I Used to be a Republican

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This doesn't mean that I've become a Democrat, or a Libertarian, or whatever else is out there. My values haven't changed, nor should they for anyone who believes what they believe. But, if it isn't obvious from the tone of previous political posts, I've become disillusioned with politicians in general. There is no one who is ahead of his or her time; they are incapable of working in advance of a problem, preferring to point fingers after the horse has left the barn. Congressional leadership more closely resembles playground bullying than anything mature. And I'm still awaiting for a charismatic Steven Forbes or a sane Ross Perot to step up from outside the political machinery to save our collective days. When it comes to politicians, it seems everyone who can do better, does so elsewhere.

Part of this dissatisfaction lies within the nature of the bicameral system itself. Party politics seems to result in compromises of the lowest common denominator, typically at a price to the taxpayer. Success in politics seems to be measured by what best enables a political party to gain or maintain power for power's sake rather than accomplishing anything in particular for constituents.

I don't closely follow how a person moves from public service at the local level to national positions. But it seems being a politician tends to either bring out the worst in well-intentioned people or it just attracts the worst people.

A particular example comes to mind. I lived in Birmingham, AL for about five years. To support the local arts community, voters approved a special tax on various activities to be dedicated to furthering the arts in its many forms. The issues with funding the local symphony was a major continuing embarrassment for the city, and unless one is strictly against taxation, the need was apparent and the method seemed a fair one.

After it was passed, the City Council immediately diverted the existing funding already designated to the arts to other purposes, leaving the "arts tax" as the sole funding mechanism. Classic bait and switch. Outrage? Maybe one editorial. Accountability? None.

On the national stage, there seems even less accountability. The power of the vote itself represents a means for change, but given the power of incumbent funding, change is difficult. The Republican "sweep" in 1994 or the pending Democrat surge may indicate otherwise, but changeovers in Party control have more to do with discontent with either the President and/or Party in power rather than with a particular public servant.

Good ideas in politics are fairly rare. My favorite is the Republican's "Contract For America" for the 1994 elections. The action items themselves are not the point here, but the concept itself. The Contract listed 10 items to accomplish within the first 100 days of Congress and nationalized a campaign platform for Republicans everywhere. In a business sense, it provided clear performance expectations and a standard by which to judge them. What happens, or what doesn't happen, beyond the initial 100 days is not the point (unless it was followed by #11-#20), but regardless of how unpopular Newt Gingrich became, it's surprising that neither Party adopted this very effective means of communicating their priorities to voters. I guess they're either out of ideas or afraid someone will hold them accountable.

So, with one week remaining of the attack ads, campaign litter, daily polling data, and bumper stickers, I'm very much looking forward to getting beyond this ritual of futility and enjoying whatever amusements befall me.

I suppose I can sum my feelings thusly: If you put your faith in politicians, you'll always be disappointed. But, I don't see any other countries in which I'd prefer to live, so here's my suggestion for any political operatives out there who scour obscure and irrelevant blogs.

Reese's proposed Contract for America:

#1 Constitutional Justification. All legislation entered for consideration will be reviewed for Constitutional authority. Let's not wait for the court system to weigh in, please. Nationalizing airport security personnel? Buying shares in private corporations? Set standards, enforce them, and step out of the way.

#2 Honesty in Spending. The term "government funding" (and all equivalents thereof) will be prohibited. This includes interviews, memos, budgets, proposals or any other communication. The term which should be used is "taxpayer funds" or other reference clearly discernible to mean the same thing. There is no such thing as government money; let's not pretend that taxpayers don't pay for it.

#3 Separation of legislation and spending Bills. Don't hide behind reams of paper for that pet project. Let's make ourselves transparent. Don't force a President to approve stupid things in order to get the important things done.

#4 Financial honesty. Enough of the Social Security lock box. We know we're spending far more than we take in, so let's be honest and add Social Security (and any other off-budget tricks) to the general budget so we can clearly see just how far in a hole we are. We understand that this would just make it harder to justify additional spending.

#5 Necessity for Spending. Any proposed new expense should be accompanied by an explanation of why it is appropriate that the expense be shared by all taxpayers across this great nation. Is it a national interest? Or a local one? But we're not done yet.

