If you believe it, you can make it true

The saddest legacy of the Bush Administration’s six-year trail of cronyism and corruption is that it contributes to the public’s already cynical view of government. This makes it even more difficult for those of us who believe that the purpose of government is to secure a better future for our country and all of its people. Repairing this sorry legacy is the first challenge our next President will face.

Rahm Emanuel: GOP’s Motto Is “Ask What Your Government Can Do For Our Party” | TPMCafe

So a conservative runs for office on a platform based in part on distrust of government. They win, and proceed to screw up time and again… in a fashion which seemingly proves their point, paving the way for the next peddler of government disdain.

It’s enough to make a modest civil servant cry.

What does a wall mean to you?

There’s a bit of a controversy going on in Baghdad concerning the building of a wall. The walls are going up between the Iraqi capital’s neighborhoods – what some journalists have apparently come to call “blast walls.”

Answering criticism that the wall is a “sectarian or racist wall,” the Iraqi prime minister was apparently quoted as saying:

“… such measures are not new, and are used in most countries, such as the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, China and Germany.”

Yeah, every place I go in the U.S. is riddled with walls. Why even right here the suburban paradise that is west-central Florida, we’ve got walls around every subdivision. And it’s a good thing too, because you never know when one of those bastards in Spanish Oaks is going to want to start taking pot shots at the passers by. Now at least I’ve got a wall to hide behind.

I’m sure it’s exactly the same thing in Iraq.

IraqSlogger: Iraqi Papers Tues: Popular Protests

Planned obsolescence

In the halcyon days of the 109th Congress, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was passed. Believe it or not this bill does more than just cut taxes and increase federal spending. It also makes many of your appliances with a built-in clock obsolete.

How does a Federal Energy bill accomplish this feat? Elementary dear reader… it changes the effective dates for daylight savings time starting in 2007. Specifically, if you don’t TURN OFF the option to automatically change the time for DST, you’re going to be changing your clock’s time FOUR times next year… first, when DST actually takes effect (the second Sunday in March); second, when your clock changes the time when IT THINKS DST begins (the first Sunday in April); third, when your clock thinks DST ends (the last Sunday in October); and fourth, when DST actually ends (the first Sunday in November).

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good case of jet lag as much as the next guy… but DST isn’t my cup of Joe. I’m already disappointed with my Joe this morning. I bought a bag of whole bean Folgers that’s supposed to be “select.” If by “select” they mean the beans were grown in the run-off from a chemical plant then they’ve hit the nail on the head. I love a cup of coffee that conjures the image of a peaceful morning on a plant floor at Dow/Corning.

So I’m drinking a cup of coffee that tastes like an industrial adhesive smells, I’m waxing sentimental about my last old-school, DST time change, and I’m sitting at work on a Monday morning.

Pardon me if I’m a little grumpy.

**Author’s note: coffee beans ARE NOT a good place to save money on your grocery bill.

The cowboy way

In some circles he’s been described as the conservative evil genius. In other circles he’s just evil. This is the political climate of the day… but I’m not here for name calling… well, maybe I’m not above a little name-calling by proxy.

The point of this morning’s verbal concoction is to analyze comments made by Karl Rove on NPR a couple days ago. My boy Karl was discussing why he thought the Grand ‘Ole Party was going to retain control of our bi-camel legislature this November. He made some excellent points. I’m not sure they warranted quite the level of confidence he displayed, but they were some of the same points I’ve worried about myself (what with me being a treasonous liberal and all). The comment that brought up that morning’s coffee (in a nasal geyser that could fetch a hefty appearance fee from any major traveling circus) came when Karl was asked what the White House plans were in the event The Dems DID take control of one or both houses of Congress.

“We don’t have a plan because we’re going to win.” (Paraphrase based on my best recollection)

Funny how history repeats itself… it reminds me of something Mark Twain said,

It is not worth while to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man’s character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible.

How has recent history repeated itself? Let’s see…
No plan for an Iraqi insurgency… we’ll be greeted as liberators not occupiers.
No plan for an alternate legislative agenda… Social Security reform will pass.

Those are two pretty big ones and I didn’t even have to check Google (or try – at all).

A few years ago I would have ascribed these kinds of comments as macho-Texan-cowboy bravado… a couple guys aiming for a little self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s a strategy that’s worked in the past, so it’s not a bad way to go. But you know what they say… fool me once – shame on me…. No, I wouldn’t be surprised if they really didn’t have a plan for a Democratic congress. By now that’s their well deserved M.O.

Pity Karl might just be right this time. A big money advantage will go a long way towards swaying opinion in many tight, local elections. Imagine two weeks of GOP TV-ad, saturation bombing. If you’re really lucky, you don’t have to imagine it; you can watch it on your local TV station.

