Thursday, October 23, 2014

Does Obama Still Matter?

Does Obama still matter? Normally that would seem like a stupid question.  How can a president of the United States not matter?  Sure, he's a lame duck, with just over two years left in his presidency.  And, yes, the House has denied him any legislation for the past two years.

He's also been denigrated by the press as being a drag on Democratic candidates this midterm election year.  As if members of Congress don't do enough to drag themselves down.

Before looking at whether Obama still counts for anything, let's take a quick look at who is dragging whom down. It sure looks to me like the Democratic officeholders have done a terrible job of supporting their president and their leader.

Where were they when all the flagrant mistruths were being hurled around about Obamacare and him personally?  Why was their applause silent when he saved the auto industry and brought it to profitability for the first time in decades?  Where were their cheers when he pulled us out of the recession which still sucks down much of Europe?  We have had quarter after quarter of really good job numbers here and not a peep of applause from the Demo politicos.  And all those great steps he took by executive order to save the planet from suffocating and/or drowning in climate change?  Moving us toward closing thousands of coal burning power plants and drastically lowering car AND truck emissions (that had never been done about trucks before)  -  hey, those are very big deals!  But we don't even get from Democratic politicians the sound of one hand clapping.

If they had defended him and his policies, maybe we wouldn't have had a wipe-out of the House in 2010.  If they had defended him and the truth since then, maybe we'd have a better chance of holding the Senate this year and even regaining the House.  Regarding the latter, the climb is tough but we only need 17 seats to swing the majority, and 25 seats are squishy enough to raise a hope or two. If they had drumbeat his accomplishments they could have  -  as Democrats  -  looked better themselves.

But no matter what, does Obama still matter?  Oh, honey, you bet he does!  There is talk that he is close to a deal with Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program.  That is truly big time.  It's potentially saving millions of lives from an Iran weapon, and it's also forestalling Iran grabbing control of the Middle East and springboarding a nuclear arms race among the wild card nations around it.

He also can still do more for the environment with his executive orders, still bring effective pressure for better wages by government contractors, still keep deportations low (though he has to meet the Congressional minimums or be impeachable).  And he can still manage the U.S. role abroad without getting us into another boots-on-the-ground ten-year "war" a la Bush Jr.

He keeps plugging away, his hair getting whiter.  But he's still in there punching.  Right now his military is saving the afflicted people of West Africa from Ebola. Abandoned children are not dying in the muddy streets.

Meantime the New York Times editorial board has the audacious hypocrisy to scold the Democratic party for not telling about Obama's immense achievements.  Hey!  Isn't the press supposed to keep us informed?  Isn't that the point of a free press in a democracy, to inform the voters?  The New York Times and the rest of the mainline media has buried Obama's record like it was a disgusting secret and has consistently failed to answer the lies the GOP has told.

One example: a few weeks ago one of the NY Times OWN REPORTERS started his story by saying in so many words, "This is really a big story."  But his editor ignored the flagging and buried the story.

It was a wowser, totally refuting two of the GOP's biggest misrepresentations.  (1) Contra the GOP, the cost of Medicare is going down, down, down and not up, up, up.  And  (2) the country is not going broke.  These are the facts produced by the figures. The lies being corrected thereby were the ones fundamental to the whole GOP construct that brought us the Tea Party, Sarah Palin and her death panels, the terrible cuts in the government programs we all need, such as the CDC budget.  And these lies were the justification for the government shutdown and threats not to raise the debt ceiling.

Many Americans have been hoodwinked into a gloom and doom view of our country because the press and the Democrats have failed in their jobs.  That's the great tragedy of the last six years. It's a far greater tragedy than Obama not getting the credit he deserves.  Hell, people, he's a black man in America.  Do you think unfairness is a surprise to him? Like him, I too have been punching above my weight all my life.  We just keep punching.  It's who we are.

And neither the chicken-livered Democratic party or the fraidy cat media can take that away from my buddy or me.  We are who we are and we've done what we've done.  And it's enough for us personally.

As for the "judgment" of the talking heads  and the mis-written record?  Like the man said who walked away into the mist, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."  I don't either.

And I'm sure Obama doesn't.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Koch Brothers Defeated by Eighty-Two-Year-Old Man in Wheelchair

Only in America.

This is how a one-legged, 82-year-old man is going to defeat the Koch brothers and their millions.

Even as I write this, my friend of 46 years, George Stamfen, is headed out in his wheelchair to lead a team of ten other retirees in doing voter registration throughout today.

Tomorrow he's going to "hold signs".  That means stand on street corners or on overpasses with signs promoting a candidate or the Democratic ticket.  Except George will be sitting down in his wheelchair.

The next day he's going to walk precincts. Actually he will be wheeling them.  Precinct work means going to the voter's door to promote your candidate.  At the same time you find out if the voter supports your candidate and if so, you note that down so that voter is targeted for get-out-the-vote on election day.

That's what wins elections. It's George negotiating getting up and down curbs and finding a doorbell he can reach.  Not the Koch brothers' millions.  And here's why.

First, the sincerity and personal effort of a volunteer precinct worker impresses the hell out of voters even if the worker is not in a wheelchair.  "Someone came to my door!"  Paid workers don't have the sincerity, and voters aren't dumb.  They can spot phonies, i.e. paid precinct workers. And paid precinct workers often cheat.  Check the dumpsters for GOP materials tossed by their paid workers instead of delivered door-to-door.  (The Kochs say they are planning to spend millions on precinct work and get-out-the-vote.  Good.  They're wasting their money.  The motto of the paid precinct workers is "Take the money and run!")

Second, any ads the Kochs  buy aren't nearly as effective as precinct work and get-out-the-vote.  When was the last time you bought something because of an ad on TV?   And haven't the big spenders in politics heard about the fast forward button?  No one watches TV ads!  Especially not campaign ads. In a campaign a TV smear job may indeed have to be refuted, but elections are not won by TV ads.

This flies in the face of all you've heard from the media and from such tub-thumping fund-raisers as Nancy Pelosi.  The media and Nancy want your money, not because it wins elections but because it finances their organizations. The media lives on ad income; Nancy's whole position is built on hiring flashy headquarters and lots of staff and cars, plus doling out campaign funds to her fellow Congress members so they will continue to support her leadership.

By contrast, you can build a local campaign organization in a cheap storefront or someone's garage and, beyond rent money, only need enough additional to buy pizza for the volunteers who are hungry after all that walking.

Third reason that George will beat the Kochs?  The wheelchair.  It's for real.  So is his age.  Eighty-two and still concerned about America.  The voters  know that what he's doing isn't for himself and his future.  He doesn't have a future.

He's doing it for them and their kids and their grandkids.  He cares about the people and he cares about America.  Only by a Herculean effort that comes from the heart could he have gotten to their door that day.

But each of you who does precinct work has similar impact.  You took the TIME out of your life to come to that door.  In this day of busy busy busy that sacrifice speaks volumes.

The voters tune out the TV ads.  But they will never tune out that you came to their doors.

Now go and save America and the world and the future one doorstep at a time!  Poke the Kochs!  Right in the eyes! And make mine a mushroom pizza please.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Great Good News You Don't Know

Dollars to donuts you don't know these three great pieces of good news.

First,  Obamacare's great success has gotten greater.  In April, the media was caught gape-mouthed by the fact that eight million people had signed up for the new federal health insurance program.  Well, here's an even bigger surprise:  When enrollment opens again this fall, it is forecast that the number will jump to thirteen million.  That's more than a 50% increase!

And where are all the horrible things that were supposed to happen?  The "death panels", for example.  Au contraire, mon cher.  There aren't any. Nobody in government is ordering sick people be killed. Further, and aside from Obamacare, good old Medicare is apparently going to start quietly paying for doctor/patient end-of-life conferences to let grandma make pre-decisions about any future plug-pulling.  Some insurance companies are beginning to do so for the rest of the folks.

