Paul Ryan for President. Or Maybe Santa.

Were it not for the weirdly mesmerizing quality of the Donald Trump phenomenon, Paul Ryan, the relatively new Speaker of the House of Representatives would be drawing a lot more attention for making Congress actually work for a change.

“Work”, like in getting things accomplished.

Friday Congress passed a bill funding the government through the 2016 budget year, so we won’t face budget brinkmanship this time around.   Earlier in his six week tenure as Speaker, laws were past to overhaul the No Child Left Behind education act as well as “a bipartisan bill to improve the nation’s aging and congested highways and transit systems,” as stated in an ABC break down of 2015 bi-partisan legislation.”

Our Congress seems best known for legislation it has blocked, like immigration reform, rather than what it has accomplished. While a number of factors coming together led to this avalanche of agreements, the biggest single factor in my mind has been the shift from John Boehner to Paul Ryan as Speaker.

Ryan’s ability to shepherd the budget deal is the most impressive.  It would be tough to imagine Boehner being able to get his far right contingent to go along with a deal that adds  some $600 billion to our national debt, though most of that loss lies in tax cuts, so it is more palatable to them.  Still, it goes against their line in the sand of less government spending, not more.

Ryan can get away with something like this because he admits that the kind of process that led to this bill is lousy and he promises to change the way things are done in the House.  Unlike with Boehner, the far right caucus trusts him (for the moment).  While they tend to be viewed as grenade throwers by the liberal press, they have often indicated their naysaying was not just a matter of the issues but of the way they were ignored by Boehner except when they refused to go along with him.

Of course, you can find staunch critics of all this legislation, and Ryan himself, portrayed by one very liberal source as a “puppet of the Koch brothers.”  My position is it is demoralizing at home and nerve wracking to much of the world when the Congress of the United States continuously argues over the same issues and seldom resolves anything.

One’s viewpoint depends on what one values most.   While I have liberal leanings, I think of myself more as a pragmatist when it comes to the operation of government.

“The full faith and credit of the United States” is not just a slogan to me, but something we should value enough not to appear dysfunctional to the world at large, a world with various countries that would like to cut into the central role our nation plays in international commerce, the safest place for investment and the home of the “dollar”, the world’s touchstone currency.

This recent legislation, whatever its flaws, gives a sense of a government that can work together despite its differences, which raises my holiday spirit.   Thanks Congress, especially Paul Ryan.

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P. S. – The ABC article linked above outlines bi-partisan agreements by this year’s Congress.  For a better picture of the omnibus bill that included the budget, check out this article in The Guardian.  As Paul Ryan summed it up:  “Democrats won some, they lost some. We won some, we lost some.”

Ah, its nice to hear “compromise” not being used as a dirty word, even if a number of special interests profited from this deal as the article indicates.   That’s why “sausage making” is often used as a metaphor for legislation.  I’m just happy that in 2016 I won’t have to hear much about budget strife, the need for a new national educational policy and the need to deal with our collapsing infrastructure.  There are plenty of other things that need work.

 

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POLITICAL ODDS AND ENDS: Suggestions, Corrections and Observations

First, ISIS revealed tonight on TV:  If you have been wondering what the draw of ISIS in Syria is for thousands of budding jihadists, and what life is like in ISIS controlled territories watch:  Blind Sided:  How ISIS Shook the World on CNN tonight at 9 EDT and PDT (other time zones must fend for yourselves).   Fareed Zakaria interviews former jihadists and reporters, such as a German news man who was allowed to visit ISIS held territories and lived to tell about it.

Second, a correction:  I Indicated in my immediately previous post that hundreds of migrants have died in sinking boats while aimed Italy (mostly Sicily I think) in recent weeks.  I had called them Libyans since they departed from Libya, but assumed way too much.  Actually, they come from many countries in Africa, like Eritrea, and the Mid-East, like Syria.   Libya has become the primary point of departure because political chaos there has allowed smugglers to operate easily.

Also, this immigrant wave, along with drownings, has been going on for years.  More immigrants tried the trip during the same period last year (25,000) than this (20,000), but it has garnered more attention because the number who have died trying has increased nine fold.  Don’t ask me why.

Third: Hail to the Comedian-in-Chief:  You probably have seen high lights of the White House Correspondence Dinner Monday night, such as when the President said that despite not having that much time left in the White House he doesn’t have a bucket list, but he does have a list that rhymes with bucket.   That got a good laugh as did some of his other jokes.  He was a  tough act for SNL’s Cecily Strong to follow.

I think this was his best W.H.C.D. performance, though he deserves the most credit for the one back in 2011, when he performed well while an operation to get Bin Laden was taking place at the same time.   I think it the most amazing moment of his presidency.  Can you imagine how his constant critics would have crucified him if the operation had gone badly?  They gave him little credit for its success.  And with so much on the line there he was out there getting laughs.

I often ponder what it must be like to make decisions every day that may well prompt the death of others, either from the interventions you make (like Libya) or the ones you resist making (Syria, until relatively recently).  And trying to pay attention to your family amidst constant criticism in this 24/7 age.  I’d fall apart in a day.  As disgusted as I get with our presidential election process, I think it provides a necessary test of the stamina, resilience and overall self-integration being president requires.

Fourth, an observation about our politics:  We often hear pundits and pollsters talk about how Americans are tired of the gridlock in Washington and want the parties to get something done, but the important point usually ignored is that while most of us our frustrated by our national government and want change, our visions of the changes to make are not only polarized but often contradictory.  One example is pointed out in a recent column by E. J. Dionne in which he discusses the fracturing of western democracies in general:

“In a PRRI/Brookings survey I was involved with in 2013, two findings locked horns: 63 percent of Americans said government should be doing more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, but 59 percent also believed government had grown bigger because it had become involved in things people should do for themselves. We want government to do more about injustice, but we also seem to want it smaller.”

Helping to explain that divergence is our belief that government primarily serves special interest groups and that big government is in its nature wasteful and inefficient.  Some of us are more willing to put up with those shortcomings than others, another aspect of the polarization, so while we might want government to play a bigger role, not this government, not as it works now.

So, the overall temper of the nation is that we might be able to come together on the idea that government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor, but only if it is not the inefficient pay-to-play government that we have now.

A much better government that we are not likely to ever have.

Fifth:   I suggest you watch VEEP on HBO (or checked out from the library for cheap people like me:   It provides booster shots of humor to make thinking about Washington more tolerable.  I’ve only begun to watch the first, but this is the fourth season of a zany portrait of Washington politics focusing upon a vice-president played to gut busting perfection by Julia Louis-Drefus with funny-fine performances by the rest of the cast.   Some Washington folks say it captures the gist of political life there better than other shows, which is a scary thought, especially as the VEEP becomes the Prez this year.   Not for children unless the F-bomb is common in your house.

A HAPPY NEW YEAR? I HAVE NO IDEA…..

Twas the day before New Year’s and despite wracking my mind, no upbeat year’s end message can I find.   However, I do have a  web site I want to share with you, The Fiscal Times brought to my attention by a reader who sent me a link while saying:   “It is this crap that drives me crazy, and adds further evidence that there really isn’t any difference between the parties after the rhetoric dies.”

He is referring to the 1600 page budget bill Congress passed before heading home for the holidays, which included many late-addition “surprises” hardly anyone noticed before the bill was passed.  The article linked here points out five of them that are head shakers for honest folk whether on the left or right.

The article isn’t long, so rather than me summarize the points I’d rather add a couple of points of my own.  First, despite the outrageous way this bill was passed, I am glad they passed it.  The alternative was to go into next year without a budget and a Republican controlled Congress, including libertarians who seem quite willing to continue to treat the “full faith and credit of the United States” as if it were a pin ball game.

They are so focused upon smaller government they seem not to have noticed the Chinese economy just surpassed ours in size this year and that China has taken various steps to develop currency exchanges that do not hinge upon the American dollar.  Nothing the Chinese would like more than for us to offer further evidence to the world that we have an increasingly unworkable order.

So, I’m glad that budget was passed despite it’s ugly underbelly.

Here is my other point.   While I have run across The Fiscal Times before, I never took a good look at it.  Since I liked that article I began exploring other pieces on the The Fiscal Times web site and found them interesting and not obviously partisan like so many other sites.  In their Statement of Purpose, they claim to be non-partisan, and so far I believe them.

If you do check it out, let me know what you think by replying using the comment link at the end of  all that stuff below.  If you like the site, think of it as a late Christmas (holiday) present.

If not, you can think of me as the Grinch.

Obama’s Immigration Executive Order: In Your Face Republicans

The Republicans are threatening all sorts of things in response to President Obama’s executive order on immigration outlined in a speech last night, including impeachment.   And of course, it is true that he has “poisoned the well” for future negotiations on all sorts of things, but how much worse could the well get after Republicans have used it as a toxic waste dump for the past six years.

However the anger of the Republican leadership, usually feigned,  seems real for a change as they had different things in  mind to focus on when the new congress takes office, at least according to an article in the Los Angeles Times yesterday.   McConnell, Boehner et al had:

“hoped to focus on corporate tax reform, fast-track trade pacts, repealing the president’s healthcare law and loosening environmental restrictions on coal are instead being dragged into an immigration skirmish that they’ve tried studiously to avoid for most of the last year.

That’s largely because the question of how to handle the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S. bitterly divides Republicans, and the party has been unable to agree on an alternative to the president’s plan.”

Of course, the Republican leadership realizes they need to do something about “our broken immigration system” before the next presidential election, but they don’t want to get mired in that squabble now.    They want to pull the party together on a few things before batting that bee hive about.

By the way, when I say the Republican  leadership realizes the need to do something on immigration it is because the need is obvious.   Obama got about 70% of the Latino vote in the last election and it seems nearly impossible for the Republicans to win the next one without cutting into that margin.

I’ve seen Carl Rove say that as well as a generally respected Republican pollster whose name escapes me at the moment.    Romney got 59% of the white vote in the last contest and according to this pollster’s estimate, they will need nearly 64% of that vote, likely unachievable,  to win if they can’t attract more of different hues than lily white.  There are only so many of us white people to go around.

And to add to Republican discomfort is the fact that Obama’s executive order could be rescinded by a Republican president, a point that will be drilled into Latino voters in upcoming months to get out that vote.

Of course, Obama is aware of that as it is obvious, and those on the right may view him as playing a cynical political game, but he wanted to take this action last summer, announced he would I believe, but put it on hold in response to pleas from Democrats running for office.   And we all know how well that worked out.

Also, this executive decision isn’t very popular according to recent polls, one indicating 48% of Americans thinking he is overreaching, and only 30-some per cent in favor of his action.   Whatever his shortcomings (and for God’s sake people he has THE TOUGHEST JOB IN THE WORLD), I believe in Obama’s sincerity.

Finally, I recommend you read that LA Times article linked above as it gives the gist of key dynamics at work in response to Obama’s executive order.   The other link provides a good summary of what that order means in practice.

 

 

 

When the World Gets You Down, Perhaps a Visit from the Dalai Lama Will Perk You Up.

Over two weeks have passed since my previous post.    Seldom am I this slow to return.  It’s not that I haven’t tried.   For example, I spent a few hours working on a piece on immigration reform before I reached the conclusion:  Who cares?  It’s not going to happen anytime soon. In fact, nothing much is going to happen anytime soon in Congress, not until after the mid-term elections in the fall.  And after that who knows?

How to See Yourself As You Really Are

How to See Yourself As You Really Are (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suffer from  cognitive dissonance between what I sense as reality and what is happening politically.   The reality is we have ever growing problems as a nation while the politics is mostly theatrical posturing, with both parties spinning everything to suit the narrative they want to firmly implant in us by the mid-term elections in the fall.

And, since it seems a given according to the pundits that the House will safely remain in Republican hands, it is all about which side will win the Senate this time around.

But what does this have to do with anything in the real world?   If the Democrats hold the Senate, how will that change anything for the good.  And if the Republicans take the Senate what can that produce beyond more gridlock and even more investigations of the White House through Senate committees with the same inquisitorial zeal of Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Issa begins his fact finding missions by declaring something to be scandalous and then tirelessly going about trying to prove his accusations, not interested in information to the contrary.  I haven’t seen him “prove” much of anything, but with all his posturing, he captures a lot of theatrical time propping up the Republican narrative that the Obama administration is both incompetent and untrustworthy.

With so little real going on in national politics, pundits like to concentrate on the 2016 presidential elections, otherwise known as the coronation of Hillary.  I have much respect for Ms. Clinton, but what can any president achieve in today’s deeply divided political atmosphere while facing  a world made mind-boggling complex through economic  globalization tied to instant connectivity to almost everywhere?   It seemed so much more simple in the good old days when our foreign policy was  shaped by the struggle between the evil empire and our white hat wearing selves.

Given a burgeoning chaos in the Greater Middle East and tensions between China and other nations in the Far East who can say what this world will look like in 2016?   International crises seem to be simmering to a boil all over the place.  The Ukraine, Syria, Iran, North Korea come first to mind, and those threats should prompt us to come together, but instead act as  more grist for political theater.    In terms of unity, the best our government  can do is keep the doors open for business by passing a budget for a change and not precipitate untold economic harm  by a refusal to raise the debt ceiling, which would have left  the world’s “full faith” in our stability further diminished.

You might be asking at this point:  Where does the Dalai Lama fit into this?   Well, given what I have written, you can see why I would love to get a fresh perspective on the world’s problems.  To my surprise, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a generally respected conservative think tank (in contrast to Heritage Foundation) apparently has felt a need to get a fresh approach, too, as they recently “hosted His Holiness the Dalai Lama for two remarkable conversations about human happiness, economics, and the moral core of free enterprise.”

I could use a boost from a remarkable conversation.   Care to join me at this link?

Hitting Our Heads on the Debt Ceiling Yet Again

Once again the question of raising the central government debt ceiling, last raised in October, is on the table, supposedly having a deadline tomorrow, but treasury can pull various strings to delay the real deadline to the end of the month, and some on the right think they could extend it a lot longer with no harm.   I call the latter:  big gamblers.

English: U.S. President is greeted by Speaker ...

English: U.S. President is greeted by Speaker of the House before delivering the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think it a safe bet they will raise the debt ceiling once again over the next few weeks, but not before there is much sound and fury signifying nothing, to borrow a phrase from a fellow name Faulkner.

The deadline will be raised again because Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has said “nobody wants the government to default on its debt” and since all he has to do is allow a bill to come to the floor of the house where the Democrats will push it to victory, he is the most important nobody of all.

So, why all the huffing and puffing in the interim?   The Republicans want to keep hammering home the issue of the ever accumulating national debt as our biggest national problem that we must deal with right now, so at least something should be cut if we are to raise the debt ceiling again.

Since the party has wandered far from its tradition of unity and discipline during the Obama years, actually having more voices demanding to be heard than the Democrats for a change, it never hurts to band together to pan Obama and those big spending Democrats one more time.

Also, I imagine Republican strategists have keyed into evidence that a majority of Americans like the idea of curbing spending, reducing the number of government workers, getting our house in order so to speak.   I don’t have the exact facts at my finger tips (meaning I can’t recall where I got them), but there was a study last fall indicating that Americans are not as divided as commonly conceived, that there is a large middling majority that more or less agree upon most issues.    The issue that struck me most was that a large majority of this majority favored a balanced budget amendment.

Of course, if you took a poll as to how they would balance the budget, they might be all over the place, but it just seems a common sense thing to do.   Well, that’s true for your family but the national government has  never operated like anybody’s family.  Deficit spending has been the norm and it has worked well because our economy has regularly grown so it can carry large deficits as long as that per cent of GDP remains relatively low…..  At this point, I’m sorry I got into this…..

My point is, whether right or wrong,  about half the voters want a smaller less regulatory government, in theory at least.   And despite a large majority of knowledgeable opinion to the contrary, many Americans seem willing to gamble with the debt ceiling.  No doubt Republican strategists recall a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last fall in which 44% of those polled were against raising the debt ceiling to 22% who were for it, leaving 34% unaccounted for, at least in the article.

“People’s first instinct is how fed up they are with Washington and spending,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the poll with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart. “This is a very difficult issue in terms of public opinion.”

So, all the ongoing sound and fury may signify something, keeping the heat up on general American resentment towards big government (except for individual programs we each love, of course).   As long as the right doesn’t go over board and makes the world economy nervous, all their belt tightening chatter may help Republicans in the mid-term elections next fall and that is what all the political posturing is aimed at now and for months to come.

Isn’t that right?

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Megan McArdle: Welcome Aboard My Blogroll

Megan McArdle 4 by David Shankbone

Megan McArdle 4 by David Shankbone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a conservative friend who I often take hikes with on weekends and occasionally stop at a bar, or two, along the way.

We discuss politics a bit en route, but when we do he often shuts up and I notice a subtle Cheshire cat grin emerge, implying he doesn’t agree but doesn’t want to argue about it.   It seems to me that if he and I can’t have good political discussions, I wonder who can….that is, can have discussions with those who differ fundamentally on various issues.

I keep trying to find a common ground opinion maker to read and discuss, people who consider themselves conservative, but these days tend to be seen by their party as RINOs – Republican In Name Only, just in case you aren’t familiar with the term.

In contrast, I like to think of them as C. C.’s, Conversational Conservatives,  those I imagine being able to have good conversations with, columnists and/or bloggers like David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, and Josh Barro.

However, none of them suit my friend enough to read more than a paragraph or two, so I asked for a suggestion and he came up with Megan McArdle.  I vaguely recalled reading something by her that seemed thoughtful, so I did some investigating and found, among other things, she has a blog and in reading a few of her posts I was impressed.

McCardle seems a moderate libertarian,  more thoughtful than ideological.  In fact, she seems as comfortable in criticizing Senator Rand Paul as she does President Obama.    My friend tells me that David Brooks called her the most influential conservative blogger of 2012, which to me is another feather in her cap.

And most importantly, I hope she opens up some better discussions with my conservative friend who I don’t think will read this post unless I ask him to.   I have added her to my Blogroll (to the upper left).   She will replace the Nate Silver 538Blog, which has become dormant (as far as I can tell) as he seems to be in the process of establishing his own web site separate from its previous home at the NY Times.

Wikipedia has plenty about her if you want more on her background.

If you haven’t checked out the other blogs on my Blogroll, you might find them interesting, too.  Actually, with the loss of Silver (a liberal but a researcher not an advocate) and the addition of McArdle, there is now a preponderance of right leaning views on my Blogroll, which I think of as a counterbalance to my left leaning biases.