Friday, December 30, 2011

Have you considered my "unorthodox suggestion?"

Several of my readers have told me they changed their party affiliation to Republican after reading my "unorthodox suggestion" last week.  That's terrific!

For those who missed it, I hope you'll take a look and consider it.

If you live in Florida, you must act by Tuesday, January 3rd, to vote as a Republican in Florida's presidential preference primary on January 31.

Just click here, complete and print the form, and put it in the mail.  Or call your local Supervisor of Elections.

Don’t waste your vote.

(And HAPPY NEW YEAR!!)


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An unorthodox suggestion


I suggest that my friends in Florida who are registered as Democrats or NPA (no party affiliation) change their party affiliation on their voter registration to Republican.

Why?  Because Florida is a “closed primary” state so only people registered as members of a particular political party can vote in that party’s primary election.

Do you want to influence who President Obama will face in November? 

You have the right to do so – but only if you’re a registered Republican.

That’s why I changed my party affiliation to Republican earlier this year.  I want President Obama to be running against Newt Gingrich, not Mitt Romney.  Watch this video clip of Bill O’Reilly on Fox News to understand why.


Some of my Democratic friends can’t imagine registering as a Republican.  I say, you have the right to vote in any primary you choose.  With no Democratic presidential primary, why waste that vote?  Register as a Republican and help shape the election!

You must do so by January 3rd to vote in Florida’s January 31st presidential primary.  Don’t waste a minute; do it now.

It’s easy.  Just click here, complete and print the form, and put it in the mail.  Or call your local Supervisor of Elections.  Don’t waste your vote.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Liberal gloom

Just about everyone I know who voted for Obama is disappointed with him.  He should have held out for a bigger stimulus package.  He shouldn’t have bailed out the banks.  He’s going too easy on Wall Street.  He should have supported Simpson-Bowles.  He hasn’t done enough for the environment.  He should never have taken on health care reform.  He should have been focusing on jobs, jobs, jobs from day one.

I hear these disappointments everywhere, and the more I hear it, the more “true” it seems to become.  After all, “everyone” is saying it.

So I found Jonathan Chaitt’s recent article in The New Yorker “When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable?” really interesting. 

The subtitle of the article is “If every Democratic president disappoints, maybe there’s something wrong with our expectations. Tough love from a fellow traveler.”

Chaitt proposes that:

Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president — indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious — but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president.

To explore his hypothesis, Chaitt asks, “So, what if we compare Obama with a real alternative? Not to Republicans — that’s too easy — but to Democratic presidents as they lived and breathed?”

He then goes on to examine how liberals of the times were reacting to the presidencies of Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy, Harry Truman and FDR.   And he concludes that they’ve never been satisfied: 

For almost all of the past 60 years, liberals have been in a near-constant emotional state of despair, punctuated only by brief moments of euphoria and occasional rage. When they’re not in charge, things are so bleak they threaten to move to Canada; it’s almost more excruciating when they do win elections, and their presidents fail in essentially the same ways: He is too accommodating, too timid, too unwilling or unable to inspire the populace. (Except for Johnson, who was a bloodthirsty warmonger.)

And he pointedly asks:

Is it really likely that all these presidents have suffered from the same character flaws? Suppose you’re trying to find dates online, and everybody you meet turns out to be too ugly. Might it be possible that the problem isn’t the attractiveness of the single people in your town but rather your standards?

He then compares liberals to conservatives:

While they are certainly capable of expressing frustration with Republican presidents, conservative disappointment is neither as incessant nor as pervasively depressed as the liberal variety.... Why? Because conservatives are not like liberals. They think differently.

Some of my disappointed friends like Tom Friedman’s idea of a “a viable, centrist, third presidential ticket, elected by an Internet convention.”   Chaitt scoffs:

What, by contrast, are we to make of third-party activists like Thomas L. Friedman or Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz? They have a president who supports virtually everything they want -- short-term stimulus, long-term deficit reduction through a mix of taxes and entitlement cuts, clean energy, education reform, and social liberalism. Yet they are agitating for a third party in order to carry out an agenda that is virtually identical to Obama’s. In a column touting the third-party Americans Elect, the closest Friedman comes to explaining why we should have a third party, rather than reelect the politician who already represents their values, is to say that such a party “would have offered a grand bargain on the deficit two years ago, not on the eve of a Treasury default.” He agrees with Obama’s plan, in other words, but proposes to form a new party because he disagrees with his legislative sequencing.

