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On the Blame Game: Video Essay for June 30, 2012

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On the Blame Game: Essay for June 30, 2012

Oh my, is there ever lots of gnashing of teeth going on over the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. There is a lot of name calling, too. After all, someone must be to blame for this horrible act.

Is it Chief Justice Roberts? He is the conservative who voted with the liberal side of the court tilting the balance to the left. He could have used his vote to end the entire matter of Obamacare once and for all. He did not. Roberts: guilty!

Then there is the grand perpetrator himself, President Obama. Wasn’t this his idea to begin with? He spent his first 14 months in office cramming this package down our throats. We did not want it and he would not listen to our clamor. Obama: guilty!

What about former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi? Was there ever a bigger cheerleader for this monstrosity of legislation than her? Remember how she told us that we would have to pass the bill first so that we could find out what’s in it? Well, we certainly know now. Pelosi: guilty!

How about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? Remember how he would not even let the bill go through a conference process? That effectively neutered the role of newly elected Senator Scott Brown from weighing in as the 41st vote. Reed: guilty!

No conversation about blame for any unfortunate outcome of the Obama Administration would be complete without the mention of former President George W. Bush. Surely there is some sort of blood on his hands. Nonsense, you say? Let’s look at some facts.

While George Bush was eking out the 2000 elections with the thinnest of electoral margins, the House and Senate were under slight Republican control. In the painful wake of the 9/11 attacks, the 2002 midterms improved the Republican House margin by 8 seats. By 2004 we were involved in two wars. Bush carried 31 States and the Republicans expanded control of the House by 3 more seats and the Senate by 4. Bush now enjoyed some comfortable legislative margins on top of his reelection. But the years between 2004 and 2006 were not kind to Republicans. The wars lingered and casualties mounted. Deficit spending was increasing. Government expansion surpassed that of his Democratic predecessors.
The mid-term elections of 2006 swung the House decisively into Democrat hands as they picked up 31 seats. The Senate lurched into effective Democratic control by a slim majority. Bush: guilty!

The rise of hope and change took America by storm in 2008 and led to a clean Democrat sweep into power by very effective margins in both chambers of Congress. The Republicans lost 20 seats in the House and 7 seats in the Senate.

Emboldened by raw power and a perceived mandate of the people for change, the Reed-Pelosi juggernaut got moving and it did not stop until the final, cowardly vote was taken to pass the Affordable Care Act by the very slimmest of margins without a single Republican vote. Not a single Republican vote.

Where had all of the Republicans gone? They were voted out and almost into extinction. Heretofore, legislation of this magnitude always involved a bipartisan compromise. But there was no need to compromise with the minority party so long as there were enough votes to pass. The Republicans were hoisted on their own petard as our Constitutional Republic spoke.

Ironically, the dastardly doings of the Obama-Reed-Pelosi triumvirate would be their undoing come the 2010 elections when Republicans erased Democrat gains of the past decade and captured 63 seats in the House and 5 seats in the Senate to regain at least a single toehold in the Legislative Branch. Slowly but surely the Affordable Care Act worked its way through the Judicial Branch. Everyone who pined for appeal saw the Supreme Court as the cavalry raising a cloud of dust in the distance. It turned out that they were wearing a different uniform.

So who is to blame? Is it John Roberts or Harry Reed? Is it Barack Obama or George Bush?

I’ll give you my opinion: it is all of us Americans, that’s who. We either cast a ballot for every one of those officials who voted for or against a bill or for or against an appointment or we did not. We either paid attention to the issues at hand or we did not. We either got active, informed, passionate and involved or we did not. We let the reins of government slip through our fingers such that the majorities in the House and Senate got so lopsided that there was no counterbalance to the myopia that seized the Presidency and Congress. We looked to the Supreme Court to bail us out and it did not do so. Americans: guilty!

Perhaps “Pogo” cartoonist Walt Kelly summed it up best in a 1970 strip when he said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Indeed he is correct. This battle is now in our hands. The Supreme Court has spoken. We did not like what we heard. The President has spoken. We did not like what he said. Congress has spoken. We did not like their arrogance.

Nothing will change until we re-engage in the political process and drum out of Washington those career politicians who are corrupted by their own avarice and intoxicated by their own saliva. Walt Kelly also said this, “Don’t take life so serious, son. It ain’t nohow permanent.” Neither is Obamacare.

Press on.

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On Political Crosshairs and the Massachusetts 4th: Video Essay for April 20, 2012

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On Political Crosshairs and the Massachusetts 4th: Essay for April 20, 2012

Politics cuts a wide swath across America yet there is a confluence of news items this past week that landed squarely in our backyard here in Massachusetts. There is a trio of happenings and utterances that would otherwise come as no surprise were it not for the local connection of the people who uttered them.

Here is the first revelation: Obamacare was a mistake. Congressman Barney Frank said so. He said, “I think we paid a terrible price for health care. I would not have pushed it as hard. As a matter of fact, after Scott Brown won, I suggested going back.” Mr. Frank counseled the President on pressing forward without a mandate and the risk of alienation of a country that was, and remains, intensely skeptical of a widespread reform. Of course, that did not stop him from voting the party line in lockstep with then Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation. Instead, Obamacare narrowly passed the House and technically passed the Senate. The newly minted 41st Republican Senator Scott Brown never cast a vote in the intense debate. His sword was never unsheathed.

