Tuesday, May 14, 2013

More right-wing baloney, Part I: Benghazi

Darrell Issa, Republican Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is hot on the trail of the crime of the century. His investigators have determined that Obama's minions misled the American People about the nature of the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi Libya (9/11/2012). For example, Obama's spinners used the phrase "terror attacks" instead of "attacks by terrorists" to make it seem that organizations like Al-Qaeda were not involved. I'm sure that this distinction carried great weight among the American People, accustomed as they are to the subtleties of beer commercials...

Of course, it is highly likely that the Obama folks, like all politicians, engaged in some of the spinning with which they are charged. The folks who promised to close Gitmo and swore they'd never touch Social Security don't have a very strong track record on strict adherence to facts and principles. Nevertheless, in spite of Fox News's breathless claims about a crime far exceeding (even) Watergate, there is absolutely no claim, much less evidence, that any sort of illegality or even major misrepresentation took place; this piece from the NY Daily News (not a bastion of liberalism) gives some idea of the silliness of Fox/conservative hyperbole and why it's nonsense. Let's not forget that Watergate, Iran-Contra the secret bombing of Laos and Cambodia violated all sorts of laws. The folks who gave us the Clinton impeachment would love to pull off another courageous act of patriotism, saving us from being mislead by a usurping black man.

Darrell Issa himself has probably committed more criminal acts than even he dares claim were committed by the Obama administration: You can read a an extensively documented account of the legal history this petty-thug-turned-congressman here, and in the fine New Yorker profile of Issa here.

I'm not an Obama worshiper,  or even a committed Democrat, but the Republicans remain beneath contempt both in comparison and from an absolute standpoint.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The FBI and terrorism

Things are seldom as they "seem". One of my least favorite Senators from one of my least favorite states, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is currently on the FBI's case as it were, because the agency failed to follow up tips about the Tsarnaev brothers -- and about Tamerlan (the older) brother's trip to Russia last year.

The Web-based news and opinion source Talking Points Memo (TPM) has an interview with a "former FBI executive", who claims that the FBI did all it could, legally, given the level of the information provided by Russian intelligence and the negative results of its preliminary investigation.

That may very well be true, but there is more to it than that. First of all, while I'm sure that Lindsey Graham has patriotic interests at heart, he is also a relentless foe of the Obama administration and all of its agency appointments. For example, he was a leading opponent of Att. Gen. Holder's botched "Fast and Furious" gun-running would-be sting, as well as a point-man on the Republican brouhaha over the Benghazi attack; he has also been a dependable critic of Obamacare, etc. However, he is in somewhat of a bind, since he obviously wants to discredit the Obama part of the FBI without discrediting the FBI itself, which has always been a Republican sacred cow. So, the latest from Graham is that, yes the FBI did all it could within the laws regulating its activities: but that just shows that the laws reining in the Bureau probably need to be changed. He said: “It’s people like this [the Tsarnaev brothers] that you don’t want to let out of your sight, and this was a mistake. I don’t know if our laws were inefficient or if the FBI failed, but we’re at war with radical Islamists and we need to up our game.” In other words, unleash the FBI (from pantywaist liberal restrictions). And, just to reinforce that he's the same old Lindsey Graham, he added: “I think anyone who is on the terrorist watch list shouldn’t lose their Second Amendment right." Yes, there are just some things that are more important than protecting Americans from terrorism, and owning an AK47-type assault weapon with a large capacity clip is surely one of them Graham and his South Carolina constituency.

Of course, it's not just Lindsey Graham: the U.S. oil industry has had a long history with countries in the Caucasus region of Asia. From the Stalinist era until the breakup of the former Soviet Union, America used this historicall anti-Soviet region in an attempt to block the USSR's access to Caspian Sea oil. Although we did nothing to help millions of Chechens who were brutally dispersed by the Soviets, we were -- at least secretly -- happy to see their terrorist acts against Moscow. In the case of the Afghanis we were more open, sending arms and money to the groups that later became AlQaeda, and the Taliban, and leaders that included Osama bin Laden. More recently, however, Chechen (and other) terrorists have threatened Caspian Sea pipelines developed by Russian and American oil companies; thus, some of our sympathies have changed.

