Archive for July, 2011

Somebody is in charge

As this is written, Congress continues to thrash and heave, supposedly working on a deal to avert a national default because the government will not have and cannot borrow money to pay the debts that Congress has previously authorized.  The latest reports suggest that the Democrats are about to accept a “compromise” that gives the Tea Party Republicans everything they want, and all they get in return is an increase in the debt ceiling through 2012.  Does no one notice that what President Obama and the Democrats “get” is something that should have happened routinely?

In other words, the Republicans created this crises by turning a routine procedure into a hostage situation, and now are about to achieve many, if not all, of their aims merely by freeing the hostage.  If this were being done by anybody but Congress, it would be a crime and the FBI would be all over it, ready to arrest the hostage takers.

The Republicans have won the PR battle.  Why?  Because, even though this crisis atmosphere is entirely of their creation, the approval rating of the President has fallen to a new low.

Apparently, much of the public has a one-dimensional brain. Loads of dire warnings in the news means the President is not doing his job well. The Republicans understand this.  As I wrote earlier, their strategy is to accept continued economic turmoil in order that Obama not be reelected.

It seems the Democrats don’t understand.  They have been amazingly quiet and docile these past few weeks.  They already gave up even insisting on a bit of additional revenue by eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Do they look like leaders? No.  Obama told Speaker Boehner over a week ago to “lead”, referring to the unruly band of Tea Partiers that shot down an almost-done deal.  Well, the President needs to take his own advise.

Obama needs to knock some heads and lead. He should hold firm against all Republican tricks, and make sure the Senate does not pass anything but a bill with some sense of balance — new revenues as well as spending cuts. If that means there is no bill to raise the debt limit on Tuesday, he should raise it by executive order. Mark my words: his approval rating would go up 15 points overnight because he would be showing the country – finally – that somebody is in charge.

I was going to write, “somebody sane is in charge”, which would be true, but the public first needs somebody to be in charge. While there are strong partisans on each side, much of the middle isn’t sure who is right or wrong, they just want to see things getting fixed and getting better.  If that happens, Obama will be rewarded and reelected.  If it doesn’t, he will likely see the same fate as Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush.  Now as then, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

An interesting legal analysis says that, in fact, the Supreme Court has already ruled that a President can not pick and choose which of the government’s bills to pay, understanding that all the bills are for expenditures previously authorized by Congress.  Therefore, this notion that, in a default, the President can direct the Treasurer which bills to pay and which to postpone or skip, has already been ruled unconstitutional.

That leaves the 14th Amendment as the presumptive authority for the President to order continued borrowing so as to assure that, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned.” Of course, the House Republicans will likely throw a fit and even start impeachment proceedings.  So what.  They did it to Clinton, and his approval rating only improved as a result.

Speaking of Clinton, the former President said a few weeks ago that Obama should invoke the 14 Amendment, absent a reasonable bill from Congress. I hope Obama was listening.  FDR did many things that were just as bold.  We elected Barack Obama to lead for these four years, and it’s time for him to show clearly that somebody is, indeed, in charge.

Still True Today

It is amazing how relevant facts are completely forgotten or denied without challenge in the midst of political debates like the one we are now having.  All of the following are simple facts of history:

  1. President Obama inherited a $1.2 trillion budget deficit.
  2. Republican leaders supported the tax cuts and wars that (along with the recession, another pre-Obama phenomenon) created that deficit.
  3. Republicans engineered this crisis by attaching unprecedented ideological demands to a routine measure.
  4. President Clinton left behind a substantial surplus
  5. President Bush vaporized it into a gigantic deficit
  6. President Obama’s health care reforms will actually reduce the deficit.

For a further discussion, read Still True Today: Frequently Forgotten Facts of the Debt Debate.

It is said that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.  Unless we can start remembering the history of just the past 10 years, we will likely repeat it in spades.

The Ultimate Outrage

“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” Mitch McConnell said last year. In other words, defeating Obama in the next election is more important than jobs, the debt, or avoiding another economic meltdown. It is increasingly clear that Republicans don’t want prosperity or even gradual improvement in the economy, because that would help Obama be re-elected. They would rather have disaster if it can be blamed on Obama.

This is the ultimate outrage. Obviously each party will run candidates and try to beat an incumbent of the other party in the next election, but to declare that as the most important goal is a gross perversion of the political system.  If something is “most important”, then you spend your time and energy on it and sacrifice other things for it.  That is simply unacceptable if you hold an office where you have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect the general welfare of the country. That oath did not say “protect and defend the Republican Party”.

This is not the first time that Republicans have been so myopic as to start believing that they were exclusively qualified to hold high office and so could do “whatever it takes” to prevent the candidate of the other party from possibly winning. One of those times was in 1972 – the Watergate scandal. After it had all come crashing down, former Attorney General John Mitchell admitted, “We thought the danger from the other side was so great that we could not take a chance on them winning.” This kind of thinking is the antithesis of democracy and the Constitution and is what leads to dictatorship.

McConnell and the troop of Tea Party Republicans need to remember that Barack Obama was elected by the citizens of this country, the same as they were.  This means that they are under just as much of an obligation to work with him as he is to work with them.  If both sides act like the Tea Party fanatics, then you get what we have been seeing – stalemate and dysfunctional government.

And that brings us back to the original point: the Republicans in general appear happy to have dysfunctional government if it will cause Obama to lose the next presidential election, nearly a year and a half away. To describe this with the old cliche, “cutting off your nose to spite your face” would be woefully inadequate. Instead, how about: “Sinking the ship because you don’t like the captain.”

Over the years, I have never been a strict partisan. I have and still do disagree with some of the planks of the traditional Democratic platform. I used to find some things to agree with in the Republicanism of Eisenhower, Goldwater, and Reagan. I have to believe all of those Republican leaders would be turning over in their graves right now if they could see the sorry state their party has come to. They had their political positions, of course, but they accepted the basic premise of representative government that you work with and compromise with the other elected representatives to get the job done, and the job is always to do what is best for the country, not sacrifice it for imagined political gain.

The Republican Wreckage

The Titanic Sails At Dawn

“It’s taken us seven months to get to the place where we are now,” Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “We’re almost out of runway. We’re not nowhere, but we’re almost out of runway.”

Perhaps a better analogy would would be “we’re at 50,000 feet and almost out of fuel. The tanker plane has connected and is ready to refuel, but there’s a fight going on in the tanker cockpit(*) about whether or not to turn on the fuel valve.”

There’s a time to argue about the big issues, and there is a time to just do what you have committed to do.  The Tea Party teenagers in the House don’t seem to understand that.  There are any number of analogies:

  • Simplest: You sit down to pay your bills.  There’s a big payment due on your credit card.  You say, “hell, I didn’t really want all this stuff. I’m not paying.”
  • Your boss is signing the paychecks.  He looks at yours and says, “he’s getting too much money.  I’m not signing this unless he agrees to a 30% pay cut effective immediately.”
  • Your house catches fire.  The fire chief says, “We need a new ladder truck.  We’re not coming to your house until the town agrees to buy it.”

Get the picture?  When you’ve committed to do something, you do it.  If you don’t like the deal, pick a different time to fight about it.

Raising the debt ceiling is exactly this.  The debt ceiling needs to be raised entirely because of the decisions of the Congress of the United States – what to spend money on, how much and who to tax, etc.  For this Congress to refuse to do it is exactly like you refusing to pay your credit card bill.  Maybe they don’t understand that they don’t own the office they hold, they only borrow it. They need to accept the obligations from previous legislative acts, just as they expect future legislatures to accept theirs.

It doesn’t matter what you believe about the deficit, what should be cut, who should be taxed, and so on.  Signing the check is not the time to solve all that.  To do what the Tea Party radicals are doing is simply to hold the entire country hostage and demand as ransom that they get their way.  The public needs to notice and remember this.  Taking hostages is against the law in every personal case I know of.  Extortion is against the law.  Increasing the debt ceiling is something that the Congress must do as a matter of procedure and law unless there is a technical flaw in the bill that does it. That’s the only reason for the requirement.  It is not there as a chance to change your mind.

If the Tea Partiers don’t understand that, then they don’t understand the law and are not qualified to sit in the body that is charged with making the laws for the country.

If the Tea Partiers don’t understand that a US Government default will be a catastrophe at many levels including the stability that business leaders have been saying for the last two years that they need to start investing in jobs and growth again, then the Tea Partiers are not only clueless about the law, they are also clueless about business and jobs.  In fact, they are clueless about everything except their own extremist dogma which, every day, is being revealed as out of touch with American values and any practical reality.

* – I must credit this image to Bob Dylan, although I do not for a moment suggest that Bob or his song take any side whatever in this discussion. Still, is there any clearer pictures of right now than this, written in the early 1960s, from “Desolation Row”:

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn.
Everybody is shouting, ‘which side are you on?’
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot are fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much about Desolation Row.

A Modern Parable

Suppose I give someone one dollar.  They take the dollar and stuff it under their mattress.  A month goes by and the dollar is still under the mattress.  Nothing has changed for that someone or for anyone else.  Still, they have the dollar, so they feel well-off.

Now suppose I give someone a dollar, and within one day, they trade it for some goods or services.  The next day, the person who now has the dollar trades it for some other goods or services.  And so it goes, every day for the rest of the month.  That one dollar passes from hand to hand, and goods and services flow in the other direction.  This is a vibrant economy.  The previous scenario is a stagnant economy where only one person has the money.

In our economy today, the rich — the bankers and financiers with their fat bonuses, the corporation with their hefty profits and huge cash reserves — are acting just like the first scenario above.  They have their money in the mattress and are waiting for something — who knows what — to circulate it.  This is why giving continued tax cuts and subsidies to the wealthy and the corporations will not create jobs or stimulate the economy.  They will continue to sit on it, even though they have more of it.

No.  The only way to grow the economy is to put more money in the hands of those who want to keep it moving, never mind that those people may see it differently — like buying food, clothes, housing, cars, gasoline, etc. to get on with their lives.  Those who continue to demand that the wealthy and the corporations get all the money are killing the economy based on the absurd fantasy that giving more money to the wealthy will create jobs.