Parental Discretion Advised

While it made the national news, it was even bigger news in the area where I live.  It seems that Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler was photographed at a “Beach Week” celebration last summer.  For those not from the mid-Atlantic states, Beach Week is the post high school graduation tradition of renting a beach house on the Delaware or Maryland shore and “partying” to celebrate the end of high school.  I’m sure there are similar exploits in other parts of the country even if the name is different.  According to Mr. Gansler, he was there to pass on some information to his son who was a part of the gathering.  The problem is that it is highly likely (especially when one looks at the pictures) that significant underage drinking was taking place.  Back to that in a minute.

You should also know that Mr. Gansler is running for the Democrat’s nomination for governor of Maryland and a number of unusual anecdotes and stories about him have been appearing in the news lately.  His supporters claim it is a “dirty tricks” campaign from his primary opponent, the current Lieutenant Governor.  I do not intend to get into the politics of the situation, but in the name of full disclosure, that is probably how this issue came to the public’s attention in the first place.

The real question to me is the role of parents in supervising their children and what they allow and do not allow them to do.  For now I will ignore the fact that Mr. Gansler is the senior law enforcement officer for the state of Maryland and that underage drinking is against the law.  (He claims that he did not know such activity was going on and that regardless, he had no jurisdiction in Delaware.)

So the question remains, what was his role as a parent?  This issue came up in my own neighborhood this past summer.  It became apparent to some in our neighborhood that underage drinking was occurring on some community owned property (basically a park).  The Home Owner’s Association wanted to put an end to the activity and proposed hiring off-duty police officers to randomly patrol the area on likely “party” nights.  Seemed like a good idea — not!  I could not believe (or understand) the reaction from a vociferous portion of the neighborhood (many with teenage children) in strong opposition to hiring anyone to patrol the area.  The arguments against it broke down to two major objections.

First, the police would “hassle” their children.  I was appalled that the initial reaction of parents would be that the primary focus of the police is to make life hard on their kids.  Trying to present the fact that community policing efforts actually enhance the relationship between the police and neighborhoods and their residents (everyone gets to know everyone and incidents go way down, and those that do occur are de-fused quietly).  No!  The police, the argument went, would be out to “get” their kids.  Hmmm.  Pointing out that if their kids were doing nothing wrong there would be no reason for them to interact with the off-duty officers and thus there would be no “hassling”  was also rejected,  That is when the light went on for me.  I realized that the parents in opposition were actually talking in code.

Thus the second and more important of their arguments dawned on me.  The code words were “safe” “experiment” “learn from their mistakes” “blow off some steam” and others like them.  In other words, some of the most vociferous parents knew (or would rather not be confronted with the fact) that their kids were partaking in underage drinking.  Ahhhh.  Now I get it.  When asked about drinking and driving, vandalism, accidentally falling down and hurting themselves, or some unwanted physical activity the response was always that our kids are “good kids” and would never do anything like that.

In the end the community did not hire the off-duty officers and the opposition parents formed a committee to check on the area at night.

Thus Mr. Gansler’s actions or inactions become relevant.  What is a parent’s responsibility when it comes to underage drinking?  I’ve found that many parents take the approach that it will happen anyway and so they would rather it happen in a controlled (“safe”) environment and thus those parents condone it.  To me, that is a short-sighted outlook.  Besides instilling in their children the idea that they do not have to follow the law, those parents are opening themselves up to the possibility of tremendous heart-break.  There are just way too many stories of high school and college underage drinkers hurting themselves or others or partaking in sexual activities that all regret (or bring charges forward) afterwards or some other life changing event.

Many parents want to be “popular” and allow it.  Probably more accurately many parents want to give their children the freedom to learn from their own experiences including the “mistakes” that they make.  Give them their independence.  I’m all for that — but there are limits to a teenager’s level of experience and more importantly, limits to their judgement.  That’s where the parent needs to step in and prevent something awful from happening.  In our neighborhood, warnings such as those were considered some kind of disparagement of their children and greatly resented.  In Mr. Gansler’s case he argued that he had no responsibility for other parent’s children, only his own who, he said, he knew was not drinking.

