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Posts tagged politics

28 posts tagged politics

President Obama visited Scranton, Pennsylvania to lay out the choice Congress will have to make with their upcoming vote on extending the payroll tax cut

Note: Since writing this blog just after President Obama’s visit to Scranton on Wednesday, the Senate failed to pass Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.’s bill to extend and expand the payroll-tax cut and provide $1,500 to the average working class family.  Despite the imminent expiration of the middle class tax cut, Scrantonians are optimistic that Senator Casey will reach an auspicious agreement in time to safeguard Pennsylvania families and create employment opportunities.

Although I was born and raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania, throughout the 2008 election cycle I lived and worked in New York City and, much to my chagrin, was unable to see (then candidate) Barack Obama discuss his ambitions apropos my hometown’s most pressing issues. It was deeply heartening to be back home in Scranton this week to witness the vitality and spirit of the President, his confidence in our country’s eventual triumph over the political partisanship throughout our economic recouping, and his connection to our local workforce concerns.  Scranton is by no means a wealthy area, so it is of little surprise that the crowd hailed for the President’s fiscal policy defending the middle class and summoning more from top-tier earners.  As evidenced by Wednesday’s turnout, Scrantonians feel connected to the Obama Administration—no doubt a token of Vice President Biden’s upbringing in Scranton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s roots in our area—and we hold their policies heretofore in the highest regard and have tremendous hopes for the passing of future initiatives. The President couldn’t possibly find a more receptive audience to launch an urgent and passionate two-week campaign for the payroll-tax cut extension, the unemployment-insurance extension, and transportation spending… granted that Congress gets on board in time for the holidays. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Scranton’s economic hardship and earnest desire for passing President Obama’s reforms were palpable by the crowd’s roaring enthusiasm throughout his case for an extension of the payroll-tax holiday legislation sponsored by Scranton native Senator Robert Casey.  With about 10,000 people out of work in Lackawanna County alone, this payroll-tax cut would directly benefit local employees and their employers.  Putting about $1,500 into the pockets of average workers would catalyze our economic recovery—especially for citizens of lesser education, who are inevitably faced with the most adverse ramifications of our current financial structure.  Last year’s cut of the payroll-tax from 6.3% to 4% only set the groundwork; a further reduction will predominantly impact the livelihood of lower and middle class workers and their families.  Politically speaking, Scrantonians’ propensity toward pragmatic, nonideological tenets will serve the President well.  The Wyoming Valley simply wants to see fair and effective policy come to the fore and finds little value in Congress’ ideological brawls; the image of Republicans pauperizing working Americans during the holiday season prompted a tangible anxiety in the audience. However, a sudden sense of hopefulness overcame the gymnasium when the President appealed the crowd to take action: “Send your senators a message. Tell them, ‘Don’t be a Grinch.’ Don’t vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays.”

As a swing city in a battleground state, a stroll around Scranton’s Courthouse Square is revelatory of our steadfast labor roots—home to the tributary statue of United States labor leader and United Mine Workers president John Mitchell—and the site of Mitchell’s contentious negotiations with mining industries, wherein President Teddy Roosevelt personally intervened in Scranton.  On account of Mitchell and Roosevelt’s momentous resolution stipulating a minimum wage and an eight-hour workweek at the Lackawanna County Courthouse, the “Champion of Labor, Defender of Humon Rights” Mitchell statue and the Lackawanna Courthouse are registered National Historic Landmarks.  When the President engaged the gymnasium gathering by asking, “What does it say about our priorities when we’d rather protect a few really well-to-do people than fight for the jobs of teachers and firefighters?” a full-out standing ovation ensued.  He truly struck a cord with Scrantonians when he further posed, “What does it say about our values when we’d rather fight for corporate tax breaks than put construction workers back on the job rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our schools?”  The President hit home.

In the face of the devastating effects of NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China and other such unendurable policies, during the George W. Bush administration my family was forced to sell off our multigenerational apparel manufacturing business in the Wyoming Valley.  Since then, my mom, Janie Alperin, established an internationally-acclaimed housewares and gift boutique, Jane Leslie & Co., based in Kingston, PA.  The Obama Administration’s American Jobs Act and appeal for the furtherance of the payroll-tax cuts would be exponentially beneficial for her small business.  The President’s Remarks on The American Jobs Act on Wednesday also resonated with my friends who accompanied me to the speech: Megan Davidovich, 20 (President of the University of Scranton College Democrats) and Robert Bresnahan, 21 (Chief Financial Officer of Kuharchik Construction, Inc. located in Exeter, PA).  For Megan, the President’s comments on college loans were especially apposite—words moreover met with roaring acclamation from Scranton High School students and teachers bullish on the prospect for education reform.  Robert’s spirits were raised by the President’s bid for infrastructure revitalization and construction initiatives.  In an age of partisanship, I was profoundly inspired by Robert’s open-mindedness as a young Republican, “I advocate for the greater good of the economy and [construction] industry. As CFO of a construction company, I have first-hand experience with workers who need to be kept on the job, hence the imperativeness of this often forgotten aspect [infrastructure], which is significantly dependent on federal intervention.”  Robert’s nonpartisan and objective convictions are archetypal of Scranton, where there are scores of unemployed and underemployed blue color workers (particularly construction workers), whose skillsets the President intends to utilize by funding $100 billion toward infrastructure. 

