24 February 2011

Keeping Progressive Pressure on Obama and the Democrats

The other night I watched an interview of Howard Fineman by Lawrence O'Donnell on the subject of why the president seemed to have absented himself from showing support for the demonstrations against the obvious... and now apparently failing... Republican conspiracy to conduct a coordinated campaign to eviscerate public employee unions in as many states as possible.

Fineman gave a nuanced, or one might say, neatly evasive, defense of the president in purely political terms. He wants to show support for small business. He wants to signal that he's not insensitive to the need to make "adjustments" in public spending, etc. From the president, nothing about why the president doesn't reiterate what Progressives everywhere in America are saying: the Right is trying to squeeze the middle class to shrink government to address fiscal shortfalls that have nothing to do with the middle class. The fiscal problems were purely caused by revenue shortfalls directly resulting from the Wall Street Financial Collapse. Nothing about how the only truly Progressive response to escalating debt is not to take money away from the middle class (which is counterproductive and likely to actually shrink revenue in the longer term), but to make the very wealthy and the profits of banks and Wall Street (as well as Big Oil and Big Pharma) produce more revenue. Certainly nothing about cutting military expenditures significantly, even though the Cold War is long over but military expenditures are nearly double what they were in 2000. How can this failure to speak out on these key issues be called, by any definition, Progressive?

OK, there is a huge roadblock in the way, in the form of the Republican House, many Republican state governments (think redistricting), and an alarmingly Right Wing judiciary. But you don't negotiate by conceding in advance, and you don't create a constituency for change by not talking about it, not advocating it, not doing everything you can to move the hearts and minds of America in the right direction. 

We Progressives need to apply pressure to the White House, in the streets if necessary, and also to pressure particularly the Senate, not to give in to the Republicans, not to adopt their frames and paradigms, not to accept their "solutions." That way lies disaster. We must devote our energies to creating a powerful opposition movement that will take back the instruments of power, through nonviolent political action and then at the ballot box, as soon as possible. We need to work towards achieving our goals, not try to minimize the impact of conceding to theirs. We should be doing absolutely everything we can, and demand our party's politicians do everything they can, to block the Rightist agenda, including most budget cuts.

I see none of this from this President. We must pressure him, pressure Democrats everywhere, and create and widely disseminate alternative messages to convince as many people as possible in this country that the change that was promised has yet to be delivered, but that we can't give up. We need to demand change, and keep demanding it till we get it.

Think I'm exaggerating? I keep hearing about how great Obama's legislative agenda was in  the first 2 years. Yes, there was some progress, but look at what was promised and compare it not to the limited achievements, but what's being talked about now.

From Dismantling the Empire by Chalmers Johnson:
During his campaign, Barack Obama promised to close our extrajudicial detention camp at Guantanamo Bay; restore legally sanctioned practices, particularly within the Department of Justice; provide nearly all citizens with health insurance and other life support systems that are routine in most advanced industrial democracies; take global warming seriously; and implement a number of laws that were being honored only in the breach, including those protecting personal privacy. Obama's proposed reform program was massive, long overdue, and popularly welcomed.
It's leadership and tenacity that make promised reform come true. On this promised agenda, you just can't conclude either that Obama has been a success overall so far, or that he is even continuing to advocate much of this reform. Therefore, we progressives must keep the pressure on and keep this reform agenda front and center. 

But that's not enough. Because even this promised agenda falls far short of what we as a nation need and we as a people must demand from our government. The very next passage from Johnson's book:
Conspicuously absent from this lengthy agenda, however, was one significant factor of American life. Only those of us who had long watched this area noted Obama's silence and were alarmed for what it suggested about his ... presidency. The omission concerned the massive apparatus that enables what I have called our global "empire of bases" to exist and function. In the campaign, he said little about the armed forces (other than that he would like to expand the Army and Marines), the military-industrial complex, the Pentagon's failure to account properly for the vast sums it spends, the growing clandestine role of our proliferating intelligence services, or the subcontracting of extremely sensitive national security tasks to the private sector.
Now I'm not politically naive, although I've been accused of that. I realize that couching a reform agenda in these terms would be all but impossible to use as a basis to win large numbers of voters to a more Progressive agenda. But I, echoing hundreds of thousands of Progressives, have talked about what we do need to say, and communicate, to counter the Rightist world view and move America in the right direction on all these issues. About investment in the future, redirecting our economy towards renewable energy and free and fair trade regimes to bring production back online as an economic engine, protecting the middle class programs, reforming taxation to begin to reverse the trend to growing income inequality, etc. But none of this will be possible if we do not also convince the people that we must scale back empire and focus our energies on the economy that creates good jobs for our own citizens at home. This is the true progressive agenda, which it's very clear our President is not pursuing, and not working to create the conditions for its emergence.

So, pressure, pressure, pressure. We must do our own communicating. Like the demonstrators in Wisconsin. We must keep demanding of our government, especially our own party, since the Republicans are entirely the enemy on these issues, that they support these policies, not Right Wing or Right Wing light policies.

On Wisconsin! United we stand, and we must make clear our demands, never giving up, never settling for defeat.

23 February 2011

TPM: Indiana Fascist AG: use live ammo on Wisconsin Demonstrators

For those who habitually pooh-pooh the warning that the Right in this country veers perilously close to, and sometimes over, the line of advocating totalitarianism, TPM reports:

Beyond Self-Parody

Deputy Attorney General in Indiana says it's time to use "live ammunition" on protestors in Wisconsin.

Why we must fight back against Divide and Conquer strategy of the Right

To a friend who said he'd get behind the Wisconsin Rebellion when government workers receive the same compensation packages as the sisters and brothers who work in the private sector, I replied: 

...please consider that that's putting the cart before the horse. Most of what public employees receive (which, when compared apples for apples, meaning taking educational and other qualifications into account, is generally in toto  (including value of benefits), on par with or less than private sector equivalents, according to most economists who've studied it).... is what private sector employees used to receive: fixed benefit pensions, employer paid (or mostly paid) health insurance, good holiday and sick leave policies, good disability insurance, dental, vision, etc. Some private employers still do some or even all of this, but most charge their employees a bundle in deductions even if they do. So the issue is restoring to the private sector what has been lost, not taking from the public sector. Pitting private sector against public sector workers is a Rightist strategy (divide and conquer), which has been working up to now.

Now, I'm not saying that there can never be cuts or adjustments, of course there can, and the demonstrators in Wisconsin already agreed to all of the givebacks for the current fiscal period.

What Walker wants to do is permanently eviscerate their collective bargaining rights... which has nothing at all to do with the fiscal problems he largely ginned up anyway, by cutting corporate taxes and sponsoring passage of a bill making any kind of revenue side fixes all but impossible to enact (modeled on The Worst Law Ever in America... Calif.'s Prop. 13). And that is what has been a bridge too far for public employees in Wisconsin. And now a Gallup poll shows 61% of the state's voters agree.

David Brooks: Lying Elitist Jerk

I have always found David Brooks's condescending "reasonablyness" style in defending indefensible, mendacious, and mean-spirited Rightist policies annoying. Yesterday's column in the NYT (q.v.) was a particularly egregious example. In defense of his Rightist talking point that "everyone" needs to "share the pain," he claimed that "states with public employee unions tend to have fiscal problems."

Apart from the use of the weasel words "tend to," this statement is just plain false. Chris Hayes, substituting for Rachel Maddow on MSNBC last night, did a brilliant job of proving that this statement has no validity whatsoever. States with and without public collective bargaining are all over the map in terms of budget shortfalls. Moreover, as Brooks knows quite well, it isn't everyone he's referring to. He means essentially only working people, since rich people aren't anywhere nearly as much affected by state spending cuts as low to moderate income people, including most public employees.

More importantly, the whole concept that collective bargaining of public employees has anything to do with the fiscal problems of states is pure Right Wing propaganda and grossly intellectually dishonest. States' fiscal problems are demonstrably almost entirely caused by revenue shortfalls directly caused by the Wall Street Financial Collapse, as David Brooks, lying elitist jerk that he is, knows perfectly well. 

Text to movie version. 

21 February 2011

Robert Reich: the Republicans' BIG LIE

From Reich's post today:

Republicans say "we've" been spending too much, and they're determined to end the spending with a scorched-earth policies in the states (Republican governors in Ohio, Indiana, and New Jersey are reading similar plans to decimate public unions) and shutdowns in Washington.

There's no doubt that government budgets are in trouble. The big lie is that the reason is excessive spending.

Public budgets are in trouble because revenues plummeted over the last two years of the Great Recession.

They're also in trouble because of tax giveaways to the rich.

George Lakoff: What Conservatives Really Want

Please reed George Lakoff's excellent post on What Conservatives Really Want. Lakoff is a cognitive scientist who has done more to diagnose what he cites as "Democratic Communication Disorder," and what to do about it, than anyone.

Krugman on Wisconsin power play: MUST read

Today's Krugman column is an excellent summation of why Wis. Gov. Walker's plan to eviscerate public employee collective bargaining rights really has nothing to do with fiscal responsibility. It is all about power, and shifting even more power to the oligarchic interests represented by today's Republican party.

Obama's Decision Time

This piece in the NYT portrays events in Wisconsin as posing a dilemma for Pres. Obama. To me, the choice could hardly be clearer, but, all right, it's decision time. The president needs to decide right now to side with his base supporters, once and for all, and forget about any compromise on budget cuts with the Republicans. They will not be compromising anyway. Time to make them do some capitulating, when the people make their choices clear, with the help, finally, of some real presidential leadership. 

Look, Mr, President. You have been getting some really lousy economic advice. Going along with the Republicans on draconian, job-destroying budget cuts to so-called non-defense discretionary spending is a recipe for total disaster. It doesn't square with your "grow the future" meme anyway, so it's time to shift tack in a major way.

Instead, promise to protect social security against all attacks, and refuse to go along with budget cuts that would require massive layoffs. Propose efficiencies, such as stronger control of rising medical costs, and review and reduction of overseas military expenditures (especially longer term). Go on TV and explain how we are facing a crisis that isn't just about debt, but about the need to restore our economy to productivity and independence. Emphasize that meme, energy independence, independence from foreign manufactures. Another meme should be building full employment. Convene an emergency commission of progressive economists to develop an investment plan "to put 22 million people back to work." Then go on TV and present it, ask the people for their support for it... ask them to make Congress do it. 

The other unavoidable, is revenue side. Again, go on TV, and explain to the people. It's like a small business just starting out. You can't afford to be too timid about taking on debt or risk... you have to make the investments. In our case, it's in a completely new, totally renewable energy grid, transportation system (massive investment in high speed rail, solar power plants, wind, new electrical distribution, roads, highways, bridge reconstruction, new biofuels pilot plants, etc.)... for jobs, as well as to get a renewed production economy going. Again, present the plan and ask the people to support it. Tell them you can't do it without their support, but if we don't do it, their kids won't have the opportunities they've had, etc. etc. 

But to accomplish this, it will be like World War II. First, propose a major program of recovery bonds. These should pay just enough interest to be attractive investments for working people, which right now, isn't that much. Major campaigns to sell them, like War Bonds during WWII, should be rolled out. Sure it's adding to the debt, but it's debt to ourselves, to build our future. This may be more symbolic than substantive, but it can't hurt, and will generate the right kind of pulling together as a people to "get the job done." We need a whole new set of political tropes, geared towards jobs, recovery, growth, opportunity, etc.

But higher taxes will also be necessary. We have to ask for more from our people, especially our wealthiest, and from the profits of the Financial and Energy sectors in particular. Comprehensive tax reform needs to be rolled out, with cuts in taxes for the lowest incomes, modest sacrifices starting in the upper middle class ("shared sacrifice" on the revenue side, not cuts in spending), and significant increases for the wealthier segments, with large rate hikes for the top 2%. This is a MAJOR shift in thinking, yes, but, can't you see, Mr. President, it's time? You have to lead. You have to present the reasons why this is necessary. Why our country needs us to pay more to rebuild its systems and ensure its economic security in the future, just as we did during the cold war with regard to its physical security. Major communication and leadership initiatives on your part are the only way. Sure it will take time, but just being Mr. Compromise with the naysaying Republicans is not going to accomplish anything other than continued decline and defeat. 

To those who argue "Pie in the Sky! Don't you get it? The Tea Party won!"... I say, they won (barely, and mainly due to nonparticipation of half the electorate) the last election... but that makes now the worst possible time to give in to them. We must challenge them on core principles. We must win the hearts and souls of the people to a completely different plan to ensure recovery and eventual fiscal health. We have to fight the long battle. Of course, it will be next to impossible to get much of this done in the next two years, but we need to start now to convince the people that we, as Democrats (because most of the Democratic party is truly hungry for bold leadership and will join you) have a real plan, a much better plan, to restore America's economic might and prosperity. 

The world is changing. The reality is that there were 8 terrorist deaths among Americans in 2010, but 29 people died from lightning strikes. We can't be seen as "soft" on terrorism, but careful emphasis on domestic economic restoration, while gradually dismantling our overseas military spending, will do a huge amount to help lower the deficits. This need not be emphasized, until it's starting to show results. Of course, no one can predict the future, but there's every reason to believe that the next ten years will be better served by an America that is more focused on regrowing its own economy and leading the way to a renewable energy, post-oil future, than continuing current paradigms. Let the whole global war on terror meme just fade away, and, with any luck at all, it will. We may have to change course based on unexpected events, but we would anyway, and if we've focused on strengthening our domestic economy, we will be better not less able to meet unexpected challenges that may arise down the road.

More later. I will be presenting a proposed draft "Two Futures" speech I would dearly love to hear our President deliver as soon as possible.

18 February 2011

Tahrir Square, Madison, Wisconsin

 »This is our Tahrir Square«   •  »Hosni Walker«   --signs seen carried in Madison, Wisconsin yesterday among the crowd of 30,000 demonstrators against Republican Gov. Walker's plan to cut public worker pay and eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public workers.

17 February 2011

Tom Engelhardt: Easy Way to Cut $100 Billion

Tom Engelhardt (author of the very well-worthwhile tomdispatch.com), writes in Salon how ending the Afghanistan war is an "easy way" to cut $100 Billion from the Federal Budget.

Look, I read a lot and listen to a lot of people who really know what's going on over there, and I have yet to hear a reasonable explanation for how the War in Afghanistan is worth all the blood and treasure we're spending there, or how its likely outcome can possibly be of sufficient benefit to the American people to justify this waste. 

Anyone who thinks they can explain that, have at it, please.  Seriously, I haven't heard an explanation that doesn't resort to false assumptions, rationalizations, wishful thinking, or just plain illogic.

Donald Trump: Delusional Nutjob

Donald Trump thinks he can "tax" South Korea, Europe and China. The man is totally delusional. I hope he does run for president. It would be (very mildly) amusing to watch him crash and burn.

Oligarchs tanked the economy, all but killed the middle class, and now they're planning on leaving it for dead and burying it

"The team of Wall Street CEOs and the politicians they support dug a massive deficit hole by tanking the economy and handing massive tax cuts to the very rich. Now they're throwing the middle class into that hole and shoveling on the dirt." -- Richard Trumka, in this excellent piece in HuffPo.

I think right at the moment my biggest disappointment with the Obama administration is that they've apparently bought into the Right Wing framing that says our biggest problem is the debt/deficit.

This is just plain wrong. Our biggest problem is the lack of growth in the middle class jobs sector, and the lack of serious commitment to restoring our nation to a productive economy, which can be achieved mainly through infrastructure investment. The Republican plan will just end the postwar Middle Class America most of us grew up in .... essentially forever.... and ensure that the future will be Third World America. Which suits them fine, as they are the oligarchic plutocratic elite. They use various propaganda and influence buying techniques to gain power, but they represent the actual interests of no broad constituency, only the greedy superrich. And that's just the plain fact of the matter.

Cuts in spending are needed, yes, but not in programs that support the middle class. Cut unnecessary weapons systems, unnecessary foreign bases, unnecessary and counterproductive wars (there are currently 2 going on), agricultural and oil subsidies, and out of control health care reimbursements (but not care). But social security, medicare eligibility, education, disaster assistance, infrastructure investment, science and tech R&D, financial regulation, public health, and food and industrial safety? Cutting in these areas is suicide. 

A growing economy can eventually be made to produce more revenue, but a shrinking one cannot. The real elephant in the room, however, with regard to unsustainable national debt, is the sorry fact, thanks to decades of Republican and Republican-influenced tax policy, that the wealthiest 10% or so simply do not pay enough in taxes. I submit that no rational person, if they're really honest about it, can conclude otherwise. And the richer they are, the more undertaxed they are. Only ideologues, who don't really care about the commonweal, but only about the welfare of their own superrich class, can rationally disagree with this conclusion. Period.

If you doubt this, I commend to you various comments on this subject, easily located on the Web, by that notorious socialist Dwight Eisenhower, who was often asked in the mid-1950s, when America was still paying down the remnants of the debt from WWII, why taxes had to be so very high on the very richest. (And in those days, corporations actually had to pay their taxes too).

Unfortunately, Obama and his Wall Street advisors just don't seem to get it. If they keep trying to be "soft Republicans," the mess this whole philosophy is creating will be so bad that they will lose the Senate in '12 (for various reasons I think Obama is likely to be re-elected anyway), and then, well, there will be essentially no hope for his presidency... it will have been a monumental failure. Determined far Right majorities in both houses will succeed in virtually destroying the prosperous America I was fortunate enough to grow up in.

I genuinely hope this doesn't happen, but the way the Administration is approaching this whole "deficit reduction" myth is not at all reassuring.

12 February 2011

"Sputnikonimics" by James Surowiecki; required reading

The "Financial Page," titled "Sputnikonomics" in the current New Yorker, which clearly explains why we cannot afford NOT to invest in R&D in infrastructure, as Obama laid out in his State of the Union, is required reading.

11 February 2011

Irhel! Mubarak out.

Not many comments this week, because I've been laid up with a nasty muscle spasm. But I just wanted to chime in and say that this seems to me to be a genuinely historic occasion: the forcing from power of a dictator by sheer popular will in the World's 16th largest country.

As Americans, we should be thankful that our country showed restraint, and that our leaders said mostly the right things, and (apparently) mostly left the outcome in the hands of the Egyptians themselves. We should also pray for the Egyptian people, that their aspirations for genuine representative government will be fulfilled.

I worry about the involvement of Suleiman, who, as Jane Mayer documented in The Dark Side, is a torturer and murderer. But he is supposed to be a caretaker, and the military, which certainly is aware of the necessity of maintaining the goodwill of the United States, has pledged to oversee a transition to real democratic institutions. 

07 February 2011

Obama should not grant Fox News interviews

Haven't seen the video yet, but I hafta say it's not a good idea for the President to accept an invitation for an interview by O'Reilly on Fox News. These people, and this guy in particular, are propagandists, not a legitimate news organization. Would FDR have accepted an invitation to go on the radio to be interviewed by proNazi Father Coughlin? I don't see much difference.

04 February 2011

Bertrand Russell on Happiness

 If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years.     --Bertrand Russell 
I suppose this is true, as a truism, because the only way for people to actually achieve their own happiness (which they would presumably begin to discover were that their primary wish), is to have at least equal concern for the happiness of others.  See the Shantideva quote below. Which proves that when it comes to wisdom, as opposed to know-how, there has been no progress in the world for many, many centuries.


All the happiness there is in the world
Arises from the wish for others to have happiness.
All the suffering there is in the world
Arises from the wish for our own happiness.

                              --Shantideva (c. 685-763),
Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life                                

03 February 2011

Josh Marshall on the future of the Israel/Egypt relationship

This piece by Josh Marshall is well worth reading. 

I believe he's right that the hypernationalist regime currently in charge in Israel is failing to show the kind of savvy in crafting alliances to protect the long term security of Israel that was once the hallmark of that nation's leadership. They are just not being realistic about what it will take to keep a working relationship with its neighbors.

But, as Marshall more implies than states, anyone who thinks they know how events in Egypt will (a) turn out; and (b) turn out specifically with respect to the relationship between Egypt and Israel; is kidding himself. Events are very much in flux.

But the one thing that seems clear to me is that the Obama Administration, while they could have done better in acknowledging the legitimacy of popular protests against Mubarak early on, has taken a measured and reasonable tone in the last few days. But behind the scenes, I hope they realize that the maximum possible pressure needs to be brought to bear on Mubarak, and through channels to other potential leaders in that country, for him to go and go now, because the longer he stays, the more likely an extremely negative outcome becomes, for the U.S., for the Egyptian people, and for peace and security with Israel.

01 February 2011

South Dakota Republican wants to make gun ownership mandatory...

Some Republican cracker in South Dakota wants to pass a bill at the state level making gun ownership mandatory. Care to place any bets as to whether this same cracker supports the legal challenge to the Health Care Law on the grounds that the Federal Government has no right to mandate health insurance? OK, the constitutional issues are different, but the idea that someone with normal synapses in his brain can think it's a good idea to force people to have guns, but not a good idea to make sure everyone has health insurance, just boggles.

UPDATE:  I was punked on this one, by not reading all the way to the end (always dangerous). The bill is a stunt, to make the health care mandate seem outré. Actually, the rationale is full of holes, but I will leave that as self-evident.

Huckabee calls for Expulsion of Palestinians.... WTF!!?

So now TPM is reporting that Mike Huckabee, whom we are supposed to take seriously as a potential GOP presidential candidate, is calling (in couched terms and euphemisms, but nonetheless calling) for expulsion of the Palestinians from Palestine. Great. That will go a long way to restoring America's image in the Arab world as an honest broker.

Sheesh. In a sane world, this would qualify Mike Huckabee for "lunatic fringe" designation and no reasonable person would take anything he says seriously, ever again. But, somehow, I doubt that will be what happens.