Euphoria

 

We live in the declining years of what is still the biggest economy in the world, where a looter elite has fastened itself upon the decaying carcass of the empire. It is intent on speedily and relentlessly extracting the maximum wealth from that carcass, impoverishing our former working middle class.” E. Callenbach, 2012

The Republicans at the moment are experiencing euphoria. They act like it: positively giddy with power. After all, they now control the House and the Senate and have a president they think they can control (!). Accordingly, they are trying to manipulate the situation in order to have Trump’s incompetent cabinet recommendations approved as quickly as possible. They also plan to jettison the Affordable Care Act — despite the fact that they have nothing whatever to replace what they derisively call “Obamacare.” In addition, of course, they plan to scuttle the E.P.A. and any other regulating agencies that stand in the way of what they regard as “progress.” And all before the electorate catches its collective breath.

Predictably, many of these actions will take more time than planned, but, however long it takes, it is virtually certain that there will be some dreadful mistakes because of the political games that are being played and the haste with which these men and women want to take advantage of their advantage, as it were. These professional politicians are astute enough — or their advisors are — to know that they will not have Trump long in the White House. He won’t be able to work with them nor they with him. He has already insisted that he will not divest his businesses. At some point they will want to remove him, one way or the other, because they see Mike Pence as someone they can work with — he’s one of them, after all, equally nutty but not some brazen, outspoken, loose cannon who is bound to get them and their country into a mess if he remains in office for very long.

The whole scenario leaves us breathless. One worries that, based on history, actions taken in haste are usually regretted at leisure. (Think: Iraq.) Once the dust has settled and the economy is in serious trouble and the planet under even more relentless attack, there will be a good deal of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth. Many who supported this car full of clowns will have regrets and those who supported a con-artist will begin to grasp the fact that they have been duped.

Once Trump’s nominees are approved, and most, if not all, will be (predictably) the Republicans will look to Trump to return the favor — after all this is high stakes politics: you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours — and Trump will wonder what the hell they are talking about. After all, this is a man who is not used to returning the favor; he is used to having others do him favors. His is a business world where money talks and, since he has a great deal of money, people listen. He is used to being heard and having people bend to his will — from all reports. When the professional politicians he will be surrounded by in Washington come to him to demand that he now help them get what they want since they delivered to him the cluster of incompetent people he wanted to surround himself with, he will balk. Surely. And, I predict, this will be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. This is when (if it doesn’t happen before) the Congress will take measures to remove Trump from office, either by resignation or impeachment.

The rest of us, of course, will be left holding the bag, as it were. We should at that point — though judging form past experience we will not — replace the entire elected body with another group that might approximate a reliable coterie of men and women who will actually represent the will of the voters and not the corporations. This is one feature of the British Parliament system the founders did not choose to incorporate into our Constitution, sadly: the ability of the government to dissolve itself due to inability to work together and initiate new elections to make possible the replacement of one set of clowns with another. The only way the voters can do this in our system is to wait for the elections to roll around, and the founders were convinced this is how it would work; but we have shown ourselves unable to do this in the past as we keep re-electing the same group of clowns. Until they step on our toes.

 

Birds Of A Feather

A recent story on CNBC and picked up by Yahoo News about David Siegel, C.E.O. of Westgate Resorts, deserves a comment. The man wrote to his employees and told them that if Obama is reelected he may have to downsize and they might lose their jobs. He insists that this is not extortion, but let me quote him directly as this is a key issue:

Siegel stressed that he wasn’t out to intimidate his workers into voting for Romney. “I can’t tell anyone to vote,” he said. But he wants to make sure his workers made an informed choice. “I want my employees to be educated on what could happen to their future if the wrong person is elected.”

In a word: this is not a threat, but if you vote for the “wrong person” you may need to find another job. The man has obviously never heard about the law of contradiction. He simply wants to “educate” his employees. And apparently his weakened reasoning ability is only exceeded by his hypocrisy. He warns against wasteful government spending and yet this is the man who built “Versailles,” reportedly the largest house in America, at a cost that sent him into a financial tailspin resulting in personal sacrifices he now brags about. As the article puts it, “[Siegel and his wife] became symbols of outsized spending, debt and real estate in America. But when the company started buckling under $1 billion in debt during the crisis, the Siegels’ home went into foreclosure and was put up for sale. They cut back on the jet, took the kids out of private school and gave up some of their staff.”

He claims he has turned things around by getting “lean and mean”  (by cutting back on the jet and taking his kids out of private school?) and wants the country to do the same thing. Like so many very wealthy people in this country, this man prides himself on the fact that he made it “on his own.”  As he told his employees in his letter, “. . .people like me who made all the right decisions and invested in themselves are being forced to bail out all the people who didn’t. The people who overspent their paychecks suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed 42 years of my life for.”  So many of the very rich simply don’t get it: they really don’t know what it means to struggle and go without. This is becoming a familiar story; the stereotypes just keep tumbling out.

Siegel blames “Obamacare and increased taxes,” which he predicts will follow the president’s reelection, for the projected reduction of some of his 7000 employees. But he ignores the salient fact that among developed countries Americans pay the fewest taxes in the world. The proposed increase in taxes to be paid by the wealthy in this country under Obama would be about 39% — almost exactly what they were under Clinton when the country knew unprecedented economic growth. Additionally, this country is near the bottom of the developed nations in health care, one of the few “civilized” countries without some sort of national health care system — discounting the Affordable Care Act which is in its infancy. And the number of poor grows daily while “Obamacare” in its brief existence has welcomed thousands of the sick under its umbrella — people who had previously been uninsured. The system is not perfect, heaven knows, but it is assuredly a step in the right direction.

What is particularly disturbing about Siegel’s actions are the echoes of Mitt Romney’s dismissal of the 47% of the people in this country who, in his words, have become dependent on the government. Romney famously said it; Siegel simply stands in his shadow and nods his head. The man stoops to extortion and he has a dismissive attitude toward the poor in this country whom he lumps together as leeches and bums — ignoring the fact that many of his 5000 employees who lost their jobs during his “lean and mean” period are probably among their numbers. Shit happens, and it often happens to gifted and highly motivated people who just may happen to work for people like David Siegel.

At a time when the world needs compassion and understanding it is troubling to read about a man who brags about his own success while he threatens others as he denigrates those who struggle simply to keep their heads above water.

Ironic Footnotes

You may have seen the graph that shows the parallels between what is referred to as “Obamacare” and “Romneycare.” It has been making the rounds of Facebook of late.

The irony is, of course, that Mitt Romney as Republican candidate for President will be forced to argue against the very plan he supported while Governor of Massachusetts. This is only one of at least two ironies that have come on the heels of the recent Supreme Court decision supporting the  Affordable Care Act. The other has to do with the fact that Barack Obama, while Senator from Illinois, stood on the Senate floor and spoke against John Robert’s nomination for the Supreme Court, pointing out that Roberts was on record questioning “whether the Commerce Clause empowers Congress to speak on those issues of broad national concern that may be only tangentially related to what is easily defined as interstate commerce.” That is to say, the so-called “commerce clause,” has been employed in the past to push forward legislation on the grounds that these laws involve more than one state and were therefore under the purview of the national government. This has been the grounds for many fundamental socially progressive acts of legislation in the past and has proven to be a way around the objections of “states’ rights” advocates who are still fighting the Civil War.

The recent decision on the Affordable Care Act was based, as I said in a recent blog, on the grounds that the law was allowable as a form of tax, thereby rejecting the government’s plea that it be allowed on the grounds of the familiar commerce clause. The irony was that it was John Roberts who substituted the rationale in his vote supporting the law and made the government’s case for the Affordable Care Act himself. Thus, the man whom Obama opposed on the Senate floor handed the sitting President his greatest triumph so far in his first term as President.

But, as I also mentioned in the previous blog, the victory may have been merely Pyrrhic since this Court’s decision to reject the commerce clause rationale will almost certainly handcuff the Congress in the future and make it far less effective in pushing through regulatory legislation — thereby simultaneously giving the Court itself extraordinary legislative power. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in the future. In the meantime, we can be pleased that more Americans will have affordable health care while at the same time we keep a wary eye on the future machinations of the Supreme Court.

 

[Update 7/6/2012: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, , a possible candidate for Vice President and one who has sworn not to uphold the Affordable Care Act, recently said the following in ragging on the plan: “There’s only one candidate — Gov. Romney — who’s committed that he will repeal the Obamney — the Obamacare tax increase,” Jindal said. “He will repeal Obamacare as soon as he’s elected.”  “Obamney Care.” Indeed. Is there any doubt?? Freud would have delighted at the slip of the tongue!]

Judicial Activism

Thomas Jefferson was supposed to have two portraits in his library. One was of John Locke, his favorite philosopher. Locke was one of the first thinkers to espouse the notion that power should be divided and he insisted that the legislature be separated from the executive in any viable political government. He did not separate the judicial from the legislative because he thought, correctly as it happens, that a judge in effect legislates when he or she adjudicates. Interpretation of law constitutes law-making, in effect.

In helping to think through the basis for the American Constitution, Jefferson and his colleagues decided to go with Montesquieu’s determination to separate the judicial from the legislative, insisting that these are two separate functions and should be kept apart. He was wrong. So were the framers of our Constitution. They should have listened to Locke!

The recent decision on the Affordable Care Act would appear to be a decision that favors the sitting President and his attempts at health care reform. But if legal theorists are correct, Obama wins the battle, but the conservatives win the war. The government argued for the mandate that requires all Americans to have health insurance on the basis of the so-called “commerce clause.” The Court rejected this argument, but allowed the mandate on the grounds that it is a form of tax. This was Chief Justice John Roberts’ determination, and it seemed a clear victory for “Obamacare.” However, by rejecting the government’s case basing the mandate on the commerce clause and insisting instead that it is a type of tax Roberts, in particular, accomplished two things at once: he helped give Mitt Romney a full house in the poker game which is the race for the Presidency: Romney can claim — as he has already started to do — that Obama has raised taxes on the Americans and the Republicans can play this hand right through to the big pot they so badly want, the White House. We shall see, But, in the long term, by reasoning against the commerce clause, the Court has in effect limited the ability of the Congress to legislate on major social issues. As a recent op-ed piece by Tom Scocca  in the St. Paul Pioneer Press for June 29th puts it,

This is a substantial rollback of Congress’ regulatory powers, and the chief justice knows it. It is what Roberts has been pursuing ever since he signed up with the Federalist Society. In 2005, Sen. Barack Obama spoke in opposition to Roberts’ nomination, saying he did not trust his political philosophy on tough questions such as “whether the Commerce Clause empowers Congress to speak on those issues of broad national concern that may be only tangentially related to what is easily defined as interstate commerce.” Thursday, Roberts did what Obama predicted he would do.

Roberts’ genius was in pushing this health care decision through without attaching it to the coattails of an ugly, narrow partisan victory. Obama wins on policy, this time. And Roberts rewrites Congress’ power to regulate, opening the door for countless future challenges. In the long term, supporters of curtailing the federal government should be glad to have made that trade.

In addition, in an op-ed piece by Neal Katyal in the New York Times (June 29th) we read that. . . there is a danger here too: that courts are given the power to rewrite legislation altogether, and leave legislation in place (like health care) in a form that Congress might never have approved and that would be difficult to ever repeal.. . .Americans are growing increasingly comfortable, if not always happy, with the idea of nine men and women in Washington handing down rulings that remove decisions from the legislative process or even rewrite legislation altogether.

We should be delighted that Obama won this battle, because countless thousands of American citizens will have medical insurance who were unable to get it previously. That is a good thing. But if these editorials are correct — and there are a number of other legal theorists who echo this point of view — then we may pay a price in the long run. The Congress may ultimately have been rendered even more impotent than it already is by this decision. Locke was right: the courts are an arm of the legislature. In fact, they may prove to be the most powerful arm of the legislature.

Who Would Have Thought???

It’s a special day and deserves a special post: I was wrong. The Supreme Court did the right thing in the recent decision to uphold “Obamacare.” There is hope for us all. This has always been the strength of the U.S. Constitution — an independent non-elected court that would decide constitutional issues. But this Court seemed to be subject to political pressures and has made several poor decisions — including but not limited to “Citizens United.” But this decision shows real promise.

The key vote was that of Justice Roberts, a conservative, who was expected to vote along party lines. He surprised everyone by voting with the liberals on the court. The following excerpt from a recent story about Roberts’ about-face is interesting and may help us understand why this might have happened:

While we may wait decades to know for certain, it does seem plausible that Roberts may have been partly triggered by a desire to prevent the court from being seen as overtly political. Polls showing public respect for the Supreme Court at a quarter-century low reflect the growing view that the justices pursue partisan agendas.

If this is the case, then it does bode well for the future of this Court. It decidedly should not be a political entity: it is designed to be a legal entity that is above politics. With this decision, there is hope that this is now the case.

Political Winds Do Blow

Months before Michelle Bachmann dropped out of the Presidential race, she had an interview in which she had the following to say about Mitt Romney’s chances of winning in November: “He cannot beat Obama. . . It’s not going to happen.” Later in the interview she elaborated a bit. “No, he cannot beat Obama because his policy is the basis for Obamacare,” Bachmann said. “The signature issue of Obama is Obamacare. You can’t have a candidate who has given the blueprint for Obamacare. It’s too identical. It’s not going to happen. We have to have a candidate, a bold distinct candidate in the likeness of Ronald Reagan.”

The candidate “we have to have,” of course, was Michelle Bachmann (“in the likeness of Ronald Reagan.” No false modesty here, folks!). But that was when she was still one of the players in the game. Now, Bachman has endorsed Romney for President. That’s par for the course, as we all know, but it’s also somewhat amusing. The woman who saw how weak a candidate Mitt Romney would be on a large stage is now determined to rally to Romney’s side the support of those on the far right who backed her. It’s politics as usual, of course. But it is also a human comedy if we keep our distance and watch with suspended concern.

Failed candidates almost always rally behind the candidate who wins his or her party’s nomination. It’s all about party loyalty. But the differences within the Republican party these days are so great that the swing of support often seems like a turn-about to the rear. Michelle Bachmann leans so far to the right her shoulder often gets dirty. Romney is adept at finding some ground that appeals to everyone: he leans both left and right — often at the same time. But the change to Romney’s side on Bachmann’s part amounts to a complete abandonment of all she believes in — if, indeed, she really believes in anything. Politicians frequently do not. They prefer pragmatism whereby change can come about as the political winds alter direction. Bachmann seems to be learning the lesson.

In any event, the man who cannot beat Obama because of Obamacare is now joined by the woman who insisted a few months ago he has no chance. I dare say she would now contend that with her help he is a viable candidate, though one would think Romney would prefer to dance with someone else this time around. Bachmann is liable to drive away as many voters as she manages to bring with her. Most of those who supported her in the early stages of her campaign will find Romney unpalatable: for them politics is not a game where you switch sides depending on the way the political winds happen to blow. It will be fascinating to see how things shake out.

In many ways this will be an interesting election (if we can survive the preliminaries): the billionaire Republican who speaks out of both sides of his mouth opposed by the conciliatory Democrat who seems afraid to take a firm position on any issue for fear of alienating someone. Neither man seems to be able to take a stand on principle. Political pragmatism ofttimes looks a lot like believing in nothing, sad to say.