Suffering through the Bush administration was torture enough.

There’s a long-standing tradition in the U.S. surrounding a change in administration.  Typically, the former president simply fades away.  If he’s public service minded, he occupies his time with large scale charities (ala Jimmy Carter), relief efforts (ala George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton) and occasional foreign relations issues (ala Bill Clinton’s recent trip to N. Korea).  And with rare exceptions (Al Gore), the former vice-president simply fades into obscurity.  When’s the last time you heard anything about Dan Quayle?

How I wish that were the case with Richard (the Dick) Cheney!

Instead, the former vice-president and his daughter regularly deem it necessary to come out of their badger dens to eviscerate any who have dared to examine the former administration’s failings, of which there were many.

It’s bad enough to read accounts of Cheney’s torture programs from the past 8 years.  But it’s darn near unbearable to listen to Cheney’s tortured logic in his attempts to justify it.  Even if the program did yield information that couldn’t have been gathered any other way (and, despite Cheney’s insistence, it’s uncertain that it did), it was patently illegal and immoral for torture to have been authorized. 

However, the fact that Cheney would encourage and authorize such a program should have come as no surprise to anyone.  His hunting accident was indication enough of the Dick’s moral and ethical standards.  I’m not referring to the fact that he mistook a friend’s face for a bird, or that he waited hours to inform authorities (probably until he sobered up).  What was most revealing about the incident was the reality that he was “hunting” for captive birds that had been raised to become fodder for fat cats too lazy and too impatient to hunt in the wild.  Indeed, the game farm had provided Cheney and his friend with a “menu” of available birds, along with a hunting dog to flush them out of the areas where game farm employees “hid” them moments earlier.

How on Earth can it be considered “sport” to kill creatures in such circumstances?  That’s no more hunting than ordering chicken from the menu in a restaurant.  And it’s an indication of someone almost totally devoid of character.

I believe that Attorney General Holder was correct to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Dick’s torture program.  But I think the investigation is much too limited in scope.  In my opinion, President Obama should live up to his campaign pledge that he will ask his Attorney General to examine the legality of every Bush administration directive.  And, if I were president, I would subject Cheney to the same interrogation methods he so gleefully defends.

But since I’m not president, all I can hope for is that the Dick and Liz will decide to go hunting together.   May the best shot win.

Our government is not the enemy.

President Ronald Reagan is famous for saying, “Government isn’t the solution to our problem.  Government is the problem.”  The quote eloquently expressed his contempt for government.   An opinion I don’t share.

I have difficulty believing that my high school classmate who served as a Postman is an enemy.  I’m not frightened of another classmate who served as an engineer for the Navy.  And I certainly don’t view my Marine nephew who served in Iraq as an enemy. 

The government is comprised of many hard-working, well-intentioned people who provide valuable services to the rest of us.  Without the government, we would have no military, Coast Guard, police, fire fighters, park rangers, air controllers, customs officials, border patrol, immigration officials, highway engineers, sanitation workers and postal workers.  There would be no FDA, EPA, FEMA, FDIC or CDC.  No NASA.  No Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and VA services.  Without government subsidies, many family farmers could not make a living.  And most academic and research institutions would be unable to explore the limits of science and medicine.   

All of this is not to say that government agencies wouldn’t benefit from some reform and restructuring.  But vilifying them is disingenuous at best.  In general, government fulfills all of the tasks that are too important, too difficult or too unprofitable for private enterprise.  

Health insurance is a good case in point.

According to most estimates there are nearly 47 million uninsured in the U.S. and many millions more who are under-insured.  Why?  They either can’t afford health insurance, or they are not viewed as profitable enough for insurance companies.  Sounds like a perfect situation for a government-run health insurance option, doesn’t it? 

Not according to Republicans and their media mouthpieces.  To them, that would be Socialism, indeed Nazism.  It has also been said that a public option would represent unfair competition for privately run insurance companies.  Seriously?  To me, it sounds more like helping those who are falling through the cracks of our current system. 

