Sunday, July 31, 2011

Barry Goldwater would appear liberal on today’s political spectrum

Image courtesy of

The latest tentative debt deal, substantively shaped by Tea Party demands, confirms the premise of a national rightward shift offered by the Christian Science Monitor’s Liz Marlantes – her opinion piece is a must-read for those who care about the direction our nation is taking:

For a generation, he has been considered a model of conservatism in Washington – at moments, perhaps, the model. Over the course of his 34-year career, US Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah has clashed with Big Labor. He has championed right-wing judicial nominees. He has consistently opposed federal gun control measures and backed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He has sponsored or cosponsored a balanced budget amendment – which would require Congress to spend no more than it collects in revenues – no fewer than 17 times. In 2010, the American Conservative Union gave him a perfect 100 ranking.

Yet today Mr. Hatch faces formidable opposition – for not being conservative enough. Activists on the right are attacking him for his vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the financial-market bailout initiative, and his willingness to work with Democrats like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. They complain that he has voted to raise the debt ceiling 16 times. It's looking increasingly as if Hatch will face a Republican primary challenger next year – and could very well lose.

In some respects, this is simply a case of a senator who's spent more than three decades in Washington butting up against a public mood that is intensely antiestablishment and – particularly on the right – opposed to compromise. Like most longtime public servants, Hatch has cast a number of difficult votes over the years, and he has at times reached across the aisle in order to get things done.

But Hatch's troubles also say something about the way in which the nation's political needle has been moving. Over the past four decades – and more sharply over just the past few years – the geopolitical center of America has shifted rightward. It hasn't happened on all fronts – certainly, there are some areas where the country has clearly moved to the left, such as views on gay rights. But on a host of other issues, from guns to the role of government, the center of debate has edged closer to the conservative position, while activists on the right have moved even further out on the political spectrum.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The worst bet in all of politics

Gale  Russell Chaddock at the Christian Science Monitor offers a lucid analysis of where Congress is now with debt ceiling negotiations, and it’s not pretty.

After a night of high drama on Capitol Hill, a legislative solution to the debt crisis now shifts to the Senate, where leaders of both parties must now try to guess what will pass in the House – perhaps the worst bet in all of politics.

The situation is the result of strategic mistakes in the buildup to Friday's debt-ceiling votes, which produced an outcome exactly the opposite of what GOP leaders had hoped. Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio had hoped to win support from House Democrats this week by scaling back the House's earlier “cut, cap, and balance” bill. With Democratic support in the House, the bill would have had a credible shot in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Instead, his proposal alienated not only House Democrats but also the president and GOP conservatives. After an aborted attempt to hold a vote Thursday, an amended bill did at last pass the House Friday, 218 to 210, but without a single Democratic vote and without 22 Republican defectors. Later Friday, it failed in the Senate, which voted to table Mr. Boehner's bill, 59 to 41, effectively derailing it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

“The poor are shunned but the rich have many friends”

Jim Wallis, Christian leader for social change

You have to credit Jim Wallis for his efforts to remind our political leaders - especially those on the right who boast that ours is a Christian nation - that according to biblical teachings, God is on the side of the poor. 

Wallis goes so far as to suggest that God is watching the debt limit debate that of late has boiled down to whether to close tax loopholes for the rich or axe programs to aid the poor.

Are you listening America?

The markets are watching, the Republicans are watching, the Democrats are watching, the media are watching, the pollsters and pundits are watching. The public is watching and is disgusted with Washington, D.C.

When it comes to the bitter and ultra-partisan battles over the budget, the deficit, and the fast-approaching deadline for America to avoid defaulting on its financial commitments, the whole nation and even the world is watching.

But God is watching too.

Others are watching to see how their self-interests will benefit in the final deal. Or they are watching to see who's up and who's down, who will get the political win, and whose election chances will be better afterward.

Forty-eight hours after President Obama mentioned corporate jet tax deductions, and suggested they might not be as important as scholarships for low-income kids going to college for the first time, a headline appeared in the New York Times reading, "Industry Set for Fight to Keep Corporate Jet Tax Breaks." Wow. That was pretty fast. The ones who will win the current battle over the budget and deficit are the ones who are watching. As the book of Proverbs teaches, the poor are shunned, but the rich have many friends.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A 93-year-old blogger speaks out at the Huffington Post

Yesterday afternoon, I visited Cups & Scoops, the coffee shop adjacent to the branch library in Woodbury. My memoir writers group meets monthly in a conference room there and I often stop by to check out a book and enjoy a cup of coffee. 

Over time, I’ve become acquainted with the two women behind the counter. The younger one, the mother of several children, is also a writer. In her spare time, she’s working on a historical novel, and she’s a member of a writers group that recently spun off from a class in writing at the Loft.

I’ve been using a cane lately and after paying my bill, I  was trying to figure out how to manage everything with only my left hand free when my writer friend came around to the other side of the counter and carried my coffee and chocolate chip muffin to my favorite table.

Despite severe arthritis in both knees, I’d long resisted using a cane as it seemed, well, so suggestive of old age. But almost immediately I noticed a considerable gain in mobility, and I’ve been gratified by the kindness and thoughtfulness of people I encounter when I’m out in public. After enjoying my coffee and reading for awhile yesterday, I exited the library through the front entrance; a gentleman I’d never met before hastened to hold the heavy doors open for me.

