The Sad State of American Politics

There is a famous Bugs Bunny cartoon that opens with Elmer Fudd walking with his shotgun. He turns to the camera to inform us that he is hunting rabbits. Soon he finds Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, who get into an argument about whether Elmer should shoot rabbits or ducks because there is some confusion over whether it is Duck Season or Wabbit Season. There is a famous exchange where Daffy and Bugs are yelling at each other – “Duck Season!” “Rabbit Season!” “Duck Season!” “Rabbit Season!”

Sadly, this is the state of our political debate. There is no middle ground. There is only Black and White. There is Night and Day. Either you are a patriot or a commie pinko, terrorist-loving traitor. There is no compromise.

Not in a cartoon, but in real life, we saw everyone take similar positions after 14 Americans were slaughtered in San Bernardino, CA. On one side, we have Americans screaming that Obama and the Democrats have been soft on terrorism, and if Obama were truly serious about keeping American’s safe, he would have prevented this tragedy. On the other side, we have Americans shouting at the top of their lungs that this event was 100% predictable in a country where it is easier to purchase an assault rifle than it is to buy liquor in most counties.

The arguments on both sides are so routine and predictable they should be written down on the American Tombstone. “Here lies a Once-Great Nation, but everyone stopped listening to each other.”

Within the last decade we have hardened our positions. The Speaker of the House recently resigned his post – and his seat, which he’d held for 28 years – because one flank of his own party forced him out. The so-called “Freedom Caucus” took the stance that compromise on anything was wrong. There was no give. There was only “our way or the highway.”

While Boehner was less than ideal as a congressman or as Speaker, he has been replaced by Paul Ryan, who is even more extreme. We are going from worse to worser. (Yep, I said worser. And I hope and pray we don’t get to worstest.)

This whole political thing is un-American. America was built on compromise.

I don’t hate Paul Ryan. I think that his ideas would move America in the wrong direction and make it even harder for middle-class Americans to get ahead. Turning Medicare into a voucher program will leave thousands of elderly Americans out in the cold.

On the other side, I like Hillary Clinton, but I don’t think she is a saint. I recognize that not everything she says is brilliant, nor worthy of writing on stone tablets. But she’s smart, experienced and capable. We have to stop making some politicians into saints and others into devils. We really don’t need to elect a saint (think how many of them were fanatics); we need to elect a smart, decent human being who’s a good leader, a good listener, and a good judge of what’s right and wrong, what’s possible and impossible, and what is the best way “to promote the general welfare” of the United States and all its citizens.

Let me focus on the idea of compromise. This is the foundation of democracy. James Madison didn’t think that we needed a Bill of Rights. George Mason left the Constitutional convention because a Bill of Rights wasn’t included. Madison noted that without a Bill of Rights that the Constitution might not pass the states. So, instead of finger-pointing and calling his political opponents anti-American, King George-loving, mulletheads, he sat down and wrote the Bill of Rights based on what George Mason had laid out. By writing the Bill of Rights, James Madison made what may be the biggest political compromise in the history of our nation.
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Do Not Get Mad: Focus!

i'm mad as hellEverywhere you look, the media is telling us how angry, disaffected and totally bummed out the American electorate is. We are not happy with anything. We are behaving like infants with colic. Why? Why are we so ridiculously upset?

Fox News and the rest of the conservative media have been telling us for the last eight years that Barack Obama is a failure. He has not only failed to move the country forward, but he is actively working to drive the country into the abyss. President Obama hates the military. His policies have hampered and crippled big business. Wall Street is a shadow of its former self because of the policies of Barack Obama. ObamaCare has ruined healthcare and killed jobs. Nothing is better. Everything is worse. Billionaire Donald Trump’s campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again,” which clearly implies that America is not great now.

Hogwash! If we roll the clock back to 2008/2009, we see the American economy careening down the hillside as if in a Road Runner cartoon. We were losing 600,000 jobs per month. We were going over the cliff and were going to crash land like Wiley Coyote on the desert floor. Splat! Barack Obama and the Democrats prevented certain disaster. There was the stimulus and multiple other measures instituted in spite of heavy Republican opposition and, for the most part, every single one of his measures worked. The economy turned around. 5.6 million Americans have found work over the last two years. The economy has had 70 months of positive private-sector job growth. This is great. This is nothing to be upset or pout about. If George W. Bush had accomplished this feat, we would never hear the end of how great he is.

In spite of all the bellyaching and whining, ObamaCare has pretty much done what it was supposed to do. Remember, as ObamaCare was being crafted, blue dog Democrats and Republicans worked hard behind the scenes to limit the scope and effectiveness of this legislation. Instead, ObamaCare was supposed to be a small safety net for middle-class Americans who could not afford healthcare. This health-care legislation would also help some lower-class or poor Americans who had full-time employment. Approximately 12 million Americans have gotten insurance through ObamaCare. One of the best things about ObamaCare is that it has eliminated crappy healthcare insurance (Remember that Americans paid for some healthcare insurance that really did not cover any hospital expenses.) Nonpartisan economic think tanks have found no evidence that ObamaCare has killed jobs, nor forced widespread cuts in workers’ hours, which was widely forecast by conservatives. This is another win!

