Sunday, September 09, 2012

We need a third set of debates

Next month, we're going to have two presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate, and by the end--remember how many debates there were during the Republican primaries--most Americans will be debated out.  Still, I suggest that we need one more set.

I refer, you will have guessed, to debates between Mitt Romney.

The latest example of why:   Having talked for months about how he would repeal Obamacare on hi first day in office, Romney now says that he'd keep the good parts of the ACA.  

As you can see if you check out the link, even the MSM is beginning to comment on Mitt's serial self-contradictions.  Interesting to see how the President treats the issue during the debates that are scheduled.

You heard it here first

We predicted that Rob Portman would win his debates with Mitt Romney.  Apparently, we were right.  

Friday, September 07, 2012

The tell

I've always felt that, as the Kitty Kallen song has it, little things mean a lot.  In his speech last night, Joe Biden referred to the President at least twice as "Barack."  Not "President Obama," or "Barack Obama," just Barack.  He didn't do so with any self-consciousness, nor was he showing off.  He was just talking about his boss,  his colleague and his friend.

The casual use of the President's first name tells us something.  Not that the Vice-President lacks the proper respect.  Admiration and awe, rather than mere respect, were apparent though out Biden's speech.  But more than that, we could see that the two have a partnership, that the Vice-President is the President's top aide.  Where many vice-presidents have been shunted aside, this one is right there, offering advice on a wide range of issues.  I think that's a good thing.  Indeed, a very good thing, and not just if the unthinkable happens and Joe Biden succeeds to the presidency in the next four years.   

And it's clear that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan do not--could not--have that kind of partnership.  Would they ever develop something like that, if given the chance?  We can't know.  (And if I have my way, we'll never get the chance to find out.)

You can see Joe Biden's speech here, if you missed it, and it's well worth watching.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Better off?

In a post this morning, we addressed the issue of whether the nation is better off than it was four years ago.  Some interesting light is shined on that question by a Bureau of Labor Statistics study that concludes--surprisingly in my view--that
From January 2009 through December 2011, 6.1 million workers were displaced from jobs they had held for at least 3 years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. This was down from 6.9 million for the survey period covering January 2007 to December 2009. In January 2012, 56 percent of workers displaced from 2009-11 were reemployed, up by 7 percentage points from the prior survey in January 2010.  
In particular, I was surprised that markedly fewer workers lost long-term jobs in 2009 through 2011 than had done so from 2007 to the end of 2009.  And that a significantly higher percentage of those who lost one job found another, which seems to contradict, to some extent, the .

Now, the BLS also concludes that more than half of those who were re-employed (itself only 56 percent of the people who lost jobs) were earning less than they had been in their previous employment.   That's certainly not good news.    But, all in all, some progress.

Four years

Are you better off than you were four years ago?  That's the question Republicans are asking.  

In response to an article on Yahoo, I posted the following comment:

Are we better off than we were four years ago? You bet! Four years ago, George W. Bush was still in the White House. Four years ago, there was a chance that John McCain would be our next President--and that Sarah Palin would be a heartbeat (an OLD heartbeat) away from the presidency. Four years ago, the workforce was hemorrhaging jobs. Four years ago, the financial industry was virtually devoid of regulation. Four years ago, it looked like the US auto industry was going bust. Four years ago, insurance companies could impose lifetime limits on health benefits. Four years ago, older Americans were paying thousands of dollars for their prescriptions. Four years ago, families could not keep children up to the age on 26 on their health insurance. Four years ago there were tens of thousands of American troops in Iraq, and tens of thousands more in Afghanistan than there are today. In all these ways, we are all better off than we were four years ago.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Bill Clinton's advice

According to Ryan Lizza, writing in The New Yorker, last fall Bill Clinton advised the President that his campaign should characterize Mitt Romney as a right-wing ideologue rather than concentrate on his flip-flopping.  And it seems that the campaign has taken that advice.

I'm not sure that the two are exclusive.  In the debates, I'd like to see the President go after Romney on his multiple positions.  With his mastery of detail, I'd love to watch as Mr. Obama says, "But Governor, in 2002 you said that you would support a woman's right to choose."   "Governor, in 1996, you said that we had to assure equal rights for gays and lesbians."  "In 2008, you said that you didn't think that hunting down one man--you meant Osama bin Laden--was all that important."  "In 2008, Governor, you wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times that was titled, 'Let Detroit go bankrupt.'"   "Governor, given all of your changes of position--some of them several times on the same issue--how can the American people trust what you are saying now?"

