Republicans don’t want a grand bargain

The last few weeks of Republican shutdown strategy have been interesting, to say the least. Their first tack seemed to be blame Democrats for refusing to negotiate, and hope no one noticed the 80 House Republican signers of a letter urging GOP leaders to force a government shutdown – or Ted Cruz’s 21 hours of procedural grandstanding over Senate action he had already agreed not to block.

After being forced to confront this dismal strategic failure,  GOP leadership rolled out a new plan: Stop talking about health care reform; attack Medicare and Social Security instead. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, first gave the game away  in the Wall Street Journal. Rep. Fred Upton had a piece of his own in the Kalamazoo Gazette, although, asGongwer publisher John Lindstrom pointed out, “Mr. Upton’s op-ed is specifically vague enough to drive one whacky trying to assess if this is a grand gesture or just a pleasant piece of breakfast reading.”

The obtuseness of Rep. Upton’s language (and for that matter, Rep. Ryan’s) was surely intentional. Republicans have made it clear that they don’t want any kind of a deal – because negotiations of any kind require concessions, and any concessions will only enrage the Republican base and further the raw divisions in the GOP.

At a Republican presidential debate in August 2011, Fox News’ Bret Baier asked the candidates if any of them would accept a fiscal deal that included a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to new revenues. All eight candidates said they would walk away from such a deal.

This kind of irresponsible behavior still animates the Republican Party, except in 2013 it carries real consequences for the country. Democrats have already come to the table and negotiated deals with Republicans –making repeated, extensive concessions in an effort to avoid the kind of paralysis and governing-by-hostage-crisis that Republicans love to blame on “Washington.”

The same cynical attitude Ryan displayed when he voted against the Simpson-Bowles plan, was on display earlier this month when Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Indiana, said to the Washington Examiner that “we’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Now that attitude is shared by Republican leaders. And it’s guiding their actions as they recklessly plot to block any proposed by the president. Speaker Boehner even admitted recently on “This Week” that he had reached a deal with Sen. Harry Reid in July to cut spending levels far below what Democrats wanted.

Republicans had the deal they claimed they wanted. The problem has always been electing people who hate governing. It shouldn’t be surprising when they try to wreck government. It’s past time for Republicans to vote to follow through on the deal they already made, before any more damage is done to our economy.



The Unknown Loyal Dead

Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, on Decoration Day, May 30, 1871

Friends and Fellow Citizens:

Tarry here for a moment. My words shall be few and simple. The solemn rites of this hour and place call for no lengthened speech. There is, in the very air of this resting-ground of the unknown dead a silent, subtle and all-pervading eloquence, far more touching, impressive, and thrilling than living lips have ever uttered. Into the measureless depths of every loyal soul it is now whispering lessons of all that is precious, priceless, holiest, and most enduring in human existence.

Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable. 

Those unknown heroes whose whitened bones have been piously gathered here, and whose green graves we now strew with sweet and beautiful flowers, choice emblems alike of pure hearts and brave spirits, reached, in their glorious career that last highest point of nobleness beyond which human power cannot go. They died for their country.

No loftier tribute can be paid to the most illustrious of all the benefactors of mankind than we pay to these unrecognized soldiers when we write above their graves this shining epitaph.

When the dark and vengeful spirit of slavery, always ambitious, preferring to rule in hell than to serve in heaven, fired the Southern heart and stirred all the malign elements of discord, when our great Republic, the hope of freedom and self-government throughout the world, had reached the point of supreme peril, when the Union of these states was torn and rent asunder at the center, and the armies of a gigantic rebellion came forth with broad blades and bloody hands to destroy the very foundations of American society, the unknown braves who flung themselves into the yawning chasm, where cannon roared and bullets whistled, fought and fell. They died for their country.

We are sometimes asked, in the name of patriotism, to forget the merits of this fearful struggle, and to remember with equal admiration those who struck at the nation’s life and those who struck to save it, those who fought for slavery and those who fought for liberty and justice. 

