Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 29, 2010

     If I turn on my memory, I can still hear Illinois' Everett Dirksen thundering (he was quoting someone, Goethe I think, but thundering anyway), "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."  He was speaking for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or maybe the '65 Voting Rights Act, part of a bipartisan Senate majority which made those measures law. Yes, bipartisan. The Senate was like that then.
     Not today.  Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the GOP leader in the Senate, says his top goal is to make Barack Obama a one-term president.  More important than avoiding World War III? More important than diminishing hunger or poverty?  I guess so.
      The lame-duck Congress comes back tomorrow and one of the things they have to deal with is President George W. Bush's tax cuts, which expire at the end of the year.  Democrats want to extend them for those who make less than a quarter of a million dollars a year.  Republicans want to extend them for everybody.  Some moderate--was it Richard Lugar?--said let's extend them for everyone who makes less than a million a year.  But that's a compromise, and those seem out of fashion these hyper-partisan days.  Same intransigence seems likely on other issues, like the new START treaty with Russia.
     Government by inaction, paralysis?  Get ready.  I think it's time has come. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 23, 2010

     I remember someone, years ago in The Village Voice, lamenting that breaking up with his current girl friend would hurt just as much as breaking up with his last one. "Oh man," he wrote, "I dig the pain ahead."  I hope the rest of us can do that too.  We'll probably need to, this coming spring. 
   Because we keep spending more than we rake in, Congress will need to extend the limit on the national debt this spring.  Paul Krugman in the New York Times this week quotes former Senator Alan Simpson, co-chair of a special commission on deficit reduction, "I can't wait for the blood bath in April...We've got guys who won't approve the debt limit extension unless we give 'em a piece of meat, real meat" (meaning spending cuts). "And boy, the blood bath will be extraordinary."  He's probably right.
     It's not impossible to balance the federal budget.  Bill Clinton, I think, did it twice.  But run a surplus?  Oh wow.
     Congress would have to do really unpopular things:  raise the retirement age to seventy, say. so Social Security payments would start later;  cut the size of those payments;  cut Medicare;  cut defense spending.  Real stuff.  Or they could do nothing and watch the dollar collapse and the U.S. turn into a modern version of Germany's between-the-wars Weimar Republic, where shoppers hauled wheelbarrows of cash to the store to buy lunch.
     We really are going to have to cut, or else.  How many people will that hurt? Shouldn't it hurt everyone of us?
     Oh man, I dig the pain ahead.

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22, 2010

    John Kennedy died 47 years ago today.  If you're old enough, you remember where you were.
      I was in London.  Big Ben normally tolls the hours, tolls once a minute when the king or queen has died.  It tolled once a minute that day.  Cab drivers, hearing my American accent, wouldn't take my money.
     Kennedy had a mixed presidency--failure at the Bay of Pigs, when American-backed Cuban exiles tried to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro;  success when the Soviet Union withdrew its missiles from Cuba in the face of a U.S. blockade.  But the other thing his presidency had was glamour.  He and his wife and two young children were memorably telegenic.  She later nicknamed their time in the White House "Camelot" and few disagreed.
      The national mood was upbeat.  "The torch has been passed to a new generation," he said in his Inaugural Address, "We shall pay any price, bear any burden...to assure the survival and success of liberty."
      Now we have another memorably attractive family in that house--the Obamas--probably the most glamorous since the Kennedys.  And yet the national mood seems very different. People, as best this retired reporter can tell, don't want to pay the price, bear the burden. They'd like to sit down and rest a while.
     I have no idea why.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 16, 2010

