Friday, January 30, 2009

President Obama signs the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

Lilly Ledbetter worked for nearly twenty years at the Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Alabama. She became a supervisor at the plant and filed suit in 1998 after learning that she had been paid hundreds of dollars less per month than even the lowest paid man (a relatively new hire) who was doing her same job. This comes as no surprise to working women, who even after the 'seniority' argument that had been made during the 1970's and 1980's as to why men were typically paid more has played itself out, still see that women are paid only $.78 per hour for every dollar a man earns for doing the same job.

After a series of victories in the lower courts, the Eleventh Circuit court reversed the lower court decisions, and when it went to the Supreme Court Ledbetter lost last year on a 5-4 vote. Though the Supreme Court agreed that she did have both identical job titles and duties to men who were being paid a lot more than she was, they argued that she was only entitled to additional back pay for 180 days prior to the date of her filing the suit and could not challenge decisions that had been made before that even though the discriminatory pay rates had been going on for years without her knowledge (and her fruitless attempt to get the problem fixed internally at Goodyear worked against her because it delayed her filing the suit.) The focus of the suit is what is known as 'paycheck accruel,' a longstanding precedent in which the clock on filing a discrimination case resets with every paycheck. The Supreme Court ruling upholding the eleventh circuit essentially voided that provision and therefore ruled that only the 180 day limit set under Title VII applied.

The pay difference that she experienced over years, and which many, many women still suffer from is exacerbated because it compounds into lower Social Security after retirement.

Last year after the Supreme Court decision, Congress tried to pass the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which stipulates that women who can prove that they were discriminated against at work are entitled to up to two years of back pay differential to make up the difference, and more importantly specifically writes 'paycheck accruel' into law. The bill was blocked by a Republican filibuster (and it became an issue that Barack Obama made some ground on during the campaign since John McCain had made a speech opposing it, and Obama aired a commercial featuring Lilly Ledbetter that may have helped him re-open the gender gap that McCain had closed a bit when he picked Sarah Palin.)

This year it passed, with unanimous support from Senate Democrats, plus five Republicans-- significantly including all four of the Republican women in the Senate (and two of them, Lisa Murkowski and Kay Bailey Hutchison, are considered conservative). House Republicans were House Republicans, with only three voting in favor.

President Obama has now signed the law, the first piece of legislation he has signed that was passed by the new Congress. Besides equal pay for women, it represents a direct and specific repudiation of the Supreme Court, essentially restoring the law back to what lower courts had held, but now spelled out and codified as Federal law.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Obama's first foreign interview sets new priorities.

The Obama administration is rapidly making it clear that the 'coalition of the willing,' or'for us or against us' view of the Bush administration is the foreign policy of the past.

Today, President Obama gave his first interview to a foreign source. And his choice-- el-Arabiyah, could not have been a better one. He discussed a range of issues-- including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, terrorism, mutual respect and the international political situation.

While what he said was important, the simple fact that he chose an Arabic news outlet for his first interview speaks volumes. It's hardly a secret that the majority of the foreign policy challenges facing the United States right now involve the muslim world, nor is it a secret that both because of longstanding history and the relatively recent actions taken by the Bush administration, relations between America and the muslim world are at historically low levels. So in granting the interview, President Obama has made it clear that he wants to change that, and develop a long term relationship in which the United States respects and works towards a peaceful future involving the muslim world.

Let's start with the Israeli-Palestinian situation since that is a constant irritant that underlies every other facet of relations between America and muslim countries. Long time readers of this blog know that I've always been a supporter of Israel and of the right of Israel to exist. However, the one-sided policy of the Bush administration, which failed to challenge Israel in anything they did while only blaming the Palestinians for anything that happened, and which further didn't bother to even try to achieve a peace deal until Bush was vainly searching for any kind of a legacy during his last year in office, did not do Israel any favors. It created an endless cycle of war, and one which Israel will continue to be mired in until there is a lasting peace that involves the creation of a Palestinian state. President Obama pretty much said as much in his interview today.

