Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Congolese Child Soldier with “light arms”

[previously published at Examiner.com 7/15/2012]

Wouldn’t it be great if the arms-exporting nations of the world got together to sign an agreement banning the sale of arms to conflict zones, terrorists and murderous dictators?

Of course, the world’s largest exporter of arms, the United States, already has regulations prohibiting the sale of weapons to such people and places, but an international agreement could go a long way in limiting arms trade between nations that have few or no such regulations.

According to William D. Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, because American laws are already in place, such a treaty limiting arms sales would be asking far less of the United States than any other country. Signing the treaty would be “… a very small price to pay for an international agreement that helps keeps arms out of the hands of tyrants, terrorists and aggressor nations,” says Hartung.

With wholesale barbarity in such places as sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq and Syria playing out on the nightly news and the ever-present threat of international terrorism revisiting the United States, you’d think all Americans would support such a treaty — a treaty that would help bar the likes of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the Lord’s Resistance Army and Al-Qaeda from the world’s arms bazaar.

Who could possibly oppose such a treaty?

A New Kind of Logic

Who, indeed.

The National Rifle Organization (NRA) is at it again — only this time, the “from my cold, dead fingers” folks are going global.

Despite the fact that the proposed United Nations Arms Trade Treaty would only regulate the transfer of weapons across international borders and has absolutely nothing to do with gun ownership or sales within the U.S., the NRA and its enforcers in Congress have mounted a campaign against the treaty that is as energetic as it is devoid of sense.

At the U.N. conference negotiating the ATT, NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre, told the conference that the treaty is “an offense to any American who has ever breathed our free air.” You gotta love him.

A letter to President Obama and Sec. of State Clinton signed by 130 NRA cheerleaders in the House of Representatives demanded that the treaty not include any restrictions on small arms or light weapons (you know, the AK-47 and other small arms that do most of the people-shredding around the world). The letter goes on to characterize the treaty as a threat to Americans’ constitutional rights.

Apparently, decades of success at blocking every common sense gun-control law proposed by legislators has taught the NRA to yell, “Constitutional rights,” whenever the words, “gun” and “regulation” appear in the same sentence — whether it applies or not.

When LaPierre accused President Obama of trying to take our guns by NOT proposing any gun control legislation, as LaPierre did in his speech to Florida’s Conservative Political Action Conference in September, I just figured LaPierre was having a bad logic day. After all, Obama, hardly a gun-control crusader, has repealed more gun laws in four years than George W. Bush did in eight — proving everybody can have bad logic days, now and then.

But now, with his full-throated and nonsensical opposition to the ATT, I’m beginning to wonder if LaPierre and the organization that keeps America awash in Saturday night specials and armor-piercing ammo just might be a few rounds short of a full clip.

Exporting Misery

By now we have gotten used to the NRA and its intransigence. We’ve learned to ignore its wild-eyed rhetoric and even LaPierre’s gross disrespect of the President and the presidency. We may even feel a little sorry for those members of the gun set who have bought into the NRA’s self-serving and paranoid fantasy pitting freedom-loving Americans against an evil, despotic government bent on seizing everybody’s guns.

Apparently, we also have learned to live with the 30,000 shooting deaths per year, a figure made possible, at least in part, by lax gun laws and NRA lobbying.

But letting the NRA loose on the rest of the world is just plain mean.

Fearing NRA reprisal, American politicians could very well vote this treaty into history’s dumpster and as a result, put more and more guns into the hands of the world’s bad actors, and, of course, more and more bullets into bodies.

As Americans, we deserve the NRA and the misery caused by the most liberal gun laws on the planet. We are the ones who keep electing politicians that march to the NRA’s tune.

What did the rest of the world do to deserve the NRA?

For a lighter look at the NRA, check out:    “Paranoid and Packing” plus repost of “Double-D Breast Implant Deflects Bullet: NRA Cries Foul”

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It used to make me crazy that votes cast by uninformed citizens carried as much weight as those cast by folks who at least cared enough to learn something about the candidates and issues on the ballot.  It seemed unfair that a person with no historical reference, someone who couldn’t be bothered to read – or even watch – the news had every bit as much influence in the voting booth as someone who could name one of his state’s senators, knew that the Gettysburg Address was not part of the Constitution and was pretty darned sure we did not fight North Vietnam during World War Two.

