Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Not So Grand Bargain

As of this morning, everyone is reporting a deal that would raise the debt ceiling with commitments of approximately $2.8 trillion in cuts over ten years. Basically, we are looking at a waterd down version of the Grand Bargain. Gene Sperling of the President's Economic Council says that President Obama was fine with no tax increases until 2013, the time when the Bush tax cuts would expire. While progressives are screaming bloody murder, it should be remembered that Alice Rivlin had argued that the devil here is in the details and the timing. She had argued no to raise taxes in the middle of the recession but only when the economy looks like it really is going to recover.

The fight this morning is over various triggers. Personally I can't see Congress getting its act together by Thanksgiving to propose the combination of cuts and tax increases needed to meet the second tranche of cuts. Then it would automatically mean across the board cuts in government spending. As of this morning, Democrats were saying they were trying to save Medicare. As of last night the two triggers were supposed to be military cuts and Medicare.

What was interesting last night to see what the sort of bidding war was going on in military spending. Tom Coburn proposed $1 trillion for ten years. Barney Frank agreed and wanted to see it more.

While the New York Times and the bloggers bemoan Obama's rightward tilt on the debt ceiling and we will read constantly how Obama "caved", it should be pointed out that he was the one who created the Catfood Commission and actually initiated the movement to the largest government cuts in American history. Here, it will be the nature of the cuts that determine whether this would be an historical success. All cuts are not created equal. And all cuts do not automatically mean cutting economic growth.

What President Obama will have to concern himself with is making sure the GOP will not proclaim victory since it has behaved in a decidedly subversive manner during this whole affair. Lawrence O'Donnell, for one, always argued that Obama really wanted a clean debt ceiling vote. But it was apparent he really didn't. Remember the Catfood Commisson was a dud and could not agree on its own basic recommendations. This whole exercise was a way for Obama to return to this whole issue--one that had been part of his own 2008 campaign.

President Obama wasn't kidding when he said that this might cost him his re-election. He must have calculated he could take the heat from progressives now before the election. But he will have to manage his message which the White House has not been able to do so far.

What the public and the international media are left with is a sense of disgust about the whole process--somewhat similar to the reactions to the whole Health Care debate.

At this time we still have a ways to go before the deal is really finalized.

What has escaped everyone while this has been going on is tha deal President Obama reached with the auto industry about raising gas mileage to 52 miles per gallon--a single stroke that dramatically will cut our dependence on overseas oil. By the time Obama finished his term of office, all these various incremental changes will not be so overtly noticed but in the long haul their impact will be considerable.

I doubt they will be appreciated. The election will come down to the unemployment numbers. But the Black Man will have cleaned up most of the White Boys mess.

Two Words for former Obama supporters who are frustrated and want to sit out 2012--Supreme Court.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The 14th Amendment Option

Since last writing about the constitutional option, Steny Hoyer, Senators Harkin and Conrad have supported it openly and apparently Nancy Pelosi, according to people close to her, also supports President Obama invoking the 14th Amendment.

There are various arguments that it has become relevant. This is the first time the debt ceiling has ever been politically contested since 1917. In the 89 times since the late 1930s, this was just congressional housekeeping. This also the first time any Senator or group of Senators have actually vowed to filibuster a debt ceiling. It is also the first time it has been held hostage to a militant group of ideologues. The present circumstance will be repeated for the foreseeable future, making Washington ungovernable.

One can argue that this is a unique historical circumstance and that this is not a crisis that was created by unseen circumstances. This was solely generated by the Republicans. One can speculate all you want about whether it is meant to cripple President Obama or is the result of guilt over having been the party that generated the largest deficits in American history. Whatever the motivation the position of the United States as a leader in the world's economy is jeopardized. The consequences of a default would make the United States subject to pressures from foreign powers and create a perception of weakeness in a way a terrorist attack could not. A default would instantly create hardship for the 70 million Americans dependent on government checks for their Social Security, pensions, veterans benefits and other government programs. It would also immediately affect the pay of American men and women currently fighting two wars overseas. It would also trigger a rise in interest rates which would only increase America's debt unnecessarily.

For this reason, President Obama should invoke the 14th Amendment and unilaterally raise the debt limit so that it extends past the end of his first term. While the President might risk the House bringing charges of impeachment against him. It is clear that they would fail. In fact, it is dubious who if anyone could bring the Administration to the Supreme Court. Who could claim damage? Who would have standing to bring suit? And given the current Supreme Court's philosophy,it's unlikely they would even hear the case.

Jack Balkin of Yale Law School says that if Congress fails to act, President Obama would be faced with having to act on several competing laws and would have to treat one of them as unconstitutional. That means the debt ceiling would have to go.

As an example of the conflicts Balkin was talking about, the United States has contracts with thousands of companies. Are they not to be honored? The Supreme Court has already ruled that the President can not prioritize which debts get paid off. So the GOP urging that bond bearers, social security and the military be paid when the US goes into default just isn't legal. Then there is the definition of the debt itself. Opinions range from just bond holders, while others claims that bond-holders, social security and pension recipients are clearly part of the debt.

Another problem is that the Congress had authorized the President to spend the very funds they claim can not be paid because of failing the debt ceiling. This would bring the President into conflict with his own constitutional obligation. So what is someone to do?

The Washington Post opined that President Obama would face enormous blowback if he invoked it. It also claimed that it might benefit the Republicans unless the Democrats put in place a serious plan to reduce the debt. But this is all Beltway opinion since Americans are concerned about default and the state of the economy and not the deficit. This has been true throughout this phony debate. Only people in the Beltway care about the national debt. As has discussed by policy wonks on all sides, the solutions to the debt are rather simple. It's just there is no political will to solve the issue because Republicans resist any idea to increase revenues.

President Obama is already implementing the 14th Amendment in his talks with bondholders. He assures there will not be a default. In fact, even if the debt ceiling isn't raised, then they will be paid off first and so there will not be any default. As we saw two days ago, Moody backtracked, saying that the United States would retain its AAA rating with an asterick that it would be looked at months down the road. What was that about?

The reason the clause of the 14th Amendment was created was because a group of Southern congressmen were re-entering the Union and it was feared that they would object to the United States having the ability to pay off the enormous debt the North took on in fighting the South in the Civil War. The parallels are similar to today with the teabaggers becoming a faction of Congress. The consequences today, however, would be global in nature and have a lasting impact on America's position in the world. And all this would simply be self-inflicted.

Constitutional scholars differ on how wide President Obama's discretion is in invoking the 14th Amendment. Obama's legal mentor and professor, Laurence Tribe believes the President has large powers in this case. Others support Tribe's view with the "hidden powers" contained in the executive branch. Still others believe he should make the case that he is invoking it as a rare event.

Democrats like Sherrod Brown are very reluctant to support this option because he believes members of Congress have taken an oath of office and should be able to handle the debt ceiling issue. But as has become evident, the credit of the United States can not be held hostage by a militant minority. That much should be made clear.

Basically,the politicization of the debt ceiling has already made it into a constitutional issue. Rather than game this on who wins or loses politically, it's time we get rid of it as unconstitutional.

Will this settle it? No, we will again have to face within six weeks another attempt by the House to shut down government. This will happen even if the Grand Bargain with $4 trillion in cuts had been reached. It's time President Obama flex his muscles and invoke the 14th Amendment. He'll be surprised as will Beltway pundits how popular the move will be.

Another Day Older.And Deeper In Debt

++The overseas papers are now openly commenting that the United States has lost its mind and raising grave doubts about whether America can actually be allowed to lead the world's economies as we have. Still the largest world economy, the United States is seen as suffering a self-inflicted wound and a political system beyond dysfunctional. The Republicans gamble to play chicken with the debt ceiling for the first time in American history has finally triggered revulsion from Europe and China and India. Can you imagine now if a Republican were actually elected President in 2012? Goodby our residual international influence.

++Yesterday's frolics continued into today. The clock is now literally running out. With the Senate cloture rules and the GOP's willingness to filibuster a bill to raise the debt ceiling for the first time in American history,we may not get to the point of a bill being passed by the Senate and then the House in time. All of this has to be done by Wednesday 12:01 A.M.

++Speaker Boehner only got his 218-210 win yesterday by attaching the most improbable call for a Constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment on the bill. The second debt ceiling vote would only occur if Congress had approved this. Since two-thirds of the Senate would be needed to pass such an amendment, reality would tell almost anyone it was impossible.

++The Boehner bill was almost immediately tabled in the Senate by a 59-41 vote.

++Then we were treated to the news that Mitch McConnell wouldn't negotiate with Harry Reid and wanted Reid to submit his bill last night so he could filbuster it.

++Today the House wanted to get even--remember the United States is supposed to default on its debt in a few days. The House voted on the Reid bill under "suspension rules", which means it would need two-thirds to pass. The House's own bill couldn't do that. So Reid's bill went down to defeat.

++Meanwhile 43 Republicans in the Senate signed a letter to Harry Reid calling his bill unacceptable. This all means that Republicans are threatening a filibuster unless it is renegotiated. The actual bill contains budget cuts already approved by Republicans and no new revenues. Actually, the bill with a few tweaks can add the necessary Republicans to make it to the floor.

++President Obama in his weekly address lamented the House's waste of time and days passing something they knew the Senate and the White House would not accept. But the President's talk about the compromise he would want is something that passed by over a week ago.

++President Obama summoned Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to the White House as of the writing of this post. And somehow and somewhere Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell claims that a deal can be done.

Stay Tuned.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Don't Vote Tonight, Call Chicken Delight

++John Boehner can at least console himself that he is a more produtive speaker of the House than the Iraqi speaker of parliament. Boehner has passed 12 laws to date, the Iraqi speaker only 6. In contrast, Nancy Pelosi last term passed 254 laws. To be fair, it is estimated that Boehner will pass about 40 laws by the time his term expires. Still one of the worst records in the history of the United States.

