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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

HAPPY HOLIDAY

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!
I will see you all after the first of the New Year!
Note: I am currently heading towards beautiful Tennessee and will be truly out of pocket until after the holidays.

So Mean, So Funny I Couldn't Resist

Happy Holiday from Sarah Palin


Monday, December 22, 2008

Seven Big and Dangerous Myths About the Auto Industry

A friend just emailed me this article from the Knoxville News' on-line business section. It's a compilation of the seven biggest myths about the Big Three automakers. Here's their opening salvo.
The debate over aid to the Detroit-based automakers is awash with half-truths and misrepresentations that are endlessly repeated by everyone from members of Congress to journalists.
******
1: Nobody buys their vehicles.

Reality: General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC sold 8.5 million vehicles in the United States last year and millions more around the world. GM outsold Toyota by about 1.2 million vehicles in the United States last year and holds a U.S. lead over Toyota of nearly 700,000 so far this year. Globally, GM in 2007 remained the world's largest automaker, selling 9,369,524 vehicles worldwide - about 3,000 more than Toyota.

Ford outsold Honda by about 850,000 and Nissan by more than 1.3 million vehicles in the United States last year. Chrysler sold more vehicles here than Nissan and Hyundai combined in 2007 and so far this year.
The article goes on to debunk other oft-repeated fables, such as the one that U.S. made cars are unreliable junk.
Reality: The creaky, leaky vehicles of the 1980s and '90s are long gone. Consumer Reports recently found that "Ford's reliability is now on par with good Japanese automakers."

The independent J.D. Power Initial Quality Study scored Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Mercury, Pontiac and Lincoln brands' overall quality as high as or higher than that of Acura, Audi, BMW, Honda, Nissan, Scion, Volkswagen and Volvo.

J.D. Power rated the Chevrolet Malibu the highest-quality midsize sedan. Both the Malibu and Ford Fusion scored better than the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
And this one, which will be an eye opener for my fellow environmentalists.
Myth No. 3: They build gas-guzzlers.

Reality: All of the Detroit Three build midsize sedans that the Environmental Protection Agency rates at 29-33 miles per gallon on the highway.

The most fuel-efficient Chevrolet Malibu gets 33 mpg on the highway, 2 mpg better than the best Honda Accord. The most fuel-efficient Ford Focus has the same highway fuel economy ratings as the most efficient Toyota Corolla. The most fuel-efficient Chevrolet Cobalt has the same city fuel economy and better highway fuel economy than the most efficient nonhybrid Honda Civic.

A recent study by Edmunds.com found that the Chevrolet Aveo subcompact is the least expensive car to buy and operate.
And this one, also important to those of us concerned with climate change, renewable energy, and energy conservation.
Myth No. 5: GM, Ford and Chrysler are idiots for investing in pickups and SUVs.

Reality: The domestics' lineup has been truck-heavy, but Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have spent billions of dollars on pickups and SUVs because trucks are a large and historically profitable part of the auto industry.

The most fuel-efficient full-size pickups from GM, Ford and Chrysler all have higher EPA fuel-economy ratings than Toyota and Nissan's full-size pickups.

Myth No. 6: They don't build hybrids.

Reality: The Detroit Three got into the hybrid business late, but Ford and GM each now offers more hybrid models than Honda or Nissan, with several more due to hit the road in early 2009.
And finally, for the union-busting anti-labor critics on the right, this should finally put to rest their favorite whipping boy.
Their union workers are lazy and overpaid.

Reality: Chrysler tied Toyota as the most productive automaker in North America this year, according to the Harbour Report on manufacturing, which measures the amount of work done per employee. Eight of the 10 most productive vehicle assembly plants in North America belong to Chrysler, Ford or GM.

The oft-cited $70-an-hour wage and benefit figure for UAW workers inaccurately adds benefits that millions of retirees get to the pay of current workers, but divides the total only by current employees. That's like assuming you get your parents' retirement and Social Security benefits in addition to your own income.

Hourly pay for assembly-line workers tops out around $28; benefits add about $14. New hires at the Detroit Three get $14 an hour. There's no pension or health care when they retire, but benefits raise their total hourly compensation to $29 while they're working. UAW wages are now comparable with Toyota workers, according to a Free Press analysis.
I actually find the union's capitulation to the two-tier system that leaves new workers not only earning half the amount of older GM workers, but also bereft of a pension when they retire, appalling. I understand why the union had to agree to this to be competitive. But it means that America, far down the road, is going to have a looming crisis for that generation of blue collar workers when they hit retirement age that will make the concern over the baby boomers pale.

Let's face it, most baby boomers still are in some kind of pension system, many in the old defined benefits type, and a majority in a defined contribution, 401K plan - but regardless of which type of plan we have, we have something in a nest egg. With no pension plan at all, it leaves blue collar workers, who are not at the upper end of the pay scale nor particularly investment savvy, to fend for themselves. Most of those workers are in the 20s right now. But what happens when they hit 65 or 70 and are too old for hard, physical labor, because we're not talking about desk jockeys here?

Just a thought.

Meanwhile, lots of people, even those who are intelligent and well informed, believe the myths just debunked. I had dinner the other night with somebody who is one of my smartest friends - she's an orthodontist who guest lectures at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee - and she was shocked when I told her that auto workers do not make $70 an hour. Before this, she said that, although she is usually a pro-labor Democrat who thinks we need to bring our manufacturing base back inside this country, she had little sympathy for the auto industry and their workers. She also was surprised to learn that labor costs were only 10 percent of the Big Three carmakers expenses.

If this was an eye opener to her, I would guess an awful lot of other people would be just as shocked to learn that much of what they hear on televsion, radio, and local newspapers may just be free trade, anti-union, right wing talking points with little relation to reality.

I guess we still have a lot of work cut out for us, deconstructing the seven big myths that still guide the public's perception. It would be nice if more of the media took the lead in correcting those myths rather than being the ones largely responsible for spreading the misperceptions. Kudos, however, to the Knoxville News for stepping up and doing what a newspaper should do, investigate and spread the truth!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

TARP Money for Auto Industry Bailout - I Hope So!

Since it looks like the Bush administration will push for TARP money to bailout the auto industry after all, we’ll be hearing a lot more from the rightwing bloviaters and their mainstream media colleagues about overpaid auto workers who make $70 or more per hour. Some have even set the figure as high as $78 an hour because, like the childhood game of telephone, where the message gets more garbled the more times its whispered in the ear of the next player, the hourly wage of the average UAW worker keeps getting higher each time another reporter or blogger reports it. The amount grows exponentially with media exposure. The only problem is it's all wrong. Let’s examine how this myth actually got started.

According to Jonathan Cohn, at TNR, here’s where it began. (And for more to back his assessment up, go to Media Matters too)
But then what's the source of that $70 hourly figure? It didn't come out of thin air. Analysts came up with it by including the cost of all employer-provided benefits--namely, health insurance and pensions--and then dividing by the number of workers. The result, they found, was that benefits for Big Three cost about $42 per hour, per employee. Add that to the wages--again, $28 per hour--and you get the $70 figure. Voila.

Except ... notice something weird about this calculation? It's not as if each active worker is getting health benefits and pensions worth $42 per hour. That would come to nearly twice his or her wages. (Talk about gold-plated coverage!) Instead, each active worker is getting benefits equal only to a fraction of that--probably around $10 per hour, according to estimates from the International Motor Vehicle Program. The number only gets to $70 an hour if you include the cost of benefits for retirees--in other words, the cost of benefits for other people. One of the few people to grasp this was Portfolio.com's Felix Salmon. As he noted yesterday, the claim that workers are getting $70 an hour in compensation is just "not true."
Cohn also points out the main reason the Big Three automakers have such high legacy costs for retirees is that, after being in business on U.S. soil for over a hundred years, domestic car makers simply have more retirees than auto companies that have only been here since 1980. In fact, as of 2007, Toyota only had about 1,000 retirees. Of course, their legacy costs are less. Further, if you factor in Detroit’s overseas competition, foreign workers get their health insurance from single payer plans, so car companies outside the U.S. are more competitive. Domestic manufacturing, in general, is hamstrung by our out of control health care system, which is eating away at profits.

Now that you know the truth, let’s put the recent failure of the Senate to pass a bailout package for the domestic auto industry into its real perspective.

A group of very rightwing, Southern senators, from right to work states with non-union auto factories, simply banded together to obstruct the bailout efforts because they smelled an opportunity to bust the union, more for purely ideological reasons than because the unions are truly draining the corporations of profits. Indeed, there are several other factors that can explain the Big Three automakers current financial problems.

