Thursday, December 31, 2009


To all the readers of stoogeland, a happy new year as we bid farewell to the Big Zeros. This New Year's Eve watching Steve McQueen in The Enemy of the People, reminding us the bias against science runs deep.( Actually a weak production in my view.)

I hope the new year brings an album by Johnny Lang on the model of his "Lie to Me" and a reunion of Sleater-Kinney.

Best news story --even if not true--Khamenei has his private plane being prepped at the airport for a possible departure to Russia. I wish.

Enjoy. I fading fast tonight and probably won't make the celebrations in Times Square.


Possibly the Last Post of 2009

I've kept my New Year's Resolution simple: I'm not putting plastic explosives in my underwear and I'm getting a haircut. Everything else is up for grabs.

Here's hoping this year brings some peace and calm to our troubled country as well as economic recovery.

A tip: When ever you hear Dick Cheney mouth off, it means that something has occured legally behind the scenes. Cheney's tirade accusing a man of escalating the war in Afghanistan, sending predators to pick off Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Yemen of "pretending we're at war" comes the day it appears that Cheney was explicitly linked to a mass of legal violations in the torture of detainees. Even, according to the legally unsound Bush torture memos,the waterboarding of detainees was illegal "if it wasn't aimed at preventing future attacks on the United States." Apparently, as I have written before, the whole rash of waterboarding was aimed solely at establishing an Al Qaeda--Saddam Hussein to justify the Iraq war and nothing else. The primary pusher of this was Dick Cheney, who was obsessed by the subject. It's ironic that the very administration he attacks is actually trying to protect him. It's like a giant case of chicken.

If you read the White House answer to the Cheney charges, a subtext can be read about basic American strategic errors committed during his watch. Shortly after 9-11, the United States decided to attack Afghanistan and then were planning to "pick off the low-hanging fruit" in Somalia and Yemen. The idea was to wipe out Al Qaeda in both places but the plan got sideswiped by people like Cheney who wanted the war in Iraq. We see the fruits of this blunder today as Al Qaeda restores itself in Yemen and the Obama Administration plays an almost eight-year old game of catch-up in Afghanistan. The underwear bomber incident only underscores the strategic blunder of the Bush Administration during these critical years. Cheney knows this in heart of hearts.

I believe Dick Cheney is coming close to the Nixon zone when Nixon became non compis mentis during the Watergate investigations. Alot of this has a background in the second Bush term. During the first term, Cheney studied the Threat Matrix-we knew the Matrix would come into this. This was all the unfiltered intelligence on every threats against the United States and the President from around planet earth. Most intelligence analysts said these were garbage. Cheney read them everyday and presented them to President Bush everyday. If you inhabited this world, you would go stark raving barkers.

The two personalities Bush personnel said needed a muzzle were Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. The whole Valerie Plame incident gave Bush the excuse to usher Rove out the door and banish Cheney to the Vice Presidency. By 2004, President Bush understood in his own peculiar way that Cheney's way was the wrong way. You began to see langauge about closing Gitmo and we now know that the torture memos were being revised,if not rescinded. All the Cheney rhetoric now is in part to re-fight the bureaucratic battle he lost.

But now with the CIA's Inspector General's Report somewhere in the limbo of being released and the OPR report on the torture lawyers promised soon, the stakes become a little higher.
God knows what will emerge with the millions of e-mails recovered recently because they cover the whole time period of the outing of Valerie Plame and some of the torture times.

It is not incidental that Cheney claims Obama will release hard-bitten terrroists when it has become known that it was what he personally ok'd with the release of the two men who taught the underpants bomber about explosives. My jokes about Cheney's Raiders, referring to Gitmo detainees released to Yemen and Saudi Arabia under the Bush Administration, literally turn out to be true. He was the man who personally approved their transfers. And they are all back in the field.

(Parenthetically--Could we release the remaining Uighurs from Gitmo? If real Al Qaeda people can got to art therapy classes in Saudi Arabia, why can't people who had nothing to do with nothing be released?)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Boris Badunov Bombs Detroit

If the Detroit bomber had somehow pulled off what ever he thought he was doing, it would have been a tragedy. A great blow against the empire--No. The bomber nearly blew off his dick and put himself on fire with materials allegedly supplied by Al Qaeda's master bomb maker. This is getting cartoonish and we should not buy into this and allow Al Qaeda some propaganda victory by implying this stuff is really serious. We should walk softly and carry a big stick as the old President used to say.

Al Qaeda's web site said they would avenge the raids in Yemen, where 30 of their cadre were killed and another 17 seized.

The suspected bomber, Farouk Umar Abdulmuttallab, told the FBI he was provided the explosives by two top leaders of Al Qaeda. Those leaders have been identified as two Guatanamo detainees released by the Bush Administration and who were sent back to Saudi Arabia to participate in an art therapy class as part of their rehabilitation. The leaders were part of Cheney's raiders, the group of detainees sent back to Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Yemen rehabilitation programs was dismantled because all its graduates just re-joined Al Qaeda.

But let's get real for a moment. Super geek Nate Silver at yesterday did a piece on the odds of actually being blown up on an airplane by terrorists. The chances are beyond miniscule. At this point, Al Qaeda looks like a bunch of losers trying to get attention. The Daily Mail in the UK ran a piece of how 35 disenchanted Brit Muslims have slipped back to training camps for Al Qaeda and we are told more plane plots are on the way.

At this point Al Qaeda numbers about 600 people--110 in Afghanistan, about 400 in Pakistan and the rest in Yemen.

Is this reason to panic and be scared? The country who defeated the Nazi war machine and brought the Soviet empire to its knees. I just don't get the fear. I like to think of Bin Laden and Zahawari as Sean Connery and Michael Caine in A Man Who Would Be King, convincing locals they are immortals until the day Sean Connery bleeds. That day will come for the "Sheik". How can you take a group seriously that is named after Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy? What's next--an affiliate named The Matrix?

I received an e-mail this morning concerning the need for the United States to combat the ideology of islamic terrorism. What ideology? Nihilism. I'm sorry I never could get that into Al Qaeda--just as I never could get into blowing up jetliners and toppling large buildings. They won't stop until they have succeeded with their ideology. Oh, what is it now--restoring the caliphate? Or are we at the phase of kicking the Crusaders out of the Middle East or maybe eradicating the State of Israel? And when they blow themselves up--they will receive 70 white raisins in paradise. It would be nice if one of these numbskulls actually learned to translate the Koran. It might save them the problem of self-destruction.

The Big Zeros Wind Down

As the ball drops in Times Square and a mummified Dick Clark brings in the new decade, it's clear we are in for a nutty political year in 2010. Our corporate media is already predicting big losses for the Democrats this year--all their Republican guests and talking heads tell them so. It must be the cheerful message of hope and change they bring to the debate. Mary Matalin tells us that Bush inherited 5% unemployment, a recession and a 9/11 attack--of course this all happened on his watch but I guess he got a nine-month break in historical reckoning.

Newt Gingrich says a New Contract with America would bring 50 seats to the Republicans and that the GOP must campaign on an upbeat platform--like repealing health reform.

Fox news is telling us that the Detroit incident is a wake-up call for America to fight islamic terrorism, as though no one is.

GOP congresscritters complained that the Obama Administration has not been bipartisan and ,if he had governed as Dwight Eisenhower, he would be better off. Since CPAC is being sponsored by the John Birch Society, who thought Ike was a communist agent, it's hard to parse the observation about Obama as Ike--good thing or bad thing.

For the record, the Republicans abandoned any pretence at bipartisanship in February of last year just before the debate on the stimulus package. This is well documented on Youtube for those interested. Even though Reagan economists joined the likes of Paul Krugman in urging a stimulus--actually more than passed, only two Republicans voted for it. You will recall that Senator Judd Gregg was named as Secretary of Commerce but was pressured not to accept by Republicans.

But that should not keep us from the wicked dementia of Jane Hamsher and Grover Norquist's alliance. These unlikely allies want to investigate Rahm Emmanuel or have him resign for crimes unspecified. They also pledge to primary Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Since Grover thinks Charles Schumer, Barney Frank and George Soros are responsible for the American economic collapse, you might suspect a little pattern here. Out of all the random people in Washington,why pick on Bernie Sanders and Rahm Emmanuel-what faith do they have in common? Grover is just so clever.

For all babyboomers, the New York Times printed the annual full page ad--WAR IS OVER if you want it. Love and Peace . Yoko Ono and John Lennon. I had mentioned to my wife that I missed it this year until my ife found it and taped it to the refrigerator.

A word of advice--for me as well as you, the only polls that are meaningful in 2010 will be those after Labor Day. All the rest are rubbish unless they show absolutely huge leads.

It's actually too bad the Detroit incident happened because Republicans can not come back intellectually until they free themselves of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The GOP treats 9/11 as if it's the second Fourth of July. Until they rid themselves of this fixation and the belief that only Republicans suffered that day, they will not move on.

We owe President Barack Obama a great debt of gratitude for flushing out into the open all the "owners of America" who are trying to stop every move he makes. For the first time in my life, major corporations funded demonstrations against the Government. Even oil companies got in the act and stirred up demos against global warming. Think about that--protesting that people believe in global climate change. That's rich. I especially liked the protests against tax hikes when Obama cut 98% of all Americans taxes. I guess if you repeat it enough, it becomes true.

We have no clue what the issues will be this year. I suspect alot of it will be a debate over whether the economic recovery is real or memorex. The absolute shattering of belief in government that resulted from the Bush years will continue as the talking heads here in stoogeland will doubt everything said. I suspect we will have aanother pissfight on the Iran nuclear issue, more nonsense on Gitmo, and more unease with Afghanistan. I think Cap and Trade is a non-starter--basically because no one understands it. I do expect some effort at immigration reform, even though the Republicans will block it--but that's the point.