Here is revelation number two. Enter former Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island. He now heads up a non-profit group that had sought Administration support. He wanted to ensure access to the White House. Funny, a Kennedy wanted to buy his way into the White House. Patrick Kennedy plunked down a maximum donation of $35,800 with apparent gladness. He said that this is the way the system works. Quoting Kennedy, “If you want to call it ‘quid pro quo,’ fine,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want to make sure I do my part.”
Do my part? To what end? Should public policy be left in the hands of well healed donors, only? Patrick Kennedy seems to think so. It is part of the process that guarantees access to decision makers and thought leaders. Money talks, nobody walks.

This brings us to the third revelation. Isn’t it interesting that 31 year old Joseph P. Kennedy III is running for the seat vacated by Barney Frank in the newly redrawn Massachusetts 4th Congressional District? He seems like a nice enough person: a couple of college degrees; a stint in the Dominican Republic as the only Peace Corps volunteer from the Kennedy family; and a few years experience as an Assistant District Attorney. He has not a lick of business experience. He is, at best, a lawyer.

But that has not stopped him from raising more money than any sitting member of the Massachusetts delegation by a factor of almost 3 to 1. He has raised $1.3 million dollars. About 20% came from PACs eager to ride that bandwagon once again. So eager was the AFL-CIO that he received their endorsement before he announced his candidacy!

So what does that money buy? What are donors expecting from young Joe Kennedy? Access.

What I want from my Congressman is empathy, understanding and action. So far, Joe Kennedy is failing in each area. He recently visited a diner that I frequent and asked the right question of the proprietor: How’s business? When he heard the truth about the state of small business in this Commonwealth, his jaw dropped.
Said the proprietor: “The federal government is in one pocket, the state government is in the other. When I put my hand into my own pockets, there is nothing left. All you guys want to do is take out more. It’s not there. I can’t give what I don’t have.” Joe the 3rd had no answers. He had not even a retort.

Like every small business owner I know, this one pays himself last and he hasn’t paid himself in a long, long time. Even if he were so inclined, he could not even conceive of making a political contribution to gain access to the House of Representatives no less the White House. This notion of quid pro quo that Joe Kennedy’s uncle praises falls upon deaf ears for this small business owner.

Small business is barely holding on in this country. Shops that depend upon discretionary income are folding their tents. Three quarters don’t need new employees as sales won’t justify the costs. Two thirds are worried about the state of the economy. Half worry about cash flows and their ability to make payroll. Half worry about the cost of healthcare and new government regulation. A quarter are worried about remaining in business for the next 12 months.

Economic growth is the surest way out of this calamity but we must also seek systemic and permanent cuts in taxes and fees that serve only to redistribute wealth. If our goal is to provide for the neediest in this country let’s do that. But do not make those who take the big chances and risk it all become poor in the pursuit of a utopian dream of equal outcomes for all.

This November, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will top the ballot in what is shaping up to be a very close election. The most hotly contested Senate race is Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown versus Elizabeth Warren. Barney Frank is hoping to bequeath his seat to a member of the Kennedy dynasty who has not yet earned his stripes in life.

This will be the most interesting place to be in the country on November 6th.

Press on.

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On the Real Tea Party: Essay for April 13, 2012

Do you remember April 2009? Tax Day to be exact. That is when the Tea Party first emerged as a force to be reckoned with. T-E-A: Taxed Enough Already. Clearly the message was one about the profligate government spending paralleling an excess of government intrusion in our lives. The Obamacare debate was beginning. Cap and Trade was raging. TARP was in full swing. The Stimulus was being enacted.

Across the land sprung up spontaneous protests. T-E-A protests. Protests urging Congressmen to have Town Hall style meeting with constituents. Americans from the mainstream had determined that the government had become unresponsive to their pleas. This movement was not representative of a party. In fact, there may be more people unaffiliated with party than with. It was philosophical as to the scope of government, to the torrent of government spending and debt and to the spirit of American individualism.

That movement in April 2009 caught a head of steam that propelled it into and beyond the November 2010 elections. Political titans fell and a new legion of citizen-legislators rose to take their place. That almost all of the new Congressmen elected were Republicans is misleading. These candidates were running against the political class and the members of that political class that most needed changing happened to be Democrats.

It is now April 2012, a full three years since the first volleys were exchanged in the rebellion to retake control of our government for the people. Some grassroots organizations still exist with fiscal conservatism and wariness of big government intervention as their hallmarks. Other organizations, such as the Tea Party Express, went national with obvious electoral agendas. Still others have taken a turn towards advocating a socially conservative agenda. Somehow they all claim the title of Tea Party advocates.

And they are all correct. There is a very large umbrella under which can fit people of varying beliefs all tied together with one single thread: government is not paying attention to our demands to make it smaller and more responsive to our collective voices.

