Posts Tagged With: Congress

UNCIVIL DISCOURSE

The Friday after the mid-term elections two weeks ago, Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders, i.e. the guys who will be running the show when the new Congress convenes in January, met in the White House with President Obama to hammer out an agenda that both sides could agree to, that would actually benefit the American people. It was supposedly a show of good will that both Democrats and Republicans could work together for the two remaining years of the Obama Administration, to produce needed legislation to better the lives of most Americans. After all, isn’t that what they were sent there to accomplish in the first place. Well, obviously not, as evidenced by the fact that both parties were at each others throats, about 30 seconds after this new “era of goodwill” began. So much for legislative productivity.

It all started over the issue of “amnesty” for illegal aliens. There are an estimated 11-12 million undocumented people who have supposedly entered the U.S. through illegal means. Almost all are from Latin America. Of course, I don’t understand how this figure was arrived, since almost all illegals maintain a very low profile, and go to great lengths to avoid being counted in the first place. Nevertheless, this is this figure that’s usually bandied about. Many have been in the U.S. for 20 or 30 or even 40 years or longer, generally living in the shadows. They usually don’t pay taxes, vote, or have a drivers license; and most live in constant fear of being rounded up and deported back to whence they came from. To address this rather deplorable state of affairs for both U.S. citizen and non-citizen alike, the Senate in 2013, passed legislation that would strengthen border security, but would also provide a pathway to legality and eventual citizenship for most illegals that didn’t have a criminal record. This legislation was sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida whose parents had immigrated here legally from Cuba. One would have thought that with Republican sponsorship of this act in the Senate, it would have been a slam-dunk for passage in the GOP controlled House. Instead just the opposite was true. Where would the fun be if the House just went along with the Senate. Why, there might even be a slight dissipation in the hyper-partisanship, dysfunction and polarization that so engulfs Washington these days. Couldn’t have that.

The right-wing lunatic fringe of the GOP began bellowing that this act was nothing more than amnesty for illegals; and besides, if they received such amnesty, they would most likely vote Democratic. Perish the thought. House Speaker John Boehner didn’t have the courage to override the protests from the Tea-Party crackpots in his own party, and, thus, didn’t allow the Senate bill to come to the House floor for a vote. If he had, the votes were there  to secure passage. Rush Limbaugh, and all the other right-wing whackos on talk radio (that I wrote about last time) kept screaming about amnesty as if this was an awful thing. As we all know, the connotations surrounding the word “amnesty” used to be that of generosity of spirit, forgiveness, providing shelter for the persecuted, being a benefactor, and establishing a safe harbor for those most in need, etc. However, in right-wing looney-tunesville, amnesty became something ugly, to be despised and feared. Thus, nothing has been achieved in the past 2 years concerning the plight of illegal aliens in the U.S.

Hence, after that supposedly goodwill meeting between Republicans and Democrats that I discussed at the outset, President Obama declared that if Congress failed to act on the immigration issue, as apparently it will, he was going to issue an executive order that would, in effect, provide “amnesty” for several million illegals. Oh noooo, not “amnesty.” It was like waving a red flag in front of a charging bull. Or in this case, an elephant. Speaker Boehner quickly mounted the dais to announce that Obama could expect a rather unpleasant visit from 2 GOP enforcers named Tiny and Knuckles, if he did undertake such unilateral action. Tiny got his name because he’s 6ft.9 and weighs 380 pounds. Knuckles got his name because he likes to use brass knuckles when whaling on his victims. If they showed up at the White House, things would definitely not go well for Obama. Okay, so maybe Boehner did not use that exact verbiage, but the sentiment was clearly evident. With an executive order from the President due out almost within the hour, Republicans are furiously plotting counter-strategies. Some are talking about impeaching Obama, while others are focusing on shutting down the Government.

Now, it should be noted that Obama gets down on his knees every night before bedtime, and prays to God that the Republican Congress will initiate impeachment actions against him. Nothing would rescue his dismal approval ratings faster than having the Republican Party initiate impeachment against the first African-American president of the U.S. One only has to go back to the late 1990s, when a Republican Congress tried to impeach Bill Clinton, who also had low approval ratings at the time because of the Monica Lewinsky fiasco; to see how well that strategy worked out for the GOP. Once impeachment proceedings got underway, the public recognized them for the ultimate in bullying tactics; and Clinton’s low approval ratings suddenly began to soar. The formerly disgraced President became a conquering hero; especially at the 2008 and 2012 Democratic conventions, where he played a major role in getting Obama elected President.

Assuming that the GOP is not stupid enough to make the same glaring mistake twice; the next best thing for Obama would be if they shut down the Government. The Republicans would be sure to feel the heat for such action. After all, they have been publicly advocating for such a shutdown. The trouble is, that even people that have great antipathy toward a variety of Government actions, (or non-actions as the case may be) usually are opposed, nonetheless, to Government shutdowns. So after all the sound and fury of Obama granting amnesty to illegals starts to wear thin, a shutdown might not occur either. However, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Obama receiving a very unpleasant visit from Tiny and Knuckles.

