political convention

political convention

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Luring Brother Jeb into the Presidential Race

Slate and other sources reported this week that anonymous pollsters have been calling voters in New Hampshire to ask whether they have favorable or unfavorable opinions of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Not a surprising request as the New Hampshire primary approaches.  However, the  callers seemed to have something else in mind.  They wanted to know what voters thought of Jeb Bush and who they would choose in a general election matchup between Bush and President Obama.

Who was behind the polling?   The callers sounded well trained and a lot of people got the calls.  It appears that someone with money doesn’t like what’s been happening so far in the Republican race and they think George Bush’s brother may be the remedy. 

Jeb is a former Florida governor who has a reputation for being sensible on some issues like immigration but solid right and intractable on abortion and gay marriage. He also fits the Republican mold on taxes and the economy.  Most important right now is that he’s not flakey like Gingrich and not as fumbling as Romney.  

It’s too late for Bush to enter the New Hampshire primary, but others might be open to him.  The Republican bigwigs are drooling, though Bush says he isn’t interested in running. 

By the way, below are the first two paragraphs of a relevant post from LaughingStockNation, 
June 15 2011.  

The Useful Idiots of the Republican Party

Stalin and other cynical leaders of the Soviet Union regarded communist activists in the west as “useful idiots,” naïve pawns in the war against capitalism. Used to infiltrate western institutions, they were doomed to be eliminated when the moment arrived for the real forces of revolution to take over.

Some observers are now beginning to wonder whether far right Republicans and Tea Partiers, along with their favorite presidential candidates, are serving the same purpose. Biding their time are the real Republican power brokers, people like the Koch brothers and Karl Rove, who will anoint their champion when the time is right. Think Jeb Bush.......

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tax Compromise? For Republicans it Adds Up to Zero

LaughingStockNation recently observed, with typical cynicism, that people admire political compromise because they believe naively that it's an automatic route to the truth (“A Political Dictionary of Slippery Words,” 11/24/11).  Now the New York Times has published a letter to the editor (12/7/11, page A26) that makes much the same point with more eloquence and precision.  The writer, Leonard S. Charlap of Princeton, N.J., rejects the notion that the two major political parties have equivalent records dealing with key issues like tax increases.  The Democrats have repeatedly offered and accepted compromise.  The Republicans, in the thrall of Grover Norquist and his infamous pledge, have been unyielding. Charlap, who identifies himself as a mathematician, offers an insightful illustration of why compromise in this case is practically impossible:  “I will give an arithmetic analogy,” he writes. “Suppose you want to determine 2 + 3.  The Democrats say it is 5 while the Republicans say it is 23.  It does little good to compromise on 14, which is the average.  Your bridges will still fall down.”   His analogy, in addition to its relevance to current tax and budget issues, shows why contrasting political paradigms can’t simply be tinkered with to arrive at some magical “middle ground.”   In this case, one paradigm is based on arithmetic reality, 2 + 3 = 5.  The other views numbers merely as characters with no quantitative meaning: 2+3 is simply 2 followed by 3.  Numbers like the ones favored by Republicans can be used to fool people or to browbeat an opponent.  But they don't add up. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What's in a Name? Things Some People Are Calling Newt

Now that Newt Gingrich has jumped to the top of the Republican presidential polls, it’s time to confront the issue of Newt's name.

Like Bill Clinton, Gingrich took the last name of his step father, though he kept his biological father’s first name, which was Newton. It is unclear when he became known as “Newt.” But it is that transformation that is now inspiring certain diminutives, sobriquets, and pejoratives. Cable television hosts, for example, are calling the former congressman and speaker of the house, “the Newtster” or referring to him as a kind of political salamander.

The position of speaker, which Gingrich held from 1995 to 1999, is second in the order of presidential succession behind the vice president, so using these terms to describe such a lofty person is, well, despicable. Nobody publicly called President Grant a drunk while he was in office.  President Harding, a gambler and fraud monger, was dissed most often for preferring golf to governing. And former vice president and Maryland governor Spiro Agnew, who was jailed for corruption, was never called Mr. X, though he was an ex-vice president, an ex-governor, and an ex-con.

But there is something about the name Newt that draws malicious attention. It is true that a newt is a kind of salamander, a slippery creature that lives in muddy environments. And Newt sounds like a linguistically strange construction used in a folksy southern patois, like: “I newt the boy’d turn out t'be sum-un ‘portant.” It may just be impossible to retain an aura of seriousness when calling Newt Newt.

Of course, playing around with someone's name can be hurtful, even though it amuses some people. But exploring the various permutations of a name can also be instructive, providing clues to the intentions of people using the name and the person who owns it. The following examples are presented in that spirit.

Newter: Removing the private parts of a male dog; sometimes used as an analogy for emasculating one’s political enemies.

Newtral: A synonym for non-partisan; equal to being cast into hell.

Newtrino: A weakly interacting subatomic particle. Also an Italian term for “small neutral one,” used originally in Dante’s Inferno.

Newtron star: A remnant of a collapsed massive star prevented from complete disintegration by quantum degeneracy.

Newtrition: Unexplained girth, usually the result of pontificating while eating.

Newtria: A large rodent similar to a beaver.

Newtnik: An annoying bore or crank.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Political Dictionary of Slippery Words

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

To Republicans and the right-wing media:  Programs exploited by ordinary people and the poor. They epitomize big, wasteful government and cutting or killing them is the best way to fix the country’s deficit problem and to get the country back on the road to self-reliance. Taxing the wealthy to support these programs would be an outrage that smacks of class warfare.

To network reporters:  A subtle pejorative used to describe programs that benefit ordinary people in ways they may not deserve.  This viewpoint hints that most wage earners think they’re entitled to Medicare just like the children of the rich are entitled to their inheritance. 
To the Koch Brothers and others of their ilk whose inherited fortunes or bloated salaries prove their superiority:  Only wastrels, idlers and bums need such programs. 

Political Moderate:
Politicians and candidates who appear to fall in the middle between opposing views and are believed to be open to compromise. 

To most of the media, including leading TV reporters, pundits and online and print columnists:  Moderates are the better angels of our politics because they are the only ones who can get things done

But is this the full story?  In reality, many members of Congress called moderate by the media are actually engaged in situational moderation.  During last year’s healthcare debate, for example, several Democrats, sounding like conservatives, were set to join the Republicans in opposition. However, they soon waivered under pressure and moved toward the Democratic position. Reporters then proclaimed them to be moderates because they were adept at dancing along the fault line between the two parties.  In another noteworthy case, a Democratic senator recently announced  that he was a moderate on an education bill because he took the middle road between ardent Democrats on one side and fervent Republicans on the other. However, this same senator later joined far right Republicans to support legislation, opposed by Democrats and law enforcement, to relax gun control laws.  In one instance he was a “moderate” and in the next he was “immoderate.”

