Character & Leadership

April 05, 2011

The Threat Within

I too have little doubt that the biggest danger to ordinary Americans is Washington Democrats responding to the GOP's $5-6 trillion proposal to ruin Medicare, etc. with Democratic,

... Beltway desire to prove oneself “serious” by courageously agreeing to hurt ordinary Americans to make the nation safe for high-end tax cuts.


January 28, 2011

Did the Senate just lose the future?

... the Senate decided that its current procedures are good enough. There's something slightly terrifying about that. Accepting a dysfunctional legislature is, as James Fallows and others have argued, one way to lose the future. Our problems -- debt, health-care costs, infrastructure, education, etc. -- are on autopilot. Our solutions are not. Obama can give as many speeches as he wants. If we don't have a political system capable of acting on our challenges, we don't have a political system capable of overcoming them.

via Ezra Klein at

This may be a poltical blunder of colossal proportions for Democrats as well as continuing the long American nightmare of a dysfunctional US Senate blocking the functioning of the US administration, US judiciary, US House of Representatives and continuing the inability to move forward on myriad challenges.

Not that the filibuster reform would have been something great for Democrats, as it was crafted to reform the Senate for whatever majority.  And here's the difference between the parties.  

When Republicans (Senate Majority Leader of the time, Bill Frist) first made moves in this direction, they made it clear it would be to punish the Democrats and get their way: he called it the "nuclear option" (there's that good old right-wing violence metaphor ever in the forefront).  Democrats backed down a bit.  And they when the Republicans became the minority they ratcheted up filibuster obstruction to record levels, many times higher than had been seen historically.

Whereas the Democrats are proposing actual reform to open the Senate's process, encourage real debate, make the minority show their strength and hand, but create a workable system that, yes, allows the majority to get more done (which after all is what democracy is supposed to be about).

So Democrats have now legitimized the process of reforming the Senate via majority vote, but didn't do it.  And this reform moment will fade away.  -- Sidebar: Note that in this process, after about 15 years, Senator Wyden finally got the Senate to abolish secret holds.  15 years!  Just to abolish the secret hold. Holds still in place, just not secret.  (So, yes, Senator Merkley may still be a US Senator in a couple of decades (2050 anyone?) when reform of this magnitude might finally happen in the Senate.)

The moment has passed for real reform.  I do not expect it will blow this way again in my lifetime.

But Republicans aren't interested in good governance.

And that is the big danger for Democrats.

Now if the Republicans decide they want to shove more through when they are in power, they will use the opening created here by the Democrats to change the rules, but will not push though a Merkley-style reform.  It will be a power grab wolf in reform sheep's clothing.

Thank-you Senators Merkley, Udall and Harkin for trying hard and coming close.  And for having more optimism than I that you will succeed before it is too late.

January 05, 2011

2010: The End of World War II

Military hostilities for World War II ended in 1945.  The fall of the Berlin Wall was a key turning point showing we had reached the beginning of the end of the Cold War which ended “officially” in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR.  I would argue that 20 years after the end of the Cold War and we are finally and truly in a new era.

After World War II, the United States embarked on a possibly unprecedented effort in human history, to rebuild not only the allies but also rebuild the enemies of the war, using tools like the Marshall Plan and a new constitution and investment in and economic inclusion of Japan.  The goal was to raise the economic tide and thus lift all "country-boats".  Based on a model of non-military expansion of states and on inter-country trade rather than on wars and on monopolization of resources.  Russia declined to participate and with the advent of Communist China joining them in a bloc, the Cold War military and economic “containment” of their ambitions was sustained successfully for decades. Since then, economic integration has proceeded including them.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and declaration in 1991 of the end of the Cold War did mark a significant and and highly symbolic turning point.

But in 2010, we saw a remarkable economic economic situation: the United States economy struggling along with continued and expected unemployment near 10%, continued asset depreciation and many other weak signs from the Great Recession - the deepest economic slump with years forecast to recover housing and employment.  Yet the stock market did quite well on the strength of very strong corporate earnings. Earnings that would normally be depressed by a high unemployment and thus lowered spending rate. Earnings that were instead driven by overseas growth in sales and profits ... and hiring overseas, not here, as a result. Earnings that are expected to continue in 2011 well above the weakly growing US economy.

