Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Year's Resolutions for Republicans and Democrats

Okay so now that 2013 is wrapping up - thank God - it's time to look ahead to 2014. I've taken the liberty of compiling a wish list for both major political parties that, if heeded, should improve their prospects. I've done my best to be as objective as possible here, but let's be honest, I am a progressive, so I do have a horse in this race.

Liberal leanings aside, I really feel that the nation is at a crossroads. It's obvious that business as usual is unacceptable. Barring the Democrats taking the House and holding the Senate, we are going to have a divided government until at least 2017. Clearly, something has to give. And while I don't for a moment subscribe to the ridiculous notion that both sides are equally to blame for the mess we're in, I do believe that both sides could do some soul searching as to their conduct in 2013 and how they plan on improving it in 2014.

So, with that in mind, I sincerely hope that this piece resonates with its intended audience.

First up the Republicans. The grand old party has been anything but grand over the last few years. 2013 was its low water mark. A government shutdown and a near debt-ceiling default were bad enough. Now the Party appears to be in the midst of an all-out civil war between the establishment and the Tea Party factions that portends trouble for its plans for taking the Senate in the midterms.

So here are some resolutions that could help.

1. Move as far away from the Tea Party as possible. A close look at the November elections proved conclusively that America has had it with the this freak show. Chris Christie's win in New Jersey and, more importantly, Ken Cuccinelli's loss in Virginia underscore that point definitively.  Across the country, in geographic areas that Republicans need to win on a national level, candidates who showed willingness to work with their counterparts and were seen as less extreme in their positions, fared much better on election night than their Tea Party colleagues.

2. Stay away from social issues. It's as clear as the nose on your face that the biggest problem besetting Republican candidates is their stance on issues like abortion, gay marriage, etc. Poll after poll has revealed that the nation is left of center when it comes to social issues. In the 2012 election, comments by Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin cost the GOP two senate seats. The more Republicans open their mouths on these issues, the more they shoot themselves in the foot.

3. Concentrate on the economy. As hard as it is for me to acknowledge, when Republicans stick to the economy, most polls show them in a favorable light. In fact, up against Democrats, it's usually a horse race. The reason for this should be self-evident. Most Americans, even those who identify as Democrat, still lean slightly to the right on the economy. A carefully crafted message that targets that demographic group could considerably improve Republican fortunes both in 2014 and 2016.

4. Give up trying to repeal Obamacare. This is the one dangling fruit that the GOP just can't resist. But resist it, they must. The law is here to stay; it isn't going anywhere. Attempts to defund it last fall cost Republicans an awful lot of political capital; capital that could've been spent elsewhere. Even David Frum has made it clear: reform and not repeal should be the mantra for Republicans in 2014. Whoever comes up with the fixes needed to the ACA will most likely do well next November.

5. Support immigration reform. There is simply no pathway to the White House that doesn't include Hispanic support. Every political strategist says this. It is time that the Republican Party embraced immigration reform and 2014 would be a good year to start. The Senate bill is by no means perfect, but it's better than nothing at all. Listening to wingnuts like Mark Levin and Iowa representative Steve King will only accelerate the GOP's slide into electoral oblivion.

6. Work with and not against Democrats. The budget deal struck by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray was hardly the breakthrough some had wanted; but in a town that has become polarized and gridlocked, it was a breath of fresh air. One hopes the GOP was taking notes. This is how things used to get done in Washington. Constantly saying "no" may play well to the base, but it is killing the national brand. When your opinion poll numbers are just north of insurance salesmen and child molesters, clearly you have a problem. If they know what's good for them, Republicans will reach across the aisle a lot more in 2014 than they did in 2013. 

And now for my Democratic friends, some friendly advice along with a bit of caster oil. No spoon-full of sugar for you.

1. Stop wetting your pants over Obamacare. The election isn't for another ten months. Yes there are problems with the law, but most of those problems are fixable. What isn't fixable is the sight of a bunch of wussies running for the hills because of a few setbacks. You went to the mat for this law - hell, you called John Boehner's bluff during the government shutdown - so stand up like adults and show some spine. Instead of buying into Republican talking points about "trainwrecks" and "canceled policies" go on the offensive. Now would be a good time to point out that of the 60% of people who don't like Obamacare, almost half don't think it goes far enough. Can you spell SINGLE PAYER?

2. Stop worshiping at the alter of Bill de Blasio. Yes, the mayor elect of New York won a huge landslide victory which prompted many progressives to boldly predict that liberal values are the way to retake the House in 2014. Let me just cut to the chase; that is the best way for Democrats to not only fail to retake the House, but lose the Senate as well. No matter how hard it may be for them to hear, de Blasio's win was an outlier. Put succinctly, the mood of the electorate is, if anything, becoming less ideological and more middle of the road. The reason that the GOP is getting shellacked is because it is seen as too extreme. Appearances count in politics. The Party that looks more centrist will prevail in 2014 and 2016.

3. Come up with solutions for entitlement reform. Now that the public has thoroughly rejected the Republican plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system and convert Medicaid into a block-grant program, Democrats should come to the table with concrete solutions for both. Both programs badly need fixing and relying on the GOP to continue to fumble the ball is NOT a good long-term strategy.

4. Continue to push immigration reform. While the GOP insists on hemorrhaging over this issue, Democrats should push it till it gives. The last thing they should do is assume that they get an E for effort. Whichever Party successfully gets this legislation passed, or is perceived as doing everything it can to get it passed, will have a leg up with the Hispanic community for the foreseeable future. Here's a thought that should frighten Democrats: had Mitt Romney gotten the same percentage of Hispanic voters that George Bush did, he might've won the 2012 presidential election.

5. Stop counting on Republicans to commit political suicide. Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin were gifts from heaven. Seriously, does anybody with half a brain actually doubt that had Akin not shot off his mouth and Dick Lugar not been defeated in a primary Missouri and Indiana would've been in the red column?  For the record, Claire McCaskill was trailing prior to shit-for-brains "legitimate rape" comments. Face it, Democrats have been the benefactors of some pretty incompetent and negligently run campaigns by the GOP. And while you never look a gift horse in the mouth, you don't, as a rule, bank on such generosity. Not if you like winning. Sooner or later, Republicans will start fielding candidates who don't fall on their swords.  And when that happens, Democrats better come to the table with some pretty good candidates of their own or they will get beat. Period.

6. Stop pushing away the faith-based vote. While this isn't meant for all progressives and liberals, it is meant for a huge chunk of them. The Democratic Party has developed a reputation, deserved or not, over the years as a party that shuns overt expressions of faith for a more secular view of the world. The result is that a lot of evangelicals, who otherwise would align themselves with and identify as liberals, end up voting for Republican candidates. The recent comments made by Pope Francis on trickle-down economics and greed have presented a unique opportunity for the Democratic Party. President Obama, to his credit, has embraced the Pope's stance. His Party would do well to follow his lead. I have never understood this fixation within the base to eschew religion, especially since the New Testament is ripe with examples that support many Democratic policies. 

Okay, that's my list of New Year's resolutions that I hope both Parties adhere to. Of course, things being what they are, I wouldn't hold my breath. That's the problem with resolutions; they usually last about as long as the hangover from the party they were hatched in.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Not So New Unemployment Norm

Paul Krugman has never been shy about sharing his opinions on what is behind the long-term unemployment rate and why it has been so stubbornly high for so long. Demand, or lack thereof, has certainly played a major role. But Krugman believes there maybe another reason lying under the data that hasn't been looked at closely enough. Corporate America might actually want it that way. Krugman explains:

Now, you may believe that employment is a market relationship like any other — there’s a buyer and a seller, and it’s just a matter of mutual consent. You may also believe in Santa Claus. The truth is that employment is, in many though not all cases, a power relationship. In good economic times, or where workers’ position is protected by legal restraints and/or strong unions, that relationship may be relatively symmetric. In times like these, it’s hugely asymmetric: employers and employees alike know that workers are easy to replace, lost jobs very hard to replace.

But even more telling is the effect this is having on those who are actually employed. Krugman elaborates further:

Leave or lose your job, and the chances of getting another comparable job, or any job at all, are definitely not good. And workers know it: quit rates, the percentage of workers voluntarily leaving jobs, remain far below pre-crisis levels, and very very far below what they were in the true boom economy of the late 90s.

In a nutshell an awful lot of economists have been wrong about the economy from the beginning. They have maintained it is weak or depressed based almost solely on GDP, which had it not been for cuts to public spending would've been a full percentage point higher than it currently is, and the unemployment rate. But if one takes a look at profits, it is far from depressed.  Indeed, if you look at its balance sheets, corporate America appears to be having the time of its life. Here, Krugman sums up brilliantly:

The point is that we have a depressed economy for workers, but not at all for corporations. How much of this is due to the bargaining-power issue is obviously something we don’t know, but the disconnect between the economy at large and profits is undeniable. A depressed economy may or may not actually be good for corporations, but it evidently doesn’t hurt them much.

Assuming nothing much changes next year - the Republicans keep the House and the Democrats hold the Senate - we can expect demand to remain pretty much where it is at present. Unemployment may tick down a bit, maybe even down to 6 percent, but hardly enough to break the cycle. And even if more people join the workforce, all that will likely produce is a corresponding rise in the labor force participation rate, thus offsetting any positive gains. Translation, the long-term unemployed will, for the most part, remain that way and a good chunk of the employed will be sufficiently cowed enough into keeping their mouths shut or face the consequences.

And the employers? They'll just have to grin and bear it all the way to the bank.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tip of the Hat

Bruce Bartlett's piece in The New York Times is more than just an excellent way to end the year on a high note, it offers a potential roadmap for success that Democrats can employ both in 2014 and 2016 to thwart what will undoubtedly be savage attacks from the GOP.

Assuming Obamacare gets up and rolling and there prove to be more winners than losers, Republicans are going to be scrambling by the summer to find something, anything they can run up the flag pole for a salute. Knowing that their modus operandi for most of the last five years was to harp on the deficit and debt, look for them to return to their roots. This piece portends a potential roadblock to that plan.

As always, facts have proven an inconvenient truth for the GOP, but they have also proven a difficult tool for Democrats to capitalize on. I predict this issue, along with GDP growth, will be dominant themes next year. Whichever party is best able to craft their message and get it out to the electorate will be running the country for the foreseeable future.

December 24, 2013, 12:01 am          

The Budget Deficit as Seen From 2009

Bruce Bartlett held senior policy roles in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and served on the staffs of Representatives Jack Kemp and Ron Paul. He is the author of “The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform — Why We Need It and What It Will Take.”

On Dec. 20, the Brookings Institution economist Justin Wolfers sent out this provocative post on Twitter: “The decline in the budget deficit since 2009 is the largest four-year improvement since the demobilization from WWII.”

Perspectives from expert contributors.

I was aware that the deficit was declining sharply, both in nominal terms and as a share of the gross domestic product, but hadn’t thought much about the magnitude. Mr. Wolfers, whose partner Betsey Stevenson is a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, is correct, as the data show. Fiscal year 2014 began on Oct. 1.

Congressional Budget Office

The Congressional Budget Office further projects that the deficit will fall to just 2.1 percent of G.D.P. in fiscal year 2015, less than it was in fiscal year 2008, when it was 3.1 percent of G.D.P. Thus we will have seen a decline in the deficit of 7.7 percent of G.D.P. over seven years.

There is indeed no comparable period in which the deficit fell as much since the aftermath of World War II for the simple reason that the deficit never grew large enough to drop so much. The largest deficit recorded in the postwar era before 2009 was in 1983, when it reached 6 percent of G.D.P.
After the war, the deficit fell to 7.7 percent in 1946 from 22 percent of G.D.P. in 1945. A surplus of 1.2 percent of G.D.P. was achieved in 1947.

This got me thinking about President Obama’s budgetary record when viewed from 2009. I turned first to the last C.B.O. projection of the George W. Bush administration, which was made on Jan. 7, 2009, and thus includes no Obama policies. The decline in the deficit after 2010 is largely attributable to the assumed expiration of the Bush tax cuts, because the C.B.O. must assume current law and they were set to expire at the end of 2010.

Congressional Budget Office

What’s important to see is that the federal government was going to run the largest deficit since World War II in fiscal year 2009, which began on Oct. 1, 2008, regardless of who became president on Jan. 20, 2009. It was baked in the cake by policies put in place by the Bush administration and the natural rise in spending and fall in revenues resulting from a sharp drop in economic growth and rise in unemployment, which economists call “automatic stabilizers.”

This point was always known by anyone who bothered to look carefully at the data, regardless of how many hand-wringers on both sides of the aisle acted as if the deficit was solely a result of President Obama’s policies. Both because of myopia and because everyone tends to invest the president with far more power than he actually has, there is a tendency to assume that whatever happens on his watch is attributable solely to him.

Although the stimulus bill enacted in February 2009 did indeed add to the short-run deficit, President Obama’s decision to extend many Bush policies was more important, fiscally. As David Leonhardt of The New York Times wrote on June 9, 2009, “Mr. Obama’s main contribution to the deficit is his extension of several Bush policies, like the Iraq war and tax cuts for households making less than $250,000.”

According to the Council of Economic Advisers, $697 billion of the $783 billion stimulus package, or 90 percent, was spent by June 2011, adding very little to the deficit after that date.

Mr. Obama has always been reluctant to call attention to the bad budgetary hand he was dealt and the responsibility of his predecessor for much of the deficit. But he did on Dec. 8, 2009, when he said:
Despite what some have claimed, the cost of the Recovery Act is only a very small part of our current budget imbalance. In reality, the deficit had been building dramatically over the previous eight years. We have a structural gap between the money going out and the money coming in.
Folks passed tax cuts and expansive entitlement programs without paying for any of it – even as health care costs kept rising, year after year. As a result, the deficit had reached $1.3 trillion when we walked into the White House. And I’d note: These budget-busting tax cuts and spending programs were approved by many of the same people who are now waxing political about fiscal responsibility, while opposing our efforts to reduce deficits by getting health care costs under control. It’s a sight to see.
A September 2009 analysis by Alan J. Auerbach of the University of California, Berkeley, and William G. Gale of the Brookings Institution projected deficits based on Obama and Bush policies, taking account of such things as the state of the economy, the temporary nature of Mr. Obama’s stimulus and Mr. Bush’s oft-stated desire to see all his tax cuts made permanent. They then compared the two baselines.

Alan J. Auerbach and William G. Gale

On net, President Obama’s policies have added far less to the deficit than commonly believed, and much of that stemmed from extending the Bush tax cuts for two years past their original expiration date in 2010. Even after they were finally allowed to expire at the end of 2012, Mr. Obama allowed many of them to stay in place permanently, reducing revenues and raising the deficit.

Those who care about where the deficits came from need to look at the legacy of the Bush tax cuts, which are far more to blame than anything President Obama has done, as I have previously documented. A common trick in Republican budget analyses is to pretend that Mr. Obama is responsible for all of Mr. Bush’s policies.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

One Step Forward, Two Backwards

Some people just never learn. Barely a week after the GOP agreed to a budget deal that signaled their willingness to acknowledge what Paul Ryan said during an interview, that “elections have consequences,” they are once more contemplating the unthinkable.

Both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan have stated they plan on extracting concessions from President Obama and Democrats as a ransom for raising the debt ceiling.

Yep, you heard right.

Incredibly, the Party that bore the brunt of the blame for the government shutdown and near debt-ceiling default is actually thinking of revisiting their Waterloo. Like an addict who can’t get clean, the GOP is hopelessly trapped in a failed strategy. Ironically, it itself is being held hostage by the very faction it created three years ago.

On Fox News Sunday, Ryan said, “We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit. We are going to decide what it is we can accomplish out this debt-limit fight.” Ryan's use of double negatives notwithstanding, this stance is a complete reversal from the tone he was using only days earlier.

Not to be outdone, McConnell elaborated a bit further. “I doubt if the House or, for that matter, the Senate is willing to give the President a clean debt ceiling increase,” he told Capitol Hill reporters. “Every time the President asks us to raise the debt ceiling is a good time to try to achieve something important for the country.”

It’s difficult to figure out the motives behind this latest, foolish bravado from Ryan and McConnell. Both could simply be reacting to the flack they’re getting from the far Right over the budget deal, which is expected to pass the Senate after breezing through the House. McConnell, in particular, is facing a stiff primary challenge.  As for Ryan, his stock had dropped considerably among the wingnuts since he announced that agreement with his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray. Mark Levin ripped him a new one on his radio show the other day. What better way for both to get back into good graces than by throwing the base a bone loaded with fresh, red meat?

It’s hard to imagine the Republicans being crazy enough to go down this yellowbrick road again, but then only a few days ago, I was actually hopeful that this Congress might start doing its job.

Silly me.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Letter To the Children of Newtown

To all the children whose lives were cut down tragically and senselessly in Newtown last year, I wish to apologize to you and to your families.  Your deaths were in vain. And not only yours, but the deaths of 194 other children over the last 365 days, as well. They and you were slaughtered because of a nation's blood-thirsty love affair with guns and a warped perception of the 2nd Amendment. All of you deserved better.

You probably don't know much about the 2nd Amendment; to be honest, you're not alone. Most of the adult population of this country apparently doesn't know much about it either. Because if they did, if they actually knew what that damned document actually says and, more importantly, what it doesn't say, your parents wouldn't be mourning your passing this day. You would still be in that school, safe and sound, learning your ABCs without a care in the world. You had every right to believe that those charged with protecting you would do their utmost to keep you out of harm's way. On behalf of them and a blind nation, we let you down; we failed you.

There is no way to adequately express how sad and angry I am that because of the ignorance of a few very powerful and evil people you will never be able to play with your friends again. Your parents will never be able to hug you and watch you grow up into the adults you were meant to be. No more ball games to attend, no more dance recitals to rehearse for, no future proms to go to, no cramming for college exams, no weddings to plan or children of your own to raise. Life for you came to a screeching halt that day, but for us the tears continue.

You were too young to know what we adults understand all too well: that death is a part of life. But death like this should never be part of anyone's life. Your deaths were preventable. They did not have to happen. Some of you with a religious upbringing were probably taught about God's will. I can assure you that none of this was God's will. Knowing the Lord as I do, his will was for you to live a long and happy life in the bosom of your family. It was only the will of a sick individual who had access to weapons he had no business getting his hands on that ended your lives abruptly and prematurely. He and his accomplices - all of us - are to blame, not God. But then you know that now.

There are far too many of you in heaven these days and my fear is that many more will soon be passing through those pearly gates to join your ranks. This is both our sin and our burden. To be honest, the adults in the room haven't behaved very much like adults lately. We knew there was something wrong and we simply didn't do enough to make it right. And now your blood and the blood of countless victims just like you who are on our hands. Forgive us for being weak. 

The bells may have tolled 26 times this morning in your honor, but for us they will never stop tolling.  For it is not enough just to honor your memory with a moment of silence. Silence has been our problem all along. If we are truly interested in honoring your memory, we must shout out at the tops of our lungs that we are tired of burying our children like this. This madness must end.

May God have pity on our souls and give us the grace to get through this terrible ordeal as well as the strength to do His will.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Lowdown on the Budget Deal

Don't look now, but Congress might just get something accomplished this year. The budget deal reached between House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray is far from the grand bargain many sought, but it is hardly inconsequential. Given the barriers that existed between both parties, the deal is, on its merits, encouraging. If you're a Democrat, it's actually quite good. Here's how you know it's a good deal for Democrats. The wingnuts on the Right already hate it.

The deal, if approved by the House and Senate, would raise spending levels for fiscal 2014 and 2015 to $1.012 trillion and $1.014 trillion respectively. That is roughly halfway between what the Senate and House called for in their respective budgets. The deal also calls for $63 billion in sequester relief along with $23 billion in net deficit reduction. Gone are at least some of the draconian effects of the 2011 Budget Control Act, the law that supposedly nobody wanted but which nobody seemed willing to get rid of. Congress would now have greater discretion in administering the remaining $120 billion in cuts over the next two years. Not the slam dunk some wanted but a whole lot better than what could've been.

The deal does not include a debt-limit increase, nor does it tackle entitlements, but to be honest, it was never going to. After getting their lunch money stolen last October, I seriously doubt anyone in the GOP is going to flirt with another debt default and if you can find me anyone in Washington who is willing to put entitlements on the table going into an election year, I've not only got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you, but two men in white coats standing on the Manhattan side. It also doesn't provide for an extension in unemployment benefits which are scheduled to expire at the end of this month. That's really the only consolation prize here for the GOP, if you can call it that.

Frankly, I really didn't think Ryan would budge on the $967 billion that his Party and, more to the point, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hailed as their one accomplishment this year. For those who may not remember, before Ted Cruz threw his hissy fit over Obamacare, John Boehner and Harry Reid had reached their own deal, which kept spending at sequester levels. Democrats hated it, but McConnell and Senate Republicans would not budge. That was one of the reasons why there were no conferences between the House and Senate to iron out a compromise between both budgets. McConnell wouldn't allow it.

The irony is that, thanks to Cruz and his Tea Party cronies, the GOP got boxed into agreeing to, of all things, a conference committee. Credit Murray for holding firm to a compromise that was pretty close to what most Democrats wanted in the first place. They get spending levels increased for the next two years, flexibility in how the sequester cuts go into place and, best of all, we don't have to go through this nightmare scenario every three to six months. The boy wonder got schooled but good.

The only potential problem is the Tea Party contingent in the House that will undoubtedly hate this deal. But my gut tells me that, this time, Republican leadership isn't going to stand for any showboating by the gang of 60. Boehner has already come out and publicly endorsed the deal. I would expect that Eric Cantor and the rest of the establishment Republicans will do the same. As for the Senate, McConnell will try to shit on it - what else is new - but there will be enough Republican support to see it pass.

Given the Obamacare rollout problems, this is the first good news for Democrats in over a month. It also portends some hope that maybe Congress might get back to doing its job. Call me naïve if you will, but even the largest iceberg, if exposed to enough sunlight, will eventually melt.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Idiots' Delight: The Annual Edition (Amended)

At long last, the year-end Idiots' Delight awards have finally arrived. If, like me, you found it difficult waiting a whole six months, don't despair. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

As I mentioned in the last installment, the big advantage of opting to go with a semi-annual format over a monthly format was that keeping up with all the "dimwitted behavior" of the "same nincompoops" had become "exhausting." I should've also pointed out that it was becoming redundant. For me it came down to simple math. Less was more, I figured.

And, as befitting a year-end segment, all the nominees listed below did their absolute best to earn their stripes. Also worth mentioning is the fact that two of the eight "winners" are Democratic. Hey, I calls them as I sees them. When it comes to idiots, everyone's fair game. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I never spare the rod. You might also notice a theme in most of the entrees. Hmmm, I wonder why.

So let's get this show on the road.

Ted Cruz for his crusade against Obamacare. Almost eighteen years to the day after they shut down the government, Republicans once more pushed the country to the brink of Armageddon, and the chief architect of their suicide mission was none other than first term Texas Senator and Tea Party darling Ted Cruz. But Cruz wasn't merely the architect of his Party's march to madness, he was its General Patton, or Custer as it turned out.
Cruz ostensibly held the entire Republican House conference hostage attempting to defund a law that even members of his own Party said couldn't be defunded because it was exempt from discretionary spending. Undaunted and equally oblivious to the facts, Cruz and about 60 of his cohorts in the House needlessly provoked a government shutdown and near debt-ceiling default just to prove a point.

And what did these dim bulbs get for their stunt? Nothing. Not only didn't Cruz succeed in defunding Obamacare, he caused irreparable damage to his Party's already badly tarnished image; damage that may well result in the GOP losing control of the House in next year's midterm elections.

Rather than quit while he was behind, old shit-for-brains has decided to double down. He and his Tea Party minions are hell bent on going after any congressman or senator who "sold out" the Party and voted to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.  I would expect a plethora of primary challenges next year to "RINO" incumbents. Can you say Dick Lugar?

Barack Obama for his handling of the rollout of Obamacare. It's been said all too frequently by me and a host of political pundits, but it bears repeating. This president can't draw a narrative to save his life. Well now you can add another infamous distinction. He apparently sucks at micromanaging.
Okay, I get it, he wasn't the guy who designed the software. I also understand that presidents routinely delegate such responsibilities to their subordinates. That's why they have a vice president and a cabinet. But I cannot and will not believe that on what was his signature piece of legislation - one with his name attached to it - he was this detached. Shit, absentee landlords are more involved with their properties than Obama was with this rollout.

Yes, I know that the federal website was never designed to handle that much traffic. The original intent was for the state exchanges to pick up the bulk of it. But once the Supreme Court decision basically allowed states to opt out with no penalty, Obama should've known that all bets were off. Like it or not, the site was going to have to manage the lion's share of traffic. It is inexcusable that neither he, nor HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, knew that the site was nowhere near capable of handling such a high demand. And if they knew and did nothing, that's even worse.

Adding insult to injury, it is now all too apparent that the President and Sebelius knew that people would lose their healthcare coverage once the ACA went into effect. It matters not that many of those plans were inferior; what matters is the impression it left with potentially millions of registered voters who, as history has shown, tend to voice their opinions at the ballot box. Once more, a failure to communicate has become Obama's biggest self-inflicted wound.

Ironic, isn't it? Had the Republicans not been so obtuse and forced a government shutdown, they could've sat back and watched the horrific rollout of Obamacare and said, "See, we told you so." In short, they'd be sitting pretty now. Funny how things turn out.

Congressional Republicans on their deplorable conduct over Obamacare. Actually, you could say their conduct has been deplorable on everything from the economy to immigration reform to gay and women's reproductive rights. But their obsession over Obamacare is one for the ages. I've never seen anything like it.
For over three years all the GOP did was fight healthcare reform tooth and nail. House Republicans tried more than 40 times to have the law repealed. They even risked destroying the U.S. and world economy over it. Then, once the law took effect and the federal website woes began to mount, all you heard from them was how upset they were that people couldn't sign up.

In less than 30 days the Republican Party went from not giving a shit about millions of people without insurance to now suddenly being their chief advocate. Disingenuous doesn't begin to cut it. The GOP has behaved like a pyromaniac who, once he sets his fire, stands outside rooting for it to consume the building and then has the audacity to criticize the fire department for failing to put it out fast enough. 

Congressional Democrats for running for the hills as the Obamacare rollout began to go south. Oh what a difference a month makes. It's hard to believe that in October, Democrats were united in their opposition to Republican demands to defund Obamacare.  John Boehner figured he could make Obama and the Democrats blink, just like they did two years earlier. He guessed wrong. In the end, Democratic solidarity broke the GOP and ended the government shutdown.
Then the roof fell in as, one by one, Democrats began getting weak-kneed over the problems with the federal website. Some suggested a delay in the individual mandate, virtually mirroring some of their Republican counterparts. When the canceled insurance policies controversy hit the fan, some thought it would be a good idea to allow those very same policy holders to keep their insurance; a cure that was worse than the disease.

It's a good thing the Republicans have a death wish. The way these spineless fools respond to a little pressure, if they were a football team, they'd blow a four touchdown lead in the last two minutes of the game.

The National Republican Congressional Committee "tutoring" male members on how to talk to females. Once more, the GOP has concluded that a certain percentage of its party - like a majority - need instruction on how to effectively communicate with the opposite sex. It seems expressions like "legitimate rape" don't go over too well with the ladies. Who knew?
So for the umpteenth time, they have decided to go back to school to learn what most people already know: that words matter and making offensive and obnoxious statements about women have political consequences.

Actually, if the GOP really wants to dress up its image with women voters, it might actually try something truly unique and meaningful. It might try adopting some policies that appeal to women in the first place. Abstaining from saying things like "legitimate rape" doesn't go very far when your stated position to birth control and abortion is subjecting women to vaginal probes. This Party doesn't need a tutor, it needs a colon cleansing. Maybe one of those vaginal probes might come in handy.

The Mainstream Media for their coverage of the Obamacare rollout. Like a rudderless ship, the fourth estate was predictable as dirt once it became obvious that the federal website was having problems. Watching these people is like watching a tennis match. The back and forth is great if you're a sports fan. If you're looking for any semblance of journalistic integrity, good luck. You won't find much these days.
It's one thing for Fox News to ignore the truth, but when they're joined willingly by the mainstream press in some symbiotic, twisted dance, that's quite another thing. Yes, it was fair to criticize the President for the website problems and the canceled insurance policies, but comparing this to George Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina or calling it Obama's Whitewater is absurd.

From Politico to CNN to CBS the laziness and lack of investigative journalism into this story was appallingly bad, even for an industry that began its decent into mediocrity decades ago. I've said this before, I'll say it again. Cronkite and Murrow are spinning in their graves.

Rick Santorum for comparing Nelson Mandela's fight against Apartheid to Republicans' fight against Obamacare. If you want to know why the GOP has such a hard time attracting voters on a national level, you need look no further than this incredibly ridiculous statement from last year's runner up to the Republican presidential nomination.
Santorum has had a history of these kinds of brain farts, like when he compared homosexuality to man on dog sex and the 9-11 attacks, or when he accused President Obama of being a snob just because he wanted everyone in America to go to college. He's been putting his foot in his mouth virtually his whole political career, but this statement - made on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show - might go down as his all-time stupidest. How detached from reality do you have to be to compare a political struggle to liberate millions of people from oppression to a healthcare law you don't like? If you're Santorum, pretty detached.

Can you imagine a Ted Cruz / Rick Santorum 2016 GOP ticket? If you're a late-night comedian, you're drooling at the prospects.

Republican governors who continue to reject Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. What do Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Paul LePage, Pat McRory, Robert Bentley, Nikki Haley, Bob McDonnell and Scott Walker all have in common? They are among the 23 Republican governors who have decided not to expand Medicaid coverage in their states under the Affordable Care Act.

As a result of their obsession with stopping Obamacare, millions of people will be denied badly needed healthcare coverage under Medicaid and millions more will pay higher rates for healthcare in these states.  Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

This is the definition of ideology run amuck. These governors couldn't stop Obamacare, either legislatively or through the courts, so, like a spoiled brat who wouldn't eat his vegetables, they've decided to deny their constituents badly needed benefits just to make a point.

Perhaps it's time for the residents of these states to make a point of their own next year.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Right's Attempt To Remake Nelson Mandela

Over the last few days it's been both sad and predictable listening to the Right pontificate at great length on the life of Nelson Mandela. They've concentrated primarily on two central themes: Mandela's ties to the ANC which was viewed by them as a terrorist organization; and his conversion from violence after his release from prison which allowed him to become a respected leader of his people and world statesman.

Missing completely from their "analysis" are two undeniable facts that are integral to any full understanding of Mandela and his impact not just on South Africa but the rest of the world. One was the brutal system of oppression that existed under Apartheid in that country; and two was the fact that when it mattered most, all of them to a man and woman were on the wrong side of history.

From Reagan to Thatcher, the West's reaction to what was going on in South Africa was at best indifferent and at worst complicit. Since the United Nations 1962 resolution condemning that country's system of Apartheid, virtually nothing had changed. Not only was Apartheid alive and well in South Africa well into the 1980s, it was buttressed by billions in foreign capital, much of it from the United States.

Groups like the Congressional Black Caucus and student demonstrations in this country brought political pressure to bear on elected officials. The passage of Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986 and the override of President Reagan's veto of it, signaled that times were finally beginning to change. It would take a few more years, but inevitably the system of Apartheid in South Africa fell.

And while it was indeed remarkable that Nelson Mandela chose to, as Lincoln would've put, follow his greater angels and not seek retribution on his oppressors, as would've been his right given the circumstances, that is hardly an excuse for the majority of the world aiding, abetting and profiting from such oppression, not to mention rationalizing its duplicity on the grounds of some ridiculous cold-war rhetoric. South Africa was many things, but Vietnam or Korea it wasn't.

Conservatives who fervently persist in focusing only on the violence of a political group attempting to overthrow a considerably more violent government and the "conversion" of a leader who was imprisoned by that government for 27 years and who they themselves rejected when it mattered most, do violence not only to the man but to the history of the struggle itself.

The lesson of what happened in South Africa is far more complex than mere ideology. But one thing should be crystal clear: oppressed people, be they in a foreign country or here at home, inevitably rise up and take back what is rightfully theirs. Those who understand that simple truth will always be on the right side of history; those who ignore it, run the risk of they themselves becoming extinct.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tomorrow Is Guaranteed To No One

Funny, of all the pets I have, the last one I figured would be cut down prematurely was Henry. Puffin, one of two cats we have, was on death’s door three times – two blockages in his intestine and a severe case of pancreatitis – yet survived them all. Skye, our other cat, had so many problems with her skin, she could’ve made the cover of Dermatology magazine. To this day our greatest challenge with her is keeping her from licking the fur off her tail.

But Henry was a rock; a carefree spirit who chased squirrels, ate anything that happened to be in front of him, tempted fate and always escaped unscathed. The idea that anything could pose a serious threat to his life seemed ridiculous. Even now, two weeks after he left us, it still seems impossible. And yet the impossible is exactly what happened.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been consumed by two emotions. The first is obvious: I miss him terribly. He was such an indelible part of our lives that it is hard to find a room in the house that isn’t considerably emptier now that he is gone. But the second emotion haunts me even more. Despite the fact that Henry had cancer, I simply never came to grips with it. I always believed he would beat it. Hence, I never truly appreciated the time he had left.

Throughout the spring and summer months of this year, I can’t tell you how many opportunities there were for me to spend more time with him. A slightly longer walk, maybe an additional ride or two in the car, or perhaps just a few more rough-housing episodes with him and one of his toys. One of his favorite games involved him teasing you with his bone. He would show it to you, then, when you lunged for it, he’d pull it back and made you chase after him. The term fetch had a far different meaning to Henry than most dogs. In his world, people came to him, not the other way around. He loved the tug of war as you tried to pry the bone out of his mouth. He would growl while his tail wagged back and forth.

It’s no secret that over the last few years I buried myself in my blog, consumed by politics. It was and is a wonderful release for me. But it took me away from my family. I would spend hours and hours typing away at the keyboard, much to my wife’s chagrin. Some of those hours could easily have been spent with Henry. I justified my “obsession” by telling myself that one day my efforts would pay off by getting a job writing for a well-known on-line publication.  I’ll spend more time with Henry tomorrow, I rationalized to myself. After all, he’s only 12.  He still has a few good years left in him. Even that last long walk we had with him that first weekend in November, I really believed we still had the holidays to look forward to; maybe even the winter, even though the vet only gave him about 1 to 2 months to live. Henry would show them. He survived the first surgery; he would survive this one. He was my champ. There would always be a tomorrow, I reasoned.

On November 14, Henry ran out of tomorrows. All the chips I thought I had stored up that I wanted to cash in were now worthless. No more long walks or drives to near-by parks. No more wrestling matches with his bone or slobbering kisses on the mouth. He had given me all he had and, in the end, all I had left were the memories I cheated myself out of.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I was Harry Chapin in Cats in the Cradle. I did spend a fair amount of time with Henry, but I could’ve spent more with him and, what’s more, I know it. Love isn’t a word, it’s an action. And, as my wife knows all too well, my actions have often been wanting.

What I wouldn’t give to have one or two of those days that I blew off Henry back. It is often said that the only regrets we carry with us to the grave are the missed opportunities to live life to its fullest. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol warns us there are consequences for a life squandered. And while I am certainly no Ebenezer Scrooge, that is still no excuse for my transgressions.

Did I love Henry? With all my heart. Did I show it? Sadly, not nearly enough. I know that now. Unfortunately it’s too late to make a difference. My doggie is gone and he’s never coming back. There is no time machine that can take me back and give me that chance at redemption. The cruelest irony about life is that it only moves in one direction: forward. We can learn from our mistakes, but we can never erase them.

I know in Henry’s heart, he had nothing but unconditional love for me. Dogs are funny that way. A friend of mine once said if you lock your wife and dog in the trunk of your car, only one of them will be happy to see you when you open it. It would be fitting for Henry to absolve me of my guilt and remorse. Of all the souls I’ve met on this planet, his was the least judgmental and most giving. To paraphrase Quasimodo, why was I not made like thee?

The moral of this story could not be plainer: cherish every precious moment with your loved one, whoever they may be. For tomorrow is guaranteed to no one.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Putting the Nuclear Option in Perspective

So Harry Reid finally said enough is enough and pushed the button on the nuclear option. Now what? Well, it's important to understand a few things about what happened and why.

First of all, contrary to what Mitch McConnell and the GOP are saying, this move to change the filibuster rules is really not that big of a deal. All it does is allow for a simple 51-vote majority on appointments and nominees for cabinet posts and judges. It excludes legislation and Supreme Court nominations. Those will still require a 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster. In other words, business as usual will, for the most part, continue in the Senate. The world did not come to an end yesterday.

The reason Harry Reid finally went ahead with the move is quite simple: he had no other choice. Simply put, Senate Republicans had blocked virtually every one of President Obama's nominees. Of particular concern was the D.C. Circuit, which normally has eleven justices, but which currently has only eight. Obama has been trying to fill those vacancies and each and every time he has nominated someone, the minority party has blocked him.

It is a political axiom that a president has the right to pick and choose his cabinet and to fill judicial vacancies as he or she sees fit. For over two centuries that is pretty much been the case. Until Barack Obama came to town. Prior to his arrival, there had been a grand total of 86 filibusters on presidential nominations. To date, the GOP has filibustered Obama 82 times. In less than three years, Republicans have almost equaled the total number of filibusters of all the prior presidents combined.

These filibusters have nothing to do with competence. Rather, it is a blatant attempt to thwart this president's agenda by any means necessary. Ever since the 2010 midterms, the GOP has successfully stymied Obama legislatively. By blocking his nominees from heading agencies and departments, as well as preventing the appointment of judges to lower courts, the hope was to completely cut the legs out from under him. Now that hope is gone, courtesy of an emboldened majority leader who finally had the courage to put a stop to the obstructionism.

The threat that McConnell levied at Reid and Senate Democrats that they would regret their actions is as laughable as it is hypocritical. Does anyone seriously believe that had the shoe been on the other foot, McConnell wouldn't have pulled the trigger? Or that if Republicans actually take back the Senate in next year's midterms, the first thing on their to-do list won't be making sure Democrats couldn't prevent them from jamming through legislation aimed at undermining every Obama initiative from the ACA to Dodd-Frank?

It was high time Democratic leadership finally woke up and smelled the coffee. If anything, this move was months overdue and quite measured, given the stunts Republicans have pulled. Maybe now, the GOP will finally understand that there are consequences for behaving like dicks.

Oh, what am I saying? We're talking about the Republicans here. They'll never learn.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Regarding Henry

How do you sum up a lifetime's worth of memories in a few paragraphs? The truth is you can't. No one can. It's impossible. But try I will.

The first time I met Henry was at my wife's friend's house. He was a young, gregarious Westie who was full of life and full of himself. His need for attention was surpassed only by his enormous personality. He was easily the center of attention in any room he happened to be.

A couple of years later, that very same friend of my wife decided to sell her house and move into an apartment. She asked us if we could take Henry in. Suffice to say, I had my doubts. My wife and I already had two cats and we feared there could be a conflict between both breeds. And then there was the fact that Henry had a reputation of, shall we say, having accidents. The last thing I needed was a 3-year old dog destroying our house.

I decided to give it a try though. After a week, my worst fears had been realized. Henry had managed to "mark" just about every nook and cranny of our home, including a pair of speakers I had in the den. I was at my wits end and was prepared to call it a night on the experiment, when he gave me that look - a look that virtually all dogs give, but which Westies particularly excel at - that said, "please don't kick me out, I want to stay, please, please!" One look at those eyes and I was hooked. I couldn't send him away.  He had nowhere else to go.

So my wife and I decided to keep him. By far, it was the best decision we ever made. Henry soon became an integral part of our every day lives and, over the next nine and a half years, blessed our home over and over. He had an indelible spirit and an unconditional love for people. Guests were greeted by a dog who slobbered them with affection and kisses. Around town, we were known, not as the Fegans, but as Henry's owners. Every where we went, all anybody wanted to talk about was how Henry was doing.

Henry loved long walks, especially in parks. The longer the better. All I needed to do was jiggle his leash or say "what would you like?" or "walkie poo" and he would go nuts. His favorite place to "hang out" was the backyard where he would often keep a watchful eye for unwelcomed squirrels. Whenever he saw one, he'd chase after them. And though he never managed to catch one, in my book he always got an "E" for effort. He had a particular affinity for my wife's tomato garden. Regardless of how high or thoroughly built the fence was, he'd always manage to find his way around it and nab himself a nice snack. It was better than a biscuit.

No matter what kind of trouble Henry got into, you couldn't stay mad at him for long. There was the time he buried one of his bones in the backyard and when he came back to the deck, his face looked like he had just finished a 12-hour shift in a coal mine. One time he thought it would be a good idea to roll around in what my wife and I thought was mud. Turns out it wasn't mud. It took us over an hour scrubbing him down in the sink to get the stench off him. Afterwards, he gave us one of those "what did I do?" looks. If only we'd had a camera at that moment.

And then there were those times when he woke us up in the middle of the night over something he heard outside the bedroom window. We would spend half the night trying to calm him down. The following morning he'd be two sheets to the wind, while we were sleep-deprived wrecks.

And then there were his legendary escape attempts from the backyard in his earlier years, some of which were successful. One time he made it all the way down the block and was in a neighbor's yard. It was times like those that made us grateful we didn't live on a busy street. Henry brought a whole new meaning to the term playing in traffic.

Having Henry around was like living with a perpetual 2-year old. Freud would've had a field day with him. He was pure id. Everywhere we went in the house, Henry would follow. If we went outside, he wanted to come; if we were in the den watching TV, he'd jump on the couch and hang with us; when we went to bed at night, he insisted on sleeping with us. He loved dolling out his love and affection for us in the form of what we called "hugs and kisses." It was as though there was an umbilical cord between us and him.

At no time was this more true than meal time. No matter what my wife and I were eating, he absolutely insisted on getting his fair share, which for Henry meant the lion's share. And Heaven forbid you ignored his "requests" for morsels, you'd never hear the end of it. He had a bark that went right through you. I swear he must've had a tape worm or something. No animal could've been that hungry.

Through the first eight and a half years with us, Henry was as healthy as a horse. The only time he ever needed medical attention, aside from his vaccinations, came after a scrum he had gotten into with our cat Puffin; an altercation that was decidedly lopsided in favor of the cat. After an emergency visit to the Vet for some repair work, Henry was good as new, though apparently no wiser for the wear. He continually needed to be reminded that some cats just don't like dogs, no matter how big a personality they might have, and Puffin was all too eager to give him an education.

A persistent cough, though, caught our attention in the autumn of 2012. At first, it didn't seem very serious. The Vet gave Henry some meds that seemed to work a bit. But the problem never completely abated, so we decided to have an X-ray taken. It revealed a mass in one of his lungs. A follow-up visit with a specialist showed that the mass was a cancerous tumor.

The tumor was small enough so that it was operable, so my wife and I made the decision to have it removed. On December 26, Henry went in for the operation. All went well. The tumor was completely removed and our little guy, after a couple, three weeks of convalescence, was back to his old jovial self.

While the specialist was guarded in his prognosis - he initially gave Henry about a year - we were hopeful that he could make a full recovery. We elected not to have him undergo chemotherapy, partly because of the side-effects, but mainly because there was no conclusive medical evidence that such treatments would prevent future tumors from occurring.

Throughout the spring and summer we brought Henry in for checkups. Each time he received a clean bill of health. We were starting to believe that he had dodged a bullet. He would be one of the lucky ones who defied the odds.

Then in September we noticed he was off his dog food. The only food that seemed to appeal to him was people food and even that he wasn't eating much of. On September 28, I brought him down to the Vet to have him examined. There was a swelling in his abdomen and an X-ray revealed a massive tumor the size of an orange.

Henry needed emergency surgery to have the tumor removed. Without it, he had days, if not hours, to live. Like the last operation, Henry made a speedy recovery, but this time our hope that he was going to beat this thing was dashed. It was no longer a question of if but when he would succumb to cancer. Another follow up visit to the specialist a few weeks later showed multiple tumors throughout his abdomen. The Vet gave him one to two months to live.

My wife and I were devastated. We committed ourselves to making sure that whatever days Henry had left would be as memorable and joyous as possible. That very same weekend, we took him to one of his favorite parks - Garvies Point - for a nice, long walk. It was an unseasonably mild afternoon and he was in his glory.

But the moment was as fleeting as it was memorable. Within 24 hours of that afternoon walk, Henry began experiencing pain. He started shaking and panting. The Vet gave us some medication to lessen his symptoms. Initially, it worked, but soon the pain began to win out. Over the next week and a half, my wife and I did our best to get him to take his meds while also trying to get him to eat some food. The latter proved a lesson in futility.

He had his good days, like last Sunday, when his former owner came over to spend some time with him. He was so happy to see her. It did wonders for his spirits and ours as well. Even in his pain, he had nothing but unconditional love for his family and loved ones. But that would prove to be the last good day he would have. In our hearts we knew the end was near.

On Thursday evening, November 14, my wife and I decided we had seen enough. We brought Henry down to the Vet to end his suffering. It was, by far, the most difficult, gut-wrenching decision I have ever been a part of, but in the end, my wife and I both knew we were doing the right thing. We had to put Henry's needs ahead of ours, no matter how painful it was to us.

That night was the longest night of our lives. We were grief stricken beyond words. While Henry was finally at peace, all we had was our anguish. Anyone who has ever lost a dog knows how painful this moment is. The house felt empty. I looked for him everywhere. His leash, his bowl, his bed were right where they had been earlier that day. Part of me was in disbelief over what had happened. I couldn't conceive of a life without Henry in it, and now I was face to face with a staggering reality: he was gone and he wasn't coming back.

Over the next couple of days, my wife and I spent as much time out of the house as possible. It was the only way we could keep our wits about us. It will take quite some time before we get over this loss. While it is comforting that we still have two cats to keep us company, it's just not the same thing. Cats may own the house but dogs run it. Every time we came home, Henry was there to greet us. About the only time our cats "greet" us is when they're hungry.

As the both of us continue to mourn our beloved and faithful companion, we are comforted by the knowledge that one day we will be reunited with him in Paradise. For now, he is in a much better place. A place where there are plenty of doggies and kitties to play with, the squirrels aren't quite as fast and where cherry tomatoes are bountiful and ripe.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Tip of the Hat

Hard to mince words with Bruce Bartlett's recent piece in the Fiscal Times on this week's elections in Virginia and New Jersey. As a former Kool-Aid drinker, his observations are more salient than just about anybody I know of.

As of result, he gets this month's nod for Tip of the Hat.

What We’ve Learned From Tuesday’s Election

Bruce Bartlett, The Fiscal Times

November 8, 2013

Following are some takeaways I see in the election results.

1. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the establishment candidate for the Republican president nomination in 2016.

His impressive 60 percent victory in New Jersey clearly puts him at the front of the class for Republicans just looking for a winner in 2016. Ironically, Democrats are contributing to the view that Christie is the strongest Republican likely to run for the Republican nomination by immediately going after him in a post-election offensive. Why would they bother to do so if they weren’t worried about his vote-getting potential?


Personally, I wouldn’t worry too much if I were a Democrat. Christie is poison among conservatives who dominate the Republican nominating process because he supports gun control and immigration reform; he believes in global warming and doesn’t demonize Democrats as the party of Satan, as many conservatives are wont to do.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a darling of the Republican right, has already begun blasting Christie as, heaven forbid, a “moderate.” No doubt, other conservatives also seeking the Republican nomination, such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, will have worse to say in coming days.

The problem for Christie is that he is the strongest available Republican in the general election. But I see no possible way he can win the nomination when those who dominate the Republican primaries are conservatives who believe that the only reason Arizona Senator John McCain lost in 2008 and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney lost in 2012 is because they were too moderate.

While there is a growing chorus of Republicans who think electability ought to rank higher on the list of qualities their presidential candidates ought to possess, the nominating process is still dominated by the Tea Party and religious conservatives who put devotion to principle above all else. I don’t see Christie winning these people over, and if he moves right to accommodate them then his electability goes out the window. I think he would be smart to sit out the 2016 race, which will probably be won by former First Lady Hillary Clinton, and wait for 2020.


2. Virginia continues to trend Democratic, strengthening the Democratic hold on the all-important Electoral College. The importance of Democratic money man Terry McAuliffe’s victory in the Virginia governor’s race is that he won despite being a dreadful candidate. He is virtually a caricature of a “pol,” the sort of slimy politician who gets into politics to get rich—and does. Worse, McAuliffe is a “carpetbagger” born in New York with no close ties to the state he is now about to lead. Historically, such ties have been essential to victory in Virginia elections.

Yet McAuliffe won relatively easily by a 2.5 percent margin for one reason and one reason only—his Republican opponent, state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, was widely viewed as a right-wing ideologue, obsessed with outlawing sodomy and abortion. Although music to the ears of some conservatives, such views turned off voters in all the state’s urban centers, especially in fast-growing Northern Virginia.

Not too many years ago, the Northern Virginia suburbs of Fairfax and Louden counties and the cities of Arlington and Alexandria were solidly Republican. Now they are solidly Democratic and provided McAuliffe with his statewide margin of victory.

If McAuliffe turns out to be half-competent, he could help the drift of Virginia out of the “red” column solidly into the “blue.” That will give Democrats an almost insurmountable Electoral College advantage in presidential elections, according to a post-2012 election analysis by ace election handicapper Nate Silver.

3. Republican outreach to libertarians is unnecessary. Many Republicans believe the party must move in a libertarian direction to pick up young voters and make the party viable in 2016. They can point to the Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis who got 6.6 percent of the vote for governor in Virginia—enough to have handed an easy victory to Cuccinelli had the bulk of those votes gone Republican. Indeed, some Republicans charge that Sarvis cost him the election.


Libertarians respond that in fact Sarvis drew more from McAuliffe than Cuccinelli, according to polling. According to a pre-election Washington Post poll, if Sarvis wasn’t in the race then 53 percent of his support would have gone to McAuliffe and 43 percent to Cuccinelli.

However, an analysis by Keith Humphreys of the Reality-Based Community blog suggests that many of those libertarians did in fact vote for Republican Cuccinelli in the end. Sarvis’ final vote fell to 6.6 percent from pre-election polls showing him with 10.5 percent—a decline of 3.9 percent. At the same time, Cuccinelli’s final vote was 45.5 percent, up from 41.1 percent in pre-election polls—an increase of 4.4 percent. Since McAuliffe’s final vote was almost exactly the same as in the pre-election polls, this is a very strong evidence that libertarians defected heavily from Sarvis and voted for Cuccinelli.

This analysis would seem to indicate that Republicans have little to gain by reaching out for libertarians; they already get their votes on Election Day anyway. There is actually much more potential for Democrats to lure libertarians into their column by emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, drug legalization, privacy and opposition to the influence of religion in politics.

My final thought is that both parties did well enough on Tuesday that neither feels any need to change strategy, at least before the 2014 congressional elections. Polls suggest that the Democrats could do well and would probably retake control without the gerrymandering of so many districts in the Republicans’ favor. For example, an Economist/YouGov poll out this week shows 35 percent of voters saying they will vote Democratic next year versus 27 percent voting Republican. But no independent analyst is yet forecasting a Democratic takeover.

If Democrats do retake the House of Representatives, however, it will greatly strengthen pragmatists in the GOP that appear to be coalescing around Governor Christie.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Further Thoughts on Tuesday's Election Results

Well, it didn't take long for the Tea Party to shit all over Chris Christie's huge win over his generic Democrat to be determined opponent. Freshman Republican Senator and part-time Wikipedia ghost writer Rand Paul decried the New Jersey governor's appearances in Sandy relief ads.

"Some of these ads, people who are running for office put their mug all over the ads while they’re in the middle of a political campaign.  In New Jersey, $25 million was spent on ads that included somebody running for political office."

Boy, somebody sure has his panties in a bunch. Talk about a spoiled sport. You'd think Christie's reelection was the second coming of Lenin. But if Paul and his Tea Party cohorts were smart (I know that's asking a lot) they'd figure out what everyone with a calculator and a little common sense already knew.  It was a pretty good night for the GOP.

Seriously, take away Bill de Blasio's enormous win in New York and what you have left is a fascinating dichotomy. In races that featured establishment Republicans against Democrats in purple or blue states, the Republicans faired pretty well. In fact, in my neck of the woods - Nassau County, Long Island - voters reelected a Republican to county executive and the GOP added a seat in the legislature. In Glen Cove, the three-term Democratic mayor trails his Republican opponent by just over 100 votes with 200 absentee ballots still outstanding. Assuming the lead holds, it will be the first time in twenty years the city has had a Republican mayor. Conversely, Tea Party candidates like Ken Cuccinelli, who ran in geographic areas not already deeply red, lost.

Hmmm. Me thinks me sees a pattern forming here.

In case I wasn't clear enough earlier in the week, there is no doubt that the biggest problem plaguing the Republican Party comes down to its most radical elements. Where those elements are either muted or missing altogether, the Party seems to be prospering; where they are front and center, the Party, at least on a national level, is foundering. What that should tell you is that sane Republicans are viewed far more favorably than their bat-shit crazy counterparts.

Now, you'd think with such encouraging news, the GOP would be falling all over itself with glee. And yet the wingnuts on the Right seem intent on looking this gift horse in the mouth. With just under a year to go before the midterms, the Tea Party is poised to mount primary challenges to any and all establishment Republicans who aren't down for the cause and, if they're successful, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Apparently, words like purification and annihilation are one in the same in their dictionary.

And that's why I maintain that the biggest edge Democrats have going for them next year is the fact that they're not Republicans. The simple truth is the GOP just can't help itself. Even with the all the problems with Obamacare, Republicans have been unable to capitalize on what should've been a substantial advantage. The Party is mired in side-show antics that gin up its base but turn off more moderate voters. Just this week, Florida Republican Congressman Ted Yoho - yes, that's his real name - said he plans on calling for Eric Holder's impeachment. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

It just goes to show, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drown.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Tale of Two Gubernatorial Elections

If you were looking for a central theme in the reelection of Chris Christie in New Jersey and the defeat of Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, it was this: the Tea Party has ostensibly worn out its welcome with the electorate. Voters in both states rejected the politics of obstructionism and made it clear that they want solution-based governing.

Let's get one thing straight.  Neither of these two elections had anything to do with policy positions. Both Christie and Cuccinelli are Republicans and, despite what some pundits keep saying, conservative Republicans. Both are pro-life and both are beholden to the same supply-side drivel that has been thoroughly and soundly dismissed by most economists.

The difference is how both men handled the Tea Party. Cuccinelli was virtually tied at the hip to it; Christie did everything possible to distance himself from it. That was it in a nutshell. In every way imaginable, both campaigns were polar opposites of each other in both tactics and temperament. The reason you never saw Sarah Palin at a Christie rally is because Christie didn't want her there. In fact, the only time Palin visited New Jersey was to campaign for her pal, Senate candidate Steve Lonegan, who got trounced by Cory Booker in last month's special election.

It was only four years ago that both states flipped from blue to red in what was hailed by many as a harbinger of things to come. The emergence of the Tea Party that year led to a wave election in the 2010 midterms that saw Republicans take back the House and net gains in the Senate. But ever since, the Tea Party has done everything possible to give back the mojo they had. Two near debt-ceiling defaults, a government shutdown and 42 attempted repeals of a healthcare law passed by Congress, signed by a sitting president and upheld by the Supreme Court was simply too much to overcome for Cuccinelli.

The lesson here for the GOP is undeniable. The four-year run of the Tea Party has now come to an end.  For all intents and purposes, it has become the political equivalent of a toxic waste dump. For the national party to be taken seriously going forward, it must abandon the fairytale that the path to victory lies in nominating candidates with extreme positions who refuse to compromise. If there is anyone at the RNC who seriously believes either Ted Cruz or Rand Paul has a shot at the White House in 2016 they must be smoking from the same crack pipe as Toronto mayor Robert Ford.

But if Republicans need to do some soul searching in the weeks ahead, Democrats should refrain from doing any gloating. This was a referendum on the Tea Party, period. The results in New Jersey prove that an establishment Republican can win in a blue state. Please spare me all the "Democrats phoned it in" claims and "Barbara Buono was a flawed candidate" nonsense. When it comes to flawed candidates, Terry McAuliffe takes the cake. Flawed candidates win all the time. Need I remind anyone that George W. Bush managed to win reelection in 2004? The truth is that had the Virginia GOP nominated a more "reasonable" candidate, the state would still be red today.  When you outspend your opponent by a 2 to 1 margin and you barely win by two and a half points, that's hardly reassuring. McAuliffe didn't so much win as Cuccinelli lost.

As of right now, the biggest advantage Democrats have going into the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential campaign is that they're not Republicans. While that's encouraging if you're a Democratic strategist, by no means is it a glowing tribute. I have long maintained that if the GOP ever cleaned up its act and decided to reclaim its past, it could present problems for the Democratic Party. The Christie win in New Jersey confirms that belief.

Mark my words, if the Obama Administration doesn't resolve the issues with the Affordable Care Act soon, those issues could play a major role in next year's midterms. And if the Republicans actually manage to exorcize the Tea Party and find the courage to nominate a Christie-like candidate to run for president in 2016, Democrats will have their hands full.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Nightmare at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Okay, it has now been one month since the Affordable Care Act went live and I thought I would share my nickel's worth on both the website rollout and the growing concern over the plethora of policy cancellations that have provided the law's opponents yet new ammunition with which to attack it.

Let's start with the website. Suffice to say it has been a clusterfuck. Regardless of the hows and the whys, this much is certain: the Administration apparently was warned some months ago that there were problems with the software. It's hard to imagine that anyone at HHS could've thought they were prepared for what was expected to be a high turnout. Even if you allow for the fact that a lot of new software rollouts are rocky - the rollout of Medicare Part D in '05 was an unmitigated disaster - somebody high up should've been on top of this. The fact that the state websites, where the exchanges were set up, are doing quite well, proves that this wasn't an impossible task. Somebody clearly screwed the pooch.

The good news is that this is fixable. The Administration has said it will get the website up and running properly by the end of November. If that indeed happens, most of this will blow over by the middle of the winter.

The bad news is that many people who wanted to sign up for medical coverage still haven't been able to, and that could be a problem, primarily because of the  individual mandate, which kicks in March 31, 2014. Already there are calls to delay it, some even from Democrats. Given that we are looking at a two-month delay in fixing the website, a one month delay on the mandate would not be too much to ask. Delaying it any further would be kowtowing to the wingnuts on the Right who never wanted the law in the first place and have been doing everything possible to derail it.

And speaking of the wingnuts, how typical that the fiercest opponents of this law are now hopping mad that it isn't working properly. Disingenuous would be a word in a half for this bunch. Fortunately, most of the public isn't buying the dog and pony show. GOP poll numbers continue to plummet.

But now we come to the second and most important issue: the canceled policies that are starting to mount. The President was quoted many times over the last three years that if you liked your current plan, you could keep it. As we speak hundreds of thousands of privately insured people have been notified that their existing policies will be canceled as of the end of the year. While none of these policies are employer or government based, they do represent a sizable amount.

The problem comes down to the fact that the ACA requires all healthcare insurers to provide ostensibly the same benefits to all their policy holders. Those policies that don't measure up and were issued prior to the law's implementation were allowed to be grandfathered in. Supposedly that was the end of the story. However, HHS added additional language that said "that if any part of a policy was significantly changed since that date -- the deductible, co-pay, or benefits, for example -- the policy would not be grandfathered."


It is estimated that as many as 80 percent of these individual policies will be canceled and that has naturally prompted outrage, some legitimate, most illegitimate. As far as the former goes, yes, some of these people will end up paying more for their coverage. But the fact is that the plans they had weren't all that good to begin with. Paying $54 per month for healthcare coverage that doesn't provide for hospitalization or outpatient care or co-pays for doctor visits, really isn't coverage at all; it's like paying for a car that doesn't have an engine.

Still, the Administration should have come clean and said that plans that don't measure up to certain standards will not be renewed. Yes, it would've been politically difficult to do, but the whole idea for passing the law in the first place was to eliminate the nightmare of people who were either under insured or not insured at all putting a strain on the healthcare system. What better way to make your case to the American people then to have an adult conversation about what constitutes adequate and inadequate insurance.

But then we come the real crux of the matter: communication breakdown. If I've said it once, I've said it at least a hundred times. President Obama's biggest problem has been an innate inability to effectively draw a narrative that explains where he is going and why. It is a fact that with the launch of the website just days away, most Americans still didn't know what was in the healthcare law. In fact one of the more sadly amusing story lines that developed - to the delight of a particular late-night comedian - was that some people apparently didn't know that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare were the same law.  All kidding aside, that was inexcusable.

Had this President simply been more out in front of his signature piece of legislation, it might've preempted some if not all of the attacks against it, almost all of which have been proven false. It would most assuredly have stopped idiots like Tennessee representative Marsha Blackburn from suggesting that people who buy insurance that adequately covers them are being forced to buy Ferraris. A Ferrari? How about a Honda Civic?

Now the Administration is on the defensive and Obama is hitting the road doing damage control. None of this was necessary. Had the HHS or the President himself simply taken the time to explain what was in the healthcare law, we wouldn't be at this stage now with Republicans holding fake hearings expressing fake outrage over fake issues concerning a law they detested from day one.

Of all the wounds, it is the self inflicted ones that hurt the most.