Kudos to David Brooks for writing a second column on the Sequester, and opening with a sincere apology for the first one. Brooks initially and erroneously claimed that Obama had no plan on the table to avoid the imminent Sequester, but then corrected himself to admit that, rather, he simply didn’t like the plan Obama had. That’s never an easy haul for anyone.
But then he goes on to lay out his 3-point plan that he would like to see Obama push to resolve the current impasse.
Take entitlement spending that currently goes to the affluent elderly and redirect it to invest in the young and the struggling.
Enact a value-added tax, use money from that tax to finance an income tax exemption.
Talk obsessively about family structure and social repair to restitch the social fabric.
None of these are bad ideas, but none of them remotely address the current threat of Sequestration. Number 1 simply redirects funds, and so has a net neutral budget impact. Number 2 is not only budget-neutral, but requires a substantial retooling of the tax code. The details of this sort of reform take years to work out. There’s no way this would have any impact on the budget crisis du jour. And number 3 has no direct budget impact at all.
This also doesn’t address the unfortunate reality that the GOP base simply isn’t interested in solving this problem. As Ezra Klien points out, the available deal is a far bigger gain for the Republican agenda than Sequestration. The White House is willing to cut the deficit, cut entitlements, protect defense spending, and eliminate tax loopholes as part of a settlement plan. While this does nothing to lower tax rates, it still rings the bell on 4 of the 5 major budget policy objectives on the right.
Doing nothing only cuts the deficit, and then by not as much as Obama’s current proposal. It does nothing about entitlements, tax loopholes, or tax rates. Not to mention, it significantly cuts defense. So what does the GOP win by standing firm on their plan to sit idly by?
Obviously they don’t win on achieving their stated policy agenda. They don’t win on popularity either. A plurality (49%) of Americans say the Sequester will be Republicans’ fault if it happens, while only 31% will blame Obama.
The only possible win here is personal and political. Each of the obstinate Congressmen and Senators will be able to return home and claim they denied Obama everything he ever wanted, and refused to budge even an inch in compromise. And while I’m forced to accept that there exist districts where this message plays well, I worry about the state of our society that it does.
Nonetheless, it further dooms Brooks’ plan. As a pundit on the right, he surely must realize that getting the GOP base to support something, and having the President advocate for something, are pretty much mutually exclusive.
Two things are clear. First, the Sequester is exactly what the GOP base wants to happen. Second, no deal Obama could put on the table would change that. Food for thought as you decide who gets the blame. Yet small comfort as you settle in for the Sequester induced economic recession.
The photo message to the left has been making the rounds on Facebook and other sources. As of this writing, it had over 20k shares and over 130k likes.
It’s the latest right-wing outrage over a seemingly small Obama maneuver. According to Reuters:
(Reuters) – The White House has rejected a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet President Barack Obama in the United States this month, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, after a row erupted between the allies over Iran’s nuclear programme.
An Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Netanyahu’s aides had asked for a meeting when he visits the United Nations this month, and “the White House has got back to us and said it appears a meeting is not possible. It said that the president’s schedule will not permit that”.
Netanyahu has met with Obama on all the Israeli leader’s U.S. trips since 2009.
The White House has not confirmed the snub. But even assuming it’s an accurate recounting, I fail to see the rationale for reactions best summed up by the comment appearing on my Facebook news feed saying, “I think it is totally disgraceful!”
Granted, a meeting commits us to nothing, but neither does a refusal to meet mean a complete breakdown of a relationship. This is a standard negotiating tactic. By refusing the meet, the US is asserting its position of power and control in the situation. Basically indicating that Netanyahu needs to soften his stance and take a more conciliatory posture. That hardly seems an untenable position for the US political right-wing who are typically more than a little hawkish in their foreign policy, and often tout that America should assert its position as the global superpower.
The problem here is that Netanyahu clearly wants the US to draw “red lines” with the intent of forcing the US into military action with Iran. He’s been quite open about that, and about his ire that Obama won’t commit to irrevocable terms under which he will bomb Iran. He has also openly taken sides in our election, becoming almost the Israeli wing of the Republican party. This is something our allies rarely do, partly out of respect, but also out of the recognition that they ultimately have to deal with the next President, regardless of how the election comes out. If he wants the respectful attention of our President, and ultimately wants us to do him a significant favor, he’s got a funny way of going about it.
Forgetting this involves Obama for a minute, what is the right advocating for here? That the President is obliged to accept a visit from any foreign head of state on demand? I would think not. The President should meet when there is value to the US in doing so. In this case, Netanyahu wants something the US isn’t prepared to give (commitment to military action in Iran), nor is it clear the Israeli people are prepared for that. Their own defense minister cautions against Netanyahu’s plan. Further, Netanyahu’s reputation with pretty much every world leader is that of a petulant child, prone to tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Moreover, his historical record is that he leaks details of confidential meetings where he doesn’t get his way to the press, spun to his own advantage. Where is the potential upside for the President, or for the country in taking this meeting? Presumably, you want a President who’s tough, and sometimes that means saying no. That clearly doesn’t mean the President is saying they will never meet. They’ve had numerous meetings in the past, and spoke on the phone just last week. We are the most powerful nation on the planet. You earn a meeting, you don’t demand one.
I also wonder if we would even be having this discussion if the Prime Minister of Spain was demanding to be seen? It seems to me that Israel gets treated differently than any other foreign nation. Are they in a precarious geographic situation? Sure. so is South Korea. But in the end, Israel is still a foreign country and how we treat them should be based on what’s in our national interest. We are not obligated to treat them like a teenage child who has moved out of the house, but still needs Daddy to protect them.
And yes, I do recognize Israel’s exulted position among the religious right as the Holy Land and the location of many of the End Times prophecies. But that is not a basis for making national policy. If their church’s would like to form their own militias and deploy them to the West Bank that’s fine by me. But the US federal government should not be making foreign policy decisions based on bible stories.
