Saturday, February 28, 2015

Kicking the Can Down the Road

Well at least John Boehner managed to get a stay of execution. With the DHS set to shut down at midnight, the House passed a one-week funding extension. In other words, they kicked the can down the road. Unable to muster the votes needed to get a three-week extension and fearful that putting the Senate bill to an up and down vote would mean the end of his speakership, Boehner, with the help of House Democrats, bought some time for his conference to come up with an alternate strategy.

Of course the problem for him and House leadership is that any such alternate strategy has zero chance of passing both houses. For starters, he'll need House Democrats to vote for it - not likely; then, assuming it passes, he'll have to hope that Senate Democrats don't filibuster it like they did on the last funding bill the House passed - even more unlikely.  Like it or not, Boehner's only real choice is to cave and allow the Senate bill to come to a vote.

To underscore the bind that Boehner is in, minority leader Nancy Pelosi instructed her caucus to vote "no" on the three-week extension, but then vote "yes" on the one-week extension. The first vote failed  203 - 224; the second passed 357 - 60. Even with the largest majority in 80 years, the beleagered Speaker still can't pass legislation without his Democratic assistance.

My guess here is that, after a lot of haranguing, Republicans will swallow hard and capitulate to a clean funding bill. Showboating aside, leadership doesn't have the stomach for a repeat of 2013. There are just enough of them who remember the beating they took. Peter King was quite, shall we say, eloquent in his thoughts. "I've had it with this self-righteous delusional wing of the party that leads us over the cliff."

The real question is what happens to Boehner. Does he survive or is he ousted? My gut tells me that he will survive. Not because he's popular with the base - far from it - but because a successor is unlikely to gather the needed votes to capture the position.  And, let's face it, after watching the beating Boehner has taken the last four years, who in their right mind would want the job?

Of course the term "right mind" is the major issue for the GOP. Let's not forget, Boehner barely got reelected as speaker this year - 25 members of his conference voted against him, forcing a second round vote for the first time since 1923. And that was after a resounding Republican wave in November. Just imagine what will happen once the GOP finally caves here. What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall inside that room.

I have to admit, I'm enjoying this shit. It's been a real hoot watching this comedy show masquerading as a political party.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mitch McConnell Punts It Back To The House

I'll say this for Mitch McConnell: He may be a hypocritical hack with the spine of a worm, but he can count. He knew he didn't have the votes to get the House's ridiculous DHS funding bill through the Senate. Democrats successfully stopped him four times; they were prepared to stop him forty times if need be. With the deadline for passing a funding bill rapidly approaching and a shutdown of the department imminent, he needed a way out of the jam his counterpart John Boehner put him in.

So he did what any politician would do: he punted the ball back to the House. As we speak, the Senate has just voted 98 - 2 to allow a clean funding bill to be brought to the floor. As soon as that bill is passed, the Senate will then vote up and down on President Obama's executive action on immigration. Democrats get what they want: a clean funding bill and Republicans get what they want: a chance to alienate yet more Hispanics.

Assuming both make it through both chambers, Obama will sign the former and veto the latter. I say assuming because the real hurdle is going to be the House or, more to the point, reluctant leader John Boehner, whose speakership may be hanging on how he proceeds. There is little doubt that if the Senate bill were given a straight up and down vote vote it would pass. Virtually every Democrat would vote for it and there are still enough sane Republicans left to push it across the finish line. It's the other unhinged Republicans that Boehner is worried about. They have made it abundantly clear that no funding bill can pass that doesn't strip Darth Vader (er, Obama) of his "unlawful actions." If Boehner were to acquiesce to common sense - unheard of in GOP land - he would be finished as Speaker in all likelihood.

Yet that is the fate that apparently awaits him. For the last few days Boehner has been insisting that the ball is now in the Senate's court. "It's time for them to do their job," he has been quoted as saying. Well, guess what? The new majority leader finally heard him. There is no way McConnell is going to tolerate a repeat of the 2013 shutdown fiasco, not with an election less than two years away and 24 members of his caucus up for reelection. Unlike House Republicans, who hold a commanding majority that isn't likely to be seriously challenged for several election cycles at the very least, Senate Republicans know their majority is precarious. If Democrats net four seats and hold the White House in 2016, McConnell will once again be at the back of the bus with Harry Reid at the wheel. You can bet the ranch he's going to do everything humanly possible not to let that happen, even if it means pissing off his base.

