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Friday, September 30, 2011

A response to an email from Joe Biden titled "What are you waiting for?" as a campaign solicitation

Dear Joe-
Thanks for the email.  I have already donated this year and am still awaiting the promised T-shirt that was to arrive as a result of that donation.  Sadly, that wait for the t-shirt is becoming emblematic of my wait for the President. Though I will likely support the President in his re-election campaign, I will be doing it with a great deal less enthusiasm than I did in the first campaign.  What am I waiting for?  Good question, thank you for asking.

Though I know the President has been hampered by Congressional intransigence in recent months, it bears remembering that the Democrats squandered their majority in both houses in the mid-term elections, in no small part because the needed, promised, hopeful leadership was subsumed by careful, pragmatic, passionless, dry-cleaned shirt decision making.  Yes, the American people want a grown up in the White House.  Yes, they want a leader who is intelligent, thoughtful and considerate. But they also want a leader who is going to stand tall, and know when to be loud about the priorities the Party espouses. Yes, compromise is the heart of legislation, but you can't trade a donkey you've already given away, and time and time again, there is no donkey in the stall. Only piles of elephant droppings.

Why not donate? I'll tell you why: I can't think of a young, visible, up-and-coming Democratic leader who is out there inspiring people on behalf of the President.  I see the same, old, tired faces on TV, in the House and in the Senate.  Something is lacking in the Democratic Party when Republican after Republican goes out into the world and blatantly lies, distorts and deceives the American people, and the only response is, once again, Chuck Shumer, or Nancy Pelosi, or poor Debbie Wasserman trotting out the same tired rhetoric, carefully avoiding actually calling their counterparts out for their mis-information and lies. There is a time to be nice, but not so long ago, Senators and Representatives were able to be cutting and incisive about their opponents' failures; these days they need to grow a pair and just speak the truth. Stop being programmed and start being honestly passionate. Look at the crop of candidates running against Scott Brown in my home state.  Elizabeth Warren is a lovely person, but she has 1/10th the charisma of Teddy, and 1/5th the legislative smarts, and none of the passion.  The rest of the crop of candidates are a bunch of also-rans who couldn't get elected to their own town council, but keep trying over and over again. No matter who they are, very rarely will they speak about what they believe for fear of alienating someone.  Of course someone will be alienated!! That's the point.  You can't please them all, all the time, so be truthful to yourself and others will follow! The very definition of leadership is to propose a vision and then convince others to follow it.  The Democratic party needs a farm team system, it needs to re-cast its candidates, and it needs to do this yesterday.

Why not donate? Now the President is on the road, touting a bill he should have pushed, with language he should have used, over a year ago.  There has to be consistency between the way he campaigns and the way he governs, and sadly, I'm not seeing that.  The bully pulpit is the President's only effective means of legislating.  But he needs a whole lot more bully in him, more preacher in the pulpit, more old school, fire in the belly, rabble rousing rhetoric. Not demagoguery, the GOP has a lock on that, but capital T Truth-telling. Paint the stark realities of the choices we face and then lead like you mean it. Get Democratic leadership out in the communities with facts, figures, handouts, charts, graphs, tweets and youtube clips.  Not Goolsby with the white board, not boring ass lectures, not calm, earnest videos with facial close-ups and soft music. Just simple, stark numbers that demonstrate reality.

Want to get people donating Joe? First go kick some ass and take some names.  Announce that Obama will donate 25% of his campaign contributions ($.25 of every dollar) toward paying down the national deficit, and shame the Republican candidates into doing the same.  Donate the Presidential stipend back for a year and shame the Congressional leaders into doing the same with their salaries. (We know you all don't need that money.)  Cancel Congressional pensions/benefits for those members of the House and Senate with an annual income of over $1 million. And shame them into going along with it. Shame, Joe, is the most effective tool in the Presidential Rhetorical arsenal.  Use it!

Want people to donate? Come up with an actual vision for foreign policy, and then stick to it, so the President doesn't seem like a windsock who says the right things, but then doesn't follow up with actions to meet the vision. Promote the great job Secretary Clinton has done.  Remind us of the values America holds dear, dearer than short-term strategic considerations, and craft a plan to help cement American power and authority in the 21st Century. And then stick to your guns come hell or high water!

Then remind people that every time a Republican says "let the states do it" that we had that once.  It was the Articles of Confederation, and it failed miserably!  Ask why their greatest ideas come from the past, while yours come from the future? And for God's sake, stop trying to come up with slogans and soundbites.  "Get the car out of the ditch" and "win the future" were just shamefully cheesy, stupid, laughable efforts.  A soundbite is more effective when it comes out of a natural, passionate talking point.  The media will make it work for you, stop spoon-feeding them. Democrats need to be passionate and memorable, and the media will get the point. It is hard to know what the President believes and what his speech writers think will be memorable.  Cut out the latter!  The most recent address to Congress was a step in the right direction, and so have recent speeches.  More of that is needed. But don't just go to "campaign battle grounds" to give that speech; go to all the states to give that speech.  Let the people in Montana, Wyoming, Delaware, Alabama and West Virginia hear his voice and his message, not just Ohio, California and New Hampshire.

Want more donations? Point out the inescapable conclusion that the Republican leadership in the House is held hostage to extremists, then demonstrate it by submitting a gun control bill that would remove the weapons like the one that shot Representative Giffords and shove it down the Republican's faces when they vote against it, as you know they will. Submit the free trade agreements, and publicize it when the Republicans won't bring it up for a vote. Remind the American people that there is a social agenda that comes along with each and every Republican candidate for president that includes restricting a woman's right to choose, imposing a religious view on education, and that rolls back civil rights for gay people.  Bring these issues to the forefront.  Yes, the economy is bad, yes, we need to talk about it, but it isn't that complicated a formula to fix it: 1.2 trillion goes to support those in this country who can't support themselves.  That is a worthy cause, and an American cause and tax dollars are needed to make it work. We get that! Sure it needs reform, so reform it in simple, clear language. Then bring out the grandparents of Republican members of Congress who are on Medicare and Medicade and Social Security and show them what the Tea Party agenda does to their lives.  And if they don't have grandparents who draw those benefits because they are all rich, then point that out too!  Call Congress into special session and don't let them leave until the economy improves.  Get off the diesel bus and onto a train.  Revive the whistlestop tour on a green energy locomotive to show that you would actually use the transportation method in your green energy plan and talk to small town Americans about their lives.

Joe, when you and the President are out and about raising money from donors, you also need to be going to high schools.  Not ones that have this that or the other fancy program, but just regular high schools, and meet with members of the graduating senior class.  They are your future base. They can all vote if motivated to do so, so motivate them!  They go home and tell their parents that they met you, and the parents will be impressed you cared about their children. Tell every elected Democratic official that they all need to get into every nursing home, every senior center, every YMCA, every construction site and town common in their district, shake hands, and just talk to people. Don't make it an event, don't call the media, don't grandstand, just keep it simple, direct and personal.  Remind people that Democrats are the party of the people, for the people and by the people, and Republicans are the party of the corporation, the suit, and the country club.

It's not hard Joe.  Give the donkey back his balls, and then go out and kick.  Then I'll start to believe, hope, feel optimistic, and donate.  Because right now you have my vote, but not much more.

Best,

Whit's End
MA

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Trouble, Trouble, boil and bubble

The Obama administration faces a tough issue this coming week: Palestine is coming to the UN asking to be recognized as a nation-state.  They will first go to the Security Council, where the US says it will use its veto to block the proposal (the US favors a negotiated statehood--because that has been working so well for the last 30 years?), and Palestine will then go the General Assembly, where it looks like they will get a majority vote in their favor to move their status up.  Obama is in a quandary.

On the one hand, the US has been vocally (and materially) supporting Arab democracy movements all throughout the Middle East. Palestine will have a democratically structured government.  On the other hand the US is a staunch supporter of Israel, which does not want a Palestinian state, now more than ever, as hard-line conservatives dominate the Israeli political landscape and as Israel feels more hemmed in by hostile neighbors who are steadily maintaining their anti-Semitic tone and stance. 

So with the veto, the US will torpedo its credibility with the vast majority of the Arab world. (Saudis won't care as long as we keep ignoring their abuses so we can have their oil...) and satisfy an increasingly undemocratic and repressive ally.  Palestine has all that the Obama administration says they want to see in an Arab state, so there is no way to justify the hypocrisy of the veto and, say, the NATO actions in Lybia.  I expect to hear the semantic wriggle of "it is NATO, not the US," in response, as though NATO has an original thought without the US...

The reality is that time has come for Palestinian statehood.  Yes, Hamas is a player in Palestine.  Yes, they are a terrorist group that has vowed to demolish the Israeli state.  Yes, they also provide many social programs that are keeping Palestinians alive. But I'm not sure why Israel and the US don't see that if they allow Palestinians the economic and political freedoms that they are asking for, Hamas loses its ability to influence the young Arabs.  If Hamas is forced to behave as a responsible political actor, they lose their "outsider" cache, lose their militaristic capacity and become just another minority political party. If the economic limitations currently facing young Palestinians (fostered by the Israeli blockade of Palestine) are lifted, Hamas loses its ability to sway Palestinians to its point of view because other organizations can provide medical care, education, food, etc.

The irony in all of it is that Israel is protesting against the exact manner in which it became a state: the UN said it was so, and thus it was.  Now the displaced Arabs, who were not consulted in the creation of Israel 60 years ago, are using the same tool to gain their state back.  The smart thing, the consistent thing, the surprising thing, and the peace-generating thing, would be for the Obama administration AND Israel to vote in favor of the Palestinian nation-state when the time comes.  Then both work arm-in-arm and with the UN to force conformity to international norms of behavior that Palestine would then be obliged to recognize as a nation-state, like trade laws, standards of democratic behavior, military conventions, human rights conventions, and so on and so forth...In that way they would hamstring Hamas, and create a neighbor that could work constructively with Israel, rather than adding yet another hostile force on Israel's embattled borders.

Instead, the Obama administration will attempt to garner Jewish votes, keep Republicans from another talking point, and continue to muddle through its foreign policy like a rudderless ship, trying to be all things to all partners...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My jobs plan

On the eve of the USPS announcing that unless it severely restructures the way it does business, cutting Saturday delivery, closing thousands of small offices and laying off 100,000 or so employees, it is interesting to consider the state of government in that light.

It is interesting to note the all-time low regard in which Americans (speaking very generally here) hold their government, both legislative and executive branches; they expect the government to "fix" the economy and create jobs for them.  Or create the environment in which jobs will grow for them. In the absence of employment, they expect the government will provide them with some form of support in the intervening time period of no employment, thus making up for their lack of income. Oh, and they also expect to get money from the government when they retire from working a regular job. Right now, Congress has a what, 14% approval rating?  Now for fun let's count the number of times Boehner and company refer to their "mandate" to keep up their obstructionism...

So somewhere along the line, unemployed Americans began to expect that their government will provide them with an income.  At the same time, Americans (again, broadly generalizing) seem to feel that they pay enough money to the government in the form of taxes, and are not willing to consider paying more in order to help themselves out during tough economic times such as these.  And, the various organs of government that exist by for and of the people have agreed that, as Mitt Romney put it, "Corporations are people," and so they should not pay more taxes either, since that is seen as counter-productive to them creating the jobs that will obviate the need for the government to pay out more money to support them...

I would offer that, in the case of employment/job generation, the government would be well served to encourage corporations to create more jobs/expand their employment in the United States. Gound breaking, isn't it? The real question is how best to do this.  The standard Republican line appears to be to lighten corporation tax burdens, loosen regulations on their activities, and generally let them do whatever they want to do to the environment.  This will cause them to create good paying jobs for Americans.  As I've said before, I'm happy to link tax burden to employment/jobs created--the more jobs created, the lower the taxes paid. Quid Pro Quo.
      As for regulations, particularly the environmental kind, I'm in disagreement with the Republicans.  It seems to me that if you are requiring corporations to find new ways to clean up emissions, for example, then there is a need for new technologies to be created and implemented.  If that is happening, someone has to invent, design, build, install and monitor these new technologies...which, seems to me, would lead to a lot more jobs.  I do think it should be easier for corporations to build new factories or warehouses or whatever here in the USA. But not at the expense of the environment. I'd say, enhance regulations to require the construction of new green factories (jobs.) Build high tech distribution centers (jobs), build efficient warehouses (jobs) retro-fit existing factories (jobs) Not just construction-based, but then staffing by highly skilled workers... Oh, but the corporations will flee to other countries and build there where there are fewer regulations.  Then those companies that do leave (ahem, Mr. Romney) should be subject to a massive campaign to encourage Americans to buy elsewhere or boycott that product.  And the government should coordinate that.  We still are the largest and wealthiest consumer base on the planet, and companies ignore that at their peril.  The government as coordinator of mass action against a company is a significant incentive for the corporations to remain here. Import tariffs on their goods would also be a strong stick to threaten outsourcing companies with, and the WTO is not impacted by company based tariffs, only country based tariffs...
  Additionally, the Chinese example of creating a "Special Economic Zone" to build capitalism could be instructive here.  The Chinese said "in these areas, the government's rules are relaxed/missing when it comes to the way in which business is conducted." i.e.: socialism was suspended and private companies/individuals could make a profit.  Perhaps this idea could work in the US as well, where the federal government provides infrastructure for the corporations in order to encourage them to locate their new business centers in that place. (say, revitalize the Long Beach Harbor in LA...) If the government provides infrastructure, someone needs to build roads, bridges, train/bus/truck stations, etc.  Which means more jobs.  Then there is a new factory/warehouse/whatever, which means more jobs.
     The caveat there is that the government has to have enough money to pay those workers and to buy those materials (which also generates jobs), which means that tax dollars need to be allocated.  I'm ok with that allocation, even if it means borrowing more, as it seems like it would help in the long run.
    This pre-supposes that the jobs that are needed are jobs of this type, and that Americans will "lower" themselves to work in factories, building roads, bridges, etc...jobs that many Americans I know would turn their noses up at as not appropriate jobs for college graduates, etc.  Which leads to the question of what type of economy do we want: knowledge based, manufacturing based, or a mix of the two...a topic for another time.
    I'm sure Obama is going to plug away at the infrastructure angle of job creation, and work on the idea of re-training those unemployed workers to do better for themselves.  I don't disagree that infrastructure jobs are important (see above) and it will create an interesting dilemma for the Eric Cantor disciples in Congress ("No disaster aid without comparable cuts" my ass.  That man should be taken up to the international space station and encouraged to look at the big picture...from the outside...in his underwear...) as there must be spending to accomplish this goal...but I don't think we can build our way to 9 million new jobs.  And re-training isn't helpful if there aren't jobs to train for...

Ultimately, Americans need to stop looking to the government to create jobs.  Banks need to lend, businesses need to grow, and jobs will follow.  Nothing the goverment does will change those things.  Perhaps people should patronize only the banks that lend and the businesses that are growing, and send a message that way? 

Of course, the irony in the Post Office situation is that the US government has made it possible to do everything on-line now, thus cutting off the USPS from access to revenue...I e-filed my taxes, and collected my refund through electronic transfer.  There's at least $1 postage lost to the USPS...If I couldn't do those things (and no American could), that's around $150 million or so in just IRS generated income alone...So if we sacrifice a bit of convenience for a small bit of change in our pockets we wouldn't be looking at this Postal collapse at all, now would we? Maybe there's a lesson there for all of us...