Wednesday, February 24, 2010

One Year Later

It was one year ago today that I first posted in this blog. Much has changed in that time. The president has given two State of the Union addresses, as well as countless television and live appearances, attempting to gain the public's confidence for his health care, energy, education, and economic initiatives. The public's response has been ... mixed. The Tea Parties went from a half-joking suggestion by a CNBC analyst to a nationwide phenomenon. Conservatism, considered by some to be officially "dead" this time last year, has seen an almost unparalleled rebirth, with conservative candidates winning governorships in Virginia and New Jersey, and a Republican winning a Senate seat in Massachusetts for the first time in over half a century. And despite overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and a Democrat in the White House, hardly anything can be said to have happened in Washington this last year.

Some blame the lack of action on "obstructionist Republicans", applying the epithet "the Party of No" to the GOP. It's a strange accusation, given how gleefully Democrats embraced that label a few short years ago. On the other hand, given how many Democrats are in Congress and how few Republicans there are, how could you possibly blame the inaction on the GOP? No Republican president in history, even George W. Bush, had as much trouble pushing his agenda through a Democratic Congress, and Republicans have never had as large a majority in Congress as Democrats currently hold. And yet, it's hard to recall a time when Congress has been this gridlocked.

Maybe there's just an unusual amount of acrimony in the country. It would explain some of the vehemence behind the Tea Party movement, certainly. But is this really as bad as it's ever been? After all, there was a time when politicians in Washington challenged each other to duels with pistols. Maybe Republicans are better at getting things done than Democrats. It would explain why more Republicans have served two-term presidencies than Democrats. But it wouldn't explain how they lost both houses of Congress in successive elections. However, we have another Congressional election coming up later this year, and indications are good that Republicans will regain a significant number of seats.

What accounts for it all? I don't usually look for simple answers to complex questions, but I believe I've found one, anyway. In the United States, a larger number of people consider themselves Democrats than Republicans, and more independents than either. Given that Democrats are typically seen as liberal and Republicans are generally conservative, you probably would think that conservatism would be at the bottom of the ideological spectrum and liberalism near the top. However, a recent Newsweek poll shows the opposite is true. While only 22% of respondents consider themselves Republican, 35% Democrat, and 39% Independent, a somewhat surprising 39% characterized themselves as either somewhat or very Conservative. 36% described themselves as Moderate, and only 20% as Liberal. If you go by the numbers, then there are almost twice as many conservatives in this country as liberals, which not only means the U.S. is still very much a "center-right" country, but also that neither political party is the current "favorite".

I'm an independent; I sometimes described myself as anti-partisan because I believe even having political parties is detrimental to the country's health. When you see numbers like the ones above, you have to wonder why people even bother joining parties, since clearly which one you join can't be considered a reliable indicator of your own ideology. It's like a curtain that's been drawn across the country, painting a picture of a liberal party on the left, a conservative party on the right, and a wide swath of moderates right up the middle. When an election like the one in 2008 occurs and the left-leaning party decisively sweeps the right out of power, it's easy to think the middle has joined the left. It's not the case, however; and the greatest evidence we have of that is when the government tries to lead the country to the left and the country pulls steadily rightward. When that happens, you don't get a country that drives up the middle; you get a country that stands perfectly still, like ours now stands.

In a post last march, I echoed the sentiments of George Washington, the first president of this country and the last one to never join a political party. He warned in his farewell address to the nation that "[t]he alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism." As long as there have been political parties, in this or any other country, there has been rivalry between them. Competition is good, but rivalry helps no one but the ticket-sellers. It only gets worse as time passes and the players get more entrenched in their battles with each other. Senator Evan Bayh may not have been right when he decided to retire from Congress, but he was certainly right to abandon the partisan warfare before it consumed him.

