Friday, December 19, 2008

350

350. Bill McKibben, who has emerged as one of our most important public intellectuals of the present moment, says it is the "Most Important Number on Earth." He makes a compelling case. Let's get to work.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hate Wall Street Not Gays

Tis the season to talk about love, not hate. But I can't help inverting and rewriting the old anti-war slogan just for a moment. Because we are at a crucial juncture for the role of Christianity in American political culture.

Lamentably, for years--even decades--now, Christianity in politics to most people has meant activism against cultural progress on issues like freedom of religion in schools, abortion rights, feminism in general, and gay rights. Lately the latter has dominated, especially the issue of gay marriage, where the regressive position can still often gain 50%+ support (e.g., California in the recent election). This politics of grievance against liberal cultural progress, analyzed so eloquently by Thomas Frank and others, was finally appearing to lose steam (despite California) due to the pressing crises of the economy, health care, and the environment.

Indeed, the time seems perfect for a rejuvenation of a prophetic Christian tradition of attacking unjust social and economic structures, not scapegoated groups such as gays. (Isn't that what Jesus spent much of his time doing in the Gospels?) We are never going to solve any of our problems by attacking gays and denying them equal rights with everyone else. Rather than scapegoating gay people, then, why can't we redirect our hate towards the power structures that prey on all the working and poor people (often the same) in our economy, prevent meaningful health care reform, and recklessly destroy the environment? I'm not saying that we should hate the people who occupy these positions of power as individuals but rather than we should hate the power structures that corrupt and shape them--above all, the toxic environment of elite finance capital on Wall Street.

We are learning more every day about how Wall Street has taken our bailout money with minimal accountability and continued to pay themselves million-dollar bonuses and do very little if anything to help people in unemployment and foreclosure across America. The situation is dire, as everyone off Wall Street knows, and this is going to be one of hardest Christmases ever for so many hard-working families. It is sick and disgusting (yes, morally outrageous) that the same people who have made millions and billions of dollars in an exploitative and recklessly speculative lordship over the economy keep on doing it. And, sadly, some of these same people are already ensconsed at the helm of President-Elect Obama's "new" economic team. The time is now in American political culture for full-blown outrage against the tyranny of Wall Street over our lives, including the lives and souls of those who inhabit its upper echelons. Especially for those of us whose religion was inspired by a man who threw the money changers out of the temple and preached for the poor and outcast and against the power structures of his own society.

Why do I mention all of this now? I guess I am just reaching the breaking point on a whole variety of fronts. As just one small example, consider Obama's selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Warren embodies almost everything that is WRONG with American Christianity in the public sphere (yes, he is kinder and gentler, but mostly in tone, not substance). He not only backs California's anti-gay proposition and puts the same ol', same ol' cultural issues on his non-negotiatable list, he has publicly belittled the tradition of social gospel that would redirect our public Christian voice away from scapegoated groups and direct it at unjust social and economic structures. Rick Warren is a self-aggrandizing publicity seeker who has the temerity to portray himself as the face of American Christianity, fit to have America presidential candidates grovel at his feet during the campaign season and now to receive his blessing. Giving this man such an imprimatur is just one more in already long series of disappointing decisions from Obama (and he isn't even in office yet).

I would submit that Christianity is never going to reclaim its prophetic voice in the public sphere without giving up the shameful politics of anti-gay, anti-feminist, and anti-pluralist culture wars and embracing the politics of speaking truth to power. And Obama is never going to be a great President unless progressive and populist Christians join with allies in other religious groups and among non-religious people to form a political movement that will push more vigorously and strongly than we have been so far. Contrary to what many seem to believe, we cannot expect him to do all (or any?) of the right things without determined populist pressure--and we certainly will not gain anything by giving him a free ride while his big Wall Street donors and supporters press him to do their bidding.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Anyone minding the store?

