Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: A Political Year in Review

Greetings from R. M. Eller and your diabolical friend DevilsAdvocate. On this New Years Eve, we look back on the significant political events from this year. It has been a year of ups and downs for the Obama administration and for the American people as a whole. We have managed to survive a most turbulent time though. In fact we have had some victories along the way. This is a look back on those events.

Let’s start off with a bittersweet victory for President Obama, the passage of reform for the health care industry. Progressives view this however as a sort of half-assed victory with the bill being watered down in a futile attempt to gain Republican support. Universal coverage was replaced with the public option, which gave way to lowering the Medicare age, which ultimately led to the individual mandate. A universal mandate that isn’t even that effectual at that. It has already been deemed unconstitutional by Virginia and in the end people not wanting insurance won’t see much of a penalty for it. One aspect of this health care overhaul that is somewhat significant is the lowering of the maximum age that a citizen may remain on their parent’s health insurance. This too though is still far from a perfect victory. It is interesting that while this watered down bill has only partly gone into effect, the standard story from those that subscribe to the GOP way of thinking and drink heavily from the Kool-Aid (TM) is that this was ‘forced down their throats, even though they had a hand in the negotiations most of the time, including ’a summit with the President. In the end, only one Republican voted for the bill, Representative Cao of Louisiana. The GOP’s #1 goal in the 112th Congress is to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, which started with stalling the allocation of funds for it until March of next year.

Next up is the biggest environmental disaster the country has seen since the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, the explosion and sinking of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil platform and subsequent oil spill. Unfortunately this event happens to be the best example that humanity has had in some time of the word quagmire. See folks, not just a character on the Family Guy. This monumental disaster was the product of neglect. While BP was sealing this well a large amount of air pockets formed in the well, causing methane gas to explode and ignite when the gas along with a mud mixture was pushed up to the platform. To make matters far worse, BP had been aware that their blow out prevention system was not viable for days before this disaster. This resulting explosion slew 11 individuals and injured 17 others. This unfortunately would not be the end of the harm however. The worst was yet to come.

The Obama Administration decided that BP would be responsible for the clean up efforts. This resulted in the usage of toxic chemicals in the clean-up effort that seem to have made matters worse. These toxic dispersants, in additon to the dangers that the EPA stated they posed, had another risk. They didn’t get rid of the oil so much as it made it disappear from the surface as it sank to the ocean floor. As opposed to coagulants which various environmental groups implored BP to use. There was even a proposal to use peat moss, which would absorb and break down the oil. The oil spill lasted for months while the well continued to gush oil into the Gulf until it finally came to an end when the well was plugged in mid September. Unfortunately for aquatic life in the gulf this event was truly destructive. It remains to be seen if this event shall ever be recovered from.

For other shameful behavior during the clean up effort, BP refused to permit their workers (that were hired from out of work fishermen) to use basic protections such as respirators, goggles or overalls. BP also had threatened to fire any workers that were caught using a respirator. One issue that did come up as well was a scandal involving the payment for workers and reparations for the oil’s destruction of fisherman’s lively hood

Being an even numbered year meant Congressional elections, this time being the first midterm elections for President Obama. Political analysts were mixed on the outlook of the elections. Most analysts predicted, and rightly so, that the Democrats would maintain the Senate but lose the House of Representatives to the Republicans. On the other hand, Fox News and GOP analysts were predicting a landslide where they would reclaim both houses of Congress with large numbers. Of course this did not happen, as many of the Republican candidates were of the Tea Party variety like Christine O’Donnell. Minority Leader Boehner and Speaker of the House Pelosi now switch places and all the House committees will be lead by Republicans. This will mean that President Obama will have a more difficult time furthering his agenda but at the same time it also means that Republicans will have to be more willing to compromise as they only control one house of Congress and anything passed by them that is not Obama-friendly will be killed in the Senate or vetoed by the President. As was mentioned after the election by us, good luck to the GOP.