Going beyond party lines to reach common ground with opponents.

To much of the media and the inattentive public: How politicians behave when they’re not “bickering.” 

Like “political moderate,” non-partisanship is widely admired because people have the improbable idea that compromise is an automatic route to the truth. But as the current political stalemate demonstrates, non-partisan attempts to solve problems such as the budget deficit more often than not lead to political monsters that are doomed at birth.  Visualize mating a moose with a horse. Or imagine Catholics and atheists negotiating a mutually satisfying accord on the nature of the afterlife. 

Partisan passion puts off ordinary Americans who have an idealized view of their political system and believe things work best if we can only come together (a state of being that almost never happens).  But politics is politics and there have to be winners and losers or nothing significant gets done. 

Social conservatives:
Activists and politicians who want to ban abortion, oppose gay marriage, want organized praying in public schools, oppose teaching evolution and think religion-based doctrines like creationism should be part of the school science curriculum.

To the news media and much of the public:
A conservative political movement inspired by Christian fundamentalism whose most notable objective is to use the Republican Party to promote family values and Christian morality.

In reality, social conservatives have an agenda that is far different from the historical mainstream of American politics.  Most of their positions are based on religious belief and their aim is to use government to control the behavior of others in order to bring them into compliance with the social conservative dogma.  Many social conservatives are believers and activists like Michelle Bachmann.  However, there are also mad zealots like Rev. Fred Phelps, who leads loud demonstrations at military funerals to proselytize his view that U.S. combat deaths are God’s payback for this country’s tolerance of gays.  Some members of the movement have also murdered abortion providers because they believed it was God’s will. 

“Social conservative” is thus a term that should be used with caution. It denotes far more than a mainstream political group hoping to influence policy and legislation. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why Not Silvio Berlusconi, a Candidate Republicans Can Believe In?

Though he wasn’t born in the U.S. (not important in this case, say Republicans), Silvio Berlusconi, the recently deposed conservative prime minister of Italy, is now available to run in the Iowa caucuses and go all the way to the Republican nomination for president. 

Berlusconi is the perfect Republican candidate.  He comes from a solid middle class background and worked his way up the ladder to become Italy’s equivalent of Rupert Murdoch, far richer than Romney or Cain.  

Berlusconi’s media empire was largely built on the success of television programs featuring corny game shows with lots of young women wearing skimpy bikinis. He frequently invited these employees home so he could advise them on their career options.  Imagine the appeal of all this to male voters in conservative states like South Carolina and Texas.

Berlusconi got into politics by forming his own political party called Forza Italia. Like the Tea Party in the U.S., it promotes traditional family values, Christian morality, and individual freedom to become rich.  Concern for the weaker among us is a key item in the party’s charter, which is why Berlusconi feels comfortable schmoozing with his game show hostesses back at the house.

Most important, Berlusconi embodies the political traits of the current crop of Republican candidates without their stale Lilliputian personalities. 

Like Romney he can go either way on the issues.

Like Cain, he believes in unfettered free enterprise and thinks that’s about all presidents need to know. 

Like Newt Gingrich he may be indicted at any moment for fraudulent business practices, philandering, or engaging in bribery (known in this country as getting paid huge sums as an influence peddler). 

He lives nearer the Vatican than Rick Santorum and that should be worth something. 

Like Michele Bachmann, he thinks a “fact” is a tidbit of information with no necessary relationship to reality. 

He has more street smarts than Jon Huntsman and wouldn’t be caught dead in Utah.

As for Ron Paul, what a running mate he'd make.  Paul is a libertarian who opposes big government but wants to ban abortion so government can order women to bear unwanted children.  Berlusconi is a libertine who has unwanted children all over Italy.  

Rick Perry has only one thing in common with Berlusconi.  They both could be characters in a spaghetti western. 

It’s only a matter of time before Silvio comes knocking at Karl Rove’s front door.  What a relief that the Republicans will finally have a candidate with a strong background in business, experience governing, and a certain je ne sais quoi.  How do you say that in Italian?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

From Irene to Qaddafi: Can't Obama Get Anything Right?

Republicans Peck Away at the Presidential Record

► Was President Obama responsible for Hurricane Irene and its destructive path along the east coast of the United States?  In the minds of some Republicans that's the way it seems.

Even before the storm made landfall, conservative politicians were raising questions about the funding of federal disaster relief as if the president had concocted a new liberal scheme. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor insisted that before money was spent to assist citizens whose homes and businesses were damaged by high winds or flooding, cuts had to be made elsewhere in the federal budget. Texas Republican Ron Paul said he opposed any disaster relief at all. 

Joined by right-wing radio personality Rush Limbaugh, Republicans suggested the president welcomed the catastrophe as an excuse to increase the size of government by turning loose the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  

The New York Times reported that insurance industry analysts estimated the cost of Irene to be as high as $10 billion.  They ranked the storm in the top ten among disasters.  Hearing this news, would representatives Cantor and Paul step forward to offer budget-balancing cuts in federal money allocated for their states?  So far, silence on that one.

► A week before Irene hit the coast, President Obama and his family went on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, a favorite leisure spot for rich people.  Republicans no doubt noticed the president’s impeccable timing.  He and the wife and kids made it back to the safety of the White House several days before the hurricane smacked the east coast. Conservatives earlier had criticized the president for taking a vacation at a posh resort when the unemployment rate was in the neighborhood of 9 or 10 percent.  Perhaps looking to make amends, the Obamas have begun planning for next year’s retreat.  Their top choice is to spend a few days on the banks of the colorful Cuyahoga River, which drains into Lake Erie at Cleveland.  No one vacations there so Secret Service protection will be easy.  Pictures of grumpy-faced Obama daughters sitting on the banks watching effluent float by will endear them to the unemployed. 

► Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has criticized President Obama for never serving in the military.  The Texas governor said the president didn’t enlist even though he had the option to do so.  Instead, Obama attended Occidental College, Columbia University, and Harvard Law School, where he was editor of the Harvard Law Review. 

Perry served in the U.S. Air Force between 1972 and 1977, flying C-130 transport planes in non-combat missions. 

