Thursday, April 28, 2011

Birth Certificate Fuss Is Simply Bigotry

The Birther of a Nation

Bigotry dwarfs the soul by shutting out the truth.  Edwin Hubbel Chapin, 1814-1880.

If John McCain had won the 2008 election, some television reporter might have mentioned, in passing, during a lull in the inauguration ceremony, the trivial fact that he had been born in the Canal Zone but was still a “natural born Citizen” as required by the U.S. Constitution.

But Barak Obama won the 2008 election. He was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961, a little less than three years after Hawaii became the fiftieth state, and a little more than 63 years after the United States unilaterally “annexed” the former Kingdom of Hawai’i. That might have been a brief filler for a slow moment during his inauguration coverage. It warranted nothing more.

But not long after that, I heard the despicable Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-MN, tell a crowd of supporters that Barak Obama was “the first non-American president.” I could only assume that by that she meant that his father was from Africa – the only difference between him and the 42 other men (Grover Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms) who had served before he became the 44th president. I found it truly offensive and said so.

Oh, no, her supporters told me. She’s referring to the “fact” that he was born in Kenya. His birth certificate is a fake. He has never produced the “long form” birth certificate to disprove it. There must be a conspiracy.

Well bullshit. We all know this is all about the fact that Barak Obama is the first Black president. The “birthers” know this better than anyone.

President Obama has proven himself to be a centrist, but he has been called everything from a communist to a fascist to the Antichrist. The real problem is that he is Black, and a surprising number of people in this country just can’t handle that.

On April 12, 1861 – a hundred years before Barak Obama was born and 150 years ago this month – Confederate forces started shooting at the Union’s Fort Sumter in South Carolina, starting the War Between the States. Four very bloody years later that war ended, on paper at least, but it still rages on in the minds of far too many of our people.

The Civil War ended, but we had to live through the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the excesses of Reconstruction and its backlash Ku Klux Klan, the migration of Black citizens to the North and their consequent rejection and subjugation there as well, the imposition of poll taxes and literacy requirements, the contemptible standard of “separate but equal” that was upheld by the Supreme Court for shameful decades, the civil disobedience of people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King that led to King’s murder, the burning of churches, and lynchings, the disgusting recalcitrance of George Wallace and Orval Faubus, and gross economic inequality and geographical isolation which malinger to this day.

I voted for Barak Obama because his intelligence impressed me, his compassion warmed me, and his words inspired me. I did not vote for him because of his African heritage, but I was glad that the candidate of my choice was Black. I knew that this represented yet another big step forward away from the single greatest stain on our history and our conscience as a people. When I saw the camera at the inauguration focus on Jesse Jackson, who stood silently watching as tears streamed down his face, my face was already sodden. One more barrier had fallen. Someday we would finally escape this loathsome heritage.

I was not alone, but there were some – far too many – who saw Obama’s election as a terrible calamity. This can’t be happening, they felt. He’s Black!

The “birther” claptrap gave them something to grasp, some socially acceptable complaint they could use to express their socially unacceptable dismay. Provide the birth certificate, they demanded. Not the printed form from the State of Hawaii that is acceptable in every other situation to establish citizenship and identity, but the “long form,” the copy of the original itself, with signatures and everything.

Well, President Obama did that yesterday. “We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We've got better stuff to do. I've got better stuff to do,” he said, but there it was, produced as demanded, telling us what we already knew.

Thank goodness. This nonsense is finally over. That should shut them up, right?

Well, just do a search on “Obama birth certificate.” They’re still yapping. It’s a fake, they say. It doesn’t prove anything. There are irregularities. Anyone can make something that looks like a real birth certificate.

What they are really saying is “He’s Black!” And they know it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


(That’s New Mexican for Hot Links)

The only way America can reduce the long-term budget deficit, maintain vital services, protect Social Security and Medicare, invest more in education and infrastructure, and not raise taxes on the working middle class is by raising taxes on the super rich.” Robert Reich.

This is my way of reducing the size of my “Favorites” list. When I see a page on a subject I might want to write about I add it to the list, and I don’t have time to write about all the ones I’ve added. I figure that if I pass these on as links, I won’t feel guilty about deleting them.

“The Body” speaks: Jesse Ventura, the flashy wrestler who served as governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003, has penned a “Letter to the Ruling Class” that really says it all about the class warfare we’re enduring:

Income inequality: Blogger Brit at the Daily Kos praises President Obama for finally mentioning the widening gap between the extremely rich and everyone else in a speech at George Washington University on April 13th:!-Obama-Attacks-the-1

Health care is diseased: One trained medical billing advocate says that over 90 percent of the medical bills that she has audited contain ‘gross overcharges.’” That’s number 23 in a list of “25 Shocking Facts That Prove That The Entire U.S. Health Care Industry Has Become One Giant Money Making Scam” on the website The American Dream:

What’s the real poverty level? The New York Times reports that “a single worker needs an income of $30,012 a year — or just above $14 an hour — to cover basic expenses and save for retirement and emergencies. That is close to three times the 2010 national poverty level of $10,830 for a single person, and nearly twice the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. See:
Outsmarted and outsourced: While politicians across the spectrum are promising more jobs, “US” corporations continue to move jobs out of the country. Read and weep here:
Tax the rich: Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, explains why in a well-written essay:

Why isn’t Wall Street in jail? Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi presents the prosecution’s case:

Has the GOP gone too far? David Corn of Mother Jones says the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the House Budget Committee chairman, and passed with only four Republicans (and all of the Democrats) voting no, will harm the party. “With this vote, the GOP is embracing the caricature of itself: telling the poor they'll have to do with less, throwing granny out of the hospital bed, and easing life for gazillionaires,” he writes:

We’ll really miss you, Glenn: Faux News’s incomparable whackadoodle Glenn Beck will be leaving that network at the end of the year. As a tribute to the Beckaroo, Mediamatters has collected “The 50 Worst Things Glenn Beck Said On Fox News.” If you’re not a regular viewer, or if, like me, you only see Glenn Beck on The Daily Show, you can find some gems you missed here:

If you find this an interesting collection of chorizos, let me know and I’ll do it again.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Say It Over and Over and Over

Oft-repeated Lies are Still Lies

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.   Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832.

I seriously doubt that you could find a single Republican representative or senator who hasn’t repeated the following statement at least three times, in public, in the last year: “We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem.”

That statement is not true. It is a lie. Saying it over and over again does not make it anything less than a lie, but say it over and over again they do.

Our real financial problem was caused by a long-term campaign by Republicans to dismantle the safeguards enacted after the stock market crash that started the Great Depression. It took them almost seventy years, but they got it done.

As a direct result, unrestrained financial speculation and downright fraud caused our economy to come perilously close to another crash. Only extreme measures to prop up banks and brokerages and insurance companies in the final days of the Bush Administration kept a total collapse from occurring.

And even though such devastation was prevented, the United States of America lost almost half of its wealth in a few hectic weeks. Houses lost value, companies laid off workers, people defaulted on their mortgages and stopped buying non-essential items, retirement savings were devastated, more companies laid off workers or went broke, more mortgages went into foreclosure, and our economy spiraled down toward the abyss.

In the midst of this furor, Barack Obama replaced George Bush, Jr. In order to stop the spiral, he convinced Congress to pass a huge stimulus program.

It worked. The economy gradually quit falling and started on a slow upward slope, but almost half of what we thought we were worth was simply gone, as if it never existed. Actually, it never did exist. It was simply hot air. It was the emperor’s new clothes. It was smoke and mirrors. It was the inevitable result of unregulated speculation. Instead of letting the extra air out of the system a little at a time, we allowed it to blow out like a tire. Our economy was stuck on the side of the road.

