Webb on a Matter of ‘Distinction’

The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza examines Hillary Clinton’s “inevitability” and profiles possible challengers Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb. Here are a few excerpts on my fav:

webb-jim001Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who served one term, from 2007 to 2013, and then retired, has the potential to win the beer-track vote. … Webb is a moderate on foreign policy, but he is a Vietnam veteran from a long line of military men. After the war, Webb became a writer. His most famous book, “Fields of Fire,” published in 1978, is a novel based on his own experiences and has been credibly compared to Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage” for its realistic portrayal of war. Webb has always moved restlessly between the military and politics and the life of a writer. In the late seventies and early eighties, he worked as a counsel on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and later as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy. He has also travelled around the world as a journalist for Parade. …

In his senatorial race, Webb did well not only in northern Virginia, which is filled with Washington commuters and college-educated liberals, but also with rural, working-class white voters in Appalachia. In 2008, those voters were generally more loyal to Clinton than to Obama, but Webb believes that he could attract a national coalition of both groups of voters in the Presidential primaries. He laid out a view of Wall Street that differs sharply from Clinton’s. …Senator-Jim-Webb-001

“Because of the way that the financial sector dominates both parties, the distinctions that can be made on truly troubling issues are very minor,” Webb said.

“If you don’t have stock, and a lot of people in this country don’t have stock, you’re not doing very well,” Webb said. ….

As President, he says, he would be aggressive about taxing income from investments: “Fairness says if you’re a hedge-fund manager or making deals where you’re making hundreds of millions of dollars and you’re paying capital-gains tax on that, rather than ordinary income tax, something’s wrong, and people know something’s wrong.” …

“There is a big tendency among a lot of Democratic leaders to feed some raw meat to the public on smaller issues that excite them, like the minimum wage, but don’t really address the larger problem,” Webb said. “A lot of the Democratic leaders who don’t want to scare away their financial supporters will say we’re going to raise the minimum wage, we’re going do these little things, when in reality we need to say we’re going to fundamentally change the tax code so that you will believe our system is fair.”

Read More Webb on other issues, plus profiles of MD Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“We Must Leave This Terrifying Place Tomorrow

and go searching for sunshine.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Blue Bronc
This last election was partly a confidence vote on our professor and his tenure, graded on a pass fail, was not on the pass side. We need a leader who is out front, engaging the world, charming all, and willing to take on the dragons that confront our way of life.

Depending on your age you will have memories of certain strong presidents along with memories of other leaders. My mother has fond memories of FDR and JFK. Mine are JFK and LBJ, that is until the Vietnam war became a war. For all their flaws, these were power presidents.

The next batch of presidents will be what Gen X, Gen Y or Millennials have as American leaders. The flaws are immense and debilitating.

Nixon, Ford, Carter (nice guy with the power of a mouse fart), Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama. None of them had initials like FDR or TR. A couple had immense power, but it was used in ways that did not make life better for Americans.

fdrchairWhat I want my leader, my president to be is an FDR who takes on the corporate powers; an FDR to make the social network of America strong and helpful; a JFK to spark youth and desire to achieve; an LBJ to put the Congress back into running America instead of making it a weak clumping of neo-tribal units.

Where do I find these leaders? Those all achieved their levels in spite of and because of, backroom deals, power hungry backers and the vagaries of elections. That means in this modern, and very open world, another leader can emerge from the morass that is the current swamp of politics.

– Blue Bronc is a Trail Mix Contributor

No More Soggy Fries

Time for fresh meat. The old Democratic Party collapsed yesterday. Crony capitalists posing as populists. Paying lip service to the working class and small business. Let the Republicans own that charade. How else do you explain voters in red states like Arkansas raising the minimum wage while electing Republicans who oppose it? Because Democrats are so beholden to big business they won’t even speak to that sentiment. If this repudiation of the Democratic hierarchy is to prevent more of the same bring on some new thinkers and candidates who actually give a damn about average folk.