I've been very bored with politics and the news since the election. Pretty happy with the results of the election, mind you, but I don't really care about following all the rumors about who is going to be appointed to what position in the Obama administration. I'll judge the administration on it's policies once in office. But I have to admit to being a little disappointed by just how ordinary Obama's picks seem to be. Especially Hillary Clinton as Sec. of State, if that's going to happen.

During the primaries foreign policy seemed the one area where Obama really seemed more progressive than the other candidates. It will be a missed opportunity if the more conventional thinkers like Clinton and her followers fill up the diplomatic posts. The younger set of policy wonks who went out on a limb to support Obama early will be left out in the cold, and the folks Clinton advances into State will dominate the institution for another generation. Add to this the Bush administration burrowing in its political appointees into last-minute civil service posts, and the federal bureaucracy will be hobbled with unimaginative functionaries, or worse, people actively trying to thwart the business of government.

And while the pundits obsess over what every appointment (rumored or announced) will mean for the Obama presidency, the Bush administration in its last days is shoveling billions of dollars at the financial industry. It's a haphazard attempt to shore up crumbling sectors of the economy, which might be necessary. But it's being done in a very careless manner, and taxpayer obligations are pilling up hundreds of billions of dollars at a time, with very little accountability for past or future actions required from the bailout recipients. If only Congress could at least pretend to care.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Meet the New Clinton, Same as the Old Clinton

Back in the primary season, when I would tell people that Barack Obama in 2008reminded me of nothing so much as Bill Clinton in 1992, many of them looked at me like I had just said something completely outlandish. (Granted, some of these people may have been small children in 1992...) But now I think we can see that the centrist Democrats are back in charge again.

As a former Edwards supporter deciding between Clinton and Obama back then (an indecision I carried almost all the way to the voting booth), one definite plus I always gave Obama was that he was better on foreign policy. So, what, now what is he about to do? Oh, and let's watch him as he reinstalls a Clinton-style centrist economic team, to reassure Wall Street and raise the Dow for a day or two.

We can only hope that in these turbulent times (though it is worth remembering that Bush I had a bad economic recession at the end of his term too), we will muster enough popular pressure to push Obama in a more progressive direction. I'm not sure how we will successfully manage any of these mounting crises--economic, diplomatic, environmental, health care--without a hard leftward turn away from the conservative and neoliberal policies of the last four decades. I guess Obama throws us a little rhetorical morsel about creating jobs every once in awhile (just like Bill used to do), but it is hard to take much comfort from who is surrounding himself with these days for his advisors and likely top-level officials. And I don't see much unified pushback from the Progressive Left these days, apparently since many of them are still so high from Obama's election (much like we were, I recall, back in '92 when Bill was elected...) But will events and movement pressure someday force a change?

Sorry I haven't posted anything for a very long time...and this post is just a middling level rant. But I do intend to start blogging more often again. Thanks for keeping up with this blog anyway, and thanks to my fellow Lumpenlogocrats for keeping the posts up for the past several months.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What Yglesias said

I have nothing to add to this, but "Amen." Not only is it an eloquent indictment of our outgoing president, but it's also missing Yglesias's usual glaring typos. You should read the whole thing, but here's one of the good parts:
On his watch, the country suffered the most catastrophic terrorist attack in its history, and he’s been relentless ever since that day in trying to turn his own inability to keep the country safe into a political bludgeon to wield against his opponents.

Monday, November 03, 2008

C'mon, Tuesday...

I can't wait for tomorrow to be over. According to the pollster geniuses at FiveThirtyEight.com, McCain's chances of winning the election are now at an all-time-low 1.9%. Obama stands a fair chance of winning North Carolina (yay!), and could even pull out victories in Missouri, Indiana and Georgia. Amazing.

Of course nothing is certain until all the votes are counted. C'mon, Tuesday...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Republicanism unites owners and workers!

Matthew Yglesias recently posted this interesting chart from Andrew Gelman:

The graphs show support for Republicans compared to the national average by occupational group for the last 50 years. An upward slope means increasing support for Republicans. Business owners and skilled workers show the largest increases in Republicanism, with non-skilled workers not far behind (though they are still slightly more Democratic than the national average).

