Thursday, January 31, 2013

Things We Missed

++President Obama hits 60% in Washington Post approval rating.

++President Obama becoming only the second President sworn in 4 times to office. FDR being the first.

++Hillary Clinton and President Obama appearing on 60 Minutes and the speculation on 2016 starting already. Days later Hillary Clinton says again she really doesn't want to run for President. 

++The bizarre hearing on the Benghazi episode where Hillary Clinton takes the Republicans to town.

++The bizarre hearing where John McCain defends the surge against Chuck Hagel.

++The first hearings on gun control where Gabby Giffords speaks only to be interrupted by the news of new killings in Tucson.

++Immigration Reform finally gets a big boost from the Gang of 12 with a path to citizenship. Whether the hype turns out to be real, the mood has changed after the GOP got trashed by Latinos in the 2012 elections.

++Harry Reid's Big Foldo on filibuster reform. Things will be slightly better for nominees.

++The Senate reintroduces the Violence against Women Act, which was rejected by the House because it included native Americans.

++The Senate approved and the President signed the $50 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill only months after the event. Most Republicans voted against it.

++The U.S. sits on the edge of a recession because of sequestration, which would bring domestic discretionary spending to a level near an all-time low.

++We have missed almost all of the Republican debate about re-branding themselves. They say there is no need to change their policies. 

++We have been following the GOP plans to rig the electoral college. But wiser heads are delaying this because if you are a state like Pennsylvania why would you dilute your clout. But the plans are ready in case the GOP thinks it will lose the 2016 Presidential elections.

++The Democrats have introduced bills to facilitate voters casting their ballots. An audit of the Florida results shows that 200,000 people tried but could not vote because of long lines.

++Geraldo Rivera says he may run for Senate from New Jersey.

++Nate the Great Silver predicts the 49ers will win the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens.

++President Obama's swearing-in only brought 1 million people to town, exceeding the previous estimate of 800,000. This time the crowd was more diverse than last. Pundits applauded the speech as a statement that the governing paradigm has now shifted in the United States. Andrew Sullivan and Charles Krauthammer both agreed as to the merits of the speech but Charles thought it was manifesto of liberalism. It was certainly the first and only speech where gay rights were linked to the struggles for civil rights. From Selma to Seneca to Stonewall. Amitai Etzioni should be proud--Obama laid out a communitarian view of the American polity, which was in sync with American history. James Taylor, I could have done without. But Beyonce was terrific with the Star-Spangled Banner and no she didn't lip-sync it. 

++Conservatives are aghast that the University of Chicago bought Ronald Reagan's childhood home and plan to raze it to the ground for a possible Obama Presidential Library.

++The Hagel hearings sound like the Last Hurrah of the neo-cons. To emphasize why Hagel is wrong for Defense, you have ads by the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson,Christians for Israel, and a host of pro-Israeli groups. The thing these people miss is that Hagel is not going to formulate policy but implement it.

++John Kerry slides by the Senate confirmation process because of Senatorial courtesy. Tough fights are ahead for almost every other nominee since they all touch on domestic policy where the discussion is polarized.

++Conservative Judge Sentelle ruled that all of President Obama's recess appointments were unconstitutional ,jeopardizing the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Protection Agency, two targets of the right.

++President Obama nominated a prosecutor as head of the SEC.

++And Barney Frank was not nominated as the interim Senator from Massachusetts. Elizabeth Warren is now the senior Senator from Massachusetts.

++The House postponed the debt ceiling fight until May, which in government speak means August. Probably by then the question will be moot because the deficit reduction measures in sequestration will have taken place. 

++Paul Krugman continues his lonely fight to explain that the deficit situation has stabilized but the real issue continues to be employment. Basically, both the Obama Administration and Congress have dropped the ball on getting the economy going again.

++Syria remains in a civil war; Egypt is rioting against President Morsi; Iran has been hit by hyperinflation due to the economic sanctions;Israel has bombed a convoy of anti-tank weapons destined to Hezbollah; and China is making menacing noises toward disputed islands. Russia has had its worst human rights year since the end of the Cold War. Britain has entered triple dip recession because of Prime Minister Cameron's policies. At least most of the manuscripts in Timbuktu were actually saved from the jihadists who burned the historic library.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

American Spectacle

++Watching the political scene at this time resembles Walter Mosley's scifi series "Crosstown to Oblivion". Magical visions of hope and change are crushed by a repressive system that lacks understanding and tolerance. 

++President Obama has an approval rating now some 5 points higher than the average of his whole first term. But somehow the Senate protests his cabinet choices as if a President doesn't get his choices. This is highly unusual historically. The last cabinet choices that was rejected,according to my memory, was John Tower,who was a natural choice for Defense but his drinking problems came to light. For this president, we have had the Senate chase off Susan Rice and now are gunning for Chuck Hagel.

