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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Inauguration Day Madman

February 3, 2009


DC Hypocrisy

Why is it that those with the most either have a nearly irrepressible need to keep it all; or conveniently forget that they have responsibilities resulting from their great wealth?

We have seen the financial industry thumbing its collective nose at us as they cut up some $700 billion of our US taxpayer money and offer themselves big bonuses for several jobs poorly done. Likewise, we have seen the likes of former US Representative and Top Gun pilot Randy "Duke" Cunningham use his position to illegally obtain even greater wealth than his position could have ever given him (and wind up in jail for it).

The nominating process for President Obama's Cabinet have produced "mea culpas" from too may of his nominees. Confirmed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had to explain away his neglect in failing to pay taxes from his world Bank days (he was confirmed and sworn in); Governor Bill Richardson gave up his bid to become Commerce Secretary due to his state's Pay-to-Play issues; and now we hear that former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (DEMOCRAT-SD) failed to pay taxes totaling somewhere in the area of $120,000. Today, he has taken his name out of the running.

The Right had been all over these giant tax foibles by Geithner and Daschle, and so has the main stream media. But here's the rub: they're right to be on it. Even though the houses that these barbs come from (the GOP and the media) aren't the clean houses they claim to be, it doesn't make their argument any the less valid.

And that holds especially true for Daschle.

Some of you might remember that Daschle's own words helped him to lose his Senate seat to Republican John Thune in 2005. From an audio tape that came out of nowhere, Daschle's words came out and made a close race a losing proposition:

"I'm a DC resident,"
-Daschle, as seen in a Thune for Senate ad, and elsewhere

Today, it's the $120,000 that did Daschle in.

It's not so much that Ex-Health and Human Services Chief Nominee Daschle owes some back taxes, it's the amount he owes and how that amount came to be. $120,000 is a lot of money - two-and-a-half times the median family income (about $45,000). In order to owe $120,000, the earnings, or services received, were probably in the area of one million dollars.

“My failure to recognize that a use of a car was income and not a gift from a good friend was a mistake and I deeply apologize,”

That's all well and good, senator Daschle, but Americans hate hypocrisy, and the air of entitlement that exudes from Washington, DC is just impalpable. And it's especially so after years of Bush-rule.

It's not that Daschle should know better: it's that if he hadn't been nominated for the HHS post, no one would have even found out about it. How many more politicians do we have to nominate to get fairness out of those who supposedly lead us?

It makes my hair hurt.

Back during the Bush years, we were subjected to the financial escapades of those like Cunningham (who entered his "enterprise" prior to Bush's election as a member of the House), former Rep. Tom DeLay and a whole corral of other criminals and otherwise absent-minded millionaires who made their fortunes in government.

Apologies are good, but when is enough truly enough? Surely Daschle was qualified for the spot at HHS. Some might say that he has even earned it. However, I want to know if the only way we can now get the truth from our elected and appointed officials is to offer them up even better and more lucrative positions?

Perhaps we should be calling on all members of Congress to explain away their various fortunes? Only when there is a scandal or when a new and better job comes up do we even have a chance to find out about the dealings of our Representatives.

What is too much, anyway? Senator David Vitter (LA) has been caught spending tens of thousands of dollars on the DC Madam, yet he's allowed to stay in office and be a judge of so many who haven't squandered dollars for personal gratification. The excuse used by so many is that it's his money and he could do what he wishes with it.

But it isn't "his money" because it was money earned with our trust. And that should be worth more than the sum amount of a US Senator's salary and campaign coffers (which become his property upon retirement).

I'd like to see each and every member of Congress be brought to task and have their books audited like they were running for President. Then we should be able to kick the ones who present themselves as honorable, but really are just bums, out.

Tom Daschle could be, and probably is sorry about his failure to pay taxes on the services-as-income he received, but that doesn't negate the deed itself. It should be a part of the conversation for any public trust position.

Although it's not likely, I'd like to Howard Dean named as Daschle's replacement. As a doctor, former Governor (Vermont) and the original author of the Democrats' fifty state strategy after John Kerry's defeat in 2004, he should have been President Obama's choice for HHS in the first place.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2009 San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, Inc.

So we admit it–we’re kind of riding the wave of the new Administration. We like hearing President Obama on the evening news every night, either overturning something awful the Bush Administration put in place or reinstating something good the Clinton Administration put in place or just doing something that should have been done a long time ago, like the Lily Ledbetter Act.

But sometimes TV has trouble catching up beyond the sound bites. There appears to be a disconnect between how much the TV media loves Barack Obama and how much they’re still in the habit, after eight years, of letting Republicans speak for the nation on every newscast.

No wonder Obama had to remind Republicans last week, “I won.”

We thought once Obama was sworn in that the Republicans might actually step back, realize they’d made a mess of things and regroup somewhere in private where we didn’t have to watch. But since they know no shame, the Republicans continue to monopolize TV time as if they still run the country.

It’s not our liberal imagination. Thanks to the folks over at Media Matters, who watch even more TV than we do so you don’t have to, during the debate over the stimulus package–that would be the package that not a single House Republican voted for (imagine what the Democrats could have done with such monolithic voting!)–Republicans were featured on the news more than two to one discussing the issue.

Did TV news networks forget that the economy went down the toilet as a result of the Republicans and the Bush Administration? So why would they be the go-to folks to discuss what to do with the economy? As Jon Stewart said so appropriately to John Thain–you have no good people to run things.

According to Media Matters careful review, five cable news networks–CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business and CNBC–hosted more Republicans to discuss Obama’s stimulus plan than Democrats by a ratio of 2 to 1. “The networks have hosted Republican lawmakers 51 times and Democratic lawmakers only 24 times.”

Memo to TV news outlets: You never gave the edge to the Democrats when they were the losing minority. Time to turn the page and let the Republicans crawl back under the rocks from whence they came. Introduce Americans to the Democrats they voted for overwhelmingly. When all the networks look like Fox, it looks like we aren’t reporting real news, just ideological cant.

Speaking of disgraced conservatives, Bush-supporting evangelical pastor Ted Haggard was featured on “Oprah,” “Nightline,” “GMA” and HBO last week talking about his fall from grace after he was caught having a three-year sexual relationship with a male prostitute in Nov. 2006.

We admit, we enjoy watching folks get hoisted on their own petards. Haggard had preached the sin of homosexuality on a daily basis for decades, and then turned out to be a big closet case. So it was interesting to watch Haggard being shunned by his own church and community–the one he built himself–the way he had shunned queers.

Compassion, apparently, is not high on the list of values held by members of Haggard’s church. The church forced him and his family (guilt by association) to leave not only the church, but their home and *the state.* Thus the HBO documentary, “The Trials of Ted Haggard” shows the former preacher literally going door to door looking for work like some itinerant handyman instead of the wealthy mega-church leader he had been for over two decades.

One could almost feel sorry for Haggard as he became increasingly desperate and frightened by his and his family’s plight as they moved from borrowed house to borrowed house in other states, eventually ending up living in a motel, their funds utterly depleted.

Yes, those petards can be uncomfortable in the extreme.

Oprah made it no easier. Dressed in a Sunday-go-to-meetin’ suit with her hair pulled back and her make-up and earrings subdued, her demeanor signaled just how judgmental she would be. America’s high priestess was succinct: hypocrisy is the most grievous sin.

If you missed either the HBO documentary or Oprah’s Jan. 29 show, both are still viewable. HBO is repeating the special (check listings) and all of Oprah’s shows are available online at Oprah.com.

We recommend the Oprah hour because it shows a side of Haggard the documentary does not. While “Trials” shows what Haggard went through during his year in exile (he has since been allowed, if not welcomed, back into his own home and the community), the Oprah hour shows a man in serious ongoing conflict over his sexuality.

With Oprah, Haggard admits to being a liar and having life-long sexual feelings for other men. Those feelings are clearly a daily issue for him and Oprah suggested he might want to just acknowledge being gay. She did get him to admit he’s not completely heterosexual. (“It’s complicated,” he explained.)

What was clear from watching him squirm and equivocate under Oprah’s badgering, is that Haggard is a gay man who can’t bear the thought of giving up heterosexual privilege and security. Does he love his wife and children? Undoubtedly. But it’s equally obvious he would like to spend the rest of his life engaging in sex with men. His de-gaying therapy clearly didn’t work. He still has rampant homosexual feelings which he views as something he must continually fight against.

His wife Gayle doesn’t help. A smart, good-looking woman, she clearly runs the household and has a zealot’s belief that homosexuality can be “cured.” She acknowledged to Oprah that her husband had informed her when they got married that he had had life-long feelings for other men (and she still married him!), but that he was controlling those feelings.

Oprah disagreed with her repeatedly as Gayle mouthed the evangelical Christian line on homosexuality, saying that all her husband needed to do was “choose” to be heterosexual. Oprah said it was her understanding that it was not a choice.

It was a painful hour. Haggard’s two oldest children were also in attendance. Their perspective was that Haggard’s disgrace had made him more human, less on a pedestal and thus a better father for them. Apparently Haggard’s perfectionism was difficult to live up to for his children.

The saddest aspect of the Haggard story is that it is far from singular. All over America men and women are in denial about their sexuality because the reality is too frightening for them to acknowledge. Ministers of the sort Haggard was just exacerbate this painful legacy with their preaching that only punishment awaits gay men and lesbians. Haggard told Oprah that being homosexual is a sin and that only heterosexual married life would take him to God.

But that statement was not delivered with rapture, but with barely disguised pain.

The Haggard story is a cautionary tale–and recent allegations, substantiated by Haggard to Oprah–that Haggard was inappropriately sexual with a former teenaged congregant who came to him for counseling just proves how humans cannot fight their natural sexuality. The harder we try, the more damage we do–to ourselves and others.

A similar story to Haggard’s was played out in fictional time on “As the World Turns” as Brian married Lucinda while harboring feelings of desire for Luke. “ATWT” has pushed that storyline to the back-burner when Brian’s feelings were revealed and Lucinda divorced him, but we would urge CBS to finish the storyline with what happens to Brian next. This is so common a story in real life, that presenting its complexities in the context of a daily soap opera would help viewers understand how to deal with similar situations in their own families.

One problem that befalls people who refuse to acknowledge their sexual identity is trust–or lack thereof. Denial leads to situations like that on “ATWT” or Haggard’s real life. Or, as has been played out on “All My Children,” inability of a partner to believe their lover has changed sexual teams.

Bianca and Reese are set to marry on Valentine’s Day. But the specter of Reese’s heterosexual past continues to wreak havoc on their relationship and Bianca’s trust in her soon-to-be wife.

Bianca and Reese have one of the only real lesbian relationships on the tube. Yes, “The L Word” has returned for its sixth and final season–replete with all the *sturm und drang* of real lesbian life. But “The L Word” is a lesbian show. And while we’re sure there are many heterosexuals who watch it, the audience for a show that is wholly queer is, obviously, predominantly queer.

On network TV where realistic queer characters are infrequent, Bianca and Reese represent a real departure from the status quo. Not only are the two a couple, but they have a child together. They are planning daytime’s first lesbian wedding and the first legal lesbian wedding in TV history outside of “The L Word.”

Soap opera formula dictates that no couple live happily ever after, regardless of sexual orientation. With Bianca and Reese, the complicating factor is Reese’s former relationships with men (except for a brutal rape, Bianca has been sexual only with women) and Bianca’s brother-in-law, Zach’s attraction to her fiancé.

One of the questions that remains for both real-life and TV life is whether one can live a wholly queer life and be/feel accepted, rather than anomalous. Ted and Gayle Haggard are “making it work,” but it’s difficult to imagine how either can be happy given the circumstances of Ted Haggard’s true sexual orientation.

On “ATWT” Brian acknowledged that as a middle-aged man with two failed marriages to women, he was terrified of admitting he was gay and pursuing life as an openly gay man. He felt safe in his heterosexual marriages, even though his desires for men were unfulfilled.

But on “AMC,” Bianca and Reese appear to be a happy, contented couple. Yet questions remain. Can Bianca believe that Reese is really in love with her and has given up her heterosexual past? Will Zach interfere in their relationship because of his developing feelings for Reese? Does Zach feel a level of entitlement to approach Reese because lesbian relationships don’t have the social value that heterosexual relationships have?

As queer lives play out on the small screen, the questions posed by real life queer drama like Haggard’s and fictional ones like those on “ATWT” and “AMC” will require more intense development. It used to be enough to just stick a gay or lesbian character into the straight lineup sans storyline. But in 2009, that’s no longer enough. What remains to be seen is whether TV can draw queer lives with the same intricate strokes as it has drawn heterosexual lives and do it outside of the confines of a wholly queer show like “The L Word.”

“AMC” and “ATWT” have taken bold steps in that direction. The question is, who will follow suit?

Stay tuned.

In response to, "I'm from the GOP and I'm here to help(?)," Anonymous writes:

The GOP is just a bit more devious. Notice that Obama wants to give everyone a tax rebate but spread through the year. Too many of us used the big rebate from the Bushies to pay down debt. How do we make sure that the money is spent, is actually put in play? Instead of a check for $500, give me $20 in each of my 24 or 26 checks. I won’t even notice the $20 but if several million people don’t notice it and spend it, then the goal is accomplished. Seems like all of those anti-business Democrats have figured out what the titans of finance in the Republican party have yet to consider.

But, now watch what McConnell and his minions are doing. Obama wants to give each taxpayer money to spend by a rebate. McConnell wants to cut the rate. Bottom line – we pay less in taxes and money is circulated in the economy. Not so fast, Groucho. Here’s the challenge: when the economy recovers, Obama’s plan is part of a successful history. But, if McConnell’s plan is adopted, the lower tax rate is still with us. Permanently. That means less revenue to the federal treasury, greater incentive for the Republicans and the equally devious Blue Dogs to cut expenditures. And, where are the expenditures cut? In the programs that benefit the poor and the middle class, as always. You can bet your last dollar that the Pentagon and the contractors who robbed us blind in Iraq and Afghanistan will be in line to get their share. The current proposal from the novo-Bushies is to cut the rate in the lowest two brackets. Who can object to that? Certainly I can’t, but where does the replacement money come from? The McConnell answer – it doesn’t, so cut spending and, by the way, here’s the list of things to cut. Ya gotta watch these guys. They are crooks from the beginning. It’s like the old street pea game – ya gotta watch them very carefully.

And David W. sends this:

The "FDR Failed" Myth
Contrary to the anti-government myths and ideology-driven arguments of conservatives like Amity Shlaes, the facts show FDR's New Deal quickly brought rapid growth to the nation's economy during the Great Depression.

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-Noah Greenberg