Saturday, November 15, 2014

Obama is turning "lame duck" into "free duck"

There is this astonishing change in President Obama in the past week that has some people wondering if it's just bluster . . . and others saying "that's the man I voted for for president."

Others are wondering:  where has this Obama been?    Forceful, even combative, decisive, specific and focused.   Might things have been different if he had adopted this posture from the beginning?

Others explain:   Obama is finally free politically.   Not only free from ever running for office again, but now free since Nov.4th of ever having to protect vulnerable Democratic office holders in conservative states.

That's why he delayed acting on immigration until after the election -- and they lost anyway, in part because the hispanic voter turnout was probably affected.   And we gained nothing in exchange from those opposed to immigration reform.

In short, now he's got nothing to lose.   The worst they can do is shut down the government.   When they tried that before, it backfired on them politically.    They can impeach him, but it will take 2/3 of the senate to convict him.   They don't have the votes.   And, as we saw with 
Bill Clinton, being impeached but not convicted only boosted his ratings.

Besides, as someone suggested on msnbc last night, they may not want to establish the reputation for impeaching two Democratic presidents in a row -- and losing, especially when they have committed no impeachable crimes, other than in the minds of extreme conservative politicos.

So it seems there are two sides to the lame duck analogy.    This may be fun.


McConnell's response to Obama's "coming out swinging"

This is another rant against Mitch McConnell's hypocrisy.   It's more of the same, just even more blatant and demonstrable.   Here's what he essentially says:   When we win, it means you have to do everything our way;   when you win, you have to make concessions to us.

In his victory speech, McConnell even seemed a touch gracious, looking forward to finding areas where there could be agreement and get some things done.   Ok, we'll overlook for the moment that he was one of the main reasons nothing got done.

But then as soon as President Obama starts talking about what he plans to do with his Constitutional executive powers, here's McConnell:
"I had maybe naively hoped the president would look at the results of the election and decide to come to the political center and do some business with us.  I still hope he does at some point, but the early signs are not good. . . . We'd like for the president to recognize the reality that he has the government that he has, not the one that he wishes he had, and work with us."
What he's saying here, I think, is that the people have spoken, and they put us in charge of the senate, so . . . .    But the people also chose Obama to be president for four more years in 2012.  So, the president should just roll over and do what the Republicans want?

Let's look at history on this.  Thanks to Ian Reiswitz of Daily Kos for some facts.
McConnell is now sounding high and mighty about the will of the people.   What about the will of the people in 2008?

Democrats won big majorities in both the House and Senate and a landslide electoral victory for Barack Obama.   And McConnell's response then to "the will of the people?"
"We've gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign."
And that's what they did.    Filibustered bills that even had bipartisan support.  Blocked legislation at every opportunity, blocked appointments to the judiciary and the executive that diminished the effectiveness of government operations, worked as hard as they could to undermine the "unity government" that was the will of the people in 2008

McConnell even announced to his people that Obama should not be allowed to succeed at anything.

So, Mitch McConnell, get over yourself.    You may have won this round, but only to make you majority leader of the senate.  They did not make you king.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Obama comes out swinging -- climate change, immigration

Undaunted by the very bad Democratic showing in last week's elections, President Obama has come out swinging on some important initiatives.

While in China with President Xi Jinping, they announced "an ambitious joint plan to curb carbon emissions as a way to spur nations around the world to make their own cuts in greenhouse bases," according to an article by Mark Landler in the New York Times.

The commitment includes new carbon emission reduction in the U.S. and a first-ever commitment by China to stop emissions from growing by 2030.   The agreement had been worked out between the two nations over the past nine months

This is significant because we are the two top carbon polluters in the world, and action from us is essential to achieving a global agreement.

The second front we can expect some early action on is immigration, specifically an executive order that will slow the mandatory deportations.   Republicans in congress are again opposed to anything Mr. Obama accomplishes and have vowed to pass their own legislation.   In essence, the president is calling their bluff -- saying all along that congress should act on the bipartisan bill that has already passed the Senate.  But they have done nothing so far to bring the House along.   Obama's message to them is:   put up or shut up.

It's good to see him being proactive and seizing the initiative.    Let's hope it's not too late in the game.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

"You Americans Have No Idea Just How Good You Have It With Obama" -- a Canadian

Thanks to Daily Kos for reprinting this open letter from a Canadian neighbor:

"Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections. Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country's adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling, there's no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing, the deficit is rapidly declining, and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money. 

"America is leading the world once again and respected internationally — in sharp contrast to the Bush years. Obama brought soldiers home from Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden. 

"So, Americans vote for the party that got you into the mess that Obama just dug you out of? This defies reason.  When you are done with Obama, could you send him our way? 

