Friday, April 25, 2014

The most sensible thing I've heard lately

About the rancher conflict in Nevada, from Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador:

Idaho's Labrador: Nevada rancher battling BLM should have paid his bills
In another example of his keen political instincts, Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador distanced himself from Sen. Rand Paul and others championing Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

Labrador is a tea party favorite and friend of the Kentucky senator eying a 2016 Republican presidential run. At Labrador's invitation, Paul will speak to the Idaho Republican convention in June. Bundy has been celebrated by other politicians and conservative media, most notably Sean Hannity on Fox News.

But Labrador told Ada County Republicans he has trouble lionizing Bundy because he's ignoring the rule of law in failing to pay over $1 million in grazing fees to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for running his cattle on public property since 1993.

Labrador stepped away from a chance to laud Bundy Tuesday night. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported on Bundy's comments about "the Negro" and his suggesting slavery wasn't so bad after all. Paul initially was unavailable for comment Wednesday but on Thursday issued a statement, saying, “His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him."

Apparently smelling a rat, Labrador didn't fall into such a trap when asked about the Bundy case at a candidate forum hosted by the Ada County Republican Central Committee. Otherwise he'd be joining Paul and others in damage control.

"One of the concerns I have in the Bundy case is that you have a person who appears to have been violating the law," Labrador began. "And that really concerns me because it makes it very difficult for somebody like me to speak up against what the BLM is doing.

"Because the federal courts, again and again and again, have told this gentleman that he owes money in federal grazing rights, in federal grazing permits," said Labrador, who graduated from high school in Las Vegas, about 80 miles from Bundy's ranch. "Now, he claims that he doesn't owe that money but the courts have disagreed with him."

Labrador went on to college at BYU and earned his law degree at the University of Washington.

Labrador cited the case of another Nevada rancher, Wayne Hage, who battled the BLM in court but continued to pay his bills. Late in life Hage married then-Idaho Congressman Helen Chenoweth, a predecessor of Labrador's in Idaho's 1st District. Both Wayne and Helen Chenoweth-Hage are now deceased.

"The BLM did the same things to (Hage) and when they did it to him he was actually paying his grazing permits and he was doing all the things that he needed to do," Labrador said.

Setting aside the fame enjoyed by Bundy, Labrador continued with a critique of BLM policy and mixed in a shout-out for gun rights.

"Clearly the federal government is overreaching. What I find sad — even if you agree that Mr. Bundy should have paid his grazing permits — it's really scary to think that the federal government can come in to collect on a debt at the point of a gun," Labrador said.

"That should never happen. They should have put a lien on his property; they should have put a lien on the cows; they should have put a lien on a bunch of different things. But they should never be coming in at the point of a gun and trying to take you off a property.

"And that's why — this is the difference between people who believe in the Second Amendment and who don't believe in the Second Amendment: The Second Amendment isn't there so we can hunt. The Second Amendment is there so we can protect ourselves from the government."

Labrador's answer brought hearty applause, once again demonstrating his deftness in appealing to a very conservative base without compromising his oaths to uphold the law as an attorney and a congressman.

He's long brushed off as a distraction questions about President Obama's birthplace, saying he believes the president was born in Hawaii and should be opposed on policy grounds. He's attempted to convince supporters hostile to immigration reform that a compromise would be healthy for humanitarian and economic reasons and essential for the future of the Republican Party. Labrador was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Nevada with his mother while in junior high school.[...]
The government didn't NEED to turn this into an armed confrontation; they had other options. They didn't have to point guns at fellow Americans. So why did they choose to, instead of the other options available to them? That seems to be the most important point to me. But the media cirrus seems to focus on everything else but that.

The Republican Party could use more sane voices like Raul Labrador's.

And it's worth noting, that in the Wayne Hage case that Labrador referred to, Mr. Hage's estate eventually won the case against the BLM. But read the details; it's chilling. It was a long, hard and ugly battle. The judge in the case accused the federal bureaucrats of racketeering under the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations) statute, and accused them as well of extortion, mail fraud, and fraud, in an effort “to kill the business of Mr. Hage.”

Mr. Hage married a congress women as his second wife, before he died. You have to wonder if he would have prevailed, without her help? Officials of the federal government wield tremendous power; they have to be kept in check, as this case shows all too clearly.

