Robert's Random Ravings

Can’t we all just get along?

Tomorrow is the 2010 midterm elections (finally!!). I know that I will be glad to see it done with. The tone of the elections has been so negative – it seems to get more and more so each election cycle. Billions of dollars are being spent nationwide to elect Governors, Senators, State Representatives and scores of other government officials. But at the end of the day, what will really have been accomplished?

The Tea Party is a recent movement that seems to be riding on a groundswell of dissatisfaction with the federal government. People are supposedly tired of Washington and its inability to actually listen to the citizens and do what they need done. The Tea Party is not alone in this. I am not a tea-partier, but I am also very dissatisfied with the direction of the federal government and the state government here in Texas.

I voted for Obama in the 2008 presidential election. I was hopeful that it would be the start of a new day in Washington. Of course, the minute President Obama got elected, the Republicans started to march in lockstep in total and complete opposition to any and everything that Obama’s administration tried to do. Obama is far from perfect. Don’t get me wrong. But what do you think might have been accomplished if the Democrats and Republicans had decided to work together to fix the things that are wrong in our country as opposed to making sure their own party retains power? There is something seriously wrong with a system that encourages little more than a 24/7/365 election cycle. Our Senators and Representatives are supposed to work for us – “we the people.” Not the other way around.

When I see candidates on both sides slinging mud at each other instead of telling me what their plans/ideas are, I am disgusted. When I see gross misrepresentation and outright lies used in campaign commercials, it literally sickens me to my stomach. Unfortunately, both parties are guilty of this.

At any rate, after this election is over and the counts are in, it is likely that, at the very least, the House of Representatives will become a Republican majority. It is possible, though not nearly as likely, that the Senate, too, will pass into Republican control. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next 2 years. Will the Republicans continue to be the party of No? Will they continue to oppose any proposals that come from the President or the Democrats (even when they include ideas they themselves used to champion), without actually making proposals of their own? Will there be any fresh ideas on either side of the political spectrum?

Unfortunately, I think we will see more of the same. With the Republicans in power, we will probably see the Democrats start using a lot of the same obstructionist tactics that the Republicans have used over the last 2 years. Instead of taking the hint from a sea change that the people of America want to see a balance in government and all sides working for the betterment of the country, we will probably see more entrenchment and bickering. This simply cannot continue.

I don’t care if you are a Democrat or a Republican. We are Americans first and that should be our concern, not a political party. We have pushed too much to the extremes in both major parties and it is leaving the moderates (both liberal and conservative) in the dust. Let’s hold our elected officials accountable for representing our interests – not the interests of their allies/supporters/friends. Public office should not be a get rich quick scheme. It is service to the public. I think it is high time we demanded that level of service from our elected officials.

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11/01/2010 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Political Firestorms

We live in a “scandal of the day” culture now.  A lot of people complain about the relentless 24/7/365 news culture.  Just about everything gets taken out of context.  Much of the news is more like propaganda than news.  Spin is the name of the game.  Both major parties are to blame.  I like President Obama, but the unending “spin” from the White House is tiring.  Put the facts out there and let us make up our own minds.

I don’t care which side of the political spectrum you are on.  There are right-wing nut jobs as well as left-wing nut jobs.  Unfortunately, it seems that many of them are coming out of the woodwork now. People who hate the government spout off anything they want, convincing uninformed people of their conspiracies, and couching it in terms of “saving” the country.  (Anyone recall the “death panel” discussions?) What are we being saved from? Communism? Socialism? Government Interference in our lives? No one wants the government to interfere until they need it to interfere.

In addition, everything gets politicized.  The BP Oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster for ALL of us.  It is not a Democratic or Republican problem. It is an American, even global, problem.

I wish our “leaders” would spend a little more time trying to solve the nation’s problems and a lot less time trying to get re-elected.  No one has the guts anymore to stand up for what is needed, despite the political cost.  And with corporate lobbyists running amok on Capitol Hill and in our State Capitols, corporations are getting all the attention.  Why is it unfair for BP to have to pay for the damage it has done to the Gulf?  Anyone who thinks otherwise is out of their mind. (Joe Barton, I am talking to YOU!)  It is making them take responsibility for an almost comedic (if it weren’t so tragic)  series of mistakes, cost-cutting measures and downright incompetence.  We should not be apologizing to BP. BP should be worried more about cleaning up its mess than its image.

