Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


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Government Crisis Viewed Through D.C. Media Bubble

In the postmortem of Republican’s surrender from their extremist hostage taking and ransom demands, people everywhere are analyzing what they think happened.  One article contained glaring ideological framing.  I agree with the foundational analysis of “Short-term debt deal won’t mask big barriers ahead” by Charles Babington of the Associated Press: yesterday’s deal didn’t address the underlying problems in D.C.  But I do disagree with important parts that Charles uses as supporting evidence for his argument.

First:

Republicans still adamantly oppose tax increases. Powerful interest groups and many Democrats still fiercely oppose cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits.

The first sentence is mostly true.  Republicans oppose tax increases on the rich (witness the 2011 deal to lock in lower tax rates for people making $400,000 or more per year), but are more than happy to shift taxation onto the lower and middle class.  But the second sentence is even more painful to read for its vapidity.  What the heck are “powerful interest groups”?  Does Charles know who opposes Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts the most?  People that receive them!  Want to “fix” Social Security?  Lift the taxable income cap and Social Security is solvent for centuries.  But that means “raising taxes” to pay for a social good.  Does Charles seriously believe there are no “powerful interest groups” that oppose tax increases?  No, but he and the AP sure expects readers to.  And Republican supporters demonstrate that effort works.  It’s hip to trash Social Security and Medicare in the D.C. cocktail circuit, but remains wickedly unpopular in the rest of the country.

In fact, most of the “powerful interest groups” on the right – the same ones that pushed for the partial government shutdown and threatened the US’s role as the safest investment on earth -

Also, as usual, there is no mention of the national deficit’s growth under Republican President George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan.  But this fact is an obvious part of the Teabagger’s outrage at establishment Republicans.  It also serves another purpose: if Republicans can generate enough outrage over national debt (that they themselves accumulated), they can demand Social Security and Medicare cuts while the obscenely wealthy get their taxes cut, even though Social Security doesn’t contribute one penny to the national debt they’re supposedly so concerned about.

Second:

The Simpson-Bowles plan remains widely praised nationwide, and largely ignored in Congress.

What?!  Most of the nation doesn’t even know what the S-B plan is or what it would do.  S-B remains widely praised in the same D.C. circles where it’s cool to want to take insurance programs away from the disadvantaged, and that’s it.  Does Charles write that it’s Congress’ job to plan for and pass a budget every year?  Because they haven’t done that on time since 1996 – a time when Republicans dominated the legislature.  Instead, folks in D.C. turned to gangs as the answer – gangs of legislators trying to do the work the rest of their colleagues can’t be bothered to do.

Left out of this article, as usual, are the long list of concessions Democrats yielded all to willingly to Republicans in previous “negotiations” without acquiring Republican concessions.  This latest “reset” is no different: sequestration cuts to the budget (which nobody likes but too many voted and signed for) remain in place.  Those cuts reduce our national economic activity: reduced GDP of about 1%.  At a time of historically low interest rates, the government could rebuild our decaying infrastructure for nearly at-cost, while putting millions of people back to work who want to work.  We are squandering an immense opportunity that will not repeat itself.  That infrastructure will be rebuilt, but today’s politicians want to make sure we pay more than we have to.

Charles and the AP mention none of this.  Instead, it is “powerful interest groups” and crackpot plans.  The framing by the D.C. crowd belittles the American people.  It’s no wonder the media and Congress aren’t liked or trusted by a majority of Americans.


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How Much Of The Big 3 Will Obama Give Away Just To Make A Deal?

We heard plenty of rhetoric from Obama super-supporters leading up to the November election: how we had to vote for Obama because crazy ol’ Mitt Romney would destroy the country.  It turns out Democrats are just as eager to scare-monger as Republicans are when it comes to protecting those in power from accountability.  Largely left unsaid was what Obama would do if re-elected.  I argued with many friends about this topic.  I saw what the first-term was all about: taking progressive policies off the table prior to negotiation, negotiating for too long, yielding concession after concession while not getting anything of equal value in return from Republicans who only wanted to see him lose the 2012 election.

Now that Obama has been reelected, a political “crisis” that Obama and Congress purposefully created for themselves needs our attention.  The fiscal curb is approaching.  For a couple of weeks, Obama made a good show of touring the country and showing voters how smart they were to vote for him, because he wasn’t going to capitulate and concede on tax cuts for the obscenely rich or the Big 3: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.  Social Security doesn’t add to the deficit because it has a guaranteed revenue stream.  Medicare and Medicaid could be made solvent for decades with minor adjustments that have nothing to do with things Republicans think they do.