Who will Barack Obama be this year? The latest e-mail tags him as Juan Peron. So far only Castro has missed the list. But will we have the Chicago machine politician turn into Jimmy Carter as the left and the right seem to suggest. It's really great. There should be a contest.

Does Andrew Sullivan Deserve a Pulitzer for Iran?

The Washington Post finally acknowledged today that something was happening in Iran. The New York Times did so late yesterday afternoon with their "Lede" column and Huffington Post decided to give the Detroit terrorism threat a break and covered Iran. But Andrew Sullivan has been there all along and most of the major news outlets--spoken or not--are taking their leads from Andrew's Daily Dish. The cable news networks were ominously quiet. Instead we were treated to Peter King and other Republicans screaming that the Obama Administration were not emotional enough in dealing with the Detroit episode. Other talking heads said that Obama should return promptly from Hawaii--to do what remains the question. But clearly, Andrew Sullivan is keeping his eye on the ball and I agree with him--although other bloggers don't--that we are on the cusp of a world changing event.

Steve Cleamons of the New American Foundation claims Khamenei is the new Shah--forgetting decades of political killings in the Islamic Republic. He added to his article a tweet from former regime apologist Barbara Slavin, who basically said Khamenei is damned if he did--liberalize--and damned if he didn't. I'm soo glad she earns the big bucks.

It's still curious to me why my conservative friends are so silent--as they were with the June elections--on events in Iran. Most of these people either think Israel or the United States should attack--at least the nuclear installations. But the actual fate of the Iranians leaves them cold. Some of this is the mentality we saw at the end of the Cold War that you could not change a totalitarian regime except by force and that in fact the status quo was better than uncertain change. And the other is that despite the unrising, Iran has multiple security forces that we repress and that no change is possible and that the current known agents of change are somehow tainted by their past relationships with the system. After nearly forty years, that's alot of tainted Iranians. Or it may be that real democratic change can not come unless the United States is a major agent in bringing it about. Shame on them!

Whatever the reason the leftwing blogosphere is the only action on the Iranian issue right now. And even they are taking their leads from Andrew Sullivan, who clearly is rooting for our friends there. The fact he has continued to be focused on this issue since prior to the elections warrants some award. Now that the news outlets have severely cut international coverage--it really is about us--not about them, it's time they give out the journalist awards to bloggers.

Today, Tehran arrested a long list of former government officials and opposition figures, including 72-year old Ebrahim Yazdi, the foreign minister from the transitional government and a personality from Mossadegh's party. Running down the list of arrests it's clear that this was strategic--a good many of them would constitute a decent interim government. Maybe the regime's fears go deeper than the outside world widely believes.

The killing of Ali Mousavi, the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi, has deeper symbolic meaning as he was a sayyed or someone said to be descended from the Prophet. It seems not to be so coincidental that his body disppeared before his family could claim it. Murdering a sayyed on Ashura is bad karma.

There were some light moments in the grim events. Government goons tried to interrupt a dinner of reformist clerics by chanting " Agents of British imperialism! Agents of the BBC!" In one analysis piece I read, the author warned of the chaos that would ensue if the regime were toppled--the MEK would come to power! Well, as Monty Python said, " No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition!" And the author was an American at that.

In hopes for the future, I say, "Iran is a model of stability" . The last time someone said that all hell broke loose.

Keep it up Andrew.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Green Revolution Continues

On December 20, Grand Ayatollah Ali Hossein Montazari died at the age of 87. His death prompted large crowds to mourn his passing and protest the current regime. Today, Ali Mousavi, the nephew of the opposition leader, was killed by security police and the opposition rallies spread throughout Iran. For the next three months, the Iranian regime will face continued opposition activity as both the secular and religious calender runs against their favor. We will have the 40th day aniversary of the death of the 3rd Shia Imam, celebrated today on Ashura; the 40th anniversary of those killed today (February15), the February 11th anniversary of the Revolution and the March ending of the various subsidies for food and gas by the Ahmadinejad regime.

Beginning with his Nobel Prize speech,President Obama and his administration has been racheting up the rhetoric against Iran. Today, they condemned the repression of the opposition demonstrations. On Montazari's death, the White House said he was " a figure internationally respected for his unwavering commitment to universal rights." Tame maybe but remember it was Khamenei that was chosen to become Supreme Leader over the more spiritually qualified Montazari. In his last year, Ayatollah Montazari backed the opposition's charges that the June 12 elections were fraudulent and subsequently issued a fatwa calling Ahmadinejad's regime illegitimate. He was the one who coined the phrase I have often used, the Islamic Republic of Iran is neither Islamic nor a Republic."

Born to a peasant family in Najafabad in Istahan Province, Montazari eventually became the center of the clerical network, which brought down the Shah and he was the man responsible on the ground while Khomeini was in his Paris exile. He had been imprisoned by the Shah in 1974 and released in 1978. One of the authors of the current Iranian Constitution and one of the spiritual founders of the IslamicRepublic, Montazari broke with Khomeini just before his June 1989 death over the wanton execution of members of the MEK, whom even in his last interview he claimed had not been involved in any attacks on the regime. As a result, Monatazari lost his chance to become Supreme Leader, even though the opposition suggested it this year as a way to remove Khamenei.

Montazari criticized the regime over the last twenty-five years. In 1997, he was put under house arrest because he denounced the dictatorial power of Khamenei. While he seemed to emerge this past year, he had previously issued fatwas against suicide bombing, terrorism and nuclear weapons. This past year he personally apologized for the hostage taking at the American embassy during the Revolution and openly denounced Iran's nuclear program.

During the time of his house arrest, I remember two intrepid students travelling to his house and sending him questions over the wall about a host of religious topics. Their photo of a grey-haired man behind a closed door was the only image of him I had seen for years. he had become old and frail, suffering from a chronic heart condition. But his answers to the students' questions were clear, crisps and concise. Although never a liberal democrat, he did evolve to consider the need for woman's rights in his country as well as the need to reform the very system he helped create. It was his initiative that led to the legalization of political parties in the Islamic Republic, although under strict regulation. He took a grandfatherly approach to the young man and woman who sent their questions over the wall and used a scholar's mind to answer them.

The mourning was not simply for a real spiritual leader but also for a past that was never realized. Today's opposition rallies no longer even mention Ahmadinejad but focus their ire at Khamenei, the pretender. Pictures of the Iranian people turning against the Bassij and security forces mark the clear break with the peaceful demonstrations after the election. In true Iranian government tradition, the new rallies are blamed against the MEK, the catch-all scapegoat for any unrest in the country.

As we know with democratic revolutions, you can not tell people when the right time is to become free. I expect we will see a tumultous three months ahead. It's also important that American politicians keep their heads about them and encourage the Iranian people without pretending that there is any military solution to their country's problems. Already, there have been op-eds in the New York Times and elsewhere advocating a military approach to Iran because we tend not to see the forest beyond the trees. No doubt there will be many that will beat the war drums, particularly on the Republican side of the aisle. But the Obama Administration's approach to date has been prudent--further isolating the regime from the world community and from their own people.

Sunday Coffee--Yemen--Appropriately

While the U.S. has been conducting military operations against Al Qaeda in Yemen, Senator Joey Lieberman says we have to act pre-emptively there--which is of course what we have been doing. After U.S. drone attacks, the Saudi air force pummeled Yemen this morning. From the early reports on the Northwest airline incident in Detroit, it appears the would-be terrorist received his explosives from an Al Qaeda operative in Yemen. It seems the M.O. was the same as the Shoe Bomber. How much of this incident is a symptom that Al Qaeda's recruits are getting even lower in quality and that the organization has been crippled recently? Are the recent anniversary 9-11 plot and the recent pickup of the North Virginia youths the last gasp of a dying group? Or is this the regrouping using Western Muslims, who have not assimilated to their new host countries?

Do you prefer the color terror alerts and the constant appearances of administration officials on television, spreading fear and panic or the very subdued approach by the Obama Administration? I think it depends on which narrative of recent history you prefer. If you think that the central fact of life is a global struggle against Islamic terrorism, then you want all the bells and whistles and Dick Cheney scowling about "mushroom clouds". If you think that terrorism is a side issue to the many other problems we face then you want the whole approach to be more professional and low-key. A high decibel response demands we act in a manner that may have enormous downsides once we think it through.

The question that is very puzzling--and it has plagued the whole counter-terrorism effort from the beginning is a total lack of coordination. The Nigerian apprehended in Detroit was on our terrorism watch list but not included on the Don't Fly List. This is a ten-year old problem. And with Republicans howling at the Obama Administration it is useful to point out that the student received his visa to the United States from the Bush Administration.

Anyone reading this blog will recall my jokes about Cheney's Raiders in Yemen. The Bush Administration released a series of Saudi and Yemeni detainees from Gitmo event though they were on the Saudi most wanted list for ties to Al Qaeda. None of the Administration even consulted Prince Bandar, who heads Saudi intelligence and is practically a member of the Bush family, about this. Coupled with this, the radical cleric who was in e-mail correspondance with the Ft. Hood soldier was allowed to leave the United States for Yemen, despite his running a jihadist website. He was a target of the recent American raids against Al Qaeda. Are we now experiencing blowback from the previous administration's failures?

It's almost like the Bush-Cheney Administration deliberately set in motion endless threats against the United States to keep the Long War going.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Post-Christmas Blues

We really could have done without Andrew Sullivan's most Depressing Christmas songs yesterday.

I got my holiday e-mail from the RNC and it didn't mention Christmas. Intend to forward to Fox News for their file about the War Against Christmas.

Read Robert Stone's collection of short stories yesterday Fun with Problems. Fine writing as always but every story was a bummer--thanks Bob.

One of my favorites The Young Turks seem to be going down the toilet with their embrace of Jane Hamisher and her loony alliance with Grover Norquist.

