Saturday, September 24, 2011

War for the Future

Solyndra: it sounds like the name of a new supermodel, or perhaps a new drug you see commercials for on TV that spend half their time telling you about the strokes, liver failure and suicidal depressions you might get if you take it.  But Solyndra is a company that makes solar panels, that has gone bankrupt despite a half million from the federal government, support that began in the Bush administration but was touted by the Obama White House in their green jobs initiatives.  And so it's the toast of Fox News, and has led to congressional hearings and apparent perp walks for executives who invoked the fifth amendment.

Joe Nocera in the New York Times calls it a phony scandal.  He asserts that despite the bad images, neither of the executives has done "anything remotely illegal."  Nor had the company.  Their business failure, he asserts, has everything to do with the drop in prices of solar panels (which they built), largely because China is in this business in a big way.  With not enough big customers and no new investors, the business failed:

"Harrison and Stover are on the hot seat. Anything they say in their defense — even an off-hand remark — can and will be used against them. Their lawyers would be fools if they didn’t insist that their clients take the Fifth Amendment.
Do the Republicans know this? Of course. Do they care? Of course not. For an hour and a half on Friday morning, they peppered the two men with questions about this “taxpayer ripoff,” as Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, described it, knowing full well that Harrison and Stover would invoke their constitutional right to remain silent. Joe McCarthy would have been proud. The purpose of the hearing — indeed, the point of manufacturing a Solyndra investigation in the first place — is to embarrass the president."

It's all about anti-Obama politics, and it's all economically self-destructive:  "Over all, the American solar industry is a big success story; it now employs more people than either steel or coal, and it’s a net exporter.  But solar panel manufacturing — a potential source of middle-class jobs, and an important reason the White House was so high on Solyndra, which made its panels in Fremont, Calif. — is another story. Not so long ago, China made 6 percent of the world’s solar panels. Now it makes 54 percent, and leads the world in solar panel manufacturing. Needless to say, the U.S. share of the market has shrunk. The only way America can manufacture competitive solar panels is to come up with innovative technologies that the Chinese can’t replicate. Like, for instance, Solyndra’s."

So did the Obama administration do something wrong in backing this company?  Nocera says no:
" But if we could just stop playing gotcha for a second, we might realize that federal loan programs — especially loans for innovative energy technologies — virtually require the government to take risks the private sector won’t take. Indeed, risk-taking is what these programs are all about. Sometimes, the risks pay off. Other times, they don’t. It’s not a taxpayer ripoff if you don’t bat 1.000; on the contrary, a zero failure rate likely means that the program is too risk-averse." 

He asks whether the risk was worth taking in the case of Solyndra, and he concludes that it was, because of the industry's potential, economically for America, and ecologically for the planet's future.

GOPer zealots don't seem to care about America winning its future, if there's a chance Obama might get some of the credit.  They want to cut green jobs support.  But as Nocera points out:  the real winner isn’t the American taxpayer or even the House Republicans. It’s the Chinese solar industry."

Meanwhile, besides providing a complete timeline and description of the Solyandra situation,  Climate Progress highlights conclusions of a Brookings Report that the rest of the media is busy getting wrong, concerning the larger impact of green jobs.  For example: there are currently 2.7 million green jobs in the U.S. and the number is growing.  It is a growing sector of the American economy that cuts across all industries and occupations, and encompasses jobs requiring different skills--they aren't all college degree jobs.  And while particular segments that have green jobs have been hurt by the Great Recession,  the overall Green Economy grew during it. 

Which I guess is another reason GOPers hate it so much.  They're only for the "Job Creators" in fossil fuel industries, like the Koch Brothers---whose net worth went up by 40% in the past year to a combined $50 billion (more than the GNP of a number of entire countries, as Rachel Maddow pointed out),  while their companies have shed tens of thousands of American jobs.  With "job creators" like them, this country's economy is doomed.  Unless you count the highly paid p.r. firms and lobbyists they finance, and all their political influence peddling to make sure they make more billions for the rest of their brief lives, regardless of the consequences for the American middle class of now, and the future--no, let's say it right--The Future, because their financing of Climate Crisis disinformation is potentially that consequential.  The Future, by the way, that those solar panels may help save.

It's all part of the GOP class war.  And it's also a war for the future.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Last Week: A Warrior for the Middle Class

Standing next to a bridge badly in need of repair that spans the states represented by the House and Senate GOPer leaders, President Obama on Thursday said this: "I`m a warrior for the middle class. I`m happy to fight for the middle class. I`m happy to fight for working people."

