Oil spill politics may hurt both parties - Josh Gerstein and Carol E. Lee - POLITICO.com: "alk about an I-told-you-so moment.
President Barack Obama was put on the defensive over oil Friday – as a fast-growing spill in the Gulf of Mexico forced the White House to reassure the public that Obama’s plans for expanded offshore drilling won’t proceed without a full review of this accident.
The spill gives fellow Democrats and environmentalists who objected to Obama’s plan a vivid piece of evidence to use against it, as Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said the notion of expanded drilling is ‘dead on arrival’ on Capitol Hill.
But Republicans who are usually quick to criticize Obama have barely raised a peep over his handling of the crisis – even as the White House scrambles to deflect questions over why it took nine days to understand the full extent of the spill.
The Republican reticence is a sign that the political danger over the oil spill cuts both ways, especially for a party that made ‘drill baby drill’ a chant at its presidential convention. "
Friday, April 30, 2010
Oil spill politics may hurt both parties - Josh Gerstein and Carol E. Lee - POLITICO.com: "alk about an I-told-you-so moment.
Massachusetts just passed the country's best anti-bullying law.: "In 1983, three teenage boys in northern Norway committed suicide. Before their deaths, they'd been seriously bullied by other kids. The country's Ministry of Education launched a national campaign against bullying in schools. The grandfather of bullying research, Dan Olweus, is Norwegian, and the campaign had his expertise behind it. The first prevention project involved 2,500 students from 42 schools, whom researchers followed for two and a half years. In the end, student and teacher reports of bullying fell by half. Kids were also stealing and fighting less, and students said their classes were more orderly and their relationships in school improved, according to the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, now an international organization.
(Via Slate Magazine.)
Justice Alito's double standard for the First Amendment.: "Since joining the Supreme Court in 2006, Justice Samuel Alito has been the main judicial roadblock to sensible campaign-finance laws. By equating money spent on elections with free speech and expression, in the name of the First Amendment, Justice Alito cast the deciding vote in a series of cases culminating with the Citizens United case opening the spigot for corporate money in elections. He authored a 5-4 decision emphatically rejecting the idea that campaign-finance limits could be justified as a means of preventing the wealthy from using their great resources to skew election outcomes and legislation. Indeed, he's twice gone out of his way to write separate opinions inviting future litigants to bring challenges to key Supreme Court precedents upholding campaign finance laws. At Wednesday's oral argument in Doe v. Reed, he alone sounded strident in opposing the disclosure of the names of people signing ballot measure petitions, on grounds that anonymity is part of the right of political expression. He sure sounds like a free-speech zealot
(Via Slate Magazine.)
Editorial - Stopping Arizona’s Anti-Immigration Law - NYTimes.com: "
A fight is brewing over Arizona’s new law that turns all of the state’s Latinos, even legal immigrants and citizens, into criminal suspects. And this is not a local fight. The poison is spreading; there is talk in Texas of passing a version of the Arizona statute.
President Obama has called the law “misguided” and promised to keep an eye on it. But when racial separation finds a foothold in any of the 50 states, the president needs to do more than mildly criticize. He should act. Here’s a partial but urgent to-do list:
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Tenure has protected teachers against arbitrary dismissal for nearly a century. But some policymakers believe that it provides too much protection, making it difficult to get rid of ineffective teachers. The debate over whether it's time to do away with tenure is playing out in several states.
(Via NPR Topics: News.)
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
BBC News - Seoul's dilemma over sunken warship
Page last updated at 02:52 GMT, Thursday, 29 April 2010 03:52 UK
E-mail this to a friend Printable version
Seoul's dilemma over sunken warship
The Cheonan sank after an as yet unexplained blast on 26 March
By John Sudworth
BBC News, Seoul
Since the end of World War II only two navies, the British and the Pakistani, are known to have used a submarine to sink a battleship.
Now though there appears to be growing evidence that North Korea's underwater fleet may have become the third.
The 26 March sinking of the Cheonan, with 40 lives lost and six men still missing, is certainly a South Korean military disaster.
But it has the potential to become much more than that. (more)
If Democrats are doomed in November, why is it Republicans who are freaking out?: "Before and after health care reform became law late last month, it was widely predicted that Democrats would pay dearly for the bill's supposed extremism. 'They put red bandanas on their head, took a drink of sake, and went out on what I believe will be a kamikaze mission,' said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., on March 22. Not all Democrats disagreed. As recently as April 16, Democratic pollsters Douglas Schoen and Patrick H. Caddell confidently pronounced health reform 'an incontrovertible disaster' leaving Republicans 'ripe to pick up major gains in both chambers this November.' And just last week conservatives turned cartwheels when a poll released by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found the public's trust in government to be at its lowest point in half a century.
(Via Slate Magazine.)
Who the Tea Partiers really are.: "Last week, the New York Times ran a front-page story announcing the results of a poll that completely scrambled our notion of who made up the Tea Party. The supporters are 'wealthier' and 'more educated' than the average American, the story announced. What's more, they are 'not afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class,' the story continued. In other words, it seemed from the poll as if they are not, in fact, the demographic many of us had imagined: working families hurt by the recession and the lost decade of the 2000s, taking their anger out on a government they perceived to have failed them.
(Via Slate Magazine.)
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
China is having a good week in America. Yes it is. I’d even suggest that there is some high-fiving going on in Beijing. I mean, wouldn’t you if you saw America’s Democratic and Republican leaders conspiring to ensure that America cedes the next great global industry — E.T., energy technology — to China?
