It’s Over; the Democrats lost. Why? What’s Next?

November 4, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Posted in Congress, Economy, Obama Administration, Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “Unprecedented Republican sweep.” OK. Democrats, Progressives, and Liberals lost. The Republicans gained control of the House, and made gains in the Senate.

Why? Let’s look at some numbers. Republican leaders, who surely read the exit polls, say the message is clear: “Repeal healthcare reform!” But according to those exit polls, only 18% say healthcare reform is the top issue. 48% want to repeal it. 47% said keep or expand healthcare. Doesn’t sound like a mandate to me.

House Minority Leader (and presumptive Speaker) John Boehner says the “loud message” from the voters is “Cut spending!” Well, 39% say that cutting the deficit should be Congress’ top priority—but 37% say the government should spend more, to create jobs. 39% to 37%: another non-mandate.

It’s interesting to note that most of the voters in this election cycle were older, blue-collar white men from the South and Midwest. Those areas are not the twinkling stars of our economy, folks, and those voters are suffering.

“It’s the economy, Stupid!” Some voters wrongly blamed the Obama administration for the sullen economy, but more of them blamed Bush II, and even more blamed Wall Street. The last two groups had it right: the economy was sliding into the tank when Obama took office; the TARP package was started under Bush but passed under Obama. (After they helped pass it the Republicans repudiated it.) The Obama administration successfully bailed out the U.S. auto industry (American made cars are selling better than foreign cars and the automakers are healthy again), and bailed out the financial sector as well. (We, the taxpayers are making a profit on the bailouts, by the way.) The Obama administration passed financial regulation and consumer-friendly credit card laws that will help prevent problems in the future. And they did it over the anguished screams of Republicans—and constant Republican obstructionism.

The avalanche of money from the big-money crowd both at home and abroad is another reason the Democrats lost so many seats, but I’ve already commented on that and will do so again elsewhere. In the main it was the poor economy that bashed the Democrats, even though it’s not their fault.

But the Democrats could have done a lot better on November 2. They simply did not get their message across to the voters, or motivate the voters to go to the polls. During the first two years of his administration President Obama should have exercised the charismatic leadership that got him the job. He, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi should have imposed better discipline on the Democrats in the Congress, should have been less anxious to be “bipartisan,” and should have used the bully pulpit to counter Republican arguments.

What’s going to happen in the next two years? I had lunch yesterday with a friend who had the most likely answer I’ve heard: nothing. Nothing will happen. The House will pass legislation that nobody really likes, after endless hours of wrangling, and between endless hours of hearings and endless investigations of Democrats that will turn up virtually nothing. The Senate will sit on any legislation the House manages to pass. If the Congress actually passes something on the Republican agenda (like the repeal of healthcare reform or the privatization of Social Security) Obama will veto it.

Doing nothing puts us on the road to disaster. If you don’t go forward you will go backward. It’s a law of nature as immutable as the law of gravity. The Democrats—from Obama on down—must get their act together. Get your agenda straight, Democrats! Negotiate among yourselves, but come to an agreement—and stick to it! Work together. Don’t bother to try to work with the Republicans: they’ve said time and time again that they won’t compromise. You still have power, Democrats. Use it.

Or the United States of America will end up being a Third World country.

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Tea Party? —or Coffee Party!

July 31, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The political issues we face today in America are as important and difficult of resolution as any in our history. In foreign policy, domestic policy, economics (which encompasses all of the above and more) or the relationship of the government to the governed, the issues are staggering.

And we all have an opinion. Many of us make very sure that others know our feelings by making personal attacks on those we disagree with, by lying about issues and legislation, by parading with vicious signs and shouting slogans at rallies, and by disrupting opponents’ political meetings. Our political leaders act like tired children, obstructing instead of working together, making personal attacks on each other, and putting what they see as political gain ahead of any consideration of what’s best for the country, or the world.

Political gain all too often means listening to the major corporations that make large campaign contributions instead of listening to the voters themselves. I don’t agree with the Tea Party on much, but they are right about one thing: we need to get our government back, because government by the people, of the people, and for the people is pretty scarce around these United States. It has become government of, by, and for the major corporations and the very wealthy.

As a result, the ideas that count—the ideas that go into legislation and into government policy–are the ideas of the few. Others are ignored. Politicians refuse to contribute to the debate, or to proposed legislation—then whine that they were ignored and do everything possible to stall or defeat the proposals. Therefore, legislation and policy are not what they should be. Our country suffers. Our people suffer.

This is not the first time things have been like this. Acrimonious debate, obstructionism, and government for special interests have happened many times in the past. That doesn’t make them right: they are wrong and dangerous whenever they occur.

There’s a group of people who are trying to change things. They call themselves the Coffee Party, and this is their mission statement:

The Coffee Party Movement gives voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.

