Friday 25 October 2013

Benghazi, and Hillary as Commander in Chief

If Hillary Clinton runs for president, you will hear the word “BENGHAZI” about five billion times between then and election day. The conservatives know that’s all they have, to stop her: not only does she beat every Republican in head-to-head polls, she leads Rick Perry right in Texas, and Rubio and Bush in Florida. Ouch!

During Bill Clinton’s tenure in the White House, no less than five investigations of Hillary were undertaken by Republican investigators. Travelgate, Filegate, Whitewater, the works. And the Republicans came up empty. Hillary is the most vetted candidate on the planet.

But they haven’t given up on Benghazi. They have, however, given up on tell the truth about Benghazi. So…

FIRST, the debunking.

“Hillary knew about the requests for more security in Benghazi, but she chose to do nothing, she went AWOL! Hillary and Obama let them die! They told our troops to stand down!” Um, no. Obama had the CIA response going within twenty four minutes, which is positively miraculous, and the first military unit responded shortly thereafter. There were limits to what the U.S. response could accomplish because some units were too far away.

“They should have brought in air support!” Um, no. Not in a constricted urban environment with the risk of heavy civilian casualties and other collateral damage.

“Hillary has blood on her hands!” Um, no. That would be the terrorists who did the actual killing.

“We still don’t have all the details, we need more investigations!” Um, no. No less than eight committees in the House and Senate have already probed this, and found no wrongdoing by Hillary or Obama. Perhaps that’s why the wingnuts want more investigations – the truth which emerged in the first eight investigations didn’t fit their hang-em-high narrative. Even some Republicans are sick of Darrell Issa’s incessant efforts to keep this “scandal” alive. Arch-conservative Bob Corker from Tennessee finally groaned "I feel like I know what happened in Benghazi. I'm fairly satisfied."

“Hillary covered it all up, she punished witnesses and prevented them from talking!” Um, no. She not only called for an independent review board, she put members of Republican administrations on it. The board cleared Hillary of wrongdoing, just like the eight congressional investigations did, but she still took full responsibility, carried out all the board’s recommendations, and punished a few State people who did drop the ball. And there was no witness-tampering, either.

“Hillary fiddled with the talking points!” Um, no. The talking points were edited by a State diplomat who was a Cheney protégée and Bush appointee, and then approved by the intelligence community, the aim being to conceal the identities of the perpetrators in order to protect the ongoing investigation.

“Hillary was just putting on an act when she testified before the House committee!” What the…? You want to see actors chewing the scenery on Capitol Hill, feel free to enjoy the ouvres of colossal hams like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

“They refused to call the attack terrorism!” Um, no. This is a lie so egregious that a report from CNN -- always reluctant to debunk conservative nonsense – was forced to shoot down Mitt Romney during an actual presidential debate.

“This never would have happened if a Republican was running the store!” Um, no. There were a dozen attacks just like this one during the Bush era, not even counting the attacks in Baghdad, and I didn’t hear Peep One from the Republicans. Also, Bush lost 3000 on 911, in part because he refused to listen to the intelligence warnings before 911, and 4000 to terror attacks in Iraq. And the Republicans cut funding for embassy security, which contributed directly to the debacle in Benghazi.

And keep in mind that terrorists around the world have made it patently clear that killing Americans is among their chief goals. America has about three hundred embassies and consulates around the world. Every one of them is a terrorist target. Then add all of the diplomatic personnel around the world, most of whom live outside the embassy; then add all our military personnel around the world, and our tourists, and our businessmen. Giving all these people perfect round-the-clock protection is a logical impossibility. Eventually, the terrorists are going to get a win. Eventually, they will kill.

One thing that is going to perpetuate this nonsense even further, is the fact that the leader of this anti-Hillary jihad, Darrell Issa, could have a real fight on his hands, keeping his House seat in November 2014. The shutdown nonsense put a lot of GOP House seats in jeopardy, including his. So expect more “BENGHAZI” from him, all next year.

SECOND, the one element in all this which hasn’t gotten enough attention is when Rand Paul bellowed that Hillary is unfit to be Commander in Chief. Let’s just take a look at that. Let’s look at the top contenders for the 2016 presidential race, and see who best measures up as Commander in Chief.

Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush come from the ranks of governors. Their experience in foreign policy and national security? Zero.

Paul Ryan? All he knows is budgets, and even in that area he sucks. He has no experience in the committees on foreign relations, defense, or national security.

Ted Cruz only arrived on the national scene in January. At one point he hollered that we ain’t got no “dog in the fight” in Syria. Which is his entire national security resume.

Marco Rubio has been in the Senate two years. He has a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee, but has done nothing there but keep the seat warm.

Raul Paul has three years in the Senate. He sat on the Homeland Security Committee where he famously demanded that the Department of Homeland Security be cut by a stunning 43 percent. He had a few months on the Foreign Relations Committee, and attracted ridicule for fighting the entire Senate on the Patriot Act, whining about Obama acting in Libya without consulting him and his pals, and trying to filibuster the nomination of the CIA chief because, Emily-Latella-like, he totally misunderstood the Obama position on drone attacks. Um….never mind!

Can you imagine any of these guys sitting ten feet away from the football containing the nuclear codes?