I posted a poll last fall/winter in which I asked how many would support a Constitutional amendment banning political parties. At the time, I was having trouble thinking of a solution, short of replacing every single politician in Washington at the same time, and I thought banning parties would make a good start. Even as I typed out the possible responses to the poll, though, I knew generally what the results would be: Yes, 5%; No, I like political parties, 10%; No, people should be allowed to form political parties whether I like them or not, 78%; and Not Sure, 5% (percentages approximated). The vast majority of respondents support free speech and free assembly; which is heartening, I suppose. I didn't really expect anything else.

Partisanism remains a problem, though; and even if parties were eliminated, it still wouldn't cancel the old, entrenched rivalries. People would still remember that President Obama and Speaker Pelosi were Democrats, once upon a time, and they'd still remember that Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin were Republicans. So what good would it do? I'll tell you.

For one thing, it would draw back the curtain that covers the land. No more would we have to scratch our heads over how a center-right country could elect an all-Democratic leadership; no more Blue Dog Democrats or Republicans In Name Only (RINO's); no more Majority Leaders and Minority Leaders in the House and Senate, all trying to keep their caucuses "in line" for the votes; and certainly no more 24-hour news coverage of how many seats Republicans can expect to win or lose in November. Our leaders could focus on the issues themselves and not worry about how it would affect their primary results. No more Arlen Specters or Joe Liebermans being "muscled out" by angry members of their own parties.

For another thing, it would allow a new generation of leaders to arise who are defined solely based on how they vote, and not by the little letter that's attached to the end of their name. Imagine looking at a candidate and not asking yourself, "Is he really a Republican, or is he just calling himself that?" Imagine a whole country at the polls voting based on the issues and not on which party the candidates have pandered to the most? We could replace that painted curtain with a transparent one that allows the country to decide based on what really matters to them, and not on a "damaged brand name".

I'm no longer talking about eliminating the parties altogether. I now feel the best first step to take is changing the way we conduct elections. Why should a ballot indicate whether a candidate is Republican or Democrat? Or Green or Libertarian or Communist, for that matter? Why is a candidate's political party always attached to his or her name? Why is it more important than their memberships in the Rotary Club or the NRA or MoveOn.org? If the RNC and the DNC want to continue endorsing candidates, then let them; but when voters go to the polls, they should go armed only with the knowledge they have gained for themselves. If they can't remember who the Republican is or who the Democrat is and they don't want to risk voting for the "wrong" candidate, then they can take that risk or leave it; but it shouldn't be up to the registrar to tell the voters what they should have learned for themselves before entering the booth.

Setting aside for the moment how practical it is or isn't, would you support altering election laws so that candidates' party affiliations and identifications are removed from the ballot? Would you support changing the ways that state and federal governments operate so they are no longer divided into "Majority" and "Minority" parties? If you believe it would make things any better in Washington and the country, then vote yes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Stephen Responds to Newsweek - How the GOP Sees It

In the March 1, 2010 issue of Newsweek, the cover story, "How the GOP Sees It", examines what direction the country would take if the Republican Party was in power; at least, it offers Newsweek's opinion of what direction the country would take. It's not a bad article, and I'd actually encourage people to read it. Keep in mind when you do, however, that the writers of the article may be overlooking several key elements of Republican philosophy.

Here is the letter I wrote in reply to the article:

Dear Editor,

I was impressed with your choice of cover story this week. However, reading it, I found a number of misleading and sometimes incomplete items. To start, the first few paragraphs of the article makes clear the writers have already concluded Republicans are not interested in bipartisanship at all. This is certainly a debatable point, but I won't debate it here.

The writers state that, while Republicans in Congress are adamant about lowering taxes, they have "rejected Democratic bills that tried to lure Republicans by including significant tax cuts." Why do people assume that, just because you include something in a bill that Republicans want, it's reason enough for them to support it? A bill can be stuffed with tax cuts, but if it's bad in general for the country, then that's reason enough to vote against it. Suppose it had been a bill authorizing abortion clinics in every public school in the country. Would the writers of the article conclude that Republicans should support it just because it also allows prayer in school?

