Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Obama criticizes Republican "phony scandals," "short-term thinking"

When questions arise about why four American foreign service personnel died at the hands of Libyan terrorists, or why a Border Patrol agent was murdered by Mexican drug cartel thugs possessing US-provided guns, or why the Internal Revenue Service improperly delayed action on some religious and conservative applicants for non-profit status, or any of the numerous other irregularities under this administration, Democrats and the agenda-driven media say, "That's old news. Move on," as if relevance depends upon the calendar, not the substance of the events.

And that is a pretty convenient modus operandi: They avoid coming clean with the American people on legitimate questions of competence for months on end, virtually never hold guilty parties accountable, and then complain that those asking the questions are living in the past and the answers they seek no longer matter. And they do so knowing that millions of people won't care.

All the while President Barack Obama blames every problem in the country on someone or something else, and calls the government's disgraceful handling of the aforementioned boondoggles a bunch of "phony scandals" manufactured by Republicans. It's a great game of Beat the Clock.

But honest Americans realize that their government failed miserably to do its job as dictated by the US Constitution and want to know who screwed up and what penalty they will pay for their gross incompetence and/or illegal behavior. So far, only lip service has been paid to accountability, and some of the most likely culprits have escaped reaping their just reward, while others have been promoted to higher positions.

Several months after Mr. Obama took office the Department of Justice's (DOJ) gun running operation known as Fast and Furious began. Intended to track gun sales to Mexican drug cartels, it backfired and Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered in 2010 by people possessing two of those guns provided by the DOJ. The Obama administration's response was something like: "Ooops! Gawrsh, we didn't expect any o' them guns to be used against us. Sorry 'bout that. Nothing to see here; keep moving."

On September 11, 2012, after multiple requests to beef up security at the American diplomatic sites in Libya had been denied or ignored, terrorists attacked the facilities in Benghazi, resulting in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

Politics demanded that 2 months before a presidential election no screw-ups be under investigation or terrorist activity be fresh in voters' memories, since President Obama had declared the War on Terror over, so the administration concocted a lame excuse that a video that hardly anyone in the entire world had seen, let alone in Libya, caused a spontaneous demonstration at the US consulate. That idiotic story was repeated for weeks by administration spokespersons, including President Obama himself.

Barack Obama, the “news” media, and millions of liberals showed little interest in the inconveniently-timed deaths of these brave Americans.

Unanswered questions persist, but instead of keeping these important events in front of the American people, the media most recently have focused on the shooting of a black high school student by a "white Hispanic" in Florida and the birth of a future monarch in Great Britain. Perhaps if the five murdered government employees looked like Trayvon, Mr. Obama and the media would give a hoot.

Not everyone is as cavalier about these tragic government failures as the administration, Congressional Democrats and the agenda-driven media. A group called Special Operations Veterans, the mission of which is to uncover the truths about the Benghazi terror attack, took its demands to Capitol Hill last week in the form of a 60-foot-long petition, which was unfurled near the steps of the Capitol. It demanded that the government “End the cover-up” of the attack. The petition was signed by more than 1,000 people and called for a special congressional committee to investigate the incident.

Each of us either believes that the deaths of the five government workers are important, or we don't. Apparently, most people don't, or are too-easily satisfied with the partial information provided that doesn’t explain what went wrong.

The Internal Revenue Service targeted scores of conservative religious and political organizations seeking non-profit status with improper questions, and denied action on their applications for up to two years, then tried to blame it on a couple of rogue agents in Cincinnati, Oh. It turns out there were 12 different IRS offices involved. Now the administration tells us that the targeting was actually non-partisan. That's a low threshold; even one liberal organization makes that technically true. But the reality is that 292 were conservative; six were liberal.

Each of us either believes that our government must operate honorably and follow the rules set forth for it in the US Constitution, or we don't. There is a shockingly large faction of Americans that apparently don't, because they are not demanding answers to these questions, or that people responsible for these events be disciplined, or that such dishonorable and un-American activities be stopped and government restored to functioning constitutionally.

Which side are you on: Honorable government or the status quo?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Obamacare’s serious weaknesses driving even strong supporters away

Although Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) only recently acknowledged that the health care reform bill he helped create – the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare – is a “train wreck,” most Americans suspected that at its creation.

Things are so bad that President Barack Obama, trying to prevent some of the disastrous results, did something he is not allowed by the U.S. Constitution to do: postpone implementation of part of the law by suspending the employer mandate until 2015 and leaving the rest of the law intact. The Executive Branch of our government is obligated to enforce the laws – all of them, and all of each of them – and does not have the power to choose which ones, or parts thereof, it will enforce.

The House of Representatives passed two measures delaying the employer and individual mandates for one year, with 35 and 22 Democrats respectively joining in those efforts, which Mr. Obama has curiously threatened to veto.

And more recently, one of Obamacare’s most devoted groups of supporters has jumped ship. In a letter to Democrat Congressional leaders, Teamsters union president James Hoffa, and the presidents of two other unions, said this: “Right now, unless you and the Obama Administration enact an equitable fix, the ACA will shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.”

The law has already encouraged some employers to trim their staffs to fewer than 50 full-time employees to avoid the expense of the mandate, and in other cases to decide against providing insurance altogether, and pay a much cheaper fine.

Nevertheless, Mr. Obama declared last week that "the law is working the way it was supposed to for middle-class Americans,” and criticized House Republicans for trying to dismantle it.

Polling data from five different polling organizations from mid-May through July 13 shows continuing disfavor among Americans, with the disparity of opposition-to-support running from as little as 5 points to as much as 15 points, and the Real Clear Politics average of the five polls at 10.2 points.

According to the Gallup poll from late last month, 42 percent say that in the long run the law will make their family's healthcare situation worse, and only 22 percent say it will make it better. And 47 percent believe the law will make the healthcare situation in the U.S. worse, while only 34 percent say it will make it better.

Republicans also are criticized for offering no alternatives while trying to dismantle the measure. “Three years after campaigning on a vow to ‘repeal and replace’ President Barack Obama’s health care law, House Republicans have yet to advance an alternative for the system they have voted more than three dozen times to abolish in whole or in part,” Sunday’s editorial in The Washington Post complained. That ignores, however, H.R. 3400 - Empowering Patients First Act, introduced in 2009 before Republicans campaigned for and won control of the House.

And now there is another, H.R. 2300 – the Empowering Patients First Act of 2013. Its principal sponsor is Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who sponsored H.R. 3400, and he has credentials for health care issues matched by few in the Congress. Rep. Price is also Dr. Price, a physician who actually delivered and understands patient care.

This measure allows patients, families and doctors to make medical decisions, not Washington, DC. That is an excellent place to begin improving health care. What a shame that wasn’t the driving factor behind the ACA.

“You can get folks covered, you can solve the insurance challenges, and you can save hundreds of billions of dollars in this health care system,” said the physician/Congressman, “all without putting Washington or health insurance companies in charge of those decisions that ought to be between patients, and families and doctors.”

How can H.R. 2300 – a bill of only 249 pages, less than a tenth the length of the monstrous Obamacare bill – accomplish this?

Rep. Price describes it as comprehensive legislation under which “every single American has the financial feasibility to purchase the coverage they want, either through tax deductions, or credits, or advanceable credits or refundable advanceable credits so that they can purchase the coverage they want for themselves or their families, not what the government forces them to buy.”

He says further that everyone owns their own coverage, like a 401k plan, so if they change their job or lose their job, they take their coverage with them, and it allows all of those with pre-existing conditions to pool together, giving them the purchasing power of millions so that no one person’s adverse health status will change the cost for anyone else, including that one person.

While H.R. 2300 has the great advantage of being properly focused on patients and physicians, trying to straighten out the voluminous failures of the ACA in one bill is a Herculean feat. Obamacare needs to be repealed in total, and as soon as possible, and then Congress must undertake a sensible approach to correcting the problems of the health care system without turning it over to the government.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

We must take a serious look at our laws and how they are enforced

Most people are for law and order, and most obey the laws that keep society functioning. And most have great respect for the men and women who have the sometimes-dangerous job of enforcing those laws.

That said, some laws are just plain dumb and should be done away with, and what is more important, there are so many laws, rules and regulations today that no one can know all the decrees from the federal, state and local governments that affect him or her, and therefore it is impossible to obey them all. This over-regulated environment puts each of us in the position of likely being in violation of one or more of them at any given moment.

What's worse than so many decrees from so many sources, however, is what seems to be a growing tendency of law enforcement agencies at all levels to imagine that even tiny infractions warrant the most dramatic responses.

Case in point: After making a purchase at a Charlottesville, Va. grocery store one night, a 20-year-old University of Virginia student and two roommates were approached in their car by a group of six men and one woman in street clothes. "They were showing unidentifiable badges after they approached us, but we became frightened, as they were not in anything close to a uniform," she recalled in a written account of the incident.

Police say one of the group jumped on the hood of her car. The girl said one drew a gun, and they tried to break out car windows. Unsure who they were, the girl tried to flee the dark parking lot and called 911. Given the circumstances and stories of people being assaulted by phony police officers, who could blame her?

It turned out to be a squad of plainclothes state Alcoholic Beverage Control officers who suspected the girl had purchased beer in the store – she hadn’t – and was under-age. She spent the night in jail as a result.

Question: Who at the ABC thought this procedure actually made sense? Is it reasonable for a squad of plainclothes agents to approach three female college students in a dark parking lot, fail to adequately identify themselves, point a gun at them, jump on their car and try to break out the windows because they think one of them had bought beer that she might not be old enough to purchase?

Prosecutors dropped charges against the young woman, describing her as having panicked at the sight of plainclothes agents who approached her and her roommates.

Case 2: When the Leander, Texas police wanted to serve a warrant on Bradly Simpson, they sent officers to his home. When no one responded to the knock on the front door, a couple of officers walked around the side of the house toward the back yard whereupon they saw two German Shepards coming toward them. One officer pulled his gun and fired three shots. The police said the dog was growling and aggressively coming at them. Fortunately, the officer’s aim was not good and only one of the dogs was hit, but only wounded.

After that spectacle, the police were unable to serve the warrant because they were at the wrong address, and in the wrong neighborhood. Worse than that, not far from where the dog was shot the home owners’ terminally-ill six year-old grandchild was playing.

Worse, yet, the home owners said neither dog was aggressive, that they were merely curious about who was visiting their home, and had never behaved the way the police claimed. And, as it turns out, the lady of the house is a professional dog trainer, and therefore knows about dog behavior, and furthermore noted that there are routinely customers visiting her home, so strangers don’t spook her dogs.

And what heinous crime prompted the police to go to Mr. Simpson’s home to serve the warrant? He had an expired vehicle registration.

Leander police officials say what happened was "an unfortunate accident." Wrong: What happened is that the police screwed up.

The number of rogue law enforcement personnel that intentionally abuse their authority and position is surely very small. Nevertheless, instances of over-aggressive law enforcement action and plain dumb mistakes like these are indefensible and intolerable, and there appears to be a growing attitude toward over-aggressive behavior.  

To maintain the public trust and respect government and law enforcement are going to have to stop doing stupid and dangerous things like these examples, and even worse incidents that have caused serious injury and even death for innocent citizens.

Solutions? Do we really need so many law enforcement officers that seven of them can spend nights sitting around in one store parking lot waiting to catch an under-age person buying beer? Does an expired registration really justify armed police visiting the vehicle owner’s home?

What about accountability? Officials that exercise bad judgment or act rashly must be disciplined, encouraging them to carefully consider how to properly and safely do their jobs, and also demonstrating that public officials really take seriously their duty to adequately serve the people they work for.

Something must be done, and the sooner, the better.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Make Congress less remote by implementing remote working methods

That Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing is beyond debate. A set of polls from five different polling organizations running from June 1 through July 1 show an approval rate ranging from 9 percent to 17 percent, an indictment of current members and what they are doing if ever there was one.

There is little agreement between Democrats and Republicans in both houses on any subject, and Congress stooped to using the most devious process in recent years to ram through the highly partisan Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which was opposed by a majority of the American people when it was being considered, and is even more strongly opposed today. Congress acted in opposition to the will of the people, a serious breach of trust.

It has long been the practice for Members of Congress to essentially become residents of the DC area when they are elected and spend scant time in their home states and districts, and despite their best intentions cannot avoid becoming Washington insiders to some degree, and thus residents of their home states in name only.

Furthermore, many members of Congress fancy themselves as "special," part of an elite group, and all of them benefit from job-related perks the rest of us don't have access to, like gold-plated health and retirement programs that ought to be illegal, a big salary and staff, being treated like queens and kings, and who often make decisions that are aimed at satisfying special interests rather than making the best decisions for their constituents and for the nation.

What we see today is a fulfilling of Thomas Jefferson's prophecy: "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yeild (Jefferson's spelling), and government to gain ground," which he wrote in a letter to Edward Carrington in 1788.

Power corrupts, they say, and the lure of power partially accounts for the increasing domination of the federal government over the citizens. Another reason is that it is much easier for special interests to access our Senators and Representatives than for the voters that elected them. That statement is not necessarily a slam at elected officials or their staffs, who may work diligently to serve the citizenry, but a criticism of the geographic distance from the official's home state or district and the small amount of time available to spend back home.

A popular concept about responsive government is that the most responsive leaders are those that can most easily be reached; it's easier to communicate your ideas to members of the city council and county supervisors than to your Congressional representatives. A trip across the street, downtown or to the next town is far more satisfactory than a trip to Washington.

In the beginning, those serving in Congress spent a few weeks in Washington each year and the rest of the time at home working at their jobs as farmers, business owners, doctors and lawyers. Perhaps despite its strong appeal it isn't realistic to return completely to that arrangement, but two Congressmen have suggested a change to the way the House of Representatives works that is a step in that direction.

California Democrat Representative Eric Swalwell recently introduced a proposal to amend House rules to enable lawmakers to take care of business from their district offices, instead of having to be in Washington so much of the time. His idea involves using the latest technologies like video conferencing for hearings, committee meetings and the like, and a secure remote voting system. As of last weekend, two others had signed on as cosponsors, Republicans Cynthia Lummis from Wyoming and New Mexico’s Steve Pearce, who had previously introduced a similar measure that would require representatives to appear in person for certain required or essential House activities.

This idea has great appeal. Wouldn't it be terrific for our elected representatives to be able to attend local events regularly? Wouldn't it be great to find yourself in line at the grocery store in front of your senator or representative, or to run into him or her at a sporting event or a restaurant, and when you visited one of the district offices to find them working there?

Undoubtedly, our officials would have a much better sense of what their constituents think about the pressing issues of the day when they interact with them on a daily basis than when they rarely see them face to face. And it would make more difficult the special interest lobbying that now poisons the legislative process.

Currently, Congress meets only three or four days a week for most of the year, due to holidays and allowances for members to travel to and from home to spend a little time with their families and constituents. Such an arrangement might also result in lower spending for Congressional operations, given the need for fewer flights home and back, and in this day of repeated trillion-dollar budget deficits, that would be a plus, even if the savings were relatively small.

It can't be a bad thing for elected officials to be more available for contact by their constituents. Both accountability and performance would improve.