Biden has a better track record than any of the Republicans, by a mile. Biden joined the Senate when Marco Rubio was potty-training and Paul Ryan was mastering a tricycle. Biden sat on the Foreign Relations Committee essentially forever, chairing the Committee twice. He played a central role in the successful end to the war in Yugoslavia. During the 2008 presidential campaign, so many of the other candidates deferred to him on foreign policy and national security that it became a running joke. “Joe is right, Joe is right, Joe is right.” So, he qualifies and Commander in Chief. Which is why Obama chose him as running mate.

…And now for poor, terribly unfit Hillary Clinton. Hillary had eight years in the Senate – more than Cruz, Rubio and Paul combined. She served on the Senate Armed Service Committee, the Senate panel on Airland, the panel on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, and the panel on Readiness and Management Support. She also was commissioner of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the U.S. agency which manages our relations with our foreign security partners.

Hillary was so successful in building relations with the other party that Elizabeth Dole used her as a model; she even hung out with the hard-core Christian conservatives at the Senate Prayer Breakfast.

After 911, she fought for security improvements in New York, fought for health assistance for first responders (getting a big thank-you from the NY firefighters), reviewed homeland-security payments to first responders and communities, fixed civil-liberties problems in the Patriot Act before voting for it, and received many intelligence briefings on crises around the world.

Afghanistan and Iraq: Hillary got one-year limitations on congressional authorizations, visited the troops in both countries, reported on the Iraq insurgency, criticized the Deputy Secretary of Defense for his outlandish Iraq predictions, criticized Petraeus’ status report on Iraq, critiqued al-Maliki’s fitness as Iraqi leader, and demanded progress benchmarks in Iraq legislation, all while walking a fine line between the hard-core war supporters and the opponents.

The military and national security: she introduced a plan to increase army strength, fought to keep bases open and provide health care to veterans, reviewed generals and admirals for confirmation, moved to have the Iranian Revolutionary Guards labeled a terror organization, and voted to tighten our borders.

Hillary’s record as Secretary of State was dazzling: she was the best Secretary at least since Dean Acheson. She repaired the extensive damage caused by Bush, in relations with foreign countries and in the state of morale within the Department itself. She fought for a broader diplomatic presence abroad, pushed the Department into more global economic issues, used her Senate Armed Service experience to review the objective of our embassies, worked to help women and food programs around the world, and expanded the Department’s use of social media to sell the American message. She set a record by visiting 112 countries, some never seen by a Secretary of State before.

And as Secretary she showed the ability to think and fight effectively like a Commander in Chief would. She overcame the Vice President’s objections to get more troops to Afghanistan, staged a last-minute rescue of a Turkish-Armenian accord, repaired the U.S. image in ultra-macho Pakistan, stood up to China on internet freedom, got a big thank-you from Obama for her successful handling of the Arab Spring, drafted a plan to train the Syrian rebels who are not affiliated with al-Qaida, participated in the bin Laden operation, and met Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

So….if you got these nine resumes, who would you hire, to lead our troops?

Yeah. Thought so. 

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Whining about the Obamacare website


Let’s look at the rollout of big programs in the past.

The New Deal rollout in the 1930s: the conservatives howled that the rollout of these programs was the first phase in a socialist takeover of the government and the country. FDR laughed it off: he said he was just throwing a dozen ideas out there, ready to kill the ideas that turned out to be stupid and move on to the next one. Some of the programs didn’t work, some of them were shot down by the courts, and some outlived their usefulness – contrary to conservative fears, most are gone now, having completed their work. But they still saved America from catastrophe. Even though the entire rollout was beset with setbacks, courtroom challenges, political backlash, and finally a concerted conservative push to stop FDR from passing any legislation of any kind. Twelve years of chaos.

Social Security: getting the first check to the first recipient took TWO YEARS. By Year Five, the system had only paid out $35 million total. It took years of tinkering to get it right.

Medicare and Medicaid: also a messy, controversial start, and we’ve been reforming and tinkering with them ever since.

Medicare Part D: George Bush created a total catastrophe, in part because there is no mechanism for negotiating drug prices, which costs a staggering $50 billion a year. Ask a conservative why they’re complaining about Obamacare which will save us tons of money, but not complaining about Medicare Part D which has helped explode our national debt. And then remind them that when Bush had a bad launch of Part D, liberals stepped in to help clean up his mess, because liberals would rather attack America’s problems than attack America’s conservatives. But the conservatives would rather slit their wrists than cooperate with the health care effort.

Rolling out big programs takes time and there will be glitches. The best-designed website in the world is going to crash if eight million people hit it within the first 48 hours: in fact that is one of the most popular ways for hackers to crash websites. That flood of applicants is not a sign that the website is bad: it’s a sign of how desperate the need for Obamacare is. And Obamacare still managed to process 467,000 applications in 19 days, not to mention the applications coming through the phones and the other venues, and the customers applying at the state exchanges (when the conservatives aren’t blocking them), and the people taking advantage of the Medicaid expansion (when the conservatives aren’t blocking them).

If the conservatives were willing to comply with the Obamacare law, and with the Medicaid expansion, and the exchanges, instead of trying to destroy all health-care efforts so as to embarrass a black president, can you imagine how much further along we would be? Or better yet, if they hadn’t used parliamentary tricks to block the public option which would have saved us billions? And finally catch America up to every civilized country on earth, on health care?

Want another illuminating comparison? Facebook. Eight million people wanted to get into the Obamacare site in two days. You know how long Zuckerberg took to get that many members on his site? It wasn’t two days, it was two years. And Facebook doesn’t involve all the complications that Obamacare does.

An even better comparison? The current scandal over Texas voting. Texas, freed from the Voting Rights Act by a craven Supreme Court, has imposed impossible new restrictions on voter identification, throwing women out of voting places because their voter ID has their middle names as middle names, while their driver’s licenses have their maiden names, or whatever. The conservatives in the state legislature promised that the 1.4 million people who had these problems would get free IDs. So they rolled out that ID program, right when Obama was rolling out Obamacare. How many people actually got their Texas IDs? Fifty. Out of more than a million. Is any conservative complaining about this terrible roll-out?

This is what Obama and Sebelius should be saying, instead of hanging their heads like two basset hounds who got caught peeing on the floor. 

PS Likewise Romneycare in Massachusetts. First month’s enrollees? 123 total. Obama beat that by 400,000.

PPS The Republicans are celebrating the $400 billion rollout of the F-35 fighter plane which the services don’t want because it doesn’t work. 

First crack at handicapping 2016

We do have preliminary polling data for the race in 2016. Yes, it’s only 2013, but the numbers are a good place to start because most of the potential candidates are well-known, so we can factor out name recognition for the most part.

In head-to-head polls from this year, Hillary beats any Republican challenger. Christie and Bush were the only ones to come within single digits of her.
Biden loses to Christie, and ties Bush and Ryan.
Cuomo loses to Christie and Ryan, and ties Rubio.

Comparing favorables and unfavorables, Hillary is up by plus 15 to 20 even after the Benghazi fuss on the Hill. Biden is up a bit.
Christie is up by around 20, Rubio is up around 10, Ryan and Paul are up a bit. Bush is a bit underwater. Cruz is underwater in every poll.

In short, with Hillary the Dems win; with anyone else it’s a tough fight. The GOP does better with Christie in particular, Bush and Ryan, not so well with Paul, Cruz and Rubio.

The best deal for Democrats is Hillary v Cruz. Team Red does best with Christie-Cuomo.

Monday 21 October 2013

The civil war among GOP money men


A civil war is well underway in the Republican party, between the moderates and the tea-party extremists. A key front in this war is the money war. Several conservative fundraising groups are choosing sides in this battle, and will essentially be funding rival slates of candidates in the 2014 elections. In at least one major race, Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky reelection bid, the two factions will each have their own candidate to support.

The McConnell situation is an example of a key issue dividing the two factions, the issue of primarying. Primarying, of course, is what happens when a relatively pragmatic Republican, who could actually win his general election race against the Democratic nominee, is attacked in the primaries by a tea-party conservative, who would face a tough fight in the general election. In other words, pragmatism versus purity. Currently the extremists want to primary legislators who went wobbly during the shutdown fight; the pragmatists want to keep those legislators so they can hold onto the House and try to take the Senate.

So who is funding the pragmatists and who is funding the tea party?


Freedomworks is a group run by an economist from the discredited “Austrian school” of economics. Although their economic ideas are silly and Randian, their politics are entirely pragmatic. They have been bankrolled by veteran Democrat-hater and check-writer Richard Scaife, the tobacco industry, Verizon and AT&T, and so forth. They are fighting against Medicaid expansion right now, for the practical reason that if the health care situation improves for Americans in general, the Democrats get a boost. Bashing Democrats is Job One.

Americans For Prosperity is run by the Koch brothers, oilmen; they disliked the shutdown and probably disapprove of primarying electable moderates out of Congress. AFP was linked to Freedomworks.

Crossroads, the Karl Rove operation, spent $200 million in 2012 with little to show for it; since then it has lost lots of corporate donors, and the Crossroads boys want their sugar daddies back, badly (Dick Armey was tossed out of Freedomworks in a squabble over how money was being handled, which Rove doesn’t want to happen to him). Crossroads and Freedomworks, both of which portrayed themselves as tea-party organizations, have actually been tacking back toward the center, away from the tea party, because they have both been losing even more donors since the shutdown battled went sideways. They now want to stop tea-party primarying attacks against moderates.

The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce is where folks like Freedomworks and Crossroads were getting a lot of their cash. The COC is now mobilizing against the tea party and hates Cruz; they don’t want the Republicans who backed down in the shutdown to be targeted, nor do they want electable moderates to be primaried out by unelectable tea-party candidates.  And they were of course horrified that Cruz and the gang took us to the brink of a global depression. They can gin up massive corporate money when they need to.

Mitch McConnell, incidentally, is on this team, and so is Orrin Hatch.


The Heritage Foundation is ironically the group that originally crafted parts of Obamacare. Now they are singing a different tune and they have a lot of businessmen on board, particularly those who hate regulation, as well as Steve Forbes, and oddly enough Richard Scaife who also funds the more moderate Freedomworks. Jim deMint runs this one. During the shutdown they threatened Republican legislators who might have been thinking about backing down in the shutdown, so much so that Hatch condemned their tactics.

The Club For Growth is focused on taxes and related issues. They were early adopters of primarying attacks.

The Senate Conservatives Fund is the group which Jim deMint worked with before moving on to the Heritage Foundation. They like primary attacks and rightwing candidates, winning with Mike Lee and Rand Paul but losing with Sharron Angle and Christine “The Witch” O’Donnell. Now they love Ted Cruz and hate McConnell.

The Madison Project is focused on abortion and likes primarying: in fact they never support incumbents. They want more Ted Cruzes and Mike Lees, and they already see Crossroads and the Chamber of Commerce as the enemy. They mostly have smaller donations so they may not be able to play with the big boys for long.

Ted Cruz wants to fight the shutdown all over again, and wants the Senate to stand with him.

Sarah Palin may help attack McConnell. She’s back!


The moderates will probably win the money battle, but the extremists have a mass of Republican primary voters on their side. Team Tea also has a simple consistent message: they can say “no abortion, no Obamacare, no gay marriage” and so forth, whereas the moderates must asterisk their pitch with “yeah, yeah, we oppose abortion and Obamacare too, but we also need to compromise so we can win”, which is a tough sell for true believers who spend all their waking hours in the purist world of the Fox-Rush alternate-reality bubble.

And what about Fox and Rush? I think both would like to tread the fine line in the middle, so as to keep both moderates and extremists tuning in, but I would expect Fox to tilt a little toward the moderates while Rush tilts to the right. So far, their behavior is bearing that out. Fox is grimly staying on-message, focusing on beating Democrats by incessantly bashing Obama; little comment on the intramural Republican squabbling. Rush, meanwhile, is hollering “Cruz, Mike Lee, Heritage Foundation”… “Can you imagine in this last five years, if we would've had five or ten Ted Cruzes? Can you imagine the difference?  Can you imagine? If we had five or ten Ted Cruzes, we'd win a lot of debates.” Rush is so in love with the tea people that he actually thinks Cruz is a great debater.

The more even this fight is, the longer and bloodier it will be. And, the better for Democrats. If 2014 is a debacle for the GOP, the moderates will use that as a talking point: “we lost on the shutdown fighting your way, we lost the House fighting your way, now we must unite and focus on bashing the Democrats, or Hillary will absolutely crush us in two years!”

Paul Ryan v Reality


Soon the negotiators in Congress will sit down and try to agree on a federal budget, before we run into the next set of cutoffs and risk shutdowns and defaults again. The negotiating deadline is mid-December. 

Leading the Republican side in the talks is Paul Ryan, the self-proclaimed deficit hawk from the House; on the other side, the liberals will be led by Patty Murray. Ryan insists we need to move toward a balanced budget, by cutting Social Security and Medicare. There are two problems with this.

First, Social Security and Medicare are not Ryan’s to dispose of. It’s not his money, or the government’s. It’s ours. Take a good look at your paycheck: the deductions for those two programs are right there. You already paid for your Social Security and Medicare, and you have every right to expect it will be there for you when you retire.

Which brings me to the second point. Astoundingly, everyone has lost sight of the fact that the real drivers of the deficit, the legitimate targets for cuts, are conservative policies. It is the right wing that has insisted on policies that have blown up the deficit.

So all Patty Murray needs to do, is push Ryan into a corner. Force him to choose between what he says he wants, cutting the deficit, and what he really wants, to help his conservative allies.

“So, Mister Ryan, are your conservative buddies willing to give up the subsidies and tax breaks the oil companies get? Estimates range from 5 to 50 billion dollars a year, but we’ll be conservative and call it 10 billion saved.

“So, Mister Ryan, are your conservative pals willing to enact policies to fight climate change? The Wall Street Journal, hardly a bastion of radicalism, says Eastern Asia alone will pay 23 billion a year for not preparing for climate change. Let’s assume our bill would be about the same.

“So, Mister Ryan, are your conservative friends willing to change course on health care, stop fighting Obamacare, and go beyond that to a single-payer plan? That saves us 100 billion a year.

"So, Mister Ryan, can your tobacco buddies like McConnell and Paul and Alexander let go of tobacco? If we ban tobacco, we save 100 billion a year in health care costs.

“So, Mister Ryan, can your conservative pals let go of the tax issue, and put the tax rates for rich back up where they were when the economy was booming? There’s perhaps 50 billion a year, depending on how high we go.

"So, Mister Ryan, are your conservative friends willing to fix Bush’s mess on Medicare Part D so that drug prices can be negotiated? 50 billion a year.

“So, Mister Ryan, are all those southern Senators willing to reform Pentagon procurement, even if it hurts some of their pork-addicted congressional districts? The GAO says the cost overruns alone are 35 billion, so when you add the stuff the Pentagon is forced to buy even when they don’t need it, it’s something like 40 billion.

"Mister Ryan, add up all these conservative policies, and then revoke them, and we save 373 billion a year. Then add the benefits of putting all this money back into the economy, and the resulting reductions in interest payments, and we’re up to at least 400 billion annually. Bush’s last budget year gave us a deficit of almost two trillion dollars; Obama, even while paying off all of Bush’s unfunded projects such as the wars and Medicare, got the deficit down to 750 billion. Get rid of those conservative policies, and we’re halfway to a balanced budget! And if your buddies like Boehner and McConnell can stop blocking all efforts to create jobs, the resulting tax revenue will cut the deficit even more! So…there ya go! Sign the deal and we can send it to McConnell and go get lunch!”

Saturday 19 October 2013

Warning sign for Team Blue


Here is something that looks small at first glance, but could become huge in two years.

Earlier I noted that the potential Republican candidates for president in 2016 fall, roughly speaking, into two categories: the mildly obnoxious people like Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, and the tea-drinking loons like Ted “Calgary” Cruz and Rand Paul. I suggested that given the current climate within the GOP, with the tea-flavored loons beating the mild moderates into submission and leading the whole country to the brink of ruin in the process, it was more likely that someone like Cruz or Paul or Ryan would wrap up the GOP nomination in 2016.

Here’s a new sign that I have been wrong.

The mild moderates get their money from the same place Republicans have always gone for campaign money: corporate America, the banks, the rich.

The tea-party loons are getting their money from the tea coalition and the far-right think tanks: the Big Four are Freedomworks (Armey and Kibbe), Crossroads GPS (Rove), Americans for Prosperity (the Koch brothers) and Heritage Foundation (Jim deMint). The Big Four far-right groups are mostly what we call astro-turf groups: groups that pretend to be grassroots ideological movements, but really get their money from the same corporate donors who have owned the GOP for a century.

The problem for the tea-party candidates is that they began to believe their own rhetoric. They began to believe that the support they were getting was really coming from the grass roots, rather than the boardrooms and investment banks in New York.

Back when the tea-party movement was born, this misunderstanding didn’t matter. The “grass roots” and the corporate donors shared a goal, to destroy Obamacare. The corporate people, because the health care plan would crimp the profits of some key industries, and the grass roots, because they hated that colored feller in the White House. But they all had the same goal.

So when Ted Cruz and the tea people began their effort to drag the nation to the brink of default, they didn’t care that the banking community was horrified at the prospect of the nation crashing through the debt ceiling and creating a global recession. The tea people told themselves: we don’t care about corporate America, our support comes from the grass roots!

And now they are finding out how wrong they are. Only a few days after the tea party badly damaged the GOP brand and almost destroyed the economy in the process, the donors who have been the real source of tea-party power have closed their checkbooks. Freedomworks and Crossroads GPS are both running out of money because donors are freaked out at what the tea-party people are doing on Capitol Hill, and also the damage done by tea-party candidates like Todd Akin losing winnable elections. Donors, like everyone else, hate wasting their effort on losers. Will Americans For Prosperity and Heritage Foundation cut the purse strings too?

If corporate America uses its financial muscle to reclaim control of the GOP from their future-former allies in the tea party movement, then the “grass roots” will really be all the tea party has left to rely on. And that means they probably lose, because winning a presidential election costs, literally, a billion dollars these days. When 2016 comes around, the corporate boys will steer their money toward some relatively sane Romney clone like Chris Christie, and all the tea party boys can do is hope that one of their own can capitalize on the far-right voters in Iowa and the Super Tuesday states, and resist the tide of corporate money backing the moderate candidate.

Somebody like Ted Cruz could try to model 2016 fund-raising on Obama’s brilliant effort to raise cash in 2008. But Obama actually got plenty of money from corporate America, just like the GOP did: contrary to myth, Team Obama wasn’t driven by ten million bus drivers and housekeepers sending in their lunch money. Also, as Hillary can attest, Obama and his team proved themselves to be brilliant strategists, in funding as in everything else: Ted Cruz’s ham-handed effort to destroy the global economy was clearly the work of a strategic novice, and the people he would surround himself with are more likely to be dewy-eyed true believers than campaign pros who can raise and bundle money without going to jail.

The corporate boys will have even more reason to keep the nomination away from the tea people, if the tea party wants someone like Cruz, who did all he could to drag the financial community back to 1929, or Paul Ryan, whose notions of national finance betoken dangerous incompetence, or Rand Paul, a reckless iconoclast who wants to blow up big parts of America – entire cabinet departments -- just to hear the bang. Big Money is afraid of Big Crazy, particularly after coming within inches of seeing the Dow and the financial markets crash.

So this should be a warning for Democrats. The grownups in the GOP are very quickly going to steer their money and support toward candidates who can actually win, like Chris Christie. And that means that the Democrats can lose the White House if they nominate anyone but their best candidate. If Christie is matched up with a second-tier Democratic candidate, a race that should be in the bag for Team Blue becomes a real race.

So who is the best Democrat for the race?

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Just how bad does Boehner suck at his job?

A little perspective for you.

The best Speaker in history was Tom Reed. Czar Reed, 1890s. Must have weighed 300 pounds, and smart as a whip – in a debate he could cut you down with a single sentence, quicker than his good friend Mark Twain. When Reed became Speaker, the House was total chaos. The Democrats were in the minority, and they stopped the whole House dead with a thing called the disappearing quorum. Reed needed a quorum to vote on anything, so the Democrats would just tell the clerk to list them absent, even though they were sitting right there. So Reed called a vote one day, and the Democrats tried to list themselves absent. Reed told the clerk to list them present anyway. The Democrats started screaming at him. Reed said something like “McCreary, I am ruling that you’re present. Are you going to stand right in front of me and tell me you’re not standing there?”

Then the Democrats tried to run out of the building, but Reed locked the doors. One old codger managed to kick his way through the door and run away. Then they tried to hide under their desks, but Reed could still see them. Then they tried rulebook tricks to block the vote. Took three days but Reed beat them. New rules, the Reed Rules. When the Democrats took over the House, they got rid of the Reed Rules. But Reed was still there, and he always managed to get his Republicans out of the building before a big vote, so the Democrats were forced to admit they were wrong, and they put the Reed Rules back. Since then, the House has run much more smoothly….until Boehner.

There are those who argue that Henry Clay was the best Speaker. Although Clay did make the position a very powerful one, he mostly did it in aid of his real goal, unnecessary wars with England. That, and using the power of his position to help his own banks.

A good nominee for second best Speaker was Nicholas Longworth, 1920s. Like Reed he was a Republican, but he listened to the Democrats. Longworth even set up a thing called the “Board of Education”, which was actually an alcohol-fueled poker game in a tiny room in the Capitol, for both Republicans and Democrats. While they were drinking and playing, they also settled pretty much all the nation’s business by figuring out the legislation that needed to get through the House. They invited young members to take a look at them and see how they handled poker and whiskey, and they occasionally invited key political players from outside the House. Harry Truman was with them when got the call that FDR had died. Two other members of the “Board” also became speakers who did great service to their country, Jack Garner and Sam Rayburn, both of whom learned plenty from Longworth. The point being that Longworth could talk easily to both parties and get things done, something which was at least theoretically the standard….until Boehner.

Boehner, as of tonight, can’t even unite his own GOP caucus to get their own bill passed on the floor. Even though they have a majority. And his inability to lead even the Republicans in the House, is going to destroy the economy. His party’s obstructive efforts on things like budgets and the debt have already cost almost a million jobs, and now even a short default will cost more than two million more jobs. For my money, he is our worst Speaker ever, even worse than Newt.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Impeachment, 2014

In 2014 there will be a serious effort in the House to impeach Obama. 

House Republicans know that their antics during the government shutdown have put control of the House in jeopardy. Team Blue could regain control in 2014. So they know this could be their last chance to impeach Obama, the man they hate even more than they hated Clinton. 

Boehner will go along with it, because he knows the teabaggers will throw him out of his job otherwise. Boehner doesn’t love Obama enough to throw himself on a grenade for him. Perhaps he even dreams that they could successfully impeach both Obama and Biden, which would mean….President Boehner. 

Yes, I know, my sphincter puckered too. 

Now, you may be thinking “There’s no way they could be that crazy and self-destructive”. First of all, these are the same guys who immolated themselves in the shutdown. The same guys who have indulged themselves in progressively crazier expressions of anti-Obama hate and conspiracy theories. And most of all, they are much, much crazier than the guys who impeached Clinton. 

Take a look at the Clinton impeachment team, and they look like sages of sanity compared to the current House teabaggers. Bob Barr got fed up with the Patriot Act and Bush’s wiretapping and left the GOP entirely. Asa Hutchinson ran the DEA. Jim Sensenbrenner, still in the House, wants to repair the damage done to the Voting Rights Act, so blacks can vote. Henry Hyde warned against Bush’s plan to invade Iraq. Lindsey Graham has so often played the moderate Voice of Reason that teabaggers want to throw Graham himself out of office. Today, the Clinton impeachment managers would be the sane, liberal wing of the GOP. 

Any impeachment plan would be considered by the House Judiciary Committee. You know who’s on that committee? Darrell Issa, the House’s main conspiracy theorist. Steve King and Louis Gohmert and Trent Franks, whose public attacks on Obama are so insane that they are practically keeping Rachel Maddow in business. And Jason Chaffetz, author of the Extortion 17 theory. These guys dream of impeaching Obama every night. They would love to be on television all summer as the impeachment managers, telling all of America, for weeks, how much they hate Obama. 

“Well, perhaps because these guys have no credibility, wiser heads will prevail and they won’t go forward.” Again, there are no wiser heads to stop them. Wiser heads would have stopped the shutdown. This is the House. And in the Clinton impeachment, the people driving the case had no credibility either: remember that the Clinton case was all about oral sex, and was driven by men who also had a long list of infidelities themselves. They knew this, and went forward anyway. They also knew that the votes weren’t there, to remove Clinton in the Senate, and they still never even slowed down. There is no brake pedal on this. 

The Obama impeachment effort itself will actually make it easier for the Republicans to lose the House, but the tea caucus doesn’t care. They are now being led by the Nihilists from The Big Lebowski. 

“We believe in nothing, Obama! Nothing! And tomorrow we come back and we cut off your Chonson!”

When the Republicans build their case, they will try to build a coalition, or rather two coalitions: people in the House who hate Obama for different reasons, and people in the national population at large who also have a wide range of beefs against Obama. They hope, in this way, to cobble together enough votes in the House to impeach, and enough supporters across the country to stem the current anti-GOP tide and even hold on to the House. They will see this as a winning strategy. 

And of course, they need a wide range of issues, because they need to impeach Obama on a long list of alleged offenses. Because each accusation, by itself, is laughably flimsy and easy to refute. 

So they will round up the people who still consider themselves national-security conservatives even after the Bush fiascos, with accusations about murdering our boys in Benghazi; Egypt; Libya; Syria; the War Powers Act; and a thing called Extortion 17, wherein Obama allegedly leaked information to the Taliban which led to the killing of the SEALs who killed bin Laden. 

People who fear Latinos: accusations about Fast and Furious, immigration and the border; promoting food stamps for illegals.

People who believe the “Obama = dictator” meme: accusations about the IRS probes; the Czars; executive orders; the AP reporters; NSA surveillance; detentions; the magical kill switch that can turn off the entire internet; planning for martial law.

People who believe all the lies about Obamacare.

People who hate Eric Holder: accusations about filing lawsuits against states; DOMA; fighting on the voting laws.

Solyndra. No one really understands what their point is on this one, but certain teabaggers still jump out of their chairs, Pavlov-like, when they hear this word. 

People who don’t understand how money works: accusations about refusing to give in to the teabaggers on the government shutdown; the auto bailout; nationalizing industries; deficits; the debt ceiling; the stimulus.

People who loathe Obama himself, just because: the birth certificate; faked college history; being a Muslim, being a Communist, the alleged Apology Tour.

People who believe everything Big Oil tells them: EPA regulation; oil drilling; the Keystone pipeline.

Gun nuts: small arms treaty; faking gun data; plotting to take our guns.

People who still don’t want blacks voting: voter fraud.

And people who don’t understand what the Constitution actually says. 

So get the popcorn ready. The Impeachment Circus is coming to town.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

In praise of Yoho

Florida Congressman Ted Yoho said recently that he is totally okay with the government defaulting on its loans. “I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets.”


Remember our man Ted. We will come back to him later.

Initially America was a simple place, dominated by farmers as Thomas Jefferson intended, and needed little government. The Constitution was so simple it could be printed on a few pages. The first officials mostly concerned themselves with figuring out how to do their own jobs, test-driving the powers and tools enumerated in the Constitution, thinking up an Amendment or two, appointing judges, forming parties, and occasionally passing an actual law or two. They had modest impact outside their own world.

Congress was so small and lean that it could wander up and down the Atlantic seaboard before finally settling in Washington in 1800, the same year John Adams moved into the unfinished, messy White House. In its first two years, the ninety-man Congress passed very few bills, which is astounding since they had the entire government to erect. They set up the cabinet departments and courts, and passed a few laws on oaths, tariffs and duties, the census, citizenship and residence, patents and copyrights, banks, crimes and whisky, and Native Americans. That’s about it. And then they went home.  

When they set up the government two centuries ago, they began with a presidential cabinet of four people. They picked a few ambassadors to go to a few capitals, tried to figure out how to print money, and picked a chief attorney, who initially had little to do. The government also tried to set up a national bank which was shortly shut down, and a tiny permanent army of a few thousand, which was also quickly shut down. The Supreme Court wasn’t even established until two years after the Constitution and only had six members; it was another year before they even heard their first case. Early on, they could have fit the entire federal government into a good-size theater.

It was, as intended, the smallest government run by the greatest men. The men who set it all up and ran it were equal to the task. Alexander Hamilton was running an import firm at age 16 and by 22 he was helping to run Washington’s army. Jefferson had a dazzling range of skills and experience – lawyer, architect, scientist, farmer; Franklin was similarly multi-talented, with a string of inventions to his credit. The men who wrote the Constitution and peopled the first Congresses and administrations were generally the cream of the crop, and their worked showed it.

Over the next century, government got bigger and more complicated, and the caliber of the men running it deteriorated. Those facts are connected. The government grew, to reflect the rapidly growing nation, the wildly growing economy especially in industry and finance, the proliferation of new technologies such as the railroads and the telegraph, and federal offices spending more effort creating new positions, and spending government money. Accordingly men of indifferent ethical standards became more attracted to government work. When Andrew Jackson came along and sketched out the power of the executive branch on terms very favorable to himself, a key tool he created for himself was the power of patronage: the power to put his supporters in place as postmasters, toll collectors, tax collectors, hundreds of positions in which enterprising men of elastic morals could make a nice living, regardless of their actual salary, and regardless of their actual ability. Government work, formerly intended as the domain of citizen philosopher-kings like Jefferson, became a playground for the greedy and hungry.

As the scope of government operations began to exceed the abilities of the men running it, things sometimes went awry, particularly when the nation chose leaders who only had one narrow area of expertise (army generals were a particular problem) or who turned a blind eye to corruption and embraced laissez-faire government too enthusiastically (which led to financial panics several times). It wasn’t as though Americans who followed politics were unaware of the corruption problem: they initially expressed dismay when machine politician Chester Arthur became president after Garfield was shot (although Arthur turned out to be more honest than his prior career would suggest), and the reform efforts of Cleveland and Roosevelt were popular.

In the nation’s second century it became obvious that the men they were sending to do the nation’s work weren’t falling short only in character, but also in competence. Following the Second World War, as America rose to the summit of world power and set to work feeding and rebuilding much of the world, as new challenges were posed by the arrival of radio and television, the telephone and the automobile, new advances in medicine and consumer goods, the Cold War and the rise of thorny new global issues across the third world, the internet revolution – the gap between the complexity of the government’s efforts, and the caliber of the people running it all, visibly widened. The “best and the brightest” committed more and more shockingly inept errors: the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Watergate, Reaganomics, Iran-Contra, the Bush tax cuts, and the Yellow-Cake-Mushroom-Cloud soup of Iraq. Mission Accomplished!

Now the government is grappling with a stunning array of incredibly complex issues, many of which require expert-level knowledge in order to make policy competently in those areas: the dozens of legal aspects of gay marriage, the scientific realities of global warming, the morass of the health insurance world, military technology and contracting, the hundred-headed monster of Middle East policy, the two dozen nasty issues we have with China, the inner workings of the financial world, the many factors at work in the voting process, job creation in a depressed economy, surmounting the mountain of debt, and responding to military crises and natural disasters.

Members of Congress have, sometimes, tried to keep up. Senators, who formerly had no staff people at all, now have staffers helping them, although often as not the staffers are lawyers and political hucksters just like their bosses, rather than experts in any particular field. Some members of Congress have, in fact, made it their business to gain expertise in a particular field.

But the current crop, not so much. We have had an influx of new members who work hard at keeping themselves ignorant by refusing to learn anything, by socializing mainly with people who think like they do, and then driving home listening to Rush and turning on Fox News at home. And many of them knew little of the workings of the real world in the first place: they went straight from adolescence into politics and the law, and know nothing of the world outside that realm. Look on the floor of the House or Senate for an expert who really knows the drill on climate change or the financial system, and….once you’re done talking with Elizabeth Warren, it’s a short list.

Just look at them!

Todd Akin, self-appointed expert on the female reproductive tract, the guy who said that rape doesn’t cause pregnancy? He worked for his family’s steel firm, before getting a divinity degree and getting thrown in jail eight times for harassing women’s clinics. His status in the profession of gynecology is, to say the least, amateur.

Darrell Issa, self-appointed expert on military operations, made his bones selling car alarms.

Steve King, fond of pronunciamentos on social issues and global warming, sold earth moving machinery.

Joe “You Lie!” Wilson, flacking real estate; likewise Randy Neugebauer and Johnny Isakson.

Michele Bachmann, who truly believed she was qualified to be president, was an unlicensed “counselor” claiming to convert gays to heterosexuality, and ran a farm which is now under investigation.

And it just goes on and on. Jim Inhofe, ran an insurance firm into the ground. John McCain, whose main non-political distinction is wrecking half a dozen Navy planes. Rob Portman was Bush’s budget man, author of historic deficits. Allen West, army officer punished for beating a prisoner. Rand Paul, eye doctor. Mike Enzi, shoe salesman. Jason Chaffetz, football player and marketing spokesman.

And our pal Ted Yoho, self-appointed expert on the global financing market, the guy who said a federal default would have a positive effect?

Yoho is a horse doctor. A vet.

What if we demanded that the people who make policy on these complex issues…actually understood the issues?

What if one of the two major parties actually took government leadership seriously, instead of nominating people like George Bush and Sarah Palin to run the world?

Sunday 6 October 2013

Questions for pro-lifers

So….if the “clear-cut” argument against abortion is that if kills something that is human and alive….
Sperm and ova are human and alive, and life doesn’t ever “begin” – at best, a new life, the embryo, is created from two already-living things, the sperm and ovum….
So are the women using contraception murderers too?
Is masturbation murder?
Is everyone who has non-vaginal sex a murderer?
People who use the rhythm method?
Is a condom a murder weapon?
Women who have hysterectomies, men who have vasectomies… mass murderers?
Actually, anyone undergoing a procedure ending in –ectomy is probably killing living tissue – appendectomies, tonsillectomies, murder?  
And of course mastectomy and other cancer surgery: cancer cells are human life!
Haircuts, shaving, trimming toenails, plastic surgery?
Not quite so clear-cut, is it?

Why do anti-abortion zealots insist that life begins at conception, when Genesis says life begins when you take your first breath? Leviticus 27 goes even further: it says life has no value before the infant is a month old.

So God kills a million living breathing innocent babies a year, but opposes abortion? When he had Noah build the Ark and hit the world with the flood, God killed every fetus on planet earth. Every one. Over a million children die from diarrhea alone, every year. And 260,000 die of AIDS. And 90,000 from cancer. Oh, and by the way, a pregnancy has one chance in five of ending in miscarriage; in other words, God has caused two billion abortions. Let us worship him!

Oh, and by the way, after killing all the fetuses in the Flood and prescribing abortion in Numbers, there's this, from Hosea, 13:16, "The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.” In other words, not only does God approve of abortion, he approves abortion on a large scale as an instrument of war. Large, large numbers of abortions, just as in the Flood. Authored by God, in the Bible. Do you people even read the Bible?

What if we introduced a constitutional amendment that a state can only have as many gun stores as it has abortion clinics?

If you want to stop abortion, why fight contraception too? Contraception would stop two thirds of all abortions. Or is this just another way to stick it to women because they don’t vote the way you like?

All you guys who hate abortion – why don’t you get vasectomies, or pledge to give up sex entirely? Or not pressure a woman into sex when neither of you is ready to be a parent? That would absolutely cut down the abortion rate. What if your wives decided that since you’ve banned abortion and contraception, their only alternative is abstinence? Say goodnight, Mister Happy!

If a newly fertilized ovum is a person….is an egg a chicken, too? Is an acorn a tree?

If conservatives want to stop the deaths of the unborn, why do they refuse to fight things that kill the unborn, such as poverty, poor nutrition, pollutants, lack of access to prenatal care, domestic violence, poor maternal health, and gun violence?