A persistent feature of the 2016 Presidential election campaign has been Donald Trump’s steady stream of promises to “make America great again”. The constant repetition of that mantra has motivated me to look back to the time when America was great – and to take another look at how our President was motivating everyone in this country to make such significant strides.
Although television has provided us with constant reminders of President Kennedy’s great oratory skills, that medium has offered us little of what his predecessor, President Dwight Eisenhower offered by way of motivational elocution. After all, the years of the Eisenhower Presidency (1953 – 1961) marked the era when America’s middle class strengthened to the level where young families were buying newly-constructed, air-conditioned homes – as well as shiny, new cars – on a grand scale.
In honor of Ike’s birthday (October 14, 1890) it seems only fitting that we should look back at some of his most noteworthy statements:
Ike gave a speech before the National Association of Newspaper Editors on April 16, 1953. Joseph Stalin had just died on March 5 of that year, and there was heightened pressure for increased military spending, as a result of the burgeoning arms race with Russia. The never-ending debate on whether government expenditures should favor “guns or butter” became the key subject of this speech:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
The ever-expanding rift between the Republican Party’s so-called “Freedom Caucus” and the mainstream Republicans has prompted many GOP commentators to quote the wisdom of President Eisenhower, when discussing this subject:
“Extremes to the right and to the left of any political dispute are always wrong.”
Many of the obnoxious political bloviators, who pollute the airwaves with their toxic commentary, would be wise to take heed of this sage advice from Ike:
“Never question another man’s motive. His wisdom, yes, but not his motives.”
President Eisenhower offered us another bit of important advice to keep in mind during an election year:
“Never let yourself be persuaded that any one Great Man, any one leader, is necessary to the salvation of America. When America consists of one leader and 158 million followers, it will no longer be America.”
When you ask most people to recall a quote made by President Eisenhower, the usual response is a reference to his warning about the unrestrained power of the military-industrial complex. Those remarks were included in Ike’s farewell address, which he presented on television, when he left office on January 17, 1961 – three days before his term expired. I suggest watching the entire speech. It lasts only fifteen minutes and it has remained every bit as relevant today as it was in 1961.
We have never experienced a Presidential campaign with more fact-checking than what we are seeing during the current cycle. The well-timed release of a popular new book by Janine Driver entitled, You Can’t Lie to Me might be one of the reasons why this is happening. Fact-checking websites such as PolitiFact and FactCheck have been overflowing with reports of exaggerations, half-truths and flat-out lies by the candidates and their surrogates.
Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech drew instant criticism from a number of news outlets. I quickly felt vindicated for my last posting, which asserted that Romney made a mistake by selecting Ryan, rather than Ohio Senator Rob Portman, as his running mate. FactCheck provided this breakdown of the misrepresentations in Ryan’s speech:
Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention contained several false claims and misleading statements. Delegates cheered as the vice presidential nominee:
Accused President Obama’s health care law of funneling money away from Medicare “at the expense of the elderly.” In fact, Medicare’s chief actuary says the law “substantially improves” the system’s finances, and Ryan himself has embraced the same savings.
Accused Obama of doing “exactly nothing” about recommendations of a bipartisan deficit commission — which Ryan himself helped scuttle.
Claimed the American people were “cut out” of stimulus spending. Actually, more than a quarter of all stimulus dollars went for tax relief for workers.
Faulted Obama for failing to deliver a 2008 campaign promise to keep a Wisconsin plant open. It closed less than a month before Obama took office.
Blamed Obama for the loss of a AAA credit rating for the U.S. Actually, Standard & Poor’s blamed the downgrade on the uncompromising stands of both Republicans and Democrats.
If the widespread criticism of the veracity of Ryan’s speech had not been bad enough, Runner’s World saw fit to bust Ryan for making a false claim that he once ran a marathon in less than three hours. In reality, it took him just over four hours.
Ultimately, convention speeches are about making the argument for your team. We should fully expect politicians to make their case using facts and figures that either tilt positive about their accomplishment – or negative about their opponents. As the fact-checking business has blossomed in the news media, it has been increasingly hard for politicians to get away with such truth-shading without someone noticing.
Both political parties will stretch the truth if they believe it will advance their political interests. It’s been a rough campaign so far, but the GOP convention that just ended was strictly in the mainstream for such party celebrations.
As the Democratic Convention approaches, a good deal of attention has been focused on PolitiFact’s Obameter, which measures how well Obama has delivered on his campaign promises. PolitiFact’s most recent status report offered this analysis:
Our scorecard shows Obama kept 37 percent of his promises. He brought the war in Iraq to a close and finally achieved the Democratic dream of a universal health care program. When the United States had Osama bin Laden in its sights, Obama issued the order to kill.
Sixteen percent are rated Broken, often because they hit a brick wall in Congress. Global warming legislation passed the House but died in the Senate. He didn’t even push for comprehensive immigration reform. His program to help homeowners facing foreclosure didn’t even meet its own benchmarks. (PolitiFact rates campaign promises based on outcomes, not intentions.)
With four months left in Obama’s term, PolitiFact has rated Obama’s remaining promises Compromise (14 percent), Stalled (10 percent) or In the Works (22 percent).
The ad claims that Romney raised taxes on the middle class. It’s true that Romney imposed a number of fees, but none of them targeted middle-income persons. Also, Romney proposed cutting the state income tax three times – a measure that would have resulted in tax cuts for all taxpayers – but he was rebuffed every time by the state’s Democratic Legislature.
I suspect that the Obama campaign has a secret plan in the works to avoid the scrutiny of fact-checkers during their convention. Their plan to have John Kerry speak is actually part of a plot to cause the fact-checkers to fall asleep. Once “Operation Snoozeboat” is complete, the speakers who follow Kerry will be able to make the wildest claims imaginable – and get away with it!
