Dec 202012
 

keep-calm-and-stfu-127The Zeitgeist at Daily Kos is so annoying right now that I can’t stand to read it. Yet another iteration of Chicken-Littling about “OBAMA SELLING US OUT OMG OMG OMG OMFG!!!!!!!” Just like all the previous times…when, in the end, it has turned out he’s done nothing of the kind.

Markos himself has posted the same nonsense (here is one example diaryhe’s posted about five of them in recent days). Maybe he’s just stirring up the pushback, but the language he is using about what a lousy negotiator Obama iswhich flies in the face of historyis personal, insulting, and highly emotional. Also, baseless: it flogs a narrative that can only be considered true if you think failure to screech purist talking points while eating the Republicans’ lunch in policy face-offs is “weak”.

If you don’t think so, cast your eye back to the Republicans’ attempted hostage-taking of the debt ceiling in summer 2011.

Remember that one? Where the same Chicken Littles were screeching about “Obama slashing Medicare and Social Security”, because he’s a corporatist closet Republican blah blah yawn?

Remember the actual outcome? The actual outcome was to throw the deficit question to a commission which 1) everyone knew would fail to reach an agreement; 2) did, indeed, fail to reach an agreement; and 3) therefore, resulted in these impending sequester cuts which exempt Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while balancing fully half of the cuts on the military…and don’t take place until after the Bush tax cuts expire, leaving all the leverage to whoever won the 2012 election.

In other words, understanding that anything he would have wanted would be dismantled under a Republican President anyway, Obama made the relatively safe bet that he would have a second term, protected the very things the Chicken Littles were certain he was destroying, and handed the GOP a live grenade with no pin and an achingly strong handle spring.

Yeah, that was weak negotiating, all right. Oh, also a big giant orange and lime green sell-out, let’s not forget that…while we’re tripping balls.

So that brings us to today. The current face-off’s necessary outcomes include

  1. Raising the debt ceiling, so the US doesn’t default on its credit (credit extended by act of CONGRESS, it bears saying…not by the President);
  2. Extending unemployment insurance benefits for millions who will lose them next week;
  3. Doing some kind of deal on the deficit that avoids the draconian cuts to both military and social spending which will happen under the sequester deal unless such a deal is made. That means raising revenue, cutting spending, or both.

This isn’t just a battle over policies. It’s a battle over who gets to own “reasonable” in the eyes of voters, with the 2014 midterm elections hanging in the balance. Context includes the coming sequester and the sunsetting of the Bush tax cuts. So as of Jan. 1, taxes will go up on everyone by quite a bit…improving the revenue situation a lot, but also blowing a hole in our economy, which is still floating barely above the waterline as it is.

Oh…and the election for Speaker of the House happens on Jan. 3.

That election is Boehner’s top priority, make no mistake. And he can’t possibly get a bill with NO expenditure cutting through his caucus–if he tries he’ll either lose that election or win it so narrowly as to become even weaker than he is now. The President has insisted that taxes must rise on the wealthy–his position during the campaign was all incomes above $250K, but he recently offered to reduce that to $400K, and cuts including changing the COLA for Social Security to a chained CPI system, which is actually a more accurate way of estimating cost of living increases, but liberals are squawking about it because it is less generous than the current system.

Obama’s offer includes the requirement that the debt ceiling be raised and unemployment benefits extended as a part of the deal (read: “no more hostage-taking. Ever.”), and that interest payment savings to taxpayers by reducing the deficit through sunsetting the tax cuts on the wealthy be counted as part of the “cuts” side of the equation, which means nearly $300 billion less in actual cutting of expenditures. It also includes a permanent solution to the annual “doc fix”, which, if you don’t know what that is, you can go look up, as it’s a tangent to this post.

Boehner’s knee-jerk reaction to this was to declare a “Plan B” in which he proposed restoring Bush tax cuts for all incomes under $1 MILLION, and nothing else. The White House promptly said it would veto that, and Boehner doubled down, bringing it to a vote today even though he knows it’s doomed. It’s an empty gesture trying to make Democrats oppose a tax cut, but nobody is buying it. No matter what the outcome, Boehner loses.

Isn’t it obvious what’s going on here? Obama has Boehner on a limb, and he is steadily sawing it off.

A time-honored, ruthlessly effective political negotiating technique is to make an offer you know your opponent can’t possibly accept, but which appears to go much farther than s/he had any right to expect in the first place. If the offer appears to appall your supporters, so much the better…clearly, then, you must be trying really hard to find common ground. And then when your opponent refuses this offer, because you’ve poisoned it enough to make that inevitable…guess who’s the asshole?