++For someone who has taken office or don't anything remotely controversial for years, the flap over Hagel is supposed to be either a refutation of the neocons and an assertion of independence of judgment or the approval of an anti-Israel white man soft on defense. The magnification of this nomination as a bone of contention and a decision on the entire fate of the planet seems absurd. But maybe that is the point. Maybe we need manufactured crises on a daily basis because our political system has become so dysfunctional. 

++Paul Krugman on the Bill Moyers show said that President Obama chose a good, tough negotiator as Secretary of Treasury in Jack Lew. Progressives have qualms about Jack Lew because he was instrumental in the de-regulation of the economy under Clinton. Republicans now pledge to block the nomination. Their reason is because Jack Lew played an instrumental role in creating President Obama's first budget. They have not mentioned his role at Citibank and his advocacy of de-regulation which you would think would be a plus. 

++Paul Krugman told Moyers that the recession at this point is unnecessary. If Congress had passed Obama's job bill, we would be down to 6.7% unemployment. As Krugman reminded everyone, full employment is 5% by all models. But he said that President Obama will not be able to pass anything and will have to spend the next few years protecting the social welfare net. 

++Alas, the Treasury Department nixed the idea of printing the $1 trillion Platinum coin--an idea supported by Paul Krugman. The White House continues to say they will not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling. In an unusual coordinated effort by congressional Democrats,they presented the White House with a letter supporting President Obama taking any legal measures to avoid negotiating with Republicans on this issue, including invoking the 14th Amendment, which the White House has previously rejected. 

++The White House is studiously ignoring the political noise and confusion of the GOP as it prepares for this year's legal initiatives. Joe Biden will be presenting "gun safety" initiatives this coming week after his meetings with various groups, including the NRA. The White House is going full-tilt on immigration reform, presenting a comprehensive program, which would include a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. The President has also announced plans to speed up the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan.

++One of the daffy criticisms of President Obama's recent Cabinet picks is the lack of diversity. John Kerry,Chuck Hagel,John Brennen,and now Jack Law. So they are all white males, replacing all white males, minus a woman. Somehow the fact that Eric Holder, Kathleen Sebelius,Secretary of Energy Chu,Janet Napolitano remain doesn't count. President Obama is considering nominating Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a Republican, as Transportation Secretary. 

++If you only followed the White House actions recently, you would think we are in normal political times. But the most noise is still coming from the Right and more radical noises are becoming mainstream. Right-wing talk show host Michael Savage called for the creation of a nationalist party led by a charismatic leader. He thought the tea party has failed because they lack charisma. Glenn Beck is trying to merge libertarianism with survivalism with a new building project to house "patriots" compete with a research center on our founding principles. The NRA has revved up its lobbying efforts to stop anything on gun control pretending that the Second Amendment is absolute. Paul Ryan introduced into the House a Fetus Personhood Bill,like those rejected over the past year in the states. The House again is trying to defund Planned Parenthood as Texas and Oklahoma are doing. And the beat goes on.

++In the states will have more wing nut laws. Governor Scott in Florida fibbed about the cost of Medicare to the state in order to reject federal funds. Bobby Jindal has moved to eliminate income and corporate taxes in Louisiana and raise taxes on the poor. Governor Snyder in Michigan has signed two restrictive abortion bills and a Right to work Bill. He also has a new Right To Work ad campaign and aims to create a bureaucracy to administer the law. Virginia is introducing anti-reproductive rights legislation and the soon to be candidate for governor Ken the Cooch urges Christians to go to jail to protest the contraception mandate in the Affordable Health Care Act. Several states have adopted laws to allow teachers to be armed in classrooms and to provide training in firearms for school administrators.

++Meanwhile Jerry Brown has announced California has finally conquered the state's deficit.

++The Obama White House finally responded to the petitions of those wanting to secede from the union by suggesting we are one nation. They destroyed the hopes of scifi fans by arguing rather eloquently against building the Death Star.

++If you like old news clips, check out Oliver Stone's The Untold History of the United States. Stone has some funky political biases. He likes FDR, Henry Wallace, Joe Stalin, JFK, Gorbachev, so far. Basically every other President was a corporate stooge and a willing instrument of the military-industrial complex. But the footage of the early nuclear age is riveting.I haven't seen the segment on W and Obama.

++If people want a serious issue to complain about, Obama has been disappointing on civil liberties and the laws on wiretapping and detention.

++If you want to get depressed, Chris Hedges' "The Death of the Liberal Class" is out in paperback.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Welcome the 113th Congress

++This past week Barack Hussein Obama was re-elected President as Vice President Biden looked on as the electoral votes were counted.

++The 112th Congress is no more, boasting the worst record of accomplishment in our nation's history and goes out with a sizzling 12% approval rating, the lowest since polling began.