It’s always reassuring to see that there are a good number of people among us who aren’t easily manipulated by “the powers that be”. Let’s take a look at some examples:
Glen Ford is the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report. On January 11, Mr. Ford discussed how – up until now – the Occupy Wall Street movement has managed to avoid being co-opted by the Democratic Party and MoveOn.org. Unfortunately, the Obama regime may have succeeded in establishing a grip on OWS. Glen Ford offered this explanation:
The Democratic Party may have entered the Occupy Wall Street movement through the “Black door,” in the form of Occupy The Dream, the Black ministers’ group led by former NAACP chief and Million Man March national director Dr. Benjamin Chavis and Baltimore mega-church pastor Rev. Jamal Bryant. Both are fervent supporters of President Obama.
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It appears that Occupy Wall Street’s new Black affiliate is also in “lock-step” with the corporate Democrat in the White House, whose administration has funneled trillions of dollars to Wall Street and greatly expanded U.S. theaters of war.
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Black ministers in campaign mode routinely depict Obama’s political troubles as indistinguishable from threats to “The Dream,” whose embodiment is ensconced in the White House. That’s simply common currency among Black preachers pushing for Obama.
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It is highly unlikely – damn near inconceivable – that Occupy The Dream will do anything that might embarrass this president. Its ministers can be expected to electioneer for Obama at every opportunity. Their January 16 actions are directed at the Federal Reserve, which is technically independent from the executive branch of government – although, in practice, the Fed has been Obama’s principal mechanism for bailing out the banks. Will the ministers pretend, next Monday, that the president is somehow removed from the Fed’s massive transfers of the people’s credit and cash to Wall Street over the past three years?
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At this late stage, there is no antidote to the potential cooptation, except to rev up the movement’s confrontation with the oligarchic powers-that-be – including Wall Street’s guy in the White House. Let’s see what happens if OWS demonstrators join with Occupy The Dream at Federal Reserve sites on January 16 carrying placards unequivocally implicating Obama in the Fed’s bailouts of the banksters, as Occupy demonstrators have done so often in the past. Will the Dream’s leadership be in “lock-step” with that? Maybe so – I’ve heard that miracles sometimes do happen.
Anyone who challenges the Obama administration’s symbiotic relationship with the Wall Street banksters invites accusations of advancing the Republican agenda for regaining control of the White House. This problem will be solved once a populist third-party or Independent candidate rises to pose a serious challenge to the incumbent. Beyond that, an African-American commentator who dares to expose Obama as a tool of Wall Street is likely to face harsh criticism. Glen Ford has demonstrated more courage than most Americans by taking a stand against this venal administration.
Another exemplary individual, whose opinions were never compromised to justify or rationalize the current administration’s tactics, has been economist Joseph Stiglitz – the Nobel laureate who found himself ignored and shut out by the Obama administration ab initio. Professor Stiglitz recently wrote a commentary entitled, “The Perils of 2012” in which he dared to predict an election year fraught with economic despair. Such conditions make for an incumbent President’s worst nightmare. As a result, non-Republican economists are expected to avoid such prognostication. Nevertheless, Professor Stiglitz proceeded to paint an ugly picture of what we can expect in the near term, after first reminding us that there has been no sound policy advanced for mitigating the devastation experienced by the middle class as a result of the 2008 financial crisis:
The year 2011 will be remembered as the time when many ever-optimistic Americans began to give up hope. President John F. Kennedy once said that a rising tide lifts all boats. But now, in the receding tide, Americans are beginning to see not only that those with taller masts had been lifted far higher, but also that many of the smaller boats had been dashed to pieces in their wake.
In that brief moment when the rising tide was indeed rising, millions of people believed that they might have a fair chance of realizing the “American Dream.” Now those dreams, too, are receding. By 2011, the savings of those who had lost their jobs in 2008 or 2009 had been spent. Unemployment checks had run out. Headlines announcing new hiring – still not enough to keep pace with the number of those who would normally have entered the labor force – meant little to the 50 year olds with little hope of ever holding a job again.
Indeed, middle-aged people who thought that they would be unemployed for a few months have now realized that they were, in fact, forcibly retired. Young people who graduated from college with tens of thousands of dollars of education debt cannot find any jobs at all. People who moved in with friends and relatives have become homeless. Houses bought during the property boom are still on the market or have been sold at a loss. More than seven million American families have lost their homes.
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The pragmatic commitment to growth that one sees in Asia and other emerging markets today stands in contrast to the West’s misguided policies, which, driven by a combination of ideology and vested interests, almost seem to reflect a commitment not to grow.
As a result, global economic rebalancing is likely to accelerate, almost inevitably giving rise to political tensions. With all of the problems confronting the global economy, we will be lucky if these strains do not begin to manifest themselves within the next twelve months.
Another commentator who has been “too cool to fool” is equities market analyst, Barry Ritholtz. One of his recent blog postings documented how Ritholtz never accepted the propagandistic pronouncements of the National Retailers Association about Christmas season retail sales. Once the hype began on Black Friday, Ritholtz began his own campaign of debunking the questionable data, touted to boost unjustified confidence about the direction of our economy. Ritholtz concluded the piece with this statement:
Those of you who may have downplayed the potential for a recession to start over the next 12-18 months way want to revisit your views on this. It is far from the low possibility many economists have it pegged at.
Fortunately, not everyone has been as imperceptive as those on the Obama administration’s economic team who admitted that as late as 2009, they underestimated the extent of economic contraction resulting from the 2008 crisis. It’s time for the voting public to dis-employ the political hacks who have allowed this condition to fester. One effective path toward this goal involves voting against incumbents in primary elections. Keep in mind that America’s Congressional districts have been gerrymandered to protect incumbents. As a result, any plan to defeat those officeholders in a general election could be an exercise in futility. Voting against current members of Congress during the primary process can open the door for more capable candidates during the general election. Peter Schweizer’s cause – as expressed in his book, Throw Them All Out, should be on everyone’s front burner during the 2012 primary season.
It seems as though every time some venal politician breaches a campaign promise while attempting to grab a payoff from a lobbyist, the excuse is always the same: “I’ve decided to tack toward the center on this issue.” “The Center” has become stigmatized as the dwelling place of those politicians who lack a moral compass.
