28 December 2010

Borosage on why it would be political suicide for Obama to favor cutting Social Security

Please read this excellent piece by Robert Borosage on how stupid... indeed suicidal... it would be for the Administration to follow the pernicious and ill-conceived advice of conservatives on cutting Social Security.

This is a total loser of a proposition. The President should promise... RIGHT NOW... that he will hold the trust of the American people that Social Security will continue to be there for them as SACRED. Social Security is off budget and solvent, and contributes nothing to the deficit or debt, and won't do so for many decades (during which time any number of small fixes would solve any problems).

As Borosage points out, runaway for profit medical expenses are indeed part of the problem (as Social Security isn't), but you don't hear the Righties complaining about that... of course not, because too many of them have their grubby hands in that business.

Amy Dean: The Good, Bad, Ugly in 2010 (for Progressive Values)

This piece by Amy Dean is well worth reading (Huf•fington Post).

I also heard an interview with Amy Dean recently in which she expressed the view, which I hope is true, that President Obama's administration is shifting to a more aggressive stance on some "core value" issues, such as, for example, ordering the NLRB to warn employers that anti-discrimination laws will be more strictly enforced going forward. The Administration is obviously going to have a difficult time with its legislative agenda during the next two years (despite a rash of successes in the "Lame Duck," for which credit is due). But there are a lot of things they can do, administratively.

My main hope is that those who have counseled the president, apparently to receptive ears, that he needs to heed the Right Wing noise machine about the criticality of cutting the debt, even to the extent of cutting social security, by proposing "austerity" as part of his upcoming agenda, will not prevail, and that he will realize that that way lies political ruin. The one thing that united Democrats during the 1930s Depression was a full-on commitment to government action as the means to turn the economy around. And they were right. If this president instead follows the philosophy that guided Herbert Hoover, rather than FDR, then all will be lost. 

So, President Obama, say it ain't so! Tell us right now that any attempts to cut social security, no matter how packaged, will get your VETO. Tell us you're committed to doing what's necessary to restore prosperity to the Middle Class, and that you intend to lead the fight, however long it takes, to convince not just the Congress, but the American people themselves, that this is the only way back to Middle Class prosperity.

22 December 2010

Steve Clemons: Give Obama (and Biden) credit on Iraq

Highly respected foreign policy wonk Steve Clemons gives the Obama administration, and in particular V.P. Biden, credit for keeping the lid on in Iraq.
(The Washington Note).

Some Good News before Christmas

Passage of Don't Ask Don't Tell Repeal, the 9/11 First Responder's Health Care Bill, and now ratification of NEW START.

Much as I thought the so-called Tax Cut Deal was a cave-in and gave too much to the Republicans, you have to admit the Democratic Leadership and the President have been on a roll in the last few days of the Lame Duck.

The unfortunately compromised ruling of the FCC on Net Neutrality, the presidential signing of an illegal order on indefinite detention, the stonewalling of the Party of No on the Omnibus Spending Bill, and the failure of the DREAM Act are negatives, but at least there's some good news.

18 December 2010

Special Comment Post: Nine Points

I tried to post an anonymous comment to the Nine Points of Democratic Principles below (link), but the posting was apparently too large for Blogger to accommodate, so I post it here. Please feel free to add comments to this post.

Anonymous said:

A lot of thought went into your 9 points, but I fear that you started with a false premise. As upset as I am with the state of the Democratic Party, I still have to keep in mind that your point #1 (“Our nation’s government must be genuinely representative of all the people, as the founders intended.”) was never the case. Our “founding fathers” had no intention of making the government representative of all the people, at any time. Witness, for example, the Three-Fifths Compromise worked out during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, as enshrined in found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution. The exact text was: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”)

The concept of generalized equality of representation did not arise until the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment (1868), followed by the Fifteenth Amendment (Race not a bar to voting) in 1870. This was in turn followed by representation of women as equals  with the passage of the 19th Amendment (1920) and the right to vote at age 18 (1971 – not in time for me to vote in the Nixon Humphrey race). Need I mention that poll taxes (ie, represention based on wealth or property) were not officially abolished until the 24th Amendment in 1964?

In terms of the legislature, while the House was set up as vaguely representational of the people (more on this later), the Senate was representative only of the States (which is why each state has 2 senators no matter the size of the population of the state). The Senators were appointed by the state legislatures (See Article I Section 3) until the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913. Even today, the Senate is not strictly representative of the people, as there are still 2 senators per state, no matter what the population of the state might be.

As for the House, strictly speaking it is only slightly more representational than the Senate. It is true that every 10 years the number of representatives is adjusted between the states depending on percentages of population of the entire U.S.; however, every state receives at least 1 representative, even if population would only warrant a fraction of a representative if each representative represented an equal number of citizens. As of today, the citizens of 7 states are over-represented in the House: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. As noted in the preceding paragraph, the citizens of these states are also grossly over represented in the Senate by virtue of the 2 senators per state.

The only “equal representation” that the “founding fathers” conceived of was for adult, white, European, male land owners (ie, men of wealth). If this sounds like the Republican Party today, you can see why conservatives rely so much on the “intent of the founding fathers” for validity and justification. The concept of equal representation that you and I would like to see as the norm is a much later idea in American history, and is hopefully still evolving.

As for paragraphs 2-9, please keep in mind that the Federal government was deliberated kept on the basis of only strictly enumerated powers listed in the Constitution, while all the other powers were reserved to the States or to the people (10th Amendment, 1791). Education, for example, is not one of the strictly enumerated powers of the Federal government – so states are entitled to provide for education or not as they choose. Your manifesto does not distinguish which government should be exercising what powers on behalf of the people, and confusingly reads as if the Feds should take over everything.

My reply:
I appreciate your historical critique. You are no doubt right that it's not really true to say that something like modern progressive ideas were really intended by the framers of the Constitution, and we should avoid making that claim. But the Constitution has, of course, been made to evolve, and I guess what I'm trying to do is to lay out a vision, for which there is no real political representation, for what a New Progressive America (or whatever you might want to call it) would look like.

