A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Very Good Question

This button has a very good question on it -- which all Americans should give some thought to answering. From the blog of the wonderful Yellowdog Granny.

The Ultra-Right Continues Its Violent Rhetoric

After Rep. Giffords was shot and several innocent citizens killed in Arizona, there was a lot of talk about the violent rhetoric that has become commonplace in this country's political discourse -- especially the right-wing politicians and pundits. I was one of those who blamed right-wing leaders for feeding into the dangerous mood of the country with their rhetoric, which seemed to give the impression that violence was a legitimate option for dealing with people who disagreed with right-wing political views.

Of course they were quick to deny this, and many on the right joined in the call for a more tempered political speech. It was the hope of many that perhaps we would see a bit more tolerance among political adversaries. Unfortunately, the toned-down rhetoric didn't last long.

Once again we are beginning to hear politicians ramp up the political speech again. The right-wingers are once again accusing their political opponents of being socialists, enemies, or trying to destroy the country. And in the last week we have seen a couple of right-wingers blow past the line of common decency and seem to condone violence again.

Last week Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) was holding a town hall meeting in his home state. During that meeting a member of the audience asked Rep. Broun, "Who's going to shoot Obama?" When the question was asked many in the audience laughed.

Now the proper response for Rep. Broun (pictured above) to make would have been to tell the man his question was inappropriate and probably even illegal. But he did not do that. He joined the audience in laughter, and then mumbled something about needing to elect a conservative to the White House. He not only didn't say the question was wrong, he acted like it was an appropriate way to speak of the president of the United States.

It was only later, after being the brunt of a firestorm of protest over his callous action, that Rep. Broun began to say the question was inappropriate and he disagreed with it. But it was a hollow apology -- too little and too late. He had already shown his true colors.

In that same week a Deputy Attorney General for the state of Indiana -- a man appointed to uphold the law -- spoke as though violence is appropriate in our politics. As the people of Wisconsin were peaceably demonstrating -- something that have the constitutional right to do -- the Deputy Attorney General, Jeff Cox, tweeted that the police in Wisconsin should "use live ammunition" in controlling the demonstrators. He actually wanted the police to shoot citizens exercising their constitutional rights because he disagreed with the views of those citizens.

Cox even repeated his tweet when questioned by others over its appropriateness. Was he serious? It really doesn't matter. It was completely out-of-line for a state law enforcement official to make such a remark. Fortunately his bosses in the Attorney General's office saw the seriousness of his action and terminated his employment with the state.

Now I don't really think that either of these two men would actually shoot someone -- at least I hope they wouldn't. But there are a lot of nuts in this country that would, and this kind of talk gives them the impression that acting violently would be seen by right-wing leaders (who many of them admire) as justifiable.

I guess we should be thankful that both of these men were immediately criticized (even by some on the right) for their partaking in violent political rhetoric. But I doubt this is the end of this violent rhetoric by those on the right. Too many of them seem to think it is their right to say these kinds of things. And there is no doubt that some sickos like Scott Roeder or Timothy McVeigh will act on their words in a misguided attempt to carry out the wishes of those they admire.

It is time for those on the right to control themselves and their peers, and rein in the over-the-top hate speech. Failure to do so will just cost more lives -- and result in more denials from them.

Kiwi Tragedy

Political Cartoon is by Bob Englehart in The Hartford Courant.

Fox CEO To Be Charged With A Crime ?

It's no secret that many of the rich and powerful in this country think they are above the law. They think they can do as they please and flaunt laws they would demand the poor be punished for. One of those rich and powerful scofflaws in Roger Ailes (pictured above), the CEO of News Corporation (parent company of Fox News).

During the Bush administration former New York City police chief Bernard Kerik was being considered to head the newly-created Department of Homeland Security. While the background check was being done on Kerik, Ailes told one of his employees (Judith Regan) to lie about the affair she had with Kerik. Kerik was close to Rudy Giuliani (a close friend of Ailes) and Ailes was afraid if the affair became public knowledge, it could damage Giuliani.

The problem with that is that asking someone, especially someone you have power over, to lie to a federal law enforcement official is against the law. It is called suborning perjury and its a serious crime. And Ailes is caught red-handed. The employee he asked to lie has a tape of the phone call with Ailes.

Now it looks like Ailes may actually be charged with the crime. Barry Ritholtz is reporting that Ailes has cancelled a speaking engagement scheduled for March for legal reasons. It seems that he expects to be charged with the crime, possible as early as this week.

He should be charged. I don't expect him to actually do any jail time. We don't do that in this country to people as rich and powerful as Ailes. He'll probably get off with a slap on the wrist, which is a shame since an ordinary American would very likely get jail time for a crime like suborning perjury. But it should be interesting watching him waste millions of dollars fighting the charge (because you know he'll hire the most expensive lawyers -- and they'll get as much as they can of his money).

How Can It Be ?

Political Cartoon is by Mike Keefe in The Denver Post.

Teabagger Presidential Straw Poll

A couple of thousand teabaggers met in Phoenix this last weekend for a policy summit and cheerleading session. Leaders from many different teabagger groups were there. One of the last events they had was a straw poll to see just who these teabagger leaders were considering supporting for the Republican presidential nomination. The results of the straw poll were a little surprising.

The winner of the poll was Herman Cain (pictured above), former CEO of Godfather Pizza and current right-wing radio talk show host. Although he finished first,he got less than a quarter of the vote. And that could be because he was one of only three candidates to actually attend and speak to the teabaggers. The other two finished in second and third place (Ron Paul and Tim Pawlenty).

Here is how the poll came out:

Herman Cain...............22%
Tim Pawlenty...............16%
Ron Paul...............15%
Sarah Palin...............10%
Mitt Romney...............6.5%
Michele Bachmann...............5.6%
Everyone else had little support

Even though she didn't attend the teabagger summit, Sarah Palin has to be disappointed in the outcome of this straw poll. She (and Michele Bachmann) consider themselves to be the queens of the teabagger movement, and would have been expected to do a little better. It doesn't look like these teabagger leaders consider Palin and Bachmann to be viable candidates, and if the teabaggers don't support them then where is their support going to come from?

