Saturday, February 15, 2014

Weird Republican silent votes to raise debt ceiling -- thanks to Ted Cruz

One of the weirdest things to happen lately in Congress was the recent vote to raise the debt ceiling.

It began with Republicans trying to attach first one thing and then another to the bill to force some concession from Democrats.   Instead of taking the bait, as in the past, Democrats simply held firm and won the day . . . until . . .

Ted Cruz rose to the occasion to snatch a noisy defeat from the jaws of a silent defeat for his fellow Republicans.

Here's how that came down.    Realizing that they would hurt themselves if they forced another government shutdown over the debt ceiling -- with drastic consequences for the global economies -- House Republicans simply caved in and let it pass without any conditions with enough votes from Republicans to join all Democrats to pass it.

It passed with the fewest votes from the majority party (28) of any major piece of legislation since they've been keeping statistics on that measure.  

What would normally happen then is for the Senate to pass it by "unanimous consent," which means that they do not take a roll call and no individual votes are recorded.   Thus, in their re-election campaigns, they can't be accused by ultra right wing opponents of having cast a vote to raise the debt ceiling.

Ted Cruz would not go along, however.   He forced a vote by filibustering the bill.   Instead of passing with 51 Democratic votes, Cruz forced a cloture vote, meaning Democrats would have to muster 61 votes to move the bill forward.   That meant that six Republicans would have to join the Democrats -- or else let the nation go into default on its loans, or shut down the government again.

Republicans senators were furious.  Now they were going to have to cast a vote -- and, thanks to Ted Cruz, either way they voted would be a political liability for those up for re-election with right-wing opponents.

Never let it be said that Mitch McConnell lacks parliamentary cunning.   He corralled six colleagues (who had less to lose politically) and got them to agree to vote yes;  then he went to Harry Reid and got his consent to instruct the Senate clerk not to announce how each member voted.    They took the vote, but recorded them silently.   Supposedly, then, no one would know who the six were.   Except that a reporter asked the clerk for a copy of the vote -- and it was released anyway.

What a weird day.    The debt ceiling got raised without conditions.  But the reality of the utter disarray within the Republican party reached a new level of obviousness.

For his part, Ted Cruz took an unwarranted victory lap, claiming that the thing that his Republican colleagues feared the most was having to tell the truth.    Is he a secret Democratic operative?    He seems to be working for their side, for sure.  As Chris Matthews said on MSNBC's Hardball:   Cruz is not trying to lead the Republican party;  he's trying to reduce it to a small ideological few, isolated and combative, with him as the head of it.

Ach, meiner Gott.  Grosser Schadenfreude.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Venture capitalist wants to get rid of democracy

I had never given a lot of thought to what a plutocracy actually is, but 82 year old venture capitalist Tom Perkins has made it very clear:    it is a society that is dominated and ruled by a small minority of its wealthiest citizens.

Perkins made news yesterday when he told an audience in San Francisco that people who pay more money in taxes should get more votes.   If you don't pay taxes, you don't get a vote.  He went further:
"You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes.   How's that?"
Not only is that the antithesis of democracy and the principles on which our nation was founded, but it ignores some inconvenient facts.

If considered in terms, not of actual dollars but percentage of income,  poor Americans already pay a higher percent of their income than the wealthy.   It also ignores all the ways in which that kind of wealth accumulation through the financial markets is subsidized by the government.

On the other hand, how far are we from descending into a plutocracy?   When you consider the amount of money people like the Koch brothers are pouring into trying to buy a Congress that will benefit them at the expense of the poor and middle classes -- aren't we heading headlong into "a society that is dominated and ruled by a small minority of its wealthiest citizens"?


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Are Republicans in Congress coming to their senses?

 First, there was the budget that passed with some bipartisan support last month.   And now this week, both houses have voted to raise the debt ceiling without any strings attached.

Will they keep going and pass sensible immigration reform?   Stop trying to kill health care reform?   We'll see.