The Coffee Party is non-partisan, although it sponsors forums where members can take positions on issues. It encourages people of all political persuasions, from the ultra left to the ultra right and all those in between, to join (or at least to contribute to civil political discourse) and declares:

In this election, let’s reject the campaign tactics that divide the American People and pit us against one another just to win an election. In order to restore democracy in America and “promote the general welfare” of the People, we must stand united.

Members and visitors are encouraged to sign a pledge:

As a member or supporter of the Coffee Party, I pledge to conduct myself in a way that is civil, honest, and respectful toward people with whom I disagree. I value people from different cultures, I value people with different ideas, and I value and cherish the democratic process.

I have joined the Coffee Party, and I have signed both the Civility Pledge and the Declaration of Unity. I hope you will too, because the viciousness of the political process as we see it today cannot solve the critical issues we must solve quickly and efficiently.

Here’s a link to the Coffee Party site. Please use it and join now.

Who else has your credit card numbers?

April 30, 2010 at 9:38 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Like most of us, you’ve probably copied documents containing your social security number, financial and medical information, and credit card numbers–information you don’t want just anybody to have.

But, according to CBS News, every time you use a copy machine your document is permanently stored on a hard drive. If you know how, you can retrieve the documents–even years later, after the machine has been sold or rented to somebody else. It’s an identity thief’s dream: one machine may contain many thousands of confidential documents.

The CBS News video is here, and it’s well worth watching.

Rosie

December 12, 2008 at 9:05 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

3/14/99 – 12/11/08

I met her in the boonies south of Dallas. She was a “mistake:” Both parents were pedigreed; one, a Scottie, the other a Beagle. We thought she would be suitable, and when she eagerly and clumsily climbed into the car she grabbed my heart and never let it go. I thought, “she’s a fuzzy wumpus!”

She was, and it nearly became her name. Seldom graceful, frequently eager, she loved everybody. She chewed a few things, licked anybody who would hold still for it. She barked a lot too, talking to the birds who landed in her yard, the people who came to visit, to people we met on the street, to other dogs, to cats, and to squirrels. She loved to chase squirrels, but of course she never caught one. She wouldn’t have hurt it anyway: she just wanted to play.

Rosie’s first playmate was the cat we acquired shortly after coming home from Mary’s teaching tour in Europe. Both dog and cat were young, barely old enough to be away from their mothers, and they quickly became fast friends. Rosie, being a female, wanted to play Mama to Gil; she would try to pick him up by the neck to carry him around, but he was too big, so she dragged him around like an animated dust mop while he squalled loudly. We thought Rosie was hurting him, so we separated them. But Gil simply lay there, waiting for Rosie to come back and play some more. Sometimes, of course, Gill would be the aggressor: he would leap on Rosie’s back, and with jaws opened as wide as possible, would try to find a place to bite. To no avail: Rosie was just too much bigger than he was. But she would stand patiently while he tried his best.

They were a comedy team. So we named them Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, after the Shakespearean duo. Rosencrantz became Rosie, and Guildenstern became Gil. Rosie never lost her playfulness, her joy in life. She was a cute puppy, and she was cute all her life.

There was a pond in Carrollton, and we used to walk around it. It sometimes had ducks in it, and Rosie wanted to play with them so (never having been in the water) she ran toward them, finding out to her consternation that you can’t walk on that stuff and it gets you all wet. She made it back to shore—and never went into the water again. But later in life, when she saw ducks or geese around a pond, she would chase them furiously. It pissed them off, because although they didn’t know it, Rosie just wanted to play.

Rosie loved nothing more than going for a ride in the car. I took her with me when I did errands, and much of the time when we went for a walk it was somewhere we would drive to. She wanted the passenger window open so she could stick her head out and smell the passing scene. Her ears would fly like flags in a stiff breeze, the hair on her face would blow back, and she would lean eagerly forward. I think she was saying, “Faster, Daddy, go faster!” But of course if I went too fast she would pull her head in and look at me sadly.

I took her to places where I could let her off the leash so she could run freely. She did, chasing squirrels, ducks, and geese, baying as she followed scents, gorging on the remains of Big Macs and French fries. Sometimes she’d find a bit of spoor and roll in that, hoping to make herself smell like the prey. She would stop as soon as I told her that ladies shouldn’t wear too much perfume—but sometimes I didn’t catch her in time, so we kept a supply of Dog Wipes and used thousands of them. But rolling was not just a matter of putting on perfume. Rosie loved to roll in the grass just because it felt good, and few days went by when she didn’t have a good roll in the grass.

Rosie wanted to go where we went, but of course she sometimes couldn’t, so we invented a command. When we were ready to leave we’d tell her we were going bye-bye, and command her to wait. It was something to do to help prevent separation anxiety, and I guess it worked because she never did damage or had an “accident” while we were out. I’ve always wondered what she did while she was waiting. Maybe she was proud to be in charge of the house.