The poll won't hurt Romney. He's never been a favorite of the teabaggers, who consider him more of a moderate Republican rather than one of their own. If he gets the nomination it will be because establishment moderates support him and conservatives think he's the only one that could beat Obama.

Of course straw polls don't mean much this far out and I seriously doubt Cain could do that well with the rank-and-file teabaggers. In fact, Ron Paul easily won the online poll conducted in conjunction with the summit. But it is still interesting -- especially in the rebuff of Palin.

Bloody Tyrant

Political Cartoon is by Daryl Cagle at msnbc.com.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The "No Inflation" Lie

The government is telling us there's no reason for cost-of-living-adjustments because there's no inflation. But as the chart above clearly shows, that is just not true. The cost of nearly everything has risen over the past year. From the blog Zero Energy Construction.

Why Won't Obama Keep His Promise ?

During the campaign of 2008, Barack Obama knew he could not win without the traditional Democratic coalition supporting him in a united effort (even with the unpopularity of the outgoing administration helping). And a large part of that coalition is made up of workers, especially union workers. Obama made it clear while on the campaign trail that he stands behind union workers and would do whatever he could to help them -- even to the point of walking a picket line with them.

He told those workers, "If American workers are being denied the right to organize when I'm in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes and I will walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States." It was a bold and wonderful promise. Now it's time for him to live up to that promise.

The idiot governor of Wisconsin, bought and paid for by the Koch brothers and their right-wing cohorts, is trying to bust the public union in that state. Those workers have already agreed to cuts in pay and benefits, but that's not good enough for Gov. Walker. He's out to bust the union. And those workers are demonstrating, with the help of their fellow citizens, in an effort to save their union. They have asked to president to come and help them.

This is a critical fight -- not just for Wisconsin workers, but for workers everywhere. And it would be a huge boost for workers all over this country for the president to go to Wisconsin and show his solidarity with the workers. He doesn't have to stay long or even carry a picket sign. Just come a shake a few hands for 15 or 20 minutes, and say a few encouraging words. His mere presence would speak volumes.

But it seems the president has no intention of honoring his promise to workers in their time of need. White House spokesmen say the president has no plans to go to Wisconsin anytime soon. I have to wonder why not? Is he afraid it will upset his new friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or on Wall Street? Is he afraid it would hurt his re-election chances? Does he think supporting the workers will anger the congressional Republicans?

Frankly, I don't care what his reasons are. He made a promise. It's now time to honor that promise. If he doesn't, it makes that promise seem like nothing more than campaign rhetoric. And he might find a lot of those workers staying at home on election day in 2012. Why should they vote for someone who makes empty promises that he won't keep.

Go to Wisconsin, Mr. President. It's time to make a stand, and honor a promise.

Opposite Directions

Political Cartoon is by Joel Pett in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

New Jobs Not The Same As The Old Jobs

In January the unemployment rate in this country dropped to about 9% according to the government. This caused some celebration among some pundits, who claimed it was evidence that the economy is rebounding. I wish that was true, but its not. Even the wizards at the Labor Department admitted that the cause of the drop in the unemployment number was most likely due to many more people giving up on finding a job (at least through unemployment agencies).

The truth is that the number of jobs created in January barely kept up with the number of new people entering the job market, while millions of Americans have given up trying to find work (when you add in those who have given up and those working part-time because they can't find full-time work, the jobless figure climbs to 16-17%). But the lack of jobs is not the only problem.

There is also the matter of the quality of the few new jobs being created. These new jobs come with much lower wages and fewer benefits than the millions of jobs lost in the Republican recession. Many higher wage jobs, especially in industrial work, are still being outsourced to other countries (where they can be changed into low wage jobs).

Also, some jobs that used to be done by higher paid people are now being done by those in lower-paying positions. For example, in the health-care industry "tasks that were previously performed by doctors, nurses, dentists or other health-care professionals increasingly are being performed by physician assistants, medical assistants, dental hygienists and physical therapist aides."

Another example is Lowe's, a chain of home improvement stores. They are cutting 1,700 store manager positions (high paying jobs), and hiring more weekend sales clerks (very low-paying jobs). By cutting high-wage jobs and pushing the work down to lower-wage employees, companies can fatten profits without increasing sales or production. And many companies are taking advantage of the recession to do exactly that.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting that one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, as far as jobs are concerned, will be among "food preparation and serving" workers. In the ten-year period ending in 2018, the number of jobs in that area is expected to grow by around 394,000 jobs. The problem is that these jobs pay an average of only about $16,430 (including tips). And they don't come with many, if any, benefits.

This is exactly what corporate America wants -- a low-paid work force with plenty of unemployed people to keep those low-wage workers from demanding too much. We are witnessing the destruction of the middle class and a return to the time before unions helped workers achieve a decent and stable income. A time when the rich controlled most of the wealth and income of the country, and everyone else was reduced to begging for scraps.

This is not the way to bring this country out of recession. Republicans still seem to be convinced that if rich people are given enough money they will create decent good-paying jobs for the rest of America. But that is not, and never has been, how unregulated capitalism works. The corporate moguls know this, and that's why they are encouraging their Republican puppets to bust the unions (the only force in America that pressures business to give workers a fair deal).

The good jobs are leaving (with the blessing of our idiot politicians), and they are being replaced by crap-jobs (and not even enough of them). It's a corporate mogul's wet dream, and that's why they are pouring millions into our political system to help Republicans. They know the Republicans they're buying will use whatever excuse they can (like deficit reduction) to keep things just like they are.

Get used to the pain folks. Until we wake up and put a real progressive in the White House and progressive majorities in Congress, this is the way it's going to be.

They Like It

Political Cartoon is by Jim Morin in The Miami Herald.

