The Fine Line Between Reaction and Overreaction

The year 2014 has again brought front and center the true horror of terror.  We have seen hundreds of school girls in Nigeria kidnapped and still missing.  Some forty college students in Mexico were kidnapped and apparently murdered.  We have seen the horrors inflicted by ISIS on Muslims, Christians, and the beheading of two Americans and a Brit.  We have seen endless bombings and killings of innocent civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  And in just the past two days we witnessed the hostage taking and ultimate killing of two hostages in Sydney, Australia and the barbaric murder of some 142 school children in Peshawar, Pakistan. These are not examples of international conflict between nations, but rather of ideologically driven individuals representing either an organization or themselves using the tool of terror to make a statement.  There were “the good old days” when we could identify the most critical terrorist threats, but today these threats are more diffuse and complex. We have become increasingly aware that an act of terror can come at anytime in any place.  As a nation determined to hold onto our values and our freedoms, the line between reaction and overreaction to this threat is a critical one to navigate.

The national reaction following 9/11 was understandably one of fear and a desire for retribution.  For the first time since Pearl Harbor we felt vulnerable and afraid in our own homes.  Above all we wanted to once again feel the sense of security that had been abruptly taken from us as the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania. The question that we were never asked, and in fact was never publicly debated, was what we were willing to give up to regain that sense of security.  Above all, we felt a need to trust those we elected to lead us back to the “promised land” that existed just before 9/11.  Inherent in that trust was the belief that while doing everything they could to protect us from another attack, they would also protect who we were.  They would uphold the values and beliefs that make America special.  We trusted that while they would bring those responsible for attacking us to justice, they would do so within the bounds of American values and international law.  As we know, it is easy to uphold those values when they are not placed under stress.

freedom

It was the severe stress of 9/11 that placed those who we trusted to uphold those values to the test, and they failed.  The comprehensive report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released last week illustrates with indisputable fact that our leaders failed us and compromised who we are.  Certainly, there are those, loudest among them Dick Cheney, who decry these findings and defend their actions. But every reputable and impartial source finds that the United States government conducted torture on its prisoners.  Not only is this behavior morally reprehensible, but in addition it places any American citizen unfortunate enough to become the prisoner of a terror group in mortal danger. Additionally, the fact that it is clear that the torture did not provide any significant actionable information makes it all the more troubling.  Again this is disputed by those responsible for the torture, yet the facts simply don’t support their contention.

America has always held itself high as the “beacon of freedom” and the nation that others should try to emulate.  We have aggressively attempted to export our form of government around the world.  There is no doubt that we enjoy freedoms and liberties that others can only dream of.  Yet, while we need to trust our leaders, we must never trust them blindly.  There will, no doubt, be challenges in the coming years that will place stress on our system of values.  We must make sure that our leaders remain on the right side of that fine line between reaction and overreaction.  We cannot allow them to ever again take actions that compromise what America stands for.

I Feel Compelled To Speak Out About Democratic Cowardice

In my most recent blog post last Thursday I spoke of the fact that the more things change, the more they remain the same. The actions in the House on the spending bill illustrated my point and I am frustrated. I am not surprised at the actions of the GOP.  They quietly included a variety of riders in the bill that have nothing to sdo with spending.  That’s right, the party that accuses the Obama administration of not being transparent, worked to allude transparency. That is not really shocking from a party that has made hypocrisy an accepted mode of behavior.  I am, however, very disappointed at the actions of the Democrats. They have once again fallen under the thumb of the bullying right-wing. What is more frustrating is the fact that it was not only 57 House Democrats that buckled, but the White House as well. I feel compelled to speak out and call them out on their actions. They may say that is was pragmatism that caused them to buckle, but I call it cowardice.

