Wednesday, January 30, 2008

John Edwards Should Have Been President!

Right now, I'm not hearing anybody else speaking this eloquently about the things I truly care about. I'm not sure I will in this campaign or ever. Standing up for the poor and the working class just doesn't sell Toyotas, Bud Light, or Alka Selzer. It doesn't get you newspaper coverage in the horse race and it doesn't even get you equal time in a presidential debate.

But the message should be heard and heard again, so, I'm just going to leave this up for a few days. This is the man our media marginalized and ignored!

I know I shouldn't feel this angry but I do. I am simply not ready to move on just yet. But can somebody please blow up our media so we can start again with a free press not a bought one?

John Edwards to Quit Race

John Edwards has scheduled an appearance in New Orleans this afternoon ostensibly to discuss poverty issues. New Orleans was where his campaign began.

The Washington Post has the preliminary and breaking story.

Personally, I had looked forward to him continuing a spirited debate into at least Super Tuesday to keep his issues of economic fairness before the voters. Like most of you, I'm curious what he will say and to whom he'll throw his support.

But mostly, this breaks my heart.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Curb Your Enthusiasm...It's Florida!

If you're shocked that Rudy is going down tonight, you really weren't listening, or you didn't believe me when I wrote this:
The current conventional wisdom is that Rudy Guiliani will do very well in the Republican primary in the Sunshine State because so many New Yorkers have relocated there, either in search of job opportunities or to retire. Giuliani, himself, is banking on a strong showing in Florida to offset expected losses in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But there's a big flaw in that strategy. And an equally big fallacy in the conventional wisdom that is fueling it.

What many of the pundits and strategists are missing is that the New Yorkers who have settled in South Florida - largely in Broward and Palm Beach counties - are mostly registered Democrats. And they are as staunch a group of liberals as you'll find. In other words, they are not just Democrats, they are New York liberals. This is especially true of the large retiree population there. Many of them are activists who came out of the depression era and were formed by FDR's New Deal.
That's why I predicted Rudy was going to lose. I think he'll be gone after this. He put too much into Florida and failed to win any place else. His moment has passed and he's been eclipsed by Mitt and McCain. His was a risky and flawed strategy. And it backfired as I predicted back in December.

Ironically, on the Democratic side, it's the New Yorkers who are going to give Hillary a convincing victory that won't yield delegates but will boost morale for her.

You see, unlike for the Republicans, South Florida really is the sixth borough for the Democrats. Hillary is no more likely to lose there than in New York itself. In fact, she'll probably run even better in Florida.

The South Florida Democrats - the condo commandos, as they are called - are mostly senior citizens, who have retired from the lower middle or working class. They are the least likely to be swayed by Obama's new style of politics or his appeal to reach out to independents by being post-partisan. This group of FDR New Deal Democrats are fiercely partisan scrappers who are used to rough knuckled big city machine style politics. They brought it with them from the streets and neighborhoods of New York City to the condos of Broward and West Palm Beach.

On the GOP side, I predict that McCain will win. He got the endorsement of the hugely popular governor, Charlie Crist, who has reached out to independents and even Democrats. He has a 70 percent approval rating. And there is a strong military presence in the Sunshine state, not the least of which is Mayport, a huge Navy base in Jacksonville.

There's also a strong independent demographic in the center of the state composed of young professionals in the Orlando I-4 corridor. And the Hispanic vote in Tampa and Miami has always been Republican but may be turned off by the recent sharp anti-immigration rhetoric coming out of the rest of the GOP field. McCain was the one who supported immigration reform measures that were tolerable to them.

Interesting night in a volatile state.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Warning to Obama: Republicans Hate Kumbaya

There's nobody sharper, who hits his target better, than Paul Krugman. In his column today, he punctures the delusion that all it takes for a successful presidency is charisma, an inspirational speaking style, a promise of hope and good intentions. He turns a cold eye on all the hype about post-partisan inclusiveness in politics. And he has a few blunt words for his fellow journalists and pundits who are behaving more like silly school girls with a crush than objective, critical-thinking men and women covering the race for the leader of the free world.

First, he reminds everybody that, in fact, Obama's campaign shares a lot in common with Bill Clinton's 1992 race, including the fact that he's running against an incompetent Bush administration.
It’s starting to feel a bit like 1992 again. A Bush is in the White House, the economy is a mess, and there’s a candidate who, in the view of a number of observers, is running on a message of hope, of moving past partisan differences, that resembles Bill Clinton’s campaign 16 years ago.

Now, I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization of the 1992 Clinton campaign, which had a strong streak of populism, beginning with a speech in which Mr. Clinton described the 1980s as a “gilded age of greed.” Still, to the extent that Barack Obama 2008 does sound like Bill Clinton 1992, here’s my question: Has everyone forgotten what happened after the 1992 election?

Let’s review the sad tale, starting with the politics.

Whatever hopes people might have had that Mr. Clinton would usher in a new era of national unity were quickly dashed. Within just a few months the country was wracked by the bitter partisanship Mr. Obama has decried.

This bitter partisanship wasn’t the result of anything the Clintons did. Instead, from Day 1 they faced an all-out assault from conservatives determined to use any means at hand to discredit a Democratic president.
Ah, for the good old days.

Make no mistake, that bund is still around and they won't hesitate to do the same thing to Obama. That's the dirty little secret that you never want to tell the children. And believe me, some journalists, pundits and even progressives really are children, naifs even.

Because what they don't see is that the same unholy crew will declare another fatwa and unleash their unbridled rage and hatred against any Democrat who wins. For all their diatribes against "those who have a sense of entitlement" when it applies to the poor, the immigrant or inner city blacks, this group feels pretty damned entitled themselves to always hold the reigns of government. To them, any Democrat who wins an election is, by definition, an illegitimate leader. Again, here's Krugman:
For those who are reaching for their smelling salts because Democratic candidates are saying slightly critical things about each other, it’s worth revisiting those years, simply to get a sense of what dirty politics really looks like.

No accusation was considered too outlandish: a group supported by Jerry Falwell put out a film suggesting that the Clintons had arranged for the murder of an associate, and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page repeatedly hinted that Bill Clinton might have been in cahoots with a drug smuggler.
And here's his caution about running on hope, inspiration and vague promises.
Meanwhile, though Mr. Clinton may not have run as postpartisan a campaign as legend has it, he did avoid some conflict by being strategically vague about policy. In particular, he promised health care reform, but left the business of producing an actual plan until after the election.

This turned out to be a disaster. Much has been written about the process by which the Clinton health care plan was put together: it was too secretive, too top-down, too politically tone-deaf. Above all, however, it was too slow. Mr. Clinton didn’t deliver legislation to Congress until Nov. 20, 1993 — by which time the momentum from his electoral victory had evaporated, and opponents had had plenty of time to organize against him.

The failure of health care reform, in turn, doomed the Clinton presidency to second-rank status. The government was well run (something we’ve learned to appreciate now that we’ve seen what a badly run government looks like), but — as Mr. Obama correctly says — there was no change in the country’s fundamental trajectory.
From all this, Krugman draws up some lessons for Democrats, especially Obama, who may very well be, not merely our nominee, but our president (and he's still very much my strong second choice).

According to Krugman, the most important lesson is to arrive in the White House with a workable plan for health care reform and, I might add, fixing the economy. Without some specifics to present to a Democratic Congress and the ability to hit the ground running, the opportunity to implement policy may pass quickly. We can expect hyper partisan attacks from the other side, just as Clinton received, and the only way to avoid Clinton's mistake, including squandering the moment and the momentum of victory, is to have a game plan and work it from day one. Because without that, the new president will be sandbagged. No talk about reaching out to Republicans and independents is going to protect a Democrat from partisan bickering and nastiness.
First, those who don’t want to nominate Hillary Clinton because they don’t want to return to the nastiness of the 1990s — a sizable group, at least in the punditocracy — are deluding themselves. Any Democrat who makes it to the White House can expect the same treatment: an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false (at least not on Page 1).

The point is that while there are valid reasons one might support Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton, the desire to avoid unpleasantness isn’t one of them.
And that's exactly my point. When I hear and read all the hperventilated hopes and dreams, I cringe, not because I want to be the cynical curmudgeon but because I know what's coming. The simple truth is that Bill Clinton, in 1993, did not bring all the scandal and scorn heaped on him upon himself. It really was the work of a vicious right wing smear machine. The same one, by the way, that took down the candidacies of Al Gore and John Kerry and gave us the word Swiftboating as a verb. Yes, Clinton gave them amunition because he was a womanizer and they eventually found a woman.

But at the end of the day, his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky was the only thing Clinton was really guilty of. Most of the other stuff was either invented out of thin air or was a case simply built out of guilt by association and smears. I deconstructed one of them, Travelgate, earlier. The others being rehashed, could just as easily be vaporized. As Krugman observes:

My sense is that the fight for the Democratic nomination has gotten terribly off track. The blame is widely shared. Yes, Bill Clinton has been somewhat boorish (though I can’t make sense of the claims that he’s somehow breaking unwritten rules, which seem to have been newly created for the occasion). But many Obama supporters also seem far too ready to demonize their opponents.

What the Democrats should do is get back to talking about issues — a focus on issues has been the great contribution of John Edwards to this campaign — and about who is best prepared to push their agenda forward. Otherwise, even if a Democrat wins the general election, it will be 1992 all over again. And that would be a bad thing.
Let the corporate editorial boards marginalize or ridicule John Edwards all they want. The truth is he's the only one talking about issues in specific and concrete terms and has a plan that he will fight for and implement from day one. And if Obama wins and wants to be successful, he needs to avoid Bill Clinton's mistakes and take a leaf from John Edwards and have a concrete plan.

He needs to have some solid policy proposals beyond his own very beautiful but misplaced idealism that Republicans in Congress are just waiting to sing Kumbaya with him while they walk off into the glowing sunrise of Sunday morning in America.

I've got a nasty surprise for Obama and everybody else. Most Republicans think that only Ronald Reagan had a right to use such inspirational language about the future. They think all talk of hope has a corporate copyright and a GOP brand.

Oh and they really hate Kumbaya.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I'm Still Sticking With John Edwards!

First, my congratulations to Barack Obama, not just for his convincing victory in South Carolina, but for a stirring speech that has to inspire all but the most hard hearted and cynical Democrats.

Last night, immediately after he spoke our telephone rang. It was my mother-in-law, who had been calling Dan all night, passionately discussing election updates and cheering on Obama, her chosen candidate. Anybody who knows my husband Dan will tell you his personality is enthusiastic and sparkling. Compared to his mother, though, he’s a dud. This woman invented enthusiasm. Dan handed me the phone, “It’s mom. It’s for you.”

I shot him a quizzical look and took the phone. Her bright voice bubbled with inspiration as she asked, “So, who’re you voting for now?”

“I’m sticking with Edwards.”

“Awwww Kaaareen!”

I think I’m officially the family curmudgeon. I am that hard hearted cynical Democrat. At that moment, the TV screen flashed to Edwards. “Pat, I love you but gotta go.” I said. Even she wanted to hear Edwards, whom she had backed last time. I was for Howard Dean back then.

What Obama’s wonderfully upbeat speech failed to do for me, John Edwards’ speech did. It captured every reason I’m still for him.

Where Obama talks of uniting us, Edwards speaks about fighting for the disenfranchised poor, the working class whose salaries have been stagnant for years, those who have lost their insurance, their pensions, now their homes and their safety net. He promises to be their voice to speak truth to power.

When Obama speaks of uniting black and white, men and women, and young and old, I am with him. But when he challenged the notion that the rich don’t care about the poor, he lost me. Not irrevocably but as long as John Edwards is in there fighting. That’s because I don’t believe the rich, as a cohort, actually do care about the poor, the middle class or their own workers. I think there are individuals who are rich who happen to be very caring and lovely. And many of them support John Edwards as well as Barack Obama and other Democrats.

But can anybody tell me honestly that the top CEOs of America’s most powerful and prosperous corporations care about the workers whose pensions they’ve gutted and whom they have laid off? Did Kenneth Lay, Jeff Skilling, Jack Walsh, Dennis Kozlowski, and Frank Nardelli really care as they rode a wave of excess into a new gilded age while leaving their companies all the poorer?

Too often when industries fail, high wages for the workers, and the unions that won those wages for them, are immediately blamed. You see that in the struggling auto industry. But not enough people, even today, point the finger at CEOs whose extravagant salary, bonuses, mansions, servants, and exclusive condos – all paid for by their companies – bankrupt their investors. Indeed, those CEOs and the business writers who cover them, feel a great sense of entitlement to exactly those expensive perks, which often continue as their companies fail to meet profit goals. When those same executives screw up on the job, they leave their corporations with golden parachutes that were negotiated into their contracts to insure them against failure. In other words, they have no incentive to succeed since failure is just as lucrative for them.

But their workers lose jobs, fall into long term unemployment, lose health benefits, which usually are employer provided, and lose pensions and often their life savings, which have been tied up in company stock and company 401 (k) plans.

Most of the super rich, in fact, still live by the ethos of Gordon Gekko, from the 1980s film Wall Street, that “greed is good.” When that movie came out, the audience, not realizing that Gekko was the villain, actually cheered when he gave that speech.

The public has been so seduced by Reagan era assumptions about the absolute wisdom of free markets that any attempt to fix a now failing economy can’t get beyond band aid approaches to shore up industries. No plan, no matter how much it stimulates the economy in the short run, will help the structural inequity built into our economic system. We’ve already seen this in a roaring economy, where the profits do not trickle down to the worker. So, merely stimulating profit and strengthening industry will not help the ordinary worker.

Putting money in the pockets of displaced and unemployed workers to increase their buying power, while helping some of this short term pain, will actually be more helpful to the Asian worker whose products we still import far too often.

The type of structural changes needed, including tax incentives to encourage American corporations to bring jobs back home; a tax code that penalizes them for exporting jobs; government investment in infrastructure and green industries, which will produce more jobs as well as help the environment; and some sensible regulation to protect worker and consumer safety; raising the minimum wage; providing a living wage; and investing in education are all solutions that will never be implemented without a fighter willing to take on entrenched interests and ideological free marketers. A fighter, not a uniter, will have the only chance of putting forward the bold ideas that challenge these entrenched notions and fixing what actually ails our economic system.

The last set of bold ideas that radically altered our economy and drastically realigned our politics came from Republicans. But they were the supply side, free market, shrink the government ideas of the Reagan era. And they weren’t so new either. They were the shopworn laissez faire capitalism ideas of the 19th century all gussied up in brand new phrases. They failed in the 1930s and they are once again failing the common man and woman.

That’s why this is the perfect time to re-evaluate their failure and to critique their underlying assumptions. This is the time to talk about what an efficient and well run government can do to help its citizens become once again the prosperous and productive workers that they were from the 1950s through the mid 1960s. It’s the time to remind people of the policies that truly ensured prosperity for the largest number of Americans rather than just a privileged few, such as FDR’s New Deal, which rescued our country from the Great Depression, and JFK’s New Frontier, when we were encouraged to “think not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” rather than the Reaganesque “Greed is good.”

I think John Edwards is the one willing to challenge the economic orthodoxy coming out of the ivory tower universities and corporate boardrooms. And I believe that is why the media, ever the handmaiden to centrist corporate interests, has deliberately marginalized his campaign.

It is possible that Obama’s message might have still resounded more effectively than Edwards’ message has. It probably would have because Americans do like optimism, hope, and unity more than they like angry populism. But I think the fight would be much closer and John Edwards’ ideals more closely examined if the media hadn’t focused so much on the horse race rather than the issues.

I don’t like being had by the media. And the best way to keep the issues alive and to keep both the true frontrunners, Obama and Clinton, focused on a progressive agenda that doesn’t forget the basic economic inequity in our country is to keep John Edwards’ campaign alive a little longer so that it can exert some leftward pressure on the frontrunner.

So, for now, I’m sticking to Edwards.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Where's John?

Has the media marginalized John Edwards and his campaign? Has a biased media, once again, played the voters and suppressed Edwards' message?

You decide.

And I'll be back later to tell you why I think so.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fred Thompson Drops Out

After another disappointing showing, this time in a must win state for him, Fred Thompson, who catapulted to frontrunner status briefly this summer amid speculation that he would run, has dropped out of the Republican presidential primaries. Since his actual announcement, his campaign quickly deflated as his poll numbers went on a steady downward spiral.

Citing the need to spend more time caring for his sick mother in Tennessee, the former star of Law and Order, has not yet thrown his support to any of the other candidates. It was once assumed that he would endorse John McCain, whom he endorsed in the 2000 presidential race. The two have been friends.

According to Chris Cillizza's The Fix
Former senator Fred Thompson (Tenn.) dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination today, following months of lackluster campaigning and chaos within his campaign organization.

"Today I have withdrawn my candidacy for President of the United States," Thompson said in a terse statement. "I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort. Jeri and I will always be grateful for the encouragement and friendship of so many wonderful people."
According to Cillizza's column, some in the Thompson camp claim that several of the other candidates had reached out to Thompson, but officials for McCain and Romney say they have not had contact with Thompson's campaign. And his endorsement, at this point, would probably not have much benefit for any of them. As Cillizza said
It's not clear what if any value would come from a Thompson endorsement -- should he choose to proffer one. The arc of Thompson's campaign has been almost straight downward since he floated the idea of running for president last spring. Polling in the late spring/early summer showed Thompson surging into the lead nationally and in key early states. But a series of staff departures, slipups and a delayed formal announcement took the shine off of the movie star-turned senator's candidacy. Thompson placed third in Iowa, took just 1 percent of the vote in New Hampshire and, despite an intense push over the past ten days, could only muster a third place finish in South Carolina.
It's sad for him. Thompson came on the scene with much promise but the expected charisma never really materialized. I guess without a Hollywood writer, he really wasn't Arthur Branch.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Free Market Myths and Other Republican Lies

Here’s the first of two articles from today’s Washington Post which gives lie to the Republican free market, supply side, trickle down and small government, conservative philosophy.

Of course the latest and greatest strategy of the conservative Republicans is to repudiate the Bush administration’s failure by claiming that the administration strayed from its fundamental conservative principles. But that’s not true. After six years in office, with a Republican controlled Congress, there’s nobody to blame for their failure but themselves and their policies. And as we’ll see later, it’s not the first time their ideology has failed the reality test. It’s actually the third such failure.

First, here’s a stunning example of ideology going awry when confronted with facts, evidence and reality. It’s from Fred Hiatt’s column. He is talking about President Bush’s transportation secretary, Mary Peters, and her role in killing government investment in the infrastructure, including the rail to Dulles project.

The next time you are stuck in traffic (and when are you not?), you might take a moment to ponder Mary Peters’ contribution to the fix you are in.

Peters is the Bush administration's transportation secretary, and her main objective seems to be blocking any increase of public contributions to the public infrastructure. The main reason you are sitting in traffic, she believes, is not that the purchasing power of Highway Trust Fund revenue has been dwindling for the past decade, not that population and freight traffic have been soaring with no government response -- but that you are not being asked to pay enough to use the road you are on.

The rigidity of the administration's ideology became clear last week with the culmination of a two-year study of the nation's transportation woes. A bipartisan federal commission came up with a comprehensive, balanced plan for the next 50 years, calling for maintenance and construction, road and rail, public and private funds.
According to Hiatt’s article, nine out of 12 members of this federal commission, including members appointed by former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and former Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, supported recommendations to invest in the transportation infrastructure. The only dissenters were the three delegates from the administration including Peters. Here’s how she explained her dissent:
We believe, however, that a failure to properly align supply and demand, not a failure to generate sufficient tax revenues, is the essential policy failure," the Bush dissenters wrote. "When consumer demand determines supply, it will engender funding sufficient to meet the demand."
And here’s Hiatt’s rejoinder:
This is an astonishingly radical view of government's role in transportation. Cast backward, it would suggest that President Dwight D. Eisenhower never should have built the interstate highway system; it should have been left to private companies to build roads wherever tolling could generate a profit, and nowhere else. The result -- an incomplete, disconnected patchwork of highways -- might indeed have suited Peters, given that another of her goals is a reduced federal role in transportation policy. But the country would have been poorer for it.
Yet if you pick up any article written by a conservative columnist, or read any of their blogs, you’d find the same blind faith in free market ideology that Peters holds. Whether it’s the looming recession, the mortgage crisis, the housing crunch, health care, energy, or the stock market, their answer is the same: lower taxes, shrink the government, and let the markets take care of it.

But if the markets could magically solve all our problems, every hard working, well educated American would have gold plated health care coverage, live in a McMansion, commute to work on spacious highways and have a secure pension. Everybody would be a CEO – or at least live like one.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan rode to office on a landslide victory and the claim that government was the problem. Turns out that was one more thing he was wrong about.

In fact, it was the anti-regulatory, free market approach that created the mortgage crisis by giving a free hand to subprime lenders who created the housing bubble with too easy credit and bad loans. They also shot the stock market to hell by failing to reign in hedge funds.

It’s the unexamined free market philosophy and the lack of proper government involvement that is the real problem. And, no, that doesn’t mean going to Hugo Chavez style socialism. It means a uniquely American approach which would include public-private partnerships that encourage best practices in business so that companies are strong, profitable, produce safe products, and share the fruits of their profits with employees, who contribute to the corporations’ success. And it would include sensible regulation to control abuses of the system and protect consumers, investors and workers.

That hasn’t happened lately. In fact, as this other article points out, a largely hidden and intractable economic problem has been the long term unemployment of the educated middle class. That’s the problem that has been disguised by artificially low unemployment rates.
An unusually large share of workers have been out a job for more than six months even as overall unemployment has remained low, a little-noted weakness in the labor market that analysts said threatens to intensify the impact of the unfolding economic downturn.

In November, nearly 1.4 million people -- almost one in five of those unemployed -- had been jobless for at least 27 weeks, the juncture when unemployment insurance benefits end for most recipients. That is about twice the level of long-term unemployment before the 2001 recession.

The problem is ensnaring a broader swath of workers than before. Once concentrated among manufacturing workers and those with little work history, education or skills, long-term unemployment is growing most rapidly among white-collar and college-educated workers with long work experience, studies have found, making the problem difficult for policymakers to address even as it grows more urgent.

"What has happened is a polarization of the labor market. It was very strong at the very top and very strong until recently at the bottom," said Lawrence F. Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University. "But in the recent weak recovery, and now recession, demand has been very weak" for jobs in the middle
In many ways, this is a repeat of the economy under Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush. During his campaign for re-election in 1992, President George H. W. Bush kept arguing that the unemployment rate was not high. And it wasn’t, but the employment market was soft and everybody knew that the unemployment statistics weren’t telling the whole story.

Then, like now, the reason the unemployment rate was so low was that unemployment figures only account for those still eligible for unemployment insurance and those still actively looking for work. Many long term unemployed are no longer on the unemployment insurance lines, and they are no longer searching for jobs. Since they are no longer actively seeking employment, they are not counted in the unemployment rate.

In addition, many workers have slipped into less well paid careers and are under employed. They don’t count in these statistics either. Lots of people who proudly tell statisticians that they are self-employed or are consultants are former computer programmers and other technically skilled professionals whose jobs have been exported. In some cases, their new businesses are lawn care services or other personal care service businesses, or they work part time and no longer have health insurance or pensions. They are the hidden casualties of our economy.
The growth in long-term unemployment has occurred even as displaced workers have taken bigger pay cuts to reenter the job market. A 2004 study found that workers who lost a job in 2001 to 2003 took an average pay cut of 17 percent in their new jobs, more than double the average cut of those displaced in the late 1990s.

"When people are losing good jobs these days, they have a very hard time getting back to the type of job they had before," said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group that presses for more generous unemployment benefits.

While strong corporate profits, low inflation and record manufacturing output characterized the extended recovery that followed the 2001 recession, some economists call that period of expansion a "CEO's recovery." Real wages were mostly flat, poverty ticked upward and an unusual number of people had a hard time finding work -- a fact masked by relatively low overall unemployment rates.
Some of us have long argued that during the best years of our once roaring economy, the high GDP and productivity numbers hid problems for ordinary working people, who largely where by passed and did not benefit by the strong business cycles.

In addition, economists and business experts keep saying that the answer to outsourcing and the shrinking job market is retraining workers for new jobs. But they are never specific about precisely which jobs workers could be retrained for. What we’ve been bleeding are some of our best high tech jobs and many of the people who’ve lost those jobs have already been through retraining one or more times. The retraining mantra is a false hope not borne out by reality either. We simply can’t educate our way out of the softening job market with retraining.

The problem is one-sided free trade and globalization. Don’t let any high flying Republican rhetoric about the glory of the free markets or the bumbling of the government fool you. The real problem is just the reverse of their diagnosis and the real solutions are also the reverse of their prescriptions. Their twelve year reign in the 1980s and its reprise in the 2000s should put a nail in the coffin of their rhetoric. It doesn’t match reality. It never did. Not even back in the 1800s when it was called laissez faire capitalism.

That’s three times they’ve foisted their free trade philosophy on us where it’s failed to produce real results. It’s a failed ideology and nothing more.

It’s time for a government that is willing to invest in the transportation infrastructure, job creation, health care and education so that businesses have educated, healthy workers who can travel to their jobs on good roads. That doesn’t sound like the enemy of either business interests or the the interests of ordinary workers.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

And Your Problem With Obama Is?

This video has made the rounds of some blogs, showing up on NLS, with the headline: "Progressive. Hah!"

I think it's unfair. First watch the video, then scroll down. I'll have more to say.

On historical points, Barack Obama was right. He was simply saying that Reagan created a real sea change in this country in a way that no other president had since FDR or JFK. Since Reagan, changes have been incremental. Nobody has really challenged the assumptions of the so-called Reagan Revolution.