In the category of supposed contradictions, the article goes on to state that "George W. Bush, an avowed small-government conservative, presided over a massive increase in the size of government." This is not a contradiction. That "massive increase" was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which kept the country safe from every terrorist attack from the time of its creation to the day President Bush left office. Small-government conservatives can still believe in a strong national defense.

Regarding health care, Newsweek failed to address several major differences between Republican and Democratic philosophies; differences that would certainly justify so-called "stonewalling" by the GOP. One is abortion funding, which conservatives and even a large portion of moderates steadfastly oppose. Another is coverage of illegal aliens, which President Obama claims to oppose and yet consistently fails to prohibit in his own and Congress' versions of reform. Other important issues include the federal mandate, Medicare cuts, and the public option, all of which face significant opposition not just from Republicans, but from the country at large. And, of course, there's the question of how to pay for it all. Factor these into the equation, and the article's expressed confusion about why the American people continue to be ambivalent about supporting the president's efforts is answered.

I found little to criticize about the next two sections, foreign policy and terrorism. The article makes clear where the Republicans and Democrats disagree, and the problems inherent in trying to reach consensus. I appreciated including Senator Kit Bond's concern that, by treating terrorists like criminals instead of enemy combatants now, it could make it difficult to prosecute Osama bin Laden as an enemy combatant.

Finally, the article addresses education. When Newsweek says that Republicans voted against "Race to the Top" because it was part of the president's stimulus package, you should clarify that this was no knee-jerk partisan maneuver, but rather an impossible choice legislators are often forced to make: either vote for a bad bill or vote against a good program. "Race to the Top" should never have been part of the stimulus package; including it in the bill probably was a partisan maneuver.

This was a fairly good article, and I enjoyed reading it; but the writers should have gone further in exploring Republican philosophies, motivations, and proposals.

Thank you for your time,

Stephen Monteith

Monday, February 22, 2010

Moment of Truth

Robert Kuttner, writing for the Huffington Post, believes the president should do what Democrats have been calling for him to do since the Senate reached that magic filibuster-proof number last spring and just bowl over the Republicans with regards to health insurance reform. The problem with Mr. Kuttner's article is that it proceeds from the assumption that Republicans are not interested in reaching a concensus with the president on health insurance reform (and it is insurance reform, not health care reform). There are, in fact, many areas in which Republicans and Democrats agree, and it is in those areas the president and Congress should focus their efforts.

They should start by writing and passing a modest bill together containing only the reforms on which they can all agree. Once that is done and both sides have shown they can indeed act like grownups, they can then start to seriously debate the remaining reforms.

Or they can just keep fighting all through the next couple of election cycles. *shrugs* Whichever.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Stephen Responds to Tony Horwitz

Best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz recently wrote an essay on the Commonwealth of Virginia for the book "State by State". Meant to provide a "portrait" of the United States, this book features authors, celebrities, even a chef or two who all contribute chapters on every state in the union.

My verdict? If the chapter on Virginia is typical of the entire book, then every copy of it should be dumped in a pile and burned.

This is a copy of the letter I sent to Mr. Horwitz, copied to one of the book's editors, Matt Weiland.


Dear Mr. Horwitz,

My name is Stephen Monteith. I work at a Barnes & Noble in Virginia Beach, VA, and recently discovered the book "State by State". Fascinated by a book that purports to portray "the beauty, the kitsch, the unexpected and the quintessential things that make each state distinctive", and having lived in Virginia my whole life, I first turned to your essay on the Commonwealth to see what was written.

Mr. Horwitz, I am deeply disappointed at the tone your essay takes, the picture it paints of one of the earliest states of the union. In eight and a half pages, you have rarely a good word to say about Virginia, its history, its culture, and most especially its residents. Like the fourth-graders you almost apologetically mention in your opening, you see, and report, only a "charnel house", one "steeped in gore".