Look.  I made my share of mistakes when I was young. as most of us did.  But mine were certainly never condoned, much less encouraged, by my parents.  I’ve also had my share of “learning experiences” raising our son, but he understood that underage drinking was a serious problem that would not be tolerated.

Parenting is hard — perhaps the toughest and most important job that any of us will ever undertake.  The use of alcohol by minors is a problem and is not an issue that parents can abdicate.  While I’m sure he would rather this never become an issue to him, especially on a national level, I thank Mr. Gansler for creating a national dialogue on the dangers of underage drinking and a parent’s responsibility in dealing with it.

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Checking In On the Constitution

Much has been made recently as to what is or is not “Constitutional.”  I suspect many of those people invoking it have never read the entire document.  In particular, I wonder about those that say that our Founding Fathers got it right and that we should not change anything about it.  You can read it for yourselves at the website for the national archives.

Of course the Founding Fathers knew that they did not get everything right and intentionally left some areas ambiguous (for better or worse today) in order to allow for interpretation as technology, life styles, and other elements of society inevitably changed.

There are other areas that they just plain got wrong and that others in our nation felt compelled to change or correct.  Some minor things like:

  • Article I Section 2 excluding Indians as people and counting slaves (!) as three-fifths of a person.
  • Article I Section 3 where Senators were elected by the state legislatures, not by the people themselves.
  • Article II Section 1 which outlines the method for electing the President and Vice-President which among other things has the number two vote-getter as the Vice President regardless of party.
  • Article IV Section 2 which holds that a “laborer” (slave) escaping one state shall be returned to their owner in another state.
  • Amendments XI, XII, XII, XIV (which itself was further changed by the 26th Amendment), XVI, XVII, XX, XXV, and XXVI all modified original parts of the Constitution.
  • Amendment XVIII (Prohibition) which itself was repealed by the 21st Amendment.  (Meanwhile Sarah Palin does not seem to know how our government works.  At a recent anti-Obamacare rally she used Prohibition as an example of getting rid of a law since now “you can get a beer with your pizza” and so, her logic went, even if it is the law of the land, we can get rid of Obamacare.  She was either ignorant or intentionally misleading in that she failed to mention that it took another amendment to the Constitution to do away with it.  In other words, through regular order using a defined process.  It was not removed because the Tea Party took the government hostage over the debt ceiling, which she implied was a similar action to repealing Prohibition.)
  • Amendment XIX ratified in 1920 (less then 95 years ago) that gave women the right to vote for the first time in our country.
  • Amendment XXVII is interesting in and of itself as it was originally proposed on 25 September 1789 and was ratified on 7 May 1992.  No, that is not a misprint.  It is also the amendment referenced when people call for Congress to give up their pay during a government shutdown and they say they cannot because of the Constitution.

Indeed, the Bill of Rights came to be because the original thirteen states wanted to amend the original Constitution.  There are others, but you get the idea.

There is a process for changing the Constitution and it has been used and will, I suspect, be used again in the future.  I would argue that we should do so cautiously and without giving in to a particularly loud minority with political clout (see Amendment XVIII).  However, to say that it is inviolate does not show much understanding of our Constitution.  It also sells our Founding Fathers short in that they did not unanimously agree among themselves on all of its contents and indeed, understood that it would be modified over time.

When people invoke the Constitution, I wish they would take the time to make sure that they know what they are talking about.


What Just Happened?

It turns out it is impossible for me to resist writing about the recent shenanigans in the House of Representatives.  I did not intend to write more about it as it seems self-evident to me as to what occurred, but here I am writing none-the-less.  I’ll try to be brief in addressing two main points.

