Tag Archives: President

Live Thursday Night: Futility, the Series

Obama before joint session of CongressThursday night, our President will address a joint session of Congress to again ask Congress to take up emergency measures dealing with unemployment and the greatest economic crisis facing our nation in three generations. He asked to give the speech on Wednesday. Republicans said, “No.”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress extend unemployment benefits for those fortunate enough to have had a job to lose when Bush’s economic crisis struck. Republicans are expected to say, “No, the unemployed need to get a job.”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress extend a payroll tax cut for those fortunate enough to still have a job. Republicans are expected to say, “No, they just need to get a second job.”

President Obama is expected to ask Congress for a bill to rebuild decaying public schools, which will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Republicans are expected to say, “No, not until we also subsidize rebuilding of Christian schools – wait a minute, we already do that – no.”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress create an “infrastructure bank,” enabling states and local governments to pay for rebuilding decaying bridges and highways, creating thousands of jobs and keeping us all safer. Republicans are expected to say, “No, not until a Republican is in the White House.”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress renew the gas tax, which funds highway construction and will save millions of jobs. Republicans are expected to say, “Once it expires next month, it would be a new tax and Grover won’t allow us to do that. We’ll just wait. Then, no”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress renew FAA funding from landing fees, which will save thousands of jobs and increase safety for those wealthy enough to afford flying. Republicans are expected to say, “Maybe, if you outlaw unions. Otherwise, not until a Republican is in the White House and we outlaw unions.”

President Obama is expected to ask Congress for additional FEMA funding to help those affected by recent natural disasters. Republicans are expected to say, “Maybe, as long as you let us gut Medicare and Medicaid. Wait a minute, weren’t those disasters in blue states? We’re gonna need to gut Social Security, too.”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress approve trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia that have nothing to do with jobs, and likely will make things worse. Republicans are expected to say, “Maybe, just get rid of that human rights crap.”

President Obama is expected to make vague references to green jobs, investments in alternative energy and building a smart energy grid. Republicans are expected to say, “No way. You tried that and it didn’t work.”

President Obama is expected to remind Congress that tens of millions of Americans are out of work and need their help. Republicans are expected to say, “Liar.”

President Obama is expected to remind Congress that times are really tough, that action must happen now, and that the risk is global. Republicans are expected to say, “What world are you living in? Bring it on.”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress end Washington political games and remind them that they were elected to help all Americans. Republicans are expected to say, “No, we weren’t.”

President Obama is expected to challenge all members of Congress to put country before party. Republicans are expected to say, “You have got to be kidding.” Democrats, on the other hand, are expected to say, “That all you got?”

Futility: my speech or my silence, indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility. – Joseph Conrad

###

Update 090711:

What I’d like President Obama to Include:

