Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New Polls Put Dems In A Panic

The latest ABC and NBC polls are out and the news is not good for the president and his party.

Democrats are in a panic. The prospect of losing control of the Senate is very real.

The president’s approval rating continues suffer at 44%. His upside down numbers stem from two major components of his administrative agenda: his foreign policy and Obamacare.

The president has been forced to spend a great deal of his time commenting on foreign policy issues. One thing that is certain in presidential politics…if you are talking about foreign affairs…you’re losing. Russian aggression, the Ukraine, Syria, Iran and the Middle East peace talks dominate the headlines. The American people want a president who is tough on foreign affairs. But at the same time they do not want to get involved in another Iraq or Afghanistan. Only 19% of those polled believe the president should be more aggressive on foreign policy issues while 47% want the country disengage from events outside our borders. The president has refused to insert the US into the affairs of these foreign nations. But his unwillingness to participate in the theater of foreign affairs, such engaging in tough talk with Putin, has made him appear weak in the eyes of the electorate. Obama has said publically he doesn’t do theater. You’ll hear no “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” from this White House. His reluctance has hurt him and his party with the voters.

The Affordable Care Act continues to be a political thorn in the side of the Democrats. While the popularity of the program has improved the approval rating has barely returned to the numbers published just before the website debacle. Tens of millions have taken advantage of the benefits of the program and the individual components are wildly popular with the electorate. But thanks to the misinformation campaign orchestrated by Republicans and certain media outlets the law hangs like a millstone around the necks of Democrats seeking re-election.

The number that scares Democrats the most is the “Right track, wrong track” number. 63% of those polled said that they feel like the country is on the wrong track. 63%! That is a huge number to overcome before the polls open in November.

With the mid-terms barely six months away, Democrats are willing to try anything to change the current downward spiral. Yesterday Harry Reid let it be known that the senate is considering taking up a vote on the Keystone Pipeline. As expected the notion that the pipeline was even being considered angered the Democrat base. Environmentalists are outraged. But the very real prospect of losing the senate has forced Reid to consider all options.

In the end the upcoming mid-terms will be all about turnout. Mid-term voters are historically smaller in number, whiter and older. If that trend continues this November the Republicans will control both the House and the Senate. Any chance of the president moving his agenda in the final two years of his presidency will be lost.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Evolution Of An Effective Politician

When you spend the majority of your time watching and analyzing politicians you get pretty good at distinguishing the good ones from the bad. Having recently spent two weeks in Italy we can say without reservation that we are witnessing the evolution of one of the most effective politicians of our time.

We are speaking of Pope Francis.

Pope Francis presides over a Catholic Church in crisis; reeling from scandal and struggling to repair the rift between liberal and conservative Catholics who hold very divergent views for the future of the institution. The one thing both factions do agree upon is that the current state of affairs in Vatican City isn’t working. They want a church that is focused on helping the sick, the poor and the otherwise disadvantaged...not a church so obsessed with its image that it would go to any extent to cover up felonious behavior. Pope Francis gets it, and in his first year at the helm he has made extraordinary strides to return the Church to its basic values.

This Pope understands that small acts can send a powerful message. As any good politician knows…optics DO matter… and in this case 1.2 billion followers are watching his every move.

He took the name of Francis of Assisi; the son of a wealthy silk merchant who gave up the trappings of wealth to live a life of poverty and humility. In similar fashion Pope Francis has rejected the trappings of the papacy favored by his predecessors.

On the day of his election, his aides wanted to usher him to the newly renovated Apostolic Palace apartments where all previous popes have resided. Francis refused; opting instead to ride the shuttle bus with his fellow cardinals back to the 131 room Domus Sanctae Marthea guest house where he and all the other cardinals had lived since the conclave began. His explanation was simple…he had to pay his bill. When he finally got his first look at the lavish papal apartment he recoiled and returned to his simple room in the guest house where he still resides today.

Francis, a Jesuit, has refused most of the trappings of the office. Gone are the glitz, glitter, pomp and circumstance that have been associated with the office for centuries. Francis prefers simple vestments void of ornamentation and still wears the same pectoral cross he wore when he was a cardinal. The red slippers worn by his predecessors are gone as well…replaced by black work shoes that resemble beat up doc martens. We saw these shoes first hand. They could use a spit shine.

While these changes are small in nature they send an important message. There is a new sheriff in town…a man of the people….one who is far more concerned with substance than accoutrements.

Francis has altered the direction of the church in more meaningful ways than by his dress and choice of residence. When asked about his views on gay lifestyle he said that gays “should be integrated into society instead of ostracized. Who am I to judge?” The impact of this statement will have a profound effect on the future teachings of the Church.

This past Sunday Francis presided over the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. The political significance and brilliance of this move cannot be understated.