I am no minister of malice. I would not strike the fallen. I would not repel the repentant; but may my “right hand forget her cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” if I forget the difference between the parties to that terrible, protracted, and bloody conflict. 

If we ought to forget a war which has filled our land with widows and orphans; which has made stumps of men of the very flower of our youth; which has sent them on the journey of life armless, legless, maimed and mutilated; which has piled up a debt heavier than a mountain of gold, swept uncounted thousands of men into bloody graves and planted agony at a million hearthstones — I say, if this war is to be forgotten, I ask, in the name of all things sacred, what shall men remember?

The essence and significance of our devotions here to-day are not to be found in the fact that the men whose remains fill these graves were brave in battle. If we met simply to show our sense of bravery, we should find enough on both sides to kindle admiration. In the raging storm of fire and blood, in the fierce torrent of shot and shell, of sword and bayonet, whether on foot or on horse, unflinching courage marked the rebel not less than the loyal soldier.

But we are not here to applaud manly courage, save as it has been displayed in a noble cause. We must never forget that victory to the rebellion meant death to the republic. We must never forget that the loyal soldiers who rest beneath this sod flung themselves between the nation and the nation’s destroyers. If today we have a country not boiling in an agony of blood, like France, if now we have a united country, no longer cursed by the hell-black system of human bondage, if the American name is no longer a by-word and a hissing to a mocking earth, if the star-spangled banner floats only over free American citizens in every quarter of the land, and our country has before it a long and glorious career of justice, liberty, and civilization, we are indebted to the unselfish devotion of the noble army who rest in these honored graves all around us.

(via NYCSouthpaw)

Detroit Bankruptcy Storyline to Watch

Bloomberg BusinessWeek published a fantastic "Four Things to Know About Detroit" post last Friday, but it’s the first and last that are most relevant to the future of the process, and especially to the question of whether retired city employees will be facing cuts to pension and health benefits.

The race to file. The Detroit Free Press has fascinating details about Orr’s sprint to the courthouse. At the state’s request, the city’s pension funds delayed by five minutes an emergency court hearing to request a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the city from filing for bankruptcy. In that five-minute window, the city went ahead. The judge says she would have approved the temporary restraining order—had it been submitted before Orr filed.

Orr’s timing could also be tied to a hearing that had been scheduled for Monday by the pension funds seeking to prevent Governor Rick Snyder from signing off on any bankruptcy filing that could reduce pension benefits, saying that would violate the state constitution. To persuade the judge to approve the bankruptcy filing, Orr will have to prove that he negotiated with creditors in good faith. The maneuvers around the timing of the filing could undermine that claim.

How much does the city owe? Orr says Detroit has nearly $20 billion in debt and long-term obligations. Pension funds and bondholders have said in the past he’s inflating the numbers. Why would Orr do that? Because the more dire the city’s finances seem, the more aggressive he can be in pushing for concessions. Also, to be eligible for bankruptcy protection, the city must prove that it’s insolvent, meaning it has no way to pay its debts.

Already Michigan’s largest and most influential conservative editorial page* is crediting the state’s controversial Emergency Manager law, repealed by voters in 2012 and replaced by legislative Republicans in the subsequent lame duck session, with the success of Orr/Snyder bankruptcy strategy. But was Orr too clever for his own good? 

Ingham County Circuit Judge Aquilina declined to push over the first domino this morning, delaying that hearing until next Monday. But as we wait for that, the state Appeals Court could still weigh in, or the federal bankruptcy court may decide to intervene, stopping the involvement of state courts. Only one thing is for sure right now: We’ll know much more in a week.

*Full disclosure: I am not a conservative, but I contribute to the Detroit News Politics Blog.

What You Need To Know About Detroit’s Bankruptcy


Now that I’m finally catching up on finding a few of the longer and smarter pieces covering the what, why, and the way forward from Detroit’s bankruptcy, I thought I’d share a few of the most valuable resources I’ve found here.

