Monday, September 29, 2014

Discordant Discourse

I can remember a time when the political landscape was dominated by, primarily, two philosophies. You had the Republican vision and the Democratic vision. At times there was a third party in play, but for a very long time, the two main parties would try to persuade voters as to which vision they, essentially, endorsed. Then whoever was elected would, in theory at least, initiated policies consistent with that vision.

That’s how it used to work.

It does not work that way anymore. Far as I can tell, I see only one party offering up a vision. The other party? They criticize that vision. And that’s fine, as that’s politics. Part of the persuasion is to discredit the other vision as wrong-headed, short-sighted, or whatever.

But…you have to have an alternate vision. It simply cannot be, “They’re wrong.” You have to tell me why you are right, and “Because they’re wrong” is not an answer. Tell me why your view is better.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you today’s Republican Party.

They have been called a number of things recently: The Party of No. Obstructionists. Puppets to the Koch Brothers. The Rich People’s Party…well wait, they’ve always been called that.

But just answer me this – what do they stand for? What is their vision? Lower taxes? Strong military? Okay, I will give you those. They have long held those values. But the math simply does not work when you want to spend gobs of money on something while reducing your ability to pay for it.

Personal freedom? Now you’re stretching. They have a differing view of what “Freedom” is, and the best recent example of their idea of freedom is Cliven Bundy – the freedom to break the law and pay no consequences for it. Back in the 1960’s, those people were called Anarchists. Now they’re called Conservatives.

But in reality, their vision is, ‘Against Anything Obama Does.’ Now I realize this pegs me as a Democrat, and that is okay. Most everyone knows I am. But you better stop with the personal criticism right there, because at least my party has a vision. And when the other party spends all their time demonizing the leader of the my party (Marxist, Kenyan, Muslim, Appeaser In Chief, Feckless Leader…take your pick), eventually you have to step to the dais and tell us your vision. We get you don’t like who is in charge. That message has been clearly sent…and received.

So if you’re a Republican, what is your party’s vision? What is the vision of America that Republicans proffer? Tell me. Guns? God? Less government? Okay. Well, the devil is in the details – how do you plan on accomplishing those things? How, for example, are you going to expand gun rights more than they already are? In many states you can strap an AK-47 on your back and walk into a Walmart. What more do you want there? God? The Constitution grants all citizens freedom of religion, totally unfettered. Hard to expand upon that. Less government? Okay. What is going to go away? Road construction? Mass transit? Head Start? They won’t answer that, but instead adhere to Reagan’s mantra that government is the problem. Well, it’s not. And they know it’s not.

Their strategy is to simply throw accusations at Democrats, Obama in particular, which have no basis in any kind of reality. Case in point: How often have we heard that, ‘Obama is coming for your guns.’ So…when is this going to happen? He’s only got two more years left in office. If that is indeed him plan he best get to it don’t you think?

Obamacare. My God the rhetoric on that hit new lows for lying. Death Panels. Killing Grandma. Government takeover of health care. When, in reality, do you know what it was? Insurance reform. It simply required everyone to have health insurance. Bought in the marketplace. Sure, with some financial assistance for those too poor to do so, but so what? It was a massive expansion of customers to private businesses. That’s it. That’s IT. Nothing more. But to hear the Republicans tell the story, it was going to be the death of this country. But if it was their idea…no wait, it was.

The Party of No is now the Party of Hell No. With no rational reason for it.

Except one.

Because there are only two parties. And, when you have no vision, the strategy becomes simple. Trash the other vision. You do not have to offer up a plan if you spend all your time discrediting the other plan. Don’t believe me? Ask John Boehner. He stated, publicly, that Congress should not be judged on how many laws they pass but how many they repeal. Well, on both counts, they have failed miserably, since this Congress is on track to pass the fewest number of laws of a Congress ever…and have repealed exactly zero.

They believe they are saving us from Obama. Well you know what? With that view you are disrespecting the will of the majority. Obama was elected, legitimately and without fraud, twice. The people spoke. You just don’t like their answer. Too bad. Win an election.