This was interesting too:

Conservative racial math can’t cancel out Cliven Bundy
[...] On Fox News, my colleague Charles Krauthammer goes further, making the point that romanticizing a rejection of federal authority often ends in embarrassment. “This is a man who said that he doesn’t recognize the authority of the United States of America. That makes him a patriot?” Krauthammer asked. Anti-government language has been a powerful rhetorical tool, but it is difficult to sever those sentiments from the neo-Confederate sentiments that trail stubbornly behind it. Maybe it is time to try to elevate a different path to conservative stardom.

That such routes might be tough to walk given the Republican Party’s recent history does not mean they do not exist. The libertarian writer Jonathan Blanks, who is a friend and a powerful influence on my own thinking, is a powerful advocate for two ideas that could be made in concert more frequently: that defenses of secession are obscene on libertarian grounds and that African-Americans have plenty of reasons to seek limits on government power. [...]


The Washington D.C. Political Class

Why do Jay Carney and Claire Shipman decorate their house with Soviet propaganda posters?

[...] Now, to be fair, both sides of the power couple studied Russian during their Ivy League educations (he: Yale, she: Columbia) and became Moscow correspondents for major news agencies (he: TIME Magazine back when it still mattered, she: CNN), where they met prior to the fall of the USSR. But the fact that they seem to be nostalgic for the communist era tells us a lot.

While life among the Moscow elite may have been fairly comfortable, it was not so for scores of millions of victims of the regime, less well-connected or ideologically heterodox. In fact, as The Black Book of Communism informs us, communism killed more people than even Nazism. With their fancy Ivy League educations, the Power Couple ought to know this.

How many foreign correspondents in Berlin in the 1930s (people like William L. Shirer) brought home Nazi propaganda posters and raised their children among them?

The sad fact is that progressives in much of the developed world have a soft spot in their hearts for communism. Yeah, it murdered a hundred million people or more, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. And those who were murdered were not very fashionable, for the most part.

The Washingtonian photo is a tell. There is a sickness, a willful blindness toward the crimes of communism because it is so close to the progressive ideology that animates the American Ruling Class. Shipman and Carney are the perfect exemplars of that class. Smart, fit, busy, anxious to make their own lives perfect, and convinced that the price other people pay for their progressive dreams is not worth mentioning or even noticing.
Read the whole thing for embedded links and photos. One of my favorites is the severed finger on the bookcase.

The original article is meant to be a glossy puff-piece, and the photos are supposed to be light-hearted and jokey, which is why they are so fake, I guess. Yet it illustrates something I've said before, that the political class lives in another world from most Americans, totally out of touch with the realities most Americans are facing, and are looking out for themselves, not us.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Will the Middle Class Survive?

4 Things Politicians Will Never Understand About Poor People
Off the top of your head, how many of your friends can you think of make less than $11,000 a year? Maybe they work some mind-numbing part-time job, taking cover charges and stamping hands at a strip club. Or if you're a bit older, how many families do you know of who have one person working, bringing in less than $23,000 to support a spouse and a couple of kids? There's nothing wrong with either of those things ... but those numbers are the poverty threshold in the U.S., and in my area of the country, it encompasses a fudging poopload of people (sorry, I'm trying to cut down on my cursing).
Poverty is a hot topic for politicians, but it seems like every time they open their mouths about the subject, stupid falls out. There's a huge part of me that wants to grab them by their orphan skin lapels and scream reason into their preciously oblivious brains, but the logical side of me knows it won't matter.
But of all the poor people I've known over the years -- and I have known a lot -- I have come across very few able-bodied, able-minded people who didn't do something to bring in some money. Even the ones who didn't have so much as a part-time job still managed to at least find temporary seasonal work mowing lawns, shoveling snow, or standing on street corners and playing the guitar with their penis.
So if the issue is that these people are watching reruns and collecting government checks, guess what: 91 percent of government benefits go to the disabled, elderly, or working households. Not a typo -- 91 percent. You're free to speculate that some of those people could try harder or are faking their disability or whatever, but there's no way the reality lines up with this politician fantasy of the lazy masses who just greedily rub their hands together while leeching their unfathomable riches from the always generous American populace.

