Friday, March 30, 2012

Idiots’ Delight

Usually I like to spotlight three “worthy” contestants for my coveted monthly award.  And even then, it’s difficult.  As a good friend of mine is so fond of saying: “So many stupid people, so little time.”

However this month’s leading moron, like last month’s, was so far out in front that he earned the spotlight all to himself.

So, without further ado:

Geraldo Rivera: It’s hard to believe that at one point in his career, Rivera was actually a respected journalist.  His 1972 investigative work on the abuses that were going on at the Willowbrook State School earned him a Peabody Award.  From there his career has spiraled downward to the point where now he is below even the likes of Jerry Springer.

But, as embarrassingly bad as his career has turned out, he at least was, if nothing else, innocuous and, for the most part, irrelevant.  That is until this past week.  Rivera, while on Fox News, had this to say about the Trayvon Martin shooting.

“I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.  What’s the instant association? It’s crime scene surveillance tapes. Every time you see someone stick up a 7-11, the kid is wearing a hoodie. Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or get the old lady in the alcove, it’s a kid with a hoodie.

“Remember Juan Williams, our colleague? He got in trouble with NPR because he said Muslim formal garb at the airport conjured a certain response in him? That’s an automatic reflex. He wasn’t defending it. He was explaining that’s what happened when he sees these particular people in that particular place.

“When you see a Black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation.  Trayvon Martin, God bless him, an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hands. He didn’t deserve to die. But I bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on that, nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.”

Wow, stupid and racist; two for the price of one. Who knew old Geraldo had it in him?

First off, regarding Juan Williams, I don’t know which tape Rivera was watching, but Williams most definitely was defending his feelings toward Muslims who wore their formal garb.  That was what got him fired – and deservedly so – from NPR.

Secondly, no attire – formal or otherwise – is a justification for someone to commit murder, which is what George Zimmerman did, pure and simple.  It makes no difference what clothing Martin was wearing.  Blaming the murder victim for wearing a “threatening” style of dress makes as much sense as blaming a rape victim for being too attractive.  It’s offensive and completely irrelevant.

Here’s a question for Rivera and the far-right conservatives who are dragging this poor kid’s life through the mud.  If Martin had been white and wearing a hoodie, would he have been shot?  Of course he wouldn’t have.

It’s not the hoodie; it was never the hoodie.  It was the young man wearing it.  This wasn’t just a murder; it was a lynching.  And the real crime here – other than Geraldo Rivera’s feeble attempt at journalism and his equally half-assed attempt at an apology – is that the mope who committed this heinous crime still hasn’t been arrested.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Oral Cavity

Now that the Supreme Court has wrapped up the oral argument phase of what will be the mother of all landmark decisions – Wednesday’s topic concerned the issue of severability – it basically boils down to one of three possibilities:

1. The Court throws out the mandate but leaves all or most of the remaining statute intact.
2. The Court upholds the mandate.
3. The Court throws out the baby with the bathwater.    

I think it’s fair to say that the first possibility is the least likely scenario.  It’s clear that the conservative jurists on the Court have no stomach for going through all 2,700 pages of the law to decide which parts they want to keep and which parts they want to toss.  The fact that most of the law falls outside any challenge to the commerce clause is irrelevant.  This isn’t your run-of-the-mill legislation.  Parsing through this law could well take months to accomplish.  Frankly, I just don’t see it happening.

Equally irrelevant is the point that striking down only the mandate would cause undo harm to millions of consumers who would now have to foot the bill for the other enforcement measures in the law.  While the economic impact is real, any first-year law student will tell you courts concern themselves first and foremost with the law, even one as partisan as this.  Anticipating the fallout from judicial decisions – even activist ones – is the exclusive purview of Law and Order junkies.   

As for speculating on what Congress’s intent would’ve been without an individual mandate, this might be the most ludicrous argument of all.  Throwing the remaining part of this law back to a legislative branch that can’t pass a ham sandwich so that it can come up with another method of paying for it is the definition of insanity.  The “salvage” job that Justice Ginsburg alluded to in her retort to Paul Clement, the attorney representing the challengers, is wishful thinking at its extreme.   

That leaves options 2 and 3 as the only viable outcomes left.  It is painfully obvious that either the law will survive intact or it will be struck down in its entirety.  As I wrote in my last piece, it’s a 50/50 proposition at best.  But one thing should be made abundantly clear.  Any attempt to conclude that just because the justices showed concern over the doctrine of severability means that they might end up upholding the mandate would be imprudent and premature.  Remember this is the same Court that ostensibly threw out McCain/Feingold.  Antonin Scalia summed it up best.  If the Court strikes down the mandate, “then the statute’s gone.”  Case closed.

