Thursday, March 15, 2007

Silence in the Congressional halls

Since I haven’t heard much to the contrary, I guess we can say that the Democrats’ control of Congress have been relatively successful thus far. With a host of different bills on the table which call for improvement and crooks in high places finally getting theirs (somewhat), it might be safe to say that the crap produced by years of GOP control is finally starting stabilize.

But, I don’t think the Democratic-controlled Congress should kick their feet up and relax just yet. I certainly don't think we should let them off the hook. There are a few more things that I think need to be done before we can claim real progress in this country. But interestingly, I don’t think Congress really cares much to talk about them. Luckily for them, I do:

Adjustments of FICA contributions based on income
Say what you want, but the FICA tax sucks. Though it’s supposed to finance important initiatives like Social Security and Medicare, the way the feds collect these payroll taxes is a joke. If somebody can rationally justify why multi-millionaires and billionaires are paying the same amount of their income as you and me by way of FICA, I’ll give you my year’s worth of salary and I’ll pay the FICA. Any takers?

I can take one guess on who would be against this idea.

Support of the troops. Literally.
Why the government hasn’t made moves to completely and unconditionally supply for the VA fund is beyond me. For a government who is ostensibly committed to “Supporting our troops”, and who will beat up on anybody (Dems especially) who say anything remotely denigrating about the troops, their support of troops has been limited to providing low-level care and insulting compensation for the troops’ sacrifice (Hello? Anybody been following the story about the Walter Reed Military Hospital?

I was disturbed to find out that war vets were deliberately being shortchanged on their disability ratings; which, in turn, impacts the type of service they receive and the amount of time it takes for them to receive that service. Since many vets are too wounded or traumatized to reasonably re-enter the workforce (that, and the fact that military actually sells service as a “job opportunity”), they find themselves in a position where they based their livelihoods on the medical care and benefits they receive from the VA.

While we're on benefits, what ever happened to the free education used as a selling tool to recruit? With rising tuition costs, the $30,000 or so vets are allowed (only allocated while they’re still enlisted, by the way) is barely enough to pay for a couple of years of education at most colleges. There needs to also be an increase in loans, subsidies, unemployment pay, job placement, and medical assistance for those who serve this country.

Furthermore, I have no doubts that more examination must go into the post traumatic stress that comes with being in war. I’m not sure if there is an official name for it, but I do know that people in the military all -- for the most part -- accept it as a serious medical condition. American troops (as I’m sure is the case with other nation’s s military personnel) are developing severe neurological disorders that come not only from being targeted in combat, but also from their killing of others. During the Second World War and all of the subsequent conflicts, our soldiers’ ability to kill has improved drastically. If you’re one of the old, fat guys in Congress declaring war on the rest of the world, this is good news. But if you’re one of the actual soldiers doing the fighting/killing, it’s not so good. In Iraq, for instance, where there is still lots of hand-to-hand combat (even with the proliferation of long-range devices), soldiers are being forced to carry the stress of killing someone or watching their fellow brothers killed themselves. The psychological damage that could possibly ensue as a result is off the charts.

No matter how you slice it, we need to hold the government (yes…the GOVERNMENT) responsible for revamping the GI Bill. The expectation that a soldier can go to a foreign land, watch friends and family get killed, kill others, and lose limbs (all of which compromise his/her quality of life); then come home to life-as-usual is ridiculous. The government needs to take care of the folks that they continue to put in harm’s way.

Abolishing secret access budgets
The existence of clandestine spending practices frightens the hell out of me. Essentially, federally sponsor organizations (particular military/defense groups) have the right to secretly spend large sums of money (or special access funds) without informing us. In previous conflicts, these secret budgets would have made perfect sense; when the enemy’s arms and defense budgets were comparable to ours. But, I’m sorry to say: Al Qaeda is not very likely to produce multi-million dollar jets and billion dollar battle ships. We’re not talking about conflicts with China, Japan, or Russia; where we could conceivable get our butts kicked. We’re taking about Iraqis who barely have a government established.

In addition to being obsolete given our current enemies, special access programs also put our country in a precarious spot. Since these budget programs go unchecked, it’s very easy to get caught up in wasteful consumption and down-right fraud. When the NRO (the National Reconaissance Office) concealed and then failed to justify their $300+ million building, red flags should have been raised. But incidentally, they were not. Something is wrong with that picture.