In this spending bill they gave up on necessary constraints against the banking industry, already approved in Dodd-Frank, which can ultimately cost taxpayers billions in bailout funds. Equally as disturbing, they also allowed for a change in individual campaign contribution limits and allowed for reduced spending on education and other important social programs.  Finally, the bill allows for only short-term funding of Homeland Security, setting up a major battle on immigration in March.  I applaud Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi for their vocal efforts at challenging this passage.  I condemn the White House for its efforts to pressure enough Democrats to achieve its passage.

The battle now turns to the Senate.  They have called for a two-day extension to give them time to act on the spending bill next week.  Since this bill was negotiated in part by Reid, there is no doubt that he will try to push his Democratic colleagues to pass it.  The challenge now falls in the lap of Senator Warren again.  Will she be able to garner enough support to challenge the objectionable elements in the bill and force a rewriting and a conference committee?  I believe that this is a watershed moment for Democrats.  Who are they and what do they stand for?  Are they the party of progressive thinking and policy?  Are they really committed to the ideas that they have professed and articulated over the decades?  Who do they really represent?  This is a battle that will begin to provide the answer to those questions.  It may, in fact, show us that the Democrats are not as united as we may have thought.  If so, what does that portend for the future?

As we approach the new Congress it is vitally important the Democrats get their act together.  We saw what happened to the GOP when they were not united and were unable to move because of a few rabid dissidents.  It damaged both their party and the nation.  It is time that the Democrats remember who they are and what they stand for.  Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi have it right. Majority Leader Reid must get with the program and remember why you were sent there and who you represent.  It is time the Democrats act out of conviction and not out of fear.

The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same

Each day when we awake we know that evening will come and we will once again be able to return home to the warmth of our family and the opportunity to shed the challenges and tensions of the day.  Each winter we know that the snows will end and the temperatures will rise giving way to spring and rebirth and new beginnings.   Every two years we are faced with another opportunity to impact on our lives and the lives of our fellow citizens as we go to the polls to elect those local, state and national officials who will be responsible for legislating, implementing, and adjudicating those laws by which we live.  We go to the polls with our heads filled with promises and our hearts filled with the hope that our lives and the lives of our fellow citizens will improve and that government will, in fact, work.  Unfortunately, just as we can predict that night will follow day and spring will follow winter, our hopes are dashed by the reality that despite superficial changes and a plethora of platitudes, things will remain the same.  That is the difference between the hope and, indeed, the mission of the progressive and the mission of the conservative.  Positive change for the many is anathema to the conservative, while changes that serve the needs and dreams of the majority are the lifeblood of the progressive.  Every signal that we have received from the conservatives since the midterms indicates that they will do all in their power to erase any successes achieved by the progressive Obama Administration as well as any legacy he may leave.  It is clear that the next two years will be as brutal as the last six and that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

I, for one, have never been a fan of routine and predictability.  I love when the unexpected happens and things get mixed up a little.  When I first moved to Los Angeles I complained that I was really tired of blue sky and sunshine everyday and yearned for a few clouds and rain.  Many years ago when I taught school, I would change the configuration of my room about every six weeks just to shake things up and provide a different perspective for me and my students.  It is too easy to settle for that predictability and get comfortable with it.  It provides a sense of security, yet in its own way, it robs us of that security.  Allowing for that predictability requires trust that those whom we have placed in power will do what is right for us.  How many times have we heard people say, ” they have information that we don’t have and they know what is best”?  What is our responsibility in this equation?  Are we really willing to just trust because it is easier and provides the illusion of security?  The reason that old saying, ” the more things change, the more things remain the same” is true is because we allow it to be true.

revolution

What ever happened to ” a government for the people, by the people”?  We, by not participating in the midterms, have allowed those who believe that plutocracy is the best form of government to win.  Are we so willing to trade our prerogative to demand change for a sense of security and predictability?  The conservatives are banking on it.  The American experiment was an adventure in democracy for those who were willing to risk losing the predictability of tomorrow for the chance to shake things up to create a better tomorrow.  It is time for us to take the words, “the more things change, the more they remain the same” and change them to ” the more things remain the same, the less chance there is for change”.  2016 is our chance to breathe life into those words.   However, let’s begin by not allowing the conservatives to win anything over the next two years without a fight.

