Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Human Factor

Dean Baker, an economist I respect, linked to this outstanding NY Times article on the fall of Citibank. Its must-read paragraphs are many, but here is what I consider to be the bottom line:

"While the sheer size of Citigroup’s C.D.O. [Collateralized Debt Obligations] position caused concern among some around the trading desk, most say they kept their concerns to themselves.

“I just think senior managers got addicted to the revenues and arrogant about the risks they were running,” said one person who worked in the C.D.O. group. “As long as you could grow revenues, you could keep your bonus growing.”

To make matters worse, Citigroup’s risk models never accounted for the possibility of a national housing downturn, this person said, and the prospect that millions of homeowners could default on their mortgages. Such a downturn did come, of course, with disastrous consequences for Citigroup and its rivals on Wall Street.

Even as the first shock waves of the subprime mortgage crisis hit Bear Stearns in June 2007, Citigroup’s top executives expressed few concerns about their bank’s exposure to mortgage-linked securities.

In fact, when examiners from the Securities and Exchange Commission began scrutinizing Citigroup’s subprime mortgage holdings after Bear Stearns’s problems surfaced, the bank told them that the probability of those mortgages defaulting was so tiny that they excluded them from their risk analysis, according to a person briefed on the discussion who would speak only without being named.


And the following paragraphs from the article are interesting from the perspective that says President-elect Obama may not want too many further dealings with former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin:

Because C.D.O.’s included so many forms of bundled debt, gauging their risk was particularly tricky; some parts of the bundle could be sound, while others were vulnerable to default.

“Chuck Prince [Citibank's CEO] going down to the corporate investment bank in late 2002 was the start of that process,” a former Citigroup executive said of the bank’s big C.D.O. push. “Chuck was totally new to the job. He didn’t know a C.D.O. from a grocery list, so he looked for someone for advice and support. That person was Rubin. And Rubin had always been an advocate of being more aggressive in the capital markets arena. He would say, ‘You have to take more risk if you want to earn more.’”

...

As chairman of Citigroup’s executive committee, Mr. Rubin was the bank’s resident sage, advising top executives and serving on the board while, he insisted repeatedly, steering clear of daily management issues.

“By the time I finished at Treasury, I decided I never wanted operating responsibility again,” he said in an interview in April. Asked then whether he had made any mistakes during his tenure at Citigroup, he offered a tentative response.

“I’ve thought a lot about that,” he said. “I honestly don’t know. In hindsight, there are a lot of things we’d do differently. But in the context of the facts as I knew them and my role, I’m inclined to think probably not.”

Besides, he said, it was impossible to get a complete handle on Citigroup’s vulnerabilities unless you dealt with the trades daily.


Amazing how much in billions these guys were paid and how, after the crash, they all want to tell us how out of the loop they were, or how much they really didn't know. It's interesting how the human factor of friendships, arrogance, greed, inertia, denial and the difficulties in changing slow-moving bureaucracies remains a consistency in any bubble situation, whether it was the South Sea Company Bubble or the early 2000s Housing Bubble. Personally, these executives and directors at Citibank are walking exhibits for the proposition that there should be a maximum income limitation at some level. Maybe if they'd be forced to think about limits of how much they earned, they would be more inclined to think about the limitations in, or risks to the company's quarter profits from risky ventures that Warren Buffett said even he did not understand. He said the derivatives or credits were of "mind-boggling complexity" and said they were likely to become "financial weapons of mass destruction." Yet, Buffett's own company still pursued investments into the same ventures.

Final comments: When we think about it, we have limits facing us human beings in nearly everything we say and do. Almost always, we agree with the proposition that too much of a good thing is not good. Therefore, a society is well advised to set limits on how much money people make, just as it sets a floor of minimum wages. For libertarian types to sophomorically ask, "Where do you draw the line?", as if that means we should not draw any line, it is quite obvious that legislatures are capable of drawing lines that are livable and practical--and still provide people with an incentive to take risks to build enterprises.

For the status that comes with being an executive is often missing from most policy and economics-oriented discussions, to take one non-economic incentive. As for a specific maximum income, we can start what you'd win in the Publishers' Clearinghouse lottery, i.e. $10 million. At that point, we can have a party for you and say, "You won!" And you can then start to think about doing well for society. Imagine the better politicians we'd be likely to have...If you make more money after that, you can stash another $5 million in a federally controlled bank in the form of a bond, and that will help you if you become a drug addict or wastrel. If you blow through that, maybe you need to spend the rest of your days in community volunteering and living on a welfare or Social Security stipend. Really, though, you can do what you want to do, but money-wise, you're Gary Busey at that point, aren't you, and probably living on welfare anyway?

