Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rep. Barney Frank tries to fire us up

Rep. Barney Frank, from nearby Massachusetts, posted this call for action at DailyKos"

We are just days away from an extremely important election. Our nation is at a crossroads – and you must help choose the direction in which we will go.

Right wing extremists know that they cannot convince the majority of the American people to adopt their agenda. Most Americans support the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Most support our successful efforts to restrict abusive practices by credit card companies, like raising interest rates on existing balances. Most agree that health insurance companies should not be able to discriminate against Americans with pre-existing health conditions. Most oppose privatizing Social Security and they want to protect Medicare. Most are against new tax cuts for the wealthy, which will cost approximately $700 billion over the next ten years. And most want to limit excessive military spending and use the money here at home, whether to rebuild our infrastructure, create jobs, or reduce the deficit.

The right wing cannot convince us that these ideas are wrong so their strategy is to discourage us. They want us to believe that we cannot win or that this mid-term election does not matter. They want us to stay home on Election Day....

What we do now will severely affect our choices in the future. We cannot give the right a larger foothold than it already has. We cannot sit on the sidelines or just to wish that things would get better. Now is the time to get up and fight.

It is exhilarating to fight for what you believe alongside people who care passionately about the same things. Your most powerful weapon is your vote. Your second most powerful weapon is your voice – when you use it to remind your family, friends, and others who share our values to vote.

There is a lot to do in the next two and a half days. I encourage you to give as much time as you can to help our candidates and our party to get out the vote.

This is no time to stay home or to leave our future in the hands of others. Please help me fight the right – and vote.

Rep. Frank's call to arms is on the mark. He faces a more determined opponent than he has in years, but he'll probably retain his seat.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween scarefest

Paul Krugman has some sobering thoughts:

Barring a huge upset, Republicans will take control of at least one house of Congress next week. How worried should we be by that prospect?

Not very, say some pundits. After all, the last time Republicans controlled Congress while a Democrat lived in the White House was the period from the beginning of 1995 to the end of 2000. And people remember that era as a good time, a time of rapid job creation and responsible budgets. Can we hope for a similar experience now?

No, we can’t. This is going to be terrible. In fact, future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness. ...

Today’s situation is completely different. The economy, weighed down by the debt that households ran up during the Bush-era bubble, is in dire straits; deflation, not inflation, is the clear and present danger. And it’s not at all clear that the Fed has the tools to head off this danger. Right now we very much need active policies on the part of the federal government to get us out of our economic trap.

But we won’t get those policies if Republicans control the House. In fact, if they get their way, we’ll get the worst of both worlds: They’ll refuse to do anything to boost the economy now, claiming to be worried about the deficit, while simultaneously increasing long-run deficits with irresponsible tax cuts — cuts they have already announced won’t have to be offset with spending cuts.

So if the elections go as expected next week, here’s my advice: Be afraid. Be very afraid


So, what's the good news? I think there's still a slim chance we can avert electoral disaster. For one thing, pollsters are correct in seeing the Tea Party hype as a factor driving up Republican turnout, yet may be underestimating how much concern over right-wing extremism could increase Democratic (particularly minority) turnout. Organized labor, too, is working hard to defeat Republicans across the country. I do think there are a number of blue dog Democrats who were elected, in conservative districts, by voters that no longer see any reason to keep them around if they can find a Republican even more devoted to the cause of destroying Barack Obama. The blue dogs' departure is no great loss, the loss of majority status for the Democratic party would be a disaster.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I Remember

An ever-shrinking slice of the pie

Here's a quick visual that helps to explain our current demand crisis and associated high unemployment. Note that nine out of ten Americans have far less than half of the nation's wealth. Where can consumer demand come from? Even if the wealthiest Americans were to all start spending like drunken sailors on shore leave, it would do little to help. Luxury yacht-makers and high-end jewelers can only employ so many people. Working Americans must be paid sufficient wages to support a middle-class lifestyle. Cars, refrigerators, lawnmowers, etc. won't be purchased in larger numbers until more Americans have larger paychecks. It's really that simple. Republicans, who suggest that the real problem is that poor folks with a bit more than $3/day of food stamps, are "too darned comfortable," are either deranged, deceptive, or both.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lesser of two evils

I've read a lot of bloggers who are fed up with our two party system. They complain that corporate money and influence is so pervasive that both parties are corrupted, with the people suffering from neglect. While I would argue that there are more decent politicians around than is sometimes acknowledged, I will concede that neither major party has done nearly enough to move our country forward. I'm very sympathetic to the frustration many progressives feel in choosing the "lesser of two evils" on election day. The most courageous response to this problem would be to work hard for years building up a viable alternative party-- that could elect candidates to office and help to improve government. In the meantime, disappointment with both parties is not an acceptable reason to stay away from the polls. When one evil is clearly far more destructive than the other, allowing it to triumph is truly unconscionable. Even if you're not very impressed with the gains of the last two years, you need to be thankful that we haven't yet erased all progress made in the last eighty years. We need to face the fact that the Republicans have moved so far to the right that they are openly advocating a return to how things were before Woodrow Wilson. Yes, even Herbert Hoover was too much of a socialist for these crazies. So, by all means protest and push back against the rightward drift of the Democratic party. But please don't surrender this country to the plutocrats pouring money into Republican coffers without a fight. Follow the example of the unions, by working hard for more progressive Democrats and let the "blue dogs" beg their corporate masters for help.

