Tag Archives: Tea Party

Republican Idol: Europe

Relief map of Europe and surrounding regions

Relief map of Europe and surrounding regions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t let them kid you, Republican’s think that Europe is spot on when it comes to government spending in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Various European nations have responded to the rising debt caused by the crisis by implementing the sort of austerity measures that the Tea Party thinks will save America.

Last week tens of thousands of Spaniards marched in the street over their countries’ latest round of austerity measures. They aren’t thrilled with 26% unemployment. Britain’s David Cameron has implemented an austerity program there. It hasn’t done much to reduce their debt, but it did manage to inspire Moody’s to downgrade Britain’s debt–making it more expensive for them to service their debt.

Ever since the Tea Party took over the GOP, facts and reality haven’t seemed to matter much to their rhetoric or their policies. They have been pining to put the U.S. government on an austerity plan, just like Europe. They may not be happy that one of the first fruits of their labor has been the release of detained immigrants, but that didn’t stop them from deciding to push to make these upcoming cuts permanent for an entire year.

The reality is that this sequester and other austerity measures don’t make any sense while recovering from one of the worst economic downturns in our history. The CBO estimates that our gross domestic product will grow by 1.4 percent this year, rather than the 2.0 growth we’d see without the sequester cuts. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that we will lose 1 million jobs in 2013 and 2014 because of the sequester. A former Republican from the Bipartisan Policy Center says its possible that the sequester won’t  even achieve any savings in government outlays.

The reality is that our present course has delivered slow but steady growth. Smart money knows things are going pretty well. That’s why the stock market is flirting with its all-time high. We will eventually reduce our deficit through economic growth, just as we did in the 1990’s, unless the Republicans insist on remaking the U.S. in the image of Europe.

Why Congress Will Take Us Over The Cliff (And Other Depressing Predictions)

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993 (Photo credit: David Holt London)

Before the year ends, I decided to go on record about how I think Congress will deal with the so-called “fiscal cliff”. I do this in hopes that they might prove me wrong. I would love to be pleasantly surprised.

Congress will send us over the cliff.

I do not believe that Congress will be able to pass any legislation that could be described as a tax increase. The Republicans will not allow themselves to vote for such. Memories are long about how the elder George H. W. Bush raised taxes despite having pledged not to (in his famous “read my lips” declaration), and he never recovered among conservatives. Every Republican must court the conservatives because their party has alienated every other group; they have no one left.

On January 1, the Bush tax cuts expire, so this means that tomorrow there will be an income tax increase for everyone who pays income taxes. The negotiations will suddenly switch from increasing taxes to lowering taxes. Republicans love to be able to claim credit for lowering taxes, so their attitude about passing legislation to solve the fiscal cliff will change dramatically at that point.

Similarly, but to a lesser degree, Democrats will more comfortably vote for legislation after the New Year. Just as taxes go up tomorrow, spending cuts take effect as well. A vote today for a Democrat means cutting a program, but tomorrow it will mean restoring a program.

So for both parties, a deal today looks bad politically because in a few years their opponent will be able to use the deal to attack them among their base. This is one reason, I believe, that John Boehner and the House yielded their constitutional duty to originate laws concerning the budget over to the Senate. If an ugly deal was going to happen, they wanted to make sure that it was the Democratic Senate that could be blamed.

Despite the fact that conventional wisdom is that the Democrats have the upper hand, I fear they will give up more than the Republicans in the compromise. First of all, I believe Obama and the Democrats are less willing to hurt people in order to achieve their political aims. If I’m right, Democrats will feel the pain of regular Americans more than Republicans. They will be more desperate to find a solution, and we have already seen the Republicans take advantage of this dynamic.

Second, I think Republicans are more afraid of their Tea Party base than Democrats are of their progressive base. Republicans will be more stubborn about pleasing their base than the Democrats. Third, Obama and the Democrats are already making more noises about compromises that they would be willing to make. So I fear that we are already seeing the conversation shift in the Republican’s favor.

By the middle of January, I believe that we will see a deal that gives more to the Tea Party than to the progressives. Naturally both sides will declare victory, but I believe that people will be crying about how Obama got outsmarted again. I believe that Obama’s favorability ratings will decline: his supporters will be unhappy with his negotiations, and those in the middle will see him as weak. The deal will avoid disaster, but it will not help the economy. It may not derail the recovery, but it will slow it down.

If I’m right, then it probably means that we will have another fight very soon about raising the debt limit, and unless Obama wins this fiscal cliff negotiation, then it will likely be another repeat of the mess we’ve already seen.