Obama was 16 in 1977, but he later worked as a community organizer, civil rights lawyer and professor of law at the University of Chicago.  Earlier this year in his role as commander in chief the president oversaw a successful raid by U.S. special forces that killed Osama Bin Laden. Some top military commanders had preferred a risk-free air attack. But according to knowledgeable sources, Obama overruled them because he wanted certainty about the outcome. 

► Now that it looks like Muammar el-Qaddafi has been defeated by rebels in Libya, Republicans are criticizing President Obama for the limited U.S. role in the action.  Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham said that the battle to depose Qaddafi should have taken less than the five and a half months it did.  The Obama administration provided air and logistical support to Libyan rebels at a cost of about a billion dollars, leaving most of the action up to NATO allies such as France and Italy, both just a short airplane hop from the shores of Tripoli.  McCain and Graham said they would have preferred the use of the full force of U.S. air power much like what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.  A third trillion-dollar war would have given the U.S. a foothold on an additional continent. Like Gov.Perry of Texas, McCain and Graham are military veterans and have superior knowledge of the strategies and geopolitical implications of war.   

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rick Perry's State of Bliss: Texas No Taxes

Going to Texas to find out how to run a state is like visiting certain Middle Eastern countries to learn about religious temperance. You’ll find a dominant ideological faction in charge that doesn’t want to hear about alternative ways of doing things.

 In the case of Texas, this faction includes Gov. Rick Perry, Tea Party members and far-right Republicans, all of whom believe, to put it in Texas lingo, that government should be as shrunken and shriveled as the discarded testicles of a Texas steer and taxes should be as low as the water in a dried up Texas lake.

Enticed by this vision, a group of Republican legislators from California, accompanied by the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, is planning a trip to Texas. They want to know more about how Texas-style government attracts business and investment. The Republicans claim that businesses are leaving California for Texas and that Texas added more than 160,000 jobs between 2008 and 2010, while California lost more than a million jobs. Democrats are skeptical about the significance of these numbers. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco Mayor and business-friendly liberal, said there are myths and realities about what’s happening in Texas and one should go there with an open mind. The state treasurer, a Democrat, was less circumspect, saying that any suggestion that the Texas model would be right for California was a “crock.”

Whatever the mythology, a business that resettles in Texas is, well, in Texas. It’s a land quickly becoming a third-world oligarchy where middle and working class people face a grim future of diminished educational opportunities and rotten public services. Highways, state parks, scholarships for college students, teacher incentive pay, and medical and nursing home care for the poor and elderly are all in line to be guillotined under proposed budget cuts. According to the New York Times, these cuts, amounting to $23 billion, come on top of years in which government funds have been successfully targeted by right wing ideologues. Texas has an opportunity to ameliorate some of its current problems by using a rainy day fund. But, the Times reports that this step is out of the question because the money was raised from taxes on oil production and using it for ordinary governmental purposes would weaken anti-tax resolve. In Texas, no taxes.

California has its own problems. And California Republicans are just about as intransigent as those in Texas. But in California the Democrats are in the majority so new taxes are on the table and some thought is devoted to the consequences of drastic cuts for ordinary people. As for the business climate, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has reminded Republicans that California leads in creativity and receives 50 percent of all venture capital money.

In addition, Texas weather is hell compared to California’s.

Originally posted on LaughingStockNation April 9, 2011

Rick Perry's Country (Hint: It's Not the USA)

Texas joined the union in 1845, but for 10 years before that it was an independent country. Some Texans want to return to those good old days when the Republic of Texas didn’t have to answer to Washington. In April 2009 Texas Gov. Rick Perry told a Tea Party rally that he was tired of the federal government’s fiscal policies and its meddling in Texas affairs. If things didn’t change, he made clear, Texas might secede from the union. It had happened once before when Texas joined the Confederate States of America March 2, 1861.

Perhaps intoxicated by his own words, Perry in 2009 rejected $500 million in federal economic stimulus money. But he soon had second thoughts and took a $17 billion stimulus package for his state.

Now, Texas has requested $830 million from a federal program meant to support education. But Perry and other Republicans want to place their own conditions on use of the money. Instead of directly funding schools, they want to add it to the state budget to overcome a massive deficit. Schools would get a share of whatever the legislature and governor decided to dole out. At first the Obama administration resisted this scheme. But earlier this month they let the Texans have their way as a concession to win Republican support for the bill that kept the federal government from closing down.

The picture all of this paints of Perry and his secessionist compatriots is one of hypocrisy and manipulation. They disdain the federal government but they sure love the money coming in. .

The hypocrisy continued this week when Gov. Perry blasted President Obama and whined about the government's slow response to his request for federal disaster aid for Texas. Perry asked for help two weeks ago when wild fires were scorching large areas of his state. In contrast, Alabama was declared a disaster area and received a commitment of aid along with a presidential visit just two days after devastating tornadoes killed more than 400 people.

Clearly, the administration isn't holding up federal assistance to the people of Texas to make a political point. But the deliberate pace of the government response may nonetheless serve as a small reminder to Gov. Perry that careless talk of insurrection is irresponsible and may have consequences.

By the way, when the secessionist notion first came up, actor Chuck Norris said he might like to run for president of the new country of Texas.

Originally posted on LaughingStockNation April 29, 2011

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Government Isn't the Problem; Ronald Reagan is the Problem

The Republicans now fighting with President Obama and the Democrats about the budget deficit and the national debt have made it clear:  Taxes on the rich won’t be raised and tax loopholes for corporations won’t be closed.  To balance the budget, kill programs and cut spending.  

The unemployment rate has just gone up again. What about government jobs programs?  The Republicans say taxes on the rich won’t be raised and loopholes for corporations won’t be closed.  Businesses and the wealthy are the job creators and they can only succeed if their taxes are kept low and government stays out of their way. 

Just about all of the country’s top economists have said that cutting government spending during a deep recession will kill jobs and that a balanced budget is less important in the short run than getting people back to work.  The Republicans reply: Taxes on the rich won’t be raised and tax loopholes for corporations won’t be closed.

The country’s most respected economists think that the economy is still sick because of weak consumer demand for goods and services.  Unemployed people and people afraid of losing their jobs don’t spend money. And when companies don’t have buyers for their products they don’t hire workers.  The economists say, break the cycle of unemployment/low demand with government programs that put people back to work.  The Republicans reply: Taxes on the rich won’t be raised and loopholes for corporations won’t be closed because businesses create jobs when their taxes are low and government is kept out of their way. 

You might say that endless repetition of an idea dulls the brain.  You might say that, but Republicans don’t care.  Like religious zealots mumbling chants into their hands, they have discovered an eternal truth. 

