Archive for February, 2010

What’s the difference?

As most of you know, I start the day on my rowing machine.  It exercises just about every part of my body including some that I didn’t know I had.

There are two settings on the torture device.  One is resistance.  You spin a dial to increase or decrease the amount of “pull” you have to exert to get the thing moving.  The other setting is in my head.  It’s the one that tells your arms and legs how fast to move as you yank on the “oar” and slide the seat along the rail.  As I age, both settings are continually minimized.  Soon I’ll just be sitting there.  Sort of like health care reform.

Conveniently, today’s rowing coincided with Obama’s Health Care Summit.  CNN carried the thing.  It was preceded by a gaggle of talking heads predicting a general unraveling of the Summit, a return by the opposing parties to their respective corners and back-alley scheming that Shakespeare would have envied.

The TV screen is small and well removed from the rowing machine.  When the event began I had difficulty figuring out which suits contained Republicans and which housed Democrats.  For a time I confused Chris Dodd with John McCain as both are about as old as me and sport white hair.  The confusion cleared as McCain spent the better part of his time accusing Obama of a lack of transparency, partisan deal-making and a reluctance to involve Republicans in the legislative process.  I nearly jumped from the machine and cheered when Obama told McCain that the presidential campaign had ended more than a year ago.  The old guy sulked for most of the next five hours and focused on the things needed to rescue his endangered Senate re-election bid.

The Republicans came prepared.  They prominently displayed and caressed the 2,400 page Democratic proposal as though there were alien incantations residing in it.   Three doctors, now in Congress, buttressed the party’s medical credentials and encouraged more emphasis on combatting waste, fraud and abuse.  They repeatedly told Obama that the polls show that the public doesn’t want the Democrats’ plan.  They warned of financial catastrophe should the Democrats prevail.  You can’t trust the government, aka them, to run anything.  Junk what’s there.  Start over.  We’re here to help.

For their part, the Democrats regaled the crowd with horror stories about people who had no health care coverage.  How financial catastrophe was just around the corner if their version of reform failed to pass.  You can’t trust an insurance company.  We’re here to help.

Obama did most of the talking and repeated the things the two parties agreed on…and the things they didn’t.  Occasionally my eyes glazed over and I lost track of who was talking, what they were saying, and whether I agreed with them.

But it’s really very simple.  Never once did I hear a Republican tell a story about a constituent without health care insurance.  Never once did I hear a Democrat say that their proposal was too expensive.  And that’s  the real difference.

Whaddaya got?

I poured a glass of cheap wine, plunked myself on the couch and grabbed the clicker.  One of my favorite programs is the PBS NewsHour.  Jim Lehrer is the non-profit version of Dick Clark.  He goes on and on like the Energizer Bunny and his face displays but a few cute wrinkles probably acquired as a result of holding his breath while interviewing conservative neocons and America Firsters.

I was particularly amused on Wednesday when the program showcased John Cochrane of the University of Chicago who gleefully discredited the benefits of the Obama stimulus plan.  Not surprising since Professor Cochrane famously predicted the doom of the program when it was first announced.  Maintaining a perpetual silly smirk reminiscent of you-know-who, I wondered what his economics students must have to put up with.  Probably a proponent of the flat earth theory, the Professor holds sway on Chicago’s South Side by championing supply side economics in a manner that would make Ronnie Reagan proud.

One of the Professor’s more erudite statements was in response to Jeffrey Brown’s question of whether the stimulus might have helped stave off a second depression…I mean, the stimulus, in the end, is taking money from one place and giving it to another place. And it’s too easy to forget that you had to take money from somewhere in order to do any stimulating.  Pretty heady stuff.

Brown then asked Professor Cochrane whether any jobs might have been created or saved by the stimulus money…Well, it’s lovely to tout the benefits, but let’s not forget the costs.  Like any time the government spends money, it has to come from somewhere.  So, you get to see the jobs that the stimulus — I don’t want to say created, but the jobs supported by the stimulus. What you don’t see is every dollar of stimulus had to come from somewhere.  Thesis material indeed or at least fodder for a pop-quiz.

Sometimes though we are treated to folks who actually make sense.  Like Thursday when Judy Woodruff interviewed Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.  I like Judy.  She asks simple questions and her facial expressions speak volumes.  The subject was the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.  Better known as “Cutting Costs and Collecting More Taxes”, Obama formed the non-binding commission when the Senate shied away from the opportunity in an election year.  But then every year seems like an election year.

