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Tom Rinaldo

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Member since: Mon Oct 20, 2003, 05:39 PM
Number of posts: 16,108

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The Republican Idea of Compromise

So now it is looking like the best case scenario end game to stave off the two headed Republican sponsored monster of government shutdown and defaulting on our fiscal obligations is for Republicans to stand down on their threats for six weeks to allow for "negotiations" with the President to hammer out some reasonable "compromises", while the Republican gun at our collective heads is temporarily holstered. If that is where all this is taking us it shows just how far Republican extortion tactics have already succeeded in bending our nation's future toward an extreme right wing vision of America. Negotiations without hostages being held or a ransom demanded might sound reasonable on the surface, but not if the agenda for such negotiations starts and ends with a list of right wing talking points. And that in a nut shell is the Republican position, and that is fast becoming what conventional wisdom calls “a compromise.”

The pundits say to get us out of the crisis Tea Party Republicans have gotten us into Republicans will need a face saving bone thrown to them first. The promise of serious negotiations with the President AFTER a short term clean continuing resolution and a short term clean lifting of the debt ceiling is agreed to is being called that bone. Instead of negotiating with the President on their list of issues while holding the economy hostage, maybe Republicans will free it temporarily as a prelude to serious talks.

What is wrong with this picture? Hardly anyone in the media or the Democratic Party has called out the Republicans on the premise underlying this pending “compromise”. It is assumed that if only the Republicans will first put down the gun then they can expect to get rewarded with something, the proverbial half loaf negotiators often speak of. Maybe Republicans will finally settle for a quarter loaf once the dust settles, but in return for that flexibility on their part Republicans insist on setting the agenda for “the conversation” they are seeking.

Republicans say that the Affordable Care Act poses a grave threat to the nation and that something must be done to change it; repeal it or at least delay it. So they want the U.S. Senate and the American President to bend to their will regarding it. But Democrats say that rapidly escalating gun violence poses a grave threat to the nation and that something must be done to change it; outlaw assault type weapons or at least close the gun show loop hole for background checks. The seemingly inevitable inter-party negotiations that are approaching will likely include revisiting the Affordable Care Act, but common sense gun safety measures won’t be on the Republican prepared table.

The Republicans claim our current budget deficits pose a grave threat to the nation and something must be done to cut them further. They want further cuts in spending and they want cuts in the economic safety net that tens of millions of Americans depend on. While claiming that current deficits are a huge problem, Republicans accept only one means to deal with them; slashing government spending. Republicans refuse to consider measures that would increase revenue to the government and reduce our deficits that way. Republicans want to negotiate with the President on new cuts only. So to restore any sequestration cuts to the Pentagon more money will need to be taken from programs that are dear to the Democratic Party. That is the Republican version of compromise.

But Democrats believe that continuing high unemployment poses a grave thereat to the nation and that measures must be taken to bring that unemployment down. Most leading economists agree with the Democrats, as does the American public according to countless polls. Rather than firing more workers to shave money off the budget, Democrats believe we need more government funded jobs programs, both in the public and private sectors. Democrats believe it is the role of government to fill the void when the private sector can’t respond to the public need. Jump starting the economy with new government hiring ultimately will more than repay those outlays in future tax revenues. And it will help the American people.

That’s what Democrats tend to believe, and Republicans predictably disagree. But despite controlling the Senate and the Presidency, despite Obama winning the 2012 election and having Democrats pick up seats in both houses of Congress, despite Democrats winning actually winning the combined popular vote for all districts in the House of Representatives, no new jobs bill will be subject to discussion under the Republican version of “compromise”.

And so the politics of compromise has been framed. Republicans posture and say they are being told to surrender when asked to restore normality to our governing process. They will claim to have compromised greatly just to agree to that. What, they will certainly ask, do we get in return? Republicans expect to set the agenda for future talks, and they’ve done a pretty good job of doing that so far. Talk of deficit cutting compromises fill the airwaves but raising the minimum wage never gets a mention. Democrats will be pushed on further spending cuts without any tax increases on the wealthiest Americans. Expect the Affordable Care Act to be put on the negotiating table, expect Social Security cuts to be on that table too. Expect common sense gun safety measures, job creation, and Immigration reform to be decidedly off the table. Starting there, as they say, each side will then have to “give up a little”. Why are so many now so certain that this time Republican extortion won’t work?