Meanwhile, professionals and office workers have become more Democratic.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dr. Doom and Dr. Meta-Doom

Nouriel Roubini, an economist at New York University who predicted the current financial crisis as the housing bubble collapsed, was sometimes called "Dr. Doom" because of his pessimistic forecasts for the economy. Although he believes current efforts to salvage the banking system are "going in the right direction," they are too late to keep the world from sliding into the worst recession in 40 years. "We're going to be surprised by the severity of the recession and the severity of the financial losses," he told Bloomberg Television:
The economist said the recession will last 18 to 24 months, pushing unemployment to 9 percent, and already depressed home prices will fall another 15 percent.
But that's nothing compared to sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein's prognosis of a world-wide depression followed by a 20-50-year period of turmoil until a new order emerges to replace the capitalist world-system that has dominated the globe for 500 years:
We can assert with confidence that the present system cannot survive. What we cannot predict is which new order will be chosen to replace it, because it will be the result of an infinity of individual pressures. But sooner or later, a new system will be installed. This will not be a capitalist system but it may be far worse (even more polarizing and hierarchical) or much better (relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian) than such a system. The choice of a new system is the major worldwide political struggle of our times.
...
We are moving into populist government-led redistribution, which can take left-of-center social-democratic forms or far right authoritarian forms. And we are moving into acute social conflict within states, as everyone competes over the smaller pie. In the short-run, it is not, by and large, a pretty picture.
Wallerstein is the doyen of World-systems theory, which analyzes history in terms of large-scale economic cycles. In his view, the capitalist system has been winding down since the late 1960s, has the US has declined as a hegemonic power, and as capitalist enterprises have gradually maxed out possibilities for increased profits in production.

I don't pretend to be a far-sighted theorist, but it does seem virtually certain that we're entering some new phase of world history. The free-market-├╝ber-alles ideology that has gained power for the last three decades or so is now on the decline. I'm perhaps more optimistic that Wallerstein seems to be about what comes next, though I do worry that depletion of natural resources (like oil and water) could make the next century pretty brutal. It does seem, though, that recently our politics are moving in the right direction. In any case, the next fifty years should be pretty interesting.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How's that bailout working out?

Let's see... The Dow's up 900 points! Wall Street loves the bailout! Woohoo--crisis averted! Oh, wait. That was October 13. Today the Dow is down again, about 700 points as of 4:00 p.m. Hey, you guys need another bailout? I guess not everyone is happy with the sweetheart deal Paulson gave his old friends in "forcing" them to accept government investment. Besides, the bailout wasn't really supposed to make stock prices higher, it was supposed to free up lending among financial institutions. I haven't heard from informed observers how that's working, but the TED spread remains pretty high, as shown in the chart from Bloomberg below.

And whether the bailout works or not, it's too little, too late to prevent a pretty severe recession. The Democrats ought to be thinking about a much bolder, much bigger stimulus package than the $150 billion plan they've publicly discussed. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be in a hurry even with their too-small plan.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Lumpenlogocracy word cloud

From Wordle.net, a word cloud of this blog. Have we really been talking about McCain so much?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Why such a lousy bill?

So the big bailout has passed and been signed into law. As the NY Times points out this morning, now the Treasury has to figure out a price for all those mortgage-backed securities so it can start buying them up. These are the securities that more pessimistic observers refer to as "worthless" and "toxic." Whoopee.

It's striking that even supporters of this bill don't like it, and recognize its key flaw. Former labor secretary Robert Reich calls it "a lousy bill. It doesn't do the most important thing--help distressed homeowners avoid foreclosure." Paul Krugman says "the plan on offer is a stinker," and that "at best, the plan will buy some time to seek a real solution to the crisis." Even the CEO pay limitations that some Dems insisted on are just window dressing, and not likely to have a real impact on excessive CEO pay.

