Tag Archives: Republicans

The Washington Circus

With only one short day left before the US would have crashed into its first-ever default, Congress and the White House have finally settled on a deal on the debt ceiling.

But while the “clear and present” danger of imminent default is out of the way (for now at least), the federal government’s antics surrounding the normally simple process of raising the debt ceiling have scarred the political system this country stands on.

Anyone who’s followed the deliberations in the US Capitol over the debt ceiling has probably not been overly impressed with their elected officials in the past few weeks. As members of Congress, the president, the Tea Party, and leaders from both sides have gone at one another tooth and nail over the debt ceiling issue facing America.

And finally, a deal has emerged between John Boehner and Harry Reid, the de facto leaders of the GOP and Democrats in Congress (respectively), a deal that the president is willing to sign. But this deal is still far from law. An ongoing debate in Washington still threatens to derail it, as members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have objections. The deal has unsavory aspects to both conservatives and progressives: it cuts less spending than the former would like, and has almost none of the tax increases the latter was angling for. This means there’s still a decent chance this deal won’t go through.

But either way, this debate has already done serious damage to the federal government of the United States, and to the people of the country. Besides costing US taxpayers some $1.7 billion, this legislative monkey business has done real damage to the reputation of America’s lawmakers. Weeks of bickering and failed talks fulfill the stereotype that Congress is a lumbering legislative lump of inefficacy (alliteration always strengthens an argument, right?). Recent polls have shown that as many as 80% of Americans are dissatisfied with the actions of their representatives in DC.

So who’s to blame? Who is the ringleader in this circus?

Us.

One (and “one” includes myself) could certainly make a case that the Tea Party movement in the GOP ranks is largely responsible for the crap Congress has been trudging through. If it weren’t for their posturing and political machinations, the raising of the debt ceiling would have been perfectly normal. Like it always has been (the debt ceiling was raised 7 times during George W. Bush’s presidency). Tea Party members of the fractured Republican “coalition” in the House have made ridiculous pledges that pay no attention the real state of the country or its economy. In fact, some Tea Partiers have made it clear they would be willing to run the country into default, just to prove that “it wouldn’t be so bad.”

But as much as I would like to blame the Tea Party for everything happening in Washington, the truth of the matter is ultimately that the ringleaders of this circus were put into place… by us. Back in November of last year, the US people showed their impatience with Democratic leaders by electing a flood of GOP Congressmen and -women. These men and women, many affiliated with the Tea Party, promised to cut spending and “big government” if elected, which is exactly what they’re trying to do (albeit in a highly illogical fashion). Who voted them into office? The American people. And while most of us certainly would’ve liked to see a more mature electorate running our country’s finances, those who put the monkeys in this circus (So to speak. Maybe.) in the first place have to share some of the blame.

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Wisconsin Shenanigans

One of the more popular protest signs in an area rife with division and legal controversy.

The political situation in Wisconsin just keeps getting more and more sticky. As you’ve probably heard by now, Republicans in the WI state Senate forced through their union-busting law through a tricky technicality – which seems like a pretty underhanded way of legislating to me.

What was this trickery? Well, the senators, using a ploy that some Democrats in the state have denounced as illegal, removed parts of Governor Walker’s bill that were related to appropriating funds (technically at least), which allowed them to pass the bill without the minimum quorum of 20 senators required for bills of that nature.

The Democratic senators who retreated to Illinois to hold the bill back, known by some as the “Wisconsin 14,” were outraged by the shifty legality of the Republican senators’ maneuver. And who can blame them? Even after all of their determination and the furious protests of state workers in the capital, the Republican senators have said, essentially, “Enough is enough.” The consequences of this decision are more or less exactly what Gov. Scott Walker wanted to happen: Unions have lost their collective bargaining abilities and have suffered an effective cut in pay.

To me, this seems like pure shenaniganery (which is now a word) on the Republicans’ part. Now, it’s true that these officials were elected by the people back in November for a reason, and that reason was a new desire for fiscal conservatism. So it makes sense that the newly elected Republicans would want to honor that desire by effectively cutting the pay of public workers. But what point could there be to taking away collective bargaining rights, except to slice into a stronghold of Democratic sentiment? The idea that “budget” came into the decision is frankly ridiculous.

On the positive side, this tactic has called the newly elected Republicans’ wisdom and discretion into consideration, and as many as 12 Senators may face recall this spring. The political fallout from this decision will no doubt be significant, and protests are still ongoing in Madison. So soon after the national turnover in elected officials from blue to red, it’s possible that new Republicans will be ousted from office before they can even get the rest of their plans into action.

With similar bills under consideration in Indiana and Ohio, and a national rethinking of the role and privileges of unions, it’s hard to say what might happen in other parts of the country. On the one hand, it’s possible that similar bills will be pushed through in other parts of the country, as Republican lawmakers are spurred forward to mimic their Wisconsinite brethren. On the other hand though, I think it’s quite possible that this can be a strong rallying cry for Democrats and public workers’ unions all across the country. Now, it’s possible for them to say, “Look what the Republicans here had to resort to to remove our rights! Don’t let them do the same thing to you.”

