April 30, 2011

The long-form birth certificate makes me sad

No matter what I read on the subject of the release of President Obama’s long-form birth certificate, whether from the left or the right, the feeling I’m left with is sadness.

Back when Barack Obama was merely a candidate, and the question of where he was born first came up, I thought it was silly and ridiculous; that someone would even try to run for president who wasn't eligible was inconceivable to me. The chatter didn't stop once Obama was elected, and I was convinced that he should let the crazies make fools of themselves as long as they wanted. After all, the ‘birthers’ were really nothing more than group of fringe nutcases, right?

Over the past several months, Republican leaders and their stand-ins on the intranet, TV and radio did nothing to stop the clamor; the ‘mainstream media’ not only allowed it to fester but encouraged the birther issue by raising it repeatedly. And when blowhard Donald Trump began chest-thumping about it, I still felt that there should be no response from the White House or the president.

Sadly, not only did they produce the document, but Obama himself met with the press to provide the reasoning behind releasing it, not the least of which was that the continued interest was distracting us from the important business at hand.

Adam Serwer, writing in The Plum Line, posted this thought:
Aside from being one of the most idiotic moments in American political history, this marks a level of personal humiliation no previous president has ever been asked to endure.
Trump, proud of his role in getting the birth certificate released, insists that he doesn't want to talk about it anymore (all the while talking constantly about it); instead, he wants to talk about real issues. Like whether the President was qualified to attend Columbia and Harvard, from which he graduated magna cum laude. To that end, Trump is now suggesting that Obama release his college transcripts.

Birth certificate. College transcripts. What’s next?

A sweaty jockstrap? Because those pictures of him playing basketball may have been faked, you know. Maybe a sperm sample and a DNA test, to prove that he really fathered his daughters?  I mean, does he really look fit and virile, or is that faked too?

Leading Republicans have done a quick 180 and are saying that this is a non-issue, it’s always been a non-issue, and the country has more important things to worry about. And we let them get away with that, by covering the stories, and yes, by repeating them in blogs, and talking about them with our friends.

This whole thing is seedy. It’s beneath the office of the presidency, not just the current occupant. It’s beneath everyone who aspires to that office, and anyone who has supported this insanity should be summarily ignored. And you’ll have a hard time convincing me it’s anything other than racism, plain and simple -- and sad.

Oh - one more thing.

The President is right – we do have more important things to worry about. Notably, he worried about them by leaving Washington Wednesday to tape an appearance on Oprah and then attend a fundraiser.

And that, too, is sad.

April 26, 2011

Poll Watch: We're Miserable.

According to a recent New York Times /CBS News poll, we’re miserable, and it’s not the weather that’s got us down.  Americans are more pessimistic than we’ve been practically since the beginning of the Obama administration, and that pessimism is widespread. Here's a sampling:
  • 75% disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job
  • 70% think we’re heading in the wrong direction
  • 57% disapprove of how President Obama is handling the economy  
  • 56% don’t have a favorable opinion of Republicans  
  • 55% have an unfavorable opinion of Sarah Palin
  • 49% don’t have a favorable opinion of Democrats  
  • 45% negative approval rating for Obama  
  • 45% don’t approve of how Libya is being handled
  • 41% disapprove of John Boehner’s performance  
  • 29% think that cutting the deficit would cost us jobs
Young people aren’t immune from the malaise either. In a survey of 18 to 24 year olds conducted in February and March, the Associated Press found that:
  • 75% thought the economy was poor
  • 42% didn’t have a job
  • 55% of those who did have a job thought it was just something to get them by, not a career
In addition, the majority of those surveyed believe it will be harder for them to buy a house, raise a family, make enough money to support the lifestyle they want, and save for retirement than it was for their parents.

Finally, in a recent Fox News poll, here’s more misery:
  • 60% feel they’re getting a bad deal for their tax dollars 
  • 49% feel their tax dollars are spent less carefully than in the past 
  • 43% think they’re paying more than their fair share in taxes
So tell me: anyone got any good ideas for getting us out of this funk?  Clearly, the same-old, same-old fight and stall tactics we're used to aren't working. Where's the next great idea coming from?

April 24, 2011

Sunday School 4/24/11: The Trump Card

We’re back from spring break, and right back into the fray we go. Lots of talk about his Hairness, Donald Trump, today. There was some other good stuff today too, but we'll get to that another time.

First up, on NBC’s Meet the Press, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), was asked by David Gregory whether Trump was someone McCain could support. McCain answered:

“As you know, I’m staying out of it. I think that Mr. Trump is having the time of his life. I congratulate him for getting all the attention that he’s getting.”
Gregory followed up by asking if McCain thought The Donald was a serious contender; McCain's answer:
“Well, look, I’ll let the people decide that. I’m glad he’s willing to enter the arena. I think we have a lot of good candidates, and I’m not endorsing any of them. I would be happy if Sarah Palin got in. I’d be very happy with many of the governors we have running now. I think we’ll have a good candidate at the end of the day.”
Gregory asked Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) a Trump question too. This time, he went about it from the moral side, recalling that Coburn had said that New Gingrich doesn’t have the commitment to marriage to be a good candidate, much less president, and wondered if Trump with similar baggage would have similar issues. Coburn:
“We need somebody who’s demonstrated sacrificial leadership, that has demonstrated consistency, and an ability to lead based on a life that’s modeled on what American ideals are.”
What would 'sacrificial leadership' look like, I wonder?

