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.

Is It Kumbaya Or The Calm Before The Storm?

There are a multitude of articles and comments on the results of the midterm elections.  Those articles and comments will go on for a few more days.  If voter turnout is any indication, most people in this country are tuned out and not listening.  Midterms have historically been low turnout elections, most often bringing out the base and little else.  This particular midterm, by virtue of the states and candidates that were at play, was predictably going to produce a GOP victory.  Whether we interpret the results as a rejection of the Obama Administration and its policies, or the simple lack of enthusiasm of the Democratic base, or the approval of the GOP behavior of the past 6 years is unimportant.  What is important is not what is said and done today. The words coming out of the mouths of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Barack Obama are full of conciliation and hope but tomorrow is another day.   However, we need to listen and watch carefully during the coming days and weeks to know what the future holds.

R and D

What is clear to even the most ill-informed citizen is that things are not good in Washington.  While our Founding Fathers purposefully created a governmental structure of checks and balances,  they didn’t intend for it to be a government of inaction.  Nor did they foresee a government composed of professional politicians who need to spend the bulk of their time raising funds and campaigning for reelection.  Obviously, this reality impacts on the way in which members of congress react and act on any given issue.  This is to say that often instead of acting in the interests of their constituents, they act   in the interests of those who fund their campaigns, enabling them to successfully run for reelection.  Certainly, this reality should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following this year’s campaigns.  What is also clear is that at times the interests of the political funders are at odds with the interests of the country and even the local constituents.  This is obviously not surprising either.  However, if we accept these two realities as fact, we acknowledge that we no longer have representative government.  In fact, if only those who are funded by the rich, or those who have personal wealth can afford to run for office, we have moved to a plutocracy.  It obviously gives incredible power to the likes of the Koch Brothers.

It seems that this election, as others in the recent past, has illustrated the damage that money has done to our system of government.  The  Citizens United Supreme Court ruling and the unapologetic attitude of those who fund these elections has created a serious challenge to representative democracy.  The election last night wasn’t representative of national attitudes or preferences.  It was, in fact, such a small turnout that it would be a terrible mistake to interpret it as a sign of either approval or rejection of Obama.  It was a great victory for money and politics.  The true challenge of the coming years is to move back to a demand for representative democracy and defeat those who have corrupted the system by allowing money to rule.

I will not predict what the years ahead portend for us.  If I believe the words uttered by our leaders today I have hope.  But if it falls back to politics as usual, serving the egos and needs of the funders and political ambitions of those who have been given the high honor of serving us in Washington, I have no hope.  I don’t expect the parties to suddenly agree, but I do hope that the art of compromise, a seemingly lost art, will again be learned and practiced.  Time will tell.

 

If You Don’t Vote You Forfeit Your Right To Complain

The pollsters and pontificators are moving at breakneck speed to produce the correct prediction as we move to within just a few days of the election.  It seems that this campaign has been going on forever.  We quickly delete the campaign related e-mails that seem to appear on our smartphones every other minute, and immediately tune out the obnoxious and incessant political ads that appear on our TVs endlessly.  We know without even being told that an enormous amount of money has been spent during this midterm election cycle.  The intensity and negativity of the messages being screamed at us have made this a particularly distasteful process.  Though the elections are local, the tone that has existed in Washington D.C. over the past six years has seemingly just become part of our national political culture, trickling down to the local level.  The current political environment and seeming political paralysis does make it difficult to get excited about voting, yet to sit this election out is to give into those who will gain the most if you don’t vote.