On the other hand, it would be reasonable to conclude that the weight of nulling and voiding such a massive piece of legislation as this would be heavy even for partisan hacks like the Roberts’ majority.  Roberts, in particular, might end up being the key to any hopes the government has of victory, not Kennedy.  Despite his obvious ideological bent, Roberts is keenly aware of his position as Chief Justice.  Upholding the mandate would permit him to portray himself as above politics.  It would also allow him to concentrate his efforts on the more nefarious matters that await this Court down the road.  The environmental and civil rights laws that many conservatives decry as overreach will no doubt be re-visited by the judicial branch.  These cases are the real prizes for the Right and they badly want them.  The healthcare debate, while good theater for the wingnuts who listen to Mark Levin, is mere window dressing in the grand scheme of things.  If Roberts punts on the mandate but gives them the rollbacks they want on the other issues all will be forgiven.

Of course I’m just speculating here.  The truth is nobody knows what’s going to happen in June.  That’s what makes this so exciting and excruciatingly painful to sit through.  The fate of millions of people riding on what a couple of men in black robes end up deciding.  Ain’t democracy grand?

I wonder what the Founding Fathers would have to say about all this.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hanging in the Balance

No since denying the obvious; things are not looking good for the Obama Administration.  If Tuesday’s oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate are any indication, we could be looking at the worst setback for a sitting president since FDR had six of his eight New Deal statutes overturned.

What was shaping up as pretty much of a slam dunk according to some legal experts is now no better than a 50/50 proposition.  Of particular concern was the line and manner of questioning by “swing” justice Anthony Kennedy.  You had the feeling this was going to be a long day when Kennedy asked, “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?”

Of course that is the exact argument that the opponents of the healthcare law have been making for nearly two years and it didn’t help matters any that the justice the Administration was counting on to join in with the liberal contingent of the Court sounded some of the gravest concerns.  It also didn’t help that Donald Verrilli, the solicitor general representing the Administration, seemed about as prepared for the onslaught of questioning as a frat student taking his midterms after an all-night binge.   
How bad was Verrilli?  Justices Breyer and Ginsburg did a better job of presenting the case for the mandate than the Administration’s own attorney, that’s how bad.  Which begs the question, how could the Administration not be better prepared to argue the main legal issue involving its own signature piece of legislation?  They knew this day was coming for well over a year.  It is inexcusable to muff something this crucial, especially in light of the fact that the Court’s decision – expected in June – will play a pivotal role in the upcoming presidential election.

Frankly, I’ve felt for quite some time that the commerce clause argument was on shaky ground to begin with and it was a mistake for the Obama Administration to put all its eggs into that basket.  Notwithstanding the decision last November to uphold the mandate by the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit – a conservative court that saw past politics – the simple and painfully obvious truth is that this court is clearly divided into ideological camps.  The last two landmark cases – Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and Bush v. Gore – were decided strictly along party lines. Expecting anything but partisan treatment of a provision in a law that contradicts an extremely narrow interpretation of the Constitution was the height of naiveté.  

Actually the whole individual mandate was a quagmire from day one.  Progressives hated it because it was a windfall for an insurance industry already rolling in dough; conservatives hated it because they saw it as an overreach of federal authority over what they viewed as the sovereignty of individual liberty – whatever the hell that means these days.  It isn’t often that conservatives and liberals agree on anything, but when it comes to this issue, it’s as though they’re doing a conga dance.

By forgoing what would’ve been a spirited but worthwhile debate over the merits of a single-payer system, which might well have been the best and last chance to save Medicare, the President and congressional Democrats “settled” for a plan few if any like and many loathe.  We will never know what might’ve happened had the Administration held firm for a single-payer – many political pundits have concluded that the votes were simply not there, even among Democrats – but it would’ve been a fight worth waging.   

Now they are stuck defending the virtues of political expediency over ideals, and they are in for the battle of their lives against an opponent that took the opening they were given and pounced on it.  It was as though the Administration loaded the gun and then handed it over to their foes and said, “Go ahead, pull the trigger.”

While defeat may not be inevitable – Kennedy may still come around and I wouldn’t count Roberts out – the lesson here is simple.  If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.  If the individual mandate does indeed get struck down, the whole law ostensibly goes out the window.  One cannot survive without the other.  And with no healthcare reform law, that means pre-existing conditions can once more be used as a bar against treatment and coverage of the sick, affecting potentially millions of Americans.

And that would be inexcusable.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Mitt, It’s Time To Stop Flopping

Dear Mitt Romney:

Back in January, I took time out of my VERY “busy” schedule to write a letter to Newt Gingrich.  I must confess I was a little sarcastic as I congratulated him on his “hard-fought come-from-behind” victory in South Carolina.  Truth is I don’t have much regard for the former Speaker of the House and, judging by what I’ve heard, neither, it seems, does the majority of his party.  You can’t blow up that many bridges and not expect to pay a price.  I’ll just bet you’re popping your cardigan over his campaign’s implosion.

Anyway, enough about Gingrich.  It’s your turn to sit in the cat-bird seat and listen up as I attempt to throw some pearls of wisdom your way.  So, as Jon Stewart would say, meet me over by camera three.

Look, I don’t often find myself saying this to a Republican, let alone a Republican who in all likelihood will be vying for the job of the guy I voted for in ’08 and will, unless I get struck down by lightning or run over by a bus, vote for again in 2012, but there is a lot riding on you this election year.  Yes, you, the used-car salesman from hell.  That’s what I’ve been calling you now for several months, and not without reason.

You may not realize this, but you and I are alike.  I mean I have a soul and feel guilty when one of my customers gets taken for a ride, unlike you back in those Bain Capital days, but aside from that we’ve both made a nice living in sales.  True you make as much in a day as I do all year, but what’s a couple million dollars between colleagues.  It’s the thought that counts, right?

A lot of people don’t get you, but I do.  I read you like a book.  You’re just like every other successful, slimy salesman I’ve worked with during my years in retail.  You listen to what your customer wants, nod your head in total agreement, then proceed to sell them what it is you’re peddling.  I mean, if a customer told you the sky is pink, you’d say, “And what a lovely shade of pink it is.”  You’re a “yes” man, plain and simple.  Hey, I can relate.  After all it’s our job to say yes; if we don’t say yes, if we instead say something like, “You know I think the sky is really blue,” someone else swoops in, insists that the sky truly is pink and then ends up stealing our customer away.  And we can’t have that, can we?  When in doubt give ‘em what they want and move on to the next victim. 

Perception over reality.  It’s not who you are on the inside that matters anyway; it’s the image you portray to the customer.  That’s what sales is all about.  In the end, it’s not about meeting a need; it’s about closing the deal.  To the victor go the spoils, right?

Except there’s this little problem, Mitt.  You’re not closing the deal.  You’re walking way too many customers for my taste.  And the more customers you walk the more desperate you look.  I mean that business with the Blunt amendment was embarrassing even for you.  First you were against it; then you remembered what party you belonged to and switched your position.  You’ve flip-flopped on many issues over your political career, from abortion to gay rights, even to Ronald Reagan, but usually it took you a while – say a few years – to “come around” and see the light.  But three hours?  That’s a record, even for someone with your resume.  And you did it without barely missing a beat, all the while insisting you didn’t understand the question.  Amazing!

Except nobody’s buying the act.  You’re too transparent and obvious.  People can see right through you, especially your base.  You’re really having a hard time closing them.  This guy Santorum has become their hero.  He’s not like Gingrich, or Cain, or Perry, or Bachmann.  They all did you an enormous favor and imploded.  You barely broke a sweat as you dusted them off your feet.  But Santorum?  He refuses to go away.  Despite the fact you’ve outspent him almost ten to one, he remains at your feet pecking away.  He’s gotten under your skin but good.  

He’s got you so off your game you’re actually trying to run to the right of him.  Let me explain something to you, Mitt.  You can’t run to the right of Rick Santorum.  Air can’t run to the right of Rick Santorum.  If Rick Santorum went any further to the right he would be in another dimension.

So why bother trying to out flank Santorum?  Yeah, I know it’s the Republican primaries and right now the crazies are running the show.  And right makes might.  As most pundits have concluded you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, so why not be damned for doing?

Except, in the end, I think it’s going to backfire on you.  The truth is – and always has been – that you’re not one of them.  You aren’t nuts.  You can talk the talk, but you’ve never been able to walk the walk.  When you said recently that you’d bomb Iran and end Planned Parenthood, most of your intended audience didn’t for a minute buy it.  You’re about as comfortable playing crazy as I am discussing advanced mathematics.  For the record, I flunked algebra twice before I finally passed.  

When you say you’ll repeal “Obamacare” you look about as sincere as Bill Clinton when he said, “I did not have sex with that woman.”  You’re the guy who gave Obama the blueprint for his healthcare plan.  Who are you kidding?  You’ve got more skeletons in your closet than Vincent Price at a wax museum.

And just think how lucky you’ve been.  You have more money than God, and, with the exception of Santorum, you’ve had the benefit of running against a group of misfits that looks more like the cast from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” than an actual field of presidential contenders.  Imagine, as Alexander Burns of Politico did, if Jeb Bush or Chris Christie were running against you.  By the way, Jeb is the smart one in the Bush family, in case you were wondering.  Both or either of them would’ve cleaned your clock by now, and you know it.

So, with that in mind, let me give you some advice.  Stop pretending.  That’s right, Mitt.  Do the unthinkable.  Tell the customer the sky isn’t pink; it’s blue.  Take a chance.  Who knows, it might just work.  God knows this certainly isn’t working.  At the rate you’re going you’ll end up in Tampa saying, “What happened?” while the Tea Party gives the nomination to Santorum.  Yeah, I know all about the math.  You’ve got more delegates than Santorum, Gingrich and Paul combined.  Here’s your dilemma, Mittens.  You can’t get to 1144, not without one or more of them dropping out.  Fat chance that happening.  The only thing they hate worse than each other is you.  They’ll stay in it just to spite you. 

Remember the last time a Republican primary season went all the way to the convention without a declared winner?  That’s right, 1976.  That was the year the establishment gave the nod to Gerald Ford over the “true” conservative, Ronald Reagan.  That turned out real well for the GOP, didn’t it?  Thirty-six years later and the faithful still haven’t forgotten, or forgiven for that matter.  This time, if given the chance, you can bet the ranch they won’t let history repeat itself.  The ghost of Reagan will be resurrected in Tampa, come hell or high water.

Face it, you’re Gerald Ford, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush all rolled up in one.  I’d include Richard Nixon, but you’re not enough of a prick.  You can quote Reagan till you’re blue in the face; you’ll never be Reagan.  Not to the faithful, that is.

So why bother trying?  What’s the point?  Stop being the guy who’s trying to sell an ice cube to an Eskimo.  Go bold.  Let your hair down, or at least degrease it.  Make the case for sanity.  Go to the few remaining moderates in your party and appeal to their better judgment.  Instead of imitating Rick Santorum, draw a distinction between the two of you.  Use some of that immense fortune you have to develop a narrative that can work as well in the primaries as it does in the general election.  If you do win the nomination, you're going to have to move to the center anyway.  Why not do it now?

Though I disagree with the basic tenants of your party’s economic philosophy – you know the supply-side fairytale of two plus two equals six that you guys have been peddling ever since David Stockman rode into town – you are the only one who can actually articulate it and have an intelligent debate with the President about it.  Leaders are supposed to distance themselves from the pack, not get bogged down by it.  Right about now would be a good time to become the leader of your party.  If the nation is ever going to have a serious discussion about its future it will need another adult in the room in order to have it.  Much as I admire Barack Obama and the job he has done in three years, no country can survive long with just one salient voice of reason at the helm.

Sooner or later the day will come when the Republican Party will have to break free of the shackles that have bound it for well over a decade.  You could be the man who decides that day is sooner.  My progressive friends think I’m crazy for thinking there’s any difference between you and the rest of your party.  They don’t see you as I see you.  There’s an old saying among thieves, “It takes one to know one.”  I know there’s a moderate in there somewhere.  Those four years in Massachusetts weren’t a mirage.  You did it once; you can do it again. 

Whaddya say?  Are ya game?  Or do you want to remain a used-car salesman from hell the rest of your life?


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Rick Santorum: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.

A while back I caught some flack for having the nerve to write that Rick Santorum was the first true conservative – in the presidential race that is – who wasn’t certifiable.  “Myopic, misogynistic and homophobic, yes; but crazy? Hardly.”  Well, at the risk of being flogged, I stand by my claim.  Rick Santorum is many things, but nuts isn’t one of them.

In fact, one of the reasons Santorum hasn’t gone the way of every other flavor of the month, anti-Romney candidate in this year’s Republican presidential primary season is due to the fact that, while extremist in every way imaginable, he has not fallen on his sword.  Consider the competition.  Michele Bachman was bat-shit crazy, Rick Perry comical, Herman Cain dumb as a stump, and Newt Gingrich suffers from a Napoleonic complex that would’ve made Richard Nixon blush.  I omit Ron Paul in large part because he was never a serious contender for the nomination; though I predict he will be a royal pain in the ass for the GOP come convention time.

In fact, the more you look at Rick Santorum, the more you realize just how sane he really is, which is why the used-car salesman from hell hasn’t been able to shake him like he has every other pretender in the GOP lineup.  That’s the problem for Romney.  Santorum isn’t a pretender; he’s about as authentic as they come within the Republican Party.  As I wrote last month, “Santorum doesn’t just drink the Kool-Aid, he bathes in it. He’s loved by both social and fiscal conservatives alike.”

And that’s what makes him so dangerous.  It’s one thing to be an ideologue; it’s quite another to be an ideologue who doesn’t look like he’s one miscue away from being a resident at the funny farm.  Even voters who don’t support his views and positions have been forced to grudgingly admit he’s the real deal.  Compared to Mitt Romney, Santorum looks like the second coming of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

And now all that authenticity is starting to pay real dividends.  As of last weekend, an ABC / Washington Post poll had Santorum within three points of Barack Obama in the general election.  Let me repeat that just in case you weren’t paying attention, or perhaps were choking on your phlegm.  RICK SANTORUM IS WITHIN THREE POINTS OF BEATING BARACK OBAMA IN THE GENERAL ELECTION!  He is not only doing well among far-right conservatives, he is holding his own among moderates and independents.  Consider he came within a whisker of beating Romney in his home state of Michigan.  And now that he has captured Mississippi and Alabama, it’s time to ponder this.  What if Rick Santorum had Mitt Romney’s money?  That was supposed to a rhetorical question but feel free to answer it anyway.

Not only isn’t this primary race over, it’s just heating up.  In the end Santorum may not have the delegates to win the nomination, but neither will Romney.  That means an undeclared winner going into the convention.  And anybody who thinks this isn’t going all the way to Tampa is kidding themselves.

I have said this on a couple of occasions – much to the chagrin of a few of my comrades – but a Mitt Romney win in November wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen to the country.  Given his past, it’s likely that a President Romney will drift back to the center and attempt to govern through consensus, like he did in Massachusetts.  Assuming that the Democrats hold the Senate and pick off a few seats in the House, Romney will have no choice but to give a little if he plans on accomplishing anything substantive.

All this goes out the window with a Santorum victory.  He is defiant in his stance and equally unyielding in his principles.  He is the consummate wet dream for a Tea Party who thinks Fox News is too moderate and the nightmare of all nightmares for the rest of the country.  If you thought last summer’s debt ceiling charade amusing, if somewhat sad, try imagining a repeat, only this time with a president fully willing and able to let the nation’s credit rating go up in smoke and a complicit Congress backing him up all the way.

Try also imaging rollback after rollback of virtually every significant achievement in civil rights and environmental laws, all because they differ with a narrative that people like Santorum have carefully developed over the years.  Then consider the prospect of public education, as we know it, wiped out of existence in favor of home schooling or vouchers.  Medicare and Medicaid?  Kiss them goodbye too.

And we haven’t even arrived at the coup de grâce: religion.  Santorum is drunk on it, like a sailor on shore leave.  His take on John Kennedy’s famous speech on the separation of church and state during his 1960 presidential campaign revealed not only a complete misread of what it was Kennedy was trying to convey, but a deeply held belief by a particular – and thankfully small – segment of the population that the nation, in spite of every bit of evidence to the contrary, is Christian in origin and thus should be run as such.  Imagine a nation with no separation of church and state?  As John Lennon once said, “It’s easy if you try.” 

It’s one thing to hold a particular belief or conviction; it’s quite another to force that belief or conviction upon an entire population.  But that is Rick Santorum’s plan for America.  In his world view, Christianity must be the dominant religion in the country.  Why? Because everything he’s been taught his whole life tells him that.

I know well of what I write.  I have been around many people just like Santorum in my faith.  I can’t tell you how many misbegotten and naïve Christians hold onto to this twisted ideology.  Secularism scares the hell out of them.  They are forever decrying the auspices of a post-modern ere like it was some kind of plague.  For close on fifty years they have been trying to put the genie back in the bottle.  Intelligent Design is their lame attempt at thwarting the spread of science because they see the scientific community as a bunch of heretics spreading a false religion to their young.  Indeed the diversity and pluralism that is the United States in general is an anathema to everything they hold near and dear, and to a man and woman they have committed themselves to eradicating any trace of it in this country.  Rick Santorum has become almost a deliverer to these people.  Their Joshua, if you will, to Sarah Palin's Ruth.  What better way to have their demented prophecy come to fruition than to see their beloved hero in the White House?

A couple of months ago I would’ve scoffed at the notion of Rick Santorum winning a general election.  Even as recently as last month I all but dismissed it.  The time for dismissing Rick Santorum is over.  The “runt” of the GOP field is within the margin of error of being the next President of the United States.

Be afraid, be VERY afraid!    


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tip of the Hat

Those of you who have read U.S. News and World Report, as I have, will no doubt have little difficultly concluding that it is anything but liberal in its stance.  While hardly a far-right publication, it nonetheless leans in that direction.

Mort Zuckerman has been a contributor there for many years, as well as a frequent guest on The McLaughlin Group.  A few days ago I happened upon a piece he wrote that caught my eye.  As you know the point of this feature is to highlight contributions made by conservative writers that are reasonable and constructive and bring something to the table.

With the GOP so "focused" on job creation this year, Zuckerman's take on the subject is not only unique - for them that is - it's practically heresy.  For the record, I concur with most of his points.  Wanna guess which one I don't?  So this month, the trophy goes to old Mort.

Five Sure-Fire Ways to Create More Jobs

1. Education

Arrest and reverse the decline in American education that has left a workforce less able to compete in the new world. Skills, not muscle, are the only reliable path to high-wage jobs in an era when technology and globalization allow companies to make new investments in regions where labor is cheap and the newly emerging middle classes are eager for their products. We have let the education of our young people slide. America’s university graduation rates have slipped from near the top of the world to the middle.

2. Visas

Approve many more H-1B visas to permit highly educated graduate students in the hard sciences to work in engineering and technology. Contrary to popular perception of immigrants, these are people who would create more jobs rather than cost jobs. And make it easier, too, for tourists to get visas, as these are people who increase consumer spending here in the United States. In theory, skilled workers in America should benefit from globalization, given their skills and what they produce. But as countries like China rapidly upgrade their workforces through education, we find workers competing with those who get much lower pay.

3. Patents

Rationalize the stumbling process of certifying patents, which could and would unleash thousands of start-ups, the single greatest source of new employment.

4. Eliminate Uncertainty

The elimination of a negative impact of policy uncertainty would also help the economy. A metric devised by economists at Stanford University and the University of Chicago shows that policy uncertainty accounts for about 2.5 million jobs lost. For example, they assert there is a widespread view in business that the healthcare bill makes it burdensome to hire and underscores how political uncertainty has made it much more difficult to plan ahead, a key need for every business. The National Federation of Independent Business asked small businesses their biggest problem. Sixteen percent of small businesses cited "government requirements and red tape."

5. Infrastructure

Invest in a national infrastructure bank. Investing in overdue maintenance and repairs would create jobs in the short term and raise the efficiency of our private sector economy. Some infrastructure projects could be tolled so that the users would ultimately pay for them, and the projects should be chosen based on merit rather than on patronage. We ought to undertake new projects of the kind that built America. But we are not even keeping up with repairs, which means it will cost much more when our bridges, roads, dams, schools, and sewage and water systems collapse.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has spelled out the need in convincing detail, but investment is now called that dirty word “spending.” So while millions sit idle and interest rates are historically low, the air is filled not with the sound of men at work but with fatuous slogans. We look askance at the Europeans fiddling while Rome burns, and maybe Madrid and Paris next, but Washington is the graveyard of American dreams.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

GALLUP-ing Through the Recovery

Now that the economy has added more than 200,000 jobs for the third month in a row – February’s report showed a net gain of 227,000 – it’s time to stop beating around the bush.  This is no longer a temporary bump or phase; we are now smack dab in the middle of a recovery that is no longer fragile or on life support.  While not quite as robust as some would’ve preferred, it is nonetheless significant.  Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics – or as the Right likes to call it, the Kremlin – revised the job numbers upwards for the last two months.  January’s went from 244,000 to 284,000 and December’s went from 203,000 to 223,000.  Had it not been for the public sector shedding jobs over the last twelve months, those numbers would’ve been higher still.

So, with such good news, why then did the unemployment rate remain at 8.3%?  You know how they say that no good deed goes unpunished, right?  Well it’s no less true when discussing unemployment.  Now that the economy is improving, more people are getting back into the labor market and are looking for work.  While this is certainly encouraging news it has the unintended consequence of bumping up unemployment.

It’s referred to as the labor force participation rate: the percentage of working-age people from 16 to 64 who are either working or looking for work.  Typically in a healthy economy the labor force participation rate would be between 67% and 68%.  As late as October, 2008, it was around 66%. 

Then the wheels came off.  The economy started its nose dive into the Great Recession.  The unemployment rate began rising precipitously, and the labor force participation rate started declining as more and more displaced workers grew discouraged at their employment prospects and dropped out of the labor market. This January’s labor force participation rate was 63.7%, the lowest in decades.  Last month it rose to 63.9%.  That .2% rise was sufficient enough to prevent the unemployment rate from falling, even with a net gain of 227,000 jobs.

Economists now believe that the labor force participation rate will continue to rise steadily as the recovery continues to pick up steam.  Translation, as more jobs are added, more people will start looking for work again.  And that could spell trouble for the Obama Administration as the fall elections near.  An economy adding 250,000 jobs per month, under normal circumstances, would’ve been enough to reduce the unemployment rate to 7.3% by December.  But that assumption was based on the labor force participation rate remaining at 63.7%; an unrealistic expectation given that good news tends to travel fast.  

For instance, if the labor force participation rate rose to just 64% and stayed there for the balance of the year – again highly unlikely – the unemployment rate would be 7.8% by end of year.  But if it were to go up over 64% – say 64.5%, which is still considerably below the norm – we’d be looking at unemployment over 8% for the remainder of the year, that is assuming an average of 250,000 net jobs per month.  The bottom line is that to offset the effect of an increase in labor force participation and make a significant dent in unemployment in time for the fall elections, the economy is going to have to add more jobs than it currently is adding, say 300,000 to 350,000.  A tall order even before the recession hit.

Maybe that was what Gallup was doing in its February jobs’ poll.  Though they seriously overstated a rise in the labor force participation rate last month – not to mention failing to include anyone under 18 or allowing for seasonal variations, which no doubt led to their erroneous 9.1% unemployment rate prediction – they did nonetheless underscore the importance of taking into account the impact more and more people in the labor market would have on the overall numbers.

This has been the 800 pound gorilla in the room that most of us haven’t wanted to acknowledge for well over a year.  Well there’s no getting around it anymore.  Now that the economic recovery is no longer a well-kept secret, more and more people are going to demand their rightful piece of it.  And that is both good and potentially ominous.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rush Job

Back in April, 2007, when Don Imus had his bout with verbal diarrhea and, for his efforts, got himself fired, I remarked on the hypocrisy of his employers: MSNBC and CBS.  I concluded that the reasoning behind Imus’ exit had far more to do with profit than the gravity of his remarks.

“In the end what got Imus canned was not so much his mouth, though it certainly played a role, but the underlying fear within corporate America that whatever rocks the boat and threatens the bottom line must be dealt with in the harshest of terms.    Indeed Imus’ greatest crime might have been that he bit the hand that fed him.  The very same networks that financially benefited from his off-color humor and abrasive personality, when they saw their profits threatened, turned on him like a tiger eating its young.  And like the tsunami that swept onto shore to devour the invincible, when it was finally done receded back into the ocean leaving in its wake the aftermath of its destruction.”

Fast forward five years later and another abrasive personality known for his off-color, obnoxious remarks and sick and twisted humor went ahead and pushed the envelope too far.  The exodus of advertisers from the Rush Limbaugh show has been considerable, remarkable and equally hypocritical.  Why hypocritical?  Because the motive behind their decisions is based solely on profit.  Just look at some of the statements issued by the “offended” parties:

“Mr. Limbaugh's unsettling comments are not in line with our values, and we've decided to remove our advertising from the program.” – Vitacost

“Rush Limbaugh’s comments are not in line with SENSA values so we are pulling our ads indefinitely.” – SensaWeightLoss

“We have monitored the unfolding events and have determined that Mr. Limbaugh’s comments are not in line with our values. As a result we have made the decision to suspend advertising on The Rush Limbaugh Radio show.” – AOL

To which I would reply, I am shocked, shocked to discover that gambling is going on here!  I mean what part of disingenuous don’t these companies get?  Unsettling comments?  This is Rush Limbaugh we’re talking about here.  The man has been making unsettling comments for twenty years and you just found out it was “not in line with your values” now?  Are you f***ing kidding me?!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the unfolding spectacle of watching this buffoon squirm as he finally gets his comeuppance.  I just wish the motivation behind it was sincere and not just the result of public perception.  The fact of the matter is that, for all the bombast and ugliness of the show, Limbaugh has made these sponsors a ton of money over the years.  The Sandra Fluke incident brought his caustic style a little too far into the light of day and, hence, threatened their bottom lines.  Just like in ’07, a price had to be paid.  In the case of Imus, termination was the result; with Limbaugh, it’s his wallet that will bear the brunt, at least for now.

In due time all will be forgiven.  The sponsors who fled like locusts will flock back to papa bear like a sick dog to an abusive owner.  The love of money, trust me, will triumph over any lingering vestiges of principle.

Don’t believe me?  Imus has been back on the air for four years now.  Ain’t capitalism grand?


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Snowed Out: Olympia Calls It Quits

Last week’s decision by Olympia Snowe not to run for reelection this November is a major blow to Republicans’ hopes of taking back the Senate.  They will now have to spend precious resources defending a seat that had been red – albeit a light red – for seventeen years.  With Scott Brown’s senate seat hanging precariously by a thread and Bob Kerrey’s decision to run for Ben Nelson’s open seat in Nebraska, things are starting to look up for the Democrats.  Only a few months ago, political pundits were all but conceding the Senate to the GOP; with Democrats possibly picking up a few House seats and Obama holding the White House by the slimmest of margins. 

Now, thanks to the Republicans once more being themselves – as if they had any choice in the matter – and driving away independent and moderate voters with their culture war on women and gays, not to mention the recovery continuing to gain momentum, 2012 is shaping up to be a pretty good year.  The Senate is looking more and more like it will stay in Democratic control, the GOP-led House is now up for grabs and Obama's reelection prospects have risen considerably.

Conservative writers are even starting to have their doubts.  George Will, in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, pondered that neither Mitt Romney nor Rick Santorum seem able to demonstrate or “develop an aptitude for energizing a national coalition that translates into 270 electoral votes.”  He compares 2012 to 1964, the year Barry Goldwater got slaughtered by Lyndon Johnson.  Will has been one of the most vocal critics of the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls, and he is not alone.

But the real story here, aside from the potential short-term gain for Democrats, is the gradual exodus of moderate Republicans not only from Congress, but from the Party altogether.  Losing Snowe in the Senate, no matter how politically advantageous it might seem, is a disaster for all concerned and deals a serious blow to what little hope there is of removing the gridlock that has all but paralyzed Washington and made it the laughing stock of the nation.  The problem wasn’t that Snowe was a Republican; the problem was that there weren’t more of her in the Senate, or the House for that matter.  In a deeply polarized political climate, Snowe was one of the few remaining Republicans who dared challenge the party line.  Though it is unlikely she would have faced a primary challenge, she did face ridicule from many of her colleagues.  When she cast the vote to get healthcare reform out of committee, she was branded a traitor by the Right.

In a piece she wrote in The Washington Post, Snowe explained her reasons for leaving the Senate.

“Some people were surprised by my conclusion, yet I have spoken on the floor of the Senate for years about the dysfunction and political polarization in the institution. Simply put, the Senate is not living up to what the Founding Fathers envisioned.”

Lest readers come to the conclusion that Snowe was speaking only about her Republican colleagues, there was plenty of blame to go around and she made sure to divvy it out equally to both sides in her rebuke.

“The Senate of today routinely jettisons regular order, as evidenced by the body’s failure to pass a budget for more than 1,000 days; serially legislates by political brinkmanship, as demonstrated by the debt-ceiling debacle of August that should have been addressed the previous January; and habitually eschews full debate and an open amendment process in favor of competing, up-or-down, take-it-or-leave-it proposals. We witnessed this again in December with votes on two separate proposals for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

“As Ronald Brownstein recently observed in the National Journal, Congress is becoming more like a parliamentary system — where everyone simply votes with their party and those in charge employ every possible tactic to block the other side. But that is not what America is all about, and it’s not what the Founders intended. In fact, the Senate’s requirement of a supermajority to pass significant legislation encourages its members to work in a bipartisan fashion.

“The great challenge is to create a system that gives our elected officials reasons to look past their differences and find common ground if their initial party positions fail to garner sufficient support. In a politically diverse nation, only by finding that common ground can we achieve results for the common good. That is not happening today and, frankly, I do not see it happening in the near future.”

In case you missed it, she was throwing both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell under the same bus.  The moral of Snowe’s story should be self-evident, but it will require us all – the Left as well as the Right – to take off our blinders and see past our own private Idahos.  It is not for lack of passionate debate that we find ourselves trapped in the middle of this calamity, but rather due to our unwillingness to arrive at a workable framework for consensus building.  Living in a bubble isn’t merely the purview of Republicans; it also has trapped many a Democrat.  The Left gets no brownie points for having a few less zealots in its ranks.

Whoever comes out on top this November will have their hands full.  The economy, while improving, will need further tending to.  The European Union is still on shaky ground.  And then there is Iran.  A bitterly divided Congress and a politically isolated White House will be hard-pressed to deal with these and other as yet unforeseen issues.

Snowe’s departure from public service should serve as a warning for both parties.  As the old saying goes, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

No Tears in Heaven

I won’t mince words, here.  Andrew Breitbart was a creep. Over the last few years he – along with his partners in slime Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, Fox News and the bulk of the AM radio dial – dragged the political discourse of this nation through the mud.  To refer to him as a conservative would be like calling an ambulance chaser a lawyer.  David Brooks and David Frum are conservatives.  Breitbart was nothing more than a self-serving ideologue.

I don’t want to hear about what a terrible loss this is; or hear the “tributes” from both ends of the political spectrum; or how he “collaborated” with Arianna Huffington in the early days of the Huffington Post to get it up and running; or how it’s inappropriate to dis the dead.


Throughout his sanctimonious and depraved life, Breitbart was merciless, going to any lengths to smear the reputations of otherwise innocent people to further his sick objective. His edited version of Shirley Sherrod’s speech was beneath contempt, as was the video he posted about Acorn that inevitably led to its demise.  I will not be a hypocrite and join the chorus of well-wishers now that he has been put out of his misery.

Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.  There is now one less scourge on the planet, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.  Breitbart personified the sort of yellow journalism that has now sadly come to define the conservative movement.  That he was given a forum by the mainstream media to spew his venom – no doubt under the naïve belief that they were being “fair and balanced” – reveals more about the state of journalism in this country than anything substantive he might’ve brought to the table.  He was a cancer, pure and simple.

I say this not just as a progressive, but as someone who realizes that the nation desperately needs an adult conversation about the differences between liberalism and conservatism.  The polarization that has crippled our government was not an accident; nor did it happen overnight.  It was carefully orchestrated over a period of years by scumbags like Breitbart.  One political party has all but been kidnapped by them, while the other struggles to regain its footing.  I can assure you this was NOT what the Founding Fathers intended: an all-out rumble in an alley.  This wasn’t supposed to be some demented adaptation of West Side Story.

I say enough already.  The death of Andrew Breitbart won’t put an end to the vicious lies and deceit that routinely comes from the Right; but thankfully there will be one less sewer rat in the gutter throwing the barbs.      

And for that I am grateful.