Friday, June 14, 2013

Obama's Africa trip gives Tea Partiers something else to bristle about

Social media is lighting up on the far-right after the announcement of President Obama's planned trip to Africa.  Adding to the list of things the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party has developed as evidence this President is the worst ever, the projected cost of the trip to sub-Sahara Africa to be in the rang of $60 - $100 million.  According to this Washington Post article from Thursday, June 13, 2013 by Carol D. Leonning and David Nakamura, these costs and deployment of resources are well in line with previous Presidential trips abroad to less developed countries.  The most recent of which was President George W. Bush's trip to Africa in 2008. 

The list of grievances the Tea Party has compiled is a mixture of the justifiable and asinine.  Pealing back the layers of each "scandalous" story that has dogged the Obama Administration since the President's re-election reveals most are instances of human error, poor decision, and lapses in judgment by people under extreme pressure - not malfeasance.   

Among the justifiable are is the NSA leaks by the former Booze Allen intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden.  Every American should be outraged that the government has this level of capacity to gather intelligence on anyone (in the world as it seems), regardless of the layers of legal hoops they have to jump through.  Another is the Justice Department's phone tapping of the Associated Press to discover who leaked classified information about intelligence operatives in Yemen.  Lastly, is the enhanced scrutiny by the IRS of Tea Party leaning or connected groups.  But this has led to more questions about what truly constitutes a social welfare organization worthy of tax exempt status and one who's sole purpose is to affect politics and election outcomes. 

As for the asinine, the insistence the Federal Government is stockpiling weapons and ammunition by the Social Security Administration in anticipation of brewing domestic unrest that could lead to a second American Civil War.  Then there's the one where Tea Partiers insist that Obama is running the nation into a financial abyss that we'll never be able to recover.  Every analysis that's come out about the Federal Government's spending during the last 11 Presidential Administrations (including the current one) relative to GDP shows the Obama Administration comes in lower than all others with the exception of Dwight D. Eisenhower's back in the 1950s. 

Then there's the Marine holding the umbrella over the President, and the one where Obama's playing with the dog, or that Obama is giving out free cell phones to deadbeat welfare mooches (when in fact this was a program started under the Reagan Administration for low cost phone service to the poor that has been reauthorized and updated over the years).  Then there's this latest one about the cost to taxpayers for the President to travel abroad to Africa (which is something both Clinton and Bush did during their terms). 

The credibility of Tea Party aligned Republicans is a factor heading into the 2014 Federal elections.  Up first are the statewide races for Governor in New Jersey and Virginia.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christy (R) is well position to get a second term, largely due to the fact he has governed in large part from the middle rather than on the fringe.  Virginia is a different story altogether. 

The Republican ticket is made up of Tea Party aligned nominees.  For Governor is Ken Cuccinelli (current Attorney General) who is best known for his pit bull pursuit of climate change scholars.  Then there's Attorney General nominee Mark Obenshain, who's signature piece of General Assembly legislation is a requirement that women who have a miscarriage notify law enforcement.  Then there's the circus known as E.W. Jackson who, among the laundry list of extreme views, beliefs and a checkered past, thinks that practicing yoga could lead to Satanism.  Even the most ardent conservatives have heart burn when Jackson speaks. 

The Tea Party is well positioned to follow in the footsteps of Protestant Fundamentalist who championed Prohibition, and burned out when their views were outright rejected by the American public.  With a national economy trying to find the right gear to propel it into a higher speed, the majority of Americans accepting the fact that gay people deserve the same rights guaranteed under the constitution, the public realizing that the Sequester cuts were a bad idea, it would behoove the Tea Party to find more substantive issues to wine about than the President doing the job of the Executive and flying the flag in promotion of freedom and liberty in emerging democracies. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bravo Michael Gerson! Bravo.

