Death, Disaster, Class Warfare and Sabotage

Ah, another day of death draws to a close – the Supreme Court finally decided that fellow in Georgia could be executed – there would be no stay for him, even though there was, in the end, no forensic evidence of his guilt, just nine eyewitnesses, seven of whom recanted their testimony, and everyone from the Pope to Nelson Mandela to Jimmy Carter to William Sessions, the former head of the FBI, saying slow down, this may be a bad idea. None of that mattered. He’s dead now.

But then there was this:

A white supremacist gang member was executed Wednesday evening for the infamous dragging death slaying of a black man.

James Byrd Jr., 49, was chained to the back of a pickup truck and pulled whip-like to his death along a bumpy asphalt road in one of the most grisly hate crime murders in recent Texas history.

Lawrence Russell Brewer, 44, was asked if he had any final words, to which he replied: “No. I have no final statement.” A single tear hung on the edge of his right eye.

And that was that. One black man, perhaps innocent, as he may or may not have shot that white man long ago, and one skinhead white dude, clearly guilty, as he did drag that black man to his death, were soon quite dead – both of them. Maybe it all evens out. And, after all, the state can execute whomever it wants to execute, for whatever reason the state chooses. Sometimes the state chooses wisely and sometimes the state gets a little casual about these things. Some of us, a tiny, tiny sliver of a tiny minority of Americans, and almost all of the rest of the nations in the world, think maybe the state should not have the option to execute its own citizens – there are after all many other options when it comes to punishment. But that too doesn’t matter much. Chalk it up to American exceptionalism.

And there may be no more to say about that. And after all, as the Supreme Court was making up its mind about the Georgia execution the government suddenly hurtled toward total government shutdown again:

GOP legislation to continue funding the federal government failed in the House Wednesday by a vote of 195-230, after Democrats rejected a controversial measure to nix a popular manufacturing program to offset federal disaster aid. A successful Democratic whip effort left Republicans without enough support in their caucus to pass the bill along party lines. Over 40 Republicans, demanding steeper cuts to federal programs, rebelled against GOP leadership.

Long story short, the Republicans promised to not threaten to shutdown the government, again – as the blackmail thing was making them look bad. So they came up with a bill – the previously agreed upon cuts, but no money for any of that electric car and hybrid battery and technology research crap, as if you cut that you could offset the cost of emergency disaster relief for those wiped out by the spring tornadoes and the recent massive hurricane that ripped up the northeast. Emergency disaster relief funding has never been tied to offsets before, but they had the votes and it was screw-you to the Democrats. But they didn’t count on their own Tea Party members demanding that their leadership, Boehner and Cantor, renege on the agreement that ended the debt ceiling crises, and just renounce it and demand much deeper cuts than anyone had ever imagined. Boehner and Cantor got blindsided by their own angry new folks, and with the Democrats voting no, because of this new offset emergency disaster relief by cutting the Democrats’ favorite legislation thing, it looks like the government will have to be shut down. No budget passed, no money to keep anything running.

And it is tough:

Now House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and his leadership team must decide whether to acquiesce to the Democrats, or to cut discretionary spending below the level provided for in this bill. Neither option is good from Boehner’s perspective. Appeasing Democrats will cost him support in his caucus, further weakening his standing in his party. But bowing to his own members by cutting spending even further would violate an agreement he struck with Democrats during the debt limit fight, and poison an already sour relationship between leaders of both parties.

GOP leadership is now debating whether to seek a new, less controversial offset, to scrap the idea of offsetting altogether, or to disentangle the disaster aid from the government funding bill altogether – to essentially admit that yoking the two together in the first place was an error. Democrats say it’s plausible there’s another, hypothetical offset they can live with – the only bright line they’re drawing now is that further cuts to the budget, below the level Republicans agreed to in July, are unacceptable.

But this is going to be difficult. A government shutdown looks certain. There’s a reason that John Boehner bursts into tears at the drop of a hat. He’s under a lot of stress. But Fox News will tell you that in early October, when old folks don’t get their Social Security checks and doctors and hospitals don’t get reimbursed for anything at all, America will love the Tea Party and thank it for doing this, and blame Obama for it all. Yeah, well, whatever. We are a country of death and disaster. We specialize in it.