I get particularly annoyed by those who persist in characterizing Barack Obama as a “centrist”, who is mimicking Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” strategy. During his campaign and throughout the early days of his Presidency, Obama successfully posed as a centrist. Nevertheless, his track record now demonstrates a policy of what Marshall Auerback described as “gutting the Democratic Party of its core social legacy.” I particularly enjoyed reading the comments to Auerback’s above-quoted piece about Obama entitled, “Worse Than Hoover”. Most of the commentators expressed the opinion that Auerback went way too easy on Obama. Here are some examples:
We have to stop comparing Obama to these iconic American figures. Obama is an opportunistic corporatist. There is no there there.
I’m beginning to wonder if we are still giving Obummer too much credit. Common view seems to be trending toward he’s a manipulative scumbag.
He’s very useful to the plutocracy. A Repub president could never persuade Dems to cut SS, Medicare, and Medicaid and all sorts of other essential programs.
He got the glory and the thrill of winning the election to become the 1st black president and I suspect that’s all the narcissio-path ever really wanted as far as the presidency is concerned. He certainly doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself right now. I think he’s ready to cash out and is trying to create a scenario where he becomes an untenable candidate. He also wants to maintain his celebrity appeal so he’s going to try to posture as the adult of adults that was just too good for dc …
From a more technocratic perspective, I tend to see Obama as a consummate politician – able to inspire – but sadly lacking in intellectual curiosity and overflowing with ego, thus unable to quench his ignorance. This leaves him extremely susceptible to “experts” whom he parrots with enthusiasm. It was experts who helped him pick his advisers and now his expert advisers are misleading him and making him complicit in this quest toward neo-feudalism.
Keep in mind that those comments were not posted at Fox News or some right-wing website. They were posted at Naked Capitalism, where the publisher – Yves Smith – offered a comment of her own in reaction to Marshall Auerback’s “Worse Than Hoover” posting.
Obama is an authoritarian narcissist, an ugly combination.
He also seems unaware of the limits of his knowledge. That can render many otherwise intelligent people stupid in their decisions and actions in their blind spots.
Obama’s foremost critic from the Left is Glenn Greenwald of Salon. Mr. Greenwald has frequently opined that “… Obama wants to be attacked by liberals because of the perception that it politically benefits him by making him look centrist, non-partisan and independent . . . It’s not merely that he lacks a fear of liberal dissatisfaction; it’s that he affirmatively craves it.” Greenwald emphasized the foolishness of following such a course:
But that’s a dangerous strategy. U.S. presidential elections are very closely decided affairs, and alienating the Left even to some degree can be lethal for a national Democratic campaign; shouldn’t the 2000 election, along with 2010, have cemented that lesson forever?
I doubt that Obama is attempting to follow anything similar to Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” strategy. If Obama had been attempting such a plan, it has already backfired to an embarrassing degree, causing irreparable damage to the incumbent’s reelection prospects. Barack Obama has lost his credibility – and in the eyes of the electorate, there is no greater failing.
To get an appreciation for how much damage Obama has caused to his own “brand”, consider this article written by Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs for the Huffington Post:
Thus, at every crucial opportunity, Obama has failed to stand up for the poor and middle class. He refused to tax the banks and hedge funds properly on their outlandish profits; he refused to limit in a serious way the bankers’ mega-bonuses even when the bonuses were financed by taxpayer bailouts; and he even refused to stand up against extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich last December, though 60 percent of the electorate repeatedly and consistently demanded that the Bush tax cuts at the top should be ended. It’s not hard to understand why. Obama and Democratic Party politicians rely on Wall Street and the super-rich for campaign contributions the same way that the Republicans rely on oil and coal. In America today, only the rich have political power.
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America is more militarily engaged under Obama than even under Bush. Amazing but true.
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The stimulus legislation, pushed by Obama at the start of his term on the basis of antiquated economic theories, wasted the public’s money and also did something much worse. It discredited the vital role of public spending in solving real and long-term problems. Rather than thinking ahead and planning for long-term solutions, he simply spent money on short-term schemes.
Obama’s embrace of “shovel-ready” infrastructure, for example, left America with an economy based on shovels while China’s long-term strategy has given that country an economy based on 21st-century Maglev trains. Now that the resort to mega-deficits has run its course, Obama is on the verge of abandoning the poor and middle class, by agreeing with the plutocrats in Congress to cut spending on Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and discretionary civilian spending, while protecting the military and the low tax rates on the rich (if not lowering those top tax rates further according to the secret machinations of the Gang of Six, now endorsed by the president!)
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America needs a third-party movement to break the hammerlock of the financial elites. Until that happens, the political class and the media conglomerates will continue to spew lies, American militarism will continue to destabilize a growing swath of the world, and the country will continue its economic decline.
The urgent need for a third-party movement was also the subject of this recent piece at The Economic Populist:
If the country had a legitimate third party to vote for, the Democrats and Republicans would be in serious trouble. Of course, the political system is geared to prevent third parties from emerging, so the country flounders about, looking for leadership from pusillanimous Democrats or ideological Republicans who consider raising taxes a mortal sin. The voters are probably a few steps away from concluding what is meant to be hidden but by now should be obvious: American democracy doesn’t exist, and the political system in Washington is beyond repair. What is worse: there are people and organizations who like things just the way they are and will fight any attempts at reform.
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None of this suggests that Barack Obama is even considering abandoning his servitude to corporate interests. He’s merrily going along from one fundraiser to the next, raising millions of dollars each week from hedge fund managers and corporate lobbyists, so that he can get reelected as a “centrist” and bipartisan deal maker. This is based on his reading of what The People want – an end to the divisiveness in Washington – but Obama is fundamentally misreading the problem in Washington. It isn’t the rancor, name-calling, and petulance that is constantly on display which worries the American people. It is the backroom deals, the hidden bailouts, the tax evasions, the deregulation initiatives, the lack of prosecution for criminal behavior, that is more than frustrating Americans, because the beneficiaries of all this are wealthy people and corporations who have shifted power and money to themselves. Voters want this system overthrown – even the Tea Party voters, who keep searching for Republicans who will finally say no to corporate money.
