Stupid Republicans

Paul Ryan came to the Keystone State today with two stops.  I went tot he one this afternoon outside West Chester at the Helicopter Museum.  The venue was appropriate since many of those in attendance seem to be high on something because they sure aren’t living in the real world.  As usual for GOP events the crowd I saw was entirely caucasian.  No overt racism was evident but I did find one man who I saw berating the MoveOn.org protesters.  I engaged him since I knew he was mouthy and he didn’t disappoint.  He blamed Obama for the bad economy instead of the Republicans who caused the mess.  I suppose his solution to the problem is to go back for more poison because the antidote is taking too long to work.

Here’s a graph of job losses under Republican Bush and job gains under Democrat Obama:

Our second Stupid Republican (am I being redundant?) of the day was wearing a shirt condemning the out of context remark about Obama saying to businessmen “you didn’t build that.”  Of course the “that’ to which he was referring was all the government infrastructure which aids their businesses, not their businesses.  Context and grammar are critical.  I asked him about his shirt then told him that, perhaps, he should go look at the entire quote:

Here’s the full quote:

OBAMA: [L]ook, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own.  I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service.  That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together.  That’s how we funded the GI Bill.  That’s how we created the middle class.  That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam.  That’s how we invented the Internet.  That’s how we sent a man to the moon.  We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President — because I still believe in that idea.  You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.

Of course this businessman didn’t build the roads and bridges, the electrical grid, the water and sewage systems, the internet, the court system protecting his contracts, the police and fire departments protecting his business, the foreign markets to which he can export etc.  As the President said business success is a public/private cooperative enterprise.  Government is here to support businesses.  The businessman didn’t build those things.

Ron Paul’s misguided media anger

Ron Paul is doing a lousy job of handling the spotlight into the racist writings of his old newsletters. By walking off the set of CNN he made a molehill into a mountain. Paul needs to understand that you can’t run for President and then try to control the media by telling them what they can and can’t ask questions about.

The more Paul looks angry at the media for asking questions about the racist rantings in his old newsletters, the more it looks like he has something to hide regarding the sorts of racists he appeals to.

For a long time, Ron Paul got a free pass from the media. He was the cool, quirky guy who had the guts and independence to stand up against the war and a lot of other Republican sacred cows. But he got a free ride because no one thought he had a chance of winning the nomination. Now that he’s first or second in the polls, reporters are doing their jobs. And a part of that job is looking at a candidate’s record and that includes a record of mailing openly racist and anti-Semitic newsletters with your name on them and profiting from that sort of filth.

Paul plays the quirky curmudgeon on TV debates and his followers love that, but if he really wants to capitalize on his newfound success in the polls he’s going to have to learn how to answer questions from the media. Even questions he doesn’t like.

Paul could learn from John McCain. McCain had a problem with the Keating Five scandal in his past. He solved it by answering every single question from reporters and by talking about it and apologizing for hour after hour after hour until reporters were sick of hearing about it. That’s how you put a scandal to rest.

On The Question Of Virginity, Or, “Starter? I Can’t Make Her Stop!”

I got a weird little story about my friend Blitz Krieger to bring to you today.

He’s had a crazy car problem, he has, and over the past few months he thought he had found a solution – in fact, he thought he had found the solution of his dreams – but in the end, he’s discovered that the things you dream about often don’t go according to plan.

The way it’s worked out for him so far, it’s been a lot of anticipation followed by a sudden wave of frustration, but I feel like he’s a lot better off having his particular problem with his car…because if he’d had cancer instead, he’d surely be dead by now.  

The community is always embarrassed by the drag queens because straight society says, “A faggot always dresses in drag, or he’s effeminate.” But you got to be who you are. Passing for straight is like a light-skinned woman or man passing for white. I refuse to pass. I couldn’t have passed, not in this lifetime.