We'll soon know how all this plays out. Will Boehner have the stomach to stand up to the Tea Party loonies in his conference or will we once more be forced to go through this silly dance. This much is certain: in the White House, they are enjoying the sight of a divided Republican leadership going at it. This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. The GOP was supposed to be unified and running the show and Democrats were supposed to be in disarray and in retreat.

So much for that plan.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

John Boehner's Dangerous Game of Chicken

Some people never learn from their mistakes. People like John Boehner. A little over a year ago the Speaker of the House allowed a small faction of his conference to shut down the government and force a near debt-ceiling default over funding of the Affordable Care Act. It was a tremendous political blunder that accomplished nothing. The law went into effect and Republicans were rightly blamed for the stunt.

On February 27th, funding for the Department of Homeland Security will expire unless Congress passes a bill to fund it. The House has passed a bill doing just that. There's just one little problem: the funding bill strips President Obama of his authority to issue executive orders on immigration.

Both the White House and Senate Democrats have called for a clean funding bill. Even some Republicans are expressing concern over this game of chicken by the Speaker.  Former Homeland Security Chairman Peter King believes the GOP will be held accountable if the agency gets shut down. "We control the House and Senate; Americans know that we caused the last government shutdown, so we have a lasting specter of Ted Cruz hanging over us."

King's frustration over his party's antics is nothing new, and he's not alone. He, along with a few brave souls, criticized the Tea Party-led shutdown of 2013, all for naught. The simple truth is that Boehner and House leadership are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they do the responsible thing and pass a clean funding bill, they'll be skewered by the far Right; if they cow-tow to the extremist elements in the Party, they run the risk of defunding the agency tasked with protecting the country from a possible terrorist attack. If you thought nearly defaulting on the good faith and credit of the United States was bad, try another 9/11 on for size.

With the Paris attacks barely a month old, Boehner is embarking on the biggest gamble of his political life. He is counting on Obama and the Democrats to cave at the eleventh hour and give into his demands. But, just like in 2013, Senate Democrats are united. They are blocking Mitch McConnell from bringing the House bill to a vote.

Someone is going to have to blink first in this game of chicken and once more it looks as though it will be the Republicans. The only question is whether Boehner will come to his senses before the 27th. If he doesn't, and the nation is attacked, the GOP can kiss the 2016 election goodbye. While most Americans have forgotten how close the country came to defaulting on its debt, more than thirteen years later the image of the twin towers burning and collapsing is still etched in their collective consciousness.

It will be a very, very long time before they forgive the GOP should history repeat itself.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's Time To Stop Pussyfooting About Islam

Thomas Friedman is right; so is Bill Maher and Sam Harris. There's something within the religion of Islam that runs counter to the values of a pluralistic society and is inimical to the very freedoms liberals claim to champion most and it's high time for them to wake up and stop being hypocrites.

This is what Friedman recently wrote in The New York Times:

"When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. And this [Obama] administration, so fearful of being accused of Islamaphobia, is refusing to make any link to radical Islam from the recent explosions of violence against civilians (most of them Muslims) by Boko Haram in Nigeria, by the Taliban in Pakistan, by Al Qaeda in Paris and by jihadists in Yemen and Iraq. We’ve entered the theater of the absurd."

On Bill Maher's Real Time show on HBO, Maher and author Sam Stein got into a fierce back and forth with Ben Affleck over the faith with Stein calling Islam "the mother load of bad ideas."

"The crucial point of confusion is that we have been sold this meme of Islamaphobia where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people and that is intellectually ridiculous."

It's also intellectually dishonest. Let's cut to the chase. Progressives can't have it both ways. We can't vehemently defend the right of women to earn equal pay for equal work and to have control of their own bodies while at the same time turning a blind eye to the atrocities that are committed against them on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis in the Islamic world. It isn't just hypocritical; it's obscene. We can't defend the right of free speech yet ignore the very sad and salient point that those who criticize the prophet Muhammad are considered heretics who must be put to death. It has been more than twenty-five years since Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses and to this day the fatwa on his life remains in place. In a 2005 oped piece in The Times, he wrote:

"What is needed is a move beyond tradition, nothing less than a reform movement to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age, a Muslim Reformation to combat not only the jihadist ideologues but also the dusty, stifling seminaries of the traditionalists, throwing open the windows to let in much-needed fresh air. (…) It is high time, for starters, that Muslims were able to study the revelation of their religion as an event inside history, not supernaturally above it. (…) Broad-mindedness is related to tolerance; open-mindedness is the sibling of peace."

