Saturday, July 30, 2011


According to a teaser from my local NBC station, "The East Side Groper Strikes Again!"

Gee! Somebody was groped, and he/she was not the first! Very upsetting, indeed!

In the meanwhile, Boehner got a bill past the House by adding a totally crazy balanced budget amendment requirement, and the Senate shot it down. The House, in turn, shot down Harry Reid's allegedly "Democratic" bill, making way for a "compromise" somewhere between the right wing and the starboard side of a flat earth.

Apparently, this is okay with Obama, who made it perfectly clear that he is far too cowardly to invoke the 14th Amendment — or even just common sense. (Common sense suggests that once Congress has spent the money, it is obliged to pay the bill — because a default is the equivalent of declaring bankruptcy. Clearly, the United States cannot be bankrupt while so many of its citizens and corporations have so much wealth.)

And, so, I guess the "warring parties" will get something together before 8/2 replaces 9/11 as the low point in American history. Given the most recent GDP figures, though, one hopes that European style austerity can be delayed for a while — say, five or six years. Otherwise, it's really looking like 1937 all over again.

Anyway, if you think getting groped might actually make you feel better than the rest of what's in the news, head over to the East Side. Maybe you'll get lucky.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Now what?

As of this writing, John Boehner still can't gather enough votes in the House to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling, despite support from all Republican leaders, presumably including Eric Cantor — although I suspect next-in-line-to-be-Speaker Cantor may be less upset than he appears. If there is no breakthrough today, somebody in Washington may have to show some courage.

We all know who that somebody is, and we all know what he'll have to do. Barack Obama will have to go right ahead and break the 1917 debt ceiling law by ordering Treasury to keep selling bonds after the debt ceiling is breached. Presumably he can find some lawyers willing to write some opinions explaining why he's really allowed to do it. As we all know, it's not hard to find lawyers willing to justify anything. Hell, George W. Bush found lawyers to justify torture.

But who would buy those bonds? Well, Ben Bernanke is no idiot, and I think he could persuade the rest of the Fed to go along. Yes, it means "printing" money, and is likely to put even more downward pressure on the dollar, but inflation hasn't been any sort of problem for the past few years. An out-and-out default would do much more harm.

Yes, Obama would certainly be impeached in the House — creating even more political theater — but he wouldn't be convicted in the Senate. As for his electoral chances, they might improve if he finally showed some balls — portraying himself as the strong leader who finally stood up to the incompetents in Congress.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The "Gang of Six" Plan

If you haven't read the actual document released by the "Gang of Six," you can download it here. Don't feel intimidated — it's short and not even remotely technical. As a matter of fact, it says pretty much nothing in terms of suggestions for real legislation.

So why is Our President so enthusiastic? Well, it's, sort of, bipartisan. Three extremely conservative (but not Tea Party) Republicans got together with three Blue Dog Democrats, and came up with roughly four pages of mostly conservative talking points. Needless to say, both the left and the Tea Partiers are extremely upset. "Mostly conservative" is what passes for "moderate" these days.

As for me, I continue to hope that Our President has no strong interest in any of these particular talking points, and is using them just to put pressure on the Tea Partying ideologues in the House. All he wants right now is a goddamned increase in the debt ceiling without being forced to raise it himself, without Congressional approval (as I suggested a couple of weeks ago.)

Bill Clinton, it seems, agrees with me. So far, as best I can tell, nobody's heard from W.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Schadenfreude? You betcha!

For a few minutes, there, I was hoping Fox News might be caught up in the scandal — but then it occurred to me that Fox doesn't actually do news. They don't have to. Fox subsists on its ability to mirror the perspective of its viewers, reinforcing what they already believe. Fox isn't a tabloid — it's an echo chamber.

If Rupert's boy James deserves to spend some time in jail, and that causes the old man some discomfort and leads to a fracturing of the Murdoch empire, I can't say I'd be terribly upset. If it turns out that young Murdoch, Rebecca Brooks, Lee Hinton, Andy Coulson et al all can maintain their plausible deniability, and manage to duck their responsibility for the hacking, bribery of police, etc., that's also okay with me — at least if there's enough of a tempest in the Murdoch teapot to restrain Rupert's coterie of asslicking politicians until the old man finally dies.

(If the Wall Street Journal is sold to somebody who can restore its journalistic integrity — even with its rabid-right editorial pages intact — that would be especially welcome!)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Boehner's Dilemma

John Boehner has a problem. Well, okay, he has several problems.

First, despite his nominal leadership of the Republican party, he can't control the troops. Given his long history in the House, this must have come as a surprise to him — if there was anything Republicans have been good at for the past thirty years, it's been party discipline. The Tea Parties seem to have ruined that.

Second, he can't help but feel Eric Cantor's dagger poking at his side, looking for a good soft spot between the ribs. Cantor really wants to replace Boehner as Speaker of the House, and he doesn't seem to mind keeping his party divided against itself to get there.

Boehner is a corporatist, but also a pragmatist. As a corporatist, he prefers not to mess around with the possibility of creating financial meltdown. As a pragmatist, he follows Reagan in the belief that when you get 80% of what you wanted in a negotiation, you've won. When Obama offered up large chunks of Medicare and Medicaid on the altar of "moderation," Boehner was willing to go along with closing a few tax loopholes for the rich.

Cantor saw Boehner's "weakness" as an opportunity to run up to the front of the Tea Party parade with a large bass drum. Although he's been sounding more and more like a Grover Norquist ideologue lately, I suspect Cantor is much better understood as a pure opportunist — a man whose personal ambition far outweighs any party loyalty

After a few drinks the other night, I had this really neat fantasy. It won't come true, of course, but a lot of us would be supremely amused if it did.

John Boehner has lots of friends with money and power. Suppose he quietly encouraged some of them to start a "draft Eric Cantor" campaign for the 2012 presidential race. After all, the current crop of candidates is not especially impressive, and even the Tea Partiers have to be able to see that Cantor has a lot more on the ball than the intellectually challenged Michele Bachman.

I know, very unlikely — but what if Eric Cantor's hubris was great enough to get him to go along with it, and what if he won the nomination?

Why, then you'd have a black man running against a Jew for the highest office in the land! Oh no! Crisis in Redneckland!

As for me, I'd still be poking around the available third-party candidates looking for a place to cast my protest vote — but at least I could have a few good laughs.

Friday, July 15, 2011

More Debt Ceiling Crap

Have you ever watched a game of chicken? Some of us geezers automatically think of the one in that James Dean movie, Rebel Without a Cause. In the case of the debt ceiling, though, two cars driving side by side towards a cliff really isn't the right metaphor. To me, two cars driving on a collision course down a single lane road with brick walls to each side seemed more apropos. It isn't possible for just one of them to step on the brakes and bail out. Either both chicken out or both wipe out.

Then along came that canny little bastard, Mitch McConnell, with a neat idea for creating an exit ramp for the Republicans — a ramp that would allow the Republicans to duck out of the way while Obama drives the country off a cliff and ensures a Republican victory in 2012. There's just one little problem with the McConnell plan.

What if there's no cliff? The Republicans would have chickened out, the economy wouldn't be significantly crappier (albeit still quite crappy), and Obama probably could go on to win another term. Nobody actually knows what a second Obama term would look like, but I'm not betting on a great flowering of liberalism. I figure it will be the same corporatist crap, just minus the worst of the supply side bullshit.

If both parties still are obeying their corporate overlords, McConnell's plan is likely to be the one that flies. It will take a few days for House Republicans to figure out which of them can get away with voting for it and which of them get to beat their chests and vote "no," but it can pass. (Expect, of course, a very close vote.)