The American public is taking a lot of grief for not living within their means. Congress? Just another day in the office. Given that entitlements, Defense, and core operations/obligations consume the Federal budget, the justification for each spending decision should also include why the expense is so important that it requires borrowing to pay for it. Good luck with that one.

#6 Line Item Veto. Let's have Congress go ahead and make it Law. Then the Supreme Court can have a law to judge it by, rather than an unsupported Executive action.

#7 Term Limits. To pretend that "public servants" should have a separate career and donate their time, for a short period, to the governance of this Country is no longer realistic, sadly. To impose a limit of two terms on Congress would largely transfer the power of knowledge and experience to the hordes of aides and special interests who hang around far longer and who would become the true power brokers. Still, we don't need career politicians. 3 terms max, whether House or Senate, or maximum 18 years should someone try doing both to double their permitted time.

#8 No special benefits. Retirement plans, health plans, etc. should all be procured on the open market and similar to those provided by Fortune 100 companies. And the benefits should conclude at the end of their service, just like for us regular folk.

#9 Accounting. We're so far in debt, a little more won't hurt. (This will meet the necessity requirement stated earlier). Let's hire one or more of our fine national accounting firms to investigate the labyrinth of government finances to tell us three things:

a) All the money coming in is accurately counted and accounted for.
b) All expenses are accurately counted and accounted for.
c) Both of the above remain authorized by active Congressional approval. "Oh, I thought we stopped spending on that years ago!" kind of thing...

Does anyone trust that there is a Quicken or Quickbooks program that actually keeps a running total? I think not.

#10 Fairtax.org. This doesn't change spending one iota, but deserves a fair hearing for a revolutionary change for America as the preferred place of doing business in the world. Congress should be brave enough to at least take a serious look beyond the political posturing and other avoidance mechanisms.

I suppose a Contract for America should be limited at ten items. Heck and I didn't even get to the "third rail" of Social Security or a Balanced Budget Amendment. No politician is stupid enough to mess with those. Until, like most everything else, there's no choice left but to deal with it.

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Celebrity Campaigns, Pt. 2

Well, the Prez Prediction was intended to be my last political post in a sequential theme, but... I can't help myself. I've certainly been collecting a list of other things that have been on my mind. But, for now... I must exorcise the demons that the season has thrust upon me.

This (regrettably, in a way) is an easy target. I grew up watching TBS, Ch 17, usually when I came home from school: "Gilligan's Island," "Andy Griffith Show," "Scooby Do," etc. made for a great afternoon if I wasn't told to "Go outside and play!" The Andy Griffith show was not one of my favorites, but I'd watch fairly frequently; perhaps it fell between better shows. I remember that the guy who whistled the theme tune (Earle Hagen, a quick internet search reveals) visited my school, and for several days my neighborhood buddies and I spent some time trying to whistle the theme as expertly as he did. Not even close.

Later in life, I'd watch "Happy Days" and "Matlock" as they originally aired and go to the theater to see "Splash," "Cocoon," and "Apollo 13," among others. Each of these include either Ron Howard or Andy Griffith either acting or directing.

So, it's only natural that I would have a measure of curiosity about a political activism video featuring these "characters" who have amused my life over the years. On top of that, throw in Arthur Fonzarelli for free.

Condensed message: "Vote Change!" If anything, one might suspect that W is running for re-election instead of McCain, who as often has been meddlesome to Bush as a supporter of his policies. Regardless of your political views, this video just reemphasizes my recent Celebrity Campaign post. Henry Fonda, he's not.

Let's see now... Because Ron Howard made the supreme sacrifice of shaving his beard and donning a hairpiece (or two), and, possibly, with the response of tugged heartstrings for fictional characters long past, I should vote with Opie (and Richie) for his candidate of choice.

Howard, Winkler, and Griffith are using their celebrity and media opportunities to get involved for a better tomorrow. I get it, and I respect it...

...to a point. But, given the weight of responsibility he feels to personally get involved, is too much to ask for, oh, I don't know... substance? Perhaps he could speak to which particular failed policies he has in mind, why we should consider them failed, who is actually responsible for these failures, and how the proposals of any given candidate are indeed solutions that are worthy of support.