There oughta be a voting test, I thought.  Kinda like a DMV driving test—a short, maybe 10-question exam, that would separate the civic numbskulls from the not-numbskulls. Score 7 out of 10, and you get your ballot.  Simple.

But there was a problem. Who would design the test? The temptation to skew the test toward one ideological direction or other is too great to leave the job to some overzealous or corruptible employee of the Registrar of Voters.  In other words, we would have to select the proper test by public referendum—putting us right back where we started. Damn. Democracy is messy.

Eventually, I realized that it really didn’t matter anyway. All the votes based on criteria, like “Hey, this candidate has the same first name as my second cousin” and “Wow, this proposition’s number is my wife’s lucky lotto number!” would cancel each other out, leaving the more reasoned votes to battle for the direction of our glorious democracy.

Or so I thought.

Rebels Without a Clue

How was I to know that fear, anger, a wrecked economy and a rightwing TV network would one day marshal those once unconcerned voters into a potent “throw the bums out” voting bloc called “The Tea Party?”

Though it appears the Tea Party-ers’ new passion for politics has not compelled them to become any more informed than they were before joining the movement, don’t worry; Fox News tells them everything they need to know in short, easy-to-parrot catchphrases. So, instead of directing their anger toward the poodle politicians who continue to sell Americans’ health and standard of living to the highest corporate bidders, they blame Obama, a president who has at least shown some inclination–timid though it may be–to rein in the robber-barons of the insurance, energy, healthcare and banking industries.

Chumped

As the Tea Party screams about socialism and Big Government’s intrusion into the private sector, guess who sits back in their $15,000 ostrich leather recliners, gleefully rubbing their hands together like Snidely Whiplash, salivating in anticipation of the next Tea Party victory—the board members of the very corporations whose gambling, outsourcing and greed created the Great American Mess in the first place; that’s who. Bravely marching on, waving their “Obama is a Communist Nazi” signs, the Tea Party-ers have no idea that they’re actually being led down a Stars and Stripes-festooned chute to a fiscal slaughtering pen.

It’s not that Tea Party candidates or members are any smarter or dumber than your average extremist, war-happy, nativist, homophobic, rightwing Republican. It’s just that I would have hoped a sweet, home-grown candidate like the Tea Party’s newest champion, Christine O’Donnell, might at least see economic matters a bit differently than Establishment Republicans, whose ideas of personal adversity run toward catastrophes like late limo drivers and overcooked chateau briand.

Unlike the upper-crust Republicans who populate Capitol Hill, O’Donnell is a working gal who, like so many Americans, has personally felt the sharp pain of financial insolvency. You’d think that at some point while trying to dig herself out of  IRS liens and threatened home foreclosures, Ms. O’Donnell would have noticed how dramatically the deck has been stacked against working Americans by large  corporations and their handmaidens in Congress. That in her darkest moment of despair she would have been struck by a blinding flash of understanding that a gambled-away economy, stagnant wages, unaffordable healthcare and a disappearing middle class are not the results of over-sized government, but of corporate avarice and power run amok; that Big Government isn’t the problem…Owned Government is.

The Loopy Bunch

“Throw the bums out,” has been the rallying cry of a disgruntled electorate since the founding of our democracy. Members of the Tea Party movement, however, have added  their own unique codicil: “Throw the bums out and replace them with people who are as clueless as we are.”

Case in point: Tea Party favorite and Republican nominee for the New York gubernatorial race, Carl Paladino.  Sure, he’s unbalanced and looks like he could spontaneously combust at any moment, but he also appears to be unbelievably stupid. Did he not see the cameras and lights when he threatened to “take out” New York Post reporter Fredric Dicker? Did he not realize that he would come off looking like a temperamental maître d’ doing a really bad Goodfellas routine? And of all the news organizations on the planet to go after, which does Paladino choose? Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post–trumpet of the Rabid Right, and friend to Paladino’s campaign…until Paladino went thug on them, that is.

In Kentucky there’s the Tea Party-approved,  tousle-haired Rand Paul, publicly voicing his opposition to both the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, while O’Donnell’s past dabblings in witchcraft, and rejection of evolution and masturbation continue to provide insight into the early development of a Tea Party great.

