Saturday, July 12, 2014

John Boehner: Lawsuit for Dummies

For the last few weeks, Speaker of the House John Boehner has been threatening to sue President Obama for overstepping the limits of executive authority. Boehner was initially vague about the details, but now he has come up with some specifics. As lame-brained as Boehner's lawsuit threat has seemed, it now has gotten even more idiotic.

Despite executive orders on everything from immigration, to the environment, to the minimum wage for federal workers, Boehner has finally made his choice. It all comes down to the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

On behalf of the House of Representatives, Boehner is suing the president for not only doing his job, but for doing what House Republicans wanted him to do. On Thursday night, Boehner released a draft resolution saying his lawsuit will focus on the president's “serious offense” of making changes to the Affordable Care Act. Boehner claims that Obama violated the constitution when he delayed the health law's mandate for businesses without getting permission from Congress first. The House Republicans are now ready to sue the president over delaying that employer mandate, the same hypocritical Republicans who voted to delay the mandate a year ago.

Boehner is continuing his tradition of shooting himself in the foot. He wants to please the Tea Party extremists, placate the party moderates and keep his position as Speaker. But this could prove to be a really dumb move on his part, and it will most likely impact the party adversely. More problematic then spending taxpayer money suing the president over something they agree with on principle is the fact that their latest assault on the Affordable Care Act comes amongst the strongest evidence yet that the health law is working and that people like it, including Republicans. In fact, three out of four Republicans say they are satisfied with their health plans, almost as many as Democrats.

The timing of this renewed fight against the Affordable Care Act is strange indeed. Suing a president for a move you wanted him to make in the first place is confounding enough. If he doesn't reign in his party, Speaker Boehner may find himself out of his leadership position. And suing the president over a law that the Republicans tried more than 50 times to repeal and failed is more than likely going to give a big public relations boost to the Democrats.

So why a lawsuit and not impeachment? Sarah Palin has gone on a Facebook rant demanding that President Obama be impeached. Boehner disagreed, and John McCain, the man who unleashed Palin on an unsuspecting public, said Thursday: “There are not the votes here in the United States Senate to impeach the president of the United States and I think that we should focus our attention on winning elections.”

McCain was right, and pretty much everyone except Palin agrees. The question, then, is why a lawsuit? The courts have routinely rejected court cases where there were political disputes between the legislative and executive branches. The legislative and executive branches are supposed to be designed to work these things out themselves.

Boehner, who has in the past refused to stand up to his party's birthers and Obama-is-a-Muslim wingnuts, said “It's not my job to tell the American people what to think,” in 2011 after being elected speaker. Now he is on a crusade to tell the American people to think that Obama is abusing his powers. Obama has called Boehner's lawsuit a “stunt”.

No one has come up with a single lawsuit in American history that is of close precedent to what they are proposing. Call it what you want: the media has dubbed it impeachment lite. Some have called it impeachment for cowards. Instead of uniting the party, Boehner's stunt is likely to crash and burn.

The media is covering this nonsense as if it's a legitimate story, but as the new White House lawyer Neil Eggleston said recently, “As I used to tell clients in private practice, anybody can sue anybody over anything.”

This lawsuit is a joke. Boehner is grasping at straws, desperate for anything to keep his party from imploding. It won't work. The American people want Congress to work on issues that can help them, and not bring a lawsuit against something that is already helping them.

So what does Boehner expect to accomplish by all this? Either he thinks the lawsuit has merit, which makes him incredibly naïve if not flat out stupid, or he realizes it's just political theater, and he thinks he can keep Republicans happy and keep his job.

A quick Google search of Boehner shows he never went to law school. Maybe he should pick up a copy of Lawsuits for Dummies. Oh wait! There's no chapter about suing the president for doing his job.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Unemployment benefits expire for 1.3 million Americans - Happy New Year!

Deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), designed to keep low-income Americans from going hungry in the aftermath of the 2008 economic recession, have forced affected families to rely on food banks and community organizations to stave off hunger. Government benefits for nutritional assistance were reduced in November, after the expiration of emergency legislation following the 2008 collapse, cutting benefits for 48 million people, including 22 million children, by an average of 7%.

The $5 billion in cuts in government assistance to struggling families has stretched charitable organizations thin, leaving many Americans families without the ability to put food on their tables. The government will cut $40 billion over the next ten years, but the average $29 per family of three will amount to about 1.5 billion meals this year alone.

The government's early Christmas present was just the beginning. That's because the government now contends that we are in a period of economic growth and therefore we will see even more cuts to emergency assistance over the next year. Happy New Year!

On Saturday at midnight, approximately 1.3 million Americans who lost their jobs in the last two years during the worst jobs market since the Great Depression, saw their unemployment benefits expire. Congress, now known for not getting anything of importance done, failed to pass an extension of long-term unemployment benefits.

Republicans believe giving long-term benefits to the unemployed is bad for the economy. They say we can't afford billions of dollars of aid in this economic climate. And the worst part, they argue, is that people getting unemployment benefits lack motivation to get a job. The fact that the average unemployed American is getting $300 dollars a week would make that argument seem tenuous at best.

Democrats believe, correctly, that 1.3 million Americans will spend their $300 a week, pumping money into the economy and creating jobs. They also point out that in order to receive unemployment benefits, the recipient must be actively seeking work. Obviously, there are a few who are not actively in pursuit of a job yet are taking money from the government. They must have rich parents, or be independently wealthy. Playing video games all day and watching Duck Dynasty marathons must be fun. But most people receiving benefits are just trying to get by in one of the worst economies in history. They have a family and they need it, desperately. Democrats have the compassion to know this. Unemployment insurance can stimulate the economy and help get workers back where they want to be. In addition, it's the right thing to do.

The program was originally intended to help jobless people after they exhausted state benefits, which typically lasts six months. Republican members of Congress resisted continuing the benefits due to its high costs. But the Congressional Budget Office estimated the $25 billion needed for another year would spur the economy enough to create around 200,000 jobs.

Reinstating unemployment benefits is expected to be one of the first priorities for congressional Democrats in the new year. Democrats have voiced their displeasure at Republican obstructionism in general, but when it comes to taking money out of the hands of people who need it most, Democrats have been quick to point out that America was built on the foundation that we don't abandon our citizens in times of crisis. Democratic National Committee chairwoman and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement Saturday, “What makes matters worse, the loss of benefits comes just a few days after the holidays.”

According to White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, “the President said his administration would, as it has for several weeks now, push Congress to act promptly and in bipartisan fashion to address this urgent economic priority.”

Obama says the abrupt cut-off in cash assistance during the holidays will hurt economic growth and jobs. But don't expect him to suddenly talk sense into Republicans who could care less about doing the right thing and are more interested in their self-interests, including courting Tea Party nutjobs and racist and homophobic old white guys who vote for them.

There's a lot at stake. By the end of 2014 the number of Americans who will lose access to long-term unemployment benefits will be five times higher. By July, another 1.9 million people will lose extended benefits, and by the end of the year, 1.6 million more will be kicked out of the program, totaling about five million Americans.

Five millions Americans is a large number to abandon, as if any number would be OK. And this a lot worse than a $29 cut in food stamps. We’re talking about mortgage payments, healthcare payments, money to pay for essential utilities and other necessary living expenses. For instance, how do you actively seek employment without a car, clothes, computer, or phone? And by the end of 2014, this will affect not just those five million people, but their dependents as well. This amounts to an additional 5 to 10 million people.

The proposal from Congress and the President is to extend these benefits for another three months, and most would suggest that this will prevent a crisis. Actually, it will be kicking the can down the road, something Congress is getting really good at.

It will take more than three months to pull the U.S. out of the worst economic quagmire since the Depression. A lot longer. But the economy will eventually turn around. The laws of economics dictate this.

The decisions made by the our governmental leaders can prolong the recovery, or shorten it. Giving unemployment benefits to Americans who have fallen on hard times is imperative. Economists have pointed out that not only will it not hurt the economy, but extending unemployment benefits will help create jobs by putting money back into a much needed segment of the populace.

Democratic members of Congress will make reinstating these benefits one of their first priorities in the new year. The long-term unemployed are facing historically difficult times. Congressional Republicans shouldn't abandon them.

But don't hold your breath.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Barack Obama and the dreaded curse of the second term

It's called the “second term curse”. Every recent president fortunate enough to win re-election has been unfortunate enough to have to deal with some sort of scandal, either real or fabricated.

President Obama's second term agenda hit a brick wall last month when a series of these so-called scandals took over the airwaves, as the media filled the gap left by some slow news days.

Just over four months into Obama's second term, he is mired in three scandals that threaten his ability to govern effectively for the remainder of his time in office, or at least until the 2014 mid-term elections.

Obama is facing his toughest time in office after the never-ending criticism of how his administration handled the Benghazi attacks, the IRS' targeting of Tea Party groups, and the Department of Justice's probe into the AP journalists' phone records. The focus has shifted away from the broader policy debates that the president spoke of in his second inaugural address in January.

But do the recent events that the Republicans are calling scandals really rise to the level of scandals, and is Obama really becoming mired in the dreaded “second term curse”?

Historically, Obama seems to be falling into the same pattern as his recent predecessors. Watergate led Richard Nixon all the way to his political downfall. Ronald Reagan got caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal, causing historians to put an asterisk next to his presidency. Bill Clinton made Monica Lewinsky famous, causing a media firestorm that practically overshadowed everything else he did. George W. Bush showed his ineptitude by screwing up the response to Hurricane Katrina and leading us into the Iraq War after false reports that weapons of mass destruction existed.

Obama surely has studied the history of past two-term presidents, and learned that the best thing to do at the slightest hint of a scandal is to get out in front of the story. The Obama administration seems to be playing catch-up to events that, on closer inspection, don't rise to the level of Watergate, Iran-Contra, or WMDs in Iraq.

The Obama administration should have been prepared for the Republican Party to take things one step beyond obstructionism. The GOP's first term agenda was to defeat Obama. The second term, as history has shown, is the time that the opposing party does whatever it takes to pin a scandal on the incumbent president.

The problem with the current trio of events labeled scandals by the GOP and the conservative media is that they don't pack the same punch as Nixon's Watergate, for example.

How many hours of non-stop reporting about the IRS can we watch? The AP phone records scandal? I'm bored already. And Benghazi seems to be more about what it was originally: an attack on Hillary Clinton, and her likely 2016 presidential run. The Benghazi story may or may not fizzle out by 2016, but either way, it could bypass Obama and land on Clinton. But most Americans are as bored as I am about Benghazi, and I suspect that most Republicans don't know where it is.

All of this could have been predicted. The Republicans will do anything to discredit the president, and the longer a president is in office, the more executive-branch decisions cross his desk. With every passing month, it becomes more likely that at least one of his many decisions will turn out to be wrong, ill-advised or worse. By the second term, even the best, luckiest and smartest president will have made an incorrect decision.

Obama has made mistakes, judgment calls and taken risks. The killing of Osama bin Laden could have taken a very bad turn. The attack in Benghazi did turn out badly, as did the IRS debacle and the AP phone record incident. But were these events under the direction of President Obama, and was there a cover-up by the president? If you listen to Republican leaders, Obama is guilty of covering up just about everything. It doesn't seem so long ago that the president was involved in a massive conspiracy to cover up his real birthplace, Kenya.

All of this leads back to the question: Is Obama a victim of the “second term curse”? No, he's a victim of “second term Republican obstructionism”.

Friday, December 21, 2012

NRA: "WE NEED MORE GUNS" - A pathetic response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook

Out of respect for the Newtown victims and families, the National Rifle Association waited one week before blaming everything and everyone except guns. The NRA says it kept respectfully silent for a week, while others, presumably gun-control advocates, “tried to exploit the tragedy for political gain.” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre was at the microphone Friday, giving a poorly-timed recruitment speech disguised as a news conference.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," said LaPierre. He went on to say that the solution for schools is to put an armed police officer in “every single school in the nation”. Estimates have put the cost of doing this as high as $18 billion a year, and it should be noted that Columbine High School had armed guards in 1999, so a shoot-out between good guys and bad guys might not work.

While LaPierre was explaining the need for more guns, the rebuttal to this argument was being made by some guy walking up and down a rural Pennsylvania road shooting people. The shooter killed three people before he was fatally shot in a gunfight with state troopers. The gunman was stopped, but as in most of these types of incidents, too late.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the last straw for a majority of Americans. Most want some sort of change in the gun laws. The NRA's poorly timed “news conference” turned out to be a public relations disaster. In the context of tragedy, the country wants a solution, not a sales pitch meant to benefit gun manufacturers.

As protestors repeatedly interrupted his speech, shouting that the NRA was “killing our kids,” LaPierre spewed blame everywhere except for where it belongs, going after the media, video games, and music videos. The solution is more guns - in schools, in businesses, and apparently in Chuck E. Cheeses.

LaPierre makes about $1 million a year as an NRA executive, so he must be doing this for the money. And where does that money come from? Gun owners, gun lobbyists, gun manufacturers... Do any of them have kids? Do they even care? The membership of the NRA can't possibly stand in unity with their cold-hearted buffoon of a spokesman.

If “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”, then what happens to the people standing in the middle? And how do you stop a crazed lunatic with an assault rifle and a kevlar vest? Let's hope your aim is good, because you might only get one shot.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Romney will win GOP nomination. But then what?

Mitt Romney's problem: The conservative base of the Republican party doesn't want him. He's won the most states, snagged the most delegates and raised the most money, but the enthusiasm gap keeps growing. And with the recent losses in unfriendly Southern territory, the best Romney could do was tout his wins in Hawaii and American Samoa.

Romney aides are putting a positive spin on things by saying that their candidate is so far ahead in delegates, it's just a matter of time. But that's the problem. The more time that goes by, the more chance for Romney to make gaffes that he won't be able to overcome in the general election. Furthermore, a long and drawn-out race is exposing the weaknesses in the Republican party.

Rising gasoline prices may be the biggest threat to Obama's re-election chances, so why are some Republicans arguing that the President wants to see the price of gas go up? Does that make any sense? When Rush Limbaugh called a female law student a "slut" and a "prostitute", the GOP candidates were afraid to alienate his conservative listeners, with Romney merely saying that Limbaugh's colorful display of misogynistic wordplay was “not the kind of language I would have used.” The other candidates also played down the incident. This kind of spinelessness is not helping Romney, and it's not helping the image of the Republican party. After all, half of all voters are women. The Republicans figure they'll worry about that in November. Good luck with that.

Each of Romney's challengers, after surpassing him and getting to the top, has blown it. Rick Santorum, the most recent of the anybody-but-Romney candidates, was gaining momentum when he decided to self-destruct. He called Obama a snob for wanting everyone to have a chance to go to college and said that John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech about his position on the separation between church and state made him want to “throw up”.

I've never heard a candidate say that he wanted to “throw up”. I have to say that it's not very presidential. Of course, he lost me when he started talking about “man on dog” sex. The Republican base, however, seems to be able to live with this kind of nonsensical talk. When Santorum went off about how much he hated college, his audience cheered.

Republicans, however, continue to hammer away at Romney because he's not conservative enough. They point to his term as Massachusetts governor, for example. The fact that he came up with a health care system that seems to be working is a sign that he knows how to run a state. But members of the conservative base believe that it's an example of how Romney caves in to public pressure and does what's popular. They have a point.

Romney won the GOP primary in Massachusetts with 75% of the vote, showing how popular he is there, and also showing how extremely popular his state health care plan is. But the fact that he passed a health care system that Obama later used as a blueprint for the federal law is a major problem for Romney, who now has to distance himself from his biggest achievement as governor. First he's for health care reform, then he's against it, an example of Romney's lack of any semblance of consistency. Romney changes position so much it's hard to tell what his position is, unlike Santorum, who has stuck to his homophobic rants and misinterpretation of JFK's 1960 speech, no matter how idiotic.

Romney's aides have pointed out that when it comes to the general election, Romney can win. They talk about the "reset" that comes when a candidate becomes the presumptive nominee. But the longer the process is drawn out by a delegate-allocation system designed to frustrate and confuse both front-runners and voters, the more likely it will be that Romney will have to defend not only his own gaffes, but the positions his party has forced him to take for the sake of political expediency.

Wouldn't it be great if, instead of saying Rush Limbaugh's use of the word "slut" was “not the kind of language I would have used”, Romney would have said something like “Limbaugh's an idiot and should be fired”? But the Republican party doesn't just listen to Rush Limbaugh. The Republican party is Rush Limbaugh. And that won't play well in November.

Romney will win the GOP nomination, but at what cost? His long list of gaffes will come back to haunt him. Having friends who own NASCAR teams is small consolation. But his $240 million won't hurt. Maybe he can buy his wife a few more Cadillacs.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Spinoff of 'Fear Factor' in the works

I'm producing a reality show that I hope will be picked up as a midseason replacement. Because the television networks have been cutting costs, I'm putting my detective show on hold.

All the networks have passed on my crime show about an alcoholic bipolar homicide detective and his sexy young female partner who work the streets of South Central L.A. looking for murdered tourists. Even filming in Vancouver would be too expensive, so although CBS likes the pilot script, it's just too expensive to film, especially if I get my first choice, Christian Slater, who commands a high salary. ABC was initially interested. They wanted Pauly Shore for the lead, but he wanted too much money and his own trailer, so they passed.

It's all about the budget, so that's why I'm switching to reality shows. I'm pitching my new show, called "Dumb Factor," a spinoff of "Fear Factor," which ran on NBC from 2001-2006 and is returning tonight on the same network, which promises even scarier and more daredevil stunts. I've been trying to get the networks interested in my show for the last few years, but for some reason, they weren't interested. Now that "Fear Factor" is returning, it is the perfect opportunity for me to promote my show.

For $5,000, contestants will bungee-jump off a freeway overpass with an extremely frayed rope. The cars will run over the contestants until someone is stupid enough to get out and help, also getting splattered onto the pavement in slow-motion. This scenario will keep repeating until the commercial break. All that we'll see after the commercial will be a bunch of dead bodies and a massive pile-up of Camrys. The winners will now compete for the second stunt, jumping out of an airplane with a placebo parachute, after which an Internet poll will be taken for the viewer to guess the winner.

For those wanting to be a contestant, sign-ups will be on our website at www.stupididiot.com . This show will be perfect for NBC's schedule, because they're in the process of canceling all scripted shows.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gingrich: The new Clown Prince of the GOP circus

The Republican presidential field is so screwed up and incompetent, even a buffoon like Rick Perry can climb to the top of the polls. And like Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann before him, a series of gaffes and just plain strange behavior has brought him crashing down.

After Perry stumbled, Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, rose to the top. He came up with the bold “9-9-9” tax plan that was so stupid it almost made Perry look competent. Even though conservatives realized that his tax plan wouldn't work, Cain rode high in the polls just because he wasn't Mitt Romney, and people liked his straight talk. He continued to stay on top of the polls by the Republican voters, who seemed to be saying: “He's stupid, but so are we.”

Bold idiotic solutions and plain talk, however, could not keep Cain on top. After allegations of sexual harassment surfaced, Cain's promise to keep a “hands-on” approach to politics took on a whole new meaning.

Cain's fall from grace has caused the GOP to find another anybody-but-Mitt-Romney candidate. This time, it's former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. After surviving Trump, Bachmann, Perry and Cain, you would think that Romney might start capitalizing on all the craziness going on around him and begin to build the support needed to capture the nomination. After all, he is the candidate with the best match-up numbers against Obama.

Although Romney's been holding steady at or near the top of the polls, he is not liked by the base of his party. Many leaders in the GOP seem to want to throw the election rather than see Romney as president, and then try again in 2016. The main problem is that many Republicans are distrustful of his recent public reversals on gun control, abortion and gay rights. And then there's the health care overhaul law that he pushed through as governor of Massachusetts, which is similar to Obama's.

The rise of Gingrich is surprising because he was written off as recently as last spring. He is a polarizing figure, often controversial and prone to contradictory statements. Obama would love to run against Gingrich, who would most likely self-destruct over the course of a presidential campaign. However, it seems unlikely that his bid for the nomination will survive the close inspection given a newly appointed front-runner. That's been the problem for the other GOP rejects.

The common thread running through this highly unusual campaign season has been the series of gaffes, inconsistencies, and inept behavior by all the candidates, even though Romney kept the gaffes to a minimum. And although Romney may look presidential, his proclivity to change sides on seemingly every issue has not helped his cause. The only reason Romney has remained consistently near the top of the polls is because he has stayed under the radar. In other words, he has had solid debate performances and no meltdowns regarding the location of Libya or how many women he has groped.

Gingrich has a few personal and political problems to overcome. Most recently, reports have surfaced that he received $1.6 million in political consulting fees from the embattled mortgage giant Freddie Mac, one of his favorite targets on the campaign trail. However, there is one major difference between Gingrich and the other challengers to Romney. He has been around for a long time, and he may be many things, not all of them good. But politically inept definitely isn't one of them, which is what separates Gingrich from Bachmann, Cain, et al.

Being the front-runner has put a spotlight on Gingrich's stance on immigration, an issue he raised during the recent GOP debate. He broke from the majority of his party when he called for “humane” treatment for otherwise law-abiding immigrants who have been in the United States for decades, establishing deep family and community ties.

The GOP response to Gingrich's compassionate position on immigration was swift, and some conservatives asserted that he had wounded his candidacy, perhaps fatally. The position Gingrich took on immigration has proven to be political risky for Republicans trying to appeal to the party's conservative base. Rick Perry had to apologize for saying that critics of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants “did not have a heart”. So much for compassion. There doesn't seem to be much room for that in the Republican party.

Gingrich may have upset his base, but he's not stupid, and he has stood by his position, with no apologies. What looked at first like a debate gaffe has, on closer inspection, seemed to be a calculated tactic to draw a contrast with Romney, who has been tough on immigration while running for president, but not so much when he wasn't. While Romney is taking the politically expedient immigration stance, Gingrich's aides say that he was saying the same thing at forums and town halls long before he was running for president.

It's getting late in the campaign season – just a month-and-a-half remain until the Iowa caucuses – so it's possible that the weakest field of candidates in memory may come down to Romney and Gingrich.

If Gingrich is to have any chance, he needs to transform his image. He's been married three times, and some Republicans think that this alone could disqualify him. But there are also the contradictions and reversals in his record, including past support for an individual health insurance mandate and for government action to combat climate change. These things make him seem just as inconsistent as Romney, the notorious flip-flopper. And Gingrich isn't helping himself by waffling on the nature of his services to Freddie Mac, where he received the aforementioned $1.6 million for doing nothing more than lending his name for political purposes.

Even with his excess baggage, Gingrich is the only candidate to seriously challenge Romney who doesn't seem deranged or just plain stupid. He's able to give a speech without sounding drunk, unlike Perry, and can hold his own at a debate, unlike Perry and just about everyone else. So Gingrich may have a chance at the nomination, unlike the previous front-runners who have crashed and burned.

Obama is vulnerable in 2012 because of the economy, and there is little expectation that it will improve significantly. The President, however, has the advantage of being the incumbent, has had recent success in foreign policy, and has been looking more presidential since last summer's debt ceiling debacle. The fact that the polls show the actual candidates scoring lower than a “generic” Republican when matched against Obama shows that maybe the Republicans just don't have a qualified candidate running.

While the Republican party continues to lose credibility with every debate, Obama continues to do his job quietly and without much fanfare. The fact that he's been blocked by Congress on pretty much every major piece of legislation is bad for the country, but the approval rating for Congress is in single-digit territory, and that's a good sign for Obama. Although his own ratings are not great, the fact that the Republican party has failed to come up with a nominee who is a viable alternative is good news indeed for Obama.

While Obama waits for Gingrich to push the self-destruct button – as have all the previous Republican front-runners – he is waiting for Romney to be the last man standing, and is preparing for that. Is Gingrich the Clown Prince of the GOP circus, or is he a contender? Regardless of the answer, the President can relax and enjoy his holiday season knowing that the Republican Party may have run out of options.