Let’s start with bad management decisions. The car makers simply never diversified and produced a mix of small, fuel efficient cars as well as large, gas guzzling SUVs. In fairness, the SUVs were hot sellers earlier in this decade and not many business people were smart enough to predict the spike in gas prices this past summer. Just as nobody was betting that credit would dry up and our whole financial sector would near collapse. So, just at the time that Detroit’s products were no longer as desirable, even those who wanted to buy them couldn’t get credit. That’s not because consumers necessarily had bad credit ratings but because credit was simply so tight that banks weren’t even lending each other money. It was a liquidity problem, one which crippled GMAC, the financial arm of GM.

Let’s also not forget that while a bunch of Southern senators, from states that paid handsomely to attract foreign, non union car makers to their locales, decided to declare war on Northern workers, nobody should even be criticizing the average CEO salaries and bonuses. For example, Richard Wagoner of GM makes $8.5 million per year, with bonuses. The truth, though, is that the whole domestic auto industry is not the worst transgressor when it comes to inflated salaries and greed. Compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars in salaries, bonuses and perks that Wall Street’s high flyers routinely paid themselves, while bringing the economy crashing down, these guys appear modest in their salary demands.

So, why did the senators from Nissan, Tennessee; Toyota, Kentucky; and Mercedes Benz, Alabama vote to kill the Detroit bailout in the first place?

It could be to enhance the competitiveness of those foreign car manufacturers who were paid so well with tax breaks and other incentives by those respective Southern states to locate there.

But, as Jonathan Cohn and Media Matters point out, all of those foreign companies pay roughly the same wages to their non-union employees ($25 per hour as opposed to $28 for a senior union worker, and with comparable benefits). The danger, however, is that if Detroit and the UAW fold, that could be the signal for those foreign companies to begin slashing wages and benefits. With no threat of union organizing in their own U.S. plants, there would be no reason for foreign manufacturers to honor their wage agreements with non-union employees. Just as the airlines used bankruptcy to slash wages and destroy benefits in that industry, this could lead to the devastation of the entire domestic manufacturing sector.

If the government allows the auto industry to go bankrupt and those good paying manufacturing jobs to vanish, the domino effect on the American economy could be devastating. Perhaps the only wise thing the Bush administration has done in its eight years in power is realize that it doesn’t want the total collapse of the American economy and the end of the middle class as we know it to occur on its watch. It could be the legacy thing for Bush, but for whatever reason, it’s a welcome relief and I hope it happens sooner rather than when it’s too late.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Virginia GOP Lt. Governor's Race Heats Up

After their recent striking electoral loses in the commonwealth, Virginia Republicans were consoling themselves with the comforting notion that history is now on their side, leaving them poised for a come back. That’s because, as they’ve argued in several places, in the midterm elections, the party out of power usually picks up more seats in Congress. And in Virginia whichever party occupies the White House loses the Governor’s Mansion.

Additional comfort came from the fact that the GOP had gotten their ducks in order early and would be spared a costly and divisive nomination battle in the 2009 Virginia races, at least at the top of the ticket. Because of a gentleman’s agreement, which was worked out early, the current AG, Bob McDonnell would be the gubernatorial candidate and the present Lt. Governor, Bill Bolling, would run for re-election. There would, of course, be a contest for the open AG’s seat. That couldn’t be helped, and it’s shaping up to be a three-man race. But with unity in the top two spots, the expense and fallout of a divisive party battle could be limited.

Alas, the plans of mice and men, as they say, don’t always work out. Although McDonnell is still unopposed, it seems that Bill Bolling has picked up an opponent for the Lt Governor seat. His name is Patrick Muldoon. I don’t know much about him, but since I received an emailed press release from his campaign, I’ll reprint it in full here.
ALEXANDRIA, VA – Patrick C. Muldoon, an attorney and farmer from Virginia's "fighting 9th" Congressional District, today officially announced his candidacy for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.

Muldoon, no stranger to challenging political contests, joins Republican incumbent Bill Bolling in seeking his party's nod for the Commonwealth's second statewide office. The 43 year old specialist in intellectual property law has a message for the Republican Party.

Muldoon referenced former Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater as he opened his campaign, saying: "I offer a choice not an echo"

"I am running for the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia because I believe the brightest days for our Commonwealth are ahead. These are difficult times – a massive budget deficit has replaced the surplus we once enjoyed. College costs are rising and family incomes are shrinking. Local governments are raising taxes on cash-strapped families to compensate for their own budget shortfalls. And hard-working Virginians are left wondering whether the changes coming in 2009 will be better or worse for them personally."

"Republicans face a choice between business as usual and being consigned to minority status for the foreseeable future or returning to our core principles and fighting for the honest, open, limited government our fellow citizens expect."

"I grew up in rural Virginia but I work right outside our nation's Capitol. I've found that the political elites have a tendency to complicate things. I learned a few simple truths growing up: 'when you're in a hole; stop digging' At the grassroots level, Virginia Republicans know that it is time to stop digging and start changing the way we do business in Richmond."

"I understand the rough and tumble of politics. I know a convention challenge is a bit like stirring a bees' nest. But we simply cannot continue the path we are on."
"No one is entitled to a nomination. And, as the highest-ranking elected Republican in our Commonwealth, the incumbent has an unfortunate record of passivity at a time when we need forward-thinking leadership."

"For the future of the party and the good of the Commonwealth we need to regain the focus, passion and unity of purpose fostered through healthy debate. I believe in the core Republican principles of limited constitutional government, the sanctity of life, the 2nd Amendment, free enterprise and protecting our Constitutional liberties for the next generation. I am committed to advancing those principles to the best of my abilities."

"Sadly, a handful of political operatives in Richmond wish to forestall any internal discussion about the direction of the party. From the top down, they want to slate candidates based on traded favors, brokered promises, and their own career plans. This government of the insiders, by the insiders, for the insiders costs our party what it cannot afford – the trust of the voters across our beloved Commonwealth."
"The Republican creed recognizes the intrinsic benefits of competition. In education and healthcare and business, competition is the consumer's friend. Can any less be the case in American government? Now is the time for a debate across Virginia with my opponent on what it means to be a Republican and conservative. Over the next several months I look forward to this debate of the principles that are the backbone of the Republican Party."

"My life has been about bringing different aspects of what makes Virginia work together. I worked my way through college, grad school and law school as a construction worker and maintenance man. I grew up raising beef in rural Virginia. Now I help turn great ideas into reality through patent law. I'm a Republican but a Conservative first.

As Senator Barry Goldwater so memorably said in his 1964 presidential campaign, I am offering "a choice, not an echo." To my fellow Virginians, I pledge to work with all people of good faith to guide our Commonwealth through the difficult changes ahead to a prosperous future. And, I will never put personal gain ahead of the principles that unite us."

"Over the next six months, I will be traveling around the Commonwealth. I look forward to in depth discussions with local Republican volunteers who are already leading our party into a victorious 2009. I ask for your support and your renewed commitment to work for the future of shared ideals."
What's interesting about this official release is that Muldoon is harkening back to the conservative legacy of Barry Goldwater. Although the late senator from Arizona was the father of the modern conservative movement, he is not the person usually invoked by modern conservatives. They usually look to Ronald Reagan, a truly iconic figure for them, for their inspiration.

Although Goldwater excited the conservatives in the Republican Party with his 1964 presidential run, he lost badly to LBJ and was a divisive figure within the party, alienating many moderates. Back in the 60s, pundits thought he set the GOP cause back and it did it more harm than good. It wasn’t until 1980 that another conservative, one with a sunny optimism, was able to accomplish what Goldwater could not. Ronald Reagan had the magical ability to unite the disparate factions in the GOP into a winning coalition that rode into office on the coattails of his personal popularity. In that one respect, he is to the GOP what FDR was to the Democrats. To this day, he’s the one whose legacy is invoked by the most ardent conservatives.

Goldwater, on the other hand, has fallen into a bit of disfavor because his once fierce conservatism seemed almost moderate by the end of his life as his party actually drifted to his right on social issues. In fact, Goldwater was known to favor small government across the board and was pro choice.

So, I wondered if perhaps Muldoon was trying to send his party a libertarian message by harkening back to Goldwater rather than Reagan. Not so.

According to his website, he’s pro-family (code for against gay marriage) and pro life. That’s pretty much the antithesis of what Goldwater came to stand for. So, I’m left scratching my head as to why invoke him rather than Reagan, who at least was as much a hero to the social conservatives as to the libertarians in the party.

Anyway, Muldoon’s candidacy has not been met with much warmth in the party. According to The Contemporary Conservative, Bolling has lost no time mounting a counter-offensive and enlisting a long roster of prominent Republicans who support his candidacy, including McDonnell.
For bloggers and pundits, it will be an interesting race. For Republicans, it’s probably a nomination fight they would have preferred to avoid.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Welcoming Some New Kids On the Block

Blogs come and go. Sometimes the ones you've come to rely on take their leave and that's a sad fact. So, we've all been saying good bye to Raising Kaine and wishing Lowell and Eric the very best in all their new endeavors. Like many others, I know I'll miss them and RK.

At the same time, there are some new blogs to welcome to the Virginia blogosphere. I've added two of them to my blogroll. The first is Josh Chernila's effort to create a new virtual town square for progressives across the commonwealth. It's aptly named Blue Commonwealth. Josh was central to Raising Kaine and to the Internet movement in 2006 to draft Jim Webb. While nothing can replace the unique energy and spirit of RK, Blue Commonwealth is off to a great start in the ongoing effort to continue a statewide progressive presence on the Internet and in the blogosphere, which will make a difference in future campaigns.

Another new blog I am happy to welcome to my blogroll is an effort by Kenton Ngo, Johnny Camacho, and Aimee Fausser. It's called The New Dominion Project. Kenton and Johnny were, respectively, the youngest bloggers in the Virginia blogosphere at one time. Both of them presented insightful writing and analysis. They will be joined by Aimee whose equally intelligent writing will only add to their effort.

I remember working for a university in Florida in the 1980s when the Young Republicans were the most active and popular political club on campus. It was depressing because I could look down the years and realize that without Young Democrats and young people carrying on the progressive cause, our future would not be promising.

What a difference twenty something years makes. Today, I think the liberals and progressives and the Democrats have the momentum among young people in colleges and high schools around the country. In no small part, it's because of efforts by young people like Johnny, Kenton, and Aimee.

Good luck to all of you. And to my readers, all of these blogs look good - go check them out.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

It's that wonderful time of the year again - holidays, brightly lit malls and shopping centers, gift giving, and best of all celebrating with family and friends. As I do every year, I'll be seeing my dad in Fort Lauderdale. This year, my cousin, whose daughter just got married in October, will be making a large family dinner, with the newlyweds as the guests of honor. Four generations of family will gather around a sumptuous table, laden with turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie.

As you get older, the joy is always mixed with a certain amount of bittersweetness. It's wonderful to see relatives, especially to meet the babies, for whom the world is still so new and fresh. Yet there are always the small holes in the universe left by those we love who are no longer present. We honor them best by holding close and loving each other during this season. And treating each other gently.

This is also the time of the year when I take a brief hiatus from blogging.

There are two reasons. The first, and most obvious, is because I'm busy. Family comes first. And friends. Blogging is time consuming and this is not the season to be ignoring loved ones. So, I will spend hours trying to find just the right gift for each - not necessarily the most gaudy and elaborate gift, but the one that will truly be treasured by the person who receives it. I also will spend time at parties and simply being with my loved ones.

The other reason I usually take a break from blogging is because I also take a break from politics. I know there are lots of races that will be heating up. But the holiday season is a time for a cease fire however temporary it is. For one month, I will concentrate on harmony, not competition.

So to all my readers and fellow bloggers, Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sister of Blogger is Missing

There is very little that I agree with Leslie Carbone and other right wing bloggers about. But there is a common humanity that unites us all and when any human being goes missing, anything we can do to help spread the mesage is our absolute responsibility to do.

So, here's an alert.
November 11. Ms. Lueth is the sister Elizabeth Crum, one of my blogging acquaintances.

A student at Michigan State University, Ms. Lueth is white, stands 5 feet 4 inches tall, and weighs about 125 pounds. She has brown hair and blue eyes.

More information is available at Ms. Crum's blog.

If you have any information regarding Krista Lueth's disappearance, please contact the Michigan State Police at (517) 322-1907.

"And keep praying," asks Ms. Crum.
I hope Leslie doesn't mind that I put this up. But I can't imagine the grief and fear that family must be feeling, not to mention what that young woman is going through.

Whatever your politics or your religious beliefs, yes, all of our prayers are with Ms. Lueth and her family. And please, if you are in Michigan, please keep that phone number and be alert.

Photos of Braddock District Victory Party

Sunday, November 23, the Braddock District Democrats held their victory party to celebrate their successes in the past election and also to prepare for a special election in Fairfax, which will be held in February 2009. That's the contest between Supervisors Sharon Bulova and Pat Herrity, who will compete for the position of Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Trust me, I'll have a lot to say about that special election in the coming months. Suffice to say, I'm supporting the candidate below, with whom I'm pictured. Note: Sharon Bulova is the pretty one with the dark hair on the right:)



Below is a phot of Ilryong Moon, Fairfax school board member. I took that photo with my new Canon Elph. It was my birthday gift from Dan. Although the photo above was also taken with the Elph, needless to say, I'm not the one who took it.


I also didn't take this picture of me with the new 11th CD Congressman, Gerrry Connolly. That was taken by Sharon Bulova. Kudos to Gerry, who exhibited incredibly class - he leaned over and whispered to me, "Good luck with the Yankees next year." I think he actually meant it. This is a long standing joke rivalry between us that goes back to 2004 in Boston when he cheered while his beloved Red Socks absolutely steamrollered to victory over my beloved team. Meanwhile, kudos to Gerry who played a major role in delivering the votes from the freshman class in Congress for Henry Waxman to become the new House Chair of the Energy Committee. Gerry hit the groud running and is already off to a great start in his new role representing the 11th CD in Congress.


Below is a shot I took of Janet Oleszek, who I hope runs again for the District 37 state Senate seat. Despite not winning last time, I think that with a smarter campaign team, better staff, and the experience she gained the last time, she'll win the next time. But whatever she decides to do, I'll support her decision.
Here's Dick Saslaw, Senator from the 35th district and state Senate Majority Leader.

Here's my long time friend Kathy Adams Nielson, who is Chap Petersen's Chief of Staff. She's also a long time Democratic activist who has worked for Mark Warner and Jim Moran. Kathy and her husband, Bruce Neilson, who serves as the treasurer of the Fairfax Country Democratic Committe, are among the best Democrats I know.




Last but not least, my beloved husband, Dan, who hates having pictures taken of him. Usually, he's the one on the other side of the lens. But he got me the camera that allowed me to get a shot at him.


There were many more photos. My profoundest apologies to any of you I missed. The truth is that it takes a long time to upload and I'm not all that experienced at either shooting photos or uploading them directly from a camera. These were random selections based on whose pictures I didn't mess up too badly.

Since my major suppliers for pictures before this were my husband, Dan, and George Burke, the good thing is that neither of them have to worry that my services as a photographer for Democratic events will displace them any time soon. On the other hand, I've seen how many missed meals and cold food photographers suffer as they shoot others and don't get to eat at the Jefferson Jackson and other dinner events. So, this is not necessarily a bad thing for me.

Oh and one thing I must add. All of us are thinner and look better than these pictures show. The camera adds at least 10 to 20 pounds and this Elph had to have added even more. I might, in the future, stick to photographing my teddy bears and couch.

Why The GOP Can't Support Obama's Health Care Reform

Most progressives expect the GOP, especially its conservative wing, to give stiff opposition to any Democratic health care plan. Indeed, Republicans have been promising (threatening) more of the same obstructionism that has so turned off the nation in two election cycles. They are clinging to the hope that if Congress and the new president fail to accomplish the goals they set out to, and thus fail to keep their campaign promises to the public, voters will get so disgusted at them that they will turn back to the Republicans. They've more or less bragged that this is their strategy for regaining control.

Now, Huffington Post writer, Nicholas Graham, reports on just how scared some in the Republican Party are about Democratic reforms, especially about successful health care reform. To make his case, he uses this extensive quote from James Pethokoukis, at U.S. News:
1) Passage would be a political gamechanger. Recently, I stumbled across this analysis of how nationalized healthcare in Great Britain affected the political environment there. As Norman Markowitz in Political Affairs, a journal of "Marxist thought," puts it: "After the Labor Party established the National Health Service after World War II, supposedly conservative workers and low-income people under religious and other influences who tended to support the Conservatives were much more likely to vote for the Labor Party when health care, social welfare, education and pro-working class policies were enacted by labor-supported governments."

Passing Obamacare would be like performing exactly the opposite function of turning people into investors. Whereas the Investor Class is more conservative than the rest of America, creating the Obamacare Class would pull America to the left. Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute, who first found that wonderful Markowitz quote, puts it succinctly in a recent blog post: "Blocking Obama's health plan is key to the GOP's survival."
Basically, Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist and Nobel winning economist, made the same point in his recent book, The Conscience of a Liberal. According to Krugman, conservatives will fight tooth and nail to prevent a national health care system because if the government is successful at implementing a program that delivers universal health care, it will give lie to the conservative argument that "government is the problem not the solution."