So the attitude of the FBI and of the political leadership is surely ambivalent. Relations between the U.S. and Russia are not particularly good at this point, so a "tip" about terrorists from ex-KGB honcho Putin is taken with a liberal grain of salt; yet, practically, we can't allow Chechen hatred of Russia and its perceived "western allies" to spread Chechen terrorism to the U.S. or even more importantly, to endanger Caspian Sea pipelines partially bankrolled by U.S. oil interests.

There are a lot of political currents roiling under the surface of the "War on Terror" and the use of the CIA and the FBI as its instruments.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mark Sanford:The man who doesn't get it

After showing up at his ex-wife Jenny's house while she was away -- violating his divorce settlement -- Sanford was charged by her with trespassing. Here's what he had to say:

"I did indeed watch the second half of the Super Bowl at the beach house with our 14-year-old son because as a father I didn't think he should watch it alone."

I can understand: having to watch any part of the Super Bowl alone is one of the worst things that can happen to a 14-year-old -- perhaps even worse than his dad misappropriating South Carolina funds to leave the state under false pretenses and cheat on the boy's mother, then being forced to resign his governorship in (temporary) disgrace.

The guy still thinks that his ex adores him. After all, even though he is now engaged to his "soul mate Maria", Jenny undoubtedly still wants to cook and clean for him the way any loyal Carolina wife would -- he even asked her to manage his campaign. I seem to recall that she declined the honor.

Ah yes, another star in the family-valued firmament of the Republican South.

They just can't seem to get their massage across.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why the Party for The Rich (formerly GOP) hates Elizabeth Warren

Here is Warren incredulous at how so-called bank regulators protect the banks and disdain the public:

(Thanks Mike for forwarding this to me.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mark Sanford redux

My very first blog, June 29, 2009 was a satire on Governor Mark Sanford's visit to his Argentinian mistress, disguised as a trip along the "Appalachian Trial". I was my only intentional attempt at humor, and depended to some extent on his gauzy descriptions of his affair and some e-mails of his that were somehow released. Today, Gail Collins revisits some of that Affair to Remember in her Times column -- in honor of Sanford's redemption as the Republican candidate for his former congressional seat. Collins, as a humorist, is the real thing.

Anyway, just for old times sake, and because it is short and I'm lazy, here's my first blog:

Latest on Sanford e-mails from Pontifax news

New details have come out about "l'Affaire Sanford": the relationship between Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina and his Argentinian paramour, now identified as Maria Belen Chapur. Recently pirated e-mails from both parties seem to tie Sanford's indiscretions with those of another Governor, Eliot Spitzer of New York.

It seems that both men were seeking forbidden positions during sex-play. Spitzer's predilections have already been the source of explicit speculation, but up to now Gov. Sanford's have been a total mystery. However, fairly clear descriptions are contained in the following excerpts.

(FROM SANFORD) Dearest Maria, you know by now what I like and what my good wife can't or won't give me: certain, shall we say "positions", that I dare not mention but dare to hope for.

(FROM BELEN CHAPUR) Oh Mark my dear, how could I withhold from you what you secretly wanted all these years. The sanctity of love makes all holy, even those positions which you dared not name. At our last tryst I completely opened myself to you and poured what you so wanted over your trembling body: "Single payer healthcare", "Higher income-tax brackets", "World government" and, and ... oh so much more. You needed it; I needed it.

(FROM SANFORD): Oh, the erotic beauty of you holding, yourself, those magnificent positions that have been held, also, by others - but hey, that would be going across the aisle. 

[Of course, "Pontifax News" does not exist: it is an inside joke.]