++John Boehner told the House to go home tonight as he is still 26 votes short on his bill after vowing it would pass the House tonight.

++Even though John Boehner has been consulting Rush Limbaugh on the deficit ceiling plan, the Rushbo surprised this morning by urging House Republicans to vote against.

++Harry Reid was positively salivating at the prospect of the Boehner passing his bill tonight. He had kept the Senate around just to vote against it. All day long Harry Reid had b een promising the House that Boehner's bill was dead on arrival. So it probably was a disappointment he didn't get to shut it down tonight.

++The Boehner bill has gone back into re-write to appease the teabaggers. Red State claims they are adding a Balance Budget Amendment to the Constitution to the bill, precisely what Senator John McCain had warned against just yesterday. The other addition is to cut the funds for the Pell Grants because teabaggers believe it is welfare since minority students benefit from them. If anything the bill would become even more rightwing than it is.

++But teabaggers are expressing the concern that if they vote for Boehner than their constituents will be angry with them because it will never become law. A little late in the day when you consider that the teabaggers voted for the Ryan Plan that got rid of Medicare.

++But the good news as the economy goes off the cliff is that the House spent time naming a post office in Peoria, Illinois.

++Little attention has been paid to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops denunciation of the Boehner bill for making the poor pay an exorbitant amount in the budget cuts. In fact, Boehner's bill violates the rules of budget cutting that says that those programs protecting the most vulnerable must be preserved as a matter of law.

++The 14th Amendment has gained momentum in the debt ceiling argument. Bill Clinton met with President Obama advising him to invoke it. This is not unprecdented. Harry Truman once invoked it to raise the debt ceiling. From what I can tell, there seem to be several ways to do this by exceutive order. Paul Roberts, a former adviser to Ronald Reagan, wrote today that President Obama didn't have to go that fair. Apparently, in all those unitary executive rulings by the George W. Bush administration, the President is allowed to unilaterally declare an economic emergency and single-handedly do what he needs to do.

++The question facing Boehner is whether he can maintain the speakership if his bill goes down. Apparently, the conventional wisdom is he can last the term. But we face a government shutdown in September the way the House is acting because the continuing resolution on the budget will expire. And word is that Boehner doesn't want another deficit ceiling fight in his first term even though his bill calls for it. So if things are rough for the President, Boehner is the saddest tangerine as John Stewart said.

++The situation gets more bizarre as it unfolds. Boehner today said that he didn't care whether his bill would negatively affect the country's credit rating. "I have no control over that". Even though he had been warned several days before the bill was first posted about the fact.

++Freshmen GOP tweets today were sort of sad. It was clear they didn't even know how something became law. It was only throughout the day that it became clear to them that the House bill had no chance to become law. So the idea that this would force the Senate and the President's hand--the argument being used by Boehner and Cantor--rang hollow and they began to back away.

++I believe that the teabaggers honestly believe when they passed the Ryan Plan, the Cut, Cap and Balance bill that they had actually passed a law. They sincerely don;t know how the system works.

++Meanwhile Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell are quietly drafting a bill to raise the debt ceiling until the next presidential term with an attempt to merge Boehner and Reid's approaches.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hitting the Ceiling

++The Chamber of Commerce has reaped great benefits in backing the new Republican majority in the House. Former corporate employees have become staff members and virtually gutted regulation on oil and gas, the environment and have tried to gut the new Consumer Protection Agency.

++But it's clear for all the gains in real influence and power that the members they elected are economically illiterate and obtuse to the point where they really could bring down the economy. The Chamber is frantically lobbying the House to pass the Tan Man's plan. Wall Street is now beginning to realize that the prospects for a debt ceiling deal are not good and the stocks are plunging.

++By late afternoon it was reported that Boehner after telling his Caucus get "their ass in line" would get 217 votes for his bill.

++The irony is that bringing to the bill to the floor tomorrow would violate the House's new three day rule to allow floor debate. But since they no longer read the constitutional justification for legislation as they promised, why are we not surprised by the latest breach of etiquette?

++The new version of the bill , as scored by the CBO,has the cuts now totalling $950 billion, still below Boehner's orginal $1.25 trillion. This could prove problematic for the teabaggers who were told to get in line.

++Judson Phillips of the Teabaggers held a rally of ten--not thousands or hundreds--outside the House. Phillips has demanded Boehner resign as speaker.

++House Republicans still have three reservations about the bill. Not enough discretionary spending will be spent. They will have to go through this debate again rather shortly because it is a two-stage process and their constituents are furious and their poll numbers are diving. And, thirdly, the bill omits their Holy Grail--the much vaunted Balanced Budget Amendment,which wouold require a two-thirds vote to raise any taxes.

++John McCain lost it today over the demands by the "teaparty hobbits". McCain said that the demands by conservatives for a Balanced Budget Amendment on a debt ceiling law was "bizarro". This is the reason, McCain said, that the Republican party ends up with a Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell as a Senate candidate. He lectured the new Senators from the teaparty that it is nuts to believe they can have their way with a Democatically controlled Senate and a Democratic President.

++Hey, but that didn't stop John Boehner from appearing on right-wing radio soliciting support because President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid hate his bill. His public pitch is that his bill is a vote against President Obama. It's not for some national interest--heaven forbid.

++Iowa Christianist Steve King claimed that Obama would be impeached if the debt ceiling isn't lifted. Not so fast, legal scholars claim that with the 14th Amendment and the House's responsibility in the Constitution for generating the budget, it would be Speaker Boehner who would face impeachment.

++So far, all Democratic House members and Senators have pledged not to vote for the Boehner Plan.

++The Black Caucus unanimously voted today to vote against anything but a clean debt ceiling bill. They also urged the White House to use the 14th Amendment.

++James Clyburn came out today and urged President Obama to use the 14th Amendment As the third-ranking Democrat, he would signalled to the White House that the Democratic caucus would provide him cover if he did.

++White House spokesman Carney shot the suggestion down today saying the White House didn't want to get into an esoteric legal discussion.

++Alice Rivlin said the whole debt ceiling was a big fraud. Rivlin was the founder of the CBO and later a member of the Clinton Administration.

++Yves Smith, author of Econned, said that the Administration should call everybody's bluff. She said that there were at least three ways to handle the situation. The first was to invoke the 14th Amendment. The Second was for Treasury to selectively default on the nearly $1.5 trillion bonds held by the Federal Reserve as part of the recent Fed stimulus move. The Third was the very artful suggestion that the Mint produce a $1 trillion coin for Treasury and that would then be deposited in the government's acount. She basically said that Geitner has not been imaginative in his approach to this. And that no one could stop the Administration.

++Smith says that Wall Street does have a Plan B in case of default. Hedge Fund managers are ready to scoop up Treasuries because everyone on the Street believes a default would be temporary.

++Smith warned that the new mantra on austerity is dangerous. As consumers are trying to pay down their debt, the government must pick up the slack to allow them to. If not, you have situations like Ireland where austerity programs have caused the economy to shrink by 20%. She coted Latvia and Greece as other examples where industry is de-leveraging now and as a result debt to GDP ratios actually worsen.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

C.C.wins 15th and Mariano saves 26th


Well, we close today with the Tan Man pulling his debt bill from the floor because the CBO scored that it would only save $850 million, not the $1.2 trillion as advertised. Also the Republican caucus is mutinying. Heritage Foundation, Freedomworks,the Club of Growth,the teabaggers and the Cut,Cap and Balance Caucus--yes there is such a thing--have opposed the plan because the Supercommittee of 12 might--yes, might lead to higher taxes. John Boehner is a man dangling from a thread. Little Ricky Cantor played a film clip to fire up the troops and said that there had to be unity in order to call President Obama's bluff. No sooner did that get heard by the White House and there came a statement that the President's advisers called on President Obama to veto the bill if passed. Harry Reid over at the Senate said that the Tan Man's bill was dead,dead,dead on arrival. That no Democrat would vote for it --ever,ever,ever.

The phones have been ringing off the hook--almost reaching the volume on the Health Care debate. Servers on the Hill have been crashing. Republicans have been closing their local offices to avoid constituent feedback. It's getting ugly and will ge uglier.

While the polls have not been so kind to President Obama and the Democrats, they have been utterly disasterous for the Republicans. By overwhelming margins, Americans back the President's approach. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll by a staggering 6 to 1 margin. The bad news for Democrats is that the Predsident's approval rating is flagging and people are very fed up with both parties on the issue of jobs and the economy.

But there is a real problem as the clock ticks down. Americans overwhelmingly support raising the cap of Social Security, rescinding the Bush Tax Cuts, taxing Hedge Fund managers and eliminatging corporate tax loopholes and cancelling the oil company subsidies. All of these things would stabilize America's financial future and secure Social Security well into the next century. And it would not be onerous on the rich and would not hurt the middle class. But none of these things are in the Senate bill or anything else being contemplated for the next week.

And also remember we start all this over again in about six weeks over the budget debate. Most Americans aren't aware of this. They actually think that debate is going on now. Can you imagine the outrage when next we're back at contemplating a real government shutdown if the government hasn't disappeared by then?

Since the debt ceiling possible deal will have no revenues in it and Americans support Obama's approach, how do we get there? INVOKE THE 14Th Amendment, Mr. President. The debts of the American government can not be questioned. That is what has maintained our financial system and our government since the Civil War. Let's remember that this year's Pentagon review raised America's indebtedness as a national security threat. That's the opening for the President. A default on America's obligations would seriously cripple our economic system, instantly creating 20% unemployment and cancelling the 70 million checks for Social Security, pensions and the like. To preserve the viability of the United States, President Obama should invoke it as a measure in the name of national security.

Bill Clinton suggested this, Laurence Tribe has come around to this view. And Robert Kuttner also is suggesting it. Jonathan Turley is dubious about this.

But Robert Kuttner explains in a recent essay that even as corrupt as the Roberts Court is can one seriously imagine them ruling that the President of the United States can not keep issuing Treasury Bonds as long as there are buyers. This is especially true when banks and Wall Street are screaming at the Republicans. We already know that the House despises the President of the United States and would love to impeach him. This would give them something to do for the rest of his term and theirs so they don't keep harming the American people.

Even if the President loses on this, it has bought him time and would allow him to rally the nation aggressively against the "reckless and dangerous behavior" of the Republicans and frame the debate on their attempts to destroy the economy.

As Mr. Bernstein, Joe Biden's former economic adviser, told Lawrence O'Donnell, President Obama must move beyond this debt ceiling debate onto arguments about ways to create jobs and grow the economy. While President Obama suggested the 14th amendment had not been advised by his lawyers at a townhall meeting in nearby University of Maryland, he should take this bold step. Howard Kurtz writing at the Daily Beast says that Obama's presidency hinges on the outcome of this debate. He has to find a way to overcome the pure lunacy in the House or he will go down and maybe us with him.

Howard Fineman believes both Boehner's plan and Reid's plan are both dead in the water. With Business Week and Bloomberg eviscerating the Republicans right now and the business community actually getting really nervous, Fineman thinks either there will be a short-term fix or a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling. A short-term fix would also wreck our bond rating as the head of Nasdaq testified. In the 89 times, the debt ceiling has been raised before, it has always been just a clean bill with no madness attached. When it was included in a budget bill, it usually consisted of one sentence inserted somewhere in the back. But I don't see this happening. The GOP response while being blasted by their constituents is to hide under the cover they were sent to Washington to cut spending.

I was glad to see Steve Benen catch the same delusionary column by David Brooks that I did. Brooks claims Obama muffed the Grand Bargain because he lost his cool. This mirrors commments by people like George Will and Jennifer Rubin who claimed Obama lost his temper and that's why talks broke down. Conservatives have been playing the angry Black Man card for the last two and a half years. So now the President finally gets pissed--to which I say,"Bravo." But Brooks' conceit is that he says that now people in Washington who really know how to do things are in control--such as? Brooks really thinks that people like Boehner and McConnell actually can do things, which they have never done before. Just look at Boehner's amateur mistakes on promising a bill on Monday only to have the CBO shoot it down today. It's clear none of the seasoned pols Brooks believes actually exist in Washington can defend themselves against the cult members who are part of their caucuses. Brooks knew this two weeks ago. Now it's Obama's fault?

As we head off the cliff, it's important to recognize that the actual debt of the United States is very manageable and that our problem is a revenue, not spending problem. President Obama and the Democrats have lost the framing problem, while maintaining popular support. Ezra Klein believes that the Democrats blew it by not insisting on raising the debt limit last year while they still had majorities in Congress. But he undercut his own case by citing all the major accomplishments the last Congress actually got down in the lame duck session--which then everyone was amazed by. Asking for raising the debt ceiling at that time, I don't believe was possible with all the other things on the table.

I believe President Obama can get back his narrative by invoking the 14th Amendment. It is as absolute on our national debt obligations as you can get. And then he can pivot to the infrastructure bank, which is supported by both labor and the Chamber of Commerce, and other ways to bolster the economy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Obama Asks Americans To Call Congress

The servers are crashing because of the response. President Obama addressed the nation on the debt issue and also the whole idea of the debt ceiling tonight. For political junkies like myself it was nothing new. He stressed his approach for a balance between programs cuts and revenue hikes. He spelled out what a default on our debt would mean both in terms of social security checks and pensions not going out but also the lowering of our bond rating and a rapid rise in the interest rates. He studious gave John Boehner credit for working with him on this but said that a certain group of Republicans in the House refused to compromise.

President Obama suggested that the Senate way was perferable because we wouldn't have to go through all this again in six months. He did note that the same thing would happen next time the debt ceiling came up and that the House plan would still jeopardize the bond rating. He closed by asking Americans to contact their representatives about whether they support a balanced approach and compromise. He mentioned that people in Washington now believe that compromise is a dirty word.

John Boehner took the fight to the President, accusing the President of creating a crisis atmosphere. He said that the House had passed the Cut, Cap and Balance bill. he lied about it being bipartisan. He also didn't mention that it would be more draconian than the Ryan Plan and that the Senate refused to even consider it. He indicated that he would put forth a bill that would cut services by 1.5 trillion for six months.

He also mentioned the Super Congress and tried to explain why it was better than the Catfood Commission by saying it included elected officials--which the debt Commission did also. He made the case that the debt issue was Obama's, claming the Health reform Bill, "which no one wanted" and the stimulus package, which was good for jokes on late night talk shows, caused the whole thing. And he accused President Obama of wanting a blank check--which is also not true.

Boehner tweeted that "I never thought I would go up against the President of the United States tonight."

Early polls actually had it a tie--which was unbelievable for me. Our ace media commented on this as a political fight and not something with economic consequences. They didn't think having anyone with expertise was worth it. They also didn't get how many times Boehner lied during the speech. Only Chris Matthews tag him on his statement that a bipartisan plan had passed the House.

One little missing element in the coverage of both speeches is that the Teajadists have rejected Boehner's plan as outlined tonight. They did this by 4:00Pm, some five hours before the speech. So Boehner was petulant and bragging when what he talked about is already dead in his own Caucus. It will have to come down to Democrats voting with Republicans to get anything done. It looked like Harry Reid was laying low today because he knows what's coming down the pike.

So who was the person John Boehner first cleared his new plan with? That great economist--Rush Limbaugh. I kid you not. That's how low we've fallen.

Personally, I don't think anything will happen until Wednesday.

I don't know about you but I'm tired of this subject and so are most Americans. Congressional Republicans have a massive ideological victory to win here, while all of us are sleeping. Their object is to bring Obama down but are willing to take the economy down with him. Of course, no one has gamed out the results of that for the future of America. But I can promise you it would be grim.

More later.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

We'll Split the Difference

John Boehner's conference call was not the great pep talk to "Win One For The Gipper". He urged solidarity to his caucus so that President Obama doesn't get what he wants. I read his message that he doesn't have the votes of his caucus--yet and maybe not ever.

Nancy Pelosi surfaced last week with a debt ceiling idea that would entail budget cuts and no revenues but would leave the Big Three alone. No one paid attention then but I'm beginning to see this emerge as Harry Reid's Plan--which would cut about $2.5-3 trillion and would require no new revenues. The beauty of his plan is that we don't have to go over this again until after the Presidential election. And by then the Bush tax cuts are due to expire and the debt would be very manageable.

Progressive blogs continue to go haywire over the mere suggestion that there would be cuts to Medicare or the so-called entitlement programs. I think they have a point in maintaining pressure but think they overdraw the issue. Look at the plans now on the table. The Ryan Plan had called for the radical elimination of Medicare and some $6 trillion of program cuts, while neglecting a serious discussion of revenues. Progressives seem not to listen to President Obama either. He proposed in this year's budget $4 trillion in spending cuts over 10+ years. Harry's Plan gives him most of that, leaving the entitlement issue for a time when serious people are in Congress.

If Hapless Harry suceeds in the Senate, then watch for Nancy Pelosi to emerge in the House to try and get Boehner to agree when his plan fails. This would then leave about 1 trillion to debate in the future.

The tremendous if here is the inherent insanity of the Republican caucus in the House. It's too bad the Grand Bargain could not have been reached, in my opinion, because we would have put a chronic source of acrimony behind us. I think that's what President Obama thought. Even still if Hapless Harry's plan comes close to reality, we actually can move on.

Teresa Tritch did a nice summary today in the New York Times of the national debt problem. In 2001, George W inherited a surplus with the CBO projecting surpluses from there out if President Clinton's policies remained in place. But every year starting in 2002, the budget fell into deficit. In January 2009 just before President Obama took office, the CBO projected a $1.2 trillion deficit that year and in subsequent years, based on Bush's policies and the recession. President Obama added to the deficit in 2009 and 2010 with policies such as the stimulus package but these were largely temporary.

The main drivers of the deficits during W's years were the tax cuts and war spending with recessions in 2001, in 2008 and 2009.

The list is as follows:
Bush FY 2002-2009
Iraq,Afghanistan Wars--$1,469 trillion
Bush Tax Cuts --$1.812 trillion
Non-defense discretionary spending
--$ 608 billion
TAARP and bailouts --$ 224 billion
Medicare Pan D --$ 180 billion
2008 Stimulus and
other changes --$ 773 billion

Cost of Bush new policies--$5.07 billion

Obama FY 2009-2017 (with projections)
Stimulus spending --$711
Non-Defense discretionary--$278 billion
Stmulus tax cuts --$425 billion
Health reform and
entitlement changes --$152 billion

Cost of Obama's new policies--$1.44 trillion

Tritch argues that if the Bush tax cuts expire, then future deficits would be cut in half and become manageable. She also argues like every other person that spending cuts alone will not get us out of the jam but that taxces have to go up. So if you look at Hapless Harry's proposal, the cuts center around the wars ending and some savings in defense and about $1 trillion in other areas.

What's so amazing and frustrating is that the solutions to these problems have been clear for over the last two years and that our current political environment can't seem to solve them in the least harmful way.

You Go Your Way,I'll Go Mine

Late last night Red State started warning teabaggers about the Tan Man's proposal to have a two-tier approach to the debt ceiling with the first a short-term agreement where $1.5 trillion in spending cuts ,raising the debt ceiling a trillion and then before the next election another vote. They were furious that this second vote would allow Obama to say he reached a bipartisan agreement before the presidential election and give him credibility. They urged all Republicans to oppose it.

