Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Danger for Obama and Democrats

When I was in college, one of my professors used to have a saying. If you throw enough shit on the blackboard, some of it will stick. Over the next couple of weeks expect the GOP to throw the political equivalent of a rest stop at Barack Obama's blackboard.

Barring an as of yet unforeseen miracle, the federal government will most certainly shut down Tuesday. Even if John Boehner wanted to, he couldn't stop his party from shipwrecking itself on the rocks. And if he did manage to grow a pair and steer his wayward ship out of harm's way, in all likelihood it would be the last action he would take as Speaker of the House.

David Frum is right when he says the party's problem is its inability to govern itself. It is rudderless. It must really be hard on conservatives who aren't insane watching the party they belong to implode in such a manner. Even during the '80s, when I had to watch Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis get beaten to death, I at least knew my party wasn't unhinged. I don't think the nation has ever seen anything quite like this in its history. A major political party chasing oblivion.

And yet, if I were the President and Senate Democrats, I wouldn't light up any cigars just yet. If we know anything from the last five years, the Tea Party may be stark-raving mad, but they've got a ton of soft money behind them. And they are as relentless as they are crazy.  Already the sleazy ads on Obamacare have hit the airwaves, not to mention the internet. They can spin bullshit like nobody's business.

Let's not forget that while most people may like many of the elements in the healthcare law, they most assuredly do NOT like the mandate. It matters not that some of that opposition comes from progressives still smarting about not getting a single payer or public option, I can assure you the main-stream media won't bother parsing it out. Too much damn work. In my opinion, had the GOP not been so bat-shit crazy out of the gate, they might've gotten somewhere in this CR debate. Now they just look like arsonists, as Michael Tomasky correctly observed.

The problem with arsonists, as you might surmise, is that they love burning things down. Whether or not you think Ted Cruz is the second coming of Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater - more the latter, I think - this much is certain. He has become a lightning rod for the GOP. He and not Boehner is running things in the House. And while he maybe despised by many of his Senate colleagues, he is worshiped by the Tea Party faithful. The wingnuts on the AM radio dial and Fox News are practically orgasmic in anticipation of his ascendency to greatness. If the fiscal shenanigans of  2011 turned out to be nothing more than a close shave, 2013 is shaping up to be a royal beheading.

This is their moment and they will not be denied. Like Captain Ahab, they are consumed by their hatred for Obama and his healthcare law. No tactics, no clue, no chance. Even a madman typically has a method to his madness. Not so with this motley crew. If anything, chaos appears to be their modus operandi. If they can't get their way, they'll torch the joint.

So, if I were Obama, I'd get out there and make sure I made my case to as many people as possible. Regardless of whether the shutdown is short or long, the ensuing food fight between both sides is bound to take some kind of toll.

Let's say Boehner and Eric Cantor fold after a few days, or even at the eleventh hour, the Tea Party will undoubtedly regroup and take their next hostage: the debt ceiling. Think shutting down the government over a temper tantrum was bad? Try defaulting on the good faith and credit of the United States.

The laundry list the GOP has put together as a condition for raising the debt ceiling includes a one-year delay in Obamacare (if at first you don't succeed), a repeal of Dodd-Frank, approval of the Keystone Pipeline, means testing for Medicare and a cure for the common cold. Okay, I put that last one in.  Like the CR battle, Republicans aren't even pretending to make this about fiscal policy. This is ideology, pure and simple.

That's why the President and Democrats must not let up for even a minute. They cannot let any of the Republican shit splatter on them. Obama must do a much better job explaining his healthcare law and dispelling the myths than he has done up to this point. The fact that a majority of people still don't know what's in the law is inexcusable. That failure has allowed the GOP to virtually lie at will about it with no consequences.

Over in the Senate, Harry Reid needs to stay focused and keep his caucus in line. Expect Mitch McConnell - who is facing a tough primary challenge - to use every legislative trick in his arsenal as the debt limit approaches. The time for high-mindedness is over. This is war and both Obama and Reid must be at the top of their game. There's more than just a healthcare law at stake. Expecting cooler heads to prevail on the other side of the aisle is naïve. If there were any cooler heads over there, we wouldn't be in this jam to begin with.

As we near the debt limit, a lot of pressure will be brought to bear on House leadership by the usual powers that be to give up the ghost and cave. The problem with that scenario is that the House leadership isn't driving the bus. In fact, it hasn't been driving it for quite some time. I fear not even the threat of another credit downgrade will make any difference.

That's the problem with kamikazes. They don't care if they die, so long as they take their enemy with them.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tip of the Hat

With a possible government shutdown only days away and a debt-ceiling default right behind it, there were a couple of really good pieces by conservatives that struck a cord with me. One was by former Republican senator Judd Gregg which was excellent. I was all ready to pronounce it this month's Tip winner, when I stumbled upon this gem. It might very well be the best analysis of what's wrong with the Republican Party today.

It's author is the former chief of staff to John McCain and was actually his senior advisor when he ran for president in 2008. Suffice to say he pulled no punches, which always pleases me no end.

What Tea Party Voters Don't Understand

By Mark Salter - September 24, 2013

Tea Party voters are a pretty self-assured lot. They're 100 percent certain that if they stand by conservative principles (as they define them), scorning any compromises, a minority can rule the world.
They're also pretty good at discerning apostates. They're the keepers of the one true conservative faith. Anyone who deviates a hair from their prescribed policies -- or even expresses qualms about their political tactics -- is a traitor and a squish, which covers all but a few Republicans in Washington.
Those exceptional few are the only politicians they listen to, as they generally prefer the advice of talk radio hosts who don’t have a responsibility to govern, only to make money for themselves and their advertisers. Even the pols they respect have to be watched closely for signs of incipient complicity in the disgrace of incrementally fixing what’s wrong with government rather than burning the whole thing down and starting over.
That’s how Sen. Ted Cruz found himself in hot water with his Tea Party supporters. For weeks he had demanded House Republicans stand fast and pass legislation to fund the government only if it denied funding for Obamacare. When his like-minded lawmakers in the House forced their leadership to send the Senate a bill that would effectively kill the 2010 law, Cruz congratulated them on having the courage of their convictions. Then he promptly explained that they couldn’t expect much help from him. He’s just one guy. Harry Reid runs the Senate, and there are too few non-squishes in the Senate Republican caucus to stop Reid from doing his worst.
Predictably, Cruz’s supporters, not to mention House Republicans, were dismayed by his newfound practicality and they let him know it. So, quick as you please, he went back to doing the thing he does best, telling the Tea Party exactly what it wants to hear. According to Cruz, all that’s required to rid the country of this “terrible law” is for Senate Republicans to filibuster the very bill that Republicans in the House passed.
Obamacare might be a lousy law, but it is a law. It was passed by both houses of Congress, and signed by a president. And this president, having been comfortably re-elected last year, remains in office, veto pen at the ready. The law was found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court, which has a conservative chief justice and four other conservative jurists.
Repealing it will require more than a determined minority. It will take a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, and almost certainly a Republican president. The Democrats who now control the Senate certainly won’t pass the House bill. They’ll strip all Obamacare-related provisions from it. If Senate Republicans successfully filibuster the bill, Harry Reid will let the whole thing die and the government will shut down.
It probably won’t come to that because those perfidious Republican squishes won’t let it.
Why? Because, dear bravehearts, you don’t have the numbers to prevail. You’re a minority. You’re a minority in Congress and you’re a minority in the country. A majority of Americans might tell pollsters they don’t like Obamacare, but guess what? They like the idea of shutting down government even less, as every recent survey has shown. And they’ll blame Republicans for it -- and make them pay for it.
You’ll give a needed boost to the president’s flagging popularity and diminish the Republican brand, which really can’t take much more diminishing. And you’ll delay the day when you might conceivably have the numbers to repeal Obamacare because you’ll have made it a lot harder to elect a Senate majority in 2014. But you’ll have stood by your conservative principles even to the point of sacrificing the prospects for their success.
So go ahead and follow Sarah Palin. Let’s put the Senate on Cruz control. Let’s shame those squishes to the firing line. Filibuster the bill. Let Harry Reid pull it off the Senate floor. Shut down the government. I think you’ll find the Democrats you expected to yield to the persuasive power of your kamikaze tactics are only too happy to test your resolve.
The damage a shutdown would do to the country would be less cataclysmic for the economy than refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And when you see how the country reacts to your shutdown, you might have less of an appetite for holding the debt ceiling hostage as well. You might even get an inkling that governing requires, well, governing, as best you can in a politically divided government and country, seeking advantageous compromises, picking your battles carefully, measuring your strength accurately to advance your ideals a few accomplishments at a time.
And don’t worry about Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin and the handful of your fellow elected officials who tell you only what you want to hear. They’ll be fine. Your intransigence is good for their business. But you might discover, as you see how seriously your tactics have set back your progress, that it’s they, and not the Republican establishment, who’ve been playing you for suckers all along.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cruz Controlled

One way you know you’ve gone completely off the rails is when large numbers of your own party run as fast as they can away from you; the other way is when members of the opposition party reserve a front row seat to watch the exodus. That chuckle you hear is Harry Reid's response to Ted Cruz’s "request" for the majority leader to “amend” Senate rules to require 60 votes to pass a continuing resolution. If I were Ted, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a yes. Suffice to say the junior senator from Texas is not having a good week.

Of course Ted Cruz can thank himself for the predicament he and his party are now in. After spending the better part of the summer goading the more gullible members of the House GOP into pushing for a defund provision to be put into their spending bill, it finally dawned on shit-for-brains that he didn't have the votes in the Senate to actually pull off his little stunt.

So he had a rare moment of transparency and pronounced that the House bill he pushed for would never make it through Harry Reid's Senate. [Even worse, all Reid needs is a simple majority - 51 senators - to strip the defund measure and send it on its way back to the House.]  All this has caused a great deal of consternation among his House colleagues who understandably felt stabbed. Apparently they didn't have a calculator either.

Not to be deterred, Captain America called on his Senate colleagues to filibuster the House bill. That's right, Ted Cruz wants Senate Republicans to filibuster a House funding bill that defunds Obamacare. Ostensibly, Cruz is calling for a government shutdown. All he needs to do is get another forty Republicans to join him on his suicide crusade.

Except, unlike the dimwits in the House, most Senate Republicans weren't dumb enough to fall for his red herring. They ran for the hills quicker than you can say Sarah Palin. The prevailing logic, I guess, was that Cruz made this bed; he could lie down in it.

Which is exactly what Cruz has decided to do, covers and all. As we speak, Jimmy Stewart is holding forth on the floor of the Senate, pledging to stay there until he loses his voice, which we can only pray becomes a permanent state. Apparently, the more isolated and ostracized he gets, the more determined he becomes.

The irony here is that this delay tactic - and that's what it is, nothing more - will mean that the Senate might not be able to pass its resolution until late Sunday, giving House Republicans only a day to either allow an up or down vote or make additional changes to it.

In other words, Ted Cruz, by virtue of his self-aggrandized stunt, will have managed to fuck the Speaker of the House and his fellow Tea Party brethren not once, but twice.




Sunday, September 22, 2013

The GOP: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

It was only three weeks ago that President Obama was in a pickle. The Syrian situation was getting away from him. His decision to bomb Assad wasn't going over well with his base, not to mention 90 percent of the Republican Party. Polls showed the public did not approve of the way he was handling the situation. Only an apparent gaffe by his Secretary of State, which has permitted the framework of a diplomatic solution to take hold, has spared Obama further political damage. Time will tell if that framework holds up.

To most pundits, it was not Obama's finest hour. It's fair to say he took a hit and deservedly so. How would he be able to rebound? Fortunately for him he didn't have to wait long.

Enter, stage right, John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the House Republicans.  Like a B12 shot, the GOP has given Obama the energy boost he so desperately needed. Their obsession with defunding Obamacare has, once more, painted them as the extremists they are and allowed the President and Democrats to regain some badly needed leverage; leverage they will sorely need over the next few weeks.

It's amazing to have to keep saying this, but the GOP is the gift that keeps on giving. Imagine a Party actually voting 41 times to repeal a healthcare law that was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the President and upheld by the Supreme Court and then holding the country hostage until that very same President agreed to defund it. If you had a kid this demented and delusional, you'd have him committed.

And now this same demented and delusional bunch has gone so far out on a ledge that even conservatives who were actually critics of the Affordable Care Act are ripping them a new one over their antics and begging them to stop it.

I could give you the list of names, but I'm trying to keep this piece down to a couple of pages. Suffice to say they are pissing off an awful lot of people, who would otherwise be sympathetic supporters, and destroying whatever chance their Party has of achieving something meaningful in the budget negotiations.

Think about it. Two years ago, Republicans were able to extract from the President a trillion dollars of debt reduction in exchange for raising the debt limit. Now they are demanding he walk away from Obamacare for what amounts to a two and a half month continuing resolution.  You heard right, 75 days in exchange for his signature legislative accomplishment.

If you really believe Obama would agree to those terms, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you. This has now gone beyond the point of sad. It has now become a late-night comic's wet dream. I've run out of adjectives to describe this movement: self-defeating, intransigent, obstructionist, suicidal, stubborn, childish, obsessive, extremist, insular, myopic, racist, stupid, ridiculous, delusional, demented, irresponsible, irrational, crazy, insane, I give up.  Sometimes I think I'm caught in the middle of a nightmare I can't wake up from.

With issues like job creation, tax reform, immigration reform, entitlement reform, gun control all on the table, these juvenile delinquents are setting their sights on a problem that doesn't exist just to pacify the most rabid of their flock. While Obamacare does have some issues, most can be solved legislatively.  But that's not what this mob is after. They don't want to make the law work; they want to drown it in a bathtub, even if it means drowning the whole economy along with it.

But, this time, their tactics appear to have backfired on them. Most of the public and even a few of their fellow colleagues have turned on them. Yes, Obamacare is unpopular, but only the individual mandate part. Most of the rest of the law remains extremely popular. And it should be pointed out that among those who don't like the mandate, almost a third are progressives who wanted a single-payer system and are still pissed at being "betrayed."

But regardless of how people may feel about the law as a whole, most do NOT favor shutting down the government or defaulting on the debt in order to repeal it. If anything they want it fixed and they want Congress to do it. Quite frankly, they're sick and tired of this dog and pony show.

If Obama and Congressional Democrats play their cards right, not only will they prevail in this food fight, they might even be able to pick up a bonus and get rid of the Sequester, the 2011 debt-ceiling debacle's love child that supposedly nobody wanted. Just getting rid of that alone will add a full percentage point to GDP growth.

That's what happens when you overplay your hand. Not only do you cede any moral high ground you thought you had; you end up losing ground. Right now some senior RNC officials are holding their collective breath and praying this stunt doesn't blow up in their faces.  Over at the White House, they are taking it all in and enjoying the GOP infighting.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Chuck Todd and the Sorry State of the Fourth Estate

So, looks like dear ole Chuck Todd's got his panties in a bunch over a comment he made earlier in the week concerning Obamacare that he says was taken totally out of context.

To back up, Todd was talking with former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell on Morning Joe about the Affordable Care Act. Rendell's point, which was valid, was that the White House hadn't done a good enough job selling the public on the merits of the bill and that most of the information they received had been incorrect.

Todd agreed and added that such misinformation "would be stuff that Republicans have successfully messaged against it. They don't repeat the other stuff because they haven't even heard the Democratic message."

So far, so good. As Leslie Nielson would say, "nothing to see here." But danged if dear old Todd just couldn't resist the urge to unburden himself further. And out it came:

"What I always love is people say, 'Well, it's you folks' fault in the media.' No! It's the President of the United States' fault for not selling it."

Yeah, that's it, the phrase that pays.

Now to be fair to Chuck Wagon, it IS the President's responsibility to sell his healthcare bill and, to be honest, he did a fairly lousy job of it. But the idea that that let's Todd and the rest of the Fourth Estate off the hook is preposterous.

Imagine for a moment that you're a journalist interviewing two meteorologists and one says, "the forecast for tomorrow calls for partly cloudy skies with a chance of showers," and the other one says, "tomorrow alien invaders will storm the earth causing the sky to turn bright pink and rain down candy canes." I'm pretty sure you have an obligation to your audience to point out that one guy appears to be sane and the other one is nuts.

Now granted, the above example is an exaggeration. Nothing is that obvious. But while it may have been a lot harder discerning truth from bullshit during the healthcare debate, it was still possible and, so long as it was possible, it was most definitely the responsibility of the main-stream media to do their best.

For instance, the whole issue of death panels was a canard from the get go. Every journalist worth his or her press credentials should've been all over that lie from the beginning. Yes, the White House was derelict in pushing back, but the press was completely negligent in its failure to fact check that and other nefarious yarns.

Like the one about how Obamacare was nothing more than socialized medicine. The fact of the matter is that the original idea for employer mandates was hatched by the Heritage Foundation in the late 1980s. Bob Dole, then minority leader of the Senate, approached Bill Clinton in 1994 and said he could deliver the votes necessary for a mandate-style healthcare law if he could get his wife Hillary to give up her quest for universal coverage. Clinton balked. Twelve years later then Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney signed into law the very same healthcare reform bill that Obama would later propose.

If you thought that was difficult to research, the truth is it took longer to type than it did to find. And I don't even work for a major news network. Imagine the resources they must have at their command. Resources which, sadly, go mainly untapped.

It isn't just the coverage of Obamacare that underscores how inept the media has become in this country. The buildup to the Iraq War might go down as the worst case of phoning it in by the press in the entire history of the Republic. A war that cost over a trillion dollars to wage, resulting in thousands of deaths and the plundering of American prestige across the globe was nothing more than a giant fraud perpetrated on the American public who were still reeling from the aftershock of 9/11.

Where were the journalists challenging the Bush Administration's lies? Out to lunch, that's where. David Gregory, host of Dodge the Press, insisted on blaming everyone else over the war.

"If there wasn't a debate in this country, then maybe the American people should think about, why not? Where was Congress? Where was the House? Where was the Senate? Where was public opinion about the war? What did the former president believe about the prewar intelligence? He agreed that -- in fact, Bill Clinton agreed that Saddam had WMD."

Hear that? It was the people's fault. No wait, it was Congress's fault. No wait, it was Bill Clinton's fault. Good thing he stopped there. I was afraid he was going to say it was the man in the moon's fault.

Spare me, David. The point of a good journalist isn't just to get in the face of a guest on a cable news show, but to actually role up your sleeves and dig for the truth. There were enough bread crumbs being dropped by the Bush Administration to feed a small town in Indiana. All that was needed was a little perspiration, not a Point / Counterpoint forum.

So, you see, I have no pity for Chucky Cheese or anybody else in the lame-stream media who cries like a baby when they get caught not doing their jobs. If I may proffer some advice for my lazy brethren. Dry your eyes, grow up and do your fucking jobs!

In the meantime, I'll continue to get my news where I've been getting it for the last eight plus years: from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.


Smiling All the Way To Armageddon

Reading Jamelle Bouie's piece in The Daily Beast, it occurred to me that what the House Republicans are doing - forcing a shutdown of the government and/or possibly defaulting on the debt over Obamacare - may seem completely irrational, irresponsible and reprehensible to most Americans - maybe even to a few of their more rational Senate colleagues - the simple and undeniable truth is that it is unlikely to exact a penalty in the upcoming midterm elections.

"The public might hate Tea Party politicians and their budgetary brinksmanship, but next year, when the House of Representatives is up for reelection, the most absolutist Republicans—the Louie Gohmerts of the world—are almost certain to keep their seats. After all, they represent voters who want a showdown with Obama, and—likewise—would rather crash the economy then raise the debt limit."

And that's the problem in a nutshell, pun intended. Thanks to gerrymandering, House Republicans don't fear the repercussions of a shutdown or default; rather they fear what would happen if they backed down. The normal checks and balances that exist in the Senate simply don't apply to them.

There are maybe 15 to 20 House seats that are in genuine swing districts. Most of the 435 seats in the House are locked in and among those that are in Republican control, some 45 seats are occupied by Tea Party purists whose constituents have made it abundantly clear how they feel about Obamacare and, more importantly, how they feel about any representative who doesn't share their sentiments. Even if they wanted to - which they don't - they wouldn't dare bite the hand that feeds them. If nothing else, their hearing is quite good.

The result is that these 45 or so Republicans have basically taken over the entire chamber and made passage of any meaningful legislation virtually impossible. If John Boehner doesn't acquiesce to their demands they simply vote "no." They are very good at voting "no." It is what they do best. The farm bill died because of them. Despite GOP claims that Democrats left them in the lurch, it was their own caucus that did them in. The same can be said for immigration reform. You can kiss that baby goodbye as well.

And now these same Tea Party purists have decided that Obamacare must go, no matter the cost to the country. And they have "persuaded" their comrades in arms to join them as they collectively jump over the cliff. Boehner and his majority leader Eric Cantor are merely doing the heavy lifting for this lot. It is doubtful that either of them truly believe this hair-brain scheme will succeed.

Harry Reid will simply strip away the defund language, pass the CR - which he only needs a simple majority to do - and throw it back into Boehner's lap. At which point, the Speaker will have to decide whether to break the Hastert rule once again and, in the process, lose his speakership, or play along with this twisted game of Russian Roulette that his caucus wants.

Regardless of what he does, this much is certain: the Tea Party isn't going anywhere anytime soon. So long as Republicans continue to hold a majority in the House, the Tea Party will continue to dominate them, unabated and unchecked. They are fearless of any consequences and contemptuous of any one or anything that stands in their way.


Friday, September 20, 2013

House GOP Flirtin' With Disaster...Again

A week and a half to go till a government shutdown and a little over three weeks to go till a debt-ceiling default and, once more, House Republicans are prepared to do the unthinkable in their quest to undo President Obama's signature legislative achievement. By a vote of 230 to 189, the lower chamber passed a continuing resolution that keeps spending at sequester levels and also defunds Obamacare. Suffice to say its chances of passing the upper chamber are slim to none.

Once more the credit markets hold their breath while we dance this precarious dance. In 2011, the nation came precariously close to defaulting on its debt. Only a last-minute deal saved the day, and that deal saddled us with the now infamous Sequester. This time, the Tea Party-led (or should I say Tea Party-hijacked?) Republicans are determined to bring about Armageddon.

It doesn't seem to matter that their mission is doomed to failure; if anything it has emboldened them further. When The Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Tom Coburn and Ted Cruz start questioning your tactics, you know you're all alone on the ledge. The Journal went so far as to refer to House Republicans as kamikazes. And Cruz has already pronounced any House bill that attempts to defund the healthcare law dead in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Even Fox News' perennial pinhead laureate Bill O'Reilly has put in his penny's worth of "wisdom" by calling the attempt an example of "fanaticism." Talk about tigers eating their young.

If I had to predict what will happen, my gut tells me that a shutdown is coming. How long it will last will be up to John Boehner and Eric Cantor. If I were a betting man, I'd give them a week before they cry uncle and we see a clean CR get an up and down vote in the House. Once more Boehner will break his beloved Hastert rule and enlist Democrats to pass a funding bill, in all likelihood the same funding bill that Harry Reid's Senate will pass with votes to spare. Eat that dust, Mr. Speaker.

My real worry is the debt ceiling. Temporary shutdowns, while certainly no picnic, are recoverable. An actual default would be catastrophic. You don't fuck with the good faith and credit of the United States without paying a steep price. Two years ago, S&P downgraded the U.S. credit rating just for flirting with a default. Imagine what would happen if we actually went over the cliff.

Only time will tell if House Republicans are crazy enough to destroy the U.S. economy trying to defund a law that really can't be defunded in the first place. Most of them are too stupid to know that Obamacare gets most of its funding not through discretionary spending, which would be cut off in the event of a government shutdown, but through mandatory spending, which is exempt from any shutdown. Like Social Security and Medicare, the Affordable Care Act is protected, even from the Tea Party nincompoops who mean it harm.

Like Forrest Gump would say, "Stupid is as stupid does."


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Not Again!

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, and now Washington D.C. Once more a crazed gunman opens fire with an assault rifle and once more innocent lives are lost. The body count this time around is 12. These shootings are now happening with such frequency they can no longer be referred to as random. According to a story in the Huffington Post, there have been six mass shootings in the past nine months alone and 20 during Barack Obama's presidency. The question begs to be answered. How many more innocent people must suffer needlessly before America finally comes to grips with its 200 plus year-old love affair with guns?

Two things are certain: 1. we haven't seen the last of these horrific tragedies; and 2. once more we will hear from the gun-nut contingent just how sacrosanct the Second Amendment is and how we better dare not touch it.

We do not yet know whether this latest maniac - Aaron Alexis - actually brought the AR-15 assault rifle onto the D.C. Naval base or whether he simply used a hand gun to kill a security guard and then took the rifle to go on his shooting spree. So far as I'm concerned it's irrelevant. If he brought the rifle in with him, then how did he get a hold of it in the first place? If he took it after shooting the guard, then the NRA's ridiculous claim that the only way to stop a bad man with a gun is with a good man with a gun just went out the window. In this case, the "good man" appears to have been Alexis's first victim. Take that, Wayne LaPierre.

The time for waiting is over; the time for action long since passed. The Second Amendment was never intended to be a license to shoot up the country. This isn't the OK Corral. No other nation in the Western world has this many gun-related homicides, nor would permit such atrocities to occur without taking responsible measures to ensure they do not happen again. And while it is true that there is no such thing as a law which can guarantee the prevention of all violent crimes, a civilized society owes it to itself to at least try its best to eradicate as many as possible.

The political obstacles are immense. Just the other week, the NRA successfully forced the recall of two Colorado state senators who supported gun control laws. In Washington, President Obama has his hands full with Syria and a looming government shutdown. Just try finding a congressman in a swing district or a senator in a swing state who will have the courage to say what must be said.

Violent video games are not the problem. Other countries have violent video games. Mentally ill people are not the problem. Other countries have mentally ill people.  The common denominator in each and everyone of these massacres is the use of a gun, specifically an assault rifle. These weapons are so efficient at killing that even the Army restricts their use. And yet in most parts of the country it is easier to purchase one of these lethal weapons than it is to adopt a dog or cat.

Those of us who are properly outraged must not be cowed by those who think it crass to speak up. David Frum, a conservative with a brain, is right when he says "Gun enthusiasts say it is inappropriate to talk about gun violence at the time it occurs. Better to wait … and wait … and wait … until time has passed, and the weeping next of kin have vanished from TV, and it’s safe to return to business as usual. The idea of the gun enthusiasts is that the way to show respect for the victims of gun violence is to do everything possible to multiply their number."

It's time to wake up America!


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why the GOP is so frantic over Obamacare

I've been racking my brains trying to figure out just what the Republican obsession is with Obamacare and why they seem so adamant about repealing it. They're even threatening to do the unthinkable - destroy the American economy - if Democrats and Obama don't agree to their demands.

While repealing Obamacare has certainly ranked near the top of their to do list since the 2010 midterms - let's not forget the House did pass 40 repeal bills - even throughout the tumultuous debt ceiling fiasco in 2011, they weren't prepared to go all in on repeal.

But now that the law is set to go live, they're absolutely frantic about repeal. In fact, that's practically all you hear from them these days. The Party that couldn't talk enough about balanced budgets has suddenly developed an acute case of repeal turrets.

And I know why. Basically, the GOP is scared shitless that this law that they've railed against for three years might actually be a success. And if it is indeed a success, if, as it turns out, insurance costs go down, as they appear to be doing in many states, and the law works as it was intended, they are finished nationally as a party and they know it. Their only hope is to either delay its implementation, which was what Eric Cantor was trying to do, or flat out repeal it, which is what the bulk of the House Republicans are pushing for.

Think about it for a moment. If you knew that your political opponent had passed a piece of legislation that was an unmitigated disaster - I believe the term Republicans are using these days is trainwreck - what would you do? Well I know what I would do. I would shout as loud as I could about how awful I thought it was, then I would get out of the way and let it become law, knowing that once it fell flat on its face, I could rush in, do my "I told you so" routine and then defeat them in the next election cycle.

That is what shrewd politicians do for a living; they feast on the mistakes of their opponents. The reason Democrats swept into power in '06 and '08 was due principally to the disastrous presidency of George Walker Bush.

But the strategy being employed by Republicans, particularly House Republicans, has nothing to do with shrewdness. In fact, just the opposite. It suggests that the GOP knows full well that their time is running out. Once Obamacare is fully implemented, it will be too late to stop it. So they are literally betting the ranch on this one last-ditch effort at repeal that will enable them to save face, not only with their base, but with the rest of the country.

Rather than just admit the obvious - that they were wrong all along about this healthcare law, and that it isn't the end of civilization as we know it - they would rather take the whole damn country down with them in a ball of flames.

Proverbs 16:18 says "pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." King Solomon may have been the wisest man who ever lived in his day, but I doubt that the GOP is capable of heeding his warning.   

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

House Republicans Stuck in Feedback Loop Over Obamacare

Some people just don't know when to quit. Despite being told by many pundits and more than a few of their Senate colleagues that their obsession over defunding Obamacare could cost them control of the House in next year's midterms, both John Boehner and Eric Cantor - AKA Frick and Frack - have devised plans to do just that.

Boehner's plan calls for the House to pass a "clean" three month continuing resolution that includes a concurrent resolution to defund Obamacare, which apparently is non-binding, since, according to the AP, both bills would be "decoupled when they were sent to the Senate."  The concurrent resolution would obviously be voted down, while the spending bill would pass, thus allowing House Republicans to claim that Senate Democrats "own" Obamacare.

Cantor's plan is somewhat more imaginative. It calls for a one year delay in implementing the healthcare law in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Cantor actually had the cojones to announce the "strategy" during a conference with House Republicans.

Suffice to say both plans were not well received by the inmates in the asylum. Simply put, neither Boehner nor Cantor have the votes to pass their little schemes. At most the whip count comes to 200 votes, 18 shy of the majority needed to pass.

Clearly the natives are restless and are itching for a showdown, regardless of the costs to the country. And that puts Boehner into a bit of a bind. On the one hand, if he caves into the extreme flank of his caucus, which at present is running the House majority, then he becomes the first Speaker since Newt Gingrich to preside over a government shutdown; on the other hand if he simply brings a clean spending bill to the floor, which would have the support of Democrats and probably enough Republicans to get through, then he averts a catastrophe, but ostensibly he's finished as Speaker.

Knowing Boehner, I wouldn't count on him putting country before party. In two and a half years, the man has shown no sign of having a spine. I sincerely doubt he's capable of growing one in two and a half weeks.


Monday, September 9, 2013

From Russia With Love: Putin Hands Obama a Get Out of Jail Free Card

Don't look now, but Vladimir Putin may have just saved Barack Obama's bacon. If reports are accurate, Russia has apparently bit on the apple John Kerry offered up to avoid a possible military strike on Syria.

The apple in question appeared to be a gaffe by Kerry who was asked if there was anything Assad could do to prevent a strike on his country. “Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting.”

While the State Department immediately started "walking back" Kerry's statement, the Russian foreign ministry wasted no time responding favorably to it. “We don’t know whether Syria will agree with this, but if the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus.  And we call on the Syrian leadership to not only agree to setting the chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also to their subsequent destruction.”

But wait, it gets better. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem released his own statement shortly thereafter. "Syria welcomes the Russian proposal out of concern for the lives of the Syrian people, the security of our country and because it believes in the wisdom of the Russian leadership that seeks to avert American aggression against our people."

While it's still too early to tell how serious Syria is about actually complying with Russia and the United States, this is at least a start in the right direction. If this pans out and a strike is averted, Obama is going to owe Vlad a shitload of Vodka the next time they meet.

продолжение следует

To be continued...


Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Letter To President Obama

Dear Mr. President:

It's been a while since I sat down and wrote a letter to you, and though I realize you've got a lot on your mind, this just couldn't wait.  So please indulge me.

I'll get right down to brass tacks Your decision to bomb Syria is a huge mistake, both for you politically and for the country as a whole. But before I get to that, I wanted to address this red line issue you seem to be having.

Recently you said that the red line Assad crossed was the world's red line, not yours. Okay, I know you were referring to the 1925 ban on the use of chemical weapons, but really, sir, the red line here is yours, not the world's. The world hasn't proposed dropping a couple dozen Cruise missiles on Syria, you have. Let me give you some friendly and free advice if I may. When you dig yourself that huge a hole, you're not required to jump in and bury yourself in it. You were the one who mentioned a red line; own it and move on.

Now let's get on to the meat and potatoes.

I have heard all the arguments for and against this military strike and have come to the unalterable conclusion that it is a colossal mistake. Yes, I understand that what Assad has done is atrocious and, yes, as a colleague of mine pointed out, Syria isn't Iraq and you're not George Bush. Points taken. My objections to this military intervention - and, yes sir, it IS an intervention when you launch a strike on another country - have nothing to do with either who and what Assad is or the hangover from that ghastly war. They are based on the following points:

First off, there is no clear cut objective here, other than slapping Assad around a bit. There is no regime change being proposed, no action which changes the dynamic on the ground. And even if there were, even if you were to up the ante and do what General - AKA Arizona senator - John McPatton wants, which is to arm the rebels, who's to say that you wouldn't be trading in one ruthless form of government for another?

The truth is, while the Syrian government has committed unspeakable acts of violence against its citizens, the rebels have hardly been angelic. There have been reports of rebel soldiers executing Syrian soldiers as well as pro-Assad civilians. It is estimated that almost a third of the rebels inside the country have connections to Al-Qaeda. Given what has already taken place in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood, it is unwise to assume that helping the rebels in this civil war is in the best interests of the United States. The enemy of my enemy isn't always my friend, sir.

Secondly, where is your support team? In Libya, you had a U.N. resolution, NATO troops and the support of the Arab League. With the exception of France, you appear to be all alone in this quest. Russia will never allow the U.N. to pass a resolution against its ally and the Arab League has apparently washed its hands of the matter altogether. The Congress? Please, you'd have a better shot at getting Republicans to embrace your healthcare law than getting them to agree to a military mission that even remotely makes you look good. If anything, they'd jump at the chance to humiliate you.

And Heaven forbid you do get Congressional authorization - the Senate looks about 50/50, while the House is looking bleak - and you launch a strike that kills yet more civilians, that hole you dug will end up being your political grave. If you think pictures of children gassed was horrific, try pictures of people blown to tiny bits courtesy of Uncle Sam's military industrial complex. Don't kid yourself, sir, no matter how precise the targeting may be, there is no way to guarantee that those missiles won't go off course and accidentally kill innocent lives. You can't let that happen. We have enough blood on our hands in this region of the world.