My brother-in-law gave my Sarah Palin's Going Rogue. Only interesting section was her description of negotiating with ExxonMobil and her take on oil companies. The rest you have to pass through a lie detector.

We'll see if Dick Cheney re-emerges to talk about the aborted terrorist plot in Detroit. Seems our latest Al Qaeda wannabe was a son of a Nigerian banker and had received visas to the U.S. under the previous Cheney Administration. The would-be bomber was on our terrorist watch list but not on our Don't Fly List--the same with all the 9-11 attackers. I guess some things aren't fixed and the airline industry will have to go more totalitarian in the next year.

There now exists a right-center-left consensus in the States that the Iranian regime sucks. The same applies in Iran itself. Let's hope this year will see the Iranian people free.

Missing my trip to New Jersey to visit my sister and pick up a Jersey Mike's sub. That is a bummer.

My Christmas present to myself was a real beret--we know it's real because it's made in Basque country. I guess the French don't make berets anymore.

As I've reminded our security mavens, the center of gravity against Al Qaeda will move to Yemen--and it has.

I now find the leftwingblogosphere has become almost as unreadable as the rightwing blogosphere. I'm sorry this happened. Now I have nothing to read. For a while, there was life on the left in terms of domestic policy issues. Now that they have resorted to the whole capitalist system is corrupt--it is--and our political system is also--which it has been, I guess the debate is closed. I guess the rest of us will have to contend with incremental improvements. I am sorry to see them go in this direction. There appeared there was senitient life there for a while.

As we wrap up this decade, all I can say--Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish. The Zeros lived up to their no name. Let's hope our writers will begin a new renaissance. Remember: All good writers go to heaven.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas --Our Long National Nightmare Is Over

The nightmare being the Senate debate on healthcare--the second longest debate in Senate history. TR couldn't do it. FDR couldn't do it. Harry Truman couldn't do it. LBJ did some of it. Richard Nixon couldn't do it. Bill Clinton couldn't do it. But the colored man with the strange name and big ears did it! Congratulations to all the Democrats in both the Senate and the House for having the courage of their convictions and fighting a campaign orchestrated by the insurance companies, the whole Washington lobbyist corps and the radical right against health reform. And shame on Republicans for not participating in offering anything constructive to the debate. Cowed by the teabaggers, the Republicans fled the playing field for fear of alienating people we don't even know vote.

And whatever this means for the political fortunes of President Barack Obama, he kept his eye on the prize and it was worth it.

Naturally for anything in stoogeland, nothing can ever have a neat ending. A series of Republican attorney generals are researching the constitutionality of the act. Senator Ensign, who has had a rather loose understanding of his marriage vows, has discovered the constitution and is challenging it. And Senator Snowe from Maine flat out declares it's unconstitutional. Lindsey Graham is concerned that African-Americans in South Carolina may benefit from it. But as the great Bayard Rustin once told me,"remember there are millions more poor whites than blacks." Now news this Christmas eve is that Republicans are trying to stop the reconcilation of the House and Senate bills.

We can expect the racial theme to be picked up over the next few weeks. That poor Blacks will receive healthcare at your expense or some such nonsense. I expect to hear Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to sound the reparations theme.

One of the most amazing developments in this whole affair has been the Molotov-Rippentrop treaty between Grover Norquist and Jane Hamisher of Fire Lake website to attack the bill. It seems only appropriate for Grover with his strange Wahbabist background and relationship with Jack Abramoff to first attack Jewish Senator Bernie Sanders. This alliance between conservatives and progressives is one of the most recent low points in our political history.

For my money, the Sanders amendment which will expand the free clinics in all fifty states and serve over 20 millions Americans, even providing dental care, is what makes the whole bill worthwhile. There is rich irony in a Black president and a Jewish Senator doing more for rural Americans than anything since the New Deal. I love it. And maybe the actual political return for this will be visible by 2012.

Harry Reid was right--the bill marks the moment when American acknowledges that health care is a right, not a privilege. Merry Christmas, Harry.

Signs of Things to Come

Expect Republicans to come back from recess and start ramping up the whole discussion on the deficit. It's important to change focus now before people get wind of the significance of the passage of the health reform bill.

But also expect President Obama to address the deficit issue in the State of the Union and point to the discussions in the Senate about creating a bipartisan panel to make recommendations on reducing the deficit.

Don't expect Nancy Pelosi to take the lead this coming year on legislation as the House has done this past year. The House has gotten out in front of so many issues that she fears that some of her members will pay at the polls in 2010.

Expect alot of grandstanding on the debate on repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell for the military. This should be a red flag for social conservatives and something they can hang their hat on while other issues fade.

Financial reforms will reach some conclusions in the Senate as witnessed by today's joint statement by Dodd and Shelby but expect a fight over Obama's plan to create a Consumer Protection type Agency.

The fun debate will be on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts scheduled for this year. It will be fascinating to watch while members argue for maintaining the top rate cuts for the wealthy.

Republicans have three months to pound away on the failure of the stimulus plan. While it's part of the mantra of Republicans running in 2010 this will have a short shelf life as the plan kicks in by the summer and fall of 2010. Then the argument becomes whether the recovery is real or simply inflated by government programs.

The key question in the economy is whether major corporations and bankers can hold onto their massive levels of cash without investing in the economy. I bet they can not.

The financial collapse of many states like California will dominate the news next year.

Republicans will mount an intense drive against any Climate Change Legislation on the grounds it kills jobs. But I expect some bill to pass that will support alternative energy sources. I don't expect any significant commitments from the United States, despite President Obama keeping the Copenhagen Talks from totally collapsing.

The main foreign policy issue next year will be Iran with a smaller sideshow in Georgia. Not only will be the international community have to formulate a new approach once talks over the nuclear issue fail but we may really be seeing the terminal throes of the regime itself, which will make the situation scarier. The Georgia issue will be kept alive by Senators Lugar and McCain. Republicans will demand the arming of Georgia against Russian aggression.

Finally, I expect we will see one of the infamous Al Qaida leaders meet their just reward.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Election 2010 Previews

Right now the Democrats have a 3 to 1 money lead over Republicans. But I suspect Republicans are waiting for the Supreme Court ruling on corporate donations to campaigns before going the full-tilt boogie.

But let's look at a few upcoming races next year. In the state of New York, a hampster could beat David Patterson for governor but the Republicans could only come up with Rich Lazio, who is trailing a governor with one of the lowest approval ratings in the land. If Andy Cuomo wins the Democratic primary, he crushes Lazio by a 3-1 margin. The GOP has had a tough time recruiting a candidate to challenge Kristin Gillibrand for the Senate, who has been raising money like gangbusters. Rudy Giuliani declined the run, probably ending his political career forever. Mentions of Pataki and Peter King as challengers seem just wishful thinking.

In Pennsylvania, it looks like Attorney-general Tom Corbett , the Republican, is walking away with the race. The senator race between Pat Toomey and Arlen Specter looks like the race for the ages.

Connecticut's Chris Dodd looked like a dead duck only a few months ago. But now he is only five down against former Rep. Simmons and tied with World Wrestling CEO Linda McMahon. Dodd plagued by scandal a year ago has earned some street cred with his service during the banking crisis and his taking over from Ted Kennedy on the Senate Health Committee. I expect by election time Senator Dodd will eek it out.

Republican establishment candidate Trey Grayson looks in trouble in Kentucky. Ron Paul's son, Rand Paul looks like he has galvanized the tea-baggers and is polling way ahead of Grayson.

In Texas, the Democrats look like they are putting together a power ticket for the state offices. Bill White for Governor, AFL-CIO Veep, Linda Chavez-Thompson for Lt. Gov., former Republican Carole Strayhorn for comptroller and the one and only Kinky Friedman for Agriculture Commissioner. Kinky ran for Governor last time as a third party candidate on the winning slogan," How Hard Can It Be?"

A preliminary look at the House races shows no dirth of candidates. One theme seems to be rage at incumbents--a hangover from the Bush days, just catching up with the rest of the country. Another theme seems to be a re-emphasis by some Republicans on local politics and not the national themes of either the RNC and the tea-baggers. The house races look all over the map at this early date with more primary activity than in past years in both parties. With the national environment in such turmoil there are no strong themes coming out in these early days. We'll look at this more in the months ahead but the Republicans look much more fragmented than the Democrats. Was Anna Marie Cox right on Rachel Maddow Show the other night that the tea baggers scare the average voter? We'll see.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Conservative of the Year--the Man Who Wanted To Invade Buffalo

Human Events selected its Conservative of the Year--the one and only Dick Cheney. Editor Jed Babbin has a keen sense of humor and the choice usually has a large dose of intending to provoke liberal outrage. Last year, the choice was Sarah Palin, who galvanized conservatives for the Republican ticket when most conservatives thought John McCain was a RINO.

But let's take this seriously. When Dick Cheney was in the Senate he had a voting record right of Jesse Helms, the beacon for conservatives then. But is the Dick Cheney of today really a conservative? Let's take his advocacy through his aide-de-camp Richard Addington of the constitutional theory of a unified executive. Real conservative constitutional scholars like Bruce Fein, who has become more of a libertarian, thought such a doctrine was worthy of impeaching George W. Bush. It's a constitutional doctrine that is radical to the extreme--the President can basically do whatever he wants. It makes even King George look wussy.

Or how about abandoning the Geneva Conventions and embracing torture as American policy. Thewhistle-blowers on these Bush policies were all Reagan conservatives. To his credit William Howard Taft IV, with the proper conservative lineage, drafted memo after memo condeming the abandonment of the Geneva Conventions, which the United States helped draft, and attacked the Torture Memos of the Department of Justice. It is no small irony that when he was Governor of the Phillippines, former President Taft called waterboarding Philipino insurgents the "most disgraceful acts in our history". Abandoning Ronald Reagan's commitment of the United States to the Convention Against Torture doesn't seem very conservative. Ronald Reagan's Justice Department even prosecuted a Texas sheriff for waterboarding a prisoner.

What about Gitmo, a subject on which Dick Cheney is famous?Most of the materials in the reports of human rughts groups condemning practices at Gitmo were derived from military personnel who were self-proclaimed conservative Republicans. Even the chief prosecutor at Gitmo claimed torture had been committed and that cases against the detainees were jeopardized by these practices was a Reagan appointee to the Pentagon.

Suspending the fourth amendment of the Constitution--admittedly with Democratic consent--is not very conservative. And advocating the invasion of Buffalo with US troops during the Lackawanna terrorist plot doesn't sound very conservative. Dick Cheney did advocate this and was over-ruled by President Bush.

And what about over-riding the FISA courts. After all it was Reagan appointee to the bench, Judge Lambeth, who was available 24/7 to approve wire-tap requests from the Government. He was removed because he was too inconvenient and the NSA simply decided to tap all Americans without warrants. That doesn't seem so conservative.

Dick Cheney made his fortune as the head of Halliburton. Now we're getting somewhere. But wait up--his actual performance in real private sector-private sector deals were a disaster. He made the company real money by procuring government contracts. That's not so conservative.

Dick Cheney said, "As Ronald Reagan said, deficits don't matter." Here we can give him the benefit of the doubt as his administration left the United States in debt to the tune of $12 trillion according to the Office of the Treasury Report for 2008. Maybe not so conservative as he would like.

He sacrificed all his Halliburton bonuses and stock options when he took public office and donated them to charity. That's compassionate conservatism. But wait, the donation was to the Richard Bruce Cheney Vice Presidential Library. Maybe not so conservative.

He supported the creation of a whole new doctrine of "Pre-emptive Warfare", which abandoned America's traditional doctrine of deterrence. That's not conservative at all.

Dick Cheney never met a President whom he felt was strong enough. His days now are spent fighting bureaucratic fights he lost in 2004 when it dawned on President Bush that maybe his vice-president preferred living on the dark side all the time. But then again the Vice President wasn't really part of the executive--that's not very conservative.

If CPAC can be sponsored this year by the John Birch Society, then maybe it makes sense to declare Dick Cheney "Conservative of the Year". It is a good joke played by Human Events.

The Winter of Our Discontent

If you listen to pundits on the left and right, Barack Obama and the Democrats are going straight into the toilet for 2010. The only staunch supporters of the President I can determine are former neo-con Andrew Sullivan, former religious right guru and now progressive blogger Francis Schaeffer and me, a recovering Republican but with deep social democratic tendencies. I happen to agree with Andrew Sullivan that the health reform bill represents a landmark legislative triumph for President Obama on the order of Ronald Reagan's tax cuts. Francis Schaeffer slapped down progressives as too impatient and not aware of the political reality of this country. Frankly, in terms of 2010, I couldn't tell you but the long-term trajectory both for health care reform and the economy I believe are good.

If you are tallying up Obama and the Democrats' achievements of the past year, they are impressive. The stimulus bill, which included the largest middle class tax cut in history and the largest allotment to scientific research in the history of man as well as a vast expansion of health care for children, is a net plus. Will it produce the number of jobs promised by the administration, I have no clue. The efforts in the House at reform of our financial system so far are decent and much needed. The program to assist people underwater with their mortgages has fizzled so far but someone tried. For me, the Obama administration has fulfilled every promise made to the native American community and a hats off to Justice and Interior for finally after nearly a generation settling the Indian Trust Law suit. More reforms need to come to reign in Wall Street.

President Obama made the best out of a bad situation with his decision to escalte the war in Afghanistan and is on his way out of Iraq as promised. Despite the hype, the agreement in Copenhagen on Climate Change was a first step but clearly a disappointment. While lagging behind on closing Gitmo, the adminsitration has managed to reduce its population to below 200 and the remainders look destined for a prison in Illinois. For security freaks such as myself, the pending agreement over nuclear weapons with Russia is truly significant in reducing nuclear stockpiles on both sides. And, Oh, I forgot, the Administration stopped the global economy from walking straight off a cliff into a deep Depression.If you add all the goodies like extending unemployment and COBRA benefits, keeping teachers employed and the sundry infrastructure projects, that's not a bad year. It just feels that way because of how low we have fallen.

The problem for 2010 is the framing of these achievements. The Republicans are campaigning against the stimulus. But what if Democrats made it clear that Republicans voted against virtually everything that was achieved above? What if the Democrats ran on their middle class tax cuts and the pork contained in the various bills? The Republicans to a man and woman voted against health care reform. What if Democrats break down the bill and make it specific when campaigning? What will rural voters think about the billions allocated to rural health care clinics? In my book, this is one of the most significant pieces of the health care bill which was proposed by Senator Bernie Saunders of Vermont. What if Democrats in the Midwest ran on saving the American auto industry? Every Republican voted against saving 16% of the American economy.

2010 is all going to be about optics. By now everyone knows that our media is simply an outlet of corporate interests "balancing" the outrageous with reality. Will the conservative echo-chamber produce the great Republican comeback promised? There really is no need if Democrats actually grew a spine and ran straight at the Republicans. Or is the outrage in the country really all against Washington and the Government in general and the Democrats simply can't do anything about it.

While picking up my son from college in the Midwest, I watched C-Span and noted the intense discussion in the Senate on creating a panel of experts on the deficit. Expect to see more discussion from the Administration on the deficit in the coming year. Also expect to see an intense and ugly debate on immigration reform. Here the Republicans have backed themselves in a corner, which will doom them long-term but may help in the 2010 elections. Also watch for an intensive Senate debate on bank reform. Here Barack Obama has himself submitted legislation on creating a new Consumer Protection Agency.

The Republicans will enter the year believing the slow recovery of the economy favors them. After all they told American corporations, who are flush with $7 trillion to invest, to wait up until the 2010 elections. Banks, also, have more cash on hand above the reserves required by the FDIC than at any time in 50 years. Personally, I can not see them able to hold off for a year until they dump their money. By the fall of next year, alot of the stimulus money will be seen as working and the results will come clearer. What we can't anticipate is some foreign crisis that would turn the tide.

Can Republicans really believe they can be the party of no for the second consecutive year? I believe they think they can but it will be grueling. What I have said in many postings, the Republicans are counting on the outraged white voter in 2010. Election turnouts in by-elections show that roughly 62-65% of those 60 or over vote, while minorities drop to the mid-thirties and the younger voter into the 20s. If you combine the enthusiasm factor, which right now favors the Republicans, with these demographics ,which are the only sector of the society that tilts Republican anymore, you would expect a blowout.

Historically, the President's party loses about 20 seats in the House and about 3-5 in the Senate. That is without any major tilts like in the 1994 elections, which swept Newt Gingrich to power. Republicans I know believe they face another such situation. Then add to the dismay of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, who feel let down on a number of issues by the Obama Administration. That could work to dampen the base of the Democratic Party.

But as my blog has pointed out, the left these days seems primarily concerned with policy debates and outputs and not in the type of fear mongering of their rightwing counterparts. Will enough of the President's initiatives produce the type of results they like and lead to a healing of the wounds? Here I think the behavior of the Republicans will drive the progressives back to the polls for Democrats. If Republicans don't change their tune, it is no longer the case of a "lesser of two evils" but a clear distinction in terms of the direction of the country. Democrats long remember many of the lost opportunities during the Clinton years when the Republicans sought to impeach the President and prior to that Clinton was forced to "triangulate" his policies basically neutering his domestic agenda. I don't think Democrats will allow that again.

I expect this coming year we will see immigration reform pass. If you add the number of Hispanics appointed by Barack Obama and the hysterical opposition by Republicans to a moderate Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, there will be virtually no reason for Hispanics to vote Republican in the presidential election. Teabaggers and conservatives are urging Republicans to boycott the census on paranoid fears the Obama Administration will use the information to launch IRS audits on conservatives. But meanwhile, a broad coalition of African American groups have met with the Commerce Secretary to produce a census that corrects the 3% undercount of African Americans in the census. They are taking a pro-active stance in trying to get the African American community to participate in a process that too foten is fraight with mistrust of the government. By 2012, we should know the results of these efforts and they will not be nice for Republicans.

I have always believed that President Obama would have been an excellent President with one part of Congress being in the hands of the Republicans. But that was a different party than the one emerging now. I still feel that Americans do want to live in a modern economy and believe we should be part of the world. However, there is a growing and strident force in the country now that really wants to pull us back before the days of FDR, where just raw economic power dominate society. Today's Republicans make Herbert Hoover look like a radical and Theodore Roosevelt a Communist. The question is whether our political culture has become so degraded that this point of view might triumph. I'm betting not but I've been too optimistic before.

To give you a recent example of what I am talking about, CPAC, the largest conservative political action group, has announced its annual meeting and among its sponsors is the John Birch Society. The John Birch Society was considered for almost a half a century as toxic to conservatives. With the connivance of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, Bill Buckley, Jr. drummed them out of the movement with a long attack which was read verbatim on the Senate floor. Glimmers of this comeback could be seen when photographs were taken during the last campaign of Sarah Palin reading American Opinion, their magazine which she duly noted was one of her favorites. The John Birch Society was noted in my youth for their attacks on Dwight David Eisenhower as being a Communist stooge and fostering the billboard campaign to impeach Earl Warren because of the ruling in favor of civil rights.

