From the New York Times:
William B. Taylor Jr., the top diplomat in Ukraine, gave “damning” testimony Tuesday about President Trump and the effort to pressure Ukraine’s government for political gain, according to a Democratic lawmaker and another person familiar with the opening statement Mr. Taylor delivered behind closed doors in the ongoing impeachment inquiry…
The State Department tried to block Mr. Taylor from appearing for Tuesday’s deposition, or to limit his testimony if he did, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry who insisted on anonymity to describe the negotiations. So early Tuesday morning, in keeping with a pattern that has allowed investigators to extract crucial information from numerous administration witnesses, the House Intelligence Committee quietly issued a subpoena to compel Mr. Taylor to testify, and he complied.
From the Associated Press:
NEW YORK (AP) — Fox News Channel’s parent company fired Bill O’Reilly on Wednesday following an investigation into harassment allegations, bringing a stunning end to cable television news’ most popular program and one that came to define the bravado of his network over 20 years.This on the heels of the private sector’s overruling of the North Carolina legislature’s recent attempt to make transgender students use the bathrooms for which Mother Nature, in His wisdom, intended them.
O’Reilly lost his job on the same day he was photographed in Rome shaking the hand of Pope Francis.
The downfall of Fox’s most popular — and most lucrative — personality began with an April 2 report in The New York Times that five women had been paid a total of $13 million to keep quiet about unpleasant encounters with O’Reilly, who has denied any wrongdoing. Dozens of his show’s advertisers fled within days, even though O’Reilly’s viewership increased…
Who could have foreseen that corporate advertisers and professional sports franchises would be the ones to drag our so-called “lawmakers” kicking and screaming into the 21st century? We saw something similar from the health industry, too, when the so-called “president” tried to gut the Affordable Care Act. Apparently that’s what happens when you try to drown government in a bathtub. Big business remembers that voters are customers.
One nice thing about living in Connecticut is that you don’t have to go to the trouble of bugging your senators with complaints. Blumenthal and Murphy already have their feces assembled. Take, for example, this from Chris Murphy:
The question Syria experts have been asking themselves this week is this: Why did Assad return to chemical weapons use, risking the ire of the global community, when he is, by all accounts, in a stronger position in Syria than at any time since 2013? The answer likely lies in the green light that the Trump administration gave Assad just a few days before the chemical weapons attack was launched. As my colleague Marco Rubio noted this week, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that U.S. policy was now to allow Assad’s future to “be decided by the Syrian people” (a regular Russian talking point on Syria policy) he seemed to telegraph that Assad was free to act without repercussions from the United States. Rubio’s point is hard to argue — once Assad realized U.S. policy was no longer tied to his removal, there was nothing to hold him back.
Second, the check on Syria’s use of chemical weapons since 2013 had largely been Russia. The threat of U.S. military action in Syria in 2013 prompted the Russians to step in and help remove chemical weapons stocks from Syria. Obviously, they didn’t finish the job. But why? The answer here could lie in the newfound impunity with which Russia now operates globally. Since Trump was inaugurated, Russia has violated a long-standing missile treaty, accelerated the pace of military activity in Ukraine, dramatically ramped up its influence in the Balkans, and effectively taken control of the political process in Syria. Russia has acted this way since January because it no longer fears any reprisals from the United States. Their inability to finish the disposal of chemical weapons, or their unwillingness to veto the chemical attack, can be explained by the perceived permission slip they have been granted by the Trump Administration…
But the fundamental problem with the missile strikes arises when viewing it within the context of Trump’s other policies in the Middle East. First and most obvious is the policy of trapping Syrian families inside this dystopian war zone by refusing to help war victims relocate outside the country. Trump claimed to have ordered the missile strike because he was so personally moved by the images of the children killed by the attacks. Does our President not realize that these are the same children he’s twice tried to ban from entering our country? Or that last year alone, 650 children were killed in Syria, none by chemical weapons? What about the 2.3 million children who have had to flee their homes, living in refugee camps or on the streets of Damascus or Beirut or Amman? The new U.S. policy to ban all Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States, alongside Trump’s proposal to cut by 40% the funds that help settle refugees in other countries, will condemn far more children to death than were killed by chemical weapons this week.
Further, how can the region, or the world, reconcile the president’s newly discovered compassion for the victims of this war crime, when the administration has been so blind to prior conduct in Syria and similar transgressions in other parts of the region? Secretary Tillerson couldn’t commit to calling Assad’s barrel bombing of civilians a war crime, but he pivoted his rhetoric on a dime this week upon the chemical weapons attack. Yes, chemical weapons use poses a unique threat to global stability, but so does the intentional targeting of civilians by a domestic military. Tens of thousands of Syrians have been deliberately killed by Assad with conventional weapons — doesn’t our moral condemnation of that behavior melt when we decide that we are in fact willing to use military power against Assad, but only in response to the killing of 50 out of 450,000? To a Syrian parent, a child killed by a barrel bomb hurts no less than a child killed by sarin gas. I have long argued against the use of the military in Syria, but the only thing worse than a large scale deployment of U.S. forces in Syria may be the teasing of tiny amounts of military power that actually provides no change in the battle dynamics.
And what comes next? Is this the start of a dangerous military escalation, where the Russians feel compelled to ramp up their support for their ally in response to U.S. intervention? We already have more than 500 U.S. troops on the ground in Syria — is the next step the creation of safe zones, as Sean Spicer suggested? That would require even more U.S. military assets, increasing the risk of direct conflict with Russia, ISIS, and Assad. How does any of this end, or get us closer to a political agreement that will actually help the people of Syria? President Trump seems not to have thought through any of this, or have any kind of broader strategy, but rather to have launched a military strike based on a sudden, emotional decision.
It is hard to argue against taking a limited, targeted action against a solitary airfield as a consequence for a grotesque use of chemical weapons. But in the context of Trump’s broader foreign policy mistakes, the strike is hard to justify, and harder to defend. Furthermore, it is not clear whether Thursday’s missile strikes on a single airfield will have any lasting deterrent effect. A more comprehensive response would include sharply increasing pressure on the Russian government, whose support has enabled Assad to continue his reign of terror; ramping up humanitarian support and refugee aid so that any Syrian family who wants to flee the violence can; empowering the State Department to help find a political solution instead of outsourcing reconciliation to the Russians and the Turks; and keeping U.S. troops out of the fight to take Raqqa, which risks bogging us down inside a long term civil war for the future of Syria. Air strikes to enforce arms treaties can make sense. But when it comes to the potential quagmire of Syria, these strikes must exist as part of a broader, coherent policy — a policy that simply does not exist today.
From The Origins of Morality and Honor by the evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson, the world’s greatest ant expert:
Nevertheless an iron rule exists in genetic social evolution. It is that selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, while groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. The victory can never be complete; the balance of selection pressures can never move to either extreme. If individual selection were to dominate, societies would dissolve. If group selection were to dominate, human groups would come to resemble ant colonies.
From Social Problems by Henry George, published in 1883:
Great wealth always supports the party in power, no matter how corrupt it may be. It never exerts itself for reform, for it instinctively fears change. It never struggles against misgovernment. When frightened by the holders of political power it does not agitate nor appeal to the people; it buys them off. It is in this way, no less than by direct interference, that aggregated wealth corrupts government, and helps to make politics a trade. Our organized lobbies, both legislative and Congressional, rely as much upon the fears as upon the hopes of moneyed interests. When “business” is dull, their resource is to get up a bill which some moneyed interest will pay them to beat. So, too, these large moneyed interests will subscribe to political funds, on the principle of keeping on the right side of those in power, just as the railroads deadhead President Arthur when he goes to Florida to fish.
The more corrupt a government, the easier wealth can use it. Where legislation is to be bought, the rich make the laws; where justice is to be purchased, the rich have the ear of the courts… A community composed of very rich and very poor falls an easy prey to whoever can seize power. The very poor have not spirit and intelligence enough to resist; the very rich have too much at stake.
The rise in the United States of monstrous fortunes, the aggregation of enormous wealth in the hands of corporations, necessarily implies the loss by the people of governmental control. Democratic forms may be maintained, but there can be as much tyranny land misgovernment under democratic forms as any other — in fact they lend themselves most readily to tyranny and misgovernment. Forms count for little…
This at least is certain: Democratic government in more than name can exist only where wealth is distributed with something like equality — where the great mass of citizens are personally free and independent, neither fettered by their poverty nor made subject by their wealth.
To understand The Paul Ryan and his hapless plans to save America (the latest one, under discussion here, is a doozie), we need to start with The Ronald — just as to get the idea of silly putty you ought to have some idea of what putty is.
Ever since President Reagan uttered his most notorious Zen koan — “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem” — conservatives of the heartless type (the neoconservatives) have been running around trying to convince the unwashed, the gullible, and the angry old white men and women of a myth: that if government is shrunk, then the nation, its young and old, its rich and poor, will soar to ever-higher prosperity. National and international greatness will soar in step.
Soar, that is, if and only if: costly government-run social “entitlement” programs (what a wretched label!) are cut back or eliminated; certain taxes shrunk or eliminated; union extortion of free-enterprise, job-creating heroes is blocked; and certain (note that word again) government regulatory powers are neutered or eliminated. Then and only then will riches and happiness pour down along the Laffer Curve and spray upon the rabble.
Of course, Reagan’s principle, so sweeping and unmodified, is for that very reason empty of rational support, either empirical or deductive — another way of saying that it is rubbish. But constitutionally harmful rubbish. Cloaked in the drama of the Immense and Immediate Danger of the “runaway” national deficit, this approach of favoring wealth and the wealthy served Ronald and Nancy well politically during their ascension and reign in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, it undermines attention to what our Constitution refers to centrally as “the common welfare,” which one would have thought comprises the welfare of all our people — welfare of many kinds and in many shapes. Hey, Willard and Grover and “Dick,” we live here too! Are we really supposed to mope around in the national sump waiting for scraps of largesse to trickle down upon us?
Governments everywhere are established in order to … govern. The Reagan principle, as if the excited impulse of a child, blatantly ignores the raft of things our national government, in particular, does that everyone seems to like. This is a looong list, such as getting a man on the moon, researching medical applications (which are then usually handed over to Big Pharma), providing disaster relief, building the Interstate Highway System, making sure airplanes don’t crash into each other, bringing aid to people suffering from massive disasters, making sure the economically marginal elderly have food and get medical care, and — oops, better be careful here — invading countries that are not imminent threats to us, with 100% of routine congressional Republican support…
The primary target of Reagan and his whining acolytes of our own day has been the power to regulate activity within our society, a power which is of course vested at all levels of … yes, government. Regulation is an aspect of social control. And it is overwhelmingly the conservative mentality to glorify control, and has been since Edmund Burke at least. Control is needed to protect and, yes, conserve the social order that serves them well, keeping the disorderly riff and the raff out of the gated communities and the lobbies of doorman condos. It so happens that the Big Daddy of social control is none other than government regulatory activity: by dint of laws, statutes, and all sorts of other rules. The relevant term of art here is “police power.” But wasn’t it the founding neoconservative, The Ronald, who ordained that government is the problem, not the solution? What’s going on here?
INTO THE AMERICAN WEEDS:
We need control: traffic lights, drivers’ licenses, and such. The efforts of conservative control go beyond those things, into extended control of behavior in the general population. This starts locally, with zoning laws and other restrictions on property us such as un-mowed lawns, the prohibition of “saggy” pants (as in Ferguson, Missouri), and the like. In short order it rises to government-ordered vaginal ultrasounds (Virginia and elsewhere) and oversight and control of women’s uteruses, and of bedroom activity they deem to be contrary to God’s natural order, as they claim He has been telling them. On the still-wider stage, they have vigorously taken up The Ronald’s lead to more closely regulate union organizing.
Yes, that’s right: the conservatives do want some government regulations. (Union counter-pressure against corporations of course reduces the corporations’ own powers of control — and which friends sit highest at the Republican table?) The full list of controlling activity on the neoconservative wish list — some active, some reactive — is achingly long: prohibiting personal use of marijuana; shrinking the use of food stamps for the poor; minimizing supplemental school meals for poor children; removing pesky industrial safety inspections; reducing the power of organized workers…. It’s a list that is always growing.
Growing, because control is addictive and — like most addictions — it is dynamic, always driven by the feeling that a higher dose is needed to get that warm glow of well-being. Control never lays back in calm satisfaction with a task well done. Laws to control the behavior of us ordinary citizens are always seen to be in need of extension, as cracks in existing controls — real, potential, or imagined — rise to mind. Threats abound, if you put yourself to looking for them. The neoconservatives are always a-trembling about something.
Note that most of the social control of us folks down in the weeds, selectively cataloged above, is exercised by … why, by government. It’s the very same entity Reagan’s neoconservative camp followers loudly and consistently disparage. Aren’t their principles, taken together with their fondness for social regulation, a fundamentally unstable system internally? How to resolve this paradox?
AMERICAN VALUES AS SEEN FROM ON HIGH:
Wait — there’s even more confusion. There appears to be a big blank space on that ever-lengthening conservative list of aspects of our society deemed necessary to regulate. What about the activities of our financial and corporate giants? Say what? Stifle the exercise of The Free Enterprise that Made America Great? Tax corporations and hit high personal incomes, both engorged with the plunder derived from various financial rent-taking schemes plus tricky but mostly legal tax avoidance? No, regulating those things would be unfair to those “persons” who create jobs. Inheritance tax on those who have not themselves earned the money? A rape of God-given property rights. (Yet unfettered inheritance is an “entitlement” program, truly labeled, if there ever was one.)
Given the loud woes and the gnashing of teeth by the neoconservative Republicans about corporate and financial regulation, it is no accident that the people down in the weeds perceive the Republican Party as the party of business and wealth. (Wealth which today massively bankrolls the legislative and judicial election efforts largely within the Republican Party — a mutually self-sustaining ecological cycle.)