So why was a better bill impossible? All the right-thinking people in Washington and the punditocracy have been reassuring us that this bill, bad as it is, needed to be passed, and passed quickly. But has anyone explained why a bill that actually addressed the root of the problem, and provided more direct help to distressed homeowners and the middle class, was never even considered? There might be a good answer as to why alternatives were not considered. But no one with access to a prominent op-ed page seems to be wondering why. It's just taken for granted that a bad bill was the best we could hope for.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Forecasting the global electoral college

The Economist.com has asked its online readers around the world which candidate for US president they would vote for. The results are weighted by population according to the rules of the US electoral college. The results so far? Obama 8,202; McCain 15. Only Andorra--a place I've always wanted to travel, actually, ever since I read about Richard Halliburton's visit--is in the "strong McCain" category. El Salvador leans McCain.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Perlstein meets Klein

One of my favorite political writers, the historian Rick Perlstein, uses the theories of another of my favorite political writers--Naomi Klein--to argue that Barack Obama should use the sense of crisis in America to push for a new New Deal. And this was back in August, 2008:
Progressive political change in American history is rarely incremental. With important exceptions, most of the reforms that have advanced our nation's status as a modern, liberalizing social democracy were pushed through during narrow windows of progressive opportunity -- which subsequently slammed shut with the work not yet complete. The post–Civil War reconstruction of the apartheid South, the Progressive Era remaking of the institutions of democratic deliberation, the New Deal, the Great Society: They were all blunt shocks. Then, before reformers knew what had happened, the seemingly sturdy reform mandate faded and Washington returned to its habits of stasis and reaction.
...
That is a fact. A fact too many Democrats have trained themselves to ignore. And it sometimes feels like Barack Obama, whose first instinct when faced with ideological resistance seems to be to extend the right hand of fellowship, understands it least of all. Does he grasp that unless all the monuments of lasting, structural change in the American state -- banking regulation, public-power generation, Social Security, the minimum wage, the right to join a union, federal funding of education, Medicare, desegregation, Southern voting rights -- had happened fast, they wouldn't have happened at all?
Relevant still today, no? Unfortunately, I'm afraid the Democrats--Obama included--don't get it. They are letting a golden opportunity slip right through their hands. Worse than that, they will probably muster enough Republican support to pass something very similar to the bill defeated yesterday. This bill is better than the original Paulson plan, but is still not very good. It may do some good in the short term for the credit markets--which, by the way, is where the big problems are; we should be watching them, not the stock market, to see how things are going. But it doesn't address the underlying problem of lots of pricey mortgages on over-valued houses. Nor does it do anything to push forward needed progressive reforms not just of our financial system, but of our infrastructure and healthcare systems.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Democrats and the Bailout

Now that the Republicans have scuttled the proposed bailout plan, the Democrats have a couple of options. They could keep the basic plan they thought they had Republican agreement to, and hope that Bush and Paulson can convince the Republicans to go along with the deal. This may happen, if McCain scuttled the deal only to allow himself to seem more involved in the eventual solution. But McCain may not have much influence with the revolting Republicans (those from the House, primarily), so his support for any deal may not mean much. There may be significant political gains for the Republicans if they are the ones "blamed" for the collapse of the bailout. No one likes the bailout. Being able to run against it in the next election may be a big plus.

A better plan for the Democrats (and the country, I think) is to forget the untrustworthy Republicans, and come up with their own bailout plan--something smaller than the $700 billion Paulson figure (a number that Treasury came up with only because they wanted something really big), and more focused on assisting the people in danger of losing their homes. If I had my way, the plan would also include universal healthcare and a large infrastructure improvement program, something like Dennis Kucinich has proposed.

There are several alternative bailout plans out there that seem much more reasonable that Paulson's $700 billion proposal. The Center for American Progress thinktank has one that calls for mortgage-backed securities to be reunited into whole mortgages, bought by the Treasury and restructured. Economist James K. Galbraith has a much more modest plan, one that looks past the immediate crisis and toward the coming recession during the next 3-5 years.