First, of course, is Twitter. My first recommendation for everyone is my "Michigan Politics" list. It has over 100 members, nearly all of whom have made valuable contributions to the conversation surrounding Detroit’s bankruptcy in the last few days. I would also recommend following Michigan native Dana Houle, and Scott Martelle, who last year published a fascinating book on Detroit. Outside Michigan, I would encourage everyone to follow Alec MacGillis and RC Richards, both of whom have shown intense, informed curiosity in the unfolding events and the broader context of the story, and of course, Reuters’ resident muni bond expert Cate Long

Detroit Free Press: How Detroit came to betray its retirees.

Good explainer from the Freep’s editorial board on how pensions aren’t to blame for Detroit’s mess. Fun fact: Detroit’s police and fire pension fund was actually overfunded by $622.1 million in 2000.

Alec MacGillis, The New Republic: Detroit’s bankruptcy and what people are getting wrong about it.

MacGillis, who has spent his fair share of time writing about Detroit, confronts four dumb things people are saying about the city’s bankruptcy, including the unique challenges presented by its lack of density - and why he’s optimistic anyway.

Jim Russell, Pacific Standard: The Death of Detroit Is Greatly Exaggerated.

An outsider’s take on the continuing success of the metro Detroit region. Unfortunately, 400 words isn’t nearly enough to really confront southeast Michigan’s political culture. There is much more to say about whether the region can overcome those issues.

Patrick George, Jalopnik Detroit: Lawyers Trying To Stop Detroit Bankruptcy Claimed Governor Tricked Them.

Important piece looking at the timeline of Thursday’s court filings and possible dirty tricks pulled by Gov. Snyder in order to ensure the Chapter 9 wouldn’t be blocked by Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.

Adam Levitin, Credit Slips: What’s Happening in Detroit.

This is a touch wonky, but important to understand the legal ramifications of the Circuit Court machinations Thursday and Friday, and why Attorney General Schuette is moving so quickly to try to stop Judge Aquilina from blocking Chapter 9 proceedings from moving forward.

Aaron Foley, Jalopnik Detroit: We Love Detroit, Even If You Don’t.

Angry, heartfelt piece from Aaron Foley, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. 

If you have others, please leave them below in the comments or tweet me @JPughMI

Blood at the Root


To all these young people who believe that America can be just, I say never give up and never never sell out. You don’t have to give up your idealism to be successful in America. You don’t have to become complacent. To the contrary, you should be outraged over the undermining of our democracy, the poverty of so many American children, the absence of healthcare, the shame of racism. And if you get angry enough and are smart enough, and work hard enough you can change things.

-Bill Bradley, Speech to the 2000 Democratic National Convention

The national reactions to national tragedies or crises have now become so predictable as to be boring. After Newtown, President Obama called for a national background checks law, a regulation that already exists for Michigan handgun sales, with no tangible threat to the Second Amendment rights of Michigan sportsmen. Conservatives, backed by the NRA, screamed that he was using the deaths of dozens of children for political gain. 

Ultimately Obama’s ploy was unsuccessful, thwarted by a minority of U.S. Senators. But Bradley’s advice is well-taken: we must not wait for a tragedy or crisis to push for social change. 

In reality, we are in a constant state of crisis in America, and have made no real progress towards correcting social ills and injustices since Bradley’s call to action.

Millions of Americans still lack access to quality, affordable healthcare. Millions of Americans still are trapped by a life of poverty. And the centuries-old specter of racism, steeped in America’s history as a slave state and apartheid state, exists not just in the minds of people like George Zimmerman, but is enshrined in law.

I am angry right now. But I cannot pretend to understand what it is like for black kids who now have been told by six Floridians that if someone like George Zimmerman thinks they are an asshole and a fucking punk, he can stalk them, shoot them in the chest, and walk away.

I have not posted any pictures on the Internet expressing solidarity with Martin and his family. I am not Trayvon Martin, because I will never know what it’s like to be regarded as out of place because of who I am or what I’m wearing. 

But I know there is a crisis in America when ‘shoot first’ laws written by gun manufacturers and supported by both parties dictate that if you get in a fight with someone, it’s best to shoot them dead, because they can’t testify and you won’t. 

I am angry right now. I will be angry next month, and next year. This is a long game, and a distinctly American crisis that demands action. ‘Shoot first’ laws must not be allowed to survive, so that more young people can survive. 

There’s blood at the root. It’s time for our sadness to become action. It’s time to make sure this cannot happen again.


Gov. Snyder must come clean on secret slush fund

Lansing yawned when it was announced, months ago, that Gov. Rick Snyder was starting a few political funds – including his now-infamous NERD Fund, which isn’t required to disclose its donors.

A November 2012 report compared the non-profit, chaired by Republican booster Charlie Secchia, to similar funds operated by Kwame Kilpatrick and Bob Ficano. But at least Ficano discloses the list of donors to his non-profit. When Snyder was asked why he wasn’t practicing what he constantly preaches about transparency, he dodged with “we’ve got so many different activities.”

At the time, it was reported that the fund’s list of expenses included six figures on a security system and new furniture for the governor’s personal residence. But not until recently was it revealed that it actually pays the salary for Rich Baird, one of Gov. Snyder’s top aides, who orchestrated the failed “Skunk Works” scheme to help private corporations siphon tax dollars away from community public schools.

It’s easy for critics of the Governor to say that the secret donors to this secret fund “could be” influencing state policy. But in this case, we actually have a governor who has actively encouraged selling public assets off to the highest corporate bidder, whether it’s incredibly valuable regional assets like the DIA or invaluable public assets like the hiring process for public school teachers.

Was the Governor’s six-figure furniture bill paid by Vectorform, InfoReady, or Billhighway, all of whom had employees sitting on the secret “Skunk Works” workgroup? Perhaps Aramark, who will now be managing prison food service despite an appalling record of food service and billing mistakes in other states? Rich Baird’s salary could be covered by J2S Group Healthcare, caught hiring employees for the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans on the cheap through Craiglist after firing 144 experienced caregivers.

After being caught lying to reporters about so-called “Skunk Works” in April, Gov. Snyder shouldn’t be surprised by the renewed interest in his shady dark money dealings. Now he must rebuild his crumbling credibility with the public by immediately coming clean on the NERD Fund.

After repeatedly promising accountability and transparency, do any of Snyder’s claims from 2010 still hold up?

MGMT: Worst Show Ever


Tough to adequately express how angry/disappointed I am right now. Let me back up: we bought the seven-day pass for Common Ground, an $89 expense that is already well worth it after seeing ZZ Ward, Ben Folds Five, The Sheepdogs, Shooter Jennings, and Randy Houser. 

Tonight, MGMT opened with Congratulations. Pretty chill, inauspicious way to start, and really was what I expected. They played Time To Pretend second, as fireworks started going off after the Lugnuts game next door, and it all had the makings of a really fun night.

Full disclosure: I am a huge MGMT fan. I bought Time To Pretend in 2006 and I have Oracular Spectacular and Congratulations in my car right now - the CDs. (I know!)

As you probably already know, it was not a really fun night. Between their playing every slow song off their older albums and far too many songs off their unreleased self-titled album, it was just a tremendous disappointment. The three screens behind the stage, rather than playing any video of the band, played what appeared to be a b-side from the LSD trip in Bobby. Breina said it was like seeing a Pink Floyd tribute band - this was awfully accurate. People started streaming for the exits starting around 20 minutes after the set had started, and I couldn’t blame them.

The worst part, though, was their total lack of interest in playing for a festival crowd. Beyond simply not playing any songs that would have been obvious crowd pleasers, they didn’t even bother interacting with us. When they came out for a so-called “encore” that was really just three more songs I didn’t know, the lead singer said “This is the best festival.” That was maybe the third thing he had said to us all night. 

Oh, and they didn’t even play Kids.