I am getting more and more disillusioned with our government.  I don’t feel like it gives a damn about me, so I understand the many other people that feel the same way.  But the way to fix that is not to throw out the whole thing.  We need to work on not allowing the almighty dollar to be the determinant in our daily lives.  There is nothing wrong with being successful and having money.  But where’s the compassion?  We can give tax breaks to oil companies and corn farmers and sugar farmers, but those that are truly in need get pushed farther and farther down.  This government should be for the people, not the corporations.  Despite what the Supreme Court says, a corporation is NOT a person and never will be.

Most of all, we should allow people to disagree with us.  A discussion does not need to turn into an argument.  We should be talking about the issues – both with people that agree with us and those that disagree with us.  If you never hear all points of view, how can you really think you are making an educated choice on anything?

07/27/2010 Posted by | General, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Israel’s right to survive

I will say up front that I am Jewish.  That being said, I do not automatically agree with everything Israel does.  While I understood the reasoning, the war against Hamas in Gaza in 2008 was, in my opinion, run poorly and probably not the best option for Israel.  The incursion into Lebanon against Hezbollah was even more poorly conducted.

This weekend, there was a humanitarian aid flotilla heading to Gaza that was intercepted by the Israeli Navy.  I don’t think anyone knows the whole story yet, but it appears that Israel warned the flotilla of 6 ships that it was going to stop them, and board and inspect them before they would be allowed to continue.  5 of the 6 ships allowed this.  On the sixth ship, however, the people on the ship apparently attacked the Israeli Navy as they boarded the ship.  We will certainly be buried under the spin and hyperbole of all sides in this incident.  However, I have been reading articles online and the comments that accompany them and have seen a frightening amount of extreme anti-Semitism being expressed.  It is downright scary to think that there are so many people in America and Europe that still hold such views.

I strongly believe in Israel’s right to exist as well as its right to protect itself.  The US asserts similar rights all the time.  We attacked Iraq unprovoked because the people in power decided that it was necessary for the protection of America.  (I disagreed with this conclusion and with the war and would like to see us completely out of Iraq sooner rather than later).  No one would dare question the US’s resolve to protect itself or the actions it takes to do so.  And if they do, the powers that be in this country probably would not care.  We stop ships and board them all the time when we suspect gun or drug running.  And if our Coast Guard or Navy were attacked during such endeavors, rest assured that we would respond with force.

The same should go for Israel. Hamas has used Gaza as a staging ground for ongoing terrorist attacks on Israel (lobbing rockets into southern Israel).  They have kidnapped Israeli soldiers.  Their hands are as full of blood as anyone else and Israel is in a fight for its survival.  Make no mistake.  Hamas IS a terrorist organization and its goal is the complete destruction of Israel.  Meanwhile, almost everyone around the world condemns Israel for defending itself.  We weren’t complaining when the Israelis knocked out Saddam’s nuclear program.

It’s high time that the United States and President Obama step up and show that it is a real friend to Israel.  And not just in photo ops.  Israel’s needs our help and we need Israel’s help.  It is the only democracy in the Middle East (the jury is still out on Iraq).  If we are really as interested in spreading Democracy in that region, why do we hammer Israel time and time again for every little thing?

06/03/2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

President Obama on Leno

President Obama on Leno

President Obama on Leno

Last night, President Obama was a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. To see the video of the interview, click here. To see a full transcript of the interview, click here. The New York Times did a great review of the interview as well.

I just finished watching it and felt compelled to write about it here on Robert’s Random Ravings.

First of all, I have to say how refreshing it is to have a President that gives you a feeling of pride in being an American. He actually talks in full sentences and has a command of the English language. When he was explaining the situation at AIG with the bailout money and the bonuses that were paid out, the first thing that came to mind was how President Bush would have bungled that explanation. I don’t think there is any way that Bush could possibly have explained the situation. I just don’t think he even would have had the understanding to do it.

I enjoyed listening to him and watching him. He has a charming smile and a very endearing way about him. In spite of all of the calamity around him, he looked relaxed and in charge. I loved his joking about the bowling alley and the March Madness tournament. Even when Jay asked him if he picked North Carolina because it is a swing state. President Obama didn’t bat an eye and stayed right with him. I genuinely like this guy!

A lot has been said over the last 8 years about President Bush being the guy that you would want to have a few beers with. Well, while President Obama was talking last night with Jay Leno, I was thinking that I would love to have a few beers and just “hang out” with him.

Does that mean that I agree with everything he does? Absolutely not. As an example, he apparently was trying to get veterans to pay for their own health care if they had any access (through themselves or their spouse) to private insurance. To me, this is a BAD idea. I really don’t care if a veteran has access to private insurance. If our young men and women make the commitment to the US military (no matter which branch, and whether they see combat or not), I think that the LEAST we can do for them is to cover their health care after they leave military service. I never want to see treatment like we saw at Walter Reid a few years ago. They give their service to us, we give our service to them. That is how a voluntary military works. Period. End of story.