–Sylvia Rivera, describing the founding of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), quoted in the book Becoming Visible: An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth-Century America

So here’s what happened to Blitz: he waited forever to buy his first car because he wanted, more than anything else in life, to drive his “perfect” car: a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

It’s a wild car: it was designed as a small hatchback…with a V-8 engine…and “switchable” 4WD…which allowed it to travel easily in snow in a way that virtually no other passenger car at the time could manage.

So he waited all this time, and two years ago, in California, he literally found a little old lady from Pasadena who sold him his “Dream Car”, which, ironically, was the same brown color as Al Bundy’s Dodge.

It drove great for about six months, but it’s been suffering from a strange malady that presents as a horrible grinding noise when he tries to start the car. He has no idea what to do – and standing in the way of a solution is an obsession that I find a bit strange:

He is absolutely determined that he is not going to go to just any mechanic.

Instead, Blitz told me that since it’s the first time the Dream Car needs to be repaired, he intends to go to a mechanic who has never worked on any car before his – and he says he wants to do this because he feels the experience of having the work done this way will make it more “special” for the both of them.

It took him almost a year to find someone, but when he did, it was truly perfect: he met a woman named Jenna Talia who wanted more than anything to be a mechanic.

She’d been studying through one of those “learn at home” programs, and, amazingly, she had an attitude similar to my friend Blitz’s: she knew about how to fix a car from what she’d read in a book, but she refused to actually repair one until she got the chance to work on her Dream Car – and even more amazingly, her Dream Car…was a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

They actually met on the bus (Blitz, naturally, refused to drive any other car except the Dream Car), and after a few months of knowing each other, Blitz proposed that Jenna might work on his car in his garage, and she agreed.

Fun Fact I Just Made Up: In a recent poll, 32% of voters thought the Iowa Caucuses were a country located near the former Soviet Georgia.

So we’re going out last Saturday night, and I get a call from Blitz asking if I could come by and pick ’em both up there at his house, and I’m OK with that, because with two drinks in a night being a big evening for me I’m more or less a permanent designated driver.

I was wondering how it was going with the car, and what I saw was stunning: the upper half of the engine was sitting in the living room, entirely disassembled. There were rockers and rods and all kinds of stuff there, neatly arranged for easy reassembly, and it looked like they had really put a lot of effort into the thing, but it was clear that they just couldn’t get it quite figured out…which isn’t surprising, considering it was the first time for both of them.

And you could see, in just that first second, that the two of them were some kind of frustrated. But it gets worse: Blitz told me that this was her third “diagnosis”, and that, now that she was actually face-to-face with a real car, she seemed to be entirely confused about exactly what to do.

Apparently things had gone so bad that Jenna wouldn’t even leave his house at night to go home until she could get things figured out…and, from what he’s telling me, he’s ready to throw her out, buy a different car, and get that car fixed by a mechanic who’s been there and done that – a lot.

To put it another way, he’s ready to dump his virgin mechanic…for a slut.

Now here’s the really crazy part of the story: I’ve had a bit of experience with cars breaking down over time, and I knew what was wrong from the beginning, as many of you probably did, too: the starter was bad – and that’s located on the very bottom of the engine, not the top, which means everything they’d been doing was pretty much pointless.

But I couldn’t tell them that in the beginning…because, again, it would’ve just spoiled the experience…and I sure wasn’t gonna say “I told you so” now…so even though I could have offered them both useful advice about how ignorance ain’t bliss, they surely didn’t want to hear it.

So look, folks, we could have a lot more fun following out this comic premise, but there’s a bigger point: I don’t want a virgin mechanic, and surely not a virgin doctor – and they don’t even allow virgin pilots to carry passengers.

What is it about sex (and politics, for that matter) that makes people think they’ll be able to simply “get it” with no experience at all? What is it that makes them think that celebrating their own ignorance is the best way to show they’re ready to take on something that, frankly, requires a bit of trial…and error…before you really get it right?

I don’t know the answer, but the next time someone tells you how their ignorance makes them a lot smarter about something, do me a favor and think about Blitz and Jenna and the Dream Car – and the living room full of engine parts – and if that person’s running for office, run the other way. Quickly.

