Sunday, January 31, 2010

I Know What I Would Do

60 Minutes just had a puff piece on our special forces in Afghanistan, raiding at night to find Taliban.  Makes you proud to be an American, until you read stuff like the following, from the Asia Times:
Sometime in the past few years, Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan's rugged heartland began to lose faith in the American project. Many of them can point to the precise moment of this transformation, and it usually took place in the dead of the night, when most of the country was fast asleep. In the secretive US detentions process, suspects are usually nabbed in the darkness and then sent to one of a number of detention areas on military bases, often on the slightest suspicion and without the knowledge of their families.

This process has become even more feared and hated in Afghanistan than coalition air strikes. The night raids and detentions, little known or understood outside of these Pashtun villages, are slowly turning Afghans against the very forces they greeted as liberators just a few years ago.
Really, what if an occupying power were raiding our homes at night, taking our sons and husbands away? How would we feel? What would we do?

I know what I would do.

Making Republicans Accountable

This is a novel idea, that Republican numerical gains in Congress actually force them to compromise and participate, rather than just obstruct.
The logic was inadvertently floated this week by no less an authority than Vice President Biden, who told a group of Democratic Party leaders that the 60-seat supermajority in the Senate wasn't necessarily a good thing. "There was the expectation, left, right and center, that we could do everything we wanted to do, which was never realistic," the vice president said. "When it's 60, the Republicans can afford to say they need not participate at all." By contrast, "having 59 votes in the Senate also means something for the Republicans: They are going to have to be accountable as well."

Biden is correct that Republicans had no political incentive to participate. But, taking Biden's analysis to its logical conclusion, it's hard to see how the shift from a 60-seat Democratic supermajority to a 59-seat Democratic jumbo-majority is going to give Republicans enough ownership of the outcome to move them from reckless to responsible. If that happens at all, it would probably not happen until Republicans control one or both chambers.

Cut War Spending, Raise Taxes on the Wealthy

At Davos, there was this exchange:
So, what hard choices could be made to avert a government debt crisis, at least in America? Rep. Barney Frank, who attended the Davos session as one of the selected "challengers" for the three presenters, called for large cuts in defense spending as well as tax increases -- particularly on wealthy Davos types. "I think almost every American here pays much less in taxes than you ought to. I'm going to go back and try to raise the taxes of most of the people who attended here," Frank vowed.
I like that. You don't hear Frank talking like that very much on American TV.

Broken Political System

Tom Friedman writes from Davos:
As a political barometer, the Davos World Economic Forum usually offers up some revealing indicators of the global mood, and this year is no exception. I heard of a phrase being bandied about here by non-Americans — about the United States — that I can honestly say I’ve never heard before: “political instability.”

“Political instability” was a phrase normally reserved for countries like Russia or Iran or Honduras. But now, an American businessman here remarked to me, “people ask me about ‘political instability’ in the U.S. We’ve become unpredictable to the world.”
Meaning what?
You can understand why foreigners are uneasy. They look at America and see a president elected by a solid majority, coming into office riding a wave of optimism, controlling both the House and the Senate. Yet, a year later, he can’t win passage of his top legislative priority: health care.

“Our two-party political system is broken just when everything needs major repair, not minor repair,” said K.R. Sridhar, the founder of Bloom Energy, a fuel cell company in Silicon Valley, who is attending the forum. “I am talking about health care, infrastructure, education, energy. We are the ones who need a Marshall Plan now.”

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Give The Progressives Their Day Too

The thought just occurred to me that I would love to hear Obama dialogue with a progressive group of congressmen about the bank bailouts, Afghanistan, torture coverups, public option for health care, etc.  He did such a good job countering the Republicans.  Maybe he could convince me that my criticisms and disappointments in his first year are not justified.  I doubt it, but it is possible.

The Fog of War

Why again are we there?
A joint U.S.-Afghan force clashed with Afghan troops manning a snow-covered outpost and called in an airstrike early Saturday, killing four Afghan soldiers, U.S. and Afghan officials said. Both sides called the clash a case of mistaken identity.

Afghanistan's Defense Ministry condemned the killings in the eastern Wardak province and demanded punishment for those responsible. NATO called the deaths "regrettable" and announced an investigation.

The deaths are likely to strain relations between NATO and Afghan forces at a time both are calling for a closer partnership in the fight against the Taliban.

Underscoring those tensions, an Afghan interpreter killed two U.S. service members Friday at a combat outpost elsewhere in Wardak province, a NATO official said.

A U.S. soldier then killed the interpreter, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information. It wasn't clear why the interpreter had opened fire on the Americans.

Post-Capitalism in Davos

David Ignatius, writing from Davos, is a little shocked by the 'post-capitalist' mood there:
The value of this alpine kaffeeklatsch is that it can tell you when ideas have reached critical mass. And that seems to have happened this year in the general enthusiasm for what I will call "post-capitalism" among the political and business leaders gathered here. They take it as a given that the free market failed in the crash of 2008 and that the new system will be more regulated, more interventionist, more prudential than was the old.

This change in the Davos consensus is important because for the past few decades, the forum has been the leading symbol of the freewheeling economic model known as "globalization" -- a connected world that was fostered by lower tariff barriers, deregulated markets, and borderless flows of capital and labor. In years past, calls at Davos for more financial regulation would have been met with guffaws and an escort to the anti-globalization "Open Forum" down the road.

The Davos vision of globalization -- of ever-rising tides that lifted ever more boats -- was itself a bubble. We can see this now. It burst in the financial crisis in 2008, with pulverizing consequences for the real economy in 2009. But it wasn't until this year that the forum fully reckoned with the mood shift. Its work was no longer to celebrate globalization but, in the words of this year's conference theme, to "Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fast Track to Catastrophe

Andrew Sullivan writes about the extraordinary meeting of Obama with the Republicans today:
I've just watched the president address the Republican retreat in Baltimore. Address is not quite the right word, because it was a genuine - and remarkable - conversation between Obama and his political opponents - transparently on CSPAN. I don't remember similar public events of this length and this informality and candor in the past, but I may be forgetting some. But the theme was very straightforward: the president does not expect total GOP support on everything he is trying to do; but he does believe that the tactical oppositionism and electioneering that infects our current politics is making it impossible for the republic to grapple with the real and pressing problems we face.

He was especially good on entitlements, the need to reform them - and the impossibility of doing so if every time someone tries to they are hazed for "raising taxes/killing jobs" or "cutting medicine/killing seniors". This applies to both parties, of course. But it has been pretty brutal from the GOP this past year.

But here's the key thing: Obama is best at this. He is best at defusing conflict; he is superb at engaging civilly with his opponents. It's part of his legacy - I remember how many conservatives respected him at the Harvard Law Review. But he needs to do more of this, even though he may get nothing in return. Why? Because unless the tone changes, unless the pure obstructionism and left-right ding-dong cycle stops, we are on a fast track to catastrophe.

Toxic Political Culture

Paul Krugman writes:
So we’re paralyzed in the face of mass unemployment and out-of-control health care costs. Don’t blame Mr. Obama. There’s only so much one man can do, even if he sits in the White House. Blame our political culture instead, a culture that rewards hypocrisy and irresponsibility rather than serious efforts to solve America’s problems. And blame the filibuster, under which 41 senators can make the country ungovernable, if they choose — and they have so chosen.
This is why Obama going to dialogue with/debate the Republican House members today was the right thing to do, because it's an attempt to hold them accountable.  Now he needs to do the same with the Senators.

Back on the Hustings

This man, Raymond Learsy, writing in the Huffington Post, has a point:
After the austere and imposing setting in which he delivered his State of the Union address the president thought nothing of undoing that "Presidential" moment by traveling the very next day for a badly focused, undisciplined town hall meeting in Tampa where he laid himself bare to a cheering partisan crowd, repeating much of what he said the night before in fractured terms, hailing the advent of bullet trains and stumbling through a free for all question and answer period. It was embarrassing and in terms of the cost to perception of his office, particularly damaging.

This nation at this time is at as dangerous a crossroads as it was at the beginning of the Second World War, economically, politically and at mortal risk of attack to our interests abroad and to the homeland. Our foreign policy is a shambles, our economic policy barely a step behind, our sense of self and who and what we are, at its lowest ebb since the 1930's.

What is desperately needed is leadership and the nurturing of those trappings of tradition that have seen us through difficult times before. We don't need a president who wants to hang out with us, we need a president who understands the enormous symbolic power of his office and uses it to rally us to do all that we need to climb out of our current abyss.
I'm sorry that Obama has low ratings right now, but it does seem rather pathetic to be trying to go back into campaign mode, to try and restore 'the magic', as if that's the problem.  It's not.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

An Obamaian Performance

Eugene Robinson also gives Obama credit for his adult-like approach:
There were no fall-off-your-chair surprises in Obama’s speech, but many people might have been surprised by the style in which he delivered it. Obama didn’t sound like a president buffeted and beleaguered by the political fates. He sounded determined, patient, forceful, good-humored, at times even mischievous. He looked relaxed and in control. For the first few minutes, the applause was strictly partisan -- Democrats rising to clap, Republicans sitting on their hands. Toward the end, Republicans were often springing to their feet, too. Maybe they lost themselves in the moment.

Centrist Republican

I think Richard Cohen's response was also on target:
A speech is words. A State of the Union speech is a performance. President Obama had more than an hour’s worth of words Wednesday night, much of them moderate in tone, moderate in ideology and proposing programs -- tax cuts, more nuclear power plants - that could have come from the mouth of a centrist Republican, should any of them still exist. But it was his demeanor, his poise, his supreme self-confidence that spoke volumes. He was supposed to be chastened from the debacle in Massachusetts, but this was Obama’s best speech because it was, so far, his worst moment....

It was all so commonsensical. It was all so mature. For those moments, Obama seemed the only adult in the room, the one talking for all the American people, pleading not for this bill or that program but for decorum and civility. This is what a president should do. This is why he is head of state and not just of government, chief magistrate and commander in chief of the military....

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lecture to Squabbling Children

This comment from a reader to Andrew was right on target:
Dems, grow a pair. Republicans, stop being such dicks. Doesn't it kind of sound like a lecture given to squabbling children by a tired parent? In other words, "Grow up, everyone!" Much more sharply put than I had dared to dream, but sadly necessary.

Republican Response

The first time I've seen McConnell of Virginia.  He's got a big future, if this is typical.  Media Saavy, handsome, articulate, intelligent.  He could be the new Republican star they've been looking for.

Initial Responses

Responses to the Speech that I'm hearing from the commentators:

Playful feistiness.  Positive, seductive. (Chris Matthews) 

Andrew Sullivan writes: "This was the president I supported and still support and will support because he alone is calling us away from the cynicism, the ideology, the rhetorical poison, and the red-blue divide that keep us from the reform we desperately need."

Good tone, calm, comfortable, even-handed, careful.  Challenging, especially to the Republicans to step up to work with him.  (Me)

Obama After One Year

The Nation asked a number of liberal-left thinkers to share their take on Obama's first year.  Here's a sampling of that opinion:

Marcia Angell, MD
President Obama's greatest success has been to show the rest of the world a new face of understanding and cooperation. Still, count me among those who are disappointed in his first year. He seems to lack the courage to push for the fundamental reforms necessary to deal with the enormous problems we face, and instead appeases the very forces that have gotten us into the mess. By appointing Geithner and Summers, for example, he ensured that Wall Street, but not Main Street, would be rescued. More dismaying, he extended Bush's policy of detaining certain terrorism suspects indefinitely, and he is well on his way to expanding the self-destructive war in Afghanistan.

As for healthcare, my area of expertise, the reform bill Obama is cobbling together wrongly retains the central role of the private insurance companies and requires millions of people to buy their products at whatever price they charge.
Katherine Newman, Princeton University
For progressives who supported John Edwards--before his personal implosion--the first year of Obama's presidency has been, more or less, what we expected. The symbolic victory of our first African-American presidency gave way to disappointment over his centrism, which comes as no great surprise, since Obama never advertised himself as a man of the left. And indeed, he isn't.

The Test of Leadership

On this one, I think Andrew is correct:
I have one simple test: if the health bill dies from neglect and irresolution, Obama is no leader.

He is a follower. He cannot vote present on this one. He has majorities in both Houses and a landslide victory and he is unable to deliver on a core priority in his first year. That's a definition of a failed presidency and it is why the GOP - with nothing to offer the country - decided to make it his Waterloo. They knew and know how gutting this bill and killing reform and suffocating any serious change in this country is their way to a nihilist victory. And such a victory would not be a vindication of Republican policy right now. It would be a perfectly reasonable response to a Democratic party palpably incapable of governing and a president clearly unable to deliver.

If he cannot do this, he does not have the fortitude to be a successful president. And his weakness on this will be rightly interpreted as weakness everywhere else. That applies to foreign policy as well, with Netanyahu and Khamenei and Chavez and Sarkozy all watching to see what this guy is made of.

Banking and Greed

Andrew Sullivan ruminates on bankers and greed:
From the time I was in college, every person who really wanted to become rich - and I mean rich - went into investment banking. In the 1980s, this was the apex of career goals. No one I knew quite understood how these bankers went on to make exponentially more dough than anyone else could, but most of us didn't much care. The idea of working with all those money-grubbers when I could eke out a living writing or reading or acting and speaking seemed horrifying to me. And I didn't envy their money, and still don't.

After all, the amounts they get become meaningless after a while. A human being can only consume so much before it becomes absurd or soul-destroying. Their vast and disproportionate wealth I thought of as a hideous prison for them....

Now I realize, of course, that their own moral wasteland became so vast that it threatened to eclipse all those struggling to make an honest living. And that changes the equation, doesn't it?

And Now, For a Few Laughs

He's The One

As Maureen Dowd makes very clear here in her own inimitable way, we have a tendency to pour all our national/political/economic hopes and dreams into one person, who can't possibly fulfill them.  Shades of The Matrix.
He’s The One, all right.

The handsome, athletic pol with the comely wife and two lovely daughters who precipitously rose from the State Legislature to pull us all together.

The fresh face and disarming underdog America’s been waiting for, someone who suffered through his parents’ divorce, watched his mom go on welfare and survived some wayward youthful behavior to become disciplined and successful — a lawyer, a lawmaker and a devoted family guy who does dog duty.

Someone who’s always game for a game of pickup basketball, loves talking sports and even boasts beefcake photos. A pro-choice phenom propelled into higher office by conservatives, independents and Democrats, a surprise winner with a magical aura.

The New One is the shimmering vessel that we are pouring all our hopes and dreams into after the grave disappointment of the Last One, Barack Obama.

He's Come to Save the Day!

Will this man show up tonight?

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

FOX News Trusted by Half of Americans

This is frightening:
Our newest survey looking at perceptions of ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, and NBC News finds Fox as the only one that more people say they trust than distrust. 49% say they trust it to 37% who do not.

