I Don’t Pledge

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Oct 262013



I don’t pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America
Though I will to the Republic
for which it stands
One nation, irrespective of God
frustratingly divisive
Striving to achieve liberty and justice for all

We have to stop getting so hung up in the symbols of our values and start actually paying attention to the values.



Facts Matter

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Oct 042013

The problem out on the streets of America during these tumultuous political times is that far too much rhetoric is flying around without a basis in fact…

People of good conscience can have differing opinions; it is where we are supposed to have our political debates. The problem now is that any ideological constituency can get on the internet and find some moron that agrees with their desperate fantasy. They will be validated in their belief regardless of fact or the lack thereof…

So here we are. The government is shut down, 800,000 government employees have been sent home and pundits on all sides are screaming “listen to me, I have the meme that will make you feel just right about your stance.”

The problem is that this isn’t about ideology.

This isn’t about what you “believe”

This isn’t about what you can sell.

This isn’t about what you can spin.

This is about policy not politics.

This is about what you can prove, not what you can say.

This is about facts… And the fact is facts matter.

So where are we and how did we get here? First you have to realize that there are two separate issues at play and part of what makes the situation so confusing and contentious is that the issues have been blurred. First let’s take on the budget or more specifically in the current situation the continuing resolution:

The Continuing Resolution:

The government has been operating under a continuing resolution pretty much since Republicans regained a majority in the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections. A continuing resolution is an agreement in the absence of a budget to continue funding the government, usually at current funding levels until the budget dispute can be resolved. A sad example of the practice:

Continuing resolution passed 9/29/2010 funding government from 10/1/2010  – 12/3/2010

Continuing resolution passed 12/2/2010 funding government until 12/18/2010

Continuing resolution passed 12/17/2010 funding government until 12/21/2010

Continuing resolution passed 12/21/2010 funding government until 3/4/2011

Continuing resolution passed 3/2/2011 funding government until 3/18/2011

Continuing resolution passed 3/16/2011 funding government until 4/8/2011

Continuing resolution passed 4/9/2011 funding government until 4/15/2011…

The grand bargain – This was the negotiation attempted during this flurry of continuing resolutions to try to establish a responsible long term plan for deficit reduction while acknowledging the fragile economy and the fact that many Americans are still vulnerable to the worst recession since the Great Depression. Ultimately the talks collapsed when Republicans refused to accept increasing revenues from the wealthiest Americans.

The debt ceiling, round one – In order to avoid a government default for the first time in American history The Budget Control Act of 2011 raised the debt ceiling by cutting spending more than the increase of the debt limit. It also specified automatic budget sequestration should the parties fail to agree to a budget. By letting the full faith and credit of the United States come so close to being breached Standard & Poor’s downgraded its credit rating of the U.S. from AAA to AA+ all major stock indices dropped more than 5 percent the next business day.

The fiscal cliff – The fiscal cliff refers to the confluence of forces it was thought would damage an already weak economy; the expiration of the Bush tax cuts which were to expire in 2010 but had been extended for two years and the effects of the sequester both slated for January 1 2013. The fiscal cliff crisis culminated in the American Taxpayer Relief Act where 98% of the Bush Tax Cuts became permanent, The ATM was “fixed”, and the sequestration was delayed two months (for additional negotiation time)

Sequestration – This is a mechanism that was designed to force congress to reach a compromise on the budget. As a condition of lifting the debt limit both sides agreed to draconian cuts if the sides failed to reach a later agreement, an agreement was not reached and the sequester cuts began in March of 2013. Though Republicans have publicly accused President Obama with creating and wanting the sequester, their budget position in the latest round of continuing resolution negotiations is sequester level spending.

In March of 2013 the Senate passed its first budget in three years, under “normal order” the House budget and Senate budget would be reconciled in a “conference committee”. Though the House had been pushing the Senate to pass a budget, the House has refused 18 requests over 6 months to empanel said conference committee, continuing the continuing resolutions.