Coinciding minimum working wages to the rate of inflation
Don’t get me wrong: the Democratic-pushed hike in the federal minimum wage was cool. But let’s be real here: This is only a band-aided solution to a long term problem. The feds put us in this dilemma largely because shifts in wages have never been congruent with shifts in inflation. So what we’re left with is either an economic stalemate – or a decline – in real wages. If they can finally get it right, the working class with be able to sustain even after Alan Greenspan announces predictions of inflation rate increases. Maybe if the feds take my advice, Ted Kennedy won’t have to keep lashing out.

Implementing tougher lobby laws
After Jack Abramoff and Duke Cunningham both went on the record admitting that they bribed members of Congress (I intentionally said “members”. If you think Tom Delay was the only Congressional crook here, you’re sadly mistaken.), it’s not only time to make this type of lobbying illegal, but also make it less easy to hide.

Of course, tougher laws on lobbying (or, as I like to call it, 'buying support') are not likely to come around too soon. I mean, half the Democrats in Congress right now have probably been bought off at some point or another. I mean, is it a secret that proposals to ban congressional earmarks and private expenses (of which a bunch of Congressmen are guilty) never even made it to the bill? What about a proposal to create a new Office of Public Integrity; which would strip the Senate (some of the key players in corruption) of the power to investigate charges against ethics? Struck down.

Most of all, the lobby bills that have been pushed have done nothing to prevent lobbyists from aiding Congressmen in building campaign contributions, fund raising, etc. Gee. I wonder why.

Pass impeachments out all around
I think it’s about time we remove the idea that impeachment can only come from committing a crime that is written on paper. Even the Constitution (correct me if I’m wrong, Hippie) allows for some of the offensives that became popular in the Bush Adminstration (cronyism, lying to Congress, carelessly wasting taxpayer dollars, abusing power, and incompetence) to be treated as causes for impeachment.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think the founding fathers would have gotten too huffy about a President lying about blowjobs (if they did, President Jefferson would’ve been screwed. No pun intended.). They would, however, bring to bear a person who lied to promote war (even given Bush the benefit of doubt about lying, you can’t say that he wasn’t at least grossly misinformed), failed monumentally with national emergencies, hired nothing but buddies to do jobs for which they were not qualified, and usurped the power of the highest legal document in the land.

Even if impeachment doesn’t get Bush and his folks out of office, at least it tells the world that lies, incompetence, and favor-currying won’t hold up in public service.

So there you are: things we need to hear from Congress, but probably won't. In the Dems's defense (I guess), the twelve-year GOP-led Congress has done more damage to this country than even the dramatic face lift of Election '06 can remedy. But it certainly doesn't mean that some major changes still can't be made to improve things. But, in an effort to score and secure as many political points as possible, I can't say that I'm placing my trust in the Dems to accomplish much else any time soon.

I really hate politics.

- ACL

9 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

The H.C. said...

Hey Dre,
So far I'm not unhappy with the Dems. I think it's real important for them to understand the past election was more of a refutiation of the Republicans than a validation of the ideas of the Democrats. Bush made a huge error when he said, "I've gain political capital and I intend to spend it." To this day I don't know what the hell he thought we were giving him as "political capital". Most people that voted for him did so because they disliked Kerry, as is always the case in U.S. politics. His arrogance cost him the mid-terms and the Dems would be wise not to make the same error. Now for the rest of your post.
1)Hell yes. It's the limit that bothers me, after a certain amount of income you don't pay any FICA
2) I give money to the D.V.A. and they're always in a bad way. It's a national disgrace and has been for way too long.
3)This one's a little more difficult. All governments hide a portion of their military budget. Part of the reason is for candlestine projects such as the Manhattan Project. It does lend itself to theivery though so I see your point. I don't think we're out of the woods yet with Russia or a host of other countries and it tends to make them all spend more than they should trying to keep up with projects that may or may not even exist. The Russians spent billions to keep up with Star Wars which didn't even exist. (Although billions disappeared creating the false impression) I'll put this one down as I'm not sure I agree.
4)As you know, I'm committed to helping the working poor. You'll get no argument from me on that one.
5)Get the money out of politics? Sigh. Andre, Andre, Andre, let's stick to the possible. The rules are written by the theives, end of story.
6)The standard is "High crimes and misdemeaners" What rises to that level? Depends on who you talk to. Personally, I think it would be a waste of time. The fact that it can be argued either way tells me the nation is not unified in that Bush actually committed a crime. I know you and a lot of others feel strongly that he did, but you have to have a strong majority or I can't support dragging it out for no good conclusion except political gain. The offenses you point out, "cronyism, lying to Congress, carelessly wasting taxpayer dollars, abusing power, and incompetence." could be argued against any administration. Probably just not as bad.
Great Post as always.

