Soak the rich?

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Grumpy2Mouse: What is that all about? How is simply asking the extremely wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes soaking them? How is asking those who have benefited the most from the past 30 years of economic policy to pay up soaking them?

Doesn’t the middle class deserve a break? A chance to share in the wealth of the country they help make great? And what about the poor? Don’t they deserve a break and a chance too?

How ridiculous did the Republicans look sitting there like statues during President Obama’s SOTU speech? They refused to applaud anything that would help the average American. I’m sure that was on orders from the Koch brothers.

Grumpy: Oh, don’t get me started on the Koch brothers. We’ll be here for a month before I finish my rant.

You are absolutely right about tax fairness. The conservative side likes to point out that the wealthy pay the majority of the taxes, but they never talk about whether those at the top are paying proportionally the same as the average middle-income workers pay. In some cases under today’s tax system, many of the wealthiest (I’m looking at you, Mitt) pay less than the doorman at their fancy Park Avenue digs or the mechanics that install their car elevators.

Mouse: I could speak for a month on Willard and his never-seen tax statements. I wonder what he’s hiding? Too many offshore bank accounts?

Grumpy: The Teapublicans didn’t always sit on their hands, though. Remember that moment when President Obama said he didn’t have to campaign for office anymore. Why, I think that brought a standing ovation.

Mouse: That was my favorite part of the SOTU. President Obama could beat the Republicans a third time. What a shame he doesn’t get to try. I bet Republican heads popped with a dry, dusty sound when they once again attempted to disrespect the President and didn’t succeed.

So, Grumpy, what do you think about two years of community college being paid for by the government? How many people currently stuck in low-wage jobs might have a glimmer of hope of improving their lives with a bit of education?

Grumpy:I have a couple of grandchildren who will soon be ready to take advantage of such a program. It will certainly give them a leg up whether they go on to a four-year college or not.

Of course the Teapublicans never saw an Obama idea that they like and they have been grumbling about this one since he first mentioned it before the SOTU. Grumbling is what they seem to do best. And they call me Grumpy! Meh!

Mouse: Teapublicans hate education. They hate to think anyone might be smarter than them. After all, it’s elitist to be educated, don’tcha know? And then of course someone who is educated is less likely to vote Republican. They know the only way they can stay in power is to keep people ignorant of what is happening in the world. Continue reading Soak the Rich?

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The State of the Union and America's Middle Class

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DDIn the final two-year sprint of the Presidency that created the biggest political backlash since Reconstruction, one that reawakened ancient divisions of class and race, the State of the Union Address displayed the latest strategy of President Obama to avoid the traps, schisms and pitfalls in the road forward for his vision; a vision matched with peerless skills: his impeccable timing, his understated demeanor that lulls his opponents to be overconfident and underestimate his options and resolve, his deep knowledge of the power of small steps.

His sixth State of the Union speech unfolded his vision for this generation’s reset of the American Promise.

“The shadow of crisis has passed,” he said. The troops are home, the economy is growing,  America’s jobs and energy production is “booming,” “10 million” uninsured have gained health insurance.

He noted his critics along the way said he was “misguided” and would “crush jobs,” and met him with “fiscal showdowns, government shutdowns, and re-fighting past battles.”

But in his speech, President Obama was clear: the American Promise means giving the middle class a fair share. This is the year of the middle class.

It is clear, by facts and anecdotes, the middle class has suffered more than the rich, having lost 67% of their net family wealth during the 2009 recession, many losing their homes and jobs and income along with their wealth.

“Families need our help,” the President said without misgivings. He detailed several laws and policies to come to their aid. Provide a tax credit for child care. Pass equal pay. Raise the minimum wage. Make two years of community college free and universal. Protect a free and open internet.

