Sunday, June 18, 2006

What's Another $1.5 Billion

How do you lose $1.5 Billion of Katrina relief money?  Well you can’t lay this one on Brownie – he had long been cast out as the poster boy of incompetence or sacrificial scapegoat depending on your point of view.  OK, guys just stay on message, dissemble about progress being made in Iraq, get the House to “debate” the war and incorporate the conflict into the so-called war on terrorism and all will be well.  If you say it, it has to be true.  The stupid public won’t even notice, and besides what’s a mere $1.5 when we’re throwing away zillions on misadventures, writing checks to your near and dear for no-bid contracts and rebating tax dollars to those who need them least.  If this stuff weren’t killing us – no scratch that, killing someone else’s kids or if the majority of New Orleans’ disadvantaged citizens weren’t still refugees unlikely ever to return home – it might be funny.  But it’s not and $1.5 Billion is serious money.  It’s not only the Congress that has been out-to-lunch on oversight; it’s obviously the professional managers at FEMA and everywhere else in this administration.

Republicans pride themselves on being the party of ideas, as opposed to the Democrats who are painted as intellectually bankrupt.  They certainly are the party of ideology and of such a consistent and slavish adherence to the playbook that even facts or changes in circumstance (not to mention failure) won’t get in their way or move them off script.  The irony is that the Party of business, can’t seem to run anything well.  They are a bunch of incompetents who rely on public relations stunts and manipulated bookkeeping.  What was it that their hero Ronald Reagan said to Jimmy Carter, “there you go again”.  And so do they.  Just as the great man’s robust 1980s economy was a house of cards built on borrowed money, so too do his successors see victory through their own rose colored glasses relying on the notion that you can indeed fool all of the people all of the time.  Most of the rest of us poor slobs find it increasingly painful to watch or read the daily news because it is simply too depressing and we seem unable to do anything about it.  They talk, no they pontificate in a manner that Jack Murtha who actually put his life in the line in two wars sees as unseemly.  They want someone else’s kid to do the heavy life threatening lifting and stay the course for them while criticizing defeatest reporters for not venturing out in the combat zone.  Really? Then how did more than 70 journalists lose their lives when not a single flag waving Congressman (or conservative author or talking head) sustain so much as a scratch.  Zbigniew Brzezinski cuts to the chase when he questions the credibility of a democratic Iraqi government that sits alongside its American sponsors behind the the protected walls of Green Zone – perhaps one day it can govern but at the moment the “unity” government is more virtual theater than reality.  And don’t gloat about that, it’s a real tragedy, one for which millions of Iraqis are paying dearly every day, along with thousands of young Americans who are loyally playing the cards they have been dealt.

Democrats are blithely labeled the tax and spend party.  Yes indeed they are and there is good reason to be proud of it.  Prudent managers don’t spend money they don’t have and the only way a government can have money is, hello, to tax.  The Republicans on the other hand are the borrow and spend party, those of a paper prosperity and Enron bookkeeping who have mortgaged our children to the China.  Yes, they are the guys who doled out $1.5 Million to those practicing slight of hand – the kind of people to whom they can really relate.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Winds of Change

Years back I had a partner, who with some significant new client acquisition or press coverage, used to say, “This will really do it for us.”  We had a pretty successful business, but it wasn’t driven by any single new client or piece of news.  99% of us never win the lottery.  So it is with a series of “mission accomplished” and “we got him” events in Iraq.  Neither individual wins on the battlefield nor people lining up to vote have done it for us.  One turning point after another in Iraq has only led to the ephemeral.  There is also the “cry wolf” factor and the bloom is certainly off that rose as shown so clearly by the 100 point plus drop in the Dow on the morning after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's demise.  We’ve reached the “show me” stage.  Even George Bush couldn’t bring himself to put more than the most perfunctory spin on this hollow gain in his so-called war on terrorism.

The winds of change are afoot, and I don’t mean in Iraq.  We see it the polls.  But it was also evident during the pathetic debate over the proposed marriage amendment that took place on the Senate floor earlier this week.  I’ll admit not to have watched every hour of the proceedings on C-Span but enough to get a flavor of what was going on.  There was something distinctly appalling about the speeches in favor which on the one hand were blatantly homophobic (even though no one dared openly speak of the sinning gays and lesbians) and on the other laughable as they tried to pin the deteriorating state of marriage on the threat of same sex unions.  Senator Kennedy was quick to point out that in fact the errant Massachusetts had the lowest divorce rate in the country.  Ironically all the reasons given for protecting marriage with its fidelity and building of family were precisely why so many same sex couples want to bind themselves legally with their partners.

In some ways I was proud to be a Democrat since it was my party’s representatives who were standing in the way of this discriminatory legislation.  On the other, I was struck by their tactic in focusing their side of the debate mostly on the rationale of “why are we wasting time on this when so many more pressing issues face the nation.”  That may be smart politics, but I would have been far more comfortable in hearing a real defense of marriage for all who are willing to commit to another human being, and bind that commitment legally.  For the most part that didn’t happen or was left to a kind of afterthought in their time allotted.  Probably good politics, or at the very least safe politics, in a country where an avowed atheist may not be electable on the national and many state levels.  So much for honesty in government.

Something else also stuck me in the debate which was that, like always and despite its proud reputation as the center of discourse in our government, the chamber was largely empty – the speakers were talking to themselves (and I guess to those nuts like me who took the time to tune them in).  Even the chair could not seem to stay in place and often the person presiding at the beginning of a speech was different than the one recognizing the next speaker.  So is the state of our government that when a matter of great social concern is put on the table, the dialogue is largely smoke and mirrors. 

We have clearly made some progress on the torturous road to accepting our gay and lesbian human family members, but when it comes to things like marriage, the “no colored allowed at our lunch counter or rest rooms” signs are still posted for all to see.  When will we accept our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters for who they are.  Indeed when will be embrace their reality and stop standing in their way in obtaining what amounts to full citizenship in the human community?

As with George Bush’s statement this morning on this latest “victory” in Iraq, I did have the sense in watching Senators Brownback et al that their “Warhol 15 minutes” was about up.  Perhaps that’s wishful thinking and certainly a percentage of the population still mouth the “values” argument and agenda, but not with the power and following it once had.  The Democratic tactic of pointing toward all that wasn’t getting attention may have been disappointing to me personally, but it was spot on.  You can talk about values all you want, but when you can’t afford driving to work much less looking forward to a reasonable level of pay for your day’s labor, things fall into a different perspective.  Katherine Harris may truly believe that God wants her to seek a seat in the United States Senate, but do most Americans really believe that the Almighty has put them and this country in such a sorry state?  I don’t think so.  We’ve come to a point where middle class parents who always looked toward college for their children as a great dream to be fulfilled now nervously anticipate what a perhaps insurmountable drain it will put on their standard of living.  Many families will never recover financially from the burden of providing their children with a chance at life in Tom Friedman’s flat and highly competitive world.  I could add other examples, but you know what they are and to be sure, combined with disillusionment over the war and our prospects for security, I think the majority of Americans are getting back their 20/20 vision.  “The winds are a’changing.”