And even if no Republicans legislators are recalled after this, chances are this action hasn’t helped their street cred much, and we could see another total turnover in Wisconsin back to the democrats in the next election cycle. And if similar bills are passed elsewhere, by similar tactics, it’s quite possible that Republicans will lose a considerable amount of political momentum, perhaps even on a national level. Many people, even some who voted them into office, feel that GOP legislators and governors have taken the wrong approach to cutting the deficit, and are hacking away at things like collective bargaining rights, which is unlikely to save the country any money, instead of tackling real problems like social security or bloated military spending.

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She Must Be Stopped

Who's the greater threat to America, Muslims or religious bigotry like this?

“In the Muslim world, extreme is mainstream… there is a cancer infecting the world. The cancer is called Islamofacism. This ideology is coming out of one source: The Koran.” With these words, Brigitte Gabriel (also known as Nour Saman) opens her book “Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America.”

If these few sentences weren’t enough to alarm you, consider me alarmed!

Brigitte Gabriel (a pseudonym she uses, as she claims to have received death threats) is a conservative author and activist who’s made repeated appearances at conservative events across the country, including a Tea Party convention last fall. Gabriel is originally from Lebanon, and frequently recounts stories of the horrors of growing up in war-torn Lebanon in the 70s. But rather than give a fair account of what happened during that time, Gabriel portrays the conflict as one of righteous, completely nonviolent Christians being massacred by warmongering Muslims. While it’s true that Christians were the group that suffered the greatest losses during this time, the Christians in fact formed their own militia and struck back against Muslim groups, which could hardly be called turning the other cheek.

This victimized mindset shows through very clearly in her talks and thoughts, in which she portrays all Muslims as extremist terrorists bent on the destruction of America and Christianity. Gabriel sees Islam as a religion bent on total world domination and subjugation, which is an idea as surprising to most Muslims as it is to her listeners and readers. She has a particularly strong following among evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and factions of the Republican party, especially those on the far right side.

To get the rest of the story, you should really read this New York Times article, which does a much better job than me of describing her antics.

Okay, welcome back! I hope you enjoyed and were as stressed out by it as I was. The most offensive part of Gabriel’s aggressively anti-Islam stance is how hypocritical it is for a fundamentalist Christian to be saying such things. When Gabriel makes the claim that Islam seeks to control the whole world, she obviously isn’t looking very closely at her own religion, one which is notorious for its colonizing influence and insistence on total religious conformity. Christianity, especially that of the evangelical sort, is a religion focused on conversion and, ideally, the entire world would be converted to this religion eventually. At least, I’m guessing that’s what Brigitte Gabriel would say.

So it seems to me that saying Islam is particularly “conquest-happy” is a horrible misrepresentation of this unique religion, and I’m sure most Muslims would agree. Radicals exist in all religions, not just Islam, and Gabriel’s singling-out of Muslims as particularly “anti-American” or as universally extreme is infuriating. There’s already enough anti-Muslim sentiment in the Christian community, and the last thing the world needs is more tension between these two major religions.

And it doesn’t end there. Brigitte Gabriel isn’t just offensive with this kind of rhetoric, she’s dangerous. Besides inciting dangerous hatred toward Muslims, which is of course bad enough in its own right, Gabriel is likely to stir up exactly the kind of extremism that she’s warning against. While the vast majority of Muslims are the polar opposites of terrorists, there are violent cells within the religion, and this kind of hateful, aggressive speech will only stir up more hatred and aggression in turn.

So I would say that it’s time for Americans to start standing up for religious freedom for all, and a freedom from discrimination is a large part of that. Just as most would consider it wrong to assume that someone is guilty of a crime based solely on their race, it is wrong to assume that a person is harboring terroristic motives and intentions based solely on their religion. What Brigitte Gabriel and others who would stereotype and demonize Muslims must realize is that this country’s laws were not made to protect their religious freedom, but the religious freedom of all people.

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Cutting More Than a Budget

John Boehner, the new Speaker of the House, has been spearheading the cost-cutting in Washington.

As most Americans are well aware of, Republicans took control of the House of Representatives last November, and a large number of GOP candidates won other positions as well, causing a weakening of the Democrat majority in the Senate and ousting a number of Democratic governors across the country.

This turnover has changed the political landscape of Washington quite a bit over the past few weeks and months, but one of the key changes the new Republicans want to push through is a deep cut into Obama’s federal budget. After admitting that it had a number of possibly fatal shortcomings, the president laid the budget on the surgeon’s table for a figurative liposuction, and the new Republican representatives have been taking their job seriously.

