January 2016 Archives

Dear America,

About that corporate cash on hand...

Of the $1.9 trillion that American corporations are hoarding, it seems that Apple has about $60 billion.  The profits Apple has taken on its devices have made that massive bank account possible...along with shipping the jobs making them to China.  The New York Times reported a couple of years ago that, while Apple did save money by shipping those jobs abroad, the total savings came to about $5 per piece of equipment sold by Apple at its dedicated stores by its "geniuses," who further compromise the labor market by working obscene hours for $14 a piece.  Apparently, Apple's marketing--including its marketing to the labor force by which it seems to have convinced a bunch of young people that it is an honor to work at an Apple store and they shouldn't be thinking about how little money they make--is superb, and its former CEO, the conscienceless Steve Jobs, had no problem sacrificing a portion of his country's economy in the form of 30,000 jobs so as to enrich himself  When asked by his president what it would take to bring those jobs back to the United States, Jobs famously said, nothing.  They're not coming back.  But as he was saying that, Apple was padding its balance sheet far beyond what was needed for the security of the company, and even after the economy stabilized, it continued to sit idle, as it does today, when it could be invested in something that might stimulate the economy, like expansion of Apple's manufacturing facilities here.  Meanwhile, companies like GE have declared that their tax liabilities were $0 on account of sheltering profits in foreign subsidiaries' overseas bank accounts and have continued to blackmail states and municipalities in which they are located with complaints about state taxes...moving from state to state and from one sop to another.  In fact, GE has just notified the State of Connecticut that it is leaving, going who knows where for who knows what kind of inducement, which Connecticut will match when it runs out in order to get GE back.

And speaking of taxes, reducing them, for corporations in particular, is the primary domestic goal of the Republican Party, including Paul Ryan specifically, whose fealty to the "Atlas Shrugged" doctrine of his patron thinker, Ayn Rand, is both blind and seemingly mindless of the fact that of course the novel worked out the way Rand's philosophy would have predicted.  It was a novel, as in, work of fiction.  The theory is that if you reduce taxes for business in particular, the money saved by them trickles down in the form of jobs, which pay wages, which get spent and increase tax revenues at least as much as the tax breaks for businesses cost.  But even if that calculus--that tax savings are directly convertible to wages and thus more tax revenue--there is the problem of the first step: inducing businesses to spend that newly available capital.  It devolves to this question that the Democrats should be asking Republicans.  If tax cuts lead to more capital spending, why isn't the capital corporations already have being spent?  With the embarrassment of wealth that American corporations are enjoying, and that they have been enjoying in ever greater amounts as the recession wore the rest of us down, how can we rely on corporations to "do the right thing," so to speak.  

This goes back to an issue I have been raising for some time; with so much to confront the Republicans with, why aren't Democrats confronting them with it.  When The President gave his State of the Union speech, why didn't he say that one of the ways to flatten the egregious economic hills and valleys of our inequitable balance of wealth would be to cut taxes for the working people of the country at the expense of increased taxes for corporations rather than decreased taxes for them.  And then, of course, there is the question of why we need to subsidize the investments of the 1% by allowing them to pay half what the rest of us pay on the returns of their investments as far as marginal rates are concerned.  Those seem like legitimate questions to ask Paul Ryan, for example, and even the press could ask them.  After all, according to conservatives, and Republicans in particular, it is their ox that is always being gored by the press, yet, these hard questions never seem to get asked.  Why isn't Scott Pelley sitting down with Ryan for an interview as he has with President Obama?  Why has "60 Minutes" allowed proponents of the Republican concocted "scandal" that was Benghazi, which has been investigated by five separate congressional commissions without producing an iota of culpability for anything but mistaking for a few days the nature of the murders at the consulate to be part of a protest rather than a naked act of terror, and even in that regard the national reaction to the story was, so what.  Yet CBS covered it more than once, but never asked Paul Ryan how he was going to get corporations to spend all those tax refunds that he is so obsessed about.

The claim that the media are biased liberally seems to me to be absurd, yet I concede that, if I think the media are pussyfooting around the Republicans and conservatives think that it is the Democrats who are getting all the softball questions, there may well be a balance in there somewhere.  I used to say as a lawyer, and many lawyers say this, if you settle a case and no one is happy, it's probably a fair settlement.  But if we settle for a president and a Speaker of the House, does that mean that the country will be governed fairly?  I don't think I want to take that chance.

