budget deficit down for the first time in nearly a decade. The healthcare bill is projected to reduce the deficit by another one hundred billion and change over the next ten years. The right-wing business community doesn’t want people to realize. So they have funded Tea Party rallies across the nation pointing the finger at Obama, and stirring the fear. People say the Tea Party is about fiscal responsibility, and the rank and file may be. The people running the show don’t give a damn about fiscal responsibility. They are playing on the fear of white America. They are people from Citizens for a Sound Economy, and Americans for Prosperity. Both groups with ultra right-wing agendas formed by billionaires to protect their own money. If a business friendly president gets elected the Tea Party will disappear, because those who organize them will have gotten their way. That’s why the Tea Party didn’t exist for the 8 years of record-setting deficits under Pres. Bush. That’s why they fought the stimulus but not TARP. The people may feel that they are pushing for fiscal responsibility but the ones with power are using them for their own agenda. We should be scared. They know how to win elections. Pick an issue, this time healthcare, make people afraid of it, and tell them whose to blame for it. That way the healthcare law will be repealed and they aren’t on the hook to give health insurance to their employees.

I know there are people out there who genuinely have paid attention to the issues and oppose healthcare reform. I know there are those at Tea Party rallies who are seriously concerned with the national debt. Those could be valid viewpoints, but it is a stretch to believe that the repeal this week was a genuine attempt to do what’s right. Total repeal doesn’t make sense. There are good parts to the bill. We need to keep those and tweak other things to make them better. As an example, every President takes up education reform. Since Johnson passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the 60’s it has been regularly modified and reauthorized. In 2001 it was passed as No Child Left Behind.  A lot of people didn’t like a large part of NCLB, but no one is talking about repealing it. It wasn’t all bad and a total repeal would be of great detriment to our nations schools. We will once again try to fix the problems and enhance the strengths of the bill with the ultimate goal of providing the best possible education to our children.  We need to approach healthcare reform in the same manner. We need genuine discussion and modification to make healthcare in this country better.

We need less political grandstanding