Archive for the ‘Editorial Commentary’ Category

JC

This week’s State of the Union Address by President Obama gives us another opportunity to peek into how America’s propaganda system works. While there are many places to observe this — foreign policy, the economy and employment — it is the constant isolationist drumbeat driving our country into a renewed Cold War with Russia that I’m going to focus on today.

Undoubtedly there will be those who will pooh-pooh me for a variety of reasons, but so be it. While our domestic situation with the economy, employment and debt is dire, I think that it is the specter of what the new Cold War brings that is paramount. So it is with interest when I hear that Barack Obama proclaims that Russia is isolated, and Congress and the American people cheer.

Except that it ain’t necessarily so. Thursday brought headlines that would surprise even the most ardent Russian isolationist:

“China, Russia Plan $242 Billion Beijing-Moscow Rail Link”

bullet-train

Yes, we have isolated Russia so well, that it entered into an agreement with China to build a 7,000km high speed rail linking Moscow with Beijing, and augmenting a major section of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Yep, Moscow to Beijing in 30 hours. That would be the equivalent of getting on a high speed rail in San Francisco, going to Seattle, and then cross country to Washington D.C. in 30 hours. Oh, well, we’ve still got Amtrak, America’s version of the old Trans-Siberian Railway. And it carried a “record” 31.6 million riders in fiscal 2013.

The story is remarkable enough in its technical achievement. It will be the longest, largest high-speed rail system in the world, carrying over 200 million passengers a year. And the cost is phenomena, $242 billion dollars. Imagine what our country could do if it were to invest a like sum in 4,000 miles of high-speed rail! Montreal to D.C. to San Francisco and L.A. and down to Mexico City.

Sound like a country that is isolated? While Obama drives wedges between Russia and the west for failing to submit to American hegemony, Russia is furiously building relationships with the rest of the world: BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa); Turkey (oil pipeline deal to replace SouthStream through Bulgaria); SCO (Shanghai Cooperative Organization), Eurasian Economic Union, etc.

Russia and China are currently working out a deal to replace SWIFT, the western bank system for working out trade payments between countries and businesses. The petrodollar is moving to the petro-yuan/ruble. So sure, we’re succeeding in isolating Russia, but just from the west: Europe and the Five Eyes (Canada, U.S., New Zealand, Australia, U.K.).

Russia has already declared in many, many ways that it will not submit to western sanctions. So while the sanctions may work to create the appearance of isolationism in the west, it only serves to drive Russia into alliances more quickly with the rest of the world. We are assisting in the creation of an economic and military union between Russia and China that will most effectively counter the military of the U.S. and its allies.

[Russian Foreign Mister Sergei] Lavrov also opined that he considered the United States’ approach to international relations “outdated” and “not a proper thing for a great power.”

“I should like that all countries choose the path of cooperation, not the path of diktat disguised in some diplomatic form,” he said, adding the charge that the U.S. was actually too weak to go it alone – which is why it tries to form coalitions, as in Iraq.

Lavrov also expressed more doubts than hope that the United States’ approach would change anytime soon.

“It’s in their blood and flesh, they believe they are first, and this philosophy, this genetic code, is very hard to change,” Lavrov said, before expressing faint confidence that “the logic of partnership” between the United States and Russia would ultimately prevail.

While there are those “isolationists” who believe that what we are doing will suffice to intimidate Russia sufficiently so that we and NATO can consolidate Europe into one solid block to work to break Russia up and/or change its leadership, others more keenly tuned into Russian sentiment disagree. Unfortunately, the average American has little knowledge of Russia by which to gauge the effectiveness or appropriateness of such a strategy.

Dimitri Orlov recently wrote an excellent piece for the westerner to get a realistic look at how Russia views western expansionism and hegemony:

Recent events, such as the overthrow of the government in Ukraine, the secession of Crimea and its decision to join the Russian Federation, the subsequent military campaign against civilians in Eastern Ukraine, western sanctions against Russia, and, most recently, the attack on the ruble, have caused a certain phase transition to occur within Russian society, which, I believe, is very poorly, if at all, understood in the west. This lack of understanding puts Europe at a significant disadvantage in being able to negotiate an end to this crisis.

Whereas prior to these events the Russians were rather content to consider themselves “just another European country,” they have now remembered that they are a distinct civilization, with different civilizational roots (Byzantium rather than Rome)—one that has been subject to concerted western efforts to destroy it once or twice a century, be it by Sweden, Poland, France, Germany, or some combination of the above. This has conditioned the Russian character in a specific set of ways which, if not adequately understood, is likely to lead to disaster for Europe and the world.

Orlov’s piece is a great primer for any westerner that wants to get some context about U.S.-Russian relationships outside of Obama’s isolationist propaganda. It is this sort of propaganda that Obaba is advancing that jeopardizes world safety by falsely implying that his overt foreign policy of sanctions is succeeding, and eggs on neocons and Congress to double down.

It will be a continuation and expansion of these policies that will further drive Russia from any sort of meaningful engagement with the west, and into the solidification of alliances with China and India that will pit nearly half the world’s population and economy against the U.S. and Europe’s. Is this what we and the world really need?