To Govern Or Not To Govern? That Is The Question

One of the most poignant lines in the movie “The Candidate” is when at the end, after being elected to the United States Senate, Robert Redford, playing the triumphant candidate, asked his most trusted advisor, “Now what do I do?”  The campaign, as we all know, bears little resemblance to the job being sought.  The nitty-gritty of governing is hard and tedious work.  It requires a sensitivity and awareness of the needs of a politician’s constituency and the broader needs of the nation.  Most importantly, and clearly lacking in our current representation, it requires the courage to do what is right, regardless of future electoral consequences. The excuse we hear too often is that we are in an election cycle.  Well, we are always in an election cycle.  No sooner did we say goodbye to the midterms then the focus turned to 2016.  In fact, talk of 2016 has been going on for several months now.  This creates a dilemma for those of us who simply ask that our elected officials pay attention to the needs of the country and their constituents, and stop campaigning.  The simple question is, are they ready to start governing?  The more important question is, are the Republicans who now hold a majority in both the House and the Senate prepared to do the constructive work so necessary, or will they continue to focus on the best way to destroy?  To govern or not to govern?  That is the question they must answer.

Senator Cruz

The agenda is pregnant with issues that have been crying out for attention. We all know them only too well.  Immigration, gun control, pay equity, an increase in the minimum wage, a jobs bill, tax reform, an infrastructure bill and energy policy, just to name a few.  Of course, I will not raise the specter of what is, perhaps, the most complex and dangerous, array of foreign policy challenges to face an American  President in decades.  In all of these areas, the GOP has seen its role as that of  “the loyal opposition”.  Though they are not the minority party in the House, and haven’t been for four years, they are acting as if they are.  Well, the jig is up, so to speak.  They control two of the three branches of government – legislative and judicial. It is clear that there is no excuse for them to refuse to govern anymore.

We have all known people in our lives who are quick to criticize, and disagree with an idea, yet when pressed to come up with their own, have nothing to say.   The GOP leadership has been fast to criticize the Obama Executive Order on immigration.  Yet, since the Senate passage of a comprehensive immigration bill they have refused to act in this crucial area.  Not only did they not come up with their own solution, but they have steadfastly refused to allow the existing bill to reach the floor of the House for a vote.  Of course, when Obama dared to act on his own, they were appalled and threatened all kinds of action including impeachment. It is time for this kind of political theater of the absurd to end.  Governing is a positive and constructive undertaking.  Is the GOP up to this challenge?

The new year will bring to us a new Congress.  We all have hopes that 2015 will usher in a time during which we experience our own domestic “nation building'”.  Can the GOP raise itself above its petty,  self-defeating and nationally destructive behavior?  Can this group of self-satisfied, arrogant and narrow-minded “leaders” grow beyond their natural instincts and do what is best for the country?  To govern or not to govern? That is the question.

Thanksgiving Is A Time To………….

Today is a special day on the American calendar.  Thanksgiving was established as a national day of “thanks” by President Washington in 1789.  In 1941 Congress passed a Joint Resolution proclaiming the celebration of Thanksgiving annually on the fourth Thursday of November.  We have come to celebrate this day of giving thanks with turkey, football and family and has also become a day during which many show appreciation for what they have by providing for those who have little.  When we think of the things we are thankful for this year our thoughts will naturally go to  our health, our family, our friends and any material wealth we have been fortunate enough to accumulate.  Thanksgiving  tends to be a holiday during which we turn inward and view the micro world in which we live, rather than the macro broader picture.  Yet recent events make it clear that there is one thing that we should all be thankful for.  It is the fact that we live in a country in which publicly voicing our disagreement with a government action or decision is not only approved of, but celebrated.  The First Amendment to our Constitution is a gem beyond value, however, to abuse it is unforgivable.

