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“The Bolsheviks Of The Right”: The GOP Brings Politics To A Crisis Point

Really, what is to be done about this Republican Party? What force can change it—can stop Republicans from being ideological saboteurs and convert at least a workable minority of them into people interested in governing rather than sabotage? With the failed Plan B vote, we have reached the undeniable crisis point. Actually we’ve been at a crisis point for years, but this is really the all-upper-case Undeniable Crisis Point. They are a direct threat to the economy, which could slip back into recession next year if the government doesn’t, well, govern. They are an ongoing, at this point almost mundane, threat to democracy, subverting and preventing progress the American people clearly desire across a number of fronts. They have to be stopped, and the only people who can really stop them are corporate titans and Wall Streeters, who surely now are finally beginning to see that America’s problem is not Barack Obama and his alleged “socialism,” but a political party that has become psychologically incapable of operating within the American political system.

We all know that the GOP has become much more extreme in the last few years, and, taking the longer historical view, the last 20 or 25 years. But when that gets said, it usually elides an important point—the important point. It’s usually meant to refer to the party’s policy positions. And the move to the hard right is obviously true along those lines.

But politics, and certainly political parties, aren’t only about policy positions. There’s also the question of what I’ll call process, which means simply how a party practices politics on a day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year basis. This isn’t a question of the positions per se, but how the party attempts to advance and defend them.

And it’s on process far, far more than on policy that the Republican Party has gone nutso. You know this story, too, so I needn’t rehearse the details, except to describe the current end point, which is that to the GOP today, the Democrats must be denied any victory by any means necessary. The Republicans unwilling to vote for Plan B weren’t in the main loathe to give Boehner a win. The problem was that that particular Boehner win might have led to an Obama win. That was the issue that drove them.

In that sense, all these people saying they learned no lesson from the election are completely wrong. They learned a lesson, all right, but the lesson they took away is just the opposite of the kind of lesson normal small-d democrats would learn. Normal small-d democrats would learn that you’ve lost twice now, and while you should still stick to your principles of course, it was also time to play a little ball. But these Republicans learned that they have to be even more obstructionist. Their ideas are unpopular, their America is dying. But by God, they’re standing until the last man! They’re Paulus’s soldiers at Stalingrad, surrounded by an enemy that embodies evil—and is fated to outlast them. This is how they’ve been trained to think.

So they’ll give no ground. People are now saying that the only way to avoid going off the cliff is for Boehner to let the Senate bill come to the floor and let it be passed mostly by Democrats. But what reason is there to believe that even 20 or 25 Republicans would vote for a bill? And please, don’t tell me “because a large majority of Americans would support it.” That doesn’t matter to them.

And next year, in January or February, when Joe Biden’s task force completes its work and we have new gun legislation? We have now rafts of new polling showing that clear majorities will support the kinds of proposals that are likely to be in any such legislation. But that won’t matter. They have the votes to block, and they will. And then perhaps Obama will attempt immigration reform, again with a solid majority of Americans behind him. They showed a few post-election signs of yielding here, so we’ll see. But as the issue heats up, the usual sources will start warning even the softer-hearted GOP legislators that a vote for immigration is a vote for Obama, you quisling, and if you waver on this you can certainly expect a primary challenge.

They didn’t come to Washington to govern. They came to sabotage. So our working assumption must be whatever the issue, sabotage is what they’re going to do.

And they can do it all they want. Our founders didn’t assume that a cadre of people of such immense bad faith and cynicism would ever come to control key levers of government; they built a system that would work, albeit slowly, in the hands of people of reasonably good will. It’s a system that people of bad will can subvert and stop from functioning.

Someone has to tell them enough. The only people I can think of with the power to do so are the high-profile figures of Wall Street and the corporate world. They’re the only people these Republicans might conceivably listen to. They should have done it—and some did—last year during the debt-limit hostage-taking. But then, most of corporate American was still wagering that the Republicans could beat Obama in 2012. Now that that hasn’t happened, now that we’re four years away from another election and Obama will be retiring anyway, and now that the Republicans have demonstrated that they are interested in no compromise at all in any way shape or form, maybe the business elite will finally show some responsibility.

Once upon a time, the statists—Roosevelt and his brains trusters—helped save capitalism from the Bolsheviks of the left. Today, the capitalists have to help save the state. This time the enemy is the Bolsheviks of the right, our current GOP. They’re taking us over the fiscal cliff, and they’ll do far worse without an intervention.