Good lord, I wouldn’t trust these people to park my car!

The Tea Party movement could be a blessing, though. It is already causing wide-spread panic throughout the Republican Party, which is always a good thing. GOP leaders are now forced to answer two difficult questions,  “Do we sign on with these loons and risk losing the few sane people we have left, or do we ignore them and pray that their amazing facility for self-destruction quickly slides them back under the rock?” The first strategy would surely strike terror in the hearts of many Independents, driving them back to the Democrats; but strategy #2 might cause the Crazed Right to stay home on election day — an interesting dilemma.

The Tea Party movement also serves as a kind of national bellwether. If my countrymen are crazy enough to put that crew into Congress, where their votes could actually influence what goes on in my country and my life, I’ll know that it’s time to move to Greenland.


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This is the first of ten installments examining the biggest and fattest, most unapologetic out-and-out whoppers that Republicans will be running on this November. It was hard to narrow the list down to just ten (I could have done volumes on Michele Bachmann alone), but after extensive study and fact checking, these are the winners of “The Ten Biggest Republican Lies.”

Extending the Bush Tax Cuts Will Reduce the Deficit

To grow the economy, I, King Russell of Buchania, have decided to extend a 5% tax reduction to my subjects. For most Buchanians the 5% reduction will merely postpone the wolf’s scratching at the door, but for my fellow aristocrats the cuts will result in a doubloon windfall—a cascade of cash that they will then invest in Buchania businesses and the creation of jobs for my many unemployed subjects.

I will then be able to collect enough taxes from my happy, gainfully employed people that I will be able to replace the amount Buchania’s treasury lost by cutting taxes in the first place. The Deficit of the Realm will be reduced, and I, their beloved sovereign, will then be able to pay for better roads and better education for their children.

The deficit reduction caused by my tax cuts will also calm the fears of our creditor kingdoms, Chinathia and Germandria, whose growing nervousness about our out-of-control spending might have eventually caused them to dump—for pennies on the doubloon—the trillion in Buchania Treasury Notes they now hold… a situation so devastating we would long for the relatively good old days of the Black Plague.

However, when Buchania’s unemployment reaches 20% and my subjects have discovered that my tax cuts only fattened the deficit and the bank accounts of my fellow aristocrats, their love for me will diminish. When it is further discovered that instead of investing in Buchania’s economy, my wealthy chums used their tax cuts to purchase fine country estates and caviar for their polo ponies, it will not sit well with the Great Unwashed. After losing their livestock, thatched huts and sanity, they will storm my castle and hang me from the outstretched arm of my beautiful, jewel-encrusted statue of Adam Smith.

The Voodoo They Do

Voodoo Economics” is what Bush Sr. called this particular piece of “supply-side” theory eventually signed into law by his Voodoo-friendly son. Before Senator John McCain became “Weather Vane” McCain, he too loudly inveighed against this obviously unworkable scheme.

N. Gregory Mankiw, former chair of Bush Jr.’s Council of Economic Advisers, broke it down like this: The money kept in the private sector by cuts in capital gains taxes generates only about half of the government revenue lost by the cuts, while payroll tax cuts replace about 17% of what the government would have collected without the cuts.

In other words, continuing across-the-board tax-slashing while our deficit turns into a fiscal version of “The Blob” is economic madness; only a fraction of the money kept in the private sector due to tax cuts finds its way back into government coffers.

Economists with impeccable conservative bona fides, including Alan Greenspan and Reagan budget chief David Stockman, predict fiscal disaster if the Bush tax cuts don’t expire when they’re supposed to at midnight, December 31, 2010.

Bush’s Folly in Perpetuity and the “Small Business” Canard

If Bush’s tax cuts are allowed to continue, the wealthiest Americans–by far the major beneficiaries of the cuts–would simply pile those millions on top of the money they’re already hoarding. The only jobs created: crews for their new yachts.

Small business owners–the folks Republicans claim are in Obama’s “over $250,000 ” bracket — AREN’T.  John McCain can shout, “23 million small-business owners will see their taxes go up under Obama’s scheme” all he wants, but he can’t make it true. In fact, a number of those business owners will see their taxes go down.

According to FactCheck.com’s analysis, “McCain is counting mostly ‘business owners’ with no workers, including those who simply report small amounts of income from sideline or freelance work. McCain is arguing that Obama’s tax increase would “destroy jobs,” but he’s counting mostly firms that don’t produce any.”

Business Week tells us that “8.9% of individuals who report small business income or loss (including self-employment income, income from S-corps, partnerships and limited liability companies, farm income and income from rental property and royalties) have household income greater than $250,000. But fewer than 2% of those filers fall into the top two tax brackets.” From Business Week, no less–not exactly a champion of wealth redistribution.

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, extending Bush’s tax cuts would add $2.6 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

We’d have to really hate our kids and grandkids to leave them holding that kind of bag.

When you add to the Bush tax cuts our current policy of continual war, our red ink begins to take on biblical proportion–plague, locusts and the American deficit.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Just two policies dating from the Bush Administration — tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — accounted for over $500 billion added to the deficit in 2009 and will account for almost $7 trillion of the deficit from 2009 through 2019, including the associated debt-service costs. These impacts easily dwarf the stimulus and financial rescues. Furthermore, unlike those temporary costs, these inherited policies (especially the tax cuts and the [unpaid for] Medicare drug benefit) do not fade away as the economy recovers.”

Republican Whoppers

We’ve gotten used to Republican end runs around the truth with “death panels,” global warming-as-hoax, Iraq’s WMDs, etc., but those claims at least offered some sort of plausible deniability, i.e., “Everybody thought Saddam had WMDs,” or “Obamacare does mention ‘panels’ and ‘death’ at different points in the legislation.” But the bold assertion that tax cuts will reduce the deficit is not only the biggest and fattest of big fat Republican lies, it leaves no credible dance steps toward the wings for its minstrels.

Once Americans see the original Bush tax cuts and their extension as tragic fiscal policy, Boehner and crew could try, “You heard us wrong, we said, Let’s end, not extend,’ ” but somehow I don’t think anybody will buy it…or prevent us rabble from carrying our pitchforks and torches to the voting booth.

Click here for next Republican Whopper: We are the Party of Family Values

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When a lawmaker is found to have a few thousand ill-gained bucks stashed behind packages of Ore-Ida hash browns and a half-eaten pint of Cherry Garcia in his freezer at home, we call it bribery.”

When Democratic lawmakers take money from private health insurers, and then proceed to fight their own party, president and constituents by trying to undermine, hijack, maim, and vaporize the only hope we have of making American health care more Hippocratic than plutocratic – we call it “politics.”

Of course, this is nothing new.  Politicians throughout history have been on the take in varying degrees of legality.  From 54 B.C – when every single candidate for Roman consulship was indicted on charges of bribery – to Boss Tweed’s Tammany Machine, to Representative Jefferson’s Frigidaire, the violation of public trust in exchange for money has been the engorged leech on the body politic.  But as the cost of modern American campaigning continues to soar (and the idea of meaningful campaign finance reform has become a quaint artifact of a bygone era), the once discreet tit-for-tat collusion between “special interests” and our leaders has oozed from the smoke-filled back rooms of yesteryear into a full-blown yard sale of political influence and favor.  By now, selling votes to the highest corporate bidder is no doubt a rider on American legislators’ oaths of office.

But, as commonplace as the ownership of our elected officials has become, the positions on the “public option” taken by the House Blue Dogs and centrist-conservative Democrats in the Senate are – even by today’s standards – nauseating in their blatant toadyism, shining the brightest spotlight yet on the Turkish bazaar we call the United States Government.

One would think the numbers alone would be enough to scare the Blue Dogs and Democratic Senators like Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Evan Bayh and Blanche Lincoln into line.  Recent polls show that most Americans continue to believe a strong, non-triggered, public option is a good idea.  Among Democrats and health professionals the pro-public option numbers are overwhelming.  One can only imagine how Democratic doctors feel about it.  Yet, these lawmakers have tried to crush the public option at every turn.  To be fair, a few of these centrist-conservatives may have a little honest-though-misguided ideology prompting their party apostasy, and it’s true that Landrieu will soon be facing a tough re-election in her conservative Louisiana.  But she needs Democratic votes and the party’s good will.  She is – despite all recent evidence to the contrary – a Democrat.  Civil rights groups have been airing TV ads pressing her on the issue, and unions are following suit with letter-writing campaigns.  If she and her fellow flies in the ointment continue in their current direction, the Mark of Cain shall be upon them, friendless in the party and at the polls.

