Sunday, March 31, 2013

Of Cowardice and Corruption

How nice to see that gay marriage has finally managed to crawl up out of the pit where pedophiles and mass murderers still reside. How nice, too, that so many politicians - Republican and Democrat - have had an epiphany of sorts and jumped on the bandwagon.  Even the President during last year's campaign finally "evolved" on the issue, though it might've sounded a bit more genuine had his VP not forced his hand in an interview on Meet the Press. Damn that Joe Biden, always leading with his chin. Even the Supreme Court is poised to issue a ruling that could have profound and far-reaching repercussions for future generations of gays and lesbians.

And how about immigration reform? Looks like Congress might actually pass legislation that deals with an issue that has plagued America for well over a generation and a half. Imagine Republicans and Democrats agreeing on something substantive. Somewhere a cat and a dog just shacked up together. And to think, it was only a year ago that one political party's solution to the problem was self deportation, while the other party's solution was mainly silence.

What could be responsible for this unprecedented 180? In a word, the polls. Over the last few years, the public's perception of both these issues has virtually flipped. More and more people now have a favorable view of gay marriage and a vast majority of Americans want meaningful immigration reform.

As a result, politicians from both parties are heeding the call to act. Not because they are moved by or truly believe in the cause - though clearly some do - but because failure to do so could mean political oblivion. In a rare moment of candor, Arizona Senator John McCain summed up his party's recent reversal on immigration reform in one word: votes. Self preservation, rather than doing the right thing, is the modus operandi for Washington these days.

Don't get me wrong, I applaud both turnarounds, regardless of motivation. They are long overdo. And with respect to gay rights, the day when all people are treated equal under the law will be a momentous one for the country. I just would've felt a whole better about things if the sudden shift by our elected officials wasn't so obvious and shallow and based entirely on fear.  You get the feeling these people couldn't decide on lunch without taking a poll.

If you really want to know why most people hold government in such low regard this is why. Politicians who show true courage and conviction have become an endangered species in America. A handful of brave senators and congressmen are now the exception to the rule. And that rule is simple: Do whatever you have to do to get reelected. Going out on a limb and bucking the headwinds is the political equivalent of committing suicide.

Ironically, the one group in Congress that seems to not care about what the polls say and stays true to its cause - the Tea Party - just happens to be the most mentally unbalanced group in all of politics. Go figure that. If only we could bottle that passion and authenticity without all the insanity, we'd have a pretty impressive and courageous government instead of the current bunch of sniveling cowards we now seem to have in abundance in Washington.

But there is one thing even more powerful and influential than polls, which brings me to gun control. Despite overwhelming support for a ban on assault rifles, there is zero chance of the Senate passing legislation on one. Indeed, it'll be news if a background check makes it through. Why? The NRA, that's why.

A government supposedly of the people, by the people and for the people is ostensibly bought and paid for by influential lobbyists such as the NRA. Like the Empire in Star Wars, their job is to crush any resistance that threatens their specific agendas. There are more than 34,000 registered lobbyists in Washington today. In 1980, it was a fraction of that amount. Those lobbyists, despite attempts at reigning them in, wield tremendous power and influence over legislative initiatives. So when Congress isn't bending its policies towards the recent trends in society, it's cowering to powerful and corrupt interests who hold a vice grip on its purse strings.

This isn't merely a Republican issue. Need I remind you that of the 55 Democratic senators in Congress, Harry Reid only has 40 who will support an assault rifle ban. Indeed, five Democrats joined forces with 45 Republicans recently to require that any gun control bill require a  two thirds majority to pass. Thankfully, the measure failed, but it symbolized the lengths to which some will go to paralyze and defeat what should be sane and reasonable gun reform laws.

This pitiful excuse for leadership didn't just spring up overnight. It took several decades for it to grow like moss blanketing all of Washington. The result is that the U.S. federal government is now the laughing stock of virtually every country in the West. And the saddest part of all is that things aren't likely to improve anytime soon.

It was Mark Twain who said, "We have the best government that money can buy." Had he lived long enough to see this government he probably would've demanded a refund.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Tip of the Hat

Been thinking a lot about gun control, the Second Amendment and this whole idea of a "well regulated militia." My take is that it was never the founders' intention that the "right of the people to keep and bear arms" be absolute. Unfortunately, that's not the far Right's opinion. To hear them tell it, not only is it absolute, the militia part allows for the "people" to rise up against their government, if that government is perceived as acting tyrannical.

Thankfully, enough sane people feel differently. One of them is David Frum, who gets this month's Tip of the Hat nod.

No, the 2nd Amendment Does Not Authorize Armed Sedition

The founding fathers did not establish a banana republic 

This weekend I posted a book club entry about Adam Winkler's important history of US gun law, Gunfight.

In that entry, I wrote that 19th century Americans conceptualized the "militia" as an agency of government power: state and local government, but government all the same. There were, obviously, non-government armed forces in the 19th century United States. John Brown organized one to attack Harper's Ferry in 1859; demobilized Confederate soldiers waged war on black neighbors as the Ku Klux Klan. But (I wrote)

Before 1965, it would have occurred to precisely nobody that the Second Amendment guaranteed the right to organize private armies independent of the state.
At National Review Online, Kevin Williamson has now written to correct me.

Kevin insists, contra me, that the Founding Generation did believe that they had granted permission to disaffected individuals to raise private armies independent of government control. In support of this claim, Kevin offers a proof-text from the writings of the great Jeffersonian-turned-Federalist jurist, Joseph Story:

The importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.

Kevin has used this quote at least twice: once in the reply to me, and before that in a longer-form article published in 2012.

On neither occasion did Kevin provide either a link or a cite to the quote. Perhaps Kevin believes that Story's 1833 Constitutional Commentaries (the source of the quote) remain so well-known to contemporary Americans that no cite is necessary. Or possibly Kevin just cut-and-pasted the quote as it appeared in Sanford Levinson's famous 1989 book, The Embarrassing Second Amendment.

I'm inclined to the latter hypothesis, because if Kevin had read the passage in full (it's online here, courtesy of the University of Chicago), he'd have noticed something awkward:

In the very next sentence after Levinson and Kevin terminate their quotation, Story adds the following words:

And yet, though this truth would seem so clear, and the importance of a well regulated militia would seem so undeniable, it cannot be disguised, that among the American people there is a growing indifference to any system of militia discipline, and a strong disposition, from a sense of its burthens, to be rid of all regulations.

"Militia discipline." "Regulations."

Colonial and early American militias were not paramilitary organizations. They were military organizations, into which individuals were conscripted, trained, commanded, and subjected to military discipline including the penalty of court martial.

The debate over the "militia" in the 18th and early 19th century was a debate over which government should control the new nation's main military force: federal or state? Here are some extracts from James Madison's notes on the 1787 Philadelphia convention:

Mr. ELSWORTH & Mr. SHERMAN moved to postpone the 2d. clause in favor of the following "To establish an uniformity of arms, exercise & organization for the Militia, and to provide for the Government of them when called into the service of the U. States" The object of this proposition was to refer the plan for the Militia to the General Govt. but leave the execution of it to the State Govts.

Mr. LANGDON said He could not understand the jealousy expressed by some Gentleman. The General & State Govts. were not enemies to each other, but different institutions for the good of the people of America. As one of the people he could say, the National Govt. is mine, the State Govt. is mine. In transferring power from one to the other, I only take out of my left hand what it can not so well use, and put it into my right hand where it can be better used.

The evidence could be multiplied endlessly by anybody with access to a Google machine, let alone a good library. But really, the evidence should be redundant. Can anybody imagine the authors of any constitution doing anything quite so insane as writing into their very charter of government a grant of permission for armed sedition?

The Founding Generation was deeply influenced by recent English history, especially the way in which Oliver Cromwell had used his New Model Army - the original Redcoats - to suppress parliamentary government.

That history underlay the great debates in the Founding Generation over the respective merits of militias versus professional armies, debates that arrayed on one side those Founders who had fought in the Continental Army (and experienced the uselessness of the state militias in battle against drilled troops) against those Founders who had not.

But the Founding Generation also knew their classical history, which was studded with examples of powerful Romans raising private armies to capture the government. When they wanted to abuse each other, the Founders invoked the name of Catiline, the bankrupt aristocrat prosecuted by Cicero for conspiracy against the state. This fear was so real that in 1807 the Jefferson administration indicted Jefferson's own former vice president, Aaron Burr, of treason. The substance of the charge? Burr had raised a private army. The government charged that Burr was inciting rebellion in the western territories of the United States. Burr's defenders insisted that he was merely planning to invade and conquer Mexican territory. Nobody - nobody! - suggested that the Second Amendment authorized Burr or anybody else to raise an army against Washington, DC, if Burr happened to feel oppressed.

Early Americans did sometimes invoke a "right of revolution." But those early Americans regarded the right of revolution as a natural right, a right that inhered in all human beings everywhere. As Abraham Lincoln phrased it in an 1848 speech: "Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable - a most sacred right - a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world."

But obviously - and almost by definition - this right of revolution could not be a civil right, a right recognized in a positive law, like the Constitution and its Amendments. Again to quote Lincoln, this time the first inaugural address: "It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination."

Enough. I doubt I'm contributing anything here that does not come as old news to people who read political websites. Surely everything I'm saying ought to be well-known to people who write for political websites. Yet it seems not to be known to Kevin Williamson. And the surplus of conceit on display in Kevin's replies is a poor substitute for this deficit of knowledge.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Paul Ryan and the GOP Autopsy

Some thoughts on the Republican National Committee's "Growth and Opportunity Project," AKA the autopsy:

While it's laudable that they decided to take a close look at the train wreck that was 2012, deciding to do it themselves was akin to letting a surgeon operate on himself. Talk about malpractice. No, if the Republican Party really wants to get to the bottom of what ails it, it needs to be willing to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen any time soon. Because, deep down, the GOP doesn't really want to change; in fact, it doesn't see anything wrong with its message. The problem, if any, is that their messengers keep gumming up the works.

If only Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock hadn't been so candid with their beliefs - beliefs, mind you, that an overwhelming majority of Republicans share - then both might've won their respective Senate races. Apparently, there are two types of Republicans these days: those who hold extreme views and keep it themselves and those who are stupid enough to actually admit them in public.

Even the suggestion to reduce the number of primary debates was nothing more than good old-fashioned self preservation. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that last year's freak show left a bad taste in the voters' mouths. Limiting the public's exposure to that spectacle can only help matters. Well, it couldn't hurt anyway.

But the final proof that the GOP has no intentions of fundamentally changing its tune lies in its continued embracing of Paul Ryan and his budget.  Seriously, how do you try and convince the 47 percent of the electorate that Mitt Romney pissed all over last year that you're committed to them and then have your prodigal son author a budget that will ostensibly rip the guts out of discretionary spending while, at the same time, rewarding the top 2 percent with almost $6 trillion in tax breaks, all paid for by taking away the hard-earned deductions of the other 98 percent? You can pass all the immigration reform bills you want and be as kind to gays as humanly possible, but if you don't offer something substantive to the voters that they can support, your message, just like your messengers, will fail in the end.

Bob Shrum is right. You just can't "put lipstick on an elephant" and pretend everything is hunky dory. The problem with the GOP goes beyond mere rebranding. The product they are selling simply isn't attracting a large enough market share. In fact, from a business perspective, their market share is declining as their core constituents - white males - continue to shrink as a percentage of the population.

The more I think about it, the GOP doesn't need an autopsy; it needs a lobotomy.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Every Picture Tells A Story

You know how they say a picture's worth a thousand words? Well, let me see what I can do with this picture.

Bibi: “Mr. President, welcome to Israel; it’s an honor having you here.”

Obama: “Really? I heard you were expecting the other guy, what’s his name, to be coming off the plane. Sorry to spoil your plans.”

Bibi: “Not at all, Mr. President. I have always had the utmost respect for you.”

Obama: “Yeah I'll bet you have. By the way, I’m backing your opponent in the next election.”

Bibi: “You wouldn’t actually get involved in Israeli politics would you? That would be unprecedented.”

Obama: “Don’t make me throw up all over your new shoes.”

Bibi: “You wouldn’t.”

Obama: “Well, I’m certainly not going to throw up all over mine.”

Bibi: “Look, let’s let bygones be bygones. I’m preparing a big feast over at my place.”

Obama: “Is crow on the menu?”

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ten Years, $3 Trillion, Thousands Dead, Zero WMDs

Ten years ago, I was in Texas attending a surprise 40th birthday party for my sister, when it began. Even then, I had a sinking feeling about the Iraq War. The nation was already involved in a war in Afghanistan, which was where, we were told, the people who orchestrated 9/11 were hiding. Iraq, I thought, was a distraction.

But the Bush Administration steadfastly maintained that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed a direct threat to the United States, so it was off to war we went. After all, what did I know, especially when all the polls showed strong support for military intervention?

We were told we would be greeted as liberators, that the war would cost, at most, $50 to $60 billion and that the casualties would be minimal.

A decade later, the price tag for the Iraq War stands at between $1.7 and $3 trillion, depending on who you believe, more than 4,400 military casualties, with another 32,000 wounded in action. Add to that the number of civilians killed, estimated to be over 100,000. Oh and by the way, turns out there were never any weapons of mass destruction. The whole WMD idea was a hoax, perpetrated on a public still reeling from the worst terrorist attack ever carried out on its soil. That mushroom cloud was nothing more than a drug-induced haze.

The simple truth was that we were lied to by an administration that, for some Godforsaken reason, thought it could invade a sovereign country and topple a legitimate, if brutal, government on the cheap and then get out unscathed. Rarely has such a fraud ever been carried out so ineptly.

And while this fraud was being played out, most of the main-stream press and Congress went along for the ride, either cowered by an Administration that resorted to intimidation to get its way, or simply because they were too lazy to do their jobs. Who cares?  There is as much blood on their hands as those who gave the orders, as far as I'm concerned.

But while the financial cost to the nation was substantial, the damage to our prestige, not to mention the destabilization the War brought to the region, may prove to be incalculable. Iran has now become a greater threat than Iraq could ever have been. We will have to contend with that threat for years, if not decades.

Then there was Afghanistan, the legitimate war. While the Bush Administration diverted its attention onto the one country that posed no threat to us, Osama bin Laden escaped into Pakistan, where he would hide out until President Barack Obama ordered a Navy Seal team to put a bullet in his head. Way to take your eye off the ball.

There's no polite way to put it. The Iraq War was one gigantic cluster fuck, one of the worst chapters and lowest points in American history. It will take years for that country and its population to fully recover from the rape and pillage we subjected it to. It will take us a lot longer to put the stench of that memory behind us.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Hoedown in Looneyville

While President Barack Obama was busy with his charm offensive trying to get Republicans to behave like adults instead of spoiled brats, conservatives were wrapping up their annual March to Madness fest, more commonly referred to as CPAC, in Maryland.

This year's theme was "America's Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives." The homage to Star Trek notwithstanding, the vast majority of the attendees more closely resembled the cast from Lost in Space.  Only months after getting their butts kicked in the fall elections, it's clear that they haven't learned a blessed thing; indeed they are doubling down on their failed agenda.

Each guest speaker delivered his or her carefully crafted message designed to appease the Kool-Aid drinking, gullible Tea Bagger audience. A list of some of the notables were:

1. Rick Perry, who finally found out what that third department was that he wanted to eliminate, then quickly forgot it when he took the stage;

2. Sarah Palin, who has a new book scheduled for release, complete with crayons and instructions for how to draw on the palm of your hand before a speech, announced she will put together an exploratory committee to consider whether she has any relevance at all left;

3. Allen West was there to remind everyone that, while he was just as black as the President, he wasn't part of the 47% that Mitt Romney was referring to;

4. Rick Santorum stopped by and went out of his way to let everyone in the room know just how snobbish and elitist every body who doesn't subscribe to his myopic, homophobic worldview is;

5. Marco Rubio came out with yet another stance on immigration, which calls for all liberal Hispanics to promise not to vote for the rest of their lives, or until they self-deport back to Mexico, while granting the remaining 100 in the country sainthood;

6. Donald Trump wanted to hear himself say "You're Fired" to an empty chair that Clint Eastwood had delivered personally;

7. Newt Gingrich needed a platform specially built just to hold his ego, then proceeded to remind everyone he had been right all along and they were completely wrong. Naturally;

8. Jeb Bush wanted to make sure that everyone in attendance knew his name wasn't George and that he's the smart one in the family;

9. Rand Paul was dropped off by a drone that was on its way to bomb Jane Fonda's house. For the record, he doesn't condone that sort of thing - riding drones, that is;

10. Mitch McConnell got a standing ovation when he promised that this time he really, really, really means it when he says Obama will not get another term in office. No takers on that Majority Leader title, though;

11. Eric Cantor had another Freudian slip when he referred to himself as Speaker instead of Leader;

12. Bobby Jindal wanted to make sure everyone knew he was still alive and well and living in Louisiana. He sends his regards;

13. Wayne LaPierre channeled his inner Charlton Heston by challenging Obama to take his gun from his cold, dead hand;

14. Paul Ryan brought autographed copies of his latest attempt at balancing another budget - the first 50 got a GOP calculator, which magically makes Ryan's math come out perfectly.  Spoiler alert, it can only subtract;

15. Mitt Romney showed up to personally apologize for being the worst excuse for a genuine human being in the history of politics; and, finally, bringing up the rear, quite literally,

16. Ann Coulter, pulled double duty both as good-will ambassador and fumigator.

Seriously, though, conspicuous by his absence from this year's CPAC was the one man who has the best chance in a general election against whomever the Democrats nominate to run in 2016.  Chris Christie may not be the most popular Republican in his Party right now, but among independents and moderates, he leads everybody else in the pack by a wide margin - no pun intended. If the GOP has any serious plans of taking a stab at the White House any time soon, they'd better bury any hatchets they have against the New Jersey governor, and do it soon.

It's their funeral, if they don't.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Atlas Chugged

Every runt eventually gets his comeuppance. Paul Ryan is getting his served on a silver platter, and it couldn't have happened to a "nicer" guy. The former VP candidate for and intellectual soul of the Republican Party is being torn to shreds over his latest budget, which, it seems, has more holes in it than a mound of Swiss cheese stuck in a mouse trap.

According to Noam Scheiber of the New Republic, Ryan is being assailed not just by the Left, but, oddly enough, by the Right. The Heritage Foundation and Larry Kudlow of CNBC have taken him to task for using Obama's tax increase and certain "accounting gimmicks" to get his budget to balance.

But the real kicker has been the fall from grace within the mainstream media who, it seems, have finally discovered what anybody with half a brain already knew: that the legend that is Paul Ryan was nothing more than a myth.

Which begs the rhetorical question for the ages, what took them so long? Yes, the specter of a Republican who was articulate, seemingly intelligent and sane must have been alluring. After all, it's such a rare occurrence these days; one could hardly blame the press for being smitten at first.

First impressions notwithstanding, a simple calculator and a bit of common sense should've been all that was needed to unravel the scam that Ryan was perpetrating. I mean, when your first attempt at drafting a budget, which claims to make the deficit a priority, doesn't balance until the year 2040, it should be fairly obvious that balancing the budget is NOT what you're up to.

So what was it that finally woke up the lame-stream media from its four-year, self-induced coma? In a word, it was none other than Ryan himself. Seems the Boy Wonder just couldn't help himself. He had told so many whoppers over the last few years - including several rather large ones during the presidential campaign - that he got greedy and careless. Noam Scheiber explains: 

The problem with Ryan’s new budget—in which he reverts to his pre-campaign position on Medicare cuts—is that it more or less concedes the whole campaign, with its righteous defense of Medicare, was a charade. Among the Washington press corps, this is a major no-no. Depending on the circumstances, reporters may be happy to enable these reinventions, but they are loath to acknowledge their role in them. Ryan basically rubbed their noses in it. Even Politico, whose coverage most resembles ends-justifying scorekeeping, seemed to bridle at the transgression. The last five paragraphs of its main Ryan budget piece catalogued his history of Medicare flip-flops. The closing riff quoted a centrist budget wonk—the kind of person Ryan has made a career of courting—essentially outing him as full of it.

In short, Ryan bit the hand that had been feeding him. So eager was he to craft a budget that would appease the most rabid of his caucus, he left a trail of breadcrumbs so enormous even a blind man could find it. The dim bulbs who covered, fawned over and, yes, made him what he was, could no longer ignore the smoke and mirrors any more. The monster they helped create, they are now in the process of taking apart.

It's about f**king time!

Hopefully, the next time some "con man," as Paul Krugman once referred to Ryan as, starts peddling snake oil on the steps of the Capital building, the main-stream media won't wait so long to call him out.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Return of Captain 'Courageous'

Paul Ryan must subscribe to the theory that the third time around is the charm. His first budget didn't "balance" till 2040; his second didn't "balance" till 2030. Now his third budget supposedly balances in 10 years.  I've even heard that he has a plan to cure the common cold in five years. Frankly, from what I've seen of Ryan's math, my money is on the cold remedy.

That's because Ryan has really outdone himself this time. To make his budget "work" he relies on two assumptions that are non-starters for anyone dealing in reality: the repeal of Obamacare and the gutting of entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Regarding Medicare, Ryan adds insult to injury by claiming he will save $716 billion from the program. This was the same $716 billion, mind you, that Ryan accused Obama of "stealing" from the fund during the 2012 campaign.

In all, Ryan's budget proposes to slash $4.6 trillion in spending over the next decade. If you thought the sequester was draconian, try a budget that promises to cut $460 billion per year in discretionary spending, virtually all of it from the domestic side, while giving away trillions in revenue to millionaires and billionaires. In short, Ryan has cobbled together ostensibly the same supply-side nonsense that was thoroughly rejected by last year's voters, only in compact form. And just like the last two budget attempts, Ryan won't say how this one will balance either, only that it will. Trust him, he says.

There's delusional and then there's insane. How insane? Ryan's "responsible, reasonable and balanced" plan was actually decried by Fox News' Chris Wallace and the entire cast of "Fox and Friends." How far off the deep end do you have to be to get called to task by that outfit? Paul Krugman went so far as to call Ryan's recent plan "even crueler" than his earlier ones, which I guess is tantamount to calling a hurricane worse than a cold front.

Now that the Boy Plunder has decided to once more take a stroll down bad memory lane, the real question is how do Congressional Democrats and the Administration respond? Clearly, Obama's recent wine and dine tour with the GOP had zero effect. Though the effort was laudable in that it allowed the President to portray himself as willing to compromise, it's time for Plan C.

I agree with Michael Tomasky. It's high time for Obama to "draw his line in the sand and tell the deficit-hawk establishment who's in charge." The simple truth is that since peaking at $1.4 trillion in 2009, the deficit has been steadily shrinking. The real problem plaguing the economy is the lack of demand, NOT the deficit. The Republican plan will not only fail to produce the demand needed for job growth, it will actually lead to a double-dip recession, which will increase both the deficit and unemployment.

Most economists - those not currently living in the land of Oz - agree that the recovery is still too fragile to cut spending. As the economy continues to improve, cuts can be phased in, but not at this juncture. Obama must make this abundantly clear to the American public. He has been more than reasonable. Now it's time for him to remind House Republicans that elections do have consequences. As Tomasky adroitly observed in his piece, "Obama can't spend the last three years of his presidency playing on Paul Ryan's home field."

To which I would add, the nation can't afford it either.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Job Numbers Don't Lie

Another solid month of job growth - that would make 36 straight - and an unemployment rate at its lowest point in four years. Both good news to be sure, and indicative of a recovery that may not be as robust as most would like, but is nonetheless consistent and enduring.

Since it bottomed out three years ago, the U.S. economy has created 5.7 million jobs, surviving the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, while Great Britain, by comparison, has been unable to come out of recession. The difference comes down to one word: austerity.  One country has had a love affair with it; the other has managed up till now to resist it.

You'd think, based on all the data available, that it would be a slam dunk to anyone with a calculator and a brain which strategy was more successful. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.  That's because, after fighting the urge to slash and burn, America is on the verge of replicating Britain's disaster.

The preoccupation with the debt and the deficit has now so thoroughly infected the body politic that it isn't a question of whether to cut, but how much. At a time when many economists are urging - dare I say it - additional stimulus spending to create demand, Washington is hellbent on doing just the opposite.

The sequester is just the beginning. Next up is the continuing resolution, followed by another go at the debt ceiling. The sequester alone could cost as much 700,000 jobs over the next two years. Congressional Republicans are attempting to do via the purse, what they couldn't do at the ballot box: ostensibly pass their agenda; an agenda, mind you, that was thoroughly rejected by the voters. They have convinced themselves that the deficit is the number one problem besetting the country. If we can only get a handle on our addictive spending then the economy would really take off.

There's just one tiny problem with that mindset. It's dead wrong. The immediate problem is NOT spending, it's demand.  The fact is that the private sector is sitting on roughly $2 trillion. They aren't spending it not because of the huge debt or high taxes or excessive regulations. The reason employers aren't hiring is because they don't see enough demand to warrant increasing their payrolls, period. The undeniable truth is that even if you slashed corporate taxes and removed most regulations, the likelihood is that corporate America would simply pocket the savings. Unemployment would remain stubbornly high.

That's the real dilemma facing America. Despite the net gains in jobs over the last three years, the nation remains stuck between 2nd and 3rd gears. The economy continues to grow, but not fast enough to get the unemployment rate down to where it was prior to 2007. Instead of cutting spending, what Washington ought to be concentrating on is growth. Not the phony growth that supply-siders keep insisting on, but the kind of growth that leads to real job creation.

Here's an interesting fact. Had it not been for the slashing of government jobs over the last three years, the unemployment rate would be 7.2 percent - a full half percent lower than it currently is. That may not seem significant, but consider that in the first two years of the Obama Administration the Treasury lost almost half a trillion dollars in receipts due exclusively to high unemployment. Half a point in the jobless rate might well have reduced that figure by tens of billions.

Fears of runaway inflation and stock market crashes have been thoroughly debunked. If anything, inflation should remain at historic lows for the foreseeable future and profits are at an all-time high. The economy continues its rebound in spite of the doomsayers who predicted its demise, and now, as it prepares to exit that long, dark, formidable tunnel, some want to jam on the brakes and derail the train altogether. Not because they are right, but because they can't bring themselves to admit they're wrong, no matter how obvious it may seem.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Little Clarification Is In Order

It seems my last piece about Obama and his use of drones may have been a tad bit misunderstood and caused some sparks to fly.  So, in the immortal words of Richard M. Nixon, I thought I'd make myself perfectly clear on the matter.

First off, the piece was NOT about Rand Paul, per se. Though his filibuster became the center of attention throughout most of Wednesday, my main purpose was to shine a light on what I felt was a potentially serious issue for the Administration. I am acutely aware of who Paul is and, more importantly, what he has become since being elected to the Senate in 2010, which is a laughingstock. And, yes, invoking Hitler during his Jimmy Stewart impersonation was beneath contempt, even for Paul.

But, again, the focus here was the Administration's use of drones. The testimony given both by John Brennan and Eric Holder was ambiguous at best and should be of concern to any and all who were paying attention. The fact that it is highly unlikely that drones would ever be employed on American soil does not change the fact that, absent a complete renunciation by Administration officials, it remained a tactical option.

Statements like, "We do not view our authority to use military force against al-Qa'ida and associated forces as being limited to 'hot' battlefields like Afghanistan," are indicative of a mindset that is problematic from a Constitutional perspective. Regardless of how one feels about Obama, it is unacceptable that he, or any president, should be allowed to wield that much power over citizens within the confines of their country.

The White House finally put the matter to rest when press secretary Jay Carney read aloud a letter written by Eric Holder which stated that the President did not have the authority to use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil. Why it took so long to state what should've been obvious is anybody's guess.

But the real crux of the matter might go a little deeper. And this is where things get a little touchy. The Left sometimes suffers from what I call selective amnesia. The circling of the wagons over this issue is a case in point. Imagine, for a moment, if instead of Barack Obama, we were talking about George Bush or John McCain or Mitt Romney being in a position to actually kill an American citizen on U.S. soil? What do you suppose the reaction of liberals would be? We would be all over it like white on rice. Sorry, people, the fact that the current occupant of the White House happens to be a Democrat changes nothing.

I realize that for most of his first term, Obama was treated more like a human pinata by the GOP than a sitting president. It's understandable for the Left to be protective of one of their own and to be sensitive to the seeming hypocrisies coming from the opposition. Where I draw the line is when that protectiveness and sensitivity comes at the price of relinquishing basic human rights afforded all of us, regardless of political affiliation or ideology.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Obama's Drone Problem

Question: What do Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Ron Wyden and Glenn Greenwald all have in common? Besides belonging to the human race, the answer is nothing. But, thanks to Rand Paul's old-fashioned filibuster over John Brennan's nomination to head the CIA, all four have strangely joined forces in what has become for Barack Obama a rather awkward predicament.

The Administration's use of drones has had the unintended consequence of bringing Left and Right together in a common cause. Paul's filibuster has struck a nerve, not only among some of his fellow Republicans, who, let's face it, don't need much of a reason to oppose the President, but among the liberal base of the Democratic Party, as well.

Though it pains me to have to say it, Paul's stance is laudable on two fronts: For one thing, it was high time someone in the Senate actually conducted a filibuster the way it was meant to be done. The last such time this happened was back in 2010 when Bernie Sanders filibustered the extension of the Bush tax cuts during the lame duck session. Secondly, and most importantly, Paul and his filibuster cohorts have a valid point to make.

The idea that an American citizen, on American soil, is fair game for a drone strike should give pause to anyone regardless of political persuasion. But John Brennan seemed to suggest in his confirmation hearing that there were "no geographic limits" to what the Administration could or couldn't do with respect to the use of military actions.

"We do not view our authority to use military force against al-Qa'ida and associated forces as being limited to 'hot' battlefields like Afghanistan," Brennan said to the Senate Intelligence Committee. That admission and the one Eric Holder later gave have profound implications for libertarians and progressives alike. Put simply, both Brennan and Holder have implied that the United States government, in "an extraordinary circumstance," has the right to take out one of its citizens, if it deems that citizen a threat, even if he or she is on U.S. soil.

"To be bombed in your sleep? There's nothing American about that," Paul said. "There's nothing constitutional about that."

This may be the last time you ever hear me say this, but Rand Paul is right. No citizen living in this country, irrespective of threat level, should ever be the target of an assassination by the military. We have laws and civilian authorities charged with carrying them out.  The idea that the executive branch gets to decide who lives and dies without any checks and balances is deeply troubling.

Regardless of whether John Brennan gets confirmed or not - and the smart money is on him getting the necessary votes - the Obama Administration has a problem here. While drone strikes abroad may have popular appeal, most reasonable people will rightly draw the line at the specter of a government turning on its own citizens on native soil.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Bob Woodward Unhinged

In what has become one of the most bizarre and oddly sad chapters in political journalism, Bob Woodward, one of the principle architects in the dismantling of the Nixon Administration, got his panties in a bunch with the Obama Administration over an op-ed piece he wrote for The Washington Post, in which he accuses Obama of "moving the goal posts" with respect to the sequester.

In fact, the final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.

So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts. His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made.

Of course there are just two tiny little problems with Woodward's reasoning: 1. He completely glosses over the undeniable fact that the sequester would never have been necessary had Republicans not held the debt ceiling hostage; and 2. The Super Committee comprising members from both parties never had any restrictions on how to come up with the necessary deficit reduction. As Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine correctly pointed out, "Literally nobody involved believes that Obama agreed, in any literal or figurative sense, that a failure to get a deal before the election meant he would give up trying to include revenue. Woodward’s argument is demonstrably absurd."

But if Woodward's selective amnesia was disappointing, what happened next was one for the ages. Woodward accused the Administration of threatening him over the op-ed piece. "I mean, it makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters, you're going to regret doing something that you believe in," Woodward said.

The alleged perpetrator was Gene Sperling, one of Obama's senior economic aides. The White House quickly issued a statement denying that Woodward was threatened. The whole thing was on the verge of deteriorating into a he said / he said until Politico released a transcript of the actual email exchange between the two.

From Sperling to Woodward:

Bob: I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today. My bad. I do understand your problems with a couple of our statements in the fall — but feel on the other hand that you focus on a few specific trees that gives a very wrong perception of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here.

But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand bargain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs on the Supercommittee that came right after: it was assumed in the November-December 2012 negotiations. There may have been big disagreements over rates and ratios — but that it was supposed to be replaced by entitlements and revenues of some form is not controversial. (Indeed, the discretionary savings amount from the Boehner-Obama negotiations were locked in in BCA: the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues.) 

I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement, but again think this latter issue is different. Not out to argue and argue on this latter point. Just my sincere advice. Your call obviously. 

My apologies again for raising my voice on the call with you. Feel bad about that and truly apologize. Gene

From Woodward to Sperling:

Gene: You do not ever have to apologize to me. You get wound up because you are making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion. I for one welcome a little heat; there should more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening. I know you lived all this. My partial advantage is that I talked extensively with all involved. I am traveling and will try to reach you after 3 pm today. Best, Bob

About the only thing missing from Sperling's "threat" was an engraved invitation to dinner and flowers. I've been in sales for the better part of two decades and I know a threat when I see one. If this is a threat than half the bosses I've worked for should've been locked up.

It's hard to believe that someone as experienced and savvy as Bob Woodward could so thoroughly embarrass himself over something so innocuous as a heated exchange. Putting aside the fact that Woodward was writing an op-ed piece which, in and of itself, was open to challenge, not just by the Obama White House, but by Woodward's own book, it is widely accepted that journalists often get push back from politicians when they do stories, especially when those stories tend to not be flattering. It's part of the job.

To its credit, most of the press corps has called out Woodward. This is what Bret Baier of Fox News had to say about it. "It was a cordial exchange for the most part, and Sperling is actually apologizing for a heated telephone conversation they had earlier in the day." Hint, when someone, anyone, from Fox News actually sides with the Obama Administration, you know you're in no man's land.

To add insult to injury, Woodward compounded the incident further by going on Sean Hannity's show Thursday night on Fox News, digging the self-made hole deeper. The manner in which Woodward sucked up to Hannity was painful to watch.

My guess is that Woodward has some serious damage control to tend to. Already he is starting to backtrack on his claims, saying he never actually used the word threat. He's even blaming Politico for putting words in his mouth, as though anybody could do that to a reporter of Woodward's supposed stature.  If you watch the CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer, it's pretty obvious what Woodward is inferring.  This has now become a major embarrassment for him and he has no one but himself to blame.

Forty years ago Bob Woodward, along with his colleague Carl Bernstein, exposed the corruption in the Nixon White House which brought about the end of that presidency. It would be a cruel irony if this escapade ended up being his own epitaph.