Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hard not to be Cynical

Well, Gee, while I was gone to New York and then trying to play catch up at work, our politicians did absolutely nothing to make me more optimistic about my country's immediate future.

- The Republicans once again killed an increase in the minimum wage which hasn't been raised from $5.15 an hour since 1997. But, guess what? While they decided $5.15 was good enough for poor people, they voted themselves a raise because the cost of living has gone up, don't you know, and we, the people, must continue to support them in the style to which they've become accustomed. Meanwhile, a new study shows that American CEOs now make 262 times what the average worker makes. Average for a worker is $42,000 and for a CEO it is $11,000,000. The Chief Executive Officer makes in a week what the worker makes in a year! Can anyone say, "the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer?" (Personally, I'd be thrilled to make the $42,000 that is the figure given for an average worker's annual salary).

- Meanwhile, the House voted a big tax break for the very rich. Estates worth up to $5 million for individuals and $10 million for couples would be exempt from paying any taxes. Estates worth up to $25 million would be greatly reduced from present rates. If the legislation passes the Senate, it will represent roughly $280 billion in reduction of income to the federal government. This is about what we've spent on Iraq so far, meaning that the lower classes provide the bulk of the funds and the soldiers. This was a bi-partisan bill, with about 36 Democrats voting with the Republicans.

- The Republicans killed two Democrat resolutions regarding the Iraq War. John Kerry's resolution included a "date certain" (mid-July) to start a draw-down but the resolution supported by Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid and other Democrats was basically a plan to at least start discussing what a scenario to end the war might look like. Evidently, this simply cannot be allowed. We must cleave to the President without question, marching in lockstep, or be labeled a "cut and runner", if not a traitor - but cutting and running from what? Bush has said that he will leave it to the next president to decide what to do in Iraq. It seems that he does not plan on leaving under any circumstances, regardless of what happens in that country. Why else have we built permanent bases and the largest, most expensive, most luxurious embassy of any we have in any country? I do expect, however, that there will be at least a modest drawdown prior to the 2006 elections and probably another, larger one as we near the 2008 presidential election.

- It appears as though the Republicans (I place most of these decisions on the Republican doorstep because they control everything so naturally most of what happens is what they decide will happen) have given up on immigration reform for this year, instead they will embark on a series of "discussions" throughout the country. This is actually probably a good thing as both parties and the people are quite divided on this issue. Although I support stronger border security, I would rather see no reform bill at all than a guest worker program that allows employers to continue to exploit cheap labor at the expense of American workers. If our representatives really want to do something substantive, they should seriously crackdown on employers who knowingly hire illegals for slave wages with no benefits. I do believe that if we are to have stronger security, we should bite the bullet and hire the number of professionally trained customs agents we need rather than use the stop-gap measure of having National Guard troops rotate in and out every few weeks.

- Congress is going to take up flag burning again. It amazes me that with all the truly serious decisions our representatives have to make that they would waste their time on this non-issue. Google "flag burning" and see what you find, which is that there are almost no instances of flag burning in this country. Still, it's nice for Katrina victims living in FEMA trailers as hurricane season arrives, that, while they may have to worry about losing even these pitiful homes, at least they won't have to be concerned about anyone burning the flag while they're drowning.

- The Gay Marriage Amendment went down to defeat as everyone knew it would. It was simply a political bone the Republicans had to throw to their conservative base. In fact, they lost two votes since the last time they brought this up.

- The New York Times revealed that not only does the administration insist on its right to monitor our phone calls, not on a case-by-case, "only those people who are contacting Al Qaeda" basis as they once insisted, but by means of a vast database vacuuming capability, and now we discover that they are doing the same with banking records. Once again, they claim they only do this in a very select way. So it all boils down to trust. If, in fact, you trust their intentions, have they proven you can also trust their competence? Well, they just lost the personal information of practically every American veteran due to records being stolen from an administrator's home - which, number one, shouldn't have been removed from the agency and number two, shouldn't records of such sensitivity at least have been encrypted, for God's sake? And then, last week, it was also reported that the personal indentifiers of 29,000 sailors were actually posted on a website for anyone to rummage through. And as another little aside, the Democrats tried to introduce legislation to send information to all the affected soldiers and sailors on how to protect themselves from identity theft but nope, Republicans said that would cost too much.

- Back in the olden days of Tom Ridge's leadership of Homeland Security, it always seemed that oh-so-coincidentally, every time something negative was reported about the administration, the security color code went up to remind us that we'd better fall in line with giving up our civil rights because that was all that stood between us and another terror attack. That has stopped and we've been stuck on "Elevated Security" for some time now. But, lo and behold, when the bank record program is revealed, the F.B.I. catches seven of the most pathetic excuses for terrorists I have ever seen. These guys were as likely to have been able to pull off any large scale, or even small scale, attack as Larry, Curly and Moe. I don't think any true Al Qaeda operative would have trusted them with a b-b gun. Of course, Fox News has a completely different view so maybe I'm wrong.

- Three inmates at Guantanamo commit suicide and our side calls it a P.R. stunt, and a case of "asymmetrical warfare". I don't know how bad these guys really were and the thing is we never will know because they are considered by President Bush to be enemy combatants, (a designation he can make single-handedly about anyone) which is a whole new category of prisoner we have invented strictly for the war on terror. By an excruciating perversion of definition, we declare they do not fall under Geneva Convention regulations and can be subjected to extremely aggressive interrogation techniques, (also known as torture). We do not have to charge them, allow them an attorney, let them have contact with their families, give them a trial or declare that we will ever do these things. We can just keep them forever in a state of limbo. Seems to me that being in this situation for years would be depressing and most often, loss of hope and extreme depression is what provokes suicide. According to the notes they left, they also hoped to draw attention to the desperation of the other inmates at Gitmo. To me, what we are doing there is against every principle we ever believed America stood for. If they are guilty, then charge them, try them, convict them and if warranted, give them the death penalty. Instead, we refer to them cynically as "detainees", a innocuous word that implies a temporary condition. Strange that we used to make fun of a president who said "it all depends on what the meaning of the word is, is". Now, we have an administration that takes "parsing" to an entirely new level.

All in all, the couple of weeks have not been good ones for working class Americans. But, then, I can't remember the last time we did have a good week.