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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Quote in the Lead

"I want to live in an America that has not sacrificed individual liberties in the name of freedom; where, in the fight to preserve the country we love, we do not sacrifice the country we love; where we don't make excuses for violating civil rights, though we understand that the test of liberty is in the moments when such excesses almost sound reasonable."
-Former Senator and Vice Presidential Candidate John Edwards at National Press Club, June 22, 2006

-Forwarded by Casey Sweet

Defining Our Nation's "Leaders"

Being a member of our nation's leaders is a privilege, not a right. When one chooses to serve as a representative of the people of their district, state or federal government, one should not be held only to the rule of law, but to a higher standard of the rule of law. When former Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX) went into a DC restaurant, with a lit cigar, and was asked by a waiter to put it out because it was "against the law", his proper response shouldn't have been "Son, I am the law." When former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), the alleged model for Tom Cruise's "Top Gun" character, took bribes as a powerful member of the House Appropriations Committee, the committee which makes the purchases for the entire US Congress, he was not only padding his pockets but taking business away from legitimate businesses and the American people. Once elected, a member of congress has a duty to set a good example, not only of a good leader but as a role model as well. Athletes can be role models; parents should be role models; and our elected officials better be role models, especially those like DeLay and Cunningham. They should be looked up to by new members of congress and their constituents alike.

The same holds true for anyone who works for our elected representatives. It isn't enough that the people who work behind the scenes "seem like" good people. They need to be fair and true advisors who work for their constituents before they work for the guy who got elected, and thus, gave them a job. When one goes into a store and the person behind the counter is rude and unhelpful, it's not only a reflection on themselves, their boss and the store. Similarly, those employed by the American people to assist our representatives should realize that they are a reflection on that representative and, even moreso, the body of government to which they belong.

Being a member of our nation's leaders should be a willing sacrifice, not a shortcut to personal wealth and gluttony (figuratively speaking, of course). It's galling to see a politician leave congress for the "greener pastures" of a lobbying firm. Their relationships with others in the halls of government give them an unfair advantage toward winning lucrative business deals with our nation, sans a true vetting or bidding process. These actions lead to higher prices paid by us, the American Middle-Class Taxpayer and poorer service. After all, graft and bribery are always added to the bottom line... and even marked up!

Being a member of our nation's leaders means responsibility, not the absolute right to do absolutely anything you absolutely want to do. They ring their own praises in TV ads and sing it at every available moment on cable talking head shows. They do the same in front of any audience willing to listen and fork over a buck or ten thousand in political contributions. They call themselves "responsible" to all within earshot. Yet, when they are caught in their various "mis-truths", "mis-speaks" or "I was quoted out of context" moments, the last thing they want to take is "responsibility. A responsible leader would say "The Buck Stops Here", as the plaque on President Harry Truman's desk read; a responsible leader doesn't chastise those under him, force them to "retire" (we used to call forcing someone to retire "firing" them); a responsible leader doesn't say "I take full responsibility," and then add the word "but..."

Former Rep. Cunningham, with all of his downright thievery, did take full responsibility, offered his mea culpa and then went on his sad way to jail for eight and one-third years. Others like Former Rep. DeLay, Senate majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) only have the Sergeant Schultz (Hogan's Heroes) to offer up in defense of their questionable-to-criminal acts:
"I know nothing. I see nothing."
"I didn't know that was illegal."
"It wasn't illegal, but I guess it looked bad, so I'll try not to do it again."
"I didn't know that guy (Inmate Jack Abramoff, for example) was doing anything illegal."
"He was just a contributor, not a friend."

These are the words of charlatans and criminals. These are the excuses you expect to hear on the TV reality show Cops as they take a pound of uncut heroine out of Kid Charlemagne's house. (You Steely Dan fans will remember that one.)

Taking responsibility means thinking of your constituents before yourself. It requires sympathy and empathy. It requires selflessness. It requires a conscience. Taking responsibility happens before the act as well as after. When one is responsible for budgeting at their home or office, one makes sure not to spend more than they take in. That would be irresponsible. Responsibility happens before the act and requires commitment. And if your a leader, that commitment should be for a cause greater than yourself.

Being a member of this nation's leaders means obeying and upholding its Constitution, not attempting to tear it apart as an "obsolete" or "old" document. The Constitution of the United States of America was written to be the guiding light to a democracy like this world had never seen before. It is directly responsible for making this country what it is today. In a few short (200 plus) years, The Constitution has shown a light for those who had been persecuted in their home lands for religious or political reasons. It is directly responsible for every great invention, idea and progressive program that that defined the term "American Ingenuity". The Freedom and Liberty offer by our US Constitution has made the people of other nations green with envy to the point where they wanted their very own Freedom and Liberty. It has made monarchs in many lands obsolete and given those people more rights and liberties than they ever had before. In short, our United States Constitution has shown the world what a nation led by its people can accomplish when given the chance.

The Constitution is under assault by a US Supreme Court run by The Four Justices of the Apocalypse: Justices more interested in their own agendas than the intentions of our nation's founding fathers. President Bush and the "leaders" on the Right want to change it to reflect their values, intentions, wants and desires. I say The Constitution is even more relevant today as it was when it was ratified in 1788. I say get your Global Corporatist hands off of the greatest document ever written by man.

In conclusion, good leaders lead the people toward the common good of the majority. They're fair and impartial and attempt to have everyone in on the dialogue which makes a great nation even greater. In contrast, today's leaders are the prefect example of "What not to do." They need to get out of the way or have the good people of the United States push them out of the way.

-Noah Greenberg

Minimum Wage Meets Small Mindedness

Yesterday I wrote about the vote in the Senate that rejected the Kennedy minimum wage Amendment which would provide an increase from $5.15 to $7.25 over 3 years (while the votes to increase Congress salaries more than $31,000 in the past 7 years have all passed!). The Amendment actually received a 52 (yea) to 46 (nay) vote and they said it did not pass without 60 votes. Typically, an ďUP OR DOWN VOTE,Ē which Senator Bill Frist is all too willing to repeat ad naseum, is a simple majority vote which means this should have passed.

I did not understand why 60 votes were required until I heard clarification on Randi Rhodes today. Turns out that Senator Lamar Alexander from the same southern state as buddy Sen. Frist, Tennessee, invoked an arcane rule that says anything passed by the senate that has a severe impact on state budgets has to have a super majority. And I am sure that assessment of ďsevereĒ is based totally on opinion and not fact. So one man was able to take away majority vote and invoke super majority vote with his lopsided interpretation of what hard working Americans deserve and the need to protect corporations.

Just to be sure of all my figures I found a document (http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/97-1011.pdf) that explains the pay of Congress and that they mostly have a guaranteed raise each year. It is based on some economic factors, which resulted in 1.9% in 2006 and is 2.0% in 2007. In 1997 they received $133,600 and as of Jan. 2007 their pay will be $168,500, or a $34,900 total increase ($34,900 - a very nice salary for many citizens). This increase translates into a 26% increase in 10 years. And during the same period the republican-held congress voted down minimum wage increase NINE times and provided minimum wage earners with NOTHING, ZILCH, ZERO, NADA, THE HECK WITH COMPASSION - THIS IS THEIR MONEY. Republicans see themselves deserving increases that are more than THREE times the salary of a minimum wage earner working 40 hours, every week of the year. Or said another way, republicans accepted increases that would allow them to hire 3 minimum wage earners plus a little extra help every year.

And the biggest reason I heard them offer is that the ďfree marketĒ should be allowed to work its magic regarding wages. Whenever I hear ďfreeĒ in a political sense it makes me very suspicious. In this context, they meant it should be left up to employers to increase wages as they see fit. As I heard someone recently say, this is like calling 2 foxes and a chicken a democracy when they are voting on what to eat for dinner. The minimum wage earners have no more of a chance than that chicken Ė all in the name of the free market and capitalism.

-Casey Sweet

By Doug McIntyre
Host, McIntyre in the Morning
Talk Radio 790 KABC

Thereís nothing harder in public life than admitting youíre wrong. By the way, admitting youíre wrong can be even tougher in private life. If you donít believe me, just ask Bill Clinton or Charlie Sheen. But when you go out on the limb in public, itís out there where everyone can see it, or in my case, hear it.

So, Iím saying today, I was wrong to have voted for George W. Bush. In historic terms, I believe George W. Bush is the worst two-term President in the history of the country. Worse than Grant. I also believe a case can be made that heís the worst President, period.

In 2000, I was a McCain guy. I wasnít sure about the Texas Governor. He had name recognition and a lot of money behind him, but other than that? What? Still, I was sick of all the Clinton shenanigans and the thought of President Gore wasÖ unthinkable. So, GWB became my guy.

For the first few months he was just flubbing along like most new Presidents, no great shakes, but no disasters either. He cut taxes and I like tax cuts.

Then September 11th happened. September 11th changed everything for me, like it did for so many of you. After September 11th, all the intramural idiocy of American politics stopped being funny. We had been attacked by a vicious and determined enemy and it was time for all of us to row in the same direction.

And we did for the blink of an eye. I believed the President when he said we were going to hunt down Bin Laden and all those responsible for the 9-11 murders. I believed President Bush when he said we would go after the terrorists and the nations that harbored them.

I supported the President when he sent our troops into Afghanistan, after all, thatís where the Taliban was, thatís where al-Qaida trained the killers, thatís where Bin Laden was.

And I cheered when we quickly toppled the Taliban government, but winced when we let Bin Laden escape from Tora-Bora.

Then, the talk turned to Iraq and I winced again.

I thought the connection to 9-11 was sketchy at best. But Colin Powell impressed me at the UN, and Tony Blair was in, and after all, he was a Clinton guy, not a Bush guy, so I thought the case had to be strong. I was worried though, because I had read the Wolfowitz paper, ďThe Project for the New American Century.Ē Itís been around since Ď92, and it raised alarm bells because it was based on a theory, ďDemocratizing the Middle EastĒ and I prefer pragmatism over theory. I was worried because Iraq was being justified on a radical new basis, ďpre-emptive war.Ē Any time we do something without historical precedent I get nervous.

But the President shifted the argument to WMDs and the urgent threat of Iraq getting atomic weapons. The debate turned to Saddam passing nukes on to terror groups. After 9-11, the risk was too great. As the President said, ďThe next smoking gun might be a mushroom cloud.Ē At least thatís what I thought at the time.

I grew up in New York and watched them build the World Trade Center. I worked with a guy, Frank OíBrien, who put the elevators in both towers. I lost a very close friend on September 11th. 103 floor, tower one, Cantor Fitzgerald. Tim Coughlin was his name. If we had to take out Iraq to make sure something like that, or worse, never happened again, so be it. I knew the consequences. We have a soldier in our house. None of this was theoretical in my house.

But in the months and years since shock and awe I have been shocked repeatedly by a consistent litany of excuses, alibis, double-talk, inaccuracies, bogus predictions, and flat out lies. I have watched as the President and his administration changed the goals, redefined the reasons for going into Iraq, and fumbled the good will of the world and the focus necessary to catch the real killers of September 11th.

I have watched the President say the commanders on the ground will make the battlefield decisions, and the war wonít be run from Washington. Yet, politics has consistently determined what the troops can and canít do on the ground and any commander who did not go along with the administration was sacked, and in some cases, maligned.

I watched and tried to justify the looting in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. I watched and tried to justify the dismantling of the entire Iraqi army. I tired to explain the complexities of building a functional new Iraqi army. I urged patience when no WMDs were found. Then the Vice President told us we were in the ďwaning days of the insurgency.Ē And I started wincing again. The President says we have to stay the course but what if itís the wrong course?