And then there was this

ABC affiliate station in Dallas, TX carried remarks by sports anchor Dale Hansen Monday night that are worth repeating.   He was responding to gay defensive star Michael Sam's coming out shortly before he will be considered in the professional football world's draft of new NFL players.

Hansen spoke about the hypocrisy in values of the NFL world when players are revered for their game performances despite horrible behavior off field:
"You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs . . . kill people while driving drunk? . . . caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes?. . . .  You lie to police, trying to cover up a murder? We're comfortable with that."
Having described the kind of behavior that gets excused when the player is valuable, Hansen then drove home his point about hypocrisy in the NFL:
"You love another man? Well, now you've gone too far! . . .  "I'm not always comfortable when a man tells me he's gay; I don't understand his worldBut I do understand that he's part of mine."
Now that is the kind of honesty and support from the straight world that makes all the difference in coming out now in 2014.   Maybe the NFL world is ready, after all.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

No, it does not violate his 1st amendment rights

Kent State University in Ohio suspended indefinitely one of their varsity wrestlers for sending a negative tweet about Michael Sam coming out and the prospect of having gay pro athletes.

Think about it.    We've come from gay people being verbally and physically abused to homophobes being suspended for making anti-gay comments.

Before someone trots out the "free speech" argument, let me point out that this student is free to keep sending anti-gay tweets.   He just can't exhibit such unsportsmanlike behavior and continue as a member of the varsity team.

That is not taking away his rightsit is exercising the team's right to choose its players based in part on their off-field behavior as it represents the team and the school.

It's the same principle that got Alec Baldwin dropped from his new MSNBC talk show gig after one show.   And the same principle that lets Rush Limbaugh continue to spew forth his bigotry -- as long as the stations that sell him air time don't care -- but also led a whole bevy of advertisers to drop him after he called Sandra Fluke a slut.


From Shirely Temple to Michael Sam -- in one day.

They are linked only by the fact that they made news in one weekend cycle -- and perhaps they define the beginning and the completion of an era.

Shirley Temple was the dimpled darling of Hollywood in the 1930's when the Hollywood studio system nurtured (and exploited) the careers of major film stars, including child stars.   Shirley Temple reigned supreme for as long as her cuteness didn't grow up.

Her films were suffused with goodness, always triumphing over meanness.   She was often cast as Miss Fixer-Up, melting the hard hearts of scrooges or using her cleverness to overcome the evil plots of bad guys.   Characteristically there would be a scene where Shirley Temple would stomp her little foot, cross her arms over her chest, and confront the bully or the scrooge -- and tell him what a bad thing he was doing and he should just stop.

It was a simple time when a good heart and kindness were the answer to everything, even though it might take a dimpled darling stomping her foot to get the point across.

I would never have made the connection if Shirley Temple had not died the day after Michael Sam announced he was gay.    But somehow,I feel that Shirley Temple -- or rather the enduring character she played -- paved the way for the overall positive reception that Michael Sam's announcement seems to be having.

Who would have thought we were quite ready for an openly gay National Football League player?    Well, we're not there quite yet.    Sam made his announcement a couple of weeks prior to the NFL draft for new players.    Some have said that, with his being co-Defensive Player of the Year among 2013 college teams, as well as other awards and honors, makes it highly likely that he will be picked in the draft for a professional team.

A few older manager types have sounded concerns for the effect on "locker room chemistry,  as well as for the amount of publicity they would have to deal with.  And sure, I believe there was one player who said he would be uncomfortable in the locker room -- and lots of ugly Twitter and Tweet comments from bigoted fans.    And then the media megaphones amplified them.

But overall there has been widespread support from potential teammates.   He came out to his own Missouri college team a year ago -- with no bad effects on team morale or team victories have been made known.   As of last night, 15 owners, executives, and coaches of NFL teams have released statements of support and willingness to welcome him to their teams based on his abiliity.   And NFL players themselves had applauded Sam for his courage and given lots of positive responses.  That's the goodness I'm referring to;  it shines far more brightly than the ugly slurs from a few.

