Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Way to go old people - this is why you'll lose your Social Security and Medicare

Apparently the majority of voters in the midterm elections were old, rich and white. Due to the massive failing of young people, African Americans, and Latinos to spend the effort to show up at the polls, senior citizens made up 21 percent of the electorate while accounting for only 13 percent of the population. And while the rich (those making $200k and up per year) grew 68 percent from their 2006 numbers, those making less than $50k shrunk.

So when the GOP votes to cut off Social Security and Medicare (which they've been wanting to do since those programs were created) you can thank America's grandparents for coming out and enthusiastically voting Republican, and you can blame the grandchildren for being too lazy to get off their asses and protect their interests.

If there's anything encouraging about these numbers it's that this so called GOP mandate is even weaker than initially believed. By far the biggest plurality in 2010 was not the Republicans or the Democrats. It was the non-voter with nearly 60 percent of eligible voters..

Monday, November 22, 2010

The TSA: Making Dumb People Feel Safe Since 2001

To any air travelers who have had their sunscreen, toothpaste thrown out, or their water bottles forcibly emptied at the security screening, the notion that the Transportation Security Administration's policy, and the TSOs that enforce them are stupid is nothing new. With all of the recent news about full body scanners and the enhanced pat-downs/groping that travelers are now facing, isn't it time that Americans asked themselves why they put up with this nonsense?

The reactive nature of the TSA is embedded deep in the heart of the problem. Once upon a time a man, on a flight from Paris, tried to light a fuse connected to explosives in his shoes. As a result air travelers must now remove their footwear and place it on the x-ray machines, walking barefoot across a filthy floor, possibly contracting all sorts of foot and skin infections. At the time the TSA also decided to ban cigarette lighters, but not matches, for all the sense that made. Perhaps the Bic lighter company had a good lobbyist, or perhaps the TSA is just plain stupid, but they finally reversed course on the lighter ban in 2007.

Next came a plot by more than 20 people from the UK, who intended to detonate liquid explosives on board transatlantic planes. Once again acting in a reactive manner, the TSA quickly banned all liquids and gels from carry on luggage. For some reason the TSA could not conceive of a way for the "evil doers" to detonate some liquid or gel explosives that are in checked baggage, but the end result is that if you want to plan ahead for your trip, perhaps by purchasing sunscreen or toothpaste before you get somewhere that you want to protect your skin or not have awful breath and gum disease, you'd better have a checked bag.

Finally, the Christmas day bomber with his underpants explosives rocked America's collective peace of mind. Another failed attempt but this one had the explosives moved from the shoes all the way up to Mr. Abdulmutallab's tighty-whities and so, once again American air travelers must submit to another demand by the TSA: get naked! Well, not exactly, but the images from the full body scanners make passengers appear naked. There is an alternative though, for those who are worried that images of their naked bodies will be misused and that is the all new all different pat-down. These invasive open-palmed searches of groin and chest have been likened to molestation and groping and humerously parodied by Saturday Night Live (sorry non-US readers, Hulu is not available but here's a description).

What all of these events demonstrate is that the TSA has no ability to thing proactively. They are only able to attempt to come up with rules and regulations to thwart the last attack. I mean, how many attempted shoe bombers have their been since Richard Reid? Many other countries do not require passengers to remove their shoes during security screening and yet somehow they have managed to not have their planes be detonated by shoe bombers.

The underlying problem is that the TSA is not actually trying to make passengers safer when they fly, but rather to make the majority of them FEEL safer. By telling people that liquids pose a risk, and then visibly removing liquids from passengers at the security gate, they create a false sense of safety for the dumbest among us. The same is true for removing footwear and placing it on the scanner. Once again the dumb dumbs get to think they are being protected as thousands more travelers contract foot fungi and other podiatric ailments.

Remember, you are not safer because I had to empty my Nalgene. I am not safer because you put your toothpaste in a plastic ziplock bag (which is disgusting by the way). And no one is safer because some TSO drone with a GED looked at their shoes in the x-ray machine. If we want to be secure, then we need to hire and train the right kind of people to screen air passengers. We should be looking to countries like Israel that have developed a very effective system of passenger interviews that allow them to detect potential threats based on their reaction and not from looking at their penis in a full body scan.

So let me just say this to the "evil doers" out there. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not stick explosives up your butt or place them in body cavities because if you do, and then the TSA finds out, it is not going to be a pleasant experience to fly from a US airport.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tax Cuts for the Rich = Senate Majority for the GOP

Hey there spineless democratic senators, how's it going? Bummed about the recent election? Having a hard time sitting down with all those GOP foot prints on your ass? Yeah, I bet that hurts. But you know what's going to sting even more? The 2012 elections if you sissies don't get your tactics figured out. Now that Nancy Pelosi has finally drummed up the courage to say they'll put forward a "tax cuts for the middle class only" bill before the end of the year, it is up to you, the deliberative donkeys to break a filibuster and pass the "dang" bill.

It seems to me that if your staffers have not made the case to you already, you should fire them all and get competent aides who can actually help you figure out what you need to do to help the country and keep your seats. If, and sadly it's not that improbable of an if, a few of you Senate Democrats decide to jump onto the GOP filibuster and say "but now isn't the time to raise taxes on anyone!" then you have assuredly handed control of the Senate and possibly the White House over to the Republicans come 2012. Your defection from your fellow Democrats will be seen as proof both to the GOP and the American public that tax cuts for the middle class only is wrong.

So instead of being gutless wimps and voting to prevent the tax rates on the richest 2% from returning to where they were under President Clinton (boy were those bad economic times, right?) dig deep and find some courage. Go borrow some from Bernie Sanders or Russ Feingold if you need to, and then vote FOR the middle class tax cuts. Even if the bill doesn't pass because you can't get a single Republican senator to help out the middle class, USE THAT! Plaster your states with advertising denouncing the GOP for raising taxes on the middle class. Get on CNN, MSNBC and even FoxNews and chastise your Republican colleagues for forcing a tax hike on the American people. BUT do not cave in before forcing them to vote no on tax cuts for the middle class.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Merry Xmas out of work America - Bye Bye Benefits

As the jobless crisis lurches on and record numbers of Americans are still looking for work, the holiday season will provide an extra kick in the nuts to those long term out of work citizens as Congress failed to pass an extension of benefits to the so called "99ers". While those who opposed the measure to extend the benefits claimed to do so out of concern for growing deficits and debt, they are largely the same people who would like to extend the current tax rates for the top 2% of earners.

Some numbers to consider are the $5-6 billion per month that extending the unemployment benefits would cost; and the $700 billion over the next 10 years in lost revenue for the treasury. Bear in mind that of the $5-6 billion that would go to the long-term unemployed would almost entirely be funneled directly back into the economy as those people, still struggling, purchase groceries, pay rent, and address other immediate family needs. The money that would go to the millionaires and billionaires, on the other hand, would have no such assurances. With the American economy in trouble, many of them might opt to invest their new found tax cuts in companies overseas or in corporations that are outsourcing jobs to China and India.

While there aren't many differences between the Dems and the 'Pubs, here is a stark contrast that voters should remember for 2011 and 2012. Those angry voters who were so upset with the lack of jobs and the feeling that Congress wasn't doing enough to help them, have just been shown a preview at what a GOP controlled Congress and White House would offer those struggling the most. Nada.

For further reading on the House's failure to pass HR 6419:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Simplify the tax code?

A very common argument that echoes through the halls of Congress is that the tax code is too complicated. The number of pages that comprise the tax code are often lauded by Senators or Congressmen looking to get on television. Those that would like to see a flat rate tax often use the length of the tax code as proof that it is bad. But so rarely is this lengthly tax code explained to the American people.

