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Chief Justice John Roberts saves the Affordable Care Act? I really don’t think anybody saw that one coming.  Just when the media, political pundits, and much of America had the Supreme Court pegged as charting conspicuously to the right, Justice Roberts drops a flour bomb on the Fox News fanbase and provides a legal foothold for desperately needed reforms in our medical care and delivery ecosystem. Now, can we take full advantage of this historic opportunity?

The rational thing to do at this point would be for our leaders on both sides of the aisle to accept the ruling and move forward in a constructive manner to implement the law, and expand it in ways that make sense, to provide the greatest long-term benefit for the American people. I like to believe that there are some truly brilliant minds in Washington, and that collectively we are capable of crafting some comprehensive solutions. Unfortunately, there’s not a chance in hell that’s going to happen.

The GOP has already served notice that they will continue to do everything they can to undermine, underfund, and ultimately repeal the Affordable Care Act – not because it’s fundamentally a bad approach, only because it’s Obama’s approach.  It’s irrelevant whether the law is good or bad. Republican leadership has been startlingly transparent in the fact that their primary goal – whatever it takes – is to obstruct the Obama administration at every turn and then point fingers back at him for not accomplishing anything in his first term.  If it comes from Obama, or has the potential to put a star in the Democratic column, it must be defeated, period.

The Republicans are loathe to admit that many of the defining features of the law, including the insurance mandate, were originally conceived or strongly supported by Republicans. The insurance mandate in particular is merely an extension of a fundamentally Republican ideal – to lower taxes for all by broadening the base of those who pay into the system. For them to fight so vehemently against these kinds of reforms, it is truly just politics for the sake of politics, an ugly pastime where nobody wins and everybody loses. Legitimate opportunites are being squandered for momentary partisan gain, and the costs are compounding.

The oppose-everything strategy adopted by the GOP leadership is more than counterproductive, it is patently harmful to our sustainability and prosperity as a nation. If Republicans were to put half as much effort into working with Obama as they do working against him, I have no doubt that great things could be achieved, to the benefit of everyone. Yeah, not gonna happen.

(On a side note, I had a hunch the Supreme Court ruling would come down in support of the health care law. Given the ferocity and political overtones of Justice Scalia’s rant the other day over Obama’s immigration policy, it occurred to me that part of his anger and disgust could be rooted in another case – the Affordable Care Act. He had to have known at that time what the majority decision would be, and feeling betrayed by Roberts, he was lashing out.)

It took less than 24 hours for the Republican Party to capitalize on its new power to filibuster. With Scott Brown now sworn into office as the first Republican Senator from Massachusetts in a generation, breaking the Democratic super-majority, things are heating up fast.

First out of the gate: Richard Shelby, the Republican Senator from Alabama, wants $40 billion, and he’s threatening to bring Washington to a standstill until he gets it.

In a recent post, I predicted that we’ve yet to see the worst in Washington. With today’s news, it appears that not only was I right on the money, but the obstructionist behavior is more immediate, more blatant and more egregious than even I could have imagined. How is this not extortion? How can anyone who cares about our country, regardless of political affiliation, defend this conduct?

Maybe, just maybe, the Republicans have gone too far this time. Maybe the blind followers will wake up and see that the corruption in Washington is too big to ignore. Maybe regular folks from all over the nation will pause and say “You know, that’s not the way we want our government to operate.”

Maybe I’m dreaming, but it’s hard to imagine how bad things could get if we let this continue.

First, it was “NO!” to health care reform. Now it’s “NO!” to financial reform.

Meet Frank Luntz, professional word-twister. He’s the man that feeds Republican lawmakers and conservative evangelists the imaginative and fascinating rhetoric designed to kill anything and everything the Obama administration proposes. Mr. Luntz is a political strategist – ok, that’s an understatement – he’s the High Priest of right-wing conspiracy hype, the guy that Fox News and people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck turn to when they need some rancid oats to feed their flock .

Here we have another “smoking memo” . . . a behind-the-scenes look at how politics happens in the GOP.  In the memo, he advises the Republican Party (and provides specific talking points) to intentionally misrepresent facts in favor of hype and hysteria, designed to deceive our citizenry in order to secure a political win. It’s ugly, it’s ruthless, it’s politics in America.

If you’ve got a valid viewpoint, why not engage in an honest, intelligent debate? Why the need for this gamesmanship? The reason, of course, is because it works. It works better than anything else out there. It works because, as a nation of voters, we’ve become too stupid and lazy to think through these things for ourselves.

It makes me sick to my stomach, and deeply concerned about the country my kids will inherit.