  • I’d like him to deliver each initiative written and as a separate bill and hand it to the Speaker during the speech with a challenge of a debate and an up or down vote on each.
  • I’d like him to say that everyone in our country deserves a chance to pay taxes (click for more details), which means they deserve a chance to have a job and a living wage in order to do so. I’d like him to remind Congress of the grotesque waste each non-working American represents in terms of their and their families happiness and their productive contributions to society. I’d like him to challenge Congress to imagine what our country would be like and what great things we could do if 20+ million of us were working again.
  • I’d like him to announce a new deal: anyone unemployed can exchange their unemployment compensation – or their disability check – for a job paying at least minimum wage. Then I’d like him to ask Congress to allow it, fund it and include incentives for companies to keep them as permanent employees. Then I’d like him to announce the private corporations – for profit and nonprofit, who have agreed to honor it. I’d also like him to list the governmental agencies who also would – the park service, the military, VA, FEMA, EPA, etc., as well as states and municipalities. I’d also like him to ask for a similar program for our vets. And an extension of unemployment compensation for one time, to anyone who doesn’t, or doesn’t still qualify for unemployment compensation.
  • I’d like him to ask Congress to fund a free education initiative to teach or re-train our unemployed and underemployed workers about senior and preventative care; mental illness and substance abuse care and other important and costly needs our nation has. I’d like the Medicare and Medicaid rules amended to allow this new work force to help those who need help with in-home care.
  • I’d like him to ask Congress to fund a ten-year NASA-like program to find answers to our fossil fuel dependency – a private and public initiative where the patents would be owned by all of us. Then do the same to cure cancer and other horrible diseases.
  • I’d like him to ask Congress to open the Federal Reserve discount window to states and municipalities to use the money as they see fit – for industrial development, infrastructure and lend capital directly to businesses who will create jobs. Click for more details.
  • I’d like him to ask Congress to charter a new national bank – privately owned, but nonprofit, that could operate in all 50 states to provide consumer debt relief. The idea is simple – this new bank would contract directly with consumers and their credit card lenders that would allow anyone in the US to enter into a contract with the following provisions: 1) consumers must agree not to get into any more debt during the term of the deal; 2) consumers could combine all revolving family credit card debt into a single payment at a 2% interest rate and amortized over five years; 3) the new bank would contract with the credit card lenders where the lenders would freeze the accounts, immediately get the money owed, but the lenders will still have the risk of default until it is paid in full; the fees would pay for the cost of servicing the debt. Click for more details. I’d also like them to create a national mortgage company to do the same for people in foreclosure and help people stay in their homes.
  • I’d like him to ask Congress to re-write the tax system. Make it flat or flatter with deductions only for charity. Offer progressive standard deductions. Get rid of corporate income tax, but tax shareholder dividends as income. Likewise estate taxes. And most important, roll payroll taxes and Social Security into the rate. Click for more details.
  • I’d like him to ask Congress to allow any business that believes providing private insurance to their employees is to costly, to be able to buy-in to Medicare.
  • And, yes, I’d like him to ask for all of those things we expect him to, and those things people much smarter than me, would add.
  • Finally, I’d like him to ask Congress to reinstate the draft – require graduation from high school or require military or alternative service for those who drop out. Yes, this sounds crazy to be mixed in with jobs initiatives, but if we are going to have jobs for the next generation, we must find a way to keep our kids in school. Service is a much better alternative than lifetime poverty or prison.

I’d like President Obama to pull out all the stops. To think big. To use this national emergency to fix structural problems we have. To set us on a path for a better tomorrow. Almost none of this will cost taxpayers anything, but any costs in the short term could be covered by bringing our troops, and our private war contractors, from around the world home.

There are so many other productive things we could be doing instead of bickering about regulations, size of government, and how best to divide lobbyists’ campaign contributions. This should be a national referendum. One that decides who we are as country and whether anyone in office deserves to be in office, next year. Take the risk, please. Have the audacity. Do this, and maybe, I’ll forgive you for selling out our clean air by caving on the ozone rules – no, you need to fix that, too.

The Timidity of Hope

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15-16, New International Version.

Obama - Hope With Blood on His HandsIt should be no surprise* that our President decided to continue the 10-years war. The choice to order more thousands of our brave men and women in uniform to give their lives, and many more maimed and permanently scarred, is consistent with his presidency, his campaign promises and his life’s story. It is his war now. The choice to accept tens of thousands more innocent civilian lives to be lost or ruined as collateral damage is one that weighed the risk of peace against the advice for war against the political climate in Washington at odds with the history of Afghanistan.

Why is ordering peace so hard? The needs here at home are evident. Most Americans want the war to end. The spun reason for the conflict has been achieved. Must we stay in Afghanistan to wage clandestine war in Pakistan? Are the bordering countries of China, India and Iran not strong enough to control their neighbor? Or is it some lingering fear and presumptive need to have our forces pre-positioned surrounding Iran? Shouldn’t we be more concerned that the presence of our forces surrounding Iran may make a future conflict more likely?

Our President does not have the audacity of hope that he once so successfully promoted. The lessons of Mohandas Gandhi, Thoreau and Dr. King have been lost in his parsing compromise. Violence begets violence. Peaceful civil disobedience takes too long (suggested search terms: bombing campaign Libya). Wars not paid for and fought without the draft with the drones seem so easy. Or, is it simply that no sitting President has ever lost reelection during wartime?

This President is a pragmatist. He didn’t fight for healthcare reform because of the 40-50 million Americans without health insurance. He fought for a bill, any bill, because the GAO told him that costs were out of control, and until healthcare was reformed, our country could not have a balanced budget.

He didn’t allow green initiatives to be included in the stimulus bill because it was right for our country or our planet. He did so because it could create jobs and would make members of the House, who actually believe, placated for a while.