But don’t count on logic permeating the thick skulls of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.  And don’t count on Republicans stooping to something as unsavory as bipartisanship.  Look no further than recent statements made by two Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee who are alleged to be negotiating on health care reform.  Despite polls that show a significant majority of Americans want health care reform, including a public option, Senator Grassley stated that he won’t vote for any bill he negotiates unless he’s certain that a significant number of Republican Senators vote for it.  And Senator Enzi stated that he’s only continuing to negotiate with Democrats on the committee in order to delay and kill the legislation.

In other words, if there is to be any reasonable health care reform, Democrats are going to have to pass it by themselves.

It makes one wonder, if Republicans believe our government is so bad, why didn’t they simply abolish the abhorrent programs and departments when they had control of the Presidency and Congress?  And why did George W. Bush preside over history’s largest increase in the size of government during his administration? 

The next time you hear conservatives bash our government, remember this:  Our government was created of the people, by the people and for the people.  It is what we’ve created through our votes.  All the disciples of that slick-talking former actor can’t change that.

Democrats can’t compare to Republicans.

The continuing revelations of unethical, illegal and unconstitutional actions by the George W. Bush administration caused me to revisit the scandals of previous administrations during my lifetime.  I’m not talking about prurient sexual affairs.  I’m talking about the abuse of power by the Executive Branch and attempts to subvert our Constitution.

Let’s examine the record.  President Richard Nixon was forced out of office when it was discovered that he ordered his operatives to break into the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee.  He also authorized illegal wiretaps, improper tax audits, campaign fraud, and a variety of dirty tricks.  Then, when the actions of his operatives became public, he authorized an illegal slush fund to buy the operatives’ silence. 

In other words, Nixon not only tried to subvert our electoral process.  He obstructed justice.

Lost in the Watergate scandal is the fact that Nixon’s Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, pleaded no contest to charges of tax evasion and money-laundering.  His replacement, Gerald Ford, assumed the office of the Presidency after Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and became embroiled in controversy when he pardoned Nixon. 

Under President Ronald Reagan, the administration sold weapons to the Iranian government in order to finance Nicaraguan rebels (Contras) in violation of U.S. law.  The entire affair was kept secret from Congressional oversight committees, and when the affair was investigated, it was found that large volumes of documents had been destroyed by administration officials.  Although it was never proven that Reagan was directly involved in the scandal, it’s difficult to believe that he had no knowledge of the program.   

President George H.W. Bush not only pardoned most of those involved in the Iran-Contra affair.  On his watch, Savings & Loan institutions collapsed as the result of deregulation and overzealous lending as part of the real estate boom.  (Can it be possible that a near identical collapse of financial institutions during his son’s administration is just some sort of an eerie coincidence?)

Under President George W. Bush, the scandals were so numerous that Wikipedia has been forced to divide them into nine subcategories.  And Wikipedia doesn’t even list what may be the biggest failing of his presidency – ignoring clear warning of 9/11.  It has been well-documented that Bush ignored an August 2001 memo titled “Bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S.”  It even mentioned the possibility of hijackings.

Neither does Wikipedia list Tom Ridge’s assertions that Bush officials asked him to raise the terrorist alert levels to help manipulate voters leading up to the 2004 election. 

Wikipedia does, however, list the abuses at Abu Grahib, the false statements made during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, false claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the outing of a CIA operative as payback for her husband exposing one of the claims used to sell the Iraq invasion, the politicization of the Justice Department through the dismissal of U.S. Attorneys for political reasons, the extraordinary renditions (read torture) of political prisoners, possible war crimes in Afghanistan, the imprisonment of detainees in Guantanamo without trial and without the right to know the charges against them, and the use of recess appointments to circumvent the Senate’s confirmation process.

Of course, there were also the no-bid contracts in Iraq for Halliburton and others, the out-sourcing of many of our military ops to Blackwater (aka Xe), the secret “hit squad” created by the CIA and Blackwater, the supposed legal foundation for torture, and many other issues which would be considered scandalous in more respectable administrations.

I can think of no equivalent scandals for Democratic administrations.  No attempts to subvert the Constitution.  No shadow governments.  No wars of convenience. 