And lastly, after beginning this piece talking about the newly approved high-speed rail link between Moscow and Beijing, and all of the symbolism it encompasses, I would be remiss in not mentioning how it all will be financed. After all $242 billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at.

First off, the new railway alliance has dumped the French contractor it had agreed to work with last year on developing the system. It isn’t hard to see that when the U.S. forces France into doing things like breaking its contracts to build and deliver two helicopter-carrying Mistral naval vessels, there would be some blowback.

So instead of paying France’s Alstrom around $40 billion for it’s part in the project (utilizing conventional wheeled high-speed rail), they awarded the contract to CRH (China Railway High-speed) and added on another 100 billion dollars to use state-of-the-art maglev technology to increase safety and speed.

But the coup de grâce appears to be that Obama’s “isolated” Russia is a little less isolated than it might seem in other areas:

Gennady Timchenko, a well-connected billionaire who after appearing on Western sanctions lists earlier this year was appointed head of the Russian-Chinese Business Council, told reporters on Thursday that he was optimistic that China would provide financial support for the project, which he said could carry more than 200 million passengers a year. 

China holds over $2 trillion in U.S. Treasury bills that offer no real returns, but “investment in the railway would pay for itself,” Timchenko said. “Maybe not overnight, but we would create infrastructure connecting Asia with Europe for future generations.”

Yes, Russia and China are going to use China’s U.S. T-bond holdings to finance the railway. That’s some real isolationism for ya. Way to go, Obama!

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By JC

“… In time democracy can be delivered to
the Ukrainian people.” — Joe Biden to the Atlantic Council


Like father, like son!

Earlier today I read this statement spoken last April by V.P Joe Biden to the Atlantic Council (shortly before his son was appointed to the Board of Burisma, Ukraine’s largest private gas company). It’s just been gnawing at me all day, so I thought I’d ruminate on it a bit — that and I’m pretty sick today, and have a good fever, so the delirium should prove humorous for some of you.

The first problem here is with the notion of “in time.” What the heck does that mean? That we’re going to keep pursuing our goals in and around Ukraine until they are met? I guess the Russian Aggression Prevention Act is all over that notion, basically granting Ukraine the same non-NATO ally status as Israel — meaning that an act of aggression against one of our listed allies is an act of aggression against us — and bombs away! Heck, even Henry Kissinger in his whirlwind book tour interviews thinks we need to not be so bombastic and offer Russia an easy out.

Back to “time.” Today, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was quoted as saying that the U.S. told the Syrian government that we would bomb ISIS/ISIL for three years. Three years! Is that all the time it takes to deliver democracy (I guess, if it’s not really a “war” with no Congressional authorization it’s ok and will happen sooner)? Let’s see, we’ve been in Afghanistan for 13 years. How’s that democracy thing working out there (hey, nobody said democracy was cheap!)?

Continue Reading »

By JC

I was waiting for my comment to escape the censors moderating queue at Pogie and PW’s place earlier today (sure, it was from having three links in the comment, uh huh), and was looking at the significance of a few of the piece’s elements.

First off, James Conner hits a home run with his analysis of Pogie’s piece:

“Saying this is one of your best posts probably is being stingy with praise.”

Of course, my comment was all about enticing democrats that have a hard time thinking outside the box, particularly when they are down and out, to cast their policy nets a bit wider. When I looked at the photo accompanying the post — of a beggar boy holding his bowl out for morsels — I first thought that this is how the dem faithful go about asking their politicians for attention to their pet issues. Of course, a closer look showed it to be a reconstruction of some Dickens novel character or another.

It’s not that I’m not supportive of raising the minimum wage, I am all for doing whatever it takes to address poverty in America (our band performed at a benefit concert this weekend for a women’s shelter in Kalispell, for instance, at our own expense). But when Dems reduce themselves to begging for table scraps at a time when the political response of an “opposition” party demands to be more than just maintaining the status quo (with “tweaks”), I get a bit skranky.

But what do I expect from a political party that is beaten down so far it can’t even look to the past, is to see how democrats once used to respond to things like depression, poverty and wealth inequality. I merely pointed Pogie to an article (an article written by an AFL-CIO ExCon member) that did nothing more than talk about how FDR used a wage ceiling (by Executive Order no less) to limit executive pay while the nation was trying to recover from the Great Depression.

“The idea is not unprecedented. In a time of massive domestic and economic distress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an executive order during World War II limiting corporate salaries to no more than $25,000 per year after taxes. The president believed that if middle class fathers, brothers, and sons were putting their lives on the line for just $60 per month, the rich should be required to make some sacrifice too.

FDR’s maximum wage proposal was bold and brilliant. Believing that all citizens should help out with the mobilization effort, he refused to be bullied by the rich, and never lost sight of the fact that fair compensation and a thriving middle class are essential elements of a healthy economy — particularly during a national emergency.

A maximum wage law would actually ensure that “a rising tide [would lift] all boats,” and encourage competition while improving lives at every level of society.

The minimum wage certainly must be raised. It’s also time to start a national discussion about creating a maximum wage law.”

Of course, Pogie responded vociferously with his usual ad hominem, which is his preferred method when the left points out simple facts and alternatives to liberal dems’ tepid calls for some kind of action or the other. How dare I attack liberal dems!!!