We actually know, for a number of reasons, the market is not the solution to every social problem, though it does a very good job at delivering consumer goods, which is what it was designed for. But if the government takes over a service that is basically bankrupting large corporations (one of the reasons that manufacturing and other businesses are no longer competitive in the global market is that we are one of the few first world nations that doesn't have government aid in health care delivery) and does it successfully, it discredits the philosophy of the Ronald Reagans, Grover Norquists, Alan Greenspans, Milton Friedmans, Martin Feldsteins, and the whole host of supply siders who insisted that governments were stupid and markets were omniscient.

So, look for tooth and claw resistance to any health care plan put forth by the Democrats. The Republicans in Congress will once again be putting dogmatic ideology and loyalty to party over pragmatism and the good of the country. Unfortunately, doing so is their only key to survival right now.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Farewell to RK

I was shocked and saddened this morning to read that RK is folding. Here is an excerpt from Lowell's explanation for the decision to close down the site.


Our decision to wrap up RK after four years was not a precipitous one at all. In fact, since Jim Webb's victory over George Allen, we have seriously considered shutting down this blog on several occasions. For whatever reason, maybe masochism (more charitably, we could say "dedication" and "commitment" - ha), we decided to continue through the 2007 General Assembly cycle and also the 2008 federal year. Overall, it was a lot of fun, although extremely time consuming (I haven't taken a real vacation in several years now...) and certainly not financially lucrative (so much for there being a "business model" for state-level bloggers - at least not for many years to come, I think). Also, as in any line of work, there are good people (lots of them) in blogging and politics, and there are...well, other people. :) But for myself, I'd rather focus on all the positive experiences and great people I've met the past 4 years.

At some level, it would be nice if this could continue forever, but I've got other things I want to accomplish and, frankly, this is making that more, not less, difficult to accomplish. The bottom line is this: today, Eric and I believe we are at the most natural of "natural breaking points" and - in keeping with the theme of the past year - that it's time for a change.

Personally, my #1 goal is to get back to what i was doing prior to March 2006; working on international energy, energy-related environmental, and energy security issues for the federal government. Currently, I'm in the middle of a job hunt, and we'll see how that works out, but I definitely want to devote all my attention to that and stop being distracted by the daily demands of blogging. I also, frankly, don't want to get sucked into the 2009 Virginia election season, because if I do get sucked in, something tells me I'll never get sucked back out again. :) And, also frankly, I simply don't want to start another 4-year political cycle (the expression, "been there, done that" springs to mind), especially now that I am eager to get back in the federal government, soon to be under new - and infinitely better - management!
Like so many others who began reading Raising Kaine during the Webb campaign, I came to rely on that site for news and opinion about Virginia and national politics. Lowell also was one of the most supportive people to me in my own blogging efforts. He constantly gave me encouragement and was generous in linking to this blog. In addition, he frequently front paged my RK diaries. And he often added illustrations to those diaries that made them livelier and more eye catching to readers. Lowell has always been generous with his support and encouragement to fellow bloggers.

Those of us who read, posted and commented on RK came because we valued lively discussion, informed opinions, heated controversy, and valued friendships. I met and exchanged ideas across the Net with so many wonderful people because of RK. It was the first blog I read every morning. Often, it was the last one I read before switching off my computer at night.

Despite Lowell's modesty, RK can take a large share of the credit for turning Virginia blue. It quite simply was one of the best progressive statewide sites in the nation. I shall miss it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why It's Important to Bailout the Auto Industry

Proposals for a bailout for Detroit's Big Three have generated a lot of controversy across the internets recently. Predictably, conservatives oppose any government aid to the auto industry. For some it’s a principled argument. They also fiercely opposed the recent $700 billion aid package to help Wall Street despite the fact that the collapse of the financial industry would have created a domino effect which would have upended business on Main Street too. Two things make the conservatives dig their heels in. The first is their fierce faith in the market to self-correct, weed out the unworthy, and rebound by itself. The other equally fierce belief is that the less government intervention in anything the better. In fact, shrinking the government and drowning it in a bathtub has been their anarchic goal for years.

But another reason the right is so opposed to helping out the automakers is that they are salivating at the chance to bust the unions. You can see it in comments every where from the Wall Street Journal to the Cato Institute’s website.

But some progressives are echoing the conservatives' disdain for helping out the car makers. The environmentalists particularly have their gripes with the auto industry and, believe me, that distaste is well deserved.

But Robert Creamer provides a counter argument, on Huffington Post, to why progressives should support a bridge loan for the Big Three car makers. He’s not a naïf. And it’s not because of misplaced admiration for the captains of that particular industry who ran it down with poor management, bad products, obstruction of green technology, and generally bad business decisions. But he’s cognizant of the economic fallout across the board of allowing the auto industry to fail. His argument also gives lie to the conservatives’ complaint that it was overly generous wages and benefits packages to union workers that caused the companies’ failure. Indeed, he argues that high wages for union workers is a good thing for the economy and for America.
In fact, it is precisely this fact -- that unionized automobile manufacturers provide their workers with middle class incomes -- that makes it critical for government to assure the long-term survival of this industry in particular and the U.S. manufacturing sector in general.

The core failure of the radical-right-Bush economic policy is that the "markets uber alles" economic philosophy led them to lower incomes for most Americans while siphoning off all of the fruits of economic growth for the top two-percent of the population. Of course, that is a terrible outcome because the point of our economy should be to improve the lives of everyone -- not just the gang on Wall Street. But it has also been a disaster because widely-spread income growth is necessary to provide the demand that fuels long-term economic growth in the entire economy.

It's really simple: good economic policy requires that more and more Americans make higher wages, not that more and more Americans make lower wages.
Unfortunately, market forces by themselves do not yield that result. For that to be the case, you have to have strong unions like the United Auto Workers -- whose demands for good wages helped create the American middle class after World War II.

If we allow the unionized American automobile industry to collapse, we will accelerate the reduction of middle class incomes for everyone. That collapse would start a tidal wave of lower wages and, in turn, lower buying power throughout the economy. The auto industry and its suppliers represent a huge chunk of the American manufacturing sector. The collapse of GM or Chrysler would throw hundreds of thousands of workers onto the shrinking job market. It would start a domino effect of bankruptcies and layoffs among suppliers and dealers all over the country.
As I pointed out, Creamer is not naïve and he’s not willing to give away the whole store to the large auto companies. His bailout would come with strings.
Should the government make capital available without strings? Absolutely not. The taxpayers should demand a plan that guarantees the American auto industry has long-term viability. But that doesn't mean it should become a low wage industry. Its problems have very little to do with "bloated union contracts." And they certainly were not caused by "overregulation" or the intrusion of government into the decisions of the "private sector."

The economic problems of today's American auto industry are grounded in two catastrophically bad management decisions -- both rooted in the view that unregulated markets always yield correct outcomes. These have been exacerbated by the recent collapse of the financial markets.

This week Congress needs to do what is necessary to prevent the short-term collapse of the American auto industry. But over the long term a viable auto industry requires more than capital for auto companies. It requires a federal program to guarantee health care for all, a new approach to private pensions and a crash program to free us from our dependence on oil-powered vehicles.

It will also require a renewed commitment to strong unions and a high-wage economy that grows from the bottom up. After all, the health of every American business is ultimately grounded in the existence of consumers with enough money to buy their products.
Meanwhile, also at Huffington Post, Robert Borsage chimes in with an article declaring the following:
The era of big government is over is over. In the crisis, we are, as Richard Nixon once said, "all Keynesians now." Former Clinton Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, until recently notable deficit hawks, now call for substantial fiscal stimulus -- deficit funded federal spending -- to get the economy going.

Summers whose alliterative guidelines for this year's earlier $150 billion stimulus -- "timely, temporary and targeted" -- helped to fix its mistaken focus on tax rebates, has changed his consonants. Now he says the stimulus should be "speedy, substantial and sustained," noting that some estimates on Wall Street have gone as high as "$500 to $700 billion." Rubin agreed, saying "we need a very substantial stimulus," while mumbling about needing to reduce the budget deficit over the longer run.

A major recovery program -- featuring substantial public investment -- will be inevitably the first initiative of the Obama administration. It should feature more spending than tax cuts -- investing in renewable energy and conservation, in rebuilding everything from schools to bridges to a smart electric gird, in helping cities and states avoid crippling cuts of services, in keeping college affordable, providing health care to children, and aiding those most in need.
I think this is the opening salvo in a new progressive narrative about the role of the government and unions in protecting the economic interests of the average citizen. It’s long overdue too. The argument is that just as in the 1930s, it took a combination of government programs, union activity, and a progressive alliance to jump start an ailing economy and usher in an era of unprecedented prosperity, not just for the Astors, Rockefellers and DuPonts but for the Joes and Jills who toil in the factories, kitchens and shops of America too.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hillary Being Considered for State Department

Huffington Post has a wrap up of various reports in the mainstream media that Hillary Clinton is being considered for Secretary of State in the Obama administration. Here's what Al Kamen and Philip Rucker say in the Washington Post's In the Loop

The pick of the former presidential contender and Senate Armed Services Committee member would go a long way toward healing any remaining divisions within the Democratic Party after the divisive primaries. Also, Clinton has long been known for her work on international women's issues and human rights. The former first lady could also enhance Obama's efforts to restore U.S. standing amongst allies worldwide.