Andre said...

I guess you could say that the Dems First Hundred Hours have been modestly successful. But, I'm not quite ready to jump on the bandwagon yet. They'll get my presidential vote (maybe); but it's mainly because (as you stated), I have growing disdain for the GOP.

1. Glad you agree that FICA sucks. Above all else, I hate the way it's listed on my paystub. That alone is enough for me to build a strong resentment.

2. The treatment our soldiers receive is a joke. Shame on the government for this.

3. I don't think the public is expecting for the military and other clandestine groups to sell their secrets on street corners for a nickel bag, but I think that we at least deserve to know HOW MUCH dough is really being spent. It's a scary idea to image that folks can spend, spend, spend with absolutely NO oversight.

Something tells me that the $15000 toilet seat, $20000 hammer thing isn't that far off.

4. I'm a little concerned about what minimum wage increases to do small businesses, but that's what government subsidies NEED to be used for.

5. No argument there. Lobby reform is a joke. Better yet, it's a flat-out lie.

6. Actually, Hippie: I don't think Bush is a criminal. I think he's a blithering idiot. In a world where success is tied to performance, somebody who's barely doing their job shouldn't be able to keep it. It's really that simple.

Thanks for your comments. I hope my responses are better than they'd be in person. *inside joke*

Perez said...

This is why I love this blog! There is so much interesting topics being writen about. So here are my two cents:

I too am very unhappy with the dems. I think both parties are lame, that is why I do not claim either side, like you thought I was a republican or something like that.

The taxes are out of control. Not how much we pay, but how it is done. I do not not much about taxes, but here is what I think, I really wouldn't mind paying high taxes, ONLY if I get stuff back in return, like health care for legal citizens.

I completely agree with you on the Support of the troops. I worry about the men and women who come home and can no longer find jobs because they are mental cases now.

Secret spend? Where do you hear about these things. It is a scary thing, but how can America fight an enemy who hangs around civilians?

The wage increase was a bad idea from the start. Lving in Califorina is more expnesive than states in the middle of our country. There is no need to a national wage standard. Maybe I missed it, but what is your advice?

You only think half of the democrats have been paid off? I would say more and in every political party as well. That is why there are no laws being passed.

You last statement is the best.

Take care-shalom-perez

HeiressChild said...

i wanted to comment about the treatment of the soldiers. i definitely agree with that one. i live in the metro area, so i've been following what's been happening at walter reed. it never should have been slated for shut-down anyway. EVERYTHING DIRTY EVERYWHERE eventually is going to come to light, and that's exactly what's happening here. i'm looking for changes, even though i know everything won't happen overnight, and changes have started with the firings that have taken place, and the investigations that are going on now. i know it never should have gotten to this point, but at least it's being brought out. it's a dirty low-down shame the way they're being treated.

in addition to the bad treatment of the soldiers, and not just the ones who have been hurt, but even the ones who are fighting and have to go thru unnecessary nonsense to see that their spouses and children are properly taken care of financially (sometimes months of waiting for spousal paychecks) while they're "fighting for this country." and finally, the treatment to the surviving spouses and children of those that have lost their lives fighting for "this country." if those deceased spouses had an inkling of "the surviving widows/widowers' benefits" the govt was giving their left-behind loved ones to live off of, they'd come out of their graves and go to war with them. it's not always feasible for the survivor to work.

*taxes are too high for the lower-bracket income-making people and not high enough for the higher-bracket income-making people. and to not have to pay any kind of tax after making a certain amount of income isn't fair, but so are a lot of other things. and so we continue to raise our voices to the govt and use our pens. i'm one who does.

*as far as the money secrecy, i believe everybody needs to be accountable to somebody, otherwise, people can take the money and do whatever, which is what's happening in many agencies and corporations. we don't know that there aren't any $15000 toilet seats, now do we?

*i can't stand bush. refuse to watch him, listen to anything he has to say, or even read about him, so i get my info re him by listening to other people. this is the first time i've felt such repugnance for a leader to the point i refuse to listen to anything he has to say. from now on, i can just read yours and HC's blogs for my info.

i only planned on commenting about the veterans, but once i got started typing, my fingers just seemed to keep going. i'm finished now.

btw, your "inside joke" is funny. i get it.

Nic said...