Nor did the other horrors happen that the GOP fanatics predicted.  That's why the GOP has completely dropped the subject.  This election year was supposed to be about Obamacare's "failure" and it isn't.  BECAUSE OBAMACARE HAS SUCCEEDED!

Let's look at another great piece of good news that has been virtually ignored by the media.  Medicare is NOT bankrupting the country.  The cost of Medicare has been dropping drastically even with Baby Boomers beginning to flood into old age. And this isn't a one-year fluke or a product of the now-ended recession.  It's a steady, heartening trend.  How nice for us elders to know we are not "robbing our grandchildren" by going to the doctor, as the GOP claimed.  (Sounds like the GOP would like to pull the plug on us elders even before we get to the hospital!)

How wicked of the media to have buried this story that was reported recently on an inside page of the NY Times.  The reporter started off by saying virtually, "This is a big, big story", but the editor buried it anyway.  To my knowledge no other outlet gave the story any play.  If a government story doesn't get NYT big play, it isn't considered news by the rest of the media.

The story IS BIG, not only for what it says about Medicare but for what it says about the Big Lie the GOP told these past six years, the one about this country going bankrupt soon and the need to cut spending on infrastructure, food stamps, school lunches, student aid, national parks, and all other programs that help someone besides the rich. It was this looming and phony bankruptcy notion that triggered the near-disastrous GOP threats to default on our debt by not raising the debt ceiling. It was this non-issue that drove us into a government shut-down.  It was this fake gloom-and-doom narrative that slowed our recovery from the Bush Recession.

And let's look at another piece of good news.  The Democrats were right and the Republicans were WRONG about the path to get out of the Recession.  The Democrats wanted federal spending to pick up the slack in the private sector and thus stimulate the economy.  They got some of it, enough that we have climbed out of the ditch the GOP drove us into.  The Europeans, however, followed the GOP misguided idea of government belt-tightening.  We are out of the ditch now, while Europe is still spinning its wheels in a depressed economic condition.  Ten years from now Europe may be another Japan, a repressed economic power that was once a roaring lion.  May the GOP all move to the continent that pitifully followed the GOP advice.

As for us, get used to good news. I've got some more coming up for you. But there's a price. You have to promise you'll pass it along.  It's the least we can do for the man who made it all happen.  If the media won't tell the Obama story, we must.  Thank you, Mr. President.  You've done well.  So well that I have every confidence you will now handle the overseas stuff just fine.

And now into the Congressional elections!  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Secret Messes of Yesteryear: Nixon Tricks Pre-Watergate

Gosh, it's forty years ago since Nixon resigned the presidency.  That was closer in time to the end of WWII than it is to us.  

I almost nailed Nixon four years before he resigned. Therefore it seems even longer ago that the perpetually ill-shaven Nixon strode up the steps of that plane and then turned to face us, raised his arms, flashed his phony smile and gave the V-shaped peace sign with both hands as a final gesture.  He's the only man who could give the finger with two of them, four if you count both hands. 

It was his signature gesture, going all the way back to his first dirty trick, the beginning of Watergate before there was Watergate.  In 1970 he came to San Jose, California, quite near where I lived and where I was active in Democratic politics. He was there to campaign for a failing GOP senator, movie tap dancer George Murphy, challenged by John Tunney, son of the great prizefighter.  California had just invented the weird candidate thing and was having a lot of fun.  

But Nixon wasn't there for fun.  He was there to start a riot.

To that end he left the auditorium where he had spoken, climbed on a car, and did the double-wave double-finger.  To flash a pseudo-peace sign at the crowd facing the car was to invite a riot indeed.  In the crowd were a brown-shirted (I'm not kidding) torch-carrying, wildly anti-war and anti-Nixon contingent.  They were the cadres summoned to the site by a pair of Stanford U's avowedly Communist professors.  Earlier that day I'd asked the wife prof of the Communist couple what their goal was. "To overthrow the government and introduce anarchy."  Well, at least they had a clear goal, though not particularly Communistic.  "We want to egg the government into over-reacting with violence so people get rid of government."  A goal and a plan.

So there were two agendas running that night, both with the same idea. Nixon wants a riot because he wants to blame the "anti-war Democrats" and so do the only avowed Communists I've ever encountered.  (Communists particularly hate liberals because we stand in the way of their extremism.)  But the Communist couple and Nixon didn't get their riot. There were other people in that parking lot, the ones I'd brought who were just angry at high unemployment and the war but definitely not interested in a riot. I also now suspect that the Stanford profs had cut a deal with Nixon:  Let us alone when our guys show up virtually jack-booted and we will be the backdrop for what doesn't really happen, for what you pull off as a fake riot. 

Of course, the foregoing presumes some sort of conspiracy against the Democrats but what else did the Communists and Nixonists do but conspire?  Even we paranoids have real enemies.

To guarantee that Nixon got the riot he wanted, Nixon's people had a group standing on a traffic island with stones and boards in hand.  After Nixon got off the car and drove past, this group let loose on the press bus following Nixon. Nothing else happened.  That was it.  A modest attack on a press bus.  It was enough, however, to dupe a lot of the Washington press corps into writing about Nixon's "riot". And at the airport, Nixon's people proudly showed off some "dents" created by stones thrown at Nixon's vehicle. I subsequently found the San Jose firemen who had washed the vehicle on its arrival in San Jose, and they said the dents were already there. We all know that firemen don't lie, even if presidents do.

Nor do some cops.  Two of them got hold of an attorney friend of mine and told him that the White House advance had met with the police and said, "There will be a hot time in the old town tonight.  No matter what happens, don't try to stop it." The two cops were pissed at being put in harm's way for a political agenda. 

But their story and that of the firemen never got public. These guys were scared and wanted the protection of a Congressman.  GOP Rep. Pete McCloskey got wind of it and stepped forward to be that Congressman, with me as the go-between.  Only he didn't really step forward with both feet.  He put the informants off and put them off until they got disgusted and walked away.  I was never so disappointed and angry in my life.  The fate of the nation was in the hands of a scheming ruthless crook, but hypocrite Pete McCloskey, the Republican pride of the intellectual anti-war Democrats, sells out the country just to gain points with the Nixon wing of the GOP, which loathed him and was always trying to unseat him in primaries.  

With the help of a KQED-TV reporter, I got the Washington Post and some other reporters to raise questions about the authenticity of the "San Jose Riot", and the Democrats took the  GOP tap dancer's Senate seat and did well elsewhere on election day. 

Nixon then went on to Watergate, the Daniel Ellsberg burglary, the IRS auditing of Nixon's "enemies", the bribing of the burglars, the "deep-sixing" of evidence by the head of the FBI, fraudulent post-dating of Nixon's tax returns, etc. etc. etc.  He looked out at the American public on TV and solemnly said, "I am not a crook."  No, he was a lot worse.

Well, it was probably all for the best that Nixon slipped though my fingers in 1970.  We Democrats all had a peachy good time later with Watergate. A couple of good young reporters got a good book out of it.  And we got a good movie out of it too. 

I don't like to think of the additional GIs and Vietnamese who died because Nixon didn't get caught earlier.  That's the part that really is enraging.  But I had tried.  I really had.  Even when the FBI began calling me and following me, I didn't stop trying. 

So, yes, this is a very happy fortieth anniversary for me, the downfall of Richard Nixon.   

I wonder if it is too for those firemen and the two cops.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Obama: The Right Man for These Troubled Times

Some well-meaning folks are bemoaning the fact that all hell seems to be breaking loose on Obama's watch.  "Poor man," they say, "he just can't catch a break.  All this trouble and his hair getting so gray."