Your friend,

Mike

Dear America,

Most of the time, the subjects that appear in the New York Times are reported on the evening news the night before.  But over the past week or so, The Times has reported on a few subjects that have gone unnoticed in the electronic media.  The one that got my attention first was about lower oil prices and their impact on our economy, but we have talked about that before in other contexts, so I think I'll save that for another time.  There was also an article in yesterday's magazine about corporate wealth.  American corporations are currently sitting on a collective bankroll of $1.9 trillion, which is up from the last time I heard about it, but as with oil prices, that is a subject that I have written about in the past, and as it isn't going to change any time soon, I think I'll come back to it.  The item that disturbed me the most, however, had nothing to do with our economy.  It had to do with Iran.

You may remember the conservative, Republican castigation regarding Americans being held in Iran by the Iranian government that followed the announcement of the Iran nuclear deal.  The Obama administration said little in response other than that the purported Iranian engagement in terrorism and the "hostages" had nothing to do with the nuclear issue.  However, it has now become clear that the administration was negotiating with Iran at the highest levels for the release of those being held, and a week or so ago, five were released, four of them coming home and one remaining in Iran for some unknown reason, only to come back to the United States a few days later.  But there is another presumed prisoner, Robert Levinson, who disappeared in a place called Kish Island in Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf.  He was taken in 2007, presumably by the Iranian government, though it has denied knowledge of his whereabouts for some time, alleging that Levinson was an FBI, or other government, agent, which was denied in this country.  Over the course of the eight years since Levinson disappeared, various stories have trickled into the print media about what Levinson was doing there, and who sent him.  The original story was that he was investigating--he was a former FBI agent turned private investigator it has been reported--a cigarette smuggling case for the company for which he worked, but subsequent characterizations of his mission on Kish Island range from that kind of commercial-enterprise- related purpose to attempting to recruit a fugitive American murder suspect named Salahuddin to act as an American intelligence source, which he was doing on behalf of some element of the CIA.  For what it's worth, the CIA now says the mission was unauthorized as was sending Levinson to Iran for that or any other purpose, though Levinson did have a contract with the CIA's analytics unit.  According to The Times, Salahuddin, a convert to Islam, is an assassin, and other sources state that the killing of which he was accused in this country was of an Iranian dissident.  The obvious question is, was Salahuddin to act as an informant, or was he to do what he apparently did in the United States: kill people.  The Republicans never mentioned any of that, did they.

Imagine what would happen to an Iranian who was caught in this country doing what Salahuddin is accused of doing.  Assuming that his crime was disclosed, he would go to prison and await trial, unless he was sent to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he might stay, unbeknownst to anyone, for a long, long time.  Yet, Republicans whined about Iran's detention of Levinson and the Obama administrations failure to get him released, crying crocodile tears all the while and refusing to allow The President to close Guantanamo, where we do just what they were accusing the Iranians of doing: hold prisoners without due process for hostile acts against our government.  I'm not sure how I feel about taking such extra-judicial steps with regard to saboteurs and spies acting against the United States, though the denial of at least some semblance of due process is anathema to me.  But by the same token, I am not sure how I feel about the Iranians holding Robert Levinson, who appears to have been engaged in just such activities against Iran.  Regardless of what I think, the Republican harangue against Iran and the American aegis under which the nuclear pact was accomplished because they claim that Levinson is a victim of Iranian lawlessness may well be based on a totally self-serving canard.  It seems as though Levinson was some self-important would-be spy who got caught doing something he shouldn't have been doing even if he were doing it here in this country.  It seems likely to me that he and one or more CIA cowboy adventurers decided that, like the Reagan administration's rogue operation in Nicaragua, it would be cool to secretly undermine another country's government just because our conservative politicians don't like it...and Levinson got caught.

