Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union

I was going to write a piece on Obama's accomplishments for the last year but he did a good job himself in the State of the Union Address. In case you missed it, do yourself a favor and find it on the white house website or elsewhere and listen to it. Obviously, the number one issue was the economy and jobs but the defense of the stimulus bill should be heard. It's one Democrats should run on, while the RNC has made it part of their purity test to be against. What we just heard was a President who has complete control and dominance of the political debate in the country. You can knock him down on this or that issue but he defines the universe of the issues, which is what a transformative President does.

Rhetorically he put Republicans in a box. His defense of the stimulus bill started with a litany of tax cuts woven in with Reaganesque stories of average Americans being affected. He goes in his speech to outline tax credits for small businesses, middle-class families with college students (me) and those who create jobs in America. He suggested his policies were aimed at making America number 1 in the world, which Republicans reflexively had to applaud. He emphasized that in his first year he didn't raise anyone's taxes one cent. (It's something I hear all the time from teabaggers and conservatives about his tax hikes--which don't exist.) But later in the speech he slips in the need to tax the top 2% again because of the deficit. He also said that tax cuts for companies who export jobs would have to be cut--which elicited no support from the Republicans. His proposal to tax banks drew huge applause but only a few claps from Republicans. He basically framed the issue to put the Republicans on the defensive. They must argue now openly for tax cuts for the rich and for companies to export jobs and banks who give outlandish bonuses (1% of the GDP this year). He also called for the end of capital gains taxes for small businesses. Now Republicans must argue for an extensive to the large corporations.

He also did a little policy wonk trip about the new Green economy while embracing nuclear power plants and "clean" coal, if such a thing exists. Running through this part of the speech one sees where he envisions America going. Almost all his climate change arguments will not pass mustard on the Hill, but alot of his clean energy initiatives will.

He also addressed the distrust Americans have for Washington--at about 70% now. He also directly talked to the supermajority idiocy in the Senate and challenged the Republicans to deal with the issues at hand. Throughout his speech he applauded the series of bills passed by the House on jobs, financial reform and health care to the detriment of the Senate. He also blasted the Supreme Court ruling but in polite terms raising the specter of foreign companies interferring in American elections. In fact the Saudis are starting because of the threat the clean energy bill poses to them.

He also reaffirmed his stand on health care and emphasized how it would cut the deficit by $1 trillion in ten years. Which led to his segue to the Debt Reduction commission, which was defeated today in the Senate but would be enacted by executive order. His freeze on discretionary spending and his urging a paygo policy for budgets helps him capture this issue and allow him to order the priorities for deficit reduction in the future.

He also came out strongly for eliminating Don't Ask Don't Tell for gays in the military as he had promised.

His foreign policy section included Afghanistan and ending the war in Iraq. He claims to have killed many times more Al Qaeda terrorists in 2009 than the previous year. And , what is most important to him, his initiative at nuclear arms reduction citing JFK and Ronald Reagan. He also said that a 50 country security conference would be meeting in Washington to discuss how to secure nuclear materials and loose nuclear arms. Which led him to promise tougher actions against Iran and continued sanctions on North Korea.

If you wanted a full outline of how Barack Obama thinks about issues, this is the speech to hear or read. It also provides the background to the country's current situation and how the deficit got so large. In my view he left the Republicans the issue of torture, Gitmo, tax cuts for the rich and large corporations and leaving the health system as it is. That's not a great place politically for them to be.

I expect the conservative and republicans to totally ignore this speech and carry on as they have before. There will not be any tapering off of the lunatic rhetoric. Conceptually I believe they will fall deeper into the swamp. If they resist Obama on a jobs bill, then November 2010 will look alot different than all the pundits have said. I think he rocked them back off their feet tonight because he basically took ideas which they would support if their base wasn't crazy and made them his own.

He also put forward support for Immigration reform tonight, which would seal the fate of the Republicans in 2012. Progressives should be somewhat disappointed that he didn't come out for the bill to enhance the ability for workers to unionize. Could he have done something else on the jobs and economic end? I don't think so because the jobs needed for today are no longer the type of work of the CCC and other FDR programs. They have to be generated by the private sector, especially small businesses. Our larger corporations have not created a single job in a decade.

Look to see a Jobs Bill, Financial Reform and Health Care Reform again and soon. Those of you who watched the Republican answer know the score.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pearls before Swine

Before I go search for the Arc of the Covenant, a few passing notes on cultural artifacts of another order.

Yes, Ralph Ellison's Three Days Before The Shooting has been shipped. I've been waiting for years for this. I hope it is not an omen that it arrives the day of Barack Obama's State of the Union message. It is the story of a mixed race Senator, who passes as "white" and is assassinated.

For those of you who are aging hipsters, yes Jimi Hendrix did record more songs at Electric Ladyland studios. And dig this--you can order 45s or vinyls of "Valleys of Neptune." Rolling Stone raves about it but anyone whom Yawn Wenner saw gets raves. Just check out the last few reviews of Neil Young. Apparently, there is alot more Hendrix that was finished and will be released in the future. The new disc or CD or whatever format you choose has 12 cuts on it.

If you love the Village and lower Manhattan, Patti Smith Just Kids is a wonderful memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. The book was done to fulfill a promise Patti made to him before his death of AIDS in 1989. It covers how they inspired each other's art and how, with literally nothing, they stayed in seedy hotels and cramped apartments before they hit the big time. It's hard to believe that Patti fresh off the bus from southern New Jersey slept for her first days in Manhattan in Central Park. The title comes from a story of two tourists walking in the Village and they see Patti and Robert dressed in a Bohemian manner. The wife says,"Dear, take their photographs." The husband says gruffly," No dear, they're just kids."

Feeling funky and lost hope. A friend of mine put me on to Adam Hochschild's Bury The Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves. His previous book was Leopold's Ghost, which portrayed the horrors and I mean "the horror" of the Belgian Congo. In paperback, Bury the Chains recounts the history of 12 men, who came together in a London printing shop in early 1787 to create the first grassroots movement to fight for human rights--the struggle to outlaw slavery. Human rights advocates will recognize a number of strategies these men created--consumer boycotts, wall posters, celebrity endorsements and lapel buttons. But the key lesson was their insistence on making their case with facts and not sensational charges. This is a great book to read to remember the roots of today's human rights movements before it got taken over by large corporate entities.

David Plouffe is indeed back,sending out e-mails for Barack Obama fans to host house parties to watch the state of the union address. I hope no one catches on what this guy can do. And, David, you're still young so you've got awhile before you become corrupt.

Have been reading Forrest Church's books of theology. Church was a Harvard Divinity Schoolmate of mine. The son of Senator Church of CIA hearing fame, he was the pastor of All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan. Love & Death covers his meditations on both as he faced treatment for cancer with the certain belief he would be dead in months. He went in remission and went on to finish his life with a final book on Unitarian theology. He died of cancer last year.

Unfortunately for me I started reading his books with So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State, which sounded to me like a revised version of his doctoral thesis. It covers our first cultural wars. George Washington wanted religions strictly regulated so that they could not have influence over politics. The President who was warmly supported by born-again Baptists was none other than Thomas Jefferson. Madison was an atheist and John Adams won the hearts of Presbyterians and Unitarians who at that time wanted a more official status of Christianity. Liberal churches demanded during the Civil War that having Christianity as an official religion would have spare the country. Anyway, Forrest does an excellent job in upending the apple cart in describing these early fights that continue to this day. It is a useful tool to counter the revisionist history now being done by the right.

But Forrest can write some clinkers. He was asked on a Caribbean Cruise to give a Sunday sermon. So he chose the subject of the film Titanic. Life like the Titanic is a beautiful and grand ship but it too will sink. I'm sure his audience quickly went for the pina coladas after that remark.

Finishing on biblical notes. The Ark of the Covenant is supposedly a drum that could be heard 3 1/2 miles away and terrify opposing armies. A tribe in Zimbabwe claims their priests brought it to Africa. The strange part of this is that DNA tests have identified the genetic markers for the priestly line of Jews. A separate DNA test of the priests in the tribe also show the same genetic markers, which are not found outside the Jewish race. And of course the protectors of the Ark were the priests. Who knows?

If you are greedy, boastful and don't feed the poor, you are a Sodomite. That's the real biblical meaning. That casts the Log Cabin Republicans in a wholly different light.

Off to Ethiopia. The home of the Rasta prophet Hailie Selassie.

We Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

When FDR took the oath of office,25% of America was unemployed and every bank in the country was closed. The nation was well-primed for his first 100 days of reform, having already lived through part of the Great Depression. My grandfather McColm lost everything he had and lived out his days as a piano-tuner. My wife's grandfather lost his farm. FDR was part of the wealthly WASP elite and seen as possessing the authority to deal with the situation. Although he was considered a traitor to his class, there was an underlying weight he was granted because of his class and wealth. Even so Koch industries, America's largest private oil company, created various citizens' group to denounce him as a socialist. Today, the heirs of Koch Industries have funded new grassroots organizations to denouce Barack Obama as a socialist.

President George W. Bush was told in March of 2008 by the Federal Reserve that the economy would vaporize but did nothing. By September 2008, Secretary of the Treasury Paulson went to the Hill and said that the banks had be bailed out immediately to the tune of $700 billion without conditions. He told the Senators and House members the situation was so serious that if they didn't act immediately, martial law would be declared. Republican candidate McCain kept claiming that the economy was on a sound footing. His economic adviser Phil Gramm had been instrumental in the 1990s for repealing the Glass-Steagall laws, which led to the disasterous speculations in derivatives. He was noted for saying that Americans just whined too much.

