Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wanted -- Responsible, Reasonable Republicans

To make our democracy work, we rely on the two major political parties to debate the issues of the day and then come up with solutions.

Sometimes the Democrats are in control; sometimes the Republicans. But whichever party has the upper hand, the other party is there to provide a loyal opposition.

At any given point in time, both parties have men and women of sound judgment to lead the way. At any given point in time, both parties are also apt to have a few kooks in their midst.

Right now, the Republicans have more than their fair share of kooks. They number in the dozens and they have brought a halt to the legislative process, and they threaten to throw the United States into financial default. They are the Tea Party members of the House of Representatives.

They were elected to Congress to add more fiscal responsibility to the Washington mix. The were not elected to shut down government.

The same Americans--who voted them in to work on the budget deficit and the national debt--now want them to compromise; they want them to close tax loopholes, and they want them to raise the national debt limit. All the polls bear this out, and it isn't even close. By nearly 2-1, the electorate is saying, "Get it done!"

Referring specifically to the Tea Party members of his own party, Republican Sen. John McCain has said that what they are doing "isn't fair", and he called the situation "bizarro". More and more Republican leaders are expressing dismay over the Tea Party stance.

There is another word that applies to the Tea Party position--hypocrisy. Example "A" is Rep. Joe Walsh, of Illinois. His is one of the loudest Tea Party voices, and he is the one most often seen on TV--posturing before the cameras while he preaches about spending within your means, and about not running up debt.

Meanwhile, Rep. Walsh is being sued by his ex-wife for $117,000. in child support--some of which goes back to 2002. The Congressman did, however, find $35,000. to lend to his 2010 election campaign.

As if the present situation isn't scary enough, the future plans of the Tea Party are equally frightening. Moderate, respected Republican Senators have been targeted for defeat in the 2012 elections.

Senators Richard Lugar, Orrin Hatch, and Olympia Snowe--who deservedly enjoy the respect of Democrats as well as Republicans--are considered too moderate by the Tea Party. Their sin is their occasional willingness to compromise.

At this writing the crisis over the raising of the national debt limit is ongoing. The outcome remains uncertain. But whatever the final resolution, one thing is clear. Those Tea Party members of the House must go.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Florida Governor, And Economics 101

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, and CNN's "American Morning" anchors, collaborated yesterday to show the world why Congress has been unable to raise the national debt limit, which must be done--and soon--to prevent the federal government from defaulting on its financial obligations.

The Governor has come out against the raising of the national debt limit, and is in favor of letting the United States slip into default. He was invited to appear on CNN to clarify and explain his position--which is contrary to the thinking of most respected economists. Nearly all of the experts say that failure by Congress to increase the debt ceiling could have catastrophic consequences.

The interview is noteworthy because Gov. Scott echoes the thinking of many Tea Party members of Congress, who are opposing the necessary increase, and whose obstinacy has the nation on the brink of default.

When questioned as to the why of his position, the Governor cited the need to cut spending. When told that not raising the debt limit meant not paying for what Congress has already spent, the Governor stil offered the same response.

In an effort to get through to the Governor, CNN's Christine Romans likened the federal government's debt situation to that of an individual with a credit card that becomes maxed out. The individual can stop spending, but charges for purchases already made have to be paid.

Just like the Tea Party members of Congress, the Governor seemed unwilling to think about any point of view except his own. Finally, in exasperation, CNN's chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, asked, "Governor, why is this so difficult for you to understand?"

That question makes one wonder if Governor Scott was ever enrolled in that college course known as Economics 101.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Sobering Thought About Capital Punishment

Weeks after it ended with a "not guilty" verdict, the Casey Anthony trial in Orlando, Florida remains a hot topic of conversation.

Most of the continuing interest is due to the strong feeling by many that the jury got it all wrong. But there's something else about the trial that isn't being discussed much; something important--and downright scary.

Most folks are aware of the fact that had the 12 jurors found Casey Anthony guilty of first-degree murder, they would then have had to make the choice between recommending a death sentence, or recommending life imprisonment.

Initially, the jury was split 6-6 over a verdict of manslaughter; before ultimately deciding "not guilty", and setting Casey Anthony free.

But what if the jury had voted to convict her of first-degree murder? Which way then would the vote have gone--a recommendation for the death penalty, or a recommendation for life imprisonment?

This is where the scary part comes in. Florida, which is a different animal in many respects, is the one state where only six out of the twelve jurors have to vote for the death penalty for that to be the recommendation. The person convicted can have half the jury favoring leniency, and still face death by lethal injection.

The Florida Legislature could correct what is an obvious injustice in the legal system, but prefers, instead, to retain the status quo, so as to be seen as tough on crime.

Nationwide, there were 46 executions in 2010, and capital punishment continues to be one of our more contentious social issues. A Gallup poll last year showed 64 percent of Americans favoring the death penalty.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Making Money As A Juror

Everyone, except for the possible exception of a few convicts, would agree that someone found guilty of a crime should not make money off wrongdoing. Specifically, no one found guilty of a crime should be able to sell the story.