The problem as many bloggers have noted is that if you say that Obama is a Marxist, socialist, terrorist-sympathizer, this feeling of the base will be "emotionally" felt by the Republican congress critters who just don't want to accomodate the President of the United States. Make sure this is about spite played out at a suicidal level. The coding was seen on Drudge this morning with headlines under Obama's picture "Left Out". Then in red a quote of John Boehner saying" Congress makes the laws of this country,Mr. President. You decide which ones you sign."

Boehner had telegraphed that he would have a plan ready before the Asian markets open. He doesn't. He told Republicans he would give them the details on Monday and they should wait. I believe he faced severe resistance from the Default Caucus. We'll see tomorrow. But Boehner said the Republicans will move ahead unilaterally. Which has been their attitude since winning one part of one third of the government.

Senator Dick Durbin ,repeating Colin Powell's maxim on Iraq,told Republicans on the economy,"You break it, you own it." This is what the GOP wants to avoid at all costs because they believe they can hang Obama with the economy. How a Republican would actually bring the economy back from the grave is the great mystery given their current crew of contenders. It's no wonder that Wall Street, much to the chagrin of the Left, is lining up big bucks for Obama's re-election campaign.

The atmosphere in D.C. has gotten so toxic that a fight broke out last night on whether August 2 was really the deadline and Republicans accusing Geitner of lying, saying it really is August 10. For history buffs, Republicans forced a default on the national debt in 1979 during Jimmy Carter. Even thought it lasted a very short time, it ended up costing the country millions. But it made the point and so helped Reagan get elected.

It's too late to recall how we got here. But Republicans are not interested in the debt--never have been, never will be. The New Republic had an excellent article on how phony Paul Ryan is on this issue by showing how when even the Gang of Six adopted some of his ideas like lowering tax rates and removing loopholes he immediately came out and opposed it. Even Grover Norquist, one of the evil geniuses behind the Republican no tax policy, is beginning to freak, arguing that more revenues doesn't necessarily mean tax increases. But the other evil genius Karl Rove has run more ads against raising the debt ceiling than the Democrats counter-campaign. And Karl was the top political adviser to the President who plunged the nation into the largest debts ever incurred by a President, even with inflated dollars.

The Democrats are writing their own plan. It calls for 2.5 trillion in cuts but a large portion of that is an accounting trick of including the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The point is that if passed, then we don't revisit the issue until 2013 after the presidential elections. The plan includes no new revenues,thereby paving the way for possible sane Republican support.

The most bizarre idea that was floated last night was the idea of creating a Super Congress or Super Committee composed of 16 members, selected from each body and from each party, who would get to rule on entitlement reform and their suggestions would be mandatory for an up and down vote. Since we have shredded the idea of democracy recently, why not dispose of elected government completely. I seriously hope this was a non-starter. The idea has its origins in Mitch McConnell saying that the Constitution needed to be rewritten for these situations. Well,as an older conservatgive guru , Barry Goldwater said, "Governing is the art of compromise." This is something sorely lacking among the Republicans.

So we again wait for tomorrow and the mutual recriminations. Meanwhile the dollar has plummeted against the Euro and Yen.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Best of Alan Simpson from the Catfood Commission

Now that the Tan Man has ordered $4 trillion in cuts by tomorrow for a debt ceiling bill,we can all rest easy because of the known rationality of the GOP. Dana Milbank has an excellent article on the Default Caucus--there really is such a thing--and why it's impossible to negotiate with these people. Dana quotes management science professors of how it's a mistake to empower marginal people unless they finally agree to a solution, otherwise you further endanger everybody. Good advice. Steve Benen recalls today at the Washington Monthly Juan Cole's phrase about tire irons and anthrax as a phrase used in 2009 about what Democrats would face with the new GOP. The original line was it's like saying to your wife,"Would you like to eat Italian tonight?" And she replies,"No, tire irons and anthrax." There is not a lot of room to compromise in such a situation.

The Left is back in high outrage over what President Obama offered Boehner for the "Grand Bargain". Paul Krugman is now going bipolar backing away from praising Obama's backbone to expressing horror at the cuts offered in Medicare and Medicaid. The Dailykos reminded its readers that President Obama really did campaign on reforming the entitlement programs and that he really did want a Grand Bargain and this was not a rope-a-dope maneuver. But where the Grand Bargain fell down was on tax revenues. Last night it was actually reported that Boehner had agreed to end the Bush tax cuts. This doesn't seem to be so. Another demand from the GOP was Obama eliminate the individual mandate from his health reform bill. He refused to do it. Others complain that the President should not have dissed Harry Reid by omitting him from the negotiations.

One consoling note was an internet poll by the Washington Post asking who's to blame for the failure of the negotiations. Number 1 by far was little Ricky Cantor--my wife got this right; and Number 2 was John Boehner. I guess there really is a public perception that Boehner can't control his Caucus and fears being toppled. The best line from Boehner was that he has the same responsibilities as the President. Cool, maybe he can go after Al Qaeda while he's at it.

The Karl Rove machine and Red State have started a campaign to go after Democrats for wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare again. Remember this was the success of Crosshairs USA during the 2010 campaign--coveniently forgetting that the House and Senate Republicans as a bloc have voted to literally eliminate Medicare. Red State also is targeting the young about Obama eliminating Social Security and Medicare for them.neglecting to mention that Paul Ryan's plan leave them high and dry.

Obama is experiencing his summer droop in the polls. Romney ties him in one and squeezes out a one-point victory in another. But remember Walter Mondale was winning by a landslide at this point in the Reagan administration. But there are other numbers of concern. Party identification among whites have shifted dramatically since 2008. Republicans have gained among poorer whites ,younger whites and among the elderly. Right now they have a 50-39% edge. Among all other groups, Democrats remain strong. A bit of poerspective--Democrats have not won a majority of white voters for several elections but this gap is worrisome for 2012. After that it won't mean as much.

So now for our guest tonight--Former Senator Alan Simpson, former co-chairman of the deficit-reduction commission, who was blasted during his tenure there for his comments on Social Security. Belinda Luscombe of Time interviewed him for this coming issue. As always, he is pithy and makes the current GOP look like a bunch of loons.

On the debt ceiling vote,"We were never globally connected like we are now. You can't play games."

Could the U.S. become the next Greece: Recalling Erskine Bowles statement,"We're the healthiest horse in the glue factor."

On Social Security: "Nobody's trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor old seniors. We're trying to make the damn system solvent! (Note: Reagan raised the FICA tax and cut a deal that actually made Social Security solvent to 2036 and then it would pay 80% of benefits.)

On Defense? : " We found enough fat in the Defense Department to send a truck of potato chips to tghe obese. Take one example, Tricare, a health care plan for 2.2 million military retirees, separate from the VA. The premium is $470 a year and there is no co-pay and the cost is $53 billion a year.

Medicare? "It doesn't matter if you call it "Obamacare" or "Elvis Presley care" or "I don't care care". It cannot sustain itself in its present form. You've got to reduce providers' and physicians' compensation, start charging co-pays and affluence-testing beneficiaries. You've got to make hospitals keep one set of books, not three."

On Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge: He wouldn't sign it. (Note: Why is anyone listening to Grover after his involvement in the Jack Abramoff scandal. Rent Casino Jack to see his role.) "The revenue coming into the U.S. is 15% of GDP, which is the lowest since the Korean War. In the past 20 years, it has been 19% to 20%. If you can't move that a half-inch, then you're never going to get anywhere."

What's fascinating is that this debt ceiling issue is totally a man-made catastrophe. As Dana Milbank wrote, there really are politicians who actually want the United States to default--something these alleged conservatve constitutionalists don't understand is unconstitutional. If there is a default, make no mistake we get Instant Depression--not recession. It will be 2008 on steroids. Kiss all your savings, 501s and anything else you have-goodby. The dollar will no longer be the world's reserve currency so we will be sitting ducks for skyhigh interest rates. We will all have to consult our Latin American friends like Argentina about how to survive such a situation. My conservative friends with their military pensions will be wounded to discover they will have disappeared. Government contractors will not get paid and all their employees will be terminated. And since we all receive government benefits in various ways like home mortgage deductions, literally everyone will be seriously hurt. Over half of seniors depend on social security alone. This would be the ultimate death panel.

Now what great lesson would we have learned from the Default Caucus? Would we insist on smaller government. In a time of open social conflict, we would expect the government to act to embark on massive projects to save the country. It is beyond any imagination to see Jim DeMint being hailed as a hero. Of course, these conditions could usher in a fascist state totally controlled by the surviving corporations and whose order is maintained by an army, which would have to go back to a draft.

While some Republicans have publicly said they made a political mistake in picking a p;olitical fight over the debt ceiling--something that has never, ever been done before--and some even express a desire to call for a voice vote on the floor of the Congress, it looks like the hostage-taking will continue. Tomorrow John Boehner will try to recoup the political momentum and demand the President accept another unacceptable deal and the game will go on.

I'm still at the position that the President should invoke the 14th amendment for the world to see and risk impeachment by moving forward. The Republicans would never had done this if they didn't hate the idea of Barack Obama as President. So why not make it explicit?

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Tan Man Walks

President Obama accomplished something today. He signed the certification of the DADT repeal and the head of Yemen's Al Qaeda branch got iced. Relaxed and cool,he hosted a townhall meeting in Maryland where he explained what he had wanted to do in a debt negotiation.

But the Tan Man didn't return his phone calls last night and by late today sent a letter saying he was walking away from any further negotiations with the White House on raising the debt ceiling. Instead, he said he was picking up the marbles and working with Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell.

