Not Just “Unconditional”, A Faceplant Surrender

NEW SLAUGHTERSo, it has come to this. A complete, unconditional, unequivocal faceplant surrender by John Boehner. I should feel more Schadenfreude and vindication than I do.

A few thoughts on the truly ridiculous debacle we’ve just lived through (and may have to live through again in January).

1:  Can a major political party get any closer to the life-or-death decision of whether to self-amputate a body part than the Republicans are today? I keep thinking about Utah hiker Aaron Ralston, sawing off his own arm from under an immovable boulder in order to live to hike another day. The Tea Party has made the Republican party an object of ridicule and contempt with truly perilous consequences for even “moderate”-but-enabling characters like John Kline and Eric Paulsen here in Minnesota.

Continue reading “Not Just “Unconditional”, A Faceplant Surrender”

End of Days for the Bubble-Saurii.

NEW SLAUGHTERAlong with the strategies, tactics and rhetoric, this whole shutdown/default crisis is a fascinating moral drama, at least for President Obama.

His level of exasperation with Republican malfeasance and ineptitude was pretty evident in his press conference yesterday, and mirrors what the public is saying in polls. You saw today’s? Where Congressional approval has hit … 5%? Scrape away a bit and you’ll find that number is an overwhelming condemnation of the Tea Party factor.

Obama certainly knows — and said — that we can’t go on like this, with the same bunch of “neo-confederates” (TM former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren) ginning up a national crisis every three months. I suspect he is factoring that into his thinking talk of a “deal” that kicks this can a month down the road. Why do that? What does that really serve? At some point enough has to be enough, and the public at large is clearly on board with that line of thought.

Continue reading “End of Days for the Bubble-Saurii.”

What I Didn’t Miss During a Long Walk in the Woods

NEW SLAUGHTERHere’s a list of things I didn’t miss during a week hiking down Isle Royale.

1:  Senate Republicans failing to come up with the 70 votes supposedly needed to give Speaker John Boehner “cover” to support immigration reform without the support of the majority of his neanderthal caucus. This was the presumption as we boated away from Grand Portage 12 days ago and nothing much changed, so what’s to miss?

There are only so many times I … you … paid pundits … the drunk on the next stool … can belabor the head-slapping destructive/self-destructiveness of this current crop of Republicans. And as much as road-blocking immigration reform is perhaps the single most damaging thing they could do to their election chances (in 2016, but very likely in 2014 as well) it just isn’t news anymore that these characters really are so … well, stupid is perfectly adequate word … that they will drive a stake through the heart of the one piece of legislation that might give them standing with the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country. A group big enough to turn … Texas for crissake … blue in another couple of election cycles.

It also isn’t worth mincing words about “why”. This isn’t another exercise in the hyper right-wing’s phony pursuit of Constitutional purity. It’s racism, pure and simple. The hillbilly sensibility of the Republican base has no time or sympathy for intruder factions unconnected by origin to new conservatives’ cockamamie mash-up of Hollywood westerns/xenophobia/Ronald Reagan hagiographies and snake oil punditry.

The fog that rolled up and over the Greenstone Ridge had the effect of blotting out a lot of toxic buffoonery.

2:  Even though I predicted it, I did not miss the minute-by-minute updates on where Edward Snowden was and might be going. Commercial media are incapable of engendering and sustaining a national conversation about anything of genuine importance … unless there’s a celebrity sex angle. The fact they’re treating Snowden the fugitive as “the story” and not the still-emerging details of the US’s multi-multi billion dollar cyber systems is too dismaying to “miss”. A hot shower after 50 miles of sweat, DEET and black flies, yes. A cold beer, yes. CNN, no.

3; Speaking of … I hadn’t been giving George Zimmerman a lot of thought, frankly. Although news of his trial start did make the crawl on a screen in the bar at the casino where we stayed the night before leaving. But upon return … I mean, WTF? Zimmerman is a bigger story than a military coup in Egypt? Even MSNBC has gone monomaniacal.

The Zimmerman trial is several rungs of significance up the ladder from the latest Jodi Arias/Casey Anthony sluts-who-slaughter convulsion, but round-the-clock?