Monday, April 1, 2013

More lights changing: CA

It is good to see the PTR (Party for The Rich, formerly GOP) being marginalized as people wake up. Check out today's column by Paul Krugman on how "kooky California" has turned the corner and embarked on a people-centered revitalization. It's also a good corrective to David Stockman's Op Ed in the Sunday NY Times. The modern PTR (ugh) is too much for Stockman, but his cynicism about what government can do to save us from rampant capitalism -- of the "free-market" as well as cronyist type -- is unimaginative and as dogmatic as ever. He laments the phasing out of the Glass-Steagull Act, yet he counts Bill Clinton as a hero, even though Clinton presided over its demise.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

They didn't notice that the lights had changed.

He blew his mind out in a car
He didn't notice that the lights had changed

Whatever the inspiration for the Beatles' song, when I hum these lyrics I don't think of rich British playboys or people high on dope. I think, particularly, of Reince Priebus and the Pope  (maybe not John XXIII, but most any of the others I have lived through or read or heard of).

Most recently, Priebus and the Republican establishment have been musing on why they no longer have the dreams described in Phillips' The Emerging Republican Majority. They seem to think that their policies -- cutting taxes, especially for the wealthy; cutting services, especially for the poor and middle classes; unquestioned support for all forms of Big Business and the military;  harsh policies on immigration, gays and regulation; and kowtowing to the Religious Right -- are innately appealing to Americans, and that their only failure is not articulating these policies more effectively.

They didn't notice that the lights had changed.

Most recently, the administration of Boston College has decided to threaten students who have been distributing condoms in the BC dorms. This is, of course, because the Catholic Church is against any form of birth control -- as well as being against any form of abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, priest marriage, and female priesthood. It still maintains that Boston College, one of its flagship (Jesuit) institutions, can be a world-class university while its students are subject to dogmatic rules. It also believes that its problem with sexual abuse by priests is an aberration, and that its crackdown on nuns who don't hew to the ultra-conservative religious line of its (still existing) Inquisition was necessary to preserve the traditions that all Catholics believe in. And they are wondering why hardly any Catholic woman in the U.S. follows its proscription against contraception, and why a large majority of Catholics here and abroad don't agree that an all-male priesthood is a good thing. If anything, the Church has moved rightward through the actions of the conservative Popes that followed John XXIII.

They didn't notice that the lights had changed.

The people of Europe have, for a long time, rejected the conservative -- even reactionary -- policies of the American PTR (Party for The Rich, formerly GOP). It isn't that there are no conservatives in Europe, but their form of conservatism is about where American centralism is. In fact, their actual policies on Climate Change, taxation, equality of opportunity, and healthcare are, on average, where liberal Democrats in the USA are located.

Even in America, when partisan descriptions (such as "ObamaCare") are removed, Americans by a large majority favor the exact same things that Europeans favor. If one could remove gerrymandered House districts, and count votes instead, we would have a Federal government controlled totally by Democrats.

Both the Catholic Church and the Republican party didn't notice that the lights had changed.. New generations are proceeding with a green light toward a fairer, more humane, and more progressive society, while the Church and the PTR, mired in the past, are ignoring their red light and plunging along fatal paths toward collision with the vast mass of everyone else. We can only hope that they don't do too much more damage. They really could use some mind blowing.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

GOP loves small airports

In the last blog I said:

Oh, one other thing: cutting off funding for small airports is a good political move: most of these airports are in either red states or red congressional districts, and a lot of their clientele consists of wealthy private plane owners. People like you and me don't own planes and don't, generally, fly out of small fields. Obama should also find out how to cut services, under sequester, for yacht owners.

Sure enough, the GOP hates the cuts made to these small "Republican" Chamber-of-Commerce type fields. They host good old-fashioned "Sun 'n' Fun" festivals in the Sunbelt (in this case, Florida). Here are some of the things they have to say: From TPM.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

We smell fear

Nate Silver's 538 blog reports  that Obama's edge over the Republicans on the economy has largely evaporated, as has his post-election "bump." Not too surprising for a president (and a party) who is once again playing careful on just about everything -- avoiding the open fights and risky actions. Here's the way I look at it.

1. Obama can not get enthusiastic support because he has done very little he can point to.

2. Obama has done very little he can point to because the Republicans won't let him do anything. They have the filibuster in the Senate and a House majority. He can't get appointees voted on, much less confirmed; he can't get policies and bills discussed or voted on. He looks -- and is -- weak.

