Sunday, November 24, 2013

Week of 11/25/2013

Consider It Nuked
– by David Matthews 2

So the U.S. Senate finally did it.

After years upon years of talking about it, of threatening to do it, of using it as a political wedge, of playing it like a trump card, they finally did it. 

They finally invoked the so-called “nuclear option”.

A decision so drastic in its nature that it would cause everlasting repercussions and devastate the world as we know it.  A decision that neither the Democrats nor the GOP would ever want to make.

So you’re probably wondering what this so-called “nuclear option” is, right?

It’s a change in Senate rules that eliminates the minority party from engaging in a filibuster for the confirmation process of all Presidential appointments short of the Supreme Court justices.  Instead of needing 60 votes to cut-off debate and move to a vote, the standard 51 votes will now apply.

Excuse me while I channel the late Charlton Heston here…

You maniacs! 

You blew it up! 

Oh… *Yawn*… darn you! 

Darn you all to the DMV!

Seriously… this is the “big thing”?  This is the “drastic move” that had both the Dems and GOP shaking and quaking in their boots all these years?

Are you fracking kidding here?

I’ve had bigger and more productive movements on the toilet!

Let’s recap here for a moment… the Senate, which is burdened by rampant GOP obstructionism, if not all-out insurrection, and hampered by the gross incompetence and ineptitude of the Democrats in charge, has decided to change the rules for only one small portion of their duties under the U.S. Constitution so that the GOP can no longer block the confirmation process for most White House appointees.  This rule change only applies to non-Justice appointees.  It does not apply to the general approval process of bills.  It does not apply to the approval process of the budget (you know, the stuff that the GOP-controlled House of Representatives is supposed to start).  It does not apply to the ratification of treaties, such as the one that should be forthcoming with Iran.  It does not apply to the confirmation process of any forthcoming Supreme Court appointments.

And yet the “Beltway” crowd is treating this as though it was some drastic measure that would have catastrophic consequences for the whole body politic.

Please, will you guys in Washington just get your heads out of your anuses for once?!?

The GOP, as a matter of principle, has engaged in a systematic pattern of obstruct, delay, and deny when it comes to the Senate, and this goes all the way back to when they lost majority power in 2007.  They have used every rule, every procedure, every trick in the book to neuter the Dems in the Senate; something that the incompetent idiots in the party of the braying jackass couldn’t bring themselves to do when they were in that situation previously.  They brokered deals for certain bills to pass only when politically expedient and beneficial to them, but otherwise they proudly boasted of their ability to bring the Senate to a standstill.

Do you honestly expect the Dems to simply take that?  To haggle and negotiate with the GOP when they hold the process hostage simply as a matter of political principle?  It’s bad enough the party is a failure as it is, but do you, the American people, really expect that majority party for that legislative body to simply surrender and cave to the minority party?

Then there’s the GOP over in the House, which engaged in a secret rule change just last month to guarantee that the partial government shutdown would go on as per their leadership.  Why is it that House Resolution 368 could be secretly enacted, which overruled even the majority vote of their own party and effectively turned the House into an oligarchy, but somehow the Senate’s move for a simple majority vote for one procedure is considered a “catastrophic nuclear option”?

Let’s get brutally honest here… the GOP has nobody to blame for the Senate’s so-called “nuclear option” but themselves.  They played the obstructionist card far too many times, abusing the very spirit of why that safeguard was there in the first place, and now steps are being made to take it away from them.

Not only that, but their abuse of the filibuster has contributed to the continually negative public perception of the GOP as a party.  Think of all of the filibusters that were done that would later be passed with a 99-1 or 99-0 vote.  Why filibuster something that you would eventually vote for anyway?  Just like any schoolyard bully, the answer is simple: because they can! 

Does that sound like a group that you would want in charge of the legislature?

And yet, while some have speculated that the filibuster would be eventually going the way of Prohibition because of this change, I have my doubts about that.  At best this is a temporary remedy for a problem that the GOP brought upon itself; but those same people that complain about the filibuster today will no doubt be screaming for its restoration when they become the minority party tomorrow.

