Saturday, April 30, 2011

In One Year

Some Sad Facts from the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.

Why Won't Anyone Listen To The People ?

If you ask the economic pundits and the politicians you might think that things are going pretty well in this country. They will tell you the recession is over, jobs are being created, and as soon as they finish cutting the deficit (something both parties think is the most important thing) everything will be just hunky-dory again in America. There'll be rainbows everywhere, a chicken in every pot, and pink unicorns roaming the countryside.

The problem is that the American people know that is a load of unadulterated crap. A recent McClatchy/Marist poll (of 1,274 adults from April 10th through April 14th) shows that the huge majority of Americans say the recession is still raging in America -- about 71% to be exact (and this view cuts across all demographics). The recession may be over for the rich (and the politicians), but it's still negatively affecting everyone else. Here are the numbers of those who say the economy is still in a recession:

All Americans...............71%
Making <$50,000...............72%
Making >$50,000...............73%
College graduate...............68%
Not college graduate...............73%
Age 18 to 29...............67%
Age 30 to 44...............67%
Age 45 to 59...............77%
Age 60 or older...............69%

Those are some pretty large majorities who believe the recession is still raging (and far more than the 3 point margin of error can account for). The fact is that the American people are still hurting, and they are still waiting for someone to do something about it. This is where the Republicans (and some Democrats) will jump in to assure people that they are acting to cut the deficit, and where Democrats will jump in to assure people they will protect social programs. But while the people consider both of those things to be important, they don't consider either to be the most important thing.

I don't know why no one is listening to the American people, but the polls show us that the people know Congress is not listening. That is why they give both parties in Congress such a low approval rating. They don't think either party is doing what is necessary to end the recession (a recent Gallup poll showed 32% of Americans approve of congressional Democrats and 31% approve of congressional Republicans -- some pretty anemic numbers).

So what do the American people want? That can be answered by one 4-letter word -- JOBS. The recession (which 63% of Americans still believe Obama inherited) has cost this country millions of jobs -- somewhere between 9 and 12 million jobs depending on who you listen to. And the people want those jobs back. And they know neither party is currently doing anything to solve the jobs crises (and it is a crises to ordinary Americans).

Poll after poll has shown that Americans believe the number one problem facing America is the lack of jobs. The pundits have said the nation is in recovery -- albeit a jobless recovery. The people are not stupid enough to believe that though. They know there will be no recovery until large numbers of jobs are being created month after month (far more than the small number currently being created -- which barely keeps up with the new workers entering the job market).

When the Democrats assumed power they took on health care and Wall Street. Both of those problems needed to be addressed, but neither of these did anything to solve the major problem of massive unemployment. When the Republicans took back the House they took on the problem of cutting the deficit. Again, it is a problem that needs to be addressed but does nothing to solve the unemployment problem.

I realize that each party has its pet issues and they are going to address those when given the opportunity, but isn't it about time that both parties start listening to the American people? Isn't it time to put all the contentious issues on the shelf and address the one issue the people want addressed -- job creation?

Wait !

Political Cartoon is by Gary Varvel in the Indianapolis Star.

Comptroller Incompetence Could Cost $21 Million

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the unbelievable incompetence displayed by the office of Texas Comptroller Susan Combs (pictured). Employees in this state agency posted the personal information of over 3.5 million Texans (names, addresses, social security numbers, dates of birth, driver's license numbers, etc.) on a computer system that was accessible by anyone in the general public. And making it even worse, they didn't find their mistake for more than a year -- leaving these millions of people at the mercy of identity thieves.

The only thing that could have made this any worse was if they had advertised their dumb mistake after doing it (and I'm half-surprised that they didn't). If you think I sound a little angry at this blunder, then you are exactly right. My daughter and I were two of the 3.5 million people who's private information was exposed by the comptroller.

Comptroller Combs has assured Texans (and those who were affected) that the information is no longer available to the general public. And she has said that those who were responsible have been terminated. I still wonder if the people responsible for supervising those employees, including Combs herself, aren't also responsible and should be submitting their resignations -- especially in light of the huge amount of money the stupid mistake is going to cost the state now.

In an effort to make up for the egregious mistake, the comptroller's office is now offering credit monitoring, free of charge, to all 3.5 million people affected by their blunder. Each of those people will have the option to sign up for a free year of credit monitoring, and if they all sign up, it will cost the state of Texas $21 million dollars (at the rate of $6 a person). I've already signed up and I don't see why the other 3.5 million wouldn't do the same.

As you may know, Texas is already in the throes of a serious budget crunch. It has an anticipated budget deficit of about $27 billion for the next biennium. The legislature is already proposing large cuts to every state agency and to social programs, and from $5-$9 billion in cuts for K-12 education. The state certainly didn't need another bill for $21 million to clean up the incompetency of a Republican office-holder.

But the Republican-dominated legislature can't say too much because they're engaging in their own brand of fiscal idiocy. They have decided that a mere $27 billion budget shortfall doesn't warrant an increase in state revenues -- just massive cuts to nearly everything -- cuts that will negatively affect the quality of service delivered to every Texan. In fact, instead of raising taxes (or broadening the sales tax base) they have decided to cut taxes -- not for everyone, just the richest Texans.

A House subcommittee has approved a cap on the state sales tax for YACHTS that cost at least $250,000. Now a reasonable human being might think that anyone who can afford a yacht costing $250,000 should be able to pay the full amount of the sales tax on that purchase. But not our Republican leaders. The thought that the rich might have to pay the same percentage in sales taxes that the poor and workers pay just horrifies these Republicans. What are those poor rich people going to do if we actually ask them to pay taxes?

I've come to the conclusion that the Texas voters are getting exactly what they voted for. They elected these incompetent idiots, and that's what they are getting -- incompetence and idiocy.