In another vein, during the ’08 election, many of the same folks who are apoplectic over snubbing Netanyahu now, were abhorred that Obama said that under the right conditions he’d meet with Iran or other hostile governments. The claim was that even meeting with Ahmadinejad showed weakness and meant we’d give in to them. Why are the rules different now? Why would this meeting not show weakness and a willingness to concede?
And as long as I’m on a roll here, let’s talk about Obama’s “terrible” support for Israel. So far he has provided full financing and technical assistance for Israel’s Iron Dome short-range anti-rocket defense system. In July, he provided an additional $70 million to extend the Iron Dome system across southern Israel. That’s in addition to the $3 billion in annual military assistance to Israel that the president requests and that Congress routinely approves. He has increased aid to Israel and given it access to the most advanced military equipment, including the latest fighter aircraft. Obama has given close coordination by intelligence agencies — including the deployment of cyberweapons — to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, said last year, “I can hardly remember a better period of American support and backing, and Israeli cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.”
Obama persuaded Russia and China to support harsh sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo and the cancellation of a Russian sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles that would have severely complicated any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Obama secured European support for what even Ahmadinejad, called “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.”
Obama has been steadfast against efforts to delegitimize Israel in international forums. He has blocked Palestinian attempts to bypass negotiations and achieve United Nations recognition as a member state, a move that would have opened the way to efforts by Israel’s foes to sanction and criminalize its policies. As a sign of its support, the Obama administration even vetoed a Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements.
In light of all this, it may be fair to say that Obama has an issue with Netanyahu, as does almost anyone who’s ever met him. But it’s pretty hard to claim he doesn’t care about or support Israel.
When it comes to civil liberties and personal freedoms, I’m a self-avowed flaming liberal. Marry whom you love, worship whom you will, or don’t. Smoke dope. Paint your house neon green. Dance naked in the street. As long as your actions don’t directly infringe someone else’s freedom, have at it.
But in the realm of economics, foreign policy, commercial regulation, etc. I consider myself fairly conservative. That’s “conservative” with a lower case “c”. It’s “conservative” in the sense of the dictionary definition. Someone who favors existing proven pragmatic methods. Someone who likes to preserve. Someone not prone to extravagant new experimental ventures. Someone who is cautiously moderate, and fiscally responsible.
This is far away from what “Conservative” with a capital “C” has come to mean in America. When you capitalize the “C”, suddenly you become someone who advocates for hawkish foreign policy, unabashed capitalism, and socially Darwinian domestic policy. Someone who favors dogmatic inflexible situationally independent rules.
The bizarre reality of being a Conservative in America is that you aren’t really very conservative at all. On the other hand, being conservative now makes you politically Liberal (with a capital “L”). It’s all so confusing. Perhaps a couple of examples would help.
Let’s take healthcare. On a per capita basis, American healthcare costs double what is spent for care in every other industrialized western country. And no, the quality of care is not better here. Health care costs are a drain on businesses and wages because providing employee healthcare is so expensive and continues to grow at multiples of the inflation rate.
The Conservative answer is basically to stay the course. There is a conservative angle here in that conservatives are resistant to change. But this is being ignorant of the larger picture. Sure, you can be resistant to policy change, but that doesn’t stop the change in healthcare costs that is eating up the economy. This is like sitting on your roof, refusing to be evacuated while the flood waters rise around you. The myopic conservative position may be to stay the course, but the safe, pragmatic, less risky position is to get in the next boat that comes by.
Looking around the world, some form of government run universal healthcare is the norm. There are any number of varieties including true socialized healthcare ala Great Britain, Medicare for all ala Canada, or even regulated and compulsory private insurance ala Switzerland. All deliver roughly equivalent results at a fraction of the cost of the U.S. system. Further, there are so many variations of this system all succeeding, it can’t be that tricky to implement. Given, the clear choice for true conservatives should always be to solve a problem using a cost effective, proven, and time tested technique, the answer to healthcare should be clear.
In a somewhat related vein, there is a vested conservative interest in having a healthy and well-educated citizenry, who are living in a country with a solid modern infrastructure. All of these are foundational elements to the capitalistic industrial success that ultimately drives the economic prowess that makes this country great. Collapsed bridges, flooded cities, unreliable communications or power networks, or unemployable and non-productive citizens are all largely preventable problems if the society as a whole is making persistent and solid investments in its long term future. A liberal might advocate for something similar because it was the humane thing to do or because everyone deserves a chance. But a conservative should advocate for these things because they are solid practical ways to enable a productive society and minimize the collective expense.
Think of it this way. A conservative would clearly buy insurance on his home and make every effort to keep it well maintained. In this way, it’s a safe reliable shelter that should meet the needs of his family for decades to come. What could be a more conservative position than that?
When it comes to the environment, how can you be conservative and yet oppose environmental conservatism? No, I don’t think preserving every last species of minnow or song bird is vital. Species have been going extinct since the dawn of time. That’s the circle of life. But preserving and protecting the larger ecosystem we live in and depend on is about as conservative an idea as I can imagine. From deep sea oil drilling and fracking to carbon emissions, acid rain, and nuclear waste, the capital “C” Conservative position is diametrically opposed to the lower cased conservative one. I don’t get it.
On foreign policy, I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s conservative about the kick ass and take names approach to the world. There are absolutely national interests that lie outside our borders, but diplomacy and economic power are far more cost effective, with less risk to domestic lives and treasure, than military action. It’s important to carry a big stick, but that doesn’t mean you never bother to speak softly.
On economics, Conservatives have the equation completely backwards. A conservative approach would be to take on some debt when times were bad and investment was needed. But then to be responsible and pay that debt off when things were going well. Instead, we see Conservatives opt for austerity in bad times, in essence compounding the downturn, and then claiming deficits don’t matter during prosperous times, thereby compounding the recovery. A conservative should favor a nice even economy, not one that slingshots about like a roller-coaster.
