Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, But...

I'm going to break with tradition here and rant on a Friday.

1) What's it going to take????

When are we as a people, we as liberals, going to finally sit up and say "I've had enough!"

When are we going to go from compromise to this? When do we finally start making our government fear us by storming a barricade and threatening the establishment, if only figuratively?

The Teabaggers are right about one thing: this nation has gotten away from we, the people, and we want it back. Or we ought to.

It's not that the Teabagger message is wrong, at its face. It's that the message has been manipulated and distorted beyond anything any reasonable person could get angry about.

Teabaggers want taxes reduced. It sounds noble, but taxes are already at historic lows and we can't afford to keep them this low. Not if we're going to pay for a war and a half. Not if we're going to keep pumping money into a defense infrastructure that has shown itself to be inadequate to the wars we face. And nevermind the burden of Social Security and Medicare, programs I think are worth paying for.

Teabaggers want the defict reduced, and that too is a noble goal, but they blame Democrats who want to prudently cover our spending with more tax income, as opposed to Republicans who want to keep borrowing to spend.

It's not the nation that's gotten away from us; it's politics that has. We get the government we deserve and right now, we don't seem to be very deserving.

Have we gotten complacent? Have the programs liberals have enacted in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries made us so complacent, so smug in the rightness of our cause, that we've forgotten how hard we had to fight for those things? Like the end of slavery. Like the vote for women and minorities. Like the end of Jim Crow. Like clean air and clean water. Like the end of the Vietnam War.

Have we forgotten how much blood we shed to achieve these?

Four dead in Ohio. The Little Rock Nine. Jim Zwerg. John Lewis. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Dr. Martin Luther King. Sojourner Truth. Rosa Parks. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Susan B. Anthony. We can trace a line through all these liberals to our world today, great men and women, Democrat and Republican alike, yet liberal and progressive to the core.

We are placated and mollified into submission, too timid to voice our concerns, lest we be painted "liberal" or worse. We've allowed a small core of spokespeople to advocate for us, but they are too easily mocked and ignored. Too, I suspect, they've allowed themselves to be bought out with the illusion of power and influence. Yes, I'm looking at you, Great Orange Satan, Atrios, Firedoglake, and other members of the professional left.

When in the HELL are you going to start speaking FOR us, not TO us????? When are you going to go on Olbermann or, yes, FOX and instead of mocking the other side or trying to smugly explain our side in a cool logical terms, PUT UP A FUCKING FIGHT!?

We WANT this fight, goddammit! Bush said to Al Qaeda, "Bring it on!"

I say to the right wing, "I'm right here, and if you're too scared to bring it on, let me bring it to you." Bring the pain. Bring the truth. Tear the veil away, and show the world how this nation is being taken from us not by the good people in the rank and file of the right, OR the left, but by the stultified ruling class.

I look at this nation this way: America is a three legged stool. One leg represents free enterprise, truly free enterprise, that enriches the nation as it serves the people. Another represents proportionate and representative government, selected by the people to protect their interests as the individual governors see fit and who make laws that both govern and encourage business under that premise. The final leg is we, the people, who provide the energy for business and the intellect and passion for governance.

So long as those three are in balance, the chair will not fall over if you try to sit on it. So long as they remain separate and equal, we have a balanced and vibrant society.

Cut one leg short, though, and you have chaos. You have a nation about to tip over. Worse, you have the other two legs about to help it tip.

We are that short leg, my friends. We are the weakest link.

I am a liberal. To me, government should be as big as it needs to be to protect me from harm that I have no control over: harm from foreign military powers, harm from those who would wish to see me illed, harm from products and services that can harm me without my knowledge.

I don't bungee jump. I don't expect the government to protect me from bungee jumping, but I do expect them to establish safe standards for bungee jumping that ensures some reasonable control over those who enjoy the activity, and who, by staying out of the hospital, help contain my medical insurance premiums.

That's not a fucking lot to ask, is it? IS IT?

I am a liberal. To me, government ought to be big enough to keep up with Big Business, whose amoral capitalism is practically designed to harm those weaker than it is. Competition is good, but it forces companies to focus on economic return at the expense of being a good citizen.

And ever since government has colluded with business to determine that, indeed, it is a citizen of the United States, business ought to be forced to obey the same laws in kind that I am.

First, harm no one's quiet enjoyment of their lives, liberties and pursuits of happiness. Second, keep things clean around you. Third, pay your taxes.

