Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be
Eric Cantor’s shorts were exposed earlier this week. No, the Republican Congressman from the 7th District of Virginia isn’t having a Weiner moment. He’s doing something far worse: Betting against the Treasury Bond prices that he, as the GOP’s chief debt ceiling negotiator, influences. Yet another in the long line of incidents where Republicans put self-interest, party, and their partisan backers ahead of country.
The Wall Street Journal reported last year that the Republican Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives had purchased up to $15,000 worth of shares in the ProShares Trust Ultrashort 20+ Year Treasury Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) in December of 2009. The ETF takes a short position, basically makes a bet, that prices on Treasury Bonds will go down.
Salon.com’s War Room reported that:
“According to his latest financial disclosure statement (See left) which covers the year 2010 and has been publicly available since this spring, Cantor still has up to $15,000 in the same fund. Contacted by Salon this week, Cantor’s office gave no indication that the Virginia Republican, who has played a leading role in the debt ceiling negotiations, has divested himself of these holdings since his last filing. Unless an agreement can be reached, the U.S. could begin defaulting on its debt payments on Aug. 2. If that happens and Cantor is still invested in the fund, the value of his holdings would skyrocket.”
The Wall Street Journal replied with:
“But to be fair to Mr. Cantor, he also owns a lot of Treasury debt (updated to add: as part of his pension), and the TBT merely hedges some of that exposure, his spokesperson tells Salon.”
The joy of being a part of the Rupert Murdoch empire is that, in addition to their normally fiscally-conservative leanings, WSJ is no longer troubled by that moral correctness of elected officials eliminating any appearance of self-interest in their legislating.
Cantor is not just your run-of-the-mill congressman. He’s the point man on the debt ceiling who gave his ProShares ETF a 3.3% pop just by walking out of a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden on June 23rd. In any other time, he would have immediately sold off the asset and apologized for the oversight, understanding the cosmetics of how wrong it appears, or he would have had a chorus of calls to resign for the apparent conflict of interest.
Ethics aren’t a strong suit of this era of Republicans in an age where Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News has further corrupted an already intellectually lazy and entertainment-mad media, that should be looking out for the interests of the public. The story barely made a dent in the news cycle of murderous moms and celebrity gossip.
Remember campaign finance reform? Republicans were against it, favoring instead “financial disclosure,” the transparent reporting of campaign donations to keep politicians honest. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed it on “Meet the Press” in 2000. John Boehner, on MTP in February, 2007 said:
“I think what we ought to do is we ought to have full disclosure, full disclosure of all of the money that we raise and how it is spent. And I think that sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
Most analysts expected that this would be an area where a bipartisan bill could be crafted.
“Disclosure has been a mainstay among Republicans who have argued historically for more sunlight instead of more restrictions on campaign giving and spending, so they will be hard-pressed to make an argument against it,” said U.S. PIRG’s Lisa Gilbert. “This is just one more reason that this legislation should receive robust bipartisan support.” 
Then came along the Citizens United case that turned corporations into people and public givers just like you and me. It blew apart safeguards put in place by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. The Koch Brothers and other big corporate givers who wanted to remain in the shadows while influencing political opinion had a little problem with that. So when Democrats Sen. Charles Schumer (NY) and Rep Chris Van Hollen (MD) introduced the DISCLOSE Act, which provided for that transparency, both Boehner and McConnell did a 180 on it, as did their caucuses.
In the early 1990’s, Republicans wanted to end costly health insurance premiums for their corporate backers. They proposed the concept that all Americans should carry their own private insurance. The notion came to fruition in Massachusetts, where Mitt Romney put the idea into play. It was very popular until Barack Obama endorsed it. Then it became “Obamacare” and the Republicans have tried everything that they can do to stop the federal law’s implementation.
It’s one thing if, as a politician, you don’t believe a particular piece of legislation, or have reservations about its impact on the country, to vote against it. Repeatedly, though, Republicans will jump ship from legislation which they sponsor if President Obama, trying to reach some consensus from Left to Right, takes heat from his own party and embraces it.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow takes on this abandonment of principle of what she termed “shameless craven unprincipled partisan hackery,” in her show on June 27th. It is worth all 11:25 of your time. Republicans have repeatedly abandoned legislation not out of personal moral principal, or principled good governance, but merely to backstop far-Right obstructionism, expressed succinctly by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell to Major Garrett of the conservative National Journal:
“”The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
ThinkProgress.org crysalizes McConnell’s obstructionist ideology well in an article on October 25, 2010:
“From the moment Obama entered office, right-wing conservatives embraced the posture of hell-bent opposition. Recall, in Jan. 2009, hate radio host Rush Limbaugh expressed his hope that Obama fails. One month later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proudly embraced Limbaugh at a conservative conference. The fringe rhetoric of far right activists had quickly become the de facto governing strategy of the Republican leadership, as they adopted a posture of obstructionism.”
Senator Charles Schumer took that one step further last night on “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann on Current TV. He questioned whether Republicans are putting party ahead of country in the current debt ceiling negotiations, and getting the economy back on track. He told Olbermann that, when Democrats offered to meet the Republicans with a payroll tax cut for employers, previously a very popular idea amongst Republicans as a stimulus to the economy, the GOP bolted.
“When somebody believes in something for so long, and you say ‘We’ll meet you half way,’ I mean, the way that I’d stimulate the economy is an infrastructure program and I’d do some deficit spending. I wouldn’t do, as first choice, a payroll tax cut. But you go there to meet them. Two years ago they accepted it. Senator Hatch and I, in fact, sponsored one. And now they’re saying ‘No’? You know, it’s just frustrating and worse than that, I think they have to be called out on this because millions of innocent people suffer from a policy like this.” 
The brinkmanship over the prior year’s budget in April, and now the debt ceiling that comes to a head August 2nd, is also not about principal. No Republican congressman or senator has served up their pork to the deficit reduction that they’re stomping their feet about. Mr. McConnell, for instance, is big on cutting Medicare and social safety net programs, but he hasn’t offered to pull back hundreds of millions of spending for his special interest groups first.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) called yesterday on the floor of the Senate for Kentucky’s McConnell to eliminate $126 million in tax breaks for the horse racing industry that were tacked into a 2008 farm bill.
“There should be no sacred cows, and there should be no sacred horses,” Merkley said in an interview. “This is just one example of the special favors for the well-connected that need to be reviewed as we deal with our deficit.” 
The GOP seems to be more fixated on sticking Mr. Obama with the trillions that had to be spent to stabilize the economy after the disaster that W. and their prior sessions of Congress left behind. The messaging is all jaundiced pandering to the politics of their base of billionaires and bonkers bigots who want little more than to stop the scary black man in the White House and continue to allow Wall Street and the super-rich to pillage the economy without restriction.
We are rapidly turning into a culture without substance. Snooki. Paris. Kim. You don’t have to act to be famous. Drama has taken a back seat to “reality.” You don’t have to set records in sports. Just let a Baseball America rate your potential well, and millions flow your way. Is it any wonder, then, in this cart before the horse world that exists because the almighty television screen is flat-screening our reality, that Mr. McConnell and Mr. Boehner, and their band of political jidhadis constantly puts politics and the narrow interests of the Republican Party before country?
My shiny two.