Those of us old enough to remember the James Dean movie cannot help but feel a bit cynical. It's only to be expected.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Regarding what's "on the table"

The June job figures show employment continuing to crash, even as corporate profits increase. Is anybody surprised? The profits are coming mainly from overseas, although "productivity increases" here at home (automation plus increasing worker exploitation) aren't hurting at all.

In his column in yesterday's Times, Paul Krugman pointed out that the president is running very low on economic advisers, and wondered if the political advisers — who, like Obama himself, seem to know very little about economics — might be exerting too much influence. Given the quality of the economic advisers he used to have, I suspect there's not a hell of a lot of difference, but I'm hoping somebody can communicate some sense to him.

First of all, somebody has to pound it into his thick skull that we are not dealing with supply-side problems. It doesn't matter how many tax cuts and tax advantages government tosses at business — they'll just take the money and sit on it, or use it to buy back their own stock or take over other businesses (with concomitant staff "consolidations") or distribute it as dividends to shareholders. None of it will be used to create jobs in the United States as long as Americans can't afford to buy their products.

(The political advisers, of course, will point out that some percentage of "independent" voters have swallowed the supply-side line, and will encourage Obama to "get out ahead" of the Republicans. Obama once said he'd rather be a good one-term president than an ineffective two-term president, but I suspect he was either lying or self-deceiving at the time. I don't have a lot of confidence in Obama — or any of our current political elite — putting the country ahead of their own ambitions.)

If we disregard political ambitions and corporate contributions (har de har har), it makes absolutely no sense to give the corporations "tax amnesty" for bringing overseas profits back to the United States. We tried it back when Bush was president, and all it did was create a great deal of moral hazard, inevitably leading to the current proposal to do it again.

It also makes no sense to cut entitlements, which would serve chiefly to further reduce demand, and make our employment problems even worse. If Obama really has Social Security and Medicare "on the table" in the current talks with the Republican leadership, let's hope he's feeding them a line of bullshit no less stinky than the line they're feeding him about the possibility of increasing tax levies on the plutocrats.

Shit, nobody in either party wants to tax the plutocrats! They are the plutocrats! (Where's the IWW when you need it? We need it now.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Debt Ceiling Dispute

This week we get to see whether Our President has finally grown big enough balls to stand up to those big bad Republicans. Yes, I know, they're very scary! Some of them are so stupid they may as well be crazy, and some of them have been publicly committed to supply-side voodoo for so long they are incapable of making rational choices.

Obama's biggest problem is that he's backed down so many times there's no reason for even the sensible Republicans — those who are just ordinary politicians — to believe he won't do so again. That means he has to get out ahead of the game this time, even given the fast approaching "deadline" that's supposed to frighten all of us so much.

Here's my suggestion: begin by announcing that there will be no agreement that does not include tax increases for the rich. He should not fudge the language by talking about "closing loopholes" or "eliminating subsidies" — he should come straight out and say "tax increases." The Republicans will, of course, accuse him of "class warfare," but what the hell? America is ready for a little "class warfare" at the moment, and the tea parties should not have a monopoly on populism while so-called conservatives load greater and greater burdens on the backs of the middle class and the poor.

Obama has taken a good first step by rejecting any temporary, stopgap measure that will do nothing but push the problem closer to the 2012 election. He has a history (think of the Bush tax cut extensions) of being nickled and dimed into major concessions, and he shouldn't allow that to happen again.

After drawing his line in the sand, his next step should be to announce that he will instruct Treasury to continue to sell bonds even after the debt ceiling is reached, based on the idea that when Congress votes for spending without raising sufficient revenues to pay the bills, it must be assumed that Congress is empowering the executive to borrow. By the time the Supreme Court issues an opinion on the Constitutional validity of a debt ceiling, breaching it will be a fait accompli, and the debt ceiling no longer could be held hostage by Republican blackmailers.

It's time for the president to start acting more like a scary black man and less like somebody who got his job through an affirmative action program. The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. Barack Obama seems to be beginning to make that attempt. Let's hope he follows through.