"Richard Brunt 
"Victoria, British Columbia"


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ex-POTUS Bush the Younger actually said this

Thanks to progressive blogger "digby" for this:

"The man with the notoriously questionable National Guard record has been all over TV today [Nov. 11, Veterans Day] talking about his war hero Dad (and being allowed to shamelessly pimp his family as the Romanov Dynasty of America.) He said a lot of things that reminded me of what a nasty piece of work he is underneath his genial goofball act. But courtesy of Wavy Mcgrady, I see I missed the best George W. Bush quote in a very long time. And it's not even illiterate --- just ridiculous:

"SCHIEFFER: When former first lady Laura Bush joined us we turned back to the possibility of a Bush 45. So let's talk about the Bush dynasty here. Your mom says there have been enough Bushes running for President. What do you-- what do you two think about that?
"L'IL BUSH: Sometimes her prognostications haven't been very accurate. And no, no,
I think you have to earn your way into politics. I don't think anything is ever given to you.

"Yes. He actually said that."

The sad thing is that Georgie W. probably does think that he earned his way into politics and that nothing was given to him.    In fact, all he brought to it though was the affable front man puppet.    Powerful other forces, wealthy family backers, and Jim Baker and Karl Rove above all, opened the doors for him.

The one backbone-requiring thing he did was late in his presidency, when he finally stopped taking orders from Dick Cheney and asserted his authority over Cheney's wheedlings about a pardon for Scooter Libby.


Ebola in perspective #2: No active cases now in the U. S.

While we were so preoccupied with the election and its aftermath last week, some significant milestones in the Ebola crisis -- at least here in the U.S. -- went almost unnoticed.   The nurse, who defied two governors who tried to quarantine her despite having been shown not to have the Ebola virus, passed the 21 day observation period without herself or anyone who came in contact with her getting sick.

Both of the Texas nurses, who did contact the virus from the Liberian man in the Texas hospital, have been released from treatment hospitals as completely virus free.  And no one caught it from them.

Now the only remaining active patient, Dr. Craig Spencer, who became ill after returning from his volunteer stint taking care of patients in Sierra Leone, has been released from Bellevue Hospital as well and virus free.

So:  there are as of now no active Ebola patients in the United States.

Whew !!   It feels like we dodged a bullet.   The medical scientists were right, and the fearful politicians should have listened to them.    At the same time, it's possible to understand the fear -- both fear of the disease and fear of the consequences of failing in your responsibility to protect your constituents.   And the tendency when you're scared is naturally to over-react in the direction of protection.

So let's all breathe a sigh of relief and let the lessons learned become encoded in sensible policies and safety procedures.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Krugman calls conservative judges corrupt

Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman makes a serious charge against conservative judges who let political partisanship sway their court decisions.  He calls them corrupt.   And he warns that this would apply to Supreme Court justices if they destroy the Affordable Care Act over a badly worded sentence.
"So let’s be clear about what’s happening here. Judges who support this cruel absurdity aren’t stupid; they know what they’re doing. What they are, instead, is corrupt, willing to pervert the law to serve political masters. And what we’ll find out in the months ahead is how deep the corruption goes."
That's very strong language for ones who used to be held in the highest respect.   But I have to admit, I have thought the same thing in my dismay over some of their decisions.

Krugman is responding to the surprising fact that at least four of the nine Supreme Court justices voted to hear the appeal of the case that could gut the Affordable Care Act, rob millions of Americans of their newly obtained health insurance, and destroy President Obama's signature legislation and his legacy.

He describes the ACA as a "three-legged stool" -- no discrimination based on medical history, individual mandate, and subsidies based on income.   If any one of those is removed, the whole program will become unworkable.

The case depends on the wording of one sentence that establishes the subsidies and links them to exchanges set up "by states."   Now, when SCOTUS ruled on the constitutionality of the ACA, it struck out one part that more or less insured that each state would set up an exchange, lest they lose federal money for Medicaid programs already established.   To keep the federal money they were already getting for Medicaid, they had to expand it to include a stipulated wider range.    

So this wording made sense when it was anticipated that all -- or at least most -- states would set up exchanges.  The federal exchange was put in only as a sort of back-up;  it was not intended to be a major player in the program.   This was not mentioned when it failed so miserably in those first few weeks of implementation, but it is none the less true.   Besides all the real problems, it was trying to handle vastly larger numbers than it was designed to handle.

After SCOTUS removed that inducing penalty, however, about two-thirds of the states (mostly under Republican control) opted out of setting up an exchange, leaving residents of those states to use the exchange set up by the federal government.  Not a big problem, because that exchange is now working well;   millions have gotten insurance, and those who need it have gotten subsidies.  But without the subsidies, everything would collapse.

