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Bob Broughton's Blog about British Columbia politics

What Obama can do about the debt ceiling

The big news item in the US, other than the Casey Anthony trial, has been the need for Congress to raise the national debt ceiling, in order to avoid defaulting on bonds sold by the government, and wrecking the U.S. government's credit rating.

The Repugnikans aren't really going to do anything that upsets their Chamber of Commerce masters, but they are trying to hold Medicare and Social Security hostage; they want Obama to agree to cuts to these programs in exchange for their support to raise the debt ceiling.

One aspect of this we're not hearing about in the media, with the notable exception of Portland-based talk radio host Thom Hartmann, is that Obama has another weapon he can use if he needs to call the Repugnikans' bluff on this; see Does Obama have a secret weapon in the debt ceiling debate?

It works like this: Congress can authorize or not authorize money for programs, but it's the Executive branch that actually writes the cheques.

Here's an analogy that lots of Americans can relate to right now. You haven't taken home much money the past couple of months, your credit cards are maxed out, and you don't have enough money to pay the bills. This is the situation the U.S. Government is faced with.

So what do you do? First, you pay the mortgage payment or the rent, because you don't want to be evicted.

Second, you make the car payment, because you don't want the car to be repossessed.

Third, you'll buy groceries, because you don't want to starve to death.

Fourth, you'll make the minimum payments on your credit cards, because you don't want your credit rating to be downgraded.

Then what? You'll tell other people that you owe money to that you can't pay them right now, but you recognize the fact that you owe them, and you'll pay up later.

Obama's Executive branch can take the same approach. They can pay Social Security, Medicare, government salaries, and bond interest first.

Next, the Government can simply refuse to cut cheques for subsidies to the oil and gas and ethanol industries. This move will give Obama overwhelming public support; they only people who won't like this are the oil and gas and ethanol industries, and the Repugnikans they have in their pockets.

He can also refuse to cut cheques for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the people who do those intrusive searches of airline passengers. Again, the reaction of most people will be "good riddance". The inspection of passengers and baggage will have to be done by someone else, which means airlines and airports. This cost will have to be passed along to passengers, and a lot of them are... Repugnikans.

They can stop writing cheques to defense contractors. If the contract is for delivery of jet fighter planes, the government can say, "we'll take delivery of those planes when we can afford them." If it's for ongoing work, which is paid for on a monthly basis, the contractor can do one of two things; lay people off, or continue with business as usual, with the knowledge that they will get paid eventually. Until then, the contractors will be making daily phone calls to their Congressperson, demanding that the budget impasse is resolved ASAP, or "no post-Congress soft job for you."

Are you starting to get the idea here? If not, here's one more example. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is saying that he will filibuster against any effort to raise the debt ceiling. OK, Rand, how about no Federal money for highway construction in Kentucky for the next few months?

This is what is known in the political arena as "hardball". So far, Obama has shown no ability to play it. In particular, I thought that Obama made a huge mistake by not allowing the tax cuts for the rich to expire. (See The institutionalization of fiscal irresponsibility elsewhere on this blog.) Obama must learn that caving to the Repugnikans won't work this time; the more progressive members of Congress have made it clear that they simply won't vote for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Another insult from the Conservative Party of Canada

I've pointed out before on this blog that the Conservative Party of Canada has a history of running campaign advertising that insults the intelligence of Canadians: see The Conservative "Tax Trick", published in July, 2008.

I heard another one of these insults on the radio yesterday. The ad claims that the New Democratic Party's "cap and trade" proposal would add ten cents to the price of a litre of gasoline.

Really? I can't give you an informed answer on this, because I haven't studied exactly what it is that the NDP is proposing. However, any Canadian who drives a car knows that the cost of gasoline has risen 20% over the past six months (much more than ten cents a litre), and 48% since the Conservatives became the government of Canada in February, 2006.

So, when the Conservatives accuse anyone other than themselves of increasing the price of gasoline, it's an obvious case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Here's my constructive suggestion for the Conservatives. Regardless of how the election turns out on Monday, the Conservatives will still have seats in the House of Commons. Prime Minister Harper will probably retain his seat, even if he is no longer the Prime Minister.

So, how about this? The Conservatives could phone or send emails to the petrochemical interests that fund the Conservative Party of Canada, and say, "Could you please drop the price of gasoline back to what is was in October, 2010?" If the Conservatives could accomplish this feat, I'm sure that a lot of Canadians would be grateful enough to vote Conservative next time around.

Tobacco and the 2011 Federal Election

There are a lot of things going on in this country that should be issues in this election: Fisheries and Oceans Canada's support for fish farms, the tar sands, and pipelines, to name three. With an annual death toll of 45,000 Canadians, tobacco should be a major topic of discussion, too.

We had a situation just five months ago where Health Canada was scrapping a plan to increase the size of warning labels on cigarettes as a result of lobbying from the tobacco industry. Read about it here: Conservative Federal Government owned by tobacco industry.

As a result of the exposure of the tobacco industry's involvement in this, the Harper Government changed its mind and went ahead with a a policy that was under development for six years. This is a old problem, however. Not long ago, it was common for tobacco industry spokespeople to say that the tobacco industry is a "partner" with Federal and provincial goverments, as part of complaining about taxation of tobacco. This is silly nonsense; automobiles, for example, are taxed heavily, but you don't hear auto industry lobbyists using language like this.

The Harper Government certainly didn't invent the idea that the tobacco industry is a "stakeholder" on tobacco industry issues; when Paul Martin was Prime Minister, the tobacco industry was much more than a stakeholder. The "stakeholder" idea is one that should be discarded. If you're asked by anyone during the few days left until the election to vote for a certain candidate, this would be a good topic to bring up.

One of the pillars of the Conservative campaign is "tough on crime"; longer prison sentences, building more prisons, that sort of thing. The Harper Government has also talked about the crime of tobacco smuggling, but they quietly adopted a policy of of prison sentences only for repeat offenders. In other words, the Harper Government is "tough on crime" except when it involves tobacco. Again, a good question to ask Conservative candidates about.

The Virginia Tech massacre was four years ago

The Yellow RibbonIt has now been four years since 32 students and faculty members were killed on the Virginia Tech campus.

I earned a B.A. Degree from Virginia Tech in 1972. I have lived 2,500 miles from Blacksburg for the past 30 years. This doesn't matter. I attended many classes and labs in Norris Hall. Ambler Johnston Hall was completed during my sophomore year; I never lived there, but I visited many friends and acquaintances who did. Whenever I'm in touch with my fellow alumni, the topic of the massacre comes up. Some of them have children who were students at Virginia Tech when the massacre took place.

What has changed since April 16, 2007? Unfortunately, things have gotten worse. The killing of a federal judge, a nine-year-old girl, and four other people in Tucson, AZ in January caused the subject of gun violence to resurface briefly. Nothing changed. Instead, the State of Utah passed a law designating the Browning M1911 semiautomatic pistol as the official state gun. Arizona is considering legislation to make the Colt single action army revolver the official state firearm; it hasn't passed yet, but it has enthusiastic support from gun nut groups. In Virginia, a law was passed last year to permit the carrying of concealed weapons in bars. (More than 40 states have similar legislation.) Virginia also considered legislation to close the “gun show loophole”; it didn't pass, and one of the key opponents was State Senator John S. Edwards, whose district includes Blacksburg.

Reframing this election

There's a Federal election going on, and so far, I haven't heard much about nuclear power or uranium mining, and not much about salmon farms, pipelines, or oil tanker traffic off the British Columbia coast.

I have heard that the Conservatives want to eliminate public campaign financing, and this alone is a sufficient reason to vote for Anyone But Conservative. If you need another reason, a change in government would put more responsible people in charge of the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA) and the Ministry of Public Safety.