I think what we just experienced is primarily a battle for the future of the Republican Party.  I feel strongly that we need a vibrant two-party system as part of the checks and balances inherent in our way of government.  For this citizen, I hope that the mainstream Republicans in the Senate and the House prevail over the Tea Party zealots that prefer ideological purity over actually running the country.  To this observer, it seems a lot like fundamentalists trying to take over our nation.  Thankfully the cooler heads in the Senate prevailed, which actually is not unusual in the history of our legislative process and a reflection of the way it was intended to be done.  The House tends to be more impetuous and the Senate tends to be the more deliberate body willing to look at long-term impacts rather than the fad of the moment.  Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule on both ends of the equation, but generally the system works.  It worked this time, but it took way too long.  Time will tell what this all means for the future, but I hope that the fundamentalists in the House have figured out that Senator Ted Cruz is not the Speaker of the House.  In my view, Ted Cruz really is only out for himself and has merely hitched a ride with the Tea Party in order to gain attention for self-promotion.  The majority of Republicans in the House and Senate need to stand up to Cruz and his kind and appeal to the large majority of us that take a middle of the road approach.

I’m no fan of his, but kudos to Senator Mitch McConnell who is fighting his own re-election challenge from the far right.  He was missing in action for far too long, but got it done in the end.  Hopefully the experience for both he and Senator Harry Reid will lead to some productive efforts to straighten out the problems that we face in a bi-partisan manner.

My second thought has to do with opposition to Obamacare which, ostensibly, was the reason for the shutdown.  For now I will ignore the view that simply because it was championed by President Obama that there was visceral opposition to it regardless of its possible merits.  Instead I have several thoughtful colleagues that worry that our country cannot afford it.  This is a more reasoned argument and one that needs to be further explored.  As I have said in earlier posts, I do not believe that Obamacare will be trouble-free — no undertaking of such magnitude can be counted upon to be trouble-free.  However, the fixes should be well thought out and not attempts at outright sabotage to ensure its failure.  But I digress.  While I do not accept that the Affordable Care Act will be the ruin of our country, either socially or economically, let me concede for arguments sake that it may put a burden on our national finances.  I still do not get the logic behind the reasoning that what may (may) be a burden over the long haul — several years into the future — needs to be “fixed” by destroying the nation’s economy now.  That is what many Tea Party supporters and Congressmen tried to do with the run-up to the current Continuing Resolution (CR).  Some still say it would have been worth it and given the chance, they would do it again.  I do not get it.  While I am no Nobel Prize winning economist, I do understand what the Nobel Prize winning economists are saying, along with financial experts of every stripe and leading CEOs of major corporations.  All indications were that a failure to extend the debt ceiling would over time have a catastrophic impact on our economy and destroy any chance for a continued recovery.  Even those staunchly opposed to Obamacare were appalled that the Tea Party Republicans would be willing to cripple our nation economically in order to stop it.  I will never understand it.  Never.  Such an approach runs counter to everything that I understand as a patriotic American.  If every one of us acted this way to oppose laws that we disagree with (and there is probably some significant law that most Americans oppose and it is unlikely that it is the same one) then we would be a nation without laws and anarchy would prevail.

I just do not understand how people who say they love their country actually hate it so much that they are willing to risk destroying it to get what they want.


Now What?

“Mr. Boehner, tear down this wall!”

–with apologies to Ronald Reagan

As we continue to endure the shutdown of the federal government — or as the Republicans prefer to call it, the “slim-down” — it is just too easy to be outraged.  Unfortunately, that does not help and does not get us anywhere.  Even more dangerously, we are approaching the point where the good faith and financial reliability of the United States will be in jeopardy.

I am confused, however, by the tactics of the Republican members of the House.  Either that, or those tactics are so blatantly obvious that even I can understand them.  There does not seem to be any over-all strategy in what they are doing.

I constantly shake my head each day as I remember that all of this fuss is over a Continuing Resolution.  It is not about solving the economic problems that we as a nation face.  It is over a six-week Continuing Resolution (CR).  It seems pretty clear to me that passing that CR and then beginning negotiations on the larger problems and issues we face is the way to go.  The Senate and the President have both already said that they would agree to discuss “anything” that the House Republicans put on the table, but not without opening up the government and giving us some breathing room on the debt ceiling.  The inside the Beltway crowd that tracks such things repeatedly states that there are enough moderate Republicans in the House that will join all of the Democrats in the House to pass such a CR giving enough time to move on to solving bigger problems.  Speaker Boehner refuses to allow that to happen.  He also states that when (if?) negotiations begin there can be no “red lines” inhibiting the discussions, and in the next breath says there can be no discussion about raising anything that even smells like a tax.  What?  Say that again.  I believe he said there are no red lines except for those he wants to have.  That’s what I thought I heard him say.  (See this whole thing is getting me so that I’m talking to myself now.)

