Thoughts on the SOTU – Just what The Village ordered

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

It was a good enough speech.  It was just what the beltway pundits and Washington elites, aka The Village, wanted to hear.  This from James Galbraith, (tip to Dan Froomkin), sums it up very well.

Overall, this is a terrific thematic speech. It sets out important goals, for the most part in the right areas: research, technology, infrastructure, education, jobs. The priority for clean energy is clear (though if the word “conservation” is mentioned, I missed it.) It speaks broadly of health care cost control, not narrowly of cuts to Medicare. It appears to support, or at least does not contradict, the emerging bipartisan consensus that Social Security benefits should not be cut. The weasel-word “entitlements” does not appear. It lends a word of support to some of the nation’s most embattled public-sector employees – teachers. It is compassionate and sensible on immigrants and immigration. It defends the vital role of regulation in a market system. It does not waste many words on the deficit or the national debt or the fiscal commission.

Having set out these goals and priorities, there are practically no actual legislative proposals here. It’s not a governing speech. If the administration plans to make proposals to this Congress, it will have to do so later. If proposed, they will not be enacted. So this is a speech that is intended to put the Republicans on the rhetorical defensive, and perhaps to launch the 2012 campaign. No doubt, this is strategy.

The proposed “spending freeze” is bad policy. But it’s very hard to see how a freeze on overall domestic discretionary spending can be reconciled with an investment program. Which is the real policy? Possibly neither. We’ll see in the budget.

Other missing words: “unemployment,” “unemployment insurance,” “foreclosure crisis,” “poverty,” “financial fraud,” “prosecutions.” There’s nothing about bank credit. The victims of the economic crisis have become invisible, it would seem.

Sometimes a speech is remembered for what wasn’t said, not what was said. President Obama with this speech was trying to fix what the White House perceived as his biggest problem area in his first two years – bad PR. He was not trying to speak to the people that are hurting because of unemployment, foreclosure, poverty, etc… It was clear he was trying to fix a perception/PR problem with The Village. It was also notable for it’s lack of a call for sacrifice from those who have profited so much off our current economic system.

This statement is about right, Obama is looking more like Herbert Hoover every day.

Read the speech here.

Watch the speech here.


The Crux

January 25, 2011 Leave a comment

The crux of the problem regarding our current economic situation is that the old axiom, what’s good for [Insert Corproation Name Here] is good for America is no longer, (if it ever was), true. American workers owe what they have been able to get over the years to labor unions, not corporations.

Paul Krugman described the “crux” pretty well yesterday, The Competition Myth.

But isn’t it at least somewhat useful to think of our nation as if it were America Inc., competing in the global marketplace? No.

Consider: A corporate leader who increases profits by slashing his work force is thought to be successful. Well, that’s more or less what has happened in America recently: employment is way down, but profits are hitting new records. Who, exactly, considers this economic success?

Still, you might say that talk of competitiveness helps Mr. Obama quiet claims that he’s anti-business. That’s fine, as long as he realizes that the interests of nominally “American” corporations and the interests of the nation, which were never the same, are now less aligned than ever before.


So what does the administration’s embrace of the rhetoric of competitiveness mean for economic policy?

The favorable interpretation, as I said, is that it’s just packaging for an economic strategy centered on public investment, investment that’s actually about creating jobs now while promoting longer-term growth. The unfavorable interpretation is that Mr. Obama and his advisers really believe that the economy is ailing because they’ve been too tough on business, and that what America needs now is corporate tax cuts and across-the-board deregulation.

My guess is that we’re mainly talking about packaging here. And if the president does propose a serious increase in spending on infrastructure and education, I’ll be pleased.

But even if he proposes good policies, the fact that Mr. Obama feels the need to wrap these policies in bad metaphors is a sad commentary on the state of our discourse.

The financial crisis of 2008 was a teachable moment, an object lesson in what can go wrong if you trust a market economy to regulate itself. Nor should we forget that highly regulated economies, like Germany, did a much better job than we did at sustaining employment after the crisis hit. For whatever reason, however, the teachable moment came and went with nothing learned.

Mr. Obama himself may do all right: his approval rating is up, the economy is showing signs of life, and his chances of re-election look pretty good. But the ideology that brought economic disaster in 2008 is back on top — and seems likely to stay there until it brings disaster again.

In essence nothing has changed for the American worker from where it was in 2008. And that is the crux of the problem.

Obama will make huge mistake if he goes after Social Security

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

President Barack Obama is becoming a bigger disappointment to this New Deal Democrat by the day. If his speech inst’ about jobs, helping homeowners who are about to be foreclosed, and in general helping to recreate the middle class then it will be a failure.

As Dan Froomkin showed last week he’s playing with fire if he goes after Social Security, Obama’s Social Security Talk Is Turning Voters Off, Pollsters Say.

President Barack Obama’s apparent willingness to consider cuts in Social Security benefits may be winning him points with Washington elites, but it’s killing him with voters, who see the program as inviolate and may start to wonder what the Democratic Party stands for, if not for Social Security.

That’s the conclusion of three top progressive pollsters who spoke to reporters Wednesday at a briefing sponsored by the Economic Policy Institute, the Century Foundation and Demos.

“For the public, cutting benefits is the problem, not the solution,” said Guy Molyneux, a partner at Hart Research Associates.

As a result, the pollsters said that any Democrat seeking elected office in 2012 should be begging Obama not to say anything about Social Security cuts in his State of the Union address later this month.

A post-election poll by Celinda Lake’s Lake Research Partners found that, by a margin of 3 percentage points, Americans now trust Republicans in Congress more than Democrats when it comes to Social Security — surely the first time since the program became a signature issue for the Democratic Party in the 1930s.

The poll found confidence in Democrats on the issue dropping 14 points just since January 2007, accompanied by a 13-point increase for Republicans.

The public favors congressional Republicans over Obama on Social Security by an even larger 6-point margin. Obama’s 26-percent rating is not only less than half Bill Clinton’s (53 percent), it’s even lower than that of George W. Bush (37 percent), whose proposal to privatize the program went down in flames.

It’s hard to overstate how shocking this new dynamic is. In the two previous low points for Democrats — June 1995 and April 2002 — Democrats still had a 10-point advantage on Social Security.

That the public would trust Republicans more on this issue was, until recently, inconceivable.

And the fix for this is so simple. All President Obama has to do is keep his promise.

Thank you Keith Olbermann

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

You got me and my wife through many tough times during the Reign of Dubya. Your special comments,etc…made us feel sane during an insane time. Here are the two best reads I have found thus far on KO’s departure.

This one from Juan Cole, Olbermann Departs, as Media Consolidate Further.

People are blaming the abrupt departure of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC on that company’s merger with Comcast and Olbermann’s loss of the protection and patronage of Jeff Zucker, the former head of NBC programming. MSNBC says that the issue has nothing to do with Comcast.

It seems Olbermann is too extreme for US television. But Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, now they are mainstream. What universe could that proposition be true in? That of cranky old white billionaires. And television news is owned by them. Not by you.

Whether Comcast is the villain of the piece directly, things like the Comcast merger with MSNBC are responsible for there being very few voices on American television (and despite the proliferation of channels) like Olbermann’s. And for there being relatively little news on the “news” programs. Time Warner, General Electric and Comcast (partners in NBC), Viacom, Disney, and Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp own almost all television news. In other words, six big corporations determine what you will hear about the world if you get your news from television. There are fewer and fewer t.v. news outlets that do not belong to one of these six, a process called media consolidation.

For reasons of profit-seeking, when Disney acquired ABC, it looted the company’s news divisions. Profits are not to be had in hard news, but rather in tabloid news. It used to be that human interest stories would be ‘dessert,’ but they have become the main meal.

That sums it up pretty good. The media and “news” has mostly gone away. Now we have a bunch of gossip and bull$&!#.

Here’s a good suggestion on what KO should do now, Dear Keith Olbermann.

A special comment. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

I say this to every bigtime oldstream media celeb that I care about when they get booted out on their butts.  Permanent link to this item in the archive.

They did you a favor. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

But they sure didn’t do the rest of us a favor. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

What interest do your followers have in you being booted off the air? How exactly does that help them.



So here’s what I recommend. Borrow a page from Conan O’Brien’s playbook, and use the social network to communicate with your fans.  Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Get a video camera and put it in your living room or den at home. Hit Record. Sit down in front of the camera and rant for 15 minutes. You can do that, I’m sure. Then without any production at all, upload it to YouTube and send the link around on Twitter. The first time you do it, it will be the most watched video of the day. Far more people will see it than used to see you on MSNBC, or O’Reilly or Beck or any of them. Depending on how fresh and interesting it is, and how real it is, and how compelling you really are (I know that’s a lot of “depends”) there won’t be much of a dropoff on Day 2 and 3 and so on. Now you’ve got your own network. And no one can shut you down. And you’ll have a lot more people watching you. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

You might even get a chance to open people up to some new ideas and god forbid change a few minds. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

And when something dangerous and outrageous or just obnoxious happens, we’ll know where to find you. That’s kind of important. :-) Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Good night. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

And good luck. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

Thanks again and hope to see you soon.

Where we should be looking to cut the budget

January 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Homeland Security, Homeland Security hasn’t made us safer.

Hardly anyone has seriously scrutinized either the priorities or the spending patterns of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its junior partner, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), since their hurried creation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Sure, they get criticized plenty. But year in, year out, they continue to grow faster and cost more — presumably because Americans think they are being protected from terrorism by all that spending. Yet there is no evidence whatsoever that the agencies are making Americans any safer.

And Defense. (Stockman has some interesting ideas but I disagree with him about Keynesianism).

The Obama administration’s $78 billion cut to US defense spending is a mere “pin-prick” to a behemoth military-industrial complex that must drastically shrink for the good of the republic, a former Reagan administration budget director recently told Raw Story.

“It amounts to a failed opportunity to recognize that we are now at a historical inflection point at which the time has arrived for a classic post-war demobilization of the entire military establishment,” David Stockman said in an exclusive interview.

“The Cold War is long over,” he continued. “The wars of occupation are almost over and were complete failures — Afghanistan and Iraq. The American empire is done. There are no real seriously armed enemies left in the world that can possibly justify an $800 billion national defense and security establishment, including Homeland Security.”

Short of that, he suggested, the United States has “reached the point of no return” with its artificial creation of wealth, and will eventually face a sharp economic decline.

Yes, ending two wars, closing our “Empire of Bases“, as Chalmers Johnson called them, and recognizing that DHS was a bad idea would go a long way to cutting our budget and freeing up spending on what we need to spend our money on – health, education and infrastructure.

A microcosm of the Democrats problem

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

51 million, mostly lower-income, will do worse under new tax law.

The federal tax bill passed by Congress yesterday includes some extras for the middle class and lots of goodies for the wealthy. But individuals making less than $20,000 and households making less than $40,000 a year will actually get less tax relief in 2011 than they got in 2010 and 2009.

That is just horrible.

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Hope and Optimism will not trickle down

December 20, 2010 2 comments

The sad fact keeps coming back that too many in the Democratic Party have bought into the fallacy of “trickle-down economics” and corporate power.  They are no longer for working and middle class Americans first, which is the root of their decline over the last 30 years.  The greatest achievement of modern conservatism, and the Republican Party, is that they have turned the one protector of the people over the powerful, the government, into the perceived enemy of the people.  And too many in the Democratic Party, liberals, and progressives, have stood by and allowed it to happen and continue.

When the people feel they can no longer turn to their government for help in troubled times it takes away their optimism and makes them feel less hopeful for the future.  Looking at this recent PEW article about the differences between how Americans responded during the Great Depression and how they’re responding now, bears that out.

As the Pew Research Center’s analysis of exit poll data concluded, “the outcome of this year’s election represented a repudiation of the political status quo…. Fully 74% said they were either angry or dissatisfied with the federal government, and 73% disapproved of the job Congress is doing.”

This outlook is in interesting contrast with many of the public’s views during the Great Depression of the 1930s, not only on economic, political and social issues, but also on the role of government in addressing them.

Quite unlike today’s public, what Depression-era Americans wanted from their government was, on many counts, more not less. And despite their far more dire economic straits, they remained more optimistic than today’s public. Nor did average Americans then turn their ire upon their Groton-Harvard-educated president — this despite his failure, over his first term in office, to bring a swift end to their hardship. FDR had his detractors but these tended to be fellow members of the social and economic elite.

Still, as now, the public had some reservations about the stretch of government power and found little consensus on specific policies with which to tackle the nation’s troubles.

The last sentence is where the Democratic Party and President Obama have dropped the ball. To ease reservations what is needed is leadership, especially a leader who can ease those reservations. And I think, thus far, that has been Obama’s greatest failure. FDR with his fireside chats, and his legislative agenda, was able to ease the reservations of the public, give them hope for the future, and move the country forward.

We live in a much different time where 30 years of framing keep reality from taking hold.  NY Times Paul Krugman does an excellent job today of explaining the disconnect, When Zombies Win.

When historians look back at 2008-10, what will puzzle them most, I believe, is the strange triumph of failed ideas. Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything — yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever.

How did that happen? How, after runaway banks brought the economy to its knees, did we end up with Ron Paul, who says “I don’t think we need regulators,” about to take over a key House panel overseeing the Fed? How, after the experiences of the Clinton and Bush administrations — the first raised taxes and presided over spectacular job growth; the second cut taxes and presided over anemic growth even before the crisis — did we end up with bipartisan agreement on even more tax cuts?

The answer from the right is that the economic failures of the Obama administration show that big-government policies don’t work. But the response should be, what big-government policies?

For the fact is that the Obama stimulus — which itself was almost 40 percent tax cuts — was far too cautious to turn the economy around. And that’s not 20-20 hindsight: many economists, myself included, warned from the beginning that the plan was grossly inadequate. Put it this way: A policy under which government employment actually fell, under which government spending on goods and services grew more slowly than during the Bush years, hardly constitutes a test of Keynesian economics.

Now, maybe it wasn’t possible for President Obama to get more in the face of Congressional skepticism about government. But even if that’s true, it only demonstrates the continuing hold of a failed doctrine over our politics.

Again, the failure of Democrats to offer an alternative to corporate/wealthy trickle down economics, by using the people’s government to help them when they are in dire need, is sapping the people of their hope and optimism for the future.  The people – working and middle class Americans – no longer feel there is anyone (their government included), with any real power, fighting for them and that is why they don’t see much hope or optimism for the future.  That must change, not just to bring back hope and optimism, but our economy and the middle class as we once knew it.