OK, let's be calm here. Let's just take a deep breath and talk about this like the rational, well mannered, non-cursing people that we are. Here is an infographic that ran in the Wall Street Journal talking about how the new tax code would be "highly painful" for Americans. The graphic covers every possible scenario the Wall Street Journal can conceive of, from the single mom only making $260,000 a year to the retired couple trying to get by on a fixed income of $180,000:
Reading that dumb fucking mind turd of an image is like wiping my ass with my eyes. If you can look at that steaming pile of shit and not see what's wrong with it, you live in a different goddamn universe than the rest of us.
No, that didn't come from a politician, but this sure as hell does. That's Linda Sanchez, who is desperately trying to tug at our heartstrings by saying that she lives paycheck to paycheck. On her $174,000 salary. To pay for her multiple homes. Now, I understand that if you live a certain lifestyle and you're a limp dick at finances, it would be pretty easy to burn through that much in a year, but does that make us any more sympathetic? Fuck no, it doesn't. Even as one of the least wealthy members of Congress, she still earns three-and-a-half times more money than the average American household. And 16 times more than those at the very top of the poverty line.
So the question is, how can she possibly think of herself as poor? Because $174,000 a year is poor -- for a member of congress. They have no concept whatsoever of what life is like for someone getting by on what most working people make, let alone somebody subsisting on government aid. Although they can comprehend our income as a number, they cannot comprehend the lifestyle because they haven't lived it and they likely never will. You're not going to find these politicians hanging out in the poor section of town, scrounging change for weed (well, maybe Bill Clinton) -- they spend most of their time around other wealthy people -- other members of Congress (about half of which are millionaires), rich donors, high-powered business types, celebrities, etc. So their idea of "poor" or even "brokeass" is the pitiful bastard at the bottom of the chain who is living off of that measly $174,000 base salary because he or she doesn't have any other income on the side. Linda Sanchez is their version of poverty. [...]
My own income has always been a lot closer to $11,000 than those figures in the Wall St. Journal Info Graphic. And yes I get it, that a lot of people aren't sympathetic to people who make six figure salaries, complaining about taxes.

Yet that graphic was from an article in the Wall Street Journal last year. This year, 2014, many of those groups are getting slammed even harder with more taxes.

People in those income brackets used to put away money for their children's college education, buying a home, buying their own health insurance, saving money in 401k accounts for their retirement, invest in their own businesses in order to supply themselves with jobs and an income. They would use the money to become independent, and maintain their independence, by not having to borrow excessively, or rely on others to supply their needs for them.

That used to be considered a good thing, and why it used to be said that the middle class was the "backbone of America". They knew how to take care of themselves, and not be a burden to other people. The more of their money that is taken in taxes, the less they will have to do that with. Or to invest in their own businesses.

I can sympathize with people who struggle with only $11,000 a year. I've been there, and I'm not far from it now. But destroying the middle class isn't going to help the most people in the long run. A tide that lifts all boats, would be preferable to sinking the most productive boats.

A congress that is more interested in lifting all boats, instead of just looking out for it's own interests, might be a good step in the right direction. They could start by actually passing a budget, and living within it, like the majority of the people in this country have to do.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

The "Permanent Political Class" Problem

I came across this book a while back:

Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison
One of the biggest scandals in American politics is waiting to explode: the full story of the inside game in Washington shows how the permanent political class enriches itself at the expense of the rest of us. Insider trading is illegal on Wall Street, yet it is routine among members of Congress. Normal individuals cannot get in on IPOs at the asking price, but politicians do so routinely. The Obama administration has been able to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to its supporters, ensuring yet more campaign donations. An entire class of investors now makes all of its profits based on influence and access in Washington. Peter Schweizer has doggedly researched through mountains of financial records, tracking complicated deals and stock trades back to the timing of briefings, votes on bills, and every other point of leverage for politicians in Washington. The result is a manifesto for revolution: the Permanent Political Class must go.
Pretty serious accusations. Could it really be that bad? Apparently. The TV Program 60 Minutes eventually did a show about it. It generated so much outrage, that Congress had to pass a law forbidding themselves from participating in insider trading. But guess what? It didn't last long:

Congress Quickly And Quietly Rolls Back Insider Trading Rules For Itself
In November of 2011, the TV show 60 Minutes did a big expose on insider trading within Congress. While everyone else is subject to basic insider trading rules, it turned out that members of Congress were exempt from the rules. And, as you would imagine, many in Congress have access to market-moving, non-public information. And they made use of it. To make lots and lots of money. Of course, after that report came out and got lots of attention, Congress had to act, and within months they had passed the STOCK Act with overwhelming support in Congress to make insider trading laws that apply to everyone else finally apply to Congress and Congressional staffers as well. As that link notes:

The lopsided votes showed lawmakers desperate to regain public trust in an election year, when the public approval rating of Congress has sunk below 15 percent.

