Saturday, December 11, 2010

R.I.P. Elizabeth Edwards

She may not have been the saintly model of patience and compassion of her image (at least according to some accounts) but she was a fierce advocate for what she believed, faced awful tribulations with courage, and her children praised her as a mother. Elizabeth Edwards was buried today. May she rest in peace.

Old Business

Can't-Cun has wound up with an agreement which, especially given low expectations, has some positives. John Podesta hailed the forest agreement in particular.

I'm not following the Wikileak news closely, but it looks revealing in all kinds of ways. All these items to isolate and prosecute--maybe even persecute--it and its leader(s), while news organization feast on the stories it has generated. Meanwhile it has some fierce defenders in cyberspace. This looks like it goes on for awhile. As far as I can tell, the federal government has overreacted.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Emerson for the Day

“What is the end of human life? It is not, believe me, the chief end of man that he should make a fortune and beget children whose end is likewise to make a fortune, but it is, in few words, that he should explore himself.”


It's Not That Complicated

I'm not following the political ins and outs as I once did, like way back in October. But having spent my two cents on the tax cut deal for the edification of an ever-shrinking public, I have to say that I watched President Obama's press conference and I'm not in the least confused.

Others apparently are. Clive Cook in the Atlantic called Obama's press conference this week his most interesting, and I can buy that. But he felt Obama contradicted himself: he blamed the need for this tax cut deal on GOPers who "held hostage" middle class tax cuts and unemployment insurance, unless tax cuts for the megawealthy oligarchy continue. But at the same time, he criticized progressive critics for demanding purity, when that would mean millions of middle class and poor Americans would be paying more taxes and the chronic unemployed would get nothing. As Cook put it:

Good Lord. One minute, he's reassuring progressives. We are good and they are evil. It's victims and hostage-takers, no less. Just be patient, our time will come, and accounts with the enemy will be settled. Next minute, he's rebuking the same progressives. Spare me your sanctimonious purism. It's un-American. We have good-faith differences of opinion. "This country was founded on compromise."

I simply don't see a contradiction, even theoretically, and I certainly don't see that Obama was contradicting himself. He said that although progressives are basically right on this issue, he had to compromise in order to get what was more important, and progressive ought to be smart enough to see that.

This is the difference between politics and governing. Progressives can build up their egoes and media profiles with angry demands, and progressive groups can scare up more contributions because as everyone in the politics biz knows, you raise money for opposition. Fine. But Barack Obama has a different job. He's President. He has a country to worry about, and things to get done.

I keep going back to my touchstone here, the lessons I learned at the ripe old age of 16, listening to what Ted Sorenson and JFK said about what they did in the early 60s. When they enacted what became Medicare, started the Alliance for Progress in Latin America, the Peace Corps, the first raise in the minimum wage in awhile, the Treat Ban Treaty and sent to Congress what became the Voting Rights Act.

Maybe their critique of "liberals" was more discreet, but I judged Obama's words as a rebuke intended to throw some reality into the situation so that progressives might see that demanding purism only gets them what they got in the 2010 elections, as well as not being able to effectively govern.

I have absolutely no problem with Bernie Sanders talking for more than eight hours on the Senate floor opposing tax cuts for the wealthy:"How can I get by on one house?" Sanders railed, sarcastically. "I need five houses, ten houses. I need three jet planes to take me all over the world! Sorry, American people. We've got the money, we've got the power." I am personally sickened to the point of physical disgust by Wall Street oligarchs and their GOPer servants. The Bush tax cuts for them are obscene. But even the pre-Bush taxes on the superwealthly were too low. And while it is a disgustingly high price to pay to give ordinary people a much needed break in their taxes in this unsettled economy, it has to be done. Temporarily.

There are I am sure progressives or even non-progressives who believe President Obama is wrong about the economy, that the tax cuts for the middle class aren't going to do what he hopes they will do and therefore aren't worth it, and especially aren't worth the continued tax cuts for the wealthy. But the anger is coming from those who make this an absolute moral argument, an absolute ideological argument and an absolute party-political argument, and that's the "sanctimonious" purity President Obama went after, and he was right to do so. Of course those tax cuts are immoral. It's hardly the only immoral thing government does, but the tradeoff is a moral good: that little bit of money means a lot to people who are strapped, within an economy that offers fewer opportunities. I for one am more interested in keeping my earned income tax credit than in the obscenely wealthly continuing to pay less than they did eight years ago.

