GOP to Dems: Do What We Say, Not What We Do

On Thursday, February 25th, 2010, the long-anticipated bipartisan health care summit called by President Barack Obama will take place beginning at 10am EST in Washington, DC.  CSPAN and possibly other TV stations will covering it live.

In the run-up to this summit, both political parties have been managing expectations for their respective bases, telling them not to expect anything substantial to result from this.

The democrats are claiming that this summit answers republicans’ accusations that they were excluded from all previous health care reform actions.  The republicans  are claiming that the democrats are conducting this meeting for purely political reasons, and that if the dems were really serious about bipartisanship, they would entirely abandon the now-combined health care reform package that has already passed both the House and the senate.

The republicans are also front-loading the media against the legislative process know as reconciliation, which allows the majority party in either house of congress can avoid the obstructionist tactic by the minority party known as a filibuster (talking forever without yielding the floor).  Filibusters require a 60% “super-majority” to end, but are not permitted under reconciliation procedures.  Thus, under reconciliation a bill can proceed to a final vote, which only requires a simple majority (more than 50% of votes cast) to pass.

The GOP has used reconciliation many times when they controlled the congress.  Yet, the GOP is now claiming that use of reconciliation by the dems to pass a revised health care reform package is unfair and “arrogant”, according to Senate Minority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

In other words, when the republicans used reconciliation, which they hold the record for, by the way, it was acceptable.  But when the dems want to use it for the very first time in this administration, the GOP screams foul and runs around claiming that the dems ( the party which the voters chose to be the majority)  are arrogant.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The real answer is that the American people have allowed themselves to be subjected to this type of hypocritical irrational reasoning for far too long.  This has encouraged the GOP to scream that the sky is falling under the democrats, regardless of issue.  Rather than offer real workable, viable solutions to real problems, the minority party senate republicans have used the filibuster to block action on most major legislation since Obama took office in January 2009.

Note to GOP: Political Tip:  It’s a lot easier to trash your opponent than to out-perform him in the proposed solutions department.  If you can inject fear for and hatred of the opponent in the voter, you stand a better chance of getting elected/reelected, because many voters don’t do the research necessary to find out who’s telling the truth and who’s full of it.

As a result of all of this, no one is expecting any breakthroughs during the unprecedented five hour summit meeting.  In fact, the expectation is so low now that the summit will probably have mostly entertainment value.  It is undeniable that Obama has answered the GOP’s accusation of non-inclusion on health care reform by calling this meeting.  But the GOP is already setting it up as a dismal failure by demanding that the democrats abandon their position (in the form of legislation already passed by majority vote) even before the meeting starts.  In other words, the minority is telling the majority to surrender and how to do so.

And yet, all the democrats have asked the GOP to do is to show up and bring their ideas to the table.  Nothing else.

This is a very dangerous game for both sides, but the GOP has now desperately painted itself into a more dangerous corner than the democrats.  Unless they present clear, easy-to-understand solutions to the issue of the recent 40% health insurance premium increases such as those in California and Maine; unless they have a clear solution to the unpaid hospital emergency room bills incurred by the poor but subsidized by the rest of us through higher and higher medical costs….

…unless they can present an alternative plan that will clearly work, they will be left with only one choice:  either sign on to the democratic proposals to fix these things, or bad-mouth the summit, complain about the unfair democrats, cry “woe is me” to whomever will listen to such garbage, and stream endless propaganda about how the democrats are destroying America, Americans, and Americana.

The odds are that when the summit has ended and the theatrics are over, the GOP, having contributed little to nothing at the summit, will opt for the propaganda route.  Credibility will then be the underlying issue.  But in light of the summit itself, that might a huge mistake.  It could cause some moderate republicans stand up to their party leaders and say, “Not so fast…!”  Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts come to mind.

Note to GOP:  Political Tip:  When you lose your credibility past a certain point, the lemmings that were following you over the cliff may begin to have seconds thoughts…as in “think for themselves”…without you.

