"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."
-- Sinclair Lewis
Monday, December 31, 2012
Happy New Year from all of us here at DWT!
If there's one thing we can say with near-certainty about the new year, it's that come Dec. 31, 2013, we'll be bitching and moaning about that godforsaken year just (mercifully) past. So in fairness, approaching a brand-new year that hasn't (yet) done a darned thing to us, I think we can start with some "glass half-full" messaging, like the cartoon above and the next couple.
NOW FOR THE "GLASS HALF-EMPTY" POSITION . . .
The nice thing is that at this point, from the vantage point of horrid old 2012, we can still wish for a safe, happy, and healthy new year for one and all.
In 2013, we can look forward to even savvy economic players like Starbucks' CEO paying heed to self-interested thugs and predators
When I wrote about Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in March, I included this clip from the company's annual shareholders' meeting.
"How could someone as well connected as Mr. Schultz get such a basic point [about debt reduction and the economy] wrong? By talking to the wrong people -- in particular, the people at Fix the Debt, who've been doing their best to muddle the issue. . . .
"What's happening now is that all the ["deficit scold" Peter] Peterson-funded groups are trying to exploit the fiscal cliff to push a benefit-cutting agenda that has nothing to do with the current crisis, using artfully deceptive language -- as in [a fund-raising letter by Fix the Debt's Maya] MacGuineas -- to hide the bait and switch. . . . Mr. Schultz apparently fell for the con. But the rest of us shouldn't."
Whew, talk about cutting it close! A NYT pop-up informed me that my summons of Paul Krugman's column today is no. 9 of my allotted "10 free articles this month." However, I can choose to look at this from "a glass half full" (or should I say "a glass one-tenth full"?) kind of revelation, announcing that between now and the midnight farewell to 2012, I still have one free NYT click to use at will!
But I digress.
It's hardly a new theme for Paul K that there's an anointed group of so-called "serious" people who are all but universally listened to by people who fancy themselves serious people, both in government and in the media, and in the economic matters that are his professional purview, the so-called "serious" people don't know what they're talking about -- or perhaps do know and have a vested interest in, shall we say, misleading the people who unaccountably listen to them. (Note how adroitly I avoided use of loaded terms like "fib" and "lie their fool heads off.")
Howard Schultz, the C.E.O. of Starbucks, has a reputation as a good guy, a man who supports worthy causes. And he presumably thought he would add to that reputation when he posted an open letter urging his employees to promote fiscal bipartisanship by writing "Come together" on coffee cups.
In reality, however, all he did was make himself part of the problem. And his letter was actually a very good illustration of the forces that created the current mess.
Paul K cites CEO Schultz's warning in the letter "that elected officials 'have been unable to come together and compromise to solve the tremendously important, time-sensitive issue to fix the national debt,' and suggested that readers further inform themselves at the Web site of the organization Fix the Debt." And he thinks we ought to "parse that."
He concedes the time-sensitiveness of the issue, and the distinct possibility that the fiscal cliff's "combination of tax increases and spending cuts . . . might push the nation back into recession." But he insists, sounding a theme that will certainly be familiar to DWT readers: that "that prospect doesn't reflect a failure to 'fix the debt' by reducing the budget deficit -- on the contrary, the danger is that we'll cut the deficit too fast."
More importantly, Paul K wonders, "How could someone as well connected as Mr. Schultz get such a basic point wrong?" And he answers without delay: "By talking to the wrong people -- in particular, the people at Fix the Debt, who've been doing their best to muddle the issue."
For example, in a new fund-raising letter Maya MacGuineas, the organization's public face, writes of the need to "make hard decisions when it comes to averting the 'fiscal cliff' and stabilizing our national debt" -- even though the problem with the fiscal cliff is precisely that it stabilizes the debt too soon. Clearly, Ms. MacGuineas was trying to confuse readers on that point, and she apparently confused Mr. Schultz too.
Our Paul thinks it important, before proceeding with the economics of the issue, to address Schultz's "misdiagnosis of the political problem we face."
Look, it's true that elected politicians have been unable to "come together and compromise." But saying that in generic form, and implying a symmetry between Republicans and Democrats, isn't just misleading, it's actively harmful.
The reality is that President Obama has made huge concessions. He has already cut spending sharply, and has now offered additional big spending cuts, including a cut in Social Security benefits, while signaling his willingness to retain many of the Bush tax cuts, even for people with very high incomes. Taken as a whole, the president's proposals are arguably to the right of those made by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairmen of his deficit commission, in 2010.
In return, the Republicans have offered essentially nothing. Oh, they say they're willing to increase revenue by closing loopholes -- but they've refused to specify a single loophole they're willing to close. So if there's a breakdown in negotiations, the blame rests entirely with one side of the political divide.
Given that reality, think about the effect when people like Mr. Schultz respond by blaming both sides equally. They may sound virtuously nonpartisan, but what they're actually doing is rewarding intransigence and extremism -- which, in the current context, means siding with the G.O.P.
And while Paul is "willing to believe that Mr. Schultz doesn't know what he's doing,"
The same can't be said, however, about Fix the Debt.
You might not know it reading some credulous reporting, but Fix the Debt isn't some kind of new gathering of concerned citizens. On the contrary, it's just the latest addition to a group of deficit-scold shops supported by billionaire Peter Peterson, a group ranging from think tanks like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget to the newspaper The Fiscal Times. The main difference seems to be that this gathering of the usual suspects is backed by an impressive amount of corporate cash.
Like all the Peterson-funded groups, Fix the Debt seems much more concerned with cutting Social Security and Medicare than with fighting deficits in general -- and also not nearly as nonpartisan as it pretends to be. In its list of "core principles," it actually calls for lower tax rates -- a very peculiar position for people supposedly horrified by the budget deficit. True, the group calls for revenue increases via unspecified base broadening, that is, closing loopholes. But that's unrealistic. And it's also, as you may have noticed, the Republican position.
What's happening now is that all the Peterson-funded groups are trying to exploit the fiscal cliff to push a benefit-cutting agenda that has nothing to do with the current crisis, using artfully deceptive language -- as in that MacGuineas letter -- to hide the bait and switch.
Mr. Schultz apparently fell for the con. But the rest of us shouldn't.
I imagine our Paul must get tired of hearing the sound of his unheeded voice, but thank goodness he hasn't let that deter him from making the point over and over and over and over and . . . . Whether through lack of information or gullibility to misinformation or just plain being in on the con, the so-called "serious" people in and out of government continue to listen only to people who are pulling a massive con job on them. And, alas, on us.
Is anyone surprised to find the NRA's fingerprints smudging our so-called health-care reform?
What? "Crazy Wayne" LaPierre's mug atop a story about "health-care reform"? Well, crazy the NRA's front man may be, but nobody has ever accused the slimebag -- or his DC assault team -- of being ineffective.
Surprise is sometimes expressed about the tenacity and durability of the right-wing interest groups on the workings of government, like the gun-and-armaments lobby so ably fronted by the National Rifle Association. What's often forgotten by those who are surprised is that those interests aren't bolsterd by mere ideology. Indeed ideology as such is almost the least of their reserves of strength.
The key, I venture, is commerce. As we've remarked before, it's the signal advantage of the solons of the Right that their ideology goes hand in hand with their financial interests. It is, all too often, an unbeatable comination.
And so, I suggest, there's hardly any reason to be surprised by the discovery that tucked away among the zillions of pages of the so-called "health-care reform" package that was the Affordable Care Act are evidences of the handiwork of -- ta-da! -- the NRA! Well done, lads!
The words were tucked deep into the sprawling text of President Obama’s signature health-care overhaul. Under the headline “Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights” was a brief provision restricting the ability of doctors to gather data about their patients’ gun use — a largely overlooked but significant challenge to a movement in American medicine to treat firearms as a matter of public health.
The language, pushed by the National Rifle Association in the final weeks of the 2010 debate over health care and discovered only in recent days by some lawmakers and medical groups, is drawing criticism in the wake of this month’s schoolhouse massacre of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Conn. Some public health advocates, worried that the measure will hinder research and medical care, are calling on the White House to amend the language as it prepares to launch a gun-control initiative in January.
NRA officials say they requested the provision out of concern that insurance companies could use such data to raise premiums on gun owners. The measure’s supporters in the Senate say they did not intend to interfere with the work of doctors or researchers.
But physician groups and researchers see the provision as part of a decades-long strategy by the gun lobby to choke off federal support for studies of firearms violence. . . .
