Thursday, November 30, 2006

Or Maybe Bill Moyers...

I know I said the other day that I want to support John Edwards in '08. But if Bill Moyers ever did jump in the ring (guess that is a long shot), I might have to support him instead. Wow--what an eloquent and graceful, yet razor sharp, speech maker he is!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What Will the Democrats Do About Trade?

In these days of horrifically escalating bloodshed in Iraq (i.e. “civil war”), I hesitate before raising a completely different issue. I am gratified by the media attention that the Iraq issue is receiving, even if way too much respect is still paid to the ridiculous assertions of the Bush-Cheney Administration. (In case you missed Michael Moore’s recent and refreshing diatribe on the subject--which is as blunt and un-sugar coated as usual--here it is.) But, acting on the theory that blogs should sometimes try to raise awareness about lower profile issues, I decided to write anyway. Also, I was at a dinner the other night talking to a European academic who sneeringly referred to the resurgence of “populism” in both the U.S. and Europe, as if that was something bad. So I had to write something, didn’t I?

American Prospect columnist Harold Meyerson calls the recent U.S. Congressional election the "Fair Trade Election". He points out that even the widely cited example of how "conservative" the new Democrats in Congress are--Heath Shuler of North Carolina--campaigned strongly against so-called free trade agreements that hurt American workers. More broadly, the ever sharp David Sirota proclaims: "We the populists won." I can't quibble with Meyerson and Sirota in their election analysis, given the widespread resonance of the economic populist message by new Senate Democrats such as Jim Webb, Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey, and Jon Tester. And, moreover, like them I celebrate this development.

It is worth reflecting though, on what will happen if the Democrats don't deliver on trade issues. (By "deliver", I don't mean to imply that they can get past a Presidential veto, or be held responsible for that, but merely that they get economically populist legislation passed...thereby forcing Bush to decide one way or the other, and thus either see it enacted or show the American people what they would enact with a better President.) I'm sure that action on getting the U.S. military out of Iraq, which is being so widely covered in the media, is a crucial priority. But I also wonder if many American voters will grow disenchanted with the Democrats if they don’t enact an economically populist agenda too. Trade is an especially tricky part of economic populism, because bipartisan elite opinion in Washington, D.C. and other centers of power usually opposes the populist position of restricting “free trade”.

The powerful forces that are enriching capital while sending well-paying U.S. jobs overseas will be hard to overcome.--even if the Democrats manage to push through strong labor and environmental protections on future trade deals. The exploitation of cheap labor overseas is a major dynamic of global relations. It is quite possible that Democrats will have a hard time building a large enough consensus to radically change the economic prospects of working-class Americans.

More pointedly, I worry about the global trade issue as a big negative for the ’08 presidential candiday of Hillary Clinton. Because the Bill Clinton years, while economically more prosperous than more recent times, did see continuing erosion in manufacturing jobs, along with several major “free trade” details, most notably NAFTA, that he supported. While it is perhaps unfair that she would be held responsible for the policies of her husband (although on the other hand, she unquestionably benefits from the name recognition), it is the reality of the Clinton legacy in many working people’s minds, for better or worse. I predict that a Hillary Clinton candidacy would have to overcome quite a bit of that legacy to become credible as someone who would fight for working people. Maybe that’s why I support someone with a stronger populist streak, such as John Edwards.

Returning to my European colleague at dinner, one of the reasons he gave for finding fault with the resurgence of populism in Europe and America is how much he associates it with nativist rhetoric and xenophobia, blaming immigrants, etc. But isn’t that in part why we need to advance an economically populist Democratic agenda that focuses more on the evils of big business interests rather than taking it all out on the poor, hard-working non-citizens (either immigrant workers or workers overseas) who are simply trying their best to make a living in tough circumstances? I told him that I have more hope for the populist Democrats in the U.S. because they are trying to provide an alternative to the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric of the right-wing (strong Latino support for Democrats in ’06 seems to point out at least some success in holding together a working people’s coalition). Even in Europe, I don’t think populism is so bad. For some reason, my colleague doesn’t like France’s new presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, who has been derided by some as a “populist” (what’s wrong with that?) To me, she sounds like a great candidate. I am wondering if “populist” has different connotations in Europe and the U.S. (Okay, well maybe the economic elites everywhere all hate it!) In this time when the America is messing up so many things around the world, perhaps that’s one thing Americans can be proud of—our respect for the populist tradition?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

