Who’s really at fault for our nation’s predicament?

Who is more at fault for the problems that face our nation?  Republican candidates?  Or the voters who are deceived into voting for them?  During campaigns, Republican candidates take a populist tone.  They talk about the issues that are important to ordinary Americans such as opportunity and personal freedom.  But when they are elected, they tend to focus almost exclusively on issues designed to benefit the elite. 

Despite promises of fiscal responsibility, Reagan and George W. Bush dramatically increase the deficit and national debt.  Despite promises of small government, Bush created the huge bureaucracy that is Homeland Defense.  And the Republican mantra of lower taxes has really proven to be nonsense.  They may occasionally offer a token tax cut for the middle and lower class, but the real cuts are reserved for the wealthy.   Republicans talk about creating jobs then make it easier for corporations to eliminate collective bargaining and ship jobs oversees.  They talk about getting government regulations out of the way then watch corporations create new scams to abscond with more of their consumers’ money. 

Why, then, do voters fall for these false promises over and over?  Often it’s because they aren’t curious enough to really examine the party’s platform and hold the candidates accountable.  And all too often it’s because they focus on a variety of wedge issues such as abortion, terrorism and same-sex marriage.  They fall victim to a sort of 3 card monte.  They’re mesmorized by the Republican distractions of fear, anger and religion.

How many lower and middle class voters actually benefited from Reaganomics?  How many benefited from George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism?”  I submit that instead of jobs, increased salaries and tax cuts, they were rewarded for their votes with war, massive deficits and decreased prosperity.  But the real Republican constituency consisting of CEOs, bankers, investors, oil executives and defense contractors is doing just fine, thank you.

The Bush Legacy: America in Decline

A few weeks ago, economists Martin Wolf and Robert Shiller appeared on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on CNN.  They said, “It is now clear that the Obama team has helped avert a complete meltdown of our financial markets.  But they warned that one of the greatest dangers facing our nation is the growing economic disparity between the rich and the poor.”  They went on to say, “This could create a country in which not even those with a great deal of money will want to live.”

There are other troubling effects of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation and the Republican Party’s stubborn adherence to trickle-down economics. 

Although he draws no conclusions relative to party politics, Rick Newman talks about warning signs of American decline in a story published by U.S. News & World Report.  In the story he states, “…real household income in America has flat-lined, which means many middle-class families are barely keeping up with inflation. The exploding federal deficit hamstrings the government’s ability to help. Healthcare is too expensive, America’s manufacturing base is eroding, and two open-ended foreign wars are draining the national treasury.”

Newman goes on to point out that the annual prosperity index published by Legatum Institute, a London-based research firm, now ranks the U.S. as the ninth most prosperous country in the world.  The same study ranks the United States 27th for the health of its citizens, a statistic that is all the more disturbing given the fact that we spend far more on healthcare per person than any other nation.

According to Newman’s article, the U.S. poverty rate of 17 percent ranks third worst among advanced nations above only Turkey and Mexico.  And since our future depends on the education of our youth, there is more disturbing news.  American 15-year-olds score below average among advanced nations on math and science.

There is one glimmer of positive news:  Newman points out that, according to a GfK Roper survey of how nations are viewed by others, “America rocketed from No. 7 in 2008 to No. 1 in 2009, largely because the world cheered the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president.”

“Starve the Beast”, Part II

I previously wrote about the Republican Party’s plan to “Starve the Beast” which they believe to be big government.  They hope to cut taxes and the federal budget in order to reduce the size of government and bankrupt the so-called “entitlements” of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. 

But this conservative nonsense goes farther.

They also want to significantly cut funding for education.  If you aren’t already familiar with the notion, here’s the Republican line of “thinking” (I use the word loosely):  By cutting funds for public schools, the schools will be forced to increase class sizes.  With larger class sizes, the performance numbers of public schools will be worse.  The lower performance numbers will make government-funded school vouchers for private schools, parochial schools and home-schooling more attractive.  We will then be raising generations as dumb or dumber than the current pack of Republicans. 

If that fails to frighten you, imagine a whole generation of children being home-schooled by the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, or their followers. 

Of course, this “Starve the Beast” mentality extends to other areas as well, most especially social services.  The Republican “thinking” is based on the belief that those unfortunates who are poor or sick are in those predicaments as a result of their own actions.  They didn’t follow the Republican philosophies of independence and personal responsibility.  If they had only worked harder and prayed more, the “thinking” goes, they wouldn’t require help.  Don’t concern yourselves with them.  When these downtrodden finally discover religion and Republican values, God will take care of them.

Now, I ask you, what is the real beast?  Big government?  Or the Republican Party?

Psalm 109:8 – a call for Christian jihadists.

It appears that demonstrating with signs showing President Obama with a Hitleresque moustache and calling him a Nazi, a Socialist, and a Communist are not enough.  Indeed, for some, packing guns at Presidential speeches hasn’t sufficiently delivered a strong enough message.  Now we have opportunistic religious conservatives selling t-shirts, bumper stickers, even teddy bears with the slogan “Pray for Obama, Psalm 109:8.”