It's a change in tone, of strategy, of tactics.  It is at last a bold rejoinder to the charge that apparently has baffled Dems for years, that they (and not the GOPers who actually are fighting and--so far-- winning it) are engaged in class warfare.  But I've been arguing that, if you were paying attention, it's not that big a change, and that there's understandable reason for tactical changes that have do to with governing, not electoral politics.

You've read this reasoning here before, but it was stated earlier this week in this way:

Today`s "New York Times" quotes White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer saying, "It is fair to say we`ve entered a new phase. The popular narrative is that we sought compromise in a quixotic quest for independent votes. We sought out compromise because a failure to get funding of the government last spring and then an extension of the debt ceiling would have been very bad for the economy and for the country. We were in a position of legislative compromise by necessity. That phase is over.

This of course doesn't stop commentators of any persuasion, some of whom may legitimately feel that there's another story, but all of whom make their considerable livings promoting themselves and their views.  It's amazing how many progressive commentators are taking credit for President Obama's recent policies and speeches.  In substance however, there's nothing new--everything he is advocating now he has advocated before.  His strategies and tactical objectives have been questioned all along, and are questioned by some even now.  But there were good reasons for those choices, even if they turned out to not always yield optimal results. Of course, it is always possible to argue that if he had pursued a different strategy using different tactics, he would have been more successful.  There's no way to prove that but there's also no way to prove it isn't true--and there in a nutshell you have the secret of successful punditry.

Time will tell more about the relative success of Obama's strategies and his accomplishments.  Much of the health care law hasn't kicked in yet.  It's very difficult to make an obvious case that had it not been for his stimulus package, things would be much worse--but those who know those numbers are quite sure it is so.  The stimulus benefited state and local governments above all, but mostly by keeping them from collapsing, from firing a lot of police, teachers, etc., but they didn't have to, so while the status quo was a victory, it's not an obvious one.

Even the deal that the White House got under the duress of the debt ceiling hostage crisis may turn out to have turned the tide of GOPer power.  Last week the GOPer House tried to force cuts in a green jobs program--for hybrid cars--to balance FEMA funding for emergencies, as part of the overall federal government appropriation.  When they couldn't get any Democrats to support it, it was defeated because the more Rabid Right members also voted against it--because it didn't cut enough.  Then they passed another such bill, which won't pass the Senate intact.  All the while claiming they wouldn't force a government shutdown--a very marked change in tone.  It could be because such a shutdown would violate that earlier agreement and set all kinds of things in motion.

House GOPers crow about President Obama's declining favorables, but theirs are in the tank--less than half of the President's.  They're on the defensive, despite the media's fixation on the President's numbers.

As for 2012, Cowboy Rick has had two universally panned debate performances in a row, while the debates have exposed the true nature of the Rabid Right, with audience cheers for the high number of executions in Texas and the death of someone because he didn't have health care, and for booing a soldier serving in Iraq because he admitted he is gay.

At the moment the same punditry that was anointing Cowboy Rick as the certain nominee is claiming that he is done.  But the next round of polls will tell that tale.  If Cowboy Rick hasn't slipped substantially, they may well be stuck with him.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Emerson for the Day

Give all to love;
Obey thy heart;
Friends, kindred, days,
Estate, good-fame,
Plans, credit and the Muse,---
Nothing refuse.

with flowers for Sam, R.I.P.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Here It Is

President Obama this morning:

"It comes down to this: We have to prioritize. Both parties agree that we need to reduce the deficit by the same amount -- by $4 trillion. So what choices are we going to make to reach that goal? Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare. We can’t afford to do both.

Either we gut education and medical research, or we’ve got to reform the tax code so that the most profitable corporations have to give up tax loopholes that other companies don’t get. We can’t afford to do both.

This is not class warfare. It’s math. The money is going to have to come from someplace. And if we’re not willing to ask those who've done extraordinarily well to help America close the deficit and we are trying to reach that same target of $4 trillion, then the logic, the math says everybody else has to do a whole lot more: We’ve got to put the entire burden on the middle class and the poor. We’ve got to scale back on the investments that have always helped our economy grow. We’ve got to settle for second-rate roads and second-rate bridges and second-rate airports, and schools that are crumbling.

That’s unacceptable to me. That’s unacceptable to the American people. And it will not happen on my watch. I will not support -- I will not support -- any plan that puts all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary Americans. And I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share. We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks who are most vulnerable."

Ezra Klein comments:

The White House's strategy here isn't to appear so reasonable that Republicans can't help but cut a deal. They feel they tried that during the debt-ceiling debate, and it failed. The White House's strategy here is to produce a popular plan that strikes directly at Republican vulnerabilities on taxes and Medicare. If that scares the GOP and makes them more interested in coming to an agreement in the supercommittee process, then great. If not, it gives the White House a message to base its reelection campaign off of."

