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Grand Old Hypocrisy

The elections are over and there is no doubt the American electorate has made its voice heard. The truth of it is that the voice of the American electorate has become a whining squeal of self-interest, whipped into a frenzy by Republican and Tea Party claims that a vote for the Democrats is a vote for higher taxes, increased debt and lost jobs. “A vote for the Democrats is a vote for Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. It is a vote for socialism and Sharia law.”

This past mid-term election was notable for its vitriol and its surfeit of advertising. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that $858 million was raised by Republican candidates for House and Senate campaign ads, while the Democrats raised $759 million. This doesn’t include State gubernatorial elections or money spent on ballot propositions which were often just as contentious. That means that over $1.6 billion was spent on getting people elected to Congress, and when the whole bill is tallied, that number moves well north of $3 billion.  Now that’s just an estimate and the number could well be higher or lower, but either way that could fund a whole lot of jobs, people.

Politically speaking, I’m a reformed Republican. I supported Reagan back in the day and Bush senior. I felt very strongly that the Republicans reflected middle class values and were the party that looked out for the middle class. The Democrats, on the other hand, I believed were the party of special interests and of sinecures and pork barrels. I got these attitudes basically from my Dad, who was a staunch conservative – he had been an anarchist in his youth and believed that the definition of a good government was a government that stayed out of the people’s lives as much as possible. In many ways, I believe he’s right.

I no longer believe those things. While I don’t have great love for the Democrats, I think the Republicans have changed a great deal. I believe that their entire interest now is not only in keeping the wealth in the hands of the wealthy, but finding ways to increase that wealth, even at the expense of what’s best for the nation. I look at the presidency of George W. Bush and I’m appalled at what he did; the trampling of the Constitution in the name of Homeland Security. Allowing the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Gharib. And, lest we forget, the economic meltdown that occurred on his watch – one that came about because of the economic advisors he’d appointed putting their own selfish financial gains at the expense of the country.

What appalls me even more is that Republican advertising has laid the economic meltdown at the feet of President Obama, even though it occurred before he took office. The fiscal bailouts he made, we are told, yielded no results (which is a patent lie – not only did General Motors get back on its feet, it repaid its bailout loan years ahead of schedule), but the Republican blowhards conveniently don’t mention the billions that President Bush authorized for buying distressed mortgage-related assets; approximately $700 billion dollars worth (although nearly half of it wound up going to buying preferred stock in banks instead). This money didn’t create any jobs nor did it stabilize the economy beyond those of the banks who had made reckless loans to begin with. The Obama stimulus plan, so demonized by conservatives, was $825 billion dollars with provisions to create and save jobs, provide social assistance to those impacted by the recession (including providing money for homeowners to renegotiate their mortgage, allowing them to keep their homes) and tax rebates to the general public, which were seen not in a lump sum but over time in weekly paychecks.

For whatever reason, Democrats seemed unwilling to fight back against Republican smear ads who promised that Democratic candidates were “more of the same,” big spending Washington insiders. However, what are the Republicans but more of the same Bush-era sorts who would leave big business to regulate itself – and we all saw how well that worked.

I realize that this is somewhat of a sour grapes kind of blog this time out, but it is really depressing how many people seem more motivated by self-interest rather than in working together to make things better. Now, I know a lot of my friends and readers are conservatives and Republicans and I’m not saying that every conservative Republican is the spawn of Satan – although I suspect that if you looked carefully you might find some cloven feet on Dick Cheney – and I also realize that many Tea Party activists and conservatives are sincere when they say that they feel the best thing for the country is to repeal the Health care bill, lower taxes and eliminate deficit spending.

I don’t have a crystal ball, and I will certainly be the first to say that I may be completely wrong and Sarah Palin is a genius who gets what America needs better than I do. However, I vehemently disagree with her ideas and policies, and I believe that the American greatness lies in its ability to re-invent itself and rise stronger from adversity. However, I also believe that the American greatness lies in its compassion for those who need help, and when I hear candidates trash the Obama health care plan, I can only shake my head in disbelief.