Turkey

While there are many who have found the strength of character and conviction to display their displeasure with the decisions of the Gand Jury in St. Louis County with words and peaceful actions, there are those who corrupted the intent of the First Amendment with fire and violence.  By doing so, this group is diluting the message and damaging an important opportunity.  It makes little difference on which side of this issue you stand, the death of a young man, white, brown or black is a tragedy. Whether you feel the police officer was justified in his actions or not, the result is a tragedy.  More importantly, we are all aware that this event is not an isolated one, and occurs in every part of our country.  I am not sitting here on this Thanksgiving day professing to know the solution to this national challenge.  The issues are complex and engender strong passions on both sides.  However, perhaps on this Thanksgiving day, in addition to the turkey, the football and family, we should turn our attention outward.

The responsibility for change does not rest in just a few hands.  If there is going to be progress on these issues words must be articulated with clarity, and minds most be open to hearing those words on both sides.  While the acts of civil disobedience taking place around the country are getting our attention, the time for education, political engagement and dispassionate conversation must come soon.  The hard work isn’t starting a fire, it is putting it out.  Anybody can start a fire, as has been proven these past nights.  But putting out the fire and using those passions in a constructive way is much harder.  We must see leadership on both sides come together to use those passions to identify the issues and seek solutions together.  While this is a problem that plagues us nationally, the solutions are local.

We all are aware that these issues have a long and disturbing history.  On this Thanksgiving day, we are thankful for many things, but most of all that we live in a country that has the freedom and courage to confront its problems.  We can’t allow those who have chosen to express themselves by burning and looting to have the last word.  We must agree to work together towards peaceful solutions so that next Thanksgiving we can give thanks for the progress we have made.

The GOP’s Grand Miscalculation

Now that the election is over Congress can get down to work and start to accomplish something, right?  No, I don’t think so.  It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  That brief sign of hope that whisked by us during the 24 hours immediately following the election seems but a faint memory.  It did not take long for the threats and counter-threats to begin to fly.  The GOP leadership truly believes that they are operating from a position of strength.  They believe that the results of the midterm election gave them the power to make demands on the President and the Democrats.  They fully expect their opponents to cave.  I believe that this is the GOP’s major miscalculation, and it will become crystal clear when they try to fight the President’s Executive Order on immigration.

immigration

This evening the President will announce the details of his Executive Order regarding immigration.  The GOP leadership has been planning its strategy to combat this order for the past several weeks.  In fact, this issue has created a split in the already fractious party between the most extreme elements, lead by the likes of Cruz and those less extreme more establishment elements, lead by McConnell and Boehner.  There is talk of refusing funding which will create another government shutdown.  There is talk of counter legislation, that if destructive to the Obama vision of immigration policy, will meet with the President’s veto pen.  The basic fact is that if the extreme elements win in the short-term, they will impact on the GOP’s chances for success in 2016 in the most negative way. The establishment elements know this and will fight for moderation.  If they succeed than so does the President.  If they fail, the President wins, because the Party responsible for a government shutdown never wins.  The fact is, the GOP may be talking as if they have the power, but the dissension within the ranks make them weak, and will make it a challenge to even give the impression that they can govern.  The fact that they are claiming that such an Executive Order is unconstitutional is utter nonsense.  Both Presidents Bush and Reagan did exactly the same thing to impact on immigration and not a single Democrat or Republican uttered a peep .  That argument will only work with the base of uniformed and extremely partisan Republicans.

The Democrats have a different kind of challenge over the next two years.  First, they need to battle the GOP every step of the way while at the same time appearing to be rational and thoughtful .  They need to be the mature leaders, while doing things that unhinge the GOP causing them to look and sound extreme and immature.  This will take discipline and strong leadership.  However, if they can do this in the face of the most arrogant and extreme actions attempted by the GOP, 2016 will be a year of great success and achievement for the Democratic Party.