The yacht industry may also be hard hit under this proposal, but really, I think we can take that chance, don't you?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

JFK, Vietnam and the ironies of Camelot

Every few years, some writer comes along and receives attention in corporate media to argue that JFK would have withdrawn troops from Vietnam by 1965. The articles tend to appear on November 22 of a given year, the anniversary of the assassination of JFK.

Arthur Schlesinger was an early supporter of this argument. In the 1990s, we had John Newman. In 2003, it was economist James K. Galbraith in 2003. This year, the 45th anniversary of JFK's assassination, we have Gordon Goldstein, a biographer of MacGeorge Bundy, in the LA Times.

The problem with all of these articles can be summarized as follows:

1. The internal memos and NASM 263, the latter written not long before JFK's assassination, and which sound as if the Kennedy administration is considering withdrawal, contain escape hatches that are similar to the language Lyndon Johnson used after he became president. JFK's withdrawal noises were couched with contingencies and conditions, specifically that the South Vietnamese government and military could stand on their own without US help. Chomksy's book, Rethinking Camelot, is a very strong answer to the Newman in particular, and others who have come along over the years.

2. JFK also feared withdrawing any significant amount of troops until at least 1965, after the 1964 election.

3. JFK, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon all came of age at a time when the Truman administration was flogged for supposedly "losing" China to the Communists. This is why LBJ could be heard on his tapes saying that if he withdrew troops, he could be impeached.

Too often, people look at history through a present tense lens, instead of understanding how historical figures saw their present. And worse, people fail to grasp the historical analogies and experiences our past leaders relied upon to make their decisions. JFK, Johnson and Nixon were deathly afraid to withdraw from Vietnam for fear of being Red-baited or called weak. JFK was no exception in this regard.

If I may offer "alternative history" with JFK staying alive past 1963: I believe if JFK survived, we would have seen him escalate the war in Vietnam through at least 1967. In a nod to Schlesinger, Newman, Galbraith, et al., I believe JFK might have responded to the growing anti-war chorus by late 1967, if for no other reason than to help his favored successor--Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara--by seeking a negotiated settlement.

More "alternative history" of JFK surviving November 22, 1963:

If JFK lived, it is hard to imagine him being more successful in convincing Congress to pass Medicare, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, and the so-called "War on Poverty" programs. JFK, until his tragic death, was ineffective in selling those bills to the larger public (with the possible exception of Medicare), and was especially impotent against the reactionaries in Congress. JFK's martyrdom, however, gave LBJ the opening he needed--plus LBJ's legislative skills and almost-blackmail level knowledge of the various Congressmen and Senators--to pass the Civil Rights Acts, Medicare and the expansion of food stamps and other anti-poverty programs.

And let me really go out on a limb and suggest that the 1964 re-election campaign was going to be much closer than LBJ's blowout of Goldwater. We seem to forget that white Southerners had become apocalyptic in their hatred of the Massachusetts-accented JFK and would not have supported him in 1964. Further, the Western region of the US might well warmed up far more to Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater (JFK was rooting for Goldwater to win the Republican nomination because he saw, possibly ironically, Goldwater as easier to beat than, say, Nelson Rockefeller or some other more "moderate" Republican), without JFK's martyrdom, and LBJ's skillful and heartfelt use of that martyrdom.

JFK, increasingly isolated in a Washington DC bubble, was politically insensitive to the white voter backlash that was beginning to brew in the South and West. I believe it can be said that JFK's martyrdom delayed that backlash to slightly later in the decade, e.g. Reagan's victory in 1966 in the governor's race in California over incumbent Democrat Edmund "Pat" Brown. The murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968 finally sealed the fate of the New Deal coalition (Sorry for the plug).

In saying this, I still admire JFK's intelligence, wit and the way he truly inspired the then-younger generation of Americans of the 1960s (an inspiration which may have become undone by his escalation of the war in Vietnam). Ironically, though, his martyrdom quickly became a bright shining star that inspired millions of Americans, including his brother Robert Kennedy, to try and end poverty, end an unjust war and finish the New Deal for working class families of all colors, ethnicities and creeds. That is why I still shed a tear on November 22 of each year. And this year is no exception.

And please indulge me this final comment: Obama's election, in the face of the financial and economic crisis facing Americans, offers our nation a political moment to realize Robert Kennedy's vision for our nation--a vision that was, in turn, an idealization of John F. Kennedy's promise and vision. Yet, regardless of whether JFK's presidency would have been successful had he lived, let's also recognize that myths are often a powerful inspiration to the great mass of people, as David Brin elegantly wrote about in his sci-fi novel, "The Postman."

