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.