You talk of the Civil War battles throughout much of your essay and the "evil" and "carnage" perpetrated therein; but you never once mention the Revolutionary War, in which so many Virginians took up the charge issued by our first governor Patrick Henry: "Give me liberty or give me death!" You omit almost any references to the eight presidents who came from Virginia, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, choosing instead to highlight William Henry Harrison, and him only because of his relation to a slave-owning ancestor of his. You spend an entire page and more detailing our involvement in the persecution, death, and "ghoulish afterlife" of Nat Turner, but you do not mention even once Douglas Wilder, the nation's first black governor.

Mr. Horwitz, I have no doubt that your time in Bosnia, Iraq and the Sudan was served with distinction; but perhaps spending so much time in those "history-haunted lands" has left you with a black-lensed perspective of the rest of the world. I don't expect or desire anyone to turn a blind eye to Virginia's dark periods; but in an essay meant to "reveal a state’s beauty marks and moles", I do expect to find much greater balance. This was the first chapter I read from the book, and after reading it, I put it down in disgust; and partially in fear of discovering that every state had received similar treatment. On the other hand, if ever I felt the argument needed to be made that Virginia was a wretched place to be, then you would be the man I would choose to make that argument.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith


UPDATE - Mr. Horwitz's response, and mine in turn:

Stephen, thanks for your note and think I've been to that B and N one one of my visits to SE Va. I'm sorry you felt that way about my essay, and all I'll say in defense is that I'm not responsible for the marketing you quote, and regret that you opened the book looking for balanced or comprehensive approach to each state. My assignment, if you can call it that, was to try and find a personal and perhaps quirky take on Virginia. Since I'm a history nerd, with somewhat of an eye for the dark underside of history, this seemed a way to frame the piece and I just dove in after a few false starts in other directions (I tried writing about my love of the Blue Ridge since childhood, but am not very good at nature). If I could do it again, I guess I'd convey that I do love Virginia--in part for the history I outlined in the piece. Obviously, we don't share a common approach to or view of the past. I go there looking for great stories, tragedy, humor, irony and what I feel is the truth. If it makes me feel good about my country, great, but I'm not seeking that. And if I were there and we could debate this over a beer, I'd argue that the whole "liberty or death" line is pretty hollow given that one fifth of the nation was enslaved. Anyway, if you can bear to read a different take on Virginia that you might find more loving, at least at times, I wrote a book called "Confederates in the Attic" that gets into Wilder and other aspects of Virginia's healthy contemporary response and debate on racial and other matters. All the best, Tony


Mr. Horwitz,

I appreciate your reply to my letter last week. I realize you had nothing to do with how it was marketed, but still, with only eight pages or so to give people a snapshot of the Commonwealth, I had hoped you would have taken a somewhat lighter tone, at least.

I took your advice and have begun reading "Confederates in the Attic". It is an interesting read, going farther in depth, of course, than your contribution to "State by State", and written with more apparent affection. I look forward to finishing it.

I apologize, Mr. Horwitz, if my first letter to you seemed overly defensive or confrontational. With the recent death of Howard Zinn, there's been a lot of discussion of just how much we need to peel back the covers of history. No one, I'm sure, wants to review the past with any parts omitted, no matter how ugly; but at the same time, we can't ignore how exceptional, how extraordinary, and how inspiring our forebears were, their faults notwithstanding.

In particular, I've grown rather protective of Virginia in light of the national attention we've received with our recent elections. The written word is more powerful than the spoken word, as I'm sure you know; and though newspapers and magazines can and frequently do print retractions, books are harder to revise once they are on the shelves, and even harder to dispute. I suppose, when I read your chapter, I felt it was my duty to respond. Perhaps I've grown too sensitive.