A more troubling phenomenon is the apparent lack of party leadership or the desire of the party to shut down the hate rhetoric aimed at both President Obama and the Democrats. Senator Coburn, who is alleged to be a personal friend of President Obama ( a mystery that both men should explain), called to prayers that Senator Byrd would not make the health care debates. The teabaggers took this so seriously that the prayed and actually wept when the only Senator who failed to appear was Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, who they thought had died because of them. Instead , Inhofe simply had been absent since his vote wasn't needed. Newt Gingrich, who should know better, told David Horowitz's Restoration Weekend in November that the administration was secular (aren't all American administrations supposed to be secular?), radical and leftist. He vowed victory or death,reminding me of all those Latin American slogans "Patria o Muerte".

A part of me always fears that somehow over time the filters on the American brain will disintegrate or disappear and that this type of rhetoric will really be believed. Look how far the lies about death panels got during the health care debate. As any progressive can tell you, the Obama Administration is anything but leftist. Instead, they claim he's a sell-out to corporate interests. Even such darlings of the old/new left as Fidel Castro and Huge Chavez accuse him of being an imperialist who lies. But this isn't reported by the conservative leaning blogs or the Echo Chamber.

Obama's current problems lie with the working class. He has to produce for them in the next year. Even during the campaign, the working class was highly skeptical that any candidate could produce change that would benefit them. He needs some solid hits in the next year on this front--more jobs being produced by small businesses, more mortgage relief for struggling families and tangible benefits of the health care bill before the larger parts of it take place. Otherwise, we have seen that the hate orchestra can produce songs that prey on the working class's deepest fears.

Francis Schaeffer believes President Obama and the Democrats will triumph over this hatefest from the right. I wish to believe him. President Obama's eloquence, which for me is a breath of fresh air, doesn't track with those suffering in the land. He is best when he goes out to Town Hall meetings and addresses the concerns of average citizens. The photo ops at places like the Hardware Store near my office where President Obama announced that "insulation was sexy" are venues he should exploit more. He has to be perceived as more in touch with the average guy than others need to be. He has been cast as the "other", the "Muslim", the "terrorist" or the "racist" by the Right and only by being himself will he erode this mistrust.

Every opportunity to criticize him will be used--whether justified or not. In recent days, No Drama Obama has shown his frustration by blasting House Republicans in a meeting saying they didn't want the recovery plan to succeed. Yes, Mr. President, they really don't. They don't want America to succeed. If you want a taste of cynicism, look at the recent debate on the Defense Appropriations Bill in the Senate, where the Republicans in an attempt to delay the health care bill, sought to filibuster it, knowing the funds had to be appropriated within 24 hours to keep the Pentagon going. Only when it was clear, the Democrats had all 60 votes did 3 Republicans meekly change sides.

For next year, President Obama has to abandon the overt habit of appearing to be hands off on legislation--even though his hands have been in everything so far. Independents are looking for crisp leadership and not the endless massaging that has been going on. While his technique has worked very successfully so far in getting sweeping changes out of House, in particular, he needs to set down the markers on a few major legislative goals this year--particularly to establish the obstructionism of the Republicans. Even if he gets brushed back, he can keep on fighting while showing the rest of the country what forces he is against.

In a strange way, President Obama has not established the framework where you root for him to succeed. When the conservative critics start their hue and cry about how Obama will fail, there is an expectation among those who support him that he will not. If you tracked the campaign of 2008, remember everyone believed he would blow all his international meetings, his speech in Germany and even his acceptance speech. Most recently, the media expected him to fail at the G-8 summit, blow the Nobel speech and get nothing from his Asian trip. The only time he failed was in trying to get the Olympics for the United States--a failure the conservatives cheered. But on things like the Consumer Protection Agency and the Immigration Reform Bill, he should come straight out and challenge his critics to defeat him.

Another mysterious thing we should expect this coming year is more voodoo from the pollsters. Rasmussen is now so thoroughly in the tank for the Republicans it's a shame. Once a reputable pollster, he's gone the way of Zogby. We can expect Rasmussen to project plummeting poll numbers for Obama and the Democrats throughout the whole year. Obama's real approval rating is now around 52-54% and that's without any of his initiatives really taking effect. Ronald Reagan fell to 35% when the recession of the 1980s hit bottom and then as everyone knows he won his patented Reagan landslide. But the war of the polls will continue throughout the year more to dampen Democrats' chances in 2010 than for any real reason. For example, watch the right direction-wrong direction polling. It's now about 35% say the US is headed in the right direction---that's double the number when the Bush Administration left office. Expect this to be used as a weapon against the Administration.

And if one favors Republicans as a check on the Administration, what is it Republicans actually propose--about anything? I have heard reduction in marginal tax rates for businesses and tax cuts for small businesses, which Obama already has in the works. Re-instate the estate tax cuts that expired in 2010? Will Republicans really defend Medicare--which they discovered this year? Will we have another increase in the defense appropriations like this year--which was characterized as a cut by conservatives? Even the deficit debate--not the Republicans strongest suit historically--is all being conducted on the Democrat's side. Are we going to have another blitz at Social Security--when the country is experiencing a severe recession? Will we actually see any Republican actually propose a cut in entitlement programs? Not likely because it will cost them. Remember Americans lost $14 trillion in private assets under the Bush Administration and any attack by the Republicans on this social welfare net will provoke a counter attack on this very issue.

I don't know what's going to happen with the Republicans. What is small Government? It's still government--it still must be administer competently. Does small government mean we can start cutting the defense budget--since we send 45% of the world's defense expenditures? Does small government mean we can cut down on the $500 billion in contracts to the private sector? In Michael Steele's purity test, what was the Party for. As for as I can see, nothing except more tax breaks, even though Barack Obama took that issue away from them for the middle class. I don't see the Republicans coming out of their nihilistic stage until after the 2012 elections. Unfortunately, that means the policy debate will remains between Democrats.

For 2010, look to the governors' races for indications about the future. I actually think the Democrats have a chance to pick up both Texas and Florida this year. The Republicans have blown a stunning chance in New York and I believe Jerry Brown will win in California. To be competitive for 2012, Republicans will have to win the state houses of some large states. Right now, they are aiming at Michigan and Pennsylvania. But if they fail, the landscape will look grim for 2012.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

America The Atomized

If you follow the health care debate and watch the sausage-making machine called the United States Senate, you would despair about whether our political system can actually cope with any dire domestic policy issue,let alone reform anything. The reactions of right and left have gotten beyond hysterical suggesting we are in for long times of political conflict as nothing seems to move. Our system is intended to be reactionary and the U.S. Senate was created to slow political action and temper the public's mood. The Guardian recently wrote that this may all be well and good but the system has stalled out. Thomas Friedman says that we can only produce sub-optimal solutions anymore from our political system.

This all worries me since the public trust in all our institutions is falling to the level we saw in the late 1960s without the violence. It's probably the unconscious reason that the right has consciously adopted as their "heroes" such old left mainstays as Saul Alinsky as the model for organization. If you think about it, the private sector is all but discredited for its failure to create jobs over the past eight years, the banks by their incredible indulgence and giving themselves bonuses that are several times the production of the American GDP last quarter, and the political parties--first the Republicans by their colossal failure over eight years and the Democrats for their fratricidal antics of late. Only the military retains some trust among the public and it is getting hollowed out by over-extension. There are no recognized Ameican moral leaders. the fact that Barack Obama has to go back and quote Reinhold Neibhur testifies to the paucity of real public philosophers in American life.

While conservatives continue to play the victim while having built up an arsenal of think tanks and media outlets, it is sobering to realize that evangelical movement with its separate ayatollahs boasts over 6500 radio stations and mega-churches that are now complete with shopping centers. A whole generation of Americans now have grown up in fundamentalist schools and churches and are removed from any of the diversity of normal American life. The re-segregation of America started innocently enough with the development of the suburbs and such quaint innovations like Levittown but has expanded into cultural-religious enclaves that have formed the backbone of the modern Republican Party. The splits between urban and suburban continue to grow and the rural pastoral ideal is now used to identity the "real Americans" in the words of Sarah Palin.

With this deepening gulf between Americans, it is now hard to see a consensus build around the common good or the idea of general welfare. The key demographic for Republicans now are seniors, people 60 or over, who tend to vote heavily in mid-term elections. From my conversations with so-called economic Republicans there are as hysterical as social conservatives during this uncertain period. A former banker wants to liquidate his bank shares because he is convinced the capital gains tax is going to go to 40% and he will not answer the census because he is convinced Barack Obama will know how much he is worth and confiscate it. Others have fed into the Rupert Murdoch-Glenn Beck Gold Fever and will not even keep significant funds in banks. They maintain that a Weimar Republic period of hyperinflation is upon us. Their own views do ot differ by much from tea-baggers. But it is a type of "I got Mine, You get yours" mentality. Even though most I have talked to have Medicare, Social Security and the benefits of pension plans, they are against further government social programs to assist those hurting during this time. Usually a sober group during normal times, these people share the same beliefs as birthers and the view that Barack Obama is really a Muslim. There is no split between them and the religious right in terms of a critique of modern America except they don't use religious language.

This hysteria has generated a type of reality-free politics that simply can not be reasoned with. Even more worrisome to me is that this sector of the Republican Party had always supported innovation and scientific change but now are routine global climate deniers and also have turned against many of their past beliefs that America must continue to invest in research and development. These people are part of the national malaise, a phrase President Carter popularized but never said. This is not the bouyant optimism of Ronald Reagan who proclaimed," The Best years of America are before us." It is a hyper-pessimism that is not even congruent with normal conservative sentiments.

The euphoria on the Left expressed right after Barack Obama's victory has dissipated and turned rancid. The bitterness that dominated the Left in the late 1970s and early 1980s has returned because they oppose the escalation in the war in Afghanistan, a position held by Obama during the campaign, and they are bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Democrats to pass a health care reform that would have a strong public option or, in their view, be a single-payer system, which never was in the cards. They have soured on President Obama because they feel he is too much a tool of Wall Street and big corporate interests. The tone and quality of such internet sites as Daily Kos and HuffingtonPost has turned dramatically in the last month to a bitter litany of disappointment with President Obama. There is no sense of realism in their arguments and Arianna Huffington herself, once a darling of the Right, now has become resident scold of the Left. Even one of my favorites The Young Turks has taken a gloomy and almost pedantic turn of late.