I am willing to give the President and his team some time to work things out. As he said last night (and many other times), it took a long time for us to get into this mess. It will not get fixed overnight. The policies of the last 8 years were an abject failure. It is time to try something different. No more “business as usual.”

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03/20/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hillary Clinton – What could have been

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

I am very happy so far with President Obama. I did vote for him in November, but he was not my first choice for President. That would be Hillary Clinton. It is a shame in a way that she did not get the chance to be the Democratic Candidate for President. She kind of got caught up in the sea of change that swept the United States; at least the desire for change. After 8 years of her husband and 8 years of George Bush, I can understand that many people wanted something new – someone whose name did not end with Bush or Clinton. But I think that, in a way, this is a real shame for our country, as well as a lost opportunity.

Barack Obama will probably be much better than George Bush was, but that is not very high of a bar, in my opinion. I disagree with almost every major decision that Bush made over the last 8 years and am very happy to see him gone.

However, I think that Hillary might have been the best candidate for the job. She has much more experience than Obama. She is familiar with life in the White House. She also knows what it is like to be on Capitol Hill. She is a brilliant woman who has lots of good ideas.

Hopefully she will be able to contribute to the Presidency of Obama as our Secretary of State. It probably will end up being a good fit for her, as her area of most expertise is foreign affairs.

What’s done is done – I am not complaining about the election of President Obama. I am actually fairly happy so far with him. I just wonder if it might not have been better for him to grow his experience in the Senate another 4 or 8 years and then make his run for President. We shall see!

02/22/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Politics of Greed

With all of the economic disaster of the last year or so, it is painfully obvious that there is something very wrong with our system. We have a system that is geared to making the rich richer. Sure we offer up the hope for the “average Joe” to “hit it big,” but an old adage rings true most of the time: “You have to have money to make money.”

So is this the right way to do things? Is it fair that people like Bernie Madoff, who swindled (“allegedly”) upwards of $50 billion gets to live at home in his Manhattan penthouse while awaiting whatever “justice” will be handed to him? Would a poor person be given the same treatment?

Or how about all of these Cabinet appointees of President Obama that have not paid their taxes? They get a slap on the wrist, pay their fine, and continue on as if nothing happened. What do you think would happen to the average American if the IRS discovered that they had failed to pay $120,000 in taxes? Remember that tax evasion was how Al Capone was caught.

Capitalism is a fairly simple principle – leave the free market to sort things out. It’s a nice theory, but put into play, it does not work. It is classic strong vs. weak (good vs. evil???) bullying. The ones that are on top try to bully the ones below them, push them out of business, or just buy them out of competition.

That is why we have all of these laws regarding monopolies and other economic situations – to try to level out the playing field a little. Obviously, we have seen that it does not work. When unregulated industries cheat and defraud the American public of literally trillions of dollars, it proves that pure capitalism does not work.

When the idea of derivative securities began to get traction (i.e. packaging a group of mortgages and selling them off to spread the risk), some people saw a great opportunity. And there probably were some good parts to this. But the end effect was to allow loaning far beyond the traditional amount sustainable. When this process got de-regulated, it was like putting the bull in the china shop. When the money is pouring in, the last thing people are worried about is scaling back. So the schemes got bigger and bigger while their foundation got stretched farther and farther. This is obviously a simplification of the process, but hopefully you get the idea.

Many people like to throw out the word “socialism” as if it is a dirty word. Well, the truth is that we are partly socialist. The government takes responsibility away from the free market (such as with Social Security) for some basic necessities. In a true market economy, there would be no government “interference” at all. This is what President Bush was proposing when he wanted to privatize Social Security and allow people to make their own investments. Imagine of that had actually happened? With the fall of the stock market, I have heard figures thrown around of nearly $3 trillion of retirement funds being wiped out. This happened in a relatively short time too. Within a year or so, people saw their portfolios disintegrate. Suddenly, retirement is not a viable option for a lot of people. Unfortunately, the same bad news was hitting businesses and Americans started getting laid off by the thousands, and then the hundreds of thousands. So retirement savings get wiped out and at the same time jobs get wiped out. Where do you turn?

In my opinion, all of this started with basic greed. We all want to make a better life for ourselves and our children. But what is the cost of this ideology? We have become a nation of entitlement. We “deserve” the best, and therefore will acquire goods, whether we can afford it or not. We also reward our biggest crooks, thereby perpetuating the cycle of greed and indifference.

I think we need to take a step back and stop worrying so much about riches and start thinking about each other. We need to remember that we are a community – not a business opportunity.

