Failure to Fulfill the Obligations of Office

Breaking Down the Sequester Pie ChartIf, and it’s hard to see how they won’t, the “sequestrations” go into effect tonight, it will be a phenomenal act of cowardice on the part of Congress, particularly the Republicans, who will be getting the painful spending cuts they wants so badly, without having to make the necessary painful decisions who will be affected by those cuts.

Let’s review how the process works.

If Congress failed to produce a deficit reduction bill with at least $1.2 trillion in cuts, then Congress could grant a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling but this would trigger across-the-board cuts (“sequestrations”), as of January 2, 2013. These cuts would apply to mandatory and discretionary spending in the years 2013 to 2021 and be in an amount equal to the difference between $1.2 trillion and the amount of deficit reduction enacted from the joint committee. There would be some exemptions: reductions would apply to Medicare providers, but not to Social Security, Medicaid, civil and military employee pay, or veterans. Medicare benefits would be limited to a 2% reduction. –“2013 Sequestration,” Wikipedia

Legislators don’t have any discretion with the across-the-board cuts: They are intended to hit all affected programs equally, though the cuts to individual areas will range from 7.6 percent to 9.6 percent (and 2 percent to Medicare providers). The indiscriminate pain is meant to pressure legislators into making a budget deal to avoid the cuts. –“The sequester explained,” The Washington Post

If you are a fiscal conservative applauding this because you say that at last government is being forced to make cuts across the board, ask yourself it standards like efficiency, return on investment and the amount of waste in a program matters? Shouldn’t we cut programs that are less efficient or have more waste more than others? Sequestration defies that logic.

If you are a bleeding heart liberal like me, you’re concerns are more about impact. Let’s save programs that address real needs and cut programs that benefit those who are more likely to be able to replace them with alternative sources of revenue. Maybe we don’t need to spend so much on corporate welfare or assisting with research into commercially viable pharmaceuticals or technologies, and more on assistance to those who need it.

Shouldn’t criteria like that matter? Moreover, the fact is that the long term health of our economy requires additional revenue. Even most conservative economists admit this.

And so it is reasonable to suspect the refusal to compromise is largely political. Be able to claim you stood up to the president on tax increases, get your cuts, and not have to explain to constituents why the program that helps them or their loved ones was on the block! It’s politics at it’s worst because it’s not just rhetorical, constituents will actually suffer.

I, for one, am appalled!

Why I Worry About Turnout

On the CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer just made the point that no matter what the polls say, everything ultimately depends on voter turnout, and that Republicans have been better with turning out their supporters in recent elections.  This really worries me.  I am not registered with a party but I am, philosophically, a liberal.  I believe put those policies are best for America and so I nearly always vote Democratic.  But I must confess that in this election my interests are also personal.

I worry Republican advances in Congress will jeopardize aspects of the new health care law.  Provisions of the law are still coming into effect, so many people don’t realize how beneficial it is. Rollbacks will have minimal impact on me as a resident of Massachusetts, but I spent last year in another state and I can assure you, this system is better. I’m still cleaning up some of the financial mess from an inadequate insurance plan last year.

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CAIR Asks South Dakota Governor to Veto Anti-Sharia Bill

No Bigotry in Our LawsCAIR Asks South Dakota Governor to Veto Anti-Sharia Bill.

Have you heard about this bill?  Well it’s pissing me off and South Dakota isn’t the only state with one in process!  I urge you to click on the link above and read what the Council on  American-Islamic Relations has to say about it.  I’m not angry about it because  it once again demonstrates the appalling lack of understanding and intolerable amount of prejudice must be endured by Muslims in the United States. That deeply saddens me more than it pisses me off.  As an educator, I will do my best to fight against this kind of ignorance.    Americans are innately curious and open-minded, there is simply so much misinformation that has  so massively skewed perceptions.

I am annoyed, ok a little pissed off, that not only South Dakota, but approximately two dozen other state legislatures are wasting time on such frivolous bills when there are so many other pressing issues facing the states and our nation as a whole.  What’s all this talk I keep hearing about budget crunches,  fiscal austerity, and cutbacks?  Both Virginia and West Virginia have debated this kind of a law, as well.  These people, our elected representatives, don’t even understand our system of government, it seems. They pass frivolous, unnecessary legislation to prevent things that are already impossible, instead of dealing with real issues.