The conventional wisdom is that the President should take the high road, that he should let his aides and surrogates (and the Vice-President) attack the other candidate.  That's exactly why Mr. Obama should look for chances to expose Mitt Romney in the debates for what he is:  a thoroughly unprincipled man, consumed by the quest to be elected President, but with no principles to guide him should that happen.  For one thing, that approach would be unexpected and likely to through Romney off balance.  For another, it would give voters the clearest opportunity to see the difference between the two men's characters.   And, Democrats could still brand Romney as an apostle of the right by suggesting that his (many) other positions are simply cover.

Yes, such an approach would be less focused than Clinton's advice, but above all, Americans need to feel that they can trust their President.

Just thinking...

Is there any significant issue on which Mitt Romney has not changed his position since he entered politics?

Debate Prep

Mitt Romney is taking most of this week off from public campaign events, while he prepares for the Presidential debates.  Sen. Rob Portman (R.OH) is playing President Obama.  

I predict that Portman will win.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why does Mitt Romney want to be President?

I'm likely to watch Mitt Romney's speech tomorrow, antacid at hand.  (What the hell, the Red Sox are losing on the West Coast this week.)  

What I'll be hoping for is some insight into why the man wants to be President.  I don't think he'll deal with that, even inferentially, but it's something I've been wondering about.

I mean, many of us have daydreams about what we'd do if we inhabited the Oval Office (that physical space is mainly ceremonial, but you know what I mean).  We might even think about why we'd like to be the President.  But hardly any of us have the ambition, ego, drive, energy and guts to go out and run for the office.  Much less to make it to through the nominating process of even such a diminished party as today's Republicans.  

Yet I wonder why it is that Mitt Romney wants the job.  

I'm assuming that he is mature enough to the know that it isn't winning, but serving as President that's important.  (Not sure if that was true of George W.)  

It's not as Romney hasn't told us what he'll do.  He has.  Endlessly.  And often in contradiction to what he said before.

But are any of these ideas and policies really enough to motivate someone for the most difficult job on Earth?  (I'm not sure that it really is more difficult than, say, being a sandhog, or painting the top of the towers on the Golden Gate bridge, or being a fighter pilot in combat, or even serving as a Supreme Court justice, but it's a really big job.)  Is freeing business from the yoke of government regulation, or reducing taxes on the wealthy really enough to inspire a person to go through the tortuous work of running for President?    Is turning Medicare over to the insurance companies and Medicaid to the tender mercies of the state so thrilling?  Is getting government out of our hair but not out of our bedrooms or bodies enough?  Maybe, but I don't see it.

If you have any thoughts on why Mitt Romney wants to be president, pass them along.  It's our policy to publish all comments that are not unintelligible, spam, scurrilous or sufficiently defamatory to make us liable in a court of law.    

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mitt deconstructed

The real Mitt Romney revealed by.......David Brooks?

"If elected, he promises to bring all Americans together and make them feel inferior."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Campaigning makes you stupid

Well, not the campaigning, but the overweening ambition that leads one to campaign for high office.

Today's example:  ABC reports that Paul Ryan "now supports Mitt Romney's softer position [on abortion] now that he shares the GOP presidential ticket because 'it's a good step in the right direction.'"

Paul Ryan is an intelligent man.  True, Paul Krugman has demolished the idea that Ryan is a serious man when it comes to national economic policy (he just plays one on the floor of Congress), but he is certainly intelligent.  So, what is he doing making a dumb statement like the one that ABC quoted?

What does Ryan mean that changing his position is "a good step in the right direction?"  Does he mean that he realizes he's been wrong, that women should be given control of their own bodies when they are pregnant due to rape or incest?  Apparently not, because if he felt that way, he and Gov. Romney would have called for the Republican platform committee to soften  the plank on abortion.  

Ryan must meant that by adopting Romney's position--whether or not he believes in it--he hopes to increase the chances that he and Mitt will be elected.  Now, there's nothing wrong with wanting to win--if Ryan didn't he should find a new line of work.  But he has presented  his stand on abortion as one of principle.  And it's not a good idea to let the voters know that you'll abandon principle to get elected, especially when you do it with such ease.  People might get ideas about a candidate like that.  They might think he is just another politician--a thought that will reduce the likelihood that the Republican team will be the people's choice  in November.  

Todd Akin is in the mainstream...

of the Republican Party.  As Jennifer Steinhauer wrote in today's Times:
As an orator, Representative Todd Akin of Missouri may stand out for his clumsiness.  But as a legislator, Mr. Akin has a record on abortion that is largely indistinguishable from those [sic] of most of his Republican House colleagues, who have viewed restricting abortion rights as one of their top priorities.
In one sense, Akin may be more sensitive than most in the Republican Party.  If he believes what he said on Sunday--scientific bilgewater though it is--he implicitly admits that rape followed by pregnancy is trauma followed by tragedy.  Those in the party who have denounced him for his inaccuracy do not, apparently, care about that:  they would forbid abortion for rape victims even though they know that pregnancy can, indeed, result.  

Akin's crime is not his ignorance so much as that he brought attention to just how inhumane the Republican position on abortion has become; that could lead to more voters taking note of how inhumane the party is on other issues.  

Worse yet, Akin has shown bad timing:  his remarks came just before the Republican Party platform committee voted to support--as the party has in the past two presidential election years--a constitutional amendment that would outlaw abortion, with no reference to exceptions even for rape or incest.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The truck is back

Scott Brown's truck is back.  It became a fixture of his Everyman-campaign-for-Senate in 2010, even though it's  a big honkin' gas guzzler (or maybe a diesel guzzler) that he bought to pull a trailer with his daughter's show horse.  Now he's got the first of what I understand will be a series of spots of him in the cab, driving.  

Leave aside the question of how unsafe it is to be talking to the camera while moving down the road.

In the first spot, Brown talks about his childhood.  It's well known that he did not have an easy one.  He summarizes the repeated moves, his mom's need to work more than one job at a time.  "Life certainly wasn't a picnic.  But I was raised to work hard, be honest and play by the rules."  

Then Brown says something that ought to be noticed:  "As tough as it was growing up, I wouldn't change a thing."  

Umm, remember how Brown told us that he had been sexually abused by a camp counselor and repeatedly beaten by a stepfather? 

So, does he really mean it when he says that he would not change a thing?  

I don't know the man--I met him once, for a few minutes, in his Washington office.  But I have a sneaking feeling that he does mean it--that at least he did when he cut that campaign spot.  Because its my impression that he is not a critical thinker, that he does not stop to consider the complexities of situations or issues, and that he may have the convenient memory that afflicts almost all of us at least some of he time--the one where we believe that what is good for us is the truth.

Does that say anything about his fitness to be in the Senate?  I leave that to you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Corporate citizenship

I've been thinking about Citizens United, and trying to be partisan.   

It's easy to say that corporations are not people (they aren't), but harder--if you stop to think about it--to say that corporations don't have First Amendment rights, or something like them.  Would we really say that General Motors should not be permitted to argue against CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards?  Or even to comment on global warming?  Surely, corporations must have some right to express views on matters involving their business interests.  And what standard can we use to winnow out protected from unprotected corporate speech?

I suggest that corporations should be permitted to comment on issues, and to support efforts directed to issues--such as referenda, even though I am uncomfortable with the idea of corporate interests participating in elections of any kind.  Still, the distinction between corporations and people--real people--is most clear when we distinguish issues from candidates.  Issues are specific; candidates who become office holders have sway over all matters that may arise.  

In this respect, one of the one-man-one-vote cases, Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 580 (1964), is especially apt.  There, Chief Justice Earl Warren observed that "Citizens, not history or economic interests cast votes...people not land or trees or pastures, vote."


Something is wrong here.

Warning, this is likely to break your heart.

Two brothers, both with a disease that will kill them, but only one gets the drug that could save his life.  

Three kinds of lies

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that every person is entitled to his own opinion, but not  to his own facts.  So while, as I said yesterday, we must respect the right of the other side to its opinions, we need to call them out when they lie.  Given that that seems habitual with the Republican Party these days (interspersed with mere ignorance and prejudice), constant vigilance is needed.  

Since Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to run with him, the air has been rife with contentions about Medicare, as Republicans try to turn the issue against President Obama.  As is widely known, they are doing so primarily by lying:  by maintaining that $700 in future savings in the program are cuts in it, and by implying that those cuts come from benefits.  False and false again.  