I’m a fan of Alan Simpson.  The former three-term Republican senator from Wyoming mixes common sense and humor in a way that puts you in your place and you say “thank you sir, may I have more?”  The June 7, 1994, edition of the now-defunct supermarket tabloid Weekly World News reported that twelve U.S. Senators were aliens from other planets, including Simpson.  Those who argue that it’s downright unfair to give equal voting weight to an alien from a small state like Wyoming alongside big state senators, turn strangely quiet when Senator Simpson is mentioned.  Maybe they remember George Murphy, the song and dance man from California who tapped his toes for six years in the Senate before being defeated by John Tunney, the son of heavyweight boxing champ Gene Tunney.

Senator Simpson along with Bowles, a Democrat, are co-chairing the commission.  Bowles, a nice guy, was relatively quiet as Simpson took and held the spotlight.  WoodruffWell, some people, mainly Republicans right now, are arguing, what’s really needed are tax cuts, that, even if it raises the deficit in the short-term, that this would get government out of the way of business, business could grow, and the deficit will take care of itself.  SimpsonWell, I’m not smoking that same pipe.  Wise man.

The same program aired a clip of the Republican leadership reacting to news of the Commission.  Emerging en masse and in lock-step from a Capitol chamber, they were led by Senator McConnell and House Minority Leader  Boehner. They strode to the microphone.  Having escaped voluntary vetting by the Truth Squad and having conveniently forgotten that last year he had praised the commission idea as the best way to address the crisis, Mitch announced his opposition to the Commission on the grounds that it was loaded with Democrats and focused on tax increases.  This notwithstanding the fact that of the 18 members, 3 will be appointed by him, 3 by Boehner, and two more Republicans by Obama.  As befitting the current Washington mood of  “all for one and one for all”  at least 14 of the members have to agree on any recommendation.

At least these guys are consistent.  Having come up with a Republican plan that includes lying low, inciting the base and hoping for the worst, they refuse to see any good in any thing.  Like my friend Harry who said I don’t like so many things that I don’t know what I don’t like anymore, it’s enough that they just take sustenance, maintain their innocence and wait for November.

They’ve practiced this approach for so long that maybe they’re not devious obstructionists.  Maybe they don’t even know why they’re against anything anymore.  It reminds me of that scene from The Wild Ones.  The one where Brando’s asked what he’s rebelling against and he says, Whaddaya got?

Tea Time…

Remember one of the last scenes from the Wizard of Oz?  The one where Dorothy throws a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch, admirably played by Margaret Hamilton.  Margaret begins to melt before our eyes, turning into a pitiful blob of mush.  All the while moaning “Oh what a world, what a world…I’m melting, melting.”

I was reminded of  Margaret when I caught some snippets of the Snow Queen’s keynote speech last night to the Tea Bagger convention in Nashville.  Having taken early retirement from her Alaska job in exchange for an opportunity to make some really big bucks, Sarah took a number of swipes at Obama and presented her unique ideas for restoring the nation to its former glory.

The party began with Sarah’s introduction as the first person to tell us about the death panel by Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Big Government.Com.  The crowd cheered.  Andrew, no slouch in his own right, offered a compelling speech at one of the earlier Tea Party sessions, ending his scholarly dissertation with a warning to all the commie-pinko-left-wing-biased media reps in the room…It’s not your business model that sucks, it’s you that sucks.  High praise indeed.

Sarah came on strong.  How’s that hopey-changey thing workin’ out for you? she asked at one point. She blasted Obama for rising deficits…deftly side-stepping the morass that her party’s former standard-bearer left us.  Sarah chastised the Prez for being a pantywaist by apologizing for America in speeches in other countries.  Finally, she said he was weak on terrorism because he failed to personally sniff out the explosives in the Christmas bomber’s Jockey shorts.

The crowd loved her.  Eleven hundred folks were hungry for red meat after spending as much as $549 to attend what has been reported as a fairly boring few days of seminars dealing with influencing primary elections through the use of high-tech devices like phones.  Rising full-throated, the attendees embraced all of her ideas about fixing our broken economy, killing the bad guys, and electing far-right conservatives.  When asked how she would handle things if she were in charge, the Snow Queen, suffering from short-term memory loss, patriotically announced  that leaving everything in the hands of the free market would be just the ticket.  And a commander-in-chief who was more of a warrior and less of a professor filled out her master plan.

On the question of whether the Tea Party and the Republican Party could play nicely together, she felt that it would be just peachy if the Republicans merely absorbed the Tea folks.  One guy in the room who twitched uncontrollably at that idea was Judson Phillips, head of  Tea Party Nation  and the organizer of the for-profit convention.  Having already planned more such events, the potential loss of revenue had to be disturbing.  Tea Party Nation’s website proclaims…We believe in Limited Government, Free Speech, the 2nd Amendment, our Military, Secure Borders and our Country!

