Friday, September 9, 2011


I'm going to spend a week sitting on the balcony of a condo overlooking the white sands and emerald waters of Santa Rosa Beach, FL, just watching the waves and the tides slowly coming in and going out. And a sunset or two over the Gulf waters.

Sort of a chance to slow the pace, cleanse my mind and reflect on things, now that I no longer have the day to day administrative responsibility of the Emory Psychoanalytic Institute to keep me jazzed and occupied.

I will not have email or internet access, so there will be a hiatus here on ShrinkRap. Hope it's a good week for all. I'll be back ranting again, probably around Sept. 18 or 19.


More bad news for Newt

Joe Nocera writes a column for the New York Times, usually about the political scene. On 9/6/11 he wrote about "The Last Moderate," Jim Copper, who is a Blue Dog Democrat from Tennessee.

Nacera describes Cooper as the conscience of the House,
". . . a lonely voice for civility in this ugly era. He remembers when 'compromise' was not a dirty word and politicians put country ahead of party. And he's not afraid to talk about it. 'We've gone from Brigadoon to Lord of the Flies,' he likes to say."
Nacera talked with him in an interview about how the climate has changed in the House since he was first elected in 1982.
"To Cooper, the true villain is not the Tea Party; it's Newt Gingrich. In the 1980s, when Tip O'Neill was speaker of the House, "Congress was functional. . . . Committees worked. Tip saw his role as speaker of the whole House, not just the Democrats. "'Gingrich was a new kind of speaker: deeply partisan and startlingly power-hungry. His first move was to get rid of the Democratic Study Group, which analyzed bills, and which was so trusted that Republicans as well as Democrats relied on it. . . . "'This was [Gingrich's] way of preventing us from knowing what we were voting on. Today, the ignorance around here is staggering. Nobody has any idea what they're voting on. . . . We no longer search for the best ideas or the best policies. . . . Too many people here are willing to deliberately harm the country for partisan gain. That is borderline treason. "'This is not collegial body anymore. It is more like gang behavior. . . . That is what Congress has become.'"
And we can thank Newt for that. Too bad we can't call it treason and hang him for it. And some fools actually think he would be a good president to solve the country's ills.

Snake oil and shiny mirrors still attract the dumb and the naive. Fortunately, not very many of them now, down to 4% in one recent poll. And at least being in the race keeps him off the Sunday morning talk shows as a supposedly smart pundit.


. . . but not big enough

Clinton's former Secretary of Labor, who has been critical of Obama for not "going big enough," in the past rated this speech as "Two Cheers and One Jeer."

Two cheers for: (1) presenting it to a joint session of Congress to signal its importance and sounding more passionate and determined than ever before since the 2008 campaign speeches; and (2) for correctly identifying the problem.

But one jeer because "it's not big enough." That's of course what Reich said about the $800 billion stimulus -- and has been saying every since. It's not just that he's a scold. He's right. It's not big enough and it didn't do what was needed.

Reich is not without understanding the problem Obama faces. What he has done makes sence: he limits the total and puts the largest chunk of it into tax cuts in order to get Republican votes. Otherwise, it won't pass. The cuts are for payroll for the working class and tax credits for small businesses, not for the wealthy and big corporations.

The problem is that tax cuts by themselves don't really do much long range, because they are temporary. So we pass an inadequate bill as the only thing that will pass, and then it doesn't do much. So it makes it that much harder to do it again or to make it larger.

And then Repubs use it to proclaim "the death of Keynesian economics," as Perry did in the debate this week. That meme must be in the Repub catechism: if you can't stop a program you dislike, cut its budget down so it's not effective, then claim it doesn't work. Happens all across the board, time and again.

I keep trying to understand what it is in their core beliefs that makes them so absolutely certain they're right, so blind to evidence to the contrary, and so implacable in negotiations. How can you continue to believe in that myth that privilege for the few, whether it's profits or tax cuts, will trickle down to the poor people? And then there's that meme's twin: a rising tide floats all boats.

Bah humbug. Ask all the people out of work, losing their homes, having to live on handouts and family members, while the salaries of fat cats and CEOs and the corporate profits are at record highs. When are the little boats going to start floating?

Not until after Obama has been defeated in 2012, if the Repubs can pull it off. Their strategy, whether admitted out loud or not, is to make him look like a failure at the expense of the country and the ruin of the middle class -- so they can then take over the government.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Obama goes big

In his jobs speech to Congress tonight, Obama, as they say, "went big." Last week, rumors were that he was going to ask for a $300 billion jobs package. Today, it was leaked that he was "going big," quoting one of his economic adivsors as saying, "If you're not going to do something real, don't do anything." And progressive criticism has been that he didn't in the past go for a big enough stimulus.