I had no doubt we would see the following.  Obama made the following proposal yesterday: in exchange for extending middle-class tax cuts, raising the debt limit, extending unemployment benefits, and new spending on infrastructure, he would continue Bush’s high-income tax cuts for income up to $400,000 and would cut Social Security benefits.  That’s $1.3 trillion in revenue for $850 billion in spending cuts.  Obama has already given up on raising taxes for incomes over $250,000.  And he threw Social Security under the bus.  For nothing in return.

Mark my words: the Big 3 will take massive hits.  And unlike in 2005 when the country resisted a Republican President doing it, a Democratic President will do it in 2012.  Republicans will successfully get even more spending cuts in programs that need only slight tweaks while raising the income limit that gets subjected to a return to tax rates under Clinton than is present in this offer.  How do I know?  Speaker Boehner quickly rejected the President’s offer.  Why?  Because it ensures that Obama will continue to foolishly engage with the Speaker in closed-door meetings instead of speaking in front of the American people.  If he did the latter, as was his initial strategy, Boehner would have to agree to the President’s proposal.  Because Republican plans consist of everything Americans don’t want to see: slashing unemployment insurance, tax hikes on the middle class while the rich walk away untouched, cuts to the Big 3, etc.

And here is why that will happen: Barack Obama wants his legacy to be defined by his ability to make deals with Republicans.  The specific details don’t matter that much to him.  He wants to be perceived as someone who gets things done, regardless of who came up with the idea in the first place.  Health care?  Let’s try the Republican plan Mitt Romney got through in Massachusetts.  Climate Change?  Let’s try the Republican plan from the 1990s.  Budget balancing?  Let’s try what Republicans have wanted for decades: no social programs and lots of defense spending.

The best part?  We’ll all do it together!  Yay!  Be happy, Democrats!  You prevented the world-ending Mitt Romney from being elected and now your party’s President will dismantle the most successful programs that kept millions of Americans out of poverty in the 20th century.  Because we all had to vote for the lesser of two evils.  Phew, disaster was narrowly avoided, wasn’t it?


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“Bipartisanship” In Action

How successful has the bipartisanship only strategy of governing by “Democrats” worked for Americans?  Pretty damn well … if you’re a Republican Teabagger.  One only need look at recent developments to see just how well this strategy has worked to enact liberal policies:

Michiganders face lower unemployment insurance payments and stricter eligibility rules.

Kansas is trying to become the state with the fewest abortion-licensed facilities: 0.  Remember, abortion is a legal medical procedure.  Other states are trying to ban this legal procedure, regardless of rape, incest, or health of the mother.  Are the Teabaggers screaming that this is a prime example of a big, intrusive government limiting freedom?  Hell no, they’re not.  They have a Black Man in the White House to delegitimize.

Democratic “leaders” are seriously considering ending Social Security and Medicaid.  Perhaps they’re volunteering to do it just so the Republican Teabaggers won’t have to.

The cost of illegal, undeclared, unpaid invasions and occupations the U.S. has perpetrated since 2001?  $3.7 trillion.  Perhaps those Democratic “leaders’ should work to stop the occupations.  That could just stop our hurtling into greater and greater debts and deficits.

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations set another record high this year: 394.35ppm.  The globe was the warmest in 2010 than at any other point in recorded history – and likely at any time in tens of thousands of years.  2010 and 2011 have seen more extreme weather events as a result of climate change than at any point in recorded history.  These conditions will only get worse as long as Democrats keep acting “bipartisanshipy” with Republican Teabaggers and never stand up to the dirty energy industry.

So to all the pro-“centrists”: how well is the country doing?  This list took less than 5 minutes to assemble.  There are hundreds of other similar examples.  Maybe it’s time Democrats demanded their elected officials do what they promise on the campaign trail or go work to elect a different Democrat.  This is what voting for the lesser of two evils has brought us.  We’re still walking down the path toward evil.  It’s time to do something else.


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Seniors Tighten Belts While Wall St. Rakes In Record Pay

I think perhaps we have things backwards in this country:

Senior citizens brace for Social Security freeze

Wall St on tap to pay $144 Billion in pay

Yet somehow those rich fat cats on Wall St have convinced policymakers to look at cutting Social Security benefits while giving them even more tax breaks.  That makes more elderly people slide into poverty while the country’s deficits race out of control.  All of the above, by the way, has been brought to you by Republican/Conservative economics.   Their policies have worked exactly as they’ve wanted them to for the past 40 years.  The sad part is too few Democrats are visibly standing up for the elderly and impoverished.  Given all that, I’m still confused why the elderly continue to vote for Republicans who in turn work to screw them over time and time and time again.

The 2nd article goes so far as to mention the “financial industry reform” legislation that passed this year.  Like a small number of other progressives, I’ll say this again: the reform was an absolute joke.  It won’t reform the financial industry.  It won’t prevent a repeat of the 2007-2009 economic crash that nearly destroyed the U.S. economy.  It was enough to allow the justified anger over that crash to wane to a point where politicians and Wall Streeters could point to the signed legislation and say, “See, something was done.  Nothing bad will happen ever again. Now go away and trust us to manage our businesses.”

The combination of these news stories might even have something to do with the “enthusiasm gap” that most of the corporate media and silly pundits can’t fathom.  Nah – it’s definitely the fault of the DFHs who didn’t get everything they wanted in 18 months.


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Where Do Colorado’s Senators Stand On Social Security?

One of the few U.S. Senators standing up for average Americans is Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont.  He introduced a resolution in the Senate “Expressing the sense of the Senate in opposition to privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age, or other similar cuts to benefits under title II of the Social Security Act.”

The resolution has 11 co-sponsors.  Neither of Colorado’s supposedly “Democratic” Senators have signed onto this resolution.  Why haven’t they done this?

I think Colorado’s Senators are mis-characterized as “liberal” – by folks from across the political spectrum.  Now, I don’t give a hoot what the psychos in the Republican Tea Party think about Sen. Udall or Sen. Bennet; they’re never going to give them the credit they deserve for pushing policies Cons used to love.  I’m a little more concerned what Democrats think about them.  I’ve listened to and read too many instances of Democrats cheering on Udall and Bennet because they advocate a “bipartisan” governing approach.  I’ve heard far too many instances of, “Well, we <i>have</i> to support Udall and Bennet, because…” and which is followed by any number of variations of the same argument.  We can’t let perfect get in the way of good.  We can’t let Teabaggers get elected even though our Democratic politicians don’t do all kinds of things we want.  They’re the lesser of two evils, blah, blah, blah.

Just like deniers’ inability to answer simple questions regarding global warming, the blind partisans in the Democratic Party are too willing to let their politicians get away with passing crappy policy because they’re unwilling to challenge them.  Health insurance companies are making out like bandits (still) because of people like Sens. Udall and Bennet.  Wall St. companies are making out like super-bandits (still) because of people like Sens. Udall and Bennet.  Global warming legislation got kicked to the gutter because of people like Sens. Udall and Bennet, who continue to show they are more interested in compromise than pushing for critical legislation.  All of this lack of progress is somehow a good thing to Democratic partisans, because at least their politicians, and not the other kind, are in power.

And that attitude is fine, I suppose.  At some point, however, I think Democrats need to evaluate at which point they will no longer accept the status quo.  Health care reform?  Nope, not there.  Financial industry gambling reform?  Nope, not there either.  Global warming action?  Nope, not there.  Immigration reform?  Nope, no action there either.  Well, how about Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare then?  Sens. Udall and Bennet haven’t had much to say about Republican Tea Party attempts to destroy the safety nets that have kept millions of Americans out of deep poverty and healthier than they would have been.  If the mis-named Deficit Commission recommends changes to Social Security and other programs, and Sens. Udall and Bennet vote for those changes, how will Democrats react?  Will they accept another incrementalist approach that didn’t get Democrats some of what they wanted?  Will they applaud the Senators for getting Teabaggers to vote with them to weaken our social programs?  Because after all, the Teabaggers won’t be able to do it by themselves.  They’re going to need “Democrats” to join them in their crusade to take America back to the 1750s.


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The Deficit Commission, Bipartisanship & Incrementalism

As President Obama’s deficit commission grows from an idea to actually considering policy recommendations, one of the co-chairs has, through his inartful and backwards thinking language, provided additional evidence why incrementalism and questing for the Holy Bipartisan Grail are both bad ideas.

I will state once again that all of today’s calls for deficit reduction are pure b.s.  Few, if any, of those calling for fiscal prudence were doing so during the Bush Regime.  Very little discussion was offered by the Very Serious People inside D.C. regarding Bush’s explosion of the federal debt from $5.73 Trillion to over $11 Trillion.  Now that it’s up to $12 Trillion, those same serious people have decided they want to hold this President’s spending accountable.  So the calls to rein in spending today hold no weight with me, especially since I was one of the few calling Bush’s out of control spending into question.

But I’m not going to waste much energy backing Obama up on this subject.  He and his team would prefer to continue many of the same counterproductive economic policies that Bush’s team, Clinton’s team, Bush Sr.’s team and Reagan’s team put into place.  I think Obama’s team is continuing along this path because of their desire to appear bipartisan.  In an age in which those same very serious people chatter about Obama’s deficit spending, they also make much of the partisanship of Washington.  Again, this comes about too late.  Democrats didn’t run around for eight years screaming that anyone who disagreed with them were traitors to their country; the Republicans did.

Instead of standing up to the very serious people and reminding them that they won the 2008 elections quite handily, Obama’s team instead has chosen to roll over at the feet of their accusers and try to make nice with them.  Listening to alternative viewpoints is one thing.  But when Obama himself uses language like “drove the car into the ditch” and “we won’t give them (the Republicans) the keys back”, then establishes a deficit reduction commission and stuffs it full of people who have spent their political careers calling for an end to programs like Social Security, one wonders what his agenda truly is.  If he believed his rhetoric, he might listen to such talk, but rightfully cast it aside as the extremist viewpoint that it is.  Instead, he coddles it.

For those who advocate for incrementalism and bipartisanship, as was the case during the Health Care Insurance Debate of 2009-2010, allow me to ask you this.  How far are you willing to push such approaches?  Health care might be one thing.  But what happens when Obama’s commission calls for a reduction in Social Security payouts or another increase in retirement age to qualify for full benefits, all while the War Department spends billions a year on unregulated mercenaries as part of its overseas and domestic campaigns, all while Bush’s tax cuts for the super-rich get extended?  How many of you will continue to stand behind Obama then?  Will you be proud to call yourself a Democrat when a Democratic President does what no Republican President dared to do?  Or will you instead begin to listen to more progressive voices in holding Democrats accountable for their actions in the same way that we wanted Bush and the Republicans accountable for theirs?


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What’s In The News 9/16/08

Republican John McCain wants to raise taxes. On health care from your employer. Does your health care count as income? John McCain thinks so and he wants to tax it.

Gas gouging again?

Chicago’s worst rain in 137 years. Since records began, Chicago hasn’t seen as much rain in one 24-hour period as they did Saturday. Severe weather events like this have been predicted as a result of global warming. Strong tropical systems will continue to inundate inland regions hundreds of miles away from the ocean. Records will continue to fall.

Action item: forward the video.

What would have happened if Bush and Republican John McCain had successfully shifted Social Security to the stock market? And how has McCain’s campaign responded? They’re still calling everybody a bunch of whiners!

Sarah Palin lies again. She wants to work on energy security and government reform, citing her record as a preview. Let’s see – record fossil fuel drilling in Alaska under her watch. She killed a wind farm project. Twice. She has appointed her unqualified high school friends into agency leadership posts. She vetoed a government transparency project. America, pay attention. This is the version of energy security and government reform that Republicans Sarah Palin and John McCain would bring to the executive office. They’ve proved Republicans can’t govern. Don’t give them a bigger stage on which to show those skills.

Sarah Palin thinks she is better than the rest of us. And ends up looking guiltier because of it. If there really wasn’t any ethical lapses involved with her firing of the public safety commissioner, she should cooperate fully with the investigation. That has bipartisan support: Democrats and Republicans came together to figure out what happened. (By a unanimous 12-0 vote). But Sarah Palin doesn’t want to answer to her constituents until after the November election, despite promising Alaskans that she was running on an accountability and transparency platform.

Representative Christine Scanlan and the interim wildfire committee has released 11 ideas for legislation in next year’s Colorado Legislature dealing with the lodgepole pine beetles. I’ll have more on these in the future.

ohwilleke has a very good write-up about Troy Eid’s snide attack on bloggers. Quick, convene the blogger ethics panel!

Sarah Palin said she will provide renewed attention to kids with special needs. I hope it’s not the kind of attention she paid them in Alaska, where Sarah Palin cut the Special Olympics budget in half. I can’t wait for the wing-nuts to tell me cutting the budget really isn’t cutting the budget again.

Foreclosures are setting records, inflation is high, unemployment is rising, real income has been stagnant for seven years. Taxpayers have bailed out one investment firm. Another was left to fail. Merill Lynch has been bought out. The biggest insurance firm in the nation is begging for cash. American automakers want a taxpayer bailout. But Republican John McCain continues to say the fundamentals of the economy are strong. McCain was correct back in January when he said he didn’t understand economics as well as he should. Of course, none of his seven houses are under threat of foreclosure. And he still has his job. For now.

Republicans think you’re on your own:

The prevailing view in Washington argued against bailing out homeowners who made bad financial decisions, buying houses they couldn’t afford, or the lenders who wrote those loans.

Republicans removed responsible oversight from lenders and now the economy is in a tail-spin. Republican John McCain wants to continue this disastrous economic policy.

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