Throughout the day I read all the bitter denunciations of Obama from the Left. The man gutted Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security faster than Paul Ryan. He had betrayed everyone. "We elected a symbol but he's only a figurehead." And the beat goes on. By the time of President Obama's press conference,the tide had changed and it was clear that Boehner simply could not agree to increasing any revenues.

Yes, Obama did put $800 billion in cuts in the out years on the table but Boehner could not agree to significant revenue to make the deal. Obama was right--the rumored deal was more favorable to the Republicans than to the Democrats but Boehner didn't have the leadership skills to pull it off.

Boehner looked like a ship wreck. Here was a guy on the verge of either a nervous breakdown or a week long bender. Even the media didn't buy Boehner's statement that Obama changed the goal posts in the negotiations. It was clear that the House caucus simply could not budge on any taxes. Now we're talking about closing loopholes and doing away with very minor tax breaks to corporations. Nothing about ending the Bush tax cuts or oil tax concessions. These were incredibly minor. And, yes, Boehner would have walked away with a major deal but the calculus showed it would benefit Obama politically.

Yesterday, Harry Reid was reported to be furious with Obama on the pending deal saying he had not been consulted. By early morning,it was said that the Reid-McConnell backup plan was on ice. Now it looks like it has to be revised as Boehner claimed that no one wants the United States to default.

Earlier today Obama suggested that his lawyers discouraged him from invoking the 14th amendment and just raising the limit unilaterally. I'm not sure that he has totally ruled that out.

Yesterday Standards and Poors lectured over 40 Republican House members about the implications of a default and their lowering America's rating. We should have sensed something when the White House blasted S&P for suggesting that it wasn't enough to simply raise the debt ceiling but there had to be cuts and revenue in the package. I wonder whether the White House knew all along where this was heading.

Steve Benen has been posting at the Washington Monthly blog several warnings about negotiating with the certifiably insane. It's not simply that either side has different points of view, they inhabit different realities. Benen pointed out that since 1937 the United States has raised the debt ceiling 89 times without any conditions. It has simply been pro-forma. And in many ways, President Obama should have been emphasizing this since the beginning. It was the minority party that held the economy hostage to these negotiations. It is a very simple thing to raise it. You can even do it with a voice vote.

I guess holding the President in contempt like House Republicans do goes over well with their base but I'm not so sure the average American feels the same way. Howard Dean, who says Obama has had a great three weeks, argues that the Republicans scare Americans to death. With the country living in times of economic anxiety, threatening default for the first time in our history unless Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are gutted is not the way to win peoples' hearts and minds. It is absolutely true that every poll taken during this time backs up the proposition that cuts have to be met with increased taxes and Americans are not ready to sacrifice their tattered safety net.

But the Left's absolute distrust of President Obama is amazing also. Paul Krugman called him " Capitulator in Chief", others Herbert Hoover. I liked Bruce Bartlett calling him the democrat's Richard Nixon. Bernie Saunders suggested today that he should be primaried. I received e-mails from unions that Obama was going to slash the Big Three. We heard Ed Shultz complain all week long that Obama was going to throw away the safety net. The only one who seemed amused by the political dance was Lawrence O'Donnell, who still holds that this was a great rope-a-dope--that Obama knew in his heart of hearts that Boehner couldn't make the deal.

I still think Obama did want a large deal because these issues would have been neutralized for 2012 and that he could concentrate on improving the economy. During his townhall meeting, he did indicate that he understood his Keynesian economics when he specifically referred to FDR agreeing to spending cuts in 1937, which put the country back into recession. He also has been clear on what cuts he would not accept in any package. Remember his last "so-called betrayal" of the Left when he negotiated the last budget agreement. It turns out that Boehner's crowing of budget cuts was false, government spending actually rose under that plan. So why believe Obama couldn't negotiate a good deal, preserving the safety net and taking it off the political agenda for years?

In my opinion, John Boehner simply didn't understand the details of the negotiations and its implications for the economy. He has shown this obtuseness before, especially during the global financial meltdown in 2008. He and John McCain literally did not know what was happening. I believe the same applies to these negotiations. He had to give them up because he was getting out-foxed, sensed it and could not go through with a deal he basically didn't understand.

Now for his fellow members in the House caucus, they are economically clueless. Boehner at least believed something had to be done. But the House stands in recess, members cheered and few actually understand the human consequences of their actions. There was literally no way Boehner could sell anything sophisticated to this crowd--especially a deal he himself could not understand.

A conservative e-mailed me an article about how Reagan acted during the period of stagflation and suggested Obama should do the same. Total apples and oranges. Even David Stockman refused to answer Diane Rheim on what Reagan would do because of the different circumstances. But there are similarities between Reagan and Obama and it's not what the Left keeps saying that Obama buys Reaganomics. Both men were cold blooded. Somehow people think the guy who got Bin Laden and took out the Somali pirates will cave to the likes of John Boehner. I don't see it.

Washington is now in the blame game mode. David Brooks ,appearing with Mark Shields this afternoon, thought that Obama shouldn't have slammed the Republicans as hard in his press conference because they will get more stubborn. I am glad he finally did it. Someone had to. We've had people like George Will, who is now non compis mentis, argue that the debt ceiling is Obama's problem. Yet no one in this town takes the Republicans to task for creating the debts we have today. Obama is very little of the problem.

Jim De Mint,Mr. Waterloo, crowed that Obama would cave and be forced to sign something like the Cut, Cap and Balance bill. That went real well in the Senate. When it was tabled by a party vote, DeMint claimed it got within five votes of passing. This is a problem people in this town have begun to realize--the teabagging Republicans simply do not understand the legislative process.

President Obama has already taken this issue to the country and penned an op-ed in USA Today on his views of a reasonable settlement. He even claimed Sean Hannity as agreeing with his views that cuts have to be accompanied by revenues. Sean Hannity immediately argued that Obama didn't hear him correctly and didn't actually write the article. But the wind is going out of the sails of the obstructionists.

President Obama said at his press conference that he would take the responsibility of raising the debt ceiling. He seemed to suggest he now favored Mitch McConnell-Harry Reid's compromise which basically would allow the President to do it unilaterally without Republican votes. My concern is that this plan was originally too complicated to get enacted in time. But it's clear that this is where Boehner was headed in his press conference. He doesn't want any responsibility for this decision.

In the end it will get us where we want but it is an enormous forfeiting of responsibility by a once major party. Today was won by President Obama.

After writing the post. I noticed Paul Krugman's late day blog "Backbone" where he applauds President Obama for his spine and calls for him to invoke the 14th amendment to challenge the debt ceiling law and force the House to impeach him. Naturally, the Washington Post said the situation was lose-lose for everyone.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Murdoch Versus God in the Polls

PPP polling seemed to have alot of time on their hands this summer day. In addition to polling how Congress was doing, they decided to test the approval ratings of Rupert Murdoch and God. USA Today showed that 80% of Americans think Newscorp should be investigated here in the States. PPP shows that Murdoch didn't fare so well with his testimony in the UK. He had a 12% approval rating against 49% disapproval. The others probably didn't know who he was. Only 9% of self-designated liberals approve, 60% disapprove. Among conservatives he's not making out that great either--23% approve, 27% disapprove, the rest were afraid of Fox News.

But God does much better but not as well as you might think. God has a 52% approval rating and only 9% disapproval, the rest are also scared on the divine being. For his greatest hits, God gets high marks for Creation--71% to 5%. On how he handled the animal kingdom,56% to 11%. A little lower on natural disasters--50 to 13%.

So much to the consternation of House Republicans, Rupert Murdoch clearly isn't God. Republicans were asked whether Barack Obama would be raptured. 44% said he would not be. But 37% weren't so sure.

Obama's Summer Doldrums

Summer is Washington,D.C. is miserable. This year is no exception. The heat index will be over 115 over the next few days. Rush Limbaugh says that the heat index is a government conspiracy to hype climate change. It's so bad that E.J. Dionne now believes there will not be a debt ceiling deal. And master portrait painter Lucian Freud died at 88,probably in response to the Murdoch hearings. The Senate will work all weekend. House Republicans will take the weekend off even though the clock goes tick-tock on defaulting on the national debt.

It's so bad that the Democrats are running ads of Ronald Reagan talking about Congressional games on the debt ceiling. The GOP has gone off the rails, down the cliff and into the gulch.

As I've written too often, summer is the pits for President Obama, his approval sags, progressives get testy and the GOP think of new ways to undercut the country. It would seem anyone could beat Obama in the summer. Well, apparently not. Today's poll has Obama beating Romney by 51 to 44. In fact, so far Romney is the only competitive Republican around and even they don't like him.

This caused the Gallup organization to ponder at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast why Obama over-performs in his polls. Yes, he's done his summer dip to the mid-40s. But the Gallup people say that's extraordinary. With struggling economies, both Clinton and Reagan at this point in their first term had slipped to the mid-thirties. And the Gallup people know something--by a margin of 58 to 16 Americans are more concerned about job creation and the economy than the national debt. But here is President Obama embroiled in a summer long fight over raising the debt ceiling, something that has always been done automatically.

Americans also know how to deal with tthe debt. Today's ABC/Washington Post poll shows that 72% of Americans want to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for those earning over $250,000; 66% want to end the FICA cap at $105,000, a similar percent want the wealthy to pay more for Medicare and 59% want to end tax breaks for oil companies. Virtually none of these are acceptable to Republicans. If you want to slip in the polls, look at the 72% disapproval ratings for Republicans in Congress about the way they are handling the debt ceiling debate.

Every time a deal has been announced all participants have to walk it back. Today we had another announcement of a "Grand Bargain" between President Obama and John Boehner only to have both sides declare the news was wrong. Republicans, now nearly a week late on the debt ceiling bill acceptable to Obama, doubled down and voted for the "Cut,Cap and Balance" budget, which would be even more draconian than the Ryan Plan. Since this can not become law or even a bargaining chip, why would you risk your re-election in a presidential year when people actually vote in voting for this nonsense? The minute Obama said he liked the Gang of Six proposal--he didn't support it--little Eric Cantor rejected it and the House GOP ruled it dead on arrival. Mitchell McConnell's strange plan that would allow Obama to raise the debt ceiling with no Republican votes seemed to gain life but was taken off life support today.

I happen to agree with Warren Buffett and Moody's--get rid of the debt ceiling. It only jeopardizes America's credit rating and it is totally a fake issue. Bill Clinton thinks that Obama should just invoke the 14th Amendment because the GOP is not being constructive.

Lawrence O'Donnell believes that Obama has created the greatest rope-a-dope in political history by offering $4 trillion in cuts because he knows the Republicans can not accept even the smallest tax increases. I actually tend to the view that Obama really does want a Grand Bargain. People forget that a month after taking office Obama had Paul Volcker as his adviser on the national debt, when the Republicans proposed a bipartisan debt commission he created one even though all the Republicans voted against it. But anything Obama proposes is simply rejected. This is even driving David Frum to despair because he thinks no Republican President could achieve such cuts and the GOP are absolutely insane to reject them. But as David Brooks recently discovered they are that insane. Which leaves you will Lawrence O'Donnell assertion that this will come down to a clean bill on the debt ceiling at the 11th hour. As he explained, it only takes a sentence or two.

Where he is right so far is that independents are swinging toward Obama in great numbers. Theyt are alarmed at the economic ignorance of the GOP. At some moments in the debate, I thought Obama was trying to split the business community off from the GOP with an eye to the 2012 election. Rating organizations have already warned that they are prepared to downgrade American securities. Automatically this would seriously downgrade the ratings for Virginia, South Carolina,Maryland, South Dakota and Tennessee. Over 450 CEOs have petitioned Congress to raise the debt ceiling and even the Chamber of Commerce has been lobbying the House Republicans. One small bond rating agency has already downgraded America to an A+. But observers say that if America defaults we will be the same as....drumroll...Zambia--a B+.

President Obama's first quarter fund-raising dwarfed the entire Republican field--in fact surpassing all their fund-raising combined. Mitt Romney had crowed about his take but onb closer analysis it turns out that he has very little small donations and alot of people who have already tapped out at the $2,500 level. And remember he actually has to run in primaries. Three-quarters of Romney's money comes from donors who have maxed out. In fact, they almost all come from corporate sources such as Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs. One in every eight Romney donors live in New York City or its suburbs, not the greatest advertisement for a national campaign.

The rest of the Republican field is struggling. The anti-Romney, Tim Pawlenty, has been dropped from Public Policy Polling because his numbers have shrunk do drastically as not to make him competitive. They have replaced him with non-candidate Rick Perry. Karl Rove amplified the charges that Michelle Bachmann's migraines rule her out for the Presidency. This was based on a former aide to Bachmann and Karl wants to help winnow the field. Look at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar--he suffered from migraines and became the highest scorer in NBA history. Or look at U.S. Grant, JFK. The Newt--well, he is gungho for a default. He's also running about $1.5 million in debt at this early stage.

Frothy Mix Santorum knows he has a good thing. Since he is forever immortal in googleland, he's using his plight brought about by Dan Savage to raise money off the "gay" attack on him. Rick has moved his family to Iowa to camp out until the primary. At least everyone will know about frothy mix.

Meanwhile our Wisconsin Dancing Cows are beginning the recall season and look to be sweeping the field against the Walker GOP. In Ohio, the anti-union bill will be on a referendum. In the past this type of bill has been roundly defeated. To give you some idea of the mood in Ohio, Obama and Sherrod Brown lead the polls for 2012 and Kasich has joined his brother GOP governors in approval hell, dipping inton the 30% range. The Minnesota state shutdown is over partly because some knucklehead forgot that if the state closed down liquor licenses couldn't be renewed, beer couldn't be sold and fishing licenses could not be had--just in time for summer vacation and tourists.

My Queen of the Rodeo, the great Elizabeth Warren, didn't make it as head of the Consumer Protection Agency because she was too good, too bright and too honest. A class act, she made it clear that Republican congresscritters were too blame, not President Obama. She said he fought for the agency from the beginning, even during the days people urged it to be traded off for some concessions. She picked the staff of the current Bureau, established its independence, even while people were trying to defund it. It is one of her pick's, the former Attorney-General of Ohio and five-time Jeopardy winner, Richard Cordray who has been nominated. She says that she has been on 24/7 for the past 14 months and will go back to Massachusetts and rest and think about running against Scott Brown for the Senate in 2012. From her time as providing oversight for the TARP program and lobbying for Finance Reform, she was a breath of fresh air in Washington and it is our loss she was not made the first head of the agency she created. But as a country, we are not a meritocracy, we only honor those who fail upwards. She would be great in the Senate,taking over Ted Kennedy's seat.

Remember the debt ceiling is a man-made disaster. It has never been made a disaster before and there is literally no truth to the notion the United States would or could actually default on its debt. While I believe Obama has clearly been the only adult in the room,I believe the GOP has deliberately fostered such frustration with government itself that the situation is dangerous. This is how democracies are lost. People begin to distrust all their institutions, believe they are incapable of producing solutions and no longer represent them.

Every rational writer--whether right, left or middle--has analyzed the GOP's positions and all come to the conclusion that they are insane, crazy and will not do anything they propose. If you didn't like the huge deficits the Ryan Plan would entail, then you'll really like the results of "Cut, Cap and Balance". Bruce Barlett among others was one of the first to write how the Balance Budget Amendment is truly one of the worst ideas ever brought forth in the history of Congress. These proposals either have to be the most cynical ideas of some wealthy individuals who stand to profit enormously or another example of Elite Hysteria. When wealthy donors to Ricky Cantor call him to say they can absorb additional taxes and Grover Norquist starts backing off holding Republicans to their no tax pledge, you know everyone thinks these ideas are nuts.

And is Rachel Maddow right that John Boehner is the most incompetent speaker in the history of the House? Why would you allow your caucus to vote to eliminate Medicare when you know it has no chance of suceeding? Why would you spend an additional week allowing your Caucus to even double down with "Cut, Cap and Balance" when you know that is even worse? The idea of satisfying your base doesn't hold water when the next election will have almost double the turnout as 2010. Even Karl Rove's ads against voting for raising the debt ceiling aren't working. There is something refreshing about Rove's total cynicism--Congress without fuss raised the debt ceiling seven times while his President totalled the economy. The American people in huge numbers are opposed to these positions. And if Boehner really wants a Grand Bargain as some who know him insist he does, why allow your own caucus to keep boxing you in?

Democracy itself has faced many challenges. We are facing challenges similar to what the world experienced in the 1920s and 1930s. British institutions are under seige in Omnigate, the series of events prompted by the revelations of the Murdoch empire's dirty deeds. The European Union is challenged by the real default possibilities of Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland. And after a stunning first year and a half of achievement, our own political system is paralyzed and our democratic rights are being eroded day-by-day in the states.

Pray for Rain.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Oren Lyons Visits the White House--Again

The 81-year old faith keeper for the Onondaga nation, Oren Lyons, one of the most respected native American and environmental activists, showed up at the South Lawn of the White House yesterday to participate in Michelle Obama's "Let's Move Indian Country" initiative to combat obesity in Indian tribal lands. Mike Wise of the Washington Post did a nice piece on the event today.

Decades ago, I attended an Indian rights meeting in New Mexico where Oren Lyons was attending. During a break, a man about 6 foot 6 inches tall with a burr haircut stormed across the hall to the place Lyons was sitting and in a tough voice said, "Are you Oren Lyons?" I thought this was going to be a Westerner redneck takes on the Indian. When Oren said he was, the man started saying, "You are my hero. You were the greatest lacrosse player in the history of the game."

And apparently the man was not far wrong. Oren Lyons was a college all-American on Syracuse's unbeaten 1957 national champion lacrosse team. Lyons played goalie and was helped out by another guy, who just may be the greatest running back in NFL history--Jim Brown. Oren later was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame--a rare distinction for an American Indian.

Lyons White House appearance occurred almost a year from when he travclled with the Iroquois Nationals to play in the world championship in Manchester, England. The team was refused entry into the U.K. because they travelled on sovereign nation passports. Even with the State Department intervening for the team they were not allowed to participate. Too bad, they invented the game.

Lyons had met many Presidents in his role as a advocate for the country to keep its commitments to all the various Indian treaties. This was the first time he brought a lacrosse stick-- as a souvenir for President Obama from the Iroquois Confederation.

We need my visits to the White House by shamans.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What Gives With the Debt Ceiling Talks?

Here's a subject that is rapidly turning me off. If you want an in-depth analysis of the situation, Washington Monthly and Talking Progress and Daily Kos are keeping on top of the situation. But I'm getting tired of the leftwing attacks on Obama for selling everyone out on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Ed Schultz vows not to back him if he cuts any entitlements. Bernie Sanders appears every day and night to urge people to sign his letter urging Obama not to cut the social welfare net. Not alot was said when Howard Dean showed up on MSNBC to say that the President was doing the right thing. Now all the debate on progressive blogs is back to whether Obama should be primaried and personal testimonies on how disappointing he has been and that one will not vote for him. So much for the Popular Front approach to the Fascist threat.

President Obama took to the bully pulpit today at a press conference since the talks started on Friday have broken down. Apparently, Obama and the Tan Man talked about making the grand bargain, which would have put the country on a sound financial footing for years to come. I remember the Clinton-Dole talks on a national healthcare bill after Hillarycare fell in the Senate. On that occasion, Clinton failed to take the deal out of anger. Here it looks like the Tan Man didn't take the deal because of fear about his rival Ricky Cantor and the teabaggers. It was suggested that the Tan Man would agree to ending the Bush era tax cuts, closing tax loopholes and adding over $1 trillion in revenues, while Obama would tackle Medicare and to a lesser degree Social Security. In effect, many of the polarizing issues would be taken off the table for years. But, alas, it was not to be.

Over the weekend, Republican operatives leaked that President Obama was demanding one trillion in new tax revenues. And this apparently rallied the teabaggers. By yesterday the Tan Man had backed away from any major budget deal. So now we are back in limbo with the clock ticking.

When you have The Economist screaming about the GOP's position on the debt ceiling, you know they have gone to a bridge too far. While the Tan Man and Little Ricky have voted to raise the debt ceiling 19 times in their career, there is an emerging suicidal orthodoxy emerging that one shouldn't raise the debt ceiling. What happens--we would lose 10% of GDP within a month and be plunged back into a deeper recession. What happens internationally--probably another 2008 on steroids. What happens if you have 401-Ks, say Goodnight,nurse.

Amid all this political apocalyptic thinking, Mitch McConnell on a Sunday Fox said that the GOP's number one priority was to make President Obama a one-term President. No one calls him out on this stuff. So it's worth making sure millions more are unemployed and the good credit of the United States is ruined forever--it doesn't come back, so that Barack Obama is not a two term President. Remember it was McConnell who one month before Obama took the oath of office told the Republican Senate Caucus to oppose every initiative of the new President's. And then we are already in a Depression.

The mood here is that all the Wall Street powers don't seem to be exerting the control over the GOP needed to bring this situation to a conclusion. Today the GOP said their concession was to agree to raise the debt ceiling--now it's Obama's turn to make cuts. The so-called tax hikes Boehner talked about today don't come into effect for a couple of years but our media lets him get away with saying Obama is going to raise taxes in a recession. Guess what? The American people actually agree by near 70% on raising taxes in a recession.

The Left is howling also because Obama said that everything was on the table. Today it was revealed that Obama was even open to raising the age for Medicare. Here I think the Left has a point. Obama seems to have squandered the winning talking point of the Democrats that the GOP wanted to eliminate Medicare while the Democrats wanted to preserve it. Here Obama has muddied the waters. At the same time, in today's press conference I thought Obama made a mistake by not saying when Medicare would face financial problems. We are talking about 15 years and for Social Security 36 years. Instead, there was a false sense it was an immediate problem. This will be exploited by Rove and others to increase the anxiety of an electorate already under enormous pressure just to live day-to-day. In a strange way, Obama's press conference was not calming but seemed to take a leaf of the GOP by playing to a crisis mentality.

But the devil is in the details. If the deal is on a smaller scale, Obama wins by suggesting he put everything on the table and then wacking the GOP in 2012. If the grand deal was made, some said Obama would ensure his re-election, while also allowing the GOP to hold the House. Boehner saw himself finally becoming a respected Speaker. Actually, I'm sure everyone will spin it the way they need to. But a resolution of this issue is needed soon.

Frankly, I'm for invoking the 14th Amendment and then simply letting all the tax breaks expire on schedule. But then again I'm not a politician.

One issue that should be disturbing was the question at the press conference about the polls on this issue. It's true that a majority don't want the debt ceiling raised. I guess this is because the American people don't understand it is about paying for the already accumulated debt. That's why a Paul Braun can argue he's for lowering the debt ceiling to 13 trillion. While absolutely moronic, I can understand why his constituents would support him on this. And that's the danger of the politicizing the issue.

We now are entering week 2 of the Minnesota state shut-down. This is a lesson in what right-wing ideology looks like. Of course, this will end up being more expensive than if the state government had remained open and running. And it will seriously impact thousands upon thousands of people for no purpose other than the GOP exerting its muscle. That's why we should be concerned about what's happening here in Washington. This seems to be the new theme for Republicans.

How Far Will Murdoch's Empire Fall?

I'm sure I'm like most people who thought the hacker scandal that occurred a few years ago would do nothing to deter the British tabloids. We already had the internal investigation which found the usual "rotten apples",the changes in editors and the inconclusive official investigations. The Murdoch empire in the U.K. had pretty much bought up both sides of the political landscape so one couldn't expect much more than new titillating details about private investigators going after celebrities and people opposed by the Murdochs.

But events have unravelled at such a fast pace that if you blinked today you probably missed several pieces of the new puzzles. For me, the last piece of news was that NYPD alleges that News of the World actually tried to bribe them for cellphone numbers of the victims of 9-11. Earlier in the day former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown alleged that investigators for the Murdoch newspapers obtained his financial information illegally,details from his lawyers about private business and the medical details of his son's illness. The problem here is that the allegations involved other Murdoch papers, including the prestigious Sunday Times. Then enter Prince Charles and Camilla and their allegations about hacking. Then we go to the security details around the royals having been bribed.

When you have the current Prime Minister suggest you should fire a key person in your empire and you provided him with his first press secretary, you've run out of room to hide. A whole dam has burst. Non-Murdoch papers have ended their own self-censorship to go after the new revelations with gusto. And our own media is actually trying to explain the situation in a way that it makes sense. However,our own media still is very protective of the American side of the Murdoch empire, saying that he's protected here because of our First Amendment and no one knows of any of the same allegations being made against the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post or Fox News.

But there are American ramifications. The CEO for Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal is an import from the very same media outlets under investigation in the U.K. Shareholders filed suit in Delaware against Newscorp for mismanagement. And fascinating enough, Newscorps might find itself under investigation for the violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act because it bribed people in the U.K. Legal scholars estimate that Newscorp might be liable to upwards to $100 million in fines. C.R.E.W has demanded an investigation into these practices by our Congress.

At stake in the U.K. is the bid by Rupert Murdoch for control of BSkyB, a lucrative pay television station. That bid has now been relegated to the Competitive Committee, which means that the deal will be delayed several months, even postponed indefinitely. Naturally, stock prices are in a freefall so analysts say Newscorps has lost $7 billion over the last few days.

Murdoch watchers have seen him get out of pickles before. He even came close to bankruptcy in the 1990s but still managed a tremendous comeback. After avoiding journalists while at a meeting of moguls in Aspen, Rupert flew to London to straighten out the mess. People say this is an internal family dispute at its heart. Family members had bristled at son James' management style and feel that it threatened the whole business. Some wag noted,"He's always decisive and always wrong."As it is, James faces a new investigation and possible criminal charges.

Rupert's native Australia has even begun investigations into the practices by his media outlets there. Usually I'm cynical about anything happening after all these disclosures. Every one retreats to their corners, quiets down, a few employees will be sanctioned and maybe jailed, and everything will start up as the new normal.

But this time the fact that the U.K.'s political establishment is not protecting Murdoch and is even encouraging deeper investigations is a change. Also the wide-range of allegations, which seems to grow by the hour, indicates this is a crisis with possibly more dimensions than Murdoch himself can manage.

I know Ruper Murdoch is a deeply polarizing figure but I have always found one thing endearing about him--he's said to be an almost idiot savant about printing presses--their history, capability and origins.

Where this finally goes,who can tell? It may simply be that Murdoch is now getting the tabloid treatment he so often gives others. I guess turnabout is fair play.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Derek Jeter reached his milestone by becoming only the second player to hit a home run for his 3,000th hit. Wade Boggs was the other. Incredibly, Jeter is the only Yankee to hit 3,000, considering a franchise which had Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth,Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Reggie Jackson. Jeter becomes the 11th mayor league player to hit all 3,000 with only one team.

Next up is Mariano Rivera. If he hits 30 saves, it will be a league leading 9 consecutive years when he has had 30 or more saves, a league record.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Political Notes On A Rainy Day

One more time on Cy Twombly. The New York Times had a wonderful long review of his work today as promised. He was nicknamed Cy after Cy Young and was in cryptography during his military service, which probably explains his fascination with coded writing in his paintings. While he lived in Italy most of his adult life,a woman here in Virginia talked on the radio about having dinner with him recently in Lexington, Virginia where he grew up. In the past couple of years, he alluded to his staying in Lexington for months a time.

If you want a good book on his work, including color plates of details of his paintings, Richard Leeman's Cy Twombly, A Monograph (Flammarion) fills the bill. Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish today highlighted Twombly's work approvingly quoting art critic David Sylvester saying that his paintings recalled the marks on one's bed after making love. Interesting observation or fixation as the case may be.

Steve Benen at Washington Monthly had a power outage today so he couldn't keep the heat on Williard Romney. At the appropriate time, the Obama campaign should make Steve the head of opposition research of Mitt--he has him down pat. Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune picked up the slack today criticizing Romney's meanderings on the economy. Think Progressive nails him for his statements that the Dodd-Franks financial reform bill went too far but then he couldn't say what was in it. This seems to be a regular pattern with the GOP. They don't even know what's in the Health Care bill for instance.

Benen's writing on Romney reminded me that I find Mitt somewhat creepy and can't put my finger on why. Maybe it's the story of him tying his labrador retriever to the roof of the car when the family went on vacation. Or his recent remark that he loves to read L.Ron Hubbard sci-fi. Maybe it is his Mormonism. One of the more interesting stories coming out of Mormonland is the dislike of the Huntsman clan for the Romneys. Is any reporter going to ask either man how much of the Book of Mormon they believe?

To reacquaint myself with the orgins of Mormonism, I am currently reading Fawn Brodie's "No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith", who also declared he was running for President. This book allegedly got Fawn Brodie thrown out of the Mormon religion. But reading it, I was struck how much Glenn Beck with his conspiracy theories resembles Joseph Smith, whose work of fiction/divine revelation contains all the conroversies of the time--anti-Catholicism, the whole Masonic conspiracy and the religious fights within the protestant movement. Smith was literally someone who dug for treasure in Vermont and New York State,reminding us that Beck sold gold on his show. Later he even created a bank and printed his own money. It's actually perfect Beck is a Mormon. His embrace of David Barton makes sense also as Joseph Smith was for a theocracy and didn't believe in the separation of church and state, much like Barton.

President Obama had his first tweeter on-line townhall meeting. He's good at it. He's mastered the form in responding to questions. John Boehner even tried to sneak into the act by asking "Where are the jobs?" He's a good one to ask. At the present rate, the current Congress will go down as the least productive in modern history,surpassing the record of Harry Truman's famous "Do Nothing Congress" of 1948. Compare it with the first two years of Obama's presidency. Which do you prefer?

The Obama Administration would like to play down the possibility of invoking the 14th amendment to resolve the debt ceiling issue. He even avoided the question today in his townhall meeting. But the legal community is beginning to write about this. The question then becomes what is the national debt. According to Republicans, it is what is owed bond holders. To normal Americans, it's everything owed by the government, including Social Security and pension payments. A teabagger in the House vowed that the House would impeach Obama if he invoked the 14th amendment. That would be interesting. The last two Democratic Presidents impeached. Think that wouldn't be a story.

Talk shows are commenting that Wall Street simply is not acting as if there will be a problem. Financial analysts have said they expect the Republicans won't give on tax hikes so the budget cuts will be lower than has been discussed in the negotiations, the ceiling will be raised and we go on from there.

The Washington punditry has finally caught on that the GOP might actually be mad. It's taken them over a year to realize this. Richard Cohen wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post the other day about how the GOP has become the Grand Old Cult. He remarked about the penchant of Republicans to sign on to strange lists like a pledge not to raise taxes, a pledge to prohibit abortion even in cases like incest and rape. Previous positions on climate change have gone by the board. But this town seems genuinely worried that the GOP will continue their hostage-taking because none of the GOP leadership will stand up against the teabaggers. Rand Paul has turned out to be even more unruly than his father,vowing to filibuster the debt ceiling vote until he gets his way on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. I don't have the time or inclination to explain why that is an absolutely insane idea.

David Brooks must have just gotten off his book tour and finally realized that the GOP was actually nuttier than he believed. Brooks noted what Michael Steele said last year that the GOP is not fit to govern. Steele had warned Republicans in 2010 that they might win the by-election but they were not ready to lead. Brooks finally woke up to the fact that his party has no regard for academics, scholars and policy analysis of any sort.

What put him over the edge was that the budget deal offered by Obama was a no-brainer to "normal" Republicans--minimal tax hikes and massive spending cuts. David Frum weighed in that President Obama should never have gotten himself into this situation in the first place, offering to negotiate with hostage takers. I actually agree. But Brooks' remarks actually generated push-back from conservative talk show hosts and resident Very Serious Person, Paul Ryan, who touted head Wahhabist Grover Norquist's line about no tax increases. Bloggers have begun to question whether Republicans who take his pledge not to raise taxes are violating their oath of office by pledging their allegiance to a private citizen. Interesting question.

The Willard juggernaut released his fund-raising figures. We were told to expect between $25 and $30 million but the number came in at $18.5 million, less than Romney's take in the first quarter of 2007. Although this puts him light years ahead of anyone else in the field, it underlines how the Romney people play fast and loose with numbers. I guess they got the hang of the new GOP.

A 14-year old blogger going under the tag "Youngprogressive" posted his experience of asking a question of Romney in New Hampshire. He could give Steve Benen a run for his money. The blogger wanted to find out whether there was any moderate left in Romney. He said he hesitated to ask his question in the public forum because Romney was trying to imitate a teabagger. But after the presentation he went up to the candidate and asked him about his statements on repealing "Obamacare" when he had passed a similar program for Massachusetts.

Romney gave his state waiver answer but the youngster started asking him whether he would repeal the section on prohibiting exclusive of insurance for preconditions. Romney said he didn't think so and then the blogger asked about repealing life time caps, which would penalize senior citizens. Romney couldn't give him a straight answer and that's what made the boy conclude Romney was a phoney because he was too afraid of his own party to give a straight answer. Sharp judge of character. It's going to be interesting to see where Romney goes as he has to articulate real answers to real questions.

The Newt is having money woes--the campaign seems to be running a deficit at this stage of the game. I browsed through his American Exceptionalism tonight and just couldn't buy it. Alot of it is just rehashed arguments about how liberals crushed America and that Obama doesn't appreciate the uniqueness of America and basically that we must recapture our sense of our unique destiny as a nation. It's basically an update on his Obama book that criticizes the President for trying to create a socialist, secular society. With assaults on every part of our social safety nets, we might need more socialism at this time.

Pat Buchanan on Morning Joe said that the American Empire is stretched too thin and that it is going down. He gave his pithy isolationist chant that we are borrowing from Japan to defend Japan, we're borrowing from the Middle East to defend the Middle East, we're borrowing from Europe to defend Europe. Actually there is alot of truth in his sentiments. When Eisenhower faced large deficits, he cut defense dramatically. It's being suggested that this is what Panetta's mandate will be . But already the defense industries are mounting an attack against defense cuts, even though the defense budget has tripled since 1999.

Zbig showed up on Morning Joe and because his daughter is co-host, he doesn't get guff. Zbig is the first well-known figure that I can recall that has said that the enormous disparity in wealth in this country is potentially destabilizing. His point was that this glaring social fact raises questions about social justice, fairness and the nature of our society. Failure to address this creates very bad optics that lead people to question other elements of our society. He neglected to say when the tipping point would be but he suggested other such societies experience political violence. I'm glad he said it because outside the Beltway one can sense the deep frustration and anger that is building about the economy and the failure of our political system to respond to the current economic challenges. Poll after poll shows people think that the wealthy must pay a greater share than they do today.

Maybe these right-wing governors elected in 2010 know something about today's American I don't. But how long will people put up with something like Scott Walker in Wisconsin using prisoners to perform jobs once performed by public workers? How long can people tolerate Rick Scott's various give-aways to the private sector when public education in Florida is being eviscerated? And John Kasich's crimes in Ohio are too numerous to list. Does the average American continue to be rolled by these guys or will there be more than just political pushback?

Francis Fukuyama continues on his political rehabilitation. In his latest book, he describes how under the Han dynasty the wealthy actually went so far to protect their privilege and riches as to cause the collapse of China. This chapter is being dissected on the political blogs as a lesson for today's America.

Not helping his momentary rehabilitation, David Stockman, who had been approvingly quoted for challenging current GOP orthodoxy on tax cuts, appeared on the Diane Rheim show and gave a bloodless position on why a debt default might not be too bad a thing. He said that the only way Obama could overcome our economic situation is to eliminate the tax cuts for everyone,including the middle class, and convening the military to say he wanted $250 billion cut over the next five years. In the meantime, Stockman argued that a default would raise interest rates and screw those on Wall Street holding Treasury Bonds but tough. In his scenario, it was just a matter vof math, not human beings.

A book that has nice parallels today is Scott Miller's "The President and the Assassin--McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century"(Random House). Aside from the Lincoln assassination, we tend to forget other political assassinations. The book covers the election of William McKinley over William Jennings Bryan as the first election where American corporations poured money straight from their business into the campaign because of their fear of Bryan's populism. Miller reports on the 100,000 person rally in New York organized by business--the first Freedomworks Teaparty--to rally against Bryan's assault on the gold standard. The financial backing and corporations coming right out and suggesting they would layoff their workers if Bryan won overcame Bryan's lead. If 30,000 votes had switched in key states, McKinley would have lost.

But the other side of the story was that corporations were so dominant in American society that the average American faced little mobility and faced sweeping changes threatening their livelihood. One such man was the assassin Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist who was inspired by the anarchist killing of the King of Italy. The assasssination did little but bring Theodore Roosevelt to power, who did embark on efforts to change the situation. The campaign funding laws restricting corporate financing of political campaigns came to past a few years later. Those were the laws overturned by the Roberts Court and we have seen the results.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Cy Twombly died today at the age of 83 from cancer. Last year Cy painted the ceiling of the Louvre, the first artist given the honor since Georges Braque in the 1950s. The work was inspired by the blue used by Giotto. The last paintings I saw of Twombly's were strange landscapes of Oman. Years ago in Venice at the Biennale,I saw the seige of Lepanto and its companion pieces.

Born in Lexington, Virginia, he settled in southern Italy in 1957 where he embraced classical themes rendered in his style of graffiti, fragments of classical verse, erasures, drips and his noted scratching. He studiously avoided publicity and virtually ignored his critics which were numerous and vicious in the first decades of his career. His started gaining younger artists' attention in the 1980s and was viewed as a seminal influence on their development.

Eventually he won all the prestigious honors--the Legion of Honor, the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Biennale and Japan's Premimum Imperiale. In a restrospective at the Tate, he told an interviewer," I had my freedom and that was nice."

He only made one written statement about his art and that was in an obscure Italian art journal during the 1950s. He wrote,"It's more like I'm having an experience than making an experience."

The reproductions of his paintings, which are available in the many retrospectives published over the past decade,pale compared to the real thing where the canvass becomes a complex texture of his markings, painting and drawings.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand made a poetic statement on Twombly's passing: "A great American painter who deeply loved old Europe has just left us. His work was deeply marked by his passion for Greek and Roman antiquity, and its mythology,which for him was a source of bottomless inspiration."

Luckily for us, he apparently left one of his best shows for last at the Lambert Collection in Avignon, France.

The New York Times already has an obituary with a promise of a longer account of his life later. And a fitting piece was written by Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press.

I'll certainly miss him. His work gave me much satisfaction and amusement. I sympathize with Donald Judd, when he was an art critic, who claimed there was no painting there when reviewing an early Twombly show. Cy was an acquired test but well worth the effort.