Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Morning After

President Obama spoke about the shutdown, the threat of default, the lessons and the road ahead.  The video above is as succinct a lesson in how the American government should work as any teacher anywhere could present.  Some excerpts, focused on what we've just been through:

"These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy. We don’t know yet the full scope of the damage, but every analyst out there believes it slowed our growth. We know that families have gone without paychecks or services they depend on. We know that potential homebuyers have gotten fewer mortgages, and small business loans have been put on hold. We know that consumers have cut back on spending, and that half of all CEOs say that the shutdown and the threat of shutdown set back their plans to hire over the next six months. We know that just the threat of default -- of America not paying all the bills that we owe on time -- increased our borrowing costs, which adds to our deficit."

"And, of course, we know that the American people’s frustration with what goes on in this town has never been higher. That's not a surprise that the American people are completely fed up with Washington. At a moment when our economic recovery demands more jobs, more momentum, we've got yet another self-inflicted crisis that set our economy back. And for what? There was no economic rationale for all of this."

"But probably nothing has done more damage to America's credibility in the world, our standing with other countries, than the spectacle that we've seen these past several weeks. It's encouraged our enemies. It's emboldened our competitors. And it's depressed our friends who look to us for steady leadership."

"But to all my friends in Congress, understand that how business is done in this town has to change. Because we've all got a lot of work to do on behalf of the American people -- and that includes the hard work of regaining their trust. Our system of self-government doesn’t function without it. And now that the government is reopened, and this threat to our economy is removed, all of us need to stop focusing on the lobbyists and the bloggers and the talking heads on radio and the professional activists who profit from conflict, and focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do, and that’s grow this economy; create good jobs; strengthen the middle class; educate our kids; lay the foundation for broad-based prosperity and get our fiscal house in order for the long haul. That’s why we're here. That should be our focus."

"I think the American people during this shutdown had a chance to get some idea of all the things, large and small, that government does that make a difference in people's lives. We hear all the time about how government is the problem. Well, it turns out we rely on it in a whole lot of ways. Not only does it keep us strong through our military and our law enforcement, it plays a vital role in caring for our seniors and our veterans, educating our kids, making sure our workers are trained for the jobs that are being created, arming our businesses with the best science and technology so they can compete with companies from other countries. It plays a key role in keeping our food and our toys and our workplaces safe. It helps folks rebuild after a storm. It conserves our natural resources. It finances startups. It helps to sell our products overseas. It provides security to our diplomats abroad."

"So let's work together to make government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse. That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government."

I’ve got a simple message for all the dedicated and patriotic federal workers who’ve either worked without pay or been forced off the job without pay these past few weeks, including most of my own staff: Thank you. Thanks for your service. Welcome back. What you do is important. It matters.

You defend our country overseas. You deliver benefits to our troops who’ve earned them when they come home. You guard our borders. You protect our civil rights. You help businesses grow and gain footholds in overseas markets. You protect the air we breathe and the water our children drink. And you push the boundaries of science and space, and you guide hundreds of thousands of people each day through the glories of this country. Thank you. What you do is important. And don't let anybody else tell you different. Especially the young people who come to this city to serve -- believe that it matters. Well, you know what, you’re right. It does."

And those of us who have the privilege to serve this country have an obligation to do our job as best we can. We come from different parties, but we are Americans first. And that’s why disagreement cannot mean dysfunction. It can't degenerate into hatred. The American people’s hopes and dreams are what matters, not ours. Our obligations are to them. Our regard for them compels us all, Democrats and Republicans, to cooperate, and compromise, and act in the best interests of our nation –- one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

24 Billion Dollar Fools

The Senate, the House, the President signed off on a bill to reopen the federal government and pay the country's debts, for now.  All in one day.  Just in the nick of time.

But not exactly.  It came about $24 billion too late.  That's the estimate of what the U.S. lost in economic activity due to the shutdown alone.  The cost as measured by slower growth and higher unemployment is yet to be known.  Then there's the yet-to-be-determined direct costs of shutting things down and then starting them up again.  All the overtime to catch up with work not done, on top of the guaranteed wages for those furloughed--thanks to the private sector hawks of the House, money for nothing.

But the people who truly pay--who always pay for the foolishness of generals and legislators who are focused on their own greed and ego--are the children who lost nutritional support and Head Start, the sick, the old, the powerless, including those who have lost jobs and income as twisted byproducts of what the rotten House wrought.

We all pay for their folly.  Electing fools is not funny, it's not entertainment, it's not what outrageous thing will they say today.  Yet politics and the political media on all sides lives by this, prospers by this, become stars through this.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

The American Problem

The American Problem is and has always been race.  All societies--from neighborhoods to nations-- have problems with the Other, however "not one of us" is defined.  The Other is the scapegoat, the excuse, as well as a challenge to the status quo and its power structure.  The American flavor of this universal problem is predominantly race.  Beginning with the defining American sin, the eradication of the peoples who were already living here.  Continuing and becoming etched in a still ongoing history with black slavery, and the white/black racial divide, however permeable, artificial and complicated.  And even though racism against Asians was once a more prominent feature (and remains in pockets of the country) and racism against "brown" people or Latinos is growing, the old forms continue to define politics and political power, as well as other aspects of communal life.

It just so happens that racism is all over the news recently, although not in the forms we're used to: overt violence or conflict, marches or speeches, etc.  It's embedded in the attempted political coup in Washington, and in the ongoing and escalating controversy over the names and mascots of prominent sports teams that are historical slurs or stereotypes of Native Americans.