That seems innocent enough – until you read the verse from the Bible.  Psalm 109:08 says “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.”  Okay, you say, but isn’t that the conservatives’ way of saying that they hope Obama isn’t re-elected?  You might make a case for that, until you read the verse that follows:  Psalm 109:09 says “May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.”  In other words, the t-shirts are more likely a coded message calling for the assassination of our president. 

That should surprise no one.  From the time Obama began his campaign for President, there has been an attempt by a percentage of our population to dismiss, demean, and demonize him beginning with questions about his place of birth. 

These tactics aren’t new.  For centuries, political movements have used adversity to further their interests and create irrational fear.  They attempt to assign blame for our problems – in this case, the recession and burgeoning national debt.  By fomenting distrust and anger toward those accused of being responsible, these political movements hope to make themselves look good.  So the religious right has portrayed Obama as a Kenyan, Muslim, Socialist radical bent on bankrupting our nation, destroying our Constitution and our way of life.  In their view, he’s “an elitist, an internationalist and, most importantly, not one of us.”

So, since the inauguration, there have been angry demonstrations, outrageous attacks by radio and TV hosts, dozens of vicious chain emails containing fraudulent accusations, large increases in gun and ammunition sales, and (according to the Secret Service) a 400 percent increase in death threats to our President. 

Given the items now being offered by the wingnut otherwise known as “Crusader Patriot”, it would seem that the religious right is just getting started. 

The return of Dick Vader?

Liz Cheney has stated that she hopes her father will run for President in 2012.  Even allowing for the admiration that a daughter naturally feels toward her father, I have to respond, “Are you out of your @%#^ing mind?! “

This week’s most popular movie at the box office is a disaster epic entitled “2012” which portrays the end of the Earth.  If Dick Cheney were to be elected President, reality could well be more awful than fiction. 

Just imagine, in a Cheney presidency, there would no namby-pamby diplomacy with other nations.  No dithering with our enemies.  Indeed, we’d likely attack every nation that wouldn’t kowtow to Cheney.  We’d treat all Americans as suspected terrorists and spy on their phone calls and emails.  We’d jail our political enemies and hold them for years without trial.  We’d cut taxes on the rich.  We’d virtually eliminate taxes on large corporations.  We’d transfer even more wealth to our overlords.  We’d conduct all government business with no-bid contracts.  We’d privatize our military.  We’d politicize everything.  And we’d centralize all power in the executive branch. 

Wait!   Isn’t that what happened when Cheney was running the country with Bush as a figurehead?

Going Rogue with the truth.

I haven’t purchased Sarah Palin’s best-selling rant and I won’t.  I don’t need to.  Before it was dissected by the Associated Press and others, I already knew it would be filled with hate and lies.   

How did I know?

During last year’s presidential campaign, no one was more sarcastic, mean-spirited and uninformed than Sarah Palin.  And no one told more lies.  In fact, I vowed to send an email to Senator John McNasty every time I found his campaign to be less than truthful.  Unfortunately for me, my vow resulted in writing an email virtually every day of the campaign.  Some days, I sent 3, 4 or more.  Many of those emails were in response to Ellie Mae Clampett’s, er, Sarah Palin’s speeches.  From her constant refrain that Obama was “palin’ around with terrorists” to her attacks on his having been a community organizer to her rants about the media (the disaster that was her CBS interview wasn’t her fault, it was Katie Couric’s) Palin revealed virtually every character flaw known to man.  Or woman.

It seems that Palin is such a rogue that she refuses to rely on traditional sources for her information.  Instead, she draws her political wisdom from Joe the Plumber (who’s neither a plumber nor named Joe), Rush Limbaugh and Glenn “crocodile tears” Beck. 

In Sarah’s mavericky mind, not even her running mate or his campaign staff grasped the real issues.  After all, her running mate was merely a U.S. Senator while she was the former mayor of Wasilla and a hockey mom.  If only they wouldn’t have held her back, the country would be much better off today with her at the helm after she had disposed of that wrinkly old bald guy who dared to put his name in front of hers on the ballot.

For me, the real question regarding Palin is why anyone would buy her book or bother to fact check it – unless they enjoy fantasy and fiction. 

“An electronic Pearl Harbor”

Last Sunday, a report by Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes discussed the threat of cyber terrorism.

At the center of his report, Kroft interviewed Jim Lewis who directs the Center for Strategic and International Studies. According to Lewis, the United States has already experienced “an electronic Pearl Harbor.” Lewis continued, “Some unknown foreign power, and honestly, we don’t know who it is, broke into the Department of Defense, to the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, probably the Department of Energy, probably NASA. They broke into all of the high-tech agencies, all of the military agencies, and downloaded terabytes of information. Someone was able to get past the firewall and encryption devices of one of the most sensitive U.S. military computer systems and stay inside for several days,” he stated. The system he referred to is the CENTCOM network, which is our military’s control center for fighting wars. Lewis said that the hackers sat inside the network, tracking information and documents “like they were part of military command.” According to Lewis, this is the “most significant” breach of security ever “acknowledged by the Pentagon.”