In a very real way, the current capital “C” Conservative movement has become radical. Meanwhile the Liberal movement has morphed into something downright lower case conservative. Minimally, this means that hanging your identity on a label rather than a solid ideology may lead you to a point where you are unintentionally advocating for outcomes you would very much oppose. Modern marketing means you have to be a very intelligent consumer; and not just when you are shopping for margarine, but when you are shopping for politicians.
My ideology makes me politically conservative. But the current state of politics means I align most closely with the Liberals. Clearly, in today’s world, words don’t mean what you think they mean. Vote wisely.
This week has provided for an interesting micro-study on a key difference between our two political parties.
Harry Reid proclaimed that Mitt Romney did not pay any taxes for years. Meanwhile, Romney released a new ad asserting that Obama was gutting welfare reform. These were not tit-for-tat events. They are relatively unrelated. But the parties’ and pundits respective reactions to each are instructive.
First, a recap of the facts: Reid’s claim is a baseless accusation. The public has no knowledge of whether or not it’s actually true, and little reason to believe Reid actually knows. It’s a distasteful attempt to put a political opponent on the defensive. To make him guilty until he proves himself innocent. Romney’s claim is different. While it is also intended to put his opponent on the defensive, it is flat-out, demonstrably, unquestionably, factually false.
How were these two events reported? The New York Times is generally considered a left-leaning news source. You might presume they’d defend Reid while hanging Romney out to dry. You’d be wrong.
Senator Harry Reid’s decision this week to hurl a taunting, unsubstantiated accusation at Mitt Romney is hardly out of character for the cantankerous Democratic leader of the Senate, who revels in provocative comments and once called Mr. Romney “kind of a joke.”
Seven years ago, Mitt Romney joined other governors to urge the federal government to grant “increased waiver authority” to states to experiment with implementation of the federal welfare-to-work program.
But as he runs for president, Mr. Romney and his Republican allies are now accusing President Obama of “gutting” the welfare program by saying it will consider waivers to states.
These are not cherry picked stories, nor is the NYT unique in this regard. The major media outlets and pundits are pulling no punches in calling Reid out on his baseless accusation. Meanwhile, Romney’s lie is treated as a topic of reasonable debate.
My initial reaction to this was that the “mainstream media” was now so in fear of being labeled as having a liberal bias, they had become afraid to expose even outright falsehoods on the conservative side. And I do think this is at least part of it. The right’s efforts to play up their victimization by a lefty lamestream media have assuredly had an effect on the way news gets reported.
Yet I think that’s not the whole story. I think a part of the media reaction also relates to how far the parties get from their behavioral norms. The GOP has key figures claiming Obama’s birth certificate was faked, and that there is a Muslim conspiracy brewing in the State department. In the greater scheme of outrageous claims, “Obama guts welfare reform” barely nudges the needle. On the Democratic side, unsubstantiated claims of filing perfectly legal tax returns that play the IRS for every penny are treated as scandalous.
There’s a lesson here. Both sides may “play the game”, but not to the same degree. It’s kind of like claiming the USA and Tunisia were both playing Olympic basketball the other night. While technically true, they weren’t playing in the same league.
Still, I know many of you out there are completely frustrated with the whole thing. You claim to hate what both sides do, and that’s more than fair. There are no angels in politics.Some of you are determined to check out of the political process by not voting, or you intend to make a statement by voting for a 3rd party candidate.
But the simple reality is this. Come 2013, one of these two parties will take the White House. And one of these two parties will control each of the houses of Congress. With four short months to go until the election, no other party has a remote chance in hell of altering that reality.
One of these things is not like the other. As the Templar Knight told Indiana Jones, “Choose wisely.” And as the band Rush reminds us in their song Freewill, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
I received a link to a YouTube video today. The video is a mock up of someone from 2008 interviewing their current selves and dealing with all the crushing disappointments of the Obama Administration.
The link came with a request:
“Please, please, somebody tell me where she is wrong. I really want to know!”
I’ll try to suspend my skepticism that anyone circulating this sort of propaganda is truly interested in facts, or even willing to accept them, but I’m up for the challenge anyway.
The video contains a scarcity of actual data, but there are a lot of general claims. A few are fairly accurate, many are directionally incorrect, and a few are outright false. In the opening, the 2008 woman is going on about the utopia that would surely result from 4 years under Obama. Granted, there was a lot of optimism from his supporters upon his election, but anyone who believes any President can effect a utopian transformation of the country is delusional. If you think it can be done in the midst of the second largest economic downfall in the last century, you’re just plain nuts. It’s unfair to compare Obama to some vision of Nirvana. Rather, the accurate comparison is to the alternative, a McCain administration. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what that might have been. Maybe it would be better, maybe worse, but we can be pretty sure, based on the previous 30 years of mostly Republican administrations, that it wouldn’t quite be utopia.
The initial substantive claim is that the 2012 woman’s father died because his asthma medication was outlawed. This is flat out false. No asthma medications have been outlawed. Starting this year, CFC based inhalers were banned. Keep in mind that CFC propellants have been banned since the 70s in everything else in an effort to save the ozone layer. Civilization survived. Further, HFA inhalers are available as an alternative. Same medication, same dose, different delivery mechanism.
Next is a general lament about high unemployment. There’s no doubt that unemployment remains unacceptably high. However, looking at the data, private sector employment bottomed out in early 2010 and continues to climb steadily upward. But public sector employment is plummeting at a rate the private sector in a minimally expanding economy can’t ameliorate. Look at a comparison of Bush’s first term compared to Obama’s. Bush responded to the economic downturn in 2000 with stimulus by expanding government payroll. Obama responded by slashing government jobs in favor of private sector stimulus. Hmmm…
But Obama had a super-majority! Why didn’t he fix everything? Obama’s super-majority in Congress hinged on one man, Ted Kennedy. A man who had the gall to be suffering terminal brain cancer upon Obama’s election, and who died in August of that first year. Kennedy made special and heroic returns to the Senate floor to cast votes on the stimulus and on Obamacare, but otherwise was incapacitated. After his death, Scott Brown was elected and the Obama super-majority vanished.
