Monday, July 25, 2011

"All we want are the facts, ma'am."

Dragnet's Joe Friday character used the statement, "All we want are the facts, ma'am," fairly often--not to be confused with a variant of it, "just the facts, ma'am," which he never used, but which has, over the years, been imputed to the Jack Webb character.

The need for facts permeates our society to such a degree, that we now have the Car Fox urging used-car buyers to ask for the CARFAX before buying a used car, with the now familiar demand, "Show Me the CARFAX!".

With politicians shading the facts, and shaving them to spin them for the consumption of their base, into cotton candy, or into a Castor-oil concoction, depending on whether they wish to repulse, or to entice, a new site was developed primarily to sift through their various claims, and expose them to the light of truth.

That site is politiFact. Unfortunately, I couldn't find on the site a slogan that equals that of CARFAX, or a phrase that's as catchy as the one used by Joe Friday. To correct this obvious oversight, and to assure that the site remains as trendy as possible, I created one: "PolitiFact: Where Facts and Politics Merge."

Okay, it needs work!

Recently, I spent some time prowling a few blogs (Now, that's an interesting image!). I wanted to see what issues were capturing, and captivating, the minds of black conservative bloggers. During my prowling, I came upon a black conservative blogger with an entry titled:
"The Debt Ceiling Debate - Liars and Losers on display"
I was moved to leave a comment in response to his entry, but learned that the blog employed comment moderation. Rarely do my comments slip pass the watchful eyes of the blog minder. For that reason, I don't take time to respond.

As these bloggers are careful to include only like-minded posts, other bloggers err in the other direction, permitting all kind of disgusting, racist, homophobic, misogynist, anonymous, and not so anonymous, comments in the interest of free speech, not realizing the simple truth--speech may be free, but not a platform.

What was once a great blog for liberal and progressive blacks to meet, talk, and vent, has now become a cesspool of fecal matter. Sensible, reasonable, thoughtful, and intelligent commenters (a few have stayed behind, holding their nose) have deserted the blog, for pastures that are better kept, free of noxious weeds, and more fit for intellectual grazing.

I digress, but not much. The black conservative blogger on "The Debt Ceiling Debate," provided this scathing, blistering, opening statement:

I have been watching the debt ceiling debate with absolute disgust. Seriously, I am on the verge of vomiting from the outright lies, distortions, political games and typical Washington foolishness. Never in my life have I witness such dysfunction!

First we have Obama who has now taken to flat out lying to the American people. Today on CBS News Obama was asked a straight forward question about whether or not Social Security checks would go out next month and here is what the Liar In Chief said:

CBS News: President Obama on Tuesday said he cannot guarantee that retirees will receive their Social Security checks August 3 if Democrats and Republicans in Washington do not reach an agreement on reducing the deficit in the coming weeks.

"I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it," Mr. Obama said in an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, according to excerpts released by CBS News.
Undeterred, our blogger unleashes the full force of his rant, sparing no one he believed was responsible for allowing Democrats to dictate what is factual about the debt ceiling and what is not.

This is a bold face lie, plain and simple. The Social Security Administration claims to have $2.5 trillion surplus. Monthly expenditures for Social Security is about $60 billion. How then on God's green Earth can Obama say with a straight face that he cannot guarantee seniors will receive their on August 3rd?

Obama should be shown the door immediately for lying to the American people like this and CBS News should have their licence revoked for not calling Obama out on such a lie. It is absolutely disgusting!

Aside from a lapdog media, Obama is comfortable lying to the public because he knows he is dealing with a bunch of loser Republicans. The Republican leadership is a bunch of losers because they immediately went down the road of agreeing to raise the debt ceiling from the get go.

Back in January when they took control of the House, Republicans were quick to agree with the left's lie that calamity would befall the world if the debt ceiling was not raise. Now we have Republican leadership willing to abdicate it constitutional authority of the purse strings to the president in order to avoid political heat.

I don't believe that I ever called Bush a liar, although it's documented that he lied about many things. If I did, I'm pretty sure that I phrased it more delicately. I can say, however, with absolute certainty, that I never called Bush "Liar-In-Chief."

In my comment section, it's been discussed many times, how the news media fan the fires of anger, because this emotion, above all others, serves the agenda of government and of corporations that are busy extracting money from our economy at a rate that's both frightening to behold and contemplate.