Again, I appreciate you taking the time to answer my letter. I look forward to reading more of your work.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

UPDATE - Tony gets the last word:

Don't worry, your letter wasn't confrontational, it was polite and thoughtful, certainly as compared to most I receive, always happy to have honest criticism and disagreement. I've never been a big fan of Zinn, and certainly don't endorse a knee-jerk rejection of everything American, but again, I guess I don't go searching in our history for great moral lessons, pro or con. To me, what's fascinating is how someone--to take the obvious example, Jefferson--can be brilliant, visionary, and yes, inspirational, while also being a terrible hypocrite etc. Saints, if they
exist, aren't very interesting to me, nor are unalloyed villains. Or rather, forget if they're interesting, I just don't think seeing things in black and white is true to history or the human condition. Can't one love Virginia in the same way one loves family? Can't John Smith or Jefferson or Stonewall Jackson be seen as critical figures in our history, worthy of study, without glossing over their (in our eyes) faults? Are those faults in some sense inseparable from their greatness? Anyway, no one could ever accuse Virginia of being boring. Best, Tony

Friday, February 19, 2010

Letters to Washington - The Nuclear Option

President Obama has heard the American people (well, maybe). He's meeting next week with Republican Congressional leadership to discuss their ideas for what should and shouldn't be included in health care reform. So far, so good. However, he's also currently writing his own version of health care reform, blending the House and Senate bills in what he hopes will be legislation that can pass both houses of Congress.

This report has troubled Republican leadership, already skeptical of the coming bipartisan summit. With the addition of Scott Brown from Massachusetts, Republicans have enough voices in the Senate to filibuster any reform legislation (except for the version that passed in late December). The president hopes to use a tactic called reconciliation, also known as the "nuclear option", to reform health care as a budgetary matter, which removes the filibuster as an option.

It's a tactic that troubles more than just Republicans in Congress. I'm not a Republican, as my regular readers know. I honestly don't care which party holds power, as long as they're open to the public's wishes. A tactic such as budget reconciliation, at this point, shows that the current administration is not. The president and Democrats in Congress have struggled to find even one Republican who will vote for their version of reform. Far from finding any who will, there is actually a large number of Democrats who either voted against it or who needed significant "added incentives" before they would vote for it. When conditions are that bad, you would think the president would agree with Congressman John Boehner of Ohio, who said yesterday "a productive, bipartisan conversation on health care starts with a clean sheet of paper."

He apparently doesn't agree, however; a tactic like this indicates he is more dedicated than ever to passing something that the public is more dedicated than ever to defeating.

This is a copy of the letter that I just sent to Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner of Virginia.

Dear Senator,

I've written to you many times about what should be included in health care reform. Though we haven't always seen eye-to-eye on what's needed in the law, I hope you will agree with me about how reform should be achieved.

It's been reported that the president is indeed seeking to utilize budget reconciliation, the so-called nuclear option, to pass health care reform. Senator, I hope you are as troubled as I am by this tactic. Earlier this month, the president announced that he wanted to meet, publicly even, with Republican leadership to discuss their ideas for reform. It seemed like a good sign that he was aware of the public's opposition to the reforms he and Democratic leaders in Congress have pursued. However, a week before the summit has even started, President Obama is already writing his own version of reform and making plans to pass it without any support or input from conservatives at all.

Senator, you come from Virginia; you know that conservatives are not all knee-jerk obstructionists, and you know that we have good ideas. For the president to take steps like this now, before he has even sat with the Republican leadership, is both unilateral and hypocritical. What is the point of even having a summit if he's going to pursue this route? Some have said that it's just a fallback option in case the GOP has no real suggestions; but surely such an option could wait until after the summit, at least. To make this sort of move now is unconscionable.

You know how unpopular and unwanted the reforms President Obama is proposing are. You've seen that, far from there being bipartisan support for the bill, there is actually significant bipartisan opposition to both of them. Using a tactic like budget reconciliation only makes it worse. The American people deserve to have their objections met, answered, and assuaged before anything is passed by Congress and written into law by the president.

I know you've supported this legislation for a while now, Senator, and that you want to see it succeed. Despite your past votes, I want your pledge to vote against any health care reform that Congress attempts to pass through the reconciliation process. It is an inexcusable tactic, especially at this point.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith


Here is the letter I sent to Congressman Glenn Nye, who voted against the House's version of health care reform:

Dear Congressman,

I thank you for your vote against the House's bill. I know it couldn't have been easy to go against your party. Though Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, haven't always seen eye-to-eye on what's needed in the law, I hope we all can agree about how reform should be achieved.