Since Big Business has chosen not to behave in a neighborly fashion, government ought to step in and punish it, and not with "just a fine" but with real and effective criminal penalties.

I am a liberal. To me, no one should have the right to make obscene profits or take home enormous bonuses just because I was sick. If that means government provides for my healthcare coverage, so be it. I'm willing to pay a little more in taxes to them than a enormous unaffordable premium to some HMO.

I am a liberal. To me, the government ought not to declare war on any nation unless that nation has proven that it intends to do us harm. The responsible use of force is a sign of maturity. We train our policemen, and apart from a few yahoos, we train them very effectively, in how NOT to pull a gun on anyone. Our government ought to be that mature, too.

I am a liberal. To me, government's first and major concern should be the citizenry and the people living under it. We are the powerless ones, the ones who created a government to represent us against all enemies, foreign and domestic, real or a legal construct. Unions arose in this nation to battle the ever-growing Corporate Entity. That entity successfully colluded with friends in government, mostly Republican and exemplified by Ronald Reagan, to defang, deconstruct and destroy unions, which were the only obstacle to raping the American people.

I am a liberal. To me, it's an absolute atrocity on the order of slavery to realize that wages over the past thirty years, since that Reagan administration, have declined against purchasing power. A buck today does not buy as much as it used to, and that's OK, but that your salary hasn't even kept up with the devaluation of that dollar is hideous.

I am a liberal. To me, it is horrendous that all (wo)men are not created equal in a nation where that very phrase is the quintessential self-evident truth. We would deprive significant portions of our populace the God-given right to love and be loved by whomever they choose without harm or repercussion. Without having to hide it in a closet.

I am a liberal. To me, government ought to be just big enough to knock down illegitimate barriers to the rights and blessings we have secured for our progeny. No one's asking for a hand out, or even a hand up, but dammit, sirs, level the playing field! And if that means that, temporarily, someone is given an extra special chance at a job above me because of the hardships his ancestors endured in this nation, I choose to remain in this nation and abide by that history. It's called "patriotism". I love my country, and looking around me, I love my country more than those who would slam doors on immigrants and the poor and deprived because they fear for their own security.

To my friends on the right who oppose DREAMing or affirmative action, I say this: up your game, or up yours. Period. It's called "competition" and its what this nation was founded upon and if you think it only works for you, you are sadly mistaken.

I am a liberal. To me, religious freedom and tolerance means that we must not fear those who bring new ideas to the table, new traditions and new ways of describing God (or the lack thereof). It is government's job, just as it was in Selma and Birmingham, to remind the Christian majority that they are not being particularly Christian.

I'm sure there's more, a lot more inside me to rail about, but I need to close this and not monopolize bandwidth. I couold rant for hours, days, and still not get to the heart of the matter here: government no longer expresses what I feel in my heart.

I leave you with this:

Man, I'm losing sound and sight
Of all those who can tell me wrong from right
When all things beautiful and bright
Sink in the night
Yet there's still something in my heart
That can find a way
To make a start
To turn up the signal
Wipe out the noise 
        - Peter Gabriel Signal To Noise

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Salvaging Something

I know, your comments will range along the lines of "Yea, if he had testicles," but there are some things President Obama could throw into the tax compromise that both make sense and can make him buff his Democratic credentials a little now by forcing the Republicans to deal with some issues they'd prefer to take up next year:
What do I think Democrats should ask for?

First, I agree with Fernholz's last suggestion, the debt ceiling — although what I'd suggest is what Ezra Klein has argued for some time now, that they should just toss it into the agreement now, rather than just get some positive public statements. I wouldn't be surprised if that couldn't get done; from what John Boehner has said I don't think he's looking forward to a debt ceiling fight with a caucus he probably can't control on that issue, and I've argued that it's quite dangerous to his position as Speaker.

Second, I think the Democrats should bargain for whatever they can get on other, unrelated legislation — for example, allowing the food safety bill to get through whatever parliamentary fix is necessary for it to advance to the president. Ideally, that would include the three big remaining items on Barack Obama's lame duck agenda — DADT repeal, DREAM, and New START (and yes, that's a lot of all-caps items). I'm not sure whether there's any bargaining room in there at all, but remember that for the most part Democrats wouldn't be asking for Republicans to vote yes; they're just asking for less obstruction. If, as is likely, there's no give on those, at least perhaps Democrats could bargain for the Senate to clear some lower-level, less controversial measures, with food safety probably at the front of the line.

