political convention

political convention

Friday, April 29, 2011

Obama's Foreign Aid Slowdown

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 hinted, 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. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Movement Born Again and Again

With the release of his official birth certificate from Hawaii, there can no longer be any reasonable doubt that President Obama is a citizen of the United States.  But, of course, there was no “reasonable doubt” to begin with. Only ignoramuses, crackpots and racists thought Mr. Obama was born in a foreign country, which makes you wonder about the Republican Party. A recent poll shows that more than 40 percent of registered Republicans think the president's place of birth was in either Kenya or Indonesia.  Where do these people come from?

But now as prominent Republicans join the race for president,  doubt is building about their qualifications for the highest office.  Where’s the proof they are natural born citizens as required by the Constitution?  Investigators are coming up with shocking revelations.

Tim Pawlenty:  Former governor of Minnesota, age 50.  Claims to have been born in St. Paul, Minnesota.  But immigration records suggest otherwise.  His mother’s name was Gabriela and his father went by Guido when they entered the country with a four-year-old child in 1965.  A helpful immigration officer attempted to Americanize their last name, changing Polenta to Pawlenty.  

Newt Gingrich:  The former Republican Speaker of the House has been working hard to conceal his real identity.  In March 2009 he converted to Catholicism from his original Baptist religion.  He has changed wives twice under questionable circumstances.  Mr. Gingrich lists Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as his place of birth, but while in Congress he represented a district in Georgia.  Neither state has provided an official birth certificate. 

Sarah Palin:  Alaska became the 49th state when it was admitted to the union January 3, 1959. However, Sarah, now 46,  was not born there.  Her actual birth place was in the old Soviet Union, which brings up the frightening realization that she may be the Siberian Candidate. 

Mike Huckabee:  His nickname is “Huck” and the name of his fund raising committee is “HuckPac.”  No true American would call himself Huck; it rhymes with too many words that can’t be uttered in polite company.  Huck, 55, says he was born in Hope, Arkansas.  Come on! Bill Clinton was born in Hope, Arkansas. Huck will say anything to seem presidential.  He was actually born in Huccaby, England, a name partly derived from an Old English word meaning “crooked.”  Look it up. 

Mitt Romney:  His father was George Romney, who, according to a published biography and numerous on-line sources, was born in a Mormon religious colony in Chihuahua, Mexico July 8, 1907. He nevertheless ran for president in 1968 (see National Governor's Association, www.nga.org).  George was CEO of American Motors, which manufactured the Nash Rambler and then went out of business.  Mitt has been silent about his father’s “birther”issue.  However, he has declared that questions about President Obama’s birthplace are “ridiculous” and “unfounded.”  Mitt was born in Detroit but had nothing to do with the Nash Rambler.

Donald Trump:  He claims to have been born at Jamaica Hospital in Jamaica, New York.  This fine medical institution is home to the Brady Institute for Traumatic Brain Injury.  That may have been helpful to Donald in later life, but in fact he’s never been to Jamaica Hospital.  He was born in Kingston, Jamaica in a hotel owned by his grandfather. Donald later purchased the hotel so he could erect a statue in the lobby commenorating his birth.   

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Health Care Law and Comatose Media

The public is poorly informed about the national health care law, which passed more than a year ago. And citizens know even less about the judiciary process that will eventually settle the law’s constitutionality. Why?  One reason is that suits brought against the law in federal trial courts have produced contradictory results.  One judge upheld the disputed provision in the law that requires everyone to buy health insurance.  Two other judges ruled it unconstitutional.  Another reason the public knows little about health care and its path through the courts is comatose news coverage. It better improve, especially on television, because the fight over the health care law has many rounds to go.

The existing trial court rulings, and perhaps others to come, will be appealed to higher courts by supporters or opponents of the law, depending on who loses a given trial.  A group of 20 or so Republican state attorneys general are leading the attack while the Obama administration is putting on the defense.

Sometime in the next few years, the Supreme Court will receive the case and make the final decision.  By then, many of the key components of the law should be in effect, barring an unexpected stay by an appellate judge.  They include rules to prevent insurance companies from denying medical coverage because of pre-existing conditions and upgrades to Medicare that would save that program by cutting costs.  If the Supreme Court rules all or parts of the law unconstitutional, these largely popular health care improvements may have to be scrapped. 

The latest news about the judicial battle is thus important, though not earth shaking.  The conservative attorney general of Virginia asked the Supreme Court to immediately consider the constitutionality of the law instead of allowing it to pass through levels of appellate review. Monday the court turned him down.  The attorney general’s motivations were ostensibly to get the health care issue to the high court as quickly as possible to save the confusion and cost of further appeals.  But, clearly, an unstated goal was to get a decision before the law is fully established, thus avoiding circumstances  that might inspire cautionary thoughts among the justices.

A secondary piece of news that came out of this latest action was the participation in the decision by the newest justice, Elena Kagan.  Justice Kagan might have recused herself because she was Solicitor General in the Obama administration when the health care law was under consideration.  But she did not.  Now it’s clear that Justice Kagan will take part in a final ruling, leaving the possibility of a favorable majority composed of four liberal justices and one moderate conservative. 

As for the media:  If you watched only the major network evening news programs on Monday, you would have learned nothing of the above.  Millions of people still view these programs every night and many of them have vital personal interest in the fate of the health care initiative.  Nevertheless, the top-rated show, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, said nothing about the latest development.  But let’s be fair.  A network news show has only 22 minutes for editorial content and Nightly News had so much to cover Monday night.  There was, of course, the royal wedding, which required at least 3 minutes of coverage.  Then there was the 2-minute story about the cuddly and adorable puppies whose live video has received 25 million hits on YouTube. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Deficit of Misery

Large numbers of Americans know the following things:
Lindsay Lohan, DUI arrests, substance abuse, multiple trips to rehab. Charlie Sheen, drug arrests, assault arrest, trips to rehab, three unsuccessful marriages and recent big career trouble.  Robert Downey Jr., drug arrests, served a year in lockdown treatment center; now clean.  Reese Witherspoon, no reported drug problem, spotted by paparazzi on her honeymoon with her second husband.. Tiger Woods hit by wife with a golf club when they fought over his extramarital affairs.

Large numbers Americans believe the following things:
Cutting foreign aid will make a significant contribution to reducing the federal budget deficit.  Cuts in food and housing assistance to the poor will also be a big step toward balancing the budget. Cutting funds for Public Broadcasting would save up to 5 percent of the budget, a significant amount. Pensions and benefits for government workers are a major proportion of the federal budget and should be cut. Stopping funding for Planned Parenthood is a serious step toward balancing the budget and will drastically cut the number of abortions nationwide. 

All of the items on the first list are true. Everything on the second list is false. Here are the facts:

•Allocations for foreign aid, assistance to the poor, and public broadcasting are relatively tiny items in the big budgetary picture.
•The public overestimates the cost of public worker benefits. 
•Planned Parenthood spends 97 percent of its funds on a variety of women’s health services and only three percent to provide abortions or abortion counseling. Cutting the organization’s funds will be only a relatively small step towards a balanced federal budget.

Yes, Americans are far better informed about People Magazine style popular culture than they are about the federal budget.  Who can blame them?  The battling back and forth between the parties, the incredibly large dollar amounts in play, and the unpleasant background noise in the media all contribute to drooping eyelids and befuddlement.
But one of the most important discussions that should be within everyone’s grasp is about taxes.  Can new or renewed taxes be safely used to lower the federal deficit and balance the budget? So far the Republicans have dominated the debate with their inflexible stand against new taxes of any kind, especially for the wealthy and corporations.  It’s a message that’s easy to hear because no one likes to pay taxes and no one wants their taxes to go up.
Democrats, on the other hand, seem to be swaying with the wind.  Some new taxes might be a good idea but, then again, perhaps not.   One of the sources of the Democratic quandary concerns the effect new taxes may have on the economic recovery.  Republicans say keeping taxes low will give corporations more resources to grow, thereby creating jobs.  Democrats (and many eminent economists) say it would be a mistake to reduce government spending during an economic downturn because the government helps keep money circulating and helps boost consumer demand and economic growth. 
You may now return to your People Magazine.  Isn’t a royal couple getting married soon?
But wait. Here’s some shocking news.  Did you know that the rich celebrities mentioned in the list above, along with just about every other wealthy American, were given tax cuts during the Bush Administration?  The cuts replaced tax increases imposed when Bill Clinton was President.  When the Clinton tax increases were launched the Republicans went crazy and predicted the economy would go bust.  Just the opposite happened.  Then under Bush, the Clinton increases were repealed and taxes for the wealthy went down. The worst economic recession since the 1930s followed. 
Cause and effect?  Maybe or maybe not.  Nevertheless, we may be getting the Clinton tax increases back and it will happen if Congress and the president do nothing.  According to an analysis in the New York Times, the Bush era tax cuts will expire at the end of 2012.  If the president and Congress keep hands off and allow them to die, taxes for the rich will instantly revert to the higher rates from the Clinton Administration. 
Three things to watch for if Clinton era taxes return:  First, the economy may boom, especially if the current recovery strengthens. Second, the problem of the deficit will miraculously ease: Clinton era tax rates will increase revenue and over five years the deficit could be diminished by as much as 75 percent.  Third, you’ll be reading in People Magazine about all the miserable rich celebrities who are finally forced to pay their fair share of taxes. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