Saying that “everything should be on the table” is positioning language, people. It doesn’t mean what it says. Anyone paying the slightest attention knows that. Eliminating the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t on the table. Eliminating the Navy isn’t on the table. Nationalizing the oil industry isn’t on the table.

I mean, c’mon. Take a break from your drama binge for a minute and think, for god’s sake. Boehner does have some leverage. He can prevent unemployment benefits from extending, and we really need for that to happen. Obama wants some infrastructure investments, too. He is going to have to give Boehner something for those, and it may come in the form of backing off somewhat from the $250,000 ceiling for restoring the tax cuts, and some expenditure cuts. I wish it weren’t so, but the Republicans hold the House. That’s just reality.

That said, I’d say it’s pretty much guaranteed that beneficiaries of social safety net programs are not going to see their benefits reduced by whatever comes out of this deal. They may, it’s true, see benefit increases slow a tiny bit, but by no reasonable definition does that constitute a cut.

Medicare benefits won’t be cut. Social Security benefits won’t be cut. Funding for the Obamacare programs won’t be cut. Medicaid won’t be cut.  Unemployment will be extended and the middle class tax cuts will persist, enabling the economy to continue to warm. You can take that to the bank.

The guy you’re smearing has your back. Maybe you can lay off the hyperbolic tarbrushing until there is an actual outcome you can assess, instead of forming up the circular firing squad again. Sheesh.

At publication, the Dragon was GROWLING

Nov 082012
 

“We need Latinos”.

That’s the only consensus conclusion being drawn by Republican talking heads after watching their candidates walloped on Tuesday. Seeing the Latino vote climbing steadily, GOPers today all seem to be nodding soberly and agreeing that, yep, they need them some Latinos.

(Well, okay, except for Viagra Rush and Bill-O the Clown. Those guys are just fulminating about the end of “traditional America”, apparently simply shattered at the prospect of a pluralistic society not ruled by old white guys.)

So: what’s wrong with that? The thing about the Latinos, I mean.

Well, to begin with, Republicans who are soberly talking about the urgency of getting with some brown people today are seemingly operating out of a stereotype of the Latino voter as Juan Valdez: a simple, hardworking and basically conservative Catholic, who is only backing Democrats because of the immigration issue.

They don’t seem to understand that Latino voters are Americans. In fact, millions of them were born and grew up here. They went to American schools, grew up in American society and, remarkably enough, they are not bewildered and amazed by smartphones and indoor plumbing. They have opinions on issues other than immigration. They’re no more stupid or gullible than any other segment of the population.

So that’s the first problem: your cutting-edge assessment that maybe you should be, I dunno, a little less racist, maybe, is rooted in assumptions that are…racist.

Not to mention the strategic problem, of course, that budging on immigration policy will make the Tea Party and Southern white racists’ heads explode. But on that, I just say boo effing hoo: you cultivated them, now you’re stuck with trying to keep them.

As I see it, the real mistake the Republican hand-wringers are making is in completely ignoring the real lessons of having lost two Presidential elections in a row and failed by every standard in this one despite a weak economy and limitless money faucet: their policies are unpopular and don’t work, and they have been deliberately deluding themselves that this isn’t so.

Republicans are in a bubble. They are only talking with or listening to people who think exactly like themselves, surrounded by an infrastructure of fable-tellers—conservative media, right-wing think tanks—which feed them a constant stream of fauxformation that reinforces their delusions about policy alternatives, about Democrats, and about what voters really want. That’s why they are all so danged shocked that the polls turned out to be right, that Nate Silver’s math outperformed Peggy Noonan’s gut feeling in predicting election outcomes.

If the Republican Party wants to remain viably competitive on a national scale, they have to become more like Eisenhower’s Republican Party: preferring a market-based, private-sector-centric approach to economics while recognizing that there is a legitimate role for governmental oversight and public works, and meanwhile standing for the liberty of the individual so long as that liberty doesn’t hurt anyone else. But rather than looking at this most fundamental of political problems and realizing that their dreams of a libertarian paradise or Jesusland or whatever the hell they’re trying to do are never going to happen, they just keep doggedly clinging to their increasingly discredited and unpopular policies, hoping to find some magical marketing strategy that will help them to sell America a s**t sandwich.

You don’t solve that by “getting some Latinos”. You solve it by facing reality. America is an increasingly heterogenous society. Women are a majority of voters. Young people are engaging in politics again. The middle class really has been nuked by Reaganomics. Climate change is real. Acceptance of civil equality for gay people is rising fast, and isn’t going to stop. Most people support abortion rights.