Stop it.  This is exactly the time for Obama to be where he is and doing what he does so well.  Namely, keeping a cool head.  Yes, a lot of stuff is happening, from Putin acting badly to ISIS starving 40,000 people on a mountaintop.  But Barack Obama was made for bad times such as these.  He figures out what to do, calmly and thoroughly.  He's not always exactly right but he's always in the ballpark.  He's never on the moon side like GW was about invading Iraq or Clinton was about Rwanda and about not killing Bin Laden when the monster was in his sites and hadn't yet done 9/11.

Obama is doing just fine in a world that is still working its way out of the aftermath of WWI.  Indeed, it's ironically suitable that all this bad stuff is happening on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that senseless and stupid war.  From that war sprang Communist Russia and Putin.  From that war came the Europeans carving up the former Ottoman/Turkish empire without regard to tribes but only with regard to what was most advantageous economically for the Big Powers that would now control those Muslim "nations".  Go see "Lawrence of Arabia" again.  Yesterday explains today, and art explains them both.

If you perceive the Middle East and some other troubled places as in a process of evolving, then the current troubles seem endurable.  I say "endurable" advisedly.  We had almost 200 years to evolve from our earliest beginnings as collection of colonies in the early 1600s to a viable democratic country by almost 1800, and even after viability we had a horrible Civil War. The Middle East has had only a fraction of the time we had.  And look how slowly India has gone even though it had the advantage of a lot of self-governing under Britain and training by the Brits of cadres of native bureaucrats.  We mustn't get sucked into the GW Bush silliness of expecting overnight nation-building.  Outsiders don't build a nation.  The people of a land decide to do it and then they get on with the job.  That's why Obama got us out of Iraq.  We have to get out of people's way.  They sometimes keep killing each other until they decide to stop.  To make them stop earlier than that, there has to be a "strong man".  You want to put those guys back in charge?

This nation-building thing can be very messy.  Ours sure was.  We get a sanitized version of it in our "history", mainly several dozen good-natured but passionate wigged "fathers" battling over the wording of the Constitution.  We forget that the first "Articles of Confderation" hadn't work out and we had to scrap that whole first damn effort.

We also conveniently forget that almost half our people had to run for their lives.  They were the forty per cent who had remained loyal to King George.  Fleeing to Canada, they lost everything.  Some never made it to Canada. We caught them and killed them after first tarring and feathering them. It was as brutal as almost everything ISIS is now doing to its rivals.

We also wreaked vengeance on the Native American tribes which had sided with the British.  We burned their orchards and fields of corn to guarantee their starvation and, not completely satisfied with that, we also slaughtered their women and children when we found them.  The blacks also suffered.  The English had promised freedom to any slaves who fought against us rebels. Some blacks took them up on it and then watched the English sail away after surrendering.  You can imagine what happened to those blacks.

So the birth of America was as bloody as births usually are.  But the idea of people governing themselves and settling their internal disputes peacefully has endured that bloody birth.  The idea lives, even now when we Americans are not living up to it very well.  Hopefully we will pull our socks up and start acting like Americans again soon.  Hopefully the people everywhere who now are free of the Europeans' control will make their way forward to that remarkable dream we created and take so for granted.

Obama is said to take the long view.  Well, my darlings, in nation building, it is not just his view.  It's the way things actually work.

Obama, the realist, isn't worried about how he looks right now. He's worried abut those 40,000 people on that mountaintop. Though he often takes the long view, sometimes he takes the immediate view and this is one of those times.  Time is running out to save those people by air drops of food and water.

Yes, Mr. President, save those people.  And let's hope that over time the new Muslim nations will save themselves.  Like we finally did.  Sort of.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Why This Year Matters

Democrats have a bad history of sitting back in non-presidential campaign years and not turning out to vote in sufficient numbers.  Or not working to get others out to vote.  Back when we held comfortable margins in the House and Senate that didn't matter too much.

But now it does.  Big time!

Unless we win back the House this November, Obama will continue to run a three-legged race legislatively with a tree for his partner.  He ain't going nowhere. There will be no new legislation about anything.