I therefore breathe a sigh to a horrific past event 45 years ago, but I also retain a hope for a better immediate future for our nation.

(Edited)

FDR is in the house!

Gobama!

He's finding his inner FDR, and for that, we should be very hopeful.

Just read the first paragraph in the above linked article if you don't have time to read the whole thing:

President-elect Barack Obama promoted an economic plan Saturday he said would create 2.5 million jobs by rebuilding roads and bridges and modernizing schools while developing alternative energy sources and more efficient cars.

In a just world, Bush and Cheney would simply resign and let the intelligent grown-ups take over, as in a parliamentary democracy.

Hopeful signs for health care debate

Ezra Klein informs us that Peter Orszag has been tapped to be the head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This, Klein correctly says, is momentous news for those of us who support health insurance reform.

Important facts to keep in mind:

* The Canadian system of a single pay plan has, at least as of 2003, has half the administrative costs per person than the US hodge-podge, private-oriented system.

* Yes, there is rationing in both America and Canada. In America, rationing occurs on the basis of how much money you have. In Canada, it is rationing on the basis of need. You will likely wait longer in Canada for a hip replacement. However, when you need a kidney transplant, you will likely get it quicker in Canada than the US.

* If we had a true national health insurance system, we'd have better tracking of the failures of the American system. For example, just look at this October 26, 2006 Medical News Today article, which culls statistical data from the Canadian program regarding hip and knee replacements. In the US system, we really don't know about the extent of people falling through the cracks, and they become "anecdotes" for right-wing theorists and idiot pundits to belittle and ignore. Yet, the Canadian and other government run systems must report each and every medical event, and therefore, the problems are more immediately recognized and made known.

Let's create a health insurance system that saves us administrative costs and provides coverage for all citizens. And let the conservatives become Ralph Nader-like in their being a watchdog--always bitching about some flaw or poor outcome that is bound to happen in any system, particularly a government system conservatives reflexively hate. At least, however, we'll be operating under a better system than the current, waste-ridden private hodge-podge system. As Klein's blog post notes, if we provide health insurance to all Americans, while cutting administrative costs, especially for businesses, we will also be acting in the best interests of our nation's long-term economic security and re-development.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bobby would have been 83 today...

Robert F. Kennedy did not like to be called "Bobby," but accepted the fact that millions called him by that name. He preferred "Bob," which is what his wife, Ethel, called him.

Had he lived, Kennedy would have been 83 years old today. Hmmmmm, it's hard to call an 83 year old "Bobby," isn't it?

You know, if Bobby Kennedy was somehow alive and with us today, I believe he would be very proud of Obama and would be exhorting our nation to keep our faith in each other and our nation as a whole.

Yes, it is true that, forty years ago, Kennedy did say a black man could be elected president in 40 years. But forty years was a long time away from 1968, and it really was a cautious (conservative?) prediction when we think about it. The 83 year old Bobby would have chuckled at the precision and correctness of his prediction, though, but he'd be quick to say his pride in Obama is not that he was elected, but how Obama has comported himself--specifically how cool and yet driven Obama has shown himself to be. Kennedy would also likely advise Obama to dig even deeper within himself, to find the strength to be bold on behalf of working and poor Americans--and reach out to the world's population, as well.

We are indeed in a "honeymoon" stage with our president-elect. And, as the economy continues to crumble under the weight of long-term crises, it's appropriate for us to dare to dream...especially today, November 20, the birth date of Robert F. Kennedy.

Wall St. Journal describes CEOs clarion call to arms in the class war

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) has got the worst CEOs very nervous about a redistribution of their wealth they take from the top profit line and from their workers' paychecks. Their talk about capitalist theory is rarely about their companies. Instead, it is about them and their claim for the money a business generates.

When you hear their talk about Democrats starting to pursue a "class war," harken back to this Ben Stein (!) editorial in the New York Times from November 26, 2006, where Stein described a then-recent talk he had with Warren Buffett:

It turned out that Mr. Buffett, with immense income from dividends and capital gains, paid far, far less as a fraction of his income than the secretaries or the clerks or anyone else in his office. Further, in conversation it came up that Mr. Buffett doesn’t use any tax planning at all. He just pays as the Internal Revenue Code requires. “How can this be fair?” he asked of how little he pays relative to his employees. “How can this be right?”

Even though I agreed with him, I warned that whenever someone tried to raise the issue, he or she was accused of fomenting class warfare.