If the bailout of the banks, et al, and the stimulus program had not been approved by Congress, we would have had a second Great Depression. That’s what happened after the 1929 crash. Republicans were in power and they didn’t do anything to stop the downward spiral, so it went all the way down. The bankers and stockbrokers and insurance agents would have borne the brunt of it this time, too, and we would have seen a repeat performance of such people jumping out of windows.

But everyone else would have suffered, as well. We wouldn’t have lost 45% of our economy; we would have lost close to 90%. Everyone would have suffered greatly, and strict new regulations on speculation would have been passed unanimously, or close to it.

As it was, such regulations barely squeaked through Congress. The margin in the Senate was one vote. And Republicans are already doing their best to dismantle those safeguards.

People with good jobs lost them and started collecting unemployment. Those people used to pay income tax; now the government was paying them, but not much. Those people stopped buying IPods and Cadillac SUVs and movie tickets and filet mignon and even potato chips. Their money was gone by the time they paid their mortgages and bought basic food.

It should be no surprise that income tax revenues tanked as income tanked. All of a sudden, the United States government had a revenue problem.

President Obama’s response to this situation was to create jobs, restore financial regulation, and reform the health care industry, which used to take about 5% of our gross domestic product but was gobbling up almost 20% while treating its consumers with heartless indifference. He succeeded in these measures but failed to get Congress to end a Bush-era tax cut for those who made over $250,000 a year. That would have produced more revenue than Republicans have tried to cut.

Let’s look at who was hurt by Obama’s actions: the entire financial speculation industry, the health care industry, and the very rich, to name a few.

Let’s look at who contributes to Republican candidates: the entire financial speculation industry, the health care industry, and the very rich, to name a few.

Congress was forced to continue deficit spending in order to maintain approved government programs. This continued to add to the national debt, which had already exploded during the Bush years because his two wars were “off-budget.”

Two years after Obama was elected, the people of the United States asked themselves if they were better off than they had been, determined that they were definitely worse off, and, with characteristic ignorance of what had caused their distress, gave the House of Representatives to the Republicans in a landslide.

The Republicans hammered at the deficit and the debt in that campaign and promised an agenda to reduce unnecessary government spending and to bring the country more jobs. How are they doing with that?

Well, they haven’t created any jobs. Period. As far as cutting spending, they’ve spent lots of time trying to shut down programs they detest, like family planning, infant nutrition, Food Stamps, Medicaid, public broadcasting, and the like, while ignoring the waste within the military behemoth. House Republicans even voted to overturn the health care act, which would take us back to the status quo ante of spiraling costs and patient abuse.

We’re spending too much! they groan. Our children and grandchildren will have to pay our bills! Don’t raise taxes! We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem!

Since Saint Ronald Reagan laid out the talking points thirty years ago the richest of the rich in this country have made obscene gains at the expense of a majority of our people. Many of the latter are people who used to be comfortably middle-class, who paid their taxes and didn’t need Food Stamps or LIHEAP or unemployment. Things aren’t working out very well for them.

Unfortunately, many of those in this situation have little historical awareness. They have chosen to blame Obama and the Democrats for their distress and have run to the welcoming arms of the Republicans, who caused all of this to happen.

Abraham Lincoln said that you can’t fool all the people all the time, but I would add that you can sure fool a lot of them most of the time. I want to scream at these people and tell them that the very people they are voting for are the ones who cut their net worth in half, made them lose their jobs, and are now tilting at windmills in the House.

But I refrain from screaming. I still have faith that they will figure this out for themselves.

You can’t fool all the people all of the time. You can’t fool all the people all of the time. Maybe if I keep repeating it…

Monday, April 11, 2011

You've Heard of Right and Left Brains

This Is About Right-wing and Left-wing Brains

Brain: an apparatus with which we think we think.”   – Ambrose Bierce, 1842-1914.

