Friday, October 19, 2012

Serious Question For My Readers

I'm thinking about starting a radio station. It would be canned, not live (God knows, who has the time?), but it would contain what I believe is an interesting and diverse music playlist, sort of Pete Fornatale's Mixed Bag meets Dr. Demento at the intersection of Mainstream and Hipster. Sadly, at first, it would have commercials.
Thoughts? Interest? "Go Fuck Yourself"s?

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) The Al Smith dinner was last night, which is a traditional stop on the Presidential campaign trail. It raises funds for the Catholic Church to minister to children (let me stop right there, the jokes write themselves). Anyway, there were some really funny lines to be had.
2) Mitt Romney has a sense of humour. Who knew?
3) Apparently, Joe Walsh has decided he's not losing badly enough.
4) WOLVERINES!!!!1!!!11 (frogs)
5) You know who else wiped out life in mass numbers?
9) Sorry. I got carried away with the D'Souza item.
10) March came in like a lion, October went out like a lamb

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Godspeed, Senator

George McGovern, former Senator from South Dakota and the 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee, is dying.
He was the last of the liberal breed, a dyed-in-the-wool group of mostly Democrats who fought hard for the rights of minorities and women (which are actually a majority in this country) and for the poor and hungry. This last was largely motivated by an incident during his tenure in the Air Force, where he saw first hand the devastation war can bring to a people. After World War II, he flew supply missions to northern Italy where he saw people dying of hunger in one of the most fertile regions of the world.
Indeed, President Kennedy saw fit to name McGovern the first Food For Peace director of his administration. 
Odd that program no longer gets the kind of attention it used to, eh? Must have been the victim of budget cuts.¹
McGovern ran against Nixon in his re-election bid and was hampered form the outset by two things: his choice for Vice President, Senator Tom Eagleton, had been given electroshock therapy for depression which forced McGovern to replace him with Sargent Shriver, and of course, the whole Watergate era, when Nixon decided to not only illegally influence the outcome of the Democratic primaries but to illegally influence the outcome of his re-election.
You youngs can Google it.
Anyway, he came up with some novel and creative proposals in the course of that campaign, like fighting bad economic times by giving everyone in the country a $1,000 tax credit. Oddly, this was badly received by conservatives, who have little problem doling out money now when things are tough.
Indeed, it was Milton Friedman himself who proposed it, and Richard Nixon even included a similar proposal in his Family Assistance Program (yes, that's FAP).
McGovern, in large part, solidified my liberal viewpoint, which was largely formed by the Kennedys. He made it cool to care about people and cool to think that the government could do more, much more, to help those trampled underfoot in a horrific economic machine.
I will miss your voice, Senator.
¹ The program does still exist and was re-authorized under the 1996 Farm Bill

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Long Live The Fighter!

I give Obama about an 80 or 85 on his debate performance last night. It was a beauty to behold and left Romney sputtering and stammering at points.
I'd rank the President higher but as always, he left a lot of chips on the table when all was said and done.
Let's look at this question by question:
1) Mr. President, Governor Romney, as a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. What can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?
Romney, as always, didn't answer the question. He and Obama were given two minutes each to answer each question, and by my count, Romney spent 1:40 of this answer sucking up to the audience and talking about how important an affordable college education was.
In the final 20 seconds (plus a few) he spoke about "creating jobs." Now, Obama's response was on point and answered the question: He spoke of opportunity, building the manufacturing base, education, repurposing all the money we've wasted on wars to rebuild America, and surprisingly, energy. This last might have deflated his very good points, but it also forestalled a Romney attack on gas prices.
Crowley followed up with What about those long term unemployed who need a job right now?
Romney mentioned his "five point plan" which I'm led to believe involves curling his fingers and fisting Americans (especially women and particularly single women). And then he was stupid enough to draw attention to his comments about Detroit, and the wheels fell off the wagon:

And one thing that the president said, which I want to make sure that we understand, he said that I said we should take Detroit bankrupt. And that's right. My plan was to have the company go through bankruptcy like 7-Eleven did and Macy's and Continental Airlines and come out stronger.