A few facts about the current continuing resolution:

The CR passed by the Democratic Senate and not voted on by Republican House offers to keep the government open not at the levels in the Senate Budget but rather at the spending levels in the House budget.

The CR would only fund the government for approximately 6 weeks.

It is likely that if John Boehner brought the “clean CR” to the House floor for a vote, the measure would pass with a very large majority, ending this shutdown and returning 800,000 people to work.

This debate isn’t even close to as dangerous as the deadline we face in 13 days when the debt ceiling MUST be raised, and it really must be raised for the good of the country, it is not a joke and it certainly is not an opportunity for the irresponsible to threaten the responsible, that isn’t governance its extortion.

The real debate should be about the budget, both chambers of Congress have passed one, it is time to pass the CR, empanel a conference committee and return to the task of governance

Which bring us to the second issue, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act:

I could write many posts about the ACA, fact is I have… Some basic facts;

The ACA is not a government takeover of healthcare, healthcare is as it was for 85% of Americans; the remaining 15% now can access affordable care through an exchange by a private, for profit, insurance company. Government runs the exchanges and sets rules; it is still a private market.

The ACA does not and never did contain “death panels” the provision in question which did not make it to the final law was to provide doctor reimbursement for “end of life” counseling for terminally ill patients.

Obamacare isn’t a “job killer” nor is it forcing employers to cut employees hours – The exchanges opened three days ago, coverage doesn’t start until January 2014, the employer mandate wouldn’t start until then and has been delayed for a year… Companies are doing what they are doing for their own fiscal reasons, they may blame Obamacare but it is just a disingenuous excuse to defend their choices. Someday facts may prove otherwise but today the wild rhetoric about how bad the ACA will be isn’t factually provable.

People that have had and continue to have healthcare insurance receive the following benefits through the ACA

Annual caps on your insurance are a thing of the past YOU ARE INSURED.

Lifetime caps on your insurance are a thing of the past YOU ARE INSURED. You don’t have to go and find a new job with benefits if your healthcare demands it.

The practice of rescission, an insurance company dropping your coverage when you get sick is no longer allowed.

Children out of their parent’s house and not yet in a career that includes benefits can remain on their parent’s healthcare plans.

Preventative care is required if you are going to sell a healthcare policy to an American.

Rebates to the insured if 80% of premiums aren’t spent on actual care.

Women cannot be charged more than men for the same insurance plan.

What is most true though is that the continuing resolution has nothing to do with the ACA. There is a system in this country for the passage of laws and a system for their repeal. The Republican Party didn’t win enough elections to repeal the law and therefore it will not be repealed. A government of, by and for the people shouldn’t be derailed by a minority just because they believe the falsehoods fed to them for years about a law that gives the uninsured hope and the insured a better product than they used to have.

We are a nation of laws. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is no mere bill, it is a law. The ACA was rigorously debated. The ACA was passed through both chambers of Congress. The ACA was signed into law by a President of the United States. The ACA was challenged and upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. The time has come to turn to more pressing matters, immigration reform, the farm bill, the budget, economic stimulus, and economic certainty.

We have a two party system; it is supposed to be contentious. It is not supposed to be dysfunctional. Make your best argument but if you can’t achieve all you want find a place to agree in the middle for the good of the country. The pressure to do the will of the people has to come from the people, but if the people are allowed to be swayed by cheap talking points facts are lost and the people end up advocating policies that are contrary to their best interests.

People should be able to choose whatever fate they desire but the choice should be based on fact not some slick talking point specifically crafted to obfuscate those facts… to have it otherwise really isn’t a choice, and that is a fact.

Late update: House Democrats are working on filing a “discharge petition”, if they can get all 200 Democrats and 18 Republicans to sign it they can force a vote on a clean CR… Unfortunately the earliest this petition could force a vote would be Oct 14, not nearly soon enough for 800,000 furloughed workers and the greater economy that they impact. John Boehner has no such restrictions for access to the floor, he can call a vote at any time, a vote that would end this insanity, and that, is also a fact…




The Outrage Limits

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Aug 202013

OutrageLimitsThe amount of oxygen, hand wringing and column inches being consumed by Edward Snowden and Glen Greenwald is threatening to fuck another election cycle and by extension millions of Americans that really can’t afford to lose anything else. I don’t mean to imply that the NSA story has no place in our political discourse or that the subject isn’t news worthy, it’s just that it ultimately is a distraction that keeps us from focusing on more important issues that have far greater impacts to far less powerful constituencies…

Let me explain:

Guns injure more than 100,000 Americans per year the vast majority of which are not rich or white. More than 35,000 of them die…

In North Carolina the Republican dominated legislature has passed the most restrictive voting law since the era of Jim Crow, at minimum 300,000 voters will be effected, the vast majority of which are minorities, the poor and students… North Carolina might be the most egregious of the voter suppression laws passed by Republican legislatures but similar laws in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia and Pennsylvania will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands more American voters.

Immigration reform is desperately important for more than 11,000,000 people living and working in this country. They are vital to our economy and even more vital to the economy of their families. They have our focus and our voice or they have no chance of overcoming the bitter, hateful rhetoric that the right never, ever forgets to keep at the forefront of their messaging.

Though the Affordable Care Act is far from a perfect piece of legislation it does make the possibility of healthcare a reality for nearly 30,000,000 Americans and that same healthcare more responsive for nearly all Americans. As the Affordable Care Act takes effect it would be outstanding to see the left devote some passion in its defense during what is sure to be an all-out assault designed to smear the implementation of reforms that quite literally saves lives.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP aka food stamps) currently helps about 47,000,000 Americans. Though Republicans besmirch it and demonize those who rely on it, it is quite simply one of the few programs that make the difference between poverty and just escaping it. The fact that America is considering yanking food from the mouths of babes in this economy while the banks and energy companies enjoy record profits exploiting the American marketplace is truly worthy of outrage.

There are more than 167,000,000 women in America and legislatively they are under assault. 87 % of the counties in the United States have no abortion provider. 91% of women in the state of Mississippi don’t have an abortion provider within the county in which they live. In much of America a legally protected right is just a fantasy. Contraception is under assault, pay equity, victims of rape and domestic abuse. The war on women isn’t just real, Republicans are mounting a “surge” and it’s working.

Hundreds of thousands to millions of Americans are fighting real battles with huge stakes right now. The left cannot afford to join the right in beating the “government is evil” drum to the detriment of more pressing issues.

2776 times last year the NSA broke their own rules and the law and spied on Americans… How many of those Americans knew it happened? How many Americans were adversely affected? How many couldn’t get help when they were sick? How many couldn’t vote, or eat? How many were denied access to a needed medical procedure? How many were forced to undergo a medically unnecessary procedure? How many died?

There is a limit to the attention span of the American electorate. Outside the realm of those likely to read this post are the majority of American citizens, half of which have no idea any of this has been happening and half of which have been told by Fox News that it is absolutely necessary to “take our country back”. If we can’t get and keep these pressing issues in the sphere of the public debate real Americans, most of which are less connected, informed, empowered and fortunate than you, will suffer real consequences. That will, in many cases, be devastating.

The NSA story is real, it is good that we are having the conversation but the level of hyperbole, outrage and vitriol, particularly amongst people on the left, is ultimately another distraction that will likely lessen our ability to effectively combat far greater and more pressing threats.

Please take a deep breath, rights are being taken from coast to coast but most of them aren’t due to intelligence gathering. The NSA over reached it is true, but it pales compared to what Republican controlled State houses have done, are doing and will continue to do. We must educate and motivate our voters to stop them. The conversations that we engage in, promote, trend and debate create the narrative now more than ever. We have the power to speak for those who are really losing their rights if we have the attention span to remember them.