3. The Republicans have a filibuster in the Senate because the Democrats are so afraid of losing in the next round of Senatorial elections that they don't dare change the filibuster rules. People (wisely) perceive this fear as a sign of weakness. When you don't even fight, you can't win.

4. Obama is still talking about bipartisanship -- can you imagine? What planet is he living on? He won't talk "class warfare" (i.e. pointing out how the rich are getting much richer with Republican support, while everyone else's incomes are flat or worse) so what leverage does he have with the vast majority of non-wealthy Americans? He still refuses to take on Big anything: banks, polluters, pharma, insurance -- you name it.

5. If Obama were truly a fighter, like FDR, he'd actually get in the ring and take a stand. He should name names (specific Republicans who are standing up for the rich and voting obstructionist) and name policies and why they are not just "bad" but "outrageous".  This, together with a gamble on the filibuster, could well improve his popularity enough to turn around some seats in the 2014 House elections. Then he could actually make some progress, which, in turn, would help his popularity.

6. We can only sympathize with a beleaguered president for so long; then we need to see him and his party take some political risks for our sake. Simply playing defense during a war of attrition is inviting defeat.

(Oh, one other thing: cutting off funding for small airports is a good political move: most of these airports are in either red states or red congressional districts, and a lot of their clientele consists of wealthy private plane owners. People like you and me don't own planes and don't, generally, fly out of small fields. Obama should also find out how to cut services, under sequester, for yacht owners.)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Republican "postmortem"

Yes, the extreme right wing of the PTR (Party for The Rich, formerly GOP) is beneath contempt; yet, don't discount the rest of the party just because it is merely contemptible. Let's not help them in any way.

If the behavior of the Tea Screamers and other "base" Republicans have damaged the PTR, I say good. We should encourage the Party to reject the advice of its postmortem analysis, since it is to the advantage of the vast majority of the American People to have the Republicans a permanent and ineffective minority party -- as they rightfully were for the several decades after the New Deal.

It seems to me that by the time the PTR renounces the Tea Partiers and becomes open to "bipartisanship" it will have lost both the House and the ability to filibuster the Senate. So we lose nothing by helping and encouraging them continue in their bad ways. 


 Here, you can make the paraphrase yourself:
James Bond: "Do you expect me to talk, Goldfinger?"

Auric Goldfinger: "No, Mr. Bond....I expect you to die."

1 cheer (and decreasing) for capitalism

By most measures American Capitalism was far more successful than what passed for socialism in the late and largely unlamented Soviet Union. But American Capitalism, when looked at more soberly, only appears particularly appealing when compared to the "country" that for decades was nearly a synonym for corruption and concentration of political power.

Today's Boston Globe reports on the life of single-mother working families in Massachusetts (see source at Crittendon Women's Union), and the news is not good. The median income for such a family (mother, two children), at about $27,000, is much less than half of the amount (about $65,000) needed to maintain financial independence -- i.e. non-reliance on anti-poverty measures such as food stamps, food pantries, and Medicaid. Throughout the US, about 1 in three working families cannot meet their basic housing a dietary needs. 

We're talking working families here, where at least one member has a full-time job.

The income gap between wealthy and poor in this country is greater than in nearly every other developed country in the world. Most of the reason for this is the fairly small minority of people who take in extremely high incomes and have gigantic personal and family wealth.

It wasn't always like this in America, but the triumph of extreme capitalist ideology and practice -- a lot of it emanating from the "Greed is Good" Reagan yiears -- combined with nearly a century of "red-baiting" and a half-century of anti-union activity, has flattened and even depressed the curve of real-dollar earnings for middle class (and poor) Americans.

This is not a triumph of American Capitalism, but an indicator of its shame and failure. If this continues, while government programs to try to help the young, the disadvantaged and the elderly are decimated, we will be reduced to the economic and social level of a third-world country. And, of course, we will be subject to the social instabilities that such countries face. It was to keep this kind of unrest from happening that FDR -- the "traitor to his class" as he was called by the rich and powerful -- instituted the New Deal. During those years, and for several decades after, the threat of "idealistic" Communism, personified -- though not always correctly -- by the Soviet Union, made Roosevelt's reforms palatable to the economic elites. With the collapse of the USSR, that pressure largely vanished, and so the attack on unions and the New Deal programs could become mainstream.

As the Globe also reports, with the transfer overseas of manufacturing jobs by profit-seeking businesses and congressmen friendly to them, American workers must now master new skills necessary to the "post-industrial" U.S. economy. This means they must be better educated. What better time to cut aid to education -- especially secondary and post-secondary education -- as the Party of The Rich (PTR, formerly GOP) is striving mightily to do?

We need another Roosevelt to save us from ourselves and our bottom-line, anti-people version of capitalism. Certainly our current President is not that person, and no obvious political group except maybe the House Progressive Caucus is willing to take up that task. At this moment in time the outlook is grim, and only the pressures of increasingly desperate families might create a new force for the change we need to our heartless system.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It is amusing that the Republicans are unable to see that people just don't like them very much, and the reason is the policies that they espouse and their behavior. All the "soul searching" done by the party faithful and Reince Priebus seems to tell them that the only thing they are doing wrong is not "getting their message across."

What exactly is that message? People seem to think that the Republican Party is, indeed, the party of the rich (PTR, formerly GOP), and the reason is clear: they are the party of the rich.

I for one think we should encourage the Republicans to continue in this vein, mostly because it hurts their chances of winning elections. But, of course, they will continue in this vein because what alternative do they have? They are the party of the rich, and they either can try to hide this apparent fact, or they can try to change. I can't see how they can change, since the party has punished and purged its moderate members; this was mainly accomplished via primary challenges, resulting in some pretty disastrous losses for them last election (especially in races handled by Karl Rove).

So the PTR is left with trying the Big Lie: saying that they are actually trying to raise the Middle Class, saying that they sincerely want immigration reform, saying that they want to help women and minorities. However, hardly anyone believes them anymore, and certainly not Hispanics, Blacks gays and a solid majority of women: If it walks like a Republican, talks like a Republican and votes like a Republican, by golly it must be a Republican. Yucch.

So, the PTR can make any claim it wants, but outside true-blue states of the old Confederacy,and gerrymandered congressional districts which lump together their true believers, it simply is not going to win. I believe that, slowly but surely, people even in these regions are beginning to smell the PTR rat. As incomes continue to stagnate and popular programs get cut, the PTR will begin to lose more House seats and fall further behind in the Senate. It may take another decade, but the inevitable demographics and truths that should be obvious will prevail.

The question is: Can this country wait until this happens?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How Republicans (don't) think

Senator Rob Portman (R. OH) recently "came out" in favor of gay marriage after having opposed it for his entire public life. His opposition, in fact, help make him one of the favorites for Mitt Romney's running mate last election. Here is part of what he had to say:

  " I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married.

   "That isn’t how I’ve always felt. As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way.

    "Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay. He said he’d known for some time, and that his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it was simply a part of who he is. Jane and I were proud of him for his honesty and courage."

Of course Portman is to be commended for not disowning his son -- or worse. Nevertheless, one can't help but feel that a lot of the intolerance, naivete -- dare I say knee-jerk-ism -- of the "conservative" position can be neatly excised by a modest dose of reality. Coming out of "The Bubble" as Bill Maher might describe it

 I personally know conservatives who want to know why their local government doesn't provide certain services that they demand. When I remind them that their communities can't afford these services, they are flabbergasted, and have said things like: "Surely they can find the money from somewhere in the system" (translation: take it from someone else)...

Maybe if a Republican were victimized by a Wall Street scam, he might support Financial Consumer Protection (Dodd-Frank); maybe if his wife were the victim of tainted meat he might support government food inspection; maybe if his grandchild strangled on a dangerous toy he might support enforcing of Consumer Product Safety Commission rules; maybe ... well, the list goes on. 