“And the truth is that simply braying for radical change and condemning the current system isn’t an alternative. It’s intellectual onanism, empty and only satisfying for the person doing it.”

Sheesh, I never realized that asking today’s liberal dems to act more like liberal dems of the past is “braying for radical change.” Just thought a bit of a roadmap of where a party had been might help to guide them today. But I thank Pogie for the opportunity to look up “onanism.” I didn’t realize that Pogie thought that policies like FDR’s were just the masturbatory fantasies of crazed presidents (or those writing about FDR’s ideas). I guess I could just refer to his piece as nothing more than “thumb capping”, but I doubt he’d get the reference without talking to some of his school boys.

Don then proceeds on his temper tantrum spouting about a bunch of stuff I never even mentioned — insinuations of how I live my life, and what I do that have no bearing in reality. Anything to take the spotlight off how dems have forgotten how to ask for what they believe in — to espouse their values —  in the desire to get a few scraps for the masses, and a feather in their cap (and maybe the favor of a special campaign contributor or two).

Of course, he then has the audacity to throw out this unbearable bit of progressive hope:

“Policies matter. Let’s work to pass the ones we desperately need today, which will matter for millions of people, while dreaming of an even more just, more equitable future.”

Well, yes policies matter. I just happen to believe that people should not just dream about their values and offer policies that are so pre-compromised so as to ensure that the resulting legislation is a mere table scrap, compared to what could come out of putting your dreams into concrete policy statements, like FDR did. 

At least James Connor got it right. Pogie’s article was the best blogging he could do, so I should just leave it at that. It’s ok to go to the powers that be with our bowls outstretched asking for a pittance, because we know that if we ask for what we really believe in, we are doing nothing more than engaging in “smug ‘progressive’ cynicism.”  When will dems learn that if they want a bump in the minimum wage, they need to ask for a maximum wage, or a wage ceiling? Since when has politics descended into a unilateral disarmament of solid policy ideas? When did good old fashioned political compromise beginning with a set of competing beliefs and values go the way of the dodo?

Well, I put my progressive hat up long ago, realizing that for today’s liberal dems, progressivism no longer means what it once did. Today, to be a progressive is to beg, and leave one’s dreams for another day. If today’s liberals wanted to have an engaged dialog with the masses, they are going to need more than a bump in the minimum wage to get people excited. As with Max Baucus’ “it’s off the table” proclamation about not allowing the healthcare debate to begin with a full range of alternatives like single payer, it’s obvious that Montana dems don’t want to start the discussion about the minimum wage by talking about FDR’s maximum wage, or France’s current policy of pay rations for government workers (factor of 20, highest to lowest paid state worker).

And I guess asking that dems like “I do indeed support the idea of a maximum wage” Don Pogreba might have a discussion about wage ceilings and income caps, as many people are starting to do across the United States is also taboo (or “smug self-righteousness)”. We might have a discussion like the following about wage ceilings:

This idea has always existed in the United States. During the Revolutionary Era, Philadelphia’s citizens wanted Pennsylvania’s new constitution to declare that “an enormous Proportion of Property vested in a few Individuals is dangerous to the Rights, and destructive of the Common Happiness of Mankind; and therefore any free State hath a Right by its Laws to discourage the Possession of such Property.”

This is because rich people corrupt democracy. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” It seems this choice has been made from the backseat of splendid limos as they cruise through neighborhoods of boarded-up houses.

Instead of living in a country where anybody can get rich, we should live in a country where nobody can be poor. To achieve this, we need income caps, not income gaps.”

It would have been far too easy to give Pogie a pat on the back and an “atta-boy” for his post on the minimum wage. I prefer to challenge his sensibilities and get him riled up to find out what he and other dems really think. And I guess it is that they would rather attack the left for not going along with the program, than to engage in any sort of policy debate and historical analysis that might result in a better policy resolution. But then again, many mainstream dems’ hatred for any who might criticize from the left seems to always get in the way of any form of introspection about the state of policy development in the dem party.

By JC

Everywhere you go people are talking and writing about the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Most of it is predictable, time worn and weary: must change gun laws (both to loosen and to restrict access to weapons);  must change punishment for gun crimes; must increase surveillance state; yada, yada, yada.

I’m always amazed by those who think that if just a few more people were heavily armed and better trained, that these sorts of tragedies could be prevented or ameliorated. Or that if we had stiffer penalties that the consequences would lead even semi-rational people to think twice. Maybe if we heavily restricted access to various forms of portable weapons of mass destruction that somehow individuals wouldn’t find other ways to unleash their psychotic visions upon the rest of us. Maybe if we intimidated the evil-doers-to-be or crazies-in-action, that they would wither at our more mighty power.

What most people forget is that these mass murderers — people like James Holmes, Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik, Jared Loughner, Ted Kaczynski and the rest — are psychopaths. They don’t respond to typical legal, social and cultural pressures. They live in a world of their own where consequences and norms don’t apply.

But as usual, we have calls to change public policy that inevitably will affect only the rest of us — because of the actions of a lone wolf, the rest of us will suffer some form of repression. That is, the pathos of the psychopath is what continues to motivate the rest of us to think about gun laws and other ways to change how we as a society respond to these horrible events. Most of it inevitably is misguided and just serves to pander to one’s pet cause.

