Thursday, February 28, 2013

This & That!

-The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether the Voting Rights Act of 1965, considered by many one of the most important pieces of legislation in our history, remains constitutional.  Arguments centered around Rule 5 of the law, which requires certain districts, primarily in the south, that have historically demonstrated a penchant toward voter discrimination, to clear any changes in their voting laws with the federal government.  The five conservative justices on the bench expressed serious doubt that the VRA remains constitutional some 50 years after its enactment into law.  Chief Justice Roberts asked: “Is it the government’s submission that the citizens of the South are more racist than the citizens of the North?”  Justice Scalia, who has a history of being a bit of an ass, stated that the Voting rights Act was a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”  Those in the chamber said Scalia’s comment brought gasps from the audience; which is exactly what the justice was looking for.  The essence of the conservative member’s comments was that the law had run its course and was no longer needed in our more inclusive society.  Apparently these justices were living in an alternate universe during the November elections.  Several states, yes, mostly in the south, manipulated voter id laws, reduced early voting hours and engaged in any number of questionable practices to restrict voter turnout and make it difficult if not impossible for certain members of our society to vote.  Their blatant disregard for the law targeted voting districts that were populated by primarily black and Hispanic voters.  Racism and discrimination are alive and well in this country.  Scalia’s racist comment is proof enough that the law should stand.
-While the Supreme Court was hearing arguments as to the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act; across the street at the Capitol a ceremony was taking place honoring one of the key personalities responsible for that very law. The president along with congressional leaders unveiled a statue of Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat on a bus ignited a movement that changed the nation.  You can’t help but appreciate the irony of these two events occurring at the same time.
-Republicans are literally laughing out loud at the message coming from Democrats that the impending sequestration cuts do serious damage to our economy.  Republicans say the 2.5% cuts on a $3.6 trillion dollar budget will have little economic consequence.  They say the Democrats Chicken Little “Sky is Falling” rhetoric is ridiculous.  We’ll see if they are still laughing when their constituents start losing jobs.  Remember, these are the same guys who rejected State department requests for $300 million for beefing up embassy security.  They said we didn’t have the money, and they were unwilling to add to the debt by borrowing the funds.  But when the Benghazi Consulate was attacked and four Americans died they were incredulous; pointing fingers of blame at everyone but themselves.  When you cut the size of government there ARE consequences.
-President Obama, Harry Reid, Speaker Boehner and other congressional leaders will meet tomorrow to discuss the sequester.  TOMORROW…the day the cuts go into effect.  To what end?  And why are they meeting tomorrow?  To what end?  Why couldn’t this meeting have taken place months ago?  This meeting is little more than a photo-op for political purposes.  Given the timing…it is an insult to our intelligence.                    

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bi-partisan Incompetence

It is hard to view what is going on in Washington these days without becoming overwhelmed by the historic level of incompetence.
The Senate finally confirmed Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense.  What amounted to a historic seven week filibuster ended with a 58-41 vote largely along party lines.  Republicans grudgingly approved cloture allowing the confirmation vote to occur but not before 18 of members of their party voted to continue debate.  To what end?  To smear the president’s nominee and to hopefully dig up some scandalous dirt on what the president was doing when terrorists attacked the US consulate in Benghazi.  What does Hagel’s confirmation have to do with Benghazi?  Nothing!  Does this all sound convoluted?  Absolutely!  Never before in American history had a minority party used the filibuster to block a presidential cabinet nominee.  But, as John McCain readily admitted, Republicans held up Hagels’ confirmation as pay back for some of his attacks against George W. Bush and the Iraq war some eight years ago.  In summary…John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruze led a seven week filibuster to block a presidential cabinet appointment…on a grudge.
We wrote yesterday of how CPAC had decided to NOT invite New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to speak at their annual convention.  The rebuke stemming from Christie’s praise of the president’s handling of the devastation brought on by Hurricane Sandy and his criticism of John Boehner and the Republican caucus for holding up the federal aid to his state for political reasons.  CPAC issued a statement confirming that these were the reasons for the snub and advised that if the governor were to get more in line with CPAC’s true conservative agenda he might receive the honor of being invited back next year.  Christie is a Republican governor in a blue state with a 74% approval rating.  The Republican Party has an approval rating in the 20’s.  So to be clear…the party with an approval rating in the 20’s is snubbing a member of their own party who has an approval rating in the 70’s!  Brilliant!
The NRA continues to do everything in its power to derail ANY attempts to impose stricter gun control laws.  Republicans, fearing a primary challenge from the far right, continue to bow in deference to the NRA and parrot the NRA talking points.  National polls show that voters favor stricter gun control laws by a wide margin.  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control PAC pours $2.5 million into a Illinois Democratic primary race to fill the seat of Jesse Jackson Jr.  Bloomberg’s candidate, Robin Kelly, defeats NRA candidate Debbie Halvorson by 30 points.  Bloomberg vows to continue to use his vast fortune to defeat pro-gun candidates.  Republicans ignore the handwriting on the wall and continue to parrot NRA talking points.
The much ballyhooed sequestration cuts go into effect this Friday.  This bi-partisan, self imposed reckless piece of legislation, proposed by the White House, will have a devastating effect on millions of Americans not o mention our national security.  The pentagon has announced the furlough of 750,000 employees.   Those are real jobs.  The Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said that he is unable to task a carrier group into the Persian Gulf due to lack of funds.  The US typically maintains two carrier groups in the area because about one fifth of the world’s oil supply flows through the gulf.  It is hard to imagine the richest country in the world being unable to conduct security operations due to partisan malfeasance.  The congress and the White House have had two years to craft a compromise that would avert these drastic cuts.  As the deadline loomed congress went on a 10 day recess and the president went on a campaign type tour.  The parties are not talking to each other…nothing is getting done.  Three days and counting!
Over the course of the next few months congress and the White House will have to deal with a number of deadlines that will impact the economy.  First we have the much discussed sequestration cuts.  Then there is the debate over raising the debt ceiling followed by the continuing resolution to keep the government funded and running.  Each of these deadlines will generate rancorous partisan debates about the manner in which we spend our tax dollars.  In each of these upcoming debates the president will hold a winning card that will swing the dialogue in his favor…entitlement reform.  Entitlement reform is a topic that the president knows must be addressed at some point in time.  Given our aging population, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cannot continue on in their current path.  This is not a matter of politics; it is a matter of math.  The current course is simply unsustainable.  The president can demonstrate the leadership that we are all looking for by coming out with a specific proposal to reform these necessary social programs.  He has hinted that he would consider some form of entitlement reform but he won’t get specific.  He says that he is waiting on Republicans to show their hand.  This strategy is ineffective and simply bad for the country.  It is not the type of leadership that the people are looking for.  The president is in his second term; unburdened by the prospect of another election.  He knows that entitlement reform is inevitable.  So why not show leadership and offer a plan that reforms these programs on his terms.  If the president plays that card he will be able to get his way on sequestration, debt ceiling, continuing resolution, tax reform or any other financial reform agenda he wishes to propose.  The president holds the winning card in his hands.  Thus far he has been inexplicably unwilling to play it.                          

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Not On The "A" List

On March 14th members of the Republican Party will come together at the Conservative Political Action Conference.  According to its website, CPAC is an annual event designed “to rally conservatives, share strategies and promulgate and crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America.”
The list of those invited to speak mirrors the “A” list of the party leadership: Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Ted Cruze, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin among others.  Former governor and Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, has accepted an invitation and will make his first formal address since conceding the presidential election to Barak Obama.  If you are anyone of consequence in the Republican Party…you’re there.
Accept New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. 
CPAC has decided that Christie is not worthy of an invitation to the grand ball.  His fatal flaw... speaking the truth.
Christie’s first mistake was in accepting the president’s assistance in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  Christie toured the devastation with the president, shook his hand in solidarity and then had the nerve to praise the president’s efforts to bring federal assistance to those in need.  He committed these grievous acts during the last week of the hotly contested presidential campaign.  Some Republicans (those living in an alternate universe) went so far as to blame Christie's actions as the single root cause of Mitt Romney's soul crushing defeat.
As if this weren’t bad enough, Christie had the nerve to criticize the NRA for running a pro-gun ad using the president’s daughters to make a political point.
Finally, to add insult to injury, he had the audacity to call out Speaker Boehner and the Republican caucus for delaying the Hurricane Sandy relief aid for six weeks for political purposes.
Chris Christie is an outspoken Republican governor in a blue state.  He has cut government spending and lowered taxes.  He has secured the state’s once financially unstable pension fund.  He has taken on the public employee unions and won.  He has forged a historic compromise agreement with the powerful teaches union and put in place a program that rewards teachers and students alike.  He is bombastic, rude and suffers no fools. And he has a 74% approval rating among both Republicans and Democrats.
He is the only Republican among the “A” list mentioned above that actually practices the conservative principles that he preaches.
And if the 2016 presidential election were held today, he is the only Republican that would have a realistic snowball’s chance in hell of defeating Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden.
So why is Christie being snubbed by CPAC?  He is snubbed because he dares to seek compromise to get things done. 
Today’s Republican Party is about hate, fear and retribution.  If you are a Republican who dares to consider compromising with your more liberal opponents you are labeled a RINO (Republican in Name Only) and subject to facing a primary challenge from the right.  If you want to get along in the Republican Party you have to toe the right wing radical line…even if it means being defeated at the polls.  You don’t think of compromise when you hear the names Palin, Santorum, Cruze, Paul and Ryan.
If Republicans want to focus on ideological rhetoric, hatred and fear mongering; if they want to continue to down their current path to irrelevance; then they should heed the words of their “A” list presenters.
But if they want to actually win elections and get things done, they might want to listen to the guy who has.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Who Do You Trust?

There are five days remaining before the controversial sequestration cuts take effect.  If you believe Democrats these cuts mark the beginning of a financial Armageddon.  If you believe Republicans these cuts are much ado about nothing.
Democrats say that the cuts will have a massive affect on our economy and our national security.  Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says that 750,000 defense department employees have been notified that they will be furloughed.  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says that tens of thousands of teachers have already been handed their pink slips.  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says that $1 billion in cuts his department in expected to implement will force the closing of 100 smaller air traffic control towers and layoffs of air traffic controllers.  Travelers can expect massive delays.  Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said that her agency will be forced to furlough 50,000 security screeners, creating long lines at security checkpoints.   Teachers, firefighters, research, financial aid; the list goes on and on.  Democrats say that they will consider additional spending cuts but only if they are balanced with increased revenues by way of closing tax loopholes on the rich.
Republicans say that Democrats are just engaging in scare tactics.  They call it fear mongering at its best.  Republicans say that the cuts are insignificant, representing a measly 3 cents/$1.00 cut on a bloated federal government that has doubled in size over the past decade.  Senator Tom Coburn said: “The very idea that we can’t cut 3 cents/dollar out of a federal government that has doubled in size over the past decade is ridiculous.”Many Republicans say the $1.2 trillion in cuts aren’t big enough.  Senator Rand Paul believes that we need at least $4 trillion in spending cuts to avoid another downgrade in our credit rating.  Republicans say that any discussion of revenue increases is a non-starter.  They say the president got his revenue increase when congress agreed to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for the richest Americans. 
So who do you believe?
Politicians and pundits in our local area are divided as to the effect that these cuts will have on our local economy.  But local economists and industry leaders have a pretty clear idea of the effect these cuts will have on our little tri-state area. 
-30,000 lost private sector jobs
-1000 lost teaching jobs including those who specialize in teaching children with disabilities.
-48,000 defense department employees furloughed
-4,600 students lose Head Start early education services
-$92.8 million in primary and secondary education funding
-$625,000 for vaccination leaving roughly 8,000 children without vaccines

Cutting three cents out of every federal dollar may not sound like much when you live in the Washington bubble.  But here in the real world those cuts can have a devastating effect.

The ridiculous part is that this meat axe approach to governing was suppose to be stop gap so horrific that it would force the two partisan sides to come together.  Now that the “sequester” appears to be a reality many in Washington see it as a great first step to shrinking the size of government.

There are better and more effective ways to do this.  There is a reasonable compromise that reduces long term debt while using short term investments to boost economic growth.  A compromise that avoids harsh layoffs emboldens consumer confidence and encourages economic growth.  But it is a compromise that requires strong leadership and a willingness to make the hard choices; neither of which exist in Washington.

Our guess is that the March 1st deadline will pass without a deal being reached.  Needless cuts will go into effect that will ruin lives.  The stock market will react negatively and retirement funds that are counted on for survival will take a beating.  Jobs will be lost and consumer confidence, already jittery at best, will erode.  A double dip recession will be a very real possibility.
But in Washington it will just be a measly 3 cents on the dollar.    


Friday, February 22, 2013

Obama Keeping His Promise

The sequestration spending cuts go into effect one week from today.  From all appearances it seems likely that the self imposed March 1st deadline will pass without a bi-partisan debt reduction agreement.   
Republicans blame the president for the gridlock.  They argue that the president is being unreasonable in demanding the closing of tax loopholes that favor the rich be a part of any plan to reduce the debt.  They say that they already gave the president his due by agreeing to a $600 billion dollar tax increase for the top one percent wage earners.  They say that having addressed the presidents need for increased revenue it is time for the president to give on spending cuts.  Republicans say that rather than negotiate with them in good faith on the details the president has chosen to barnstorm the country on a never ending partisan political campaign.
Here’s the truth.
The president put spending cuts on the table when he and Boehner reached an agreement on what has been referred to “Grand Bargain.”  But Boehner could not get his caucus to agree so the deal died.  The president has said that those cuts are still on the table.  He has said that he will agree to cuts in entitlements and social programs; cuts that will not be looked upon favorably by his base.  Just yesterday he reiterated this very fact to a group of liberal activists.  Needless to say they were not particularly pleased.
But the president has said that he will not agree to these additional cuts unless they are balanced with the closing of tax loopholes that favor the rich.  He said that fixing our nation’s fiscal problems would not be done on the backs of the middle class and the poor. The voters agreed, and returned him to Washington for a second term.
The president is not waging a never ending political campaign.  What he is doing is following up on the promises he made in the last campaign; a campaign that he won.
The president ran on the proposition that he would raise taxes on the top one percent and close tax loopholes that enabled large corporations and the very rich to benefit in ways not available to the middle class.  He said that while we needed to increase revenues we also needed to cut expenses.  While forcing Republicans to agree to the $600 billion tax increase on the rich he implemented over $2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade; the bulk of which come out of health care and defense spending.  Now he is pushing for additional revenues by closing loopholes and offering in return additional spending cuts in the way entitlement benefits are calculated; a substantive change favored by Republicans.
The president is offering a balanced approach to debt and deficit reduction.  It is an approach that according every reputable national poll is widely favored by the people.  It is the approach that won the president a substantive victory last November.
Republicans have yet to come to grips with the fact that we just had a national election and the president won…BIG!  They are living in the Washington bubble; tone deaf to the will of the electorate. They continue to wheel out the same old partisan rhetoric that they have been preaching for years.  The people have listened to their austerity approach and they have rejected it.  They want a balanced approach where everybody has skin in the game.  And they are unwilling to give on social programs until they are satisfied that the very rich have are paying their fair share.
Elections matter.  The president is making that point very clear.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

