Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Republican Opposition to Chuck Hagel Explained

Republicans promised not to abuse the filibuster. They promptly broke that promise, along with precedent and filibustered Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense. What made the Senate Republicans hate Chuck Hagel so?

If it were true that he is an anti-Semite, as alleged by anonymous Republican staffers, I would be right there with them. But he’s not, at least according to the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai Brith. So, that was a rather libelous smear.

They said that he was bad for Israel. Again, if it were true, I’d be all like, “Screw him.” But there’s no evidence there, either. In fact, the evidence was quite the opposite, starting with Chuck Shumer’s endorsement of him.

These and other false accusations were largely propagated by such groups as Americans for a Strong Defense which is run by former Mitt Romney campaign staffers, according to ABC News. Another group, Use Your Mandate, claims to be composed of anonymous Democrats and Independents, but uses  "Del Cielo Media, an arm of one of the most prominent Republican ad-buying firms in the country, Smart Media" according to The New York Times.

Okay, I get it. Republicans hate Chuck Hagel. But it wasn’t always thus. Straight-talking John McCain said he would make a good Secretary of State, back in the day when he was also pushing the line that Sarah Palin was qualified to be President.  And lest we forget, Chuck Hagel himself is a – wait for it – Republican!

Lindsey Graham took after Hagel like a woman scorned. Ostensibly, it was all about Benghazi  The question was what did the President know and when did he know it. Fey! Suffice it to say, Hagel was not in the government on September 11, 2012.

The highlight of the hearing might have been when Senator Graham asked the nominee if he could name one Senator who was intimidated by the Israel lobby, or one dumb thing that the Senate did because of intimidation by the Israeli lobby.

The line of questioning was revealing in this way: it revealed why I would never be confirmed by the Senate. To wit: I would have answered, ‘Damn straight Senator. Someone who is intimidated by the Israeli lobby is you. And one dumb thing you did because of intimidation is ask that question of a Senator who has a perfect voting record on Israel, you shmuck!

Maybe it sounds like I am being a little harsh on Lindsey. Of course, that may have to do with the fact that when Elana Kagen was being confirmed by the Senate, he had to ask her if she remembered where she was on the day the Underwear Bomber failed in his attempt to blow up a jetliner. She offered up some legal mumbo jumbo about giving terrorists legal rights.

"No, I just asked you where you were at on Christmas," Graham said.

"You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant," Kagan replied, garnering a good guffaw from the audience.

But not from me. See, I couldn’t figure out why it was even vaguely relevant. Except that Graham was trying to defeat the President’s nominee by highlighting the fact that she didn’t celebrate Christmas like real Americans do.

So, naturally, I was amused, but not very much, to see Lindsey Graham trying to portray Chuck Hagel as no friend of the Jews. Then again, it’s hardly news that Lindsey Graham is a hypocrite. At least he didn’t join the Log Cabin Republicans in criticizing Hagel for his 1998 opposition to James Hormel’s appointment as ambassador to Luxembourg.  (Hagel’s opposition to Hormel, for which he has since apologized, was based on the fact that he was openly gay.) Graham wasn’t in the Senate when Republicans stood unified against Hormel, and surely he would have been with them.

Some of the criticism of Hagel was just plain ludicrous. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) bought into the report in Breitbart that Hagel had spoken to the Friends of Hamas, a group that is distinguished from all other groups by its non-existence. Tailgunner Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that we don’t know if Hagel spoke to radical groups, but, at a minimum, he shouldn’t be confirmed until we have answers. (Relatedly, we don’t know if Ted Cruz masturbates while watching “2 Girls 1 Cup,” but it may be significant that he has never denied it.)

I think we can all agree that Cruz was not amusing himself with coprophagia when he told the Senate that the Hagel nomination had
 “something that was truly extraordinary, which is the government of Iran formally and publicly praising the nomination of a defense secretary. I would suggest to you that to my knowledge, that is unprecedented to see a foreign nation like Iran publicly celebrating a nomination.”  
When it was suggested that Cruz had gone too far, the ranking member of the committee, Sen. James Inhoffe,  (R-OK) defended Cruz, saying Hagel was “endorsed by [Iran], and you can’t get any cozier than that.”