A guy named Henry Mintzberg has written a piece that goes into some more detail on this subject: Reframing this election. It's worth reading, and contains this quote from a Conservative cabinet minister: "If we get a majority, they won’t recognize this country." Thank him, Mintzberg, and me for the warning.

Jose Figueroa: Another Canadian "Public Safety" embarassment

This is a story that has appeared here before, with different names and places. Jose Figueroa has lived in Canada (currently Langley, BC) since 1996. He isn't a drug kingpin, or have some other sort on involvement in organized crime. He, his wife, and their three children are all Canadian citizens. So, the Federal Ministry of Public Safety wants to deport him.

The problem that The Harper Government has with Figueroa is that he spent the first part of his life in El Salvador. During the 1980's, there was a civil war going on there. Figueroa supported what eventually became the winning side, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).

The Harper Government considers the FMLN to be a terrorist group. Well, in civil wars, terrible things happen. However, the current president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, was a candidate of the FMLN. Presumably, Funes wouldn't be any more welcome in Canada than Figueroa is.

Figueroa has the support of three MP's, Conservative Mark Warawa and NDP'ers Don Davies and Peter Julian. A couple of support websites have been set up, http://wearejose.wordpress.com/ and http://helpjose.blogspot.com/.

Jose's current effort is to travel from Vancouver to Ottawa. When he gets there, he will present a petition of support with at least 1,200 signatures (he'll be collecting more on the way) to Prime Minister Harper. This journey will start on Friday, March 18, with a rally of support at the Vancouver Public Library (350 W. Georgia St.) at 1 PM.

Jose's journey requires some financial support. Contributions can be mailed to Jose Figueroa c/o Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, 20530 88th Avenue, Langley, BC V1M 2Y6.

The loss of US sovereignty

I lived in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC in 1979, and during this period, I looked up several old friends of mine who had jobs as Congressional aides on Capitol Hill. Some of these people worked for Republican Congressmen, and some of them worked for Democrats, but the story I got from all of them was the same; half of the Members of Congress are crooks. This information was a minor factor in my decision to relocate in Vancouver instead of Seattle or Portland.

The situation in Washington hasn't improved since then, and the elevation of John Boehner to Speaker of the House is a new low.

I have been aware that Boehner was scum since 1995, when he got some press coverage for passing out cheques from Philip Morris on the floor of the House of Representatives. Matt Taibbi published a thorough expose of Boehner in Rolling Stone: The Crying Shame of John Boehner.

It's a long story, and well worth reading. I'll give you a quick summary: Boehner plays 100 rounds of golf a year, and attends an average of 1.25 fundraisers a day. This means that he spends hardly any time at all doing the job he gets a government salary for. He's basically a trained seal; his staff puts a script in front of him, and he reads it.

However, Taibbi points out in the first two paragraphs that people like Boehner are the norm rather than the exception in Congress, and makes the case that those who believe that “Washington is occupied by an unbreakable bipartisan conspiracy of favor-churning hacks” have got it right.

After you get through the Taibbi article, consider these facts: Fox News is owned by an Australian, and the second-in-command there, Alwaleed bin Talal, is a Saudi Prince. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has Boehner in its pocket, gets heavy funding from outside the US. They spent $75 million on attack ads during the 2010 election campaign, and refuse to disclose how much of this $75 million came from foreign sources. The US is heavily dependent on Saudi Arabia for its oil supply, and heavily dependent on China for the financing of the $14 trillion national debt.

What this all adds up to is, the US electorate no longer has any real control over the Federal government. Members of Congress and the President need whackloads of money to get elected, and they're going to listen to the people who pay the bills, not the voters. The Boehners of Washington certainly don't have any conscience to listen to. And if somebody in a position of influence gets uppity enough to criticize this situation, it's not very difficult to recruit a fanatic to shoot him or her.

The people of the US will wake up one morning and discover that they have lost their country. It wasn't lost due to a military invasion; it was sold.