Even worse, unless we hang on to the Senate, we can lose everything we already have, provided the GOP can muster a large enough majority to override Obama's veto of their attempts to take our country apart.  Kiss goodbye to Obamacare, aid to the poor and students, environmental and consumer protection, voting rights, women's rights.  You name it; we lose it.  And so we get rolled over into Ayn Rand Land where might makes right and the Right make a lot of money.

Come off it, you say.  The GOP will never get a veto-busting majority.  Oh, honey, don't you wish.  If the GOP holds the House and takes the Senate while the economy is hitting on all cylinders, as it now is, and Obama is low in the polls, you will see Democrats  -  yes, I said DEMOCRATS  -  in the Senate and in the House mooching over to vote with the GOP and against Obama.  The name of the game will be "Every man for himself!"  Or woman for herself.  It won't be pretty.

And what about state and local races?  Are we going to hand those over to the GOP too?  Like 2010?    We stayed home in 2010 and ignored politics and our kids' and grandkids' future and let the GOP scoop up lots of state legislatures and governorships just in time for redistricting.  Oh, yes.  They scooped like crazy, and thus they controlled a redistricting so severely lopsided that they won a majority of House seats even though the Democrats outvoted the GOP by ONE MILLION VOTES nationally in the Congressional House races.  The GOP won 49% of the popular vote but won 54% of the House seats.

Thanks, all you Democrats who sat home and neither voted nor tried to get others out to vote.  You shafted the rest of us royally.  Those same GOP state legislatures and governors you greased into office have gone beyond redistricting and in 36 states have blocked our people from getting federally paid health care.

Let me put this plainly.  Your laziness has killed people.

And caused others to lose the right to vote through obscenely restrictive voting laws.  And started resegregation of schools.  And taken control of women's health access.  And how about those cuts to school budgets?  You've created monsters in many states.  Was your slacking off really worth all this pain and misery.

Don't kid yourself.  Your neglect of local races has also been very bad.  Who controls your zoning?  Your kids' schools?  Your justice system?  Your local health department?  Your road building?  Your hospitals?  Your transit?  You did, back when you voted on these offices.  Now the GOP is running all this into the ground in many places where folks tuned out "just this once".

Get back in the game and save yourselves, your kids, and the rest of us.  No one else is going to do your job in making things work.  If you don't save our government from the crazies we are all going to suffer horribly from global warming these next decades as we slide into hell.  I won't be here to perish with you but you know what?  You will be getting exactly what you deserve.  Too bad your little grandkids will have to pay the price too.

This year indeed matters.  It's a question of life or death.

Your life and your grandkids' deaths.  


Saturday, July 19, 2014

To Our Dear Ukrainian Friends

Somewhere in Ukraine, in spite of the frightening Russian threat to that country, there is a group of people who read this blog almost every day, even going back to posts written several years ago.

I'm grateful for this loyal readership, but  -  far more than I feel gratitude  -  I feel admiration.  How does someone focus on a political column when their country is confronting all that faces Ukraine?

That takes courage and faith and hope.  It takes courage to focus on the politics of America when your own are so threatened by  Russia's snarling and superior might.  It takes faith to focus on something beyond the current peril, a belief that politics and not war will be your lot.  And it takes hope to believe that democracy and Westernization can come at long last to a people so victimized throughout the twentieth century.  

The world has largely overlooked the travails of Ukraine.  I am old enough to remember what Stalin and Hitler did there and what followed during the long night of Russian control.  But not many my age can remember or even knew originally.  The younger people know nothing of this story.

This week, to the great sorrow of the world, the tragedy of Ukraine reached to the very skies and pulled down a passenger jet loaded with people from all over the world.  Ukraine's troubles are now the world's troubles, and perhaps Europe and the UN will now respond more vigorously on Ukraine's behalf and support President Obama in his determination to squeeze Russia and Putin economically to the breaking point. 

I can't do anything to help you, my Ukrainian brothers and sisters, except this one thing.  I can promise you that President Obama is going to see you through this troubled time and will not let Russia invade your country.  Stay strong.  A brave and very determined man is on your side. 

And so is history.

We salute you.