Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

After successfully rescuing the economy from tumbling off a cliff into another Great Depression and overseeing ten straight months of private sector job growth equaling more jobs gained than in the entire eight years under George W. Bush, President Obama and Congressional Democrats still can't get any respect. The Right, Republicans and Tea Partiers, are all too happy to blame the President and his allies for their part in the Stimulus plans and 'bailouts' of the auto industry, banks, and Wall Street even if in the end they saved jobs, made profits, and boosted spending.

Even though government efforts like the Stimulus saved and created 1.4 to 3.6 million jobs last quarter, the Gross Domestic Product increased 1.7 percent, and the economy grew by an annual 2.5 percent according to the Congressional Budget Office; even though consumer spending grew 2.8 percent last quarter, the most in nearly four years, the Right will be quick to point out that 'spending money to make money' with the Stimulus and TARP raised our deficit. And even though the pace of job loss has slowed considerably over the last two years and unemployment rates have fallen in 23 states this last month, the Right will be just as quick to point out the national unemployment rate remains arguably high above 9 percent.

The state of the economy is improving under President Obama, but it's just not improving quickly enough for some and the efforts to improve it are constantly criticized by the Right. Despite positive growth in private sector jobs and the GDP, the Right continues to denounce the Bush and Obama TARP and the Stimulus Acts meant to revive the economy as spending bills that 'tax our children and grandchildren' apparently believing it would have been better for their children and grandchildren to be in a Great Depression. The Right contrarily rails against government loans to banks, auto makers, and Wall Street calling them 'bailouts' at the same time rails against government intervention in business in the form of regulation at the same time demands government accountability for job creation.

A rough economy and high unemployment always spells doom for the party in power. Two years of a Democratic President during tough times, even if things are steadily improving, means the Republicans will benefit from a beleaguered nation. Therein lies the rub. It's actually in the Republicans best interest to see the economy, and the nation, suffer.

The outsourcing of American jobs to other countries is damaging our economy yet Senate Republicans, along with a few Democrats including Connecticut's Lieberman and Virginia's Warner, voted to block a bill that would end tax incentives for companies to ship jobs overseas. Tax breaks, regarded by Republicans to be the best way to stimulate economic growth, was voted down by Republicans in the Senate when Democrats proposed a bill that would grant tax breaks and free up lending to small businesses.  Consumer spending on household goods accounts for roughly two-thirds of our economy and unemployment benefits puts money in the hands of people who will spend it, yet House Republicans blocked the extension of unemployment benefits.

Instead of backing any Democratic effort to boost the economy, even if they have done so in the past, Republicans are focused on one plan: the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. While President Obama and Democrats support extending middle class tax cuts to individuals making less than $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers), Republicans want all the Bush tax cuts extended including those to the wealthiest 3 percent of Americans who without the tax cut would only see their taxes go up at most, 4.6 percent. Although the Right raises objections to increasing the deficit with Stimulus plans, government loans, and unemployment benefit extensions, they are fired up to add $700 billion more in debt to finance tax cuts for the rich that have proved disastrous to our economy in the decade since President Bush enacted them.

Favoring the Bush tax cuts over the extension of unemployment benefits makes no economic sense even to John McCain's former economic adviser, Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics. According to Zandi's testimony before the Senate Finance Committee for every dollar spent on making the Bush tax cuts permanent there is an $.32  increase in the GDP whereas for every dollar spent to extend unemployment benefits there is an $1.61 increase in the GDP. In other words, according to Zandi, a dollar spent on unemployment compensation gets five times more "Bang for the Buck" to the GDP than a tax cut for the rich.
Republicans and Tea Party Republicans who ran in this year's elections on the slogan: 'it's the economy, stupid,' now find themselves having to state their positions on the economy in ways that often sound confusing, contradictory, and plain stupid.

In spite of positive growth in the economy, the strange backlash against the policies responsible for that growth, put in place by the President and the Congressional Democrats, favored the Right in the elections. If the dominant thought in the minds of voters was, 'where are the jobs?' then the thought in the minds of President Obama and Democrats must have been, 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' and Republicans are happy to have it both ways.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

If Only Obama Was Just A Little More Like Bush

Yes, it would seem that Obama squandered these two years, but a lot as gotten done and things have gotten somewhat better. While most people can express disappointment in the President: the Right that never would have accepted him - those that think the economy could be easily turned around, those that believe the lies in the media, and those that scoff at his accomplishments; while the Left who haven't gotten what they voted for - wanted Bush and Co. prosecuted for war crimes, wanted the wars to end immediately, wanted more from Health Care Reform, wanted tougher Wall Street Reform, wanted an end to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," wanted an end to Bush's tax cuts for the ridiculously wealthy, etc.

