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Here Comes Huntsman

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The bombastic non-Romney Republican Presidential hopeful, Herman Cain, has been providing us with a very entertaining meltdown.  He has attempted to silence the handful of women, who came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment, with threatened defamation suits.  Nevertheless, a woman who claimed to have been his paramour for thirteen years – Ginger White – possessed something the other women lacked:  documentation to back up her claim.  She has produced phone records, revealing that Cain was in contact with her at all hours of the day and night.  Cain’s humorously disingenuous response:  He was providing advice to Ms. White concerning her financial problems.  When I first heard about Ginger White’s allegations, I assumed that she was motivated to tell her story because she felt outraged that Cain had been trying to cheat on her by making inappropriate advances toward those other women.

The next non-Romney candidate to steal the Republican spotlight was Newt Gingrich.  Aside from the fact that Newt exudes less charisma than a cockroach, he has a “baggage” problem.  Maureen Dowd provided us with an entertaining analysis of the history professor’s own history.  The candidate and his backers must be counting on that famously short memory of the voting public.  The biggest problem for Gingrich is that even if he could win the Republican nomination, he will never get elected President.

Meanwhile, Romney’s fellow Mormon, Jon Huntsman, is gaining momentum in New Hampshire.  Huntsman has something the other Republicans lack:  the ability to win support from Independent and Democratic voters.  The unchallenged iron fists of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, currently in control of the Republican party, have dictated to the masses that the very traits which give Huntsman a viable chance at the Presidency – are negative, undesirable characteristics.

Conservative commentator Ross Douthat of The New York Times, took a hard look at the mismanaged Huntsman campaign:

Huntsman is branded as the Republican field’s lonely moderate, of course, which is one reason why he’s currently languishing at around 3 percent in the polls.

*   *   *

Huntsman has none of Romney’s health care baggage, and unlike the former Massachusetts governor, he didn’t spend the last decade flip-flopping on gun rights, immigration and abortion.

*   *   *

At the same time, because Huntsman is perceived as less partisan than his rivals, he has better general election prospects.  The gears and tumblers of my colleague Nate Silver’s predictive models give Huntsman a 55 percent chance of knocking off the incumbent even if the economy grows at a robust 4 percent, compared to Romney’s 40 percent.

*   *   *

On issues ranging from foreign affairs to financial reform, Huntsman’s proposals have been an honorable exception to the pattern of gimmickry and timidity that has characterized the Republican field’s policy forays.

But his salesmanship has been staggeringly inept.  Huntsman’s campaign was always destined to be hobbled by the two years he spent as President Obama’s ambassador to China.  But he compounded the handicap by introducing himself to the Republican electorate with a series of symbolic jabs at the party’s base.

As Ross Douthat pointed out, New Hampshire will be Huntsman’s “make-or-break” state.  The candidate is currently polling at 11 percent in New Hampshire and he has momentum on his side.  Rachelle Cohen of the Boston Herald focused on Huntsman’s latest moves, which are providing his campaign with some traction:

Monday Huntsman introduced a financial plan aimed at cutting the nation’s biggest banks and financial institutions down to size so that they are no longer “too big to fail” and, therefore, would never again become a burden on the American taxpayer.

“There will be no more bailouts in this country,” he said, because taxpayers won’t put up with that kind of strategy again.  “I would impose a fee [on the banks] to protect the taxpayers until the banks right-size themselves.”

The strategy, of course, is likely to be music to the ears of anyone who despised not just the bailouts but those proposed Bank of America debit card fees.  And, of course, it gives Huntsman a good opening to make a punching bag of Mitt Romney.

“If you’re raising money from the big banks and financial institutions, you’re never going to get it done,” he said, adding, “Mitt Romney is in the hip pocket of Wall Street.”  Lest there be any doubt about his meaning.

That issue also happens to be the Achilles heel for President Obama.  Immediately after he was elected, Obama smugly assumed that Democratic voters would have to put up with his sellout to Wall Street because the Republican party would never offer an alternative.  Huntsman’s theme of cracking down on Wall Street will redefine the Huntsman candidacy and it could pose a serious threat to Obama’s reelection hopes.  Beyond that, as Ms. Cohen noted, Huntsman brings a unique skill set, which distinguishes him from his Republican competitors:

But it’s on foreign policy that Huntsman – who served not only in China and Singapore but as a deputy U.S. trade representative with a special role in Asia – excels, and not just because he’s fluent in Mandarin.

This is the guy anyone would feel comfortable having answer that proverbial 3 a.m. phone call Hillary Clinton once talked about.

If that phone call is coming from China – Huntsman won’t have to wake up an interpreter to conduct the conversation in Chinese.

Any other Republican candidate will serve as nothing more than a doormat for Obama.  On the other hand, if Jon Huntsman wins the Republican nomination, there will be a serious possibility that the Democrats could lose control of the White House.


 

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A True Libertarian Steps Forward

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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!


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Balance Provokes Outrage

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December 13 marked the launch date for an organization named No Labels.  The group describes itself this way:

No Labels is a 501(c)(4) social welfare advocacy organization created to provide a voice for America’s vital center, where ideas are judged on their merits, a position which is underrepresented in our current politics.  No Labels provides a forum and community for Americans of all political backgrounds interested in seeing the nation move not left, not right, but forward.  No Labels encourages all public officials to prioritize the national interest over party interest, and to cease acting on behalf of narrow, if vocal, special interests on the far right or left.

