Which Side Are You On?

December 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Scandal

As I write this, the United States Senate is debating a measure that would weaken Dodd-Frank’s regulation of  Wall Street banks, increase the amount of money a single donor can contribute to political parties and enable employers to reduce pension payments of retirees after they retire and have earned their pensions.

These outrages are attached to a budget bill whose passage is required to keep the government operating.  None of these dishonest and unwise amendments have anything to do with the budget.  They were attached to the budget bill by anonymous members of the House of Representatives at the behest of Citigroup.  There was no committee hearing.  There was no opportunity to vote on them separately.

In other words, they were so obviously the result of corruption that their sponsors would not own them.  They could only be adopted as part of a legislative blackmail scheme.

This is not, however, the real scandal.  The real scandal is that this dishonest scheme could only proceed with votes by Democratic Party members.  The bill passed the House by a narrow margin, including aye votes by 57 Democrats.
[I note with some satisfaction that no Texas Democrat voted “aye”.]

No, that is really not the real scandal.  The real scandal is that the only two elected officials who are personally identified with pressuring members of Congress to agree to these outrages are named Barack Obama and Joe Biden .  Yep.  Some things are too dishonest to make it, even given the present sorry state of our politics.  So you have to bring out the Big Guns, the Prez and Vice (pun intended).

How did this happen?  Well, we get the usual explanation.  It was a compromise; the best deal we could get.  If we don’t go along, the President won’t be able to work with Republicans on other matters.

Whoa!  Say what?  When has the President been able to work with Republicans on anything significant?  What makes anyone think this will improve in a few weeks when the GOP majority will become filibuster proof?  Just how stupid and naive are we suppose to be?  Will this be an adequate explanation for the retirees whose pensions will be decimated?   When the power of the Koch Brothers and others like them is used to gain even more control of our political parties, will we view the results and say, “Well, it’s bad, but it was worth it to avoid an ugly argument about the 2014 Budget Bill.”

The Perpetuation of “Too Big To Fail/Jail”

Dodd Frank addressed a problem that confronted us when the Wall Street Banks faced insolvency because of their fraudulent marketing of mortgage based derivatives.  They used depositor money to finance those derivatives.  If they became insolvent, the taxpayers would have to make the depositors whole because of the FDIC insurance program.  That is, the taxpayers would belatedly finance the reckless greed of the Wall Street pirates.

Dodd Frank cured this by requiring that future trading strategies that depend on derivatives and Byzantine schemes involving  sketchy tools like credit-default-swaps, that look like insurance but have no reserves, would have to be conducted by entities separate from FDIC insured deposits, with money other than depositor money.

In other words, the ones who profit from high-risk gambles would have to risk their own money, not FDIC-insured depositor money.

Predictably, this was regarded as a terrible idea by the high-risk gamblers.  They have become addicted to the system of “If I win, I pocket the money.  If I lose, you pay for the loss.”  So, Citigroup, acting for the other pirates,  just wrote a solution to their problem, forwarded it to some elected officials  they owned, who transcribed it into an amendment to the budget bill.  Their solution is part of the bill Obama and Biden have been frantically calling House and Senate members about, begging them to vote “aye”.

Thank God For the Women

Nancy Pelosi was left out of the negotiations that led to this piece of garbage.  She did not join the cheer leaders who whooped it through the House.  But the one who has filled a gaping chasm where the political soul and conscience of the Democratic Party once rested, is Elizabeth Warren.  What a thrill to see a Senator who has not forgotten how to express moral outrage.  And knows how to do it while exhibiting a razor sharp wit and a mind to match.

When she spoke on the floor of the Senate, looked squarely into the camera and addressed Citigroup, the sponsor and author of the Dodd-Frank gut job, and said, “I agree with you.  Dodd-Frank is not perfect.  It failed to break you up into small pieces.”, I just about fell in love again, despite 65 years of marriage.  She is a wonder!

Which Side Are You On?

This episode reminded me of an old union song I taught my daughters to sing when they, and I, were young.  It was written in 1931 by Florence Reese, the wife of a coal miner in Harlan County, Kentucky, during a bitter strike.  The Harlan County Sheriff was J.H. Blair, an enforcer and strike breaker for the mine owners.

One night some of Blair’s thugs stormed into the Reese home, looking for Sam Reese.  He had been tipped off and was not there.   They terrorized his wife Florence and his children but didn’t get Sam.

After they left, Florence, angry and scared, wrote a song on the back of a calendar, expressing her devotion to the union and her contempt for those who failed to support the strike.   Here is a link to Pete Seeger and his banjo, singing Florence’s song:

Whose Side Are you On

While watching CNN and MSNBC about this budget episode, I kept getting madder and madder and I remembered that old song.  So I wrote my own version:

In our US Congress
There are no neutrals there
You either vote your consciences
Or whore for billionaires

[chorus]
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

Obama we’re in danger
The wolves are at our door
We don’t need reasoned argument
We need a two-by-four

[chorus]

Barack Hussein Obama
How dumb can you get?
A shepherd cannot safely try
To make a wolf a pet!

[Chorus]

It’s time to rein in Wall Street
Our country’s not for sale
At ballot box and in the streets
We must fight and prevail.

[Chorus]

Thank God for Betsy Warren
She speaks for us out loud
She does not hedge or compromise
To blend in with the crowd

[Chorus]
No go along to get along,
She hews to moral rules
She tells it straight and tells the truth
She has no time for fools

[Chorus]

I don’t yet know how this drama will end, but I’m not optimistic.

Bob

An Addendum and Some Brief Comments

November 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

Addendum

I have updated yesterday’s post concerning the Keystone Pipeline.  The post had a link to Lou Dubose’s article in the Washington Spectator but, for some reason, the link did have the usual appearance .  So, you probably did not realize it was a link.  I have updated the post to include a link to the article and have designated it as a link.  Lou’s article is not lengthy but it includes some information I did not include in my post.

Also, the Curmudgeon in Wisconsin, a friend and follower of this blog, commented on my post and included a link to a story in the Minnesota Star Tribune describing the current status of the Public Utilities Commission proceeding concerning Enbridge’s application for a permit to lay its new pipeline across the State.  Here is a link to that story:

http://www.startribune.com/business/280528652.htm

Also, in the penultimate paragraph of my “Playpen Politics” post, I quoted a panelist on a TV show who said that the Keystone Pipeline would create “about 30,000” construction jobs.  I commented they would be temporary jobs.  After further research, I discovered that the 30,000 figure is probably inflated.  I found an article in Forbes magazine entitled, “Pipe Dreams:  How Many Jobs Will Be Created by the XL Pipeline?”.  The article cites various theories proposed by different analysts.  They vary widely but, considered as a whole, they conclude that the number of construction jobs may be as few as 13,000.   Here is a link to the Forbes article:  Forbes.

A Brief Comment

I have some concern about the news that Harry Reid has “rewarded” Senator Elizabeth Warren with a position on a leadership committee charged with crafting policy ideas for Democratic Party members of the Senate.

I hope, of course, that his decision represents a recognition that Senate Democrats need to focus attention away from pleasing their corporate campaign campaign contributors and toward the economic inequality that is beggaring the American working class.  If that is the objective, Senator Warren is an obvious choice because she has been like a laser pointing at that injustice.

My fear is that, on the contrary, Reid’s decision is more like a way of managing Senator Warren so that she does not unduly disturb the cozy relationship between Senate Democrats and their financial  supporters.

This latter motivation was once memorably expressed by President Lyndon Johnson, in an example of his genteel Texas style.  He was talking about his reluctance to fire J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI.  He wanted to fire him but decided not to.  He explained his reluctance, ”Well, it’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in.” [Quoted by Davide Halberstam in a long article entitled “The Vantage Point” reviewing books about LBJ] [NY Times.  October 31, 1971]

A Sunday Afternoon Comment

November 9, 2014 § 5 Comments

On October 20th I woke up and discovered that my eyesight had malfunctioned and, as a result, everything I looked at was a double image, one atop the other.  When this problem persisted and my effort to ignore it proved to be too taxing, I finally went to a neighborhood hospital center.  After a CTscan, an MRI, an EKG and a thorough series of blood tests,  the message from this premier medical center was: ” Good news!  You don’t have diabetes; you didn’t have a stroke; one of your cranial nerves has malfunctioned; we don’t know why, but it will probably correct itself and your eyes will return to default condition sometime in a few weeks.  Put a patch on one eye and you’ll be fine.  And, if that doesn’t happen, we’ll fit you with a pair of glasses with an embedded prism that will correct the problem.”

So, now I have a clue about how pirates feel, except I don’t have a peg-leg and a parrot.

This mishap has curtailed my reading and my attention to this blog.  But, I do have one comment on last Tuesday’s “Republican Sweep” and the “Top to Bottom Assessment” that the Democratic Party has now launched.

I find myself agreeing with Bruce Bartlett, a conservative writer and former adviser to HW Bush and Ronnie Reagan.  He recently wrote an article in American Conservative magazine entitled, “Obama Is A Republican”.   He supported Obama in 2008, because he was furious at GW Bush because of GW’s fiscal policies.  In his article, he cites chapter and verse to explain his contention that Obama forgot his Saul Alinsky roots and governed like a moderate Republican.  Here is a link:  Bartlett

I commend the article to you.  Bartlett is a right-wing true believer in some economic policy fairy dust, but he has produced a thoughtful reminder of some of Obama’s policies.

I mention this article now because I think it offers a clue about why the Democratic Party voters did not vote last Tuesday.  Maybe it was because they were no longer convinced that Barack Obama’s policies promised the kind of relief and change they needed.  Their wage levels were dwindling.  The jobs they lost were not being replaced with work that enabled them to support a family.  They needed policies that targeted the excessive greed of the rentier class.  They were looking for Elizabeth Warren and what they were offered was a now-fully-disclosed Barack Obama and the future prospect of Hillary Clinton.  They didn’t perceive Obama as an enemy.  What they perceived was indifference, not in his rhetoric, but in his actions.

I don’t think those voters were thrilled by speeches about women’s reproductive rights and gay marriage.  There were three groups of potential supporters for Democratic Party candidates:  Chicanos who want legalization and a path to citizenship; young people who want relief from oppressive debt and prospects for decent jobs; and working class wage earners who wante decently paid jobs.  I didn’t see or hear many campaign speeches talking about those issues.

I hope the post election assessment convinces the Democrats to forget about “reaching across the aisle” and foreswearing “class warfare” and “populism”.  We live in divided country.  There are two sides.  When the Republican side talks about “compromise” and “getting things done”, they mean “agree with us”.  The voters are not sophisticated.  They do not understand how the nuts and bolts of government work.  But they do understand discussions of their fears and their desperation.  If we want to preserve our democracy, we better begin to offer some solutions even if the solutions don’t please the tiny fraction of our population that furnishes most of the money that corrupts our politics.

I have zero confidence that my proposal will even be discussed at the high-level strategy sessions that are probably now occurring.  The hallmark of political expertise in America is recognition that political policies that displease those who furnish the money in political campaigns are “tilting at windmills’ style notions and Sancho Panza is not a viable political mentor.

I have mentioned Dan Carlin before in posts on this blog.  He has a channel called “Common Sense”, in which he discusses various current issues.  In a recent one, he discussed what he perceives as a real threat to our democracy:  Pent up rage and frustration in response to government’s indifference to the economic problems facing working class Americans.  If you would like to hear his reasoning on this subject, here is a link:  Common Sense

This link takes you to the home page of his blog.  Scroll down and click on “The Specter of Dissent”.

Elizabeth Warren

September 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

I don’t have anything to add to this.  I just watched Elizabeth Warren talking to Bill Moyers.

It is inspiring and her obvious authenticity and sincerity are so different from the usual talking points presentations of Washington politicians, carefully vetted and sanitized, that it broke through my political filters.

I hope you will watch the program and then look on the left side of the screen to find a list of other videos.  Try the one labeled “Web Extra . . . .”

Here is the link:  Elizabeth Warren

Bob

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