UT Chancellor Says NO To Guns On Campus

The United States leads the world in the number of firearm deaths that occur every year. Here in Texas, there are 11 people killed by guns for every 100,000 people in the state each year. In their infinite wisdom, the Republican leadership in the state has decided that the solution to too many gun deaths is to put guns in the hands of more people. They reason that if more people have guns, there will be fewer gun deaths. I know that doesn't make sense, but then Texas Republicans are not known for making sense.

Texas already has a concealed carry law that allows people over 21 to carry a firearm nearly anywhere (even into the State Capitol building itself). There are still a few places a gun cannot be carried -- like bars, schools, colleges, churches. But the state's Republican legislators are trying to fix that. There is currently a bill in the state legislature that would allow adults 21 and older to carry a concealed firearm on the campus of state colleges and universities, and it looks like it has a good chance of passage.

But not everyone thinks this is a good idea. University of Texas Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa believes it would just make his campus a more dangerous place. And in a last-ditch effort to stop the insane bill, he has written a letter to Governor Perry. Here is the text of that letter:

Dear Governor Perry:


As the legislature considers the important and sensitive issue of concealed handguns on campuses of institutions of higher education, I would be remiss in my duties as chancellor of the state's largest university system if I did not convey my concerns regarding this issue.


I greatly respect and value the authority of the legislature to make this important public policy decision, and I recognize the variety of opinions surrounding it. The University of Texas system has worked diligently to make our campuses safer, through the use of emergency notification systems and other measures. Yet parents, students, faculty, administrators, and institutional law enforcement have all expressed to me their concerns that the presence of concealed handguns on campus would contribute to a less-safe environment, not a safer one.


Additionally, further unease has been expressed by our campus mental health professionals, who know and deal with the reality of the emotional and psychological pressures of academic life, separation from family, relationships -- all pressures that contribute to the harsh reality that suicide is the leading cause of death among college students. There is great concern that the presence of handguns, even if limited to licensed individuals 21 or older, will lead to an increase of both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds.


Our law enforcement personnel, consisting of highly-trained professionals who work within these unique campus environments, are particularly troubled about the ability of our officers to differentiate between the bad actor and a person defending himself/herself and others when both have guns drawn. Furthermore, the high density of campus housing -- which includes both persons of age and persons too young to secure a concealed handgun license -- raises issues of how licensed individuals will be able to secure their weapons when not carried on the individual's person.


There is also unease that laboratories and hospitals, where chemicals and gases are not only present but often under pressure, create unique situations where the discharge of a firearm may have consequences well beyond what one may expect in other environments.


I must concur with all the concerns and apprehensions expressed to me, that the presence of concealed weapons, on balance, will make a campus a less-safe environment. I respectfully request that you and your colleagues will weigh these concerns, and the safety and lives of those on our campuses, as you consider this issue.


I realize this is one of many important decisions on the legislature's collective shoulders this session. Thank you for considering our concerns.


With great respect, 


Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D.
Chancellor

Budget's Just An Excuse

Political Cartoon is by Joel Pett in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Two Down - More To Go

From the great website Pundit Kitchen.

Iraqi Government In Trouble Too

Supposedly, one of the reasons that George Bush invaded and occupied the country of Iraq was to topple the dictatorship there and install an American-style democracy in its place. And he did install a puppet government there after holding "elections" (although all candidates had to be approved by the occupying power -- the United States).

I have been saying for a while now that democracy can't be imposed anywhere by an outside military power. We couldn't do it in Vietnam, and we should have known better than to try it in Iraq (or Afghanistan). The only reason that Iraqi government is still in power is because we still have 50,000 soldiers in that country. But even that may not be enough to save it.

The Iraqi people are not stupid, and they have been watching the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. And if the people can accomplish something in those countries, why not in Iraq? On Friday, the people of Iraq took to the streets in massive demonstrations against the government. They are unhappy with the corruption, the shoddy public services and the inability of the government to rebuild the country (and probably also to get the U.S. to leave).

The Iraqi president begged the people not to demonstrate, saying they would just be helping the "loyalists of Saddam" and the insurgents. Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr also begged to people to stay home (he still thinks he can carve out a powerful position for himself in the puppet government). But the people wouldn't listen to either one. They turned out to demonstrate against the government in at least 10 Iraqi cities -- showing they have widespread support.

President Nuri al-Maliki said he supported the free speech rights of the people to assemble and demonstrate, but he turned his security forces loose on them also. At least 11 people were killed, and many were beaten.

This is not going to go away anytime soon. Even if al-Maliki is able to suppress the demonstrations for now, they will pop up again -- especially once the Americans leave. The current government there will not survive. I can't believe we were ever stupid enough to think that it could.

It is time for all American troops to leave Iraq. Then the people of Iraq can establish whatever government they want (and they will). It was never our right to impose a government on them.

And the same thing is true of Afghanistan.

Budgeting Like The GOP

Political Cartoon is by Matt Bors at mattbors.com.

You Play With Fire - You Get Burned

Evidently no one was paying attention to the vile members of the Westboro Baptist Church last week, so they decided to get some publicity by claiming they were the victims of a threat by the computer hacker group known as Anonymous. This is the group that defended WikiLeaks by temporarily shutting down the computer sites of businesses trying to run WikiLeaks out-of-business and off the internet -- like PayPal, MasterCard, Visa and Amazon.

Anonymous was quick to let the media know they had not made any threat toward Westboro Baptist. The whole mess was a hoax perpetrated by Phelps and his clan (because narcissists like Phelps can't stand being ignored). Anonymous said while they disagreed with the vile message of Westboro Baptist, the church had the right to say what they wanted. Anonymous said they were busy with much more important work, like helping the democracy movement in Libya and other parts of the Arab world. They simply asked that Westboro Baptist stop trying to use them to get publicity.

But asking a nut like Phelps to stop making a fool of himself is a lot like asking an alcoholic to stop after only one drink -- it has very little chance of being successful. Phelps and Westboro Baptist continued to attack Anonymous and dared them to do anything about it. Well, he got his silly wish. A couple of days ago, Anonymous took all six of Westboro Baptist's sites down -- GodHatesFags.com, PriestsRapeBoys.com, GodHatesAmerica.com, GodHatesTheWorld.com, JewsKilledJesus.com, and AmericaIsDoomed.com.