We have been here in history. It is the disillusion of intellectual elites with democracy itself that generates the rise of worse political solutions. If there is no trust in the political and judicial institutions of a country, there is a tendency to search out "radical" solutions, which will inevitably provoke conflict and societal collapse. We have remarkably escaped any economic violence that we saw at the turn of the 20th century when big financial interests physically battled workers and there was the phenomenon of American anarchists. The desparate plight of millions of Americans really raises the question why this isn't so now. And let's hope it stays that way.

Meanwhile, our system keeps creaking along. Significant financial reforms have passed the House and will be debated in the Senate early next year. The much-criticized TARP plan has actually been a success. And the health care bill looks like it will be passed. Imperfect, of course, but changes in the way medical insurance companies operate are very significant and meaningful. And, given the lag time of any initiative, what makes anyone think the stimulus would be the magic bullet that produces millions of jobs overnight?

America is moving between two economies--the process is gut-wrenching for millions and the cause of deep anxiety for both the right and the left. If we make the transition, we all will be in a better place. But the question remains is America now so atomized, so polarized that it can not manage to make that transition?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Nobel Year of Hope

Barely escaping financial ruin this year, while millions of my fellow Americans have not,I have resolved this year to be optimistic about the state of our union.

Thousands of people standing in the bitter cold of an Oslo night cheered an American President as he stood at the window of the Grand Hotel. Previously that day, President Obama channeled the thoughts of my grandfather's friend and colleague Reinhold Neibuhr, the theologian and philosopher who influenced George Kennen and Arthur Schlesinger,Jr. among others. Gone was the pre-emptive war doctrine of the Bush Administration, which broke all American tradition and back came the Just War Doctrine, much to the dismay of the Left. Conservatives paid grudging respect to the President's speech with the exception of people like Liz Cheney, who felt the President slandered the CIA by mentioning torture and his decision to close Gitmo.

Like everything with the Cheneys' irony is rich. Dick Cheney spent alot of the last Administration slandering the CIA for its intelligence on Iraq and Al Qaeda, even standing over the Inspector General as he wrote the torture report.

But the Nobel day was a singular triumph for the man of color who won the Presidency in a land historically plagued by racism. The Nobel Prize Committee was too polite to mention this as a reason for the award but it hovered in their comments on Martin Luther King,Jr. prize in 1964. The President remarked that those struggling for human rights and democracy had history and justice on their side but most importantly he changed the text to read "have us on their side." Americans should take pride that the world does want and need a vibrant America committed to its ideals. Unfortunately for conservatives, President Obama gave a full-throated defense of our history and what we have meant to the history and security of the world.

A couple weeks in Africa obviously didn't tame the Crazy Town of American politics. I won my bet that I would receive anti-Obama e-mail on Thanskgiving--not 1 but 3 on a holiday. The distemper seems to be spreading from the Right to the Left as now progressives claim the President has sold out. What exactly isn't clear? He campaigned on escalating in Afghanistan and his health care reform closely follows where the bill is ending up. Despite the conservative smears against him, Obama has never been a pacifist, in fact campaigning on a tougher policy against terrorism than the Bush-Cheney Administration and has never been for a single-payer system for health care. He did promise reform of our financial system, which the House has passed and the Senate, if it overcomes its current strange interlude of morphing into the Senate that blocked civil rights reform, will deliberate early next year. As I wrote before Health Care Reform,Immigration Reform and Financial Reform are about all Obama is going to get in the first term. We have seen how well-funded the entrenched financial interests in the country are in preventing any reform whatsoever.

American corporations are now sitting on $7 trillion in cash, which is waiting to be invested. To their shame, GOP Senators are telling corporations to wait up until Republicans come back into power on the Hill. Frankly, I think the pressures of the economy are going to force the companies to break before then. In the next week, President Obama will lean on the banks to lend to small businesses who have been crushed by the drought in credit. His additional tax credits for small businesses who hire at welcomed but we've seen that tax cuts at this late stage of diminishing effect on the economy.

Republicans are raving that their policy of obstruction will pay off big-time in the 2010 mid-term elections. Since any out-party is supposed to pick up between 15-20 House seats and 3 Senate seats, some of this cheerleading might be to rally the troops. But there is some reason to feel that Republicans--if they were the party they once were--would do well. Mid-term elections have about a 37 percent turnout and the only demographic where republicans have a plurality--those 60 or over--tend to vote at 65% levels. Young people and minorities barely vote in a non-presidential year, which is what Republicans are banking on--the manufactured outrage of white senior citizens to fuel their comeback.

Republicans point to the Pew poll, which shows that 40% of Americans classify themselves as conservatives. But there is nothing conservative about teabaggers or people who liken the President to Adolf Hitler. I wonder whether these antics might turn off traditional Republican voters, who may be worried about the deficit but haven't seen any deficit cutters in Republican ranks for decades and don't think helping people out during a very severe recession is a sin. Ultimately, politics is very social. In some ways, it's about who you would like to hang out with. Can you imagine spending the night out with Senators Grassly, Coburn or the teabaggers Hoffman or even the Tan Man Bohner? To many that make one's skin crawl.

With Copenhagen upon us, the global climate change deniers are at full throttle. Even if man has little to do with the dramatic change in climate, it seems rather prudent to take all measures to lessen its damage on the planet. Conservatives claiming that these are natural historical changes miss the point that such dramatic changes in the past occurred when Planet Earth was inhabited by bllions of people less than today. Unless you want the entire American budget to be devoted to FEMA over the next decade, it seems sensible to cut back on CO2 emissions and adopt the new technologies of solar, wind, thermal and electrical energy generation. In the past, when protestant were rather dull and mainstream and didn't dream of Rapture, the religious duty was to be a good steward over Planet Earth and creation. Climate change is already putting pressure on water and food supplies as well as generating human migration which taxes the resources of host countries. At a smaller scale,these disruptions provoke local wars and conficts. Just from the point of view of national security, this phenomenon deserves political attention.

While people point to Oslo as one of President Obama's major speeches, I still bank on his MIT speech and the Brookings Institute's speech on the Economy and Jobs. Buried in the stimulus package was the largest financial commitment to scientific research and technology in the history of the world. From the current economic ruins, the seeds are being put in place for the development of a new economy. The Administration unfortunately calls it the Green Economy, which makes it sound all soft and ecologically political correct.

It is that but more importantly it is about unleashing again America's inventiveness--the Benjamin Franklin line of American ingenuity. No one likes to create gadgets and gizmos more than Americans and the various lines of research today indicate inventions that will re-grow the American manufacturing base. The squawks you hear are those who are clinging desparately to the old economy--which is dead at the moment and will only revive a little in the near-term. What is so peculiar is how Republicans who once embraced small business and entrepeneurs are so wedded to economic dinosaurs and entities, which never had or would act in the national interest. The Reagan years generated the burst of creation in Silicon Valley. It's strange to see how far the GOP has turned its back on that legacy.

The Obama Administration has hid major changes in our political economy in plain view. The emphasis on education in the stimulus bill,while preserving teachers' jobs, also complimented the significant investment in science and technology. Here is the tough road to hoe. Over 30% of Americans students drop out from high school and Washington Monthly reports that the young generation of Americans are the first to be less educated than their parents. While President Obama speaks like Americans will have to become like the South Koreans in their commitment to learning, it's doubtful that such a day will come to pass or that it is even desireable. What is most important is the expansion of the American imagination and rekindling the nation's commitment to science like the time just after the Sputnik launch triggered a national panic about America lagging behind the Soviet Union.

Obama's synthetic comprehension of the need for America to become grounded on a firmer foundation for progress may not lend itself to our current political system. The Senate's behavior on Health Care Reform shows how reactionary our system is and how America's owners--the large corporate entitles simply buy and sell politicians. However,we may be considered blessed by our nearest competitors. The Chinese, who have captured the globe's attention, suffer from serious problems of political stability and an authoritarian political structure, which conservatives have written about in envy, but which will be a major stumbling-block to solidifying their advance. Unfortunately for us, we're still the last best hope for Earth. We remain the only country capable of thinking and acting globally. And that is a burden we will have to bear--like it or not.

I expect support for Obama will flag during the first part of 2010 like it did for Reagan, who dropped to 35% at the height of the recession in the early 1980s. However, I expect the rest of the stimulus package to kick in over the next nine months and job generation to start again. However, the rate of job generation may not catch up with the number of jobs that need to be created. Even if unemployment remains high, it is hard for me personally to take the Republicans seriously when they claim their policies could create jobs. We have had the largest middle-class tax cut in history with the stimulus package, more tax cuts for small businesses are on the way, the FED has exhausted all its tools for stemming the decline in the economy and corporate tax cuts don't mean anything because only 26% of all American corporations pay any taxes at all. And maintaining the estate tax cuts would only cost the America taxpayer $250 billion, hardly an advertisement for deficit reduction. What I expect is that the economy will actually stabilize in the next six months and appear to improve the rest of the year. The real innovations in Obama's programs will start to flourish at the end of his first term and into a second.

The major political obstacle up ahead is the Obama plan to reduce the national deficit. Here he will be miles ahead of the Republicans since he started on this the first month of his Presidency. The problem lies in the reduction in the deficits caused by entitlement spending such as Medicare and Social Security. During the Reagan years, a bipartisan team with Bill Bradley reformulated Social Security to put it on firm footing for the next thirty years. But the Obama people need mature adults as co-partners in developing a bipartisan plan for reducing the deficits caused by the entitlement programs. My fear is that they will end up bargaining with themselves to appease the Republicans, who this time want to end the plans once and for all. The weight of these decisions will fall on the younger generation because there will be attampts to gut the social welfare net but preserve it for those 55 years and higher, who would revolt at any such reductions. It would be the ultimate in generation warfare.