Islam's basic problem is not unlike the one that both Judaism and Christianity went through in their early days. Those who challenged the established orthodoxy of either faith took their lives into their own hands. A woman cold be stoned for the "crime" of being an adulteress. Indeed the crucifixion of Jesus came about because he was perceived to be a heretic by the religious leaders of his time. The Spanish Inquisition, one could argue, was simply the precursor to the current practice in many Islamic countries. Those who did not convert to Christianity were put to death.

Today few if any Jews take seriously the book of Leviticus. And Christianity, since the days of the Protestant Reformation, has become a far more tolerant and far less insular religion. Scholars are free to argue various points on scripture without the threat of reprisal. And while many conservative Christians continue to hold ignorant and unbiblical views, to the best of my knowledge none of them have flown a plane into a skyscraper or attacked a shopping mall.

At my own Bible study, I have often butted heads with some of my fellow believers, most notably on whether certain verses in the Bible - particularly those in Genesis that deal with how old the Earth is - should be taken literally. While the discussion has been passionate, not once have I ever left the group fearing for my life.

This is simply not the case throughout most of the Islamic world. To the vast majority of Muslims, the Koran is the divine revelation of God to his prophet Muhammad. The consequences for those who question any part of it are considerable. In Pakistan, for instance, a judge was forced to flee the country after he sentenced a man to death for the crime of murdering someone who had publicly questioned the country's blasphemy law. In Saudi Arabia, a blogger was sentenced to ten years in prison and one thousand lashes for simply promoting the concept of free speech.

Some would argue that these examples are the exception to the rule. I beg to differ. Yes, I agree that not all Muslims are violent or support atrocities like the terrorist attack recently carried out in Paris. And I'll also stipulate that the vast majority of them were appalled by the 9/11 attacks. But the 800 pound gorilla in the room that most of the faith's apologists - namely liberals - refuse to acknowledge is that the very precepts of Islam require its adherents to hold the kind of extremist views that are at the very heart of the problem and have become the springboard for groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda.

It is not Islamaphobic to criticize Islam, nor is criticizing it analogous to calling a Jew shifty or an African American lazy as Ben Affleck alluded to. There is no truth in the assertion that Jews are shifty or that blacks are lazy and to infer as much is the very definition of racism. There is, however, much truth to the assertion that Islam, in its present form, is an extremely volatile and insular religion that posses a serious threat to the security of most of the free world.

It is the height of naivety to dismiss the events unfolding in the Middle East as simply the byproduct of a few rotten apples. As Bill Maher aptly put it, “When there’s this many bad apples, there’s something wrong with the orchard.”

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Obama's Long Game

Forget for a moment the lofty proposals the President laid out in his State of the Union address - none of which have an ice cube's chance in hell of becoming law. Forget also his overly optimistic view of events unfolding in the Middle East that had even his supporters shaking their heads and wondering if he may have accidentally gotten too close to one of those Colorado pot shops.

This wasn't about policy initiatives or ISIS or even this year. For all intents and purposes 2015 is toast. With the exception of a trade agreement that Republicans will be all too willing to give him, it will be a herculean task to get anything north of a ham sandwich through this Congress that he won't veto. And frankly, I have my doubts about the ham sandwich.

Let's face it: Republicans loathe him and have ever since he was elected in 2008. For the last six years they've made it their life's mission to obstruct him at every turn and for the last four of those years they've been quite successful. What's different is that for the first time in his presidency he finally gets this. Want proof? Look no further than the bitch slap he laid on them when after they applauded his statement that he had no more campaigns to run, he snidely countered, "I know 'cause I won both of 'em."


For most of his presidency, Obama has been the adult in the room, seeking consensus and tolerating just about every imaginable barb and sling thrown at him, some beyond the pale. And what did it get him? Two staggering midterm losses, that's what. Virtually every major policy accomplishment he has had occurred in his first two years in office. Since then he has been fighting on his opponents' turf. His only victory - apart from winning reelection in 2012 - was the self-inflicted wound Republicans suffered when they shut the government down trying to keep his healthcare law from being implemented. But that was like shooting fish in a barrel. Opportunities like that don't grow on trees, even against a party as inept as the GOP.

And while Obama did his level-headed best to find common ground, his base stewed. Last November, they voiced their displeasure by staying home. Result? Bye, bye Senate. The message couldn't have been clearer. You want our vote, give us something to vote for. Credit Obama this much: he took the hint.

Ever since that shellacking he's been on the offensive. Far from behaving like the cowed president the GOP had hoped for, he's been assertive and throwing around his weight. Even before Mitch McConnell had the chance to begin his tenure as majority leader, Obama had signed an executive order on immigration, reached an accord with China on greenhouse emissions and announced an end to the Cuban embargo.

Last Tuesday, he used the bulk of his State of the Union address to serve notice to the GOP that he was done being the nice guy. He couldn't have been plainer: Work with me and together we can accomplish some things. Send me bills I don't like and my veto pen is going to get a work out.

But more than that, he laid out the Democratic strategy going into 2016. He redefined what the issues are going to be. No more austerity and supply-side drivel. The core issue for the next two years is going to be the middle class, the middle class, the middle class. He's done playing on his opponents' turf by their rules. From now on, it's my ball, my court, my rules.

I like this Obama much more than the old Obama. He's got his dander up.  Good for him. It's about damn time.  Know who else likes this new and improved Obama more? The public. His approval numbers since last November have steadily risen. He's now polling around 48 percent, just a notch below where it was when he won reelection in 2012. People like it when their leaders lead.

Don't think for a moment that Republicans haven't noticed the turnaround. They're acting like kids who just discovered their parents came home earlier than expected. After pretending the middle class didn't even exist, all of sudden they can't say middle class enough. Even Thurston Howell III - aka Mitt Romney - has gotten on the band wagon. That's right, Mr. 47 percent video himself is practically in tears over the plight of this "beloved" group.

It should be real interesting - not to mention hysterical - listening to Republicans articulate a vision to help a class they've been fucking for the better part of the last three decades. I can hardly wait for dear old Mitt, or Paul Ryan or Jeb or Rand Paul to explain how giving away trillions of dollars to the wealthiest people on the planet who already don't pay their fair share will somehow magically trickle down and revive the down trodden, especially when that con game has been played twice before and to scathing reviews.

Even without Obama going all Shaft on their asses, it was becoming clear that the GOP was running out of steam on the old "blame Obama for the shitty economy" line. Fact is, the economy isn't all that bad. Unemployment is at the lowest it's been in a decade, the Dow has tripled in value since '09 and the economy is growing at its fastest rate since the '90s. Face it, if they couldn't sell doom and gloom in 2012, they sure as hell weren't going to sell it in 2016. The problem with rooting for the fire is that sooner or later the fire gets put out. Oh, and the plan B story about "yes, the economy is doing better but Obama had nothing to do with it," wasn't going anywhere either. People may be stupid, but they're not THAT stupid. Even those who had honest disagreements with Obama on strategy clearly saw a party about as interested in helping revive the economy as a straight man wanting to attend a showing of La Cage aux Folles.

If Obama and the Democrats don't screw this up and once more fumble the ball at the one yard line, they can set the stage for another successful run at the White House, possibly take back the Senate and make inroads in the House. It all comes down to resolve. Can Harry Reid reign in the remaining Blue Dogs in his caucus and keep them from siding with McConnell and the majority? The Keystone Pipeline will be the first litmus test. It will undoubtedly pass and make its way to Obama's desk. But when he vetoes it, will his party back him or will they help to override him? If it's the former, Democrats have a chance; if it's the latter, it's game, set and match.

Think about it: if Democrats can't stand up to something as phony and transparent as a pipeline that promises 35 permanent jobs, how the hell are they going to hold fort on bigger issues like women's rights and the environment? And then there's the GOP master plan to turn the U.S. into a larger version of Kansas. If John Boehner and McConnell ever get the chance to replicate on a national level what Sam Brownback is doing on a state level, you can kiss what's left of the middle class in this country goodbye for a LONG, LONG time.

This is the moment Democrats and, more importantly, progressives have been dreaming about for more than six years. They finally have a president who doesn't have to worry about running for office again, who has finally found his voice and who is willing and able to lead his party forward.  They also have the right issues on their side. Whoever the nominee is - be it Hillary or Elizabeth Warren or whoever - they will have a considerable advantage going into the next election. The right issues, a recovering economy and, hopefully, an energized base will go a long way towards assuring victory.

Now is the time for boldness, not caution. I wrote a while back that Obama's biggest accomplishment in his first two years in office was making sure Republicans didn't destroy the economy. His goal for the last two years will be to make sure they don't get another crack at it. Well, you can add one vary important caveat to that last part.

That is ASSUMING his own party doesn't get in his way.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Hey GOP, It's Obama's Recovery

Well isn't it nice that Republicans are finally acknowledging that the economy is recovering. It only took them about six years. Of course, the credit for this recovery, according to the GOP, comes from their policies and has nothing to do with President Obama. Indeed, the economy improved in spite of Obama, not because of him, they say.

I wasn't aware that standing on the sidewalk, looking up at a burning building, cheering for the fire and then blaming the fire department for not putting it out fast enough was an actual policy, but then I wouldn't have believed that a party which ostensibly said "No" for six years could actually win an election, let alone two.

To sum up, 58 straight months of private sector job growth, unemployment down to 5.6 percent and GDP growth at 5 percent in the third quarter of last year. Pretty impressive and considerably better than Mitt Romney in 2012 promised he'd deliver by the end of his first term. In fact, it could be argued that were it not for the Sequester that Republicans managed to extort from Obama during the 2011 near debt-ceiling default, the recovery would've been even more robust.

How bad is the Republican argument? Without exception, every prediction they made about the economy and how to deal with it has been proven false. First they said the stock market would crash. The Dow is now at the highest it's been in its history. They said unemployment would remain high; its now at its lowest rate in a decade. They said we would have hyper inflation thanks to Fed policies; inflation has fluctuated between 1.4 and 2.1 percent for the last two years. Both the stimulus and auto bailout were a waste of tax payer money.  As far as the stimulus goes, while it may not have been as effective as many would've liked, it nonetheless provided badly needed relief for states - some of them Red - whose budgets were hemorrhaging in the throws of the recession. Without it, the economy might well have fallen off the cliff. Regarding the auto bailout, virtually every economist - liberal AND conservative - has concluded that without it, the auto industry as we know it would not exist. Indeed hundreds of thousands of jobs would have been lost and hundreds of thousands more would never have been created.

When you look at where Europe is, thanks to its love affair with austerity, the U.S. economy by comparison is the envy of the world and the lion's share of the credit belongs to Obama and his policies. That Republicans would even dare to take any credit for this recovery is both comical and offensive. As I mentioned in an earlier piece, Democrats need to push back hard against this meme before it, like every other GOP lie, begins to gain traction.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Does Hillary Have a Bill Problem? Not Nearly as Much as Jeb Has a George Problem

While the country waits for Hillary Clinton to shit or get off the pot, a recent piece by David Frum in the Atlantic raises a potential dilemma for the prohibitive Democratic front runner. That dilemma is her husband.

Frum points out, and correctly so, that if Jeb Bush manages to win the Republican nomination, Democrats "won't let voters forget" that his brother was at the helm when the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression started. And the moment they do that Republicans will be only to happy to point out that the seeds of that crisis were planted during the Clinton years when Glass-Steagall was repealed and regulations that prevented federally insured banks from trading derivatives were either eased or lifted altogether.

There's some truth to this. The Titanic sinking was the greatest maritime disaster of all time. And while most historians rightly focus on the negligent way in which the liner was navigated, the genesis of the disaster actually began a decade earlier when the British Board of Trade opted not to require steamship companies to carry enough lifeboats for all on board. Had the Board revised its regulations, 1,500 people would likely not have frozen to death in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic that fateful night.

But Frum conveniently overlooks the other glaring shortcomings of the Bush presidency: such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the huge tax cuts that turned a $300 billion surplus into a $1.4 trillion deficit. And then there's the approval rating of both men. Bush remains extremely unpopular while Bill is still admired by many. I'm not saying Bill will get a pass; there are a great many people on both ends of the political spectrum that are fed up with the cozy relationship between Washington and Wall Street. And then there's that Monsanto connection. That's a scab just waiting to be picked. But when push comes to shove, I'll bet the mortgage George will have a whole lot more skeletons in his closet than Bill.

And that means in the handicap department, Jeb's got a huge lead over Hillary.