Still, we must consider the scholarly macroeconomic evidence the Republicans have to offer on the overriding value to our nation of these trade-offs away from the poor and needy and powerless, and in favor of the ever-greater benefit of the wealthy and powerful? Well, there isn’t any such evidence. In fact, there is mounting hard economic evidence supporting the contrary view. No matter: Reagan has spoken, and that is just fine with the beneficiaries of his dicta. Control of the rich and powerful and their interests is deemed a no-fly zone; it is socialistic and contrary to individual liberty. It violates a concoction called natural law. At best, it is socialism. But … this fervent conservative tic further deepens the internal instability of neoconservative thought.
Neoconservative thought seems to have become the default position in much of our country, especially in the halls of Congress. And so the paradox lying at the heart of our nation’s polity and politics as of Labor Day 2014 remains unresolved. Government to control the unwashed: OK. Government control for the plutocracy and the corporations they control: not OK, un-American. If history is any guide here, this inner “cultural” contradiction suggests that dynamics will build up within society at large and the national polity until there is some kind of major, tectonic shift-like resolution. We can only hope that it will not be violent.
So far, these broad thoughts about the neoconservative right are a distillation of what might be looked at as a kind of astrophysics-like Standard Model of the twenty-first century American polity. In other words, these are not new views. They are commonplaces among intelligent, balanced, good-spirited observers, people who can and do actually think and who get their news and commentary from The New York Times' side of things, that is, and not the MSNBC’s or Fox’s or National Review’s. This Standard Model is summarized here for the purpose of setting up a discussion of Paul Ryan’s latest plan to save the America that matters.
Before finally getting to the new Ryan plan, however, we might recall the Reagan principle and keep in front of mind the neoconservative mantra of reducing government. It is precisely that absolutely central anti-government consensus on the Right which Ryan seems now to be bucking. Ryan is no addled wanderer in life who thinks that there is such a thing as libertarianism that is not actually anarchism. No, this supposed change of spots comes from a — if not the — leading Village Philosopher of the congressional Right. A man who has read unreadable concept novels in order to forge his own soul and go forth to heal the soul of America.
SLASHING AT THE GORDIAN KNOT OF POVERTY IN AMERICA:
After having been caught receiving anal intercourse from the fat cats during the 2012 election campaign, Republicans have been struggling to find ways to get ordinary, not-so-fat-catlike folks to believe that their party really, truly cares about them (it doesn’t). It is within that context that U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, R-Wis., recently completed a tour of America to “listen to Americans in poorer cities” about “their needs,” as reported in The New York Times largely from a Ryan press release. (Don’t you love the “poorer” cities twist?) Imagine Ryan in a college class being asked, What might the needs of poor people be? “Uh, uh … money? Maybe food? No, everyone can afford some food, can’t they? We can’t all live on caviar, ha ha. Medical care? Well, I guess they have the ER. Uh, they need jobs, too, I guess. Why don’t they just go out and get them? And they have houses, don’t they? Yeah, they’re already living somewhere, right?”
The transparent listening-tour cliché is laughable in its own right, of course, but there’s more. As reported in the July 25, 2014, New York Times, Ryan — having subsequently become deeply knowledgeable about poverty in America during his whole week of photo ops with Americans in a carefully selected posy of those poorer cities, has come up with yet another of his seat-of-the-pants plans to “combat it.” Shades of the bizarro old “war on drugs.”
Chairman of the House budget committee, Ryan is renowned within his circle of apparently less intellectually endowed fellow Republican congressmen and craven, sell-out think-tank camp followers as something of a economic genius. (The hard evidence of that is … well, there really isn’t any for that, either, except that he pontificates a lot on the economy; in the country of the blind….) According to the Times, Ryan’s plan “includes a mix of both traditional Republican proposals to expand the earned-income tax credit and [but of course!] reduce regulations.”
The first step of Ryan’s plan is the consolidation of a dozen federal anti-poverty programs, then to move responsibility for administering the new stew from the federal government to the individual states (states such as Texas, Mississippi, Kansas, and Wisconsin, whose governments are so notable committed to providing succor to their poorest and neediest).
Right away, an overpowering scent of rat arises. Each state would have autonomy to spend the federal anti-poverty funds on whatever anti-poverty programs it, the individual state, desires — so long as Washington approves the state’s plan. (Note: or not spend, on poverty or anything else? And “Washington” means the Administration? Congress? Hey, gang, when that money would leave the U.S. Treasury and hit Madison or Atlanta or Jackson or Boise or Lansing or Austin, it would be whisked away out of public sight forever.)
The shift of anti-poverty efforts to the states is not a casual prescription. It is direct and slavish obeisance to the states-rights platform, a corollary to the Reagan anti-government principle. It is the national government that has been a burr under many American saddles since the days of Jefferson, John Taylor of Caroline, and of course John Calhoun and the slaveholders in the major slaveholding states. It is thus the Apostles’ Creed of the Southern secessionists — a critical tool of the shifty Nixon, with his “Southern strategy” that successfully hobbled the Democratic Party. States-rights efforts remain virulent, hobbling our Republic.
If the neoconservatives cannot neuter Washington, DC, they can at least cry states’ rights — while moving as many regulatory and police powers as possible down to the state or local level. There, the “good” conservative controls can be expanded, and the “bad,” so-called liberal regulations — environmental, safety, equal rights, and in particular financial regulations and taxation — can be drowned in Grover Norquist’s bathtub.
Ryan has christened his states-centered consolidated program one of “Opportunity Grants.” “Opportunity” is one of the Republican juju words, signifying the great promise America offers with open hands. But if that rather mysterious but supposedly omnipresent opportunity happens not to be grasped by some person, such as a poor person and family — maybe single mothers working at shit jobs, or an elderly widow living alone — and they remain impoverished, that’s regrettable, but it’s the way of the world. Jesus said so.
To the conservative mind, it is ipso facto their own fault; more than a hundred years ago Herbert Spencer and the conservative doctrines of Social Darwinism ordained it so. The opportunity-averse poor — including their infants, little children, and other dependents such as aged parents — must reap what they have failed to sow. Why, the oldsters should have been saving ten percent of their income every month for those golden retirement years, as the Wall Street Journal has been saying for decades, but they themselves chose to ignore that wise counsel. So far in this story, the Ryan plan is just more same old, same old.
OK, but what about the administration of these Grants. How will they work? The devil really is in the details here. So, hold onto your chair! This is where Ryan, that sworn enemy of government and its regulations, converts, like Saul on his way to Damascus — prostrating himself before the need for even more regulation. A huge brand-new steaming heap of it, and so anathema to the Reaganites? Well, let’s take a look: control of whom, exactly?
Per the Times’s summary of Ryan’s “Grants” program: [Step A] “If a state opted into the … program, it would have low-income residents meet with case managers who would create an ‘opportunity plan’ offering both financial advice and coordinating the provisions of the several different programs they need. [Step B] The residents would sign contracts with these case managers [i.e., with the state?] that would offer incentives [for the residents] to reach financial security and sanctions if they do not. A neutral agency would evaluate each provider’s success at moving poor Americans out of poverty.”
Mother of pearl! What a Rube Goldberg apparatus this would be, and stretching from coast to coast! Case managers. Contracts. Incentives. Providers (?). And sanctions. Oversight by a “neutral” agency (whatever the hell that might mean). All a vast new-from-the-ground-up nationwide (but definitely not national) bureaucracy — one luscious and ripe for outsourcing to private contractors within each state, which is to say the more avid contributors to a state’s political hacks. Can this really be what the top line of the Ryan plan means by “reduce regulations”?
We do have to be especially curious about those “sanctions.” They may turn out to be steps to push the failed applicants even deeper into debt and poverty if not actual incarceration (in private-capital funded facilities, of course), even though that last would contradict another of the Ryan plan’s anti-poverty tools: sentencing reform. With marijuana on its way to legalization, private prisons’ business models may however need some shoring up with a new class of customers.
REACTION FROM THE RIGHT:
Keep in mind that the underlying theme of this polemic is the absolutely central principle of conservative Republicans, their Holy Trinity: to reduce the size and reach of government and its regulations, a k a control — albeit highly selective in that reduction. So, what would neoconservative saint Ronald Reagan say about Ryan’s heaping up of new government scaffolding? You can only imagine his horror. But not to worry. None of that Opportunity Grant night soil will ever hit our statute books, so long as there is a Democrat in the White House, or a Republican president who is not mean spirited and devoid of understanding of what it means to have government for the people (or devoid of a brain and a heart).
Even many Republicans are likely to recoil, perhaps the ones who privately loathe “Bill” Kristol’s Mephistophelean smirk and the felon Ralph Reed’s Uriah Heep imitation and the lies and horrors that pour out of “Dick” Cheney’s mouth in a deadly monotone. After the Ryan plan was unveiled, Paul Krugman commented on Ryan in his Times column: “One of the best insults I’ve ever read came from Ezra Klein…. In 2007, he described Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, as ‘a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.’ It … applies to quite a few public figures. Rep. Paul Ryan … is a prime current example.” The chairman has no clothes.
But then another columnist, Ross Douthat, entered the lists with an especially witless column, even for him. Douthat, the Times’s second-string conservative-opinion placeholder, concocted an admiring distillation of Ryan’s latest Plan to Restore America’s Greatness and Cure Poverty. After cataloging other conservative, libertarian, or tea party public-policy fabulists — Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul — he goes on, “Now that list includes Paul Ryan, who last week released a blueprint that folds together many of the strongest reformist [??] and libertarian ideas…. [As if there exists a coherent set of Libertarian ideas, beyond the classic, I’m all right, Jack; how about you?]”
Douthat continued, “There’s…
• a larger earned-income tax credit [only for childless single filers, not so incidentally],
• proposed cuts to corporate welfare [You have to smile at the artful term “proposed” reserved for the corporate item in an anti-poverty plan],
• a call for sentencing reform for nonviolent offenses,
• a critique of ‘regressive regulations’ like licensing requirements [Ah, yes, regulations yet again. Which might those be? What might the ‘critique’ entail? And which progressive regulations, if such things are even deemed to exist in Neocon World, would survive? If any, let’s hope they include eighteen-wheeler truckers’ driving licenses and licenses to practice medicine.],
• and much more.” [Bullets added.]
So after we pour this cocktail of single-filer tax credit (how much?); “proposed” cuts to corporate welfare; sentencing reform; and fewer regulations and license requirements, then — voilà — poverty in America will surely become a thing of memory, like polio and typewriters.
We have to wonder: were those people in “poorer” cities to whom Ryan supposedly listened actually poor? If so, did they really tell him that they need a reduction in those terrible governmental regulations suppressing them? Or an urgent need for more earned-income tax credits for all those poor but childless single people who are careful to file on April 15th every year? Did they actually call for a reduction of corporate welfare to help them and their families out of poverty?
Hmmm. Did the Word file Ross zapped down to the Times pressroom accidentally delete the account of Ryan’s revolutionary poverty-fighting “Opportunity Grants” program, with its phalanx of case managers and sanctions and “neutral” review agencies? His published column contains not a single word about the “Grants” program, not even a breath of a hint. Or, as is more likely, did the power player wannabe Douthat sense how loony the program is, and put his thumb over the “Grants” stuff as he cobbled together his copy.
We might well suspect that the ol’ sly-boots Ryan is indeed floating mock-liberal proposals on poverty so his Party can say, “See, we do so care about poverty. Hence we care about you.” He and his benighted staffers may even have glimmers of how brainless their poverty proposals are, but Chairman Paul and fellow party hypocrites may think they can hoodwink the public into delight over the St. Francis- and Pope Francis-inspired charity that the party of the plutocrats has miraculously become. As the public is pretty dim-witted, chockablock with millions of low-information voters in what liberal writers call the Moron Crescent, Ryan and his cynical buddies may well be right.
That seems to indicated by the way Arthur C. Brooks, identified as president of the neoconservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, chimed in on the Times OpEd page following the Douthat nonsense — quickly, and, as it were, out of hand. Mr. Brooks’s flimsy column fits in pretty well with a golly-how-Republicans-really-hate-poverty-wink-wink conspiracy hypothesis. Brooks: “Mr. Ryan’s new anti-poverty plan, for example, features an expansion of the earned-income tax credit for childless workers — an outstanding idea the Democrats have favored for decades. The Washington Post declared the Ryan plan ‘so bipartisan it doesn’t sound like [sic] he’s running in 2016,’” the gullible Post adding the supposition that Ryan’s proposal might hurt him with the Republican base. Ooooh, it’s a risky move for Paulie, so it must be the real deal. What a mensch!
Arthur Enterprise then hears a sour note to his left. “The influential progressive blog Think Progress quickly posted a series of pieces dismissing Mr. Ryan’s plan out of hand. ‘While Ryan is trying out new rhetoric around the issue of poverty,’ they wrote, his plan ‘is full of the same empty promises he’s been making for years.’ Other progressive pundits followed suit, some appearing more eager to silence Mr. Ryan than to build a compromise that would help the poor.” (“Compromise?” What compromise?) Arthur Enterprise — who may be cynical but is probably very intelligent, unlike Ryan — goes on to suggest that the Democrats would do well with voters if they would openly discuss “personal morality” and extol “strong leadership in foreign affairs.” Thanks for the advice, Arthur; we’ll get back to you on it. Well, it seems unlikely to at least one polemic-writer that any politician or political party has something of any value whatsoever to say about “personal morality.” As for Enterprise Brooks’s phrase “strong leadership in foreign affairs”: a stirring concept, but wonderfully empty of any specificity, hence meaning. (By the way, we must remember to go to Think Progress more often, as their quick, out-of-hand assessment is spot-on about the ludicrous Ryan “plan.”)
To spend a minute analyzing Arthur C. Brooks’s cunning wordplay in the preceding: “quickly” is quack commentators’ code for knee-jerk; “out of hand” is also think-tank code for knee-jerk, as in, No thought being applied. “Pundits” is the old polemic substitute for commentators or authorities — but of course Arthur Enterprise is himself a pundit. And a polemicist, like me! Hello, my brother. Dear Reader, there is another well concealed but telling clue. Note the slick use of “for example,” above, when Arthur mentions a single detail — only one — of the Ryan “anti-poverty” plan (the childless single-filer earned-income tax credit). So there: that should put an end to poverty in America. But not a word from Enterprise Brooks, not even a tantalizing hint, about the wildly lunatic “Opportunity Grants” part of the Ryan plan, or any other example (because there is none).
THE KNOT YET STANDS:
Let’s not beat around the bush. Today’s Reagan-worshipping mainstream Republican Party, not just the snarling neoconservatives, doesn’t give two farts about reducing poverty or helping make more opportunities available to that formulaic entity “all Americans.” If they did, our Congress would long ago have expanded pre-school nationally, as well as full funding for school breakfasts and lunches for our needy children, and after-school programs. The Democratic President would have signed the bills in a heartbeat. The leading Democrats wouldn’t have had to trade off some of the family jewels to get the supplemental child nutrition program (SNAP) approved. The food stamp program would have been expanded, not cut — paid for maybe by reducing socially and economically useless subsidies to “farmers” (giant agribusiness corporations). Sorely needed major public works projects would be pumping up economies from coast to coast. And so on, in ways actually to help reduce poverty in America, ways that operate far from the influence of insipid anti-poverty plans enshrined in press releases.
Is it too much to hope that angry old white Americans, even in the Moron Crescent, will suddenly wake up and figure out that increased government help for themselves is more important to them and their children than social fluff such as keeping gays from marrying — or shielding the “job creators” who are dicking the country over for ever more profit to be sequestered among the One Percent? Yes, it probably is too much to hope. “The American People” is, as so many of the Founders fretted about, ignorant and emotionally vulnerable.
So, no more Mr. Nice Guy. Only a polemic can do justice to the foolishness — and the ugliness — of all this flapdoodle from Ryan and the chorus of neoconservative toadies. How else we can convey the stench of the evident lack of intellectual application and statesmanship of so many of our leading political figures, some of whom — not including Ryan — actually do possess smarts? Paul Ryan is no statesman. More than that, he is a jerk. This polemic has a serious purpose: to try to demonstrate why he’s a jerk, not just throw out an epithet. To think that he might have become Vice President — or President! And may still. It’s time to send him back to the smug little village that spawned him.
In 1972 Gore Vidal wrote:
Political corruption has been with us since the first congress sat at Philadelphia, and there is nothing to be done about it as long as we are what we are. In fact, as election costs mount the corruption will tend to become institutionalized by the small group of legislators and bankers, generals and industrialists, who own and govern the United States, Inc. But it does not take great prescience to realize that that they are playing a losing game. As the polity becomes more and more conscious of the moral nullity at the center of American life, there will develop not the revolutionary situation dreamed of in certain radical circles but rather, a deep contempt for the nation and its institutions, an apathy bound to be exploited by clever human engineers. In the name of saving the environment and restoring virtue, they will continue the dismantling of an unloved and unhonored republic.
Thank God we dodged that bullet, huh?
…it’s bound to be rotten enough for them. From the New York Times:
The yearlong effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, which had the support of President Obama, Republican leaders and much of American business and labor, was seriously imperiled on Thursday when Speaker John A. Boehner conceded that it was unlikely he could pass a bill…
Mr. Boehner’s remarks came a week after he and other House Republican leaders offered a statement of principles intended to win support for the measure. But, he said, House Republicans are not prepared to move forward in partnership with a Democratic administration that they believe will not fairly and impartially carry out the laws they pass.
Psychiatrists call this “projection.” Suppose for instance that you were the House Speaker of a political party which had spent the past three years trying unfairly and in a nakedly partisan way to hamstring a healthcare law that…
…is bigger than Barack’s wee wee any day.
“This is not just about Obamacare anymore,” centrist Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., said.
“We’re not going to be disrespected,” conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
Heads the tan man wins, tails we all win. An elegant solution from Professor Wolff:
By all reports, there are enough Republican members of the House of Representatives ready to vote for a clean Continuing Resolution so that with the support of the Democratic members, such a raise would have no trouble passing. But John Boehner is clearly fearful that if he allows such a bill to come to the floor of the House, he will lose his Speakership.
Now, the position of Speaker of the House is not a party office, like Senate Majority Leader. It is a Constitutional office, voted on by all members of the House. To be elected Speaker, one needs an absolute majority of all votes cast, not counting abstentions by those voting “present.” In return for bringing a clean CR to the floor, the Democrats could make a deal with Boehner to abstain, or alternatively throw enough votes his way, to guarantee his reelection as Speaker. Hell, they could even make a deal not to challenge him for reelection in his District. They could make the same deal for a raising of the debt limit.
Just a thought.
Heads they win, tails we lose. David Dayen at Naked Capitalism explains how the fix is in:
Consider also how the nature of the gridlock itself empowers elite goals in this case. Democratic pundits and allies have talked themselves blue about the doomed Speakership of John Boehner, the lunacy of Ted Cruz, and whether the Republican fever will break. Precious few words, by contrast, have been written about the fact that the SOLUTION here, the position that Democrats have been pushing, is a “clean” continuing resolution, which will enforce sequestration limits, a spending cap below societal need and economic demand, into Fiscal Year 2014.
And while that would only hold for a couple months, anyone who thinks sequestration will somehow be cancelled (or even “replaced,” which does the economy next to no good from a macro standpoint) by the same people who just shut down the government over “defunding” Obamacare, which is by its nature mandatory spending and not defunded today, is nuts. But Democratic politicians benefit from the virtual silence about how the country is doomed to austerity spending caps for what could be an entire decade. And elites enjoy advantages from such a state of affairs as well.
… in just six words the GOP’s threats to shut down their own country’s government and destroy its credit rating:
Texas (are you surprised?) Republican congressman Michael Burgess stays classy:
“Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful,” said Burgess, a former OB/GYN. “They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?”
To give you an idea of how truly stupid the bipartisan War Party in Congress is, its members are even stupider than the citizenry they pretend to represent:
Sixty-two percent of the public say the United States has no responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria between government forces and antigovernment groups, while just one-quarter disagree. Likewise, 56 percent say North Korea is a threat that can be contained for now without military action, just 15 percent say the situation requires immediate American action and 21 percent say the North is not a threat at all.
Louis Brown, 50, a poll respondent from Springfield Township, Ohio, said, “We don’t need additional loss of American lives right now.”
In the poll, 4 in 10 Americans cited the economy and jobs as the country’s most important problems, while only 1 percent named foreign policy.
Is this what it seems to be? Is the Senate really more responsive to the will of the people (read “more afraid”) than President Obama is? Or is it just that the president doesn’t have to run for office anymore? Here’s Dean Baker, on AlterNet:
Both the New York Times and Washington Post decided to ignore the Senate's passage by voice vote of the Sanders Amendment. This was an amendment to the budget put forward by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders that puts the Senate on record as opposing the switch to the chained CPI as the basis for the annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)…
With all the Republicans who pronounce endlessly on the need to cut entitlement spending, there was not a single Republican senator who was prepared to say that switching the Social Security COLA to a chained CPI was a good idea. And even though President Obama has repeatedly stated as clearly as he could that he supported the switch to a chained CPI, there was not one Democratic senator who was prepared to stand up and speak in solidarity with the president.
At least a portion of our national screaming match about guns has turned to actions that can be unilaterally taken by the Executive Branch. Robert Reich offers some of them here. There is one suggestion I have yet to see offered.
Call up the militia.
Guess who is the commander-in-chief of the militia referenced in the part of the Second Amendment that no one seems to know about? That’d be the President of the United States, according to Article II. So the commander-in-chief should activate the militia. Clearly, “security of a free State” is at stake if ordinary citizens are not safe to go to schools, shopping malls, movie theaters, public appearances of their elected representative, and Unitarian churches. (To name but a few of the sites of mass shootings in the last few years.)
So, President Obama should call up the militia. Anyone who owns a gun is ordered to report with their weapons for militia training and assignment. They would be evaluated as to their fitness for duty — including a mental health screening — as well as the condition of their arms and their proficiency in handling them. They would be furnished with proof that they reported for and completed this training. Thereafter, any gun owner who cannot furnish such proof would be subject to penalties, and still be required to report for militia duty.
It’s simple. It’s in the Constitution. And, of course, it is 100% unworkable.
For starters, I think we know the people screaming loudest about the Second Amendment would never submit to this sort of “tyranny.” (For rather a lot of them, the definition of “tyranny” is having to do anything a black person says.) It would cost a lot of money and time, both for organization and enforcement. Military resources would almost certainly have to be diverted to the task. And last, but certainly not least, “the militia” was redefined in 1903 to mean The National Guard.
Which brings us to the fun part. Just who do you think would waste no time at all in loudly and repeatedly bringing up that last fact? I’m gonna go with “Gun Owners” on that one. Maybe even Wayne LaPierre his own self. But even if they don’t point to that particular law, one way or another it’s a safe bet that they will themselves make the point that they are not subject to being a militia in the sense that the Founders not only intended, but specified.
And once we’ve established that the first clause of the Second Amendment is outdated and inapplicable, maybe — just maybe — we can have a sensible conversation about the amendment in its entirety. (Yeah, I know. But I said “maybe” twice, so cut me some slack...)
Sure, it’s kind of a convoluted way to make a point. But our Republican friends do that sort of thing all the time — how many votes has the House held to repeal Obamacare? (Also, too, Clinton Impeachment. Heck, the war in Iraq.) Government-as-performance-art can work for our side too, once in a while...
…there’s a resemblance for sure, but it’s really the Ukrainian congress.
Well, only 37 Republican members of it did. The 38th was Louisiana’s Diaper Dave Vitter. Still, it was enough to shame the United States in the eyes of the world. And yet these 38 despicable men didn’t even have the customary excuse of political cowardice; doing the decent thing would have cost them no more than a handful of votes at home. No, they were acting out of principle. Which ought to tell you something.
WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, his 89-year old body now weakened by age, illness and war injuries, sat quietly in a wheelchair on the Senate floor Tuesday, watching the debate over a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled.
He may have recalled an earlier time.
More than 43 years ago, Dole delivered his first speech on the very same floor — on disability rights. Later, as one of the most powerful members of the Senate, he pushed through the Americans with Disabilities Act, a measure designed to protect citizens grappling with accidents and disease.
Now he had come the Senate floor, perhaps for the last time, to persuade lawmakers to adopt a treaty supporters said would extend disability protections around the world…
Only 61 senators voted for the treaty, officially known as the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Sixty-six votes were needed for passage.
Well, yes, of course Attorney General Eric Holder is in contempt of Congress. Who isn’t?
Many of us who try to comprehend the amazing shenanigans of our Republican-dominated House of Representatives would naturally choose some form of ‘contemptible’ as a descriptive of the august body. But today we’ll shun the language of extremes.
Let’s just call them, er, regressive and leave it at that. Well, retarded might be better. (Apologies here to those hardy and decent souls in the House who keep trying, against all odds, to do the job for which they were sent to Washington.)
Having lost the legal battle to wreck the Affordable Health Care Act, now the Republicans are going to waste who knows how much time and money trying to repeal it. These are the proud ideological descendants of the conservative politicians of the past who tried so hard to block Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And while they’re at it, the Know Nothings will try to drive Obama’s Attorney General from office.
Holder may have screwed up but that’s not why they’re after him. The real problem is he’s arrogant, like Obama, and he’s too tall. The thing is, it’s getting harder all the time to be a responsible House member with these Kenyans in high office and a socialist who’s not even an American in the White House. How do we know that? Because Donald Trump said so, that’s how.
And Donald’s rich so he must be right. If rich people weren’t right about everything they wouldn’t be rich, would they? Why is this so hard for the Democrats to understand? Rich people know what is best for themselves, and therefore for the rest of us. How do you suppose they got rich in the first place? There’s shouldn’t be anything inherently wrong with being rich, but it does seem to coarsen the sensibilities. Warren Buffet and a few others appear to have escaped this malady.
(But here’s a really important question: If Donald Trump is so rich and so smart, why does he want to look and act like Howdy Doody? And why does he always wear the same awful red tie?)
Badly shocked by Chief Justice Roberts’s perfidy in upholding Obamacare, Republican Congressmen are once again telling us that the American people hate Obama’s socialized medical insurance plan and won’t stand for it. What the American people want is limited medical insurance with constantly rising premiums. What the American people want is to pay through the nose for the bloated, inefficient bureaucracy that administers the private insurance industry — at about twenty percent of the total cost. (The administrative costs for universal health care in England and Canada are five and six percent, respectively.) I have a couple of doctor friends who tell me that Medicare is infinitely preferable to the private insurance industry for fairness, efficiency and overall decency.
But never mind all that nonsense. The Republicans know better. What the American people want, the Republican Congressmen tell us, is to know that 30 million of their fellows have no insurance and, if those uninsured get medical treatment at all, they will have to get it in emergency rooms. The cost of emergency room treatment is, of course, astronomical, and is borne by all of us who do have insurance. But so be it, anything is better than having the government stand between us and our doctors.
But this they tell us is what the American people want. Republicans love to tell us what the American people think, feel and want. As always, one wonders which American people they are talking about. They’re not talking about anybody I know.
From the Washington Post:
Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Rules Committee, announced his retirement on the floor of the chamber Wednesday morning.
“I take the unusual step of announcing this from the floor of Congress for two reasons,” Dreier said of his surprise announcement. “First, this is where my fellow Californians sent me to represent them. Second, I am a proud institutionalist, and I believe that this institution is as great as it has ever been.”
