Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dems Declare Victory on the Spending Bill

The Senate vote of 67 to 32 passed the government spending bill, and the Democrats are calling it a victory. It seems that, at least on this one, they stood firm against most of the poison amendments the Republicans tried to attach.

According to Huffington Post's Michael McAuliff, here are some things about the final bill that got rid of things the Republicans tried to put in:
  • Prevents policy riders that would have restricted funding for Planned Parenthood and eliminated funding for Title X family planning programs, severely limiting women’s access to health care.
  • Prevents restrictions that would have reversed President Obama’s policy allowing family travel and money remittances to Cuba.
  • Saves 60,000 New Head Start slots created by the stimulus act and spends more than $550 million for the Race to the Top program.
  • Boosts the Student Aid Administration with nearly $50 million in new funding for loan servicing and collections.
  • Preserves the AmeriCorps program by stopping a GOP provision that would have cut the program.

Republicans are pointing to some things they got: delaying the phase-out of 100 watt incandescent light bulbs, putting some restrictions on funding for Obama's "czars," cutting the budget overall, and putting some restrictions on funding for the U.N.

These are not insignificant, but all considered it seems like a win for the Democrats.

On the other hand, concerning the separate bill on the payroll tax cut extension, the Republicans can claim a win in Obama's backing off his threat to veto the payroll tax cut extension if the Repubs insisted on forcing a decision on the XL Keystone pipeline approval. The final Senate bill on that extends the tax cut for 2 months and also forces a decision on the pipeline within 2 months. So it will all come back again in February.

The White House is spinning this as not a cave-in at all. It doesn't require the president to do anything that was not already planned -- it just shortens the time for the environmental review process. Of course, the unspoken thing is that the delay (in addition to their being a real concern about the environmental impact) would have taken it out of the presidential political process. Now it forces a decision during the campaign.

All in all, not as bad as I feared though.


Newt's dangerous radicalism

In Thursday night's debate, Newt Gingrich again brought up his plan to assault the courts that he deems "anti-American." He would subpoena and impeach judges and abolish courts for controversial decisions that he doesn't like. He received vigorous applause from the audience when he denounced the judiciary as "grotesquely dictatorial."

Only Ron Paul took issue with that, calling it "an affront to the separation of powers" and warning against letting the judicial system become a political football for partisan elected officials.

So is this just more of Newt's bombastic ideas? Not at all. We now learn that last year, through one of his non-profit foundations, Newt contributed $300,000 as start-up money to help build the movement that eventually resulted in recall of three of the judges in Iowa who voted to legalize gay marriage. It not only punished judges for a sound legal decision, but it politicized a judicial appointment system that was designed specifically to be based on merit and not politics.

Iowa has an admirable system: an independent panel selects potential judges based on merit, from which the governor makes his appointments. Then after a new judge has been in office for a specified period of time, there is a "retention vote" whereby a judge can be removed from office. It is intended to be used and, until this time, has been used, only to remove judges for corruption or malfeasance.

But in 2010, an organized effort by right-wing organizations -- sparked by Newt's help and including the hateful NOM --was successful in removing three courageous judges for a single decision that was unpopular enough with a conservative voting public. And they have vowed to get rid of the fourth judge next year when his retention vote comes up.

This is a serious erosion of our democratic government. Newt is a dangerous, totally unprincipled man. Don't let his facade of intelligence and plethora of knowledge fool you. The man is dangerous because he sounds so informed and so convincing.

Today over lunch a friend quoted what has got to be the most on-target description of Newt.
He's like a blender with the top off.
I think that needs qualifying though. It would not be just a mess of a fruit smoothy to be cleaned up. It's more like the blender is spewing forth toxic and corrosive chemicals that would cause great harm.


Friday, December 16, 2011

"Newt Goes Off the Deep End"

Huffington Post's headline about last nights' GOP debate: "Newt Goes Off the Deep End."

Yes, indeed, he did; but the crowd liked it, and nobody seemed outraged or challenged him. In full high dudgeon, Newt declared he would "get rid of the liberal, anti-American courts" (big applause). He claims that the Constitution's balance of powers does not, in fact, make the courts the arbiter of laws, so the Congress and the Executive must "take back the power" from the "anti-American courts." Specifically, he pledged to abolish the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, to ignore some Supreme Court decisions, and to subpoena judges to come before Congress and explain their decisions when they displease him.

Since when does the president have the power to just abolish the court system because he doesn't like their decisions? Or to intimidate judges by grilling them in public hearings? This is the same Newt that a while back was likening Obama to a fascist. So now he wants to be a dictator himself?

Bachman countered Newt's saying she got her facts wrong (about his work for FreddieMac) by declaring that PolitiFact had said everything she said in the last debate was true (see Comment #1). Only problem: PolitiFact immediately sent out a tweet, saying it had said no such thing -- making her appear to be lying about not lying.

Huntsman said something refreshingly new: Illegal immigration is not the problem. In fact, the number of illegal immigrants is way down, which he says, is a sign of our terrible economy and Obama's fault. "There's nothing for them to come here for."