Don’t get me wrong; the Senate needs to be fixed, and fixing the filibuster is key, but throwing the whole thing out simply because it was grossly abused by one party does not fix the underlying problem in Washington.  The filibuster was originally an option of last resort, a tactic that required enormous determination and a willingness to stand and talk for a really long time.  Rampant political corruption has turned that option of last resort into a mere procedure of laziness and convenience.  To fix this, we need only remove the laziness of the procedure and restore it to being the real “nuclear option” that was made legendary from the movie “Mister Smith Goes to Washington”.

And don’t forget that this is not the only procedural trick up the GOP’s sleeve!  There is a reason why the Senate is legendary for being the place where ideas go to die.  There are other ways to hold up progress in the Senate.  The GOP will no doubt start to go through those various other ways just so they can continue to impede, delay, and deny the Dems and President Obama.  This is what they do, and this is really all that they have left to prove that they are still relevant in America.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Week of 11/18/2013

Braves Move Proves These Really Are Not “Our” Teams
– by David Matthews 2

So did you hear the news?  The Atlanta Braves are moving!

Well, they’re not leaving Georgia, but they are leaving the home that they’ve known for decades.

The contract between the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Braves expires in 2017, and while the city and the team have worked together through both the old Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field (a.k.a. “The Ted”, a.k.a. the former Olympic Stadium), obviously someone wasn’t happy with that set-up.

So this past week the Braves announced out-of-the-blue that they were leaving Atlanta proper when the contract expires and moving to neighboring Cobb County.  They get a nice brand-new multi-million dollar stadium for their troubles, and they don’t have to worry about traffic hassles or having to deal with the City of Atlanta.

And Turner Field?  Well Mayor Kasim Reed is saying “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out of town”, because he’s already planning on tearing down “The Ted” and letting the developers turn that space into their playground.  And there is a part of me that can understand his attitude about this.

Hey, the city just finished ironing out the details for a brand-new billion-dollar football stadium with retractable dome for the Atlanta Falcons, including prolonged negotiations with two churches to give up their property.  And now here come the Braves and their “What have you done for us lately” and their “Wah!  Where’s our new stadium?” attitude.  Yeah, I’d want to give them an attitude back as well.

In fact, if I was in the mayor’s place, I’d probably go one step further and pull the city out from the Braves.  You want to give up on Atlanta?  Well then you can’t call yourselves the Atlanta Braves anymore!  Go call yourselves the Cobb Braves!  Or the Cumberland Braves, or the Marietta Braves.  Or maybe that’s just being too vindictive.

The funny part is that, as of this column, nothing has really been formalized yet.  People are treating this as though it’s a done deal and yet there haven’t been any signatures affixed to paper.

This still has to go through the citizens of Cobb County, and they were caught by surprise as everyone else!  And then they realized that they would have to foot the bill for the majority of the deal!  This from the county that prides itself as being ultra-conservative and having a passionate hatred of taxes.  Do you really think they will be excited about these so-called “fiscally conservative” politicians of theirs forcing them to cough up a few hundred million for the “privilege” of hosting the Braves?

Then there’s the traffic!  I’ve lived in Cobb County.  I used to commute on a daily basis to that part of the Cumberland Mall area where the Braves have already secured the property for their little fetish. 

How do you think people will get to this proposed new stadium?  Drive?  Good luck!  I await hearing about the added carnage at Windy Hill and Cobb Parkway, which is already known as the deadliest intersection in Georgia!  And Cobb Cloverleaf is about as bad as its counterpart on the other side of the 285 Perimeter.

As long as the Braves are in Atlanta, their fans have the convenience of using MARTA instead of having to deal with the I75/I85 hassles.  They don’t have to worry about parking.  They can park at a MARTA station, take the train, and then transfer to a special bus that takes them right to The Ted.  But in Cobb County?  Forget it!  The Cobb County conservatives hate MARTA with the same passion and fury as they hate taxes and Barack Obama.

So, again, how do you think all of those Braves fans are going to get to the new stadium fetish?  Teleportation?  Fairy dust?  Walking?  Hey, AMC may be filming “The Walking Dead” here in Georgia, but that doesn’t mean it’s the preferred mode of travel for the non-zombie residents!

Obviously the details have to be worked out, and of course everything is still subject to change, but as it stands right now, it doesn’t look like either the Braves or the Cobb County politicians put too much thought into the outhouse pit that they just put themselves and the Cobb County residents nose-deep in.