There is no world order. The last one died in Iraq

I have mixed feelings about this. People always strive to establish order, that’s one of the main things that we do. We set up homes and make friends. We set up governments and make allies. We seek stability. For almost a hundred years America was the world’s policeman. Cops have a lot of power, they exercise lethal force. It’s not always a good thing to have a cop around, but there are times when it is. Inside nations like Afghanistan there are people who oppose much of what the Taliban stand for and do, and yet still prefer their harsh yet predictable rule to living among unchecked armed thugs when the Taliban are not around.

I wish that my reactions to the latest events inside of Syria and the Obama Administration’s response to them were simpler than it is. I hate the use of any deadly force, except some times when even more death would occur without it. But it’s rarely ever that straight forward. Sometimes the trade tendered is to accept a near certain death now for the possibility of saving dozens of lives later. On the global scale they call that type of calculus “real world politics”.

The world has had worse cops than America. Hitler’s Germany would have been worse. In my opinion Stalin’s Soviet Union would have been worse also. Not in all ways, it seldom is that black and white, but overall I do feel worse. Internationalism has long been a tenet of progressive thinking. It gave rise to a world wide socialist movement; “Workers of the World Unite!” Nationalism is often overly narrow and has fertilized many a brutal armed conflict. There are, I think, some things even more important than preserving the local peace. Standing up against oppression is among them, so is acting to stop genocide even if it is happening half way around the world. But is it called genocide if both sides in a civil war seek to exterminate the other?

Far too often the U.S. has acted like a corrupt police force on the world stage, one bought off by moneyed interests. Even corrupt police forces help victims of traffic accidents and shoot rabid skunks. Some would prefer a corrupt police force to none at all, others would not. Back in Woodrow Wilson’s day there were high hopes for the League of Nations. Those hopes were never realized. The end of World War Two led to the start of the United Nations. The U.N. has accomplished some worthwhile things but it is only as strong as the consensus that supports it, and a Security Council veto grinds it to a halt.

How does one discern the difference between an honest cop and a corrupt one? What if both are on the same payroll? The last Bush Administration wanted a war with Iraq bad enough to lie its way into it. In my opinion the Obama Administration doesn't feel the same about Syria. How much does the difference matter?

I have always supported the Geneva Accords. They were then and remain now a shining step away from the mad darkness of unbridled warfare. I also believe that war crimes truly exist, transcending in their magnitude the generic horror of organized armed conflict. I am grateful to see that view validated by international agreements. I also support continuing efforts to outlaw the use of land mines and depleted uranium as weapons of war through ratified international treaties.

That poison gas has been used against people before despite international agreements banning it doesn’t surprise me, what surprises me is how seldom it has been used. Why is that? What stands behind such international agreements other than the paper they are written on? Is it the World Court? Is it the existence of a global policeman, or a larger alliance of global policemen? Is it ultimately world opinion, or our innate impulse to back away from the pursuit of mutually assured destruction?

A case can be made for the continued role of the United States as world policeman, but I believe that case in increasingly moot. Whether or not the U.S. still has that capacity we, the people, have ceased to have the will for it. That ended in Iraq. In hindsight now it is clear that most of us had been resigned to having very little say in the mater. Like it or not, we were accustomed to Presidents having the authority to doing virtually whatever they wanted when it came to “national security”. Then the UK Parliament defied a sitting Prime Minister and refused to be America’s trusty side kick for another military adventure dispute the arguments he summoned in support of striking Syria. And then, to his credit, President Obama decided it was necessary to make his case directly to Congress, the elected representatives of the American people.

And the people who those representatives are beholden to responded by speaking out. They have done so in unusual numbers with a nearly unprecedented almost unanimous opinion, and that opinion is straight forward. The American people say “No.” The old “New World Order” is over; there is no world order any longer. The emperor may or may not still have clothes but he has lost his dutiful subjects and that now is painfully clear. Obama isn’t that emperor; he is just the current regent. The repudiation of America’s role as global policeman by the American people is far more resounding than any referendum on Obama, or his proposed military strike, alone. We no longer, if we ever did, have the will for it, and now that truth is known for the entire world to see.

Will Iran factor this shifting reality into their deliberations over whether to develop working nuclear weapons? Of course, why wouldn't they? But that by itself won’t determine their decision either way – it is one of many important factors for them to continue to wrestle with. As America backs down attempting to enforce the previous world order a vacuum will grow, but vacuums are by nature a self limiting phenomena; something will grow to replace it. I can’t say with any certainty what I will think about the eventually coming next world order since it has yet to arrive. The American people will still have a role in it, perhaps even a larger one in a way since we seem to have found a more direct voice, less stifled by a Washington power structure overseeing us. That part at least should be a positive development.