And I know he keeps saying, you want to take Detroit bankrupt. Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did.

That opened the door for Obama to remind people that Romney wanted to close GM and probably never reopen them. He wanted to let private vulture capitalists like Bain funnel the funds through the bankruptcy, while Obama took the firms through the bankruptcy with government money and got paid back.

And Obama got in a dig at the one percent. Beautifully played.

2)  Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it's not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?

This is one question I think the President could have done better on: level with people. The President's role in setting gas prices is nearly non-existent, even less than what he can do about jobs. About all a President can do is suspend the Federal taxes on gas, and release some of the Strategic Reserve. Neither of which is called for right now.

Here's what I would have said: "No one understands what gas prices do to the family budget better than me. Each dollar a gallon goes up is $15 out of your pocket with the typical sedan. That's a lunch, or a movie. The fact is, there is very little a President can do currently to keep prices down. This is a free market issue and tahnk goodness we live in a nation where a President can't dictate the price you pay for a gallon of gas. 

And when they're run up by speculation of the kind that firms like Bain Capital and other hedge funds and private equity firms indulge in, it's very frustrating. I would like to have legislation that gives me a little influence over the level of that speculation (ed. note, I haven't really thought what that would mean through. Yet.)

Gas prices are a function of the demand of the entire world, not just the US (ed note: Obama made a great point about the artificially low prices in 2008) and we're going to have to live with increasing prices at the pump unless we do two things: first, we need to ensure that we have sufficient domestic production (here's where I'd talk about increasing gas leases in the first four years) and that we begin to develop affordable renewable energy to lower our demand. Lower demand means lower prices."

Here's where Romney really shot himself in the foot by swallowing the right wing talking points about gas and oil leases. Obama had the chance to explain about the non-use of those leases and Romney, sensing his error, tried to talk over him and failed.

Crowley followed up with the new norm question, which I sort of covered above. One note, tho: Obama got in a devastating anecdote that will play well in Ohio about Romney standing in front of a coal plant in Massachussetts as governor and saying "This plant kills."

Romney was right, but own it, dude. Also, Barack Obama is President of the United States. Don't tell him "I'm speaking, you'll get your turn." And Candy Crowley all but tells Romney to shut up.

3) Governor Romney, you have stated that if you're elected president, you would plan to reduce the tax rates for all the tax brackets and that you would work with the Congress to eliminate some deductions in order to make up for the loss in revenue...concerning (t)hese various deductions, the mortgage deductions, the charitable deductions, the child tax credit and also the education credits, which are important to me, because I have children in college. What would be your position on those things, which are important to the middle class?

Here, Romney starts talking about a "bucket of deductions". In essence (and what he should have said) he means he'll expand the standard deduction and eliminate most itemized deductions, while lowering tax rates 20%. He claims this will lower tax burdens, but I'm not convinced, particularly in high tax states like, say, Ohio, or Pennsylvania, or Virginia. My local taxes exceed $11,000. My property and school taxes would bump that over $15,000 easily. Even with a 20% reduction in taxes, I'd still pay more.

He says he'd cut taxes on bank interest and dividends for those under $200K a year. I can get behind that much, at least. But it doesn't address inequity in taxes from rich to poor.

Luckily, Obama noticed this as well:

Now, Governor Romney has a different philosophy. He was on 60 Minutes just two weeks ago and he was asked: Is it fair for somebody like you, making $20 million a year, to pay a lower tax rate than a nurse or a bus driver, somebody making $50,000 year? And he said, "Yes, I think that's fair." Not only that, he said, "I think that's what grows the economy."

Well, I fundamentally disagree with that. I think what grows the economy is when you get that tax credit that we put in place for your kids going to college. I think that grows the economy. I think what grows the economy is when we make sure small businesses are getting a tax credit for hiring veterans who fought for our country. That grows our economy.

Romney's rebuttal?