The message of rendering our country’s income inequality into a more equitable model fired up attendees; if 38% of our corporations that eschew income tax payment began doing their fair bid for the country, it would ease the burden on the working people of Scranton.  Radical actions that put men and women on the job—like repairing the unsound national infrastructure within the constraints of a massive five or ten-year repair program in tandem with training unemployed people and returning veterans—would not only boost our economy, but would uplift Northeast Pennsylvanians’ confidence both in our country and of our global standing.

Updated: President Obama’s statement on the Senate’s failure to pass his plan to extend the payroll tax cut for working Americans:

"Now is not the time to put the economy and the security of the middle class at risk. Now is the time to rebuild an economy where hard work and responsibility pay off, and everybody has a chance to succeed. Now is the time to put country before party and work together on behalf of the American people. And I will continue to urge Congress to stop playing politics with the security of millions of American families and small business owners and get this done. Tonight, Senate Republicans chose to raise taxes on nearly 160 million hardworking Americans because they refused to ask a few hundred thousand millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share. They voted against a bill that would have not only extended the $1,000 tax cut for a typical family, but expanded that tax cut to put an extra $1,500 in their pockets next year, and given nearly six million small business owners new incentives to expand and hire. That is unacceptable. It makes absolutely no sense to raise taxes on the middle class at a time when so many are still trying to get back on their feet…”

On this eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, we celebrate and reflect on how far we have come as a nation. During the past year, we have become a more perfect union. Millions of Americans are now experiencing the benefits of comprehensive health care reform, saving them money and saving lives. We have begun to fulfill a promise to our families, as American troops are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. And we ended the discriminatory practice of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’

“However, we cannot forget the difficulties we have faced this year. This is a challenging time for our nation, as so many Americans are struggling just to make ends meet. Our country has been rocked by hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters and communities across the nation are still picking up the pieces. It is also a challenging time for our friend and ally, Israel, which continues to face attacks on her safety and legitimacy from hostile neighbors and the broader international community.

“If there is one lesson that these holidays teach us, it is that we must come together to embrace the ideals of reflection, forgiveness, and renewal. Together, we mark the year that was past, and as a community—as a nation—we forge on toward a better future.

“In the spirit of social justice, we must not rest until joblessness, homelessness, and discrimination are relics of history. In the spirit of those before us we must continue to protect the unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States, and stand up for her security. And in the spirit of tikkun olam, we must commit once again to build a better world together that is filled with justice and peace.

“Today, as I celebrate the new year with my own family, I hope you take the opportunity to share this holiday in health and happiness with those you love. May the next year be one of renewed hope in our dreams of all we aspire to be. L’shanah tovah u’metukah, and may you all have a peaceful 5772.”

—Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Carry the torch with Marc Hudley x Opening Ceremony’s “To Be Gentle and Kind” Smiths’ t:

Attn: GOPextremistsfallacy-proponentscaprice-happy officials, et al., 

Tonight marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, which initiates the Days of Awe—a ten-day spell of repentance, prayer, and reflection on the deeds performed over the course of the past year—urging all global citizens (from the faithful to the Religulous) to take a step back, reevaluate, atone, and do our utmost to lead altruistic, honest, thoughtful and considerate lives.  Naturally, there’s food involved; so why not hop on the honey wagon and/or apple cart?

Be about Obama for America 2012!  CHANGE into a trusty blue crew you can believe in:

Wear it with pride! Opening Ceremony’s “Love is Equal" super soft t-shirt:

New York Magazine | "The Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Effexor, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, Restoril, Xanax, Adderall, Ritalin, Haldol, Risperdal, Seroquel, Ambien, Lunesta, Elavil, Trazodone War" — As it approaches its tenth year, our nation’s longest war is showing signs of waning. Meanwhile, our soldiers are falling apart. By Jennifer Senior

Jennifer Senior’s heart-rending portrayal of the current state of our armed forces and the keystone role of prescription drugs therein is particularly stunning for its no-holds-barred depiction of the brave men and women who sacrifice for our country—both in theater abroad and while reintegrating and readapting to the home front—and, physical injuries aside, their extensive mental illnesses far surpassing the spectrum of post traumatic stress disorders as witnessed in wars heretofore.  Her New York Magazine piece “The Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Effexor, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, Restoril, Xanax, Adderall, Ritalin, Haldol, Risperdal, Seroquel, Ambien, Lunesta, Elavil, Trazodone War” chronicles how repeated deployments of our all-volunteer corps and the current lull in operational tempo have manifested in escalating suicide rates—especially when their Army-advocated prescription-drug use intensifies upon return stateside as the off-duty soliders come face-to-face with depression, noncombatant boredom, suppressed pain manifesting itself and residual insomnia spawned by their perpetual hypervigilance whilst in combat; viz., one-third of all 2009 active-duty suicides were associated with prescription drug use.   I was appalled to learn that accidental death on our homeland (such as drug overdose or drinking and driving) triggers nearly as many Army deaths as the number of servicemen and women killed in combat overseas.   The Army’s inexcusable routine of labeling returning troops as exhibiting a mere “personality disorder” in lieu of accurately reporting their post-traumatic stress and other afflictions is entirely reprehensible, especially since doing so in turn renounces any chance of their eligibility for disability.