Obama Wimps Out

I find it stunning that President Obama yielded to advisers who kept him out of this Midterm Election. How could he not fight back as FDR once did, saying of his foes in 1936, “They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred.”

Instead, we get Vice President Joe Biden talking about compromise with Republicans when, as the prognosticators are saying, the GOP wins control of the entire Congress on Tuesday.

Obama could have turned this around by getting out there to defend himself and play offense. But he chose to wimp out. He is still popular enough among a base of Democratic voters who are probably staying home because he never asked them to do anything. That’s not leadership. That’s just plain cowardly.

I’ve tried over and over again to overcome my initial unease about this man’s fitness for office. But watching his handling of this Midterm I’m giving up the effort. He wasn’t ready for the job in 2008 and, to my surprise, he didn’t learn on the job.

Why can’t Democrats talk like this anymore?

“For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.” — FDR, 1936

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.

Christie Misses the Memo

My wife and I work in a local school district. In the past few years no issue has received more attention than that of ‘bullying’.

Whether in the classroom, in the hallways, or on the school bus, our district like so many others across the nation has adopted a zero tolerance approach to bullying. All members of the staff from administrators and teachers to custodians and school bus drivers receive training in recognizing and intervening in suspected cases of bullying. We have even adopted a method for students to report bullying anonymously via a tip line.

One of the most revealing things about this program is the support it receives from the public. It cuts across party lines, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic distinctions. People support it because in general people detest bullying. Not just in our small community but across the nation.

So it is somewhat surprising to hear politicos and pundits who should know better attempt to down play the outbursts and bravado of a high profile governor and possible presidential candidate as some type of straight-talking, hard-hitting pragmatism that will be very appealing to voters. It is nothing of the kind.

Christie-1-485x323Make no mistake about it, Chris Christie is a bully! A classic school yard bully who just happens to hold elected office and wear nice suits.  He exhibits all the given traits of a bully. Perceived superiority as a result of his size and his office, a sense of entitlement, and a willingness to intimidate those whom he deems as unworthy or who dare to disagree with him, especially teachers, nurses, or people who are down and out through no fault of their own. Like all bullies he is capable of finding the smallest kid on the play ground to harass, and he invariably resorts to personal attacks on his targets.

Like all good bullies, Christie acts the way he does in order to compensate for some perceived inadequacies or short comings — usually related to his policies or his governing style, or his honesty, perhaps even his weight, all of which have come under increasing scrutiny as of late and managed to remove a good deal of the luster from this once rising star.

Being a bully does not automatically disqualify one from the presidency. What should disqualify Christie is the fact that he is so tone deaf to an issue on which Americans have made themselves very clear.

Chris Christie missed the memo on bullying in society. How many more memos has he missed.

The presidency may well be ‘a bully pulpit.’ It is not however meant to be a pulpit for bullies.

– Jace is a Trail Mix Contributor

The Vital Vote

Vote! Whatever the flavor. Just do it, America.  Exercise that most precious right or lose it. Get off the couch, off that fence and make a decision. What are you waiting for?

Depending on messianic candidates mesmerizing the electorate to show-up every four years is a poor way to run a government. That’s  democracy lite. We need muscle, we need the beef and heft of a working congress.  And that takes an effort every two years on our part.   What , short of crises, can motivate us?  Any ideas? Contests? Raffles?  

How about something like the New York rally this Sunday by the non-partisan organization Why Tuesday? — “using the occasion to kick off its campaign, called LET’S FIX IT, to raise awareness about low voter turnout in the USA. Why Tuesday? is also offering a prize of $64,000 — in cash — to the person who comes closest to predicting the national voter turnout for the 2014 midterm election.”   How about plain ole patriotism? Or for the fun of it ROCK THE VOTE!

– PatD is a Trail Mix Contributor

HRC a Populist? Don’t Ask Warren

The question about what Hillary would run on seems to be getting at least one answer: More and more she’s talking like an anti-Wall Street populist. (Polls of Democratic voters, especially in all-important Iowa, show real concern about her credentials for this claim.)

So far it seems that someone who could be helpful to that effort isn’t buying it — Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Clinton did her best last week to heap praise on the Massachusetts Democrat, and echo the fiery professor’s popular appeals for economic fairness – which has made Warren a rock star on the midterm campaign trail.

“I love watching Elizabeth,” Clinton said on the stump in Massachusetts. “You know, give it to those who deserve to get it. Standing up not only for you, but people with the same needs and same wants across our country.”

Clinton called Warren a “passionate champion for working people and middle class families” during a stop for the Democratic candidate for Massachusetts governor, Martha Coakley.

Clinton in Boston (10/24)
Clinton in Boston (10/24)

Warren was at the same stop, but took off before Clinton could get the photo opportunity that she surely wanted. And in her own stem-winder bashing big banks Warren was not nearly as gushing in return: “I’m happy to welcome Secretary Clinton back to the commonwealth. We love it.”

Also last week, on CNN, Warren seemed to reject any notion that Clinton can be counted among the party’s anti-Wall Street wing. Asked if the ex-New York senator is too close to the financial sector, she said:

“I have said I worry about everyone who is too close to Wall Street. When I describe what this is about, it’s about who does government work for. I worry everywhere.”

When People magazine recently tried to get Warren to talk about her relationship with Clinton she was about as reticent as it gets: “We have talked. It’s not much more than that. Not much more.”

Warren in Boston (10/24)
Warren in Boston (10/24)

A Telling Reversal

For some history on the ideological gulf between the two, consider a 2004 video interview recently released by The Bill Moyers Show. Warren describes how Hillary reversed herself on a pro-business bankruptcy bill that Warren considered unfair to consumers. As First Lady in the 1990’s Clinton heeded  Warren’s pleas to persuade Bill  to veto the bill — a move Clinton boasted about in her autobiography.

But once joining the Senate, Clinton gave in to intense pressure from credit card companies, and voted for a revived version of the bankruptcy bill she had once so proudly opposed.

“As Senator Clinton, the pressures are very different,” Warren told Moyers. “She has taken money from the groups, and more to the point, she worries about them as a constituency.”

By the way, when running for president in 2007 Clinton left out that Senate vote for the bankruptcy bill when citing her earlier work against it as First Lady, calling it evidence that she “fought the banks.” Warren must really be seething about that.

Clearly, Clinton’s effort to shed her Wall Street ties for Warren-style populism lacks the convert she might need most: Warren herself.

The End of An Affair

Joe Bruns
Joe Bruns

It is hard to put a precise time on when I fell out of love. There was no big argument or momentous event that caused a sudden rift in our relationship. Instead it happened gradually, imperceptibly. But I have now come to terms with the fact that she is no longer a central part of my life. We stay together, mostly out of habit. But I no longer cherish waking up with her every morning and finding her fresh, entertaining, and endlessly interesting.

I do remember falling in love with her, though. It was the mid-seventies. It was love at first sight. This was the Watergate era in Washington. She had an uncanny inside access to all the sordid details as the scandal unfolded. Every day I looked forward to hearing what new facts she had uncovered in her deep, throaty voice. My, she did know how to tell a story. She also had wide-ranging interests. In addition to politics and world events she could spellbind with the depth of her knowledge in culture, the arts and sports. She loved her sports. She was a booster and a fan and seemed to enjoy them all, going beyond just knowing the scores and statistics, providing smart and colorful commentary about anything from the Redskins to high school rivalries.

She seemed to know everything that was going on in Washington. She may not have cared very much for the suburbs, but she knew the city, its movers, its neighborhoods, its flaws and its characters. Everyone who knew her had a favorite topic and was eager to learn what she knew. She was quoted at power lunches and solons throughout the day.

While she was older than I, she had youthfulness and an enthusiasm that was infections. At times her opinion seemed to color her judgment, but for most of us that was part of her charm. We matured together over the years. She had her rivals at times, but was never threatened by them, especially on her home turf. She knew she knew she was the real star, and could therefore just ignore them as they came and went from the scene.

She was also generous and compassionate, she noted births and attended funerals. When tragedy struck she could be counted on to offer assistance, and always knew the right thing to say to bring understanding and comfort. But she could also deliver criticism when needed, a wake-up call where she saw injustice.

The eighties were her ‘Hollywood’ phase. She made new friends, many from California and the West, who exuded glamor and style more than intellect. But the men were handsome and the women beautiful. In the nineties, she had a fling with a younger man, a ‘bad boy’ who was able to charm her in ways that allowed her to overlook his flaws. When his past caught up with him and his star faded, she stuck with him and defended him against his detractors, though I could see she was hurt.

But then things began to change. Without noticing it at first, but seeing it now in retrospect, her freshness wilted. Her stories, which once rivaled those of Scheherazade, began to seem repetitious and stale. Her eloquence began to fade; she made grammatical errors that broke the spell. Worse, I began to realize that I had often already heard the stories she was now telling. Sometimes, I even heard them from her the day before. She was less engaged in the world and began to simply repeat what others were saying. She said there was a web conspiring to bring her down. She began to go to bed early, and seemed to be indifferent as to whether she had anything new to say or not. Her opinions, once fresh and insightful, now were entirely predictable, cranky, even boring. Those she invited in to share opinions consisted of the same people who had been around for years, seldom anything or anybody new was present. And when someone new was added to her circle, it seemed more for the label than for the wine. It was clear that her world was changing far more quickly than she either desired to or could. Some say she suffers from poor circulation, and others have suggested an extended trip, perhaps an adventure to the Amazon will revitalize her. I don’t know, but for me the old magic is gone.

Old love dies hard. She is still part of my life, just not as important to me. I no longer consider her my window to the world, and sometimes find myself ignoring her entirely. But we had some great times together over the years. There is always that.

I miss my old love and companion …

A Very Very Vile Virus

Anyone who has been around me for any length of time knows that I don’t like people. Not people as individuals but people as an overwhelming crowd, and quite frankly, we need some crowd control. Unfortunately, I was born in paradise. California in the 1940s had about 8 million people. The last time I was there, it had 40 million. As Gertrude Stein said when she tried to go back to Oakland after a long absence: “There’s no there there.” Or to echo Joni Mitchell they paved Paradise and put up a parking lot. That realization and a sensitivity about the environment made me look at the population of the globe.

We have just been through the Ebola scare here in the US and the outbreak continues in a few countries in Africa. It is estimated that the current outbreak in Africa until contained will hit 10,000 deaths per day.   Will 10,000 deaths per day put a dent in the crowd? Not a chance. Combine it with flu pandemic, a few tornadoes, earthquakes, Monsoons, and multiple wars, will it put a dent in the crowd? Not a chance.

If not a single child were born for the next 30 years and the death rate continued on the same current level, we would only be down about 1.5 billion people. There would still be about six billion left.   All of those people, the majority of which are perfectly good human beings who love their family and friends just want to go about their business of working, eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, and making love to make more babies. There really isn’t anything wrong with them except that they exist.

Because they exist, they strip forests for farmland. Because they exist, they pour the products of their civilization into the oceans. Because they exist, they are destroying the habitat of all the other species on the planet. Because they exist they want to stay warm or cool. They want to cook. They want to run their machines. They want their sewage to go elsewhere. To do all those things, they strip the land of coal and oil. They drain the aquifers that took millions of year to fill. They pour carbons into the atmosphere.  They heat and acidify the oceans. Quite frankly, they are really, really dirty and due to modern technology, the majority of them are useless and replaced by the machines they created.

For several million years, the human race trundled along with less than a billion people. Then they discovered germs and viruses. Magnificent! We can cure. We can save. We can keep people alive. We can fix the broken and weak among us who used to die. We can do something that no other species that has ever existed can do. We can save ourselves. Aren’t we wonderful? OOPS! We forgot to lower the birthrate to one child per couple. The chart below shows the result of that mistake.

So here is the question. How do we save the environment? Save the human race without some sort of “Soylent Green” solution?


– Jamie is a Trail Mix contributor.