First of all, the health care system needs reform badly. We are allowing medical decisions to be made based on the basis of cost rather than what is best for a patient as determined by their doctor. We have many cases of insurance companies denying treatments to patients that put their lives at risk; by the time the patient is successful in bringing suit against the insurance companies, they often have already died from their disease. There is evidence that doctors employed by insurance companies (as well as non-medical employees) were given financial incentives to deny care. There are far more of those types of stories than there are of Canadians flocking across the border to get care in the U.S. In fact, the Canadian health care system is consistently ranked higher than our own.

However, those that rail about the expense of “Obamacare” rarely have any alternatives to health care reform other than to have things remain as they are. Certainly the insurance companies would like to see that happen. We hear about small businesses being forced to carry health care insurance; the reality is that business that employ less than 50 people will not be affected; only those who employ 50 people or more and quite frankly, when you’re starting to get into that many people working for you, you should be offering health insurance.

There is also the same tired old refrain that the health care plan will bankrupt the country; the truth is that according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which is as close to being impartial as any agency can be, says that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the formal name for Obamacare) will actually reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the first decade, then an additional $1.2 trillion over the second. Even if this weren’t the case, wouldn’t you think that helping people in need – sick people in particular – is only the Christian thing to do?

There just seems to be so much hypocrisy in the political debate these days, certainly not all of it on the Republican side but it seems to me that there is more of it on the right than there is on the left. As I said, I bear no love towards the Democrats who have failed in my estimation to deliver on their campaign promises of 2008, who continue to be just as in the pockets of special interests as Republican candidates are in the pockets of big business.

The sad fact of our national disgrace is that our elections are run by big money and only the very rich can afford to run for office, meaning that the ordinary citizen literally has no voice in national government. Both parties are just as much to blame for this state of affairs. We need to take money out of the equation of the election promise and impose term and spending limits as well as limit the ability for businesses, PACs and lobby groups to contribute to campaigns, as well as restrict access to politicians once the campaign is over. If the Tea Party would boldly come out for campaign spending reform, for transparency in the process so that we can see where the money for outside spending in campaigns is coming from, I would be more willing to give them some slack, but these seemingly simple, sensible things are something that conservative Republicans are fighting against. Recently, George Will spoke out against campaign spending reform on ABC News, espousing the donation campaign funds as a form of free speech, wondering “The question is, do you have to notify the government before you can speak on politics?”

Well, yes you do if you have an agenda. Money itself doesn’t speak but the source of the money does. If oil companies are donating millions of dollars for a senate campaign in Louisiana, don’t voters deserve to know that? That’s what I mean by hypocrisy; the unwillingness to conduct your affairs in the light of day, then portray yourself as the white knight charging in to save America. Personally, I’d like to know who’s paying for the armor before that knight rides into battle.

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Patriot Games

Thomas Jefferson wrote that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. In many ways, we have abrogated that task to the various elements of our government; the politicians, the military and the courts. However, it was Jefferson’s intention to convey that it is that price was meant to be shouldered by the citizenry and that vigilance was meant to be directed towards those facets of our government.

In this era of terrorism and jihad, we have come to confuse security for freedom. Because we want to feel safe and secure, we have allowed our government to take enormous chunks out of our Constitution and chuck ‘em out the window. Suspected terrorists can be held without being charged or without legal representation. They can be held indefinitely. And, as we found out at Abu Gharib and Gitmo, they can be tortured and humiliated as well.

Your assets can be seized without warning, and without you even being charged with any criminal acts. You can be the target of electronic surveillance and your every conversation can be recorded without your knowledge or consent. If you use certain words with regularity in a cell phone conversation, your name can go on a list and your travel can be restricted. Your home or business can be searched without warning or without due process. Your personal information, from your medical history to your library check-out patterns can be seized and scrutinized. This is all perfectly legal, folks. The Patriot Act allows for all of this.