John XXIII was one of the most liberal pontiffs in the history of Catholicism. His calling for the Second Vatican Council in 1962 authored the most significant changes in the Catholic Church since the 16th century.

Pope John Paul II was one of the most conservative popes in modern times. He is credited with playing an integral part in the fall of Communism and improving Church’s relations with Judaism, Islam and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Pope Francis’ decision to canonize these two historic yet divergent figures on the exact same day sends a very powerful message to the liberal and conservative factions of the church. By this gesture Francis is building a unifying bridge between the two. His message is clear…we are one church.

The Catholic Church is like any other international mega corporation. It is run by human beings who exhibit all the flaws common in any society. Greed and the abuse of power are not strangers here. Set aside the whole “saving of souls” concept and we could be talking about IBM, Exxon or any number of similar organizations. The CEO of an institution like the Catholic Church must be not only be a learned theologian but a savvy businessman and shrewd politician as well.

Pope Francis gets it. It will be interesting to watch his political evolution.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Let Someone Else Take Point

Hundreds of pro-Russian protestors seized a government building in the city of Donetsk as violence and bloodshed escalated throughout eastern Ukraine. Donetsk is the hometown of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych whose pro-Russian government was recently ousted by pro-European factions.

The provisional Ukrainian government has accused the Russians of spurring on the uprising as a pre-text for sending Russian troops into the region. Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov blames “separatist groups coordinated by Russian special services” for spurring on the revolt. Turchynov claims these are the same tactics the Russians used to justify their invasion and annexation of the Crimean peninsula mere weeks ago.

The Russians claim no such involvement. They warn that any action taken against the pro-Russian protestors will result in serious consequences. Thousands of Russian troops have taken up positions along the Ukrainian/Russian border.

Violence in any part of the world acts as a dog whistle to the Neo-Cons. As expected they are urging the president to insert the US into the conflict. John McCain, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the president’s foreign policy stance, wasted no time in calling for tough measures against the Russians. McCain believes that the president’s “weak and feckless” response to the events in Syria, Somalia, Libya and Iran have only served to embolden Russian President Putin to annex Crimea and threaten Ukraine. McCain and the Neo-Cons want tougher sanctions against the Russians and defensive military armaments placed in the hands of the Ukrainian government.

McCain and the neo-cons are part of the conservative movement that has been preaching fiscal conservatism for the past decade. They keep telling us that we are broke and that we are mortgaging our children’s future by continuing to borrow and spend.
So if we are in such dire financial straits…a “bankrupt nation” as conservatives like to say…then how can we afford to enter a conflict with the Russians?

We’ve seen this movie before. Sanctions and defensive arms lead to advisors and air support. Air support leads to boots on the ground. The next thing you know Ukraine is the next Vietnamiraqafghanistan endless military conflict.

Why us? Why do we always have to be the “tip of the spear”? Are not the Brits, French, Germans, Poles, Spaniards, Canadians and god knows who else just as concerned about Russia’s aggressive policies in the region as we are? Why are we always the ones to put blood and treasure on the line?

Certainly the rest of the world is more than happy for us to take point. While they are pushing us to the head of the platoon they sit safely in the rear investing in their infrastructure, education and research and improving their way of life. Meanwhile we pour $2 billion a week…that’s billion with a “B”…into a third world country like Afghanistan without a clue of what victory looks like.

And how are we supposed to pay for this quixotic adventure into the Ukrainian wilderness? The Republicans don’t want to raise taxes. They want to pay for their endless wars by cutting spending. Well, you can cut food stamps, end unemployment compensation shut down Planned Parenthood, close every abortion clinic and cut education and research back to a one room schoolhouse and a Bunsen burner but you still won’t be able to fund the wars that McCain and the Neo-Cons have in mind.

It is time for someone else to serve as the world’s big brother. It is time for the rest of the world to police itself.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Pay Day!

Happy National Equal Pay Day!

As most of you know women continue to earn 77cents for every dollar that a man earns.

Put another way…if a man and a woman worked side by side doing the exact same job since January 1st…the woman would not get paid until today. 98 days working for free!

What makes this unfair situation even more egregious is that we have a law on the books which prevents discrimination in the payment of wages and benefits based on gender when men and women are performing the same job. It’s called the Equal Pay Act and it was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy in 1963!


President Obama has made equal pay for equal work one of the key economic components of his administration. The first act he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. The law made it easier for an individual to file an equal pay lawsuit. The president supports the Paycheck Fairness Act which updates strengthens the 1963 Equal pay Act. This week he will issue two executive orders that the administration says will strengthen equal pay laws for women.

Republicans naturally object. And once again they are playing the “it will hurt small businesses” card. They say that forcing small businesses to raise women’s wages will force many of them out of business and hurt our economy.


