Category Archives: Who’s Making Sense

Taibbi: It’s Not All About Warren

Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone) is making sense:

“Making the budget fight a news story not about bailouts, but about the ambitions of Elizabeth Warren, is part of the game. And the Beltway hacks have succeeded there. Media on all sides have described last week’s episode as Warren’s political coming-out party. …

oligarchy-400x248All the Dodd-Frank rule says is that if you’re a federally-insured depository institution – if you’re an FDIC-guaranteed bank, where real people have real bank accounts that are guaranteed by the federal government – you can’t also be gambling with swaps and other dangerous derivative instruments. …

There’s no logical argument against the provision. The banks only want it because they want to use your bank accounts as a human shield to protect their dangerous gambling activities….

[Democrats] are not a real party. They’re a marketing phenomenon, a big chunk of oligarchical Blob cleverly sold to voters as the more reasonable and less nakedly corrupt wing of a two-headed political establishment.” (Rolling Stone)

Still Hoping For Change

Retired Des Moines Register Opinion pages editor Richard Doak, is not just making sense, but damn good sense:

I have voted proudly in every state and national election for more than 50 years. Voting fulfilled a civic duty and came with a sense of wonder at democracy in action. Election Day was always a good day to be an American.

Not so much anymore. I can’t remember a year when voting was so unsatisfying. Casting an early ballot in 2014 felt like a chore. There was no pride or enthusiasm. There was something close to indifference.

That might partly be due to a case of viewer PTSD from being carpet-bombed by attack ads, but the malaise goes deeper than that.

It comes from the realization that nothing much will change no matter which candidates win on Tuesday.

Say it again, nothing will change.

Oh, Republicans talk a good game of cutting spending and reducing the size of government, but they won’t. The last time they were in power they did the opposite.

They talk of replacing Obamacare, but they won’t, because they haven’t the foggiest idea how. Besides, the big health care corporations have a stake in Obamacare, and Republicans aren’t in the habit of crossing the corporations.

Democrats talk the talk of helping the middle class, but when they get a chance they only nibble around the edges.

Take college affordability, for instance. Democrats loudly proclaim they want to reduce the interest rates on student loans. Big deal. What middle-class kids really need is affordable tuition so they don’t have to borrow in the first place.

But making college more affordable would require replacing tuition revenue with tax revenue, mostly from the affluent. Democrats, for all their populist rhetoric, aren’t about to irritate the affluent by taxing them to pay tuition for middle-class kids.

Both parties are in thrall to the affluent and other powers that be, including corporations, CEOs, Wall Street financiers, free-market ideologues, business and trade associations. There is no handy label for this conglomeration of power. Call it the business lobby. Better, call it the plutocracy. Government is tightly in its grip.

Which is why nothing is going to change. At the moment, the rich and powerful seem to like things pretty much the way they are, so the nation will continue to have a do-nothing Congress and a feckless president.

It’s hard to pinpoint when America stopped being a popular democracy and became a plutocracy. It happened gradually, insidiously over several decades. Private power has penetrated every facet of government from a Congress that has been bought outright, to a Supreme Court that believes corporations are people, to a bureaucracy that is increasingly run not by public employees but by private contractors.

We have ended up with a government of, by and for commercial interests. No wonder that inequality of wealth has become the defining feature of life in the United States. That’s what the people with the power arranged to happen.

Under the circumstances, it doesn’t matter much which party is nominally in control of the government. Republicans happily do the bidding of the plutocrats they call job creators. Democrats are paralyzed by the fear of being labeled anti-business and try not to offend the powerful. Either way, the result is about the same.

When the lords of banking came within an eyelash of causing another Great Depression, Republicans rushed to their defense and opposed any efforts to rein in their excesses. Democrats demanded reform but were too timid to pass anything except watered-down regulation that really didn’t change much.

Nothing ever changes.

Then there is President Obama. He promised change, but didn’t deliver. Perhaps that is because in his major decisions Obama has been remarkably solicitous of the rich and powerful.

Obama’s Affordable Care Act, far from being a socialist takeover of health care, operates mostly through private sector health care companies. It strengthens the private sector by subsidizing the purchase of insurance. It locked in this country’s expensive reliance on the private sector to deliver health care and guaranteed health care executives would keep getting rich.

Obama also locked in something else — most of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. Those cuts were set to expire automatically, but Obama rescued most of them and made them permanent. That act left the government chronically short of revenue, and it guaranteed Obama’s presidency would be a lot like that of George W. Bush’s.

Obama has essentially been Bush-lite, which was probably bound to happen no matter who was president. Nothing much ever changes with the plutocracy in charge.

The pattern has been the same in state governments, with states falling all over each other trying to be the most generous in giving benefits to corporations and the wealthy.

There’s no indication that will change no matter who wins election on Tuesday.

A century ago, the United States was in a similar situation. The robber barons of industry and banking ran the government for their own benefit, presiding over an era of vast inequality. America appeared doomed to a future of the fabulously wealthy few ruling over the beaten-down many.

Then the public rose up and reasserted democratic rule. People voted for income and inheritance taxes to lessen the concentration of wealth and power. They enacted reforms such as primary elections and direct election of senators to take control of politics away from the party bosses. They enacted consumer protections and broke up monopolies. They built free public high schools so that working class kids could be educated beyond eighth grade.

The Progressive Era reforms and the later New Deal eventually created an unprecedented era of shared prosperity with a growing and thriving middle class, but today we’re back to robber baron levels of inequality and a stagnating middle class.

What’s depressingly different this time is that the public seems to have no inclination to rise up and reassert control. There is no mass movement to take the country back from the plutocrats and their politicians. There are no leaders capable of rallying the country to action, as Theodore Roosevelt did a century ago.

So the ballot offers no opportunity for real change. Voting becomes a rote act of civic duty exercised with little hope that the future will be any better than the present.

That’s the melancholy way it is for this voter in 2014.

Richard Doak is the retired editor of The Des Moines Register’s opinion pages.

Killing Us Softly

Paul Krugman is making sense: Medicaid
“While supposed Obamacare horror stories keep on turning out to be false, it’s already quite easy to find examples of people who died because their states refused to expand Medicaid. According to one recent study, the death toll from Medicaid rejection is likely to run between 7,000 and 17,000 Americans each year.”

Durst on the New Cold War

Will Durst
Will Durst
By Will Durst
Now that the mumps, measles and polio are on the comeback trail as well, the Teens are starting to look like the 50s all over again. The future will be televised in black and white; comforting we early Baby Boomers who always remained skeptical of that whole multi-hued thing. And like the Twilight Zone was scarier in black and white, so was Nikita Khrushchev. As was Speedy, the Alka-Seltzer mascot.

The return of this Arctic Animus means all sorts of retro activities accompanying it; saber rattling. Nuclear standoffs. Propaganda, espionage. One inch wide ties. Poisoned tipped umbrellas and exploding cigars – right around the corner. And Hula Hoops, only now they come with an app.

This won’t be your father’s ideological confrontation however. … No, this is more like that boxing movie Hollywood recently released with Stallone and DeNiro. Two aging Mediocre Powers trying to rekindle a dubiously remembered time gone by in an age where you can watch Indonesian soap operas on your eyeglasses while walking over the street in an air conditioned skyway. … Read More

Will Durst is an award-winning, nationally acclaimed political comic based in San Francisco (“Comedy for people who read, or know someone who does”).

Obama in History

Will history remember Barack Obama as much more than our first black president? In what seems to be an early clue from one thoughtful scholar the answer could be “No.”

Yale Literature Professor David Bromwich writes a sweeping character portrait that is very critical, but still quite objective, making the point that as we near the end of his tenure Obama turned out to be more of “publicist for his presidency, rather than the president.”

Perhaps he’ll be remembered for Obamacare, but in the end – if he ever fully implements it – that was little more than an expansion of the market for private insurance companies. It is difficult to see that achievement rising to the level of Social Security or Medicare in the history books.

A few of Bromwich’s main points:

  • “By following the compulsion (which he mistook for a strategy) of coming to be recognized as the tribune of all the people, Obama squandered indefinite energies in pursuit of a finite opportunity.”
  • “Takes himself to be something like a benevolent monarch — a king in a mixed constitutional system, where the duties of the crown are largely ceremonial.”
  • “When his poll numbers were going down, or when his “pivot to jobs” had become a topic of humor because he repeated the phrase so often without ever seeming to pivot, Obama would always ask his handlers to send him out on the road. He was convinced: the people would hear him and he would make them understand.”
  • “It is true that he has faced enormous obstacles. It is no less true that by postponement and indecision, by silence and by speaking on both sides, he has allowed the obstacles to grow larger. … Obama’s practice of recessive management to the point of neglect has also thrown up obstacles entirely of his devising.”
  • “On domestic issues he has proven a more complacent technocrat than anyone could have imagined. … the truth is that Obama’s convictions were never strong. He did not find this out until his convictions were tested, and they were not tested until he became president.”
  • “Let us not ignore one obvious and pertinent fact. He came to the race for president in 2007 with less practice in governing than any previous candidate.”
  • “Extreme caution marked all of Obama’s early actions in public life. … The law journal editor without a published article, the lawyer without a well-known case to his credit, the law professor whose learning was agreeably presented without a distinctive sense of his position on the large issues, the state senator with a minimal record of yes or no votes, and the U.S. senator who between 2005 and 2008 refrained from committing himself as the author of a single piece of significant legislation.”
  • “Review the record and it will show that his first statement on a given issue generally lays out what he would prefer. Later on, he resigns himself to supporting a lesser evil, which he tells us is temporary and necessary.”
  • “As an adapter to the thinking of men of power, Obama was a quick study. It took him less than half a year as president to subscribe to Dick Cheney’s view on the need for the constant surveillance of all Americans.”
  • “The hard judgment of posterity may be that in addressing the greatest threat of the age [climate change] Barack Obama taught America dimly, worked part time at half-measures, was silent for years at a stretch, and never tried to lead.”

– David Bromwich, “The Leader Obama Wanted to Become and What Became of Him” (Huffington Post)

David Bromwich has written on civil liberties and America’s wars for the New York Review of Books and the Huffington Post. A collection of his Moral Imagination: Essays will be published this spring by Princeton University Press.

Obama’s Diminishing Returns

National Journal’s Ron Fournier is making sense:
obama

It was a good speech about a modest agenda delivered by a diminished leader, a man who famously promised to reject the politics of ‘small things’ and aim big—to change the culture of Washington, to restore the public’s faith in government, and to tackle enduring national problems with bold solutions. … Obama seems to have surrendered to the limits of his most-powerful office. While giving lip service to unilateral action, congressional outreach, and mobilizing the public, Obama doesn’t seem to have faith in any of these customary tools of presidential leadership. … For Obama, words are no longer enough. … Obama has not executed; he has not found a way to overcome his era’s obstacles and fulfill his potential for greatness. It may be too late to learn how.”

GOP Bloodletting

Sane Republicans — and yes, they do exist — are fed up, perhaps the main factor in finally ending this debt default madness. And some realize it is time to risk the possibility of a temporary loss of power in order to purge their ranks of Tea Party zealots, and break their addiction to evangelicals.

The American Conservative Senior Editor Rod Dreher is making sense:

I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I hope the House flips to the Democrats in 2014, so we can be rid of these nuts. Let Ted Cruz sit in the Senate stewing in his precious bodily fluids, and let Washington get back to the business of governing. … The Republican Party has driven the country to the brink, and this morning, House Republicans bolstered their ranks by … standing together and singing Amazing Grace. It’s Strangelovian. Maybe there won’t be a long-term fallout from this, but I tell you, it’s very hard to see entrusting power to a party that behaves this way, that manufactures crises like this for its own short-term political gain. The Republicans, having lost their mind, have destroyed their brand.”

Read More Conservatives Angry at House GOP

GOP Free Speech Contradiction

A Des Moines Register editorial is making sense, noting that the while the GOP is attacking networks for planning Hillary Clinton documentaries it was an HRC film that Republicans defended in the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling.

Outrage by state and national Republican Party officials about two planned films on the life of Hillary Clinton is curious on many levels. Not the least is the party’s apparent change in position on the wisdom of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 Citizens United ruling.

Citizens United, it may be recalled, is the group that produced a documentary on Hillary Clinton in advance of the 2008 election. The film was perceived by her backers to be a hatchet job on the former first lady, and they argued Citizens United violated federal campaign finance law by producing what amounted to a blatantly partisan campaign commercial.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the group had a First Amendment right to make such independent expenditure, even though it is a nonprofit corporation.

Republicans widely hailed the ruling as a victory for free speech.

Des Moines Register (8/10)

Nuke the Filibuster

Juan Williams is making sense

With the July 4 recess over, the fireworks now begin for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In the next month, the Nevada Democrat’s legacy as leader will be set with a decision on the so-called “nuclear option.” … Time is running out for Reid to get any political value from calling for a vote to blow up the current 60-vote requirement to end filibusters. At the end of the month, the August recess will arrive and then comes September and the start of the Congress’ transition to the 2014 campaigns, further draining any remaining momentum from Obama’s reelection victory. … What has been idle talk about the nuclear option is now at a boiling point, despite concern that Republicans might win a majority in the Senate in 2014 and punish Democrats with a right-wing agenda, including pushing anti-abortion legislation and repealing ObamaCare. … The GOP has been so flagrant in advertising its winning obstructionist strategy that Reid is at risk of going into the history books as a feckless leader.

— Juan Williams, The Hill

Housekeeping: Scheduled maintenance tonight 10pm to 7am Tuesday — some outages likely

Kerry vs. ‘Middle East’s Hysterical Hypochondriacs’

That headline caught my attention this morning, and the column by Haaretz blogger Chemi Shalev makes sense, but I draw a different conclusion. With vested interests against peace on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict why is Kerry wasting the jet fuel talking to them? kerryplane

“The cynical know-it-alls in Jerusalem and Ramallah are united in their disdain for the naively persistent Secretary of State. I know who I’m rooting for. … Everyone else seems to believe that Kerry is wasting his time and efforts on a spectacular exercise in futility. Like a diplomatic Energizer bunny, Kerry runs from capital to capital, wide eyed and bushy tailed, taxing everyone’s patience by talking of avenues and possibilities and peace. … I, on the other hand, think that Kerry is a breath of fresh air, a welcome respite from the tired and weary and depressing naysayers who have made a shrine out of stalemate and a temple out of deadlock and a cathedral of the status quo.”– Chemi Shalev