Saturday, October 31, 2015

Meanwhile . . . This is a really really big deal: Congress passed the debt ceiling/budget bill.

Almost lost in all the media (and ShrinkRap) attention to the Republican debate, here's the really big news of the week:   Congress passed, by wide margins, a bill that extends the debt ceiling to March 2017 -- which essentially takes it off the table as a political issue through the remainder of President Obama's second term in office.   The budget aspects of the bill are equally important:   increases in both domestic and military spending, paid for by cuts elsewhere rather than by tax increases.

It can truly be called a bipartisan bill.   It was negotiated by congressional leaders and the White House.   The vote in the House was 266 to 167, in the Senate 64 to 35.   Even though Democrats contributed a majority of the votes, it would not have passed without Republican votes.  In the House, 79 Republicans voted for it;  in the Senate, it was 18.

This seems obviously part of Speaker John Boehner's strategy of "cleaning out the barn" before he departs into retirement.   It could not have happened as long as he had to appease the Freedom Caucus (aka Tea Party) or else be ousted from his job.    Boehner took matters into his own hands and resigned -- thus leaving him free to actually do his job and get necessary legislation passed.   And thus he paves the way for Paul Ryan to come in and perhaps actually get control of the process . . . maybe.   It remains to be seen.

Congress will still have to pass appropriation bills to fund the spending proposals, but that will be minor skirmishes compared to the threat of shutting down the government that the Freedom Caucus was willing to do.   There will likely be fights over defunding Planned Parenthood and undoing Dodd-Frank bank regulations, for example.   And presidential candidates Rand Paul and Ted Cruz may try to grandstand.

But the essential framework has been agreed on.   The logjam seems to have been broken -- and the Freedom Caucus lost the ability to paralyze the government.   This is the big news of the week.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Furor over CNBC debate questions is a false issue

There is no doubt that the moderators of the CNBC debate were not terrific.   But the whole furor raised by the candidates themselves during the debate is a false issue to blame on CNBC.

The questions were no more "gotcha" than the other two debates, including the first one on FoxNews -- the so-called "political arm of the RNC."   Remember the big flap that Donald Trump raised about Megyn Kelly at that time.   What these whiners are asking for is a forum, not a debate.   They want to present their lies and voodoo budget math and not be questioned about it.

No, this is a smoke screen to conceal the fact that the candidates did not want to talk about their lack of credible plans to deal with the problems facing this country.   Anyone who now tries to pin them down on what they have said -- or question the math of their tax plans -- is going to be labelled unfair.

I agree with the sole comment issued by CNBC:   "Anyone who wants to be president should be able to answer tough questions."


A very bad debate night for Jeb Bush

Propped up and prepped by his weekend group huddle and propaganda fest in Houston, Jeb Bush came into the debate Wednesday night well rehearsed to deliver their strategized take-down of Marco Rubio by attacking his attendance record in the senate.  Naturally, it sounded contrived and scripted; and Jeb delivered his lines with that smile/sneer that he does, conveying condescension and superiority: 
"Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work. I mean, literally, the Senate — what is it, like a French work week? You get, like, three days where you have to show up? You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job."
There !!   You can almost see Jeb brushing off his hands, as if to say, "OK.  I took care of it, like you said."

Not so fast.    Young Rubio is quick on his feet -- and well prepared.   Noting that Bush has been likening his own comeback campaign to Sen. John McCain's 2008 loss in Iowa, only to come back to win New Hampshire, Rubio then referred to how many senate sessions McCain had missed campaigning in 2008 and said:
"I don't remember you ever complaining about John McCain's vote record.  The only reason why you're doing it now is because we're running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.
     [pivot to face the audience]
"My campaign is going to be about the future of America, it's not going to be about attacking anyone else on this stage.  I will continue to have tremendous admiration and respect for Gov. Bush.  I'm not running against Gov. Bush.  I'm not running against anyone on this stage.  I'm running for President."
Bravo, Rubio !!  The audience applauded him -- not Bush.   Well done -- especially that neat pivot to the high road.

