Archive for November 2009

Minority Rules

How does it feel to live in a nation that is controlled by a small radical, religious minority?  Welcome to California ladies and gentlemen.  We can’t govern in this state because a super majority is required to do anything important.  So a small radical conservative minority controls everything.  And now the same effect is occurring in our national government because a minority of Democrats (Republicans just vote no) demands their pound of flesh.  So every important piece of legislation has to accommodate this small minority and that legislation becomes so watered down, it loses its original purpose.

Look at health care.  Since the Republicans aren’t playing, this has to be carried on the backs of Democrats.  The real meat of health care reform is access to a public option.  All of the rest is certainly noble, but without real cost control of a public option, this bill will not be able to control the spiraling cost of private health care insurance and will ultimately fail.  So what does the small minority demand? Gut the public option.  Oh we will let you have it, but at such a small sliver it will be ineffective to control costs.  Did I forget the opt-out option?  You don’t have to play if you don’t want too.  Both of these pieces of the health care reform demanded by the minority are designed to gut health care reform and leave the private insurance companies in the drivers seat.

Oh but it gets better.  Evangelicals and Catholics in the House with behind the scenes help from Republicans in both Houses, decided that they could legislate their religious beliefs by crafting a “compromise” that prevents health insurance from covering abortion.  The effect of this language is to make abortion throughout the nation unreimburesable and therefore inaccessible to most even if it results from rape, incest, or is a medical necessity.  We already have the Hyde Amendment which is bad enough, that prohibits public funds from being used for abortions, but this goes way further to say if you receive any federal funds, you can’t perform them.  That is way different.  It basically says that no insurance company in this country can offer insurance for abortion.   This even applies to the public option which is totally funded by premiums.

Now think about this a minute.  Here truly is a religious belief, that life begins at conception, being codified into federal law.  Second it puts the government in the driver’s seat to decide what medical procedures are appropriate.    For those conservatives who are afraid of big government, apparently they only fear it if they don’t agree with it.  But if it is accordance with their religious beliefs, then government should force it on the rest of us.

So the state of the state is getting worse and worse.  The majority can see the way forward, but what they want is negated by a minority because we have instituted minority rule in our Congress.  Then of course we have the God syndrome best evidenced by Joe Lieberman when, this weekend on FOX noise, he explained that he would have to block (read filibuster) health care reform if it contains a public option.  He said he could not in good conscience allow a program to go forward that would bankrupt our children.  Two problems here with this thinking:  The Congressional Budget Office says it will save money and he is playing God.  Americans want a public option but he is so important he has decided to decide for us.  Another good American who has no understanding of Democracy and has let his ego grow to unbounded proportions.

I would be the first to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority.  So we don’t legislate laws that say you must have an abortion.  That would be tyranny of the majority.  But when the minority forces its views on the rest of us, Democracy no longer works.

So what does all this bode?  No real reform for years to come.  If people were awake they would understand that if we want to really have change and move forward, the makeup of the House and Senate must change.  And in the next election that probably will happen, but if the jobless rate doesn’t get better, that makeup may shift to those who are holding us back.  I can’t wait to see what they do with the Climate Bill.  Have a nice day.

The Logic of the Timid

I listened to the Sunday talk shows and I was getting somewhat bored.  Same old arguments that are irrational, failure to challenge them by the media because they have been repeated so many times, and letting the guest drive the argument, instead of penetrating questions to both sides.  Here is how the conventional wisdom of the timid goes:

President Obama is moving too fast on too many issues and the American people are uncomfortable with these big changes.  The real problem is jobs so why try to fix health care or pass climate legislation?  Government is getting involved in too many things”

Note this is just a very mild form of the tea party paranoia that says the government is taking over everything, we are losing our freedoms, and we are being turned into a socialist/communist state.  The people who are pushing this agenda are really anti-democracy forces made up mostly of not very bright white people who are afraid of the future.  I say this because our system of government is well and functioning.  We had an election, they lost, and their idea of democracy is my way or revolution.  They don’t believe in majority rule if it threatens their perceived status quo.  They truly are a fringe group that does not need to be addressed here.

This conventional wisdom has an element of truth in it.  People are very unhappy and afraid because the recession drags on and things for the average American are not getting better.  Where this logic of too much change breaks down is that President Obama really hasn’t changed very much.  In fact, as Frank Rich pointed out in his column Sunday, The Night They Drove the Tea Partiers Down, he has become the protector of the status quo with banks, which may be his real Achilles Heel.  His one big accomplishment was the stimulus package that most economists, if they are not blinded by ideology, will admit helped but wasn’t big enough.

