Obama’s European Tour

So Barack Obama went to Europe.  He had a huge crowd in Germany, reported at over 200,000 and he was warmly welcomed by Nicolas Sarkozy the pro American French President.

So the right wing pundits, in creating their echo chamber for the Sunday morning shows have a couple of talking points that they are hammering home, personally I think these things get refined and uploaded to their brain on Sunday at 4 AM.

Anyway, regarding Berlin they started by complaining that he isn’t president and hasn’t earned the right to speak at Brandenberg Gate with his work.  Which are supported by Chancellor Merkel’s comments about it as symbol of unity and foreign electioneering.  But now the focus is who cares about 200,000 Germans as they can’t vote.  They do forget that he has been able to draw huge crowds in the US, much larger than McCain, but that would take some wind out of their complaint/misdirection.

What I find more interesting is Sarkozy’s comments that seem to favor Obama over McCain.  As I asked yesterday in my question of day, I have a feeling that the right wing punditry in America is going to flip-flop and withdraw their support of Sarkozy because of his embrace of candidate Obama.


John McCain disses American families

On This Week this morning, he came out for (because he can’t come out against gay adoption) two parent (traditional=man and woman vs same sex) adoption.

So to the well over 100,000 children who have been adopted by single parents, apparently your parent and your family doesn’t fit his world view of what is best, I think it is an insult.

Of course that doesn’t count the over 20,000 children a year that “age out” of the foster care system.  These are children that exit foster care without parents, they may not have a place to go for Thanksgiving or Christmas, may not have an adult to call and share their successes or have a sympathetic ear when they struggle, or someone to be there when on their wedding day or birth of their child.

Apparently he is no maverick on this issue.


Question of the Day – July 26, 2008

Now that Nicolas Sarkozy has warmly welcomed Barack Obama, will the right wing pundits turn on him?

Apparently there really is a social security bogeyman…

…and his name is Peter Peterson!  According to an article by Dean Baker on Truthout.

Billionaire investment banker Peter Peterson is back on the warpath. He just established a new foundation with a $1 billion endowment, the main purpose of which is to cut back spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

As Dean points out, it would be more effective for Mr. Peterson to advocate for fixing our inefficient health care system if he was truly worried about the long term budget.

This reality would suggest the importance of reforming the health care system. Health care reform would mean confronting the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, as well as the doctors’ lobbies. These groups have serious power. That’s why Mr. Peterson prefers to stick with granny bashing.

Now if we can just get Laurel and Hardy, and whole bunch of wind up soldiers to head over to this new foundation, we may have weathered this expanded threat to Social Security.


Things that make me happy

Today at worked I talked to two different prospective adoptive parents.  One of them was considering adopting a sibling group of 6.  The other was looking at two different sibling groups of 5 (only going to adopt one of them).

Things like this make me happy!


Some thoughts on the process of democracy

On Facebook, a friend from high school, invited a number of his friends and me to join him in supporting Ralph Nader for president. This friend is disillusioned by Obama’s recent FISA vote, and maybe other things that I am not aware of.

Another friend from high school responded about the need to not cast a protest vote this election, and likes Obama, so disagreed with him.

This is my response to both of them:

Thank you for giving me hope for democracy.

This is what democracy is about, making your case, persuading your fellow citizens to your point of view and having a discussion about it.

Now I agree with both of you. Looking at the Supreme Court and the likely center-left judges that are going to retire, probably holding on to their seats until George W Bush’s term is over, in the next administration and the need to have the appointments come from someone that hasn’t lurched right to gain the nomination. So on that point, I will not vote for Ralph Nader. My preference was John Edwards, but I will vote for Obama, and would have voted for Clinton.

That being said, I do agree with what Naomi Klein said at the National Conference for Media Reform, that we need to hold Obama accountable and keep the pressure on for progressive and populist policy. That he will have corporate pressures trying to swing him to the supposed center, that is really right of a majority of Americans on a large number of topics, including universal health care, is a reality, the question is will we be pulling the other end of the rope in that tug-of-war for his position?

Yet, the need to break open our democracy, to give it a booster shot that will come with a larger (more than two) diversity of parties, is dire. The question, is voting for Ralph Nader the way to achieve this, personally I don’t think this is it. While, I don’t discredit the desire to vote for 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th parties, should you vote for him because you are tired of the existing system, as a protest vote? Well, that is your choice, and that is what is most important. But let me tell you about what I think is the best way to break open the system to more parties.

Instant Runoff Voting – this is the best way to give other parties a chance. That way you can vote for your first candidate, but not necessarily throw the election to a candidate that can’t garner over 50% of the vote. Remember, the DFL lost to Governor Tim Pawlenty twice because of other parties and he never garnered more than 50% (I thought his rap name should be “less than 50 cent”). This method is gaining popularity in many municipalities, including Minneapolis, and could lead the way for wider adoption at county or state level, if citizens like it.

Open Debates – in the post Ross Perot era, the presidential elections have been in the stranglehold of the Commission on Presidential Debates (est. 1987) which is a bipartisan organization that controls the process to the betterment of the main two parties. If you have ever seen the footage of Ralph Nader being threatened with arrest for attempting to enter a 2000 debate with a ticket, it will make you realize that democracy, the process is on life support in America.

Locally, I have to give great kudos to KSTP that had hour-long debates for the US Rep contests in 2006 that were open to all candidates (might have had some threshold, but low if they did). I am not sure if it was all MN, or just the 5 metro area elections. Regardless it was a great public service, which is sadly lacking in broadcast media these days.

At the national level, the 2004-other party candidates, Libertarian, Green, Independent and Constitution did get time on NOW. I will never vote Libertarian or Constitution party, but I think it is vital for our truly functioning and healthy democracy that they get the same opportunity to share their ideas with America.

Those are my two cents on democracy the process.


Will there ever be accountability in the Department of Defense?

Accountability is something that gets thrown around by conservatives on a regular basis to serve their ideology.  No Child Left Behind, well I personally think this law is a high stakes testing program which serves the ideology of trying to hold unionized teachers “accountable” because they are the problem with education.

But when it comes to the military, our Department of Defense (DOD) the word accountability comes as easily as the Fonz saying he was wrong.  You just never hear it.

For example, during the November 6, 2003 Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) highlight this in his opening comments (PDF).

An investigation recently completed by the General Accounting Office found that almost three-quarters of DOD’s first and business class airline travel was improper. This accounts for tens of millions of taxpayer dollars inappropriately spent by DOD. In fiscal years 2001 and 2002, DOD spent almost $124 million on over 68,000 premium airline tickets. Among DOD’s 28 most frequent first and business class flyers, GAO found problems with almost all of the justifications for premium class travel. This lack of accountability cannot be tolerated. Under government travel regulations, government employees are also allowed to upgrade their accommodations by using their frequent flyer miles or paying the difference themselves.

Let me outline some of the most egregious and outrageous abuses of the system. A DOD employee flew first class on a roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, for $3,253, compliments of the Federal Government. A coach fare for the same trip would have cost $238, a difference of $3,015.

Another employee flew business class on a round-trip ticket from Washington, DC, to Taiwan for $4,319 when a coach fare ticket for the same trip would have cost $1,450, a difference of $2,869.

A family of four relocated from London and Honolulu and flew first and business class nonstop at a cost to the taxpayers of $20,943. Had they simply made the effort to reduce costs and follow travel procedures, they would have saved the taxpayers $18,443.

Other cases involved a traveler who took 14 trips at a cost of $88,000 to taxpayers [average of $6285.71 per trip] because he inappropriately claimed that he needed to be upgraded to first class and business class because of a medical condition.

In each of these and dozens of other cases, it appears that travel orders were either not authorized or not justified and premium class tickets should not have been issued.

It is amazing that the GAO could even document this waste, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported in May 2003 that the DOD Inspector General couldn’t account for $1 trillion, yes that is a “t” not a “b”.

Though Defense has long been notorious for waste, recent government reports suggest the Pentagon’s money management woes have reached astronomical proportions. A study by the Defense Department’s inspector general found that the Pentagon couldn’t properly account for more than a trillion dollars in monies spent. A GAO report found Defense inventory systems so lax that the U.S. Army lost track of 56 airplanes, 32 tanks, and 36 Javelin missile command launch-units.

And I thought it was pretty funny last week when my co-worker said she lost her sewing machine, not exactly a small object, but quite a bit smaller than a tank or airplane.  Guess it wasn’t that funny in comparison.

Maybe we need to start with penalties, a sort of accountability, to make the DOD get it’s financial house in order.  As these quotes from an article in the Defense Industry Daily point out, there really is now way but up to go for DOD and accounting.

Rep. Todd Platts [R-PA] was quoted as saying that

“The [US Department of Defense] for more than five decades has just kind of layered system on top of system on top of system, and not been serious until recent years that this is not an efficient way to protect against waste, fraud and abuse or in assuring the most effective and efficient systems are in place for those serving in harm’s way.”

That is a Republican saying that.

As Winslow T. Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information, puts it:

“It’s not that DOD flunks audits, it’s that DOD’s books cannot be audited. DOD aspires for the position where it flunks an audit.”

Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations, oh wait that is just for schools.  I mean an improvement would be having a sufficient financial system that could be audited, and failure would still be fine because they would have something that could be audited.

I guess looking at the inability to account for money or equipment should have prepared us for the waste and undocumented expenditures in Iraq as reported in the Christian Science Monitor in March 2007.

Overall, the Defense Contract Audit Agency has found $4.9 billion in overpricing and waste in Iraq contracts since 2003. US auditors have identified another $5.1 billion in expenses charged without documentation.

It is time to hold the military spending accountable.  Actions or inactions should have consequences, and the military should not be exempt from them.  Any penalty should shift the appropriated funds to social services funds that have been cut.


One use for digital subchannels

I am a news junky with out the fix that cable provides.  So I watch the Sunday morning shows.  I was a bit worried that I would miss At Issue on KSTP this morning because of golf, the coverage of the British Open (yeah for live coverage!).  Golf just doesn’t excite me, and I would rather see this talk show so I can see how things are being framed in politics.

Well I lucked out today, because KSTP ran At Issue at its usual time on channel 5-2.  I think all stations that pick up sports coverage should use their sub-channels to keep their regularly schedule programming available to the viewers.  I remember being super frustrated trying to figure out the rescheduled broadcast of Babylon 5 that was bumped by the winter High School Tournaments that were broadcast on Chanel 9.


Would Obama increase taxes on those who make less than $250,000?

That is a claim he made in June and just thinking about the payroll tax had me wondering how he could manage that. In 2008, the payroll tax cap on Social Security is set at $102,000, so that any amount of earned income above that is not subject to the Social Security payroll tax.

So his statement that those whose income is under $250,000 won’t have an increase their payroll taxes can only be wrong. Maybe he is trying to say that he has other tax cuts that will offset the increases to the payroll tax, but I haven’t seen or heard that nuance.

Here is what Factcheck.org reports on his overall plan and those that will see increases:

Obama (June 12, 2008):”If you are a family making less than $250,000 a year, my plan will not raise your taxes. Period. Not income tax, not payroll tax, not capital gains tax, not any of your taxes. And chances are you will get a tax cut.”

The most comprehensive nonpartisan analysis of Obama’s tax proposal available is the Tax Policy Center’s comparison of McCain’s and Obama’s economic plans. That analysis mostly supports Obama’s claim that his plan won’t raise taxes, though it says that families earning between $169,480 and $237,040 would see an average tax increase of $486 under Obama’s plan. All those earning less than $169,480 would see tax cuts. In fact, that hypothetical taxpayer with the $32,000 in taxable income would get a $502 tax cut under Obama’s plan. McCain’s plan, by contrast, would leave that person’s taxes unchanged.

So the statement doesn’t hold up. But the analysis shows those earning less that about $170,000 will see cuts, yeah me. And the comparison of the person making $32,000 in taxable income, would only get a cut under Obama, none under McCain. That is a bit of difference in the candidates tax plans. You may want to recall what McCain said from the Senate floor regarding the 2001 tax cuts:

But I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief.

Apparently he has lost his direction as his plan changes NOTHING for that taxpayer with a taxable income of $32,000 while Obama’s has a tax cut for that same taxpayer.


Question of the Day – July 16, 2008

With airlines asking customers to have Congress look into speculation in the oil markets, and the American Medical Association asking us to call Congress to restore Medicare and Medicaid payment rates, when are these industries going to pay us for this lobbying?

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