I’d appreciate it; so will you – and if I know Blitz, he will, too.

Does God send natural disasters as punishment?

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Magician Predicts Debt Limit Endgame

I’m going to don my pointy hat (no, not the Tea Party white ones) and cloak and become Morgan the Magician for a few moments.  I’m going to look into my crystal ball and see what portends for the coming weeks with the federal debt limit ceiling negotiations.  The nation hit its authorized limit for borrowing to fund government operations and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is tapping pension funds, the Social Security Trust Fund, and other sources of cash to keep the lights on at The Pentagon and elsewhere (even the Capitol building).  Those funds dry up around August 2nd but wise men (and women) wouldn’t wait until the eleventh hour to do something.

Unfortunately we have few wise men (and women) in Washington.  Republicans are bound and determined to hold the nation’s economic health and sanity hostage to trillions in additional spending cuts in return for their support.  Since they control the House they have the votes to do so.  This reckless playing with a catastrophic financial calamity is irresponsible but a key factor in their current playbook.

Meanwhile the man residing down Pennsylvania Avenue is not one who plays this game well.  So badly does Barack Obama play poker the Republican leadership has taken all of his chips and all of his clothing.  The President With No Clothes has yet to learn how to call their bluff and this time will be no different.  Here’s how it will go down:

Negotiations will continue as leadership meets and attempts to feel out the other’s position.  The President will begin far further rightward than necessary and wind up surrendering huge numbers of federal programs in order to save the country from total collapse.  Knowing this Sen. Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner will begin by demanding the dismantling of major entitlement programs.  They will refuse to budge even as midnight begins to toll.  At the last minute Obama will cave in to all of their demands.

My crystal ball is quite clear in this prophecy.  Future performance, after all, is predicated on past performance and the result of this will either be the total collapse of the American economy or the total dismantling of Social Security and Medicare.  The bloated $700 billion Pentagon budget will actually increase…again while poor and senior Americans are run under the proverbial bus…again.

Hands Off My Healthcare!

Two years ago then Sen. Arlen Specter held a health care town hall in Lebanon, PA.  You’ll recall it because it was heavily televised after an angry tea bagger confronted him in a very threatening manner.  Americans For Prosperity was financing a lot of organized action against “ObamaCare” and Sarah Palin’s make believe “death panels” in an attempt to derail health insurance reform.  I was there that day after covering a small protest here in Reading.  The group Conservatives For Patient’s Rights officially sponsored the tour with this bus:

Now these same people are trying to get their hands on MY health care.  They have convinced Republicans in Congress to destroy Medicare, my health provider.  It’s bad enough they want 59 million uninsured Americans to die because they cannot get into line for medical care but now they want to throw millions of elderly and disabled Americans into that group.  

They have instituted real death panels in states like Arizona which is now rationing health care and deciding who on the transplant list will live or die.  They have taken the extreme, fictitious labels they gave to President Obama’s plan and made them real.

Now they’re coming after both my Social Security disability and my Medicare.  If you’re poor, chronically out of work or in long term care they also want to end your Medicaid.  That program pays for long term nursing care and assisted living for millions of senior citizens.  Once one’s assets are wiped because of our broken health care system Medicaid pays for their care.  62% of all Medicaid is paid out for these services.  Where will our parents go when this is no longer available?  On that bus?  No, under it.  Conservatives will use their billions from the Koch brothers and their Orwellian sounding names to run all of us under their bus.

That senior citizen who confronted Sen. Specter won’t be able to get any medical care after RyanCare becomes what we used to call Medicare.  I remember this conversation I had with a couple outside that community college in Lebanon:

Notice how he had no idea what HR 676 said, how single payer systems would work here and how he then refused to renounce his right to Medicare after condemning government run health care. Then last year I went to a Tea Party tax day protest in Reading with these signs and a portable BBQ grill:

I asked the tea baggers to have the courage of their convictions and burn their Medicare cards. I didn’t need to use a single match that day.

