Thursday, October 31, 2013

Not Insanity, Just Routine

There oughta be a law.  No more stating, as Harry Reid did in his interview with Rachel Maddow on Wednesday, "Einstein said this, pure definition of insanity is somebody who does something over and over and over again and expects a different result."   

As this fellow points out, the statement is as likely to have originated with Mark Twain, Ben Franklin, mystery writer Rita Mae Brown or none of the three. Insanity is  "a spectrum of behaviors (sic) characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns" (Wikipedia). or "a deranged state ofthe  mind usually occurring as a specific disorder"  (Merriam-Webster), or "a mental disorder that deprives a criminal defendant of capacity to be tried" (Webster's New World Law Dictionary), or "persistent mental disorder or derangement" (American Heritage Medical Dictionary). Doing something repeatedly while expecting a different result is stubborness or foolishness, but not insanity.

Otherwise, however, Reid spoke the truth: 

He also said he’s not as concerned about the tea party Republicans who drove the GOP through the shutdown, but rather the other members of the party that went along with it, voting to repeal Obamacare 45 times.

“My disappointment in all of this is not the 80 or 90 people who live in some other political world that I don’t understand. But my disappointment is the so-called moderates who went along with this vote after vote after vote,” Reid said.

If we can't stop attributing to Einstein something he likely didn't say, can we- as Reid has- stop pretending (as do so many Democratic politicians) that the "Tea Party" is some weird, exotic cult bent on destroying the Republican Party which spawned it?  The notion that the tea party is not joined to the hip of corporate America is so ingrained that it appears even among those who proceed to debunk the myth, such as The New York Times' writer who in March, 2011 wrote "The Tea Party movement is as deeply skeptical of big business as it is of big government. " More conventionally, two Bloomberg reporters two weeks ago contended "A battle for control of the Republican Party has erupted as an emboldened Tea Party moved to oust senators who voted to reopen the government while business groups mobilized to defeat allies of the small-government movement."

And then a  Republican is nominated for some office and what is mistakenly perceived as separate factions both condemn the Democratic opponent for being insufficiently obeisant to the (fictional) free market.  Sometimes we don't need an election for clarification.  Eric Lipton of The New York Times noted Wednesday

The House of Representatives, with bipartisan support, passed legislation on Wednesday that would roll back a major element of the 2010 law intended to strengthen the nation’s financial regulations by allowing big banks like Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase to continue to handle most types of derivatives trades in house.

The bill, which passed by a 292-122 vote, would repeal a requirement in the Dodd-Frank law that big banks “push out” some derivatives trading into separate units that are not backed by the government’s insurance fund.

But the debate Wednesday regarding this decidedly technical matter quickly turned into an impassioned dispute over the role the federal government has played since the recession in regulating financial markets. Advocates of the legislation argued on the House floor that the federal government is partly responsible for the slow rate of economic growth because it imposed excessive new regulations.

“America’s economy remains stuck in the slowest, weakest nonrecovery recovery of all times,” said Representative Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. “Those who create jobs for America are drowning in a sea of red tape preventing them.”

But opponents of the measure said that reckless activity by banks like JPMorgan Chase, where a group of traders in London ran up $6 billion in losses in 2011, demonstrate that the tough requirements contained in the Dodd-Frank law, passed in 2010, should not be weakened.

Perhaps you did not hear the cries of outrage from such "tea party" stalwarts as Justin Amash, Michele Bachmann, Paul Broun, or Louie Gohmert.  Only 3- Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee, Walter Jones of North Carolina, and Tom Massie of Kentucky- of 225 Republicans who cast a vote chose not to weaken Dodd-Frank.   Steve M., while acknowledging that some (70) Democrats went over to the dark side,  recognizes tea party supporters

don't hate big business -- they love big business. Yes, it was easy to get confused when they forced a government shutdown and threatened to bring about a debt default, but they were just showing love for big business the way Annie Wilkes showed love for Paul Sheldon in Misery. Like Annie Wilkes, they're certain they know what's best for their beloved, even if their beloved doesn't understand. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It Only Seems Progressive

The disadvantage to having no commercial sponsor and no advertising is obvious.  The advantage, however, is one has the freedom to alienate both the left and the right.

Last December, The Atlantic published a profile by Molly Ball of Evan Wolfson, a high-powered New York lawyer and head of the gay rights group Freedom to Marry.  Ball writes

To Wolfson, the fight for marriage was about making gays full participants in American life and fully human in the eyes of their fellow citizens. "This was something that would transform non-gay people's understanding of who gay people are," he told me. "It would help people understand gay people as fully rounded human beings, with the hopes and dreams and human aspirations we all have." Other gay-rights struggles were mainly about convincing people to overlook sexual orientation, in employment or medical care or military service. Marriage is about what makes gay people who they are: their relationships with others of the same sex. In ratifying marriage for gays and lesbians, society would be ratifying the core of their identity -- their love for one another.

Wolfson believes that neither civil unions nor any other arrangement can guarantee to gays the rights marriage confers. But at the core of his determination to end all prohibition on same-sex marriage is not rights but the very nature of marriage.  Ball explains

"I worked on the marriage campaign in Oregon in 2004, and we had ads with a judge in a law library, talking about rights, saying it was wrong to deny people these rights," Zepatos said. "That was considered one of the most effective campaigns [for gay marriage] in the country." Yet it failed, like all the others, and in a sudden, breathtaking epiphany, Zepatos saw why. The advocates of gay marriage had successfully convinced people that gay marriage was something different from regular marriage. It was presented to the public as a technicality -- a matter of hospital visitations and burial plots. Such technicalities were important to activists, especially in the wake of the AIDS crisis, when they'd had real and devastating consequences. But it was no wonder fair-minded, tolerant straight people couldn't see that gay people wanted to get married because they loved and wanted to commit to one another.

What, then, was the better way to sell gay marriage? The first step was to stop calling it gay marriage or "same-sex marriage," which put it in its own category. In the same way clever Republican pollsters once rebranded the estate tax the "death tax," gay-marriage proponents started talking, simply, about marriage. (This has produced some confusing situations, as both sides of the gay-marriage debate now call themselves "pro-marriage." In Maine, for example, the group in favor of gay marriage on this year's ballot was called Mainers United for Marriage, while the anti-gay-marriage group was Protect Marriage Maine.) To liberal audiences, the new preferred term is "marriage equality"; to conservatives, it's "freedom to marry."

The research found that the most effective message was "committed, long-term gay couples doing the same things that married couples do," in the words of a November 2011 Freedom to Marry research memo -- "mowing the lawn, helping an elderly neighbor, and talking about their hopes and dreams." Gay people needed to talk about marriage more: Many assumed their friends, colleagues, and relatives accepted them as deserving of marriage the same way they accepted them as people, when in fact, the same friends often figured that since their gay friends never talked about marriage, it must not be important to them.

