Monthly Archives: June 2011

Winning No Matter What

The public strategy seems straightforward – the minority party holds the national debt hostage in an attempt to force the majority party to voluntarily undo three generations of their own progressive policy. On face value, it seems brilliant.

The Republicans, after all, are largely responsible for deficit and the worst depression since Prozac. When they took power under Bush, there was a $235 billion surplus. When Bush left office, the national debt stood at $10.6 trillion and deficits, based on Bush/Republican approved spending, were projected to increase by $9 trillion in the next 10 years. Of course, those estimates didn’t include 9% unemployment continuing to depress tax collections and increasing unemployment benefits, or Obama’s increased war spending. The national debt is now $14.3 trillion (41.8% of which is owed to the Fed and Government agencies) and the Republicans are using this hostage situation to provide political cover for their responsibility and to push the blame on President Obama.

John Boehner Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

John Boehner Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

Our democratically elected leaders, Republican and Democrat, constitutionally authorized the spending, but not taxes to pay for it, which requires the Federal Government to borrow the money to pay for what Congress has spent. Not allowing our government to borrow the money needed, sounds an awful lot like fraud. Conspiracy to commit fraud.

The Federal Reserve, Treasury Secretary, head of the IMF, Moody’s and the US Chamber of Commerce have suggested that forcing a government default is nuts and will cause havoc in the markets. Surely they won’t go through with it.

Of course, there’s that other issue. Two months ago, the House Republicans voted in lockstep to turn Medicare and Medicaid in to state voucher programs. Republicans have caught a lot of flack from seriously pissed off voters since they did. Ryan’s bill was DOA in the Senate. But, now, all they have to do is get the Democrat in the White House and at least four Democrats in the Senate to vote with them on a variation of the Ryan plan. They’ll get what they want and, perhaps, have an unelectable Democrat to run against in 2012.

It’s not that the Republicans want Grandma thrown out on the street, starve or to die from lack of health care (collateral damage)*. They just don’t want to have to listen to lobbyists and their campaign contributers complain about employers being forced to pay a share of payroll taxes. Republicans would much prefer Medicare be privatized so their health insurance buddies could keep their hands in the Federal wallet. Republicans would much prefer Social Security be privatized so they could enable their Wall Street buddies to gamble Grandma’s money. Republicans would also much prefer both Social Security and Medicare become voluntary voluntary so their rich pals could opt out.

On the other hand, Republican leaders would prefer poor people and their children be thrown out on the street, starve or die from lack of health care (that’s what prisons are for). Republicans are anxious to do away with federally required Medicaid believing that until our poor are paid wages competitive with the third world, there will be no new jobs.

Their brilliant strategy is not really just about the policy. The real plot is more sinister. Should the Dems not cave, the Republicans will get what they really want – a government, at least until the next election of a Republican or they lose the House, without enough money, but with seriously higher interest rates on the deficit. The problem for Republicans is that current average interest rates on the national debt are only about three percent (3%), costing about the Treasury only about $30 billion a month. Debt is not starving the government enough. Short-term default will cause rates to double or better – benefiting rich Republican campaign contributers while also starving the government of the money needed for social programs.

So what’s gonna happen? Will Obama read section 4 of the 14th Amendment and the Perry V US court case to Boehner – “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law… shall not be questioned.”? Will the Fed just forgive their part of the debt (theoretically, they could) so there isn’t a need for debt extension? Will there be a run on Treasury debt with China and the Saudis cashing in, causing rates to skyrocket and the Fed to intervene? Will the Tea-Party Congresspeople suddenly decide what they are doing is un-American(perhaps, Michelle Bachmann will say so)? Will the business lobby (aka: the Chamber) start calling Republicans and threatening something worse then death to get the needed debt increase passed? Will the Senate pass a version of whatever comes out of the House – hoping members of a conference committee could turn it into something tolerable? Will Obama blink – hoping that voters will be so outraged that Republicans are voted out of office in 2012 and the law can be overturned? Stay tuned. Whatever happens, the Republicans are risking the world and they plan to win – no matter what.

 

* Grandmas who practice personal responsibility and free-market capitalism, don’t have to worry. Unless she gets cancer. Or helps her unemployed children. Or worked for a firm that underfunded her pension. Or her job was off-shored. Or her children grow up to be Republicans.

The Timidity of Hope

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15-16, New International Version.

Obama - Hope With Blood on His HandsIt should be no surprise* that our President decided to continue the 10-years war. The choice to order more thousands of our brave men and women in uniform to give their lives, and many more maimed and permanently scarred, is consistent with his presidency, his campaign promises and his life’s story. It is his war now. The choice to accept tens of thousands more innocent civilian lives to be lost or ruined as collateral damage is one that weighed the risk of peace against the advice for war against the political climate in Washington at odds with the history of Afghanistan.

Why is ordering peace so hard? The needs here at home are evident. Most Americans want the war to end. The spun reason for the conflict has been achieved. Must we stay in Afghanistan to wage clandestine war in Pakistan? Are the bordering countries of China, India and Iran not strong enough to control their neighbor? Or is it some lingering fear and presumptive need to have our forces pre-positioned surrounding Iran? Shouldn’t we be more concerned that the presence of our forces surrounding Iran may make a future conflict more likely?