I'll think about what you've said and maybe make clear that I'm not claiming that the Founders really had in mind an inclusive representative Democracy like what we  on the Patriotic Left (as I like to say) want to see our country become. 

As for the separation of powers points you make, you're right, that I haven't clearly indicated that. It's obviously true that there has been a trend since at least the 14th Amendment for a much greater role for the Federal Government in guaranteeing rights and setting the parameters for what the states should do. I am advocating recognition of a legitimate role for recognition of a Federal right to eduction, health care, etc. Those who will argue, and sue to pursue a theory, that the Constitution reserves these areas to the States will have to be addressed. It's very difficult to amend the constitution, but it may be necessary to try to do that in order to make some of the changes I and many like me believe are needed.

17 December 2010

Principles for a New Democratic Party in Nine Points

Original Title: A Democratic Bill of Principles: Nine Points

NOTE This post has been edited somewhat in response to this comment, pointing out that some of my original claims for constitutional originalism were a bit far fetched, and that I made no distinction between States and Federal governmental roles.
What are the core principles that Democrats need to adhere to in order to be strengthen and revitalize our party going forward? Can they be enumerated clearly and without succumbing to the linguistic imperialism of Right-wing issue framing that has so often victimized citizens who favor communitarian, liberal-minded policies? What follows is my attempt to do this. It is not a “mainstream” or “compromise” set of watered-down ideas. While it is true that those who have liberal policy ideas are currently beleaguered, we must not waver from core principles.

What follows is what seems to me to be a set of essential principles of a progressive political party’s platform, with just a bit of fleshing out as to what I believe these principles mean in policy terms. Because, in my view, the way forward for Democrats is to become and remain a clearly progressive alternative to the oligarchic and corporatist tenets which are the true lodestar for the Republicans (although they, unlike we, are more than willing to lie to the American people at every turn to get their anti-democratic and elitist policies adopted). I envision a gradual transformation of the Democratic party somewhat comparable to the transformation of the Republican party after Eisenhower (Nixon, f6r all his "dirty tricks," having been mostly part of the old Republican party). In my view, the Democratic party has failed to enunciate and sell to the people a clear alternative message of liberal reform, and that this is what the people will respond to when we finally do it.I believe the time for a historic shift leftward is not too far off.

These are not intended to be topical or limited to particular political fights of the present, but instead to represent long term-progressive principles and goals, which I would like to see the Democratic Party, as I see it transforming, accept and endorse as something close to sine qua non… if you don’t subscribe to these principles, at least in general form, you are not genuinely a Democrat. Moderates and, that extinct species, liberals in the old Republican party used to say that the Righties were destroying the party. Of course from their perspective they were right, they did just that. So I suppose I'm conceding that truly conservative Democrats, were the transformation I and others like me are advocating to occur, will leave the party. Some who are now relatively conservative but allied with us for certain specific reasons will likely stay, as the great ideological shift, comparable to the Progressive era or the 1930s, which I believe and hope is coming, sweeps them along.

Admittedly, some of these ideas, especially in the area of military and foreign policy, are pretty far from the mainstream of Democratic thinking at the present time. (See tomdispatch.com and the work of Chalmers Johnson for the origin of my thinking here). In any case, I genuinely believe that adoption of something quite close to this program is our best hope for both long term sustainable prosperity as a nation and for ensuring that our party will be the preeminent political party in the future. Worldviews and broad political trends shift, and, especially, can be made to shift when people of vision and leadership proclaim political ideas based on moral principles and communicate them successfully to the people. This is our very great task.

1. Our nation’s government must be genuinely representative of all the people, as the founders intended.

While it is true that the framers of the Constitution did not actually create or intend to create a government equitably representative of all its people, I believe that this is the form of government we have accepted as an ideal from the framework they created. The Constitution evolves, whether progressively or regressively. Clearly our nation was conceived in the idea of representative government; it is always up to those living in the present to make it a reality.

This principle, as it exists today and going forward, should mean that legislative rules, laws, and even constitutional provisions that tend make possible the concentration of power in the hands of regional interests, particular economic interests, and just those with money, must be opposed and reformed. Access to political influence is a right, which should not be infringed or be for sale to the highest bidder or most politically connected. In particular, the filibuster and rigid seniority rules must be eliminated. Gerrymandering must be eliminated by some system of truly fair legislative districting. Most especially, all campaigns must be publicly financed. The devastating effect of the Citizens United case on the principle that everyone should be represented, not just those who can pay to play, must be nullified by whatever means can be mustered to accomplish this. It also means that Democratic efforts in the past to ensure voting rights and fair elections must continue and be strengthened, going forward. Ultimately, the undemocratic non-proportionality of the composition of the Senate itself must be changed through constitutional amendment, but that will no doubt have to be set aside for the present time, until after other more crucial reforms have been achieved. Similarly, as a long term goal, we should seek to make elections more representative, by removing the “winner take all” systems now in place and guarantee that minority views are represented proportionally, as they are in many other democratic countries. Some of these longer term goals will require amending the constitution, obviously; this is very difficult, and will only be feasible if there actually is a new progressive consensus emerging in our country over the next 20 years or so.

Underpinning all of these principles needs to be a new emphasis on the moral dimension of political philosophy and policies. Michael Lerner has pointed out how serious a mistake it has been for secular liberals to have contempt for religion: we must emphasize how it is liberal philosophy that derives from the great moral principles of the World's religions, and in particular from the teachings of Christ and the moral teachings of Judaism. We must frame our ideas as the right thing to do, because concern for others and community is essential to a civilized society. 

2. The Federal Government has a legitimate mandate for the regulation of the economy, the environment, communications, and trade policy to protect the economic and other vital interests of the people as a whole.

This means that the financial sector, including disproportionate compensation for unproductive speculative activity, must be regulated to ensure that it functions as a means of generating capital for the development of productive economic activity, not as a parasite on that activity. We must undo the changes in policy that have made fraudulent and totally counterproductive speculation on Wall Street so widespread, with such devastating impact on the economies of the whole world, and create a regulatory regime that ensures that banks are banks, not casinos or institutions that exist only for their own profits. Banks are regulated because they are given special privileges; they must perform some degree of public service in return. We must ensure that securities are fairly and openly traded, but not wagered; and new forms of financial instruments must automatically be subject to open trading and regulation, even licensing, to ensure not only that they are not fraudulent, but that they serve some useful purpose; it is not legitimate simply to bet other people's money for the sake of personal profit; this creates financial parasitism and undue inequality of wealth.

Trade policy must favor the production economy while protecting sustainability and a healthy environment. Agricultural policy must be freed from the corrupt system of subsidies to large agribusiness, and should encourage local food production and small farms to a balanced and reasonable extent. Free speech and open information technologies must be protected. Robust and visionary environmental protections, coordinated with sustainable development and renewable energy systems, fostered by intelligent public policy formulated to further the public interest, rather than special interests, must be enacted, watchdogged, and sustained. Other existing consumer protections must be maintained and strengthened. We must guard against encroachments on the freedom of the press and media, and should restore something like the Fairness Doctrine to ensure that special interests do not exercise undue control over the publicly-owned airwaves. We must ensure and subsidize freedom of access to all to the internet, and any future public information systems that come along, without unfair advantage to corporate or political interests.

3. The Federal government also has legitimate roles in ensuring and funding of realistic economic security, basic retirement security, universal health care, employment opportunity, housing, and education (including higher education) for all the people, as well as promoting and funding scientific and technological research, robust public infrastructure development, and environmental protection.

This is a crucial principle, in stark contrast to the libertarian, states rights, and oligarchic philosophies that predominate in the other major political party (often more for convenience and when convenient, than on principle). While some execution of this principle will be left to States, the Federal Government should set the standards, ensure the funding, and in many areas, actually organize and execute the programs, as it already does in some key areas.

There is a legitimate role for government to formulate and implement economic and tax policies to help guarantee prosperity for all, not continuing concentration of wealth and power at the top. A robust, European style safety net to protect from want those who are disabled, temporarily unemployed, or in need of rehabilitation, is something we can afford; indeed, we can’t afford not to have it. Social Security must be made completely secure and sacrosanct, as a minimum basic retirement income security program, funded by separate taxes, but subject to the same progressive tax principles as other taxes. Not only should the principle that Social Security will always remain a publicly financed and administered program be enshrined in law, but tax laws should be changed to discourage privatized retirement investment and encourage or even require actual pensions in the private sector, and laws must be put in place to ensure genuine pension portability. We have seen in recent years that speculative instruments do not make satisfactory retirement programs for the majority of ordinary working people, and we need to move away from this mythology.

Medicare should be expanded into a program guaranteeing decent medical care for all, with Medicaid subsumed into it ("Single Payer"). The private insurance sector can continue to exist to provide optional supplemental care or alternatives for those who so choose. The provision of health care must be recognized as a sector of the economy where regulation legitimately precludes for-profit institutions and requires even private health provider and insurance organizations to be organized as non-profits. This is in keeping with the principle articulated by the late Ted Kennedy: health care is a right.

The government has a legitimate role in coordinating and robustly organizing job placement, training, and unemployment compensation for all, without discrimination based on personal relationships or any other factors. The government has a legitimate role in ensuring that homelessness ceases to exist in America; basic decent housing should be made available and affordable as a matter of public policy to everyone who needs it. World class K-12, technical and vocational training, and higher education should be guaranteed for all. Higher education should be free or subject to some system of service or interest free loans to ensure that no one is saddled with unmanageable debt in order to obtain needed education.

An idea I've had which I've not seen elsewhere: the Federal Government should grant full scholarships to any qualified applicant for qualifying higher education or qualifying vocational training (subject to stringent oversight to ensure legitimacy and not permitting for-profit institutions to participate). In exchange, the applicant would be subject to a 2% supplemental income tax after graduation, for life, the proceeds of which would be restricted to funding educational benefits. 

The government’s role as a promoter and funder of scientific research, both inside academia, and in particular projects designed to foster particular technological or scientific progress, should be recognized and fostered. The government’s vital role in developing appropriate public sector infrastructure, to surpass that of any other nation, including transportation, renewable energy production, urban livability, agricultural production, and environmentally sustainable resource production, should be recognized and vigorously pursued.

The absolute necessity of protecting the environment from assault and insult must likewise be recognized and vigorously pursued, in cooperation with other nations, including ensuring that our planet remains livable in the face of climate change from human activities. The government has a legitimate function in supporting and fostering American technological innovation and industrial development, to ensure a sound and prosperous manufacturing economy and competitiveness. The government should assist in the development of technologies to ensure abundant renewable energy, good jobs, and sustainable development here at home, without undue economic dependence on foreign resources.

The government should abandon almost all of its tendency towards privatization of public service, since in many cases this has led to corruption and cronyism. The idea that there is an honorable place for public service and public employment should be restored and celebrated. Only public employment exists primarily for the benefit of other people.

Our party should strive to implement these principles in state and local government as well as the Federal government, where appropriate. 

4. The principles of free trade and cooperation with other nations for a safer, more sustainable, more prosperous, and freer world should be honored, but not at the expense of the welfare of the American people; where the people’s vital interests require specific protections, they must be adopted.

The United States should be a partner with other nations to create a prosperous and sustainable world economy, including free trade with other nations and the entry into treaty regimes to protect the environment and ensure commercial and technological cooperation, and cooperation to ensure mutual security and a peaceful world, including total nuclear disarmament. However, economic cooperation should always be held secondary to preserving and protecting the jobs of Americans and the health and prosperity of the American production and agricultural economies. Trade agreements need to provide for fair competition, and avoid “race to the bottom” undermining of the American worker and the American economy.