Feel free to read on at your leisure, if you have the stomach for it. In any case, one thing you can trust is that the NRA's team in DC keeps a close vigil on pretty much every piece of legislation snaking its way through the houses of Congress.
On June 13 of this year, almost exactly three years after the above quote from one of the few of the more honest men in Washington, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee gave us more of what Congress does best: a classic dog-and-pony show, a farce meant for public consumption, to be cut down, shined up and packaged for the nightly news by Washington's media accomplices.
The special guest star attraction this time was Jamie Dimon, chairman, president, and CEO of J. P. Morgan-Chase, a creature who is so warped that he can actually say, even on national TV, that he has no idea why he is so unpopular with the American public, and say it with a straight face. Gee, all he (and his bankster cohorts) did was bring the world economy to the brink of total collapse, ruin lives that are of no consequence to him, make a profit on such actions, and then hold up the taxpayers for even more of their hard-earned money. What a swell guy!
So it' was about time that this dark lord of the financial world got called on the carpet by the people in Washington who look out for us, right? You know, the people we elect to represent us? Yeah, well, somewhere between your voting booth and the Capitol building, the $enate's mission changed. Fancy that!
Hence the farce back in June when Dimon Jamie arrived for his stern, harsh, and even brutal questioning by our senators, brutal enough to remind one of the Spanish Inquisition -- or, well, perhaps something milder. Let's take a look at some of the harsh inquisitors and some highlight quotes that will show what a nasty day Dimon had. These guys didn't just remind me of Idiocracy. A famous Monty Python sketch also came to mind.
AND NOW, THE BRUTAL, INHUMAN $ENATE INQUISITORS!
1. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
"You're obviously renowned -- rightly so, I think -- as one of the best CEOs in the country. . . . You missed this. It's a blip on the radar screen."
A blip! Four billion dollars lost in speculative derivative trading is a blip? That's right, the score was up to $4 billion as of the "hearing." Originally Dimon told the country that his company's loss was $2 billion. Now it looks like it may be as high as $7 billion. Pocket change. Either the guy is a pathological liar or he is grossly incompetent. Makes me wonder if his great-grandfather was the captain of the Titanic.
2. Sen. Michael Crapo (R-ID)
"One of the tensions we face here is that we wanna be sure that we are adequately regulating our financial institutions, but we wanna be sure also that we basically don't have the regulators running our private sector institutions . . . and again, what should the function of the regulators be."
Unbelievable! Crap-boy is asking Dimon what the function of the regulators should be. If this assclown had a farm, he'd be asking the foxes what their role in guarding the chicken coop should be.
3. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)
Now this guy is well-known for being a world-class asswipe. Let's see what this genius from South Carolina, now moved on to run the Heritage Society, had to say.
"I would like to come away from the hearing today with some ideas on, uh, what you think we need to do."
Gee, I wonder what Jamie Dimon thinks! Why, it wouldn't shock me if he just came out and said, "I think we need to do nothing. Does nothing work for you?" After all, four years have now passed since the crash and "nothing" is what Washington has done, simply because, as Senator Durbin said, the $enate is owned by the banks. They got off even easier than BP.
No lesson will be learned. Expect a bigger crash eventually, and expect these bribe-taking cretins to say publicly that they just didn't see it comin' and who could have possibly predicted, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah? It'll be like Condoleezza Rice saying that no one could have imagined terrorists flying planes into the WTC.
4. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
What does the renowned racist from Alabamy say?
"Would you feel better in a closed hearing?"
I can imagine what that would be like: laughs, drinks, K Street-provided lap dancers, and envelopes of cash for all. Who wants another round?
* * * * *
Crapo and Corker? Ya just can't make these names up. They're like something out of a Charles Dickens novel. It gets better. Crapo's No. 1 "campaign contributor"? J. P. Morgan-Chase. Corker's No. 1? Goldman-Sachs. Not to worry, his No. 2 is Morgan.
To be fair, and I always want to be fair, I've only called attention to the four worst of the grand inquisitors. After the committee was through wasting our time, Dimon even thanked $enator Corker for such easy questions, right out in the open; no shame, plenty of arrogance. Makes me wonder what kind of handouts were given out after the show. Were there any briefcases left behind in the Senate that day?
Of course, if it was up to me, the majority of the $enate would all be fitted for orange jump suits, or better yet salted up and dragged through glass after going before a judge, if you could find a judge that hadn't also been paid off by the same "campaign contributors." Ask yourself who has damaged this country more, Al Qaeda or the Wall Street criminal element and their Washington enablers? Who is even responsible for more deaths? I have no doubt that if Jerry Sandusky gave $enators the same kind of money as the banksters, they'd treat him the same.
Money buys a lot of ass-kissing in Washington. Sure, we already knew that. It's just that Washington business is getting done in a much more brazen manner these days, as evidenced by the June 2012 inquistition of Jamie Dimon. Ever wonder what the janitors use to clean the slimy ooze from the Capitol floor and furniture every night?
JAMIE DIMON: I think that no matter how good you are, how competent people are, you never, ever get complacent in risk. Challenge everything. . . .
Yeah, Dimon. You are so good. What a great guy! Not. Great smirk too. Try arrogant creep, for starters. Yeesh. We've already seen how money can buy infinite heaps of arrogance by observing the likes of Romney. How many more of these arrogant, insensitive crap-spewers do we have to put up with before the combined rage and indignation of the world just says enough and heaves these a-holes into the shark-infested waters off their Cayman Islands? I'd like to see if the sharks would even touch them.
To his credit, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who actually tried to grill Dimon and even reminded him that "this is not your hearing" when Dimon arrogantly tried to talk over his questions, made an attempt to do the people's business, but, as we know, the majority of the Democrats aren't much better.
Our corporatist President Obama, in a May interview on The View, called Dimon "one of the smartest bankers we've got" and called Morgan "one of the best-managed banks there is." Obama went on to say that even smart people make mistakes. True enough, but ideally they don't lie about the size of the mistake every time a microphone is placed in front of their face, oath or not. Besides, no one ever said bad guys weren't smart sometimes.
Lots of people say the problem with Washington can only be solved if we somehow get the money out of politics. Of course, there isn't much chance of that happening when the people that make the laws are the same ones that take the cash. If any progress is to be made before the 2014 elections in increasing the awareness of just how low Washington has sunk, there is a lot of work to be done.
THE IDIOCRACY FILES
The world of Mike Judge's 2006 film Idiocracy, projected for 500 years into the future, arrives 494 years early!
"As the 21st century began, human evolution was at a turning point. Natural selection, the strongest, the smartest, the fastest, reproduced in greater numbers than the rest, a process which had once favored the noblest traits of man, now began to favor different traits. Most science fiction of the day predicted a future that was more civilized and more intelligent, but as time went on, things seemed to be heading in the opposite direction. A dumbing down. How did this happen? Evolution doesn't necessarily reward intelligence. With no natural predators to thin the herd, it began to simply reward those who reproduced the most and left the intelligent to become an endangered species."
Finally... Justice For Víctor Jara-- But War Criminal Henry Kissinger Is Still On The Loose
The song above, "Plegaria a un Labrador" ("Prayer to a Worker") is one of Víctor Jara's classic songs. You need to know who this guy was. On September 11, 1973, Nixon, Kissinger and the CIA gave the go-ahead for a violent fascist coup against Chile's democratically elected government. The presidential palace was bombed and shelled and Chile's beloved president, Salvator Allende, was murdered. But that was just the beginning. Within hours of Allende's murder thousands of his supporters were rounded up (eventually 80,000) and herded into a stadium and many were tortured (40,000) and murdered (3,000) to help the fascists make way for a Chicago School/Ayn Rand-inspired dictatorship. Labor unions were put under fascist control and Social Security, for example, was privatized according to the same directives by the same people who have worked out the same plans for the GOP here in America. One of the people herded into the stadium that day was Chile's Bob Dylan, Víctor Jara. He was tortured; his fingers were broken; a soldier played Russian roulette until a bullet wounded him in the head. He was then machine-gunned and 44 bullets were found in his body, which was dumped on the street of a local slum. The following year Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Arlo Guthrie did a memorial concert for Jara in New York City. The stadium where he was murdered was renamed the Estadio Víctor Jara in 2003. I first heard about Jara in 1980 when the Clash included a song, "Washington Bullets" on their iconic album Sandinista! (video below). 16 years later Chuck Brodsky wrote and recorded a tribute, "The Hands of Victor Jara."