It's been reported that the president is indeed seeking to utilize budget reconciliation, the so-called nuclear option, to pass health care reform. Congressman, I hope you are as troubled as I am by this tactic. Earlier this month, the president announced that he wanted to meet, publicly even, with Republican leadership to discuss their ideas for reform. It seemed like a good sign that he was aware of the public's opposition to the reforms he and Democratic leaders in Congress have pursued. However, a week before the summit has even started, President Obama is already writing his own version of reform and making plans to pass it without any support or input from conservatives at all.

Congressman, you come from Virginia; you know that conservatives are not all knee-jerk obstructionists, and you know that we have good ideas. For the president to take steps like this now, before he has even sat with the Republican leadership, is both unilateral and hypocritical. What is the point of even having a summit if he's going to pursue this route? Some have said that it's just a fallback option in case the GOP has no real suggestions; but surely such an option could wait until after the summit, at least. To make this sort of move now is unconscionable.

You know how unpopular and unwanted the reforms President Obama is proposing are. You've seen that, far from there being bipartisan support for the bill, there is actually significant bipartisan opposition to both of them. Using a tactic like budget reconciliation only makes it worse. The American people deserve to have their objections met, answered, and assuaged before anything is passed by Congress and written into law by the president.

I know you've voted against this legislation in the past, and I hope you will in the future, whether it's part of the budget or not. I also hope I can count on you to speak to the rest of your Democratic colleagues and urge them to vote against any health care reform that Congress attempts to pass through the reconciliation process. It is an inexcusable tactic, especially at this point.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Defeat Prince Frederic

Well, I've written before about candidates that excite me, candidates that bore me, candidates that either inspire me to support them or don't; but very rarely have I ever written about candidates who inspired me to directly oppose them. Frederic von Anhalt is one such candidate.

Prince Frederic is described by the Associated Press as "a tabloid writer's dream". He's married to the infamous Zsa Zsa Gabor (her eighth marriage, his seventh); he claimed to be a long-time lover of Anna Nicole Smith and the father of her baby (which was later refuted); and he's an adopted member of European royalty. Now, he's running for Governor of California.

This is an election that I seriously considered avoiding in my blog. Though the rest of the country has a vested interest in California's success, even to the point the federal government floated the idea of "bailing them out" (if it comes to that), my feeling is they should determine their own politics, their own laws, and especially their own leaders. There are plenty of candidates running for statewide and federal offices in the Golden State, and while I support some of them, I don't really feel it appropriate to involve myself in those races. At least, I didn't feel that way.

California politics, particularly the gubernatorial races, have a goofy reputation in the rest of the country. When Arnold Schwarzenegger ran to replace the recalled Governor Gray Davis in 2003, he was hardly alone on the ballot. A host of actors, entrepreneurs, porn stars, and even a character from the cartoon strip "Doonesbury" were "also rans" that year. This year, candidates include former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, former Governor Jerry Brown, and State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner (Governor Schwarzenegger is prohibited from running again by term limits). This seems like a fair crop of candidates, and any "also rans" can add "candidate for Governor" to their memoirs, if they like.

Prince Frederic, though, is more than just another third-party candidate. He is "royalty", after all, and may be able to donate a large sum of his own money to fund his campaign. His notoriety gives him name recognition that other third-party candidates would not have. His positions on legalizing marijuana, gay marriage, and prostitution (at least partly so he can tax all of them to help raise revenue in California) could make him rather popular in certain key demographics, and give him access to more fundraising. And running as an independent helps him with those who are frustrated with the two-party system.

Still, I wasn't as shaken by all that as I was by the attitude with which he entered the race. He said in an interview that he has watched the governor for years and is tired of all the broken promises, declaring that he himself "does not make promises he can't keep." So far, so good. However, when asked about his qualifications to be chief executive of one of the largest economies in the world, let alone the largest state in the nation, Prince Frederic merely responded that Governor Schwarzenegger "had no more experience than I do" when he was first elected. (How did that work out for California, by the way?)