As political analysis, this is pure derangement. It’s the Judean People’s Front for the Aspen Institute crowd. But these sorts of anti-political fantasies arise whenever liberals are forced to confront the crushing ordinariness of governing.

(As one who loves the Aspen Institute, and who has actually seen Tom Friedman there several times, I really get that line!)

Chaitt continues:

Is it understandable to believe that [Obama’s] administration has been a disappointment to date? Of course. On the other hand, maybe there is something to learn from the frequent (anguished) comparisons liberals make between Obama and FDR. Part of the reason Roosevelt’s record looms so large from a distance is because historians measure these things differently from political activists. Activists measure progress against the standard of perfection, or at least the most perfect possible choice. Historians gauge progress against what came before it.

By that standard, Obama’s first term would indeed seem to qualify as gangsta shit.

Chaitt then reviews Obama’s accomplishments:

His single largest policy accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, combines two sweeping goals — providing coverage to the uninsured and taming runaway medical-cost inflation — that Democrats have tried and failed to achieve for decades. Likewise, the Recovery Act contained both short-term stimulative measures and increased public investment in infrastructure, green energy, and the like. The Dodd-Frank financial reform, while failing to end the financial industry as we know it, is certainly far from toothless, as measured by the almost fanatical determination of Wall Street and Republicans in Congress to roll it back.

Beneath these headline measures is a second tier of accomplishments carrying considerable historic weight. A bailout and deep restructuring of the auto industry that is rapidly being repaid, leaving behind a reinvigorated sector in the place of a devastated Midwest. Race to the Top, which leveraged a small amount of federal seed money into a sweeping national wave of education experiments, arguably the most significant reform of public schooling in the history of the United States. A reform of college loans, saving hundreds of billions of dollars by cutting out private middlemen and redirecting some of the savings toward expanded Pell Grants. Historically large new investments in green energy and the beginning of regulation of greenhouse gases. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for women. Elimination of several wasteful defense programs, equality for gays in the military, and consumer-friendly regulation of food safety, tobacco, and credit cards.

Of the postwar presidents, only Johnson exceeds Obama’s domestic record, and Johnson’s successes must be measured against a crushing defeat in Vietnam. Obama, by contrast, has enjoyed a string of foreign-policy successes — expanding targeted strikes against Al Qaeda (including one that killed Osama bin Laden), ending the war in Iraq, and helping to orchestrate an apparently successful international campaign to rescue Libyan dissidents and then topple a brutal kleptocratic regime.

So, if Obama is the most successful liberal president since Roosevelt, that would make him a pretty great president, right?

If you know someone who suffers from this “liberal malaise,” please share this post with them.  Over the less-than-12-months to Election Day, we liberals need to get our enthusiasm back!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Have you expressed your outrage?

It’s almost certain the Super Committee will not come up with a plan to achieve the minimum $1.2 trillion in savings by tonight’s de facto deadline.  Every one I talk to is disgusted.  I sure am.

This morning I realized: I haven’t written my senators and congressmen lately to tell them.  If they aren’t hearing from us, for sure they’ll just vote their party’s line.  (They may do so anyway, but we can’t control that – at least in the short run.)

So this is the email I sent to Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and Congressman Connie Mack this morning:

Topic: Budget
Subject: I urge you to compromise

Governing is the art of compromise, and Washington, D.C., is failing.  As your constituent, and as an American voter, I urge you to compromise on an agreement to avoid the automatic spending cuts and – more importantly – to avoid worldwide ridicule. 

Sincerely,

You can contact your Congressman and your two U.S. Senators from this one link: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml.  

Please – take a minute and express your outrage.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Obama, friend of Israel

Some Republicans say that Obama has not been a good (or good-enough) friend of Israel.  I’ve heard this quite often, but there was a lot of it in September around the time of the U.N. Security Council meeting. 

Here’s what was said on the CNN Opinion Page at that time:

Gov. Rick Perry unleashed an onslaught against President Obama's Israel policy Tuesday in New York, calling it "moral equivalency," "appeasement," "naive and arrogant, misguided and dangerous." ... deepening the narrative that Obama is hell-bent on alienating our closest allies, secretly sides with Muslims in the Middle East and has broken with decades of U.S. policy to do so. On cue, a second spin-driven news-cycle appeared: "Will Obama lose the Jewish vote in 2012?"

The Christian Science Monitor called Perry’s speech “a pitch for Jewish votes.”  After quoting at length from Perry’s remarks, the Monitor went on:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, running in second place for the GOP nomination, also blamed Obama for the Palestinian bid for recognition at the UN.

“What we are watching unfold at the United Nations is an unmitigated diplomatic disaster,” Mr. Romney said in a statement. “It is the culmination of President Obama’s repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position.”

Have you noticed that when people hear the same thing over and over again, they come to think it’s the truth?  That’s what’s happened with the Obama-enemy-of-Israel storyline.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was interviewed on Charlie Rose Tuesday night.  It was a fascinating interview in many respects, but Barak’s unsolicited and passionate defense of the Obama Administration really struck me.  I urge you to watch (or listen) but here’s the excerpt I’m referring to:

CHARLIE ROSE: Let me switch to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Where is that? You had this effort to get statehood going through the Security Council. There is some speculation that they cannot get nine votes and the United States will have to veto it. Is that your reading of where they are?

EHUD BARAK: Yes. I think that the attempt to which the U.N. Security Council failed, it failed as a result of American huge diplomatic effort. And the fact that this Administration as some people question their commitment to Israel, I think the opposite showed the readiness and signaled the readiness to veto it if the necessary. And that’s something which I would not have taken for granted and we highly appreciate it.

CHARLIE ROSE: So you’re saying that the Obama Administration contrary to the opinion of some people in the American-Jewish community that this Administration has not been pro-Israel, that they have been very pro-Israel and very helpful to Israel at important moments. And that you -- underlying -- you are not saying that or you are saying that?

EHUD BARAK: I’m saying very clearly that this Administration in regard to Israel’s security and we’re traditionally supported by any American -- each and every American president throughout the generation. But this, under this Administration we went even further into a clear, deep, deep commitment to the security of Israel and beyond. I see them ready, the Administration is ready to veto steps which somewhat go against or perceived by us being against the interest of Israel.

And I still remember very vividly, weekend night, quite dramatic one in Cairo and hundreds of demonstrators entered into the embassy. It was, we went in many channels but one of them was the Administration. I called Panetta --

CHARLIE ROSE: You called Leon Panetta?

EHUD BARAK: Yes. He called --

CHARLIE ROSE: Defense minister to defense minister?

EHUD BARAK: Yes. And he called President Obama. And the American administration put its weight to the utmost extent in order to make sure that it will end up properly which really it did. So I would not under estimate the commitment not to Israel, not to the struggle against (INAUDIBLE).

I should remind you that for those who think that this Administration has been -- go and ask Osama bin Laden, go and ask the Haqqanis. Go ask a dozen of other kind of quite pretentious leaders whom you cannot contact today because of the readiness of this Administration to take action. Not just to talk but at the right moment to take action.

And I spent my lifetime in uniform not in TV interviews but doing things with my own hands. I know to appreciate this.

The transcript doesn’t come close to conveying the passion in Barak’s voice.  And notice – Rose didn’t ask him about Perry’s specific comment, or even raise the issue.  Barak raised it himself, and then went on at length to defend the Obama Administration.

If you are one of my readers whose friends complain that Obama isn’t enough of a friend to Israel, please share the Barak/Rose interview.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Not disappointed (again)

For those who were unable to access the video clip from the email with the embedded link, please click here:

http://sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com/2011/11/not-disappointed-by-president-obama.html


 

Not disappointed by President Obama

My friend John just shared a video clip with me.  It's called "I am NOT disappointed by President Obama," and it is incredibly compelling. 

Here's the clip.


If you agree with what Mr. Lamar is saying (as I do), please forward this to every Democrat, Progressive, and Liberal person you know.  We need EACH of them to help re-elect President Obama on November 6, 2012.

And if you live in Collier County and want to help me with the re-election campaign, let me know.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Will you be allowed to vote on Election Day?

Earlier this year, my state passed new, tougher election laws, largely along party lines.  The Republican-controlled Legislature said they were needed to prevent voter fraud and reduce costs.  Democrats said they were meant to make it even harder for the poor, the elderly, the disabled, students and others to vote. 
Whatever the reason, it WILL be harder.  And not just in land-of-the-hanging-chads Florida, where I live.
The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law recently published an analysis of the restrictions on voting passed so far this year.  From the executive summary:
Over the past century, our nation expanded the franchise and knocked down myriad barriers to full electoral participation. In 2011, however, that momentum abruptly shifted.
State governments across the country enacted an array of new laws making it harder to register or to vote. Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in ten voters do not have. Other states have cut back on early voting, a hugely popular innovation used by millions of Americans. Two states reversed earlier reforms and once again disenfranchised millions who have past criminal convictions but who are now taxpaying members of the community. Still others made it much more difficult for citizens to register to vote, a prerequisite for voting.
These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election. [Emphasis added]  Based on the Brennan Center’s analysis of the 19 laws and two executive actions that passed in 14 states, it is clear that:
·         These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
·         The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
·         Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.
States have changed their laws so rapidly that no single analysis has assessed the overall impact of such moves. Although it is too early to quantify how the changes will impact voter turnout, they will be a hindrance to many voters at a time when the United States continues to turn out less than two thirds of its eligible citizens in presidential elections and less than half in midterm elections.
Florida, Colorado, California, Indiana and Illinois (the states where most of my readers live) figure prominently in the report.  You can read more about it here
Even if you had no problem voting in the last election, make sure your Supervisor of Elections office still shows you in their records.  Where I live in Collier County, FL, you can check this online on the SOE website.  For where to go in your county, just Google “register to vote.”
Your signature may have changed since you registered. (Whose hasn’t?)  Don’t take chances.  Update it.  In Collier County, simply fill out a voter registration form online, sign, print and mail it in.  This way you won’t risk a hassle at the polls and possibly having to use a provisional ballot.
If you’ve moved within the state but across county lines, you will no longer be able to change your address at the polls.  That’s another thing you can easily take care of now.
Take a few minutes today to make sure your voter registration is as it should be: your name, your address, your party affiliation, your signature.  While you’re on the SOE website, add the upcoming election days (including early voting days) to your calendar. 
And forward this email to everyone you know.  The right to vote is too precious to take for granted. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mitt Romney’s plan


I’m planning to watch the NBC/Politico Republican candidates’ debate tonight. 

Most pundits say that despite the fact that there will be eight candidates on stage (Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum), it’s really a two-way race between Perry and Romney.

Romney set the stage yesterday by announcing his own jobs plan, in anticipation of tonight’s debate and Obama’s plan to be announced tomorrow:

On his first day in office, Romney will submit a jobs package to Congress consisting of at least five major proposals and will demand that Congress act on the package within 30 days, using every power at his disposal to ensure its passage. He will also take immediate and specific steps within his sole authority as president by issuing a series of executive orders that gets the U.S. government out of the economy’s way. The goal: restore America to the path of robust economic growth necessary to create jobs.

Here are the five major proposals:

  • The American Competitiveness Act - Reduces the corporate income tax rate to 25 percent
  • The Open Markets Act - Implements the Colombia, Panama, and South Korea Free Trade Agreements
  • The Domestic Energy Act - Directs the Department of the Interior to undertake a comprehensive survey of American energy reserves in partnership with exploration companies and initiates leasing in all areas currently approved for exploration
  • The Retraining Reform Act - Consolidates the sprawl of federal retraining programs and returns funding and responsibility for these programs to the states
  • The Down Payment on Fiscal Sanity Act - Immediately cuts non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent, reducing the annual federal budget by $20 billion


  • An Order to Pave the Way to End Obamacare - Directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services and all relevant federal officials to return the maximum possible authority to the states to innovate and design health care solutions that work best for them
  • An Order to Cut Red Tape - Directs all agencies to immediately initiate the elimination of Obama-era regulations that unduly burden the economy or job creation, and then caps annual increases in regulatory costs at zero dollars
  • An Order to Boost Domestic Energy Production - Directs the Department of the Interior to implement a process for rapid issuance of drilling permits to developers with established safety records seeking to use pre-approved techniques in pre-approved areas
  • An Order to Sanction China for Unfair Trade Practices - Directs the Department of the Treasury to list China as a currency manipulator in its biannual report and directs the Department of Commerce to assess countervailing duties on Chinese imports if China does not quickly move to float its currency
  • An Order to Empower American Businesses and Workers - Reverses the executive orders issued by President Obama that tilt the playing field in favor of organized labor, including the one encouraging the use of union labor on major government construction projects

If your views are at all like mine, reading these plans will send chills down your spine.  Yet of the two front-runners today, Romney is the less conservative.

I hope you’re planning to watch tonight’s debate.  It begins at 8 p.m. ET on MSNBC and will re-air on CNBC and Telemundo.  POLITICO will be livestreaming the debate online – with a pre-debate show from the Library beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET and post-debate analysis immediately following. Watch it at: politico.com/reagandebate.

For more information:

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Drew Westen and Obama’s Passion


Drew Westen
Drew Westen’s “What Happened to Obama’s Passion” (New York Times 8/6/11) has been sent to me by more friends and readers than any other I can remember.  It clearly struck a chord with many who are feeling disappointed and disillusioned with President Obama’s leadership. 

To me, Westen is “the-glass-is-half-empty” incarnate.  (See my 8/3 post “My thoughts on the debt deal.”)

So I was gratified to watch Fareed Zakaria, Editor-at-Large of TIME Magazine, and Jonathan Chait, Senior Editor of The New Republic, debate Mr. Westen on The Charlie Rose Show the other night.  If you’ve been taken in by Westen’s piece, I highly recommend that you watch the Charlie Rose segment by clicking here.

Rose said he set up this particular line-up of guests because -- 

If you do what I do, this is a perfect storm.  First you have somebody write something, then you have someone respond to it, and then you have someone come along in Time magazine and talk about all of them.

After watching and appreciating the debate, I was curious to read the Chaitt and Zakaria pieces Rose referred to, so I tracked them down.

Chaitt’s piece appeared in The New Republic on 8/8 with the title “Drew Westen's Nonsense.”   Here are some excerpts:

There are some strong criticisms to be made of the Obama administration from the left, especially concerning Obama's passive response to the debt ceiling hostage crisis, and his frightening willingness to give away the store to John Boehner. I've made many of these criticisms myself. But Drew Westen's lengthy, attention-grabbing Sunday New York Times op-ed is not a strong criticism. It's a parody of liberal fantasizing. ....

Westen's op-ed rests upon a model of American politics in which the president in the not only the most important figure, but his most powerful weapon is rhetoric. The argument appears calculated to infuriate anybody with a passing familiarity with the basics of political science. In Westen's telling, every known impediment to legislative progress -- special interest lobbying, the filibuster, macroeconomic conditions, not to mention certain settled beliefs of public opinion -- are but tiny stick huts trembling in the face of the atomic bomb of the presidential speech. The impediment to an era of total and uncompromising liberal success is Obama's failure to properly deploy this awesome weapon. ...

Obama took office at the cusp of a massive worldwide financial crisis that was bound to inflict severe damage on himself and his party. That he faced such difficult circumstances does not absolve him of blame for any failures. It sets the bar lower, but the bar still exists. How should we judge Obama against it? I would argue that both the legislative record of 2009-2010 and Obama's personal popularity level exceed the expectation level -- facing worse economic conditions than the last two Democratic presidents at a similar juncture, Obama is far more popular than Jimmy Carter and nearly as popular as Bill Clinton, and vastly more accomplished than both put together.

Obviously this is the crux of the dispute, and I don't have the time and space to defend this larger judgment here. But Westen offers almost nothing but hand-waving and misstatements. He blames Obama for the insufficiently large stimulus without even mentioning the role of Senate moderate Republicans, whose votes were needed to pass it, in weakening the stimulus. An argument can be made that Obama could have secured a larger stimulus through better legislative tactics, but Westen does not make this case, or even flick at it. A foreign reader unfamiliar with our political system would come away from Westen's op-ed believing Obama writes laws by fiat. ...

Chaitt concluded:

The most inexcusable factual errors in Westen's essay have been documented by Andrew Sprung [“A lover of fairy tales casts Obama as villain-in-chief,”], who points out some of the occasions Obama has used exactly the kind of rhetoric Westen accuses him of refusing to deploy. Westen is apparently unaware, to take one example, that Obama repeatedly and passionately argued for universal coverage. The fact of his unawareness is the most devastating rejoinder to his entire rhetoric-centered worldview. If even a professional follower of political rhetoric like Westen never realized basic, repeated themes of Obama's speeches and remarks, how could presidential rhetoric -- sorry, "storytelling" -- be anywhere near as important as he claims? The clear reality is that Americans pay hardly any attention to what presidents say, and what little they take in, they forget almost immediately. Even Drew Westen.

The Zakaria piece appeared in TIME and on Zakaria’s Global Public Square website on 8/12 with the title “Fareed's Take: Defending Obama's pragmatism.  It begins:

Over the last week, liberal politicians and commentators took to the airwaves and op-ed pages to criticize the debt deal that Congress reached. But their ire was directed not at the Tea Party or even the Republicans but rather at Barack Obama, who they concluded had failed as a President because of his persistent tendency to compromise. This has been a running theme ever since Obama took office.

I think that liberals need to grow up. ...

The disappointment over the debt deal is just the latest episode of liberal bewilderment about Obama. "I have no idea what Barack Obama ... believes on virtually any issue," Drew Westen writes in the New York Times, confused over Obama's tendency to take "balanced" positions. Westen hints that his professional experience - he is a psychologist - suggests deep, traumatic causes for Obama's disease.

Zakaria offers his own “simpler explanation” – with which I agree wholeheartedly:

Obama is a centrist and a pragmatist who understands that in a country divided over core issues, you cannot make the best the enemy of the good.

Obama passed a large stimulus package within weeks of taking office. Perhaps it should have been bigger, but despite a Democratic House and Senate, it passed by just one vote. He signed into law an unprecedented expansion of regulations in the financial-services industry, though one that did not break up the large banks. He enacted universal health care, through a complex program modeled after Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusetts. And he has advocated a balanced approach to deficit reduction that combines tax increases with spending cuts.

Maybe he believes in all these things. Maybe he understands that with a budget deficit of 10% of GDP, the second highest in the industrialized world, and a debt that will rise to almost 100% of GDP in a few years, we cannot cavalierly spend another few trillion dollars hoping that will jump-start the economy.

Perhaps he believes that while banks need better regulations, America also needs a vibrant banking system, and that in a globalized economy, constraining American banks will only ensure that the world's largest global financial institutions will be British, German, Swiss and Chinese.

He might understand that Larry Summers and Tim Geithner are smart people who, in long careers in public service, got some things wrong but also got many things right. Perhaps he understands that getting entitlement costs under control is in fact a crucial part of stabilizing our fiscal situation, and that you do need both tax increases and spending cuts -- cuts that are smaller than they appear because they all start with the 2010 budget, which was boosted by the stimulus.

Is all this dangerous weakness, incoherence and appeasement, or is it common sense?

Zakaria’s opinion (and mine): common sense.

If you’re one of those who thought Westen had it right, I hope that Zakaria’s, Chaitt’s and Sprung’s comments give you a different perspective.  I know folks are frustrated.  I am too.  But a lot can happen between now and November 2012, and no doubt will.    

Keep the faith.  Hang in there.  Resolve to see the glass as half full.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The real reasons for the S&P downgrade

I’ve been struck in the short time since yesterday’s announcement by the way pundits of all political persuasions have been using the downgrade to support their point of view.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement that the downgrade “is the latest consequence of the out-of-control spending that has taken place in Washington for decades.”

Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid said in a statement that the downgrade “reaffirms the need for a balanced approach to deficit reduction that combines spending cuts with revenue-raising measures like closing taxpayer-funded giveaways to billionaires, oil companies and corporate jet owners.”

Press secretary Jay Carney, speaking for the White House, said it's clear Washington "must do better" in tackling soaring deficits and other economic woes.  According to the Associate Press:

A statement from Carney said talks that produced Tuesday's $2 trillion compromise on raising the U.S. borrowing limit had been too drawn-out and "divisive."

So -- was the downgrade due to the Democrats’ “out-of-control spending”?  Republican intransigence that resulted in lack of a “balanced approach?”  The “divisiveness” of the process?

Given this politicization, it’s important to read the actual S&P report to know the real reasons for the downgrade.  From the report’s page-one Overview:

  • The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics. 
  • More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011. 
  • Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics any time soon. 
And from the “Rationale” section of the report:

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed.  The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy..... [the] differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and ... the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently.

That “comprehensive fiscal consolidation” refers to the $3+ trillion “grand deal” President Obama and Speaker Boehner had been working on. 


We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process. We also believe that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration agreed to this week falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade.

Let’s be clear: the downgrade was the result of a deal that produced too little, too late, and revealed a government that was more dysfunctional (Jay Carney’s term “divisive” is right-on) than had previously been understood. 

Let’s also be clear: S&P has no preference about how the government chooses to reduce the deficit – all spending cuts, all revenue increases, or a combination of both.  S&P writes: 

Standard & Poor’s takes no position on the mix of spending and revenue measures that Congress and the Administration might conclude is appropriate for putting the U.S.’s finances on a sustainable footing.

They just want to see action that addresses the magnitude of the problem.

In order to get the country’s triple-A credit rating back, two things will have to happen.  The medium-and-long term debt and deficit need to be reduced. (Note that S&P said  nothing opposed to additional near-term stimulus spending to address the current weak economy.)  And civility will have to be restored to Washington.

Have no doubt that this first-ever downgrade of American’s credit rating will be used repeatedly by each Party as evidence that the other should be voted out of office in 2012. 

It will be important, therefore, that each of us remembers the facts and speaks up whenever liberties with them are taken.

For more information

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My thoughts on the debt deal

Well, it’s over for now.  The debt ceiling compromise has been signed into law. 

Like many, I’m disappointed, disgusted, discouraged and disillusioned with the process.  As President Obama said, it’s been messy and took far too long. 

But importantly, the debt limit was raised in time to avoid default, and the country won’t have to go through this again until after the election.  These two conditions turned out to be Obama’s lines in the sand, and we got them.

More than enough about the deal has been said by pundits and commentators, and their assessments range from “this is the worst ever” to “this is the best we could get.”  Neither Democrats nor Republicans are celebrating or claiming victory, and no one is proud of the process by which the deal got done.  I have nothing new to add in terms of interpretation or analysis.  It's time to move forward.

To put this deal in perspective and move on, it seems to me that I can choose to see the glass as half empty, or as half full.

If I choose to see the glass as half empty, I would probably be stuck wallowing around in thoughts like these:

Obama should never have agreed to link the debt ceiling to deficit reduction.  But since he did, he should have been more of a leader and put forward his own plan.  He should have fought harder for a balanced deal with revenues as well as spending cuts.  And when that failed, he should have invoked the Fourteenth Amendment and not allowed the Republicans to hold the country’s credit rating hostage.

But if I take that “glass-is-half-empty” view, what would it get me?  I’d be depressed, demoralized, and bemoaning Democrats’ chances for 2012.  

Or I can choose to see the glass as half full.  I can remind myself that without every Democrat and Independent now in the House and Senate, and without Barack Obama in the White House, the country would be much worse off in terms of my values and priorities than it is now, even with this less-than-great deal forced on us by blackmailers. 

I can remind myself that Obama and the Democrats must recapture the center to win in 2012 and that while this legislation has unsettled the base (which will vote Democratic anyway), it may help with that.  As Jonathan Chait wrote Monday in the New Republic:

The thinking is that Obama lost the support of a key centrist element of his coalition [in the 2010 elections] due to the perception that he’s an out-of-control spender who created big deficits. The perception is wrong, but that doesn’t really matter. Signing onto a major deficit reduction deal helps rebuild Obama’s image. That the deal consists entirely of spending cuts probably only helps.

And as Jennifer Steinhauer wrote yesterday in the NY Times:

The wrangling in Congress laid bare divisions within both parties, with the final passage in the Senate relying on the votes of the remaining center of each party — 28 Republicans, 45 Democrats and one independent voted aye — with the most right- and left-leaning members left ultimately on the sidelines.

The votes of Florida’s two senators reflect this divide.  From “Florida senators' debt votes reflect Washington divide” in today’s St. Petersburg Times:

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson [who voted aye] cast it as a grand compromise. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio [who voted no] called it a bad deal.

Consider this letter to the editor  in Monday’s New York Times:

No one seems to be pointing the finger at those most responsible for the debt-ceiling debacle we have witnessed in recent weeks — the Democrats who chose to sit out the November 2010 election. Low Democratic turnout was an important reason for the extreme right-wing victories in Congressional races.   And now, we are all paying the price.

Winning in 2012 will depend greatly on getting out the vote, and our ability to do so will depend greatly on how each of us chooses to think about this deal. 

Only if we put our disappointment and second-guessing behind us and choose to think the glass is half full will we be willing to do what it’s going to take. 

I choose to see the glass as half full.  Can you?

For more information:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Scary Stuff

This below post titled "No Compromise" is from my friend Marc Schulman's blog "The American Future" (http://www.americanfuture.net/).  It truly is scary stuff. 
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No Compromise

When I was growing up, I pledged allegiance to the United States of America. Not so for 40 of our senators and 115 of our representatives, who are co-sponsors of this pledge:
I pledge to urge my Senators and Member of the House of Representatives to oppose any debt limit increase unless all three of the following conditions have been met:
  1. Cut – Substantial cuts in spending that will reduce the deficit next year and thereafter.
  2. Cap – Enforceable spending caps that will put federal spending on a path to a balanced budget.
  3. Balance – Congressional passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — but only if it includes both a spending limitation and a super-majority for raising taxes, in addition to balancing revenues and expenses.
A list of the sponsoring senators and of upwards of 100 sponsoring organizations can be found here. Sponsoring representatives are here.

The Cut, Cap and Balance coalition isn’t happy with Speaker Boehner’s plan:

The Cut, Cap, Balance coalition understands that bipartisan leadership is under extraordinary pressure to present a proposal this week. We applaud the Speaker’s commitment to avoiding tax increases on job creators as part of an increase in the debt ceiling.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appears perfectly willing to continue the classic Washington parlor game of promising spending cuts now that will likely never materialize . . . Cut, Cap and Balance is not merely a legislative framework, it is a series of principles.  Principles are not subject to negotiation.  Unfortunately, the Speaker’s plan falls short of meeting these principles.  Perhaps most troubling is the proposed Congressional Commission.  History has shown that such commissions, while well-intentioned, make it easier to raise taxes than to institute enduring budget reforms. Additionally, a symbolic vote on a balanced budget amendment at some later time minimizes its importance, as it will not be tied to an increase in the debt ceiling. A BBA [Balanced Budget Amendment] that allows a tax increase with anything less than a 2/3 supermajority is not a serious measure. The fact remains there is only one plan that has passed the House with bipartisan support that will permanently end America’s debt problem and that is the Cut, Cap and Balance Act.  This Coalition is willing to sacrifice much in return for a permanent solution to this issue, but we will not sacrifice the fundamental principles of CCB.  To be clear, we are not criticizing the Speaker; however, we cannot support his framework, and we urge those who have signed the Pledge to oppose it and hold out for a better plan.

No compromise. Come hell (a default) or high-water (a credit rating downgrade).
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While we've all been reading and hearing about the Cut Cap and Balance plan, I had no idea they are this organized, and that there is a "pledge" involved, and I hadn't seen a list of who had signed the pledge.  Links in Marc's post share that information. 

I'm not surprised to see that Florida's Tea Party Senator Marco Rubio has signed.  (Our other senator, Bill Nelson, is a Democrat - whose seat is at risk in 2012.)  My own Congressman Connie Mack (R) has not - but that's because he doesn't think it is conservative ENOUGH!  He announced his opposition to Cut, Cap and Balance in a July 16 press release titled "Mack Opposes GOP Led Cut, Cap and Balance Legislation If It is Tied to Debt Ceiling Increase."

I agree with Marc.  Scary stuff....

For more information: