Thursday, July 28, 2011

Now What, Geniuses?!

D-day is almost upon us, and a deal to raise the debt ceiling is still nowhere to be had. This sick, twisted freak show has not only badly tarnished the reputation of the United States, it now threatens to wreak untold carnage on its economy, even if the unthinkable somehow is avoided. The saddest thing of all is that this was and should have been completely avoidable. This wound did not originate from a foreign country, nor from a terrorist group. This wound was self inflicted.

There is plenty of blame to go around in this fiasco, so, if I may, I’d like to do a variation of Dave Lettermen Top Ten segment, only in this case, I will limit it to five. Unlike Letterman, I’ll go from top to bottom; no sense delaying the suspense. Call this an early edition of next month’s “Idiots’ Delight.”

The Top Five Key Players Who Blew Up the Country

1. President Obama: Last week the President had at the very least an understanding between himself and John Boehner – call it a frame work if you will – on what could very well have been the deal that not only would’ve resulted in a debt ceiling increase, but would’ve been substantial enough to appease Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. It had roughly $3 trillion in spending cuts, coupled with roughly $800 billion in revenues (Yes, there was this little problem about whether all of this would come through tax reform, but at least Obama got Boehner to commit to the concept of revenue increases).

And then Obama went back and asked for more revenues - $400 billion – knowing full well Boehner was on thin ice with his base to begin with. Boehner had his out and the President was “left at the alter.” There is an old saying among salesmen: once you get the customer to say “yes,” you shut up and write him up. We’ll never know if Boehner actually had the votes or not – I’m guessing he probably didn’t and he knew that full well – but when you get a Republican, any Republican, to agree to revenue increases you quit while you’re at least tied and take what you can get. Instead he got greedy, a common mistake among many in my profession. Obama badly misread the situation and his blunder might well end up costing the whole nation dearly.

2. John Boehner: Agent Orange deserves much of the blame for the intransigence of his caucus. He is the Speaker of the House; it is his job to lead his party, and for most of his seven months in charge, he has behaved like a referee in a wrestling match, while letting his number two, Eric Cantor, ostensibly run roughshod over him. He has been rebuked and schooled by people who quite frankly aren’t fit to tie his shoes and he has permitted what should have been an orderly march toward a resounding victory for his Party to be turned into a circus, and, in so doing, might well end up presiding over its demise in 2012.

Yes, Obama “moved the goalposts” on him. So what? When someone changes the deal on you, you get back into the ring and change it back. That’s what tough negotiators do. Apparently, Boehner doesn’t have the stomach for a real fight. Only now is he confronting the spoiled brats within his caucus and chiding them to get on board six days late and two and a half trillion dollars short. Maybe if he shed a few more tears he might actually get some sympathy. As things stand now he is earning the wrath of conservatives, liberals and centrists alike, and deservedly so. Worse, his “compromise” won’t even be enough to stave off a downgrade of America’s credit rating, assuming it ever gets out of the House, which I for one am betting it doesn’t.

3. Eric Cantor, A/K/A Benedict Arnold: For most of the last two months, Cantor has been undermining his boss’s authority. During the preliminary discussions between Obama and Boehner, it was Cantor who kept interrupting and, yes, correcting the Speaker on numerous occasions. Can you imagine anyone doing that to Nancy Pelosi? Don’t bothering answering, it’s never been done, at least not in public.

Cantor’s arrogance, disrespect and downright foolishness made it all the more difficult for Boehner to work out a deal with the President when a deal that could’ve been advantageous was at hand. Thanks to his meddling, the Tea Party caucus became even more emboldened and Boehner even less able to effectively lead. Had he stayed out of the way, it is quite possible the nightmare we are watching at this moment could’ve been avoided.

To add insult to injury, now Cantor is rallying Republicans around Boehner’s lame compromise. With friends like this…

4. Timothy Geithner: The treasury secretary made several huge political blunders. The first was to think for even a minute that the Administration was going to get a clean debt-ceiling bill. Given the results of last year’s midterm elections, and the tumultuous atmosphere in Washington, this was the height of naiveté.

But the second blunder was even worse. Geithner did a deplorable job explaining thoroughly just what the debt ceiling issue was. He still has not made clear that the May 16th deadline was, in fact, THE statutory deadline for raising the debt ceiling. Since that date, the treasury has been borrowing monies from various other places in the budget to meet the nation’s obligations.

His error allowed two things to happen: One, it gave the wingnuts on the Right momentum to say that the whole debt ceiling issue was nothing more than a smoke screen, that it wasn’t real and that the Administration could still meet its obligations to pay the debt interest along with social security benefits and veterans pay without defaulting. Two, because of the mixed messages and ambiguous language that came out of Treasury, most Americans didn’t get the distinction, nor for that matter the seriousness of the situation. As late as last week, a majority of people still did not fully understand the ramifications of the pending default. Most of what they heard came from AM talk radio, and almost all of it wrong.

Nice going, Timmy.

5. The Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street, the Koch Brothers, Freedom Works and Fox News: Yes, it’s a five-way tie for fifth place, and believe me, I thought long and hard about making them the first place entrée. Their crime, besides being lying sacks of crap? Collectively, they are all responsible for the elevation of the Tea Party, first to notoriety and then to power. Like the industrialists of the early 1930s in Germany, who thought they could “handle” Hitler, these true ideologues actually believed they could create their own Frankenstein monster, set him loose on the electorate, but still have control over him. Yeah, and I’m foolish enough to believe I will see back to back world series championships from the Mets before I die.

Well, just like in Mary Shelley’s famous novel, the monster has turned on its creator and, in predictable fashion, is terrorizing the village. I predicted this would happen. Once given life, this monstrosity of a movement literally set out to do exactly what it said it was going to do. They are as fearless as they are clueless, defiantly beholden to principles they know little about and totally devoid of any sense of pragmatism. They view compromise as inimical to their cause. And now, they are just days away from bringing the largest and most enduring Democracy to its knees, and with it most of the Western world.

Somewhere, James Madison is spinning in his grave. His warning in Federalist, Number 10 is worth noting here.

“A pure Democracy, by which I mean, a Society, consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the Government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert results from the form of Government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party, or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is, that such Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

The lone silver lining in all this? It comes from a most unlikely source: John McCain. Yes, the man who stuck us with Sarah Palin stood up on the floor of the Senate and gave the best speech he’s probably given in almost ten years, although to be fair, he was quoting a Wall Street Journal editorial for a good chunk of it. This is the good chunk.

“The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against . . . . Barack Obama," McCain said, quoting the Journal piece. "The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the Tea-Party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor. This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell into GOP Senate nominees.”

I have only one question to ask the Senator from Arizona: WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dear Speaker Boehner: An open letter on the debt and the budget

Every once in a while, I check out other blogs and forums to see what my fellow citizens have to say about the issues that matter most to me.  And while I obviously lean to the Left, I do tend to keep an open mind when I stumble upon something I think can add constructively to the dialogue.  I don't know if this letter - posted without permission from the Coffee Party USA website ( - will ever find its way to its intended recipient, but it goes without saying that the words contained in it and the sentiment it expresses are shared by many, both progressive and conservative.