And with every midterm election there comes a lame duck session of Congress, and this year was no different, except this year we saw the most productive lame duck session in recent history. The biggest issue was the coming expiration of the Bush era tax cuts. President Obama promised in his campaign that he would make the tax cuts on the middle class permanent while letting the cuts for the richest 2% expire. Well, after lots of debate, the president blinked and decided to “compromise” with Republicans and temporarily extend all the Bush tax cuts. This infuriated progressives like Bernie Sanders and Howard Dean, to the point where Bernie Sanders went on the Senate floor for eight and half hours giving his reasons that the bill should not pass. It ultimately did pass with overwhelmingly bipartisan support and was signed by the president. During the lame duck session we also saw the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a major victory for the Gay and Lesbian community, the ratification of the New START, a major step to securing loose nuclear material around the world and keeping peace with Russia, and the passing of the 9-11 first responders bill, which gives those who were at Ground Zero the much deserved health care they need. What we didn’t see was the passing of the omnibus spending bill for next year. Instead this year’s spending was extended until March, which gives the Republicans time to try to work their own brand of “magic” on the budget. Good luck with that. What that means for us in the meantime is that healthcare and Wall Street reform won’t get their funding until March, if the Republicans even bother to include them, but we wouldn’t count on the that.

The end of this political year does fill us with hope. We all remember President Obama when he is in campaign mode. Election season is coming up in the very near future. With the difficulties that the incoming Republican control of the house will present, our president is going to have to change his approach. It is quite likely that he will begin to present a far more progressive front than at any point of his administration. Who knows, maybe the return of Obama the campaigner will mark a dynamic change in this presidency. Who knows, maybe this should be the year that we can look forward to with hope.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Nation of Wussies

Before I get a ton comments saying "How dare you call us wussies" let me explain these are not my words but those of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. He said this during an interview for a Philadelphia radio show in regards to the NFL and Philadephia mayor's decision to postpone the Eagle and Vikings football game on Sunday night because of the approaching blizzard. Rendell noted that the roads were not only passable, but the major highways near the standium had no accidents during what would have the typical travel time to the stadium. Also football is a game most enjoyed in the elements, in the cold and snow like at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
While it seems petty to complain about a football game being postponed, Gov. Rendell brings up a valid point. We have lost our edge and have become too afraid to take risks now. We used to be the leader innovators during the 60s and 70s when it came to electronics and cars. Then the Japanese leapfrogged us in electronics and brought out small cars to combat the gas crisis. Our attempts at small cars failed miserably and we have fallen behind in that important segment ever since. Most of our major electronics are no longer made here but come from Japan, with some notable exceptions of course. But for the most part we have sat on our butts and let the rest of the world get ahead of us and have lost our ability to take risks. However there is hope. General Motors recently started production of the revolutionary Chevrolet Volt, a new kind of electric car. So maybe there is hope for us. But one thing is for sure, a little snow never hurt a football game.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from The Young and Opinionated

On this eve of Christmas, I want to wish all of the readers a Merry Christmas on behalf of the staff of The Young and Opinionated. For one day, let's set aside the partisan bickering and celebrate the reason for the season. So from our family to yours, a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The President has accomplished a lot, but at what cost?