Oh, the executive orders! There’s no specific complaint over any specific executive orders, but the implication is that Obama is issuing them all over the place. The data from the National Archives would disagree. Obama has issued 129 EOs so far. Pro-rating that for his entire first term puts him on pace to issue 147 by January. G.W. Bush averaged 145/term. Clinton averaged 181, Bush Sr. did 165, and Reagan comes in at 190. So Obama’s on the low end of recent history.
Why didn’t the stimulus fix everything as promised? First, we have to accept the 2008 woman somehow magically knowing about the 2009 stimulus package, but I’m nit-picking. Most stimulus proponents now agree the stimulus package was not up to the task. The enormity of the economic hole was much larger than anticipated and the level of stimulus was insufficient to achieve the desired results. However, it probably was the largest package that would have been politically do-able. But even then, did it have a positive effect? There is arguably legitimate debate here, although the consensus is that the stimulus did improve things. But even if it didn’t, there’s no one claiming it did any harm excepting a brief blip in the debt curve.
Next up is the assertion that all of Obama’s investments in green energy have gone bankrupt. One company, Solyndra, went bankrupt. That’s not quite all. There’s ample room for debate on whether the government should be subsidizing commercial energy companies, but the fact remains that the vast majority of the loans have not defaulted. Further, the $535M Solyndra debacle is a relative drop in the $34B DOE loan bucket. So minimally, this claim is blowing things out of proportion.
There’s a healthcare mandate, she says with a voice dripping in desperation. Yes there is. And unless we’re content with 30-50 million Americans going without medical care or getting it by indirectly increasing the costs of those of us who do get it, there should be. Even Mitt Romney (the unwitting father of Obamacare), was recently praising the Israeli heathcare system as being cost effective—apparently unaware that it achieves those results through government controlled universal coverage. If there’s a workable alternative solution, someone should put it on the table. Otherwise…
There’s a middle class tax hike, she says.No, there isn’t. Taxes are at historic lows. That is, unless you count the Obamacare individual mandate as a tax increase, in which case they are still at historic lows. But viewing the mandate as a tax increase is a spurious argument that also requires you to acknowledge the effective tax cut the rest of get for not having to pay for the care of those without insurance through our insurance rates, paycheck deductions, and co-pays.
Obama promised transparency! Yes, he did. And the record so far is abysmal by pretty much any measure. Transparency seems to decrease year after year regardless of who’s in office. This may be a result of the 24×7 instant news culture we live in. Be that as it may, this is still our government and we have a right to know what’s going on in there.
There are loads of lobbyists in the Administration.Yes, there are, and Obama promised there wouldn’t be. This is more than a little disappointing. It may be the reality of modern government. It may be that other administrations have done much the same thing, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a fundamental campaign promise on which Obama has failed badly.
But I thought the Muslim world would follow our lead to democracy? Well, yes and no. The Arab Spring has certainly been a profound and recent movement toward democracy in much of the Muslim world. However, in many cases it has resulted in the democratic election of parties and leaders that are not so very friendly toward the USA. The unfortunate reality of letting people choose is that you may not like their choices. Nonetheless, to say they followed our path is a little ludicrous. Further, Obama didn’t promise to bring democracy to the world. That was G.W. Bush.
Instead, we’re following Europe’s lead into debt. Yes and no, but mostly no. First, we aren’t following Europe. We aren’t racking up debt because they are or because we view them as some sort of economic mentor. Second, not all of Europe is debt ridden. Greece, Italy, and Spain are at particular risk. This crises was created because of the European Economic Union, which joins all the countries’ currencies without linking their economies. This is not the situation in the USA. we are not going the way of Europe. We may still get sucked down by them, but that’s not a function of debt, just a reality of global economies. Yes, the debt in the US is unsustainable. However, current debt levels are not a result of runaway spending. Spending increases are growing slower than at any time since the 50s. Instead, what we have is an unprecedented loss of revenue as a result of tax cuts, high unemployment, and a sluggish economy. Further, the US government is currently considered the most stable financial bet on the planet. At present, the Treasury is able to sell debt at negative yields. That means people are paying the US government to keep their money safe. This is beyond free money. Yes, we can’t rack up debt forever. When the economy recovers, we absolutely need to pay it down rather than giving ourselves tax cuts like we did in 2001. But there is no evidence that debt is an emergent risk to our economy.
I recognize this has been long, and I’m flattered if you muddled through to the end. If you have any energy left, I strongly encourage you to click through and read the reference material, or dig up your own. But please, dig up facts and not emotional appeals and sound bites. The video is a cute concept, but it is a message largely without substance.
I was watching Fox News yesterday as the SCOTUS ruling upholding Obamacare’s individual mandate came to light. Commentary was all over the map for the first 30 minutes, but then began to rapidly zero-in on the accusation that this was now a tax on the middle-class. They had found their message, and from then on sang out in perfect harmony. It was kind of amazing.
“(Americans will) like it even less when they understand it’s a tax,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told Fox News.
One curious element is that nothing related to the mandate is different today than it was last week—excepting the label. The notion that people’s view of the mandate will change as a result of a renaming is a blatant play to the ignorance of the audience.
Still, even if we accept the new label of “tax”, is it really a new financial burden on the middle class as conservatives are saying?
For those who are currently uninsured and financially able to afford healthcare, Obamacare will impose a new financial drain. Although, in return they get health insurance. We can call that a tax if you like.
But on the flip side, those who are currently insured are presently picking up the tab for the uninsured through higher insurance premiums and medical costs. Getting the uninsured into the pool lowers policy rates for the rest of us. This is even more true as other popular provisions of Obamacare, such as preventing coverage denial for pre-existing conditions, comes into force. The net result of this is a lowering of the financial burden on the currently insured, which is a significant majority of citizens.