Of course deniability is everything in such cases.  Henry II of England was reputed to have said to a group of his vassals, "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?", making reference to Thomas √° Becket who was subsequently murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by one or more of those self-same knights.   Personally, I am convinced that Reagan said in a meeting attended by Ollie North that he wished someone would secretly get some guns to those Contras in Nicaragua so that we didn't have to get our hands dirty, but we could still do the right thing and overthrow the Sandinista regime.  Now, I wouldn't be surprised if some mid-level CIA bureaucrat said in a meeting that we ought to get some contract killer in Iran to murder the Iatolla.  But no matter what the case, we shouldn't be surprised that the Iranians, and for that matter the rest of the anti-American world, keep shouting that we are not holier than they are.  Sometimes, our own self-righteousness is our own worst enemy.

Your friend,

Mike
 

Dear America,

According to Gallup, the polling agency, since 1994 more than 70% of Americans have thought that medical care is too expensive.  During that period, most Americans have also approved of government taking responsibility for making health care universally available except during the period from 2010 to 2015.  However, during that period majority approval of government control reemerged twice; in 2012 and again at the end of 2015 through the present when most Americans again came to favor federal control of the availability of healthcare, and coincidently, during both periods of restored confidence in the federal government with regard to health care, the parties were nominating their presidential candidates; the political noise was national, not local. Notably, over the past 21 years, congress was controlled by the Republicans twice for a total of seven years so far--from 2001 through 2006 and again in 2015 to the present--while the White House has stayed in the hands of the Democratic Party for all but eight of those 21 years, and what was happening during that period, I ask rhetorically.  Partisanship emerged as a form of internecine political warfare, particularly from 2010 to 2015 during which period the Republican Party, with a deliberate campaign of concerted and overt propaganda, subverted public opinion against universal health care in the form of Obamacare for political gain.  You may have noticed that the lynchpin of every political tirade against the Democrats by a Republican is the Affordable Care Act, and that is why public opinion shifted against federally controlled healthcare after "Obamacare" became a reality.  Whether it is called a single payer system, universal Medicare or something else, with the exception of the period during which the Republicans were campaigning against what is now called Obamacare in the cynical quest for control of American government, some form of universal healthcare has been the desire of the majority of the American people.  At the same time, a majority, sometimes as much as 63%, favor a system based on private health insurance.  That sounds a lot like Obamacare, yet most Americans disapprove of it.  So what exactly do the American people want.

According to The Hill, a survey taken this month shows that more than half of Americans favor a single payer system, other wise known as "Medicare for all."  At the same time Rasmussen Reports found that only 40% of Americans favor a single payer system while 44% oppose it as of December 2015, albeit 16% are undecided according to that poll.  Without belaboring the point further, you can find a poll to support your belief as to what the majority of Americans want by just asking Google.  The internet is so democratic that we can all be right.  But there is no debating this one fact: we Americans  are ambivalent with regard to a single payer system because our politics are so divisive, but the notion that everyone should have access to healthcare is endorsed by the vast majority of us, and it has been since surveys have been taken.  The significance of polling in our national debate cannot be denied, but as a people, we don't want to see people die not because there is not cure, but because they don't have enough money.  The vast majority of Americans, at least on this issue, are moral, which means that the effort to prevent such an advent as universal health care is immoral, and candidates on the Democratic stage are beginning to concur on that point.  Bernie Sanders has said that he wants Medicare for all in no uncertain terms.  Hillary Clinton says that she wants it, but that it would be too hard to get because even when the Democrats were in the majority in congress, single payer as an option under the Affordable Care Act couldn't get passed.  Martin O'Malley wants to bring hospital costs down through regulation, but he really takes no position.  On the Republican side, Ben Carson equates Obamacare with slavery, and the rest of the field haven't been much more rational in their rancorous attacks on the Affordable Care Act, and their opposition to universal health care, though they all keep on saying that they favor an alternative to what we have now while proposing nothing significant, is abundantly clear.  So it should be a Democratic year at the only poll that matters...in November.  But though we now have at least one voice for a meaningful change from our country's system, which is the most expensive by half of the systems in effect among the thirty most industrialized nations and the most exclusively accessible as well, the prospect of a national single payer system seems as remote as ever to me.  That is because despite what seems a political edge for Democrats on the subject, the fact remains that conservatives in both parties are hell-bent on preventing it.

That is why we have to forgo partisan loyalty in November.  We need now to focus on the conservative-liberal divide and begin to take names among out politicians on key points, like health care and economic equality, and stop allowing our politicians divert our attention with issues like abortion, Planned Parenthood and the wars in Syria and Iraq.  We need an election outcome that focuses just on what each of us needs most...what is most immediate among our legitimate concerns.  And on the issue of universal health care, there seems to be a vast majority that favors a single payer system.  So in November, I hope that all voters will consider not just what matters to them, but what matters to their neighbors as well.  No one should die for the single reason that he doesn't have enough money for health care.  And no one should die because we Americans didn't think before we pulled the lever.  Let's all be noble in November.

Your friend,

Mike   

Dear America,

Like many others, I have been waiting for President Obama to rise above his native diffidence and take a pugilistic stance with regard to the Republican Party and his conservative adversaries, and last night, he did.  I have been thinking that like Lyndon Johnson, he would give a state of the union address at the end of his term, perhaps just days before he left the White House or even on the eve of the election in which his successor will be chosen, to make sure that he left the American people with the truth on their minds rather than the bad taste of Republican propaganda in their mouths.  But the speech he gave last night was the speech I would have anticipated for his swan song, and thus, it is possible that last night he did give his final state of the union, as it was characterized be the press, not his penultimate one, though now that his confrontational self has emerged, I still hope not.  Much of what he said last night was provocative and confrontational, and he left no doubt that he will be speaking out loudly and often to challenge the false account of both the recent past and the present that is being foisted on the public by Republicans and conservatives today.  No more cakewalks for the opposition.  From now on, it will be all of the facts all of the time.  This is what I foresee.

I don't recall the last time that President Obama held a press conference in the evening...after the news...rather than during the day by virtue of which all that makes it to American televisions is a few sound bites that seem the most titillating to our revered talking heads on the network evening news.  My guess is that President Obama will begin having news conferences when everyone is home and watching rather than while all of you are at work.  I think that what The President intends to do is to speak to us face to face, so to speak, rather than through intermediaries like ABC, CBS and CNN.  When the networks broadcast press conferences, there is no dilution of the message that presidents are trying to give, and the people get the full effect of his competence and gravitas.  Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy always seemed to be in control when they gave press conferences.  They were in command of the facts and stated them with aplomb from under the mantle of their office.  Barrack Obama, unlike either of the Bush presidents or Ronald Reagan, can do that.  He has shown in interviews that he knows why he does the things he does and thinks the way he does, and as long as he has reasons that are viable, the American people can believe him.  That is why Reagan, W and HW didn't face the press any more than they had to.  None of them could get all the way through a sentence without the kind of stammer that made them look incompetent, devious, or just plain dumb. 

As to public appearances, President Obama looks like a star when he does them, and so, I predict that we will see more footage of his visits to big automobile plants and the sites of major environmental or energy production facilities with him looking to be in charge, but down to earth...in shirt sleeves and strolling the grounds.  There are times when it pays to look presidential; I heard someone say once when George W. Bush was reelected that he was used to presidents whom he thought to be smarter than he was and Bush was a departure in that respect.  But sometimes it is most effective to leave smarts out of it and just appear concerned about all of our well-being the way the rest of us are about our children.  That's another thing that Barrack Obama can do: look like just another American.

Finally, I think he will give another state of the union address, and it will be much like the one he gave last night.  He will want to set the record, and the Republican Party, straight, and while the Republicans will get the chance to rebut, rebuttals always sound like they are delivered off the back foot...defensively or in retreat.  The result will be that The President's message will go uncontested other than by broad generalizations and obviously partisan self-service.  It will be his chance to push conservatism back and give progressiveness the chance it deserves starting in 2017.  The legacy of this president may not be in what he has done.  It may be in how he sets the stage for what will be done.  The next president--and hopefully the next Democratic congress--will need a running start to get a single payer health care system passed, for example.  They will need the kind of clarity in the American voter's mind that it will take to beat down conservative opposition.  They will need a thorough under standing of how a $15 per hour minimum wage will be good for us all by virtue of the increased buying power of the working populace as a whole, which in turn raises GDP, but more importantly, job creation.  And when the issues of tax reform and immigration get addressed, they will need public sentiment that is essentially a juggernaut if they are to do something responsible and humanistic.  That is where President Obama's last state of the union address will come in.  He can set the tone at the last moment available to him for the purpose of setting our direction as a nation...perhaps for a generation if the Democrats follow up by doing it right.

Outside of ending the filibuster, President Obama's ultimate state of the union address may be the most pressing matter on the Democratic agenda as the next elected president and congress are selected and take office.  Let's hope that this President Obama...the feisty one...sticks around until then.

Your friend,

Mike 

Dear America,

Tonight is President Obama's seventh, and penultimate, state of the union address, and no matter what he says, he can't win.  I must admit that I voted for him twice, and no matter whom the Republicans had run, I probably would have voted for him even knowing what I do now, but a significant part of what he seems to believe is anathema to me.  He clings to the supply-side notion that reductions in business taxation will stimulate the economy.  But I believe that, with corporations world-wide sitting on over $2 trillion at one point, and probably close to half that in this country alone, giving more money to business moguls through tax abatement doesn't create more profit from which more taxes can be raised.  It just goes into corporate coffers and CEO's bank accounts.  Thus, while business might benefit in some respect, that benefit would never redound to individual Americans, nor to the enhancement of their common weal.  Even Obamacare is problematic for me.  It's like democracy in that it is probably the worst system available...except for all the others available in this country.  It still seems like a sop for the insurance industry to me, but at least it has resulted in something in excess of 17 million Americans who were not insured having health care coverage, and thus health care itself, in many cases for the fist time in their lives.  But like Keynesean vs. Supply-Side economics, the single-payer system just wasn't politically credible in 2010, while Obamacare was at least a step forward...and humane as well, despite being profitable for the insurance industry.  And of course, we can't forget immigration.  Hispanic Congressmen, virtually all of them Democrats, are bellowing over the recent increase in deportations at our southern border while Republicans bellow about the reductions in deportations on account of The President's "dreamer" policy.  No matter which way The President turns, he can't win.  And of course, we can't forget foreign policy.

Start with something simple, like the trans-Pacific trade deal, which many people feel is worker-adverse.  On the Republican side, and on the more conservative Democratic side as well, it is another trickle down strategy that is supposed to redound to the benefit of our working people by making business practices more universal.  Conversely, many people believe that the consequence will be like what has often been attributed to the North American equivalent signed by Bill Clinton: jobs going elsewhere because barriers to bringing the "American goods" foreign workers produce for American corporations don't face any restrictions or tariffs while the responsible corporations increase their profits by reducing labor costs with the effect of perpetuating lower standards of living in places like Mexico and Guatemala.  It will be difficult for Mr. Obama to sell that trans-Pacific deal as progress in tonight's speech.  And then there's Syria, regarding which he has stated his strategy over and over again though somehow the Republicans seem to get away with saying he has none and then claiming that doing more of the same things is their own, preferable policy.  We have sponsored and abetted the replacement of dictators with chaos and disadvantageous rebellion all over the world, but Mr. Obama still cleaves to the notion that deposing Assad is a good idea and a sine qua non for peace when it is more likely to incubate anarchy at best and ISIL at worst.  At the same time though, no one is advocating doing something about Kim Jung Un in North Korea, where a populist rebellion might well inspire democratic reform while abating the nuclear threat that North Korea now represents.  At the same time though, there's the Iran treaty intended to interdict development of nuclear weapons in that country while we let a bellicose Israel slide on the subject of nuclear weapons.  We berate Iran for its international sponsorship of terrorism and Shiite insurgency, but we say little to nothing to Israel and Netanyahu about settlements in the West Bank, which belongs to Jordan legally, not Israel, making it is nothing better than a spoil of war.  The world is in turmoil, and while our president didn't cause it for the most part, he hasn't done much to quell it either, if there is anything to be done.

So, President Obama will take the podium in our congress tonight and will face an audience that is probably more hostile, given the extreme partisanship with which we now suffer, than any audience he has talked to in the past, including previous congresses.  He will talk about how far we have come since he took the helm of a ship of state sinking in a financial crisis, and the numbers he will recite will be on his side.  But the conservative, Republican palaver to the contrary will persist, and in large part succeed against all reason.  And thus, while Democrats will applaud enthusiastically for the most part, this state of the union address will be as futile as can be because eloquence and logic aside, President Obama has been largely diffident...a shrinking rose in a business in which only thorns get noticed.  That doesn't make him a bad man, but the question remains: does it make him a good president.