Freedom to Marry began field-testing a new type of campaign in Oregon in 2010. Mailers and television ads for the effort, dubbed "Marriage Matters" and undertaken in partnership with a local organization, showed gay couples and straight couples side by side, talking about how long they'd been together and the meaning of marriage to their everyday lives. ("We've been together for 31 years.... We share the laundry, cooking, vacations and the happiness we wish for our children and grandchildren," a beaming lesbian couple said in one mail piece.) 

Gay marriage proponents in Oregon are aiming to put onto the 2014 ballot an initiative authorizing same-sex marriage.  The November, 2011 memorandum from Freedom to Marry suggests the campaign will emphasize

Marriage matters to gay people in similar ways that it matters to everyone. Gay and lesbian couples may seem different from straight couples, but we share similar values - like the importance of family and helping out our neighbors; worries - like making ends meet or the possibility of losing a job; and hopes and dreams - like finding that special someone to grow old with, and standing in front of friends and family to make a lifetime commitment. 

The need to enjoy the same rights as straight individuals and the basic concept of civil rights is to be deemphasized in favor of the stress on the beauty of making a "lifetime commitment" to one another.

Neither Wofson nor his allies would interfere with the right or ability of heterosexuals to marry whomever they choose.  Neither is it likely that Katie Roiphe, professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, would oppose the struggle for, as its supporters put it, "marriage equality."  But make no mistake: their perspectives diverge significantly and are nearly mutually incompatible.  Roiphe visits Amsterdam and finds

The Dutch attitude, which I like, is that marriage is not for everyone; it is a personal choice, an option, a pleasant possibility, but not marrying is not a failure, a great blot on your achievements in life, a critical rite of passage you have missed. Sometimes people get around to getting married, and sometimes they don’t. Several Dutch women in their 40s, with children and rich romantic histories, tell me about marriage, “It just wasn’t something that mattered to me.”

She concludes

If we suddenly stopped being in thrall to the rigid, old-fashioned ideal of marriage, we could stop worrying about low marriage rates and high divorce rates. We could stop worrying about single mothers and the decline of marriage as an institution, especially in the lower middle class, and the wasteful industry of wedding planning. We could instead focus on actual relationships, on intimacies, on substance over form; we could focus on love in its myriad, unpredictable varieties. We could see life here in the amber waves of grain not for what it should be, but for what it is.

To Freedom to Marry and those on whose behalf  it advocates, same-sex marriage not only guarantees full civil rights but, more importantly, the opportunity to participate in an institution without which couples would not be "taking responsibility for each other, taking care of each other, putting their partner first, taking care of their children, their elderly parents, and their community." To the contrary, Roiphe suggests if  "in America marriage was suddenly regarded as a choice, a way, a possibility, but not a definite and essential phase of life, think how many people would suddenly be living above board, think of the stress removed, the pressures lifted, the stigmas dissolving."  And I suspect, take care as they wish of each other, of children, elderly parents, and their community.

Same-sex marriage advocates gradually have come to view marriage not as an option, but as "a definite and essential phase of life."  There is another group in American politics that believes marriage- with, preferably, childbirth- is an essential phase of life.  That would be.... the Christian right, which demonstrates that two groups, rhetorically opposed to each other, can both be fundamentally and dangerously wrong.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Timing Is Everything

In late August, the online edition of the northern New Jersey newspaper, the Star-Ledger, reported

President Obama is not planning to campaign for Democrat Barbara Buono in her quest to rob Gov. Chris Christie of a second term, the Associated Press reported Friday.

This year and next, Obama only plans to lend his political firepower to close races where he could help cinch a win for his party, a Democratic official involved with Obama’s political plans told AP. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss strategy and requested anonymity, the wire service said.

No one has discovered who the "Democratic official" was, but he or she apparently was right on target.     Polls in Virginia's gubernatorial election have displayed a 5-10 point lead for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe over Repub Ken Cucinelli.  However, with a relatively large number of undecided likely voters and a third candidate, Libertarian Robert Sarvis, McAuliffe never had eclipsed the golden 50% market.  Third party candidates with no chance of voting usually end up with fewer votes than pre-election polls indicate, making the outcome less certain than otherwise.

On the evening of Monday, October 28, however, The Washington Post unveiled a survey which found Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee McAuliffe opening a 12-point lead over his challenger, 51 percent to 39%, with 8% of voters stating they intend to opt for Sarvis.  

News of the poll was published by Politico promptly at 8:24 p.m. Monday.    Like clockwork, as Politico's Alexander Burns reported less than three hours later at 11:06 p.m.

President Barack Obama will campaign for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe this weekend, giving a late boost to McAuliffe as he seeks to energize core Democratic voters in an off-year governor’s race, Democratic sources told POLITICO.

Obama is set to appear at a Sunday afternoon get-out-the-vote rally in Northern Virginia. It will be the president’s first campaign appearance for McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Presumably, a tentative decision for Obama to enter the campaign had been made earlier.  Just as likely, the decision was tentative, subject to change at the last moment if it appeared there was any chance the GOP candidate would surge to victory.  Indeed, Burns observed

McAuliffe’s embrace of Obama is little surprise this late in the election, but it confirms that the political ground in the race has shifted since the start of the year, when Republicans hoped to win the governorship largely by running up the scoreboard among conservative Virginians hostile to the president.

It appears at this point that such a strategy is unlikely to produce a winning coalition for Cuccinelli, leaving little down side for McAuliffe or Obama in campaigning together.

The Obama camp may take some credit for Cucinelli's decisive victory after Election Day while being given little or no blame for waiting until the last minute.  And he will receive little criticism even after assiduously avoiding the gubernatorial campaign in New Jersey, a state whose GOP governor the President appeared with earlier this year and has lavishly praised.

Bold, Mr. President. Self-serving leadership we can believe in.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Turning His Back

Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.

But Virginia is the site of the most (more, actually) closely watched gubernatorial election in the U.S.A. this year, with unpopular Democrat Terry McAuliffe facing off against unpopular Attorney General Ken Cucinelli, whose first name appears to be "tea party favorite" (whatever that means).  MSNBC's Rachel Maddow has been particularly vigorous covering the Virginia election, on Thursday even interviewing Chesterfield County election board registrar Lawrence Haake about voter suppression efforts in the state.

Virginia is clearly a swing state, and one in which the gubernatorial election is very much in doubt, though the Democrat is favored to win.   Neither factor is in play in New Jersey, where Governor Chris (don't call him fat, whatever you do!) Christie is expected to cruise to victory in what is otherwise a Democratic, and strongly culturally liberal, state.