In August of 1910, former President Theodore Roosevelt delivered in Osawatomie, Kansas, a speech in which he laid out what he hoped would become the fundamental beliefs of the Republican Party.
Here is part of what he said:
The new Nationalism puts the National need before sectional or personal advantage. It is impatient of the utter confusion that results from local legislatures attempting to treat National issues as local issues. It is still more impatient of the impotence which springs from over-division of governmental powers, the impotence which makes it possible for local selfishness or for legal cunning, hired by wealthy special interests, to bring National activities to a deadlock.
This new Nationalism regards the executive power as the steward of public welfare. It demands of the judiciary that it shall be interested primarily in human welfare rather than in property, just as it demands that the representative body shall represent all the people rather than any one class or section of the people…
The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows…
We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.
Here is all of what President Obama said earlier today in Osawatomie. I hope you will read it all, after the jump. The president has found his true voice at last. See if you agree. I have posted the remainder of his speech after the jump.
Good afternoon. I want to start by thanking a few of the folks who’ve joined us today. We’ve got the mayor of Osawatomie, Phil Dudley; your superintendent, Gary French; the principal of Osawatomie High, Doug Chisam. And I’ve brought your former governor, who’s now doing an outstanding job as our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius……
It is great to be back in the state of Kansas. As many of you know, I’ve got roots here. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Obamas of Osawatomie. Actually, I like to say that I got my name from my father, but I got my accent — and my values — from my mother. She was born in Wichita. Her mother grew up in Augusta. And her father was from El Dorado. So my Kansas roots run deep.
My grandparents served during World War II — he as a soldier in Patton’s Army, she as a worker on a bomber assembly line. Together, they shared the optimism of a nation that triumphed over a Depression and fascism. They believed in an America where hard work paid off, responsibility was rewarded, and anyone could make it if they tried — no matter who you were, where you came from, or how you started out.
These values gave rise to the largest middle class and the strongest economy the world has ever known. It was here, in America, that the most productive workers and innovative companies turned out the best products on Earth, and every American shared in that pride and success — from those in executive suites to middle management to those on the factory floor. If you gave it your all, you’d take enough home to raise your family, send your kids to school, have your health care covered, and put a little away for retirement.
Today, we are still home to the world’s most productive workers and innovative companies. But for most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded. Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefitted from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and investments than ever before. But everyone else struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t — and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up.
For many years, credit cards and home equity loans papered over the harsh realities of this new economy. But in 2008, the house of cards collapsed. We all know the story by now: Mortgages sold to people who couldn’t afford them, or sometimes even understand them. Banks and investors allowed to keep packaging the risk and selling it off. Huge bets — and huge bonuses — made with other people’s money on the line. Regulators who were supposed to warn us about the dangers of all this, but looked the other way or didn’t have the authority to look at all.
It was wrong. It combined the breathtaking greed of a few with irresponsibility across the system. And it plunged our economy and the world into a crisis from which we are still fighting to recover. It claimed the jobs, homes, and the basic security of millions — innocent, hard-working Americans who had met their responsibilities, but were still left holding the bag.
Ever since, there has been a raging debate over the best way to restore growth and prosperity; balance and fairness. Throughout the country, it has sparked protests and political movements — from the Tea Party to the people who have been occupying the streets of New York and other cities. It’s left Washington in a near-constant state of gridlock. And it’s been the topic of heated and sometimes colorful discussion among the men and women who are running for president.
But this isn’t just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make or break moment for the middle class, and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, and secure their retirement.
Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that’s happened, after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that have stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for too many years. Their philosophy is simple: we are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.
Well, I’m here to say they are wrong. I’m here to reaffirm my deep conviction that we are greater together than we are on our own. I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules. Those aren’t Democratic or Republican values; 1% values or 99% values. They’re American values, and we have to reclaim them.
You see, this isn’t the first time America has faced this choice. At the turn of the last century, when a nation of farmers was transitioning to become the world’s industrial giant, we had to decide: would we settle for a country where most of the new railroads and factories were controlled by a few giant monopolies that kept prices high and wages low? Would we allow our citizens and even our children to work ungodly hours in conditions that were unsafe and unsanitary? Would we restrict education to the privileged few? Because some people thought massive inequality and exploitation was just the price of progress.
Theodore Roosevelt disagreed. He was the Republican son of a wealthy family. He praised what the titans of industry had done to create jobs and grow the economy. He believed then what we know is true today: that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history. It’s led to a prosperity and standard of living unmatched by the rest of the world.
But Roosevelt also knew that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you want from whoever you can. It only works when there are rules of the road to ensure that competition is fair, open, and honest. And so he busted up monopolies, forcing those companies to compete for customers with better services and better prices. And today, they still must. He fought to make sure businesses couldn’t profit by exploiting children, or selling food or medicine that wasn’t safe. And today, they still can’t.
In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt came here, to Osawatomie, and laid out his vision for what he called a New Nationalism. “Our country,” he said, “…means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy…of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.”
For this, Roosevelt was called a radical, a socialist, even a communist. But today, we are a richer nation and a stronger democracy because of what he fought for in his last campaign: an eight hour work day and a minimum wage for women; insurance for the unemployed, the elderly, and those with disabilities; political reform and a progressive income tax.
Today, over one hundred years later, our economy has gone through another transformation. Over the last few decades, huge advances in technology have allowed businesses to do more with less, and made it easier for them to set up shop and hire workers anywhere in the world. And many of you know firsthand the painful disruptions this has caused for a lot of Americans.
Factories where people thought they would retire suddenly picked up and went overseas, where the workers were cheaper. Steel mills that needed 1,000 employees are now able to do the same work with 100, so that layoffs were too often permanent, not just a temporary part of the business cycle. These changes didn’t just affect blue-collar workers. If you were a bank teller or a phone operator or a travel agent, you saw many in your profession replaced by ATMs or the internet. Today, even higher-skilled jobs like accountants and middle management can be outsourced to countries like China and India. And if you’re someone whose job can be done cheaper by a computer or someone in another country, you don’t have a lot of leverage with your employer when it comes to asking for better wages and benefits — especially since fewer Americans today are part of a union.
Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there’s been a certain crowd in Washington for the last few decades who respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If only we cut more regulations and cut more taxes — especially for the wealthy — our economy will grow stronger. Sure, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everyone else. And even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, they argue, that’s the price of liberty.
It’s a simple theory — one that speaks to our rugged individualism and healthy skepticism of too much government. It fits well on a bumper sticker. Here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It’s never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible post-war boom of the 50s and 60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade.
Remember that in those years, in 2001 and 2003, Congress passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history, and what did they get us? The slowest job growth in half a century. Massive deficits that have made it much harder to pay for the investments that built this country and provided the basic security that helped millions of Americans reach and stay in the middle class — things like education and infrastructure; science and technology; Medicare and Social Security.
Remember that in those years, thanks to some of the same folks who are running Congress now, we had weak regulation and little oversight, and what did that get us? Insurance companies that jacked up people’s premiums with impunity, and denied care to the patients who were sick. Mortgage lenders that tricked families into buying homes they couldn’t afford. A financial sector where irresponsibility and lack of basic oversight nearly destroyed our entire economy.
We simply cannot return to this brand of your-on-your-own economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. We know that it doesn’t result in a strong economy. It results in an economy that invests too little in its people and its future. It doesn’t result in a prosperity that trickles down. It results in a prosperity that’s enjoyed by fewer and fewer of our citizens.
Look at the statistics. In the last few decades, the average income of the top one percent has gone up by more than 250%, to $1.2 million per year. For the top one hundredth of one percent, the average income is now $27 million per year. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her workers now earns 110 times more. And yet, over the last decade, the incomes of most Americans have actually fallen by about six percent.
This kind of inequality — a level we haven’t seen since the Great Depression – hurts us all. When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, it drags down the entire economy, from top to bottom. America was built on the idea of broad-based prosperity — that’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so that they could buy the cars they made. It’s also why a recent study showed that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.
Inequality also distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder. And it leaves everyone else rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them — that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.
More fundamentally, this kind of gaping inequality gives lie to the promise at the very heart of America: that this is the place where you can make it if you try. We tell people that in this country, even if you’re born with nothing, hard work can get you into the middle class; and that your children will have the chance to do even better than you. That’s why immigrants from around the world flocked to our shores.
And yet, over the last few decades, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk. A few years after World War II, a child who was born into poverty had a slightly better than 50-50 chance of becoming middle class as an adult. By 1980, that chance fell to around 40%. And if the trend of rising inequality over the last few decades continues, it’s estimated that a child born today will only have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the middle class.
It’s heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal. But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work? That’s inexcusable. It’s wrong. It flies in the face of everything we stand for.
Fortunately, that’s not a future we have to accept. Because there’s another view about how we build a strong middle class in this country — a view that’s truer to our history; a vision that’s been embraced by people of both parties for more than two hundred years.
It’s not a view that we should somehow turn back technology or put up walls around America. It’s not a view that says we should punish profit or success or pretend that government knows how to fix all society’s problems. It’s a view that says in America, we are greater together — when everyone engages in fair play, everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share.
So what does that mean for restoring middle-class security in today’s economy?
It starts by making sure that everyone in America gets a fair shot at success. The truth is, we’ll never be able to compete with other countries when it comes to who’s best at letting their businesses pay the lowest wages or pollute as much as they want. That’s a race to the bottom that we can’t win — and shouldn’t want to win. Those countries don’t have a strong middle-class. They don’t have our standard of living.
The race we want to win — the race we can win — is a race to the top; the race for good jobs that pay well and offer middle-class security. Businesses will create those jobs in countries with the highest-skilled, highest-educated workers; the most advanced transportation and communication; the strongest commitment to research and technology.
The world is shifting to an innovation economy. And no one does innovation better than America. No one has better colleges and universities. No one has a greater diversity of talent and ingenuity. No one’s workers or entrepreneurs are more driven or daring. The things that have always been our strengths match up perfectly with the demands of this moment.
But we need to meet the moment. We need to up our game. And we need to remember that we can only do that together.
It starts by making education a national mission — government and businesses; parents and citizens. In this economy, a higher education is the surest route to the middle class. The unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree or more is about half the national average. Their income is twice as high as those who don’t have a high school diploma. We shouldn’t be laying off good teachers right now — we should be hiring them. We shouldn’t be expecting less of our schools — we should be demanding more. We shouldn’t be making it harder to afford college — we should be a country where everyone has the chance to go.
In today’s innovation economy, we also need a world-class commitment to science, research, and the next generation of high-tech manufacturing. Our factories and their workers shouldn’t be idle. We should be giving people the chance to get new skills and training at community colleges, so they can learn to make wind turbines and semiconductors and high-powered batteries. And by the way — if we don’t have an economy built on bubbles and financial speculation, our best and brightest won’t all gravitate towards careers in banking and finance. Because if we want an economy that’s built to last, we need more of those young people in science and engineering. This country shouldn’t be known for bad debt and phony profits. We should be known for creating and selling products all over the world that are stamped with three proud words: Made in America.
Today, manufacturers and other companies are setting up shop in places with the best infrastructure to ship their products, move their workers, and communicate with the rest of the world. That’s why the over one million construction workers who lost their jobs when the housing market collapsed shouldn’t be sitting at home with nothing to do. They should be rebuilding our roads and bridges; laying down faster railroads and broadband; modernizing our schools — all the things other countries are already doing to attract good jobs and businesses to their shores.
Yes, businesses, not government, will always be the primary generator of good jobs with incomes that lift people into the middle class and keep them there. But as a nation, we have always come together, through our government, to help create the conditions where both workers and businesses can succeed. Historically, that hasn’t been a partisan idea. Franklin Roosevelt worked with Democrats and Republicans to give veterans of World War II, including my grandfather, the chance to go to college on the GI Bill. It was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, a proud son of Kansas, who started the interstate highway system and doubled-down on science and research to stay ahead of the Soviets.
Of course, those productive investments cost money. And so we’ve also paid for these investments by asking everyone to do their fair share. If we had unlimited resources, no one would ever have to pay any taxes and we’d never have to cut any spending. But we don’t have unlimited resources. And so we have to set priorities. If we want a strong middle class, then our tax code must reflect our values. We have to make choices.
Today that choice is very clear. To reduce our deficit, I’ve already signed nearly $1 trillion of spending cuts into law, and proposed trillions more — including reforms that would lower the cost of Medicare and Medicaid.
But in order to actually close the deficit and get our fiscal house in order, we have to decide what our priorities are. Most immediately, we need to extend a payroll tax cut that’s set to expire at the end of this month. If we don’t do that, 160 million Americans will see their taxes go up by an average of $1,000, and it would badly weaken our recovery.
But in the long term, we have to rethink our tax system more fundamentally. We have to ask ourselves: Do we want to make the investments we need in things like education, and research, and high-tech manufacturing? Or do we want to keep in place the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans in our country? Because we can’t afford to do both. That’s not politics. That’s just math.
So far, most of the Republicans in Washington have refused, under any circumstances, to ask the wealthiest Americans to go the same tax rates they were paying when Bill Clinton was president.
Now, keep in mind, when President Clinton first proposed these tax increases, folks in Congress predicted they would kill jobs and lead to another recession. Instead, our economy created nearly 23 million jobs and we eliminated the deficit. Today, the wealthiest Americans are paying the lowest taxes in over half a century. This isn’t like in the early 50s, when the top tax rate was over 90%, or even the early 80s, when it was about 70%. Under President Clinton, the top rate was only about 39%. Today, thanks to loopholes and shelters, a quarter of all millionaires now pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1%. One percent.
This is the height of unfairness. It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay a higher tax rate than somebody pulling in $50 million. It is wrong for Warren Buffett’s secretary to pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. And he agrees with me. So do most Americans — Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. And I know that many of our wealthiest citizens would agree to contribute a little more if it meant reducing the deficit and strengthening the economy that made their success possible.