Your friend,

Mike


This is almost a postscript to my last letter 2 you about Republicans' contrived rhetoric in general.  But this time something specific prompted me to write.  I was  passing through the channels on my television a couple of days ago when I came upon the general speeches being given in The House.  A congressman named Steve Russell, a Republican from the fifth district of Oklahoma, was called to the podium for thirty minutes, and before I could change the channel, he started to relate a story about a woman defending herself and her infant child from home intruders.  It seems that they were in the act of breaking down her door when she barricaded it with her sofa and called the police.  She told the dispatcher what was happening and that she had a double barrel shotgun.  She asked the dispatcher if it was alright to shoot the intruders if they got through the door, and the dispatcher answered that she couldn't address the legalities, but that she should do what she had to do...and she did.  The first of the two male intruders broke through the door, and as he was climbing over the couch, she shot him square in the chest, presumably killing him.  Congressman Russell then launched into the second story, which was essentially like the first except that the woman had a hand gun, with which she dispatched her would-be attacker.  In each case, an accomplice to the late predator fled, thus multiplying by two the beneficial effect of owning a gun in your home when you are being assailed.  At that point, I changed the channel because I already knew what the rest of his speech was going to be.

Congressman Russell is retired military.  He was a lieutenant colonel with medals for bravery and heroism, and incidentally, he owns a gun manufacturing company.  I probably shouldn't admit this, but I didn't listen to the rest of Russell's speech because I assumed that I have heard his self-serving peroration before coming from the mouths of such gun rights luminaries as Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and every gun toting shill in the country who has managed to garner his 15 minutes of fame on the back of this issue, but maybe I was wrong.  Maybe Russell was going to say, these women owned their weapons legally, and they could have done so even if they had had to register them.  Maybe he was going to say that the outcomes in their cases defied the odds in that one of them might well have fared like half of the gun owners who pull their weapons to defend themselves and then get killed by them when their assailants take them away.  Maybe he was going to say that the laws requiring registration of some weapons probably made these home defenses possible because they kept the predators from arming themselves before they tried to inflict harm on their intended victims.  But Russell is a gun owner and manufacturer, a Republican and a conservative from Oklahoma who used his military service to bootstrap his way into office.  What are the odds?

Political discourse is such a sordid enterprise these days.  If Russell, and Cruz, Rubio, the NRA and all of the rest of the 2nd amendment "advocates" were honest, they would admit that there is no connection between the proper use of guns and the improper; that there is no relationship between the efforts to curb their use and the right to own them; that universal registration will at least do not harm, and might save some lives...even one being enough to justify it.  But the conflation of registration with gun confiscation is disingenuous at best, sinister more likely.  There are an estimated 300 million guns in this country, located in about 55 million homes and businesses.  There are about 2 million gun carrying federal government employees, including the military.  That means that each gun toting federally would have to take about six guns out of 27 homes or businesses all by himself, and that fear of that prospect is an absurdity beyond mythical proportions.  Guns are here to stay in this country and the fear that they will be taken away is not a credible threat.  And as to the possibility that some autocrat will take over the government and institute a dictatorship, it is more likely to be someone with guns at his disposal than someone who advocates, and lives by, the creed that a gunless society is preferable to one in which guns are everywhere as they are in this country today.

So, what could I have gained by listening to Russell.  How could my consciousness be expanded by hearing his ill-contemplated screed against universal registration.  And was it Russell's intention that people like me listen in the first place.  All rhetorical questions because we all know that Russell was speaking to his choir.  Elections are all about mobilizing your constituents these days, and Russell, like all the rest of the would-be gun toters, was about one thing only: getting reelected.  It's a shame, and what's worse, it isn't a defense of our democracy.  It's an underhanded threat to it.  When someone shoots you, it doesn't matter whether it's a cop or a criminal, a good guy or a bad guy, an assailant or your three year old who happens to have found your loaded pistol.  The fact that a deranged Adam Lanza's mother had her guns legally doesn't undermine the reasoning behind more gun control.  The fact that someone as irresponsible and apparently misguided as Lanza's mother was can buy a gun at all is worthy of discussion in my opinion, but requiring her to register it if she does is the least we can do...no discussion required.

Your friend,

Mike

Dear America,

The sheer transparency of the conservative Republican Party astounds me, as does the failure of Republicans to see what their party is doing to this country.  As the year 2016 begins, the Republicans in Congress are shamelessly playing with public sentiment when they know that their actions are to no avail, just for the purpose of inflaming sentiment that they have previously whipped up in light of the fact that this is a presidential election year.  Both houses have now passed a repeal of "Obamacare" with full knowledge that President Obama will never sign it.  By doing so, they pander to the people who don't benefit from the law and don't care that nearly 20 million of their countrymen have, while avoiding alienating those 20 million people because the vote will be forgotten and the benefit of the law will still be derived by those 20 million voters.  In addition, the bill being sent to President Obama either sharply curtails or eliminates funding for Planned Parenthood--the fact that such action is taken under false pretenses being set aside for now--which is another pandering gesture that is fated to go nowhere from the beginning.  And the motivations for all this are so plain, and by the way partisan and shallow, that I cannot understand how Republican voters feel more inclined toward their party on account of them, but for the past five years, they have been election after election.  Then there is the petroleum industry sop that was passed, and signed by the President, I assume in a moment of weakness or as a quid pro quo for something more important.

As to oil in general, I heard the president of the American Petroleum Institute (API) pontificating against the disapproval of the Keystone XL pipeline at a televised forum a couple of days ago, and the casuistry of his argument was evident not just from what he said, but from what he didn't.  The reasons he spouted for his objection to the disapproval were just a few, but they were all dubious.  First, he said it was a chance to help out "our Canadian neighbors," as if the Canadian and American oil companies involved in the project, who could have expected to reap enormous profits from it, were the people next door.  In fact, as for ordinary Canadians, the pipeline would do virtually nothing for them, and it would do less for us in light of the fact  that Congress has now passed that bill allowing for the first time in forty years the export of raw petroleum.  We are still importing petroleum by the millions of barrels per day, but our petroleum industry is exporting it at the same time.  Of course, with oil and gas prices being as low as they are, no one will notice for awhile, but that won't always be the case, and this law is the camel's nose inside the tent after forty years of keeping him at bay.  The API president, Jack Gerard, then mentioned the "thousands of jobs" that we now won't get as if there was a substantial number of them, when in reality, there would be only three to six thousand of them, spread across the country from the Canadian Border to Steele City, Nebraska, all but about thirty of them temporary, and only a few hundred at a time...another dubiously motivated exaggeration, this time on Mr. Gerard's part.  Then he added that pollution would increase on account of the alternate modes of transportation that the Canadian tar sands oil would be conveyed through, but he never mentioned the fact that processing those tar sands would have increased pollution all over the world because it requires so much more effort to refine and the concurrent emissions would have been spewed not just here, but worldwide. Is there any doubt that Gerard is a Republican?

As to that Planned Parenthood budget provision, the only way it got through was in the course of what is called "budget reconciliation."  When congress goes to that process, which it can do only on budgetary matters, the ordinary rules of The Senate are suspended and a simple majority can pass a bill, as it can and did in The House.  Mind you, I think the Senate should operate that way all the time, which they would if the filibuster weren't de rigueur in their proceedings, but I also think it should be all the time or not at all.  So, passing the repeal of Obamacare and the de-funding of Planned Parenthood through this device seems devious to me, which is what I expect from Republicans, but that doesn't make it any more palatable.  And in light of the fact that even if it hadn't been attached to another provision that has no chance on its own, there was never any possible purpose other than pandering for its inclusion in any bill.  It's a poison pill on its own, and bringing it up in the context of another futile gesture just demonstrates even more clearly the insincerity of the Republicans, including the new Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who stood at the speaker's podium with his bare face hanging out claiming to be ushering in a new day when he was voted in.  It all seems so tawdry and despicable to me...and obviously so...but that never gets any consideration from Republican voters even though they themselves don't benefit from it one bit.

If I were a Republican, I would be thinking that my personal integrity was at stake every time I cast a vote for my Republican congressman, senator of presidential candidate.  But if you're a Republican, I guess integrity isn't an issue.

Your friend,

Mike    

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