As I said, I’d love to be proven wrong. My version of the future is too depressing.

Churning Out True Believers Who Are Inoculated Against Doubt

Roger Ailes, Cupid

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

Rolling Stone magazine has a lengthy article on Fox News’ Chairman, Roger Ailes. I’ve read news stories before about Fox and seen the documentary Outfoxed, but this article delivers a more detailed and carefully researched exposé about what it dubs “the most profitable propaganda machine in history.”

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to notice that Fox News functions like the PR arm of the Republican Party. This thesis is painstakingly documented by Tim Dickinson for Rolling Stone. What has escaped me before, however is the degree to which Roger Ailes’ political attack strategy has poisoned the entire process of discourse for devotees of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and others.

Dickinson’s article paints a picture of a man who has put his stamp on virtually every right-wing pundit. He has schooled each of them in the same strategy that he has used to help every Republican president since Richard Nixon. According to this article, Ailes’ strategy is to “forget all the facts and figures, and move to the offense as quickly as possible.”

It strikes me that the problem isn’t all of the propaganda that gets spewed forth by Fox and others; the problem is that over time they have trained an army of Tea Party patriots to be totally immune to facts or argument. As soon as they hear facts that challenge their own opinions, then they react by going on the offensive. They do not become circumspect. They do not wonder whether the fact is true. They do not search for a plausible counter-fact with equivalent weight. They simply get aggressive in their denial. And in the end, they’ve been energized by how well Ailes’ strategy has allowed them to “win” against those who disagree with them.

How can a society have intelligent discourse if people are inoculated against ever questioning their own beliefs? What is the point of educating such a person about history or anything else, if their mind has been effectively sealed shut? More troubling is the question of what is the consequence to a Democracy filled with people immune to all forms of doubt? Roger Ailes knows the answer, and that answer is the reason he’s dedicated his life to such a quest.

This is Fiscal Responsibility?

U.S. soldiers tour the Saint Elijah Monastery ...

Image via Wikipedia

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a defense authorization bill to spend $690 billion dollars yesterday. That’s odd because they still haven’t given themselves permission to raise the debt limit to pay for the stuff that they already agreed to buy in the past. That’s funny because the Republican’s are screaming about how bad the deficit is, and yet they are still signing checks that will overdraw their account. That’s funny because they are increasing spending more on defense than the Obama administration requested. It’s funny because the Republicans are the ones who say that we need to balance the books by cutting spending without even considering doing anything to bring in more money.

Republicans talk about how sacrifice is needed to solve our debt problem. That’s funny because so far the only people who they have expected to sacrifice are citizens who traditionally don’t vote for them; they still want their pet projects and their base to keep receiving goodies from the government.

The Republicans claim it is the President and the Democrats who are playing politics around the deficit.  That’s funny because  they are the ones holding the solvency of the U.S. hostage to their own special interests. That’s funny because they are the ones who attached provisions to this $690 Billion bill to prevent us from dealing with Guantanamo detainees in a way consistent with our constitution and in a way that is consistent with the liberties for which we fight wars. That’s funny because they have also attached a provision that prevents us from reducing the number of nuclear weapons we have.

The Republicans insist that the only way to fix the deficit is to make people pay more for their healthcare, and they say the government should subsidize private health insurance rather than be in the business of providing healthcare. That’s funny because this bill also reduced the amount that the Secretary of Defense suggested was the military’s fair share to pay for its own government-provided healthcare costs.

Many Republicans complained that Obama did not flex our military muscle adequately to support the Libyan rebels. It’s odd that they also passed a bill to prohibit the Commander in Chief to use any money to put ground troops in Libya. It’s funny that they want to give the military more money, but they don’t actually want our president to be able to use it as Commander in Chief. That’s funny because the last president the Republicans gave this country started two wars for very dubious reasons.

So why am I not laughing?

Yet it is the Republicans who claim to be fiscally responsible, and the Tea Party elected them to eliminate political games in Washington.  Now, that’s funny!

Getting Ready for the Republican Headliners

Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House. November ...

Image via Wikipedia

For the past several months it seems that only the fringe Republican candidates have been able to get any attention. Yet now, Donald Trump seems to be fading and Newt Gingrich seems to be rising in the eyes of the Republican media outlets. Perhaps the seriousness of the success in bringing Osama bin Laden to justice has helped to focus them on more serious candidates.

I welcome this change. Although the past decade has seen me move from the category of Independent to Democrat, I recognize that for democracy to function like it is supposed to, we need two healthy parties putting forth serious and qualified candidates. No one knows which party will win in 2012, so we need qualified candidates on both tickets.

John McCain was a serious candidate, but out of political desperation he elevated Sarah Palin to a position on his ticket that she did not deserve. This act opened the door for people like Michele Bachmann and Donald Trump to entertain dreams of becoming the Republican candidate for President.

From a political point of view, I would be delighted for Sarah, Michelle, or the Donald to run as an Independent. Even better I would love to see the Tea Party form a real party and offer up a candidate. This would siphon off that fringe and better ensure that the winner is selected by more reasonable and informed voters. In such a contest, I believe that Obama would have a better chance for re-election, but more importantly, I believe we would likely get a better Republican president should she or he win.

“My Bad!”

Donald Trump enters the Oscar De LA Renta Fash...

Image via Wikipedia

“My Bad!” Those are apparently two words that we’ll never hear Donald Trump put together in a sentence. Here’s a man who took to the airwaves to spread false rumors and lies about the President of the United States. He pandered to conspiracy obsessed Tea Party folk to bolster himself, and then when his lies were exposed, he declares that he is proud of himself.

It is a picture of hubris and shamelessness. It is a picture of a person who has nothing but disdain for truth. Unfortunately it is a picture that is becoming increasingly common in the U.S. I am ashamed that many of these people tout their Christianity in public. They give the impression that Jesus stood for lies and hate rather than truth and love.

It is a dangerous thing for a democracy when a good percentage of people allow their prejudices to shape their understanding of reality. If we indeed have as many problems as people think; it is hardly likely that we will build a solution on a bedrock of gossip and innuendo.

Making Matters Worse

Protester at Madison, WI Tea Party in April 2009.

Image via Wikipedia

The Tea Party has the fascinating habit of doing things that have the opposite effect of what they claim to care about. They say they are defenders of the little guy, but their policies consistently favor the rich over the poor.

Now they are boldly threatening to refuse to raise the debt ceiling. To their minds this probably sounds like a good way to force those undisciplined government workers to hold down costs. In fact what they have managed to do is to convince ratings agencies to downgrade the quality of U.S. debt instruments. What does this mean in real-world terms? It means that the U.S. will have to pay higher interest rates. It means that government spending will go up, and consequently the U.S. deficit will get worse.

That is fine for the puppet masters behind the Tea Party. They love for the debt to get worse because it is their most effective excuse to eliminate more programs that help the poor so that they can lower taxes for the rich.  They will also certainly mis-direct the blame for this rate increase; they will use it as an opportunity to demagogue about how government spending is causing inflation.

Who Wants a Government Shutdown?

Daily News cover illustrated by Ed Murawinski.

Image via Wikipedia

The Tea Party Republicans in Congress have been using the 2011 budget as a way to extort the rest of Congress and the President into agreeing to their various demands. They have been using short extensions to ensure that in a few weeks they can have another showdown where they get to add more demands. Currently they are demanding more cuts than others want, and they are even adding abortion and the environment into the budget mix.

Many have speculated about who wins politically from a shutdown. I am not sure the answer to that question, but I certainly know that the Tea Party wants to shut down the government. Their entire premise is that government is the root of all ills and evil. The want to shrink the size of government so that all it does is fight wars and put police and firefighters on the streets. Their vision of paradise resembles a banana republic where the government protects the property of and serves the interests of the rich.

It’s as if the Tea Party has now kidnapped the government, and we see the rest of our elected officials negotiate for the release of that hostage. We have seen this before.  Back when right-wing Republicans stormed the capitol with their Contract for America, they tried this tactic of holding the government hostage.  Thankfully, they were not successful that time to get their way. If the Tea Party gets their way this time rather than settling for a compromise, then we can be sure that this small band of legislators will spend the next two years using any sort of threat they can muster to try to remake America into their image.

If this band of spoiled brats get their way by pitching a fit, this will likely lead to a precedent for other minority groups to adopt the strategy of no compromise to get their way as well. If we lose our willingness to compromise with those who are different, then we lose one of the most precious things about America.

Why We Need Governments

Earthquake and Tsunami damage-Fukushima Dai Ic...

Image by DigitalGlobe-Imagery via Flickr

With the rise of the Tea Party movement, there has been a concurrent rise in the popularity of libertarianism. This political and economic view advocates radically reducing the role of government in society. Libertarians tend to advocate for the privatization of many things currently handled by the government.

Ever since Reagan, America has been flirting with privatization and deregulation. It is a popular move among those who perceive the government to be inherently wasteful, inefficient and corrupt. While things are going along reasonably well in society, it is tempting to think, “we don’t really need the government to be doing ‘x’.” On the other hand, times of crisis and extraordinary circumstances give us the opportunity to consider and appreciate the valuable role our governments play.

Consider the recent earthquake near Japan. Not only did it create a tsunami that has devastated many communities, but it has also endangered nuclear power plants. Some may imagine that private industry would do a better job than any government in rescuing victims and combating the emergency of the at-risk nuclear power plants. But our experience tells us otherwise. The governments of the world are the ones who come to the rescue in these situations. Although many corporations have interests in seeing the problem solved, they are simply not equipped to effect a large scale rescue and recovery. We look to our governments to play those roles and to ensure that corporations fulfill their responsibilities in crises.

Emergency rescue and management is not the only role that our government plays. It also provides infrastructure for commerce and daily living. It provides a safety net for citizens; and this provision not only protects the least in our society but it also protects the rest of us from massive unrest. It provides education for us.

My goal is not to itemize every valuable function of government; it is to contemplate and remember just how critical such things are for civilized society. Yes, there are inherent challenges in making sure that our government functions well, but when we advocate for the elimination of those functions, we risk throwing the baby out with the bath water. We need to be coming together to work toward improving the way our government performs critical functions rather than self-inflicting wounds in a quest to eliminate those critical functions.

People Power

Madison Protest

Image by pchgorman via Flickr

Who would have believed that an uprising in Tunisia would start a domino effect of disenfranchised uprisings around the world. It is still too soon to know whether any of them will turn out well for those whose energy have fueled them. Each of today’s series of protests have been countered by “protests” from the other side of debate. There is a history of such uprisings being hijacked by more powerful forces so that what at first seemed like a genuine revolution faltered.

Interestingly, the U.S. protesters of the past few years (the Tea Party) are the counter-protesters today in Wisconsin. The Tea Party claims to represent ordinary citizens, and yet so do those who are protesting in Wisconsin.  In a sense, I believe both of them. The Tea Party has many ordinary people as members, and the streets around the capitol in Madison are also filled with ordinary people.

Both of these opposing groups long to claim the mantle of being part of a “grassroots” movements.  Consider some of the differences, and you will see why I think what we’re seeing in Wisconsin deserves being called “grassroots” more than the Tea Party.  The Tea Party movement started slow, and it took many months to garner the sort of numbers that the Madison group has achieved in a matter of days.  The Tea Party movement was egged on by media types such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.  The Billionaire Koch brothers helped “‘educate,’ fund, and organize Tea Party protesters.” The Tea Party rallies were planned out.  They appeared at a pre-planned location on a pre-planned date. The protesters in Wisconsin showed up and they keep showing up, and no one really knows when it might end.  Many figure this was all organized by labor unions, but I see little evidence at this point that this was orchestrated in any way like the Tea Party rallies were.

The key piece of evidence for me is to follow the advice of “Deep Throat” in the movie “All The President’s Men“: follow the money.  If you follow the money, you can tell who is behind something.  In the case of the protesters in Wisconsin, they want to see money NOT flow out of the pension funds of school teachers. In the case of the Tea Partiers, they at first wanted to see money NOT flow into banks in the form of the bail-out, but later they seemed to change direction by wanting to protect the flow of money into insurance companies (by opposing Health Care reform) and into banks (by opposing Wall Street reform).  They want to see money NOT flow out of Big Energy and Industry (by opposing cap & trade, alternative energy development, global warming legislation, etc.)

The Tea Party movement seems to me to have been a modest movement that gained legs only after big money interests steered them toward advocating for the rich.  The upheaval in Wisconsin is still very young.  Right now it is just a modest movement.  It isn’t as good at playing political games.  In an effort to be reasonable, their demands are modest. They’re willing to allow their governor, Scott Walker to balance the budget on their backs (even though he has already given tax breaks to the rich).  They have only asked to keep the rights to bargain collectively.  Once Walker gives them this tiny morsel, then ostensibly they’re done, and will then go home.  On the other hand, the Tea Party has arrived in Wisconsin with much more strident demands.  They want a recall of every democrat.  This puts them in a much stronger position to negotiate.  I hope that over time we begin to see the main group in Wisconsin begin to demand more from their governor.