Friday, December 8, 2017

Robert Kuttner (American Prospect) on Al Franken

Kuttner, as usual, is right on target here. The Dems have been out-flanked again. Here's what he says:

As I wrote yesterday, Democrats made a huge mistake of both principle and tactics by throwing former Senator Al Franken under the bus. They hoped that ousting Franken would create a dramatic contrast with the Republicans’ indulgence of Roy Moore.

But Moore continues to deny that he did anything wrong. Who thinks the ouster of Franken will change one vote in the actual Alabama Senate race?

It would have been much fairer, as well as smarter politics, to allow the ethics investigation to play out, and insist that similar scrutiny be applied to both Moore and to the sexual predator-in-chief who sits in the Oval Office. As David Axelrod recently noted in a tweet, “Strange principle is emerging. If you admit misconduct, you resign. But if you deny it, however compelling or voluminous the testimony against you, you continue in office—or onto office—with impunity.”

The move to force Franken to resign is also hailed as an embrace of zero-tolerance. “I think when we start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping you are having the wrong conversation,” Gillibrand said Wednesday at a conference. “You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK. None of it is acceptable.”

This strikes me as dangerous nonsense. Just as there is a difference between armed robbery and shoplifting, there is a difference between rape and an unwanted pat on the butt. All are illegal or improper, but Roy Moore’s alleged child abuse and Franken’s bouts of misdemeanor misconduct are not in the same moral universe. Plus—whatever happened to due process?

This season marks the beginning of a long overdue reckoning of male sexual harassment and abuse of women. It doesn’t mark the end of shades of gray, or innocent until proven guilty. Right now, Republican stonewallers and sexual predators are having a good laugh at the Democrats’ expense. ~ ROBERT KUTTNER

(See: The American Prospect.)

Monday, December 4, 2017

3 Riddles

Question: What does a politician have to do to lose the white evangelical vote?

Answer: Act like Jesus. 

Question: Is there any level of hypocrisy and lack of sympathy for their fellows that Republicans won't sink to?

Answer: No.

Question: Do Republicans serve any function other than to transfer wealth from the non-rich to the rich?

Answer: None that anyone these days can effectively detect.

Monday, September 11, 2017

What Trump is not

There's been a lot of talk recently that Trump is emerging as an "independent"; I don't think that this word is correct with a capital "I" since he does not have an official position within any Independent Party, nor does he hew to a truly independent way of thinking. He doesn't hew to any way of thinking actually since he doesn't think in the usual sense of mulling over facts and coming to some sort of reasoned conclusion. He is firmly in what shrinks call the "Concrete Operational Stage", as in: "This is pleasant sounding (feeling, tasting) and I like it, so I'll call it good (The Best! The Biggest!) and I'll do it." Those who think that he is "independent" because he is independent of the two political parties should review his appointments and executive orders: they are all parts of the Republican Wet Dream (RWD); i.e. they are anti-labor and pro-wealth and Big-Business; they are anti-environmental and pro-racism and pro-sexism. You name a Republican fantasy and he has stroked it.

So why is the press suddenly coming out with nonsense about his independence? Simply because he has decided to blame his failure to enact many of his campaign promises on the Republican leadership: Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. In Trump's brain-of-a-pre-adolescent  you have to win and be liked and push people around, and he hasn't been able to do as much of that as he would like. In fact, aside from some petulant words, the only thing he has actually done that isn't part of the RMP (Rich Man's Party) agenda is to agree with Chuck Schumer to extend the dept ceiling for 3 months instead of the 18 months that Ryan and McConnell want.

(The reason that they want the 18 months is that they don't want pesky arguments against a government shutdown to extend to midterm election time. Government shut-downs are not popular with most people who look -- with good reason -- to their government to help them by providing for "the common good" as our Constitution demands.)

In short, Trump is still the ignorant, selfish, childish and vicious (remember DACA?) blowhard who embodies the heart and mind of the modern RMP, especially its more "conservative" (conserving what? The Confederacy?) wing.

Looking for someone independent of the Republican Party? You'll have to find a Democrat or, even better, a Bernie Sanders follower.


Friday, June 30, 2017

Why are they so cruel?

The gratuitous cruelty of the modern Republican Party leaves one asking: Why? Where did this come from? In an essay written more than a decade ago, when "compassionate conservatism" was the phrase that marked (for Bush II) a coverup of this cruelty, George Manbiot wrote in The Guardian an interesting essay tracing this ideology back to the Puritans of the 17th century.

You can find his article HERE.

As my daughter, an historian, points out, puritan thought was also wedded with neo-conservative ideology to produce the modern American Republican Party. Chicago School economists and other apologists for Big Money had maintained academically that the accumulation of wealth was the only measure of success in a capitalist society, and, in fact, gave the only meaning to virtue and value and worth therein. Thus, so-called economic "computations" proved that "greed is good" (in the immortal words of Gordon Gekko, and endorsed by Ronald Reagan).  So, "cold calculation" and economic theory were combined with puritan theology to give us the RMP ( = "Rich Man's Party", formerly the GOP). In summary, wealth was the only analytic measure of value and success, and this was ratified by the Will of God. Neat package, and so far quite politically successful here and abroad.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

More on "An Important Story in Kansas"

Well, you heard it first here (see June 11) blog: the Kansas legislature overrode Gov. Sam Brownback's veto of their tax increase. Since my blog, several other papers and magazines have picked up the story, most recently The American Prospect.