If forcing the uninsured into the pool is a tax increase, then it only seems fair the reduced costs to the insured be considered a tax cut. At worst, this is a wash. At best, the tax cuts for the majority will significantly outweigh the tax increase to the minority.
Will there be individuals who will pay more as a result of Obamacare? Sure. But many more of us will pay less. So it’s pretty hard to argue in aggregate that this is a tax increase on the middle class.
If we gave the Democrats power next year, you know what they would have? A mandate. That’s all we would hear about until the next election, which they would lose, because they thought they had a mandate. It’s like watching a tennis match and rooting for the guy without the ball. Maybe the Republicans made it tough on Obama. Maybe Obama wasn’t leader enough to overcome it. Did the GOP fail to vote in Obama’s FOMC appointee’s? Yes. Did Obama make recess appointments which were within his power? No. Obama is not a victim, he’s the president. If the other guys played the system better to get what they want, than well played. Ezra says that this is the logical conclusion of a system biased toward gridlock. The system is broken. Let’s fix the system instead of kickin the can down the road.
I certainly agree the system is broken. My preference would be to fix that. However, we have repeatedly failed to fix those problems. It would be great to see substantive campaign finance reform, have the Fed refocused on NGDP goals, revise Senate rules so that a super-majority isn’t required for everything, institute lobbying controls so legislation wasn’t ghost-written by special interests… I could go on. But the likelihood of any of those being addressed this year is vanishingly small. Not that we should give up on those reforms, but that there remain practical short term things we can fix in the meanwhile.
I’m also an independent. I’ve voted for Republicans in the past, and I’d like to do so again. But the current incarnation of the party has gone beyond the pale, and until they find their way back to sanity, I will not vote on the GOP line. They have not only lost any willingness to compromise, they have lost the ability to agree to their own positions when the other side agrees with them. They lost the election in ’08, and have yet to acknowledge the legitimacy of the people we elected. Win or lose, there’s still a country to run. And they are refusing unless they are put back into power.
I’m not claiming Obama is the greatest, or that the Democrats are above playing politics or fighting for their policy positions. But they have not engaged in the extreme intransigence of the GOP. If given full control of the government, would they eventually yield to the same sort of behavior the GOP is showing? Very probably. But that won’t happen overnight. Policy-wise, Obama is far closer to Reagan than Romney. There is almost no chance the Democrats would take a mandate and run to the extreme left. It’s much more likely they will stick to their current centrist proposals. Meanwhile, the GOP gets to go lick its wounds, expunge its extremists, and return to the center-right position of its roots. Hopefully, to again balance the system out in 2014 or 2016; before the pendulum swings too far the other way.
I don’t want a permanent Democratic majority. I want a functional two-party system with give and take from both sides resulting in actual governance that works in aggregate for the betterment of the citizenry. We do not have that now. And we don’t because one party has checked out of the game. The notion that “both sides do it” is a false equivalence. The Republican party has abdicated its responsibility to govern or even functionally participate in any government it does not control. It has pretty much given up on appealing to (or even tolerating) anyone other than white Christian males. It needs to remake itself or yield to a new party that will fill the void it leaves behind. The only way it will get that message is if it is resoundingly defeated. And not just at the Presidential level. If the GOP does okay at the federal and state level excepting Romney, it will read that as a failure to go with somebody more radical like Santorum. It only gets the message if it goes down in flames. And to be clear, the only reason I want it to go down in flames is so its old moderate reasonable self rises from the ashes.
I want the Republican party back. I don’t know what the hell that thing is hiding behind the elephant right now. But I’m not voting for it.
Ezra Klein makes the somewhat disturbing argument that even if you disagree with every one of Mitt Romney’s policies, there’s a chance he’s still the best candidate to lift the economy in 2013.
The essential thesis is that what Romney will do in the short term isn’t much different than what Obama has already proposed. However, Obama is being stonewalled by the GOP controlled House, and it is unlikely the Democrats will retake the House even if Obama is reelected. Meanwhile, it’s very likely that a Romney win will be accompanied by Republicans retaining the House and very possibly getting a Senate majority to boot. The reasonable bet is that the GOP would rally around policies offered by a Republican President, while they would continue the blockade against substantively those same policies when offered by Obama.
What Klein seems to be trying hard not to say is that the GOP is holding the economy hostage right now. Elect Romney and they’ll let it live. Reelect Obama, and they’ll let it fall off the looming fiscal cliff.
What’s disturbing is, I don’t think Klein is wrong. Still the notion of rewarding the GOP for this sort of behavior remains unthinkable. As much as I want the economy to recover, I cannot and will not support the sort of politics that says either I’m winning or I will exist to destroy you. The Republicans need to be taught a lesson here. They need to know that there are times they will be in the majority and times they will not be. But in all those cases, we the people expect them to do their goddamned jobs and work in our best interests.
The only way that lesson is learned is if the GOP gets severely spanked in 2012 at the state and federal levels. Yes, the time may come some years down the road when the Dems need to be similarly spanked, but that is not the case now. All things are not equal. Yes, there is still too much special interest money in politics. Yes, there are problems with the Fed, the banking industry, the filibuster, and other intractable issues. But none of that changes the elemental reality that one of the parties is currently holding the system hostage until it is put back in power. This is something we can fix. Now. And easily.
And just maybe, should we succeed in giving the Democrats control of the government, they can enact the same economy saving short term policies without rewarding the GOP for putting a gun to our heads. Wouldn’t that be just a little satisfying?
CNN contributor Hilary Rosen set off a faux firestorm Wednesday when she accused her celebrity look-alike Ann Romney of having not worked a day in her life.
The RNC, on behalf of all stay-at-home moms (who have recently been placed on the Endangered Species List anyway), is outraged, outraged I tell you! Romney’s response was a bit more nuanced, saying, “Motherhood is the most important job there is.” —which is somewhat akin to responding to the question, “What time is it?” with the answer, “Morning is my favorite part of the day.”
