Bird that Sings

July 31, 2010

How the Democrats can Keep Congress

Filed under: Politics,Uncategorized — admin @ 1:03 pm

Yeah, I know what the polls say: That more people disapprove of Obama than approve of him, that only 11% approve of Congress.

But contrary to what the polls say, on all the big issues; Wall Street, the banks, the economy and environment, Republican ideas are not only unpopular, they’re not even credible. The only way for the Republicans to survive is to trash the Democrats and then say government doesn’t work.  If I were a Republican I’d do the same.

Republican obstructionism has been a real problem for the Administration, but the biggest problem has been, and will continue to be, the economy. In its early days the Administration probably managed to stave off a great depression, however, subsequently Obama and Co. banked their political capital on an economic recovery that never really blossomed and now is dying on the vine.

Though I’m not sure how the Obamaites received it, Economist Paul Krugman actually provided a valuable service to the Administration with his <em>New York Times</em> column of several weeks ago, “The Long Depression.”

Krugman’s point was that we are in the early stages of a long, but comparatively shallow Depression and that the immediate — and only — way out of it is more stimulus, <em>not</em> the austerity cuts proposed by the same economic “thinkers” who brought us the Wall Street crash of 2008.

Krugman’s argument, I believe, was meant to give cover to the administration as it switches it’s argument — perforce — from one that says we are in a recovery, to one that acknowledges what even some Finance Professionals like Mohamed El-Erian and George Soros are saying; that this deflationary trend is the new normal.

By November, the dire nature of our economic predicament will be increasingly clear to the electorate. Meanwhile the Republicans will be — insanely — making the case for both austerity budget cuts <em>as well as</em> debt ballooning, supply side tax cuts for the Rich. And they will of course receive an adoring response from Fox News and a respectful audience from the mainstream media.

It goes without saying that the Republicans will be wrong, but Democrats are not going to be able to counter their argument solely with a defense of the achievements of the Obama administration.

Rather, Democrats will have to present their own diagnosis of the country’s economic problems as well as a practical prescription for what to do about them.

Practically speaking then, here’s what the Democrats have to do to keep Congress:

1) The Democratic leadership of the Congressional party in both houses needs to commit to <strong>letting the Bush tax cuts for the rich lapse</strong> and using the new revenues both to pay down the deficit, but more importantly, sending money to the states to alleviate their own budget short falls.

This September hundreds of thousands of teachers and public service workers all over the country will be laid off from their jobs. The notices have already gone out. I know; my wife got one. Not only will these layoffs cause untold personal suffering, they will severely damage local public services and local economies, and are likely to set in motion a chain of events leading to much greater economic dislocation.

In the first decade of the 2000’s we saw what cutting taxes for the rich led to: Massive speculation and fraud in the financial and real estate markets, an immense transfer of wealth from the bottom 50 percent of the economy to the richest one tenth of one percent among us.

The extension of the Bush era tax cuts for the rich are a losing issue for Republicans and the Democrats have to nail them to the wall on it.

2) Congressional Democrats should demand that <strong>Elizabeth Warren is hired to
head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)</strong> — by
Recess appointment if necessary as suggested by Barney Frank.

Warren is very popular generally, even with some Republicans, but especially with progressives who form the vital, activist core of the Democratic base. Lose them and for Obama, it will be like losing LeBron was for Cleveland. But the second reason to hire Warren is even more salient: that Secretary of Treasury Tim Geitner and the Bankers she would help regulate don’t like her.

Ideally, the best thing Obama could do to help Congressional Democrats hold their own in the mid-terms is to fire Geitner as a broadside against Wall Street and the Bankers who rigged the faux recovery so that it built their profit sheet, even as they cut off credit to the rest of us.

Obama should fire Geitner, but won’t, so hiring Warren is the next best thing.

3) The Democrats have to <strong>reintroduce the Climate Change bill </strong>in its original form — even strengthening it — and campaign for its passage. While some pundits and journalists, most notably in the <em>New York Times</em>, have tried to blame Democrats for politicizing the climate change issue, it’s actually <em>not</em> the Democrats who have politicized Climate Change and the Environment.

Nevertheless, in the course of the fall campaign it must be made clear that the Environment is not a political issue, but an issue of planetary survival. Perhaps ironically, it is only by reframing the argument in this way that the Democratic leadership will able to build sufficient public pressure for the Bill to be reintroduced with a fighting chance of passage.

This last point goes to the broader question of political campaigns and how to win them. If you believe the electorate is a static thing made up of Democrats, Republicans and Independents, all in discrete little boxes without interaction or common cause, then given the polling, things look pretty bleak for the Democrats.

But, if you believe that elections are actually an opportunity to address the problems of the country and the system itself: that the electorate is by its nature fluid, and ideas can be transformational, then Democrats have little to fear and a world to win.

An election is a terrible thing to waste.

July 1, 2010

Expropriating British Petroleum

Filed under: Politics — admin @ 12:57 am

About a month ago, in the middle of May, our neighbor from the rental unit next door, got his PhD in Wildlife Biology from the prestigious local public university and left town to work for the Feds.

There was a job waiting him in the wilderness of the far north, but as he and his wife were loading up the van, he confided to my wife that the Feds had already let him know he wouldn’t be there long. As soon as he got to his isolated outpost, 500 miles from anywhere, they were going to turn him around and send him to Louisiana.

An earnest, circumspect, tightly wrapped young man not given to hyperbole, he had been having nightmares about the oil spill since it happened and was riven with the sense that it was more than chance sending him into the maelstrom.

It was “the worst environmental disaster in recorded history” he said, and he assured us–before the fact–that all the ostensible attempts of BP to stem the oil flow, from “top kill” on down, were longer than long shots: essentially PR stunts designed to allay the public horror.

The ecology of the Gulf Coast was doomed, he said, and when the loop current reversed in the middle of June, the oil would be making its way out of the Gulf: into the Gulf Stream and the world.

One month later, despite BP and the government’s attempts to calm the public, most of us understand in our hearts that we’ve reached a momentous point of no return in human and planetary history.

It’s not just the oil spill, it’s the melting polar ice caps, it’s the mysterious, scientifically inexplicable dead zones spreading through the oceans and the precipitously collapsing fish and invertebrate populations: seemingly discrete events all crescendoing together towards a terrifying dystopian climax.

For two centuries we’ve used and abused the resources of the natural world on an exponentially increasing scale, and now the natural world is dying.

Dramatic action is called for, yet as always the Obama Administration counsels political safety first.

The twenty billion-dollar BP Gulf restitution fund, proposed by the Administration and accepted–under duress–by BP is, on the face of it, a good step, but it won’t do f*** all to alter the planet’s trajectory towards ecological disaster.

BP is an enormously profitable company–with a thirteen billion-dollar profit last year and an over eighteen billion dollar profit the year before –and to leave it essentially intact to pursue business as usual is a catastrophic misreading of the political moment.

The US government needs to expropriate the American assets of BP: the Arco consumer retail divisions, the drilling and commercial operations, while holding the larger company liable for the establishment and funding of the Gulf restoration fund as well as all the other damages.

Once the US takes control–paying off all the stock and stakeholders of course–God knows we don’t want to spook the markets–the profits from the American holdings of BP, now to be renamed FP for Filthy Petroleum, or whatever, need to be used to directly fund clean energy.

We need to fund both existing clean energy start-ups, and new ones. We need to find ways to utilize and mass-produce solar energy, wind, electric, natural gas and human gas –<em>anything but Nuclear</em>–because accidents <em>will </em>happen. But barring nuclear, we have to do whatever it takes build a clean energy infrastructure now: not in ten to twenty years, but in five to seven.

We need to use this moment to build support for a direct tax on carbon and–in concert with the other nations of the world or if need be alone– to declare a date certain twenty-five years from today, in 2035, for an end to the Age of Oil.

And finally we need to airlift any of our Senators and Representatives who oppose these common sense initiatives for the survival of the planet–and not incidentally the reinvention of our economy–directly to the Gulf and let them see what the status quo looks like. And then leave ’em there.

They can swim back to New Orleans.

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