Sunday, August 26, 2012

Big Bad Wolf

The words from the mouths of Romney and Ryan, along with those of other leading Republicans have reached a low point in that party’s history and, as I see it, that of the nation. The sort of right wing extremists so prevalent today made a rag tag bid for the White House in 1964 with Barry Goldwater. But his campaign was unprepared and untimely, coming less than a year after Kennedy’s assassination. When Goldwater and his movement were so soundly thrashed, the Republican Party beat a strategic retreat to a facsimile of moderation, and settled for getting on base rather than hitting home runs.*

We’re hearing now of positions taken by Nixon, Reagan and even W. that are liberal by today’s standards. Nixon may have been severely ethically challenged, but he waged his war with stealth, none of this in your face stuff. Overtly he signed “liberal” environmental legislation which would be blasphemy in current Republican circles. Reagan, because of his general likability, could take bolder steps, dismantling of much of the Depression inspired New Deal financial precautions. But like other Republican presidents he was limited to what he could get away with at the time. W. didn’t have the organization of the Tea Party so he too made concessions from party orthodoxy that wouldn’t sit well with the current crop of bandits.

I see these three pioneers of the right in the same league as the current crop of malefactors. They started a national movement that continues unabated to this day. But I don’t believe the nation has gone as far in this direction as most people think, particularly the median, that diminishing numerical center of the electorate. The big difference is in the intensity and strength of the extremes, and here is where the left always loses. The radicals of the 1960s, the Weathermen and Black Panthers, behaved like clowns, leading to the election of Richard Nixon who promised to restore “law and order.” The other guys are pros by comparison. Look at what they did in the House. The Tea Party is still making news, but where has Occupy Wall Street been lately?

I believe most prominent Republicans would acknowledge that the party and platform are further to the right than at any time in recent history. They embody the spirit of Goldwater who praised extremism and condemned moderation in unspecified circumstances. Like thinkers are perilously close to taking over the administrative and legislative branches of government and already control the judicial.

“They all do it” or “they’re all crooks” are phrases in my opinion most often spoken by Republicans and why not? It saves them the trouble of reasoning. I hope those without political preferences realize the “wolf” that many have been crying, by calling every election “the most important in our history,” is at the door this time.

*I couldn’t resist this metaphor. It was cornetist Bobby Hackett’s advice to a rhythm section, of which I was a member that had just seriously rushed the tempo of the preceding song.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

And We Can Prove It

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” These are the words of Todd Akin’s controversial statement proclaiming a rape victim’s ability to will away pregnancy. He has apologized saying that he spoke the wrong words in the wrong way. Balderdash! He said the wrong thing. I’m quite certain he’ll drop out of the race. People like him generally have a price for their service, and his service is in great demand now from people who can afford it. The longer he hangs on the higher the price until the point of diminishing returns which apparently hasn’t been reached.

Technically he has some wiggle room. “It seems to me from what I understand from doctors” is hardly “telling it like it is.” But even if he hadn’t heard from the first doctor, I’m certain that Republicans would produce some who would back him all the way if it were in the party’s interest. This would be bad policy for them now: perhaps in a few years.

For whatever controversial subject Republicans advocate they can produce “experts” to validate their point. A skimpy minority, but who’s counting? This year’s weather has produced extremes unprecedented in the history of official weather reporting and unofficial narrative. The fact that carbon emissions are higher than ever is just another of their famous coincidences for which they have climatologists to “prove.”  I strongly suspect that institutions of “higher learning,” bearing the name of well known televangelists are prominent in the resumes of the authorities cited.

When it comes to the all important economy Republicans have outdone themselves. Extant reputed authorities on this subject are being avoided. Living economists are a fickle lot. Look what happened with David Stockman who was chosen by Ronald Reagan to make the case for supply side economics. Deceased economists’ judgments often become vulnerable to subsequent history.

So who better than the latest proclaimed voice of authority in all that is Republican economic theory than a deceased novelist? He, she in this case, can’t change her mind and what she has written can’t be factually challenged because novelists are by definition writers of fiction, which brings us to the point of this letter, Republican logic in general and Todd Akin’s specifically.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Third World

When John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate my immediate thought was that his campaign, running even with Barack Obama’s at the time, was in trouble. I didn’t know, as his people did, that the economy would tank before the election. The choice was a Hail Mary pass in hope of winning votes of dirty old men and disgruntled Hillary supporters.