Let me repeat that-- if Israel wants peace there is only one way to achieve it, and that is to create a Palestinian state without any Israeli settlements on its territory. And the recent Israeli actions in Gaza, while their cause can be justified (to end Hamas rocket attacks) have resulted in huge numbers of civilian deaths and more and more reports that Israeli troops committed some truly disturbing actions (like the report on NPR this morning of soldiers shooting a homeowner with no ties to Hamas in the face in front of his children, and later an ambulance driver being pulled out of his ambulance and forced to lie face down with a gun stuck in his neck, and then being told to leave the area despite having been called to a home with wounded children inside.) Israel is a democracy, and in a democracy you have to be willing to air some rotten garbage, and there is some here that will need to be aired. And then investigated and corrective action taken. As a supporter of Israel, I am willing to say it is time for Israel to take that action.

Further, an unnoticed story of the recent war (as well as the one two years ago between Israel and Hezbollah) is one which went unnoticed precisely because nothing happened-- which is the story itself. During both the Israeli-Hezbollah and Israeli-Hamas conflicts there was little or no violence (beyond a few demonstrations) in the West Bank. Israel was often able to claim they could not create a Palestinian state under Yassir Arafat because he was either unable or unwilling to call off his own militants. And in fact history seems to suggest they had a point, since even during negotiations there were often attacks on settlers and soldiers in the West Bank as well as terrorist attacks inside Israel. But this time there were practically none (despite calls by Hamas for a third intifada in the West Bank), so clearly Mahmoud Abbas is able and willing to police his own territory. Which means that Israel has no good excuse now for not working with him to create an independent Palestine with open borders and no Israeli settlements. The trip by George Mitchell to the middle east, and statements by both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama indicate that they will push negotiations designed to hasten the creation of a Palestinian state (as well as create a lasting cease-fire in Gaza.)

President Obama also said that if our enemies in the region (and he specifically mentioned Iran) are willing to unclench their fist, they will find our hand extended in friendship. I believe that this is also long overdue. Ever since the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis of thirty years ago, relations between the U.S. and Iran have been frosted. Further, if Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, can one blame them after George Bush named them a member of the 'axis of evil,' and then invaded one of the other 'members?' Like a diplomat from North Korea (the third member) famously said after referring to President Bush's threats, "Of course we have a nuclear program." Only a Bush would have needed to be reminded of a basic fact-- if you threaten someone they will assume you may not be bluffing (as if Iraq didn't prove that in Bush's case) and will work to arm themselves accordingly. In a word: DUH! Maybe with the new approach President Obama can make some progress on getting Iran to quit working towards nuclear weapons. Maybe he can't. But given that they are already to the point where it would be all but impossible to take out their decentralized, deeply buried program, we are at least better off if we have a dialogue with Iran (after all, history shows that we can survive a nuclear-armed opponent, like the Soviet Union.)

Beyond that, Obama has shown that he will be a President whose foreign policy won't be focused on Europe first. That in itself is a huge change, and represents the fact that the world has changed. Europe is a fine place but it is at the end of the day only a peninsula on the end of the Asian continent. By speaking first to people from the part of the world where we have the biggest challenges right now, President Obama is making it clear from the outset that he will be engaged with the world, not just those who think like us.

Friday, January 23, 2009

An army of Won.

Barack Obama had a meeting earlier today with a group of House Republican leaders to discuss the proposed stimulus bill.

He did as he had pledged in the campaign, and listened to them and tried to work something out with them. He's already cut down some of the infrastructure spending and as much as one third of the stimulus is likely to be tax cuts. He's spent some of his political capital taking on his own speaker over the issue of whether to repeal the Bush tax cuts or not (she wants to repeal them immediately, Obama in seeking Republican support has said he's not ready to just yet.) But the Republican leaders kept on pushing and pushing and pushing, wanting to change more and more things in the bill and simultaneously hinting that no matter what the bill says they might play hardball in the house and marshall Republicans to oppose it. Finally, Obama could see that unless he practically let them write the bill themselves they wouldn't accept or agree to support whatever he gave them, so he got up, looked directly at them and said, "I won."

It was not a sign of frustration at all. He's reminding them of a simple fact. The American people voted in November and gave him a mandate to change course. His share of the vote and winning margin were both the most any Presidential candidate in twenty years (in fact his share of the vote was the highest for any non-incumbent candidate and non-sitting Vice President running for the top job, in over sixty years.) Add to that the fact that in addition to Obama they voted in seven or eight new Senators (depending on what happens in Minnesota) and twenty-one house members, for a net gain of 54 house seats over the past two election cycles. Republicans put their ideas and candidates out there, and they lost. Pure and simple.