Normally I don't like for sites to be shut down like this, but I'm having a hard time feeling sorry for the folks at Westboro Baptists. They were warned and they ignored that warning. It's like a person that was warned that a pit bull was not on the leash and they should stop teasing the dog, but they continue to do it until they get bit. Phelps kept attacking Anonymous after being warned, and they finally bit his ass.

If you play with fire long enough, you will get burned. I'm sure Westboro Baptist will get their sites back soon, but I hope they've learned their lesson.

Here is the message Anonymous left on the Westboro Baptist sites (and this was all that could be seen on those sites). You can click on it to get a larger image.

Republicans Are Serious ?

Political Cartoon is by Jack Ohman in The Oregonian.

Transgendered Woman In Amarillo Mayor's Race

It took a little while, but it looks like the race for mayor in Amarillo has finally gotten interesting enough to pay some attention to it. When Mayor Debra McCart announced nearly a month ago that she would not be running for another term, only one candidate instantly jumped in the race to replace her. Car salesman Paul Harpole announced he would be running only days after McCart's announcement.

Harpole looks to be the establishment candidate. He is an ex-member of the city commission, and he supports the actions of the current city commission (and mayor). He is also opposed to Amarillo going to a system of electing city commission members by single member districts. He wants to keep the current system where all members are elected at-large (and therefore all wind up coming from the same wealthy and white part of town -- even though non-Hispanic whites only make up 52% of the city's population, and that percentage drops sharply again when you consider many of the city's whites are not wealthy). He is happy with a small group of people controlling the city government.

For a couple of weeks it looked like Harpole might be the only candidate. But last week David Grisham, security guard and head of the tiny ultra-fundamentalist group Repent Amarillo, tossed his hat into the ring. You may remember him as the nutjob that tried to burn a Quran in a local park last September. He was dousing it with lighter fluid when a man walked up and snatched it away -- ruining Grisham's publicity stunt and making him look like the fool he really is.

The only good thing I can say about Grisham is that he supports single-member districts for the city commission (which is badly needed in a city the size of Amarillo). But Grisham is such an ultra-fundamentalist religious nut that he makes normal fundamentalists look downright liberal. There is little doubt that he would try to turn the city government into a mini-theocracy, and get the city involved in some costly and futile court battles.

Things were looking pretty grim. I didn't want to support the establishment candidate who wanted to keep the status quo, but I couldn't vote for the religious nut either. Thank goodness a third candidate entered the race yesterday, and it looks like a reasonable candidate that I can happily and whole-heartedly support.

That candidate is 53 year-old Sandra Dunn (pictured above). Dunn is a transgendered woman, but says she hopes her lifestyle choice doesn't become a distraction during the campaign (and she has no intention of forcing her choice on others). She just wants the city run in a reasonable progressive fashion.

Dunn is in favor of single-member districts. She also supports the renovation of the downtown area but with a few changes -- like less uniformity. She said she supports real sex education, and wants to try and reduce teen pregnancies. And she opposes a city-wide smoking ban (which Amarillo voters have rejected at least twice in the recent past). Frankly, that sounds like a platform I can support without reservation. She is undoubtably the best of the three candidates.

Dunn doesn't have a lot of money to spend on her campaign, and will probably be vastly outspent by the establishment candidate. Instead, she is basing her hopes on a city-wide door-to-door campaign. I wish her well. It probably doesn't mean much, but Sandra Dunn has the support of this blog.

Texas Edjukashun

Political Cartoon is by Ben Sargent in the Austin American-Statesman.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cannot Comprehend

A thoughtful commentary from Gary Trudeau in his brilliant comic strip Doonesbury.

Now More Than A Thousand Hate Groups In U.S.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has released its annual intelligence report on hate groups in the United States, and it paints a pretty grim portrait of America. Hate groups are still proliferating in this country, and as the chart shows, for the first time since the SPLC began keeping tabs on them the number of different hate groups has topped 1,000. These groups grew from 932 of them in 2009 to 1002 of them in 2010 (a rise of 7.5% in the last year and a rise of 66% since the year 2000).

The SPLC says the reasons for this continued growth is "resentment over the changing racial demographics of the country, frustration over the lagging economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and other demonizing propaganda aimed at minorities and the government."

Mark Potok, editor of the SPLC Intelligence Report, said, "Far-right extremists remain highly energized, even as politicians across the country co-opt many of the radical ideas and issues that are important to them. This success in having their voices heard in the political arena, where they have long occupied the fringe of conservative thought, might eventually take the wind out of their sails, but so far we're not seeing any sign of that."

While there are hate groups in all states, some have many more than others. You can go here to see the numbers for all states. The states with the most hate groups are:

California...............68
Texas...............59
Florida...............48
New Jersey...............47
Mississippi...............40
Georgia...............39
Pennsylvania...............36
Tennessee...............35
Michigan...............35
Alabama...............33
Ohio...............32
New York...............31
South Carolina...............30

In addition the the groups designated as hate groups, the SPLC also tracks two other kinds of groups -- "nativist extremist" groups and "patriot" organizations (including militias). The nativist extremist groups are defined as those "organizations that go beyond mere advocacy of restrictive immigration policy to actually confront or harass suspected undocumented immigrants or their employers." These groups grew from 309 groups in 2009 to 319 in 2010 -- an increase of 3%.

But the Patriot movement groups, who see the federal government as their primary enemy, had the most explosive growth in the last year. They grew an astounding 61% -- from 512 groups in 2009 to 824 groups in 2010. The militias, a part of this movement, grew from 127 groups in 2009 to 330 groups in 2010 -- a growth of 160%.

When the hate groups, the nativist extremist groups and the patriot groups are added together, we have a pretty scary scenario.   Collectively these groups grew from 1,753 in 2009 to 2,145 in 2010 -- a frightening increase of 22% in just the last year.

