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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why a Walker victory will not stop a movement

Protesters outside the Wisconsin Statehouse,
Madison, WI, Feb. 26, 2011.
(Photo by Richard Hurd, via Creative Commons) 

A new poll conducted last week shows Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) with a seven point lead over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in next Tuesday's recall election, in Wisconsin. Contemplating a negative outcome after all the protests, all the statehouse sleepovers, all the nights the Democrats of the Wisconsin Senate hid out in an Illinois motel, all the visits from Ed Schultz and the rest of the national media, all the signatures on recall petitions, it all sucks, of course. Big time. But the herculean effort it took to try and oust the union busting governor of the first state where public employee unions were recognized is worth more than just an "Oh well, we tried," and an "atta boy" for the recall movement's strident activists. It deserves to be recognized for initiating a conversation on fairness, and bringing ownership and unity to a movement.
First, if one were to follow the fuse that exploded in Zuccotti Park, last fall, to its source, they would find an unwound reel and depressed plunger in the rotunda of the statehouse in Madison. Occupy Wall Street could not have happened without it. No matter what happens Tuesday, the conversation about fairness - fairness for the middle class and for union workers - is not over. What began in Madison was amplified by mic checks in Lower Manhattan that continue to echo across the country. The chorus is just beginning, even appearing as a central theme of Obama's reelection campaign.
"The job of a President is to lay the foundation for strong and sustainable broad-based growth," Obama said at a campaign stop in Iowa last week, "It’s to make sure that everybody in this country gets a fair shake, everybody gets a fair shot, everybody is playing by the same set of rules.
 "When you’re the President," he added, with rhetoric intended to distinguish himself from the GOP nominee, corporate raider Mitt Romney, "your job is to look out for the investor and the worker; for the big companies and the small companies; for the health of farmers and small businesspeople and the nurse and the teacher. You're supposed to be thinking about everybody -- and the health of the middle class, and what the future is going to hold for our kids."
 Obama took on economic fairness directly because he saw there was support out there. Politicians don't adopt an agenda just to be "radical." Sure it helps if it's in their philosophical wheelhouse, but they do it because they have political cover. They see there is a thriving movement that will support it. And if voices support it, and they get lots of media time, the money will follow. Just ask the Tea Party.
Second, what Wisconsin re-affirms is that this is our country. No matter how much money the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove and Sheldon Adelson throw at a politician's feet, our voices and our actions are the weapons they fear most. Otherwise, they wouldn't be working so hard to disenfranchise us at the voting booth.
Lastly, what happened in Madison united us. It brought liberal and progressive activists together with establishment organizations like major unions, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, in a fight that Rebuild the Dream founder Van Jones might call "class warfare… against people who have no class." Indeed, it's likely that the Susan G. Komen, anti-Planned Parenthood blow-back, this past March, would not have happened without the unity with which we have empowered ourselves since February, 2011.
Remember that no matter what happens in the Battle for Wisconsin, on June 5, there will be no flag of surrender, from either side. For those of us committed to fairness, equality and the right of everyone to be healthy and prosperous, the fight never ends. There's always someone who wants to turn back the clock on women, sacrifice the welfare of workers and suppress the rights of voters. We have to be there every time. They only win when we allow ourselves to lose, and that will never happen.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Protecting a lead – Campaign reform and the SCOTUS hedge