With many pleasant experiences like the above in mind, I read with intense interest this morning “Why our society is ageist,” by 93-year-old Rhoda P. Curtis. (Rhoda is the author of "Rhoda: Her First Ninety Years" and "After Ninety: What". )

Regardless of your age, you owe it to yourself to read Rhoda’s insightful and uplifting article published at the Huffington Post:

My young friend, Lila, who just celebrated her 57th birthday, told me that her mother, Elizabeth, was reluctant to see her friends anymore because, as Lila said, "She wanted them to remember her as she used to be."

How sad. Elizabeth is only 83, and is quite healthy by my standards. I will be 94 in February, 2012; I can't walk more than one block without running out of air, and I take lots of pain killers to ease arthritical pain. When I look in the mirror in the morning, I see an old face, but one with a vibrant look of curiosity in the eyes. With the help of a caregiver, I take a hot shower every morning and gratefully accept my caregiver's help in putting on my clothes, especially my stretch stockings. I do some exercises recommended by my physical therapist.

Whenever the pain lets up, we go to the local Y and I walk in the water, use an underwater bicycle and soak in the spa. That's the physical routine. Since I'm a writer, and a retired teacher, I've signed up for two play writing groups and I go to plays and concerts. I discuss politics vigorously with other activist friends. Once in a while I cook for friends, for my son and his wife. My grandchildren are off doing their thing; I like my life!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Washington’s loss is Harvard’s gain as Elizabeth Warren resumes her teaching position

Photo credits:

It’s Washington’s loss that Elizabeth Warren is resuming her teaching position at Harvard. Her high ethical standards, personal integrity, courageous leadership, and in-depth grasp of economic issues, well demonstrated in her creation of the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau, evidently made her a target of the GOP and Wall Street. 

Warren’s unpopular status with the alliance that brought about the great recession naturally compelled the Obama Administration to throw her under the bus instead of nominating her as director of the agency she founded. 

However, Warren’s admirers in the political arena are urging her to run for the Mass. senate seat in opposition to Republican Scott Brown in 2012.

Joseph Williams at Politico reports:

Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor credited with creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — and who drew constant flak from congressional Republicans and Wall Street for doing it — is heading back to Cambridge.

Warren, who served both as a White House adviser and adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on the CPFB, will return to her teaching job at Harvard, the Treasury Department said Tuesday.It said that Raj Date will replace her as an adviser to Geithner, effective August 1.

The move comes a year after President Barack Obama tapped Warren to oversee the creation of a government agency established by Congress to guard consumers against financial products like subprime loans and high-interest credit cards.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Obama’s strategy for negotiating with the Repubs: start near the 50-yard line and then move closer to their position

President Barack Obama at a meeting with his advisers in the Oval Office, June 8, 2011, Souza/White House   

Thanks to Paul Krugman in his item titled President Pushover for linking to Elizabeth Drew’s just published article in the NY Review of Books. Drew offers a blunt assessment of Barack Obama’s strategy for negotiating with Republicans:

Someday people will look back and wonder, What were they thinking? Why, in the midst of a stalled recovery, with the economy fragile and job creation slowing to a trickle, did the nation’s leaders decide that the thing to do—in order to raise the debt limit, normally a routine matter—was to spend less money, making job creation all the more difficult? Many experts on the economy believe that the President has it backward: that focusing on growth and jobs is more urgent in the near term than cutting the deficit, even if such expenditures require borrowing. But that would go against Obama’s new self-portrait as a fiscally responsible centrist.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Debating the term “entitlement” with NewsHour Economics correspondent Paul Solmon

PBS NewsHour Economics correspondent Paul Solmon.

Finally, someone else in the media is protesting the use of the word "entitlements" for Social Security and Medicare. Art Pronin at TaylorMarsh writes:

The term “entitlement” is one of late I have begun using and should not. And you should not. Obama calls SS, Medicare and Medicaid “entitlements,” but this a term no Democrat should use. Why?:
“Entitlement” is a misleading word because it masks the ugly reality of reducing medical aid for the poor, the disabled and anyone over 65 as well as cutting Social Security. Calling such programs entitlements is much more comfortable than describing them as what they are–Medicare, Social Security and money for good schools, unemployment insurance, medical research and public works construction that would put many thousands to work.
It’s also a Republican word. It implies that those receiving government aid have a sense of entitlement, that they’re getting something for nothing. 

Well, Art, entitlement may be a Republican word, but it’s been a popular one in recent months among our faux liberal pundits at major online news sources and the self-righteous PBS NewsHour crew. Last February, I complained to the PBS ombudsman regarding the repeated use of the term by NewsHour correspondents to describe the self-funded Social Security and Medicare programs. As a result, NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solmon and I exchanged emails on the issue, and despite our disagreement, I do appreciate the courtesy, time, and patience demonstrated by Solmon throughout our debate.

Solmon replied to my initial complaint as follows:

Dear Ms. Bergman,

As a NewsHour "regular" for a quarter century now who has covered "government entitlements" the whole time, I've been asked to respond to your complaint to the PBS Ombudsman. The plain fact is, "entitlement" implied a legal RIGHT to a benefit for more than a century, long before it acquired any "derogatory" tinge whatsoever. Indeed, "entitlement" was a term meant to cement that right, not stigmatize it, as MIT political scientist Michael Wallerstein noted in an article in 1978.

 Even today, the term "entitlement" is generally defined as "a right granted by law or contract" ( or "right to benefits" (Merriam Webster). Princeton's wordnetweb lists 14 definitions from different web sources, of which 12 carry this meaning. Two suggest "privilege," although even they do not mention a pejorative connotation. In Merriam Webster, this is the third of three definitions: "a belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges."

Paul Solmon
To which I replied:

Dear Mr. Solman,

I appreciate very much the great lengths you went to in order to prove that NewsHour regulars mean no disrespect to America's seniors in their use of the word 'entitlement.'

And I suppose you would also defend the punditry back in 08 who accused Hillary Clinton of feeling 'entitled' to be the next president - always said, of course, with contempt.

I would argue that words acquire different meanings over the years and 'entitlement' has definitely acquired negative connotations. I was startled the other night when the NewsHour's Gwen Ifill repeatedly badgered Jacob Lew, director of the United States Office of Management and Budget, in an attempt to provoke him into explaining why the Obama Administration’s budget didn’t address those 'entitlement' programs. Ifill repeated the word 'entitlement,' at least four consecutive times until Lew finally explained to her the Administration’s rationale for dealing with the issue. I'm sure there's a video of the interview somewhere - check it out.

I came away suspecting that NewsHour regulars are determined to cut Social Security and Medicare to defend their own 'entitlement' to government funding.


Virginia Bergman

Finally Solmon rather grudgingly acknowledges that “entitlements” may have acquired negative overtones in recent years:

Dear Ms. Bergman,

You are, I can't resist acknowledging, entitled to your opinion. I simply submit that you're wrong when you impute derogation of social security to me and my colleagues on the basis of a word all of us have long used to describe it, in my case for three decades or more.

I understand that what you think you hear and what we consciously mean don't jibe. In responding, I hoped to reassure you that your fears were unwarranted. My failure notwithstanding, your persistence is instructive: 'entitlements' seems to have acquired an overtone of which I was unaware. To my considerable surprise, I was told the same about 'homosexual' just last week. It's now a pejorative, I was told. If confirmed, the word will leave my casual vocabulary, as has the 'Negro' and 'colored people' of my youth, 'Indians,' 'patsy' and 'hooligan' (anti-Irish) and who knows how many more. As may 'entitlement' with regard to retirement benefits, if the meaning has widely morphed. But if I do so it will be because I can't know what's in the heads of others until they tell me, any more than anyone can know what's in my head -- until I tell them.

As for economic motivations, both I and my wife are seniors, counting on social security and Medicare.


Paul Solman

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A turning point in the Obama presidency?

In the aftermath of John Boehner’s decision to put the nation’s economy at further risk with his refusal to negotiate any further with President Obama, Virginia smacks a 2008 Democratic party leader in the head and exclaims, “You could’ve had a Clinton!”

In the meantime, Howard Kurtz at the Daily Beast is speculating that the hope and change artist from 08 maybe, just maybe, has had enough:

As debt talks hit the skids yet again, the Great Compromiser seemed to finally lose his cool—has he reached his breaking point?

There was a moment—after he appealed for reason, blamed the Republicans, recited the numbers, invoked Ronald Reagan—that President Obama seemed filled with fervor.
He was not going to be party to “driving a bunch of poor kids off the Medicaid rolls,” or penalizing the “working stiffs out there,” the people who “don’t have lobbyists.”

These are standard Democratic talking points, to be sure, but when you strip everything else away, when you try to locate the remnants of the audacity of hope, this is why Obama thinks he ran for president.

As he announced the collapse of the debt negotiations Friday evening after House Speaker John Boehner pulled the plug, Obama appeared to offer an answer to those, many of them in his own party, who wonder: Does he have a breaking point?

To some diehard Democrats, Obama always seems willing to meet the opposition more than halfway in the service of getting a deal done. He put their sacred programs, Medicare and Social Security, on the table without securing a Republican commitment to raise a dollar in taxes. His own partisans weren’t clear whether he had a line in the sand that he would refuse to cross.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Rep. Keith Ellison (D. Minn.) reports from Washington on the debt limit debate

Photo from Keith's website

A letter in my inbox this morning from Rep. Keith Ellison describing the ongoing debt limit debate in Washington featuring extremist Republican attempts to slash Social Security and Medicare:

Virginia --

I’ve never seen anything like this.

House Republicans are so desperate to placate the Tea Party fringe and right-wing radio talkers like Rush Limbaugh that they keep walking away from the negotiating table, putting America on the brink of a catastrophic default on our debt.

Their demands? Cut benefits to Social Security and Medicare but protect tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, and Big Oil companies.

As a Progressive Member of Congress, let me be clear: we will not support benefit cuts to Social Security or Medicare while letting Big Oil and the ultra-wealthy keep their tax cuts. No way, no how.

Contribute $3 or more today to help us send a $100,000 message to Tea Party Republicans: Grassroots Democrats will fight any plan that slashes Social Security and Medicare while letting billionaires keep their tax cuts.

With time running out, we most hold House Republicans accountable for their reckless priorities. Your dollars will be used immediately to take the fight to Tea Party Republicans in their home districts.

As we've seen in poll after poll after poll, voters will not stand for deep cuts in the benefits that seniors have earned. We need your support to organize, mobilize, and expose Republicans' radical agenda before it’s too late.

Please chip in today to help us save Social Security and Medicare.

Rep. Keith Ellison
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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Where in the Bible are we instructed to take from the poor and give to the rich?

Image courtesy of

During the severe weather watch in the Twin Cities the other day, I gathered with my neighbors in the lobby of my “55 or better” seniors apartment building. While the storm outside spent its fury, our conversation turned to the debate raging in Washington over how to fix the budget deficit that has boiled down to a choice between shredding the safety net for those most in need, or asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share of taxes.

The gathering in the lobby evoked my preacher side, and I noted that conservatives insist on describing America as a “Christian nation.” At that, my audience burst out in laughter. When the noise subsided, I wondered aloud if our self-righteous conservatives had even read the teachings of Jesus. Warming to my topic, I asked: “Where in the Bible are we instructed to take from the poor and give to the rich?”

As we all know, Social Security and Medicare have long been prime targets for conservative wrath and President Obama, the star appeaser in the Democratic Party, has of late put those Democratic “sacred cows” on the bargaining table.

Thus, today’s deciders – the Obama Administration and the Republican Right – continue to spread their lies about the solvency of Social Security and Medicare. And as we all know, a media that includes publicly funded PBS, has eagerly spread the toxic spillage spewing from the enemies of any and all safety nets for the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed, and the working poor.

Rarely, has a media representative bothered to speak the truth about the solvency or lack thereof of Social Security, but out in the blogosphere one does occasionally come across a post such as the recent one by Nancy Altman and Mark Scarberry at Huffpo titled “Disentangling Social Security from the debt ceiling.”

In light of the fast and loose misrepresentation of the facts on Social Security and Medicare throughout the budget deficit debate, the truth is startling:

Social Security appears to be a key bargaining chip in the struggle over the debt limit. President Obama may have played smart politics when he threatened that, if the debt limit is not raised, Social Security checks might not go out on time. But he was needlessly scaring the program's fifty-five million beneficiaries, the vast majority of whom are highly dependent on each month's Social Security check. So was Speaker John Boehner who, in a recent interview, also spoke of the possible interruption of benefits.

The truth is that checks can go out, in their full amount, without adding a penny to the federal government's total debt. They can be paid without subtracting more than a tiny fraction of a percent -- if anything -- from the funds currently being used for other government purposes -- a reduction so small that it could be considered a rounding error.
Three key facts make this true. First, Social Security has its own dedicated income stream for payment of benefits and associated administrative costs. Second, in addition to its current income, Social Security has an accumulated reserve of $2.7 trillion in its trust funds. That reserve is invested, as Congress has always required, in what has been the safest investment on Earth -- treasury bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. And third, the $2.7 trillion in treasury bonds held in the trust funds is included in the $14.3 trillion total debt that has reached the statutory limit. 

If the debt limit is not raised, Social Security's Board of Trustees could and should exercise its right to redeem (cash in) as many of Social Security's bonds as needed to pay benefits. Every dollar of principal (though not accrued interest) that the federal government would be required to pay to redeem the bonds would reduce the total debt subject to the $14.3 trillion limit. That would make room under the debt ceiling and allow the government to borrow an additional dollar from the public to replace every dollar of principal paid by the government.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Elizabeth Warren is ready to name and shame?!

Elizabeth Warren testifies.

Good for Elizabeth Warren; she’s got plenty of adversaries who deserve to be named and shamed. Nancy Scola at the Atlantic writes:

Elizabeth Warren is ready to name and shame. After 10 long months spent crafting a brand-new federal agency in her image and likeness, years before that willing the institution into statutory existence, only to be passed over on Sunday in favor of Richard Cordray just as the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is moving out of beta, Warren, on a press call late yesterday afternoon, was eager to share her clarity on who's to blame for the especially precarious position the new federal-friend-to-the-American-consumer now finds itself in.

Those enemies of Warren, of the CFPB? Republicans, first and foremost, namely Senate Banking ranking member Richard Shelby (R-AL) and the forty three other Republican senators who signed a letter to Obama in May raising heck over the "unfettered authority" the CFPB had supposedly been granted by the Dodd-Frank Act, passed in the wake of the mortgage meltdown. That's no surprise. But Warren's also annoyed with the press for buying the GOP's story that it's simply a more efficient consumer advocate they're eager for, when really what Republicans want is for the CFPB to die an early death. She also blames her own political naiveté. She's been "too busy busting [her] tail" in starting an agency, she says, and didn't pay all that much attention to those inside the Beltway sharpening their knives. Some heard those noises over at 1600 Pennsylvania. Perhaps she's heard the chatter that Obama was more sold in public than in private on her eventual appointment as CFPB's first-ever director. But Warren gives Obama and fellow Democrats a pass.

Read more:

Monday, July 18, 2011

The game of chicken between the Republicans and Obama

Photo credits: Public Domain

In a recent post titled “The End Game: Saving Obama from Himself,” Robert Kuttner, co-founder and co-editor of the American Prospect, offers some disturbing insights into the game of chicken being played out over the budget deficit between the Republicans and President Obama. 

The most likely losers in this game? You guessed it, the unemployed, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.

Kuttner writes:

As the debt doomsday of August 2 draws closer, what sort of end-game can we imagine? The worst scenario would be for an outbreak of common sense and self-interest to overtake the extremism of the House Republican caucus. If the Republicans were to accept Obama's proffered deal, they would weaken Social Security and Medicare -- and put the Democrats' fingerprints on the deed -- depriving Democrats of their traditional defense of America's best loved social programs. They would also get a ten-year deficit-reduction agreement that is mostly program cuts. And they would get an austerity package that guarantees high unemployment as Obama heads into a difficult re-election. And a Democratic president is offering this deal!

The Republicans would also get to savor the spectacle of a badly divided Democratic Party, as the White House twists arms of unwilling House and Senate Democrats to vote for a right-wing package.

It's quite a drama. Who will save us from a perverse approach to deficit reduction that is bad economics and worse politics -- the unreality of the Republicans, or the principled resistance of rank and file Democrats?

Obama and his advisers, weirdly, believe that his stance as "the only grownup in the room" who forces his own party to abandon its core principles for the sake of an austerity program will somehow win the gratitude of voters struggling with declining incomes and rising joblessness.

The unemployment may be stuck near ten percent, but good old Obama brokered a deal to balance the budget in 2021. So re-elect this man.

On which planet is this?

Read more:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Protecting our children from abduction or other heinous crimes

Photo credit: public domain

Patricia Garrison’s post at the New Agenda is in response to the murder of a child who got lost and asked a strange man for help:

The horrifying murder of an 8-year old boy in a protective Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn has sent parents in the tri-state area reeling.  Allowed to walk home from a nearby day camp for the first time, Leiby Kletzky got lost.  He asked a man for help – a man that looked like most of the other men in his neighborhood.

 Leiby never made it home.  The police found his butchered remains in the refrigerator of the alleged murderer.  The community’s grief and disbelief have spread to all of us that live and work in the region, forcing us to once again question the best ways to safeguard our kids. 

Arguing that teaching our children not to speak to strangers is unrealistic, Garrison urges parents to teach children when they are in need of help to ask a woman because statistically men are the most likely to commit crimes:

Despite research showing increases in female crime, the fact is that women are a small percentage of the criminal class.  According to statistics, between 95% and 99% of child molesters are male and more than 85% of all murders are committed by men. Virtually all serial killers are male, and males represent close to 90% of all people in US prisons.  For the same reasons I prefer female baby-sitters, there is far less risk of danger from a woman.

Garrison makes some good points, and at the same time, it reminds me of an incident I encountered while shopping at Target the other day. As I was walking down the aisle, I saw a little girl standing alone, twisting and turning, obviously bored and uncomfortable, while her mother, several yards away, chatted on her cell phone. The little girl stopped me, and we visited for a few minutes. She told me her name was Marcy, and she was five years old.

When I told her I had to go, she said, “No! You stay here and talk!”

I relented and stayed with her until her mother finally got off the phone and took her by the hand and led her away.

When I shared this experience with a friend, she immediately replied, “Marcy could easily have been abducted!”

At a minimum, the mother in this scenario was guilty of child neglect, and she certainly was putting Marcy’s life at risk.

I mention the incident here as a wake up call to parents or others who have children in tow in public places: those children deserve your full attention and protection, so get off the phone and take care of them. Who knows? You just might enjoy their company. I found Marcy to be a delightful little girl!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Washington declares war on the poor

Poor mother and children during the Great Depression, photo courtesy of

The Right likes to claim that America is a Christian nation, a convenient way to bolster its prejudices against Muslims and other faith traditions. However, this segment of the electorate conveniently forgets the teachings of Jesus, e.g., “love your neighbor as yourself,” when it comes to setting policy for funding programs to assist the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.

When I graduated from a progressive seminary in 1990, a friend gave me a year’s subscription to Sojourner’s Magazine. That’s when I first learned of Jim Wallis, the editor of Sojourner’s who valiantly leads evangelical Christians down the path of social justice.

Speaking of which, Wallis and many pastors with whom he communicates, are now protesting the so-called deficit reduction debate that’s headed toward a war on the poor. Wallis points out that sadly both the Left and the Right are collaborating today in their attacks on the safety net for those in need while seeking to preserve the privileged status of the wealthy.

Wallis writes:

The way you think and feel about the world is shaped by what you see when you get out of bed in the morning. I remember hearing this from civil rights activists. It simply means that perspective is hugely determined by place, context, and vantage point. This is profoundly true for me and most of the people I've ever met. You see the world from the place you live.

Part of the problem in the current budget impasse in Washington, D.C. is the perspectives of the politicians in the debate. Every morning they see and hear each other; the gladiator ring of national politics; the Washington media; their donors; their ideological base; and their latest poll ratings. Sure enough, the perspective that dominates politicians of both parties on the budget is who's up and who's down; whose power is growing or diminishing; whose constituents and donors are better organized and get their interests in front of the lawmakers; what the pollsters say; and how the end result of the debate will impact electoral gains. This perspective also dominates the news coverage.

So we at Sojourners thought there needed to be another perspective in this debate, and that the nation needed other voices. We need to hear from people who see and hear something different from politicians when they get up in the morning -- real people who are struggling, some of whom are poor, families, children, and the elderly, and maybe people whose job forces them to have to read the Bible.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Minnesota and Wisconsin: sister states in political turmoil

Minnesota and Wisconsin both have a history of good, progressive governance that goes back for decades. And both states are legendary for their clean air and water, beautiful lakes and rivers, productive farms, and cities that work.

Minnesotans remember outstanding leaders like Democrats Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey, and moderate Republican Arne Carlson. But in recent years, we’ve struggled under conservative Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty who served prior to Mark Dayton’s election last November. Now a Republican majority in congress has chosen to shut down the state rather than ask the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes.

Our sister state of Wisconsin has a history of bipartisan progressive politics. From Wikipedia:

The early 20th century was also notable for the emergence of progressive politics championed by Robert M. La Follette. Between 1901 and 1914, Progressive Republicans in Wisconsin created the nation's first comprehensive statewide primary election system,[28] the first effective workplace injury compensation law,[29] and the first state income tax,[30] making taxation proportional to actual earnings. The progressive Wisconsin Idea also promoted the statewide expansion of the University of Wisconsin through the UW-Extension system at this time.[31] Later, UW economics professors John R. Commons and Harold Groves helped Wisconsin create the first unemployment compensation program in the United States in 1932.

Today, however, we’re hearing about Wisconsin’s summer of recall elections for state senators as reported by Monica Davey in the NY Times:

On both sides, those picked for recall mainly matched two criteria: they had served at least a year, as the state’s recall rules require, and their districts were viewed by some to be vulnerable.

Those who have gathered thousands of signatures to remove six Republicans object to the lawmakers’ support of a law that strips away collective bargaining rights for public workers and say these senators have, more broadly, supported a series of conservative, budget-cutting policies pushed through by Gov. Scott Walker.

Those who have gathered thousands of signatures to remove three Democrats say that those senators violated their responsibilities by fleeing the state this year in an effort (ultimately unsuccessful) to block the collective bargaining bill and that they are slowing the state’s progress by opposing much of Mr. Walker’s agenda.

So it goes in the sister states of Minnesota and Wisconsin with their proud histories of progressive, ground-breaking leadership that previously served as role models for the rest of the nation.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What do Democrats stand for anyway?

What do  Democrats stand for anyway? That’s the question this lifelong Democrat asked herself in 2008 before re-registering as non-affiliated. Three years into the Obama Administration, Salon’s Joan Walsh raises the issue again in her thoughtful post on the debt ceiling debate:

Is President Obama proving his political genius by floating a plan for a $4 trillion deficit cut deal to lift the debt ceiling, offering entitlement cuts that will enrage parts of his base knowing he'll never face their wrath, because far-right Republicans will never take the deal? It could be. House Speaker John Boehner rejected Obama's "grand bargain" Sunday and Monday, because his members won't consider anything to raise revenue, not even closing loopholes for corporate private jets or a tax giveaway for hedge fund managers. Insiders say this lets Obama look like "the only grownup," the man who was willing to snub key parts of his base for the greater good of the country, while Republicans bowed to their Tea Party and corporate masters. Everyone knows Republicans don't care about the deficit. They've already voted for the budget-busting Ryan plan, whose tax cuts increase the deficit.. This is all about greed masquerading as supply side economics that have been discredited by the experiments of the last 30 years.

I hope Obama's positioning himself as ready for big compromise, secure Republicans will never agree to a deal that raises revenue. But there's no proof either way. The president's willingness to throw Social Security and Medicare into the mix has always worried me, even if it's just political theatre. Every time this president accepts the way Republicans frame fiscal and economic issues, he moves the debate in this country farther to the right.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The status of financial reform: consider the assault on Elizabeth Warren

President Obama signed into law Dodd-Frank, the financial reform package last July. In a Newsweek article today titled The Billion Dollar Bank Heist, Gary Rivlin explains how conservatives are trashing the law’s provisions:

Take what’s been happening with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is the law’s most significant and controversial provision. The agency is set to go live next week, except that Republicans in the Senate have made it clear they won’t confirm anyone to serve as its head unless the agency is radically scaled back. All told, Dodd-Frank has some 300 provisions, and the bulk of them are under attack by a number of foes, from bankers to check-cashing companies to free-market Republicans.

Rivlin goes on to describe the treatment Elizabeth Warren is getting from opponents of Dodd-Frank:
 Or consider the assault on Elizabeth Warren. The Harvard Law School professor first proposed the idea of a consumer-protection agency in 2007 and has since become a lightning rod for conservative anger over financial reform. On Meet the Press, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, cast Warren as an ideologue hellbent on creating an agency that “could be a serious threat to our financial system.

“Why would anyone want to gut the consumer agency before it has had a chance to help a single family?” Warren asked in an email exchange with NEWSWEEK. Warren, of course, knows that the answer to that question lies not just with the big banks that don’t see anything in it for them, but also with the fringe lenders who stand to lose the most in the face of a strong consumer-protection agency. These include check cashers, pawnbrokers, and payday lenders (who make high-interest loans against a person’s next paycheck).
 Warren knows, too, that she has become a piñata in the political arena precisely because the consumer bureau she dreamed up is so popular. If the Republicans can dirty Warren and cast doubts on her creation—and, by proxy, the rest of financial reform—they can potentially strike an even bigger victory: undermining one of the sturdiest planks in the president’s reelection platform.
 Maybe the miracle is that Dodd-Frank passed in the first place. The financial-services sector was hit hard by the economic meltdown, so banks spent less on lobbyists and in campaign contributions, according to the watchdog organizations that monitor outside spending on politics. But by all accounts that slowdown was brief. As soon as reform became a threat in 2009, banks ratcheted up spending again. Luckily, they had plenty of cash on hand—courtesy of the federal bailout.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The real “entitlement” programs

The grand deal forged by our wimpy president and tearful speaker fell through.

The word ‘entitlement’ appears in almost every comment regarding the debt ceiling debate as both Republicans and Democrats use the derogatory term to describe the self-funded Social Security and Medicare programs, which have become their favorite bargaining chips. 

“Entitlement” implies that the safety net for the elderly and disabled is in the same category as food stamps and other welfare benefits.

Never mind all you retirees that you paid hefty payroll taxes to Uncle Sam throughout your working lives to bankroll the so-called Social Security fund.

Yes, we know, our government raided the fund over the last decade or so to pay for our two wars and avoid closing tax loopholes for our most prosperous corporations, which brings me to the most appalling point in this discussion – it’s the wealthiest segment of our population that’s among the “entitled” as they greedily grab low tax rates, Washington bailouts from their own mistakes, exorbitant bonuses for their failed leadership, and other government subsidies.

So what’s behind Speaker Boehner’s reported copout from the grand bargain on the debt limit in which he apparently coerced our wimpy president into selling out Social Security and Medicare in exchange for an insignificant tax increase over the next ten years for the wealthy?

Was it in fact, the speaker's fear of a Tea Party revolt? 

Or was it that the tearful one picked up on his concealed antenna that the time is coming when the millions of Americans who paid into the Social Security fund will realize they’ve been robbed and go on a rampage in 2012 that will make the Tea Party and political leaders of whatever stripe  run for cover? 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Thoughts of Betty Ford offer inspiration in a depressing time in America

Thoughts of the recently deceased Betty Ford are a bright spot in this depressing period in our nation’s history as it becomes increasingly likely in the debt limit discussions that programs that benefit the poor and the elderly will soon be gutted so that the wealthiest Americans – the truly entitled segment of the population – will continue to be subsidized by historically low tax rates.

With all of the wheeling and dealing going on in Washington today we offer a toast to the integrity of the former first lady so well eulogized by Eleanor Clift at the Daily Beast:

Betty Ford was always true to herself, and in politics that’s not easy. Sometimes to the chagrin of her husband, and certainly to his advisers, she had something to say on just about every hot-button issue of her time. The mother of three young adult sons and a spirited teenage daughter, she didn’t flinch when asked about whether they might be experimenting with marijuana, or how she might react if she learned her daughter was having an affair. “Not surprised,” she said.

She was a regular person who just happened to live in the White House, and she didn’t trim her sails to satisfy any political constituency. Conservatives were still a minority in the Republican Party then, and they weren’t fond of Betty Ford. She was pro-choice and pro-gun control, and an eager adoptee of the '70s, donning a mood ring and chatting away as First Mama on a CB radio, which was all the rage then.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Obama and Boehner in sync on a debt limit deal – who knew?

So I sat through the NewsHour this evening and listened to the analysis of David Brooks and Ruth Marcus with Jim Lehrer. 

Discussing the ongoing debt limit negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders, both Brooks and Marcus visibly brightened at the prospect that Obama and Boehner were ready to make a big deal on the debt limit in which Obama would sell out Social Security and Medicare. Brooks even went so far as to happily mention that Obama is “sticking the knife in Pelosi.”

We all knew that, right?

Here’s the transcript of most of the erudite threesome’s remarks on the debt limit:

JIM LEHRER: Why is there -- are the prospects for the biggest deal better than for the medium deal or the little deal? What's happening?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, I'm not sure they're better, but the argument for the bigger deal and the reason that we might see a bigger deal is, bigger isn't just better in this circumstance. It actually might be easier, because you can trade off more different parts and more different constituencies.

And the Republicans -- Boehner, in order to get his Republicans, needs some Social Security cuts. And, so...

JIM LEHRER: And that takes -- the Democrats can get -- they can get some...

RUTH MARCUS: And then Democrats -- and the Democrats need a trillion dollars in tax revenue. And so maybe you can play around and make it look like less than a trillion. And then you whisper to your friends that it is actually a trillion.

It is going to be -- what's going on behind the scenes is absolutely fascinating. The oddest couple around is the president and the speaker. They are completely in synch in wanting to get this done.

DAVID BROOKS: Everyone else...

RUTH MARCUS: Whether they will -- everybody else, not so much.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Everyone else is miserable here.

JIM LEHRER: How do you explain that? What -- what has happened to make Obama and Boehner -- beyond just being golf partners?


DAVID BROOKS: Two things. One, I think they both seriously think the country has a problem, a deficit problem.

JIM LEHRER: OK. They agree that the debt limit, too, is a problem.

DAVID BROOKS: They agree, right.

And, third, incumbents have mutual incentives. The party of the incumbents wants to get reelected. If Obama cuts a deal, he's very likely to get reelected. If Boehner changes the trajectory of spending, he can say, we came to Washington. We did it.

And so, secretly, what's going on here is that Obama is really sticking the knife in Nancy Pelosi, making it unlikely that she's going to get -- get the speakership. And Boehner, if he cuts a deal, is hurting Mitt Romney or whoever the Republican nominee is.

And so the party of the incumbents are sticking together and hurting the party of the outs.


RUTH MARCUS: Do we have time?

JIM LEHRER: ... do you agree?

RUTH MARCUS: I mostly agree.

JIM LEHRER: You mostly agree?

That is as far as we can go. Sorry, Ruth. Good to see you.


RUTH MARCUS: Nice to see you

To read the transcript in its entirety, go here.

Nancy Pelosi defends traditional Democratic values, or not?

There’s a lot of ambiguity in this story from Politico on Nancy Pelosi’s attempts to hold the line against the Obama Administration’s gradual caving to Repubs on sacrificing Social Security and Medicare in order to continue subsidizing the wealthiest Americans who are apparently entitled to huge tax breaks.

As “torn” as she may be, though, Pelosi does at last seem to grasp that Barack Obama, her idol of  2008, the inheritor of Camelot and all, is best described as a chameleon who changes colors to fit whatever context in which he finds himself.

Politico’s Jonathan Allen has the scoop:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is back at the bargaining table — but it’s not yet clear whether she’s willing to make a deal.

Burned by President Barack Obama’s decision to keep her out of negotiations on last year’s tax deal and this spring’s budget bill, sources close to the California Democrat say she is torn between playing deal-maker on a debt limit increase and fully protecting the priorities of Democrats’ liberal base.

On Thursday, in advance of a Friday meeting with the president at the White House, Pelosi lit into Obama’s budget director, Jack Lew, in what is becoming a habit of sending sharp messages through his top aides. Pelosi sought to impress on Lew — and no doubt his bosses at the White House — that House Democrats expect to be consulted more now than on past deals and that the president can’t expect to win passage of a debt limit package without support from House Democrats.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Obama sidesteps Hill Dems to put Medicare and Social Security on the table in deficit debate

This week Katalusis has suffered from a fickle Internet connection that has prevented me from posting since my Fourth of July message suggesting that in light of the stalled deficit debate at the federal level and the shutdown of our state government here in Minn., it’s time for our leaders to grow up.

That’s evidently too much to ask. And today we learned that yes, Obama has caved again and now both Medicare and Social Security are on the table, while our glassy-eyed pundits continue to rave about “entitlements.”

A few media reps like Dan Friedman continue to get the word out. Writing for the National Journal, Friedman reports that Hill Democrats aren’t happy about Obama’s latest sellout of his base:

Before Thursday's White House meeting on the budget, congressional Democrats said they planned to remind President Obama not to leave his party and base behind. The Democrats' testiness followed reports that the White House was proposing to alter Social Security and Medicare as part of a potential debt-ceiling deal with Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in the meeting “expressed concern that we hadn’t been as much in the loop as we would have liked to have been," said a senior Democratic aide who asked not to be identified so he could speak candidly about the friction between the president and Democratic congressional leaders.

That feeling is shared by many Democrats, irked not just by the potential cuts, but by the White House’s failure to float it to Democratic lawmakers before they learned of the proposal through media.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

On this 4th of July weekend: Grow up, America!

June 22 — Governor Dayton makes clear what's at stake for Minnesota in the budget debate: higher education, healthcare, seniors and public safety. Photo from Gov. Dayton’s website.

Let me say at the outset that I continue to have faith in the personal integrity, compassion, and wisdom of Gov. Mark Dayton, someone I’ve had the privilege of meeting personally a couple of times over the years.

At the same time, as a resident of St. Paul, Minn. who will inevitably be affected by the shut down of our state government, I’m not so much angry as I am saddened by watching congressional leaders from both parties behave like opposing teenage gangs.
We Minnesotans are getting hit twice, both at the state and the federal level in these unnecessary, so-called budget crises. On this 4th of July weekend, instead of shooting off fireworks to celebrate our nation’s independence, perhaps we should each stay home, light a candle, and pray that the United States will soon grow up and learn to resolve its problems with intelligence, maturity, and dignity.

But first, take a look at what's going on in Minn.:

Angry Minnesota residents were fuming Friday over the state government shutdown — delaying the issuance of marriage licenses, evicting campers from state parks and furloughing about 23,000 nonessential government employees.

Despite an appointment, Bridget Spaniol of Minneapolis waited 3½ hours at a courthouse for a marriage license Thursday, as the goverment slowed to a crawl. “The whole experience … was terrible,” she told the Minnesota Star Tribune. “I feel sorry for anyone trying to get anything processed through the Minnesota government.”

State parks were also closed, which meant the sudden eviction of the 130 campsites at William O’Brien State Park. Water and electricity was shut off at the camp sites, meaning the campgrounds would be vacated on the eve of the July 4th weekend, typically one of the busiest weekends for state parks.

“This is so unfair,” said 8-year-old camper Ashley Jensen. “We were going to be here for four days and do lots of fun stuff. It’s now all ruined.”

“This is pretty sad, that they’ve ruined so many people’s summer vacations with their families,” said Allen Bjerke, who serves as campground host. “The Legislature is behaving like a bunch of kids.”

One visible sign of the shutdown is that no flags — Minnesota, American, or POW-MIA — were raised over the Capitol on Friday morning as they usually are, reports the AP.