5. Taxation must be made fair, simple, and robustly progressive, and revenues must be adequate to meet the legitimate necessities of government, including gradually reducing its long term debt. We must require from those who have more of the riches society makes possible, more of a contribution to the cost of its continued existence, while recognizing that a fair burden must also be shared by those of more modest means.

We must restore to its rightful place the understanding in the mind of the public that taxes are necessary; they are the dues of civilization. But we must also recognize the practical necessity of progressive taxation. Much more must be demanded of the very wealthy. The challenges that face us as a nation and as part of the community of Man in this century are very great. When faced with great challenges in the past, notably World War II, we called upon the very rich, including highly profitable corporations, to pay a much greater share of the burden of financing the necessity of government. We need to do so again, now, to face our nation’s current challenges. We must communicate to the people that a fairer, more responsive system of government will be a much better bargain: from everyone, even those of modest means, must come a fair-share contribution, but in exchange the necessities of life will be guaranteed, and the very real value of a well-functioning society where the people are the ones who are ultimately in charge will be ensured. In particular, high incomes must be taxed at much higher rates; there must be substantial taxes on inherited wealth (protecting such things as small business and family farms, which is mostly a phony issue from the other side anyway), corporations’ profits must be fairly and substantially taxed as the price of enjoyment of the protections and advantages of doing business in America, and the whole system of taxes needs to be radically simplified, reformed, and legally revamped to make the reintroduction of loopholes and evasions impossible.

The Federal Government does not dictate tax policy to the individual states or local governments in detail, but I believe the principle of equity should be deemed or made constitutional; for example the differential tax rates under California's Proposition 13 should be considered unconstitutional. Further, a New Democratic party should stand for the same principles of fairness and progressivity in state and local taxes, and should support revenue sharing to ensure that our country is not divided too sharply into have and have not, or favored and disfavored, areas. 

6. America should not be an empire; the purpose of its military is to protect American territory and its vital interests, not to project American power. It should encourage democratic institutions and human rights everywhere, but not intervene in the affairs of other nations except where genuinely vital interests compel it to do so, and then only as the very last resort.

This point is absolutely crucial. Our country, after World War II, became a National Security State, and created an “empire of bases,” with a wholly unrealistic and unsustainable system for the projection of American military power. At one time, this was justified by the Cold War, where we genuinely, and with some justification, believed that we faced an existential threat from the Communist world. Today, although we have to take the threat of terrorism and of rogue governments in possession of nuclear weapons very seriously, and work intelligently and diligently in cooperation with other governments to contain and combat these forces, we have no great enemies. Our most serious challenges are to create a sustainable and peaceful system of cooperation and economy both at home and in cooperation with other countries of the world. We must dismantle the American Empire to ensure the survival of the American Republic. We must disengage from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We must codify the principle that only Congress may authorize war, and that it must not do so except as the very last resort for the protection of truly vital American interests and territory. We must disengage from “forward projection” of American military power, and close most of the American military bases around the world. We should energetically and continually work towards a nuclear weapon free world. We should use smart diplomacy to try to defuse conflicts around the world before they involve threats to American interests. We should ensure that we are not dependent on any particular countries or regions for vital resources. We should disengage from “foreign entanglements” as Washington warned us, and not play favorites, including in the Israel/Palestine dispute. We should stop building Cold War weapons that are no longer needed in a changed world. We should completely reform the system of military procurement, to ensure openness and fairness, and remove the incentive to build weapons and military infrastructure for their own sake. We should forego the export of weapons systems. We should disband the Homeland Security Department and re-charge the American Military with the job of protecting America as its first and foremost responsibility. We should disband the CIA and completely reform and revamp the apparatus of intelligence; with the principle that it is not the proper role of a free society to conduct covert interference in the affairs of other nations. We should stop altogether the practice of contracting for what should be military services.

7. The right to organize for collective bargaining without unfair restriction must be strengthened, protected from undue interference, and guaranteed.

To much too great an extent, the system of laws in this country has been reformulated in the last seventy years to discourage labor from organizing. This must be reversed. Laws must be changed to allow for working people to sit on boards of directors and works councils, as they do in Germany. The right to organize a union should be facilitated, not discouraged. The government should encourage mediation and reasonable resolution of labor disputes, without favoring management reflexively. Workplace safety, worker civil rights, and protection of working peoples’ reasonable employment security and employer obligations should be vital interests of government at all levels. These principles should be enshrined in Federal law that preempts any state law that attempts to undermine them.

8. Constitutional rights, including especially the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unwarranted surveillance, and the rights of the accused to due process and fair trial, as well as the civil rights of all people, must be fully protected and guaranteed; the principle of the rule of law must be held sacred and protected from all encroachment.

In recent years we have seen the disturbing emergence of what has been called the “surveillance state,” where the government is illegally monitoring the communications of citizens not legitimately suspected of committing a crime. In a Free Society, this is intolerable. Also, there has been an erosion, on flimsy theories of “combatant” status, of the principle of the right of the accused to due process, habeas corpus, and fair and speedy trial. These rights must be recognized as sacrosanct, and robustly protected. We must remain vigilant to protect the civil rights of all, and, while engaging in realistic and reasonable measures to secure our borders, we must avoid scapegoating and denial of civil rights and decent and humane treatment of immigrants, even when their legal status is at issue.

Already, we are engaged in a shift of understanding of the rights of free association and privacy. It must be clearly enshrined in law that nondiscrimination includes no discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, family or personal relationships, domestic partner status (including no tax discrimination), or religion. Some of these have yet to be fully recognized. These rights also must include the right to marry, or not marry, without legal discrimination, and full  reproductive rights including of course the right to choose abortion. Federal law must protect these rights everywhere in America as implementation of universal constitutional protections. 

9. The government must restore and permanently guarantee the principle of open government and freedom of information; only those matters which are truly vital should be held secret, and that from designated delegations of Congress there may be no secrets.

Our founders clearly understood the importance of open government and free flow of information. We must deconstruct the security state apparatus which has grown up, particularly since 9/11, and accept as a founding principle of our Republic that, even at occasionally increased risk, we are and must remain a free and open society. Only vital military secrets should be considered secret, and even these should be disclosed to select representatives of Congress. There should be no “black budget.” Military contracts should be openly put out for bid to American companies only, with strong regulation to discourage the continuation of the “military industrial complex” Eisenhower warned us against fifty years ago. We must ensure that citizens are able to apply to the government for information about what the government is doing, and get it, without unreasonable impediment, because an informed citizenry is paramount to the functioning of a democratic government. Again, Federal law must make these principles applicable at all levels of government, on the theory that they are merely fleshing out principles and rights which are inherent in the Bill of Rights.

If you read all of this, thank you. Please let me know of anything you think I've left out, or anything you think veers to far from the premise of "general principles and goals" for a New Democratic Party. Any complaints, suggestions, disagreements, encouragement, or other ideas are welcome. I will publish comments as long as they're civil and not spam. 

NOTE: Because of the length of this post, Blogger may not accept a lengthy comment. If you try to post a comment and get an error message, try posting it above in this special comment post

Bleak picture for real liberals in America

I wish I had some basis for optimism, but I'm convinced that by negotiating with ourselves yet again, and caving in to the Republicans on tax cuts for the rich and megarich, as well as an awful, weak estate tax, not to mention very ill-advised payroll tax cuts that are almost certainly a stealth move to blur the self-funding principle of social security in order to set the stage for massive entitlement cuts, including social security cuts, we've put ourselves in an awful position. My assessment is that this president's weakness has been fully exploited, his ox has been gored, he got only crumbs from the table of the ruling oligarchy, and our party has had its clock cleaned but good.

You can count on it: the Republicans will take the obvious lesson from this. They can get their way through political extortion every time. They will win almost every battle from here on out, and the picture for 2012, while not totally dark (after all, the American people don't actually like their policies, and can't be fooled quite all the time), is not too good. It's hard to see how we can gain strong majorities in both the House and Senate of real Democrats (sorry, but a good percentage of so-called Democrats are useless, and shouldn't even be counted in our column). And, frankly, I look upon the re-election of Obama as necessary to avoid debacle, but no particular guarantee of anything like progressive policy change. The last two years have been one unwarranted compromise, without any real effort to rally the American people to demand support for the president's agenda, after another.

Real liberals must now face the music. We are in a worse position than the Republicans were after Watergate. We have to start organizing and fighting, including within our own party, if we have any hope at all of restoring something resembling communitarian moral principles to politics in this country, and regaining some power from the corporatists and oligarchs in both parties.

We must somehow pull together on a policy consensus. Core principles that all Democrats will need to sign on to if they want our organizational and financial support.  We must start getting out of our houses, even those of us who due to the mean economy Robert Reich talks about in his latest book (Aftershock), are working more and longer hours than ever before, attending organizational meetings and rallies, opening our wallets even wider, making phone calls, seeking wealthy allies wherever they may be found. We must somehow find real leadership and get real organizations functioning and working together.

Because we've been almost totally defeated by forces that, thanks to the Supreme Court, now have almost total freedom to spend money and resources to keep us down, and we lack cohesion, clear messaging, and organization that will be absolutely indispensable if we are ever to claw our way back to the kind of power that means anything: the ability to get actual progressive policy changes accomplished, without evisceration and destructive compromise on core tenets.

I look to no help from this president. He has failed us utterly. We are stuck with him, but he has blamed us for his failures and shown a flat out unacceptable willingness to compromise without even a shadow of a fight every time.

A bleak picture indeed.
UPDATE, 12/27. I credit President Obama (and Reid and Pelosi, but primarily Pres. Obama) with getting a surprisingly lot of things done in the "Lame Duck." So I admit that saying he has "failed us utterly," as I did in this post, is too strong. But the fact is that most of the Lame Duck bills should have been relatively non-controversial. This president needs to recommit himself to core Democratic principles, and to the proposition that government action is absolutely necessary to end this deep recession; austerity and deficit reduction will not do it. Then, he needs to go out there and stump... like a campaign... making speeches, appearing on TV as much as humanly possible... framing, reframing, messaging, and remessaging these points, and what he wants to get done FOR the people, as often, as clearly, and as forcefully as he can manage it, for the remainder of his First Term. Only that way will he have a realistic possibility of furthering a major legislative agenda ("change we can believe in"), in some small ways in the next two years and in major ways in the Second Term... which, by doing this, he will easily achieve. Otherwise, I'd say his chances of even having a Second Term are not especially bright.

13 December 2010

Plus ça change...

An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics. 
--Plutarch (ca. 105 A.D.) 

09 December 2010

Calling the Republicans' Bluff

Honestly, I realize there's a lot of risk to the position I and many Liberal Democrats are advocating, i.e., backing out of the Obama deal, and calling the Republicans' bluff on ending tax breaks for rich and super rich in exchange for the quite modest concessions the Obama deal wrests from them. Namely that the Party of No is perfectly willing to let unemployment benefits just expire for millions of people, at least for a while. I am less worried about the effect of increasing taxes on ordinary people, because there, I'm quite sure, the Republicans will eventually vote to cut these taxes. It's just impossible for them not to.*

But I still think it's time to say, hell, no, we're not going to accept extortion from you. A significant majority in this country doesn't want tax breaks for the rich and super-rich, so this time, it's on you. We proposed extension of tax breaks for the other 98% and extension of crucial unemployment benefits, Earned Income Tax Credits, etc., but you said no, as usual. So we're going to tell the American people the Republicans voted not to provide continuing tax relief to the middle class and low income Americans; the Republicans voted to end your unemployment benefits; the Republicans voted to end programs that put money and services in the hands of people who need it, which honest economists all say will help the economy recover and help with our debt and deficit in the long run... because they don't care about people, they only care about the wealth and power of billionaires.

I really believe they would back down and pass both of these things, but there's no use kidding ourselves, it is a gamble, and Obama might turn out to have been right, if we somehow get to that option.

If my views were to prevail, I admit, it could backfire. But I am convinced that the Republicans are pushing way too far right now, and it's time for Democrats to draw just one big line in the sand and say, no, we're not going for it. Because ultimately I believe the tide will shift and turn against the Naysayers, but if they've already achieved most of what they want before that happens, it will be all but impossible to undo
*Lawrence O'Donnell says that as someone actually involved in writing tax legislation, making tax reductions retroactive after the new year, if that were to be the outcome would be a legislative and administrative nightmare. Well, tough. That's just not a good enough reason to set a precedent of caving in on extension of huge tax cuts for the rich. 
  On whether the Republicans would eventually back a 98%-only permanent tax break, none other than Boehner himself said he'd vote for that "if there was no other option" (sic), back in September. 

Read Robert Reich on the Obama Deal

Robert Reich on why the Obama deal with the Republicans just doesn't cut it.

Good ol' Bernie Sanders gives a terrific speech on the Senate Floor

Here. And while you're at it, please consider signing the petition.

08 December 2010

My addition to DAILY KOS petition

There just isn't enough in this deal to be worth it for the very great damage done by the extension of tax breaks for the rich and super rich.
• Payroll Tax Cuts... not a good idea to blur the separation of self-financed Social Security and general fund revenue and budget. Better to raise or eliminate the cap on income subject to payroll tax, while keeping income cap on benefits.
• Blanche Lincoln's custom Walton Family version of the Estate Tax... not an acceptable alternative. Bernie Sanders' proposal should be substituted.
•  Extension of unemployment benefits should INCLUDE the 99ers and be for AT LEAST AS LONG as the extension of any tax cuts for the rich if there is to be such an unholy and hypocritical tit for tat AT ALL.
•  Any deal should specify that the tax breaks for the other 98% will be PERMANENT, and any unholy and hypocritical extension for the rich extorted by the Republicans should include AUTOMATIC SUNSET and agreement in principle that there WILL BE NO FURTHER EXTENSION, ever.

Otherwise, not good enough, CALL THEIR BLUFF, and make THEM negotiate with US when the public starts blaming them for raising taxes and cutting off unemployment benefits, which would be in a very few weeks!

More Tax Cut Politics

I see where Club for Growth Prostitute Chris Chocola and South Carolina Extremist Senator De Mint both came out against the "deal" with Obama to extend tax breaks for the rich and richest in exchange for a few crumbs. (OK, I'm editorializing).

I say, at minimum, the Democrats in Congress should not let this pass without virtually every Republican voting for it. I hope at least 45 Democrats vote No! in the Senate... forcing McConnell to come up with almost every Republican vote to pass it.

Then we can blame it on them later.

My preference would be to table the whole thing and let the Republican House deal with it in January. Frankly, although many economists say restoring 1990s tax rates across the board would be a "disaster," etc.; most people don't pay taxes until April, and if the whole thing just dies in the lame duck session and all the tax cuts expire, (including the estate tax), that would obviously kill the "deal," but I really believe the pressure on Republicans would be unbearable... they would cave, and sooner than people think. This president has consistently been afraid to call their bluff, but the fact is that a large majority of Americans favors the Democratic position on this.

Within just a few weeks, they'd have to pass an other-98%-only tax break extension. They might be able to squeeze in the Senator-from-Wal-Mart Blanche Lincoln's crappy Estate Tax plan, that's in the "deal," (or even repeal the estate tax entirely). But if Harry Reid is worth his salt, he (hopefully with the president's help and some cranked up messaging from Democratic party propaganda) could take that out in the Senate and turn the tables on the Republicans' deceitful "Death Tax" framing and propaganda. Use some juicy quotes from that Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt.

Then the president could sign the other-98%-only tax breaks, and promise to VETO any change to the estate tax, which, without any new legislation, will revert to the 2002 level on Jan. 1.

Same with unemployment. Admittedly, this is a more troublesome issue, but the fact is that politically, it wouldn't be a bad thing to force the Republicans to stand up and be responsible. First, and now, the Democrats should introduce stand alone extension legislation and force it to a vote. And keep doing that as often as possible. The Republicans don't really want to have the finger pointed at them for killing extension of unemployment benefits. If they do hold together and insist on blocking them, they will be signing their death warrant for 2012. It'd be tough, but I think it would be better than what we got, certainly politically. Democrats could introduce unemployment extensions over and over again and make them shoot them down. Eventually, I suspect, there would be another "deal," but on much better terms than this one.

I guess the question is whether caving to the Republicans on this critical issue, thus in their words "ballooning" the deficit, is worth it for extension of unemployment benefits that a poker player's best estimate has to be that they'll have to give in on anyway. I say, forget it. The Obama deal really sucks. Vote No. Let all the tax cuts expire, and make them negotiate with us. 

Turning to another element of the "deal" I find troublesome, but one where the political options aren't real good. I agree with Olbermann that there is a potential downside to cutting payroll taxes, in that it could give a back door argument to cutting Social Security later. Making murky the fact that Social Security is self-funding, and that the Social Security Trust Fund holds US Govt. debt but is not part of the general fund or the budget, could make it easier to argue that cuts are permissible to this program to address the general debt. Which, as it stands, would be a default on the full faith and credit of the US Government obligations to the bonds held by the Social Security Trust Fund. I say, keep it that way, and keep social security fully funded. If they want to do anything to the Payroll tax, they should 1) keep the income-based cap on benefits but eliminate the cap on FICA-taxable income; and 2) provide FICA only tax credits, financed directly from this increase, for lowest income workers. The change to payroll taxes on all earned income would go a long way towards financing Social Security forever, even if a portion were used for such tax credits. Unfortunately, and realistically, nothing of the sort will likely be possible for the duration of the Republican control of the House.

Republican Extortion and Political Morality

Politics, whether so intended by its practitioners or not, is the public expression of moral philosophy. We live in a society which is supposed to express in its institutions certain truisms, or, although not fashionable to call them such, ideological principles. These principles are, at least nominally, supposedly shared by all the political factions in our nation other than the most extreme.

For example, we accept the principle that the government should represent the will and interests of the majority of the people.

We accept the principle that government is necessary; the question is what kind of government and what is its scope.

We accept the principle that taxes are the price of civilization.

We accept the principle that from those who have received the greater reward from living in society, more is expected. This principle is not quite as universally accepted as others; but I hold it to be simply undeniable except by those who would defend greed and naked power as virtues.

We accept the principle that government should be straightforward, and not riddled with evasions and frauds.

These, in fact, are all moral principles. Of course no one could realistically expect perfection in their application. But I maintain that when a politician … or faction… or an entire political party … systematically and substantially deviates from moral principles like these (and there are surely quite a few others), they are acting immorally.

So let’s examine the main issue of the day; whether to continue lowered taxes for the top 2% of earners,  enacted under the last administration, which affect everyone from the modestly wealthy to the very richest without differentiation (actually a certain amount of regressive gradient due to the ability of the truly rich to hide income and legally (and illegally) evade taxes). The evidence is clear that these lowered taxes have greatly increased the share of the burden of government on the lower and lowest income levels, and added hugely to the national debt. I believe the evidence that maintaining these lowered taxes is contributing to the current prolonged economic crisis is also undeniable.

It is also a fact that a significant majority of Americans believe that these tax breaks for the rich and super-rich should end.

So, applying these basic facts and the supposedly agreed principles of our representative government mentioned above, I conclude that the extortion and blackmail practiced by the leadership of the Republican party on this issue is undeniably immoral.

They have held hostage other necessities which the government must attend to, such as unemployment insurance, to policies which it is crystal clear are not in the interests of, and not supported by, the majority of the people.

These policies are antithetical to the principle that government is necessary and that the more fortunate should pay their fair share of its burden. And they know this, but they don’t care.

Lastly, they have repeatedly used deceit and misrepresentation to hide their true intent. They have claimed that they want to increase jobs, but they’ve held hostage more efficient and economical means to help the economy recover to wealth transfers to the already wealthy, which have little or no economic benefit. They have claimed that they are concerned that the people’s government is going bankrupt, but they have extorted a “deal” from our beleaguered president which increases the deficit enormously, with marginal benefit to any but the rich and very rich (their constituency, after all). These tactics amount to evasions and frauds.

So, I hold the conclusion inescapable. The Republican Party is practicing a systematic program of immorality.

For shame.

07 December 2010

OH! the Hypocrisy!

Surely liberals should be able to do something to politically harm Republicans with the rank hypocrisy of their blackmail over the extension of Middle Class Tax Relief.

They all voted NO to this relief when presented with an up or down vote. (I believe there were a tiny number of Republicans who voted yes in the House, but all Senators voted No).

They claim they can't support it because it "kills jobs". Even though there's no evidence for this at all. See Collins' Winner Take All Politics or Reich's Aftershock. Trickle down economics is a pure myth, and the tax on the rich does not affect small businesses. (Any problems with the language can be tweaked; there's no reason to just give billionaires a pass because of a small number of businesses filing individual returns that could easily be exempted from increases.)

Yet they claim they couldn't support extension of unemployment benefits to provide the bare necessities of life for millions made jobless by the Bush Recession because it would "balloon the deficit" and "isn't paid for," even though it's an established fact that every $1 in unemployment benefits yields a $2 return in economic activity helping to spur on the recovery.

So they extort an agreement to give billionaires a two year pass on paying their fair share of the burden of the necessity of government... thereby making the deficit and debt that much worse, and having almost no benefit to the economy, since money saved by rich people has almost no multiplier effect.

And their rationale is out the window, since not only does their extortion add to the deficit, but they threw out their supposed reason for opposing extension of unemployment benefits anyway.

OH! the hypocrisy! It makes me want to vomit.

PCCC asks for opinion on the President's "tax cut deal"

Progressive Change Campaign Committee asked its subscribers to give them our thoughts on the "deal" Obama's people worked out with the Righties. Here's what I wrote:

I think the President is doing a terrible job of messaging and message framing, and that by caving in to the Republicans and negotiating with himself in advance of any negotiations with them, he looks weak. These are strong negatives for our chances of regaining electoral majorities.

Generally, as George Lakoff says, we have to stop framing everything the way the Right Wing Propaganda machine specifies. By saying "No Tax Cut Extension for the Rich" we're giving them the framing, and ceding the issues. We need to make it a moral issue. "Everyone needs to pay their fair share. Those in the middle class are already doing so, and the law should keep their share of the burden of government the same; but those who have more than enough need to pay their fair share of the burden. Our country has serious economic problems and is seriously in debt. The rich can afford to shoulder more of that burden than the poor and the middle class and it's only right that they do that."

If we frame it that way, people will see that the issues are FAIRNESS and MORALITY, not tit for tat with the Republicans, and will support our position.

The president handled this badly and we ended up... as usual... ceding ground.

06 December 2010

I'm guilty of it too

George Lakoff, distinguished professor of linguistics at Berkeley, has written extensively about the moral dimension of politics, and the importance of using progressive framing, in addition to the more nuts and bolts necessity of matching the (for the nonce matchless) skill of the Righties at messaging and propaganda.

He points out that when you use terms like No Tax Cuts for the Rich you are in fact handing the whole issue over to the other side, by using their frame, and negating the claim... which is a lot like Nixon saying I am not a crook. 

Better to say, the wealthy need to bear their fair share. 

Similarly, we can't just go around reacting to what righties say. We need to positively put out our moral message all the time, in every venue possible.

I'm going to try to bear this in mind, and change the tone and approach of my political messaging.

Please let me know what you think.

03 December 2010

Burnett: Who Should Pay to Fix the Economy ?

Absolutely right on piece by Bob Burnett in the Huffington Post.