Even now, we talk around the edges of reform but who discusses an alternative to supply side economics, free trade, deregulation, laissez faire capitalism? Is anybody even aware that there are alternatives such as Keynsian economics, mercantilism, and a system that would be a combination of capitalism but with some regulatory mechanism in place to prevent the worst health and safety abuses that now occur regularly in our mines, in our food supply and with our imported toys?

Reagan so changed the terms of the debate that we take far too much for granted as being off limit to challenge or change.

He did it because the times were right for his "morning in America" celebration of an entrepreneurial spirit. Back in the 1980s, for good or ill, his message matched what people, weary of stagflation and pessimism, were looking for and they responded. He connected with them.

Ironically, Bill Clinton had the ability to connect with people on a personal level but he did not make any fundamental change in the way Americans see their country or political system. He was a successful president who presided over eight years of prosperity. His foreign policy was sound. Despite being rocked by personal scandal, his government basically was staffed by competent people in his cabinet. He left a budget surplus and a strong military.

But he did not make the major progressive changes that would have undone the worst abuses of the Reagan Revolution such as insufficient regulation in the FDA, USDA, the banks, etc. And he championed NAFTA, which started us on the way to record trade deficits.

I do not think Hillary is the one to challenge that legacy or create real and fundamental change. But I think she would improve what we have now. I'm not sure that Obama would make the type of changes I'm looking for either, but he certainly shouldn't be vilified for simply stating an obvious historically accurate truth.

Ironically, the only person truly challenging the assumptions of the Reagan Revolution, the only one who I truly believe would change the course of our country and challenge the economic and political shibboleths by which we now live is John Edwards.

He is still right in his talk about two Americas with one falling behind while the other gorges on its excesses. I realize that his message has not resounded well or connected with voters. But in the stakes for who the true progressive is, he's the one.

Carrying Water for the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy

If you are a Democrat, you would do well to recall the oft-quoted commandment from blogger Jane Hamsher from Firedoglake:
So here's the rule. You never repeat right wing talking points to attack your own, ever. You never enter that echo chamber as a participant. Ever. You never give them a hammer to beat the left with. Just. Don't. Do. It.
And to reinforce that strategic recommendation, here’s what commenter Alice Marshall said on Not Larry Sabato in regard to one of JC Wilmore’s more absurd attacks on Hillary Clinton:
Whatever you think of HRC, it is critical not to resurrect of GOP smears.

Whoever we nominate will be subject to the GOP smear machine, in order to prevail we must defeat the entire smear machine. There fore we have to take on these lies whether or not our candidate is on the receiving end of these smears. HRC has many supporters, Ben is only one.
I may have had my political differences in the past with Alice Marshall, but she’s actually right about this. And so is Jane Hamsher.

Yet, serving as the water boy for the right wing is exactly what J.C. Wilmore seems to be doing here. And his stupid excuse is that it's because Ben Tribbett broke the truce between the Clinton and Obama camps. As if Ben is actually a highly placed operative in the Clinton campaign rather than an independent blogger whose campaign ties are to local Northern Virginia races not national political campaigns. The equivalent would be me trashing Obama and repeating right wing lies about his attending a madrassa just because J.C. made me angry. I’d rather face a firing squad than engage in that kind of nonsense just to trash a Democratic candidate.

Let me make something very clear. I am not criticizing Wilmore for supporting Obama or for being critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton. I actually agree with him that there should be a conversation about Hillary Clinton’s record, her competence, and her personal characteristics as well as her stands on policy. I’m all for that.

I think we need the same critical examination of Obama. And that can be said for John Edwards or any candidate. Furthermore, I would never, never attack J.C. for making a spirited defense of Barack Obama, or for his equally spirited hits on an Obama opponent. As long as the attacks and the criticism are truly fair, I’d be the first to defend him. But these are not fair attacks at all. And they do qualify as a right wing hammer.

In fact, they are the biased talking points of the Clinton's enemies going back to the early 1990s. And they were slanted and had little merit back then and there’s even less merit in dragging them up now.

What I’m referring to is J.C’s unfortunate decision to dredge up Travelgate, the incident where the Clinton administration fired Billy Dale, the director of the White House Travel Office and the rest of his staff.

Here’s the broad outline, according to Wikipedia:
According to the White House, in early 1993 the incoming Clinton administration looked at an audit by KPMG Peat Marwick which discovered that Dale kept an off-book ledger, had $18,000 of unaccounted-for checks, and generally chaotic office records. White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty and the White House counsels thus decided to fire the Travel Office staff and reorganize it. The actual terminations were done on May 19, 1993 by White House director of administration David Watkins. There was also a feeling among the White House and its supporters that the Travel Office had never been investigated by the media due to its close relationship with press corps members and the plush accommodations it afforded them.(Congress would later discover that in October 1988 a whistleblower within the Travel Office had alleged financial improprieties; the Reagan White House counsel looked into it but took no action.

Republicans and other critics saw the events differently. They alleged that friends of President Bill Clinton, including his third cousin Catherine Cornelius, had sought the firings in order to get the business for themselves. Dale and his staff had been replaced with Little Rock, Arkansas-based World Wide Travel, a company with a substantial reputation in the industry[6] but with several ties to the Clintons. In addition, Hollywood producer and Inauguration chairman Harry Thomason, a friend of both Clintons, and his business partner, Darnell Martens, were looking to get their air charter company, TRM, the White House business in place of Airline of the Americas.
At the time, the story was widely covered by the press, and most of the coverage vilified the Clintons and lauded the White House travel office staff. In fact the press portrayed the staff, and especially Dale, as the innocent victims of the newly elected Clinton’s cronyism. The story was painted as an attempt by the Clintons to replace honest, hardworking public servants with their own allies in order to get the lucrative business contracts. But was it true?

Not according to one of their fellow journalists, Joe Conasson, who wrote this:

A federal office is discovered handing out lucrative, no-bid deals to private contractors over a period of many years, without so much as a written contract. Auditors from a major accounting firm find that the office did not keep adequate records for many of its transactions, which ran into millions of dollars annually. Eventually, it comes out that the director of the office has secretly funneled more than $50,000 into his personal checking account. Later still, it is revealed that when an anonymous staff whistleblower wrote a letter to the General Accounting Office years earlier, alleging favors from contractors and other improprieties, his complaint was brushed aside by the White House counsel -- even though the office director admitted accepting contractor gifts, which legal experts say may have been a violation of federal law.

But because the people who ran the office had catered faithfully to the needs and desires of the White House press, most of this is ignored by the media. Instead, when the implicated director is fired and eventually prosecuted by the Justice Department, he becomes a victimized hero in the national media, and the officials who fired him become the villains.

Sounds pretty unlikely, doesn't it? Not to anyone who has paid close attention to the White House Travel Office affair, or "Travelgate" as it has been dubbed by scandal-promoting pundits. In recent months, the 1993 firing of seven longtime employees of the travel office, which handles travel arrangements for reporters and television crews covering the president, has been revisited in congressional hearings, in countless news articles, and on dozens of television and radio programs. The burden of that coverage has focused on the role of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is alleged to have pressured White House lawyers into dismissing the travel office staff and bringing in the FBI to investigate them, so that friends of the First Family could enjoy the office's patronage spoils.
Here is more about Billy Dale, that famously put upon martyr in this sad, sordid tale. Here’s his take on competitive bidding for contracts in the travel office, taken from the above cited Conasson piece.
More importantly, what gets largely left out of this complicated story is an exploration of why the FBI -- and for that matter, the press -- should have been looking into the operations of the travel office in the first place. According to the 1993 White House report, the Clinton foray against it began after Dale told an aviation broker and friend of Clinton pal Harry Thomason that "no combination of price or service" could convince him to accept a bid from any air charter firm other than the one he'd used for years. Most Washington journalists have always tended to regard competitive bidding as an essential symbol of honest government -- except when it came to the White House travel office. The GAO suggests that as many as fourteen airlines would have been interested in bidding for the press corps business.

The reasons behind Dale's lack of interest in competition ought to have raised some famous eyebrows. Although he insisted that bidding would have hampered the efficiency of his operation, congressional investigators learned last fall of an October 1988 letter from a whistleblower that suggested other, less uplifting motives for his reluctance. That letter, sent to the GAO and forwarded to the Reagan White House counsel, included allegations of such favors from airline contractors as free tickets to sporting events, fishing trips, and other gifts. When questioned about this by White House security officials in early 1989, according to documents unearthed by congressional investigators, Dale admitted that he had received contractor gifts regularly. He even said he had sometimes passed the tickets on to his supervisors in the White House Office of Administration. At the very least this was a violation of federal rules, possibly a violation of federal law. Yet neither the Reagan nor the Bush administration seriously pursued the matter, despite Dale's intriguing comment to the White House security staff that he knew the identity of the whistleblower and was "seriously considering" firing him.