USA: Pay Big Now or Pay HUGE Later

Despite the fantasy-land message the Tea Party folks like to spout at anyone who will listen to them, tax cuts do not reduce budget deficits.  On the contrary, reducing income while the bills are still coming in is a formula for financial disaster, often leading to bankruptcy.  That’s exactly where the USA is heading.

Regardless of your political leanings, it is an undeniable historical fact that then-president Bill Clinton reached compromises with the republican congress in the mid-1990’s to balance the federal budget that resulted in budget surpluses for each of the last four years of his presidency.  By the time GW Bush took over the presidency from Bill Clinton in 2001, the budget surpluses for next ten years were estimated to be US$5.6 trillion (with a “t”).

Today, the budget deficit is approximately US$1 trillion a year.  That’s a huge change in eight short years.

What changed to cause this financial disaster?

GW Bush’s very first budget proposal returned the USA to deficit spending, and it just got worse from there.   The 9-11 attacks had a effect on federal spending that was universally accepted as necessary.  But far beyond necessary public safety expenditures,  Bush and republicans who controlled congress until January 2007 spent the taxpayers money as if they were drunken sailors.  This was coupled with a huge tax cut for the rich early in Bush’s rule, which dramatically reduced tax revenues while spending was going up.  The republicans, who claim to live by “spend less, then tax less”, violated that very same manta by spending more and still taxing less (if you were very rich).  Thus, the bills were not getting paid.

Bush’s tax cuts, which were a version of former president Ronald Reagan’s voodoo “trickle-down” economics, were supposed to stimulate the economy, which actually didn’t need stimulating, anyway, despite the dot.com failures of the late 1990’s.  Instead, by December 2007, the USA was in a worsening recession, the effects of which are still hurting the middle class today.

President Obama inherited this mess, and the democrats who now controlled congress should have taken advantage of their control to push through important spending cuts even as health care was being debated.  The congressional republicans could also have joined in to find compromises.  Instead the republicans, particularly in the US senate, adapted a single strategy:  Oppose EVERYTHING the democrats propose.  Stop at NOTHING to have NOTHING pass.  Make the democrats look totally ineffective, and piss everyone off everywhere.  People will get so disgusted that they will vote the democrats out of congress in 2010.  The republicans can then resume their self-appointed, self-adjudged, righteous place as the party in power.

And for what?  To spend more and tax less?

Let’s face it.  Even president Obama’s proposed three-year freeze on all discretionary government spending is but a tiny drop in the into the deficit-reduction bucket.  The Tea Party’s dreams of curtailing or even ending entitlements such as social security and medicare are unrealistic and won’t ever happen until we run completely out of money…then EVERYTHING stops.  The annual interest alone on the national debt is projected to be US$516 billion by 2014, which is more than the total projected domestic spending budget for that year.  After that, it’s only a matter of time before the USA goes bankrupt and the American dollar becomes totally worthless.

There is only one possible path to national financial solvency:  EVERYONE has got to “Bite the bullet“.

Both liberal democrats and conservative republicans have got to abandon their singular goals in favor of crafting joint legislation that will both effectively reduce spending AND pay the bills.  Liberals have got to embrace a reduction in spending.  Republicans have got to embrace higher (and fairer) taxes to pay the bills, especially those of the past eight years.

According to the latest polls, two-thirds of Americans are so frustrated with congressional gridlock that they say they will vote the incumbents out of office.  The National Republican Committee (NRC) likes this because there are more democrats in congress than republicans.  But isn’t the main reason for going to congress to do the public’s business, as opposed to making the other party look bad??

Thus, it’s a really tough sell.  The ultra-conservatives like the Tea Party and the ultra-right fringe will NEVER agree to tax increases, not matter what.  These are the same tunnel-visioned folks who will never accept any abortion even if it’s to save the mother’s life.  Even conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly recognizes that some of these folks are “out there”.

The prognosis is not too encouraging.  The best case scenario is that it will take some very courageous people on both sides years to fix this.

So you just might want to start looking at properties in Canada or Europe, and/or turn your assets into gold or some other inflation-proof commodity.