Debates have been raging across the country about the budget, and many prominent Republicans, particularly a core of new (and sometimes Tea Party-affiliated) representatives have taken it upon themselves as a sacred duty to slice large sums out of of the federal budget. In fact, the House recently voted for $60 billion in cuts, which would slice spending out of almost all parts of government, affecting domestic programs, foreign aid, and even (surprisingly) military programs.

A recent and fascinating economics article in the New York Times showed how cutting the budget doesn’t even necessarily help the economy, but instead has potential to harm it. Boehner’s assertion that Obama’s addition of more federal jobs has cost the economy is not only falsely overblown (from 58,000 to 200,000 jobs added), but is fairly meaningless when one considers that state and local governments have severed 405,000 jobs recently. If you want a full picture of how austerity isn’t necessarily better than stimulus, read the article! I can’t put it as eloquently as David Leonhardt can.

My real disagreements with these deep cuts into the budget are more humanitarian in nature though. Many of the cuts being made into the budget are taking away funding for important programs such as Planned Parenthood, which is at risk of losing all funding, and a number of humanitarian community action agencies are losing funding too. To me, it seems obvious that the newly elected Republicans aren’t just trying to cut spending (in Washington and elsewhere), they’re actively seeking to advance their own political ideals under the guise of budget cutting. I see similar things happening in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, where newly elected Republican lawmakers are cutting into union rights while waving the banner of saving the states from a budget crisis.

While it may save the government some money to cut funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood, one can hardly say that the funding to this group and money given to community agencies across the country are colossal sums. So many lawmakers have become either misguided or over-political (big surprise there) in their choices of cuts. Instead of focusing more on areas where spending has become truly excessive and bloated (cough, defense, cough), most Republicans have chosen to hack away at social programs and programs intended to support those in greatest need. To add insult to injury, those in the top brackets of wealth in America are still getting breaks on their taxes.

Why is this happening? Here’s my theory: Besides cutting the budget down to size, a goal Republicans set ages ago, GOP lawmakers have jumped on an opportunity to advance their own partisan goals. By hacking away the funding for groups like Planned Parenthood or the community programs I mentioned (not to mention other programs in need), Republicans have leveled their cannons against programs that they, and more importantly, their constituents and monetary contributors, object to. This is more than an attempt to save money, it’s an effort to use this crisis as a way to advance the GOP cause and to secure the monetary and voter support that politicians so desperately crave, regardless of the toll it exacts on the human beings behind the numbers.

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Unrest in… Wisconsin?

A protestor's sign in Madison, comparing Governor Walker to ex-president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak.

Typically, when someone says the word “Wisconsin,” I don’t think of protests, civil unrest, and accusations of a governor’s similarity to Hosni Mubarak. But over the last few days, the state’s public workers have reacted strongly to Republican governor Scott Walker’s recent plans to require them to pay more for health insurance and pensions, effectively slicing away a substantial amount of worker income. More surprising are the governor’s hopes to severely castrate (unpleasant yet appropriate imagery) the bargaining rights of these union workers.

The governor has made the claim that such cutbacks are necessary in these tough economic times, and he and supporters have said that so-called excessive benefits and pay for public employees have contributed to the dire economic straits that many parts of the US find themselves in.

Now, it’s understandable that Walker would want to cut back on certain benefits and bonuses for state workers, and in fact, prominent union leaders have agreed to this cut in pay (which works out to around a 7% drop in income). But my real concern with Walker’s action isn’t about the financial side of things so much as the union rights aspect. While I can sympathize with a desire for cutbacks in spending in the public sector, I really fail to see what economic benefits the Republican bloc of Wisconsin hopes to find in the restriction of collective bargaining among unions.

Generally, I don’t have a fantastically high view of unions, to be perfectly honest. While I’m typically a very liberal thinker (and voter), I often find myself taking a more Republican view toward unions. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to have increased protection and fairness toward workers, particularly those in the lower or middle working classes, to prevent abuse from higher-ups. In this sense, I love unions. In another sense though, unions have the potential to elevate certain professions higher than they should be, and guarantee protections and privileges to only a few.

In this sense, I agree with supporters of the governor’s action (or at least their sentiment). In a recent New York Times article, a number of Wisconsinites have expressed their frustrations over the seeming extra protections that such unions provide to state workers. Many workers for private companies, especially in the industrial sector, feel that people such as public school teachers, policemen, nurses, or firefighters shouldn’t get such excessive benefits and bargaining rights when those working in the private sector don’t have those same bonuses.

And so it goes. I definitely wouldn’t say that these protests will have similar results to those in Cairo, as some seem to be hoping for. But they do raise an interesting and important question of the modern roles and rights of unions, and whether public workers do have this inherent right to collective bargaining. Either way, I think it’s fair to say that this right isn’t what needs to be taken into consideration right now. Walker and other Republicans are trying to turn a budget cut into an outright attack on union rights and union workers, using the excuse of a federal budget as a justification to hack into union power. I fail to see how collective bargaining is going to have a negative impact on Scott Walker’s budget, and it’s time he abandoned the argument that taking this right away will help his state’s economy.

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