These are facts. Throwing a bone at a demographic while continuing to deny that your entire worldview is based in delusional fictions is not going to win you elections any more. Blithely lying about anything and everything is no longer persuasive: the public has caught on.

Predictably, however, the prescriptions being offered by leaders of the various Republican factions this week boil down to: get some of them Latinos, and move more in the direction of [INSERT FACTION HERE]. To head further into Crazyland.

You are now on the wrong side of both history and reality, Republicans. You can’t resolve that with some pretty packaging targeted at a group of people you have treated with naked hostility and contempt for decades. You solve it by starting to offer a product that seems to voters as though it might be useful in some way, instead of a pointless and irrelevant widget.

If you want to become nationally competitive again, you need to face facts, and tough your way through the inevitable civil war you must endure between your Plutocrats, Theocrats, and Teahaddists to a new agenda not rooted in delusion. Otherwise, the most you can possibly hope to do at the federal level is to serve as a spoiler now and again.

You don’t “need Latinos”. You need to wake the hell up.

On publication, the Dragon was KEEPING IT REAL

Nov 072012
 

This is a grab-bag of observations I made on Facebook the day after Democrats’ electoral romp on November 6, 2012. Stuff I thought readers might find interesting. FWIW…

 

The people in the GOP we are NOT hearing from today (in the wake of the Republican trouncing) are the social conservatives/Christian right. They are the anchor around the neck of the Republican Party, and they are ***INCAPABLE*** of moving one inch on their flagship issues of abortion and hating gays. Their leaders will not let them. Huckabee is talking about trying to get to Latinos, but it was WOMEN who drove Obama’s victory more than anyone else, and the Robertson crowd is never going to move off its position on abortion. It raises too much money for the televangelists and it’s too convenient a tool for whipping up fervor among low-education social conservatives.

If it were just about their insistent fantasy of trying to return to the world of “Mad Men”, that would be a solvable problem for the GOP. But “Mad Men” is the Plutocrats’ fantasy and goal. The social conservatives’ fantasy is Jesusland, and tolerance is anathema for them. That’s the GOP’s real problem: they need all those ignorant Southern/Midwestern white Christians. They can’t get anywhere nearly enough votes without them. And they are an absolute stake in the ground which prevents the party from moving strategically.

________________________________________

More election musing: the dispossessed.

One of the remarkable things about Barack Obama’s first Presidential campaign was that he tossed the conventional wisdom about who would vote and who wouldn’t. He looked for groups of forgotten, ignored and untapped voters in places no one had looked for years: the young, for example. Low-propensity African-Americans and Latinos. He went to those constituencies, registered them, organized them and won. And then he did it again in 2012.

One less-recognized part of that strategy was Team Obama’s major effort to register and turn out Native Americans. In low-population, high-Native states like NM and the Dakotas, Native American votes can be a deciding factor. And as it turns out, in North Dakota this time around, they were: they were the deciding margin that gave a Senate seat to Heidi Heitcamp over Rick Berg.

________________________________________

Oh, and…that complete repudiation of the retrograde-fantasy, straight-white-male-rulership,hateful, antifactual, antidemocratic travesty that has become the brand and agenda of the Republican Party?

We totally built that.

________________________________________

I’ve been involved in FOUR elections that were decided by less than ten votes, from Sonoma City Council to an alderman race on Cape Cod. Anyone who tells you a vote doesn’t mean anything just isn’t informed. It means *everything*.

________________________________________

Given the Republicans’ complete shellacking in this election, it does bear pointing out, friends, that the scary super-secret voting machine software patches owned and manipulated by Tagg Romney did not materialize.

(Ohio Secretary of State Jon) Husted and the rest of the GOP tried everything they could this cycle to suppress the vote, because the system actually does deliver a result based on voter choices. Let’s try to remember that when the conspiracy theories start flying around next time.
________________________________________

Here’s my take: the Powers want us not to care. It reinforces the narrative they’re trying to push: that nothing matters, that you can’t fight city hall, that the fix is in. They want us to go back to watching Jersey Shore and playing Angry Birds while they carve the world for their feast.

But the truth is that we aren’t like that at all. We’re suckers for a dream: we’re Americans. We want to believe, and we will exert quixotic effort in the name of our belief. I know that I wouldn’t think twice if I had to stand in the rain for a couple of hours to vote–I’d wear a coat and chat with the next person in line, if I had to.