Of course, we're not hearing anything about it from the Democrats, who are applauding themselves for slowing the Republican replacement of Obamacare by TrumpCare. This is, indeed, an important development, but it is wise to remember that the Republicans are the least self-reflective group on earth, and that most of the small but significant subgroup of them who oppose TrumpCare are doing so for the worst reason: TrumpCare is not mean enough. Any normal human would realize that TrumpCare is, in the words of Chuck Schumer, "rotten to the core", reflecting contempt the health and intelligence of fellow humans. I'm glad that Susan Collins is worried about the effects of TrumpCare on her constituents, but come on Sen. Collins, that's a very mild response to a bill that takes away health care from people across the country (not just in Maine) so that rich people can have a tax break.

One final thing: I keep seeing letters in papers urging a greater "comity" in political discussions, especially of health care. The writers of these letters bemoan the references to TrumpCare as "an attack" and "an attempted murder." Well look, if Republicans make it impossible for low-income people to get the affordable healthcare they can now obtain, and some of these people get very sick but can't afford treatment, and then they die, how else would you describe Republican culpability? If a person were to be blindfolded and set down in the middle of a busy highway at night, wouldn't you describe that as "attempted murder"?

(I know the specious argument: You can always go to the emergency room. Yes, you can, if you are already spitting up blood -- when it's probably too late. That's why it's called an "emergency" room, not a "preventative medicine" room. In any case, large groups of doctors have already publicly stated that elimination of affordable health care will lead to deaths, so we can go with that expert opinion.)

In a related situation: suppose a pharmaceutical company lies about the habit-forming properties of its drugs; then users get hooked, then they die of overdoses when they try to feed their habits. Do the pharmaceutical companies have liability/culpability? Courts have already ruled yes on that.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

An important story in Kansas

While the papers have been filled with ex-FBI director Comey's testimony, there was a very interesting development that didn't get much play. The Kansas legislature overrode governor Sam Brownback's veto of a tax increase it had recently passed. You can read the story here: NY Times and here: Kansas City Star  (and other places as well).

There are several points that are important. First of all, Brownback is a pure and unapologetic exponent of the Republican gospel that tax cuts are always good and that, in fact, they actually pay for themselves by stimulating employment and business expansion. Among actual economists this is generally considered nonsense and is termed Voodoo Economics (along with its "trickle-down" twin). Whenever they can, Republicans try to install tax cuts and, in Trumpian fashion, proclaim that they are "vindicated" by the results. The fact is, there is no actual example showing their claim for tax cuts to be true. The last few Republican presidents (the Bushes) tried cutting taxes and in both cases they either had to backtrack (Bush Sr. and Reagan BTW) or their effort produced disaster (Bush Jr.)  

Yet, in spite of repeated failures, the tax cut dogma remains very much alive since it has the backing of the wealthy classes who think they don't need the government services that the taxes cut pay for. They are happy not to have to pay for roads (they have private jets, and go first-class everywhere) or job-training or health insurance subsidies etc. All the Republicans have to do is make sure that the actual failures of the "theory" stay hidden.

That's where the developments in Kansas are important. Brownback, along with a conservative Republican legislature pushed through tax cuts that led to draconian cutbacks in services at all levels in the state. Health and education and infrastructure programs were gutten for years. The people in Kansas found themselves living in a feudal-like economy, and made their displeasure known to their (conservative) representatives. But Brownback was firm in his embrace of Republican orthodoxy. However, there is one thing that Republicans like less than giving up their economic religion and that is being voted out of office. When they passed a budget authorizing a billion or so in tax increases to keep essentials of civilization working in Kansas, and governor Brownback vetoed them, they finally rebelled and recognized that Brownback was simply wrong and was destroying the state: they overrode his veto.

What about Democrats? Good question. They had a lot to say locally in Kansas, but very little in other states and in the national media. They were too busy not preparing for the 2018 elections, by attacking Trump and not fielding viable local candidates. They could have made a great video showing yet another proof that Republicans are living in a bubble, and that even conservative voters in Kansas were refuting  Republican myths. The override in red Kansas was not by elite liberals as Republicans would like to claim.

So far, nothing from the Democrats. What will happen, of course, is that Republicans will bury the story and claim, later, that their tax cut romance has been "vindicated" once again  (the way Trump declared that Comey's testimory vindicated him). Later references to the Kansas override by responsible media and Democrats will be referred to as fake news or partisan slant. Thus, once again, Democrats will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

DEMOCRATS: Wake up!  You need a skillful and agressive "ministry of propaganda" which will exploit Republican mistakes in a timely way to set the agenda and frame the issues.  We don't need amateurs whose hearts are in the right place, but the kind public relations experts who can generate contempt for Republicans and faith in Democrats.

Forget about Trump for a while and figure out how to win elections.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Do Tax Cuts Work?" and "The Parasite Tax"

During the 2012 presidential campaign, the NY Times ran a column by David Leonhardt analyzing whether tax cuts did, in fact, "grow the economy": Here is that discussion.

Peter deFazio is running for congress in Oregon. Part of his progressive platform is the institution of a tax on Wall Street speculation -- also called a "Tobin" Tax. I discussed this at some length in a blog from November 2010; read it here at The Parasite Tax. Basically, this is a (very tiny) sales tax on stock transactions. For most investors -- even most professional investors -- this is insignificant (maybe 1/4% on sales and purchases of securities. However, for computerized speculators who often trades thousands of shares a second, it amounts to real money. These people are not promoting capitalism by investing in companies based on sound business principles; rather, they speculate on second-to-second virtually statistical fluctuations of a stock's price.  They serve no social or economic purpose, and do what they do solely to make money for themselves. They are social and economic parasites -- hence the name of the tax. When you or I buy a washing machine we pay, in many states, a sales tax -- often 5% or more; these parasites pay nothing on the purchase or sale of stocks. How is that fair?

It isn't, so it's not a bad idea to sign Peter deFazio's petition and maybe even send him some money (let's keep the left-coast blue); here's the URL: Make Wall Street Pay