For the PowerPoint Ranger in each of us

Behold, for the combatants of 4GW:
The US Army uniform board has just released a new patch for those trapped in staff positions and who have served above and beyond the call of duty in making time consuming POWERPOINT presentations day after day, week after week, month after month without recognition.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Fall and Rise (and continued increase) of M3

Anyone with an interest in conspiracy theories and the geekier aspects of economics, and with a instinctive distrust of anything the government does (especially during the Bush administration) will just *love* this item. Last year the Federal Reserve nonchalantly announced that as of March, 2006, it would no longer report the broadest measure of the nation's money supply, known as M3. Certain economists were appalled, and suspicious, that the Fed would suddenly end reporting of a useful economic statistic with a lengthy historical baseline. Coincidently, M3 also happens to be the fastest growing component of the money supply, and, we have recently learned, the Treasury Department has been quietly circumventing the Fed's public attempts to tighten the money supply. As John Crudele of the NY Post explained,

Last Thursday [Nov. 2], for example, the Fed executed $2.5 billion in overnight repos and $8 billion in 14-day repurchase agreements. These were reported on the financial wires. // The Treasury completed a $5.5 billion repo operation on the same day under what it calls the Term Investment Option. There was no mention of the Treasury operation on the wires. In the Fed's repo deals, the banks temporarily turn over securities to the central bank in exchange for cash.

The result of these agreements is to increase the money supply, even as the Fed steps up interest rates, keeping financial institutions flush with credit to loan. Even more so since the Fed stopped reporting M3. Thanks to new sources of M3 reporting, Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture can tell us that
M3 is growing quite rapidly, with the annual rate of change now over 10%. Prior to the announcement of M3's demise, its growth was in the range of 3 - 7%. // Anytime a government agency stops reporting about their goings on, it should raise a few eyebrows. Now we see what happened once the reporting of M3 was killed -- that measure of money supply spiked much higher -- a rate of change that's even greater than 10%+.

I'm not knowledgeable enough about the nation's banking system to hazard much of a guess at what's up here, but it looks like the Treasury has been stimulating an economy already floating on a credit bubble. Was this an election year gambit to stave off a recession until after the mid-terms? Is it a less cynical attempt to engineer a soft landing? Or is it just a way for people at the treasury to shovel more money towards the financial sector? I don't know, and it could, of course, have a more benign explanation as well. But it seems pretty fishy to me.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Next steps in Iraq

I would like to write more about my own ideas on Iraq in the near future, but for now I recommend (with one reservation) this post from Suzanne Nossel at Democracy Arsenal. It's a good summary of various policy options that ends up with this prescription:

In short, develop a withdrawal scenario that includes whatever steps can reasonably be taken to minimize the chaos in our wake. A regional conference, talks with Syria and Iran, improved training and reconstruction efforts, political mediation and efforts to bolster the security of less violent regions should all be part of the package. To the extent we can engage Iraq's neighbors as well as any other global powers who are willing to step up to the plate and help us and Iraq, we should. We should be honest with ourselves and with the Iraqis about what we are doing and why, acknowledging all of the above rather than pretending that we're handing off a country that's in better shape than it is. But we should commit to getting out of there regardless of how the diplomacy and mediation progress. //Our exit should be as responsible and forthright as our entrance was wanton and misleading.

It's difficult to say if that's really a policy prescription at all--be honest and talk to people, get our troops out and hope for the best--but it might be the best that's possible at this point.

Nossel's point #7, however, I would like to take issue with:

7. Folding Iraq into a broader quest for Middle East peace won't solve the crisis any quicker
Okay--it might not lead to an immediate decrease in tensions in Iraq, but for the long term (and any policy with the goal of a stable and free Iraq will have to look at the long term) a comprehensive overhaul of our policies toward the Palestinians, and the Muslims in general, is one of the best things we can do to help our position in the Middle East. We need to recognize that the US does not have a mere public relations problem in the Middle East. We need to change our policies, not just the perception of our policies, in order to play a more constructive role in the Islamic world, and to start reducing the fuel of religious fanaticism.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Leaning Toward Edwards

