Monday, June 21, 2010

Washington's Double Standard

Washington's Double Standard
Ken Connor
Sunday, June 20, 2010

There's recently been some chatter in the blogosphere debating the need for a new amendment to the Constitution – one that would require laws passed by Congress to apply to lawmakers equally as they apply to the rest of American citizens. The feasibility of such a measure is questionable, and currently there is no such amendment being proposed in Congress; nevertheless, the enthusiasm behind the idea reveals a growing sentiment among many Americans that the federal government no longer represents the people, but rather presides in Washington as a group of self-interested elites that long ago lost touch with reality.

President Obama's administration has been tainted with the stain of hypocrisy from Day One, when news broke that he'd chosen to send his daughters to the elite private Sidwell Friends School while simultaneously allowing his Democratic cohorts in Congress – at the behest of the powerful National Education Association, no doubt – to kill a scholarship program that afforded 1,700 of D.C.'s most underprivileged kids to escape the District's failing public school system. Apparently the President, along with 38% of Congressmen who elect to send their kids to private schools, sees nothing ironic about denying American parents the right to choose the best school for their kids.

After the meltdown on Wall Street, our government wasted no time in demonizing the corporate "fat cats" at the top. President Obama assured the American people that the party was over – that the firms that received bailout funds would be made to pay back every dime of taxpayer money, and then some, in the form of a special tax. Many firms that never even received TARP funds were made subject to the new tax, yet interestingly enough, government-run firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with GM and Chrysler (which hadn't paid back their portion of TARP), were exempted from the tax. Clearly, our government felt no compunction about excluding itself from accountability for its sizable role in the financial collapse and subsequent recession, and they certainly feel no obligation to pay the American people back for the billions spent to bail themselves out.

Perhaps the best example of the gross disparity between Washington's ruling elites and the rest of the American people can be seen in two of our nation's most contentious political issues: health care and climate change.

Senate Democrats were elated after they successfully bulldozed health care "reform" through Congress, claiming victory on behalf of millions of uninsured and "underinsured" Americans. No longer, they crowed, would greedy insurance companies be able to exclude the needy and gouge hardworking families. Those that had coverage they liked could keep it, and those without coverage now had access to much needed care. Upon closer analysis, however, it has been revealed that – despite the President's assurances to the contrary – a majority of Americans won't be able to keep their current coverage: Up to 51% of employees will be forced to change plans under the new law. Also notable is the fact that the very Democrats that wrote the health care bill exempted themselves and most of their staffers from the requirements of the legislation. Unlike the rest of us, they (along with the President and his family, of course) will get to keep their taxpayer-funded Cadillac insurance plans.

On the issue of climate change, we are told that America is facing an energy crisis – that we must take steps today to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels or else face dire consequences. Naturally, the only way to achieve security from this impending disaster is to cede authority over energy consumption to the government. Nevermind the fact that the same politicians who want to control how the American people consume energy are some of the biggest culprits (second only, perhaps, to Hollywood stars) when it comes to carbon pollution. It's the ultimate in "do as we say, not as we do" condescension.

Former Vice President Al Gore is an infamous example of this self-imposed double standard. An ardent supporter of cap-and-trade, his household consumes more than 20 times as much energy as the average American household. Despite this glaring hypocrisy, he was granted an Academy Award for his documentary lecturing Americans and the world about the evils of carbon. He insists that Americans must make big sacrifices in order to save the planet. So how does he justify his own prodigious energy bill? Like many Hollywood elites, he buys "carbon credits" to offset his sizable carbon footprint. In other words, he pays an "energy broker" to ensure that carbon consumption elsewhere (exactly where, no one is sure) is reduced so he doesn't have to curtail his limousine liberal lifestyle.

And who can forget the late Ted Kennedy's opposition to the Cape Wind Project, a plan that would have erected several wind power turbines in Nantucket Sound in order to power most of Cape Cod and surrounding communities? Apparently the turbines would have interfered with a favorite yachting route of the Kennedy family, so the venerable Lion got the project scrapped. Apparently for Washington elites there are some things more important than saving Planet Earth.

There is a reason that the Founding Fathers worried over the issue of term limits: They realized the danger of allowing a tyranny of professional politicians to rule the affairs of the nation. Two centuries later, the worst fears of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have been realized. Washington, D.C. is no longer a place where humble men with noble hearts go to serve their fellow citizens; Capitol Hill has become a glorified country club; it represents elitism personified. Our representatives truly live by a different set of rules than the rest of the American people, and they use the power of their office – the power bestowed upon them by your vote – to ensure that they remain exempt from the standards that guide the rest of us. This is why they are so willing to spend trillions of dollars they don't have on legislation that won't apply to them. This is why they think nothing of spending $18,000 a month on office space, or burning 40,000 tons of carbon en route to a summit on climate change.