Under the circumstances, President Obama is being very generous and doing something he doesn't have to do, and offering the house Republicans a seat at the table and some input into writing this bill. But the party which not so long ago believed they had a 'permanent majority,' and even over the past two years could usually count on a Presidential veto to back them up in Congress, now has neither.

They need to get used to being the minority party because they lost. We won ('we' instead of 'I' is the only change I believe Obama should have made.) The President has reached out to them and offered them something that quite frankly, President Bush never did anything like that. They can choose between accepting what he gives them or opposing everything. But they no longer have the power and influence to insist on anything.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Predicting the past-- and I got it wrong

NOTE: I POSTED THIS COLUMN ON ANOTHER BLOG AS WELL, Coldheartedtruth. Commenters corrected me. I've edited this version to reflect the actual state of things.

Apparently, Fidel Castro has put his thoughts online in an internet column, saying he believes he won't be alive in four years.

Now, I've been wondering about whether he was alive at all since he was a no-show earlier this month at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Cuban revolution. I mean, the downfall of corrupt and despotic dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959 was the high point of Castro's life and the start of his 'new Cuba.' It is hard to imagine that no matter how sick he was, he wouldn't at least have a photograph taken or something. But no, he did not show up, not even in the newspapers. However, he has been photographed several times since he dropped out of sight.

Here's what we know. We know that in July 2006, El Presidente abruptly dropped from sight and underwent emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage (according to some reports the 'blockage' was a very aggressive cancer.) Shortly thereafter official statements reported that he was resigning from the Presidency and handing the reigns of power to his brother Raul, who has ruled the island since then. Television news in the notoriously secretive and carefully controlled country have claimed that Comrade Fidel is alive and well, and is intently observing things. One of them included a statement from Castro in which he vowed to outlast the Bush administration (as he has outlasted the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I and Clinton administrations.) He apparently took pride in the prospect. I mean, even look at this letter. He says he won't live for another four years. What is four years? A U.S. Presidential term. This guy has always loved to tweak U.S. Presidents for amusement. We've seen him send out written correspondence like this periodically, to be faithfully published in Cuban newspapers.

But live pictures? No. Televised pictures? No. Only a few photographs. He may be alive, but clearly not well.

I believed, and I originally went on record here-- that Fidel Castro did not survive much past his 2006 operation. He had vowed to outlive the Bush administration so we've seen every facade one might expect in a country where things are done in secret, to project the image that Fidel is still alive. We now get this penultimate letter (which may have been penned by Castro two years ago or may have been written by someone else), which is in effect a goodbye letter. Not long from now, just long enough to be believable, we will get an official death announcement. Maybe even a nice parade and a funeral with speakers lavishing praise on Castro and on the regime he created. But it will all be carefully choreographed to hide an empty casket, just like Castro's dream of a better Cuba through communism was carefully choreographed to hide an empty promise.

OBVIOUSLY I ERRED HERE. This is the tenth time I've had to publically acknowlege an error because a commenter caught it before I did. I've posted 816 times on Deep Thought so this reduces my fielding percentage to .988

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rush on Obama: "I hope he fails"

This is what Rush Limbaugh had to say today:

If I wanted Obama to succeed, I'd be happy the Republicans have laid down. And I would encouraging Republicans to lay down and support him. I don't want --what he'd talking about. What he's talking about is the absorption of as much of the private sector by the U.S. Government as possible. From the banking business, the mortgage industry, to the automobile business, to the healthcare-- I don't want the Government in charge of these things. I don't want this to work. So I'm thinking of replying to the guy, so, OK I'll send you a response, but I don't need four hundred words, I need four. I hope he fails.

Now, leaving aside his gross distortions of what the Obama plan is (it is NOT the Government taking over any of the above industries), we now have Rush actually hoping that it fails. If it were to fail of course, it would result in more people losing their jobs, more businesses going bankrupt and likely the end of the United States as the premier economic and political power in the world.

As much as I never liked George W. Bush, I never once wished he would fail. I often believed that he would fail, predicted that he would fail, expected that he would fail, chronicled his failures and criticized his failures (for they were legion), but never once did I DESIRE that he would fail. Because if the President fails it harms our country. In fact in a number of cases I predicted he would fail but openly expressed hope that I was wrong.

But this is a guy who is willing to directly suffer harm to the United States so he will have something to pin on the President. Disgusting and appalling.