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 23, 2012


December 24, 2012 Posted by | Democracy, Politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“When Prophecy Fails”: It’s Time To Stop Taking The Members Of The Doomsday Cult Seriously

Back in the 1950s three social psychologists joined a cult that was predicting the imminent end of the world. Their purpose was to observe the cultists’ response when the world did not, in fact, end on schedule. What they discovered, and described in their classic book, “When Prophecy Fails,” is that the irrefutable failure of a prophecy does not cause true believers — people who have committed themselves to a belief both emotionally and by their life choices — to reconsider. On the contrary, they become even more fervent, and proselytize even harder.

This insight seems highly relevant as 2012 draws to a close. After all, a lot of people came to believe that we were on the brink of catastrophe — and these views were given extraordinary reach by the mass media. As it turned out, of course, the predicted catastrophe failed to materialize. But we can be sure that the cultists won’t admit to having been wrong. No, the people who told us that a fiscal crisis was imminent will just keep at it, more convinced than ever.

Oh, wait a second — did you think I was talking about the Mayan calendar thing?

Seriously, at every stage of our ongoing economic crisis — and in particular, every time anyone has suggested actually trying to do something about mass unemployment — a chorus of voices has warned that unless we bring down budget deficits now now now, financial markets will turn on America, driving interest rates sky-high. And these prophecies of doom have had a powerful effect on our economic discourse.

Thus, back in May 2009 the Wall Street Journal editorial page seized on an uptick in long-term interest rates to declare that the “bond vigilantes,” the “disciplinarians of U.S. policy makers,” had arrived, and would push rates inexorably higher if big budget deficits continued. As it happened, rates soon went back down. But that didn’t stop The Journal’s news section from rolling out the same story the next time rates rose: “Debt fears send rates up,” blared a headline in March 2010; the debt continued to grow, but the rates went down again.

At this point the yield on the benchmark 10-year bond is less than half what it was when that 2009 editorial was published. But don’t expect any rethinking on The Journal’s part.

Now, you could say that The Journal’s editors didn’t give a specific date for the fiscal apocalypse, although I doubt that any of their readers imagined that they were talking about an event at least three years and seven months in the future.

In any case, some of the most prominent deficit scolds have indeed been willing to talk about dates, or at least time horizons. In early 2011 Erskine Bowles confidently declared that we would face a fiscal crisis within around two years unless something like the Bowles-Simpson deficit plan was enacted, and Alan Simpson chimed in to say that it would be less than two years. I guess he has about 10 weeks left. But again, don’t expect either Mr. Simpson or Mr. Bowles to admit that there might have been something fundamentally wrong with their analysis.

No, very few of the prophets of fiscal doom have acknowledged the failure of their prophecies to come true so far. And those who have admitted surprise seem more annoyed than chastened. For example, back in 2010 Alan Greenspan — who is, for some reason, still treated as an authority figure — conceded that despite large budget deficits, “inflation and long-term interest rates, the typical symptoms of fiscal excess, have remained remarkably subdued.” But he went on to declare, “This is regrettable, because it is fostering a sense of complacency.” How dare reality not validate my fears!

Regular readers know that I and other economists argued from the beginning that these dire warnings of fiscal catastrophe were all wrong, that budget deficits won’t cause soaring interest rates as long as the economy is depressed — and that the biggest risk to the economy is that we might try to slash the deficit too soon. And surely that point of view has been strongly validated by events.

The key thing we need to understand, however, is that the prophets of fiscal disaster, no matter how respectable they may seem, are at this point effectively members of a doomsday cult. They are emotionally and professionally committed to the belief that fiscal crisis lurks just around the corner, and they will hold to their belief no matter how many corners we turn without encountering that crisis.

So we cannot and will not persuade these people to reconsider their views in the light of the evidence. All we can do is stop paying attention. It’s going to be difficult, because many members of the deficit cult seem highly respectable. But they’ve been hugely, absurdly wrong for years on end, and it’s time to stop taking them seriously.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 22, 2012

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Budget, Deficits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Are Better Than This”: Facing A New Epidemic With The Lives Of Our Children At Risk

In June 1944, polio was sweeping across the country with devastating swiftness.

Children would leap out of bed in the morning, and by nightfall, they were unable to feed themselves. It was only a matter of time before it swept through Hickory, NC “like a tidal wave.”

“Youngsters with painful, useless limbs,” Life magazine reported at the time, “some unable to swallow or scarcely able to breathe, they came from mining villages up in the hills, mill towns in the valley, from outlying farms and urban centers.”

Fear reigned, but it was no match for the citizens of Hickory.

The lives of their children were at risk. They could lock up their homes, isolate their children and hope for the best. Or they could spring into action to fight a peril with no known cause and no certain outcome.

David M. Oshinsky, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Polio: An American Story, describes what happened next in the Miracle of Hickory:

“A call went out for volunteers. Hundreds showed up, ‘hiding the fear,’ said one, ‘that had [us] quaking in our boots.’ Merchants donated building material made scarce by wartime rationing. Carpenters, plumbers and electricians brought their own tools to the site.

“Floodlights were installed to allow round-the-clock construction. The telephone company installed a switchboard. Families loaned their electric washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Carloads of toys appeared. Farmers trucked in meat and vegetables. County convicts cleared brush and dug water mains, watched by shotgun-toting guards. The governor paroled 32 female prisoners to help with the domestic chores.

“It was up and running in 54 hours: a ‘rough pine board hospital’ containing an admissions center, a kitchen, and a laundry; a laboratory and an operating room; isolation wards, dormitories and a therapy wing …”

The hospital treated 454 patients before closing its doors at the end of summer. Two-thirds of them, Oshinsky writes, “were said to have ‘recovered completely.’”

The people of Hickory were scared, but they harnessed their fears to save their children.

We are still that America. We just have to act like it.

Our country is facing a new epidemic. President Obama described it in a news conference Wednesday as an “epidemic of gun violence.” We must learn many lessons from the massacre of those young children in Connecticut, but the immediate threat is clear: If this can happen in Newtown, it can happen anywhere.

Once again, we face tough choices. We can throw up our hands and surrender to a gun culture fueled by one of the most powerful lobbies in the country, or we can spring into action. By “we,” I mean we the citizens, because it is up to us to embolden our legislators to stand up to the National Rifle Association and make them pay if they don’t.

This is not the first time children have died of gun wounds, and too many of those names are known only to those who loved them. This is also not the first time a troubled man has unleashed a nightmare of firepower on innocent people.

Each time, the crisis swells and dissipates. That is a sad fact of our past, not a predictor of our future.

There are signs that this time, this moment, could be different. President Obama supports a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition clips. He also wants to close the gun show loophole that allows some weapons to be sold without buyer background checks.

U.S. senator Joe Manchin — a conservative Democrat and ardently pro-gun in the past — said he’s committed to bringing “the dialogue that would bring a total change.” For emphasis, he added, “And I mean a total change.”

Michigan governor Rick Snyder just vetoed legislation that would have allowed guns in schools and churches.

There are seismic shifts in corporate America, too. Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, for example, announced it’s selling the Freedom Group, maker of the .223 Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle used in the Newtown shootings.

The New York Times reported that Cerberus made this decision after the California Teachers Retirement System said it was reviewing its investment in Cerberus because of its holding in Freedom Group.

“It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level,” Cerberus said in a statement.

Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself as political. The thought of writing, calling and visiting your elected officials might even make your skin crawl. If so, I ask you to recall how you felt the moment you found out 20 first-graders were gunned down in Newtown, CT.

Let’s get busy and brave.

It’s not too late to be the Americans we want to be.


By: Connie Schultz, The National Memo, December 20, 2012

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Our System On The Cliff”: Republicans Can Spend Two Years Doing Absolutely Nothing Or Try To Help Solve The Country’s Problems

The United States faces a crisis in our political system because the Republican Party, particularly in the House of Representatives, is no longer a normal, governing party.

The only way we will avoid a constitutional crackup is for a new, bipartisan majority to take effective control of the House and isolate those who would rather see the country fall into chaos than vote for anything that might offend their ideological sensibilities.

In a democratic system with separated powers, two houses of Congress, split between the parties, a normal party accepts that compromise is the only way to legislate. A normal party takes into account election results. A normal party recognizes when the other side has made real concessions. A normal party takes responsibility.

By all of these measures, the Republican majority that Speaker John Boehner purports to lead is abnormal. That is the meaning of his catastrophic failure to gather the votes for his “Plan B” proposal on the “fiscal cliff.” Many of his most radical members believe they have a right to use any means at their disposal to impose their views on the country, even if they are only a minority in Congress.

There may, however, be good news in the disarray: The right wing of the Republican House has chosen to marginalize itself from any serious negotiations. The one available majority for action, especially on budgets, is a coalition uniting most Democrats with those Republicans who still hold the old-fashioned view that they were elected to help run the country.

To avert a fiscal nightmare in the short run, this potential majority needs to be allowed to work its will. The result may well be a modestly more progressive solution than President Obama offered Boehner, a deal with somewhat fewer cuts and more revenue. That’s the price the right wing will have to pay for refusing to govern.

This is almost exactly what happened in 1990, when the most conservative Republicans rejected a deficit-reduction agreement negotiated by President George H.W. Bush and Democrats in Congress. After a conservative rebellion brought the initial bill down, a more progressive measure was enacted with more Democratic votes.

In the longer run, the non-tea party wing of the GOP will have to decide whether it wants to be subject to the whims of colleagues to their right or look to the center for alliances with the Democrats. The choice is plain: We can spend two years doing absolutely nothing, or we can try to solve the country’s problems. This includes the problem of gun violence, and the question is whether the GOP will reject the tone-deaf extremism of NRA chief Wayne LaPierre’s bizarre response to the killings in Newtown, Conn.

Our political structure has been disfigured in another way: In November’s election, Democrats failed to win the House even though they received about a million more votes in House contests than the Republicans did. Republicans were protected by gerrymandered districts and by political geography: Democrats tend to win urban and certain suburban districts by overwhelming margins.

In Pennsylvania, to pick a stark case, Democrats edged out the Republicans in the popular vote for House races. But given how the districts were drawn, this resulted in the Republicans winning 13 seats to only five for the Democrats.

Both parties gerrymander, of course, but Republicans had far more influence over the process this time because the 2010 election gave them dominance of so many legislatures. Thus did one election shape our politics for a decade, even though the country changed its mind one election later.

This unfortunate moment is a vindication of those like my colleagues Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, who have been arguing that today’s Republicans are fundamentally different from their forebears. In their appropriately named book, “It’s Even Worse than It Looks,” Mann and Ornstein called the current GOP “an insurgent outlier in American politics,” and described the party this way: “It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise . . . and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Their words are a rather precise description of why Boehner was unable to deliver a majority of his party to his budget bill.

It’s true that Boehner miscalculated, foolishly asking Republicans to vote for a symbolic tax increase that had no chance of becoming law. And the speaker fed the fires of rebellion with repeated false claims that Obama had made no meaningful concession when the president had, in fact, annoyed his base by making rather big ones.

But now, at least, we know something important: The current Republican majority in the House cannot govern. Only a coalition across party lines can get the public’s business done.


By: E. J. Dionne, J., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 23, 2012

December 24, 2012 Posted by | Budget, Fiscal Cliff | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Bedford Falls Or Pottersville?”: The Mr. Potter’s Are Still Alive And Well In America

It’s easy to feel discouraged about the bullying by right-wing Republicans and their patrons over everything from gun control to taxes and social safety nets to trade unions and jobs.

Every year about now I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” again to remind myself what Frank Capra understood about America — its essential decency and common sense.

In many ways the nation is better than it was in 1946 when the movie first appeared. Women have gained economic power and reproductive rights; we enacted Civil Rights and Voting Rights and, through Medicare and Medicaid, dramatically reduced poverty among the elderly; we began to tackle environmental devastation; we stopped treating gays as criminals and have even started to recognize equal marriage rights. We elected and then re-elected the first black president of the United States. We have enacted the bare beginnings of universal healthcare.

But we are still in danger of the “Pottersville” Capra saw as the consequence of what happens when Americans fail to join together and forget the meaning of the public good.

If Lionel Barrymore’s “Mr. Potter” were alive today he’d call himself a “job creator” and condemn George Bailey as a socialist. He’d be financing a fleet of lobbyists to get lower taxes on multi-millionaires like himself, overturn environmental laws, trample on workers’ rights, and shred social safety nets. He’d fight any form of gun control. He’d want the citizens of Pottersville to be economically insecure – living paycheck to paycheck and worried about losing their jobs – so they’d be dependent on his good graces.

The Mr. Potters are still alive and well in America, threatening our democracy with their money and our common morality with their greed.

Call me naive or sentimental but I still believe the George Baileys will continue to win this contest. They know we’re all in it together, and that if we succumb to the bullying selfishness of the Potters we lose America and relinquish the future.

Happy holidays.


By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, December 22, 2012


December 24, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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