Well, listen up. The reason the tax code is so long and complex is because WE the people have continued to support politicians who give us tax breaks/cuts based on things we and our families do. Things like tax cuts for energy efficient home renovations; paying student loan interest; paying mortgage interest; donating to charities; and all the other thousands of things that people are able to claim every year in order to save some money on their taxes.

Simply put, those thousands of pages of the tax codes are thousands of pages of ways we Americans can SAVE money on our taxes, and so any effort to "simplify the code" will undoubtedly be met with strong opposition and the accusation that those trying to "simplify the code" are plotting a tax hike for hard working families. Many of the credits are aimed at the middle class which explains why the regressive taxers (those that want a flat tax across the board) are so keen to "simplify the code" and eliminate these tax credits for working families in exchange for lower tax rates on the rich.

As with all things parroted around the capitol and on Cable News, it is important to understand what the buzz words really mean in order to figure out the right course of action.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bush Lied...Literary Integrity Died

A nice little article about how George W. Bush's new book "Decision Points" contains many snippets and anecdotes that have been lifted from a number of authors who have written books about the Bush White House. Ironically, some of those works were, when published, accused by the White House of being inaccurate. I guess someone must have been lying back then.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Not Far Enough...to the left

In the aftermath of Bloody Tuesday, in which over 60 Congressional seats, 19 State Legislatures, and at least 11 Governors have gone from blue to red, the pundits are saying over and over again that this is the result of the Obama/Pelosi/Reid cabal going too far to the left for the American people to stomach. While that feeds a great narrative if you are arguing that the GOP has a big mandate to roll back what little progress has been made over the past two years, it misses the reality of what happened this election. President Obama and the gang were not too far to the left, they weren't even on the left. They were barely in the middle.

As this NYTimes blog from last year points out, many progressives were very upset with the administration for its caving to Republicans and conservative Democrats in the healthcare legislation that violated many of the campaign promises then candidate Obama made in 2008.

Once again, the GOP have managed to move the markers for what constitutes the "left" and "center" of political discourse. By consistently lashing out at policies proposed by the administration and the Democrats in Congress as being far to the left when in fact they are right of center, the Republicans have waged an incredibly successful public relations campaign and if polled, many Americans would believe that the Affordable Care Act was far to the left but that's without a single payer system or even a public option. How can something so vehemently decried by real progressives as over compromised and a gift to the insurance industry also be some Maoist takeover of the American government?

What caused this dramatic swing in the electorate was not so much people changing their voting patterns from 2008 but rather so many of the Democrats' key supporters being disgusted with the horse trading that went on in the last year and a half. African Americans voters and young voters who show solid support for the President did not come out to vote on Tuesday. While some of that can surely be chalked up to the unreliability of young voters to show up at the polls with some celebrity urging them on, it looks like a larger part of it was simply voter disappointment with how the Democrats had compromised their legislation and themselves in the short time that they held massive majorities in both houses of Congress. This disappointment resulted in much lower turnouts in those core constituencies.

This further boosted Republican outcomes because those who disagreed with the fundamentals of helping your fellow citizens and ensuring that everyone has access to health care regardless of what pre-existing conditions exist were clearly fired up to come out and vote for the GOP, but those who were upset with the Democrats and saw little differences between the two parties are the ones who stayed home. And while I personally believe that not voting is one of the most cowardly acts a citizen in a democracy can commit, I understand the frustration that made people feel that packing the bong, playing another round of Madden on the xbox, and proving pundits right that young voters are unreliably AKA should be ignored, was the best thing to do on Tuesday.