But, before I get to that, here’s a little news item to chew on: Applied Materials, a U.S. Silicon Valley company that makes the machines that make sophisticated solar panels, opened the world’s largest commercial solar research and development center in Xian, China, in October. It initially sought applicants for 260 scientist/technologist jobs. Howard Clabo, a company spokesman, told me that the Xian center received 26,000 Chinese applications and hired 330 people — 31 percent with master’s or Ph.D. degrees. “Roughly 50 percent of the solar panels in the world were made in China last year,” explained Clabo. “We need to be where the customers are.”
It was the Perry Mason moment in the unraveling of what was left of Goldman Sachs' reputation. Only in this case, it involved a grizzled former prosecutor, Sen. Carl Levin, rather than a genial defense attorney. The case was broken and the truth about the depth of Goldman's corruption revealed in his startling cross-examination of Goldman Chief Financial Officer David Viniar.
The Michigan Democrat, citing the language of the internal e-mails of Goldman traders concerning the deceptive products they were selling, asked: 'And when you heard that your own employees in these e-mails are looking at these deals said `God what a shitty deal. God, what a piece of crap,' when you hear your own employees and read about those e-mails, do you feel anything?'
Viniar's answer told us all we need to know about the banal but profound immorality of Goldman's business culture: 'I think that's very unfortunate to have on e-mail.'
A flabbergasted Levin cut in with 'On e-mail? How about feeling that way?' and Viniar, apparently moved by jeers of ridicule from the audience, conceded 'I think it is very unfortunate for anyone to have said that in any form.' Pressed further by Levin asking, 'How about to believe that and sell them?' the CFO finally conceded, 'I think that's unfortunate as well.' To which Levin responded, 'That's what you should have started with.'
But Goldman's executives didn't start with any such moral qualms or end with them, as was made clear in the testimony of Goldman Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein that followed. Blankfein basically pleaded ignorance about the company's scams, making it clear that offering the details of such products was below his pay scale. That would be $68 million in 2007, the highest in Wall Street history, when Goldman's bets against its customers paid off so handsomely. What was clear is that his job was to ensure the company's immense year-end profitability with no questions asked about the methods used. 'I did not know' he replied when asked about the details of the company's trades, and at another point he added, 'We're not that smart.' Then there was 'I don't have any knowledge' on selling short, and finally, 'We did not know what subsequently occurred in the housing market.'
What he did know is that the scoundrels in his mortgage betting rooms were, as with that high-flying London operation that got AIG so much loot before it exploded, raking in enormous profits. Such ignorance is bliss for a Goldman CEO who apparently is rewarded in inverse proportion to what he doesn't know of the operation as long as he pays attention to the bottom line.
That was certainly the case for the man whom Blankfein succeeded the year before, Henry Paulson, when Paulson went off to serve as George W. Bush's treasury secretary. As Paulson admits in his memoir, he was unaware that suspect mortgages were at the heart of the banking meltdown, even though he was head of Goldman when those toxic mortgage securities were developed.
And then there is that other Goldman-honcho-turned-public-servant Robert Rubin, who was a Goldman vice chairman before serving as Bill Clinton's treasury secretary. In that Cabinet job, Rubin pushed through the Financial Services Modernization Act, which demolished the wall between investment and commercial banking. Ironically, that reversal of the New Deal regulations that had operated successfully for 60 years, the Glass-Steagall Act, was referenced by Blankfein in his Tuesday testimony explaining how Goldman and other firms spun out of control.
When asked by Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., how Goldman had morphed from a traditional investment bank backing sound business ventures to a market gambler in fanciful products, Blankfein attributed it, somewhat forlornly, to 'a change in the sociology of the business that took place over the last 15 to 20 years.' He added, 'I'm not sure that it was precipitated by the fall of Glass-Steagall or it caused Glass-Steagall to fall. ...'
Of course there was nothing inevitable about the fall of Glass-Steagall in 1999, since it was the result of decades of lobbying by the financial industry. That change was followed by the total deregulation of financial derivatives by the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which Rubin had pushed and which President Clinton signed into law.
Clinton recently conceded that he got bad advice from Rubin on derivatives regulation, but he still holds to the notion that the reversal of Glass-Steagall was not harmful. No one listening carefully to the day of testimony by the various Goldman executives could accept the idea that these folks can function decently without strict boundaries.
WASHINGTON — Republicans are voting 'no' so that some of them can get to 'yes' on tightening the reins on Wall Street.
Outnumbered by Democrats, Senate Republicans have held together for two days, twice blocking the start of debate on new financial regulations in hopes of negotiating changes they would be unable to win through amendments on the Senate floor.
In the protracted fight, Republicans also have tried to score political points, casting the Democrats proposal as a perpetuation of taxpayer bailouts – a hot-button issue with the public – and accusing Democrats of writing an overambitious bill that will hurt small businesses.
Democrats scheduled another vote for Wednesday to sustain pressure on Republicans in the expectation that some incremental changes to the pending bill ultimately would force several Republicans to relent and back the legislation.
Few doubt that the Senate will pass a broad overhaul of financial regulations in an attempt to prevent a recurrence of the crisis that nearly caused a Wall Street collapse in 2008. But Republicans want their imprint on the bill. And bankers appear to want them to succeed as well.