In the first half of the 19th Century “phrenology” was all the rage. Its premise was that all the activities of human behavior have their origin in the brain, and in specific parts of the brain. Phrenology, as it was defined then, has been debunked for over a century now, but there is a modern version of this theory, based on a much clearer understanding of the various parts of the brain and how they interact.

Illustration courtesy of Wikipedia
 We now know that the human brain has evolved, and that certain structures are older – that is, they’ve been with us longer on our trip up the evolutionary ladder – than others.

The oldest brain is the brain stem, which sits atop the spinal cord like the thick top of a tapering cane. It is the mechanism that keeps the heart beating and the lungs breathing. Atop that is the limbic system, which acts as a sort of gateway for sensation, performs basic memory functions, and is the seat of emotions. Next is the cerebellum, which helps regulate the way our bodies move. All these are “old” brain parts. Even some very rudimentary animals have something comparable to a spinal cord and a brain stem; more complex ones have developed something like the limbic system; yet more advanced ones have a cerebellum.

But the most recent part of the brain, evolutionarily speaking, is the cerebrum. Only the most advanced animals have it, and only in human beings is it so extremely large. This is the brain structure that allows us to reason and speak and have self-awareness. This is what makes us human.

A new study by London neuroscientists indicates that conservatives and liberals have different portions of their brains enlarged that correspond with their political attitudes. You might call this “neophrenology.” I find this discovery disturbing, but enlightening.

The testing that was done included 90 “healthy young adults” in London. They were asked to describe their political preferences on a five-point scale from very conservative to very liberal. The parts of their brains were then measured through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Remember, this is in England, where there are both Conservative and Liberal parties, which do not precisely correspond to our Republican and Democratic parties, but presumably the two basic concepts are similar in both places.

The study found that conservatives tend to have larger amygdalas and liberals larger anterior cingulate cortexes. The amygdala is in the limbic system and is apparently where the decision is made to fight or flee when danger is perceived. The anterior cingulate cortex is part of the cerebrum, and is thought to “monitor uncertainty and conflicts.”

There are a couple of cautions that should be made at this point. First, we don’t know if people think and act as they do because certain parts of their brains are enlarged, or if those parts are enlarged because they think and act as they do. Secondly, the science of brain function is far from complete, and even though we can identify, to some extent, what kinds of thoughts are processed by various structures in the brain, we don’t have full knowledge of how all those structures work together.

I have to restrain myself further, as well. I am tempted to accept this one study as proof of a sort of theory of everything political. I will try to avoid doing so.

But oh, this really seems to explain a lot! Conservatives have an emotional connection to politics and liberals a rational one. That would explain why some people don’t respond well to logical dialogue, why “intellectual” is a pejorative term in some circles, why Faux News’s appeal to fear and hate has so much traction, and a lot of other things that have perplexed me over the years.

I’m tempted to wonder whether conservatism can be “cured,” but I’m sure there are others out there wondering if there’s a “cure” for liberalism. But if nothing else, political operatives from both sides will be looking for ways to phrase their arguments to convince those with the other kind of brains.

Horses, for example, depend greatly on their amygdalas. They are quick to flee in the face of frightening or uncommon or confusing situations. Horse trainers know this and adjust their methods to avoid those situations. Perhaps we liberals could try to sway conservative opinion by similar methods. Perhaps conservatives would have more luck with us using rational discourse instead of fear- and hate-mongering.

What I can say for sure is that future discoveries in the area of “neuropolitics” will be fascinating. It’s hard to say how far this could go. It could be in the future that a person is informed that he didn’t get a job because his anterior cingulate cortex is too small or his amygdala is too large.

We often hear the proposition that there are two kinds of people. What if it’s really true?

Friday, April 8, 2011

It's Deja Vu All Over Again

Government Shut-down Dangerous for Republicans

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  – George Santayana, 1863-1952.

The mantra that smaller government is better government resonates among a certain percentage of the population, and it has been repeated as gospel since Saint Ronald Reagan’s successful campaign for the presidency. (The people who do so ignore the fact that Reagan did nothing to reduce the size of the federal government.)