Yet one of the true ironies of our current political climate is that conservatives have the unmitigated gall to accuse President Obama of perverting the Constitution by trying to rescue our economy and attempting to provide health care for all U.S. citizens.  They want to manufacture a scandal out of his birth certificate.  And they want to compare him to Hitler. 

Are conservatives so angry they lost the election that they can’t see the utter nonsense of their statements?  Or are they simply so gullible they’ll repeat anything Fox Noise, Rush Limbaugh and the NRA tell them to?  Whatever their reasons, the real question is this:  Given past performance, why would anyone vote for a Republican President ever again?

The end of voodoo economics?

I was never a big fan of President George H.W. Bush although, compared to his son, he was a fabulous president.  And he did get one thing right – his description of Reagan’s theory of trickle-down economics.  That’s right.  It was George, the elder, who first appropriately labeled it “Voodoo” economics. 

The idea that cutting taxes for the wealthy would somehow benefit the rest of us never really made any sense.  It was clear to me that the wealthy would simply spend the extra money on themselves or invest it in the stock markets.  I couldn’t see how the theory would result in more jobs or increased living standards for everyone else.

What did make sense to me was the idea of cutting taxes on companies that created jobs, and Reaganomics did do that.  Unfortunately, the Reaganists relaxed or eliminated many of the regulations and safeguards that controlled corporations.  The result was tax cuts and tax credits for large corporations that took their manufacturing jobs overseas.  And due to the lack of regulation, many corporations created phony “headquarters” in the Bahamas and the Caymans to avoid paying taxes altogether.  Amazingly, Republicans refused to even consider banning these off-shore companies from receiving U.S. government contracts. 

How on Earth were U.S. citizens, other than corporate officers, supposed to benefit from that?

The short answer is that we didn’t.

In an op-ed column for The New York Times, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman summarized the real effect of Reaganomics.  “…real incomes of the top .01 percent of Americans rose sevenfold between 1980 and 2007.  But the real income of the median family rose only 22 percent, less than a third its growth over the previous 27 years“.  Krugman also points out that “most of whatever gains ordinary Americans achieved came during the Clinton years “, and that President George W. Bush “…had the distinction of presiding over the first administration since Herbert Hoover in which the typical family failed to see any significant income gains”.

Of course, Krugman’s statistics don’t include the fiascos of 2008 in which the Fed started bailing out banks long before the public noticed; when gasoline prices hovered around $4 per gallon; when foreclosures dragged down the entire economy; and when the Bush and Obama administrations had to bail out Wall Street.  All of these issues are likely to make the final cost of Reaganomics look even worse.

Yet despite all evidence to the contrary and despite the near-disastrous collapse of our entire financial system under their leadership, Republicans still cling to the notion that the failed economic policy of their former leader and idol can cure our present-day problems.  “Make the Bush tax cuts permanent,” they say, “that will bring our economy back.” 

If Republicans should somehow regain control of Congress during the 2010 mid-term elections, be afraid, my friends.  Be very afraid.  Like other apparitions of black magic, voodoo economics may be more difficult to kill than you think.

Return to the “Good Old Days?” Be careful what you wish for.

I receive a lot of emails, mostly from my conservative friends, of the “Remember When?” variety.  Of course, they focus on the “Leave it to Beaver” days of the 1950 and 60s.  A recent one started me wondering why we look back on those days so fondly. 

After all, the 50s were pre-civil rights and pre-feminism.  They were also the days of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and impending doom from Soviet H-bombs.  And the 60s revolved around the Vietnam War.

So why do we remember those days so fondly?  I’m sure part of the reason is that we were kids and teens who didn’t worry about politics and the ills of the world.  In addition, there was a black and white honesty to those days when right and wrong seemed more clearly defined.  But I submit that one very big reason is that there was less disparity in income.  Around the small town where I grew up, it was more difficult to tell the “haves” from the “have-nots.” 

That was partly due to generational modesty – it just wasn’t polite to show-off. 

It also had a good deal to do with tax codes.  It might surprise you to learn that, during the Republican Eisenhower administration, the income tax rate for the top bracket was 91-92 percent.  In contrast, the tax rate for the bottom bracket was 22 percent.  By 1971, the top rate had dropped to 70 percent while the bottom rate dropped to 14 percent.  And today, the top rate is 35 percent while the bottom bracket is 10 percent.  

Given the fact that income taxes have dropped dramatically since 1951, you would think that most of us would be feeling pretty good about our taxes and government.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing anger as evidenced by the “tea-baggers” and “anti-health care reformists” who shout slogans and carry signs demanding their country back. 

Hmmm…I wonder how those people would feel about bringing back the tax structure of the “good old days?”

Those people seem to forget that many of the things we enjoy and take for granted were created by government and subsidized by taxes:  Education, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, V.A., the G.I. Bill, the interstate highway system and the national park system to name just a few. 

The truth is we have more than any of the generations before us.  In general, we keep a greater percentage of our earnings than before.  We have more time for recreation than ever before.  And in comparison to the days of McCarthyism and Jim Crow laws, there’s less government intrusion in our lives.  So why do conservatives think the 50s and early 60s were so wonderful?

My theory is that, we didn’t have people like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glen Beck ranting about how bad our government is and trying to pit one faction of our population against another. 

For me, the (Republican) party’s over.

For many years, there was a tradition in politics. You could count on each side giving its “spin” on an issue in hopes of influencing voters to their point of view. If you didn’t have the time or inclination to research the issue on your own, you could be relatively certain that the truth was somewhere in the middle. But sometime in the 1990s that changed.

I first realized the change in 1999 when I visited the website of the Republican National Committee in search of quotes from conservative Republicans. What I found was “Gore Gaffs,” dozens of ridiculous statements attributed to then-Democratic presidential candidate, Al Gore. The only problem was that I recognized all of the quotes as having been made by Dan Quayle. I was dumbfounded. Why would the leadership of a political party lie about something that could so easily be disproved? For what possible benefit?

The only conceivable answer is a cynical one – the party believes that no one will actually recognize the lie or hold the party accountable. Unfortunately, “Gore Gaffs” foreshadowed an ugly and disturbing trend by the party.

The Bush administration used lies and half-truths to lead us into an unnecessary war in Iraq. It lied about the “outing” of a clandestine CIA agent whose husband publicly exposed administration lies during the run-up to the war. It lied about the firing of U.S. Attorneys. It lied about eaves-dropping on American citizens. The list of lies during the Bush administration is quite lengthy and growing. In fact, former Homeland Security Director, Tom Ridge, recently admitted that he was pressured to raise the security threat level in 2004 to help Bush get re-elected. And it was recently discovered that former Vice-President Dick Cheney and the CIA hired a mercenary force (Blackwater, aka Xe) to form an international hit squad that was unconstitutionally kept secret from Congress.

Complicit in all of the lies are Fox News and conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh. Rush has long been known to make things up in order to whip his audience into a frenzy and increase his ratings. And, although Fox claims to be “fair and balanced”, it’s anything but. Former Bush Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, admitted that the administration used Fox to “get out its talking points.” It takes only a few minutes of viewing to realize that Fox News is simply a megaphone for Republican lies. But, of course, its viewers are so partisan or uninformed that they don’t care or don’t know.

During the 2008 presidential election, the GOP was in full attack mode. The difference in tone couldn’t have been more striking. Indeed, had one not known better, one might have concluded that all of the problems created by 8 years of the Bush administration were actually the fault of the Democrats.

The 2008 elections were a strong rebuke of the Republican Party and its policies. But rather than examining the policies that led to the election defeat, the party decided to redouble its attacks. Republicans and their surrogates blame the loss on perceived voter fraud by Acorn. And, with a lack of real leadership, the party has turned to Rush Limbaugh as its titular leader. He and other conservatives are not just “spinning” issues based on their point of view. They are creating, or at least repeating, lies in order to scare people about the new administration’s policies.