When Ideology Meets Reality

In politics it is often better to say nothing; because when you open your mouth you always run the risk of inserting your foot into the vacuum.
Just ask Joe Biden.  The master of the malapropos did it again yesterday when he basically encouraged citizens to buy a shot gun and, if threatened, fire it blindly into the night.  We love Joe!  And we know what Joe was trying to convey.  But sometimes the whole foot in mouth thing gets in Joe’s way.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Speaker Boehner.
We all know that if the Republican Party stands for anything it is small government and less spending.  They have been playing that tune for as long as anyone can remember.  It is their belief that the only way to reduce the debt and deficit is to cut government spending and encourage growth by reducing taxes.   Any thought of increasing revenue is a non-starter.  They are so entrenched in this ideology that in 2012 when the ten Republicans vying for the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency were asked if they would agree to one dollar in increase taxes for every ten dollars in spending cuts; they all said “No.”    
Now comes a series of across the board spending cuts know as the “sequester.”  The “sequester” is a series of harsh cuts that were thought to be so drastic as to force congress to reach a debt/deficit reduction deal rather than allow these cuts to occur.  Congress, by means of a bi-partisan vote, passed the bill which was signed into law by the president.
On March 1st the “sequester spending cuts” totaling $1.1 trillion dollars over the next decade will go into effect.  $85 billion will occur this year.  Along with taking a bite out of the government’ check book they will reduce the size and scope of the federal government.
You would think that this would be seen as a great victory for Republicans…right?  Big spending cuts…less money being doled out for the takers…smaller government…what could be better?
But it is easy to talk about austerity in general terms.  It is a whole different ballgame when the realities of slashing the size and scope of government rear their ugly head. 
The defense department has said that these cuts would be disastrous to the military and would jeopardize our national security.  Yesterday the DOD announced that they had informed 750,000 defense department employees that they would be furloughed without pay if the sequester cuts are allowed to go into effect.
Suddenly Republicans aren’t so adamant about their desire to cut the size and scope of government.  It’s ok to cut social programs like unemployment, food stamps, Planned Parenthood and heating oil subsidies…things the “takers, slackers and the 47%” depend upon; but when you start messing around with those multi-billion dollar defense appropriations Republicans start singing a different tune.
That brings us to speaker Boehner and his foot/mouth problem.
Yesterday, the speaker penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.  He railed against the sequester cuts saying that while we need to bring spending under control the “sequester” was not the way to go about it.  He placed blame for the “sequester” at the feet of the president; ignoring the fact that all of the Republican leadership…including the Speaker himself…voted for the sequester cuts.  Here we have the Speaker of the House arguing AGAINST spending cuts that he approved because, according to him, they were the president’s idea. 
You know you party is in trouble when your party leader is arguing against your own ideology…because your party’s opponent supported your ideology.  Does that make any sense? 
Boehner’s op-ed unleashed a hair-on-fire reaction from his radical base.  They love these spending cuts and are perfectly happy to see them go into effect.  They are stunned by Boehner’s piece.  Even Rush Limbaugh was at a loss for words saying that he had “no explanation” for Boehner’s betrayal.
What we have here is a perfect case of what happens when strict ideology meets reality.  Reducing government spending and cutting taxes may sound like a swell idea.  But when you reduce government’s spending you necessitate the elimination of hundreds of thousands of government jobs.  Government workers spend their paychecks and that money that helps the economy. 
They also vote. 
Moderates like Boehner get that, and they are scrambling to push the blame onto the president.  But they are countered by far right members of their own caucus who want to see the sequester cuts enacted… and more.  If the sequester goes into effect it is the Republicans and their limited government ideology that will take the blame.
Somewhere Nancy Pelosi is smiling.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Shoot The Messenger!

Ever since the November elections, we have heard Republicans give a lot of lip service to “re-branding” their party.  If they are truly serious about becoming more “inclusive” they might want to take a hard look at the primary conveyors of their message…Rush Limbaugh and FOXNEWS.
Since Rush Limbaugh began spewing his racist, homophobic, misogynistic, anti- immigrant rhetoric on behalf of the radical right wing of the Republican Party, Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections.
Since FOXNEWS began airing its factually challenged unfair and unbalanced support of the conservative movement, Republicans have lost the popular vote in four of the last five presidential elections.
Limbaugh and FOXNEWS target white men; an ever decreasing demographic that is becoming increasingly irrelevant on the political stage.  Their common message stems from a deep ideological disagreement with the president’s policies that borders on fanaticism.  It is stoked by fear and a genuine hatred of this president as a man. Their misguided attacks on a president who is extremely well like personally and whose policies maintain high approval ratings; borders on insanity.   While their message may be focused on an ever dwindling demographic, their incendiary hate speech has brought widespread condemnation from all races, creeds and sexual orientations. 
Limbaugh and FOX are doing a grave disservice to a once proud Republican Party.  Their hate speech and willingness to play loose with the truth has degraded not only their own credibility as media outlets, but that of the party they claim to support.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Welcome To The 21st Century

Congratulations to the state of Mississippi! 
One hundred and forty eight years after Lincoln abolished slavery from our union, the state of Mississippi has finally, officially ratified the Thirteenth Amendment.
Until February 7, 2013 the state of Mississippi had never submitted the required documentation to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, meaning that it never officially abolished slavery.
The Thirteenth Amendment was adopted in 1865 after three fourths of the then 36 states voted in favor of ratification.  Mississippi lawmakers refused to sign; upset that they were not being compensated for the value of the freed slaves.
Mississippi did not ratify the amendment until 1995.  But because the state never officially notified the US Archivist, the ratification was not official.
The error was discovered by Dr. Rajan Batra, a professor at the University of Mississippi.  Dr. Batra was inspired by the film, Lincoln, to look into the part Mississippi played in the abolition of slavery in our country.  Dr. Batra discovered the error and notified the Mississippi Secretary of State who quickly filed the required documentation with the National Archives.
Congratulations to the state of Mississippi.  Welcome to the 21st century.    