Monday, January 19, 2009

January 20, 2001-- January 20, 2009. The record of the Bush economy.

One year ago I wrote a post entitled, seven years of the Bush economy.

Well, today it's time to update and close the book on it. Of course there are those who will point out that eight years ago today the economy was slowing down and heading towards a recession and they are right. But it is hardly like the economy that George Bush is handing the keys to, to Barack Obama is a model of stability. In fact if anything the numbers look much, much worse today than they did eight years ago. But so be it. Fairly or not, January 20th is more than just a symbolic date. It is the day in which total control over the Presidency passes in its completeness from one President to the next. And so, let's look at the same metrics we did a year ago: the stock market, the dollar/euro exchange rate, net job creation, the spot price of oil and the national debt.

The stock market closed on January 20, 2001 at 10,587.60. It's last close before January 20, 2009 is 8281.22. I will update this number tomorrow so we have consistency and post it as the final number for Bush (or start of Obama.) HERE IS THE UPDATE: IF I USED IT CONSISTENTLY WITH THE WAY I USED THE 1/20/01 CLOSE, IT WOULD BE 7949.09. BUT EVEN IF WE KEEP THE OLD NUMBER the stock market under Bush has fallen a net 22% over the past eight years. AND YES, IT DID NOW CLOSE AT 7949.09. FROM NOW ON IT'S OBAMA'S MARKET. If it's still below 8,000 by 2012 you are welcome to stuff this post back in my face. But I expect him to succeed and it will go up significantly from 7949.09 by then.

And 22% in eight years is enough that Bush apologists can't blame it on the 2002 recession, Clinton's economic policies or 9/11. The truth is, if you were heavily invested in the U.S. stock market in 2001, you probably have lost money. And the decision by Congress not to tie Social Security to the stock market looks to have been a very wise one. T-bonds may be boring, but they haven't lost money.

On January 20, 2001 it cost $.94 to buy one euro (in fact it got as low as eighty-three cents later on that summer.) Right now it costs $1.32 to buy one euro. True that this is better than the price of $1.45 that it was a year ago, but it is a fact that you would have made just better than a 40% profit over the past eight years if you had at the start of the Bush administration simply traded all your dollars in for euros and hidden the euros in your mattress. A lot better than losing 22 percent in the stock market.

Over the course of eight years, George W. Bush presided over the net creation of 3.8 million jobs. This averages out to less than 40,000 per month (vs. an average of over 200,000 per month over the preceding eight years.) Again, Bush apologists like to not count the loss of 2.8 million during the first two years of the Bush Presidency, and blame that on Clinton. But if it is then what would they say about current projections that the U.S. could lose even more than that many jobs over the next two years, and if it doesn't it will likely be due to government jobs created under the Obama stimulus plan? Again-- January 20 is the day of the handover. Any other date you choose to compare is arbitrary-- but then you take ownership of that much of the coming economy as well. Further, even using numbers from the truncated middle part of the Bush administration when we were not in a recession-- about 8.5 million created in four years, Bush still falls short of the monthly average over all eight years of the Clinton administration. No matter how you slice it, the Bush economy did very poorly in terms of job creation.

Price of crude oil: Was $25.98 per barrel eight years ago, and is $34.20 today. This is the one number where Bush is much better off today than he was last year. And if it had simply increased from $25.98 to $34.20 in eight years I'd be the first one to say the President Bush deserved credit for keeping oil prices under control. Only, he can't get credit for that since as recently as this summer it was pushing above $140 a barrel, and the resulting record gasoline prices delivered a hammer blow to an already soft economy over the summer. Further, much of the decline is credited to falling demand caused by the fact that millions fewer people are on the road going to work, because they don't have jobs to go to. The wild price gyrations have also played havoc with everything from the energy resale markets to automobile sales.

The national debt has increased from 5.8 trillion dollars to (including bailouts): 11.8 trillion dollars. In other words, it has more than doubled. Or in other words, Bush ran up more accumulated debt than every President combined from George Washington through his father (the reason I don't include Clinton in that is because the national debt actually experienced a slight decline under Clinton.)

Of course another dodge that Bush apologists often use is to argue that the President and his administration don't really have much effect on the economy. That is of course ridiculous. Even ignoring the fact that trillions of dollars in spending are controlled by the Government, some Government policies that influence the economy include tax policy, monetary policy, energy policy, trade policy, labor policy, regulatory policy and immigration policy. Funny to hear conservatives who scream about how bad tax increases, minimum wage hikes or pollution controls will be for the economy, suddenly switch gears when we are talking about Bush and saying that his policies had no effect on the economy. Clearly, they did, and clearly it was not the effect they had intended.

I did not include unemployment of course in the post a year ago and was (incorrectly) challenged on it. So I will mention it here: When Bush took office, the unemployment rate was 4.2% It is now pushing past seven percent. So Bush benefits by the fact that I didn't include it as one of my metrics.

The simple fact is that the Bush economy was spectacularly bad-- both from an historical perspective and when taken on its own. Of the five original metrics I used, only one-- crude oil prices-- looks good for Bush, and that only if you ignore the intervening history. And eight years is long enough that excuses aren't good enough. Any President can have a bad year or even a bad term, but this guy has owned most of the decade of the 2000's. And his economy has failed.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The 'vision thing.'

Back in the 1988 campaign, there was a discussion of Presidential qualities. High on the list was what came to be called, "the vision thing," almost a play on the fact that neither candidate seemed to be able to lay out a larger vision, focusing almost exclusively on specific issues, talking points and ideas seen from a very close (and therefore very narrow) view. George H.W. Bush tried to stretch himself to wrap around some semblance of a vision by including in one of his speeches a clearly scripted line about 'a thousand points of light' but it fell as flat as-- well, as his Presidency did over the following four years. Bill Clinton, though a master of the middle, and of focus groups, polls and political calculation, also seemed to get things done in small drivets. His wife seemed to have more of a sense of a larger vision but (as we saw in the 1994 health care debacle) didn't share his political insticts (though she has improved in this area-- but still made some political miscalculations last year that likely cost her the Presidency.)

President Bush tried to lay out a larger vision in the wake of 9/11, but he probably shouldn't have tried. In the 2000 election he was all about the same kind of myopic vision that voters had become accustomed to from politicians by that time, and if it took an event to spur him to come up with a larger vision then perhaps that should have been a clue right there that he would have been better off to narrow it to what he was realistically capable of putting together. President Bush was a decisive figure to begin with, and was just not capable of inspiring people to come together with a broad, far reaching and encompassing vision for the future.

To be honest, we've not had a truly visionary President in at least a generation. I've never personally been a fan of Ronald Reagan, but he was able to inspire a lot of people and lay out a vision, I will give him that much. Tragically it was not a good vision though. Rather, it has been a vision that has overlaid much of our political, social and economic life since then and came to its tragic fruition in last year's economic collapse, driven by years of loose regulation and trickle down economics that encouraged people to dream bigger than their wallets would allow.

But the fact that the Reagan vision has persisted as the dominant paradigm until it's failure last year is both a testimony to his vision and the lack of vision laid out by his successors.

There has not been a really visionary Democrat in the White House since John F. Kennedy, nearly half a century ago.

That will change on Tuesday.

For a change we will have a President who is inspirational and has already inspired millions of people to do their best. In the finest tradition of 'ask now what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country' it is likely that President Obama will challenge each and every one of us to do. Not just to put a little sticker on our car or something, but rather to do great things, both in our communities and for our country at large.

Beyond that, he is without question the first President since at least Reagan who can inspire millions of people just by his words. I've felt a sense of renewal listening to Barack Obama that I've not heard, probably ever listening to a President (or President elect). A lot of people saw the same thing in the campaign, if polls are any indication. Obama had and projected a Presidential vision. John McCain did not.

That doesn't mean that times are not hard. They are hard. And they will get harder before they get better. But I am optimistic for a change. I am optimistic that we hvae a leader who not only can see what is coming just ahead, but has a plan for where he wants to lead us for the long term as well.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Success should be rewarded, not punished. And as Democrats we should remember that, especially regarding Chairman Dean

I'm really having a hard time keeping shut up about this one, so I will go ahead and vent.

In an earlier post I discussed the successes of Howard Dean, certainly the most successful DNC chair I've seen in my lifetime.

And Barack Obama, while he built a very good organization himself, had the scaffolding of a national party that Howard Dean had built.

You may recall that back in 2004, Zell Miller (the turncoat from Georgia) had written a book entitled 'A National Party No More' in which he claimed that the Democratic party had become shrunken down to a collection of special interests in certain parts of the country and unable to compete nationally. Of course as Democrats, we took issue with Zell's book, but the truth is that in 2004, he was onto something. Howard Dean cured that problem though, building the Democratic party in every state so that among the numerous pickups that Democrats netted during Dean's four years at the DNC were victories in places where Democrats had simply not won anytime within the memory of most people. In fact by the time he was done, it was the Republican party that for all intents and purposes has been kicked out of the urban northeast, California (where only a Republico-Democrat like Arnold Scharzeneggar can come close to winning) and a lot of places in the upper midwest. Democrats, had they won the relatively close Wyoming open seat, would now have a Democrat in the congressional delegation (house or Senate) in all fifty states. And note-- the Governor of Wyoming is a Democrat (though he was first elected two years before Dean took over at the DNC.)

So what did Howard Dean get for his spectacularly brilliant and successful leadership? Well, first of all, he was snubbed by having his successor, Tim Kaine (who it's been known for some time had been hand-picked by the incoming President, as is his prerogative) announced on a day when Dean was in American Samoa, where he was building the party there (Dean believes that every Democrat needs to be represented within the party, and for this egalitarian philosophy he was painted as a fool, mainly by fools.)

But the biggest slap (unfortunately, but facts being what they are I have to say this) came from Obama himself. His obligatory statement recognizing Dean's service read this way:

He launched a 50-state strategy that made Democrats competitive in places they had not been in years, working with my chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to give Democrats a majority in the House for the first time in over a decade.

Half of that is accurate. It is true that Dean launched the 50-state strategy, that it made Democrats competitive in places they had not been in years, and that it helped give Democrats a majority in the House for the first time in over a decade.

And it is also true that Emanuel, as chair of the Democratic congressional committee deserves some of the credit for what happened in the 2006 campaign cycle. But keep in mind that Democrats have since then gained a net of 24 more seats in the house, as well as (between the two cycles) fourteen in the Senate.

But we well know that Dean did not work at all with Emanuel. Emanuel in fact opposed Dean's strategy preferring to concentrate on places where Democrats were traditionally competitive (and I had myself once written a piece detailing back about 2003 that the GOP's congressional 'soft underbelly' was composed of northeastern Republicans who represented left-leaning districts and could be picked off just by tying them to the conservatism of the Republican leadership (using Chris van Hollen's 2002 upset of Maryland moderate Connie Morella as a model.) And that was in fact correct as far as it went, so that Democrats have taken over all 22 New England house seats and all but three in New York. But those wins alone would have only given Democrats a slim majority. They instead have a sizeable majority and it's because the 'fifty state strategy' allowed them to win Republican house seats all over the country. The fact that obnoxious Republicans like J.D. Hayworth, Charles Taylor, Robin Hayes, Virgil Goode, Bill Sali and Marilyn Musgrave, and Senator Rick Santorum, who had never been really pushed before lost, adds a measure of satisfaction.

Let's be blunt here: Emanuel and Dean don't like each other. Dean won the argument and turned out to be right. Emanuel is Obama's chief of staff. You figure out what the 'lauditory message' was supposed to say. There was no reason to give any specific mention of Rahm, all the more so since the scope of successes the party has gone through under Dean went far beyond the 2006 Congressional cycle. Issuing the statement after denying Dean even the chance to be present as his successor was introduced is a gross insult to a man to whom we all owe a heck of a lot.

I fully support the Obama administration and will continue to support them as we move forward during the most challenging economic crisis that America has faced in my 46 years. But a cheap shot is a cheap shot, and after everything Howard Dean has done for the party he deserves better than that. By signing off on that statement, the President-elect did cheapen himself. And I know he's a better man than that.

Bush throws a 'Hail Mary'

Most Presidents, ten days before the end of their administration, would be busy packing, signing letters of reference for their staff, soliciting donors for their Presidential libraries, figuring out who they want to pardon,...

That's what most outgoing Presidents would be doing.

But then George W. Bush is one of a kind (thank God for that.)

In just his last ten days in office, he's looking to spend another third of a trillion dollars.

Specifically, he's asking Congress for the other half of the $700 billion TARP bailout fund. Recall that when the bill was passed, it was carefully divided into two halves-- half for Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to pass around, and half that would be appropriated after the new administration took office. Bush and Paulson have exhausted their half.

Congressional Democrats were notified Friday afternoon by the White House that they could get a request soon for the second half of the allocated bailout funds. Once Congress receives the request for the money, both chambers can try to block the release of the money if they do so within an expedited time frame....

