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Daley Weekly: Crises and Confrontation

Apologia pro vita sua

Things began getting away from me about two weeks ago and I now am three weeks in arrears. So, a new beginning, a fresh start, and a promise to be a more faithful correspondent.

Two Senior Politicians Forgo the Presidency

The first of course is Joe Biden, who has tossed in the towel. Would have been fun to watch him run. He always brings a sparkle with him whenever he enters a room.  If the D’s keep the White House maybe Secretary of State, but no Presidency.

The second is Paul Ryan, who now appears to be headed into a cul de sac known as the Speakership. Much of Ryan’s hesitation about taking this office must originate from the almost sure bet that a Speaker is unlikely to be President – too much blame for every crazy idea dreamed up by the caucus.  It’s going to be hard to figure how Ryan can get much of anything out of the House because of the obstructionist promises he apparently made to the Tea Bagger faction.

The Grand Bargain at Last

There is news this week that the White House and the House Republican leadership (John Boehner version) have fashioned a plan to fund the federal government for two years. The agreement apparently uses some $80 billion to give a modest lift to the sequester spending caps for both domestic and defense programs. It also will extend the debt lid to March of 2017. Funding would come through standardizing the eligibility rules for the Social Security Disability Insurance program, but it also rescues the Disability Insurance program from the limbo the House placed it in months ago.

The deal also gets funding through some cuts in provider pay in Medicare, and by selling some oil now held in the U.S. Petroleum Reserve. There also are provisions preventing a sharp spike in Medicare premiums. However, it adds a provision that allows folks with student debt to be chased by debt collectors who use robocalls – something currently prohibited. (How do these things get into a deal like this?)

The agreement will last beyond the 2016 election. So it looks like Boehner is going to take some lumps in order to clear the decks for Paul Ryan to save him from having to wrestle with the alligators as he ascends to the Speakership.

What They Have Not Done

They have not renewed the Child Nutrition Programs.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is still expired.

Infrastructure funding through the Highway Trust Fund is still unresolved.

The “tax extender” package is still pending.

And, God knows, while they are at it, they could enact comprehensive immigration reform, restore the Voting Rights Act, mandate caps on carbon emissions, and pass the Medicare for All single payer plan.

Benghazi

The other big thing in D.C. last week was the prosecution of Hillary Clinton before an investigative committee. After revelations by House Members and committee staff that the whole thing was designed to bring down Hillary, the hearing showed a sense of desperation – at least to get her to look deceitful or confused. After trying everything this side of waterboarding, nada.

Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the Chair of the Committee was especially clear in his assessment of what the hearings had produced:

“I think some of Jimmy Jordan’s questioning — well, when you say new today, we knew some of that already. We knew about the emails. In terms of her testimony? I don’t know that she testified that much differently today than she has the previous times she’s testified.”

This is the product of seventeen months of investigation and the expenditure of nearly $5 million?

Now watch them double down with some kind of report written by a team of science fiction authors coached by the few still living members of Joe McCarthy’s staff.  Doubling down will inevitably raise a question about whether or not they know the correct answer to the question “what’s two times nothing?”

TPP

Apparently the 12-nation negotiation on the big trade pact is finally ready for prime time, but the text is not yet public. For some reason – maybe I am just being stubborn – I have been advising everyone to read it before attacking it. I want the opposition to form around actual provisions in the agreement, not on shifting ideologies and political posturing. Let’s face it – we will have problems with this agreement, given the troubling involvement of corporate interests in the negotiations. But our opposition needs to be factual, on policy grounds, and against the provisions of the pact.  Let’s root our concerns on what actually is there. It won’t be long – D.C. leaks like a sieve.  One leak already out provides new international protections for the patents of pharmaceutical companies. Surely there is more to come.

Once we discover the troubling stuff in this deal, we have to react with force and confidence. The pro-corporation gang has the upper hand given that the anti-Obama Congress gave the President “fast track” authority a couple of months ago. This means that the President submits an unamendable plan that cannot be filibustered.

Social Security

Just to clarify the confusion about inflation in the economy the government has announced that there is so little inflation that Social Security beneficiaries will not receive a cost of living increase in the coming year.

Economics

The Wall Street Journal reports that companies are indicating a serious slowing in the economy. You have to consider the source here a bit, but, if they are correct, consumer spending is falling and the pace of economic activity is going negative for the first time since the recovery began. Time for a little stimulus to get the momentum turning back in the other direction, but don’t expect the Journal to editorialize in favor of higher government spending.

What is wrong here? We built a post-WWII middle class and became the envy of the world. Then we decided to shift the income growth from the middle class to the wealthy. Now we are wondering why the middle class, burdened with student debt, extortionate drug costs, fraudulent foreclosures, stagnant wages, and inexplicable insurance costs, are not buying the latest electronic gadgets built by exploited labor.

