Monday, December 06, 2010

Streams Of Consciousness, Dec. 6


Today on the Ed Schultz show, Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders remarked on the Obama/McConnell tax cut for millionaires-- a coming together of the transpartisan conservative political elites to serve their corporate masters: "I think it is an absolute disaster and an insult to the vast majority of the American people to be talking about giving huge tax breaks for the wealthiest people in this country, driving up our deficit and increasing the growing gap between the very rich and everybody else." As usual, Bernie gets it exactly right. And he says he'll do all he can, including leading a filibuster against the dirty backroom deal to screw ordinary American families. It'll be interesting to see who, besides retiring Senators George Voinovich (R-OH) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) stick with him. I'm sure this is one cloture vote that will work out just fine-- for the people who pay for the campaigns, if not for the American people. Please watch the video above. And then... think about showing Bernie you're on his side on this.

John Conyers (D-MI) isn't and Independent and isn't in the Senate. He's a Member of the House, a really important Democratic one. He doesn't seem too happy with the conservative alliance Paul Ryan was so happy about as Obama and McConnell merged into one horrible nightmare:
This is a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party and the Nation. I can tell you with certainty that legislative blackmail of this kind by the Republicans will be vehemently opposed by many if not most Democrats, progressives, and some Republicans who are concerned with the country’s financial budget. I for one will do everything in my power to make certain that legislation along these lines does not pass during the lame duck session. 

Tax cuts for the richest two percent, the millionaires and billionaires, are neither justified nor needed. There is no evidence that, in the last eight years, the Bush tax cuts did anything to encourage economic growth and create jobs. It seems hard to argue that the tax cuts for the rich trickled down to rest of the nation, when you consider the fact that we are just now coming out of the deepest economic recession since the Great Depression. If we permanently extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, it will cost our country four trillion dollars in lost revenue in the next decade, and decimate important social programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. As Paul Krugman noted today, “over the next 75 years, the revenue loss would be more than three times the projected Social Security shortfall.”

If America is to compete in a highly competitive global economy, we must have the needed federal revenues to invest in jobs, health care, education, infrastructure, and green technology.  Furthermore, in a time when city and states are experiencing serious budget shortfalls, having difficulties paying for police officers, teachers, and firefighters, and other essential needs such as affordable housing and health care, now is not the time to provide tax cuts for the richest Americans who will simply put that money in their banks accounts.

This is not the time to pursue misguided tax policies that will wreak havoc on our nation’s fiscal health. Now is the time to show the American people that government has the ability to improve people’s lives in a tangible way.

Progressives Aren't The Only Ones Being Left Out Of The New Conservative Consensus-- Bachmann's Teabag Army Makes Threatening Noises

Bachmann was on the radio with Sean Hannity today and from her fascist-oriented perspective the "compromise" doesn't past muster because McConnell threw the unemployed some scraps. "I don't know that Republicans would necessarily go along with that vote. That would be a very hard vote to take," she insisted. "I think we're back in a conundrum. I think the compromise would be extending the rates for two years and not permanently, but not tying it to massive spending. We cannot add on something like a year of unemployment benefits. Tying it to massive spending is something that would be very difficult for members to swallow." And the payroll tax holiday, something that actually works well for working families, is probably driving her quietly insane(r). She just doesn't seem to get it the whole tax thing though, does she?

Maybe This Will Help Michele Bachmann Understand... But I Doubt It

This chart should be ingrained in the mind of anybody who cares about fiscal policy. The main things to note:

• Federal taxes are the lowest in 60 years, which gives you a pretty good idea of why America’s long-term debt ratios are a big problem. If the taxes reverted to somewhere near their historical mean, the problem would be solved at a stroke.

• Income taxes, in particular, both personal and corporate, are low and falling. That trend is not sustainable.

• Employment taxes, by contrast-- the regressive bit of the fiscal structure-- are bearing a large and increasing share of the brunt. Any time that somebody starts complaining about how the poor don’t pay income tax, point them to this chart. Income taxes are just one part of the pie, and everybody with a job pays employment taxes.

• There aren’t any wealth taxes, but the closest thing we’ve got-- estate and gift taxes--have shrunk to zero, after contributing a non-negligible amount to the public fisc in earlier decades.

You wouldn't be far off the track if you considered the American Prospect more a part of the problem with what's wrong with Washington than part of the solution, but co-founder Robert Kuttner was correct Sunday when he talked about the dismal future Obama is leading Democrats into.
Let's imagine the political possibilities of the next two years and beyond. So far, President Obama's response to the drubbing of the mid-term has confirmed the progressive community's worst fears. Astonishingly, he still seems to believe the following:

The American people care more about bipartisan compromise and budget cuts than about ending the economic crisis.

If he just compromises a little more, the Republicans might still meet him halfway.

The recipe for economic recovery has something to do with reducing the short term federal deficit.

All three of these premises are disastrously wrong-- as politics and as economics.

Gestures like freezing federal pay levels and cutting the government workforce only play into the rightwing mantra that the government is the problem. Politically, they signal weakness.

...The Bush tax cuts expire on December 31. Most Democrats are beating on the Republicans for refusing to spare 98 percent of Americans a tax hike, so that the top 2 percent can continue to get lower rates. Most Democrats are whacking the Republicans for letting unemployment insurance expire at a time of increased joblessness. But the message gets blurred because of Obama's mixed signals.

And instead of drawing a line in the sand and making clear that Democrats will not cut Social Security, Obama encouraged Democrats to support the scheme of the deficit commission, which was an anti-government, anti-social insurance blueprint that had very little public support and no constructive impact on the economic recovery that the country needs, and robbed Democrats of their most potent issue -- that Democrats defend Social Security and Republicans don't.

To add insult to injury, Obama just proposed yet another Bush-style trade deal with South Korea, which is likely to be a net job loser for the U.S. The widely expected appointment of investment banker and Robert Rubin protégé Roger Altman as Obama's chief economic adviser to succeed Larry Summers will continue the Wall Street dynasty at the White House.

The problem, however, is not Obama's advisers. It is the man who appointed them-- and his failure to know how to fight and lead as a progressive.

And If This All Wasn't Enough For One Day... How About Issa Being Right About Something?

This morning Issa was working himself into a Claire McCaskilloid twittering frenzy, except he was making a lot more sense than she ever does. Although you never heard a peep out of him when George W. Bush was ramping up the National Security State, Issa says he's concerned now. And even if his motivations are suspect, his reasoning is spot on:
Since 1973, an administrative search at airport checkpoints has been deemed constitutional so long as the search is “limited in its intrusiveness as is consistent with satisfaction of the administrative need that justifies it.” The court’s decision, of course, did not address the use of a federal agent’s hands to inspect a passenger’s most intimate body parts. Neither did it foresee the use of sophisticated technology to image a passenger’s body.

It bears repeating that the constitutional right of the people “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” is an inviolable precept of our democracy. If the enhanced-patdown procedures rolled out by TSA a few weeks ago do not constitute an “unreasonable” search without “probable cause”-- which the Bill of Rights forbids-- then at best, the public outcry against these procedures reflects the deepening distrust that the American people have in their government. The people are steadily losing confidence that the government in general, and federal regulators specifically, are capable of preserving our rights and protecting our lives at the same time.

Of course, there’s good reason to be doubtful. It was luck, rather than effective screening, that stopped the 2009 Christmas Day bomber, whose own father had warned U.S. officials of his terrorist sympathies. And if not for the watchful eye of a Times Square street vendor who pointed out a plume of smoke under a parked car months later, the plot of a Pakistani-born militant could have resulted in the deaths of hundreds. And despite numerous red flags and intercepted e-mail correspondence with an extremist cleric in Yemen, federal authorities were unable to stop Army major Nidal Hasan from murdering 13 military and civilian employees at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009.

At every point-- from requiring us to remove our belts and shoes, to forcing us to discard our shaving cream and hand lotions, to putting all our toiletries in little plastic bags and placing our laptop computers in separate plastic bins-- we have willingly submitted to new travel regulations on the promise that TSA procedures were necessary to keep us safe. Yet it seems that we have been giving up more and more of our privacy and liberty every day without any increase in our security. In fact, the new screening procedures appear to be in conflict with our basic constitutional protections, in the end taking a step back for liberty without a step forward for security.

It is true: 9/11 changed our lives. But if the TSA is going to be taken seriously-- and not as a defunct regulatory agency conducting “security theater,” as Washington Post columnist George Will recently characterized their security screenings-- then the American people need greater assurances that the TSA takes seriously our concerns about liberty, privacy, and indeed our modesty.

Moreover, there will need to be stronger evidence that TSA, as currently organized and administered, is competent to provide that security.

This makes a lot more sense than any of the other 500 investigations he's been threatening to launch-- and one most Americans would be very much behind. Imagine Darrell Issa doing something useful for once! Still... don't get so carried away with Issa-Love that you forget Bernie Sanders.

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