Again, it's great to be involved, but... does anyone actually pay attention to this stuff? Is America better off if our elected representatives are voted in based on the influence of the gravitas depicted here? Or is Howard assuming that it's so incredibly obvious which is the superior candidate that any examination of the issues is not needed? (In which case, there is no point to his video. This would be a great condescension on his part; I prefer to think better of him). Or, is this subconsciously a play for a wink and a pat on the back by his buddies at the club?

Shallow, elitist, or self-serving... Well, Op, here's a big *hug* for ya.


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Presidential Prediction!

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Okay, political rants are over. Finally, the long anticipated (not!) prediction of who will be our nation's 44th President!

The way I see it... if you're conservative, you vote Republican. If you're liberal, you vote Democrat. If you want to throw away your vote, regardless of how well-intentioned, you can vote Libertarian, Independent, or Other.

That leaves what are called "uncommitted" voters. I'm not sure what that means, exactly. They're said to be "in the middle," but whether that means in the middle from a values standpoint or in the middle of watching a football game is unclear. There are a lot of possibilities within that group.

1) The Ignorant - they just don't know what matters to them, so they vote with the leader of the latest poll. "Yeah, man, I've always picked the winner!"
2) The greedy - who wait and see who promises the most freebies. "I got mine from Bill!"
3) The clueless - who register to vote, and, darn! Voting would interfere with my Soaps.
4) The fair-minded - those that want to hear what the candidates say, prioritizing their own thoughts and needs against the values of those running for office, while also weighing the National and International implications of each candidate.

Sure I'm cynical, but I'm also honest enough to realize there are probably other groups. But I'm fairly certain most of the uncommitted fall into Category 4. I'm also fairly certain that the fair-minded don't actually watch debates, though they'll listen 15-30 seconds on the radio for the sound bites.

So how, then, does this fairly sizable group actually determine who should receive their vote? It's an important question, because they ultimately determine the election results - the Dems and Reps canceling each other out.

My grand(!) theory is that "the uncommitted" vote for the person they would most like to have over for dinner. Now, to refine that highly complex reasoning to the lowest common denominator, I need to be clear. This isn't a "Sunday best" attire dinner. Nosirree, that would be quite awkward.

You can't relax and have a good time in a straight backed seat while being careful not to let your sleeves dip into the sorbet. Instead, let's go with the Barbeque concept:

We're talking a smoky, outdoor get together with paper plates, potato salad, baked beans, and a nice cool one (or two)... where you can really sit down and talk. Got it?

Let's see how this works against recent elections. Who do you want to invite over?

The Communicator vs. the Peanut. Jimmy Carter may be one of the better ex-Presidents, but most will go (and did) for Hollywood.

Do I even have to post a picture of Reagan and Walter Mondale? Who? Reagan in a no-brainer.

The same should be said for the following election...

... but I can't resist Dukakis in the tank. Voters did. This wasn't necessarily an indication of wanting Bush to share a brew in the backyard as much as keeping Dukakis far from it.

Now, all evidence to this point to the contrary, this "election modeling tool" does not favor one political party's candidate over the other's. Case in point:

You gotta have music at the bar-be-que! Dan Qualye aside, Bush didn't stand a chance. And Bill will drink a beer, too.

Which brings us to Saxman vs. Bob Dole. Sorry, Bob. You're not invited. And I don't need a picture to emphasize the point.

Now, for our next contestants:

This is a tough one. It might be said that neither is invited to your party, or that both are. It was close. But, given that this election was held before "the man who invented the internet" developed a personality, the ranch man from Texas wins out. It's a Barbeque, remember?

Many, of course, ask how in the world could the U.S. vote for W as President. Don't we have anything better to choose from? Then they're doubly astounded that we did it twice. Remember the working theory here:

Senator Kerry, thank you for your time. Now please return to your formal dining room; you're not welcome here, you faker.

I think we've practiced enough. We now come to the current test subjects:

This one is a pretty tough case, actually. McCain has all the war stories, which are welcome fare at a cook-out. But then, we have to ask ourselves what we favor in a 21st century backyard party. President Bush's vocabulary of one syllable words has worn the party thin, and Senator Obama is Mr. Smoothie. In deference to the needs of our guests at the party, perhaps we can miss out on McCain's tired old stories. Obama just sounds so good!