It was the wrong course. All of it was wrong. We are not on the road to victory. Weíre about to slink home with our tail between our legs, leaving civil war in Iraq and a nuclear armed Iran in our wake. Bali was bombed. Madrid was bombed. London was bombed. And Bin Laden is still making tapes. Itís unspeakable. The liberal media didnít create this reality, bad policy did.

Most historians believe it takes 30-50 years before we get a reasonably accurate take on a Presidentís place in history. So, maybe 50 years from now Iraq will be a peaceful member of the brotherhood of nations and George W. Bush will be celebrated as a visionary genius.

But we donít live fifty years in the future. We live now. We have to make public policy decisions now. We have to live with the consequences of the votes we cast and the leaders we chose now.

After five years of carefully watching George W. Bush Iíve reached the conclusion heís either grossly incompetent, or a hand puppet for a gaggle of detached theorists with their own private view of how the world works. Or both.

Presidential failures. James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Jimmy Carter, Warren Harding-ó the competition is fierce for the worst of the worst. Still, the damage this President has done is enormous. It will take decades to undo, and thatís assuming we do everything right from now on. His mistakes have global implications, while the other failed Presidents mostly authored domestic embarrassments.

And speaking of domestic embarrassments, letís talk for a minute about President Bushís domestic record. Yes, he cut taxes. But tax cuts combined with reckless spending and borrowing is criminal mismanagement of the publicís money. Weíre drunk at the mall with our great grandchildrenís credit cards. Whatever happened to the party of fiscal responsibility?

Bush created a giant new entitlement, the prescription drug plan. He lied to his own party to get it passed. He lied to the country about its true cost. It was written by and for the pharmaceutical industry. It helps nobody except the multinationals that lobbied for it. So much for smaller government. In fact, virtually every tentacle of government has grown exponentially under Bush. Unless, of course, it was an agency to look after the public interest, or environmental protection, and/or workerís rights.

Iíve talked so often about the border issue, I wonít bore you with a rehash. Itís enough to say this President has been a catastrophe for the wages of working people; heís debased the work ethic itself. ďJobs Americans wonít do!Ē He doesnít believe in the sovereign borders of the country heís sworn to protect and defend. And his devotion to cheap labor for his corporate benefactors, along with his worship of multinational trade deals, makes an utter mockery of homeland security in a post 9-11 world. The Presidentís January 7th, 2004 speech on immigration, his first trial balloon on his guest worker scheme, was a deal breaker for me. I couldnít and didnít vote for him in 2004. And Iím glad I didnít.

Katrina, Harriet Myers, The Dubai Port Deal, skyrocketing gas prices, shrinking wages for working people, staggering debt, astronomical foreign debt, outsourcing, open borders, contempt for the opinion of the American people, the war on science, media manipulation, faith based initives, a cavalier attitude toward fundamental freedoms-- this President has run the most arrogant and out-of-touch administration in my lifetime, perhaps, in any Americanís lifetime.

You can make a case that Abraham Lincoln did what he had to do, the public be damned. If you roll the dice on your gut and youíre right, history remembers you well. But, when your gut led you from one business failure to another, when your gut told you to trade Sammy Sosa to the White Sox, and you use the same gut to send our sons and daughters to fight and die in a distraction from the real war on terror, then history will and should be unapologetic in its condemnation.

None of this, by the way, should be interpreted as an endorsement of the opposition party. The Democrats are equally bankrupt. This is the second crime of our age. Again, historically speaking, its times like these when America needs a vibrant opposition to check the power of a run-amuck majority party. It requires it. It doesnít work without one. Like the high and low tides keep the oceans alive, a healthy, positive opposition offers a path back to the center where all healthy societies live.

Tragically, the Democrats have allowed crackpots, leftists and demagogic cowards to snipe from the sidelines while taking no responsibility for anything. In fairness, I donít believe a Democrat president would have gone into Iraq. Unfortunately, I donít know if President Gore would have gone into Afghanistan. And thatís one of the many problems with the Democrats.