In the mean time, we are stuck witnessing America’s demise. If you think that Obama’s critics from the Left are the only people voicing a dispirited attitude about our country’s future, be sure to read this essay at Counterpunch, “An Economy Destroyed”, written by Paul Craig Roberts – Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during the Reagan Administration and the co-creator of Reaganomics:
Recently, the bond rating agencies that gave junk derivatives triple-A ratings threatened to downgrade US Treasury bonds if the White House and Congress did not reach a deficit reduction deal and debt ceiling increase. The downgrade threat is not credible, and neither is the default threat. Both are make-believe crises that are being hyped in order to force cutbacks in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
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The US economy is driven by consumer demand, but with 22.3 per cent unemployment, stagnant and declining wages and salaries, and consumer debt burdens so high that consumers cannot borrow to spend, there is nothing to drive the economy.
Washington’s response to this dilemma is to increase the austerity! Cutting back Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, forcing down wages by destroying unions and offshoring jobs (which results in a labor surplus and lower wages), and driving up the prices of food and energy by depreciating the dollar further erodes consumer purchasing power. The Federal Reserve can print money to rescue the crooked financial institutions, but it cannot rescue the American consumer.
As a final point, confront the fact that you are even lied to about “deficit reduction.” Even if Obama gets his $4 trillion “deficit reduction” over the next decade, it does not mean that the current national debt will be $4 trillion less than it currently is. The “reduction” merely means that the growth in the national debt will be $4 trillion less than otherwise. Regardless of any “deficit reduction,” the national debt ten years from now will be much higher than it presently is.
The longer you think about it – the more obvious it becomes: We really need to sweep all of those bastards out of Washington as quickly as possible and replace them with intelligent, honest individuals who are willing to represent this country’s human inhabitants – rather than its corporations, lobbies and “special interests”.
Comments Off on Elizabeth Warren Should Run Against Obama
Now that President Obama has thrown Elizabeth Warren under the bus by nominating Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), she is free to challenge Obama in the 2012 election. It’s not a very likely scenario, although it’s one I’d love to see: Warren as the populist, Independent candidate – challenging Obama, the Wall Street tool – who is already losing to a phantom, unspecified Republican.
A good number of people were disappointed when Obama failed to nominate Warren to chair the CFPB, which was her brainchild. It was bad enough that Treasury Secretary “Turbo” Tim Geithner didn’t like her – but once the President realized he was getting some serious pushback about Warren from Senate Republicans – that was all it took. Some Warren supporters have become enamored with the idea that she could challenge Scott Brown for his seat representing Massachusetts in the Senate. However, many astute commentators consider that as a really stupid idea. Here is the reaction from Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism:
We argued yesterday that the Senate was not a good vehicle for advancing Elizabeth Warren’s aims of helping middle class families, since she would have no more, and arguably less power than she has now, and would be expected to defend Democrat/Obama policies, many of which are affirmatively destructive to middle class interests (just less so than what the Republicans would put in place).
A poll conducted in late June by Scott Brown and the Republican National Committee raises an even more basic question: whether she even has a shot at winning.
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The poll shows a 25 point gap, which is a massive hurdle, and also indicates that Brown is seen by many voters as not being a Republican stalwart (as in he is perceived to vote for the state’s, not the party’s, interest). A 25 point gap is a near insurmountable hurdle and shows that Warren’s reputation does not carry as far as the Democratic party hackocracy would like her fans to believe. But there’s no reason not to get this pesky woman to take up what is likely to be a poisoned chalice. If she wins, she’s unlikely to get on any important committees, given the Democratic party pay to play system, and will be boxed in by the practical requirements of having to make nice to the party and support Obama positions a meaningful portion of the time. And if she runs and loses, it would be taken as proof that her middle class agenda really doesn’t resonate with voters, which will give the corporocrats free rein (if you can’t sell a liberal agenda in a borderline Communist state like Massachusetts, it won’t play in Peoria either).
Obviously, a 2012 challenge to the Obama Presidency by Warren would be an uphill battle. Nevertheless, it’s turning out to be an uphill battle for the incumbent, as well. David Weidner of MarketWatch recently discussed how Obama’s failure to adequately address the economic crisis has placed the President under the same pressure faced by many Americans today:
He’s about to lose his job.
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Blame as much of the problem on his predecessor as you like, the fact is Obama hasn’t come up with a solution. In fact, he’s made things worse by filling his top economic posts with banking-friendly interests, status-quo advisers and milquetoast regulators.
And if there’s one reason Obama loses in 2012, it’ll be because he failed to surround himself with people willing to take drastic action to get the economy moving again.
In effect, Obama’s team has rewarded the banking industry under the guise of “saving the economy” while abandoning citizens and consumers desperate for jobs, credit and spending power.
There was the New York Fed banker cozy with Wall Street: Timothy Geithner.
There was the former Clinton administration official who was the architect of policies that led to the financial crisis: Larry Summers.
There was a career bureaucrat named to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission: Mary Schapiro.
To see just how unremarkable this group is, consider that the most progressive regulator in the Obama administration, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair, was a Republican appointed by Bush.
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The lack of action by Obama’s administration of mediocrities is the reason the recovery sputters. In essence, the turnaround depends too much on a private sector that, having escaped failure, is too content to sit out what’s supposed to be a recovery.
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What began as a two-step approach: 1) saving the banks, and then 2) saving homeowners, was cut short after the first step.
Instead of extracting more lending commitments from the banks, forcing more haircuts on investors and more demands on business, Obama has let his team of mediocrities allow the debate to be turned on government. The government caused the financial crisis. The government ruined the housing market.
It wasn’t true at the start, but it’s becoming true now.
Despite his status as the incumbent and his $1 billion campaign war chest, President Obama could find himself voted out of office in 2012. When you consider the fact that the Republican Party candidates who are currently generating the most excitement are women (Bachmann and the undeclared Palin) just imagine how many voters might gravitate to a populist female candidate with substantially more brains than Obama.