It's also being reported by NBC's Andrea Mitchell and CNN.

Election Coda: Pragmatism and Civility

For those Republicans who, in the waning days of the campaign, urged voters not to give the Democrats "one party" rule in Washington - something they didn't complain much about when the one party was theirs - and who, with the aid of conservative media pundits, now keep insisting that this is still a center right country, there's more bad news. This time it's in the form of a CNN exit poll.

According to the results of the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released on Tuesday, 62 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Democratic Party and only 31 percent have an unfavorable view. On the other hand, 54 percent view the Republican Party unfavorably and only 38 percent have a favorable view of them. As if that isn't bad enough:
"The public has a positive view of the Democratic Party, while the GOP 'brand' is hurting. Overall views of the Democratic Party have gone from 53 percent favorable in October to 62 percent favorable now; the GOP overall has seen a 5-point drop in its favorable rating," Holland said.

The 62 percent figure is the "the highest opinion of the Democrats in at least 16 years, since before Bill Clinton got elected," said Bill Schneider, a CNN senior political analyst.
It then goes on to add
"Democratic congressional leaders, much maligned this fall, have also seen a boost in their approval rating. Nearly half of those polled now approve of how congressional Democrats are handling their job, up from just a third who felt that way a month ago," Holland said.

"Same thing happens when you ask them about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Good-bad, 50-50, among voters who even know who they are," Schneider said.

It's a different story for the GOP, with just 24 percent approving of how Republican leaders are handling their jobs with nearly three in four disapproving.
The one ray of hope for the Republicans is that the public does not want to see them completely shut out of the process. Instead, they want to see the Democrats include the Republicans in passing legislation.

This signals that while the country has taken a definite turn to the left, the emphasis still is on the center; and even more, it's on expecting our leaders in both parties to ramp down the ideological fights and come up with pragmatic solutions to our problems.

The public wants the government to fix the economy. They want health care reform, sensible oversight and regulation, renewable green energy sources, livable cities, economic fairness, and strong national security. They approve of the Democrats and want to try Democratic solutions - the specific ones that were promised in this election. These are the policies as well as the people that voters chose. They voted for change.

But they didn't vote for partisan fights and obstructionism. That's a warning to both Democrats and Republicans. If Democrats try to shut Republican moderates out of the process, they will be punished next time.

But if hard line conservatives continue to practice the politics of obstruction, which John Boehner and others perfected in the 2006-2008 term, they will feel the wrath of voters and their numbers will shrink even further in the next elections. Right now, the public is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. They have a chance to exert some influence and rebuild their ranks. But it's they, not the Democrats, who need to come back to the center - center right to be sure, but to repeat, the emphasis needs to be on the center. And both sides would do well to practice civility even when they have honest disagreements.

The truth is we need a two party system. Democrats need a loyal opposition to keep us honest and on our toes. But nobody needs vitriol and obstruction. The voters have spoken. What they want most of all is pragmatism and cooperation. They want both sides to treat each other decently and fairly. They also want what they've always wanted, a more civil society. We all ignore them at our peril.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Bait and Switch Presidency?

Some Republicans, especially conservative ones, and their allies in the media are promoting the meme that this country is really center right and so Barack Obama had better not “overreach” and implement a lot of radical, new programs. You know, programs like the ones on his platform, which the public actually voted for. Yes, apparently to both the GOP and mainstream media pundits alike, actually doing the things he promised to do would be foolish for Barack Obama. Instead, he should move cautiously, perhaps even govern with a moderate Republican agenda. According to David Brooks, Obama should even fill his cabinet and sub-cabinet with Republican appointees rather than those Democrats who actually helped get him elected.

If that sounds incoherent to you it’s because it is, and you are using logic rather than wishful thinking. Insisting in the face of the evidence of Election Day that Americans actually voted for more of the same is nothing but wistfulness. But that wistfulness is aided and abetted by an oft quoted poll, much like the 2004 exit poll that told us that voters' most significant issue was moral values. It gave rise to the myth of a powerful voting block that became known as “values voters.” This time, it's a CBS/New York Times poll done in October that is threatening to become the new mythmaker. This poll, measuring the public’s pessimism, said that only 17 percent of Americans trusted the government to do the right thing all or some of the time, an all time low in trust. On that basis, media pundits and Republicans are claiming that Americans share the conservatives’ distaste for government action on regulating the markets, reforming the health care system or raising taxes on the wealthiest one percent of Americans. According to their analysis of this response, Americans still side with conservative anti-regulatory, anti-tax, anti-government policies.

There is so much wrong with this analysis. But let’s start with that pesky poll result.

I don’t believe that Americans are center right, even based on the results of that one poll. But I do think the U.S. public are astute observers of reality, and when they were asked if they trusted the government to intervene to fix things, they were assuming the question was about the current government – the Bush administration. That would have been my assumption. And I too would have answered, “hell no.”

After eight years of mismanaged government, including the Republican congressional culture of corruption; the executive branch entering a war under false pretenses and botching it; messing up the response to a natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina; and destroying the economy, I too wouldn’t trust this government one bit to do the right thing or even be marginally competent. But that doesn’t mean that I believe the government shouldn’t exercise proper oversight, protect its citizens and give them appropriate assistance when they need it. It also doesn’t mean that most Americans don’t want a government competent enough to do its job. The people's answer to the question just means they didn’t find this government competent enough to do so. Of course, they don't trust it.

It is true, however, that more people identify as conservatives than liberals. That, however, is because conservatives have been remarkably adept at demonizing liberalism for years, so most people associate it with higher taxes, overregulation, and failed policies from the 1970s. They probably also still associate liberalism with Woodstock, bra burning, and dope smoking hippies. Fair enough. Some people also associate conservativism with gay bashing, intolerance, anger, and extreme incompetence. Both views are gross distortions that are unfair to the majority of liberals and conservatives.

More important, if you drop the labels and ask people about actual issues and policies you get a very different picture from the one you would get by just asking them to self-identify by a label. To prove that, just check the results of this 2007 Pew Center survey, measuring politcal attitudes and core values.
Increased public support for the social safety net, signs of growing public concern about income inequality, and a diminished appetite for assertive national security policies have improved the political landscape for the Democrats as the 2008 presidential campaign gets underway.

At the same time, many of the key trends that nurtured the Republican resurgence in the mid-1990s have moderated, according to Pew's longitudinal measures of the public's basic political, social and economic values. The proportion of Americans who support traditional social values has edged downward since 1994, while the proportion of Americans expressing strong personal religious commitment also has declined modestly.
Furthermore, a lot of policies and programs initiated and supported by Democrats, going back to FDR’s New Deal are still incredibly popular. For example, most Americans still support Social Security, a favorite target for the axe by conservatives. Don’t believe me? Then consider this.

Back in 2004, when Bush, who ran his campaign mostly on the issues of terrorism and national security, suddenly announced right after he was re-elected that he now had political capital to privatize Social Security, even Republicans were taken aback. Bush never publicized that goal during the election season. And his illusion that he had support for such an action sunk like a lead balloon within a matter of months as the public repudiated Social Security privatization. It seems like even then they were as suspicious of the markets as they are today of the government.

The voters also supported an increase in the minimum wage, which the Democratic Congress was able to pass in 2006 to much public approval. Most people also are no longer enthralled by extreme deregulation. After years of stories of food borne illness, unsafe products imported from China, and other health hazards caused by lack of funding for government agencies to perform inspections that protect the public, most citizens want an effective government where drugs are properly tested before going to market, dangerous toys are kept out of the country, and farms and food processing plants are clean and wholesome again. People also want government investment in infrastructure and in green technology to create jobs for the 21st Century and keep our planet safe.

Americans also saw how lack of government oversight led to banks and mortgage companies engaging in predatory lending practices, producing complicated and unsound mortgage-based investment instruments and mortgage defaults that crippled the real estate industry and led to a financial meltdown on Wall Street. They want increased regulation of financial markets and especially greater transparency, not an anything goes” attitude that fails to protect their financial future.

There also was a stark difference between the health care reform packages supported by Obama and McCain. The public understood that McCain’s plan, far from addressing real middle class needs, would have left too many people uninsured. It threatened to undermine what little does work in our health care system, such as the employer-based health insurance plans. Taxing those out of existence and leaving families to the mercies of an under regulated individual market would have raised costs, left too many people with pre-existing conditions without coverage, and the small government $5,000 subsidies would not have been adequate to cover the $12,000 premiums most people lucky enough to even qualify for individual plans would have had to pay. McCain’s health care reform plan was rejected by voters.

So, when pundits and columnists caution Obama that this nation is really conservative and so he should go slow, do little, and especially not deliver on the promises to reform health care, stimulate the economy, and give the middle class the tax relief it needs, while closing the deficit by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, they are basically telling him that now that he’s won the election, he should govern as a moderate conservative. He should implement McCain’s platform rather than the one he actually ran on and won.

The reason they are advising that is because conservatives and their allies in the mainstream media can’t conceive that the public actually meant it when they voted by 53 to 46 percent for Obama.

Yet, when Bush won a mere 50.8 percent in 2004 and when Reagan won his first term in 1980 by 51 percent, both of those men and their party claimed a mandate to take this country far to the right. Nobody then cautioned them about overreach. Instead, the results were trumpeted by conservatives as an ideological realignment, a popular mandate, and, in the case of Karl Rove, as the beginning of an enduring Republican majority. But Obama blowing out the Electoral College by 364 to 163 is somehow not considered by them as another legitimate mandate for a change of direction, nor another realignment. That’s even though Obama brought in with him more Democrats to Congress that either Reagan or Bush at their most successful. Guess what?

Somebody is kidding themselves here. And it’s not Democrats. Furthermore, the very worst thing Obama could do is listen to these conservative pundits and political operatives. Progressive columnists like Paul Krugman and E.J. Dionne have it right. Now is the time for bold and decisive action to fulfill the promises Obama made on the campaign trail.

Here’s what Krugman has to say:
Right now, many commentators are urging Mr. Obama to think small. Some make the case on political grounds: America, they say, is still a conservative country, and voters will punish Democrats if they move to the left. Others say that the financial and economic crisis leaves no room for action on, say, health care reform.

Let’s hope that Mr. Obama has the good sense to ignore this advice.

About the political argument: Anyone who doubts that we’ve had a major political realignment should look at what’s happened to Congress. After the 2004 election, there were many declarations that we’d entered a long-term, perhaps permanent era of Republican dominance. Since then, Democrats have won back-to-back victories, picking up at least 12 Senate seats and more than 50 House seats. They now have bigger majorities in both houses than the G.O.P. ever achieved in its 12-year reign.

Bear in mind, also, that this year’s presidential election was a clear referendum on political philosophies — and the progressive philosophy won.
Here’s what Dionne says.
The worst advice will come from his conservative adversaries, the people who called him a socialist a few days before the election and insisted a few days later that he won because he was really a conservative. The older among them declared after the 1980 election that the 51 percent of the vote won by Ronald Reagan represented an ideological revolution, but argue now that Obama's somewhat larger majority has no philosophical implications.

These conservatives are trying to stop Obama from pursuing any of the ideas that he campaigned on -- universal access to health care, a government-led green revolution, redistributive tax policies, a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, more robust economic regulation.

Their gimmick is to insist that the United States is still a "center-right" country because more Americans call themselves conservative than liberal. What this analysis ignores is that Americans have clearly moved to the left of where they were four, eight or ten years ago.
Yes, those two are correct in their analysis. Let’s face it. There was no ambiguity about this election. People knew what both Obama and McCain stood for. The voters weighed both candidates’ plans and policies and made a clear choice. In addition incumbent Congressional Republicans were unseated in reliably red states that had gone for Republicans for decades. Voters decisively rejected the failed conservative policies of the last eight years. For Obama to go slow, to govern from some imagined center right that is more Bush lite than progressive would truly be a betrayal of those voters. In fact, it would be a dreadful bait and switch to pull on them.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Coming of the New Republican Minority and Obstructionism Du Jour

You actually have to give Republicans an A for three things: Sore loserism, continued vows of obstructionism, and sheer arrogant stupidity. They just lost in a debacle of an election. They can't claim it was an illegitimate election where the victor won a mere plurality, as President Clinton did in 1992, when he squeaked out 43 percent in what was a three way race. Indeed, Bush, who claimed "political capital" for his squeaker in 2004, had less claim to legitimacy than Obama's convincing 53% to 46% popular vote and 364 to 163 electoral votes. Obama can claim a genuine mandate for change, which is exactly the platform he ran on. He also had coattails, picking up three new members for the House of Representatives and a new senator from once reliably red Virginia alone. He carried North Carolina and gained a Democratic Senator there too. The public is hungry for genuine change. And it wants the change that Obama promised. There's nothing ambiguous about this, folks.

So what do the vanquished Republicans do?

First they are comforting themselves with a glass of warm venom, nasty recriminations, a refusal to face reality (which is actually nothing new for them) and a vow that the obstructionism which served them so well in the last two years will continue and grow more intense. After all, they may have lost in a blow out; but by God, they still have the filibuster.

So says Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley A. Strassel in a mean spirited piece "How To Block the Liberal Agenda."
Democrats won big on Tuesday but not big enough. The voters' rebuke of the GOP was brutal, though not so cruel as to hand Mr. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the 60 votes they needed to grease a sweeping agenda. The GOP still owns a filibuster, and that is as big a factor in this new "era" as is our president-elect.
And then she adds
Mr. Obama and his party are meanwhile now the sole political proprietors of a major financial crisis. Revenues will contract, even as Mr. Obama promises tax cuts. That alone may temper ambitions on issues like health care, which Democrats may now have to approach piecemeal. But also expect to see the GOP rediscover a devotion to fiscal responsibility. Any Democratic proposal, for anything, will elicit howls of "deficit spending." Some Republicans are actually looking forward to January.

And let's not forget that the left has spent eight years helpfully showing Republicans how they might make life difficult. Democrats have insisted a filibuster for judicial and cabinet positions is "essential" and that a president "must" consult with the opposition. Mr. Obama himself voted to filibuster Bush picks. They don't call these things "precedents" for nothing. Democrats have also highlighted procedural tools that the right could now use to slow Senate business to a slug's pace.

So yes, it is a new day in Washington. Just don't go thinking it will be an easy one.
Actually, Ms. Strassel is right that it won't be easy. But it's her party that will suffer if it continues to play the childish game of obstructionism. That's not the same as principled opposition, which is not only the right but the duty of the opposition party.

Here's the thing to watch. Kimberley Strassel is signalling a well worn Republican strategy to foist the blame for the economic collapse onto the Democrats from day one. But it won't work because Obama is a pretty smart strategist himself. He's wisely resisting any efforts for him to start calling the shots on an economic recovery plan until he actually has the legal authority to institute the changes he wants. That means he will block the GOP's efforts to cast this as his economic crisis. Nope. After 8 years of Republican misrule, they still own it until January 21, 2009.

Once he's in office, Obama will offer his plan for recovery and with Rahm Emanuel to play bad cop, he will either get it through a Democratic Congress or maneuver the Republicans into looking like they are blocking the will of the people. I think that by picking Emanuel, Obama is signalling that he is willing to play hardball.

I also think it won't be difficult to make the case that Republican free market, anti-government, anti tax policies have failed. Indeed, they caused the problem. Obama is going to come in with a first class economic team to sell a new set of ideas. Now is the time to press for a real challenge to the prevailing conservative economic orthodoxies.

It is not coincidental that only a few months before the election, liberal economic professor and political columnist Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize for Economics. He has symbolically displaced the era of Milton Friedman and Arthur Laffer. If Kimberley Strassel and the conservative crowd at WSJ want to continue to defend the old orthodoxies so be it. Every time laissez faire economics is tried, it fails. Every time sensible regulation, government action, and public - private partnerships are tried they produce prosperity and security. A return to some Keynsian ideals is long overdue. And heaven help the Republican ideologues who get in the way of genuine progress.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes We Did! Thank You Virginia

I just got home after a very long night celebrating (we stayed at the McLean Hilton). For me the sweetest part of this victory is that, after all the hard work, we carried Virginia for the first time in 44 years in a presidential race. Equally sweet, however, is that we carried Florida, once my home and where I still have many emotional connections. Most amazing in Florida is that the Democrats took 57 percent of the Cuban/Latino vote - a stunning reversal of historic proportions. As far back as the 1980s, when I lived in Fort Lauderdale, Democrats routinely wrote off the Cuban vote as solid Republican. In 2004, that vote went 56 percent for George Bush.

Some more needs to be said about the Hispanic vote. It went 60 percent for the Democrats. In 2000, Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote,and in 2004 he boosted that to 44 percent. Hispanics are the largest growing minority group in the U.S. and Karl Rove worked hard to court their support in his quest to build an enduring Republican majority. But the anti-immigration fervor ginned up by people like Tom Tancredo, and locally by Greg Letieq, probably cost the Republican Party.

Locally, the race between Tom Perriello and Virgil Goode is still too close to call and will probably go into a recount. I'm going to cross my fingers and wish Tom the best with that. But win or lose, at the start of this thing, and even as late as last month, it was an uphill battle for the first time challenger and his results are amazing. Glenn Nye won his race against long time incumbent Thelma Drake. Closer to home for me, Gerry Connolly easily beat Keith Fimian. My congratulations to all of them for hard fought race.

I am sorry that Judy Feder, a brilliant and competent woman, did not succeed in her challenge. She has all my best wishes. Should she run again, I'd support her again. It would be less than gracious, however, not to congratulate Frank Wolf on his victory in the 10th. It will be a very different Congress when it goes back into session in January 2009. But I wish Representative Wolf the best in his work to represent his constituents' interests in the 10th CD.

Once elections are over one side becomes the loyal opposition while the other one takes over the reins. But when all is said and done, we are all Americans. We all love our country. And though we disagree on the best way to achieve our goals, we are united in our commitment to make this great country the best, strongest, most secure, and most prosperous nation it can be.

In that spirit, I'll simply end by saying: Congratulations America! You've chosen and whenever their is a free election and a peaceful change of power, the people have won a great victory.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

IT'S HERE! ELECTION DAY .... GO VOTE!

The first thing is, if you haven't already done so, please get out and vote. Today, it's the most important thing you can do. Please don't let long lines or bad weather discourage you. Whatever your political beliefs, you literally hold in your hands the key to the direction our country goes in for the next four years and beyond. It could be very close in Virginia and just a handful of votes in each precinct could tip the balance state-wide.

Then, there are plenty of good blogs where you can get up to the minute coverage of what's going on across Virginia today. Here are a few of my favorites that are providing information for the hopelessly obsessed.

RK has an open thread where people are leaving comments on the length of the wait and size of the lines at polling places state-wide. Commenters are writing in their impressions, experiences and overheard conversations. Left of the Hill's Bryan Scrafford promises to provide updates throughout the day from polling places around the Burke and Fairfax County area. And on the Republican side, in the Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, Norfolk area, the Bearing Drift crew are reporting on the lines and waits at polling places. I suspect they too will get state-wide comments from their GOP readers.

So, if you are like me and can't wait for tonight's election coverage and returns, you can go over to all these site and spend the day obsessing over what's going on and what's going to happen next. They don't call us political junkies for nothing.

Monday, November 03, 2008

With Deepest Sympathy to the Obama Family

My deepest sympathies go out to Barack Obama and his family on the loss of his 86 year old grandmother, Madelyn Payne Dunham. Obama has said about her
"She was the cornerstone of our family, and a woman of extraordinary accomplishment, strength, and humility. She was the person who encouraged and allowed us to take chances."
Barack Obama received word of his grandmother's passing while he was in Jacksonville, Florida this morning. He had visited with her about ten days ago when her health began deteriorating. She had been fighting cancer for a long time.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Obama family right now.

Vote Democratic This Tuesday, November 4th!

This will probably be my last post before Tuesday, November 4, Election Day. I think you know what it is about, and what I’m going to ask you to do. Vote Democratic!

Barack Obama for President

Of course, you know that I support Barack Obama and I am urging you to do the same. Obama is the only one who can bring the substantive change that we need to Washington, DC. That includes replacing tired and discredited ideological positions with pragmatic, evidence-based programs. Whether it’s health care reform, fixing the economy, or building a new green economic infrastructure, which will create new jobs and move toward solving global warming, Barack Obama and his running mate Joe Biden have already pledged to undertake these challenges. John McCain and Sarah Palin, in contrast, can only encourage their followers to chant “Drill baby drill,” as a response to our energy crisis. And McCain showed the country during the recent mortgage meltdown that he had no clue how to fix the problem.

And bad news on the economy hits our doorsteps every day. Job losses, businesses going belly up, credit and markets contracting. These are serious threats not just to our prosperity but to our national security. And they are not separate issues. If we can’t fix the economy, we are not going to be able to fund the troops and weapons systems we need to combat terrorism and keep us secure either.

Of course we must also end our involvement in Iraq, which has gone on too long. Despite the success of the recent military surge, we also must have a political solution to the situation there and credible diplomatic efforts in the region. Once again, John McCain and Sarah Palin have no understanding of the difference between those two necessities. They are not capable of fixing the political problems or conducting the diplomacy that that region sorely needs. Joe Biden with his extensive foreign policy experience and Barack Obama with his calm and respectful demeanor are the ones who can restore American honor abroad, and protect our security and our prosperity at home.

Gerry Connolly for Congress in the 11th

Closer to home, I am also urging those in the 11th Congressional District to vote for Gerry Connolly for the House of Representatives this Tuesday. This is not a vote for a lesser of two evils. Gerry Connolly is the right man for the job and would be even if Tom Davis were running again.

Under Connolly’s able administration, Fairfax County has been consistently rated one of the best run counties in the United States. Fairfax County provides a business friendly environment that has led to its continued growth and prosperity.

At the same time, Connolly has come up with innovative and progressive policies that have won him national recognition. He brought the Cool Counties program to Fairfax, supported green initiatives, and smart growth, which encouraged developing housing, stores and offices along Metro routes. Connolly has encouraged the growth of walkable downtown areas and supported the expansion of rail to the Dulles corridor.

Recently, in answer to the increasing mortgage foreclosures, he came up with a program for the county to buy some of the foreclosed homes and turn them into workforce housing for low income county employees rather than let them stay abandoned, driving property values down further. This innovative solution to a problem that plagues not just Fairfax County but the entire mid-Atlantic region, won him kudos from the national media. In addition to helping county employees, many of whom are first responders, afford housing in Fairfax, Connolly has supported a living wage for county employees and big box legislation that limits the growth of large super stores like Wal-Mart.

In addition to this, Connolly has stood up to the demagoguery of the anti-immigration crowd and not allowed Fairfax to turn into a laughing stock, synonymous with jingoism and nativism, as Prince Williams County has done. Connolly instead concentrated on anti-gang and anti-crime efforts. He sought to solve the problems that are caused by illegal immigration without demonizing the many legal residents of Hispanic and Muslim descent. For that he is to be admired.

In addition to running Fairfax well and implementing many progressive programs of which we can be proud, he already has ten years experience serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He will enter Congress as a capable and experienced public servant.

Judy Feder for Congress in the 10th CD

In the 10th CD, Judy Feder is a smart, competent Democrat who deserves your vote. She served in the Clinton administration, where she was appointed in 1993 to the Department of Health and Human Services. She worked to expand health care coverage. She also has worked as a dean at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. She is a scholar who is widely recognized for her work on ways to make health care more affordable. In 1988, she was Staff Director of the Congressional Pepper Commission, a bi-partisan commission on comprehensive health care. She's also worked at the Brookings Institute and Urban Institute on health care issues. Given her expertise in health care affordability issues, she is the perfect person to represent Virginians in the coming crucial discussion of health care reform, an issue that will be vital to efforts to expand health care coverage and get the economy back on track.

Mark Warner for U.S. Senate

Of course, Mark Warner deserves your vote for the U.S. Senate. He was an effective governor who worked across party lines to restore fiscal balance to Virginia when its previous governor – who also happens to be his opponent now – left the state a financial shambles with a $6 billion budget shortfall. Under Governor Warner, Virginia was named one of the best managed states by Governing Magazine.

Tom Perriello for Congress in the 5th and Other Virginia Races

Newcomer Tom Perriello in the 5th CD also deserves the votes of citizens there. Frankly, Virgil Goode has been an embarrassment to the good people of that district. It’s time for a change to somebody who demonstrates that being a person of faith doesn’t mean rejecting modern, progressive values including compassion, tolerance, intelligence, and knowledge.

I know less about the issues in the other races in Virginia but Glenn Nye and Sam Rasoul also deserve your votes.

Reject Gridlock and Republican Obstructionism

Some Republicans are trying to salvage what they can this year by making the case that if Obama wins, it would be dangerous to also give him a Democratic majority in Congress. What they are asking you to do is vote for gridlock. They are asking – hoping – that voters will ensure Obama’s failure by allowing four more years of a determined program of Republican obstructionism.

When the Democrats took Congress in 2006 – and took the Senate by the narrowest possible majority – the Republicans publicly vowed to block every initiative the Democrats brought. Their whole strategy was to force the Democrats into appearing to be a do nothing Congress. But nothing could be further from the truth. That truth was that Republicans consistently prevented majority rule.

If the Democratic Congress suffered low approval ratings, it wasn’t because the public hated Democratic reforms because there weren’t any. Between Bush’s vetoes and a Senate that couldn’t override them, the Democrats were never able to keep their promises. It’s time to break those obstructionists’ backs and return Congress and the White House to majority rule.

A New Direction

Republicans had their chance for nearly 8 years to show whether their ideology worked. It didn’t. It was a miserable failure that has left our country bankrupt. It’s time for a change. And it’s past time for new ideas that do work. But the only way to get them is for the voters to sweep Democrats into power and give them at least the same chance that was given to the Republicans. Let’s see whose ideas really do work and end the debate once and for all with evidence and accomplishment.

So Tuesday, vote Democrat. For every office.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Ron Reagan Endorses Barack Obama


Briefly noted, the son of revered conservative icon, Ronald Reagan, Ron Reagan has endorsed Barack Obama. I don't follow the younger Mr. Reagan's career, but it wouldn't surprise me if he's more of a Democrat anyway, seeing as how his endorsement came on Air America, where he has a show. He also spoke at the 2004 Democratic Convention, where he gave an impassioned speech in support of stem cell research. Both he and his mother Nancy, who remains a loyal Republican, support stem cell research.

Here's Ron Reagan's own words (h/t to Huffington Post.
I assumed most people already knew that I had supported Obama. Anyone who has spent five minutes listening to my program would have known that. But if it helped to make it official, I'm happy to make it so.
While I'd say that Ron Reagan has left his father's and mother's political views behind, other scions of conservatism, like Christopher Buckley, who also have endorsed Obama, have not. They simply consider Obama the better candidate in this particular race.



Obama v. McCain: A Tale of Two Health Care Plans

The difference between Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s health care reform proposals couldn’t be starker. Obama’s plan is based on the reforms enacted under Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. McCain’s plan has some roots in existing plans in about 34 states, which have met with some degree of success. But a good deal of his proposal is untried and is based more on free market ideology and wishful thinking than proven remedies. Let’s start with Obama’s plan.

Under his proposal, most people would stay in their current employer-based health care plan. Large companies that didn’t offer a health benefit would have to pay penalties. That would encourage those businesses that can afford it to provide health coverage for their workers. But people who work for small businesses that can’t afford to pay for health benefits would be encouraged to buy their own insurance from the individual markets. In Massachusetts it’s mandatory to have health insurance – just as most states make car insurance mandatory. If you refuse to get coverage, you too could pay a penalty. But if you can’t afford coverage, the state would subsidize it for you.

In fact, that’s the one sharp difference between the existing plan and Obama’s idea. He wouldn’t make it mandatory. He caught flack for that from Hillary Clinton and even Paul Krugman, both of whom feel that making it required by all would be a better way to make sure it's truly universal. I think they’re right, but Obama is correct that politically it would be much harder to get such a bill passed. Even with a Democratic majority in Congress, you would still have the conservative Blue Dogs uniting with the remnant of GOPers to block its passage. So, if politics is the art of the possible, you go with what you can get. But back to the Massachusetts plan.

In addition, in Massachusetts the private insurance companies can’t deny coverage to those with pre-existing condition or charge them more for coverage.

So far, this plan is working well. It’s popular with citizens and has increased the number of insured. But it hasn’t been without drawbacks, as reported by this Washington Post article.
In the 31 months since the experiment here began, the share of working-age people without health insurance has plunged -- from 13 percent to 7 percent by one estimate -- more sharply and quickly than anyone expected, leaving Massachusetts with the lowest uninsured rate in the country. But the unexpected number of people also has translated into higher-than-expected costs. Massachusetts has been forced twice to scrounge for extra money, totaling more than $250 million this year and last, from state funds and other places.
But even its biggest supporters agree that it’s less than perfect.
"It isn't like you come up with a perfect plan and turn it on and see how it works," said Brian Rosman, research director at Health Care for All, the nonprofit that runs the state's largest private health help line. "Washington needs to understand that as well."
John McCain’s plan, however, could be so much worse. For starters, some believe that it would be more expensive than the Massachusetts plan. And the major part of it is completely untested. Here’s the run down of how McCain’s plan works.

Under his proposal, everybody would get a tax credit to buy their own insurance on the open market. To pay for that tax credit, McCain would tax the existing employer-based health insurance benefit. This is the first time this was ever done and even some of McCain’s own advisers admit it could discourage businesses from continuing to offer health coverage to their employees. In addition, McCain would allow people to buy their coverage in companies out of their own states ostensibly to increase competition.

But this would encourage many insurance companies to set up headquarters in states that have the least restrictions and leave customers with less protection from predatory and unfair industry practices. Some likely outcomes include insurance companies charging deceptively low premiums up front but with large deductibles, limits on coverage, refusal to pay out for many different types of conditions, and denial of coverage to large numbers of consumers. In fact, large private insurance companies would cherry pick the healthiest customers, dropping those who prove to be too expensive. Those are already common industry practices and allowing people to buy their insurance across state lines, practices like that would only exacerbate the problem.

Worse, even with a tax credit or subsidy, many people would be unable to afford insurance. The proposed tax credit is only $5,000 per person and decent insurance costs about $12,000. That would leave middle class families scrambling to pay an extra $7,000, much more than what they’d have to pay for an employer-based plan. Douglas Holtz-Eakin admits that many people who currently enjoy employer-based health care would be left out in the cold with no insurance.

And those who have health risks, such as being overweight or just being too old, would be thrown into high risk pools. It’s the high risk pools that the Washington Post examined in this article. And they found real problems with them.

First you deserve to know what is right with them. Thirty-four states already have these plans and some of them do their job fairly well for those covered. The oldest and best high risk pool is probably in Minnesota. And the treatment they provide is excellent.
Here in Minneapolis, Lynn R. Gruber, MCHA's president, said: "We treat them like gold. It's all we do, focus on these chronically ill members, what their needs are." Members get discounts on specialty drugs. Those who are particularly sick get letters or phone calls coaching them on how best to manage their ailments.
Despite that the drawbacks to high risk pools are significant. Most importantly, they cost more than Obama’s plan. They cost the state more and they cost the consumer more too. Here are some quotes.
The Maryland Health Insurance Plan, the only high-risk pool in the Washington area, has been growing so fast that it needed to raise the fees on hospitals that help pay for the program and require new members to wait longer for coverage of existing illnesses -- or pay extra for it.
And referring to Minnesota:
Its finances are strained and getting worse, but less so than in other states. California's high-risk pool is so strapped that it put a limit on enrollment this year and lowered the maximum it would spend on anyone's treatment. Tennessee's pool has had to eliminate low-income subsidies for new members. Florida's pool has not let in anyone since 1991.
And the burden of high costs are also borne by those enrolled in the pool.
No one in Minnesota can say for certain how many people who need MCHA stay away because of the price or the waiting period. But the American Cancer Society says that only a tiny fraction of the more than 100 Minnesotans it has referred to the program because they were rejected by insurance companies ever signed up, according to Stephen Finan, the society's associate director of policy.
As another sign of the financial burden, an increasing number of MCHA's members lately have been choosing to pay more out of their pockets -- deductibles as high as $10,000 -- in order to have less expensive monthly premiums.
So, higher costs for the state and the consumer and also higher deductibles and less coverage. It is, of course, better than nothing. But as even one of its own top administrators admits, this is a stopgap measure, not a solution to the health care crisis.
Still, even MCHA's most ardent supporters believe a risk pool is not the best solution for those who are hard to insure. "It is not a panacea. . . . We need to be moving in the direction of universal coverage," said Gruber, who has run MCHA for 18 years. "No one should be rejected because of their health conditions. Our federal government has failed us . . . if we are still here in five or 10 years."
As I said at the beginning, the contrasts in these two different approaches couldn’t’ be more different. Nor could the response of those most intimately involved with them. On the one hand, there’s the Massachusetts approach that Obama favors. Both citizens of that state and those who work with the program are enthusiastic about it. Its main drawback is higher than anticipated cost.

McCain’s proposal, the high risk pool, also higher costs but less service and its own administrators admit it’s a stopgap not a solution. And then there’s the rest of the McCain program, which is untried and based on faulty free market, anti-regulatory ideology that is rapidly becoming discredited in every other enterprise where it has been tried.

Here I have to add that the free market proponents keep claiming that one of the advantages of their approach is that if people have to purchase their own health care on an open market, they will make better, more cost conscious decisions.

The truth is choosing medical care is not like shopping for a new Chevy van or a new dress. It is not elitist to state that most patients are not in a position to make a clear headed decision about the best course of treatment for a catastrophic illness when they are in the throes of it. Even most doctors admit that once they are patients with conditions outside their specialties, they are as daunted and confused as any other patient. The amount of knowledge, technology and treatment options are dizzying. The cheapest option may not in the long run be the best option and asking people to make a decision based upon their pocket book at such a time is ridiculous.

A patient may well be able to shop around for the cheapest place to get treatment for a strep throat and the best price on the antibiotics with which to cure it. But give that person a Stage IV throat cancer and he shouldn’t be wasting his time consulting his banker before choosing between treatment plans.

So, there you have the choice. Two very different approaches to health care. Next Tuesday, vote as if your life depends on it – because it very well may.