Earlier, I mentioned PolitiFact. Had our black conservative blogger consulted that site, he might have modified his accusation (but I doubt it), and would have, perhaps, given the president the benefit of the doubt, as to whether the government will meet its legal obligation to seniors, and others who look to a government check once a month to live on.

After Rep. Joe Wilson bellowed his now infamous "You lie!" the ice was broken, and chunks of it has floated in Tea, and have since iced other, not so soft, drinks. We have yet another Joe, Rep. Joe Walsh, stirring the ice in his glass, telling President Obama to Quit Lying." And Sarah Palin scooping up several pieces of the ice, to call Nancy Pelosi, and President Obama liars in one of her Fox News interviews. If you want to see it, you'll have to endure a short commercial for the trouble.

Remember, our blogger accused President Obama of "flat out lying to the American people." So certain was he, he didn't bite his tongue, or moderate his statement,

As it turns out, it's not quite that simple--but then, very things are, especially when they're as complex as our federal government.

Rather than taking the president's word, or the word of Sarah Palin, or of either of the two Joes, PolitiFact subjected President Obama's remarks to very careful scrutiny, and concluded that he didn't lie, but that his remarks are only partially true, receiving a HALF TRUTH on the TRUTH-O-METER. A closer reading suggests that the Obama statement, depending on some very iffy technical stuff, may prove to be wholly true.

So here's what we have, according to PolitiFact:

Social Security is a mandatory program supported by a trust fund, so Social Security benefits don't have to be formally approved by Congress every year. However, Social Security Administration employees are paid through appropriated funds. The real question about a government shutdown was whether those employees would be kept from going to work and if so, whether the checks would sit idle rather than arriving in mailboxes nationwide. The rules that cover government shutdowns provide some leeway for federal workers to carry out core Social Security functions. This flexibility allowed checks to go out during a 1995 shutdown, even as less-urgent agency functions lagged.

However, the two scenarios -- a government shutdown caused by the absence of funding approved by Congress and a debt ceiling impasse that prevents new borrowing -- are different. So the consequences of one do not necessarily match the consequences of the other.

Will the issuance of checks need Social Security Administration employees to make it happen? If so, the issuance of checks might not take place, if a shutdown ensues from the "debt ceiling impasse that [will, in all likelihood] prevent new borrowing."

Here's more:

Delaying certain payments, even while making others, could ripple through the economy and drag down already weak economic growth. "Removing a portion of government spending from the economy would leave behind significant economic effects and would have an effect on" gross domestic product, CRS wrote.

There are also some specific technical challenges for shifting funding into and out of the Social Security Trust Fund, which our friends at the Washington Post Fact-Checker column looked into here.

Most of the experts we interviewed agreed that the federal government, if push came to shove, could probably find a way to prioritize Social Security or other payments, though none expressed absolute certainty. However, most of the experts also acknowledged practical challenges of using such tactics.

While he thinks the GAO's green light for payment prioritization carries significant weight, Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute added that "with so much being borrowed, it is hard simply to pick on a few programs" to continue in the face of a debt ceiling impasse.

Ronald M. Levin, a professor at the Washington University School of Law said, "I interpret the president to be saying, 'Stopping Social Security checks would be hugely costly, but other curtailments would also be hugely costly. ... Something will have to give, and I cannot responsibly guarantee that it won’t be Social Security.' That is not quite what he said, but to my mind it’s close."

Where does this leave us? The critics likely have a point when they say Obama is playing up the risk to the most sympathetic potential victims -- Social Security recipients, 23 percent of whom live in households that depend on the retirement system for 90 percent or more of their income. While it's not a certainty that the Obama administration could prioritize cutting checks to seniors, there's a reasonable shot that the administration could do it.

On the other hand, doing so would likely cause a lot of collateral damage to other American creditors, federal workers, students, Pentagon vendors and countless others -- and could also hamper the broader economy at a particularly sensitive time. The president is probably justified in saying that the possibility of an un-raised debt ceiling jeopardizes Social Security checks -- after all, it hasn't happened before, so no one knows for sure. But we also think the president probably has tools at his disposal to avoid the worst-case scenario for seniors that he expresses concern about. Acknowledging that there are a lot of uncertainties, we rate his statement Half True.
Read more here.

I think it's better for the president to express "uncertainty," rather than certainty, just in case he can't deliver--putting aside the possibility of earning political capital by equivocating. Saying that he can deliver, and learning later that he can't, would have a far greater impact on check recipients.