I’m sure that managing multiple households and the staffs of servants therein has its challenges. Hell, I’m sure driving a couple of Cadillacs can be more than a little confounding all on its own. Which is really more the point Rosen was trying to make. She was saying that Romney can’t relate to the problems of women who are not so well off.
The expression “You’ve never worked a day in your life” is often hurled at the well to do by those less fortunate. I’m sure there’s more than a couple of coal miners who would claim I’ve never worked a day in my life. Hell, I’m pretty tempted to say the same of Mitt. And I’d even bet there’s a fair number of stay-at-home moms who would second Rosen’s assertion that Ann Romney hasn’t. It’s all relative.
To read the attack on Ann Romney as an attack on all stay-at-home moms is to buy into the notion that somehow Ann is just Harriet Nelson, if only Ozzie had owned a mansion. I’m not buying it.
Would any of you ladies out there care to sign up for an episode of “Wife Swap” with Ann Romney? I’ll bet you cope with her life a lot better than she copes with yours.
Brad Plumer writes that the GOP party-wide rush to denounce climate change is being driven by a small minority of fervent Tea Party types. While it’s an interesting read in its own right, there’s a larger subtext I find downright frightening. There’s no reason to suppose these findings are limited to their climate fantasies.
Two points struck me:
Researchers on cognitive social networks at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently found that “when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.”
Tea Partiers are also by far the most confident in their beliefs — more likely to say they are “very well informed” and that they “do not need any more information about global warming.” Note that this dovetails with earlier research finding that when you give those dismissive of global warming more information, it only serves to harden their doubts.
Self-identified Tea Party types make up just 12 percent of the population. But that’s apparently enough to give them and their warped reality sway over public opinion and policy. And there’s apparently little the rest of us can do to induce any sanity on them either. The more we dump rational arguments and data on them, the further convinced they are about their delusions.
Are we doomed to the anti-science Christian theocracy they envision? A world where our money is tied to gold, the government is apathetic to your plight, education is relegated to kitchen tables and churches, corporations are free to pollute their way to profits, unions don’t exist, and medical care will only be available to those with enough chickens to trade for it?
I’m certainly not expecting the GOP debate tonight to dissuade my fears.
NY Times columnist Joe Nocera recounts the tale of whom he calls the last moderate in Congress. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) is an unabashed Blue-Dog Democrat with a sobering perspective on the dysfunction that exists under the Capitol Dome.
To Cooper, the true villain is not the Tea Party; it’s Newt Gingrich. In the 1980s, when Tip O’Neill was speaker of the House, “Congress was functional,” Cooper told me. “Committees worked. Tip saw his role as speaker of the whole House, not just the Democrats.”
Gingrich was a new kind of speaker: deeply partisan and startlingly power-hungry. “His first move was to get rid of the Democratic Study Group, which analyzed bills, and which was so trusted that Republicans as well as Democrats relied on it,” Cooper recalled. “This was his way of preventing us from knowing what we were voting on. Today,” he added, “the ignorance around here is staggering. Nobody has any idea what they’re voting on.”
“This is not a collegial body anymore,” he said. “It is more like gang behavior. Members walk into the chamber full of hatred. They believe the worst lies about the other side. Two senators stopped by my office just a few hours ago. Why? They had a plot to nail somebody on the other side. That’s what Congress has come to.”
I’d like to be shocked, but this is simply confirming the obvious truths we are loathe to accept… loathe because in principle the government is us. It is of, by, and for the people. Unfortunately, rather than the best in us, Congress has come to manifest the darkness in our souls most of us dare not show the world.
In many respects, it it simply another embodiment of Reality TV… an endless parade of backstabbing, bitch-slapping, and name calling. A performance we profess to hate, but in practice, won’t turn off. And as much as I’d like to fault all the Congressional Snooki wannabees out there, ultimately we are the ones responsible for the “success” of The Potomac Shore.
[thanks to MB for finding Nocera's NY Times column]
It seems pretty clear that nothing much useful will happen in Washington until the 2012 elections are over. As Senate Leader Mitch McConnell put it so succinctly, Job 1 for the GOP is to make sure Obama is a one-term President. All legislative actions or inactions up to the elections are dedicated to that goal, irrespective of the implications to the economy or the well-being of the country. If you think that’s not how it’s playing out, then… well… you just aren’t paying attention.
But what about after the elections? What happens then? On the Congressional side, probably pretty little. It’s highly unlikely either party will take both a House majority and a Senate super majority such that they hold dominion over the whole of Congress. This means that in any scenario, the GOP may at least continue to be the party of “no” if they so choose.
So it all basically comes down to the race for the White House. Come 2013, either Obama will be a second-term President, or we will experience the administration of Republican President [insert name here]. Clearly, if [insert name here] is elected, then the Congressional GOP will be all about getting things done. But should it be Obama again, will the GOP lessen it’s determination to play for politics rather than in the interest of the country? History would suggest they won’t.
Even though Obama would not be eligible for a third term, a successful second Obama term could reflect well on whatever Democrat runs in 2016. And the GOP will be ever more committed to taking the White House back in 2016. That will be their new Job 1. Recall that the GOP witch hunt against Clinton did not let up during his second term. Hell, they impeached him in the middle of that term.
For all intents and purposes, since the Clinton administration the GOP acts as if they do not acknowledge the legitimacy of a Democratic President. Under Obama, they have taken it to new levels. Rather than simply attacking the man, which was the primary Clinton-era strategy, they now attack the country. The GOP correctly recognizes that the President is held responsible for the well-being of the country, be it good or bad, and they use that to their advantage. They have demonstrated repeatedly they are willing to take the country hostage for political gain.
The 2012 elections will be more of the same. Essentially the message is that we can elect Republicans or we can suffer for four more years, and they will see to that.
This is not an assertion that Democratic policies are good and Republican policies are bad. Nor is this an assertion that Democrats are pure and chaste while Republicans are corrupt and evil.
