Archive

Congress

I’m a pretty well-informed person.  I read news stories, blogs, op-eds, and get friends’ thoughts on the issues in America (and the world) in 2013 and beyond.  So I’m pretty well able to form my own opinions and articulate them relatively clearly.

What I don’t know is what the hell to do about them that will actually make a difference.

You know the problems as well as I do.  Here’s a partial list:

  • We have 25 people –including 20 young school children — killed by gun violence while in school and we still can’t do anything about it, because the NRA owns Congress.  So now the NRA, feeling its oats, is proposing placing armed guards in schools, and arming teachers.  The city council in Nelson, Georgia — and I swear I’m not making this up — voted 5-0 to make gun ownership mandatory.  Unless the members of the family opt out.  The level of idiocy in this is simply breathtaking.  How does any of this remotely make sense?
  • The manufactured deficit crisis, leading to the sequester:  This is directly related to the fact that most of our leaders (and I blame both Democrats and Republicans on this, but the Republicans are much, much worse on this) take really good care of the rich in this country.  After all, that’s where the campaign cash comes from, and those are the people who can afford the lobbyists.  Meanwhile, the little guy keeps getting the shaft.  The Republicans claim victory on the sequester, too, which is absolutely crazy.  At the same time they’re saying that the cuts are bad, bad, bad.  No wonder they’re so out of touch.  The latest news on this: Cancer clinics are turning away Medicare patients because of the sequester.  Can someone explain to me how this is good policy, or how it’s even humane?  Because I don’t see how it could be.  I can’t see how it’s moral or right, either, but that’s another story.
  • Women’s health and the right to choose: States continue to pare back a woman’s right to control her body.  I wrote a post on this last August.  I don’t want to re-litigate it here.
  • Republicans in North Carolina wants to declare a state religion.  Obviously, this is unconstitutional, but that people would actually try this in 2013 just boggles my mind.
  • The Obama Administration is considering a trade agreement with the European Union that would give corporations just what they need — more power (yes, I’m being sarcastic).  This is another one of those policy ideas that I just can’t understand.  Corporations have too much power in this world; they certainly don’t need more.
  • The heartbreaking struggle (If you haven’t seen the film that I’m linking to here, you should; it’s a documentary that aired on HBO … I was in tears watching it) that so many people are going through in  this country with long-term unemployment (while corporations sit on an unprecedented amount of cash, don’t hire enough people, and only manage to the bottom line).  The only mobility in this country is downward, unless you’re incredibly rich.  The middle class is being decimated.  It’s pretty plain that a strong middle class, and the poor actually being able to improve their situation, is vital to a strong economy.  All the growth is being concentrated with the rich.  None of it is “trickling down.”  Did we learn nothing from the last 30 years?  Did we learn nothing from the last Gilded Age?
  • The gerrymandered to death congressional districts that pretty well rigged elections for the next decade.
  • The voting rights act that is under review in the Supreme Court that could turn back the gains made there over the past 45 or 50 years.
  • Taxpayer-subsidized banks and oil companies.

I’ve left out all kinds of things in this list, I know — everything from gay rights, to protection for women against being raped and mandating that rape kits are actually processed, to equal pay for equal work, to the crumbling infrastructure, to the crippling student debt that so many are buried under … the list could go on and on.  America is in sorry shape.  (And I want to blast Republicans in general for their general wing-nuttery, but that’s another post.)

So my question is this:  What the hell do we do about it?  What would actually make a difference?  Because I really don’t know.

We saw the Occupy movement fall apart and fade away after some serious police brutality and the weather changing.  Newspapers are failing and being consolidated.  (I can’t find a citation right now, but I read that there’s something like four or five corporations that control nearly all of the media in this country.)

I’m really concerned about my son’s future.  How is he going to get ahead in this country when it’s on this path?

So can someone tell me something to do that will actually make a difference?

Update 4/12/13 — I had dinner with a friend last night.  She said that to change it, you have to run for office.  I pretty much dismissed that out of hand; I don’t really have much interest in running for office.  I don’t want to join to politician class and become part of the problem.  Smarter people than I am have tried and got sucked in.  I’m watching people like Elizabeth Warren pretty closely.  I hope she and others like her can make a difference.

Advertisements

Republicans are waging a war on women on multiple fronts all over the country.  It’s happening in Congress, it’s happening in state legislatures all over the nation, and it’s happening in conservative media.  Yes, there are some liberals who are chauvinistic in their comments.  But on the left, there isn’t the concerted war on women the way there is on the right.

