Friday, November 30, 2012

Republicans and Intransigence: Do They Truly Believe?

It may be a case of trying to rumor something into existence. If you say something often enough, speech has logic; eventually, people will believe it despite all evidence to the contrary. 

But do the Republicans really believe taxing the rich at a level which is where they were taxed when our economy really was booming--under Clinton--will poison the "job creators" and stall the economy? 

Do they really believe Medicare is dying and needs to be resuscitated? And only by draconian cuts to benefits?

Do they really believe Social Security is fatally ill and can only be saved by spending cuts?

Or do they simply want to believe this and if they all hold hands around Grover Norquist's oval table, it will all be true and they will hear the voice of Milton Friedman, speaking from the dead, saying, "Cut spending!"

It's as if November 6 never happened.

What Mad Dog would like to see is President Obama announcing no more Mr. Nice guy, in fact no more President Doormat and cut off negotiations. Then, Ronald Reagan like, take to the road and to the airwaves and every day hammer away at the fact the Republicans refuse to tax billionaires and say, "I tried, but we're going over the cliff. In January with the new Congress, I am sure enough Republicans will come to their senses to vote for at least middle class tax cuts. But don't send me a bill with tax cuts for billionaires. I won't sign it. We've compromised enough at this end of Pennsylvania Avenue. And the American people have spoke with this election. We have listened. It's time for the Republicans in Congress to stop listening to Grover Norquist. It's time for Republicans to be loyal to their own constituents. 

Or words to that effect. Remember the Denver Debate. Nice guy gets you nowhere with these people. 

And take a page from the Republican playbook and name names:  The Speaker of the House, Mr. Boehner is putting party loyalty before his country.  Mr. McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate is stubbornly thwarting every effort at reasoning together--all he cares about are his billionaire benefactors.  Mr. Cantor is owned by the billionaire lobby. Mr. Ryan is in the pocket of millionaires. The have put their loyalty to the ruling class, to the one percent ahead of any notion of patriotism. They have sold out their country for their own sense of aristocratic entitlement. 

Ram it down their throats and keep ramming them for the next four years. Do not try to drink beer with these guys. They don't like you and they never will and don't even try to cooperate with them. Make sure you give speeches in front of that bridge between Ohio and Kentucky which is falling apart and stalling trucks back to Michigan and which is hurting the economy of both states on either side of the bridge.

Go get them.

Robert Rubin and The Fiscal Cliff

Writing in two consecutive posts on the Huffington Post, Robert Rubin argues, as I understand him, that Democrats and President Obama may be ill advised to push too hard for a "compromise" with Republicans in the House and Senate. 

The fact is, those Republicans who feel honor bound by their pledge of allegiance to Grover Norquist--No new taxes--may not be able to give much on the revenue collection side of the equation. They are already staking out their territory: Oh, we can go along with cutting back on allowable deductions, like the home mortgage interest deduction, but we cannot agree to raising the tax rate on billionaires back to where it was under Clinton. So they are stuck.

To get the meager concessions the Republicans in the box are willing to give up, the Democrats will have to slash Medicare and maybe Social Security.

Rubin argues we've been through this scene before: The Secretary of Treasury, Geitner gave away the store to Wall Street last time around: He did not demand a reinstatement of the Glass-Steigall Act which would have prevented the debacle in the banking sector and prevented much of the financial collapse; he did not insist on a limit to the size of the biggest banks to prevent the "too big to fail" scenario from playing out again; he did not insist on a purge of guilty bankers from positions of wealth and power. He was, in a phrase, simply not a traitor to his class. He was of and for Wall Street, not Main Street, not because he is an evil man but because that is all he knows. 

What Rubin suggests is to allow the deadline to expire and then to come back in January and pass what even the Republicans know they must pass: Tax cuts for the middle class, i.e. for anyone making up to $250,000. This way the Republicans have not voted to raise taxes; in fact, they can claim to have voted for another round of tax cuts. The Democrats get what they want by default--they have the tax cuts which have expired for the billionaires still expired, an effective raise in their tax rates. 

Republicans can claim technical purity--they haven't technically violated their pledge and Democrats get higher taxes on the rich, after January 1.

Win, win.

Now, we have to ask ourselves: What would Grover Norquist do?

Well, we know that already, but we can't really ask what would Jesus do, so let's just drop it there.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Who Is Grover Norquist?

One thing about an absolutist is he can be consistent and he can look brave and pure hearted. 

Grover Norquist, who runs an organization in Washington called Americans For Tax Reform, has drawn a clear line and he's somehow attracted 218 Republican members of the House of Representatives and 34 Republican senators to his clearly delineated pledge: I will never vote for a tax increase.

Grover says, "I don't want to kill government. I just want to shrink it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in my tub." 

Very catchy, don't you think?

His book is titled, "Getting the Government's Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives."  Can't you just see a throng of white supremacists in Idaho,  sitting around a campfire and holding a book club with that one?

He holds a weekly seance with Republican members of Congress in an amphitheater with rows of seats surrounding an oval table where Mr. Norquist sits, king of the roost.

He has never been elected. He is above elections. He is the high priest of the Republican Party. He has the keys to the golden handcuffs for which, for some reason, Republican lawmakers willingly extend their wrists.