Unfortunately, the economy and the wars aren't easily solved problems and the Republicans never had any intention of working with Obama on legislation that could have made him popular. The President was so full of 'Hope' that he fooled himself into thinking he could work with Republicans in a bi-partisan way. Republicans spent two years playing politics, holding up bills in congress, 'compromising' by weakening the bills that did pass, and spent billions of dollars from corporate interests on attacks from Fox News/ conservative radio, and phony grassroots movements like the Tea Party to rile up the ignorant.

Most people pay little attention to politics (or news, in general) and most elections are about voting the bums in power out (mostly what 2008 was about as well). Republicans didn't win the House because they have better ideas - they just want to go back to Bush policies. Democrats lost because the disenchanted left stayed home and the voters who did turn out thought Democrats didn't do enough to fix the mess Bush left because Obama and the Democrats failed to properly communicate that the lack of progress over these last two years is due to the Republicans who think it is a bigger priority to play party politics for the sake of elections rather than focusing on solutions that this country in crisis urgently needs.

The election won't change much in Washington though. Republicans will only have slightly more power in January, so the next two years will likely be more of the same - gridlock stalling progress, while more vocal nonsense about repealing bills and impeachment. The difference now is, with Republicans controlling the House, if they disappointment their base (aka Tea Party) or if they don't make good on lowering debt or creating jobs, they'll be the bums thrown out in 2012.

If the country was actually excited to vote for the Republicans, they would have won more than just the House of Representatives in this year's election. So how can Republicans somehow think they have a mandate and have the gall to demand Obama lean further to the right than the disappointingly right-of-center he has been this whole time? While Republicans openly claim their major goal is for Obama to be a one-term president and call for 'no compromise' in extending Bush's tax cuts or undoing Social Security and reform after reform, Obama continues to play the nice guy at risk of losing his base by saying he is willing to work with the people who want to run him out of office, and in some cases, out of the country or up a tree branch.

The one good thing I can say about Dubya is that he at least maintained his base by standing firm for what he believed in (even though he was usually wrong). Obama's fault is that he is trying to make all the people happy all of the time.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Keith Olbermann: Putting His Money Where His Mouth Is

As Keith Olbermann would say, "Now for a quick comment..."

The whole weekend news cycle was wasted on the Friday announcement that Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's flagship Countdown, was suspended 'indefinitely' for his personal political contributions. Network chief-executive, Phil (not Peter) Griffin, suspended Olbermann when he discovered (by reading a Politico.com story containing completely not secret information) that Olbermann contributed $2,400 to each of three Democratic candidates running in this year's election.

According to first published reports, Griffin suspended Olbermann because MSNBC is apparently supposed to be viewed as impartial and a network personality 'jeopardizes objectivity' by contributing to political campaigns. Actually, that turned out to not be so important since it was clear that other on-air personalities at MSNBC, namely Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan, had donated to campaigns in the past. The 'real' reason then appeared to be that Olbermann was suspended for failing to 'ask for permission' before donating. Countdown went on the air Friday night with fill-in host, Thomas Roberts (who is bound to get his own show now) after normal fill-in, Chris Hayes from The Nation (also show host bound), was first announced to appear then apparently declined.

By Saturday, others in the media stood up for Olbermann and dozens of online and Facebook petitions popped up. Liberals and progressives rallied together to protest in outrage. Then some time was spent by pundits and bloggers to point out that Fox News is a Republican political tool and money-making machine and question why MSNBC couldn't be the same for Democrats. This is where the merger of Comcast and NBC comes in.

Back in July, Olbermann 'tweeted' an answer to a question regarding MSNBC's direction after the merger saying, "Yeah, they want to go more liberal." But after Olbermann's suspension, rumors started flying that Comcast's conservative leaning executives weren't happy with that position after all. It seemed that Griffin and the other suits must have been confused about which network they were running because it's no secret which side Olbermann leans and MSNBC's prime time is built around him with Maddow and O'Donnell, who both got shows thanks to stints filling in on Countdown. In fact, MSNBC even changed it's slogan to "Lean Forward" as they meant to embrace their position as the alternative to Fox News.

By Sunday, the reasoning for Olbermann's suspension changed to: 'Olbermann refused to apologize on-air for contributing to campaigns without asking for his boss's permission,' which just sounded like the big-bad corporate conservatives demanding the voice of the people to kneel before Zod. The bigger picture was that MSNBC sought to make a point that, unlike Fox News who is a corrupt political wing of the GOP, MSNBC is not and will not be a political tool for the Democratic party.

Monday morning's news that Keith Olbermann 'indefinite' suspension lasted all of two unpaid days and his return to Tuesday's Countdown is being called the 'shortest suspension ever,' but what if anything can be made from this? Any individual (or now, corporation) can donate to political campaigns and Olbermann's contributions were made privately without suggesting his audience do the same. In a statement, Olbermann explains: "I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone to donate to these campaigns nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level." He also insists that he was not aware of the clause requiring him to seek pre-approval.

I understand rules are rules, but this 'offense of ethics' reasoning is ridiculous, especially if others on MSNBC, though, more blatantly on Fox News, are guilty of the same and go unpunished. The 'impartiality in journalism' line just doesn't carry much weight. While I agree this whole episode can stand to make a point that no one at Fox News has integrity or credibility, what difference does that make? We already know what Fox News is and the Fox News audience, who gladly takes their propaganda as gospel, can't be swayed by reason, fact, or ethics.

Maybe pundits and bloggers will now say that Keith Olbermann got a slap on the wrist, but what did he really do that was so wrong? Maybe some will even make comparisons to the firings of Rick Sanchez and Juan Williams, but that's nothing close to what has happened in this case. Olbermann's personal contributions to political campaigns cannot be compared to the Sanchez or Williams episodes because they were fired for their big mouthed bigoted views. Keith Olbermann is simply getting slammed by the conservative head honchos in corporate for literally putting his money where his mouth is, standing his ground on the side of right, and refusing to apologize. If only other liberals were as proud as he.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Morning After: Election Night Hangover

As I spent last night trying not to simultaneously cry and vomit having been both emotionally and physically drained of hope, I thought I should write a comment on the midterm elections. With my hands literally shaking, I started to write a long, rambling admonishment of the American voters who were stupid enough to fall for Republican bullshit - you know, how ‘Obama raised taxes’ when he factually lowered them, how the ‘Stimulus is a failure’ when it has factually helped, and how ‘Health Care Reform is a disaster’ when it factually will lower the deficit, provide health care to million who don’t have it, and, like everything else these last two years, is only less than perfect thanks to compromising with Republicans who made it their goal to sabotage everything President Obama worked on. But even though I enjoy ranting about how ignorant people are the bane of this country, I just can’t get that mad at people who are too scared and angry to think straight.

For us sane, sober Americans, election results may be a tad depressing, but they aren't much of a surprise. The bad news - the House is controlled by the Republicans with orange jackass, John Boehner, as speaker. The good news - most of the Tea Party candidates lost. Also, it shouldn’t come as a shock that states like Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Alaska, Alabama, Georgia, etc. went Red. Sure there may have been an upset or two; that’s how these midterm elections usually go, but it could have been worse. So, sing it with me - "Always look on the bright side of life!"

As far as the morning after explanations: Whack-jobs like Mike Huckabee want to make statements like, “Obama overreached with his far left agenda and America is letting him know it”, but Mike Huckabee and others think anything close to center is too far left for them. Seriously, Huckster? Far left agenda? You think extending unemployment benefits and using Stimulus money to create jobs and cut taxes is far left? You mean Wall Street Reform isn’t popular with most Americans? Hell, Health Care Reform, according to polls, isn’t far left enough! These Republicans and those in their Tea Party base can pat themselves on the back Wednesday morning, but they didn’t win because they have better ideas than the President or the Democrats. They won because they did nothing and fooled already right-leaning ignoramuses into thinking the country is in decline because of the ‘Far Left Agenda.’

Hello, Mike Huckabee, if you’re listening... Evolution is fact, Climate Change is real, there is no such thing as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or god, and the reason the country is in decline is because two years of minimal progress thanks to Republicans dragging their heels is not enough time to undo eight years of Republican policy throwing this country into a rapid downward spiral! We are still spinning, only now we’re just slowing down and slightly tilting upward. But if that’s not good enough for you and your friends, please come up with better ideas to fix this country than the one you have about going back to doing everything the same before you broke it instead of criticizing the way we’ve been working to fix it.

Yes, things aren't great around here. Yes, things might even get worse. But are the Republicans going to do anything to make things better? What have they done in the last thirty years to make life better for the average American? Who started the wars? Who let corporations send jobs overseas? Who gave tax cuts to the wealthy and proved Trickle-Down economics a failure then who gave tax cuts to the wealthy even though Trickle-Down economics was already proved a failure? Who bailed out Wall Street? Who opposed putting regulations on Wall Street? Who opposed putting regulations on anything? I could go on and on!

I get it, the economy is bad and people are frustrated. And sure, it’s easy to believe that if the party in power isn’t making the change quick enough, maybe the other party put in power will. But really? The Republican party that started this mess to begin with is going to get us out of it? Why would anyone believe that? Was it the nonsense they spew on Fox News that made people think that? Was it the political ads paid for by corporate money? Do you really think, given their history, the Republicans are going to do anything to help the average American? The Republican party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporations. They vote for what’s best for Big Business, Big Oil, and Big Insurance. For chrissakes, our new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, handed out bribes from Big Tobacco to Congressman on the floor of the House of Representatives!

Face it folks, the corporations mean to own this country and the Republicans are just working to make it easier for them. If you don’t think that is true, you’re not paying attention. Look around. Think about it. Where do you work? Where do you buy your groceries? Got any credit cards? Got any loans? What do you watch on TV? What do you read? Who do you think pays for those political ads you see? Who do you think funds political campaigns? Who do you think convinces politicians to vote certain ways? Yes, maybe YOU do. Maybe. Maybe you wrote a check for $10, $20, maybe even $100, but that's chump-change. Yeah, maybe you can't trust any politician, but why elect politicians you already know can't be trusted? If you thought, 'hell, maybe in the last two years Republicans learned their lesson,' you'd be a fool. If you thought, 'maybe if I vote for the Republicans this time that will mean Democrats will work harder in Congress,' you'd be a fool. If you voted for a Republican because you thought he or she was ‘just like you,’ then you'd either be crazy and irresponsible too, or you'd be a damn fool. Because what we do know about Republicans is that they can't be trusted to do what's in our best interest. We do know that the Republicans plan is to sell our country to the Corporations. We do know that it is in their interest to keep the middle class down in order to exploit us for the benefit of the Corporations. Why do you think they talk about wanting to do away with labor unions, privatize social security, outlaw unemployment benefits, outlaw the minimum wage? Why do they align themselves with the Corporate funded U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their efforts to outsource jobs, end financial regulation, lobby to allow Big Business to avoid paying tax, pollute the environment, and discriminate against and exploit workers. Do you think it's fair that Corporations can avoid paying taxes in America? How do you feel about the Republicans apologizing to BP over the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico? What do you think of Dead Peasant Insurance? Recently the big fuss was over whether the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took FOREIGN Corporate money to pay for political campaign ads or donations to candidates but the real story should have been about how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was allowing ANY Corporation to buy Democracy.

You see, the Republicans have a plan. They’ll tell you that they have a plan to get people back to work and get this economy headed in the right direction, but don’t be fooled. They and their Corporate pals have figured out how to make this economy work for them. All they needed to do was continue making decisions to sink the economy, put people out of work and in debt, fool everyone into blaming the immigrants for taking American jobs, the unemployed for being lazy, and Democrats and labor unions for regulations, so that the working class will fight against their own best interests and keep the Republicans in power. Then when working class Americans are desperate enough to take any work the corporations will shift jobs back to America, from places like China and Mexico whose workers are demanding higher pay, and be able to pay less than minimum wage, extend the 40 hour work week, reduce vacation time, and not provide benefits like health care or retirement funds all thanks to Republicans in Congress. All the while, Republicans will have worked to remove the safety nets of unemployment coverage, health coverage, disability coverage, and social security ensuring that the American worker of tomorrow will be treated to the same life as the undocumented migrant worker of today. As Rush Limbaugh said, “Some people are just born to be slaves.”

I understand, America. You‘re too busy to stay informed. Too busy ignoring the news because you find the economy and the wars a bummer. Too busy worrying about buying shit you don’t need and driving cars that get lousy gas mileage. Too busy eating fast food and watching nugget porn on your iphones. You have short attention spans and even shorter patience. You think President Obama should have fixed everything in 20 months. Fine, whatever. But seriously? Are you that stupid to let Republicans take back the reins of this crippled horse we call America and steer it back down the gulch we suffered two years to climb out of? Really? You mean these last two years were all for nothing? Well, thanks a lot, you dumbshit assholes. Thanks for electing the people who bent us over for eight long years under Bush/ Cheney! Thanks for electing the people who played party politics and stood in the way of progress rather than work with our President to bring the change we wanted! Thanks for electing crazy people with extremist views just because you think the real politicians in Washington aren't doing enough. Thanks for not paying attention to the news or researching the candidates you either voted for or couldn’t be bothered to vote for! Thanks for opening up two more years of partisan gridlock in Congress. You thought nothing got better these last two years? Just wait until the Republicans spend all their time trying to impeach our President over some bullshit like he's not a natural born citizen. Seriously? What were you thinking, America? I can only hope that two more years of Republicans selling this country out will finally wake this nation up and by 2012 we will return President Obama and the Democratic party to Washington to work on behalf of the American people! I just hope that we can survive those two years.