I too have been impressed w/ what the Dems have been doing, but I am also hesitant to give them my full-fledged support...yet again.
Their successes & failures over the next few years will hold a lot of weight w/ voters, the implications of which could either spell disaster, or glory for their party. Then again, politics over the last few decades seem to operate in a sort of cycle, if that makes sense, & this could very well just be part of it.

- I'm embarrassed to admit that I had absolutely no idea as to what FICA is for until I read this. I do know, however, that it's the first thing that every person I've worked w/ bitches about when he/she received their check.

- As far as the troops go, I agree w/ everything that you wrote, but it should be noted that from what I've been hearing from my brother (former Army Intelligence), & old high-school buddies of mine that are stationed overseas, the Walter-Reed fiasco is apparently a relatively isolated incident. Yeah, Vets deserve much better, & I'm sure that there are other military hospitals out there that are just as bad. But, take one look @ many state-side hospitals (Flint & Detroit are both excellent examples), & it becomes blatently apparant that it's not the military that is skimping out.

- Knowing where all the "secret" $$$ goes means that we will all know what really goes on in the world of espionage & back-room politics. I agree w/ you, but I think many Americans, if not most, would prefer to stay in the dark.

- No matter how much the minimum wage is raised, it's never enough. I don't have the slightest clue as how to "fix" it, but apparently neither do politicians that were born into families that paid them $1000/week allowances for telling Niles the butler to make them a ham sandwich.

- I hate the entire concept of lobbying. But dammit, it's a cornerstone of American politics. What, exactly, were the founding fathers thinking? (Rehtorical question, but oftentimes I do find myself second guessing them).

- Impeaching everybody would just make American politics comparable to American Idol. People would be voting a person in/out based on the wrong things & it would be a complete mess. Wait a minute...American politics are already like that!

@ Heiress: I couldn't agree more w/ what you stated about the comparison between 9/11 widow's survivor benefits & the pittance that a soldier and/or his/her family receives. Well said.

@ HC: Yes, I AM stealing all of your blogosphere friends. ;P

-n

The H.C. said...

Nic,
This is Andre's site your stealing HIS peeps, as we speak I'm writing down your address for Andre to pay you a "visit".

Andre said...

@ Perez: I think it's interesting that you favor higher taxes. In a strange way, I do as well. But I believe that federal tax hikes (which are needed now more than, since $$$ that SHOULD be supporting social programs is going to Iraq and rich folks) should include stipulations that call for those who have more to give more. It's that simple.

*As it relates to our troops, I've disturbed that the government responds to our soliders with apathy and ineptitude not only after their service is up, but also DURING their time in the service. The blood and suffering of our troops is on the government's hands. Heads need to roll for this.

*Since the government has done just about EVERYTHING in secret (from assassinations, to the end of Habeus Corpus, to wiretapping, to detaining suspects), are you REALLY suprised that they do secret spending?

* As far as wage increases, that's why I'm am advocate for adjusting living wages to match inflation. In education, they use Cost Of Living Adjustments (COLA) for employees; which essentially ensures that their wages earned are reasonable enough to sustain in their market. Again, I'm concerned about how this will affect small businesses, but that's not our problem. That's why we have a government.

* Half the Dems paid off? You're right: It's probably much higher than that. I mean, even Nancy Pelosi gave Neocons a get out jail free card for some of their lobbying activities as one of the first things she did as Speaker of the House. Hmmm. Makes you wonder...

Andre said...

@ Heirress: I can appreciate the fact that you were not only mindful of the soliders, but also the countless other civilians who are affected by this sily war. Why you and I can see this, but our government can't is unnerving to me.

* Taxes are one of the inevitabilities of life; as certain as death. How taxes are accumulated and used is not so fixed. I agree that it's high time that the government shifts their priorities and the way in which our tax dollars are collected and distributed so that it's the 'least of these' who benefit more than the rich and greedy folks. If I have to have another hundred bucks taken out of my paycheck that helps support social programs, I'm game. If it's to help big business and to fund nonsensical wars, I have a problem.

* With secret spending, our sentiments are exact. I'm sick of this undergroud society jive.

* I didn't know that you had so much disdain for Bush. Interestingly, I'm not that passionate about how much I can't stand him. In many respects, I pity him. I pity the fact that he's a spoiled, stubborn, and misinformed President who, much like a special olympics participant, gets credit "just for trying".

It was interesting how one comment from you led to another, and then another. I guess that I'm slowly unleashing the dragon. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Nothing's funnier to me than watching a bunch of liberals cry and whine about the government.