If he has not shrunk the federal government to the size he can drown it in his bathroom, he has at least managed to drown the Republican Party there.

What this means, of course, is that a substantial portion of Congress has agreed not to govern, if what we mean by governing is compromise, voting to enable the government to reduce its own debt, provide for FEMA and Coast Guard helicopters to rescue citizens in distress, sustain armed forces, send out Social Security and Medicare checks and do all the essential things which have become so much a part of our lives we hardly realize they are government services at all. 

The federal government has got so good at doing things even its detractors fail to appreciate how essential it is--which is where the famous remark, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare," comes from. 

Not having been elected, Norquist does not have to provide constituent services, respond to flooded parts of his district, serve or protect. He can sit, fat and happy, at the head of his oval table during his weekly audiences with those who do have to govern and he can remind them what his commands are. He is a sort of Brody from Homeland, the Marine Sergeant elected to Congress whose mission is to destroy the government from within. 

But unlike Brody, Grover's power does not derive from a foreign terrorist--he is a homegrown terrorist, determined to return our government, if not our nation, to the 19th century, to the time before the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, who Grover considers the first of America's long line of socialist presidents.

He is, and he can be, mad as a Hatter, but it doesn't matter because he has no real duties or responsibilities, other than to hold forth, like a slightly higher brow Rush Limbaugh, expostulating pithy, quotable burbles, entertaining the resentful masses, those people who will not give up their guns until they are pried from their cold, dead fingers, because their guns make them feel...Big, and important.

Grover is truculent, and he is bold and sure of himself , and there have always been men like him, and likely always will be. 

The mystery is: why do all these Republican congressmen charge like so many lemmings to the precipice of his office?

Of course, the one New Hampshire politician who decried "Pledge Politics" was asked at every forum why she had not taken the pledge--in this case a pledge to never sign into law a state income tax--and she was defeated in the primary by Ms. Hassan, who had signed that pledge. And at every forum, Jackie Cilley explained this would hand cuff the governor who signed the pledge, that an income tax had to be a viable option, even if you intended never to use it,  if only to intimidate unruly representatives who refused to compromise.  And at every forum, some old goat would croak, "Then you're for an income tax."

So, I guess I have discovered who Grover is. He is that dark side of ourselves, the nasty demon in  our soul who simply does not want to think things through, who just wants to stamp feet and throw tantrums and spit and scream.

He is the ultimate Trojan Horse. Just reel him into the city, past the gates of compromise and good governance and when night falls, the hell cats of destruction will pour out of his belly and rampage through the city and bring down the government in flames, and be happy about it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

McCain, Rice, Ayotte and Benghazi: Rice Pudding

Kelly Ayotte looks like such a nice lady. She has, even Democrats must admit, a sweet face. She has a son in the Army. And she chooses for friends some of the Republican party's most unsavory nasties.  

She embraced Sheriff Arpaio, of Maricopa County, Arizona, who did "sweeps" of Mexican looking individuals who had the misfortune of driving down Arizona roads while looking Mexican. He threw these unfortunates into open aired concentration camps and dressed them in pink underwear and marched them down the streets while American looking Arizonans laughed. Senator Ayotte loved the man.

Now, she is rubbing shoulders with Lindsay Graham and John McCain as they try to win some sort of frat boy contest to deny President Obama Ambassador Rice, just in case President Obama decides to appoint her Secretary of State.

Apparently, Ms. Ayotte, Senators Graham and McCain need to be reminded, unless Mad Dog has got this wrong, President Obama won the election on November 6, 2012.  The Republicans lost even more seats in the Senate. 

Gerrymandering saved Republicans in the House.

But, here's the thing:  Nobody out here cares what Ms. Rice may or may not have said on Sunday morning talk shows. Up here in New Hampshire,  we do not watch those shows. It's not that we are in church, mind you. We are out murdering deer or moose or building a garage, or sitting around eating breakfast at the Depot Square breakfast place, or rocking in chairs around the pot belly wood burning stove at the hardware stores, but we are definitely not wasting time watching Meet the Press or Face the Nation and we are definitely not  listening to Charles Krauthammer or even Rush Limbaugh (although we may tune into Rush during the week.) No, we are not concerned if the CIA gave Ms. Rice a flawed script and she read it. We have better things to do.

Like maybe thinking about voting out Ms. Ayotte, who has become an embarrassment. She was swept in as a Tea Party favorite in 2010, when the Tea Party was all the rage. She took the Norquist pledge to never vote for a new tax, and if Jesus Christ returned tomorrow saying we really ought to tax the rich to save the poor, so the rich could get through the eye of that needle into Heaven, why Ms. Ayotte would still cleave to the pledge and she would vote against Jesus himself, because she feels she owes it to Grover.

Actually, we are not, most of us all that over awed by Jesus,  in the Granite State. He may have been a fine prophet, but all that stuff about giving away your possessions and supporting thy neighbor, gets you onto some pretty slippery slopes--next thing you know, you'll be giving your neighbor things you worked pretty hard to get yourself, and you'll be creating a culture of dependency, which we definitely do not like. Up here, you fend for yourself, and if your neighbor does not chop his own wood, why he'll freeze come winter. 