And that in a nutshell, that is the problem and the logical failure of the Republican conventional wisdom.  People are not uncomfortable because he is making big changes.  They are uncomfortable because things are not improving.  Congress dithers (the word of the month) and it is business as usual, and people thought they had voted for change.  Half measures are not changing anything.  Republicans are using fear by claiming that the Obama Administration is gutting the American way of life and you can see it doesn’t work, when the reality is they have offered no alternatives except lower taxes and smaller government, and have had a major hand in preventing any real change.

So, unless things change radically, here is what we have.  President Obama promised change but has been too timid and the result has been to right the ship, but not turn it toward a brighter future.  As Frank Rich pointed out, his protecting of the banks and failure to follow Greenspan and Voickers advise on reforming Wall Street and the Banks while backing Treasury Secretary Geithner, who everyone sees is Wall Street’s boy, makes the average American suffering from the recession see business as usual.  We have Republicans leveraging this as disaffection with change that in reality hasn’t really been enough change, but offering absolutely nothing in policy proposals for solving our problems.  And of course, we have a failed media that doesn’t really challenge the Republicans to offer an alternative and examine whether it really addresses the problem.  Their claim that a public option will destroy America or that their recently proposed alternative to health care reform will address our problems is barely examined except by the opposition.  Their cries sound like Ronald Reagan in the 60′s fighting Medicare.  Media asleep at the wheel once again.

The real issue for all of us is that we are facing some major problems.  There is an element of truth to the conventional wisdom that people don’t care about anything but jobs.  The story that has not been adequately sold is that you cannot solve one problem without the other.  All of these issues are interrelated.  So this idea that we are attacking too many problems is a failure to understand that all of these issues are interconnected.

More important is to asked those who push this, just exactly how would they solve these growing problems.  Then challenge their basic assumptions like the market place will pull us out.  My fear is that the Democrats will be too timid, and the voters will return those whose philosophy has brought to our knees to office as the perceive Democrats as more of the same and punish them by throwing them out of office.  Then we will have a much harder time fixing our problems as the Republicans make them worse until they are thrown out of office again as we fall further behind the rest of the industrialized world.

Distraction

I been thinking which is always a dangerous thing.  Every time some nut job goes off on a shooting spree, the national media goes berserk covering mindless speculation and rumor the rest of the day, and news that is important to our future gets totally pushed off the airwaves.  Since the Republicans certainly don’t want us discussing our real problems because they don’t have any solutions, could this not be some conservative plot to distract us from the real issues of the day?  They certainly have enough nut jobs and guns across the country to pull this off.  I can hear it now, “Today in podunk  city a crazed shooter shouting ‘Bring back my country,” shot and wounded x bystanders at Chunky Cheese.  In a related story Michelle Bachmann said this was a real measure of the unrest in this country over the loss of the election to the Democrats.”

I don’t mean to demean those who have been killed or injured in these senseless attacks, but these kinds of news stories are kind of like rubber necking at a car wreck scene.  There is very little to be learned except to see carnage, and when this distracts us from our primary task, in this case driving the car, it leads to us to rear end the car in front of us because we are not paying attention to where we are going.  You get the analogy.  I am sure the press doesn’t.  If it bleeds, it leads.  If it is outrageous, repeat it over and over.

Ready, Shoot, Aim

I see we have another killing spree in Orlando, Florida.  What we need is more guns so more people can shoot themselves in the crossfire.  More continuous coverage where nobody knows anything and speculation will masquerade as news.

Two Views, the Conventional Wisdom and Reality

In the New York Times this morning there were two editorials that set out what is the conventional wisdom about the recent election and what it portends for the Democrats and the other probably more to the reality of the situation instead of the conventional wisdom.  Sadly the nation moves usually on conventional wisdom, not reality which has been badly mangled by the media which tends to bend to the conventional wisdom without questioning some of its underlying assumptions.  To be sure, the media rarely speaks truth to power. They are too afraid to lose their access if they actually challenge these people.   Least we forget Iraq, death panels, socialize medicine, and I could go on indefinitely.

David Brooks in his editorial, What Independents Want, was pushing what I consider the conventional wisdom, albeit, inaccurate.  He accurately noted that there was a swing in independent voters toward conservatives, but he then identified the effects as the cause instead of the real root cause.  His premise was that independents think that President Obama “is moving too fast.”  He cites the economy (the real cause), increasing distrust in government, fear of the deficit, too much government regulation, and probably the accommodation of Wall Street by the Democrats (this one is right on).  Then of course he recommended to his conservative brethren that we should get back to the basics of small government and let businesses do their thing, and fail if they must (read wall street).  He did get one of these things right:  “Independents support the party that seems most likely to establish a frame of stability and order within which they can lead their lives.”  Problem is his conservative prescription for that will only fail as it did last time around.

As always the devil is in the details and one should ask David how he would have handled the bank crisis back in 2007 and what should we do now to make sure the whole economy is not threatened.  Would we do that with less government and fewer regulations?  Same with health care or the climate/energy bill.  If less government is so wonderful, why aren’t these problems already solved after eight years of Republican control?  The real issue here is that the economy is not improving and all the rest, distrust in government, less regulations, etc. are a result of the lack of improvement, not the cause of the problem.   The one thing I always find astounding is that when things are going bad, why do the voters want to bring back the people who got us in this mess and have no ideas for our future?

The other editorial was from Paul Krugman, Obama Faces His Anzio, where Paul identifies what I think is the real problem.  It is not that President Obama has tried to do too much, but he has been too timid with what he has done.  His intrepidation caused him to implement policies that are only minimally effective.  The bank crisis was averted, but then he started accommodating the bankers and real change was not effected.  The stimulus bill by his own staff’s estimation was too small.  He has compromised or watered down what he was going to do and the result is very little progress.  Paul compares this to the Anzio Beach fiasco in World War II:

“The World War II battle of Anzio was a classic example of the perils of being too cautious. Allied forces landed far behind enemy lines, catching their opponents by surprise. Instead of following up on this advantage, however, the American commander hunkered down in his beachhead — and soon found himself penned in by German forces on the surrounding hills, suffering heavy casualties.”

President Obama was elected on a change agenda and then he didn’t.  Mr. Krugman’s final summary is where I think the truth really lies:

“If the Democrats lose badly in the midterms, the talking heads will say that Mr. Obama tried to do too much, this is a center-right nation, and so on. But the truth is that Mr. Obama put his agenda at risk by doing too little. The fateful decision, early this year, to go for economic half-measures may haunt Democrats for years to come.”

Well, as noted, that is what Mr. Brooks is saying already, but I am with Paul on this.  President Obama was too timid and without some real backbone from the Democrats between now and 2010, I believe he may have wasted his chance.  The conventional wisdom summarized by Mr. Brooks is gaining speed, and if the Democrats cannot do something to improve the economy, the conventonial wisdom will prevail and we will have the same failed policies voted back into office in 2010.

Fort Hood and the Media

I have turned off the TV and refuse to watch the endless rumor mongering about what happened at Fort Hood.  I have heard so many different scenarios representing each guest’s agenda, that sooner or later the real story gets lost.  I worked at Fort Hood for three years and even their description of it was warped.  Our media has become nothing more than the next rumor, right here, right now, before anyone else can actually verify it or mislead you with it.  Why oh why can’t they just report the facts of what they really know when it is confirmed and leave the endless speculation out all together.  Pretty soon they will have a Republican and a Democratic strategist to give their interpretation.  Is it any wonder that the American people have a very poor grasp on the facts?  They are presented with too many alternatives before the facts are ever really known.

Here We Go Again

Or you could title this, nothing really ever changes.  I am sitting in my chair with my knee up (ruptured Patellar Tendon) listening to NPR (National Public Radio) and I hear Carly Fiorina, who is going to challenge Barbra Boxer for the California Senate seat, say,  “We need to cut taxes and reduce the deficit.  We know how to balance our own budgets so why can’t Washington.”  In another piece I hear a Republican Strategist tell NPR that the lesson from the election is that the Democrats need to be more bipartisan and that John Boehner will work with the Democrats on a health care bill.  Both of these statements are beyond outrageous.

Let’s start with Carly.  She had a disastrous run at HP as CEO where she was widely criticized for mismanagement and her bullying leadership of one of Silicon Valley’s legendary companies and then was ousted to return the company (HP) to profitability. (CNN)  Then she became an advisor for economic policy for John McCain, but her ego got out of control when she told two separate interviewers that neither member of the Republican ticket would be capable of running a company.  (Huffington Post)  This would be the woman you want to send to Congress to get things done?  She would be just one more of the dinosaurs up there.