Even in April 2004—widely accepted as our country’s most trying hour throughout the Global War on Terror (in consideration of the scale of casualties and lack of any end in sight at the time)—our troop morale was exponentially higher than the beginning of 2011.  Nowadays, with casualties declining, productive headway made with respect to our stability in combat zones and the elimination of many global terrorist leaders at the highest echelon (e.g., Osama bin Laden)—Jennifer Senior maintains that our army is “falling apart”: Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars encompass an inordinate percentage of the American unemployed; the Army’s divorce rate (historically recognized for its low rates compared to its civilian conjugal counterparts) has surpassed that of nonmilitary citizens—and servicemen and women deployed on multiple tours have even eclipsed those dismally high divorce rates.  Defense Department spending on Ambien (sleep aids), Seroquel (antipsychotics), and amphetamines has doubled since 2007 and their disbursement of Topamax (anti-convulsants often prescribed for migraines) has quadrupled. 

According to the Army’s research, alcohol abuse, disciplinary infractions and criminal activities are increasing with active-duty service members.  Just as in Vietnam, where the enemy deceptively blended in with civilians, everyone and everything is a potential threat; however this war is fought as often in the backcountry deserts as it is in populous cities—whereby soldiers are never afforded the opportunity of their predecessors to mentally decompress—bearing in mind that “there’s no front in this war, and no rear either…” (NY Mag p. 4).  Whereas Vietnam soldiers used dope and Jimi Hendrix to both relax and pump up for battle, today’s military personnel’s consumption of drugs is a DOD-approved modus operandi—poles apart from Nam-era’s countercultural attitude toward drugs.  Case in point: In this day and age, larger-battalion aide stations in Iraq and Afghanistan are jam-packed with Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Effexor and Zoloft (to ward off depression); Valium (to unclench muscles, combat stress and induce sleep); Klonopin, Ativan, Restoril and Xanax (to fight anxiety); Adderall and Ritalin (for “ADD”); Haldol and Risperdal (to manage psychosis); and Seroquel—at subtherepeutic doses—along with Lunesta and Ambien (for sleep).   Upon deployment, servicemen and servicewomen swiftly settle into a ceaseless cycle of Red Bulls and Rip Its (amply provided by the truckload at any base chow hall) for colossal caffeine boosts just before missions, only to necessitate a regimen of sleep meds and depressants to power down in due course.

It goes without saying that the Army places tremendous value on mission focus; army doctors are inasmuch generally disinclined to prescribe any medications that could jeopardize concentration.  It is only upon a soldier’s homecoming that the full toll of the war’s horrors—compounded with their newfound addictions and dependencies on (often mandated) prescription medications—fully manifest themselves, all whilst they attempt to reintegrate into civilian society.  This very phenomenon has given rise to Army residential facilities with the specific intent to treat alcohol and substance abuse, PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, depression, pain management, and the reckless poly-drug prescription problem under one roof—a half-way house of sorts, wherein at-risk soldiers can rehabilitate and readjust to America and its dearth of the strange new agonies experienced abroad: dust particles cloaked with unrecognizable toxins, 90-pound packs lugged at unfathomable altitudes, incessant pressure waves and blasts, beyond erratic sleep cycles, and the round-the-clock stressors and traumas of combat life in the Middle East. 

The welfare of our soldiers in this wartime climate—marked by scores of deployments (and the profuse prescription medications allocated to cope with such a taxing reality)—truly struck a chord on my psyche.  Admittedly prior to reading this New York Magazine article, I had not fully grasped the complexities of our servicemen and women’s sacrifices and the central role that psychoactive drugs (and their sundry side effects and cumulative tolerance issues) play in contemporary Army life.  I can only imagine the added contemporary pressures faced in an age of Skype and Facebook, whereby service members must not only contend with their own immediate combat-zone unease, overmedication and sympathetic nervous system overactivation: for the first time in history, they also retain an up-to-the-minute awareness of the strain on their families, along with incoming imagery of loved ones subsisting in normal (as possible) lives—often jobless, struggling to raise children in their absence—and even at times devastatingly “Facebook tagged” at bars and in social climates.  The psychological impact of the Digital Age has only augmented the anxiety in their lives, as the military must face life-and-death situations in defense of our country with the full cognizance of such personal stressors as divorce, death, moving, and financial tumult on the home front; pressures that, if they survive the battlefront, they may be forced to tackle whilst also battling their own newfound drug issues under the Army’s supervision.

Seth Meyers killed it last night at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.  Spot-on brilliant.  

And since I originally hail from Scranton, Pennsylvania, I can confirm with a mix of discomfiture, mirth and total certainty that Seth’s Vice President Joe Biden/Scranton Olive Garden joke (at around the 17 minute mark) rings true… too true, perhaps!