Another option, of course, is for the Democrats to do nothing. They can say, "look, we had a plan agreed on, and the Republicans walked away. If they've got a better idea for solving this crisis, let them settle their differences among themselves, and then bring us the plan." This is not a terribly responsible option, however, as it risks financial meltdown for the sake of political benefit for the party. But the Republicans are doing just this, and are counting on the Democrats to be more adult then they are.

Why can the Republicans do this--and even benefit from it at the polls? Because for the last 30 or 40 years, they've been a political party uninterested in governing. They use goverment to make themselves and their friends rich, and to build their political power. But if the actual process and bureaucratic infrastructure of government itself falls apart under their leadership, they don't care. It's just more evidence that government doesn't work.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Preemptive assault on protestors

I bet in all the coverage of the Republican convention, few mainstream journalists will ask any serious questions about what seems to be pretty horrendous abuse of local, state and federal police powers to disrupt protests and detain protesters and journalists, in part by raiding the houses where they're staying.Can't have any dissent messing up the carefully planned shots of McCain and his nomination, can we?

It all sounds pretty disgusting, and I hope it gets the attention it deserves from our ailing fourth estate. But I won't be surprised if it doesn't. After all, isn't Sarah Palin's teenage daughter pregnant? Now that's news.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Flip-flops real and phony

So sure, the recent spate of articles about Obama's "refinement" of his Iraq pull-out plan is a sign that today's journalists are hardly any better at political coverage than they were in 2004. If it's a slow news day, some phony scandal must be puffed up to fill all that airtime and column space. But Obama's very real flip-flop on the FISA bill opened the door to this whole meme.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Let the disappointment begin!

Obama backs the FISA bill "compromise." As Kevin Drum points out, it's not just the immunity for the telecom companies that makes this a bad bill.

I suspect this is just the beginning of many progressives' disenchantment with Obama. It will only get worse once he's in office. Especially in domestic policy, Obama is far more centrist than progressive. In foreign policy I think we can look forward to some real changes, but in domestic policy I'm not expecting anything revolutionary. Which is too bad, because the country could sure use it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Stay at home

Not that I think world travel, per se, is a bad thing. But this is a bad idea: Obama considering world tour ahead of August convention. A quick tour won't shore up his foreign policy credentials--it will just give the GOP and the media an excuse to talk about how skimpy they are. (Even though all the people with the right credentials were totally wrong about Iraq.) Moreover, the election won't be decided on foreign policy issues. The economy is circling the drain at the moment. Obama should just stay home and talk more about domestic issues. How many people are more afraid of Islamofacism than of losing their job or not being able to pay their bills? Finally, the McClatchy article speculates that Obama would receive a warm welcome in Europe. Maybe, but that won't do him any favors in the election. It will just feed the meme that he's an elitist, more foreign than American. Forget it, Barack--just stay at home.

P.S.: In fact, you might consider a special tour of the Midwest, where the flooding has been terrible.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Shock Doctrine

I have a new favorite book. After months of letting it languish on my list of books to read (it was published last September), I finally got around to reading Naomi Klein's masterful synthesis of the last several decades of global history, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. If I could get everyone to read just one book to understand the origins of our times and our present-day problems, this might be the one. It is not, as I had initially assumed, merely a book about how greedy companies swoop in to take advantage of natural disasters and wars to rake in the contracts (as they have done after Hurricane Katrina and in Iraq, two of the central case studies in the book). Instead, it is a much more wide-ranging book, taking the reader on a grand tour of economic misery, human rights abuses, and elite opportunism since the 1970s: from the horrors of Pinochet's Chile (and much of the rest of Latin America) to the failed economic promise of post-Apartheid South Africa, and from the suppression of democracy and elite looting of national assets in post-Soviet Russia to the Asian economic meltdown of the 1990s.

The common thread linking all of these disparate cases is the application of the now-familiar economic "shock" strategies of the Chicago School and Washington Consensus--privatization, deregulation, and emasculation of social spending--in conjunction with the suppression of democracy and human rights. She relies on a rich metaphor (in some cases, actually a direct connection) comparing the use of "shock" therapy on individual mental patients and political prisoners to the economic "shock" of imposing these strategies on stunned citizenries. Although Klein is a journalist, not an academic scholar, her work is a tour de force of systematic and rigorous argument, with extensive documentation (and interview data) and many of the most damning statements quoted directly out of the mouths of the proponents of Chicago-style economic shock therapy themselves. It is also extremely engaging and well-written. Although some of the cases she sketches were somewhat familiar to many of us already (such as the horrors of Latin America's "dirty wars" and the inside dealing of lucrative contracts in Iraq), nevertheless I was riveted from the moment I started reading the book to the end.

Much of the book is profoundly depressing, showing how American leaders of both political parties (including Bill Clinton), enabled economic advisors who advocated "shock" therapy to centrally influence policy decisions. The book comes down really hard on many academic experts, such as the Russian/Soviet studies scholars who simultaneously advised 1990s Russian leaders cracking down on democratic dissent while profiting themselves from investments. But by far the harshest critique is reserved for the "free-market" economists of the Chicago School of economics, who serve as the knowledge and idea brokers and keep turning up everywhere in the book. Tracing Chicago School ideas back especially to the School's much-admired leader Milton Friedman, (and implicitly to Hayek's Road to Serfdom and other libertarian wellsprings), I think her criticism of this group is convincing, and it is one those of us in the "logocracy" need to take to heart.

In the very last (brief) chapter, though, she turns to a surprisingly optimistic note, suggesting that ordinary people around the world are wising up to the horrors of "shock therapy" and offering more resistance. To my mind, reading her book and taking its lessons to heart offer a wonderful opportunity for those of us who may not be suffering the worst consequences of these ideas to educate ourselves and prepare to resist these ideas from within the belly of the beast (i.e. the world of reasonably well-off and well-educated Americans).

Clearly I am not the only one impressed by Klein's book. Her website already displays more than 25 foreign language and international versions of the book. It also provides links to several interesting reviews. My favorite was one from the San Francisco Chronicle, by William S. Kowinski. Aptly calling Klein's book "the master narrative of our time," Kowinski predicts that Shock Doctrine "could turn out to be among the most important books of the decade." Several other reviews have clever, evokcative titles--such as "Doing Well by Doing Ill" (Shashi Tharoor, WaPo), "The New Road to Serfdom" (Christopher Hayes, In These Times), and "Bleakonomics" (Joseph Stieglitz, NYT)--that reveal just how much Klein's book aims to overturn the conventional economic thinking of the last third of the twentieth century based on Friedman, Hayek, and company. This is the book to recommend to that dear friend of yours who is in danger of being seduced by economic libertarian thinking upon reading (Milton) Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom, Hayek's Road to Serfdom, or anything by (Thomas) Friedman or Ayn Rand. It offers a stunning and historically grounded rebuttal to anyone who thinks that unfettered capitalism automatically leads to democratic freedom.

Of course, some will (rightly) say that Klein's "shock doctrine" pattern cannot explain everything in recent history. There will always be a few exceptions that don't fit the larger pattern. But what is most amazing about this book is how it links together so many disparate elements of recent global history into one coherent and convincing narrative. The "shock doctrine" may not explain everything, but it sure explains a lot. And it is an essential signpost in comprehending how we got into our present-day mess, so that we can work on building a better world.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Obama's response to Clinton's attacks

Although he's now racked up another huge caucus win (in the nation's least populous state), it's been a bad couple of weeks for Barack Obama. The Clinton campaign, coming off slim wins in Ohio and Texas that they have succeeded in spinning as significant comebacks, has drawn Obama into a series of mini media frenzies. Obama's responses to attacks about his connection to the developer Tony Rezko, and the off-record comments of one of his advisers, were inept. Although pundits are egging Obama to respond in kind to Clinton's increasing negativity, if he does it will detract from his main message that he can bring a new politics to Washington, DC. Obama needs to stay above these sorts of manufactured controversies.

