Archive for February 2011

Who Said it Best Today – Robert Kuttner

Robert Kuttner in the Huffington Post said it best today in The Left Edge of Possible.  Most of us look at our problems today and the solutions are really no-brainers.  I will give you a hint:  It is not trashing our government, throwing out or cutting the benefits of hard working people,  or cutting programs that will just make the deficit worse.  Mr. Kuttner, in his piece, eloquently laid out the solutions to these problems which should be required reading for all of us.  But then he pointed out that these obvious actions were outside the politically possible in our current political environment in Washington:

“My friend, the late Mike Harrington, used to describe his politics as “on the left wing of the possible.” It’s a fine aspiration. But if anything, economic problems have become more politically intractable since Mike died in 1989.

Scanning the various economic ills afflicting our Republic and its citizens, it’s evident that nearly all of the solutions lie beyond what is currently deemed thinkable in mainstream politics — beyond the left edge of the possible.

It’s not that my own views and values have become more radical in two decades. What has changed is that the American political center has shifted further to the right, while the twin assault on the good society by the private financial system and the organized right has become more intense.

There are only two possibilities: either we act to expand the boundaries of the possible, or we suffer the consequences.”

He then goes to list some common sense solutions that are outside the reach of the politically possible in Washington today.  He draws a similar conclusion that I do, which is that the solutions are going to have to come from a Progressive ground swell, not our constipated political system.

I think what makes me so mad about the failure of President Obama to lead is that he should be spearheading these ideas instead of advancing the status quo.  I watch him and all his look-alike fellow politicians and advisers and I wonder if we have so homogenized ourselves that we simply can’t think outside the lines?  Let’s all get a suit with a power tie, surround ourselves with people who all parrot the same ideas, and watch as “change” becomes just another attempt to pander to those who don’t think deeply .  It’s so sad.

Who Said it Best Today – Frank Rich

Frank Rich in “Why Wouldn’t the Tea Party Shut it Down?”:

The real goal is to reward the G.O.P.’s wealthiest patrons by crippling what remains of organized labor, by wrecking the government agencies charged with regulating and policing corporations, and, as always, by rewarding the wealthiest with more tax breaks. The bankrupt moral equation codified in the Bush era — that tax cuts tilted to the highest bracket were a higher priority even than paying for two wars — is now a given. The once-bedrock American values of shared sacrifice and equal economic opportunity have been overrun.

Middle class Republicans have to be brain dead to ignore these obvious realities at this point.  How do they continue to vote to disenfranchise themselves?  Willful Blindness-Ignoring inconvenient truths, willfully, that are right in front of our eyes.

Worthless in Washington

Our government, and specifically our elected representatives, are totally out of touch with America.  As we watch Muammar el-Qaddafi (there are many spellings) shoot his own citizens, totally out of touch with reality, I see a very similar phenomena occurring here where our leaders are oblivious to the plight of the people.  All of our troubles have been reframed around the deficit and it is false framing.  The deficit is a symptom of our problems, not the root cause, yet we are focused on cutting to deal with the deficit.  Right now both sides are talking only about cutting and that is a win for Tea Party morons who have set this country’s agenda.  And similar to Qaddafi’s destruction of his population, so will these cuts be devastating to us and afflicted on us by our leaders.

In a recent report, economists at Goldman Sachs estimated that the House cuts would reduce economic growth by 1.5 percentage points to 2 percentage points in the second and third quarters of 2011. That would devastate employment. As a rule of thumb, each percentage point drop in growth means a loss of 1.2 million jobs.” You know, those liberal tree huggers at Goldman Sachs.

“Those cuts include reductions to Head Start that would remove 218,000 children from the program and cuts to elementary education that would hit 2,400 schools and nearly one million students. Pell Grants for college would also be cut by nearly $6 billion. Transportation investments would be cut by 9 percent, or $8.1 billion, including $2.7 billion from rail, $1 billion from highway spending and $675 million from public transit. Americorps and other community-service programs would be eliminated, although their benefit to society surely exceeds their $1.2 billion cost. Since national service programs are matched by $800 million from foundations and other sources, that would be lost, too.” (New York Times – The Budget Fight Continues)

But then some wild eyed conservative will tell you we simply can’t afford this anymore.  He is right, but one needs to redefine what he means by “this”.  Most of our deficit, the real dollars comes mainly from explosive health care costs and incessant high-end tax cuts.  But as the NYT pointed out in the above referenced editorial, the cuts proposed don’t touch these issues so its a false agenda anyway:

“All of them (the cuts) come from discretionary spending, a sliver of the budget that excludes the government’s biggest and fastest-growing outlays, chiefly Medicare and Medicaid. Over the past decade, Pentagon spending has accounted for almost all of the increase in discretionary outlays, with much of the rest going to homeland security, veterans benefits and the No Child Left Behind education initiative. Aside from defense, there is not a lot to cut prudently.”

So the whole exercise we are watching in Washington totally misses the mark.  They are going to deal with the deficit by cutting the very programs that will make us productive so we can deal with our deficit in the future.  Note that much of the deficit we are now experiencing came from war expenses and tax cuts we simply could not afford.  Most of the deficit in 2008 was a result of the war and tax cuts enacted under George Bush that the cowardly Democrats went along with.

Now we are cutting programs that aid the less fortunate so we can pay for those tax cuts and the ones cowardly Obama agreed to recently.  It is a mass transfer of wealth to the wealthy paid for by the middle class and poor.  The same is true in state budgets, and don’t be mislead by thinking those bad public employee unions caused the problem.  Wherever you cut, it is coming out of the economy, and it is not coming back as spending power somewhere else under our present system.  At least when you raise taxes, the money gets returned to the economy in spending.

So back to our wild eyed conservative ranting we can not afford this any more.  The real “this” is transferring wealth to the wealthy without commensurate pay backs to the rest of us.   Flow down doesn’t work.  What is going on in Washington will do nothing to solve the deficit and will only make it worse as they further reinforce the existing system. So what should they be doing?

First and foremost, forget cutting most of the programs proposed.  Look instead at repealing the tax cuts for “everyone”, not just the wealthy.  Second, look at how our tax system gives away billions of dollars in subsidies to industries that don’t need it, like big oil.  That would also include the farm subsidies that go to large industrial farmers and is based on a farming program that hasn’t existed in 50 years. Our farming system is extremely important, but we are wasting money incentivizing all the wrong things.  Then, of course, is our medical expenses.  But we just didn’t have the guts to cut the middle man (for profit insurers) out by putting in place a single payer system.  It’s time.

Put the banking industry on notice by taxing all income, even capital gains, at the same rate.  Why should the maid cleaning the CEO’s office be paying a higher tax rate than he is?  The obvious extension to this is to reform our entire tax code.  Think about taxing expenditures instead of revenues (VAT).

Here are some questions we are not hearing discussed:  Do we really need to police the entire world?  Can we really afford to put off investments in our infrastructure?  Can we really decrease our investment in education and the health and welfare of our citizens?  Can we continue, through subsidized oil prices,  our addiction on Middle Eastern Oil?  Can we really expect to depress the wages and benefits of our middle class and expect our economy to boom?  Who exactly is going to buy things?  Did the unions really cause this problem or did the amount of money the wealthy are taking out of our economy and not investing back into it cause it?

But all we hear from our elected leaders is what to cut next while keeping the existing system that works efficiently to transfer wealth to the wealthy in place.  The vested interests (Corporations and the wealthy) want to keep the system they have right where it is because it is working just fine for them.  The Tea Party, who thinks they are empowering the common man, are simply tools of this status quo.  So where is the political leadership to lead us out of this morass?  It certainly is not with the President who has been totally co-opted by framing the problem around cuts.  His approach is to propose more cuts, just less severe.  He and our elected representatives are captives of the powers that want to maintain the status quo and the framing of the issue by the Tea Party.

What we need is a Tea Party for thinking people.  It may already be happening in places like Wisconsin where hard working people are standing up for their rights.  Note that our political leaders and most of the media still want to trivialize what is going on there (See Yesterdays blog, Moral Cowardice from our Leaders).  But one thing I know for sure after watching events over the last several weeks, and that is that the forces depressing the middle class and the poor are mobilized and well organized.  And more importantly, we can expect no leadership from Washington.  The question is, as Howard Beale framed it in the movie Network, are we ready to stand up and say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” I hope so.  It apparently is the only way forward.

Now we wait to see if the Democrats, so paralyzed by fear of a government shutdown, will once again collapse and compromise away our future by pandering to these morons.  I have seen them and our President in action.  They will collapse.  It is what they do best.

Moral Cowardace from our Leaders

Today, Democratic Governors came out of a White House meeting with the President and after deflecting numerous questions about what is going on in Wisconsin, Governor O’Malley of Maryland finally stepped to the mike and said:

I think most of us see this as a distraction really from the most important work we can do, which is creating jobs. All of us are about getting things done. We are not primarily a ideological group of people.”

THIS IS A DISTRACTION???? This is the real issue. The reason there are not jobs is because we have been transferring wealth from the middle class to the rich. This is the primary difference between Republicans and Democrats and these morons are shrinking from the battle. But then maybe they are following the lead of the President.

Candidate Obama said in a rousing campaign speech in 2007:

“And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize collectively and bargain, when I am in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I will walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America.”

Oh really? Where the hell are you? This is the fight about who we are and whether we will have a prosperous country in the future for the many or the few. You have failed to stand up for anything you said you believed. We need to dump you at the first opportunity.

Note: This was all presented today with video proof of these heresies by Cenk Uygur on MSNBC. Thanks Cenk. You are one of the few who tells it like it is.

Teachers are Sucking us Dry?

Starting teacher salaries in Wisconsin begin at $25,222 and the average salary is around $46,390. That is not a great wage. As Cenk Uygur pointed out the other day, the financial industry, those fools that got us into this mess, argued that they need to pay $500,000 or more in bonuses to keep good talent (so they can screw up again and be bailed out by us), yet we can’t pay teachers a living wage and they are being used to pay for the tax cuts for others. Isn’t America a great place to live? Aren’t we exceptional?  It is if you are rich and selfish.  Republican policies do one thing:  Transfer wealth from the middle class and poor to the rich and there is no flow down.  When will we learn?  The real issue is not what we can cut, but who isn’t paying their fair share.

Is it Really all About 2012?

Several more perceptive progressive  media types were wondering where President Obama was in the Wisconsin attack on the middle class.  It was noted by several that he was in Ohio and Indiana and he said nothing about this fight.  Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC’s Last Word, and a one time Senate insider was interviewing Howard Fineman, Senior political analyst on the Huffington Post, on the politics of why the President would not enter the fray.  As Lawrence put it, this is a defining moment for fighting for the common man and the middle class and the President seems to be carefully avoiding the fight.  “How could he not say a word about what is clearly the most important political fight in America today”

Howard Fineman proceeded to explain why this was  (I am paraphrasing):  Well he doesn’t have to since a poll shows that a majority of Americans are against the Governor.  The President is on a pro-business message and he doesn’t want to alienate anyone.  He wants to wait and see how this comes out to not alienate independent voters in 2012.  In other words the smart thing for him to do to position himself to win in 2012 is let the Republicans do damage to themselves and not get involved.  The President is getting benefit by this due to a fired up labor union so he can just sit on his hands.

Meanwhile Ed Shultz, a more progressive pundit on MSNBC is wondering where the hell the President is.  He sees this as I do, the defining fight in our politics about whether this nation is about helping all of us, or just further enriching the top 2%.  We are seeing the obvious:  These Republican nutcases are giving tax cuts to the wealthy and paying for it by cutting wages or firing public employees.  Anybody think this is going to help our economy?  Here is the defining strategy of the Republican Party:  Lower benefits and wages, and transfer those saving to business which then then off shore their jobs.  The net result is a lower standard of living for Americans, and with a reduced buying power, are helpless to help our economy.