There are many reasons for Christie's strong position, including a lack of awareness in the state of how much of an extremist he is.  In the waning days of the campaign, the governor is exploiting this blissful ignorance, such as deciding not to appeal to the state's highest court approval by a lower court of same-sex marriage, a struggle which would have cost him support in next week's election, which he is determined to win by a large margin.  He also was probably motivated to take off the table an issue which in a presidential election would have detracted from his emphasis on screwing workers unions and lowering taxes on the wealthy, always advantageous stances in Repub presidential primaries.

Continuing to fight same-sex marriage might also have cost him support among editorial boards.  Sunday, the nominally liberal editorial board of The Philadelphia Inquirer noted 

Christie has wrongly demonized teachers and abandoned a school aid formula that attached funding to at-risk children. And he should forget about an income-tax cut that would favor the wealthy and unnecessarily reduce state revenue.

Christie's opposition to same-sex marriage and Planned Parenthood funding are retrograde. And he should improve his poor environmental record by replenishing open-space funds and setting more ambitious clean-energy goals.

Christie has also shown an unfortunate tendency to be self-serving. His scheduling of a special U.S. Senate election for last week seemed calculated to keep the popular Democrat Cory Booker from affecting his race. He was featured too prominently in taxpayer-funded tourism ads. As a possible presidential candidate, Christie must be more careful to keep New Jersey's interests above his personal ambition. And he should kick his habit of publicly insulting other people.

Then it endorsed him for re-election though, admittedly, it had described what it considers favorable aspects of his leadership.  In so doing, it ought to draw comparison to the editorial in the state's largest (and the nation's 21st largest) newspaper, The Star Ledger (of Essex County, N.J., but sometimes inaccurately labeled "The Newark Star-Ledger") .  Last week, the editors of the newspaper, based in the extraordinarily densely populated northern portion of the state, explained

The property tax burden has grown sharply on his watch. He is hostile to low-income families, raising their tax burden and sabotaging efforts to build affordable housing. He’s been a catastrophe on the environment, draining $1 billion from clean energy funds and calling a cease-fire in the state’s fight against climate change.

The governor’s claim to have fixed the state’s budget is fraudulent. New Jersey’s credit rating has dropped during his term, reflecting Wall Street’s judgment that he has dug the hole even deeper. He has no plan to finance transit projects and open space purchases now that he has nearly drained the dedicated funds he inherited from Gov. Jon Corzine.

His ego is entertaining, but it’s done damage as well. By removing two qualified justices from the Supreme Court without good cause, he threatened the independence of judges at all levels, and provoked a partisan stalemate that has left two vacant seats on the high court. This was a power grab gone wrong.

The public gives him top marks for his handling of Sandy, but the record is mixed. Why would his administration park NJ Transit trains in a low-lying area where they flooded, causing $120 million in damage? Why did the federal government have to strong-arm the state to include more relief for renters and Spanish-speakers than Christie had proposed? And why should anyone believe taxpayers got the best price on refuse removal when the governor awarded a no-bid contract through a political friend?

Our own view is that Christie is overrated. His spin is way ahead of his substance.

Then it endorsed him for re-election, arguing that his support for destroying public education  the charter school movement- warranted his return to office.

But few people care about newspaper endorsements anymore.  Of greater importance is the failure of state Democrats and national Democrats to endorse Christie's Democratic opponent, State Senator Barbara Buono.  Both the leading Democratic presidential contender and her husband, the nation's most popular politician, have endorsed- and campaigned for- the Virginia gubernatorial candidate. McAuliffe once was a fundraiser for Mr. Clinton, though one can be forgiven for thinking they could have managed at least a pro forma endorsement of the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey.   (Recall Hillary Rodham Clinton once boasted of breaking the "glass ceiling."  Good for me, not for thee, presumably.)

But the dagger to the heart of the Buono candidacy has come from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.    The Clintons, at least, overlooked also the U.S. Senate race in New Jersey, neglecting to endorse the expected- and eventual- winner, Cory Booker. The interests of arguably America's most famous political couple was 282 miles down Route 95.    But Barack Obama did endorse, and later release a video on behalf of, Cory Booker, who in addition included the President in a campaign ad.  Obama also has taken time to campaign with New York City Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio, who will be elected unless he announces his favorite activity is watching pornographic movies with Anthony Weiner. And then it would be close.

The failure of the nation's first black President even to endorse the party's gubernatorial candidate in a state in which the former remains fairly popular has had a particularly significant impact upon Barbara Buono's standing among black voters.    African-Americans are among the many Democratic office-holders who have endorsed Christie and black voters have appreciated the relationship between the state's governor and Barack Obama, who once ostentatiously praised Christie for "extraordinary leadership."     They (and the rest of us) are not used to seeing a Republican demonstrate any respect at all for this President- a low bar, but one many Repubs appear unable to clear.  Obama's endorsement of the Democratic nominee would, obviously, go a long way in establishing the latter's credibility among black voters, if not also undermining support among some of them for the incumbent.

Disturbing? Yes.  Reprehensible?  Yes.  (Don't you just hate people who ask and answer their own questions? Yes, you do.)  But perhaps most telling is that is not terribly surprising. Barack Obama has spent over four years avoiding supporting progressive causes while maintaining overwhelming support among Democrats partly because the loyal opposition has been relentless, extreme, on occasion racially prejudiced, and sometimes not even loyal. And now, in his fifth year, he is just plain gutless.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bully Economics

When Politico publishes something under the title "How Well Do You Know Chris Christie?" you expect a puff piece.  And you get what you expect, including such questions as

Chris Christie calls himself one of Bruce Springsteen’s greatest fans. How many Springsteen concerts has Christie attended?

Christie is a fan of the New York Mets and New York Knicks. What NFL team does he root for?

What TV show will Christie make a guest star appearance for this fall?

This past weekend, Christie joined the elite group of politicians who have been elected into the Little League Hall of Excellence. Which of the following politicians is not also an inductee?

Christie played catcher on his high school baseball team and his son Andrew followed in his footsteps. What college does Andrew play baseball for?

Christie and President Barack Obama played a football tossing game at an arcade during a tour of the rebuilt Jersey Shore earlier this year. Obama failed at the game, but Christie won on his first try. What prize did he win Obama?

As a U.S. attorney in Newark, Christie racked up 130 convictions. How many cases did he lose?

The answer to the last question, which appears substantive, is zero.  But without context, the question is at best misleading because Christie's time at the U.S. Attorney's office was marked by ethical improprieties. Additionally, a prosecutor's won-loss record, like that of a head coach, says more about the people serving under him than about himself.  You, too, probably would coach the NBA's Miami Heat (with LeBron James) to a winning record; and no one who ever lived could get the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars to a .500 record. Moreover, few if any media outlets have pointed out that a U.S. Attorney's office has considerable discretion over what cases to pursue and the plea bargains it offers in order to avoid "losing" a case.

We all know Governor Christie cares little about the rights or dignity of women in need of preventive health care, public employees promised a pension, public school students in urban areas, or workers earning minimum wage.  But a short quiz about the economy might be entertaining and couldn't help but be more meaningful than Politico's. For instance:

1) Property taxes in New Jersey are among the highest in the nation.  How has the property tax burden been affected since Chris Christie has been governor?

a) declined across-the-board
b) remained virtually the same
c) increased across-the-board
d) generally increased, but declined for the wealthy

2) Employment has increased across the nation in the four years Chris Christie has been governor.  How has employment fared in New Jersey compared to that in other states?

a) increased more than in any state
b) increased less than in some, but in more than most, states
c) increased approximately as much as in most states
d) increased than in all but 6-10 states

3) Mortgage delinquencies are dropping across the nation but still are higher than before the recession.   How is New Jersey ranked compared to other states in holding the line against mortgage delinquencies?

a) in the top quartile
b) in the second quartile
c) in the third quartile
d) in the bottom quartile

4) Personal income is on the upswing throughout the U.S.A.  Where does the increase in New Jersey place it among other states?

a) in the top quartile
b) in the second quartile
c) in the third quartile
d) in the bottom quartile

If you answered (d) to each, you deserve an "A," especially because the mainstream media has been hard at work convincing you Christoper J. Christie has been a successful governor.

The deterioration, including economic, of the State of New Jersey the past four years cannot be completely attributed to Governor Christie, though some of it- such as the increasing property tax burden- results from his obsession with keeping income taxes low for the state's wealthy residents.   Although liberals, conservatives, and moderates all have experienced the impact of leadership long on egomania and short on leadership, one aspect of the governor's economic record may delight the right-wing which dominates the GOP presidential primaries foremost in Christie's mind.  While tax revenue has increased in New Jersey, it has risen less than in 44 other states, a good way to suffocate government and programs which help the poor and middle class.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

The Republican Media- No.36

This is certainly good news- or so it would appear. A Politico headline today reads "Paul Ryan: Focus on 'Achievable Goals.'"

He sounds so reasonable.  Ryan, Politico's David Rogers reports, is "clearly signaling he is open to a good-faith bargain in which mandatory savings can be substituted for appropriations to restore more order for both sides."   What could be bad about "good faith" and "order," especially for "both sides?"

But a review of the statements made by the House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice-presidential nominee suggests something else.  In the telephone interview with Politico, the Wisconsin Repub argues that if the House-Senate negotiations on the budget "becomes just an excuse to raise taxes, it's not going to be successful. We already have spending cuts coming. We'll take those. If we can have smarter spending cuts, that's better."

Those "smarter" spending cuts, as Ryan sees it, largely exclude defense. He is, Rogers writes, "encouraged by his early talks with Senate Democrats and hopes the two parties can skip past 'grand bargains' and focus on 'achievable' goals such as substituting entitlement reforms for sequestration cuts this winter."

Sequestration requires reduction nearly equal in defense and non-defense spending.  Ryan, though, is particularly interested in slashing Social Security, a fully prepaid annuity that pays earned benefits. Undermine Social Security often enough, and Pompous Paul's dream of privatization becomes achievable.  He has his sights also on Medicare, the other program that cannot be named, and which has lower administrative costs and more effectively controls costs than private insurers, disconcerting to the Very Serious People.

And of course what is a Repub agenda without cutting the corporate tax rate? Of the Republican chairperson of the House Ways and means Committee and the Democratic chairperson of the Senate Finance Committee, Ryan remarked

The encouraging sign is Dave Camp and Max Baucus have had a productive working relationship and that should be encouraged. We should encourage them to produce a pro-growth tax reform, which grows the economy and that grows revenues through economic growth. We should encourage that process to continue.

Whatever their views on foreign policy, defense spending, abortion, or even food stamps, Republicans refuse to admit that lowering the corporate tax rate will not necessarily increase economic growth.  (If you know of any who does, let me know. An apology will be forthcoming. Meanwhile, my breath will not be held.) However, in a report prepared late last year by the Congressional Research Service for Congress, public finance specialist Thomas L. Hungerford concluded in part

The top statutory income tax rates have changed considerably since the end of World War II. Throughout the late-1940s and 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was typically above 90%; today it is 35%. Additionally, the top capital gains tax rate was 25% in the 1950s and 1960s, 35% in the 1970s; today it is 15%. Statutory tax rates affecting taxpayers at the top of the income distribution are currently at their lowest levels since the end of the second World War. Whether or not the top statutory tax rates should be raised at the end of 2012, as scheduled under current law, is currently an issue before Congress. 

The results of the analysis in this report suggest that changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth.

We know the mainstream media adores Paul Ryan.  Not being shrill, he seems like such a reasonable, nice young man- and he even works out! But Pompous Paul answers to his corporate benefactors and no one else.... which may be the reason he has been kind of fond of immigration reform and  this man likes him so much.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Followed By Silence

Sweet. Inaccurate (technically) but sweet.   In a daily Mass last week, Pope Francis stated

In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh? notes

Pope Francis did not specifically mention Christian right-wing ideology during the Mass, his past remarks suggest he was talking about that ideology most of all.

In September, Pope Francis attacked “savage capitalism” and took up the plight of the unemployed against a system that worships money. Earlier that month, the Pope also criticized conservative Catholics for focusing so much on abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. And in July, Pope Francis put the brakes on hating gay people, saying that we shouldn’t judge or marginalize them.

Clearly, Pope Francis isn’t fond of the extreme ideals of the Christian Right. He supports helping the poor. He believes in economic fairness. He denounces hatred of gay people. He thinks the war against abortion and birth control has gone too far. Considering all of these things, it’s pretty obvious that Pope Francis was mostly talking to right-wing Christians on Thursday. Their ideological fanaticism has damaged religion. They have abandoned the true teachings of Jesus to pursue an extremist agenda. 

Pope Francis, the blogger continues, has "just called them out for it. Cue right-wing rage in 3, 2, 1…"

But there has been no expression of right-wing rage.   The Bully Party will attack the most vulnerable- whether by rhetoric or policy- but will not touch His Holiness.  It might, after all, come under criticism for defending itself against a charge that it is suffering from a "serious illness."

In truth, it's not an illness; it's ideological extremism, selfish, cruel, and designed to appeal either to the fanatic popular base or to the donor base or both, whatever the impact upon real people.  But the Pope's music, if not all of his lyrics, is spot-on.  There has been scant criticism the past months of Pope Francis for his criticism of conservative sacred cows. Now that he has condemned the extremists as suffering from an illness, the right again is exposed as intimidated into remaining silent when confronted by the head of the largest religious denomination in the U.S.A.

We have seen this before. When Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelled "you lie" at President Obama during a message of the latter before a joint session of Congress in September, 2009.   As Democrats condemned Wilson, Rush Limbaugh and others hinted of dire consequences if Congress were to censure him. On September 16, the House voted a "resolution of disapproval" and there was little or no reaction from the right.  That is how bullies roll.

Though not all the lyrics were accurate, the music from Pope Francis was picture-perfect.  And it was a reminder that for the GOP, the message matters far less than its source.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Threat, Challenge, Or Something

In a speech to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans on Monday, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka issued a challenge for individuals who try, as it's called, to "reform entitlements." The Huffington Post reports

"No politician … I don’t care the political party … will get away with cutting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits. Don’t try it...

"This warning goes double for Democrats," he said. "We will never forget. We will never forgive. And we will never stop working to end your career."

As House and Senate negotiators work over the next couple of months to reconcile the budgets the two chambers  have proposed, we may find out whether the labor organization is bluffing.  If not, it may well be taking on major figures in the Democratic Party.

Based on pessimistic economic projections, the Congressional Budget office and the Social Security Trustees expect Social Security benefits to be reduced in 20-25 years to 78% of current levels.  But that didn't stop Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin from repeating on Fox News Sunday the lie fast becoming a classic: "because Social Security is going to run out of money in 20 years. I want to fix it now, before we reach that cliff."

Only slightly less dishonestly, he continued

Medicare may run out of money in 10 years, let's fix it now. And that means addressing the skyrocketing cost of health care. That's what ObamaCare is focused on, and yet, the Republicans want nothing to do with it.

If we don't focus on the health care and dealing with the entitlements, the baby boom generation is going to blow away our future. We don't want to see that happen. We want to make sure that Social Security and Medicare are solid.

Earned benefits, maligned as "entitlements" (which people interpret as  "things others believe they have a right to just because they're breathing") by conservatives, neo-liberals, and the media establishment, is the politically correct way of referring to Social Security, Medicare, and (sometimes) Medicaid.  Though Social Security is distinct and separate from the budget and Medicare is not "going to blow away our future," Dick Durbin is one of only many claiming he wants to cut Social Security benefits so Social Security benefits don't end.

One of the GOP's Senate's conferees, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, has

said he hopes both sides set "sensible and realistic" goals. He laid out three of his aims Tuesday:

Preserving the savings included in a 2011 deal and carried out in the automatic spending cuts known as the "sequester;" allowing new flexibility for those cuts, which have worried both Republicans (because of the impact on defense) and Democrats (because of the impact on domestic programs) (and) shifting some of the cuts to the Government's big "mandatory spending" programs, such as social security, medicare, and medicaid.

"That's something that we absolutely ought to be able to find some common ground on," he said, saying President Obama has proposed changes to those programs in the past.

And so he has, most recently claiming "The challenges we have right now are not short-term deficits; it’s the long-term obligations that we have around things like Medicare and Social Security.  We want to make sure those are there for future generations."

Curbing Medicare and Social Security benefits are critical to debt reduction, the President suggested, immediately after he noted "remember, the deficit is getting smaller, not bigger.  It’s going down faster than it has in the last 50 years." And so with the deficit heading downward, incomes flat, much of the elderly dependent on Medicare for their health and Social Security for their survival, earned benefits must be cut so that the deficit is reduced.  Makes sense in ObamaWorld, apparently.

The President and his allies, including Dick Durbin, really do want to cut entitlements in because of the deficit, though it is cruel to the poor and the elderly, and is an inefficient way to reduce the debt burden.  But Republicans, masters at exploding the deficit when a Repub holds the White House, seek to undermine Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in order to undermine the programs. With the GOP's goal, and the leader of the Free World and allies anxious to alter the debt curve in ways which won't offend Republicans, Richard Trumka has his work cut out for him.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's The Private Sector, Stupid

Rush Limbaugh speculates 

Now that the government is legally in charge of health care, what's so bad about it screwing up so bad, so much, that people demand it be simplified?  And what would simplify it?  Get rid of these insurance companies, for God's sakes, that's where all the confusion is. You have this company here and that policy there and this deductible over here. Just get rid of that, let the government do it.

Good idea, Rush!  That, though, is his nightmare scenario.  But he is sure the problem is government and in rambles

Everybody working there wants to impress the boss, but you add the liberal political aspect to this, the true believer, big government's the solution to everything aspect to this, and there's no reason why this shoulda happened except one thing. And that is these people are genuinely incompetent. They haven't the slightest idea what they're doing.  They don't know what to do.  And their arrogance and their condescending view of people outside of government makes it -- they're only gonna hire people who've worked in other governments. You know, they'll use private sector people as props, bring 'em in for photo-ops. Buffett in now and then whenever you need him, get a photo op having lunch with Steve Jobs, but that's as far as it goes...

Nobody in this regime's got any private sector experience because they hate the private sector.  They despise it.  They think it's the problem. Just like the United States is the problem in the world, the private sector is the problem in the US economy.  

If you listened to Limbaugh's entire program- and closely- you probably would realize that private contractors have been in charge of devising the federal government health care website.  But as the preceding indicates, the intent is that the listener hear the music, not the lyrics, and blame government and Barack Obama. And an evil conspiracy of liberals, who are all around:

We sit around and we think that all these media people, they're just on the same page as the Democrats, and they are.  They're all the Democrat Party. They're all hacks.  Just some of them act as journalists.  Others are in the cabinet.  Others in the regime.  Others in think tanks.  They're all Democrats and they're all oriented toward one thing, and that's the advancing of the leftist agenda. 

Evidently, that "leftist agenda" includes the 55 companies handling the coming out rollout of Those would be private companies, the backbone of the free enterprise system.

As expected, government-obsessed Limbaugh does not criticize any of these companies, even the main contractor, CGI Federal, which as of June had received $88 million of the $354 million which had been spent.  Nor does Limbaugh give any indication that, as Ezra Klein observes

The part of Obamacare that's troubled is the part Democrats lifted from Republican policymakers. It's the part that tries to integrate private insurance companies with government systems in order to create a universal insurance system that's subsidized by the state but run by private companies. The part that's working well is Medicaid -- which is to say, the part that's working well is the part that expands an existing, government-run, single-payer system.

