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.

They’ll Stone You (Revisited)

I was thinking about this great old Dylan song today.  Actually, it is not one of the Dylan songs I would usually call “great”, but I think in reflection that he was onto something.  Here are a few more verses based on some things I’ve noticed.

They’ll stone you if your hair’s a bit too long
They’ll stone you and they’ll say that you are wrong
They’ll stone you if you like the taste of meat
Hell, they’ll stone you, no matter what you eat
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

They’ll stone you if you are lesbian or gay
They’ll stone you, and then say you’re not OK
They’ll stone you, no matter who you love,
They’ll stone you in the name of God above
But I would not…

They’ll stone you if your swimsuit is too small
They’ll stone you if you wear no suit at all
They’ll stone you if you take a sip of wine
They’ll stone you, and make you pay a fine
But I would not…

They’ll stone you if you drive too big a car
They’ll stone you if you smoke a big cigar
They’ll stone you if you wear a bit of fur
They’ll scream and shout and make an awful stir
But I would not…

They’ll stone you if you want to stop the war
They’ll stone you if you want to help the poor
They’ll stone you if you want to tax the rich
Hell, they’ll stone you if you want to scratch an itch
But I would not…

They’ll stone you if you smoke some grass
Get caught, and they will really grab your ass
They tell you that you shouldn’t and you should,
Put you in jail, but just for your own good
But I would not…

They’ll stone you if you drive a truck
They’ll stone you, no matter how you make a buck
Then they’ll stone you if you are short of cash
They’ll say that you’re some kind of trash
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

(c) 2011 – Dan Murphy

The Election – What It Means. Or not.

The election is over and the results are in, with a few interesting exceptions.  On the other hand, “what it means” is as disputed as before the ballots were counted.  Many on the Right claim the vote is a repudiation of the entire Obama agenda.  If that is true, then the election of 1982 was a complete repudiation of the Reagan agenda.  Like we say, it all depends on whose ox is being gored.

Unless there are explicit and precise exit polls to substantiate it, any claim that the voters rejected a particular policy or act of Congress is simply hot air.  That the voters were unhappy with the state of things is, however, indisputable.

There is no evidence that the voters were angered by the health care reform bill per se.  Let us recall that Obama campaigned on that issue specifically.  What he did was deliver on his campaign promise.  Unusual, perhaps, but what voters supposedly want from their candidates. Financial reform? By a large margin, exit polls say that voters blame “Wall Street” for the financial mess, so how could they simultaneously oppose regulation to prevent the excesses that indisputably let to the financial collapse of 2008.

The problem is that those bills, even if you give them the benefit of the doubt, promise better times in the future.  Voters, however, vote based on how things are now.  I say again, NOW.  ‘Now’ still sucks for a great many people, and that was the crux of Tuesday’s vote.  The objection isn’t to those pieces of legislation per se, but rather that Obama and the Congress gave them priority over making things better now.

Politicians of both parties are subject to the same flaw: they believe their own hype, and when they win an election, they believe that the electorate has suddenly embraced their agenda and their philosophy.  Well, in those classic words, “It ain’t necessarily so.”  More likely, and certainly as in 2006, 2008, and 2010, it only means that the electorate is seriously pissed with the incumbents and wants to give them a smack upside the head.  Nonetheless, the winners proceed to proclaim their moral superiority and set about to enact their agenda.  That failed big-time for the Republicans after 1994; one can only hope they remember that lesson.  The Dems certaintly did not remember the lesson they should have learned in 1992-1994.

Here’s the bottom line.  “It’s the economy, stupid!” Just as it was in 1992 when Clinton won because the electorate was unhappy with the economy. Get this: if the economy had improved significantly in the past two years; if the unemployment rate had dropped back to 5-6%, then the Dems would have retained much of their seats and offices, regardless of Obamacare and the other bills that got signed.

The President seems now to be getting it.  In comments from an interview published today, he acknowledges that he failed to communicate effectively to the public about the value of the bills that Congress passed and the prospects for the economy.  That is undeniably true.  And it is a significant disappointment for me that, overall, he as failed as President to be the inspirational and motivating communicator that he was in the campaign.

That said, probably no leader in a democratic society can be so effective as to placate the public when the economy is very bad.  It has been noted that the Democrats loss of seats in the House this mid-term election is the worst since 1938.  1938?  Yes, the mid-term election of FDR’s second term — FDR, the now-legendary President who, through his “Fireside Chats” reassured the American public and gave them hope through the Great Depression.

So yes, Obama needs to get back in touch with the everyday folks, as he said, and be more visible as the guy who is working in their behalf.  Even more important, he needs to have the economy improve a lot by November, 2012.  This may mean compromising the “long term” in favor of what works now.  Be successful and he will join Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the ranks of Presidents who survived a setback in the middle of their first term.  Otherwise, he joins one-term Presidents Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush who were ousted because of a troubled economy.

There is a difference and it does matter.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, I knew many people who were saying that there was no real difference between George Bush and Al Gore, so they were casting their vote for Nader.  They knew full well it was only a symbolic gesture, as Nader had no chance of winning or even showing up well enough to worry anyone.

Four years later, I could not find anyone who still thought it wouldn’t have made any difference if Gore had been elected.

We need to keep that in mind as election day dawns this year.  Yes, the economy is still in bad shape; yes, there is a war in Afghanistan that many think we should not be pursuing.  However, let us never for a moment imagine that it couldn’t be any worse.  It could be worse.  Far worse.  I, for one, am quite sure it would be worse if we had continued in the same direction in 2008.

For anyone who voted for Obama and his platform of “change” in 2008, to vote the other way now is to turn around and head back into the swamp.  The ship of state was going in the wrong direction in 2008.  Well, it takes some time to turn a battleship around, and we haven’t finished yet.  Let’s not steer the other way again.

And let us never throw in the towel, saying “there is no difference, so it doesn’t matter”.  Remember 2000.

Naked Emperors and Collapsing Buildings

One of the best known fables is the “Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Anderson.  You know, where a couple of shrewd peddlers convinced the Emperor that their fabrics were so fine that only highly intelligent people could see them.  When the Emperor paraded through the town in these “new clothes”, everyone persuaded themselves that they were seeing fine gold threads, lest they be considered stupid.  Or worse, incur the wrath of the Emperor.  It was only when a little boy said, “Hey, the Emperor is naked!” and everybody laughed was the illusion broken.

This story has survived and remains popular because it reveals an essential truth of us human beings: our perception can be profoundly affected by what we want to see, to the point where we can deny what is directly in front of us.

This tendency becomes strongest in the presence of great danger.  We have an instinct to turn to our leaders and see everything as they tell us it is.

This characteristic of human populations is the explanation, and the only explanation, for why a number of events of September 11, 2001 are perceived as inaccurately by most of us today as was the Emperor’s state of dress in the old story.  For several years now, there has been an increasing number of people who are speaking out about the stark inconsistencies between the official explanations and what was seen worldwide on 9/11/01 — and can readily be seen again on dozens or hundred of public videos and photographs from that day.  Unfortunately, questioning the “official explanation” for the events of 9/11/01 is branded a “conspiracy theory” and dismissed without examination like many that preceded it. However, the fact that some conspiracy theories are bogus does not necessarily mean that all are.

What’s different in this situation from the usual conspiracy theory of the past is that there are certain events that can be seen directly by all of us from the old videos and photographs. What is obvious in these images is as much at variance with the “official explanation” as is the Emperor’s actual state of dress with the assertion of fine clothing.  I am speaking specifically of the collapse of three buildings that were part of the World Trade Center complex.

Everyone remembers that the two towers each collapsed some time after being hit by airliners.  Everyone has seen video from several different angles of the tower’s collapse — how suddenly, with no warning, each tower collapsed straight down into its own footprint.  And everyone knows it was that collapse that killed police, firefighters, other rescue workers, and those who had not yet left the building — many more than were killed in the initial airliner strikes.  We were told that the intensity of the fire from the jet fuel melted the core beams of the towers and resulted in the collapse.

The tragedy and trauma of that day and those events has blinded us to the simple fact that the “official explanation” is physically impossible.  Only if one absolutely does not think about it does the official explanation hold up.  Even from a casual observation, it is obvious that the fires were on a few upper stories of the towers and so could not have melted core steel columns simultaneously for all the lower floors.  Even wood-frame houses which catch fire do not collapse completely unless and until fire consumes most of the building.  The WTC towers were not wood, they were steel, and no modern steel skyscraper has ever collapsed, whether from fire or impact or any other accidental reason.

The fact that the collapse of the towers was perfectly symmetrical is also physically impossible as the result of any uncontrolled cause such as fire or impact.  Any such event would invariably weaken one part more than another, and any collapse or partial collapse would result in a lean or sideways fall.  The pattern of collapse of the WTC towers is seen, and only seen, when buildings are intentionally demolished with controlled detonations of high-tech explosives.

A fact less noticed or remembered from 9/11/01 is that a third building collapsed — a building that was not hit by any airplane or other sizable object.  Known as WTC7, it was almost 50 stories in height, and like the towers, collapsed straight-down in a perfectly symmetrical pattern.  Even Dan Rather of CBS remarked at the time that it looked just like the pictures we’ve all seen of planned building demolitions.

So what we have for us all to see again at any time is the collapse of three large buildings in a way that has never occurred except in controlled and planned demolitions.  The official explanations of 9/11/01 simply ignore this plain fact.

Many architects and engineers with years of experience with buildings of this type have substantiated these facts.  A group of over 1000 of them have formed an organization calling for a truly independent Congressional investigation. Their website presents the technical details of all I have said above in great detail, as well as many other disturbing facts that show that the official story is woefully incomplete. Fortunately, you do not have to be an engineer to see the buildings collapse in a way that is only seen in controlled demolitions, just like Dan Rather said. You only have to open your eyes and look.

To say that those buildings collapsed because of internal fires is to say that the Emperor is wearing beautiful clothes with golden threads — because that’s what he has told us, and if our eyes see something different, they must be defective.

We owe it to the friends and relatives of those who died in those buildings on 9/11/01 to pursue the truth of why the buildings collapsed.  Until we know that, we do not know who is really responsible for those deaths.  If you agree, you too can sign the petition of the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth.

What to do about BP

With all the justifiable anger about the BP oil spill, some people want to see BP just “go out of business.”  While gratifying at some level, at least for a few minutes, I don’t think that would be the most effective thing in terms of business as a whole learning a lesson from this.  It would also penalize a lot of “little people” — people who have investments in BP, if only indirectly through mutual funds and, yes, pension funds and the like.

I believe the best thing is that a number of top executives and any others who made key decisions to shortcut safety procedures (and we know there were such shortcuts despite the huge risks) be fired and, most importantly, not walk away with any golden parachutes or the like.  I also think that at least some of them should be subject to criminal process, and if guilty, fined a very substantial amount of their net worth.

There is no such thing as a “corporate decision”.  All decisions in a corporation are made by individuals based on what they think will come out of it.  Only when the individuals in power know that they themselves will suffer for decisions that damage society, including perhaps spending a long time in jail, will they stop making such decisions.

It’s the same with the big bankers.  They caused massive damage to the economic well-being of millions of people, but with very few exceptions, still have boatloads of money from all their bonuses.  Therefore, given the chance, they will do it again.