You heard what I said about my tax plan. The top 5 percent will continue to pay 60 percent, as they do today. I'm not looking to cut taxes for wealthy people. I am looking to cut taxes for middle-income people.

That's fairness? That depends.

Crowley's follow up, if somehow when you get in there, there isn’t enough tax revenue coming in, if somehow the numbers don’t add up, would you be willing to look again at a 20 percent — was cut off by Governor Romney who then made an unforced blunder:

Well, of course they add up. I was — I was someone who ran businesses for 25 years and balanced the budget. I ran the Olympics and balanced the budget. I ran the — the state of Massachusetts as a governor, to the extent any governor does, and balanced the budget all four years.

The Federal government bailed him out. So did the state of Utah and the city of Salt Lake. You didn't build that, governor. And that even neglects the condescension Romney showed towards Crowley. He was sinking fast and knew it.

4) In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?

Do I need to say it? "Women in binders." End of discussion. Romney could have pulled a draw on this question if he hadn't mangled that sentiment so badly and in so doing, exposed his inhumanity. He could have said "countless resumes" or "an overwhelming number of candidates," but chose a businesslike metaphor, indicating this wasn't a moral choice for him to hire more women, but a calculated political one designed to curry favor.
Obama did all he had to here: Lilly Ledbetter.
5) Since both you and President Bush are Republicans, I fear a return to the policies of those years should you win this election. What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush, and how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?
Here's where I think Obama could unleashed his snarky side: "President Who? Oh, you mean the guy the Republicans have run away from all year? The man never even mentioned once in the debates or the convention, except when Jeb Bush said 'my brother'? That guy?"
Oddly, here's where Romney might have stolen a question: he was very specific (if a little wrong) on contrasting a Romney administration against a Bush administration. Had he used this line in 2008, I think he might have beaten John McCain.
But Obama zinged him with the "Governor, you’re the last person who’s going to get tough on China," and raising obliquely the issue of Sensata (which I would have raised directly.)
6) Mr. President, I voted for you in 2008. What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012? I’m not that optimistic as I was in 2012. Most things I need for everyday living are very expensive.
Now, this gave Obama a chance to roll out the accomplishments, and there have been many and there are times I wish President Obama was a more boastful and less Christian man, of his first term, and how he may have saved us from the abyss we were staring into.
His mistake here? Not being a bit more specific to the question of why he deserves a second term. What will he accomplish?
7) President — Romney, what do you plan on doing with immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society?
Both candidates were very specific as to what they would do here, and it's pretty much boilerplate. Fix the laws, offer opportunity, and deport those who don't deserve to be here. Bromides.
But Obama had the rhetorical flourishes on this one that Romney lacked, possibly because his RAM was overheating. Particularly moving was talking about children who have grown up here and pledge allegiance to our flag every day in school, thinking they're American. That was masterful oratory.
Romney, on the other hand, wants to privatize deportation. Hmmmm.
Oh, and Obama got in his kitchen in a big way here. Romney was whining like a little baby towards the end of this exchange.
But the best exchange of the night occured as Romney tried to shift the focus back to China:

MR. ROMNEY: Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours, so it — it doesn’t take as long.

8) This question actually comes from a brain trust of my friends at Global Telecom Supply in Mineola yesterday. We were sitting around talking about Libya, and we were reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?
Here, Romney does score some large points, but because the president was first up on the question, he got to deflect a lot of the rhetoric by taking responsibility for the mess.
However, Romney blew any advantage he could have had here by completely misquoting the President AND being corrected by the moderator:

MR. ROMNEY: Yeah, I — I certainly do. I certainly do. I — I think it’s interesting the president just said something which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed.

MR. ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.

MR. ROMNEY: I — I — I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Get the transcript.

MS. CROWLEY: It — he did in fact, sir.

So let me — let me call it an act of terrorism — (inaudible) —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? (Laughter, applause.)

MS. CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.

MR. ROMNEY: This — the administration — the administration — (applause) — indicated that this was a — a reaction to a — to a video and was a spontaneous reaction.