The Democrats lost on Tuesday because the early economic predictions of bad times to come were too cautious, the stimulus was too small, the health care reform too conservative, and the financial reform too toothless. The Democrats, in an effort to woo independents who are too stupid to stick with one political direction for more than 2 years, lost their base and were abandoned on election day by the people who sent them there in 2008.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Might as well earn it

Why should someone like Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) be selected as the next leader of the Democrat minority in the House? Because Democrats might as well earn the characterizations that the Dems are presenting policies that are from the far left of American politics. Perhaps a few years of seeing an actual progressive politician in charge will remind America that killing the public option for the Affordable Care Act was not the result of some vast socialist conspiracy. Watering down the financial regulations at the behest of the banks was not part of some radical liberal strategy. And yet both the Dodd/Frank Act and the Affordable Care Act were made out to be the result of the Democrats in Congress forcing through a supremely leftist agenda. So if they're going to do that when the policies are already center-right to begin with, what more can they say?

If there's one thing I wish that the Democrats would learn from their Republican colleagues it would be that there's no inherent problem with advocating policies that are far from the middle, so long as you do a good job of making your opponent's most moderate proposals seem extreme, and you phrase your own arguments so that people can identify some familiar aspects of your policy. We've seen this with the Sarah Palins, Jim DeMints, and Rand Pauls who advocate very right wing policies yet attack anyone who opposes them as some far left wing nut.

Having a true progressive at the reins for a few years will remind people that they really are in favor of the so called "socialism" in America; from social security to Medicare, Americans like their government programs. Somehow the Democrats' messaging in the past couple of years was so weak that they allowed the GOP to take up the mantle of defending Medicare against spending cuts.

So now that Pelosi has to hand in her gavel, maybe it's time to take a real progressive activist, who almost voted against the Affordable Care Act because he recognized it was far too big of a gift to the insurance companies and not focused enough on providing quality care to Americans, a chance to lead his party and remind America about the differences between what the GOP offers and what the Democrats can offer. Maybe if the public could see what real liberal policies were, they wouldn't be so quick to accept Karl Rove's and Sean Hannity's instant labeling of so many moderates as extreme leftists.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wow! Washington State you people are idiots!

People earning under $200,000 per year vote to prevent Washington state from taxing those making more than $200,000. Way to go poor people! A thank you card is on its way from the Billionaire's club.

Washington State Rejects Income Tax on Wealthiest Residents - Bloomberg

Time to put the Blue Dogs down

Despite what the loud mouthed imbeciles who work for the cable news channels will no doubt be saying for the next week or so, the midterm elections of 2010 are not the result of Congress having been "too liberal" or "too far to the left." Republicans and their minions have been and will continue spinning their tales of how the electorate reacted to the liberal overreaching of a left-wing President, Speaker of the House, and Senate majority leader but that fantasy only works because of the immense vastness of American ignorance. In actuality, the Democrats lost the midterms because of their centrist policies and their incompetence at the bargaining table which discouraged the progressives while the racist subtext of the conservative movement fired up those hopeless fools who reliably vote against their interests in sending Republicans to Washington.

Beginning with the Stimulus Obama, Reid and Pelosi caved into the demands of the "No Sayers". Much of the blame for those capitulations rests in the hands of the Blue Dog Democrats, who either voted against, or threatened to vote against the bill without significant concessions; concessions that ultimately weakened the administration and the Democrats' positions in the eyes of the public. What better gift could the Blue Dogs have delivered to the GOP than the ability to say "See how bad the bill is? Even your own party is against it." So while the Stimulus bill should have provided large amounts of government money to repair our failing infrastructure and get people back to work, it instead turned into tax cuts (over $250 billion in tax cuts) that was largely unnoticed by the public.

The same problems came up during the Affordable Care Act debate as Blue Dogs once again demanded changes to the legislation that fed the GOP narrative that the bill was bad. In truth, the bill was bad but mostly because of the compromises that were made before even approaching the bargaining table. When Congress should have been discussing a "Medicare for all" piece of legislation, they were instead caving in to the insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies to create a giant corporate handout in the form of mandated coverage. Because of the cowardice of the Blue Dogs not only was a "Medicare for all" option left undiscussed but even the public option was gutted to ensure the votes of Blue Dogs.

Despite all of those compromises, Republicans still stood firm, united as a group and blocked the bill with every parliamentary maneuver they could come up with; from attempting to derail the bill with an endless series of amendments to forcing the reading of lengthy amendments to run out the clock. They even went so far as to hold up funding for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in an effort to kill the health care bill. So when the "brave" senators from Nebraska and Connecticut could have sent a strong signal to the Republicans that their tactics of stalling and delaying the bill will not work Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman sent them the opposite message and began to waffle on the bill over minor provisions in the bill, allowing the GOP to once again rise up with another wedge issue (this time the specter of federally funded abortions) and made certain that the final bill would be an even more damaged piece of legislation than it was before. The longer the efforts to pass these bills dragged out, the more and more unpopular they became as pundits attacked while more of those polled were now unhappy with the bills for not going far enough as well as those who thought they went too far.

Beneath all of these policy debates though, was the strongest weapon in the GOP armory and that was Barack Obama's appearance. Had it not been for his middle name, Hussein, or the color of his skin, many of the attacks on Obama or the Affordable Care Act would not have been able to muster so much strength. Those opposed to this administration were able to profit from the subtext of "taking our country back," because they fed a narrative that Obama, someone who does not look like an American President had taken the country from them, those that do "look American." Couple that with the outrageous claims that Obama was not born in America, or that he was a secret Muslim, and all the ingredients for a reactionary racist revolution were in place.

So where does that leave progressives? We have a rough couple of years ahead of us as the Republicans resume hacking away at the little progress that has been made over the last 50 years. Along with new efforts to restrict access to abortions and non-abstinence sexual education, we can probably expect at least one serious effort to impeach President Obama. And while the minority Republicans were united in standing in the way of their opponents, the Democrats will likely cave on a number of issues as they always do, strengthening the GOP in the eyes of the electorate and rewarding their obstructionist policies of the past two years.

Not much of a surprise, but the young voters of America are mostly to blame for the results caused by their apathy that allowed the over 65 portion of the electorate to grow from 15% in 2008 to 25% on Tuesday. As much as any of us might love Grandma and Grandpa, for the most part, they have some ass backward policies. Whether that comes in the form of racism or other prejudices, voters aged 18-35 must not allow the over 65 crowd to determine so much of our elections.

But all is not lost. While many Democrats were defeated on Tuesday, a large number of those defeats were dealt to the Blue Dogs who got us into this mess to begin with. The once powerful caucus of more than 50 Blue Dogs has been neutered down to less than 25. And let us not forget that the Republicans are about to send some seriously crazy individuals to Congress like Senator Elect Rand Paul, who adamantly believes that private companies should have a protected right to discriminate on the basis of race and that government has no business stopping them. So let's look at 2010 as a wake up call to be less passive. Let's demand our representatives that are left do what's right for their constituents and explain to their constituents why it's the right thing to do. Democrats and other progressives need to get out there and talk to the people who election after election vote with the guy they think is on their side but is really on the corporations' payroll, like John Boehner who handed out checks on behalf of the tobacco lobby on the floor of the House.

So let's hang in there and wait for the openings that will surely come from another GOP controlled House. Let's keep an eye out for the gay-bashing congressman who sexually harasses a congressional page, or gets caught tap-tapping his foot in an airport bathroom, or the congressmen who will inevitably become mired in some corruption scandals a la Duke Cunningham. And let's remind those Democrats that are left in office that it's time to stand firm. If they cannot reign in their members they will once again appear weak as the remaining Blue Dogs vote with the Republicans and give their awful bills the air of bi-partisanship. Be strong...and I mean Jackass strong!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Voting, misunderstood - by Seth Godin

Voting, misunderstood

This year, fewer than 40% of voting age Americans will actually vote.

A serious glitch in self-marketing, I think.

If you don't vote because you're trying to teach politicians a lesson, you're tragically misguided in your strategy...

Read more at Seth Godin's Blog

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