In a Politico snap poll, 59% said that Bush was the clear loser of the overall debate, while 0% called Rubio the loser and 45% picked him as the overall winner.   And here's what the wonks at PredictWise came up with as the betting odds on the nomination winner:

At 3:00 pm before the debate: 
           34%  Marco Rubio 
           18%  Jeb Bush 
           18%  Donald Trump
           10%  Ben Carson 

The morning after the debate:  10/29             A day later:  10/30
          43%  Marco Rubio                                             43%
          20%  Donald Trump                                          20%
            9%  Ben Carson                                                   9%
            9%  Jeb Bush                                                       8%
            8%  Ted Cruz                                                       8%
Bush dropped 9%;   Rubio picked up 9%.

PS:  My glee at Jeb's come-uppance does not mean I want Rubio to be president.  In fact, he might be the most difficult one of the lot for the Democrats to beat in 2016.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Deadlock in Congress about to break? Is it possible?

The House Republicans voted Wednesday to nominate Paul Ryan (R-WI) as their choice for Speaker by a vote of 200 to 45.   Some of those supporting him are from the Freedom Caucus, the sub-group of ultra-conservative, oppositionists who gave John Boehner such a hard time and led to his resignation.

Let's see how long the Ryan honeymoon lasts and whether he gains more support or loses what he seems to have from the far right wing.

It's not just this fragile unity that gives cause for some optimism.   The other big factor is that announcement that a budget deal is imminent that has been quietly worked out among the staffs of Boehner and Pelosi in the House with the White House staff -- a deal that would not only extend the looming debt ceiling crisis but would provide a framework to prevent further crises over it until March 2017.

From what has been released, it seems that both sides have compromised, giving up some things they want.   Most notably, Republicans have agreed to some increased spending above the sequester limits, divided equally between defense and domestic programs.   The Democrats have agreed to some cuts in Medicare and Social Security -- but the changes don't seem to be major.   They are enough for the Republicans to be able to say they "cut entitlements," but don't do a lot of damage to Medicare and SS recipients.

Tax revenue will be increased but without actually raising tax rates.   It will come primarily from increased budgets for regulators and auditors to collect taxes from hedge fund managers and investors who have been getting away with avoiding taxes on their deals.

Everyone seems to assume that this budget bill will get passed while Boehner is still Speaker, thus giving Ryan a clean slate as far as budgetary matters are concerned.    Ryan is able to say he was not part of the deal (even though his staff worked on it), so the far right won't get to blame him from the get-go of his time as Speaker.

This seems like a good thing all around -- except the die-hard Tea Party crowd, who seem to have lost their power to derail any progress.   With Boehner leaving, he can cut a deal with Democrats without having to worry any longer that they will depose him.


Republican debate #3

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz came under a lot of fire for sticking to her plan of only six debates, while the Republicans have something like twelve scheduled.

I agreed with those who objected, saying that the Democratic candidates were suffering from the lack of exposure while Republicans got 24 million viewers watching them.

Tonight, I watched Republican debate #3;   and now I'm beginning to agree with the DNC Chair.   Frankly, I'm not sure I can endure watching even one more, let alone nine more.  True, it was pretty lively -- but nobody really said anything new.   Fortunately, I had recorded it so I could fast-forward through some of the bloviating.

Here are some impressions:
     1.  Jeb didn't accomplish what he needed to do.   He badly needed a home run.   He got a single.
     2.  My opinion was not changed even slightly about any one of the 11 people on stage.
     3.  People who might have paid less attention to the campaign until now might have a better sense of who John Kasich is.   Ted Cruz seemed a little less creepy but hardly less unlikeable.  Donald Trump seemed even more vapid in his empty boasts.   Carson looked a bit less sedated but still makes claims he can't possibly carry out.   Bush was a little more aggressive and displayed his wonkiness, but his attack on Rubio fell flat and Rubio came out ahead.

Nate Silver and his gang at FiveThirtyEight thought that Rubio and Cruz were the winners.

My predictions:
1.  Carson will remain first in polls -- for a while.
2.  Trump will slip a few more points.
3.  Rubio helped himself a lot.  Watch out, Trump.
4.  Cruz might gain a couple of points.
5.  Kasich will gain a few points.
6.  Otherwise, not much change in the standings.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Latest 2016 predictions from PredictWise

PredictWise is a non-partisan research group that considers poll averages and "bookie data" (how much people will bet) on the ultimate winners, plus historical data about voting patterns, etc.  Their track record is better than most polls. 

   1.  Who will win the Republican nomination?
           34%  Marco Rubio 
           18%  Jeb Bush 
           18%  Donald Trump
           10%  Ben Carson
   2.  Who will win the Democratic nomination?
           88%  Hillary Clinton
           13%  Bernie Sanders
             0%  Martin O'Malley
   3.  Who will win the November presidential election?
           58%  Democratic candidate
           42%  Republican candidate 

A CBS/NYT poll released Tuesday showed 7 out of 10 Republican voters say its too early to say for sure that they will vote for the one they currently favor.   The current volatility is also reflected in how quickly the PredictWise numbers change, particularly in the second place slot, flipping back and forth between Bush and Trump.


Putting Clinton's emails in perspective

Republicans tried to make Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server the smoking gun to bring her down.   It didn't -- and won't.   Because there is no there, there.    But here's an ironic note in it all.

There is no evidence -- or, indeed, even any strong suggestion -- that anyone hacked the Clinton email server, although there were five unsuccessful attempts.   Apparently it was pretty secure.

Now it has been reported that the CIA Director's email account has been hacked.   The CIA Director?  Lots of secrets there, probably.   Where is the outcry from Republicans about this?   Huh?  Oh, I see.   The CIA Director is not about to be their chief opponent in the 2016 presidential election.


Hillary Clinton warned the Republicans not to cut funding for embassy security. They didn't listen.

In the wake of the Republicans' latest attempt to pin the Benghazi disaster on Hillary Clinton, it's now time to put those same Republicans on the stand to defend this.  Quotes are from a Washington Post reported story last year. 
House Republicans cut the administration’s request for embassy security funding by $128 million in fiscal 2011 and $331 million in fiscal 2012. . . .

[In 2011] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Republicans’ proposed cuts to her department would be “detrimental to America’s national security” — a charge Republicans rejected. . . . 

House Republicans voted for an amendment in 2009 to cut . . .  funds for 300 more diplomatic security positionsUnder [Paul] Ryan’s [2014] budget . . .  more than $400 million in additional cuts to embassy security.
To be very clear, the Republicans were the ones who pushed for cutting funds for embassy security, and Hillary Clinton warned them that it would put Americans at risk.   They didn't listen then, and they're not taking any responsibility now for the results.   Instead, they're trying to blame the person who warned them.

And not once during the hearings did Hillary Clinton say "I told you so."


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

More on Jeb wanting out

Read the earlier post with Jeb's picture.  After I wrote that, I watched the video of that news conference where Jeb said he didn't want to "sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me."   Hearing his tone of voice, which was a combination of anger and whining, convinced me even more that he wants out.   It sounded like an 8 year old stamping his foot and saying:   'They're picking on me.  Make it stop . . . or I'll run away."

Jeb got into the race thinking he had the family connections and the money and that the presidency was his for the taking.    But the coronation got cancelled by a revolt of the angry people.


Biden has "dismounted the fence"

I applaud Joe Biden's decision not to run.  I just wish he had done it a couple of months ago, when we would have felt sympathetic instead of frustrated with him.

Charles M. Blow, columnist for the New York Times used this perfect phrase;  it carries just a hint of our annoyance with Biden:   "Vice President Joe Biden . . . dismounted the fence and decided not to run for president."


IMHO: Jeb wants out, but Bush clan won't let him.

Well, no, Jeb hasn't actually said out loud that he wants to quit the race.   But look at that face.  Read his body language and even his words.   Here's what he told Jake Tapper on CNN:
“If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, . . . I don’t want any part of it. . . . That is not my motivation. I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”
I agree 100% with a feeling of disgust with what the Republican campaign has become.   But, even so, that is not the way a winner talks.    The fact is that Jeb is not winning.    Depending on the poll, he's running anywhere from 4th to 6th place.

This past weekend, there was a big confab in Houston with all the family, political strategists, and big donors to take stock of Jeb's campaign and try to stop the train wreck.   It sounds like a desperate attempt to stave off desertion by the money guys.

But here's my theory:    It isn't just a desertion by the money guys.  They are at risk of having the candidate desert the campaign.  Not actually -- but his heart is no longer in it, if it ever was.  The fundamental problem isn't fund-raising.   The problem is Jeb.   First, he's neither as smart nor as good a politician as everyone thought.   And he's got a political party that is out of control and being wooed by outsiders who appeal to the anti-establishment, angry opposition.

In my opinion, Jeb doesn't want to stay in and lose.  I think he really wants out and that this meeting in Houston was an effort to pressure him to stay in.   Blame it on donor disenchantment, if you want.   I'll put my bets on Jeb's disenchantment.

You've got to want it.   And Jeb obviously doesn't want it enough to risk the humiliation of being the Bush who lost.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Holding police accountable. Proposed reforms in Georgia

All across America, we seem to be in a wave of "excessive use of force" by law enforcement officers, especially toward young black males who are unarmed.  Notorious cases have sparked outrage and demonstrations -- and revelations, often from the growing ubiquity of cell phone cameras or police body cams that weren't available in the past.

Public outcry intensifies when these officers are later acquitted by grand juries from any responsibility, despite what appears to the public to have been clear evidence of wrong-doing and excessive force.

Let's stipulate, with great respect, the difficult job that police officers face and that the vast majority are exemplary.  They have to approach suspects without knowing whether they are armed and violent or irrational and unpredictable from drugs.    And they often have to make split second decisions that may mean the difference between life and death -- their own as well as the suspects'.

But having acknowledged the difficulty, the egregious examples -- and the lack of being held accountable -- cannot be ignored.

Here's what's happening in Georgia.   A combined investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News examined police shooting cases over the past five years.   They found that, of 171 police shootings, not a single case against the officer even went to trial.  It turns out that the system is rigged in their favor.  To quote from the AJC article by Brad Schrade,

"Georgia is the only state that allows police officers facing indictment to sit in on the entire grand jury process, listen to all the evidence against them and make a statement at the end that can't be questioned or challenged by prosecutors or grand jurors."

For example, in a recent grand jury hearing on a police shooting of an unarmed black man, the officer testified for a full hour before the grand jury, complete with power point graphics, and no one questioned his testimony.   He was not indicted.

There is perhaps some justification for allowing police officers to testify, given that they may also be the officer charging a suspect in the case.    But why the special exemption from having his testimony even questioned by the prosecutor?   This does not give the alleged victim equal opportunity for justice.

This must change, in the name of justice and simple fair play.   At least the Georgia lawmakers are talking about making some changes.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

More on Clinton's remarkable performance

1.  Comments from Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos blog on Hillary Clinton's remarkable eleven-hour marathon against Republican stupidity and mendacity.

"Fox News cut out hours early. That pretty much sums up who won."
"The GOP just did more to unify the party base around Clinton and intensify her support than she could've ever managed to do on her own."

"Her restraint was unreal. Unflappable. Sober. It was a marathon designed to break her, but it was the Republicans on the committee who broke first, spittle flying in the final hours."

"The GOP's stupidity in all of this is epic. They should've cancelled the hearings after last week's debates, as it was clear she was on her 'A' game."

2.  Thanks to Andrew Breibant for pointing this out:  "In all, Clinton has spent almost 14 hours being publicly questioned about Benghazi. After a horrific terrorist attack occurred on September 11, 2001, during George W. Bush’s presidency, he spent one hour testifying to the 9/11 commission. That hour of testimony took place in private, and without even the full committee in attendance. 

3.  House Speaker John Boehner announced the appointments of eight Republicans to a Select Investigative Panel  to "focus on the grisly practices of big abortion providers. . . . At my request, three House committees have been investigating the abortion business, but we still don’t have the full truth. Chairman [Marsha] Blackburn and our members will have the resources and the subpoena power to get to the bottom of these horrific practices, and build on our work to protect the sanctity of all human life.”

Of course, this means more grilling of Planned Parenthood and its Cecile Richards.   Does this sound like another "Benghazi experience"?    Should we tell them that this will go the way of Clinton hearings and only make Republicans look even more ridiculous?   Or should we just let them fumble their way to utter ridicule?

Perhaps when Paul Ryan replaces Boehner as House Speaker, he will exercise more common sense and overrule these hearings.     Or . . . perhaps this is John Boehner's parting shot to get back at his colleagues who made life so miserable for him and then hounded him out of office.