June 24, 2012

Republicans Were Wrong Again

One of the campaign planks the Republican Party has been standing on is that President Obama's economic polices are a disaster, that he doesn't understand business, and that he's doing more harm than good.

An example of this is the bailout of the US automotive industry.  Key Republicans told us that this was a terrible plan, one that might well end capitalism as we know it.

In case you've forgotten their opinions at the time,  ThinkProgress gathered a number of quotes from GOP leaders on the issue; here's a sample:
  • Rep. John Boehner (R-OH): “Does anyone really believe that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington can successfully steer a multi-national corporation to economic viability?”
  • Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC): “Now the government has forced taxpayers to buy these failing companies without any plausible plan for profitability. Does anyone think the same government that plans to double the national debt in five years will turn GM around in the same time?”
  • Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ): When government gets involved in a company, “the disaster that follows is predictable.”
And who can forget this declaration from Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican candidate for President?:

"If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won't go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed."
Read that bit again: "its demise will be virtually guaranteed."  Strong words.  But as the GOP will tell you, Romney is an expert in business.  So he should know, right?

And lo, four years later, his prophecy is born out...
GM adds third shift at Texas plant, 800 jobs
General Motors announced plans Friday to add a third shift at its SUV plant in Arlington, Texas, as the company continues to ramp up production after deep cuts during the financial crisis.

The additional shift will keep the facility running around the clock, and will generate roughly 800 additional jobs...

Now, with auto demand coming back, "lots of companies across the board are adding shifts and adding third shifts," Dziczek said.
-- CNN Money, June 22, 2012
Hey, wait a minute.  That's exactly the opposite of what Mr. Romney said would happen.  In fact, General Motors, whose demise was "virtually guaranteed," has added a third shift because they need to meet the demand for new cars.

I wonder what could be driving demand?  Maybe that's in the headlines, too -
Gas prices drop 14 cents in two weeks
Gasoline prices have fallen rapidly, dropping 48.9 cents from a high of $3.967 on April 6, survey editor Trilby Lundberg said on Sunday.
Gas prices are down.  But according to "experienced businessman" Mitt Romney, Obama's been dead set on making gasoline more expensive:

Last week Mitt Romney told Fox News that Obama "has done everything in his power to make it harder for us to get oil and natural gas in this country, driving up the price of those commodities in the case of gasoline."

That's two strikes for Mitt.  I guess that magic underwear doesn't make him a prophet.

Of course, he's not as wrong as Newt Gingrich was:

"...the American people will know the President is still committed to his radical ideology, which wants to artificially raise the cost of energy."
-- TIME, March 20, 2012
Of course, the truth is that the President of the United States has very little ability to affect the price of gasoline, as reported by Fox News in 2008

The GOP has a history of being wrong about gasoline prices and the automotive industry.  While it's important to recognize that the GOP was wrong on this issue, we must also realize that had we followed their advice, it would have cost this country tens of thousands of jobs.
According to the Center for Automotive Research, “if the government had not invested in the automotive industry, up to 80,000 automotive jobs would have been lost, and General Motors alone would have lost one million units of sales in 2009. Once Chrysler and GM emerged from their ‘orderly’ bankruptcies, the growth of automotive sector employment has been strong, with 52,900 workers added since July 2009. Had GM and Chrysler not successfully emerged, those jobs would have been permanently lost.”
Had the GOP had its way, we'd have lost all those jobs, the sales, and manufacturing capacity. Again and again, the GOP keeps claiming that it knows better than everyone else, and and time and time again, events prove that they are decisively wrong.

June 11, 2012

The Problem with "Anyone But..." Part 2

In a discussion about the Republican Party and its tendency to bolster its positions with whopping lies, the other party confessed that they didn't particularly care for Mitt Romney.  "But anyone but Obama will be a better choice."

This is a flawed argument, one only held by those too lazy to actually think it through.  So let's continue to examine the folly of voting for "Anyone But."  We've examined some of the fallout from Florida's gubernatorial election when people voted for "anyone but Alex Sink."  Now it's time to look at the bigger picture.

Anyone But Obama

"Anyone but" Obama is another disaster waiting to happen.
"...voting Republicans is not necessarily a vote for all of the above, it's simply a vote AGAINST Obama. I am in favor of women's right, prescription contraception, etc..."
 - my right-wing relative
Here's the thing; in the United States, we do not have a mechanism for "voting against" a candidate.  You can only vote FOR candidates. 