At a secretly recorded, high dollar fundraising event in Boca Raton, Florida back in the spring, way before Mitt Romney secured the GOP Presidential nomination, the truth about how conservatives view the world was articulated with the line, "the 47% who don't pay income taxes in this country,...".  To put a finer point on it, Mitt went further by describing these 47% as "victims" and wove it all together with the Ayn Rand narrative of the "makers" and the "takers".

Like a luxury cruise ship emerging from a fog bank, the full view of conservative ideology (at least this version of conservatism) has come into focus.  In today's Washington Post, editorial writer Michael Gerson concisely articulates the problems with embracing this radical ideology by today's Republican Party, and how Romney has spilled the beans on how the monied elites of the GOP really think about people who don't even make enough money to have to file a Federal Income Tax form.  Gerson states,...
Yet a Republican ideology pitting the "makers" against the "takers" offers nothing.  No sympathy for our fellow citizens.  No insight into our social challenge.  No hope of change.  This approach involves a relentless  reductionism.  Human worth is reduced to economic production.  Social problems are reduced to personal vices.  Politics is reduced to class warfare on behalf of the upper class.  
In eight sentences, Michael Gerson sums up what's wrong with today's Republican Party and tells you why Mitt Romney's path to victory in November is fading, and the window is closing for him to right his campaign.  The damage is done and it is likely too late.

With anything that involves competition and a long season that has to be played, a warning of peaking too soon is often uttered.  I've never heard anything warning about tanking too early.

Just 47 days to go until Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Republican political priorities - scoring political point or creating jobs?

The GOP controlled House of Representatives has voted for the 33rd time to repeal - the constitutionally upheld - Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare).  Votes on jobs bills - ZERO.

You'd figure that with Congressional approval ratings fluctuating around the mid-teens, and more people holding Republicans at fault than Democrats (which fare only a little better) for the paralyzing polarization in Congress, creating jobs would be the top priority.  But the GOP seems to be more concerned about scoring political points than helping people score a job.

I came across a blog posting highlighting a new proposal by Senate Democrats that looks very promising.  The blog,, has a story on the Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act that according to some estimates "could generate almost a million jobs nationwide, with over 630 thousand jobs for small businesses alone,..."

One of the main features of the bill is a 10% tax break for either raising wages for current employees or hiring new ones.  Another is extending the 100% depreciation deduction.  This appears to be a good proposal, so why not work with Democrats to pass some meaningful job growth legislation?

If Republicans want to win the public perception war with Democrats, it would be in their best interest to start voting on legislation that either helps create the right economic conditions for job growth, or helping people land a good paying job.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Kaiser SCOTUS Health Care Poll: Time to move on folks...

After more than a two month absence from the blogosphere, Off K Street is back.  We've been more focused on our Facebook page for stirring the pot and posting articles for discussion.  But this will only take the discussion and voice of this blog so far.  From this point forward we'll be making every effort to make regular posts, and if possible, to expand beyond by contributing original content and first person perspective.

The Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a poll from June 28 - 30, after the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Affordable Care Act, that clearly states what the American public wants to happen from this point forward - its time to move on.  While reading through the top sheet of a poll is sometimes very wonkish, there are some very interesting tidbits to glean.  Here's the link to the poll.

Of particular interest are questions #9 and #10.  On the question of what opponents of the law should do, 56% of respondents say opponents of the law should "stop their efforts to block the law and move on to other national problems."

On the question of what would you like to see Congress do when it comes to the health care law, the number to "Expand" or "Keep it" have been consistently 50% or higher since February of 2011.

Despite Republican assertions that the majority of Americans don't like the law and want it repealed, there also been a pretty consistent 15 to 16 percent of liberals that don't like it because it doesn't go far enough, meaning that the majority of Americans have always been on the other side of keeping "Obamacare".

In the minds of a majority of Americans, this issue is settled.  If anything, they would like to see the law improved, not repealed or replaced with a Republican alternative.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Offshore Oil and Gas - can anything stop the drilling?