This isn’t about class warfare. This is about the nation’s welfare. It’s about making choices that benefit not just the people who’ve done fantastically well over the last few decades, but that benefits the middle class, and those fighting to get to the middle class, and the economy as a whole.
Finally, a strong middle class can only exist in an economy where everyone plays by the same rules, from Wall Street to Main Street. As infuriating as it was for all of us, we rescued our major banks from collapse, not only because a full blown financial meltdown would have sent us into a second Depression, but because we need a strong, healthy financial sector in this country.
But part of the deal was that we would not go back to business as usual. That’s why last year we put in place new rules of the road that refocus the financial sector on this core purpose: getting capital to the entrepreneurs with the best ideas, and financing to millions of families who want to buy a home or send their kids to college. We’re not all the way there yet, and the banks are fighting us every inch of the way. But already, some of these reforms are being implemented. If you’re a big bank or risky financial institution, you’ll have to write out a “living will” that details exactly how you’ll pay the bills if you fail, so that taxpayers are never again on the hook for Wall Street’s mistakes. There are also limits on the size of banks and new abilities for regulators to dismantle a firm that goes under. The new law bans banks from making risky bets with their customers’ deposits, and takes away big bonuses and paydays from failed CEOs, while giving shareholders a say on executive salaries.
All that is being put in place as we speak. Now, unless you’re a financial institution whose business model is built on breaking the law, cheating consumers, or making risky bets that could damage the entire economy, you have nothing to fear from these new rules. My grandmother worked as a banker for most of her life, and I know that the vast majority of bankers and financial service professionals want to do right by their customers. They want to have rules in place that don’t put them at a disadvantage for doing the right thing. And yet, Republicans in Congress are already fighting as hard as they can to make sure these rules aren’t enforced.
I’ll give you one example. For the first time in history, the reform we passed puts in place a consumer watchdog who is charged with protecting everyday Americans from being taken advantage of by mortgage lenders, payday lenders or debt collectors. The man we nominated for the post, Richard Cordray, is a former Attorney General of Ohio who has the support of most Attorneys General, both Democrat and Republican, throughout the country.
But the Republicans in the Senate refuse to let him do his job. Why? Does anyone here think the problem that led to our financial crisis was too much oversight of mortgage lenders or debt collectors? Of course not. Every day we go without a consumer watchdog in place is another day when a student, or a senior citizen, or member of our Armed Forces could be tricked into a loan they can’t afford — something that happens all the time. Financial institutions have plenty of lobbyists looking out for their interests. Consumers deserve to have someone whose job it is to look out for them. I intend to make sure they do, and I will veto any effort to delay, defund, or dismantle the new rules we put in place.
We shouldn’t be weakening oversight and accountability. We should be strengthening them. Here’s another example. Too often, we’ve seen Wall Street firms violating major anti-fraud laws because the penalties are too weak and there’s no price for being a repeat offender. No more. I’ll be calling for legislation that makes these penalties count — so that firms don’t see punishment for breaking the law as just the price of doing business.
The fact is, this crisis has left a deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. And major banks that were rescued by the taxpayers have an obligation to go the extra mile in helping to close that deficit. At minimum, they should be remedying past mortgage abuses that led to the financial crisis, and working to keep responsible homeowners in their home. We’re going to keep pushing them to provide more time for unemployed homeowners to look for work without having to worry about immediately losing their house. The big banks should increase access to refinancing opportunities to borrowers who have yet to benefit from historically low interest rates. And they should recognize that precisely because these steps are in the interest of middle-class families and the broader economy, they will also be in the banks’ own long-term financial interest.
Investing in things like education that give everybody a chance to succeed. A tax code that makes sure everybody pays their fair share. And laws that make sure everybody follows the rules. That’s what will transform our economy. That’s what will grow our middle class again. In the end, rebuilding this economy based on fair play, a fair shot, and a fair share will require all of us to see the stake we have in each other’s success. And it will require all of us to take some responsibility to that success.
It will require parents to get more involved in their children’s education, students to study harder, and some workers to start studying all over again. It will require greater responsibility from homeowners to not take out mortgages they can’t afford, and remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
It will require those of us in public service to make government more efficient, effective, and responsive to people’s needs. That’s why we’re cutting programs we don’t need, to pay for those we do. That’s why we’ve made hundreds of regulatory reforms that will save businesses billions of dollars. That’s why we’re not just throwing money at education, but challenging schools to come up with the most innovative reforms and the best results.
And it will require American business leaders to understand that their obligations don’t just end with their shareholders. Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel put it best: “There’s another obligation I feel personally,” he said, “given that everything I’ve achieved in my career and a lot of what Intel has achieved…were made possible by a climate of democracy, an economic climate and investment climate provided by…the United States.”
This broader obligation can take different forms. At a time when the cost of hiring workers in China is rising rapidly, it should mean more CEOs deciding that it’s time to bring jobs back to the United States — not just because it’s good for business, but because it’s good for the country that made their business and their personal success possible.
I think about the Big Three Auto companies who, during recent negotiations, agreed to create more jobs and cars in America; who decided to give bonuses, not just to their executives, but to all their employees — so that everyone was invested in the company’s success.
I think about a company based in Warroad, Minnesota called Marvin Windows and Doors. During the recession, Marvin’s competitors closed dozens of plants and let go hundreds of workers. But Marvin didn’t lay off a single one of their four thousand or so employees. In fact, they’ve only laid off workers once in over a hundred years. Mr. Marvin’s grandfather even kept his eight employees during the Depression.
When times get tough, the workers agree to give up some perks and pay, and so do the owners. As one owner said, “You can’t grow if you’re cutting your lifeblood — and that’s the skills and experience your workforce delivers.” For the CEO, it’s about the community: “These are people we went to school with,” he said. “We go to church with them. We see them in the same restaurant. Indeed, a lot of us have married local girls and boys. We could be anywhere. But we are in Warroad.”
That’s how America was built. That’s why we’re the greatest nation on Earth. That’s what our greatest companies understand. Our success has never just been about survival of the fittest. It’s been about building a nation where we’re all better off. We pull together, we pitch in, and we do our part, believing that hard work will pay off; that responsibility will be rewarded; and that our children will inherit a nation where those values live on.
And it is that belief that rallied thousands of Americans to Osawatomie — maybe even some of your ancestors — on a rain-soaked day more than a century ago. By train, by wagon, on buggy, bicycle, and foot, they came to hear the vision of a man who loved this country, and was determined to perfect it.
“We are all Americans,” Teddy Roosevelt told them that day. “Our common interests are as broad as the continent.” In the final years of his life, Roosevelt took that same message all across this country, from tiny Osawatomie to the heart of New York City, believing that no matter where he went, or who he was talking to, all would benefit from a country in which everyone gets a fair chance.
Well into our third century as a nation, we have grown and changed in many ways since Roosevelt’s time. The world is faster. The playing field is larger. The challenges are more complex.
But what hasn’t changed – what can never change – are the values that got us this far. We still have a stake in each other’s success. We still believe that this should be a place where you can make it if you try. And we still believe, in the words of the man who called for a New Nationalism all those years ago, “The fundamental rule in our national life – the rule which underlies all others — is that, on the whole, and in the long run, we shall go up or down together.”
I believe America is on its way up. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
Maybe this is something Barney Frank should consider as a farewell gesture.
The use of chemicals to control protests has received attention recently, but Tuesday may have been the first time that tear gas was used in a legislative session by a lawmaker.
A South Korean opposition member was trying to prevent a vote on a trade pact with the United States. The bill passed despite the noxious gas that filled the National Assembly chamber and the scuffle that erupted afterward, as my colleague Choe Sang-Hun reports. The Guardian identified the lawmaker as Kim Sun-dong.
Video images from Reuters showed at least one legislator covered in white powder and momentarily blinded as others vigorously waved their hands to dissipate the thick cloud of white smoke. As the session continued in the chamber, many could be seen wearing masks or clutching cloth over their noses and mouths…
If you think you’ve seen the last of Barney Frank, think again. Here’s why.
“Barney Frank is not now, never has been, and never will be retiring.”
…to secure for our children the right to stay fat. From the Associated Press:
In an effort many 9-year-olds will cheer, Congress wants pizza and french fries to stay on school lunch lines and is fighting the Obama administration’s efforts to take unhealthy foods out of schools.
The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year. These include limiting the use of potatoes on the lunch line, putting new restrictions on sodium and boosting the use of whole grains. The legislation would block or delay all of those efforts.
The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now. USDA had wanted to only count a half-cup of tomato paste or more as a vegetable, and a serving of pizza has less than that.
Nutritionists say the whole effort is reminiscent of the Reagan administration’s much-ridiculed attempt 30 years ago to classify ketchup as a vegetable to cut costs. This time around, food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes and lobbied Congress.
How dumb can the GOP get? How dumb ya got? How about this, for example, from McClatchy Newspapers:
WASHINGTON — In a move aimed at improving national security, House Republicans want to give the U.S. Border Patrol unprecedented authority to ignore 36 environmental laws on federal land in a 100-mile zone stretching along the Canadian and Mexican borders.
If the legislation is approved, the Border Patrol would not have to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act and 32 other federal laws in such popular places as Olympic National Park, Glacier Park, the Great Lakes and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area…
From Frank Rich’s latest, in New York magazine:
The important thing to remember about Perry is that he’s anathema to Mitt Romney, Karl Rove, and many conservative pundits no less than to liberals. His swift rise does not just reflect his enthusiasts’ detestation of Barack Obama. Perry’s constituency rejects the entire bipartisan Establishment of which Obama is merely the latest and shiniest product.
For two decades, the elites in both parties and in the Beltway media-political combine have venerated a vanilla centrism, from Bush 41’s “thousand points of light” to Clinton’s triangulation to Bush 43’s “compassionate conservatism.” They’ve endorsed every useless bipartisan commission and every hapless bipartisan congressional “Gang of Six” (or Twelve, or Twenty, not to mention the new too-big-not-to-fail budget supercommittee).
Perry, by contrast, is a proud and unabashed partisan. If he’s talking about gangs, chances are they’re chain gangs, not dithering conclaves of legislators. He doesn’t aspire to be the adult in the room, as Obama does, but the bull in the china shop of received opinion…
Should Perry get the GOP nomination, he could capsize like Goldwater on Election Day. That’s the universal prediction of today’s Restons. But maybe he won’t. Perry would have a cratered economy to exploit, unlike Goldwater, who ran in a boom time when unemployment was under 6 percent and the GDP was up 5.8 percent from the previous year. Whatever Perry’s 2012 electoral fate, his lightning ascent is final proof, if any further is needed in the day of the tea-party GOP, that a bipartisan consensus in America is as unachievable now as it was after 1964…
Turn on your TV these days and you will hear a politician telling you what the American people want. As you listen to the politician you will wonder which American people the politician is talking about. The politician is not speaking for you — that’s clear enough — or anyone in your family, or anyone you know, or have ever met, read about, or heard of.
So how can he or, at least as likely, she, say they know what you want? Has anyone asked you? Did John Boehner drop by for a chat? Was that Mitch McConnell on the phone? Did Michele Bachmann ask you to lunch?
And how about Barack Obama — heard from him lately?
What the American people I know want is for politicians to stop behaving like morons and do something constructive, constructive being the defining word here. What they want is for the politicians they sent to Washington to represent them, and the greater interests of the country, to stop acting like colicky infants with dirty diapers. What they want is for the Congress to be held to standards that once seemed to apply, at least some of the time, to those among us who claimed the mantle of leadership, those whom we entrusted with high office.
These standards included such unfashionable qualities as maturity, integrity, decency, and intelligence. And, although there are still many — well, a few, anyway — in the House and the Senate who live up to these standards, they don’t seem to want anybody to find out about it.
What we are getting from our leadership in Washington now — from both parties — is nothing. The administration seems to be paralyzed and not many think Obama is still doing a good job. If the Republicans could come up with a candidate who didn’t remind us of Red Skelton they might actually win the White House in 2012.
And meanwhile the Tea Party seems to have the upper hand in how the nation conducts its business. Or, more to the point, how it fails to conduct its business. For the Tea Party has no interest in wise and progressive government; it is interested only in destruction. It would happily wreck a hundred years-worth of social legislation that helped give the American people — them again — the highest standard of living in the history of the world. And the Democrats don’t appear able to counter the Know Nothings with any sort of coherent opposition.
The next time you hear a politician tell you what the American people want, ask yourself a few questions. Do you actually know anyone who identifies himself or herself as affiliated with, or sympathetic to, the Tea Party? Do you actually know anyone who wants to do away with Social Security?
Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, and one of the many clowns seeking the GOP nomination for president, says he wants to do away with Social Security because it’s a Ponzi scheme. But Rick Perry is a charlatan and a liar. The American people I know think it would be better to keep Social Security and do away with Rick Perry.
Do you actually know anybody who wants to do away with Medicare? Do you actually know anybody who thought it was okay for criminal Wall Streeters to award themselves multimillion dollar bonuses with bailout money from the government — our money, yours and mine. What was your bonus last year? Or, to quote from those insufferable and endlessly repeated TV commercials: What’s in your wallet?
And now — as in some weird dream where whatever is going to happen never quite happens, where nobody can understand what you’re saying, where people you think you know (but don’t) smile and answer your questions with more questions, where nothing is ever resolved — now they send us emails and letters asking us to send them back to Washington, back so they can go on working for what the American people want. Because, well, because they know what the American people want, don’t they?
How must you feel if you’re a Member of Congress these days? Embarrassed? Unclean? Do you mind being classified with the creepy-crawlies?
There was a time when members of the U.S. House of Representatives were not held in the same esteem as slugs, rodents and lice. But nowadays, when they’re not carrying on like demented five-year-olds, they are featured in ads fleeing from the Orkin man or checking into a Roach Motel.
How did so many Congressmen and Congresswomen fall from respect to obloquy? How many times have you heard your neighbors say, “Let’s get rid of all of them in the next election? Wipe the slate clean and start over. The next batch couldn’t possibly do any worse.”
This is of course the old “Throw the bums out!” refrain, but it doesn’t bode well for the country when people start to think of Congress as so much mildew. It will be a sad day when voters bring bottles of Tilex to the polls. And this day is coming soon.
Was it always thus? Well, maybe not always but too often. The problem seems to be that so many Congresspersons can’t hold a thought for very long. They forget who they are, where they are, and why. Many of them don’t seem to grasp the fundamentals of representative government, and those who do can’t seem to cope with those who don’t. This pathetic corrosion of reasonable governance has now infected both houses and the Oval Office. Nobody can do anything except to vigorously do nothing.
So now, after an incredibly drawn-out and tiresome exercise in schoolyard power politics, we have a “deal,” a bill that creates another commission to study the debt problem and come up with recommendations. Congress apparently forgot that we’ve already done that — twice. But why do something only once if you can spend another few millions doing it again, and again, all the while calling for fiscal responsibility?
Fiscal responsibility used to be the byword of the Republican Party and Republicans are still trumpeting this conceit as the bedrock of their political philosophy. Once upon a time it was a respectable, if selfish, position, but now mainly draws exasperated guffaws and clucking from all but the most deranged right-wingers, the tea party extremists, for instance. Except for its own highly paid ideologues and a profoundly ignorant and mean-spirited segment of the electorate, no one in the GOP, including its elected officials, can possibly believe in its claim to fiscal responsibility.
George W. Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress added more than four trillion dollars to the national debt, which he carried as a non-budget item, off the books, as it were, to finance not one but two ill-advised wars, wars that have accomplished absolutely nothing except to take or ruin the lives of thousands of American soldiers and countless Iraqis and Afghans. Bush loaded more onto the national debt than any president in history.
He also lowered the tax rates to give an unneeded bonanza to the richest people in the country, did much to protect the various exemptions and tax advantages enjoyed by some of the richest companies and then he tried to privatize Social Security, an idea that some scholars have called the single-most irresponsible initiative ever undertaken by an American president.
But, hey, fiscal responsibility takes many forms. And sometimes the people, they just don’t know what’s good for ‘em. But that’s what we’ve got the tea party for, to show us the way. And that’s what the Democrats are for, to mount the loyal opposition — Quiet Please! — and then to roll over so the Republicans can scratch their bellies. Thanks so much; that feels so good.
The very thought of it all brings to mind the first verse (actually, the only verse) of a favorite childhood rhyme:
…how to figure out which harlot would just as soon see the baby drowned in the bathtub. Once King Solomon determined that, he returned the baby to its mother. Once our solons made the same determination, they decided to leave the kid with the kidnapper.
There’s a upside, though. The harlot who actually gives a shit about the baby will be granted visitation rights. Details yet to be worked out, but the best guess at the moment is from five to seven p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of the month. Supervised visits, of course, so she won’t smuggle in food stamps or Medicaid.
Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him. And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house.
And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear.
And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king.
Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living. And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.
Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.
Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.
But by this month, in ultimately unsuccessful talks with Speaker John A. Boehner, Mr. Obama tentatively agreed to a plan that was farther to the right than that of the majority of the fiscal commission and a bipartisan group of senators, the so-called Gang of Six. It also included a slow rise in the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65, and, after 2015, a change in the formula for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments long sought by economists.…
“Democrats created Social Security and Medicare, and we have fought for decades against Republican attempts to end these programs,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Mr. Obama’s communications director. “And President Obama believes that now is the time for Democrats to be the ones to step up and save Social Security and Medicare.”
One of the most famous quotes of the Vietnam War was a statement attributed to an unnamed U.S. officer by AP correspondent Peter Arnett. Writing about the provincial capital, Ben Tre, on February 7, 1968, Arnett said: “‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,’ a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.” The quote was distorted in subsequent publications, eventually becoming the more familiar, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
Jonathan Chait cuts to the chase:
The main problem is that the Republican Party does not actually care very much about the deficit. It cares about, in order: Low taxes for high-income earners; reducing social spending, especially for the poor; protecting the defense budget; and low deficits. The Obama administration and many Democrats actually do care about the deficit and are willing to sacrifice their priorities in order to achieve it, a desire that was on full display during the health care reform debate. Republicans care about deficit reduction only to the extent that it can be undertaken without impeding upon other, higher priorities. Primarily “deficit reduction” is a framing device for their opposition to social spending, as opposed to a genuine belief that revenue and outlays ought to bear some relationship to each other.
From historian Taylor Branch’s 2009 book, The Clinton Tapes:
At home, the president analyzed twisted political maneuvers heading toward the fall elections. He focused on Newt Gingrich. The speaker had given spring speeches across the presidential testing state of Iowa, discussing his thoughtful book about future challenges from cyberspace to the world economy. Gingrich also met with Clinton’s chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, whom the president had persuaded to stay on awhile, about a compromise legislative agenda before congress adjourned.
Bowles was optimistic, but the speaker’s pollsters brought him disastrous results the same day. Clinton said he knew, because Gingrich later confirmed it himself, that all the numbers recorded a sharply negative reaction to him from core GOP voters across the nation, not just in Iowa. They rejected overwhelmingly the speaker’s softer, pragmatic image. The White House had similar poll numbers, and so did House Republicans who were jockeying to replace Gingrich if he ran for president.
Overnight, the speaker reverted to red-meat politics. He turned publicly against all Clinton’s legislation, including a bipartisan tobacco bill sponsored by Senator John McCain. He accused Clinton of “blackmailing” Israel to help the Palestinians. He called Clinton the nation’s “Defendant-in-Chief” for cover-up, corruption and crime. He said Clinton was wrong to claim that tobacco advertising induced young people to smoke …
In their singular request to choke off all but the military aspects of government, Republicans were reduced to invective and cries for perpetual tax cuts. Clinton hoped a proper campaign, by framing and comparing programs for the voters, could expose the Republican strategy as anemic and spent, if not cynical. Their few moderates in Congress were resigned, and the dominant conservatives were splintered.
From pages eight and nine of historian Taylor Branch’s 2009 book, The Clinton Tapes:
[President Clinton] remarked, for instance, that he had no idea what Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas thought about the merits of gays in the military. “He may genuinely be for it or against it,” said Clinton. “All of our discussions have been about the politics.” He said Dole advised him quite candidly that he intended to keep the issue alive as long as he could to trap Clinton on weak ground, where he would “take a pretty good beating.”
Similarly the president said Dole consistently advised that budgets were the most partisan matters between Congress and the White House, and that Clinton could expect to get few if any Republican votes for his omnibus bill on taxes and spending. Clinton said Dole spoke of the opposition’s job not as making deals but rather making the president fail.
On page 158, same book:
Clinton praised [Democratic] Senator Robb’s spirited riposte in a recent debate when senatorial opponent Oliver North called him a lackey who voted mostly with Clinton. Robb replied that he had voted mostly with President Bush, too, because his duty was to help presidents when he could, not tear them down.
Below is a video showing Florida Republican Dan Webster in the process of ousting the progressive Democrat, Alan Grayson, from his seat in Congress. The date was October 5, 2010; the event was sponsored by the West Orlando Tea Party.
You just heard the candidate saying, “The first thing we need is to actually take up a budget and talk about it.” Well, the new Republican majority in the House, after a brief pause to push a few hot button social issues, has finally delivered itself of that budget.
And below is a screen grab from the raw video of the freshman congressman indeed talking about it at the Orlando Town Hall yesterday. Just from the Schadenfreude aspect it’s worth watching the whole thing. But I can’t shake the suspicion that many — maybe most — of these red-faced hecklers were the exact same people who were shouting down Alan Grayson during the Tea Party’s summer of rage.
Democracy, saith the wise man, is that system of government whereby you give the people what they want, and give it to ’em good.
Send this by Julio Friedmann to your representative in Congress, particularly if he/she/it is a member of the Green Obstructionist Party:
ENN (a subsidiary of the XinAo Group), Shenhua, CNOOC and others are all developing clean tech themselves from scratch, both for domestic use and export. This covers solar thin-films, biofuels, coal-to-liquids, shale gas and smart grids, all with U.S. partners. Lishen battery company, one of the world’s largest, is embarking on a $7 billion development drive just for battery technology and demonstration.
The good news — this will ultimately lead to lower emissions faster worldwide, and cheaper power with it. The bad news — for some in the U.S. — is additional competition. While some U.S. companies will benefit, others will encounter aggressive, new competition with credible technology. Some will grow faster; others will lose market share.
U.S. businesses are quick to benefit from this, and will help us all reach a stable climate faster. U.S. jobs will be created in the process, as is already happening with many who are partnering in China’s clean-tech sector right now. They’re also critical to laying the foundation of trust between the two countries, absolutely essential for U.S.-China government agreements in trade, climate and other key areas.
Perhaps the main story is the constancy of the innovation drive. China has built the largest computer in the world (Tianhe-1). It started with U.S. chips, but the next one will be with indigenous chips. While the U.S. has a lead in using these computers well to accelerate innovation, we could lose that edge quickly — in just two to three years. This same innovation permeates everything: aircraft, biotech, IT.
But clean-tech is the main event, at over $40 billion/year government investment. That investment goes to universities, private companies, state-owned enterprises and new research institutes. It funds centers of excellence, large-scale demonstrations, modeling and simulation and bench-top research. It’s like the Vannevar Bush innovation model (let a thousand flowers bloom) — on steroids.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn expressed doubt Wednesday that likely Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has what it takes to be president. “He is undoubtedly the smartest man I’ve ever met,” Coburn said of the former Speaker of the House in an interview with C-SPAN. “He is a thinker. He has great vision. The question to me is, does he have the capability to lead the country? And having served under him in the House, he is probably not one that I would choose to support in a presidential primary.”
When you think about all the people Coburn must have met in the course of his life, you have to conclude that he wouldn’t recognize smart if it came up and bit him in the ass.
Andrew Trees in the Los Angeles Times:
“Swilling the planters with bumbo” was what it was once called — the Colonial American tradition of treating voters with gifts during election campaigns, particularly plying them with rum (including a concoction known as bumbo). Virtually everyone who could afford the practice did it, including George Washington, who served 160 gallons of rum to 400 voters during the 1758 campaign for the Virginia House of Burgesses. Needless to say, this was a prohibitively expensive way to campaign, and it meant that politics was largely the preserve of the rich.
I was reminded of this phrase when a recent Center for Responsive Politics study of 2009 data found that 261 of the 535 members of Congress were millionaires (this probably understates the actual number because members of Congress aren’t required to report their homes as assets). When looking at both houses together, the legislators weighed in with a hefty median income of $911,000. For the Senate alone, median income was an astounding $2.38 million…
John Adams railed against this development more than two centuries ago. At the time, the prevailing view was that government positions should pay little, if any, salary so that only men with virtuous intentions would fill them. But Adams pointed out that this so-called solution did not ensure the election of virtuous men, only the election of rich men…
Adams’ great fear was that we would have what he called “an aristocratic despotism”: the possibility of “the rich, the well born and the able acquir(ing) an influence among the people that will soon be too much for simple honesty and plain sense.” In typical fashion, his judgment of that aristocracy was unstinting in its harshness. He wrote of “the weakness, the folly, the pride, the vanity, the selfishness, the artifice, the unbounded ambition, the unfeeling cruelty of a majority of those (in all nations) who are allowed an aristocratical influence…”
As [Adams] warned back then, you get the politics you pay for.
From Reconstitution 2.0. Picture McConnell or Boehner as Jeeves, and you will never see either of them quite the same way again.
Since the Rushpubliscums are pissing and moaning about raising taxes on the wealthy, let’s turn it up a few notches. Let’s propose raising taxes on only the ULTRAwealthy. And then, let the Rushpubliscums fight tooth and nail for their REAL constituency (or rather, their owners, since the Rushpubliscum Party has become an organization of butlers.)
All those opinion polls must be sinking in at last. This is the first time, so far as I can remember, that John the Bronze has yielded so much as a millimeter in his lifelong battle to hand everybody else’s money over to the rich. Presumably Boehner’s about-face is due to President Obama’s recent discovery that class warfare is a game two can play.
WASHINGTON — House Republican leader John Boehner says he would support extending tax cuts only for middle-class earners even though he considers it “bad policy” to exclude the highest-earning Americans from tax relief during a recession.
President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser said Sunday he is happy that Boehner, R-Ohio, isn’t willing to hold hostage an extension of tax cuts for those earning under $250,000 a year, or more than 97 percent of earners, to try to gain a continuation of breaks enjoyed by the wealthiest…
More good sense, as usual, from Daniel Larison at The American Conservative:
According to the story Republicans tell themselves, they lost power because they spent too much, and they believe they are proving that they understand where they went wrong by opposing all forms of new spending. Even though they may be winning by default because of economic conditions, they very much want to link any success they have with this new opposition to more spending.
It’s a very neat, tidy, convenient and completely false narrative. According to the same narrative, the public supposedly soured on the stimulus because they became anxious about deficits. In fact, the stimulus lost support because it wasn’t enough of an actual stimulus bill, and so did not “work.” In some of the early Republican criticism of the bill, there was a basic acceptance of the belief that enough money spent in the right way would be stimulative. Now that a majority finds fault with the original bill, the new interpretation is that there should never have been one at all.
This makes the same mistake that Barone and a thousand others have made about the health care bill. They take all opposition to a complex, flawed, compromised, unaffordable bill and treat it as if it were all one thing, but opposition to the bill came from many different sources, including from those on the left who thought it was too weak, too much of a sell-out to insurance companies, or insufficiently ambitious in some other way.