Politically depressed

I resisted half a dozen urges to post a political entry today, despite several that left me seething. My straw came in the form of a mailing from “Florida’s Working Families.” It was an attack on the congressional voting record of the Democratic nominee for Governor in Florida, Jim Davis.

As anyone can tell you, misleading attack adds are a dime a dozen during election season. What makes them worse – and WAY, WAY more prevelent – are all of the Political Action Committees who do all of the dirty work for a given candidate, granting him or her “plausible deniability” against the charge of “going negative” in an election. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Republicans are worse than Democrats when it comes to slinging mud (even if they do have more money, which means they can mail out more of it). Nobody’s hands are clean, and my intent with this entry is not to demonize one party or the other. This is just an example that jumped out, because I was very familiar with the issue being misrepresented.

Among other charges (of which I’m less familiar, and have no inclination to research now), it states: “JIM DAVIS voted against limiting the amount of interest credit card companies can charge; squeezing working families and the middle class after taking nearly $400,000 in campaign cash from corporate banking interests.” There was a little, superscript “4” next to this sentence, referring to the fine print: “S. 256: April 14, 2005.”

The reason I was pissed off (besides everything else that happened today), was that I knew what Senate Bill 256 (2005) was… it was more commonly known as the: “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005.” Anyone paying attention to the 109th Congress knew that this was one of the big news makers of the year… and that it was well known that the bill had two PRIMARY, practical effects: it made it harder to file for bankruptcy, and it made fewer debts dischargeable in bankruptcy proceedings. Depending on your political leanings, you may or may not have thought this was a good idea… but think of it in light of the charge against Davis. Considering credit card companies and banks had a HUGE stake in what debts can be discharged (given that much of those debts are owed to them), and Davis voted against the bill that would keep more of that debt in tact… that $400,000 in campaign contributions to Davis wasn’t very well spent, was it? If I recall correctly, the banking and credit card industries (which are mostly one and the same) were lobbying really-really hard FOR this bill. I figure working and middle class families probably had a lot at stake too. I may be wrong, but my guess is they are the LARGEST group of folks who file for bankruptcy… since they are the largest group of the US population. A working family who falls on hard times, through no fault of their own, would probably like to discharge debt in a bankruptcy, duh? I’m really going out on a limb here, but they might even like to be able to file in the first place.

It is true that part of the bill sought to reduce the amount of interest credit card companies charge, in order to help reduce the number of filings in the first place, but I still think it’s disingenuous (at best) to make the claim Davis was against capping credit card interest rates. That’s only one part of the bill. Considering that banks and credit card industries were lobbying for the bill, and banks and credit card companies often have this hang-up over WANTING TO MAKE MONEY… which do you suppose they stood to lose more money over: the reduction in credit card interest rates, or debts that continued to get discharged in bankruptcy proceedings. It doesn’t take a math major to figure that a bank could make up a reduction in interest rates with an increase in VOLUME (of debt still owed). It’s the same principle that allows Wal-Mart to drive out competition in the old retail “downtowns” of years gone by. Given the answer to that question, which outcome do you suppose was more in favor of working and middle class families? What’s good for the collector can’t be good for the debtor too.

The Democratic Party is far from perfect, but the economic issues of the working class (and working poor) are the bread and butter of the Democratic Party (re: universal health care, minimum wage increases, etc). I have no doubt that 100% of the Democratic Congress would vote yes on a bill that did nothing BUT cap interest rates on credit cards, and would have on this bill too if a big target of this bill wasn’t working class families who file for bankruptcy (or used to anyway).

I’m done now. I’m giving up politics for a while (I’m going to try anyway)… it’s just too damn depressing.

**Author’s note: I guess I wasn’t done. It’s an hour later and I’ve posted about 15 or so revisions of this entry since it was first posted at quarter to ten. Now I’m really done – if for no other reason than my fingers are starting to really hurt.

Gallagher v Crist

It’s never too late to go to the well, and Investment Bob went last night in his debate with the tuna (sorry Charlie). Investment Bob says there are three liberals in the Florida race for Governor, and he’s the only conservative. In fact, he took the gloves off and called the tuna a liberal. A LIBERAL!?! You take that back! Chain Gang Charlie struck back with a “nanny-nanny boo-boo” of his own… “Well Bob, at least I’m not a crook.” (He didn’t use those exact words, but that’s a loose translation.) I would have liked to have seen Investment Bob channel Tricky Dick… “Floridians have the right to know that their candidate is not a crook, and I am not a crook.”

Man I wish I had remembered it was on.

A farewell to freedom

July, we hardly knew thee. In less than one week’s time, Beth will join thousands of school age children in the annual event known as “the first day of school.” Like years past, it will be a time of sorrow in The Kauffman Household (version 2.2.1).