The reception from media stars -- and from President and Mrs. Obama -- has been like a hero's welcome homeSo -- as a society, we have come a long long way when the fabled world of manly mayhem in the form of professionqal football can take in stride the prospects of a gay player in the huddle and in the locker-room.

Goodness has overcome meanness.  If Shirley Temple had anything to do with it . . . may she have an extra star in her heavenly crown.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

N. J. newspaper apologizes for endorsing Christie last year

The Neward Star-Ledger, New Jersey's biggest newspaper has published an editorial saying it regrets having endorsed Chris Christie in the 2013 re-election.  

Editorial page editor, Tom Moran, wrote that:
"Yes, we knew Christie was a bully.  But we didn’t know his crew was crazy enough to put people’s lives at risk in Fort Lee as a means to pressure the mayor. We didn’t know he would use Hurricane Sandy aid as a political slush fund. And we certainly didn’t know that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was sitting on a credible charge of extortion by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno."
What a sociological study this will be some day on what happens after bullies get taken down.  While they maintain their dominance through fear tactics, people are intimidated.  They either keep quiet or jump on the bandwagon and praise the bully.   Then when he has been defeated by someone else -- or exposed -- they come forth with their own stories.

Remember the scene in "Wizard of Oz" when -- I forget what actually happens, but -- the wicked witch just melts into a puddle.   And all the munchkins start dancing around with gleeIt's sort of like that.


PS:  On the other hand, even though he would have been Hillary Clinton's most formidable foe -- no election is a sure thing until the votes are certified -- is there any other Republican we would rather turn the Oval Office over to?   My hunch is that the GOP nomination will come down to a battle between Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, representing the establishment and the right wing.

Monday, February 10, 2014

They just don't quit . . . trying to defeat Obamacare

Republicans wound up with a major gaffe last week, trying to portray the CBO's report as saying the ACA would cause 2.3 million jobs to be lost.   Totally false.   It was about people voluntarily quitting jobs they were keeping only to get health care insurance.

Nothing seems to shame or embarrass them, however, in their zeal to kill the Affordable Care Act.   On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Roy Blount (R-MO) tried to put a new spin on it:
"I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can't be a good ideaWhy would we wanna do that?"
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) countered that argument, saying "In some cases, these people might have two jobs because of these health benefits … now they don't need to work two full-time jobs to get their health benefits."

Blunt wouldn't give in:  "The best face you can probably put on that is that people who don't wanna work don't have to work.  Surely that's not what we wanna encourage."

Think about what you're saying, Senator.   What about the spouses of your millionaires, who may not want to work.   Would you insist that they get jobs?  What about the people who want to work, but have physical handicaps or dependent children or parents who have to be taken care of?

No, SenatorThe "best face" you can put on it is this:   People who don't have to work, don't have to work.  Let someone who needs the job take it.

So, there !!


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Democracy . . . love it, hate it

Any observer of the legislative gridlock in Washington must sometimes think  there's got to be an easier way.

How much ink has been spilled, how many hours spent, and how much anguish generated in trying to get health care insurance for all Americans?  And still the fight goes on.

This week, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran simply announced that the Iranian government will henceforth provide health care insurance to all Iranians.

We could have done that, too.   If there weren't so much ideological and political opposition to government providing something that almost all advanced nations do for their citizens, we could have simply extended Medicare to all.

And then raised taxes to pay for it.   That's the way to do it.   It seems so simple -- until you throw politics into it.

China did something similar in becoming a world leader in the use and manufacture of solar energy panels, while we have to slog through smog and ice storms trying to take baby steps in climate control, with Republican ideologues and big money interests fighting against every one of those baby steps.

Would I swap it?    No, I wouldn't trade democracy for any other system.   I just wish we had a better informed citizenry who would send representatives to Washington who also respect evidence, logic and science -- and who have a touch of empathy and kindness for those in need, instead of cutting holes in the social safety net and selling out future generations by refusing to fix our infrastructure, stop planetary pollution, and enhance health, education, and welfare for all our citizens.