Let’s start with the legislative war.  This takes the form of defunding Planned Parenthood in the name of reducing or eliminating abortions.  This is happening in Congress, and in several of the states.  And it happened by a major charity.  It’s an open attack on abortion rights, and a woman’s right to choose.  It also takes the form of truly horrid and regressive laws, like the one Virginia tried to pass earlier this year.  It doesn’t matter that some of these laws aren’t passing.  It’s like fighting a forest fire — attacks are coming from all over the place.

It doesn’t seem to matter that the laws defunding Planned Parenthood are counterintuitive, or that the laws will actually do a lot of harm.  Planned Parenthood provides quite a lot of women’s health services, such as routine pap smears or breast exams.  (They also provide contraception.)  No, they provide abortions, so they’re bad.  All bad.

Look, if you really want to reduce or eliminate abortions, educate people (especially teenagers and preteens) on what sex really is, and the possible consequences of not doing it safely.  People are going to have sex, no matter how much Republicans try to deny that fact.  So why not give them the tools to do it safely, and to prevent the pregnancies from happening in the first place?

Today in Michigan, two female Democratic legislators were silenced on the House floor for daring to oppose the heinous abortion bill that passed there today.  They wanted to apply the same law to vasectomies.  Turn about is fair play, after all.

Probably worst of all, Republicans are seeking to redefine the definition of rape.  And then they want to prevent the use of any tax money to pay for abortion.  Yesterday, a story was published about House Republicans blocking abortion access for soldiers who have been raped.

These policies are misogynistic and misguided.  Actually, misguided isn’t strong enough.  They’re simply wrong.   The New York Times editorialized about this on May 19.  (It’s too long to post here, but I recommend reading it all.)  Frank Rich also wrote a long New York Magazine piece on this that points out what’s happening.

Stop having sex with us, gentlemen, and I ask women to boycott men ...

The question, really, is what do we do about it?  There have been some suggestions about having a sex strike.  That’s not really a bad idea.  But it’s not all that practical.  The only way to get their attention is to have people flood their phones and email boxes and snail mail boxes.  And then to start making their approval ratings go down by answering polls when called.

Ultimately, women and people who actually like women have to vote this fall.These ultra-religious right-wing Republicans need to lose their seats this fall.  That means that people will have to actually vote their interests, unlike what many red state residents do.

Conservative women absolutely need to stand up and remind these legislators that they all have mothers and wives and daughters and sisters and maybe mistresses.  Republicans have to be loudly reminded that their women are not going to stand for this.  They need to be reminded that if they want to pursue these misogynistic policies, there will be consequences.  Maybe those won’t come today, but they will come.  Women make up more than 50% of the population.  Women will become more and more alienated.  Republicans will not continue to win elections except in the most extreme places without the support of women.  Without the support of women, the Republican Party — the Grand Old Party — will die.

Life will get a lot tougher for women if the Republican Party gets its way.  The party seems to want to drag women and their health back to the dark ages.  I’m personally so disgusted with the troglodytes in the Republican Party that I can hardly believe it.  They’ve ticked me off in the past, but they’re so far overboard now that I think they’re trying to drag us back to the 13th century.

This is the same Republican Party that proclaims itself the party of small government.  Government is bad, according to them, and has too much power over citizens’ (and corporations, because corporations are people) lives.  So government must be made smaller so that it intrudes less than it currently does.  Regulate less!  Obama is bad!  (No matter what he does.)  This is simply  Republicans playing Machiavellian games in the name of religion, damn whoever gets hurt.

Here’s how Republicans are waging war on women in the past few weeks (they’re also waging war on gays, but that’s another story and another post):

  • The current conflagration pretty much started — this time — with the Susan G. Komen Foundation flap over Planned Parenthood.
  • Republicans promptly went ballistic over the whole contraception coverage requirement issue.  They said (and continue to say) that it goes too far, that religious organizations should be exempted.  Of course, this is a fallacious argument; the Obama Administration isn’t requiring that churches pay for contraception, only their health care arms.  (I’m explaining this badly.  But the point remains.)  They’re going all in and gearing up for a huge fight to deny women contraceptive coverage, coverage that insurance companies want to provide.  (Insurance companies do nothing out of the goodness of their heart.  They’re doing it because it’s cheaper than paying for pregnancy and childbirth.)  This is about religion for the Republicans.  Mitch McConnell admitted as much.
  • Rick Santorum’s main financial backer suggested that birth control is actually quite cheap, that “gals” could achieve that by putting an aspirin between their knees.
  • The Virginia House of Delegates passed a law requiring women who want to have an abortion to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound before those women are allowed to have their abortion.  Forcing something into a woman without her consent — even if she has to sign a consent form to have the ultrasound — is rape.  State-sanctioned rape.
  • Republicans on the House Oversight Committee held a hearing today on birth control.  Not one woman was allowed to testify, despite showing up for the hearing.  Nearly all Democratic women on the panel walked out in protest.
  • Not one Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act, originally passed in 1994.  This kind of law should pass easily.  But it may not even be able to break a certain Republican filibuster.
  • Oklahoma’s senate passed a personhood act, which states that life begins at conception.  This would effectively ban all abortions.