The economy, which was already in a recession, plunged in the months just prior and after the presidential elections. The true weight of the collapse has only begun to be felt in the last six months,putting pressure on President Obama because the full blame of the present economic woes has not been firmly placedon the past Administration. FDR could howl about Hoover because the American public felt the full brunt of the economic collapse. FDR also had larger majorities in Congress and his Senate did have to fear the threat of a filibuster.

Just image what would have happened if there was no FDIC to guarantee the money in your bank? Or the impact on senior citizens if there were no social security or medicare? Today's problems would have been worse by several magnitudes.

As we head to the State of the Union address, President Obama is supposed to be focusing on jobs,healthcare reform and a series of initiatives to help the middle class. From what I have read about the initiatives to help the middle class he sounds almost as policy-wonkie as Bill Clinton used to with his series of small initiatives. President Obama faces fierce headwinds for his banks reform and a backlash of confused populism. The stimulus bill, which economists from both parties claimed brought us back from the brink, is opposed now by a majority of Americans. Lost in the noise is how the stimulus bill saved the jobs of teachers, firefighters, and also gave the middle-class the largest tax cut in history. There are other saving graces for the bill like extending unemployment benefits, COBRA and covering another 2 million children with health insurance.

The democratic left is impatient for more and Republicans maintain their obstructionist stance. The Republicans actually believe they will reap large rewards in the November 2010 elections if they continue to oppose everything the President does. Perhaps, they will but at what cost to the country and fellow Americans.

Newsweek blames Barack Obama for leading with his brains and not his heart. Story after story is written about how he is not in in touch with the American people even though if you actually listen to what he has to say nothing could be further from the truth. They go on to say that this type of presidency will lead to Sarah Palin becoming President. And that my friends will be the end --just pull down the curtains.

But there is something else here. The late Douglas Brinkley wrote a book on how Washington was before WWII, a sleepy southern town. Ralph Nader wrote a piece today about how corporate interests put in several billion in buying over 1,500 lobbyists to push their plans for deregulation. It's interesting to consider what FDR could have done if an army of lobbyists and corporations opposed his efforts.

By the way I am delighted by the brains of our President. I find them refreshing. I also have a crush on Elizabeth Warren, who also has brains and makes the most sense of anyone on banking reforms.

What is re-emerging is a clear distinction between worldviews in our political system. One recognizes the requirements of a modern political economy that must transform itself for the challenges of the 21st century. The other mired in a pugnacious nationalism with a total contempt for the idea of government. I'm not sure you can square that circle.

Bin Laden's Last Tape

Tip of the hat to Sam Beckett. The audio is the rule, not the exception. Bin Laden's tried to turn his attention of the situation in the Gaza strip and focus on America's support for Israel. You have to review Bin Laden's last excuses over the years from American troops in Saudi Arabia to the invasion of Iraq and so forth. It's not the moving excuse that's interesting but what the purpose of the tape was. The framing of the tape --his introductory words and closing--have been used as signals in the past of future bombings. Some put a year time-frame on this one.

I thought the Administration handled it well. I always felt the Bush Administration just fed Bin Laden by broadcasting his tapes on every network and then having top officials appear on talkshows to warn Americans of real or imagined threats. This only fed Al Qaeda and its operatives and validated all their actions. Our own reaction became a recruiting tool. I thought Gibbs laughing Bin Laden off was the appropriate response and his view that this mass murderer was trying to get attention since we've moved on.

I personally believe Bin Laden's tape was aimed at the young recruits who must have thought their colleague burning his nuts off ridiculous. If the CEO comes out and blesses the operation, then maybe it was alright. I also think it was Bin Laden putting his seal of approval on his franchises--this one in Yemen. Usually, the little Al Qaeda operations are content making local mayhem without alot of international terrorism. It's one of the key reasons they are fading in popularity in the Arab World. What ever happened to the Great Arab Street? In the days post 9/11, we were lectured about how they supported the "Sheik". Those days are gone. Al Qaeda's body count these days is heavily Muslim, much to the consternation of the whole range of opinion-makers in the Islamic world.

I also think the emphasis on Gaza was to rekindle Al Qaeda's links to Egypt, since their number 2 hails from there and Egyptians have not been showing up in their ranks for quite some time.

I also don't think Bin Laden personally had anything to do with the Christmas bomb attempt. I think he was trying to cover his tracks and his affiliates by inflating their present position. Remember Al Qaeda has that American recruit who is probably tasked with following American reactions and suggesting ways to divide American public opinion. We should expect our conservative friends to take the bait and pound away on Obama's weak response to this brazen threat. Al Qaeda's secret friend right now is the Republican Right.

Of course, they have a friend in Bob Gates, who claims that Al Qaeda is trying to start a war between Pakistan and India. Really? That would't take much.

What was missing? There was nothing about Afghanistan. The same was true with his last message, which only suggested that Obama would be stuck in a "Middle Eastern country". Maybe the Taliban are getting tired of hosting this guy. From Chechnya to Iraq, military analysts have noted that insurgents tend to fail as Al Qaeda gets involved. It might give strategic advice but it always involves killings that drive away the population. They could be said to be the "Ugly Muslim".

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Chelsea Blues

Now that Venezuela has larger oil reserves than Saudi Arabia, does that mean CITGO is going to fund American elections? CITGO for Dennis Kucinich. I can see Hugo Chavez make the case.

Bloggers have been writing about the SCOTUS decision favorably, taking an absolutist position on the First Amendment, something I have always done until recently. But we know from the Founders views about corporations--they are only to exist with the permission of the state and for a limited time--the 1st Amendment wasn't considered for our corporate overlords. We have our own history to rely on for periods when corporations could virtually dictate politics. The stench got so bad that both parties realized something had to be done. Others claim let the voters decide. Preliminary polls are favorable to the ruling. Yet the same polls show the public believes Washington is a cesspool of special interests and lobbyists.

What's curious about all this is that the Supreme Court has always preserved its integrity but refuses to preserve that of other government institutions and seems to be oblivious of the real world harm all of this will do. The House is readying a sheaf of laws to regulate corporate involvement in politics but I'm doubtful they can pass both chambers. Allan Grayson and Barney Frank claim they can neutralize the effects of the bill through corporate regulation. I again am doubtful.

The more I read the decision and the background to the case the more infuriated I become. The Rehnquist Court, which I was no fan of, repeatedly handed down decisions stating that the Court had to defer to Congress on the means it chose to regulate its affairs. It made several rulings upholding the rights of states and Congress to curtail abusive corporate practices in campaigns. So not only did the Court blow away the early laws against corporate financing but they also dismiss out of hand (and without mention) all the recent cases some of their conservative colleagues had decided. The plaintiffs in this case did not ask for such a sweeping ruling. In fact, the Court asked them to come back with their opinion on a Michigan state law regulating corporate contributions, a case which had nothing to do with the circumstances of their complaint. In short, it was a rigged game. Conservative bloggers disingenuously argue that the case was about Citzens United attempting to screen their Hillary Clinton film thirty days before the election. In fact, the Court asked them to come back on something totally different so they could blow away all laws on the issue. The rapid scheduling of the case--each side only had 30 days--makes one suspicious of the motive of the majority. They found a convenient patsy in Judge Kennedy, the only one of the majority who believes in the First Amendment, as Judge Stevens showed when he eviscerated Roberts with all the cases where he restricted whole categories of speech.

This is why I'm skeptical about the Olson-Boies case for same sex marriage. Final statements will occur in March. But the last two days of the trial raised some concerns. the anti-gay proponents tried to mount their case and they were eviscerated by the Olson team. But they in offhand comments raised the prospects they would put forward studies showing the usual litany of complaints about gays being sexual predators,etc. , all of which the expert witnesses destroyed to the satisfaction of reasonable thinking people. But what they are going to do is to try to raise the some say-others say argument and in case of doubt you can't allow same sex marriage. The other line of argument they have been coming back to is to argue that since Houston elected a lesbian Mayor and there are now Hate Crime statutes on the book that gays and lesbians do not suffer discrimination as a "class" of people and therefore one can't rule on the grounds of discrimination.

I doubt the current Judge will fall for this. He has been so engaged and questioning of witnesses that I suspect he will rule for Olson-Boies. But conservative columnist and Prop 8 activist Maggie Gallagher wrote a column calling it a kangaroo court and the Wall Street Journal published extensively excerpts of all the anti-gay witnesses. By the time it reaches this Supreme Court, the bogus scholarship will be accepted as evidence and the Roberts Court will figure out a way to decide the case not on its merits. Here they are liable to write an opinion that it is society at large to decide these matters and therefore the people must decide through the ballot box. That's why I have believed from the beginning that Olson, the last respected conservative lawyer in the country, doesn't realize how radical right conservatives have become and has underestimated the corruption to the law this has done.

This week will be Barack Obama's State of the Union address. Bets on who heckles him. Obama will support a deficit reduction commission to appease the deficit hawks and may call for a freeze on discretionary spending. At the same time expect a full-throated defense of the stimulus package,the auto bailout,the health care bill and calls for stronger regulation of the banking industry and the creation of a Consumer Protection agency. An we will hear about North Korea,Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and terrorism. Democrats are disappointed in Obama because he is not more FDR. But FDR did not have the Saudis, Chinese and Japan owning America. FDR did face an entrenched reactionary opposition with almost the identical economic theories and beliefs as today's Republicans. But the situation FDR faced was more dire. The remnants of FDR's reforms, which were allowed to survive the Bush-Cheney years, stopped the full impact of a financial collapse. Add to that Obama's stimulus package and the brakes have been put on without the benefit of a recovery.

But the U6 unemployment rate is still 17.5%--in short we are a couple points away from Depression. African-Americans and Hispanics are already in a Depression with unemployment rates in the high twenties. Also, unlike in the Great Depression you have a sizeable portion of the population which still receives social security, medicare and medicaid as well as government and military pensions. A good bunch of these people are the teabaggers and the base of the Republican Party. Even with $14 trillion of private assets wiped out by the Bush-Cheney great Recession, this portion of the population are and will be relatively immune to the total financial devastation done to others. If White unemployment dips below 9% again, then don't expect any sustained enthusiasm for necessary economic or financial reform.

Barack Obama faces the situation FDR did in 1937 when FDR felt the Great Depression was essentially over. He started deficit reduction and tax cuts only to see the situation worsen. President Obama has to walk a tight-line on this while facing resistance among the public and on the Hill. But there are other problems. The American economy can never recover on its old foundation. Western Europe, Korea and China are all leading now in Green technologies and ending their dependence on oil. While Obama has put this in motion with some aspects of the stimulus package, the forces arrayed against any Energy Bill or Climate Change legislation dwarf the resistance to health care reform. With the new Supreme Court ruling expect the oil industry to make a full-court press on this issue. Unfortunately,this may doom us to an economy which has no future viability.

The inability of the American system to make critical choices for its own survival is quite amazing. The Health Care Reform argument is no longer about protecting those less fortunate then ourselves--a good argument anyway--but it's about an economic necessity. You can not have a modern society where a major illness automatically brings bankruptcy to individuals and families. You can not have a modern economy when one-quarter of it is spent on health care costs. You also can not continue to have a modern economy if you are almost exclusively dependent on oil. From my oil friends, we can expect a $200 barrel of oil very soon in our future.

But Gov. Pawlenty's favorite business Sam's Club is laying of 125,000 workers. Now even the WalMarts of America will not hire. Rep. Boehner can taunt Obama "Where are the jobs?" But he knows. The Republicans with their Blue Dog allies are making a bid to save the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and will make a bid to cut tax rates for large corporations. None of which will create a single job.

Maybe our role in the world has already been decided for us. We are to be the policemen of the world with a $1 trillion military-terrorism budget, while other countries such as China benefit from our military actions without taking any of the consequences. But the American people be damned. If you got a job be grateful, you can always be replaced. If you were thinking about retirement, forget about it. If you want to get educated, then make sure you're rich. You, my friends, are on your own. And your young, eloquent, smart President, we have him boxed in at every turn.

If Obama is slightly successful, the United States will enter into a prolonged period of 8% unemployment and will start to cut entitlement programs. If he doesn't succeed in his programs, we could de-develop in a short time.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

David Plouffe versus The Prince--the Rumble in the Jungle 2010

David Plouffe, the architect of the Obama campaign and the creator of 21st century electioneering, has been called by Obama to coordinate the Democrats' House and Senate races this year. David is the rarity of people in this field--the anti-sleazebag. Compared to Lee Atwater, Mary Matalin, Karl Rove and even Steve Schmidt for the Republicans and James Carville and Mark Penn for the Democrats, David should be canonized. He sticks to his plan and rides it to victory no matter the spin, the media second-guessing and the temptation to sling the mud. One of the great attributes of the Obama campaign was its high-tone and issue-oriented style. For what I knew could have been thrown at McCain and Palin, Plouffe was the model for restraint but he threw great head fakes sucking McCain into the Pennsylvania swamp where he couldn't escape. What's strange is that conservatives always e-mail me complaining that David Axelrod was the mastermind of the campaign. The Republicans have never digested that David exists or how he played the game.

No joke--I believe David Plouffe is one of the great heroes of the global democracy movement. He created our Velvet Revolution. I use his techniques as a model for growing a grass-roots movement in whatever country you live.

But with the Supreme Court decision, he'll be going up against Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Azziz al Saud, the 22nd richest man in the world and the second largest shareholder in Rupert Murdoch's media empire. The Prince has controlling interests in Citicorp, Hewlett-Packard, Disney, Compaq and other American corporations. And it seems he has plenty of opinions about American politics. He has gone on the Charlie Rose show to slam Obama's proposal to tax banks, opposed health care reform and claims that Medicare and Medicaid are "timebombs". He is currently on a PR tour of the U.S.,even appearing on Fox News, where they didn't say he owns the place. Forbes has given a full spread to his lifestyle--the Really, Really, Really Rich and Famous--where they oo'd and aahh'd over his car collection and priceless art. No doubt because he is a big buddy with Steve Forbes.

Forget ratty old American rich guys like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the new powerbrokers in America will be people like the Prince and next month it will be a suave Chinese billionaire, who will lecture us on the deficit and how we must reduce the social welfare net if we are to be able to compete in the world's economy. Through the American companies where they hold controlling interests, they will pour buckets of money into the next election. Fox News crowd are selling the Supreme Court decision as a populist one saying that conservative groups such as Focus on the Family and Citizens United will have a greater say in politics.The average American will have greater access. Not so Romeo, it will be people like the Prince, who happens to own Fox News.

And it's like the good old days, can Barack Obama defeat the Democratic establishment that had the money and the seasoned veterans like Mark Penn?Yes, We Can! Can America defeat the world's richest people in their campaign to finalize the looting of America? I don't know but at least we have to go down fighting. If we lose, at least we can always remember Barack Obama as the last truly democratically elected President of the United States.

But I bet on David Plouffe once. Why not double down on him? I really believe these are the stakes. And I also believe that the Supreme Court decision, the way it done, the way it ignored the last two decades of law written by real conservatives, was a deliberate attempt to make this nightmare happen.

Fired Up. Ready To Go--Lorain County, Ohio

President Obama took some time out of Washington to visit wind turbine plants and hold a town meeting in Ohio. He was chased there by John Bohner's op-ed in the Cleveland Plains-Dealer slamming him for a trillion dollar health care plan--which obviously is no such thing--and reckless government spending. But the reception of the President was more than warm as he morphed into campaign mode. He outlined again what he is trying to do with the economy and discussed why the bank bailouts and the auto industry had to occur. And then he started pounding about the need to get every dime back for the banks. He started on the need to make sure that rules were in place to prevent the meltdown of our economy again. Admitting that he ran into a buzzsaw with the Massachusetts election, he defiantly claimed he would not give up on health care reform because it's enormous drain on the economy. He again emphasized the need for a Consumer Agency to protect private individuals from the worst practices of sub-prime mortgages and credit cards. And he teed off on the Supreme Court ruling that would ensure that special interests would "drown out the voice" of the people. He showed good humor in parodying the beltway pundits,"What will this do to Obama?", "Can Obama come back?" Then he said,"It's not about me--it's about you" to roars from the crowd.

More polling of the Massachusetts voter showed union members voted overwhelmingly for Brown because of their dismay over the pace of reform. The more people analyze Browon's victory the more the populist tide he rode benefits the Democrats in the long run.

Obama's Saturday morning talk to the nation again hammered the populist themes and he dwelled on the Supreme Court decision. Boehner responded by saying we should pick old battles and we can't solve the economic problems by pork-barrel spending and more government. Little noticed by our ace news services was that Ben Nelson asked for his medicare payoff for Nebraska to be dropped from the final bill. But Boehner's response seemed lame.

For a short week, Obama lost the language of debate, which has dominated snce 2008. By the end of the week, he had reclaimed it and having the dominance of the airspace has tremendous consequences in politics. This allowed the conservatives starting with Reagan to dictate the political agenda in the country. Unless the American people get so demoralized and beaten down, it's hard to see that rhetoric returning to shape political discourse.

The interesting part of Obama new-found populism is that he can lose on all counts in Congress and still triumph. If these measures at reform aren't implemented, it's very hard to see how things will improve. Yet, it will be clear to the voters the people who blocked them.

It also backs the Republicans up against the wall because they must now overtly support the banks and the corporations not for the public interest but for their own party interest. There is no one who has seen the obscene bonuses handed out by the banks and Wall Street who believe these people care one whit for the American people or the economy. The full-throated embrace of the Supreme Court ruling by Republicans as a victory for the First Amendment, probably their least favorite Amendment, has a dark trap in it. Republicans always boast that they are superior to Democrats on issues of national security and for years this was true. But the Supreme Court allows foreign financial interests to donate unlimited money to campaigns. In short, this is an issue of national security.

Take ,for example, Fox News, the echochamber of conservatives. Its number 2 largest shareholder is a Saudi Prince. If people start actually asking questions about some of the most politically active corporations, they are likely to find some rather outlandish things. Remember the Chinese fund-raising scandal during the Clinton Presidency. That would look tame once the flood gates are open.

So, for the weekend, I'm fired up again and ready to go.

This situation does not benefit the Republicans unless we all surrender to the corporations. And we might. And it cuts on Blue-Dog Democrats in a different way. They are the most likely recipients of corporate largess as witnessed by the Health Care Debate but they are vulnerable. If they are vulnerable to populist and teabagger rage, then they might be more inclined to suppor President Obama's reforms.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bring Back Joe Camel

Mobil's Pegasus, Sinclair's Dinosaur, RCA Victor's His Master's Voice and Tony The Tiger. Robert Bruce incorporated, trademark pending reporting. We do have some conservative responses. The Heritage Foundation said the Supreme Court's decision was a triumph of the First Amendment and Newt Gingrich said it was needed to counter Obama's ability to raise huge funds through groups like Oh please. John McCain's old strategist Mark MacKinnon wrote in the Daily Beast the decision was a disaster, which his old boss agreed with.