The second challenge facing the Democrats over the next two years is to strengthen their state and local organizations.  While the GOP controls a vast majority of state houses and many state legislatures, the polls show that they are often moving against the grain of their populations.  Democrats have to highlight those areas of conflict and work to reverse legislative action.  The last election highlighted minimum wage and marijuana policy as two of those areas.  Demographic changes are coming and the Democrats must work hard to exploit them.

If we look at the electoral map of today it appears that we are a very conservative country.  I don’t, however, believe that the map is representative of who we really are if issues are presented honestly and voters are given real choices.  We are, after all, a nation built on the value of “Liberty And Justice For All”.  This is a fact that the GOP has forgotten.  It is the job of Democrats over next two years to remind them, starting with a change in immigration policy.

 

 

The GOP’s Faux Mandate

We are over a week past election day and the results are almost all in. There is no doubt that the Democrats lost control of the Senate and that Republicans gained a larger majority in the house.  These are undeniable truths.  But what is unclear is what this all means for the next two years. How will it impact on the direction of the country?  What policy changes can we expect?  How will it change the way Washington works?  Compounded with the inevitable impact of the 2016 Presidential campaign, there can be no doubt that we are in for a very interesting and, I believe, tumultuous two years.  As I listen to the remarks by both parties, again playing politics with issues urgent to America,  it seems that the work of Washington might well be cast aside for the priority of winning 2016. After all, isn’t that what happened immediately after the 2012 election? But that only serves the politicians in Washington and those governors who plan to become a part of the Presidential lottery.  It doesn’t answer the most important question, how will this election impact on us, the American people?  The GOP is acting as if they have been given a mandate to fight to win the same issues they have been ranting about for the past six years. But there is no doubt they are misreading the election and they in fact are reading a mandate into what is really a faux mandate.

gop over dems

MSNBC Daily reported on November 11th that the participation in this midterm of only 36.4% of eligible voters was the worst participation since the 1942 midterms.  If the GOP reads this result as a mandate they are sure to make the mistake of over-reaching.  Combined with the GOP advantage inherent in this midterm’s electoral map, it is clear that the low turnout signals a general disgust with both parties and a disgust, as well, with the inability for those who are sent to Washington to serve the needs of their constituents and the country.  Additionally it signals a frustration with their refusal to get beyond their own egotistical self-serving political needs.  This was not a mandate for GOP, but rather a clear statement that if you want us to participate in this democracy and vote, you, most participate with honor and integrity.  You must consider our interests and the interests of the country first, before your narrow and selfish political interests.  If the  GOP believes that the results of this election were a tacit approval of what they have been selling these past 6 years, they are in for a rude awakening.

However, the Democrats don’t get to walk away as the victim.   They ran one of the most ineffectual campaigns in history.  They avoided the opportunity to tout the successes of the Obama Administration  so much that they had only threats to run on.  They could only say that if you don’t vote for us our opponents will do bad things.  However, they were so intent on distancing themselves from Obama that they didn’t discuss the good things that they have  achieved.  What was created was a negative campaign on both sides.  The Democrats tried to create fear in the possible election of the Republican, and the Republican tried to create fear in the possible election of the Democrat. Two out of every three voters said” a pox on both of your houses” and sat the election out.

The next two years will be rough ride for all of us.  Everything done by both parties will be about 2016.  The Democrats will do everything possible to position themselves to win back the senate and keep the White House, while  the GOP will do everything possible to hold the senate and win the White House.  Are we willing to let them play their little inside game with each other, or are we ready to demand that they consider us as the most important element in their game?  The real question for us is, are we willing to fight to hold on to our democracy, or are we willing to allow our system to continue to slide into a plutocracy where money rules?  Not only was this a faux mandate for the GOP, it was a faux election.  If we want it to be real we must make ourselves heard and felt.  It is time for us to take our democracy back.