Now, I am not saying that everything is wonderful and that we should all hold hands and sing Kumbaya as we walk into the sunset. Instead, I think it is important for us to focus on real problems and work for real solutions. Wage stagnation is a real problem. The average American is making the same or less than they were making five, 10, 15 years ago. The reason for this is multifactorial. This is not a new phenomenon under President Obama. This happened under George W. Bush. Manufacturing jobs have packed up and gone to Mexico, Malaysia and other Third World countries. The jobs that are left are in healthcare, which pays pretty well, and in the service sector, which pays fairly poorly. The other thing that we have to take into account is the fact that unions help put more money into the pockets of the average American. Over the last 20-30 years, unions have been crushed by big business and Republicans. So, if you want to be mad, this is something to be mad about. Americans are more productive than ever, yet we seem to be rewarded less and less for our productivity. The only people who are getting rewarded are those in the financial sector and the top 1%.

College tuition is another reason for Americans to be frustrated and angry. There was a time, not too long ago, when the government subsidized a good portion of college tuition. In the 1960s, 1970s and through the mid-1980s, state college was affordable to almost everybody. Suddenly, the government began to slash those generous subsidies. College tuition began to skyrocket. Students began to take out more and more loans and acquire more and more debt. When you graduate from school and owe $50,000 or $100,000 in debt, you will spend the next 15 or 20 years trying to pay off that debt. You really cannot afford a house. You really cannot afford a reliable car. You are simply drowning in debt. The fact that only a few politicians are seriously putting out plans to attack this huge American problem is pitiful. Without an education, it is hard to get out of poverty. Education is the key. If we are really the land of opportunity, then we have to tackle this education problem.

When you are mad, really mad, your judgment is clouded. You make epically poor decisions, like voting for someone who is known more for firing Americans than for hiring Americans. Once we settle down and take a deep breath, we find out that America is actually heading in the right direction. The economy is creating plenty of jobs. We just need to figure out how to get those jobs to pay more. We need education and housing to be affordable. We need our society to be more racially just. We can fix these problems. We need to learn how to compromise and work together. It is that simple.

DUI

Over the next couple of days, I’m going to post some of the articles that I have written for the Urban News over the past several months. Let me know what you think. –

dui

It is time for us to get serious about drinking under the influence. We continue to treat this problem as if it were a college prank. It ain’t. We are talking about life and death. It is a privilege to drive a car, not a right. I believe that cars are a necessary part of being an American. There are only a few places in this country in which you can get around without a car. Everywhere else, you need a car; therefore, you need to adhere to the rules that each state has which govern who can drive a car.

A 20-something with 2 small children in his pickup truck is driving too fast on his way to Wal-Mart. His reflexes are impaired from his daily usage of methamphetamines. He doesn’t see the red light, or he believes that he can just run it. Halfway through the intersection, he slams into the driver’s side door of a Mini-Cooper. The 53-year-old mother of two is sitting in the front passenger’s seat, She is wearing a seat belt, but is killed instantly. What makes matters worse is that this killer was arrested 18 months earlier for driving under the influence when he hit several park cars. No one was injured in that crash. How many times does he have to kill or injure someone before we understand that cars can be used as deadly weapons when the wrong person is behind the wheel?

In 2013, over 32,000 people died on American roads. 32,000 is a lot of people. The good news is that we drive safer cars and more and more of us are surviving crashes. Alcohol is estimated to be involved in somewhere between 50 and 90% of motor vehicle crashes. This doesn’t include other mind-altering substances like methamphetamines, oxycodone, Valium, anti-depressants or any of a number of other drugs that dull the senses and slow the reflexes.

Trauma Surgeons, like me, have been trying to get the American public NOT to say “motor vehicle accident.” An accident is something that really can’t be prevented. A toddler running with a drink in his/her hand will spill it. That really isn’t preventable. As long as toddlers have drinks in their hands, they will spill. On the other hand, driving a car is different. There should be some thought going into the basic operation of a motor vehicle. Sometimes, we are driving too fast for the conditions. Sometimes we aren’t paying attention. Before you back up, you check your mirrors and look behind you before you backup. Right? I think that automated cars will be great help. They will be doing all of the basic “thinking” for us. Many of the crashes that we see today will be eliminated. Unfortunately, none of us can go and buy a Google car tomorrow. (I think that the Google Car will be great for some of us who have some issues will reflexes and eyesight.)

Ethan Couch is the boy who has been labeled by the media as suffering from Affluenza (being given too much by his parents). Couch was 16 years old when he was involved in a motor vehicle crash. He killed 4 people and injured 2 others. His alcohol level was a sobering 0.24, 3 times the legal limit. The judge thought that this was some type of minor offense. Ethan got no jail time. He got 10 years’ probation. What is that? If I drove my car across the judge’s lawn, I promise you he would give me more than just probation. Now, Ethan is back in the news because he is running from the law after having been caught on video drinking at a party. Can someone do the right thing and throw this guy in jail?

Look, there are tons of injustices in our society. There are some things that we really can’t figure out. This isn’t one of those situations. If you believe in justice, then folks who take mind-altering substances and then drive a car deserve to be thrown in jail for a good, long time. If we lean toward “being nice” and allow these folks to go scott-free, then aren’t we saying that the lives that were stolen had no value? To me, life is a gift and should be valued.