In foreign policy, to secure safety for American families, the President turned to the importance of values: “We stand united with people targeted by terrorists.” “Cuba policy was long past its expiration date.” Close Gitmo: “Why keep open a prison terrorists use to recruit?” Continue reading The State of the Union and America’s Middle Class

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Prate of the Union

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freehandA typical State of the Union Address tells us less about a presidency than the other party’s official response to it does. This has been especially true during the Obama years. More crucially, though, it’s an opportunity for the opposition party to try to tell viewers about itself, to trot out one of its best and brightest young up-and-comers to dazzle the camera with a mouthful of startlingly white teeth, to pluck the heartstrings of Ma and Pa Viewer, and to remind us all of that mythical time when the backbone of the economy was 5-cent lemonade stands and the nation’s greatness was embodied by Juicy Fruit and the Marshall Plan. And to try and make the case, with occasional faint praise, that the President is an America-hating disaster.

Bobby Jindal was the first such nine-day wonder thrown into the breach, although he was actually responding to a non-SOTU address before a joint session of Congress, delivered barely a month into Barack Obama’s first term. In and of itself, the choice of Jindal to deliver the response seemed to reflect the flimsy state of GOP political strategizing at the time: Youthful mixed-race President? No problem! We got a young Indian feller right here, and – bonus! – he talks like Forrest Gump. Multi-cultural or what?

Jindal’s uncannily awful performance was so widely panned even by Republicans that, six years on, he has yet to regain “rising star” status in a party still desperately searching for one. Which goes some way toward explaining the GOP’s choice to respond to the first official Obama SOTU the following year, Smilin’ Bob McDonnell. Governor McDonnell was just 11 days into his term and was a Republican matinee idol, reassuringly white, Southern but not too Southern, telegenic in a megachurch preacher kind of way, and articulate without being wonkish. Back in 2010, some in his party envisioned the Oval Office in his future; he was most recently in the headlines a couple of weeks ago after receiving an outrageously lenient prison sentence on 11 counts of corruption.

Things got a little more interesting in 2011, when not one but three Republicans were tapped to try and rebut the SOTU. There was Paul Ryan, an intellectual bantamweight with a fondness for moth-eaten Randian ideas (in other words, the sort of Republican other Republicans actually consider a serious policy guy). There was Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an archconservative Florida Congresswoman and cable news darling, summoned to speak to Hispanics after it finally occurred to the RNC that Hispanics don’t much care for Republicans. And then there was Michele Bachmann. Her “official” response on behalf of the Tea Party Express is the only one anybody remembers, less for its predictable teabagger platitudes than for the fact that she appeared to spend six minutes and 36 seconds speaking to someone standing unseen a couple of feet to the left of the camera.

Republicans got back to basics the following year, sending out Mitch Daniels to deliver an aggressively contrary response that took the President to task for high unemployment and “an unprecedented explosion of spending,” Daniels apparently having missed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, not to mention Medicare Part D. Straight-faced, Daniels assailed the President’s “grand experiment in trickle-down government” and “constant efforts to divide [Americans].” Daniels was soon on the short list for Mitt Romney’s running mate, but – perhaps sensing the coming electoral debacle – he publicly made clear that he had no interest in the position. He left politics the following year to serve as president of Purdue University, and good riddance to him.

2013’s SOTU response, by contrast, was insanely entertaining. As in 2009, Republicans trotted out a highly touted, non-WASP go-getter, Marco Rubio, who obligingly made a bigger fool of himself than Bobby Jindal had. Rubio prated on about the sanctity of life, about immigrants like his parents pursuing the American dream, about “tax-and-spend” Democrats, about the evils of big government, regulation, taxes and debt, about Obamacare, about the President’s supposedly divisive rhetoric, about securing the borders, about the “moral breakdown of our society.” And nobody cared; his misadventures with a water bottle were all anyone talked about the moment Rubio wrapped up his 14-minute-plus English speech and an even longer Spanish one. Actually, his willingness to laugh at himself over the whole thing would be admirable, if he weren’t still milking it for applause two years later. Continue reading Prate of the Union

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Stormy Monday, 1/19/15

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StormyMondayTuesday, the President delivers his sixth State of the Union Address, his first to a Congress controlled entirely by Republicans. He’ll call for tax increases on wealthy Americans and expanded tax credits for the middle class. A splendid time is guaranteed for all, including Democratic Senators Leahy, Durbin, Stabenow and Whitehouse, who, along with Congressmen Peter Welch and Chris Van Hollen, will return from a three-day Cuba junket in time for the President’s speech.

Also in the audience for the SOTU, as the President’s guests, will be people whose letters to the White House were among those selected for his personal reading. Their stories will form part of the his pitch for helping middle class citizens and their families.

Wednesday, the President will expand on his SOTU proposals in a speech at Idaho’s Boise State University.

The same day, the White House hosts the second annual Big Block of Cheese Day, a tradition inspired by beloved fictional President Josiah Bartlet. More info, courtesy of former cast members from The West Wing, is available here.

A 10-year, $757.7 million renovation of the Cannon House Office Building is now underway. Work will be divided into five major phases, with the first devoted to installation of new building systems, among other things. Cheaper and easier than reforming the House itself, I suppose. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 1/19/15

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The Strength of the Union

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DDIn last night’s State of the Union speech, Machiavelli and modern video would both have embraced the hope and pain, and the courage, in the eyes of a mother and wife desperate to save her new family home after working all her life and losing her job; her clap tapped out a determination of her resolute strength. The video framed the misty-eyed look of thankfulness of a mother whose surgery was insured just days before her emergency, and the proud shoulders of a business owner who stood because he raised his employee’s wages. It captured the deer-in-the-headlights group grimace of the Republican Caucus, embarrassed and sullen, when called out for “stale arguments” and 47 votes to repeal health care.

These images deeply touched hearts and souls—and revealed our political divide. Large and small, the pictures were unvarnished snapshots of our republic, its pain and promise.

Among this tangle of images, the President’s words found the ridge line, the high ground on either side of the valleys, that long, undulating strip that unites and traverses both; the difficult terrain that any hiker of ridge lines knows, though politicians often seem to miss its trail markers.

The President’s lofty words weren’t the cause of the applause. The noisy agreement came from his presentation of irrefutable examples and facts and the vision of his ideas—his presentation of the solid record of his successes we so rarely hear from him. His speech connected how policy and politics touch the lives of our neighbors and friends. He triumphantly defied Republicans to show how eliminating “big government” would save the small things that government provides that aid in bringing about success.

The alteration of small and large has led to higher graduation rates, 8 million new jobs, ending war, and moving the country toward self-sufficiency in energy.

The mention of a key three—a barkeep’s son, a factory worker’s daughter, a single mother’s son—offered another set of personal stories to show the length and breath of American opportunity. The inclusion of the barkeep’s son reminded us of the President’s graciousness—and Machiavelli’s axiom. Continue reading The Strength of the Union

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A State of the Union Address Filled with Common Sense

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My first college course in anthropology instilled in me a profound appreciation for best practices. It’s been a personal mission to uncover the best ideas and chart how they work, identifying their structures and functions. One discovery has been that even bad ideas can work well. It sounds strange, but the success of an idea often has nothing to do with its truth or level of insight. Its power and influence has more to do with its context and how it functions with other assumptions and tasks.

We would all prefer strong ideas that work well. Alaska’s Iditarod grips my imagination most winters, more than the State of the Union. The long distance grit of lead dogs Andy, Larry, and Granite guiding teams through 50-50-50s—winds 50 miles an hour, temperatures 50 degrees below, with visibility less than 50 feet—across wilderness and glaciers is a test of endurance rarely seen in politics. And the Iditarod offers equal opportunity. Susan Butcher won three in a row and four out of five between 1986 and 1990, and once had two dogs killed mid-race by a pregnant moose.

Last night’s State of the Union had Speaker Boehner making pregnant moose faces; his uncomfortableness with the President’s proposals was obvious—but was it a bad idea that served, from Boehner’s view, a good intent? Did it function to keep the GOP brand alive, apart from the pockets of craziness where they are winning elections, winning not really based on their platform of budgets (most states have laws that require balanced budgets), but more on hot button issues like immigration and race, or winning in one-party states out west?

The President, often criticized as a poor team player, continued to prove he is an effective leader (Susan Butcher’s dog Granite suffered from the same criticism!) with good ideas.  He has also proven he can outrun the lumbering herds of opponents who have not adapted to the new environment and are using outmoded best practices.

The silent test of last night’s State of the Union was to outflank Ronald Reagan. Even President Obama has described Reagan as someone who reset the arc in America’s politics. Yet we forget the circumstances of that reset. Reagan created the meme that all of the problems of society were created by government excess. But what were the problems?

Women pushing for access to opportunity and self-determination, blacks refusing to be exploited, physically intimidated or discriminated against; massive resistance to corporate interests; food purchased from the bins of co-ops rather than on sale in plastic packages and cans stocked by chains. Reagan realized that the government protected those actions and had played a major part in expanding these rights. He coined the idea that government “created” these problems and caused the disturbing sight of school kids being bused and women deciding about pregnancy, and colleges graduating more critical thinkers who challenged the system and the status quo. The government didn’t reflect the will of the people, the people reflected the will of the now all-powerful government. But without the help of government, the gains of the people probably couldn’t be sustained.

In Reagan’s view, stop government, stop the advance of the people. He couldn’t sell an attack against the people—couldn’t demagogue blacks, women, youth as the problem (which for conservatives, they were!)—so he brilliantly assigned blame to government and used exaggerated stereotypes to knock it down. The welfare queen and other non-existent stories were repeated until the bad idea of government’s bad ideas became the Republican best practice for winning elections. Even Reagan’s ideology of cutting taxes to provide greater wealth to the rich didn’t happen during his administration, but the idea survived and is the basis of Republican policy today.

Despite widespread thinking that liberalism (again a code word for blacks, women and youth, packaged as “growing government”) was dead, Barack Obama somehow made it through and revived it in his first term. No matter; the new GOP plan was to blame his success and go after the old groups with a vengeance. If the stimulus succeeded, blame Obama for its size. If the economy recovered, blame entitlements, loudly arguing it could be even better without them. Turn obstruction into patriotism. Sprinkle the discussion with a little of the sour sickness of race—always heretofore cured by blaming the victim. Continue reading A State of the Union Address Filled with Common Sense

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Dems and GOP to Also Mix at SOTU After-Party

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After a week which has seen a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill in which members of Congress have scrambled to secure the most attractive and prestigious dates for Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, leaders of both parties announced on Monday that the celebration of bipartisanship would continue throughout the rest of the evening — namely extending to the traditional gathering which always follows the more formal festivities, or as it is known among Capitol insiders, “The Kegger”.

At a Monday night joint press conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined forces to emphasize that this year’s parties, normally held separately by senior members of both the Democrats and Republicans at cheap roadside motels in the DC area, would be combined into, “The Kegger to end all Keggers.”  They also provided a word of warning to junior members of both houses regardless of affiliation, with McConnell saying, “So long as you’re cool, you’re welcome.  I think you all know who you are, but just to clarify — if you show up tomorrow night with a freshman whose name is not Marco Rubio, don’t bother trying to get in.”

Ms. Pelosi further added, “Formal invitations shouldn’t be necessary — I think pretty much everybody’s clear on who sits at the best tables in the cafeteria and who hangs out with who, and where, during recesses.”

Mr. Rubio, the popular new freshman senator from Florida, has impressed many of his colleagues with his ability to reach across the aisle, dealing equally well with members of both the Republican and Tea parties.  In what is regarded as a major coup, senior Florida Senator Bill Nelson landed Rubio as his date for the evening. Continue reading Dems and GOP to Also Mix at SOTU After-Party

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