You read that correctly: the only time in the entire debate, the audience applauded because Barack Obama has been vilified on the right for something he didn't do, and Romney showed his ass and got it spanked.

9) President Obama, during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or plan to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?

This was a stupid question, full stop. While it's true that the administration could do more, should do more, it's Congress that's forcing this issue to be raised by letting the Brady ban expire. It's an obvious answer for Obama to make but he did include a great line:

But I also share your belief that weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets.

Here's where Romney makes a smaller but noticable blunder: he says automatic weapons are already banned, but the fact is those weapons have been used repeatedly in mass killings over the past four years, and they were purchased legally.

He did bring in Fast and Furious but by now, he's so garbled and mangled his overall message that no one caught it.

He also dissed single parents, altho he does try to pave over this disgusting "family values" moment in what can only be described as a patrician attempt to smooth feathers. His recent bump in support has come from "waitress moms". He just lost them.

And then the President zinged him again: "[F]irst of all, I think Governor Romney was for an assault weapons ban before he was against it."

10) The outsourcing of American jobs overseas has taken a toll on our economy. What plans do you have to put back and keep jobs here in the United States?

And Romney, who was given this question, ducked it by hiding behind China's currency manipulations. Nevermind that Bain has taken advantage of those manipulations-- and here, the President could have, should have, made a better linkage to Bain, but he was pressed for time so shorthanded it-- and nevermind that under Romney, there would be even more outsourcing because he'd allow for even more expatriation of earnings. Under the President, China's currency has actually risen as China has gradually untied the yuan from the dollar.

This is good news, but it's also bad news for us. It means China feels secure in its world leadership position now.

11) What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate? Using specific examples, can you take this opportunity to debunk that misperception and set us straight?

"If you wewe a twee, what kind of twee would you be?"


Well, I mean, I guess they can't all be hard questions...


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

OK, This Is An Unfortunate Juxtaposition....


Thank You, George


Exit Strategies?

Interesting article in the news today about the Benghazi attacks:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to take responsibility for the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 in a series of interviews on Monday.

"I take responsibility" for what happened on September 11, Clinton told CNN Monday after arriving in Lima, Peru, for a visit. The series of interviews with U.S. television networks were Clinton's most direct comments on the deadly attack, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Clinton insisted President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are not involved in security decisions.

"I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha," she told CNN.

Now, we can take this at face value: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says "The buck stops here." This somewhat insulates the President and Vice President from direct responsibility for embassy security and intelligence failures, even if we can rightly lay the blame at the feet of the folks who refused to fund the budget by some $300 million.

Or we can take this as a way for Hillary Clinton to extricate herself from her post at State. It's long been rumoured, even going back to before Barack Obama's inauguration, that Clinton would be a one-term Secretary. Indeed, her tenure already sees her serving longer than many if not most in that position.

All she really needs to do here is to clean up this mess, put up something dramatic before January, and clean her desk out, if she so chooses.

Notice that this is not something the President necessarily would support. I think President Obama has genuine respect and admiration for the job Secretary Clinton has done and would welcome her to stay on for the second term.

And certainly, exiting now would be leaving on a down note, no matter what (short of solving the Middle East question or normalizing relations with Cuba) she accomplishes in the short time left before term 2. This would prevent her from running for President in 2016 as well, a flat note in an otherwise crystal pitch-perfect performance at the highest levels of government.

Similarly, Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is someone who could-- probably should-- fall on her sword. Her comments on national television that there was little indication the Benghazi attacks were planned discredit her as a diplomat.

It's not important that there was a "fog of war" (Clinton's term) about the attacks. She went off book too early. The art of diplomacy is two fold: saying nothing while saying something and letting someone have your way. She forgot the first of these.

It was an honest mistake, however, unlike the egregious defenses that folks like Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney engaged in during the run up to the Iraq war. Allowing Susan Rice to resign would be an honorable acknowledgement of that point.

This won't stop Republicans from being Republicans and sniping at President Obama, of course, but it will deflect most of their attacks, and the pleas from the family of Ambassdor Stephens to just shut up about it will eventually make the attacks go away.
Americans don't like to see families tortured. Well, white families, anyway.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You...