(All this, and I didn’t even mention Rick Santorum and that Fox News commentator whose name escapes at the moment me talking about women serving on the front lines in the military.  Santorum talked about women’s feelings — and men’s feelings that they will have to protect those women.  The Fox News commentator said that women should expect to be raped.  No, that’s only if they go to Virginia and need an abortion.)

Polls show that women — including Catholic women — use birth control.  They want the choice, and they want insurance to pay for it.  I — and about half of Americans — think that a woman should have the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy without onerous requirements imposed by the government.  I don’t want an abortion, but I also would not restrict another woman’s right to make that choice.  Who am I to choose for her?  Who are conservatives to impose what they want on everyone else?

This is an all-out Republican war on women.  There’s no other way to read this.  None.  It’s about nothing other than religion.  We’re supposed to live in a free country.  We have freedom of religion, which also means freedom from religion.  That means that no group is supposed to be allowed to impose its religion on another group.  Imposing religion on the rest of the country seems to be what Republicans are trying to do.  If people like Rick Santorum get their way, we’ll be living in a fundamentalist Christian theocracy.

What I don’t get is that the conservatives’ war on women and women’s health is not only bad policy, it’s really bad politics.  I mean, think this through.  The population is a little more than 50% female.  How does alienating a large percentage of women further Republican electoral goals in the future?  They might win today, but women are not stupid and will remember this.

It’s way past time for women, and people who love women, to stand up and call a halt to this.  It’s time to vote the Republicans persecuting women out of office.  If there aren’t acceptable alternative candidates, it’s time to run for office instead.  Women need to stand up and be counted.  It’s time to call a halt to this disgusting misogyny of which conservatives are guilty.

I’ve spent most of this evening watching the State of the Union and the Republican response.  Here are some thoughts on those:

The State of the Union

  • I liked the agenda that President Obama laid out.  That’s not much of a surprise, really, for those who know me or who have been reading the sporadic posts on this blog.  (I hope to post more as the election gets closer.  We’ll see if I can make that happen.)  The fact is that we do have a major problem with the economic equality in this country.  The middle class is threatened.  The deck is stacked in favor of the very wealthy.  Obama is right when he says that we have to level the playing field.  We should be giving tax breaks to companies that move manufacturing back to the United States, and we should penalize those (through the tax code) that offshore jobs and profits.  These are common sense steps that we should have taken long ago.
  • We do have to get the money out of politics.  A constitutional amendment is needed, though.  Bernie Sanders’ proposed amendment is a great place to start.  (Actually, I think it should be passed as is.)
  • I liked Obama’s confrontational tone.  The Fix called it “Confrontation Wrapped in Kumbaya”.  I like that; it’s an apt description.  Obama fully played on the fact that Congress’s approval rating is extremely low, lecturing them about their inaction.  He promised action where Congress has been inactive.  He can do a lot through executive order, but that is not as good as legislation.  He demanded that Congress send him bills this year and promised to sign them.
  • I don’t have a lot of hope that Congress will actually act, though, the cameras kept panning to shots of stony-faced Republicans who seemed to want to be anywhere else.
  • The Republicans didn’t seem to take kindly to that scolding tone, and cleared out of the chamber pretty quickly.  I enjoyed that.  One never likes being lectured to, especially when one knows that the person doing the lecturing is right.

The Republican Response

Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana delivered the Republican response.  I was struck by a few things.

  • The use of the phrase “loyal opposition”.  I see a lot of opposition in the Republican agenda during Obama’s presidency.  But I have not seen a lot of loyal.  When the Senate minority leader’s stated goal is to make Obama a one-term president, how is that loyally caring for the people’s business?  How is the president supposed to work to find a middle ground, when there isn’t any to begin with?
  • Mitch Daniels talking about budget math is really pretty rich.  Daniels was President Bush’s budget director.  A strong case can be made that the deficit and debt issues that the Republicans care so much about now can be laid at the feet of President Bush and his tax cuts.  And then fighting two wars.
  • The claim that Steve Jobs was a jobs creator was embellished, to say the least.  Apparently Daniels missed the New York Times article from January 21.  Steve Jobs created jobs, all right, but Daniels neglected to mention that most of those were overseas.

