Monday, March 30, 2015

Headline Buffet

Some general observations on a few of the stories of the day …

Ted Cruz is the first Republican to formally declare his candidacy for President.  His platform: repeal “every word” of Obamacare; eliminate the IRS; prevent same-sex marriage.  Really?  His first action after announcing was to go out and hustle for campaign money.  His second action was to sign up for Obamacare, since he lost his family plan coverage when his wife quit her high-paying Wall Street executive job to join his campaign.  Good thing he now has a coverage option that did not exist pre-Obamacare to help him out of his quandary.  He is clearly a man for his time – if the time were 1916.  Chance of becoming President: nil.   Chance of getting the Republican nomination: quite plausible.  He will certainly make the Republican primary season mind-numbingly crazy but highly entertaining to watch.

Donald Trump announced the formation of his “exploratory committee” to consider running.  Trump is the best self-promoter around of The Donald, the P.T. Barnum fraud of our times.  The only question is – why does the media, or the American public, care one twit about anything he has to say, given that his words are all a put-on of no real importance.  He would have made Andy Kaufman, a comic master of the put-on, proud.

Speaking of Ted Cruz: he was born in Canada to a Cuban father escaping the Castro government and an American mother (of Irish descent).  Sounds pretty much like Barack Obama’s birth story – except Obama was born in an American state.  So now where are all “the birthers” who were supposedly so intent on protecting the presidency from “foreigners”?  Was it really, as we long suspected, just about Obama himself?  And why is Cruz, of all people, so stubbornly against immigration?

Benjamin Netanyahu was recently reelected prime minister of Israel.  Say good-by to any peace progress in the Middle East for yet another six more years.  We are now in our seventh decade of conflict in that area.  Fear wins elections, and not just in America.  Where are Anwar Sadat and Meacham Began when we really need them?

According to a recent Gallup poll, less than 40% of Americans approve of the Democratic Party.  And less than 40% of Americans approve of the Republican Party.  It is the first time in Gallup’s polling history that both parties have been less than 40% at the same time.  Combined with a Congressional approval rating that is consistently less than 20%, does anyone think that there is anyone who knows how to run this country anymore?

If we really want to make Congress more effective, there is one simple step we could take that would help.  Require all confirmation votes, and all sections of and amendments to any legislation, be germane to the core topic.  Quit tacking on “extraneous issues” to pending matters, and just vote yea/nea on the issue’s merits.  Case in point: holding up confirmation of the current nominee for Attorney General deemed “eminently qualified” by all concerned until the overwhelmingly bi-partisan-supported renewal of the Violence Against Women Act is passed, which is being held up over anti-abortion amendments that were quietly snuck into the bill.  Congress insists on wasting time on political maneuvering and trickery instead of getting things done.  For which the justifiably cynical American public has little patience left.

Ever notice that the loudest protests against the Affordable Care Act come from people who already have medical insurance coverage?

Indiana just passed a new law protecting its citizens from lawsuits if they refuse to provide commercial services due to their personal “religious convictions.”  It was signed by Governor Mike Pence who inexplicably claimed that, “If this bill were about discrimination I would not have signed it.”  The provocation for this bill was towards gays and lesbians, but the wording effectively allows people to pick and choose services towards ANY group and blame it on their religious beliefs.  If Indiana needs some display signs to help enforce this new law, they can probably find plenty to reuse lying in basements and dust bins throughout the South saying “Whites Only” or “Colored Only.”  Or the “Irish Need Not Apply” signs left over in Boston.  Just some simple spray can editing would easily bring them up to date.  And here I thought that all of those old “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” signs were actually eliminated 50 years ago.  Back when African-American segregation was claimed to be justified as “God’s Will” because “God did not intend the intermingling of the races.”  Religious exemptions belong in our churches, not in our public places and the marketplace.

Recently, Tom Cotton, a two-month freshman Senator from Arkansas, decided he also wanted to be the Secretary of State in the Executive Branch.  He got 46 other Republican senators to sign an unprecedented and highly dangerous letter  to Iran’s leadership about the current ongoing diplomatic negotiations to prevent Iran’s atomic bomb capability.  (Combined with Speaker John Boehner’s unprecedented foreign affairs engagement, unprecedented is rapidly becoming the precedent.)  I was tempted to chastise my home state friends in Arkansas for sending this arrogance to the U.S. Senate.  But then I remembered that my adopted state of North Carolina also sent a similar freshman senator, Thom Tillis, who believes that requiring food and restaurant workers to wash their hands after every trip to the toilet, and posting signs to that effect, is an unnecessary regulatory burden on businesses.  Instead, they should be required to post signs if that is NOT their policy, and leave it to the consumer to make a choice.  Somehow, a requirement to post signs that do not require hand washing is supposedly not a regulatory burden.  I guess questionable intelligence and conduct can come from anywhere.  And I should not throw stones at my home state from within my current glass house.

In 1946, we started a cold war with Russia over its attempts to dominate other countries.  In 1948, the Middle East erupted into military and diplomatic chaos over the United Nations’ establishment of the State of Israel.  In 1953 America conducted a covert overthrow of the legitimate government of Iran, thereby justifiably earning their lasting distrust of us.  In 1965 voter discrimination and barriers were made illegal.  In 1965 and 1972 the Supreme Court affirmed women’s right to obtain “the pill.”  In 1973 the Supreme Court protected, with some limitations, a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.  In 1973 our reliance on imported carbon fuels was shown to be a national security issues, long before their adverse affects on our health and climate were subsequently discovered.  In the late 1970s wage deviations between genders doing the same job were statistically proven.  It is now the year 2015.  Why are we still bogged down and continuing to argue on and on about these old issues?  Can we not finally move on to the new very real issues that need addressing?

©  2015   Randy Bell      

Friday, March 6, 2015

Showing How To Govern

In the November 2014 elections, the Republican Party increased their majority in the House of Representatives by a substantial margin, and took control of the Senate for the first time since 2008.  With this new domination of Congress, Republicans issued forth the word that this was their opportunity, their obligation, to “show the American people that we know how to govern.”  For a citizenry worn tired of political opportunism and obfuscation, of threats to “shut the government down” or defaulting on our national debt, such a new governing ability would certainly be a welcome sight.  Two months in, how is this new governing working out?  We perhaps only need look at a recent chronology to help answer that question.  The narrative speaks for itself.

November 2014: After years of non-action on illegal immigration going back to the George W. Bush administration, President Obama announced an Executive Order exempting from deportation those illegal aliens that are parents of children legally in this country.  The Republican Right goes ballistic.

December 2014: The lame duck Republican House and Democratic Senate passed the still pending budget for FY 2014-2015 that had started the previous October 1.  Republican-desired budget cuts were omitted, but talk about another forced government shutdown (a la the October 2013 shutdown blamed on Republicans) was put aside.  EXCEPT that the budget for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was continued only to February 27, 2015.  The strategy was to wait until the new Congress (and their majorities) would be sworn in come January, and then fight the immigration battle using the DHS budget as a negotiating hostage.

January 2015: House voted for the 57th time to repeal Obamacare.  No alternative health care initiative proposed.  Died in the Senate (as usual) even with the new Republican majority in charge.  Nothing appeared to be changed, still fighting old battles.

Early February 2015: House passed a DHS funding bill containing a provision to defund Obama’s executive order.  Senate Democrats blocked consideration of that bill using the filibuster tactic Republicans had perfected over the past four years.  Same maneuverings; switched players.

Late February 2015: Federal judge in Texas halted implementation of Obama’s executive order.  That decision is now under appeal, with resolution expected to take many months.

February 27, 2015: (morning)  No DHS funding legislation had moved forward in spite of the midnight deadline for funding to run out.  Senate Majority Leader McConnell allows a vote on a “clean” funding bill stripped of any reference to the executive order.  The face-saving rationale offered is “let it play out in the courts.”  Passes 68-31.  “Republicans should have never tried to include immigration measures in the DHS bill in the first place.  Hopefully we are going to end attaching bulls**t to essential items of government.”  (Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Il.)

(afternoon)  Speaker John Boehner introduced an interim 3-week funding bill to allow more time for his Republican caucus to find a solution.  To his surprise (and miscounting of potential voting), House Democrats and 52 conservative Republicans defeat his compromise – generally described as an “embarrassment and humiliating setback” for the Speaker.

(early evening)  House pushes for a House/Senate “conference committee” to resolve the impasse in hopes such a committee could revise a “clean” bill by adding back in the immigration de-funding legislation.  Senate Democrats block that bill.  Instead, Senate passes an alternative 1-week continuation bill on a voice vote.  Senate members go home for the night.  “It is [the House’s] problem now.”

(late evening)  Speaker Boehner brings up the Senate’s bill for a 1-week delay.  Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi emails her caucus and encourages them to vote for the 1-week option, “having been assured that the House would take up the Senate’s clean, full-year funding bill next week.”  1-week bill passes 357-60.  (60 Republicans opposed.)

(minutes before midnight)  President Obama signs the 1-week extension.  DHS funding continues for another week.

February 28-March 1 Weekend: Debate continues via weekend news shows and individual interviews.  Boehner’s office denies making any promise to consider the Senate’s clean bill during the next week.  He instead calls for Democrats and Obama to “negotiate.”  House Republicans publicly fight among themselves over who are the “true” versus “phony” conservatives; whether to “stand on principle” or “not let this faction … impede what we’re trying to do.”  Speaker Boehner: “Friday wasn’t all that fun … the House is a rambunctious place.”

March 3, 2015:  In spite of his weekend denials, Speaker Boehner brought up the Senate’s bill, containing no reference to the Obama executive order, for a House vote.  257 votes for (182 Democrats, 75 Republicans); 167 against (all Republicans).   (Once it was clear that the bill was going to pass, 125 additional Republicans apparently decided it was “safe” to join the core 52 conservatives in saying “no” for the voting record.)  “Maybe I should be more angry, but I’m not.  I’m just sort of resigned to the fact this is exactly where I knew we would be.”  (Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-SC)  “This is the signal of capitulation.”  (Rep. Steve King, R-IA)  “Sanity is prevailing.  I do give John Boehner credit.”  (Rep. Peter King, R-NY)

So finally DHS is funded through September so that it can go about its business of protecting the country in these inordinately dangerous times.  The fight over illegal immigration will have to await another more appropriate time and place – likely a protracted battle in the courts.

And our assessment of “the new governance” we were promised?  Seems to look a lot like the old governance.  Using budget bills to push for other unrelated pet parochial goals.  Holding legislation affecting core governmental functions hostage to these same unrelated goals.  Using threats of a government shutdown to get one’s way – despite the bad precedence and public distaste for that tactic.  Playing the political theater of cliff-hanger deadlines before anything finally gets done – the “decision-making by crisis” mentality.  A Party that fights among itself as much as with its opposition.  Pursuing political strategies that cannot win, with no “Plan B” to fall back on.  Continuing to fight old battles that have been settled instead of moving on to deal with current issues.  Strictly in opposition while offering no alternative solutions.

I cannot imagine that anyone, whether a liberal lefty or a conservative righty, or one of the dominant middle-roaders, thinks this is any way to run a government.  Or could be happy with their Congress regardless of where one falls in the political spectrum.  For all our talk about our greater mission to bring democracy to the world, we – the country that invented elected representative government – have become anything but a shining example of how democracy is supposed to work.  We do the “elected” part; but we no longer govern.  We confront, not collaborate.  The only thing Congress can seem to accomplish together is to agree to adjourn early to beat the snow to be on time for their next vacation recess.

©  2015   Randy Bell