And when you vote FOR a candidate, you are not only indicating that you support that candidate, you are standing behind their party, and their party's platform.  All of it.  There's no cherry picking; when you vote for a turd, you're getting in bed with it. You are stating implicitly that your ideals are those of the turd. That's the system.

For now, we won't discuss the merits of Obama - and yes, he does have a list of accomplishments that should qualify him for a second term.  After all, Republicans are not actually repudiating any of them, they're just ignoring them and pretending they don't exist.  And for now, so will I.  And we'll save an examination of the Republican candidate for later; after all, the convention hasn't happened yet: it's remotely possible that they won't select Romney after all.

But let's take a look at what you're really getting with "anyone but Obama;" the Republican Party itself. Let's look at what the Republican Party REALLY stands for, not by listening to Romney spout off his nonsense, not by reading what they've put up on their website, but by looking at what they've actually been doing.

What The Republican Party Really Stands For:

Increasing the Deficit
Catches you by surprise, doesn't it?  They all keep saying that they're fighting the deficit.  But in fact, while they didn't create it, they've been supporting it since the 1970s. They call it "starving the beast," and the theory is that rather than reduce spending to save money, reduce revenue to force less spending.
"Let us remember that the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today's environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending."
- Alan Greenspan to Senate Finance Comittee, July 14, 1978
"The focus of the fight to restrain government has shifted from limiting government spending to limiting government receipts..."
George Will, July 27, 1978
Think of it as a diet plan; the GOP was going to force America to reduce its deficit by starving it of revenue.  After all, you can't spend what you don't have, right?

Well, no.  As we've found, spending has continued.  Ronald Reagan, who rolled "starve the beast" into his Reaganomics package, embraced the cuts, but didn't curtail spending.  In fact, in his first term, federal spending ballooned to 23.5% of GDP.  By the end of his term, Reagan had realized that the approach wasn't working, and raised taxes through the rest of his administration, but the damage had been done.  Republicans have become programmed to believe that reducing revenue will lower the deficit, even though this is clearly not the case. 

We can demonstrate the fallacy of the approach; the Clinton administration pushed through a big tax increase, resulting in a drop in federal spending to 18.2% of GDP by the end of his second term, clearly disproving the notion that higher taxes lead to more spending.  But that didn't stop George W. Bush from slashing taxes, driving spending up 20.7%.  Other studies have since confirmed that lower tax rates actually increase spending and spending costs.

And before you blame the Democrats for not decreasing spending, you should be aware that the Republican Party has rejected Pentagon proposals to retire unnecessary aircraft and ships.  In other words, the military doesn't have a use for these vehicles, but the GOP wants them to remain in service anyway.  In fact, the Republican controlled House Armed Services Committee is pushing a budget $4 billion more than the Pentagon itself says it needs!

From Defense News, May 10, 2012:
Asked about the proposed missile defense site during the briefing, U.S. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “I don’t see a need beyond what we submitted in the last budget” and the current “suite of ground-based and sea-based interceptors” is sufficient.

At the same time, the House Appropriations defense subcommittee chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., has developed a 2013 defense spending bill that comes in $3.1 billion above the Pentagon’s request.
So clearly the Republicans aren't trying to cut down on spending.  If the GOP was really serious about reducing the deficit, they'd raise taxes, agree to budget cuts proposed by government agencies, and raise or remove the $100,000 cap on the Social Security contribution.  They'd also seriously consider ending the expensive and wholly ineffective War on Drugs.  By de-criminalizing drugs, we'd save the money spent trying to stop them, and gain revenue from new taxes on the production.  It worked for alcohol, there's no reason it couldn't work for drugs.

But the GOP isn't considering any of these things, therefore we can conclude that they are not interested in reducing the deficit, even though they claim they are.  Actions speak louder than words, and the actions are damning.

Government Intrusion
While they claim to believe that government must be limited, the Grand Old Party sure has put a lot of effort into pushing government into the most private moments of our lives.