Since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore oil and gas exploration is zooming along in Latin America, despite the largest oil spill in history and one of the greatest environmental disasters of all time.  With world oil prices remaining high for the last few years, Mexico, Brazil, and even Cuba have made strategic energy policy decisions to take advantage of this reality. 

Brazil, having declared itself virtually energy independent in 2006, is poised to become one of the top five leading oil producers within the next ten years.  With estimates of 20 to 50 billion barrels of oil, the presal deposits discovered off the coast of Brazil in "ultra deepwater" in 2007, have encouraged Brazil to modify its strategic energy plan and invest heavily in the development of the presal. 

Plagued with declining production from its largest oil fields, and recognizing the bloated and inefficient size of it's state-run oil company Pemex, the Mexican government signed an agreement with the United States in February of this year, to regulate oil and gas production along their maritime boarder.  This has set the stage for Mexico to work with international oil companies - like BP and Exxon/Mobil - for the first time in more than 80 years, to jointly develop deepwater drilling projects off the western Gulf of Mexico. 

And now Cuba is getting into the deepwater drilling game.  According to a blog Memorandum from the Council on Foreign Relations, as a result of exploratory drilling done in January of this year by the Spanish oil company Repsol, the Cuban government moving forward to develop their substantial offshore oil and gas deposits, estimated to be in the range of five to twenty billion barrels of oil and eight billion cubic feet of natural gas.  This raises the prospects of another oil spill off the coast of the United States.  Lets not forget that there's suppose to be this embargo of Cuba.  Does that mean the United States will embargo its oil too? 

Now offshore oil and gas drilling discussions are ramping up in Virginia.  Poised to begin test drilling this year, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill put this on hold after President Obama called for a top to bottom review of offshore drilling regulations and safety rules.  Recently two public meetings were held on offshore oil and gas drilling in Norfolk.  With domestic oil production on the rise, and the process of hydraulic fracturing opening the floodgates for shale gas  - which has produced a natural gas glut - the question now, is there anything that can stop offshore oil and gas drilling off the coast of Virginia or anywhere off the coast of the United States? 

The short answer appears to be "no".  Since this is the case, can this boom be effectively, safely, and responsibly managed? 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Rush Limbaugh: Apology or not, Rush is WRONG

Last week's statements made by conservative talk radio personality, Rush Limbaugh, about the testimony of a Georgetown Law student, Sandra Fluke, over her contention that health insureres should cover contraception went well beyond the norms of public discourse.  Since then, Limbaugh has apologized but only after an exodus of sponsors have dumped his nationally syndicated radio show

Somehow in this whole episode, the issue of health insurance coverage for contraception, somehow got morphed into the boogeyman of government funded contraception - which isn't what this was about or the point Sandra Fluke was trying to make.  Not only did Rush Limbaugh misrepresent the issue (shocker) but he further proved that his conservative flamethrowing style is not remotely concerned about substantive public debate, but is intended to incite anger and further a divisive nature that eats at the bones of our great nation. 

The words he used, calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute", for her position that the government should require health insurers to include contraception in their coverage, saying that she wants "to be paid to have sex", have also touched a nerve in me along with millions upon millions of fellow Americans. 

As a father of two beautiful girls, who are nowhere close to the age where they would have to use contraception (thank God), I'm outraged at the implication that women who use birth control, who might be single, are "sluts" or "prostitutes".  I stand in admiration at Sandra Fluke's courage for standing up for what she believes.  But if I were her father, brother, uncle, or friend of the family, I would be hopping the first plane or jumping in the car to come see Mr. Limbaugh where an exchange would occur that no words would be spoken. 

Sponsors dumping Rush Limbaugh are not enough.  Every station that broadcasts his show should also give him the boot.  Limbaugh's time has past, and it's now time to move beyond his brand of "political discourse". 

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ragging Populism

Class Warfare! Both political parties are using it and both sides are crying foul. Republicans don't want to be chastised for being successful or portrayed as greedy Robber Barons and Democrats don't want to be portrayed as welfare dependents. There has to be a name for what both parties are doing. It's called POPULISM.