The disillusionment factor afflicting Obama is not something which can be easily overlooked. The man I have referred to as the “Disappointer-In-Chief” since his third month in office has lost more than the enthusiasm of his “base” supporters – he has lost the false “progressive” image he had been able to portray. Matt Stoller of the Roosevelt Institute explained how the real Obama had always been visible to those willing to look beyond the campaign slogans:
Many people are “disappointed” with Obama. But, while it is certainly true that Obama has broken many many promises, he projected his goals in his book The Audacity of Hope. In Audacity, he discussed how in 2002 he was going to give politics one more shot with a Senate campaign, and if that didn’t work, he was going into corporate law and getting wealthy like the rest of his peer group. He wrote about how passionate activists were too simple-minded, that the system basically worked, and that compromise was a virtue in and of itself in a world of uncertainty. His book was a book about a fundamentally conservative political creature obsessed with process, not someone grounded in the problems of ordinary people. He told us what his leadership style is, what his agenda was, and he’s executing it now.
I expressed skepticism towards Obama from 2005, onward. Paul Krugman, Debra Cooper, and Tom Ferguson among others pegged Obama correctly from day one. Obama broadcast who he was, through his conservative policy focus (which is how Krugman pegged him), his bank backers (which is how Ferguson pegged him), his political support of Lieberman (which is how I pegged him), and his cavalier treatment of women’s issues (which is how Debra Cooper pegged him). He is doing so again, with his choice to effectively remove Elizabeth Warren from the administration.
I just wish Elizabeth Warren would fight back and challenge Obama for The White House. If only . . .
The Tea Party movement brought us more than a few Republicans who described themselves as “libertarian”, only to advance the agenda of the televangelist lobby once they were elected to office. Beyond that, the “tax reform” they espouse applies only to corporations and the wealthy, with the middle class left to pay the difference to the Corporate Welfare State.
The 2012 Presidential campaign is now wide-open with the entry of an authentic libertarian, who has jumped into contention for the Republican nomination. Although Ron Paul (a former Presidential nominee, representing the Libertarian Party in the 1988 election) has been receiving more than a little encouragement to make another White House bid (he won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference – CPAC) his age is a huge obstacle. As Congressman Paul approaches his 76th birthday, many consider him too old for the job.
April 21 brought us the entry of Gary Johnson, a former Governor of New Mexico, into the race for the Republican Presidential Nomination. At age 58, he is an active triathlete, who successfully climbed to the summit of Mt. Everest in 2003. This guy brings loads of excitement into the race and is likely the only Republican who could defeat Barack Obama. Gary Johnson’s support from outside the ranks of the Republican Party extends – not only to Independent voters – but to Democrats. That’s right. Gary Johnson could actually win the votes of a significant number of Democrats – something no other Republican could accomplish. Republicans are going to have to take Johnson very seriously. Nevertheless, Gary Johnson will surely make the televangelist lobby sick with his hardcore libertarian views.
Some recent articles about Johnson are the stuff of Bill O’Reilly’s worst nightmares. For example, an April 20 piece by Christian Heinze for The Hill included this tidbit about the new candidate:
He’s running for the Republican presidential nomination on a platform that calls for withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq – a position that’s anathema to the party’s ruling class. He also supports abortion rights and, most controversially, favors legalizing marijuana.
See what I mean? Johnson has the guts to speak out for the changes which many Democratic voters would like to see – and which Barack Obama would never even bother to include among his trademark, false campaign promises.
Republican pundits regularly emphasize the importance of a candidate’s history of success in the business world, which is perhaps why they are now fretting that the party could be stuck with Donald Trump as its 2012 nominee. Willard Romney’s inherited wealth gave him the opportunity to participate in the private equity business (Bain Capital) which he left in 1999 to become CEO of the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. As a result, Romney has been able to contrast that background against the qualifications of his political opponents, who have generally spent their adult lives at the public trough. Gary Johnson presents a fresh challenge to Romney in the area of business credentials. Johnson started his own construction business in the 1970s and became a self-made millionaire.
As a two-term Governor of New Mexico, Johnson didn’t hesitate to veto bills. He used the veto pen more than 750 times and kept the state budget under control.
Johnson’s view of the 2012 budget proposed by Congressional Republicans is not likely to win him any new friends in the party’s establishment. Here is what we learned from The Hill:
He claims the biggest threat to U.S. security is the nation’s debt, and to show how serious he is about fighting it, he says Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) proposed budget actually isn’t serious enough.
“It takes too long, and only get us a quarter of where we should be many years down the road,” he said.
One of the more informative essays about Gary Johnson was written by Niall Stanage for Salon on May 5, 2010. That piece points out how Johnson doesn’t have much use for Rush Limbaugh or Jesus, which could cause him some trouble with the Republican base – many of whom have trouble differentiating between those two individuals. Worse yet, the people at Fox News probably pulled out their hair after reading this:
Ask Johnson what he thinks of Barack Obama, for instance, and rather than the stream of vitriol that might issue semi-automatically from the lips of some party colleagues, he answers: “You can’t help but like him.”
Obama, he says, “touched” him with his rhetoric during the 2008 campaign, though he adds that the president has proven disappointing and disingenuous since then.
After reading that remark, I was on the verge of giving Gary Johnson my unqualified endorsement. Let’s see how he does on the campaign trail.
The 2012 Presidential race just became really interesting!
Donald Trump has enjoyed a good deal of publicity during the past few weeks, since he jumped on the “birther” bandwagon, voicing skepticism as to whether Barack Obama was really born in the United States. Many of Trump’s critics insist that The Donald is not a serious Presidential candidate and that his newfound “birther” agenda demonstrates that his Presidential campaign is nothing more than a flimflam publicity stunt.
I have a different theory. I believe that Trump is running a “decoy” campaign. Keep in mind that Trump is currently the #2 contender for the Republican nomination. Remember also that the Republican Presidential primaries for 11 states (and the District of Columbia) are conducted on a “winner-take-all” basis – meaning that when a candidate wins a state primary, that candidate wins all of the delegates who will represent that state at the Republican National Convention. If Trump can win a few of those states, he could amass an impressive amount of “pledged” delegates. I suspect that Trump’s goal is to win the support from the extreme right wing of the Republican Party and “hijack” those delegates who would have been otherwise pledged to candidates acceptable to the Tea Party. Bill O’Reilly’s intervention to defuse the “birther” controversy (at which point he insisted that Trump has not been seriously seeking the nomination) was apparently motivated by the fact that the candidates most likely to be eliminated from contention because of Trump’s presence – Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin – are both darlings of Fox News. In fact, Palin is a Fox News contributor.