And lastly, this whole thing is a distraction from what should be your number one priority: the economy. I'm sure you read the jobs report for August. Hardly stellar. Worse, yet, was that the numbers for June and July were revised downward. The only reason unemployment didn't go up was that the labor participation rate went down. Thanks to the sequester, which has your finger prints all over it, the economy continues to limp along at around 2 percent.

Both the budget resolution and the debt ceiling need to be addressed within the next few weeks. I know you are perfectly capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. The problem isn't you; it's the Congress. With them, it's more like crawling and drooling at the same time. If you somehow manage to convince enough Republicans to back your Syrian plan, don't think it won't cost you political capital down the road when it comes to funding the government. And if you don't get the authorization and launch anyway, defunding Obamacare will be the least of your worries.

And then there's the fate of your own party hanging in the balance? You're asking Democrats who are up for reelection next year to stick their necks out to pass an authorization that's about as popular with the voters as buying a used car from a pedophile. Without exception, every House and Senate Democrat who votes "yes" will be a marked man or woman come 2014. The GOP will see to it. This was not the wedge issue Democrats wanted going into a midterm, but it will end up being their Waterloo if you don't back off. Instead of picking up a few seats in the House and holding serve in the Senate, Democrats might well end up losing ground in the House and their majority in the Senate. Is this what you really want?

Look, I know you mean well here. As the leader of the free world, you feel an obligation to take a stand against such atrocities. You feel, and perhaps rightly so, that if America doesn't respond to Assad, other tyrants might decide they are above international law. I would remind you that others have already crossed that line. Let's not forget that Saddam Hussein gassed Iranians - with our knowledge and blessing, no less.

And then there's that kook in North Korea who likes playing with rockets and has a rather peculiar way of breaking up with his girlfriends. True, he hasn't used chemical weapons, but he's managed to do just about everything else to his people. Somehow I doubt smacking Assad around will make him see the light or make South Koreans sleep easier at night. What made the concept of mutually-assured destruction work was that both the United States and Soviet Union knew if they did anything stupid they could destroy the world. That mutual fear kept both at bay for the better part of five decades. Irrational and crazy people are seldom deterred by such fears.  No matter what you do with Syria, Kim Jong-un will still be nuts.

I know you may not want to hear this, but if Congress turns you down it may be the best thing that ever happened to your presidency.  This was a no-win scenario from the get go. With all you've got on your plate, the best thing you can do is suck it up and move onto the next battle, which, if the GOP has anything to say about it, should make Assad's twisted actions seem like a night out with the Boy Scouts of America.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Obama's Stutter Step on Syria

Watching President Obama's press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House yesterday reminded me of that courtroom scene in the movie Animal House in which Delta Tau Chi is fighting for its life. After Neidermeyer finishes making his case for disbanding the frat house, John Belushi's character Bluto mumbles "Bullshit" under his breath.

The scene was hysterical; the press conference anything but.

In the end, Obama had no choice but to punt. He had no allies (spare me the French), no U.N. resolution, no Arab League blessing, and at home an approval rating hovering in the single digits. Going to Congress for authorization was the best move he could make, given that he boxed himself into a corner.

Of course, the smart move would've been not to draw any red lines in the first place, but that ship sailed long ago. He's stuck with it now. And while he will undoubtedly take a lot of heat for what can only - and rightly - be construed as waffling, the alternative, launching a unilateral air strike without Congressional approval, would've been far worse. The wingnuts on the Right would've gone ahead with their plans to impeach him and the progressives on the far Left would've abandoned him like a sinking ship.

It pains me to say this, but Obama screwed the pooch on this one. His poor judgment and mixed singles have made a bad situation worse. I'm actually hoping (praying, actually) that Congress doesn't give him the okay. The more I read up on this, the more convinced I become that the potential downside of moving forward with an airstrike is far greater than the prudence of abstaining.

So say many experts who warn that intervening in the conflict "overlooks the potential to worsen the violence in Syria and intensify a fight for regional influence between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The American strike could hit President Assad’s military without fundamentally changing the dynamic in a stalemated civil war that has already left more than 100,000 people dead. At the same time, few expect that a barrage of Cruise missiles would prompt either side to work in earnest for a political settlement. Given that, the skeptics say it may not be worth the risks."

And then there's the ongoing problem of growing unrest with American foreign policy in the region. Ever since the Iraq war, the U.S. has had to contend with an increasing loss of credibility throughout the Middle East. Many experts maintain that a military strike on Syria could intensify that unrest, heighten tensions and accelerate the loss of credibility, not to mention further destabilize the whole area.   

Here's a hint, when neo-cons like Bill Krystol are your loudest advocates, you know you're locomotive is going the wrong way, and right about now, Obama is this close to slamming the 20th Century Limited right dab into a steel embankment.

If Congress denies him the authorization when they return from their recess, the President should do what his counterpart in Britain did. Take it like the gift it was intended and sit down. It hurts like hell getting your feathers ruffled, but it's a lot less painful than going down in history as George W. Bush II.