Although No Labels has both a Declaration and a Statement of Purpose, you will find the most useful information about the group on its Frequently Asked Questions page.

As a political centrist, I found most of what I read at the No Labels website appealing enough, although I disagreed with a bit of it.  First of all, the group would have been more aptly-named, “No Polarization” since they aren’t really opposed to labels, as they explained:

We are never asking people to give up their labels, only put them aside to do what’s best for America.

Besides – I enjoy using labels to describe people.  Some of my favorite labels include:  corporatist, plutocrat, oligarch and tool.  Another statement on the No Labels website with which I disagreed was the following remark, from their Statement of Purpose:

We can’t seem to break our addiction to foreign oil.

I would suggest:  “We can’t seem to break our addiction to carbon-based energy sources.”  There is no such thing as “foreign oil”.  The so-called, “American” oil companies are all incorporated in the Cayman Islands and none of them pay income taxes to our government.  All of our oil comes from multinational corporations and it is commingled with “Muslim oil” and “Venezuelan Communist oil” at storage depots.  If the people from No Labels insist on treating us as idiots in the same manner as the two major political parties, they will deservedly fail in their mission.

I was particularly amused by the fact that so many people expressed outrage about the founding of No Labels.  The new organization managed to draw plenty of ire from an assortment of commentators during the past week and it made for some fun reading.  One of the “Founding Leaders” of No Labels is John Avlon of the Huffington Post.  He recently wrote this essay in response to spleen-venting by Rush Limbaugh on the right and Keith Olbermann on the left – both of whom expressed displeasure with the inception of the new association:

“If we do this right, we can discredit this whole mind-set of the ‘moderate center’ being the defining group in American politics,” said Rush.  “Because this No Labels group is going to end up illustrating what a fraudulent idea that whole concept of, ‘There are people who decide issue by issue.  On the left they like certain things, on the right they like certain things.’ ”

So Rush believes that there are no principled Americans who decide what they believe on different policies issue-by-issue.  For someone who talks about freedom a lot, he doesn’t have much faith in free will or free-thinking.  He doesn’t believe that Americans — especially independent voters — can consider themselves fiscally conservative but socially liberal.  You either walk in lockstep as a social conservative and fiscal conservative or you are a ‘hard-core liberal’ — libertarians, apparently, need not apply.

*   *   *

Keith Olbermann named No Labels one of the “worst persons in the world” last night (a badge of honor he gave to me earlier this year).  He called us “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” and “a bunch of fraudulent conservative Democrats pretending to be moderates and a bunch of fraudulent Republicans pretending to be independents.”  Again, there’s the impulse to divide and deny the legitimacy of anyone who doesn’t conform to a hyper-partisan view of politics.

Conservative columnist George Will provided this amusing bit of speculation that the entire effort might simply be a pretext for Michael Bloomberg’s Presidential ambitions:

Often in the year before the year before the year divisible by four, a few political people theatrically recoil from partisanship.  Recently, this ritual has involved speculation about whether New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg might squander a few of his billions to improve America by failing to be elected president.

Oh, snap!  Good one, George!

The strangest reaction to the kick-off of No Labels came from Frank Rich of The New York Times.  The relevant portions of Mr. Rich’s rant seemed to be based on the theme that the Republican-dominated 112th Congress will be intransigent and therefore, President Obama along with his fellow Democrats, must fight intransigence with intransigence.  This formula for gridlock would ultimately prove more harmful to Democrats than Republicans.

The Frank Rich diatribe was particularly bizarre because it rambled all over the place, with rants about people and subjects having nothing to do with No Labels.  Peter Orszag has no connection to No Labels.  So, why did Frank Rich go off on the wild tangent about Orszag, Citigroup and Scott Brown’s contributions from the financial sector as though any of them might have had something to do with No Labels?  Forget about what John Avlon told you concerning Keith Olberman’s putting No Labels on his “worst persons in the world” list.  According to Frank Rich, the entire No Labels effort is actually a “a promotional hobby horse for MSNBC”.  It gets weirder:  Rich believes that because a political consultant (Mark McKinnon) and a fund-raiser (Nancy Jacobson) are “prime movers” for No Labels . . .  therefore “No Labels itself is another manifestation” of the syndrome wherein “both parties are bought off by special interests who game the system and stack it against the rest of us.”  At this point, the only factoid I can find to support that allegation is the inclusion of the term “foreign oil” in the group’s Statement of Purpose.  So, I’ll keep an open mind.  Besides, I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as well as Jesse Ventura’s television program with the same name.  Nevertheless, it becomes difficult to stick with Frank Rich’s theory that by failing to seek re-election as Senator of Indiana, Evan Bayh deliberately “facilitated the election of a high-powered corporate lobbyist, Dan Coats, as his Republican successor”.  The fact that Bayh’s father, former Senator Birch Bayh, is a lobbyist is interposed to emphasize the likelihood that Evan will also become a lobbyist.  Is this discussion being offered to explain that Evan Bayh “stepped aside” to allow Dan Coats to become Senator because Bayh has a genetic pre-disposition to the “Lobbyist Code of Dishonor”?  If so, in what manner does this impact No Labels?  Guilt by association?