Paul Ryan’s plan would overturn the Affordable Care Act with its protections against patient abuse, something we actually do call “patient’s rights” and replace the well run program with a voucher system where seniors and disabled people would have to purchase health coverage from private insurers. Just like as in “ObamaCare.” I thought that was a horrible, evil program? It is which is why I was against the system devised by Congress with no public option.

We would be forced out of Medicare as we know it and given vouchers worth about half what coverage would cost, if we could even, actually receive such insurance. How do you get health insurance when you’re disabled or a senior citizen with existing medical conditions. Not many people age 65 or over have no pre-existing conditions. Even if healthy we’d be subject to the abuses reigned upon us by the private insurers when something does happen. “Oh, I’m sorry but you had acne as a teen so you aren’t covered for this cancer.”

Now, that’s a death panel. Tea baggers want to destroy what works, what costs us 3% overhead to manage and replace it with a system with 25% overhead and no protections. They want to rid us completely of Medicaid as Idaho’s Governor decided this week to do. They want Governor’s such as Jan Brewer in Arizona eliminating all transplant coverage. If you need a new heart, lungs or kidney you’d better start having bake sales today so you can pay for it later.

The American system of medical care has been broken for years and every passing year makes things worse. At least the disabled and elderly have had a safety net. The poor had some access and those trapped in long term care receive skilled nursing care. That is all at risk thanks to Congressman Ryan and his cohorts in the GOP. Now it’s time to turn the town halls against them. Keep it civil folks but go and have your voice heard this time.

GOP Pushes Radical Agenda in Harrisburg

The new Republican majority in Harrisburg is pushing a radical agenda from which Pennsylvania may never recover.  From privatization of our public schools to voter suppression, legalized murder, anti-abortion measures, tort reform, welfare reform and other initiatives the people of the Commonwealth are facing a dramatic reshaping of our state.  Our very quality of life is threatened by these measures.

Pennsylvania is quickly becoming a place where a public education will be very expensive and our young people left out of any opportunity for college, where abortions are not going to be available, where anyone riding a bicycle can blow you away if they feel you’re a threat, to a spot where when your doctor cuts off the wrong leg you have no legal recourse, where corporations can poison us, manufacture defective products or abuse your rights and you have no recourse.  A place where getting welfare when you’re down and out is nigh on impossible to a state where not every citizen is equal under the law.

It will be a Pennsylvania hostile to many of us, a place few people will want to live, work or reside.  Even should progressives gain control of the House and Governor’s mansions prospects of ever gaining a majority of the Senate are slim and none.  The GOP controls redistricting again and that will insure the current majorities for the next several years.  Any chance of rolling back this radical agenda are nil.  Elections have consequences and we’re witnessing the destruction of Penns Woods as we know it.  Sooner rather than later these Woods will be nothing but towers for gas drilling with few residents left to drink the toxic water, enjoy the outdoors and thrive in a healthy environment.

GOP: Kill Medicare & Medicaid

Paul Ryan to the wheel of the GOP bus yesterday and drove it off a cliff.  All of the presidential wannabes were on board.  The Republican platform for a major election year now proposes to end both Medicare and Medicaid.  Lost in all this is their promise in 2010 not to cut Medicare.  I suppose eliminating it is different from cutting benefits?

Ads throughout the 2010 election cycle ran by Republicans attacking Democrats for cutting Medicare, something which didn’t happen.  No Medicare benefits were cut.  Now they have betrayed those voters with a sweeping proposal to turn the program into ObamaCare.  Aren’t conservatives opposed to ObamaCare?  This new voucher system does the same thing the Affordable Care Act does:  provides subsidized vouchers to people who then go into the private, failed health insurance industry to get coverage.  The same industry whose death panels determine if someone gets contracted medical care or not.  The same broken system with skyrocketing costs due to the ever growing number of uninsured and under insured people.  Somehow they believe that by throwing tens of millions more Americans into the ranks of the current 59 million uninsured, this will fix the problem.

The GOP plan has no cost controls and how will senior citizens be able to get private health insurance?  Unfortunately most of us have pre-existing conditions and we all know what the GOP thinks about pre-existing conditions…no coverage.  Millions of seniors and disabled citizens rely on Medicaid.  Only 12% of benefits are paid to cover adults.  Long term care gobbles up 62%.  As families are forced to begin taking their parents into their homes from nursing homes we’ll see a dramatic increase in the death rate, lost jobs in that industry and serious tensions and stresses forced onto middle aged people.

The elderly and the poor are the classes covered by the two programs and this proposal commits them to short, miserable lives.  It will actually increase the federal deficit in the long run.  Most important of all it condemns millions of people to death.  Access to medical care is a basic human right.  There is no freedom without life.

The bus is going over the cliff and the GOP is taking all of us along for the ride.  Are we going to take this sitting down  or storm the cockpit?  Let’s roll!

Big Business Paid For Their Beds, Now Republicans Have to Lie in Them

by Walter Brasch

           Historian and satirist Thomas Carlyle said “a lie cannot live.” However, Mark Twain casually remarked, “It shows that he did not know how to tell them.”

           More than a century later, newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature have proven themselves to be “quick studies,” having learned how to tell whoppers about the working class and unions. Here are just a few.

           LIE: The public workers’ pensions are what caused much of the financial crisis not just in Wisconsin but throughout the country. Gov. Walker has repeatedly said, “We’re broke . . . We don’t have any money.”

           FACTS: Wisconsin had a $120 million surplus whenWalker came into office in January. Had the newly-elected Republican-dominated Legislature in January not given about $140 million in special tax breaks (also known as “corporate welfare”) to business, the state could have had a surplus, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. About two-thirds of all Wisconsin corporations pay no taxes at all, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

            Wisconsin could also save significant expenses by having state-employed fiscal analysts, not Wall Street investment counselors, handle the entire pension investment portfolio. Wisconsin pays about $28 million to state managers to handle about half the portfolio; it pays about $195 million to Wall Street investment brokers to handle the other half, according to the 2010 annual report of the Wisconsin Investment Board.

           Noam Chomsky, in an interview with Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now,” correctly points out, “the population in the United States is angry, frustrated, full of fear and irrational hatreds. And the folks not far from you on Wall Street are just doing fine. They’re the ones who created the current crisis.” The Great Recession has also cost states revenue, not because of the workers’ salaries and pensions but because the values went down because of lax oversight primarily during a Republican administration. Even with the Wall Street crisis, and lower-than-expected revenue, the Wisconsin pension fund is fully funded, able to meet its obligation for several years, according to the independent PEW Center for the States.

           Columnist Robert Greenwald says the “shortfall” would be wiped out if Wisconsin brought home only 151 troops from the war in Afghanistan. If the U.S. left Afghanistan completely, the state would save $1.7 billion, according to Greenwald’s analysis.

           LIE: The reason the Republicans throughout the country want to end collective bargaining by the public service unions bargaining is to bring fiscal responsibility to the states.

           TRUTH: In January 2010, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 decision along party lines declared that corporations enjoy the protection of the First Amendment. This meant that companies could increase funding and advertising for candidates. As expected, the Chamber of Commerce and corporate America gave vast amounts of money to Republican and conservative candidates; labor donated to liberal and Democratic candidates, who traditionally support the working class. In the 2010 mid-term election, seven of the top 10 donors contributed to conservative and Republican candidates. The other three in the Top 10 were labor political action committees. Eliminating collective bargaining for public sector workers would destroy the union movement and significantly reduce the influence of labor in campaigns. Walker has already shown his colors and intent when he was caught in a radio prank. On Feb. 23, Ian Murphy, editor of The Buffalo Beast, pretended to be billionaire David Koch, a supporter of far-right causes, and a major contributor to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign. Punked by the 20-minute call, Walker seemed to be little more than a sycophant for Big Business. The Republicans’ reaction? Instead of worrying about possible ethics violations by the governor, the Republicans planted a bill into the legislature to criminalize prank phone calls

           LIE: The unions are greedy and won’t budge.