Typically, I’m not much of an activist. My support for causes that I believe in tends to be quiet and personal – I’ve never been one to shout from the rooftops and tell others how they should think, feel or act. This time around though, I’m stepping out of my box.

We’ve all read countless stories about how the insatiable greed of Wall Street financial institutions has led them to take ridiculous risks with OUR money, and deserve a large share of the blame for the global economic meltdown that continues to impact just about everyone I know. With our economic system on the verge of collapse, in an unprecedented move, the US taxpayers gave hundreds of billions of dollars to these “too-big-to-fail” banks (namely Citibank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase) in order to prop them up and keep our economy from imploding. These institutions survived only because the US taxpayers stepped in to save them.

One would think they’d be grateful, perhaps a little humble in the aftermath. But no. How do these mega-banks  show their appreciation? By screwing us, in every imaginable way, to restore their profits and feed the Wall Street beast. OUR money is not being used for loans to small business to get the economy rolling again, as intended. OUR money is not being reinvested in communities. OUR money is being hoarded to offset corporate losses and shore up their own balance sheets. OUR money is being used to pay lobbyists in Washington to go to battle against reforms that would protect us from another catastrophe.

These banks have also been very aggressive – more so than ever – in screwing consumers out of billions of dollars through predatory fees and deceptive banking practices. When Congress stepped in to try to put an end to such tactics, the banks used the time period leading up to the new rules’ effective date to pre-emptively raise interest rates and enact even more penal terms on their customers. The greed and arrogance is reprehensible. The biggest banks are now profitable once again, and, blind to the devastation that remains in the wake of their irresponsibility, have decided to reward themselves with billions of dollars in bonus pay.

Pissed yet? You should be. There is a very easy and effective solution. Move your money out of the “too-big-to-fail” banks, and into community-based banks and credit unions. The idea was spawned over the holidays by Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson of the Huffington Post, which just happens to be the most widely-read blog on the planet (see the link in my blogroll to the left). This post explains the “how and why” and points out how it’s a better deal for consumers as well. Please, if you never click on another link in my blog again, click this one and read it. And, do us all a favor and forward this to everyone you know!

By putting our deposits in local banks and credit unions instead of the big four Wall Street banks, we give control of that money back to the people that live and work in our communities, where that money is most likely to be reinvested. It’s so simple, one has to wonder why we haven’t been doing this all along. I applaud the idea, and I am thrilled to see that it’s gaining a lot of traction, not only around the blogosphere, but in the real world as well. Even local and state governments are starting to transfer some of their cash into smaller, local banks, and that can make a real difference, real fast.

Wall Street does what it does because, so far, we’ve let them get away with it. We happily play victim to their perverse loyalties. Not me – not any more. We’re looking at refinancing our house in California, and we’ll be using a credit union this time around. By the way, did you know that credit unions are non-profit institutions? We’ve been customers for some time now, and we love it. With better interest rates on loans and savings deposits, and friendly service, I actually feel more like a valued client rather than a revenue target. And, every extra dollar they bring in is returned to their members (account holders) as dividends. Is that cool or what?

How about you? Are you angry enough to do something about it, or are you going to let Wall Street continue to have its way with you and your money?

Today feels much like the day that George W. Bush was re-elected to a second term in office.

I sit in shock and utter disbelief at the choices we make as a nation. I would have expected this from rural ranchers and Bible-thumping southerners drinking the conservative kool-aid, but these were folks from the most-educated and liberal state in the Union. I saw this post today from Mitchell Bard, and he’s done a fantastic job of capturing my sentiments. It’s worth a read.

I’m not angry, I’m disheartened. There may well be continued efforts to make some meaningful progress on health care reform, but with the Republicans in control we can be certain that any potential reforms will neither be meaningful nor progressive. Such concepts cut against the fabric that cloaks their greed and power. Looking forward, we can expect that every new initiative the Administration puts forth will be promptly and earnestly blocked by the Republicans, not on the merits of the legislation, but simply because they can.

One year ago today, Barack Obama took office as President of the United States. He brought a message of hope, and for me, the hope was that our new leader would have the courage to propose big ideas to make meaningful changes, even if the proposals were politically risky and could jeopardize his prospects for re-election.

That hope is gone now, because our Republican friends have zero interest in doing anything that could upset their ultra-conservative, wealthy and religious base. They’ll simply stall until the November elections, because if you do nothing, you can always blame the other guys. And looking at yesterday’s election results, we’re clearly dumb enough to fall for it.

Hell just froze over. In an epic upset, the Republicans have gained a Senate seat in Massachusetts, giving them a crucial 41st vote and the ability to kill health care reform, and every other attempt at progress the Obama administration makes.