The animosity generated by this group’s stand against what it calls “hyper-partisanship” demonstrates that the opponents of No Labels are advocates of hyper-partisanship.  In the days ahead, it will be interesting to see who else speaks out to “give acrimony a chance”.


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The GOP Is Losing Centrists

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March 23, 2010

David Frum’s Sunday afternoon blog posting, “Waterloo” has been receiving praise for its painfully accurate diagnosis of what ails (or should I say, “Ailes”) the Republican Party.  Among his important points were these:

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

*   *   *

The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government.  Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination.  When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests.  What he omitted to say — but what is equally true — is that he also wants Republicans to fail.  If Republicans succeed — if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry.  And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry.  Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio.  For them, it’s mission accomplished.  For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right:  ours.

On the following evening, Frum appeared on ABC’s Nightline with Terry Moran and this exchange took place:

Moran:   “It sounds like you’re saying that the Glenn Becks, the Rush Limbaughs, hijacked the Republican party and drove it to a defeat?”

Frum:   “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.  And this balance here has been completely reversed.  The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party.”

During the days leading up to the vote on the healthcare bill, the rallying tea party activists exhibited the behavior of a lynch mob.  Their rhetoric was curiously extreme and anyone with a neutral point of view on the issue had to wonder what was pushing those people to the edge.   Following up on Frum’s thesis, Thomas Frank of The Wall Street Journal seemed to have the right idea:

It is tempting to understand the tea party movement as a distant relative of the lowest form of televangelism, with its preposterous moral certainty, its weird faith in markets, its constant profiteering, and, of course, its gullible audiences.

Tea partiers fancy themselves a movement without leaders, but this is only true in the sense that, say, the nation’s Miley Cyrus fan clubs don’t have a central leader.  They don’t need one — they have Miley Cyrus herself.  And the tea partiers, for their part, have Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the various personalities of Fox News, whose exploits were mentioned frequently from the speaker’s platform on Saturday.  But it was only after I watched an online video of Capitol Hill protesters earnestly instructing one another in what sounded like Mr. Beck’s trademark theory of progressivism that I understood:  This is protest as a form of fandom.

These are TV citizens, regurgitating TV history lessons, and engaged in a TV crusade.  They seem to care little for the give and take of the legislative process.  What seems to make sense to them is the logic of entertainment, the ever-escalating outrage of reality TV.

But maybe, one of these days, the nation is going to change the channel.

That change of the channel is exactly what the Republicans need to worry about.  Karl Rove’s trademark strategy of pandering to the so-called “base” of the party failed in 2006 and it failed again in 2008.  Nevertheless the GOP continues with a tone-deaf strategy, focused on the manipulated emotions of the tea partiers.

As I observed when I started this blog two years ago, a decision by John McCain to continue pandering to the televangelist lobby after winning the Republican Presidential nomination, would make absolutely no sense.  McCain now finds himself struggling against an ultra-conservative tea partier for the Republican nomination to retain his Senate seat.  He has again chosen to pander to the base and in the process, he has painted himself into a corner — boosting the chances for victory by the Democratic nominee in November.

The Republicans just don’t get it.  John “BronzeGel” Boehner’s decision to ally himself with the banking lobbyists has given another black eye to the Republican Party.   Although the voting public has become increasingly educated and incensed about the bank bailouts as a form of “lemon socialism” BronzeGel decided to give a pep talk to the American Bankers Association, advising them:

“Don’t let those little punk staffers take advantage of you and stand up for yourselves.”

Who is going to stand up for the taxpayers (and their children) who have been forced to support the welfare queens of Wall Street?  Certainly not the Republicans.  BronzeGel Boehner has promised to fight a protracted battle against financial reform.  In the process, he and his party are throwing the centrist voters (and the educated conservatives) under the bus.  What a brilliant strategy!



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“Bank Rage” Stresses The Obama Agenda

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March 19, 2009

Public anger over the AIG bonus controversy has risen to the point where no politician wants to be complicit in any government action to further reward those characters, widely regarded to have helped cause the economic crisis.  Worse yet, bailout fatigue is finally taking its toll on the consensual psyche.  On March 18, Chairman Ben Bernanke announced the decision of the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee (FOMC) to print up another trillion dollars to buy back long-term Treasury bonds and to purchase some of those toxic, mortgage-backed securities.  The most immediate beneficiaries of this news were the usual suspects:  the banks.  Citigroup saw its stock value jump over 22% on Wednesday.  Bank of America made a similar gain and Wells Fargo’s stock rose over 17%.  As John Dickerson reported for Slate, President Obama is walking a tightrope by resonating with the public outrage over the behavior of Wall Street’s investment banks, since too much taxpayer anger could cause him trouble down the road:

Administration aides know this outrage can go too far.  If the president stokes too much outrage, he’ll have a tougher time asking for more tax money for future bailouts of banks and other industries.  But, as it was explained to me by an administration adviser, it is impossible for the president not to show that he’s outraged.  If he didn’t, he’d lose credibility, which would eventually hurt his ability to sell future bailouts and his budget.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary “Turbo” Tim Geithner continued to take heat from members of Congress, as he is increasingly perceived as the individual who failed to prevent the villains at AIG from being rewarded $165 million for their role in causing the financial meltdown.  As Rick Klein reported for ABC News, two Republican Congressmen (Connie Mack of Florida and Darrell Issa of California) have called for Geithner’s resignation.  Klein’s article went on to point out:

Several congressional aides said members of Congress remain unlikely to press for Geithner’s ouster in large numbers.  At the very least, according to one Democratic leadership aide, members are likely to wait for Geithner to present his comprehensive bank bailout plan before passing judgment.