In response to his various high-profile hijinks and whether they'd affect his candidacy, the prince just shrugged. "I went through lots of things, lots of scandals, but that was yesterday, that's old news," he said. "Look at what Bill Clinton did in the White House. That was bad, but he got away with it. America gives you a break." America does not "give you a break", your highness. America demands more of its leaders, more of its governors and presidents than we do of our private citizens. We demand leaders who inspire us, who can actually lift us and lead us to greater things.

I was going to stay out of California politics, since it's so far from where I am, but in an age where one state's collapse can mean the collapse of the whole country, in a world where a person can cross into your state illegally and then make his way across the country to mine, your state is not so far from mine. Thank you, Prince Frederic, for convincing me that no state is far enough away that the man running it can't ruin things for the rest of the country. Congratulations; here's one Virginian who'll be working against you in the coming election.

Those of you on Facebook can join a new group, Defeat Prince Frederic van Anhalt. It does not support any one candidate, so whoever you support in the California Governor's race, you can join; as long as you oppose Prince Frederic.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

"You don’t need a resume or permission to try and prevent your country and your city from failing."

I've said, too many times, that there simply are not enough candidates who actually inspire me to support them. Politicians in general just don't do enough for me. On the other hand, the majority of candidates (three out of five, so far) who do inspire me tend to have lived their lives outside of politics. Pia is the third of those three.

27 year-old Pia Varma's parents moved to this country from India just before she was born. She lives in Pennsylvania, where she writes for the Mises Institute, a world-class economics and philosophy think tank. She first became interested in running for public office when she tried to fight for green-building projects to revitalize the Kensington area of Philadelphia. Her work met daunting resistance in the form of the Industrial Empowerment Zone, a taxpayer-funded program that has arguably done nothing but hinder economic and social development.

Frustrated by how "business as usual" stands in the way of real progress, not only in Pennsylvania, but in the whole United States, Ms. Varma is now running for Congress in Pennsylvania's 1st District. She will be the first serious challenger to Congressman Robert Brady, the incumbent, in over a decade. http://votepia.com/2010/02/01/pia-varma-to-run-for-pennsylvanias-first-congressional-district/


When I say this candidacy inspires me, I don't mean to suggest that I agree with Ms. Varma on every issue; I don't even know what all of her positions are. It's the candidacy itself that excites me. Here we have a young, idealistic, enthusiastic woman who sees a problem in her home town, in her home country, and is taking steps to solve it. She tried working with the system; that didn't work. She tried working outside the system; that didn't work. Now, she's going to work within the system; I hope it works. When I say I don't like politicians, I mean the stereotypical perpetual campaign machines who do nothing but look for ways to stay right where they are. Pia Varma represents a different type of candidate: one who gets into the race to change things for the better, who probably wouldn't even be running if she thought she could trust those who are currently in office to do it for her. Like I always say, you can either support a candidate or become one; Pia Varma has become one.

It's inspiring.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Letters to Washington - Health care and the budget

The president's budget for the coming year is out now. Not many have read it yet, but what has been read is already troubling some people.

This is a copy of the letter I wrote to Senator Mark Warner of Virginia:

Dear Senator,

I appreciate all you do for our commonwealth as senator, as I do your efforts as governor. Cost containment and fiscal responsibility is certainly the most important issue facing the federal government right now. It would seem, then, that you would want to include every reasonable cost containment measure you could in health care reform. However, while some issues like tort reform were not even seriously debated in either the Senate or the House of Representatives, it's appalling that other measures were included purely for the purpose of securing votes from some senators. It seems to me that, all politics aside, the U.S. Senate should be crafting a health reform bill that can pass on its merits rather than on so-called "sweetheart" deals.

I know that, especially with a bill as controversial as this one, it is difficult to gain support from enough lawmakers to pass anything meaningful. However, as the president himself said, there are many areas and issues on which Republicans and Democrats agree. That would seem to be the best place to start with a bill like this. Knowing from the start how difficult it would be to gain support, bi-partisan or otherwise, the Senate should be working to produce a bill that begins with those cost containment provisions that you mentioned and excludes measures the American people have rejected.

One of those measures is mandating that American citizens buy health insurance. This would be the first time in history that the federal government has required Americans buy any good or service. As I'm sure you know by now, Virginia's and other state's legislatures have already begun drafting legislation to assert their state rights to oppose mandatory coverage. Massachusetts, of course, already mandates individual purchasing, but that is a state measure; and the voters there expressly rejected the federal government's authority to impose another mandate. If mandates are required, then it should be the states' prerogative.

Another measure the public, including myself, has rejected is public funding of abortion. As I wrote to you in my last letter, any health care bill must provide unbreakable restrictions on abortion funding. However, the president's proposed budget for fiscal year 2010 explicitly supports and includes public funding of abortion. It allows funding of abortions in the District of Columbia and proposes overturning the ban on the Legal Services Corporation, which among other things counsels people who receive abortions. It also increases funding for Planned Parenthood and other programs and organizations that promote abortion planning. Restricting abortion funding in health care reform is virtually useless if Congress still funds groups that facilitate abortions. As with health care reform, it seems the proposed budget includes measures like this that the public rejects and reduces funding for other programs, including border security.

I'm seeing many parallels between the proposed budget and the recent health care reform bills, in fact. First of all, I don't like that this budget was apparently written with no significant input from Republican or even Democratic lawmakers. Now, whatever issues members of Congress have with the budget will need to be resolved through a lengthy amendment process, maybe several. The result will likely be yet another costly, controversial bill that hardly any will be proud to say they support.

I don't know everything that's in the president's budget, Senator, because I haven't read all of it. On the other hand, I know that Congress hasn't, either. Not to cast doubt on you or any other public servant, but I would appreciate a pledge from you to read the entire budget before voting on it, so that you will know for yourself what it contains. If time is not given, either to Congress or the public, to review the proposed legislation before a vote is called, then I want you to vote against it. I will never accept, Senator, a yea vote on a bill that you have not read or that I have not had the chance to read.

Thank you for your help, Senator. I look forward to your continued support.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith


I wrote a similar letter to Senator Jim Webb. This is what I wrote to Congressman Glenn Nye:


Dear Congressman,

I'd like to personally thank you for your vote against H.R. 3962. By now, I'm sure you know that Virginia's General Assembly has already begun drafting its own legislation asserting our state rights in this case. When Congress reviews health care reform in the coming days, they should look at it from that perspective: what is the states' prerogative, and what is the federal government's.

That isn't why I'm writing to you today, though. The president has released copies of his budget for the coming fiscal year. I'm seeing parallels between it and the recent health care reform efforts; not in substance, but in style. First of all, I don't like that this budget was apparently written with no significant input from Republican or even Democratic lawmakers. Now, whatever issues members of Congress have with the budget will need to be resolved through a lengthy amendment process, maybe several. The result will likely be yet another costly, controversial bill that hardly any will be proud to say they support.

One of those issues is abortion funding. You voted against the House's version of health care reform, Congressman, but in your letter to me, you did not include your feelings concerning the abortion restrictions in the bill. I was happy with them, personally; but the new budget not only includes public funding for abortion in the District of Columbia, but increases funding to organizations and programs like Planned Parenthood as well. Prohibiting abortion funding in health care reform is meaningless if the federal government funds it in other ways.

I don't know everything that's in the president's budget, Congressman, because I haven't read all of it. On the other hand, I know that Congress hasn't, either. Not to cast doubt on you or any other public servant, but I would appreciate a pledge from you to read the entire budget before voting on it, so that you will know for yourself what it contains. If time is not given, either to Congress or the public, to review the proposed legislation before a vote is called, then I want you to vote against it. I will never accept, Congressman, a yea vote on a bill that you have not read or that I have not had the chance to read.

Thank you again for your service, Congressman.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith