28 January 2011

Getting the Game Back ?

While I align myself quite unequivocally with the "Professional Left" as the likes of Emmanuel and Gibbs (both of whom I'm glad to see depart the Administration) referred to what Howard Dean more properly calls the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, I am not above saying that I am unabashedly delighted to see the President's approval ratings going up and his seemingly "getting his game back." I just hope he, and we, can sustain this and win back the House in '12, as well as re-election on the presidential level.

27 January 2011

Palin • Bachmann • Angle

First "Caribou Barbie" Palin, then Michelle "the Loon" Bachmann, (both in single digits in preliminary Repub. primary polling), now we hear Sharron "the Obtuse" Angle is visiting Iowa testing the waters for a presidential bid.

Look, I think it'd be great to see a woman elected president in this country. But these three, apart from being just plain horrible in every way as candidates, are clearly delusional.

26 January 2011

A fine speech, but lacking plausible means

Only a few moments to make a few comments on the president's speech. I think it was a fine political speech, which will do a good deal to bring back some wavering Independents. It gave them an anchor, a basis to think of President Obama as the leader of the nation again. The President managed to make the Republicans look small-minded, unimaginative, pessimistic. This will be good for Democrats.

But on specifics, the speech outlined something that just can't be done. You can't make significant investments in infrastructure (a great idea) while freezing domestic spending and making only small cuts to military spending, and keeping the basic social programs intact. Just allowing the tax cuts for the very rich to expire at the end of the "deal period" will never be enough.

Simplifying the Individual Tax Code is also fine, as long as it shifts burdens upward and doesn't increase taxes on the beleaguered Middle Class. This could be a partial solution to the President's dilemma: a stealth means to increase taxes on upper income Americans. Same with the Corporate Tax reforms he proposes. Lower the rates, but eliminate enough exclusions and tax breaks to actually significantly increase revenue. Because the fact is, that without major increases in revenue (only some of which will come from recovery of the economy over the next few years), the necessary and laudable investments in our future the President describes cannot be paid for other than through increased debt.

Somehow the courage must be found to propose to the American people that the enterprise is worth it: it is a challenge comparable to World War II, and worth demanding from our wealthiest citizens that they pay much, much more of their fair share to make our country stronger. I would also argue that, at some point, the courage must be found to do what President Eisenhower was warning us about 50 years ago: challenge the military-industrial complex, and begin the process of dismantling America's overseas military empire, now that the Cold War has been over for 20 years. Because, in truth, in this century of new challenges, whether it was ever worthwhile or not, we can no longer afford it.

Rep. Ryan's official Republican response was pathetic. He sounded like a bookkeeper.

I see no reason to dignify the mentally challenged (and utterly mendacious) Rep. Bachmann's tea party talk with any comment at all.

25 January 2011

Bradley Manning: Charge him and try him, or free him

Look, this is America, and we're supposed to be respectful of the constitutional rights of the accused. Reports that, despite outsize resources thrown at the investigation, the Feds can't link Bradley Manning to Julian Assange, and that, in fact, other than the very dubious allegations of a known snitch, they have no proof that Manning even did anything criminal, are damning of the way he's being treated. Manning is being held without trial or charge at Quantico in what amounts to torture: isolation, no reading, near sensory deprivation, interrupted sleep, no exercise, degrading conditions, and harassment and deprivation of visitors, including Jane Hamsher.

Bradley Manning has the same right to a speedy trial as any other American. So, charge him or set him free. The president should intervene if this isn't corrected very soon.

24 January 2011

Increase the size of the House

I agree with this op-ed from the NY Times, advocating the first increase in the number of members of the House of Representatives in nearly a century.

Paul Ryan's Dark Future for America

This is an excellent piece by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) on just how dark the future envisioned by Republican Fiscal Darling Paul Ryan... (who will give the Republican Response to the State of the Union Address tomorrow)... really would be. Here's a key excerpt:
We don't know exactly what Ryan will say in his response to the president. But we do know plenty about what this self-proclaimed budget hawk has already said. He laid it all out in a document he calls "A Roadmap for America's Future." In it was his simple plan for health care reform: destroy Medicare as we know it by giving seniors a fixed dollar voucher and sending them off to find an insurance company that will cover them. That's after raising the age of Medicare eligibility. He also revives the discredited idea of privatizing Social Security and raising the retirement age. Good luck, Grandma!

He enthusiastically joined every Republican to vote to repeal the health care bill, despite the independent, non-partisan Congressional Budget Office declaring that repeal adds $230 Billion more to the deficit. "The CBO is entitled to its opinion," declared Speaker John Boehner. Dismissing the CBO is equivalent to throwing the umpire out of the baseball game and replacing him with your team's coach. But that's just exactly what the new Republican rules allow -- if they disagree with the CBO, they simply throw out the call.
There are big winners in Paul Ryan's "Roadmap" and you can guess who they are. He would cut taxes for the wealthy, completely eliminate the corporate income tax, and create a value added tax. According to the Tax Policy Center, his plan would raise taxes for the bottom 95 percent of American wage earners and cut taxes for the top five percent. The top 0.1 percent would see an average tax cut of $1.7 million -- every year!
I would add to this that 55% of Americans recently polled (CBS/NYT) about what one thing they would cut to ease the debt (an intrinsically biased question, since a large percentage of economists counsel against cutting spending during a serious recession)... said cut military spending. This beat cuts to social security and medicare combined by more than 2:1.

Boehner likes to crow about "having an adult conversation." I say, yes, let's. The American people get it that we can no longer afford the American Empire and the dubious military adventures in Central Asia, let alone whether they were ever worthwhile. The American people understand that you don't restore prosperity by gutting the Middle Class and creating a whole new underclass of poverty-stricken seniors and a sixth of the population without access to health care. And the American people expect fairness, where the very rich pay their fair share. A lot of these questions aren't framed properly to elicit the true thinking of the majority, but I believe that if given the chance to actually vote on the issues, what the majority of our country really wants is for government to get out of the business of crony contracting, get out of the business of fighting wars halfway around the world, and let's start the huge job of enabling and building a renewed production economy here at home, that can grow and create jobs at home for our people, so we don't even have any need to talk about impoverishing our old people and disenfranchising tens of millions from basic health care. That is the America the people want, not the dark, plutonomic future the likes of Paul Ryan envisage.

21 January 2011

Republicans Barking Up Tree on HC Reform?

I can't prove this, by citing to chapter and verse, but I have a definite feeling that the Republicans have completely missed a major shift in public attitudes towards the HC reform law. Most people recognize that the law has serious flaws... after all, it does... but they've heard enough and know enough about how bad the status quo is, that they've arrived at the realization that what we got is better than letting these Insurance Friendlies get their way. For example, when crass panderers like McConnell and the odious Michelle Bachman, with her "market-based solutions," suggest repeal and replace with Illness-Profiteering-Industry-written garbage in place of the current law's popular (eventually-to-be-implemented) ban on pre-existing condition exclusions, I think most folks are smart enough that their bullshit detectors go off.

So, I think Reid and Co. are right to force some votes on particular aspects of the law, to highlight just how pro-Industry and anti-people the Republican positions are; meanwhile illustrating just how disingenuous Republican claims to care anything about jobs really is, because all they seem to care about is having a bunch of futile votes on repealing a law that is gradually becoming more popular.

So go, Joe, already

Glenn Greenwald skewers Joe Lieberman.... with unalloyed truth.

The disgusting exchange with Arianna Huffington mentioned in Glenn's piece should be Lieberman's epitaph:  He was an inusfferable boor, who lied us into war.

So, Joe, what'd it take to get you to resign right now? 

Top 10 "Classical" composers... NY Times poll and critic's list

I always find journalistic exercises like "name the top ten composers of all time" a little silly, but since I have very definite opinions on that particular subject, I couldn't help but write to the NY Times music critic who has such a poll, still apparently going on, although he's revealed his own list already. 

Here's my little rant:

Mr. Tommasini:

I'm sure you've gotten a lot of flack, as anyone would trying to establish a popularity contest for the top ten "classical" composers, which is an inherently subjective exercise in any case. But even with that said, I have to protest, a little. The list of candidates strikes me as almost ridiculously top-heavy with 19th and especially 20th century relatively minor figures, while leaving out at least six or seven truly great and highly influential figures from before 1700. I cite, as inarguably more important in the history of Western music than, say Barber or Fauré (much as I admire both):

Guillaume Dufay
Josquin Des Prez
Giovanni da Palestrina
Claudio Monteverdi
Heinrich Schütz.

I would even venture that someone like Orlando Gibbons or Henry Purcell has a much more solid claim to "top 10" status than Leonard Bernstein or Alban Berg, or even someone like Robert Schumann, who, while certainly truly fine composers, even composers of genius, were hardly key figures in the history of music. (I put Schumann on my voted list, but wouldn't have if the candidate list were less coenocentric, if you will).

Thanks for considering. Perhaps if you called it "Top 10 since 1700" it would be more accurate.

David Studhalter, North Hollywood, California
Truth to tell, I wouldn't actually include Palestrina, myself, just based on personal taste (I find his music tedious in its relentless homogeneity), but he certainly was considered a great figure in his time, and had the same sort of "summing up of a whole stylistic era" role that Bach had 150 years later.  Which I suppose begs the question, what are the criteria? Tommasini's article didn't really specify too clearly... are we talking about pure esthetics, which is really subjective, or historical importance, or musical virtue, however that might be perceived?

Truly, though, anyone who cares to educate his ear will simply have to recognize Dufay's grand isorhythmic motet written for the dedication of the Cathedral in Florence in 1436, Nuper rosarum flores, (for example), as a work of greater genius than anything ever composed by Sibelius or Shostakovich, not that these gentlemen were not in some sense "great" composers. I hold this to be beyond reasonable argument. (Not that there aren't plenty who would argue against it, out of simple ignorance and/or obdurate philistinism).

For some reason, we modern folks have no difficulty recognizing the transcendent genius of some of the visual artists of the Renaissance, but the equally important musical geniuses, while known to specialists, remain discounted even in the eyes... or ears, rather... of educated people who care a great deal about music. I blame a lack of exposure and training the ear to hear what's there. All music requires a process of familiarization with the idiom of the musical language in which it is written, and many people, who really should know better, really only pay lip service even to someone like Bach (secretly detesting the Cantatas and more rigorous contrapuntal music and liking only the Brandenburg Concertos, for example), and refuse to take the time to learn to appreciate the glories of the earlier composers, whose musical idiom is not melodic, but rather much more integral, than that of composers after 1700, in general.

Actually, if you look again at Tommasini's candidate list, you'll notice that there is virtually no one on there from after 1950, either, so it's a selection process of a certain epoch of tuneful musical idiom. I think it's perfectly fine to say, "that's what I like." But if you make up a list and say, the top 10 has to be chosen from this list, you really are imposing your tastes without intellectual foundation for doing so.

19 January 2011

Joe to Go

I cannot pretend to be displeased that turncoat and all-around Fake Democrat (most of the time) Say it Ain't So Joe Lieberman has decided to retire, rather than face near certain primary defeat in Connecticut in 2012. Clears the way for someone who at least supports the party's nominee for President.

18 January 2011

New AL Gov: non-Christians not MY brothers and sisters

Report: New Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley says on MLK Day, non-Christians are not HIS brothers and sisters.

I truly think Madison and Jefferson would have reviled such a one as would say something like that. Truly shameful, and downright un-American.

As a Buddhist (i.e., non-Christian), I find this just stunningly offensive. I assume any one of the millions of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and "Others," not to mention non-affiliated, and non-religious, in our country, will feel likewise.

Anyone so clueless about the inherently secular nature of our small-r republican constitutional government as to think it's OK to say something like that in a public speech, given in a public place while serving as a constitutional officer of a state of the United States, is clearly unqualified to hold that office.

Obama's speech vs. Palin's small minded malice and/or ignorance

As it happened, I didn't get a chance to watch all of Pres. Obama's speech last week, but from what I did see and what I've read about it, it was exactly what was needed, and has done a good deal to improve his standing in the public eye. Contrast that with the truly offensive, small minded and disgusting "blood libel" speech by Palin. As Robert Edgar, Common Cause President, said on Background Briefing last week, either it was pure malice or pure ignorance, and it doesn't entirely matter which. I suspect Palin will now fade from the scene, and if I'm right, it could hardly be more richly deserved.

Now I only hope that the president takes a little heart from the newfound wind in his sails and resists the counsel of those who would have him peremptorily give in to foolish Republican plans to eviscerate Social Security and other critical social programs in the name of debt reduction, when what our country needs is rebuilding, not tearing down. I'm hoping and praying that the rumors that the President intends to announce "austerity" in the State of the Union prove untrue.

17 January 2011

Roubini says if things break right, global economy poised for decent growth

It's remarkable how a fairly optimistic report by respected economic prognosticator Nouriel Roubini can seem so depressing.

12 January 2011

Grover Norquist says something sensible [!]

I really never thought I'd say Grover Norquist was right about anything, but he is right, that America is foolish in avoiding an honest debate about just exactly what the hell we're doing in Afghanistan. See this.

11 January 2011

Robert Borosage on the 67th Anniversary of FDR's 2d Bill of Rights


FDR enumerated them in the 1944 State of the Union Address.

Still mostly unfulfilled.

Why Income Inequality Matters and even the well off should care about it

Good article by Paul Buchheit on Alternet about why income inequality matters and even the relatively well off should care about it.

Passing on Bernie Sanders's "News Update"

I received this thoughtful "News Update" from my favorite U.S. Senator, Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Friends of Bernie Sanders
Please Contribute Today!
Dear David,

Given the recent tragedy in Arizona, as well as the start of the new Congress, I wanted to take this opportunity to share a few words with political friends in Vermont and throughout the country.  I also want to thank the very many supporters who have begun contributing online to my 2012 reelection campaign at www.bernie.orgThere is no question but that the Republican Party, big money corporate interests and right-wing organizations will vigorously oppose me.  Your financial support now and in the future is much appreciated.  Also, please do not hesitate to convey to me any ideas that you may have with regard to how we can best go forward in terms of public policy, as well as politically.  While I cannot respond personally to every comment, I will read them all.

ARIZONA: What occurred this weekend in Tucson was tragic, and I join my congressional colleagues and the entire nation in sending my condolences to the victims of this horrible attack.

In terms of this savage shooting rampage, several points need to be made.  First, this horrendous act of violence is not some kind of strange aberration for this area where, it appears, threats and acts of violence are part of the political climate.  Nobody can honestly express surprise that such a tragedy finally occurred.  After all, last year, after her vote in support of health care reform, Rep. Giffords' district office was attacked and her front window was shot out.  In 2009, at an open constituent town meeting in a shopping center similar to the one in which she was gunned down, a pistol fell to the ground from the pocket of a protester attending the event.  During her last campaign her opponent, Tea Party favorite Jesse Kelly, invited his supporters to an event at which they could fire live ammunition from an M-16 rifle as a fundraising device in his effort to help remove Rep. Giffords from office.  Congresswoman Giffords publicly expressed concerns when Sarah Palin, on her website, placed her district in the cross-hairs of a rifle – and identified her by name below the image – as an encouragement to Palin supporters to eliminate her from Congress.  Interviewed on MSNBC at the time when the cross-hairs were posted on the web, Giffords said; “When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action.”

What should be understood is that the violence, and threats of violence against Democrats in Arizona, was not limited to Gabrielle Giffords.  Raul Grijalva, an old friend of mine and one of the most progressive members in the House, was forced to close his district office this summer when someone shot a bullet through his office window.  Another Democratic elected official in Arizona, recently defeated Congressman Harry Mitchell, suspended town meetings in his district because of the threatening phone calls that he received (Mitchell was also in the cross-hairs on the Palin map).  And Judge John Roll, who was shot to death at the Giffords event, had received numerous threatening calls and death threats in 2009.

In light of all of this violence – both actual and threatened – is Arizona a state in which people who are not Republicans are able to participate freely and fully in the democratic process?  Have right-wing reactionaries, through threats and acts of violence, intimidated people with different points of view from expressing their political positions?

My colleague, Senator John McCain, issued a very strong statement after the shooting in which he condemned the perpetrator of the attack.  I commend him for that.  But I believe Senator McCain and other Arizona Republicans need to do more.  As the elder statesman of Arizona politics McCain needs to stand up and denounce the increasingly violent rhetoric coming from the right-wing and exert his influence to create a civil political environment in his state.
Senator Bernie Sanders
THE NEW CONGRESS: The 112th Congress convened last week.  Republicans now control the House of Representatives and have increased their membership in the Senate to 47.  The media and pundits will talk about a million things with regard to this new Congress, but let me stress to you what I consider to be the most important.

The right-wing Republicans now leading their party are extremely confident that the political momentum is with them.  They not only won decisive victories in the last election but, as a result of the disastrous Citizens United  Supreme Court decision, they correctly believe that they will have a huge financial advantage in future elections because billionaires and corporate interests can now contribute as much as they like into the political process without disclosure.  At this moment, Karl Rove and other Republican operatives are organizing big money interests to become financially involved in the next election in a way that will completely revolutionize campaign financing.  Republicans now believe that no matter what they do or say, they will be able to buy many seats in Congress because of their financial advantage.

Further, and equally important, the right-wing media echo chamber of Fox TV and talk radio (Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, etc.) are becoming increasingly effective in transmitting a reactionary world view to the tens of millions of Americans who watch or listen to them every day.  For many of these Americans, the only news that they receive comes from these extreme right-wing commentators.  While the progressive community has made some significant media gains with excellent websites and informative blogs, compelling television news and commentary on MSNBC and some fine and engaging radio talk shows, we would be very naïve not to understand that our progressive analysis of contemporary political issues is being overwhelmed by the right wing.  We have some good shows on MSNBC; they have a network.  We have over a million radio listeners to Thom Hartmann and Ed Schultz; Rush Limbaugh has 14 to 25 million, and Sean Hannity has 13 million.

All of which brings me to what the Republican agenda, pushed by an extreme right-wing, will likely be in the coming Congress. And here it is.  The Republicans in this Congress, in a way unprecedented in modern American history, will begin a political assault on the very foundations of modern American society.  Yes, of course they will continue their usual day-to-day efforts to give tax breaks to billionaires and cut back on programs desperately needed by the middle-class, but now they are prepared to go much further.  Now, in a very well-orchestrated effort, they are determined to undo virtually all of the major pieces of social legislation passed since the 1930s, and move this country back to a time when workers, the elderly and the poor had virtually no protections against the vicissitudes of life.  They want to return this country to a time when large corporations and the rich had all the power – economic and political.

They do not simply want to repeal the Health Care Reform bill passed last year.  There are many Republicans in Congress who believe that any federal efforts in health care are unconstitutional.  This means, over a period of time, completely eliminating Medicare, Medicaid and other public health programs.  In other words, if you’re sick and you don’t have a lot of money, you’re on your own.  Good luck.

They do not want to simply cut back on Social Security.  They want to privatize it.  With the backing of Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson and others, the Republicans are not just pushing to raise the retirement age for Social Security and cut benefits in the short- term.  Their long-term goal is to create a situation in which the retirement accounts for workers will be administered by Wall Street – at great profit for financial investment firms.  And when the stock market crashes and you lose your retirement savings, you’re on your own.  Good luck.

They do not want to simply deny the extension of unemployment benefits to workers who lost their jobs in this recession – the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression seven decades ago.  Some of them want to eliminate the concept of unemployment compensation.  Their position is: Lose your job?  You’re on your own.  Good luck.

And on and on it goes.  Whether it is Social Security, health care, environmental protection, education or workers’ rights, the Republican Party is now prepared to dismantle virtually all of the protections that workers and the middle class have successfully fought for over the last 75 years.

Today, in the United States, while the middle class collapses and poverty increases, the richest people in our country have never had it so good.  In 2007, the top one percent earned 23 percent of all income in our country – more than the bottom 50 percent.  The top one percent also owns more wealth than the bottom ninety percent.  While in recent years we have seen a huge increase in the number of millionaires and billionaires in this country we continue to have, by far, the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world.

But, for my Republican colleagues, all of this is not enough.  They need to help the rich get more, more and more.  That is what their agenda is all about.

Needless to say, as Vermont’s senator, I will do all that I can to defeat this disastrous set of policies.  And I will be joined in this effort by other members of the Senate, and by many members of the House.  But we can’t do it alone.  We’re all in this together.

I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

Thank you for your support.


Senator Bernie Sanders
PS: If you know friends or family who would like to receive an occasional news update from me, please forward them my message and ask them to sign up on my website, www.bernie.org. Thanks.


Foreign Policy: Articles espousing "Unconventional Wisdom"

In the highly unlikely event that you have oodles of time on your hands and would like to have a link to a whole series of articles by various luminaries setting forth unconventional wisdom on various issues of the day, follow this link: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/01/02/unconventional_wisdom

Passing on an e-mail from Coalition to Strengthen Social Security: Tell President Obama

It’s a new year. It’s a new Congress. Sadly, the same politicians in Washington who spent 2010 attacking Social Security are doing it again this year. They are demanding deep cuts to Social Security to reduce the deficit. But Social Security has not contributed a penny to the deficit – it has a $2.6 TRILLION SURPLUS.

Fortunately, President Obama has supported our position in the past – no benefit cuts, no raising the retirement age, no cuts in the COLA and no privatization, which only benefits Wall Street.

Tell President Obama: You agree Social Security should not be cut. https://hq-salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/6405/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=3049

In late January, President Obama will make his annual State of the Union address. It is important that he use the speech to send a clear message to those who want to cut Social Security – Hands Off!

Tell President Obama: Use the State of the Union address to fight for Social Security. https://hq-salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/6405/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=3049

Social Security is based on a promise: If you pay into the system then you earn the right to guaranteed benefits. This is one promise to the American people that politicians in Washington should not break.

Tell President Obama: You will help him make sure politicians in Washington keep Social Security’s promise! Then forward this email to five of your friends. https://hq-salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/6405/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=3049

Nearly all Americans depend on Social Security at some point in their lives. Many are retirees. But millions are disabled workers, widows and widowers, and children who have lost a loved one. We need to keep the promise alive for them – and for you.

Thanks for fighting to strengthen Social Security.

Write a letter to President Obama https://hq-salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/6405/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=3049

Write a letter to President Obama https://hq-salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/6405/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=3049

Mr. e-mail to Joe Klein after he called Ed Schultz "stupid"

 I saw on Huffington Post where the Time Magazine's rather self-important pundit Joe Klein (speaking on CNN) called Ed Schultz "stupid," after Schultz was extremely deferential and respectful to him in allowing him to "state the case" for continued involvement in Afghanistan on his show not long ago. (As I say in my e-mail to Klein quoted below, I saw the show). In reality, Klein gave the usual doublespeak circular argument that made no sense as to why the hell we are spending so much blood and treasure on a country where the military itself admits (1) Al Qaida may have 200 agents tops in country; (2) the Taliban is a domestic insurgency, not a threat to the United States; and (3) the GDP of the entire country in a year is only about what we spend there in a month. None of this makes any sense, and Klein didn't make any sense of it, to my mind, certainly.

My e-mail to Klein:

Mr. Klein,
I am disappointed that you choose to stoop to calling Ed Schultz "stupid," as you were quoted recently in Huffington Post as having said. I saw that particular episode of the Ed Show, and, while Schultz was using the rhetorical device of condensing his argument to a bumpersticker slogan "get out now," it is simply not true that his approach was simplistic. In fact, I thought he was more than fair to you, allowing you to explain your point of view and showing you considerable respect. Had I been he, I would have asked you to enumerate in detail just exactly what are the American people getting for the $1 trillion dollars and 9 years of war in Afghanistan that is worth such a huge investment, not to mention the adverse consequences of loss of life, both American and Afghan, and potential for unanticipated negative consequences (aka "blowback"). 
Of course the issues are complicated, but, frankly, beltway pundits like you have failed to make the case that this war is anywhere near worth it, and, complicated or not, Ed Schultz's tag line IS the opinion of the majority of Americans. You may disagree, and may have what you think of as wonderfully well thought out reasons for your positions, but it serves no useful purpose, and is rather uncivil and even loutish of you, to call Mr. Schultz stupid for expressing a view shared by most Americans.

09 January 2011

Important Article on "Defense Inc." by Andrew Bacevich in the Atlantic

Please read Andrew Bacevich's The Tyranny of Defense Inc. from the Atlantic. 

And see Nick Turse on the "Planet of Bases" Chalmers Johnson warned us about, on tomdispatch.com.

Governor Brown of Calif.: Seize this opportunity

I think Governor Jerry Brown has a real, if risky, political opportunity right now. First, a few background facts. As mentioned below in another connection, a recent CBS 60 minutes poll showed that a substantial majority of the US population, if asked about methods of reducing government debt, say that taxes on the very wealthy should be increased (only a tiny percentage, 3% say cut Social Security). California is in dire financial straits by any measure. Certainly, especially in view of the fact that States cannot run year after year deficits the way the Federal Government can, its financial health is worse than the debt situation of the Federal Government as a whole.

Governor Brown has shown some very real initiative and seriousness about changing the power centralization balance (State v. Local Govts.) and minority faction ability to deadlock fiscal policy aspects of California's tax and budget system, which are largely the legacy of the disastrous prop. 13 passed way back when Brown was first governor, in 1978. But I think he has a terrific opportunity to take the gubernatorial bully pulpit and urge Californians to enact a new tax code, radically different from the Federal system on which California's -- and most states' -- are currently closely modeled. California should be the first in the nation to depart sharply from low taxes for very high income individuals, low taxes on capital gains, and tax breaks for derivatives traders, etc.

Brown should develop, unveil, and then sell, sell, sell a tax reform that is modeled on Robert Reich's ideas in his book Aftershock. Keep marginal state income tax rates about the same for middle class Californians, and lower or even eliminate them for lowest income levels. But raise the capital gains tax to more than the marginal rates for other income, and impose new, much higher tax rates for those earning over $250,000/year, with those earning many millions paying very substantially more. Voters would have to approve this, but since it wouldn't raise most peoples' taxes significantly, I think they could be persuaded to do it.

Another thing Governor Brown could do is to propose, develop, unveil, and sell a California Recovery Bond program, to issue state bonds for sale to private individuals. I think there is both a market and a civic impulse out there to help the State (and the Federal Government) fund a recovery, by investing in simple bonds like savings bonds that pay better than market interest (which is practically nothing), and which would help the state raise desperately needed operating funds.

06 January 2011

Please Download and/or Listen to Background Briefing/Daily Briefing (Ian Masters, KPFK, Los Angeles)

Simply the best public affairs radio program in America. Clicking on the post title above will take you to KPFK.org's Audio Archives. To locate the program, look for 11:00 AM Sunday, 5:00 PM Mon-Thu. Right click on the link and select "Save Link" from menu to download a mp3 file, or simply click on the link to listen to the program on your computer now. (Mac or other versions of Windows may work slightly differently, but it should be pretty obvious).

The free programs are paid for by KPFK's listener-sponsors (like me). If you find this program engaging and worthwhile, as I do, you may want to consider supporting the station, which, like all Pacifica stations, is in constant financial need.

Background Briefing (only) is now being rebroadcast at 10 AM on Tuesday on WBAI (New York); wbai.org. Why the other Pacifica stations haven't picked up this excellent programming is beyond me, but that's Pacifica for you. Like many on the activist left, they seem to take iconoclasm to an extreme, even to the point of harming their own interests through factionalism and lack of unity.

Republican Repeal of Health Care Law would add $230B to Debt

There's a certain delicious irony in the fact that the Congressional Budget Office, as reported by both the Huffington Post and TPM today, estimates that if somehow the Republicans' phony ploy to repeal the Health Care Law were to actually happen, it would add to the debt over ten years by $230 Billion. (UP from last year's estimate of $143 Billion).

But that won't stop them. Don't try to confuse them with the facts. They're so busy lying to the American people about virtually everything that facts are of no particular importance to them.

William Daley? WTF?

Query: how are even moderately liberal Democrats supposed to welcome William Daley, who opposed the Health Care Law and the Consumer Protection Bureau, as White House Chief of Staff?

It's bad enough that we have to suffer the consequences of the hissy fit midterm elections, which will leave a lasting scar on our body politic, but to have to suffer further rightward drift, already apparent, in the Obama Administration, is just too much.

I cling to the hope that the president chose this guy for his administrative chops and doesn't intend to take policy advice from him, but after the sorry history with Rahm Emmanuel, that's a slim hope, I'm afraid.

♥♥ UPDATE ♥♥
Here's Howard Fineman's explanation for the pick. I remain skeptical.

05 January 2011

Weak GOP Field, Obama's greatest re-election asset?

This TPM piece is interesting on just how stunningly weak a field of potential presidential candidates the Party-of-No has to offer, almost two years out. But it's a bit of a sad commentary that this is probably Obama's greatest re-election asset.

I think the administration will be making a grave mistake if they fail to take a more populist tack going forward, portraying the Congressional Republicans as obstructionists who are trying to deliberately prevent the recovery of the economy and trying to undermine crucial Middle Class economic programs, particularly Social Security and Medicare. By standing firm on not cutting these programs, and for the middle class against the plutocrats on Wall Street, I think the Obama administration will have nothing to worry about for re-election and can probably pull in a House majority or at least make up much of the 2010 losses, in 2012. But if they keep capitulating and looking weak, the Republicans will again succeed in making them look like losers, and in promulgating the incredible Big Lie that it's the Democrats who caused and are perpetuating the economic downturn. And then, who knows, we could lose the whole enchilada and Obama will go down in history as one of America's weakest presidents ever. At this point, it's still his choice.


04 January 2011

Message to Schumer on Filibuster Reform

I sent an e-mail to Senate Rules Committee Chair Chuck Schumer, who has been given responsibility for crafting the filibuster reform package, urging him to stand firm for real reform. Filibuster reform should include all of the following:

  • reduced proportion of Senators to cut off debate, from 3/5 to preferably a simple majority; and it should be of those present, not an absolute number.
  • there should be a minimum fraction, like 40%, of senators who have to vote to object to a motion to invoke cloture, not just 1 senator. 
  • In order to continue debate, someone should have to hold the floor, for however long. Filibusters, if they are to be allowed at all, should have to be real, not just a ploy to force minority rule. 
It is probably too much to expect anything remotely like this, but the fact that the Dems are considering reform at all is progress.

Related to this, and possibly to be included in a reform bill, is the move to change the rules to prevent anonymous 'holds.' That's a no-brainer. How about no holds, period? What's so hard about transparent debate and voting on issues of importance to the people?

Message to White House: CBS poll shows Americans overwhelmingly disfavor cuts to Social Security to reduce debt

The CBS 60 minutes poll showing that no more than 3% of those surveyed believe it's fair or reasonable to cut social security to help reduce debt or cut deficits should be a watchword for the President.

I believe we in the base have made it very clear that we expect more from this president in terms of standing up for CORE DEMOCRATIC VALUES. Of course it's going to be difficult to work with (and around) a Republican dominated House over the next two years. But the president should not lose sight of the economic realities, as explained over and over again by Nobel economists Stieglitz and Krugman, as well as Reich and Kuttner: cutting spending and focusing on deficits when we're still at or near the bottom of a deep, deep hole economically is NOT GOOD POLICY.

And, fundamentally, it is just not acceptable to renege on the commitment to middle class people who have paid payroll taxes since the 80s to fund social security far into the future. The president should say, right now, that there will be NO CUTS to social security, period, and any bill that reaches his desk with such cuts in it, NO MATTER WHAT ELSE is in the bill, WILL RECEIVE HIS VETO.