But my New Year's Resolution is to enjoy our President since he's given me more pleasure than any President since Ronald Reagan. And I hope he succeeds because if he does, we all will.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Best Books of 2009 and 2010--Additions

Another entry for next year is Don DeLillo's Point Omega due out in February. My favs are Underworld, Libra, Mao II. Hopefully he'll score with his new one.

Neglected from yesterday's List were:

Paul Auster's Invisible, which opens in New York in 1967 when aspiring poet Adam Walker meets Frenchman Rudolf Born and his girlfriend Margot. Three different narrators tells this story that travels to 2007 from Morningside heights to the Left Bank. While one can't expect another New York Trilogy, his fifteen novel is very satisfying.

Rick Bass' The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana. Bass describes a full-year of life living in Montana's Yaak Valley.

Before the Republican Party was captured by the religious right, neo-cons and corporate interests alone, it had moderates, liberals and even progressives. Glenn Beck was against John McCain because McCain's hero was Theodore Roosevelt, one of those progressives. Douglas Brinkley, who has made a career of chronicling America, brings us a nearly 1,000 page account of Theodore Roosevelt's efforts on behalf of conservation and the environment--The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America. Roosevelt's new nationalism did not foreclose the preservation of wilderness for future generations and cultivating the civic virtue of environmentalism.

Emerging as one of my favorite writers is Timothy Egan, author of The Worst Hard Times and Breaking Blue. If you can't wade through Brinkley, Egan will get you to the point faster with The Big Burn--Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America. This is the story of the Big Burn or The Great Fire of 1910, which engulfed Montana and Idaho and the heroic efforts of the forest rangers to battle it and the financial interests aimed at destroying the forest service.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Best Books of 2009--And there were

2009 saw the death of eternally great J.G. Ballard, who left us a one page short story in the New Yorker as his last gift to us. We also lost James Carroll, punk rocker and writer of the Basketball Diaries. The year saw new works by Paul Auster,Iain Banks, James Ellroy, Jonathan Lethem, Thomas Pyncheon and Andrew Vachss.

Here's my first cut for the top of the pops.

Henry Adams, Tom and Jack: the Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock. The author of the magisterial work Thomas Eakins Revealed explores the lengthy and overlooked relationship between Benton and Pollock and restores it to its proper importance in art history.

John Ashbery, Planisphere--New Poems. I first saw John Ashbery read at Williams College in 1971 and have bought everything he's written since--one of the few poets whom I've followed throughout his career. His collected poems are now being published by Library of America and are worth having in one volume--soon to be more. But at 82 years old, how can he continue his quality and quantity? Does he even know who good he is? This new volume will not disappoint.

Iain Banks, Transition. When Banks gets his grove on, his style is one of the most innovative around. Transition is about parallel worlds suspended between the fall of the Wall and the collapse of the Twin Towers and the financial collapse of the West.

Max Blumenthal,Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party. Blumenthals documents how the religious right hijacked the once great party with amusing and horrifying tales for all. A great read and an important book.

Taylor Branch, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President. Former colleague of the Clintons from the McGovern campaign, Branch is persuaded by Bill Clinton to tape and record the President during his Administration. In the hands of an acclaimed historian such as Taylor Branch this works out as a marvelous view of the opinions and attitudes of Bill Clinton and a reminder of why people said he was a 100% political animal. Glimmers of this were seen this year at the Netroots Convention where Clinton gave a bravura performance.

E.L. Doctorow, Homer & Langley. An old favorite, Doctorow tells the story of America through the story and point of view of the Collyer brothers, whom a younger generation would never get the reference. Sometimes works, sometimes not but always worth reading.

James Ellroy, Blood's Rover. The King of modern noir completes his political trilogy in his amped style. He takes us past the 1968 Convention and Watergate with his cast of characters. Ellroy also posits an interesting fate of J.Edgar Hoover's secret files, which were never found on his death.

John Farmer The Ground Truth:the Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11. The senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission lets us know all of Washington didn't have a clue about what happened during the whole day. He likens the government's systemic breakdown to the future Hurrican Katrina disaster. For policy wonks.

Elizabeth Hawes, Camus, A Romance. A woman's lifelong intellectual romance with Albert Camus yields a biography that provides more personal details than more authoritative accounts of the author's life. She is particularly good at reconstructing Albert Camus, the Algerian.

Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City. When he's good, he's very good and here he's terrific. A fabulous almost science fiction reconstruction of Manhattan--which works at every level.

David Plouffe, The Audacity to Win:the Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory. The young architect of America's Velvet Revolution provides a glimpse into how the Obama movement was created and ultimately won.

Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice. Pynchon revisits some of his old counter-cultural haunts with private eye Doc Sportello. Set in L.A. during the time of the Manson murders and the FBI's cointelpro program, Pynchon reveals he knows lots about dope, old surf music and the zeitgeist.

Frank Schaeffer, Patience with God: Faith for people who don't like Religion (or Atheism. Known now as a blogger at Huffington Post and a frequent guest on the Rachel Maddow Show, as one of the founders of the religious right he knows where the bodies are buried. This book goes after the New Atheism but also the fundamentalist Christians. For the relevant material read Chapter 8 "Spaceship Jesus Will Come and Whisk Us Away", his analysis of the bloodthirsty apocalyptic visions of today's fundamentalists and why they could care less about the United States, let alone sound policies. A convert to Orthodoxy, Frank Schaeffer reminds us that Christianity has a long and distinguished intellectual tradition that transcends the idolatry of the Bible held by American fundamentalists, who would not be recognized by the early Church fathers.

David Reynolds, America, Empire of Liberty. The Cambridge professor writes a new history of America.

Edmind White, City Boy: My Life in New York during the 1960s and 1970s. This is a wonderful book on the New York scene at the time, the travails of being a free-lance writer and a young gay man present at the Stonewall uprising in 1969. It takes place in some of my old haunts in the 1970s.

Andrew Vachss, Haiku. After his acclaimed Burke series, Vachss returns to introduce his new characters.

Leonard Zeskind,Blood and Politics: the History of the White Nationalist Movement from the margins to the Mainstream. An invaluable study for understanding the orgins and gyrations of some of the political rhetroic emerging on the right today. A sobering book.

Best Books of 2010--That's Right

January will start the year off great with the publication of Ralph Ellison's lost masterpiece (some even thought it didn't exist) Three Days before the Shooting. Edited and reconstructed from lost computer files and discs by John Callahan and Adam Bradley, we know this will be great from the earlier book-length fragment Juneteenth. The story of a U.S. Senator who "passes" as white. Filled with some of the most marvelous reconstructions of black religious language and rhetoric, this one will not disappoint. Modern Library plans for the rollout on January 26. It weighs in at a hefty price tag of $50. It will join my first edition of the Invisible Man.

And in August, we are finally promised Evil River by William S. Burroughs, a book I have had on order for three consecutive years. The manuscript found among Burroughs' archive after his death.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Back to Africa--You all are too Crazy

Recovering from a retina operation, I dreamed Elizabeth Warren was kidnapped by Chinese pirates. So no more criticism of Rush Limbaugh about oxycontin abuse.

The whole Glenn Beck thing reminds me of the Ghost Dances of the Plains Indians in the late 19th century. Inspired by visions, the Indians believed the white men would leave and the great Bison herds would return. If Beck keeps dancing, I guess he believes all the rest of us will leave and the teabaggers will be the only ones left.

Some brilliant conservative now likens Obama to Idi Amin, who will legalize 30 million illegal aliens so he will remain president for life. How does Idi Amin factor into this?

The RNC is passing a purity test where candidates will have to pledge to uphold ten basic statements. Now Republicans are against deficits and for small government. Has never happened in my lifetime.

Teabaggers are training candidates to take control of local elections so they can control the budgets of local government. Small government means no government to these guys.

Little Joey Lieberman has threatened again to filibuster the public option. Democrats are thinking about throwing him out of the Knesset.

Both Senator Levin and David Obey are calling for a war tax to pay for any escalation in Afghanistan.

Glenn Beck is penning The Plan, which will be his 100-yr plan for America. It's mirrored after the Chinese Communist Party's recent 100-year plan. Maybe it will have better luck than Karl Rove's 40-year control of government by Republicans. Or the 1,000-year Reich by Adolf Hitler.

If Obama goes all-in in Afghanistan, that will leave 10,500 available troops for any other emergencies. You make the call.

Lou Dobbs is thinking of running for President in 2012. Tom Tancredo is being discussed as his running-mate.

I share Andrew Sullivan's annoyance with Republicans, who act as if they had nothing to do with the current massive deficits of the United States. Iraq and Medicare B were totally unfunded. George W would be thrown out as a Republican according to the new purity tests. $10trillion in deficits not counting Medicare and Social Security makes him the Babe Ruth of big spenders.

If you need to de-program yourself from the Bush days, watch Will Ferrell's "You're welcome , America" where he plays with W with uncanny accuracy. I thought I was watching a documentary.

David Frum and Andrew Bacevich debated the Freedom Agenda and what should be done with Afghanistan on one of those internet split-screen affairs. A very interesting 60 minute discussion. As a side note--which was peripheral to the main topic--Bacevich said the Freedom Agenda completely failed, while Frum said that Bush oversold it. Bacevich did say that at least the Bush Administration tried to come up with a basic strategy to counter jihadists. He claimed any Obama escalation will be left with the problem of lacking any strategic point. In future blogs, I will return to the Freedom Agenda and the recent backlash against the whole Long War thesis. You will see and hear fragments of this in the coming months as Washington pundits debate Afghanistan.