When this episode was revealed last November, only columnist Jack Anderson took any notice and reported it.

Evidence that Dale ran his fiefdom without regard for the most basic financial safeguards has also gotten scant attention. His acquittal on federal embezzlement charges seems to have immunized him from any real scrutiny by his old friends in the press. The thirteen-page report prepared by KPMG Peat Marwick, the auditors brought in by Clinton White House officials in May 1993 to examine Dale's books, would have made instructive reading, but few of its findings (such as $18,000 in missing petty cash) were reported in any detail. The report found that there was "no general ledger, or cash receipts/disbursements journal," that "no copies of bills to customers/press are on file," that there was, in short, a startling shortage of documents validating the business procedures followed by Dale. Such disorder in any other federal office would have been deemed scandalous indeed by most Washington journalists, but not in the travel office. Last January 24, when an enterprising Associated Press reporter called the Peat Marwick executive who oversaw the travel office audit, to ask about Republican assertions that the firm was backing off its conclusions, the executive reiterated that Dale probably should have been fired. But electronic database searches show that the AP account of the Peat Marwick man's rebuttal was not widely picked up.

When Dale was confronted during the audit about some of the missing petty cash, he produced nearly $2,800 in cash the following day, which he claimed to have found in an envelope in his desk. (Curiously, he had withdrawn $2,500 in cash from a personal account the same day the auditors began to ask about the petty cash.) It was the surprise appearance of the envelope of cash that, according to congressional testimony, got the FBI investigation going in earnest. Dale's trial, replete with evidence of mismanagement and worse -- including his diversion of $54,000 in refund checks to his own account in a bank near his home in Maryland -- received little attention other than in The Washington Post, which provided regular reporting about it, although there was a spate of stories on his acquittal. The jury appears to have been persuaded by Dale's insistence that he did not spend the money on anything but legitimate expenses, although the records to prove this were missing. While the verdict established his innocence of any crime, widespread reporting of the facts presented in the prosecution's case might have diminished his status as a beleaguered hero.
Now, ask yourself, is this the type of person that you would want to champion just to tear down Hillary Clinton? Not if you have any intellectual honesty or moral compass. Yet that’s the incident JC, a lawyer who should know better, decided to slime Hillary with.

That’s not a vigorous defense of your candidate. Nor is it a fair criticism of your opponent. It doesn’t even some close to meeting the smell test.

But I’m going to actually give JC a gift. I’m going to illustrate exactly what would have been a fair attack on Hillary’s claims that her experience in the White House makes her the most qualified candidate now. I’m talking about her thoroughly botched effort, in the early days of the administration, to get a health care reform bill passed.

The failed National Task Force on Health Care Reform of 1993, which President Clinton put her in charge of was largely botched through Hillary’s own efforts to exclude the testimony or participation of doctors, insurance companies and healthcare policy experts who disagreed with her viewpoint. Their exclusion raised red flags in the healthcare and insurance industries, the press, and among the public. The insurance industry’s Harry and Thelma commercials did not defeat the health care reform package; they merely exploited the public’s doubts, which were already there because of the secrecy surrounding the process under Hillary.

That would be a legitimate criticism of Hillary’s performance and I’d like to see her answer it. Her record in the Senate, her votes, her character traits are all fair game. And a real examination of them would be welcome.

This isn’t it. It’s a right wing smear attack by somebody who purports to be a Democrat. And as such, it never should have been done. To echo Jane Hamsher, “You never repeat rightwing talking points to hammer your own. Just don’t do it.

UPDATE: J.C. actuall did just post something on Hillary's botched health care reform initiative, which I happen to agree with. Hitting her for her real record is fair game).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Juicing the Economy or Lining Corporate Pockets?

There is nothing that so starkly contrasts the differences between the Republicans and Democrats than their approach to the recession. All of the Democrats are proposing plans to put money in the hands of consumers to get them spending. They are also offering up economic stimulus packages to help those in need from homeowners, whose mortgage payments have skyrocketed, to extending unemployment benefits to those made jobless by the cascading mortgage loan and credit crises.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are seizing on the bad news as a way to extend Bush’s tax cuts to the wealthiest, including those who need it least.

And then corporations and their K Street lobbyists are clogging the offices of congressmen with their hands out to get their share of the goodies. For them, this is not so much a crisis in need of a solution as an opportunity to milk the government for every financial advantage they can get.

But don’t believe me, here’s what today’s Washington Post wrote about the two contrasting approaches:
The debate has highlighted the gulf separating the Democratic and Republican parties on economic policy, even as K Street stokes the engine on what House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) fears could be a runaway train. Democrats from Capitol Hill to the campaign trail are ready to spend as much as $100 billion in the coming months on tax rebates, housing assistance, unemployment benefit extensions and aid to cash-strapped states to counter a recession that they worry may already have begun.

Most Republican presidential candidates are far more amenable to long-term changes in the tax code and spending that would address underlying drags on the economy rather than short-term, one-time fixes. And GOP leaders in Congress are concerned that Democrats would try to offset the cost of any stimulus package with future tax increases or loophole closures.
But the Republican approach is exactly wrong because what is needed is precisely a short term, temporary stimulus not an excuse to give those who need it least still more tax breaks while increasing the deficit further.

Here’s what Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, and former Treasury Secretary, Lawrence Summers recommended, in a CNN interview:
"To be useful, a fiscal stimulus package should be implemented quickly and structured so that its effects on aggregate spending are felt as much as possible within the next twelve months or so," Bernanke said.

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers told lawmakers on Tuesday that Congress should consider a stimulus package of up to $150 billion. He proposed an immediate injection of $50 billion to $75 billion through a combination of tax cuts and increased spending on unemployment benefits and other programs. He also advocated that another $50 billion to $75 billion be set aside in case economic conditions weaken further.

During Thursday's hearing, Bernanke said he thought a fiscal stimulus package of up to $150 billion, would be "reasonable.” Bernanke cautioned though that any stimulus "should be explicitly temporary" in order "to avoid unwanted stimulus beyond the near-term horizon and, importantly, to preclude an increase in the federal government's structural budget deficit."
(emphasis was mine)

Despite that disclaimer, you can always, always count on the corporate honchos and their handmaidens in greed, the K Street lobbyists to seek an opportunity in this country’s misfortunes. The Washington Post said this:
Meanwhile, lobbying groups for industries as varied as high technology and hotels are clogging the reception rooms and e-mail inboxes of senior lawmakers, pressuring them to include the groups' favorite benefits in a stimulus package. Small businesses are seeking to write off new equipment faster. Large businesses are appealing for lower tax rates. And home builders are pleading to offset their taxable income in years past with the losses they are suffering today.
Now some of these requests are not unreasonable and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Letting small businesses expense their investments and write off new equipment faster and giving them some tax breaks to stimulate their investment in equipment, technology and growth is stimulative. It shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

That’s especially true since small businesses are responsible for most of the job creation in our economy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, businesses of less than 20 employees created 1.6 million new jobs in 2002-2003 (the latest year for which figures where available) By contrast, large corporations with 500 or more employees have been a drain on job creation, providing a net loss of 1 million jobs that same year.

So, anything that helps small companies stay afloat in tough economic times also benefits their employees and the overall economy.

But large businesses that want permanently lower tax rates contribute nothing to long term economic health or short term economic stimulation. Indeed many of these large firms have enjoyed record profits for years, given out obscenely large bonuses to CEOs, and never shared the good times with workers. As noted above, they've been a drain on employment growth. They neither need a hand out now nor do they deserve it.

The purpose of a stimulus package should be to put money in the hands of those who need the boost in buying power to get the economy moving. It shouldn’t be another bonanza for the wealthy and greedy. Unfortunately Republicans don’t get that. They never did understand real economic theory, which actually doesn’t begin and end with the totally unproven and failed theory of supply side economics.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Leslie Byrne Leads in the 11th CD

I just received this press release from Leslie Byrne's campaign:
"Poll shows Leslie Byrne Leading Primary Field by 10

Falls Church – Today, former Congresswoman Leslie Byrne, candidate for Congress in Virginia's 11th district released a poll conducted by Global Strategy Group that shows her leading her opponents, Gerry Connolly and Doug Denneny by a wide margin.

The poll, that surveyed 400 voters in the 11th district, showed Byrne with a commanding 10 point lead over her nearest opponent, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Gerry Connolly. The poll shows that both Byrne and Connolly are known by over 90% of the electorate. Byrne's lead is particularly significant considering that Connolly just finished spending 1.1 million dollars in his re-election campaign for Chairman on November 6th.