On ABC’s This Week, host Christiane Amanpour talked with Reverend Franklin Graham about presidential candidates, among other things. Graham indicated that he thinks Sarah Palin will not run; in Graham's opinion, she doesn't like politics much, but does like talking on the issues.  When asked if Palin did run, would she be his candidate, Graham answered that it depended on who else was running, which opened the door for the Trump question. Graham’s response:
“Donald Trump, when I first saw that he was getting in, I thought, well, this has got to be a joke. But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, you know? Maybe the guy's right.”
Graham also refused to discount the whole birther thing, noting that he himself was born at a hospital in Asheville NC and that Obama could "solve this whole birth certificate thing pretty quickly.” But the thing is, he's already shown us his birth certificate, so I'm not sure what's left.

Chris Wallace was not immune to asking about Trump, either. His guest on Fox News Sunday was the other larger-than-life New Yorker, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Wallace asked if Bloomberg took Trump seriously as a candidate, and about The Donald’s focus on the birther thing. After stating very clearly that Obama was born here, he went on to add:

“I think the Republicans are making a terrible mistake making this a big issue. We have immigration. We have the deficit. We have the economy. Those are the things that the public cares about. My girlfriend always says it’s all about housing and jobs – my house, my job. That’s what the public cares about. If the Republican Party doesn’t start addressing that, they will lose and they deserve to."
Smartest words I heard today, bar none. 

April 17, 2011

Dirty Snowpile Awards: Buerkle, Obama, Kyl, Gingrich, & More

(Editor's note: this post from April 2011 has been updated to correct formatting issues.)

Today's lesson of Sunday School has been postponed so that we may bring you the following special presentation: the 2011 Dirty Snowpile Awards. The DSA were presented for the first time last year, and included a mostly New York State focus.  This year, snow was prevalent in many areas outside the Empire State, and where you have snow, you will always have dirty snow. Without further ado, the winners. 

The Rookie of the Year Dirty Snowpile, to Ann Marie Buerkle (R-Onondaga). A freshman member of the House, Buerkle won a closely-contested delayed decision last fall, and went to Washington representing a deeply-divided district. There’s no divide, however, in her allegiance to the Issas and Cantors and Boehners; in fact, she’s actually told us, her constituents, that what she thinks doesn’t matter – she’s there to do what she’s told by the House Leadership. Her (ahem) refreshing honesty the key reason she’s deserving of this award.

President Barack Obama (D-USA) gets the All Talk, Very Little Action Dirty Snowpile.  Doesn’t matter what the issue is, Obama talks a very good game – some of his speeches are both inspired, and inspiring – but they don’t generate the action needed to actually get things accomplished timely, or even at all.  He’s too willing to throw stuff  out there but not willing to roll up his sleeves and work to get things accomplished until the bitter end.  He’s too willing to let people slip and slide along in the icy streets, all the while talking about the need for snow to be removed from the sidewalks.  It’s time for him to pick up the shovel and throw the first pile of snow…and the second…and the third...

Jon Kyl (R- AZ) gets the 90% Dirty Snowpile. Senator Kyl is just one of the folks who has been mouthing off about Planned Parenthood supposedly spending federal tax dollars on abortions, which has been illegal for some 30-odd years and which no one has proven. He’s the who recently said that abortions represent something north of 90% of what Planned Parenthood does - when in fact, it’s about 3%.  But it’s OK – he didn't mean for the statement to be factual, and he only lies about things he cares about. Besides, the dirt on his snowpile is only skin deep; it's not like its really 90% dirty. 

Contract with America author and exploratory 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich gets the It’s Not My Fault Dirty Snowpile, for his bad marital behavior. First, he admitted that he himself was having an affair at the same time he was engaged in impeaching Bill Clinton for, well, you know, Monica and stuff. And allegedly perjury, but really Monica. More famously, though, Newt has blamed his cheating on his patriotism. Seriously. Clearly this filthy snowpile simply could not be his fault. 

The 50/50 Dirty Snowpile goes to elected officials around the country – and you know who you are. With very few exceptions, 50% of the time, you can’t believe a word they say and the other 50% of the time, you know even they don’t believe a word they say. About the only ones in Washington who are spared this mountain of dirty snow are the Gang of Six, who are actively trying to come up with a budget plan that helps us move forward, without being beholding to the flavor-of-the-day special interests. 