But let’s look at her standard conservative mantra of cutting taxes and reducing the deficit.  Now unless I am confused, cutting taxes reduces cash flow into the treasury, i.e. increases the deficit. Remember, that is what George did. Oh, I forgot, flow down.  Once taxes are lower, then revenue flows into the Treasury.  Problem with that is it has never happened and our tax rate on the rich is the lowest it has been since 1931 and the recessions continues.  But wait.  She will cut spending by removing waste.  Well name names sweetheart and you will find that one person’s waste is another person’s lifeline.  The biggest wasteful program is military spending and I’ll bet that is not on your chopping block.  And just what are you going to do about all that infrastructure spending that we have put off for years and now needs major investment.  As I like to say the devil is in the details.  So if we fall for this again as another example of conservative free ride-ism, we deserve to slowly fade as a great country. She would be a disastrous for California and the nation.  If this stuff doesn’t sound like the Republicans in 2000, we really do have memory failure.

Now for the bipartisan approach, are we that dumb?  The lesson here is that bipartisan to Republican means the Republican way.  After the Stimulus bill, the health care bill, the climate bill, what we should have learned is that they don’t want to play unless it is their rules.  But even more relevant is that their solutions are what we have been doing and as a result we are in a mess.  So we should bring them into the process and water down real change so that nothing ever changes? The Republican Party is the party of corporations and status quo.  The status quo is destroying us.  So lets bring them back into the process so we can do more failed things harder?

I don’t know, but if these messages that these Republicans are selling catch on, we are truly doomed as a nation who cannot learn from their mistakes.  There are no easy solutions to our problems and they are going to take sacrifice from all of us to build a better tomorrow.  Buying into the conservative shtick is just another attempt at denial of our basic problems and how we got here.  It is really time to put these people and their ideas where they belong, on the junk heap.

P.S.

Maine is another state I will never live in. Hopefully all gay and lesbians will boycott the state. This country has a lot of really backwards and frightened little people who occupy it. Glad they weren’t around for writing the Declaration of Independence when we said, “We hold these truths to be self evident…”.

The Day After and the Implications

Well the pundits will tell you that with two Republican governor wins in the election race yesterday, the tide is turning from the Obama revolution.  I am not so sure.  It should certainly be a wake up call for the Obama Administration and Democrats in general, but more about that in a moment.  The one thing I can never figure out is the thinking of the voters.  The conventional wisdom will be that voters were unhappy with the lack of success of the Democrats on addressing their problems so they voted for the Republicans.

But where did those problems come from?  If we are talking about unemployment, the economic down turn, bankrupt state governments, then it came from the last bunch of Republicans they elected before the Democrats were swept in.  So if the Democrats are having a hard time moving things forward, especially with all the obstructionism by the Republicans, and politics looks like business as usual, lets bring back in those guys whose philosophy and policies brought us this nightmare in the first place?  Okay, maybe the issues were more local, but to bring back in people who support demonstrably failed policies is like beating your head against the wall because you have a headache.

In upstate New York, this was a no-brainer.  A Democrat won after 150 some odd years of Republican control because conservative Republicans misunderstood the idea of divide and conquer.  This is supposed to apply to your opponent, not to your own party.  I think that people in that district are still Republican, but when outside forces tried to come in and tell them how to think, the response was predictable.  How does this result impact the radical rights future endeavors?  I don’t think they are rational and they will continue with their attempt to purge the party of moderates or anybody who thinks rationally.  It is the very definition of ideologue.

Finally, one could say that this was a defeat for the Obama Administration in New Jersey.  I have no sympathy for the Democrat in Virginia as he tried to distance himself from Obama.  You know, lets out Republican the Republicans.  He deserved his fate and Virginia deserves their fate in a throw back to a religious nut who thinks women belong in the home.  Good luck with that.  But in all this, there was a real lesson for the Obama Administration, although one I doubt they will learn.

That lesson is simply this.  Speeches don’t get it.  You had better start delivering what you promised.  Right now you have not delivered and you look like politics as usual.  I have to laugh when I get one of those “net roots” email (yes, I sent Obama money during the presidential election) asking me to do something or get out my wallet again.  My thought is, I will when you finally do any of the things you promised.  Using the State’s Secret defense to hide what really happened after 9/11, doing nothing for gays, continuing Bush policies we all hated, expanding our role in Afghanistan, are all things that you don’t need the Republicans to do something about and you have done nothing.  When you do, I might get interested again.  I think many of his independents voters feel the same.  He campaigned with a bang and governed with a whimper.  When he starts fighting for me again, then I will start fighting for him.

The message ought to be loud and clear to Democrats.  Stand tall and fight for real change, not some bipartisan half measure that fizzles.  Don’t try to appeal to independents by trying to go Republican, but stand up and fight for what you believe in.  Compromising with the Republicans will lead to failure.  The Administration could start with health care.  The bill before Congress is a half measure with a small sliver of a public option.  So President Obama could stand up and get engaged or he can watch his Administration fade into the sunset.  If he continues to get co-opted by politics as usual, trying to accommodate failed policies, and not understanding he is leading a fight for the heart and soul of America, he may destroy for a long time to come the real hope he rekindled in 2008.

My biggest concern is that they won’t get the message.  As they all dance around patting themselves on the back for a baby step in health care, the rest of us are thinking, “and you call this real change?”.  As Dennis Kucinich said on the floor of the House the other day, “Is this the best we can do?”

Some Miscellaneous Musings

I have taken President Obama to task in previous blogs for what I feel is his failure to lead once he got into office (Skating on the Thin Edge of Disillusionment).  It seemed that once he arrived in Washington he was overcome with the conventional wisdom of what was politically possible instead of the reason so many supported him, to overcome that conventional wisdom.  Well this morning Arianna Huffington wrote a delightful piece in the Huffington Post about David Plouffe’s new book, The Audacity to Win, making the point that he seems to have forgotten all the lessons that got him to the White House (The Audacity to Win vs. The Timidity of Governing).

I hope he reads this because from my seat he is becoming just more of the same without the courage to take really tough positions and push through real change.  I am not alone in these feelings as a recent article in the New York Times about how Iowa voters who voted for Obama back in the primary are losing faith (In Iowa, Second Thoughts on Obama).  I hope this shakes him out of his slumber and realizes this is not about eight years, but about changing the mindset of America.  The eight years is just a byproduct if he can really do this.  Right now he and his team seem to want to take victory laps for baby steps.

Today is an off-year election as if you didn’t know and have not been inundated by the media that seems to have nothing better to cover.  I won’t pretend to know the local politics of these elections, but the kind of statements we are hearing out of the press is to believe this is a predictor of all future elections.  “History tells us….”, “This election will foretell the future for the Democrats in 2010…”, are the common things they are all bloviating.  To me it is all nonsense as Republican pundits tell you it is a referendum on the Obama administration, and Democrats tell you it is meaningless.  Depending on the outcome of these election they will probably switch positions.  They all have their agendas.

What is telling is that Virginia might elect someone who thinks women are second-class citizens, and New Jersey would reject a governor who made some hard decisions about funding government.  Meanwhile Maine will attempt to deny rights to gays and lesbians also as second-class citizens.  I know it is not that simple, but it does demonstrate that the nation still lacks some kind of vision about where we are headed and are reacting to their fears and selfish interests.  Until we get a holistic narrative about what we are about and where we are headed, these elections just reflect the refusal of most voters to make hard decisions about sacrifice for the future or have a shared set of values.  So much can happen between now and 2010 that these elections are meaningless for predicting the future.

One last extraneous thought:  David Kwak, co-founder of the Baseline Scenario, wrote a really interesting piece titled, Do Smart, Hardworking People Deserve to Make More Money? He was responding to a posting about a story of a family that was down on their luck and struggling with high credit card bills, including plenty of fees.  Apparently the story triggered a wave of posts blaming the victim.  What was on display was the same thought process that blames a rape victim for their rape.  What is really going on is that as a defense mechanism, people like to think that they can control their lives.  This control gives them piece of mind and what is really subconsciously going on is “that would never happen to me because I would make better choices.”  If you really want to understand why some people are utterly devastated when something bad happens to them, it is because they feel a total loss of power and control.  The world doesn’t make sense to them anymore because they didn’t deserve it.

But what Mr. Kwak takes on is a fundamental conservative belief that success and prosperity are the result of discipline and hard work, ignoring the impact of chance.  It’s is that being in control thing.  Many people work hard and don’t prosper.  Some aren’t as smart as others through the chance of DNA combinations or opportunities good parenting brings.  So he asks a fundamental question in terms of a philosophy foreign to conservative thought:

If you are willing to acknowledge that chance determines who you are to begin with, then it becomes obvious (to me at least) that public policy cannot simply seek to level the playing field, because that will just endorse a system that produces good outcomes for the lucky (the smart and hard-working) and bad outcomes for the unlucky. Instead, fairness dictates that policy should attempt to improve outcomes for the unlucky, even if that requires hurting outcomes for the lucky.”

If you understand this reasoning you are a Progressive and if you don’t, you are a conservative.  It is the classic insight into why conservatives lack empathy for their fellow Americans and judge self-worth in terms of wealth.  It is because they do not believe that chance had anything to do with it.  They deserve what they got and do not need to spend any time pondering the fate of others, because they don’t deserve to share in their bounty.