And all of this reinforces something that I’ve been pointing out for a while now.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the decision of the Braves to leave Atlanta for Cobb County points out the inescapable fact that these sports teams are not nor were they ever “ours” to begin with.  Despite the PR, despite the commercials trying to rally our support, despite the stadium announcer proclaiming during each and every game that these are “our” teams, they’re not.  They belong to owners and corporations whose interests are less with the community and more with their own bottom lines.  Just ask the taxpayers of Cleveland if you don’t believe me.

I think it’s damned self-centered for sports owners to threaten to leave a city if the taxpayers are not willing to satisfy their perverse fetish for new stadiums, especially given the prolonged global recession.  We have cities declaring bankruptcy or on the verge of doing it.  They’re still struggling to be able to afford paying teachers and firefighters and police officers. 

If the fans have to make do with driving the same cars and living in the same homes when times are tough, then millionaire and billionaire owners of those teams should learn to also make do with the stadiums they had already convinced the cities to build for them with taxpayer money.

And if they can’t… then maybe they don’t deserve the support that we blindly and foolishly give them.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Week of 11/11/2013

Our Petulant Children
– by David Matthews 2

Once upon a time there was a family named State.  It was a really big and extended family, with plenty of in-laws, children, step-children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even adopted children.  Some might even say that the State family had way too many “adopted children”, but that’s a different discussion for a different time.

Of course, with so many children and step-children and grandchildren and adopted children about, it’s not hard to imagine that the “adults” would have their favorites.  Some children were clearly favored above others.  Some were spoiled endlessly while others suffered through endless neglect and abuse.

It wasn’t right, and it certainly wasn’t fair, but it was simply the way things were in the State family.  They knew that they couldn’t satisfy everyone in that family, so they didn’t even try.  They simply picked on their favorites and worked on those they thought were “trouble”.

One day the matriarch of the family decided to “fix” some of the more “spoiled” of the children.  She saw them as being too tyrannical, constantly bullying the other children when they should be helping their brothers and sisters (and step-brothers and step-sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews and so on and so forth).  After all, this is supposed to be one big “family”, right?

She turned to the children seen as the “bankers” of the family, since they were the ones that oversaw the distribution of allowances and the management of the family budget, and told them they needed to do a better job with the distribution.  Not all of the children were getting their allowances, and some of them were losing their allowances due to some very creative “fees”.  The matriarch saw this and said this needed to end.

“You need to do better,” she told the “banker” children.  “You need to share.”

But the “banker” kids would have none of it.  They’ve enjoyed the money they’ve collected through their various schemes and they certainly didn’t want to “share”.

“You can’t tell us what to do!” they screamed.

“Yes I can” retorted the matriarch.

“We won’t change!” they screamed back.  “You can’t make us!”

So they stormed to their rooms and threw their tantrums until the patriarch of the family showed up, and after some quiet discussion, the matriarch was assured that the “bankers” would behave.  He even said they would give some of the money back from some of their schemes.

Of course nobody talked about how the “banker” children came up with new schemes to pilfer the allowances from the other children.  And the money they “gave back”?  They really didn’t.  They just gave some of that money to their “parents” as a “penalty”.

And despite the complaints continuing from the other children, the matriarch didn’t want to bring the matter back up again, partially because everything seemed to work “so well”.

But the matriarch wasn’t done trying to “fix” the children.  She then turned to the children that they dubbed the “supervisors”; the ones that oversaw the chores being done.  Apparently there was work that needed to be done around the house and around the neighborhood.  Both “parents” were quick to volunteer their children to do various things in the community.  The “supervisors” would determine what work needed to be done, who did the work, and then work with the “bankers” so they’d be paid accordingly through their allowances.

Unfortunately there were complaints about the work being done.  Sometimes it wasn’t being done.  Sometimes it was being done badly.  Sometimes it was being done by kids from other families.  Sometimes the work was being done but the children weren’t getting paid as much through their allowance as they should.  The matriarch said this needed to change and told the “supervisors” to include the other family members.

“No!” screamed the “supervisors”.  “We can’t work with some of these people!  They demand too much!  They’re shiftless and lazy!”