Once Turbo Tim does finally present “his comprehensive bank bailout plan” (a/k/a the Financial Stability Plan), he will validate his new-found reputation as a lackey for the Wall Street establishment.  If you think he’s unpopular now  …  wait until that happens.  Harold Meyerson’s March 18 op-ed piece in The Washington Post is emblematic of the criticism the new administration faces as it attempts to assimilate Geithner-ism into its economic recovery strategy:

But Geithner’s indulgence of bankers’ indulgences is fast becoming the Obama administration’s Achilles’ heel.  The AIG debacle is the latest in a series of bewildering Geithner decisions that threaten to undermine the administration’s efforts to restart the economy.  So long as it’s Be Kind to Bankers Week at Treasury — and we’ve had eight straight such weeks since the president was inaugurated — American banking, and the economy it is supposed to serve, will remain paralyzed.  The Geithner plan to restart the banks provides huge taxpayer subsidies to hedge funds, investment banks and private equity companies to buy the banks’ toxic assets without really having to assume the risk.  That’s right — the same Wall Street wizards who got us into this mess, using the same securitization techniques that built mountains of debt within a shadow financial system that remains unregulated, are the saviors whom Geithner has anointed to extricate us — with our capital, not theirs — from the mess that they created.

A more plausible solution would be for the government to assume control of those banks that are insolvent, as it routinely does when banks go under.  It could then install new management, wipe out the shareholders, take the devalued assets off the banks’ books, restart lending and restore the banks to private control at a modest profit for the taxpayers.  There may be reasons that Geithner’s plan makes more sense than this one, but if they exist, Geithner has failed to explain them.

Nothing could more seriously undermine President Obama’s “big bang” strategy (of simultaneously tackling the problems of energy, health care, climate change and education) than Geithner’s inept approach to solving the nation’s economic problems.  In fact, it appears as though the growing “bailout fatigue” is already taking its toll.  As Ben Smith and Manu Raju reported for Politico, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh’s 15-member caucus of conservative and centrist Democrats seems convinced that it will be impossible to adequately address the nation’s financial ills while pursuing such an ambitious, multi-front agenda.  Worse yet, as the Politico article pointed out, if the administration is seen as mishandling the economic crisis by catering to the interests of Wall Street, the public could become unwilling to trust the new administration with such a far-reaching scheme, involving so many costly programs:

But many lawmakers made clear Tuesday their view that voters’ willingness to trust Obama on some subjects will be determined by their view of how well he handles the economic crisis.  That judgment, in turn, will be shaped by whether the White House effectively responds to public outrage over large bonuses to executives at bailed-out American International Group.

“Unless we can instill some trust back with the American people that these people who brought on this problem, who risked our 401K funds and hard-working people’s money, aren’t going to be able to profit from their folly, I think we are at risk of losing their trust,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

If Rush Limbaugh still wants to see President Obama fail in advancing the “big bang” agenda  .  .  .

He must have a lot of love for Tim Geithner.

Hillary Clinton Begins Making History

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March 5, 2009

While most American media outlets focus their attention on Rush Limbaugh’s vainglorious publicity extravaganza, Hillary Clinton is traveling around the world, letting everyone know that the foreign policy of the United States is being drastically changed by the new administration.

The new Secretary of State took quite a bit of heat for her failure to stage a fit of righteous indignation over China’s record of human rights abuses, during her visit there.  Nevertheless, America has been a critic of these transgressions for decades.  Given the current economic situation, our need to maintain a healthy business relationship with China and our country’s embarrassing human rights track record for the past eight years, her decision to leave that issue on the back burner for her initial visit, wasn’t such a bad idea.

Her trip to the Middle East was the first step toward rehabilitating the role of the United States as an effective peace broker for the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.  As Barak Ravid reported for Haaretz, prior to Clinton’s arrival in Israel, a list of demands or “red lines” was created and “approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak at a meeting with senior defense officials last week”.  These individuals are apparently so accustomed to browbeating Condoleezza Rice, they feel comfortable about dictating their own “marching orders” to be followed by Clinton as she approaches engaging Iran in formal, diplomatic relations.  The Haaretz article itemized these four mandates as follows:

1. Any dialogue must be both preceded by and accompanied by harsher sanctions against Iran, both within the framework of the UN Security Council and outside it.  Otherwise, the talks are liable to be perceived by both Iran and the international community as acceptance of Iran’s nuclear program.

2. Before the dialogue begins, the U.S. should formulate an action plan with Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain regarding what to do if the talks fail.  Specifically, there must be an agreement that the talks’ failure will prompt extremely harsh international sanctions on Iran.

3. A time limit must be set for the talks, to prevent Iran from merely buying time to complete its nuclear development.  The talks should also be defined as a “one-time opportunity” for Tehran.

4. Timing is critical, and the U.S. should consider whether it makes sense to begin the talks before Iran’s presidential election in June.

Steve Clemons of The Washington Note emphasized that “Israel is crossing the line” by attempting to dictate this agenda to our new Secretary of State and President:

Iran’s pretensions in the region are a problem in my view — but Iran, which fears regime change efforts by the US and other of its neighbors, is responding to an “ecosystem” that many around the world have complicity in building.