Jonathan Schwarz, who explains how his life may have been saved by passage of the Affordable Care Act, summarizes it well:

So we don't have to just beat Ted Cruz so hard he flees back to Alberta. We have to get rid of the parts of Obamacare that may help the private insurance industry keep squeezing us like an anaconda. And we have to keep and improve the good parts, so the Affordable Care Act is just the first step to the only system that's ever worked anywhere on earth: universal, high-quality health insurance and health care for everyone.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Not Appreciative

Some people- and I'm not talking about Barack Obama- just won't be satisfied.  On Thursday, the President announced "Because Democrats and responsible Republicans came together, the first government shutdown in 17 years is now over."

The President downplayed the political advantage gained by his party in the crisis, warning "let's be clear: There are no winners here."  Both sides, he maintained, were to blame:   "And of course, we know that the American people's frustration with what goes on in this town has never been higher. That's not a surprise that the American people are completely fed up with Washington."  For emphasis, he later added "understand that how business is done in this town has to change."

For the President, it was not Republicans nor the GOP-controlled House to blame because "there's a lot of noise out there, and the pressure from the extremes..."   In that vein, he cautioned "all of us (to) stop focusing on the lobbyists and the bloggers and the talking heads on radio and the professional activists who profit from conflict."

Nor was it just rhetoric.  The President endorsed a prime objective of the GOP when there is a Democratic president, urging "a balanced approach to a responsible budget, a budget that grows our economy faster and shrinks our long-term deficits further."   And he backed the longtime Republican aim to imperil vulnerable elderly people, stressing "the long-term obligations that we have around things like Medicare and Social Security" to "make sure those are here for future generations."  Destroying the village in order to save it:  always a winning formula.

President Obama extended the olive branch (for the 327 time) to the Party which only a few days earlier was threatening to wreck the nation's economy.  The Democratic president, nonetheless, blamed "Washinggon (and) this town (and) extremists," whomever they might be.  And Republican members of Congress responded in typical fashion.

President Obama put in a plug for comprehensive immigration reform in his speech, and Representative Raul Labrador (R-ID) barked "I think it would be crazy for the House leadership to enter into negotiations with him.  He's trying to destroy the Republican Party, not to get good policies. I don't see how he would in good faith negotiate with us on immigration."

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, hailed by the mainstream media as a "moderate Republican" before he went into hiding on immigration reform and then on the government shutdown/debt crisis, was asked on Fox News Sunday about Laborador's claim and, given a chance to express caution, instead remarked

What Congressman Labrador is addressing is something that I hear from opponents of our efforts all the time and I think that's a valid point, and that is this: you have a government and a White House that consistently ignored the law and how to apply it. Look at the health care law. The law is on the books, they decide which parts of it to apply and which parts not to apply. They issue their own waivers without any congressional oversight.

The question, though, had been about immigration reform and when Chris Wallace pressed him on that, Rubio contended

Now, this notion that they're going to get in a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration is much more difficult to do for two reasons.  Number one, because of the way that president (sic) has behaved towards his opponents over the last few weeks, as well as the White House and the things that they've said and done. And number two, because of what I outlined to you.

So, I certainly think that immigration reform is a lot harder to achieve today and it was just three weeks ago because of what's happened here.

That is, in technical terms, poppycock. To be generous to Obama, perhaps Rubio is reluctant to negotiate with the President because the GOP appears to have had their posteriors realigned in the recent negotiations over shutting down government and raising the debt limit. But even there, Republicans merely lost a battle in a war they're winning (over budgetary priorities).   Instead, the Florida senator is probably playing a double game, shifting from an apparent supporter of immigration reform to an opponent, and back, as circumstances dictate.

The biggest danger, though, remains that the GOP someday will stop opposing everything Obama and realize that, as someone who wants to cut Medicare and Social Security and prioritize debt reduction over job creation, he only has their interests at heart.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

It's Only Just Begun

Michelle Bernard, as usual, was off-target, remarking Thursday on All In with Chris Hayes

We are supposed to be the greatest democracy in the world, and our democracy is in tatters. We are the laughingstock of the world when a small minority of right-wing zealots can virtually destroy the economic well-being of the country in just a little more than two or three weeks. And they never had a chance of winning.

"Small minority of right-wing zealots" is accurate.  But we've always been a republic, not a democracy and "the laughingstock of the world" is unnecessary hyperbole.  But, more significantly: "they never had a chance of winning?"

The previous evening, Rachel Maddow had gloated

So, to summarize through this process, the Republicans, oh, yes, I think we fit them all on here. The Republicans said that they would shutdown the government, or once they shut it down, they would refuse to open the government unless they got each of these things. Of all the things that they wanted, they got nothing. On the other hand, the Democrats had suggested before this whole process that they would please like to talk about the budget. And now, Republicans will go along with that after refusing for six months.

Maddow, unable to point to anything the Democratic Party got, even displayed this nifty, technically accurate, and yet misleading, graphic:

Even Ezra Klein believes the GOP was roundly defeated.  He notes resolution of the shutdown/debt level dispute clearly funds the federal government; knocked the rocky launch of the Affordable Care Act off the front page; and slashed the popularity of the Republican Party while dividing its members.  It did, he nevertheless acknowledges, maintain the spending levels of sequestration.

That is a major victory for the GOP- Grover Norquist contends "Sequester is the big win. It defines the decade."  And there was was one more advantage to the standoff, if only down the road. Standard & Poors estimates, according to TIME Magazine, "the shutdown, which ended with a deal late Wednesday night after 16 days, took $24 billion out of the U.S. economy, and reduced projected fourth-quarter GDP growth from 3 percent to 2.4 percent."

That is a benefit, not a bug, to the individuals desiring to, as Bernard put it, "destroy the economic well-being of the country."  Nor were those individuals limited to the 30-35 Representatives the media would portray as uniquely "tea party republicans."  Until Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, pressured by the business community, agreed to a deal with Majority Leader Harry Reid, most congressional Repubs had been recklessly toying with the nation's economy, afraid to buck the extreme wing of the extreme party.

The shutdown struck a severe blow at public confidence in government, possibly even at the state and local levels.  And despite their proclivity- when there is a GOP president- to increase spending and the size of government, Republicans are not known as the party of government, but the party suspicious and disdainful of it.  Undermining faith in the public sector undermines faith in the Democratic Party and its solutions.  In the shorter term, the President's party is usually blamed for any downturn in the economy.

So hold the champagne, please.  Harry Reid did a masterful job holding together his caucus and negotiating with Mitch McConnell, thereby pulling Barack Obama's fat out of the fire. But as of now, the bestheadline emerging from resolution of the crisis was this from The Boston Globe:

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Different, Yes; Better, Probably Not

Rush Limbaugh routinely misinforms his listeners, so we ought not be surprised that he did so with the day's leading issue, the government shutdown/debt showdown.