When you realize that this debt ceiling crisis has been purposely manufactured (all Congress had to do was simply pass what would have amounted to no more than a two-page bill to raise the debt ceiling), the catastrophic fallout could have been prevented.

If by defaulting, our credit rating tanks, this will have a long-term, deleterious effect, not only on the price government will have to pay for borrowed money, but the price that all American will have to pay to buy a house, a car, or new appliances, if they're compelled to buy them on credit.

As I prepare to publish this, House Speaker Boehner is preparing to speak. It appears that a breakthrough in the debt-ceiling talk has been negotiated.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

ALEC! What's In A Name?

In college I befriended a fellow student. We were both pursuing a degree in the same academic subject. This student was one of the most organized persons I had ever seen. His class notes were a thing of beauty, crafted with highlights of various colors, succinctly recording the most important information that was discussed in class that day.

Compared with my notes, his notes were GQ, while mine needed a makeover on the scale of "How do I look?"

Visiting his apartment one day, I found it to be small, but well organized. Even his mail was treated to this excessive, but precise, organization, which he was proud to show off. Amazingly, he sorted his mail in drawers by sender. He could quickly find, among his several senders, an electric bill, or a gas bill, by year and day, with the same ease that one might find a book using a library catalog.

I didn't envy him. I knew my limitations. I knew, further, that I could stumble through life--perhaps encountering far more frustration than my fellow student would encounter, because he could always find what he was looking for and I couldn't--but, despite stumbling, I would still succeed, notwithstanding this unfortunate, but manageable, impediment of being disorganized.

Yet, in life, organization has its place. If you're on a mission to run the country, and to impose your political ideology on the American people, organization can come in handy. In fact, the better organized and focused you are, the greater your potential success.

Let me make an observation, and a painful one at that: Republicans are organized. Republican are better organized to "take back the country," than Democrats are to keep them from doing so.

And how are Republicans actually going about this? In state houses across this nation they've turned to ALEC to give Republican-dominated legislatures the means to move in a common direction, with similar goals, seeking complementary outcomes.

ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is the secret, organizational weapon Republicans are using to effect this takeover of state governments, and possibly our national government.

As the states go, the nation isn't far behind.

How successful ALEC has been in out-maneuvering Democrats is made clear in this open letter from CMD's (Center for Media and Democracy) Executive Director, Lisa Graves:
About ALEC Exposed

An open letter from CMD's Executive Director, Lisa Graves

In April 2011, some of the biggest corporations in the U.S. met behind closed doors in Cincinnati about their wish lists for changing state laws. This exchange was part of a series of corporate meetings nurtured and fueled by the Koch Industries family fortune and other corporate funding.

At an extravagant hotel gilded just before the Great Depression, corporate executives from the tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds, State Farm Insurance, and other corporations were joined by their "task force" co-chairs -- all Republican state legislators -- to approve “model” legislation. They jointly head task forces of what is called the “American Legislative Exchange Council” (ALEC).

There, as the Center for Media and Democracy has learned, these corporate-politician committees secretly voted on bills to rewrite numerous state laws. According to the documents we have posted to ALEC Exposed, corporations vote as equals with elected politicians on these bills. These task forces target legal rules that reach into almost every area of American life: worker and consumer rights, education, the rights of Americans injured or killed by corporations, taxes, health care, immigration, and the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The Center obtained copies of more than 800 model bills approved by companies through ALEC meetings, after one of the thousands of people with access shared them, and a whistleblower provided a copy to the Center. Those bills, which the Center has analyzed and marked-up, are now available at ALEC Exposed.

The bills that ALEC corporate leaders, companies and politicians voted on this spring now head to a luxury hotel in New Orleans' French Quarter for ALEC’s national retreat on August 3rd. In New Orleans, Koch Industries -- through its chief lobbyist -- and lobbyists of other global companies are slated for a “joint board meeting” with a rookery of Republican legislators who are on ALEC's public board. (ALEC says only the legislators have a final say on all model bills. ALEC has previously said that "The policies are debated and voted on by all members. Public and private members vote separately on policy.") Before the bills are publicly introduced in state legislatures by ALEC politicians or alumni in the governor’s offices, they will be cleansed of any reference to the secret corporate voting or who really wrote them.

With CMD’s publication of the bills, the public can now pierce through some of the subterfuge about ALEC, and see beyond the names of the bills to what the bills really do, alongside the names of corporations that lead or have helped lead ALEC's agenda and accompanied by analysis to help decode the bills.