Third, there are still quite a few uncontroversial executive branch and judicial branch nominations pending. There's no way that conservatives are going to clear liberal Goodwin Liu for the 9th Circuit as part of this deal. But there are nominees for Under Secretary of Management at Homeland Security, Under Secretary of Export Administration at Commerce, Deputy US Trade Representative, General Counsel to the Army, and 
many others that as far as I know just didn't happen yet, and probably won't without Republican cooperation.

Let's analyze Bernstein's analysis a little more, since I have the column space.
First, the debt ceiling. We're going to bump up hard against the debt ceiling early next year. Congress needs to authorize an increase or the government will have no capacity to borrow more money. Since we'll run deficits for the foreseeable future, this is pretty important. Unlike the limit on your credit card, we don't just pay a fee and keep spending. The government shuts down.
There was some bluster on the campaign trail earlier this year that, indeed, the Teabaggers would do exactly that, especially if spending wasn't reined in, yaddayaddayadda. In truth, it was a scare tactic designed, I feel, to force the Bush tax cuts to be extended, at least temporarily.
The obstacle to what seems like a simple matter of tit for tat is Boehner. He's going to want to bring the ceiling up in his Congress so he can mock Democrats and liberals as tax and spend automatons. Given the distinct lack of message cohesion from the Democrats, he'll have an unobstructed field to work with, and can safely ignore all but the most strident Republicans the point that it has been REPUBLICANS over the past thirty years who have really run up the charge account.
Assuming Obama did not include this in his negotiations (which seems likely, but who knows what hasn't and won't be announced) the Democrats would be right to point out that the Bush tax cuts will hugely inflate the debt over the next two years and so we ought to tidy up this piece of business now.
Small potatoes, but it's a small victory, which is all Obama and the Dems seem capable of.
On unrelated legislation...well, careful readers of my column will know that I felt it was an huge mistake to allow the terrorist Republicans to hold the American people hostage to tax cuts for the poor, deprived wealthiest among us. Obama may have been ham-fisted in his use of that term, altho I'd argue it was more about timing than use, but it's an accurate assessment of what happened, and had to sting a little.
Me, I would have been all over the "hostage" trope from day one. It would take a lot of the teeth out of Republican scare-mongering.
So to throw a bunch of unrelated business into the bill sounds silly, on face, but given that this bill is far from comprehensive and will likely be laden down with earmarks rushed through by Republicans before they take over the House, why not?
This, I think, is the more serious gain that Obama and the Dems can win in passing this bill, not that extension of unemployment benefits, the holiday from a portion of our Social Security taxes and an extension of EITC is unserious. But it's in there already, and we're talking about improving a piss-poor bill.
It's like redesigning your kitchen: there's always a list of "you may as wells".
The pending appointments could be decoupled to be certain, by why not get this done and say it's done by the end of the year?
Look, this "compromise" or capitulation on the part of Obama highlighted and exposed some really horrible weaknesses in his administration. I'm infuriated by what has happened, and I consider myself enough of a realpolitiker to know that sometimes you have to give up a rook to take a queen.
He just gave up the queen in exchange for a pawn and a bishop to be named later. If at all.
This was a pile of shit. We might as well try to grow a couple of mushrooms from it.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

If You Were Here Today...

And If I Say I Really Loved You
And Was Glad You Came Along.
If You Were Here Today.
Ooh- Ooh- Ooh- For You Were In My Song.
Ooh- Ooh- Ooh- Here To - Day.
- Paul McCartney "Here Today"
It was a snowy Saturday morning in January, late 70s. I can't remember the exact year, and I suppose I could bother to go and do the meterological research.
But I won't.
Sixteen of us gathered on the Sheep Meadow in Central Park for a game of tackle football. No equipment. There was snow on the ground, about half a foot, to cushion our falls, and besides, no one hit that hard anyway.
We were in our teens and early twenties, college and high school kids. We met every weekend to play, then shake hands and go home to breakfast.
I had just thrown a pass to my friend Brian and missed him. The ball bounced west on the lawn, towards the grand buildings on Central Park West. A couple was walking. He was skinny, in a great coat and kind of cab driver hat, a tam? She was also skinny, and wore a jacket. She had long black hair. They stopped on the path, worn down by footprints and some shoveling by park personnel. They were close together, as if there was one four footed humanoid walking. They were about fifty feet away.
I only noticed them because Brian was retrieving the ball from their general direction. It was a glimpse, and with the weather, I chose not to wear my glasses. I guess I needed to squint, but didn't.
We ran a few more plays, and they stood there for a few moments, then strolled on slowly. I don't recall how long, my attention was on the game, and I only saw them in the corner of my eye. It was rare for people to stop and watch us, the great anonymity of New York City working its magic.
Fourth down and we were to punt. I stood back and called signals as the cop tromped over the fresh powder, and kicked the ball. That's odd.
The snow settled, and we prepared defense. Now the cop came closer, and called to us. He was grinning. Probably reminded him of his youth, altho he couldn't have been that much older than we were.
"You guys know who you just missed? John Lennon!" He sang out like a canary that ate the cat. He was proud. I guess the precinct had an eye out on John even then, altho I think his naturalization problems had been resolved by that point.
I tell that story, because for all the New York celebrities and rich and famous people I encountered growing up, there is only one I would have given my left arm to meet, and it was John Lennon. And I was that close, all for the want of a pair of glasses.
It's hard to describe to someone younger what the Beatles meant to us, our generation. So many bands have been hyped as the next Beatles, pushed and polished and ultimately failing. The Beatles were transcendant, rising above the hype to perform their talents, and both proving the hype and raising the alert level.
Led by JohnandPaul, the Beatles did to music what, well...there really is no comparison. Perhaps Bill Gates and personal computing.
There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of John Lennon, if only for hearing a Beatles or Lennon tune on the radio. Or McCartney. Or Harrison. Or Starr. It's hard to think of one without the other three.
I've posted before that I wonder what Lennon would think of the world. If he could come back, and look around, what would he marvel at? And more, what would he spit out his disgust at? I suspect the answer to the latter is easier. He'd be pretty pissed that we didn't take the lessons of the Sixties and the Seventies, lessons he was not ashamed to put to music, and keep the flame alive.
A forceful advocate for so many things, especially world peace, Lennon was a complex figure. You knew his heart was good, but he had so many struggles to shed the chains of his learned behaviors, particularly when it came to his wives. He reminds us all that it is human to be flawed, no matter how towering the monument you've built to your name.
And in the end, the love you make really is equal to the love you take. If you were here today...but I am holding back the tears no more.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Barn Doors

There's a bit of "too little, too late" in this:
While David Certner, legislative policy director for AARP, says his members fully support efforts to rein in federal spending, he adds that upping the age for Social Security eligibility isn't the right way to go about it. Raising the wage cap, currently $106,800, would be better, he says.

In truth, a very different scenario is playing out, and I'm pretty surprised that Certner is missing it: de facto, people are raising their own retirement ages significantly.
See, most Boomers and people like me immediately following them believed in the lie of a "job for life and a gold watch at 65". You know, pension, retirement, benefits. We planned our early work careers along those lines, and when the deep recessions of the 80s and 90s (and 00s) hit, we made some small adjustments. Sure, we lost our pensions along the way and were asked to contribute to 401(k)s, but only the really careful among us, like me, did so.
After all, we needed to buy cars, and pay for education and houses. And vacations from the jobs that were becoming harder and harder to do on our owns as we saw our co-workers laid off. And we swapped jobs because the new firm offered better salary and benefits, but then got laid off when the economy tanked a little.
But we managed to latch onto a new job in relatively short order and could put our houses in some form of financial order again.
In other words, that image we had of Dad going off to work until he retired with IBM or whomever had completely changed and we never noticed it. And we also never noticed that Social Security had gone, at the insistence of businesses and with the complicity of government, from a supplement to our retirement income designed to keep poor elderly folks from starving to death to many people's main source of retirement income.
Of course, there will be an element in this country that says "It's your own fault," blitheringly ignorant of the fact that they're in the same boat as well, but expecting a bailout. Too, you may recall the other myth that our homes would fund our retirement: the best investment, housing prices always go up, and so on. Those same scolders probably think this is still true, as well.
In reality, what's going to start happening now, particularly as more and more Boomers reach 65, is they'll simply ignore the calendar and keep working. They'll file for Social Security, make no mistake about it, but those benefits are tied to one's salary, reducing at a sliding scale as one grows older. For many, there would be no benefit to filing for Social Security.
In effect, then, they won't actually retire until closer to 70 or 75. Or...raising the actual retirement age significantly from 65 (62, for many).
The deficit reduction commission that President Obama has suggested that long term rises in the retirement age will save significant amounts of money, and it would. The GAO claims that these would be offset completely by hikes in disability claims, and there's some possibility ot that happening as well, altho I'd need to see their data, especially in light of the current meme of healthier living as opposed to what our parents and grandparents did (smoke, drink to excess, chemical additives, pollution, and so on).
The one thing no one can deny is, to talk about raising the retirement age right now is ludicrous, because it's happening already.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Bailing Why-er

Along the lines of my simple questions theme today comes this column from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the first and likely last Socialist to sit in Congress:

What have we learned so far from the disclosure of more than 21,000 transactions? We have learned that <b>the $700 billion Wall Street bailout signed into law by President George W. Bush</b> turned out to be pocket change compared to the trillions and trillions of dollars in near-zero interest loans and other financial arrangements the Federal Reserve doled out to every major financial institution in this country. Among those are Goldman Sachs, which received nearly $600 billion; Morgan Stanley, which received nearly $2 trillion; Citigroup, which received $1.8 trillion; Bear Stearns, which received nearly $1 trillion, and Merrill Lynch, which received some $1.5 trillion in short term loans from the Fed.

We also learned that the Fed's multi-trillion bailout was not limited to Wall Street and big banks, but that some of the largest corporations in this country also received a very substantial bailout. Among those are General Electric, McDonald's, Caterpillar, Harley Davidson, Toyota and Verizon.

Perhaps most surprising is the huge sum that went to bail out foreign private banks and corporations including two European megabanks -- Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse -- which were the largest beneficiaries of the Fed's purchase of mortgage-backed securities.

Deutsche Bank, a German lender, sold the Fed more than $290 billion worth of mortgage securities. Credit Suisse, a Swiss bank, sold the Fed more than $287 billion in mortgage bonds.

Has the Federal Reserve of the United States become the central bank of the world?

(ed. note: emphasis added for the yahoos who read this blog and blame Obama for the bailout)

OK, so not only banks got bailouts, but solid American companies like Harley-Davidson, McDonald's, Caterpillar, Verizon and General Electric did.

Aside from Harley (full disclosure: I own an insignificant number of shares of HOG) which is perennially on the ropes, do any of these companies sound like they're in any financial difficulty?

And Toyota? Deutsche Bank? Credit Suisse? Why aren't Japan, Germany and Switzerland taking care of their own? Did Germany help us bailout GM?

Here's the kicker: as Sanders points out, that bailout money went to businesses that, for the most part, are doing rather nicely now, thank you. Meanwhile, we quibble over extending unemployment benefits of less than $33 billion becomes "class warfare".

Companies no longer rely on nations for their financial health so why should we be bailing them out at all?



I Have A Simple Question

I mean, I get that unemployment benefits could stand an extension, to be certain. Why not put that to an up or down vote on its own merits and let the Teabaggers and their relatives see what they have wrought?
Why not, for deficit reduction sake, let the goddamn moronic Bush tax cuts just die, and pass a new set of targeted tax cuts?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the Republican whip, told different interviewers that they expect Congress to vote for the tax cuts, which have been in effect for almost a decade, to continue unaltered for at least several years in exchange for an agreement to extend an emergency unemployment program that expired last week for millions of people.

"Obviously, the president won't sign a permanent extension of the current tax rates. So we're going to have some kind of extension. I'd like one as long as possible," McConnell told host David Gregory on NBC's "Meet the Press." Moments later, he added: "I think we will extend unemployment compensation. . . . We're working on that package. . . . I think we're going to get there."

We are trading the long-term benefits of a tax increase on those who are doing quite nicely in the current economy, thank you, for a few weeks' extension of benefits.

We can do better. I think if we tied the unemployment benefits to a jobs creation bill (and there has to be at least one in the hopper now), it sends a far better message that Congress, this Democratic Congress, has the interests of the working and middle classes at heart, and then let the tax cuts die just to prove it.

We're going to have to restructure taxes next session anyway, and the Democrats, curiously, will have a bigger say in that, since they don't have to wrangle 60 votes in the Senate.

Weird to say, huh? They had a 60 vote minority, and the influence of asshats from sparsely populated states like Nebraska and Arkansas was grossly overstated because of it. Now, we can basically tell the Nelsons and Lincolns of the Congress to fuck off (I know, Lincoln lost. Good riddance). Your "services" are no longer required.

We'll fight this fight on ideology now.


Sunday, December 05, 2010

Happy Birthday, Carl!

A day late, but I'm sure I speak for all your peeps when I say Thanks! for all your writing and efforts here online. Stay healthy!