The tendency in politics is to look at both ideological extremes and conclude that they somehow represent the overwhelming majority of the country.  Clearly, from the polls I have been reading, they do not.  I suspect that there is a lot more gray out there than the black and white we've been fed.  This letter is exhibit one, and is proof positive that not everybody who calls themselves a conservative drinks from the same cup of Tea.

House Speaker John Boehner
1011 Longworth H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-6205
(202) 225-0704 fax

Dear Speaker Boehner,

As a Republican, I have followed your handling of the debt ceiling negotiations, and the future of the federal budget, with mounting concern. You appear to be engaged in a game of partisan brinksmanship with our nation’s financial future. Now is not the time for scoring political points or playing to the fantasies of the anti-government libertarian zealots within our Party.

Your handling of the debt ceiling negotiations, and the prior budget proposals advanced in Representative Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity,” makes it clear that the GOP is more concerned with protecting the interests of America’s most wealthy citizens, even to the detriment of the rest of us, and to the common good. For example, it is farcical to frame the debt and the deficit as merely problems of spending — they are, in fact, issues created by both expenditures and revenues. Nor is taking an axe to the federal government an acceptable solution — traditionally, we conservatives have been in favor of a limited government, not an eviscerated one. In the end, we simply have to pay for the services we expect government to provide. As such, a discussion of raising additional revenue — taxes — must be a part of any long-term solution.

Effective tax rates for all income brackets in America are at or near historically low levels. Our corporations benefit from one of the lowest effective rates of taxation in the industrialized world. And yet, under your leadership, Congressional Republicans have dug in their heals and — for the most part — refused to consider closing tax loopholes for big business or, most importantly, raising income tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.

Such a solution, coupled with spending reductions and entitlement reform, is just and equitable. It recognizes two fundamental realities: first, that corporate profits have increased during the present “recovery” even as wages, and hiring, have not. Second, that the top 1% of income earners in America have amassed an increasing share of our nation’s wealth over the past several decades while wages for most Americans have stagnated or declined.

In the Book of Genesis, God famously asked, “Cain, where is your brother Abel?” This question still resonates today — it reminds us of our duty to care for the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and the most marginalized elements in society. Does the Republican Party no longer see any role for government in providing for these groups? That certainly seems to be the case given the spending cuts proposed by Congressman Ryan. While some entitlement reform is necessary, the cuts in Rep. Ryan’s plan amounted to a repudiation of our collective responsibilities towards our fellow citizens. Speaker Boehner, do Congressional Republicans know where their brother Abel is today?

Every American understands that sacrifices are necessary. But sacrifices demand a balancing of benefits and burdens. Is it right and just that those Americans who have benefited the most from the economic growth over the past 30 years and from the recovery should see their burdens lightened in this time of fiscal crisis while those who have benefited the least — average Americans who have seen their jobs outsourced overseas, their wages stagnate or decline, their benefits reduced — are told to carry an additional share? I think the answer is obvious: it is not.

The debt, the deficit, the budget — these are grave matters of huge importance for the future of our nation. The pain created by addressing these issues cannot be disproportionately placed upon the poor, the elderly, and the middle class. Spending cuts and entitlement reform must be coupled with proposals to raise additional revenue and to create a more equitable balancing of the burdens created by the need for budgetary retrenchment and fiscal austerity. The rich can, and must, be asked to make additional sacrifices.

And remember, a political party that ignores the interests of the middle class, that eschews any notion of economic justice or responsibility for the common good, and that imperils the soundness of the public credit in dealing with these issues, faces a problematic future indeed.

Michael Stafford
Republicans for Responsible Reform

Idiots’ Delight

It’s that time again, boys and girls, for our monthly dimwit segment. There will be two winners this month, and I bet you’ll never guess who’s going to get top honors. The second choice, however, was a painful one, but, given what’s happened over the last seven months, it was, nonetheless, a deserving and long overdo honor.

Without further ado, the envelope.

The Republican Party: What else can be said of a Party that has gotten its opponents to capitulate on massive spending cuts – many of which will profoundly impact seniors and the working poor – and yet won’t even consider a scintilla of revenue – even when it will likely come through tax reform and the closing of loopholes? Not much that hasn’t already been said, I’m afraid.

And then, adding insult to injury, this greedy and corrupt body is prepared to shipwreck what’s left of a shaky recovery, plunge the nation into a deep recession (or worse) if they don’t get everything they want. And even if they do get everything, there is still the possibility that the debt-ceiling deniers in the House will block any increase in the debt on purely ideological grounds. My God, four year olds behave with more maturity.

With only days left before the unthinkable happens, and the markets teetering on possible collapse (the Asian markets are already falling, with European markets responding in kind), John Boehner is “working” on a plan to resuscitate the House’s CCB plan (Cut, Cap and Balance) which everyone knows – including Boehner – is DOA in the Senate. As if that wasn’t bad enough, if that pipe dream doesn’t work, Boehner’s Plan-B is to allow a $1 trillion dollar rise in the debt ceiling for $1 trillion in spending cuts. Translation? We get to go through this nightmare again in about six to seven months.

You can’t say you weren’t warned, America, which brings us to our second place winner.

The American People: Well, maybe not all the people; just the ones who voted for the Party of No last November in anger and fear. Like what you see? You should, you helped bring it about. There is an old saying: Never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. You end up buying anything and everything.

Last November, the electorate bought the mother load of all lies: that a party, which was primarily responsible for wrecking the economy and, under two of its more revered presidents, had tripled and then doubled the national debt, was fit to retake the reigns of power once more and safely navigate the country back to a path of prosperity.

Never mind that they had nothing substantive to offer in over two years as a minority party; never mind that the same crap that they were peddling (cut taxes, reduce the size of government, let the private sector do what it does best) had already been tried once under Herbert Hoover with dismal results; never mind that virtually every economist went on record as saying that while long-term debt was a problem, in the short run, the debt was actually helping and not hurting the recovery. All that was superfluous to millions of voters who took out their frustrations on the incumbent party and allowed the proverbial serpent out of its cage and back into the garden.

And now, after cutting off their noses to spite their faces, many of these same voters are starting to realize the gravity of their actions. Like a drunken sailor who wakes up after one of his all-nighters to discover the damage he had caused the night before, all these voters have left is their buyers' remorse as they witness the candidates they gleefully voted in wage a non-stop war of ideology against the middle class, the working poor and the elderly.  Worse, still, these same candidates are now threatening to destroy an entire nation to further their agenda.

It is only now beginning to dawn on these gullible fools that they may have been duped.  Ya think?  In states like Ohio and Wisconsin, a majority of voters polled now say that if the election were held today they would NOT vote for the candidate who won, but rather for the one who lost. Too little, too late, I'm afraid. To coin another well-known phrase: You made your bed, now go lie in it.

Next time have a snack before you go shopping.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Taking “Yes” for an Answer

A famous New York sportscaster, after an abysmal local football team lost one of its games, once said the following: “Out of the jaws of victory, the Giants snatched defeat.”