As for those who think President Obama has alienated his progressive base and therefore hurts himself politically (including folks I often agree with, like E.J. Dionne) I don't see it that way. I think a lot of middle class people, in trouble or not far from it, or who are vulnerable enough to imagine it, would look at that press conference and say, he's standing up against everybody for us. He's standing up against the GOPers, because of what he got them to give to the middle class, to struggling families, to the unemployed. He's standing up against people in his own party, and he's not apologizing for it. And he's being straight about it with everybody:

"So my job is to make sure that we have a North Star out there. What is helping the American people live out their lives? What is giving them more opportunity? What is growing the economy? What is making us more competitive? And at any given juncture, there are going to be times where my preferred option, what I am absolutely positive is right, I can’t get done.

And so then my question is, does it make sense for me to tack a little bit this way or tack a little bit that way, because I’m keeping my eye on the long term and the long fight -- not my day-to-day news cycle, but where am I going over the long term?"

As for his general argument, he's made it before--the way that Social Security and Medicare started small, as highly compromised programs, etc. But he threw one more example in there that for me was more of a key to his thinking:

"This country was founded on compromise. I couldn’t go through the front door at this country’s founding."

Though the man who was once called America's first black President agrees that this deal is good for the country, this is the perspective of the man who is our first actual black President. Think about it.

Update: Last words on this topic: The reason this happened now is time--the Bush tax cuts for both the wealthy and the middle class would disappear January 1 if nothing is done. That put the GOPers under the gun as well as Obama. Now if the election had turned out better for the Dems, Obama would be in better position now. But later in January, when the new Congress is sworn in, GOPers will be in better position to do what they want. If not for the Jan. 1 deadline, they would have waited. So that's the leverage Obama had to get concessions for this deal. Plus he faced the imminent ending of unemployment insurance payments to several million people.

This is the political reality: both sides needed to make a deal now. Obama got a pretty good one. Those who believe they would have gotten a better deal following their strategy have to convince me that (a) They're smarter than Obama, and (b) they are in the White House or Congress and in the room with the negotiators, so they're doing more than armchair arm-twisting. I mean, we can all speculate, but let's respect the fact that we aren't actually there, and he is... There are more arguments pro and con summarized in an exchange at Salon.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"You can shine your shoes and wear a suit
You can comb your hair and look quite cute
You can hide your face behind a smile
One thing you can't hide
Is when you're crippled inside--

You can wear a mask and paint your face
You can call yourself the human race
You can wear a collar and a tie
One thing you can't hide
Is when you're crippled inside--

Well now you know that your cat has nine lives
Nine lives to itself
But you only got one
A dog's life ain't fun
Mamma take a look outside--

You can go to church and sing a hymn
You can judge me by the color of my skin
You can live a lie until you die
One thing you can't hide
Is when you're crippled inside... "

John Lennon

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Deal

I have my disappointments concerning President Obama. The Can't-Cun conference seems to have been entirely ignored, and some plain talk on the Climate Crisis might help change the dynamic, but President Obama still prefers to get at this issue sideways by talking about clean energy and its role in the economic future. (Still, even when he talks about that, he's mostly ignored.)

But I have very little patience for the baying hyenas of the left who accuse him of cowardice for making a deal on tax cuts. During a commercial on Monday Night Football, I switched through MSNBC--where they were howling about Obama's selling out--and FOX--where they were howling about Obama not praising leaders of the Death Eaters Party enough for allowing this compromise.

The voice that mostly wasn't being heard was Obama's. So I had to go to the White House site to hear his point of view:

"Ever since I started running for this office I've said that we should only extend the tax cuts for the middle class. These are the Americans who’ve taken the biggest hit not only from this recession but from nearly a decade of costs that have gone up while their paychecks have not. It would be a grave injustice to let taxes increase for these Americans right now. And it would deal a serious blow to our economic recovery.

Now, Republicans have a different view. They believe that we should also make permanent the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. I completely disagree with this. A permanent extension of these tax cuts would cost us $700 billion at a time when we need to start focusing on bringing down our deficit. And economists from all across the political spectrum agree that giving tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires does very little to actually grow our economy.

This is where the debate has stood for the last couple of weeks. And what is abundantly clear to everyone in this town is that Republicans will block a permanent tax cut for the middle class unless they also get a permanent tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, regardless of the cost or impact on the deficit.

We saw that in two different votes in the Senate that were taken this weekend. And without a willingness to give on both sides, there’s no reason to believe that this stalemate won't continue well into next year. This would be a chilling prospect for the American people whose taxes are currently scheduled to go up on January 1st because of arrangements that were made back in 2001 and 2003 under the Bush tax cuts.

I am not willing to let that happen. I know there’s some people in my own party and in the other party who would rather prolong this battle, even if we can't reach a compromise. But I'm not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington. And I'm not willing to let our economy slip backwards just as we're pulling ourselves out of this devastating recession.

I'm not willing to see 2 million Americans who stand to lose their unemployment insurance at the end of this month be put in a situation where they might lose their home or their car or suffer some additional economic catastrophe.

So, sympathetic as I am to those who prefer a fight over compromise, as much as the political wisdom may dictate fighting over solving problems, it would be the wrong thing to do. The American people didn’t send us here to wage symbolic battles or win symbolic victories. They would much rather have the comfort of knowing that when they open their first paycheck on January of 2011, it won’t be smaller than it was before, all because Washington decided they preferred to have a fight and failed to act."

The Deal will mean all the Bush tax cuts will continue for two more years--for the middle class as well as the wealthy. It also means unemployment benefits will be extended for another 13 months. Without action, all of these would have expired the end of this month.

But there's more--continuing the Obama tax cuts from the original stim, the earned income tax credit and other benefits, plus a payroll tax decrease early next year and incentives for small businesses. And the prospect of votes on unrelated but important matters, such as Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal and the START treaty to reduce nuclear weapons.

Some observers believe this is quite a good deal. Even a politically smart deal. But what I find most convincing is that the cumulative effect would be to add more stimulus to the economy when it needs it: to the tune of some $200 billion. With support of GOPers, yet. A stealth stim.

President Obama continued:

"I have no doubt that everyone will find something in this compromise that they don’t like. In fact, there are things in here that I don’t like -- namely the extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and the wealthiest estates. But these tax cuts will expire in two years. And I’m confident that as we make tough choices about bringing our deficit down, as I engage in a conversation with the American people about the hard choices we’re going to have to make to secure our future and our children’s future and our grandchildren’s future, it will become apparent that we cannot afford to extend those tax cuts any longer.

And let me just end with this. There’s been a lot of debate in Washington about how this would ultimately get resolved. I just want everybody to remember over the course of the coming days, both Democrats and Republicans, that these are not abstract fights for the families that are impacted. Two million people will lose their unemployment insurance at the end of this month if we don't get this resolved. Millions more of Americans will see their taxes go up at a time when they can least afford it. And my singular focus over the next year is going to be on how do we continue the momentum of the recovery, how do we make sure that we grow this economy and we create more jobs.

We cannot play politics at a time when the American people are looking for us to solve problems. And so I look forward to engaging the House and the Senate, members of both parties, as well as the media, in this debate. But I am confident that this needs to get done, and I'm confident ultimately Congress is going to do the right thing."

This may not play to Washington egoes and gland-driven politicos, but it is the right balance for governing: between the needs of the future and the needs of the present. A better and fairer economy provides resources as well as a better frame of mind for building the future. But no President should ignore the advice that Harry Hopkins gave to FDR: "People don't eat in the long term. They eat every day."

This isn't a New Deal or a Fair Deal. And while I applaud Nancy Pelosi and the House Dems for voting against the tax cuts for the superrich last week, this appears to be a Deal that we need.