Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Impossible Takes a Little Longer

"I always have hope," President Obama said with a grin on Friday.  Actually, the grin was on his face.  And whataya know, the Murdoch empire is crumbling, the NFL is settling, the American women soccer team is in the World Cup finals, the wounded Giants are leading their division--and in the National League Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place.  In July!  After the All-Star Break!

What's next?  A black President?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Solve the Manufactured Problem, We've Got Real Ones

All that happened in public on Friday regarding the debt ceiling debate was President Obama's press conference.  He continues to hope for the grand deal that will solve the debt and deficit shortfall for the next decade or more, but he seems prepared to accept a deal of about a trillion in cuts along with the debt ceiling rise, still hoping at least for those middle class payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance extensions.  He made a simple but persuasive case that the Eric Cant/John Banal insistence on two and a half trillion in cuts with no new revenue is functionally impossible, and not a serious proposal.  He noted that polls show overwhelming support among "the American People"--using the words that Banal and Cant misuse to justify their loony positions--for a mixed approach of cuts and new revenue.

Here's the USA Today report on the press conference; here's one from Time.  I furnish these as a public service, noting that the twitterized blogs and cable stations offer only opinions, with the slimmest of sound bites, if any.  You still have to go to print publications and their staffs for actual reporting, and you have to pretty much go to C-SPAN or the White House site to see the press conference or read the transcript. 

That's disturbing on a lot of levels.  One of the cable shows led with the headline that President Obama was again portraying himself as the only adult in the room.  I think a half hour spent with the press conference is convincing evidence that he is the only adult in just about any room in Washington:

"Look, we’ve been obsessing over the last couple of weeks about raising the debt ceiling and reducing the debt and deficit. I’ll tell you what the American people are obsessing about right now is that unemployment is still way too high and too many folks’ homes are still underwater, and prices of things that they need, not just that they want, are going up a lot faster than their paychecks are if they’ve got a job.

And so even after we solve this problem we still got a lot of work to do... My point is that those are a whole other set of issues that we need to be talking about and working on. I’ve got an infrastructure bank bill that would start putting construction workers back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges. We should be cooperating on that...

So there will be huge differences between now and November 2012 between the parties, and whoever the Republican nominee is, we’re going to have a big, serious debate about what we believe is the right way to guide America forward and to win the future. And I’m confident that I will win that debate, because I think that we’ve got the better approach. But in the meantime, surely we can, every once in a while, sit down and actually do something that helps the American people right here and right now."

"I am going to keep on working and I’m going to keep on trying. And what I’m going to do is to hope that, in part, this debate has focused the American people’s attention a little bit more and will subject Congress to scrutiny. And I think increasingly the American people are going to say to themselves, you know what, if a party or a politician is constantly taking the position "my way or the high way," constantly being locked into ideologically rigid positions, that we’re going to remember at the polls.

It’s kind of cumulative. The American people aren’t paying attention to the details of every aspect of this negotiation, but I think what the American people are paying attention to is who seems to be trying to get something done, and who seems to be just posturing and trying to score political points. And I think it’s going to be in the interests of everybody who wants to continue to serve in this town to make sure that they are on the right side of that impression.

And that’s, by the way, what I said in the meeting two days ago. I was very blunt. I said the American people do not want to see a bunch of posturing; they don’t want to hear a bunch of sound bites. What they want is for us to solve problems, and we all have to remember that. That’s why we were sent here."

Here's how President Obama ended the press conference:

"But we're running out of time. That's the main concern that I have at this point. We have enough time to do a big deal. I've got reams of paper and printouts and spreadsheets on my desk, and so we know how we can create a package that solves the deficits and debt for a significant period of time. But in order to do that, we got to get started now. And that's why I'm expecting some answers from all the congressional leaders sometime in the next couple of days.

And I have to say this is tough on the Democratic side, too... if you are a progressive, you should be concerned about debt and deficit just as much as if you're a conservative. And the reason is because if the only thing we're talking about over the next year, two years, five years, is debt and deficits, then it's very hard to start talking about how do we make investments in community colleges so that our kids are trained, how do we actually rebuild $2 trillion worth of crumbling infrastructure.

If you care about making investments in our kids and making investments in our infrastructure and making investments in basic research, then you should want our fiscal house in order, so that every time we propose a new initiative somebody doesn’t just throw up their hands and say, "Ah, more big spending, more government."

It would be very helpful for us to be able to say to the American people, our fiscal house is in order. And so now the question is what should we be doing to win the future and make ourselves more competitive and create more jobs, and what aspects of what government is doing are a waste and we should eliminate. And that's the kind of debate that I'd like to have."

The only other development on Friday was the House leadership announcing that there will be a series of symbolic votes next week before any real vote on whatever deal that gets agreed to, an obvious sop to the Rabid Right members.  That deal is being worked out now supposedly, since everyone at the table in those White House meetings has agreed that the country going into default is not an option.


Thursday saw the S&P also threaten to downgrade the national credit rating, a poll showed that Republicans will be blamed for the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling, another poll affirmed again that a majority of Americans want a mixture of cuts and revenue increases, and an overwhelming majority want the rich to pay more; and several Senate GOPers essentially turned on the Eric Cant-led House GOPer freshmen who have inspired and forced this unforced crisis.

Also, in the words of the Boston Globe: "That deadline loomed ever larger yesterday, as China, the US government’s largest foreign creditor, called on US policy makers to take action to protect the interests of investors. Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke warned that failure to raise the debt ceiling would amount to “a self-inflicted wound’’ that would cause “a very severe financial shock’’ to the global economy. And Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told lawmakers that they are running out of time".

After another White House session that didn't end in a deal, President Obama said 24 to 36 hours was his time limit.  That seems realistic in view of the imminent threat of a lower credit rating which would instantly result in higher interest rates.

By the dead of night in the capitol of the living dead, news of a "Plan B" rapidly becoming the Plan A deal in the making was being leaked to several journalists.  Here's one such report.   It's a modified version of the McConnell proposal plus some of the Biden group cuts, resulting in some sort of vote to raise the debt ceiling--possibly by the McConnell route of empowering the President to raise it all by himself--accompanied by some cuts ($1.5 trillion over ten years is the number leaked) and a deficit commission.  One version reported has no revenue increases, while another has a few, along with some short-term stimulus: unemployment insurance extensions and continuing a middle class tax cut.

President Obama scheduled a press conference for 11 a.m. eastern on Friday.

The key will be a proposal that gets enough Democrats and Republicans in the House to offset the 80 or so Rabid Right GOPer freshies who have vowed to vote against the debt limit increase no matter what deal is reached.

Maybe we can look forward to Washington pivoting (in Rachel Maddow's words) from this stupid fight to the real economic fight, for jobs.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Manufactured Chaos

Wednesday saw the ratcheting up of pressure on the GOPers to understand the catastrophe they are flirting with in preventing the U.S. from paying its bills.  Wall Street Journal editorials, David Brooks' column, a statement by a Citcorps economist to the effect that asking what happens the day after America defaults is like asking what you're going to do the day after your suicide, all trumped by the Moody's statement that it is considering  downgrading this nation's credit rating.  If that happens, interest rates go up immediately, and experts say only one point will be enough to send the country back into recession, with even higher unemployment.  And there's nothing temporary about it--it's a genie that's very hard to get back in the bottle.

Hyperbole is always a temptation in political battles.  But in this one, it is unnecessary.  This is the Armageddon of ignorance.

Wednesday's other news was of the most openly contentious meeting among the members of Congress and the White House trying to negotiate an agreement that will pass both houses of Congress.  Rep Eric Cant broke protocol and gave his version in a press conference.  We'll see today if anyone believes him.  The most complete journalistic account I've seen so far is from Ben Stein.

The fear expressed by Democrats such as Sen. Sherrod Brown and journalists including Joe Klein is that GOPers, especially in the House, are so fragmented now that they are incapable of getting anything done at all.  Mitch McConnell's proposal, initially embraced by John Banal, has found some favor with Harry Reid, but there are features of it that won't get Democratic support, and that may doom it.  But again, it may be a genie that can't get back in the bottle.  (There's a contrary view, expressed by Jay Newton Small,  that the proposal was only tactical, aimed at getting Eric Cant focused on doing a deal.)

President Obama has ruled out a short-term raising of the debt limit, and most business minds would agree--it just continues the uncertainty that stalls the economy.  He has stood firm on including some revenue as well as cuts.  He has also given this group meeting in the White House until Friday to craft their proposal.

There is undoubtedly more drama to come. But the remaining possibilities: a face-saving (for GOPers) deal that has cuts but includes revenues (but with a middle class tax cut that makes it all revenue neutral); an almost clean bill raising the debt ceiling with some meaningless face-saving (for GOPers) language; or complete stalemate, and at that point, I wouldn't be surprised if the President plays the 14th amendment card.  I think essentially that's what he meant when he said "I'll take it to the American people."  But it's a big gamble. If there's a big noise against it, Moodys and their ilk may still downgrade the credit rating.  It's really uncharted territory, as is this whole manufactured unnecessary mess.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Very Late Night News

The Obama campaign has sent a sneak preview to supporters of its first report on campaign contributions.

More than 550,000 contributors, more than any campaign at this point in history.

98% of contributions were $250 or less, with the average under $70.

The totals: $47 million to Obama for America, the Obama campaign; $38 million to the Democratic National Committee, for a total of $86 million.  

Local Nature Notes

We walked the Trinidad head on the last day of June.  I've never seen the trail so overgrown. Near the top it was almost invisible.  Budget cuts?  Bad timing?

In PA, I was used to goldfinches (as well as cardinals and bluejays) but I haven't seen birds that yellow hereabouts for a long time, if ever.  This spring however we started seeing flashes of yellow darting around in front and back yards.  Now there are a couple of little birds that seem to be checking out the back porch for nesting possibilities.  One bird that seemed almost entirely yellow perched on the clothesline.  It looked almost like a parakeet, but I'm terrible at identifying birds.  Later I spotted either that bird or another with a lot of yellow but a big black band on the back.  Any idea of what these birds (pretty sure there are two) could be?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Late Night Report

There were elections today.  In primaries for the senatorial recall elections in Wisconsin, the Democrats (the real ones--not the patently fake Dems the GOPers put on the ballot as one of several ploys to confuse the electorate) seem all to have won.  The final election will be next month.  It looks as though the Wisconsin Senate will be switching to a Democratic majority by the fall, despite every desperate and totalitarian tactic the GOPers have thrown in the way.

There was a congressional election in California, for the seat of retiring Jane Harman.  At the moment Democrat  Janice Hahn is exceeding expectations, and may well be on her way to a blowout victory. Update: Hahn has won by slightly over 9 points.

So far Mitch McConnell's proposal to essentially raise the debt ceiling without agreed upon budget cuts is being widely viewed as a GOPer surrender and a victory for President Obama.  But it's not really over.  There may be twists and turns still to come. 

Politics of the Moment

Things are happening (and not happening) fast in the debt ceiling drama.  The first major shift came in a CBS new interview, when in answer to a question (a repeated, specific question) President Obama said he could not guarantee that Social Security checks would go out as scheduled on August 3, if the debt ceiling isn't lifted by August 2. 

Though the interview itself will not air until Tuesday evening, this question and answer were released and played often during the day Monday.  It seems to have had an immediate effect on congressional GOPers.

The first effect was to press their "that's what you are, what am I" button, when John Banal blamed President Obama for what GOPers are refusing to do--raise the debt ceiling, as has always been done in the past, including 7 times during the Bush administration.

The second was the other shoe dropping in this GOPer strategy on the fly, when GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell threw up his hands and said no deal was possible because Obama wouldn't agree to GOPer demands, so he made a new proposal, already hotly debated and not always consistently interpreted.  Here's the NY Times interpret.

 It seems to me to be a combination of my resolution #1 (declare victory and go home) and the outcome President Obama predicted months ago: a series of targets for cuts with triggers if the cuts aren't made.  The outcome seems to be to give the President the responsibility while GOPers get to take symbolic votes to show their disapproval.  But it does solve the debt ceiling problem.  However, anger from the Rabid Right was immediate, so even though Grover Norquist supports it (and so quickly that it looks like Mitch checked with him first), it's so far only a new focus for even louder noise.

Now that the public is increasingly understanding what the debt ceiling actually is, and what not raising it might mean, the political floor under the GOPers, pretty illusory to begin with, is starting to cave and at least some of the congressional leadership knows it.  They want to resolve this before even more people hear about the checks not going out (as President Obama also said, it's not just Social Security.)  

This is likely to change hour by hour.  But..the baseball All-Star game starts soon, I haven't actually watched it in years but with several Pirates as well as Giants playing, I'm going to make the late political shows a secondary priority. 

Update: Congratulations NL!  

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"The person who loves the world as his own body may be entrusted with the empire."

Tao Te Ching