by Brian T. Lynch – January 30, 2014
Yesterday evening Ezra Klein spoke at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, as their guest lecturer. Ezra Klein is a journalist, blogger (Wonk Blog), political analyst and occasional guest star on MSNBC’s news opinion shows. At age 29 he is one of the most influential journalists in Washington, and he is currently creating his own internet news organization in collaboration with Vox Media.
Klein focused his remarks on the broad structures of modern American politics that explain the context for President Obama’s State of the Union address the night before. The President’s address, he started, was notable for what it didn’t contain. It didn’t contain any reference to getting any big new initiatives passed in Congress. President Obama has conceded that anything he proposes would be blocked from passage. Instead, Obama proposed plans to accomplish what he can through executive orders. He is using, and perhaps expanding his executive powers. The other remarkable feature of the President’s address was the specificity and scope of these executive plans. Klein spoke to both of these issues.
By objective measures, according to Klein, the U.S. Congress is the most polarized it has been in a long time. He pointed out that polarization is not synonymous with rancorous debates or disagreements. Polarization is a measure of the overlap between two political parties, the less overlap, the greater the polarization. He pointed out that in the 1950’s and early ’60’s the Democratic party was comprised of moderates, liberals from the North and conservatives from the South. The Republican party was also a blend of conservatives, liberals and moderates. Under these conditions there were pitched debates both between and within both parties. There were also ways to forge compromises between like minded representatives within each party.
The dynamic that blended the two parties this way was race, according to historians Klein cited. Once the civil rights act was passed and progress was made in racial integration, the Democrats lost the South and the two parties began reshuffling. Liberals moved into the Democratic Party and conservatives moved into the Republican Party. This resulted in less overlap and lead to the polarization we have today. In Klein’s view, the most conservative Democrat today has less in common with the most liberal Republican in that party, and vice versa. There is so little overlap that compromise is nearly impossible to achieve.
Party polarization and the inability to compromise leads directly to congressional stalemate (which Klein begrudging called “gridlock”). Under current conditions, when a minority party helps the majority pass legislation it makes the majority party look strong and effective, thereby improving their chances of being re-elected. Conversely, when the minority party obstructs the majority, it makes the majority party look ineffective and powerless causing voters to switch allegiances and elect the minority party. This, according to Klein, explains why the current congress is unable to act.
Without structural changes, such as the rise of a third party, Klein sees little hope for improvements in congress. The most powerful branch of government, the legislative branch, is at an impasse. According to Klein, that doesn’t mean nothing will be getting done. As he sees it, when congress can’t exercise its powers, the authority and power of the other two branches of government grows to fill the void. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (but it does seem to require greater vigilance on our part). This brought Klein to his second observation about Obama’s State-of-the-Union address; the detailed account of where the Administration would be taking actions without the Congress.
The first two years of the Obama presidency saw the passage of more huge and important pieces of legislation than at any other time since the Lyndon Johnson administration. These are game changing initiatives with far reaching implications for American society. For example, the ACA has many little noticed, but broadly stated provision that will eventually re-invent (and improve) how treatment of common illnesses will be approached by doctors in the future.
Klein pointed out that most laws are written in general legalese that still requires Executive Branch interpretation and the creation of rules and policies to create an operating administrative framework. The 2,000 page Affordable Care Act, he said, has already generated tens of thousands of pages of rules, regulations and policies in a still unfolding process actuating the law. It is the creation of policy and administrative regulations that gives chief executives in state and federal government their most effective way to exercise power.
President Obama just announce that this is exactly what he intends to do. I will uses his executive powers to permanently shape the policies and interpretations of the legislation he got passed in his first term. He intends to accomplish the goals for which he was elected through the constitutional powers he has as the administrator-in-chief of the federal bureaucracy.
(Note: Once in place, the rules and administrative codes created to animate laws are, by intentional design, hard to alter. This is actually the role and purpose of a bureaucracy, to be a bulwark against the capricious dictates of power or transient swings of populist politics. Bureaucracies are often maligned for being cumbersome and slow to change, yet this is also their greatest contribution towards stable and coherent governance. This fact is little understood and seldom appreciated.)
Much of the beltway media has interpreted the President’s address as an admission that he is already a lame duck president, but nothing could be further from the truth. Klein believes that the rest of his term will produce enormous changes and benefits through executive actions. Because these changes will be happening in the nitty-gritty of agency bureaucracies it will be difficult for the beltway press to report on the changes.
The Washington media, according to Klein, has a structural bias towards the much easier reporting on Congress. The legislative branch is centralized, accessible and filled with characters and conflicts that sell the news. Administrative law is dry, decentralized and much less accessible. Still, this is where Klein sees the real action over the next few years. Perhaps this is where he intends to focus his attentions as he moves to create his new internet news venture with Vox Media. Time will tell.
Republican’s increase our public debt by lowering taxes on the wealthy, raising corporate welfare and starting wars. If you are surprised by this bar graph then you then you need to shop around for a more reliable news source.
Corporate Welfare Grows to $154 Billion even in Midst of Major Government Cuts
Editor’s Note: Even as the federal government executes major cutbacks, it’s giving huge subsidies in the form of tax breaks to industry, a fact legislators rarely acknowledge. The Boston Globe recently published a thorough and eye-popping report detailing the nature and extent of these breaks. We think it’s a must-read.
By Pete Marovich
First published in the Boston Globe
WASHINGTON — Lobbying for special tax treatment produced a spectacular return for Whirlpool Corp., courtesy of Congress and those who pay the bills, the American taxpayers.
By investing just $1.8 million over two years in payments for Washington lobbyists, Whirlpool secured the renewal of lucrative energy tax credits for making high-efficiency appliances that it estimates will be worth a combined $120 million for 2012 and 2013. Such breaks have helped the company keep its total tax expenses below zero in recent years.
The return on that lobbying investment: about 6,700 percent.
These are the sort of returns that have attracted growing swarms of corporate tax lobbyists to the Capitol over the last decade — the sorts of payoffs typically reserved for gamblers and gold miners. Even as Congress says it is digging for every penny of savings, lobbyists are anything but sequestered; they are ratcheting up their efforts to protect and even increase their clients’ tax breaks. [snip] http://reclaimdemocracy.org/corporate-welfare-tax-breaks-subsidies/
Here is how the rise of corporate welfare looks in my state of New Jersey, and note in particular how it has grown under Gov. Chris Christie:
Regardless of what you have been lead to believe about the evils of unions, there is no question that organized labor is responsible for creatiing the middle class and the good life as we know it today. But all that is in decline as anti-union sentiment grew in response to organized business interests in the 1070’s. I say this because I don’t see anyone else point out these facts. Here is another graphic view of how middle class income has declined in lock step with union membership over the years. Also, you will see that the savings in employee wages have gone directlty to the top 1% creating the huge income and wealth disparity we have today. Check it out:
It is clear to me, at least, that the heart of our economic woes is due to 40 years of wage suppression. This results in a declining middle class, a growing number of people falling into poverty, a decline in federal income tax revenue and an added burden on government to support a growing number of poor, working poor and unemployed Americans. You can’t separate chronically lower wages from our declining consumer spending. Regardless of what the economists say, if people don’t have money to spend the economy slows down and jobs disappear. Stocks are doing so well because so much of our financial sector is based on even more depressed foreign labor, yes, but also on depressed wages here at home.
If corporations what to stimulate consumer spending here, and make America attractive to foreign investors, they need to raise wages. They won’t do that because they personally benefit, financially, by keeping labor costs down. Their corporations benefit from the artificially cheap US labor pool created by government aid to the working poor for housing assistance, WIC, food stamps, daycare, etc. And then these bastards making all the money have the nerve to pit us against each other by promoting the lie that the working poor are somehow less worthy, or that they are stealing from us. If corporate leaders don’t see the light then the only alternative is for the work force to re-organize itself and demand higher wages.
He has been a friend of mine for years. We worked well together on school projects when both are children attended the same high school and our families socialized together. Outside of politics we have a lot in common, yet in the past five or six years we have become estranged. It isn’t our fault. We are victims of the rising tide of political partisanship.
It’s a damn shame that the billionaire puppet masters pumping money into politics to create divided, dysfunctional government have also driven a political wedge between him and me. I suspect there are many other friendships that have fallen victim to divisive politics. I tried to repair our friendship by explaining that the politics dividing us is actually a result of a third party attack on democracy, a third column, as I see it. But my friend is too firmly embedded in conservative doctrine to trust my arguments.
The larger truth is that there is a third column in American politics. It is the hidden hand of unprecedented wealth and corporate ownership. The only force in the world big enough to control corporate power is civil governments. The power elites don’t what to be told what they can and can’t do, especially by one person, one vote majority rule. They are accustomed to corporate governance which boils down to one dollar, one vote. Their intent is to cripple civil control over our democracy and make government do its bidding. They have already overwhelmed most states and many countries around the world. Whether you are conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, it is the ultra privileged elite that is controlling the media and writing the scripts. THIS really is the big picture. What was once the conservatives/ liberal continuum was ruptured and is now this great divide. We were never so different before, my conservative friend and I. This is all a grand scheme and we are all caught up in it.
The wealthy oligarchs donate to the Republican Party in a ratio of at least 2 to 1 over Democrats. Moreover, their strategy with the two parties is very different. On the Democrats side they only support targeted seats and spend money on targeted issues. They buy specific votes when they need to kill or pass legislation important to them (making Democrats look sleazy in the process). This appears like the traditional way we think about lobbying and government, and both sides to it. This targeted strategy also happens leaves room for Democrats to champion other popular causes that don’t harm the oligarchs interests. This helps to preserve the facade of a democratic republic.
On the Republican side the Oligarch’s mostly own the whole party. They have put together an unlikely coalition of fundamentalist Christians, libertarians, small and large business owners, conservative special interest groups, neo-confederate separatists and anyone else who harbors antipathy towards the federal government. In fact, antipathy towards the federal government is the common thread that hold this coalition together.
To gain support of the fundamentalist Christians, who oppose secular government, the elite ruling class spends lots of money ginning up social conservative causes, like abortion or same sex marriage. To libertarians they serve up small government rhetoric, incite Second Amendment fears and promote “big brother” narratives. To businessmen they rant about government regulations and pro-labor policies. To white cultural warriors they attack immigration, welfare queens and exploit racial animus. To neo-confederates they clamor for stricter interpretations of the constitution and direct verbal animosity towards the federal system. To hold on to bread and butter Republicans they demonize liberals and the Democrats to raise fears about voting for them. To all of these groups they rail about taxes, but the whole time their real goal is to control the levers of power for their own gain. There is no longer any room left in the Republican Party for politicians who loves government and wants it to succeed in improving the lives of ordinary Americans (i.e.: moderates).
In the end, the wealthy power elite are neither Democrats nor Republicans, neither conservatives nor liberals. They are out for themselves and their own financial interests. This is the third column of American politics and the hidden hand behind the growing dissatisfaction with our system of government.