Well, yesterday marked the official end of the 111th Congress and the unofficial end to the first half of President Obama's first term and there's no denying the amount legislative accomplishments President Obama has had. Besides the Affordable Health Care Act which reformed the health insurance industry, there was Lily Lebetter Fair Pay Act, Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, tobacco regulation, credit card reform, student laon reform, Wall Street reform, the Recover Act which brought us back from the brink of collapse, the new GI Bill, the Food Safety Moderdization Act, James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, the bailout of the auto industr, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the tax cut compromise. That's a rather long list and in fact in the first two years, 85% of the president's agenda for his first term was accomplished. The only problem is, some of the larger bills were watered down compared to the original ideas.
Take for instance the Affordable Health Care Act; when it was first proposed there was the addition of the public option, a way for people to buy health insurance through the government in a larger exchange in an attempt to drive the premiums of other companies. That was soon replaced with lower the Medicare age, which in turn was replaced with the individual mandate. The final bill was a shell of its former self in an attempt to get the Republican votes that never came. To put it in other words, it was like taking a shot of espresso, bold and exciting, and dumping it into a gallon of water. What we have left is something diluted, hard to swallow, and leaves a bad taste in your mouth (I'm sure the people at the Coffee Party would get a kick out of that analogy). The same can be said for the Wall Street reform, in a futile attempt to get Republican support, the bill lost some of its luster by the time it was passed.
And to add insult to injury, at the end of the so-called lame duck session thie week, Congress passed a stop gap spending bill that continues the current spending levels until March since the omnibus bill failed to make it to a vote. What this means is that the funds that would go to start implementing the health care and Wall Street reform won't be there and that reform will be further stalled until the Republicans get a chance to pick it apart and repeal it.
And then there is the tax cut compromise, which I already wrote about earlier, but to reiterate, the president walked back on his promise to let the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% expire by extending them with the rest of the cuts for 2 years. Also there is the estate tax issue and the payroll tax holiday, which starts the inevitable defunding of Social Security.
The 112th Congress will be different as the Republicans have more say and control the House of Representatives. I relunctantly look forward to see what comes out of it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The President needs to watch his base

Well, it appears that the President's continuing efforts to please the Republicans might come back to bite him in the form of a primary challenge in 2012. The Kiplinger Letter last week reported about possible challengers to President Obama in 2012, among them Congressmen Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Lynn Woolsey of California, Sheila Lee of Texas, Senator Russ Feingold, and fomer DNC Chair and Vermont Governor Howard Dean. Despite these rumors, White House senior advisor David Axelrod has assured the media that any primary challenges are out of the question. And Kiplinger reported that any challengers won't get very far. I find that last thought not very accurate. Decision 2010 was full of challenges to the incumbants on both sides, with many falling to opponents, like Arlen Spector in Pennsylvania, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska (despite making history and staging a stunning write-in victory in the general election), and four others in the House of Representatives. So what would prevent that from happening to President Obama? It could happen.
The way I see it, Howard Dean is the best choice of possible challengers. First off, Dean has the name recognition. He ran in 2004, infamously known for the Dean Scream, and didn't hold much ground after that. He has executive experience, being the former Governor of Vermont and the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Speaking of the DNC, Dean worked hard during 2008 to get President Obama elected, employing his genius 50 State strategy, placing focus on all fifty states, not just the surefire wins. This helped swing some states that were always red to blue and claim most if not all the swing states. And as the icing on the cake, Howard Dean has been true to the progressive base, helping with Progressive Democrats of America, pushing for health care reform including a public option and wanting what is best for middle class, not the elites. The other possible challengers are also strong candidates, like Kucinich and Feingold. Both would be worthy running mates to Howard Dean, Feingold being the better choice because of he is from California and would help carry the West Coast.
Time will only tell what happens, there is still a year left until the 2012 elections begin and the President might return to his base that got him elected. But then again, he might move further away from his base in order to appease the Republicans.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The START nuclear arms treaty and how the GOP is endangering us

It may seem like common sense that when presented with a treaty to reduce stockpiles of nuclear arms and creating further cooperation with an ally that was once your arch enemy, that you would ratify the treaty to prevent another conflict from breaking out. Unfortunately the Republicans in the Senate seem to lack common sense as they are wanting to filibuster the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia, citing problems such as it puts our country at risk and they don't like the terms of the treaty. What they don't realize is that if the treaty goes unratified, it just gives Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin another reason to hate us and maybe cause Cold War II. In the past the treaties START I, II, III and its predecessor SALT were ratified with large margins, with at least 90 votes. So what makes this one any different? The answer is both simple and complicated. First off, the Republicans in Congress are generally opposed to anything that might be seen as a positive for President Obama. They have been like this all along. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has even gone on the record saying that the Republican's priority these next two years is to defeat the President, no matter the cost. So causing another period of tensions with our one-time super power foe is worth it, as long as President Obama is defeated in 2012? According to McConnell, it seems that way. But it's complicated in that if the above isn't the only reason to oppose it, what else is there? I can't seem to think of any reason to oppose it. Heck, very prominent Republican diplomats and politicians support it, including former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Henry Kissinger and former President George H. W. Bush. Just like with the tax cut debate, this proves how out of touch the Republicans are and how much they only care about the success of their party and the downfall of the opposition. I implore the Republicans; get this treaty ratified now before it becomes a bigger issue in the future.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Better Late than Never

