Saturday, December 06, 2008

New New Deal?

President-elect Obama is offering an ambitious plan (video). Is it January yet?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Health-Care Reform Coming?

When Barack Obama tapped former Senate leader Tom Daschle to be the Cabinet member in charge of health policy, many took it as a sign that Obama was really serious about making health-care reform one of his key domestic agendas.

It's not surprising that we see this story that same week-
The health insurance industry said Wednesday that it would support a health care overhaul requiring insurers to accept all customers, regardless of illness or disability. But in return, the industry said, Congress should require all Americans to have coverage.

The proposals, put forward by the insurers’ two main trade associations, have the potential to reshape and advance the debate over universal health insurance just as President-elect Barack Obama prepares to take office...

To me, this is the health-care industry anticipating that major reform is coming, and wanting to set the debate to occur on their terms. They're scared, and so they're being proactive.

During the primary campaign, of course, Obama had expressed opposition to mandated insurance-- for reasons I agreed with-- and I'll be curious to see if/how that position has changed since then. I hope it hasn't.

Regardless, no matter how watered-down and industry-friendly a 'universal health-care' proposal we get, expect fierce opposition from a Republican party that believes that blocking these efforts is key to their party's very survival... not because it would be a bad move, but because they anticipate it being so popular with the average American that they would further gravitate toward the Democratic party (no shock, they've been stating exactly that for over a year now). A true party of the people.

I do imagine some form of major health-care reform is coming over the next few years. Though it won't be remotely close to what progressives ideally want, it will hopefully at least be a good first step.

Reader's Choice #2: Where's MY Bailout?!

Blog reader Randy Carter asks, "If the government plans to bail out banks that I have a credit card with using my tax money, why should I pay my bill?" This is the sort of understandable sentiment that inspired such websites as and others. I'll use this as a general way of discussing the inequality of who it's politically acceptable to bail out.

First, the numbers. According to one estimate, "the total of promised government outlays and guarantees [rose to] a staggering $7.7 trillion" after Citigroup was saved by the feds. That's a lot of money, and it'll be a lot more very soon. And this comes the same week we get a report from the group in charge of overseeing the bailout stating that "the government still does not seem to have a coherent strategy for easing the financial crisis, despite the billions it has already spent in that effort."

(Henry Paulson's latest brilliant scheme? Reinflate the housing bubble. Genius!)

Compare the no-strings attached ease with which that money was thrown around to the huge, and justified, hoops the auto execs are being forced to jump through to get their money. The difference is, despite conservative rhetoric about the all-powerful unions, the titans of Wall Street yield far greater political power than the middle class factory workers of Detroit. Not to go all Michael Moore here, but a truism of post-Vietnam American politics is that the rich get priority over the poor.

The financial sector destroying the economy by assuming that playing a game of Capitalist Jenga was sound policy? Throwing money at this problem until it goes away is priority #1. But the fact the recession caused by that means Randy Carter and others is behind on their bills? He'll sort that out on his own.

(And considering the trillions thrown into this mess, how insane is it to remember that President Bush vetoed the $35 billion increase for children's health insurance last year-- amidst other fights, like on the minimum wage-- for being too fiscally irresponsible?!!)

So in conclusion Randy, in a fair world, no you shouldn't have to pay off your Citibank credit card for now. But unless you want to become a deadbeat with a bad credit rating in the real world, you'd better starting writing another check.

Or we could all start living within our means, but how boring would that be?

[Related reading: Left Out of the Bailout: The Poor (Time)]

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Auto Industry Bailout, Take 2!

"Bailout" is officially Merriam-Webster's word of the year. And this week, the auto companies want their slice.

Humbled from their last (failed) trip to DC, the auto executives are back-- asking for a $34 billion rescue package-- this time making with the sweet talk (rather than last time, when they threatened to take the entire U.S. economy down with them, which admittedly was a bit harsh). "We made mistakes, which we're learning from," GM chief executive Rick Wagoner said. I'll never hit you again baby, I swear. In lieu of roses and chocolates, the execs came with PR gimmicks... like road trips to DC and pledges to work for $1. I'm sold!