I see a lot more of the same coming from Republicans.  They still don’t want to work with President Obama, despite the record low approval rating that Congress enjoys.  So President Obama will need to do what he can via executive order, and he’ll have to go out on the road and really sell his plan.  And he’s going to have to pick a couple of things he absolutely has to have and fight for them in Congress the way he hasn’t the past three years.

Once again, John Boehner can’t keep his caucus in line.  This fact contributes to the absolute disgrace that is Congress these days.  The Republican leadership makes deals with the Democrats and then reneges because Boehner can’t get the Republican votes needed to pass a law.

Let’s be honest here – the tea partiers are holding this up for reasons completely unrelated to the payroll tax holiday.  They want quick action on the Keystone XL Pipeline and more discretionary spending cuts, according to Ezra Klein.  The American people are the ones who will pay the price in higher taxes – taxes that are in fact regressive, so the rich won’t pay anything more than they already do.  And Boehner says that the House has finished the work of the American people and is saying that the ball is back in the Senate’s court.

Boehner also says that a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday is a non-starter because the House doesn’t want any more half measures that might “cause uncertainty.”  Dana Milbank’s column today points out the lie there:

On Monday, the bar owner’s son aligned himself with House conservatives in opposition to a broadly bipartisan plan to extend a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans.

This new position, essentially reversing the one Boehner voiced a mere three days earlier, proves anew that the old-school speaker is less a leader of his caucus than a servant of his radical backbenchers. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he’s their barkeep.

Three times at a news conference on Friday, Boehner was asked whether he could support a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, as Senate Democrats and Republicans were planning. Three times, Boehner declined to state an objection to the two-month extension (he objected to a different part of the agreement, about an oil pipeline, which the senators subsequently changed to his liking).

“I just gave you an answer. How much clearer can I be?” Boehner said, refusing to take issue with the two-month extension.

And so senators passed the extension, 89 to 10. Tea Party heroes Pat Toomey and Marco Rubio voted for the compromise. The fiercest budget cutter of them all, Sen. Tom Coburn, voted for it. Republican lions such as John Cornyn, Jon Kyl and Mitch McConnell voted for it. Only seven Republicans voted “no.”

McConnell, the Senate Republican leader who negotiated the compromise, kept Boehner informed at every step — and was confident enough in Boehner’s acquiescence that his office sent out a notice saying there would be no more legislative business in the Senate until 2 p.m. on Jan. 23. But Boehner’s backbenchers — particularly the Tea Party freshmen — had other ideas, and, in a Saturday teleconference, made clear to Boehner that he would have to abandon the compromise.

The House Republican freshmen have become a bit tipsy with power, and freshman Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) on Tuesday boasted at a news conference that his class is “performing more like sophomores now than freshmen.” Actually, their performance is more sophomoric than anything, but they’ve been able to deliver a string of insults to Boehner, most notably the July revolt that forced the speaker to pull his debt-limit plan from the floor. If Boehner needs any more evidence he’s out of style in his party, he can ponder the rise in the presidential race of Newt Gingrich, the man Boehner tried to depose from the speakership 15 years ago, losing his leadership position in the process.

On Tuesday, Boehner had the unpleasant task of going before the cameras to explain why his House Republicans, after championing tax cuts for millionaires, would be voting against a tax cut for ordinary Americans.

“You know, Americans are tired of, uh,Washington’s short-term fixes and gimmicks,” Boehner began. Behind him in the hallway outside his office, four American flags provided patriotic cover for the reversal. He complained that “the Senate Democratic leaders passed a two-month extension” — omitting mention that Senate Republicans, with Boehner’s knowledge and tacit support, had agreed.

So rather than pass a two-month extension, he’s willing to have the tax cuts lapse entirely when they expire at year end?

“I don’t believe the differences between the House and Senate are that great,” Boehner said, by way of reassurance. But this only confirmed that his side was making a big stink over nothing.

Why didn’t he raise warnings earlier about the two-month extension? “Uh, we expressed our reservations about what the Senate was doing,” he said.

What did he make of the fact that 90 percent of the Senate supported the compromise? Boehner, in reply, demanded to know why “we always have to go to the lowest common denominator” — which is exactly what he had done in letting his backbenchers lead him.

The speaker denied the obvious truth that he had encouraged the compromise before opposing it. He licked his lips, gave a “thanks, everybody” and disappeared.

The sophomoric freshmen must have needed their barkeep to serve them another round.

This is what happens when you make a deal with the devil to get power.  The Republican establishment made that deal with the Tea Party to win the 2010 Congressional election.  They made this bed.  Gridlock has ensued for the entire term.  Congress is an absolute disgrace with something like an 11% approval rating (who ARE the people who approve, by the way?).  And now, again, the American people that they profess to love so much will suffer.  The rich won’t, remember, because the payroll tax is regressive.  Nice going, Republicans.