Yes, I understand it’s far, far cheaper than sending crews to Cairo. And yes, I understand that certain key demographic groups will devote obsessional amounts of time watching a murder trial. But are we really at the point where we don’t even pretend “our viewers” have an interest in the meltdown of democracy in the anchor nation of the Middle East?

Don’t answer that question.

I get that CNN’s new boss, Mr. Early-Morning-TV-Works-in-All-Dayparts, Jeff Zucker sees an audience of attention-span deprived emotional adolescents, people who need a cooking segment and celebrity hype-chat to break the monotony of revolutions, car-bombings, cyber-warfare and legislative gridlock … but … passing mention? Imagine if another Carnival cruise ship flipped over in Miami harbor? You’d never hear of John Boehner again.

4:  Finally, I didn’t miss the story and intense local discussion about old Carl Pohlad’s tax troubles with the IRS … because they weren’t reported in the local press. Forbes magazine put out the story of the old man’s serious Mitt Romney-like gaming of the tax code … to the advantage of his heirs, a couple of whom at least have done some commendable things with the loot … they didn’t turn over to the common coffers.

Now that I’m back, after trying to cook my fabulous tuna schmeckler under a raggedy pine tree in a steady rain, would it be okay for someone in this town to get impertinent with one of the Pohlad boys and ask how exactly they justify the fantastical level of accounting magic that took their family off the hook for their “fair share” of taxes?

I understand every media outlet wants to be the Pohlads’ BFF. But now that this is “out there”, perhaps some tough-as-nails, take-no-prisoner reporter could “request” a first person comment from one of the boys.

I know, I know, it doesn’t have the reader interest of a list of “10 Great Places for Patriotic Dining”, but it is kind of like … news.

BTW … The beach at Siskiwit Bay was … idyllic. I’m already missing it.

Still Talking Without Walking.

NEW SLAUGHTERPost-election, it has been a slow news month. That’s the only explanation for the breathless anxiety the media has given the fiscal cliff “negotiations”. Why anyone thinks this will be resolved until the last possible minute, or until John Boehner concocts a scheme whereby a majority of his caucus doesn’t have to vote “yes” on increased tax rates for 2% of the population would mystify me if I didn’t understand that the news media needs a conflict better than, oh I don’t know, conservatives’ scheduled/annual/rote indignation over the “War on Christmas”.

The gridlock over this one — which, like the election, Obama will eventually win handily — reminds me again of one of the better analyses of the current conservative malaise, or dysfunction, or bat-shittiness that appeared after the November 6 smackdown. (BTW, my prediction of Obama winning by 1.5% and just under 300 electoral votes has now been downgraded from a B+ to a B- as votes continue to be counted. As of today Obama’s popular vote margin is pushing 4%, which along with years of polling on tax reform, explains his confidence in the next bitch-slapping Republicans are about to take.)

The piece was National Review writer Ramesh Ponnuru’s, “The Party’s Problem”. For the unaware the young Mr. Ponnuru holds a kind of William Buckley-lite standing among what passes for thinking conservatives today.

A collection of quotes forming the gist of Ponnuru’s take:

Romney was not a drag on the Republican party. The Republican party was a drag on him. …

The Iraq War, the financial crisis, and other issues specific to the late Bush years obviously did play a huge role in the 2006 and 2008 defeats. But it’s also true that Republicans weren’t even arguing that they had a domestic agenda that would yield any direct benefits for most voters, and that has to have hurt them. Taxes had been the most powerful economic issue for Republicans for a generation, but Republicans misunderstood why. In the ’80s and ’90s, Republicans ran five presidential campaigns promising to make or keep middle-class taxes lower than they would be under Democrats, and won four of them. In 2008 they made no such promise but did say they would lower the corporate tax rate. …

The absence of a middle-class message was the biggest failure of the Romney campaign, and it was not its failure alone. Down-ticket Republican candidates weren’t offering anything more — not the established Republicans, not the tea-partiers, not the social conservatives. … The Republican story about how societies prosper — not just the Romney story — dwelt on the heroic entrepreneur stifled by taxes and regulations: an important story with which most people do not identify. The ordinary person does not see himself as a great innovator. He, or she, is trying to make a living and support or maybe start a family. A conservative reform of our health-care system and tax code, among other institutions, might help with these goals. About this person, however, Republicans have had little to say.”

The business about the Republican message being built around this mostly mythical laser-focused “small business” entrepreneur, not a guy just making a living, but someone ostensibly and obsessively laser-focused on creating the next Apple, (or, if you’re a conservative, the next Monsanto), is rich for a deeper dialogue. (Some people want to do more with their lives than make a gob of money.) But as Ponnuru implies, there’s quite a bit of doubt that the Republican party, as presently constructed and controlled, has any ability left with which to search its soul and take action on its worst flaws. (Mainly because every remedy will be attacked by the “conservative entertainment complex” as “liberalizing” true conservatism, whether the issue is getting sensible about immigration, or more sophisticated about foreign affairs strategies or, god forbid, conceding a minor uptick in tax rates for “small business” entrepreneurs, you know, like hedge fund traders and Bain-style leverage capitalists).

But what struck me most about Ponnuru’s generally thoughtful analyses was that it was really all about …messaging. About how important it is to talk differently about essentially the same policy positions that clearly aren’t appealing to young people, women, minorities and “Reagan Democrats” (i.e. northern blue-collar white males).

Ponnuru, at least in this piece, chooses not to address what I believe a fat chunk of the population sees first and foremost when it looks at the modern Republican party. Namely, that “these guys haven’t done jack shit for me.” Put another way, the Republican message today is all message and no substance. There’s nothing real and tangible undergirding any of it, certainly nothing that has any “reality-based” value to a majority of the middle class. The Texan variation on this is, of course: “All hat, no cattle.”

The GOP’s bubble world/echo chamber factor is blatantly obvious every time Boehner or McConnell steps up to the microphone and serves up a fiscal cliff “plan” devoid of anything remotely resembling specifics. Their latest “offer”, out yesterday, essentially listed $500 billion in cuts under the heading of “from somewhere … to be decided later”. This from the party who, you remember, once put out another budget plan … that had no numbers in it.

Point being, the only people who continue to think this stuff is valid, serious and effective are the same crazies who forced the party into a primary season fiasco of beyond-parody, self-serving political grifters (Trump, Cain, Bachmann, Perry) and pushed their one viable candidate, Romney, into fringe rhetoric that rendered him toxic to the coalition he needed to win.

Like a baseball team that has suffered yet another embarrassing losing season, Republicans would be well-advised to concede that they have no choice but to go into “rebuilding”mode, which would mean giving up on the once upon a time “can’t miss” rookies who became undisciplined, counter-productive head-cases, and accept that a better path back to contention is by sticking to the basics, like, you know, legislation that serves the majority first.

Bummer Sticker

Is that all you got?
Bumper stickers are supposed to carry the ultimate crystallization of a political campaign’s message. That’s why the arrival of my Barack Obama bumper sticker in the mail caused me to worry anew about whether Obama’s messaging operation is up to the difficult task ahead of it.

The bumper sticker that I got in the mail in recognition of my modest contribution to the Obama campaign simply read “2012,” with the swooshy “O” logo and website url. That’s it.

To me, that says the Obama communications team is not sure what to say to motivate swing voters. Because simply stating the election year does absolutely no framing, messaging, or motivating.

This is a team that used to be pretty darn good at bumper sticker messaging. “Hope,” “Change,” “Yes, We Can.”

Now their message is reduced to a “hold the date” reminder. Really gets the old adrenalin flowing.

Granted, messaging is much easier when you are a challenger running in a discontented country than an incumbent running in a discontented country. Therefore, it stands to reason that messaging was easier for Obama then than now.

But how about at least trying to frame the overall election choice?

Or a bookend set:

Obama’s army of talented message gurus can do better than these lame directional examples, and better than “2012.” Yes they can.

– Loveland

The Ground Zero of Gridlock

Founding Dads, gasp, "compromising."
Representative democracy is designed to produce compromise. All of those inefficient checks and balances the Founding Fathers built into their Rube Goldberg policymaking machinery means that no single political party or branch of government has autocratic power. That forces branch and party leaders to negotiate and find mutually disagreeable middle ground.

In other words, to the Founding Fathers, compromise wasn’t considered a disease. It was a cure.

