Friday, May 27, 2011

I'm Just Wild About Harry

Harry Reid has just showed why he is the Senate Majority Leader. He surprised a lot of people, including me and apparently all Republican Senators, by bringing the House passed budget to a Senate vote the day after the upset in New York’s 26th, giving them literally overnight to decide on a grand strategy. The bottom line is that a big majority of Republican Senators are now on record as having voted for the Ryan budget with its politically lethal Medicare revision. They join their House counterparts who had already passed it by an even bigger majority.

The probable effect of this sequence on the 2012 election is mixed. In the Senate only two of the Republicans’ ten seats to be decided are at risk compared to a larger number of the Democrats’ twenty three. This setting is a mirror image of the 2006 Senate election in which several Democrats won in traditionally red states. On the other hand the House has 235 Republicans who will have to answer for voting and passing the measure. Obama should also benefit, although there are many more variables in a presidential race, the economy being one, making it harder to draw conclusions. 

One conclusion I have reached with certainty is that nationally there are more Democrats today than when this saga began.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Well Shut My Mouth

Well shut my mouth wide open! Before most people on my list have had a chance to read my last letter about the “interest” in the Senate vote on the Ryan plan, the vote takes place and is being treated by the media with a minimum of attention. That shows how much I know.

In retrospect this makes sense. The only ten Republican Senate seats at stake next year are held by people who survived the Democratic landslide of 2006 and therefore can be considered safe. But I predict (don’t make any bets on my predictions) that the fact that forty of forty seven Republicans voted for the House bill, five voted against and two were apparently absent, will receive considerable mention by Democrats before next year’s election.

Republican Dust

The Republican dust seems to be settling as expected. Or you could say the wheat is being separated from the chaff.* Reasonable observers now probably realize that, while the Tea Party types may keep the pundits punditing in the aftermath of the Iowa caucus and South Carolina primary, that’s as far as they’ll get. Their influence is now limited to which one of the housebroken candidates left standing will get their delegates’ support, Romney, Pawlenty and possibly Huntsman. Leaders of the party, who have influence beyond the primaries in choosing delegates, are endowed with better brains than ethics. 

Of the three, Huntsman appears to me to be the strongest candidate. When asked about serving Obama as Ambassador to China he said that when the president asked him to do something he was glad to oblige and would do it again. This is the classiest thing I’ve heard from a Republican candidate. Mark Halperin, co-author of “Game Change,” went as far as predicting that he’d be the next president. It remains to be seen if he can survive the slings and arrows from the fruitcakes for having shown proper deference to that president. Then again, he’s already taken the traditional Faustian pledge du jure, until now required of all eventual Republican nominees, when he supported the Medicare change in the Ryan budget plan. 

252 House Republicans have already been tarred by voting for this plan which is now due for a vote in the Senate. How their individual Senators will vote is a matter of some interest. Yesterday’s election in New York’s 26th may say a lot. Four have already declared their intention to jump ship. It figures that the ten Republican members who face elections next year would be more inclined to oppose it since these are “free”” votes that won’t affect the outcome. I expect a slew of amendments on the Medicare part of the bill. My suggestion to Democrats is to avoid compromising on any that hint of a maximum on Medicare payments. Better yet, if possible make them vote on precisely what has already passed in the House.

In any case the bill will never become law under this Senate and President. What its passage by the House may do is to earn Paul Ryan an inadvertent place in the Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame,

*This would be a good spot for a Groucho Marx aside, something, like “where’s that third metaphor when I need it?”

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Noot Point

Since Osama bin Laden’s death on May 1 it’s been a slow news month. As evidence I offer the media’s obsession with the Newt Gingrich “candidacy.” If I hear one more time about his implosion I’m liable to explode. By my calculations he imploded a long time ago. I also fail to understand all this interest in other names that we know won’t be heading the Republican ticket next year, specifically Palin, Bachman, Giuliani, Paul and Santorum. Where is Harold Stassen when we need him?

Still Newt has been a barrel of laughs, particularly in connection with his appearance on Meet the Press with David Gregory. I liked his protesting that “quotes,” of his statements, slang for quotations, were “falsehoods.” I may be missing something here. But is seems to me that by definition a “quote” can’t be a falsehood regardless of what is being quoted. 

But let’s give credit where credit is due. The statement in question was quite reasonable by Republican standards. He said that right wing social engineering is as bad as left wing social engineering. The significance is in the reaction by the Republican establishment. For years they have been complaining of precisely this by Democrats, along with “redistributing wealth” from which it’s usually inseparable. In dismissing Newt as a heretic they are virtually saying that social engineering is alright, but only if it’s done by the political right.
I’m sorry righties, but social engineering, for better or worse, has been with us for our entire history. Emancipation, Women's Suffrage, Prohibition, Social Security, Civil Rights, Medicare Bush tax cuts and Citizens United, are a few of many examples.  

What I find interesting is that, as with privatizing Social Security, Republicans are backing away from the Ryan plan’s attempt to turn Medicare into a voucher system. This bill has passed the House and Harry Reid is understandably eager to force a vote in the Senate, which would put GOP members in an uncomfortable spot. While I look forward to this I don’t rule out the possibility that Senate Republicans will filibuster a bill their party passed in the House.

We should take comfort in the fact that Republicans have learned from the error of their ways. Now we can vote for them secure in the knowledge that they will never again attempt to tamper with Social Security and Medicare. If you are if this opinion you might answer “yes” to a question put to me by my son when he was a toddler. “Is Santa Claus up in the sky with God and Superman?”

Friday, May 20, 2011


Several years ago I wrote a short piece for my own amusement on jobs and labor in general. I tried to make two points, one being that the word “jobs” is used often to promote decisions of questionable merit without mentioning the other half of the equation, profits. A laughable example of how far this innuendo can go is the statement made last week by James Mulva, head of Conoco Phillips. In supporting subsidies for oil companies he said that removing them would cost jobs by discouraging investment in oil. Oil companies are not major job providers. But more important, he said that removing these subsidies, which amount to 1% of the $35 billion quarterly profits, not revenues, for the “big five” companies would discourage further investment. Interesting!  

The other point is that a job is a trade of services for money. The value of these services is not immune from the vagaries of the free market. With current supplies exceeding demand, many workers have volunteered a price cut of sorts by shortening their work week. But lest we forget, we are dealing with people, not barrels of oil.

In view of the relative paucity of jobs, employers in general are often viewed as benefactors. In my opinion this view is not only undeserved, but antithetical to the transparent posture of the greater business community, in evident conspiracy with several newly elected governors, to end to the rights of workers to bargain collectively.

American labor is more vulnerable now than at any time since the Great Depression. It can be properly helped, as it was by the artificial respiration applied to General Motors and Chrysler. Trying to eviscerate organized labor, particularly at this time, is unconscionable.

·                                                                                          *

The following is the text of what I wrote before discovering the wonders of the computer. I include it because it deals with considerations that would be awkward in the preceding narrative;

When a prospective enterprise of questionable environmental consequences is being debated, its proponents often argue, in reverent tones, that what’s at stake are “jobs.” This is only half the truth. Profits are never mentioned. Of course there’s nothing wrong with profits, the anticipation of which creates jobs and the realization of which preserves them.

People tend to think of employers as benefactors to their employees. Granted, to would be employees an enterprise in question may be what keeps them off welfare and food stamps while to their employers it may mean that new yacht or villa. But a job is basically a trade of services for a consideration, usually money.

Political pressure for such projects, and the money accompanying that pressure, comes almost entirely from corporate interests rather than labor unions. If the planet is eventually destroyed by such ventures it would be unfair to blame working stiffs.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

We Got Him

The time since I left my computer, two days after Osama bin Laden was killed, had all the makings of a slow news week. On my return people were still arguing whether the credit should go to Bush’s “enhanced interrogation” and whether the public should be shown pictures of the event. Osama bin Laden was still dead.

The first question was settled Thursday by John McCain, a man with access to the details leading to the event and in recent years one of the Senate’s most partisan Republicans. He revealed that the person who identified bin Laden’s courier had not been subjected to torture, was in another country and had not been sent there for rendition. For doubters I’ll trade giving Bush and torture credit for getting Public Enemy Number One if they’ll acknowledge his responsibility for the economy. I’d be getting the better of that deal.

The merits of releasing the pictures may be arguable, but barely so in my opinion. Now that we have the bad guys’ leader I fail to see the need for the vicarious pleasure some people may get from seeing the gruesome details.* Whatever satisfaction from taunting our enemies is not worth the potential harm we would be inviting on ourselves. 

While this event redounds to Obama’s benefit, as a partisan Democrat I still won’t go as far as saying that it couldn’t have happened under a President John McCain. By the way, does anyone remember the Bush enthusiasts after 9/11 sneering at how they claimed Gore would have performed under those circumstances? I’m certain some of them would have been demanding his impeachment.

In the bin Laden case, if you’re rooting for the same team that I am, things are falling in place nicely. May 1 is the also the date of George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” ballet. Don’t mess with them. Don’t even try to slip one in like the first Bush did with his success in the First Gulf War by saying that he wasn’t going to “gloat.”
*For people turned on by this sort of thing I believe there could be big money in making plastic replicas of bin Laden’s head to mount on their walls.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"The" Narcissus

When it comes to politics, either serious or humorous, our national attention is captive to what the media offer. In the much needed humor department the usual entertainers, Sarah, Michelle, Rush and the Foxhounds may be as good as ever. But we haven’t been hearing much of them lately, like the conundrum about the sound of a tree falling in the forest. 

The obvious explanation is that master comedian Donald Trump is on a really hot roll. While announcing a possible presidential bid he allowed that he didn’t know how many members there were in the House of Representatives. When a “smart” man, as he claims to be, admits to this sort of ignorance, there has to be a motive and what better than the urge to entertain. There are few stunts more entertaining than a good pratfall.
His humor sounds like Stephen Colbert panning a point of view by making absurd statements promoting it. Obama’s place of birth is an example. I have a suspicion he knew the whole time that the release of the president’s extended birth certificate was on the way, a perfect setup for proclaiming the monumental historical impact of his previous skepticism.

He had to be making fun of himself in boasting that he had mastered the art of bankruptcy, a tool that worked well with four of his corporations. This is the sort of thing a serious candidate would try to keep quiet. People from the other end of the political spectrum who know him say he’s good company. I might even enjoy having a beer with him. But if it comes to champagne I’d like to see some money up front.

“But seriously folks” what makes Donny run personifies the old saw, “I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right.” In this he’s been remarkably successful. It’s hard to travel an hour or two in any direction without seeing his name. Until recently I was certain he wasn’t going to run. But if NBC doesn’t renew his comedy show this month, all bets are off. What is a performer without an audience?

Some of my best friends have, like Trump, been married at least three times. That by itself shouldn’t preclude a run for the presidency. This is just a guess, but I think that his marital problems had something to do with calling out the wrong name at the moment of climax, his own.