Saturday, April 09, 2011

No Cause for Celebration

At the last impossible moment, Congress averted a federal government shutdown, at least temporarily, with a continuing resolution that keeps the doors open until late next week, when the overall agreement comes up for a vote.  The agreement calls for some $39 billion in cuts--a total of some $78 billion below President Obama's original budget--but without the policy riders, such as the last one in contention, defunding Title 10 health programs primarily for women.  GOPers finally realized they'd basically won, while Democrats pretended it was a civics lesson in democracy.

The excessive fights aren't over, though it could be that America's patience is (how many people even noticed a 7.1 earthquake in Japan last week?)  The epic battles ahead are on debt ceiling and next year's budget, but even next week there is likely to be a lot of contention on this agreement.  Tea partiers are likely to vote against it because it doesn't cut enough for them or doesn't include defunding Title 10, EPA, NPR and quite possibly Evolution.  Some Democrats may well vote against it because of specific cuts or because this immense amount of money drained from the economy may well derail economic recovery. 

It's easy enough to talk about this in terms of extremes on each side losing out for a compromise in the middle.  But in the middle of what?  There are no sides involved when it comes to impact.  These cuts are either going to result in the loss of 100,000 to 450,000 jobs (as one economist estimates, according to Ezra Klein of the WA Post), or they aren't.  What does seem very likely is that it will be the middle class and the poor and the sick who will pay, and certainly not the corporate elite and the mega-wealthy.

But another really troubling aspect of this trend is how it increases vulnerability to the inevitable dangers ahead.  In the short run it increases the vulnerability of individuals and families on the edge, and it increases the overall vulnerability of the economy as it erodes incomes both directly dependent on government and indirectly.  All of this is a result of the refusal of government to increase revenues by taxing wealthy businesses and individuals. 

In the long run it erodes the ability of government to respond to emergencies--particularly the long emergency of the Climate Crisis.  It erodes that ability both in terms of specific capabilities, which are being slowly starved (though President Obama placed emphasis on the compromise budget saving investments to win the future.) But it is also in the area of attitude, of the growing ferocity of seeing government as the enemy, instead of the commons, where we pool resources to help the whole and help those who most need it.  In that regard, this violence to our ability and will to deal with these problems threatens the future.  So maybe the Washington Monument stays open, but this is not a day to celebrate.     

Friday, April 08, 2011

War on Women

As I write this there are about four hours until the federal government shuts down.  There has been talk for the past several hours that another stopgap measure is being prepared, and it's safe to speculate that there is a lot of furious engagement going on in Washington right now.  Because over the course of the day, the game has changed, and the Republicans have gamed themselves into potential disaster.

"If it sounds ridiculous," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "that's because it is ridiculous."  He announced--and other Democrats have been on this all day--that Democrats gave in further on budget numbers and had an agreement last night, but GOPers are balking because of one thing: they demand funding be cut off for Title 10 services: women's health services.  They trumpet this as cutting off Planned Parenthood, but there are a lot of other clinics serving the growing number of women (and therefore children) who have little or no affordable alternative for a range of health services, including screening for cancers. (Planned Parenthood, by the way, also offers prostate cancer screening for men.)

House Speaker John Banal is going around insisting it's about the numbers, but this particular funding is .008% of the federal budget.  Title 10 was signed into law by President Richard Nixon, and one of its cosponsors was George Herbert Walker Bush.  The funding cannot by law go to abortions. It is imperious overreach for the extreme Rabid Right, and this time they may have reached too far.

The pictures today were dramatic, for anyone paying attention.  Women Democrats in Congress were all over the media, passionately denouncing this. Women Republicans in Congress held a press conference, but it turned to disaster when they refused to answer any questions about Title 10.   Commentators of nearly every ideology expressed disbelief.

There was some question about who would be blamed for a government shutdown, before today.  Now there is no question.  Democrats reportedly agreed to about three-quarters of cuts the GOPers demanded.  When Reid and others announced that the sole remaining issue was Title 10, a very popular program, the GOPers have been on the defensive all day.  Had they accepted this deal, declared victory, they would be in stronger position on upcoming and bigger budget and fiscal battles.  They may well be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

There are only two possibilities for some salvation for the GOPer fringe running things.  That in the next few hours they agree to a clean continuing resolution to keep the government open and then in the next few days to a deal.  And/or that today's furor doesn't ripple out and "go viral" politically in the coming weeks and months, but is confined to a one day embarrassment.

This is a blunder of proportion, but it is not inconsistent for the Rabid Right.  In the onslaught of extreme proposals GOPer governments are ramming through in various states, there are plenty that attack women's rights and callously endanger the health and well-being of women and their families.

Now perhaps the basic inhumanity of their ideology has been exposed.  They are engaged in extortion, not caring who they hurt and the proportion of that harm.  In effect, they want to recreate this country with narrow sectarian rule, a mirror image of the Sharia law that they and only they are so afraid is coming to America.  If it does, they will bring it.   

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

 "While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics."

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens
in his dissenting opinion to Citizens United
Proportion of federal income consisting of  tax revenues from corporations in the 1950s:  30%

Proportion of same in 2009: 6.6%

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Orange You Jealous? And Other Random Notes

I noted with I hope obvious amusement that this blog was in the Final Four of a blog-sponsored tournament of Humboldt County blogs.  (Like VCU, it lost in the semi-finals.  Congrats to whoever won.)  It's a laugh to me because this is barely a blog at all, let alone a Humboldt County one. 

Sure, it's published as a blog, on blogspot, but I probably don't have to point out the many ways it differs from the usual blog.  And it's a Humboldt County blog only in the sense that I live here, now.  I almost never write about local politics (I barely mention the entire state of California.) I understand that it's a failing but local politics and local news just don't interest me.  I'm sure they should, but there's only so much time in my day, and so much gas in my tank.

What I do occasionally write about--what does interest me--is life as I live it here.  (That's probably reflected even more in my photos.)  What I value about living here has more to do with the clouds and the trees, the ocean, the smell of wood smoke, the cows in the pastures along the highway (as there were when I was growing up in western PA, but are no more.)  And the oranges.

When I was a kid in western PA, biting into an orange was taking a chance.  It could be good, it could be not so good. It was the same everywhere else I've lived since, with the not so good becoming more frequent.  But here we get oranges, particularly navel oranges, for a good part of the year, but especially right now.  I guess they come up from the Central Valley.  They're California oranges anyway.  And they are good.  They are excellent.  And they are always, always excellent.  And they have been from the first ones I bought at my first Saturday Farmers' Market on the Arcata Plaza in the fall of 1996, to today (when I'm more likely to pick up a week's worth at Wildberries Market on senior discount day.)

Dream up globally, even galactically.  Eat and drink locally.  That's about as Humboldt as I get.

Though I do have this part-time job that requires me to go to plays in Humboldt County.  I've just revamped my Stage Matters blog, and I like how it looks now.  Posts like the Tom Stoppard ones are a real indulgence, but then so is this.  I was also amused that this blog's showing in the tournament revealed its existence to some other local bloggers.  This blog's first post was in 2005.  I started "blogging" (on American Dash) in 2002.  Welcome, newcomers.

Oh, and our 101 is open again--thanks to the folks who cleared that mudslide away so quickly.  The only effect I saw was a day or so without New York Times or San Francisco Chronicles.

Fighting Back

I don't mean to be a Rachel Maddow echo machine here, but she continues to make the most cogent and direct case for a particular big picture politics: the domestic Shock Doctrine and its ultimate goal, which is to keep Republicans in power indefinitely by crippling the ability of anyone--Democrats first of all--to successfully oppose them.  She outlined one aspect of this long-term strategy on Wednesday: bleed the unions of the money they would give to Democrats, and the corporate controllers of the GOPers are in forever.   

It seems to me to be a strategy so carefully planned and ready to go after the November elections, coordinated over a number of states as well as in the U.S. House, that it must have been developed and waiting to go, with just a few people empowered to decide to put it into motion.  I'll take a wild guess and say that would be the corporate bosses like the Koch brothers who are financing the Rabid Right tea party soldiers and the ghost organizations that dispense the money to fuel it.  Look at the tactics: flooding all these state governments with these extremist proposals to send the opposition into frenzied disarray, and get enough of the proposals enacted into law--the domestic political equivalent of Shock & Awe.  It's very unlikely those tactics arose spontaneously and coincidentally.  This was planned and coordinated, and not by Michael Steele or John Banal.  Talk about the political sideshow.  It's pretty much all sideshow--everybody from Glenn Beck to Donald Trump-- all distraction, and it's been working.

But not completely.  Beck is on the way out was Wednesday's news, but perhaps the more telling event is the apparent victory of  JoAnne Kloppenburg for supreme court judge in Wisconsin.  Her opponent, a Republican tool and injudicious backer of Governor Imperial Walker, was 30 points ahead a couple of months ago, in a usually ignored judicial election.  Walker's kill the unions law inspired unions to work for Kloppenburg but even with their support, she was outspent two to one.  But she still won, however narrowly.  Update 4/7: The apparent discovery of an entire town's uncounted votes has apparently changed the outcome.  This may well be legitimate.  But this is the swing vote on the court that decides whether Boss Imperial Walker's laws are legal according to the Wisconsin constitution.

This is a good sign, especially if it provides hope and motivation for continuing the fight in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere.  In Wisconsin, the next step is the recall of Rabid Right legislators, and the election of Democrats.  But then the Walker law has to be repealed (if the courts haven't struck it down by then.)  That's the real Endgame.  And we're a long way from that in time, so the battle is also against the usual attention span.