'I'm honored to have the support of voters throughout the 11th district. Having served as a member of Congress, I know better than anyone the challenges we face and how fresh, honest, progressive leadership can bring about real change in Washington. I look forward to a spirited campaign and, most of all, again having the honor of returning to Congress on behalf of the families in the 11th Congressional District.' "
In addition, in a letter that I received yesterday from Leslie, I found out that the Byrne campaign has met its first quarter fundraising goal of $100,000.

It appears that Leslie is on track to win the primary and take that victory all the way to Congress in November 2008.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It Takes Both A Visionary and a Pragmatist To Be Agents of Change

You know, I never thought that Hillary Clinton's remark about the role Lyndon Baines Johnson played in the passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was either racist or demeaning to Dr. King. She was merely attempting to make a point that without an experienced and tough fighting president, the legislation might not have passed. It took a partnership between the crusader and the politician. It took experience as well as vision and passion.

Historically, that's accurate. It was Johnson who marshalled the legislation through Congress and fought long and hard for not just this Civil Rights Act but for all kinds of programs that benefitted both blacks and whites. He fought for the Voting Rights Act and waged the War on Poverty.

But as Joseph Califano, who was a top aide to Johnson, remembers in this op-ed piece in today's Washington Post, it took a partnership between the two men to win civil rights for blacks.

Here's how he remembers it:
The greatest fairy tale of the 2008 campaign so far is the accusation that there is some tint of racism or putdown of Martin Luther King Jr. in Hillary Clinton's comment that "it took a president," Lyndon Johnson, to realize the civil rights leader's dreams.

The visionary preacher and the tough-talking master politician would be the first to say that they needed each other. I know how they came to work together, in a complex partnership, to produce a social revolution that has saved this nation.

Then here:
LBJ appreciated King's powers of persuasion and ability to attract media attention. He decided to "shove my stack of chips into the pot" to push for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in education, employment and public accommodations. To break a filibuster, Johnson had California Democrat Clair Engle, who was dying of a brain tumor, wheeled onto the Senate floor. Engle couldn't speak, so LBJ had him signal his aye vote by pointing to his eye.

The day after passage, Johnson told his aide Bill Moyers, "I think we delivered the South to the Republican Party for your lifetime and mine." Indeed, he was defeated in five Southern states in 1964, four of them states Democrats had not lost in more than 80 years. The losses didn't faze him, and he turned his energies to voting rights for black Americans.
Speaking the truth that it takes both vision and experience, both passion and pragmatism does not demean either King nor Obama.

Hillary was merely trying to make the argument for herself that she too would fight for progressive legislation and that her experience should not be demeaned. Nor her determination to fight for all people

It's tragic that this woman who was villified by the right for writing a book called "It Takes a Village," which was about how children need the involvement of a whole community to survive and thrive, and who championed Marion Edelman Wright, and Children's Defense Fund, is now suddenly cast as the racist villain by over zealous supporters of Obama. And it's equally tragic that her own supporters are giving credence to that charge by making stupid statements about Obama, which are equally untrue.

The fight between their surrogates and in the blogosphere is obscuring the fact that we have two good progressives here. So will both sides please take a time out.

Vote Mitt Romney - Sort Of

Ok, this is hilarious. It's mean, malicious, and evil; and I couldn't resist.

BTW, I don't want to give undue credit to mischievous Democrats for this, but CNN is calling the Michigan Primary for Romney right now.

Actually, I doubt most of Democrats in Michigan saw this video or voted in the Republican primary. Still, it's a pretty funny clip, so enjoy!

And congratulations to Mitt! This primary season just keeps getting better.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Paul Krugman's Liberal Conscience and His Reaction to the Candidates

You know, if there weren't plagarism or fair use laws, I'd just copy and paste Paul Krugman's whole op-ed piece from today's New York Times right here to make sure everybody sees it.

Krugman argues that you can tell more about a presidential candidate by his or her response to the looming recession than by the timbre of his voice or her hairstyle. Geeze, a journalist with some substance, d'yuh think?

Here's a sample of some of Krugman's sharp observations, starting with his take on John McCain:
Take, for example, John McCain’s admission that economics isn’t his thing. “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should,” he says. “I’ve got Greenspan’s book.”

His self-deprecating humor is attractive, as always. But shouldn’t we worry about a candidate who’s so out of touch that he regards Mr. Bubble, the man who refused to regulate subprime lending and assured us that there was at most some “froth” in the housing market, as a source of sage advice?
Then there's thes two statements, summing up Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee:
Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani wants us to go for broke, literally: his answer to the economy’s short-run problems is a huge permanent tax cut, which he claims would pay for itself. It wouldn’t.

About Mike Huckabee — well, what can you say about a candidate who talks populist while proposing to raise taxes on the middle class and cut them for the rich?
And on Romney:
And then there’s the curious case of Mitt Romney. I’m told that he actually does know a fair bit about economics, and he has some big-name Republican economists supporting his campaign. Fears of recession might have offered him a chance to distinguish himself from the G.O.P. field, by offering an economic proposal that actually responded to the gathering economic storm.

But Mr. Romney, who really needs to take chances at this point, apparently can’t break the habit of telling Republicans only what he thinks they want to hear. He’s still offering nothing but standard-issue G.O.P. pablum about low taxes and a pro-business environment.
He's a kinder to the Democrats, saying this about John Edwards:
On the Democratic side, John Edwards, although never the front-runner, has been driving his party’s policy agenda. He’s done it again on economic stimulus: last month, before the economic consensus turned as negative as it now has, he proposed a stimulus package including aid to unemployed workers, aid to cash-strapped state and local governments, public investment in alternative energy, and other measures.
And on Hillary Clinton:
Last week Hillary Clinton offered a broadly similar but somewhat larger proposal. (It also includes aid to families having trouble paying heating bills, which seems like a clever way to put cash in the hands of people likely to spend it.) The Edwards and Clinton proposals both contain provisions for bigger stimulus if the economy worsens.

And you have to say that Mrs. Clinton seems comfortable with and knowledgeable about economic policy. I’m sure the Hillary-haters will find some reason that’s a bad thing, but there’s something to be said for presidents who know what they’re talking about.
But he is less complimentary to Barack Obama. Here's his assessment:
The Obama campaign’s initial response to the latest wave of bad economic news was, I’m sorry to say, disreputable: Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser claimed that the long-term tax-cut plan the candidate announced months ago is just what we need to keep the slump from “morphing into a drastic decline in consumer spending.” Hmm: claiming that the candidate is all-seeing, and that a tax cut originally proposed for other reasons is also a recession-fighting measure — doesn’t that sound familiar?

Anyway, on Sunday Mr. Obama came out with a real stimulus plan. As was the case with his health care plan, which fell short of universal coverage, his stimulus proposal is similar to those of the other Democratic candidates, but tilted to the right.

For example, the Obama plan appears to contain none of the alternative energy initiatives that are in both the Edwards and Clinton proposals, and emphasizes across-the-board tax cuts over both aid to the hardest-hit families and help for state and local governments. I know that Mr. Obama’s supporters hate to hear this, but he really is less progressive than his rivals on matters of domestic policy.
Ordinarily, I don't do cut and paste jobs with minimum commentary. But when Paul Krugman, a Yale and MIT educated economist (he received his doctorate from MIT), who taught at Yale, Stanford, and MIT, where he was Ford International Professor of Economics, gives a run down on the economic policy or lack thereof of candidates, I tend to listen and want to pass it along.

Krugman is passionate about populist economics and is author of the book, The Conscience of a Liberal, which is also the name of his NYT blog.

That he dismisses the Republican candidates is no surprise to me or to anybody who has followed Krugman's writings. But I take seriously what he has to say about the Democratic contenders too. And some of it is none to flattering but important to consider as our economy lurches its way into a for real recession.

For more on that, the New York Times also gives this report and it's troubling. According to the article, for the first time since 1991, Americans are consuming less. This is not just the decline in growth that has been reported, but an emerging economic trend which suggests that Americans at all levels, not just the poor and middle class but the upper class too, are cutting back on their spending.
There are mounting anecdotal signs that beginning in December Americans cut back significantly on personal consumption, which accounts for 70 percent of the economy.

A raft of consumer companies — high-end stores like Nordstrom and Tiffany, and middle-of-the-road ones like Target and J. C. Penney — reported a pronounced slowdown in growth last month, and in several cases an outright drop in business.

American Express said that starting in early December the growth in the rate of spending by its 52 million cardholders, a generally affluent group of consumers, fell 3 percentage points, from 13 percent to 10 percent, the first slowdown since the 2001 recession.

And consumer confidence, an important barometer of economic health, has plunged. Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, says consumer satisfaction with the economy has reached a 15-year low, according to the firm’s polling.

Even wealthier consumers, who were seen as invulnerable to rising gasoline prices and falling home values, are feeling the squeeze.
With this going on, is it any wonder that voters are telling pollsters that concern about the economy is supplanting Iraq as their most important election issue?

This recession looks like it could be deeper and more pervasive than the one of 2001, which was considered mild. I think that's going to have a large effect on the election. The Republican and Republican lite answer of throwing more tax breaks at it, especially with the record budget deficits and the foreign trade deficit, is not the answer. Just as in the 1990s, it's going to take a Democrat to get this country out of the mess the Republicans, with their supply side ideology, dug for it. This is round two of saving America from a Bush and his voodoo economics.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Why Do Conservatives Fear Mike Huckabee?

I've been curious about why seemingly conservative Republicans across the Virginia blogosphere seem to dislike and mistrust Mike Huckabee so much.

To a Democrat, like me, he would seem to appeal most perfectly to a strong part of their base, the evangelical social conservatives. Indeed, that was a key to his victory in Iowa and will be a large part of his appeal in South Carolina. Yet Republican bloggers are all over the map, with Kat, from Cathouse Chat, staunchly supporting Duncan Hunter, somebody who doesn't have a realistic chance in any primary. Jim Hoeft and Squeaky Wheel, of Bearing Drift, issued a joint endorsement of Mitt Romney a few weeks ago. And Mason Conservative was originally for Fred and then switched to Rudy.

So, what is it about Mike Huckabee that turns off these often socially conservative Republicans?

Fred Thompson gave this rather succinct wrap up explaining why party insiders dislike and mistrust Huckabee, whom conservatives like Leslie Carbone dismiss, as she did in this scathing post.

On the other hand, I've got to say in Huckabee's defense, he's no Democrat despite Thompson's attempt to portray him as such. Nor is he a liberal.

But there is a small but growing segment of young evangelicals who are disaffected with the Christian Right.

They care about issues like responsible stewardship of the environment, poverty and economic justice, racism, and peace. They are disaffected from the culture wars.

They are not liberal on abortion and they don't support gay marriage. But they are also tired of the demonization of gay people and the politicization of those wedge issues to the exclusion of other concerns.

These new Christians eschew the conservative or liberal labels and are part of a movement called the emergent church movement. Their leaders include Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, and Jim Wallis.

Although some Democrats have been hoping to lure these leaders into a closer alliance with the Democratic Party (I'm one of those who supported this), there are things about Huckabee that might appeal to the idealistic young people who make up a large part of this new movement within the evangelical churches.

There are, however, serious impediments to Huckabee picking up their support if you look below the surface of Huckabee's populist appeal.

For example, his fair tax proposal, which is a flat tax, favors the wealthy and would be burdensome to the middle class and the poor. In addition, he has made statements about gays and AIDS that hark back to the culture wars that this group is so tired of.

But Huckabee's bass playing, folksy appeal could play beyond the narrow evangelical base. And that's what's scaring traditional no-tax, let's constantly fight the culture wars conservatives who truly comprise the hard right of the Republican Party.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Congratulations to Scott Surovell, New FCDC Chairman

I've been remiss in getting around to this but a hearty congratulations to Scott Surovell, who was elected chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee this past Tuesday night. As RK reported here and here, and Leslie Byrne and Bryan Scafford also reported, 374 people showed up at the FCDC reorganization meeting because they cared passionately about participating in the future of the Fairfax Democratic Party.

Scott made one of the most eloquent speeches I've ever heard. He basically hit every button for me. He recounted how his grandparents had been union organizers in Brooklyn during the Depression. His grandfather was an artist who came to Fairfax County as part of FDR's WPA federal works program. Once here, Scott's grandparents tried to join the local Democratic Party, which was then in the grip of the Harry Byrd machine, and they weren't welcome because they were liberal and Jewish.

The only organization that welcomed them back in the 1930s was the NAACP. In a time when "change agent" has become the buzz word, the elder Surovells were definitely agents of change and fighters for social justice, inclusiveness, and the core principles of the Democratic Party.

Here, from RK, is a summary of Scott's speech.

Scott talked about his grandparents moving to Virginia and fighting the Harry Byrd machine. He noted that Democratic Party politics is "in my blood." He highlighted his accomplishments as Mt. Vernon committee chair, and said that Dave Albo is "terrified of Mt. Vernon." He emphasized the importance of FCDC operating on "all cylinders," pointing out that if it doesn't, we end up with people like Bob McDonnell and Bill Bolling in office. He said "this isn't a social club," it's a vehicle to elect Democrats. "We're gonna take this committee to the next level." "I've got a lot of energy, we're gonna do great things" and "you're gonna be proud."

As Leslie put it, on her blog, both Scott and his opponent, Steve Bunn, were class acts. The next day, Steve issued this statement:

My friends,

We are Democrats because we believe in Democracy. We exercised our Democratic privileges last night with an electoral contest. All those elected now have the responsibility to pull our party together. We have a primary in 34 days, and another primary 119 days after that. The general election in November is just 300 days away. We have a lot of work to do to win in November, and we must to do it together to elect our Democrats for President, Senate and Congress.

Please tell those who could not be present last evening that we had an election and the Fairfax County Democratic Party won.

I urge you to support your new Chairman, Scott Surovell, to build a strong Democratic team through consensus and openness, civility and respect. Congratulations and great success for all of our Democrats this year.

In addition, Shannon Sullivan, the chair of the FCDC Labor Committe, who originally supported Steve Bunn, urged everybody to get behind the new chairman.

I think the FCDC is stronger because of the vigorous debate that went on, and I too look forward to working with Scott, who is as energetic and capable as he is eloquent. He's going to be a good leader.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Revenge of the Middle Aged Woman

The story of the New Hampshire Primary is that women, especially boomer women, broke overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. JC Wilmore put it in stark terms when he said:

The status quo won a victory in the face of the "change agents" in New Hampshire

But I think he’s wrong. Let me say he is a well meaning and honest progressive who views Obama as a new kind of politician. I do too. But at some level, JC, and many others, miss completely that for boomer women, they did not see themselves as voting for the status quo in New Hampshire yesterday. They were fighting for somebody whom they viewed as a genuine change agent who had fought 40 years of battles for them, and with them. And those women were deeply offended that men and young people, both male and female, neither recognize nor acknowledge that fact.

It may indeed be time for the torch to pass to a new generation. But it should not do so without recognition that those who bore it before also fought for change and left a far different and in some ways better world than they found.

Let me give you a little personal history that might explain how unimaginably different the world is today than it was back when Hillary and I were growing up. We’re roughly the same age and from suburban areas near a major city (her from Chicago, me from New York).

When I was 14 years old, back in 1968, many of my mother’s friends staunchly believed that a woman should ask her husband’s permission before buying herself a new dress. Women did not work outside the house and received allowances from their husband with which they bought groceries, ran the household, and if they had anything left over, purchased some personal items. They raised children and their main sense of accomplishment came from those children’s successes.

Back then, I discovered the early Women’s Lib movement. Nothing seemed to make more sense to me than the notion that women should earn equal pay for equal work.

Other people, however, argued that it was just and fair for women to earn less money because they needed less. People expected a woman to be married and to have a husband supporting her. Any money a woman might earn outside the home was expected to just supplement the family income or be used for luxury items.

Worse, some people also believed that it was selfish for a woman to want to get satisfaction and a sense of achievement through work outside of the home. Such a woman was criticized for taking a job from a man who needed it more and shortchanging her children who needed a mother at home every minute.

But there was something very wrong with this argument.

For one thing, those same people would never say that a garbage man with ten children should make more money than a single investment banker with no children. If somebody suggested it, they would be told that we didn’t live in a socialist nation and that the free market determined salaries for men.

Even more important, lots of women, even back in the 60s, actually were the sole support of children and did need more money than the men whose salaries were greater. There were widows and divorcees, some of whom had been abandoned by husbands. Men traded up for trophy wives then just as they do now.

Today, a young woman graduating from college has every expectation of getting a good job, entering a profession and earning a decent salary. When that young woman marries and has children, she will be able to choose whether to keep working at a challenging job she enjoys or stay home. Nobody will criticize either decision. Although women still get paid less than men for doing the same job, nobody thinks it’s fair anymore. Very few young women today call themselves feminists or identify with the Women’s Liberation Movement. They don’t have to because women like Hillary fought that fight for them.

And they – we - took flack for it. When I said I was a feminist, back in 1970, a male, liberal friend of mine said to me, “Well then open your own damned door.” And he let that door close right in my face.

I won’t forget that. And ask any baby boomer woman who went out there and fought for our equality and she will have a similar story.

And that’s why even if we are not for Hillary for President, we still feel, “don’t you dare ever, ever make fun of her claim that she worked for change. She was a change agent before many of those laughing at her claim were old enough to say the word “change.”

If she’s now the Establishment, it’s a very different Establishment than the one she and I found. Not always better, but different and more equitable. There’s still miles to go before it’s truly just or equal. We still see the double standard all the time. We still see injustice, war and poverty. And it may take a new generation to lead us out of it. And Obama may be the one to do it because he is so inspiring.

But today’s progressives stand on the shoulders of those who came before so they can achieve even greater things. But do remember those whose shoulders you stand on.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hillary Clinton Did Not Melt Down - She Had a Human Moment!

Last night I was so angry - no make that furious - at the posts and, especially, the comments I was seeing around the blogosphere regarding Hillary Clinton's utterly human moment in New Hampshire. I wanted to write something but I was so irritated that I decided to wait until I could calm down enough to not be insulting or nasty to anybody.

This morning I found this post on The Women's Post, by Vivian Paige that absolutely nails it. She said what needed to be said with a few brief statements that contained dignity and clarity. It has the added bonus of being from a woman who has run for office herself.

Thank you Vivian!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Leading Indicators in New Hampshire

I suspect everybody who reads a newspaper, listens to NPR on the way home from work, and watches the television network news - you know, your average news junkie - expects Barak Obama to win in New Hampshire. He's overtaken Hillary Clinton by double digit leads. Depending upon which poll you believe, his lead is as high as 15 points.

That's not the story I'm watching for. It's a given by now that he's the frontrunner.

The really interesting story is going to be what the Independents will do. That will affect John McCain's fortunes as well as Obama's. They are actually competing for votes because Independents can vote in either primary.

In Iowa, another open primary state (albeit a caucus rather than an actual primary) Independents broke 2 to 1 for the Democrats and chose Obama. If something like that happens in New Hampshire, it not only hurts McCain's chances, which are built on his getting the Independent vote, but it sets up some interesting expectations about how broad Obama's support will be going into the general elections.

So, the breakdown of the Independent and cross over vote may be the real story to watch here.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Are We Headed for Stagflation?

The economic news for the 4th quarter of 2007 is in and it is not good. That’s an understatement of massive proportions, by the way. It's actually dire and in ways that we haven't seen since the intractable combination of recession and inflation, known as stagflation in the 1970s. I'll get to that in a minute. First the current numbers for the 4th quarter and what they mean.

According to reports from newspapers around the country, including the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the Washington Post, the unemployment rate surged from 4.7 percent to 5 percent. Economists, even at their most pessimistic, had predicted unemployment would only go up to 4.8 percent. This is the highest unemployment rate we’ve had since the recession of 2001 and the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, or the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Only 18,000 new jobs were created. Economists had expected that at least 70,000 new jobs would be added to the economy. And that would have been below what’s needed to keep up with population growth. The economy needs to add 100,000 new jobs a year to keep pace with the population.

Some of the slowdown occurred in the housing sector, as was expected. According to the Washington Post, residential construction lost 28,500 jobs and 7,000 additional jobs were lost in the mortgage industry. As the Washington Post reported:

"We are on the verge of recession now," said Robert A. Dye, senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group. "We are teetering on the edge of a precipice, and it will not take much to push us over."

Economists have been hoping that the fallout from the downturn in housing and related crisis in financial markets would be contained to industries closely related to those businesses. That hope, it would appear, is not being borne out.

Indeed, problems in the housing industry, caused by the subprime crisis, are spilling over to other important sectors. Manufacturing contracted by 3,000 jobs for the quarter. For the entire year of 2007, 212,000 jobs were lost, 74,000 of them in the sagging auto industry.

What is more troubling, though, is that retail lost 24,300 jobs in December. The holiday season is traditionally a time when more jobs are added to the economy, albeit many of them are temporary. That usually skews the 4th quarter report and makes it appear stronger until it is seasonally adjusted. So that actually makes job losses in retail in December even worse news.

All of this would seem to call for an economic stimulus package. Already unions and politicians across the spectrum are agreeing on the need for that. But there’s an even greater problem here. Major newspapers across the country yesterday reported that we may be facing a threat of inflation, which could hamper attempts to stimulate the economy. Here are some quotes:

From the NYT:

“This is unambiguously negative,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s “The economy is on the edge of recession, if we’re not already engulfed in one.

The Fed has already eased rates three times since September in a bid to inject confidence into jittery markets. But analysts cautioned that central bankers may now feel constrained against further easing: inflation is growing, particularly as oil hovers near $100 a barrel. Lower interest rates, over time, can generate the seeds of inflation, and could make an already weak dollar worth less against foreign currencies.

“The Fed is trying to juggle a two-sided sword,” said Ryan Larson, senior equity trader at Voyageur Asset Management. “They’re trying to fight inflation moving higher and they’re trying to fight a slowdown in growth.”

From the Washington Post:

The Fed is in a tricky spot as it decides how much to lower rates. Oil prices touched $100 a barrel Wednesday and Thursday, and have risen in recent weeks with prices of other commodities. Lower interest rates would only exacerbate the threat of higher prices.

"The Fed is in the unenviable position of trying to serve two radically different taskmasters," said Bruce McCain, head of investment strategy at Key Private Bank. Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke "can't afford to let market psychology and economic psychology of consumers spin out of control. But we are seeing signs of greater inflation."

And finally, the Chicago Tribune:

The latest figures make it more likely that the Federal Reserve will move to lower interest rates late this month. But the inflationary pressures caused by sky-high oil prices could complicate the Fed's efforts to stimulate the economy with lower rates.

Sorry to be repetitive, but the point needs to be made that across the board economists and business writers fear a resurgent threat of inflation. Which means that we could be headed for something not seen since the late 1970s. Stagflation could be rearing its ugly head again.

The danger in this is that the classic tool for fighting recession is to stimulate the economy by cutting interest rates and pumping more money into the economy. And the classic tool for damping down inflation is to induce some mild recessionary pressure by tightening credit and getting some money out of the economy. Stagflation, however, is particularly nasty and intractable because neither of those alternatives is desirable. As its name suggests, it’s a form of economic paralysis.

The economy could be in dire trouble and so could the Republican Party heading into the 2008 elections. Then again, so could anybody who wins that election and gets stuck having to fix this mess.

Hillary: Shrill or Just Assertive

I watched the entire debate last night. In truth, I thought all the Democratic candidates did well.

Barack Obama seemed a bit tired and his voice was hoarse and somewhat weak at certain points. But he stayed on his message of hope, inspiraton and inclusiveness, which worked so well for him in Iowa.

In addition, when attacked, he remained calm and stood his ground. All and all, he gave a solid performance.

Edwards was articulate and impassioned as he insisted that the only way to bring about the change that voters want is to stand up and fight the special interests.

While both Obama and Edwards are claiming the titles of "agents of change," their styles are very different.

Hillary seems to have stayed with the message that her candidacy offers change through experience and insisted that she has spent a lifetime accomplishing real change.

Now, I'm not a big Hillary supporter, but I am frankly surprised that this video clip, above, is going around as an example of her shrillness.

It's sound byte taken out of context. She was responding to an attack on her by both Obama and Edwards. At the time, she interrupted to correct the record because Bob Gibson, the moderator, was getting ready to move on.

She did what any good candidate would, and demanded time to respond.

I guess it's a matter of perspective but what some would call her "angry style" or shrillness, I saw as assertiveness.

I also think it goes back to an old and very real problem of perception that all professional women face, and not just from men but from other women too.

When a man stands his ground aggressively, it's seen as strength. When a woman does it, she's seen as being a bitch.

It makes me wonder how a woman can run for office and get a fair shake.

Obviously, lots of times she can and does. We have many successful women candidates who have run at the local, state and national level. Indeed, Hillary has run two successful Senate campaigns.

The difference between running for the presidency and those other offices, however, is that the balancing act for a woman is particularly difficult.

More than any other office in the land, the presidency absolutely requires a person who will be strong enough to be able to protect our national security. Voters need to know that the person they elect to lead them will be tough enough to respond to any national threat. But a woman who strikes a tough stance is still disliked by the public, even the liberal voting public.

This, then, begs the question: Is America ready yet for a woman president?

I think so. But I'm not sure Hillary, for all her obvious intelligence and competency will be the one.

But I don't think it will be because of clips like this, likability or perceived shrillness.

I suspect it will be a mixture of Clinton fatigue and a desire to move beyond the battles of the past.

But tapes like this are beside the point. They are just campaign fodder by opponents. In truth, Hillary did as well as any of the other candidates last night in articulating her message. And she struck the proper note of assertiveness that would be needed in a President of the United States. She is not, after all, running for Magnolia Queen or Miss Congeniality. She's running, like all the others, to be leader of the free world.