Bird that Sings

December 15, 2010

Cliff Lee

Filed under: Sports,The Philadelphia Perspective,Uncategorized — admin @ 3:33 pm

Is that God moving in South Philadelphia, or is it only Ruben Amaro Jr.?

Philadelphia Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro’s coup in signing premier free agent pitcher Cliff Lee has sent shock and awe resounding through the baseball world. In fact outside my window at this very moment, the afternoon is darkening, thunder is rolling, and lightning is splitting the sky.

It’s true. I guess it really is a big deal.

For Phillies fans though, the biggest thing is that Cliff Lee turned out to love us as much we loved him in his half a season with the club in 2009. Local fans were apoplectic when Amaro traded Lee to Seattle a year ago this Friday, and only the fact that the GM had just obtained Roy Halladay from Toronto kept the furor from escalating into a full-fledged fan mutiny.

Now, rather than hold the trade against the team, Lee has given the Phillies what appears to be a fifteen to thirty million dollar discount against what he could have squeezed out of either the Rangers or the Yankees.

On paper, (see “Every Season tells a story, Don’t it, below 8/10) this signing gives the Phillies one of the best pitching staffs in baseball history and many scribes are opining that the Phillies are now in the position of the Yankees: that is, needing to win the World Series for 2011 to be considered a successful season.

In my opinion however, these writers (see George Vecsey, NY Times 12/14/10) are missing the point.

As far as Phillies’ fans were concerned, the team was supposed to win it all this year and last year too. That they didn’t, has — slightly — lessened local pressure for a guaranteed World Series win.

My sense is that Phillies fans are just reveling in the moment, and acting … well, uncharacteristically grown up about the whole thing. It’s difficult to quantify but you can’t help feeling that the Lee signing means something special to the Phillies beyond just getting a great pitcher.

The Phillies and maybe even, Philadelphia, are now a destination. This is the kind of thing that only happens once in a long while; when a team becomes truly emblematic of a city and we owe this moment to … Cliff Lee: Bottoms up.

Before we raise out glasses however, I don’t think Ruben June is done dealing yet. Jayson Werth’s signing with the Washington Nationals has not only left the Phillies without a Right Fielder, but also without an everyday, right handed power hitter to protect Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

Everyone is talking about the Phillies trading Joe Blanton to dump salary, but right now, the trade that makes the most sense for them is something along the lines of Right-handed pitching ace Roy Oswalt to the Chicago White Sox for Right Fielder Carlos Quentin with a prospect thrown in on either side.

This trade may or may not be makeable. For one thing, Oswalt has a no trade clause in his contract and probably would demand that the White Sox, at the very least, guarantee his sixteen million dollar option for 2012. For another thing, although the White Sox could certainly use Oswalt, who along with Mark Buehrle, Jake Peavy, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, would give them the best starting pitching staff — on paper — in the American League, they don’t need him.

We’ll see what happens, but my guess is, something will.

The Voodoo Economist: Obama+Clinton=Politics-Policy

As Karl Marx once said, History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

It wasn’t so surprising then, to see old Bill Clinton, aka the ghost of Christmas past, back at the White House the other day with a ruefully smiling, but sick looking, Barack Obama at his side.

Clinton had come to offer his support for Obama as the latter attempts to triangulate with the Republicans over the expiration of the Bush Tax cuts.

Actually the only real surprise of the day was that the other of yesterday’s men, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, didn’t join them for an impromptu symposium on how to define yourself against the base of your own party.

In the 90’s, both Clinton and Blair played this game to great political advantage, but of course Clinton and Blair had the open range of the great bull market to ride back then.

Obama doesn’t enjoy the same economic wind at his back and that’s why his tax deal with the Republicans is, at best, a parody of Clinton’s sell-out on Welfare Reform.

The Obamaites claim that the deal to extend all the Bush cuts, which also includes the extension of unemployment benefits for those out of work for over ninety-nine weeks, will serve as a backdoor economic stimulus. They add that these measures, along with the Federal Reserve’s six hundred billion dollar purchase of Treasury Bills, aka “Quantitative Easing II” will flood the economy with liquidity, stirring up a Kool-Aid of instant demand, which will in turn stimulate hiring.

Maybe, but as with Clinton and Blair, there is another agenda at work.

On the left hand, the deal with the Republicans is meant to further isolate grassroots Democratic activists increasingly bitter with Obama, even while lining up the support of liberal, deficit spend-your-way-out-of-the-slump Keynesian Economists (and those who love them).

Meanwhile on the right, it’s meant to provoke the conservative tending, cut spending, balance-the-budget-now crowd into attacking House Republicans for making the deficit exploding deal with Obama in the first place.

This is certainly a higher level of triangulation than we’ve seen before and David Axelrod and the Obama political team must be pretty happy with themselves at the moment.

The politics are smart. It’s the policy that’s a disaster.

Here at the Institute, we admittedly feel the crisis a bit more acutely than mainstream academic economists but to us, the flaw in the Administration’s neo-Keynesian stimulus argument is readily apparent. Simply put, all stimulus is not equal.

The Fed’s QE II is a poster child for what not to do in the aftermath of a financial crisis: that is, re-inflate a bubble in the stock market. This is the real purpose of the Fed’s buying up of debt; to reduce the return on Treasuries and hence make equities look like a better deal.