But again the matriarch insisted.

“No!” screamed the children.  “You can’t make us do this!”

“Yes I can,” said the matriarch.

And so they too stormed to their rooms and threw their temper tantrums.  And, again, the patriarch of the family stepped in and later assured the matriarch that their “children” would do better, but then he added that maybe the matriarch should just ease up a bit, as if it was somehow her fault that the children were not measuring up.

Then the matriarch turned to the children grouped together as “healers”… the children that took it upon themselves to administer the band-aids and the aspirin and took care of the other children when they were sick or injured.  This is, after all, a really big family, and you can’t expect the parents to do that, right?

And here, apparently the matriarch again asked for too much, insisting that those that are sick or injured be treated without hassles or haggling over how much those children should pay for those bandages and aspirin!  You’d think they would be expected to get those things for free, wouldn’t you?

And once again, the “healers” protested.

“You can’t tell us what to do!” they screamed.

“I just did,” the matriarch said.  “And you will do what I tell you to do!”

“You can’t make us!” they screamed.

And once again, they stomped their feet and went to their rooms and threw their temper tantrums. But this time they weren’t alone.  The “bankers” and the “supervisors” also complained loudly about this.  And even the patriarch of the family joined in, saying what the matriarch was demanding was simply “too much”.

But the matriarch was adamant that the “healers” would do what they were told to do.  After all, the others did so well, right?  Sure they threw their tantrums, but she was then assured they would all “fall in line”.  Why should this time be any different?

Much to her surprise, though, when the next children got hurt, there was nothing for them.  The cost of the bandages was too much for them to bear.  Plus, it wasn’t like they could afford to spend money on a bandage.  They had no allowance money because there were no chores for them to do.

The matriarch was shocked to discover this.  The patriarch then blamed her for the failure of the children to do as she had asked.  The children then jumped in, claiming the matriarch was a failure because she should have done more to see these “changes” put in place.

But, really, why should this be a surprise to anyone?  If you understand human nature, then you’d know this kind of destructive action is to be expected.

Obviously this “family” is fictional, but their actions are certainly based on real examples.

Let’s get brutally honest here… people (not to mention institutions and businesses) in positions of power and wealth are very much like petulant children.  They will not do what they are told they “have” to do if they don’t want to do it.  They will fight it tooth-and-nail whenever possible, even if it makes them look bad.  Even if others despise them for doing it.

So then why should anyone be surprised to hear about insurance companies making life hard for people when it comes to healthcare reform?  Or when banks are told they can’t screw over their customers like they used to do?

It’s a matter of ego.  People that have spent any amount of time in positions of power, wealth, and influence feel entitled to those things.  They feel these things are theirs to control and use as they see fit, and they don’t like being told that they have to give them up.

And it doesn’t help matters much when half of those “parents” in our real-life “State family” seem to be supporting those “petulant children” and may even be quietly encouraging resistance, no matter the damage done because of it.  Just look at the recent government shutdown if you don’t believe me.

People with a mind for reform need to remember that it’s not just a matter of the “greater good”.  It’s also about other people, especially those in charge or those that have any kind of leverage in that system.  They need to be convinced that whatever you need changed would be in their best interests as well, because otherwise you will have nothing but petulant children on your hands that even the best parents in the world would not be able to handle.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Week of 11/04/2013

Local Elections Matter!
– by David Matthews 2

“Remember, Remember The Fifth of November…”

The Fifth of November may be best known as Guy Fawkes Day, but for this year here in America, it is also the first Tuesday of November, which makes it Election Day.

Now I know some people are thinking to themselves “But it’s 2013!  There’s nobody running for Congress or the White House this year!”  Well that’s true.  With the possible exception of a special election to fill some sudden vacancy, Washington really has nothing to fear this year.  And President Obama certainly wouldn’t have to worry anyway because he can’t run for a third term thanks to the U.S. Constitution.

But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be paying attention to who is up for election or re-election this coming Tuesday!

Quite the contrary; you probably should pay even more attention your state and local ballots.

Here’s something to think about: this past year, my local government decided that the taxpayers should buy a golf course.  And a vacated historical hotel building.  And another vacant building in that same area just to tear down and turn into green space!  And all the while, budgets are being slashed to the bone and homeowners are being told they will have to cough up some extra money in property taxes.  The county itself is going through a severe turnover crisis as several of their employees, all experienced managers, have resigned en masse.  The county sheriff here had to resort to some old-fashioned political campaigning to get the money he wanted for his department, including a few letters-to-the-editor.  Can you imagine that?

Meanwhile, a nearby county is trying to get rid of strip clubs, despite an overwhelming number of taxpayers saying that they shouldn’t even try and to just leave the clubs alone.  The legal bill for that county’s self-appointed crusade is expected to be in the millions as they try to prevail in the court system.  And the people waging this self-appointed self-righteous “crusade” are certainly not the ones that are footing the bill for it, so they really have nothing to lose.

This is all local, folks.  Not even state-level stuff!  The taxpayers have to fund all of this through local taxes.  Local car taxes.  Local property taxes.  Local special-option sales taxes.  And that’s not counting all of the taxes that you have to pay for local schools!  That’s a separate governing body and a separate pile of bills for everyone to pay!  (And, yes, that’s even if you don’t have kids.)

All of these things are handled or otherwise overseen by local politicians that are either sworn-in or appointed through local elections.  People that you, as a local resident, put in office either through your vote or your non-vote.

And let’s get brutally honest here… these people get in power because most of their constituents really don’t pay attention to these kinds of elections!  They know that many of you don’t care about elections if it doesn’t involve a member of Congress or the President.  Why bother if there are only a couple of races that really don’t interest you, right?

That’s the power of the non-vote, folks.  Your apathy, your indifference to local elections actually fuels the arrogance of the local politicians.  You don’t care enough to vote in the local elections; therefore you won’t care what the local politicians do with your tax money.

So I have to ask you… do you like how your local government is being handled?  Did you really want to pay for a golf course?  Or to buy a vacated building in the historic district?  Or another vacated building to just tear down and grow grass on?  Did you really want your taxes to go up?  Did you want to go through several episodes of looking for experienced managers to find someone capable of working with the people that were voted in?

No?  Then why did you vote for these people?  If not actively, then certainly through your non-vote.

It’s funny how the same people that complain endlessly about “government” being bloated and wasteful seem to be very quiet when that “government” is local.  All of that talk about “throwing the bums out” gets hypocritically muted when the “bums” are in your own community, and may even be your own neighbors.

How do you expect the career politicians and their special interest masters on the state and federal levels to take you seriously if you don’t give a care about the political crap that goes on right in your own back yard?  They see your indifference to the local games.  A lot of them come from those local offices.  They know how easy it is to get away with everything if you, the electors, just don’t care.

And, by the way, I’m not the only one thinking this.  Time and time again I open the newspaper or I turn on the TV or radio and I hear all of those so-called “political experts” say the same thing.  They talk about how you, the great unwashed, just don’t care for these elections.  They speculate as to how low the turnout will be and how badly the incumbent local politician will win over any possible challenger.  Only they don’t say it with disgust like I do.  They say it with pride and confidence.  They say it with the tone of the status quo reminding the great unwashed just how pathetic and hypocritical they really are.

This is why I urge you, if you care one whit about holding politicians accountable, to start with the politician next door!  Don’t let them and their friends get an automatic “buy” into local government.  Take the time to get informed about who is running for the local governing bodies.  Shock the political “experts” and actually show up at the polling place on Election Day this year and cast your votes according to the candidates you think would do a better job.  You’ll certainly shock the system if you do that, and the people in power, even on a local level, will have no choice but to pay attention.

There is a dirty little secret about Guy Fawkes and Guy Fawkes Day.  Guy Fawkes wasn’t a hero.  There was nothing brave or heroic in what he did.  He was a fall guy for the conspiracy that tried to blow up Parliament and kill the King of England, but was stopped before it could happen.  He was a failure.  He was a poor sap that was taken captive and made an example of by the reigning government.  In fact, it was King James I - the intended target of the “Gunpowder Plot” - who ordered a celebration be made as a public reminder that the status quo was still in charge. 

And yet, Fawkes still did the one thing that most people here have yet to do when faced with a system of power they object to.  Fawkes at least tried to do something.