I believe that things will improve, but each of us has to do our part. We need to live within our means. We need to become active in our government and the policing of our government. We need to not let greed be our main motivation.

02/17/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Republican Party – What is it thinking?

I am beginning to get really disgusted with the way things are going on Capitol Hill now. The Republican Party is busy crying out against a power grab by the White House. They seem to think that President Obama wants to do an end-run around the Constitution and violate the law by having the Director of the Census Bureau report directly to the White House. This position reports to the Commerce Secretary. As anyone reading this may know, the nominee for Commerce Secretary, Republican Senator Judd Gregg, withdrew his nomination for the post, citing “irresolvable conflicts” between his ideology and that of the President.

Gregg was part of President Obama’s attempts to reach out across party lines and include Republicans in his Cabinet. But it seems that the Republican Party is more concerned with thwarting any and all efforts of the new President than it is in actually helping resolve the problem.

The idea of a Republican outcry against a Presidential “power grab” is so ironic. We have spent the last 8 years watching President Bush redefine the role of President and grab as much power as possible for the Executive Branch of the government. No one was crying out against the power grab then.

The Bush Administration inherited a country that was growing very rapidly. We were adding jobs by the hundreds of thousands. We had a budget surplus. Now we have lost over 3 million jobs in the last year, and had a budget deficit of more than $1 trillion last year. That is a number so large that most people probably cannot even conceive of it. I know that I can’t.

Reducing taxes is NOT the solution. Putting up roadblocks and crying that Obama is trying to turn us into a Socialist or Communist state is not the answer. The answer is working together. The answer is NEW ideas, not recycling old ones.

Get with it Congress. Get with it Republican Party. We, the people, are tired of your games, and tired of your vitriol. We want to live our lives in peace and harmony. We do not want to be told that “if you don’t do this, the result is catastrophe.” The economics of fear is so last century. We are in a time where we need hope, not fear. If you are not part of the solution, you need to get out of the way. Pointing out that something is wrong is not helpful unless you can help with a solution to the problem. President Obama is trying to solve problems that were not even of his making. Give him and his plans a chance. They certainly cannot leave us any worse off than the previous 8 year administration has.

02/13/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

President Obama – So Help You G-d

Hope and Progress

This week, we here in America and interested parties all over the world got to witness history being made. The United States swore in its first African-American President. This is certainly an exciting time in America.

Click here to watch the Inauguration Speech, as posted on the White House Web Site.

There is a spirit of enthusiasm and excitement over the potential of the next 4 years (and beyond) while we wait and see what the administration of Barack Hussein Obama will really be like.

Up to now, it has only been talk. “We plan to…” “We hope to…” “We expect to…” It is easy to say you are going to do something. It is much harder to actually do it.

These are scary times for the US and the rest of the world. We are still involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a significant energy crisis – and we all saw how quickly things changed when the price of oil spiked to $150 a barrel, causing gasoline to top $4 a gallon in the US. We are damaging our environment with pollution. Our economy is in shambles. Home prices are dropping like a rock. The American Dream is on shaky ground right now.

There is still an ongoing crisis in the Middle East between Israel and its neighbors (almost all of which have sworn to see the complete destruction of Israel).

There is still genocide and ethnic cleansing occurring in Darfur and Zimbabwe and other regions of the world. There are still millions of people that are hungry and homeless.

President Obama is taking the reins at a time when this country is very divided – he may have a party majority in both the House and the Senate, but that does not mean that Congress will just hand him everything he wants. Nor should it.

Our system was designed as a three branch system so that each branch will keep the other branches accountable.

Yes We Can!

It was a beautiful thing to watch the pageantry of the Inauguration and the Parade and the various Inaugural Balls afterwards. Showing the world how the peaceful transition of power is possible, even when the parties involved have very distinct differences. President Bush was very gracious throughout the ceremonies, even when he was called out on his policies by the incoming President. This is what our country is all about.

Differences of opinion – discussing a situation and coming to a reasonable conclusion as a result of learned discourse – this is one of the things that makes our country great.

While I may not agree with everything that President Obama does, or the people he has chosen as advisors, I am cautiously hopeful for our future. I see a man that is willing to do what it takes to “save” this country. I see a man that is ready to change the “business as usual” money machine that has been the US government into an entity that is really and truly by the people and for the people.

I know that I will have disappointments over the next 4 years. It is impossible not to. But I am willing to give this President a chance. He was not my first choice, but I did vote for him. And even if I had not voted for him, he is my President. May G-d bless him as he leads this nation, guide him to the proper path and save him from any and all that wish him or our country harm.

01/22/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment