Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lop Sided

At tender ages my younger sister and I were supervised by what is called today an au pair who, as we grew older, favored my sister. If I was “naughty” it was “honestly, that boy.” When my sister misbehaved it was “honestly those children.”  The latter part is reflected in the reaction of a large part of the population to the Congressional impasse over raising the debt ceiling.

“Honestly that Congress! They should all be put on bread and water to see how it feels.” That’s pretty much the prevailing sentiment among many Americans of all political persuasions. While it may have merit generally, it doesn’t in this case. It is Congressional Republicans, you can look it up, who are obstructing what has always been an essential and routine procedure, at the risk of demolishing the national credit rating among other unpredictable dire consequences.


There is an arguable difference of opinion over the proper approach to our financial problems, barely arguable in my opinion. To me the impact of the Great Depression is a piece of history that more than hints at the need for red ink for investment in the short term. Taxes are an unpleasant necessity, less so on those who can most afford to pay them. Results of the policies of our previous president do nothing to support the merit of upper income tax cuts, other than to their beneficiaries. Those in power who share this thinking have already deferred for the most part, let’s say 75%, to those who feel that belt tightening is the only cure. Unless our side submits to unconditional surrender, our opponents threaten to bring the house down and damn the consequences.


The existence of differing opinions does not mean that the truth invariably lies somewhere between, a notion that the folks running the media apparently don’t accept. To quote Paul Krugman; “if one party declared that the earth was flat the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.”


There are no two sides, and consequently no legitimacy, to the debt ceiling argument. It must be raised to pay for expenses incurred by previous presidents and Congresses. Whatever today’s legislators feel about these past commitments, they are entitled to discontinue them, but not to renege on previously incurred indebtedness. As a nation we have never in our history argued publicly about not paying our bills. That we are doing so now is the figurative equivalent of having a gun pointed at our heads, in this case by an overly enthusiastic legislative minority of novices, to accomplish by threat what it’s unable to accomplish by a traditional time honored process.

Friday, July 29, 2011


On a personal level I’ve always felt that my reaction to blackmail would be something like “OK, do your worst.”Never having been in that position, this feeling is has to be based on intellectual, rather than emotional considerations. In the cold light of day there is always the likelihood of subsequent demands, so it seems more practical to get the matter over with quickly.

Blackmail is what Congressional Tea Party types are now inflicting on the nation, including most of their Republican colleagues. For the first time in our history a price has been put on agreeing to raise the debt ceiling. And a steep price at that! We are all vulnerable to default.  

What the Monster was to Frankenstein the Tea Party is to what remains of traditional Congressional Republicans. Their followers can only vote once, but by God they vote even in them there primaries. Three Senate seats may have been lost to the party in Delaware, Nevada and Alaska by the Tea nation. But just take a look at the House. The big guys know where their bread is buttered and they don’t tolerate heresy, as John McCain has just learned.

Until now I have followed the minutia of this debt ceiling tussle with great interest. But the time has come that I don’t give a damn whose plan is being voted on in which House of Congress. What should have been, as it always has, a routine legislative exercise has been turned into a likely disaster by a minority gang of know nothings who won’t play the game unless it’s by their rules.

My guess a few days ago was that cooler heads would prevail. That seems unlikely now, unless a bipartisan Congressional majority gives the president a new clean debt ceiling until 2013, with budgetary considerations to be made at another time. If not the nation faces default. In this case Barack Obama will have no reasonable alternative to exercising his authority by unilaterally raising the debt ceiling. The legality of such action is at least strongly implied by the 14th Amendment.

Not to do so would be unforgivable. Legal opinion is uncertain on this subject. But the process itself would take time and allow everybody to save face. As to the verdict I repeat from last week’s effort: Wall Street and big money don’t want default. Adversity can make the strangest bedfellows.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fat Tax

While it isn’t the central issue in the debt ceiling crisis, the term “flat tax” keeps popping up in Republican talking points. It’s often paired with the word “simplified” to make it more palatable to those who can’t tell winners from losers. What’s meant is the same tax rate for everyone, rich or poor.

Supporters often point out that an overwhelming amount of tax dollars already come from the richest taxpayers. This is nothing more than simple arithmetic supporting the Willie Sutton doctrine. A more meaningful argument would be that rich provide the jobs. Not many paying jobs are provided by poorer people.  

To counter this argument it should be mentioned that not all the money available to create jobs is being spent for that purpose. A logical reason would be that the demand for products doesn’t always justify increased production. It’s hard to criticize what may be a prudent business decision. But it defies logic to include a road not taken in a body of evidence. It should also be mentioned that a significantly large number of the rich have made a life’s career doing nothing but managing their portfolios.

What I find most laughable is the claim that a 4% tax increase on annual income over $250 thousand would discourage “small business.” I don’t believe for a minute that the businesses of major concern are small by any definition. But let’s give them this one and dissect a recent claim by a right wing talking head of a disincentive to a businessman anticipating a $300 thousand profit. Granted this trifling amount could cause Exxon/Mobil to throw in the towel. But it’s another story for our hypothetical small businessman. By the president’s proposal, with its $250 thousand breaking point, Mr. Small Businessman would have to pay an extra $2,000 in taxes, on only the excess income, in addition to the roughly $90 thousand he would ordinarily have paid on all his income. This prospect wouldn’t discourage me one bit.

The saving grace of the right wing’s idea of shared sacrifice is that only Singapore and Hong Kong have a greater disparity of wealth and income than we do and we’ve always prided ourselves on being number one.





Sunday, July 24, 2011

Put a Cool Head on It

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has volunteered that high among his party’s priorities is to make Barack Obama a “one term president.” This is hardly a unique wish among officials in the opposition party. But to my knowledge it’s the first time it has been stated publicly by a high ranking member. It’s my opinion that this is because the president in question is this president.

Since LBJ’s tenure, no Democratic president has been given proper respect from Congressional Republicans. I don’t believe the reverse is true. Ronald Reagan and both Bushes weren’t roughed up nearly as badly as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. I see this as reflecting the Republicans notion that the presidency is their divine right.  If they gave two good ol’ Southern boys this kind of treatment, what’s an anti-colonialist Kenyan to expect?

Whatever one’s opinion of a president, formal courtesy by members of Congress used to be a tradition. For a Congressman to shout “you lie” during a State of the Union address is well beyond acceptable limits of disagreement. For Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts, during the same speech, to visibly shake his head in response to a presidential legislative recommendation may not be as blatant. But coming from a person who is paid to adjudicate, and by inference to not legislate, it may be even more improper.

Last year Obama invited some Republican legislators to a White House meeting with about two weeks notice. The Republicans declined because the date was not “convenient.” Mr. McConnell recently upbraided the president for his rudeness in not attending a GOP request to appear in the Senate that day.

A major obstacle to settling the debt ceiling crisis has been the Republicans’ realization that any solution worked out after meeting with the president would redound to his credit. I’ve heard that they now intend to keep physical distance from him and work things out on their own. The result of this impasse is anybody’s guess. Mine is that cooler heads will prevail.

But if they don’t my prediction and hope is that Obama will stand behind a downplayed, little noted but unequivocal statement in Friday’s press conference, that he would raise the debt ceiling if necessary. I can see no interpretation other than that he would use the 14th Amendment to do so unilaterally. The pertinent sentence reads “the validity of the public debt shall not be questioned.”

This may not be the last word as legal scholars from both right and left have opined.  But litigation, even with hastened action by the Supremes, takes time that would work to the benefit of those cooler heads and might cool some of the hotter ones. The verdict of the Supreme Court in this decision isn’t the foregone conclusion it has been in recent inter party issues. The Republican Party is not of one mind on this subject and the Wall Street mind takes a dim view of default.  

For Barack Obama not to take this action in this circumstance would be derelict in my opinion. If he acts as I believe he will, he’ll be the coolest head in the block. (neighborhood?)

This could be dated in 24 hours

Monday, July 18, 2011

King of the World

The fertilizer is now hitting the fan in what can be called the “Rupert Murdoch Empire.” Two weeks ago we started hearing of some of the mischief his troops have been up to in England. It involved hacking telephone lines and emails of people from the members of the Royal family to parents of a kidnap and murder victim, and of bribing police to help gather the kind of news expected of tabloids. 

The early news was of this nature and seemed small reward for the risk involved in such clearly criminal behavior. At the time I drew a parallel with Watergate for which so much was put at risk in a failed burglary attempt, for so little. Evidently Murdoch’s early career in print journalism led to a lifelong obsession with scooping the opposition and tabloid journalism is by nature a dirty game played without rules. But when the news broke about his having blackmailed British politicians on both sides of the political aisles the plot thickened. 

From what we now know, Murdoch worked in the U.K. in a manner similar to the way J. Edgar Hoover ran the F.B.I for half a century, but without the fig leaf of technically serving a government. The resignation of the Wall Street Journal’s CEO is a sign that the organization may have been working in this country in something less than legal manner, a suspicion that many of us have held for some time.

His TV medium, Fox “News” has been a source of “information” not only for true believers, but for folks whose beliefs are formed by these alleged facts. If we’re lucky many of the latter will at least begin to smell a rat.    

Comparing Murdoch’s power to that of Nixon or the Mafia is false equivalency. His is potentially stronger in large part because it is multi-national. But it is like the Mafia’s in that it no longer depends on one individual. His syndicate has evolved to the point that he is to it what Bin Laden was to al Qaeda. There are people the likes of Roger Ailes who will not have to look for a job if Murdoch predeceases them. We are looking at an organization that just might be more powerful than any nation on earth.

Rupert Murdoch has told reporters that he is merely “annoyed” by this whole business. I think it likely that he’s bluffing and doubt that he’s irrational. But if he is privy to information that justifies his feeling nothing more than annoyance, a strong case can be made for fearing something other than fear itself

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sharing Responsibility

Over the years many elections have been decided on the issue of corruption, yet I have no recollection of a candidate claiming to favor it. The same can be said of deficits. Both political parties agree they should be reduced or, if possible, eliminated. They disagree as to how and when. Democrats are in less of a hurry and prefer a blend of increased income, sometimes known as taxes, and reduced expenses. Republicans are insisting exclusively on the latter at once, or else they’re threatening to huff and puff and blow the house down.

Differences between the two approaches are largely semantic, a fact that Republicans know how to use to their advantage. A reduction in benefits for an entitlements such as Medicare may seem like a clear cut case of reducing expenses. But Medicare contributor/beneficiaries would then have to pay additional out of pocket money for services previously covered. To them this is in effect a tax increase by any name. Payments to Exxon/Mobil, purportedly the most profitable corporation in history, are subsidies by any rational definition. But under the Grover Norquist “no tax increase ever” rules, eliminating this gift would be a tax increase.

As I see it a dollar of red ink from entitlement programs and a dollar spent on favored treatment of privileged taxpayers and corporations are identical once they reach the balance sheet. Paying for either is less a matter of what it’s called, than who is doing the paying.  A fleeting glance at the Ryan Budget passed by House Republicans should settle the question of who they feel should bear the burden of fiscal austerity.   

If there’s still doubt, we have this statement by Orrin Hatch, now a party “moderate;” “I hear how they’re caring for the poor and so forth. The poor need jobs and they also need to share some of the responsibility,”   It’s reassuring to know that the Senator has heard about this “caring for the poor and so forth.” But I’m curious as to how he would have them do more sharing of the responsibility.    

It seems to me that simply being poor could be counted as sharing responsibility. It’s not that easy to become rich.  Republicans have a cost effective method of sharing in their cornucopia of proposals, specifically drastic cuts in Medicaid, health care for those who can’t pay for it. If the poor can be made to disappear a big financial burden will be lifted. Validating Chuck Darwin’s theory might not sit well with the religious right if thinking is involved. But when all is said and done I believe they’d be satisfied with the thought that a penny saved is still a penny earned.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Bobsie Twins

It was learned this past week that Michelle Bachman accused the media of trying to start a “mud wrestling fight” between her and Sarah Palin. The good lady may be guilty of a bit of hyperbole. But I must confess that the thought tickles the hell out of me.

At risk of seeming a chauvinist I’d also say that as prospective Tea Party approved presidential prospects go, these attractive middle age women, with unique versions of American history, are two are of a kind. Their revisionist hypotheses have helped people me like brighten otherwise dark days.

Sarah emerged from relative obscurity with her surprise selection as John McCain’s running mate three months before the election. Unlike W, whose handlers spent years “preparing” him, hers was a rush job and, as we now know, she is not amenable to advice. Her interviews with Katie Couric were disastrous, not as much for her answers as for her non answers. The totality of her education seemed to consist of reasonable fluency in the English language.

Since then she has played it cool with electronic statements and speeches filled with well worn right wing talking points. Her contact with the public can be summed up as “no questions please, just answers,” a wise decision in her case. But then she discovered Paul Revere and waxed eloquent on his riding the countryside firing shots and ringing bells on what was supposed to be a stealth mission. Worse yet she had him warning the British, his main weapon apparently being an NRA brochure. It may be hard to keep all the characters from that era straight. But confusing Paul Revere with Benedict Arnold is really overshooting the landing strip.

Michelle’s initial thrust was calling those who disagree with her as “anti-America” which isn’t going far out on the limb in the absence of specifics. But lately she seems to be fancying herself a historian. It’s one thing to put the Lexington and Concord of history in an adjacent state and quite another to say that the Founding Fathers worked “tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” This overlooks something known as “the Civil War.” But she stuck to her guns and compounded the felony by citing ardent abolitionist John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams. The trouble is he was nine years old when his father signed the Declaration of Independence and he died fifteen years before the Emancipation Proclamation.

Back to that mud wrestling fight, I suspect Sarah would be the winner. They didn’t call her “barracuda” for nothing. But when it comes to winning the hearts, minds and, if necessary, votes of the Tea Partiers, Michelle has her badly outclassed. She has hired Ed Rollins, as respectable as right wing advisers go, and is pressing flesh like a pro. I would dread having her as president. But she has at least demonstrated the difference between a politician and a celebrity. When Fox’s Chris Wallace asked her if she was a “flake,” it must have been a case of mistaken identity.