Support for reducing the size of the government evaporates when that government is shut down. We saw that happen in 1995, when an impasse between the two political parties in Congress resulted in such a shut-down. It wasn’t that long ago, but many seem to have forgotten it. Republicans forget it at their peril, and I’m delighted.

Bill Clinton had been elected president in 1992 by a healthy margin over incumbent President George H.W. Bush and independent spoiler Ross Perot. The Democratic Senate majority was increased by one to 57; the Democratic majority in the House was reduced by nine members, but was still a healthy 258 to 176.

The pendulum swung the other way in the 1994 mid-term elections. The Democrats lost a net nine seats in the Senate and the Republicans took over with a slim 52 to 48 majority. The House did even better, with the GOP getting a 230 to 204 majority.

Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who became the new speaker of the House, and several of his colleagues had captured the votes of a significant portion of the electorate by offering a “Contract with America” in which they promised to make several changes in the way Congress conducted its business. (If you’ve forgotten what those changes were, see

Despite their fragile majorities, the Republicans arrived in Washington in January, 1995, ready to “kick butt and take names.” Does this sound familiar? It should. They were still full of vim and vinegar in November, when a continuing resolution to increase the federal deficit was about to expire, demanding that President Clinton agree to certain budget cuts or face a shut-down in non-essential government operations. It was widely described as a game of “Chicken.”

Neither side blinked, the government went into shut-down, and most voters blamed the Republicans. They didn’t like the results, temporary as they were. Their neighbors who worked for the government were furloughed without pay. It was always hard to reach the Social Security Administration, but now it was impossible. National parks were locked up. Passport and visa applications weren’t processed. Veterans’ health services were stopped. Even when the impasse ended, there were long-term residual effects. The economy suffered, and lots of people were mad. And they weren’t mad at the Democrats.

As I have been writing this I have been listening to the last day of debate about the current budget in the U.S. Senate. There seems to be agreement about numbers, but the big issue remaining is whether to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. Republican senators keep saying it’s about spending, but apparently it’s more about the usual partisan social issues. We’ll have to see whether the majority of voters will appreciate this recalcitrance. Remember that this is only about spending for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends September 30th. The real fight is about next year’s budget, and that has yet to commence.

The founders of this country put together a remarkable combination of institutions to share political power. We tend to think of those founders as wise and detached, but the Constitution they created was the result of knock-down, drag-out battles with strong emotions on all sides. The document they drafted insured that such infighting would continue forever.

The House of Representatives is the institution that most closely reflects the whims of the electorate. It’s where the newest fashions are tried on, and we all know how permanent fashions tend to be. House members may all be sporting top hats or kaftans or bola ties or bare midriffs, but Senators stick with their dark suits and wide ties. Only if the new fashion displays some permanence will they gradually follow suit. (No apologies for the pun.)

Will bare midriffs still be fashionable in 2012? We will soon know. Will voters fondly remember the federal shut-down of April, 2011? We’ll know that, too.

As I write this, only a few hours remain before this shut-down occurs or is prevented. I don’t think the Republican Party will gain in either case.  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tea Party Leaves More Republicans Behind

Extremists Losing Conscientious Conservatives

“This is an impressive crowd: the Haves and Have-mores. Some people call you the elites. I call you my base.” – George W. Bush.

One of the nice things about dealing with extremists is that the more extreme they get, the fewer people go along with them.

I was delighted to read in my local paper on April 6th that at least one conservative, syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, had found a line in the sand that even he wouldn’t cross. Here’s how he started his column:

“During the 2008 presidential campaign, when candidate Barack Obama told ‘Joe the Plumber’ that he wanted to ‘spread the wealth around,’ it sounded to a lot of conservatives like socialism: ‘From each according to his ability to each according to his need,’ in the words of Karl Marx.

