political convention

political convention

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.