KUDOS to freshman Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Fresh off her highly publicized win over incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown; Warren is making a name for herself in Washington the right way.  You may recall that Warren was the chief architect of the president’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  An outspoken critic of Wall Street banking practices, Warren’s nomination to head the protection bureau was blocked by Republicans. So Warren returned to Massachusetts where she vowed to continue the fight for banking fairness.  Her victory over the popular Scott Brown returned her to Washington and garnered her a seat on the Senate Banking committee.  Since returning to the capital Warren has maintained a low profile; declining interviews and shunning reporters who stalk the halls of congress looking for an unguarded quote.  Last week Warren got the opportunity to question federal regulators on their oversight of the banking practices that led to the collapse of the economy.  Warren asked each regulator the key question on the minds of millions of Americans: “When was the last time that you took a member of Wall Street to trail?”  When dumbfounded regulators were unable to come up with an answer she said:  “…There are district attorneys and US attorneys who are out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds.  And taking them to trail in order to make an example, as they put it.  I’m really concerned that too big to fail has become too big for trial.  That just seems wrong to me.”  Warren seems to have wisely learned from former New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Clinton, in spite of her notoriety, understood that the way to get things done as a freshman senator was to give deference to seniority, keep your mouth shut publically while doing the grunt work behind the scenes.  Clinton paid her dues and became a well respected and productive member of the world’s most elite club.  When she finally found her voice people listened.  Elizabeth Warren gets it.
RASBERRIES to freshman Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruze.  In his first two months in office Cruze has demonstrated a bi-partisan ability to piss of both his Democratic opponents his Republican caucus.  In short order he impugned the integrity and patriotism of the president’s nominee for Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel; was one of only three senators to vote against John Kerry for Secretary of State; spoke in opposition to the bi-partisan immigration reform blueprint sponsored by Republican darling, Marco Rubio; got into  a pissing contest with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel over the mayor’s effort to have the city’s pension funds divest their investments in gun manufactures; and blasted the president’s gun reform proposals on the Sunday talk shows.  The very first bill Cruze introduced was to “repeal every last word of Obamacare.”Republicans say he pontificates too much and listens too little.  He even managed to tick off his states’ senior senator, Republican John Cornyn by refusing to back Cornyn for party whip.  In a recent op-ed The New York Times referred to Cruze as the “GOPs Nasty Newcomer.”  Perhaps Cruze has his sights set on a presidential run in 2016.  His minority heritage and Harvard education might remind some of a certain junior senator from Illinois who spent but a minute in the chamber before making a successful presidential run.  Maybe that’s the long term goal.  But in the meantime Cruze shouldn’t expect any co-operation from his colleagues when he wants to get something done for his constituents back home in Texas.  The senate has a long memory when it comes to those who attack their colleagues and dare to ignore long standing senate traditions.  Paybacks are hell.  Just ask chuck Hagel.
Elizabeth Warren read the memo…Ted Cruze did not.  We’ll see which one makes the bigger impact.               

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Send In The Clowns

In the latest example of dysfunctional partisan politics Senate Republicans managed to prove once again that they will go to any lengths to obstruct the will of this president.
The Senate failed to gather enough votes to today to stop a filibuster against the president’s Defense Secretary Nominee, Chuck Hagel.  Democrats were unable to get the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster. 58 senators voted to move forward with the nomination while 40 members voted to continue to hold up the process.  The vote was generally along party lines, with only four Republicans voting with the Democrats.  Hagel’s nomination will now sit in limbo while the senate takes a ten day recess.
Afterward, Republicans admitted their obstructionist tactics had nothing to do with Chuck Hagel’s qualifications to serve as Secretary of State.  Republicans are ticked off at Hagel because in his days as a Republican senator he openly criticized the president and his Republican colleagues for taking the country into a war with Iraq. “To be honest with you,” said Senator John McCain, “it goes back to (that) there’s a lot of ill will toward Senator Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly and said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover and said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which was nonsense…He was anti his own party and people.  People don’t forget that.”
In addition to payback, some Republicans see withholding Hagels nomination as way to exert leverage against the White House; to obtain answers to previously unanswered questions.  Some want to know exactly what the president was doing at the time the Benghazi attack occurred; no doubt hoping that he was playing a round of golf.  Some want to know specifically who it was that changed the talking points used by UN Secretary Rice on the Sunday shows.  You may recall that Rice was provided talking points that attributed the attack on the Benghazi consulate to a simultaneous event.  Subsequent investigations have determined that the CIA and FBI knew before Rice went on the Sunday circuit that the attack was an organized terrorist attack; yet they allowed Rice to present inaccurate information.  Republicans want to know who provided Rice with the false information…and was the White House in on it.         
Once Republicans had succeeded in delaying a vote on Hagel’s confirmation they added more fuel to their dysfunctional fire.  Immediately after voting “No” on the senate floor McCain said that he would vote “Yes” after the recess. “That is sufficient time to get any additional questions answered and I will vote in favor of cloture on the day we get back and I believe that my colleagues, enough of my colleagues will do the same. 
Senator Lindsey Graham, who also voted “No”, agreed, telling reporters that he would vote for cloture after the recess unless some huge “bombshell” comes out over the next week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dutifully expressed his outrage at the Republicans shenanigans with this disjointed statement:  “This isn’t a high school getting ready for a football game or some play that’s being produced at the high school…we’re trying to confirm somebody to run the defenses of our country, the military of our country.”
Reid has no business complaining about the Republicans using the filibuster every time there is a tough vote.  All through last years’ elections he promised that if majority control of the senate were returned to the Democrats he would use his powers to eliminate the filibuster the first day congress stood in session.  Instead Reid caved and cut a weak handshake deal with Mitch McConnell to use the filibuster on only rare occasions…an agreement which McConnell broke almost immediately.  Reid has no one to blame for this situation but himself.
As a result of all this nonsense we will not have our Secretary of Defense present at an important NATO meeting set for next week.  More importantly, at a time of war we will have sent a message to our allies and our enemies that we are not united as a nation in terms of our military strategy.  All because of a seven year old grudge.
And so the clown show continues…   

Same Old Song!

In the aftermath of their beat down in the November elections we heard a lot of Republicans speak out about the need to “re-brand” the party.  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal called on Republicans to “stop being the stupid party” and put an end to their inflammatory rhetoric.  Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that Republicans had to come to grips with the changing demographics and be more inclusive if they wanted to have any relevance on the national stage.  Former Republican Congressman and current host of MSNBC’s popular Morning Joe warned that if Republicans continue to allow the NRA leadership and Grover Nordquist to set their national agenda “they will be reduced to a regional, southern party with little influence in national politics.”
Apparently not everyone got the memo.
Republicans chose their new shining star Senator Marco Rubio to give the Republican response to the president’s State of the Union address.  In his remarks he talked about how he could not have gone to college without the help of government loans.  He talked about how is parents were currently being supported by Medicare and Medicaid.  And then he spent the rest of his remarks criticizing big government and the president’s plans to grow it even more.  Rubio is not the first conservative to rail against the evils of government while simultaneously slurping from the government trough.  His hypocritical rhetoric is indicative of a consistent thread that runs through the heart of the conservative movement…do as I say not as I do.
John McCain, mini-me Lindsey Graham, Kelly Myotte and a host of other Republican war hawks beat their chest for fiscal responsibility.  They demand deep cuts in government spending that would ravage social programs depended upon by millions of Americans.  But they refuse to cut military spending; often procuring billion dollar weapon systems that the DOD says it does not want nor need.  Their excuse for this fiscal hypocrisy…that America cannot afford a weakened military at this time of global unrest.  While making this patriotic proclamation they stonewall the appointment of Chuck Hagel, the president’s nominee for Secretary of Defense.  They say that they will not appoint Hagel until the White House answers all of their questions on the attack on the consulate in Benghazi.  Hagel’s appointment has nothing to do with Benghazi.  It is merely being used as leverage for political gain.  Even if he is appointed he will be in a weakened position.   All of which emboldens our enemies and sends a message that America is in disarray militarily.
But the unquestioned leader in the march to marginalize the Republican Party is NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre.  LaPierre is the puppet master of the Republican Party.  Even Grover Nordquist bows in deference to LaPierre’s power.  But LaPierre’s efforts in the recent gun control debate show clear signs of a man who has lost sight of reality.
In a recent op-ed in the conservative “Daily Caller” titled “Stand and Fight” LaPierre explains his opposition to any sort of gun control legislation:
“It has always been sensible for good citizens to own and carry firearms for lawful protection against violent criminals who prey on decent people.  During the second Obama term, however, threats are growing.  Latin American drug gangs have invaded every city of significant size in the United States…After Hurricane Sandy; we saw the hellish utopia that gun prohibitionists see as their utopia.  Looters ran wild in South Brooklyn.  There was no food, water or electricity.  And if you wanted to walk several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark, or you might not come home at all…Meanwhile, President Obama is leading this country to financial ruin, borrowing over a trillion dollars a year for phony “stimulus” spending and other payoffs for his political cronies.  Nobody knows if or when the fiscal collapse will come, but if the country is broke, there likely won’t be enough money for police protection…Hurricanes.  Tornadoes,  Riots.  Terrorists.  Gangs.  Lone criminals.  These are perils we are sure to face-not just maybe.  It’s not paranoia to buy a gun.  It’s survival.”
 LaPierre’s inflammatory rhetoric is not a defense of the second amendment.  It is sales promotion for gun manufacturers who line LaPierre’s pockets.
This is a case of racist fear mongering at its worst.  If Republicans really wanted to “re-brand” their party, you would hear Republican leadership speaking out against LaPierre’s vitriolic language.  We’re still waiting.
Republicans like to talk about a kinder more inclusive type of conservatism. But given their post election actions...their words have little meaning.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

So Much For Compromise

So much for compromise!
An energetic Barak Obama, buoyed by high approval ratings and free from the prospect of another election, bounded to the podium last night and laid out a very ambitious agenda for his second term.  The president, clearly riding the winds of his re-election victory, challenged congress to act on a long laundry list of initiatives that are certain to send small government conservatives reeling.
The president spoke about immigration reform, entitlement reform, tax reform, deficit reduction, climate change, clean energy, voting rights, equal pay for equal work and gay rights; all within the framework of how government can play a large part in bringing about these reforms.  
The president also wagged his finger at North Korea over their recent nuclear test and repeated his long standing admonition about Iran’s nuclear program.  But this was a night for domestic policy.
While the president spent most of his time repeating the same things that he has been saying for the past four years there, were some new proposals as well.
The president called for an increase in the minimum wage to $9.00 saying: “In the richest country in the world, people who work hard 40 hours a week should not live in poverty.”  And he called for universal pre-school all four year olds saying that studies show that the sooner that kids begin to learn the more likely they are to graduate high school, get a higher education and become successful.
But the high point of the night was when the president touched on gun control.  He spoke about the parents of Hadiya Pendleton who were sitting in the gallery next to Mrs. Obama.  Their daughter had been accidentally shot by gang members when the person she was with was mistaken for a rival.  The incident occurred mere blocks from the president’s Chicago home.  Hadiya had performed in the president’s inauguration only a few short weeks before. 
The president challenged congress to bring his gun control proposals to the floor for an up or down vote.  Referring to the Pendletons he said:  “They deserve a vote.  Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.  The families of Newtown deserve a vote.  The families of Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg…they deserve a vote.”  Legislators erupted in applause and cheers as the president’s words filled the chamber.
The president is well aware of his high approval ratings and of the dismal approval ratings of his opponents in congress.  It was clear to us that he intended to use that information to his advantage.  We didn’t hear “compromise” in the president’s tone.  We heard “confrontation.”
Watching the president speak, we couldn’t help but feel like he was burning his bridges with the current congress.  It was as if he was lecturing them on how they should do their job because he knows full well that this group has no intention of passing his progressive agenda.  We felt like he was talking directly to the American people, saying:  ‘This is what we need to do.  And if you return control of the House to Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats we will get these things done.” 
This is the progressive Barak Obama that liberals have been waiting for since he was first elected.  This is the progressive Barak Obama that conservatives have long feared would someday step out from the political shadows.
Let the battle begin.        