Tuesday will see a lot of lukewarm voters deciding whether they should be bothered to vote. The last thing this country needs is for them to be persuaded that it doesn't matter if the Republicans are in charge.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sage advice from Simon Schama

These are extraordinary times. As a late baby-boomer, I've lived long enough to see a lot of wacky things. Yet I've never seen such a powerful blitz, of money and misinformation, unleashed by the billionaire plutocrats to seize total control of our country. Historian Simon Schama urges the Obama administration to recognize that they should not help maintain the fiction that their opponents are anything more than greedy, lying sociopaths. Civility is commendable, but defending the future of our representative democracy requires a willingness to get tough.

But Mr Obama is not dealing with informed readings of history, he is dealing with the comical-sinister version narrated by Glenn Beck who fancies himself a professor. He has had to deal with a quasi-religious conviction that tax cuts are the engines of growth rather than the makers of mega-deficits as any inspection of recent history will incontestably demonstrate. (Thanks Dubya for the $1.3 trillion deficit.) He is confronting a public that by a large majority believes he, not George W. Bush, created Tarp; that he is a Muslim not a Christian; that he is bent on turning America Marxist; that the jury is out on evolution; that global warming science is a hoax; and that Woodrow Wilson (don’t even ask) was Beelzebub in a Princeton bow tie.

Against this contagion of paranoid craziness, an epidemic spread by colossal infusions of money and the howling of radio ranters, the virtues that brought Mr Obama to office – composure, a belief in classical rhetoric and the force of reason, the hope that people of clashing beliefs may be reconciled – are of little avail. Sometimes those belief systems are so utterly opposed that embracing the conflict is preferable to pretending it may be painlessly resolved. If Mr Obama and his good works – for they are good – are to survive he needs to discard his Plato and summon his inner Machiavelli. Then he needs that Machiavelli to man up and talk back. If Ms Palin invents “death panels” in his healthcare reform he should not make light of it but call her out for a liar and never ever let her forget it. To Republicans who even now assert the falsehood that bureaucrats will dictate a choice of physician he should stand tall like Ed Murrow against the McCarthyism this moment so resembles and say: “Have you no decency?” Above all, he needs to repatriate the idea and practice of American government from its demonisation as some kind of occupying alien force.

He needs to be unafraid to give offence; and to say the words that can make him – especially amid a hostile Congress – a fighter for all the millions of Joes and Janes whose lives have been ruined by the busted flush of casino finance. Then he can flip adversity; then he can become again the Obama we all thought we knew.

My favorite part is the call to "summon his inner Machiavelli." As President Obama no doubt knows, Machiavelli cared deeply about preserving the Florentine Republic against the Medici family poised to take it over. He learned the hard way that compromising with the enemy could have disastrous consequences.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A star shines at the Daily Kos

It never rains but it pours! Yesterday Barack Obama was in my backyard, today Robert Reich took the time to post as a diarist on the Get Out the Vote thread on the Daily Kos:

Concentrated income and wealth at the top has robbed America’s middle and working classes of the purchasing power they need to keep the economy going. They can no longer make it up by borrowing against their homes. The housing bubble burst, as it inevitably would. That could mean many years of high unemployment and economic insecurity – unless steps are taken to reverse course.

Reforms that would widen the circle of prosperity include exempting the first $20K of income from payroll taxes, and applying the payroll tax to incomes over $250,000. Eliminate income taxes on all family incomes up to $55,000, and make up the shortfall by raising the marginal income tax rate on incomes over $1 million. Provide universal early childhood education and free higher education, repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, and give Medicare for all. Finance all of this with a carbon tax and a reduction in military spending.

But none of this is possible in a democracy dominated by a few at the top. The concentrated income and wealth has also concentrated political power. Vast sums of money are being channeled into campaigns. Because of the Supreme Court’s grotesque decision in Citizen’s United vs. the Federal Election Commission, these political payoffs are being made in secret.

And the widespread fear and insecurity felt by average citizens has made them easy prey for demagogues – many of them backed by this money – who seek to direct the anger against government, immigrants, and the poor.

Those demagogues say the choice is between more or less government. The real choice is between the privileged and powerful, and the people.

Progressives know this but at this critical juncture many are opting out.

Why? Because of a tragic asymmetry in American politics. The far right is fueled by cynicism about government. The progressive left is fueled by idealism about government. So when government seems to fail – when a leader like Barack Obama doesn’t accomplish nearly what many of us hoped he would – the deepening cynicism ignites the right, while it disillusions the left.

Yet if we allow our cynicism to drive us out of politics, they win completely.

We are facing a perfect storm of concentrated income and wealth at the top, a torrent of money distorting our politics, and a needy nation that’s become deeply cynical about democracy. If we are to survive the storm, every one of us must redouble our efforts. We must organize, energize, and mobilize: To take back America from the privileged and powerful who are intent on corrupting it and using it as their own; to create a new prosperity that’s widely shared, and a democracy that works for all of us.