The AP article I linked to doesn't seem to have a lot of specifics on what mistakes the executives made. The most specific was this from Ford CEO Alan Mulally: "We produced more vehicles than our customers wanted, then slashed prices." That's like burning down a house and then apologizing for not rescuing the cat on your way out. The way I see it-- and I am obviously no expert on the auto industry-- is that the industry, like the financial sector, is a victim of hubris and gluttony. While Toyota was leading the pack with cars like the Prius, the 'Big Three' were still pumping out gas-guzzler after gas-guzzler, which was very profitable for them... in a very short-term and destructive way. They thought the good times would last forever, and there was no planning for the future.

The executives are also using their workers-- while simultaneously scapegoating the unions and their demands for 'salaries' and 'benefits'-- as the emotional justification for the rescue. After all, we can't (no, seriously, we can't) allow all of these people to end up out of a job. The sudden concern for the workers is laughable given that these companies have spent the past few decades laying off as many workers as possible, outsourcing those jobs, etc, with no regard to the effect on the economy or the communities that depended on those lost jobs. They've mostly seen their workers as obstacles to wider profit margins.

Let us also remember that these execs spent millions lobbying against the very changes and regulations that might've saved them from this abyss. Again, very much like their free-market bank counterparts.

Now they are asking Congress for, basically, a blank check. Understandably, we've given blank check bailouts to the financial sector, so why should the auto companies be held to a higher standard? This is their argument.

Here's what they'd get from me if I was in charge (and this is why I never will be)... They would get the bailout/loan in exchange for several conditions, which would be agreed to in legally-binding contracts signed by all of the executives of these companies (who, yes, would be working for $1 from now on, though they would be encouraged to resign and make way for new leadership). The first is that the companies would pledge to end their outsourcing, and work to maintain U.S.-based production of their products, with full protections for their workers. Start putting Americans back to work. The second is that the companies would be mandated to produce only vehicles that met a certain fuel-economy standard, not the weak-tea by-2020 mandates they got in last year's watered-down energy bill, but starting today. Add in some tax credits based on the % of hybrid or electric vehicles they produce. The third is that the companies should also begin to invest in, and produce, alternative transportation options (light rail, etc), much in the same way they were used in WWII to make tanks and bomber planes. Plan for the future.

What deal will they get, though? Definitely not my dream one above. Instead, they will likely get all most of what they are asking for-- after a long fight in Congress-- with some minor (likely non-binding) conditions attached. And, as usual, we'll have merely plugged in some cracks in the wall rather than addressing the foundational issues that brought us more. More on that in a more general sense later this week.

[UPDATE: As for the unions/UAW, they are already offering their own concessions.]

The Bush Legacy, Pt. 3: Everything Else

A Slog blogger runs down Bush's last-minute pushes on a number of less-publicized issues.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Reader's Choice #1: Proposition 8

Blog reader 'elisaana' had suggested I write about the fallout from CA's anti-gay Proposition 8 (she also suggested a post on the foreign policy of Obama, which I will get to later this week). Besides being obsessed with politics, I am also gay, so it would seem that this would be a topic I'd be heavily invested in, but I am not.

There are two reasons for that. The first is that as I follow the massive protests and boycotts and activism against the successful passage of Prop 8, the first thing I think of is... gee, where were all these people before the election? You know, when it mattered. Supporters of gay rights were too complacent going into the election (hey, it was California after all!) and they paid the price for it. It was a hard and nasty price for many gay couples and families, and they have my sympathy. Next time around-- and I hope folks in CA are preparing a ballot measure for next year, or some other avenue-- they will be better prepared. Just keep winning people to our side in the meantime.

And that brings me to reason number two. I am older now (is 29 'old'?) and therefore a bit more patient than many activists. Gay rights and equality will come, but it will not happen overnight. And we shouldn't expect it to, though that'd certainly be nice. Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat on the bus in 1955. It would be another 9 years before the Civil Rights Act was signed into law (and only then because LBJ had lots of political capital from the Kennedy assassination) and another year from there to get the Voting Rights Act signed. For those fighting for those rights, it was likely a long ten years. But they kept at it, and won (in spite of fierce opposition from the right which is whitewashed, pardon the pun, today). I'm not suggesting gay rights activists go the same route-- sit-ins, freedom rides, etc-- but understand changing hearts and minds takes years, not weeks.

It should be noted that, in CA, similar measures to Prop 8 have passed before, but with wider margins. Prop 8 barely squeaked by. If it was voted on today, a mere month later, I believe it would fail (again, because the pushback against came too late), and if voted on again in a year or two, I am sure it would be defeated. And then, after CA, the fight moves on to other states. And on and on.

What will be interesting to follow on a national level is what kind of leadership President Obama takes on this issue. His record on it has been encouraging, if somewhat wishy-washy. Whether he is willing to keep promises to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell (etc) is definitely something to keep an eye on. I definitely will be.

Bailout Blogging

I've been asked for my thoughts on Bailout Nation. I am not ignoring the subject, I just wanted to take the time to do it justice. Look for some posts on this in the next day or two. I want to tackle the auto bailout specifically first, then do a more general post afterwards.

More Odds and Ends

Here's another collection of important news I wish I had more time to blog about...

We're officially in recession and the news keeps getting grimmer: "Private employers slashed an unexpectedly high 250,000 jobs in November, the most in seven years, while the service sector that powers most of the economy posted its worst slump on record."

Is Obama still planning to go forward with middle class tax cuts? Signs point to yes.

But is he flip-flopping on his promise of a windfall profits tax on Big Oil? Seems likely.

But wait... more bad news: "The rising cost of college — even before the recession — threatens to put higher education out of reach for most Americans, according to the biennial report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education."

Meanwhile, Barack Obama officially nominates Bill Richardson for Commerce Secretary.

And here's interesting Cabinet buzz... a possible pick for Labor Secretary is Mary Beth Maxwell. She's a community organizer, labor leader, and founding executive director of American Rights at Work. She would also be the first openly gay Cabinet member.

Barack Obama has also given all of President Bush's ambassadors their walking papers.

Lots of people were puzzled by Obama's retention of Bob Gates as Defense Secretary, but here is a hopeful sign that Gates understands that he is there to carry out the policies of the new President: "Defense Secretary Robert Gates signaled a willingness to forge ahead with two key priorities for the incoming Obama administration: accelerating the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and shutting down the Guantanamo Bay detention center."

Meanwhile, India points to Pakistani militants as the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks.

Coming back to U.S. politics, the odious Saxby Chambliss won the Georgia Senate runoff race yesterday amidst low turnout. In Minnesota, Al Franken still hopes to defy the odds.

Finally... videos! Liberal blogger Chris Bowers debates with Chris Matthews how Obama presented the slant of his agenda during the campaign. Also on 'Hardball', Christopher Hitchens and Joan Walsh get into a feisty argument over the appointment of Hillary Clinton to DoS. Keith Olbermann discusses Obama's meetings with the nation's governors. And Al Gore is interviewed by Fareed Zakaria about the election results.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What's Going On In Iraq?

Apropos of that last entry, here's the current status of the war...

AFP: Iraqi parliament approves landmark US military pact
Iraq's parliament on Thursday approved a landmark military pact that will see all US troops withdraw by the end of 2011, eight years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and plunged the country into chaos...

..."We have achieved one of our most important accomplishments by signing an agreement for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, and restoring the sovereignty that we lost more than two decades ago," [Prime Minister Maliki] said...

...The measure would govern some 150,000 US troops stationed in over 400 bases when their UN mandate expires at the end of the year, giving the Iraqi government veto power over virtually all of their operations.

It marks a coming-of-age for Maliki's government, which drove a hard bargain with Washington, securing a number of concessions over nearly a year of tough negotiations...

The international agreement will be binding on US president-elect Barack Obama when he assumes office next year, but he could also unilaterally cancel the pact with a year's notice or withdraw all US troops at any time.

This agreement is a huge blessing for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. For Bush, it allows the war to (theoretically) end not long after his departure from office, but under peaceful circumstances-- read: not evacuations by helicopters from embassy roofs-- that allow him to point to a democratic decision made by the Iraqi government which rejects the more long-term goals Bush had for the region. For incoming-Prez Obama, it allows him to keep his campaign promise to withdraw combat forces from Iraq on a timetable close enough to the one he proposed, without angering right-wingers by looking like he was forcing Iraq's hand. Everybody's a winner?

Well not really, because until this all plays out, this is still happening-
[M]oments before the vote, two people were killed and more than two dozen wounded in separate suicide bombings in northern Iraq targeting local security forces, underscoring the lingering violence in the country.

In the bloodiest attack, south of the city of Mosul, a suicide car bomb rammed into a police patrol, killing two civilians and wounding 25 others, including 15 policemen, police said.

So no counting chickens before they're hatched yet.

(Oh, and there's still that whole Afghanistan/Pakistan mess to figure out, but that's a whole separate issue.)

The Bush Legacy, Pt. 2: Iraq

It's that time of a lame-duck presidency... when you sit down with a friendly reporter and attempt to present your own version of history. George W. Bush got that opportunity this week with ABC's Charlie Gibson-
Looking back on his eight years in the White House, President George W. Bush pinpointed incorrect intelligence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as "biggest regret of all the presidency."

"I think I was unprepared for war," Bush told ABC News' Charlie Gibson in an interview airing today on "World News."...

..."In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents -- one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen."

Yes, the war in Iraq just happened to President Bush. He didn't start it or anything. He just woke up one day, and holy cow! There it was.

One of President Bush's M.O.s for years now has been to pretend that invading Iraq was a) not his doing, and b) something he strongly tried to avoid. This even began before the war. As his administration was banging the drums, in December of '02, he said to reporters, "You said we're headed to war in Iraq -I don't know why you say that. I hope we're not headed to war in Iraq. I'm the person who gets to decide, not you" (the implication being that it was the media who were hyped for war). The reality is, of course, that his foreign policy team had been planning the war since the late '90s, and Bush himself worked overtime after 9/11 to ensure they got their way.

Regarding the way the war itself was sold, Bush said to Gibson that-
"A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein," Bush said. "It wasn't just people in my administration. A lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington, D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence."

Ignoring the fact that there was a lot of intelligence disproving the WMD case (ignored by the administration), and that most of the intelligence which bolstered their case was provided through unreliable torture or by con artists like Ahmed Chalabi, let's look at who the aforementioned 'people' were and what they said.

(You can stop the video at about 4:15... the rest is just commentary)

But hey, some other people bought into the same lies, so he's off the hook, I guess. I mean, he was only the leader of the free world, he just couldn't help but be swept up into this wild new 'invade Iraq' fad. I'm sure history will understand.

The Future of the GOP

The Republican party has now suffered two straight election cycles of massive defeats (losing both chambers of Congress in '06, even greater congressional losses in '08 and a near-landslide loss in the Presidency). Former swing states now seem solidly blue (ie. Pennsylvania), and former red states are now blue-leaning swing states (ie. Colorado, Virginia). One would think the GOP would take this to heart, and take a self-critical look at the state of their party. Luckily for Democrats, but bad for two-party democracy, the party is run by stubborn ideologues.

The Friday before the election, I wrote a post on what to expect from the GOP after the election (which turned out to be pretty spot on). Also spot on was my list of things not to expect from them-
1) Do not expect the Republican party's post-election soul-searching to result them deciding to move back toward the center, and move away from their current base of religious conservatives and tax cut fanatics. Rather, they will likely double down and insist that going more conservative is what will save them (this was basically their attitude after 2006 anyway).

2) Do not expect Republicans or conservatives to be gracious in defeat. After you've spent months implying your opponent is a borderline terrorist, can you really turn around and say "Hey well-played campaign! Congrats, and good luck!"? No. And they won't. Unlike Democrats, who after the 2000 election (in which we lost by a mere technicality) began working with Bush to accomplish things on issues like education, Republicans will be immediately begin criticizing and undermining and Obama presidency. They'll even get a kick out of doing so (also their post-2006 attitude).

Let's take a look at #1 first. Before the election, National Review columnist Kathleen Parker-- whose right-wing conservative credentials had never been questioned before, by anyone-- invoked the ire of fellow Republicans by saying out loud what conservatives were only allowed to acknowledge in private... that Sarah Palin was a disaster, and a cynical, pandering pick. Parker went on after the election to urge her party to move away from the religious right and back toward the common-sense issues that Americans care about. What happened from there? Did the party begin to have that discussion? Or did they shun Parker and dig in deeper?

I'll give you only one guess, but the fact that Sarah Palin's been in Georgia regurgitating her presidential campaign talking points while stumping for Saxby Chambliss in the Senate runoff race tells you all you need to know.

As for #2, well...
In an interview with the conservative online publication Newsmax, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the GOP must broaden its appeal to avoid becoming “the old white-guy party,” and recommended that Republicans create a “shadow government” to work on its own agenda. Claiming this is still a “center-right country,” Bush urged Republicans not to move towards a “Democratic-lite” agenda.

Ahhh yes, that's what the American people are looking for right now in these serious times where action is required... more GOP obstructionism! Why am I reading this, and picturing this? Hmmmm.

With smart moves like this, the GOP will be back on top in no time. No time at all.

I say this because I am not one of those liberals who wants to destroy the GOP and see it burned to the ground. I would like to see it restored to some level of sanity (remember, even Reagan was this before he was this). Every party in power needs a good opposition party to keep it honest. But we don't have that right now. We have a band of crazy people, crooks, and idiots posing as a party. Hopefully more Kathleen Parkers will point this out until something changes.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Bush Legacy, Pt. 1: The Economy

Nobody could've predicted civil war in Iraq the breeching of the levees the downfall of the U.S. economy! From the AP-
The Bush administration backed off proposed crackdowns on no-money-down, interest-only mortgages years before the economy collapsed, buckling to pressure from some of the same banks that have now failed. It ignored remarkably prescient warnings that foretold the financial meltdown, according to an Associated Press review of regulatory documents...

Bowing to aggressive lobbying, along with assurances from banks that the troubled mortgages were OK, regulators delayed action for nearly one year. By the time new rules were released late in 2006, the toughest of the proposed provisions were gone and the meltdown was under way...

The administration's blind eye to the impending crisis is emblematic of a philosophy that trusted market forces and discounted the need for government intervention in the economy. Its belief ironically has ushered in the most massive government intervention since the 1930s.

Heckuva job, Bushies!

And the coda from the banking industry itself-
Many of the banks that fought to undermine the proposals by some regulators are now either out of business or accepting billions in federal aid to recover from a mortgage crisis they insisted would never come. Many executives remain in high-paying jobs, even after their assurances were proved false.

The invisible hand of the free market scores again!

And yet, despite all of this, our country's political culture is so frightened of right-wing bullies and ideologues, that Barack Obama, with his mandate and popularity, couldn't risk a political fight by appointing even one single measly liberal (like this guy for instance) to his economic team, instead crafting a team of experienced, centrist hands. As with the Iraq debacle, getting it right versus getting it wrong has no real impact on whether you are put in a position of power or respect. There is something very, very wrong with this.

This is beginning to change, of course, but it remains a frustrating trend.

[UPDATE: To be fair, here is another guy who got it right.]

Reader's Choice!

First, I want to thank anyone still reading this blog. I've been absent from it a bit lately (hoping to change that), so I appreciate those who are still checking in. It's a crowded internet, I know you have options.

With that said, I did receive some good responses to my reader's choice inquiry. I'll began writing and rolling out the responses to those for the remainder of this week. I hope they'll have been worth the wait.

The American Dream: The Conservative Version!

Courtesy of John Cole's excellent blog, I find this new Michelle Malkin column at the National Review entitled: 'Self-Reliant Jen-- Give thanks for Americans who do not put their faith in the Cult of You Owe Me. Malkin writes-
In the Year of Bottomless Bailouts, I am most grateful this Thanksgiving for Americans who refuse to abandon thrift, personal responsibility and self-reliance... Instead of staying in a home they couldn’t afford and waiting for a mortgage rescue from the savior Barack Obama, Jen, her husband and their four children moved to New Mexico [to start a farm]...

...Instead of awaiting the next stimulus check from the Borrow-Spend-Repeat-Panic politicians in Washington, Jen explains how the family has cut costs: “I learned how to make my own shampoo, toothpaste, soaps, cloth napkins, dish scrubbies, potholders, skirts (mend all clothes) and most meals from scratch. We heat our home exclusively with wood, and I am currently growing a winter garden. The spring garden will be in containers by the last week of December to prepare for spring planting. I do not see this as a downfall or a tragedy. For those worried about holiday spending: I spent only $100 for a family of six last Christmas, and most of that [on] underwear, socks and the meal.”

And she adamantly rejects the victim card: “This accident has been a blessing for my family. The pain that my husband has daily is not the blessing, but that he is alive and able to continue to watch his children grow into adulthood.

“It also has been wonderful to know that we live in a nation that affords us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves from suburbanites to a country-dwelling farm family. I am ashamed to see the American spirit that made our nation so great now turned into nothing.”

Thanks to self-reliant Americans like Jen, that spirit lives. In times like these, they are our greatest blessing.

Yes, God bless this economic crisis... for it has thankfully forced this woman and her family to pack up their entire lives and live like the hippies and organic farmers that she and her fellow conservatives despise so much! I will be writing a thank-you Christmas card to the titans of Wall Street for all that they did to bring this day upon us, so that soon more families will experience the blessing of making their own soap and napkins. The American dream realized at last!

Seriously, what is it like to think like these people? I've never done drugs, I wouldn't know.


Odds and Ends

I missed a lot of news. Here's a rundown of what I consider to be the most interesting...

It was made official today... the U.S. has been in a recession (oMg!) for about a year now. This news was not greeted with cheer by the ever-grumpy markets.

Luckily (??!), an extension of unemployment benefits was approved last month.

Have a lot of free time and love to read about economics? Then you'll wanna bookmark this piece in the New Yorker: 'Anatomy of a Meltdown-- Ben Bernanke and the financial crisis'.

President-elect Obama, of course, unveiled his economic team last week, hoping to reassure Americans that help is on the way. Congressional leaders insist they plan to have a stimulus bill on his desk by the time he is sworn in.

Reminder: Obama's transition YouTube channel is collecting all his addresses.

A good summary of what happened in Mumbai... here.

I read today that "Delegates from nearly every nation began discussions in Poznan, Poland Monday in an effort to create a new global climate change pact to replace the Kyoto Treaty, which expires in 2012." I'm sure we all remember that Kyoto "has been crippled by the Bush administration's refusal to have the U.S. ratify the agreement, saying it would harm the economy."

Good news for U.S. energy policy? The fact that Rep. Waxman (D-CA) won his fight to take the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from Rep. Dingell (D-MI), who is a tool of the auto industry. Sen. Boxer heads the related committee in the Senate.

If you need further proof that Bill Kristol is a complete moron (and after this campaign season, do you really need more?), consider his new column insisting that not only should Bush those guilty of ordering torture or warrantless wiretapping, he should also give them the Medal of Freedom. I'm sure he'll have a good chuckle about this on his next 'Daily Show' interview.

Finally, sad news for America... Hannity and Colmes have filed for divorce.

What a Difference a Year Makes

This is a clip from a Democratic primary debate, about one year ago-

I found this fitting, given today's news: Obama announces Clinton, Gates for Cabinet (AP)