So we are wondering where is the President to use this moment as a teaching moment and start to swing the pendulum back toward the middle class?  The answer tells you everything you already know about this President, but don’t want to admit.  A leader understands where the country needs to go, and then uses his leadership position to teach, convince, and drag the people down that road.  Barrack Obama has never done this.  He carefully weighs the political consequences, tests which way the wind is blowing and then stakes out a position that the majority already has come to.  It will get him re-elected in 2012, but it won’t do anything to turn this ship of state around.

It seems that our definition of success is winning elections regardless of the condition of the country.  It is risky to take a stand on what is right as opposed to what is popular.  It is called leadership.  But Barrack Obama is no leader.  He has shown us over and over again that he will choose the politically safe approach rather than enter a fray based upon right and wrong, or what will really work.  His stand, or lack thereof, on health care reform, banking reform, gay rights (his recent acceptance of DOMA is after the fact and it is safe since the polls say a majority now oppose it), and now his refusal to fight for the union’s right to bargain demonstrates his lack of political courage, or said another way, the courage of his convictions.  He has no convictions.  He thinks the right answer lies in the middle regardless of the fact that the middle is moving further and further right as he keeps accommodating them.

Well his tactics may get him re-elected in 2012, but his leadership style will leave a legacy of the first black President who worked around the margins, but never took the mantle of leadership and led the country.  This fight in Wisconsin, this blaming the public worker for the financial industry’s destruction of our economy; this failure to understand that we can’t just cut, we have to cut smart and tax; this failure to understand that this issue defines the fight for the middle class, is the defining political fight of our time.  Playing it safe shows that there is no there, there with our President.  He is such a disappointment.  When he speaks now I just turn him off.  Nice words, but he never walks his talk. I would kill for a real leader, but maybe in this day and age leader and politician just don’t mix.

Drill Baby Drill

Isn’t it interesting that our policy of coddling tyrannical dictators in the oil rich states is collapsing around us and the price of oil is sky rocketing? And after all these years we still don’t have an energy policy. Thank you Republicans and coal state Democrats. We are such exceptional people aren’t we? We can’t plan beyond our navel. It is time for a gas tax, but in the land of me, me, me and where is my free ride, that isn’t going to happen. Then everyone will be shocked, shocked, shocked that we find our selves at the mercy of the Middle East. And where is our Leader? He isn’t a leader. He waits to see which way the tide is flowing and then swims with it. Doing what is needed and doing what the consensus wants sometimes are not the same thing. He will never get it.

Conversations with Moderate Republican Family Members

Every family has a few relatives that are different.  I actually have a couple of Republicans in my extended family and at my birthday party last week one of them asked me why Washington can’t compromise.  Now these are people I love and respect, even if their knowledge of the issues is scant at best, which may explain why they are Republicans.  Most of their opinions are formed by Fox News and their friends who also have a very parochial view of the issues.  So the question is where do you start.  Now I have a niece, and I love her dearly, who would have eaten them for lunch.  She would probe their views and point out their ignorance.  But that just makes them withdraw.

Their point is well taken in that if you assume both sides have merit, why can’t we find the best solutions regardless of source and try them.  But their question lacks an understanding of what has happened over the last couple of years.  Their assumption is that the two sides just need to work together and more importantly, both are equally guilty.  Just looking at the Republican Senators use of the filibuster over the last two years, a record number, tells you all about who is willing to compromise.  It has been a one way street and they fail to see that.  All the compromises really came from Democrats who accepted what I consider to be poison pills into their bills to get them past the minority in the Senate.

The second problem with their argument is that they just helped put some of the most rabid, compromise over my dead body, Tea Party Republicans into office.  Now they want compromise?  In that action they fail to see what Republican politics is really all about, crushing your opponent.  Just watch Governor Walker in action in Wisconsin.  It is not about helping the country.  It is about winning.  Compromising with something from the other side that might work would be to weaken your own position.  They just facilitated that negative approach with their votes.  And they are totally oblivious to that reality.

So where do you start?  Do you start by telling them that the world has changed and what benefits business may not benefit Americans, that the major markets are no longer in the United States, and when businesses hire, they do so over seas.  Do you explain that since Ronald Reagan, we have had a massive transfer of wealth to the top 2% of our citizens and what is good for them, is not good for us?  Do you explain that the big money in politics is from businesses that go to Republicans to defend the status quo (transfer of wealth) which is what is destroying our country and our middle class?  These are people who hear the latest talking points and accept them on face value.  We have been leaning right for years and this is what we have gotten.  Both sides do not have equal merit.  We need a major correction to the left.

So I didn’t start.  It was my birthday and these are people I care about.  Confronting them would be a wasted effort and would have made them uncomfortable.  They do not think deeply about issues.  Even if I overwhelmed them with facts and for the moment had them questioning some of their assumptions, when they got home and in their comfort zone, watching Fox news and hanging with their Republican friends, they will be back denying the reality all around us.  They live in a world that lets them ignore the reality of the common man who has lost his job, seen his wages stagnate, understands that he is not leaving a better place for his children, and knows that government is not the problem, but selfishness is.

Republicans give their supporters a simple elixir that promises no pain, with lots of gain (cut taxes and government and everything will be solved).  What worries me about this is the thought that this could be the state of most of our citizens.  After the last election I have to say that the answer to that is yes.  What this says is that things have to get much worse and reality has to intrude on many more of them before they will start to understand they are the problem.  Maybe I should have challenged them.  No, it was my birthday and it was about fun, not torturing my relatives.  There are some people you just love no matter how misguided.

The Wrong Conversation

Oh we are so having the wrong conversation.  E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote a column yesterday in the Washington Post that really points out how the real problems and real discussion of the issues have been hijacked (The Tea Party is Winning).  Here are some quotes:

Take five steps back and consider the nature of the political conversation in our nation’s capital. You would never know that it’s taking place at a moment when unemployment is still at 9 percent, when wages for so many people are stagnating at best and when the United States faces unprecedented challenges to its economic dominance.

No, Washington is acting as if the only real problem the United States confronts is the budget deficit; the only test of leadership is whether the president is willing to make big cuts in programs that protect the elderly; and the largest threat to our prosperity comes from public employees.

Consider all of the problems taking a back seat to the deficit in Washington and the media. You haven’t heard much lately on how Wall Street shenanigans tanked the economy in the first place – and in the process made a small number of people very rich. Yet any discussion of the problems caused by concentrated wealth (a vital mainstream issue in the America of Andrew Jackson and both Roosevelts) is confined to the academic or left-wing sidelines.

You haven’t seen a lot of news stories describing the impact of long-term unemployment on people’s lives or the difficulty working-class kids are encountering if they want to go to college.

You hear a lot about how much the government spends on the elderly but not much about facts such as this one, courtesy of a report last fall from the Employee Benefit Research Institute: People over 75 “were more likely than other age groups – including children under 18 – to live on incomes equal to or less than 200 percent of poverty.”

Any analysis of the economic struggles many elderly people endure would get in the way of the “greedy geezer” storyline being spun to justify big cuts in Medicare benefits and Social Security.

Does anyone really think that cutting such programs will create jobs or help Americans get ahead? But give the Tea Party guys credit: They have seized the political and media agenda and made budget cutting as fashionable as Justin Bieber was five minutes ago.

The point here is that the whole media has been sucked into this missing the point discussion.  I listened to Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC go after a Democrat about the cuts being made, asking why they are not going after the real target, entitlements.  Get the picture?  We are no longer asking if we should be making these cuts now, just who will cut deeper.

Here is the problem.  Cutting the deficit right now will be disastrous.   Everything from Econ 101 tells us this is the mistake that Japan made in the 90s, and that we ourselves made in the 30’s.  You have to get the economy up and running and then carefully throttle back.  But the whole discussion, being dictated by the Tea Party, is how much can we cut where.  What is the matter with us that we can’t step back and not let this minority hijack the country?  But the person I will hold personally responsible for this when things get much worse and the economy takes a dive, is the President.