The two party system has always been clumsy and imperfect, but it has only collapsed once, in the 1850s, and the result was civil war.

I believe, as I have said countless times, the two party system is on the brink of a second collapse. Itís currently running on spin, anger, revenge, and pots and pots and pots of money.

Weíre being governed by paper-mache patriots; brightly painted red, white and blue, but hollow to the core. Both parties have mastered the cynical arts of media manipulation and fund raising. Theyíve learned the lessons of Watergate and burn the tapes. They have learned to divide the nation for their own gain. They have demonstrated the willingness to exploit any tragedy for personal advantage. The contempt they have for the American people is without parallel.

This is painful to say, and Iím sure for many of you, painful to read. But itís impossible to heal the country until weíre willing to acknowledge the truth no matter how painful. We have to wean ourselves off sugar coated partisan lies.

With a belated tip of the cap to Ralph Nader, the system is broken, so broken, itís almost inevitable it pukes up the Al Gores and George W. Bushes. Where are the Trumans and the Eisenhowers? Where are the men and women of vision and accomplishment? Why do we have to settle for recycled hacks and malleable ciphers? Greatness is always rare, but is basic competence and simple honesty too much to ask?

It may be decades before we have the full picture of how paranoid and contemptuous this administration has been. And I am open to the possibility that Iím all wet about everything Iíve just said. But Iím putting it out there, because I have to call it as I see it, and this is how I see it today. I donít say any of this lightly. Iíve thought about this for months and months. But eventually, the weight of evidence takes on a gravitational force of its own.

I believe that George W. Bush has taken us down a terrible road. I donít believe the Democrats are offering an alternative. That means weíre on our own to save this magnificent country. The United States of America is a gift to the world, but it has been badly abused and itís rightful owners, We the People, had better step up to the plate and reclaim it before the damage becomes irreparable.

So, accept my apology for allowing partisanship to blind me to an obvious truth; our President is incapable of the tasks he is charged with. I almost feel sorry for him. He is clearly in over his head. Yet, he doesnít generate the sympathy Warren Harding earned. Harding, a spectacular mediocrity, had the self-knowledge to tell any and all he shouldnít be President. George W. Bush continues to act the part, but at this point whose buying the act?

Does this make me a waffler? A flip-flopper? Maybe, although I prefer to call it realism. And, for those of you who never supported Bush, its also fair to accuse me of kicking Bush while heís down. After all, you were kicking him while he was up.

You were right, I was wrong.

-Forwarded by both Michael Brandes and Jenny Hanniver (separately)

In response to "Scrap Medicare as we know it, and make it a state-run program only" Robert Scardapane writes:

The states suffer from the same sort of problems at the federal level. Have you read about the large number of Medicaid fraud cases?

There will always be fraud in these systems. There is fraud in private health care as well. There will be fraud even if consumers are more informed about health care prices.

Medicare is an extremely popular and effective program. We shouldn't bust it up just because we are frustrated with the Republican federal government.

That is playing right into their hands.

In response to, "Bush: Well, yeah, I thought it was absurd for people to think that we're more dangerous than Iran. I -- you know, it's -- we're a transparent democracy. People know exactly what's on our mind. We debate things in the open. We've got a legislative process that's active," Robert Scardapane writes:

I must live in a different United States than Dumbya. If this is true, how does Dumbya explain:
1) A secret NSA spying program.
2) Constant use of signing statements to negate the will of the people. Now, Dumbya even wants a line item veto and he just may get it!
3) Amendments that pass the House plus Senate and are removed by a conference committee. Case in point was Barbara Lee's amendment that prohibited permanent bases in Iraq.
4) An administration that wants to prosecute whistle blowers and even reporters for writing stories based on leaks.
5) A President who routinely ejected from town halls and campaign rallies in
2004 anyone who even wore a tee shirt that had something the Bushites didn't like on it.

There is damn little democracy left in this country. We are becoming more and more like fundamentalist Iran - Christian fundamentalist in our case.

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-Noah Greenberg