But I wouldn’t consider not voting–not for one minute. I’m a shareholder in the future, goddamn it. My opinion matters. And so does yours. We aren’t the victims of history, nor its spectators. We MAKE history. We are its exponents.

We COUNT, you and I.

 

At publication, the Dragon was REALLY DAMNED HAPPY

Oct 102012
 

One result of the widespread cynicism about public institutions that grew out of the Sixties era—combined with the thirty-year Republican war on government’s capacity to do its job—is a large number of people who state proudly that they do not vote, or who choose to vote for minor-party candidates who have no possibility of reaching office.

Typically, their arguments include one or more of these elements:

Conspiracy theory. “Shadowy Powers really call all the shots in our world, and the elections are just a show.”

Cherry-picking complaint. “My issue is X and the major parties are lousy on that, so if I vote at all, I’m voting for Righteous McFringerton of the Thoroughly Groovy Party.”

Overgeneralized false equivalence. “Both major parties are the same. They’re controlled by the same people, so it doesn’t matter who you vote for.” On the left, the supposed puppeteers are “the rich” and “corporations”; on the right you get “special interests,” which is code for racial and sexual minorities, public interest nonprofits, and unions.

Strategic fantasy. “I vote third party because we have to start somewhere, and the two mainstream parties are lost causes. One day, the Good Stuff Party will be a major force in this country.”

I’ve been asked by several people how I would make a case to such folk that there is good reason for them to vote, and to vote for a candidate with an actual chance of winning. This post is in response to these requests.

To begin with we have to recognize that people who make these arguments do so because at root, they feel powerless. They prefer to believe that they are “in the know”, unlike the “sheeple” that make up most of the public, because it allows them to feel good about themselves in the context of that powerlessness. They have chosen this stance as a preferable alternative to grappling with complex issues and an electoral system in which most of us can only play a tiny role.

So please read the following responses with the caveat that rational argument cannot trump an emotional impulse. Many who express these beliefs simply aren’t persuadable: they need their shelter too much to give it up.

On “they’re all run by the same Powerful Interests”: I don’t think anyone disagrees that there are powerful interests which swing disproportionate weight in this country. But 100 years ago, it was far worse: mining and railroads and heavy industry were completely in charge. They openly bought and sold votes…and politicians.

But somehow, voters managed to do a lot of things those interests didn’t want to see happen. They elected reformers who started regulating those industries. They passed child labor and workplace safety laws, and the 40-hour work week, and guaranteed insurance for our bank deposits, and legal equality for minorities, and air and water quality protections, and invented the national park. Those voters and the people they elected are the reason you don’t have lead pipes delivering your drinking water or arsenic dusted on your food to deter spoilage. They’re the reason we have Social Security and Medicare, which are probably keeping some of your relatives afloat right now.

Powerful interests fought against all of those things, but they lost. Just a couple of years ago, those big interests lost on issues like the health care bill and the Wall Street reform bill, even though they spent millions on lobbyists trying to stop them.

Did we get all of what we wanted? No. But what we got made things a lot better than they were previously, and those interests hated every bit of it. That is what can happen if we put people in office who feel more loyal to us than they do to those interests. And the only way to do that is to vote for them.

A lot of men and women were terrorized, jailed and murdered to get the power you’re saying there’s no point in using. They knew voting mattered. Getting the vote meant the difference between oppression and freedom, between hope and despair, and in many cases between life and death for those people and their kids. The interests who tried to keep them from getting it knew it, too, because sure enough, when those who had been shut out of the election booth finally got the power to vote, things changed.

Think about it: whatever your opinion of him, Barack Obama could never have been President if African Americans had never been allowed to vote or run for office. That proves that voting matters, even when powerful interests are on the other side.

Sure, Exxon and the Koch Brothers have a lot of influence in our politics…but so do millions of ordinary people, if they gather together around what they care about, and back candidates who mostly agree with them and have a chance of winning.

I’m not saying the system can’t be improved. But it could also be a lot worse. To me, the excessive power of the wealthy and powerful business interests is even more reason to work to elect people who will push back against them.

On the major parties (or the President) being wrong on My Pet Issue (usually, pot legalization):  You know, you can’t expect the political system to be like a genie granting you wishes. You have to fight for what you want, and sometimes it can take a long time before you get it. In the meantime, the idea that just because your issue isn’t making much progress right now means that voting isn’t worth bothering with at all doesn’t make much sense, does it?

That’s like saying you’re willing to starve to death because your favorite food isn’t on the menu.

Look at it this way: there are more than 300 million people in this country. In anything even somewhat resembling a real democracy, government has to listen both to you and to people who completely disagree with you. So outcomes are going to be somewhere in the middle. Nobody gets everything they want.

