Political Nutz

Observations on the pathetic state of American politics

Monthly Archives: December 2010

Cost-Cutting Begins at Home: Cut Congress by 50%

When the 112th Congress convenes the hottest item on the agenda will be the federal budget and everybody will have a list of things to cut.  Number 1 on the GOP list will be Social Security and Medicare, programs that deeply effect millions of middle and low-income Americans.  Not on the list at all is any reduction in costs for running Capitol Hill, the huge expenses run up by members of the House and Senate and their staffs: about $5 billion per year! Keep in mind, that includes the cushiest health-care plan in the universe, largely subsidized by our tax dollars and a life-time post-service pension.

So let’s think way outside the box.  Cut the size of Congress by 50%.  We can get by with 268 or so folks in DC and thousands fewer staffers and save $2-$3 billion each year.  Fewer bodies in the House and Senate also means less debate and a more efficient legislative process.  Think of the reduced opportunities for sub rosa pork barrel spending

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Stop the Uncertainty Whining Already

Uncertainty is the key word with both Wall Street and Capitol Hill pundits these days.

If you read the Wall Street Journal, “uncertainty” is the whole cause of the Great Recession and America is doomed until Washington ceases all regulation and eliminates all taxes… permanently, of course.

Let’s get real!  Have any of these people ever sat in a corporate board room or planning meeting?  The business world is replete with all kinds of uncertainty. If the business and economic horizon was so clear and stable corporations wouldn’t need these genius CEOs nor pay them fabulous bonuses.  Taxes, interest rates, consumer demand, commodities prices, the weather…  none of these or the myriad other factors that impact a business’s bottom line are certain.  We all deal with all kinds of uncertainty every day.  Why all of the sudden does corporate America expect the universe should change to make their jobs easier?

I wish my 401k would yield a constant 10% return, that I would never lose my job, have a flat tire, or a heart attack.  But none of those are certain.

Come on guys. Suck it up! Quit whining, get out of your cushy corner offices and manage your companies.

Tax Cut Extension: A Lose, Lose, Lose for Retirees

So Mr. Obama has signed the “historic tax compromise.”  Seems like there’s something in it for everybody, right?  Well… not quite. 

Retired folks get nothing now and way less later.  Retirees living on fixed income from Social Security and personal savings get zero benefit (except for whatever small capital gains they may realize on investments).  It’s also clear that with the reduction in withholding for Social Security, Republicans are aiming at balancing the budget next year by taking a big bite out of Social Security and Medicare, their favorite targets. So while multi millionaire bankers, CEOs and Senators are wallowing in tens of thousands of dollars in tax breaks senior citizens, who had their savings accounts ravaged by the Great Recession, will have to get by on reduced Social Security benefits and higher medical costs.

Righties will argue that the continued 15% tax on dividends and capital gains is a major benefit to retired folks.  But they conveniently ignore the fact that fewer that half of U.S. families have any dividend/capital gains income at all.  No, those breaks work most for the super rich, not for the rest of us.

Republican Victory

Who wuld of thunk it?  By the end of the day on November 4, 2008, the Democrats were celebrating huge wins giving them big margins in both the Senate and the House to go along with President Obama‘s resounding victory.  And yet with fumbling leadership in the White House and effective obstructionism in the Senate the Republicans of the 111th Congress  managed to defeat every one of Mr. Obama’s campaign promises and, in fact, make substantial gains in their own agenda.  It’s as if November 2008 never happened.  If nothing else, I have to give credit to the Party of No: they are just better politicians than the current crop of Democrats and out maneuvered President Obama at every step. Their list of accomplishments is impressive:

  • Turned health care reform into a boondoggle for the insurance companies and killed the public option
  • Blocked 61% of Obama’s judicial appointments and dozens of appointments to key federal agencies, effectively crippling the functioning of the federal government
  • Extended the Bush tax cuts for the super-wealthy and big corporations
  • Blocked any progress on financial regulation
  • Ensured the deficit will continue to grow up to the 2012 elections and via other provisions in the the tax cut extension bill they laid the ground work to begin dismantling Medicare and Social Security under the guise of balancing the budget
  • Killed cap and trade
  • Killed corporate campaign disclosure legislation and with the help of Chief Justice Roberts got unlimited contributions from big business and special interests
  • Killed immigration reform
  • Extended the War in Afghanistan indefinitely

With a majority in the House and continued obstructionism in the Senate the Republicans should be able to easily put the country on hold until the 2012 election season and claim the President Obama and the Democrats couldn’t get anything done for the country.  And they will be right!

CEOs in the (White) House

President Obama met with twenty-some CEOs at the White House today.  Good for them, I guess.  But I’m wondering when the President will meet with someone from the millions of working class folks who voted for him in 2008.  Big corporations aren’t having a recession.  In fact, they are swimming in huge profits, a record horde of cash and, of course, massive bonuses.  So the tax cut “compromise” gives both the companies and the super wealthy CEOs most of the breaks. Just more of the White House focus on Wall Street while dissing Main Street.

Several of the CEOs interviewed after the meeting noted that they are poised to hire more workers and make capital investments once demand improves.  Very little of the tax cut bill helps that side of the equation.  Others mentioned that they are paralyzed due to many regulatory and economic uncertainties.  In an NPR interview UPS chairman, Scott Davis, explained that companies plan ten, twenty, even thirty years out.  What a bunch of hooey!  One of the causes of the economic meltdown was companies doing everything, anything, to maximize profits for Wall Street quarterly reports.

Ethanol Lunacy to Continue?

It looks like federal subsidies for ethanol will continue for the next two years. A growing number of experts and former supporters, including Al Gore, have recognized that ethanol –especially corn-based ethanol— is neither an environmentally nor economically sound approach to reducing U.S. oil dependency.  But the corn lobby led by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley continues to get what they can for their local constituents and just won’t do the right thing for America.

Mr. Brown Goes to Washington

and rakes in the dough!  The improbably handsome Scott Brown gave up his nude modelling career and turned to the less strenuous and considerably more profitable business of politics.  It didn’t take long for the buff Mr. Brown  to cash in on his new role as Senator from Massachusetts.  As reported in the Boston Globe, this past summer Senator Brown took in some $140,000 in contributions from banking and investment firms and their executives, and:

“As the money poured in, Brown and his Senate staff were working both publicly and behind the scenes to scuttle $19 billion in fees on the financial industry that would have paid for part of the regulatory overhaul, and to weaken a provision intended to curb certain types of investment activities by banks and insurance companies.”

Instead the tax payers are paying the costs of the enfeebled financial industry regulation overhaul.

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Back to the Good Ole Thirties

Republican politicians despise FDR and his big government response to the Great Depression and it’s fascinating how much the current debate echoes the arguments put forth in the 1932 presidential campaign. Mr. Hoover “believed the cure for the Depression was to prime the pump at the producer end, helping factories and business owners get up and running again. Goods would roll of the line, prosperity would follow”  (Timothy Egan, The Worst of Hard Times, p. 133). The wealthy engineer president was a forbearer of trickle-down economics who had predicted that prosperity for all was just around the corner if those 25% unemployed folks would just get off their backsides and get a job.

The Democrats wanted to raise taxes on the rich and institute an estate tax.



Eighty years later, we’re having the same debate.

Bankers’ Christmas Present

Hold on to your checkbook. When Congress reconvenes in 2011 the new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee will be Alabama’s Spencer Bachus. In an interview with the Birmingham News, Mr. Bachus made his position on bank regulation clear:

“In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

Thus the fellows who raided your life savings and brought you the Great Recession, the bank and insurance company bailouts, phenomenal Wall Street bonuses, Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and are now offering 0.15% interest on your checking account can rest assured they will get even more help from their Republican friends on Capitol Hill.

This support doesn’t come completely free, however.  The Titans of Wall Street contributed over $725,000 to Mr.  Bachus’ campaign over 2009-10.

Wiki Thugs

Is anyone else fed up with the Wikileaks nonsense?  I’m all for Freedom of Speech but some things do demand privacy: there is common sense and there are sensible limits to what should be made public and when.  International diplomacy, treaty negotiations, war plans and the like are best done behind the scenes.  If there’s some egregious violation of ethical norms I’m willing to leave it up to a courageous insider to step forward.  I don’t want a bunch of pimply-faced Internet hackers making those decisions.  If my government does something wrong at least I can meet with my representative and senators and vote against them.  Who knows who the WikiHeads are? They are behaving like a bunch of thrill-seeking egomaniacs it seems to me.  These folks belong behind bars.