Of course, those of us who are imaginative, or sympathetic by nature or training, probably aren't Republicans.

The Progressive Budget

True to form, the national media are ignoring the Back-to-Work Budget of the House Progressive Caucus -- but this is the only budget presented by anyone so far that (a) does not kowtow to the wealthy or business interests, (b) that contains a Financial Transactions Tax, and (c) that will save money by adding a "Public Option" to the Affordable Care Act.

Paul Krugman weighs in with his support here. Note that the ideas in the "Back-to-Work" budget have been presented before -- it was reviewed in 2011 by Krugman here. The reason I mention this is that these ideas -- cutting defense spending, raising taxes on high incomes, the Public Option and cutting over-the-top payments in healthcare, and a Financial Transactions Tax -- are not new. They just don't get any press. Contrast that with the tiresome references to the Simpson-Bowles plan, a basically right-wing schema, which is only slightly less conservative than Paul Ryan's "budget" philosophy. Alan Simpson is the 100% intellectual lightweight and the ex-Senator from Nowhere (Wyo.); Erskine Bowles is a Senator from the Business Community. The basic "idea" behind Simpson-Bowles is that the poor and middle-class, whose real incomes have been flat at best, should share equally in the burdens of deficit reduction with the wealthy, whose wealth has exploded in recent decades. (This is similar to the pop news media idea that if there are two opinions on something, each is about half correct, no matter the evidence or the logic.)

One of the reason that I stopped blogging for nearly two months is that I couldn't bear to think about all the nonsense concerning "sequestration" I was seeing in the press (e.g. that Social Security has anything to do with budget deficits). Neither of the two political parties was talking about anything practical, humane or progressive. So I figured I would let the baloney storms (and snow storms) die down a bit. IMHO the Back-to-Work budget is the only budget I can support. Until the Democrats understand and back it, and actually fight the Republicans publicly on these issues as if it were a presidential campaign, there will be nothing significant happening. We'll have higher healthcare costs, more Wall Street abuses, and more income inequality. Furthermore, when the already inevitable climate change starts to cause very -- and I mean very -- serious problems, we will be completely unprepared since we will have cut back on scientific research and fact-gathering (activities that don't get much respect from Republicans).

Wish I could bring more cheerful news.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Now that's what I've been talking about

The congressional progressives made public their budget, and it's the kind of humane document that the entire Democratic Party should have proposed, and should support.  It returns taxes to the state they used to be in during the Clinton era, cuts military spending in recognition of the end of the Cold War, includes a "public option" for the Health Care Act (along with other medical savings), and a Financial Transactions tax.

These are all items I have discussed on this blog. That's the kind of budget that we should all support and force our representative to support as well.

Here is a link to  a Slate blog, the only fairly widely disseminated source I've seen so far to report on this budget:
MoneyBox .

And here's a link to the actual Congressional Progressive Caucus: CPC.

(If you find another source for this budget proposal, please let me know; also, thanks to Maxine for calling my attention to this.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The filibuster

Pardon me if I don't understand why the Democrats are so shy about returning the filibuster to pre-Tea Screamer days -- i.e. returning it to the so-called "talking filibuster" -- the kind just played out by Sen. Rand Paul.

The PTR (Party for The Rich, formerly GOP) has made it clear that it will use the fairly recent "gentlemen's agreement" filibuster to sidetrack any and all legislation (e.g. gun control)  and appointees  (e.g. Caitlin Halligan, Richard Cordray) that offend their wealthy and greedy masters or their rabid "base" (in both meanings of the word). This agreement to allow a filibuster by intent instead of actual talking was a stupid idea in the first place; the fact that the Democrats have let the Republicans further abuse it is ridiculous.

Why are the Democrats continually playing the role of losers? They need to pass important legislation and appoint key nominees to important posts; the PTR is thwarting them. What have they got to lose? Are they actually still worried that the Republicans will get angry at them? Why aren't the Republicans worried about angering the Dems?