The above excerpt demonstrates how Robert Reich's post is of exceptional quality. But even more impressive to me was his willingness to stick around, and participate in the post-post discussion. Here's one of my favorite comments:

The most important thing we can do is keep our sanity and sense of humor, along with our indignation at what is happening to our democracy and economy. We must not allow ourselves to fall into cynicism, nor allow ourselves to become so burnt out and exhausted we have no energy for the long haul. We must be patient, and expect progress to unfold gradually over many years. We should work for our children and their children. Beyond all this, we should frame the large issue properly and cogently (to me, the choice between the privileged and powerful or the people) but also fill in the details with proposals that make common sense. And then we must work to mobilize, organize, and energize. Work at the local level. Link up with other locals. Use the Internet but don't use it as a substitute for person-to-person engagement. Build politics from the bottom, just as we must build the economy from the bottom. And beware of hubris. We don't have all the answers.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The President's in town!

President Obama was here in Rhode Island today, after touring a small manufacturer in Woonsocket, he made these remarks:

The President believes David Cicilline will be our next congressional representative from District One. We're all working very hard to make sure he turns out to be right.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Demand more demand!

Dean Baker has a very understandable explanation of why the only thing we need to fear is fear of stimulus spending:

To better understand this demand problem, suppose that we had a super effective counterfeiter: someone who could make near perfect copies of $50 or $100 bills. Suppose this person printed up $2 trillion of counterfeit money and began to spend it on all sorts of items. Our counterfeiter buys up houses and cars. They pay for incredibly lavish parties and trips. They hire all sorts of servants, groundskeepers and investment advisors.

What would be the effect of this counterfeiting scam on the economy? In the current situation it would provide an enormous boost to GDP and create millions of jobs. After all, everyone thinks the money is real. It is no different if the counterfeiters and his underlings spend $2 trillion of counterfeit money than if firms suddenly start investing their hoards of cash or households begin to spend again as though the housing bubble had never collapsed.

That may sound troubling, but this is because the current economic situation is so extraordinary. In normal times the economy is, at least partially, supply constrained. Collectively we want more goods and services than the economy is capable of producing. If our counterfeiter manufactured his $2 trillion in normal times, it likely would cause a serious problem of inflation. There would be more demand for cars, houses and other goods than the economy was able to supply. This would push up prices and wages leading to a cycle of inflation that would persist until policy measures were taken to slow the economy or the counterfeiter was caught.

But in our demand-constrained economy there is no problem of inflation. The economy can produce more of almost anything right now. The reason that we are not doing it is simply the lack of demand.

The interesting part of the counterfeiter story is that his $2 trillion of phony money will not create problems even in the long-run, assuming that he is eventually shut down. Suppose that the counterfeiter’s lavish spending gets the economy back towards full employment around 2012, at which point he gets nailed by the FBI who finally figure out how to recognize the counterfeits.

At that point, the $2 trillion will be grabbed out of circulation and destroyed. Assuming that the economy is strong enough at this point to remain near full employment even as this counterfeit wealth disappears, then there would be no lasting damage from the episode. The fictional wealth had generated demand when the economy needed it, but then was pulled out of circulation at the point when it could have generated inflation and competed away goods and services from others.

While it is unlikely we will see a successful counterfeiter on this scale, the government and the Federal Reserve Board can imitate the counterfeiter’s actions. This is the story of fiscal stimulus: safe, fun and legal. Instead of putting people to work filling the counterfeiter’s frivolous whims, we could have them work building up the economy and meeting important needs. The list of necessary tasks is long and well-known.

As is the case with the counterfeiter’s illicit stash, the stimulus spending need not even create any long-term debt burden. The Fed could simply buy and hold the bonds issued to finance the spending. When the economy returns to more normal levels of employment it would raise interest rates, as it always does, to prevent inflation from posing a serious risk.

It’s all very simple. Unfortunately, our Washington politicians lack the courage to take the necessary steps to get the economy back on its feet. That means that the best hope we have right now might be a very successful counterfeiter.

Anybody ready to start printing in the basement?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Guilty of not being white

This report from the ACLU about a horrendous case rightly emphasizes the fact that a mentally disabled man was denied due process. Another aspect of the case, that disturbs me just as much, is the obvious ignorant racial profiling that went on. A U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent, who doesn't even speak Spanish, is "deported" to Mexico!?!? It brings to mind Sharron Angle's comment to a Hispanic audience that "some of you look Asian to me." Heaven help us!!

ATLANTA – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Georgia and the ACLU of North Carolina today filed lawsuits in federal courts in Georgia and North Carolina on behalf of Mark Lyttle, a U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent with mental disabilities who was wrongfully deported to Mexico and forced to endure over four months of living on the streets and in the shelters and prisons of Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

"What happened to Mark Lyttle is unconscionable," said Judy Rabinovitz, Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "Our Constitution and our laws demand fair treatment for people with mental disabilities in any court, including immigration courts. Pushing Mr. Lyttle through proceedings that he clearly couldn't understand and then deporting him was not only inhumane but a gross violation of his due process rights. The complete lack of concern for the well being of a man who would have obvious difficulties surviving on his own is truly appalling. What he suffered shouldn't happen to anyone regardless of citizenship status."

Lyttle's entanglement with immigration authorities began when he was about to be released from a North Carolina jail where he was serving a short sentence for inappropriately touching a worker's backside in a halfway house that serves individuals with mental disorders. Despite having ample evidence that Lyttle was a U.S. citizen – including his social security number, the names of his parents, his sworn statements that he was born in the United States and criminal record checks – officials from the North Carolina Department of Correction referred him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as an undocumented immigrant whose country of birth was Mexico. Lyttle had never been to Mexico, shared no Mexican heritage, spoke no Spanish and did not claim to be from Mexico.