Oh yeah…and you might want to learn Chinese, since China now owns a huge portion of our national debt.

After all…you’ve heard of foreclosure and repossession, right?

Sarah Palin and the Hand Job

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You gotta love Sarah Palin.  Besides being an attractive woman with nice hair, she is such a great entertainer.  No matter where you see her, she is never boring or dull.  She always leaves a lasting impression on all who see her, hear her, and follow her antics.

Take, of example, these photos .  If you look carefully, you will see that Sarah writes on her hands with black ink.  She writes words of reminder, much like a 5th grader might write answers for expected questions on a forthcoming test.

Of course, many politicians often use teleprompters when giving lengthy speeches to help them not have to look down and away from an audience to read the next several lines from a speech.  These helps in maintaining the continuity of the speech with minimum distraction to the audience.  Teleprompters are not designed to provide memory joggers to possible questions from the press, although it is conceivable that they could be used in this manner with some preparation.

However, when someone is in an answer & question session with members of the audience or the press,  he or she is expected to know answers relating to their own personal beliefs and opinions on a whole range of issues.  He or she is also expected to have essential knowledge about the basic programs and policies they support (or do not support).  They are not expected to have to refer to “crib notes” written on their hand to reminder them that energy independence, for example, is one of their own personal priorities.

But at the first-ever convention of the ultra-right-wing Tea Party last weekend in Nashville, Tennessee, Sarah Palin was the keynote speaker.  She was also interviewed in numerous venues.  Take a look at the video featured HERE.  She is seen clearly having to look down at her hand to reminder her that energy is one of her priorities.  While neither the Tea Party convention organizers nor Sarah Palin’s staff would answer questions about whether Palin knew the questions beforehand, it is reasonable to assume that she did have that information.  Otherwise, she would not have written the exact words on her hand that would be used in her answers to those questions.

Shortly after the convention, Sarah Palin publicly announced that she was not ruling out a run for the US presidency in 2012, when, presumably, she would be opposing president Barack Obama’s bid for a second four-year term.  At almost the same time, the press got ahold of the story about Sarah’s writing job on her hands.  Timing, they say, is everything…

What, you might ask, is so wrong about someone writing reminders on their hands?  After all, millions write telephone numbers on their hands when they have nothing else to write on.  People may write shopping items on their hand when they all of a sudden remember them.

And besides, president Barack Obama, known as a master orator, uses teleprompters when giving speeches.  In fact, before the tea Party convention, Sarah Palin had criticized Obama’s use of teleprompters!  That’s interesting, since both former president GW Bush and her own running mate in 2008, John McCain, used teleprompters.  And in all probability, as candidate for US vice-president, so did she.

Sarah Palin’s need to refer to written notes from time to time is certainly acceptable and really not the issue.  The issue is her judgment.  She clearly had no idea that she would be seen as a 5th grader cheating on a test in school.  And worse, she didn’t realize that first criticizing Obama for using teleprompters, and then later publicly referring to her priorities written on her hand would look hypocritical, primitive and downright stupid.

Remember that this is the same person who claimed experience and knowledge in foreign policy issues because Canada borders her home state Alaska to the east, and she can see an island belonging to Russia off Alaska to the west.

What is most astounding, however is that some folks actually see Sarah Palin as president of the most powerful and complicated nation on Earth despite what she says and does in public; but then, there are plenty of people who simply are not very bright or not very informed, or both.  Sarah, herself, seems oblivious to how things she does and says make her look within the framework of her presumed presidential ambitions.  It just seems crazy.

On the other hand, maybe she’s crazy like a fox.  Maybe she’s doing exactly what some folks think the seemingly-lunatic-ultra-extreme-right-wing-fringe (but possibly closet-liberal) Ann Coulter has done, which is to market herself exquisitely.

Maybe Sarah is simply setting herself up for a career in the entertainment field…maybe as a talk show host….maybe…maybe…as Rush’s competition??