As many of you know, the school year starts really freaking early in parts of Florida. If you think we’ve got it bad, our neighboring county is starting school today! In the rush to get as much of the school year wedged in during Hurricane Season as possible, many school districts are starting up during the first week of August. (Full disclosure: I think the school systems are starting earlier to maximize the number of teaching days before the FCAT… but I’m going to REALLY try hard not to get started on the FCAT.)

Well friends, an unexpected bit of good news surfaced in the Florida Legislature this year, by way of House Bill 7087 (signed into law by the Governor earlier this year). Among other things, this bill limits school districts to starting the school year NO EARLIER THAN two weeks before Labor Day. What does this mean to us? Simply put, it means two weeks. Instead of starting August 8th, school would be starting August 21st – if the law took effect this year rather than 2007. (It’s almost three weeks if you have the misfortune to live in Hillsborough County.) It also puts more summer in summer vacation. This year about forty-three percent of summer vacation took place during spring. Inconceivable? Outrageous? Sacrilegious? All of the above? Sure, we’ve all got a soft spot in our hearts for Hurricane Days, but Hurricane Season doesn’t peak until late September anyway. There’s still plenty of opportunity built in there.

There are those of you who will say that it’s all a wash anyway… after all, won’t the school year just end later? Sure it will. But I ask you this: what of tradition? Sometimes there’s a reason why “we always did it that way.” I remember when summer vacation trudged right through the hottest month of summer… those brutally hot, middle days of August when you couldn’t walk in the street without shoes, unless you liked third degree burns. The only thing that made those days bearable was our freedom; that and the neighbor’s pool. Now imagine my daughter in the weeks to come: trudging through the peak of the heat, Florida summer in its prime, further weighed down by the yoke of academic responsibility.

It breaks my heart.

Here’s the “totally whack” conspiracy theory portion of this entry. Yes, I’m going to get started on the FCAT now. Assuming that school districts were starting earlier in the year in order to get in more instruction time prior to the FCAT, the Legislature could have mandated that the testing authority (CTB/McGraw-Hill**) give the test later in the year (to my knowledge, they haven’t). That would kinda force school districts to start up and run later (in the year) too, wouldn’t it? After all, it would be difficult at best to end school the first week of May, then call the students back a week later to take the FCAT (assuming they pushed the test date back). Now imagine that YOU are the Florida Legislature. Imagine that YOU really like the idea of privatizing education, and YOU were still stinging over the legal challenges to your partial privatization scheme – whereby schools deemed to be failing, as measured by FCAT results, got less funding and lost students to private schools. Setting up more schools to “fail” by limiting their time to teach the FCAT would prime the pump for a BIG FAT I TOLD YOU SO for your voters, wouldn’t it? In the immortal words of Bill and Ted: “Dude, that’s totally awesome!”

I’m not quite that cynical. I don’t think our legislature is (quite) that nefarious. It was a fun mental exercise though.

** A private company contracted to administer the FCAT by the State of Florida Department of Education.

Forty-four years, and counting

There’s a fantasy, a dream really, where economic sanctions finally work, the dictator buckles under popular pressure, and the people cast off the shackles of tyranny to find prosperity and freedom. Unfortunately, it is just a dream. Yes, boys and girls, I have some bad news, economic sanctions apparently have not worked in Cuba. Since taking power in 1959, Castro has now outlived Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan; five U.S. presidents that have held our highest political office during his reign. In some circles that would be considered a sign of failure, but not in the legislative branch of the U.S. government! Hell, we’ve waited more than forty years now. Yes sir, we’re just getting started! The old man can’t have more than ten years in the tank left, can he? Lifting sanctions now would mean abandoning forty years of self righteous posturing. If there’s one thing the handbook on American politics absolutely forbids, it’s admitting you were wrong.

Then again, if the argument against war is diplomacy, and the big gun in the diplomacy bag is sanctions, what’s a well meaning, conscientious citizen of the world supposed to do? I’m not suggesting we go to war with Cuba. Heck, at this point Quebec poses a greater risk to homeland security. However, when you can’t bring yourself to support a dictator like Castro, there is a certain moral obligation to do something, isn’t there? Question: does the moral obligation to do something about the dictator trump the moral obligation to act in the short term as well as long term best interests of the people who must live with their dictator?

What’s that? You say that sanctions sometimes do work? True enough, we never did find “WMDs” in Iraq. But lets compare Cuba with China, two remaining communist countries in our sphere of influence. Whip out your mental checklist and check off all the similarities between two. Human rights violations? Red commie bastards? Same number of syllables and both start with the letter “C?” Vital trading partner and important cog in the U.S. economy? Broad spectrum economic sanctions? That’s right kids; they don’t have the last two in common.

Then again, let’s revisit the issue of security. Maybe Cuba isn’t a security threat today because of those sanctions. I once heard that Cuba is closer than China, and that one time they tried to get nuclear weapons. Sure, China supposedly has them, but they’ve got to do more than build a raft to get here.

Damn, this thinking thing is tough. Just forget I brought the whole thing up.