           FACTS: The 267,000 Wisconsin public sector workers, as well as all elected officials, Democrat and Republican, do pay very little to their pensions. However, the unions have already said they’d be willing to pay a higher contribution, essentially taking an 8 percent pay cut, and negotiate fairly other parts of the contracts. Gov. Walker not only refused to budge on his autocratic stand, he refused to take calls from elected Democrats and bluntly told the Milwaukee Journal, “I don’t have anything to negotiate.”

           LIE: Gov. Walker’s proposal affects every union in Wisconsin.

           TRUTH: He exempted firefighters and police from his draconian assault upon unions, possibly because he was attempting to get support from the first responders, while mining sympathy from the public. What he didn’t count on was that the firefighters and police unions are firm in their opposition to the abolishment of collective bargaining.

           LIE: Gov. Walker says he’s just helping the worker when he argues for elimination of the “dues check-off,” saying the workers would have more disposable income.

           TRUTH: Eliminating dues check-off would cripple unions, which would have to rely solely upon voluntary contributions.

MYTH: Gov. Walker enjoys wide-spread support for his stand against the unions.

           TRUTH: Walker has been governor less than two months. If the election were repeated, he’d receive only about 45 percent of the vote, according to the independent Public Policy Polling (PPP) of Raleigh, N.C. More important, while only 3 percent of Republicans voted for Tom Barratt, the Democratic candidate in the November election, 10 percent of the Republicans say they’d vote for him in a new election, according to PPP. The Republican governors of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana have said they will not follow Walker’s lead, and will support the rights of public workers to bargain collectively. The massive protests in Wisconsin-more than 100,000 in Madison on the same day-and throughout the nation give evidence that Walker doesn’t have the popularity he and his supporters believe. A New York Times/CBS poll, released March 1, indicates only about one-third of the nation supports the campaign against public sector collective bargaining. A week earlier, an independent USA Today/Gallup poll had almost the same results.

           LIE: The protestors are unruly, and should be arrested for violating the law.

           TRUTH: The First Amendment gives people the right to assemble peacefully. There have been no arrests because there have been no crimes committed by the protestors. Further, when the governor and the Legislature demanded that protestors be thrown out of the state capitol, and not allowed to stay overnight, the chief of the Capitol Police refused to do so, believing the order was a violation of Constitutional rights. In contrast, Walker had actually considered, then rejected, the idea of planting troublemakers among the protestors-a “dirty trick” that dates back to the ’60s.

           LIE: Public sector union workers are overpaid.  

           TRUTH: A USA Today analysis, published March 1, shows that, on average, public service workers, with wages and benefits included, are paid about $2,500 more per year than those in the private sector. In Wisconsin, the difference is only about $1,800. However, government workers usually are “older and substantially better educated than private sector workers,” according to researchers Robert Pollin and Jeffrey Thompson, professors of economics at the University of Massachusetts. But, again contrary to the lies spewed by the anti-worker Rabid Right, individual union workers, when compared to the same criteria as private sector workers, actually earn 4 percent less income, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research. In Wisconsin, public sector union workers actually earn 4.8 percent less total compensation, according to research published in February by the Economic Policy Institute. One statistic stands out. “The average member of AFSCME, our largest public-sector union, earns less than $45,000 a year,” says author/journalist Bill Press, “and retires after a career in public service with a whopping pension of $19,000 per year.”

           LIE: Public service union workers are lazier than non-unionized private sector workers.

           TRUTH: Strong labor unions generally have higher productivity, according to independent research done by Harley Shalen of the University of California, because there is less turnover, better worker communication, better work conditions, and a better-educated workforce.”

           [Walter Brasch, during a 40-year work career in mass communications has been a member of several unions, in both the private and public sectors. He is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of 16 books, including With Just Cause: Unionization of the American Journalist. He can be contacted at walterbrasch@gmail.com]