The blood of Victor Jara Will never wash away It just keeps on turning A little redder every day As anger turns to hatred And hatred turns to guns Children lose their fathers And mothers lose their sons
Before Pinochet finally died-- hundreds of criminal indictments pending against him-- he had stolen between 20 and 30 million dollars. He managed to evade justice, just as Nixon did and as Kissinger still is. But Jara's direct murders are finally being brought to justice, 8 retired army officers charged on Friday.
Judge Miguel Vásquez charged two of the former officers, Pedro Barrientos and Hugo Sánchez, with committing the murder and six others as accomplices. Mr. Sánchez, a lieutenant colonel, was second in command at the stadium. Mr. Barrientos, a lieutenant from a Tejas Verdes army unit, currently lives in Deltona, a city southwest of Daytona Beach, Fla., and was interrogated by the F.B.I. earlier this year at the request of a Chilean court. Attempts to reach Mr. Barrientos for comment were unsuccessful; his two listed telephone numbers had been disconnected. Judge Vásquez issued an international arrest warrant against Mr. Barrientos through Interpol Santiago and ordered the arrest of the other seven, who were in Chile. Those charged as accomplices are Roberto Souper, Raúl Jofré, Edwin Dimter, Nelson Hasse, Luis Bethke and Jorge Smith. ...Judge Vásquez established that Mr. Jara was recognized by military officers, separated from the rest of the detainees and taken to the basement dressing rooms, which were being used to question prisoners. There, he was interrogated, beaten and tortured by several officers, according to the court. On Sept. 16, 1973, when the stadium was evacuated and the prisoners transferred to the larger, open-air National Stadium in the capital, Víctor Jara and a former prison service director, Littré Quiroga, who was also detained there, were taken to the basement and killed. The bodies of both men and three other victims were later found dumped near a railroad track outside a cemetery; one of the victims remains unidentified. According to the autopsy report, Mr. Jara was badly beaten and was shot 44 times.
Sometimes the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza has his uses. And today he's done some electoral math that makes a pretty convincing case why congressional Republicans don't don't don't have to pay even lip service to reality in the life of these here United States: Their voters have converted for the forseeable future to the nonreality standard.
Amid the last-minute wrangling over a "fiscal cliff" deal, it's important to remember one overlooked fact of the 2012 election: Republicans in the House and Senate have absolutely no political incentive to compromise with President Obama.
The numbers are stark.
Of the 234 Republicans elected to the House on Nov. 6, just 15 (!) sit in congressional districts that Obama also won that day, according to calculations made by the Cook Political Report's ace analyst David Wasserman. That's an infinitesimally small number, particularly when compared with the 63 House Republicans who held seats where Obama had won following the 2010 midterm elections.
The Senate landscape paints the same picture -- this time looking forward. Of the 13 states where the 14 Republican Senators will stand for reelection in 2014 (South Carolina has two, with Lindsey O. Graham and Tim Scott up in two years time), Obama won just one in 2012 -- Maine. In the remaining dozen states, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won only one, Georgia, by less than double digits. The average margin of victory for Romney across the 13 states was 19.5 percentage points; take out Maine, and Romney's average margin was 22 points in the remaining 12 states.
The picture on the Democratic side is less clear. Although 96 percent of House Democrats in the 113th Congress will hold seats Obama won in November, according to Wasserman, fully one-third of the 21 Senate Democrats who will stand for reelection in 2014 represent states that Romney won.
While Obama narrowly lost North Carolina, where Sen. Kay Hagan (D) will run for a second term in November 2014, the president lost the other six states where Senate Democrats will be running by double digits. Here's that list: Alaska (lost by 14), Arkansas (lost by 24), Louisiana (lost by 18), Montana (lost by 13), South Dakota (lost by 18) and West Virginia (lost by 26). Obama's average margin of defeat across these seven states? A whopping 16 points.
Even the most cursory analysis of those numbers makes two things clear.
First, with the exception of a dozen or so Republicans in the House and Maine's Susan Collins in the Senate, the number of GOP members of the 113th Congress who see cutting a deal with the president -- in the fiscal cliff or, frankly, anything else -- as politically advantageous is close to zero.
Second, while House Democrats are equally de-incentivized to working across the aisle, there is a large-ish group of Senate Democrats who must find ways of showing their bipartisan spirit if they want to win reelection in states that didn't favor their party -- or even come close to doing so -- in the 2012 election.
Those twin political realities make the ground on which the fiscal cliff fight -- and future scuffles over gun control measures, etc. -- less heavily tilted toward Democrats than you might think.
Yes, Obama won the election and did so quite convincingly. And, no, he doesn't ever have to worry again about being reelected, which should, in theory, embolden him. But he is the only person involved in the fiscal cliff talks who has that luxury. Everyone else needs to keep one eye (at least) on their next race.
That mentality means that for the vast majority of Republicans in Congress, a deal is more dangerous than no deal. A deal creates the possibility of a primary challenge from their ideological right in districts and even states that, by and large, went heavily against Obama in November. No deal means they might -- with the emphasis on "might" -- face some blow back from constituents who want them to get something done for the good of the country and put the partisanship and politics aside.
And so, if you are wondering why congressional Republicans won't, in the words of Obama, just "take the deal," now you know. They have every political reason not to.
A blame game for the GOP and another bungled opportunity for Obama, the Grand Bargain-- despite Boehner's inability to control his own caucus-- is heading into the melodramatic end-stage. People overseas take this far more seriously than Americans do and for media consumers abroad, it looks like we're actually approaching armageddon. Many low-info Americans actually do too, though others are already rolling their eyes and at all the obviously staged game-playing. I'm guessing there'll be some noisy stock market mini-crash if the whole thing doesn't get wrapped up by tomorrow morning. But are Republicans willing to start facing reality? Maybe. Leaving a GOP conference meeting a few hours ago McCain told reporters that the Republicans are finally dropping chained CPI from their fiscal cliff proposal, ironically one of the worst reactionary anti-social ideas that they had already gotten Braveheart Barack Obama to accept. "CPI has to be off the table because it's not a winning argument to say benefits for seniors versus tax breaks for rich people," said McCain "We need to take CPI off the table-- that's not part of the negotiations-- because we can't win an argument that has Social Security for seniors versus taxes for the rich." I'm sure they'll come up with something just as bad to try but this is a step in the right direction-- and maybe McCain can even get his hissy/spitty little gay friend from South Carolina to act like an adult. Schumer told ABC-TV viewers this morning that he thinks the chances are better than even that the Senate will come up with a deal by tomorrow. And Republican lame duck obstructionist Jon Kyl said he doesn't disagree. Oh, the drama!
"I've been a legislator for 37 years, and I've watched how these things work. On these big, big agreements, they almost always happen at the last minute," Schumer said. "Neither side likes to give up its position. They eyeball each other until the very end. But then, each side, realizing that the alternative is worse, comes to an agreement. So while an agreement is hardly a certainty, I certainly wouldn't rule it out at this last minute.
Oh, and look what right-wing propaganda writer Byron York, who says he's hearing Senate Republicans are ready to give up obstructionism on the "Grand Bargain" by today or tomorrow. Poor thing seems despondent. Again, to Republicans , this is all a game about what they can deliver to their wealthy patrons... and to hell with working families.
Under the most likely scenario, Republicans will get nothing-- nothing-- in return for giving in on tax rates for the highest-income Americans. No spending cuts, at least no serious spending cuts beyond what are already included in sequestration, would be part of the deal done on Sunday or Monday, if that is indeed what happens. Instead, Republicans will tout their accomplishment in making nearly all of the Bush tax cuts permanent. Those cuts were always temporary, first in a ten-year form that expired in 2011, and then with a two-year extension. Now, in a fiscal cliff deal, they would be permanent for those who make less than $500,000 a year. Or at least as permanent as any tax rate can be; rates can always be changed by Congress, at any time. As for spending cuts, particularly in entitlements, some Senate Republicans say they will press for those in January or February, during the coming battle over raising the nation’s debt ceiling. They believe that fight will give them leverage to extract real concessions from the White House and Democrats on spending. It’s not entirely clear why they believe that so strongly; Republicans will certainly take a beating in the press if they appear ready to push the nation toward default to win unpopular cuts. Nevertheless, some in the GOP are readying themselves for that fight. As for the immediate fiscal cliff agreement, the wild card is what will happen in the House of Representatives. Facing opposition from some conservative members, Speaker John Boehner has already had to back off pushing for a vote on a measure (“Plan B”) to extend current tax rates on all Americans who make less than $1 million. Given that, how could he pass a bill that would do the same thing, only for those who make less than $500,000? There are two things to remember.The first is that Boehner had a big majority of Republican support for Plan B. An estimated 80 percent to 85 percent of the House GOP caucus was ready to vote for that bill. The second thing is that a Senate deal, presumably blessed by the White House, would have the support of Democrats as well as a significant number of Republicans, meaning House Democrats would undoubtedly vote for it. Put those Democrats together with even some of the Republicans who were prepared to vote for Plan B, and a bill would pass the House.