“There is a kind of wealth spreading, however, that ought to meet the political litmus test of conservative Republicans, liberal Democrats and radical Independents.”

Mr. Thomas went on to say that when there is so much unemployment and so few new jobs, “it is disheartening to see so many CEOs having recovered enough from their personal recession to pay themselves salaries and benefits that would have shamed the super-rich in America’s Gilded Age.”

Wow! When Cal Thomas starts sounding like Bernie Sanders, things must be getting bad!

He went on to quote USA Today as reporting that median CEO pay increased 27 percent last year and that the average CEO received compensation of $9 million. He cited as an example a report last year in the Baltimore Sun that the tool company Stanley-Black and Decker, in Towson, MD, planned to lay off 4,000 of its 38,000 employees. A year later, apparently as a reward for saving the company so much in salary expenses, we find the company’s CEO, John Lundgren, got 253.1% more salary in 2010 – he took home over $32 million.

Even Thomas thinks this is obscene, but not enough to demand government action. His solution? Read these three jaw-dropping paragraphs:

“If I were a CEO being paid such astronomical amounts and people were being laid off, or struggling in a recession, at least in part due to the lack of pay increases, I would feel morally obligated to take less money.

“I would ask the chief financial officer of my company to share some of my wealth with loyal employees so that they could continue caring for their families.

“One doesn’t have to be a liberal who believes in income redistribution to see the unfairness in disproportionate pay.”

So Thomas calls on CEOs to do the honorable thing, and let their pay scales sag a bit for the greater good. He also suggests that President Obama should be “shaming those companies that lay off workers while paying their top management such exorbitant salaries and benefits.”

I’m glad Mr. Thomas finds the situation distressing, but his response is laughably ineffective. If there is one thing we have learned in the last four years it is that there is no shame on the top floors of the big U.S. corporations.

I’m not for redistribution of wealth (and that is not what candidate Obama meant, either). I believe we can continue to have a capitalistic economic system as long as it is kept under control by reasonable regulation. What I am for is a total overhaul of the U.S. tax code. I think we should leave everyone whose income is at or below the poverty rate alone, and I think that anyone who makes $32 million a year ought to pay a hefty percentage of it to support the government.

The extremists on the right, who have taken over the House of Representatives and think they now run the entire country, want to cut back all the programs that help those with lower incomes eke out a living, but they’re unanimous in opposing any tax increase whatever for the fat cats who make millions. Most of them, of course, are indebted to those very same fat cats for their political existence.

So it’s nice to see a crack in the dam. Cal Thomas is a hard-shelled conservative, and it’s encouraging to see that even his sensibilities are offended by the current economic inequality. Here’s how he ends his column:

“Making money is a noble American objective; making a living is a nobler one.

“Corporations ought to have enough decency and compassion to make sure no worker is let go solely to increase the bottom line or pad the boss’s pockets with more money than he (or she) can ever hope to spend in a lifetime.”

I couldn’t have said it better, but we can’t depend on the decency or compassion or even shame of our big corporations for anything. If the problem is to be fixed, the government will have to do it. I mean the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, not the one of the corporations, by the profiteers, for the money.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Great Deal More Than a Balanced Budget

Amendment Carries Lots of Baggage

“The budget should be balanced. Public debt should be reduced. The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered, and assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt.” –Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106-43 BC.

A gaggle of GOP senators gathered for a press conference March 31st. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, the minority leader, announced that all 47 Republican senators had signed on to a resolution calling for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, who has taken the lead on this issue, said, “I think most of us would agree that this government is incapable of living within its means, and we have to go to this extent in order to get things done.”

Hatch’s new junior senator, Republican Mike Lee, pointed out that “perpetual deficit spending brings about a particularly pernicious form of taxation without representation.” In other words, congressional overspending today increases the interest that future generations will have to pay.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, said such an amendment would lead to long-term fiscal stability. “If we send a message like this,” he said, “I think it will signal to the American people we’re serious, and more especially to the world, and more especially to the financial community.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, finally mentioned in passing the one factor in the fiscal equation that Republicans usually avoid: “You’d have to tighten your belts,” he said. “You’d have to deal with entitlements. You’d have to look at revenue. You’d have to do things that people in the real world do every day.”