The state of North Carolina has an agreement with ICE requiring state officials to report all incarcerated individuals who they believe were born in other countries. ICE began investigating Lyttle and sent him to the Stewart Detention Facility, an immigration detention center in Lumpkin, Ga. where he spent six weeks.

Although ICE knew of Lyttle's long and documented history of mental illness and noted he did not comprehend the investigation of his status, he was not offered legal assistance and was deported to Mexico.

"Mr. Lyttle's disabilities were obvious and well documented but the government offered him no legal assistance and worse still, failed to even perform the normal verification procedures on his legal status," said Azadeh Shahshahani, Director of the National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia. "No reasonable basis existed to suspect that Mr. Lyttle was not a United States citizen."

Lyttle was left alone and penniless in Mexico and unable to communicate in Spanish. Mexican authorities sent him to Honduras, where he was imprisoned and faced with guards who threatened to shoot him. Honduran officials sent him to Guatemala and, eventually, he made his way to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City. Within a day, embassy officials contacted one of Lyttle's three brothers at the military base where he was serving, leading to Lyttle being issued a U.S. passport. His brother wired him money and Lyttle was soon on a flight to Atlanta. Upon Lyttle's arrival, border officials, seeing his history of ICE investigations, held and questioned him for several hours before letting him go.

During this four month ordeal, Lyttle was unable to take his medications to treat his mental illnesses and was subject to cycles of manic activity and depression. He is now living in Griffin, Ga., where he is recovering and receiving medication for his mental health problems.

"I didn't think what happened to my brother could ever happen in America. We're supposed to be protecting people's rights and freedoms here," said David Lyttle, another of Mark Lyttle's brothers and who is currently living in South Carolina. "Nothing can take back what he suffered, but I hope this lawsuit prevents other people from going through the same thing he did."

The lawsuits, filed by the ACLU in conjunction with lawyers at Troutman Sanders in Georgia and McKinney & Justice in North Carolina, seek damages and injunctive relief for violations of Lyttle's constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

I mean, WTF!!??

Friday, October 22, 2010

Get out the vote!

This evening I attended a small local meeting of new volunteers who will work for David Cicilline's congressional campaign over the next couple of weeks. This needs to happen all over the country if we're to have any hope of progress in coming years. Please listen to this appeal from Barack and Michelle Obama, and think of how you might help defend our country from the plutocrats:

This election isn't about feeling complete satisfaction with the performance of all Democrats. It's about choosing between a party that still listens and responds (albeit imperfectly) to the concerns of average Americans, and a party that seeks to wrest all remaining economic and political power away from working people, to feed the insatiable greed of the plutocrats.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A target on his back?

A truly progressive congressman from Arizona finds himself the target of naked intimidation:

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva’s congressional office is closed this afternoon as police respond to a suspicious piece of mail.

An envelope arrived with swastikas drawn on the outside and a white powdery substance on the inside, said Adam Sarvana, Grijalva’s spokesman.

The office is on lockdown as police investigate. Those outside the office are not allowed in, and the workers and constituents inside are not allowed to leave until police clear the scene, Sarvana said.

Preliminary health checks show those in the office are OK, but further testing is needed because the substance has not been identified, Sarvana said.

At about 1:45 p.m. there were several police and two fire vehicles outside the office.

It’s not the first time his office has been the target of threats.

Grijalva received death threats in April, shortly after SB1070 was signed into law and he called for a boycott in response. He closed his Tucson and Yuma offices as a result.

In July, after he called off the boycott, staffers found a bullet and a shattered window inside his Yuma office.

Grijalva appeared on a national news talk show this week complaining about racist tactics being used in the race.

It takes a lot of courage these days to face down the haters, and the oppressors. Raul Grijalva is a great American who works on behalf of the people. Let's hope the police and F.B.I. in Arizona can catch the perpetrators of this cowardly act.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sheldon Whitehouse talks about the Republican noise machine

Our junior Senator from Rhode Island offers some timely, astute analysis of President Obama's current political woes:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cicilline for Congress

This evening I had the privilege of being in the live audience for a televised debate between Democratic Mayor David Cicilline and Republican State Rep. John Loughlin. The two men are vying for the chance to succeed Patrick Kennedy as the Congressional Representative from Rhode Island's 1st district. Perhaps the most welcome surprise was the relative intelligence of the questions posed by WPRI to the candidates. Both of the candidates were well enough prepared to stay mostly on topic. As a volunteer for David Cicilline, I was delighted to see him articulate with some passion a coherent, progressive vision for our nation's future. John Loughlin's vision was downright scary. He truly believes in trickle-down economics. The magic bullet that will solve all of our nation's woes is simple: "get out of the way of risk-takers and entrepreneurs." In spite of there being no historical examples of completely unrestrained capitalism working well for most people, Loughlin wants Rhode Islanders to believe that dismantling what's left of the New Deal will somehow "reinvigorate our economy." I guess working longer hours for lower wages, and retirng at a later age, are just some of the sacrifices we'll have to make so that "risk-takers and entrepreneurs" can control even more of our nation's wealth. The fact that some of the super wealthy, who will benefit most from Republican policies, are merely descendants of "risk-takers and entrepreneurs" bothers him not at all. The outsourcing of jobs, in Loughlin's view, has nothing to do with greed. People choose to produce products in low-wage countries because they "can't compete" here in the U.S. When David Cicilline put forward some positive steps that we could take to restore good-paying jobs to Rhode Island, John Loughlin had nothing to offer in response. Yet Loughlin is not nearly as moronic as some of the Republicans running for Congress in other states. He was careful to praise the concept of a safety net even as he proposed ways to further erode it. He even offered a fairly pragmatic, if unprincipled, reason for Rhode Islanders to vote for him-- if the House may fall to GOP control, shouldn't Rhode Island have a Rep. from the majority party?