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed unhappiness with the way Treasury used the first $350 billion to capitalize banks. Specifically, they object to how Treasury made investments with few strings attached and no process for tracking how the banks are using the money.

They also are unhappy that none of the $350 billion allocated to date has been used to prevent foreclosures.

No, instead of using them to help ordinary Americans, banks and other corporations that received Federal bailout funds with no strings attached used them for, among other things, a posh party thrown for AIG executives at a resort in California and the swallowing up of smaller but solvent banks by larger ones, a taxpayer-funded orgy of a short and nostalgic return to the era of 'mergers and acquisitions.' That's what banks used to do when they had money, and nobody bothered to make sure they wouldn't spend Federal funds to do the same thing again.

In fact, virtually the only part of the first half that was given with any real strings attached was the final $14 billion, given as a loan to the auto industry.

So now, Bush is claiming that he needs the other $350 billion. But he's not saying anything about who he plans to give it to, or why they need it. If there is another imminent financial crisis about to happen, then I want to know what my $1,000 share of that debt is being spent on. Not so some bank can buy some other bank, or so insurance executives can go to a spa and get me to pay for their pedicure. If the roof is about to cave in, and it can't wait for ten days, then I want to know why and how much it is going to cost. If absolutely necessary then release exactly what is needed and send it directly to the recipient-- with a clearly stated itemization of how it will be spent. But that's all. Don't hand Bush another $350 billion. The way he spends money, it will all be gone even faster than he will be.

Who is he looking to pay off, anyway?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A moment to give credit where it is due. To Howard Dean.

Barack Obama has announced that his choice for chair of the Democratic National Committee is Governor Tim Kaine of Virgnia.

I've seen Kaine on television, and he is good in front of the cameras. He certainly has showed his loyalty to the new President, endorsing Obama early and helping him win a key primary, the first big contest after Obama and Hillary Clinton fought to a draw on Super-Duper Tuesday. I believe that Kaine will continue to build in the work that outgoing chair Howard Dean did.

I'd like to take a moment though and thank any of you who were once "Deaniacs." I can't say that I was, having supported Wesley Clark in the primary election for President in 2004.

No matter. Let's go back to that year for a moment. As Democrats, we'd had it drilled into us by the right that 1) we were in a permanent and getting smaller minority, and that 2) the only way for Democrats to win was to adopt the Bill Clinton/DLC model: run more towards the right and turn our backs firmly on the notion that government could help people. Instead, let Republicans set the terms of debate, fight on their turf, using their language and accept as a premise that we were supposed to compete in terms of who could cut taxes, dismantle government programs and privatize services the fastest. And competing on 'their turf' was rhetorical only. Even Democrats who won (think Bill Clinton) did so by figuring out where they would compete and just writing off most of the rest of the country. A lot of people-- including Democrats, assumed after the GOP seized Congress 1994 that the only way a Democrat could win was to try and stitch together a 50% + 1 type majority (or a plurality) and not go for anything that might be considered bold. Too risky, they said. As a Democrat from a rural part of the West, I can tell you that there was both apathy and a certain sense of resentment that the national party had ignored areas like ours, just assuming we'd all vote for Republicans and hoping to perhaps outgun us once in a blue moon by turning out more urban Democrats.

Ronald Reagan was considered untouchable, and even Democratic politicians often referred to him as one who they looked to for ideas.

Howard Dean rejected all of that. Of course he had reason to. Howard Dean had been elected Governor of Vermont. Vermont was a state that even FDR never carried, losing it and Maine when he won every other state in 1936. Vermont was once a part of what was known as 'rock-ribbed Republican' New England, and as recently as 1988 it was still considered a GOP stronghold. But something had been going on there. Led by progressives as disparate as the owners and employees of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and openly socialist congressman (now Senator) Bernard Sanders, liberalism had struck a chord in the Green Mountain State. Dean, along with Sanders and others articulated a vision of an America that was better than the mean-spirited 'sink or swim' land of the right. During the 1990's and early 2000's the state had moved until it was among the most progressive in America. And unlike, say, California where much of the shift has been fueled by immigration of people with fresh ideas, in Vermont the huge majority of the population was born and raised in that state. People just began to see things differently. And Howard Dean, as Governor, implemented the nation's first civil unions law and got the legislature to pass a plan giving health care coverage to all the children in the state. He also balanced the budget in the process.