More confusing is the current Republican tactic in the House that passes individual pieces of a CR to open up selected pieces of the government.  Primarily those where they are taking heat from their constituents because of the media attention.  Things like the national parks, the National Health Institute, Head Start, etc., all areas where there has been bad publicity concerning the shutdown.  On top of that, they passed a bill that essentially pays federal workers to stay home indefinitely.  How does that help the nation save money?  We are paying more for what some people think we shouldn’t pay for in the first place, but getting nothing for it.  Makes no sense to me.  I’m glad for the workers that will get their back pay — although that doesn’t help them pay their bills right now — but it doesn’t help all of those workers that do not work for the government but support it.  These range all the way from contractors (by definition no contract, no job, no pay) to food truck operators that have government workers as their primary patrons, and hundreds of thousands of others that are not part of the government and not getting paid and will not get back pay.

Now they are trying to turn the tables on Senate Democrats by saying that they’ve helped these people by passing their piecemeal CR for some areas, but that the Senate refuses to take them up.  Hey!  It’s easy!  Just pass one CR for the entire government and all those other piecemeal bills are totally unnecessary.   The only reason to do it in bits and pieces is to try to claim that the far right-wing Republicans are not the ones holding things up — it’s the Democrats after all!  How silly.  It also shows that they hold the citizens of our nation in such low regard that we would not see right through this callous political ploy.

Now we have to worry about the debt ceiling.  I think it fair to say that no one knows exactly what will happen when we hit that mark.  The United States has never done it.  However, I believe it would be reckless to find out.  A child has never put their hand on a hot stove before either so they may want to try to find out what “hot” means.  A responsible parent, of course, would never allow it.  Where are the responsible Republicans in the House?  There are many in the Senate.  I know there are many in the House as well.  Why not speak up and keep us from finding out what happens about a week from now?  I suppose to some it is kind of exciting to see what will happen, or to think that you have the power and the means to destroy our nation’s economy.  If that is what they are thinking then we used to have a name for people who were trying to destroy our country and surely it was not “patriot.”

I have heard many people saying that this is just business as usual, we’ve been here before, and in the end it will work out.  I hope that they are right, but I’m not so sure.  This has a different feel to me.  Unlike similar developments in the past, I am unaware of any back room or back channel negotiations taking place.  Those that have brokered such deals in the recent past, primarily Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell, are noticeably absent in this go around.  There is no clear path out of this situation unless Speaker Boehner allows a vote on the clean CR in exchange for some defined negotiations over budget issues (not Obamacare).  Right now he does not seem inclined to take yes for an answer as the President has already promised to do that.  I know that Speaker Boehner does not want to go over the fiscal cliff and that he wants to re-open the government, but I don’t know that he knows how to get out of this situation.  And that is scary.

If you remember my earlier posts concerning Syria, I provided an outline of how planners put together an operation.   Of foremost importance was understanding the mission, and that includes what things should look like when the mission is accomplished.  How do you know that it is over?  I also discussed branches and sequels if the plan does not go as expected — either through unanticipated success, or unanticipated obstacles.  If the hard-core Republican position is the end of Obamacare, then they have already failed in their mission.  They are not going to get it out of this scenario.  If their alternate plan is to cut government spending then they have already succeeded through the budget negotiations in 2010 and 2011 and the current sequester.  If they see the end state as something else, then it is not clear to me what that would be.  Or at least one that they could realistically achieve.  That is what makes this scary.  At this point I don’t think they know what they want, other than some grand statements about less government spending and smaller government.  Okay — if that is their desired end state then what is the plan to get there from here?  I have not heard an articulate explanation of what they will do.  I have only heard what they will not do.  At some point they must have a coherent plan.