So, we like that no tax faith Ms. Ayotte talked about. But, really, why is it whenever you look around, she is rubbing shoulders with men who go way beyond all that. Just because you like your good rifle doesn't mean you have to have to run around with guys who like shooting at people in deserts...or theaters.

Pass me that coffee and put some maple syrup on those pancakes.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Harmony of Opposites

--Augustus Sherman, Photographer, Ellis Island

It is not an original observation that the red states, in which people are overwhelmingly likely to erupt with fulminating  resentment about the federal government, and where it is an article of faith that the feds take your money and you get nothing for it, are the very places where the return from those taxes is most intense. So Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama are all states where for every $1 sent to Washington $1.5-$2 come back to these states.
Oddly, New Hampshire is a net donor state.  Taxes in New Hampshire are among the lowest in the nation, overall; we rank #47 in taxes, without a state income tax or sales tax.
Of course, in New York, taxes are high, but look what they get for them!  Mad Dog is in New York City today. Three days ago he hiked to top of Mount Major and today he wanders around the magnificent (but not free) Museum of Natural History, Central Park and the streets of the Upper West Side.  This is a city which has much to teach Mississippi and New Hampshire.  They believe in public spaces here, and the result is a community, a harmony of opposites.

Down below Houston Street on the lower East Side is the haunting Tenement Museum, with its photographs of immigrants getting off the boats at Ellis Island in all their native costumes, which were not costumes to them but ordinary dress. The faces looking into the camera are Slavic, Baltic, Germanic, Scandinavian, Orthodox Jewish, Irish and they flooded into New York City and built this throbbing, working metropolis into what it is today. You still see that variety on these streets.
E.B. White said there are 3 types of New Yorkers:  The native, the commuter, and the refugee, whether that is a refugee from overseas or from Alabama and it is the refugee, for whom establishing a life in this city is an accomplishment in itself, who loves the city most.

Walking among the panoply of types here is like walking around  in a Jackson Pollack painting--a harmony emerges out of the disorder and colors and shapes.

We don't have this variety in New Hampshire. But we separate ourselves even so.
When people resist community effort what often emerges is a conviction that "we" work hard for what we've got, and "they" are going to be given a free hand out.

Somehow, if this country is to get anywhere, we all have to get past that conceit.

Friday, November 23, 2012

What Would Jesus Do? True Believers, The Desperation of Belief

In today's New York Times Paul Krugman reacts to an interview in GQ with Marco Rubio, one of the most earnest voices of the Republican Party and Krugman is struck by Mr. Rubio's answer to the question: "How old is the earth?"  Mr. Rubio replied, "I'm not a scientist, man,"  which is manifestly true, but then he goes on to say "it's one of the great mysteries," putting it in a category along with eternal questions like, "why do bad things happen to good people" and "where do we come from and where are we going?"   

In fact, the question of the age of the earth is a question about measurement and we can, in fact, get at least an approximate measurement.

Of course, the reason Mr. Rubio is afraid to answer this question is he is afraid of offending the creationists who deny/doubt evolutionary theory. The vast eons of time required for evolution to explain the almost incomprehensible variety of life forms on earth require vast time. Creationists, for reasons Mad Dog is unfamiliar with, need the earth to be only a few thousand years old to fit with whatever they have found in parts of the King James version of the Bible.

As Mr. Krugman observes:  "What was Mr. Rubio's complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children's faith in what their parent told them to believe."

Mr. Krugman is a numbers man. This is not to say he is a scientist--he is an economist, which may be the  "dismal science" but it is no science, because you cannot do hypothesis-test-measure thing, i.e., you cannot do experiments with sufficiently few variables.  And he is a professor, so he is familiar to with the problem of teaching students, younger people things which may conflict with what their parents taught them.

My own son told me a story about being in a class at Vanderbilt when the professor posed a knotty ethical dilemma for the class and then called on a student for his analysis. How would you solve this problem? How would you weight the competing claims and values here?  The chirpy, bright faced, well scrubbed student replied, without a moment's hesitation:  "I'd just ask myself, 'What would Jesus do?'"

At which point, half the class groaned, slid under their desks, tossed wads of paper at the Jesus disciple, laughed, cried and generally grumbled about transferring to another college.  

Vanderbilt is a very interesting institution, founded by a Vanderbilt (a one percenter) in 1873 to create an atmosphere expressly designed to bring together young people from North and South int he aftermath of the Civil War to reason together, to learn from each other.  The student body, to this day, is about 50% from the South, and Southwest (Texas mostly) and the other half from the Midwest (Chicago mostly) and the Northeast (the Washington to New York corridor.)  The faculty is now predominantly from the North.

The professor smiled and asked, "Well, but how would you know what Jesus would say about this particular question--as far as I know, and I've read the Bible since I was a child, Jesus was never presented with this question,or anything remotely like it.  This woman, who was impregnated by rape, and whose pregnancy threatens her life owing to eclampsia asks for an abortion.  Should she be allowed an abortion? Find the text in the Gospel which addresses these circumstances."

Now, Krugman reports a Chris Mooney, author of The Republican Brain has reported "the now extensive research linking political views to personality types. As Mr. Mooney showed, modern American conservatism is highly correlated with authoritarian inclinations."

Ya think?

You need "extensive research" to appreciate this?  

When Mad Dog  was growing up, he found himself attracted primarily to Catholic girls  because Catholic girls had the most to rebel against. It made them more interesting.

Look at the Supreme Court--the four horsemen of the eighteenth century Alito, Scalia, Roberts and Thomas are either Catholic or fundamentalist--grew up hearing "all the answers are in the Good Book." And now they are "originalists" who look to all the answers in that Good Book called Constitution, as if its authors, those  18th century gentlemen, some of whom were slave owners, some of whom were brilliant, but who among them could have anticipated the microphone, television, the internet, public education, the land grant college, automatic weapons, nuclear power plants and all those forces which make the 21st century such a different world from the 18th?

We all want to clutch on to something in the swiftly moving current of life. We want to believe we know things, immutable truths. And we find it hard to give up old beliefs. Mad Dog has occasionally complained that 90% of what he was taught in medical school turned out to be wrong or at least subject to heavy revision. That the heart pumps blood to the brain, that the pituitary gland controls the thyroid gland's release of thyroid hormone (except when it doesn't)  are still verifiably true, but those are the few boulders in the stream, still firmly planted as the roiling currents of change sweep past.

So Republicans refuse to hear new evidence, refuse to believe new things, refuse to give up cherished beliefs.  Don't we all, in some ways? The problem is, the Democrats know we have to be willing to go forth boldly into worlds where man has never gone before. The Republicans would rather curse the darkness than light a candle.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Financial Future of Medicare, Social Security. Glass Half Empty

Report from the New York Times Re: The Financial Future of Medicare and Social Security:
The Social Security trust fund will be exhausted in 2033, three years sooner than projected last year, the administration said. And Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund will be depleted in 2024, the same as last year’s estimate, it said.
Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue, a trustee of the two programs, said Social Security’s disability insurance program faced the most immediate threat, with its trust fund expected to run out of money in 2016, two years sooner than predicted last year.
For the disability program, as for Social Security over all, tax receipts would be sufficient to pay about 75 percent of promised benefits after the trust fund was exhausted.
In the past, Congress has occasionally shifted revenue from one trust fund to another to avoid any interruption of benefits. But if the disability trust fund borrowed money from Social Security’s old-age trust fund, the loan would have to be repaid, officials said, and the measure would not solve the programs’ problems.
Richard S. Foster, the chief Medicare actuary, said the projections in the report, based on current law, “are probably poor indicators of the future financial status of Medicare.”
 But, the public trustees said, “the reported long-term financial outlook has grown worse,” primarily because the government accepted advice from technical experts suggesting faster growth in Medicare costs.
In explaining changes in their Social Security projections, the trustees cited slower growth in average earnings of workers and the persistence of unemployment in the slow recovery from the recession. They lowered their projection of average real earnings in the future, primarily because of a surge in energy prices and “slower assumed growth in average hours worked per week after the economy has recovered.”
Representative Pete Stark of California, the senior Democrat on the panel’s health subcommittee, said, “Today’s report continues to show Medicare on a sound financial footing,” mainly because of the 2010 health care law. Still, Mr. Stark said, Republicans keep trying to “end Medicare as we know it, not because the program is unsustainable, but because they want government out of the business of guaranteeing health care.”

What Mad Dog infers from this report of various experts, trustees and actuarials is that both Medicare and Social Security would run out of money, unless new money is provided , sometime in the next 20 years.  That is, if things stay static for the next 20 years, and we do not pump any more money into these programs, these programs will start to run out of money. 
That new money could come from an improved economy, with more taxpayers paying more into the programs, or from, Heaven forbid, higher tax rates to support these problems. That is, we might solve the problem of the bank account, by depositing more money into it. What a novel idea!
But, because Republicans have taken a no tax pledge, the option of generating more money for the programs does not exist for them, which means the only thing to do is to cut expenditures.  That means, coupon care, abandoning the promise to pay for your medicare expenses and abandoning the promise to pay out pensions under Social Security. It's the only way, the Republicans say.
And it is, if you vote Republican.


Ms. Maud Instructs

I am working on the cartoon, but until it is done, a few cogitations on Ms. Biddle's salient points.

Let us begin with the most important articles of faith, i.e. #12 (see previous post):  Medicare and Social Security are about to go bankrupt and can only be saved by Paul Ryan, his Coupon Care and the Republicans efforts to slash these programs down to a splintered shadow of their former selves.

There are different ways of knowing, and we can do the citing of references, examination of numbers, but my understanding, which is based on what I have read from the Congressional Budget office and from what Mr. Biden, Mr. Obama and virtually all the Democrats (but, significantly, not from a single Republican) is this:  Medicare is actually quite healthy. It is in great shape until at least 2030. The Republicans, Mr. Ryan in particular, have tried to rumor it into a fatal illness, but none of the scientists can find anything to indicate poor health. It seems robust and hale and hearty at nearly 50 years of age.

Social Security has been in similar robust good health, and in fact it's main problem has been it's very prosperity, such that all it's friends, relatives and neighbors have been borrowing from it at a prodigious rate, which has diminished Social Securities own account over the years.

The standard line from the Tea Party Republicans is that the numbers don't lie: There will be fewer and fewer young healthy, working people coming along to pay into the program which supports that big part of the population, the baby boomers now entering retirement. But, contrary to what the Republicans say, the demographic does not mean the Social Security program is or will be in the foreseeable future, in financial  dire straights. Enough people have paid into it for long enough, it's doing just fine.

I did make a cartoon about this, with Paul Ryan pushing the head of the dolphin under water so he can claim it's drowning. 

Oh, we have to save Flipper. He's drowning!

But nobody commented on it, so I guess it didn't make the point.

Mad Dog must admit, he has not gone over the numbers recently. He is guilty of what Rush and Sean and Paul and Glenn are guilty of--simply repeating something heard because you want to believe it--a la Karl Rove--a sort of math that makes you feel better. 

Mad Dog will endeavor to bring some references to bear on this point.

Republicans Explain Their Defeat: Oh, This Is Too Good

Here is a wonderful letter to the Portsmouth Daily Herald,  from a Ms. Sally Biddle of New Castle which says it all, a distillation of Fox News and the Thunder from the Right in nearly pure form, a specimen representative of the species. Ms. Biddle suggests a cartoon be created to run in the Herald elucidating what the Democrats want and what their victory means.

Mad Dog has taken the liberty of adding numbers to the text, so we do not miss anything.

"Let's be fair and picture the Donkey saying 'If You Vote For Us.'

1. We'll pardon the illegals, 
2.  give free condoms and abortions to women, 
3.  a college tuition discount 
4.  and we'll tax the rich so much employers won't be able to afford to hire 
5.  or pay the increase in health insurance, 
6.  employees will have to be laid off or become part -timers. 
7.  We'll make sure unions can't fire you even if you do a poor job, 
8.   and make sure Republican members contribute toward our campaigns so unions can provide perks like free facials etc.  
9.  Companies might go into bankruptcy, maybe no more Twinkies, 
10. but hey, the government will make sure you don't even have to try finding a job. 
11. Oh yes, who cares if most of the doctors leave their profession because of "Obamacare" 
12.  and Social Security and Medicare go bankrupt. 
13. When the government runs out of money, run into streets, protest, riot, fight and scream, just like they are in Greece and other countries. 
14. Remember, the government will take care of you!'"

It's all there, in one letter.

Mad Dog will chew on this for a while. We can all work on deconstructing it, teasing each malevolent little morsel out, masticating, savoring each bitter flavor.

Can you imagine what this woman's living room looks like?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lincoln, Obama and Stressed Out Presidents

As David von Drehle has noted in Rise To Greatness, Lincoln is our greatest President because he had the greatest challenges to overcome. 

Nobody is seriously moving to leave the Union, taking up arms, firing on Fort Sumter, enslaving a third of the population and insisting this is God's will, appealing to European powers to enter a war against Washington, and for all its faults, Washington, DC is not stinking in pestilence, with typhoid claiming the lives of the Presidential family, , with an armed enemy just across the Potomac, blocking egress along the river, with unpaved streets knee deep in mud and animal droppings, spittoons in the lobbies of hotels, carpets stained with tobacco spit, and a Supreme Court having endorsed slavery.

The one thing Mr. Obama might envy as he casts his eyes back to Mr. Lincoln's circumstances:  By 1862, the disloyal opposition had already left town, and Congress, while still comprised of Democrats and Republicans, was basically of one mind. The only arguments were about how far to go, now that meaningful opposition to abolition of slavery had left town.

While it remains stupefying to listen to Mitch McConnell and John Boehner still singing the Republican chorus-- "We must address our fiscal problems, our deficit by cutting spending.  We will only alienate the job creators if we do not cut taxes for everybody (i.e. including the upper 1%.) and the road to recovery is through cutting spending and taxes"--these oppositional types are only slow learners. They have yet to figure out they lost the election. For them, what is important is that they retained control of the House of Representatives.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats can, if they choose, focus their fire on individual Republican leaders--McConnell, Ryan, Boehner, Cantor, Demint--and de legitimize them as they did with Mr. Romney, and eventually they will cave.

The only question now is how long it will take Mr. Obama to learn the lessons of Debate #1--you need to attack when you are blocked by a dug in opposition. And when you attack, you win.  When you listen and try to act all bi partisan, you lose, and you look stupid and ineffectual in the process.

In Lincoln's time, he was more hurt by his friends than by his enemies. His generals simply refused to fight--McClellan, Buell, Halleck all had constant excuses and reasons for their own inaction.  Finally, Lincoln found some generals who worried more about inaction than the risks of action, and that was his path to greatness. Lincoln knew what he wanted, but he dithered about getting there. He was unwilling to  forthrightly break with those who blocked up the hall.  

President Obama has the same proclivity with which his predecessor from Illinois was afflicted--the willingness to tolerate stalling.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Mr. Obama and the Supreme Court

Here is the speech I am looking forward to hearing from President Obama soon.

My fellow Americans, we have just completed an election for national legislative and executive offices, and those elected have serious and urgent business before them. But ours is a system of three distinct branches, and the third branch, the judiciary was conceived as providing balance and thoughtfulness to the actions of the other two. 

Over the course of history, there have been times this branch, and in particular the United States Supreme Court have provided this balance, but there have also been notable failures, and for several generations this un-elected branch has actually become the most radical branch and its excesses the most extreme.

I am sure within milliseconds of finishing my remarks, and even before I finish, across the electronic world wide web the word will go out: President Obama attempts to bash the Constitution. Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, to answer this notion, I will read the only three paragraphs of the Constitution which mention the Supreme Court, its justices and their powers. It won't take long. They are contained in the first two sections of Article III, and this is all the Constitution says, in its entirety, about the Court:

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court , and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority--to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Minister and Consuls; to all Case of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and the Citizens of another State, between Citizens of different States, between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States and between a State or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States Citizens or Subjects.

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Minister and Consuls and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. IN all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to law and Fact, with such Exceptions and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

That is all the Constitution says about the court and its justices and its authority.
Notice, there is only one sentence describing the justices.  It does not set a number. It says only they will serve "during good Behavior" and that nobody can cut their pay.

The court, much as some would like to deny it, is a political institution. We hope the justices form their opinions based only on the law but the cases which reach the Supreme Court often fall into gaps between what the law says explicitly and the details of a particular circumstance.

In the Dred Scott case, a man sued for his freedom from slavery.  The Supreme Court ruled that as a slave, this human being had no rights, because in the eyes of the law, he is not a human being but property and only a human being can sue in the court.  Dred Scott had not "standing" with the court, because he was nothing more than property. The Constitution did not address this principle directly. Nowhere in it is there mention of the word "slave" although it did mention "free persons" and "all other persons."  So the Supreme Court had to draw its own conclusions and these conclusions were based on the sensibilities and experience and philosophy of the justices in nineteenth century America.

In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation had the rights of a human being, the right to free speech. So in the nineteenth century the court ruled  a human being was not a human being because he was property and in the 21st century, the Court ruled a property, that is a corporation, had the rights of a human being. 

The Supreme Court has, occasionally, filled in the gaps between stated law and principle in the direction of progress and moving the nation toward the right side of history: In Brown vs the Board of Education, the Court rejected the idea that schoolchildren in  public schools could be separated by race by state law. It said "separate but equal" was an oxymoron--separate meant inherently unequal.  But this is a case in point--the Supreme Court decides cases where the law ends and philosophy and good sense begins, and that is where the personal history of the justices prevail.  We cannot allow nine entrenched men and women to block the progress of 300 million.

These cases are merely examples of a larger issue:  The Court has evolved by tradition to be nine justices, appointed for life, each appointed by whatever President happens to be in office when one justice departs. This haphazard system has resulted in justices "gaming" the system, hanging on until a President who is not to their political liking leaves office. It has meant that when the country has moved to new understandings and beliefs, as it has in the case of marriage equality, the Court stands as an obstacle to the flow of freedom. It has resulted in absurd rulings, like the one which embraced the idea, "Corporations are people."

I am not the first President to see freedom and prosperity thwarted by a Court which has gripped the choke collar on progress to the point of  asphyxiation.  And I am loathe to change now what we may regret changing later. But I do think it is vital to be on the right side of history and the Supreme Court needs to change, as the executive branch and the legislative branches have changed with the demands of the times.

The Constitution is not a holy book inscribed in stone by God's hand, but a living document, a brilliant and enduring document, and it needs to be interpreted by a living  and responsive court.

I propose Congress enact legislation--no Constitutional amendment is necessary--which would require the President to appoint one Supreme Court justice during each year of his Presidency. The sitting justices should hear cases, argue their merits and render opinions, but only the nine most recently appointed can vote on the verdicts.

In doing this, we will acknowledge what has been evident for generations, that much as they strive to be objective, justices are people and will be influenced by their experience and by their own personal values.  As the nation changes, we cannot allow a static court to thwart its progress. 

I have no illusion the current Congress will enact this legislation. The House of Representatives is in the grip of a fundamentalist faction of the Right Wing. But in two years, all the seats in the House will be up for renewal. It is with 2014 in mind I make this proposal tonight. During by year elections, with no President on the ballot, voter turn out tends to be low. If we can focus now on this upcoming election, I hope we can see a voter turn out which duplicates or exceeds the participation we have just seen in 2012.

Thank you and good night.

Why We Need Texas

Wouldn't you love to have Gail Collins living next door, so you could have coffee with her every morning?

Ms. Collins reports that Peter Morrison, treasurer of the Hardin County (Texas) Republican party and a former textbook committee member for the State Board of Education (which screens textbooks for their appropriateness for the tender, impressionable minds of Texas youth) has declared it is time for Texas to secede from the Union. And he anticipates a fight from those nasty carpet bagging Yankees who can be anticipated to swarm down to the Lone Star state, in hordes, the way they did the last time a Southern state tried to walk out. 
 "We must contest every single inch of ground," he said, echoing the famous Churchillian call to fight the Nazis on the beaches and in the fields.  Well, Texas doesn't have all that much in the way of picturesque beach, but you get the idea. 

Resist! "Delay the baby-murdering, tax-raising socialists at every opportunity," he said. "In due time, the maggots will have eaten the rotting corpse of the Republic, and therein lies our opportunity."  

Apparently Mr. Morrison learned something from reading all those textbooks.

Ms. Collins must have a subscription to a variety of Texas newspapers to find such stuff, and Mad Dog is thinking of paying for a subscription, if he can only find out where the best Texas tirades are printed.

Mad Dog admits he has advocated expelling Texas along with Arizona (or at least Maricopa County) South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi from the Union, but now he has to re think.  Where else can we get such distilled clarity of the thinking (if we can be that generous, to describe it as thinking--frothing might be a better word) of the lunatic right? 

And if we threw out Arizona, we'd lose John McCain, who, as Ms. Collins points out, provides such wonderful comic relief, complaining bitterly the Administration has stone walled and refused to tell him what happened at Benghazi even as the briefing at the White House was going on--the briefing McCain skipped, having been truant so he could hold a press conference at which he could complain nobody tells him anything. Now that is chutzpah! That really is the boy who murders his parents and then pleads for leniency on the grounds he is now an orphan.

No, if we simply kept the Blue States, we would be the poorer, for the loss of all those wonderful clowns who control the Red States. 

It would be like purging the Police Log from the Portsmouth Daily Herald.  There you see people in their most revealing state.  My personal favorite is the report, as always given straight faced and without comment, "Called to home on Islington Street, eleven A.M. Female resident complains her neighbor called her 'Obese.'"

Friday, November 16, 2012

Try To Stop Smiling

Mad Dog has had a very serious talk with himself.  He has pointed out, to himself, that his life has not substantively changed since November 6. He still goes to his day job, every day, still arises at 5 AM, still gets back home at 6 PM. His salary is unchanged. He drives the same car with no prospect for a new one. His house is still the same color. His lawn is unraked, and leaves still need raking.

But, as the song goes, I have often walked down this street before, but the sidewalks always stayed beneath my feet before.

As David Remnick says in this week's New Yorker, the joy of seeing the brothers Koch and Sheldon Adelson failing to buy this election, of knowing that despite the Supreme Court's best efforts to hand the election to the Republicans with their Citizens United ruling, they failed and the delight of seeing  Donald Trump, that epitome of buffoonery,  sputtering impotently, and that wonderful exchange between Megyn Kelly and Karl Rove--"Is this just the math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better or is this real?"--all that was sooo satisfying. 

To see those haters, like the guy in Albany, New Hampshire who owns the Kawasaki motorcycle dealership, who put up the sign shown above at the gateway to the White Mountains--to see them vanquished is oh, so sweet.

But the really sweet part is not just seeing the scoundrels lose, but to see a really fine man prevail.

But then there is the question of what we are facing now.

For Remnick, the biggest issue is not the fiscal cliff, but global warning.  

As Mark Twain (or possibly it was Charles Dudley Warner) said, "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." The question remains, not so much whether man has changed the climate but whether or not he can do anything to fix it. 

There is the old saw about throwing a frog into a pot of boiling water--he jumps out. But put him in a pot of cool water and gradually turn up the heat and he stays in and boils--that applies to humanity in a gradually heating planet: It all happens so slowly, we hardly notice and take no action to save ourselves.

Remnick does his cause no service by saying the European heat wave of 2003 left 50,000 people dead.  This is Mad Dog's Law of Big Numbers, as soon as you hear somebody throwing around big numbers, you know he's wrong, or at the very least bogus and doesn't know where those numbers come from.  So we hear this disease costs the American economy $5 billion a year, and so does that one and by the time you add up all the thousands of diseases which cost that much you have a number which exceeds the gross national product.  It's a number, so it must be authoritative and correct. The fact is, few of us really understand the numbers and the evidence which support the idea of global warming--we have read about it and we choose to believe the sources we choose to believe. Mad Dog believes in global warming and believes it is prudent to do what we reasonably can to ameliorate it, especially since we are talking windmills, solar power and stuff that are likely a good idea even if we are wrong about global warning. 

The fact is, Mr. Obama is doing what his constituents will allow--he's investing in green energy and this week NPR informed us the United States is likely to become energy independent within the decade, and we import only 10-20% of our oil from the Middle East today, most of our oil coming now from Canada, Mexico, Brazil and the rest of South America and from our own drilling in the USA. The boom in natural gas production apparently has made a game changing shift. While all the politicians were posturing, some scientists were actually solving the problem of providing sufficient fuel for this nation, at least for the next decade or so. This strikes Mad Dog as under reported good news. 

From Mad Dog's perspective, the big agenda item ought to be health care, which Obamacare began to address, but did not come close to actually solving. We can tweak and try the Massachusetts solution, but if we see it falter, we ought to be ready to offer Medicare for all. Don't have the votes for it yet--but come 2014 there are a lot of seats in the House up for grabs.

But, for now, we can rejoice. There is a season for all things. For crying and for laughing. This is the laughing part.

We must be on guard however--remember it was less than a week after Lee surrendered at Appomattox that an assassin slipped past a drunken guard and shot Lincoln dead. All of our joy could turn on a dime, if we cannot keep Mr. Obama safe. That is the disquieting part. So much of what has brought the joy coalesces around one man. Joe Biden has his virtues, but he is no Barack Obama.

And those haters are still out there. Mad Dog has  not been back to Albany, New Hampshire, but he is willing to bet that banner is still unfurled up there. There are plenty of little men with big guns out there, just looking for their chance to show how important they are.

The Unpatriotic Right

Mitch McConnell  stood on the Senate floor answering a question about his resistance to The American Jobs Act.  "Why would I vote for that? It might help re elect the President. And my first priority is making sure the President is not re elected."  

Here you have a United States Senator, the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate, saying he would rather see the country flounder than see Mr. Obama re elected. Put another way, he would burn the house down, if it meant Mr. Obama would burn with it.

And, at the time, he saw nothing wrong with that sentiment. Had you asked Mitch McConnell,  just then, if he considered himself a patriot, he would have looked at you bewildered.  

He could see nothing unpatriotic about wishing the nation ill. He would have likely said, "Well, short term pain for long term gain." 

But we all know what he meant, when he said it the first time. He was so focused on getting one man, he did not care about collateral damage. 

Thoreau made the important point: a man serves his country best with his mind. The man who is willing to serve in Congress or to serve as a "wooden soldier, " marching to the orders of others is not a good citizen or a patriot.   Democracy demands thought and critical thinking. The citizen who simply echos catchy one liners, like,  "He's had his chance: Next man up," is not thinking. He's emoting.  A patriot has to stop and analyze what is contained in that sentence. To extend the football analogy contained in that phrase, you have a quarterback who is brought in during the 4th quarter, with his team behind 63 to 0, and he manages to bring his team back to tie the game. You say, "But that is only recovery, not winning.  He's not a winner. Next man up."  

It doesn't take 4 years of college, or even high school, to see the flaw in that analysis. And yet, many people who claimed to be patriots could not think that through. 

Fortunately, just enough people could do it. We had 3 million more patriots, 3 million more solid citizens than the 50 million who were not.

Here is a citizen from Colorado, who saw the problem clearly:

During the campaign, Romney has accused Obama of being responsible for partisan gridlock in Washington. However, in 2010, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated: “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.” Not create jobs. Not balance the budget. Not end the wars. But to make Obama a one-term president.
And Congressional Republicans have been extremely unified in this endeavor.
Take, for instance, the American Jobs Act that President Obama proposed. A majority of the law is tax cuts and support for small business, issues that Republicans normally would strongly support.
But Republicans in both houses filibustered it. They didn’t allow the bill to even come up for debate, let alone come up for a vote.
Even when Obama split the bill into 16 parts, giving Republicans the opportunity to vote for favorable parts and stop parts that were only tax cuts, they still refused to allow a conversation on the bill, passing only the part to help veterans.
Obama urged the Republicans to allow a discussion over “genuine ideas and policies,” convinced that eventually “we will have a vote to decide the issue.” However, the Republicans didn’t allow a debate or a vote on the bill. Even during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Republicans have not been willing to put country over party...
Bill Johnson,
Fort Collins
(From The Phantom Speaks blog)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jolting the Job Creators

Mad Dog admits to being mystified:  The Republicans keep citing a Congressional Budget Office "study" which estimates we will lose 700,000 jobs ( out of 4 million expected to be created over the next 10 years) if taxes on people making over $250, 000 are raised from 35 to 39%. 

What Mad Dog cannot figure out is why this should happen.

Mad Dog ran his own small business with 2 employees for over two decades and never once did his calculations about how many more employees to hire have anything to do with what his income tax rates were going to be.  

The calculations had to do, primarily, with how much business we could expect to come through the door, projections of income based on insurance company payment levels,  and most importantly, on how we could make the employees we had more efficient.  My partner and I invested $10,000 in a computer system which made hiring another employee unnecessary.  What made employees expensive was: 1. Salary  2. Health Insurance  3. Pension plan payments 4. Unemployment and disability insurance required by the state government 5. Training. 

During years when personal income tax rates were high Mad Dog did not fire employees and when the Bush tax rates cut tax rates, we did not hire employees.  The fact is, we always paid employees far more than Mad Dog's change in tax rates. The difference between the two rates amounted to $10,000, and we typically paid our employees $40,000.  If I hired a new employee it was with the projection she'd bring in an additional net $60,000--if the tax rate was higher then it would be $50,000, still worth it.

And, the fact is, some years, Mad Dog made less than $250,000 and so Mr. Obama's changes this time around would not have affected anything, which is said to be true for over 90% of employers.

What made a significant difference was deductions:  When Mad Dog could deduct the cost of health insurance for his employees, that made a huge difference.

So Mad Dog fails to see why any tax increase on people making over $250,000 would turn them from "job creators" to abstainers. 

Can someone explain this to me? I mean, how does the CBO know what the 4% higher tax rate on income above $250,000 would do to thinking of these taxpaying job creators? How did they do this study? What were the questions asked?  I mean, if you had asked me, "If we made you pay more tax, would you hire fewer employees?"  Would I not say, "Oh, of course. If you do that, I'm firing everyone," knowing what effect that might have on your decision?  I mean, how do you factor out the effect of gaming the system when you ask questions like that?

Just asking.