So, tonight, Obama gave a speech that had fire and grit and some of the rhetorical cadence of his campaign speeches. I thought it was terrific. Democrats in the House chamber thought so too, as their enthusiastic applause and cheering indicated.

He began by saying the everything he was proposing had been supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the past. And it will be paid for. So you should pass it right away. That last line became a chorus that he repeated six or eight times in the speech: "you should pass it right now." Adding near the end, "You should pass it, and I intend to take that message to every corner of this country." And then he called on the American people to lend your voice, let Congress know, make us pass it.

He did not mention the amount in his speech, but aides have released the figure of $447 billion, more than half ($250 billion) will be for tax cuts for small businesses, the ones most likely to create new jobs with enough incentive. It will also extend the payroll tax cuts for another year, as well as unemployment insurance and infrastructure programs that add jobs -- but only for projects that are already approved: "No more earmarks. No more boondoggles. No more bridges to nowhere," he said in the speech.

Some memorable lines:

"While they’re adding teachers in places like South Korea, we’re laying them off in droves. It’s unfair to our kids. It undermines their future and ours. And it has to stop."

Quoting Warren Buffet that he pays a lower income tax rate than his secretary, Obama said, "And he has asked us to change it." Later he said, about asking the wealthy to pay more: "This isn’t class warfare. This is simple math. These are real choices we have to make." There were some boos from the Republican side.

On regulatory reform, he acknowledged that some regulations did need to be reduced, but he rejected the notion that we had to trade off the health, safety, and welfare of the American people; so he intends to keep regulations that meet the test of those standards. And he added:
"I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy."

As he moved to conclude, he said:
"I know there’s been a lot of skepticism about whether the politics of the moment will allow us to pass this jobs plan – or any jobs plan. Already . . . the media has proclaimed that it’s impossible to bridge our differences. And maybe some of you have decided that those differences are so great that we can only resolve them at the ballot box.

But know this: the next election is fourteen months away. And the people who sent us here – the people who hired us to work for them -- they don’t have the luxury of waiting fourteen months. Some of them are living week to week; paycheck to paycheck; even day to day. They need help, and they need it now."

It was after this that he said he would take that message to every corner of this country.

Good speech, excellent deliver: impassioned, forceful, and crisp.


Where is Gaddafi?

He has not appeared in public or on video in several months, but only in audio tapes. He claims that he is still in Libya and that he will never leave the land of his birth.

Libyan forces now in control of 90% of the country have put out conflicting reports: that they have him surrounded or that they don't know where he is.

Gaddafi is such a liar and such a manipulator -- but also such a megalomaniac that I think anything is possible. So my guess is that either:

(1) He escaped Libya months ago and is living well in another country, probably one that does not have treaties of extradition so that he can live out his life comfortably in exile. His family members who recently crossed over into Algeria will eventually join him there.


(2) That he intends to become a martyr and provoke a last-ditch battlefield assassination.

My hunch is #1 because I think ultimately he is more of a coward than a martyr.


Newt was there; yes, he was.

Newt's irrelevance to this process was confirmed in this morning's New York Times.

An article about last night's debate focused largely on the battle between Perry and Romney. Buried in the story was this paragraph:
"The debate organizers . . . placed Mr. Perry at the center of the debate stage. He was surrounded on either side by Mr. Romney and Michele Bachmann. The other candidates on hand were Representative Ron Paul of Texas, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Herman Cain, a retired business executive."'
Get it? They left Newt out completely. Which, for a narcissist like Newt, is the unkindest cut of all. Of course, he's not a serious candidate at this point. He just craves the attention and the boost for his book/video/DVD empire. Sarah Palin's dark twin.

Let's see if Newt demands a correction and if he gets it.


GOP debate reflections

There will be many more, but this was the first debate that included Rick Perry -- and he jumped in with both guns blazing, like the Texas bronco he is. He and Mitt Romney tried to turn it into the two many race it may eventually become. Perry is scary. Romney is just bland; sane, but about as consistent as a revolving door. He continuously changes but is consistent in his constant changing.

Nevertheless, of the two I would pick Romney without second thoughts. Perry calls Social Security a Ponzi scheme (it definitely is not; it is a securities-backed insurance program that would be solvent if our government would stop stealing it's reserves). He wants to get rid of the people electing their Senators directly. He has never "struggled with the risk of executing an innocent man," even though that very likely happened at least once since he's been governor.

Even more than his policies, it's his braggadocio swagger that puts me off. There is one picture from last night's debate that says it all in body language. Romney is standing tall and straight, smiling pleasantly, looking (for him) loose but contained, actually "presidential."