Official 2005 photo of Chief Justice John G. R...In his article in the current issue of the New Yorker, describing the Supreme Court's machinations in the 2010 Citizens United decision, Jeffrey Toobin informs readers that the attorney for the plaintiff, Ted Olsen, had a specific goal when he was presenting his case to the court in September, 2009. Since this was the case's second go at the Court, it indicated a majority of justices was looking for a way to do more than rule on the funding for broadcast media campaign ads in the context of the 2002 finance reform law known as McCain-Feingold. It was looking for reasons to overturn the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in its entirety.
"Olson could tell... that the Court was leaning his way—heading for a ruling that was far broader than the one he had originally sought," Toobin writes. So, he says, "Olson argued cautiously, as if protecting a lead."
That lead was a major factor in taking the GOP to a sweeping victory in the 2010 elections, and has already played a huge role in this year's GOP presidential primaries. Indeed, one could argue that Chief Justice Roberts' Court showed that, in fact, it was not the impartial umpire he claimed it would be during his confirmation hearing. "Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them," he famously said, "The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules." But if the Citizens United ruling was about making the right call, then Roger "the Rocket" Clemens has nothing to worry about. The Courts' decision makes it seem as if the umpiring crew conferred, and decided that, for the good of the game, human growth hormone is gear, and better performance is every ballplayer's right.
Toobin's article makes it clear that the outcries of "judicial activism" by those who supported the restrictions of McCain-Feingold were more than just sour grapes, more than the tit-for-tat critique of a decision that didn't go their way. He describes how, after the case was first argued in March, 2009, Roberts wrote a narrow opinion for the majority that Justice Anthony Kennedy broadened, and then Justice Antonin Scalia argued they could broaden it more in a way that would overturn even the most recent precedents, and thus the law itself. It was only then they decided not to issue a ruling in June and, instead, scheduled the case to be re-argued.
Now, more than two years after Citizens United v. F.E.C., lower courts and city councils, state legislatures and even Congress itself are making progress in efforts to restore at least some form of campaign finance reform, mostly through limiting contributions and requiring donors' names to be revealed - particularly those who contribute tremendous sums to campaigns.
On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals, in Washington, declined to stay an order by a lower court that requires making public the names of those who finance election ads, including those who donate to political action committees (PACs). According to an article in the Los Angeles Times:
Pending a September appeal, "groups that run a type of ad known as 'electioneering communications' will now have to disclose all of the donations they received since the beginning of 2011, or set up a segregated account to pay for the commercials. "Electioneering communications are television spots that refer to federal candidates but stop short of advocating for their election or defeat and air within 30 days before a primary and 60 days before the general election."
This ruling directly affects groups with tax-exempt status, and "there is no question that it complicates the political plans of heavyweight players such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and an array of well-financed, conservative, nonprofit groups such as Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity that have taken the lead in a costly air war against President Obama and congressional Democrats. Liberal tax-exempt groups, which spend far less on the type of ads in question, will also be affected," the LA Times article says.
Although the California State Assembly, on Tuesday, killed a measure in committee that, according to the LA Times, "would have urged Congress to call a constitutional convention to pass an amendment to limit 'corporate personhood' and declare that money does not constitute free speech," some local governments are moving forward with challenges to Citizens United.
The Daily Northwestern reports that the city council of Evanston, Illinois, voted unanimously, on Monday, for a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment that would reverse many of the unpopular results of the Supreme Courts' decision. They were the first in the Land of Lincoln to do so, "join[ing] other municipalities and states that have passed similar resolutions addressing the 2010 decision on the constitutional rights of corporations." The resolution supports the action of Sen. Dick Durban (D-IL), the state's senior senator, who is a co-sponsor to legislation that would set such an amendment in motion.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S. Capitol, the man who's name has become synonymous with campaign finance reform, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), has come full circle, and is now in negotiations with Senate Democrats to be the first Republican to lend his name to the latest version of the Disclose Act, introduced in March by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The bill, as reported in The Hill, this morning:
"would require any group that spends $10,000 or more on election ads or other political activity to file a disclosure report with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours. Reports would detail the nature of expenditures over $1,000 and reveal the names of donors who give $10,000 or more. "The legislation would also require that outside group advertisements include 'stand-by-your-ad' disclaimers listing the biggest donors."
The Disclose Act, though, stands little chance of making it through both Houses of Congress - this session, anyway. In the meantime, Politico reports, "With little fanfare, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his top lieutenants are crisscrossing the country from the Southwest to the Big Apple, meeting with billionaires, high-level business executives and union leaders in a mad scramble to raise money for Majority PAC — and perhaps save their slim Senate majority."
Of course, they're not the only Democrats doing it. But, as long as the umpires are saying it's okay to juice up, may as well play both sides of the hedge and go for the long ball. The "major scandal" that McCain warned The Hill about can happen later. Maybe then, Karl Rove will replace the Rocket on the witness stand, and it will be a whole new ballgame. -PBG