For those outside of Washington who ran on one platform and began immediately doing something else, this snow’s for you.  For those of you in statehouses across the land, of both stripes, if you tell a lie about why you’re doing something, this snow’s for you.  For those of you at local levels across the country, who gerrymander districts, refuse to consider consolidation or other money-saving opportunities, take obscene salaries and benefits from taxpayers, obstruct progress, and pander to your base, this snow’s for you. Like I said, you know who you are. And so do we.

And a special award, the You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Snowpile’s About You Dirty Snowpile, goes to Donald Trump.  The Donald, who’s flirting with a run for President, didn’t
even know where his polling place was a while back, and lies about President Obama's birth certificate and a few other hot topics even as he's doing well in the polls, but that's not why he's getting this award. 

It's because he's got the "number one show on NBC" (Celebrity Apprentice) and it would be "unfair" to announce a potential candidacy because they'd have to cancel the show. Honest.

So there you have it – the cream of the crop, this year’s Dirty Snowpile Award winners. There are likely a plow-ful of other likely candidates - who would you have chosen?

April 10, 2011

Sunday School 4/10/11: Shutdown Poetry

Long sessions provide ample opportunity for verse. Here's a smattering.

I just – I’ve got to say that people watching this, 
they’ve got to be scratching
their heads. I
sure am.
~Mark Udall (D-CO)

I rise here today to speak about the crisis
we have and I guess
I ask my Republican colleagues,
don’t shut down the government.
~Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

Relying this weekend on people coming
to Washington to see the cherry blossoms?
You say that’s small ball, but that’s peoples’ lives.
Not federal workers.
~Mark Warner (D-VA)

I believe very strongly that life is precious.
That God created each of us in His image and
that life should be protected.
we have to face reality.
~John Ensign (R-NV)

it’s not so controversial to believe.
Doctors. Some women, of course, have.
Others, including the poorest among us don’t.
Where do they go?
~Harry Reid (D-NV)

This is the most dysfunctional place I’ve ever been
a part of in my life, because
again we never know where we’re going.
I feel a privilege to represent and be involved.
But it is dysfunctional because we
major in the minors.
~Bob Corker (R-TN)

April 3, 2011

Sunday School 4/3/11: GE pays no federal tax (but I do)

By now pretty much everyone has heard that corporate giant GE paid no federal taxes on their $5.1 billion in US profits (about 36% of their $14.2B world-wide profit), and I think even the most jaded of us had to be at least a little shocked when the story appeared in the NY Times last month. 

How did GE do it?  Well, based on the article, it's a combination of aggressive lobbying; brilliant hiring (of former IRS and Treasury officials); expanding their mission-driven tax department to almost a thousand employees; shifting the company's focus from primarily manufacturing to a manufacturing/financial services combo; moving a lot of business to other countries; and of course, helping to write the rules that they live by. 

And clearly they're good at it, having realized a net tax benefit of $4.1B on American profits of $26B in the past five years.  They're also good at spinning their positions. Here's John Samuels, head of GE's tax department, speaking about our largest corporation's overseas success:
“We believe that winning in markets outside the United States increases U.S. exports and jobs,” Mr. Samuels said through a spokeswoman. “If U.S. companies aren’t competitive outside of their home market, it will mean fewer, not more, jobs in the United States, as the business will go to a non-U.S. competitor.”
In the past several years, GE has increased its offshore profits by some $77 billion, so that would seem like they're pretty competitive in markets outside the US. But at the same time, they've cut about a fifth of its domestic workforce. So, that means they're not competitive? Or do they just need to pay less taxes?  I'm so confused.

What's even more dismaying than the fact that GE's effective tax rate is less than zero is that, at the same time companies are enjoying this kind of tax management success, leaders in Washington are very focused on reducing the corporate tax burden even more. Here's what my Representative, Ann Marie Buerkle (R-Onondaga) had to say in a recent interview:
But we also need to reduce corporate taxes in this country. We are second (to Japan) in our corporate rate ... We’ve got to do things that are going to entice businesses to stay here, and work with them, and create certainty and not regulate them to death and not tax them to death.
And never mind the fact that businesses are sitting on oodles of cash, just waiting for the "stability" that will come from more business-friendly legislation, including tax code revisions.  Rep. Buerkle, again:

Right now we know businesses are sitting on billions of dollars because they are so uncertain as to what’s coming down the pike, they don’t spend it. They don’t expand, they don’t hire.
So, to recap today's lesson: huge businesses are paying very little federal tax, moving jobs and profits offshore, sitting on boatloads of cash, and feeling uncertain. 

And then there's me and millions of Americans like me: paying our taxes, sitting on our small nest eggs, hoping we'll be able to keep our American jobs, praying we can retire before we're 80 (or 90), and that there'll be some return on the money we've paid into Social Security, our pensions, our 401(k)s, and our IRAs.

Well, here's a thought, Washington: before you "create any more certainty" and stop "taxing them to death", what commitments are you going to get from companies like GE that they're actually going to put Americans to work, and help get us our of our uncertainty?