Attempts to rescue our financial system following its collapse under Bush are described as “socialist” and unnecessary government intervention. The same terms were used to describe the rescue of the auto industry, one of our nation’s few remaining manufacturing industries. A carbon cap and trade bill will “lead to the collapse of the energy industry and put millions out of work.” Health care reform is a “Nazi policy using death panels designed to kill granny” or an attempt to “put bureaucrats between you and your doctor.” Never mind that three government-run health care programs are run quite well. VA, Medicare and Medicaid are generally well-liked by those who participate in them.

At town hall meetings, angry conservatives have tried to shout down any real discussion of the issues, and, as if to make their shouts more forceful, some have brought loaded guns.

The Republican Congressmen and Senators refuse to discuss policies or the merits of legislative initiatives. They offer no counter-proposals. All they offer are lies, fear and more tax cuts for large corporations and the wealthy. And if any Republicans dare break ranks with their brethren on a single vote, they’re labeled RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) and they’re attacked by even more conservative candidates in the primaries.

For more than 30 years, the Republican Party has led an assault on the middle class and the poor with “trickle down” economics. In truth, under Republican leadership, the economy was reduced to a trickle. And none of the tax cuts have trickled down.

Indeed, a recent study found that the disparity between the wealthy and the rest of the population has reached the highest level since 1913, and the tax rate on the wealthy has dropped from 70 percent in 1980 to 35 percent in 2009. Thanks to Republican policies, as of 2007 .01 percent of the population controlled 10 percent of the wealth and 10 percent of the population controlled 49 percent of the wealth. And, if you want to consider the effect of Republican policies on health care reform, 47 million Americans are now uninsured, millions more are underinsured and nearly a million Americans will be forced into bankruptcy this year by illness.

This is why a fiscal conservative and social liberal like me no longer votes for Republicans. After 40 years as an independent, I am now a proud member of a party that respects me enough to not lie to me.

Why we’re divided

With the recent debate on health care reform, one thing has become painfully clear.  We don’t just have differing opinions of the facts.  We have differing sets of facts.  Indeed, differing realities.  These differences seem to have more to do with our choice of television programming than with age, education, opinions or ideologies.   For example, a recent NBC News survey asked respondents their opinions of 4 discredited myths regarding health care reform. 

According to the survey, 72% of Fox News viewers believe that health care reform will provide coverage to illegal immigrants (it won’t).  79% of Fox News viewers believe that it will lead to a government takeover of our health care system (it won’t).  69% of Fox News viewers believe that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions (it won’t).  And 75% of Fox News viewers believe that it will make decisions about when to stop care for the elderly (are you kidding me?).   These percentages were much lower amongst viewers of other cable news networks. 

This research points to a very real problem for our nation that goes beyond health care reform.  It’s one thing to debate facts.  It’s quite another if those “facts” are entirely different.  As a communications professional, I know that the most difficult communications task is to disprove a negative.  If the viewers of Fox News believe that Obama is out to kill Granny, there’s almost no way for him to disprove it in their minds.  If Obama says it’s false, the people who believe the negative will just say he’s lying.  If he points to credible news sources, the believers will just say that those sources are biased. 

Of course, we can’t blame all of our nation’s problems on Fox News.  There are plenty of politicians, cable networks, talk radio hosts, websites and PACs (Political Action Committees) across the political spectrum that are perpetuating myths and lies.  But since Fox News has larger audiences, it bears greater responsibility. 

So how do we break this conundrum and get back to debating the same set of facts?  The answer certainly can’t be bringing guns to public debates, shouting at each other and calling the other side Nazis or un-American.  The answer is to seek the truth from multiple news sources – preferably news sources with competing opinions.  Everyone must understand that many “news” programs are more entertainment than news.  We must understand that media are profit-oriented; if they can generate ratings by encouraging their staff to stretch the truth and pander to audiences, they will, regardless of the consequences.  Finally, we must hold the media and our politicians accountable for their lies. 

Our democracy relies on an informed public.  That’s a responsibility we must all take seriously.  That means seeking the truth.  And not being force-fed falsehoods and distortions by one or two pundits who have unlimited access to a camera and a microphone.


This is a blog that will cover opinions on a wide variety of topics.  It’s my hope that it will stimulate thoughtful discussion and debate.