It seems that Don't Ask Don't Tell is dead alas. That's wonderful. It really is. Perhaps this is being a bit on the harsh side, but I've got to wonder, what took you so long? This should have been one of President Obama's easiest campaign promises to deliver on. He is the head of the executive branch of the government. An executive Order could have been the end of this. However, it is nice to see a victory of any form. It is impressive that this did make it through the legislative process. Good job Dems. Also, in regard to the Republicans that voted in favor of repeal, you folks deserve a pat on the back. Congratulations on not being dinosaurs.

Mr. President, I'm glad to see that you'll be able to fulfill a promise. This is something that was long overdue.

Now this is real Change we can believe in

Today the Senate voted 65-31 to repeal the discriminatory policy known as Don't Ask Don't Tell. In case you have been living under a rock for the past few months or don't follow politics like I do, Don't Ask Don't Tell is a policy set forth by President Clinton to one's sexuality a secret from the rest of the military. Its original intent was that one wouldn't say that their homosexual and nobody was allowed to ask about it. Unfortunately it transformed into a sort of witch hunt to root the homosexuals out of the military, that even if someone had a inkling that you were homosexual, you were discharged, even if you didn't admit. We lost 13,000 good fighting and loyal soldiers to this policy since it was enacted. Many of those discharged in the recent wars are important soldiers that were interpreters and the like that would have made fighting easier. Today those soldiers will get the chance to re-enlist and fight for their country. As with any change, there will be blowback, the commandant of the Marine Corps is against the repeal. Nonetheless, this is a huge victory for civil rights. Thank you Senator Lieberman for bringing this bill to Congress.

Friday, December 17, 2010

It's official, President Obama is Bush 2.0

Now I know that may seem like a harsh statement, but it's true. President Obama is signing into law tonight the extension of the Bush era tax cuts, completely reneging on his campaign promise of letting the cuts for the top 2% expire. One would think with having 58 out of 100 seats in the Senate that the Democrats would be able to get a lot of legislation pushed through. The Republican minority has taken control of the Congress, especially in the Senate, by threatening to filibuster anything President Obama proposes, inclduing the Defense Authorization Bill and the START missile treaty with Russia. The president has the spine of a jelly fish and refuses to call the GOP's bluff and force them to filibuster. If he had the guts to do so, it would prove once and for all that the Republicans are the party of "NO" as it would show that they don't care about the umemployed, the middle class, and national defense. Instead he caved to the minority and turned his back on the people that got him elected in the first place on the pledge of Hope and Change in Washington. As progressives and liberals and independents, we should have seen this coming because during the health care reform debate, so many ideas that the president promised (like the public option) were pulled from the bill despite the GOP not even voting for the final bill. Even ideas that the Republicans intially proposed were scrapped because they refused to support them after the President backed them. As Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida said on the House floor "If the President ordered a BLT, the right would outlaw bacon." But I digress.

This isn't the first time Obama has continued a Bush era policy. The prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is still in operation and presumably "enhanced interrogation" aka torture is still being used. Wall Street is still only loosely regulated. PayGo, the plan to only sign bills if they can be paid for, is still not used despite being reenacted by Obama. No Child Left Behind is still in place, despite the call for further reforming our education system. The list goes on and on. I supported the President because I thought he would finally bring our country back on track, but as it turns out, my Republican friends are right when they say "Where is all the Hope and Change that was promised." This is not to say that I'm switching parties, because the Republicans are the ones for the most part that got us into this mess and are proposing to dig us even deeper in the hole. Rather I am saying that it's time that our government got back to its fundamental roots set for by Abraham Lincoln (the first Republican and also a progressive), that government should be "of the people, by the people, for the people."