He can respond to them by being honest about what they are: silly non-issues designed to churn up a few media cycles and distract people from the larger issues in the campaign. And, of course, the big issue of the primary contest math: There is virtually no way Clinton can catch up in delegates. By continuing to contest the nomination through negative tactics (such as suggesting that only she and McCain have crossed the "commander-in-chief threshold") she is showing that she prefers a weaker Democratic party to a stronger party without Clinton leading it.

Obama's promise is that he can help restore to our politics the dignity and grand purpose that have drained away during the twenty years of petty squabbling under the Bushes and Clintons. He should stick with that message, which has already carried him to the primary lead, and not let the Clinton campaign drag him--and the rest of us--back down into the bickering over inconsequential issues that has dominated politics for so long.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

How Hillary Clinton could win my vote

It's not with silly attacks on Obama, like the 'red phone' ad she's currently airing. (Obama's response to that was spot on, by the way.) And it may be too late for her to make any convincing argument at all at this point, but here is what I see as her main advantage over Obama, and how she could have capitalized on it.

She could say something like: "Obama talks a lot about wanting to restore bipartisanship in Washington DC. That's great, but what I want to do is get some good legislation passed--whether the Republicans like it or not. The Democratic party has been pushed around by the Republicans for a long time. When I'm president, the Democrats are going to do some pushing back! Like Obama, I'll extend my hand across the aisle to work with the opposition. But we're likely going to have Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 2009, and if the Republicans aren't willing to work with us, we'll work without them. I'm not going to bend over backwards to work with them, just so I can say I've 'changed how Washington works.' As you know, my family has been on the receiving end of some of the worst the Republicans can dish out. We survived. In 2009, if they are still determined to pander to the right-wing extremists of their party, we--the Democratic majorities in Congress and me in the White House--will show them (and Senator Obama) that Washington DC can work just fine, as long as there is the will and discipline in Congress, and a strong, determined leader in the White House."

[updated to spell Hillary's name correctly in the title, and a couple other minor edits.]

Saturday, February 16, 2008

What will the candidates do about civil liberties?

This is another issue that I've not heard either Obama or Clinton talk about. As the previous post points out, talking about decreasing the stupendous size of our defense budget is viewed as political suicide, so there is a fairly good explanation (though not a pleasing one) for why the candidates have left it alone. But the erosion of our constitutional protections against governmental--particularly presidential--power seems to me a electoral winner. So why are civil liberties not addressed by the candidates? (Can you find them anywhere, for example, on the web pages of Clinton or Obama?)

Have the candidates ever been asked about this? What do they think about the theory of the unitary executive? Do they consider the US to be in a state of war, and hence a state of necessarily expanded presidential powers? If so, what act of Congress do they think authorized that war, and how will they know when it's over? And what about all those signing statements--do they feel the next president is given freer rein by them, or do they reject them as unconstitutional? What about the warrantless wiretapping programs and the revised FISA process? Will they continue under an Obama or a Clinton administration?

I would hate to think that Clinton and Obama are keeping mum on these issues because they would like to keep their options open if either of them reach the White House. An imperial presidency is bad for America, regardless whom is president.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Crucial Issue No Candidate Will Touch

Amid all the hoopla over the party horseraces on Super Tuesday, at least someone has his eye on the ball (sorry to mix sports metaphors): good ol' Robert Scheer. In his truthdig column, "The Legacy of Bush II" , Scheer raises the alarm about Bush's budget-busting military spending proposal, which would raise "defense" spending
to a level exceeding any other year since the end of World War II, and there will be precious little left over to improve education and medical research, fight poverty, protect the environment or do anything else a decent person might care about.