In times like these, who wouldn't at least identify with the general sentiments of populist thinking? While populism generally centers around income and anger from the middle class, working class, and the working poor, there's more than one shade of populism. The two dominant forms these days is Tea Party Populism and Occupy Wall Street Populism.

The Tea Party sees the Federal Government as the primary reason for the nation’s economic distress. They see a government that's over spent, taxes too much, is too intrusive into personal lives, assaulting individual liberties, redistributing hard earned personal wealth to those that they perceive shouldn’t be helped, and regards anyone that uses or is dependent on social welfare as part of the unemployment problem.

On the other hand, the Occupy Wall Street movement has a much stronger connection to the turn of the century Trust Busting of “Teddy” Roosevelt, the Women’s Suffrage movement, the rise of Organized Labor during the Great Depression, the FDR New Deal social programs that are the sacred cows of many of today’s fiscal debates.

Occupy Wall Street sees big financial firms, banks, and massive corporations as the problem. They look at how lawmakers in Washington, D.C. were influenced to loosen regulations on their respective industries which allowed them to take on huge financial risks that were fueled by pure speculation and greed. They see a corporate financial sector that gets bailed out with taxpayer money, receives preferential treatment through corporate tax deductions and loopholes, and acts as if they are entitled to all these benefits and don’t have to be accountable for the money they have received from the American Taxpayer.

They also pull a great deal from the 1960s Civil Right Era and tendencies towards inclusivity and strength through diversity. Occupy Wall Street sees social and economic inequity as the driver of the nation’s economic distress, brought on by corporate greed and capitalism run amuck. Occupy Wall Street also reflects some of the outgrowth of protests against globalization across the globe, many of which are marked by violence and hooliganism.

Both forms of Populism have their roots in early American political thought, but they are more a collection of different periods rather than being tied to one definitive historical event. The Tea Party can trace their theoretical justification all the way back to the Anti-Federalists, like James Madison, Patrick Henry, James Winthrop, and even to some degree Thomas Jefferson. These were people that advocated for a small Federal Government and significant local control. They also championed low taxes, especially as they related to the Federal Government, and advocated for states rights over Federal control.

The Tea Party also reflects a strong religious fundamentalist streak that harkens of Puritanical influences and hard line socially conservative policies. There are strong tendencies toward regionalism, nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment, racism, and islolationism. There is also a fear and paranoia element to the Tea Party that flashes back to Senator Eugene McCarthy and the “Red Scare”.

Regardless of which side of Populism you stand, both parties are using the nation's economic distress as political fodder for the November elections and are totally ignoring the realities of poverty than over 15% of our fellow Americans have fallen into. According to Washington Post opinion writer, Michael Gerson,

"GOP candidates seldom mention the problems of the poor, for fear of being viewed as ideological weaklings. Elected Democrats are advised by their pollsters to focus on the challenges of the voter-rich middle class. No President - indluding Barack Obama - is naturally inclined to talk about conditions that have grown worse on his watch." 

The Roanoke Times is featuring a series called "Making it".  These are stories about the new reality for many that were in the Middle Class, or at least the Working Class.  This past Sunday's story focused on Piper Lane and Paul Davis who are "Learning to live without." It's a very powerful story of how people that were working hard and playing by the rules are living on the edge.  My hat goes off to them.  If I were in their shoes, I'd be angry and wanting to blame someone, but these folks are doing something about it. They're making it, but just barely.

For all intents and purposes, they're the example of those that were solid middle class, small business owerns, who have seen the work dry up and have bills piling up - not from living beyond their means, but from the basics of trying to live and having little to no work.  They aren't just sitting around feeling sorry for themselves, but scratching and clawing together anything they can, and they're also getting politically involved.  So watch out!  This is the reality of poverty today, regardless of how inflamed Populism gets or how much either political party tries to leverage it to their advantage.