Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Year's Resolutions for Republicans and Democrats

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

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

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

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

So here are some resolutions that could help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Not So New Unemployment Norm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tip of the Hat

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

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

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

December 24, 2013, 12:01 am          

The Budget Deficit as Seen From 2009

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

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

Perspectives from expert contributors.

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

Congressional Budget Office

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

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

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

Congressional Budget Office

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

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

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

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

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

Alan J. Auerbach and William G. Gale

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

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

One Step Forward, Two Backwards

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

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

Yep, you heard right.

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

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

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

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

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

Silly me.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Letter To the Children of Newtown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Lowdown on the Budget Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 9, 2013

Idiots' Delight: The Annual Edition (Amended)

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

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

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

So let's get this show on the road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Right's Attempt To Remake Nelson Mandela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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