Another attendee, William Temple, probably did not embrace Sarah’s merger thoughts.  As reported at Salon.ComTemple came to the inaugural event in Nashville armed with a wardrobe of period dress. On each of the three days of the confab, the ex-Secret Service agent strutted the halls of the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center tricked out in a different 17th or 18th century getup, including kilts, leggings and tricorn hats.  Meeting with reporters, Temple said…I am not for the Republican Party. When they send me their documents, I tear them up and throw them in the trash.

Whether the Tea Party organizers are trying to drive their membership into the Republican Party or merely force out the party’s less conservative office holders is debatable.  Tea Party Nation’s former webmaster, Kevin Smith, offers this analysis…It’s become clear to me that Judson and his for-profit Tea Party Nation Corporation are at the forefront of the GOP’s process of hijacking the tea party movement, Smith wrote in his blog post. What began as cries for true liberty and a public showing of frustration with the big government policies of both Democrats and Republicans has now been co-opted by mainstream Republican demagogues determined to use this as their 2010 election platform.

Even Fox News  is reporting unrest within the movement.  For example, Joseph Farah, founder of, made questions over Obama’s citizenship a centerpiece of his Friday night speech in Nashville and got a standing ovation from the crowd for broaching the controversial topic.  But some convention-goers and speakers on Saturday distanced themselves from the so-called “birther” movement, saying that’s hardly a bread-and-butter tea party issue.

Memphis Tea Party chairman Mark Skoda in attempting to calm the troops offered…I think the movement is maturing…This is about elections…We’re not a bunch of raging lunatics.

One lump, or two.

No in spades

Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, has thrown a hissy-fit.  And found a way to apply square root to the art of saying no.

Putting a blanket hold on some seventy Obama nominations that require Senate confirmation, Dickie has added chutzpah to the arsenal of obstructionism that is the lifeblood of his party.  In contrast to the snarling, high blood pressure rantings of Senator McCain who has suddenly found reasons to oppose initiatives that he once supported, Dickie’s calm rationale for holding up the appointments of State Department, Homeland Security and Pentagon candidates boils down to one simple thing…money.

Pork to be specific.  Pork for Alabama.  Now I like Alabama as much as the next guy.  And in spite of John McCain’s current amnesia, the birthplace of the Klan, Rosa Parks, Bull Connor and George Wallace, ‘Bama deserves as much pork as they can wring out of the Federal Treasury.  It’s the American way.  And it’s my duty to make sure that everyone knows about it.

One of Dick’s concerns involves a contract for building refueling air tankers for the Air Force.  Northrup and Boeing are in competition for it.  Everyone knows that Boeing is in Washington state.  Guess where Northrup is.  Guess who’s the beneficiary of Northrup’s largess.  In the interest of full disclosure, Northrup thinks the bid process is biased toward Boeing.  Fifteen hundred jobs are at stake in Mobile and this is Dick’s single-handed attempt at forging a focused jobs bill.  Well, not quite single-handed.  Jeff Sessions, Alabama’s other white knight, also has a firm grip on things. But he’s not being a pig about it.  Jeff’s hold is only on two nominees.

To be sure that he has everyone’s attention, Dick has also reprimanded the administration about holding back money to build an FBI center– in Alabama– to analyze terrorist explosive devices.  If this administration were as worried about hunting down terrorists as it is about the confirmation of low-level political nominations, America would be a safer place, Dick’s spokesman  Jonathan Graffeo said.  Obviously, sniffing out exploding underwear is more important than running the country’s security apparatus.

Multi-tasking is not one of Senator Shelby’s strong points.  After months of meetings with Senator Dodd in an attempt to forge a bi-partisan agreement on Financial Reforms, Dick has decided that he hasn’t the time to deal with it while he also sniffs out suspicious undies.  Bringing some order to the free-wheeling and chaotic bank activities that brought us to the brink of a second Great Depression will be on the back burner while his focus is on Jockey Shorts.

The current sticking point seems to be a proposal for a consumer protection agency.  Senator Shelby said he was not obstructing the legislation.  He said that the plan for a consumer protection agency would interfere with sound banking regulation.  I fully support enhancing both consumer protection and safety and soundness regulation,” Dick said. I will not support a bill that enhances one at the expense of the other, however, in order to strike the appropriate balance they must be integrated with each other, not separated from each other.  What?

So while the good folks in Alabama sit in Buck’s Bar, do shooters and watch Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck moan about the ineptitude of the Obama administration, high taxes and big government, they will also be cheering for their favorite Dick, more pork, and the Party of No.



Recent Comments