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Obama defends gay unions while Republicans attack Lincoln's Union

"In effect, what he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party...
"But ideology cannot be a substitute for a determination to think for yourself, for a willingness to study an issue objectively...
"Our political system is losing its ability to even explore alternatives. If fealty to these pledges continues to expand, legislators may pledge their way into irrelevance. Voters will be electing a slate of inflexible positions rather than a leader."
- Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), in his concession letter to the GOP voters of Indiana, after his loss, Tuesday, to Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock in the Indiana Republican Senate Primary
Hyper-partisanship leads to hyperbole: we are in a civil war in America, for the soul of the Constitution. Those who grip tightly to the politics of division are enemies of the republic, and destroyers of our union.
If you grew up in the South, as I did, you know that for many of your neighbors, Lee may have surrendered the Confederacy, but so-called Southern Pride did not acquiesce - not in 1865 at Appomattox, and not in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. The 1976 campaign of the "reformed" segregationist, George Wallace, for the Republican presidential nomination, showed Ronald Reagan that there was a strong anti-Kennedy/Johnson/Democrat undercurrent in the Old South, waiting to be resuscitated. So Reagan gave them a platform, and a party. His "Southern strategy" made the party of Lincoln's Union the voice of Nathan Bedford Forrest's Confederacy, a viciously conservative chorus of racists, homeschoolers and homophobes - Bible thumpers who believe surrender to ignorance is the only way back into the Garden, as if critical thinking, by itself, is responsible for the Fall of Man.
If Mourdock becomes the Junior Senator from Indiana, Lugar warns in his letter, "his answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook." The Tea Party, then, wants more than just control over the three branches of our federal government - they want this to be a country that takes a stand, on principle, against everything from homosexuality to Islam.
Lugar's resounding defeat to an admitted political isolationist, and North Carolina's insistence on an amendment to the state constitution, taking away relationship rights from committed couples, is as powerful a barrage on the civil structure and protections of our federal government as the Confederacy firing at Fort Sumter, 151 years ago.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ri...
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and Committee member Barack Obama at a base where mobile launch missiles are being destroyed by the Nunn-Lugar program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Into this structural distress of our Union, where extremism commands the media, drops Wednesday's revelation that Barack Obama, President of the United States, is personally, publicly supporting the right of gay and lesbian Americans to legally marry. "I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," the president told ABC News' Robin Roberts, in a hastily arranged interview.
Reacting to Obama's declaration, presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, reiterated his belief that "States are able to make decisions with regards to domestic partnership benefits," and went on to describe the entire discussion as "a very tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues."
Setting aside Romney's hesitation to assume an unequivocal position, civil rights are not a "social issue;" they are an issue based on the freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution. Indeed, the freedom to be who you are is an essential part of being an American. Because of our country's sordid history of slavery and Jim Crow, there is, perhaps understandably, the desire to think of bigotry and the struggle for civil rights as the sole realm of the African American experience. But this is a civil rights issue as well, because it punishes members of the LGBT community, taking away from them the right to commit their love to someone for the rest of their lives, with all the benefits of partnership available to married heterosexuals.
The over 30 states that have voted to ban gay marriage - either through law or an amendment to the state's constitution - are not endowing new rights to one-man-one-woman couples with their specific definition of marriage; they are disenfranchising committed couples from the economic and other partnership rights a legal, civil marriage allows. In North Carolina, that now includes committed heterosexual couples who choose not to marry.
In his ABC interview, President Obama acknowledged that although some are eager to engage our American penchant for supposedly Christian, moral superiority, "when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated...and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and, hopefully, the better I’ll be as president."
Despite that meaningful, moral justification for his decision, there are still many on the far right who feel Barack Obama is the ultimate anti-American, whose presidency puts "our future as a sovereign risk."
"[W]e shall not have any coarse (sic) but armed revolution should we fail with the power of the vote in November," writes Ponch McPhee, the editor of the March newsletter of the Republican Party of Greene County, Virginia, "This Republic cannot survive for 4 more years underneath this political socialist ideologue."
One hopes they heed the advice of Abraham Lincoln, who warned, in his first inaugural address:
"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to 'preserve, protect, and defend it.'"

Monday, May 07, 2012

Upcoming Congress the devil in the details this November

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz speaks...
DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz speaks to College Democrats (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you've ever heard Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) speak of her life in politics, chances are you've heard her story about how the Florida Democratic establishment tried to discourage her from running for the state legislature in 1992. They had someone else in mind, she says, to replace her boss, Peter Deutsch, who was running for the U.S. House, and they wanted her to wait her turn. But, her story goes, she began knocking on doors, visiting families in her South Florida district, and through hard work and determination, became the Democratic nominee in a six-way primary, garnering over 50% of the votes.

Now, as the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, she is not only responsible for talking up the accomplishments of President Obama and his administration, she is also focused on returning Democrats to a majority in the House of Representatives, and securing a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. While the presidential race is under the bright lights, it is the Congressional race that will determine just how effective a returning Barack Obama will be in his second term. It will be up to Wasserman Schultz, then, to instill her particular brand of political tenacity into the campaigns of her party's incumbents, and into the races where Democrats are challenging GOP incumbents.

In a recent article about the fundraising challenges those running against incumbents face, the Wall Street Journal reports that even though the president's party only needs "a net gain of 25 seats to regain control of the House...many political forecasters say Republicans are likely to retain their majority."

There are eighty House seats the experts consider to be in play this November, the WSJ says, meaning that even though we will vote for the entire 113th Congress, four out of five of them are in districts that are supposedly safe, because redistricting did not harm their chances for retention by whichever party is there now. Since most state houses are run by Republicans, most 2010 GOP districts remain in their hands.

Still, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is on the offensive. It has chosen 63 seats that it thinks it can change from "Red to Blue," only eight of which they classify as "Majority Makers," meaning they are "in strong Democratic districts." Former Rep. Alan Grayson, the outspoken, progressive Democrat, who was ousted in 2010 by Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL) for example, is considered to be in a great position to take the redrawn Florida 9th seat.

Besides retaking Democratic districts which are either open or currently represented by Republicans, the DCCC has identified twenty "Emerging Races," which it describes as "becoming increasingly competitive." Several of those, including the Ohio 7th, currently represented by Rep. Steve Austria (R-OH), benefit the Democrats because of redistricting, and a well run campaign by challenger Joyce Healy-Abrams.

The goal of most on the left, though, remains to unseat as many of the Tea Party freshmen from 2010 as they can. "The American people have rejected this 18-month tea party Republican experiment in Congress as a failure — after they chose millionaires and billionaires ahead of seniors and the middle class," DCCC press secretary, Jesse Ferguson, told Politico, in April.

But, according to a recent New York Times story, by Jennifer Steinhauer, the group swept into office in that election are "eager to prove that they are more than flukes who rode in on a wave only to paddle back out to the sea of one-termers."

Still, "it is one thing to run as an outsider taking aim at Washington dysfunction," Steinhauer goes on to point out, but "when you are the incumbent, with Congressional license plates and a voting record for all to see, it is a whole new ballgame."

Indeed, recent revelations by Bloomberg show that the same candidates who railed against the TARP bank bailouts during their campaigns in 2010, have received donations from Wall Street PACs:
"The political action committees of [JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.] have distributed $169,499 through March 31 to the campaign coffers of the 10 freshman Tea Party-backed lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee, according to an analysis of campaign finance disclosure records."
Whether or not the plate is set for the DCCC to take back the House is debatable. But if Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz cannot goad her candidates into the kind of political commitment it takes to win an election,  then the predictions of the experts, who say the Democrats will fall short in 2012, will certainly be validated.

If they're wrong, though, and Democrats regain complete control of Congress, will the leadership be more concerned with maintaining control than helping President Obama follow through on some of his bolder initiatives? One of the reasons they lost so resoundingly in 2010 was because they were afraid to take the steps necessary to implement tax policy (like letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans), to raise the debt limit without the GOP drama of last year, and to come up with the Dodd-Frank benchmarks, thinking too much about protecting individual legislators than the constituency they represent.

If the Dems are successful, I hope they take a long look at the leadership, in both Houses, and let them know that the surest way to reelection in 2014 is to do what the people sent them there to do - the people's business, which (almost) never converges with Congress' yen for self enrichment, regardless of who's in charge.


Friday, May 04, 2012

The Machiavellian vs the Proletariat - whose economy is it, anyway?

"You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn't, Mr. Potter. In the whole, vast configuration of things, I'd say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider!" - George Bailey, from the 1946 film, "It's a Wonderful Life"
In this crazy capitalist, consumer-driven economy of ours, you can be the populist hero George Bailey or the manipulative banker, Mr. Potter. Mitt Romney and his surrogates, want to remind you, though, that even George Bailey was a money lender. His Building and Loan went broke because Potter called in the note, and there was no money when the people came for it.

In 2008, according to Mitt Romney's friend and colleague at Bain Capital, Edward Conrad, it was the investors who panicked and caused a run on the banks, wanting their return when the short term investments didn't pay off. "The banks did what we wanted them to do," Conrad said in a recent interview with New York Times writer, Adam Davidson. "They put short-term money back into the economy. What they didn’t expect is that depositors would withdraw their money, because they hadn’t withdrawn their money en masse since 1929."

According to Conrad, the system was working. Davidson writes:
"[Conrad] argues that collateralized-debt obligations, credit-default swaps, mortgage-backed securities and other (now deemed toxic) financial products were fundamentally sound. They were new tools that served a market need for the world’s most sophisticated investors, who bought them in droves. And they didn’t cause the panic anyway, he says; the withdrawals did."
You see, to Edward Conrad, we are just poor, dullard consumers who don't get the value of the "investor class" (aka the 1%) to our economy. "Most citizens are consumers, not investors," he told Davidson. "They don’t recognize the benefits to consumers that come from investment."

Davidson interviewed Conrad in advance of the publication of his book, “Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong.” Davidson characterizes the pro-bank, pro-wealth disparity scree with the anti-blurb, "This could be the most hated book of the year."

Conrad ignores the many other factors that played a role in investors wanting their money back. Manufacturing has been leaving this country in droves since 1970s, and according to PolitiFact, no president lost more manufacturing jobs than George W. Bush - over 430 million per year he was in the Oval Office. Yet Bush insisted that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae work with conventional lenders and community groups, "such as the National Urban League, the National Council of La Raza, ACORN(!) and others," to get people into "a home of their own," even if they couldn't afford it, as a stepping stone to the "American Dream."

More homes being bought meant more loans. More loans meant more money for banks. Eventually, they started bundling the loans together in units and selling those. When the investors Conrad says made a run on the banks for their money, it was partly because the siphoning off of manufacturing jobs caused consumers to lose confidence, and real small businesses (not small corporations that wore the moniker for the funding) began to lay off people. Notes couldn't be met, homes were lost through default, and as the defaults increased, those who held the notes began to panic. So it was a loss of jobs, and the resulting loss of consumer capital, that caused the economy to collapse.

Conrad has proposed what could be called the anti-Dodd-Frank legislative step of "creating a new government program that guarantees to bail out the banks if they ever face another run," Davidson says. Does Conrad's pal, Romney, really think that the public wants banks to receive guaranteed bailouts every time there's a colossal financial system fuck up? How would they sell that to the Tea Party folks, who hate the Bush bank bailouts?

Davidson's interview with Conrad reveals that people like him see people as either the innovative, risk-taking investment class, or as "art history majors," who seem unwilling to put forth the effort to succeed. He claims that there should be more people like him, and they should be making double the money they do now, disparity be damned. To him, it seems, you're either in a yacht, or your treading water. Tread harder, because a rising tide may lift all the boats, but unless you innovate a floatation device, you'll drown, which Conrad would probably say, in the whole vast configuration of things, is your own fault.
Hancock-Bain bldg
John Hancock Tower, Boston, MA,
home of Bain Capital
(from RhythmicQuietude, through Creative Commons)