A prime example of this are all the initiatives mandating invasive ultrasound procedures on women.  These procedures serve no medical purpose whatsoever.  They are intended solely to shame women out of having abortions, a private decision that is already difficult and painful enough for most women.  But the Republican Party has pushed laws in several states requiring that before they can undergo an abortion, they have to have a plastic wand shoved up into their vagina and view the resultant image.

Isn't this just what you want to have done to you following a rape?

It just doesn't get much more intrusive than being penetrated against your will in order to force you to see something you already know is there and have already decided to remove, in my humble opinion.  But it doesn't end there; Republicans in several state legislatures have been pushing "personhood," which defines human life beginning not at the moment a fertilized ova implants itself in a woman's placenta, but at the moment of fertilization.  Unstated is the fact that since most oral contraceptives work by preventing the ova from attaching to the placenta, most forms of female oral contraception could be declared illegal.

The GOP is getting right into our bedrooms, and literally forcing their way into a woman's private parts.

Limiting Equal Rights - They're Not For Everyone
Shockingly, 40 years after John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, which mandated that someone doing the same job should receive the same pay, Senate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, intended to strengthen protections against pay inequities.  It's hard to believe that anyone could reject the concept of equal pay in this day and age, but there it is.
“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”
― Thomas Jefferson
Republicans have also been working hard to disenfranchise voters.  In Florida, Governor Scott has been pushing for clerks to purge voters from the rolls using a badly flawed list of suspects; so far, less than 1% of the supposedly illegal voters have turned out to be actually illegal voters.  But that hasn't slowed him down any.  He's ignoring cease and desist orders from the Department of Justice, and has ordered a legal defense of his purge.

To date, 22 statutes and 2 executive actions have been approved in 17 states since 2011, and as many as 74 similar bills are pending around the country. 

As noted in the Washington Post, April 30 2012:
If photo ID laws were going to be the solution, though, Republicans had to invent a problem. The best they could come up with was The Menace of Widespread Voter Fraud.

It’s a stretch. Actually, it’s a lie. There is no Widespread Voter Fraud. All available evidence indicates that fraudulent voting of the kind that photo ID laws would presumably prevent — someone shows up at the polls and votes in someone else’s name — just doesn’t happen.
This is born out time and again; in Florida, for example, out of a list of about 1,600 suspected ineligible voters, only 13 were found to have actually been ineligible to be on the voters' rolls, and only 8 of those people had ever actually voted.

Republicans are also firmly opposed to the rights of gays to marry.  They call it The Defense of Marriage Act, but it does little to defend anything; all it does is prevent some people from enjoying rights enjoyed by millions of other Americans.  Worse, there are moves to amend the constitution to make gay marriage illegal in the handful of states that do allow it. 

The thing about our bill of rights; any amendment is supposed do one of two things, and preferably both: 1. It must protect a citizen from harm.  2. It must improve the life of a citizen, or allow them greater opportunities to have justice, domestic tranquility, safety, and improve their general welfare.  A ban against gay marriage does none of these things.  The only purpose of such an amendment would be to stop someone from having rights.  That is about as great an assault on American values as I can imagine; an amendment that exists for the purpose of preventing some people from having rights granted to others
"The only orthodox object of the institution of government is to secure the greatest degree of happiness possible to the general mass of those associated under it."
--Thomas Jefferson to M. van der Kemp, 1812.

Fuck the Constitution, Let's Have a State Religion
Another problem with this movement is that the "traditional definition" the GOP adheres to is on derived from a religion; specifically Christianity.  Other religions have other definition; for example, they permit multiple spouses.  That means that in order to define marriage as "a union between one man and one woman," the state must adapt a specific religious view, a de facto violation of the First Amendment, which clearly states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

If we are to follow a strict Constitutional approach to the matter, the State should treat all marriages in the same manner as any contract under contract law; they should simply record the fact of it.

Time and again, Republicans seek to sneak Creationism, that is, the biblical story of where everything came from, into our educations system.  They feel that evolution, the scientific explanation of how life developed from simpler forms into the myriad organisms we have now, should be downplayed in favor of their religious views. 

Their tactics are actually as pathetic as they are blatant; try to diminish evolution by emphasizing that it's "only a theory" and elevate Creationism by claiming, well, let's quote Republican Senator Stephen Wise:
"If you're going to teach evolution, then you have to teach the other side so you can have critical thinking."
The flaw in this reasoning is that creationism isn't "another side."  It's a religious conviction, period.  It has no place in science, even if you substitute "creationism" with "intelligent design."  It's similar to insisting that children be taught the parable of the loaves and fishes as an alternative to "2+2=4".