I felt the same about the selection of Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate. On the surface it makes no sense. It does figure to energize the base, the Democratic base. The Ryan Budget, which Romney has yet to disavow, is layered with Marie Antoinette’s fingerprints, the most controversial being the end to “Medicare as we know it.” $6,000 per year for life for medical expenses, even adjusted for inflation, is a frightening prospect.

But like McCain’s people, Romney’s advisors may know something that we don’t, in this case fortuitous for them, specifically the potential effect of new voter suppression laws. Our system as of 2004 was less than perfect in this respect. Voters in several of Ohio’s biggest cities had to wait until 4:00 AM, many leaving without voting. Had John Kerry won that state, which he lost narrowly, he would have been president. In a true democracy there would be one voting booth for every given number of registered voters.

Republican state legislatures and governors elected in 2010 have passed laws which, if not judicially rescinded between now and the election, will dwarf this inequity. Voter ID laws to prevent non-existent voting fraud have been passed in several major swing states. A Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday ruled this legal there.  

Laws shortening the early voting time have been passed in Ohio, for all but the military and veterans. When Democrats complained that this blatantly partisan law should be discarded for everyone, they were accused of showing disrespect for the military. This landmark of chutzpah was exceeded when the legislature voted to wave the law in districts that tended to vote Republican. This last was abandoned, probably because it was so blatantly Third World that it would have cost the Republicans votes nationally once it became widely known.

But it shows the lengths to which Republicans will go if permitted and raises the question of what they might do at the last minute when most votes are cast. By choosing Paul Ryan they seem to be saying that this is all out war and that they intend to take no prisoners. I deeply hope that my suspicions are not justified because Third World tactics elicit Third World responses. Whatever our faults as a nation now, we would not be left with America as we’ve known it.    

Friday, August 10, 2012

Carrot or Stick?

It may be a bit of an overstatement to say that Obama owes his presidency to the financial sector, or Wall Street if you prefer. But what had seemed like a tossup two months earlier became a near certainty by election day. This was the direct consequence of the cumulative hell the Barons of Bucks had wrought during the administrations of Reagan, Papa Bush, yes Clinton and by all means W. Without their help Barack Obama might now be the Junior Senator from Illinois.

Wall Street money was fairly evenly distributed during the campaign. As president, Obama has treated the financial community with considerable deference. He began by choosing Timothy Geithner, one of “them” as Treasury Secretary. His Justice Department has yet to seek its first indictment of any of the miscreants who caused our financial disaster. Nevertheless the financial community is now hell bent on using its resources, or money in plain English, to prevent his reelection.

Evidently just letting the lords of finance keep their swag wasn’t enough. No substance abuse* equals the addiction to money, particularly in the harm done to others. any casual mention of regulations is blasphemy in their world. What Obama saw as a carrot these folks regard as a stick. It should be clear by now to someone as smart as he, that the time has come for no more Mister Nice Guy and to come out foursquare for the people they have been swindling, namely everyone else.

We hear constant reference to “energizing the base.” The right wing base is self energized for a variety of reasons, not least of which is plain old fashioned racism. Very few of them will stay at home even if it means holding their noses to vote for Romney. Many of us on the left are disappointed with Obama because he hasn’t even tried to deliver much of what we were led to expect, granted an impossible task considering our system of governance. Not much can be done in three months. But by calling out the culprits with some degree of specificity he might at come closer to earning an A for effort from those who voted for him with such passion four years ago.

*A more accurate term is self abuse. I know of no case of a substance experiencing discomfort.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Who's Sorry Now

“Nearly 3000 people were killed on 9/11 by Muslims with a professed hate for this country. For the next seven years American Muslims were treated for the most part with respect. We elect a president whose father, who he never knew, was born in a nation where Islam is the dominant religion, but which he never embraced. Overnight a throng of Islamophobes comes out of the woodwork. Is this a coincidence?”

This is the text of a letter I sent to the New Haven Register which didn’t print it. I could have added that the president is not Caucasian and that since the Republican establishment is quite willing to benefit from Tea Party incited Islamophobia, it is also willing to write off yet another minority. In view of demographic predictions the GOP doesn’t seem to be thinking long term. Well, just look at their concern for the environment.   

But here I’d like to treat the flip side of something I wrote a few months ago to the effect that the Republican establishment might rue the day when it enlisted the help of “this band of ruffians.” The time may come when what’s left of the Tea Party, and they aren’t spring chickens today, has second thoughts about this pseudo Faustian arrangement. What are they getting for figuratively selling their energy and votes? The two groups have very little in common other than a predilection to “pull the same lever” in the voting booth.