Over the past decade small businesses have been handed every economic advantage congress can fathom. They have received billions in tax cuts, loopholes, abatements and subsidies. Millions of small business owners are thriving. Many are millionaires and billionaires. Wall Street is awash with small business owners who have prospered handsomely from the government’s largesse. Yet every time Washington asks for them to give something back we hear the same old tired whine.

If you are a small business owner and you have been unable to make ends meet in spite of a decade’s worth of government handouts…then maybe it IS time that you close up shop and seek another line of work!

Women make up roughly half of the American workforce. By ever increasing numbers they are the primary bread winners in their households.

Today they finally get paid.

Monday, April 7, 2014

This & That!

Breast Cancer – Pfizer researchers may have discovered a new drug that can stem the advancement of breast cancer. A recent clinical trial determined that the new drug reduced the median time before the cancer progressed or the patients died from 20.2 months to 10.2 months. Researchers remain guardedly optimistic as they pursue further testing.

If you dig through the recent 2015 budget proposed by the Republican Party you will discover that this is exactly the type of research that they want to cut in order to reduce the deficit. In their eyes the path toward fiscal responsibility cuts a large swath through social programs, Pell grants, student loans and research funding. All at the expense of increases in defense spending to pre-sequestration levels.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in this country. We have no cure.

We do have the largest military in the world. We spend more on defense than all the other nations combined. For example…we have 20 aircraft carriers…the rest of the world has 12. The largest air force in the world is maintained by the United States Air Force. The second largest is maintained by the United States Navy. We spend 10 times more on defense per capita than any other nation.

And what does it get us? Look at Iraq and Afghanistan and judge for yourself.

In the end we spend ten times more on blowing things up than we do on educating our children or seeking a cure for our most dreaded diseases. And yet we keep getting our asses kicked by third world countries.

Torture – The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to release a previously classified 6,300 page report on the tactics used by the CIA after the 911 attacks. According to the Washington Post, the report details the controversial interrogation and detention program initiated by the Bush administration, and concludes that the US did in fact torture enemy detainees.

Members of the Bush administration, most notably former Vice President Cheney, have steadfastly maintained that the tactics used were not torture but “legal enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Kudos - To the more than two dozen students who walked out on Dick Cheney last week during his speech at American University. Some called Cheney a “war criminal” as they filed out of the building. Truer words were never spoken.

Cheney has spent the better part of the last decade trying to re-write history and secure his legacy. Hopefully this report will provide the answers the American people are seeking and bring Cheney’s fractured fairy tale to an end once and for all.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

and so it continues...

Another mass shooting…

This time 3 dead 16 injured…

Another mental health patient brandishing a legally owned firearm…

How did this happen?

Surely the question is rhetorical…

Why would it not?

What have we done since the last mass shooting to keep it from happening?

Or the one before that…

Or the one before that…

What have we done to curb gun violence in this country?

What have we done to address the mental health issues that plague our society?

What have we done to make certain this horror never happens again?


The carnage is tragic…heartbreaking!

The event itself has become commonplace.

Brace yourselves!

It will happen again!

Transparency Is The Key!

Money is speech!

That is the message the Supreme Court delivered with yesterday’s ruling on campaign contributions.

In a 5-4 decision the Court maintained the $2,600 limit an individual can give to a federal candidate in each primary and general election as well as the $32,200 limit a donor can give to a national committee. But the Court struck down the $123,200 cap on contributions that an individual can give to all federal candidates, parties and political action committees over a two year period.

Translation…the limited amount of money that an individual can donate to a particular candidate remains in place. However the donor is now free to donate to as many candidates as he/she chooses.

Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, said that maintaining “limits on each contribution helps to prevent corruption, but limits on the number of donations must give way to basic First Amendment rights”

Writing for the minority, Justice Breyer expressed the concerns of those who see the ruling as paving the way for millionaires and billionaires to buy elections. “If Citizens United opened a door” Breyer wrote, “today’s decision, we fear, opened a floodgate.”

Liberals and left leaning pundits reacted to the ruling with typical “Hair on Fire” fervor; predicting once again the end of our democracy.

Calm down!

This is really no big deal.

First…money is like water. It will always find a way to its intended target. There is not a restriction or limitation on the books that will keep a donor’s money from getting to whomever it was intended.

Second…The emotional protestations from the left that the mega corporate donors on the right are going to use their deep pockets to buy elections, are disingenuous at best. Democrats have mega donors too! In fact Democrats have out raised Republicans by a large margin in the previous four election cycles.

Personally, we don’t care how much an individual or corporation donates. What we want is transparency. Let’s make all donations a matter of public record. Scan the checks and post them online. Let’s see just exactly where a candidate is getting his/her money. Let’s see who will have their ear if they get elected. Then we can decide if we want to give them our vote.

We are never going to stop the flow of money in politics. So let’s see where the money comes from.

Transparency is the key!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Reckless & Reprehensible

Over the past several months opponents of the Affordable Care Act have released a lot of misinformation and half truths designed to bring the law to its knees. Accusations of death panels, rationed care, record rate increases and the end of our democracy are but a few of the most common. But the attack that we found the most disturbing is their concerted effort to bring about the demise of the ACA by exposing the youth of this country to a medical and financial disaster.

Healthy young adults share a common bond of invincibility. Their entire future lies at their feet. The only question in their minds is how successful they will be in the decades to come. Illness and disease are intangibles to be addressed somewhere down the road. They would rather spend their limited resources on rent, a nice car or a night out on the town than protect themselves from events that only happen to old people.

Republicans are well aware of this mindset. They are also well aware that enrollment of healthy 18-34 year old adults is crucial to the success of the ACA. So Republicans embarked on an organized campaign designed to discourage the youth of America from enrolling in the ACA.

For the past several months the talking heads on FOXNEWS have encouraged young adults NOT to enroll in the ACA. The Koch Brothers spent tens of millions on radio and television ads carrying the same message. Republicans in congress repeated talking points ad nauseam. The message was clear… “Obamacare is certain to be repealed. Why waste your money on something you don’t need.”

Health care and health insurance are expensive. They are expensive in part because people use them. Unless your last breath is brought about by a sudden heart attack or accidental event the odds are that you WILL need access to health care at some point in your life. And when you do it won’t be cheap. One unplanned visit to the ER can bring a bright financial future to an end. Republicans are well aware of these facts. Yet they continue to perpetrate the myth that young adults need not concern themselves about enrolling in the ACA.

The ACA has been vetted by the Supreme Court. It has been vetted by a majority of Americans who elected Obama to a second term. Americans, by a wide margin, have made it clear that they don’t want the ACA repealed. They want it fixed. Yet Republicans continue to beat the drum for repeal. Even today, as the president celebrates the enrollment of 7.1 million Americans into the ACA, Republican Budget Chairman Paul Ryan will present is budget plan on the floor of the House. His budget will call for the repeal of the law.

We are all entitled to our opinions. Debate is good. It lies at the foundation of our democracy. Republicans have every right to continue to push for the repeal of the ACA.

But taking advantage of the immaturity of our youth…encouraging them to act in a manner that exposes them to the real possibility of financial ruin…all in order to score a political victory…is both reckless and reprehensible.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Lot To Crow About

7,000,000 and counting!

Facing a midnight deadline for open enrollment under the ACA the Obama administration proudly announced that they have reached their goal of 7,000,000 enrollees. That is quite a feat given the horrible rollout of the ACA website and the constant criticism from the naysayers on the right.

Even as millions of Americans let out a sigh of relief that knowing that they no longer had to fear going broke just because they got sick, critics on the right refused to give the president a win. “It’s really not much to crow about” said Marsha Blackburn (Rep.-TN).

Ok! How about this…

The Los Angeles Times reports that according to a new survey conducted by the non-profit Rand Corporation:

-"The Affordable Care Act represents the largest expansion of health care coverage since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965."

-“At least 6 million people have signed up for coverage in the new marketplaces…one third of which were previously uninsured.”

-“4.5 previously uninsured individuals have signed up for coverage under state run Medicaid programs.” (These numbers would be significantly higher if not for the refusal 14 Republican governors to accept Medicaid expansion in their states. Tis better to allow your constituents to risk bankruptcy than to hand the president a political victory.”)

-“3 million young adults have taken advantage of the law’s provision that allows dependent children to stay on their parents’ policy until they reach the age of 26.”

-“9 million Americans have purchased coverage directly from health insurance companies instead of using the new marketplaces.”

-“Less than one million people who had health plans in 2013 are now uninsured because their plans were cancelled for not complying with the new standards set by the law.”

-“The share of adults ages 18-24 without health insurance has declined from 20.9% last fall to 16.6% as of March 22.”
According to the National Statistics Group, health care spending grew by 3.7% in 2012; the lowest rate of growth in the past decade. It marked the first time that health care spending grew at a slower rate that the economy.

The stated goals of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are: “to insure that all Americans have access to affordable quality health care…create transformation within the health care system to contain costs…provide coverage for more than 94% of Americans…bending the health care cost curve…and reducing the deficit over the next ten years and beyond.”

Based on the numbers…it would appear that the administration has a great deal to crow about.

We have noted that there is still a long way to go to smooth out all the rough edges in this law. But no matter what the future may hold this much is certain.

President Barak Obama is the first president willing to stake his presidency and his legacy on tackling the health care crisis in this country.

For that he should be applauded…not vilified.