Ralph Peters was on his meds again when he wrote a column which lambasted the Pentagon for not really providing President Obama with real options and said that we can not adopt the strategy Joe Biden has argued--going after Al Qaeda on the border--because the Pakistan government aids and abets Al Qaeda and plays this as a game to secure our aid funds. Without Al Qaeda, Pakistan would not receive the amount of financial and military assistance they do.

President Obama did his bit today to focus on Science Education. Finally, a political leader who remembers one way we can get out of problems--invent and apply scientific solutions.

I feel sorry for aged Bill Graham for having to meet with Sarah Palin to discuss Iraq and Afghanistan. Palin also continued talking about the second return to Israel of the Jewish diaspora. That's why there is a need for expansion of the settlements so that the returning Jews will have a home at the time of the Rapture. I am sooo glad real Christian churches do not preach the Book of Revelations. It really belongs to Ingmar Bergman movies.

The new Strategic Arms Treaty will probably not be ready on time but will slip beyond the December date. So far, this has gotten little attention from the Beltway pundits because frankly no one is interested. What will be a major accomplishment will generate very little bounce for President Obama.

After the commotion at the Sarah Palin book signings, where her fans jeer her for quitting before everyone had their book signed, I'm not sure Palin has the discipline necessary to run for higher office. In all of many strange happenings, an anti-abortion group protested that she was soft on the issue--Oh, really?

God love David Brooks. he's talking up John Tune as a Republican star. Brooks still believes the party is rational and not the "degenerate Republican party" as Andrew Sullivan thinks.

Homeland Security has buried its report on rightwing terrorism. Conservatives have political correctness to thank for this.

"Going Rogue" has the Brits laughing. It means having unprotected anal sex. Speaking of which "Bruno" is now out on DVD.

With the budget being busted and no one really talking about real tax hikes, maybe it's time for the issue of the VAT to be discussed. The VAT could be used to fund our social welfare programs without alot of political interference. Republicans should like it because it's a tax on the poorer among us. I happen to think we have to ween ourselves--me especially--away from the consumer mentality.

The great geniuses in our media have called Obama's Asia trip a dud and a failure. This has been disputed by the Dalai Lama and our own Ambassador in Beijing, who have reported significant agreements. Who knows?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Audacity of Help

Benito Beck is quite right--President Obama does want to transform the United States with his policies. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times laments that a political system such as ours with so much special interest money blocking up the works may actually thwart our ability to solve large global issues. Unlike Beck who seems to believe in a libertarian utopia devoted to Jesus Christ, Friedman is extolling the current Chinese system with its authoritarian capitalism. We' ve been here before, folks, when people get all weak in the knees about democracy. That's why I support Eric Holder's decision to try the 9/11 perpetrators in New York City. He matter-of-factly defended the strength of our constitutional system and our ability to deal with terrorists using our own laws.

John Wasik has written an eye-opening book about Obama's Economic Plan and the Remaking of America called The Audacity of Help. ( 2009, Bloomberg Press) Anyone watching the health care debate might sympathize with Tom Friedman's remarks since the financial forces aligned against making any reforms have been awesome. In his book Wasik outlines the basic assumptions of Obama's economic plan and analyzes what has been promised and what Congress has or has not delivered. His previous work The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome: Turning Around the Unsustainable American Dream gives you some idea where he comes from. He has a keen eye of what Obama was and is trying to do with the Stimulus Plan and notes the pitfalls in stimulating a bottom-up financial recovery but sees there are not alot of alternatives.The most rewarding sections of his book concern the making of a Green, Digital Economy and the initial seed money the Administration has allotted for the development of alternative fuels and technology.

For my money, the most important speech given by President Obama was his MIT address where he outlined the transformation he envisions for the American economy. I would rank it up there with JFK's Moon speech. But that may be the problem--Obama takes a long view of our problems which he should but the short term hurt of the recession may slow if not stall the long term objectives entirely. Like Bruce Bartlett in another entry of mine, Wasik also is keen on a single-payer solution to health care, something that is off the table now. But as Wasik notes, Obama has taken on some of the most divisive issues in our political economy and contrary to his critics of the Left have stepped on alot of toes of entrenched interests. To make it to the Green Deal, Obama has to show that his stimulus package does heal the economy and help the unemployed and has made an impact on starting the transition to a more Green economy.

In a way, the whole healthcare issue is not only essential to resolve but also to build momentum for the other initiatives outlined in the book. As Wasik points out President Obama has vowed to cut the national deficit in half by the end of his term in office. While plans have been started from the first days in office to tackle this issue, President Obama will have to use his ability to explain complex problems to address frontally and fully the nature of our national debt. This will lead him into the territory of the third-rail of American politics--entitlement reform.

Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare all need funding overhauls and no recent administration has even come close to addressing this urgent issue. In addition, there is no consensus solution. Not only will the tax code have to be reformed but also the Administration must develop new revenue sources to maintain these programs at the present level just as the Baby Boomers are about to swamp them. This is the Administration's Herculean task if the American dream is going to be revived at all.

The Audacity of Help is an excellent primer on the Obama Economic Plan as well as its emphasis on the needs of people in an economic system. The format of the book lends itself well to following the different aspects of the plan and what needs to be done. The Economic Plan is ambitious and unfortunately it appears to be necessary in all its aspects. For those who want the President to fail, it is a challenge to them to present an alternative view of how to maintain and sustain the American dream.

Sunday Meditations

It's a little bit sad that a major political event is simply the U.S. Senate voting to have a debate on the healthcare bill. Sadder still is that there were no Republicans who voted to have such a debate, speaking volumes about their commitment to the free exchange of ideas. Presumably the status quo is fine. But whatever your politics the status quo is unsustainable. With no change, Americans will soon spend 1 out of every 5 dollars they earn on medical care. In addition to the some 40+ million uninsured, we would gain another 22 million uninsured and add them to about 25 underinsured.

The U.S. Senate is looking more like the House of Lords with the median age about 63 and most members multi-millionaires looking down on the masses with disdain. The Senate hasn't looked so bad since the days when Southern Senators would filibuster civil rights legislation. But at least those guys could quote John Calhoun.

The Republicans sounded as lame as I've heard them in years. For reasons I have not determined, the new Republican tactic is to utter a series of lies, not the Goebbels' One Big Lie, get caught out on them and then set off on another set of lies, hoping something will strike. This has been apparent since the 2008 Convention, which saw the Republicans revert to their old 1920s economic selves. The madness we hear on Glenn Beck is really just a continuation of the underside of the Republican presidential campaign, particularly on the side of part-time Governor Sarah Palin.

The arguments against the Health Reform Bill apparently run the gamut from giving license to Republican mistresses to have abortions to busting the federal budget to ending life on Planet Earth as we know it. So from abortions to death panels to getting the government between you and your doctor, presuming you can still afford a doctor, there are all sorts of reasons for doing nothing. Even the Catholic Bishops have weighed in saying the Health Reform Bill is the "worst we have ever seen". Which raises the question," what others have they seen." The Catholic Bishops are feeling their oats now after defeating the gay marriage law in Maine.

The problem here is that the United States really does need a sober-minded, mature second party and the mantras coming from the Republican Party as it tries to chase its dwindling base do not lend themselves to solutions to real world problems. Let's say the Republican Party manages to surf white resentment back into control of the Congress. Then, what? Other than voting for increases in defense spending and supporting war and torture, what solutions can they give for an economy that needs a radical transformation from consumerism to a more self-sustaining, energy efficient one? They already voted against the largest middle-class tax cut in history so what's next more deregulation and tax benefits for corporations. That's worked out just fine and dandy.

Well, we'll cut the deficit by cutting down to size the social welfare state in the middle of a Depression. The claim they will starve the beast just doesn't hold anymore. US Government existing obligations are on the order of $70trillion, including Social Security and Medicare. There are not enough cuts to make to the Government budget to be able to even dent the debt in the outyears. Cut social security and Medicare for their core base? The fact of the matter is that the GOP is in a deep conceptual hole. It must be ready to re-think everything it believes about the public good, a concept that seems to have disappeared in its mind, and it must start thinking about new forms of government revenues to be taken seriously again.

It is inconceivable to me that the GOP can adopt any form of economic populism. They balked at a windfall tax on the Wall Street bonuses when there was public outrage. To become populist, they would have to go full-tilt at their corporate backers--something they won't do.

I would suggest they start reading Bruce Bartlett's The New American Economy: the Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward. Bartlett was on the ground floor of supply-side economics and walks the reader through the time it met its limits and its collapse at the end of the Bush Administration. His basic audience is Republican and he hopes Republicans become constructive once again and offer solutions that would not inhibit economic growth. If they don't, he says the Democrats will and that might thwart future economic growth.

President Obama always says that he inherited a debt of about $1.5 trillion from George W. I wish he would come clean on reality. Here's Bartlett:By the end of 2008, the federal government has assets of $2 trillion and liabilities of $12.2 trillion, for a net debt of $10.2 trillion. In another table of the Treasury Department's "Financial Report of the United States Government" it lists the unfunded future cost of retirement programs. At the end of 2008, Social Security was in the hole $17.2 trillion and Medicare would need $31.8 trillion to cover the expected costs over and above revenues. So, Uncle Sam had an addition debt of $49 trillion on top of the national debt-let's just call it $59 trillion. As Bartlett says, Social Security is fixable with slight rises in the Social Security tax but Medicare has to be reformed within the context of the entire health care system.

Are these problems unsolvable? No. But they can't solved when the Republican Party acts like we should be Brezhnev's Soviet Union with enormous military power while the economy is collapsing and it embraces a view toward science that mimics Lysenkoism.

In the meantime, get ready for a giant food fight after Thanksgiving. And kudos to Hapless Harry Reid, who finally became a leader for a day.