How Obama is Working Hard for President Huckabee or Romney

When President Obama was elected he had several key things going for him:

  1. He wasn’t the Republican heir to George W Bush
  2. He represented a party that stood for economic issues near and dear to the vast majority of the voting public
  3. He promised to cut down on lobbying and corruption
  4. He was a brilliant public speaker
  5. He promised to fight bipartisan bickering and give us a functioning government

Based on the combination of his anti-lobbying anti-partisan approach, he framed himself successfully as a new kind of politician.  He was able to excite his party base with his oratory, his youthful energy, and the fact that he wasn’t George W Bush in a nation decidedly sick of the man.  He didn’t just win, Obama enjoyed a telling victory in 2008.

Let’s look at those same points now.

Obama isn’t the Republican heir to George W Bush

Still true, but only because he has become the Democratic heir to George W Bush, and Dick Cheney (Glenn Greenwald @ Salon):

But the crux of Bush/Cheney radicalism — the mindset and policies that caused much of the controversy — continues and has even been strengthened.  Gen. Hayden put it best, as quoted by The Washington Times:

“You’ve got state secrets, targeted killings, indefinite detention, renditions, the opposition to extending the right of habeas corpus to prisoners at Bagram [in Afghanistan],” Mr. Hayden said, listing the continuities. “And although it is slightly different, Obama has been as aggressive as President Bush in defending prerogatives about who he has to inform in Congress for executive covert action.”

And that list, impressive though it is, doesn’t even include the due-process-free assassination hit lists of American citizens, the sweeping executive power and secrecy theories used to justify it, the multi-tiered, “state-always-wins” justice system the Obama DOJ concocted for detainees, the vastly more aggressive war on whistleblowers and press freedoms, or the new presidential immunity doctrines his DOJ has invented.  Critically, this continuity extends beyond specific policies into the underlying sloganeering mentality in which they’re based:  we’re in a Global War; the whole Earth is the Battlefield; the Terrorists want to kill us because they’re intrinsically Evil (not in reaction to anything we do); we’re justified in doing anything and everything to eradicate Them; the President’s overarching obligation (contrary to his Constitutional oath) is to keep us Safe; this should all be kept secret from us; we can’t be bothered with obsolete dogma like Due Process and Warrants, etc. etc.

He’s extended the same Bush Tax cuts he campaigned against.  In fact his rush to compromise and fiscal conservatism masquerading as bipartisan centrism has been so severe that it has crushed the second key thing he had going for him.

Obama represents a party that defends the economic interests of working people

With revenue cut and war/terror spending increasing, there was bound to be a collision.  Couple that with the President’s obsessive need to appear as the bi-partisan philosopher-king, and you get negotiation tactics so inviting to the opposition it makes John Boehner look like a teary Jack Donaghy.

The quaint term “austerity measures” doesn’t capture the human cost of paying for tax cuts and tax evasions for wealthy individuals and large corporations.  Those cuts are already being felt, and will be even more severe when 2012 rolls around.  They aren’t just budget cuts, they are deep cuts into the voting base for Democrats across the country, and those cuts are going to badly injure Obama’s re-election chances.  (John Amato @ Crooks and Liars):

Every poll shows quite clearly that even Republican voters do not want a cut in these benefits.

If Sperling’s argument is about reforming Social Security and Medicare without taking away from them, then OK, but that’s not what I’m reading here. Do these creatures only listen to Villager gasbags who want working-class Americans to be the only people to “share” the sacrifice and suffer in America after Wall Streeters and their partners caused the Great Recession?

Obama is casting himself as the friend of the wealthy and the enemy of the working class at a time he needs to do the opposite.  His hands are tied by his bipartisan image at a time he desperately needs to break free.  But you get the sense he likes it that way.  Obama has become the willing prisoner of a small aspect of his election campaign – unable and unwilling to break free and become true to what he ran for.  This is especially clear when one considers lobbying.

Obama promised to cut down the influence of lobbyists and K-Street

Obama has

All of this casts his much touted ethics reform in such a harsh light the reform isn’t even visible to the voting public anymore.

Where does this leave us?

Obama is still fighting the supposedly good fight on being bipartisan.  As Digby has observed over and over, this is a one sided battle.  The Republicans – down to their votes – don’t give a damn about being bipartisan and compromising.  They care about winning.  That imbalance will surely lead to the Democrats losing.  Obama is still an amazing public speaker but with the way he’s been running things you have to ask – who is going to go hear him speak?