She Knew It !

Political Cartoon is by Mike Thompson in the Detroit Free Press.

Friday, April 29, 2011

"Side Show" Donald

My blogger friend, Larry Ray,  over at the blog The iHandbill has a good take on the candidacy of Donald Trump. He considers him to be a sideshow act (like the two-headed cow) in the Republican carnival of candidates. I really can't argue with that.

Reid Will Hold Votes To Expose Republicans

It looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) may have finally discovered his backbone (and it's about time). Reid says he is scheduling the House-approved Ryan Budget Plan for a vote in the Senate. This is the budget plan that would abolish Medicare and Medicaid and then use much of that money to give corporations new tax cuts (even though many already pay no taxes).

Since the House Republicans voted overwhelmingly to pass the Ryan Budget Plan, they have found that their constituents back home are not happy about that vote. In the last couple of weeks many of these House Republicans have been holding town hall meetings, and the people attending those have not been kind to the House Republicans. Even much of their Republican base is opposed to the abolishment of Medicare -- and a significant majority of Americans don't want to see new tax cuts for the rich or corporations.

It's beginning to look like the House Republicans have given the Democrats a couple of great issues to campaign on -- and to beat their Republican opponents over the head with. So Reid, whose is definitely against the Ryan Budget Plan, has decided to give Senate Republicans the opportunity to join their House comrades as the butt of citizens' anger. He is going to schedule a vote on the Ryan Budget Plan, and then dare Senate Republicans to vote for it (with the sure knowledge that vote would be used against them in the next election).

This may be the smartest thing Reid has done since becoming majority leader. It definitely puts the Senate Republicans between a rock and a hard place. They must either vote against their own party's budget plan (and risk the ire of teabaggers) or vote for it (and risk angering the general public) -- neither of which are good choices for these Republicans. It wouldn't surprise me if several Republicans found some other place to be when this vote is held -- especially moderates like Snowe (Maine) and Brown (Massachusetts) who must run for re-election in 2012 in states not known as "red states".

And further proving Reid may actually now have a backbone is the fact that he wants to double-down on the pressure on Republican senators. It has become obvious recently that a clear majority of Americans are not happy with Big Oil receiving billions in subsidies that are no longer needed, since these companies are making record profits (yesterday Exxon announced it had $10.7 billion in net profit for the first quarter of the year and Shell said their first quarter net profit was $6.9 billion).

So Reid also wants to schedule a vote on abolishing the government subsidies for Big Oil. This is another vote the Republican senators won't want to have. If they vote to abolish the subsidies they will anger their corporate donors, and if they vote to continue the subsidies they may be hurting their own chances for re-election. Finally, Reid and the Democrats are playing the same kind of political hardball the Republicans have been playing. And it could pay huge dividends in the 2012 election.

Over in the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is also asking for a vote of abolishing the oil company subsidies, but Speaker Boehner is having none of it. His Republican underlings are having enough trouble trying to defend their vote to abolish Medicare and give corporations a tax cut (Ryan Budget Plan), and he doesn't want to saddle them with another vote the American voters won't be happy about. Besides, they get too many campaign dollars from Big Oil to vote against them on this.

It looks like the Republicans have gone too far in trying to give more to their corporate masters and cut government programs they never liked. The "mandate" they claimed to have has now turned into a lot of anger directed right at them. If they were smart, they would admit they made a mistake and apologize to the voters. But Republicans have never been good at either admitting mistakes or apologizing. With a little luck, Democrats may be able to ride this citizen anger through the 2012 election.

Hand Puppets

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

Birtherism And The Polls

Well, Obama did it. He released the "long-form" copy of his original birth certificate. He didn't necessarily need to do this, because the copy he had already released is considered the official birth certificate by the state of Hawaii (where he was born). I think he just did it to further marginalize the birthers. This takes away their only argument, and if they continue their silly claims now they will simply be fully exposed for what they really are -- racists who can't accept that an African-American was elected fairly and squarely to be president.

Of course, it does bring up the question of just how many of these die-hard racists there really are. Survey USA decided to find out. After the president's birth certificate (pictured above) was released, they conducted a survey of 1,500 American adults (with both cell phones and land-lines). It turns out that 71% of the population has no doubt that the president was born in Hawaii, while 10% believe the birth certificate is a forgery (17% of teabaggers & 18% of Republicans) and 18% still have doubts (40% of teabaggers and 33% of Republicans). Here are the numbers:

63% say Obama was definitely born in the United States.
19% say Obama was probably born in the United States. 
11% say Obama was probably born in another country. 
6% say Obama was definitely born in another country.
57% say they knew all along that the President was born in the USA.
14% say they had doubts, but now are satisfied that the President was born in the USA.
18% say they still have doubts about where the President was born (including 40% of Tea Party, 33% of Republicans, 27% of Conservatives.)
10% say they are sure the document released 04/27/11 is a forgery (including 17% of Tea Party , 18% of Republicans, 16% of Conservatives).
Both 27% who have seen the certificate and 27% who have not seen the certificate say the matter is still an open item for debate. 
64% of those who have seen the certificate say the matter is now a closed incident. 
49% of those who have not seen the certificate say the matter is now a closed incident.
When all Americans are asked whether Obama will be re-elected in 2012, 33% say he will be re-elected, 49% say he won't be. 
When just responses from those who have seen the certificate are considered, 41% say he will be re-elected, 44% say he won't be.
26% of Americans say they will vote for Obama in 2012 no matter who else is on the ballot.
34% of Americans say they will vote against Obama in 2012 no matter who else is on the ballot.
35% say they need to know who else is on the ballot.
9% of Americans consider themselves to be part of the "Birther" movement.
34% of Americans are not following news stories about the birth certificate.

As I expected, the birthers (about 28% of the population -- 57% of teabaggers and 51% of Republicans) are not about to give up this silly fight. Meanwhile, the latest Rasmussen Report survey reinforces the view that the birther issue is still strong among Republicans. This new survey (conducted on April 26th of 1,000 GOP primary voters) shows that the king of the birthers, Donald Trump, is still in first place among possible Republican presidential candidates. Here are the results of that poll:

Donald Trump...............19%
Mitt Romney...............17%
Mike Huckabee...............15%
Sarah Palin...............9%
Newt Gingrich...............9%
Ron Paul...............8%
Tim Pawlenty...............5%
Mitch Daniels...............3%
Some other candidate...............5%

This is quite different from this same survey when it was taken in January 2011. Back then it showed:

Mitt Romney...............24%
Sarah Palin...............19%
Mike Huckabee...............17%
Newt Gingrich...............11%

Of course it is still very early and no candidate has yet been able to separate himself/herself from the pack. But it is interesting that Trump's newfound popularity seems to have come mainly at the expense of Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin. Both have dropped precipitously in this poll since January.

But while Trump's birtherism has played well among the Republicans (especially the teabaggers), it has not done his TV show any good at all. Some have said he is just playing at being a candidate so boost the viewership of his TV show (The Apprentice). If that is true, then it has been an abysmal failure. He has lost at least 2 million viewers in the last couple of weeks (when he became very public with his birther views). How can that be? Well, it turns out that the TV show was more popular among liberals than conservatives. And his birther view (racism) is not selling well to the TV show demographic.

I doubt it will happen, but I would love to see the Republicans nominate Donald Trump or Sarah Palin (or even Michele Bachmann). It would not only make for a fun campaign, but would be the best present Democrats could get.

Infestation (Of Idiots)

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

Texas Republicans And Their Gun Bills

The teabagger Republicans are running the state of Texas. They have their man in the governor's mansion and have fairly large majorities in both houses of the legislature. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that some new gun laws would be proposed -- and I don't mean laws that would restrict ownership or carrying of guns, but instead these would be laws loosening the gun regulations. The only real surprise is that no new gun laws have passed the legislature yet.

For a while it looked like they would pass a law allowing adults to carry concealed weapons on college campuses (even though most college presidents and officials lobbied hard against that bill). But a parliamentary procedure has kept that bill from coming to the floor of the senate for a vote. A bill cannot come to the floor unless at least 22 senators vote to allow it to come up for a vote, and the bill's sponsor (Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio) was only able to corral about 20 votes.

It looked like that bill might be dead, but NRA-type Republicans are nothing if not persistent. Wentworth found a bill that he thought could get to the senate floor (a bill to allow colleges more flexibility in funding rules) and tried to take his own bill onto it as an amendment. An amendment only needs 16 votes and he could easily get that many.

But he didn't talk to the bill's author, Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo -- a Democrat who is opposed to Wentworth's gun bill. Sen. Zaffirini has withdrawn her bill and says she will kill it before she allows it to go to the floor carrying the college gun amendment. So it looks like Wentworth's second (and sneakiest) attempt to get his gun bill passed has also failed.

This doesn't necessarily mean he won't finally get the bill passed, but it's going to be a lot more difficult now that it has been stopped for a second time. After all, this session of the legislature has a lot of important bills they still haven't passed and time is starting to run out. They still need to finish redistricting, and they need to pass a budget (that makes up for an impending $27 billion deficit).

But while Wentworth's silly bill is having trouble in the Senate, an even dumber bill has just been voted out of a House committee. The Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety has approved a bill that would allow Texans to openly carry handguns. The bill would simply remove the word "concealed" from the current concealed-carry law in Texas. That means anyone who has a license (which any idiot with a few dollars and no criminal record can get) can wear a gun on their hip (or even two).

And there are plenty of Texans who will start wearing a gun. They all picture themselves as "Rambo" (but really more closely resemble their relative pictured above). They seem to relish a return to the old days when people had shootouts on Main Street instead of relying on law enforcement for protection. About the only good thing this would do is that people can see who's carrying a gun from a distance, and go another direction. Of course the criminals would be forewarned also and probably just shoot first and then rob their dead bodies.

As I have said before on this blog, the Second Amendment does guarantee citizens the right to own firearms. But it doesn't give them the right to be stupid about it, and it doesn't give the legislature the right to create an even more dangerous situation than already exists. Both of these are dumb bills and should never be allowed to become law.


Political Cartoon is by R.J. Matson in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Public Moving Toward Pot Legalization

It looks like the government propaganda is accepted by fewer people every year. Soon a majority of the population will be in favor of legalizing marijuana.

One Union Has Had Enough - Takes Action

The Republicans would like for us to believe that all we have to do is let the corporations keep making ever larger profits and they'll happily share that money with the rest of us. And far too many Americans have bought into that ridiculous notion. They seem to think that the corporate executives are warm and caring people who will see that American workers always have a safe job and an excellent wage -- just out of the goodness of their hearts.

The terrible recession that we're still in (regardless of what the pundits say) should put that notion to rest. Big business is making record-breaking profits, but none of it is being shared with working America. While profits climb to astronomical levels, workers wages are stagnant, and have been for the last thirty years or so (meaning that the buying power of the average worker has actually gone down while business profits have risen).

Too many people don't seem to realize that the working conditions they enjoy today (if they're lucky enough to have a job) are due almost exclusively to unions. All of the things listed above (and more) would not exist if it were not for the people in our past who fought to establish unions and give workers some rights. And none of that was a result of corporate generosity, but had to be fought for (and in too many cases died for).

Republicans have never liked unions. They have always been on the side of big business and have fought unions. And since the presidency of Ronald Reagan they have been very successful in chipping away at union rights and in weakening the union movement. This is a primary reason wages have been stagnant (because the weakened unions don't have the power anymore to force corporate America to be fair). And if corporate America doesn't have to be fair to workers, then no business does.

In the past, the Democrats have been those who fought to protect unions and American workers. They still pay a lot of lip service to protecting the workers, and even President Obama spoke of his support for unions and workers in the 2008 campaign. But sadly, little has been done by the Democrats (or the president) recently to make good on those promises. I'm not sure whether it's a lack of desire or ability (or just too many "blue dogs"), but Democrats have not protected unions.

One union has had enough of politicians (of both parties) who talk like they'll help working men and women, and then do nothing once they're elected. The Executive Board of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) -- an AFL-CIO member union -- has decided to take some action. They have declared they will cut off donating any funds to federal candidates, parties, or the PACs created to support them.

I can't say I blame them. They have been donating a lot of money and they are getting nothing in return -- nothing except to be ignored after the elections are over. Then the Republicans get back to attacking unions and the Democrats let them do it. Here's some of what IAFF president Harold Schaitberger told the union's members about the board's decision:

Extreme right-wing conservative and so-called Tea Party politicians are coming after fire fighters, paramedics and all public workers with a vengeance across the United States. They are attempting to take away basic American rights like collective bargaining and your right to negotiate for a good quality of life for your families. They are working to eliminate your pensions and retirement security. They want to silence your voice by gagging you with legislation they call Paycheck Protection. They are taking away the long-held right of dues deductions from paychecks to try to weaken the finances of our union. They want to hurt all unions and drive down wages and benefits with Right-to-Work laws.

Not only are extremist Republicans trying to destroy us -- too few Democrats are standing up and fighting for us. 

Over the past two years, politicians from both parties have failed to address our issues in Washington, DC. Now, anti-labor members of Congress and their allies are championing measures that would undermine pension security, tax employer-sponsored health benefits, force newly hired fire fighters into Social Security and attack federal fire fighters. And with no pro-fire fighter legislation likely to be advanced in the 112th Congress – it’s time to take a stand. 

With the survival of our union and the ability to preserve and protect the rights, wages and benefits our members deserve in jeopardy in the states, we have re-evaluated how to get the best results for our political dollars.

With the full support of our union’s Executive Board, we are turning off the spigot to federal candidates and federal parties, party committees and the super PACs that are created to support them.

Historically, FIREPAC has made most of its contributions to federal candidates. But it’s time to send a clear message to all politicians at every level that the support of this IAFF is not automatic. It must be earned. 

The reputation of our members and our profession in the political arena must not be taken for granted. Our support comes with consequences for those who are working to kill this union, and we will hold accountable those supposed friends who don’t stand up for us.

Now more than ever, as our adversaries speak and act with a concerted, focused message, we need our friends to respond with similar strength and leadership to beat back the multi-faceted, well-organized assaults the right has launched at us – funded by anti-labor extremists like the multi-billionaire Koch brothers. And while we are fighting for our very survival, our friends aren’t doing enough to fight back -- they don’t have our backs. . .

We know we have legislative fights, ballot measures and re-call elections that will require us to be on the offensive at the state and local level through this fall. I expect this strategic decision to focus our resources on state and local efforts, and the freezing of federal contributions, to last as long as the fights in the states remain at such a high level and until we see some real results and leadership from those in Washington, DC on our members’ behalf.

Sticking together and having each other’s backs is part of this great profession we call “the job.” It’s the core principle of our political work. And sticking to it is what will ensure that we ultimately prevail in the fights we face across America today.

Frankly, I think more unions should follow suit. It might wake up the Democrats and propel them into taking some action to help workers and protect unions. The weaker that unions get, the worse the job situation gets for all workers (whether in a union or not). It's time for the politicians to be shook up. American worker don't need lip service, they need action -- action that will strengthen unions, create good jobs, protect benefits, and stop job outsourcing (and make the corporations pay their fair share of taxes).

Not Good Enough

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

Wait Until The Teabaggers Hear This

I posted yesterday about how unpopular Donald Trump is with the general public (64% say they definitely would not vote for him). His popularity, thanks to his "birtherism", lies mainly in the teabagger element of the Republican Party -- which is not necessarily a bad thing if you're seeking the Republican nomination (since the teabaggers control that party right now).

But Trump is not without his warts, and at least some of them may wind up turning off many teabaggers (something Trump could not afford). Most people already know about his multiple marriages and bankruptcies, and if that was all there was, then maybe those could be forgiven. But there are a couple of other things that have now come to light, and these may not be so easy for teabaggers to overlook.

The first regards his clothing line -- the Donald J. Trump Signature Collection (a men's wear line). Trump has for a while now been bad-mouthing China. That wouldn't upset the teabaggers since they believe China holds far too much U.S. debt now anyway. But what they probably don't know is that Trump's line of men's clothing in made in -- that's right -- CHINA! While he has been talking down China he has also been outsourcing work to them. That's not only hypocritical, but costs this country jobs.

But the second thing may be even more inexcusable for the teabaggers. It seems that Trump has donated more than $1.3 million to politicians over the years, and more than 54% of that money has gone to Democrats. Here are some of the Democrats to whom he has made campaign donations:

Senator Harry Reid (Nevada)
Senator Ted Kennedy (Massachusetts)
Senator Charles Schumer (New York)
Governor Ed Rendell (Pennsylvania)
Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Chicago)
Senator Hillary Clinton (New York)
Senator John Kerry (Massachusetts)
Rep. Charles Rangel (New York)
Democratic Senate Campaign Committee

Trump defended these and other Democratic donations by saying he lived in a blue state and in that kind of state it was necessary for a businessman to support some Democrats. That excuse may fly for the local Democratic candidates, but it won't work for the many national Democrats he's supported -- some of them very recently. He gave Rahm Emanuel a large donation in his recent run for mayor of Chicago, and he donated to Harry Reid when Reid was opposed by a teabagger Republican (Sharron Angle).

Frankly, the list of Democrats he has donated to reads like a veritable who's who of hated by teabaggers Democrats. It should be interesting to see how the teabaggers take this news.

NOTE -- Donald Trump said he would release his tax returns if President Obama showed us his long-form birth certificate. The president has now gave the media copies of that birth certificate. Does anyone think Trump will keep his word and release his tax returns? I don't think so either.

Rude Interruption

Political Cartoon is by Nate Beeler in The Washington Examiner.

Obama's (And The Democrats') Republican Policies

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you have probably heard me register my disappointment with President Obama and the Democratic Party in general. In 2008, they (or at least most of them) ran on a platform of change and hope. Many of us on the left took this to mean we would see them institute some progressive policies and legislation.

But that didn't happen. What we got instead was the continuation of some Republican policies and the revival of some others. Guantanamo is still open and the kangaroo military trials there are resuming. We are still engaged in both of Bush's ridiculous wars (and have now added a third one). Obama supports the same kind of "free trade" policies that Bush did, with no protection for American workers. And the subsidies for Big Oil, drilling in the Gulf, and job outsourcing all continue with no changes.

Even the bills that have been passed such as health care reform and Wall Street reform are nothing more than a retread of old 1990s Republican proposals -- as is the proposed cap-and-trade energy policy which is yet to be passed. I know I may have made some Democrats mad with those conclusions, but it is still the truth. And I'm not the only person who believes this. Here is some of what Ezra Klein had to say about current Democratic policies in the Washington Post:

President Obama, if you look closely at his positions, is a moderate Republican from the early 1990s. And the Republican Party he’s facing has abandoned many of its best ideas in its effort to oppose him.
If you put aside the emergency measures required by the financial crisis, three major policy ideas have dominated American politics in recent years: a health-care plan that uses an individual mandate and tax subsidies to achieve near-universal coverage; a cap-and-trade plan that attempts to raise the prices of environmental pollutants to better account for their costs; and bringing tax rates up from their Bush-era lows as part of a bid to reduce the deficit. In each case, the position that Obama and the Democrats have staked out is the very position that moderate Republicans staked out in the early ’90s — and often, well into the 2000s.
Take health-care reform. The individual mandate was developed by a group of conservative economists in the early ’90s. Mark Pauly, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was one of them. “We were concerned about the specter of single-payer insurance,” he told me recently. The conservative Heritage Foundation soon had an individual-mandate plan of its own, and when President Bill Clinton endorsed an employer mandate in his health-care proposal, both major Republican alternatives centered on an individual mandate. By 1995, more than 20 Senate Republicans — including Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Dick Lugar and a few others still in office — had sponsored one individual mandate bill or another.
The story on cap and trade — which conservatives now like to call “cap and tax” — is much the same. Back then, the concern was sulfur dioxide, the culprit behind acid rain. President George H.W. Bush wanted a solution that relied on the market rather than on government regulation. So in the Clean Air Act of 1990, he proposed a plan that would cap sulfur-dioxide emissions but let the market decide how to allocate the permits. That was “more compatible with economic growth than using only the command and control approaches of the past,” he said. The plan passed easily, with “aye” votes from Sen. Mitch McConnell and then-Rep. Newt Gingrich, among others. In fact, as recently as 2007, Gingrich said that “if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur . . . it’s something I would strongly support.”
As for the 1990 budget deal, Bush initially resisted tax increases, but eventually realized they were necessary to get the job done. “It is clear to me that both the size of the deficit problem and the need for a package that can be enacted require all of the following: entitlement and mandatory program reform, tax revenue increases, growth incentives, discretionary spending reductions, orderly reductions in defense expenditures, and budget process reform,” he said. That deal, incidentally, was roughly half tax increases and half spending cuts. Obama’s budget has far fewer tax increases. And compared with what would happen if the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire in 2012, it actually includes a large tax cut.
The normal reason a party abandons its policy ideas is that those ideas fail in practice. But that’s not the case here. These initiatives were wildly successful. Gov. Mitt Romney passed an individual mandate in Massachusetts and drove its number of uninsured below 5 percent. The Clean Air Act of 1990 solved the sulfur-dioxide problem. The 1990 budget deal helped cut the deficit and set the stage for a remarkable run of growth.
Rather, it appears that as Democrats moved to the right to pick up Republican votes, Republicans moved to the right to oppose Democratic proposals.

It has become a sad truth that there is no longer a progressive party in the United States (although there are still a few progressives in the Democratic Party). We have a center-right party in the Democrats and a far-right party in the Republicans. That is why there is no public option for health insurance, no serious effort to stimulate job creation (while outsourcing continues unabated), no effective legislation to control global climate change and protect the environment, no reining in of Wall Street and corporate greed, no sensible energy policy, no real education policy (or adequate funding), and social programs (including Medicare and Social Security) are on the chopping block.

It's no wonder that the American people are disappointed and discouraged by the Democrats, because they don't offer much real change from the failed policies of the Republicans. Why then do the Republicans oppose everything proposed by Obama and the Democrats (since they are just revived Republican programs)? That's easy. The Republicans made a decision to oppose everything Obama tried to do. They believe that is their path to a return to power.

The sad fact is that Obama could adopt everything in the current Republican platform, and the Republicans would just move further to the right and vote to oppose it. They are truly the party of NO -- even voting no to their own policies. And even sadder is the fact that Obama, in an effort to be "bipartisan", has moved further to the right to please them.

I wish I could say that a big Democratic victory in 2012 would set things right, and we would see the Democrats pass some progressive legislation. But I don't really believe that. America, and both its parties have moved right of center -- and until the people wake up and demand change, the country is in for a hard time (and a continuing recession). That's just the way things are right now.

What They're Really Saying

Political Cartoon is by Tony Auth in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Top Ten Corporate Freeloaders

CNN Settles The "Birther" Questions

It is a sad fact in this country that a majority of Republicans (and far too many of the general public) believe that President Obama was either not born in the United States or that there is some doubt that he was born here. This is because of conspiracy theorists called "birthers" (who just are unable to accept that an African-American was elected president by the people of the U.S.).

The folks at CNN have decided to settle this question once and for all. They sent a reporter to Hawaii to find the truth, and discover if there is even a grain of truth to the questions posed by the "birthers". Here is what they found:

1. Birthers say the president refuses to release his "official" long form birth certificate and that the certificate (shown above) which he has released is not official.

This is nonsense. The Certificate of Live Birth pictured above is not only the official birth certificate, but it is the ONLY birth certificate given out by the state government. Anyone born in Hawaii who asked for an official copy of his/her birth certificate would receive a form that looked exactly like the one the president has already released. And the form says right at the bottom of it that the form will serve as "evidence of the fact of birth in any court proceeding". How much more official can a form get?

2. Birthers say the president won't release his long form certificate because it says he is a muslim on it.

More nonsense. While the state used to have a longer form which contained information like the hospital the person was born in and the father's occupation, state officials say the form never contained any information about the baby's or the parents' religion. CNN viewed some of the longer (discontinued) forms and verified that there was no information about religion on it.

3. Birthers claim that the birth notice in the Hawaii newspaper was placed there by Obama's family so he could receive government services (or for some other nefarious purpose).

Again, not true. Both the newspaper and the Department of Health Services say there was no way for parents (or other relatives) to place birth announcements in the paper. All of the birth announcements printed in the newspaper came directly from the Department of Health Services (and they had no interest in placing a false announcement).

4. Birthers, especially Donald Trump (the most famous birther), say it is strange that no one remembers the young Obama in Hawaii.

This is not strange because it is simply not true. A lady named Monika Waidelich had her son at the same time and in the same hospital. She remembers seeing the president next to her son in the nursery because, "In those days, there were hardly any other black babies." A professor at the University of Hawaii, Alice Dewey, was faculty advisor to Obama's mother and knew the president as a child. She remembers discussing with his mother the difference between giving birth in Indonesia (where Obama's sister, Maya, was born) and Hawaii (where Barack Obama was born). Even the current governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie, was a friend of Obama's mother and remembers seeing the child immediately after his birth and helping her celebrate the birth.

The fact is there has never been any real doubt that Barack Obama was born in the United States -- specifically in Hawaii. As I said before, this is an invention of some racists in America who are upset that an African-American was elected president. They will grasp at any straw and make up any lie to try and change that fact.

I appreciate the effort of CNN to try and lay this matter to rest, but I seriously doubt it will do any good. The "birther" beliefs were never based on any facts, and no fact will ever change their minds. But then they are Republicans, and to believe in Republican policies one needs to have an ability to ignore inconvenient facts -- both voters and politicians.

Not A Prince Among Them

Political Cartoon is by Adam Zyglis in The Buffalo News.

American Public Dislikes Trump And Palin

One of the biggest surprises of this early campaign to nominate a Republican to run against President Obama next year has been the sudden emergence of Donald Trump as a viable candidate among Republicans. Once thought to be little more than a joke candidate, Trump has appealed to the teabagger element of the Republican Party by questioning the birthright citizenship of the president.

This appeal to "birtherism" has worked well for Trump. He has quickly shot up to become one of the leading Republican hopefuls. He has finished in the top three in all of the recent national polls -- usually in first place or tied for first. But it looks like the Republicans should be very careful about nominating Trump (or Palin for that matter).

It turns out that among the general public, both Donald Trump and Sarah Palin are very unpopular. A recent Gallup Poll (conducted April 20th through April 23rd of a random national sample of 1,013 adults) shows that significant majorities of the American people say they would not vote for either Trump or Palin -- majorities much larger than can be accounted for by the 4 point margin of error.

Only about a third of the respondents say they would/might vote for the two (35% for Trump and 34% for Palin). Meanwhile, a full 64% say they would definitely not vote for Trump and 65% say they would definitely not vote for Palin. This doesn't necessarily mean they couldn't get the Republican nomination since they both appeal to the teabaggers, and the teabaggers will have a large voice in the Republican primaries and probably also at the convention. But it does mean they would have a very hard time defeating the president if nominated.

Here is how the general public feels about the top four Republican candidates (and President Obama):

would/might vote for...............54%
would not vote for...............46%

would/might vote for...............48%
would not vote for................45%

would/might vote for...............46%
would not vote for...............46%

would/might vote for...............35%
would not vote for...............64%

would/might vote for...............34%
would not vote for...............65%

These large negative numbers for Trump and Palin would seem to preclude their nomination to run against the president. But I wouldn't count them out yet. Whether the Republican establishment likes it or not the teabaggers now control their party, and these teabagger voters have shown a propensity for voting for ideology over a candidate that has a better chance of winning. Remember, in the 2010 election they passed up candidates almost guaranteed to win in Nevada and Connecticut senate races to nominate Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell -- both of whom lost after running fringe right-wing campaigns.

And a majority of Republicans say they would/might vote for all four of the above candidates. Here is how Republicans answered the survey:

would/might vote for...............69%
would not vote for................26%

would/might vote for...............69%
would not vote for...............22%

would/might vote for...............60%
would not vote for...............37%

would/might vote for...............52%
would not vote for...............46%

Of course the deciding factor will be in who shows up at the polls during the state primaries and caucuses. Candidates like Palin and Trump (and Bachmann and Santorum) might be better placed than some of us think, because the teabagger element is almost sure to vote. It remains to be seen if more moderate Republicans (if there still are many left in the party) will vote in as large a numbers as the teabaggers.

Priorities For The Future

Political Cartoon is by Mike Keefe in The Denver Post.

Judge's NFL Ruling Makes No Sense

Some people are celebrating the decision of the Minnesota judge to end the NFL lock-out, and some even say there is a much better chance the full season will be played now. I'm not so sure. There is no doubt that the owners will appeal this judge's decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals -- a court generally considered to be much more conservative and business-oriented (since most of those judges were appointed by Republicans). The truth is that the lock-out might or might not be continued, but either way the owners and players are no closer to solving their disagreement.

But what confuses me today are the seemingly inconsistent actions of the judge. Just a couple of weeks ago she demanded that the NFL and the union (?) continue their negotiations through mediation -- a mediation scheduled to continue about the middle of May. Then she issued her opinion that said the owners could not lock out the players. They could have locked out a union, but she ruled the union was legally decertified and the NFL could not lock out what is now essentially about 1900 individual players.

Don't these two positions seem to be diametrically opposed? If there is no union, then how can negotiations continue? How can the owners be expected to negotiate with an entity that does not exist? If the former union is now nothing more than sort of a social club composed of 1900 individuals who are under no obligation to obey the dictates of that social club, then wouldn't the owners have to negotiate with all 1900 players individually?

The judge has ordered the two sides to continue negotiating, but said the players have no union authorized to do that negotiating. This makes no sense. Either there is a union or not -- and if there isn't then each player would have the right and responsibility to negotiate on his own, and the league would have the right to make all the rules that would bind all the clubs and players.

With her differing order and judgement, the judge has allowed the players to have their cake and eat it also. They don't have a union but can negotiate as though they did. That's just ridiculous!

Please don't take my statements to mean I am siding with the owners. Personally, I think the owners are just as stupid and greedy as the players -- and just as wrong. This is just a battle of two greedy sides, neither of which gives a damn about the fans (who pays all the bills in case they have forgotten). Thirty-two owners and 1900 players are being offered a $9 billion pie, and they are all too greedy to decide how to fairly cut that pie.

But in spite of the continuing stupidity and posturing by both sides, the actions of the judge just doesn't make sense. At least that's what I think. What do you think (or do you even care)?

Profits Over Environment

Political Cartoon is by R.J. Matson in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Another Great One Is Gone

I was saddened to learn of the recent death of a marvelous person and superb singer -- Phoebe Snow. She was only 60 years old. If some of you younger readers haven't heard of this talented lady, I urge you to find one of her albums and give it a listen. She had a great voice and wonderful style. I'm going to miss her.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Marriage Is Marriage

Point taken. Marriage is just marriage no matter who does it. Found at the blog of Yellowdog Granny.

Could Business Survive Paying A Fair Wage ?

There has been a disagreement in this country for quite a while about whether it is possible for businesses to pay a fair and livable wage to workers and survive. Many business leaders and politicians on the right say wages must be kept low. They even opposed a minimum wage law (which certainly doesn't guarantee a livable wage), saying it costs forces businesses to lay off workers or go out of business. Labor representatives disagree. They point out that rises in the minimum wage have not been shown to cost jobs, and urge the minimum wage be raised to give all workers a livable wage.

The public seems to go back and forth on this, and right now the pendulum has swung to favor the position of business. This has been true since the Reagan presidency, when policies began to be put in place that favored the corporations and the wealthy. This was done by convincing many people that when business had lots of money they would share the wealth by creating jobs and raising wages. It was called the "trickle-down" theory, and it has been a failed policy.

Instead of creating new jobs and raising worker wages, businesses have just squirreled away the extra money in their bank accounts or used it to play the stock market. And while they got much wealthier, the wages of workers have been stagnant for many years. Workers now have less buying power than than did in the early seventies (or earlier). But business still claims they would be mortally wounded by having to pay higher wages. Is this true?

Take Wal-Mart for instance. This discounter has made billions by keeping their prices low (and by paying their employees some very low wages). Wal-Mart has 1.4 million workers in the United States.  The company says that paying it's workers a livable wage (defined as about $12 an hour) would force them to have to raise their prices to an exorbitant level, and it is easy to believe that paying that many workers several dollars an hour more could do that. After all, that's a lot of workers and would take a lot of money.

But while their argument may seem to be reasonable on its face, it is simply NOT TRUE. A new study shows that low-wage employers like Wal-Mart could pay their workers a livable wage without threatening their profitability. The study was done by ken Jacobs and David Graham-Squire at the UC Center for Labor Research and Education, and by Stephanie Luce at CUNY's Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.

They found that the average Wal-Mart shopper would pay about 46 cents extra per shopping trip -- or about $12 dollars per year (not exactly a back-breaking rise in prices). They estimate that the wages could be covered by only a 1% price hike (or no price hike since that is well below the mark-up margin). That means an item that had cost $1.00 would go up to $1.01 (or a $10.00 item would be $10.10). And according to these researchers that would be the "most extreme estimate" (meaning it would probably be even less).

This blows the old "we can't afford to do it" argument out of the water. They could afford to do it, and so could most other low-wage businesses. They just don't want to do it. They don't really care about their workers, and if it weren't for the minimum wage laws (which have driven wages up to their current pitiful level) they would happily pay even less. They couldn't care less whether their workers have a decent standard of living.

Some might make the argument that the price raises would hit the poor hard. But only 28% of Wal-Mart shoppers can be classified as poor, and the slight increases would significantly impact even them. However, it would help the poor (who would get about 40% of the additional income -- an additional $1,670 to $6,500 a year).

It's time to discard this specious argument being made by business (and their Republican politicians). It would not break business to pay a livable wage, but it would be a huge boost to lower-paid American workers (and would probably actually benefit business since these workers would have more money to spend on their goods and services).

We don't need to lower or abolish the minimum wage. We need to raise it substantially.


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

Haley Barbour Accepts Reality

The field of Republican presidential hopefuls has been very large this year and probably will grow even larger before it is over, but for today, that field has been reduced by one candidate. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has announced that he will not be running for the Republican nomination in 2012.

This is not really surprising. Barbour has had problems from the very first. Among these are a past of working as a lobbyist and very little name recognition outside of Mississippi -- not to mention his having less charisma than a swamp toad. There have been numerous national political polls and Barbour has been unable to score better than three or four percent in any of them. I think he hoped to build up support, but was unable to gain any traction at all.

And when Donald Trump entered the race (or at least said he might enter) and his numbers shot up to near or at the top, Barbour began to see the writing on the wall. It wasn't that it was too early for the poll numbers to show movement, but that people just weren't interested in his candidacy. Too many saw him as a lobbyist, a party regular, or a racist (especially after he tried to defend the White Citizens Councils in the South as not being racist -- when they were started just to protect segregation).

Here is what Barbour had to say about his decision to not run for the Republican presidential nomination:

“I will not be a candidate for president next year. This has been a difficult, personal decision, and I am very grateful to my family for their total support of my going forward, had that been what I decided.

Hundreds of people have encouraged me to run and offered both to give and raise money for a presidential campaign. Many volunteers have organized events in support of my pursuing the race. Some have dedicated virtually full time to setting up preliminary organizations in critical, early states and to helping plan what has been several months of intensive activity.

I greatly appreciate each and every one of them and all their outstanding efforts. If I have disappointed any of them in this decision, I sincerely regret it.

A candidate for president today is embracing a ten-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else. His (or her) supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate. I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required.

This decision means I will continue my job as Governor Mississippi, my role in the Republican Governors Association and my efforts to elect a new Republican president in 2012, as the stakes for the nation require that effort to be successful.”

I think Barbour was just hit in the face with a bit of reality. He finally realized that in running he would just be wasting his own time and his supporters' money. And I give him credit for that. A lot of the other candidates will continue long after any hope of winning has died.

A Question For "Birthers"

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

Racial Inequality Is Still A Problem In America

When I was a child this country had some serious racial problems. Segregation was the king in the South and even practiced in places other than the South (remember, one of the cases in Brown v. Board of Education was from Topeka, Kansas). There were two Americas, one White and the other Black, and the two seldom were allowed to interact. Fortunately, those days are over.

Thanks to a lot of brave civil rights workers and demonstrators (of all races) and some politically courageous leaders the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act were passed. Those laws ended legalized racism, but they did not end all racism. The racism had been institutionalized in our society and that made it very hard to get rid of. Even the election of an African-American president has not ended this racism (although many on the right would like us to believe it did).

The ideal would be a true meritocracy -- where each person is judged only by his/her character and skills. But we are still a long way from that. I found these words by H. Roy Kaplan at the excellent blog called Racism Review, and I thought they were worth passing along (and I urge you to go over and read the entire post):

While remarkable changes have occurred in race relations in this country over the last several decades, giving some people of color access to better lives and others (whites included) hope in the future, the fact remains that disparities between whites and people of color exist in important areas:
1. In educational attainment, as measured by graduation rates and standardized test scores in math, reading and science, blacks and Latinos are 30 percent lower than whites, and a disproportionate number of children of color are suspended and expelled and relegated to special education programs.
In health, measured in longevity, black life expectancy is as much as eight years less than whites; infant and maternal mortality nearly double that of whites; and blacks and Latinos have lower rates of health insurance coverage than whites
3. In criminal justice, measured in the disproportionate number of people of color incarcerated and the disparities in sentences they receive compared to whites for the same or similar offenses.
4. The net worth of whites is eight to ten times more than blacks. Three times as many blacks as whites live below 125 percent of the poverty level, and black median household income is only 65 percent that of whites.
These disparities have not changed significantly in decades. The gap between whites and blacks and Latinos has even been widening since the onset of the Great Recession. Unemployment among African Americans has been twice as high as whites and 50 percent higher for Latinos than whites.
We are raised believing in the notion of a meritocracy—that one can become successful by embracing the concept. The assumption in this proposition is that of a level playing field where we all have equal opportunities to develop our abilities and potential. Conversely, if someone or group fails in the game of life in America, then that is because of some personal defect of character or even biology. We have seen this theme repeated in attempts of the wealthy and their apologists in the Academy to link intelligence to success and superior genetic endowment. It is a recurrent theme used to blame the victims of systemic, institutionalized racism, sexism, abelism, homophobia and all other forms of discrimination used to marginalize people who have been systematically prevented from participating fully in this society.
While it may be comforting and convenient to believe that only the most highly qualified people are recruited to occupy the upper echelons of the organizations which run our society (and indeed the world’s), it is far too simplistic to assume that the centuries of human pain, suffering and failure experienced by marginalized groups rests solely on their purported social, psychological and physiological imperfections. Certainly, marginalized people have made political and economic advances. They must continue to believe that there is hope for more, but we all must recognize the limitations imposed on people by institutions that are dominated by a white male minority who continue to resist significant changes in their use and abuse of power. I believe in this country and the concept of a meritocracy, but I am also aware of the balance of power and political realities that limit people who have not had the opportunities which prepared them to assume the roles of political and corporate leadership. By analyzing and exposing the weaknesses in our system, it is my hope that we will be able to fulfill the promise of “liberty and justice for all.”