The media have reported the Romney-Ryan team's "distortions" widely, but what has been less reported is the telling detail of where the Medicare savings would come from:  Reduced payments to hospitals (including for-profit chains that are major supporters of Republican candidates) and Medicare (dis-)Advantage plans, which are huge boondoggles in which insurance companies are subsidized to provide Medicare benefits to citizens who could get them directly from the government.  Medicare Advantage plans cost the government 12 percent more than socialized medicine, err, Medicare.  Given the scale of Medicare payments, that's real money.

And so the Republicans, again, want to subsidize corporations from the public treasury.  Another example of corporate welfare that should be more widely reported.

To paraphrase the Duke of Wellington, there are three kinds of lies:  Lies, damn lies, and Republicans.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

He's for us

Campaigning for re-election, Scott Brown's slogan is "He's for us."

So, who's "us?"  And who isn't?  

Implicitly, but clearly, the "us" in question is not the coalition of people who support Brown's Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren.  

Is there a subtle appeal to racism here?  Most African-American and Hispanic voters will support Warren.   (Not so clear about South Asian or Chinese-Americans.)  
Undoubtedly, most of Brown's support will come from white voters, and he probably does better among men than women (although he apparently got a lot of women's votes in 2010).   

My instinctive reaction to Brown's slogan is that it expresses an exclusionary view--you're with us or against us, you're one of us or you're one of them.  

But is that any different than what we liberals do?  Don't we separate the political world into "us" and "them?"  

We discount the legitimacy of the Republican coalition, because we believe that many, perhaps most of its members should not be such.  In What's the Matter with Kansas? Thomas Frank presented a Republican electorate that votes against its economic interests.  Those people--"those people"--should not be doing that, we believe.  

But why not?  Don't many liberals vote against their interests?  Don't we celebrate rich people who support Barack Obama in spite of, or even because, he would raise their taxes?  

And if some voters support Republican candidates because of social issues, is that less legitimate than those who voted for Democrats because of revulsion at the Iraq and possibly the Afghan war?  

Scott Brown's slogan seems to me to appeal to a certain anger or even rage.  And that is part of the Republican platform.  In her column today, Maureen Dowd quotes Tom Morello, a member of Paul Ryan's self-professed favorite band, Rage Against the Machine, as saying of the band's most prominent fan that, "I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta 'rage' in him.  A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment."  

I generally agree with that assessment, and I think that such feelings are wrong.  But when I say that, am I not assuming that working- and middle-class voters should sympathize with the cause of immigrants and women and gays?  That such voters should identify with workers, not management?  Yes, I am, and that's what I believe.

And yet, I ought to recognize that there is legitimacy in the beliefs of those who do not agree.  Not least because, as the shrinks say, your feelings are your feelings.  We don't need to be so morally relativist as to equate racism and sexism with color-blindness or sexual-equality to see that many of the disaffected who support the Republican Party (think of the Tea Party, for instance) have legitimate grievances, and that the narrative to which they attach themselves is at least plausible on the surface.  We may think that the story that Republicans are trying to feed the electorate does not go very far below the surface, but we cannot require voters to drill down; we can only attempt to persuade them to put in the work necessary.

And the task of persuasion is damaged by the elitism that treats members of the Tea Party and other Republican supporters who are not wealthy or members of active anti-choice and anti-abortion groups as being deluded.  We need to accept that if we have failed to reach those voters, it is our fault at least as much as it is theirs.  More, actually, because we want to reach them.

Internet petitions

Yesterday, a friend sent me a solicitation to sign an Internet petition calling for the re-enactment of the Glass-Steagall Act.  the New-Deal era regulatory framework that limited banks to, well, banking.  The petition is organized by something called  

This page has called for the re-enactment of Glass-Steagall for several months, so I might be considered and easy target for the petition.  But I did not "sign" and I shall not do so.  I've made it my policy to refrain from completing such petitions, not matter how sympathetic I might be with the position espoused.  

I think that Internet petitions are at best misguided, that often they are misleading, and in some cases they may be misleading.  In particular, I believe that many of them are directed less at expressing support for a position about an issue than to obtaining email and other personal information about the "signers."  While the data may be intended for a legitimate, even laudatory purpose, how do we know?  And how to we know that the information we volunteer will not wind up in the hands of people with whom we would not share it?  We don't.

There's something else here:  I believe that Internet petitions have no effect on political leaders.  If I were a member of Congress, I'd question the legitimacy of the signers of such a petition--how do I know that they were not made up by the organizers--and would discount completely those who are not my constituents.

Internet petitions sound like a good and easy way to express opinions, but my advice is to ignore requests to sign them.