Who knew that Jerry Girard was such an astute political pundit? More than thirty years after his snide remark, the Republicans have apparently decided to do the very same thing and, like that ill-fated football team, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Really now, let me see if I get this straight. Republicans have gotten over $3 trillion in spending cuts from the Democrats over ten years – the largest such slash in government spending quite possibly since the founding of the Republic – they’ve held onto the Bush tax cuts, which virtually every single economist has admitted have not produced the job growth that was expected and have cost the treasury $4 trillion in lost revenue since they were enacted, and all the Democrats – particularly Obama – are asking for in return is some additional tax revenues – somewhere between $800 billion and $1 trillion – that will largely be gathered through tax code modifications and the closing of loopholes. And the answer from the GOP to this largess is, “No thanks, we’ll pass.” A better than 3 to 1 ratio and they’re prepared to walk away from that? Talk about not being able to take “yes” for an answer.

I wonder what the Gipper would say to such madness. Probably not much. He’d be too busy bitch slapping Eric Cantor and the rest of the Republican / Tea Party caucus to have the time to give a speech. There is a time for principles, and then there is a time for action. When you’ve got a good deal in front of you, even if it isn’t perfect, you take it, lick your chops, and get the rest later. Of all the politicians of the last hundred or so years, no one understood that principle better than Ronald Reagan. And while I am certainly no fan of his policies, were he around today, I can tell you this much: he would’ve shook Barack Obama’s hand on such an offer and then proudly announced to the nation that he secured a deal that was in the country’s best interest, even if it didn’t have everything he wanted. And then, most of all, Reagan would sit down with his Congressional leadership and, in no uncertain terms, make it perfectly clear that this legislation would pass come hell or high water, and heaven help anyone who stood in the way. No was not an option. When Reagan wanted something from his Party, he got it. Period!

But that’s what real leaders do. They lead. Right now the leaders of the Republican Party are the inmates who seem to have taken over the asylum. Watching the GOP these days is like watching a giant chicken with its head cut off running towards the edge of a cliff. John Boehner has tried to be a leader, but, alas, the task is beyond him. Witness the power play between him and Cantor, who is now the de facto spokesman for the Party. Boehner might as well be a figurehead for all the good he has done. In deed his willingness to even discuss a deal with Obama has deeply wounded him in the eyes of a movement that sees compromise as a four-letter word. In the new world order that is the Republican Party compromising goes something like this: “We’ll agree to raise the debt, you agree to all our demands.”

The Republican Party has basically kidnapped the country and then had the audacity to say, “We’ll release you as soon as you pay us what we want.” And of course, in the event that they don’t get the ransom they demand, they’re not to blame if the hostage dies. Such convoluted logic is evidence of an extreme psychological disorder that is inimical to any hopes of constructive engagement and consensus building.

But then we’ve stumbled onto the real goal here, haven’t we? There was never any intent to work with the opposition on the part of the Tea Party. From day one they have made it abundantly clear that it was their way or the highway. They understood the midterm elections as somehow giving them a mandate to carry out their philosophical agenda, to ostensibly thumb their noses at the their opposition and, if need be, bring the government to a grinding halt. They proudly beat their chests and boldly pronounced what their intentions were. It was only our naïve optimism that held on to any hope that they would see the light and be reasonable. Clearly, all of us were sadly mistaken. Madness knows no reason. All it has is its delusional beliefs and aims.

And now it has come to this. Barely a week to go before Armageddon, and not only are they prepared to walk away from the deal of a lifetime, most of them don’t even believe in the enormity of the danger they are flirting with. Deniers to the end, they laugh at the face of certain disaster. Their heroes are the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin. They are so far removed from the Party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, it isn’t even funny. In deed it is tragic. Not even the ghost of Reagan can save this group from itself.

So here we stand. A nation is being held captive by a bunch of lunatics who not only have no intention of releasing us, they probably wouldn’t mind dying in the ensuing explosion of the ticking time bomb they themselves are prepared to set off.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Incompleted Transaction

A number of years ago – during my retail career – I was in the process of selling a flat panel TV to a couple on a tight budget. The couple expressed a “willingness” to see a few better, more costly models, but knew full well that they would have to stretch their budget to accommodate their wish list. After about forty-five minutes, we arrived at a fair price for the set they had decided on, along with the appropriate cables and surge protection.

Then, at the register, I suggested one additional add-on: an extended warranty. Indignant that they would have to pay any additional monies, they bolted for the door and sped off in their car. I was aghast. I had encountered resistance before to extended warranties – many people believe that they are a waste of money – but never did I have a customer literally walk out of the showroom. Usually, the customer either rejects the warranty outright, or tries to negotiate part or all of it into the price.

Afterwards, my manager tried to console me. “They couldn’t afford the set and they knew it,” he said. “They just needed an excuse for leaving.” To coin a phrase, their eyes were bigger than their stomachs, or their wallets, for that matter. They couldn’t bring themselves to say they didn’t have the money, so they used the excuse of an optional warranty to get out of the commitment.

John Boehner is that customer. He wanted a deal with the President, he really did. Unlike so many in his Party who seem to think the August 2nd deadline is no big deal, Boehner knows full well what will happen if the debt ceiling is not raised. But the Speaker of the House had this little problem: he didn’t have the votes to pass a deal with revenues in it, and he knew it. So when the salesman – President Obama – mentioned he wanted an additional $400 billion in revenues over ten years (that’s $40 billion a year boys and girls) he had his excuse. He bolted out of the negotiations like a bat out of hell. It mattered not that Obama said that if it was a problem they could work something out, all Boehner knew was that now he could go back to his caucus and say that the President had “moved the goal posts.” He was spared from having to plead with the inmates of the insane asylum to be reasonable.

And, on the other side of the register, Obama, embracing the Gang of Six proposal in the Senate, could now go back to his Party and say he wanted more revenues before he would sign off on such drastic spending cuts. He was also able to say to the millions of independents – and effectively I might add – that, once more, he was the reasonable adult in the room, willing to do the tough work needed to deal with the nation’s mounting debt.

In the short run, politically speaking, Obama is winning on points, but, in the end, the transaction that was on the register was never completed. Translation? No sale! And with just over a week to go, even the most ardent of optimists are becoming skeptical that a deal can be reached before the deadline.

With HR 2560, the “Cut, Cap and Balance” bill all but dead on arrival in the Senate, the Senate Gang of Six Plan still in the preliminary stages and weeks from being scored, much less passed through committee, and the Obama - Boehner deal / no deal plan all but kaput, some are saying that the McConnell - Reid Plan B option might be the only way of avoiding a catastrophe. It would reduce spending by roughly $1.5 trillion  with no additional revenues and grant the President the authority to raise the debt ceiling, while simultaneously being condemned by Republicans for his “recklessness.” Even Dark Lord Grover Norquist himself has said he prefers this plan to a default, a sure sign that not everybody in the Good Ship Lollipop is insane.

There’s of course one big problem with the Plan B scenario. The cuts – factored in over a decade – may not be enough for Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, who have expressed deep concern of late over the mounting American debt. Moody’s has all but said that the U.S. has 90 days to present a credible plan to deal with its debt or it will downgrade the nation’s credit rating, which at the moment stands at triple A. If that happens, interest rates will climb and the debt will grow even higher. All three credit agencies are looking for substantial reductions in the debt in the neighborhood of $4 trillion. This is no longer about mere ideology or how bad the President’s messaging was over the last two years. That ship has sailed. Forces have been unleashed that, if not dealt with, will bring profound consequences for millions of people.

What we now have is a choice of two paths: the first is a center-right path that, while severe in some of its measures, at least preserves the social safety nets and entitlement programs vital to the working poor and elderly, while gaining some small measure of additional revenues to be determined no doubt at a later date; the second is a path of complete austerity which rips apart the very fabric of these social programs and entitlements and raises not one dime of additional revenue. Further, it promises future draconian slashing that will eventually lead to an end of entitlements altogether. While it may pain many progressives to hear this, the choice comes down to a lesser of the two evils. Doing nothing, by the way, is NOT an option.

The President has drawn his line in the sand, as has the Speaker of the House. It is time for the two of them to get back into the room and hash this deal out. If the best Obama can get is $800 billion in revenues than so be it, so long as Boehner is willing to stipulate that if the revenues cannot be met by mere tax reform, they must be made up by additional taxes that equal the amount agreed to. Reid, Pelosi and McConnell can then deal with how and where the cuts come from. There will be more than just a few casualties in anything substantive that results, but the catastrophe that gets averted will, in the end, be worth it. One thing is for certain: When all this is over, conservatives and progressives will have one thing in common: they will both hate it.

Next to doing the right thing for the country, that may be the best news of all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gohmert’s Pile

And you thought Michele Bachmann was the bat-shit crazy champ. Well, the darling of the Midwest ain’t got nothing on Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) who has now climbed all the way to the top of mud pile. It isn’t enough that Gohmert, like Bachmann and at least half of the Republicans in the House, believes that the whole August 2nd deadline for raising the debt ceiling is just a scare tactic by the President and the Democrats for continuing their tax and free-spending ways; Gohmert, apparently, has found his smoking gun, the raison d'être for the urgency to get a deal done by August 2nd. And I bet you’ll never guess what it could be. Let’s let Louie explain it in his own unadulterated words.

“We find out the President has a big birthday bash scheduled for August the 3rd, celebrities flying in from all over. And lo and behold, August 2nd is the deadline for getting something done so he can have this massive, the biggest fundraising dinner in history for a birthday celebration.”

Believe me when I say this, I wish the above quote wasn’t true. I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, the whole damn interview with Newsmax TV, where this gem was plucked, was in reality some skit taken from a fake news source like “The Onion.” Unfortunately for those of us with a brain, this was not a parody; this was real. Louie Gohmert really believes that the sole reason for President Obama’s urgency to raise the debt ceiling has nothing to do with saving the country from a catastrophe, but rather so he can have a huge birthday party.

Now, lest you think this entrée into the twilight zone was a unique occurrence for our distinguished dimwit, Gohmert has had moments even more memorable, like the time he went off on CNN’s Anderson Cooper over – you’ll have to sit down for this one – Terror Babies. That’s right, babies born here, raised as terrorists overseas and then brought back to America to carry out acts of terrorism.

I’m starting to run out of words to describe the insanity that has taken over the Republican Party. I used to just think this was merely a case of a bunch of very ignorant and stupid people taking advantage of some very frustrated and frightened voters – with the help, naturally, of a ton of cash from powerful interests with nefarious motives. Now I think this is case of a bunch of dangerously ignorant and stupid people taking advantage of some very frustrated and frightened voters – with the help, naturally, of a ton of cash from powerful interests with nefarious motives.

The voters are slowly starting to wake up. My fear is there won’t be much of a country left by the time they finally get out of bed.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Herman’s Hermits

If you think people’s ignorance on the debt ceiling issue is alarming, try their ignorance on something much more fundamental and potentially worse, like the First Amendment and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it.

Herman Cain has no qualms about where he stands on the whole issue of religious freedom; he’s for it, so long as the particular religion meets his standard as a real religion. Take Islam, for example. Apparently in Cain’s myopic universe, Muslims aren’t entitled to the same Constitutional protection as Christians, Jews, Hindus, and everybody else in the universe.

In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Cain was unabashedly unapologetic about his stance. Not only doesn’t Islam meet his standard for a legitimate religion, Americans have the right to ban the building of Mosques in their communities, should they choose to.

“Our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state. Islam combines church and state. They're using the church part of our First Amendment to infuse their morals in that community, and the people of that community do not like it. They disagree with it.”

Wallace then asked him to further articulate his stance.

“Let's go back to the fundamental issue,” Cain said. “Islam is both a religion and a set of laws – Sharia laws. That's the difference between any one of our traditional religions where it's just about religious purposes.”

Of course, Cain isn’t discriminating against Muslims, mind you.

“Look, I know that there's a peaceful group of Muslims in this country. God bless them and they're free to worship. If you look at my career I have never discriminated against anybody, because of their religion, sex or origin or anything like that.”

What worried me most wasn’t the ignorance of a political candidate who has no idea how hypocritical and ridiculous he sounds. And, given that he is African American, he apparently has no concept of the irony contained within his prejudice. It was not that long ago that the same convoluted logic Cain employed was used rather effectively to discriminate against his own people.

What concerned me most was the string of comments that followed the news thread, which appeared in Yahoo.

“As with all other religions, in America you can observe the laws of that religion as long as they do not conflict with our laws.”

“They can build a place of worship, but the sharia law that conflicts with American law is illegal and cannot be permitted. When they emigrate to America they accept its laws, if they aren’t able to live by them, then go to where this 'sharia law' is within the legal confines of the respective legal system. Let’s go to Yemen and impose 'Catholic law.'”

“What he should have said is that we can allow mosques in this country, but that the USA should ban Sharia Law from our land. We already have a law of the land (the last time I heard) and it is called the US Constitution. However, so many people these days are throwing it out the window that they might just get Sharia law here in this country. Sharia Law is completely contrary to our Constitution. BEWARE Sharia Law, especially if you are female or gay. God forbid it ever gets a foothold in the USA.”

“The United States constitution does not and will not support a religion that brings some other laws other than the ones it made fools. Islam is unconstitutional, but the cowards in Washington will not stand against it.”

“Crackpot cultures are being forced on us by liberals who think we are all equal.  We are hardly all equal. Fight for your community.”

I got ill after the first few. I wish I could report that these shining examples of Constitutional scholars represented the minority view; sadly they did not. In fact, I was unable to find a single retort to Cain’s insane and completely inaccurate read of the First Amendment, which, for the record, does not allow for any community to ban the practice of religious expression, regardless of how many people feel that way.

And that is the saddest thing of all in this fiasco. In a supposedly “grassroots” movement that is all about getting back to what the Founding Fathers intended, there is a stunning dearth of knowledge about what it was that they fought so hard to achieve.