Right now, polls show Mayor David Cicilline far ahead of Rep. John Loughlin. I don't think tonight's debate will substantially alter that situation. The biggest risk we face is that a generalized disillusionment with politics will lead to very low turnout at the polls. Like so many races, the hard work of volunteers will be crucial to get out the vote. If you live here in Southern New England and can spare a few hours to help, we'd love to see you!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Live Free or Die

Cameron Kittle, of the Nashua Telegraph, has this encouraging bit of news:

Already under fire for controversial fundraising practices, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is now losing some of its local support.

On Friday, the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce released a statement saying its board of directors has voted not to renew its membership with the national chamber because it felt recent political advertisements by the national chamber in support of specific parties and candidates were in “direct conflict” with the foundation of the Hudson chamber.

Jerry Mayotte, executive vice president of the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce, said the Hudson group is a nonpartisan organization. He said he can’t remember the last time they chose not to renew their membership.

The decision wasn’t made lightly.

“We didn’t like the fact that the U.S. Chamber was supporting particular candidates,” Mayotte said. “We don’t think it’s good business practice to do so.

“We take stands on particular issues considering business, but not particular candidates.”

Hudson isn’t the first to separate from the U.S. Chamber because of political disagreement. Many local chambers broke off years ago or never joined in the first place.

Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, said that group hasn’t been a member of the U.S. Chamber for many years.

“We have no formal relationship with them, and we have no plans to change that,” he said.

However, Williams said the lack of membership isn’t because of politics. The decision to stay independent was made years before his time and hasn’t been revisited


While I would venture to guess that many local Chamber of Commerce people across the country do happen to vote Republican, it is heartening to learn that some are put off by the massive partisan spending of the national Chamber. Of course New Hampshire as a whole, once reliably Republican, has found the national party's rightward movement unsettling.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A humble list of suggestions to President Obama

Scarecrow has some suggestions for how President Obama could begin to regain the trust of American voters who voted for him in 2008:

1. He can explain that our economy is huge and the near depression he inherited turned out to be far more serious than he and his advisers imagined; he didn’t cause the depression, but he has to take responsibility for that miscalculation. So just as many of his liberal critics claimed, we needed a much larger, more effective stimulus and a Plan B to redouble and refocus that effort if it wasn’t enough. We still need that.

2. He needs also to concede he and his advisers put too much faith in the ability of the private sector to recover from such a serious financial collapse and loss of individual wealth. Market deregulation failed, catastrophically, so stop defending it. It was a mistake to assume that if we made the banks prosperous again, that would also take care of Main Street. That benevolent trickle down view was wrong, again. It’s time to discard it.

3. Further, since his advisers knew that jobs always lag other aspects of recovery, especially in recessions linked to financial collapse, he and they should have realized we needed massive direct jobs programs, to complement and focus the stimulus. We don’t need foolish symbolic gestures like leaving government positions unfilled. Instead, we needed then and need now more direct hiring by government to perform dozens of public functions, including much greater support for states to avoid layoffs of state funded teachers, firemen, police, and so on. He should have refused to compromise on this just to please a couple of timid, misguided Senators; they needed to step up.

4. The President apparently agrees we need to start rebuilding America’s infrastructure. He can now make a commitment to tackle the trillions in investment backlog we’ve accumulated over recent decades. Go big, and tell the hypocritical deficit hysterics that Bush’s $700 billion tax giveaway to the richest 2 percent should instead be used to rebuild the country.

5. He needs to acknowledge that tackling the nation’s problems requires a more fundamental challenge to the economic power, greed and corruption of America’s major institutions, particularly America’s largest corporations. They will not willingly give up their power nor willingly protect consumers or preserve the middle class. The resulting concentration of wealth at the top is destroying the middle class and systematically corrupting government, using Karl Rove, the US Chamber of Commerce and their conservative friends to launder billions to buy elections to maintain their power.

Without a formidable public challenge to the mega-corporations’ economic power, concerns about individual liberty, which supposedly motivate libertarians/Tea Partiers, will be overwhelmed; ordinary real people can’t hope to compete against multi-billion dollar corporate “persons.” Nor can the public expect government to pursue policies in the public interest, let alone rescue the middle class from an inexorable decline and the increasing transfer of their wealth to the richest one percent.

The voters need to hear their President say these things, so they understand the problems they see in their lives are real, but have an identifiable cause — instead of just letting right wing demagogues blame and demonize blacks, latinos, muslims, or nonexistent “socialists” and “others.”

Such a statement would signal that the President understands it is he who much change and he who must step up, get engaged, and act more boldly. Without showing he’s both honest and mature enough to admit these things, voters will find it hard to believe any of his new initiatives, even if well intended, are anything more than electoral opportunism.

Once he’s done that, the President can ask the voters to support him and any members of his Party prepared to fight for a better agenda. He can explain that the opposition party is not merely in denial on most of these problems; they are accomplices. Their “solutions” would make every problem even worse, and the country can’t afford that.

What does he have to lose?

People have every right to feel disappointed. I believe that President Obama wants to do good things in office, he just needs to listen to his friends who want to show him a better way.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Down and out in lil' Rhody

From the Providence Business News, here in Rhode Island:

R.I. homeless shelters to reach record number of visits in 2010
HOMELESSNESS will reach record levels this year the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless predicted Thursday.

PROVIDENCE – Visits to homeless shelters will reach record levels in 2010, the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless predicted Thursday.

The advocacy group expects 4,340 people will visit shelters by the Dec. 31, the highest number since records started 25 years ago. Last year, 3,371 people visited shelters.

Coalition Executive Director Jim Ryczek attributed the increase to the lagging economy and high unemployment. Many Rhode Islanders, he said, struggled to make mortgage payments and eventually lost their houses to foreclosure.

The coalition said 53 percent of the 3,257 people that visited shelters during the first nine months of the year were homeless for the first time. Families constituted 40 percent of people visiting shelters.

Ryczek said the rise in homelessness was not surprising, even as the economy shows some signs of recovery. Ryczek explained that many people that lost their homes during the height of the foreclosure crisis had been getting by on the hospitality of friends and family.

“Often time the homeless family wears out their welcome and has no choice” but to visit a shelter, Ryczek said.

Nevertheless, shelters may not have enough beds to accommodate all visitors this winter; the coalition sees a shortfall of 282 beds. The state's Emergency Shelter Task Force has arranged for 67 emergency beds at four sites around the state, however, the additional beds are not funded for the duration of the winter season.

Bleak as is the picture described in this article, the reality is even worse. When families or individuals learn that a shelter is full, they often don't bother to put their name down on any list. They aren't counted as visitors to the shelter. Some of them do like the family of four I met at a shelter/soup kitchen where I volunteer-- they survive in very tough conditions. The breadwinner for this family had his job reduced to part time. They've worn out their welcome with different people. Now they live in a van. It's a struggle to bathe, and to stay warm enough on cold nights. Yet they see themselves as lucky compared to some who don't even have the minimal shelter provided by their van.

When I read some of these millionaires whining about taxes, etc. I wonder how many days they would survive on the streets, where pissing other people off can be very dangerous. As a nation we must ask ourselves whether we'll continue to treat some people as less than human, or finally start to do the right thing.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Awash in anonymous cash

Keith Olbermann, and his guest Chris Hayes, discuss the new post Citizens United political landscape, noting strong public distaste for the secret buying of elections:

I really hope enough people wake up and smell the coffee before November 2nd!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Running on the record

I have been interested to see that at least some Democratic candidates-- like Rep. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.), & Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.)-- have begun to campaign on their records as promoters of health care reform. This is smart politics, as a solid majority of people recognize that health care reform was at least a step in the right direction. Even some who disagree are open to learning more about it, beyond the media spin, and may at least be convinced that the Republican alternative is worse for most Americans. The Democrats should now be aggressively pointing to any votes they have taken in the public (as opposed to corporate) interest while in Washington. Some "Blue Dogs" will have less of these votes than their more progressive colleagues. They also should be explaining to voters how their Republican opponents' promises, to cut taxes on the wealthy and "shrink big government," would work out in practice. Do we really want to lay off more police, food inspectors, etc.? Will we be better off if the social security program we've been paying into for so long is "privatized?" Most of all, voters are looking for leadership that will challenge the power of the plutocrats. Our system is so flooded with money that candidates are understandably nervous about offending potential fat-cat donors. This is not a normal election cycle, however. While most Americans are usually uncomfortable in bringing up class differences, the economic insecurity for most of us today has made issues of economic and social injustice carry special weight. People are angry, and will not forgive politicians who fail to consistently address their very real concerns. Democrats need to understand the anger and impatience, while calmly explaining to voters in clear fashion how they intend to make things better.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A tunnel too far?

Paul Krugman points out how a small-minded selfishness is crushing our economy, and diminishing the greatness of America. Governor Christie of N.J. isn't the only person he could have pointed to in this regard:

right now, by any rational calculation, would be an especially good time to improve
the nation’s infrastructure. We have the need: our roads, our rail lines, our
water and sewer systems are antiquated and increasingly inadequate. We have the
resources: a million-and-a-half construction workers are sitting idle, and
putting them to work would help the economy as a whole recover from its slump.
And the price is right: with interest rates on federal debt at near-record lows,
there has never been a better time to borrow for long-term investment.

But American politics these days is anything but rational. Republicans bitterly
opposed even the modest infrastructure spending contained in the Obama stimulus
plan. And, on Thursday, Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, canceled
America’s most important current public works project, the long-planned and
much-needed second rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

It was a destructive and incredibly foolish decision on multiple levels. But it
shouldn’t have been all that surprising. We are no longer the nation that used
to amaze the world with its visionary projects. We have become, instead, a
nation whose politicians seem to compete over who can show the least vision, the
least concern about the future and the greatest willingness to pander to
short-term, narrow-minded selfishness.