On Wednesday, hours before a deal was announced, Limbaugh claimed

If members of Congress are gonna get their delay and waiver, why shouldn't you?  You know, why shouldn't we instead make a move legislatively that delays the individual mandate for a year, as well as do the Vitter thing?  That's the only point they were making.  It's fine and dandy if you're gonna throw the Vitter thing in, but you don't have to throw it into this continuing resolution bill.  You can throw that up any time. You could throw it up every day or as often as legislatively permissible. 

 I think it's classic.  I think it's something that you could score a lot of points with: make the Democrats vote against them having to use Obamacare.  By the way, has Obama gone to an exchange yet?  Has Obama gone to the website and signed up?  Well, now, don't laugh. It's his damn bill.  Shouldn't he be the first one in line?  Shouldn't he be the first one showing how wonderful it is, showing how easy it is, showing how wonderful the system works?  He's not gonna go anywhere near it, folks.  A health care bill named after him that he proudly accepts, and he's not gonna be anywhere near it.  So why should we?  Members of Congress, they're gonna get their exemption...

Except they're not.   Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler explains

As a result of an amendment offered by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the Affordable Care Act includes a provision that would require members of Congress (and their personal staffs) to get their insurance on the Obamacare exchanges. The Heritage Foundation has released a very interesting paper that details the legislative history of this provision, and how efforts to adjust it (including by Grassley) slipped away before final passage.

Thus there was an unexpected wrinkle: the exchanges are intended for people who currently do not get employer-provided insurance, whereas lawmakers and their staffs previously had about 70 percent of their insurance premiums underwritten by the federal government through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. For lawmakers and their staffs, the loss of employer contributions would have amounted to an unintended pay cut of between $5,000 to $10,000.

In ordinary times, technical fixes to complex bills are routinely passed, as there are often drafting errors. The Heritage paper makes clear that this problem was never intended. But as a consequence of the Democrats’ decision to pass such sweeping legislation with no Republican votes, it is all but impossible for such legislation to win support in the House. Politically, lawmakers also did not want to solve their particular problem while leaving other technical fixes untouched.

Under pressure from Congress, the Office of Personnel Management proposed a rule in August, which was finalized in September, saying the federal government could still contribute to health-care premiums.

The final rule would keep the subsidy in place only for members of Congress and affected staff who enroll in a Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) plan available in the District of Columbia. Such plans most commonly will be aimed at employees of businesses with fewer than 50 workers, but perhaps the theory is that each lawmaker and his or her staff constitute a small business. In any case, lawmakers and their staffs are not eligible for the tax credits that other Americans using the exchanges might qualify for.

Members of Congress and their employees are treated differently- except not at all in the manner Limbaugh implies. Patrick Brennan of National Review Online (!) notes

The law thus treats Congress and its staff substantially differently than all other Americans. Many Americans who now get insurance coverage from their employer may end up having to go on the exchanges; but only congressional employees are actually forced onto them, with the option of an employer plan prohibited by law....

Senator David Vitter (R., La.) says that Congress should pass an amendment to do away with this supposed “exemption.” The law would actually layer another regulation onto Congress (and executive-branch appointees, too) that doesn’t apply to any other American, by preventing their employer from contributing to their health insurance.

OPM has decided to contribute to the employee's health care plan the same amount as it has been spending on his/her benefits, in a manner similar to the approach taken by Trader Joe's- which, at last glance, is a private sector employer.

Rush Limbaugh is peddling the distortion that members of Congress and their staff are receiving an exemption from the onerous requirements of Obamacare.  Rather, failure to subsidize the health care plan of members of Congress and their staff would block them from the benefit private sector employees (thankfully) enjoy under the Affordable Care Act. Their net pay would be substantially reduced, in an amount Brennan estimates as between $5,000 and $11,000 annually.

Brennan asks

Do we believe that Congress and its staffers should pay the highest marginal tax rates, regardless of income; that every congressman must have served in the military to vote to declare war; that congressional offices have to carry out any and all reporting requirements and regulations they impose on a particular industry; and so on?

The answer, for most Americans, is "no."  And it probably would be "no" even for most of Rush Limbaugh's listeners, were they not subjected to a pile of dung daily.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

This Way Or That

Who is the real John McCain?

Perhaps it's the fellow who, Kate Nocera of Politico reported, on March 7, 2013

quoted heavily from a Wall Street Journal editorial that slammed Paul’s filibuster on the Obama administration’s drone use, including a line that said “If Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously, he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in college dorms.”

A few months later, the subject (Ted Cruz) and the object (the Affordable Care Act) woul be vastly different, but the response from the Arizona senator similar.  Asked in September whether he would resort to a "talking filibuster" to defund health care reform, the Texas Repub stated "Yes. And anything else. Any procedural means necessary. Listen, this is the most important fight in the country."

McCain responded

I do note with some interest that most of the people who are doing this are new and do not have the experience that we had when the American people, who don’t like government but don’t want it to be shut down, reacted in a very negative fashion towards Congress for doing so...

I think Sen. Cruz is free to do whatever he wants to with the rules of the Senate. I will again state unequivocally that this is not something that we can succeed in, and that’s defunding Obamacare, because we don’t have 67 Republican votes in the Senate, which would be required to override a presidential veto.

Unchastened, on September 24 the Texas Repub maintained on the floor of the Senate

I guarantee you all of the pundits that we see going on TV and intoning in deep baritone voices, 'this cannot be done,' if we were back in the 18th century, they would be going on, I don't know, maybe pigeon carriers or something, sending messages written somehow in dark ink, 'This cannot be done. You can't stand up to the British army--can't be done. It's impossible. Accept your subjugation. Accept your taxation without representation...

If you go to the 1940s, Nazi Germany.  Look, we saw in Britain, Neville Chamberlain, who told the British people, 'Accept the Nazis. Yes, they'll dominate the continent of Europe but that's not our problem. Let's appease them. Why? Because it can't be done. We can't possibly stand against them.'  I suspect those same pundits who say [defunding Obamacare] can't be done, if it had been in the 1940s we would have been listening to them, They would have been saying, 'You cannot defeat the Germans.

John McCain then responded

I do not begrudge Sen. Cruz or any other senator who wants to come to talk as long as they want to.  But I do disagree strongly to allege that there are people today who are like those who prior to World War II didn’t stand up and oppose the atrocities that were taking place in Europe.

I have an open and honest disagreement with the process. Comparing it to those who appeased, who were the appeasers …is an inappropriate place for debate on the floor of the United States Senate.

It's no surprise that the demagogue from Alaska would show up as the most high-profile supporter of the Cruz crusade.  And it's no wonder that John McCain would jump on his colleague's reprehensible comments.  Before he did, however, he had approached Cruz, who told McCain that he was referring to pundits, not Senators.  McCain would later explain he found that "a distinction without a difference," thereby implying an attack on journalists and the like as appeasers would be acceptable.