As a side point, I'm waiting to see where they got their guns for the shootout

It is sad that people have to become symbols of something else for sane gun safety policy to have any chance of being enacted. Of course Sandy Hook was absolutely horrific, but we lost tens of thousands of innocents to guns every year before an elementary school massacre finally galvanized a new movement for gun safety. Now we have these two brothers, absolute terrorists in the eyes of all. Yes they used IED's to kill in Boston, but they obviously had semi-automatic weapons also. Two officers are down, one fatally. The FBI called them "armed and dangerous". How did they get their arms? Did they come from a licensed gun dealer? From a gun show? From the internet?

Sooner or later we will have people who everyone in politics agrees are full blown terrorists gunning down innocents with guns purchased without going through any background checks. Sooner or later they will use extended capacity ammo clips to hold off police during a fire fight to make a getaway. Maybe these brothers would have passed a background check. Maybe their gun magazines only held ten bullets each instead of 30 or a hundred. But the Public will not stand for it when they realize that real terrorists are killing Americans because of lax gun regulations.

Thank God for the Internets

There always were people who saw through the corporate haze spin that justified status quo priorities that advance the interests of the already privileged, but we couldn't compare notes with each other instantly before. There always was small circulation print media willing to publish articles that shredded arguments used to justify why justice was impractical when it wasn't deemed counter productive, but we couldn't share them with thousands with the click of a mouse like we do now. The establishment still distorts to our face but now we have facts at our fingertips. Leaders still are tempted to compromise our interests with those whose power buys them influence, but their justifications no longer stand unchallenged in the public sphere. We are able to effectively take them on, thanks to the Internets.

That shift has rarely been so clear to me as it is now, when a popular President just enthusiastically reelected has a proposal with broad "establishment" support, like the Chained CPI, so powerfully rebutted by those he believed would bow to the new "inevitable" conventional thinking.

OK, let's say it happens and the Feds save 122 Billion over ten years

Aside from the obvious, what will be the costs? Yes the Chained CPI would make life a little harder for millions of people who receive Social Security, and for some sub set of those life would likely get a lot harder - but would we really save 122 Billion in return?

What happens when people with an average income of, say, $15,000 get squeezed - even though those making $1,000 a month still manage to fall above the so called poverty line? What happens when people put off going to the doctor? What happens when people ration out their medication instead of taking it as prescribed? What happens when older people in particular live in chilly apartments and homes in order to save on heat? What happens when they fail to eat well? How many chronic illnesses will worsen and require more expensive care? What are the costs to society? What are the costs to taxpayers?

What happens if more Seniors can't afford to stay in their current homes, and start skirting with eviction? How many will end up in assisted living programs prematurely? Where does that money come from? How much of their financial shortfalls will their children need to absorb, and how will that effect the ability of the next generation to save for their own futures?

How much are we really talking about saving with this move, and is it really worth it?

Corporate Democrats assume we will tire of this "flavor of the month" outrage over the Chained CPI

We are just liberals being liberals after all, flitting from one burning cause to another. By Summer at the latest they count on us moving on to something else; it might be GMO crops, or Fracking, or maybe some current event in some corner of the world that hasn't quite become current yet. And of course they are banking on some predictable new Republican outrage to consume us all instead, and make us feel sheepish about ever having beaten up on a Democratic President to begin with.

It's the old conventional wisdom about liberals, which just happens to resemble the old conventional wisdom about the American public as a whole. We can't focus, there are too many details, and too many celebrities (the apolitical substitute for causes) to read about instead. Look, there's a shiny new object over there!

No, liberals aren't like gun advocates they say. We don't burn with a constant fire. You do remember that old conventional wisdom, don't you? The people who support responsible gun regulations don't care about their position nearly as much as those who will fight them to the death. Therefor, it went without saying, the NRA always gets its way.

Except that particular conventional wisdom no longer goes without saying, or to be more precise, without being challenged. To their credit many mainstream Democratic leaders have begun to reject that line of reasoning. They argue that times have changed.They talk about a sea change that many in Congress have just been slow to recognize. And they point to a new resolve in the American people to fight back against those who disregard their stated preferences on an issue that may mean life or death.

On Guns these Democrats argue that public safety advocates are engaged for the long haul now. They are confident this cause will not be forgotten three months after Sandy Hook. Change will not be averted by stalling for more time, distractions will not bury this cause in the public mind. Why? Two reasons; the imperative for common sense gun legislation has broken through the background static of our daily lives. We just got our wake up call. And second, and maybe even more importantly, we are organizing. Not just for one hearing, not just for one vote; we are organizing for an outcome regardless of how long it takes to get there. The President himself is making that case. Congress may not reflect that reality now, but it will in time. It's not just the next election, it's the following one too, and the one after that. There is a sneaker wave building off shore, and politicians who are not alert to that risk being washed away. That is the nature of a sea change.

Many of the same Democrats who bear witness to a sea change on gun safety remain blind to the one now happening on issues of economic justice. It too has been building over time, and a Democratic President's budget that calls for cutting social security benefits now serves as a sharp alarm. Maybe that's due to the shock of seeing a political heir of FDR calling for the first cuts in his legacy achievement No this isn't the first betrayal of economic justice in America, nor is it the worst example of it, but in time it will be seen as the turning point in the larger battle. Progressives are organizing now, not just for one vote, but for the long haul. We speak for the American people on this one, with polling consistently showing large majorities of Americans wanting the economic safety net stronger, not shrunken.

Not only are more Democrats keyed in to this issue today, more will be keyed into this issue tomorrow, and even more the year after that. The progressive base of the Democratic Party is fully engaged now and our anger will not subside in three months, even if headlines move on to other issues. Income inequality, the massive shift of wealth from 80% of all Americans to the top 1%, is the core progressive issue of this coming decade, probably for far longer. The ranks of the poor in this nation keep growing. We will not soon be silent, and we will not soon rest. This is not something that will blow over, it is more than a sudden squall.This is a sea change, and it can't be countered with pep talks or admonishments, or mere calls for party loyalty. It's much more basic than that. It is time to sink or swim.

So, protest from "his base" can strengthen Obama's hand, eh?

The media has Sister Souljah Psychosis. We are no longer in the 1990's. It is no longer "news" when a Democratic politician rattles liberals. It doesn't stand out as "a refreshing show of independence" to anyone who really matters anymore, like, um, voters for example. It comes across as "more of the same".

The Republicans have religion about respecting the priorities of "their base". They are not going to be seduced by a President who instinctively tilts toward them every time that they defy him, they just bank his concessions and move on from there. "Standing up to Obama" is how Congressional Republicans get elected to their gerrymandered seats.

Can Obama score a few points with some actual voters by defying the fervently held position of his own core supporters? Sure, it's a big country, but really, how many votes? How many moderates are there left out there still supporting Republicans, who Obama can swing Democratic with this type of stance? Contrast that to how many voters are voting Democratic precisely because they believe it is essential to protect, preserve, and even expand the economic safety net in the face of chronic unemployment and stagnant if not shrinking incomes for the vast majority of Americans?

Here is the essential point that mainstream commentators fail to grasp, often willfully. The Democratic base is more in tune with the American public than the Republican base is, which is why Democrats just won the national election, even with an economy that has everyone still anxious. Insecurity about our economic future is why the majority of Americans support Democrats, because the Democratic Party is the architect of our nations economic safety net and it was seen as the Party most likely to defend it.

When Bill Clinton first "stood up" to the base of his own political party America was still just emerging from it's infatuation with Ronald Reagan. Republicans had dominated Presidential politics for three election cycles prior to Bill Clinton. It could be said that Bill Clinton was courting the votes of "Reagan Democrats" by "standing up" to liberals. Can anyone say, with a straight face at least, that the fortunes of the Democratic Party are at risk due to the mass defection of "Romney Democrats" who somehow must be returned to the fold? Now consider the opposite. Would the fortunes of the Democratic party be at risk if the once sharp distinction that separated Democrats from Republicans in the public mind, when it came to defending the economic safety net, increasingly became blurred?

This fight is about much more than the relative value of this or that bargaining chip in budget negotiations with current Republicans in Congress. President Obama, even under his best case scenario as advanced by establishment minded pundits, conceivably could win a small battle for his administration - forcing Republicans to give an inch, but lose the war for Democrats - and for people who have counted on the Democratic Party to protect their economic interests on issues that can literally mean life and death.