Faith, of course, is not simply a repeated slogan.  It requires inspirational words, claims of miracles, and an exalted leader whose very person epitomizes the ineffable truths.  It is still less than a generation since the Republican messiah walked the earth.  His sayings, aphorisms and admonitions continue to ring in the minds of the faithful.  For the rest of us, inspiration remains elusive.

The Sayings of Ronald Reagan

Government is not a solution to our problem government is the problem.

Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.

Republicans believe every day is the Fourth of July, but the democrats believe every day is April 15

We don't have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven't taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.

I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts

Government is like a baby: an alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.

No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!

Government does not solve problems. It subsidizes them.

Government always finds a need for whatever money it gets.

Unemployment insurance is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders

Remember that every government service, every offer of government - financed security, is paid for in the loss of personal freedom... In the days to come, whenever a voice is raised telling you to let the government do it, analyze very carefully to see whether the suggested service is worth the personal freedom which you must forgo in return for such service.

You can’t tax business. Business doesn’t pay taxes. It collects taxes

Facts are stupid things.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3543.Ronald_Reagan

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Debt, Taxes and the Republican Way

The National Debt is the most boring topic on earth even though it comes up every day like the aftertaste of a garlicky meal.  First of all, there's no agreement on the size of the national debt or what counts as part of it.  Does it include money owed to Social Security recipients? Does money obligated from one government department to another count?  The national debt is also so big (almost $15 trillion) that trying to imagine it makes most people pass out.

Nonetheless, it’s important to pay attention because the national debt is getting more interesting by the moment.  If you were told that a group of conspirators had devised a devilish plan to use the debt to undermine the international status of the United States and to simultaneously put millions of Americans at risk of poverty, wouldn’t you perk up?  Naah! That’s just too farfetched. 

Yes, it is.  But Republicans and Tea Partiers in Congress, as well as some Republican presidential candidates, are exploiting the national debt, and the horrific scenario of U.S. financial default, to get their way in negotiations on the federal budget.

This situation arises because of an artificial crisis provoked by conservatives.  Since 1939 there has been a legal limit on the size of the national debt.  And each year Congress has raised the limit to allow the debt to climb.  This year the Republicans, the majority in the House of Representatives, are refusing to raise the limit unless the Obama administration and Democrats accept monster cuts in government spending in the next federal budget.

Raising the limit, allows the government to sell more bonds and securities or to make other commitments to obtain revenue to meet its international and domestic obligations.

Freeze the limit and the U.S. defaults on its loans, abandons its fiscal responsibilities and becomes, in effect, a deadbeat country.  As a consequence, the dollar will lose value, prices will go up, American companies will find it harder to sell their products abroad, and interest rates will climb so buying a car or house will become even more out of reach for many people. A deepening recession is likely. 

This is the bargain Republicans are now putting on the table.  Cut government programs to the bone in this year’s budget or watch as the U.S. becomes an international derelict.  

Fact: No one thinks the debt should be ignored.  Another fact: Republicans want everyone to believe that their strategy of draconian government cuts is the only option

Last week, Republican Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, walked out on budget and debt reduction negotiations with Vice President Biden and other leaders from both parties.  This week, Republican Mitch McConnell, the senate minority leader, created a similar spectacle by declaring that current negotiations were dead.

We can now turn to Michelle Bachmann, the newly announced Republican presidential candidate, to clarify what’s going on here.  This is what she says on her official website:

“Taxes are simply too high and American families have less money to spend on their priorities. Rather than taking money from the hands of the middle class to pay for a large, overbearing federal government, I believe in letting hard-working taxpayers keep more of what they earn… [We need] to repeal the estate tax, reduce capital gains taxes, repeal the alternative minimum tax (AMT), extend the adoption tax credit [so fewer women get abortions], and, make permanent other important tax relief passed by Congress in 2001 and 2003.”

Bachmann is wrong on most of these points. The U.S. has lower taxes on average than many other industrialized countries.  And nearly all of the tax cuts or adjustments she praises will benefit the rich, not working and middle class citizens. 

But Bachmann's comments hit the mark when she conveys Republican disdain for increased taxes. This option is simply not on the negotiating table.  Nor are the elimination of tax loopholes for  corporations and the rich or reductions in oil and agricultural subsidies.   

All of these actions would increase government revenue and be a start toward closing the budget deficit and reducing the dreaded debt.  But the Republicans would rather cut valued government programs. And if making their point requires taking a chance on default and economic devastation, so be it. 

This is the posture of incendiaries, not responsible citizens.   

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Political Sex Scandals: The Drama of 'Full Responsibility'

The hottest political scandals now titillating the public mind are about the sexual peccadillos of male politicians. Titillate and Peccadillo are great words. They suggest exactly what’s going on here.

The recent episodes:

• A U.S. senator and a governor discovered to be frequenting whorehouses when their names show up in the madam’s client book.

• A governor caught spending a week in Argentina with his lover after telling his staff he was going hiking.

• A U.S. senator having an affair with his best friend’s wife and attempting to buy the couple’s silence by giving the husband a job and paying them more than $90,000 in hush money.

• A governor fathering a child with a household servant. Then it's revealed the baby was conceived while his wife was pregnant.

• A former U.S. Senator and vice presidential candidate having an affair with a videographer he met on the campaign trail. After vehement denials, he acknowledges that the child the woman delivered is his. He later arranges a “donation” from a rich friend so he can give his lover a big chunk of money to keep her quiet.  And during all this, his wife is dying of breast cancer.

• And most recently, a rising young congressman e-mailing women all over the country with sexy messages. His downfall arrives when a message containing a picture of his bulging jockey shorts was accidently sent to all of his followers.

In some of these cases the randy politicos resigned from office.  In some, they suffered only momentary public reprobation.  In two, the miscreants are being prosecuted for paying out bribes or misappropriation of campaign funds. 

But even though these cases represent serious breaches of public or personal trust (imagine what you’d think if your governor abandoned his official duties to fly to Buenos Aires for a secret tryst) they hardly signal the end of the republic. So why do these stories draw so much public attention, far exceeding the interest devoted to more important issues?  

The answer may lie in the vivid tableau that seems to rivet public interest whenever one of these sorry cases arises.  The leading man stands at the microphone while his compliant wife shrinks from his side, ice and sadness in her eyes. Then the confession begins.

Though the scene varies from time to time—in some cases the wife is strong enough or angry enough to stay out of the picture—the gist of the moment is always the same:  The recount of wrongdoing, the promise to make it right, and the acceptance of responsibility.  This is the classic theater of failure and redemption.  It’s no wonder that CBS has created a successful dramatic series, “the Good Wife,” based largely on this moment.  