++The new Congress was sworn in and went promptly on recess until the end of the month.

++Congratulations to all the new members. Especially pleasing was to see now Senator Elizabeth Warren, Heidi Heitkampf and the large number of women Senators and House members. 

++President Obama is gearing up to introduce new gun control legislation when he returns to Washington today. Mitch McConnell has vowed that this must take back seat to the debt. 

++President Obama has vowed not to negotiate over raising the debt ceiling this time. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are falling in line. During W's presidency, Congress raised the debt ceiling 19 times without quarrel. Republicans are now split over this maneuver, some fearing a public backlash.

++David Frum commented this week that House Republicans talking about entitlement reform are aiming at their base, which is seniors, and the rest of the Caucus appear like desperadoes,whom you could never trust with government.

++Barney Frank spent the week lobbying for the post of interim Senator from Massachusetts. Frank argues the next two months will be the most important in our  country's financial future with the debt ceiling row,the entitlement/sequestration argument and the budget flap. The US government has not had a budget since 1996.

++President Obama stated he would finalize the nominees for the national security posts this coming week. The spotlight is on Chuck Hagel, who has drawn the fire of the gay community for his attitudes expressed in the 1990s and the neocons and the pro-Israeli hawks. 

++Charles Krauthammer had a column yesterday in the Washington Post arguing that the Fiscal Cliff debate revealed the true Obama as a social democrat. Only a few weeks earlier President Obama said that he would be considered a moderate Republican. Expect the pundit puzzle over Obama's true identity to play out over the next four years.

++Republicans are beginning to wise up to the fact that the Fiscal Cliff agreement ended the days of supply side economics. 

++The kindler, gentler GOP has not surfaced. Hurricane Sandy aid barely passed the new congress with the Slave state Republicans voting against it. Washington Monthly did an analysis of the Fiscal Cliff vote and found almost an identical regional breakdown to the Civil War states,including Republicans from the Union states voting for it.

++Before the Hurricane Sandy vote, Michelle Bachmann introduced the first bill in the House--the Repeal of Obamacare,making this almost three dozen times this has been introduced.

++Steven King of Iowa introduced a bill to outlaw anchor babies, the most pressing issue facing the country. He was joined by Louis Gohlmart on this important legislation, which violates the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

++Progressives have noticed that the cuts in sequestration protect the big three-Social Security,Medicare and Medicaid. House Republicans have introduced a new bill that would "restore" the $780 million the Romney-Ryan campaign said that Obama cut from the program. It seems a bit bizarre when the House is screaming about entitlement cuts that the GOP is considering this.

++Senators Cornyn,Graham and McCain are vowing to destroy the country's credit-rating on the debt ceiling debate unless dramatic cuts are made to the social welfare net. Veterans of the Clinton Administration have commented that these people believe that the national debt is that of the Obama family and not accrued by Congress. The advice is to hold fire. Nancy Pelosi now urges President Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment to avoid the debt ceiling fiasco. The White House continues to put out the word that are against this. But the President can authorize Treasury to pay the bills.

++It is likely the 113th Congress will be even more polarized that the departing one. Now the idea is to make President Obama a premature lame duck. The GOP strategy hasn't changed from obstructionism since the last election. 

++Knowing they needed to patch up relations with women, the GOP has gone full ahead with their anti-abortion agenda, passing restrictive laws in Michigan and introducing them in Virginia. Planned Parenthood is being de-funded in Texas and Oklahoma. More anti-abortion and contraception bills are being introduced in the House. 

++The Senate may or may not pass a filibuster reform bill. Observers thought Mitch McConnell bought some time with his approval of scores of Obama nominees that had been held up for the 2012 Congress.

++The White House plans an early blitz on gun control to take the NRA off-guard. I believe it could pass the Senate but never the House.

++Denny Hastert--not Haskert as I mentioned in the previous blog--warned John Boehner not to avoid the Hastert rule unless he wanted to lose control of the House. The Fiscal Cliff vote was a perfect example of how a popular law could pass with only a small Republican vote and a large Democratic vote.

++The final votes for the House races are in and the Democrats won by over 1 million votes. The House GOP keep saying this was a status quo election. In fact if they had not so severely gerrymandered the House districts, the Democrats would have won control. As it is, Democrats can not win control of the House unless they beat Republicans by over 6%. Very tough to do.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


++The President is body surfing in Hawaii after presiding over the conclusion of the Fiscal Cliff Part 1. 

++So how did the President make out? He made good on his campaign promise to keep tax cuts for those making $250,000 or less even though he had to give upwards to $450,000 for a couple. He raised capital gains from 15 to 20%. He had to give a little on the estate tax because Western Democrats wanted a higher amount and Republicans wanted the estate coupled with inflation. He preserved all of the safety net. He enhanced the Earned Tax Credit for poorer families,patched the doctor's pay for Medicare,maintained low income student loans. He let the employers tax lapsed. The last item was the tax cut from the stimulus that lowered the tax on Social Security. The conservatives wanted to cut it even further for their argument that Social Security was in financial trouble. There are tax goodies galore for corporations. The alternative energy subsidies were preserved and the farm bill got rolled into this too. As for progressives, Bernie Sanders voted for it and Harkin voted against. The House progressive caucus--by and large vote for it.

++Progressives in the blogosphere were upset about it. Paul Krugman calmed down enough to worry about the next stages in this fight. "kos" wanted it defeated and wanted the House to defeat it thinking that President Obama would have a stronger hand if all the Bush tax cuts were eliminated and then come back to a new Congress with his own bills. Howard Dean had supported going over the Fiscal Cliff as a way to cut defense spending.

++As for the Right, they have been absolutely off-the-wall with the deal. Everyone from the Club for Growth, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation opposed the deal. Grover Norquist claimed that since technically the Bush tax had expired, the Republicans were actually voting for a tax cut. 

++One of the unseen effects of this whole process was that the Haskert rule of the Republicans, operating their House procedures since 1990s,was broken. The Haskert rule means that a majority of a majority could bring a bill to the floor. Last night,House conservatives tried to amend the bill by tying on $330billion in program cuts. The move failed and surprisingly John Boehner brought the bill for an up and down vote to the floor. The bill only passed because the vast majority of Democrats voted for it.But breaking the Haskert Rule is one of the important ways Obama could end obstructionism.

++The ensuing revolt on the House Floor meant that the bill to provide assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy could not be voted on. House Republicans were screaming for a vote on the amendment to the Fiscal Cliff deal, which also did not happen. One of the other victims of the mayhem was the Violence Against Women Act, which Republicans had been holding up because it included native American women,who experience the largest percentage of violence of any women. 

++The grand finale of the House vote was fairly open plots to oust John Boehner as speaker. Chris Christie and Peter King were visibly upset with Boehner on the Hurrican aid bill but more importantly the conservatives in the House Caucus were outraged that the bill ever reached an up and down vote. 

++The emotional outrage over the bill by Republicans was that now the Party for the first time since George H.W. Bush voted to massively raise taxes, especially on their wealthy base. Over 20 years of tax orthodoxy ended within 24 hours. The Republican Party had banked on two basic strengths--national security and taxes. Now they have none. 

++What we may have seen acted out was the final chapter of supply side economics. It will be even harder now to make the argument that cutting taxes increases employment and prosperity. After all, the "job creators" had 12 years and didn't create jobs. So why should they get any more tax cuts?

++The Fiscal Cliff deal was dreadfully ugly and we now have before us the Debt Ceiling debate, the fight over sequestration cuts,and the fights over the government "budget" in March. The United States Government has not had a budget since 1996. 

++Conservatives are revving up for these fights. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have vowed to make the United States insolvent if there are not major cuts in the so-called entitlement programs. President Obama told the press after the agreement had been reached that Medicare is the primary driver of the debt. He didn't mention defense. And all this gives progressives concerns. But President Obama vowed not to have a debate over the debt ceiling. He also claimed in weeks before he would not invoke the 14th Amendment in stopping such a fight. For onlookers, it is hard to believe Republicans want to pull another debt ceiling stunt like last year, especially now that they voted to increase the national debt by another 4 trillion.

++Andrew Sullivan wrote a nice analysis of the whole budget fight in the Daily Dish on how President Obama is still taking the long view and winning changes incrementally.

++Progressives fear that the President is not as committed as they are to the trifecta of the social welfare state--Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. But Obama has said that cuts have to be made surgically and not with an axe like sequestration called for.

++The Democrats wanted to push off the sequestration cuts for a year but President Obama agreed to two months. I believe he sees his maximum leverage being the months after the start of his second term and he didn't want to delay the process until right before the 2014 elections.

++In any event, the Fiscal Cliff deal still only generates revenues of 18% of GDP, when we are spending now 23% GDP on government spending. Paul Krugman's fear that we are slipping down the slope into austerity is real.

++Future Republican candidates for 2016 has a mixed record this past weekend. Marco Rubio voted against the package and Paul Ryan voted for it. Morning Joe spent the morning criticizing Paul Ryan for voting for all of the country's $16 trillion debt. Not something a self-described deficit hawk can be proud of.

++The whole debate has left the GOP in turmoil. Redstate disowned the GOP leadership and the House continues to plot against John Boehner. In dramatic fashion we are seeing the great Conservative Crackup.

++How will the next few months affect President Obama? He will have to navigate through the entitlement cuts and the government budget. He has promised immigration reform and gun control legislation. I would bet on immigration reform because drafts of this legislation are prepared by both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Whether he finally broke the back of the House Republicans isn't clear yet. But yesterday he came very close.