This election result (plus the overwhelming victory of a Democrat in Milwaukee who won Walker's vacated job) and the polls in various states may even provide a little jostle to John Banal and the Voldemort Brigade in DC before they jump off the cliff of shutting down the government.  On that I do think Howard Fineman is right--if it happens, tea partiers are going to celebrate, and if they do, GOPers may well pay a big electoral price.

As for the long-term strategy, you might wonder why now?  It's a high stakes gamble, after all.  I think it's because the long-term demographics aren't good for GOPers.  It is increasingly an old southern white people's party, serving the interests of old white billionaires.  For awhile the party played with attracting the upwardly mobile young of any race or ethnicity, especially Latinos, the fastest-growing category, but they are too invested now in racism on a number of fronts, especially as galvanized by their almost helpless response to the first black President.  They're not going to hold onto power by getting the most votes.  They have to tilt the playing field structurally, and use whatever other means to keep others from getting momentum.  If they relegate the Dems to a few years cleaning up their worst messes every once in awhile, that works for them.  It took FDR 12 years to reverse the worst of the past and start moving forward.  Those 12 years had effects that lasted through the 1970s.  Why, corporations and supremely wealthy people actually paid taxes in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations!  Can't have that.         

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

  "The polis was for the Greeks, as the res publica was for the Romans, first of all their guarantee against the futility of individual life."
Hannah Arendt

Closing Time

I'm not even quite sure why anyone is taking the so-called budget proposal by the Rabid Right's latest blue-eyed boy Paul Ryan seriously for even a day.  It passes no known smell test, it doesn't save the government money or decrease the debt (according to the CBO)  or help the economy (it wrecks everything) as well as taking the country back to before the Great Depression, when at least a third of seniors were living below the poverty line, and a third of the country was headed that way.  Even in announcing it Ryan declared, "It's not a budget, it's a cause."

But it's not even that.  It's a ploy.  Just as the congressional GOPers apparent plan to shut down the government at the end of the week.  It's a partisan political ploy.  Shutting down the government will play to the tea party fringe's anger and ignorance, while hopefully turning off any remaining government stimulus and hurting the economic recovery enough to damage President Obama's chances for re-election.

That's what this is about at the highest GOPer levels--especially among the oily rich who run it--and that's what everything they've done since November has been about.  Starve the labor unions, so they can't help Obama and the Democrats.  Prevent minorities and the young from voting, because they are likely to vote for Obama and the Democrats.

They don't care who they hurt in doing this.  As long as they help themselves.

America is open for business.  That's what it means.      

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Society may be said to be in its natural state, when worldly power and moral influence, are...exercised by the fittest persons whom the existing state of society affords."
John Stuart Mill

The Cost of Staying Stupid

As promised, here are some of the figures Rachel Maddow talked about on Friday, which are relevant to the ongoing Rabid Right Class War as well as to the ongoing congressional budget farce which--on Monday at least--looked as though it was going to lead to a government shutdown.  As well as to their arrogantly cruel and self-destructive long-term proposal which includes destroying Medicare.

First, corporate profits last year, with high unemployment and stagnant or dropping incomes for most Americans :
General Electric: $14.2 billion
Google: $18.9 billion
Exxon: $149 billion

At the same time, corporate CEO pay increased 27%, led by the chairman of Viacom, who pulled in $84.5 million.

In the last 3 months of  2010, American corporate profits grew at a rate not seen since the 1950s.  At that rate, total profits for a year would be $1.68 trillion.


Exxon-Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009.  They paid no federal taxes, and they got  a $156 million IRS rebate.

Bank of America made $4.4  billion in 2010.  They paid no taxes.  They got a $1.9 billion tax refund.  

General Electric (Rachel Maddow's ultimate employer) $26 billion over the last five years in profits  no taxes, $4.1 billion refund from the IRS. And nothing due to Uncle Sam in 2010.

These figures come from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  His website adds these as well:

Chevron: $10 billion profits in 2009, no taxes, a $19 million refund from the IRS.

Citigroup: more than $4 billion in profits in 2010, no taxes.

Valero Energy, $68 billion in sales in 2010, no taxes, $157 million tax refund from IRS plus $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

ConocoPhillips, $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

If GOPers were truly serious about balancing the federal budget, they would end the Bush tax cuts on the supremely rich.  That would cut the deficit in half over the next decade.

They would end absurd and obscene tax giveaways to oil and gas corporations. And then they would get some revenue from the corporations making huge amounts of money, the biggest of which are polluting the planet and destroying the health and future of America's children, while taking from the U.S. Treasury enough to fund needed programs and pay entire state budgets.

Instead they want to cut programs they don't like for other reasons but that uniquely serve the American people (and don't cost that much either) as well as rob the poor and destroy what secure old age exists.  They talk in homespun terms about balancing the federal budget like balancing the family budget, but when families have the opportunity to increase their incomes, they generally don't refuse--no, I don't want income I'm already due by simple fairness, I'd rather starve my children and keep them stupid.  They are the vile and deluded in the employ of the supremely vile.