 

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AMERICA’S FAUX DEMOCRACY

In 1931, humorist, vaudeville performer, and radio personality, Will Rogers made the following statement: “Congress is so strange; a man gets up to speak and says nothing; nobody listens; and then everybody disagrees.” And he must have been peering into the future when he also made the statement that: “America has the best politicians that money can buy.” I wonder what he would have thought of the dysfunctional, hyper-partisonship that exists in Congress at the present time. We could use someone with the wit and humor of a Will Rogers to cope with our ongoing destructive political system that is virtually non-functioning in the year 2014. I bring this up now because the elections for many Governors, Congressmen and women, Senators, etc. takes place in a mere 2 weeks from tomorrow. For those of you that believe that election time shows that we have a real democracy in this country- all I can say is – how quaint, how deliciously naive that thinking is. An examination of the facts might disabuse you of that notion.

The first thing to realize is that election results in this country are mostly decided by the people that fail to show up at the voting booth, rather than those that take the time to cast their ballots. In a presidential election year, perhaps 55%-60% of eligible voters might show up at the polls. In a non-presidential election year, however, such as 2014, only about 40%-45% bother to vote. The rest are too busy keeping up with the Kardashians. This year all the pollsters are predicting large Republican gains in both the House and Senate. It is universally predicted that the GOP will take control of the Senate so that both houses of Congress will be under Republican domination. The reason- Republicans are much more motivated to vote against anything Barack Obama stands for, and that, of course, includes voting against Democratic candidates. On the other hand, it appears that most minority voters, including blacks, Latinos, and Asians  who turned out in such large numbers in 2008 and 2012 to elect Obama to the presidency twice, will mostly stay home this year. It seems they’re quite disappointed with the way events have turned out under Democratic leadership. Without an especially heavy turnout of blacks and hispanics, Democratic prospects this year are doomed. A classic example of how the non-voting public, which will be a majority of the population this year, determines election outcomes. In Australia, all eligible voters are required by law, to cast their ballots in each election. After all, isn’t that each citizen’s civic duty? A similar law in this country might improve the democratic process we’re supposed to have, but really don’t.

Next up is the considerable role that money plays in the voting process. The hit Broadway show, “Cabaret,” has a song that says “money makes the world go around,” and this is especially true in the political arena. Anyone with political aspirations from dog-catcher on up to president, knows that it will take huge cash infusions to make that goal come true. Multi-millionaires and billionaires continue to pour heavy donations into their favorite political candidate’s coffers, which then buys all those obnoxious and annoying political ads we’re subjected to on television during each election season. Sadly, too many people base their voting decisions on these ads which are at best a collection of half-truths, outright lies, and pure bunk. I wonder if our founding fathers envisioned that the election system, which is supposedly the heart of the democratic process, would turn out in this fashion. Most of these rich donors usually pour their cash into the Republican kitty; but the Democrats have a few rich partisans too. Whichever candidate can out spend his or her opponent usually wins the election. In fact, political cash intakes are often an end-game in itself. Each week, reports come out about which party is ahead in collecting the most donations. The winner usually gets the prize of buying the desired public office. All of this could be obviated if voters ignored all political advertising. and did their own research in deciding who to vote for. But, good luck with that scenario ever taking place.

Another factor in our so-called democratic process is voter suppression. It didn’t take long for those controlling our political system to realize that if they could prevent people who are likely to vote for the opposing party, from voting in the first place, that would be the key to winning elections. In olden days, almost every Southern state had enacted poll tax and written exam legislation, that effectively prevented most blacks and poor whites from casting ballots. That legislation was finally overturned, but the devious will always find alternative methods to achieve their goals. Today voter suppression takes the form of voter ID legislation that has been enacted in almost every state controlled by Republicans-the so-called red states. Since many poor blacks and hispanics, who usually vote Democratic, often lack picture ID, they are denied the right to cast a ballot. Sadly, the Supreme Court has upheld most of these voter ID laws, which have effectively kept the red states redder than ever. So much for democratic principles.

There are, of course, other anti-democratic traditions on-going in this country. The electoral college, which is comprised of 535 men and women, out of a U.S. population of about 312 million, gets to decide who the president will be. Al Gore found this out the hard way in the year 2000, when he was elected president by popular vote, but the electoral college gave the office to George Bush. The fact that elections take place on a Tuesday, when most people have to go to work or school; and in November when there is likely to be rotten weather in most northern states also suppresses voter turnout. I wrote a previous piece on how much saner it would be to hold elections in the good weather of September or early October, and on the weekend when most people are home. Other examples abound but I think you’re getting the picture.

So like a faux handbag, or a faux Rolex timepiece, America’s supposed democratic process looks real- until one examines it up close.

 

 

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THE SHUTDOWN DEBACLE

Hope you haven’t made any plans to visit any one of our national parks at this time. Over 300 million visitors come to our national parks annually; with a large chunk of them visiting around this time of year, especially those parks with trees that display colorful autumn foliage.  If you have made such plans, and put down a large deposit to cover the costs of trip, you will likely be out of luck. Because if the Government shuts down at midnight tonight, as it appears highly likely, you had better hope that your travel agent is understanding enough to return your deposit. One of the first agencies to shutter their operations during a Government shutdown will be the National Park Service. You can also forget about obtaining a passport at this time, just in case you were planning an overseas trip. The passport office in the State Department will be another shutdown casualty. Welcome to your dysfunctional and delusional Government in the early part of the 21st century.

Technically, if Congress makes no funding appropriations by midnight tonight, the entire Federal Government is supposed to close shop. Because the Constitution clearly states that no expenditure is permitted for any Government operation if funds have not been appropriated by Congress. But there is a tacit, unspoken agreement among politicians of every stripe, that essential Government operations will be permitted to function. I guess it wouldn’t look too good for Congress or the President if we were subject to a major terrorist attack because counter-intelligence operatives in the Dept. of Homeland Security, the Dept. of Defense, or the CIA were told to go fishing instead of coming into work. But where are the strict interpreters of the Constitution when you need them. Where are the strict-constitutionalists like Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia, who are always railing about liberal interpretations of the Constitution.

One of the reasons I write this blog is because its so much fun to highlight the irrational delusions that obsess many people’s lives and their ensuing actions. It’s fun, but it’s also tragic at the same time. Yes, reality is often a bitch, but it needs to be faced if one has any hope of succeeding in life. Delusional fears, paranoia, anger, or blaming others for one’s own mistakes or failures may be temporarily comforting; but in the end they are always highly counter-productive, and will usually lead to disaster. So it is with the House Republicans pandering to the most extreme right-wing elements that have now taken control of the GOP, and have this mantra that everything will be sweetness and light if they can only defund Obamacare. If that would only happen, then the sun will shine, the birds will chirp, and we can all go tiptoeing through tulips every morning with carefree abandonment. Thus, House Republicans refuse to pass required appropriations legislation unless it includes provisions to defund Obamacare. Democrats refuse to accept this defunding provision so Congress has stalemated itself into a Government shutdown at midnight. It’s like 2 cars coming head on at each other from opposite directions, and at high speeds, in an adolescent game of chicken. Which one will swerve to the side to avoid a head-on collision. If neither will, then tragedy ensues.

Time has long since passed when elected officials actually cared about the welfare of our citizenry. Now there is just one item on the agenda of our politicians-and that is getting re-elected next time around. To accomplish that, most politicians feel they have to appeal to their “base,” which is usually comprised of the most dedicated, fanatical, and extremist elements. People that are willing to work themselves into a coma, if that’s what it takes to get their guy elected. Because of this, there is hyper-polarization in Congress, with neither side willing to budge an inch. Which, turn, has resulted in a magnificent the 8-10% approval rating from the public in all the latest polls, that Congress so richly deserves.

Awhile back I posted an entry about why Congress has such dismal approval ratings. I theorized that Congress had been taken over by Plutonians. It seem that a few years back, scientists in this country downgraded Pluto from being a full-fledged planet in our solar system because of its smaller size. To seek vengeance, Plutonians came to Earth in space ships, took over the halls of Congress, and vowed to act as irrationally and dysfunctionally as possible. And that’s exactly what they did. It all made perfect sense, if one thought about. Alas, because this site is devoted to rationality and realism, I’m forced to abandon that theory and seek a more plausible reality.

I now believe that while vengeance is still the issue, it’s not being caused by citizens from the planet Pluto. Instead our own citizenry are the ones to blame. While, according to the polls, over 90% of us disapprove of Congressional actions, who is Congress but us. Aren’t we the ones that put all those senators and representatives there in the first place. And now we condemn them? As Ricky Ricardo might have said on “I Love Lucy”-we have a lot of ‘splaining to do.

I believe that among the Republican base of right-wing diehards, are those seeking revenge against Barack Obama for beating the GOP in 2 presidential elections. What better way to wreck vengeance than to deny Obama the funding needed to make his signature health care act become a reality. I believe that they are willing to shut down the Government indefinitely if that what it takes to strike back at the President, who they despise with every fiber of their being. Then there are those that hate the Government’s existence to begin with. In other times they were known as anarchists or nihilists. In their world, it’s survival of the fittest and every man or woman for themselves. Who needs government in the first place.

Maybe some kind of accord will be reached in the wee hours tonight; but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it. Of course, the longer the government shuts down, the more it will adversely affect the most vulnerable in our society. Like the poor, the sick, and the elderly. But in the end, who really cares about them. It’s too much fun watching this panorama of dysfunction unfold before our eyes.

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