Freedom means nothing until and unless it is enjoyed by all, regardless of religious, ethnic, racial or political affiliation. No one has the right, under any circumstances, to suspend that right, just because of some fear or prejudice. We are a nation of laws, and the highest of these laws says you are innocent until proven guilty. Putting the cart before the horse is a sure fire way to undermine and destroy the very freedom we claim to cherish above all else. And once we proceed down that slippery slope, none of us are safe.

Herman Cane, of all people, should get this. His minions, suffice to say, are clueless.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Coming Tsunami

“A teenage girl had her parents’ credit card taken away because she was generating too much debt on it. She pleaded that she would cut her spending if she could have the credit card back, but to know avail. Now she sits at the dinner table, tears streaming down her cheeks, explaining all the many disasters that will occur in her life if she can't have her credit card back.”

- Anonymous Comment taken from a Huffington Post article.

This is what the debt ceiling debate has come down to: mommy and daddy tearing up their daughter’s credit card because she charges too much on it. As ridiculous as this quote may seem to those who are actually informed on the subject, it personifies the sentiment of a good portion of Americans and, sadly, a majority of House and Senate Republicans. The government has spent way too much money and now it is time to take away its credit card.

The correct analogy, however, goes more like this. The teenage girl goes on a spending spree and when her parents get the credit card bill, they refuse to pay it and proceed to tear it up. The “due date” for this credit card bill is August 2nd. Astonishingly, a large number of lawmakers are prepared to tear up this credit card bill and refuse to pay it, hoping to teach their fellow lawmakers how to be responsible. Of course if, in the process of “teaching” their fellow lawmakers how to be responsible, the economy plunges into a recession or, worse, depression, oh well. Tough love, right?

That’s the reality that awaits us unless enough common sense seeps into the heads of these lawmakers. For the simple truth is this isn’t about taking away the credit card of a wayward government; that’s what budgets are for. This is about paying the bills that are due and honoring your obligations as a nation. Period. End of discussion.

And to address the other absurd belief that the government can just live off of the money it takes in and continue to pay what bills it can with that amount, thus “honoring” the interest on the debt, social security payments, paying the troops, etc, that won’t work either. Again, to use the credit card analogy – but in a way that makes sense – imagine you have four credit card bills, and you have just enough money “on hand” to pay three of them without raising the amount you can borrow to pay the other. So you pay those three and disregard the fourth. Anybody work for a bank lately? Wanna know what happens to your credit score if you try that “ingenious” tact? Your credit score goes right down the tubes. It matters not that you “honored” the first three bills; by defaulting on the fourth, you ostensibly shoot yourself in the foot. It’s that simple. When your bills come due, you don’t pick which ones to honor and which ones to default on; it’s all or nothing.

The scary part is that we may not have to wait until August 2nd to wreck this train. Days before the deadline, assuming no deal has been struck, markets will begin to tank, as nervous investors begin to pull their money out. The Lehman Brothers scenario is a fitting comparison. The shockwaves that reverberated throughout the markets after Lehman’s collapse started a domino effect that eventually led to the massive sell-off on Wall Street that caused the Dow to lose half its value. As bad as that was, a default on the debt would be even worse. With all the hyperbole about how bad America’s debt problem is, the interest we pay on our debt is a fraction of what most of Europe – especially Greece – pays.

Of course all that changes if the misfits in Congress have their way. Think the interest we pay on our debt is high now? Try looking at it when the rates for borrowing go up two to three times. My guess is we have until Wednesday or Thursday the week before to avoid a catastrophe. Beyond that point, the damage will irreversible. It might well take years to fully recover.

Everyone always looks at the tsunami wave sweeping across the shore; few, if any pay any attention to the water receding from the shoreline moments before the wave arrives. The prevailing logic goes like this: if you wait until the waters recede to run away, it’s already too late to keep from drowning. The hope here is that we won’t have to wait until the waters recede to act responsibly; that sanity may yet prevail. If we fail to do the right thing, the tsunami that follows may well drown us all.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The PINO in the Cheap Seats

Being a Mets fan, I know what it’s like to be disappointed. In the fifty years of its existence, my team has made the postseason seven times, won four pennants and two World Series titles, while the other New York team has made the postseason a total of twenty-four times, winning fifteen pennants and nine World Series titles. As if that weren’t bad enough, the worst years for the Yankees had nothing on the worst years for the Mets. Looking for the perfect definition for the word loyalty? You won’t find it in the dictionary. Just look at the won-loss records of the Mets from the years 1977 through 1983 and ask who, in their right mind, would suffer through that train wreck? Yours truly, that’s who.

But, though I might have been loyal, I was hardly the good soldier. I knew my team sucked, and I had absolutely no gumption about letting as many people know as possible, including my fellow comrades, who saw my bravado as something akin to traitorous. While they preferred to circle the wagons, I felt obliged to bring to light the negligence of the organization I had rooted for my whole life. I called it as I saw it. When they won, I celebrated their accomplishments; when they were dreadful, I ripped them a new one, and I cared not one bit who it might rub the wrong way.

It’s always been that way with me. I was never able to sit still and keep my mouth shut. Call me a devil’s advocate. I’ve been blessed, or cursed if you will, with being able to look objectively at how things were, not as I wished they were. I could no more excuse mediocrity than I could go without breathing. Whether it was my favorite baseball team, or the political party that I have followed and enjoyed a love/hate relationship with most of my adult life, I couldn’t help but be the wise ass in the room. Give me a few minutes and I could pick the scab off of the deepest wound imaginable. If it was a rubber stamp of approval you were seeking, I clearly wasn’t your guy.

And while I may have been a tad bit more passionate about my beliefs in my younger days, I was far less an ideologue than the contemporaries of the time. During the Reagan years, I remember loathing what was happening to the country, yet curiously admiring how it was happening. In a morbid sort of way, the technique with which Reagan used to connect with the voters appealed to me, and deep down I knew the Left could never walk that walk. In retrospect, I was not at all surprised that Mondale and Dukakis were routed in the ’84 and ’88 general elections. Despite having the better positions on virtually every issue they had about as much charisma as a cold bowl of soup.

Bill Clinton’s success in the ‘90s was owed mainly to two factors. The first is the stuff of legend. The man connected on a visceral level with the public in a way few politicians were capable of. Over the last hundred years, only FDR, Kennedy and Reagan matched and/or surpassed him. But the second reason for his success – and the one that tends to drive progressives up the proverbial wall – was his uncanny political savvy. The man could sense a change in the political headwinds better than any politician I’ve ever observed – better even than Reagan – and adapt accordingly. When he lost both houses of Congress in the ’94 midterms, most pundits wrote him off as another Jimmy Carter. Instead, Clinton turned the tables on his opponents and became the centrist few thought him capable of becoming. Not only did he convincingly win reelection, he went on to become one of the most successful two-term presidents of the twentieth century, balancing two consecutive budgets before leaving office.

To this day, progressives grudgingly give him the credit he deserves, pointing out how he caved on so many issues near and dear to them. What they fail to see is that if Clinton had not steered to the Right, he would’ve been a one-term president and the country, under a Bob Dole administration, would’ve seen far worse cuts to the very social programs so vital to the working poor. Clinton, like most pragmatists, knew there was no such thing as a moral victory. Winning was the only way to achieve at least some of the results Democrats were looking for, and if compromising on some issues meant preserving the bulk of the rest, so be it.

Barack Obama, for all that has been written and said about him so far, has been a quick study in the art of politics. It’s fair to say that he has not been the progressive stalwart many on the Left dreamt he’d be when he was sworn into office. And, as a progressive myself, I must confess, I was somewhat underwhelmed by his willingness to seek common ground and govern through consensus. I wanted a fighter who was hopping mad; instead what I got was Mr. Cool. I wanted the Terminator; instead I got Monty Hall. The country, I felt, needed another FDR; instead we got JFK.

But over the last few months, I have grown to admire the calm, collected way in which Obama has handled himself and the country. And while I still scratch my head at times over his policy decisions, and wish like hell he had listened to Paul Krugman when he begged for a much larger stimulus package, slowly but surely he is emerging as a very shrewd and effective leader.

The debt ceiling crisis is but the latest test to his presidency, and while the majority of progressives may not know it – or sadly care – Obama is showing his mettle in the debate against John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the Republicans. By going large and putting everything on the table, he ostensibly called the GOP’s bluff, and, predictably, they folded like a four-card monte scheme on a midtown street corner.

But of course all progressives cared about was the fact that Obama was putting entitlements on the table. How dare he do such a thing? How dare he not, I say? When you play a game of poker you can’t call your opponents’ bluff unless you yourself are willing to risk it all. Obama knew full well that Boehner didn’t have the votes for a tax increase. By tempting him with massive spending cuts – cuts that in all likelihood would never have happened, mind you – he forced the Republicans to fold. A “balanced” approach and his steadfast refusal to let his opponents walk all over him has been a refreshing change of pace for me personally. Frankly I was wondering when he was going to show some spine.

But the President also did much more than serve notice on Congressional Republicans that he is still the commander in chief and won’t be bullied into accepting just any deal, he let the whole country know that, if he had to, he would go against even his own party in order to save the country from a cataclysmic event. Do not think for a minute that that isn’t resonating with independent voters. While progressives may be seething at the prospect of being thrown under the bus yet again, they are missing the bigger picture here. Once more, Barack Obama is coming out looking like the adult in the room, while Eric Cantor and John Boehner look like two very small, spoiled brats.

Over the next two weeks, look for Obama to forge an agreement with House Republicans for some cuts to the budget along with closing a few loopholes in the tax code. The deal will enrage both political flanks: the Right because a few millionaires and billionaires will have to come up with some additional petty cash to pay for their corporate jets; the Left because the Bush tax cuts will still be on the books. But the debt limit will be raised and the nation spared a catastrophe.

But more to the point, I am beginning to notice a pattern among my fellow progressives, and it is a pattern I know all too well. Last month I wrote an op-ed piece titled “Ideology Running Amuck,” in which I engaged in one of my favorite pastimes: exposing the Republican Party as little more than an extension of some very twisted and myopic interests hell bent on wiping out anything that stands in their way. In their worldview, compromise is not an option. It’s all or nothing. If the nation goes to hell in a handbasket, so be it. So long as they retain their purity and “integrity,” that’s all that matters.

Well, excuse me for saying this, progressives, these days, are starting to sound an awful lot like their counterparts on the Right: unyielding, unbending, lost in their own narrative, and completely oblivious to the stakes at hand. Last December when progressives recoiled at the agreement Obama reached during the lame-duck to keep the government running, I asked every progressive I knew one simple question: What was your plan B? In lieu of a government shutdown and the specter of a new Congress that was days away from being sworn in, what would you have done differently from Obama that actually would’ve succeeded? The key word here is succeed. The silence was deafening.

Of course they would have allowed the Bush tax cuts to expire, and, of course, they would’ve extended unemployment benefits, and, naturally they would’ve ended “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and passed the 9/11 rescue workers bill. And then of course they would’ve passed a continuing resolution to keep the government running. Of course they would’ve. In their dreams! The simple truth was that Obama, and not them, got most of that through, and for that, he gave in to a two-year extension on the Bush tax cuts. A bitter pill to swallow, sure, but a necessary one in order to achieve the greater good. Once more any sense of pragmatism was missing from the progressive caucus; once more they missed the forest for the trees.

Of late I have been reading David Brooks. Once considered to be one of the more respected conservative voices out there, Brooks is now considered by many to be a moderate among his peers and a CINO (conservative in name only) among Republicans, particularly Tea-Party Republicans. When he dares call out the GOP as being “infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative,” he earns the wrath of that very faction and faces the consequences that come with speaking truth to such intransigence. But that is the price he is willing to pay to maintain what he thinks is his ethical obligation as a journalist. His refusal to drink the tainted Koolaid so many of his contemporaries seem to be drowning in is what sets him apart, and while I may not agree with his views, I nonetheless respect and admire his integrity.

Well to quote Bill Clinton here, I feel Brooks’ pain, if just a bit. For all its high moral sounding words and sensible policies, the Left, sadly, is just as intransigent as the Right when push comes to shove. There, I said it, and I haven’t been struck by lightning.  I guess that makes me a PINO (progressive in name only).

Now before my words get twisted – as though I had any control over that – it’s important to denote here that my criticism of the Left has absolutely nothing to do with its stances or positions, both of which are clearly superior to anything the Right has come up with in over a century. Nor should anyone construe in anyway that I am intimating some sort of phony equivalence between the blatant lies and distortions of one side, and the over the top zealousness of the other. One is permitted to be biased without necessarily being a fraud. Rather my criticism is directly solely on how the Left reacts, and in many ways overreacts, to the political realities that exist in our broken two-party system. These reactions have had profound consequences for its achievements.

Well before the Right became the organized tumor that is currently infecting the Republican Party, the Left was primarily responsible for the demise of two incumbent Democratic presidents: Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.

Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War fractured the Party into two camps, with progressives ostensibly fleeing from an Administration that only a few years earlier had been responsible for the most sweeping legislation since the Reconstruction era in the Civil Rights Act. While there were profound and justifiable reasons for opposing the War, progressives’ line in the sand, take the ball home with them stance eventually forced Johnson not to seek reelection in 1968. Bobby Kennedy, the Left’s new darling, was the best hope for Democrats. When he was assassinated, the way was paved for Richard Nixon to win what would turn out to be a rather easy election, even with an “independent” George Wallace running as conservative spoiler.

Progressives’ disenchantment with Jimmy Carter has become a case study in denial. For some unknown reason that only they themselves seem to know, Carter was viewed as not sufficiently liberal enough for their tastes. Like his brother a decade earlier, Ted Kennedy had become the great hope of the Left, this despite the fact that every single challenge to a sitting president by his party has resulted in defeat for that party. Nonetheless, Kennedy so deeply wounded Carter that Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election in a landslide.

Just like in 1968, progressives’ refusal to consider the glass half full and their unwillingness to settle and compromise on their “principles” proved their undoing. They almost had the hat trick in 1996, but Bill Clinton proved too much for them. And while dear old Bill ran toward the middle – hence away from them – the Left bided its time. Al Gore, the unassuming and, yes, terribly boring air apparent to the most successful Democratic Administration since Truman, would be the sacrificial lamb. Lost in all the controversy of the 2000 election results in Florida was the fact that had Ralph Nader not gotten so many votes from so many disgruntled progressives, the whole Bush v. Gore fiasco would’ve been quite unnecessary. Gore would’ve easily won Florida and the general election.

And now progressives are all up in arms over Barack Obama, the man who had the audacity to once more disappoint and betray them by moving toward the Center. Like Johnson, Carter and Clinton before him, Obama sees the role of governing as more than simply pandering to a base. It’s about surviving in a political climate that demands being open to all possibilities, even at the expense of being seen as a turncoat. The Left bristles when it is reminded of the “accomplishments” of Obama. Healthcare with no public option and financial reform with too big to fail still intact; hardly what they had envisioned. That those feats were considerably better than they would’ve gotten had John McCain won the ’08 election is beside the point. It is always beside the point with progressives. Like their counterparts on the Right, there is no give and take with them. All they can see is their own vision of how things should be, not how they are.

And now, with all that is at stake in 2012, progressives are actually contemplating either staying home or running a third-party candidate against the President. Talk about gift-wrapping an election and all for spite. It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Try telling that to a progressive these days.  You might as well spit in the wind.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my first love: watching my dear old Mets break the hearts of their faithful once more. If you wish to track me down and continue this discussion, I'll be in the cheap seats, if there are any.  Seems progressives aren’t the only ones who can’t seem to learn from their mistakes.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dim Bulbs

Attention all you horse and buggy devotees out there. Think the horseless carriage has spelled doom for your preferred choice of travel? Absolutely incensed at the gall of the Congress to impose strict mileage standards on the automobile, thus cementing its lock on vehicular transportation? Well look no further, my friends, because the Tea Party feels your pain and is willing and able to go to bat for you and every other seemingly lost cause it can think of. The horse and buggy, the Charleston, the prop plane, the LP, and now (drum roll please!) the incandescent light bulb.

That’s right, folks, the Tea Party – in the guise of Joe Barton (R-Texas) – has decided to challenge a provision in a 2007 energy law that requires all light bulb manufacturers to generate the same amount of light while using less electricity, with a new bill, aptly named by Barton the “Save the Light Bulb” bill.  And you'll never guess who thinks this bill is a great idea:  Good old Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Fox and Friends and, oh yes, the darling of the Midwest, Michele Bachmann, along with all the other assorted misfits and delinquents who make up most of the far Right in this country.

Never mind that the incandescent light bulb, as we know it, was never actually in jeopardy (only inefficient ones); never mind that the ’07 legislation was supported by Democrats and Republicans alike when it was first introduced – it passed the House with 314 votes and the Senate with 86 votes before being signed into law by George Bush; never mind that the new bulb would mean an annual savings of over $100 in electric bills per year to the average household; and also never mind that the now worried manufacturers, who have already started producing the new bulbs, are now lobbying lawmakers urging them not to rescind the provision. None of that means anything to the good folks at the Tea Party Express, where sanity and common sense are considered electives in governance.

Really now, the government is weeks away from defaulting on its debt, and this is what these dim bulbs are focusing on? Now I know I’ve seen everything. Usually right about now is when I’d say something clever and sarcastic, but to be honest, part of me still can’t believe there are actually representatives and senators who would be this stupid.

Come to think of it, yeah, I believe it.  These days I believe anything.  Well, gotta go now.  I'm going upstairs to play some of my old 8-Track recordings.  Tomorrow it's off to work in my brand new Hudson. Hey, it's a free country, ain't it?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Here We Go Again!

Three weeks to go before Armageddon and, just like last December, President Obama has gathered the troops from both political camps into the White House to iron out the deal every reasonably sane person knows has to happen, and only a fool would pass up.

Everything is on the table, yes everything. That’s what you do when you compromise: you put everything on the table. Once more the adult in the room – old Captain Pragmatic – is poised to author an agreement that will certainly draw the ire of both political flanks. On the Right, additional tax revenue and defense cuts must be a part of any deal; on the Left painful cuts to some social programs, even, dare I say it, entitlement reform must also be included. What has yet to be decided is how much and where to cut, as well as how much additional tax revenue gets thrown into the pot. As always the devil will be in the details.

But know this, barring a rather desperate and obviously controversial evoking of section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment – a tact that even Constitutional scholars can’t agree is even legal – time runs out for nation’s debt ceiling on August 2nd. A deal involving compromise is the only way to avert a catastrophe.

Also know this, any deal struck by the President is going to be painful for both sides. There is no way to get around this elephant anymore. At the risk of pissing off the few progressives left who actually read my blog – and I know who you are – spending in Washington has gotten ridiculous over the last decade or so. And yes, it is absurd to blame all this on Obama when he walked into the worst economic mess since FDR was sworn into office. But progressives have to come to a painful reality: there comes a time when you have to show some fiscal discipline, and now is as good a time as any.

And speaking of fiscal discipline, it is more than just a little disingenuous to claim you are for balancing the budget when you continue to defend tax cuts that, over the last decade, have cost the treasury $4 trillion. It is the height of hypocrisy for Republicans to demand that Democrats give up some of their sacred cows, while holding onto the mother of all fairytales: that tax cuts pay for themselves. Any deal that does not begin to shatter this colossal nightmare of a myth is no deal at all. Even if it costs him three dollars in spending cuts to get one dollar in additional tax revenue, Obama must do it. The alternative is too ghastly to contemplate.

As far as entitlement reform is concerned, I have warned that Democratic promises that Medicare would never be touched would eventually backfire. Well the day of reckoning may finally be here. While it was fun watching Republicans run for cover after Paul Ryan stepped on the third rail with his “courageous” budget proposal, I cautioned progressives against over optimism. While polls show most of the electorate opposed to any changes in Medicare, those same polls also reveal a growing concern that many have that the program, as it is now, will not be around when they retire. That spells trouble in Dem land down the road. If enough voters figure out that Democrats really have no plan to fix the systemic problems besetting both Medicare and Medicaid, you can kiss 2012 goodbye. If they are smart – and remember we are talking about Democrats here – they will work with the President to ensure that any cuts to both entitlement programs not adversely effect recipients. The Republican sin of commission – which is what Ryan’s Medicare solution is – cannot be countered by the Democratic sin of omission – doing nothing.

And what of the Tea Party? What about them? A bunch of spoiled brats who actually believe they can point a loaded gun at the head of the nation and bring about the first ever U.S. debt default in its history just by holding their breath and counting to a zillion. Screw them. If John Boehner really wants to be the leader of his party then he is going to have to start acting like one sooner or later. And that means risking the political fallout a compromise with Emperor Obama would entail. So far, he has not been up to the task. He has been, for all intents and purposes, a puppet of this fanatical faction. And the Republican Party as a whole has been unable or unwilling to compromise even a little. It seems hell-bent in allowing the unthinkable to happen rather than risk angering its’ ideologically rigid base. They have an enormous opportunity here to forge a deal, which will help propel the country forward toward a more secure economic footing, yet are stuck in their own worn out narrative.

In an op-ed piece in The New York Times called “The Mother of No-Brainers,” conservative columnist David Brooks wrote the following:

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.

The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name. Economists have identified many factors that contribute to economic growth, ranging from the productivity of the work force to the share of private savings that is available for private investment. Tax levels matter, but they are far from the only or even the most important factor.

But to members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. They are willing to cut education and research to preserve tax expenditures. Manufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises, but members of this movement somehow believe such problems can be addressed so long as they continue to worship their idol.

While I don’t agree with a lot of Brooks’ op-ed pieces, and some of his conclusions in this particular piece stretch the bounds of reality somewhat, in this regard we are in complete accord. At a time when both political bases need to show a little give and take, it seems one side is out to win it all, no matter the costs, even if one of those costs is the destruction of the very country they purport to love above all else.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Harbinger of Things To Come

Take a good look at the picture below. That’s the Minnesota state capital building in St. Paul. You’ll notice the building looks dark, indicating there is no one inside. You’ll also notice a throng of people outside, some holding various signs of protest.

In case you haven’t heard, Minnesota’s government has been shut down for five days because Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and GOP leaders have been unable to come up with a compromise to resolve the state’s budget problems. Basically Dayton wanted a tax increase on the top income earners to reduce the $5 billion deficit, while the Republican-controlled legislature balked. Sound familiar?

While Minnesota is the first state to actually “shutdown” its government, its problems mirror to a T what is currently going on in Washington. Don’t look now but August 2nd is just a month away. On that date, the Treasury department will no longer be able to jury rig payments on the nation’s debt, as it has been doing since May 16th. Barring a rise in the ceiling, the United States will officially default on its obligations. In that event it won’t merely be a shutdown that occurs, but a catastrophe.

Since conservatives worship at the alter of Ronald Reagan, and love to quote him, I thought I would share with you his thoughts on such a prospect as default. In a letter to then Senate Majority leader Howard Baker, Reagan wrote the following:

“The full consequence of a default – or even the serious prospect of default – by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar.”

Loathe though I am to agree with anything Ronald Reagan said, in this instance he couldn't have been more correct, or sane for that matter.  But now we come to the crux of the matter: sanity.

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Monthly, titled “It’s Reagan’s Party No More,” Steve Benen writes, “Republicans should simply realize that raising the debt ceiling is the sane thing to do and act accordingly. But given Republicans’ religious reverence for ‘Ronaldus Magnus,’ it’s worth appreciating the extent to which today’s GOP is deliberately turning its back on the Reagan legacy.”

Benen goes on to quote Mike Huckabee and Senator Lindsey Graham who have gone on record as saying that the Gipper “would have a very difficult, if not impossible, time being nominated in this atmosphere.” What does it say when a conservative as staunch as Reagan couldn’t even win the nomination of today’s Republican Party? What it says to me is that we are not dealing with rational people here.

And that’s why I am very pessimistic about next month. The usual posturing that occurs in these debates, contentious and divisive though they may be, has historically been nothing more than a show of theatrics for the faithful, followed by the inevitable compromise that leads to an agreement. It’s called “give and take” and no matter how partisan the actors were, at the end of the day, sanity prevailed and tragedy was avoided.

Not this time. I fear we are headed for a train wreck. This isn’t some continuing resolution we are talking about; this is doomsday incarnate. If we are fortunate, we will only slide into a deep recession. If not, well let’s just say the 1930s weren’t that bad after all. This is what happens when you let children play with matches.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Just the Facts, Ma’am

As Robin Williams’ character, Mork, was fond of saying, “Reality, what a concept.” Well reality, like facts, has now become optional these days. It seems no matter how many facts rear their ugly, reality-soaked heads, in the end, people are free to interpret them as they see fit, and completely ignore them when they are inconvenient. Subjective reality and ignorance have now become joined at the hip. Whereas once upon a time, knowledge was respected as a vital component of every day living, nowadays it might as well be an elective in a college curriculum.

Witness the ascendancy of Michele Bachmann. If you had a dollar for every misstatement she has made in her relatively brief political career, you could probably pay your next month’s mortgage. And yet, even with such egregious examples of errors, misrepresentations and flat out lies, her star continues to rise. In deed, the more she trips over and mauls the facts, the more popular she becomes. Among the disciples of the ignorant, she has become the stuff of legend.

So it should come as no shock to anyone that the darling of the heartland, while announcing her candidacy for the office of the presidency, couldn’t resist the temptation to once more show off her stunning prowess.

“What I want voters to know is, just like John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa, that’s the kind of spirit I have, too.”

Yep, real nice. Unfortunately for Bachmann she got her John Wayne’s confused, just like virtually everything else she has an opinion about. While The Duke of the old westerns lived 150 miles away, John Wayne Gacey, the serial killer, was the Waterloo resident. Well at least she got the first two names right, and if you’ve ever seen most of Wayne’s early movies, the term serial killer does kinda fit.

Seriously, this is the dimwit who is virtually tied with the only candidate capable of beating Barack Obama, Mitt Romney. If I was a serious conservative – and by that I mean someone who doesn’t get his “facts” from Fox News or AM talk radio, assuming there are any left – I would be extremely nervous right about now.

In deed, it isn’t just serious conservatives who should be nervous. Anyone and everyone with a brain still left in his or her head should be loosing sleep over the dearth of intelligence that is sweeping across the political landscape these days and passing itself off for “credible” leadership. Michele Bachmann is but a symbol of a growing trend within the population, which seems to be rejecting knowledge – even when it’s useful – for intellectual mediocrity. Disappointed by the seeming elitism of the Washington establishment, a sizable portion of voters has elected to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

It’s as if your foot doctor did a bad job operating on your foot and now you’ve decided to let your mechanic have a crack at it. Sounds stupid, you say? Well, to quote a famous movie character, Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.” The whole country has gone stupid mad. Sarah Palin, Donald Trump and now Michele Bachmann. All constitute the latest contingent of nincompoops hell bent on driving the whole damn bus over the edge of the cliff into the abyss.

And that’s what worries me most about next year’s presidential election. If Bachmann actually wins the nomination, she will dumb it down to such a degree that any attempt by Obama to bring civility and reason (i.e. intelligence) into the debate will be seen by the masses as arrogant and evidence of pure elitism. Even Obama’s most ardent admirers admit the word empathy is not written into his DNA. Bachmann will strike a chord among the frightened and downtrodden who see little reason to hope. With an economy still stuck somewhere between neutral and first gear, the electorate might well jettison the remaining collective brain cells it has and do the unthinkable: vote for someone who makes George W. Bush look like a Rhodes scholar.

Oh shit!