What could possibly make these folks behave in such a seemingly politically self-destructive way?  What could make them side with the universally loathed health insurance industry – the industry that views their customers as medicine-grubbing pests?  Will the half-million Landrieu’s gotten from insurance and health sectors, the million Nelson has received, the million and a half tossed to Bayh, and the nearly two million heaped upon Lincoln buy enough TV time to overcome the party alienation and livid voters created by their obstruction?  They must think so.

Then, there’s the morality – the decency of it all.  Thanks to Rep. Alan Grayson and a recent Harvard study (http://www.ajph.org/first_look.shtml), it is now widely known that 45,000 Americans per year die because of lack of health insurance.  That’s die – as in spouses and children left to grieve, or parents left to endure what psychologists cite as the most profoundly excruciating experience life can dish out to a human psyche.  Why?  Because they could not afford–or were denied access to–the care that might have detected that tiny tumor long before it became inoperable, or that irregular heartbeat that eventually killed an otherwise healthy little kid.  And, if 45,000 of us are dying of “lack of insurance,” and related causes, like suddenly discovered “preexisting conditions” and “denied experimental procedures,” how many of us are being blinded and crippled by the same conditions?

For many voters, this takes the public option issue out of the political realm and plants it firmly in personal, deeply-felt territory.  The Blue Dogs’ in-boxes must be exploding with emails asking, “Are you really going to sit there with an American flag pinned to your lapel while you condemn Americans to death for being sick or poor?”  “Yes,” is their implied answer, as they continue to sideswipe hope into a ditch.  Surely, they must realize all the television time in the world will not erase the sense of betrayal these voters are feeling, or the blame these lawmakers will share if the public option goes up in smoke or turns out to be a combination of the spineless, industry-friendly versions currently being spewed by the Senate and the House.

Maybe they just don’t get it.  Maybe they’re looking at the public option as just another bit of politics, to be wheeled and dealt with as their corporate sponsors see fit.  It wouldn’t be too surprising.  When “Independent” Joe Lieberman announced his plan to join the planned Republican filibuster, the TV news reporter explained matter-of-factly that Senator Lieberman has a number of private health insurers based in his state – as if it’s understood that a senator-host to large insurance corporations is somehow required to hold American’s health hostage to please his guests.

Or maybe there’s something larger going on here.   For the first time in a long time, our government is considering a move that could deeply affect the bottom line of one of the wealthiest industries in the world.  CEOs in every sector must be watching the public option debate like slave owners fearing an uprising.  The Corporate Word has gone out to lawmakers everywhere: “Hey, if we can’t trust you on this health care thing, what’s gonna happen when my defense, energy, finance or transportation bill comes up before you guys?  Are you gonna go Grayson and Kucinich on us?”

The implied threat of having his corporate spigots not only turned off, but also opened wide for his more “trustworthy” opponent in the next election, puts the poodle right back in the yard; that is, if the poodle was even thinking about jumping the fence in the first place.

Obama is wrong when he downplays the public option as a mere “sliver” of overall health care reform.  It is the centerpiece, and he knows it.  A government-run insurance option is the only way – short of a politically unattainable single-payer, European-type system – to help make health care more affordable and accessible to Americans.  But more importantly, it has become a crucible in American politics.  The implementation of a real public option will show that reports of our democracy’s demise have been somewhat premature.

Now that we’ve seen congress’ embarrassing, whittled down versions of the plan, it is clear Obama’s influence and veto power – along with lawmakers who actually use their office to help Americans – are our last and only hope.  Will the oligarchy emerge triumphant, once again?   Or will Obama use the power we gave him and start effecting real change, making the adoption of the public option an historic bellwether that saved our lives and our government – when the common good went up against some of the wealthiest, most powerful corporations in the world, and despite their propaganda, their staged “grassroots” protests, their TV ads and the tireless efforts of their very own politicians – the American people won.

For a look at political bribery and health care–set to music (sample): “All-American Suckers”