The Patriot Act was meant to have an expiration date. That was on December 31, 2005. Like a truly unwelcome houseguest, it refuses to go away. There are politicians who are eager to make this bill a permanent fixture in our law. The prospects of that are terrifying, to say the least.

Consider this scenario; the current definition of terrorism is acts of violence intended to cause injury and death to civilians in such a manner to inflict terror and panic on the population, or more simply, acts of terror as a means of coercion. What if that definition were to be broadened? What about, say, acts of intellectual terrorism? What if someone were to write an article that he felt that our capitalist system is corrupt and unfair and should be replaced? In the future, that could be considered an act of intellectual terrorism and be subject to the same investigative tactics as those meant to ferret out car bombers and airline hijackers.

For all intents and purposes, the Patriot Act is the first step towards creating a police state, a literal dictatorship. There are some who say that this has already occurred, that the 2% who control the overwhelming majority of wealth in this country have essentially seized power and have control of the legislative and judicial branches of our government, control through campaign funding. Why then, has Congress been so slow to repeal laws that deregulate wealth and corporate responsibility and so quick to vote to bail out banks who are on the brink of failure?

I’m all for security. I’m all for assisting law enforcement in finding and obstructing terrorist organizations and their operatives from injuring or killing innocent people. However, I don’t believe that throwing our Constitution out the window is the way to do that. Our Constitution is meant to extend its protection on all citizens, even those who are murderers and terrorists. If we set aside those protections, it says terrible things about ourselves as a people. If we don’t value their rights as much as we value our own, we don’t deserve those rights. We cannot set aside our values because they are inconvenient. That is the price we pay for our freedom, and sometimes that price is high indeed.

I’m not saying that we need to do away with Homeland Security (an ominously-named agency if ever I heard one) and airport security checkpoints. I am saying that suspects of terrorism should be subject to the same protections that suspects of arson, murder, embezzlement and robbery are. Everyone should be entitled to due process, and proper representation. While I hope it never comes to it, I believe that if the repealing of the Patriot Act costs lives, that is tragic and regrettable but necessary. Our freedom should have a high price my friends, and that price is that we may require our law enforcement to work harder within the same sets of limitations they must work within for any other crime.

Dostoyevsky wrote that the value of a society can be judged by how they operate their prisons. I’m sure he would have taken a keen interest in Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay. What I find alarming is how easily we’ve come to accept these offenses against our values as necessary to our common defense. When it came out that we were condoning torture of prisoners in military prisons that should have been it for Rumsfeld. Not only should he have been removed from his position, an investigation should have been underway from an unbiased non-partisan committee to see how much he knew and whether or not this problem was widespread. Heads should have rolled and prison sentences should have been carried out. We’re the country that is supposed to be the white hat-wearing good guy; we’re the ones who protect people from torture.

Where do our obligations lie as a country? Is protecting our citizens the paramount responsibility of our nation? As a matter of fact, it isn’t. Protecting our freedom, however, is. There is nothing more important than that. Don’t agree? Look at the history of our constitution. Some of our freedoms cost far more lives every day than any terrorist has ever dreamed of. We have the freedom to travel from place to place in cars, airplanes, trains, boats and motorcycles and yet more people die in a single week from these devices than have been killed by every terrorist act in the history of the world combined.

I get that we can’t just throw up our hands and allow terrorists to enter this country and plan – and execute – acts of barbaric violence. I’m not saying stop fighting terrorism. I’m just saying do it in a way that doesn’t make a mockery of our own values. Let’s do it the right way, and as we all know by now, the right way is never the easy way.

I’m sure not everyone who reads this will agree with me and I respect that. However, that still doesn’t dissuade me from saying that the Patriot Act is a reprehensible piece of legislation that needs to be repealed at the earliest possible opportunity and every American who values freedom and the American way of life should inform their representatives that they expect them to do that very thing. When our freedoms are abridged, when the apparatus for trampling our rights and establishing a police state are in place, the terrorists have done far more damage to our country than any wild-eyed fanatic with a bomb strapped to his chest could ever do.