Thursday, December 30, 2010


I’ve heard several commentators describe the conclusion of the 111th Congress as “kumbaya,” a word I chose only as an excuse to say I dislike it. “Hunky dory” is more up my alley. I agree in part with their conclusion, but only in light of what had preceded it. On balance I consider the result of two Congressional years a mitigated disaster.

Yes, unemployment coverage was extended. But it doesn’t require deep thinking to see that withholding approval indefinitely by Republicans would have been suicidal, and for such a relatively piddling taxpayer expense. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and “Start” are not core GOP issues. That’s Tea Party stuff and these people aren’t going anywhere. Most of them were born Republican, living testimonials to the benefits of Geritol, and possibly Benzedrine. The folks who call the shots got what they wanted most, an extension of those Bush tax cuts, specifically the part closest to certain hearts and portfolios.

To routinely use the words “rich” or “wealthy” in a pejorative sense is simplistic. Not everybody who happens to be up in the chips resents being taxed an additional small fraction of their already comfortable income as a consequence. But those who sign the checks for Tea Party rallies, just a figure of speech from another era, surely do and they are the Republican Party.

Al Capp, explaining his marrying Lil’ Abner’ to Daisy May, cited comic page competition from “an orphan who talked like the Republican platform of 1928.” That’s where the Republican Party is today. They are trying to make the rich richer, as they were then, and doing their best to make sure that the poor have plenty of children.

Figures may vary with the source, but thirty years ago the top one percent of wealthiest Americans owned something less than ten percent of the nation’s wealth. Today they own twenty five percent. During this time our federal income tax code has become less progressive or more regressive, take your pick.  Correlation is not always causation. But the specifics particular to this case make a strong argument for it being both.     

On a recent TV show Darrell Issa, a prominent Congressional Republican, said that what’s needed is a “simpler and flatter tax code.” The first part was just to set up the second. Who, other than an accountant, might object to simplicity, which explains why it was mentioned first. For Republicans flat is where it’s at, or better yet regressive if they can pull it off.

In 1928 the Hoover campaign slogan was “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” The bubble had yet to burst and it worked for him and his Congressional kin in their impressive electoral victory. Republican success in the recent Congressional elections was a direct result of the Obama administration’s inability to do in two years what took Hoover’s successor seven. Circumstances have changed. But the Republican arsenal, now as in 1928, is still in the firm grip of Daddy Warbucks.





Monday, December 27, 2010


This letter is titled as it is because much of it is paraphrasing what Paul Krugmen wrote in his Dec. 24 Times op-ed piece. To those who read it I apologize for the repetition and suggest starting in the middle. The article dealt with the Republican disinformation machine that has been working its wonders the past two years. In it he cited a claim by Minnesota Governor Pawlenty that “since January 2008” the private sector has lost jobs while the government has added half a million. This is an obvious attempt to show that an Obama presidency means bloated government. This preaching works with the choir and people with bad memories for dates. He wasn’t inaugurated until 2009.  The increased government hiring at issue was the direct result of personnel needed for the 2010 census.

Krugman goes on to mention an alleged “explosion in the number of federal regulators,” mentioned by right wing “think tanks” as evidence of Obama’s affinity for excessive regulation. This “explosion” was for additional Homeland Security regulators, a strange accusatory tone coming from the party reputed to be “good on security.” Krugman summarizes this deceptive arithmetic charitably by saying “…we should never assume malice when ignorance remains a possibility.” I wished I’d a said that.

His final point is that Republicans are much better staffed than the Democrats with “researchers” who come up with this sort of “information.” One of them is the wife of a Supreme Court Justice. This observation is symptomatic of our entire two party system, which involves weapons more lethal than semantic chicanery. 
A recipient and sometime responder to these letters chided me for saying that I hoped the spokesman for our side would be more like Rush Limbaugh than Pete Seeger. He specified Lenin, no doubt to show that dictatorships can come from either side, a valid point. But it seems to me, just offhand, that a big majority of dictatorships that developed in my lifetime came from the right. Maybe someone can enlighten me on this subject.

Beyond what’s written in law, there are no Marquis of Queensbury rules to govern partisan domestic politics. But there’s no question in my mind that violations of what most objective people regard as ethical practice, have been committed more frequently and taken to greater length by Republicans. Playing by a reasonable set of rules may be the proper thing to do theoretically. As a practical matter it doesn’t seem to be working very well. 

At the moment we don’t want a facsimile of the Fat Man to lead the charge, although that may eventually be the fire it takes to fight fire. But the advance of the Philistines and their concomitant pillaging of the nation must be stopped, and stopped soon. If it isn’t we might end up with our own Nikolai Lenin.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Constitution

The two most quoted and misquoted scriptures in our part of the world are the New Testament and the U.S. Constitution. Aside from purchasing spiritus fermenti on certain “holy” days, biblical lore hasn’t had much effect on me. But Constitutional interpretations are another matter. Some of them, which I’d describe euphemistically as unique, are worth more than a passing glance.

Those who invoke this document do it as they would the bible, as a decision made by a single entity, and in a voice not unlike the one that spoke to Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments. But the Constitution is only a parchment cobbled together by humans, representatives of the thirteen colonies, who disagreed on a lot of what they were signing. To think of it as an agreement by a group of wise men, speaking in one voice is wrong. 

I’m amused by arguments based on alleged statements by individual signers, years after the event, offered as evidence of “original intent.” This is silly! James Madison could have been quoted after a bad day at the office or a spat with Dolly. In any case it’s not what he said later in retrospect, but what he had already signed that matters. In this signing he was joined by a bunch of other guys, only guys in those days, who agreed on enough to get a Constitution written and approved. If I have it right, the filibuster wasn’t in fashion or hadn’t been invented.

What the Founding Fathers put on paper, along with amendments by their successors, at times needs a judicial opinion, often made in a context compatible with the judge’s prejudice. The Second Amendment is a case in point. The prevailing 5 to 4 judicial opinion is based on the closing words, “the right of the people to bear and keep arms shall not be infringed.” Fair enough so far, but only if one ignores the opening words! “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state….” Fellahs, you’re supposed to read the whole thing, preferably from the beginning. It’s only one 27 word sentence and you’re skipping 13. The Founding Fathers weren’t throwing words around for fun. Original intent was based on knowledge of 18th Century musketry which didn't have anything like assault weapons in ts manual

My, how I digress! All this ancient wisdom was penned by “folks” like us in many ways. The more things change the more they stay the same. I wonder if locker room talk at the Constitutional Convention concerned plans to make George Washington a one term president.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


While there’s little disagreement that the nation is in severe financial trouble, there is a clear difference of opinion over the proper remedy. In broad generalizations the political left, generally Democratic, believes that the answer lies in more government money to create jobs and stimulate the economy. On the political right Republicans feel that the solution lies in more fiscal responsibility. The relative success of these approaches during the Great Depression may be only a coincidence. So for the sake of argument, or more accurately the lack of it, let’s go with the guys on the right for now.

OK. Balancing our books is our number one priority. That requires a combination of increasing income and reducing expenses. The Holy Grail of maintaining the Bush tax cuts, most conspicuously those for the richest two percent, would limit increased income, at least for the time being, requiring corresponding budget cuts.  If that’s where they want us to go, let’s not argue.

That means we must cut entitlements, a rubric that directly covers the obvious like national defense, the environment, safe food and water and agriculture.  In theory it covers every tax dollar spent. Whatever decisions government makes in a discretionary capacity are supposedly made for the benefit of the governed. There just aren’t federal bureaus to cover every situation.  

At the top of the budget balancers' hit list are Social Security and Medicare. Here I draw a line! There are entitlements and then there are entitlements. Federal money is allocated to most of them in amounts decided by our legislators in Congress. While Social Security and Medicare are entitlements, half of each is financed by the beneficiaries through money deducted from their payrolls for a specific purpose under specified terms. I include compensation for military service in this list.

Someone who has paid into the system for forty years and whose benefits are due now might be a bit put off to wake up and learn that the pension he or she was expecting next year had been postponed for four years or that paid for medical insurance no longer covers “this sort of thing.”

To allow these federally guaranteed systems to default on their promises would be a step in the direction of government defaulting on its bonds. Apart from that it would affect the most vulnerable among us.  A proper solution involves more than simply soaking the rich. But for a starter the very rich, some of whom are beneficiaries of our current dilemma, might quietly surrender a few more tax dollars off the top without threatening to shut down the nation’s business.

Will Rogers, in talking about the source of tax dollars said “just offhand I’d say that it’s coming from those that have got it.” For further information on the subject, see “Willie Sutton.”   

Sunday, December 12, 2010

To Cut or Not To Cut

The question of the day is which of the two remaining options for the Bush tax cuts should be chosen by Congressional Democrats.  I’ll start by saying that I haven’t reached a conclusion. Not that there isn’t enough available information. There’s too much and more accumulating daily.

The op-ed page in this week’s N.Y. Times included intelligent articles by Paul Krugman and David Brooks taking diametrically opposed positions on this subject. . Saturday’s Letters to the Editor followed the same pattern. Simple enough! Take one leave one. Then Friday two MSNBC commentators, Keith Olbermann and Eugene Robinson, who almost always agree, went at each other politely, but with strong conviction, on this matter. At this point I realized that this is an issue to which there may really be two sides.

I do have one firm opinion. This is a choice that shouldn’t have had to be made. Any proposed legislative action, at this point reduced to choosing the lesser of two evils, should have been started in the Senate before the elections when there was more time to explore for more options to consider. The House had already passed the bill. As to the approaching ballot box, if there was one issue that can educate voters on the difference between the two parties, to the Democrats’ advantage, this is it.

As I understand it Senate scheduling of its legislative calendar is traditionally left to majority incumbents seeking reelection. While I have yet to fathom their logic I’ll venture a couple of guesses. These Senators may have felt that time spent shaking hands at home was more valuable than time spent on the job at that evil city on the Potomac.  Seats on Colorado Washington and Nevada were retained by narrow margins. But given public opinion, a logical consequence of the disparity between the numbers 98 and 2, I believe they were wrong. Worst of all is the suspicion that the decision may have to do with campaign money from people to whom the entire Bush tax cut is just ducky.

I don’t consider the president exempt from accountability in this matter. If he didn’t exert behind the scenes pressure he was guilty of faulty judgment or inertia. If he did then he doesn’t have the influence one would expect.

To repeat there’s too much information coming out with a proliferation of opinions as well. This leaves me more confused so my only comment is that I don’t know…….On second thought I have just come to a conclusion, two as it turns out. The problem is they’re  incompatible.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


In the film “Lil Abner,” General Bullmoose excoriates Lil Abner for having botched one of his financial schemes in words something like this: “There was once a little boy with a simple little boy’s dream and that little boy’s dream was to own all the money in the world before he went to that great stock market in the sky. And you, you blithering idiot, you destroyed that little boy’s dream.“ There is no dearth of rich Americans whose thinking is akin to that of the general. “Disdain” is the closest word I can think to describe my regard for them.  

They have been the main source of financial support that has been routinely directed against everything of substance emanating from Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats. Warren Buffet and George Soros are notable exceptions. Barney Frank said that many of his well heeled constituents are supportive of his positions. But the bulk of the monetary lifeblood of the opposition, overwhelmingly but not exclusively Republican, comes from people whose greatest passion is money.
Some unrelated stands, on issues like gays in the military and immigration reform, are just sops to the Tea Party, which helps the old image by adding a common touch. But Republicans would abandon them in a second if it helped the moneyed crowd. (Illegal immigrants have been a boon, but not enough of one, to the rich who actually hire people.) If push comes to shove the Tea Partiers would be expendable. I believe an overwhelming majority were McCain voters who at most would stay at home. Giving in on peripheral issues like these may be presented and accepted as “compromise” on matters particularly vital to the “country club” constituency keeping and making more money.

This leads to the point that there seems to be little left to compromise. We’ve seen health care, stimulus, and financial reform watered down nearly beyond recognition. But the biggest plum of all, the tax code, is being virtually given away; $700 billion, over a guaranteed two and probable ten or more years, for a one year extension of unemployment payments costing something less than $20 billion. If you question the assumption of probability consider that secret political advertising money can now be spent in unlimited amounts. The political right, think corporate, has the real money. (Labor unions, hah!) Disputes, if any, will be settled by the umpires in Supreme Court robes, where the majority is strongly ideological, but only to the extent that ideology and partisanship coincide.

If the nation is as bad or worse two years from now don’t blame it on Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. Blame it on the likes of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner carrying water for the likes of the Koch Brothers.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


In the pantheon of oxymorons “Democratic controlled Congress” has to rank near the top. This isn’t a recent development. In 1992 I used approximately these words (probably not pantheon) in arguing with Republicans who used this theoretical entity to defend George H.W. Bush’s handling of the economy. I say “theoretical” rather than hypothetical because these legislators do caucus as one at the beginning of each Congressional session.

Both FDR and Truman suffered this problem. “Dixiecrats” were Democrats only because the other party was the one that freed the slaves. But in those days there were also Republicans who weren’t addicted to their party’s bible. Leverett Saltonstall and Arthur Vandenberg, unfamiliar names to most people today, were Republicans who swam against the party tide when they felt circumstances warranted it.  Warren Rudman, who retired in 1993, is the most recent counterpart who comes to mind. This courtesy worked in both directions. Lyndon Johnson’s performance as Senate Minority Leader in Ike’s first term is an example.

Mitch McConnell, you’re no LBJ! The lack of discipline, prevalent among Congressional Democrats, is now unheard of among Republicans. The merits of Citizens United may be (barely) arguable. Voting against disclosing the sources of now legally unlimited corporate contributions, while in the GOP”S interests, is by itself a blatant case of partisanship trumping those of the nation. The decision itself allows people other than Americans a voice in our electoral process. For all forty two Republicans to use the filibuster to prevent even discussing the need for some kind of transparency in this sort of activity is obscene.

But back to the alleged Democratic controlled Congress and a personal example, involving my once Congressman, Robert Giaimo.  He had voted several times, with mostly Democrats, for the creation of a Consumer Advocacy Agency, a group with only advisory rather than regulatory power, costing five cents per taxpayer. This was during the presidencies of Republicans Nixon and Ford who vetoed the bill every year which, even with Giaimo’s vote, failed override. When Carter became president and all that was needed was a simple majority, Giaimo voted against it. His response to my letter was that people had become fed up with too much government, evidently only in the past year.

Congress includes people who generally vote with their constituencies, but whose votes are available to conflicting interests when needed. This arrangement is not restricted to one political party. But it seems to me that, in this capacity, Democrats come C.O.D, while Republicans arrive  prepaid.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ain't We Got Fun

“We now know that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mobs.” So said FDR’s at his 1936 inaugural. Maybe it was even more dangerous because we did maintain at least a semblance of order. Incivility, of which Barack Obama is receiving a generous dose, is something short of disorder. Germany and Italy didn’t handle adversity in this department as well as we did, possibly because they had more of it.

It was “organized money” that gave FDR’s government the most trouble during its long tenure as it is now giving Obama’s. The difference is that the three year “Hoover” Depression was a heavy weight for the Tea Party’s predecessors to carry.

Those who place credence in FDR’s opinion should be concerned that the forces he labeled dangerous are now working as one, although solely to the financial benefit of organized money part. The beneficiaries of this plutocratic arrangement have camouflaged the inequity with classic legerdemain by presenting extraneous items to detract from their sleight of hand. These have included communists, terrorists, welfare cheats, gays and now an economic disaster of their own making.

This tactic has worked after a fashion for half a century. But for the past thirty years, particularly the last ten, income disparity between organized money and the talent pool for organized mobs has been growing at a rate that makes it only a matter of time before the latter realize they’ve been had.

I see nothing to prevent the worm from eventually turning, particularly after the Citizens United decision. “The rich get rich and the poor get children” was a popular song lyric from the 1920’s. That worm turned at the end of the decade.

Current agitation is coming from the political right, more vocal than the left, the latter of which I consider myself a part. I may be partial in thinking that it takes more to get us off our butts. Self interest may have been a common motivation for both the anti war protesters of the sixties and seventies and today’s billionaires who are financing the action. But I’d venture that there’s more incentive in not wanting to die in a war of choice (a bad choice in retrospect considering the dominoes that never fell) than in someone with a cool million taxable income wanting to save $30 thousand in income tax. (My rough estimate)

This change will come, although not in many of our lifetimes. I’m reluctant to say it. But when it does I hope the person leading the charge for our side will be more Rush Limbaugh than Pete Seeger.