Romney attacked Obama for a weak foreign policy stance on Iran:
"A foreign policy based on 'pretty please'? You've got to be kidding."

It was quite a night.

Santorum wants to bomb Iran. Ron Paul: "We don't
need another war."

Perry (trying to be cute since he can't be astute): "I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses."

Bachmann: "I'm 55 years old, and I spent 50 years as a real person."

Gingrich: "I'm very concerned about not appearing to be zany."
(This was actually a dig at Romney, who had called him zany.)

The only sane person on stage was Jon Huntsman: "I'm not going to sign those silly pledges. And you know what? I'm not going to show up at a Donald Trump debate."

Whew. At least Iowa will be over in 3 weeks.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Newt's fall begins

I agree with what you're thinking. I'm sick of hearing about Newt too. But for right now, I'm not able to suppress the necessity to blog about him. Especially when the news is good.

Two new polls out today, taken this week, show him falling from the lead in Iowa. In a Rasmussen poll taken on 12/13, he is in second place behind Romney (23% and 20%) -- which is quite a reversal from the same poll a month earlier, when Newt led Mitt by 32% to 19%.

That a pretty quick drop of 12% points -- sound familiar?

Significantly, his loss didn't help Romney. Paul got the most (up 8% to a solid third place at 18%). Bachmann and Perry also picked up some of the loss.

The Public Policy poll of Dec 11-13 has Newt neck and neck with Paul at 22% and 21% with Romney trailing at 16%. This also shows that Newt had dropped five point (27% to 22%) just in the past 10 days.

So it's still volatile. Which makes tonight's Fox News debate interesting (for those of us who like political drama, even when we don't like the candidates). It's the last one before the Iowa vote on Jan 3rd.


Congress' bad polls results

With approval ratings this fall ranging from 9% to 15% -- the lowest ever -- Congress members should be worried about re-election. Now comes more specific polling from the Pew Research Center.

"Do you want to see most members reelected?": Yes 20%, No 67%.
"Do you want to see your member reelected?": Yes 50%, No 33%.

"Which party:
. . . . is more extreme in its positions?": Rep 53%, Dem 33%.
. . . . is more willing to work with other side?": Rep 25%, Dem 51%.
. . . . can better manage gov't?": Rep 35%, Dem 41%
. . . . is more honest and ethical?": Rep 28%, Dem 45%

As a subgroup, Independents are even more dissatisfied: Only 15% want most reelected, while 73% say no; and regarding their own representative's reelection, only 37% say yes and 43% say no. That could be decisive in close races.

All incumbents should worry. Republicans should worry much more.


Newt's "oops" moment

Well, apparently it's not just big-mouth Newt himself that sometimes says outrageous things. His campaign staff has just made a big oops.

It seems that the Gingrich campaign web site posted an article from the Christian Broadcast Network News -- a puff piece about the wives of three candidates, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Newt Gingrich.

The only trouble was the headline: "A Tale of Three Wives."

On the Gingrich web site?

Oops !!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

WHY ? ? ?

Once again, double headlines about Dems "caving" on one more issue -- and then another.

President Obama caved in and abandoned his threat to veto the Defense Appropriations bill because it contained language that would permanently enshrine the president's right to order indefinite retention of American citizens suspected of terrorism.

That's right: American citizens, arrested in the United States -- not in a war zone -- and held without trial . . forever, if the president so chooses. Since he threatened to veto it, Obama is not likely to use it, but what if Newt is elected president -- or any other one of the Republicans?

Our basic human rights (habeas corpus) should not be vulnerable to an unscrupulous, or panicked, human being, even if he was elected president. Look at the prospects the GOP is putting up right now !!!

And then, right on the heels of that cave-in came the announcement that the Senate Dems had caved in on the surtax on millionaires that was to balance the extension of the payroll tax extension.


Because the Republicans did what they always do -- they just say no, and no again, and they just keep saying NO -- knowing the Dems will cave. It's blackmail, pure and simple.

In the case of the indefinite retention: no appropriations bill by Friday, and the government shuts down. Leave in the millionaires tax, that bill doesn't pass, and payroll taxes go up on working class people by $1000 next year.

But caving only increases the strength of the blackmailers the next time. I say: bite the bullet. Let the Republicans pay next November.


Good news poll #2

Add to the poll results I posted Monday, showing Obama leading both Romney and Gingrich in South Carolina and Florida, the following:

A Public Policy Poll in Virginia now shows Obama leading Romney 48% to 42% and ahead of Gingrich by 50% to 43%. Virginia went for Obama by 6% in 2008 but then elected a Republican governor in 2009.

It's too early for these to have a lot of reliability, but -- for what it's worth, things seem to be swinging in Obama's favor.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hate group member (naively) sports "Glee" t-shirt

The Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church seems to have little other purpose than trying to convince America that God is punishing us for accepting gay people.

They do this mainly by publicity stunts, like picketing funerals, holding signs: "God Hates Fags," "American is Doomed," and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." Funerals they have picketed include those of: Matthew Sheppard, Elizabeth Edwards, Michael Jackson, those killed in the Tucson shooting, and several soldiers killed in Iraq. Any place they think will have photographers and TV cameras present.

This morning, one young woman showed up with her picket signs wearing a tee shirt from the hit show "Glee," arguably the most gay-friendly show on TV right now. HA !!

When asked by the photographer, she said she didn't know anything about "Glee," that it was just a tee shirt her sister had given her to wear this morning.

Not that it will change these people's mis-directed hatred, but it was a momentary lighter moment in one of the most tiresome bits of Americana. I have friends who live in Topeka, where the church is located and where -- for years -- they have had to endure their loud preaching and protesting from a down-town street corner on a daily basis.

Nor are they to be lightly dismissed. Last year they won their case at the U. S. Supreme Court, where they had been sued by the father of a fallen soldier whose funeral they had picketed. As most constitutional scholars agree, such protest is protected by the Right to Freedom of Speech.

It may be a right, but it ain't right. Isn't there also a right to privacy?


Monday, December 12, 2011

Good news poll

NBC-Marist polls, taken in South Carolina and Florida last week, have some good news for Obama. But, first, the Gingrich tide continues to roll three weeks before Iowa.

In South Carolina primary: Gingrich 42% - Romney 23%.
In Florida primary: Gingrich 44% - Romney 29%.

But here's the good news concerning the general election poll, pairing Obama one-to-one with each of them:

In South Carolina -- one of the most reliable Republican states:
. . . Obama 45%, Romney 42%
. . . Obama 46%, Gingrich 42%

In Florida -- a key battleground state:
. . . Obama 48%, Romney 41%
. . . Obama 51%, Gingrich 39%

Damn, that feels good.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

GOP nomination is now Newt's to lose

I have some pride in my ability to read the political tea leaves. But I have to admit that I've been very wrong about Newt's chances of winning the nomination. I don't think I'm wrong about Newt and his character, his impulsivity, his narcissism and grandiosity, his divisiveness, and his often crazy ideas. But I have been wrong about his political and debating skills and specifically wrong about his ability to overcome all his baggage of affairs, divorces, and changing positions.

Last night, he more than held his own in the ABC debate in Iowa. Going in with all the guns aimed at him, he wound up scoring points rather than playing defense. He scored points by not dodging a single controversy he has created but by answering forthrightly, succinctly, and always staying on point. When others recited their talking points, Newt was like a laser, going directly to the core of each issue. I have to admit, he was impressive.

Conservatives who are looking for someone who knows how Washington works, who can stand up to the challenges, yet who speaks their language of ultra conservative views of government and can fire up the base -- this may be their man. At least for the time being.

In what should have been the most difficult moment for Newt, he triumphed. The question was posed to all the candidates: Should voters consider marital fidelity in making their choice for president? Each one was asked to respond in turn -- with Newt being the last called upon. The others all were somewhat cautious, answering along a spectrum some version of "yes, but it shouldn't be the only thing." Perry was at one end ("If you cheat on your spouse, you'll cheat on your business partner"); perhaps Mitt at the other end, simply talking about the importance of trust. Finally, Diane Sawyer turned to Gingrich and asked him to "close this out for us."

Gingrich's answer could not have been better (given the spot he was in). He first acknowledged that it is a real issue, that people have to feel this is someone they can trust, and that they have every right to ask questions about it and should. Then he acknowledged that he has made some mistakes in his life but said he is also now a 68 year old grandfather, and that he hoped people would look at who he is now and that he has been delighted at the way people are doing that.

I still detest the man but couldn't help admiring his skillful answers and his standing up with some grace under fire. That in itself gained him points.

Newt did nothing tonight to diminish his standing as leading by big margins in Iowa (and S.C. and Florida). He is not going to lose this nomination in the debates. With all his baggage, he still can give the impression of being the smartest and most mature one on stage. He has a talent for the zinger, delivered with the air of cool rationality. And he defends (with concise reasons) even the outrageous statements he has made -- e.g., his latest, saying Palestinians are "an invented people."

Probably the two most remembered lines of the debate will both be ones that hurt Romney. (1) In response to Mitt's painting Newt as a Washington insider, Newt waited his turn -- then calmly but with rapier-like thrust, simply turned to Mitt and said: "Let's be candid. The only reason you didn't become a career politician is because you lost to Ted Kennedy in 1994."

(2) Then, responding to Perry's misquoting from Mitt's book about health care mandates, Mitt said he was wrong and offered a $10,000 bet to settle it.

Which, of course, reinforces the image of Romney as part of the 1% and out of touch with most Americans. News commentators were quick to point out that $10,000 is 3 months income for the average Iowan.

Newt had a good night. I repeat: he will not lose the nomination in the debates. Will the establishment Republicans be able to stop him? Will his discipline and self-control be able to stay the course?

That remains to be seen. "President" Gingrich is terrifying. "GOP nominee" Gingrich should be a gift to the Democrats. I'm not so sure of that. He is a formidable opponent. And, further, the scary thing is that I'm not so sure we can still rely on him to self-destruct. He was certainly in masterful control of himself last night.