Proof that the Obama administration is weak militarily and soft on terrorism? No, wait!

Christian paranoia and Internet myths

I recently received a chain email from multiple independent sources.  The email states that the ACLU – deemed to be a bunch of radical commies by so many conservative and religious groups – had filed a lawsuit to have all cross-shaped headstones removed from military cemeteries. 

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?  And it would be if there was even a shred of truth to it. 

The same email also tells of another lawsuit that would end prayer in the military.  “Navy chaplains can no longer mention Jesus’ name in prayer thanks to the wretched ACLU and our new administration,” it warns.  Again, this is a fiction of someone’s imagination. 

To ensure that as many people as possible circulate these falsehoods, the email continues by asking recipients to “please pass this on after a short prayer.  Don’t break it.”  And like sheep, thousands, perhaps millions, of people have added their contacts to the email and passed it on without checking the facts. 

In this case, the email is likely intended as payback to the ACLU for its past actions in protecting the civil rights of minorities.  Politically conservative Christians are still seething that the ACLU blocked them from surrounding us all with Christian prayer and sayings.  They are furious that they have been prevented from striking down the Constitution’s establishment clause in order to declare this a Christian nation.  They are frustrated that they are not permitted to abridge the freedom and rights of non-Christians. And they believe that Christianity is under attack. 

None of this justifies their attempts to spread political and religious paranoia. 

Indeed, such emails are beyond reprehensible.  And by making false and unsubstantiated accusations, they are decidedly un-Christian.  Worse yet, they rely upon the good and caring nature of individuals to unsuspectingly circulate and perpetuate the accusations.

That said, the people who unwittingly pass along such false and misleading information must also be held culpable.  They are guilty of assuming the worst and not taking the time to check for the truth.  In the case of the aforementioned email, it took me less than 30 seconds of research to determine that it was false.

The Chamber of (Republican) Commerce.

Recently, the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was interviewed on NPR.  He went to great lengths to convince listeners that the Chamber is bi-partisan. 

That’s a little difficult to believe since the Chamber seems to support every single Republican position.  Indeed, when I once did some work for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber proudly hosted speeches by each of the Republican candidates for Governor.  It refused to allow the Democratic candidate to speak to its members.  And, of course, the Chamber endorsed a Republican.

The U.S. Chamber is now spending $300,000 a day on network TV commercials to kill health care reform using the scare tactics that are so favored by Republicans and the insurance industry.  That alone is not terribly surprising, or revealing.  What IS revealing is the commercial’s voiceover.  Although I don’t know his name, the voiceover talent is the very same one used in every single attack ad for the Republican National Committee.  You know, the guy who, sounding like the voice of darkness, asks you to call your representatives and tell them “we just can’t afford health care reform” or whatever scary legislation the Democrats have proposed today.  Whenever, wherever Republicans want to verbally attack an idea, they use his voice. 

The choice of the voice talent is no coincidence.  It indicates that the Chamber is working in concert with the Republican Party.  If the Chamber really wanted to keep the appearance (or at least the sound) of bi-partisanship, it should have selected another voice to try to scare us.  

The Chamber claims to represent more than 3 million members (the number is actually 200,000) and small businesses as well as large corporations.   Yet, almost without exception, the positions endorsed by the Chamber benefit large corporations and the Republican Party at the expense of small businesses and entrepreneurs.  The Chamber’s position on health care reform is no different.

Are you feeling “entitled?”

For many years, the Republican Party has been determined to change or end the so-called “entitlement” programs of Social Security and Medicare.  As early as 1984, I recall reading the Republican National Party’s platform which called for “starving the beast” that is big government by reducing taxes and cutting the federal budget to force the elimination of these so-called “wasteful” programs.   In the place of these social safety nets, Republicans proposed an emphasis on personal responsibility and faith-based initiatives. 

In other words, big business and the wealthy have no responsibility for those who are not as fortunate as they.  If someone loses a job, gets sick, or suffers some other personal tragedy, it’s his or hers own fault.  These people should have never allowed themselves to be in that position anyway.  And there are always church missions to make these people see the error of their ways, convince them of their own failings and set them on the road to success.

Of course, Republicans are also against any form of government regulation and collective bargaining.  There must be nothing to interfere with the forces of the “free” market. 

Given this backdrop, is it any wonder that Republicans have been having such a snit over health care reform, let alone a public option? 

And, in one of the most cynical and hypocritical tactics of all time, the Republican Party and its allies are actually using Medicare to scare the oldest (and most likely to vote) segment of our population into speaking out against health care reform.  They claim that the reform bill proposed by Democrats would drastically cut Medicare benefits.  Never mind that the cuts that are in the proposed bill only cut waste and duplication.  And never mind that the Republican Party would prefer to completely eliminate Medicare as part of its war on “entitlements.

All Americans would be wise to remember which party legislated Social Security and Medicare in the first place.  Here’s a hint:  It wasn’t the GOP.