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FridayTalkingPoints
Posted by Chris Weigant in Editorials & Other Articles
Fri Oct 28th 2011, 07:24 PM
We'd like to begin today with an issue that we regularly get incensed about here, mostly because it flies under the radar of just about everyone -- including the entire media universe. Because for once, Democrats are making the attempt to use the issue to make some political hay (even though, in this regard, they're admittedly almost as bad as the Republicans).

The Republican House leadership just released the tentative work schedule for the House of Representatives for the next calendar year. It contains only 109 days of actual work. That's for the entire year, folks. That is less than 30 percent of the days a year actually contains. To be fair, it is almost 42 percent of the average number of workdays in a year (in other words, discounting weekend days). But still -- 42 percent?!?

Stated another way, 109 days is one day short of 22 work weeks. There are, in case anyone's forgotten, 52 weeks in a year. This conveniently leaves a whopping 30 weeks off -- 150 work days -- for vacationing and fundraising and campaigning and for all the other things these so-called "public servants" do in their voluminous spare time, instead of the job we are paying them a six-figure income to perform.

This is pathetic. Seriously, we're in the midst of several crises, and the House is going to take an obscene 30 weeks off next year? Majority Leader Eric Cantor, spinning hard, responded thusly: "As with this year, the goal of next year's calendar is to create certainty and productivity in the legislative process, protect committee time and afford members the opportunity to gain valuable input from their constituents at home." For the benefit of the 99 percent who do not speak Washingtonese, I will helpfully translate this into English: "It's an election year, and we've got to raise one whopping pile of campaign contributions by sucking up to the corporations and the wealthy -- and it's really time consuming! Plus, we've got to take our normal month-long vacations every couple of weeks, and we'll be on the campaign trail for all of October -- so you should just be glad we're going to show up in Washington at all. Besides, it's obvious nothing's going to get done for the whole of next year, so why are you complaining?"

Sigh.

When you get down into the details of this problem, it actually gets worse. Congress, at times, magically turns a two-day workweek into a "three-day" workweek, by convening on Tuesday afternoon and heading for the exits before noon on Thursday. That's three calendar days, but for anyone punching a clock, it would only be worth two days' pay.

Nice work if you can get it, eh?

But, as I said, the Democrats aren't all that much better. The last comparable year was 2008, when Democrats controlled the House in a presidential election year. They worked a not-so-impressive 119 days -- one day short of 24 weeks. Not exactly anything to brag about, is it?

But it's still ten days better than the GOP's plan for 2012. And it's a perfectly good political issue to exploit for the House Democrats -- because I'd be willing to guess that 99 percent of Americans would be shocked to learn how little Congress actually works, and also that they'd be outraged if they did hear about it. So it's certainly worth the Democrats' time and effort to point it out.

 



While many celebrities have been curious enough about the Occupy Wall Street protest in Manhattan to head down and mingle with the crowds, the most interesting of these drop-in visits happened this week when John Carlos, Olympic bronze medalist, addressed the gathering. Carlos, together with Tommie Smith (who had won the gold in the same event, the 200-meter dash), staged their own protest during the 1968 Olympics, which was broadcast around the world live. They were the two young sprinters who, while their national anthem was played, saluted it with a raised "black power" fist. The image of their protest is one of the iconic moments of the entire 1960s protest era, in fact.

Carlos addressed the Occupy Wall Street gathering: "I am here for you. Why? Because I am you. We are here 43 years later because the fight is still to be won. We must never stop, for this day is not for us, but it's for our children."

For stopping by and lending his support, John Carlos deserves at least an Honorable Mention here.

But the real winner of the coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week was none other than President Barack Obama. Last week, he announced the end of two of the wars America is involved in. This week, Obama rediscovered the joys of the Executive Branch's powers. Obama, realizing that the Republican House isn't going to do anything for the next year (when they even bother to show up, that is), decided to put his White House staff to work on the problem of what he could change for the better without having to get Congress to sign off on it. These executive powers can be far-reaching and have a definite impact on people's lives, and Obama's use of them was foretold almost a year ago, in the midterm election results. "It's the only way he's going to be able to get anything done" said some at the time, and they were right.

Obama, in one week, announced he will loosen the restrictions for homeowners to get help with refinancing underwater homes, help students next year (instead of three years from now) by making it easier for them to repay their loans, and he capped off the week by helping out small businesses. All of these changes are incremental and rather small-bore, but that's still a pretty productive week.

Cue: Republican fury. I haven't heard them yet, but I'm sure the Republicans will howl about (a golden oldie) an "imperial presidency" or the overreach of executive powers, but nobody's going to listen to them. Helpfully translated from Washingtonese, again, their complaints will amount to nothing more than: "We really don't want Obama to be able to do anything, and we are outraged that he is trying to help students, people having trouble with big banks, and America's small businesses. We think Americans deserve more partisan bickering -- and no action whatsoever -- on these subjects!" Good luck with that, guys and gals.