The explanation about the economic stagnation is quite simple. Our corporate uber-masters decided that the destruction of the middle class in the U. S. was irrelevant to their wealth accumulation – they could sell their trinkets to the unsuspecting natives in China. Tiny little miscalculation – China decided that they could sell their trinkets to us. Win-Win became loss-loss.

Presidential Campaign  

Both Democrat-for-a-Day Lincoln Chaffee and what’s his name from Virginia have announced that they are suspending their campaigns.  The next Republican Debate is tonight.

Language Access

The Office of Civil rights in the Department of Health and Human Services is working on regulations to implement the civil rights sections of the Affordable Care Act. The Alliance for a Just Society is encouraging everyone to send comments on these rules encouraging HHS to add interpretation in the medical setting for non-English speakers. After all, if you cannot talk to the doctor in a language you both understand, how can you get useful medical care? You can sign a petition here that will be forwarded to HHS.

Muddle East

Here’s some fun news about the land of perpetual conflict. Our FBI has found a group with apparent Russian connections working out of Moldova who have been trying to sell radioactive material to Middle Eastern operatives. Apparently poison gas may not be potent enough.

Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, File Gumbo

Paul Prudhomme died. Loved his cookbook – Cajun, as in real French stuff, with spice and emphasis. Sorry vegans, but one of my favorite recipes is from Prudhomme’s repertoire – a pork roast layered with veggies sautéed with white, black and cayenne pepper, thyme and dried mustard. He also teaches how to make and use roux. Incomparable gumbos. I once tried to eat in K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, his restaurant in New Orleans, but the line was so long I ended up in an inferior imitation where I had to console myself with strong drink.

Polarization

Report in The Washington Post regarding evidence that the U.S. electorate is not becoming increasingly polarized. This, despite a perception that there is an extreme polarity emerging between the various parties, factions and ideologies. So if the electorate is not polarized, what is going on in Congress? Your trusty reporter has a couple of theories.

First one is that the money is driving extremes. The dark money donors are not passing the cash to the folks who say that they can bring everyone together, rather they seem to be sending it to folks who demand ideological purity and exclaim that they are just a little bit more radical than the next person.

Second, there is a little thing called Gerrymandering. While drawing the district election lines is a partisan art, legislatures have locked some solid factions in place that are representing a significant enough minority to command attention in the Congress. This appears particularly true of the Tea Bagger-bunch in the House who have some 40 or 50 votes and have put an ideological lock on the Majority Caucus.

Third, the proliferation of ideological media voices also increases the perception that polarization is both extreme and critical for access to airtime. Do the folks who watch Fox News ever tune in on MSNBC? Probably not much.

Banks

Did you know that the big banks are getting a 6 percent dividend on the money they invest in the Federal Reserve?  What is the return on the cash you have stuck in your savings account? The total amount that banks receive from the Fed will amount to $17 billion over the next decade. Surely the return you get on your money in your bank is proportionately equal to the cash they get for pretty much doing nothing?

Well the fun may be over. One of the plans being considered to pump money into the Highway Trust Fund to pay for infrastructure projects would cut this rate from 6 percent to 1.5 percent. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has already told the banks that this will be a part of the plan. Bank lobbyists are blanketing the Hill trying to kill this thing, but they may be in trouble.

Coral is the New White

When you pick through the list of designer colors for your apartment’s new paint job, coral is one of your options. That honey hued little paint sample soon may be passé.  The corals are turning white. The extreme El Niño in the Pacific is challenging them so much that they are forced to reject their hospitality as symbiotic hosts, slough away the parasites that give them their color, and turn a ghostly white. Then a bunch of them die.

I saw one of the Koch boys on TV the other day. The reporter asked him about the idea that he was just trying to buy power. He answered that he was trying to reduce the power of the government. And he smiled when he said it. This must be an important theme for Koch’s petroleum companies, the fourteenth largest polluter in the country. No government and they can pollute at will.

It is getting pretty difficult to witness this sort of crap. I have children and grandchildren.

But, just to add to the concern, Scientific American is reporting that Exxon Mobile knew about climate change as early as 1977 but persisted in deliberately spreading misinformation about the problem anyway.

I do not know what denial mechanism inside them lets these people ignore the evidence of the fires burning their farms or the seawater lapping at the lawns of their costal mansions, but ignorance is no longer an excuse. We have to begin regarding their assault on the rest of us as premeditated.

Schedule

The Congress will be in session until November 20, that should be plenty of time for a whole bunch of crises and confrontations.

 

Bill Daley, National Legislative Director