If you don't buy my warnings about fascism, you might want to saunder down history's lane to our First Gilded Age. Remember the first laws curbing corporations involvement in American politics was in 1907 because of massive abuses and the corruption caused by corporate money. And there is a reason that Karl Rove's hero was Mark Hanna, the Republican boss who made William McKinley president. Corporations fueled the McKinley campaign providing it with $16 million against William Jennings Bryan's $600,000. Newspapers under control of the Republicans printed articles by psychologists who said that Bryan was insane, suffering from monomania. The banks kicked in one-quarter of 1% of their capital holdings to the election campaigns around the country.Reaper-maker Cyrus McCormick sent his 7,500 agents around to farmers and merchants every week to warn them about the dire effects of a Democratic election. Insurance companies warned all their customers that Bryan's silver platform would dramatically lessen the value of their policies.

When someone suggested Williams Jennings Bryan might win, "Dollar Mark" Hanna sneered,"Do you think we'd let that damned lunatic get into the White House? You know you can hire half of the people of the United States to shoot down the other half if necessary, and we've got the money to hire them."

Rutherford B. Hayes coined the phrase--so appropriately today--" a government of the corporations,by the corporations and for the corporations." Or the cartoon slogan,"Kill the Goose,Get All The Eggs at once."

Historian Allen Nevins claims we have been too tough on the " robber barons" saying that American could not have developed as fast without their investments and commitment to industrialization. In a way, he's right compared to today's corporations. Robber barons at least invested significant parts of their fortune in developing their own businesses here in America. Today's corporations do not and the bankers make their money by moving money.

But if you want to see what unfettered corporate money can do to American politics, read Jack Beatty's Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900,Vintage paperback,2008. If you remember my past posts about the 14th Amendment Movement, which has been heralded by the American Enterprise Institute, this book will show you how in that age, the robber barons used the 14th amendment to escape regulation and to enlarge their monopolies. Today, they used the First Amendment.

Because the shadows of the unitary executive linger on in the Obama Administration and the theocratic strains dominate the Republican party and our Pentagon, I tend toward the fascist interpretation. But hope springs eternal. We did escape the First Gilded Age with a period of progressive reforms. But remember we had a period of intensely violent labor disputes and the rise of radical fringes which acted out with political assassinations. Besides, we like films about the Gilded Age. Maybe we'll get good visuals this time around.

In Defense of the Dred Scott Decision

Alan Grayson and Keith Olbermann likened yesterday's Supreme Court decision to the infamous Dred Scott Decision of 1857. History has few unanimous decisions but Dred Scott is unanimously considered the worst decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in history. So much so that even the Supreme Court itself wouldn't allow the bust of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney to reside its building.

The specific background to the Dred Scott Case is fascinating history, taking us into the heart of the struggle against slavery, free slaves and life in the territories. Google it, you won't be disappointed.

The decision decided that people of African descent brought to this country by force and held as slaves and their descendents--whether or not they were slaves--were not protected by the Constitution and could never be citizens of the United States. The court further ruled that the United States Government had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories. Slaves or their descendents had no right to sue in courts. Slaves were legally property, the Court decided, and could not be taken away from their owners except by due process.

Judge Taney's written decision made ample use of the racist theories of the day to prove his point. We know from the history of a bloody civil war that destroyed our country and the saga of the emancipation of the slaves how horrible a decision this was. But consider this. Taney used biblically sanctioned racist theories--those preached in the South and widely held--to make his case. Few of the issues of the case had been settled law as the political debates on the expansion of slavery were the most heated of the time and the legal issue of emancipated slaves had not been settled.

Even during the civil war, Frederick Douglass had to travel clandestinely to the White House to meet Lincoln because the South had warrants for his arrest to return him to slavery despite years of freedom. And Judge Taney was one of those judges who sought him as a fugitive slave, issuing arrest warrants in Maryland for him.

In Citizens United v.The Federal Elections Commission, the Supreme Court virtually upended over 100 years of law regulating corporate involvement in our democracy. There was a long history on this subject with detailed legal explanations of why these laws were made. Judge Taney at least had an excuse to let his racism reign. In its scathing editorial, The New York Times pointed out that the Founding Fathers thought about protecting alot of things like the press, religion, the militias, the people, but not corporations. Judge Stevens in his dissent actually outlined the Founding Father's views of corporations which were not favorable.

This is a remarkable opinion in that it virtually upends the basis of our democracy. To read the majority opinion is to read a breathtakingly radical vision of America where corporate rights exceed those of the individual. There is no mistaking the implications of this decision.

The New York Times suggests that one more judge would be needed to reverse this decision. But let's look at that--Judge Stevens and probably Judge Ginzburg are probably the next to leave. The only chance would be with the fourth Supreme Court judge Obama nominates. He has to replace two more to keep a 5-4 court. Since the Wall Street Journal reports the corporations are ready to go for 2010, don't count on this happening soon or ...ever.

If you are conspiracy minded, perhaps we should have seen Roberts' flubbing of Obama's oath of office as the sign of things to come. A major television network and major corporations run a test experiment in destablizing the political system by creating the teabaggers. Republicans thought it was about them but it was to block any reforms of our economic system. With yesterday's decision the astro-turf organizations are no longer necessary to accomplish the corporations' goals. Nor by the way are political parties--a thought that hasn't reached them yet. I have yet to hear a conservative thinker opine on the decision. George Will doesn't count.

The destructive evil of this court decision will not be apparent for a short while. But it only took three years after the Dred Scott Decision to see America plunged into a civil war. Justice Roberts now joins Roger Taney in America's Hall of Infamy.

One of the many stories behind the Third Reich was the total complicity of the legal profession in enabling Hitler and his policies to happen. This profession was highly educated and sophisticated with a deep understanding of the laws of a liberal democracy. After the war, the head of the German Bar Association, someone once highly regarded by the Americans, was tried and convicted at the Nuremberg Trials for his role in facilitating the Holocaust. It's really not an exaggeration to put this decision in the context of facilitating the creation of an American form of fascism.

For the future, readers are advised to read Kevin Passmore's very sort introduction Fascism by Oxford University Press. He does an excellent job of giving a broad view of the different types of fascism that emerged in Europe and what to look forward in the months and years ahead.

If I were the Chinese and the Saudis, I would be moving front corporations to the United States and buying politicians like crazy. It's now all legal--incredible.

The Teabagger Response to Scotus

Dale Robertson, the founder of, responding to the Supreme Court decision: "It just allows them to feed the Machine. Corporations are not people. Corporations exist forever, people don't. Our Founding Fathers never wanted them; these behemoth organizations that never die, so they can collect an insurmontable amount of profit. It puts the people at a tremendous disadvantage."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Justice Stevens Concludes

"In a democratic society, the longstanding consensus on the need to limit corporate campaign spending should outweigh the wooden application of judge-made rules. The majority's rejection of this principle "elevates corporations to a level of deferrence which has not been seen at least since the days when substantive due process was regularly used to invalidate regulatory legislation thought to unfairly impinge upon established economic interests.' At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics."

Judge Stevens Has His Say

"The basic premise underlying the Court's ruling is its iteration, and constant reiteration, of the proposition that the First Amendment bars regulatory distinctions based on a speaker's identity, including its "identity" as a corporation. While that glittering generality has rhetorical appeal,it is not a correct statement of law. Nor does it tell us when a corporation may engage in electioneering that some of its shareholders oppose. ...The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court's disposition in this case.

In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of the eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.

The majority's approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907.......

The Court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will,I fear, do damage to this institution."


Probably the California Supreme Court knew what the US Supreme Court was going to rule so they ruled that it was unconstitutional to put legal limits on the amount of medical marijuana you can possess. Take it from there.

Hugo Chavez, the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, charged the United States caused the destruction in Haiti by testing a "tectonic weapon" to induce the catastrophic earthquake. He told a Spanish newspaper that the US was playing God by testing devices capable of creating eco-type catastrophes. The earthquake followed a test of "weapon of earthquakes" just offshore from Haiti. Venezuelan versions of Seymour Hersh reported that the earthquake "may be associated with the project called HAARP, a system that can generate violent and unexpected changes in the climate". HAARP is a study in Alaska directed at the occasional reconfiguration of properties of the Earth's ionosphere to improve satellite communications. I find this report very re-assuring that someone on planet earth finds us so menacing.

So today Venezuela, Bolivia and France ("We'll always have Paris.") denounced the United States for occupying Haiti. Even conservative Republicans are criticizing our humanitarian aid work as akin to the invasion of Iraq. And Doug Brooks not to be outdone said that the health care reform debate was akin to the long discussion we had before invading Iraq.

Meanwhile, things are settling in. The Coast Guard has cleared the port in Port-au-Prince. The cranes will get to work tomorrow. Plans are underway to evacuate 400,000 Haitians and resettle them in the country. Through a works for food project, they will all build new homes, which they will own. Some of the air traffic has been cleared but over 110,000 flights are logged waiting OKs from the airport to come. Vandalism has quieted down and shops are re-opened. Farmers are appearing with fruits and vegetables to sell. The inflatable operating tents have been erected. And the Hospital Ship has started treating people who are being medevac'd to the ship. The US is planning on taking some Haitian refugees temporarily to Gitmo. Donations keep pouring in. And it looks like Europe and the United States are getting into a diplomatic flap over the future. So everything is normal or "normalized".

Barack Obama, who has been reported on the ropes, appears to have rebounded with his announcement of the "Volcker Principles" to regulate the banks. Tomorrow Republican Senator Shelby from Alabama will sound forth on what his party's take on this is. Already today the usual swarm of lobbyists for the bankers denounced the measures, saying the costs will have to be handed down to the customers. Gee, what a surprise.

The new senator from Massachusetts has already stepped in it. It appears he endorsed a teabagger for congress in 2010 but then discovered the guy was a birther and withdrew the endorsement, provoking the ire of his teabag supporters. He also said that he was for healthcare for everyone and that his main objection to the Health Care Bill was that his state would have to pick up the medicare costs for other states. He was referring to Ben Nelson's sweetheart deal. What will he leadership say when he gets into town? So is he for a new bill or not?

Well, Barack Obama is on the ropes. In a Fox News poll about his present position, they buried some trial heats for the 2012 presidential elections. They tested Obama against Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Although meaningless there are fun. Obama leads Romney by 47-35, Palin by 55-31 and Gingrich by 53-29. Each margin included healthy leads among independent voters whom we told Obama lost in Massachusetts. And he also beats the generic teabagger candidate by 48-23.

The Prop 8 trial continued today with some hot testimony. Yesterday, the Olson and Boies team in discovery unearthed a document from the California leader of the Mormans where he instructed his church to place someone in each district to help organize the Prop 8 effort. The persons were to take strategic advice from the organizers so as " to have the appearance of plausible deniability." What's everyone a spy these days? Today we were treated to Hak-Shing William Tam, who serves as secretary to the American Return to God Prayer Movement. He peddled propaganda during the campaign that gays were 12 times more likely to molest children than gays and that same-sex marriage would lead to the legalization of sex with children. I've visited these arguments in other posts about expert witnesses testifying that all this is rubbish.

But my concern is that after ten days of testimony that the Associated Press chose today to report on testimony that had already been destroyed and they treated it as if this man had a legitimate point of view. Then one of the anti-gay lawyers tried to insert that gays had lost political support for "alleged death threats against backers of California's same-sex marriage ban". This has been a sub-theme for several days, including one of the reasons the lawyers claim witnesses backed out of the trial--which was nonsense because their testimony directly contradicted the anti-gay lawyers position. While Olson and company continued to score within the trial itself, the anti-gays scored today by getting AP to perpetrate the basest lies of their case.

And what about Silent Clarence Thomas' dissent today in the Supreme Court case? While he thinks corporations are the greatest thing since sliced bread, he opposed the majority decision's that they must reveal their financial support in political ads and other campaign materials. He didn't think that was wise. Why not, it seemed the only rational part of today's majority decision? Because Clarence's eyes are on California and Washington where gays want to know the backers against same-sex marriage and other anti-gay laws. He knows Ted Olson is coming and he wants to be on record to protect homophobes.

We will deeply miss him when he goes. Justice Stevens wrote the dissenting brief on Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission with Ginsburg,Breyer and Sotomayor dissenting. I will try to reproduce the salient parts soon but he basically addresses the equation that money equals free speech--which the court ruled today. Stevens long and complex dissent got especially heated when he took on the "originalists". He called the majority "judicial activists" , which is the tag so-called conservative judges put on others. He also was very tough in taking on the majority's assertions about the intent of the Founding Fathers' and pointed out that the majority failed to discuss any of the origins of the First Amendment to make their judgment on the intent of the amendment. He said the majority position was actually diametrically opposed to the Founding Fathers and backed it up with textual references.

What he was politely saying with tough legal arguments was that our fine originalist judges are nothing more then conservative political activists masquerading as judges. He also blasted the perversion of Roberts' civil libertarian statements about the absoluteness of the First Amendment, citing chapter and verse Roberts' own decisions on the Court limiting the free expression of several different classes of people.

My 84-year old father-in-law is a Supreme Court junkie, reading every opinion. For years he has called me, railing about Scalia and Thomas. A former FBI agent and small town lawyer, he voted Republican all his life. But the extreme right-wing bent of the party finally drove him with alot of the family to break and vote for Barack Obama. His vote was almost exclusively a protest against any more right-wing judges on the Supreme Court and his confidence in Barack Obama as a constitutional lawyer. He had the very good sense to know that John McCain not only didn't understand the role of the judiciary but would send worse candidates to the court than George W. Bush.

I thought Sotomayor should have knock out one of the majority with a nunchuk, since she demonstrated her knowledge of them so well in her hearings.

Washington radio commentators said the decision simply meant "more money." There would be more money in this town for political consultants and that television revenue would rise dramatically for the 2010 election. For the rest of us, it could forestall any real reforms in our system and block any initiatives the Administration has of fixing the imbalances in our economic system. One conservative said ,"Why are you upset? All they did was decide that corporations have rights just as you do.' Well, you see there is a slight imbalance here. My limited contributions to political causes will always be dwarfed by a corporation. Also, as Judge Stevens said, I could never get into the position of essentially blackmailing a candidate by threatening to run ads against him. I don't have the financial capability of getting into a situation of a quid pro quo relationship with a politician.

And there is another issue here. It's being reported that the ruling allows corporations and unions to give unlimited amounts of contributions. There is a perceived equivalence here between groups of American workers, who only represent 6% of our workforce and have limited union funds, and American corporations, who often have foreign shareholders, who have unlimited funds. It is a grotesque imbalance of power.

In a previous post, I raised the prospect of our society becoming so atomized that we could not agree any longer on the common good or the public good. This was in reference to whole generations of children being homeschooled in Christian fundamentalist schools. We have created a fairly sophisticated apartheid system with the dispersion of the population in age-determined communities, religious-based communities and still existing race-based communities. There is no common civic ethos. Our school systems are being torn apart by political fights over evolution, exclusions in history books and silly battles over sex education.

Now the situation is quite dire when we have private armies carrying out our foreign policy but there is no acountability, private and foreign corporations buying state highways and private companies assuming prison management. The public budgets are in effect subsidizing private corporations without either fiscal accounting or the responsibility assigned "real" public officials.

The issue of torture, for instance, which I find to be profound and troubling really was one of money.

Washington state-based psychologists told the Government they could re-engineer the SERE program and they received an initial grant of $250,000. A high target detainee was found and being successfully interrogated by the FBI, and he was whisked away to be water-boarded under the supervision of these psychologists to see whether their project worked. Since they had to be present, more government grants were given and they studied the results. By the time, the project was officially ended in 2005, even though torture continued until 2007, these guys earned well-over $1 million for a project that lacked all scientific evidence. But our whole image as a country had been seriously harmed.

Blackwater provided the CIA with a capability to assassinate would-be terrorists and to provide security in difficult situations. The company provided their men with the sexual services of underage girls as a morale boost and killed many locals because they weren't restricted by the rules of war. Local reaction is generated against us as a country and not them. By the time the company changes its name, Christian fundamentalist Eric Prince has become a billionaire from government contracts. Now Iraqis, whom we allegedly liberated, are suing Blackwater and the United States.

And the list goes on about the extent of the damage done by privatizing government services. They do give everyone involved "plausible deniability" as the Morman organizer for Prop 8 said. But at some point one has to ask where are we in all this--you and I--American citizens. Thousands of people are becoming millionaires off of us without our ability to have any say in it. We don't know when and where the blowback will come from. We are apt to discover whole new schemes we hadn't known before.

And yet we have reached a point where we don't seem able to make the basic decisions a modern society must make to preserve ourselves and to advance to the future. The majority decision today said that corporations aren't a threat to the government. Not if you allow them to own it. But when was the profit-motive equated with national interest?

Day's End--The Viagra Ad on the Supreme Court Building

If you liked the movement feel of the Obama 2008 campaign, remember it fondly. It was a once in a lifetime moment--our own Velvet Revolution. But as the Ukraine's Orange Revolution succumbed this past week to the return of the old guard, the Supreme Court just did a super Gore V. Bush on the American electorate with its ruling ,basically overturning Tilman of 1902, which limited corporate funding of political campaigns. The day of the small donor and the internet fund-raising will continue for local races but anything of interest to the financial powers will be bought and sold.

I anticipated that this decision would be the window for the Republicans to make up their financial deficit for 2010 but I did not expect such a breathtaking defense of corporate involvement in Government. Another blogger pointed to a memo written by former Justice Lewis Powell before he ascended to the Court where he argued for corporations to become more active in court cases so that they would enlarge their role in politics and reverse past policies--those harkening back to the New Deal. And that day has come. Naturally, Michael Steele hailed the decision. I guess he will feel free to dump the teabaggers now that they have performed their function. So much for populism.

Judge Stevens was so outraged by the "judicial activism" in this case that he read part of his dissent at the Court. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Me) was also stunned by the decision. So far I have not heard from Mr. Campaign Finance Himself, John McCain. Make no mistake this is a breathtaking bad decision for anyone who cares about American democracy. You don't have to be Ralph Nader to know this. Ralph weighed in with a long op-ed condemning King Corporation.

Just think of the perversions of this. Blackwater is charged with killing Iraqis and the case is before the courts. Why not a public ad campaign? Want to prosecute Bush officials for torture? Why not back candidate who are for torture? Make a human rights violations something acceptable to the American people. We know a plurality will go along with anything.

We know the decision will unleash billions of dollars to stop the bank reforms Barack Obama announced today with Paul Volcker. We know already that the oil and gas industry has and will continue to fund politicians to block climate change legislation. We know the banks and credit card companies will pony up to kill the Consumer Agency. Today's court decision means there is no public interest, only the interests of the private corporations.

This is a dark day for a once proud country. Why don't we just hooked the corporations up with the military-terrorist complex and then they run the wars but they also have to pay for them?Leave us out of it. We are all alone.

We May be Corporate Stooges but We Are No Saps

In May, the Harris people asked a sampling of over 2,600 Americans to rate the following on whether they are "honest and trustworthy". This poll explains alot about American responses to the Wall Street bailouts.

"Honest and Trustworthy"
25% Banks
14% Accounting Firms
13% Life Insurance companies and Fiancial Planning Trusts
12% Health Insurance companies
7% Investment Firms
6% Mortgage Companies
4% Wall Street
4% Credit Card Companies

67% of Generation X (33-44) and 61% of Baby Boomers (45-63) do not consider any of these honest and trustworthy at all.
This contrasts with 52% of Echo Boomers (18-32) and 53% of Matures (64-) who do not consider any of them honest and trustworthy.

64% of people earning under $35,000 said that none are honest and trustworthy.
48% of people earning $50-75,000 said that none are honest and trustworthy.

A real vote of confidence for the Private Sector. But it doesn't harm them. They just buy the system and the taxpayers bail them out. Why shouldn't they have gazillion dollar bonuses? Some one should live well in these tough times. Now that they are persons again, can they marry? Can they bear arms? Hey, what about paying taxes?

The Supreme Court Decision is a catastrophic failure that puts the remnants left of our democracy in total danger. With Dick Cheney's Unitary Executive and this decision you can have a genuine fascist state. Don't even pretend otherwise.

Supreme Court Declares America a Company Store

As expected, the Supreme Court ruled that companies--American or foreign--could contribute to political campaigns on an unlimited basis. Citing the 19th decision that corporations are legal persons the Supreme Court affirmed their rights under the First Amendment and said that they could fund ads and other eduucational campaigns for or against political candidates. Whether there are direct limits to candidates I don't know because I haven't read the full decision. To give you an idea of the impact, to defeat health care reform the insurance industry and pharmaceutical companies has spent over $1 billion to date. This decision opens the floodgates to our whole political system being swamped with corporate cash. Some wag suggested that politicians dress like NASCAR drivers with corporate logos printed on their clothes.

I don't know who was faster out of the gate Allan Grayson (D-Fla) or President Obama condemning the decision. Alan Grayson called it the worse decision of the Supreme Court since Dred Scott. He also has introduced a series of bills in the House to stop corporate manipulation of the political system.

President Obama blasted the decision as encouraging a "new stampede of special interest money" into our political system. He said,"This is a major victory for Big Oil, Wall Street Banks, Health Insurance Companies and the other powerful interests that marshall their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans." He said that he has called on his Administration to work with Congress immediately to address this issue.

Also today, New Jersey Governor Christie signed an executive order prohibiting labor unions from contributing to campaigns. Whether this can withstand judicial review is doubtful but it gives you the flavour of the times.

The Supreme Court decision was expected particularly when it was leaked this summer that Sonya Sotomayor had raised questions about the original Supreme Court decision declaring corporations as legal persons. The old liberal William O. Douglas wanted this case to be a basis of an enviromental case giving trees rights.

So if you are frustrated with change, you now know officially who owns America. Maybe Barack Obama should declare armed struggle.

Cindy McCain Backs Same Sex Marriage

In a campaign for same sex marriage, Cindy McCain, the wife of former Presidential candidate John McCain, posed for an ad. The photo was freshingly sexy compared to some of her Cruella DeVille looks during the presidential campaign. Her daughter had previously spoken to the Log Cabin Republicans and voice her support for same sex marriage and suggested her mother was for it also. But there was no real follow-up news. The new photo has appeared everywhere as it should because it is striking.

Of course, the ambulance chaser himself had to appear on the scene and ruin the whole aesthetics of the moment. John McCain issued a statement," Senator McCain respects the views of members of his family. The Senator chaired the effort to successfully pass Arizona Proposition 102, the Marriage Protection Amendment, and his opposition to gay marriage remains the same. Senator McCain believes the sanctity of marriage is only defined as between one man and one woman."

We'll leave comments about the McCain marriage to one side. We congratulate Cindy for her courage and the clarity of her position.

Terrorist Dropouts

Nearly ten years after the 9/11 attack, someone is actually thinking about terrorists and their family relationships. Michael Jacobson in a new study for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy looked at dozens of terrorists for the purpose of figuring out who motivates those who drop out of terrorist activity and how others might be influenced to turn their backs on violent operations. Since 9/11, al-Qaida is believed to have dispatched three men to blow up American airliners. Two tried and failed and the third backed out of the assignment.

Sajid Badat, whose family migrated from Malawi to Britain, didn't go through with a December 2001 shoe-bombing operation but instead stashed the bomb under his bed in his family home in Gloucester, England. Two years later he was tracked down by British intelligence on information provided by Richard Reid, the notorious shoe-bomber.

Michael Jacobson interviewed ten terrorist dropouts. Badat had returned from camps in Afghanistan and bailed out because he wanted "calm in his life". He returned to live with his family.

Al Qaeda recognizes that family ties can play both negative and positive roles in a terrorist's plans. Mohammed Atta instructed all his 9/11 colleagues to sever all ties to their families. The two who dropped out of 9-11 were both in contact with their families against Al Qaeda's orders.

Al Qaeda has also been known to pay men with wifes extra, giving them additional time off to be with their spouses and urge them to recruit them to the cause. But it was one slight to a wife that led L'Houssaine Kherchtou, a former member of Al Qaeda, to turn against the organization. They rejected his request for $500 to cover the cost of his wife's Cesarean and he thought this represented a larger pattern of stinginess.

An American recruit was intercepted by his sister who persuaded him to go home. An imam in Texas heard about this man's plans and orchestrated with the man's family the casual meeting of the sister at the foreign airport.

And sometimes the life of a terrorist camp gets too hard. Many Brits have returned home disillusioned with life in Pakistan's tribal territories. With the camps now in such disarray, recruits are now asked to pay for their own equipment and housing. Bad food and terrible living conditions have encouraged many to leave. Killing fellow Muslims doesn't solidify terrorist ties either.

Remember Dick Cheney wanted to invade Buffalo, New York to send a message to Al Qaeda. (I know people don't want to believe this. George W. Bush overruled him.) It was because five of six Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, N. Y. had just been arrested by the FBI after police surveillance determined they had plotted a terrorist attack. Despite pressure from their Al Qaeda recruiter they left the camps in Afghanistan. They feigned injuries because they found the food was better in the infirmary and remained there during their stay. After a time, Bin Laden himself gave them permission to leave.

Jacobson believes that potential terrorist recruits need to a hear a counter-narrative. He believes government, especially our own, can not provide it. Instead, it should be provided by former terrorists and extremists and trusted family members.

Follow-up Post to Reason to Believe

The flying spaghetti monster interferred with my previous post. The point of all this about populist rage is that the Democrats and President Obama can ride this further than the Republicans. The President yesterday announced new initiatives to regulate the banks. He also signed an executive order to create a commission to study putting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on a firm economic footing. The commission is to report on its recommendations by the end of the year.

The left is screaming about this as Obama selling everyone out. Reagan did the same thing and worked with Bill Bradley to save Social Security until 2047. I rather doubt President Obama, who is far more in touch with the suffering of ordinary people than his critics allow, would do anything that would cut benefits for the middle and lower classes. Stripping John McCain of his social security--which he receives--I can see. The commission is also aimed at addressing one major component of our long-term structural deficit. This has a political benefit as showing he is active on dealing with future deficits and it also ensures the survival of the social welfare net, when a Republican comes back to office. Look where we would be if Social Security had been privatized. (Howard Dean claims Bush would have gotten health care by now--look how fare he got with this his most treasured policy initiative.)

President Obama is also going to push hard on his idea for the Consumer Agency. There is no better spokesperson for this than Elizabeth Warren , who has the confidence of everyone. She is begrudgingly admired by conservative critics of the President. Her argument on regulation is very simple--if something broke in the financial system, you don't want this to happen again. That's why you regulate and that's why FDR regulated during the Depression. Weren't we all told it would never happen again?

President Obama's call on a tax on the banks and Wall Street has drawn fiscal conservative support as witnessed by David Stockman's rise from the dead and Paul Volcker, who blasted bankers at a private meeting. Republicans will have to resist this move as a return to the regulation of economy, which they spent a generation undoing. This will not sell well with the populists they're trying to control.

The return of the Steagall-Glass amendment is supported--even by John McCain. The removal of this amendment, which was opposed at the time by Byron Dorgan, led the way to the speculations in derivatives, which was a major contributing factor in the collapse of the global economy.

President Obama "is nationalizing Student Loans". My student loans were nationalized. But this Republican criticism ignores the terrible fact that more students can not afford to even attend college when they qualify and end up leaving with B.A.s with six figure debts, which can't possibly be repaid. The crisis in the student loan industry is because private banks found this was a very lucrative business and ripped the students off. President Obama's measure is aimed at lowering the cost of these loans and making more available to students. resistance to this doesn't play well with this great populist base Republicans want to attract.

I expect President Obama to come out next week in the State of the Union on fire. he will propose a new jobs bill and probably some new version of health care because no one in their right mind believes we can go much longer with the system we have. If Republicans really want to filibuster all these initiatives, they do so at enormous peril.

Republicans and the Democratic Leadership Committee seriously expect President Obama to move right. This isn't Clintonland anymore. As I've outlined, President Obama is trying to knit back together the social net, which we've allowed to grow tattered and weak. Clinton presided during prosperous times and not in a depression. As it was, to his shame, Clinton agreed to go along with the elimination of welfare, a signature failure but an achievement mentioned only yesterday by Democrats urging Obama right-ward. It's just not in the cards. I think President Obama read the tea leaves on Massachusetts correctly and will be moving more aggressively toward Main Street, not Wall Street.

Reason to Believe

Barack Obama won the presidency with the largest popular vote in American history. I have never heard a talking head or political commentator mention this fact. Completing his first year in office his rating is 56%, slightly above Ronald Reagan at this point in his presidency and twice the approval rating for George W. Bush during his entire second term. At the end of the Bush years, only 18% felt the country was going in the right direction. Today we're at 39 creeping toward the 40 mark, not great for off-elections but a far cry from where we were.

With all the spew aimed at him from former Vice President Dick Cheney, over 2/3rds approve of his treatment of terrorism. As readers of this blog know I have chronicled the incessant hate campaign against Obama from the early Muslim terrorist slur to the Teabaggers' Hitler analogies. I've always feared that the language from the far-right would actually stick somewhere in the American unconscious. The last NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows an amazing 90% of the American people like him personally. That's pure political gold. 75% of Americans believe he has the right temperment of a President.

President Obama made 500 promises while running for office, which he helpfully printed as a book. He has fulfilled over 100 of these, started 24 and reneged on 18. Years ago, Norm Ornstein did a short study about American Presidents and their campaign promises. He found the nearly all of them try to fulfill what they ran on. President Obama has set the legislative record for any President in any year of his term by passing 97% of the bills he wanted. That tops past great LBJ.

The polling numbers are now in on the Brown victory in Massachusetts. Of all his voters, 95% said the major issue was the economy. A majority believed Democrats were favoring Wall Street over Main Street. A majority thought the Health Reform Bill didn't go far enough. A majority wanted stricter regulation of the Banks. There was no evidence that social conservative causes played any role in his victory or his support for torture. President Obama was right the same rage that propelled him into the White House elected Brown. This is not good news for Republicans.

Republicans, teabaggers, conservative radio hosts whooped the Brown victory up. Democrats rightfully felt depressed as the seat of the eternal champion of health care reform was taken by a posterboy for Cosmo. But, populism is a fickle phenomenon, which can turn in any direction. We have understand the radical right fringe of the teabaggers with their neo-nazism, white supremacist rhetoric and embrace of the militias but there is another dimension that FreedomWorks, Fox News and the Koch Industries felt they were funding. A group of people who would work against Obama because of a perceived socialist agenda. The Koch Industries has an historical role in funding all the grass-roots movements who protested FDR as a socialist and they also founded and funded the John Birch Society to go after world famous Communist Dwight David Eisenhower. But these people are not controllable and can go into a more economic populist direction.

A few years back, there was a wave of agrarian populist during the Clinton years that sparked the militia movement and the Oklahoma City bombings by Timothy McVeigh. Us city-lovers didn't understand the depression in the farmlands and the terrible price that farmers were paying. It was a period when America lost many of its remaining private farms. This populist anger and movement was steered in a different direction by Willie Nelson and Neil Young. Believe it or not Farm Aid, the rock tour to raise money for farmers, is created by political scientists and historians with stifling the populist anger of the time and channeling into constructive political avenues. Who would have thought?

If we look at the populist anger now, the main thrust of it is aimed at the economy. Dick Armey and his corporate colleagues have tried to transform this into a blanket condemnation of government. But what polls on the economy show is that there is deep frustration with the President and the Democrats on the progress in the economy. But, there is the other side of these polls which show Republicans have shrunk to their lowest level since being blown out in the Goldwater election of 1964. There are no corresponding signs--as yet--that Republicans have any greater credibility than the Democrats on the economic issue. National polls on the economy and health care show either about 40-45% approval and another 20-25% saying that no enough is being done. In short, the direction of this populist anger, if managed right, is most readily a weapon for Democrats, not the Republicans. All Republicans can do is to reinforce the anger by blaming Government, knowing the public has ambiguous feelings toward Government. But the rage doesn't push the other way, saying corporations are the answer. Belief in the private sector lies smoldering on the embers of our destroyed economy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Left Did It--Massachusetts Follow-Up

There are really people blaming the Left for Coakley's defeat in Massachusetts. I didn't think Bernie Sanders had anything to do with it. Former CIA agent and Hilary Clinton supporter Lanny Davis pontificated about how the Left's neglect of the race and Obama's own leftwing policies--I didn't know he had any--caused the Brown victory. I rarely defend the Left but here I think it's important that even FireDogLake sounded the alarm that all progressives had to grow up and act like children and back the Democratic candidate. The netroots were in full tilt activist mode several days before the election once they sensed the prospect of a Brown victory. The union GOTV efforts were mobilized and cash began to flow with the sounds of alarm. Yes, they did hold their noses but came through.

As for a response to the Obama leftwing agenda--a thought expressed by Evan Bayh, Joe Lieberman and Mark Penn, Research 2000 did an interesting poll of Democrats that voted for Brown. First, fully 57% believed Democrats were not fighting the abuses left behind from the Bush years hard enough. Second, a hefty margin backed the health care reform bill but a plurality said it did not go far enough. Thirdly,the vast majority supported the public option. Where the sample didn't track with conventional wisdom was that a majority felt the best way to get the economy going again was cut government spending, not regulate Wall Street. Clearly, the preliminary polling information does not support a return to triangulation.

Rush Limbaugh wondered whether the "bankers--ah the "liberal Jews" have buyer's remorse about Obama". That was not a slip. During the fall economic crisis, one of the most repeated e-mails I received was that George Soros, Chuck Schumer and Barney Frank were responsible for the banking crisis. Connect the dots. Stay classy, Rush.

Peggy Noonan opines that Brown won because he looked really like an "American". Another guest on the talk show said that after Americans elected an African-American, they wanted someone who looked normal and that a woman wouldn't do it. This reminds me of Cokie Roberts complaining during the campaign that the Obamas vacationed in Hawaii and not somewhere normal like Myrtle Beach.

The White House is giving off mixed messages after the Senate win by Brown. Word to MSNBC was that Obama would take a more combative stance toward Republicans on a whole host of issues and the White House sources claim they believe they are being pounded by some of the anger that propelled Obama to the White House in the first place. Then minutes later we have a whole new dance on health reform claiming Obama will pare down the version he asks for focusing on all the elements people agreed on. Some Senate Democrats are now sounding noises they are open to "reconciliation".

One of the stranger of the strangest things to occur today were the articles put out by major news services that Nancy Pelosi's job was in trouble. Again, personally I never liked her, but as a speaker she has been one of the most productive in my lifetime. This year the House passed more progressive legislation on more subjects than probably the first whole administration of FDR. If anyone has been effective in Washington, it's been Nancy Pelosi.

If You Think Government Can Do Good Things, Clap for USAID

USAID has always had a crisis capacity but never something that resembled an international FEMA (pre- or post-Brownie) so its co-ordination of Haitian earthquake relief aid both within government and internationally is somewhat of a departure. When you see the 16,000 American troops in Haiti by this weekend, think USAID, not the Pentagon. It's USAID's job to make that happen--of course, with alot of help. The hospital ship USNS Comfort has arrived with 550 medical personnel and should be up and operating(literally) tomorrow. Clean water has been restored to at least one hospital and the U.S. military has established open park tent towns to hold 25,000 a piece. Since yesterday the World Food Program now reports they have distributed 1 million food rations to 200,000 people with the hopes of getting to 2 million shortly. Their efficiacy is growing by leaps and bounds everyday. The banks are supposed to be open on Saturday. This is a country that lives on remittances from relatives living abroad. Thousands of tons of medical supplies and food stuffs have been shipped already and ,yes, the new airports are helping to end some of the bottlenecks. In the dubious distinction awards--but a good thing--rescue teams have set records for pulling people out of the rubble alive.

Washington-based non-profits who have been involved in Haiti before believe USAID has embraced this mandate with energy and with gusto. Or as JFK used to say, with "vigor". The problems we see,according to those observers, are because the United Nations Mission lost their chief of party, a man of great ability and much of their staff. The UN is trying to both re-establish its mission at the same time it's trying to handle the humanitarian relief and this has caused some of the problems about prioritzing issues. They also comment that the complaints that the U.S. didn't immediately airdrop water and food immediately was because the population in Port-au-Prince is so dense and they were already camping out in the open places where drops would occur that they were delayed until there was more on-the-ground intelligence. In the next few days, as the progress of the World Food Programme shows, the various components of the relief effort should look relatively smooth, considering this was the largest earthquake in Haiti in 200 years.

Will their be lessons to be learned? Of course. But so far, we should learn about USAID's success in marshalling the various players both within government and the non-profit world to respond as quickly and efficiently as they did. Thank you all.

Bummer Wednesday

The late Bayard Rustin and I joked about creating the Committee to Preserve White People in Basketball. Finally, the European leagues started to supply talented players to the NBA so the urgency somewhat diminished. But today out of Augusta, Georgia comes an announcement that there will be an All-American Basketball League that will ban foreigners and blacks. The league will play summerball in twelve cities. Maybe Rush Limbaugh can buy one of the franchises. The owner, a Mr. Moose, said that," It's not that we are against any race. It's just that whites are a minority now." This isn't what Bayard and I had in mind. And with our Senate, maybe we can restore slavery.

Obama's honeymoon is over. That's the headline today. Stop. Replay the tape. Didn't anyone listen to the interview this week with Arlen Specter about why he changed parties? Specter insists that upon inaugeration the Republican Caucus in the Senate held a closed meeting to demand absolute loyalty in voting against the stimulus package--which a broad range of economists supported. I would say the honeymoon stopped on day one. Or howabout the private meeting of the Republican caucus with the "captains of industry" to tell them not to invest until after the 2010 elections.

Speaking of white people. Republicans now have a Senator who posed nude for Cosmo, Diaper Dave Vitters ,whose New Orleans madam claimed had "exquisite taste in lingerie" and a Senator who pays the husband of his mistress hush money from campaign funds Senator Ensign. This gives white people a bad name.

We got the aid airlifts up to 200 yesterday, twice the number of the day before. People cheered, "USA! USA! USA!" when American rescue workers pulled live Haitians from the rubble. We opened two more airports in Haiti to accomodate more aid relief. But as this week is going, Haiti was hit with another 6.1 quake dashing some of the progress made. But, never fear, the Mexican Mole Men are coming to Haiti. Pound for pound this Mexican rescue team is considered the world's best at discovering living people buried under rubble. They excelled in the Asian tsunami disaster.

The Prop 8 trial continues with Boies and Olson checking off all the boxes on all arguments against marriage equality. Today's hearing had testimony on why gays can not be "converted" back to heterosexuality. This is important because of the anti-gay arguments that homosexality is a lifestyle choice and predetermined. Boies ran a videotape of the deposition of one of the defense witnesses who withdrew. During the testimony, Boies led the witness to run through the religious attitudes against homosexuality and got him to admit--frequently--that these beliefs were based on prejudice. This is a central point for Olson and Boies to prove to overturn Prop. 8. Of immense curiosity and legal wrangling was the demand by the Olson team for documents which showed how other anti-gay marriage efforts were connected and the interlinkage of personnel organizing these efforts. So far the anti-gay lawyers had to fork over 20,000 pages of documents but are fighting about the relevance of documents about other states. So far, Olson and Boies are wiping the floor with the opposition. It's such a pleasure to watch good attorneys work. I am getting very curious about what the anti-gay lawyers can possibly turn up to defend their case. Every strawman so far has been burned to the ground.

For those interested in a real expert on terrorism in the Islamic world, the person to consult is Dr.Olivier Roy, research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). The two books, which are appropriate for understanding the new generation of unassimilated terrorists, are Globalized Islam and Islamist Networks: The Afghan-Pakistan Connection. Roy has done the pioneer studies of how marginalized Muslims in Europe become drawn to terrorism.

Garry Wills weighs in with Bomb Power:The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, which analyzes the concentration of power within the Presidency. The last two chapters "the Unitary Executive" and "American Monarch" are the heart of the argument on today's problems.

The Lead Story

No it's not about the Mass. elections, I'll get to that. It's about a dinner Bob Gates had this past week with Boeing executives. Secretary of Defense Gates informed the executives that he will try and persuade the White House to have regular increases in defense spending for "many years to come". Since the U.S. defense expenditures total 45% of the world's entire defense spending, what's he want to hit 50%?

Few remember the speech on September 10,2001 by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at a dinner of defense contractors where he said,"We have met the enemy and he is us." Rumsfeld told his dinner guests that there was $1.3 trillion in Pentagon spending and weapons systems which were unaccounted for. He vowed to get to the bottom of this problem and strip defense procurement of its waste. The next day happened and we put our foot to the pedal and have been clocking about $1 trillion a year on security ever since without the corresponding side effect of creating jobs or saving our manufacturing base. Instead, the $1 trillion in the Iraq War had no revenue sources.

Now Massachusetts. The Coakley loss has some practical political campaign elements to it. First, after the Democratic primary, the Western Democratic Party from which she hailed never made peace with the Boston party, which had backed Capuano. There was no coordination of phone banks or the merging of voter lists. As the Boston crowd said, "We didn't like her." After the primary, when Coakley's lead kept dissipating she went on a long Christmas vacation without tracking polls to keep her up to date. The reason the African-American community and the Hispanics didn't come out--which is the Republican plan this year--is there was absolutely no outreach to them. None, nada, zip. The Hispanic mayor of Lowell asked Martha Coakley as Attorney-General to swear him in but he said he was brushed off. Coakley made 16 campaign appearances to Brown's 66. You have to ask for the vote.

A couple of strange items. For those who had made up their minds one month before the election, Coakley was the candidate. For those who made up their minds in the last 24 hours it was Coakley. The Obama fly-in and the Clinton appearance did help. Obama unleashed Organizing for America's network ,which made over 1 million calls. Interestingly, they focused on Democratic women, who seem to be very hesitant about Coakley. The results paid off--the loss would have been worse. 22% of Democrats actually voted for Brown. They were working class Catholic voters who seemed to be interested in jobs. The voter reaction post election was that the Mass voters were tired of the "give-aways" to Wall Street and wanted more for the American people. Obama's congratulatory phone call to Brown pointedly mentioned that he hoped they could work together for working Americans. Not.

Our new Republican Governor of Virginia gave his state of the state address, which prefigures Republican approaches around the country. The photogenic governor hid his long-term ties to Pat Robertson from the electorate and sounded moderate even though he is a hardcore social conservative. His speech was masterful, emphasing creating jobs and making Virginia a competitive place for business investment. He talked about offshore drilling, investing in our wine and film industries. We have to make these sacrifices for the future of the state. Well, what sacrifices? Government services will be cut, teachers will be laid off, school budgets through the state system must be slashed. On top of that the budget has a massive deficit from the Kaine years. Of course, there will be no new taxes. As Assemblyman Dave Englin from Alexandria noted,"That was an impressive list of projects he has but he never mentioned how he was going to pay for them." As Dick Cheney, the avatar of the New Republican Party, said," Deficits don't matter." They are just a strategy to shrink the social welfare network and cut needed government services. But expect this to be the latest line for 2010 elections both at a state and congressional level. Well, as Orrin Hatch said about the Bush deficits, "That was in the days when we didn't have to pay for anything." The Governor has informed the electorate that he has to go to Congress to get permission for off-shore drilling in Virginia. A minor detail.

What does the Mass vote mean for healthcare reform? Obviously, it shouldn't in the real world. Democrats still have 47 plus Bernie Sanders and the Senator from Aetna. It only takes 51 votes to pass the healthcare bill in the Senate. The reason is that the Byrd Rule, which calls for a supermajority if a bill has an impact on the deficit, doesn't apply. The CBO reports on both the Senate and House bills show they reduce the deficit and really reduce the deficit in the out ten years. However, for cloture--which the Republicans used a record 111 times this past year--one needs 60 votes. (Even during the bitter fights over the Civil Rights bills the Senate averaged 6 to 8 filibusters per year.) Now the tricky thing here is that Senators vote their conscience for bills but for parliamentary motions it is expected that Senators obey party discipline. But certainly there must be a Republican somewhere who would buck the tide, even if it means voting against the bill later.

Democrats have formed a circular firing squad on this. My Senator Jim Webb has called for Obama to start over on health care reform. Politically, that's not viable for his presidency. While I favor the House Bill, a fusion of both bills or even the Senate bill alone would bring immediate relief to millions of people and in a few years dramatically improve the fate of about 30 million uninsured people. Since Webb has spent no time on this, he doesn't understand the thousands of hours spent in developing these bills.

The simple fact of the matter is that the equivalent number of Americans who died in the entire Vietnam conflict die every year because of the lack of medical attention. That is obscene. Likewise, about 1 million Americans a year declare bankruptcy primarily because of medical bills. And without health care reform, health costs in this country will grow from around 17% of our GDP to 22% in a few years. We should expect our health insurance premiums to rise about 33% over the next few years. On a personal note, if I or my wife suffers any serious illness. We are bankrupt. Full stop.

Calls for Obama to move right are ludicrous since that would exacerbate the country's problems and in a dramatic way. The dirty secret is that our vaunted private sector created no jobs over the past decade. Our small business sector has dwindled to 6% of the private sector, the lowest in the developed world. There are literally no more tax cuts to be made that would have any positive effect on the economy. Remember only 26% of our corporations pay any taxes. Over $1.5 trillion in actual tax monies (not taxable revenues) from companies are parked overseas. No less an expert than Carly Fiorina of Hewlett-Packard fame and new California politician admitted this during the 2008 campaign. In fact, as part of the stimulus bill, Republicans acted as conduits for the corporations, offering one-third of this amount to the government in return for tax holidays. Another $1.3 trillion is salted away by our richer citizens in tax havens.

Alas, we are left with the resources of our government. With the massive deficits that Obama inherited--something that Republicans simply will not admit, even to me--goverment must be the generator of jobs and economic growth. Today, we saw a miraculous event--David Stockman, Reagan's OMB director, write an op-ed calling for taxing Wall Street. It's interesting to see all the old Reaganites come around on the economy. Bruce Bartlett, one of the father of supply-side economics, has been forceful in urging Obama to spend more to get the economy up and running. Paul Volcker backed Obama early on. There is a strong awareness that the era of Reagan ran its course--almost a generation--but that once the Fed runs out of tricks we must go back to Keynesian economics. But that is not what we are seeing among today's Republicans. For them, there is no social contract. You are on your own.