Monday, January 27, 2014

A Letter to Mitch McConnell and John Boehner

Dear Mitch McConnell and John Boehner (Please note I have not referred to either of you as “Speaker,” "Senator" or "Congressman" because you do not deserve that title.):
Attached please find my bills for the month of February, which I will not be able to pay due to Congress’s failure (and, specifically, the failure of 44 Republican Senators and nearly every Republican Congressman) to extend unemployment insurance. I will continue to send you my bills as long as you continue to ignore the will of the American people to extend this vital lifeline.
You and your fellow Republicans who voted against this bill are a disgrace to Congress and to this country. Your contempt for the American people has exceeded my wildest nightmares. You have now failed to extend unemployment insurance THREE TIMES. You’ve been on vacation four of the last six weeks and even when you showed up for “work,” you didn’t get anything done. If this were any kind of normal job, you would have been fired a long time ago. And yet you have the audacity to call unemployed Americans “lazy”! Your hypocrisy is as boundless as your contempt for the American people.
I watched the last vote on CSPAN as Tom Cole blocked any attempt to extend unemployment insurance multiple times, without a trace of guilt. I watched a video of Mitch McConnell laughing and joking with his colleagues about unemployed Americans moments after voting to deny them benefits. Republicans have shown no restraint in their contempt for the American people, so now I will show no restraint in my contempt for you and your fellow Republicans.
Fuck you, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. Fuck you and your fellow Republicans who voted against extending unemployment insurance. I hope you burn in hell for all the pain and suffering you’ve caused the American people. You’re a disgrace to Congress, to America and to humanity.
Paul Hallasy

Sunday, January 12, 2014

U.S. No Longer a Democracy

 I was sitting at home, trying (unsuccessfully) to claim my weekly unemployment benefits when it struck me: the U.S. is no longer a democracy. In fact, this may be a worldwide phenomenon (I think it was Naomi Klein who first suggested in her book The Shock Doctrine that nation-states no longer exist, only international corporations), but let’s concentrate for the moment on the United States.
Here I was, once again, siding with the majority of public opinion (in this case, to extend unemployment benefits) and our duly elected government was, once again, failing to do what we elected them to do.
This was not the first time this had happened. As we have seen before with gun control and countless other issues, public opinion is worthless when it meets the big dollars of the lobbyists and the corporations who really run this country. (This Town by Mark Leibovich is a must-read on this topic.)
Today’s front-page story in The New York Times confirmed my belief once again: “A National Strategy Funds State Political Monopolies.” The story details how various political action committees all over the country are funneling money into state political campaigns (often not even in their own state) due to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
In my part of the country, New York, people are currently fuming over Chris Christie’s abuse of his power as governor of New Jersey to extract political revenge on the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey by blocking traffic on the George Washington Bridge. But what I find really shocking is the culture that allowed this to happen. Like many others, I was naively wondering how Chris Christie not only won the governor’s race, but did so by a landslide. He did this by a culture of intimidation where even local Democratic mayors were afraid to speak against him, and that made it almost impossible for even a viable candidate like Barbara Buono to raise money. Because politics in America, like everything else these days, is all about money. And if you don’t have money, it doesn’t matter if you’re Abraham Freakin’ Lincoln, you are dead in the water.
And that takes us back to today’s front-page story in the Times and the larger story about why the Worst Congress EverTM has passed fewer bills and had more filibusters than any other Congress in history. Because if you’re not waving a $100,000 check in front of their face, they couldn’t care less. We’ve seen it time and time again, whether it’s unemployment insurance, food stamps, health care, education, gun control, gay marriage, women’s reproductive rights, you name it. Money talks, bullshit walks.
I’ve seen this personally, as I’ve been on the phone trying to call members of Congress every day while this unemployment battle has been going on. I’ve gone on television four times, I’ve been on the radio and in the press talking about the need to extend unemployment insurance, and Congress continues to go on about their business as if nothing ever happened. And that’s just me.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people all over the country who have been writing and calling their members of Congress and are being met with a deafening silence. And we have a President who can talk the talk, but (at least so far) doesn’t walk the walk.
So, God help me, if we ever get through this unemployment battle, our next battle is going to be campaign finance reform. Because as long as our elected officials spend 90 percent of their time raising money and 10 percent of their time actually legislating, nothing will ever change.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Breaking News

Q: What do Chris Christie and Nelson Mandela have in common?

A: They both took over the news for an entire day.
It’s been interesting to watch how news gets made as a somewhat unwitting participant in it the last few weeks.
My first indication of this was when I filmed my first story on unemployment and I had the misfortune of Nelson Mandela dying the day before my story was supposed to air and the news became blanket coverage of Nelson Mandela’s death.
My next indication has been in the course of this fight to have unemployment benefits renewed. In the absence of any progress being made, Chris Christie was implicated in a scandal involving the George Washington Bridge, and then that became the news the entire day. Not only was it the only story reported on each program on MSNBC (a station I normally respect and agree with), but it became the only story on the entire network, repeated for the entirety of each program on that network, to the point where I actually started to feel sorry for Chris Christie!
It seems like each day, the media decides they’re only going to report on one story that day, even though there are countless stories that need to be reported on, and it becomes virtually impossible to find any information about anything else. I don’t know if it’s because there’s legitimately no new information or because they just need to fill air time any way they can, so they stretch one particular story in order to fill it and, in many instances (as Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out in his show about Christie’s endless press conference last night), the tough questions aren’t even being asked.
It seems like there’s been a systematic dumbing down of the news media because, like every other industry, they’re simply interested in hiring the cheapest person available in order to maximize the company’s profits, even if it means putting out an inferior product, to the point where even once-respected investigative shows like 60 Minutes are forced to retract stories on Benghazi and the NSA.
“Breaking news” indeed!