I never suggested this theory reflected the highest aspirations of our electoral process. Sorry, but our party needs some life, so let's throw him the invite and our deliberating is (just that quickly) done! Ladies and Gentlemen, your 44th President of the United States!

I did say it would be a smoky party.

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Celebrity Campaigns

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I have a DVD of the inaugural gala for John F. Kennedy, hosted by Frank Sinatra, with appearances by Sidney Poitier, Ethel Merman, Bette Davis, Leonard Bernstein and others. It includes some great music, but the striking aspect of it (other than the non-HDTV black and white picture - hey, I'm spoiled!) is the general reverence held for the Office of the President. There are a few partisan jabs, of course, but it's certainly a celebratory but respectful affair.

And no wonder. As much credit as Bill Clinton received for connecting with an audience ("I feel your pain"), it seems a rare thing to hear a candidate speak, to all appearances, from the heart. Presenting, candidate John F. Kennedy:

The rather clueless insertions of Nixon are made for good effect, but overall, I'd say Kennedy qualified as a Statesmen of first rank, regardless of his other foibles. Campaigns of substance seem to be lacking the last 20ish years, and if we haven't settled into a steady diet of poll-tested sound bites with media spin, it seems that is all that we can get. Thank you, President Kennedy, for a reminder of the way things used to (and ought to) be.

An interesting website is "The Living Room Candidate," from which this video originated, which hosts videos of prior media ads and debates for candidates going back to Ike vs. Stevenson. At a minimum, it's entertaining.

Celebrities, too, it seems, have always had their hands into politics and occupy a portion of the campaign landscape. As a music lover, there's no end to musical artists (Springsteen, Neil Young, Wayne Coyne, John Lennon, ad infinitum) who get out to "Rock the Vote."

I wonder if they feel a certain measure of guilt regarding their fame and wealth, and therefore seek to contribute back to society in some way. In the case of actors, perhaps they search for recognition for their own thoughts rather than as interpreters of others'. But for better or worse, at least they try. Everyone should care.

But some intentions go awry. Actors such as Alec Baldwin miss as often as they hit when ad-libbing, an example being his promise to flee the country should W win the election. W won. Alec stayed, and found himself a nice sit-com to star in to keep his celebrity star shining brightly. Barbra Streisand, Robert Altman, and Eddie Vetter also decided that the U.S. is a desirable place to live, ultimately, despite their threats to leave.

Seriously, is a fan of a particular celebrity, author, or artist supposed to change their own vote because their hero(ine) threatens to leave the country if they don't get their way? That expectation seems rather unlikely, but then, it was never an honest intention to begin with. I would suspect that voters swayed by such would find their convictions mightily tested by, oh, the 21 flavors at Baskin Robbins', which is really much more pleasant diversion than standing in a line and finding out they forgot to register. Again.

I'm sure that partisanship was every bit as strong in 1960 as it is today. Thinking people pay attention to politics and are aware of their own values and beliefs. After a measure of diligence and consideration, they tend to select a "representative" that shares their outlook.

Without a doubt, celebrity endorsements are pop culture fodder. But with the current generation of Alec Baldwins in mind, yesteryear's actors also seemed more Statesman-like in their endorsements.

Nice job, Henry. We miss you.

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Charity and Theft

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We have an interesting fundraiser underway at work. In a competition between the staff on each floor of my six story building, employees are encouraged to deposit pennies in containers on each floor. Everyone has pennies sitting around, right? To make it interesting, employees can also add "silver" coins into the bins on the other floors, the value of which subtract from others' totals. There's also gift baskets being auctioned, raffles, and other events which provide clear evidence that United Way giving season has arrived.

America is known as a nation of great charity. Whether crises are home or abroad, Americans give when others hurt. Given that, despite the current economic woes, we have been blessed as a society economically, there is a certain "oughtness" that follows that we should choose to help those who are less fortunate. I suspect, in people's hearts, they would like to give even more.