A strong US economy can help earnings, but earnings aren't primarilty dependent on the US economic market.  

The world economy is now largely, if loosely, integrated.  Many weak economies representing the vast majority of people around the world have grown stronger.  The most striking being the rise of China, which, in spite of huge numbers mired in deep poverty, now has a developing middle-class that is larger than the entire population of the United States.

And that worldwide integration of economies including Russia and China, lifting so many, is a great success, leveling the economic field by bringing others up.  The true end of World War II.

And that wasn't achieved via tax cuts for the rich (a third of the rich inherited their money, not earned it) and wishful thinking about how unregulated markets and the superrich would buy things to make it happen, but rather through deliberate policy choices and government investment financed by a tax system where those that benefited most financially from our system paid that forward in higher taxes. (The United States has the 23rd lowest tax rate of the top 25 economies of the world, so the problem isn't that our taxes are too high -- they are arguably too low.)

In this era, after years of denials successfully blocking timely action, global warming is now moving unstoppably with only the options of mitigation and adaptation, oil reserves have almost certainly passed “peak oil” as we have to go to ever greater and more bizarre lengths to obtain supplies, we have an tax system that encourages corporation to off-shore jobs to countries that exploit labor and defile "their" environment as if it wasn't connected to "our" environment.

What got us from 1945 to 2010 will not get us from 2010 to 2075.

Willful progress? The Tea Party's reactionary retreat? Libertarian's laissez-faire wishful thinking?  DC Republican's boorishness?  Which will best carry the US forward to 2075?

December 03, 2010

Clip: "Just Let Her Do Her Thing"

My fear, by the way, is Bob Reich's. The fundamental reason for Palin's strength is the despair of the white working class - a despair certainly merited given the economic forces of the past couple of decades. Their jobs aren't coming back - they've gone to India and China for ever - and their wages have barely risen in a generation. And their response is to blame cultural, not economic elites - as is usually the case in America:

According to the right-wing narrative, the calamity that’s befallen the white working class is due to the global and intellectual elites who run the mainstream media, direct the government, dispense benefits to the undeserving, and dominate popular culture. (The story and targets are not substantially different from those that have fueled right-wing and fascist movements during times of economic stress for more than a century, here and abroad.)

Sarah Palin has special appeal because she wraps the story in an upbeat message. She avoids the bilious rants of Rush, Sean Hannity, and their ilk. But her cheerfulness isn’t sunny; she doesn’t promise Morning in America. She offers pure snark, and promises revenge. Over and over again she tells the same snide, sarcastic, inside joke, but in different words: “They think they can keep screwing us, but (wink, wink), we know something they don’t. We’re gonna take over and screw them.”


December 01, 2010

Letter sent to OR Sen. Jeff Merkley re: Filibuster reform

To Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR):

Thank-you for taking leadership -- effective leadership -- in crafting a reform to the filibuster.  While the principle of ensuring debate and ensuring a voice for a minority was sound, the implementation has rotted the Senate for years.  And this has gidlocked our entire system, emasculating the other two branches of government and the House.

I remember driving you between events when you were making a campaign swing through Yamhill County during your election.  The filibuster was the primary thing I thought needed work if America was to move forward again, so I'm very glad to see you pursuing it so vigorously.

Thanks for your hard work finding a solution that, if implemented, would help restore representational govermnet to the Senate.

- Will

Clip: The Dickishness Of The GOP

What we've observed these past two years is a political party that knows nothing but scorched earth tactics, cannot begin to see any merits in the other party's arguments, refuses to compromise one inch on anything, and has sought from the very beginning to do nothing but destroy the Obama presidency....

The two parties are evenly spread in this 50-50 country, but only one can brook no compromise in its accelerating rush to the far right. And that is what it seems we have to contemplate for the next two years - total paralysis in the face of urgent problems as part of a game of cynical partisan brinkmanship. They simply cannot bear that another party might actually have a role to play in government....

This is not conservatism, properly understood, a disposition that respects the institutions and traditions of government, that can give as well as take, that seeks the national interest before partisan concerns, and that respects both the other branches of government and seeks to work with them. These people are not conservatives in this core civilized sense; they are partisan vandals.


November 30, 2010

Re: Why America Won't Buy Palinism

... like so many now purporting to represent conservatism, there is, behind [Sarah Palin's] faux awe before the constitution, a contempt for the restraint and dignity a polity's institutions require from its leaders.

There is no maturity here; no self-reflection; no capacity even to think how to appeal to the half of Americans who are already so appalled by her trashy behavior and cheap publicity stunts. There is a meanness, a disrespect, a vicious partisanship that, if allowed to gain more power, would split this country more deeply and more rancorously than at any time in recent years. And that's saying something.


And that blistering comment came from a conservative commentator (Andrew Sullivan).  To which someone responded:

... maybe the reason, that Republicans have been, for a long time, the natural minority party in the United States: they are willing to dismiss large chunks of the population -- of American citizens -- as not real Americans.  Not all Republicans, not all the time, but plenty of them, including their leaders, enough of the time. 

Sarah Palin is the candidate of those Republicans, the Republicans who either believe in "real America" or are willing to exploit those who do.


November 10, 2010

Re: White House Gives In On Bush Tax Cuts

Not surprised. But disgusted.

President Barack Obama's top adviser [(David Axelrod)] suggested to The Huffington Post late Wednesday that the administration was ready to accept an across-the-board continuation of steep Bush-era tax cuts, including those for the wealthiest taxpayers.


Maybe someone can explain to me why the Democrats in Congress couldn't have put together a middle class tax cut and let Republicans either (a) fail to amend it to give goodies to the rich or (b) have killed it via filibuster and it be their fault middle class tax cuts were cut?


November 06, 2010

Clip: Democrats didn't lose the battle of 2010. They won it.

The big picture isn't about winning or keeping power. It's about using it. I've made this argument before, but David Frum, the former speechwriter to President Bush, has made it better. In March, when Democrats secured enough votes to pass the bill, he castigated fellow conservatives who looked forward to punishing Pelosi and President Obama "with a big win in the November 2010 elections." Frum observed:

Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now. … No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the "doughnut hole" and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents' insurance coverage?

Exactly. A party that loses a House seat can win it back two years later, as Republicans just proved. But a party that loses a legislative fight against a middle-class health care entitlement never restores the old order. Pretty soon, Republicans will be claiming the program as their own.
... [Obama, Pelosi, and their congressional allies ] risked their jobs—and in many cases lost them—to pass the health care bill. The elections were a painful defeat, and you can argue that the bill was misguided. But Democrats didn't lose the most important battle of 2010. They won it.


November 05, 2010

Clip: Robert Reich: Why Obama Should Learn the Lesson of 1936, not 1996

Obama shouldn't be fooled into thinking Bill Clinton was reelected in 1996 because he moved to the center. I was there. Clinton was reelected because by then the economy had come roaring back to life.


... For the next two years Republicans will try to paint Obama as a big-government liberal out of touch with America, who's responsible for the continuing bad economy.

Obama won't be able to win this argument by moving to the center -- seeking to paint himself as a smaller-government moderate. This only confirms the Republican's views that the central issue is size of government, that it's been too large, and the economy can improve only if it's smaller.

On the Republican playing field, Republicans always win.


Obama's best hope of reelection will be to re-frame the debate, making the central issue the power of big businesses and Wall Street to gain economic advantage at the expense of the rest of us. This is the Democratic playing field, and it's more relevant today than at any time since the 1930s.

The top 1 percent of Americans, by income, is now taking home almost a quarter of all income, and accounting for almost 40 percent of all wealth. Meanwhile, large numbers of Americans are losing their homes because banks won't let them reorganize their mortgages under bankruptcy. And corporations continue to lay off (and not rehire) even larger numbers.


... The relevant political lesson isn't Bill Clinton in 1996. It's Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.

... FDR shifted the debate from what he failed to accomplish to the irresponsibility of his opponents. Again and again he let the public know whose side he was on, and whose side they were on. Republicans stood for "business and financial monopoly, speculation, and reckless banking," he said over and over.

And he made it clear they wanted to prevent him from helping ordinary Americans. "Never before have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today," he thundered. "They are unanimous in their hate for me -- and I welcome their hatred."






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