Krugman explains:
"As I said, everything else in the act makes it clear that this was not the drafters’ intention, and in any case you can ask them directly, and they’ll tell you that this was nothing but sloppy language. Furthermore, the consequences if the suit were to prevail would be grotesque. States like California that run their own exchanges would be unaffected. But in places like New Jersey, where G.O.P. politicians refused to take a role, premiums would soar, healthy individuals would drop out, and health reform would go into a death spiral. . . .

"Once upon a time, this lawsuit would have been literally laughed out of court. Instead, however, it has actually been upheld in some lower courts, on straight party-line votes — and the willingness of the Supremes to hear it is a bad omen.

"So let’s be clear about what’s happening here. Judges who support this cruel absurdity aren’t stupid; they know what they’re doing. What they are, instead, is corrupt, willing to pervert the law to serve political masters. And what we’ll find out in the months ahead is how deep the corruption goes."
Chief Justice John Roberts saved the ACA once before when he came up with the somewhat tortured reasoning that deemed the individual mandate to buy insurance a tax, which Congress has the power to levy.   One would think that he would again cast the fifth vote on what would not require any such mental gymnastics -- but would simply recognize that the wording obviously does not reflect the lawmakers intent.

In that decision, Roberts saved the ACA by finding a way to uphold one leg of the three-legged stool.   Will he do the same to save another leg, the subsidies?

The Chief Justice is said to care about the legacy of what will be referred to in history as "The Roberts Court."   It's already tainted by decisions such as Citizens United and Hobby Lobby -- and tainted by the accusations of bias toward Republican positions and toward business interests.    If they kill the Affordable Care Act, that tainted legacy will be carved in stone.


Monday, November 10, 2014

What to expect from a GOP senate #1

"Elections have consequences"    President Obama gave that phrase a place in history when he used it to Republic congressional leaders in a meeting to address budget issues and the threatened shut-down of the government.

We Democrats have to acknowledge that there are going to be consequences of the Republicans having won control of the Senate (for the next two years, at least).

The one I'm most worried about is getting federal judges confirmed, especially if there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court in the next two years.

But there is also the envionment.   Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is going to be the new chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee.   Described by Timothy Cama in The Hill as "an established enemy of Obama's EPA and skeptic of the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change," Inhofe published a book two years ago titled "The Greatest Hoax:  How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future."

It's one thing to have the embarrassment of the likes of Georgia's noisy but ineffectual Rep. Paul Braun ("evolution is a lie straight from the pits of hell") as a member of the Science Committee;   it's another to put an anti-science, climate-change denier as chair of the committee that has oversight of what he denies.   Especially when he is a major figure in the 
Republican causus.

Republicans in the House have already passed a whole slate of bills to roll back EPA regulations, but the Senate under Democratic control has not taken them up.   Now they have Inhofe and McConnell to open the doors for them.

It's going to be a dark two years.    But remember, in 2016 all those Tea Party zealots who came into the Senate in 2016 will be up for re-election.    And the balance will be reverse from what it was this year, because Republicans will have to defend almost twice as many seats as Democrats in 2016.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Election paradox: people vote for person who opposes issues they want

One of the puzzling paradoxes of this election was how often voters support the candidate who opposes the issues they care about.    Here are a couple of examples:

In Illinois, voters approved ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage and to put a "tax on millionaires."   Incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn supported both.    But voters elected the Republican who opposed both measures.    In several others states as well, voters approved a minimum wage hike by a big margin but elected conservative senators who even oppose the concept.

In Colorado, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall made reproductive rights the central issue of his campaign.   By a large margin, voters rejected --for the third time -- a proposed "personhood" amendment to the state constitution.    At the same time, they ousted Udall and elected Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, who is a co-sponsor of personhood legislation in Congress.   During the campaign he tried to distance himself from it, saying he did not support that policy -- but he has not withdrawn his name as a sponsor.

So what's going on?    We know from past elections that Republicans are great at getting people to vote against their own economic interests -- when they support tax-cutting, spending-cutting representatives, even when those tax cuts will benefit the wealthy and the spending cuts will hurt people like themselves who need government services.

Does this mean our electorate is blind and/or ignorant of the cause and effect relationship between whom they send to congress and what laws get passed?

Is it all just too complicated for the average voter -- so they vote for the one who appeals on some emotional level, regardless of the issues and the consequences?

I said during this campaign that I thought the American voters were smarter than the Republicans gave them credit for.   Maybe I was wrong.

Or is it that the misinformation team of FoxNews, talk radio, and conservative politicians do such a good job that people just wind up confused?   It does take some work, and good choices of news and opinion sources, to be that well-informed electorate mentioned in our Constitution.