It’s the “you’d have to look at revenue” part that I was listening for, and only Graham mentioned it.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, said he met with constituents back home and asked them if they believed they had a better life than their parents had, “and every hand goes up,” he said. “And then I ask the question, ‘How many of you believe that your kids will have a better life than you have right now?’ and the hands all come down. And we talk about why that is, and the reason, fundamentally, is the debt. The debt is the threat to our future.”

Well, I like the idea of working toward a balanced budget, and I’m all for a government that lives within its means, and I don’t like taxation without representation, and I’m all for long-term fiscal stability, and so on. But I’ve noticed over the years that Republicans tend to say a lot less than they mean, so I downloaded the resolution.

I didn’t find anything to criticize in the first section of the proposed amendment:

“Total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed total receipts for that fiscal year, unless two-thirds of the duly chosen and sworn Members of each House of Congress shall provide by law for a specific excess of outlays over receipts by a roll call vote.”

Well, I thought, that’s one way to go about it. Now all that’s needed is some sort of provision for wartime or national emergency, when we might have to spend more money than we have, and spend it quickly. I don’t see why they couldn’t get enough Democrats to go along to pass it, and I think they could probably get the necessary ratifications from 38 states. I read on.

The second section threw the monkey wrench into the machinery: “Total outlays for any fiscal year shall not exceed 18 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States for the calendar year ending before the beginning of such fiscal year, unless two-thirds of the duly chosen and sworn Members of each House of Congress shall provide by law for a specific amount in excess of such 18 percent by roll call vote.”

Huh? What has that got to do with a balanced budget? That’s an arbitrary limit on the size of the federal government. It might be an appropriate limit, but it has nothing to do with collecting as much money as is spent. And why put that into the Constitution?

The third section requires the president to propose a budget, within the 18% of GDP limit, each year.

The fourth section adds other non-germane stipulations: “Any bill that imposes a new tax or increases the statutory rate of any tax or the aggregate amount of revenue may pass only by a two-thirds majority of the duly chosen and sworn Members of each House of Congress by a roll call vote. For the purpose of determining any increase in revenue under this section, there shall be excluded any increase resulting from the lowering of the statutory rate of any tax.”

Where have I heard that crap before? Oh, yeah. I think the House of Representatives passed something very close to that at the beginning of this session. Now I’m getting mad. This resolution isn’t about a balanced budget. It’s a package of all the Republican wet dreams they’ve been espousing since Saint Ronald Reagan took office. I’m not going to parse it further; you can read it yourself here:, if you don’t mind having your browser history forever revealing that you signed on to an official Republican website.

It becomes clear that the Republicans have no intention of getting this resolution passed. Oh sure, they’d pass it in a minute if they had super majorities in both houses and a president who would sign it, but they just want to be able to whine to the electorate that, “Well, we tried to get a balanced budget amendment passed, but the Democrat[ic] Party wouldn’t hear of it.”

“You’d have to look at revenue,” Lindsey Graham said, but he obviously didn’t mean it.

I should have known. The last time that Republican senators were unanimous about something was in last winter’s lame-duck session, when they all signed a letter saying they would block all legislation until and unless all of the Bush tax cuts – including those affecting people with the highest incomes – were reauthorized.

We are going to have to “look at” revenue. We can’t get out of the hole we’re in by just cutting spending, but the proposed resolution would all but prevent any increase in taxes. It is a disingenuous, hypocritical, fraudulent deception to call this travesty of legislative phraseology a balanced budget amendment, and every one of those 47 senators knows it. It’s grandstanding at its worst, and, once again, it distracts Congress from its pressing business: helping the economy recover and getting people back to work.