None of this is happening in a vacuum. With the election of an African-American president and the growth of the minority population far outpacing the white establishment, these groups have seized on these things to once again come forward with their hate-filled agenda. The really sad part is that this agenda has been embraced by many on the right -- especially the teabaggers and the Republican Party (who are using these people in an effort to return to power).

There is a discussion to be held on immigration, the deficit, and other issues, but appealing to the darkest side of human nature is not the way to hold that discussion. An immigrant nation such as ours must never abandon its goal of tolerance and diversity.

Who Needs Them ?

Political Cartoon is by Mike Keefe in The Denver Post.

The Insanity Of A Balanced Budget Amendment

There is little doubt that Sen. Rand Paul (pictured above) is one of the nuttiest Republicans in Washington. He's ready to get rid of nearly all federal programs -- except the ones that send him checks. And he'd also love to rescind many federal laws, like the health care reform bill, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the Civil Rights Acts. But one of his absolute stupidest ideas is to amend the U.S. Constitution to mandate a federal balanced budget.

Paul would like to have the amendment to force Congress (and the president) to spend no more than the government takes in each year. It would take a 3/5 majority of both Houses to spend any money above that. The only exception would be in a time of war, when a simple majority could suspend the requirement.

He's having a little trouble finding people in Congress crazy enough to go along with him though. Although Republicans like to talk about a balanced budget amendment, even most of them know it just couldn't work in the real world. That's why they just use it to snow their teabagger base during a campaign and then drop the idea after the elections are over. After all, the Republicans are traditionally the biggest spenders in Washington (they just do it to help the rich rather than Americans who actually need help).

But Paul is a true believer, and he's dumb enough to believe a balanced budget amendment could actually work. So when he couldn't get enough support in Washington, he decided to take his case to the states. He wants the states to call for a constitutional convention to pass a balanced budget amendment. But it looks like he's striking out there also. The  Kentucky teabagger gubernatorial hopeful Phil Moffett, who Paul has endorsed and who introduced Paul at CPAC, doesn't even like the idea -- being afraid of what a constitutional convention would do.

It doesn't look like us progressives are going to have to worry much about this crazy idea. The conservatives are doing a pretty good job of killing the idea all be themselves. One of the most coherent arguments against a balanced budget amendment is offered by conservative writer Bruce Bartlett, who worked in the administrations of both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Here are his eight reasons why a balanced budget amendment is a very bad idea:

1. It will take forever to get an amendment enacted by Congress and approved by three-quarters of the states, if it can be done at all. Back in the 1980s, Republicans expended enormous effort to get such an amendment but could never muster the two-thirds majority necessary in both houses.


2. The simplistic amendment being proposed − the budget must be balanced except in times of war − was rejected by most Republicans in the 1980s on the grounds that it would likely force a tax increase, which is by far the easiest way to bring the budget into balance quickly. Instead, they favored some sort of spending limitation amendment. Furthermore, a balanced-budget amendment would pretty much make it impossible to ever cut taxes.


3. It’s one thing to require a balanced budget when starting from a position of balance or near-balance. It’s quite another when we are running deficits of over $1 trillion per year for the foreseeable future. Even if we were not in an economic crisis and fighting two wars, a rapid cut in spending of that magnitude would unquestionably throw the economy into recession just as it did in 1937.


4. It’s doubtful that BBA supporters really understand the composition of federal spending. In fiscal year 2009, we would have had to abolish every discretionary spending program, including national defense, to balance the budget and that still wouldn’t have been enough without higher revenues. We would have had to cut more than $300 billion out of Medicare and Social Security as well.


5. A BBA would force the federal government to make economic recessions worse. Since federal revenues fall and spending rises automatically in economic downturns, it would force spending cuts and tax increases at precisely the point when the economy is reeling, potentially turning a modest downturn into a depression.


6. There is no explanation for how a balanced budget amendment would be enforced. Perhaps Republicans just assume that public opinion will be sufficient. But the reality is that for such an amendment to be operational and not just a meaningless expression of intent,  there has to be a point in the budgetary process when the federal courts can enjoin spending or force tax increases. This is obviously a very bad idea in principle, but it’s also impractical. As a legal matter, we would have no way of knowing that the budget was in fact unbalanced until the fiscal year had ended. Even a federal court can’t make people give back federal funds that have already been paid out for interest on the debt, Social Security and Medicare benefits, wages and salaries for government workers, payments for goods and services, etc. Thus a balanced budget amendment of the sort Republicans propose is effectively unenforceable.


7. In practice, Congress operates primarily on the basis  of budget estimates provided by the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget. Many seemingly obvious terms like “revenue” and “outlay” lack a legal definition. Consequently, key decisions about whether a budget is balanced or not will be in the hands of government bureaucrats.


8. Finally, I can easily foresee the U.S. in a perpetual state of war to avoid the necessity of balancing the budget. This being the case, Republicans should ask themselves if they really want the Constitution of the United States to be treated in such a frivolous manner. If we pass an amendment that we know in advance is unenforceable, doesn’t that debase the Constitution itself?

Thinking

Political Cartoon is by Bruce Plante in Tulsa World.

Texas Is Still In The Race (Unfortunately)

It seems that the yearly contest for craziest state legislature is becoming more popular with each passing election, and it is especially intense this year. Several states have made breathtaking challenges for the crown, including Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Florida, South Dakota, and of course, returning champion Arizona. But Texas has been bringing the crazy for over 150 years now, and they're not about to throw in the towel.

Texas has already brought forth bills to stop non-existent voter fraud, deny citizenship to Hispanic babies, eliminate "sanctuary" cities, force women to view sonograms before an abortion, and lay off nearly 100,000 teachers. But it's early in the legislative session and Republicans have not run out of crazy yet. Now the Republican women are joining the fray.