The Right to Keep Bearing

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Dec 162012

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The right of the people to keep and bear arms has become THE quintessential right for a small but incredibly well organized group of Americans. The fact of the matter is that nobody can reasonably argue that a private citizen has the right to keep or bear a nuclear weapon. Working back from that premise it is reasonable that the Constitution allows the government to place restrictions on what arms may be kept and borne.

We the people need to have an honest conversation, without hyperbolic rhetoric about an effort to “take away your guns” specifically about the limits of the Second Amendment and the limits of what the American people should be required to bear…

Shall we continue to bear people keeping gun shops or working in gun shops without a criminal background check?

Shall we continue to bear private sales of guns or should those people that registered to own those guns keep them?

Shall we continue to bear people keeping their guns without keeping insurance to mitigate the damage those guns can perpetrate?

Shall we continue to bear people keeping their guns in an unsecured location where a child or intruder can get ahold of it?

Shall we continue to bear people getting around our laws by buying up to 40% of guns at a gun show?

Shall we continue to bear people keeping their silence if their gun is lost or stolen?

Shall we continue to bear people keeping clips that allow a shooter to fire more than 9 rounds without reloading?

Shall we continue to bear some people keeping assault weapons that can produce the kind of carnage that the communities of Aurora and Newtown suffered?

The right to keep and bear arms is NOT absolute, we have to define reasonable limits that protect the right and protect the innocent.

We can’t keep bearing this…

Note: artwork “Struggle by Morton D. Levin”

In Closing

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Nov 042012

I’m not voting for Barack Obama because he signed the Lily Ledbetter Act ensuring women access to justice when they are paid less than men for equal work, but I could. I’m not voting for Barack Obama because he tripled the voices of women on the Supreme Court, though that would be a perfectly justifiable reason. I’m not even voting for President Barack Obama because he has always supported access for women to reproductive healthcare, though I find the GOP’s rabid assault on the rights of women completely repugnant…


I’m not voting for Barack Obama because:

He ordered the detention center at Guantanamo Bay closed, even though the cowards in congress voted almost unanimously to thwart him.

He drug the Senate kicking and screaming to FINALLY pass healthcare reform, a sorely missing piece of the social safety net for 100 years.

He passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, snidely referred to as “the stimulus” which really did save this country and all her citizens from the prospect of suffering another great depression.

He got us the hell out of the ridiculous folly that was Iraq, in a responsible and honorable fashion.

He refocused attention on bringing those who actually attacked us to justice and made the call that took Bin Laden out.

He stuck is neck out to save the auto industry, a crucial component to manufacturing in this country when more cynical voices wouldn’t bet on American workers and American jobs.

He ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell which was a shameful policy that dishonored our men and women in uniform even as they risked their lives for their country.

He reformed student loans so that profiteers don’t make a buck off of government backed student loans, and in so doing has lowered the cost of a quality education.

He refused to defend the indefensible DOMA which is certainly unconstitutional and should be allowed to be struck down.

He issued an executive order functionally extending Dream Act protections to children who through no fault of their own are undocumented in this country, after Republicans filibustered it in the Senate, where it surely would have passed.

He tried over and over to work with Republicans, much to the chagrin of many on the left, only to be rebuffed even when the interests of the nation were compromised.

He passed Wall Street reform and created the Consumer Financial Protection Agency to stop the flagrant abuses of financial institutions that cannot be allowed to repeat their reckless pursuit of profit without regard for the risk to national stability.

He increased funding for Veterans Affairs to honor our country’s commitments to those who have given their all in the defense of their nation.

I’m not voting for Barack Obama because ANY of these things but rather because ALL of them…

In a terribly polarized political system…

Against coordinated opposition whose primary goal was to limit Obama to one term…

In the worst recession since the great depression…

As the first black president…

In the face of overt racism and hostility…


I AM voting for Barack Obama, as a matter of fact, I already have.

Please vote.