Charity can be defined as (from dictonary.com):

1. generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless.
2. something given to a person in need.

The key point implied is that the one acting charitably does so willingly, without coercion.

The opposite of charity would seem to be theft. The evening news quickly reminds us that theft is also prevalent in America, whether it be from someone's home or corporate "opportunism" by those with the keys to the vault.

Let's look at the definition of theft (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary):

1. (Law) The act of stealing; specifically, the felonious taking and removing of personal property, with an intent to deprive the rightful owner of the same; larceny.

Rephrased, theft is the unlawful taking of one person's property for the benefit of another.

We now bring our attention to the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Note, it does not read "provide the general welfare." Yet, taking a look at "entitlement spending" and other transfers of wealth within our tax system, that is exactly what the U.S. taxpaper (or, factually, those who hold U.S. debt) does. As the United Way, churches, and other charitable organizations struggle to gather funds for charitable purposes, I wonder how much people feel the equivalent of "I already gave at the office" via their income tax withholding when asked to give elsewhere.

The Constitutionality of taxes may be debated, but people understand that funds are necessary for the government to operate. How the money is spent, however, would seem to influence the rightness of taxation. Should the government be the principle agent of charity? It certainly seems to cross the line into theft when taxes are used to take the property of one person, and then give that to another person for their own use. Not only does this reduce capital for private charities, but it also marginalizes the work that they do. After all, politicians are more than happy to spend on anything that brings a vote.

It seems that, societally, we're more comfortable with the government handing out goodies than we are trusting individuals to give. This is a gradual transition as people view it government's responsibility to help those in need rather than an optional voluntary action. In short, socialism seems preferred over faith in individuals or groups of individuals to do the right thing. It's taken a very short time for this thinking to evolve.

A couple of interesting quotes from years gone by:

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." - James Madison criticizing an attempt to grant public monies for charitable means, 1794

"As a matter of fact and law, the governing rights of the States are all of those which have not been surrendered to the National Government by the Constitution or its amendments. Wisely or unwisely, people know that under the Eighteenth Amendment Congress has been given the right to legislate on this particular subject1, but this is not the case in the matter of a great number of other vital problems of government, such as the conduct of public utilities, of banks, of insurance, of business, of agriculture, of education, of social welfare and of a dozen other important features. In these, Washington must not be encouraged to interfere." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1930

1 Note: FDR refers to Prohibition of Alcohol, which in 1930 was a legal power of Congress granted by now cancelled Amendment 18 and enacted by the Volstead Act. Speech transcribed in the New York Times, March 3, 1930.

Two years later, Roosevelt would reverse himself and launch the New Deal.

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The Press Oughta...

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From the sound of talking heads on TV and political candidates, one would think that living in the USA is something for which we should all be ashamed. We ignore the poor, we push other countries around militarily, we pollute like there is no tomorrow, we consume beyond our entitlement, and our middle class is a flimsy profit center (or, an inflated corporate expense that is easily replaced "offshore.")

Oh, if only Bill Clinton were still President!

Hardly. And I'm in no way suggesting that "W" is anything close to Presidential material. The way I see it, Presidents come and go, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Some may make you feel better, and some may make you feel worse depending on your own priorities and experience during their tenure. We bring our biases to the measurement of such things.

Still, ask the world, and the majority would want to live here. This isn't based on who is or who is not President. It turns out that our founding fathers did some things right, providing the foundation for things we now take for granted - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Behind the framing of the government was a sense of "oughtness" derived from the successes and failures of political structures elsewhere. There was a vision of America that protected people from governmental abuse and formed an efficient, balanced governmental system to meet the citizens' needs.

"What ought to be" can change over time, and 232 years can age a nation. Not only can expectations change regarding the purpose of government, but the original foundations that were assumed to always remain may themselves be proven false. At issue is that from the start, an assumption existed that certain qualified citizens, aspiring to serve for the nation's benefit, would serve for a short time in governmental leadership then return to their careers.

In retrospect, it seems our founding fathers were naive. No issue is taken with the system of checks and balances between the three branches of government. But a government "by the people and for the people" has suffered from all the people who participate in the process. This is opinion, obviously, but I doubt that Hancock, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams et al anticipated the de-evolution of American leadership from "statesman" to "career politician." Each of our founding fathers had their own issues and political differences, but a review of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution indicates a common, unifying understanding of a noble "oughtness" that superceded their own interests.