Admittedly, compromise isn’t very cathartic for zealots. In sports they say “a tie is like kissing your sister,” and a compromise is a tie of sorts. House Speaker Kurt Zellers would probably rather be kissing his sister right now than compromising with Governor Dayton, and vice versa.

But as frustrating as compromise can be, we have done well with our maddening compromise model. The Constitution – the document the compromise-hating Tea Partiers love to nag us about — was a negotiated compromise that left many of its endorsers disappointed. Almost all major legislative achievements in the nation’s history – the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, the creation of Medicare, the creation of the Interstate Highway system, the “Minnesota Miracle” — were the product of bipartisan, bicameral compromise.

But compromise we did, and it helped us move the country forward and avoid the kind of violent upheaval experienced by others around the world. How remarkably grown up of us.

So what happened? If Minnesotans and Americans have successfully compromised through gritted teeth throughout our history, why does it now seem almost impossible to achieve now?

Whatever the reason, “compromise” has become a bad, bad word, especially among conservatives. According to a Pew Research Survey, 71% of Liberal Democrats agree that “lawmakers should be more willing to compromise, even if that results in a budget they disagree with.” At the same time, only 26% of Republicans who support the Tea Party agree with the need to compromise and be disappointed. The more conservative Americans are, the less willing they are to compromise.
Continue reading “The Ground Zero of Gridlock”

How Shall We Go to War Today?

The news that 10 members of Congress have filed suit against President Obama claiming he has violated the War Powers Resolution should come as no surprise.  President Obama is simply the latest in a long line of presidents – all of them – to claim for himself the unilateral right to determine when, where, how and how long are armed forces can be deployed in the field.

This is not a  right/left, liberal/conservative thing.  Dennis Kucinich and John Boehner man one side of the debate and Barack Obama and George W. Bush man the other. Hell, Senator Barack Obama the senator doesn’t agree with President Barack Obama on this topic.

Instead, the debate is an institutional one.  Congress takes seriously the Constitutional words in Article I, Section 8 that it alone has the power to declare war.  Each president takes just as seriously his duties as commander-in-chief and the oath of office to protect and defend the country as enumerated in Article II.

An that’s all it takes to start a Constitutional tug-of-war that has lasted until today.

Everybody pretty much agrees that the President doesn’t need Congressional authorization to deploy troops in response to an attack or to stop an attack that is imminent.  Over the years, however, succeeding presidents have used those exceptions to stretch their usage at least into controversial if not outright distorted grounds.

Even more effectively, though, presidents have gotten around the Constitutional requirements by simply defining a deployment as something other than “war.”  Hence the long line of “police actions,” “peacekeeping missions.” and “limited kinetic engagements” that populate our history of going to other countries and tearing up big chunks of it.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution came about when frustration about our involvement in Vietnam – which to many was an unauthorized war – reached a peak in Congress.  The joint resolution passed both house overwhelmingly and then was passed again over President Nixon’s veto.

The resolution actually represents a major concession by the Congress in that it allowed the president to deploy troops pretty much as he sees fit for up to 60 days with only an after-the-fact notice to Congress.  While a retreat in the eyes of some Constitutional scholars, it also was a recognition that the framers’ worldview – in which the development of threats and responses took months or years and that most armed conflict was nation versus nation in nature – no longer applied.

Good intentions, perhaps, but in practice  the War Powers Resolution has simply given executives another way to deploy troops as they wish.  When it suits their purpose, presidents cite their compliance with the resolution as a post-hoc justification for their actions.  When it doesn’t, as Mr. Obama did today, they assert that the Resolution doesn’t apply and is un-Constitutional to boot.

In case you’re wondering why the Constitutionality of these actions and resolutions are still in question, the answer is that no branch of government – not the executive, not the legislative and certainly not the judiciary – wants this question cleared up.  The legislative and executive branches both worry that the courts will weaken their current powers and the judicial branch does not want the job of parsing the Constitutionality of such a touchy subject.  A ruling one way or the other could put one of the branches of government into direct conflict with the finding and bring to the fore a Constitutional crisis that we’ve all managed to mostly ignore for nearly 225 years.

Accordingly, expect this lawsuit to go pretty much nowhere because – after the press conferences are over – the last thing anybody really wants is a speedy trial.

– Austin