Bird that Sings

September 14, 2011

Barry One Term and the Lesser Depression

Filed under: Politics,Uncategorized — admin @ 3:32 pm

On November 30, 1967 Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota declared his candidacy for the Democratic Nomination for President against the sitting Democratic President, Lyndon Johnson.

Johnson’s Presidency, born of the assassination of John Kennedy and consecrated in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was in trouble over the War in Vietnam.

While McCarthy’s announcement roused a bunch of college students to cut their beards, stop smoking so much dope, and go “clean for Gene,” the official response to McCarthy was much more tepid. The New York Times invariably described McCarthy’s anti-war, protest candidacy as “quixotic;” as in Don Quixote, Cervantes faux knight who “tilted at windmills.”

Then in February of 1968, came the Tet offensive where the North Vietnamese regular Army along with the guerilla Viet Cong of the South launched a coordinated assault on the 500,000 strong American Army in Vietnam, all things considered probably the most powerful Army ever assembled, and suddenly Americans came to the shocked realization that in Vietnam there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

A month later, on March 12th, McCarthy came within a few thousand votes of defeating Johnson in the New Hampshire primary and then on March 16th, Johnson’s biggest political nightmare came true: New York Senator Robert Kennedy, the anti-war brother of the martyred JFK, announced his candidacy for the Democratic Nomination.

Two weeks later Lyndon Johnson, who’d won reelection to his own term as President in 1964 by the largest margin since FDR beat Alf Landon in 1936, officially withdrew his name as a candidate for the Democratic Nomination, having been beaten, not by Eugene McCarthy, but by history.

The “Tet moment” in the context of the 2011/12 Election cycle will probably come with the financial crisis triggered by the collapse of several European Banks in the Fall of 2011. Whether the crisis triggers a world wide credit freeze like in 2008, a sovereign debt default of Italy and Spain or the exit of either the EuroZone’s economically strongest or weakest nations is too early to say, but the cost to the World Economy will be staggering.

Just as the Vietnam War was not going well before the Tet Offensive, the US economy is already in “lesser depression” according to many economists.

While people know–and feel– this, unlike the Great Depression the current economic hardship has not affected either politics or the culture in a meaningful way. We’re still talking in the same political, social and cultural terms we were before the slump began.

This aura of normalcy has been a major achievement of the Obama Presidency but has also proved politically mistaken. Up until now, the guiding principal of the Obama Presidency has been “don’t do nothing stupid,” but in the eyes of many Americans the perception is “they didn’t do nothing” and that especially means nothing on jobs.

Aside from playing along with Big Business, the Banks and Wall Street, the big tactical mistake Obama and the Democrats made— most notably during the 2010 midterm elections— was their insistence that the economy was in a slow recovery rather than acknowledging the signs of stagnation many of the public were living with every day.

Now Obama has discovered we’re in a jobs emergency, but it’s too late: too late to change the politically minimalist narrative of his Presidency and also too late for the half measures he’s proposing. The entire political-economic landscape is about to change and the Administration is not only behind the curve, it’s about to get lapped.

This is the big reason Obama needs to be primaried. Among the blue collar middle class–never Obama’s base– there is already an understanding that there never was no recovery. Crystallization of the knowledge that things are going to continue getting worse for the foreseeable future will likely make Barry One-term unelectable in 2012.

At the very least Obama has to defend his ideas–as ideas–in another political arena and not just against a Republican Party simply bent on destroying him. Obama’s constant back pedaling on everything from health care, to tax cuts for the Rich to protecting Medicare and Social Security have earned him only contempt, both from his ex supporters and his enemies.

As for the up-until-now only imagined anti-Obama candidate in Iowa and New Hampshire, 2012 is going to be a year for insurgents, not incumbents and will favor boldness, rather than the conventional neo-liberal thinking that continues to hold Obama captive.

An insurgent Democratic Presidential candidate has to propose a simple agenda that promotes job growth while symbolizing the underlying problems in both the political economy and culture.

Here are a few suggestions.

1) Compulsory National Service
A National Service program for young people would be made up of two components. One would be the option of military service that would replace the volunteer army. The other option would be either domestic service in an enlarged and re-imagined AmeriCorps-Vista or foreign service in a fully funded Peace Corps.

National Service would not only provide a huge macro economic stimulus giving gainful employment to an entire generation who are currently underemployed at .  . . well, Depression era levels, but provide de-facto job training as well as a reinvention of Citizenship and the Democratic idea.

2) Carbon Tax
A carbon tax would serve several purposes. It would help level the playing field for American products and manufacturing, making them comparatively more affordable by factoring in carbon costs of foreign made products. It would create new American manufacturing jobs while serving as a powerful disincentive against outsourcing existing ones and would also discourage the use of conventional petro carbon based fuels and packaging. A carbon tax would encourage energy alternatives; hopefully before we begin dropping dead in droves on Main Street.

3) Fund National Infrastructure bank/end Bush Tax cuts for the Rich
True, Obama has proposed a version of this as well as new taxes on the Rich. They’re good ideas. The problem with Barry One-Term’s proposal is that he can’t get enough Federal money to make it effective, having already ceded the stimulus debate to Republicans by his timid refusal to address the underlying dysfunction of Finance Capitalism that led to the crisis in the first place.

Instead of Obama’s proposal, his primary opponent should call for enactment of Ed Rendell’s original National Infrastructure Bank proposal, to be fully funded by ending George Bush’s tax cuts for the Rich. This, yet another initiative that Barry One-Term already whiffed on last December.

April 5, 2011

Opening Daze; East and West

Filed under: Sports,The Philadelphia Perspective,Uncategorized — admin @ 12:49 am

It was looking pretty grim for the Philadelphia Phillies going into the bottom of the 7th, opening day at a sold out Citizens Bank Park.  Their Ace of Aces, Roy Halladay had already hit the showers and the Phils were down 4-0 to the rebuilding Houston Astros. The deficit wasn’t Halladay’s fault; he’d pitched well, but Phillies fans, sitting on their hands in the forty-degree chill of an April first afternoon, could not be blamed for wondering if maybe they’d been fooled again.


The team, picked as recently as two months ago to win their division, if not the National League, in a cakewalk, was looking alarmingly like the mid summer Phillies of 2010; decimated by injuries, without a closer in the bullpen and with holes all over the line-up.


And then it happened, it took me by surprise, and I could tell that it stunned them too, by the look in their eyes . . .


The Phils scored two in the bottom of the 7th, and then, in the bottom of the 9th, strung together six singles off of Astros closer Brandon Lyon, culminating in a walk off pinch-hit single by John Mayberry Jr.


The stadium went wild, the team ran onto the field and the Phillies ended up sweeping the Astros behind Ace#2 Cliff Lee, and Ace #3, Little Roy Oswalt. Was the rumored Phillies juggernaut getting ready to roll?


Hard to say, but it sure beats losing. Predictions about this year’s Phillies have been all over the lot, though in fairness, the ones predating the ongoing and ominous knee problems of second baseman, “The Great Chase” Utley, are now moot.


In February, Philadelphia Daily News Sports Editor Emeritus, Stan Hochman compared the Phillies coming 2011 run through Major League Baseball to Moses Malone and the World Champion 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers “Fo’-five-fo'” run through the NBA playoffs that year.


A more . . . sober assessment is the game-by-game analysis of my friend, Red “Fred” Trasatti, “the Cookie Rojas of Rock n’ Roll, ” that sees 93 wins for the Phillies and a dogfight with the Atlanta Braves just to get into the playoffs. Meanwhile legendary Daily News columnist Bill Conlin is stubbornly sticking to his 100 win season prediction. Personally I tend to go along with Conlin, but it’s just a gut feeling. The only prediction I’m willing to stand behind is that if Utley doesn’t play this season, all bets are off.


Sweeter than wine, softer than a summer’s night . . .


Meanwhile out in California, the World Champion San Francisco Giants were opening up against the Dodgers in LA, and their cross Bay, American League rivals, the Oakland A’s, were at home against Seattle, on a rare, “warm San Francisco night.”


While the Giants are “the people’s choice” in the Bay Area to win everything again, informed opinion surprisingly tends to like the A’s chances in the AL West better.


It remains to be seen. As the A’s demonstrated this weekend against the Mariners, they’re still not a good team, though it’s very early.


Even during the Money Ball playoff years of recent vintage, the A’s were notoriously slow starters; typically not gelling until the end of June at the earliest, by which time most of their fans had already given up on them.


The big thing with the A’s is that despite how good their trio of young starters, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez, none of them are true Aces yet, and the team’s best power prospect, Chris Carter is still in Triple A, waiting for somebody to get injured. Meanwhile the new three, four and five hitters, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hidecki Matsui are a huge upgrade over the heart of last year’s line-up but don’t compare to 3, 4 and 5’s of the better teams in baseball.


If I was Billy Beane, and I assure you I’m not, I’d seriously think about trading Brett Anderson to Texas for the disgruntled, displaced Michael Young, and play Young at 3rd base or Shortstop in place of Kevin Kouzmanoff or Cliff Pennington. At this writing, Kouzmanoff and Pennington are the weak links of an A’s team that still lacks a big time power threat and needs all the offense it can get.


As for the Giants, only a fool would write them off, even after their embarrassing opening weekend, losing three of four to the Dodgers. While the Giants did not improve in the off-season they still have the same pitching and intangibles that won them the World Championship last year.


The Giants caught lightning in a bottle last year; you’d be crazy to think they can do it again,wouldn’t you?



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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