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 the governor, 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 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. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Republicans at the Kitchen Table

Comparing your family’s budget to the budget of the United States of America has the ring of common sense to it. Your family lives within its means and so should the federal government, Republicans are fond of saying.  But now that Republican budget ace Rep. Paul Ryan has released his plan for the next few years, will the resemblance hold up?  Hardly.

First, do any families actually make paper and pencil budgets?  And, in the unlikely event that they do, would they start with an ideological credo that will predetermine the results?

Rep. Ryan’s budget, according to the man himself, is not simply a budget, but a “cause.”  By this he isn’t referring to frugality, careful calculation, and anticipation of  emergencies.  This is what families do.  At the top of Rep. Ryan’s page is a declaration that Americans as individuals and families need to become more immersed in the system of private capital and less engaged with government as a source of services such as health care and old age security.  Mr. Ryan’s aim is to eliminate or greatly reduce these services so that two things will happen:  Taxes paid by wealthy people and corporations can be cut; and individuals will be forced to pay directly for private alternatives to government programs so more money goes into corporate coffers.

Under these conditions, the quaint fictional scenario of a family sitting around the kitchen table planning the year’s budget would be radically altered, as follows: 

Dad, who at 56 is edging toward his golden years, begins by giving thanks to his stock broker who has promised that his retirement account won’t lose more than 25 percent of its value because of this week’s stock market funk.  Billy,14, makes a pitch to put an extra $200 into his stock portfolio so he can buy the motorcycle of his dreams when he hits 18.  Mom reminds him that grandma has a chronic pain in her abdomen and has developed jaundice.  She will need that money to help pay the 50 percent deductible now required by her private insurer for senior medical care.  Janet, 16, announces that she has had to make a risky investment in credit default swaps, now back in vogue, in order to meet the down payment on fees at the local community college where she hopes to attend in two years. 

By the end of the evening Dad has to acknowledge that things aren’t looking very bright.  The family is just about broke.  But Dad tells everyone that, like the Republicans and their budget leader Paul Ryan, he has resisted any move to increase the amount of money coming in.  As the Republican manifesto says, taxes will not be raised—at least for the rich and for corporations—under any circumstances.  Dad tells the family that as a matter of principle he has declined  a wage increase offered by his boss. No.....Just kidding. In fact, he has learned that income taxes on his annual earnings of $50,000 are going up because of the Republican budget plan.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Rev. Terry Jones: A Pointless Incendiary Act

Unfortunately, the guarantee of religious freedom in this country doesn’t prevent some believers from trying to impose their religion on everyone else.  Many of these people also hold the view that because they have discovered the true faith they have license to follow their beliefs as far as they will go—in the spirit of Jim Jones, David Koresh, and the Rev. Fred Phelps.

The latest crank religionist to exercise his rights with great fanfare and little reflection is Terry Jones, the pastor of a church called the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla.  On March 20th Mr. Jones and his disciples held a mock trial of the Koran, the Islamic holy book.  As absurd as it sounds, witnesses gave testimony and a “jury” of church members sat in judgment.  The book was found “guilty” of “crimes against humanity,” including “promotion of terror,” and “acts of torture and rape.”   As a penalty, the book was soaked in kerosene and burned.

As the case of Mr. Jones reminds us, the world of religion is well stocked with maniacs and crackpots—and almost all of them are quick to take offense at slights to their beliefs. Many are also expert at inciting their followers.   So it’s not surprising that of the millions of Muslims who were hurt or angered or disgusted by the burning of their holy book, some would seek violent revenge. 

Friday, three Mullahs in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan aroused a crowd of followers by telling them about what Mr. Jones and his congregation had done.  The infuriated crowd descended on a United Nations compound and killed 12 UN workers and members of their support staff.  The crowd was apparently looking for Americans but couldn’t find any so they struck at the nearest group of foreigners. 

Mr. Jones had been warned that his pointless incendiary act would lead to violence. But after the killings he refused any share of responsibility.   Instead, according to the New York Times, he demanded that the United States and the United Nations take action against Muslim nations to revenge the killings.  “The time has come to hold Islam accountable,” he said.