Congress Plays with Political Fire…Again

It’s hard out there for a wimp. The 113th U.S. Congress doesn’t waste time proving how inept and ineffective it is and no enemy, foreign or domestic, has changed that.

As President Obama has used executive authority to strike at the heart of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, both House Democrats and Republicans have raised serious and valid concerns over executive power to essentially declare war without declarations from Congress. The founders of the constitution spin in their graves over things like these – they were pretty specific over war declarations. But whether you agree or disagree with the current course of action toward ISIS (personally, I’ve found myself leaning toward the “wipe the bastards out” side), the real issue is – as usual – Congress’ sadly hilarious incompetence.

For a while now, the looming question of U.S. involvement has hung over Mideastern dialogue. Iraq asked us for help in fighting back the spread of ISIS within its own borders. Muslim clerics all over the world – even Saudi freaking Arabia – have harshly denounced ISIS. The world recoiled in collective horror when the Islamic State slaughtered Kurish Yazidis and Iraqi Christians and beheaded journalists on camera.

President Obama joined other leaders in condemning ISIS for what it is: barbaric and bloodthirsty. He was clear about U.S. involvement, too – he wouldn’t act unilaterally until U.S. interests were directly threatened, a cautious approach that is rather refreshing after the Bush Administration. At that moment, House and Senate Democrats got a significant portion of their colleagues to come out in support of congressional debate on the course of action they would authorize the President to take.

And then they convened for recess…for two months.

With the threat of a third Iraq war and more military involvement in Middle Eastern affairs, Congress chose now to go on vacation. I wonder why the public rates them lower than kitchen mold in approval?

With Congress literally out of the picture, President Obama has authorized missile strikes against ISIS. House Republicans’ response: We never got a bill on military action from the White House. Seriously. I’m no expert, but I think it’s the purview of Congress to write bills. Apparently Republicans never watched that one Schoolhouse Rock! video about “the bill on Capitol Hill.”

Congress has become really good at tying the president’s hands. From holding up appointments to passing the least amount of bills in U.S. history, Republican leadership has made it its sole mission to give President Obama headache after headache. They create government crises and then blame the president for government crises. As MSNBC’s Steve Benen pointed out, “congressional Republicans have been almost hysterical about presidential overreach, condemning the White House for alleged abuses that leave Congress out of the policymaking process.” He continues, “In nearly every instance, their evidence has fallen somewhere between baseless and ridiculous.”

It all comes down to politics. Congresspersons and Senators are terrified of being the ones who vote for or against wars (hello, Iraq War 2.0). If you vote for war, it can make you look tough and it pleases neoconservatives and interventionists…but it can also tag your name to a possible boondoggle. If you vote against war, it can make you look like a bleeding heart and please pacifists and isolationists…but it can also make you look weak.

Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) captured the GOP zeitgeist by openly admitting to the New York Times, “We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took [Obama] so long.” In case any of you have forgotten, there’s a midterm election coming up in November.

It’s the Turnout, Stupid!

Conventional Beltway wisdom says Democrats will get walloped in November. Reading the pages of The Hill and Politico, one would think the elephant in the Capitol has already trampled its donkey counterpart. Even MSNBC’s screeching Chris Matthews has called the Senate for the GOP.

But Why?

Based on previous midterm elections during a president’s second term (where his party usually loses seats in both houses of Congress), the prediction is that Republicans will gain a larger majority of the House and possibly take the Senate, even if by a bare majority. There are rare exceptions to this rule: 1998, when the GOP lost ground in Congress after flirting with (and later getting) the impeachment of President Clinton; and 2006, when Democrats took the House after American dissatisfaction with the Iraq War reached new highs. Other than that, the president’s party takes a “shellacking,” as President Obama (in)famously said in 2010.

But the future is unwritten. It sounds cliché, but when it comes to historical precedent, we should simply acknowledge that that was then and this is now.

The world has drastically changed. That’s an understatement. For one, the unstoppable proliferation of the Internet across the planet has led to previously unfathomable connections. Breaking news, scandals, leaders’ faux pas, grassroots campaigns, Instagram pictures of cats in tuxedos – these have all reshaped how we see ourselves and our world. The fact that the two surprise elections of ’98 and ’06 happened within the last 16 years should only strengthen that point. The stats and recent history back the Democrats up.

More of us are connected to a global information network and for better or worse, we’re more aware of what’s going on in the world than we have ever been before. DC bigwigs and VIPs seem to ignore this important little fact. Young adults are at the forefront of this massive change. The elections of 2008 and 2012 brought out record numbers of us, mainly because nearly all of us have a social media account of some sort. When Mitt Romney made offensive comments about the 47 percent or when Rick Perry made a Moral Majority-esque video decrying the inclusion of gays in the military, young people noticed and turned out in droves to vote for President Obama…by 67 percent. As Gallup recently found, a large majority of us identify with the Democratic Party, even more so than previous generations did when they were our age. The challenge this November is making sure we turn out in high numbers, something we usually don’t do.

The youth vote isn’t the only necessary ingredient for a Democratic win. It’s no secret that the country is becoming more diverse. Seventeen percent of the nation is Hispanic (myself included) and nearly 65 percent of Hispanic voters cast their ballots for Democrats. In my home state of California, often seen as an “omen” of things to come for the rest of America, Hispanics make up nearly 40 percent of the Golden State’s 40 million residents. In both houses of the California legislature, Democrats have a supermajority and they have the governorship.

The Party of FDR also has the upper hand when it comes to registered voters in general. Forty-seven percent of registered voters identify as or with the Democratic Party (compared to 42 percent who are registered/lean Republican). In 2012, more votes were cast for congressional Democrats than Republicans. But thanks to gerrymandered districts, the GOP still held control of the House…but they did lose a chunk of their majority.

Since midterm voter turnout is typically older, whiter, wealthier and more conservative, the diversity of the country and Democratic Party don’t amount to much. In 2010, when Tea Party Republicans swept the House and several state legislatures and governorships, the number of registered voters who did not vote was substantially higher than the number who did. That year, four out of five voters were white. Seniors made up 21 percent of the electorate in the “Tea Party Tidal Wave” of 2010 and supported the GOP by nearly 60 percent.

The crop of newbies that went to Congress in 2010 pulled the GOP further to the right. From one manufactured crisis to the next, Tea Party extremism and incompetence have resulted in sluggish economic growth, a downgrade of the national credit rating, a government shutdown that siphoned billions of dollars out of the economy, unnecessary and burdensome restrictions on reproductive rights, and millions of low-income Americans left without health care insurance at the insistence of Republican governors. But hey, at least Ted Cruz got his fifteen minutes of fame, right?!

The ineptitude of the modern Republican Party has left quite the sour taste in the public’s mouth. Most Americans disapprove of the Republican Party. Though the GOP has largely recovered from the image-battering it got over the shutdown last year, it is still a very unpopular party, particularly in the eyes of young and minority voters. Congressional approval continues to hover at historic lows (it was higher when Democrats were in control of both chambers) and Tea Party quacks in the House and Senate continue to make excellent segments on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

To be fair, President Obama’s favorability has suffered, too, thanks in large part to the disastrous rollout of the federal exchange website. But now that the website has (mostly) been fixed and nearly 10 million people have health insurance under the ACA (7 million enrolled in private plans), the president’s approval rating has stabilized and approval of the ACA itself is creeping upward. As more people discover the security of not playing Russian roulette with their health care by actually getting coverage, I’m pretty confident that both the ACA’s and the president’s popularity will continue to rise.

But, for a thought experiment, let’s say the President’s popularity declined to the low 30s and the ACA’s approval dipped as well, with even more people misunderstanding/not even knowing its basic provisions. Even in that scenario, it would still be possible for Democrats to retake the House. If enough voters turned out, it could be done.