So a deal will most likely be done. But the bottom line is that the fiscal cliff fight will not end happily for Republicans. They will have given in on what was an article of faith-- that taxes should not be raised on anybody, poor or rich-- in return for essentially nothing. All they will have is a plan to fight again, soon.
This debate should be about Democrats demanding a return to the Eisenhower era rates on plutocrats and Republicans pleasing for something in the 70% range. Democrats have to nominate a better president in the future. Elizabeth Warren would be awesome.
The "Kill Chuck" cabal brings out the big guns to block Chuck Hagel's path to the Pentagon: Teh Gays! (And the top gun promptly goes MIA)
The Log Cabin Republicans want so badly for us to know how bad Chuck Hagel is that they took out this full-page ad in the NYT. Worth every penny, probably -- only whose pennies paid for it?
It may not be a scientifically accurate way of choosing up sides, but sometimes one's estimation of a person is affected by the caliber of the enemies he racks up. And on that count, I have to say, I'm becoming a bigger and bigger fan of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel -- as we're told, a leading candidate to replace Leon Pannetta as defense secretary (as if anyone could replace Leon Pannetta).
If you haven't yet read Howie's Monday post "AIPAC Agent Eliot Engel Goes After Obama Cabinet Pick As Being Too Anti-Israel," I encourage you to do so, to make the acquaintance of some of the prime movers in what we might call the "Kill Chuck" Cabal. There are, first, the minions of AIPAC, the cross-us-at-your-frigging-peril lobbying powerhouse of the American "Israel Can Do No Wrong" lobby, and then there's the conservative Republican establishment, and especially the neo-cons, who are still smarting from Chuck's uppitiness in his last years in the Senate, in particular his stark turnabout on the Iraq war, which he initially supported but came to see as a massive mistake.
Then-Senators Hagel and Obama at the
Amman Citadel in Jordan in July 2008
"Hagel's most vocal critics," Bruck writes, "have been members of what can be called the Israel lobby."
Their enmity for Hagel goes back to his two terms in the Senate. A committed supporter of Israel and, also, of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, Hagel did not make the obeisance to the lobby that the overwhelming majority of his Congressional colleagues do. And he further violated a taboo by talking about the lobby, and its power. In his 2008 book, "The Much Too Promised Land," Aaron Miller interviewed Hagel, whom he described as "a strong supporter of Israel and a believer in shared values." Miller also wrote, "Of all my conversations, the one with Hagel stands apart for its honesty and clarity." He quoted Hagel saying that Congress "is an institution that does not inherently bring out a great deal of courage." The American Israel Public Affairs Committee comes knocking with a pro-Israel letter, Hagel continued, and "then you'll get eighty or ninety senators on it. I don't think I've ever signed one of the letters" -- because, he added, they were "stupid." Hagel also said, "The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here," but "I'm a United States senator. I'm not an Israeli senator."
Unfortunately, at one point in his interview with Miller, Hagel made the crucial error of referring to the "Jewish lobby" instead of the "Israel lobby." Of course, to the people who pounced on that as proof of anti-Semitism, there is not supposed to be any difference. In their view, anyone who voices any word in any way critical of the government of Israel is by definition an anti-Semite.
Bruck goes on to call the roll of brain-dead Israel propagandists who have pounced: Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, who lies so persistently that one wonders if he would, if he could tell the truth if his life depended on it; right-wing Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, quoting Anti-Defamation League chief Abraham Foxman, a once-serious person whose brain has long since turned to toxic slime; the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens. She also quotes some Jewish voices of sanity, including "pro-Israel stalwart" NY Rep. Gary Ackerkman ("You know, not everybody who disagrees with Israel's policies is anti-Semitic, otherwise half the Jewish population of Israel would be anti-Semitic!") and Alon Pinkas, "a former Israeli consul general in New York and the chief of staff to Prime Minister Ehud Barak," who --
wrote in Al-Monitor recently that he got to know Hagel during Hagel's various meetings with Barak. "Barak was thoroughly impressed not only by Hagel's military background, but by his analysis, knowledge of the Middle East, and his understanding of Israel's security issues and predicaments," Pinkas wrote. Hagel "is not anti-Israeli and he is not an anti-Semite. In fact, if I were him, I would lodge a complaint with the Anti-Defamation League, asking their assistance and support for being unfairly called an anti-Semite."
BUT IT'S NOT JUST THE "ISRAEL LOBBY" ON THE ATTACK
"The Israel lobby led the charge against Hagel, but there is plenty of animus for him in the broader Republican party, too."
After first voting for the Iraq war, Hagel became one of its most vocal critics, working with Democrats to try to change the direction of the Bush Administration's policy. In 2007, he and his friend Joe Biden, then the Democratic senator who was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored a resolution opposing the "surge" and calling for a transition to a limited U.S. military mission in Iraq. The committee approved the resolution; Hagel was the only Republican to vote in favor. "I was called a 'traitor,' and I was called 'disgusting,' " Hagel told me when I wrote about him in 2008. " 'Shut your mouth, you're a Republican!' Which I always found astounding -- to equate war based on your politics, as a Democrat or a Republican."
Far more is at stake in Barack Obama's decision on whether to nominate Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense than whether Chuck Hagel is nominated. What the president decides will bear on: his effectiveness in his second term; any president's ability to form a government; whether an independent voice can be raised on a highly sensitive issue in opposition to the views of a powerful lobby and still be named to a significant government position; whether there is actually a proper nominating system; whether McCarthyite tactics can still be effective more than half a century after they were rejected by a fed-up nation. And, by the way, what will be the direction of American policy in the Middle East? In particular, how adventurous will we be toward Iran? Have we learned anything from the calamitous foreign policy blunders of the past decade? . . .
NOW IT APPEARS THAT THE "KILL CHUCK"-ERS HAVE BROUGHT OUT THEIR REALLY BIG GUNS
Or maybe we should call them their "big tools": the Log Cabin Republicans.
In a December 20 report, BuzzFeed's Zeke Miller reported:
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel -- a finalist for the post of secretary of defense in Obama's second term -- once opposed a nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg because he was "openly aggressively gay."
“Ambassadorial posts are sensitive," Hagel told to the Omaha World-Herald in 1998, opposing the nomination of philanthropist James Hormel. "They are representing America," he said. "They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay -- openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel -- to do an effective job."
Some LGBT rights groups are already criticizing the potential selection of Hagel to replace Leon Panetta.
Hagel was a longtime supporter of "don't ask, don't tell," which banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. In 1999, he told The New York Times, ''The U.S. armed forces aren't some social experiment.''
And between 2001 and 2006, Hagel received a score of zero from the Human Rights Council, with no votes on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a job discrimination bill, and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which eventually was passed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2009.
Hagel's record on LGBT issues did show some signs of change, as the country shifted dramatically on the subject. He voted in favor of a procedural vote on the 2004 constitutional amendment aimed at limiting marriage to one man and one woman, but opposed the marriage amendment in 2006.
UPDATE: Hagel didn't vote on the marriage amendment in 2004, though he voted in favor of a procedural motion to bring up the final vote.
Hagel called the comments "insensitive" and said, "They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of 'open service' and committed to LGBT military families."
However, Chris reports that the Log Cabin Republicans ("a national group for LGBT Republicans" haven't accepted the apology. What's more, "The group bought an ad in The New York Times Thursday painting the potential Defense Secretary nominee as 'wrong' on 'gay rights,' Israel, and Iran." Chris reports further:
Log Cabin's leader, R. Clarke Cooper, acknowledged that the apology is not referenced in the ad and that "[l]awmakers can and do change position . . . for the better on the LGBT equality portfolio." He told BuzzFeed, however, that his group "question[s] the sincerity" of Hagel's apology.