It’s a sure bet that absolutely nothing will get accomplished in Congress between now and 2012. And in the meantime, healthcare costs will continue to skyrocket, with record profits lining the pockets of the insurance companies as more and more Americans fall victim to the greed that bleeds us dry.

The reform bill was never going to be perfect. In its current, anemic form, I’m not convinced it would have even helped as much as we’d hope. But now, I know without a doubt that nothing will get better anytime soon, and Joe Leiberman will continue to have folks from both sides of the aisle lining up to kiss his ass.

Well, it looks like South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson hit the jackpot when he abandoned civility and blurted out “You lie!” during President Obama’s speech to the nation last month. CNN reports that Wilson has thus far picked up $2.7 million in campaign donations following his outburst. Donations to his opponent have paled in comparison, at just $1.7 million.

Imagine the take if he’d have said “You suck!”

Have we witnessed the dawn of a new political strategy? One where desperate candidates turn ugly and toss a “Hail-Mary” in hope that it won’t backfire? Seems it’s been proven effective, so why wouldn’t others follow suit? Our tabloid society loves sensationalism, and Joe Wilson has become a rock-star among the Jerry Springer crowd. It’s a shame, but unfortunately, it’s not surprising.

 

When I was 5 years old, I got to watch the moon landing. When my daughter was 5 years old, she watched a jetliner smash into the World Trade Center.

I’m willing to bet that every one of you remember exactly where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001. As for me, I was firmly planted on the couch in front of the TV watching everything unfold. Moments earlier, I’d been hurrying to get dressed and off to work. But after witnessing hundreds, if not thousands, of people perish instantly in a ball of fire, my design work for a posh new country club suddenly seemed irrelevant.

Confused and scared, my daughter climbed into my lap, and I clutched her in my arms. How does one explain the events of that morning in terms that a kindergartner could understand? I watched in (mostly) stunned silence, wondering if the nightmare would ever end. Over the next couple of hours, the situation seemed to settle into an awkward, eerie calm, but deep down I had a feeling that our country had just been lured into a war that we weren’t prepared to fight.

Like most Americans, I’d never heard of Osama bin Laden or Al-Qaeda. But eight years ago today, with an attack that must have exceeded anything in his wildest dreams, Osama bin Laden caught us with our collective pants down. For many, the toll is measured in the nearly 3000 lives lost that day. Others will point to the loss of the twin towers and the disastrous mess that lower Manhattan had become. But from my vantage point, the toll remains immeasurable. For all of the physical damage, it pales in comparison to the devastation wrought on our economy, our politics, and our sense of what it means to be an American.

Now hang on, before you start hyperventilating, I know what some of you are thinking . . . Americans came together following 9/11! We drove around with little American flags and bumper stickers, and we sang “God Bless America” at baseball games! Sorry folks, that’s false patriotism. It’s done for show, and it doesn’t count. What I’m talking about is the collapse of our true spirit, the abandonment of the values that America was founded on, and the crushing political extremism that prospers in its wake.

With the words “You’re either with us, or you’re against us,” President Bush drew a line in the sand and ushered in a new era.   In post-9/11 America, fear and ignorance would be exploited for political advantage, and for profit. Intelligent and reasoned analysis, global diplomacy, and our own Bill of Rights were tossed out the window. Those who questioned our government’s tactics or motives were labelled as weak, terrorist sympathizers, un-American and, conspicuously . . . un-Christian.

Since this is a blog post and not a history document, I’ll refrain from droning on with examples. My point is simply that, when faced with a national crisis, we made a bad situation worse by abandoning our principles of tolerance, dignity, and respect; we falsified intelligence, corrupted our values, bullied our allies, and turned Americans against each other, all in the name of freedom, or God, or so-called patriotism.

*

Fast-forward to today, a majority Americans have regained their perspective. Eager to put this chapter in our history behind us, the American people spoke loudly and clearly in favor of a regime change within our own borders. In an historic election, hope trumped fear, and intellect trumped propaganda. For me, it was a proud moment, but sadly, the moment has been short-lived.

Once again our country faces a crisis, a test of our character. And once again, we are seeing a deliberate, organized campaign of misinformation directed at our own citizens, ripping apart the fabric of our nation. The topic of debate has changed, but the methods have not. The rhetoric surrounding health care reform offers a stark reminder of what an ugly business politics can be. And when this is the way our national business is conducted, we all lose.

It’s easier to explain the events of 9/11 than to explain what’s happened to our unity, integrity and self-respect in the years since. Somewhere, Osama bin Laden is watching, and he’s laughing his ass off.