Throughout history, the conservative old guard in government hasn't succeeded because of one fundamental flaw, that is wanting to preserve the status quo when the status quo is no longer relevant. Time moves forward, not backward and therefore our government's policies should follow suit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Bernie Buster and other observations on the tax cuts

On Friday, Senator Bernie Sanders (I, VT) brought back the traditional filibuster in a new way. Going on for almost eight and half non-stop hours of speaking, Sanders brought his case to the floor for why the tax "compromise" (I put that in quotes because it is hardly a compromise since it gives the Republicans exactly what they want) should be defeated.

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These are just clips of the speech, but it was outstanding. Senator Sanders is the voice of the progressive movement in the Senate, and he is the voice of reason of right now. This show of strength and conviction proves that the president's own party isn't afraid to go against the him. I hope the president was listening and won't do the stupid thing he has been doing by pushing back against his base.

On the other hand, we have the Republicans arguing that we need the tax breaks for the rich, but at the same time they don't want the debt to go up. Hearing that makes me want to pull my hair out and ask them "HOW THE HECK IS THAT POSSIBLE?!" Extending the cuts for the top 2% adds to the debt somehow pay for themselves. I'm wondering how these people ever passed Economics 101. If you cut the revenue, it increases the debt if you don't compensate for it by cutting spending. So here's the rub, the Republicans will use this along with the cuts to payroll taxes to start defudning Social Security since it seems to be the bane of all right's existance. And if that happens, you will see the working and middle classes rise up against the government.

The irony behind all of this is that the "compromise" has recently united two unlikely parties, the progressive base of the Democratic party and their counter parts on the right, the Tea Party. A coalition of Tea Parties and Progressives could kill the bill in Congress, which would be the true sign of bipartisanship. I would love this to happen. Both sides want to take America back to it's fundemental roots, Tea Partiers want smaller government, Progressives want government for the everyday person, not businesses and the rich. We'll see how it plays out tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Obama has given his base the bird

The president has caved and will extend the Bush tax cuts for two more years. I cannot adequately describe how I feel about this, so I'll leave it to the expert. I present Keith Olbermann's Special Comment from Tuesday December 7.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm mad as hell and I'm going to blog about it.

I just saw on that until the tax cut issue is solved, the GOP plans to filibuster all bills in the Senate. The DREAM Act? Repealling Don't Ask Don't Tell? Ratifying the START Treaty? Extending unemployment benefits? None of that will happen until the crybaby Republican Senators get their way and futher sink America into debt by extending all of the Bush era tax cuts permenantly. They won't even consider just extending the tax cuts to those making less than $250k, it's all or nothing. The GOP is so out of touch with the middle and working classes that it isn't funny. They're also out of touch with the millionaires they really represent because a group of more than 40 millionaires called Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Responsibility (Link) recently urged the President not to extend their tax cuts. When some of the wealthiest people in America, including Warren Buffet, want to pay more taxes, it should say something. Furthermore, it's only a tax increase of 4%, from 35% to 39%! It's not like we're asking the upper class to pay the 1960 tax rate, which was upwards of 90%. If the Republicans have their way, we'll be $700 billion more in debt over the next 10 years. I'm beginning to find it increasingly difficult to understand how any middle or workering class American can be a registered Republican and actually support the idiots in Congress.
Now Democrats, all is not lost. Remember how we passed the Affordable Care Act? It was through budget reconcilation, which can be done again with these tax cuts because it will decrease the deficit. You have the votes for that, and if you had the guts to do it before, you can do it again. If you're going to go out, might as well do it with a bang because come January, it will be 2 long years of filibusters and finger pointing. Do this and you might actually regain some traction you had in 2008 going into 2012. Cave to the GOP and you will be out of power or face a serious challenger.