Israel should be rebuffed by Hillary Clinton.  She should listen to Israel’s views on the region of course — and consider proposals.  But this kind of instruction manual on what red lines can be tolerated or not is pretty outrageous — and borders on the type of irresponsibility and consequences of what a Taiwanese declaration of independence from China would mean.

In another Haaretz article by Barak Ravid, we see Clinton giving Israel some “pushback” that may or may not have been anticipated:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday blasted Israel’s plans to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem as a violation of its international obligations and “unhelpful” to Middle East peace efforts.

“Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the ‘road map’,” Clinton said, referring to the long-stalled peace plan.

On March 4, a day before meeting with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, Clinton met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank city of Ramallah.  According to a CNN report, Clinton advised the Palestinian leaders that the United States is committed to the “two-state solution” (establishing a separate Palestinian state) despite the objections to that plan, voiced by Israel’s Prime Minister-designate, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The United States through President Obama is committed to a comprehensive peace including a two-state solution,” Clinton said.  “I have said that publicly, I have said that privately.  There is no difference in any message.”

Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton made it a point to single out Iran’s “supreme leader”, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for interfering in Palestinian affairs by funding terrorism “whether it’s Hezbollah, Hamas or other proxies”.  As the Voice of America News pointed out:

Khamenei also called the Jewish state a “cancerous tumor” and accused U.S. President Barack Obama of following what he called the same mistaken path as George W. Bush in supporting Israel.  He made the comments during a conference in Tehran earlier Wednesday.

Clinton and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the ayatollah’s remarks.  Mr. Abbas said Iran should look after its own affairs and stop trying to widen the divide among Palestinians.

Although many critics of the new administration complain that Obama has failed to deliver on his promise of “Change”, one important agent of Change on the Obama team is turning out to be none other than Hillary Clinton.  Who could have foreseen that development at this point, last year?

The Republicans Have No Choice

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March 2, 2009

Republican pundit Mike Murphy drove the message home on the March 1 telecast of NBC’s Meet The Press.  Demographics have changed since the Republican heyday of the Reagan era.  The Republican mission, message and strategy must adapt to our changing world.

On the other hand, last week brought us the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Convention) with its unique focus that has no relevance to current reality.  The Democratically-inclined pundits on MSNBC were delighted by the CPAC festivities. These commentators were left with visions of Sarah Palin as the 2012 Presidential candidate, dancing in their heads.

We’ve seen and heard plenty of opinions about the current leadership vacuum within the Republican Party.  Almost by default, he who makes the most noise, Rush Limbaugh, has found himself as the new, de facto leader of the Republicans.  Although he is not a candidate for anything, he enjoys more of a papal role with the diehard Republicans.  His message is amplified by people like Chris Matthews on MSNBC (who regularly discourses about how the Republicans always swing back to the “hard right”, when a moderate Presidential candidate fails).  Matthews then describes John McCain as the failed “moderate” and proceeds to (hopefully) set the stage for a “wing nut” Presidential candidate such as Sarah Palin or Bobby “The Exorcist” Jindal.  In either case, Obama gets re-elected — even if unemployment is at 42 percent and the Dow Jones is at 369.

The problem with Chris Matthews’ logic is that McCain pandered to the hard-right “base” in his quest for the White House and could not really be considered as a truly moderate candidate.  The Republicans could wise-up and move toward the center by 2012.  Besides:  They have no choice.

Here in Florida, we have a fait accompli.  Our next Senator, replacing the retiring Republican Senator Mel Martinez, will be our current Governor, Charlie Crist.  Governor Crist is a moderate Republican who enjoys a 73% approval rating.  Crist’s support of President Obama’s stimulus bill resulted in his appearance in Ft. Myers on February 10, to introduce the new President to an adoring crowd.  Governor Crist took lots of heat for that, from know-nothing conservative pundits.   Charlie Crist is laughing all the way to the Senate.  As the February 24 article by Aaron Blake on The Hill website pointed out:  the Democrats don’t have any strong challengers.  It’s a lost cause.  Here, “on the ground”, everyone knows it.

Meanwhile the “liberal” media are busy snarking at Crist, repeating the “gay” rumors that circulated prior to his recent marriage.  This hostility is probably due to the fact that Crist is on the record as opposing any change to Florida’s existing ban on gay adoption.  Any useful resemblance to former Republican Senator Larry Craig’s hypocrisy on gay issues would be a convenient “G-bomb” to throw into an election campaign.   The Huffington Post is big on these “gay” rumors, as is the current incarnation of Wonkette.  What those people don’t know is that the rumors never seemed to matter.  For example:  I’ve known and worked with many conservative Republicans who assumed those rumors were true.  Nevertheless, they still supported and voted for Charlie Crist.  It didn’t matter to them, nor did the issue ever matter to any significant number of people in this State.  Governor Crist had been married to a woman named Amanda Morrow in 1979.  That marriage lasted one year.  On December 12, 2008 he married Carole Rome.  Many of the rumor-mongers claim that this was a “staged” marriage, to advance Crist’s political career.  Nevertheless, you can trust my opinion, as a heterosexual bachelor of approximately the same age as Governor Crist …  If he is trying to “fake” a marriage at this point in his life … You will see him running out of the Governor’s mansion within a very short time, yelling:  “All right!  I’m GAY!  I CONFESS!!!  I’m GAAAAAAAAAYYY!!!”

I don’t believe we will see that happen.  Beyond that, I’m really disappointed that purportedly “gay-friendly” media would be taking these cheap shots at Charlie Crist.  He is going to be our next Senator and he will win because a majority of Democratic voters will support his candidacy.  Deal with it.

The next question is whether the Republican party will finally figure out, after the 2010 election, that there is a trend here.  Republicans are faced with the likelihood that future campaign strategies will nullify the efforts of extremists whose political ambitions have been based on the existence of the political primary system.  As Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman has often discussed, the political primary system, by its nature, results in extremists from both sides getting much better traction than they would have in an open election.  Politicians are on to this.  Watch for more centrists running as independent candidates — and witness the disintegration of the “wing nut” dominance within the Republican Party.

We’re All Headed Into The Hudson

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February 9, 2009

It’s Monday, February 9 and Change Airlines flight 2008 is just taking off from Senate Airport.  In the cockpit are:  Captain “Barry” Barackburger, Co-pilot “Turbo” Geithner, and Flight Engineer Larry Summers.  During its takeoff roll, the plane came dangerously close to an open container belonging to the Bad Paper Company.  The Bad Paper was to be loaded onto a Xeng Airlines flight, bound for Beijing.  As the Change airplane passed the open container, a large amount of the Bad Paper was sucked into the plane’s jet engines.  Just after takeoff, the airliner’s Captain radioed the tower:

Captain Barry:  Senate tower this is Change twenty-zero-eight.  That paper container was too close to the runway and our engines sucked most of it in.  We’re losing thrust and we need to come back around.

Senate tower:  Change twenty-zero-eight you are clear to land on runway 18.

Captain Barry:  We can’t make it back.  That’s too far for us.  Do you have anything closer?

Senate tower:  Can you make it to Taxcut International?

Captain Barry:  Are you kidding?  Taxcut doesn’t have enough runway.  C’mon!  Help me out here!  We’re running out of time!

Senate tower:  I have our navigation technician here to come up with something.  What do you have, Irene?

Nav Tech I. Newton:  Your best option looks like runway 27-Left at States Field.

Larry Summers:  What the hell do you know about math or physics, Missy?  This plane has a much higher “sink rate” than your estimate.  Save your science fair project for those broads on The View.  I’m sure they’ll be impressed.

Captain Barry:  Larry!  Chill!

Captain Barry:  Senate tower, we’re going to be making a hard landing and I don’t want to try it on a runway.  There’s no time for that, anyway.  We’re going to have to set down in the river.

Senate tower:  That sounds awfully wasteful!  Do you know how much that plane costs?

Captain Barry:  At least we can get some salvage value out of the plane this way.  Besides, I can’t gamble with the health and welfare of my passengers.

Senate tower:  But first, you should at least try   .  .  .

Captain Barry:  Hey!  I’m the Captain.  Remember?  Okay, Turbo!  Throw the “ditch switch” and alert the passengers for a water landing!

Will Captain Barry be able to make a “soft landing” in the river?  Will Senate tower delay this attempt long enough to make that impossible?  Stay tuned.

In the mean time Steven Mufson and Lori Montgomery have reported in the Washington Post, that conservative-minded economists are in agreement with liberal economists that an economic stimulus bill should be enacted as quickly as possible:

While economists remain divided on the role of government generally, an overwhelming number from both parties are saying that a government stimulus package — even a flawed one — is urgently needed to help prevent a steeper slide in the economy.

Many economists say the precise size and shape of the package developing in Congress matter less than the timing, and that any delay is damaging.

There is no doubt that the fight over the stimulus bill has turned into a partisan political battle.  This was best exemplified by the fact that no Republican in the House of Representatives voted in favor of the House version of that legislation.  Battle lines have also been drawn by many commentators.  In his February 5 op-ed column for the New York Times, Paul Krugman (recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics) complained about Republican efforts to downsize the spending provisions in the bill and to add more tax cuts.  He was particularly upset about President Obama’s willingness to make compromises in those areas:

So what should Mr. Obama do?  Count me among those who think that the president made a big mistake in his initial approach, that his attempts to transcend partisanship ended up empowering politicians who take their marching orders from Rush Limbaugh. What matters now, however, is what he does next.

It’s time for Mr. Obama to go on the offensive.  Above all, he must not shy away from pointing out that those who stand in the way of his plan, in the name of a discredited economic philosophy, are putting the nation’s future at risk.  The American economy is on the edge of catastrophe, and much of the Republican Party is trying to push it over that edge.

The very characteristics of President Obama’s behavior that are causing so much anxiety for Mr. Krugman would seem to make it unlikely that Obama will follow Krugman’s advice.  The President has done plenty of talking about his bringing us into an era of “post-partisanship”.  As David Brooks pointed out on February 5, there are many in Congress headed in that same direction.  For Obama to abandon them would not only be unlikely, it would be political suicide:

The big news here is that there are many Democrats who don’t want to move in a conventional liberal direction and there some Republicans willing to work with them to create a functioning center.  These moderates — who are not a party, but a gang — seemed willing to seize control of legislation from the party leaders.  They separated themselves from both the left and right.

*   *   *

The liberals already are mobilizing against the Moderate Gangs. On Thursday, the liberal interest groups were intensively lobbying against the stimulus cuts.  But there’s no way that Obama, who spent two years campaigning on postpartisan politics, can reject the single biggest manifestation of postpartisanship in the country today.  If he does that, his credibility will be shot.

One reason why Barack Obama is the President is because many voters are impressed by his willingness to sit down and work out solutions with his opponents.  Now is his chance to show them that he can deliver results by using that strategy.

A Love–Hate Situation For The Stimulus Bill

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February 2, 2009

As the Senate focuses its attention on the economic stimulus bill, Republicans are putting up a good fight, after the measure sailed through the House of Representatives, despite unanimous Republican opposition.  Time magazine reports that Republican Senator Mitch McConnell believes that the bill will fail in the Senate because it does not provide enough tax cuts.  The Republican insistence on tax cuts has already been addressed by President Obama, who included more tax cuts into the measure.  In an editorial for Bloomberg News, Michael R. Sesit complained:

Obama’s proposed cuts are politically motivated — a bone thrown to Republicans, who embrace lower taxes.  The president’s desire to promote bipartisanship is a laudable goal.  Yet pursuing it at the expense of sound economic policy is a high price to pay.  Obama has enormous public support and doesn’t need Republican cooperation to pass his stimulus program.

Tax cuts are also politically hard to reverse, which will eventually be necessary once the economy is back on its feet and inflation picks up.

The Time article quoted Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank’s response to the cry for even more tax cuts:

“I never saw a tax cut fix a bridge. I never saw a tax cut give us more public transportation.  The fact is, we need a mix,” Frank said.

In his January 29 op-ed column for the New York Times, David Brooks reflected on what Larry Summers (the newly-appointed head of the National Economic Council) had to say throughout 2008 about the nature of a large-scale stimulus package, such as the one under consideration.  Brooks noted “three clear guidelines” established by Summers for developing a plan such as this:

First, the stimulus should be timely.  The money should go out “almost immediately.”  Second, it should be targeted.  It should help low- and middle-income people.  Third, it should be temporary.  Stimulus measures should not raise the deficits “beyond a short horizon of a year or at most two.”

In criticizing this bill, Brooks argued that these parameters have been abandoned.  Among his suggested “fixes” would be the removal of the permanent programs built into the proposal.

Meanwhile, E. J. Dionne has written about how progressive Democrats are split into two camps, expressing different priorities for the measure:

One camp favors using the stimulus to focus on the needs of Americans of modest means.  The $819 billion stimulus bill that passed the House Wednesday night on a party-line vote, as well as the proposal being developed in the Senate, includes substantial new spending for the unemployed, for food stamps and for advances in health-care coverage.  The tax cuts in both versions tilt toward Americans with lower incomes.  Education programs also fare well.

But another group of progressives sees the bills as shorting investments for infrastructure:  roads, bridges and particularly mass transit.  This camp was buoyed by a report released Wednesday by the American Society of Civil Engineers concluding that it would take $2.2 trillion to bring the nation’s infrastructure into good repair.

Many sources, including the San Francisco Chronicle, have criticized this bill as being laden with “pork” projects, unlikely to spur economic growth or to create jobs.  Beyond that, Jeanne Cummings provided an interesting report on the Politico website, revealing how the business sector sees this “oversized legislation” as a “golden opportunity”.  The Democrats do not seem averse to this interest:

Senate Democrats, hoping to draw more bipartisan support, have already signaled they’re going to beef up the business provisions.  Versions of some of the most coveted tax breaks are already in the proposal by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

But business leaders and their trade representatives would like to see even more love in the stimulus.  And they’ve commissioned special studies, blanketed the committee with letters and recruited industry bigwigs to make their case.

In the face of this expanding government largesse, an editorial in Sunday’s Washington Post called upon President Obama to remind those in Congress “including leaders of his own party, who are cluttering his fiscal stimulus plan with extraneous and counterproductive provisions” of the admonition he gave to the bad actors on Wall Street.  In his disgust with the misappropriation of over $18 billion in TARP money for bonuses, the President said:  “show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility.”  In a passage reminiscent of David Brooks’ emphasis on the “three clear guidelines” established by Larry Summers, the Washington Post editorial noted that:

Instead of giving the economy a “targeted, timely and temporary” injection, the plan has been larded with spending on existing social programs or hastily designed new ones, much of it permanent or probably permanent — and not enough of it likely to create new jobs.

Former Clinton administration budget director Alice Rivlin fears that “money will be wasted because the investment elements were not carefully crafted.”  Former Reagan administration economist Martin Feldstein writes that “it delivers too little extra employment and income for such a large fiscal deficit.”  Columbia University’s Jeffrey D. Sachs labels the plan “an astounding mishmash of tax cuts, public investments, transfer payments and special treats for insiders.”

Let’s face it:  the Republicans aren’t the only ones who are upset about the excesses in this stimulus plan.  In fact, most Republican governors favor this bill.  Last week the National Governors Association called on Congress to pass the plan.  Beth Fouhy reported for the Associated Press that Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Vermont Governor Jim Douglas are pushing Republican Senators to pass the bill.  Although such a measure may be distasteful to Republican ideals, these hard times demand that Republican governors follow the procedure described by Rush Limbaugh as “bending over and grabbing your ankles”:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is widely viewed as a potential presidential contender in 2012, said governors have little choice but to accept the relief being offered.  “States have to balance their budgets,” he said.  “So if we’re going to go down this path, we are entitled to ask for our share of the money.”