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Let The Show Begin

In about thirty minutes the president will give what may be the most important speech in his presidency.  It will set the tone for what is expected to be a very contentious political period in our country.  If you think the last four years have been bad…wait until you see what plays out over the next few months. 
The president will be speaking to the country, urging them to pressure the very people sitting in front of him to act on their behalf.  How effective he will be in breaking through the intransigence that the Republican led congress has displayed for the past four years remains to be seen.
The Republicans will have an opportunity to respond to the president’s remarks.  This is a difficult task.  For shear optics it is hard to follow the pomp and circumstance of the most powerful person in the world.
The Republicans have chosen one of their brightest stars, Senator Marco Rubio, to deliver their response.  Rubio is a legitimate candidate for the presidency in 2016.  No surprise here.  His Hispanic background enables him to speak to a growing demographic that his party has historically alienated.
But Rubio will not be the only one providing a televised response to the president’s remarks.  Senator Rand Paul, who represents the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party, will also speak.  Paul has made clear his intentions to run for president in 2016.  He has as much of a chance to win the oval office as we do.  He is speaking because the Tea Party faction does not agree with nor trust the more centrist ideology of Rubio and the party moderates. 
Rubio and Paul’s remarks will not only illustrate the difficulties the president will face in moving his agenda forward; they will highlight the divisiveness within the Republican Party itself.
It should be an interesting evening.    

Obama's Bucket List

We recently commented on the small window of opportunity that president’s have to accomplish anything substantive during their second term.  Recent history shows us that even the most popular and dedicated president’s struggle with keeping the train on the tracks during their second term in office.  Sometimes outside influences curtail a political agenda…sometimes it’s just bad politics.  Ronald Reagan struggled with the Iran Contra scandal and Bill Clinton was derailed by Monica Lewinsky.  The far less popular George W. Bush faced a more conventional political roadblock.  His attempts to privatize social security sank his political ship before it ever left the harbor.  And of course there were the every illusive weapons of mass destruction.
Tonight’s State of the Union address will probably be President Obama’s last best attempt to move the proverbial political needle.  So the question is: what should the president emphasize tonight to make the most of this limited opportunity.  Given his lengthy “Bucket List” list and the gridlock in congress; which battles should the president engage to get the most bang for his efforts.
The answer is…the ones he can win.
First of all we think the president should concentrate on jobs.  There is bi-partisan consensus that we need to create jobs that won’t get shipped overseas.  Unemployment is still high and there are tens of millions of people in desperate need of a means to support their families.  We would like to see the president to make a big, and we mean BIG push for rebuilding our infrastructure.  Both Democrats and Republicans agree that our infrastructure is crumbling and in need of a comprehensive upgrade.  Everyone agrees that if we are to compete in a global economy we desperately need a massive rebuilding effort in this area.  Corporate America is not going to invest in bridges and dams and roads.  The government has to do it.  A big infrastructure initiative would create millions of jobs, broaden the tax base and increase our economic capabilities.  The unions will love the idea.  Federal, state and local governments will benefit from the increased revenues.  And money is cheap right now.  The necessary funding can be appropriated by borrowing at historically low interest rates.  You can borrow trillions for just pennies on the dollar and pay it off with the taxes generated by millions of new full time workers.  This is a win/win for everybody.
But, you say, Republicans are certainly not going to agree to any more spending.  So how does he pass this initiative?
The answer is by tying infrastructure to comprehensive, substantive entitlement reform.  Like it or not; entitlement reform is the biggest of all the conservative hot buttons.  and if you take even the staunchest liberal away from the eyes of the prying media they will admit that the only way to securing our country’s financial future is by way of addressing our biggest financial threats…Medicaid and Medicare. 
We are not talking about vouchering or block granting these programs.  We are talking about making common sense adjustments in the eligibility and benefits that are more in tune with our every changing demographics and economic circumstances.  By addressing our long term debt we will free up the funds necessary to invest in education, innovation, research and infrastructure; the cornerstones of our future.
For too long we have had Republicans who deny science and Democrats who deny math.  Both sides have to come off of their extreme positions and look toward the greater good.  By investing in infrastructure the president addresses our short term needs and appeases his caucus.  By addressing entitlements he addresses our long term obligations and pushes that very big conservative hot button.  Both sides of the aisle can claim victory.
The next thing that we feel he should emphasize is immigration reform.  Democrats want it and Republicans desperately need it.  Republicans know that they cannot hope to win future national elections if they continue to alienate the country’s fastest growing demographic.  Hispanics voted for Obama 8-1 over Romney.  Republicans can ill afford to continue down that path in the future.  The president must support strong boarder security to assuage Republican fears.  And he must mollify Democrats with a difficult yet reasonable path to citizenship for those who are here illegally.  Self deportation and strong arm tactics won’t work.  A nation built by immigrants can do better than that.
Last but certainly not least…gun control.  The window of opportunity for the president to do anything about gun violence is rapidly closing.  The emotionally charged reaction to the Sandy Hook shooting is unfortunately already beginning to wane.  If the president wants to do anything about gun control, now is the time.  We would like to see a ban on assault weapons.  But it is highly unlikely that the president can get a ban on assault weapons passed.  He might have a chance on banning high capacity magazines; but that is 50/50 at best.  His best chance to get anything done on guns is to focus on background checks.  Americans, including lawful gun owners and NRA members support universal background checks for all gun purchase by a 9-1 margin.  This is a battle he can win.
Jobs, infrastructure, entitlements and immigration; these are battles that this president can win.      
But the only way for him to win these battles is to extend the hand of compromise to the Republicans.  Stirring up grassroots support is a great idea. But nothing surpasses looking your opponent  in the eye and shaking their hand in agreement. 
We know that the president won the last election by a significant margin.  We know that his favorability rating is in the 70’s while congressional approval is in the toilet.  But it is congress that enacts legislation. 
The president cannot get anything done alone.     

Monday, February 11, 2013

So Much To Do...So Little Time!

President Obama will give his State of the Union address tomorrow evening.  He is expected to talk about creating jobs.  This is a good thing because it seems as though he has talked about everything but jobs since his re-election.
He is expected to take a hard line on spending, gun control, immigration and tax reform.  If he draws a partisan line in the sand he does so at his peril, because his window of opportunity for compromise is very small.
The president has one year…eighteen months get his agenda passed.  Then congress will be much more concerned about surviving the mid-term elections than conducting the people’s business.  Once the mid-terms are over the president becomes a very lame duck with little political power at his disposal.  The 2016 presidential campaign starts right after the mid-terms.  Clinton, Biden, Christie, Rubio and a host of other wannabes will take center stage.
But first there is the little matter of the sequestration cuts that take effect on March 1st.  And don’t forget the upcoming debate on raising the debt ceiling.
So much to do…so little time!

Pope Benedict XVI Resigns

Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would resign his post on February 28 ending his eight year reign as the titular head of the Catholic Church.  In a surprise announcement, the pontiff stated that his deteriorating health prevented him from continuing on with his ministry.  He is the first sitting pontiff to resign the office since 1415.  Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was  78 years old when he was elected pope by the Conclave of Cardinals; making him the oldest cardinal in history to take over the reins of the church.   
Pope Benedict’s legacy will be that he returned the church to its more traditional values.  In US political terms he would be considered a right wing conservative.  History will also judge him for handling of the church’s sexual abuse scandal.
Benedict is the latest in a long line of pontiffs to succeed the first pope, the apostle Peter, whom Catholics believe was appointed by Jesus Christ to head His church.
While this resignation will not mean much to non-Catholics; for the 1.2 billion who practice the Catholic faith it is a very big deal.  Catholics believe that the pope is infallible when it comes to speaking on matters of faith.  They will be looking to see if the new pontiff will take a more moderate stance on contraception, homosexuality and women in the priesthood.
The Conclave of Cardinals is expected to meet sometime in mid-March for the purpose of electing a new leader for the Catholic Church.       

Friday, February 8, 2013

Senate Hearings Produce Mixed Results

We watched John Brennan’s confirmation hearings and came away from the experience with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, it is a testament to our democracy that we should publically debate the taking of one American life without due process.  Even if it is the life of a sworn terrorist who has renounced his citizenship and joined with others to take American lives. While we personally trust this president to exhaust every other option before authorizing the use of drones; we are uncomfortable with allowing one individual to serve as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. The debate on this topic is healthy because it sets a precedent for future administrations.
On the other hand it was laughable watching Democrat members of the Senate Intelligence Committee as they tried to use Brennan’s testimony to rekindle their worn out attacks on the Bush administration.  They brought up “enhanced interrogation techniques” and tried to get Brennan to admit they were forms of torture.  The waved redacted documents and tried to get Brennan to admit that they were proof that Bush and Cheney took us to war based on a lie; all weak attempts to paint Bush and Cheney as war criminals and propagators of an unjust war.  As if any one of them had the balls to prosecute Bush or Cheney on these charges. 
The country already knows what went down in the aftermath of 9/11.  These same Democrats had the opportunity to prosecute various members of the Bush administration for violations of both domestic and international law, but they shrank from their responsibilities.  Now they look like petulant children, stomping their foot in anger…all an act for political theater.
Things weren’t going much better down the hall.  This time it was Republicans engaging in boorish behavior for the benefit of the cameras.  John McCain and his mini-me Lindsay Graham grilled outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint chiefs Chairman General Mark Dempsey on the events surrounding the attacks on the US Consulate in Benghazi.  Unsatisfied by the pound of flesh they carved from Secretary of state Hillary Clinton two weeks earlier, they honed in on Panetta and Ramsey with little affect. 
The answers are the same.  The consulate was lightly protected by members of the Libyan armed services as is the custom with most consulates.  The attack was essentially over before the closest US military forces could respond.  Previous requests from the consulate for additional security forces had gone unanswered and the state department officials who ignored those request were relieved of their duties.  There is really nothing new to discuss.  Yet McCain and Graham could not resist the opportunity to savage the Obama administration.
We applaud Senator Feinstein and the members of the Senate intelligence Committee for their thoughtful and appropriate investigation into the use of drones and the targeting of American citizens.
All the rest was just another example of what is wrong with Washington.