Someone didn't get the lesson in 2010

Someone was riding high in 2008, surfing a popular wave of support into the White House on promises that included repealing the Bush Tax Cuts and delivering health care reform that contained a robust Public Option. Volunteers worked overtime to move both heaven and earth during that 2008 electoral campaign. Democrats gained large majorities in both houses. By early 2010 enthusiasm had drained from large sectors of the Democratic activist base. The Bush tax cuts remained in place and the Public Option vanished. Many progressive activists were demoralized. Democrats across the board got killed in the 2010 mid term elections.

All of the above is simple factual truth. Is it fair what happened, was it inevitable, did our President have other options? All of that can be argued, and has been argued, and no doubt will continue to be argued. But those are the facts regardless of who deserves to be blamed for what happened in 2010.

Someone was also riding high in 2012, surfing another wave of support into the White House on promises that included repealing the Bush tax cuts on earnings over $250,000 a year, and a pledge to protect Social Security and Medicare. Democratic activists fully engaged in the fight to return our sitting Democratic President, putting aside any prior disappointments for the most part. The Democratic turn out was extraordinary, and Democrats gained seats in both Houses of Congress. Not long after the election, the top 2% of Americans managed to permanently keep their Bush tax cuts on earnings below $400,000 (or $450,000 for couples) instead of the $250,000 cut off that our President had campaigned and won on.

The amount of revenues lost to the federal treasury over the next decade because of that upward tax cut revision is over three times greater than the amount of savings the treasury would pocket over that period through cutting Social Security benefits by shifting to the Chained CPI. The man who now proposes doing just that is the same man we elected in both 2008 and 2012, our Democratic President. Look around this Democratic Board at what's going on here. Anything look familiar? How well do you figure our party is positioned now to mobilize for the next mid term elections?

Economic War or Peace? A Political Decision.

Peace is precious, war is terrible. But the vast majority of us, Democrats included, accept that despite all of our best efforts, sometimes there is a time when a people must stand and fight. That of course is how this nation was founded, through a war in which thousands of lives were lost to the resulting violence. They say there is a stalemate in Washington.True enough, so how will it be broken? War or Peace?

No I am not proposing violence now, but I do see us in a political war. The Republicans and those they serve have closed off all other options, we are left to either retreat or stand and fight, knowing full well that lives are lost in any real fight, and this is definitely a real fight. When do you refuse to pay ransom to a kidnapper? When must pirates be fought rather than bought off?

The Republicans continually hold our economy hostage and demand concessions not to harm it. Yes they are fully capable of cutting off one of that hostages fingers if their demands are not met. One day they hold unemployment benefits hostage, the next day medicare reimbursement payments. They choose their hostages well, knowing that real suffering will be faced by many if their demands are not met, and we of course deplore real suffering, and so we continue to negotiate. And so they continue to hold hostages.

At what point do we declare war or do we ever? At what point do we say we must suffer casualties in a fight now in order to abolish a tyranny that has seen this nation's wealth systematically plundered over the last three decades, transferred from the yearly incomes of the vast majority of American citizens into the coffers of the one percent in order to feed their gluttony habits? Now even that isn't good enough. Now they demand that we shrink the bare minimum economic safety net that tens of millions of Americans are barely clinging on to. Lost for all time moving forward under the terms that they propose, and that our President is seemingly agreeing to.

Fighting back now might well cause significantly more real pain in the short term as we engage in this economic war, than if we retreated once again. That is always the strongest argument for appeasement, but is appeasement really in our long term interests?

How many lives must be sacrificed to a widening circle of poverty? When does "retirement" become the same, for all practical purposes, as being a dead man walking? How many of us even get to decide anymore when we become too old for gainful employment? Which "trim" breaks the Camel's back? People are evicted when they offer to pay most of the rent.

Can we at least agree on this now?

Between election cycles, as activists our primary role is to advocate and fight for good progressive policies, not to cheer lead for "good" political leaders. Good leaders can make wrong decisions and still, for the most part, be good leaders. Good citizens don't assume that good leaders will always get it right on each and every issue. Ultimately our lives are on the line with every compromise. It makes no more sense for us to silently accept the leadership of a "good" politician than it does for us to silently accept the treatment plan suggested by a "good" physician. A solution that seemingly makes sense from a leader's perspective, let's say a "Chained-CPI" for example, won't always make sense from ours. Can we agree that "Question Authority" still makes sense, regardless of who is the authority?
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