“There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”


Earlier in the op-ed piece, Stein, a Republican supporter who used to work for Nixon and generally opposes anything labor unions endorse, had this to say about the current state of income tax rates:

Put simply, the rich pay a lot of taxes as a total percentage of taxes collected, but they don’t pay a lot of taxes as a percentage of what they can afford to pay, or as a percentage of what the government needs to close the deficit gap.

My continuing advice to Democrats is to package the labor law reform in the stimulus package, and pressure all Democrats (now including Lieberman) to vote for it, and get a peel away from the remaining "moderate" Republicans just to stop the filibuster. The Republicans don't have to vote for the package, just tell their constituents the way Democrats always did under Republican rule: "The only way the stimulus package could make it to the floor was to end the filibuster. We needed the stimulus package, and it was the only way to allow the stimulus package to get to the floor for a vote." Yeah, it would be nice for Republicans to wear that shoe on their foot for awhile...

Between a slight marginal increase in income taxes (36% on the margin above $250,000 to 39%) and capital gains taxes (15% to 20% on gains above $250,000), plus labor law reform, we will see a return to demand side economics that has been proven to effectively stimulate the economy, and, yes, rich people will still get more money--but at least the pie will be bigger and working folks will get more, too.

(Edited)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Remembering Victor Serge

Sixty one years ago today, Victor Serge passed away.

Serge is one of the most important writers and political revolutionaries of the 20th Century. His "Memoirs of a Revolutionary," completed a few years before his death, is perhaps the most powerful work of political history ever published. The prose is clean and sharp--and compelling. The point of view is remarkable because Serge gives a voice and dignity even to people with whom he violently disagreed. He is writing for the ages, not for a short-term political gain or to settle scores. Also, the English translation from Peter Segewick is remarkable because Segewick includes footnotes showing how so many of Serge's oppressors in the 1920s and early 1930s in the Soviet Union were themselves served up into the cauldron of oppression and state-sponsored mass murder.

Serges' novels, which are historical fiction that chronicle the rise and fall--and ironies--of revolutionary activity, starting in Spain and France during the First World War through the end of World War II, are deliciously written and profound. The last of the novels has finally been translated into English by the extraordinary translator, Richard Greeman; the novel is "Unforgiving Years."

If you wish to start the series in a chronological order of time (not when each was written), one should start with "Men in Prison,". However, one can also start with the third volume, "Conquered City," (even though "Conquered City" was likely the first written). "Conquered City" depicts the ironies already becoming inherent with the Bolshevik victories during the Russian Civil War (1918-1921). A reviewer at Amazon says there is no plot, no characters, etc., which unfortunately shows the reviewer failed to grasp the essence of the novel. The novel is about a city, the people in the city, and how they slowly come to interact with each other. It anticipates the type of plot structure exemplified in the film, "Grand Hotel." The main character is the city and the revolution, and that is a great literary achievement, even...revolutionary for its time.

Serge's books are neither read in high school nor college courses, and his books deserve to be read in both. It is a shame he is still largely ignored throughout most of academia, but as he said, the course is still set on hope. For me, Serge remains vital and relevant today because his optimism in the face of despair gives his work a continuing bright light of power as well as a forward movement. One feels the past in the present, and feels Serge's own almost mystical presence pulling us into the future. His works are truly exciting to read from both a literary and a sociological perspective, and expand our perspective with regard to our fellow humans--and many aspects of life.

(Edited)

Newsweek catches up to MF Blog--but there are more important things to worry about

Nice to see Newsweek agree with MF Blog that Obama resembles Abraham Lincoln in various significant ways.

Meanwhile, the nation's economic structures burn, and we are stuck with Bush/Cheney for two more months. I am loathe to protect any of the once-American car companies, and believe it may be the least-worst solution to let the so-called "Big 3" fail on their own. To let Cheney-Paulson (Bush) administration burn through $1 trillion to save executives from their folly, and not provide any cash to workers hurt by a collapse is lemon socialism writ large. It also allows those silly anti-deficit voices to argue against a much needed public works stimulus by saying, "We're spending too much money."

Better perhaps to let electric cars and compressed natural gas cars be developed and built. See, for example, Edwin Black's "The Plan" (Dialog Press, 2008), who incidentally, spoke at our local synagogue, where I continue to be president. Black was outstanding, if still alarmist. He makes a strong case that the technology and economic growth probabilities are there, but the political will continues to be missing.

And if you are wondering who Black is, he wrote "Internal Combustion" and "IBM and the Holocaust." Black is an excellent investigative reporter and writer.

Friday, November 14, 2008

New York Times parody is a must read

The New York Times parody is a wonderful read. Just start with the Corrections link inside the paper. It contains a profoundly outstanding explanation of the elite institutional bias that has nearly always existed at that august paper.

The NY Times is not as much a "liberal" newspaper as it is an elitist newspaper. It has long detested unions, and has often consciously ignored or belittled progressive-minded activists. It has also been a cheerleader for American foreign and imperial wars and adventures, going back to the dawn of the 20th Century, when the US government was mass murdering Filipinos, and all the way forward through its propaganda for invading Iraq in 2003 (The Times' glaring exception to imperial cheerleading was the Vietnam War, but even in that instance, the Times' skepticism did not appear until the late 1960s). The Times was also a cheerleader for Republicans in the 1990s (one thinks of its early, flawed reporting of the Clintons' Whitewater investment, and its tut-tuting about Clinton's personal conduct throughout the Republican attack on Clinton throughout his presidency). The Times' national reporters hated Al Gore and loved GW Bush during the 2000 campaign, and were still in the tank for Bush in 2004 over Kerry--no matter what its editorial page otherwise said. The Times seemed to like Obama at different points, but always loved McCain until McCain self-destructed and showed his mean and reckless side starting in September of this year.

The Times is rarely anti-intellectual or stupid, however, and this refusal to be anti-intellectual or stupid is what the right-wing really means when it calls the NY Times "liberal." The right-wing detests the Times for not taking creationism as seriously as science. The right-wing detests the Times for refusing to endorse, on its editorial page, anti-abortion laws, or discrimination against homosexuals. That is the badge of the Times' "liberalism" in the minds of fevered right-wingers. Again, despite the right-wing whine, the Times remains a corporate institution dedicated to the rule of elites over the mass, starting with its CEO-centered economic viewpoint. It also remains the newspaper of record, for all the good and bad of that phrase.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ignore Lieberman, seek alternatives among "moderate" Republicans

Has anyone in the national Democratic Party leadership thought about talking with the two Republican senators from Maine, namely Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins? Or how about Arlen Specter, Republican from Pennsylvania? Or how about Charles Grassley, Republican from Iowa?

The Democrats may well win the Senate races in Minnesota (Senator Franken sounds better every day...) and Alaska (No more Senator Stevens and no more speculation about Palin taking Stevens' spot). That will bring the Dems and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to 58. This means the Democrats need only two Republicans split from their caucuses on any number of issues to vote to end a filibuster. And that means, they don't need Lieberman. Once the filibuster is ended, the Democrats only need 51 votes to pass a bill or approve a judicial nomination--which again means no need for Lieberman.

I believe that if the Democratic Party leadership speaks with these four Republicans about the various likely-to-be-filibustered issues, starting with labor law reform and health care reform, secures their votes to end a filibuster, and ensures they hold their own party members in line (I'm talking to the two Nelsons, of Nebraska and Florida, right now...), they again don't need Lieberman.

If Lieberman wants to throw a fit and decide to vote like Trent Lott (R-MS), that is his business. But he does care about his reputation at some level.

My advice: Don't do anything with Lieberman right now. Instead, start talking with Grassley, Specter, Collins and Snowe about agreeing to end a potential filibuster on those issues where the Dems will need votes from Republicans to end a filibuster, i.e. labor law reform, health care reform. Those four Republicans are decent good-government folks who also are feeling the most pressure from their states turning Democratic ("Blue"). Once you get leverage from other sources, Lieberman will be forced to sue for peace with his once-fellow Democrats. I also think the Dems need to call his bluff that he'd really vote like Trent Lott just for spite.

The deal that ultimately should go down is this: Lieberman is no longer head of a major committee, but will be the head of a subcommittee if he wants to caucus as a Democrat. So no more handwringing or ripping into Lieberman. Just take care of other business first.

(Edited)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Passing Parade: Mitch Mitchell dead at 61

Jimi Hendrix's drummer, Mitch Mitchell, has died. I guess you can figure out that I adored his name...

Here is Mitch Mitchell performing a drum solo in Sweden from 1969.

The question I ask myself is whether to commemorate each prominent Baby Boomer who passes out of sight while we watch life's parade. I'm already not consistent, but I will try to acknowledge some of the less "household" names, like Mitch Mitchell.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Don't mourn, re-organize after Prop 8's win

What "Robert in Monterey" said (I had been trying to find something on the web showing how Proposition 14 in the 1960s passed by a 2 to 1 margin to outlaw civil rights gains, and found Robert had beaten me to the discussion over at a website called "calitics.com").

I was not surprised Prop 8 prevailed. What I was surprised about was how close it ultimately was. I was also pleasantly surprised by how many white heterosexuals (like my wife and I) voted against Prop 8, which showed white voters, particularly white women, have begun to really practice tolerance and respect for others who are not hetero-white. Yes, I was saddened by religious African-American and Latino voters who voted their prejudice against homosexuals, but really, converting them to an anti-discrimination position won't be as difficult as it seems.

I still propose an intitiative that simply takes "marriage" out of government and states instead that marriage is a private agreement of commitment--and that the government merely endorses civil unions or domestic partnerships. I met quite a few pro-Prop 8 folks who agreed with that, expressing a preference for a separation of church and state on this issue.

Obama finding his inner FDR already?

So says the LA Times this morning. See here. And contrary to the fool at the Brookings Institution, who admittedly is finally getting it, there will be immediate benefits to the economy when Obama and Congress pursue public works projects across our nation.

I also saw a group from some think tank, including political pollster-insider Charlie Cook, on C-Span yesterday talking about their fear of a labor law reform (i.e. the Employee Free Choice Act). They are hoping the Republicans and conservative Democrats filibuster against it. I think this is why Rahm Emannuel was hired: Not to harass Republicans, but hold Democrats together on Capitol Hill. The Dems are getting mighty close to the magic 60 (that would include Bernie Sanders (I-VT)) and if one Republican, say Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe (Rs-Maine) or Arlen Specter (R-PA), decides not to support a filibuster, we could finally achieve labor law reform in this nation. This reform will increase bargaining power for millions of workers, starting with Wal-Mart and change this nation's slide into further inequality.

UPDATE: Eric Rauchway supports my long held point that FDR's New Deal did significantly decrease unemployment before the war build up--and that if one included people working in the CCC, WPA, PWA and other jobs programs, unemployment was about 4-5% in 1939 and 3% in 1940. Rauchway also provides a handy chart showing GDP growth during the 1930s, which shows a fairly consistent and strong growth, which supports further the steep decline in the unemployment rate during the 1930s. It is therefore a lie to say the New Deal did not "work" and that only World War II saved the American economy.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

I wonder if US corporate media will cover this story...

The Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, has stated he would accept a long term truce with Israel and a state within the 1967 borders. This is consistent, of course, with UN Resolution 242. While Israeli leaders claim to support Resolution 242, when statements like these are made by Arab leaders, Israel has sometimes, in the past, refused to respond or, worse, reject such peace-negotiation offers.

Let's see where this latest conciliatory statement from Hamas goes. Hamas is still a terrorist organization which now has governmental control of the Gaza. However, when there are moments like this, it is better to talk and to undermine, long term, the ability of Hamas to receive passive support from Palestinians, and continue its reign of violence against Israeli citizens.

UPDATE: Another Hamas leader disagrees with Haniyeh. This split is similar to the spring of 2006, when Hamas leadership was divided over recognizing Israel. It is time for Israeli leaders to say they will speak to Hamas--which would likely do more to split Hamas than anything else Israel could do from a military standpoint.

The Nation gets it...as usual

Three articles in The Nation this week worth reading about the economy, specifically, (1) how to end the recession, (2) the rise in importance of progressive-minded advisers on economic issues within the Obama camp, and (3) how to use the grassroots power within the Democratic Party to achieve important and effective economic reforms.

See here, here and here.

Katrina vanden Huevel provides a nice summary of Obama's challenges and goals, and Katha Pollit provides her usual smart analysis about Sarah Palin's intended and unintended promotion of feminist ideals.

(Edited)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Obama already has the vision. The key is acting on that vision.

There is way too much talk from our television sets and radios about lowering expectations and governing from what corporate media pundits call the "center," which, to them, means Republican corporate priorities over workers' priorities. This must be directly challenged, and we must be push to ensure the Democrats do not repeat their performance in 1993-1994 where Clinton allowed himself to get tangled up in social liberalism (gay rights) and pursuing a pro-corporate agenda that undermined the confidence of workers and their families in the Democratic Party.

I am writing this from outside my home as I am out of town through the end of the day today, but saw this theme of lowering expectations becoming overwhelming to good sense and leadership. I don't have the capability on my folks' computer to link sources, so this is link-less post.

The vision is to help American workers and their families, and Obama and Biden have already set forth that vision to a record number of Americans. The key right now is to execute on that vision. And that means governing in the "center" as determined from the consistent polling of the American people on domestic issues, not the "center" determined by Cokie Roberts and her millionaire, elite crowd of reporters and pundits. The polling shows the following measures will have vast majority support from working families, which measures should be passed in the first 100 days of January 20, 2009:

1. Pass the stimulus package proposed by Obama's top economic advisers, Jared Bernstein and Robert Rubin (!), to begin to repair and redevelop infrastructure. Putting the construction industry to work will jump start the economy in a way that will be more effective in helping revive the real estate industry and home values than bailing out Wall Street.

2. Pass the legislation that (a) ends tax credits for companies that push jobs overseas and (b) provides tax credits for hiring Americans. This will show American workers that Democrats do care about working families in a globalized economy. Heck, even Lou Dobbs will shout with joy about this finally becoming law...And pass the tax cuts for working and tax paying families, and increase the top rate for those making over $250,000 from 36% to 39% on the margin above the $250,000. Again, this is a concrete example for Americans to see that Democrats mean what they say.

3. Concurrent with #1 and #2, push for and pass the Employee Free Choice Act. This can expected to be filibustered as this goes to the heart of Republican opposition to workers and their families, and will expose to a new generation why Republicans' concern for "life" of stem cells and ranting against homosexual marriage divert attention from important economic public policy that directly affects every American.

IMPORTANT STRATEGY NOTE: When the Republicans threaten to filibuster, as Republicans did in 1966 (!!) when labor reform was first proposed and defeated, threaten the "nuclear option" and get rid of the filibuster on an up or down vote of the majority. And follow through if Republicans won't back down. Remember, the American people lost faith in this current Congress when it failed to act, not its actions. We have entered a new era, philosophically, where "conservative" economics are a spent and discredited idea. Democrats will have a longer lasting moment if we seize the moment the way Democrats did in the 1930s. Passing this legislation will be a direct attack on Wal-Mart's business practices and will have the positive effect the Wagner Act had with respect to the industrial industries in the 1930s and showing itself in the 1940s.

4. Pass into legislation the reforms in health care President-elect Obama has proposed that will increase the use of group policies for small business, and allow people to buy into Congress' and the other government branch medical insurance plans. Include national legislation to end the practice of insurance companies to deny private plan coverage for pre-existing conditions. Yes, I wish we could pass single pay...but a guy can't get everything can he?

5. After a brief consult with Prime Minister Maliki, President Obama should announce the first removal of troops from Iraq. If there is a foreign crisis, President Obama should act with diplomacy first if the crisis comes from a sovereign nation. If the crisis is a terrorist attack against the US, then he must act boldly to pursue the direct source of the terrorist attack. We have a president (finally!) who is both smart and eloquent and the world is truly and deeply happy we elected him. That is an advantage that can be strongly leveraged in a time of crisis. Above all, do not let the foreign crisis or terrorist attack overwhelm items #1 through #4. We can multi-task, you know...

When taking over in a crisis situation, it is important to lead with concrete actions that gain people's confidence and show we can--and will--succeed. Obama already has the vision. It is the execution of the vision that is paramount and is vital to success.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Indian of the group

Legendary drummer, Jimmy Carl Black, most known for his time with Frank Zappa and The Mothers, has died. He was 70.

His famous line (at least among us Zappa fans) was: "Hi boys and girls, I'm Jimmy Carl Black, and I'm the Indian of the group." That line first appeared in recorded form on the Zappa/Mothers' socially perceptive and fun musically-oriented album, "We're Only in it for the Money" (1967). The album attacked the "selling" of "flower power" culture and lamented the rise of drugs and a narcissism that became prevalent at Woodstock and emerged in the larger culture in the 1970s--yet the album maintained a politically radical stance against the concurrent rise of then-governor Ronald Reagan and what he represented. The album cover was also infamous for its parody of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album cover.

The passing parade for the Baby Boomer generation has begun, including what will be much more remarked upon in corporate media today, the passing of the brilliant and famed author, Michael Chrichton. I know, I know, he was daft on anthropomorphic climate change, but at the end of the day, Chrichton's Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain (as well as his wild screenplay, Westworld, and the famed television drama, ER) are classics which deeply affected and influenced our culture.

(Edited)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

And now Comrades and Brothers...

It's on to the Glorious Socialist Black Muslim Revolution!

Bwwwaaa-ha-ha-ha!

Um, actually, congratulations to an astute, moderate and thoughtful leader. The majority of American voters showed great sense tonight and rejected the politics of stupid and the politics of hate.

Yes, we can? Not anymore.

Yes, we DID.

Monday, November 03, 2008

McCain plans to raise taxes and talk with terror sponsoring states

I laugh at the anti-Obama folks I keep hearing from at my synagogue. They don't trust Obama because he'll raise their taxes--despite the fact they don't make more than $250,000--and that he'll talk to terrorist sponsoring states.

Well, let's see:

1. McCain will raise taxes because the spending cuts needed to close the gap between spending and receipt of revenues would be too drastic. Check.

2. McCain will talk with Syria. Check (see page two of the link).

The Republican leaders and neo-cons have a limitless contempt for the intelligence and memory of the American people. Let's hope enough of our citizens who recognize the failures and mendacity of these Republican leaders vote tomorrow for Obama and for Democrats in most of the Senate and House elections.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Seizing the moment

I have a deep sense of hope that we may be entering a moment in American history where it is the economic conservatives' turn to feel the sort of defensiveness, and even--dare I say it?--humility that has plagued economic liberals since the late 1960s. Perhaps, if Obama wins, and finds his inner FDR, economic conservatives may find that, to stay in the mainstream of public opinion, they may have to say things like:

"I'm a conservative, but I'm not against regulation of businesses."
or

"I'm a conservative, but I support unions." or

"I'm a conservative, but I can support socialized medicine."

You know, the way conservatives in Europe, Australia, Japan and Canada are and have been more "liberal" than half the Democratic Party politicians in the US...It's a process called growing up, and it entails realizing that people like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck and most of the folks at FoxNews are poisonous to our nation's policy-making and well being.

For over two centuries, the pattern in the United States is generally one where the government allows for harsh capitalist prescriptions for workers, while businesses are subsidized, from canals and railroads, to automobiles and airplanes, to agribusiness and pharmaceutical products, to computers and semi-conductors--and to Wall Street financiers today. During election-time in the US, there is, nearly always, something besides economics that diverts American citizens from the pursuit of their own direct economic interests. Worse, in between elections, as Dick Cheney cynically recognized, most American leaders don't really care what most American citizens think. In the last thirty years, a cultural war of ideas and practices has more often diverted Americans from effectively demanding their government act against the rise of income and asset inequality, and demanding policy and institutional reform to stop the stagnation of their yearly wages even as workers' productivity has improved significantly during that time.

More than most politicians of this era, Senator Barack Obama understands this rhythm in American history, which is how he got into trouble with the corporate elite media for his comments at a fundraiser in San Francisco (his "bitterness" comment). Yet, Obama's astute sociological understanding of the political economy of the US may also explain how and why Obama has been able to effectively traverse the political system, especially his ability to defeat powerful elite politicians who should have handily beaten him--meaning Hillary Clinton and now probably John McCain.

For those of us who believe in the legacies of Alexander Hamilton, Albert Gallatin, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, we should remind ourselves that, in American history, there are moments, such as the 1820s and 1830s, the Progressive Era of TR and Wilson, FDR's 1930s governance reforms and activities, and LBJ's triumphant period from 1964 to 1966, where institutions and policies are reformed or created that empower or improve the lives of average Americans. Should Obama prevail in Tuesday's election, he must seize what may be this latest moment to empower or improve the lives of ordinary Americans.

Obama should also simultaneously be vigilant against entering into a "cold" or "hot" war with Russia, Iran or China--or allow a strong domestic agenda to be undercut by terrorist acts by Islamo-syndicalists, who resemble more and more a combination of small guerrilla armies and the Mafia. For nothing kills off reforming domestic institutions and progressive policy-making more than a war. A war also produces a right-wing backlash throughout most of American history.

As a nation, to avoid the farce of repeated history, we need a leader to pursue a smart diplomacy based upon our being a vibrant, confident, creative and powerful republic. We need to pursue smart trade policies that help people in each nation, starting with our own, to build what they buy and buy what they build as a general proposition--not race each other's wage rates to the bottom of a barrel. If Obama folows these prescriptive visions, he--and we--may lengthen this latest moment where an American government acts to improve the lives of Americans and others around the world.

There is no doubt that Obama represents the best hope for America at this moment in American life. Let's therefore make voting for Obama this Tuesday the first act we undertake to seize the reins of this moment. This is one election where we truly can say we are voting as if our lives depended upon it.

(Edited)

Studs Terkel: An American Hero

Louis "Studs" Terkel would hate being called heroic, but I figure he can't yell at me anymore for saying it. Studs passed from our lives yesterday at the age of 96. My sadness also includes the rather personal and selfish observation that I never met him or even communicated with him--but I did read, see and listen to him through books, radio and television, and even in the Internet.

See John Nichols of The Nation here for further appreciation of this iconic journalistic figure. And here is Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) writing a touching eulogy.

Rest in peace, Studs. You earned it.