Many of the bills have obvious financial benefits for corporations but little or no direct benefit to the constituents that a particular legislator was elected to represent. Still, it may be tempting to dismiss ALEC as merely institutionalizing business as usual for lobbyists, except that ALEC’s tax-free donations are linked to it not spending a substantial amount of time on lobbying to change the law. ALEC has publicly claimed its “unparalleled” success in terms of the number of model bills introduced and enacted. But seeing the text of the bills helps reveal the actual language of legal changes ALEC corporations desire, beyond what can be known by the PR in their titles. ALEC says it has created a “unique” partnership between corporations and politicians. And it has.

It is a worrisome marriage of corporations and politicians, which seems to normalize a kind of corruption of the legislative process -- of the democratic process--in a nation of free people where the government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people, not the corporations.

The full sweep of the bills and their implications for America’s future, the corporate voting, and the extent of the corporate subsidy of ALEC's legislation laundering all raise substantial questions. These questions should concern all Americans. They go to the heart of the health of our democracy and the direction of our country. When politicians -- no matter their party -- put corporate profits above the real needs of the people who elected them, something has gone very awry.

If this piqued your interest, you can find the rest of the article here.

While Democrats and liberals are napping, dreaming of a world where the beauty of democracy reigns supreme, others are plotting to put forth their well-organized agenda, policies that are an anathema to the souls of liberals and progressives.

We can respond in kind, or sloppily, but in a world where one's opponents never sleep, but are continually striving for the edge politically, using the vastly superior power of organization to achieve their ends, it becomes incumbent upon us to remain vigilant, and sort our goals with impeccable organization, so that we may later find them upon the political landscape in the form of successful legislation that actually benefits people rather than special interest.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Horace and Gabe, Cousins [1]

President Obama is pressing congressional leaders to consider a far-reaching debt-reduction plan that would force Democrats to accept major changes to Social Security and Medicare in exchange for Republican support for fresh tax revenue.

At a meeting with top House and Senate leaders set for Thursday morning, Obama plans to argue that a rare consensus has emerged about the size and scope of the nation’s budget problems and that policymakers should seize the moment to take dramatic action.

As part of his pitch, Obama is proposing significant reductions in Medicare spending and for the first time is offering to tackle the rising cost of Social Security, according to people in both parties with knowledge of the proposal. The move marks a major shift for the White House and could present a direct challenge to Democratic lawmakers who have vowed to protect health and retirement benefits from the assault on government spending.

“Obviously, there will be some Democrats who don’t believe we need to do entitlement reform. But there seems to be some hunger to do something of some significance,” said a Democratic official familiar with the administration’s thinking. “These moments come along at most once a decade. And it would be a real mistake if we let it pass us by.” [2]

One fine afternoon, enticed by the blue sky, and a tepid sun, Mr. Rabbit slipped his favorite hat over his long ears and tentatively stepped out his front door.

As he closed it, the door squeaked a little, but still too loud for comfort, thought Mr. Rabbit. And with a swift movement of his right hand, he inserted a wide, rusty key into a rustier lock; and, although the key turned with difficult, the lock finally clicked, giving him all the assurance he needed that his home, the one he had dug out of the high side of a hill, would be secure during his short absence.

Mr. Rabbit rarely ventured beyond his hillside home during the day, and certainly not by his front door, but usually under the cloak of darkness, and then from a concealed opening he'd built for such stealthy egress, relying only on the light of a moody moon, and surly stars to guide him.

He and the Mrs. had lived there happily until a hunter's aim, finding its mark, had left him a widower. Now grown, their several kids lived in burrows of their own.

Hopping to the end of the sidewalk, he paused momentarily to test the direction of the wind, using a wetted, upturned foot.

Taking the wind's advice, Mr. Rabbit set out to his right on the heavily trodden path that led through the forest to the river.

As he approached the river's muddy edge, Mr. Rabbit spied two strange creatures; both were reclining in lounge chairs, and using long straws to drink a frothy reddish liquid from tall glasses, clearly hoping that the sun would, after a languid morning, turn up the heat on their naked, scaly bodies.

Yielding to his instincts, and his better judgment, Mr. Rabbit lowered his head and began to retrace his steps, already regretting his decision to leave the comfort and security of his home during daylight hours.

"Mr. Rabbit!" yelled one of the scaly creatures through a pointed, v-shaped snout, beckoning him forward with a massive leg. "There's nothing to fear."

"That's right, Mr. Rabbit," said the other scaly creature, flashing a toothy grin from a rounded, u-shaped snout.