And, considering an event in Miami, we are a confused country:

Mitt Romney suggested Wednesday that he feels the pain of the middle class.

At a town hall meeting here, the millionaire GOP presidential contender told his audience that he favors a tax policy that will help “those who have been hurt by the Obama economy.”

“And that’s the middle class,” Romney continued. “It’s not those in the low end; it’s certainly not those in the very high end. It’s for the great middle class – the 80 to 90 percent of us in this country.”

A look at Romney’s personal financial disclosure form, however, reveals he’s in the bracket that President Obama is targeting with his proposed “Buffett rule” to tax millionaires. An analysis of Romney’s 28-page accounting of his wealth by the Boston Globe earlier this year put the former Massachusetts governor’s net worth at between $190 million and $250 million.

This item also notes that on an earlier visit to Florida this summer, he told a group of jobless workers “I’m also unemployed” – but maybe he was being sly. On the other hand he keeps insisting that corporations are people too, just like the rest of us. The man is deeply confused. And there was that recent Census report – the percentage of Americans living in poverty is up over fifteen percent, the highest level in eighteen years. What is this middle class of which Romney speaks?

And there is this from Roland Martin:

When the U.S. Census Bureau reported last week that a record number of people were living in poverty, Republicans were quick to attach the figures to President Barack Obama, desperately trying to lay them at his feet.

But anyone with common sense knows that someone doesn’t just fall into poverty overnight. The deplorable economic conditions that led to today’s poverty numbers began in 2007. Republicans often ignore such facts.

Yet when you start digging deeper into the Census Bureau report, what stands out is that of the ten poorest states in the country, most are the reddest in the nation – solidly GOP states.

The most impoverished state is Mississippi, and it’s followed by Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama and North Carolina. …

Thus it would make sense that the GOP candidates would at least spend some time in the presidential debates debating the issue of poverty in these red states, and explaining what they plan to do about it.

Yeah, right.

But those guys on that side are confused, as Jason Peters simply compiles facts collected by Harper’s Index:

Seventy-one percent of current US debt was accumulated during Republican presidential terms.

Two-thirds of debt-ceiling elevations since 1960 have been signed into law by Republican presidents.

In 1961 the percentage of corporate profits paid in taxes was nearly forty-one; now it is less than eleven.

Seventy-five percent of the increase in corporate profit margins since 2001 has come from depressed wages.

That last one hurts. Yes, there’s class warfare – the losers always attacking the achievers who made it all on their own and whining and asking for their stuff – but the achievers won long ago. And now, Elizabeth Warren, running against Scott Brown in Massachusetts for his Senate seat, tries to uncomplicated things:

I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.” No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own – nobody.

She says just think about it:

You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory – and hire someone to protect against this – because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless – keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Was that so hard?

Okay, that covers death, disaster and class warfare – but what about sabotage?

Well, Republicans actively lobbying Fed chairman Ben Bernanke would be cool – basically pressing him to let the economy stay in its freefall and to not even try to help:

Even though the financial markets have been counting on the Federal Reserve to take action, Republican Congressional leadership sent a letter to the Federal Reserve chairman on Tuesday evening urging it not to engage in further stimulus.

The letter was sent in the midst of a two-day meeting in which Fed officials are widely expected to undertake policies to lower long-term interest rates. That move would be intended to loosen up credit in hopes of promoting growth. The meeting ends Wednesday, and the Fed is expected to release a statement Wednesday at 2:15 p.m.

“We have serious concerns that further intervention by the Federal Reserve could exacerbate current problems or further harm the U.S. economy,” said the letter, signed by four of the top Republicans in Congress: Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader; Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate Republican whip; House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

And Steve Benen comments:

If this seems at all familiar, it’s because Republican leaders also wrote a letter to Bernanke last November, expressing “concerns” about the Fed’s efforts to boost economic growth.

There’s no shortage of problems with this. For one thing, the Federal Reserve is supposed to be an independent agency. This kind of partisan lobbying from congressional leaders is unseemly.

But given the larger circumstances, Republicans’ disregard for political norms is the least of the nation’s troubles. More pressing is the fact that the leaders of a major political party appear eager, if not desperate, to prevent steps that may improve the economy. The top four GOP members of Congress, including the Speaker of the House, practically demanded yesterday that no steps be taken at all as our anemic growth stalls and the job crisis intensifies.

Yes, Benen has written about the sabotage question before, and now there’s this:

As things stand, Republican leaders, some of whom have admitted that defeating President Obama is their single highest priority, now want the Fed to sit on its hands, want to strip the American Jobs Act of its most effective measures, and want to raise middle-class taxes. Oh, and they’re threatening to shut down the government, too. These are just the positions they’ve talked up over the last week.

Voters backed Republicans in last year’s elections because they wanted to see a healthier economy. The irony is rich.

And David Frum, the disgruntled conservative that he is, had this response to the Republican letter:

I’m not shocked by much anymore, but I am shocked by this: the leaders of one of the great parties in Congress calling on the Federal Reserve to tighten money in the throes of the most prolonged downturn since the Great Depression…

The GOP leadership is urging that the Federal Reserve make the catastrophe worse? To what end?

I know what the detractors will say: to the end of defeating President Obama and replacing him with a Republican president. And if you’ve convinced yourself that Obama is the Second Coming of Malcolm X, Trotsky, and the all-conquering Caliph Omar all in one, then perhaps capsizing the US economy and plunging your fellow-citizens deeper into misery will seem a price worth paying to rid the country of him.

But on any realistic assessment of the problems faced by Americans – and not just would-be Republican office-holders – it’s the recession not the presidency that is National Problem #1 and demands the most urgent action…. This is the hour for united action against the economic crisis, not partisan maneuvering.

And Benen adds this:

Frum doesn’t come right out and say it explicitly, but reading this, it appears Frum believes Republican leaders are – or at least may be – trying to hurt the economy on purpose, as part of a political strategy to undermine President Obama during a crisis.

In other words, Frum seems to be suggesting that the top GOP officials in Congress, including the entire party leadership, may be involved in some kind of sabotage campaign. That’s no small charge.

But Benen says it’s in the air now:

Michael Cohen, a senior fellow at American Security Project, apparently following up on a discussion I launched last November, said this afternoon, “We’re far past the point where there is reason to doubt that the GOP is purposely trying to harm” the economy.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, believes “some” Republicans “want the economy to actually fail.” Paul Krugman recently said in his column, “It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that GOP leaders actually want the economy to perform badly.” Eugene Robison, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was recently asked whether it’s possible Republicans would sabotage the economy. “Well, let me be honest,” he said. “It has occurred to me that this is a possibility.” E. J. Dionne Jr. and Dan Gross have raised the same concerns.

A few months ago, Kevin Drum wondered whether this will ever be “a serious talking point,” adding, “No serious person in a position of real influence really wants to accuse an entire party of cynically trying to tank the economy, after all.”

Benen has the links if you want to look up all that talk, but says it comes down to this:

Given recent events – the debt-ceiling scandal, the GOP-driven downgrade, the Republican rejection of any efforts to boost the economy, the letter to Bernanke, the repeated threats of government shutdowns – it appears all kinds of serious people are at least entertaining the possibility.

And Andrew Sullivan is thinking along the same lines too – “Every time you think the ultras in the current GOP won’t go there, they do. They’ll sabotage economic growth for short term political advantage.”

Well, duh!

But the Fed chairman ignored his fellow Republicans (yes, Bernanke is a Republican, appointed by Bush):

The Federal Reserve announced a new plan Wednesday to stimulate growth by purchasing $400 billion in long-term Treasury securities with proceeds from the sale of short-term government debt, defying Republican demands to refrain from new actions.

In extending its campaign of novel efforts to shake the economy from its torpor, the Fed said that it was responding to evidence that there was a clear need for help.

What is this? Responding to evidence? What kind of Republican is he?

He’s the old-fashioned kind:

“Growth remains slow. Recent indicators point to continuing weakness in overall labor market conditions and the unemployment rate remains elevated,” the Fed said in a statement that listed its reasons for worry about the anemic condition of the American economy. “Household spending has been increasing at only a modest pace in recent months.”

The central bank said in a statement that the program was aimed at reducing the cost of borrowing for businesses and consumers, including the cost of mortgage loans. It hopes that the lower rates will encourage companies to build new factories and hire more workers, and consumers to start spending again on homes and cars and clothes and vacations.