Of course, here we are in 2013 and, lo and behold, it is no longer an election year. And apparently some of the details of the ban on insider trading were beginning to chafe Congressional staffers, who found it hard to pad their income with some friendly trades on insider knowledge.

So... with very little fanfare, Congress quietly rolled back a big part of the law late last week. Specifically the part that required staffers to post disclosures about their financial transactions, so that the public could make sure there was no insider trading going on. Congress tried to cover up this fairly significant change because they, themselves, claimed that it would pose a "national risk" to have this information public. A national risk to their bank accounts.

It was such a national risk that Congress did the whole thing quietly, with no debate. The bill was introduced in the Senate on Thursday and quickly voted on late that night when no one was paying attention. Friday afternoon (the best time to sneak through news), the House picked it up by unanimous consent. The House ignored its own promise to give Congress three days to read a bill before holding a vote, because this kind of thing is too important to let anyone read the bill before Congress had to pass it.

And, of course, yesterday, President Obama signed it into law. Because the best way to rebuild trust in Congress, apparently, is to roll back the fact that people there need to obey the same laws as everyone else. That won't lead the public to think that Congress is corrupt. No, not at all.
That was last year; so it just continues, "Business as usual." Disgusting. Visit the original article for all the embedded links.

There is a Question and Answer segment on the webpage for Peter Schweizer's book:

Editorial Reviews Review
Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Author Peter Schweizer

Q:When did you realize that so many insider trading and sweetheart land deals were going on?

A: When I first discovered that members of Congress are exempt from insider trading laws, I didn’t believe it. Then, when I started to look at their stock trades and compare them with what they were doing in office, I was stunned.

Q: What do you mean by the "Permanent Political Class"?

A: I think politics in Washington has become a business opportunity. Republicans and Democrats are not so different as you think. They work together to enrich themselves. They have designed the system to work so that they can make lots of money doing things that would get the rest of us sent to jail.

Q: What do you mean by "honest graft"?

A: When people think of politicians making money in Washington, they think of bribery and other illegal activities. That’s small potatoes. The real money is made by doing stuff that’s legal, including insider trading on the stock market and land deals.

Q: Politicians are exempt from insider trading laws? You’re kidding, right?

A: No. They write the rules, and guess what: the rules that apply to us don’t apply to them. By the way, they are also exempt from whistleblower laws. If you see your boss committing a financial crime, you can report them and you will be protected. You can’t be fired. But if your boss is a congressman? You’re toast. You are not protected.

Q: What’s wrong with politicians who trade stock? Don’t we want them involved in the economy?

A: Yes, but they are doing exactly what corporate insiders get sent to jail for doing. It’s a double standard and it’s unfair. If Martha Stewart had been in the U.S. Senate, she would have been protected.
Congress should be forbidden to pass any laws that do not also apply to themselves. If they had to get their own health care under the same laws that we do, the Affordable Care Act would not exist in it's present form; it would have been something better. The site might have actually worked, if they and their families had to use it themselves.

If congress had to actually live under the laws they pass for the rest of us, they would take greater care. But they don't, and they don't. That needs to change.

Congress is supposed to exist to serve us, not rule over us.

Also see:

Jon Stewart Tears Up Congress For Quietly Scaling Back Insider Trading Law: The ‘F*cker Act’


Thursday, April 03, 2014

GOP must "Get Beyond Deportation"

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul Says GOP Must Appeal To Hispanics, Get ‘Beyond Deportation’
[...] This certainly was not the first time that Paul, since being elected to the Senate in 2010, has attempted to connect with Hispanics and other minorities.

However, Republicans’ interest in his policy vision and his vision for broadening the party base continues to grow as he ascends in the very, very early 2016 polls and travels the country. Recent stops have included those in Democrat-heavy Detroit and at the University of California, Berkeley.

Paul said Tuesday that Republicans need to focus on such issues as reforming the country’s work visa system and improving educational and employment opportunities for minorities.

However, the GOP must first make clear it is not “just the party of deportation,” he argued.

“The bottom line is that the Hispanic community … is not going to hear us until we get beyond that issue,” Paul told attendees at a symposium sponsored by the conservative Media Research Center and the American Principles Project. “They’re not going to care whether we go to the same church or have the same values or believe in the same kind of future of the country until we get beyond that. … We’ve got to get beyond deportation to get to the rest of the issues.” [...]
It's been pretty obvious for quite some time. But there is a segment of the GOP that has been too slow to wake up to the reality of changing demographics. Not to mention, popular opinion. Two realities that decide elections.