If campaign contributions are any barometer, large Wall Street institutions approve of what Senate Republicans have been doing to alter the regulatory regime envisioned by the Obama administration and its Democratic allies.
The political action committee of Bank of America, for instance, has contributed 57 percent of its $336,000 in 2009-10 donations to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the 2007-08 cycle, 53 percent of the bank's PAC contributions went to Democrats.
A spot check of contributions by The Associated Press showed that Goldman Sachs' PAC, which contributed predominantly to Democrats between 2007 and 2009, shifted to Republicans in March, contributing $167,500 to Republican members of Congress and their political committees and $117,000 to Democrats. Similar patterns emerged for JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, whose PACs both shifted to Republicans last month.
Testifying before a Senate investigative subcommittee on Tuesday, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein said he generally supported the pending Democratic bill but said 'there are details of it that I think I'm less sure of.'
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and the committee's top Republican, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, have been conducting on-and-off negotiations for months but have not arrived at a compromise. Dodd incorporated some Republican proposals into his bill and appeared ready to accept new alterations that addressed Republican claims that the bill could still result in government bailouts.
But Shelby also was seeking changes in the bills consumer protection provisions – a key feature and a priority for President Barack Obama. Dodd on Tuesday said that if Republicans wanted to change his consumer measures, they should do so by amendment in the Senate.
'We're not going to write this whole bill between two senators,' Dodd said.
The Republican tactics in the Senate carry risks for the party. The public is angry at Wall Street, and Democrats have taken the opportunity to charge Republicans with doing Wall Street's bidding.
Under attack for twice voting to stall the pending regulatory bill, Republicans on Tuesday floated a 20-page summary of a GOP alternative to Dodd's measure.
The Republican plan would prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to bail out failing financial giants in the future and impose federal regulation on many but not all trades of complex investments known as derivatives. Unlike the Democrats' bill, large banks would not have to help pay for the failure of their peers. It also calls for consumer protections that are narrower than what Democrats and the White House seek, and it would place restrictions of financial assistance to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
'Everybody is going to want to be for a solution,' said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, 'so it offers a potential alternative solution instead of just voting no against the Dodd bill.'
Republicans also were counting on the public to forget the Republican stalling tactics.
'You know, what happens on Monday or Tuesday versus what happens later is something largely lost on the general public,' Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.
But there were signs that Republicans would only stick with the strategy for so long.
Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said he would vote to let the bill advance to the Senate floor if bipartisan talks were no longer progressing.
'I have an idea of how much time it takes to cut a deal,' he said. 'If that's not possible, then we go on.'
Op-Ed Columnist - Failure Is Not an Option on an Energy Bill - NYTimes.com: "China is having a good week in America. Yes it is. I’d even suggest that there is some high-fiving going on in Beijing. I mean, wouldn’t you if you saw America’s Democratic and Republican leaders conspiring to ensure that America cedes the next great global industry — E.T., energy technology — to China?"
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Will Arizona’s Immigration Law Survive? - Room for Debate Blog - NYTimes.com: "Arizona’s tough new immigration enforcement law, which was signed on Friday, will face many legal challenges before it goes into effect this summer. Some opponents of the law, the toughest in the nation, predict that it will suffer the same fate as California’s Proposition 187, which was passed in 1994 but never carried out because of legal setbacks and political opposition.
But California’s initiative was aimed at limiting illegal immigrants’ access to social services, while Arizona’s measure focuses on law enforcement: identifying, prosecuting and deporting undocumented immigrants.
What are the possible legal objections to Arizona’s measure, and are they valid or not? What effect will this prospective law have on the rest of the country and on national politics?"
Monday, April 26, 2010
Those images stirred a nation to act against racial segregation in the 1960's. The draconian anti-immigrant bill that was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is likely to do the same when it comes to the crisis of our broken immigration system.
The Arizona of 2010 is the Alabama of 1963.
For those who have not read a paper or turned on the TV in the last several days, the new Arizona law requires that all police officers with a reasonable suspicion that an individual might not be in our country legally, must demand to see that person's papers.
It also requires that each person who has immigrated carry those papers at all times or be in violation of the law themselves.
It even creates a private right of action that allows anyone, from an ordinary citizen to the Minutemen, to file suit against individual law enforcement officers who they believe are refusing to enforce the new act. "... (continued)
This Arizona law is blatantly unconstitutional. It is unconstitutionally vague, it violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment and is unenforceable due to the impossibly of determining who might not be a citizen in this multicultural country , It eventually will be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. This was passed by right wing politicians appealing to anti-immigrant and racist elements in Arizona, a state with a substantial Mexican population.
John H. Armwood
Last week was the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, and a close examination of it is very important in this time of paranoid fantasies. That is what Rachel Maddow did with a documentary called "The McVeigh Tapes."
Maddow is a person from whom strong, detailed reporting is expected, even though it sometimes falls into the tiger pit where Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and other supposed progressives unintentionally prove that they are just angry frat boys branding the air with four-letter words.
But when barely veiled threats against the life of the President are made by people at right-wing rallies, the hysteria rattles Maddow and she responds with the best she's got - a fine mind, great empathy and the inability to silently swallow willful distortions perpetually passed off as political discourse.
Maddow trusts the facts. McVeigh had left more than 40 hours of interviews taped on Death Row, from which he took a solo flight that was cheered by the many who hated him. At the conclusion, when the wounded and still grieving citizens have their say, we are so humbled by their humanity that their agony and their insight becomes collective, hopefully.
On the morning of July 3, 2009, a national holiday, Sarah Palin placed a call to her communications director and told her that she wanted to hold a press conference at her Wasilla, Alaska, home.
"Deep down, she wanted to make money," a McCain adviser says.
(Via The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com.)
Sunday, April 25, 2010
There's a dirty little secret in America today: all too many of our young people, whatever their biological age may be, can't speak.
Sure, they can facebook, textmessage, twitter, but they can't speak.
First, vocal cords. Why do so many attractive, intelligent young women mutilate their vocal cords when they utter a word? They grind their voices like chalk on blackboards. They uptalk as if sentences had no end or conclusion. (A theory: by vibrating their vocal cords to lower the sound they produce, young women want to 'masculinize' their voices, thereby taking revenge on rampant sexism).
Young men, in contrast, prefer to mumble. Whoever said the sexes, always in a battle, were ever the same?
Then there's 'like.' Have you ever been on public transportation with young people 'speaking' over their cell phones? One in every three/four words is 'like.'
Maybe it doesn't drive you nuts -- if you're hard of hearing.
Another favorite: 'Whatever.'
Do these linguistic tics reflect young people's understandable, instinctively negative reaction to the uber-precision of a high-strung, non-stop 'communicating' technological society with a 'standard' American English sadly inherited, some would say, from not yet fully dead white males?
So much of everything, in the USA 'homeland' these days, is timed, measured, 'messaged' even when we cross streets. You've got eight second to cross the avenue, the electronic sign says. Rush, rush, rush (ok, safety first).
Buy sugar-free Coke Now! Now! Now!
No wonder the young among us use language to slow things down, by being comfortably vague when they -- we -- 'speak.'
After writing your supposedly tightly-worded resume, don't you just want to say 'like,' which has no meaning at all? Like, you know what I mean? You don't know what I mean, but that's, like, ok. Like.
Or is it that young people learned how to 'speak' by looking at essentially non-verbal cartoons on TV, with absent parents with whom they could not 'talk,' as they -- the parents -- were 'at work'? Again, perhaps.
Or are we just being democratic -- speak, baby speak, whatever that 'speak' may be?
Another possible reason: Rhetoric -- it's been around since at least Aristotle -- has been essentially abolished from college curricula.
Instead, we have 'research papers,' 'blackboard,' 'power-point,' 'credits for taking a course' and, in some foreign policy programs, 'public diplomacy' classes that overlook, in perhaps too many cases, the importance of classical rhetoric in shaping human discourse.
(How can a future diplomat ever learn a foreign language -- essential in carrying out public diplomacy -- if he/she cannot even speak his/her own language beyond 'like' and 'whatever' -- or, more generally, beyond the American contemporary way of 'speaking' among the young?)
True, speaking 'proper' English is a convention. Chaucer isn't today's 'conventional' English. Jefferson, as I discovered from reading, with much pleasure, his manuscripts, makes no distinction between 'its' and 'it's.' No one in her right mind would want language to stand still. What makes language human is its ability to evolve -- let's hope for the better.
But isn't the magic and poetry of well articulated (I hate the word 'articulate,' do you have a better one?) face-to-face language disappearing in our time, here in America -- the America of the so-called 'web 2.0 communications revolution' -- in a tsunami of 'likes' and 'whatevers'?
Now, after all the preaching, I want to make you feel comfortable. Report from the forthcoming Evening News:
How, like, ironic, or, whatever, like distressing. Like, you know what I mean. Whatever.
Like, whatever, forget about it.
I like like, Big like Brother. Like, abolish language Big Brother, like is, like, the best way to newspeak, how we, like, 'speak ' -- whatever.
About Winston -- after his, like, treatment at the Ministry of Truth -- we know about him from, like, the updated version of 1984 we, like, just, like, just got, whatever -- glad you, Win, like, feel better.
Like, Win, turn on, like, your cell phone: Speak to say nothing. Say nothing to speak.
Like, like 'like.' Or else.
This, like, is the six o'clock evening news. And now a word from our sponsor, the producer of 'Like' products -- products you like whatever they, like, are.
P.S. From Newspeak Dictionary: 'duckspeak - (To quack like a duck). To speak without thinking. Can be either good or bad, depending on who is speaking, and whether or not they are on your side.'
(Via The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com.)
Op-Ed Columnist - A Tea Party With a Difference - NYTimes.com: "I’ve been trying to understand the Tea Party Movement. Sounds like a lot of angry people who want to get the government out of their lives and cut both taxes and the deficit. Nothing wrong with that — although one does wonder where they were in the Bush years. Never mind. I’m sure like all such protest movements the Tea Partiers will get their 10 to 20 percent of the vote. But should the Tea Partiers actually aspire to break out of that range, attract lots of young people and become something more than just entertainment for Fox News, I have a suggestion:
Become the Green Tea Party."
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Editorial - The Supreme Court and Free Speech - NYTimes.com: "When the Supreme Court ruled 8-to-1 this week that a federal law banning the sale of animal-cruelty videos violates the First Amendment, it reaffirmed the right to engage in even highly unpopular speech. And it wisely declined to create another category of expression outside of the First Amendment’s protection.
Times Topics: U.S. Supreme Court | Freedom of Speech and Expression
With this case and the court’s earlier Citizens United decision on corporate speech and political campaign contributions, this could be one of the most important terms in years for defining the constitutional scope of freedom of expression — for better or for worse."
Friday, April 23, 2010
Editorial - Come Back, John McCain - NYTimes.com: "
Published: April 22, 2010
There goes Senator John McCain, battling mightily for re-election in Arizona, buzzing off into the desert heat to another rally, another news conference, another television sound bite. Wait, you forgot your principles!
He’s telling the world he’ll never support immigration reform until the border is sealed. Now he’s praising Arizona’s Legislature for passing a bill that makes every Latino — citizen or not — a potential criminal defe"
Op-Ed Contributor - How to End the Slavery Blame-Game - NYTimes.com: "
By HENRY LOUIS GATES Jr.
Published: April 22, 2010
Times Topics: Slavery
THANKS to an unlikely confluence of history and genetics — the fact that he is African-American and president — Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to reshape the debate over one of the most contentious issues of America’s racial legacy: reparations, the idea that the descendants of American slaves should receiv"
Thursday, April 22, 2010
HOME / POLITICS : WHO'S WINNING, WHO'S LOSING, AND WHY.
Why Barack Obama wasn't that tough on Wall Street.
By John Dickerson
Posted Thursday, April 22, 2010, at 7:32 PM ET
President Obama gave his big speech about financial reform in New York City today. If he had wanted to be as dramatic as he was in his State of the Union address in January, when he called out the Supreme Court justices for their ruling allowing more corporate money in campaigns, he had opportunity. Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, was in the audience. Goldman has spent $1.15 million on lobbying in first quarter of 2010, compared with $670,000 in the first quarter of 2009. Imagine if the president had turned to Blankfein and said, 'Lloyd, knock it off.' Sure, Blankfein leads a firm whose employees have given a lot to Obama and Democratic politicians. But that would only have added to the drama.
Steele Admits GOP's 'Southern Strategy': "RNC Chairman Michael Steele said at DePaul University on Tuesday night that the GOP has had a race-based 'Southern strategy' for four decades, a historical interpretation that disputed by many Republicans. Steele said that 'we haven't done a very good job' of giving African Americans a reason to vote Republican. 'For the last 40-plus years we had a 'Southern Strategy' that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South,' he said. 'Well, guess what happened in 1992, folks, 'Bubba' went back home to the Democratic Party and voted for Bill Clinton.'"
(Via Drudge Retort.)
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Interesting discussion about internet news readership.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Friday, April 16, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Last week, Virginia’s governor, Robert McDonnell, jumped backward when he issued a proclamation recognizing April as Confederate History Month. In it he celebrated those “who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth” and wrote of the importance of understanding “the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.”
The governor originally chose not to mention slavery in the proclamation, saying he “focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.” It seems to follow that, at least for Mr. McDonnell, the plight of Virginia’s slaves does not rank among the most significant aspects of the war.
Advertently or not, Mr. McDonnell is working in a long and dispiriting tradition. Efforts to rehabilitate the Southern rebellion frequently come at moments of racial and social stress, and it is revealing that Virginia’s neo-Confederates are refighting the Civil War in 2010. Whitewashing the war is one way for the right — alienated, anxious and angry about the president, health care reform and all manner of threats, mostly imaginary — to express its unease with the Age of Obama, disguising hate as heritage.
If neo-Confederates are interested in history, let’s talk history. Since Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Confederate symbols have tended to be more about white resistance to black advances than about commemoration. In the 1880s and 1890s, after fighting Reconstruction with terrorism and after the Supreme Court struck down the 1875 Civil Rights Act, states began to legalize segregation. For white supremacists, iconography of the “Lost Cause” was central to their fight; Mississippi even grafted the Confederate battle emblem onto its state flag.
But after the Supreme Court allowed segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, Jim Crow was basically secure. There was less need to rally the troops, and Confederate imagery became associated with the most extreme of the extreme: the Ku Klux Klan.
In the aftermath of World War II, however, the rebel flag and other Confederate symbolism resurfaced as the civil rights movement spread. In 1948, supporters of Strom Thurmond’s pro-segregation Dixiecrat ticket waved the battle flag at campaign stops.
Then came the school-integration rulings of the 1950s. Georgia changed its flag to include the battle emblem in 1956, and South Carolina hoisted the colors over its Capitol in 1962 as part of its centennial celebrations of the war.
As the sesquicentennial of Fort Sumter approaches in 2011, the enduring problem for neo-Confederates endures: anyone who seeks an Edenic Southern past in which the war was principally about states’ rights and not slavery is searching in vain, for the Confederacy and slavery are inextricably and forever linked.
That has not, however, stopped Lost Causers who supported Mr. McDonnell’s proclamation from trying to recast the war in more respectable terms. They would like what Lincoln called our “fiery trial” to be seen in a political, not a moral, light. If the slaves are erased from the picture, then what took place between Sumter and Appomattox is not about the fate of human chattel, or a battle between good and evil. It is, instead, more of an ancestral skirmish in the Reagan revolution, a contest between big and small government.
We cannot allow the story of the emancipation of a people and the expiation of America’s original sin to become fodder for conservative politicians playing to their right-wing base. That, to say the very least, is a jump backward we do not need.
Friday, April 09, 2010
Who’s Up for Building Bridges?
Yes, I know, the polls show that the G.O.P. is not being hurt by its “just-say-no” strategy. But there is no groundswell moving its way either. Republicans will have to come up with more than “just-say-no-to-everything-except-lower-taxes-and-more-drilling” to field a credible 2012 presidential candidate. Here’s why:
If you step back far enough, you could argue that George W. Bush brought the Reagan Revolution — with its emphasis on tax cuts, deregulation and government-as-the-problem-not-the-solution — to its logical conclusion and then some. But with a soaring deficit and a banking crisis caused by an excess of deregulation, Reaganism has met its limit. Meanwhile, President Obama’s passage of health care reform has brought the New Deal-Franklin Roosevelt Revolution to its logical conclusion. There will be no more major entitlements for Americans. The bond market will make sure of that.
In other words, both major parties have now completed their primary 20th- century missions, first laid down by their iconic standard-bearers. The real question is which party is going to build America’s bridge to the 21st century — one that will strengthen our ability to compete in the global economy, while practicing much more fiscal discipline.
Obama is at least trying to push an agenda for pursuing the American dream in these new circumstances. I don’t agree with every policy — I’d like to see a lot more emphasis on innovation and small business start-ups — but he’s clearly trying. I do not get that impression from the Republicans, and especially those being led around by the Tea Partiers.
Obama-ism posits that we are now in a hypercompetitive global economy, where the country that thrives will be the one that brings together the most educated, creative and diverse work force with the best infrastructure — bandwidth, ports, airports, high-speed rail and good governance. And we’re in a world with a warming climate that is growing from 6.8 billion people to 9.2 billion by 2050, so demand for clean energy is going to go through the roof. Therefore, E.T. — energy technology — is going to be the next great global industry.
So, government matters. It needs to be incentivizing businesses to build their next factory in this country — at a time when every other nation is throwing incentives their way; it needs to be recruiting highly skilled immigrants; it needs to be setting the highest national education standards and funding basic research; it needs to be laying down the right energy regulations that will stimulate more clean-tech companies.
And — something neither Democrats nor Republicans have stepped up to yet — we will need to pay for all this by simultaneously raising some taxes, cutting others and by taking away some services to pay for needed new investments in infrastructure and education. We can’t get away anymore with a G.O.P. that wants to cut taxes but never specifies which services it plans to give up, or a Democratic party that wants to add services by taxing only the rich.
“Health care was the final act of the New Deal,” argues Edward Goldberg, who teaches global business at Baruch College and is writing a book on globalization and U.S. politics. “The 21st-century will require a mix of cutting, investing and innovation and entrepreneurialism beyond anything we have dreamed of.” To simply say that government is not the answer, he adds, “when we are essentially fighting four wars — Iraq, Afghanistan, the Great Recession and the retooling of the American economy” — is ludicrous. Smart government needs to be the leader or silent partner in all of these projects.
One reason the G.O.P. has failed to spawn an agenda for the 21st century is that globalization has fragmented the party. Its Wall Street/multinational corporate wing understands we need immigration, free trade, clean-tech and government support for better infrastructure and the scientific research that is the wellspring of innovation. The Tea Party wing opposes virtually all those things. All that unites the two wings is their common desire for lower taxes — period.
Globalization has also weakened the Democrats’ blue-collar/union base, but the Democrats have absorbed a new constituency created by globalization — what Goldberg calls the “ ‘Newocracy’ — which combines the multinational corporate manager, the technology entrepreneur and engineer, and the aspirational members of the meritocracy.”
These “Newocrats” previously would have leaned Republican, but now many lean toward Obama. They don’t agree with everything he’s proposing, but they sense that he is working on that bridge to the 21st century, while today’s G.O.P./Tea Party is just not in the game. Today, we have no real opposition party with its own pathway to the 21st century. We just have opposition.
Why the Obama Plan Is Working
Polls say the economy is heading in the wrong direction. Markets say it's back on track. This time, the markets are right
By Mike Dorning
It's never easy to separate politics from policy, and the past 18 months have only increased the degree of difficulty. The U.S. has been through a historic financial crisis followed by a historic election and a series of historic federal gambles—from bailing out AIG and GM to passing a $787 billion stimulus and a $940 billion health-care reform bill. All that risk has made policy more complicated and politics more fraught ("You lie," "Babykiller").
A Bloomberg national poll in March found that Americans, by an almost 2-to-1 margin, believe the economy has gotten worse rather than better during the past year. The Market begs to differ. While President Obama's overall job approval rating has fallen to a new low of 44%, according to a CBS News Poll, down five points from late March, the judgment of the financial indexes has turned resoundingly positive. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index is up more than 74% from its recessionary low in March 2009. Corporate bonds have been rallying for a year. Commodity prices have surged. International currency markets have been bullish on the dollar for months, raising it by almost 10% since Nov. 25 against a basket of six major currencies. Housing prices have stabilized. Mortgage rates are low. "We've had a phenomenal run in asset classes across the board," says Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist for Miller Tabak + Co., an institutional trading firm in New York. "If Obama was a Republican, we would hear a never-ending drumbeat of news stories about markets voting in favor of the President."
Little more than a year ago, financial markets were in turmoil, major auto companies were on the verge of collapse and economists such as Paul Krugman were worried about the U.S. slumbering through a Japan-like Lost Decade. While no one would claim that all the pain is past or the danger gone, the economy is growing again, jumping to a 5.6% annualized growth rate in the fourth quarter of 2009 as businesses finally restocked their inventories. The consensus view now calls for 3% growth this year, significantly higher than the 2.1 % estimate for 2010 that economists surveyed by Bloomberg News saw coming when Obama first moved into the Oval Office. The U.S. manufacturing sector has expanded for eight straight months, the Business Roundtable's measure of CEO optimism reached its highest level since early 2006, and in March the economy added 162,000 jobs—more than it had during any month in the past three years. "There is more business confidence out there," says Boeing (BA) CEO Jim McNerney. "This Administration deserves significant credit."
It is worth stepping back to consider, in cool-headed policy terms, how all of this came to be—and whether the Obama team's approach amounts to a set of successful emergency measures or a new economic philosophy: Obamanomics.
For most of the past two decades, the reigning economic approach in Democratic circles has been Rubinomics, a set of priorities fashioned in the 1990s by Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary, Robert E. Rubin, the former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs (GS). Broadly, Rubinomics was a three-legged stool consisting of restrained government spending, lower budget deficits, and open trade, which were meant in combination to reassure financial markets, keep capital flowing, and thus put the country on a path to prosperity.
On the surface, Obamanomics couldn't be more different. The Administration racked up record deficits as it pursued a $787 billion fiscal stimulus on top of the $700 billion bailout fund for banks and carmakers. Obama has done close to nothing to expand free trade. And while Clinton pleased the markets with a moderate, probusiness image, Obama has riled Wall Street with occasional bursts of populist rhetoric, such as his slamming of "fat cat bankers" on 60 Minutes last December.
The rallying markets haven't been bothered by these differences, largely because of their context. Martin Baily, who was a chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton Administration, says he suspects Rubin and the rest of the Clinton economic team would have made similar decisions—on bailouts, fiscal stimulus, and deficit spending—had they faced a crisis of similar magnitude. "I think we would have gone the same way," he says. The Obama team, he continues, navigated the financial crisis while never losing sight of the importance of private enterprise and private markets (a point Obama stressed in his Feb. 9 interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek). "A lot of people on the left were urging them to nationalize banks. Instead they injected capital, and now they're pulling capital out. That looks more like Rubinomics than a set of socialist or left-wing economic policies." The Obama economic team looks a lot like Rubin's, too; three of its most prominent members—Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, National Economic Council Chairman Larry Summers, and White House budget director Peter Orszag—are Rubin protégés.
While the Administration's call for a consumer financial protection agency has aroused opposition from banks, Obama's regulatory reform plan largely leaves the financial industry's structure intact and ignores proposals to break up large financial institutions, unlike the reforms pursued after the Crash of 1929. Amid an uproar over bonuses at government-assisted banks, Obama for the most part chose to respect private employment contracts.
In short, Obama's instincts during the crisis were exceedingly Rubin-esque. Even the $787 billion stimulus package, while large by historical standards, didn't reach the scale called for by many liberal economists, including the chairman of his own Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, who initially advocated spending more than $1 trillion. Today, Romer doesn't shy away from comparisons to the last Democratic Administration, but she also makes no grand claims about a new economic philosophy. What unites Rubinomics and Obamanomics, she says, "is the focus on results, the pragmatism of what's right for the economy. We each took the policy that was appropriate at the time."
The similarities go deeper. Like Clinton, Obama has tried to reduce income inequality. Clinton's 1993 deficit-reduction plan raised income tax rates for high-income families to 39.6%; Obama plans to return the top rate to the Clinton-era level. He also raised Medicare taxes for individuals earning over $200,000 to finance his health plan. Clinton aided the working poor with the Earned Income Tax Credit; Obama is doing the same with insurance subsidies in his health plan. A national health plan was an aspiration of both Presidents. Baily argues that the Obama approach is "at least in principle closer to Rubinomics than was the Clinton plan. [Obama's team] is trying to use market incentives to raise the quality and lower the cost, and that looks like Rubinomics."
Any comparison must take into account the vastly different circumstances each Administration confronted. Clinton entered office as the end of the Cold War generated a peace dividend, then rode the tech boom—and the tax-revenue-generating stock options that came with the runup in tech stock prices— to a balanced budget. Obama inherited two wars and the scariest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Clinton's deference to the bond market was necessary because long-term interest rates were high—above 7% on 30-year Treasury bonds—when he took office. Interest rates have been the least of Obama's concerns, with yields below 3% when he took office and the Fed effectively keeping short-term rates at zero.
Despite a budget deficit that is projected at $1.5 trillion this year, Obama wants to move the country toward the kind of fiscal balance it enjoyed fleetingly in the Clinton era, though his budget plans falls short of that. He recognizes that the federal debt load is unsupportable. Alan Greenspan—the tacit ally of Clinton and Rubin in the 1990s—warned last month that a recent uptick in yields on 10-year Treasury notes might signal a surge in long-term interest rates driven by investor anxiety over the budget shortfall.
Economic stabilization has not been Obama's handiwork alone. In the months before he took office, President George W. Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson halted a market free fall with the bank bailout. Obama's stimulus complemented the Federal Reserve's aggressive monetary easing. To build a floor for housing prices, the Fed intervened to support mortgage markets and the White House pledged unlimited financial backing for mortgage giants Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE), and rolled out tax credits for home buyers and mortgage modification programs to stave off foreclosures. It's the entire package that has made the difference.
"When you take it all together, the response was massive, unprecedented, and ultimately successful," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com (MCO). Even Obama critics like Phil Swagel, assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy under George W. Bush, acknowledge that White House policies have been successful. "They could have done a better job" by spending more of the stimulus on corporate tax cuts to boost hiring and investment, says Swagel, now an economics professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. "But their economic policies, including the stimulus, have helped move the economy in the right direction."
While jobs have been slow to return, the country has experienced "an incredible productivity boom" that strengthens the economy for an expansion, says Greenhaus of Miller Tabak. Labor productivity, or worker output per hour, grew at a 6.9% annual pace in the fourth quarter, capping the biggest one-year gain since 2002. Over the long run, productivity growth is what raises living standards. Corporate profits also have been rising, up 8% in the fourth quarter, putting businesses on a sounder financial foundation to invest and hire as customers return.
The public, alas, does not see the signs of life that economists do, as the downbeat views in the Bloomberg poll demonstrate. And as long as job security remains a concern, it's easy to understand why psychology may trump data. Among those who own stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, only 3 out of 10 say the value of their portfolio has risen since a year ago, according to the poll—a near-impossibility given the size and breadth of the market gains.
The early stages of an economic rebound do not bring political safe haven for Presidents. (Just ask George H.W. Bush, who won a war against Iraq only to lose reelection a year after the 1990-91 recession ended.) Obama, however, may now have reached a pivot point with the economy finally beginning to add jobs. "He can make great strides in short order," says Steven Jarding, a former Democratic campaign strategist who is now a lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "Any indicator he can build on is a good thing. He'll be able to focus all his energy and attention to say, 'Here's what happened this year in the economy.'"
With seven months to go before midterm elections, and more than two years before Obama reaches his own reelection day, there's still time for the President's policies to swing to his political advantage. Again, follow the money: Consumer spending has been rising for five straight months. That may not last, but it suggests Obama is already on the right track with voters' wallets. If the Clinton Administration is a trustworthy precedent—and job growth continues—their hearts and minds could follow.
Dorning is a reporter at Bloomberg News.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Start-Ups, Not Bailouts
Message: If we want to bring down unemployment in a sustainable way, neither rescuing General Motors nor funding more road construction will do it. We need to create a big bushel of new companies — fast. We’ve got to get more Americans working again for their own dignity — and to generate the rising incomes and wealth we need to pay for existing entitlements, as well as all the new investments we’ll need to make. It was just reported that Social Security this year will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes — a red line we were not expected to cross until at least 2016.
But you cannot say this often enough: Good-paying jobs don’t come from bailouts. They come from start-ups. And where do start-ups come from? They come from smart, creative, inspired risk-takers. How do we get more of those? There are only two ways: grow more by improving our schools or import more by recruiting talented immigrants. Surely, we need to do both, and we need to start by breaking the deadlock in Congress over immigration, so we can develop a much more strategic approach to attracting more of the world’s creative risk-takers. “Roughly 25 percent of successful high-tech start-ups over the last decade were founded or co-founded by immigrants,” said Litan. Think Sergey Brin, the Russian-born co-founder of Google, or Vinod Khosla, the India-born co-founder of Sun Microsystems.
That is no surprise. After all, Craig Mundie, the chief research and strategy officer of Microsoft, asks: What made America this incredible engine of prosperity? It was immigration, plus free markets. Because we were so open to immigration — and immigrants are by definition high-aspiring risk-takers, ready to leave their native lands in search of greater opportunities — “we as a country accumulated a disproportionate share of the world’s high-I.Q. risk-takers.”
In addition, because of our vibrant and meritocratic university system, the best foreign students who wanted the best education also came here, and many of them also stayed. In its heyday, our unique system also attracted a disproportionate share of high-I.Q. risk-takers to high government service. So when you put all this together, with our free markets and democracy, it made it easy here for creative, high-I.Q. risk-takers to raise capital for their ideas and commercialize them. In short, America had a very powerful, self-reinforcing engine for growing innovative new companies.
“When you get this happy coincidence of high-I.Q. risk-takers in government and a society that is biased toward high-I.Q. risk-takers, you get these above-average returns as a country,” argued Mundie. “What is common to Singapore, Israel and America? They were all built by high-I.Q. risk-takers and all thrived — but only in the U.S. did it happen at a large scale and with global diversity, so you had this really rich cross-section.”
What is worrisome about America today is the combination of cutbacks in higher education, restrictions on immigration and a toxic public space that dissuades talented people from going into government. Together, all of these trends are slowly eating away at our differentiated edge in attracting and enabling the world’s biggest mass of smart, creative risk-takers.
It isn’t drastic, but it is a decline — at a time when technology is allowing other countries to leverage and empower more of their own high-I.Q. risk-takers. If we don’t reverse this trend, over time, “we could lose our most important competitive edge — the only edge from which sustainable advantage accrues” — having the world’s biggest and most diverse pool of high-I.Q. risk-takers, said Mundie. “If we don’t have that competitive edge, our standard of living will eventually revert to the global mean.”
Right now we have thousands of foreign students in America and one million engineers, scientists and other highly skilled workers here on H-1B temporary visas, which require them to return home when the visas expire. That’s nuts. “We ought to have a ‘job-creators visa’ for people already here,” said Litan. “And once you’ve hired, say, 5 or 10 American nonfamily members, you should get a green card.”
We need health care, financial reform and education reform. But we also need to be thinking just as seriously and urgently about what are the ingredients that foster entrepreneurship — how new businesses are catalyzed, inspired and enabled and how we enlist more people to do that — so no one ever says about America what that officer says to Tom Cruise in “Top Gun”: “Son, your ego’s writing checks your body can’t cash.”