When we came back there was always an enthusiastic greeting. She would leap up to lick my face, panting and smiling, and—if I’d been away a long time—whining. She would nip at my nose, biting the part between my nostrils. Never hard enough to hurt, but enough to let me feel it. I always marveled at her accuracy!

We had rituals. They were important to Rosie, and in retrospect they were important to me too. When I first woke up I would sit on the side of the bed. Rosie would stand with her front legs on my thigh and lick my face. I would rub her head and face with the caresses she loved, and after a while I’d get up; she would go out, then come in and have her breakfast. Later, when we came back from the daily walk, she got a treat for good behavior. In the afternoon she had “tea,” consisting of an oat cracker, and in the evening she joined me for “dessert and coffee in the library.” She got another cracker and if I had something (like ice cream) she got to lick the dish. Of course there was always a little more than a mere lick in there.

Her joy in life constantly lifted me up. She was my constant companion. She was at my feet, or in my lap, or beside me (except for scent-following expeditions) almost every minute of every day of her life. She was my friend, somebody I could talk to when I hurt or when I was overjoyed about something, somebody I could play with, somebody who would help me any way she knew how. She was my baby, dependent on me, vulnerable, needing direction, sometimes rebellious but always daddy’s girl.

And now she’s gone. She was sick, and they could not cure her. But she passed away surrounded by our love, with the comfort of my hand giving her the familiar caresses. Her tail wagged to the end because we were there, and the last thing she heard was my voice….

Rosie is my sweetie-pie,
She’s my favorite woofer-hound,
She’s the apple of my eye,
‘Cause she’s the sweetest dog around.

Bail ‘Em Out—With Strings Attached

December 10, 2008 at 9:54 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

They’ve put together a bailout package, and it’s imperfect. It’s pretty bad. But it doesn’t matter because in a month we’ll have a new Congress and in six weeks we’ll have a President. Let’s go ahead and pass this package—bad as it is, it will stave off bankruptcy until we can do it right.

Why keep the Big 3 solvent? Corporations don’t stop operating because they’re bankrupt, they merely reorganize and move on. Look at the airline industry, whose members have been going bankrupt and reorganizing for years! But there are problems that make it difficult if not impossible for the auto industry to do likewise:

One is that the problems with the Big 3 are systemic and cultural, and we have to make sure that the system and the culture are changed drastically and appropriately. That takes more than a judge and some receivers.

Another problem is that if an automaker goes bankrupt all the education in the world is not going to get people to spend thousands of dollars on a product, hoping that the parts, the dealerships, the warranties, and the trade-in market will be there when they’re needed. Especially when there are Japanese, German, and other foreign automakers drooling for the business.

A third is that bankruptcy is a way of not paying your debts, or at least of not paying them fully. Just think how many suppliers would fail because GM’s debts were being paid at thirty cents on the dollar! And if suppliers fail, so do their suppliers…and the beat goes on.

The bailout package has to be considered a bridge loan program: we want our money back. It must keep the auto makers going until we can figure out exactly what it is that the Big Three must do to revive an industry and become good citizens.

While we’re waiting for January 20, the Congress ought to appoint a commission to make recommendations on how to restructure the auto industry. The commission ought to be composed of successful business managers and marketing specialists, but not auto industry people. They ought to treat the problem like a Harvard Business School case study. They ought to be encouraged to “think outside the box.” They ought to be willing to throw out the upper echelons of the Big Three companies, who have led their firms into this mess. They ought to study the corporate cultures and structures, corporate policies, relationships with dealers and suppliers, and relationships with labor.

Then they must put together a report explaining their recommendations, and present it to the new Congress and Administration. Our leaders in Washington must listen very carefully, then put together a new package with teeth in it that will put the industry on the road to success and get the taxpayers’ money back in the treasury.

Apologies to my Faithful Readers

October 13, 2008 at 7:18 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

You may have noticed a paucity of curmudgeonly prose lately, and the Curmudgeon apologizes for that. Life has been intervening: a trip to the Frozen North, which coincided with the arrival of our newest grandson, a visit to Mystic Seaport Museum that turned out to be more nostalgic than we would have believed, the economic crisis, the election, and other things. We feel like the donkey standing between two piles of hay, unable to decide which to eat—except in this case there seem to be dozens of piles of hay. <sigh>

The Curmudgeon promises to write about these things in the near future. Thank you for your patience.

The Curmudgeon is Back

May 12, 2008 at 6:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sorry. I haven’t been around for a pitifully long time. There are a number of reasons, none of which matter, so I’ll simply apologize and vow to try to do better. You can help by responding to the gems of wisdom I post here, either by agreeing or by disagreeing.

In the words of Hillary Clinton (from the beginning of her campaign), “Let’s have a conversation.”

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