In his State of the Union address he talked about how we have to invest in our future, BUT he undercut his speech by talking about the tough cuts he was going to make.  This totally legitimized the Tea Party argument that the only thing that was important was cuts, and he gave away the most important thing of all, the framing of the argument.  As we watch unions fight for their lives in Wisconsin, and in the coming days neighboring states, he does not understand that this is where you draw the line and fight the fight.  He has already preemptively started cutting programs for the less fortunate in his budget instead of setting up the debate about whether cuts at this time are even necessary, much less prudent.  Instead of looking for new revenues, he has let the Tea Party frame the argument about gutting government.  He has given away the battlefield once again before the fight has even begun.

So wake up Progressives, Democrats, and Independents.  This is a fight about whether we are about the rich or a nation who works together for the betterment of all of us.  We have a President who will never lead us in this fight and fails to understand the consequences of losing this battle.  It is on us so get ready.  Those in Wisconsin are showing us the way.  Isn’t it time to man/woman up?

On Wisconsin

Probably the most important thing happening in our country right now is happening in Wisconsin.  There the Republican Governor, under the guise of budget reform, is trying to destroy the public employee unions.  The mainstream press has been slow (oh, there is a surprise) to recognize that this is not about money.  Wisconsin was going into this year with a budget surplus until Governor Walker passed a bunch of tax breaks that put the budget in the red.  Sound familiar?  Then it must be the fault of those evil public employees like teachers and other public servants.  No, the real target is to attack one of the last bastions of organized support that represents middle class Americans and does it with clout.  If you can get rid of these pesky public unions, then the only big money left in politics are right wing operatives.  If you don’t believe me look at who gave what in the last two elections.

Note how this political attack was focused on which unions in Wisconsin.  The Governor went after everyone but the firemen, police, and state troopers who gave to Walker’s election campaign.  You want to guess which unions have negotiated better benefits?  But I think at least the firemen have realized they could be next and joined in.  Even worse is the fact that unions have indicated they are more than willing to negotiate to share the sacrifice and Walker isn’t interested.  This isn’t about the money.  It is about conservative power and if they can use this budget crisis as an excuse to put the nail in the coffin of the last bastion of middle class clout, then they are going all out to do it.  Other Republican state governors are joining in, or maybe that was the plan all along.

This in my mind could be the turning point for the nation.  It should be the wake up call to most Americans of what is really going on and what Republican policies are all about.  It is definitely starting to happen in Wisconsin.  There is another side to this story and that is that once Americans start to see all the cutting these Republicans are about, they may have serious second thoughts.  Sure it is true that we have to do something about the deficit.  But once again the axe is following on the poor and middle class while the rich get richer.  The truth is that we have to increase revenues by reforming the tax code as well as raising some taxes.  This is anathema to the current crop of Republicans who will never raise a tax and want to continue cutting for the rich.  What is mind blowing is that so few middle Americans understand how these policies are devastating their chance for a prosperous future.

So what is happening in Wisconsin under the guise of responsible government is really an overt attack on middle class America.  The people who are being attacked are our public servants.  First they have been vilified by false claims that they are overpaid.  The real numbers show, and this is the critical distinction, that people with their education and training usually get paid more in the private sector.  Yes, their retirement benefits are generous.  That is how you got good quality people to work for the government.  And yes, they are good quality people, working hard to make America better, not some evil slacker as the Republicans have characterized them.  Just take a snapshot of the crowd in Wisconsin and it will tell you everything you need to know about them.  They are us.

And last, since this is really about a battle for America and a prosperous future for our middle class, where is the President?  Trying to figure out how to support them, but not alienate the middle.  He just can’t seem to figure out that once in a while some things are basic and you have to take a side.  I have given up all hope for him.  This is the real battle for tomorrow and he is hiding in the White House.  Please prove me wrong Mr. President.