So, about that tunnel: with almost 1,200 people per square mile, New Jersey is the
most densely populated state in America, more densely populated than any major
European nation. Add in the fact that many residents work in New York, and you
have a state that can’t function without adequate public transportation. There
just isn’t enough space for everyone to drive to work.

But right now there’s just one century-old rail tunnel linking New Jersey and New
York — and it’s running close to capacity. The need for another tunnel couldn’t
be more obvious.

So last year the project began. Of the $8.7 billion in planned funding, less than a
third was to come from the State of New Jersey; the rest would come, in roughly
equal amounts, from the independent Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
and from the federal government. Even if costs were to rise substantially, as
they often do on big projects, it was a very good deal for the state.

But Mr. Christie killed it anyway.

This is the dystopia towards which the nation slouches. The wealthy retreat into their gated estates, abandoning the rest of the country to slowly crumble. Why pay for a tunnel when you can take your helicopter? The problem we face is a cultural one: the sense of working together to make life better for us all is vanishing. Public schools need help? Why don't we lay off teachers, cut education budgets drastically, and use tax-dollars instead to give wealthy people vouchers to help them pay for private schools. We cannot rely on a handful of well-meaning philanthropists to solve all of our social problems. Government exists to do more than fund the military and prisons. Let's hope voters can remember that this November!

Monday, October 11, 2010

This Rachel Maddow piece highlights the price we pay for Republican obstructionism:

I don't think any reasonable observer can deny that the Republicans want the economy to stay bad until they regain control. It's appalling, but true.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Robert Reich gets riled up!

Mild-mannered Robert Reich is clearly fed up. The new reality of unrestricted, undisclosed cash, flowing from all over the world into our elections, has him fearing the worst.

According to FEC data, only 32 percent of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the names of their donors. By comparison, in the 2006 midterm, 97 percent disclosed; in 2008, almost half disclosed.

Last week, when the Senate considered a bill to force such disclosure, every single Republican voted against it -- thereby revealing the GOP's true colors, and presumed benefactors. (To understand how far the GOP has come, nearly ten years ago campaign disclosure was supported by 48 of 54 Republican senators.)

Maybe the Disclose Bill can get passed in lame-duck session. Maybe the IRS will make sure Karl Rove's and other supposed nonprofits aren't sham political units. Maybe pigs will learn to fly.

In the meantime we face an election that marks an even sharper turn toward plutocratic capitalism than before -- a government by and for the rich and big corporations -- and away from democratic capitalism.

As income and wealth has moved to the top, so has political power. That's why, for example, it's been impossible to close the absurd tax loophole that allows hedge-fund and private-equity managers to treat much of their income as capital gains, subject to a 15 percent tax (even though they're earning tens or hundreds of millions a year, and the top 15 hedge-fund managers earned an average of $1 billion last year). Why it proved impossible to fund expanded health care by limiting the tax deductions of the very rich. Why it's so difficult even to extend George Bush's tax cuts for the bottom 98 percent of Americans without also extending them for the top 2 percent - even though the top won't spend the money and create jobs, but will blow a $36 billion hole in the federal budget next year.

The good news is average Americans are beginning to understand that when the rich secretly flood our democracy with money, the rest of us drown. Wall Street executives and top CEOs get bailed out while under-water homeowners and jobless workers sink.

A Quinnipiac poll earlier this year found overwhelming support for a millionaire tax.

But what the public wants means nothing if our democracy is secretly corrupted by big money.

Right now we're headed for a perfect storm: An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top, a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy, and a public in the aftershock of the Great Recession becoming increasingly angry and cynical about government. The three are obviously related.

We must act. We need a movement to take back our democracy. (If tea partiers were true to their principles, they'd join it.) As Martin Luther King once said, the greatest tragedy is "not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."

I don't think Robert Reich is overreacting. We have moved into a new phase of the plutocratic power grab and it's now time for us to fight back before it's too late.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Full employment is the goal

Robert Borosage explains that the country is facing an unacceptably grim situation, with many millions out of work, and no jobs for them to find,

It is time to reassert that full employment is the primary measure of our economy: "Continuous and useful employment for those willing and seeking to work." Mass unemployment is an unacceptable failure. We will not learn to live with it. We will keep pushing until we eliminate it. Government will strive to create the conditions for the private market to create the jobs we need. But it will act as an employer of last resort for those unable to find work over a long period of time.

It is easy to scorn such admonitions. Congress excels at setting high sounding goals that it is certain to ignore. But we've got an economy where corporate profits are up, bank profits are up, inequality is rising -- and there are no jobs. This cannot become the new normal. However naïve it may sound, it would be good for the congress and the president to have the debate. Commit clearly that full employment is the measure by which their actions should be judged. Or alternatively, admit that full employment is no longer plausible, so we will build a strong social contract -- of training, guaranteed income, health care -- for those discarded from the workforce. Let's have the debate -- for the one choice that is socially ruinous is the one we seem to be drifting towards -- mass unemployment without a safety net.

The really important point Borosage makes is that long-term unemployed have little to support them once their benefits are exhausted. If those who have all the money cannot find a way to use their wealth to generate good jobs, then the jobless will need government help to survive. If such help isn't forthcoming, we will return to levels of misery not seen in this country since the Great Depression.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Obama does the right thing to combat foreclosure fraud

Here's the official White House explanation for President Obama's veto of HR 3808:

Today, the White House announced that President Obama will not sign H.R. 3808, the Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act of 2010, and will return the bill to the House of Representatives. The Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act of 2010 was designed to remove impediments to interstate commerce. While we share this goal, we believe it is necessary to have further deliberations about the intended and unintended impact of this bill on consumer protections, including those for mortgages, before this bill can be finalized.

Notarizations are important for a large range of documents, including financial documents. As the President has made clear, consumer financial protections are incredibly important, and he has made this one of his top priorities, including signing into law the strongest consumer protections in history in the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. That is why we need to think through the intended and unintended consequences of this bill on consumer protections, especially in light of the recent developments with mortgage processors.

The authors of this bill no doubt had the best intentions in mind when trying to remove impediments to interstate commerce. We will work with them and other leaders in Congress to explore the best ways to achieve this goal going forward.

The reason why President Obama's decision is good for consumers is simple: the bill as written would have made it easier for banks and mortgage companies to obscure their actions. Streamlining the notarization process, and replacing traditional signed and sealed documents with "electronic signatures" makes it too easy to post-date phony paperwork and cover up shady dealings. Let's hope this willingness to stand up to the banksters continues!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Money flows like water to GOP

This report shows just how critical it is for those of us in the netroots to labor mightily in opposition to the big-money machines on the right.

So get out there and work and keep the Republicans from doing even more damage to our country!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Health Care a winning issue for Democrats?

With all the media hype about the Tea Party's anger over "Obamacare" it may have seemed likely that there was genuine popular disapproval for health reform. The reality is very different:

A new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI) bucks the conventional wisdom that voters are overwhelmingly mad about health care reform and that candidates who embrace it on the campaign trail are putting themselves at risk. Fifty-four percent of voters say they would be more likely to back a candidate who supported health care reform, according to the poll. That number includes 51 percent of independents and 79 percent of Democratic voters. Fifty-nine percent of Republican voters, however, say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported the legislation.

"This isn't a shock to anyone who's actually been on the ground, in the 50 states, organizing," said Arshad Hasan, executive director of Democracy for America, which provides grassroots support to progressive candidates. "We've been shouting this from the rooftops all year, and this data backs it up. Most people are tired of being ripped off by big insurance companies and were hungry for reform. That's why President Obama ran on health care as an issue, and that's why Democrats should stand by it now. If anything, people are upset that reform wasn't stronger."

Democratic candidates shouldn't be intimidated by the huge amounts of money the health-insurance industry will throw against them. Health reform is a real need and desire in this country.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Minimum Wage

I saw this comment by judesuper at the Huffington Post:

I just don't get why people making more money than they can spend a year, have such a hard time with folks making $290.00 a week?

Would the rich be any better off if the poor were only making $200.00 a week, instead of $290.00? I just can't get their argument for lowering minimum wage.

The comment is on an article discussing recent comments by Republican candidates, suggesting that the minimum wage is too high. It really gets at the heart of why so many Americans need to learn more about what the Republican Party represents.

What the comment reflects is the simple understanding, of most decent Americans, that those who have more than enough should respect the humanity of those who are far less fortunate. What it misses is the extent to which the unchecked greed of the last few decades has corrupted the souls of many wealthy Americans.

The rich are not better off, in any meaningful sense, because they can pay folks even less than they do already. They would still live a comfortable life of privilege even if the minimum wage were to double. Yet, after the restaurant and hotel bills are all paid, the rich expect to have something left over to add to a growing pile. Just because you live in a nice house, drive a nice car, and take nice vacations, you shouldn't think you're rich. To be truly rich requires being able to live well and accumulate money at the same time. This is why throwing money, in the form of tax-breaks, at the wealthy doesn't stimulate the economy. Someone who makes $2 million/year isn't likely to spend 4 times as much as someone making $500,000/year. There is only so much you can do with your money. What happens with much of the money is that it is put aside. Some of it may be invested in the stock-market. There it can be put to work by multinational corporations-- who are feverishly outsourcing jobs to labor markets without enforcement of meaningful wage or safety regulations.

Those wealthy, who would like to lower the minimum wage, realize that there are certain jobs that can't be outsourced to Bangladesh. If they could pay someone $2/hour less to rake their leaves, then they could keep that extra money in their pockets. They simply don't care that life was already a hard grind for those making the old wage. They justify their stinginess by suggesting that poor people don't have it so bad, after all. "Have you ever seen how many big-screen T.V.s there are in the projects? If they don't like minimum wage, maybe they should get another job!" Greed clouds their minds to the point where they lose the capacity to feel any sort of human sympathy for the poor.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Rallly draws huge crowds to D.C.

Let's hope this huge rally on a glorious fall day in Washington D.C. helps us close that pesky "enthusiasm gap!"

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Friday, October 1, 2010

One Nation in D.C. !

Tomorrow all sorts of good progressive folks will gather in Washington D.C. for a major rally. Organized labor, students, religious groups, civil rights groups, anti-war advocates will raise their voices to support progressive change in our nation. I won't be able to attend, but I am promised complete reports on the festivities, from friends who left a few hours ago from Rhode Island. I urge readers to pay attention to how the media covers this event. Considerate and thoughtful coverage may be too much to hope for, but maybe the sincerity of the participants will make it through the media filters. In any case, the rally serves an important psychological need for all of us progressives-- the need to feel like part of something big and important. If you wish, rally organizers have set up a live-stream website for you to check out the action: