16 February 2009

Politics in the News, Feb 16

I just told Joe goodbye for another month, it's pouring rain, it's cold outside, and I'm still sick, so I'm trying to keep myself busy but not much new content here. Some noteworthy things from the news:

1. Not one Republican House Vote on the Obama stimulus package. Not. One. Vote. From where I sit, they are working hard to ensure their irrelevancy for a generation. Typically great columns from the NYTimes include Frank Rich's "They Sure Showed that Obama," with this fun fact: "Republicans will also be judged by the voters. If they want to obstruct and filibuster while the economy is in free fall, the president should call their bluff and let them go at it. In the first four years after F.D.R. took over from Hoover, the already decimated ranks of Republicans in Congress fell from 36 to 16 in the Senate and from 117 to 88 in the House."

2. How bad is it? It's bad. Paul Krugman's piece "Decade at Bernie's," has this: "The bottom line is that there has been basically no wealth creation at all since the turn of the millennium: the net worth of the average American household, adjusted for inflation, is lower now than it was in 2001."

3. In Venezuela, voters gave Hugo Chavez the authority to run for President for life, voting in favor of a constitutional amendment to annul term limits. I don't believe in term limits, generally. Particularly in legislative bodies, as we've seen here in my beloved California, term limits have reduced the effectiveness of legislators, limiting their capacity to develop cross-partisan relationships and to apply the knowledge they gain in their first few terms (see #4). And, ultimately, if elections are free and fair, then the capacity of an elected official becomes his or her term limit - they get voted out if they screw up. That said, this doesn't seem like a good thing. The "Bolivarian Revolution" has been clearly and prodoundly redistributive, but a decade on deep gaps persist between the rich and the poor, and with falling crude prices Chavez may not be able to afford the largesse that has helped him remain popular with most of the country's working and poor classes. I worry for his safety, and what his removal from the scene would mean for that nation's peace and prosperity. It's still a work in progress, but so many dictators in other parts of the world started as the great left hope, too.

4. Excellent piece about the problems with our state leg and budget crisis today from George Skelton, with whom I don't always agree, about how the GOP legislators are shirking their duty in resisting any budget deal that includes raising taxes. The leg is one vote shy in the Senate of getting a new budget. Until then, we get IOUs from the state if we are owed a tax increase and qualified kids are getting turned down by the Cal State System because it can't afford to admit them.

5. To the next idiot who tells me "government is the problem, not the solution," I'm going to offer peanut butter. Seriously, it's not that tough - Canada and Japan have figured it out, there are models of success, we can keep our food safe. Of course those countries also have health care for their populations as well, and we know how dangerous that idea is.

6. Mrs. Clinton started her tenure with a trip to Asia, breaking protocol which had been the first trip for Sec'y of State to be to Europe or the Middle East. That she went to Japan first, our longest and closest ally in the region, might be some comfort there and might be a boost to Aso's tottering LDP government. The Japanese economy is in bad shape, suffering their sharpest downturn since 1974, and is now showing "an annualized double-digit percentage contraction in real terms." That is likely going to be devastating, and the yen continues to sink. In normal international monetary conditions the sinking yen could be good news, allowing Japan to export its way out of a contraction as they did in the 1960's and 80's, but no one else has capital to buy even much cheaper Japanese goods in this current market. Mrs. Clinton's visit might help burnish the rep of Mr. Aso and his government, or at least keep the focus off the shockingly bad economic news.

And that's all I've got. Hope everyone is warm and dry and safe.


Celeste said...

Glad to read you got to see Joe despite being sick. :)
In the show opening this past weekend, Saturday Night Live did a good job of commenting on the Republicans refusal to play ball. Funny stuff.

Celeste said...

Is there no edit comment button?
Anyway, I wanted to add that I am looking forward to the Oscar post. Heh heh! I kill me.