He didn’t promote Wall Street reform because of the grotesque change in the distribution of income in our country, or the outrageous profits made from no-interest Fed money. He supported the reform bill, any bill, in an attempt to prevent another meltdown. He has since backed away from the reform and strong rules his administration gets to write, because the economy is stagnant and banks are tanking.

Obama is also likely to accept the Republican demands to undo three-generations of Democratic achievement on social policy – even without a tax increase on the wealthy or getting rid of needless, mindless subsidies for corporations – because failure to pass the debt extension could destabilize world financial markets. That, and keeping the Republicans on track to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid increases the likelihood of winning the next election and while providing the cover to undo any budget deal in the next Congress.

There was a time that I thought that Rahm Emanuel was the force that had him compromise his beliefs for a pragmatic government. I was wrong. Obama never believed.
_______
* In a previous story, I wrote that he would be out of all of wars by the election. I was surprised that things in Obama’s world changed so dramatically in such a short time.

The perfect business plan

  1. Sell products that promise to solve life’s most feared problem: death.
  2. Acquire or force out all or most competitors in your market area.
  3. Make it unimaginably difficult, if not impossible, for a start-up business to compete with you.
  4. Spread regulation over 50 states so no one entity really regulates anything.
  5. Contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to campaigns of regulators at all levels of government including the courts and threaten each with loss of support in the next election.
  6. Promote privacy so no one knows what your service costs, what works, how well it works or how you do what you do.
  7. Gradually raise the price high enough that most consumers will be able to pay you for your service, but not have enough left to afford co-payments to use your service.
  8. Create a paper-based administrative system so complicated that it cannot possibly be audited.
  9. Deny payment of services for arbitrary reasons to routinely scare the hell out of your providers and their customers.
  10. Sell a product to those who don’t need it and tell them if they ever stop buying it and need it, they won’t be allowed to.
  11. Require every business to deduct the cost of your service from employee pay checks before they waste it on things like food or shelter.
  12. Require by law that all consumers buy your product or pay thousands of dollars in fines.
  13. Require government to pay for all consumers who cannot afford your product or choose not to purchase it.
  14. Play on the fears of the aged, the infirmed and the uninformed in your advertising.
  15. Play on the fears of the former middle class that government involvement will mean higher prices, higher taxes, and the services they worked so desperately to afford, will be diminished or rationed.
  16. Collude with providers to fix all prices and be the only source for payment of their services.
  17. Play Congress and the President by pretending to offer concessions on future price increases in return for a law to prevent government negotiation of prices.
  18. Stand ready with unlimited advertising budgets, corrupt industry experts and politicians, willing media partners and misinformation should any constituency turn on you.
  19. Gradually increase the pressure of your grip on society’s privates until the pain is so great we all fall on our knees and will do whatever they want.
  20. Don’t make or provide any useful function to society.

A sermon for the choir

Listen up you godless, spineless, irrational, sushi-eating, America-blaming, terrorist-coddling, morally superior, Hollywood-humping, liberal, defeatocrat, progressive, elitist, Marxist, business-bashing, whining, pinko, tree-hugging, vegan-exalting, crackpot, sanctimonious, stem-cell-sucking, tofu-chomping, out-of-touch, pantywaist, tax-hiking, Obamaton snobs*. This is a defining moment. A tipping point. A chance such as we have never had before. A chance that we, the world, will never have again.perfect_storm

This is the moment. It will define the future of our children and generations to come. Forever. This is a planet-changing moment. Life and death serious. We have a narrow window and it will close. I fear we are going to blow it. Grab a beer and watch it on TV. Cheat this chance to make our brief moments here matter. I fear, we are going to damn ourselves to an eventual, perhaps, inevitable oblivion and take everyone with us.

You know the litany. The talking points. Stop. Think about them. This is real. A storm more perfect than facts know or fiction dreamed.  We should be in the streets.

Say these things out loud:

  • Rapid climate change is occurring; the ice caps are melting; the oceans are rising, our planet is warming.
  • The world is in a great recession – a world where more than 80% already live on less than $10 a day.
  • People are starving all over the planet.
  • More than a billion people don’t have clean drinking water; almost as many can’t read or write.
  • We have a global pandemic.
  • Iran, Pakistan and North Korea have nuclear weapons.
  • Fundamentalism, ethnic sovereignty and terrorism have made many of the world’s governments unstable.
  • Recipes for bio-weapons are on the internet.
  • Even per capita, there are more guns in the world than ever before.
  • Pollution and over-fishing have 80% of our fish stocks in danger of collapse.
  • Industrial pollution, the overuse of pesticides, antibiotics and fertilizer runoff have all species at risk.
  • Global drilling and mining cartels, most controlled by dictators, hold the world’s economy hostage – while our natural resources dwindle.
  • In the US:
    • We are in two wars – weapons spending continues to increase.
    • Our deficit will be almost $2 trillion this year and will get worse.
    • Medical care gobbles one of every five dollars and will eat more – 1 out of 3 have no health insurance.
    • Most lost half the value of their retirement and investments last year.
    • Half of us have an unemployed family member who won’t find a job this year – it is getting worse.
    • We have record numbers of bankruptcies, mortgage foreclosures and people in prison.
    • Lobbyists and campaign funds continue to control our government.
    • Our farm subsidies have destroyed small farms around the world.
    • 39 states cut 2009 spending for Medicaid, schools and other services for families (12 Southern states out of 16) – more cuts will come for years to come.
    • Our government now insures most mortgages, business and investments around the world.
    • We bailed out Wall Street.

Yet, we have the audacity of hope. A new, smart, charismatic and popular president with a majority in both houses.  Will we have the dramatic change he promised and the world needs? No reason to think so.

More troops are on their way to Afghanistan with no talk of an exit strategy.

  • CIA-guided bombings and other incursions into Pakistan are now routine.
  • Record lobby spending has regulation for Wall Street languishing as Goldman Sachs reports billions of profits on high risk investments.
  • The stimulus bill passed, but is just a band-aid to state budgets, builds too many roads we don’t need, extends some unsustainable benefits for too small a percentage of the unemployed and suffering, does little to create consumption or re-start business, and will rollout so slowly, most of us won’t notice.
  • The energy bill that passed the House and is in the Senate is an insult to all of us who wish to breath and have hope for our future – the Senate is sure to make it worse.
  • The heath care bill has been introduced in the House, but don’t expect much or soon – something is likely to pass this year, but it surely will be a another Congressional camel that sustains all that is bad (private insurance, for instance) while helping some, but not nearly enough.

liberalsearchingfor

It isn’t too late, but our leaders don’t think we care. They don’t believe many of us are paying attention to what they do, only to what talk TV and talk radio say about what they do. They also know our attention span is greater for Michael Jackson than for debate on Capital Hill. They know we won’t hold them accountable in the next election. They know we aren’t organized. That we are too busy worrying about having a place to live, feeding our families, updating our Facebook and ducking calls from credit card companies. They know the generation who took to the streets in the 60’s are in their 60’s. The rest of us are too busy, too lazy, too fearful, too preoccupied.


Bully Pulpit

Brother and sisters, I come before you today a shaken man. I fear our dream will turn into a nightmare. I fear the sinners on Wall Street and K Street will not repent. That the sick and suffering among us will be turned away. That the little children will continue to gather in the refugee camps to pick through the garbage. That the best and brightest will continue to die in service alongside the powerless and innocent collateral damage. I fear the new President will accept the lukewarm bills in Congress – neither hot nor cold, and not spit them out. I fear that sound from the corporate boardrooms, from the sheiks and dictators, from the oil wells to the new car show rooms, will be, “Hallelujah, we did it to them again. Praise greed almighty.”

I have seen the promised land and it is only on TV. Can I please not get an “amen”?

__________________
* Apologies for borrowing “liberally” from the Liberal Insult Generator

Striving for the Best Lowest Common Denominator

Our Founding Fathers

The true genius of our so-called founding fathers was more luck than wisdom and more about fear than courage. Rich white male industrialist entrepreneur New Englanders in the same room with rich white male planter slave owner Southerners designed a government to protect the best of themselves from the worst of each other. Land owners knowing they would never vote to tax themselves, set it up so only they could vote. Worried that a president could too easily usurp power to become monarch, they balanced the powers not once, but twice, and added the electoral college just to make sure. Worried that a government sponsored religion could force them to tithe and attend church, they mandated separation of church and state. Worried that a central government would trump their regional fiefdoms, they held on to their state powers. Worried that population could trump state standing and regional culture they created the Senate. Our union has succeeded not for what it has done, but for what it has not. And how could it? Ours is a government where bold, decisive action should not be possible except, and temporarily, in time of war.

For example, the “legal basis” of Lincoln’s executive order abolish slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, was the implicit powers given to the President as Commander-in-Chief “as a necessary war measure”. (Same basis for interning the Asian-Americans during WWII and the wiretapping, torture and legalized corruption of the Bush Two presidency, etc.)

No, our founding fathers, wanted our government weak, decentralized and anything but bold and decisive. Where change would come slowly and poorly. Where the best laws and actions from our national government would be the lowest common denominator*. Fear-based, paranoia-based government because they only trusted themselves, but not so much as a group.

So what changed? A lot. The founding fathers died and the amateurs were replaced with professional corrupt politicians. The landless, the non-white and the non-male, got the vote (power to the people). More states, each with two senators changed the make up of the regional coalitions of power. Lobbyist were invented. People became more educated and better informed (newspapers, telegraph, radio, television and the internets) and population became more mobile (trains, cars and planes). New industries displaced the old wealthy powerful elite with a new wealthy powerful elite. The world became a village, then a town, then a city, then a metropolitan area complete with individualized slums and slumlord millionaires. Corporations replace partnerships, but without the personal responsibility. Wall Street was created which finally and formally gave structure to the brave new greedy, powerful elite. Self-fear gave way to self-interest. Not necessarily in that order, but that sort of thing.

Now, we have the crisis-to-end-all-crisis de jour and need for bold, decisive action, but are saddled with a government designed to do the opposite. So we get a stimulus bill with little stimulus. We get green baby steps to solve global warming and our dependence on oil. We save a half of million teacher layoffs, but no answer for our education failings. We reach out to bipartisanship with diplomacy and compromise and get three to take the hand of our new President. We embrace change we can believe in and get a Congressional camel with hundreds of humps, but little to get over ours.

I am reminded of my father jokingly remarking that “a benevolent dictatorship was the perfect form of government” even as I can’t get the memory of the Bush empirical presidency out of my head. Could it be that the dark underlord Cheney was right? Could we pretend that our founding fathers designed our republic to act as a 4-year renewable dictatorship during crisis? Until Congress says otherwise, we are, after all, at war. Obama is our Commander-in-Chief and has implicit powers with eventual limits defined only by the Bush Court, 60 votes in the Senate and our finding out. Could he, should he, use these powers to issue executive orders as Lincoln did “as a necessary war measure” and mandate bold new initiatives?

  • For instance, the import of foreign oil jeopardizes our war effort by harming our economy (air, climate, etc.), could he, should he require cars to meet much higher fuel efficiency or use alternative fuels? Or maybe just ration gas and let the markets deal with it? Could he, should he require corporations be dramatically more fuel efficient? Or power companies cleaner?
  • For instance, the import of foreign steel, plastics and raw materials jeopardizes our war effort by harming our economy (air, climate, landfills, etc.), could he, should he require the use of recycled materials and ration the use of new materials?
  • For instance, the lower wages used to manufacture imported goods jeopardizes our war effort by harming our economy (higher unemployment, lower taxes revenues, etc.), could he, should he require the use a living wage here and apply tariffs in the manufacture of imported goods to offset the imbalance?
  • For instance, the lack of access to healthcare jeopardizes our war effort by as our young people may not be healthy enough to fight (or go to school), could he, should he freeze prescription prices and mandate universal healthcare and pay for it out of war funding?
  • For instance, the lack of bank credit jeopardizes our war effort by harming our economy, could he, should he require banks to make loans and rework mortgages?
  • For instance, unemployment jeopardizes our war effort by harming our economy (people lives, too), could he, should he require full employment by mandating government work projects, expansion of Americorp, etc. and pay for it out of war funding?

Sounds like a dictatorship, albeit benevolent, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish nor want for a benevolent dictatorship. Like our founding fathers, I fear too much how rich white males might abuse it. But until something gives, the best we can strive for is the lowest common denominator. And that’s, what we got.

* Wikipedia offers this definition for Lowest Common Denominator: the least common multiple of the denominators of a set of vulgar fractions.