To focus where I'm going, let me quote the oft-quoted words of Alexis de Toqueville: "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money." (1835 or 1840, I couldn't determine which, but quite a while ago!)

It's fairly easy to point a finger at the voting public for "the mess" that we're in. Even given sufficient voter "wrath" at the political party in office, any sweeping change made, such as the Republican Congressional rise in 1994, in hindsight, results in only more of the same disappointment, only with a different cast of characters.

Rather quickly, it appears, all of the well-intended public servants become corrupted by special interests, voting blocks, power for power's sake, and bringing home enough federal cash to their voting district to warrant another term. And it's not like local government participants are somehow immune. People are flawed; therefore people in government are flawed.

But the biggest failing, is my opinion, is the media. The freedom of the press is specifically granted in the Bill of Rights, but one has to wonder why. It's not to fill the 7:00 p.m. void with "Entertainment Tonight." The freedom of the Press was essential to help maintain accountability in the government.

Today, it seems politicians and the press work hand in hand to deliver "sound bites," generally in a cooperative effort that if not clearly biased, is certainly not objective. The day after the second Obama-McCain debate, CNN was digging "deep" into the heart of the discussion, and the correspondent replied to an open-ended question about what was learned with... two sound bites. 30 seconds is all you need to know, folks. Score the basket and let's see what's new in the world of health and beauty.

There is an absence of critical thought by the media; a failure to research and challenge statements made by politicians. This is , at best, superficial, and, at worst, enabling. Our leaders seem to rely upon the opportunity to score 15 second points without a challenge. An example is Dick Gephart's rousing stab at the Republican Congress in the 1990's, where he claimed that Republicans wanted to starve America's children (said while surrounded by elementary school children for the accompanying photo-op). Certainly it was a frequently played sound bite (15 seconds or less!), but moving funding for subsidized lunches from Federal control to State is hardly equivalent to depriving kids of meals. Was this politically charged nonsense challenged by the press? Not once.

The major "ought" that is missing from American governance is a Press Corps that loves the Constitution and holds all three branches of government accountable to it. The Constitution should be held above all, the veritable benchmark by which all proceedings should be held and judged. The press, it seems, find more fulfillment in being part of a movement than keeping a movement honest by that Standard.

This has cost them tremendously in terms of respect by readers and viewers, as attested by the popular response not to correct itself, but to tailor opinions for many of the disparate factions in society. At some level, almost everyone recognizes that the Press has abandoned its privileged position as the expositor of truth and falsehood. Rather than test our public officials to the Constituionality of every action (a factual exercise where they could recover public respect), they find "oughtness" in their own leanings towards the political party of their choice, as if we can trust them because they know better than the rest of us. For those that think I'm criticising the "liberal media," I am. And the conservative media is just as guilty.

Over the past couple of weeks, we hear of the $700B bailout of America's financial sector. The need for such can be debated. Elsewhere. But the problem, primarily linked to inadequately regulated greed in the lending industry, is fact. Bush is the President, so he gets the blame, right? Well, he can certainly share in the blame, but the majority of the failing was with Congress itself, and principally, in this case, the Democrats.

But why isn't the press holding Barney Frank (and others) accountable for this inaction 4 years ago? Congressman Frank now stands wounded by the lack of the White House's control over this area. Sheesh. But we best not delve into the facts and judging where the root cause lies, because it's politically inconvenient with a forthcoming election.

They're called the "drive-by media" because they're just looking for the superficial sound bite that fits their spin, not for ultimate truth and accountability. Some years later, they'll reassess the issue and point fingers more appropriately, when it is no longer meaningful in the course of events. And to think that the Russian newspaper's name, "Pravda" ("truth") was a running joke when the USSR was around...

Back to the bailout. The first attempt failed. The second attempt, with a few tweaks, and a lot of PORK, (go ahead, read it and ruin your appetite), somehow persuades enough Congressman that it's an okay solution. The clear implication is that, yes, many of our "Statesmen" are influenced directly by the goodies they can take home rather than the merit of the core issue.