All of which brought forth this response from a colleague, David Fiderer:
Since when has "sincerity" been a standard by which Log Cabin Republicans judged anyone in public office from their own party?
Did they question the sincerity of any politician who failed to oppose the GOP platform to make marriage equality unconstitutional?
And David also raised the question of who paid for the ad. Did our Clarke just dip into LCR petty cash? NYT full-pagers don't come cheap. (More from David in a moment.)
OH, ONE MORE THING ABOUT CLARKE COOPER: AS OF MONDAY, HE'S HISTORY WITH THE LCRs
Oops, Clarkie forgot to mention that he's, y'know, outtahere!
Are you ready for this? Here are the LCRs, locked in a fierce assault on a potential DoD nominee, to the extent of taking out a full-page ad in the NYT, which we all know doesn't come cheap, which again raises the question of who the heck paid for that ad? And now, mere seconds later, Mr. LCR is history, and he told everybody about it in October only nobody seems to have thought this development in any way relevant to . . . well, anything.
I don't know what the heck is going on. I just know that none of this makes a lot of sense to me. David Fiderer has done some speculating, observing, "He steps down just after he bought a full-page ad in the NY Times slamming Chuck Hagel? Surely the timing is a coincidence," then adding:
I think Cooper had a deal with a K Street lobbying firm, which arranged for the NYT ad to be placed. Do you really think that Log Cabin has the kind of money to drop for a full-page ad to go after a Republican who said something homophobic 14 years ago? That category includes just about every GOPer on Capitol Hill.
So Clarkie is LCR history, but as far as I can tell, the LCR fatwa against Chuck Hagel is still in effect, and LGBT people across the political spectrum are still expected to serve as the wedge that keeps the so-and-so from becoming secretary of defense. All right, man (and woman) the barricades, guys 'n' gals!
Well, when we attacked "Der Abschied" ("The Farewell"), the half-hour sixth and final song of the song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth (in a July 2009 Maureen Forrester remembrance post), we pretty much just plunged in (in August 2010 we followed up with the three tenor songs), and I'm afraid that's what we're going to do as well with the other completed work composed after Mahler's diagnosis of terminal heart disease, the Ninth Symphony.
I noted when we listened to Mahler's "most characteristic" and "least loved" symphony, the Seventh (in November -- first the three middle movements, then the outer movements), that the composer would use this basic plan again. In the Seventh it's a pair of enormous outer movements bracketing a core of "other" musics: the two "Night Music"s wrapped around a scherzo. This is very much the plan of the unfinished Tenth Symphony, with a core consisting of a pair of scherzos bracketing the little "Purgatorio" movement (we heard this core of the Tenth later in November) -- with the crucial difference that those gigantic outer movements are now slow rather than normal symphonic fast ones.
That switch, of course, had already been made in the Ninth Symphony (which, as I noted in Friday night's preview, should properly have been the Tenth, if Mahler had had the courage to tempt fate and give Das Lied the dangerous-for-symphony-composers number nine). It's hard to think of words to convey the scale and dimension of the opening Andante commodo and concluding Adago of the Ninth.
Most listeners are likely to agree that the prevailing subject matter of the Mahler Ninth is farewell, the final parting -- as we can surely divine from the clip we've seen again up top, with Leonard Bernstein providing voice-over commentary over the final 10½ minutes of the finale. But even in those majestic outer movements the tone is hardly singlemindedly elegiac, and in those "otherish" middle movements the parting journey covers some very different ground.
Will House GOP Succeed Where Senate Republicans Failed? Inflicting More Pain On Hurricane Sandy Victims
Bergen County's Scott Garrett sides with the Confederates against his own constituents
Friday, the Senate passed a $60.4 billion aid package, 62-32, which the GOP tried cutting back. Much of the money will be used for long-term capital-intense projects to work on things like strengthening the NYC subway system and rebuilding New Jersey’s devastated shoreline and to further bolster FEMA, which has once again become an effective organization now that the shrinking government small enough to drown in a bath is no longer the underlying goal, as it was when Bush controlled the White House and the GOP-controlled Congress. Every Democrat voted for the legislation, even arch conservatives like Mark Pryor and Joe Manchin, and besides just the mainstream conservatives like Snowe (ME), Collins (ME), Scott Brown (MA), Murkowski (AK), Heller (NV) and Lugar (IN), Gulf state Republicans-- well aware about how crucial federal aid is for natural catastrophes-- joined the Democrats, something they rarely do, to slap down Miss McConnell's directive to make the Northerners go to hell. When's the last time you saw Cochran (R-MS), Wicker (R-MS), Shelby (R-AL), Hutchison (TX) and Vitter R-LA) vote with the Democrats against their own caucus? The only Gulf state Republicans to vote NO were hard core obstructionists and sociopaths Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and John Cornyn (R-TX). Before the bill passed, right-wing former lobbyist Dan Coats (R-IN) failed, 41-54, to pass an amendment cutting it drastically. Boehner and Cantor plan to cut the allocation up and make sure the victims of the super-storm get no aid. Last week, ace reporter Lee Fang reported in The Nation that the impetus behind the GOP efforts to deal out pain to the Northeast storm victims was none other than the John Birch scions the fascist-oriented Koch brothers. The Kochs' phony grassroots machine Americans for Prosperity is leading the battle against aid.
Hurricane Sandy was the second most costly in American history, leaving 100 lives lost, over $50 billion in devastation and tens of thousands of damaged or destroyed homes. Legislative efforts to help those who survived Hurricane Sandy’s wrath will reach a major stumbling block. Earlier this week, AFP, which is chaired by Koch and believed to be financed by several other plutocrats from the New York City region, released a letter warning members of Congress not to vote for the proposed federal aid package for victims of the storm that swept New Jersey, New York City and much of the surrounding area in October. An announcement on the group’s website says that the vote next week for the Sandy aid package will be a “key vote”-- meaning senators who support sending money for reconstruction could face an avalanche of attack ads in their next election... Koch’s top deputy in New Jersey, a surly gentleman named Steve Lonegan, who heads the local AFP state chapter, called the aid package a “disgrace.” “This is not a federal government responsibility,” Lonegan told reporters. “We need to suck it up and be responsible for taking care of ourselves.” It seems particularly cruel that the Koch political machine would use its vast network of paid activists and professional operatives to kill this bill. For one thing, this is David Koch’s community. From his Upper East Side apartment, Koch lives only a subway ride away from the devastation in Red Hook. Notably, Koch’s group gave away free gasoline during the election in a wide-scale anti-Obama stunt, yet had nothing to give to the victims of the storm. Now, Koch, one of the richest men in the world, is actually trying to take something away from them. There’s another wrinkle to this political assault on the aid request that makes it even more heartless. (No, it’s not the rather arbitrary decision to target this piece of federal funding over others. Recently, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta identified $74 billion in unnecessary military spending, but AFP has not demanded that the government immediately axe these funds.) The other tragedy of Koch’s decision to target Sandy aid is that his company is one reason we will increasingly face extreme weather events like hurricanes, flash floods, droughts and fierce storms. The Koch brothers, David and Charles, sit atop one of the world’s largest privately held conglomerates. Koch Industries is a sprawling company with interests in commodity speculation, timber, oil refining, ethanol production, chemicals, pipelines, consumer products, and fertilizer, among others. The Koch empire, by one estimate, has an annual carbon footprint of 100 million tons. Not only does Koch’s business contribute to climate change through massive carbon emissions, as Greenpeace reported, Koch is the largest financier of climate denial political organizations and media groups. (As an aside, unlike AFP, Greenpeace ignored partisan politics and sent many of its workers to Queens to assist with relief efforts.) ...As I’ve written, Koch’s political machine has largely used “conservative” and populist political efforts to advance their bottom line. Koch Industries makes a fortune by avoiding having to repay society for contributing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Before AFP fought efforts to regulate carbon emissions, the group (then known as Citizens for a Sound Economy) blasted efforts to curb acid rain and asthma-causing dust from factories, using much of the same rhetoric and hard-edge tactics. It lost those battles; but in recent years, it has won major policy debates, especially on climate change. In this instance, there’s no payout to Koch Industries. Instead, it appears the fight over the Sandy relief money is yet another proxy battle with President Obama and his party. If the bill is significantly sliced apart, or even blocked, Democrats will have a difficult time finding the funds to pay for other programs over the course of next year.