Suppose that the "rules" of the Senate are changed so that every filibuster must be a talking filibuster, and the "worst" happens: the PTR wins control of the Senate in two years. First of all, the Dems will have two years to get some things done. Second, they will have the talking filibuster and the chance of picking up a few Republican votes to thwart any real bad stuff the PTR might try to pass. And, finally, they will have the Obama veto for the next 3 1/2 years. I think it is highly unlikely that the PTR, as currently constituted, and with the demographics as they are shaping up, will be able to elect a president in the foreseeable future (though of course their gerrymandered House districts will defeat true majority rule for some time yet).

Thus, it is not clear to me what the Democrats fear in making a filibuster rules change. Stuffing that change down the throats of the Republicans will make the Dems look like a real party, not a bunch of perennial losers-even-when-they-win.

I personally believe that showing some spunk will help them electorally down the road. Worrying about a possible loss is often a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Do Democrats want to win?

Rachel Maddow mentioned on her show this evening that a new Washington Post poll finds that about 9 in 10 Americans support background checks for gun purchases at gun shows; other gun-control measures receive varying pluralities of support among those polled. She then pointed out that the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out a bill to strengthen background checks -- 10 to 8 -- with NO REPUBLICANS voting in favor. Interestingly enough, the WashPo poll shows that Democrats have just a narrow lead over Republicans when asked who is more to be trusted on gun control.

The message in all this is that the Democrats should be making use of being on the majority side of this issue. Instead of squirreling away their money for the next gerrymandered election, they should be airing campaign-style spots attacking the Republicans for being dangerously out of step on the matter of "responsible" gun safety.

Instead, the Dems are likely make the same mistake they always make: they don't use their advantage when they have it on an issue, but wait until the public, ever short on memory, forgets the issue and forgets -- if it ever noticed -- that only one party shares their view.

Unless the Dems point out where they differ with the Republicans, and point it out when it matters most, people will revert to the lazy "Oh, both parties are to blame" that we keep hearing, and that the major lazy news purveyors keep falling back on.

No, the two parties are not the same on many very important issues (spending priorities, immigration reform, campaign financing, medical care etc.). It's not that the Democrats are so progressive or insightful, it's that the PTR (Party for The Rich, formerly the GOP) is so totally and dismally beneath contempt.

Democrats: hit them now with a barrage of ads pointing out that the Republicans are the party of lax gun laws and, especially, the party opposed to background checks.

Also, most people do not like banks and the things they do to us. Now is the time for ads about how the Republicans are once again coddling the banks and Wall Street (another non-hero) by trying to destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

(Also, it's time to start thinking seriously about a public campaign to prepare for real filibuster reform.)

The Dems have to start playing to win; maybe they can drag their anxious-to-compromise president along as well.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Does Obama have a plan?

In his news conference yesterday, the President said that he will not allow the Republicans to use the threat of the debt ceiling to gain budget concessions it could not win through constitutional (voting in Congress) means. He said: “They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy" (read transcript here).

The concept of a debt "ceiling" is related to the distinction between Congress authorizing spending (via spending bills) and Congress authorizing borrowing for this spending when the Treasury has insufficient funds to pay. Initially these two authorizations were made simultaneously by Congress. Beginning in 1917 (in the face of world war) Congress created  the concept of a debt ceiling in order to streamline the process. Borrowing, when necessary to pay for spending, would be automatically authorized up to a certain limit, set each year by Congress. Since that time the debt ceiling has been periodically raised by Congress. This happened more than 70 times in the last 50 years: 18 times under Ronald Reagan alone.

As far as I know there has never been a test of the constitutionality of the 1917 creation of the debt ceiling. As we all have been reminded recently, section 4 of the 14th amendment to our Constitution says: 

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Historical analysis of this section shows that it was instituted to keep debt and possible default out of the hands of unscrupulous politicians who might use default as a way of blackmailing the U.S. government -- a situation which, of course, exactly describes what we face now. It seems likely, then, that the debt ceiling and especially its current use by the Republicans, violates Section 4, and is likely to be unconstitutional. The problem is: How to have it declared as such?