Regardless of whether the religious right, the corporations, or the tea party are able to exert enough influence to secure the Republican nomination in 2012 one thing is clear.  If Obama doesn’t change course they will secure more than just the primary.

There Are No Fiscal Conservatives

Quick Hit: We need to kill the term Fiscally Conservative, and replace it with Fiscally Responsible. Because Fiscal Conservatives are never Fiscally Responsible, and its Fiscal Responsibility that we need.  That means not cutting off your source of funding with tax cuts, not cutting off programs that provide social services and ignoring the negative long term economic impact.  It means understanding that when you screw the poor and middle class you destroy the basis of our economy – which thrives on consumption.  It means you don’t put the prejudices of social conservatives ahead of fiscal discipline.  You cut the expensive programs where there’s waste even if its the hard choice politically.  That means cutting the military budget.  It means refraining from entering into new conflicts when we can’t afford the one’s we are still embroiled in.

Pocket Guide to the Budget Debate

Here’s what you need to know when engaging with Republicans and ConservaDems on the budget.

Our deficit is about $1.2 trillion a year.

We are spending just over $1.2 trillion a year on our military.  We are basically spending our deficit every year on our military.

Extending the Bush Tax Cuts is costing us $860 billion a year.

Corporations are not paying their fair share in taxes, costing us billions more a year in lost revenue.

Republicans (with support from many Democrats) want to enact “austerity measures” – which basically means “cuts for the poor and middle classes”.  These measures total $61 billion, a dollar amount spread thin over a massive number of programs:

From education to job training, the environment and nutrition, few domestic programs were left untouched – and some were eliminated – in the measure

If we did away with the Bush tax cuts, lessened loopholes corporations exploit, and trimmed programs for the military (like their sponsorship of NASCAR) we could totally eliminate the federal deficit.

As it stands today the likelihood of this happening is nil: the intelligence, foresight, and will to enact an approach like this is missing in Washington.  Instead we will reap the benefits of tax immunity for corporations and the wealthy, and austerity measures for everyone else: decreased spending power in an economy that relies primarily on spending power to function.

Thoughts On Tunisia

There’s a lot to process.  In seeing fellow humans push back against tyranny and succeed – even if only for a moment – you are filled with rush of happiness and contentment.  Upon looking closer – other observations present themselves.

The LA Times has a pretty good run down of the run up to revolution.  In essence it is clear much of the pressure came from economic and social inequality.  The corporate elites who truly run this country have noticed (and are concerned).  It is also clear that it was the military that played the deciding role (though the unions helped immensely):

Gen. Rachid Ammar, the army chief of staff, has yet to explain his role in the uprising. But officials and diplomats close to the 45,000-strong force say that he probably feared a rift within the army if the soldiers were ordered to fire on demonstrators.

As the UGTT announced a general strike for Jan. 14 and activists began calling for a massive protest, it may have been the army that called on Ben Ali’s trusted Interior Ministry forces to stand down.

“If the police fired on the people, [Ammar] told them, the army will take up positions against the police,” said a Western source with extensive contacts in the military. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

Had the military been on the side of the government things might have turned out slightly different.

The media has gone into a frenzy over the use of twitter and facebook – as expected.  The internet loves to navel gaze, and media desperate for page views loves to capitalize on that.  It notable, just perhaps not in the causal way that’s being implied.

There is the possibility these protests will spread – but will they have the same impact?  The answer likely lies in the reactions of the military and police forces for the various countries experiencing newly inspired protesters.

Are there any lessons here for us?  Perhaps.  Perhaps the growing distrust of corporations – and resentment at the ability of the ultra rich to enjoy all the fruits of our labor with none of the risks or responsibilities – will lead to social unrest.  We are facing:

  • New norms of high unemployment
  • Employment at lower paying jobs with less necessities (calling “health care” a benefit is a cruel lie)
  • General “austerity” measures force needed government services (police, education, hospitals – all getting hit hard)
  • A society still drifting towards complete police state status
  • Massive amounts of propaganda from news outlets like FOX scape goating liberals and Muslims for everything from national security worries to job losses

This is a recipe for political and social instability on a grand scale.  Whether it might lead to a positive outcome is a depressing thought were it not so darkly amusing.  The lesson from Tunisia is that social and economic distress combined with repression can and will lead to action.  With all the misinformation out there it isn’t encouraging to think what the nature of that action might be, or who might be targeted.

The Privileged Dollar

The Simple Dollar makes for a good read every now and again, and I have a few friends who follow it regularly.  So it was that I came across this problematic post:

An obviously upset Sam writes in:

You think your world is all rainbows and puppies. Guess what? Karma will eventually bite you in the [rear]. Seven months ago I got fired from my job for no fault of my own the company was going under. Now I cant pay my bills and Im going to lose my house. Your life isnt a real life.

Trent of the Simple Dollar goes on to detail his personal, very real struggle to overcome his own debt.  What he glosses over, and the upset Sam leaves implied, is that Trent is indeed viewing the world through privileged lenses.  When liberals say privilege we mean “special rights or status” granted by society on the basis of a particular grouping, for example Male Privilege.  We also include a lack of self awareness about said rights and status.  Privilege is often invisible to those enjoying its benefits.

Sam’s critique isn’t effective, which is unfortunate since it lands upon a very real issue with the site.  What he ought to have said is “Your site’s advice doesn’t take many real world problems into account, and its frustrating to read yet another blogger suggesting we need to “pick ourselves up by the bootstraps” or “fix our finances”.  We don’t *have* finances to fix, we don’t have jobs, and in this economy no matter how hard we try many of us won’t for some time”.  I would have liked to have seen this message, because Trent’s response simply doesn’t cut it:

Guess what? I got out of that situation. It wasn’t easy. I had to face a ton of my own flaws along the way, most of which are still a difficult part of my own life.

He’s responding with a personal anecdote.  Its the equivalent of a software developer for Firefox angrily writing “well it works for me Firefox must never crash”, ignoring the scores of bug reports coming in.  Its wonderful that his approach to finance and life worked for him – hell its inspiring.  But that doesn’t change the fact that for many people his advice simply does not apply.  Trent betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of this situation with his next statement:

The biggest thing I learned is that no one is perfect, and every single person is in a situation that they can improve. Period. There are no exceptions to this. No one is living the best life they could be living. Why? Because, again, no one is perfect.

This assumes that less than ideal situations are the result of personal imperfection, and that everyone lives in a situation they are empowered to change.  This ignores Sam’s email (“through no fault of my own”), and in fact the entire existence of lay-offs, factory closings, company towns, and other restrictive situations that leave people struggling in the dirt.  By the same token it ignores the issues faced by those enduring various barriers to seeking more rewarding and stable employment – or any employment at all.  Its incredibly naive.  Which fits with the rest of his advice:

Here’s a good exercise: imagine where you’d be if you suddenly lost your job. Would you be able to pay your bills for the next few months? If not, then you’ve identified a weakness, one you can solve by saving some money each week.

Many Americans have jobs (sometimes multiple) that take up 40 or more hours a week – who still have trouble paying their bills.  Saving is a cynical piece of advice given the impossibility and impracticality of it for those who are truly just barely making enough to get by.  The Simple Dollar just assumes such people don’t exist – or if they do its through their own fault.

Don’t get me wrong, the post’s final message is great:

What can you do, right now, to start improving your situation? That’s the only question that matters.

It just fails to recognize that sometimes said situation improvement isn’t directly possible for everyone, and sometimes it involves seeking systemic change, rather than saving mere change every week in the hope it will eventually add up.  The post has an odor of “blame the poor for their poverty” about it, and that just stinks.

Depressing Corporate Shit

Hello Dear Readers.  My my, its been a while since my last post.  How about something thoroughly soul crushing?

Our Supreme Court has gone against the grain and showed us the appointment of Roberts and Alito won’t always lead to pro-corporate rulings by issuing a fucking ridiculous pro-corporate ruling: Exxon needn’t pay up for its oil spill, HAHA ALASKANS YOU DUMB FUCKERS.  Seriously they might as well have individually slapped every Alaskan.  Though Palin would still be shouting “thank you sir, you may drill another!”.

Barack Obama has decided he needs to do more to live up to his campaign promises of promote transparency and delivering change we can believe in by doing the exact fucking opposite.  This shit deserves to be quoted:

only through leaks that we tend to learn of the incompetence and fuckery of the government. When stories surface that show how various government agencies are screwing the pooch, the only correct course of action is to fix the fuckups, not punish those who made the fuckups public.

Prosecuting, nay, persecuting whistleblowers is an anti-freedom, anti-transparency move.

Great move oh Hope inspiring one.

Finally let’s have a look see at the economic writing on the wall.  Will the middle class thrive into the future?  Will we realize that asking the middle class and poor to suffer to support the gambling habits of the ultra rich is not only unsustainable but utterly unjust, and rise up to at least make a fucking peep?  Nope.  Now click the shit out of this link and read the whole article.  Come back when you are done.  I’ll be waiting.

Holy shit, right?

So that’s our glorious new world.  To keep from plunging into utter despair I will leave out the current economic/environmental disaster known as BP, the gaping holes in our government that let the oil spill through, the fact that a larger rig with safety violations galore (operated by BP as well) is being allowed to keep running, the massive displays of racism in Arizona, etc etc.

We live in interesting times.

Obama’s GM Gaffe

Obama’s strong words on GM may come back to bite him (BBC):

“Our auto industry is the foundation for economies all across the Midwest,” Mr Obama said.

“Had we allowed GM or Chrysler simply to liquidate that would have been a huge anti-stimulus on the economy as a whole, and could have dragged us even deeper into recession or even depression.”

Now its looking like GM will go bankrupt after all (Huffington Post).

Both GM and Chrysler are in danger of liquidation.  Their loss will be terrible, and it will hurt the economies of the midwest, surely.  But a depression?  That’s on par with Biden’s stay off planes and trains gaffe.  Since the so called invisible hand of the market seems to be driven largely by fear or greed, Obama’s heightened rhetorical flourish may come at an unfortunate cost:  the realization that economic prophecies are self-fulfilling.  Let’s hope not.

Digg Stumble It! Twitter

Tax Havens Are Un-American

When you realize that nearly a $100 billion, annually, in tax revenue is going unpaid by large corporations, you have to wonder where are their tea parties?  Where are the pundits questioning the patriotism of companies that are so clearly helping send our country into debt by skirting federal taxes?  Are any of the companies receiving bailout money using tax havens?  Ah, the answer to that question is YES.

Digg Stumble It! Twitter Bookmark on Google Add this to Live

Anger: Markets and the Reverse Galt Reality

Watching Jon Stewart eviscerate Cramer, MSNBC and Financial Reporting was a cathartic experience.  All the more so with the rash of movement conservatives and talking heads putting Ayn Rand on a pedestal and contemplating the virtues of Going Galt.  Because the idea being “Going Galt” is that it is the CEO’s who are the wealth producers in this country.  Stewart’s finely edged attack makes precisely the opposite point.  Average Americans are the ones financing the greedy, wildly speculative and dangerous games the wealthy play with our entire economic system:
Continue reading

Michael Steele – The New Fail

Republicans have chosen another winner to head their party, Michael Steele made abundantly clear in a weekly address:

In the weekly Republican address, Steele said of Congressional Democrats:

“For the last two weeks, they’ve been trying to force a massive spending bill through Congress under the guise of economic relief.”

Steele said Republicans are ready to work with “reasonable Democrats to do what is right for America,” but he charged the Republican ideas have not been included.

“Good ideas — lots of them — all left out of this plan by the Democrats in Congress,” he said.

He’s referring to one single “good idea”.  Tax cuts.  Which worked so well for this country the past 8 years.  The Republicans are out of ideas and the Democrats are ready to sit down and solve problems.  It looks like their loss of power has left Republicans spinning in rhetorical circles repeating the phrase “tax cuts” like a child clutching a security blanket.

Republican Opposition Backfires: The Stimulus and Family Planning Aid

The conventional wisdom was that the Republicans made a smart move by opposing Obama’s efforts to reach out to them over the stimulus:

Voting against the bill was good politics because it shows that the GOP can’t be persuaded by charm alone, presidential or otherwise. Sure, Republicans risk coming off as stubborn in the face of Obama’s ostentatious magnanimity. But at this stage, there’s nothing wrong with playing hard to get. There will be time for bipartisan necking later.

It was never about charm, that’s just poor reporting.  It was about real concessions (and concessions that rightly upset the Democratic wing of the Democratic party).  It now appears there was something wrong with playing hard to get.  It has cost them one concession (via Feministing):

By removing the family-planning aid from the stimulus at Obama’s request, Democrats “were giving a nod to the Republicans, believing they would act in good faith,” the source added. And given how many GOPers voted for the stimulus bill, sounds like the family-planning aid is back on track.

Removing this never made any sense.  It was taking away sound economic policy:

Obama emphasized that the family-planning aid “makes the budget look better, it’s a money saver,” the source said. In fact, removing the need for Medicaid waivers for family planning saves states an estimated $700 million over 10 years.

And purely to play to social conservatives who didn’t understand how the family-planning aid worked.  There’s a very nice writeup over at the Washington Independent:

The proposal could create health care jobs and thus offer the economy a boost, perhaps even faster than infrastructure spending. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says it is a money-saver in the long-term.

Which brings us to the other big concession: tax cuts.  Yes tax cuts, the center piece of the past 8 years of failed Republican economic policy.  As the Daily Show observes, the Republicans are acting as though the Obama presidency has erased the past two terms of Bush (and no wonder, given how desperate they appear to be to avoid punishment for crimes committed therein).

The Republicans need to take a note from our President and get down to business, or they will continue to show their constituents just how irrelevant and powerless they have become.  The economy is a disaster, and we need serious people in charge to do the hard work of fixing it.

New Bank Bailout to Cost 793 Trillion

The new bank bailout will cost a lot.  That’s ok.  I don’t mind paying for the failures of Gree Market* policy and blind financial prognosticating by still-employed economic opinon-makers.  At this point the stimulus is so costly as to effectively be in imaginary dollars anyway.

The banks have gone from keeping how they spent our tax-money secret to letting slip the most endearing little hints.

Like spending the money on buying a jet, and refusing to use the money for its intended purpose.

But for some reason the thought that these losers are raking in billions in bonuses after utterly failing at their jobs, while plenty of skilled, hard working Americans get kicked to the cub, really makes my blood boil.  At the very least they should be fined for the damage they caused, not rewarded.

* I’m warming to the idea of using the phrase Gree Market, to denote the greedy reality of so called Free Market policies (which are often anything but).

The Porn Bailout?!

This is fucked up.  Via HuffPost:

An article in next month’s Atlantic asks, “Is porn recession proof?” According to porn magnate Larry Flynt and “Girls Gone Wild” king Joe Francis, the answer is no.

TMZ reports that the pornographer pair is heading to Washington to ask for a $5 billion porn bailout:

“With all this economic misery and people losing all that money, sex is the farthest thing from their mind,” Flynt says. “It’s time for Congress to rejuvenate the sexual appetite of America.”
Francis sees his industry like the big three automakers, only BIGGER: “Congress seems willing to help shore up our nation’s most important businesses; we feel we deserve the same consideration.”

Or perhaps its brilliant?  Will congress open their eyes to the insanity of having taxpayer money fund failed businesses?  A Democratic congress would be handing their seats to religious conservatives by passing this.  But by not passing it, they are sending a confusing message to the business community.  Both the car industry and the financial sector are crashing because they got greedy and made huge mistakes.  As news organizations being posturing for a bailout (over their industry’s central role in our civic life), other companies hit by the recession will start looking for a piece of the pie (most certainly retail).

Congress would be advised, regardless of their course, not to give  Joe Francis (convicted on charges of child pornography and prostitution, and accused of sexual battery and on another occasion rape) the time of day.  If I were a Senator I’d kick him hard in the balls on sight.  The positive political capital would more than balance out whatever I’d have to pay in the resulting civil suit.

Oh If Only

Culture of Life + Unions = WIN

Unemployed for A Year

The NYPost has an upbeat article about the laid off banker who found a new job after walking the streets with a sandwich board proclaiming “MIT Grad for hire” (emphasis mine):

An out-of-work banker who became a symbol of the looming financial crisis by trudging Manhattan streets wearing a sign advertising “MIT grad for hire” has landed on his feet – scoring a well-paying job at an accounting firm.

In a more hopeful sign of the times, Joshua Persky got rid of his sandwich board and demonstrated that creative people can bail themselves out without any help from the government.

With a little over half a million unemployed in NY State (Figure for October 2008), a single white collar job for a banker is far from the positive proof the NY Post’s tone suggests (emphasis mine):

Persky was hired as a senior manager for Weiser as of last week, just about a year after he was laid off by the investment bank Houlihan Lokey and some six months after he started handing out his résumé to passers-by on Park Avenue.

This guy was out of work for a whole year.  After 6 months of presumably conventional attempts to secure a new job, Joshua Persky switched to an approach hailed by his new boss as “very innovative”.  This innovative new tact took 6 more months to land him his next gig.

Fire up a spreadsheet program and take a look at your own finances.  How many of you could live for a whole year without income?

His wife and youngest kids, 4 and 5, had moved to her parents’ home in Nebraska to save cash. But they’ll be returning to New York after the end of the school year.

Imagine adding a family to that equation minus relatives to house them.

Don’t get me wrong, we could all use some good news, whether its about an individual’s triumph or a strengthening economy.  But making this guy’s story out to be some sort of fiscal conservative fairy tale about merit paying off despite tough times is disingenuous.