Time to face facts: we need more revenue, which means higher taxes on upper incomes

Robert Borosage, on Huffpo:
We need very different priorities, far greater discipline, much less waste, but we also need tax reforms that raise revenue. We need to raise rates on the top, tax the wealthiest Americans as they used to be taxed, and use that money to rebuild the economic infrastructure of this country, generating the growth that is the prerequisite to bringing down the debt.
These are simple truths. They are largely unspeakable in conservative Washington, and certainly among a beltway establishment comfortable with the extremes of wealth and cushioned against the terrors of economic recession and insecurity.


Since the so-called Fiscal Commission didn't even vote, their proposal is a dead letter

The Bowles/Simpson fiscal (or "Catfood") commission didn't even have the guts to vote on the proposed report, since they didn't have the votes to force it to be taken up by Congress.

So the hell with them. Their proposal is pure plutocracy anyway. I wish the president would just repudiate their findings and we could get on with whatever we can manage to do in the next two years of Republican obstructionism without reference to this claptrap.

Tax Cut politics

It's accepted as political reality at this moment that the extension of the middle class only tax cuts cannot pass the Senate.

I say, then, if the Democrats have any backbone at all, they should propose one more bill, to extend the tax cuts and include extension of cuts for incomes over $250K for small businesses filing as individuals/couples (this would take some tricky language, but come on, that's their job), thereby removing the Republicans' phony argument that extending tax cuts for rich people kills jobs. 

Then, when that too fails to pass a cloture vote with all 41 Plutocratic Party senators voting against it, the Democrats should just say, "we tried, but they blocked it, using parliamentary maneuvering to block the will of the majority."

And the president should say, "well, we tried, but they blocked it. And I will veto any tax bill that includes extension of tax cuts for the richest Americans."

Then let all the tax cuts (including the estate tax) expire.

When Democrats hammer the Republicans over and over and over for blocking extension of middle class tax cuts, they will eventually have to deal on tax reform that shifts more of the burden to the very rich. And if they don't, well, horrors... we'll have to live with the same tax rates we had during the 90s. Seems to me most people were better off then, no? And if the Republicans are so serious about cutting the deficit, well, more revenue is one side of the equation. But, best of all, if the Democrats can for once muster some skillful political framing and messaging, it's a very powerful political issue. 

"The Republicans allowed tax cuts for ordinary Americans to expire. They've blocked every Democratic effort to cut taxes for the middle class. So when they say they want lower taxes for you and your family, they're lying to you."

02 December 2010

You're just not really a Democrat, if....

There are some issues that people of good will who think Government should work for all the people may disagree about. But there are some "bottom lines." For example, you're just not really a Democrat if...
  • You think it's OK to focus on reducing the debt by cutting retirement benefits, unemployment benefits, health care coverage, and other benefits which put money or services in the hands of low income Americans and seniors, when it's unpaid-for wars, corporate welfare, unrealistically low and "gamed" taxes on the very rich, and bailouts to Wall Street that have primarily caused the huge national debt.
  • You think it's OK to extend tax cuts ... including the estate tax cuts... enacted under Bush, for the very rich. (And, again, without paying for them!) Real Democrats want real tax reform, to eliminate special privileges for the rich, and make the wealthiest Americans pay much more to equal their fair share... policies favored by Bill Gates Sr., Warren Buffet, and other mega rich people who have a shred of conscience, and policies which we used to have, when we had real prosperity in this country.
  • You don't favor investment in job creation, infrastructure, and education, the pillars of the Great Prosperity under Democrats (and even Republicans who would be Democrats by today's standards) of the past.
  • You don't favor reining in the surveillance state, to ensure Americans' constitutional liberties.
I could go on, but there's a start. Ask yourself... if you don't believe firmly in all of these things, you really should consider joining the Republicans. They need some conservatives, since they're pretty much entirely dominated by extreme Right Wingers.

We Democrats have done a really lousy job at framing our message and getting it out to the people, while the Righties have become consummate masters of propaganda. But I really believe they are going way too far, now, and the great backlash will come, and sooner than they think. Time to choose sides, and I sure as hell know which side I'm on.

Today's message to the WH


Stop negotiating with yourself! The Republicans will NEVER agree to allow taxes to go up on the rich. FORGET them. CALL their bluff.

MUCH BETTER to bring a bill to the floor, let them knock it down, allow all the Bush Tax Cuts (including the Estate Tax Fiasco) to expire, then point the finger at them for REFUSING to pass tax cut extensions for 98% of Americans. Then Democrats can do the woodshedding of putting forward meaningful and fair tax reform from the ground up... eventually the pressure on the Republicans will yield something even better than just extending the present tax cuts for those under $250K! The messaging is simple and will work, but if you constantly seem to be caving in to them, you LOSE support.

PLEASE rethink this before it's too late.

The other 98% and a plea for action NOW !

This is a terrific website.

PLEASE write your congressional representatives IMMEDIATELY and demand that they not under any circumstances allow a compromise or Republican shovedown on extending tax cuts for the mega rich.

BETTER that that Bush tax cuts expire entirely... then we can work to restore tax fairness from the gound up!

This is vital... our country has become a plaything of the very rich and IT"S TIME TO TAKE IT BACK!

01 December 2010

It's official: Republicans plan to say no to everything

See this letter from the Republican leadership to Sen. Reid.

This makes it official. The Republicans are purely, completely, undemocratically, and plutocratically obstructionist on all issues, even using the canard "death tax" and the totally unsustainable myth that the Bush tax cuts have or ever had anything to do with job creation.

Mr. President, Mr. Senate Majority Leader, Call Their Bluff. 

Schedule votes on restoring the Estate Tax to 2008 levels, extending only middle class tax cuts, extending unemployment. Then go on the offensive and call them what they are: obstructionists who only want to hold the American people hostage for the interests of the very rich and Wall Street!

This is a winner for Democrats going forward, if we can only hold firm and united against these elitist bastards and frame the issues correctly so that the people come to realize what's really going on!