Fuck Science, Too.
Here is what qualifies Evolution as a valid scientific theory; first, we can devise experiments to test it, and second, we can make predictions based on it.  You can't do that with Creationism. 

Evolution predicts that organisms adapt over time so they can survive; an example of that is the flu virus.  Each year, the Centers for Disease Control have to update flu vaccines because the various strains of the flu evolve so that they are not affected by prior versions.  We're having a minor crisis with infection due to the over-use of anti-biotics.  Dish soap may kill 99.9% of bacteria initially, but that leave room for the .01% to breed.  And sure enough, we're now seeing strains of bacteria that aren't affected by our current inventory of anti-biotics.

Creationism can't be tested in this manner; no predictions can be made using it, not even if you call it "Intelligent Design."  That's because it's not science, it's a religious conviction.

Republicans have expanded their pro-religion anti-science stance to the weather: I'm talking of course about Global Warming.  When a state appointed science panel issued a report warning that sea levels could rise as much as 3 feet, North Carolina Republicans responded by introducing legislation that would mandate that flood rates could only be calculated by a single state agency, and that that agency could only use the historical record back to 1900 to calculate those rates and would be forbidden from referring to the best current data on the subject.

Not since the Pope excommunicated Galileo for stating that the earth revolves around the sun have we seen such a misguided attack on science. 

Preventing effective Government
Politics has been described as "the art of the compromise." And in fact, Congress itself is the result of a compromise; half the founding fathers wanted representation based on the population of each state, which would result in states with larger populations having more sway than smaller states. The other half wanted each state to have an equal voice, allotting each state the same number of representatives, regardless of population.  In the end, both sides compromised, adopting both plans.

Larry David described compromise as "a solution leaving both parties equally dissatisfied."

But so-called Tea Party Republicans have deadlocked our government by refusing any compromise.  In years past, Democrats and Republicans would work with each other to come up with bi-partisan solutions, where each side compromised so that effective legislation could be enacted.

Of course, many Republicans will state that it's the Democrats who haven't compromised; but this is largely because Republicans aren't using the same definition as everyone else.

Republican Tea Party Senator Richard Mourdock is a clear illustration of this.  His take on what it means to be "bi-partisan" is intriguing, to say the least:
"I hope... that bipartisanship becomes Democrats joining Republicans to roll back the size of government, reduce the bureaucracy, lower taxes  ..."
Demanding that the other side adopt your point of view is  not bipartisanship, and it's certainly not compromise. 

As self-proclaimed conservative David Brooks noted, Democrats have compromised:
"The Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill. They have agreed not to raise tax rates. They have agreed to a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession.
Moreover, many important Democrats are open to a truly large budget
deal. President Obama has a strong incentive to reach a deal so he can
campaign in 2012 as a moderate. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid,
has talked about supporting a debt reduction measure of $3 trillion or
even $4 trillion if the Republicans meet him part way.
But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no. "
-- The New York Times, July 5 2011
The Washington Post was even blunter:
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
-- The Washington Post, April 27, 2012
What "Anyone But Obama" Means For Us

So to sum it up, here's what a vote for "Anyone But Obama" is actually supporting:
  • No end to the deficit.
  • Government intruding into our personal lives.
  • Renewed abuses of our civil rights.
  • A de facto end to freedom of religion by advancing the causes of one religion over others.
  • Stifling scientific achievement if it contradicts currently held views of the reigning party
  • Ensuring that effective governance can't occur by refusing to work with the opposition.
Maybe this won't change your mind; maybe you even approve of the actual agenda of the Republican Party.  But one thing is certain; if you vote for "anyone but Obama," you'll be contributing to this glorious mess.

No, he's not sitting.

June 10, 2012

The Problem with "Anyone But..." Part 1

In a discussion about the Republican Party and its tendency to bolsterits positions with whopping lies, the other party confessed that they didn't particularly care for Mitt Romney.  "But anyone but Obama will be a better choice."

This is a flawed argument, one only held by those too lazy to actually think it through.  So let's  examine the folly of voting for "Anyone But."