Now that my favorite '08 Democratic presidential candidate (Sen. Russ Feingold) has announced he won't run, I've been thinking about who else I might want to support instead. Well, it only took a few days. I was already leaning towards former North Carolina senator (and vice-pres. nominee) John Edwards, but hearing him interviewed on NPR sealed the deal. I love his positions on economic populist issues, and he is a great advocate of working people. But the thing I always hesitated about was his earlier pro-war stance. I am reassured by how frank and open he has been about making a mistake in voting for the Iraq war. He now seems very pragmatic and anti-war, stating quite simply that we need to withdraw from Iraq soon--and that the best way to show the Iraqis we are serious about that is to simply start doing it! I think he is absolutely right that Iraqis will not take our proclamations seriously and start taking full ownership of their own country until we make it clear by our actions that we are not staying indefinitely. We will still bear some major responsibility for aid and support given how much we have wrecked Iraq, but right now things are just getting worse and worse under U.S. occupation. My sense is that John Edwards really understands that, and he is willing to do what it takes.

And of course, he has wonderful and inspiring views on so many other issues, especially ones that strongly affect ordinary Americans, like jobs, health care, and trade policy. So I'm leaning towards John Edwards now, and (of current likely candidates) he is most likely the one I will support in the campaign.

Any other thoughts out there about '08 candidates?

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Most Important Thing for Democrats To Do

Here I am posting yet again; I guess being stuck overseas during the most exciting election outcome of my life is making me a temporarily prolific blogger.

Anyway, I want to offer my suggestion for "the most important thing for Democrats" to do right away, now that they have taken control of both houses of Congress. I agree with all the items in the 100 hours plan announced by Nancy Pelosi (reform of corruption and ethics, raise the minimum wage, negotiate lower drug prices, cutting subsidies to oil companies, etc.), and I just want to elaborate on something related to the first of those items: strenuously resisting the corporate lobbyist agenda. I can hear the vultures circling already, showering the newly powerful Democrats with cash and even qualified praise ("we can work with them"). Elite insider pundits and talking heads use code words like "moderate", "centrist", and "bipartisan" (as Stan Goff so eloquently puts it: "Any time you hear the term bipartisan, check 'your six' and check your wallet. It means the ruling class is united and on the move."). What they are really trying to do is mask policies they advocate that are, in fact, not popular with most people, but only with big donors.

"Move to the center" often means "do what big business wants you to do."--i.e. favors for big pharma, big oil, big finance, and all the rest. I'm all for being cautious on currently non-majority ideas such as legalizing gay marriage, non-draconian immigration reform, and impeaching the President. But that's not what 95% of the commentators are talking about. They are talking about killing populist ideas that big business doesn't like, such as cracking down on excessive CEO pay or reforming trade policy. (Just yesterday, I heard someone on the radio from The Economist predictably moaning about how we need to avoid radical ideas like rewriting NAFTA and other free trade deals--hey, didn't you notice that the majority of working people in America are demanding change in our trade policy? And, another thing, do you think Eliot Spitzer stormed into the New York Governor's office by going easy on Wall Street?) If Democratic legislators allow corporate money to shape policy--just as they did during the Clinton Administration--then the Democratic Congress's honeymoon with the American people will be short indeed.

I want to see serious campaign finance reform, right now, immediately. I want to see serious proposals for publicly financed elections. I want to see EVERY SINGLE MEMBER of the Democratic delegations in both houses pledge to enact tough rules to ensure that corporate lobbyists and big donors have as little influence as possible over how our Congress conducts the American people's work. Everything else we want to do depends on getting the big-money special interests out of politics (or at least dramatically decreasing their influence). I realize that many Democrats are already severely compromised by corporate donors (maybe that would be a reason to have John Murtha as House majority leader instead of Steny Hoyer?) but they are just now coming back into power--so now is also the perfect time to pledge and commit to MAJOR, TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE. This is the chance to set a dramatic new tone--going from basically no power at all (esp. in the House) to running the entire Congress. It may be a long time before we get another fresh start like this.

This is a STRONG MAJORITY issue for the American people. It doesn't divide neatly by the left-right dichotomy, at least in the way that ordinary working people see it. That's why it's both strategic and essential to run with it immediately. In many ways it cuts to the very core of why so many of us like to call ourselves "progressives." It's the hard-working people of America vs. the powerful corporations--the people vs. the interests, as the original Progressives of the early 20th century put it. (As a historian, of course, I must point out that we are different in some crucial ways--which I won't get into here--from the earlier Progressives...maybe we are "neo-Progressives"?) Whatever the slogan's historical validity, it is one we would do well to reclaim today and put in practice. Otherwise we'll be back to the old slogan: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Let's lock out the old sleazy corporate lobbyist boss(es) and secure a long-term Democratic majority by demonstrating that the people are the true boss.

Sometime over the weekend, I'm hoping to post again about something I think is crucial for Democratic success (and the country's well-being) for the long term, even though it seems unpopular in the short term: dramatically cutting defense spending. This is something we need to start working on and talking about slowly, gradually, to make it an acceptable idea among American voters, who are currently so used to the endless "I'm strong/I'm tough/I'm not weak on defense" bluster from both parties that it will take a little while to change the climate of discussion. But I think now is the time--notwithstanding the current wartime, pro-military mood and my endorsement earlier of Pentagon hawk John Murtha for majority leader--to build on the disenchantment with the waste of money and precious lives in Iraq to have an honest look at the larger fiscal realities. Once you think about it, obscenely high military spending is the golden thread linking together all the long-term problems that the American government will face if it is to do what the American people want it to do: balancing the budget, keeping taxes on American workers low, preserving social security, and having the money to deal with important and popular domestic priorities such as health care, education, jobs, and the environment. So sacrosanct high military spending is the sacred cow that I will propose we slay (obviously not tomorrow, but over the next few years). But I'll shut up about that now and leave that for my next blog post.

Anyway, back to short term priorities: any responses or alternative suggestions about what the Democrats need to do FIRST?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What's the Matter with Jim Wallis?

I already posted something today, but I just can't resist posting an addendum: A gigantic "huh?" response to the brief election commentary by Jim Wallis, one of the best known Christian leaders attempting to pose a more thoughtful alternative to the religious right, on Beliefnet (cross-posted on HuffPo) just now. In a reflection entitled "A Defeat for the Religious Right and the Secular Left," Wallis claims: "In this election, both the Religious Right and the secular Left were defeated, and the voice of the moral center was heard. A significant number of candidates elected are social conservatives on issues of life and family, economic populists, and committed to a new direction in Iraq."

I respect Jim "vote all your values" Wallis, and I admire all that he's done as an alternative voice for Christianity in the public sphere. Yet although I agree with Wallis's Christian perspective on the specific issues he cites--economy, poverty, Iraq, etc.--I have two serious objections to his argument:

#1) How exactly was "the secular left" defeated in this election? The shift in favor of Democrats was across the country in just about every demographic category. It was a resounding victory for the secular left by getting rid of some of its most odious persecutors (e.g., Rick Santorum) and drastically diminishing the power of the Republicans in Congress. To be sure, some Democrats elected are conservative on cultural issues (what else is new? remember the Old Solid South? I doubt you could find a Democratic rep today that wouldn't pale in comparison as a cultural conservative!) Yes, many Democrats were willing to talk about their faith in a wider sense. But in most cases they did so in such a way that I doubt any secular people could have been at all offended, or felt that their victories were in some way a "defeat" for them. (Or correct me if I'm wrong: Do Jon Tester, Claire McCaskill, and Jim Webb seem like a "defeat" to you secular leftists out there?) Moreover, the most high-profile candidate to try out-Christian-ing the Republicans, Harold Ford Jr., himself went down to DEFEAT--although I will grant that also had to do a little bit with racist TV commercials and veiled code language used by his opponent. For so many others, though, it was simply a victory for the whole progressive left--Christians, Jews, Muslims, secular people, and others--all together. (If you want to be picky about it on a quantitative level, exit polls showed that secular people were the demographic group most voting in favor of Democrats, and more Democrats won, so I guess that they fared the BEST, if anyone did!) I just don't see any way you can spin this recent election as a "defeat" for the secular left.

#2) Why are we demonizing the "secular left" at all? This is what really gets me. I am an unabashed Christian and an unabashed Leftist (to me, the former basically implies the latter!) As far as I'm concerned, I want to be in a political coalition with EVERYONE who believes in the same ideals and values, not just United Methodists, or Protestants, or Christians, or "people of faith" in general. Widen the circle one more step, please! One thing I cherish about being an American is that we don't establish religion through the state; instead, we give people religious freedom and separate religion from the state. Both can flourish better this way. And we then have to make better arguments in the public sphere, because we can't just fall back on some unreasoned appeal to religious authority. In fact, in my experience, I can say that many secular people I have known have more deeply thought and deeply ethical convictions than many religious people in our society. So please, Jim Wallis, don't demonize and exclude secular people from your vision of our progressive future.

What's really at the heart of my discontent with Jim Wallis's version of "progressive Christianity" is that it seems like a game of strategic Clinton-esque triangulation. It is a problem I've had with his public statements (I heard him talk in person once, and I do heartily recommend his books, such as _God's Politics_) many times before. He likes to talk about the "moral center" and decries the language of "right" and "left." He always tries to balance criticism of one group ("the religious right") with an equal and parallel criticism of the other side ("the secular left," so it sounds). That way he can appear even-handed and can perhaps appeal more easily to self-avowed evangelical Christians who may be more open to listening to someone who is claiming the center, who identifies both "left" and "right" as problematic, etc., etc.

The problem with this view is not just that it might sound like a typical politican trying to have it both ways to win votes, but more simply that it is a false parallelism. (Or maybe I should leave open the possibility that it reflects Wallis's sincere belief that both right and left are equally misguided?) It is my deeply felt belief, informed by study of the Bible, my religious tradition, my own experience, and my reason, that the Christian Gospel's true home is on the Left. The Christian message is not just some bland "moral center" but a bold and prophetic call to action against the principalities and powers that rule the world today. It is a call to solidarity with the poor, to the equality of all people in the world (e.g., an Iraqi life is equally and infinitely precious in God's eyes to an American's life), to resist materialism and greed, which along with the glorification of violence are the real sinful idols of our modern world. If Jesus were alive today, I submit to you, wouldn't he be on the Left?

I respect the sincerity and faith devotion of people who think they are doing God's work by trying to ban all abortions, even in the case of rape; or who are trying to stop stem cell research, even if the embryos are already being thrown away; or who want to bar gay and lesbian people from having the same rights as everyone else. But as much as I respect the fact that they are willing to have convictions about something greater than themselves, I absolutely, positively, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart DO NOT BELIEVE THAT THEY ARE ACTUALLY DOING GOD'S WORK. I believe they are good people, and many of them are in fact quite committed to doing other good things, but in this case they are being misled by duplicitous, hypocritical church leaders (e.g., Pastor Haggard in Colorado), as well as scheming and designing business and political leaders, who see that getting people all worked up about these issues is an effective way to divert them from the powers-that-be in modern society (at last, I now refer to Thomas Frank's argument in _What's the Matter with Kansas?_, which inspired the title of this post!)

If Wallis's real target is people like Richard Dawkins--i.e. militant atheists who are just as fundamentalist and dogmatic in their own beliefs as the extreme Christian Right in the USA who want to make it a theocracy, or the Jewish extremists in Israel who want to expel all Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, or the various Muslim religious extremists in the Middle East and elsewhere whose fanatical designs are too well known to need mentioning--then I am totally in agreement with him that these people's views are problematic in parallel ways. But in my experience, very, very few secular leftists would fit into this category. They probably wouldn't even fit on the head of a pin. And even if they did, they have very little power in the world, as far as I can tell. And I certainly don't see any of them starting wars lately.

I have had many secular friends over the years. Most of the people I hang out with on a daily basis are secular people. I have experienced nothing but respect for my religious views from all of them. Even the most energetically atheist ones just made it more fun to debate with them and dispel their misconceptions about Christianity formed by seeing its public face presented by the Religious Right. In theory, I can imagine a completely secularized world where materialistic, completely hedonistic, secular people dominate absolutely everything--a world filled with selfish, individualistic people just trying to help themselves and not caring about other people or behaving ethically. But that is not the world we DO live in. And based on my experience with secular people, it is not a world I predict we will EVER live in.

On the contrary: One of the saddest things to me as a Christian in the last few years was during the debate (such as it was permitted to occur) before the invasion of Iraq. I remember that a poll showed that the more likely someone was to go to Church, the more likely they were to support bombing and invading Iraq. Let me quote the shortest sentence in the Bible: "Jesus wept."

A Win for the Grassroots and Economic Populism

I've been reading some of the ways that people are trying to spin the Democrats' big election victory on Tuesday (which, if course, I am also still celebrating!) My sense is that it is a big win for grassroots candidates and for economic populists. I heartily welcome both of these outcomes.

I should begin, however, with a response to the pessimism/realism exhibited by ambivalent_maybe of this blog in his comment on my last post. I agree with him that many good D's did not win, and that in some parts of the country, Democrats still faced an uphill battle, even against awful Republican opponents. Like him, I come from a very conservative Republican dominated part of the country. But this year, even Nebraska 3rd district of the 100% rural and small town western and central part of the state--where I grew up, often rated one of the Top 5 Republican districts in the whole country!--had a surprisingly competitive election, ending 55-45 (this is far closer than I recall a Democrat ever getting since I was born!) If you look all across the country at different races, Democrats ran stronger ALMOST EVERYWHERE than thay have since I can remember. They not only took the House and more amazingly the Senate, but they took 6 governorships, state houses all across the country (they now apparently control 15, as many as the Republicans in 1994!) Pending the outcome of one final close race in Georgia, where the Democrat leads, the Democrats lost not even ONE SINGLE SEAT nationwide in the U.S. Congress, an almost unprecedented (or is it completely unprecedented?) achievement. Thus, while we would be well advised to be realistic that this is only the beginning of the Progressive revival in America, we also need to recognize that it is real, dynamic shift, which we should celebrate and run with. Carpe diem!

The real battle, as many of us pointed out before the election, is what the Democratic leaders will do now. Will they re-trench and be over-cautious, or will they boldy lead forward with progressive changes? I'm not saying they should issue articles of impeachment in January (although through careful and methodical hearings over time on various matters, that might emerge as a real possibility in due course), but we should not be hesistant about pushing the envelope on series issues such as health care, Iraq, trade policy, education, the environment, etc., etc. As movement progressives, we need to fight for an enduring, bold agenda.

Part of that fight begins right now as we argue over the meaning of the election: who won and how they won. I've already heard several conservative establishment types say that so many of the Democrats are "conservative" that we cannot push for anything bold. Yet even as many pundits use cultural issues as a crude gauge for labelling certain Democrats as liberal, moderate, or conservative, under the radar screen many of them ran successfully on economically populist and progressive themes: Brown in Ohio, Casey in Pennsylvania, Tester in Montana, Webb in Virginia, and countless House races (including even a Democratic-establishment-recruited but strong anti-NAFTA winner in western North Carolina!) Voters also approved minimum wage increases in every single state where they were on the ballot. Even the tricky issues that didn't necessarily go the traditional liberal way, such as ballot questions on immigration in Arizona or on affirmative action in Michigan, reveal discontent that is based in large part on economic struggles that Democrats should be paying attention to. If Democrats run with a bold working-class economic agenda, we just might keep far-right Republicans from luring white working-class people--who have absolutely legitimate concerns about how the system is treating them--with racist appeals to blame immigrants and minorities for their plight. THIS IS THE MOMENT for restoring the center of the Democratic party as the party of ALL working people in America.

The other big issue for interpreting the results is to note how well many of the grassroots candidates did. Bloggers are screaming to take credit for all the "netroots" candidates--Sen. Tester, Sen. Webb, Pa.'s Rep. Sestak, Pa.'s Rep. Murphy, and many more--who came through despite either initial indifference or outright opposition from the Democratic establishment. Detractors argue that many of the netroots targets didn't win, and that many establishment candidates did. I am inclined to agree mostly with the bloggers (of course, we ourselves are bloggers, but I'm talking here about big-name ones). They were often taking on races that were completely ignored, with long odds, or candidates who came from the grassroots without tons of outside cash. It is really quite amazing that so many did so well at all. I do think that grassroots and netroots activism played a key role in this year's successes, and I almost wish now that I had done more to support their efforts. The blogosphere should also be credited--along with Howard Dean--for supporting a 50-state strategy, which gave the Democrats chances in districts that might not have even had credible candidates otherwise; when the political winds blew strong, the Democrats were ready to ride them. The role of grassroots candidates was also important on the ground, perhaps even more than on-line. This development is wonderful, because it means that the election represents more than just the success of one focus-group tested, triangulating, fake candidate over another. The progressive tide will only continue as long as it represents a grassroots effort by American voters across the country.

To a lesser extent, there was also evidence of moderate backlash against hard-core, far-right social conservatism. Anti-gay-marriage and anti-abortion laws in the "red" (in 2000 & 2004) states of South Dakota and Arizona were defeated. Both were such extremist proposals--the one in South Dakota banned abortion even in the case of rape, and the one in Arizona would have banned even domestic partner benefits for gay or straight couples. Still, like Tess over at Arch Words, I find some hope that right-wing extremism can be (narrowly) defeated at the polls even in conservative heartland states like Missouri. To the extent that Democrats can reclaim an economic populist heart, I think these cultural conservative issues will become less of a problem for the Democratic coalition (and, hey, some of them, such as opposition to stem cell research and abortion, are not majority issues anyway).

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A New Direction for America

Well, the preliminary election results are in. A resounding victory for the Democrats. (What a relief, after the last few heartbreaking election cycles!) Now maybe America can begin to take a new direction.

As of this writing, it appears that Democrats won the two remaining Senate contests: Montana and Virginia. Of course, the margins are close, so we may have to wait for recounts. But, after the first night's dust settles, it looks like they won the House by an even greater number of seats than expected, and (incredibly) possibly also the Senate, by one seat.

I've just wasted (no, make that enjoyed!) the last half hour or so browsing around the CNN election website's wonderful interactive national map of House districts. Some pleasant discoveries include:

The come-from-behind, underdog winner in IA-02 is Dave Loebsack: international relations professor at Cornell College, progressive Democratic activist, and United Methodist to boot!

Yet another (nonlumpen) logocrat to defeat a Republican incumbent, in PA-10, is Chris Carney, Penn State professor and University of Nebraska Ph.D recipient (and, coincidentally, he got his undergraduate degree at Cornell College--he's just young enough that maybe Loebsack was one of his teachers?)

Also, out in CA-11, Jerry McNerney has a Ph.D in math and engineering and works on alternative energy, specifically wind turbines...this one is especially nice because he defeated the infamous environmentally retrograde Republican incumbent, Richard Pombo.

Just one more: congratulations to Nancy Boyda, former 7th grade chemistry teacher (and another United Methodist!), in KS-02, who also beat out a Republican incumbent to take this seat.

Looks like we're going to have some well educated and thoughtful new members of Congress, to not just stand up to Bush but help us start solving our country's pressing social, economic, and environmental problems! Congratulations one and all.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Don't Vote Republican

Not now. Not this year.

I don't know if any of this blog's readers are even thinking of voting for Republicans tomorrow--after all, the party of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have gotten us into so much trouble on so many issues, it is hard to believe anyone would.

But I can't resist one day-before-Election-Day plea, on the remote chance that anyone is undecided or thinking of staying home (and assuming you would consider taking advice from one lowly person like me): Vote for Democrats.

A vote for Republicans is a vote...

for more of the same.

for NOT holding our leaders accountable when they totally mess things up.

for allowing human beings to be tortured in our custody.

for launching unprovoked wars against countries that pose no significant threat that will kill thousands of human beings, both soldiers and civilians.

for showering tax cuts on the rich while allowing our federal budget to swell.

for absurdly scapegoating gay people for our problems while shamelessly protecting Republican sexual predators in Congress.

for taking away time-honored American freedoms such as habeus corpus.

for keeping wages low, leaving millions of people without adequate health care, less money for education, and no genuine compassion for the poor.

for an economy that mainly benefits big oil companies and weapons makers.

for using our troops as a rhetorical shield against failed policies and then failing to fully support them materially when they return home (or even in wartime).

for political corruption on a grand scale.

for ignoring serious problems, such as global warming, that will have catastrophic consequences for all of humanity.

for tolerating lies and deceptions that lead us into unwinnable and immoral wars.

Let me also speak as a Christian (sorry for those who don't resonate with my frequent references to my faith--it's just who I am) to other Christians. When you are alone in that election booth, thinking and praying about who to vote for, you will be thinking deeply about where God is calling you. Where does the message of Jesus Christ lead us in today's world? Does it lead us to support the Republicans, a party that talks a lot about "sharing our values" but then launches massive wars and violence, and that takes away from the poor and middle class (and our children) to give to big corporations and the rich? Or does it lead us to vote for a new direction by supporting Democrats, who may not be perfect, but they are far better than the Republicans at enacting our core values in the world.

Now is not the time for subtle distinctions between "moderate" and "crazy" Republicans. Now is not the time for cutting some slack to the local Republican who doesn't seem quite so bad as the rest. (And, for those of us so inclined, it isn't really the year for independent and third-party candidates either, I'm afraid.) This year's election is a referendum on the direction of our country. The more Democrats we elect to Congress (and to state legislatures, governorships, etc.), the more likely that we will be able take a new direction, which we so desperately need to do.

So if you value the continuation of American democracy, if you value accountability in government, if you cherish your liberties and freedoms, if you want to see this country start to take a new direction, and (for those who share my Christian faith) if you want leaders with Christian values: DON'T VOTE REPUBLICAN!

(And if you live in Connecticut, don't vote "Connecticut for Lieberman" either. Ned Lamont is the true--and properly nominated--Democrat who will effectively stand up to the Bush-Cheney Administration.)

See also ILJ's recent posting on his experience phone-banking to get people to the polls, for some interesting perspective on cynicism and hope in the upcoming elections.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Employment and recessions

Listening to the news this morning, I heard several commentators note that things were bad for the Republicans, despite the economy being in good shape and unemployment very low. I won't repeat here all the evidence that the economy is not in great shape for middle- and lower-income Americans--that's it's being buoyed by record levels of debt, a frothy housing market, and Gilded Age tax policies for the wealthy. (Though if you'd like to read some of that, you might start here or here.) But I did want to highlight a chart from a recent post at Calculated Risk and its demonstration that low unemployment figures usually precede recessions:

They're not predictive indicators, as the post makes clear, merely coincident. But it's a striking chart, nonetheless, and certainly puts all the shouting about low unemployment in a different light.

In fact, as economists and Wall Street types have historically been very bad at predicting recessions, it is possible that we are in a recession already. Last quarter's GDP growth officially was an anemic 1.6%, but probably closer to 0%. If Q4 is as poor, and Q3 revised downward--ta-da! A recession.

Update: Finally found a couple things I wanted to include in the post earlier. First is a link to September 8, 2006 post by Nouriel Roubini, in which he notes that "in March 2001 in a survey 95% of US economic forecasters predicted that there would not be a recession in 2001; 95% of them! Too bad that the recession had already started exactly in March of that year!" Second is an April, 2000 paper (PDF) by Prakash Loungani of the IMF, which Dr. Roubini cites, that looked at economists' predictions of GDP growth from 1989 to 1998. It concludes that "the record of failure to predict recessions is virtually unblemished."

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Powerful Statement of Faith Witness

I have a few times before mentioned my admiration of Robert Jensen's courageous articles and commentaries, which so often go against the "conventional wisdom" of American political culture. But, wow! Jensen has really struck a chord with a recent meditation entitled "Finding my way back to church -- and getting kicked out: The struggle over what it means to be Christian today." I am a Christian myself, so maybe Jensen's words resonate especially with me. But I think even non-believers and adherents of other religious traditions will find some powerful messages in what Jensen says.

Though he is a Presbyterian, Jensen's experience could have been taken place within my own wonderfully progressive local United Methodist Church. (And, moreover, this particular commentary was delivered to the Methodist Federation for Social Action, a wonderful haven for progressive social witnessing in the UMC!) My own faith experience has been somewhat different from Jensen's: I have never really left the Church, and I am perhaps more traditional about divinity issues than him. But his statement of his belief that he issued to the committee deciding on whether to kick him out of the larger Presbyterian Church (not his local church, who support him) is a powerful statement of faith in a modern age, I think:

"On God: I believe God is a name we give to the mystery of the world that is beyond our capacity to understand. I believe that the energy of the universe is ordered by forces I cannot comprehend.
On Jesus: I believe Christ offered a way into that mystery that still has meaning today.
On the Holy Ghost: There are moments in my life when I feel a connection to other people and to Creation that rides a spirit which flows through me yet is beyond me.
I believe that Holy Spirit can only be nurtured in real community, where people make commitments to each other. I have found that community in St. Andrew’s. I have tried to open myself up to our pastor’s teaching, to the members of the congregation, and to the church’s work in the world."

(And some people want to kick this guy out of the Church?)

One more quote to chew on from Jensen's think-piece, on the relevance of the churches of Christianity, which he provocatively calls "the dominant religion of the empire, the contemporary United States":

"I’m also afraid because most of the organic institutions that could help people confront the political, economic, cultural, and ecological crises we face have been destroyed, undermined, or co-opted by a sophisticated system of domination achieved through the unholy alliance of a powerful state and predatory corporate capitalism. The dominant political parties are impediments to progressive change; unions have been gutted and marginalized; and universities serve mostly as comfortable shelters for timid intellectuals working in duck-and-cover mode. The institutions in which people traditionally have come together to learn about the world and organize to change it have mostly checked out -- except for, possibly, the church."

Just go read the whole thing; it is well worth it.

I was going to post something about the upcoming elections, but reading Jensen's statement made me realize that speaking with clarity about current events sometimes requires thinking about the bigger picture.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Big Picture on Iraq

Whatever the micro-scale realities of local calm and order in Iraq, this widely circulating image is a sobering reminder of the general trajectory under U.S. occupation.