Perry stands to the side with some distance between them. His body language shouts COCKY. Chest thrust forward. Legs apart like he just got off a horse. Knees slightly bent in that ready-for-action stance. Bad-boy grin on his face. Arms out from his body with elbows bent, hands poised ready to draw his pistols from their holsters and shoot you dead. It shouts LOOK AT ME !!! I'M THE ONE !!!! I'M A BIG BRAVE MAN !!!! READY TO FIGHT THEM CATTLE RUSTLERS !!!!! It's the exaggerated way a comedian would stand if he was trying to caricature George W. . . Ugh.

Michele Bachmann sort of was lost in all this. She repeated her mantras, without a shred of back-up. Ron Paul ranted as usual. Cain preached.

Jon Hunstman -- for my money -- won hands down. He sounded like the adult in the room. And he was forceful for a change. He chastised the others, saying Republicans can't afford to ignore science and other evidence in forming policies. He touted his own accomplishments as governor of Utah, which are in fact impressive, to counter the volley between Perry and Romney about who accomplished more as governor. He's the only one with any foreign policy and international trade experience, having been ambassador to China.

Further, Huntsman gains points for exceeding expectations. Will it be enough for the nomination? No, but he will probably rise some in the polls as people take a second look. And it positions him well for a VP nomination in 2012 or for president in 2016. But this nomination is going to the one who can sound just sane enough to seem safe to the more reasonable voter and yet pander enough to the far right enough to be their second choice. Sounds like Romney.

Newt? The non-news about him deserves its own post.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Interesting footnote

Actually, should be headlines, not a footnote.

For all the ballyhoo among those trying to become the GOP standardbearer -- with one of the big issue being challenging Obama's health care reforms -- let's look at the record.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney signed into law the most comprehensive state health care plan. The Democrats take great delight in saying, apparently quite rightly, that it served as a model for the Obama plan. But that's not popular in Republican rallies, so Romney is trying to live it down, saying what is probably the only conceivable defense: it was good for Massachusetts but it's not right to impose one plan on the United States. It should be left to each state. No matter how good it is, the Tea Party crowd and hangers-on don't want government telling you what to do, no way, no how. It's socialism, Obama-care, bad, bad, bad.

The firebrand cowboy from Texas who is giving Romney a run for first place status likes to tout his successes in Texas on many fronts. He emphasizes more the economic success, which they call "The Texas Miracle." Turns out Rick Perry's miracle is not as great as first claimed.

So now the facts, Ma'am.

The state with the highest percent of people covered by health insurance: #1. Massachusetts.

#2. Vermont. #3. Minnesota. #4. Connecticutt. 5. Hawaii. 6. Pennsylvania. 7. Wisconsin. 8. Maryland. 9. New Jersey. 10. Delaware. Notice the color is mostly blue.

The state with the lowest percent of people covered by health insurance: #50. Texas.

#49. Mississippi. #48. Alaska. #47. Florida. #46. Oklahoma. #45. California. #44 Lousiana. #43 Arkansas. 42 North Carolina. #41 Georgia. Mostly red, with some blue CA and purple FL.

That should be good for a few questions at the next debate.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A test for Perry

Rick Perry left the Pametto Forum in South Carolina yesterday to go home to tend to the Texas wildfires. This means he skipped out on a major event for those who are trying to out-do each other in pandering to the Tea Party --

My first thought was this was a convenient excuse for him to avoid the intense scrutiny of the one-to-one interviews before a Tea Party audience, with Sen. Jim DeMint and the head of National Organization for Marriage asking the questions. One HuffPost headline referred to it as "Stepping into a mine field."

DeMint is Mr. Tea Party in the Senate; and the NOW man is also a constitutional scholar who is pushing the 14th amendment dodge on abortion, as well as the anti-gay marriage campaign. Plenty of potential traps there for anyone who has made less-than pure ideological statements in the past and now being grilled one at the time.

But this does seem to be a real state of emergency in Texas. Perry was quoted tonight as saying the fires are "as meaning-looking as I've ever seen."

So . . . here is the real test for him now. The Republicans in Congress are saying "no disaster aid" without offsetting cuts elsewhere. That, of course, at best, means long delays while they fight it out. And Ron Paul has even called for the abolition of FEMA.

Now, when Texas is going to need a lot of help, what's a governor to do when he also wants to win the favor of the most conservative voters, and his opponents are out-T-ing him?

Perry has a history of complaining loudly that FEMA wasn't giving them enough relief on disasters in 2008 and 2010. So he can't claim long-standing opposition to federal disaster aid.

Ah, politics . . . Ain't it fun to watch the other side sizzling in the hot seat !


Monday, September 5, 2011

Upholding the Constitution #2

Wow !! The Constitution came in for bashing today in S.C.'s Palmetto Forum.

All except Romney said they would challenge the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade and defy the Supreme Court's decision by invoking Section 5 of Amendment 14, which says that "no state shall deprive any person of life . . . without due process."