The Tea Partiers have a lot of interests, most of which consist of things they are against. They are against government, but aren’t all that concerned over its regulating Wall Street. They’re against immigration and the establishment is going with them for the time being, even though cheap domestic labor warms the cockles of many business man’s hearts. They don’t like paying taxes, but don’t seem to care much one way or the other about high income tax cuts or other benefits like the multitude of loopholes that benefit the very rich. They dislike people of color on general principle, but the big guys just consider their votes as a long lost cause. Both groups dislike poorer people receiving financial help, but one out of personal animus and the other out of a wish to pad its own pockets. Most of them don’t care about outsourcing jobs because their number is currently top heavy with pensioners  

If the Republican agenda succeeds, what will the Tea Party folks have to show for their help? Their descendants will then be in the same boat as the welfare people they so loath and without the benefit of unions to represent those with jobs as they did their predecessors. Of course the big bucks will keep flowing to the people who already have more than they know what to do with. It’s not out of the question to see means testing as a qualification for voting.

The day may come when many people will regret the votes that their parents and grandparents cast in the name of a movement that came into full bloom on the first April 15th after you know who became president.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Beautiful For Spacious Skies

“Throughout our history…our power has brought justice where there was tyranny, peace where there was conflict, and hope where there was affliction and despair…Our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known.”   

These words were spoken recently by Mitt Romney. Barack Obama said something of the same nature the previous day, less hyperbolic and less illustrative of the point I’d like to make which is; if you include only the italicized words you have an accurate description of what could rightly have been said on August 14, l945, VJ Day, about the good that American power had brought in the preceding five years

But five years does not a history make. There are more than two hundred others for which we are accountable. Of the three benefits of “our power” that Romney cited, let’s take a pass on “hope where there was affliction and despair.” This is too hard to measure and depends greatly on who’s answering the questions. But we can get a much better handle on “justice where there was tyranny” and “peace where there was conflict.”

Did we replace conflict with peace in Vietnam? I guess you could say we did just that, but not exactly as intended. We did it by getting out. Whatever one thinks of Saddam Hussein it’s hard to argue that there’s less conflict and more peace in Iraq today than before we replaced a dictatorship with “democracy.” I doubt that the people of Chile, the Philippines or Iran, as well as most historians, consider our active support of Pinochet, Ferdinand Marcos and the Shah as replacing tyranny with justice.

Showman that he is Romney saved the piece de resistance of his ode for the last sentence. “Our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known.” Wow! That man sure can cover a lot of territory.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Boardwalk and Park Place

In current polls the one area in which Mitt Romney leads Barack Obama, and it’s a big one, is his perceived ability to manage the economy. It is this point to which I take issue. It’s been mentioned by many, including me, that no president in our history has taken office with more impressive credentials in finance than Herbert Hoover, or few less impressive than Harry Truman, a failed haberdasher.* This could be coincidental.

So can the disparity in wealth preceding the current Great Recession being greater than at any time since 1929, an inequity that is still growing. Regulations on the financial complex in 2007 were more lax than at any time since 1929. Perhaps this is also coincidental. But if the flip of a coin comes out heads too many times in a row you might think about taking a look at it if you’ve been calling tails.

It should be common knowledge that corporations are expected to show a profit while the United States Government is not. I’m amazed at the number of people of all political persuasions who have forgotten that the purported reason for the controversial Bush tax cuts was that a surplus was a threat to the economy. This pearl of wisdom was spoken by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, theAlan Greenspan, at the time an oracle to the right. In retrospect it’s not hard to see him as a housebroken Ayn Rand.

While there is no precise equivalent to our current dilemma, the Great Depression comes closest. FDR was reelected for his second term by a greater margin than his first**and Obama’s reelection is in danger. In FDR’s case the house had come tumbling down three years before his first term so the Depression was clearly Hoover’s. On one hand Barack Obama’s election was helped considerably by the news that had come into full bloom just two months earlier. On the other, compared to FDR it’s a matter of months to years.  Relative to the obstacles they inherited I see what Obama has accomplished as president on a par with what FDR did in his first term. The timing of the circumstances was quite different for both, and by the way, so are their pedigrees. 

*Truman’s business was successful until a depression hit the farm belt ten years before it hit the nation.

**Maine had been a bell weather state since the Civil War when both the state and nation tended to vote Republican, leading to the saying “as Maine goes so goes the nation.” The laugh line after Alf Landon carried only two states in 1936 was “as Maine goes so goes Vermont.”