CNN does next best at a 39/41 spread, followed by NBC at 35/44, CBS at 32/46, and ABC at 31/46.

Predictably there is a lot of political polarization in which outlets people trust. 74% of Republicans trust Fox News, but no more than 23% trust any of the other four sources. We already knew that conservatives don't trust the mainstream media but this data is a good prism into just how deep that distrust runs.

For Democrats the numbers are a complete opposite- a majority trust all of ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC while only 30% have faith in Fox News. Continuing the trend in our polling over the last few months that independents hate everything, a plurality of them distrust all five outlets we looked at.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Small Potatoes

Robert Reich isn't happy:
Like Clinton's, Obama's package of middle class benefits is small potatoes. They're worthwhile but they pale relative to the size and scale of the challenge America's middle class is now facing. Obama can no longer afford to come up with lists of nice things to do. At the least, he's got to do two very big and important things: (1) Enact a second stimulus. It should mainly focus on bailing out state and local governments that are now cutting services and raising taxes, and squeezing the middle class. This would be the best way to reinvigorate the economy quickly. (2) Help distressed homeowners by allowing them to include their mortgage debt in personal bankruptcy -- which will give them far more bargaining leverage with morgage lenders. (Wall Street hates this.)

Yet instead of moving in this direction, Obama is moving in the opposite one. His three-year freeze on a large portion of discretionary spending will make it impossible for him to do much of anything for the middle class that's important. Chalk up another win for Wall Street, another loss for Main.


Paul Krugman is scathing in his denunciation of Obama's latest spending freeze proposal.
A spending freeze? That’s the brilliant response of the Obama team to their first serious political setback?

It’s appalling on every level.

It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. Jonathan Zasloff writes that Obama seems to have decided to fire Tim Geithner and replace him with “the rotting corpse of Andrew Mellon” (Mellon was Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, who according to Hoover told him to “liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”.)

It’s bad long-run fiscal policy, shifting attention away from the essential need to reform health care and focusing on small change instead.

And it’s a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world-view — and more specifically, he has embraced the policy ideas of the man he defeated in 2008. A correspondent writes, “I feel like an idiot for supporting this guy.”

Massachusetts Populism

Webster Tarpley's eccentric yet interesting take on the Massachusetts election, especially its analysis of Massachusetts' populism:
Today’s stunning defeat of the colorless hack Martha Coakley by the Republican challenger in Massachusetts must be interpreted as crucial proof that the American electorate is hungry for populism in the midst of a worsening world economic depression. The kind of populism Massachusetts voters really wanted was New Deal economic populism in the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt, meaning concrete measures to break the power of Wall Street and deliver economic benefits to the broad middle class and working people generally. This was the kind of economic populism which was nowhere in sight. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party of Obama, Pelosi, and Reid, and Barney Frank is a party of Wall Street shills and puppets. Since no economic populists were in sight, Massachusetts voters settled for second best in the form of cultural populism as represented by the Republican Scott Brown, whose main claim to fame was that he drove a truck with 200,000 miles on it. That is the demagogic essence of cultural populism, the only kind of populism of which Republicans and reactionaries in general are capable. Cultural populism is what Rush Limbaugh sells on the radio every day, mocking the elitist cultural pretensions of politically correct Democrats. Cultural populism is the stock in trade of Sarah Palin, who uses it to try to make Tea Party supporters forget her warm support for the Bush-Paulson $700 billion bailout of Wall Street in October 2008, when Palin was running for vice president. Coakley, by contrast, was a prim elitist who showed her contempt for Joe Sixpack by going on a two-week vacation in the middle of her alleged Senate campaign.

The current tenant of the White House is an elitist snob who functions from day to day as a wholly owned Wall Street puppet, and Massachusetts voters recognized this very early on. They had been educated in these matters by their own governor, Deval Patrick, who spouted the very same kind of messianic and utopian rhetoric purveyed by Obama when he won the governorship some years ago. Perhaps because they had already been disillusioned by Patrick, Massachusetts Democrats made sure Obama was defeated by Mrs. Clinton in the Democratic primary there in spring 2008.

The boiling rage of the American electorate is directed against the two-party consensus which has made possible the transfer of between $25 and $30 trillion of US government money — Treasury, Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, etc. — in the form of the TARP or bailout, while the official rate of unemployment and underemployment approaches 18%. Voters are angry in particular about tax cheat Tim Geithner, generally the most prominent representative of the Obama regime. They know that Geithner’s cell phone is programmed for speed dialing the numbers of Citibank’s Vikram Pandit, Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase, and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs. They know that Geithner takes orders from these Wall Street bandits. Voters know that Geithner committed a federal crime when he ordered AIG to falsify its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission to cover up almost $70 billion of US treasury funds which the bankrupt insurance company was using to pay off financial derivatives in the form of toxic credit default swaps at 100 cents on the dollar to a group of Wall Street banks, and even worse, European banks. These are the roots of the rage against Obama and the Democratic Party displayed today in Massachusetts.
And then he adds this interesting analysis of economic populism, which I've not seen anywhere else:

How Deep Is Your Love for Poor and Working People

A Message from Cornel West to his Brother Obama:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Inept and Bungling

David Michael Green has written a simpy devastating critique of Obama from the left, obviously overstated but with enough truth to make it interesting.  I'm quoting below three of the most positive paragraphs, detailing what Obama could do if he turned to the left (which is of course unthinkable, but it's an interesting speculative exercise).  If you're still an Obama fan, please watch your blood pressure.
The obvious solution, of course, would be a sharp turn to the left. Go where the real solutions are. Fight the good fight. Call liars ‘liars’ and thieves ‘thieves’. Do the people’s business. Become their advocate against the monsters bleeding them dry. Create jobs. Build infrastructure. Do real national health care. End the wars. Dramatically slash military spending. Produce actual educational reform. Launch a massive green energy/jobs program. Get serious about global warming. Kick ass on campaign finance reform. Fight for gay rights. Restore the New Deal era regulatory framework and expand it. Restore a fair taxation structure. Rewrite trade agreements that undermine American jobs. Rebuild unions. Fill the spate of vacancies in the federal judiciary, and load those seats up with progressives. Rally the public to demand that Congress act on your agenda. Humiliate the regressives in and out of the GOP for their abysmal sell-out policies.

All of this could be done, and most of it would be very popular, especially if it was backed by an aggressive and righteously angry Oval Office advocate for the people who knew how to use the bully pulpit to shape the narrative, to market ideas, and to mobilize public support.

But I doubt Obama has anything like the constitution for that sort of presidency. I think his personal disposition is so strongly controlling of his politics that he would rather preside as a three year lame-duck over a failed one-term presidency, than actually throw an elbow or two and make anyone uncomfortable. Think how unpleasant it would be.

Nein, nyet, nah.

Andrew Sullivan:
In my view, the key to reassuring Independents, the critical swing vote, is the deficit and the long term debt. If Obama can persuade them that the healthcare reform actually addresses that problem and cuts entitlements (as it does), he can combine it with his recently announced plan for a bipartisan commission to cut entitlements and raise taxes. Such a plan can alone reassure the markets that the US isn't headed toward the fiscal status of a banana republic.
Nein, nyet, nah.  There may (or may not) be a way to restore the confidence of the Middle Class in Obama, but this certainly isn't it.  Not that I'm against focusing on the deficit and entitlements.  But I can't imagine that winning over my brother who helps make locomotives at General Electric (there's probably no way Obama could win him over).  It sounds like a prescription for some 'green eyeshade' Republican.

It looks more and more like the Democrats are going to lose BIG TIME this fall, and as John Judis put in an earlier post, I don't think there is much they can do about it.  Since the Republicans are the default opposition party, whether or not they deserve it (they don't), they will be the big winners.

As a number of us have been saying all year, this is (as least in part) the result of appearing to save Wall Street and neglecting Main Street.

Benefits of the Bill

Nate Silver, via Andrew Sullivan, provides this handy chart on the Health Insurance Bill:

(Double click anywhere on the chart for a larger version)

Making Friends with Joe Sixpack

John Judis of the New Republic has a good analysis of Obama's political problem right now. He says it's his problem with the white working class and with senior citizens:
Obama’s political problem boils down to the difficulty he has speaking to and for middle America. This problem became evident during the middle of the primary battle with Hillary Clinton. And it could have seriously damaged his candidacy against John McCain. But the onset of the financial crisis that fall, and McCain’s feeble response to it, along with his choice of Sarah Palin as vice president, highlighted Obama’s strongest asset in the eyes of voters--his intelligence--and reduced the importance of his lack of a common touch.

As president, however, Obama’s lack of engagement with middle America has come to the surface and has contributed to his decline in popularity. This shortcoming has been evident in his style and choice of venues--he gave his endorsement of Coakley on Sunday at Northeastern University, in Boston, rather than at a union hall or public auditorium in Worcester or Springfield. It is also evident in his choice of advisors and spokespeople and in the way he has framed his programs.

Unfit to Participate in Electoral Politics

James Howard Kunstler comments on the recent Supreme Court Decision of 'corporate free speech':
I hope our constitutional law professor president turns his attention to proposing a legislative act that will sharply reign in the putative "personhood" prerogatives of corporations. They are relatively new entities in legal history, and their supposed "rights," duties, obligations, and limits have been regularly subject to re-definition over the past hundred years. There's no reason to believe that the court's current ideas are definitive. In fact, they are completely crazy -- given the fact that the fundamental character of corporations is sociopathic, insofar as their only express allegiance is to their shareholders, meaning they are devoid of any sense of the public interest, meaning they are unfit to participate in electoral politics.

A Classic Loner

The temperament of Obama is becoming an interesting subject of speculation.  Take, for instance, the following passage from Joe Klein's recent front page article on Obama in Time magazine.

On the morning he won the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama met with a nervous group of aides. The award might be a political problem, they said. It might be ridiculed. He hadn't achieved any of his foreign policy goals yet. "It is kind of crazy," Obama acknowledged with a laugh, "but that's not the real problem we're facing here. How do you accept the Nobel Peace Prize when you're the Commander in Chief of a military that is fighting two wars?"

The President's next meeting was about one of those wars — the one in Afghanistan — with his National Security Council in the Situation Room. Everyone stood as the President entered. "I was waiting for people to start applauding or someone to say, 'Congratulations, Mr. President,' or something like that," an aide recalls. "But no one said anything, and the President didn't say anything about the prize either. He just started in on the agenda."

Taken together, these two meetings speak to an abiding enigma of the Obama presidency. From the start, the President has been the impassive receptacle of passionate hopes and impossible expectations — from the expectations of the American people after a wildly emotional election victory and Inauguration to those of the Nobel Committee. There is an essential disconnect here, an emotional distance from the public, an emotional distance from his own staff. Take the National Security Council meeting after he won the prize: Clinton would have hugged everyone in sight; George W. Bush would have made a self-deprecating C-student joke; Reagan might have said, "First, I'd like to thank the Academy ..." The only recent Presidents who might have responded as aridly as Obama did were Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, both replaced by world-class emoters after one term. "He is a classic loner," says a politician who helped coach Obama for debates during the campaign. "Usually, you work hard at prep, and then everyone, including the candidate, kicks back and has a meal together. Obama would go off and eat by himself. He is very self-contained. He is not needy."
Or this article by Jacob Weisberg in Newsweek that's basically saying the same thing.

I can relate to this, because in many ways it's my temperament as well.  It's the personality of an 'introverted thinker', using Myers-Briggs Typology language.  None the less, in front of a crowd, Obama can connect, as he can one-on-one.  He has this ability, but it's still not his natural temperament.  So he reverts back to normal in many, less public situations.

Is this the reason for his current problems?  No, I really don't think so.  Rather, it's other, more objective factors, like the economy, ending of the political honeymoon, disagreement over policy, etc.

Just Words?

At first, MIT economist Simon Johnson, a leading reformer, was encouraged by last week's turnaround by the Administration on the big banks.  But he's now seeing confusion and signs that they really don't mean it.
Increasingly, however, there are very real indications that the conversion is either superficial (on the economic side of the White House) or entirely a marketing ploy (on the political side). Here are the five top reasons to worry.

Secretary Geithner's spin on the Volcker Rule, Thursday night on the Lehrer NewsHour, is in direct contradiction to what the president said. At first, it seemed that Geithner was just off-message. Now it is more likely that he is (still) the message.

The White House background briefing on Thursday morning gave listeners the strong impression that these new proposals would freeze the size of our largest banks "as is." Again, this is strongly at odds with what the president said and seemed -- at the time -- to indicate insufficient preparation and message drift. But who is really drifting now, the aides or the president?

Mortgage Interest Rates to Climb, Killing Housing Market

I frankly did not know about this federal program.  It seems to me that the housing market is set to really tank again.  I pity everyone who is trying to sell their house, or is 'underwater' on their mortgage.
The wind-down of federal support for mortgage rates, set to end in two months, is a momentous test of whether the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve have succeeded in jump-starting the housing market and ensuring it can hold its own. The stakes for the economy are massive: If the market again falls into a tailspin, homeowners could face another wave of trouble, and it would deal a body blow to President Obama's efforts to get the economy on track.

Keeping the mortgage rates at historic lows, which required a commitment of more than $1 trillion, was viewed within the administration as a central plank of the economic strategy last year, senior officials said. Though the policy did not attract as much attention as rescue efforts to bail out banks, it helped revitalize home buying in some parts of the country and put money in the pockets of millions of homeowners who were able to refinance into lower monthly payments, the officials added.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

May the Rich Curse Obama

George Will writes:
If Obama can now resist the temptation of faux populism, if he does not rage, like Lear on the heath, against banks, he can be what Americans, eager for adult supervision, elected him to be: a prudent grown-up. For this elegant and intelligent man to suddenly discover his inner William Jennings Bryan ("You shall not crucify America upon a cross of credit-default swaps") would be akin to Fred Astaire donning coveralls and clodhoppers.
I agree with Will at least in this, Obama should resist 'faux populism' (the same term that Andrew Sullivan used a couple of days ago).   'Faux' means fake, of course, and who, of course, wants Obama to 'fake' anything, including populism (leaning toward the common man rather than the elite)?

I thought (or better, was hoping) that Obama was a natural, genuine populist, if not in style, at least in substance.  But apparently not.  I certainly don't want him going down to the bar to down a few beers with the boys, just to get a little faux populist publicity. 

No, I just want him to advance policies that advocate for the commoners of this land, and let the elites fend for themselves (which they're very capable of doing).  That's what FDR did in the thirties, and it's why the rich thought him to be a bastardly traitor to his own class!  And it's why income distribution in America was wider and fairer from the 30s to the 70s than in any other time in our country.

Oh, to have the rich and powerful, the bankers, the big Pharma and health insurance CEOs, cursing Obama!  Yes, that will show that he is a true populist, not a fake mingling with the commoners at McDonalds.  And it will also make him more popular with the Independents (and Democrats) than he is now.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Just A Wing of the Wall Street/Pentagon Party

Ron Jacobs represents a fairly typical Left political position these days.  I'm still not there yet, but t'aint far:
The left needs to organize the unorganized. The working people, the unemployed, the young, and the restless. The right wing has their core group of supporters who organize around fear of the other. The liberals have those who believe in the myth of American equality because they have no class analysis. The Left needs to organize the rest and they need to do so without the Democratic Party. It should be quite clear to almost every left-leaning American by now that the Democrats are nothing more than another wing of the party that works for Wall Street and the Pentagon. To continue to work for and elect their candidates is self-defeating. As the first year of the Obama presidency has clearly shown, not only do the Democrats support the right wing agenda, that support makes it easier for the right wing to put their candidates into power. Why? Because after promising progressive reforms and then failing to deliver, voters tend to either not vote or vote for the right wing candidates out of anger and frustration.

Nailed It

Arianna Huffington takes a lot of guff from various directions, but she keeps on calling it as she sees it.  In this post, she basically predicted the Massachusetts election debacle, back in December. 

US Temperatures

United States temperatures according to the NOAA:

But then it also good to keep these temperatures in perspective, as seen from the following temperatures taken from the ice sheet in central Greenland for the last 1,200 years:

IPCC Retraction

Interesting cartoon from the Times of London, as reprinted in Watts Up with That blog:

A Party That Lost Its Way

Bob Herbert, whom I respect more every day for honesty and insight, writes:
The question for Democrats is whether there is anything that will wake them up to their obligation to extend a powerful hand to ordinary Americans and help them take the government, including the Supreme Court, back from the big banks, the giant corporations and the myriad other predatory interests that put the value of a dollar high above the value of human beings.

The Democrats still hold the presidency and large majorities in both houses of Congress. The idea that they are not spending every waking hour trying to fix the broken economic system and put suffering Americans back to work is beyond pathetic. Deficit reduction is now the mantra in Washington, which means that new large-scale investments in infrastructure and other measures to ease the employment crisis and jump-start the most promising industries of the 21st century are highly unlikely.

What we’ll get instead is rhetoric. It’s cheap, so we can expect a lot of it.

Those at the bottom of the economic heap seem all but doomed in this environment....The Republican Party has abandoned any serious approach to the nation’s biggest problems, economic or otherwise. It may be resurgent, but it’s not a serious party. That leaves only the Democrats, a party that once championed working people and the poor, but has long since lost its way.

Obama Reset 2010

Frank Rich elaborates on my thoughts on Obama and populism (below):
On the economic front, Obama needs both stylistic and substantive makeovers. He has stepped up the populist rhetoric lately — and markedly after political disaster struck last week — but few find this serene Harvard-trained lawyer credible when slinging populist rhetoric at “fat-cat” bankers. His two principal economic policy makers are useless, if not counterproductive, surrogates. Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary, was probably fatally compromised from the moment his tax lapses surfaced; now he is stalked by the pileup of unanswered questions about the still-not-transparent machinations at the New York Fed when he was knee-deep in the A.I.G. bailout. Lawrence Summers, the top administration economic guru, is a symbol of the Clinton-era deregulatory orgy that helped fuel the bubble.

The White House clearly knows this duo is a political albatross. After the news broke that 85,000 more jobs had been lost in December despite some economists’ more optimistic predictions, Christina Romer, a more user-friendly (though still academic) economic hand, was dispatched to the Sunday shows. This is at best a makeshift solution.

Obama needs more independent economists like Paul Volcker, who was hastily retrieved from exile last week after the Massachusetts massacre prompted the White House to tardily embrace his strictures on big banks. Obama also needs economic spokesmen who are not economists and who can authentically speak to life on the ground. Obama must also reconnect. The former community organizer whose credit card was denied at the Hertz counter during the 2000 Democratic convention now spends too much time at the White House presiding over boardroom-table meetings and stiff initiative rollouts instead of engaging with Americans not dressed in business suits.

Captive of the Interests

Frank Rich has it right, I think:
Obama’s plight has been unchanged for months. Neither in action nor in message is he in front of the anger roiling a country where high unemployment remains unchecked and spiraling foreclosures are demolishing the bedrock American dream of home ownership. The president is no longer seen as a savior but as a captive of the interests who ginned up the mess and still profit, hugely, from it.

That’s no place for any politician of any party or ideology to be. There’s a reason why the otherwise antithetical Leno and Conan camps are united in their derision of NBC’s titans. A TV network has become a handy proxy for every mismanaged, greedy, disloyal and unaccountable corporation in our dysfunctional economy. It’s a business culture where the rich and well-connected get richer while the employees, shareholders and customers get the shaft. And the conviction that the game is fixed is nonpartisan. If the tea party right and populist left agree on anything, it’s that big bailed-out banks have and will get away with murder while we pay the bill on credit cards — with ever-rising fees.

Politically, no other issue counts. In last weekend’s Washington Post/ABC News poll, 42 percent of Americans chose the economy as the country’s most pressing concern. Only 5 percent picked terrorism, and 2 percent Afghanistan. Obama’s highest approval ratings are now on foreign policy and national security issues — despite the relentless hammering from the Cheney right — but voters don’t care.

Elitist or Populist?

The president's rhetoric over the past week suggests he has decided to try to fight anger with anger. If Americans are fed up with bank bailouts and bonuses going to their top executives, Obama wants people to believe that he resents them just as much.

His fight, fight, fight rhetoric marks a big change in his demeanor. Two years ago in Ohio, as he tried to win the primary against Hillary Rodham Clinton, she was the fighter, carrying the grievances and suffering of Ohio voters on her shoulders. Obama struggled to find his voice on economic issues.

Obama is not a natural populist, even though he once was a community organizer. As a candidate, he was the antithesis of the class warrior. He did not attack bank bailouts when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson warned of an imminent financial system collapse in September 2008. He tried to build some accountability into the Bush administration proposals, but otherwise was an ally of Bernanke and Paulson in that episode.
'Populist' as in 'anti-elitist'?  The first definition for populism I found online was "the political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite."  Yep, that's right.

But populist is a strange word these days; it seems to connote a certain wildeyedness, an irresponsible political movement that could easily become crazed and revolutionary, if one isn't careful. 

So why don't we just use instead 'progressive'?  Because when I call myself a progressive, that's what I mean--fighting for the common person against the power and privilege of the economic elite.

When you substitute 'progressive' in the paragraphs above, something becomes quite clear.  It's not just a style that Obama has been lacking--e.g. "fight, fight, fight rhetoric"--but substance.  He has been perceived--correctly I believe--to be more concerned about the privileged elite like the bankers amd the corporate interests than about the average person and his or her interests.

Now some would argue that that is an unfair perception.  But we who see it this way don't think it's unfair but accurate, unfortunately.  Most of us desperately wish it not to be true, but we think it is.  Obama has proven himself to be more of a Clintonite, neo-liberal, interventionist, corporate Democrat than he is a progressive Democrat.  And unfortunately, the split in the party is very real.

Were there signs of this during the election?  Yes, there probably were, though not to the extent that some might think.  But on the whole, Obama's campaign rhetoric was progressive, though often lacking specifics as is so common in campaigns.  Furthermore, his background of international experience as a child, his parental radicalism, his years as a community organizer instead of either politics or business, his sensitivity to the issues of Black people, his cultural sophistication, his literary talent, and his early and unusual opposition to the Iraq war--all of these things led many of us to believe that, in his heart, he was a progressive Democrat rather than a neo-liberal, corporate Democrat.

Perhaps we deceived ourselves.  That might be so, because I wanted so badly someone who would come and try to lead this country, not back to the 90's, but forward into some new and different.  I thought he was the one to do that.

But it appears we were wrong.  And I don't know what we can do about it.  I don't dislike him as a person, in fact I like him about as much as I did Bill Clinton in that way (and much more than I like Hillary as a person).  And I will always be proud of the fact that America elected its first African-American president.

All that being said, I'm just mad as hell at him and his advisors and his policies in so many areas, especially his Bush-lite interventionist foreign policy and his corporatist economic and financial sector policy. 

Can he change?  Will he change?  I have no idea.  But I'm skeptical--even cynical--toward his change in words and rhetoric until I see the fruit in changed policies.  He has earned my distrust, and now he's going to have to earn my trust.  We'll see.

Friday, January 22, 2010

King Corporation

Ralph Nader writes about the Supreme Court decision, Citizen's United:
Yesterday's 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission shreds the fabric of our already weakened democracy by allowing corporations to more completely dominate our corrupted electoral process. It is outrageous that corporations already attempt to influence or bribe our political candidates through their political action committees (PACs), which solicit employees and shareholders for donations.

With this decision, corporations can now directly pour vast amounts of corporate money, through independent expenditures, into the electoral swamp already flooded with corporate campaign PAC contribution dollars. Without approval from their shareholders, corporations can reward or intimidate people running for office at the local, state, and national levels.

I suppose Justice Kennedy thinks corporations that overwhelm members of Congress with campaign contributions need to have still more influence in the electoral arena. Spending millions to lobby Congress and making substantial PAC contributions just isn't enough for a majority of the Supreme Court. The dictate by the five activist Justices was too much for even Republican Senator John McCain, who commented that he was troubled by their "extreme naivete."

Carping Schmarping

Andrew Sullivan writes:
But the truth is that these forces have also been so passionate, so extreme, and so energized that in a country reeling from a recession, the narrative - a false, paranoid, nutty narrative - has taken root in the minds of some independents. Obama, under-estimating the extremism of his opponents, has focused on actually addressing the problems we face. And the rest of us, crucially, have sat back and watched and complained and carped when we didn't get everything we want. We can keep on carping if we want to. But it seems to me that continuing that - as HuffPo et al. appear to be doing - is objectively siding with the forces of profound reaction right now.

Don't get me wrong. Criticism is still vital. I'm not going to give up on advocating marriage equality or a carbon tax, rather than cap and trade, or for an independent investigation of Bush era war crimes. I think pushing Obama to a more populist position on banks is well and good. But given the alternative, I am going to step up my support of this president in the face of what he is confronting, even when he is not exactly doing everything I want. In my view, you should too.
Sullivan is wrong twice in the above two paragraphs, in my opinion.  First of all, in saying that Obama "has focused on addressing the problems we face."  And two, that criticizing Obama is "siding with the forces of profound reaction."

Obama has failed to address the problem of the banks, which is a substantial failure, due primarily to his failure to select the kind of truly reforming economic advisors that we needed.  Why should we support his pathetic and counterproductive economic policies?  In fact, he now apparently realizes he was wrong and is beginning to move in the right direction.   I applaud that and will support that.  But I will not support any 'corporatist' policies that don't support the people.  And it shouldn't have taken the kind of political reversals he's experienced to bring him to this point.  Wasn't 'change' and reform what he ran on and for?

Criticizing 'your man' should never be seen as siding with the enemy.  If more Republicans had criticized the Bush administration early on, maybe we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place.  It is simply a matter of 'speaking the truth in love.'  The truth is more important than mere loyalty.

And since when is looking out for the average person by holding the large corporations and banks accountable 'faux-populism' (a word Andrew uses later in his post)?  It's like you're either a pitchfolk waving 'populist' or you're a 'corporate' Democrat.  I thought Democrats distinguished themselves from the other party by being for the average citizen and not just supporting the rich and elite.

Furthermore, Sullivan seems very happy to 'carp' about the Obama administration when it comes to gay issues or torture or things he's really concerned about.  But the fact is that Andrew is basically an economic ignoramus.  He didn't predict the crisis, and he doesn't seem to care much about the causes or the cures.  On economics, he needs to leave the thinking (and criticizing) to others.

Took a Year

Robert Reich is one honest fellow who deserves to be in a high-level position in the Obama administration.  He writes:
President Obama is now, finally, getting tough on Wall Street. Today he's giving his support to two measures critically important for making sure the Street doesn't relapse into another financial crisis: (1) separating the functions of investment banking from commercial banking (basically, resurrecting the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act) so investment banks can't gamble with insured commercial deposits, and (2) giving regulatory authorities power to limit the size of big banks so they don't become "too big to fail," as antitrust laws do with every other capitalist entity. A few days ago the White House demanded that the biggest banks repay the $120 billion or so still owed the government from the bailout.

All good, all correct, all important. The president deserves at least two cheers. Why not three? It took him over a year to finally get here. The House has already completed its work on financial reform and may be reluctant to start over. The Senate is in disarray since Chris Dodd, chair of the Banking Committee, announced recently he wouldn't seek reelection, and is poised to compromise with Wall Street on a number of big issues. Neither chamber has shown any interest whatsoever in resurrecting Glass-Steagall or limiting the size and risk of big banks. In other words, much of the game is over.

Break Up Goldman

Simon Johnson writes:
As we drill down into the details of ideas for breaking the economic and political power of oversized banks, we need this litmus test against which serious suggestions should be judged: Does a proposal, at the end of the day, imply that Goldman Sachs should break itself up into at least four or five independent pieces, with the biggest being no more than 1 percent of gross domestic product, or roughly $150 billion?

If the answer is yes, we are making progress in moving our financial system back toward where it was in the early 1990s, when it worked fine (and Goldman was a world-class investment bank) and was much less threatening to the global economy. If the answer is no, we are merely repainting -- ever so gently -- the deckchairs on the Titanic.
Simon Johnson has my vote to be the new Fed Chair or Treasury Secretary or head economic advisor.

Will the Real Obama Please Stand Up

The question as to why Obama was so loyal for so long to the Geitner/Summers/Rubin troika needs to be answered.  And who knows, they may still be calling the shots...I'd be much happier and would believe in a real change of heart on Obama's part if one or both of them 'moved on' and were replaced by some real reforms like Joe Stiglitz or Simon Johnson, both former head World Bank economists.

Did the Rubin clique adopt the young Obama several years ago when he was still running for Senate but showing signs of greatness, show him a good time in New York, and promise him the moon?  It could be something as simple as that. 

Rubin showed up in the post election picture of Obama's economic advisors last November.  Volcker was also there but was basically ignored for much of the last year, in deference to Geithner and Summers and, one assumes, Rubin.  (I noticed and criticized this a year ago here and here and here.)

Why did Obama need the fear of electoral defeat to get him to turn to the reformers?  That hardly speaks of someone whose heart is basically set on reforming the system.  It speaks of an Establishment, status quo, 'return to the 90s' President, which is not what I voted for.

I think the real Obama has yet to be assayed and described in this regard.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


And now I find out that John Edwards doesn't read anything either, but just flies by the seat of his pants. 

This guy--my former Senator--is just one sick, narcissistic, philandering, lying SOB.

Obama Sees Things Differently Now

My, how the thought of political death clears one's head!

Thank you, Scott Brown.   Or better, thank you Massachusetts patriots.

Going to his Bench

According to the Huffington Post:
Rolling out his new, more aggressive approach to Wall Street, President Obama turned to some advisers who hadn't been seen much in the past year. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Obama were former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker and Vice President Joe Biden. Council of Economic Advisers member Austan Goolsbee was brought out to brief reporters.

Biden has been pushing for a year for more focus on the middle class and Goolsbee and Volcker have been waging a lonely campaign to encourage the White House to be tougher on Wall Street.

Geithner, meanwhile, was tossed to the populist mob by "financial industry sources" who told Reuters that "Obama's newest Wall Street crackdown was met with hesitation" by Geithner, who is "concerned that politics could be sacrificing good economic policy."

There's meaning behind the shifting public image, said one Democratic economist who informally advises the White House. "It's more than faces," he said in an e-mail. "Volcker is pushing and the White House seems to be moving towards much broader regulation of financial institutions, including limits on how big they can be, regulation of compensation arrangements and effective limits on their risks, which Summers and Geithner have sidelined but Volcker has pushed.

"Geithner is just not doing a very good job of shaping and focusing bank reform on Capitol Hill. Worse, he is getting the president no points for championing it. So what you are seeing is the president is going to his bench and Volcker," he said. "Volcker is much more of a traditionalist. He wants to separate banks out and, while this doesn't go very far in that direction, it does go in that direction."
About damn time.

Simply Too Big

Anyone following the news today knows that Obama has come out with guns blazing about the big banks. ABOUT TIME!

Here's what I wrote about 16 months ago, in September, 2080:
Any financial institution that is 'too big to fail' is simply too big. Don't bail them out. Break them up.
I still don't necessarily believe that Obama is going to do the right thing about the banks. He'll have to convince me with sustained efforts, before I come around completely.

Too Establishment

I was looking back through some of my posts and found this, on October 2, 2008, before the election:
The thing that scares me most about McCain/Palin is they are frighteningly similar to Bush/Cheney, only reversed. McCain is as hawkish as Cheney, only now he'd be President. Ditto, the economy. If you liked the last 8 years, vote for McCain/Palin. If not, don't.

The thing that scares me about Obama/Biden is not that they are too radical, but that they are both too Establishment in their thinking. On the one hand, this is somewhat reassuring that adults will be back in charge. But I think the problems facing us as a nation and the world are going to require a lot of outside-of-the-box thinking that I'm not sure that I see in the Democratic ticket.

So I will vote for Obama/Biden, because they are obviously the better choice (which I'm going to elaborate on in a future series of posts). But I sure hope that they are ready to do the creative, and even 'radical' (as in, 'going to the root'), thinking that the next era is going to be forcing upon us. Because we are in a heck of a mess.

The Left Controls Nothing

Glenn Greenwald responds to all the blather coming from the corporate Democrats like Evan Bayh and Lanny Davis, complaining of how 'leftwing' the Democratic Party has become and why it needs to move to the Right:
In what universe must someone be living to believe that the Democratic Party is controlled by "the Left," let alone "the furthest left elements" of the Party? As Ezra Klein says, the Left "ha[s] gotten exactly nothing they wanted in recent months." The Left wanted a single-payer system, then settled for a public option, then an opt-out public option, then Medicare expansion -- only to get none of it, instead being handed a bill that forces every American to buy health insurance from the private insurance industry. Nor was it "the Left" -- but rather corporatist Democrats like Evan Bayh and Lanny Davis -- who cheered for the hated Wall Street bailout; blocked drug re-importation; are stopping genuine reform of the financial industry; prevented a larger stimulus package to lower unemployment; refuse to allow programs to help Americans with foreclosures; supported escalation in Afghanistan (twice); and favor the same Bush/Cheney terrorism policies of indefinite detention, military commissions, and state secrets.

The very idea that an administration run by Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel and staffed with centrists, Wall Street mavens, and former Bush officials -- and a Congress beholden to Blue Dogs and Lieberdems -- has been captive "to the Left" is so patently false that everyone should be too embarrassed to utter it. For better or worse, the Democratic strategy has long been and still is to steer clear of their leftist base and instead govern as "pragmatists" and centrists -- which means keeping the permanent Washington factions pleased. That strategy may or not be politically shrewd, but it is just a fact that the dreaded "Left" has gotten very little of what it wanted the entire year. Is there anyone who actually believes that "The Left" is in control of anything, let alone the Democratic Party?

Corporate Coup

The Supreme Court decision today opening the door to unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns is very scary but predictable.  It's been coming for a long time.

Now begins the real buying of the democratic process by company CEOs, using their corporate money.  The voice of the average person will be drowned out by the flood of cash.

Pass the Senate Bill

Wendell Potter, whistleblower on the health insurance companies, just said on the Ed Show that progressives need to get behind the Senate Health Care Bill, because it's the best thing available right now, and the chance to get all this may not come again.

That's good enough for me.

A Fraud or Crook

What seems to spook people now is the possibility that everybody in charge of everything is a fraud or a crook. Legitimacy has left the system. Not even the the legions of Obama are immune as his reliance on Wall Street capos Robert Rubin, Tim Geithner, and Larry Summers seem tainted by the same reckless thinking that brought on the fiasco. His pick last week for chief of the SEC, Mary Shapiro, is already being dissed as a shill for the Big Bank status quo. In a few days we'll discover what kind of bonuses are being ladled out by the remaining Wall Street banks with TARP money and a new chorus of howls will ring out.
Would you believe that James Kunstler wrote this A YEAR AGO?  Seems like just yesterday.

One Year Later...

George Packer of the New Yorker makes some good points about Obama:
Part of Obama’s weakness has been this unwillingness or inability to say a few simple things passionately, which would let Americans know that he is on their side....

First is his distaste for political conflict. He came into office truly believing that Washington partisanship was a quarter or a third of the country’s problem (read “The Audacity of Hope”), and that he was the one who could carry us all beyond it. Before the month of January 2009 was over, it was clear to many congressional Democrats that the other party had absolutely no interest in cooperating and indeed saw its way back to power in unwavering intransigence. Somehow, the White House needed the rest of the year to figure it out, and even now I wonder whether Obama has completely abandoned the dream of post-partisanship, since successful people are loathe to give up on their most cherished ideas. This long hesitation gave the weakened Republicans a tactical advantage that gradually amounted to a second life. It made the Administration and Congress seem weak, divided, more focused on legislative process than on real problems. Drawing bright lines, making combative noises, and asking which side are you on can be a crude and often demagogic thing, but it creates an appearance of strength, and Americans like people who know their minds and are prepared to fight.

But the fundamental reason why the soaring emotions of the inauguration have soured just a year later goes beyond anything that Obama can do. The country is in deep trouble, not just with ten percent unemployment (though that accounts for a lot of unhappiness), but with chronic, long-term social and economic problems. Whatever responsibility George W. Bush and his Republican Party might bear is almost forgotten; in the age of the iPhone and cable news, that was half a century ago. These problems, which can be summed up as the decline of the American middle class, have been so resistant to solutions that the readiest and most reasonable stance is profound skepticism. It is so much harder politically to do something affirmative than to stand in the way and say it can’t be done. Obama has made his job all the more difficult by trying to do something—and in some cases succeeding—without offering much of a challenge to the people standing in the way. So he pays the price, and they do not.

Deserving a Rebuke

Alexander Cockburn take on the election from the left:
Obama has caused fury and disillusion across the spectrum. The nutball right bizarrely portrays him as a mutant offspring of the Prophet Mohammed and Karl Marx, demonstrating that cretinism flows more strongly than ever in Uncle Sam's bloodstream. The Republican small business crowd tremble at the huge deficits. The independents see no trace of the invigorating change pledged by Obama. Working people in the labor unions who supplied the footsoldiers for Obama's campaign see no improvement in their economic condition. Everyone knows that Obama is the champion of bankers, not bankrupts. The liberals morosely list twelve months of disasters, from a wider war in Afghanistan, to major betrayals of pledges to restore constitutional restrains after eight years of abuse by Bush and Cheney.

Obama richly deserves the rebuke from Massachusetts. Armed with a nation's fervent hopes a year ago, he spurned the unrivalled opportunity offered by economic crisis to do what he pledged: usher in substantive change. He's done exactly the opposite . Wall Street has been given the green light to continue with business as usual. The stimulus package was far too weak. The opportunity for financial reform has passed. Trillions will be wasted in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Unhappy Democrat

Cosmo Boy Victorious

One of the striking things to me about Scott Brown, the winner of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts, was his 'everyman' campaign style, which he continued on the stage last night at his victory rally.  It's a kind of upgraded, 'Sarah Palinesque' style, fit for the Bay State.  I don't necessarily think it will wear very long there, and with a decent Democratic candidate next time, Brown's tenure could be very short indeed.

Having said that, the Democrats are clearly in trouble.  I think it started with the alienation in their progressive base, who have found very little to like in Obama's first year.  And then independents moved away quite quickly, for their own mysterious reasons (Obama couldn't miraculously cure the economy?).

This clearly leaves the unpopular health care bill adrift or perhaps better, beached.  Who knows what parts of it will pass, if any.  I hope the pre-existing conditions part will pass, but I have my doubts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kennan the Realist

Obama claims that he is a realist in foreign policy.  Here is a great article on one of the greatest of all foreign policy realists, George Kennan.  A sample:
In any event, Kennan could think of no reason to suppose that democracy, in the European and American sense of the word, was the destiny of the world’s peoples. Most governments, past and present, were nondemocratic, products in most cases of the unique historical experience of a people and a region. He was not prepared to condemn every one of them because they failed to embrace what Americans believed to be the only legitimate form of government. In the words of Edmund Burke, whom he much admired, he reprobated “no form of government merely upon abstract principles.”

Kennan did not deny that millions of people lived under less than inspiring regimes, but, he added, “so what? We are not their keepers. We never will be.” Not for him, then, crusades to ensure that all governments respected “human rights,” said to be discoverable and universally binding; the notion of rights “remote from human authorship, leads … into philosophical thickets where I cannot follow.” While he could understand human rights as ideal projections of Western liberal principles, he could not conceive of them as already existing in the absence of a granting authority, an enforcing agency, and a set of corresponding duties.

Many evils exist in the world, but Kennan did not think it the responsibility of the United States government to root all of them out. “Government,” he wrote in an essay on morality and foreign policy, “is an agent, not a principal. Its primary obligation is to the interests of the national society it represents, not to the moral impulses that elements of that society may experience.” Interventions in the affairs of foreign governments in obedience to some moral imperative could only be defended, he insisted, if the practices against which they were directed were “seriously injurious to our interests, rather than just our sensibilities.”
Today, this position might be called paleo-conservative or non-interventionism.  Andrew Bacevich and Stephen Walt (and, believe it or not, Patrick Buchanan) might be its best known advocates.  Most neo-conservatives and neo-liberals (comprising the reigning foreign policy establishment) are much more gungho about spreading 'democratic capitalism' around the world.


Lawrence O'Donnell has an interesting theory, that Republicans secretly want Obamacare to pass, so that they can run in 2010 on a platform of repealing it.
And now the strategy becomes clear: Repeal it! That is the Republican Party battle cry for the 2010 election. Repealing Obamacare is going to be the centerpiece of their campaign to take back the House and Senate. But how can you repeal it if they don't pass it.
I think he may be right. This health care bill could turn out to be an albatross around the necks of the Democrats (in fact, it already is, by the looks of Cosmo Boy).

Haitian Chaos

Haiti in chaos, and desperate for law and order and help:
Scores of U.S. troops landed on the lawn of Haiti's shattered presidential palace Tuesday to the cheers by quake victims eager for reinforcements in the sluggish global effort to bring food, water and shelter to the devastated country.

Thousands more U.S. troops are on the way and the U.N. Security Council was expected to approve a boost in its peacekeeping and police forces to help control outbursts of looting and violence that have slowed relief efforts.

Haitians jammed the fence of the palace grounds to gawk and cheer as the troops emerged.

"We are happy that they are coming, because we have so many problems," said Fede Felissaint, a hairdresser.

Given the circumstances, he did not even mind the troops taking up positions at the presidential palace. "If they want, they can stay longer than in 1915," he said, a reference to the start of a 19-year U.S. military presence in Haiti – something U.S. officials have repeatedly insisted they have no intention of repeating.

A week after the magnitude-7.0 quake struck, killing an estimated 200,000 people, the port remains blocked and while the flow of food, water and supplies from the city's lone airport to the needy is increasing, it remains a work in progress. Tens of thousands of people sleep in the streets or under plastic sheets in makeshift camps. Relief workers say they fear visiting some parts of the city.

Just four blocks from U.S. troop landing at the palace, hundreds of looters were rampaging through downtown.

"That is how it is. There is nothing we can do," said Haitian police officer Arina Bence, who was trying to keep civilians out of the looting zone for their own safety.
What a dilemma for America. We have no choice but to deal with this. It's in our backyard, and failure to restore some kind of political and economic order there will result in untold death or, even worse, destitute refugees on our shores.

We don't want to, of course, at least not for long. It would distract us from our 'global war on terror' in the Persian Gulf. We're not particularly interested in using our military to restore Haiti, since it really doesn't have any oil or bananas or minerals or anything else we need.  We weren't really that interested in New Orleans, for God's sake.  And the last time I checked, Louisiana was still one of the 50 states.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Torturing With the Best of Them

I think it is this report by Andrew Sullivan, on the torture going on in Gitmo, that is really depressing him.  And the fact that the Obama administration refuses to open up about any of it.  He wants to believe in them, but finds their unwillingness to expose and pursue the torturers very troubling.

It will probably be this, more than anything else, that eventually causes his break with this administration.  Yes, and their unwillingness to move on 'gays in the military.'

Yes, it is true, one has to move cautiously and prudentially (I'm speaking now of the administration), but ultimately, one DOES have to move.  Otherwise your words and promises are exposed as sheer sophistry and political talk.  And then, because you are weakened, you give your political opponents room to advance (i.e. Scott Brown).

Gloomy Andrew

Andrew Sullivan is really bummed out:
The Democrats are a clapped out, gut-free lobbyist machine. The Republicans are insane. The system is therefore paralyzed beyond repair.

Yes, I'm gloomy. Not because I was so wedded to this bill, although I think it's a decent enough start. But because if America cannot grapple with its deep and real problems after electing a new president with two majorities, then America's problems are too great for Americans to tackle.

And so one suspects that this is a profound moment in the now accelerating decline of this country.
As for me, I've been gloomy ever since Obama started appointing his advisors (which means for over a year now). It seemed to me then that there would be no real reform, but just an attempt to resurrect the 90s. And that was not what I voted for, nor do I think it will work.

I realize now that I let myself be deceived by the campaign rhetoric and energy into believing that fundamental reform of our system could be effected.  However, I've come to believe that the basic problem, along the lines of what Sullivan is saying, lies in our corrupt, paralyzed political system and culture. 

And that, even if Obama wanted to change it (which I really don't think he does), would be bigger than his ambitions and powers.