However, there seems to be a surprising--at least to me--number of folks who think that it's perfectly okay for jurors to make money by selling their account of court proceedings. The subject is front and center now, due to the widespread interest in the Casey Anthony trial.

There is an inherent problem with jurors selling their stories. The more contentious the jury deliberations, and the longer it takes to reach a verdict, the greater the demand for inside information, and the bigger the payoff might be.

The Casey Anthony jury deliberations lasted only eleven hours, but, at one point, the jury was split 6-6 on a verdict of manslaughter. A juror who was instrumental in changing the voting to a unanimous "not guilty" verdict could, and possibly still will, command a tidy sum for the narrative.

Somewhere down the road, could, and would a juror let the possibility of selling a story encourage "holding out", or doing something else that would up the interest--and up the ante?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Betty Ford's Final Lesson

Even in death, Betty Ford continues to teach us. Five years before her passing--knowing that, at age 88, the inevitable would be coming sooner rather than later--she laid out a plan for one final lesson.

She asked Cokie Roberts, longtime ABC political commentator, and NPR analyst, to speak at her funeral. The request came with instructions--something she wanted to have included in the eulogy.

Yesterday, at the funeral service in Palm Desert, California, Cokie Roberts honored that request. She divulged that what Betty Ford wanted her to talk about was friendship in government circles.

The former first lady wanted Cokie Roberts to remind everyone how it used to be in Washington--how there used to be camaraderie in Congress, even between members of different political parties--and how those friendships helped make governing possible.

In this day of deep political divide, worsened by bitterness and name-calling, this history lesson is especially appropriate. As Cokie Roberts pointed out, the message could not be more timely.

And as I listened to the eulogy, it occurred to me that the message was being delivered against a backdrop of living proof. For there in St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, for all of America to see, was evidence of what Betty Ford meant.

There, in a front pew, was 35 years of Presidential history, and civility. Republican President George W. Bush sat and conversed with first lady Michelle Obama, and former first ladies Hillary Clinton and Rosalynn Carter, all Democrats, and Nancy Reagan, a Republican.

Honoring another request made by Betty Ford, one of the eulogies was delivered by Rosalynn Carter, whose husband, the Democrat, had defeated Betty's husband, Gerald Ford, the Republican, in the Presidential election of 1976. Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Carter, despite political diffeences, worked together as advocates for the mentally ill, and became close friends.

In attendance also were the daughters of President Nixon, Tricia and Julie; and the daughters of President Johnson, Lynda and Lucie. Today, at a service for Betty Ford in Michigan, President Bill Clinton, and former first lady, Barbara Bush, whose husband lost the Presidency to Clinton in 1992, will attend together.

We can only hope that members of the current Congress heard yesterday's eulogies, and saw the living proof of Betty Ford's final lesson.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Wounds Of War Are Not All Physical

It's a mind-boggling, unbelievable-but-true statistic. For the second year in a row, America's military has lost more troops to suicide than it has to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

I first learned of this by way of A Gainesville Sun editorial, and my immediate reaction was that there had to be a mistake. But a check of the numbers showed, sadly, that the statement was correct.

The editorial was an endorsement of President Obama's reversal of a policy carried out by his predecessors. In the past, the condolence letter--that goes out when a member of the military dies--was not sent if the death was caused by suicide.

In correcting an injustice, and setting forth a new policy, the President is providing the survivors of those who take their own lives with the condolences they deserve.

His action is recognition of the truth that the stress and horrors of war are responsible for many of the suicides. And as the President pointed out, those who have killed themselves in combat zones, "didn't die because they were weak".

Similar words could be said for many members of the military after they return home. Those who end up homeless don't have trouble coping because they are weak. The wounds of war are not all physical.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Betty Ford's Greatest Gift

Glowing tributes have followed the news of Betty Ford's passing. Not surprising, since the former first lady had a positive effect on the lives of millions of Americans in a variety of ways.

She was a champion for women's rights, and was deservedly honored as Newsweek's woman of the year in 1975. She used her own bout with breast cancer to further awareness and understanding of the disease, and she made it okay to openly discuss a subject that had been taboo.

But I think that Betty Ford will be remembered most for her candor regarding her problems with alcohol and prescription drugs. Through a charming mix of warmth and self-deprecating humor, she inspired others who were addicted to seek treatment. There are countless people, including celebrities, who say that Betty Ford saved their lives.

And there is something about Betty Ford going public with her addiction that I find remarkable, and admirable. At the time she came forward, she was out of the White House and away from media scrutiny--with her privacy further protected by the Secret Service. She could most likely have kept her addiction a family secret for the rest of her days.

But she had the courage to speak out, and by doing so, she helped thousands, perhaps millions, of others.