Our President does not have the audacity of hope that he once so successfully promoted. The lessons of Mohandas Gandhi, Thoreau and Dr. King have been lost in his parsing compromise. Violence begets violence. Peaceful civil disobedience takes too long (suggested search terms: bombing campaign Libya). Wars not paid for and fought without the draft with the drones seem so easy. Or, is it simply that no sitting President has ever lost reelection during wartime?

This President is a pragmatist. He didn’t fight for healthcare reform because of the 40-50 million Americans without health insurance. He fought for a bill, any bill, because the GAO told him that costs were out of control, and until healthcare was reformed, our country could not have a balanced budget.

He didn’t allow green initiatives to be included in the stimulus bill because it was right for our country or our planet. He did so because it could create jobs and would make members of the House, who actually believe, placated for a while.

He didn’t promote Wall Street reform because of the grotesque change in the distribution of income in our country, or the outrageous profits made from no-interest Fed money. He supported the reform bill, any bill, in an attempt to prevent another meltdown. He has since backed away from the reform and strong rules his administration gets to write, because the economy is stagnant and banks are tanking.

Obama is also likely to accept the Republican demands to undo three-generations of Democratic achievement on social policy – even without a tax increase on the wealthy or getting rid of needless, mindless subsidies for corporations – because failure to pass the debt extension could destabilize world financial markets. That, and keeping the Republicans on track to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid increases the likelihood of winning the next election and while providing the cover to undo any budget deal in the next Congress.

There was a time that I thought that Rahm Emanuel was the force that had him compromise his beliefs for a pragmatic government. I was wrong. Obama never believed.
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* In a previous story, I wrote that he would be out of all of wars by the election. I was surprised that things in Obama’s world changed so dramatically in such a short time.

Trojan Terrorism

Recently, the Dew has come under an attack from presumed terrorists. The Patriot Act was useless to help keep us safe. These people are smart, motivated, well-financed and uncaring.

This was a malicious attack. We don’t have any private information or accounts to steal, so none was at risk. It was just a mean spirited bastardly thing to do. We join a long, and some distinguished, list of sites that have been attacked and hacked.

For weeks, these criminals have been bombarding the dew with site registrations – often as many as 20,000 in a single day hoping to find a weakness to exploit. We have continued to ratchet up security settings, adding layers of security and tests – sometimes hourly – hoping they would just give up. Apparently, it just made them mad. (I apologize, will you stop now? Please?)

trojan horse

© BVDC - Fotolia.com

Generally speaking, these types of terrorists are sponsored by the Eastern European mafia, though they could be from anywhere (you are all suspects). They use sophisticated computers to attack sites. When that doesn’t work, they turn to the third world and pay a few pennies to people who would starve otherwise to spend their days in front of a computer hoping to post a link to site and earn their dirty money. (I’ll feed you if you stop. Please.)

Most recently, they injected a Wonka Trojan Horse – I kid you not, though I assume you can get one by visiting your local chocolate factory website or by googling it. The code was planted in above our “header” that appears at the top of each of our pages and began setting off alarms. I received my first email about it late Monday AM. We ran Trojan scans on our server, didn’t find it, made some changes and hoped we were OK. About 3:30 PM, I got an email from a Dew reader reporting that his computer had been wiped out by a virus on our site. We immediately shut down the site.

The virus was found. The holes in our security were plugged. We examined many thousands of files for additional infection. We deleted many registered users (comment and author users have been preserved. We reset all cookies and all passwords (if you are registered on the Dew, your old password will no longer work and you must click the “Lost your password?” link to receive your new password via email). We installed a firewall on our cloud server and drastically altered privileges of users that had permission to get to the administration side of our site.

We thought all was OK. We hoped all OK. But it the Trojan reappeared. So we spent Tuesday and Wednesday going through the site. Reinstalling everything. Wiping most all files. Restoring from back ups (nothing was lost). Manually going through each of the thousands of folders to check dates and review data.

Since the Dew’s beginning, we purposely allowed some functions to be easy and rich for our readers and users. Functions that we knew made us vulnerable should some nefarious type wish us harm. No longer will the links in your comments be hot. No longer will images or html code be accepted comments. No longer will users be able to use short easy to remember passwords.

We have turned off new registration for the time being (we’ll announce a new policy soon) – if you wish to submit a story, send me an email and I’ll set you up. We reviewed logs and banned and blacklisted suspect IP addresses (this is a waste of time as they hide behind proxy servers all over the world). We have washed, cleaned and have hope. All to say, the site is back on. You might notice a few changes and some features that we haven’t gotten to work, yet, but… we hope again (ahh, the arrogance of hope!).

Don’t count on it. Check your computer’s security settings (especially if you use a PC) and take things seriously (but, no immediate need for plastic wrap or duct tape). If you get warned by a browser message, believe it, stop and let me know (click here to send an email report). If you  haven’t already, please install virus protection software on your computer (Avast, McAffee, etc.) and for goodness sake, back up your computer regularly.

We must remain vigilant – individually and as a community. If you notice something suspicious, please let me know.

Unlike a recent President, we have little hope of “smoking them out of their holes.” My preference is that they would just go back to them.

Winning the Unpopular Vote

We the Republicans © Dana S. Rothstein #133535On face value, it might seem stupid to run for office on issues sure to piss off the majority of people. Take, for instance, the Republican party (please). They are, of course, against Democrats who make up 34-45% of the US population, depending on the day and who’s counting. The percentage of each party varies by state or district, but generally, about 15% of the voters decide who will win and who will lose.

Some might argue, a campaign of inclusion (suggested search term: democracy) would be the best way to reach that 15% swing vote. So how do the Republicans expect to win elections when they are also in lockstep against:

  • People on Medicare (at least, 15% of US population)
  • People on Medicaid (at least, 12.6% of US population)
  • People who are unemployed (at least, 9.1% of US population, unless you also include those of us who have given up or work multiple jobs, etc.)
  • People who believe abortion should be legal (at least, 56% of US population)
  • People who believe and are concerned about global climate change (at least, 71% of US population)
  • People without health insurance (at least, 14.3% of US population – under 65, not eligible for Medicaid)
  • Immigrants (at least, 13% of US population, most all of us if you go back a few generations)
  • Blacks (at least, 12.6% of US population)
  • Union members (at least, 12.1% of US population)
  • Government workers (at least, 4% of US population)
  • LGBT (at least, 3.8% of US population)
  • Muslims (at least, .6% of US population)
  • Agnostic and athiests (at least, .9% of US population)
  • Plus, all those little groups, including elites, people who believe in science, are against guns, war, monopolies, corporate funding of campaigns, listen to NPR, don’t watch Fox, etc.

You shouldn’t just add these numbers up. People are members of more than one group. Groups don’t vote as a block. And people are more likely these days to vote against a candidate or even a single issue than for one. But with only 15% in play, it still doesn’t seem to pass a logic test that this Republican strategy can be successful.

It might surprise you, but according to Gallop,

“The most balanced political states in 2008 were Texas (+2% Democratic), South Dakota (+1% Democratic), Mississippi (+1% Democratic), North Dakota (+1% Democratic), South Carolina (even), Arizona (even), Alabama (+1% Republican), and Kansas (+2% Republican).”

Each of these states voted for McCain in the 2008 Presidential election. Each with a Republican governor, Republican upper and lower house majority, with a solidly Republican US house delegation, and at least one Republican Senator (only South Dakota, North Dakota and Mississippi had a Democrat Senator).

How is that possible in these “balanced” states? Assuming vote counting was accurate, the only answer can be that it is about who votes, and more importantly these days, who doesn’t vote.

Let’s start with voter suppression 101:

  • Make it hard to vote. Limit early voting to a few inconvenient locations away from poor areas with limited hours, few machines and rumors of long lines. Force people to take time off from work, give up their hourly pay and put their jobs at risk. Works particularly well for people who are struggling.
  • Require a valid photo ID. This works well for those who are older and may not have a drivers license or be able to afford to apply and pay for an alternative. It is also effective to keep away the homeless or those whose identification doesn’t reflect an accurate address because of eviction, foreclosure or change of status.
  • Purge the voter rolls. This is very popular, effective and there a lot of variations to the scheme. Mismatch names or social security numbers and make people prove they aren’t who some computer thinks they might be (suggested search terms: Georgia purge voters). Or prove they are citizen. Or make them wait in long lines to vote on a provisional ballot that may not be counted.
  • Create long lines. Easy to do. Just send few voting booths to the polling place you want to suppress and more to the polling place you wish to help. Also very effective to provide few people or broken machines. Long enough lines, and people will go home (suggested search term: Ohio long lines polls).
  • Caging lists. Republicans send out registered mail to the address of a voter in a district they wish to suppress. If returned, they contest the ballot. Expected to be particularly effective with the foreclosure crisis.
  • Robo calls. Hire your telemarketer to call registered voters who you don’t wish to vote and tell them their polling place has changed. Or they’ll be arrested (suggested search term: Virginia robo calls vote).
  • Contest new registration. A favorite of Republicans during the last few cycles. Republicans have attempted to force verifications of mail in forms. They have even offered rewards to find bogus registration by community groups and have threatened prosecutions.
  • Make absentee ballots as confusing as possible. Seems obvious. Put the right information in the wrong place and your vote doesn’t count.
  • Prison disenfranchisement. 5.3 million mentally competent and able adult Americans (we are the only democracy in the world that does it) are not allowed to vote because they have been either incarcerated, on parole or on probation. Click here for a state list.
  • Pray for rain, sleet, snow, dark of night. Surely, the Republicans will do this. Time will tell if it will be effective.

In 2008, more than 130 million people voted – the highest percentage in a generation. The surge of voters were mostly among black, Hispanic and young voters. Without that higher turnout, McCain would have won. The Republicans are counting on making your life so miserable this time around that you stay at home.