We operate in a society governed essentially by the cooperation of two parties who compete, but play amicably with each other. In many ways the game is the thing. For the fans, it’s not about who wins or loses, but that the game goes on. Everyone likes to see their team win, but there is still value to the game even in a loss, and there is always the prospect of the next game. But if one team starts playing outside the conventional rules to rig the outcome. If one team starts saying that if they don’t win, then they’ll take their ball and go home. Then the game loses its value… and we all suffer as a result.
We have reached a point where as fans we need to force the teams to start playing by the conventional rules. We must demand that while we expect them to play their hearts out, we ultimately expect them to play for the love of the sport, not simply for victory. Or the alternative may be we need to just dump this sport altogether and start playing a new one.
The blogs are perpetually alight with the gaffs, lies, misstatements, and factually challenged utterances of the GOP Presidential candidates field. Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are so reality challenged it isn’t even fun to pick on them anymore. (Well, almost…) Poor Rick Santorum, no stranger to wacky rhetoric, can’t get a sound-bite in edgewise. Why are people remotely listening to these whackjobs other than for the sheer entertainment value?
Then, I heard former GOP Chairman Michael Steel speak this morning. He was being asked about Perry’s latest claims about Creationism being taught in Texas. Steel noted that it’s only August, 2011. At this point, candidates are not yet speaking to wide audiences. You have to take what they say in the context of who was listening in the audience. And what Perry said resonated with the crowd he was speaking to. Hmmmm.
On a completely different vector, earlier today I was included on the distribution of an email touting the horrors of HR 4646. The essence being that Obama is trying to take all your money and ruin the country. (Insert audible sigh here.) I readily debunked it, but I’m still responding to people defending the initial email, regardless of the facts.
What occurs to me is that politicians, pundits, and emails thundering about God and country, warning of apocalyptic conspiracies, and shouting from their ideological towers are the political equivalent of a musician standing on a stage before a crowd of half intoxicated college students and screaming, “Are you ready to rock?”
Hell yeah. Where’s my lighter cell phone? You’re in the moment. You feel the beat. You don’t really give a rat’s ass what the lyrics are. It feels good. It feels right. And if you’re not at the concert, you just don’t get it.
The difference is that the morning after a concert, the lyrics really don’t matter. But the morning after an election, they matter a great deal.
The debt ceiling talks appear to have stalled and the August 2nd date of economic doom draws neigh. Wall Street bankers, The Fed, the Treasury Department, and most every economist on the planet believe that hitting the debt ceiling will have dire consequences, and that actually defaulting on the debt would be even worse. Estimates vary in terms of the degree of catastrophe, but virtually no one in a position to be considered an expert on macroeconomics thinks that hitting the ceiling will be no big deal.
Chauncey DeVega, over at AlterNet, thinks the reason is that evangelicals have a strong hold on the GOP, and that the fervently faithful have a mindset that ignores numbers that don’t agree with their ideology. He posits that the Tea Party and other far right conservative groups are running on faith rather than fact. While there may be some truth to that, it doesn’t explain the plurality of Independents or the chunk of Democrats beholden to the notion that banging into the debt ceiling is a non-event.
I personally think there’s also an element here of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. Political issues have become so hyperbolic in the media that virtually every issue is positioned as a looming Armageddon of one sort or another. Unless you’re following the minutiae of the debates, you’re bound to get pretty numb to all the doomsaying.
However, presumably our elected officials are above simply blowing in the media wind. They have access to data and discussions those of us in the cheap seats do not. They are in the position to be able to discern hyperbole from actual danger. Yet this would not prevent them from being blinded to facts by faith.
GOP legislators faith-blindness goes beyond the debt ceiling. Similar faith-trumps-data rationale fuels denial of global warming, belief that tax cuts don’t have to be paid for, belief that progressive tax codes constitute class warfare and destroy jobs, belief that trickle down economics is always the answer, and government regulation is always evil.
The problem is that proving that tax cuts actually lower revenue, or that CO2 contributes to global warming, requires many years of data. And even then,the results are subject to interpretation and are not readily understandable by the average Joe.
Should we hit it, the debt ceiling presents an interesting test case. If the experts are right, the impact will be felt in the very short term. It will be widespread, affecting almost everyone, everywhere. And the impact will be felt for awhile. It will be virtually impossible to deny that such an impact was directly attributable to ignoring the debt ceiling. The Conservatives who claimed it would be no big deal will be demonstrably and painfully proved wrong beyond any reasonable doubt.
Should that come to pass, the question is, will that shake the faith of Conservative politicians and supporters in their other sacred tenets? Might they be willing to entertain the reality of global warming given the catastrophic impact of their blind faith in the debt ceiling non-crisis? Or will this be swept under the rug much like the predicted May 21st end of the world predictions. That was also proved wrong, but the faithful seem to somehow have accepted that failure with no apparent impact on their other beliefs. Maybe a sufficiently strong faith is even able to overcome incontrovertible reality.
Either way, if the economy tanks, it should certainly cause the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” crowd to pay attention. Maybe that bodes well for our collective political future if we can at least get the majority of the voters to begin operating from data-based rather than faith-based policies. Although, it would be a hellish way to learn a lesson.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to stand by his claim that Job 1 for Congressional Republicans is to defeat Obama in 2012. Yet the question looms, how far are they willing to go to make that happen? Recent history suggests, pretty damn far.
To understand what’s going on, you have to first recognize that the GOP is beholden to two major groups. On the one hand they are funded by big business and the wealthy businessmen created therein. The interests of this group define the overall agenda and goals for the party.
On the other hand, the foot soldiers at the polls are largely made up of blue-collars, religious fundamentalists, and seniors. This group is necessary because, come November, you have to have lots of bodies show up to vote for you. But they are ultimately fodder as far as the policy agenda goes. They get tossed a rousing speech, a few sound bites, and an occasional red meat issue and it keeps them fired up and loyal. I’m somewhat reminded of Dennis Hooper’s line from Waterworld where he launches into a motivational tirade for his crew and they all storm off below decks to row their hearts out. He’s asked, “So which way we rowin’?” And he replies, “I don’t have a goddamn clue. Don’t worry, they’ll row for a month before they figure out I’m fakin’ it.”
Now consider, the GOP won handily in 2012 on their promise of jobs, jobs, jobs. Then, once in office, immediately focused on Obamacare and abortion. Why? For starters, creating jobs is hard. Especially when the economy is in a demand slump and the interest rates are bumping the zero-bound. The only solution is federal deficit spending, and they sure as hell weren’t going there. After all, deficits are bad. Not for the reasons often touted, but because ultimately deficits have to get repaid through taxes—something their corporate benefactors are not fond of—especially when corporate profits and CEO salaries are soaring. Which brings us to the second point. Among their fodder constituents, abortion and Obamacare are both reviled. So the strategy was essentially to distract one group while appeasing the other.
Next up is the Paul Ryan budget. No one in the GOP thought the plan had a snowflake’s chances in hell of passing, yet they lined up behind it in droves. Why? Two reasons. First, the plan was a message to the corporate benefactors. This was a wish list for the privatization of government programs and tax cuts that all serve to line the pockets of the folks who in turn fund the Republicans. By standing behind it, they were assuring the benefactors they had their backs. Secondly, the plan was political. Actually passing a plan means you can be evaluated down the road for its efficacy. Proposing a plan that can’t pass puts you in a position down the road to say that things suck because nobody listened to your ideas. Politically this was a much more powerful position to be in.
However, the GOP underestimated their fodder constituents. You’d think they’d have learned from Bush’s crash and burn on Social Security privatization, but not so much. They tried to couch the language, but the public saw through that. The result being that Ryan’s budget is now enormously unpopular because it is recognized to fundamentally change Medicare. It turns out that when fodder folks talk about support for smaller government and less spending, they don’t mean to include programs from which they benefit directly. The message sent to Republicans in NY’s 26th District special election was overwhelmingly, mess with Medicare and we will vote your ass out. This was the GOP’s first shot to its own foot. It’s limping, and looking for a path back to hale and healthy. (Gee, I hope they can afford medical insurance.)
Still, the scary specter on the horizon is the debt ceiling. If the Ryan budget was a pistol shot to the left foot, the debt ceiling is a hacksaw poised above the right knee. All the sane people (which is not all of the people) on both sides of the aisle agree the ceiling must be raised. To not do so would be economically disastrous with long-term consequences. Even Wall Street is saying this has to happen. Both sides also recognize the Republicans are simply taking an opportunistic hostage to gain political advantage. This is a dog they clearly don’t want to shoot, but if you think they just might be crazyenough, maybe you’ll buy the magazine anyway.
Again, why are they playing it this way? And again, there are a couple of forces at work here. On the one hand, the debt ceiling is enormously unpopular. In fairness, understanding the nuances of the impact of the debt ceiling on the macroeconomic health of the U.S. economy is hard to capture in a sound bite, and most people lack the interest or the time to delve into the details. Besides, the GOP has already established with the fodder constituents that deficits are bad. So selling a refusal to move on the debt ceiling is duck soup. Besides, if they can get major concessions from Democrats, they will be in the politically favorable position of being able to crow about their accomplishments. But there are more subtle and insidious forces at work here.
Everyone acknowledges that Obama’s reelection hopes hinge on the economy. The last thing the GOP wants is for the economy to make any demonstrable progress, especially in the area of jobs, wages, or anything felt directly by their fodder constituents, prior to 2012. Obama’s demise (Job 1) is directly contingent on the majority of Americans feeling substantive economic pain going in to the election booth. The GOP is talking about needing $2 trillion dollars in cuts as ransom to get them to release the debt ceiling. Those cuts cannot be achieved without significant job losses (both government and downstream private sector jobs as well) in addition to major entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. This exacerbates the demand slump the economy is in, and pretty much guarantees pain for middle America, and what will border on inhumanity to the poor, disabled, and unemployed.
The gambit here is that Republicans can successfully hang the 2012 economic conditions on Obama—that their fodder constituents will blame their plight on “Obama’s wild spending spree” rather than on Republicans draconian budget cuts. And you can bet there will be additional tax cuts for corporations and the rich included in any debt ceiling as well, which will seal the love of the GOP benefactors. This is arguably the sweet spot for the GOP going in to the elections.
However, the downside is they are playing chicken with investors by holding the debt ceiling hostage. Wall Street and foreign investors alike certainly recognize individually that raising the U.S. debt ceiling is a matter of when, not if. But what the investors realize is that the market behaves like a herd of buffalo rather than as a single rational actor. Everyone may realize that long term there’s no danger, but if one animal spooks and heads out, the herd will react and follow, trampling all of us in its wake. This means the benefactor constituents are justifiably nervous about this brinksmanship. They can’t control all the buffalo, so everyone is tip-toeing about hoping to keep everyone else calm. Should someone spook, the results will be disastrous. But the devastation will not be just to our economy. The benefactors will doubtless bail on the GOP, who’s political ploy just cost them billions. If this happens, the Republicans will have effectively lopped off their right leg.
This is high stakes poker. The GOP may win at the polls. The corporate benefactors may win, lose, or break even. The rest of us will lose. The only path here on which we win would be if Democrats refused to bargain, called the Republicans bluff, and got them to fold. It’s pretty clear that won’t happen.
Is this view overly cynical? Perhaps. Maybe the GOP is not behaving with this much premeditation. Perhaps they are instead just ignorant and reckless or opportunistically sociopathic. But any way you slice it, unless you’re in the GOP’s corporate benefactor class, you voting for a Republican is like a chicken voting for Col. Sanders.
This site is rife with satire, politics, religion, tech geekery, and snippets of life. It's a place to keep and share the somewhat random musings, rants, and observations which otherwise clutter my brain. I hate clutter.