As the stimulus bill makes its way through the Senate, it will be interesting to see whether the final version involves dispersal of more than or less than $826 billion.  Don’t be surprised if it hits the One Trillion mark.

Fun With Bill And Hill

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I had always been one of the skeptics on the issue of what support Bill and Hillary Clinton would provide to Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign.  The fight for their party’s nomination lasted longer than it should have.  Hillary’s reluctance to concede defeat underscored longstanding doubts about whether she could ever support Obama as the inevitable Democratic Party nominee.  The most outspoken skeptic on this subject has been Maureen Dowd.  Her column in the New York Times on August 19 (just before the Democratic Convention) described a fictional meeting between John McCain and Hillary Clinton.  The article, entitled Two Against The One, described the following imaginary, conspiratorial conversation between Hillary and McCain:

“Oh, John, you know I love you and I’m happy to help,” Hillary says.  “The themes you took from me are working great — painting Obama as an elitist and out-of-touch celebrity, when we’re rich celebrities, too.  Turning his big rallies and pretty words into character flaws, charging him with playing the race card — that one always cracks me up.  And accusing the media, especially NBC, of playing favorites.  It’s easy to get the stupid press to navel-gaze; they’re so insecure.”

“They’re all pinko Commies,” McCain laughs.  “Especially since they deserted me for The Messiah.  Seriously, Hill, that Paris-Britney ad you came up with was brilliant.  I owe you.”

I had voiced my own doubts about whether the Clintons would support the Obama candidacy, back on June 5:

Whatever motivated her to continue on, ultimately resulted in the dissociative speech she gave on the night of Tuesday, June 3, 2008, when Barack Obama earned enough delegates to guarantee himself the Democratic Presidential nomination.   She spoke to her relatively small audience of sycophants and losers, as though she had just assured the nomination for herself.   On the following day, she was faced with conference calls from 28 House members and 8 Senators, both pledged delegates and superdelegates for Clinton.   According to Howard Fineman of Newsweek, these people made it clear that they were beyond disappointment that she had not given a concession speech.  They were outraged by her arrogance and gave her an ultimatum:  Hillary must release them as her delegates, or they would endorse Obama, regardless of her consent.  Hillary agreed to a concession event, to take place on Saturday, June 7, at which time she would formally endorse Obama.

My suspicions continued for another two months and on August 7, I wrote this about the upcoming convention:

Forget the OxyContin (at least for this weekend).  Rush Limbaugh is going to be on a “natural high”, because his favorite fantasy might just become reality.  The Clintons are in “full hostility” mode and the Hillarologists are planning a parade and more for the convention in Denver.  Limbaugh has attempted to claim credit for the likely showdown in Denver, with his own label:  “Operation Chaos”.

Nevertheless, by the time the Convention began, the Clintons were on board for Obama and both gave great speeches for the Obama – Biden ticket.  On August 28, I felt humbled enough to say this about Senator Clinton’s performance at that event:

After hearing her speech, I felt motivated to apologize for publicly doubting her loyalty to the Democratic Party.  She really did “deliver the goods” by giving what was, perhaps, her best speech on the campaign stump.  Although many of us were surprised by the substance of her speech, I was particularly impressed by her delivery.  Hillary had always addressed her audiences with Lieberman-esque stiffness.  Imagine someone saying “let us go forward” with a groaning, insincere tone for the 10,000th time.  That was the way Hillary used to speak.  In defeat, she really did find her voice.

Since that time, both Hillary and Bill Clinton have been working hard along the campaign trail, proving themselves as essential compatriots in the Obama – Biden campaign.  The best example of this took place on October 30, when Bill Clinton delivered his rousing speech in support of Obama, before a crowd of 35,000 in Kissimmee, Florida.  His remarks urging supporters to “get out the vote” for Obama, made it clear that he had no shortage of enthusiasm for this former foe:

So I want you to get on the phone, and I want you to stalk your neighbors on the street.  I want you to get on the Internet and say if you haven’t made up your mind you ought to vote for Barack Obama.  He’s got the best philosophies.  He’s got the best positions.  He definitely has the decision making ability.  And he is a great executor.

Folks, we can’t fool with this.  Our country is hanging in the balance and we have so much promise and so much peril.  This man should be our President, all of our President.

For a candid look at Hillary Clinton’s real attitude about the Obama campaign, the November 2 article by Carrie Budoff Brown and Glenn Thrush on the Politico website is essential reading.  The following passage described what was really going on in Hillary’s mind during the days before her concession speech:

Clinton, whose relationship with Obama was still tense and tentative at that moment, professed no great affection or admiration for Obama, whom she regarded as less qualified than herself.  But she would support him, body and soul, she said, because she was so terrified by the prospect of McCain sitting in the Oval Office.  And that was before the credit markets crashed, setting off a domino effect on the U.S. economy.

“John McCain’s my friend; I really like him,” she said, according to a person who was within earshot.  “But there’s just no way we can let him be president.”

Both Bill and Hillary Clinton surprised many of us with their tireless efforts for the Obama – Biden campaign, despite the “bad blood” that had been spilled during the primary season.  Their conduct will surely be viewed by history as an exemplary model for party unity.