And here's Andrew Sullivan's take, with the numbers made easy.

Here It Comes

GOPers are probably now beginning to realize how much they really pissed off the President when they held the population of the United States and the world economy hostage over raising the debt ceiling.  Now that this immense danger has passed and there are none quite like it left, President Obama has put forth his own agenda aggressively and effectively, and is taking it to them.

First he proposed a brilliantly conceived jobs bill, and introduced its provisions with a brilliant speech watched by more than 31 million people.  "Pass this bill" was the refrain of the speech, and has been the refrain of his speeches around the country--shortly to be repeated in front of the broken bridge that spans John Banal's district with Senate minor McConjob's state.  At a time when all of 6% tell pollsters that Congress should be re-elected.

Only then did the President drop the other shoe: he proposed to pay for the job bill by restoring taxes on the very wealthy and closing tax loopholes that favored fossil fuel companies and corporate jetters.  Two quite popular ideas with the electorate. 

And then he doubled down on that.  Last week it became known that today (Monday) he would propose a tax on billionaires and millionaires according to "the Buffet Rule" as proposed by billionaire Warren (rather than thousandaire Jimmy)--that his tax rate should be the same as his middle class employees.   Again, this idea is favored by 81% of Americans polled.  It got Paul Ryan to confirm his typecasting:   "It adds further instability to our system, more uncertainty, and it punishes job creation and those people who create jobs," Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, said on Fox News Sunday. "Class warfare may make for good politics but it makes for rotten economics."  Yes, another case of that sophisticated GOPer technique from the poster boy for the corporate rich's class war against everyone else, "That's what you are, what am I?"  And it is the very best economics to return money to the economy that's sitting in some billionaires vault.

If that wasn't enough, there is this stunner in this morning's New York Times story, reporting on what President Obama will propose today to the congressional debt commission.  He proposes a large cut in the deficit and debt, but this graph is the attention-getter:

"In laying out his proposal, aides said, Mr. Obama will expressly promise to veto any legislation that seeks to cut the deficit through spending cuts alone and does not include revenue increases in the form of tax increases on the wealthy."

The Times' immediate if duh conclusion:

"That veto threat will put the president on a direct collision course with the House speaker, John A. Boehner, who said last week that he would not support any legislation that included revenue increases in the form of higher taxes."

There are going to be those who say that President Obama learned his lesson during the debt ceiling crisis, that conciliation is futile, etc., as if he's a six year old just learning about the playground.  President Obama sacrificed some dignity in order to prevent grievous harm to millions of people, which would have resulted from failure to raise the debt ceiling.  Now the GOPers have less to threaten the country with--or the President.

This fight is not without its risks and its consequences.  But President Obama is taking positions that are both popular and clearly useful and crucial.  He gave them the chance to do their political dances but come around to be partners in governing.  They aren't interested.  Now he's gathering political strength with the American people so that they might prevail upon GOPer politicians to do the right thing.  If they don't, the reckoning will come.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Doonesbury series involving the new Joel McGinnis book on Sarah Palin is being censored--that is, several newspapers are refusing to run them.  So in the interests of anti-censorship and free expression, I take the opportunity of running a Doonesbury cartoon without worrying too much about getting sued.  Click on the image to make it big enough to read.

I Have a Nightmare

The new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington has experienced a number of problems and setbacks.  Some say it is at best an undistinguished likeness, while other castigate the somewhat fake quote that is set there in stone.  There was controversy about how it was built and who built it, with allegations of near slave labor.  And of course, its dedication on the anniversary of Dr. King's March on Washington speech was cancelled due to Hurricane Irene.

But the biggest injury to Dr. King's legacy is happening in state after after across America, where the very voting rights he championed on that hot August 1963 afternoon are being wiped away for many African Americans and for others.

GOPer sponsored changes in state laws to make it harder for minorities to vote have been chronicled by Rachel Maddow for months, and more recently the subject of an excellent Rolling Stone article, and a speech by Bill Clinton quoted in that article:.    "One of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time," Bill Clinton told a group of student activists in July. "Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate" – a reference to the dominance of the Tea Party last year, compared to the millions of students and minorities who turned out for Obama. "There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today."

Almost as disturbing as this blatant injustice is the relative quiet that has greeted it.  There have been some legal challenges, specifically by the Justice Department, but there need to be more, and they need to be a front-burner issue.  I had expected the ACLU to make it a priority, but I see no evidence of that.  There are a lot of important issues to address, but there are also priorities.  This is a real threat to the progress of democracy.  And if successful, along with other machinations and chicanery, could disenfranchise those with the greatest stake in the future.  It is racist in effect and in intent.  It must be stopped.  So forget the monuments, and remember what the struggle was for.  Because it's not over.