This issue is the one that nobody seems to talk about, which is so crucial for addressing all the other things that matter so much: the health care crisis, reducing the impact of climate change, stopping immoral wars, ending poverty, you name it. I am really saddened by the political impasse--Democrats afraid of seeming weak on defense and covetous of the military aura, Republicans who see rising military spending as a given and even more beholden to the military-industrial complex--which makes it impossible to move forward on reducing this obscenely high level of military spending. (Just to be clear, I support fully funding veterans benefits, a cause championed by my erstwhile preferred Presidential candidate, John Edwards.) We spend more on the military than everyone else in the world combined. Much of it is wasted on ridiculously expensive weapons systems and an imperialistic global network of military bases. We simply cannot sustain this level of spending into the future. It is already bankrupting us, not even counting the taxpayer dollars that are being poured down the Iraq drain of death and destruction. Our economy is still big, but it is no longer dominant enough in the world to support a military that runs the world.

It depresses me that both Clinton and Obama seem to have declared this issue off the table. Both seem to be promising increased military expenditures. At least Edwards played coy about it, insisting on re-evaluating and determining the right amount that would be required for future missions. (I thought that was a particularly clever part of his platform: avoiding any concrete promises of increased dollar amounts. He knows how tough it will be accomplish other priorities while the defense industry gorges on our public treasury.) Is there any possibility that the extended primary/caucus season will allow us to push Clinton and Obama to take a more courageous stand on this issue? I suppose it is a lost cause, since they would see it as toxic in the general electoral climate. But we can still dream (imagine).

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Yes We Can

A very nice video putting Obama's 'Yes we can' speech to music. I slightly embarrassed to say that I don't know many of the people in the video, being an old fogy and all, but it's a pretty powerful piece of agitprop.

You can watch the YouTube embedded video below, but a better quality version is on the original source: Dipdive.com.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Vote Edwards

I'm not sure there are any Iowans (or New Hampshirites) who read this blog, but if so--let me add my voice to the chorus of progressives in support of John Edwards as the Democratic nominee for President. I mentioned several months ago that I was shifting from Kucinich, who I supported in 2004, to Edwards this time around. The intervening months have only strengthened my conviction that he provides the best and most realistic hope for real, progressive change.

If we do not nominate Edwards, I believe that we will deeply regret our failure to seize the moment when someone with a strong populist critique of big business influence actually had a decent chance to win the nomination (and even leads most of the general election match-ups against Republicans!)

Here are ten reasons to support Edwards in '08:
1. Proven fighter for the common people's interests against big money.
2. Will start taking troops out of Iraq immediately (and, apparently, now wants to get them all out on a fairly short timetable).
3. Commitment to universal health care with subsidies for lower and middle income (it's not single payer, alas, but after studying the plans, I can see much better how to get there from Edwards's plan than his leading rivals.)
4. Skilled communicator to build public support for progressive change (and beat Republicans!)
5. Strong labor union support and advocacy.
6. No corporate PAC money.
7. New approach to trade policy for Main Street, not Wall Street.
8. Will run strong nation-wide campaign, including swing states and Midwest.
9. Strong environmental plans, especially around crucial issues such as global warming (side-by-side comparisons with other leading contenders bear this out).
10. Working with a people-powered progressive movement, asking us throughout his campaign to take action and demand change rather than simply support/elect him.

I would be happy with Obama as the VP nominee, since I think he is a hopeful candidate who is energizing younger voters and shows a lot of promise. But from starting out as a close second, he has dropped in my estimation almost (but perhaps not quite) to Clinton's level due to his running to the right, conciliation with corporate interests, and rhetorical weakness on important progressive bedrock causes such as truly universal health care and social security. Clinton is actually better than Obama on many issues (health care, for example, in part because of close partial copying of Edwards's plan) but I have serious reservations about her corporate ties, the dynasty aspect of her campaign, and question marks about how many people, especially independents, are dead-set against her already, thus hurting our general election chances.

Happy voting (to those who get to primary/caucus while it still matters!)

And happy new year to all.