Hostility to the compromised bill that was passed does not imply support for returning to the way things were, and hostility to the compromised bill does not necessarily reflect opposition to an increased government role in the health care sector. Barone wants you to think that it does, and he is basing almost his entire interpretation of the public mood and his expectation of a big midterm victory for the GOP on this misunderstanding. Barone’s mistake is the national GOP’s mistake in miniature: he is treating the election as a national one with a unifying theme that has a clear ideological meaning when it isn’t and it doesn’t.
Barone may end up being right that the GOP is going to win the House, but it will have been mostly by accident, because he refuses to acknowledge the real reasons why the GOP is in a position to win. The party is in a similar position: possibly on the verge of a great victory, but unable or unwilling to accept the real reason for it.
Here’s Daniel Larison in The American Conservative, making some excellent points (points, that is, with which I agree).
As I have said before, I don’t think the GOP will win the House, but if that did happen it would primarily be bad news for the Republican Party and the conservative movement. If that seems a little too counterintuitive for you, let me explain. Should the GOP somehow win the House, they will not have earned it and they will not deserve it, and they will proceed to destroy themselves in very short order.
Arguably, there was nothing worse for the American right than to be given the free gift of winning the 2002 midterms, because this win encouraged them to pursue the policies that proved to be their undoing, and a similar win in 2010 would have the same effect of enabling Republicans’ most destructively self-indulgent impulses. As one horrified by the prospect of Republicans in power, Erik should look forward to this.
After all, even if the Republicans won the House there would not be much that they could do once in office, except waste their time as they did in the ’90s hauling executive branch officials before committees to testify on this or that outrage of the week. They would likely be stymied by the Democratic majority in the Senate on any major legislation, and Obama would veto just about anything they passed if it somehow got to his desk. At the same time, Obama would make them into a much more effective foil for his arguments once they had some hold on power, and out of frustration they would become increasingly obsessed with “getting” Obama and become even less interested in representing the interests of their constituents…
In his address to the nation Tuesday night about Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama took a refreshingly frank approach: “Today we mark the end of our nation’s military commitment in Iraq. Our foolish adventure there has been a catastrophe, a nightmare inflicted on us by a past president whose stupidity was exceeded only by his arrogance. Iraq was a disaster that cost thousands of American lives, God knows how many Iraqi lives, and increased our national debt by an amount that is almost beyond counting. What did we get for this immeasurable investment? Nothing.
“Here’s where things stand now. The Iraqi government, if that’s what you’d call it, is a shambles. The economy is wrecked, and life in Iraq is still so dangerous and unstable that nobody wants to be there anymore. And neither do we, baby. We’re outta there.
“Now we can turn our full military attention to Afghanistan where we’ve been fighting for ten years without any success whatsoever. We’ll be putting lots more troops and treasure into the effort, which will result in many more American casualties and plenty more dead Afghanis, including lots of hapless women and children who keep getting in the way of our smart bombs and missiles. But, hey, don’t look at me. I didn’t start this and there’s no way, politically speaking, that I can just pull out of it. Which would be the smart thing to do.” The President had some other things to say about bravery and sacrifice, etc. etc., but nobody bothered to write it down or record it.
Meanwhile, down the road at the Capitol, Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress adopted a resolution to stop acting like willful little brats. Rep. John Boehner, the Republican obstructionist from Ohio and minority leader in the House, said, “We thought it might be interesting to pass some laws that would actually be good for the country.”
Boehner’s counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky obfuscator, announced that from now on he would work with senators from both parties to respond to the needs of the American people. “Tantrums will no longer be tolerated,” McConnell said. “We are also going to try to keep lying to a minimum. We want the Senate to be a kinder, gentler place where work actually gets done.”
Cynical observers of the Senate noted the timing and language of McConnell’s statement, which closely followed a threat by his fellow senators to stone him to death if he didn’t stop acting like a five-year-old with a skin rash.
Many Democrats of dubious standing also clamored to partake of this new Era of Good Feeling. So-called Blue Dog Democrats in the House, who have been trying for many months to play both sides of the fence while also sitting on it, came out in favor of the resolution. The Blue Dogs issued a statement that said in part, “The American people do not want…” Nobody bothered to record the rest of the statement because everybody knows that the Blue Dogs haven’t the slightest idea what the American people want or don’t want. And also, because nobody cares what the Blue Dogs think or don’t think, say or don’t say, stand for or don’t stand for.
Glenn Beck issued a refreshing statement in which he apologized for being a contemptible scumbag and announced that he was retiring from broadcasting to raise pigs. “I’m going to quit while I’m ahead,” said the now wealthy conservative ranter. “I sense that people are about to catch on that I am the worst kind of hate-mongering, lying phony. Even my mother thinks I’m disgusting and I kind of agree with her.”
Over at MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, the liberal blabber, announced that she was not going to be cute anymore. And her colleague, Keith Olbermann, said that while he intended to continue his arch ways, he was giving up his insufferable “special comments,” having recognized that what was special about them was that they were pompous and embarrassing.
Rush Limbaugh issued a one-sentence statement. It said, “Who the hell is Glenn Beck and who cares if he’s retiring?”
Bill O’Reilly also issued a statement that said, in part, “Who cares what Rush Limbaugh says on the radio? Doesn’t he know that nobody listens to the radio anymore. Hey, Rush, get a life. Join the parade. This is the twenty-first century and you’re just a fat loudmouth with bad breath.”
Limbaugh is said to have issued a response but nobody heard it.
Except for the pecs and the lats and the delts and the abs, this could be John A. Boehner getting made up for a Fox News love-in with Chris Wallace. But actually, Reuters says, it’s just some guy with a severe case of melanin envy getting all pretty for a bodybuilding contest in Tehran.
From the Associated Press:
NEW YORK — The New York Times reported on its website Thursday that federal authorities have decided to indict Roger Clemens on charges of making false statements to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.
What kind of a society indicts a baseball player while Blankenship, Blankfein, Dimon, and Hayward walk free?
It might help if Congress had a sense of humor about itself. Except for Barney Frank, nobody in our estimable House of Representative seems to have the slightest idea how funny they are — funny in a stupid, vulgar sort of way, but funny nonetheless. Congress is the Whoopee Cushion of government. Is that really funny? Well, yes — if you think Whoopee Cushions are funny.
How about the Senate: funny or not funny? Many people insist on seeing the August Body as a serious, deliberative council full of earnest public servants trying to do their best by the voters who sent them there. This is a nice conceit but ignores the obvious fact that the Senate is actually opera buffa. How can any organization that would embrace the likes of Alphonse D’Amato, Strom Thurmond, Mitch McConnell and Joe Lieberman take itself seriously? And let’s not forget John McCain, who used the last presidential contest to develop his considerable skills as a stand-up comic. The Senate is Steve Martin arrow-through-the-head funny. It is Chevy Chase pratfall-funny. It is W.C. Fields child-hating funny. The Senate is a laff riot.
The Supreme Court is something else. It has a distinct sense of humor but it doesn’t play for laughs. The court’s idea of good fun is the practical joke. A good example of what it thinks is funny is its recent ruling that corporations and unions are just the same as private individuals and can contribute as much money as they see fit to political campaigns. This subtly hilarious judgment wiped away the fruits of fifty years of legislative struggle to limit the influence of money on American politics.
The ruling on campaign contributions was a fine example of high judicial humor, the kind of well-planned prank that brings that creepy smile to John Roberts’s lips. But this stunt, however amusing, was as nothing compared to the ruling of the Rehnquist Court that gave the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush. Now that was funny. And it was funny in a way that goes on being funny. It is still funny to the young soldiers who were blinded or lost their legs in Dubya’s Arabian adventure, itself quite a good joke. Of course we’ll never know if the thousands of soldiers who have been killed in Iraq saw the fun in it, but we can say that they would never have had the ultimate comic opportunity without the help of the Supreme Court.
This brings us to some interesting questions. Who is the funniest Supreme Court justice? John Roberts? Sam Alito? Clarence Thomas? Thomas held the title for years, but competition arrived with the appointment of Roberts and then Alito, both of whom are knee-slapping, gut-wrenching, tears-starting hilarious. Most court-watchers believe that Thomas has been eclipsed by the two newer justices not only because they are funnier but because he has run his one joke into the ground. After twenty-some years, nobody thinks a judge acting like a moron is amusing.
On the other hand, Roberts and Alito, the Abbott and Costello of the court, are not only the funniest of the justices, they are the smartest. Roberts, it is said, is so smart he will have nothing to do with any of the other justices except Alito and Scalia. Alito and Scalia are so smart they know how they are going to rule in a case without reading briefs, researching the law or listening to arguments. Roberts follows much the same judicial method.
Remarkably, they always agree, although they express their opinions in different ways. Alito shows delight by scowling while Scalia revels in judicial bad manners, interrupting and insulting the lawyers who appear before the court. Roberts smiles in a way that suggests that a small dog is biting his ankles under his robe. Laurel and Hardy were never better than this, perhaps because they lacked the nuanced comic depth one can only acquire at Harvard and Yale law school.
Our pals from the Republican right and the craven Democratic middle of Congress, not content with their recent abasement before the NRA, are now lubing us up for the auto dealers:
There are 18,000 auto dealerships that make loans, and according to the studies of consumer advocates, they often do so using deceptive and predatory practices. Most dealerships do not directly provide the credit for borrowers; they grant a loan and then resell it to another financial company. Often, the dealership charges the borrower a higher rate than the creditor requires — keeping the difference between what the car buyer pays in and the financial company takes back as a kickback. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, those kickbacks make auto dealerships $20 billion a year.
Many dealers offer subprime car loans for borrowers with tarnished or no credit, meaning sometimes that borrowers pay more than twice the value of their car. They use bait-and-switch scams, changing financing terms after the deal is made. One in four borrowers who made less than $25,000 was scammed last year, and one in eight making less than $40,000 a year. People of color are more likely to get bad loan terms. The CRL found that more than half of black borrowers were charged kickbacks, compared with 31 percent of white borrowers.
But they won’t. President Obama has walked back his promise to veto the bill if auto dealers are exempted. And yesterday, House and Senate negotiators agreed to exempt them. “The political reality is that those of us who have fought against an auto dealer carve-out can’t prevail,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said…
Details on the exemption are here. Read ’em and weep.
Since I had never visited Washington D. C., and now knew several people in the new Kennedy Administration, I took the train down to spend a week there… They were tremendously excited by their new jobs, but as I spent time with them, I grew more and more uneasy. It was all a bit like the court at Versailles under the ancien régime. There was a great deal of gossip, and a constant anxiety about the thoughts, the feelings, the preferences, the moods of one person, the President.
When I went over to the Capitol to take a look at Congress, my view of the government changed entirely. I spent several days in the visitors’ gallery of the Senate, watching debates and votes… I watched with great amusement as Everett Dirksen [shown below] protested his love of duck hunting and hunters, imitating to great effect a duck settling onto a pond at sunset. Apparently the government had imposed a tax on duck hunting in order to raise money for wetlands preservation, and then had used the money to drain swamps for development…
I watched the great maverick, Wayne Morse, bellow to an empty chamber that he was not going to kowtow to the Catholic Church, with regard to what I can no longer recall. And I watched as all but two of the senators came to the floor to vote on the renewal of the Civil Rights Commission.
What attracted me so greatly was the fact that each of these men and women was an independent person, beholden only to his or her constituents, and not subservient to the President, regardless of how charismatic and powerful he might be.
These were men and women with honor, not servile courtiers hoping to be given pride of place on a balcony or in a presidential jet. Exactly the same sentiments welled up in me as I watch octogenarian Robert Byrd deliver speech after speech calling George W. Bush to account for the damage he did to the U. S. Constitution.
It was fun visiting Marc Raskin in the Executive Office Building, and listening to the rumors about Kennedy and Marc’s secretary, Diane DeVegh. It was interesting hearing Dick Barnet talk about the inside story at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
But it was ennobling to watch the debates on the floor of the Senate. I think it was that week in a hot Washington summer, rather than any of the books I had read, that once for all time soured me on the Imperial Presidency.
The Cato Institute is a libertarian “think tank” in Washington. Yesterday it hosted a panel led by Grover Norquist, who thinks. His principal thought so far, the one for which he will be remembered once he is finally gathered into the loving arms of Ayn Rand, is this: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Another Norquist thought, posssibly related: “When I became 21, I decided that nobody learned anything about politics after the age of 21.”
From the Cato Institute website:
In a Thursday panel at Cato on conservatism and war, U.S. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and John Duncan (R-Tenn.) revealed that the vast majority of GOP members of Congress now think it was wrong for the U.S. to invade Iraq in 2003.
The discussion was moderated by Grover Norquist, who asked the congressmen how many of their colleagues now think the war was a mistake.
Rohrabacher: “I will say that the decision to go in, in retrospect, almost all of us think that was a horrible mistake … Now that we know that it cost a trillion dollars, and all of these years, and all of these lives, and all of this blood … all I can say is everyone I know thinks it was a mistake to go in now.”
McClintock: “I think everyone [in Congress] would agree that Iraq was a mistake.”
Following this revelation virtually every Republican in Congress and most of the Democrats disemboweled themselves on the steps of the Capitol. Just kidding. The American language has no word for “shame.”
Unlike most of us who have been sounding off on the matter, Papa Bonk actually knows the man who recently became his former congressman: Eric Massa. Therefore attention must be paid:
The real tragedy of Eric Massa (who I know personally) is that he was a damn good congressman, a hard working Progressive who took principled stands on tough issues… like Afghanistan and single payer health care. He, like Larry Craig, is in many ways a victim of a culture that causes many citizens to suppress their true selves. If Eric Massa ran again as a gay man I would be there running with him.
Eric made a few big mistakes in bowing out … pointing fingers at Nancy and Rahm, for example. But he also pulled off a major coup … getting on Glennn’s Moron Show for an entire hour. Once inside the viper’s nest, he gave Beck nothing useful and managed to score a couple of points.
He said a good first step towards fixing Washington’s problems would be for the GOOP to stop lying about the facts. He also suggested there would be no real solutions until we had real campaign finance reform. No one has ever been able to say anything quite so true on Fox News without being censored or shouted down. Beck, who is preprogrammed by his handlers to spew fascist silliness for hours at a time … was left speechless.
…Do we want to live in a country in which the fortunate (medically speaking) accept additional insurance costs in order to provide for the unfortunate? Or do we wish to live in a country in which the fortunate are permitted to separate what happens to them from what happens to the unfortunate? Notice that by “fortunate” and “unfortunate” I do not mean “those who do not get sick” and “those who do get sick.” That would be looking at the matter ex post. I mean by fortunate “those less less likely ex ante to get sick,” and by “unfortunate” I mean “those more likely ex ante to get sick.” We are still talking probabilities here, of course. Even the young and healthy sometimes get cancer and have heart attacks. They just do so much less often. And by the same token, even multiple cancer sufferers sometimes go cancer free for the rest of their lives. But that too occurs much less often.
When we clear away all the bafflegab, all the confusion, all the posturing and bickering and procedural wrangling, all the political maneuvering, what we find is that the Democrats want America to be a country in which the fortunate shoulder some of the burdens of the unfortunate. And the Republicans want America to be a country in which they do not. In short, if I may put it this way, the Democrats want America to be a Christian country, and the Republicans want America to be a Godless country…
The flurry of stories about finally putting the health insurance under the antitrust laws like everybody else have left me puzzled. How could such an outrage have been going on since 1945 without anybody noticing? And by anybody, I mean me.
Here’s the answer, taken from an excellent story by Matthew Perrone of the Associated Press:
But industry analysts say courts have long limited the scope of the exemption to allow federal regulators to intervene in instances where competition could be jeopardized. They note the law has never stopped regulators at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission from intervening in a merger or acquisition.
In practice, the exemption from federal antitrust laws mainly allows insurers to share data on payments and risk ratings — a useful collaboration among life and casualty insurers. But Wall Street analysts point out that giant health insurance companies like Humana, Wellpoint Inc. and UnitedHealth Group have little need to share data, thanks to their national size and scope.
“While the threat to repeal the exemption makes for good headlines, we can’t really see how it alters the business for the established publicly traded players,” wrote JPMorgan analyst John Rex in a note to investors.
With 94 percent of U.S. health insurance markets meeting the Justice Department standards for “highly concentrated” — meaning dominant insurers face little competition — most academics agree reform is needed. But they point out that federal regulators could have prevented much of that concentration under existing law.
Since 1996, the federal government has cleared 400 mergers in the health insurance field, according to the American Medical Association.
The Washington attorney who brought this to my attention was full of admiration. “Terrific politically,” he said. “Scores major PR points without the need to risk any substantive change. Bill Clinton would have loved it.”
From the Washington Post:
— An Oct. 16 Metro article about the funeral of Capt. Mark R. McDowell, who was killed in July while serving in Afghanistan, misstated the name of one of the medals he received. McDowell was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal, not the Air Force Accommodation Medal.
(The Accommodation Medal went to the Senate Democratic majority for its work on the health reform bill.)
From David Sirota. Sounds about right to me:
So the notion that Snowe’s vote — or any GOP vote — is inherently pivotal to health care reform is a fantasy created by the Beltway media and the Democratic congressional leadership. The former is desperately trying to manufacture headline-grabbing drama; the latter is looking for a Republican excuse to water down the bill and protect corporate interests — all while absolving Democrats of legislative responsibility…
Who needs the Mafia when we’ve got Congress? Here’s a taste from William Greider. Go read it all in The Nation.
The much-celebrated “Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights” is a fresh example of how the Democratic Party tries to have it both ways — avoiding the tough votes while mollifying the folks. The credit card reform measure imposes new rules on the industry and does away with many of the most outrageous gimmicks bankers use to extract more money from debtors. Banks cannot raise interest rates retroactively on old credit card balances or pile on hidden fees or fail to give advance notice for rate increases. These and other changes are worthy.
The achievement seems less courageous if you know that Congress was largely ratifying the regulatory rules already adopted by the Federal Reserve last year. Or that the legislation gives the industry another nine months to gouge their customers before the new rules go into effect. Or that Visa and MasterCard, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase are free to raise future interest rates to the sky — without limit. That is the industry’s intention, as bank lobbyists reported after the bill was passed.
One of the fundamental issues that party managers wished to avoid was the scandal of American usury. Usury is the ancient sin of charging inflated interest rates sure to ruin the borrowers. It is considered immoral by Judaism, Christianity and Islam because usury involves the powerful using their wealth to ensnare weak and defenseless borrowers. The classic usurer offers an impossible choice that debtors cannot easily refuse. If they reject the terms of the loan, they will not be able to pay the rent or buy necessities. If they accept the usurious interest rates, their debts will accumulate until they are bankrupted (at which point the creditors claim their property). No civilized society can endure in such conditions.
Usury used to be illegal in the United States but it was “decriminalized” in 1980 — the dawn of financial deregulation. A Democratic president and Congress repealed all interest-rate controls and the federal law prohibiting usury. Thirty years later, American society is permeated with usurious practices — credit cards charging 30 percent and higher, subprime mortgages and other forms of predatory lending, the notorious “payday” loans that charge desperate working people an effective interest rate of 500 percent or more. Businesses, especially smaller firms, are also prey to usury in less direct ways…
This will be all over the news, of course, but I can’t resist putting it up. Fascinating and truly, truly important. Heute Specter, Morgen die Franken, as Hitler used to say. Well, something like that anyway.
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Veteran Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter told colleagues Tuesday that he switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party, Sen. Harry Reid says.
The Specter party switch would give Democrats a filibuster-proof Senate majority of 60 seats if Al Franken holds his current lead in the disputed Minnesota Senate race.
“Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right,” Specter said in a statement posted by his office on PoliticsPA.com.
“Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”
Friends of Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing, are petitioning Congress to honor his life’s work. They’re shooting for 10,000 signatures, and as of this moment (they’ve just started) there’s only 659. So add yours. From the petition:
Following what appeared to be a routine cold and congestion, the man who spent his life envisioning a world without shacks entered just such a place with his Lord suddenly on February 3, 2009, to the unspeakable grief of his family, friends, and supporters around the world. He was buried at Koinonia Farm within 36 hours of his death as hundreds of supporters around the world flew or drove in overnight to celebrate his life.
A simple wooden grave marker made of pecan wood read, “Like he told Clarence, ‘You made it, Millard! You made it.’ Faithful to the end.”
Among other songs, those gathered sang “Happy Birthday” to Millard and steadfastly determined to carry on his life’s work until his vision of a world with no more shacks reaches completion.
From Brady Bonk, at Ketchup Is a Vegetable:
Allow me to once again paraphrase one of my moonbat radio talkers, Thom Hartmann, for an excellent point he made yesterday.
It is a misconstrued myth that passage of anything in the Senate requires 60 votes or more. That magic number is actually a simple majority: 51. What requires 60 votes is a procedural vote known as cloture, a call to question, which means, essentially, “shut up and vote.” Though, as Senate rules stand, it doesn’t actually mean that.
Senate Rule 22 allows for a “procedural” filibuster, by which senators can simply declare a filibuster but do not have to stand and speak to maintain said filibuster. This is fine except in the case where the pain-in-the-ass minority party applies the filibuster to everything and anything, to the point where the expectation is that you must have 60 votes or more secured to accomplish anything.
This is a situation that saps democracy. Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid needs to force filibustering senators to talk, something he can do by just waving his magic wand. Otherwise, there’s just an expectation that any legislation requires a supermajority vote.
Steve Benen says:
Once in a while, a politician drops the pretense and lets his true colors come through. In this brief interview, Dick Armey, perhaps best known for calling his then-colleague Barney Frank "Barney Fag," showed just what he's made of, before a national television audience.
Here’s the silver-tongued former House Majority Leader on Hardball, debating Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com:
Already we’re notified that we’ve elected another DLC clone. How will the true believers explain Obama’s request that the most hypocritical member of the Senate retain the post he’s used to help the scummiest administration in history?
Is there a level of dishonesty that would embarrass Nancy Pelosi? It appears not.
Asked whether she classified herself as a “Washington insider” at a briefing sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Pelosi answered, “Oh, absolutely not. No.”
Who could possibly imagine that a mere 22 years in Congress made the daughter of a “prominent Maryland political family” part of the system? Just because she’s spent her time as Speaker of the House making sure Bush and Cheney get everything they want?
Pressed for an explanation, Pelosi said that being an insider is about a person’s “state of mind,” not their tenure in politics.
“Inside, outside — you have to know the territory so you can work it, but you never become a part of it”, she said.
This kind of dishonesty with herself helps us understand why she’s been so dishonest with us.
Cindy Sheehan for Congress! Honesty, for a change.
This just in:
“The executive’s current claim of absolute immunity from compelled Congressional process for senior presidential aides is without any support in the case law,” Judge John D. Bates ruled in United States District Court here.
Unless overturned on appeal, a former White House counsel, Harriet E. Miers, and the current White House chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, would be required to cooperate with the House Judiciary Committee, which has been investigating the controversial dismissal of the federal prosecutors in 2006.
Judge Bates, a Bush appointee, has hitherto stayed loyally on the reservation. Chief Justice John G. Roberts even appointed him to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2006 to replace a judge who resigned after learning that Bush had been been illegally bypassing FISA for years.
Apparently Judge Bates is not so picky that he won’t serve on a rubber-stamp court. But it turns out he draws the line, thank you Lord, at the idea of turning Congress too into a rubber stamp.
Bates is likely to be reversed on appeal, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia having been systematically packed with GOP hacks for decades. (Its chief judge is David B. Sentelle, of blessed memory for siccing Kenneth Starr on Clinton and overturning the felony convictions of Oliver North and John Poindexter.)
Or the whole can of worms could easily be kicked down the road until the election is past. Or the case could be fast-tracked to the Supreme Court where it would be sure to receive the same sort of rough frontier justice meted out to Al Gore in 2000.
But still, but still. We strict constructionists must content ourselves with the occasional crumbs thrown to us by judges who legislate from the bench. Thus it is encouraging to see that at least one Bush appointee wants to put a leash, however flimsy, on Little Caesar’s imperium.
Chris Dodd is mad as hell and he isn’t going to take it anymore. In a speech yesterday, the senator from Connecticut started out attacking Bush’s plan to issue a get-out-of-jail card to the telecom companies who helped Bush to spy illegally on us all.
But he went on to attack Bush’s contempt for the entire rule of law, which exceeds even that of Richard Nixon. Here are excerpts, but do read or listen to the whole magnificent screed here.
So, why are we here? Because, Mr. President – it is alleged that giant telecom corporations worked with our government to compile Americans’ private, domestic communications records into a database of enormous scale and scope.
Secretly and without a warrant, those corporations are alleged to have spied on their own customers – American customers.
Here’s only one of the most egregious examples. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Clear, first-hand whistleblower documentary evidence [states]…that for year on end every e-mail, every text message, and every phone call carried over the massive fiber-optic links of 16 separate companies routed through AT&T’s Internet hub in San Francisco — hundreds of millions of private, domestic communications — have been…copied in their entirety by AT&T and knowingly diverted wholesale by means of multiple “splitters” into a secret room controlled exclusively by the NSA…
A prisoner at Guantanamo — to take one example out of hundreds — was deprived of sleep over 55 days, a month and three weeks. Some nights, he was doused with water or blasted with air conditioning. And after week after week of this delirious, shivering wakefulness, on the verge of death from hypothermia, doctors strapped him to a chair — doctors, healers who took the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm”— pumped him full of three bags of medical saline, brought him back from death — and sent him back to his interrogators…
Barney Frank is known for a lot of things. The most prominent gay member of Congress, he’s now the chairman of the Financial Services Committee. In his 14th term in the House, he made a kind of splash by appearing, without smiling, on The Colbert Report, a non-trivial accomplishment in itself.
But he does have quite a sense of humor, as the Times reports.
Between an economic stimulus package and the Federal Reserve’s rescue of Wall Street, he said, “they [the Bush administration] have been pushed into accepting a lot of government help for the market.”
“People aren’t good at doing things they dislike,” he added.
Then, in a flash of trademark wit, he said that asking the White House to support more government intervention was “like asking me to judge the Miss America contest — if your heart’s not in it, you don’t do a very good job.”
In addition, he can make a deal. And with this group of Republicans, that’s saying quite a lot.
Within the administration, where some high-level officials privately refer to him as “scary smart,” no one is underestimating him. After the House approved his bill on Thursday, though without enough votes to override a veto, Mr. Frank quickly went on the offensive, seeking to undercut the administration’s argument that homeowners in trouble should have known better.
“No dumb people got America into this problem,” he snapped. “You had to be really smart to understand collateralized debt obligation derivatives.”
Mr. Frank, who holds degrees from Harvard and Harvard Law School, understands collateralized debt obligations.
What vexes the administration, at times, is that he also holds strong liberal feelings about what he views as the government’s top obligations — to aid the poor and protect victims of discrimination, to police the markets and, in the case of as many as two million Americans at risk of losing their homes, to offer a helping hand if one is needed.
Really! I mean, can you imagine anything more distressing? By definition, if people are in need, they don’t deserve help. Only Wall Street, the weapons manufacturers, and the drug companies should get assistance from the government; everyone else is on his or her own.
“Barney has been very fair,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California and one of the most conservative members of the House. “I think that I have been treated more fairly, and a number of my Republican colleagues have been treated more fairly, since the Democrats have become the majority than I was treated by my own leadership.”
Mr. Frank politely interjected, “I know the gentleman joins me in looking forward to continued years of such treatment.”
Such friendly banter was a far cry from the day in 1995 when Representative Dick Armey of Texas, the Republican majority leader, referred to him as “Barney Fag” in a radio interview.
Ah, the subtlety and intelligence of the Texas Congressman.