We have been told by those in the know that this election will be determined by turnout.  That is, of course, always the case, but in this cycle it is particularly true.  While the gerrymandering that took place in 2010 created a significant number of “safe” GOP Congressional seats, there are many more that are not so “safe”.  Though there is no expectation that the House will change to a Democratic majority, holding the Republicans to a narrower majority would make it more difficult for them to ride rough-shod over potential legislation.  There are many congressional districts where a strong Democratic turnout could make the difference.  The Senate is in true danger of shifting to a GOP majority.  Anyone reading this blog post understands the implications of this change.  Not only would it endanger the progress of the past six decades made in minority and women’s rights as well as health care, but it would seek to erase the Obama legacy as if this Presidency never existed.  It is clear that Obama and all that he represents is anathema to the GOP and all that it stands for.

ballot box

As we all know, the GOP has sought to block progress on almost every issue that is important to the progressive majority of this country.  Polls have shown majority support for immigration reform, gun control measures, increase in the minimum wage, and equal pay for equal work to name a few issues.  How is it than that the GOP has been able to block action on any of these issues?  This is particularly troubling when you realize that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans, The simple answer is by controlling the legislative process on the local, state and federal levels.  How do they do this?  By getting their supporters elected.  They spend a fortune on elections, they corrupt the voter registration and polling processes and they gerrymander the districts when they can.  They are happy to make these election cycles as distasteful and nasty as they can to turn you off.   They want you to sit this election out because you are so disgusted at the whole thing.  The lower the turnout the greater chance of victory for them.

It is amazing that so many of the key senatorial races are polling within the margin of error.  This means that despite the President’s low polling numbers and the sense of chaos being promulgated by the GOP throughout the country, the voters don’t necessarily see the GOP as the solution.  Most importantly, it means that if you vote, you can deny them their wish.  They don’t want you to vote.  They are doing everything possible to discourage you from voting.  What does that tell you?  Well, here is what I am telling you.  Every vote counts!  Your vote can make a difference!  If you don’t vote, you forfeit your right to complain!

 

Ebola Hysteria, Born Of Ignorance and Cynicism

When I was a kid in the Bronx during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s I remember being told that there were certain parks and playgrounds we couldn’t go to because we might catch whooping cough or polio.  This was particularly so during the summer months when it was thought that these highly contagious diseases spread quickly and without warning.  There was great fear and those who could escape the hot congested cities for the less crowded and less disease-ridden countryside did so.  These diseases created an ongoing national crisis, severely afflicting young children, often leaving them with lifelong health challenges. We all knew of kids who became ill during those years and seeing children with leg braces or crutches resulting from a battle with polio wasn’t out of the ordinary.  The fear was fact-based and rational, yet there was not a national hysteria nor any kind of politicization of this widespread health crisis.  Now let’s fast forward to today.  America is certainly not the same country it was in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.  Now instead of taking responsibility for the health and safety of our own families without looking for someone to blame, we have become lazy, ignorant and irresponsible.  Welcome to the enlightened third millennium.

hysteria 2

The Ebola hysteria of the past several weeks has exposed the worst that America has to offer.  The fear-mongering so evident on cable TV and among those whom we elect to lead with knowledge-based solutions is astounding.  The GOP has seen this as an opportunity to cast aspersions on the Obama Administration as if he is responsible for the introduction of an Ebola case into this country.  They are calling for a virtual end to air travel into this country from nations within West Africa.  They are adding legitimacy to all of the non-science-based theories that are bandied around on TV and in public pronouncements.  This group who has had nothing but disdain for science is suddenly respectful of the science of virology.  However, at the same time they misstated it.  Rand Paul has pronounced on several occasions in the past few days that Ebola is highly contagious and spreads easily.  Rep. Joe Wilson stated that Hamas could bring Ebola across our southern border.  According to an article in the Washington Times by Jessica Chasmar on October 2nd, Rev. Louis Farrakhan argued in a blog post that the Ebola virus is a race-targeted bioweapon created by white people.  Not surprisingly Fox News has been the greatest perpetrator of Ebola hysteria.  Elizabeth Hasselback of FOX News demanded that we put the country on lockdown, banning travel in and out; Fox Host, Steve Doocey suggested that the CDC is lying about Ebola because they are part of the administration.  Despite a major effort by public officials to explain that this virus can only be spread by exposure to bodily fluids after a patient shows signs of illness, a Harris Poll published last week indicated that three out of four of those polled said that they are concerned that people carrying Ebola will infect others before showing symptoms themselves.  This is obviously a result of the misinformation that is being perpetuated by both the media and the GOP.

Why would they do such a thing?  What is in it for them?  Unfortunately, the answer is much too transparent.   The simple reality is money and power.  Casting aspersions on the Obama Administration just weeks before the midterm enhances the GOP narrative of an administration incapable of taking charge and not able to protect America.  This they hope will translate into votes for GOP candidates on November 4th.   The money issue is quite simple as well.  TV is all about money and entertainment, not information.  Fox is doing everything it can to create a compelling narrative about Ebola so that it can increase its viewership and therefore increase its advertising revenues.  In both cases they depend on the willingness of people to listen to what is being told to them rather than reading and investigating on their own.  Unfortunately that is what has been happening.  There couldn’t be a more cynical way of handling the Ebola scare than what we are witnessing.  When those in charge of media and political policy begin to play on fear and ignorance they need to be called out on it, but that’s not happening.  The GOP wants you to be afraid, very afraid.  Show them that you’re not, vote Democratic on November 4th!
 

Are Voters So Ill-informed That It Places Our Form Of Government In Jeopardy?

As you enter the voting booth you need to consider the following national issues:  Ebola, ISIS, immigration reform, gun control, minimum wage increase, pay equity, marriage equality, national debt, voting rights, abortion rights, national security, Benghazi, IRS, VA, tax reform and climate change to name just a few.  This of course does not include the myriad local and state issues voters are confronted with.  It is not easy to be a responsible voter, so maybe it is simply easier not to vote.  Let’s face it, we are not a population known for its studious review of issues and careful analysis of our options.  More often than not we vote as our parents did and we vote straight party ticket.  But during the past several months we have simply not gotten a break.  Everyday brings a new crisis that seems to bring us to the brink and our government seems unable to respond in a forceful and cohesive manner.  Does it really make a difference who we send to Washington?  It seems not only that the world’s problems are encroaching on our lives, but that Washington is so broken that it can no longer keep the world from sucking us in.  How can I begin to understand and make the right decision?  Who can I depend on to do the right thing and help me protect my family?  In truth, when you get down to it, that is the question I need to answer when I am in the voting booth.  Is the American voter willing to put in the time and effort to answer that question or is he so underwhelmed or underwhelmed at the choices and the way they are presented that he will choose to sit this election out?

confused voter

Our system of government is dependent upon an informed and engaged electorate.  Yet, we must ask whether the extraordinary  proliferation of media and advertising has, in  fact, created a glut of information that is nearly impossible to decipher.  When we add the Madison Avenue approach to the “selling of the candidate” and his message we must ask whether we are enhancing the information of the electorate, or simply finding  new and better ways to convince the electorate.  Add to that the seemingly unlimited funding available to today’s candidates to buy the best and the brightest propagandists and the voter doesn’t have a chance.  Today the voter is flooded with seemingly valid but conflicting arguments on any issue he is asked to vote on.  It then becomes the obligation of the voter to study and learn the facts in order to make an intelligent and informed decision about which way to vote, yet we are all aware of propositions that have been purposefully worded in a way to confuse the voter.

The reality is that the campaign machines that  have been developed are so sophisticated that they are able to target the average voter with information that is incorrect yet plausible.  The only way the voter could know about the incorrectness of the information is to have taken  the time to study the issue and familiarize himself with the facts.  Unfortunately, a small percentage of voters take the time to educate themselves.  They tend to buy into the ads and listen to their friends and family.  While democracy is dependent on an informed and engaged electorate, Americans are not meeting the challenge and achieving the goal.

It is not good enough to simply go to the polls and vote.  To vote blindly is to elect blindly.  I have been beseeching everyone to take the time to vote in this most important midterm election for months.  But now I beseech you to take the time and make sure that you know what you are voting for.  Study the issues and understand how your vote will impact on our future.  Let’s work together to enhance our democracy, not belittle it.