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Virginia House of Delegates Passes “Personhood” Bill

Virginia State Legislature Building

Just last week I posted a piece about my home state of Virginia and it’s stand on a number of the most significant issues in our nation’s history since slavery.  Richmond is changing. When I go home to Virginia to visit family I often feel like the state is becoming more diverse, tolerant, liberal and open.  Richmond, the capital city, now has some great bars and clubs, ethnic restaurants, a performing arts scene.  But seated there is a state legislature that does things like those described in this report.

On a 66-32 vote, the state’s House of Delegates has passed legislation to define life as beginning at conception.

After a passionate debate, the House also voted 63-36 to pass legislation to require women to undergo ultrasounds before abortion.

Why, Virginia, why?

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Just Ignore Him, Maybe He’ll Go Away. Ron Paul and the Media

Watch this video from the CBS Evening News last Sunday, December 4.  At this point it was clear that Herman Cain was ending his run for the presidency and a new Des Moines Register poll had just shown that Newt Gingrich was the new front runner.  Iowa is one of the first states to select its convention delegates, and thus it is closely watched by all involved in and interested in politics.

So according to the report, it’s now a three way race between Gingrich and Romney.  This in spite of the fact that second place in the Des Moines Register poll went not to Romney, but to Ron Paul.  He’s pretty much ignored in this report.  I first noticed the phenomenon when it was pointed out on The Daily Show on August 15, 2011 just after the Iowa straw poll and Pawlenty dropped out of the race.  In this clip, Jon Stewart notes the media’s reluctance to treat Paul as a serious candidate, even on ultra-conservative Fox News.

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Why is Virginia Really Challenging the Health Care Law?

What is wrong with the state government in Virginia? Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond threw out Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act, but now he and Governor Bob McDonnell have vowed to appeal.

Why are the Republicans in Virginia against ensuring that everyone has access to health care? As I understand it, the law is being attacked as un-Constitutional because it compels everyone to purchase insurance, and the federal government does not have that power. What, then, is the solution? A national system in which the government is guarantor is fine by me, Medicare for all. However, that is not palatable to the right, for one reason or another. It’s costly, inefficient and unlikely to remain solvent, or so they say. My interactions with Medicare have generally been favorable, and wonder about these characterizations. Even if they are true, can’t these things be fixed? Wouldn’t expanding the pool of participants in medicare with healthy, younger people be a way to do that. But the Right is not particularly interested in solving these issues because their real concern is ideological, and they think Medicare is a form of socialism. (Click here to cue ominous music!)

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Budget Cuts and the National Community

Discover history at our National Parks

When I was growing up we traveled often as a family for vacations and weekends. We had a camper and took it to all kinds of interesting places, frequently our nation’s national parks and historic monuments. I remember fascinated by the history I learned visiting the birthplace of George Washington, the Yorktown Battlefield and National Cemetery, the battlefields of Gettysburg, the birthplace of Booker T. Washington, the Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial and so many others. Frequent visits to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Smoky Mountains awakened my fascination with the natural wonders of the world, and the visitor centers, trails or markers were as good as any classroom. I was an inquisitive boy, so I took home the free brochures maps and field guides from these places to study more, and begged my parents, more often than not successfully, to buy me the books in the gift shops that I could read at home.

I learned a lot about our nation’s history and the natural world this way, it seems like as much as I did in school. I don’t remember being taught about Booker T. Washington before college. That’s not to say I wasn’t, but I don’t remember it like I do the visit to his birthplace. We must have learned about Thomas Jefferson, but I don’t remember that, either and my virtual obsession with him sprang out of a family visit to Monticello. While visiting the Smoky Mountains I was first exposed the the tragedy of the Native Americans and the horrors of incidents like the Trail of Tears. Most of these parks had not entry fee, paid for entirely with tax dollars. That meant that we could and would, explore something on on a whim. If it was a rainy day and we had planned to do something outside, we could tour a historic mansion, instead. In addition to the National Parks and Historic Places, there was a whole other network of state parks and sites operated by non-profits that were also free.

More recently an increasing percentage of these sites have imposed an entry fee. People want low taxes, budgets are small, and government at all levels from local to national is practicing austerity. Fee for service became a model for a lot of what government does in the 1980s, and it has been that way since. It makes sense on a certain level. Why should those of who never have any intention of visiting one of these sites pay for their upkeep and for providing services there? In fact, these properties are part of our national heritage. We, as a people, have decided that these places are an important part of our history and they need to be preserved. They are monuments that need to be visible to our fellow citizens and the world to remind us of our common heritage and who we are as a people. The White House has offered to cut $105 million from the budget of the National Park Service, and the Republican’s want more.

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The President is Correct about the Health Care Reform Law

President Barack Obama delivers his state of the union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Photograph: Pool/Reuters

In the State of the Union Address tonight, President Barack Obama welcomed serious efforts fix aspects of the new health care law, but rejected efforts to overturn it and start over. He is right. The law is Constitutional and the apocalyptic scenarios regarding its impact on our health care system are absurd.

Most importantly, it is a good law protecting us from abuses by insurance companies and the health care industry. Here are a few of the most interesting provisions, as summarized in an article from Reuters that came out in March when the legislation was passed. I’ve selected some of the provisions that will have the most impact and inserted my comments in parentheses.

Already in effect are the following provisions. See the article for a fuller summary.

  • Insurance companies will be barred from dropping people from coverage when they get sick. Lifetime coverage limits will be eliminated and annual limits are to be restricted. (Note: If you, a friend or family member has every had a chronic condition, or an illness or injury that is difficulty that is expensive to treat, you will really be grateful for this provision.)
  • Insurers will be barred from excluding children for coverage because of pre-existing conditions. (If you’ve ever changed jobs in a state that doesn’t prohibit this, this is good news, too.)
  • Young adults will be able to stay on their parents’ health plans until the age of 26. Many health plans currently drop dependents from coverage when they turn 19 or finish college. (The job market it tough out there! A lot of young people and their worried parents will appreciate this.)…
  • A tax credit becomes available for some small businesses to help provide coverage for workers.
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    Theatrics of Seating for the State of the Union

    Members of Congress are going to cross the aisles and sit together in a show of bipartisanship for the State of the Union Speech. It’s nice and probably ought to happen all the time. It’s political theater, of course, as is the whole State of the Union Speech, but it is theater, demonstrating national unity and resolve at times when we most need it, be it war or national crisis.

    This Congress has a penchant for political theater anyway, such as the reading of the Constitution at the beginning of the current session of the House. Tonight’s gesture will only be as meaningful as whatever follows on it. Is it followed by Civility and a willingness to put the nation first, or is followed by business as usual. The nature of politics in the American system is adversarial. In a two party system someone wins and someone loses and it is as simple that. The key is to choose battles and to compromise when necessary, and to always act with civility in accordance with the gravitas of legislating national policy on behalf of the constituents who put you in office.
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    Policy ≠ Politics

    President Obama announces the compromise.

    A couple days ago the White House and Congressional Republicans reached a compromise on issues that included extending the Bush tax cuts and unemployment benefits.  It took a while.  In the press conference announcing the agreement, President Obama commented that the agreement is not what he wanted, but said that Republicans were holding tax cuts for the Middle Class and an unemployment benefits extension “hostage.”  Many in the Democratic base oppose the compromise, seeing it as capitulation rather than compromise, and are resistant to approval.

    Mainstream media has been providing blow by blow coverage of this process.  The tell us which side which wants what but not in a lot of detail and not why.  For the most part they spend their time speculating about the impact that whatever compromise might be reached will have on the 2012 elections.  Then they let party representatives and their surrogates in the punditry argue about what agreements might be better and for the nation and how.

    It’s all very entertaining.  There is drama, conflict, suspense.  Who is winning the skirmish as the pundits argue?  Who will win the battle when the legislation ultimately makes it out of Congress?  Most importantly, who’s likely to win the war in 2012!

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