     I write today about the sad, bad end of a distinguished Congressional career, that of Harlem Democrat Charles Rangel, whom everyone on Capitol Hill calls "Charlie."  He won a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart in the Korean War.  He was first elected to the House in 1971 and has held the seat ever since.  He helped found the Black Caucus.  He rose to become Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee--that's the one that writes the tax laws.  He's smart and funny and reporters like him.
     And now--oh, dear.  The House Ethics Committee ruled there was evidence to support 13 counts of misconduct by Rangel.  He walked out of the hearing, but the committee's chief counsel listed evidence against him--549 exhibits, dozens of interviews, thousands of pages of testimony.
     The charges are white-collar crime--accepting rent-stabilized apartments from a Manhattan developer, failure to pay income tax on rent from a villa, soliciting charitable donations from people with business before Congress, and the like.  Members said later the facts against Rangel were "uncontested."
     They won't expel him;  they could but they almost never do.  Instead he'll get censure or a reprimand, still a black smudge at the end of a fine career.
     I'm sorry, Charlie.

Monday, November 15, 2010

November 15, 2010

     Thank you, Mr. President.  Thank you very much.
     I refer, of course, to Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, who says in an interview in today's Washington Post, that the U.S. should get some of its troops out of his country. Karzai told the Post, "He wanted American troops off the roads and out of Afghan homes and that the long-term presence of so many foreign soldiers would only worsen the war."  He also said the U.S. "must end the U.S. Special Operations night force raids that aggravate Afghans."
     As they used to say at all those anti-Vietnam war rallies, Mr. President, "Right on!"
     We went into Afghanistan, as I recall, to hit back at the Taliban for their involvement in the 9/11 attacks
on the U.S.   But the Taliban are a mobile force, working from Afghanistan, Pakistan, wherever.  Invading Afghanistan hasn't rid us of them.  Presumably it won't.
     Your colleague here in Washington may not agree with you, President Karzai.  He used to talk about starting withdrawals in 2011, but the date quoted recently has been 2014.  Over as thousand Americans have already died in this war.  Why more?
     Come on, Mr. Obama.  You inherited two pointless wars.  Combat troops are out of Iraq, we're told.
With a little effort you could end both these follies in your first term.
     Be remembered as a peacemaker, maybe.       

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 11, 2010

     A lame-duck session of Congress will convene here next week.  That's when the old Congress--winners and losers in the mid-term election--come back to do a little business at the end of the year before the new Congress--the winners--first convene in January.
     What will the ducks do?  Quack some, sadly or gladly, depending on whether they won or lost.  But they will do some serious stuff too.  Some tax cuts that passed in the Bush administration expire at the end of the year.  The Democrats want to let them expire for the wealthy--those making more than $ 250,000. a year--and extend them for everyone else. The Republicans want to extend them for everyone.  That's one issue the ducks really have to deal with.  If they don't, everyone's taxes will go up, and what elected Congressman wants that?
     Cutting federal spending?  We heard lots of rhetoric about that in the fall campaign but don't bet on action.  Cut your pet project?  Cut mine?  It's hard.
     Will they pass a resolution (called a continuing resolution) allowing present spending to continue?  They have to do that. The current CR runs out at the beginning of December. Without a new one, the government would begin to shut down.  Imagine!
     Oh, a Congress will probably do something about Medicare.  Its payments to doctors will drop by 30% in the new year unless Congress acts, as is has in the past, to postpone the cuts. If the cuts take effect, would fewer doctors accept Medicare patients?  Who knows?
     Anyway, enjoy the ducks.  Their quacking can be fun. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November 9, 2010

"Just Say No" surfaced a decade or two ago as an anti-drug use slogan, which was fine. But these days it seems to be the platform of the Republican party and it isn't nearly as good at that.
What are the Republicans for nowadays? No new tax increases. Yes, but they're also for cutting the deficit. You can't do that without either increasing taxes or cutting spending. The GOP is for the second part of that equation, in theory. But to really cut spending you have to go after entitlements like Social Security, or defense spending, or both, because they make up most of the budget. I haven't heard the Republicans come out for cutting either of those.
Ross Douthat points out in yesterday's New York Times that we face three main problems: a jobless recovery, entitlement spending and an economy that wasn't helping the middle class even before the recession hit. The Democratic Party, he correctly notes, may have the wrong answers to these problems, but the Republicans don't seem to have any at all.
Come on, GOP! President Obama is vulnerable, but you're not going to beat him in '12 by Just Saying No. Some suggestions, please, on how to deal with the very real problems we face.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 3, 2010

I think it was sort of a "sort of" election. The Republicans sort of won, gaining control of the House. Nancy Pelosi won't be Speaker anymore, which is too bad because she was good at it, but the putative new guy, John Boehner, probably will be too.
You could argue that the Dems sort of hung on in the Senate and the GOP sort of won some there. Neither side will really have control in the new Senate; either will be able to filibuster the other. Sort of winning filibuster power may mean that good governing sort of lost the most.
As usual, there were some odd results. Senate majority leader Harry Reid squeaked to victory in Nevada over a woman, Sharron Angle, who wanted to abolish both Medicare and Social Security. Really? Are there many Nevadans who feel that way?
In Delaware, Christine O'Donnell (the Republican whose TV ad began "I am not a witch"), lost to Democrat Chris Coons in a battle for Vice President Joe Biden's old seat, leaving us only to wonder, but what if she were, and she's won? Oh well.
President Obama's old seat in Illinois went Republican when Mark Kirk beat Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer. The Tea Party won some. Its founder, Rand Paul, won as did Republican Marco Rubio in Florida, though Tea Partier O'Donnell, as noted above, lost in Delaware. Oh, and Alvin Greene, the drifter who somehow won the Democratic Senate nomination, lost. Well, I guess we all expected that.
Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice. Maybe curiouser still, two years from now.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November 2, 2010

     What should you be watching this election tonight?  Here's where I'll start.
    The polls close at 7PM in Kentucky where Republicans are spending money on their 6th District challenger, Andy Barr, who's running against Democratic incumbent Representative Ben Chandler.  If Chandler loses, experts say, it could be a long night for the Dems.
     At 7:30 polls close in West Virginia where the Washington Post says Democratic Governor Joe Manchin appears to be ahead in the race for the open Senate seat once held by Robert Byrd.  If Manchin loses, that's another sign of a good election for the GOP.
     8PM?  That's Florida, where a key Senate race pits Tea Party Republican Marco Rubio against Democrat Kendrick Meek and Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican running as an independent because he thought he'd lose the GOP primary to Rubio.  A good one to watch.
     9PM?  Colorado, where appointed Democratic Senator Michael Bennet faces Ken Buck. The Post says this could be the closest Senate race in the country.
     10PM?  Nevada, where Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is in a tough race against Republican Sharon Angle. They've spent about $ 50 million in a lightly populated state.
     There are more, but those'll get you started.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November 1, 2010

      Well, Gallup has done its final pre-midterm poll.  It shows the Republicans up, 55--40.  Other polls have slightly different numbers, but the consensus among those who've been talking to voters (as this retired reporter has not) is that the GOP will certainly win the House and maybe the Senate.
     Disillusionment with the President?  Yes, there is certainly some.  Mr. Obama's slogan of two years ago, "Yes, we can" seems to sound to people now more like, "Yes, maybe we can but we haven't yet."  That's a little unfair. of course, but we're talking politics here, not ethics.  The President got Congress to approve a stimulus package.  It hasn't brought prosperity and unemployment is worrisomely high, but it may have helped us avoid a real depression.  He got Congress to pass health care.  It's hard to imagine that most people won't eventually think that's a good thing, whatever amendments to the law they may favor.
     Obama has ended one of the two wars he inherited--sort of.  Combat troops are out of Iraq, we're told, though if the bad guys start shooting, all troops are combat troops.  We are not out of Afghanistan and for the life of me, I can't see why.  Give Karzai one last bribe, tell him to strike a deal with the Taliban and be done with it.  He quite often sounds anti-American anyway.
       Still, the day is upon us.  I hope that Delaware Senate candidate who says she once "dabble into" witchcraft does well.  Maybe she could cast a spell.