President Obama realizing that Executive Orders and other means exist for him to further his agenda is a good thing. We hope to see more of this sort of thing in the future. For rolling out three of these this week -- to help Americans who are hurting -- Obama is this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Keep up the good work, Mister President.

{Congratulate President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.}

 



Before we get to this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, we have an update on a past MDDOTW award. Back in (FTP 184) we didn't quite know who deserved the MDDOTW award -- for the Department of Justice's crackdown on medical marijuana in California. We tentatively awarded it to Attorney General Eric Holder, but we've got to retroactively transfer it to his underling, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who appears to be the guy in Washington who approved the actions of the four U.S. Attorneys whose bright idea this crusade was. Holder and Barack Obama were not consulted, according to news updates.

Now, you could argue that the buck stops at either Obama's desk or at Holder's, but this would be ignoring recent history. Federal prosecutors, remember, are supposed to be independent. George W. Bush got in some very hot water for firing some of them, for what seemed political reasons. So to call on Obama to do the same thing with these four would be just a tad bit hypocritical, wouldn't it?

But we will be watching this situation closely, because we have a sinking feeling that the award we handed out three weeks ago (now transferred to James Cole) is not going to be the last time we'll be dishing out MDDOTW awards in this whole intradepartmental fracas.

Getting back to the present week, our current Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week is, once again, Joe Lieberman (and yes, we know he's not technically a Democrat anymore, but we simply don't care). Lieberman this week joined up with eleven Republicans to call for hearings on Barack Obama's troop withdrawal plan for Iraq. This is utter hogwash, because it is not, in fact Barack Obama's plan. It is George W. Bush's withdrawal timeline -- enshrined in a document both he and the government of Iraq agreed to at the end of 2008.

I went into this subject at great length earlier this week, for those interested in the details (of the withdrawal decision, not of Lieberman's actions). The Republicans hope to score some cheap political points over the Iraq War's end, because they simply have not realized that an overwhelming majority of the American public has been ready for the troops to come home for quite some time now. This sort of thing is to be expected from Republicans, but of course, Joe Lieberman had to jump on this particular bandwagon.

No matter what happens in the rest of the 2012 elections, one joyous outcome will be not having Joe Lieberman kicking the Democratic Party around any more. For the time being, we'll just keep handing him Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards, whenever they are as richly deserved as this one.

{Contact Senator Joe Lieberman on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.}

 


Volume 187 (10/28/11)


Today's talking points are nothing more than a history lesson on banks and what is now (laughably) called "class warfare" by the uninformed. If this sort of thing doesn't sound like fun to read, then I would strongly suggest you just stop reading now, and spare yourself. You have been warned, so don't complain later, in other words. Hmmph.

For those who are interested in historical precedents; when the subject of presidential rhetoric on "class warfare" is brought up, three twentieth-century presidents are usually mentioned: Harry Truman, for the populist rhetoric which likely won him what was seen as an unwinnable election; Franklin D. Roosevelt, for declaring that he welcomed the hatred of the bankers (and what we'd call "the one percent" in today's terminology) and pretty much for his entire presidency; and Teddy Roosevelt, for his strong trust-busting language.

But this strain of American politics goes back further, a fact I was reminded of by a very interesting recent article reprinted in Salon, as well as research of my own I'm doing for a separate project. While the author traces this back to Thomas Jefferson and the battle over the Bank of the United States, the most interesting is the battle between President Andrew Jackson and the head of the Second Bank of the United States.

This issue bred the first "single issue" presidential campaign in our history, in 1832, when Jackson ran for re-election. Congress tried to force Jackson's hand by renewing the Bank's charter during the election year -- and the political impact was not subtle, since they passed the law on July 4th. Jackson vetoed it, and went on to win the election, but this didn't stop the fight. The head of the bank basically tried to tank the American economy in retribution, and Jackson pulled all the federal deposits out of the bank. Back then, it was known as the "Bank War" (or even "Wars" as there were two phases of this struggle).

Jackson fired his Treasury Secretary for refusing to withdraw the deposits, which later led to his being censured by the Senate (the only time this happened in history, which was later expunged from the record).

But that's enough background for now (see Wikipedia's Bank War entry for further details, if interested). Jackson's Bank veto message really speaks for itself, in language Ron Paul would probably approve of (the Second Bank of the United States was akin to the Federal Reserve of today). This document is extraordinary for the rhetoric contained within it, much of which would likely resonate with the 99 Percenters.