At the 2012 Republican Convention in Tampa, Trump could step aside and support Willard Romney, who is despised my many Tea Party activists for having created what is now known as “Obamacare”. Trump’s elimination of the Tea Party favorites before the convention would solve Romney’s problem with that voting bloc. Romney can be expected to have an equally difficult time winning the support of dog lovers, as a result of his decision to strap the family dog, Seamus, to the car roof for a 12-hour family vacation drive to Ontario. Despite his “Presidential” appearance, this Homer Simpson-esque episode from Romney’s life has already impaired efforts to portray him as a potentially effective Commander-In-Chief.
Meanwhile, President Obama is busy trumpeting his newly-minted, false campaign promises. Gallup reported that on April 15, Obama’s approval rating had tied its all-time low of 41%. More interestingly, his approval rating among African-American and Hispanic voters is beginning to slip from its enormously-high levels:
Though majorities of blacks (85%) and Hispanics (54%) continue to approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as president, his ratings among these groups slipped in March and have set or tied new lows.
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Obama, elected to office with strong support from minority voters, has averaged better than 90% approval among blacks, and 65% among Hispanics, during his term. Prior to March, Obama’s lowest monthly average among blacks was 88% in July 2010 and December 2010. The president’s 54% March job approval rating among Hispanics ties the low from July and August 2010.
Despite the efforts of Republican commentators, such as Peggy Noonan, to create a narrative to the effect that Obama’s waning popularity – as well as the losses sustained by the Democrats in the 2010 elections – resulted from voter concern about government spending and the deficit, I suspect that Americans have simply become alienated by the failure of Obama and his party to deliver on their 2008 promises. Worse yet, the capitulation to the interests of Wall Street by Democrats who promised “reform” has reinforced voter apathy – the real factor in the 2010 Democratic setbacks.
Cord Jefferson of Good provided this graphic of what Congress would look like if it truly represented America. The failure of Democrats to win the support of Independent and centrist voters is readily apparent. You can blame gerrymandering all you want, but as long as the Democrats fail to provide alternatives to Republican policies, they will continue to lose. I believe it was William Black who said:
Under America’s two-party system, we have one party that is owned by big business and another party that sells out to big business.
I was pleased to see my own sentiments shared and articulated quite well by Mike Kimel of the Presimetrics Blog, in his recent posting entitled, “Why I Will Not be Voting for Obama in 2012”. Although Mr. Kimel doesn’t have an alternative candidate in mind, the very reason for his disillusionment with Obama is that – with respect to the nation’s most significant problems – our current President has proposed no alternative policies to those of his predecessor:
And yes, there are a handful of things Obama did that GW might not do, but let’s be realistic – this has looked from the very beginning like GW’s third term.
Which leaves just one question – if the policies of the Republicans are even worse than Obama’s – and they tend to support anti-growth tax policies (calling them pro-growth doesn’t change the data), what should a rational person do? I don’t know. But I think if I’m going to see Republican policies enacted, I’d prefer to see them run under a Republican label. See, Democratic policies may not be very good, but historically they have tended to produce better results than Republican policies. (BTW – Michael Kanell and I have an entire book called Presimetrics looking at how Presidents performed on a wide range of topics.) Another four years spent bringing the feeble Democratic brand down to the levels of the even more feeble Republican brand will cause lasting damage.
Obama will never re-ignite the enthusiasm of 2008 by presenting himself to the voters as “the devil you know” or “the lesser of two evils”. What America’s middle class really needs is an honest, Independent candidate to make a run for The White House in 2012.
After establishing an economic advisory team consisting of retreads from the Clinton White House, President Obama has persisted in approaching the 2010 economy as though it were the 1996 economy.
After I posted my April 7 piece, I felt a bit remorseful about repeating a stale theme. Nevertheless, a few days later, Ezra Klein’s widely-acclaimed Washington Post critique of President Obama’s misadventure in “negotiating” the 2011 budget was entitled, “2011 is not 1995”. Ezra Klein validated the point I was trying to make:
Clinton’s success was a function of a roaring economy. The late ‘90s were a boom time like few others — and not just in America. The unemployment rate was less than 6 percent in 1995, and fell to under 5 percent in 1996. Cutting deficits was the right thing to do at that time. Deficits should be low to nonexistent when the economy is strong, and larger when it is weak. The Obama administration’s economists know that full well. They are, after all, the very people who worked to balance the budget in the 1990s, and who fought to expand the deficit in response to the recession.
Right now, the economy is weak. Giving into austerity will weaken it further, or at least delay recovery for longer. And if Obama does not get a recovery, then he will not be a successful president, no matter how hard he works to claim Boehner’s successes as his own.
President Obama’s attempt at spin control with a claim of “bragging rights” for ending the budget stalemate brought similar criticism from economist Brad DeLong:
To reduce federal government spending by $38 billion in the second and third quarters of 2011 when the unemployment rate is 8.9% and the U.S. Treasury can borrow on terms that make pulling spending forward from the future into the present essentially free is not an accomplishment.
It will knock between 0.5% and 1.0% off the growth rate of real GDP in the second half of 2011, and leave us at the start of 2012 with an unemployment rate a couple of tenths of a percent higher than it would have been otherwise.
Robert Reich expressed his disappointment with the President’s handling of the 2011 budget deal by highlighting Mr. Obama’s failure to put the interests of the middle class ahead of the goals of the plutocracy:
He is losing the war of ideas because he won’t tell the American public the truth: That we need more government spending now – not less – in order to get out of the gravitational pull of the Great Recession.
That we got into the Great Recession because Wall Street went bonkers and government failed to do its job at regulating financial markets. And that much of the current deficit comes from the necessary response to that financial crisis.
That the only ways to deal with the long-term budget problem is to demand that the rich pay their fair share of taxes, and to slow down soaring health-care costs.
And that, at a deeper level, the increasingly lopsided distribution of income and wealth has robbed the vast working middle class of the purchasing power they need to keep the economy going at full capacity.
“We preserved the investments we need to win the future,” he said last night. That’s not true.
The idea that a huge portion of our current deficit comes from the response to the financial crisis created by Wall Street banks was explored in more detail by Cullen Roche of Pragmatic Capitalism. The approach of saving the banks, under the misguided notion that relief would “trickle down” to Main Street didn’t work. The second round of quantitative easing (QE 2) has proven to be nothing more than an imprudent decision to follow Japan’s ineffective playbook:
And in 2008 our government was convinced by Timothy Geithner, Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke that if we just saved the banks we would fix the economy. So we embarked on the “recovery” plan that has led us to one of the weakest recoveries in US economic history. Because of the keen focus on the banking system there is a clear two tier recovery. Wall Street is thriving again and Main Street is still struggling.
QE2 has truly been a “monetary non-event”. As many of us predicted at its onset, this program has shown absolutely no impact on the US money supply (much to the dismay of the hyperinflationists). And now its damaging psychological impact (via rampant speculation) has altered the options available to combat the continuing balance sheet recession. While more stimulus is almost certainly off the table given the Fed’s misguided QE2 policy, it would be equally misguided to begin cutting the current budget deficit. Sizable cuts before the end of the balance sheet recession will almost guarantee that the US economy suffers a Japan-like relapse. It’s not too late to learn from the mistakes of Japan.
So where is the leader who is going to save us from a Japanese-style “lost decade” recession? It was over two years ago when I posed this question:
Will the Obama administration’s “failure of nerve” – by avoiding bank nationalization – send us into a ten-year, “Japan-style” recession? It’s beginning to look that way.
One of the sleaziest, most disingenuous arguments exploited by politicians is the “wealth redistribution” theme. Whenever an influential corporate sponsor of some creepy politician is confronted with proposed legislation, which might change the status quo by reducing unconscionable profiteering, we are told that the new bill is a “socialist” attempt at “wealth redistribution”. Unfortunately, there are too many sheeple who don’t realize that “wealth redistribution” already happened.
The recent uprisings in the Middle East have demonstrated how difficult it can be to maintain a plutocracy in the modern world. As the American voting public becomes more familiar with the economic circumstances which led to the Egyptian turmoil, attention gradually gets refocused on how our domestic situation compares with Mubarak’s dystopia. Blogger “George Washington” (a former law school professor) of Washington’s Blog recently wrote a piece concerning how the “Gini coefficient” demonstrates that America’s upward wealth redistribution has reduced this nation to banana republic status:
Egyptian, Tunisian and Yemeni protesters all say that inequality is one of the main reasons they’re protesting.
However, the U.S. actually has much greater inequality than in any of those countries.
Specifically, the “Gini Coefficient” – the figure economists use to measure inequality – is higher in the U.S.
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Gini Coefficients are like golf – the lower the score, the better (i.e. the more equality).
According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. is ranked as the 42nd most unequal country in the world, with a Gini Coefficient of 45.
Tunisia is ranked the 62nd most unequal country, with a Gini Coefficient of 40.
Yemen is ranked 76th most unequal, with a Gini Coefficient of 37.7.
And Egypt is ranked as the 90th most unequal country, with a Gini Coefficient of around 34.4.
And inequality in the U.S. has soared in the last couple of years, since the Gini Coefficient was last calculated, so it is undoubtedly currently much higher.
So why are Egyptians rioting, while the Americans are complacent?
Well, Americans – until recently – have been some of the wealthiest people in the world, with most having plenty of comforts (and/or entertainment) and more than enough to eat.
But another reason is that – as Dan Ariely of Duke University and Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School demonstrate – Americans consistently underestimate the amount of inequality in our nation.
Ariely and Norton’s paper, based on their 2005 poll of 5,522 citizens about their preferences for wealth division, has been the subject of much commentary. Last fall, Bruce Watson wrote an article for Daily Finance discussing Ariely and Norton’s report. As Watson explained, the following empirical data compiled by Professor Edward Wolff, (and incorporated into the Ariely-Norton paper) portrayed the “real world” wealth distribution in America:
Currently, 85% of America’s wealth, which is defined as total assets minus total liabilities, is held by the country’s richest 20%. Meanwhile the upper middle class holds 11%, the middle class has 4%, and the lower class and poor share an anemic 0.3%.
In the poll, the vast majority of Americans across the political, gender and wealth spectrum displayed a markedly skewed understanding of how America’s money is divided. On average, respondents thought that the rich hold only 58% of the nation’s wealth, 32% less than their actual holdings. They thought that the middle class controls 13% of the country’s wealth, more than three times their actual holdings. As for the bottom 40% of the population, the assumption was that the lower class and poor own a measly 9% of the country’s wealth. In reality, these two groups control about one thirtieth of that amount.
Who Should Get the Money?
Although the perception that America’s wealth distribution is unfair cut across partisan lines, Republicans and Democrats disagreed about the ideal distribution. People who voted for George Bush believed that the richest 20% of the population deserved roughly 35% of the nation’s wealth. Kerry voters radically disagreed: they felt that the rich deserved only about 30%. When it came to the country’s poorest citizens, Bush voters felt that they deserved about 9% of the country’s assets; Kerry voters preferred to give them 12%.
Respondents making over $100,000 per year, the group most heavily skewed toward a top-heavy distribution of wealth, advocated a system in which the top 20% received about 40% of the country’s assets and the bottom 20% got roughly 7%. Yet even this comparatively Dickensian wealth distribution still gave America’s rich less than half of their current holdings, while giving the poorest more than twenty times their current holdings.
In October of 2008, before the full extent of the Wall Street megabank bailouts had been completely understood by most Americans (and before those multi-million-dollar bonuses had been awarded to the malefactors who caused the financial crisis) the Gallup Organization conducted a poll on the subject of wealth redistribution. This is what they observed:
A majority of Americans (58%) say money and wealth should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people, although slightly less than half (46%) go so far as to say that the government should redistribute wealth by “heavy taxes on the rich.”
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Still, in each of the four times Gallup has asked this question in recent years, between 45% and 51% of Americans have gone so far as to agree with the fairly harsh-sounding policy of “redistribut[ing] wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.”
Because the polls discussed above reveal that the current wealth distribution is unacceptable to most Americans, the “wealth redistribution” argument — as it is often used by politicians – should be a non-starter. Perhaps a program of “enhanced tax incentives for generosity” might enjoy more widespread acceptance than Gallup’s “heavy taxes on the rich” – to the point where an overwhelming majority of Americans would support it.
Unfortunately, unless that “overwhelming majority of Americans” has an army of lobbyists to advance such an initiative, the cash registers politicians portraying the effort as “socialism” will be the only voices that matter.
Comments Off on If Joe The Plumber Knew Bill Ayers
October 16, 2008
The final Presidential debate turned an ordinary, hard-working American into a cult hero. Not since the introduction of Sarah Palin onto the national political scene, have we seen such an “overnight sensation”. Once again, we have John McCain to thank.
It all started on Sunday, October 12. Senator Barack Obama was working the crowds in the battleground state of Ohio. While meeting the people in Holland, Ohio, the television camera crews caught an exchange between Obama and a gentleman named Joe Wurzelbacher. On the evening of Wednesday October 15, after the debate, the Associated Press informed us that Joe had been interested in buying a plumbing business. He was concerned about Obama’s tax plan. Apparently, this plumbing business generated enough income to put it over Obama’s $250,000 tax threshold, although not significantly above that. Joe would likely be getting “the worst of both worlds” under the Obama plan: He would have to pay the 39-percent tax instead of a 36-percent tax and as a result, he might pocket a net income lower than what the business would get if that company had earned less than $250,000. According to the Associated Press report on the conversation, the following exchange took place:
“It’s not that I want to punish your success,” Obama said. “I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you that they’ve got a chance at success, too.”
At a later point in the discussion, Obama said: “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody. But listen, I respect what you do and I respect your question, and even if I don’t get your vote, I’m still gonna be working hard on your behalf because small businesses are what creates jobs in this country and I want to encourage it.”
McCain seemed excited that the Obama campaign had abandoned that huge demographic of small business owners earning between $250,000 and $300,000. His campaign finally found its target audience! Better yet, Obama had used the expression: “spread the wealth around” — a catch-phrase validating the claim that “liberals” are on a mission to redistribute the wealth. Of course, this concern resonates only with rich people. It has never caused America’s (now disappearing) middle class to lose any sleep.
Joe Wurzelbacher was identified during that final debate as: “Joe The Plumber”. He would become the archetype for those segments of the voting public, not yet ready to accept Obama as their choice for the Presidency. If Obama wants to sweep all 50 States (and The District) in this election, he will need to win the support of “Joe The Plumber” and most of Joe’s peers. Joe appears to be a man who is very street-wise. He resembles the character on the label of Mister Clean, an ammonia-based cleaning solution that many of us recall from childhood. He might not be from a big city like Chicago … but he knows how to “read” people. We could see this during the video clip of his conversation with Obama. After the Democrat placed his left hand on Joe’s right shoulder – Joe immediately recoiled, folding his arms over his chest. That was some great body language! McCain’s handlers must have loved this. Joe saw through the “politician’s trick” of attempting to win the trust of a voter by touching that person. Joe was not about to be “played” by a politician on national TV – Presidential candidate or not!
Poor Joe is now being set upon by a mob of bloggers, reporters and wonks. They will be in his face from now until Election Day. Rest assured that during the final weeks of this campaign, Obama will be presenting his case to the Joe Wurzelbachers of America. News analysts will be dissecting the candidates’ tax plans to determine which is better for Joe. For his part, Joe will suffer through a huge invasion of his own privacy.
In a perfect world (my imagination) the non-stop interviews would eventually turn up an interesting coincidence: that Joe had once crossed paths with the vilified Bill Ayers (the other star of that final debate). If only … The press would ask Joe about this and he would say:
I worked a job about ten years ago. I did the plumbing for a redevelopment effort in Gary, Indiana, to help the neighborhoods affected by the closing of the steel mills there. It was called the Community Rescue Advancement Project. We just called it “The Project”. We couldn’t use the initials. That Bill Ayers guy was a leader of the project. It was a charity. His real job was a college professor or college dean or something. I met him a few times. In fact, he signed the checks I got. He didn’t really sign them himself … It was just his signature printed by a computer. You know: embossed – like with the little holes punched into a multi-colored signature that said: “William Ayers”. I found out later that he was a radical from the 1960s. They use the term “terrorists” now but we used to just call them: “Hippie Radicals”. The first real terrorist here was the guy in Oklahoma City who blew up that Federal Building. These hippies just fought with the police and blew off bombs that damaged equipment and stuff. I don’t know if they really hurt anybody. In fact, I read somewhere that all of these 60s radicals were actually working with the CIA and using police officers as guinea pigs to test riot weapons they could use to overthrow communist dictators in the banana republics and stuff. These hippies ended up getting stock options from the companies that made these weapons – really weird stuff, you know: like mace with LSD in it — kinky, perverted stuff like the CIA would come up with. Anyway, these guys are all jillionaires right now. Look at Jerry Rubin! He’s a HUGE guy on Wall Street! Anyway, I learned during the campaign that this Ayers guy used to be a radical. When I met him, he didn’t seem like a hippie. His hair was short but he did have John Lennon glasses. I couldn’t imagine him fighting the police because he looked … you know, uhh … kinda’ gay. Besides, he was too old to be fighting police when I met him.
Unfortunately, the real “Joe The Plumber” will probably not have any such information to share with his bothersome inquisitors. In a perfect world, he would. In a perfect world: the Dow Jones would be climbing past 14,000. In a perfect world . . .
TheCenterLane.com offers opinion, news and commentary on politics, the economy, finance and other random events that either find their way into the news or are ignored by the news reporting business. As the name suggests, our focus will be on what seems to be happening in The Center Lane of American politics and what the view from the Center reveals about the events in the left and right lanes. Your Host, John T. Burke, Jr., earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Boston College with a double major in Speech Communications and Philosophy. He earned his law degree (Juris Doctor) from the Illinois Institute of Technology / Chicago-Kent College of Law.