Doubly assured, Mr. Rabbit hopped closer to the two, confident that he could scurry away faster than the two could rise from their lounge chairs to give him chase.

"What kind of creatures are you?" asked Mr. Rabbit, furrowing his brow more emphatically than caution would have suggested.

"I'm a crocodile and my cousin's an alligator," said the creature to his left.

"No, I'm a crocodile, and my scaly cousin is an alligator," protested the creature to his right, contradicting the claim of the first. "Just in case you might ask, my name's Horace. I'm on vacation, and a goodly distance from home, spending a little time with my cousin, Gabe.

Mr. Rabbit scratched his white, furry head, and with a serious, searching frown, eyed the two, Horace, and his cousin, Gabe. "The two of you must be related," he said, finally. "It's hard to tell you apart."

"That's because you're standing so far away," said, Horace. "Come closer!"

Mr. Rabbit, still believing that he could outrun any danger the two cousins could pose, hopped within a couple of feet of the two.

"Now take a closer look," urged Horace, as he sucked on the straw, loud, exaggeratedly, filling his mouth with an extended swig of the reddish drink, while shifting his considerable weight in the lounge chair. It was then that Ol' Jim, Mr. Rabbit's neighbor, flew overhead, navigating an invisible highway that only crows could see, and use, as he sounded an alarm so loud that it startled Mr. Rabbit.

"Kaw, kaw, kaw," came the warning, one that Mr. Rabbit could still hear long after Ol' Jim disappeared into the blue distance.

"Hmm," said Mr. Rabbit stroking his chin with his left foot. "Up close I can see that you are different." He looked first to his right at Horace, and then to his left at Gabe, searching intently for any small detail that might have escaped him.

"Well?" asked Horace, baring his sharp teeth, which passed as a disarming grin to the increasingly unwary eye of Mr. Rabbit, who was gradually lowering his guard.

"You, Sir," addressing Horace to his right, have a narrow snout and a protruding tooth on either side of your mouth."

At that, Horace grinned again, as he struggled mightily to suppress the twitching in his tail.

"And you, Sir," said Mr. Rabbit, now addressing Gabe to his left, eager to impress with another burst of insight, "your snout isn't as narrow as your cousin's, more rounded, I'd say, and all your teeth fit inside your mouth the way teeth should."

Mr. Rabbit could hardly contain himself. So pleased was he, that he attempted another step forward to confirm his clever, oh so clever, observations.

It was at that moment that Mr. Rabbit realized the unthinkable: His feet were stuck, shackled in mud. Unknown to him, they had sunk way too deep into the gluey mud for him to make a hasty retreat, if such a retreat became necessary; and it was also at that precise moment that Horace, correctly reading Mr. Rabbit's sticky predicament, swung his powerful tail across Mr. Rabbit's small, furry body, pinning him deeper into the mushy mud.

"Aha! We have you now!" exclaimed Horace, pressing his tail a bit harder on Mr. Rabbit's stuck body to stress his advantage, and to punctuate Mr. Rabbit's tight situation.

"Please, Sir!" pleaded Mr. Rabbit. "Let me go!"

Horace looked at his cousin, Gabe, and they both broke out with a wide grin that showed off their gleaming, sharp teeth.

"He wants us to let him go," said Horace, his voice feigning pity, mocking the entreating tone of Mr. Rabbit.

Sitting up in the lounge chair to bring his eyes on a level with Mr. Rabbit's, Horace continued the mockery, "What do you think, cousin? Should we let Mr. Rabbit go?"

"On one condition." said Gabe, with the air of one who's suddenly become aware of his importance. "We'll let him go, if he can tell which one of us is the croc, and which one the gator."

"Not fair!" cried Mr. Rabbit. "Before today, I've never seen a croc or a gator."

"Don't matter," said Horace, "that's the condition."

Gabe clapped his strong feet together gleefully, fully appreciating Mr. Rabbit's predicament and the growing promise of rabbit stew for dinner.

"All right, I'll do it," said Mr. Rabbit, poignantly aware that his opportunity for freedom had been chained to one hopeful venture, "but I'll need a minute or two."

"Take all the time you need, Mr. Rabbit," said Horace, with a grin, "you'll be sticking around for a while."

The moral: Whether you can tell the difference between crocs and gators won't matter much, 'cause, in the end, they'll both grow fatter, serving you up with brocs and taters, and such.

[1]Original story by Black Diaspora. Copyrighted July 2011.