"Anyone But Alex Sink"

In 2010, Florida elected Republican Rick Scott to governor.  Although implicated in a Medicare fraud that resulted in the largest criminal fine in US history, and even though many of his own party  believed that he may have had a part in that fraud (no charges were filed because his underlings  wouldn't rat him out), he beat out his squeaky clean opponent, Democrat Alex Sink, a banker with a solid record of success in the private sector.

As quoted in the Miami Herald on November 3, 2010:
"I wouldn't have voted for him if I had another Republican to choose from,'' said Frank Paruas, a 38-year-old Kendall Republican. "I think Alex Sink isn't a bad person. But I just couldn't vote for anyone in the Democratic party right now.''
He didn't vote for Rick Scott, per se.  He voted for "anyone but" the other party's candidate.

Florida has paid the price since.  And I mean that literally. 

"My egregious blunders only stack this high!"

Right off the bat, he rejected the popular high-speed rail project that was going to begin with a stretch from Tampa to Orlando as the first link.  It would have been paid for with  $2.4 billion in Federal stimulus funding with matching funds from the private sector, and would have resulted in thousands of jobs, with no Florida tax dollars coming out of the state budget.  And since it was only the first stretch of a rail from Miami to Tallahassee, we'd have continued to have return on the investment for decades to come.

To add injury to insult, just a few months later, he approved a 61 mile commuter rail project at a cost of $500 million to state taxpayers.  He slashed other budgets to fund this one train line that would only serve its 61 mile  stretch.

So that's $2.9 billion before the end of his first year.  But there's so much more.

He signed off on a law imposing mandatory drug testing on welfare applicants, even though studies shows that less than two percent of applicants use drugs.  And in fact, the program produced no savings, instead adding another $45,780 to cover the cost of reimbursing the 98% of applicants who passed the test.  And in fact, similar laws had already been struck down.  And so to, was this one

At least one lawsuit is still pending, so we don't know how much this turkey will end up costing Florida.  To add insult to injury, he tried to pass a similar law for state workers, which courts quickly swatted down.

Rick Scott has also signed off on legislation that violates the Constitution of the United States.  The most recent example is the voters purge; while the idea isn't a bad one, Florida is required to submit any changes to voter eligibility to the courts, due to the state's egregious civil rights violations in the past.  They didn't.  

Scott is now squandering tax dollars to fight a battle he's already  lost.  Is the purge necessary?  Apparently not; so far, less than one percent of the voters in question have turned out to be ineligible.  Earlier in the year, a judge declared an earlier attack on voters' rights to be unconstitutional.

Scott also approved a law that penalizes any firm that does business with Cuba, a clear violation of Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution, which states unequivocally that only Congress has the right to regulate commerce with foreign nations. More tax dollars wasted to fight for a bad law he should have

That's somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.5 billion dollars wasted because voters chose "anyone  but" the other candidate.

But we mustn't forget his "other" accomplishments.
  • he gutted education funding by $500 million, and that's not including the millions pulled out to fund "charter" schools.
  • attempted to remove the state's prescription drug database, which was successfully showing which doctors were issuing too many prescriptions and which pharmacists were buying more pills than were being dispensed in prescriptions.  He claimed it was to "save money," but it relied on no state funding.
  • attempted to privatize prisons over the objections of his hand-picked Secretary of the Department of Corrections, who resigned in protest.  The Florida Legislature ultimately rejected Scott's plans.
  • made crippling cuts to programs that serve the severely disabled, potentially risking the lives of thousands of Floridians.
  • oversaw the creation of the nation's worst unemployment program, making it extremely difficult for the unemployed to apply for the paltry benefits available; denials for procedural reasons (forms incorrectly filled out) skyrocketed by 200%.
  • passed a new PIP auto insurance law that does little to protect drivers, and less to reduce Florida's exorbitant insurance rate.
  • is attempting to remove Citizen's Property Insurance Corporation, a state run insurance company created in the wake of Hurricane Andrew that is the only option available to thousands of homeowners.  The group can't turn anyone down, and must charge the highest rate in the market.
By the end of his first year, polls showed that voters would then elect Democrat Alex Sink by a wide margin if given an opportunity to do so.  In a more recent Republican Party poll, Scott lost out to an obscure state representative who, ironically, was selected because he was "anyone but Rick Scott."