And then he took his plan and ran for President. He didn't win the nomination-- done in by his now infamous geography lesson on the night he was upset in the Iowa caucuses, but those of us in the party had seen the future.

After Howard Dean failed to win, he ran for DNC chair in early 2005. By that time, I'd come around and let my DNC members know that was who I supported. And he won. And when the Bush administration tried early that year to privatize Social Security, a revitalized Democratic party hit back hard, and blocked it in Congress. Suddenly it was Republicans who were crossing over to vote with us, not the reverse. Then Dr. Dean (he is a physician, in fact) developed something new and revolutionary. He called it the '50 state strategy.' It involved sending paid organizers to every state. Even states that were solidly Republican were targeted, at least for organizing local party structure that could help in local and perhaps national races. I know that while some people here who were not paid did a lot of work to revitalize the party locally, it was helpful that there are paid staff at the state level to help provide leadership, guidance and structure.

Now granted, the failures of conservatism have been on full display the past few years. But really, there hadn't been any great successes before that for at least a couple of decades (and that was at best fleeting,) and let's remember that in both the 2002 and 2004 elections we had been outmaneuvered by the Karl Roves and Tom DeLays who ran the GOP (in October 2002, you may recall, the economy stank so Congressional Republicans-- at the behest of Rove-- changed the subject and insisted on the vote on the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq (AUMF) even though the start of the war was almost half a year away, and in 2004 the reverse happened and the GOP changed the subject away from Iraq by making the election about John Kerry instead of their own incumbent President-- a hard task to accomplish but it's what they did.)

All Howard Dean did was play better hardball than the GOP did. And his catch in two election cycles: A net of 54 congressional seats, it looks like 14 Senate seats and the White House. And here is a number that might put his success in perspective: Republicans held onto the Wyoming at-large congressional district by a relatively narrow margin. Had they not, then all fifty states would have included at least one Democrat in their delegation (Senate or House.) So right now, in forty-nine states, voters have seen fit to send a Democrat to either the house or the Senate. Incidentally, there are seven states that right now send only Democrats to Washington (four in New England, plus North Dakota, New Mexico and Hawaii.) Barack Obama even competed for-- and won-- Nebraska's second congressional district (which was worth an electoral vote.) This is Nebraska, that we are talking about. Obama also won Virginia (which had not voted for a Democrat since 1964), Indiana (also not since 1964) and North Carolina (not since 1976). In all of this, the 'fifty state strategy' played a part. The party organization was there, and ready to be put into play (as it also was in helping to win a congressional seat in Idaho, hold one in Alabama and win a Senate race in Alaska.)

Credit Howard Dean for that. Good-bye Doctor. May you stay involved.

Not bad for a simple country doctor from Vermont. But it would never have happened if millions of ordinary Americans hadn't come together and backed a guy who totally rejected the conventional wisdom of how Democrats could win elections. Thanks again if you were one of them.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Conservatives new mantra: The New Deal made the Great Depression last longer.

It's understandable that in seeking to figure out a rationale for opposing the Obama stimulus program, conservatives would seek to find ways to criticize the New Deal, Franklin Roosevelt's big-spending set of Government programs that helped put millions to work and build much of this nation's infrastructure during the Great Depression. But lately they've gone from constructive criticism to the dumfoundingly stupid, claiming that the New Deal actually prolonged the Great Depression. In so doing, they tend to skip over the years 1933 (when it was put into place), 1934, 1935 and 1936, instead focusing on a short recession that marred the recovery during the years 1937-1938. Of course they ignore that this recession was caused precisely because Roosevelt changed course after the 1936 election and, taking advice from fiscal conservatives, he actually did cut spending on his programs and balance the budget.

Well, this doesn't suit the talk radio hosts who first started putting this notion into play, so I guess if history and facts don't work for them, what's a little historical revisionism, right?

In his latest column, David Sirota quotes University of California historian Eric Rauchway, who examined the the actual data and found that

Excepting 1937-1938, unemployment fell each year of Roosevelt's first two terms [while] the U.S. economy grew at average annual growth rates of 9 percent to 10 percent

Remember, in 1937-1938, was the year that Roosevelt tried to balance the budget by cutting spending.

Hence, if there is a lesson for Obama here, it is this one: DON'T take the advice of fiscal conservatives.
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