So remember this. Republicans have a vision; they truly do. But they aren’t telling you what it is. Why? Because they know it is too onerous, too repugnant to offer up publicly. I will tell you what it is – two words: Social Security. They want your money. Your money.  They pretty it up with talks of “Freedom to invest your contributions as you see fit” to give the illusion of personal control. Bullshit. They want your money so it can be thrown into the stock market and they can make money off your money.

Disagree? Then prove me wrong.

Politics has been called the Art of Compromise. However, when you have one party refusing to do so, you get nothing. The system breaks down.

And that’s what we have.

Please remember that when you vote this November.

Your choice is a vision or blindness.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Isthmus

So. About two weeks back I got my U.S. passport in the mail.

Six days later I was in Panama.

I am not usually that impulsive of a person. The Virgo in me says to think, re-think, and then think again before doing something like that. But circumstances fell in a perfect way in that I had a three-day weekend coming up, a place to stay in Panama City, and a quick check of Expedia netted a nonstop round-trip flight for $350.

Not to mention a beautiful hostess who was very eager to show me around. (Insert the wink icon here)

I have never ventured outside of the States. Canada doesn’t count. So this was going to be my first real international venture. Customs. Foreign people. New culture. I was very excited. And luckily, my excitement and expectations were easily trumped by the experiences. Panama is a beautiful country with very friendly people.

Panamanians are very passionate about two things: The Panama Canal and Roberto Duran. And luckily for me, I got to meet both. A friend of mine told me, when I mentioned to him I was going to Panama, that I needed to meet Duran. My initial thought was, yeah, sure. A city of two million people and I am going to find him. I informed my hostess, Ileana, of what my friend said. She replied, “Oh, Roberto is a good friend. I’ll introduce you.” My jaw dropped. See, I am a boxing fan, and there was no better period, in my opinion, of boxing than the early 1980’s Middleweight scene – Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas “The Hit Man” Hearns, Alexis Arguello…

And Manos De Piedras. Roberto Duran. He was the best of them all. If you don’t believe me just check out YouTube. He kicked Sugar Ray Leonard’s ass before the ‘No Mas’ fight.

So Ileana takes me to his club in downtown Panama City, we open the door…and there he is. Ileana tells him that I traveled all the way from the United States to meet him (a nice little lie there). Roberto puts his hands together and bows to me. Bows! I shook his sandpaper hand of stone and said “Manos De Piedras…it’s an honor.” He thanked me and said, “You want picture?”

Hell yes! And here we are.

The other point of pride, the Panama Canal, was also on the itinerary. We took a day trip to the Miraflores Locks and watched the huge vessel ships go through. Here was a history lesson for me – the Panama Canal isn’t just a set of locks. It is eighty miles long with a series of locks which raise and lower ships from the sea-level of the two oceans to the level of the lake in the middle of the country, about 85 feet above sea level. A massive engineering undertaking to essentially raise and lower ships via the gravity of water up 85 feet then back down.

While Panama City is certainly cosmopolitan, the country is quite third-world-like in many respects. People do not know how to drive. Road signs are a minor inconvenience, which are only voluntarily adhered to. Cars come from you in all directions. Livestock crosses roads. Some of the living quarters for people are better suited for poultry. Being from the States, I considered this all quite quaint. Ileana informed that if we got pulled over by the police to not say anything (because that would peg me as a foreigner) and to give her ten dollars. Often cops stop you just to get money. See, had I spoken and they heard my gringo voice, the price would have gone to $50.

The president of the country lives in a section of Panama City called Old Town. There is no mistaking when you get near his residence as there are soldiers at the ready with machine guns. You are instructed to turn your headlights off (after dark) so that they can see inside the vehicle. Again, a little Banana Republic-like. Old Town is a place full of character. Sort of a cross between the French Quarter and Key West. Narrow streets and a feel of danger. But I was told it is very safe, and I had a personal confirmation of this, as children went laughing and running down the streets.

Panamanians are very friendly people. Coming from Miami, and only being there for three days, I never truly accepted this, as my Untrusting American side kept coming out, like when I bought a Panama hat for $25 but handed the guy $40. He said he had to go get change. I demurred, and told him oh nonono…you leave with that $40 and I will never see you again. But I was assured by Ileana that he would return with my change. And he did.

I thought I was an urbane individual. But after my trip to Panama I realized just how much of a sheltered life I have lived.

And I cannot wait to go back.