None of those things deal with the problem of how to respond to the psychopaths among us. What breeds psychopathy? What motivates a psychopath into action? How can we predict who may be, or become a psychopath and strike out? How do we deal with one in action?

To answer these questions, our country needs to engage in some form of self-reflection and critique to see how our culture has bred the tendency for some individuals to become psychopaths. Mass murder creates a pathos where the country emotionally, not rationally responds to events. But the roots of the disease that feeds the insanity of  murderers wantonly acting out their delusions are never analyzed.

We live in country that glorifies violence at home and abroad. We embrace inequality, prejudice and bigotry. We believe ourselves exceptional and mighty, the benevolent empire. We ignore science and fact, replacing it with ideology and faith. We immerse ourselves in pop culture and internet fantasy, shying away from the natural world just feet away outdoors. We glorify the actions of professional soldiers and mercenaries fighting a war few understand, far away in lands we can’t even locate on a map, started for reasons untold. We jail more people as a percent of population than any other “democratic” nation in the world. We imbue pieces of paper — articles of incorporation — with the same rights us flesh-bloodeds receive, yet access to health care is not viewed as a right. We do not hold our “elites” responsible for their political, corporate, legal or financial actions, for fear that they may further oppress us.

Is it really any wonder that there are those among us who might think they are doing nothing more than role-playing their part in a comic book turned film? The pathos of the psychopath should lead us to an understanding that our nation as a whole — our collective way of life — is sick. And the solutions do not involve gun laws, vigilantism, or repression.

By JC
(This is but the opinion of one Occupier in Solidarity, and not the consensus of OccupyMissoula) 

Many people do not understand what the Occupy movement is all about, and preconceptions and prejudices abound. I have spent most of the last two weeks working to understand this movement and help organize OccupyMissoula. I’m not sure why I stuck my neck out, and devoted all my time, but it has changed the way I look at politics, movements, and my community.

In the words of an elderly gentleman I have known and respected for the 25 years I have lived in Missoula, “this is the most important movement I have seen since the the Great Depression.”

Similarly, last night I had the honor to meet 4 young high school students who had decided to put on suits and come down to the County Court House and OccupyMissoula to “check things out.” We had a great conversation and I felt inspired that our youth feel the same concerns that our more experienced community members do, and felt compelled to participate, and to write about their experience (one of them was a writer for their high school’s newspaper).

It took an article in no less than Fox News, tweeted across the internet in a “Holy Shit” moment to put it all into perspective for me: “The key isn’t what protesters are for but rather what they’re against.” Continue Reading »

 
When the history is finally written, though, it’s likely all of this tumult – beginning with the Arab Spring – will be remembered as the opening salvo in a wave of negotiations over the dissolution of the American Empire. — Dave Graeber in The Guardian

By JC

One has to look overseas to get some perspective on the movement that is growing in Liberty Plaza just a few blocks away from Wall Street and the World Trade Center. Mainstream American media has turned a jaundiced eye away from the true happenings in NY City. Instead, we will get a few sound bites and scenes of arrests, as the media always looks to the confrontation, instead of the substance of any protest movements on the left. Some of the media will attack them for who they are, posing them as juveniles in nothing more than an extension of their culture wars.

#OccupyWallSt and its rapidly expanding national movement Occupy Together, with occupations in over 52 locations across the country, are truly an organic grassroots organization. They are not faux grassroots pretenders like the Koch brothers’ funded rebranding of the activist right wing GOP and conservative movement as tea partiers. There is little doubt remaining that the tea party only serves as cover for corporatist America and a distraction for the media, so they can ignore the real revolution that is growing in America.

The UK’s Guardian News and Al Jazeera have done vastly better jobs covering the emerging movement as it grows from the ideas of a few organizations like Adbusters, Anonymous and the U.S. Day of Rage.

The following quote from an article in The Guardian clearly examines the birth of the #OccupyWallSt movement as a generational movement built out of other similar movements of the last 40 years. So we undoubtedly will get a bunch of pejorative statements about how they protesters are all young, or unemployed, or college kids, or lgbt, or dress funny, or homeless… And that is exactly why they are protesting. Because our society no longer takes their concerns or needs seriously

Why are people occupying Wall Street? …

There are obvious reasons. We are watching the beginnings of the defiant self-assertion of a new generation of Americans, a generation who are looking forward to finishing their education with no jobs, no future, but still saddled with enormous and unforgivable debt. Most, I found, were of working-class or otherwise modest backgrounds, kids who did exactly what they were told they should: studied, got into college, and are now not just being punished for it, but humiliated – faced with a life of being treated as deadbeats, moral reprobates.

This movement springs directly out of the anti-globalisation, global justice, and anti-transnational/WTO corporate rallies and protests of the last few decades. Take a look at the protests and accompanying police brutality, and it all begins to look familiar.

The response from the police, and lack of interest from mainstream corporate media and the corporations they are protecting will only serve to amplify the call out to people to join this movement.

When the history is finally written, though, it’s likely all of this tumult – beginning with the Arab Spring – will be remembered as the opening salvo in a wave of negotiations over the dissolution of the American Empire. Thirty years of relentless prioritising of propaganda over substance, and snuffing out anything that might look like a political basis for opposition, might make the prospects for the young protesters look bleak; and it’s clear that the rich are determined to seize as large a share of the spoils as remain, tossing a whole generation of young people to the wolves in order to do so. But history is not on their side.