While extending the Bush middle class tax cuts is obviously a good idea, extending the tax cuts for the Rich is not only morally and politically reprehensible, it’s terrible economics.

As Robert Reich and others(see “Which Side are You On/Dec ’07) have pointed out, our current economic problems are not cyclical but structural.

For thirty years, the blue-collar middle class has been downsized and seen its’ jobs shipped overseas.  All through the 90’s and into the first decade of the new century, working and middle class Americans went deeper and deeper into debt trying to keep their accustomed standard of living even as the good jobs went a glimmering.

The financial crash of ’07-’08 ended the debt game, but it had already done it’s work, effectively transferring the wealth of a downsized middle class to the new financial elites who prospered even as the broader National economy was hollowed out.

To extend the Bush tax breaks for the Rich would not only reward the frankly criminal style of Capitalism that created the crisis, it would build onto the structural inequities that are collapsing the system. It would also saddle the country with unsustainable fiscal deficits as a far as the eye can see.

The Administration’s notion that you can further exacerbate the real causes of the crisis and still claim your policies as beneficial is either madness or magical thinking.

In either case, Voodoo Economists believe that House Democrats need to show Obama some tough love. Vote down the Obama deal to extend the Bush tax cuts for the Rich. And somebody slap him, please.

December 7, 2010

Towards a Labor-Democratic Party

Filed under: Politics,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 5:10 pm

Electoral politics has long been said to be “the Art of the possible,” while the politics of change is necessarily about changing what’s possible.

It is on the horns of this paradox that the so-called change presidency of Barack Obama has been revealed to be a Mas, as they say in Trinidad at Carnival time.

The change Obama promised turned out to be a cultural change, but in political-economic terms, it was just business as usual. It was a masquerade, and now… the masquerade is over.

This far out, no one can say this what will happen in 2012. It’s even possible the economy won’t completely tank at some point before the election — though I think I would short that bet.

However, as in the midterms, a horrible economy won’t hurt Obama as much as the perception — correct in my opinion — that he is de-facto on the side of the ruling elites.

This poses a particular electoral problem for Democrats, and one expects there will be a challenge to Obama in the early caucuses and primaries.

While there could be a Blue Dog candidacy from Mark Warner or Evan Bayh, the most likely challenge to Obama in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada will come from the populist left.

Like everyone else, I’ve got my own, no doubt, hopelessly compromised favorites for the role of populist dragon slayer, the most obvious being Russ Feingold.

Feingold has been, hands down, the most principled and effective progressive member of the Senate in recent years, with not only the brains and heart to do the right thing, but the balls.

The main problem with a Feingold candidacy is that he’s damaged goods, having been defeated in his own state by a rich and clueless, certified idiot. Over the next bit we’ll see if Russ can rise again.

The second, not so obvious, choice is Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.

Webb is a war hero and self-described Southern populist Reagan-Democrat who could not only beat Obama from the Left, but from the Right. Webb’s baggage is that he’s not only a former Republican Secretary of the Navy, he’s basically a writer, and as we all know, writers are just not credible. Still like the Funkadelic used to sing, “if u got funk, you got style,” and for an implausibly proud white guy, Webb’s got plenty of both.

The third pick might be the best: Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio. The appeal of Kaptur to Labor-Democrats is self-evident. Kaptur has made a career of representing “her people,” the largely Catholic, ethnic white working class, Reagan Democrats of the Rust belt who, as a group, abandoned the Democratic Party this election cycle. These are the people who have not only been hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis, but also by the decline of manufacturing and the rise of Finance Capitalism for the past generation.

These are the voters the Democrats need to recover in 2012, while not alienating their black electoral base or other key ethnic constituencies. It would appear to be a no-brainer that running a working class woman — another first — would help in that effort.

The problem a Kaptur candidacy would have to address is that, like most of us, she probably figures the Presidency is above her pay grade. Marcy Kaptur would have to really want to run and also have a ready-to-go, build the green economy, break up the-big-Banks, anti-Wall Street program to run on.

The biggest problem though, that any of the three above populists would face is that insurgent Presidential candidacies usually end up as largely symbolic efforts incapable of contesting, let alone breaking, the stranglehold of the corporate plutocracy on our polity.

The obscene amount of money it takes to run a campaign is part of it, but the larger part is institutional: that is, self interest always trumps altruism, and then too, money never gets tired, and people do.

In a simpler world, fusion politics, using the model of the Working Families Party of New York State would be a way out of the insurgent Presidential campaign cul-de-sac.

A new fusion party, call it the Labor-Democratic Party, would systematically oppose
Corporate democrats in primaries where strategically appropriate. It would also keep a 3rd party ballot line where it could list true Democrats and run against the false ones.

The Labor-Democrats might or might not take over the larger Democratic Party but they would in fairly short order become a plurality within it.

The trouble with this fusion model is that it’s only legal in seven other states beside New York.

Organizations like Howard Dean’s Democracy for America, Move-on, Bold Progressives, Credo and Act Blue, have done excellent work for the past several electoral cycles but to really change politics, a new politics of change is called for.

A broad campaign– possibly in bi-partisan alliance with the soon-to-be bitterly disappointed Tea Partiers — to legalize fusion party voting in as many states as possible has to be part of any larger populist organizing effort or conversation.

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