They claim that this gives Congress the right to defy the Court to protect the life of those unborn people. Of course, this depends on defining an immature fetus as a person. They invoke this sweeping right for Congress to carve out certain areas that the Supreme Court cannot overrule the "will of the people" which is, supposedly, wielded purely by their elected representatives in Congress.

I thought that was the whole purpose of our checks and balances -- to give the Court jurisdiction over interpreting the Constitution. Now, it seems, they can only interpret those sections that Congress decides they can. Which really means that they are not co-equal branches.

Romney showed himself to be the only moderate in the crowd (Huntsman didn't take part in the Forum) by saying he would not provoke such a confrontation. He explained that this would then open the possibility of Democrats defying the Court on decisions they didn't like.

Even Newt jumped on the bandwagon of pandering to the anti-abortion crowd. Duh . . . what did I expect? This was South Carolina, Tea Party Country.


Upholding the Constitution

Those who shout the loudest about "upholding the Constitution" seem to know the least about what it actually says. The same ignorance exists about the actual history of its writing and ratification.

The latest example: Conservative columnist Matthew Vadum wrote an op-ed in The American Thinker, which he titled "Registering the Poor to Vote is Un-American":
"It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country -- which is precisely why Barack Obama zealously supports registering welfare recipients to vote. . . .

"Encouraging those who burden society to participate in elections isn't about helping the poor. It's about helping the poor to help themselves to others' money. It's about raw so-called social justice. It's about moving America ever farther away from the small-government ideals of the Founding Fathers."

Vadum hasn't quite gotten over his hatred and contempt for ACORN and its effectiveness in registering people to vote. He helped destroy ACORN. The spate of state voter ID laws are cut from the same cloth -- contempt for poor people and the wish to discourage their voting.

This is more evidence that we have a profound schism about the basic principles upon which this country was founded, the principles upon which this "experiment in democracy" was crafted.

These are the same people, usually, who insist that the country was founded on Christian principles. In fact, it was more the principles of the Enlightenment that shaped the Constitution. It's true that many of the Founders were Christian, some of them specifically identified themselves as Deists, not Theists, however. But they were careful to write the Constitution to be a secular document.

These conservatives just don't want to believe that is true. It doesn't fit with their preferred myth.

Later, when Rick Hanson, who writes the Election Law Review blog, called Vadum to task for wanting to deny poor people the right to vote, he squealed that he had been misquoted.

Admittedly it's a fine point. I suspect most people missed the difference, as I did. Vadum doesn't say that it's un-American for them to vote; just un-American "to empower them" by helping them register to vote.

Here's a question for him: Is he opposed to any kind of social justice or just the "raw" kind?

He says helping them register to vote is "raw, so-called social justice." What's the difference in "raw social justice" and ordinary social justice? If the "raw" kind is bad, is the cooked variety also bad? Or is that all right?

Do you eat sushi, Mr. Vadum, or is raw fish also bad?

These are scary times.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

A few positive signs

Amid all the bad news, the negative political posturing, and the just plain dumb GOP primary battles going on, there are a few positive signs that should be mentioned.

1. Having already picked up the spontaneous endorsement of the Massachusetts Nurses' Association, Elizabeth Warren is now seeing labor unions in the state coalescing around her anticipated run for the senate against Scott Brown.

Besides being terrific to have her voice in Senate debates, it would take back one seat from the Repubs.

2. Increasingly, the Repub presidential candidates are flocking to see who can out-pander to the Tea Party crowd. Romney, of all people, recently told a N.H. newspaper: "The tea party isn't a diversion from mainstream Republican thought. It is within mainstream Republican thought."

Just keep it up, guys; the more you paint yourself with those extremist views, the harder it will be for your eventual nominee to pivot for the competition with Obama.

3. Some pundits are now saying that Rick Perry has finally lit a fire under the liberal Democrats, who are getting worried. So maybe we'll begin to see more active support for Obama from the Dem Left.

4. Sarah Palin is obviously not going to get in the race, despite her continued coyness. This Labor Day weekend was her last chance before the train has definitely left the station. She'll try to extend her spot in the media craze as long as possible to keep the speaking engagements and TV appearances coming, and she will still draw crowds; but her poll numbers continue to sink of those who would actually vote for her.

5. The McClatchy News Service reports on a survey it did with randomly selected small business owners, asking how they thought taxes and federal regulations were affecting their business prospects (a main talking point of Repubs trying justify their call for tax cuts and slashing regulation).

At least in this sample, all interviewed said, in short, taxes and regulations are not what's hurting their business. It's the overall economic situation: people without money to spend because they don't have jobs or they're losing their mortgage.

This fits too with polls of the people -- whose top concern is not taxes, not the deficit, but JOBS.