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) has filed yet another Republican immigration bill -- in spite of the fact that immigration is a federal, not a state concern. She has decided that all undocumented immigrants are the fault of the U.S. Congress, so her bill would authorize any local law enforcement officers to drop off undocumented immigrants at the office of any U.S. Senator or Representative. An employee of the senator or representative would be required to sign a statement acknowledging receipt of the immigrant.

I think Kolkhorst's bill deserves a companion bill -- that would take effect the same time her bill does, if passed. The companion bill would require Republican legislators to house and feed all unemployed persons out of their personal funds. After all, it is the policies of their party that caused most of those people to lose their jobs.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball), whose prior claim to fame is the charge that terrorists are having "anchor babies" that will return to commit terrorist acts in 20-30 years, is introducing her own immigration bill. Her bill would make it a state felony for someone to hire an undocumented immigrant. Her bill does have an exception though -- it would not be a felony crime to hire an undocumented immigrant to work "exclusively or primarily at a single-family residence". She had to include that exception or she would have made felons of her rich Republican friends.

Republicans may talk of budget-cutting and jobs (neither of which they're very good at), but they can't fool us. They're really going for the unofficial title of craziest state legislature -- and right now, the race is very close.

Dictators

Political Cartoon is by Clay Bennett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What Worries Republicans

Pundit Kitchen points out the greatest fear of congressional Republicans.

Corporate Tax Deals Won't Fix The Economy

The Republicans have convinced much of the American populace that this country is in trouble because the deficit has grown too large. And since taxes can't be raised for ordinary Americans in the midst of a recession, people have been led to believe that the only thing that can be done is to cut programs, even programs that are necessary to educate our youth, take care of the elderly, provide for medical care, and help Americans in financial distress.

But the fact is that these good and much-needed programs are not the problem. The real problem is that we keep cutting taxes for the rich and giving corporations sweetheart tax deals that result in putting the tax burden on workers and the middle class. And this is happening at a time when the rich and the corporations are making more money than ever. They don't need all the tax breaks they are getting.

Take General Motors (GM) for instance. A few years ago they were in deep trouble, but the combination of declaring bankruptcy and a government bailout has them back in the black. But even though they are making a nice profit this year, they won't be paying any taxes. That's because the government is letting them mark off their losses from previous years -- to the tune of $14 billion in taxes they won't have to pay.

While it is normal to let a company write off previous years losses on their taxes, it is not normal to let them do this after they have declared bankruptcy and had much of their debt forgiven. But the government is going to let GM do it anyway. And that is just wrong. They have enough of the taxpayer's money already.

And GM is not the only U.S. corporation that is avoiding paying its fair share of taxes. While Exxon pays billions of taxes to other countries, they pay nothing to the United States government in taxes. And this is true of far too many large corporations. Some even get tax breaks for outsourcing American jobs (a tax provision the Republicans protected in the last session of Congress).

The truth is that cutting programs that benefit ordinary Americans and cutting taxes for the rich and the corporate interests will not help this country out of recession -- only creating jobs will do that. But job creation requires the government spend some money -- money they would have if the rich and the corporations paid their fair share of taxes.

Some of you may think that lowering taxes for corporations means they will hire more workers. That has been proven to not be true. Businesses only hire workers when they need them to deliver the goods or services they offer, regardless of what the tax rate is. If a corporation doesn't need more workers to deliver their product properly, then those tax breaks just go into their bank accounts (and into huge bonuses for management).

The Republicans are just wrong with their subsidies and tax breaks for the corporations. They don't need the help, but the American people do. And the people could get the needed help if the corporations (and the rich) paid taxes.

Economic Survivor

Political Cartoon is by David Horsey in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The Obedient Mainstream Media

There was a time in this country when the mainstream media was independent enough to tell the truth to the people regardless of who didn't like it. Newspapers took the lead, but even radio and television considered their duty to report the news to be sacrosanct and independent of any need to be entertaining or profitable. Those times are long gone.

Far too often today, the media is more concerned with profits than delivering real news. We're lucky if we get superficial coverage of the news. Seldom does any of the media spend the money or the time to dig deep enough into a story to find the truth. They think they've done their job by giving "both sides" of an issue, and almost never dig deep enough to see whether one (or both) side is lying.

That would be bad enough, but the problem is even deeper. Far too often the modern mainstream media is little more than an obedient mouthpiece for government. They repeat the points and stories the government wants the people to hear, and hide the uncomfortable facts the government wants kept secret. This is not only wrong -- it's dangerous, especially in a democracy when the people need the whole truth so they can make reasonable decisions.

Take for example the story of the United States "diplomat" arrested in Pakistan for shooting a couple of men. The United States government has been telling the public that the man was a diplomat and was covered by diplomatic immunity. The truth is that he was a CIA agent recruited from the infamous Blackwater Security. The Pakistanis knew this from day one, and it was reported in their media, but somehow this part of the story did not make it to these shores.

The New York Times has now admitted that they knew he was a CIA agent (they had to since it was widely known in Pakistan). They say they did not report that because the Obama administration asked them not to do so. They were told that reporting it could put the agent's life in danger. And the NY Times was not the only U.S. mainstream media source that didn't report this fact. They all hid it.

The only reason it is being reported now is because the British newspaper, The Guardian, has published the information. The Guardian was also asked to keep it a secret, but someone at that paper evidently had a functioning brain. They asked themselves how it would put the agent in danger. That fact was already widely known in Pakistan, where he is being held. The only place where it was still a secret was Great Britain and the United States. Surely the government didn't think he was in danger from the citizens of those countries.

They decided the government wanted to keep it a secret because they didn't want to be embarrassed by the revelation that a CIA agent was evidently spying on Pakistan -- a nation we are not at war with and who is supposed to be our friend. And since they considered the public's right to know more important than the government's desire to avoid embarrassment, they printed the story. And that is exactly what they should have done.

Once they printed it, the American media printed it also. They should have done it much sooner -- like the day they learned the truth. It is not the job of journalists to hide the truth or to protect government. In fact, this is just the opposite of what they are supposed to do. It is their job to get the facts to the people (and hopefully the story behind those facts), regardless of what the government (or the corporations) wants.

This is becoming a regular thing with the media -- the obedient mainstream media. They failed the public with this story, and it makes one wonder how many other times they've hidden facts that are inconvenient to the government. Probably far too often. This is another reason why it is not good for too much of the media to be owned by just a few corporations -- corporations who are more concerned with profits and cooperation with government, to the detriment of delivering the real truth to the public.

Thank goodness we have the internet -- not only for independent blogs, but also for access to foreign news services. The fact is that today's mainstream media can't always be trusted to deliver the full story of what's happening in the world. Anyone who wants the full story would do well to check a variety of sources, including overseas media.

Important To Americans

Political Cartoon is by John Darkow in The Columbia Daily Tribune.

Obama Approval Lower Than A Year Ago

According to the Gallup Poll, President Obama has an average approval rating of 47%. That's pretty good for a sitting president, but it is lower than it was a year ago. His approval rating was 58% in 2009. While that is a drop of about 11 points, it's still a lot better than Bush showed before leaving office (low 20's). Here is the state by state approval ratings for President Obama:

Impediment To Democracy

Political Cartoon is by Joe Heller in The Green Bay Press-Gazette.

A New Pledge For Teabaggers

There seem to be a lot of selfish people in this country, and the worst of the lot are those who initially called themselves teabaggers (they have now altered that to tea party supporters after learning the street definition of the term teabaggers). These people are convinced that anything they don't like is "communist" or "socialist", and they want government programs cut to the bone -- except those that help them, of course. They are a selfish lot with no tolerance for anyone with a different political or religious view than theirs (or skin color for that matter).

The excellent blogger over at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks has decided that our country's current pledge of allegiance is no longer appropriate for these people, so he has written a new, and much more appropriate pledge for these people. Here it is:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United State of Me, and to the republic which only I want, one person, among millions, and selfishly, with as little liberty and justice as possible for anyone who disagrees with me.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It Still Doesn't Work

The good folks over at NORML remind us that prohibition is not working any better today than it did the first time it was tried. The only group that's helped by prohibition is organized crime.

Disasters Waiting To Happen

It has become obvious with all the budget cutting the Republicans, both on the federal and state levels, have been doing that they have no intention of budgeting any money to improve this country's infrastructure. They ignored our crumbling infrastructure throughout the Bush presidency (cutting taxes for the rich was far more important). Now they are killing projects such as high-speed rail and a stimulus program to rebuild our roads and bridges.

Those projects would have provided badly needed jobs and helped American businesses by improving transportation -- both worthy goals. But the Republicans are not in a mood to rebuild the country or provide for jobs. But there is another type of infrastructure that also needs some attention -- dams.

According to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, this country has more than 85,000 dams. Over 4,400 of those dams are in need of repair. And a failure to do these repairs in a timely fashion will not just impede business and job growth -- it could put lives in dangers and cause the destruction of millions of dollars worth of property, including some whole cities.

Ignoring dams is not the same as watching a pothole grow larger in a road. We learned that in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. The dams there that were not properly maintained wound up costing that city far too many lives and far too much damage. Now it looks like the Republicans, in their budget-cutting zeal, want to repeat that mistake in other areas of this country.

While cutting the budget may be a laudable goal, it is not nearly as important as creating jobs and maintaining our important and necessary infrastructure. Cutting the budget won't create jobs or save lives and property, but rebuilding and maintaining our infrastructure will save lives and create jobs -- and those new jobs will help pay down the deficit (and doing away with the Bush tax cuts will pay it down even faster).

As usual, the Republicans are going at things the wrong way.

The Palinator

Political Cartoon is by Nate Beeler in The Washington Examiner.

Union-Busting In Wisconsin

For several days now, state workers and other Wisconsinites has demonstrated against the draconian policies of extreme right-wing Governor Scott Walker. Walker is claiming that cuts must be made to the pay and insurance benefits of state workers to solve a $137 million budget deficit. But he goes further. He also wants to deny the state union workers the right to collective bargaining.

Now Walker is trying to lie to the people by telling them this is not a move to bust the union. That a ridiculous statement since the workers have already agreed to the pay cuts and benefit cuts. That only leaves collective bargaining. If it was not about union-busting, the governor would accept the agreement on the cuts and balance the state budget. But he knows that a union without the right to collectively bargain is no union at all, and that's what he wants to do -- get rid of the union and the protections it offers state workers.

Walker would like for people to be stupid enough to believe the the union's right to collectively bargain is the reason for the state's budget deficit. That's just not true, as the union's agreement to pay and benefit cuts shows. This argument really gets exposed when you look at a state like Texas, where state workers don't have the right to strike or the right to collectively bargain. They are completely at the mercy of the state government. And yet the Texas budget deficit ($27 billion) makes the Wisconsin deficit ($137 million) look tiny.

Obviously unions aren't the problem. The real problem is the Republican policy of continually cutting taxes for the rich and the corporations while cutting benefits and services for everyone else. It's the same old Republican "trickle-down" nonsense, and it has never worked.

The Republicans have never liked unions, because unions protect workers from the gross exploitation of corporations (and the Republicans have always protected corporations to the detriment of everyone else). And they know if they can bust the public union in Wisconsin, they can extend that to private unions and export it to other states.

I hope the people in Wisconsin can stand firm. Otherwise, they could go the way of a state like Texas -- where nearly 30% of the population have no health insurance, workers are guaranteed no benefits, and wages are extremely low for most workers. And that will do nothing to help the state budget. It will only fatten the bank accounts of the rich -- and that's really what Walker is trying to do.

Not A Congressional Policy

Political Cartoon is by Clay Bennett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Tx Democrats Searching For A Senate Candidate

When U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison announced recently that she would not be running for re-election in 2012, there began an immediate buzz over who her replacement might be. A whole passel of Republicans have indicated they are interested in the job, and there might be even more before long. But so far, the Democrats have been pretty quiet.

It may be because the Democratic Party was trounced soundly in the 2010 election in every single state-wide race, but no one has come forward yet to declare they are interested in replacing Hutchison. Right now three names are being bandied about. They are John Sharp (who expressed interest when it was thought Hutchison might resign a couple of years ago to run for governor), Chris Bell (who was soundly defeated for governor in 2006), and Chet Edwards (who lost his congressional seat to a teabagger in the last election).

Frankly, none of them excites me very much. They are all "blue dog" conservatives who would do little to help the Democratic agenda in Washington, DC. It looks like the state party hasn't learned its lesson yet, if these are the best names they can come up with. They still seem to think the best way to beat a Republican conservative is with another conservative, when in reality, the best opportunity they would have is to offer the people a real choice -- a progressive who will expose the shortcomings of Republican "trickle-down" policies.

And as the above chart shows (compiled from a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll), none of these blue dogs has caught on yet with Democratic voters. Bell is garnering the support of 16% of Democrats, while Edwards support comes in at 13% and Sharp's is at 12%. A whopping 59% of Democrats are still waiting for a better candidate. Personally, I'm with that 59% and I'm still hoping a progressive candidate will step forward. I wouldn't mind seeing David Van Os make a run for the office.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are falling all over themselves trying to get their names out there early. So far, six have expressed some interest in the job and it wouldn't surprise me if some more didn't get in the race soon. Here's how they stack up with Republican primary voters so far:

David Dewhurst...............27%
(Lt. Governor)

Michael Williams...............5%
(Railroad Commission)

Michael McCaul...............4%
(U.S. Rep.)

Ted Cruz...............3%
(former Solicitor General)

Elizabeth Ames Jones...............3%
(Railroad Commission)

Roger Williams...............2%
(former Secretary of State)

Other/Don't Know...............57%

As the figures show, the race is wide open in both parties. Dewhurst has the advantage among Republicans, but he is far from wrapping up the nomination. The 2010 result might make some think this senate seat is a shoo-in for the Republicans. I don't think so, unless the Democrats run a very weak candidate (like one of the three mentioned above). A good Democratic candidate could excite the electorate and also take advantage of the increased turnout of a presidential election -- especially if the state party would do a concerted registration and GOTV effort across the state.

Scapegoats

Political Cartoon is by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stand Up

Here's some excellent advice from the blog of Yellowdog Granny.

Both Wars Started Over LIES

We've known for quite a while now that the Bush administration lied to the American people so he could have a reason to invade Iraq. He first tried to float the "yellow cake" uranium story, saying that Saddam was buying bomb material in raw form from Africa. That lie was exposed almost immediately by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson (resulting in the Bush administration "outing" his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent).

But the Bush administration had a back-up lie to depend on. They had an Iraqi informer codenamed Curveball, who was telling them that Saddam was developing weapons of mass destruction. Curveball has since admitted that he was lying to the government, and in his recent book Donald Rumsfeld claimed the Bush administration was fooled by the Iraqi. But the German government disagrees. They said they knew Curveball wasn't reliable, and they claim the American CIA knew that too.

But the Bush administration didn't care that Curveball was lying. He was telling them what they wanted to hear, and they jumped on it as an excuse to invade Iraq -- something Bush started planning in his very first month in office. But it turns out that Iraq wasn't the only war started with a lie.

The Bush administration says they had to invade Afghanistan because the ruling Taliban government wouldn't turn over Osama bin Laden to be tried for the 9/11 terrorist bombing of the Twin Towers in New York. The American people bought into that argument, since nearly every American wanted to see Osama tried for that heinous crime.

The only problem was that story wasn't true. As the recent WikiLeaks posting of U.S. "secrets" has shown, the Taliban was willing to turn Osama over to the World Court in the Hague for a trial. They just didn't want to send him to America because they were afraid he wouldn't get a fair trial. And they were right. The tortures and kangaroo courts at Guantanamo Bay have conclusively proven that.

Would the American people have accepted a fair trial before the World Court? We'll never know because the Bush administration never told them of the offer from the Taliban. Again, Bush wanted to go to war and he was willing to lie to the American people so he could do it. He was wrongly convinced that he could win both wars easily, and he wasn't going to let anything or anyone stand in the way of either war.

Bush may not rise to the level of Hitler or some other vicious state criminals, but he is a war criminal -- ordering the torture of prisoners and lying to start two unnecessary wars prove that. Since the Obama administration doesn't have the political courage to try Bush, maybe he (and Cheney and Rumsfeld) should be tried in the Hague before the World Court. To not try Bush somewhere is an admission that there are some people who are above the law.

Winner

Political Cartoon is by Bob Englehart in The Hartford Courant.

National Party Finances

Under the leadership of Michael Steele the national Republican Party wasn't doing too well financially. The donations had steeply dropped off, and after the 2010 elections the party was left about $25 million in debt. It was the first time in many years that the Republicans would start a new campaign cycle in debt.

But the Republican National Committee (RNC) booted Steele out of his chairmanship in January, and replaced him with Prince Priebus (pictured above). They evidently came to the realization that raising money was more important than having a token minority as leader of the party -- that didn't change anyone's perceptions about the nearly all-white party anyway.

And it is beginning to look like the change may be working. During the month of January, the Republicans took in $5.7 million in donations -- and $3.5 million was done after Priebus took over as chairman of the RNC. The party is still in financial trouble though. They finished January with only $2.1 million on hand and an outstanding debt of $22 million ($7 million owed to vendors and $15 million in loans from the last election). It looks like it could still take them a while to dig out of debt and start putting money in the bank for the 2012 election.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is in better shape. They raised more than the Republicans in January -- raising a total of $7.2 million. They finished the month with $9.1 million on hand and an outstanding debt of about $16.8 million (mostly in loans for the last election).

It's a good sign that the DNC is still raising more than the RNC, because they'll need that extra money to counter the corporate spending in the next election (thanks to the misguided Citizens United vs FEC decision by the Supreme Court).

Shared Sacrifices ?

Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.