Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The One That Got Away

By all accounts the 1988 New York Mets were the best team in baseball. They had run away with the division and, as they entered the postseason, were heavy favorites to win their second title in three years. But the Los Angeles Dodgers had other plans. They upset the Mets in the league championship series and went onto beat the A's in the World Series.

The moral of that story was simple: never take anything for granted. Just because you have superior talent doesn't mean you'll prevail. Football coaches have a saying: On any given Sunday, any team can beat you. It's a warning against not only complacency, but against arrogant pride, for pride goeth before a fall.

That's why I'm increasingly worried about the sequester, which is about to kick in. Once more President Obama is facing down Republicans over yet another man-made crisis. He's got the public on his side. He's even got the facts on his side. But the real question is, at the end of the day, will he have history on his side?

His principle opponent, John Boehner, is a leader in name only. Though Speaker of the House, he is completely unable to handle his own caucus. The fiscal cliff deal left him badly damaged and most of his own party does not trust him as a "true" conservative. He has gone on record as saying that new tax revenues are off the table. If he fails again, his Speakership is all but finished. Predictably, he has, once more, punted the ball to the Senate. The Senate, for its part, will likely take up two bills, neither of which will receive the necessary threshold of 60 votes to clear a filibuster.

Obama and the Democrats have said that they want spending cuts to be balanced with new tax revenues, mainly from closing loopholes and ending deductions for wealthy income earners. Republicans consider revenue a non-starter.

Both sides have drawn a line in the sand. Only an incurable optimist would predict a positive outcome here. The fact is, pending a miracle, the sequester is going to happen on Friday. The only questions are how long will it last and who is going to blink first.

My gut tells me that initially the GOP is going to get creamed here. Voters are already fed up with them and this latest stunt will only intensify their contempt. Of course the main problem for Obama is twofold: First off, most of the hardcore conservatives who are currently running the show over in the insane asylum don't really care that much for what the voters have to say about them anyway. Remember these were the dim bulbs who confidently predicted that Mitt Romney would easily defeat Obama last November. When you live in that kind of bubble, it's hard imagining anything, let alone reason, getting through.

But the real problem for Obama is actually far worse than a political party with a death wish. As this sequester drags on and the painful realities of it begin to work there way into the economy, the public will start to grow antsy. If Republicans don't give on new revenues, and the U.S. economy tanks, don't kid yourself, voters will look to the White House, not Capital Hill, for answers. That high approval rating that Obama currently enjoys will sink faster than a hot-air balloon in Egypt.

Mark my words, the longer this goes on, the worse, not better, the prospects get for Obama and Democrats.  Think about it. How much lower can the GOP's approval rating plummet? It's practically in single digits as it is. When you've got nothing left to lose, why not go for broke?

The nice thing about being the underdog is that nobody expects you to win anyway. All the pressure's on the favorite. Right now Barack Obama is the favorite. He holds the leverage in these negotiations, along with the best bully pulpit imaginable. By contrast, the GOP can't get out of its own way.

Logically, this should be an easy win. But logic has nothing to do with what's going on here. The Republican goal is as obvious as the nose on your face. Force austerity on Obama, then blame him when the economy sputters and we enter another recession.

As I said in an earlier post, it's "diabolical and cowardly." But it is the only card they have to play and play it they will. And that's why, when Obama meets Friday with Bohner and Mitch McConnell, he must do all he can to make sure this nightmare scenario never plays out.

Obama has long yearned for the grand bargain that got away from him in 2011. Now would be a good time to go for it. If he brings something to the table that McConnell can sell to his members - real entitlement reform, say - he can get a bill through the Senate that even Boehner will be unable to resist. He doesn't have to give away the store, but he has to give on something, even if it means potentially angering his base.

The Tea Party has been praying for this moment. Now it's here. Obama cannot let them have it. To those who would say that Obama should call the Republicans' bluff, I would ask one simple question. Where have you been hiding the last two years?  This was a party that was willing to shut down the government in 2010 until Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts, was willing to default on the debt ceiling in 2011 until they got their sequester, and is now on the verge of sabotaging the economy to prove a point. Calling their bluff is the last thing any reasonably sane leader should be doing.

I've said it before, I will say it again. The problem with being the adult in the classroom is that you have to act like one, even when the brats are pulling your hair and drawing on the desks.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Separating Truth From Fiction About Sequestration

As a public service, I decided to clear up some misunderstandings about the fast-approaching sequestration:

First off, the amount to be cut is NOT 3 percent of the total budget. As I mentioned in a previous piece, approximately two thirds of all federal spending goes to entitlements and interest on the debt. The actual cuts amount to 8 percent of all spending. Hardly a drop in the bucket. The cuts, if allowed to take place, would have a profound impact on the economy.

Second, contrary to popular opinion, there is NO discretion as to how the cuts are to be doled out. That was the whole point of sequestration in the first place: to make the cuts so painful that both parties would be forced to make concessions to avoid them.

Third, again contrary to a recent op-ed piece by Bob Woodward in which he accused the Obama Administration of "moving the goal posts" by insisting on new tax revenue as part of a deal to avoid sequestration, it was always the Administration's stated position that tax revenue should be part of a comprehensive deal. Woodward should know this; his own book actually states as much. In fact, the Super Committee that was convened immediately after the Budget Control Act passed, was tasked to come up with $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction. Tax revenue was most definitely on the table.

Fourth, the Administration does, indeed, have a plan for tackling sequestration. It is available on Some may not like it, but it is wrong to suggest, as David Brooks did, that the Administration has not lead on this issue. Brooks, for his part, did admit he erred in a follow-up piece. In a nutshell, the plan involves cuts totaling $1.1 trillion and revenue totaling $580 billion from closing loopholes and eliminating deductions.

And finally, even if by some stroke of luck the sequester is avoided, the continuing resolution, which has been responsible for funding the government, expires March 27. A government shutdown is very much a possibility.

Yep, the next five weeks promise to be nothing, if exciting. Strap yourselves in.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Grumpy Old Man

Ever since John McCain got mugged by George Bush in the 2000 Republican primary, he hasn't been the same man. What the Viet Cong weren't able to do to him, gutter politics finally managed to. He became bitter and increasingly insular in his demeanor. It was like watching a kid who finally found out that Santa Claus wasn't real.

Since then, you could say McCain has had a rather eccentric run, politically speaking. He reached across the aisle and co-authored the McCain - Feingold Act of 2002, which stood until Citizens United struck it down. He supported Bush in his reelection bid in '04, which stunned every one close to him, and became one the strongest advocates of the Iraq War.

He surprised everyone during the '08 Republican primary by running to the center of every other candidate and prevailing. Those of us who'd watched him in 2000 quietly wondered whether the old man could recapture some of that magic he had back then. All that went out the window when, just days before the Republican National Convention, McCain chose as his running mate Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Palin wasn't just unqualified for the office she was running for, she was an affront to anyone with more than a 5th grader's intellect.

That move alone should've landed him in the Idiot's Delight Hall of Shame. But, being the kind soul that I am, I was still willing to give the man a mulligan - albeit a rather large one.  After all, who could've predicted that Caribou Barbie would stick around this long? McCain may have been responsible for thrusting her onto the national stage; it was the numb nuts at Fox News and A.M. radio land that kept her there. Stupid gets as stupid wants.

Not even his grudge match with Chuck Hagel over the surge in Iraq during the recent confirmation hearings surprised me. These days I just figure it's the stated position and obligation of every Republican to be a dick whenever possible and vote against anything this President wants. If anything, given the other Republicans' conduct - most notably Texas Senator and Joe McCarthy admirer Ted Cruz - McCain comported himself reasonably well, that is for a miserable miser.

Which brings us to his latest stunt at a recent town hall meeting and the reason for this piece. For it was at this very event that the wheels finally came off for McCain and his last shred of decency vanished with what was left of his reputation.

The mother of a young man who was shot to death in the Aurora, Colorado massacre only a few months before the Newtown shootings asked McCain whether he supported a ban on assault rifles.

Now imagine you're on that stage and you're being asked that question by a still grieving mother. What would be your response? Maybe something like, "I'm so very sorry for your loss, and I can assure you that all of us in the Senate and House will do everything possible to make sure these senseless tragedies don't happen again." Sounds reasonable to me.

Unfortunately this is what McDickhead said:

"I can tell you right now you need some straight talk. That assault weapons ban will not pass the Congress of the United States."

Now to be fair to McCain, he did offer his condolences for her "sacrifice," which some of the media outlets omitted in their reporting. But not even Charlton Heston would've been that crass. Straight talk? Are you f***ing kidding me?

I give up on this guy. There are only so many mulligans you can dole out in one lifetime. Whether it was his prisoner of war days, the way he was fucked over by the Bush campaign in 2000, or maybe something in the drinking water in Arizona - you look at Jan Brewer and tell me she looks normal to you - whatever. I'm done making excuses for someone who's about at clueless as Chief Inspector Clouseau chasing the Pink Panther and as angry as Bobby Knight on the losing end of an NCAA tournament match.

Not even his work on an immigration bill with Democrats can excuse his bizarre behavior. If anything, McCain's willingness to bend on what was fast becoming an albatross for his party is nothing more than good old fashioned survival instincts coming to the fore. He learned that much from George Bush, at least.

The man isn't a maverick. He's a bitter grumpy old prick and a shell of what was once a pretty damn good senator who got his ass kicked and has spent the last thirteen years returning the favor to any and all who managed to get in his cross hairs.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why the Sequester IS a Big Deal

There's stupid and then there's deliberately deceptive.  For instance, back in the summer of 2011, there were an awful lot of Republicans who thought it would be no big deal if the U.S. defaulted on its debt. That would've been stupid; in fact dangerously stupid. Tragedy was avoided just in the nick of time.

Fast forward eighteen months and the love child of that summer in hell - the sequester - has been dropped at the front door of Washington with a load in its diapers waiting to stink up the joint. Once more an awful lot of Republicans are saying that it's no big deal. Bring it on! Their bravado is shared by various conservative writers like Rick Lowry, whose recent piece in Politico is a case study in deliberate deceptiveness.

To hear Lowry put it, "the sequester amounts to a $1.16 trillion cut, or roughly 3 cents on every federal dollar. If we can’t squeeze a couple of pennies out of every dollar, we might as well begin our great national bankruptcy proceedings right now."

Lowry, of course, is talking about the entire federal budget, as though it were actually part of the equation. It's not, and he knows it. That's why Lowry isn't merely stupid, he's actually a con man who wants you to believe a set of facts that don't really exist.

Yes, it's true that if you look at the entire budget, it amounts to $3.5 trillion, and, yes, the amount of the cuts that are scheduled to take place on March 1 come to $85 billion. And if those were the only two numbers you had to look at, you'd probably say no big deal too, just like the GOP.

Except for one tiny and inconvenient truth: the real budget that the sequester is affecting is considerably smaller. That's because Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid comprise a rather large chunk of all federal outlays. How large? 62% of all federal spending goes to entitlements. That leaves you with about $1.3 trillion, but you're still not done. Interest on the debt was over $225 billion in 2011. After all is said and done the amount of the federal budget that can be cut is actually $1.1 trillion.

But here's the kicker: the total amount of all discretionary - non-military - spending adds up to $587 billion. The rest of the $1.1 trillion goes to the Pentagon. Cutting $85 billion out of that part of the budget isn't just a big deal; it's insane.

As bad as an $85 billion cut to current discretionary spending will be this year, the bad news doesn't end there. Next year $120 billion gets cut, followed by another $120 billion each year through 2022. To put it succinctly, there hasn't been this kind of budget slashing since the founding of the Republic.

It's a veritable Tea Party wet dream. Since their ascension to power following the 2010 midterms, they have longed for a day like this.  The Budget Control Act of 2011 wasn't merely an ill-conceived deal made under extreme duress; it will bring about the systematic destruction of a good chunk of the federal government that will cost millions of jobs, throw the United States not just into a double-dip recession, but in all likelihood into a lost decade not unlike what the Japanese went through in the 1990s. The austerity that Europe is currently going through would be a walk in the park by comparison.

Only a truly deranged person would say no big deal with a straight face. And only a hack like Lowry would shamelessly continue to peddle such drivel in print.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tip of the Hat

Old fan favorite David Frum returns to this segment. He has written one of the better pieces on gun control that I've yet read. It's comforting to know that not all conservatives are in bed with the NRA.

Are Gun Accidents 'Very Rare'?

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Yesterday, at, I offered two proposals to enhance gun safety that would not require a vote of Congress: (1) a Surgeon General's report on the health hazards of guns in the home; (2) a congressional investigation of the safety practices of the gun industry.

Robert VerBruggen offered a substantial reply at National Review Online.

Before responding in my turn, there's a threshold point that must be stressed and then stressed again. At one point in his reply, Robert dismissively describes one study of gun safety as a "tiny phone survey" "conducted in 1996." And of course … he's right! A lot of the most important data in the gun debate is unsatisfactory and is out-of-date.

There's a reason for that, and the reason is that the gun advocates themselves passed a law through Congress almost 20 years ago forbidding the use of federal research dollars to study gun safety. It's audacious for the people who have done everything in their power to suppress the evidence now to complain about the poor quality of the evidence as exists. Their determination to suppress the evidence is itself the strongest clue as to which way the evidence points.

But let's deal with what we have.

The core of Robert's case comes down to two claims: 

Claim 1: There isn't much of a safety problem with guns. Or, in Robert's words: "The fact is that gun accidents are statistically very rare — and even this information isn’t all that helpful without an estimate of armed self-defense to compare it with."

How rare is "very rare"? In 2007, the United States suffered some 15,000-19,000 accidental shootings. More than 600 of these shootings proved fatal. Is that "very rare"?

The total number of Americans killed and wounded by gun accidents exceeds the total number killed or injured in fires.

The number killed in gun accidents is 20% higher than the total number killed in all U.S. civil aviation accidents.

In 2011, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted to ban drop-side baby cribs because these cribs have been blamed for "dozens" of infant deaths over the entire previous decade. The 600+ accidental gun deaths in any single year amount to 50 dozen.

Back when the Centers for Disease Control were allowed to do gun research, they found that American children under age 15 were nine times more likely to die of a gun accident than children in other advanced wealthy countries.

The Centers for Disease Control reserve the term "very rare" for accidental deaths from vaccines, the number of which is zero, or close to it. If more than 600 people a year were dying from vaccines, we'd have a national uproar, if not a revolution.

Instead, we have a lively YouTube category of "funny gun accidents"

Of course, guns in the home are also associated with higher rates of suicides and suicide attempts, not to mention homicides and assaults as well. About 200 Americans go to emergency rooms every day with gunshot wounds. On present trends, by 2015 more Americans will die from firearms - homicide, suicide, and accident - than from automobile accidents.

"Very rare" is not the term I'd use for all this. 

Claim 2: The gun industry responsibly sells safe products. VerBruggen: "Most modern handguns - especially those designed to be carried - are drop-safe." "Some accidents might be caused by confusion about whether there's a bullet in the chamber." "Serial number filing isn't very effective."

As you can see, words like "most," "some," and "very" are doing the heavy lifting in all these sentences. Let's try this line of argument with other products.

"Most modern aircraft don't crash due to battery fires."

"Most store-brand packaged foods are not rancid."

"Some accidents might be caused by the truck's tendency to flip over at high speeds."

"Cigarette advertising aimed at children is not very effective."

Would Congress accept that line of excuse from any other product or industry? Surely Congress would say, "No aircraft should crash because of battery fires." "Stores shouldn't sell any rancid products." "Trucks should not flip over, period." "Cigarette advertising aimed at children should not occur at all."

Yet when it comes to the most lethal of all consumer products, suddenly Congress becomes super-indulgent of industry fallibility. It would be a bold pharmaceutical executive who said that we didn't need child-proof bottles because it was a parent's responsibility to teach her 7 year old to stay away from the medicine chest. Yet that's just the answer we hear after incidents like yesterday's tragedy in Decatur, Ohio, when a 9 year old boy was shot in the head by his 13 year old sister.

Nobody would suggest that better product design could prevent all gun accidents. I'm certainly not suggesting it. But it's true that the most popular range of handguns in the United States, Glock, is sold without a usable visual indicator of a bullet in the chamber.

And it's equally true that again and again the industry and its representatives lend their clout to protect wrongdoers against the public.

Under [federal] law, investigators cannot reveal federal firearms tracing information that shows how often a dealer sells guns that end up seized in crimes. The law effectively shields retailers from lawsuits, academic study and public scrutiny. It also keeps the spotlight off the relationship between rogue gun dealers and the black market in firearms.

Such information used to be available under a simple Freedom of Information Act request. But seven years ago, under pressure from the gun lobby, Congress blacked out the information by passing the so-called Tiahrt amendment, named for Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.). The law removed from the public record a government database that traces guns recovered in crimes back to the dealers.

"It was extraordinary, and the most offensive thing you can think of," said Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group for police chiefs. "The tracing data, which is now secret, helped us see the big picture of where guns are coming from."

Who pushes for laws like these? How do they justify themselves? It would be a public service to investigate such questions under oath in the open sunlight.


Whose Sequester Is It Really?

With the sequester now just over a week away, it's beginning to look like the powers that be in Washington are prepared to jump off this man-made cliff and suffer the consequences that will inevitably ensue. And naturally, Republicans are all lining up to make sure the public knows full well that, this time, they're not responsible. This one's on the President. It was Obama, they maintain, who first floated the idea and then forced them to accept back in August of 2011*. John Boehner has his tears all cued up for the cameras.

Two pieces - both in The Daily Beast - by Michael Tomasky and John Avlon basically blow this myth right out of the water. First Tomasky:

It was ... the White House’s notion that if the “trigger” was hit, what would kick in would be not only automatic budget cuts but also automatic revenue increases (an idea Republicans refused to go along with).

So fine, the White House proposed it (sequestration). It did so only after months of Republicans publicly demanding huge spending cuts and refusing to consider any revenues and acting as if they were prepared to send the nation into default over spending. In other words, this was the administration’s idea in much the way that it’s a parent’s “idea” to pay ransom to a person who has taken his child hostage. There was a gun to the White House’s head, which was the possibility of the country going into default.

And then, when it was all put into legislation, it was the Republicans who passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in the House, with 218 of them voting yes. So even if administration officials proposed it, it would have remained just a proposal if those 218 Republicans hadn’t supported it (no House Democrats backed it). Most Republicans agreed at the time that the sequestration trigger was a good thing—that it would force everyone to get together and agree to a path forward and a long-term budget deal.

And secondly Avlon:

I happened to come across an old email that throws cold water on House Republicans’ attempts to call this “Obama’s Sequester.” It’s a PowerPoint presentation that Boehner’s office developed with the Republican Policy Committee and sent out to the Capitol Hill GOP on July 31, 2011. Intended to explain the outline of the proposed debt deal, the presentation is titled: “Two Step Approach to Hold President Obama Accountable.”

It's essentially an internal sales document from the old dealmaker Boehner to his unruly and often unreasonable Tea Party cohort. But it’s clear as day in the presentation that “sequestration” was considered a cudgel to guarantee a reduction in federal spending—the conservatives’ necessary condition for not having America default on its obligations.

The Obama-Boehner grand bargain that was negotiated in the summer of 2011 and came so close to being agreed upon increasingly looks like the best bet conservatives could get. But they pressured Boehner to walk away without so much as a returned phone call.

So we have a sequester that Republicans demanded as a condition of raising the debt ceiling that is about to kick in. John Boehner can write all the op-ed pieces he wants, his fingerprints are all over this monstrosity, as are those of every Republican who voted for it.

Yes, Obama is now stuck with it and, like it or not, he once more has to play the adult in a classroom full of misfits. That's the price you have to pay when you're sane. That's why it's incumbent upon him to scream as loud as he can just what the consequences would be should the sequester kick in.

As I said in an earlier piece, the master plan here for the GOP is force these draconian cuts on a still fragile recovery and then blame the President when the economy tanks. It's diabolical and cowardly, but when you've got nothing substantive to bring to the dinner table your only option is to burn the whole damn dining room to the ground.

* Though the Act was signed into law August of 2011, the actual bill passed the House in July.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Left Overs

That time of the month again, boys and girls, when we delve into some short subjects that were important enough to mention, but not important enough to have their own separate piece. This month, I've got five ditties for your mutual enjoyment.

Media throws a hissy fit.  The White House correspondents this week expressed "extreme frustration" over not having access to a golf outing between President Obama and Tiger Woods. Yes, you heard that right.  Sequester weeks away from happening, a continuing resolution right behind that and then there's immigration reform and gun control. So naturally everyone's got their panties in a bunch over a golf match. Obama later met with reporters off the record on Air Force One. Does somebody need a hug?

She's Baaack!   Guess who's appearing at this year's CPAC as a speaker? None other than Caribou Barbie herself, Sarah Palin. The former governor of Alaska and, I might add, former Fox News lackey still thinks she has something relevant to say about politics and the American way of life.  Ever get the feeling some people just can't take a hint?

GOP opposes raising the minimum wage. How predictable can you get? The party that wants to rebrand itself as the party of the middle class is against the working poor having a little more in their paychecks.  The key, it seems, to a vibrant economy is lots of people making 8 bucks an hour.

Newt Gingrich calls Republicans out on carpet. I'm starting to think the former Speaker of the House missed his true calling. He's really a comedian at heart. Who else could criticize his own party's failings - carefully omitting his own pitiful contributions - and manage to keep a straight face while doing it? The guy's a born stand up, I tell ya.

John McCain predicts Chuck Hagel will be confirmed as Secretary of Defense.  Well, well, I guess all that talk about getting answers to Benghazi was just a load of shit after all.  Deep down Republicans were just doing what they do naturally: acting like dicks. Somebody desperately needs a time out!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

No Good Deed

I hate to say "I told you so," but I told you so. Last month I predicted that Harry Reid would rue the day he took the nuclear option off the table regarding filibuster reform. So now that Republicans have just blocked an up and down vote on Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense - i.e., filibuster - it's time to ask the sixty-four thousand dollar question. At what point will Democrats finally get it that the GOP can't be trusted to do the right thing?

This isn't about Benghazi; it never was. It's about power and paranoia. The Republicans don't have much of the former, but they certainly have loads of the latter.

By being the reasonable man in the room, by ostensibly giving Mitch McConnell and his band of wayward pirates the benefit of the doubt, Reid has not only put his President's nomination at risk, he has permitted the possibility that the Department of Defense will NOT have a sitting secretary for at least a week, maybe more.

Way to go, genius.  The laughter you're hearing is coming from the 45 members of the opposition party who can't believe their good fortune. The growling you're hearing is coming from the members of your own caucus, many of whom begged you to put this matter to bed when you had the chance.

Thanks to the Majority Leader's naïveté, this three-ring circus promises to keep going on for the next four years. And, worst of all, he has no one else to blame but himself. This is what you get for being a nice guy, Harry.

Oh joy, oh freakin' bliss!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sip of the Lip

Sometimes I can't help but feel just a little sorry for the Republicans. It's bad enough they had their lunch handed to them in last year's elections. Despite an avalanche of soft money and an entire cable news channel at their disposal, Barack Obama easily bested Thurston Howell III and the Democrats actually increased their majority in the Senate.

But last night, after the President gave what many have now called his best speech ever, Marco Rubio had the "honor" of presenting the alternate reality that was the GOP response. When it rains, it pours. If this is how the Republicans plan on rebutting Obama in his second term, I'd stay out of Vegas for the foreseeable future if I were them. 2014 is already starting to look bleak.

The fact is, despite all the claims by Rubio and later Mitch McConnell, there wasn't one single proposal laid out by Obama that wasn't either practical or popular. The man spent just over an hour throwing down the gauntlet and setting the trap for his opponents. They, in turn, quickly did their best to fall into it. No wonder Rubio reached for a bottle of water. If you had to spit out that much bullshit in that short a time, you'd need a whole damn ocean to wet your whistle.

The major problem for the Republicans is two-fold: they are peddling a message that few outside the converted are buying and they are up against a president who has learned his lesson from his first term and plans on keeping the pressure on. He probably isn't going to win every battle, but he will win a good chunk of them, and at the GOP's expense.

The highlight of the night was the "they deserve a vote" moment. It was both precious and priceless. Whether or not he gets the assault rifle ban that he wants, Obama has made gun control a major issue for Republicans. Imagine Republicans having to explain to voters why they didn't support sensible gun laws. Ain't that a hoot.

Immigration reform is all but a given and not because the GOP wants it, but because they know if they don't go along with it, they are finished as a national party. That might happen anyway, especially if the economy continues to improve.

It may be painful for them to admit, but 2012 was the Republicans' best shot at seizing power in Washington in years and they failed miserably at it. They had a lousy message, even lousier messengers and last night they had a rebuttal that was lame at best and, at worst, deliberately misleading.

If the GOP seriously thinks that all it has to is dress up the same old turkey of a message and "rebrand" it to the American people to be successful than it hasn't learned a damned thing about how and why it lost in the first place. Marco Rubio is a perfect example of the party's arrogance. The reason he was chosen to give the Republican response - the Tea Party response by Rand Paul can now be seen it its entirety on the Sci-Fi channel - is because of his heritage. White bread didn't sell too well last year, so let's go with whole wheat.  Either way, it's a shit sandwich.

Pitiful, if predictable.

You know what, I take it back. I don't feel sorry for the Republicans. They made this bed. Now it's time for them to "lie" in it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The State of Our Union

To be honest, I really don't know what Barack Obama will say tonight in his State of the Union address. I suppose he will talk at great length about the economy, immigration reform and gun control. And, to be certain, all three are important.

But, if he's truly interested in the state of the Union, he has a solemn duty to state the obvious: the Union is anything but strong. The Union is on the verge of a mental breakdown. In my 51 years on this planet I have seen my fair share of stupidity. Political scandals have come and gone - I was a boy when Nixon resigned in disgrace - and throughout it all, the nation has not only weathered them, it has emerged stronger and wiser for the ware.

But I have never seen the depths to which this country has sunk over the last four years. This is no mere political scandal we have been witnessed to; this is a wholesale unraveling of the very fabric of the Republic. To put it bluntly, what has happened to the United States during the term of this president is beyond belief and quite frankly I have never been so embarrassed to call myself an American.

Let's be clear. This nation has had a sordid history, to put it mildly.  Most of its empire building occurred on the backs of millions of indigenous people - please don't insult them by referring to them as native Americans - who were systematically removed from their homes and herded like cattle onto reservations. And during its first hundred years of existence, it refused to even acknowledge that roughly one quarter of is population was worthy of being called completely human, let alone free.

Fine, you say. That was then, this is now.  Tell me then how, forty years into our third century as a nation, racism as appallingly disgusting as this is still tolerated within our midst?  Barack Obama, the first African American to be elected President of the United States, might as well be Benson for all the good it has done him.

The out and out disrespect shown this man has no equal in American history. The reason is simple enough: we've never had a black man in the oval office before. The very thought of that image has revealed an ugly and unsettling truth about this nation that makes me ill to even think about. Despite all the hoopla about America coming to terms with its demons, the undercurrent of racism is as strong now as it has ever been. Yes, it's true African Americans aren't lynched at the drop of a hat and thankfully millions of Hispanics, Italians, Irish, Jews and Chinese aren't referred to in such glowing terms as Spics, Wops, Micks, Kikes and Chinks. Small favors abound.

While overt expressions of racism have now gone the way of the dinosaur, supplanted by covert ones, I frankly miss the good old days when racism was more open and direct. Nothing like calling a spade a spade to put one's cards on the table. Now you have to listen closely to pick it up.

From the imbecilic Birthers, who are persistent in their contention that he was born in Kenya, to the millions who still insist that he is a Muslim, bent on America's destruction, to the relentless assault on the very legitimacy of his office by the entire Republican Party, no other president has had to carry such a burden. The recent confirmation hearing on Chuck Hagel is a case study in double standards. It is long established that presidents have the right to appoint whomever they see fit to serve in their cabinets. That is until Barack Obama came to town.

The Benghazi attack was indeed tragic, but to listen to Republicans, it's the worst coverup since Watergate.  They are now days away from doing the unthinkable: holding up the appointment of a defense secretary for no other reason than spite. Even George W. Bush had an easier time of it, and all he did was lie us into one war and badly botch another.

And, now the final indignity. When Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address in front of Congress, none other than Ted Nugent, the moron who threatened him during last year's campaign, will be in attendance, a guest of Tea Party favorite Representative Steve Stockman, who recently said he would start impeachment proceedings against this president if he issued executive orders to strengthen gun control laws; gun control laws, mind you, that were supported by former presidents, one of whom was Republican.

Shocked? You shouldn't be. It was in this very same "hallowed" building, in front of this very same Congress that this president was called a liar by a member of this supposedly prestigious and august body, the first time a sitting president was ever referred to in such a manner.

The alternate reality in which this president's opponents live would be comical, if it weren't so sad. They have accused him of socializing the health insurance industry when in fact he merely appropriated an already existing state-run conservative idea. The Dodd/Frank law, which he championed, would destroy our banking industry. If anything, the banks are larger and more profitable now than before the financial crisis. His bailout of the auto industry was similarly assailed as a socialist takeover. Thirty years earlier, when Reagan bailed out Chrysler, he was seen as a staunch defender of capitalism. But then Reagan was white.

It's time to stop pussy footing about the obvious. The problem with this president is his skin color, not his policies. Think about it. Since he was first sworn into office in 2009, the Dow Jones has gone from 6500 to just over 14,000. As Bill Maher correctly observed, "If he's a socialist, he's a lousy one."

I am deeply concerned about the welfare of this nation. There is something sinister and diabolical afoot. When Barack Obama addresses Congress and the nation tonight, he will be delivering his fourth consecutive State of the Union. He will do the right thing and say the right thing. He will, in all likelihood, take the high road, which he has done ever since he assumed office, and he will do his best to convince the country that the Union is strong. He will, of course, be lying. And he knows it. Jackie Robinson knew it, too. Every minority in this country knows full well what happens when you begin to climb the ladder of success. Pity quickly turns to envy and then to hatred.

Barack Obama is the chief executive of the nation and the leader of the free world. And he is black. That has not sat well with a large number of people who fear a changing society and what that might mean to their future; a future which is becoming more and more multi cultured and diverse. In a few decades, they will be the minority in the country.  And that thought scares the shit out of them. Barack Obama is their worst nightmare come true.

The only silver lining here is that eventually these Neanderthals will die off like the dinosaurs did 65 million years ago. But for now, we will have to endure their ignorance a bit longer.

There's never an asteroid around when you need one.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Will the Sequester End Up Being Obama's Waterloo?

He managed to get revenue increases during the fiscal cliff negotiation without giving up any spending cuts; he then got Republicans to blink on the debt ceiling without having a repeat of the 2011 circus. If you're counting, that's 2 for 2. But it's becoming painfully clear that Barack Obama's luck is starting to run out. The Sequester cuts that had been delayed for two months are due to kick in at the end of the month and, pending an agreement between Congress and the White House which is highly unlikely, it looks very much like they will finally go through.

If the economy were stronger - say growing at 4 percent annually - the sequester cuts would be little more than an over the top hot foot; unpleasant, but hardly fatal.  But with a still fragile recovery limping along at just over 2 percent growth, a loss of $120 billion a year out of the economy - split evenly between domestic programs and the Pentagon - could spell trouble. In fact, it could induce a double-dip recession.

And while there is little doubt that the GOP would bare the brunt of the blame for such a calamitous outcome, the President would not escape unscathed.  In fact, as the economy begins to tank more and more, the general mood of the electorate could turn decidedly ugly towards him, which is precisely what Republicans are hoping for.

Think about it. They couldn't beat him at the ballot box, and he handed them their lunch during the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling negotiations, but now, thanks to an ill-conceived and poorly thought out compromise, the GOP can bring about by accident what they couldn't accomplish by design: bring Obama to his knees, politically speaking.

The problem with being the adult in the class room is that you have to be the adult. Republicans have no interest in seeing Obama succeed. Torpedoing the recovery is their best and perhaps last hope of resting control of the reigns of power in 2014 and 2016.

Gerrymandering allowed them to retain their majority in the House last year despite getting a million less votes, but the Senate is still firmly in their sights. If they win a majority in that chamber next year, Obama's last two years will be reduced to the political equivalent of a footnote.

And that's why he must avoid that scenario at all costs. Allowing Republicans to bring European-style austerity to America is unacceptable. Period.  Politically, it's suicide; economically, it's a disaster. Think I'm over reacting? Take a trip to England and let me know what you find when you get there. In that country they are about to embark on a triple-dip recession, courtesy of David Cameron's obsession with slashing. If the GOP gets its way, it's lights out for the foreseeable future.

To those who still naively believe Republicans wouldn't be that irresponsible, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn that's a steal. Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast had it right. There isn't going to be a budget deal. The GOP is counting on it.

Last year, Republicans generally sounded more alarmed about Pentagon cuts than about spending and the budget deficit. But now, that’s flipping. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn said, “I think sequester is going to happen. I think the people want it to happen.” South Carolina GOP Congressman Mick Mulvaney said recently, “Gridlock is leading to spending reductions. If the government does nothing, spending goes down. We have to claim victory.”

The problem with dealing with people who are married to a bankrupt ideology is that it's virtually impossible to separate them from it. Republicans have convinced themselves that their irrationality is their ticket to victory. To deny them, Obama's only play is to come to the table with a reasonable offer and, when the GOP rejects it, hit the road and explain thoroughly to the voters what's really going on here.

The debt isn't responsible for the mess we're in; it never was. Drastic spending cuts will do far more harm than good. Obama must use every ounce of political capital at his disposal to drive that home or everything he has done to keep the country from going under these past four years will be all for naught.