History teaches us many things and yet teaches us nothing:

Economists point out that the woes of the middle class are in large part a consequence of globalization and technological change. Culture may also play a role. In his recent book on the white working class, the libertarian writer Charles Murray blames the hollowed-out middle for straying from the traditional family values and old-fashioned work ethic that he says prevail among the rich (whom he castigates, but only for allowing cultural relativism to prevail).

There is some truth in both arguments. But the 1 percent cannot evade its share of responsibility for the growing gulf in American society. Economic forces may be behind the rising inequality, but as Peter R. Orszag, President Obama’s former budget chief, told me, public policy has exacerbated rather than mitigated these trends.

Even as the winner-take-all economy has enriched those at the very top, their tax burden has lightened. Tolerance for high executive compensation has increased, even as the legal powers of unions have been weakened and an intellectual case against them has been relentlessly advanced by plutocrat-financed think tanks. In the 1950s, the marginal income tax rate for those at the top of the distribution soared above 90 percent, a figure that today makes even Democrats flinch. Meanwhile, of the 400 richest taxpayers in 2009, 6 paid no federal income tax at all, and 27 paid 10 percent or less. None paid more than 35 percent.

Historically, the United States has enjoyed higher social mobility than Europe, and both left and right have identified this economic openness as an essential source of the nation’s economic vigor. But several recent studies have shown that in America today it is harder to escape the social class of your birth than it is in Europe. The Canadian economist Miles Corak has found that as income inequality increases, social mobility falls — a phenomenon Alan B. Krueger, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has called the Great Gatsby Curve.

Obviously, the Great Equalizer in American society, at least since the Industrial Age, has been education. Through education, working and middle class children could aspire to greater things than their parents had.

Thirty years ago, Republicans gathered behind Ronald Reagan to begin the dismantling of the public education system in America, a system considered vital just thirty years earlier by no less than Dwight Eisenhower, who felt that the lag in American scientific accomplishment was due in large part to the woefully underfunded process of educating our children.

Sadly, that has continued even to this day with the simplification and idiocratization of education, which has gotten to the point that, rather than teach a subject, we teach a test.

Which is great if, you know, the world is only going to throw the same problems at your citizenry as those tests measure. The problem is, it doesn't.

Worse, this simplification has occured to the benefit of those at the very top, those who are now extracting wealth from America and placing it overseas.

This occurs, even as they run for President.

Say, remember when Mitt Romney had at least enough shame to lecture his gardener not to hire illegal immigrants because "I'm running for President, for gosh sake!"

Now, he doesn't even have enough shame to keep an American flag flying over an American factory.

Conservatives defend this, but anyone recall the flap over President Obama's flag pin?

We've already begun down the same slippery slope that Venice, ancient Rome, pre-revolution France and countless other societies have slid down: we've begun to allow the wealthy to accumulate and aggregate wealth well beyond their value to American society.

Indeed, if anything, we've blessed this venture on their part, agreeing to tax income into which they put absolutely no sweat equity at a lower rate (e.g. capital gains and carried interest rates.)

Really. Is the value of a dollar I invested some twenty percent more than the value of a dollar I earned working? I think not, but the wealthy around me do.

The problem with slippery slopes is momentum: it's easy to stop the slide at its very beginnings, but you have to be alert enough to see it coming and to sway the masses to your side. That takes a rare person (Teddy Roosevelt leaps to mind.)

Now, I'm not sure it's too late. Already both political parties can be found genuflecting before the power of the wealthy and even our grand institutions that were designed to protect the people have been corrupted by that power (cf Citizens United).

There is a bottom and it is coming and it will be harsh and painful, as all slides down a slope go. I don't see it ending well for many years after that, either.

Unless we can somehow remind those who are agglutinating money of the immortals words of one of their own:

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

If ever freedom needed defending, it is now, and to that end we should insist that all Americans "mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
Even you folks on yachts.