So over the next nine months the Fed intends to sell four hundred billion in Treasury securities, shifting from shorter-term to longer-term holdings – lowering yields and reducing rates on mortgages and other loans. They’re calling it Operation Twist – and Matthew Yglesias has a few ideas on what the Fed could have done to be more ambitious, while Daniel Gross has low expectations about the new policy. And it was Rick Perry who said if Bernanke did anything like this he’d better not visit Texas, as this was treason and the Texans would get ugly with him. Yeah, yeah – we all remember what happened to Jack Kennedy in Dallas. Bernanke can just avoid Texas.

But wait. There’s more, and at the United Nations:

President Obama on Wednesday hailed the popular revolutions that have transformed the political landscape of the Middle East and urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to revive talks toward a difficult peace. In the third address of his presidency to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama acknowledged that he is frustrated by lack of progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace, but he stressed that there is ‘no shortcut’ to ending the conflict, and he called for understanding of each side’s “legitimate aspirations.”

But we would block the Palestinian move to have the United Nations declare them a nation. It’s just not that easy. And that led to this:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised President Barack Obama’s efforts to dissuade Palestinian leaders from pushing for a United Nations vote on statehood, calling Obama’s actions a “badge of honor” for the president.

And the Republicans expected Netanyahu to declare they would only deal with Rick Perry, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin as the only legitimate United States government. Oh well.

But it wasn’t for want of trying. Michael Cohen covers Rick Perry’s big speech on Israel and calls the speech “deeply clownish” among other things:

Speaking of pandering and appeasement Perry also said this, “It is time to change our policy of appeasement toward the Palestinians to strengthen our ties to the nation of Israel.” Honestly, this is one of the craziest things I’ve heard come out of the mouth of an American politician in quite some time.

The United States is currently preparing to veto a UN Security Council Resolution creating a Palestinian state; it has been lobbying members of the Security Council and the General Assembly to vote against said resolution – in what alternate Texas-universe is this appeasement? Perhaps it’s the same Texas universe where scientists believe climate change is not real? If the United States was appeasing the Palestinians or even the Arab street (another charge by Perry) wouldn’t the Obama Administration be supporting Palestinian statehood? It’s almost as if Rick Perry believes that to prove America’s fealty to Israel we have to veto resolutions that negatively affect Israel … and also have our diplomats tape kick me signs to the back of Mahmoud Abbas.

And in the Economist, Matthew Steinglass takes Perry to school:

The Obama administration, like every other American administration, has been a staunch defender of Israeli interests, showing far more deference to Israel than to the Palestinians. But there is one way in which America has treated the Palestinians and the Israelis similarly. The US is now engaged in a vigorous, desperate last-minute lobbying effort at the UN to get the Palestinians to delay declaring statehood. And in April and early May of 1948, the US did the same thing to Israel.

And Andrew Sullivan gets to the root of all this:

This isn’t about any of this. It’s about Christianism and an appeal to the religious core of the GOP. Perry was completely explicit about this, and it represents a core shift in which the GOP reflects the politics of the Likud coalition. Perry and Palin are on record wanting more settlements on the West Bank; for them, Israel is the most important ally on earth because it is deemed to be so by the Old Testament. Add some End-Times theology about the growing number of Jews in ancient Jewish lands and bingo! You have what passes for foreign policy.

“As a Christian, I have a clear directive to support Israel, so from my perspective it’s pretty easy,” Perry said. “Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel.”

Notice how this is a doctrinal statement – not a political one. The context doesn’t matter; the issues don’t matter; what Greater Israel might do doesn’t matter. All of this is erased – made “easy” – by theology. And people say Christianism is not real because Focus on the Family has funding problems. They don’t need Focus on the Family. They have an entire political party echoing theology as foreign policy. And the great thing about that is that it is indeed easy: you don’t need to know anything about the region. You just know you back Greater Israel every time – and you back Greater Israel even against your own president, and deliberately undermine his foreign policy and make alliances with foreign leaders against your own.

And that’s sabotage too.

So there you have it – death, disaster, class warfare and sabotage – all wrapped up on one All-American Day. Maybe Thursday will be quiet – or Greece will default and Europe will just collapse. And there is this – Internet Rumor: Sarah Palin’s Husband Todd To File For Divorce – and this – Home Alone, Twelve-Year-Old Girl Encounters Bear In Her Kitchen – as it’s always something.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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