Regarding the team nickname controversy, at the moment attention is focused on one team, that plays NFL football in the nation's capital of Washington. There were a couple of new events, after President Obama expressed his opinion that the Washington organization ought to change its nickname.  One excuse offered by the team owner and echoed by a prominent ESPN writer was that by and large Native Americans aren't really upset by it.  Rick Reilly supported this argument by quoting his own father-in-law, a Blackfeet elder in Montana.  But Bob Burns told his son-in-law that he had misunderstood him and misquoted him.  When Reilly refused to correct the error (Burns said) he decided to go public.  In Indian Country Today, he wrote that Reilly " failed to include my comments that the term “redskins” demeans Indians, and historically is insulting and offensive, and that I firmly believe the Washington Redskins should change their name."

Redskins” is part of that mentality from colonial times when our people were hunted by soldiers and mercenaries who were paid for the scalps of our men, women and children. How can anyone claim this is a proud tradition to come from? The labels, racism and hatred that Indian people continue to experience are directly tied to those racial slurs. Let me be clear: The racial slur “redskins” is not okay with me. It’s never going to be okay with me. It’s inappropriate, damaging and racist."

The Oeneida Nation helped focus the issue last week by sponsoring an event next door to the NFL owners meeting.  They are keeping up the pressure with television and radio ads.

But the biggest media audience to be exposed to the issue was probably tonight on Monday Night Football, when Bob Costas spoke out on the issue during halftime: "Ask yourself what the equivalent would be if directed toward African-Americans. Hispanics. Asians. Or members of any other ethnic group. When considered that way, “redskins” can’t possibly honor a heritage or noble character trait,” said Costas. “Its an insult, a slur, no matter how benign the present day intent.”

As we approach the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, it becomes clearer that politics in the period since the Civil Rights movement and particularly the civil rights legislation that President Kennedy introduced in 1963, has been formed and deformed by race.

It led to the realignment of the political parties, as the Democrats lost the South and the Republicans took over there, and have since become a party of the white South, too often defined by white southern bigotry.  The extremism already organizing in JFK's time--and thick in the atmosphere of Dallas in 1963--has come to dominate the Republican party, according to several political scientists.

The current debacle of taking the government and world economy hostage without even a coherent ransom note is a product of that continuity based on racism.   I don't have to quote Joe the Plumber or anyone else to note that racism against President Obama is a factor in both the timing and intensity.  The sense of a beleaguered white fundamentalist minority is also expressed in the fears of the wrong apocalypse and endtimes expressed by their Queen (not Sarah, the other Queen.)

Racism in relation to the shutdown is exposed also in this Politico piece by Roger Simon.  Back when I watched TV I enjoyed his acerbic commentary, but I was unprepared for the sheer anger of this piece.  He begins with a pretty harsh joke (If Ted Cruz and John Banal were on a sinking ship, who would be saved? Answer: America) but he sees nothing funny in the shutdown. "I am not talking about closed parks and monuments. I am talking about the funds cut to nearly 9 million mothers and young children for food, breastfeeding support and infant formula. That is harsh. Making a war against babies is harsh."

After calling out Cruz and Banal for motives of craven ambition ("Have you ever seen Boehner’s suite of offices in the Capitol? It would make Midas blush.")  he zeroes in on racism being expressed by Tea Party activists. "America has come to a sorry pass. Not because there are still racists among us, but because the racists among us think they can tell us what makes an American."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

House of Horrors

There are real stories accompanying this New Yorker cover, but the one that sums up the national mood is a previous post by Andy Borowitz, titled Poll: Americans Divided Over What Wild Animal They Would Like To See Congress Mauled By:

"While a majority of Americans say they would enjoy seeing Congress torn limb from limb by a ferocious bear, there is disagreement over which species of bear would be best suited for that assignment.

But the poll showed that there was also strong support for the idea of Congress being set upon by a pack of rapacious animals, with rabid hyenas the first choice of many respondents, followed by feral dogs and cats.

While insatiable, bloodthirsty mammals were most often cited as the animals Americans would like to see eviscerate Congress, there was significant support for another scenario, involving Congress being consumed by a swarm of predatory insects."

One of the actual stories is about the 14th amendment, especially apropos since--and this is not satire--a GOPer congressman who supports the party's position threatening default has said that if default actually happens, Obama might be impeached for failing to guarantee the full faith and credit of the U.S.

At his press conference, Henrick Hertzberg notes, President Obama said that invoking the 14th amendment is so legally controversial that it would not end insecurity and doubt in the market, and so would not leave the economy undamaged.

But if default were really going to happen, H. writes, Obama's best option might still be the 14th amendment:

"In the end, Obama could have no honorable choice but to invoke the Fourteenth. There is little doubt that he would prevail. The Supreme Court would be unlikely even to consider the matter, since no one would have standing to bring a successful suit: when the government pays its bills, who is damaged? The House Republicans might draw up articles of impeachment, adopt them, and send them to the Senate, where the probability of a conviction would be zero. This would not be a replay of Bill Clinton and the intern. President Clinton was not remotely guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, but he was guilty of something, and that something was sordid. Yet impeachment was what put Clinton on a glide path to his present pinnacle as a wildly popular statesman. President Obama would be guilty only of saving the nation’s economy, and the world’s."