What the voters must realize is that we don't need a Constitutional amendment to make our representatives change the way they do business. All we need to do is show up on election day and change who we send there.

Washington irreality
Paul Jacob
Sunday, June 20, 2010

The few remaining newspaper-reading residents of our nation’s capital were greeted, yesterday morning, with a large, unavoidable picture, in the Washington Post, of U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-West Virginia).

And his dog.

Don’t get me wrong: I like dogs. At least, my own. At least, most of the time.

But both the picture and the Style section article (detailing the pooch paradise on Capitol Hill) bug me. Where to begin?

For starters, it never ceases to amaze that Mr. Byrd is still a high-level decision-maker in our government. At 92, Byrd is one of 100 U.S. senators, and currently the longest serving (52 years). His overall congressional tenure is the longest in American history.

His accomplishments in the last half century? The Robert C. Byrd Highway. The Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam. The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. The Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advance Flexible Manufacturing. The Robert C. Byrd Academic and Technology Center. The Robert C. Byrd United Technical Center. The Robert C. Byrd Federal Building. The Robert C. Byrd Hilltop Office Complex. Et cetera.

Oh, and let’s not diminish his mighty contributions to our national debt of $13 trillion . . . and growing.

(For the record, the enthusiasm of some for the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) amazed and perturbed me as well.)

Add to this, Byrd has never been able honestly to account for his past involvement as a Ku Klux Klan organizer, where he rose to the rank of “Exalted Cyclops.” Somehow, neither his party nor the media have forced an apology from him. As late as 2001, in a rare public interview in which the subject of racism was raised with the Senator, Byrd informed the world: “There are white niggers.”

But hey, that was nearly two Senate terms ago. What racial slur has he hurled lately?

The photo in question — of Byrd and his Shih Tzu, Baby — really says more about the sorry state of the media, specifically the Washington Post, than it does about Byrd. The Post is fiddling with front page dog stories while the people of our fair land are burning mad about economic collapse, entrenched corruption and environmental disasters.

But let’s move past the merely symbolic, to address more consequential and ominous examples.

The $23 billion education bailout proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is, well, educational. The goal of the bailout is to prevent layoffs of school personnel, including teachers. If estimates are to be believed — and they’re not — somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 school workers nationally could lose their jobs.

Give or take 200,000.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan declares, “This is a real emergency. What we’re trying to avert is an education catastrophe.” Of course, he uses the term “real” to distinguish this from the pretend emergencies we’re routinely fed.

Sen. Harkin’s bill has been held up, however, on the grounds it would further balloon already unsustainable deficits and debt. To which the Senator argues: “How can you argue on the one hand that it’s okay for kids to borrow to go to college, but it’s not all right to borrow to make sure there’s a college for them to go to? That there are teachers in our high schools and grade schools to prepare these kids for the future? It seems to me if there’s one legitimate area where we can borrow from the future, it’s in education.”

But I for one argue that any “kid” already $13 trillion in debt should not seek to top it off with a student loan.

And I wonder, if indeed this is a “catastrophe,” why Mr. Harkin, the Democratic Congress, Secretary Duncan and the Obama Administration have not been able to find $23 billion in savings out of a $3.8 trillion 2011 budget (roughly half a percent) to “save” education without further deficit spending.

Of course, this $23 billion in extra spending isn’t just a one-time matter, either. As Katherine Mangu-Ward astutely observed months ago on Reason’s Hit-and-Run blog, “Teachers aren’t like whales. They don’t stay saved. You have to keep saving them over and over again. And when Harkin’s billions run out, we’ll be right back where we started.”

We see barrels of unreality daily flooding to the surface regarding the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (With all the myriad finger-pointing, too bad it isn’t as simple as filling a hole in a dyke.) One big whopper was President Obama’s statement during his prime time TV address this past week that he approved new offshore drilling (just weeks before the oil rig exploded) “under the assurance that it would be absolutely safe.”

Byron York of the Washington Examiner actually took the trouble to ask various top-ranking Administration officials where the President got such unreal advice. Most simply did not respond to his queries.

The oil spill is the fault of BP. But the mystique of Mr. Obama as a brilliant Mr. Fix-It has been shown to be fantasy.

Last, but not least, is the recent developments concerning the Disclose Act, a measure to re-regulate campaign spending in congressional campaigns (read: silence critics) in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision. The entire bill is an unconstitutional injury to of our First Amendment right to freely criticize our government and officials in government.

But adding insult upon injury, the bill was amended to exempt some of the biggest political players — the National Rifle Association and big labor, to name two. Seems the sponsors wanted to buy off the support of powerful groups they complain might be trying to buy them. The irony is interesting, though disgusting.

No longer can there be even a pretense that congressional campaign regulators are earnestly, if unconstitutionally, trying to “even the playing field.”

Never mind that our country may be going to the dogs. Instead, look at Sen. Byrd’s cute little Shih Tzu.

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