Politics

Proposed: A Twenty Eighth Amendment

As parent, I can’t bring myself to look at the pictures. I can’t imagine the grief all those families in Connecticut are going through tonight; the families with children — kindergartners, first-graders — massacred today by a lunatic with guns, and the parents of those who survived who will live with the scar forever. Can’t imagine any of it, can hardly bear the thought of it.

The one thing I can imagine that might possibly help is to stop all our talking and commit ourselves to something truly serious, lasting, and impervious to challenge — an amendment to the Constitution which explicitly allows the Congress and the states to regulate gun ownership and gun sales as they see fit, and that makes clear the Second Amendment does not grant an explicit, personal right to own a gun. Just as the Constitution doesn’t give us the right to own a car, or a bike, or any number of other things.

When our country really wants to do something serious, to right some wrong and to end some massive injustice, we pass an amendment. Go see “Lincoln” if you haven’t already and you’ll be reminded of that lesson. We did it with slavery (13th amendment), citizenship and due process (14th amendment), the right to vote for women (19th), the voting rights (24th amendment) and right for 18-year-olds to vote.

An amendment to the Constitution would be the clearest, most unambiguous, and most permanent way we could stop this madness. An amendment to the Constitution would allow Congress and the states to take any real, concrete action necessary to stop the scourge of guns. Without such an amendment, we run the risk of wringing our hands for decades to come, of being held hostage by the Supreme Court and the vagaries of the Second Amendment. An amendment would establish the will of the people, and make that clear to legislators and the people like the NRA who seek to intimidate them.

I appreciate Mike Bloomberg being so vocal about his support for gun laws. But, to paraphrase his statement today, we need more than just “statements” about other people’s statements. We need action. He is a wealthy man, and has billions of dollars at his disposal. If he’s really serious, perhaps he might consider championing this cause, doing something bigger, bolder and far more audacious than pleading for more gun control laws.

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Politics

On Obama

Now is the time when people like me are supposed to turn on Barack Obama.

Read the NY Times liberal columnists — Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd and Bob Herbert —  and you’ll come away with the impression we have the most toothless, ineffective, spineless leader ever in the White House (Krugman, of course, has been loudly hating on Obama longer and louder than FoxNews, and never really forgave Obama for beating Hilary Clinton).

The torrent of legislation passed the last two years — health care reform, financial reform, education reform, deep investments in clean energy and transportation funding, not to mention efforts to keep the economy from falling into the abyss? None of that really matters. That Obama has gotten more progressive policies put in place than any Democrat since LBJ, or FDR, to help the poor and the middle class? Doesn’t matter. These folks don’t really care about achievements (or, they’ll be glad to nitpick and tell you why a particular reform or bill wasn’t quite perfect).

What appears to matter to the liberal pundit class is theatrics. Fiery, “principled” rhetoric. We’re having a love affair with Bill Clinton again — “he had the balls to stand up to the Republicans!” But riddle me this: what was the signature, progressive achievement of his presidency? I’ll be waiting with baited breath for your answer, Mr. Krugman (or from your acolytes).

I actively, proudly supported Obama — and still do — because I wanted an adult in the White House after eight years of being governed by a miscreant. And that’s pretty much what we’ve gotten — an intelligent, cool, and collected man who has dealt with a greater array of crises than any president in decades and done his best to fashion coherent and sensible policy responses.

The only disappointment I have is with the ideologues of both the left and the right; my liberal friends who assume every compromise is just a sell-out move or the result of some nefarious conspiracy (“Geithner is a Goldman Sachs pawn!”) and conservative Republicans who can’t seem to take any ownership for any of their disastrous policies over the past 30 years and have never encountered a problem that couldn’t be solved with a tax cut.

Where did the adults go?

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Politics

Ron Johnson, A Radical Just Like Vin Weber

Jim Vandehei is a serious reporter, but this story of his today in Politico was downright ludicrous.

He breathlessly describes Ron Johnson, the Republican candidate for Senate in Wisconsin running against incumbent Russ Feingold, as one of a bold new breed:

Johnson talks the talk of the tea party and also talks of going to Washington as less a lawmaker, more a messenger. He argues with conviction that Obama represents nothing less than a threat to turn America into a “socialist, European-style” state, and audiences nod along, the judgment sounding neither rabid nor harsh — even in Wisconsin, a state that fell hard for Obama.
His message and circumstance are almost identical to the other tea party candidates: All believe powerfully that government has grown too large, too fast and, unless changed, America may be on verge of losing its greatness.

The thing is, that’s the very message conservative Republicans have been urging on us since 1980. And for much of the past three decades, they’ve controlled most of government. Republican presidents from 1981-1993, and 2001-2009. Republican control of the Senate from 1981 to 1987, and both houses of Congress from 1995-2007.

And government — and in particular Washington D.C. — has prospered under their care. The Beltway and the Dulles Access Road and Interstate 395 are festooned with office parks that house the “Government Relations” offices, and even corporate headquarters feasting on the largesse of the Defense Department of the Department of Homeland Security. New gleaming office buildings now line Massachusetts Avenue  — once a dead zone — between 14th Street and the Capitol. Buildings full of lobbyists for oil and gas companies, insurance companies, banks and others dedicated to weakening or removing laws that help the people but stand in the way of their profits.

For three decades, wave after wave of conservative Republicans like Ron Johnson have come to Washington vowing to change it. People like Vin Weber, who built their political careers railing against Washington but then found it could be quite a charming town and a very nice place to make a living indeed.

So, next time someone like Vandehei decides to write a piece about the Tea Party or Ron Johnson, I wish he’d remember earlier partisans like Weber. And perhaps, in light of that history, and the three decades of empirical evidence we now have about the gap between what conservative Republicans say and what they do, ask some tougher questions.

What programs — specifically — do they propose to cut?  Which of their constituents will need to make due with reduced Social Security or Medicare? How much spending in the Defense Department will they cut, and where? What agricultural and mining subsidies will they remove? What explicit steps will they take to  rid the Capital of lobbyists? Which of the nearly 1 million people working as contractors — many with duplicative roles, and lavish private-sector salaries — in our sprawling “Homeland Security” and intelligence bureaucracy will they fire?

The vision of people like Vin Weber has largely become national policy the last thirty years. Taxes are at historical lows. Markets have been de-regulated and set free. We’ve returned to an unfettered free market system that folks like Ayn Rand could only dream of. And we’ve gotten this.

The truth is, Weber and Reagan and Gingrich did change Washington. And rich people, corporations Washingtonians have done very well by their rule.

But history be damned, I’m sure this new breed of Tea Party activists will change all that forever, and put government back on the side of the people.

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Politics

Warren Buffet on taxes

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Thank god Warren Buffett at least has the intelligence to talk sense about our tax rates. There really is nothing more depressing than rich people complaining about their taxes.

The usual argument you hear is “higher taxes will stifle growth.” For those of you who make the argument but consider yourselves “empirically minded” and “driven by data” read this.

Rich people, when they start complaining about their taxes, will tell you taxes are becoming “confiscatory.” Here’s the chart — from the right-wing Heritage Foundation, no less! — that shows what a load of nonsense that is.

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Current Affairs, Politics

Money Quote from the President

Can’t be repeated enough, this:

One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we’ve got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

The idea that we’ve got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.

Everybody out there has to be thinking about what’s at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues like climate change, key issues like how we restore a sense of equity and optimism to middle-class families who have seen their incomes decline by five percent over the last decade. If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we’d better fight in this election. And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money’s coming from. In every single one of these congressional districts, you are seeing these independent organizations outspend political parties and the candidates by, as I said, factors of four to one, five to one, eight to one, 10 to one.

From President Obama’s interview with Jann Wenner in Rolling Stone.

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Current Affairs, Internet, Politics

The Bogus Speech by Paul Otellini to the Aspen Institute

I read about a speech Paul Otellini gave last week and this lead from CNET caught my attention:

Intel Chief Executive Officer Paul Otellini offered a depressing set of observations about the economy and the Obama administration Monday evening, coupled with a dark commentary on the future of the technology industry if nothing changes.

Rather than rely on the CNET report I first read (which was somewhat confusing), I decided to do some primary research and try to find his speech. There is a video here and a transcript here provide so helpfully by Intel.

Otellini spends several minutes bemoaning the current situation particularly in education:

The trends are worrisome.

At one time, the US could boast about the best students in math, science, and engineering.  Our research centers were without peer.  No country was more attractive for start-up capital or global investors.  We seemed a generation ahead of the rest of the world in information technology.

That simply is no longer the case.  Over the past decade, our competitors have focused on the very things that made America’s innovative economy the strongest in the world.

A study released last month by the college board noted that the US has dropped from first to twelfth in the world for people ages 25-34 with college degrees over the past 30 years.

I thought this was all a buildup to some praise for the work done by the Obama administration and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to fix this state of affairs. After all, initiatives like the “Race to the Top” have garnered praise from the Left and Right (and even Republicans who are convinced Obama is a Muslim) and have done more to reform the public education system in America than all other federal efforts combined over the last 40 years.

But nary a word about that. Instead, Otellini, in an ominous tone, said this (which is what got such attention from folks who reported on his speech):

Unless government and business take firm actions to improve education, create a culture of investment and job creation in this country, then the next Intel or the next big thing will not be invented here. Jobs will not be created here. And wealth will not accrue here. Ultimately, we will face an inevitable erosion and shift of wealth — much like we are witnessing today in Europe.

(I guess he didn’t notice that Germany is kicking our ass right now economically).

Turns out all this fear-mongering was really just a set up for Otellini’s central plea — America is in jeopardy because our corporate tax rate is too high. And like a petulant baseball owner who threatens to move his team to another city unless the public builds him a new stadium, Otellini essentially says Intel will take its toys and move abroad if the corporate tax rate isn’t lowered.

(As an aside, I’m inevitably stunned that folks like Bill O’Reilly and other dime store patriots never jump on corporate yellow-bellied traitors like Otellini who’d stab their country in the back, throw their countrymen overboard, and move their companies to China to increase their profits by a few pennies per share. I’ll have to come back to that sometime).

Otellini could have noted for balance and context that the United States has the one of the lowest overall tax burdens in the world (and the lowest among developed nations) as a percentage of GDP. And that our corporate tax rates are high because we have insisted on absurdly low individual tax rates and aren’t willing to contemplate other ways of raising revenue through things like a consumption tax. All policies lobbied for by folks like Otellini and his peers. But that would have required intellectually honesty.

It was the lack of logic, of intellectual cohesiveness, that was so striking in the end.  Otellini argues (1) that government ought to do more, particularly with regard to education; (2) fails to acknowledge the stunning achievements in just the last 18 months by the Obama administration on this front; then (3) says his taxes are too high and Intel shouldn’t have to pay for anything or they’ll move.

Why all this hyperventilating about one speech by some guy who is the CEO of Intel? Because people who know better seem to take him seriously, even though they ought to know better. For it’s pretty clear he’s just a hack and a shill for the Republican party and not some Sage of San Joe — at least when it comes to public policy pronouncements.

One last note: folks like CNET ought to learn to do a little reporting and provide some context next time. Even a simple sentence like “Republican and Carly Fiorina supporter Paul Otellini said in Aspen…”

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