Wow!  Talk about turning your hand into a job!   🙂

Space…The (Free Enterprise) Final Frontier

President Obama has finally submitted his 2011 budget to congress, and one item that generally sails through without too much hoopla is the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) budget.  But not this year.

A war may just break out in congress over Obama’s proposed budget for NASA.  The US space agency was formed in 1958 out of the old NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) by then-president Eisenhower,  in reaction to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik.

NASA brought together the national resources required for the USA to catch up to and surpass the Soviets.  It developed and oversaw all of the unmanned US deep space missions such as  the Mars orbiters, landers and rovers, the Venus imagers, multiple science missions to Jupiter, Saturn, the outer planets, asteroids and comets, the Hubble Space Telescope, most of the International Space Station.  It also developed the 29-year-old space shuttle program of 130 missions so far, among other programs.

However, the most attention and admiration was captured by NASA with its Apollo moon program of the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first stepped out onto Earth’s moon.  Through December 1972, another ten humans trekked to and worked on this alien terrain.  Additionally, six more NASA astronauts were scheduled to go on three more moon missions beyond Apollo 17, until then-president Nixon axed the NASA budget due to an increasing deficit caused primarily by the US$25 billion a year (in 1970 dollars) Vietnam war.  By comparison, NASA’s budget in its moon-exploring heyday was approximately US$5 billion a year.  And while the Vietnam war was a miserable failure, NASA’s success and accomplishments were the pride of the USA.

It’s hard to believe that it all happened 40 or so years ago.  It makes the idea of NASA withdrawing from human space flight unimaginable. But Obama’s 2011 budget plan proposes to do just that by ending the relatively new NASA Constellation program, which was initiated over five years ago by the Bush administration to return humans to the moon and then explore beyond while retiring NASA’s space shuttle.

Constellation, which has cost over US$9 billion so far, has been chronically underfunded.  The blue-ribbon Augustine Commission, tasked then-incoming president Obama to review America’s space program and suggest ways forward, reported that the underfunded Constellation program could not get humans out of low Earth orbit (LEO) before 2030 at the earliest, even if funding was suddenly  and dramatically increased.

Thus, by terminating Constellation and retiring the space shuttle program after its five final missions, all scheduled in 2010, the USA would for the first time since 1961 have no human space transportation system either in its inventory or even on NASA’s drawing board.

Instead, NASA would provide (and in fact is already providing) research and development “seed” money for private companies to develop their own private human-rated spacecraft.   No schedule or clear time-line to achieve this capability would exist. Accomplishments would be governed solely by the profit motive.

This is certainly feasible from an entrepreneurial point of view, since several private companies such as Orbital Sciences and United Launch Alliance already provide non-human-rated space transportation service to both government and industry. They are set to receive more R&D money from the US government through NASA.

But there is a huge problem with this plan:  It clearly leaves the USA totally dependent on foreign technology and foreign availability for transportation into space, with no clear idea of when that situation might change.  Earth is by no means a tranquil place. Both foreseen and unforeseen needs may arise that demand that the US government redirect and rebuild its own human space launch capability.

However, without maintaining its extraordinarily skilled and experienced space workforce, the US will lose its ability to react quickly to resurrect its human space launch capabilities.  That would leave the US very vulnerable to the whims of possibly uncontrollable sources.  And this doesn’t even address the loss of national pride, or the the loss of interest in a space industry career by young people, who previously were sparked by the most accomplished and successful human spaceflight capabilities on the planet.

There seems to be only solution to this dilemma:  End the Constellation program while funding free enterprise research and development, but still maintain the space shuttle until the private enterprise products are online.  That would mean maintaining at least one space shuttle launch per year until its replacement is operational.  It could take five or even ten years, and would add some budget costs to NASA.  But without keeping the space shuttle operational, the USA will be have to hitch all its rides into space, just like someone hailing a taxi in the rain because he or she doesn’t own a car.

But if the Obama plan is passed as is,in 200 years our descendants just might be hearing Captain Kirk say, “Beam me up, Scotty”…..in Chinese.