I suppose the only way out now is for the Democrats and the President to provide some face-saving concession to Speaker Boehner to give him a life-line to get out of this mess.  What that is, or should be, is not clear in my mind.  It should not be anything having to do with Obamacare — we’ve been down that road too many times already.  It will probably have to do with entitlements and ways to cut spending in those areas, although the President has already offered some of those as the basis to start negotiations and been rejected.

Okay Tea Party Republicans, you’ve had your fun and shown that you cannot be ignored even by your own party.  Now what?  More importantly, Mr. Boehner, tear down this wall of intransigence!


What’s In a Name?

Some of you may have seen this already.  Even taking into account the randomness of the survey and the impact of editing, it still paints the power of propaganda.

On Jimmy Kimmel’s show the other night the “man in the street” interviewer asked  people which they preferred — The Affordable Care Act or Obamacare?   The overwhelming choice was The Affordable Care Act.   We know that they are the same, but apparently many people do not.

When the interviewer asked about specific provisions of Obamacare — such as allowing children to stay on their parents policy until age 26, no restrictions for previous conditions, etc. — the response was always positive, even as they continued to say that they did not like Obamacare.

Propaganda works.

You can watch it for yourself here: http://youtu.be/sx2scvIFGjE


Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

John Boehner is allowing a small radical wing of his party to attempt to destroy the fabric of American democracy.  Sooner or later most Americans will realize the true nature of what is going on in the current fight over the Affordable Care Act.

Whatever one’s view of the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare may be, supporters of American democracy should be very concerned.  This is not business as usual, especially as the debt ceiling limit gets closer and closer.  Earlier Washington stalemates that resulted in government shutdowns in the 1980s and 90s concerned budget issues, where money should or should not be spent and which programs took priority.  This is about none of that.  This time around it is a radical minority of one party trying to undo the fabric of our democracy.  They do not like Obamacare and obviously have very strong opinions as to why.  In my view, most of those arguments are incorrect or mere assertions without a basis in fact,  but okay, I’ll respect your opinion.  Unfortunately, after over forty attempts to undo the legislation (without, I will add, any alternatives to provide healthcare to Americans in the greatest country in the world), they have decided that they will bypass the legislative system that we have and create their own.  Simply put, if they get their way on this issue, there will be more issues that take some portion of the American way of life hostage until they get their way.  Remember that they are taking our economy hostage for a six week continuing resolution.  It isn’t even about an actual spending bill.  Who is naive enough to think that if Congress delays Obamacare for a year that we won’t be right back where we are now in 2014?  It will never end.  It is time for the showdown and a restoration of the American way of democracy.

There is nothing that the Tea Party Congressmen are demanding concerning Obamacare that should be negotiated.  Period.  If they want to go to conference with the Senate to resolve budget issues and to negotiate a spending bill for this fiscal year, by all means, it should be done.  But that’s not what they want.  They continue to try to eliminate or cripple the health care act.  An act, again, that has withstood every conceivable challenge in our way of government.  They failed.  So now we have to put up with their antics outside of the normally accepted legislative process.

John Boehner is now Speaker of the House in name only.  He has seriously undermined the authority of that position by caving to the hard liners.  Every account coming out of Washington from both sides of the aisle is that a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the government for another six weeks would pass in about five minutes with sufficient Democrats AND Republicans voting for it .  Done and done.  Speaker Boehner won’t do it because he fears losing his Speakership.  In truth, it is doubtful that he would be voted out, but apparently, he’s unwilling to take the risk and is afraid to do the right thing.

This is also, in my opinion, a naked attempt by the Senate and House Tea Party members to severely hobble the President.  If President Obama gives in to the demands to delay or defund the health care act, he is done as president.  Indeed future presidents of both parties would be weakened if this undemocratic tactic being foisted on our country succeeds.  It would become a weapon for any dissatisfied minority to use that will hobble the ability of our country to operate.

We should be afraid, very afraid for the future of our country if this naked attempt by a minority to grab power from the majority succeeds.