Among the Koch whores in the House GOP threatening to disrupt the aid are right-wing hacks in New York (like Staten Island's corrupt Mafia-related Michael "Mikey Suits" Grimm) and New Jersey's worst extremist ideologue Scott Garrett. Long Island Congressman Peter King, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, which has been handling the bill, is worried that if the money doesn't get approved while he's still chair, Texas hate-monger Michael McCaul-- the richest member of the House and an anti-tax fanatic-- will kill it. Many Republicans still fighting the Civil War look at this as an opportunity to deal a painful blow to the hated Northerners.
Uh-oh! Republicans, says Bob Reich, "may not care a hoot about the opinions of most Americans"
So White House strategists have probably been crowing that for once they've won the PR battle, or at least gotten the upper hand. That's what the poll numbers show, isn't it? As Robert Reich points out in the blogpost we're about to look at (which you can read on his blog [link below] or via Nation of Change, where I first saw it, the House Republicans are still takin' a whuppin' in the polling on the "fiscal cliff" cliffhanger.
Dems are so used to being outmessaged in these battles that the president's people must really think they're in the catbird seat on this one. So maybe Speaker Boehner doesn't let any White House-approved compromise come to a floor vote before the new year, says Bob, for fear that his own people won't support it. "Democrats are confident that even if the nation technically goes over the cliff January 1, Boehner will bring such a bill to the floor soon after January 3 -- once House Republicans have re-elected him Speaker -- and it will get passed."
But, says Bob (who just a couple of days ago wrote a blogpost called "The Only Way Left to Beat Republican Fanatics: Call Their Bluff and Go Over the Cliff"), "this assumes Boehner and the GOP will be any more swayed by public opinion than they are now." And, he says, don't count on it! "The fact is, they may not care a hoot about the opinions of most Americans." For reasons he sets out in the post, the Republican Party may be becoming "relatively impervious to national opinion," and this, he says,
poses a large strategic problem for the Democrats. It could be an even bigger problem for the nation.
A whopping big problem for the nation, I'd say. A Republican Party -- or vaguely partylike conglomeration of self-promoters -- even further unchained from the tug of reality? That can't be good, can it?
Are House Republicans -- now summoned back to Washington by Speaker John Boehner — about to succumb to public pressure and save the nation from the fiscal cliff?
Don't bet on it.
Even if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cooperates by not mounting a filibuster and allows the Senate to pass a bill extending the Bush tax cuts to the first $250,000 of everyone's income, Boehner may not bring it to the House floor.
On a Thursday conference call with House Republicans he assured conservatives he was "not interested" in allowing such a vote if most House Republicans would reject the bill, according to a source on the call.
Democrats are confident that even if the nation technically goes over the cliff January 1, Boehner will bring such a bill to the floor soon after January 3 -- once House Republicans have re-elected him Speaker -- and it will get passed.
But this assumes Boehner and the GOP will be any more swayed by public opinion than they are now.
Public opinion is already running strongly in favor of President Obama and the Democrats, and against the GOP. In the latest CNN/ORC poll, 48 percent say they'll blame Republicans if no deal is reached while 37 percent blame Obama. Confidence in congressional Republicans is hovering at about 30 percent; Obama is enjoying the confidence of 46 percent. And over half of all Americans think the GOP is too extreme.
Yet Republicans haven't budged. The fact is, they may not care a hoot about the opinions of most Americans. That's because the national party is in disarray. Boehner isn't worried about a challenge to his leadership; no challenger has emerged. The real issue is neither he nor anyone else is in charge of the GOP. Romney's loss, along with the erosion of their majority in the House and Democratic gains in the Senate, has left a vacuum at the top. House Republicans don't run nationally. They run only in their own districts -- which, because of gerrymandering, are growing even more purely Republican. Their major concern is being reelected in 2014, and their biggest potential obstacle in their way is a primary challenge from the right. The combination of a weakened national party and more intense competition in primaries is making the Republican Party relatively impervious to national opinion.
This poses a large strategic problem for the Democrats. It could be an even bigger problem for the nation.
Romney Plays Pocket Pool, Pumps Gas -- Parting Shots at Willard!
Perhaps God intended something else for Mittens Romney. You don't always get the job you want. Post-election reports of Romney pumping gas -- the camera doesn't lie, even if the subject does. Was this disheveled turn at the pump the logical ending for Big Oil's favorite bitch? Does he really enjoy the smell of gasoline in the night?
I coulda been the president, instead of a bum, which is what I am. Well, you won't have Mittens Romney to kick around anymore. I am not a crook. My wife wears a good Republican mink coat with a white ermine collar and the kids' dog was a gift and we won't be giving the kids' dog back, even if we have to tie it to the roof of one of Ann's Cadillacs and drive away.
Enjoy your excellent vacation, Willard. Your parents named you after the boy loved by rats for a reason. Sometimes life just ain't fair, right? You know all about that, in your twisted psychopathic little mind. You see, you just couldn't buy everything, and even Karl Rove couldn't steal it for you. Turd Blossom tried his best, but there he was on FOX on Election Night, looking all flustered and freaking as the votes in Ohio really did stay true.
Instead of winning and going to Disney World, you only managed to whine about someone getting gifts; then you did that post-election romp to Costco in a last, pointless effort to convince us that you're normal. A TMZ film crew just happened to get a tip that you'd be there and "caught" you as you loaded up your bale of paper towels and that made-in-China toy and drove off in your imported car.
America looked at you and saw some kind of mechanical Hannibal Lecter who could talk about having given cancer-stricken children healthcare when you were a one-term governor one minute and then the next minute promise to take it away as president, all while swearing you're pro-life and promising to get rid of the places where most women go for cancer screening. You did it all with a stiff smile on your face and the eyes of a reanimated corpse in a fine suit and tie.
Willard, I suppose when the story of your wasted, malformed life is written, it should start with that story about you forming a posse at prep school and hunting down that gay kid, pinning him to the floor (fodder for shrinks right there) and cutting off his hair like it was a scalp. (By the way, what did you do with the hair?) Then you led a pro-war demonstration, before fleeing to France to sit out the war. It wouldn't surprise me if your story ended with the following headline:
Bain Secretly Owns Chinese Organ-Harvesting Cartel!
Company "cash for organs" program goes awry as harvested bodies turn up in alleys. Romney shrugs.
As president, you would have relished squeezing every last ounce of blood from us. You'd even send burger-flipping jobs over seas. You'd outsource fire departments and EMS workers if you could only find a way.
Now your little mini-me sons are passing on the family lying tradition, petulantly telling us you never wanted to be president anyway.
Yeah, that's why you ran not once but twice. You even thought you were chosen by God. You were so confident, you thought it would be handed to you. You could wing it. You could even hire an old man to talk to a chair in prime time. Nothing was going to stop the Duke of Earl. As the wifey said, it was your turn and we should feel grateful that you had even condescended to run to be our leader. You couldn't fool all of the people. You didn't even think you had to.
Well, voters are people, my friend, living, breathing, feeling people, with dreams, people who were willing to stand in line for eight hours to vote against you if that's what it took. I suppose you could now take your nervous laugh and your binders full of fellow greedy corporate thug-buddies and Wall Street assclowns and go hole up in some dry, dusty, toxic-waste-encrusted Mexican border town. Live in your handiwork, Mitt. This can be your hairshirt. Please make sure to drink plenty of the water. You could even build elevators for your donkeys, if the town has electricity.
By the way, Mitt, the only gift I got from President Obama was that he beat your arrogant, condescending, hateful ass, and I didn't even have to vote for him. He's just better than you, but then, most people who carry even a hint of humanity are.
Nobody Does It Better: Republicans Take Over for Al Qaeda
Yertle, Boehner, and the Cancer Man -- drinks all around!
When Al Qaeda attacked us on 9/11/01, their main stated goal was to destroy us by pushing us into compromising our system's balance between laws and freedoms and by damaging our economy via a hit on the World Trade Center. They knew us well.
In no time at all, our Congress, Repugs and Conservadems alike, bent to the will of so-called President Dubya and force-fed us the Patriot Act, perhaps the most misnamed piece of legislation to ever cross an Oval Office desk (well, except for things like Dubya's "Healthy Forests" initiative, Clear Skies Act, etc.). Since then, aided by the cheering of media co-conspirators, we've put Orwellian spy cameras just about everywhere imaginable, been patted down and worse by TSA "inspectors", and had even our most boring e-mail cookie recipes read by Das Homeland Security. 1984 came a little late, but it's here.
As for the economy, that too has been left to Congress. As the current "fiscal cliff" crisis is showing us, no one can destroy our country better than we can, especially if it means doing a big favor for the people who stuff our politicians' pockets.
In this case, the Republicans in Congress, most specifically John Boehner and Eric Cancer's House of Representatives, are doing the finest possible job of destroying us from within, the job that Al Qaeda could never do. Bravo! Hand out the Medals of Freedom! We're about to literally jump off the cliff into a new recession and more years of self-inflicted misery. Well done, Boehner! Well done, perfectly named Cancer! You and your Senate minority leader buddy Yertle the Turtle in the $enate are doing Al Qaeda's work for them. You must be very proud. Drinks all around! Come on, Boehner, pass that bottle. Stop hogging it all!
For the reasons outlined, Al Qaeda is now deferring to Congress. At least, they know not to waste valuable resources when someone else is doing the job. Well done, indeed! Comedian Andy Borowitz has the story:
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) -- The international terror group known as Al Qaeda announced its dissolution today, saying that "our mission of destroying the American economy is now in the capable hands of the U.S. Congress."
In an official statement published on the group's website, the current leader of Al Qaeda said that Congress's conduct during the so-called "fiscal-cliff" showdown convinced the terrorists that they had been outdone.
"We've been working overtime trying to come up with ways to terrorize the American people and wreck their economy," said the statement from Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. "But even we couldn't come up with something like this."
Mr. al-Zawhiri said that the idea of holding the entire nation hostage with a clock ticking down to the end of the year "is completely insane and worthy of a Bond villain."
"As terrorists, every now and then you have to step back and admire when someone else has beaten you at your own game," he said. "This is one of those times."
The Al Qaeda leader was fulsome in his praise for congressional leaders, saying, "We have made many scary videos in our time but none of them were as terrifying as Mitch McConnell."
As for the future of Al Qaeda, the statement said that it would no longer be a terror network but would become "more of a social network," offering reviews of new music, movies and video games.
In its first movie review, Al Qaeda gave the film "Zero Dark Thirty" two thumbs down.
Michael Moore tries to figure out, why are we so violent?
"There is a level of arrogance in the otherwise friendly American spirit, conning ourselves into believing there's something exceptional about us that separates us from all those 'other' countries (there are indeed many good things about us; the same could also be said of Belgium, New Zealand, France, Germany, etc.). We think we're #1 in everything when the truth is our students are 17th in science and 25th in math, and we're 35th in life expectancy. We believe we have the greatest democracy but we have the lowest voting turnout of any western democracy. We're biggest and the bestest at everything and we demand and take what we want."
We need a ban on automatic AND semiautomatic weapons and magazine clips that hold more than 7 bullets. We need better background checks and more mental health services. We need to regulate the ammo, too.
but at the same time insisted on this "little bit of holiday cheer":
"These gun massacres aren't going to end anytime soon."
On the gun-law front, he writes,
We need a ban on automatic AND semiautomatic weapons and magazine clips that hold more than 7 bullets. We need better background checks and more mental health services. We need to regulate the ammo, too. . . . [A]ll of the above will certainly reduce gun deaths (ask Mayor Bloomberg -- it is virtually impossible to buy a handgun in New York City and the result is the number of murders per year has gone from 2,200 to under 400.
But . . .
None of this, Michael says, will "really bring about an end to these mass slayings and it will not address the core problem we have." Connecticut's strong gun laws, he points out, "did nothing to prevent the murders of 20 small children on December 14th." "The sad facts," he says, are that there are countries with lots of guns, countries where kids watch the same violent movies we do and play the same violent video games, and "they simply don't kill each other at the rate that we do." And he thinks we need to be trying to figure out why.
I'd like to try to answer that question.
We are a country whose leaders officially sanction and carry out acts of violence as a means to often an immoral end. We invade countries who didn't attack us. We're currently using drones in a half-dozen countries, often killing civilians.
This probably shouldn't come as a surprise to us as we are a nation founded on genocide and built on the backs of slaves. We slaughtered 600,000 of each other in a civil war. We "tamed the Wild West with a six-shooter," and we rape and beat and kill our women without mercy and at a staggering rate: every three hours a women is murdered in the USA (half the time by an ex or a current); every three minutes a woman is raped in the USA; and every 15 seconds a woman is beaten in the USA.
We belong to an illustrious group of nations that still have the death penalty (North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, Iran). We think nothing of letting tens of thousands of our own citizens die each year because they are uninsured and thus don't see a doctor until it's too late.
"WHY DO WE DO THIS?"
(Note that there are lots of links in the onsite version.)
May I respectfully ask that we stop and take a look at what I believe are the three extenuating factors that may answer the question of why we Americans have more violence than most anyone else:
1. POVERTY. If there's one thing that separates us from the rest of the developed world, it's this. 50 million of our people live in poverty. One in five Americans goes hungry at some point during the year. The majority of those who aren't poor are living from paycheck to paycheck. There's no doubt this creates more crime. Middle class jobs prevent crime and violence. (If you don't believe that, ask yourself this: If your neighbor has a job and is making $50,000/year, what are the chances he's going to break into your home, shoot you and take your TV? Nil.)
2. FEAR/RACISM. We're an awfully fearful country considering that, unlike most nations, we've never been invaded. (No, 1812 wasn't an invasion. We started it.) Why on earth would we need 300 million guns in our homes? I get why the Russians might be a little spooked (over 20 million of them died in World War II). But what's our excuse? Worried that the Indians from the casino may go on the warpath? Concerned that the Canadians seem to be amassing too many Tim Horton's donut shops on both sides of the border?
No. It's because too many white people are afraid of black people. Period. The vast majority of the guns in the U.S. are sold to white people who live in the suburbs or the country. When we fantasize about being mugged or home invaded, what's the image of the perpetrator in our heads? Is it the freckled-face kid from down the street – or is it someone who is, if not black, at least poor?
I think it would be worth it to a) do our best to eradicate poverty and re-create the middle class we used to have, and b) stop promoting the image of the black man as the boogeyman out to hurt you. Calm down, white people, and put away your guns.
3. THE "ME" SOCIETY. I think it's the every-man-for-himself ethos of this country that has put us in this mess and I believe it's been our undoing. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! You're not my problem! This is mine!
Clearly, we are no longer our brother's and sister's keeper. You get sick and can't afford the operation? Not my problem. The bank has foreclosed on your home? Not my problem. Can't afford to go to college? Not my problem.
And yet, it all sooner or later becomes our problem, doesn't it? Take away too many safety nets and everyone starts to feel the impact. Do you want to live in that kind of society, one where you will then have a legitimate reason to be in fear? I don't.
I'm not saying it's perfect anywhere else, but I have noticed, in my travels, that other civilized countries see a national benefit to taking care of each other. Free medical care, free or low-cost college, mental health help. And I wonder – why can't we do that? I think it's because in many other countries people see each other not as separate and alone but rather together, on the path of life, with each person existing as an integral part of the whole. And you help them when they're in need, not punish them because they've had some misfortune or bad break. I have to believe one of the reasons gun murders in other countries are so rare is because there's less of the lone wolf mentality amongst their citizens. Most are raised with a sense of connection, if not outright solidarity. And that makes it harder to kill one another.
"Well, there's some food for thought," Michael says, "as we head home for the holidays."
Don't forget to say hi to your conservative brother-in-law for me. Even he will tell you that, if you can't nail a deer in three shots – and claim you need a clip of 30 rounds – you're not a hunter my friend, and you have no business owning a gun.
Yes, I think there's a lot of food for thought there.
Fiscal Cliff Minuet Turning Into A Frenzy Over Estate Taxes?
If you hear Miss McConnell in coming days lisping that this proposal or that proposal in the Fiscal "Cliff" Minuet is "unfair to the American people," he means it's unfair to rich white people, the only people Republicans care about or consider worth their attention. As we warned a few weeks ago, the Grand Bargain has come down to Republicans and their ConservaDem allies trying to get away with whatever they can on eliminating, or at least lowering, estate taxes for the super-rich (people with estates worth tens of millions, hundreds of millions and billions). McConnell can play the big shot on this issue because he knows the worst of the reactionary Democrats in the Senate-- Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, Max Baucus, Claire McCaskill, Ben Nelson, etc-- will back him up. Conservative icon Winston Churchill may have noted that an estate tax provided "a certain corrective against the development of a race of idle rich," and robber baron Andrew Carnegie-- whose opposed ever other kind of tax-- may have argued for a steep and confiscatory tax on inheritance, claiming that "our legislators fail in their duty, if they do not exact a tremendous share," but today's shameless whores to the same aristocracy of wealth that America's founding fathers devised a system to keep at bay have no compunctions about soaking the middle class and working families on behalf of the criminal class that underwrites their own political careers. Normally you think that would be the domain of Republicans but both Clinton and Obama have been less than scrupulous about sticking up for the middle class and there are always a dozen Democratic senators who will betray normal working families as a matter of course. A post-election poll for Americans for Tax Fairness found that by a margin of 58 to 32%, people support “increase[ing] the the estate tax, also called the inheritance tax, on estates of more than seven million dollars for a couple.” Obama is, as usual, aiming very low and asking for way too little. Even as much of a corporate shill as former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, currently co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, thinks Obama should step up his proposal. “A substantial estate tax," explained this week, "can provide revenues at a time when our federal government badly needs additional revenues." The Obama proposal on the table that Miss McConnell is crying about would tax 3 estates out of 1,000, instead of 2 estates out of 1,000 under the current grotesquely unfair system. Alexander Bolton of The Hillreported how this is playing out in the cute little dance Obama, Boehner, Reid and Miss McConnell have choreographed. Miss McConnell, he reported, called a Republican Senate conference to plot strategy and "the consensus that emerged during the meeting is that Senate Republicans could accept a deal that extends the Bush-era income tax rates for a vast majority of the populace and also extends the 35 percent tax rate on inheritances over $5 million per spouse." Not much of a "compromise" for Obama and the ConservaDems, who fully embrace the idea but want to use the GOP to give them cover and make it look like they were positively "forced" into it. Going over the "cliff" would achieve everything the Democrats are getting and more-- and without giving in to plutocratic blackmail and the consistent chipping away at Obama's pathetic bargaining positions. If he started by saying he wanted to return to the much more healthy Eisenhower rates on extreme wealth, the GOP would be bargaining for their lives without enslaving working families as the end result. Obama never learns... or this is precisely what Obama wants.
Another Republican senator confirmed that such a proposal could attract a significant number of Republican votes, especially if it shifted the threshold for extending income tax rates to cover family income up to $400,000 or $500,000.
But there are obstacles. Liberal Senate Democrats may balk at the prospect of extending the estate tax in its current form. Many liberals were furious after Obama struck a deal with McConnell two years ago extending all of the Bush-era income tax rates and setting the estate tax at its current level. Senate Republicans would be further enticed to support a package that kept dividend tax rates from rising to their pre-2003 levels. Obama’s budget proposed letting the 2003 dividend tax cut expire, which would boost the rate for married couples earning over $250,000 from 15 percent to 39.6 percent. Liberal Democrats such as Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) declined to say whether keeping the estate tax at its current level would jeopardize their support for a deal. “Let’s see what tomorrow brings,” he said. But extending the inheritance tax rate at 35 percent with large exemptions could prove popular among Democratic centrists facing tough re-elections in rural states, such as Sens. Mark Pryor (AR), Max Baucus (MT), Mary Landrieu (LA) and Kay Hagan (NC). Pryor, Baucus and Landrieu have said they do not support the Democratic leadership’s plan to raise the rate to 45 percent and lower the exemption to $3.5 million. Some Republicans and centrist Democrats say the biggest problem, however, remains the House. They question whether Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can pass any bill that allows rates on some tax brackets to revert to Clinton-era levels. Liberal Democrats would be more inclined to support a compromise if it included unemployment insurance for 2 million people, which Obama called for in a statement last week. “If the president puts something out and the Senate passes it, then the speaker is the key,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE). This is why Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) must remain looped into the talks even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and McConnell are now expected to take the lead in negotiating a compromise with Obama. All four leaders will be at the White House on Friday. Boehner told Republican colleagues during a conference call Thursday the House had acted on two bills to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff and that it is now up to the Senate to act. One of the House-passed bills would extend all of the Bush-era tax rates; the other would replace automatic spending cuts known as the sequester with other reductions. Neither has a chance of passing the Senate without substantial revision. House Republican leaders informed lawmakers the lower chamber would come back into session on Sunday evening to consider any compromise that might come out of the Senate.
Boehner and McConnell, who was whining how the Republicans can't be expected to write the Democrats "a blank check...just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff."-- know just how to work Obama-- like a ping pong ball. Last night, just after 5pm, President Obama released a statement that sounds predictably optimistic about how the wonderful U.S. political elites are saving us from the crisis they created by screwing the middle class again:
We’re now at the point where, in just four days, every American’s tax rates are scheduled to go up by law. Every American’s paycheck will get considerably smaller. And that would be the wrong thing to do for our economy, it would be bad for middle-class families, and it would be bad for businesses that depend on family spending. Fortunately, Congress can prevent it from happening if they act right now. I just had a good and constructive discussion here at the White House with Senate and House leadership about how to prevent this tax hike on the middle class, and I’m optimistic we may still be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time. Senators Reid and McConnell are working on such an agreement as we speak. But if an agreement isn’t reached in time between Senator Reid and Senator McConnell, then I will urge Senator Reid to bring to the floor a basic package for an up-or-down vote–- one that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends the vital lifeline of unemployment insurance to two million Americans looking for a job, and lays the groundwork for future cooperation on more economic growth and deficit reduction. I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities as long as those leaders allow it to actually come to a vote. If members of the House or the Senate want to vote no, they can–- but we should let everybody vote. That’s the way this is supposed to work. If you can get a majority in the House and you can get a majority in the Senate, then we should be able to pass a bill. So the American people are watching what we do here. Obviously, their patience is already thin. This is déjà vu all over again. America wonders why it is that in this town, for some reason, you can't get stuff done in an organized timetable; why everything always has to wait until the last minute. Well, we're now at the last minute, and the American people are not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy. Not right now. The economy is growing, but sustaining that trend is going to require elected officials to do their jobs. The housing market is recovering, but that could be impacted if folks are seeing smaller paychecks. The unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since 2008, but already you're seeing businesses and consumers starting to hold back because of the dysfunction that they see in Washington. Economists, business leaders all think that we’re poised to grow in 2013–- as long as politics in Washington don’t get in the way of America’s progress. So we've got to get this done. I just want to repeat-- we had a constructive meeting today. Senators Reid and McConnell are discussing a potential agreement where we can get a bipartisan bill out of the Senate, over to the House and done in a timely fashion so that we've met the December 31st deadline. But given how things have been working in this town, we always have to wait and see until it actually happens. The one thing that the American people should not have to wait and see is some sort of action. So if we don’t see an agreement between the two leaders in the Senate, I expect a bill to go on the floor-- and I've asked Senator Reid to do this-- put a bill on the floor that makes sure that taxes on middle-class families don’t go up, that unemployment insurance is still available for two million people, and that lays the groundwork, then, for additional deficit reduction and economic growth steps that we can take in the New Year. But let's not miss this deadline. That’s the bare minimum that we should be able to get done, and it shouldn’t be that hard since Democrats and Republicans both say they don’t want to see taxes go up on middle-class families. I just have to repeat-- outside of Washington, nobody understands how it is that this seems to be a repeat pattern over and over again. Ordinary folks, they do their jobs. They meet deadlines. They sit down and they discuss things, and then things happen. If there are disagreements, they sort through the disagreements. The notion that our elected leadership can't do the same thing is mind-boggling to them. It needs to stop. So I'm modestly optimistic that an agreement can be achieved. Nobody is going to get 100 percent of what they want, but let's make sure that middle-class families and the American economy -- and, in fact, the world economy-- aren't adversely impacted because people can't do their jobs.
Republicans, meanwhile, have no interest beyond causing maximum
pain to the maximum number of people and blaming it on Obama. Charles Krauthammer, for example, was on Fox last night strategizing about how the GOP can play the game:
"I think the Republicans will surely have a much stronger hand-- assuming we go over the cliff-- assuming Obama stays very hard-line and offers only humiliating conditions and the Republicans resist or do nothing and we go over the cliff. Then, I think, you're right, the Republicans have a pretty strong hand, because Obama then has to worry about the debt ceiling. With bravado, he says 'Oh, that's a game I won't play.' He has to play, he's the president."