We might do well to consider the collapse of the European colonial empires. It certainly did not lead to the rich successfully grabbing all the cookies, but to the creation of the modern welfare state. We don’t know precisely what will come out of this round. But if the occupiers finally manage to break the 30-year stranglehold that has been placed on the human imagination, as in those first weeks after September 2008, everything will once again be on the table – and the occupiers of Wall Street and other cities around the US will have done us the greatest favour anyone possibly can.

Is there any question as to why a whole generation is coalescing together to rise up against an establishment that seeks to disempower and repress them? “Grown-ups” will dismiss all of this as idealist leftist propaganda and poo-poo it, and attempt to ridicule and cast it aside. Remember the “don’t trust anyone over 30” mantra of the 60’s protest movement? Payback is a mo-fo. But this movement will not wither in the night, nor will hundreds or thousands of arrests deter it. The only thing that will assuage this movement will be when their voices are heard, and America changes.

Yes, Wall Street is our street. And that point will be hammered home until its ivory tower denizens and police protecters are brought back down to earth.

Feel free to post your favorite article or resource about #OccupyWallSt. We’ll keep posts like this going for the duration of the occupation, so that we can keep abreast of what is going on.

 
Reagan Proved Deficits Don’t Matter”
VP Dick Cheney to Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill in 2002

By JC

Big Ingy, in my previous blog post on the rise of a liberal movement to primary Obama was being coy about the nature of tax increases under Reagan. Actually, coy is a nice word. He was being lazy and didn’t want to pony up any real facts. So being the inquisitive blogger that I am, had to do his homework for him.

Well, now I know why he and every other right winger doesn’t want to talk about the actual Reagan record. Ronnie raised taxes by signing into law $132.7 billion worth of tax increases. During the same period he also cut taxes by signing legislation worth $275.3 billion, for a net decrease of $142.6 billion dollars. But, coupled with his deficit spending, the national debt soared $1.873 trillion during his reign of trickle down economic terror, a tripling of the debt.

The obvious conclusion is that tax cuts don’t prevent deficits (as if we need to be reminded of that after Bush the Second’s raiding of the public coffers for tax breaks for the rich), and grossly inflate the national debt. Trickle down does not work.

Reagan’s Budget Director, David Stockman called trickle down, supply side economics a “trojan horse:”

“Do you realize the greed that came to the forefront?’ Stockman asked with wonder. ‘The hogs were really feeding. The greed level, the level of opportunism, just got out of control.”

Greedy hogs indeed!

Furthermore, unemployment went from 7.6% to 5.5% (with a peak of 9.7% inbetween, higher than anything under Obama) in Reagan’s eight years.

My question to conservatives is this: if you are willing to let a republican president triple the national debt to gain 2.1% points of employment, why not let a democrat do it?

Well, the answer is easy: hypocrisy and politics. Compassionate conservatism is dead.

It is clear that republicans are using economic terrorism to hold the unemployed as a hostage in order to aggregate political power in the next election, and collect the tithes of their overlords. Conservative economist and neomonetarist Scott Sumner called these sorts of political actions “treason”.

I’ve included Reagan’s tax increases and some other info and citations below the fold.
Continue Reading »

 
“That’s the funny thing about ceasing to compromise in public. It can make it more likely that you actually get a compromise in private.” — Ezra Klein, Washington Post

 

By JC
Wonkblog’s Ezra Klein hit on something today that I have been harping about consistently over the years. And that is how a politician goes about compromising. Or maybe it is better said, how a politician goes about signaling his willingness to compromise, and how that compromise may be structured:

During the debt-ceiling negotiations, the Obama administration offered the Republicans two concessions that Democrats really didn’t like: A cut to Social Security, through a mechanism known as “chained-CPI,” and a lift in Medicare’s eligibility age. The administration was expected to make both concessions part of the debt-reduction package it plans to announce next week. Now, it looks as if neither item will appear in the final plan. And the reason why is best explained by comparing two New York special elections that went very, very differently for the Democrats.

Andy Hammond thought he was being smart by bringing up the Dem’s loss of Rep. Anthony Weiner’s seat in a special election on tuesday. Well, of course, there is an example of republicans similarly losing a seat recently in an upstate NY district that was heavily republican in a special election. Both incumbents were caught in sex scandals. Both were in districts that were heavily weighted in their favor. So why did both incumbent parties lose?
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By JC

In a dark opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal, Senators Max Baucus, Patty Murray and John Kerry invoked the specter of a failing America in their opening salvo as the next chapter of right wing hostage taking shapes up:

“…No one has ever gone into a debate pledging that China and India should own this economic century because we can’t make our democracy work here at home.”

But here we are with exactly that scenario. America is in decline as the international economic juggernaut after having ruled most of the last century. Yet there are three emerging economies–China, India and Brazil–that are ascendant, and together will outcompete America for strategic resources like oil, minerals and intellectual competence.

Yet three democrat senators invoke rhetoric intended to harken back to the good ole Clinton days that “allow us to continue shining bright in the world.” This is all so eerily similar to Baucus’ irrelevant call for bipartisanship in the health care fights two years ago, where he irrationally thought he could get 80 votes for his health care plan. Today’s political landscape is even more polarized, yet Max and his two dem cohorts think that they will succeed this time around? It’s delusional thinking.

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By JC

Max Baucus, after  his recently appointed role to the super committee saddled with finding 1.2 to 1.5 trillion dollars in deficit reduction, conducted an interview with the Helena IR (Google cache) editorial board and revealed some thoughts about how he’s likely to proceed:

[Baucus] noted that the Bush tax cuts also are set to expire at the end of 2012, and if Congress wants to prevent that from happening, it would need to reach some sort of bargain – hopefully one that reforms the tax code to make it simpler, better for the economy, and able to generate the revenue needed to put the country’s fiscal house in order.

“Part of the solution here is reforming the tax code,” he said.

So Baucus is willing to “prevent” the Bush/Obama tax cuts from expiring if the tax code is reformed. Ok, so he’s waffling on his talk last year about letting the tax cuts for the rich expire. Well, what do you expect from a gumby? Here’s what Max had to say then about an amendment he was offering to extend middle income tax breaks:

Our amendment says:  Let’s make the middle-class tax cuts permanent.

And our amendment says:  Let’s not allow tax cuts for middle-class Americans to be held hostage to tax cuts for those who make the very most.

Anybody on the left here think that reforming the tax code during another economic hostage “crisis” (like the debt ceiling hike) is a good thing? Yes the tax code needs to be reformed, but it should be done in the light of day in the regular order, and not done behind closed doors by a 12 member “super committee,” a committee that now presents itself as a large target to lobbyists and campaign dollars from the oligarchs.
Continue Reading »

 
in·tran·si·gent (n-trns-jnt, -z-) adj.
Refusing to moderate a position, especially an extreme position; uncompromising.
in·transi·gence n.

By JC

There’s been one thing that has always bothered me about democrats, and that is their tendency to walk into legislative negotiations in an already compromised position. As an extreme example, we have gumby Max Baucus’ taking the single payer health care system off the table from the get-go during Senate Finance Committee hearings (and arresting single payer advocates trying to get into the hearing and get their views heard).

More recently, the debt ceiling hostage crisis revealed that democrats were unwilling to enter into the negotiations with as adamant of a stance on revenue increases as republicans were with spending cuts. There’s many, many more, but I’m sure most of you get the point.

The title of this post seems to point to a contradiction, that most of the grownups in the room seem to believe that intransigence negates the possibility of compromise. But however unlikely it seems, I agree with Ross Douthat on this point.

I have been lambasted over the years for my seeming intransigence, and have garnered many labels meant to deprecate the positions I have taken: “principled left”; “emoprog”; “extremist”; “ecoterrorist” and the list goes on. But I think that the intransigence of the “principled left” is the missing ingredient in dems negotiating stances that have them capitulating to the right every step of the way. It is needed now more than ever as a balance to the tea party’s notion of what is politically acceptable.

Politics is the art of the possible. When one side employs intransigence as a strategy, either the other side gets up to speed, or they’re going to get steamrolled. Of course, that assumes that they aren’t in on the steamrolling in the first place. But that’s fodder for others.

This weekend saw a firestorm of punditry about the state of the presidency and the dem party rising out of the failed debt ceiling negotiations by democrats in D.C., beginning with Drew Weston’s Op-Ed in the NY Times, “What Happened to Obama?”

But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks.

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By JC

You know, Democrats really hate people who put policy before politics. Principles before compromises. Issues before elections. Especially when you’re talking about wilderness.

Seems that criticizing policy that seeks to release lands protected by the late Senator Lee Metcalf’s Montana Wilderness Study Act and other roadless and protected areas, in exchange for the official “designation” of a few hundred thousand acres of said protected land garners folks the “ilk” moniker from Dems.

Well, I happen to like the “ilk” that i have been associated with. So thanks to the thought police for pointing that out and reminding me who my friends are, here. I’d so rather work with folks who’d rather take a principled stand on the value of wilderness, instead of trading wilderness for votes.

Fighting for, and about wilderness has become a time-honored tradition in Montana between the body politic, and those who would protect or would destroy it. Sometimes, Dem gossip columnists get the facts mixed up a bit, and come off sounding a bit down-right hostile to enviros.
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By JC

“If you want to be a malleable politician, you campaign from the center. But if you want to be a leader, you define the center. You don’t rely on polls to tell you where to go. At best, polls tell you where people are, and it’s pointless to lead people where they already are. The essence of political leadership is focusing the public’s attention on the hard issues that most would rather avoid or dismiss.” — Robert Reich, Reason

With those words firmly planted in mind, I’m going to relate a story of how Jon Tester’s candidacy for the Senate was given a huge boost by a contingent of Montanans throwing their weight behind his candidacy in the 2006 primary against John Morrison and others.

And we start the story with a poll: John Morrison +1%.

That was the number that was staring at Democrats a few weeks before the June 6th, 2006 Democrat primary for Senate in Montana. Coupled with that number were other polls that showed Morrison at a serious disadvantage compared to Jon Tester in a one-to-one matchup against 3-time incumbent Republican Senator Conrad Burns.

Sitting back in the pack of Democrats running in the primary was Paul Richards, polling at about 2%. While 2% isn’t much, during the general election, almost 200,000 votes were cast Democrat. So around 4,000 people could have been said to support Paul. Not a large number, and not a particularly big political base from which to attempt to influence the statewide race. Or so it seems.

But let’s consider for a moment whom those 4,000 people may have been.
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By JC

Jhwygirl asks the correct question over at Left in the West:

“Congress should be the decision maker? Not science?”

in response to Rob Kailey’s statement in his diary “Donald Molloy Maintains Judicial Integrity” yesterday:

“For the record, this judgment goes beyond a simple defense of wolves in the Northern Rockies. This was a defense of the federal separation of powers and the integrity of the judicial branch. So, the legislative efforts move forward, precisely as Molloy said they should or shouldn’t. That’s up to Congress, as it should be. “

For those who may not be following the story closely, on Saturday, Federal District Court Judge Donald Molloy ruled in a case involving an attempted Settlement Agreement between a coalition of organizations attempting to head off Congressional action over wolf delisting in Montana and Idaho.

That coalition included 10 out of 14 plaintiffs in a lawsuit that had been filed to challenge the way the federal government was going about delisting wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The other 4 organizations refused to settle, believing that they had won important legal issues already, and were set to prevail on their Complaint challenging the way the government was proceeding with wolf delisting.

When those 10 organizations discovered that Senator Tester was going to do an end-around the court case by introducing a rider to delist the wolf in Congress, they decided to settle their case with the government as a way to obviate the need for the rider. And on Friday, they were relieved to find that most of the policy riders had been struck from the Continuing Resolution that had been agreed upon that would fund the government for another week.

But on Saturday, Senator Tester indicated that he had reattached his wolf delisting rider to the compromise 2011 budget agreement that is supposed to get worked out this week:
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By JC

(Reagan) Democrats are dancing in the streets! Headlines across the country proclaim: “All Sides Declare Victory” or “GOP Passes Largest Budget Cuts in History!”

Well, which is it? What really happened last night?

I guess because I’m really into self-immolation these days, it seems, I’m going to continue on with this series of articles on the Great Budget Battles of 2011™. I’ve been given fair warnings about casting assumptions, being self-righteous and pious (and a lot of other ugly things–hat tip to Rob and his brother moorcat), that I’m a “radical progressive” (which I take as a step up from our junior senator’s labeling of people like myself as “extremists”–thanks PW), but I take those aspersions as either a sign that I’m touching a raw nerve, or maybe I’m just a raw nerve that’s touched… whatever–that is to say, I have an opinion and a soapbox from which to shout it.

Ok, back to the question: what happened? Everybody came together and sang Kumbaya–the republicans gave up their policy demands, and 1/3 of their $61 billion in demanded cuts, democrats gave up a few billion dollars more, and won the fight for women’s health care… right??? (Or did the dems really just use women’s health issues as a way to ameliorate slashing other democrat-prized New Deal programs??? Or for Boehner to appease teabaggers as a way to force dems to agree to more cuts…but I digress, I didn’t want to delve into conspiracy theory here–that is lizard’s realm, and he does a damn fine job of it, I might add)

Well, no. We got 2 billion dollars in immediate non-discretionary cuts to the likes of high-speed rail transit money, HUD public housing funds, CDBG block grants, FAA airline safety–you know, things democrats like to cut in the name of “responsibly cutting the budget”–let’s just get the easy stuff out of the way first. But let’s not forget all the other budget cuts for the 2011 budget, that will bring the total to $78.5 billion… noooo.

But they got rid of the policy riders, right? Nope. They got some of them–like the Planned Parenthood defunding–out of this round, but in so doing they had to offer up-or-down votes on them in the senate (how many blue dogs are willing to go along with defunding PP…I wonder, and all the rest of the riders???). Oh, and rich Washington D.C-ians (and Congressmen, I assume–oops, there’s that “A” word again–bad writer, bad writer) got to keep their federally funded vouchers to send their kids to private schools. Nice. I wonder if they teach them about sex-ed and birth control, global warming or evolution there.

So where does that leave us? Very good question. I guess there’s another $37 billion in cuts to be worked out (I mean “fought over”–drama, drama drama…) before next wednesday, because, well, they just passed a Continuing Resolution till next week (actually, I think it was more that they decided to use the “KY Jelly” brand in their marketing of the deal, but that would be too nasty of me to say in mixed company), meaning another battle will be fought between now and then, supposedly with the parameters of that $37 billion somewhere agreed upon to finish the budget cycle. OK, just what is the agreement over those cuts??? I think we’ll begin to see that as the next phase of this drama begins to unfold.

I’ll end (sort of–I’m a glutton for punishment) by allowing John Nichols of The Nation do my dirty work for me, lest I be accused of falsely slandering democrats (though I still fully expect to be attacked, as it is easier to shoot the messenger than…):

“So who won the standoff? President Obama says the deal is good for the future, and that might make some Democrats think that he and the Democrats prevailed.

The one-week spending bill enacted by the House and Senate contains $2 billion in spending cuts to transportation, housing and community development programs.

A Senate Appropriations Committee review says that most of the $2 billion in cuts contained in the one-week bill come from a $1.5 billion slashing of the Federal Railroad Administration’s High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program. More cuts are achieved by hacking $220 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Fund. And research into making air travel safer and more efficient took cuts as well.

In other words, precisely the sort of programs that Democrats used to defend were slashed.

The Senate agreed to the one-week plan by unanimous consent.

Seventy House members opposed the bill. Of those seventy “no” votes, forty-two came from Democrats. They did not want a shutdown, as some of the GOP “no” voters did. But the dissenting Democrats said the cuts went too far.

They were right.

And we will need a lot more FDR Democrats to prevent the broader deal from becoming the greatest triumph yet in the GOP campaign to end the New Deal and bend the arc of history against progress.

They didn’t…”

Yes, a lot more FDR Democrats to tip the balance against the Blue Dog and resurgent Reagan Democrats that seem to be running the “grownup” wing of the Democrat party.

Update: Here’s how Ezra Klein described the whole rig-a-marole:

“The Democrats believe it’s good to look like a winner, even if you’ve lost”…

Right now, the economy is weak. Giving into austerity will weaken it further, or at least delay recovery for longer. And if Obama does not get a recovery, then he will not be a successful president, no matter how hard he works to claim Boehner’s successes as his own.

And Krugman concurs in “Celebrating Defeat:”

It’s one thing for Obama to decide that it was better to give in to Republican hostage-taking than draw a line in the sand; it’s another for him to celebrate the result. Yet that’s just what he did. More than that, he has now completely accepted the Republican frame that spending cuts right now are what America needs.

Nice… Austerians, what say you???
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By JC

This is a tough opinion to write. My goal here is not continually to bash Montana’s junior senator, but the buildup to the looming battle over the budget, complete with threat of government shutdowns and refusal to raise the debt ceiling, leaves me with no choice but to lay the political argument out on the table: what is the role of the U.S. government?

It is with this question in mind this morning when I awoke to Senator Tester’s new op-ed piece in my inbox. And of course, I was hoping that he would address the big question: what is it that we need from our government today? Particularly when Congress is so polarized between the conservative/teabagger alliance hellbent on tearing government down to an inefficient and meaningless puddle of tail-between-the-legs government employees propped up by the world’s greatest military, and a democrat rump party unable to craft a message about the appropriate role of government and a message to defend it and inspire people to value their government and rise up in opposition to this insanity.

I so wanted Senator Tester to live up to the promise that the Weekly Standard posed, in its front page cover and headline article asking the question of is Jon “The New Face of the Democratic Party?” Because the democratic party is in sore need of leadership able to craft a message and fight for the needs of Americans struggling to survive the Great Recession.

Turning to Tester’s op-ed, what are greeted with?

“Congress has an important decision to make this week: Either work together to responsibly cut spending and keep our government working, or refuse and let our government shut down.”

And with that statement, the battle was lost–them’s some real fighting words. Democrats, if Jon Tester is any indication, have already abdicated their responsibility, if this is how they choose to define the battle. And Denny Rehberg’s election committee must be laughing their asses off right about now. They won that round.

At a time when the GOP budget, as outlined by Rep. Ryan, has as its goal the abolishment of Medicare and Medicaid in 10 years what we need is a battle for the heart and soul of the democratic party, liberal policies, and progressive ideals. Instead democrats let the right define the terms of the battle, and the end goal: budget cutting at any cost.

There is nary a word in Tester’s words cutting to the right’s vulnerabilities in their quest, and they are multitude. Where the right gets away with labeling the Affordable Care Act as “Death Panels” democrats must be fine with the GOP proposing true death panels: turning the health care needs of the elderly, the disabled and the poor over to the private sector–which seeks only to profit off of their misery. Social Security privatization is right around the corner.

I could go on and on dissecting Tester’s op-ed, but my ulcer is already killing me. Suffice it to say that I view his words as opportunity lost, nothing more than a rearrangement of the chairs of the Titanic, that once majestic Great Society that has taken nearly 80 years to build, yet with one weakly challenged budget battle, will begin to unravel at breakneck speed.

Update: Paul Krugman just weighed in on this theme in “The Threat Within:”

“The great danger now is that Obama — with the help of a fair number of Senate Democrats — will kill Medicare in the name of civility and outreach.”

By JC

Welcome to Mark Fiore, 2010’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist. Mark’s Pulitzer is the first given out to an artist whose works do not appear in print. Here’s the blurb that accompanied his prize:

“Awarded to Mark Fiore, self syndicated, for his animated cartoons appearing on SFGate.com, the San Francisco Chronicle Web site, where his biting wit, extensive research and ability to distill complex issues set a high standard for an emerging form of commentary.”

Mark’s animations remind me of style combining Bullwinkle with South Park. Many of you are probably too young to know much of Rocky and Bullwinkle (a decidedly leftist plot to infiltrate the minds of young Americans), but they were a saturday morning watching-the-cartoons-on-tv staple in the early-mid 60’s. And of course, the reruns during my early college days were a must for after work/study munchies. Here’s a bunch of Rocky & Bullwinkle episodes.

I’ll do my best to bring an occasional treat from Mark for you guys to watch, and I’ll add a link to his site in the Political Blogs column of links to the right, so you can check out his weekly posts. Enjoy, and consider this an open thread!




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