But drama and reality aren’t the same, and sometimes responsibility is just a word given in a performance.  Here are the lines:

This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible.—Former Louisiana senator David Vitter.

There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused.—Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I have developed a relationship with a...what started as a dear friend from Argentina. It began very innocently....But here recently over this last year it developed into something much more than that. And as a consequence I hurt her, I hurt you all, I hurt my wife, I hurt my boys, I hurt friends... And all I can say is that I apologize.—Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.
I've insisted, I believe correctly, that people regardless of their position or power take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself.—Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

I took responsibility for my actions in 2006 and today I take full responsibility publicly.—Former vice presidential candidate John Edwards.

I take 100 percent responsibility for my actions.  Plain and simple, it was wrong; it was a sin.—Former Nevada senator John Ensign. 

I don’t know what I was thinking. It was a destructive thing that I did that I accept responsibility for.—Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner.

These losers aren’t even very good actors.  Isn’t it time we recognized their contrived sentiments for the dreary fiction they are?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Judgment Day and the ‘Useful Idiots’ of the Republican Party

It’s the End of the World—Again

Rev. Harold Camping, a radio preacher from Alameda, CA, predicted that the world would end on May 21st.  On that date Jesus was expected to return to earth, rapturous believers would ascend to heaven, and the world would blow up along with all of the sinners still on board. 

On May 22nd, most people, including Rev. Camping himself, noticed that none of this had happened.  Rev. Camping said he was “flabbergasted.” Apparently, he had expected to awaken in heaven instead of the pleasant city of Alameda, which is certainly no hell hole. 

Not surprisingly, Rev. Camping has now announced a new date for Doomsday.  It is October, 21, 2011.   The significance of this date and Rev. Camping’s method of calculating it have not been released.  However, the date’s numerology may hold a clue: 10/21/2011.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

The Useful Idiots of the Republican Party

Stalin and other cynical leaders of the Soviet Union regarded communist activists in the west as “useful idiots,” naïve pawns in the war against capitalism.  Used to infiltrate western institutions, they were doomed to be eliminated when the moment arrived for the real forces of revolution to take over.

Some observers are now beginning to wonder whether far right Republicans and Tea Partiers, along with their favorite presidential candidates, are serving the same purpose. Biding their time are the real Republican power brokers, people like the Koch brothers and Karl Rove, who will anoint their champion when the time is right.  Think Jeb Bush.

Two recent commentaries hint at this way of thinking and provide enjoyable summaries of where Republicans now stand eight or nine months before the first primaries.   

Writing in The Nation, columnist Eric Alterman was blunt in his assessment of Republicans and their candidates (June 20, 2011, page 10):

“One aspect of American politics that receives insufficient attention is that a significant percentage of self-identified Republicans—around half—are complete idiots.  And the candidates who wish to be elected by them must pander to them, either by being idiots themselves—see ‘Bachmann, Michele’—or pretending to be.”  Alterman goes on to note that 57 percent of Republicans believe that ACORN, a voter registration organization,  is “definitely” planning to steal the 2012 election or “might be” planning to do so. He adds that “this should strike a person with normal mental faculties as a mite surprising, given that the organization no longer exists.”

Commenting on the current field of Republican candidates, the New York Times observed in an editorial (June 15, 2011, page A26): 

“Monday’s Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire — full of historical error, economic obfuscation, avoidance of hard truths and even outright bigotry — was a feast for connoisseurs of political dysfunction. Desperate to avoid being outflanked on the right, the seven candidates tried so hard to outdo each other in finding fault with President Obama that they seemed to forget that they are competing for the same party nomination. By evening’s end, they had melted into an indistinguishable mass of privatizing, tax-cutting opponents of Shariah law.”

The useful idiots march on until political doomsday when the big boys descend to straighten things out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Religion Established: GOP Mixes Faith and Politics

I’ve always had a problem with any political party espousing morality that they are not ordained to espouse.  In other words, I go to my minister, my rabbi, my imam to have my faith lifted, to have that moral code instilled.  I do not go to my politician for that.”—Comment by Michael Steele, former chair of the Republican National Committee, June 7th on MSNBC.


 In January Michael Steele failed to win election to a second term as RNC chair. He was replaced by Reince Priebus, a Wisconsin conservative, who said during his campaign for the chairmanship that if he were elected it would be through God’s blessing. Priebus is anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage.  He recently urged Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner to resign because of what Priebus called a moral lapse for sending racy Twitter messages to several women. Priebus has remained silent about recent sexual, marital, and financial misdeeds (some involving criminal charges) committed by Republican senators and congressmen.

Recently, Chairman Priebus, along with Republican presidential candidates and conservative preachers, spoke to a meeting of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. The organization was founded by Republican religious activist Ralph Reed to promote fundamentalist political causes. Here are some of the things that were said:

Our faith is the foundation that unites us. We have the tendency to turn to our faith in times of need and times of convenience.  But faith in our God is not a convenience. It’s the foundation of a good life.  In faith there is wisdom.  In faith there is power, and in faith there is courage—courage to do what’s right.  In these trying times I think we all will be served to turn to our faith to confront the challenges ahead.”—Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee. 

"Lord, we thank you for this land, we thank you for a nation that was founded for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith,"—Pastor Benny Tate of Georgia.

"Lord we know there are things that we have done in our nation that have not been pleasing in your sight. Lord we ask your forgiveness for that,”—Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann (referring to policies of the Obama Administration).

“We need to be a country that turns toward God not a country that turns away from God.”—Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty.

“God will be faithful if you do your part and are faithful to his country. We will reclaim this land and we will make it greater and greater and greater.”—Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

 “There is something more essential than politics. And that’s life, especially a child’s life… When asked who found her in the vegetable market [where the little girl was abandoned] she responded, ‘Jesus.’”—Republican presidential candidate John Huntsman describing the adoption of his daughter, who was born in China.

  “We’re united tonight in a lot of things, love of country, the sanctity of human life, and the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman….It’s a moral tragedy for us to pile up more and more debt that we know we can’t possibly pay off during our lifetimes.”—Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sarah Palin's Midnight Bus Ride

Sarah Palin’s recent bus tour of historical sites may be best remembered for her imaginative re-telling of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. According to Palin, Revere took to his horse and hung his lanterns  to warn the British that it would be a bad idea to mess with the people who put on the Tea Party in Boston Harbor. “Hey, you're not going to take American arms, you are not going to beat our own well-armed persons individual private militia that we have,” Palin was quoted as saying.

Like most Americans, Palin fails to recognize that the events of the American Revolution and many other incidents in our history are more complicated than they seem at first glance.  
She probably remembered the myth of Revere’s ride and then in a panic tried to fill in the blanks with facts of her own.  Should she be punished for that?

Palin encountered a similar problem when she retold the story of George Washington and the cherry tree at the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally in Washington, DC.   As a snotty little boy George had chopped down the tree as a prank.  Later, under threat of corporal punishment, he demonstrated high moral character by confessing to his father and taking full responsibility.  This is the myth that everyone knows.  But Palin thought the story was incomplete. In her version, Washington was actually an adult and he and his troops had cleared a whole orchard of cherry trees.  They used the wood to make rafts so they could clandestinely cross the Potomac to the District of Columbia to prevent the British from burning down the White House.

Palin also clarified the historical record while visiting Washington’s National Museum of American History. She viewed a number of America’s most revered historical treasures, including the original Star-Spangled Banner.  The tattered flag flew over an American fort that was being attacked by the British.  Palin reminded a group of thrilled onlookers that the flag had inspired a famous composer to write “God Bless America,” which later became the national anthem. Palin also saw Lincoln’s top hat and Theodore Roosevelt’s Teddy Bear.  She had no comment except to ask why they were not kept in the same display case. 

When stopping in Philadelphia, Palin warmly recalled another American hero, Benjamin Franklin.  As a boy, she noted, the precocious Franklin had invented the printing press, which later allowed him to create America’s first tabloid newspaper.  Reporters working under his direction uncovered the Jefferson scandal in which the third president confessed to fathering a child out of wedlock.  A tearful Jefferson told a press conference how badly he felt for the pain he had caused his family and took full responsibility. Palin also recalled that Benjamin Franklin had worked with his pal Voltaire to discover electricity.

To many cynics these historical interpretations reveal a critical shortcoming for a presidential candidate.  But Palin is correct in saying that for some recent presidents deep historical knowledge was unimportant.  For example, Ronald Reagan was known to confuse movie scenes with actual historical events and he used them to illustrate important points in his policy speeches.  George W. Bush was fond of expressions like “bring it on.” Though this phrase comes from a movie about high school cheerleaders, Bush saw it as a way of conveying American bravado in the face of terrorist threats.

Palin is thus right to discount criticism of her interpretations of history and myth.  In reality, it’s a minor public relations issue, which the American people will little note, nor long remember.  However, in case some of them do, Palin supporters have attempted to revise entries in Wikipedia about Revere’s ride to make the story coincide with Palin’s version.  No kidding. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

You too can speak like a celebrity or TV reporter

Thinking, speaking, or writing in clichés tells your audience you’re up to date and just like them.  Cable newscasters, reporters, celebrities, and ordinary people have mastered these techniques.  Now you can too.  Just learn the hackneyed expressions below and start today to communicate just like a White House correspondent or Paris Hilton. 

What goes around comes around:  Use this phrase to show you’ve lived life to the fullest and pretty much seen it all.  Reporters think "what goes around comes around" even when they don’t speak it aloud.  These savvy folks can interpret any news event or political dispute without a pause because in their minds everything has come around many times before. 

It’s the first day of the rest of your life.  Oprah left her show because after years of pitching this transformative idea, she came to believe it herself. Use this phrase to console your friends who’ve taken to drink or who’ve just been dumped by a lover. It comforts them to know that everything before this new first day doesn’t count.  Of course, it’s a lie, but who cares.  It’s the first day of the rest of your life.

Spot on.  This Anglicism was perfect for a British duffer whose caddy helped him select just the right club on the fourth tee. “Spot on, old chap.”  About 50 years after it ceased to be widely used in the U.K., this expression has popped up on American television.  A local TV weather anchor recently praised NOAA forecasters for being “spot on” with a prediction.  It was unclear whether this referred to the accuracy of the report or the intensity of the rain.  Use this expression if you want to sound slightly fusty or harmlessly demented. 

Not so much.  This phrase tells everyone you’ve got an ironic, or perhaps jaded, view of the world.  It now shows up frequently in cable news commentaries, as in:  “Have Republicans eased off in their criticism of President Obama’s health care plan?  Not so much.”  The phrase doesn’t answer a specific question about what Republicans are thinking.  Rather, it tells the audience that you cannily see through Republican tactics and know they’re still being obstructionist bastards. Will this expression help when you’re lying to your spouse or partner about what you did last night?  Not so much. 

Back in the day. This phrase is shorthand for once upon a time.  Back in the day when this expression hadn’t been discovered or widely used (about three years ago), people didn’t have a quick way to communicate their ability to talk about history without seeming elderly. You can use it over and over again to suggest your reflective nature. However, never use it to say, “back in the day, what went around came around.”  That would be pathetic.

Look.... Always follow this expression with a professorial pronouncement such as:  “Look. If you take the surface street, you’ll arrive about an hour later than if you take the freeway.” It conveys to your listener that you’re simply smarter and have better command of the facts. This manner of speaking was used by President Obama when he first came into office. He stopped when a member of his staff told him: “Look. You’re sounding like an arrogant prick.” However, nearly every White House correspondent now uses the expression to let the audience in on the latest exclusive story revealed in the daily White House news briefing. As in: “Look. The president has his hands full deciding whether to drink Guinness Stout or Harp Lager when he stops at his great great grandfather’s  hometown in Ireland. However, he's made a firm decision to add an apostrophe to O’bama.”

Y'know what I’m saying?  Use this phrase when you don’t know what you mean and you want your listener to explain it to you. 

Good luck. Your next lesson in the art of the cliché will start as soon as it goes around and comes around. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

The U.S. Senate: A Story of Zombies and Filibusterers

Unlike the Roman senate, which became meek and then laughable as it cowered before Caesar, the U.S. Senate has settled into a self-induced stupor.

Memorial Day weekend was typical. The senate adjourned for the holiday, but technically remained in session in order to prevent the President from making a temporary recess appointment for director of a new consumer protection agency. Presidents sometimes take this step to circumvent the senate when it dithers over confirmation of an appointee.

Staying in session, even though they weren’t actually present, allowed members of the Republican minority to block a presidential action by doing nothing. Democrats, on the other hand, could have prevented this farce if their leader as the head of the majority had simply called the Republican bluff and ruled the Senate adjourned. He did not because the Democrats have used the same tactic themselves.

The senate rules that enabled this scenario are so ridiculous and improvised it’s hard to understand how they could be used to organize an important arm of the government. But the recess rule in fact is one of the senate’s more benign parliamentary inventions. Vastly more absurd are rules that allow a single senator on a whim to place a secret hold on legislation. And then there's the so-called filibuster rule where one party can stall or block a bill if its members refuse to yield the floor during a debate. Breaking the impasse requires a three-fifths majority.

The senate has become so accustomed to the idea of this tactic, that the mere threat of a filibuster now invokes the three-fifths rule. As a consequence, nearly all disputed legislation, like the recent health care bill, requires 60 votes out of 100 to pass. A threat of filibuster in one of the senate’s many committees can also delay or kill legislation or sidetrack presidential appointments.

The three-fifths rule, or super majority, has turned the senate into a cemetery where everyone and everything is at eternal rest. How could this happen?

The Constitution grants the senate the power to establish “the rules of its proceedings (Article I, Sec. 5). But it is silent on filibusters, senatorial holds, and super majorities. All of these gimmicks have arisen over the years because senators have chosen to regard them merely as procedural options, rather than the extra-legal power tactics that they are. Now minority Republicans have discovered that “procedure” can be a nuclear weapon. And they have used it scores of times recently to kill opposition initiatives.

The latest example of the filibuster at work came May 19th when Republican senators rejected President Obama’s nomination of Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Liu is widely regarded among lawyers and scholars as a brilliant legal mind. Republicans didn’t actually monopolize the floor of the Senate to prevent a vote on Liu. They merely threatened to do so, which then activated the three-fifths rule. Liu won a large majority but not enough to gain appointment. Liu withdrew his name.

Republicans are launching similar tactics to prevent Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren from taking the job as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Warren, also a brilliant legal scholar, is an expert on finance and consumer protection law.

Liu was rejected because he's too liberal for ultra conservative Republican senators. The Republicans not only consider Warren too liberal, but they’re horrified that under her leadership the consumer agency might actually investigate financial institutions whose risky schemes and malfeasance helped create the current economic crisis.

Can the Senate rules be changed? Almost certainly not. Senators have regular opportunities to make the rules fairer and more democratic. But they don’t do so because both sides can use the rules to advantage when they become the minority. Anyway, procedure is procedure, at least in the U.S. Senate.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ideology, Medicare and the Ryan Plan

Medicare and Social Security are by far the most popular government programs.  To conservatives, however, they continue to be a throbbing irritant to their ideology, which views the private marketplace, not government, as the solution to society’s most pressing social problems.

An ideology is a pattern of thinking that turns philosophies and suppositions into conventional wisdom accepted without question.  That means that on a subject like the future of Medicare, alternative viewpoints are about as useless to a conservative as skepticism is to a believer in ghosts.

Recently, the most notable example of the conventional wisdom is Republican congressman Paul Ryan’s deficit-cutting budget proposal.  His idea for Medicare is to turn it into a voucher program where beneficiaries receive a fixed allocation of money from the government, which they can then use to pay for medical services through a private insurance company.  Though this plan would significantly cut costs for the government, it would put at risk many of the elderly whose vouchers were not enough to cover all their medical expenses. Recipients would have to negotiate with an insurance company for the lowest price. But full coverage could entail extra premiums to be paid out of pocket.

This plan is motivated ostensibly by the desire to reduce the cost of Medicare in the future as the program accommodates an increasing number of old people.  Without such drastic steps, Ryan says, the United States will amass an insurmountable fiscal deficit in just a few years.  One conservative commentator put the problem succinctly: “If we don’t reform the program, the country will go broke.”  

Here the conventional wisdom speaks, but does it have the answers?  And, for that matter, is it asking the right questions?  Of course not. The conservative ideology forces the issue of Medicare into a marketplace model that is concerned more with retailing insurance policies than serving the medical needs of the elderly.  It also undermines a highly successful single-payer national healthcare plan on the pretense of fiscal responsibility.

Here are the questions the ideology doesn’t ask: Why can’t the American people provide the best and most effective medical care for all of our elderly citizens?  And, how can we accomplish this goal and fund it in a fiscally responsible way? 

The conventional wisdom responds by saying that health care is an individual responsibility and must be worked out as far as possible in the marketplace.  In addition, Medicare in its present form is a government entitlement and like all big government programs it’s inefficient and disempowers individuals. The fiscally responsible thing to do is to severely cut the program to avoid large government deficits.

In short, the conventional wisdom tells us the Ryan plan will work because, as everyone knows, 80 year olds are tough customers when it comes to negotiating with big business for fair prices. It also tells us that caring for the elderly is less important than holding the line on taxes for the wealthy and  continuing huge government subsidies for big oil and big agriculture.  Unfortunately, fair taxes and reduced subsidies, which would actually cut the deficit and save Medicare, have been taken off the table. To conservatives, blinded by their ideology, these options are simply invisible.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The End of the Reverend Harold Camping

A lot of Christians will be in church this Sunday wiping the sweat from their brows. The world didn’t end on Saturday, as predicted in a well-publicized prophecy, and they weren’t carried off by God or left behind to die in a terrible cataclysm back on earth.  
The prophesy came from a radio preacher named Harold Camping, who declared that Saturday was the day Jesus would be back for his Second Coming and that The End of the World was near. Sinners and infidels rejected by God would die in a mass extermination as earthquakes and floods wracked the earth. After five days of agony, the world would blow up like an overinflated basketball. 
The reverend Camping learned about all this through a close reading of the Bible.  He once was an engineer and liked dealing with numbers.  He calculated that the exact date of Noah’s flood was sometime in the 49th century BC. And with the help of certain clues contained in the Books of Peter, he was able to extrapolate that the world would end on 5-21-2011 AD at about 1800 hours PDT.  The cataclysm was needed so God could sort out the people of the earth and send all the good ones to a safe eternity in heaven.
This scenario pops up every few years when an inspired zealot comes up with a revised version that he believes will captivate a new group of gullible simpletons. This is not usually a difficult task.  A study by the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life found in a 2006 study that 20 percent of Americans believe that in their lifetimes the Second Coming of Christ will take place, heralding the end of the world. 
A big problem for believers is what happens when doomsday doesn’t arrive on schedule. You would expect there to follow some sincere soul searching.  But it turns out The End is a flexible concept, one that can be pushed forward in time by a day, a month, or even years. New calculations usually discover errors or incorrect interpretations.  For example, a year in biblical time can be recalculated to equal 1,000 actual years.  This kind of thing could really screw up your effort to pin down biblical dates, especially if you weren’t sure whether to use the Roman or the Gregorian calendar.
On Sunday the earth will still be in its accustomed place, but it would be a good idea for everyone to read the Sunday papers or to view the Sunday morning interview programs to see what the reverend Camping has to say about where he and the End of the World are going next.  He might also show up on Meet the Press so he can explain to Republican budget cutters, who invariably appear on such programs, that you don’t always get what you expect when predicting chaos and disaster.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Trump and Huckabee 2012

Now that Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee have withdrawn from the presidential race, Republicans have reason for regret, whether they know it or not.  It would be hard to come up with a better presidential ticket to go against Barrack Obama and Joe Biden than Trump-Huckabee.  The two Republicans would be like rum and sweet tea against the Democrats’ mineral water and ice. 

Trump announced his withdrawal from the race on Monday.  His explanations sounded evasive.  He wants to focus on his business interests and on the television program.  But Trump is a strategic thinker of the first order.  Obama’s big victory in the Bin Laden operation, suggested to him that the smart move would be to wait until 2016. By then he would be a Reaganesque 70 years old and a lot of ancient history might be forgotten.

Huckabee announced his withdrawal Saturday, saying that after consultation he realized he didn’t have God’s blessing.  In 2008 Huckabee, who is an ordained Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas, did well in Republican primary states heavy with fundamentalist Christians.  He didn’t get a lot of momentum this time around. When he quit, most of the talk in political circles was about which other potential candidates might benefit: Sarah Palin? Rick Santorum? Mitt Romney? Pat Buchanan? The pundits began asking who would God endorse? 

But stepping aside now with the hope of a future vice-presidential nomination in mind sounds like a great move by Huckabee.  He has a “sidekick” quality that would endear him to voters, especially if matched with a “good-at-heart” tough guy like Trump. Huckabee would also be easy to fire should someone like Palin become available in 2020. 

Trump, of course, is all the things Huckabee is not, and vice versa.  Trump has been married three times, has a reputation for sharp business practices and for coming up with flashy ideas like invading middle eastern countries to capture their oil for the benefit of U.S. drivers.  Huckabee, sometimes known as “the Huckster,” quietly writes books like his recent series for school children on the history of the United States.  The first volume uses cartoons to tell the story of Ronald Reagan, America’s greatest president.  Huckabee also delivers understated commentaries on Fox where he recently chastised Natalie Portman for having a child out of wedlock.  

Though Trump and Huckabee have good reasons for not making a run for president and vice president this time around, the Republicans may still come calling in 2012.  Obama-Biden may slip up between now and then.  Obama could also make a knuckleheaded move like replacing Biden on the ticket with an even more irritating politician like Chuck Schumer or Harry Reid.  And, really, what better ticket do the Republicans have?  Huntsman-Romney, Daniels-Gingrich, Bachmann-Bolton, Pawlenty-Paul? 

Trump-Huckabee, Trump-Huckabee!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Oily Joe Barton

Corsicana, Texas is a nice town of 25,000 people about 50 miles southeast of Dallas and 180 miles north of Houston.  It was named after the Mediterranean island of Corsica, which was the family home of one of the city’s founders.  Probably none of this is of much interest to people who’ve never been to Corsicana. But a major event in the town’s history may be. In 1894 Corsicana was the site of the first major oil discovery in Texas. Though the oil industry is no longer important to the local economy, Corsicana is perhaps the closest thing to hallowed ground in the Texas religion of oil.

Corsicana is right in the middle of the 6th Congressional District, which is represented by Republican Joe Barton. He has been in Congress since 1985 and in last November’s election he beat his Democratic opponent by a margin of 35 percent. Barton is the most devoted acolyte of the oil industry in the House of Representatives.  And now he is the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, a position that makes him a key player in making national policy on energy, the environment, and conservation.

 Barton is known for his combative and sometimes clownish actions on behalf of the oil industry.  Last June, Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, was called before the energy committee to answer questions about the causes and consequences of the devastating Gulf oil spill.  In his opening remarks, Barton astonished just about everyone by apologizing to Hayward. President Obama had chewed out the CEO the day before in a meeting at the White House and won a commitment of $20 billion from BP for environmental cleanup and compensation to spill victims. Barton called the president’s action a “shakedown,” one that no corporation or citizen should have to endure. So he apologized.

One of Barton’s main targets in Congress has been efforts to regulate or curtail carbon dioxide emissions.  CO2 spews into the atmosphere when automobiles burn gasoline. Nearly every reputable atmospheric scientist agrees that it is the most important human contribution to global climate change.  But oil corporations and other industries that profit from burning petroleum and coal think the government is going too far in trying to restrict it.  

To support them Barton has recently introduced legislation to stop carbon dioxide from being designated as an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act, a law enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency.  He told Congress in a floor speech that cutting back on carbon dioxide threatens life rather than helping to preserve it.  

“First of all, greenhouse gases, by definition are necessary for life,” his official website quotes him as saying. “As I stand here Madam Speaker and I speak - I am creating, as I breathe in and out, through the respiratory process CO2. Under the dictates of today’s EPA, I am a mobile source polluter simply because I am breathing. CO2 or carbon dioxide is necessary for life. Greenhouse gases are necessary to protect the environment. They have the ability to prevent heat from escaping into outer space and that is what creates the temperature zone that allows life to exist.”  Barton went on to say that the acceptable levels of carbon dioxide proposed by “radical environmentalist” are too low.  In the past, levels have been thousands of parts per billion higher, he said.

This week the subject of climate change came up again in Congress with the release of a report by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s perspective on the effects of CO2 was just the opposite of Barton’s.  The report was written at the behest of Congress by a group of eminent scientists, business people, and politicians—hardly radical environmentalists.  They noted that rising sea levels caused by global warming are already affecting coastal cities and that the average temperature in the United States has gone up by two degrees in the last 50 years. The report concluded that scientific studies verify that climate change is real and that there will be profound consequences in the future if urgent action isn’t taken now. 

Barton quickly dismissed the report’s findings, saying it added nothing useful that would lead to an informed decision about climate change and how to deal with it. His seemingly off-handed comments suggested that he had completed only a perfunctory review of the report. 

But no one was surprised. Once again Rep. Barton had fulfilled his role as the energy industry's leading partisan, a position for which he is well paid.  According to the website http://dirtyenergymoney.com, which tracks energy industry contributions to politicians, Barton received more than $1.8 million from oil and coal companies in the last two years. It was the most of anybody in the House of Representatives and just behind Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who raised $1.9 million to lead the Senate.