Sacred Heartburn

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Sep 152012

The events unfolding at American embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East refreshes the endless debate about religion, culture, tolerance, respect and ultimately what is “sacred”…

The idea that something is sacred is born in the concept of consecration, when something has been consecrated it literally becomes sacred, at least to those that hold it so. The concept that any symbol that represents something that was so consecrated would carry the same sacred weight would seem an aberration of consecration.

There is a disconnect in this world between what IS sacred and the symbols of things that are sacred. There is a further disconnect between those who hold something sacred and those that quite simply do not.

Is the American flag sacred? Is it more disrespectful to burn it or wear it on your ass as a bikini? Is “The Bible” sacred? What about “a Bible”? And the Qur’an? The Talmud? What if they were printed on toilet paper? Wouldn’t the exposure of the user to the word outweigh the resulting, um, smear shall we say?

Don’t make the symbol of something more valuable than the values that something symbolizes.

Outrage, faux or otherwise is a powerful weapon that when unleashed is rarely discriminating. Those who would purposefully leverage outrage for the advantage of their ideology or the vilification of another’s arm that weapon without regard for the aim, figuratively they are firing into a crowd and those they manipulate are the bullets.

“The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas – uncertainty, progress, change – into crimes.” – Salman Rushdie

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure – conversely, one man’s sacred is another man’s crude joke. Why should the man that considers a thing sacred care what the man who doesn’t thinks? Your faith speaks to you, another’s faith speaks to them. Their truth is “the truth” for them, your truth is “the truth” for you. The truth is that the religion isn’t offended, flags aren’t offended, long dead prophets and messiahs are not offended… The men who attach the moniker of “sacred” are offended, their sensibilities compromised which compromises their sense.

Don’t make the symbol of something more valuable than the values that something symbolizes.

Chaired Delusion

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Sep 012012

The real take away from the Clint Eastwood empty chair debacle at the Republican National Convention is that it represents the way the Republican Party views the President of the United States…

This is to say, not at all. Republicans cannot see the President; or rather they WILL not see the president.

Republicans have refused to see Obama for years now. Republicans see a Muslim (he is not). Republicans see a Kenyan (he is not). Republicans see a Socialist (he is not). Republicans see a radical (he is not). Republicans see him as the ultimate other.

The symbolism of the empty chair is perfect for the GOP. The void occupying the chair leaves just the space they need to project…  They project their fears into that chair, they project  their prejudices  into that chair and they project their distortions and biases into that chair… What they see is ugly but it doesn’t say anything about the president of the United States, it says something about those who will not see the man.

Republicans won’t be running against Barack Obama this year. They will continue to run against the characterization of Barack Obama that they have invented.

The Barack Obama that fits their increasingly narrowing world view.

The Barack Obama that plays into the narrative of their rapidly shrinking tent.

The only one they can see… Their fantasy of Barack Obama sitting in an empty chair.


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Aug 282012


Veracity…  accuracy, actuality, authenticity, candor, correctness, credibility, exactitude,  exactness, fact, fairness, fidelity, frankness, genuineness, gospel, honest-to-god truth, honesty, honor ,impartiality, integrity, like it is, openness, precision, probity, real McCoy, reality, rectitude, rightness, sincerity, straight stuff, trueness, truism, trustworthiness, truthfulness, uprightness, verisimilitude, verity

There has not been five minutes during the Republican National Convention so far that has honored any version of the word “veracity”. And the GOP has the audacity to claim to be the Party of values.

The ninth commandment demands – Thou Shalt Not Lie. I have no words.


Dueling Banjos

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Aug 272012

Is it fair to disarm a man during a duel? How about in preparation for one?

James Humble was elected by the citizens of Catahoula Parish to the Louisiana Legislature, which met in New Orleans, Louisiana at the time. During the first session of the legislature, Mr. Humble said something that offended a short, five foot two inch, Creole legislator from New Orleans. The Creole immediately challenged the seven foot tall blacksmith to a duel.

Brother Humble said, “Sir, since you challenged me it is my understanding that I can choose the time, place and the weapons for the duel”. The Creole legislator said, “Sir, that is correct”. Brother Humble replied, “in that case, I choose daylight tomorrow morning, in six feet of water of Lake Pontchartrain, with sledge hammers”.

Our president might just as easily dispatch Mr. Romney by saying “Anywhere and everywhere, armed only with the truth.”

Mitt Romney hasn’t actually challenged the President to a duel. The challenge is far more crucial to the all of us than that. Mr. Romney has however chosen the weapons with which he will wage the campaign for the presidency. Lies, in six feet of racism…

“quietly announced” plans to eliminate work and job training requirements for welfare beneficiaries

“There’s only one president that I know of in history that robbed Medicare, $716 billion to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call Obamacare.”

 “No one has ever asked to see my birth certificate, they know that this is the place that we were born and raised.”

“There’s no question in my mind that the president’s action was calculated to… shore up his base,”

These statements aren’t only disingenuous; they are specifically designed to “speak” to the lesser angels of the Republican Party, an increasingly large contingent.

Mitt already has every advantage possible in this race. Mitt is tall, white and rich. The economy isn’t particularly strong. Unemployment is disturbingly high. And yet Mitt Romney CANNOT compete without lying or invoking racial memes. Mitt is acting like a midget facing a duel in six feet of water with sledgehammers. Apparently he has decided that all he is capable of wielding is banjos…

You Bilked That

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Aug 262012

Mr. Romney likes to think of himself as a “job creator” as someone that succeeds by making a success of those around him and to a certain extent he is not wrong. The caveat is that if you bother to look further than his immediate crony circle, the picture is completely different. The fact is that Mitt Romney made a career out of sucking the capital out of businesses and their employees to benefit a small group of investors, a successful endeavor? Certainly. A model for governance? Certainly not. So while he is parading on the stage at the convention beneath a banner proclaiming “We Built That”, look at his record, see what he has actually done and know this;

If you made money leveraging companies and their employees into bankruptcy “you bilked that”

Mr. Romney likes to say that he “saved” the Winter Olympics in 2002. I don’t doubt that Mr. Romney’s skills as a manager were very beneficial. I do doubt the honesty of a man that claims government needs to “get out of the way” and then solicits over 400 million dollars from that same government. Who saved the games, Mr. Romney? You or the American taxpayers?

If you “saved” the Olympics by tapping the Federal Government for 400 million dollars “you bilked that”

Mr. Romney likes to think of himself and people like him as the reason that America is successful. The Romney’s write very big tax checks to the Federal Government. The size of those checks may never be known since Mr. Romney refuses to do what our current president has, release twelve years of returns.  Mr. Romney has given us some clues. We know that in 2010 Mitt paid a little less than 14% federal income tax rate. We know that he is very aggressive in exploiting the tax code to pay as little as possible. We know that he considers anything less than aggressive exploitation of our tax code would “disqualify” him as a presidential candidate. Where does that leave the United States as a society? If the social safety net must be shredded to “save” it, shouldn’t a portion of the conversation focus on the tax code? Should we entrust the future of that safety net to one who already possesses enormous tax advantages. Especially when he wants to enact even more cuts for people who already so effectively dodge so much of their tax bill?

If you hide cash in the Cayman’s to avoid paying taxes to your country “you bilked that”

I respect the free market. I participate in the free market. I applaud the free market. But the free market is never going to provide national security. The free market is never going to protect the air and water. The free market is never going to ensure equal access to all Americans. The free market is never going to self-regulate.

The government has a role to play, a crucial role. A role that matters to our lives and the lives of future Americans. Mr. Romney seems to view the government as something worth controlling so that he may more effectively cheat it for monetary gain. A position of power where he can wrest even more from America than he already has. If Mr. Romney becomes president, someday he will look over whatever is left of this great nation and laugh under his breath “I bilked that”.