But the only people who get to make those decisions are the ones who are in office. If you help elect someone in the name of an issue you care about, that official has to pay attention to it. Being a part of a winning campaign puts you in a position to make progress on the things you care about.

Incidentally, what about everyone else? If politics are making progress on your top issue progress difficult, don’t you have friends or family who care just as much about other issues? Like a woman’s right to choose, or the environment, or civil equality, or the cost of a college education, or taxes, or war? Why wouldn’t you help elect someone who can help make the difference for them?

On “both major parties are the same.” You know, back in the 1990s this was somewhat true. But now it is completely untrue. The Republican Party has become a raving gang of right-wing extremists. On any major issue you can name, there are huge differences between them and Democrats.

If they’d had a Republican President, Congress would never have ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Republicans are trying to reinstate it right now, and permanently ban gay marriage anywhere in the country with a Constitutional amendment. Republican leaders complain that we ended the war in Iraq. They want to go back to a system that allows health insurance companies to drop your coverage if you use it. Their solution to all problems is to give more money to the rich, even though that’s been proven a disaster for most Americans. Many of them want to eliminate public education, take away any meaningful help for people in their old age, make homosexuality a crime, force women to have babies against their will, even if conceived by rape, and sell off most of our national parks and public lands. They deny that climate change exists. The list goes on, and it is ugly.

There is a difference. There is a tremendous difference, and pretending there isn’t doesn’t make you look smart or knowledgeable.

If nothing else, think about the Supreme Court. Republicans have appointed a narrow, 1-vote majority of hard-right Court Justices which handed the White House to George W. Bush even though Al Gore won the election, which have taken away much of our right to privacy, and which approved unlimited corporate expenditure in political campaigns. They’re getting ready to make important decisions on issues like abortion rights and even access to birth control. The next President will appoint at least one Justice to the Court, and maybe as many as three. That will lock in the direction of the Court—and our rights—for decades. Several of the current Court majority believe that government has every right to police what you’re allowed to do in your bedroom. If for no other reason, don’t you think that’s a good reason to vote for the guy on the other team, who doesn’t agree with that stuff?

On the fantasy of “building a national third party”. At the local level, sometimes third parties can bring new ideas and shake things up. That’s not a bad thing. But at the national level, history says they’re a counterproductive strategy, and a formula for failure.

The United States settled into a two-party system shortly after the Civil War, and the only effect third parties have had since was to split the vote and hand elections to the people the third-party advocates disagreed with most.  Ross Perot and his Reform Party split the Republican Party twice, and gave the White House to Bill Clinton. John Anderson undermined Jimmie Carter, and we got Reagan. The Green Party’s Ralph Nader drew away enough voters from Al Gore in Florida to give the election to George W. Bush, thus providing us the unnecessary Iraq War, a draconian Patriot Act, a smoking crater of an economy, and a shameful reputation on the international stage, all of which wouldn’t have happened if Nader hadn’t been running. Heck, you can go back to Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party in 1912, which split the Republicans and handed the White House to Woodrow Wilson.

It doesn’t work. It’s been tried repeatedly. It’s a failing strategy.

Oh, and if you think you’re “making a statement”? You are, but it’s not the one you think. By and large, elected officials write off those who vote for third parties as fringe extremists and cranks who may safely be ignored. Voting for a third party makes you and your issues less influential, not more.

Please: think like an adult. You don’t get to have the ideal government in your mind. It isn’t the political process’ job to hand you your wish list on a platter. This is a complicated world full of shades of grey. It isn’t about “the lesser of two evils,” it’s about choosing the best of the available options.

Third party candidates aren’t real options. They’re castles in the air. The only possible effect of chasing them is to undermine the issues you claim to care about. In other words, to make things worse.

Finally, I find that this tends to make advocates of the conspiracy theory sit up and take notice:

You’re being used. The Republican Party has been encouraging cynicism about government and the political system for more than 40 years, because most of us disagree with their policies, and they can’t win if we turn out and vote for Democrats. And you’re playing right into their plan.

Why do you think they’re pouring so much effort into trying to suppress the vote in areas that vote Democratic? Why would they bother if the outcome isn’t important? C’mon: business guys don’t pour millions of dollars into something that doesn’t really matter.

So wise up: vote, and do it for candidates who 1) have a shot at winning; and 2) you agree with: not on everything, but on most things.

How hard is it, after all? What on Earth can it hurt?

At publication, the Dragon was PASSIONATE