John McCain always has had a sort of respect for his colleagues- not necessarily as individuals but as colleagues.  That might account for his most noble act during campaign 2008, when at a town hall event in October he (gently) rebuked a supporter who stated she believed Senator Obama is a Muslim. McCain famously replied "No, ma'am. He's a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that's what this campaign's all about. He's not [an Arab]."

Senators deserve respect and even some deference, the five-term senator believes. And that might explain why the critic of members such as Paul and Cruz- who have little regard for their institution- and of individuals who labeled then-Senator Obama as an Arab, a Muslim, or a Martian, Thursday told CNN

There’s going to be a fight in our party. There’s a fight in our party..   And that has to be waged. And it’s been there before. It’s also about internationalists versus isolationists. There’s debates that are going to go on in our party. And it’s probably healthy for us to have that debate. But at the end of the day we’ve got to come together.

Some place along the line we forgot Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment.  You know what it was? Don’t speak ill of your fellow Republicans. We’ve done way too much of that.

John McCain: sometimes a critic, sometimes a supporter, of Republicans, but always worshipful of Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6), and always entertaining.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

For A Government Shutdown Before She Was Against It- Or Not

You can't expect most Democratic members of Congress, and even fewer Republicans, to be forthright.  But one of two Repub members is at least almost there.

We might expect it easy for Senators to call out U.S. Representatives, given the animosity of one group to the other.  But it is uncommon, nevertheless. But on Wednesday on Today, GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska stated "This should not be about someone's speakership.  This should not be about the next election. This should be about, really, the future of our country. It ought not be about the politics of the game or whether or not someone keeps their leadership. I want to support John Boener in any way that I can, but we need to be pragmatic."

It remains to be seen whether whatever solution Murkowski favors is "about, really, the future of our country."  Still, it's refreshing to see any Republican, suggesting flexibility, say "I want to support John Boehner, but..."

Honesty in particular escapes one member of Boehner's caucus in the House, unfortunately. When MSNBC's Thomas Roberts on Tuesday interviewed (video, from Crooks and Liars, below) Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Politico implied the main issue was the nature of the host's question, "Congresswoman, let me ask you though, when it comes to Obamacare: Do you hate Obamacare more than you love your country?"

But more revealing, as they sparred, was Blackburn's response: "Listen to yourself. Just listen to the way you're sounding. My goodness. We didn't want a government shutdown. We don't want a government default.

My goodness, and aw, shucks.  As Politico, as faithful to its style, failed to note, Blackburn on October 1 revealed in the friendly confines of  GOP TV "You know, I think you may see a partial shutdown for several days. But (Fox and Friend co-host) Steve (Doocy), people are probably going to realize they can live with a lot less government than what they thought they needed..."

To be sure, Marsha Blackburn isn't the only Repub who has supported a shutdown of the federal government.  One of the others has been Minnesota's Michele Bachmann, who proclaimed it "just what we wanted." Still, it should be no point of pride to stand arm-in-arm with the woman who has labeled the Affordable Care Act the "crack cocaine of government dependency."   Nor is it of great distinction to support a government shutdown on Fox News and then on MSNBC to deny your support.

But Marsha Blackburn did avoid lying about something else: she never did answer whether she hates the ACA more than she loves the U.S.A.

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And Let's Stop Assuming She Makes Any Sense

Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams is displeased about Oprah Winfrey's response to legendary swimmer Diane Nyad about God/spirituality at "Super Soul Sunday."    More people should be highly skeptical, and not only for this.  Williams notes that last weekend

Winfrey took strong issue with Nyad’s assertion that she’s “not a God person, but a person deeply in awe.” It’s true that perhaps appearing in a venue with the word “soul” in it might seem an unusual choice for a self-described atheist, but Nyad explained. “I don’t understand why anyone would find a contradiction in that,” she said. “I can stand at the beach’s edge with the most devout Christian, Jew, Buddhist, go on down the line, and weep with the beauty of this universe and be moved by all of humanity — all the billions of people who have lived before us, who have loved and hurt and suffered. So to me, my definition of God is humanity and is the love of humanity.”

Oprah quickly stepped in with some semantic disagreement. “Well, I don’t call you an atheist then,” she said. “I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery, that that is what God is. That is what God is. It’s not a bearded guy in the sky.” But Nyad, who knows a thing or two about being undeterred, pressed on, explaining her skepticism of a “creator or overseer.” Later, Oprah, still trying to pin Nyad down, asked her if she felt she was “spiritual,” Nyad replied, “I do. I think you can be an atheist who doesn’t believe in an overarching Being who created all of this and sees over it. But there’s spirituality because we human beings, and we animals and maybe even we plants, but certainly the ocean and the moon and the stars, we all live with something that is cherished and we feel the treasure of it.”

Presumably, Nyad had to cop to being "spiritual" rather than suffering the ignominy sure to come to someone bold enough to deny it. Williams remarks

Even if Oprah seems to have pushed her into saying it, Nyad can call herself “spiritual” if she wants. It doesn’t have to mean the same thing it means to someone who practices a religion. It’s her word and her interpretation of it. And no atheist on the planet needs a believer to tell her that she is wrong, or that she secretly clings to the concept of God after all.

Winfrey evidently stopped short of telling Nyad the latter is wrong about God, though telling an atheist that God exists should be no more offensive than an individual herself professing to be an atheist.  Still, Winfrey's suggestion that the existence of "awe and wonder" is evidence of God's existence simultaneously demeans both non-believers and believers.  One can be overcome by the overarching talent and performance of Peyton Manning and LeBron James without being a deist.  And surely the evidence of God's existence goes well beyond the trite suggestion that beauty in the universe ends the argument.

But neither Nyad nor Williams ought to be surprised that Oprah Winfrey is among those, as Williams suggests, who are "unyielding and unquestioning and determined to make everybody see the world exactly as we do."  Winfrey is the celebrity who in 2008 did "a happy dance" for Barack Obama, breathlessly promoting his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, then was less active following his nomination. In 2012, the sole opponent of incumbent Obama was a Republican, and she fell silent.

In New Jersey, Ms. Winfrey endorsed neo-liberal Newark mayor Cory Booker for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. However, once he was nominated, she said nothing, as she has about the race progressive State Senator Barbara Buono has run against GOP governor Chris Christie.

To be fair, President Obama also endorsed Cory Booker while assiduously avoiding endorsing Barbara Buono.  To be accurate, that does not count in Winfrey's favor.

Oprah Winfrey's judgement is seriously flawed. But we stand in awe and wonder of the business acumen of someone who amassed a billion dollar-plus empire.  And of her "spirituality."

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Literally big, a former New York Giants offensive tackle is coming up big figuratively : So theres an active shooter and trump tells h...