There has been a lot of chatter on the social media pages regarding who truly speaks for the heart and soul of the Tea party. The answer is simple: nobody does. Therein lays its beauty and its power. When opponents attempt to grab hold of the Tea Party it is as if they are grabbing a piece of a cloud. The Tea Party is ephemeral. It speaks for everyone by allowing the many who gather under its large umbrella a platform to voice their opinions as our history has allowed us and permitted us to so do.

Whatever confusion that diversity of opinion amongst Tea Party groups may create is largely irrelevant. To be sure, the movement will not attract those of a liberal persuasion. Those 30 to 40 percent will seek to cast their ballots elsewhere. No matter how the media portrays the movement, it will not alter their perceptions of the Tea Party one iota. The remainder constitutes the target audience for a more responsible government on many levels. What better ways to connect with people whose priorities are staggered from yours than by offering them a choice?

This Sunday afternoon on Boston Common will gather a Patriots Day Rally. Their website poll reflects the economy and government ethics as the top two vote getting issues. Their speaker line up reflects those issues, to be sure, as well as Libertarians, pastors and rabbis. The rally will likely start on those topics and include commentary by social conservatives, as well.

There is another Tea Party Rally in Worcester that same day. This one is more focused upon the Taxed-Enough-Already theme that sparked the upheaval three years ago. Their website identifies Real American Values of Capitalism, Individual Rights and Freedom for All. Their speakers that day will no doubt reflect upon those American values.

So what is a person to do? Which Tea Party rally is best? Who represents the real Tea Party? It is a silly question. Our individual sense of liberty and freedom of choice tell us that the best course of action is to select the one that best reflects our personal expectation of the pursuit of happiness.

The Tea Party succeeds because it cannot be conveniently categorized. It succeeds because it is not monolithic in nature. It is the epitome of liberty and freedom of expression. It is a modern day Town Hall meeting where every citizen has a voice and is given a forum to speak.

Let the major political parties cultivate their image. This is a party with a small “p.” Everyone is invited but nobody has to attend. Don’t worry about any bad press. It is part of the equation. We won’t win the media war. The only war we have to win is in November. Perhaps we can reschedule any internal battles about the heart and soul of the Tea Party until after our victory celebrations.

Press on.

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On Defining Moments: Video Essay for March 29, 2012


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On Defining Moments: Essay for March 29, 2012

In our nation’s history, there have been numerous defining moments. They are times characterized by incredible amounts of courage and foresight, principle and action. The root of all defining moments for these United States of America took place on July 4, 1776, in Congress assembled, when the founders signed a declaration with the most empowering words the world had ever, and still has ever, known.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Thirteen years later, many of these same founders developed a constitution that precisely delineated how this government was to derive those powers from the governed. They created three distinct branches of government to provide the checks and balances necessary to dampen any intemperate actions of the executive and legislative branches. They did so by applying the scrutiny of the judiciary through a laborious process that ultimately rests with the Supreme Court of the United States.

And so our country now finds itself at a defining moment in its history. We have concluded the oral argument phase regarding the Constitutionality of several provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. What is at stake here reaches far beyond a debate about health care or medical treatment. It is not a disagreement between the rich and poor in America. It is not about where our morality lies.
What is at stake here is a single word: Liberty. Can our government compel its citizens to do something against their will under penalty of tax? The Declaration of Independence lists no fewer than 27 grievances against the British Crown, including this one, “For imposing taxes on us without our consent.”

It is thought that the Supreme Court of the United States will announce their decision shortly before their summer break in July, almost 236 years to the day the Declaration of Independence was signed that first codified the concept of consent of the governed. It was the first time in history that the rights of the governed limited the acts of government.

Liberty is indeed at stake in this debate. Also at stake is the integrity of the Supreme Court. To the untrained ear, the passion and persuasion of the legal and Constitutional arguments among the protagonists is nothing short of breathtaking. It is a showcase of our Republic. I am certain the whole world is watching but we citizens of America, we descendents of these brave founders, must admire the process that has taken this bitter and hotly contested legislation to a point of resolution.

So what will the Supreme Court decide? I do not know with certainty. I have no crystal ball. But I do have a feeling that despite ideological and political proclivities, despite hull crushing pressure from constituencies across this country, despite the unrelenting media spotlight that will descend upon this Supreme Court, justice will prevail.

I believe the decision will surprise any who think that Presidential appointments anneal a Justice to the party of the appointing President. The line of questioning has been balanced and encouraging to me; so much so, in fact, that I do not foresee a 5-4 decision of an ideologically split court. While I have my own opinion of the outcome I am no Constitutional scholar. We leave that to these professionals, these 9 Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, to determine. I believe they have a sense of the gravity of the moment as well. I believe they see the obvious conflict between the power of the government and the necessary consent of the governed.

Said Thomas Paine in December of 1776:

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.

In three months we shall learn the outcome of two years of litigation, frustration and intimidation. We shall learn whether we will emerge from this chapter in our history with a renewed sense of liberty or a heightened sense of despair.

The ball is in their court: the Supreme Court. And I have faith in them.

Press on.

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