Some have suggested that the President simply declare the debt ceiling law unconstitutional, and ignore it. There is a big problem however: the President does not have the power to declare a law unconstitutional -- that is for the Supreme Court to decide. If he simply ignores the law, he could be sued by Congress, declared in contempt, and even impeached. This would create a constitutional crisis that would demand Supreme Court intervention. Given the nature of the current court, the result is quite unclear. For this reason (probably among others), President Obama has already refused to go this route.

(There are many pro and con arguments about the constitutionality of the debt ceiling vis-a-vis the 14 Amendment -- you can read them in many places on the Web, including Wikipedia.)

Another option that has been suggested for the President is to mint coins in large denominations which the Treasury could deposit and use to pay debt. Specifically, a law passed by Congress in 1996 (by Republicans over Democratic opposition) says:

The Secretary may mint and issue bullion and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary's discretion, may prescribe from time to time.

Thus, the Treasury could mint several trillion dollar coins -- more than enough to make the debt ceiling irrelevant. Although this sounds ridiculous, no one has advanced an argument making such an action illegal or unconstitutional, even using the law in this way was not the intent its authors. If Obama or his Treasury Secretary tried such a move the Republicans would challenge it; however, as in the case of the 14th Amendment, it is unclear who might have "standing" to test its constitutionality, nor how the arguments would run. They probably would be based on the Congress's sole power to raise money. In any case, the President once again has strongly suggested  that he would not pursue a "constitutional" track (or "trick" if you will).

So what does President Obama have in mind when he says that he will not negotiate the debt ceiling with congressional Republicans?

On the basis of unfortunate past history, I fear that he will once again make a deal with Republicans that will give them 80 -90% of what they want: large cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and other government spending that benefits the vulnerable and non-rich. When confronted with a debt ceiling challenge a year ago, Obama caved. He has already backpedaled on taxes on the wealthy and has recently suggested an openness to decrease cost of living increases for Social Security, even though he had promised not to allow this program to be part of deficit-reduction.

(Social Security has its own budget and is emphatically not part of the deficit problem. If Social Security can not pay out its promised benefits, then it won't pay them. At the moment this problem will likely occur around 2037. All problems with Social Security can be avoided by simply eliminating the ceiling on collecting the Social Security or FICA Tax. At the moment this fact has been suppressed by both parties)

On the other hand, if the Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling, the President might, in the name of avoiding default, start making hugely unpopular cuts in certain selected programs: Medicare, Congressional salaries, the military, air-traffic control and security, federal highways etc. He would hope that the outrage resulting from these actions (or threats thereof) could be directed at the Republican party.

At the moment it looks like he will let the PTR (Party for the Rich, formerly GOP) stew in its juices while he attacks them for threatening to trash the US (and possibly the world ) economy in order to attain their ideological ends. Since the Congress -- personified these days by the Republicans to control it -- is sewer-level in popularity, this may have some effect, though there is little room for lowering public opinion of the House. Meanwhile I think he will do some minor selling out behind the scenes -- both as incentive to Republicans to cave on the ceiling and because that is the way he is built. He may also feel that while default is likely to be bad from an economic standpoint, ultimately the world will realize that we will stand behind out debts ... eventually. There is simply no better repository for investment and financial trust than the U.S. economy. China, India and Brazil are still "rising" and Europe is still fighting its demons with respect to stabilizing the Euro while confronting the problems of Spain, Greece, etc that have been exacerbated by the failure of the austerity measures pushed by the conservatives in Germany and Britain.

Would Obama take such a gutsy stand? Would it work? It seems so out of character, at least based on what we've seen politically of the President, that it's hard to imagine him going through with it. Even if he did, would that actually have an effect on the Republicans, many of whom come from pretty safe congressional districts and in any case don't have to face re-election for another couple of years?

There is one other factor that may pressure the Republicans: the business community is very fearful of the uncertainties of default. While certain industries have used the Tea Screamers to push for relaxation of regulation, and certain wealthy people want to stave off higher taxes, basically, from what I've read, Business is pragmatic not ideological, and is already putting some screws on House leadership to back off.

We shall see.