Not that it matters much, but here’s the basis for that claim: Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was asked a question about Hagel's views on Israel and U.S. sanctions on Iran at his weekly news conference. He ducked the question, and replied,
 “We hope there will be practical changes in American foreign policy and that Washington becomes respectful of the rights of nations.” 
In the last analysis, it was straight talking John McCain who committed what amounts to a cardinal sin in Washington: he told the truth about why Republicans wanted to filibuster, smear and block Senator Hagel’s nomination. 
“It goes back to … there’s a lot of ill will towards Senator Hagel, because when he was a Republican he attacked president Bush mercilessly, at one point said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover, said the surge was the worst blunder since the Viet Nam war – which is nonsense – and was very anti- his own party and people. People don’t forget that.”
There you have it! It was all about Hagel’s breach of Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment “Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican.”

Still, it all seemed a little over the top. There must be a deeper level of resentment for Chuck Hagel than what can be ginned up by faux outrage about his criticism of the George W(orst) Bush. What could it really be?

The answer is that the time has come for Republicans to send a message. They must circle the wagons, and let it be known that any defectors will be punished for the rest of their lives. Why? Because Republicans know that they are on the wrong side of the tax debate, the wrong side of the austerity debate, the wrong side of the background check  and assault weapons debate, the wrong side of the gay marriage debate, the wrong side of the immigration debate, the wrong side of the entitlement debate, the wrong side of the voting rights debate.

Maybe there is a philosophical consistency in their positions taken by conservatives, though I am yet to discover it. Be that as it may, in every area mentioned above the public is on the side of the Democrats, sometimes by a wide margin. Democrats won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. A majority of votes cast for members of the House of Representatives were for Democrats, although gerrymandering gave the majority of the House to Republicans. And of course, the Senate is and will be for the foreseeable future, in the hands of Democrats. Republicans know that they are increasingly perceived as a party that can’t govern, doesn’t try to, and stands against the idea that government should work. Far be it from me to say that it is the party of racists, but General Colin Powell intimated as much.

At a time like this, Republicans are bracing themselves against a wave of defections. Governors who opposed Obamacare are starting to accept the idea of expanding Medicaid. Chris Christie earned himself a non-invitation from the CPAC convention because he praised the President's efforts on behalf of his state when Hurricane Sandy hit, and he was unstinting in his recriminations against the Republicans who blocked relief to the devastated parts of New Jersey.

So, now you know. If you’re a Republican and you’re sick of being in the “party of stupid,” in the words of Bobby Jindall, the party of Christine O’Donnell, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Caine, Rand Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin and the rest of the rejects from the funny papers, keep your mouth shut, and your head down.

Otherwise, John McCain will chase you off his lawn with a rake, Lindsey Graham with throw another hissy fit, and Ted Cruz will reprise the tactics of Joe McCarthy to destroy you.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Errata: In paragraph 6, the word “Feh!” is misspelled.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Minimum wage. It's the least we can do.

About 1.7 million people earn the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Let’s pretend they each work 40 hours a week, and 50 weeks a year, which is to say that they each work 2,000 hours per year. (They don't because most minimum wage jobs are also part-time.) Raising the minimum hourly wage $1.00 would therefore cost employers of these workers, $3,400,000,000. Where’s it going to come from?

Let's take a look at the top fifty employers of minimum wage workers. The average compensation of the CEOs of these companies is $9,397,302. Ninety-two percent of these companies were profitable last year, and 78% were profitable over the last three years. Compared to pre-recession levels, 75% have higher revenues, 63% have higher profits, 63% have higher operating margins, and 73% higher cash holdings. The recession is over and everything is looking up for these companies. Except the wages of minimum wage workers, which haven't seen an increase since 2009. 
The fast food industry is one of the biggest employers of minimum wage workers. Here’s the executive compensation of some of the best paid CEOs in the fast food business.

MacDonalds                  18,403,830
Burger King                   17,072,427
Wendy’s                        10,174,638
YUM                           142,069,337
Starbucks                     483,279,878
Sonic                             17,630,484
Domino’s Pizza              47,821,255
Total:                           736,451,849

Wal-Mart paid its CEO a mere 14.4 million, and we don’t know how much the CEO of Subway made. We do know that he is worth 1.5 billion, and is reputed to be compulsively frugal. Let’s just put him down for making 5% on his money, and call him good for 75,000,000. Add them all together and you get well past one and a half billion dollars.

It’s kind of hard to believe that these guys (they are all men) wouldn't find it worth their while to get out of bed and do whatever they do for half that amount.  If the other half went to increasing the pay of the minimum wage workers, there would be over 22% of what was needed to give every single minimum wage worker in the United States a $1.00/hr raise.

Take a minute to drink that in. By paying 9 CEOs something just south of Croesus, we can finance a quarter of what it takes to pay workers not quite enough to live on. Of course, if the CEOs want to make more money, their path is clear. Hire more low-paid workers and wring your wealth from the sweat of their brow.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”