That’s the usual problem – turnout. It is crucial that the young and diverse turn out in mass this November. Historical precedence may be against Democrats, but the possibility and diversity of the future is definitely “for” it. It seems like a Herculean task, but if Democrats can keep the focus on the benefits of the ACA, what it’s resulted in (hint: no commie takeovers or putting grandma to sleep), and continue to point out how extreme and out of touch the Tea Party-run GOP is, they should be able to drive a substantial amount of us out to cast our ballots on Tuesday, November 4th.

#GOPshutdown

The GOP Shutdown of 2013 is officially over. Sixteen days, $24 billion siphoned out of the economy, as well as a slow-down of the economic recovery, record low approval ratings for the Republican Party (lowest in modern history), and the looming threat of default on the national debt finally forced the hand of one of the most ineffective House Speakers in American history, John Boehner. He allowed a vote and got 87 Republicans to join the rest of us in reality to pass the Senate CR, a vote he could and should have held long before the shutdown lasted for over two weeks.

Yep, that’s right…after this fiasco and national embarrassment for Republicans, the majority of the Republican caucus (144) in the House voted to keep 800,000 people furloughed from their jobs, cancer treatments on hold, small businesses from getting vital government loans, women and children impoverished and billions of dollars bleeding out of the economy. That doesn’t even include their fetishistic willingness to breach the debt ceiling – which does not actually increase the deficit – and send the nation’s credibility global economy into free fall and most likely depression.

How has the GOP responded? Well, it’s complicated because the Republican Party is deeply fractured and in catastrophic disarray. Tea Party Republicans, all 144 of them in the House and 18 in the Senate, blamed the President for a shutdown that they literally campaigned on and fought hard to get and maintain. Nutcases like Representative Michele Bachmann have gone so far as to say that President Obama and the Democratically controlled Senate “wanted” the government shutdown. Don’t you see, America? We didn’t shut the government down as a result of our recklessness and extremism – it was all that Kenyan, Marxist’s fault!

As the President and many others have said, they put a gun to the head of country and even the global economy as leverage to defund the Affordable Care Act, a law that passed Congress in 2010, was upheld by the Supreme Court and helped re-elect President Obama in 2012. Here on planet Earth, the ACA is law, is gaining popularity and it isn’t going anywhere. But on unstable Planet Tea Party, elections don’t matter (as they’ve demonstrated by gerrymandering several House districts), health insurance regulations designed to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for several million Americans is just like Nazism and President Obama is just like Hitler…so therefore the government must shut down.

 

 

That’s not compromise. That’s extortion. You don’t get to shut down the federal government and send the global economy into depression just because you didn’t get your way in the presidential election or the ruling you wanted from the Supreme Court. You can’t set the country on fire like a band of raving pyromaniacs and prevent fire crews from extinguishing the flames, only to immediately claim you did not, in fact, set the fire.

Eighty-seven conservative Republican members of the House caucus denounced the extremism of the Tea Party and called on their delusional colleagues to see the light, end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. Then they voted with their colleagues. Earlier this week when the Senate sent a CR to the House, Speaker Boehner refused to bring it to a vote. So much for bold leadership.

Based on Boehner’s laughably bad job as Speaker and the collective amnesia of Republicans in Washington, we can most likely expect this to repeat again early next year when funding the government and raising the debt ceiling are again issues that will probably bring the United States to its knees. Since 2011, governing via one self-imposed crisis to the next is how we do things. A fourth of the legislative branch thinks it is greater than all three branches combined. But, hey, It’s the American way, right?

 

House Speaker John Boehner - leader of the pack...

House Speaker John Boehner – leader of the pack…

Here’s to 2013

Suck it, Mayans. Not only was 2012 not the end of humanity, it was packed with major milestones and records. Every blog on the Internet and every columnist known to Man have written some sort of commemorative post or column to look back over the previous year and welcome in 2013 – nothing special here…and since the year is over, I figured I’d write SOMETHING to look back.

There’s so much that I’ve written about over the past year: more states legalized marriage equality and brought national equality closer to being a reality; President Barack Obama beat human cyborg Mitt “Cayman Islands” Romney and won re-election to the presidency; The one and only Queen of Pop (hint: her career is over 30 years old) performed at the Super Bowl halftime to a record-breaking number of viewers and topped the charts with her 12th studio album, MDNA, all over the world.

And…

All previous heat and extreme weather records were broken this year than in all the years that scientists have been studying global climate and planet’s oceans continue to become more acidic…because humans have absolutely no effect on climate change because it is totally fake, or something. The number of mass shootings in the United States continued to skyrocket with tragic results, and still America has grossly inadequate gun control policies – the National Rifle Association’s lobbyists have blood on their hands.

We must make 2013 a better, more responsible and unified year.

Throughout this chaotic and interesting year, my own life saw some changes and milestones. I’m still working and going to school and by 2014, I’ll have a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication with a minor in Mass Communication and Journalism from Fresno State. I may decide to go on for a Master’s Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. I turned 23 in August, danced to “Gangnam Style” and realized I’m annoyed with the teens and children of today….and I’d just like to say that One Direction can go back the direction they came.

Having said/written that, here are a few highlights from my year:

 

I became a father………….to a beautiful kitten…

I am the proud father of the most beautiful, funny, adorable cat ever – FACT. I got little miss Lucy, named after Lucille Ball, when she was only a six-week-old bundle of fur. I fell in love instantly. For almost seven months, she’s brought be joy and a few headaches. Lucy has abnormally long legs and can literally jump over half-way up a door if she’s following a mysterious laser and she loves to chit-chat with me. I love Lucy. She’s purrrfect.

my little girl

my little girl

 

I saw Madonna LIVE in LA

It was a surreal experience, seeing my favorite artist and the legendary Queen of Pop (I wrote about it for my university newspaper – read it here). I purchased the tickets for a pretty penny, but it was definitely worth it. In fact, for the next tour, I’m paying even more to sit in front of the stage AND I’ll be going to more than one show. Madonna puts on a concert like no other by channelling her pioneering, independent spirit and chart topping hits into one two-hour extravaganza. Seeing a Madonna concert in one’s lifetime should be on everyone’s bucket list. Sadly, my phone died before the concert began and I wasn’t able to take any pictures. So, here’s an iconic screenshot from the highest-grossing tour of 2012…

Madonna wearing a Gaultier corset (homage to her 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour) and vogue-ing

Madonna wearing a Gaultier corset (homage to her 1990 Blonde Ambition Tour) and vogue-ing

 

I *proudly* helped re-elect President Obama.

President Barack Obama is not perfect. For example, I wish he would be more aggressive on fighting climate change via policy, Wall Street reform and gun control. But when one of the parties in a two-party system literally does all it can to fight, tooth and nail, everything the President and his party do, it’s hard to enact meaningful legislation or accomplish anything aside from Congress-wide pay raises. Since the corporate backed Conservative Movement, Religious Right, and the Tea Party took over the Republican Party, Washington has been a nightmare. I agree with most of the President’s agenda and over-all goals and when it came down to him and Mitt “binders full of women” Romney, it was really a no-brainer. Historians will look back in amazement at how politics regressed in this time. The 2014 congressional elections cannot come fast enough…

President Obama - two-term, 44th President of the United States.

President Obama – two-term, 44th President of the United States.

Here’s to a kick-ass 2013.

 

Rachel Maddow Sums It Up Beautifully

After an amazing night, where the country chose to progress forward into the 21st century, I was incredibly happy…and I slept quite well, I might add. I expected the President to win a second term, but I didn’t expect the Republican majority in the House of Representatives to shrink and the Democratic majority in the Senate to grow. I was pleasantly surprised that, for the first time in U.S. history, voters approved of marriage equality in three states and against discrimination in Minnesota. It was an incredible night for the entire country.

I am so proud to be an American. We finally have the chance to have a government that works for the 100 percent. Climate change can finally be seriously addressed. The United States now ensures access to healthcare, and we’re closer to achieving universal healthcare like the rest of the developed world. Marriage equality across the land is even closer to becoming a wonderful reality. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent by dark money groups to ensure the status quo remains ultimately meant nothing. Americans spoke loud and clear. Our democratic republic is alive and well.

Rachel Maddow summed up just what this election meant for the nation:

“We are not going to have a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade. There will be no more Antonin Scalias and Samuel Alitos added to this Court. We’re not going to repeal health reform. Nobody is going to kill Medicare and make old people in this generation or any other generation fight it out on the open market to try to get themselves health insurance. We are not going to do that.

“We are not going to give a 20 percent tax cut to millionaires and billionaires and expect programs like food stamps and kid’s health insurance to cover the cost of that tax cut. We’re not going to make you clear it with your boss if you want to get birth control under the insurance plan that you’re on. We are not going to redefine rape. We are not going to amend the United States Constitution to stop gay people from getting married. We’re not going to double Guantanamo. We are not eliminating the Department of Energy or the Department of Education or [the Department of] Housing [and Urban Development] at the federal level. We are not going to spend two trillion dollars on the military that the military does not want. We are not scaling back on student loans because the country’s new plan is that you should borrow money from your parents. We’re not vetoing the Dream Act. We are not self-deporting. We are not letting Detroit go bankrupt. We are not starting a trade war with China on Inauguration Day in January. We are not going to have, as a President, a man who once led a mob of friends to run down a scared gay kid, to hold him down and forcibly cut his hair off with a pair of scissors while that kid cried and screamed for help, and there was no apology, not ever.

“We are not going to have a Secretary of State John Bolton. We are not bringing Dick Cheney back. We are not going to have a foreign policy shop stocked with architects of the Iraq War. We are not going to do it. We had the choice to do that if we wanted to do that as a country, and we said ‘no’ last night, loudly.

….

“Ohio really did go to President Obama last night, and he really did win. And he really was born in Hawaii, and he really is legitimately President of the United States, again, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not make up a fake unemployment rate last month, and the Congressional Research Service really can find no evidence that cutting taxes on rich people grows the economy, and the polls were not skewed to over-sample Democrats, and Nate Silver was not making up fake projections about the election to make conservatives feel bad. Nate Silver was doing math, and climate change is real, and rape really does cause pregnancy sometimes, and evolution is a thing, and Benghazi was ‘on’ us, it was not a scandal ‘by’ us, and no one is taking away any one’s guns, and taxes have not gone up, and the deficit is dropping, actually, and Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, and the moon landing was real, and FEMA is not building concentration camps, and UN election observers are not taking over Texas, and moderate reforms of the regulations on the insurance industry and the financial services industry in the country are not the same thing as communism…

“…in this country, we have a two-party system in government and the idea is supposed to be that the two sides both come up with ways to confront and fix the real problems facing our country. They both propose possible solutions to our real problems, and we debate between those possible solutions, and by the process of debate, we pick the best idea. That competition between good ideas from both sides about real problems in the real country should result in our country having better choices, better options than if only one side is really working on the hard stuff…if the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement and the conservative media is stuck in a vacuum-sealed, door-locked spin cycle of telling each other what makes them feel good and denying the factual, lived truth of the world, then we are all deprived as a nation of the constructive debate between competing, feasible ideas about real problems…they [GOP] are going to have to pop the factual bubble they have been so happy living inside if they do not want to get shellacked again, and that will be a painful process for them I’m sure, but it will be good for the whole country, left, right and center.

My Feelings on the First Presidential Debate

Having just watched the debate, I am stunned. Romney outright lied and did a 180 from his campaign positions. I am amazed at how much bullsh*t was spewed from his mouth on topics like social security, Medicare, healthcare reform and reducing the deficit. It was an homage to the past (states’ rights above everything) and an attempt to seem relevent and modern at the same time. I hate to say it, but Romney did well and Obama was off his game.

Why wasn’t President Obama more aggressive? What about calling Romney out on his 47 percent comments? What about Romney’s position on abortion (outlawed in all cases, rape and incest included…just ask his campaign)? Why didn’t the President call Romney out for contradicting himself on healthcare reform? Why was there not a word on climate change or marriage equality?

Mitt Romney does not care about the future of Medicare (ie: “Vouchercare”) nor the disadvantaged family struggling in this economy, and he surely doesn’t care about same-sex families being discriminated against by DOMA. He has been inconsistent throughout the campaign and attempted to seem moderate and in the center in tonight’s debate. His plan for tax cuts alone don’t add up. I guess I’ll have to wait until the next debate to hear more about those issues (hopefully).

I realize that this is politics and that it’s dirty, but what Romney did was gutless. Does he honestly think he can get away with what he said? Time will tell and I hope President Obama is more aggressive during the next debates (and can we please get a new moderator?!).

The Rev. Al Sharpton provided his take on MSNBC after the debate and I couldn’t agree more:

“…Romney’s problem is that this debate is in 2012 not 1812…No doubt Mitt Romney was at his best tonight, but his best is not good enough when you look at the fact that he’s saying that taxes will not go up on the middle class…It will in fact go up on the middle class and [there will be] a much lower rate for the rich…The facts will not bear him out…he stood there all night advocating states’ rights across the board. What is that saying to women about who’s going to decide on women’s issues? What is that saying to minorities about immigration, civil rights…This man went back to the 19th century on states’ rights all night long. When we hear him stand up there and talk about things that are patently contradictory to his position…What I’m surprised at [is that] he’s going to care so much for the poor, so much for the disadvantaged. Would that be the 47 percent that he said were moochers and had no responsibility? …So, his problem is not going to be Barack Obama or Leher [the moderator]. His problem is going to be Mitt Romney because when they play Romney as opposed to the Romney tonight, he’s going to look like a flagrant and blatant flip-flopper.”

Madonna, Mitt Romney & One World Trade Center in One Post

It’s been a little while since my last post and some very interesting things have happened since then. So, here’s my take on a few subjects that piqued my interest.

 

 

Madonna’s New Music Video, “Turn Up The Radio,” Came Out

Because I am a Madonna fan extraordinaire, it is only natural that I blog about her latest work. “Turn Up The Radio,” the third music video and single from her 12th and most recent studio album, MDNA, debuted on VEVO on Monday. In it, we see the Queen of Pop trying to get away from the paparazzi (while channelling a sort of updated ’60s go-go dancer look). The theme may be a bit cliché (escaping life’s troubles through music), but the video itself is different…in a good way. Throughout the video, Madonna embraces different kinds of people, from hipsters to a transgender woman, while riding through the Italian countryside in an old school car (not a car person – don’t know the model 😛 ). No matter who you are, turn up the radio until the speakers blow 😉

 

 

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Mitt Romney? Lie!

This election cycle wouldn’t be complete without some good ‘ole fashioned manipulation and outright lying. The Republican candidate for President, Mitt Romney, has many problems, one of which is his venture capital firm, Bain Capital. Under his supervision, thousands lost their jobs and had their lives ruined…but not according to Mitt Romney. He claims he left Bain in 1999 (before they effed up American workers’ lives by sending jobs overseas). There’s a big problem with that version of the story; It’s literally not true. Company documents show Romney in charge of Bain years after he supposedly left.

Then there’s his most recent distortion of reality, this time involving a campaign speech by President Obama. Romney claims the President told small business owners that they did not build their companies, that others are completely responsible for building their businesses. Outrageous, right? Wrong…here’s what President Obama actually said (in context):

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that [public infrastructure].  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Leave it to someone like Mitt Romney to turn a message of the goodness of public investments into one of something horrible. Way to go, Mitt.

 

 

One World Trade Center Update

One World Trade Center is expected to top out within the next few weeks. The steel structure has already made it to the top floor, 104 stories above Lower Manhattan. Concrete flooring is being installed above the 93rd floor and the beautiful glass facade that encapsulates the building has risen above the 80th floor. The tower is also 55 percent leased, which is a promising sign since two of the towers in the complex were stalled due to a lack of tenants. It should be noted that the federal government pushed the leased space to 55 percent – it has agreed to occupy six floors, or 270,000 square feet. The Vantone China Center (cultural/business center – 190,000 square feet) and Conde Nast (publisher – 1.2 million square feet) will also call the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere home.

incredible photo of One World Trade Center at sunset – July 2012