Jackson offers up many arguments as to why the Bank charter renewal bill was, in his opinion, unconstitutional. He also engages in a bit of foreigner-bashing (along with plenty of bashing the rich), but by doing so brings up an excellent point directly applicable today: what would happen if the United States went to war with China, perhaps over Taiwan? We'd be borrowing money to wage war from our enemy -- a truly Orwellian world which Jackson correctly identifies back in 1832. Jackson builds to a rousing finish, all but declaring open "class warfare" on the rich.

So without further ado, here are a few excerpts from Jackson's message (if further interested, please read the full text of this message, helpfully provided by the Yale Law School site):

 

Andrew Jackson's Bank Veto Message to Congress -- July 10, 1832

The bill "to modify and continue" the act entitled "An act to incorporate the subscribers to the Bank of the United States" was presented to me on the 4th July instant. Having considered it with that solemn regard to the principles of the Constitution which the day was calculated to inspire, and come to the conclusion that it ought not to become a law, I herewith return it to the Senate, in which it originated, with my objections.

. . .

It is not our own citizens only who are to receive the bounty of our Government. More than eight millions of the stock of this bank are held by foreigners. By this act the American Republic proposes virtually to make them a present of some millions of dollars. For these gratuities to foreigners and to some of our own opulent citizens the act secures no equivalent whatever. They are the certain gains of the present stockholders under the operation of this act, after making full allowance for the payment of the bonus.

Every monopoly and all exclusive privileges are granted at the expense of the public, which ought to receive a fair equivalent. The many millions which this act proposes to bestow on the stockholders of the existing bank must come directly or indirectly out of the earnings of the American people. It is due to them, therefore, if their Government sell monopolies and exclusive privileges, that they should at least exact for them as much as they are worth in open market.

. . .

But this act does not permit competition in the purchase of this monopoly. It seems to be predicated on the erroneous idea that the present stockholders have a prescriptive right not only to the favor but to the bounty of Government. It appears that more than a fourth part of the stock is held by foreigners and the residue is held by a few hundred of our own citizens, chiefly of the richest class. For their benefit does this act exclude the whole American people from competition in the purchase of this monopoly and dispose of it for many millions less than it is worth.

. . .

But this proposition, although made by men whose aggregate wealth is believed to be equal to all the private stock in the existing bank, has been set aside, and the bounty of our Government is proposed to be again bestowed on the few who have been fortunate enough to secure the stock and at this moment wield the power of the existing institution. I can not perceive the justice or policy of this course. If our Government must sell monopolies, it would seem to be its duty to take nothing less than their full value, and if gratuities must be made once in fifteen or twenty years let them not be bestowed on the subjects of a foreign government nor upon a designated and favored class of men in our own country.

. . .

It has been urged as an argument in favor of rechartering the present bank that the calling in its loans will produce great embarrassment and distress. The time allowed to close its concerns is ample, and if it has been well managed its pressure will be light, and heavy only in case its management has been bad. If, therefore, it shall produce distress, the fault will be its own, and it would furnish a reason against renewing a power which has been so obviously abused. But will there ever be a time when this reason will be less powerful? To acknowledge its force is to admit that the bank ought to be perpetual, and as a consequence the present stockholders and those inheriting their rights as successors be established a privileged order, clothed both with great political power and enjoying immense pecuniary advantages from their connection with the Government.

. . .

It is easy to conceive that great evils to our country and its institutions might flow from such a concentration of power in the hands of a few men irresponsible to the people.

. . .

Should the stock of the bank principally pass into the hands of the subjects of a foreign country, and we should unfortunately become involved in a war with that country, what would be our condition? Of the course which would be pursued by a bank almost wholly owned by the subjects of a foreign power, and managed by those whose interests, if not affections, would run in the same direction there can be no doubt. All its operations within would be in aid of the hostile fleets and armies without. Controlling our currency, receiving our public moneys, and holding thousands of our citizens in dependence, it would be more formidable and dangerous than the naval and military power of the enemy.

. . .

It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society -- the farmers, mechanics, and laborers -- who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.

. . .

Experience should teach us wisdom. Most of the difficulties our Government now encounters and most of the dangers which impend over our Union have sprung from an abandonment of the legitimate objects of Government by our national legislation, and the adoption of such principles as are embodied in this act. Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress. By attempting to gratify their desires we have in the results of our legislation arrayed section against section, interest against interest, and man against man, in a fearful commotion which threatens to shake the foundations of our Union. It is time to pause in our career to review our principles, and if possible revive that devoted patriotism and spirit of compromise which distinguished the sages of the Revolution and the fathers of our Union. If we can not at once, in justice to interests vested under improvident legislation, make our Government what it ought to be, we can at least take a stand against all new grants of monopolies and exclusive privileges, against any prostitution of our Government to the advancement of the few at the expense of the many, and in favor of compromise and gradual reform in our code of laws and system of political economy.

 

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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