Does the press descend on this? No. They comment that there is pork and that it seems unpopular with many, but they never press the point. How about asking a Congressman if the tax benefits for the wooden arrow manufacturer in their state resulted in their support for the Bill? Noooooo, that might embarrass the Congressman and reduce access in case superficial comments are needed later. The fact is that Congress is ripping the American public off even as they save the day from the results of their own neglected duty.

Interestingly, the only mainstream consistent expositor of governmental wastefulness is "Reader's Digest." Articles may appear here in Georgia about a mountain of pork in WV by Senator Byrd or the "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska, but, not surprisingly, there never seems to be any criticism of the local congressmen who bring tax dollars back to our own State. One person's pork is another's filet, I guess.

In these days when there is no longer a line drawn between reporting the news (fact) and opinion (bias), it's disappointing that the Press has abandoned their proper role in preserving this democracy. Their elitist attitudes that their own sense of "oughtness" outweighs truth fails both our government and the voting public.

At its core, the Federal government should provide for the common defense and establish a system of justice. Everything else falls into a category of 300+ million people crying for their favorite dessert. De Toqueville had it right.

Hey, don't worry, I'll get funny again. And even offer a Presidential prediction. But as for my faith in politicians of any party to work steadfastly in the public's interest... No. I don't think so. We've been sold out by ourselves.

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Political Icons

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A couple years ago, I was able to visit the Providence, RI area. One stop amongst many was a beautiful clubhouse that overlooks the Narragansett Bay, called the Squantum Association, a semi-private club with history back to 1872. One of many interesting things about the place was a drawing by Thomas Nast, who, like many other notable people of whom I have heard, sounded familiar but without the slightest recollection. The drawing was a self-portrait sent in gratitude for a visit to the club.

Thomas Nast is probably most noted these days as being the creator of the modern image of Santa Claus. This originated in 1863 with the following picture, with Santa handing out socks and other items to Northern soldiers.

Prior to this, Santa was depicted as a tall, thin man. In subsequent years, the features were embellished, such as this refined version in 1881:

His Christmas scenes were not his main focus, however. During his career, he gathered signifcant influence with his political cartoons, published regularly in "Harper's Weekly."

Per the Democratic Party's official website, the donkey was first used in the context of their Party in describing Andrew Jackson's stubborness during his first political campaign for President, but it was not used until many years later in a political cartoon about him.

However, they credit Thomas Nast with associating the Party by this image beginning 33 years later. Ironically, it was not meant as a favorable image, but rather ridiculing an anti-war faction within their Party. With repetition in his political cartoons, the icon became the unofficial symbol of the Democractic Party by 1880.

And that, ultimately, is why I took the time to research this. Haven't you ever wondered why a Political party (foreign or domestic) would want a jackass for a mascot? Or, even if played more gently, a donkey?

Quoting from the Dem's site, "Although the elephant had been connected with the Republican party in cartoons that appeared in 1860 and 1872, it was Nast's cartoon in 1874 published by Harper's Weekly that made the pachyderm stick as the Republican's symbol. A cartoon titled "The Third Term Panic," showed animals representing various issues running away from a donkey wearing a lion's skin tagged "Caesarism." The elephant labeled "The Republican Vote," was about to run into a pit containing inflation, chaos, repudiation, etc."

The idea was that Democrats were trying to scare Republican voters away from a third Ulysses S. Grant term.

Interestingly, in these days of product branding and trademarks, the Democratic Party has still not officially adopted the donkey as their mascot (though they use it widely), while the Republicans have officially adopted the elephant.

It begs an interesting question. What icons they would choose if they were to start from scratch and begin the process again. Doves and hawks? A tree and an axe? A bouquet of flowers and a pistol? A wishing well and an oil platform? Peanut butter and jelly? For the last, certainly not, because we know despite all the platitudes of bipartisanship, they clearly don't mix well together.

The next question... if they actually came up with an icon that had cultural appeal, would anyone buy it? Given that so many actually (or apparently) believe what politicians say, I suppose so. But no one seems to be out buying donkey and elephant gear (at least who is not attending a political convention).

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