Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Loyal Opposition

The days come and go like muffled and veiled figures sent from a distant party, but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away.

---Ralph Waldo Emerson

Without a place and with a place to rest---living darkly with no ray of light---I burn myself away.

---St. John Of The Cross, whose birthday (1542) it happens to be today

The birds have vanished down the sky. Now the last cloud drains away. We sit together, the mountains and me, until only the mountain remains.

---Li Po

I grew up in 1940s, 1950s America. Eventually I discovered I was in a Republican household, in a Republican stronghold, in Republican upstate New York. One of my first distinct memories as a child was the bulletin on the car radio that Franklin Roosevelt was dead. I remember exactly where I was at that moment. I was in the backseat (no seatbelts then), and the car was proceeding south, nearing the crest of Main Street hill at the intersection of 5th Street in Jamestown, New York. It was my mother's cry of alarm that drilled the moment into my subconscious I'm sure. I just had turned 5.

On April 12, 1945, we still were at war, rationing was severe, but FDR somehow had guided us out of the Depression, which meant little to me but was enormous to my parents. What could this little Harry Truman do? In 1948, Truman won election over Thomas Dewey, who had been Republican governor of New York. My father was a radioman, had interviewed Dewey on the air, and whether he was Republican before he was one now. In keeping with the times, my mother now was one too. Truman's election was an upset. Some claimed his defeat was the work of publisher Bennett Cerf, who said Dewey resembled the tiny man on the top of a wedding cake. Could a personal wisecrack win an election?

I was unaware totally of party politics until 1952, when Dwight Eisenhower defeated Adlai Stevenson. Approaching my teen years, I was becoming aware vaguely of the world around me. I liked Stevenson, particularly a photo of him that must have appeared in Life magazine, exhausted on the campaign trail, with his feet up, and a hole in the bottom of one of his shoes. But Republicans had "framed" him as an egghead---which meant he was intellectual---and again people said that label cost him the election.

My Republican household continued even more strongly through the Ike years. Mom said she felt safe when she saw a photograph of lights on in the White House late at night. Ike was up and taking care of things. The Iron Curtain had "descended," and now the Cold War was fueling our climb into undreamed of prosperity. Once I entered college I developed a political consciousness that took me light years away from how my parents saw things. I thought I was aware and critical now, but a newly born right wing called me a "dupe" of the Communists.

My parents continued Republican quite possibly until the day they died. The inflation during the Carter years, which I'll always believe was engineered skillfully by corporate and banking interests, left retired people nearly in ruins. Their comparatively modest wages produced savings and social security too small to thrive in inflated lifestyles. They voted for Reagan and began to become embittered. On it went, the Republicans leading their way. They didn't live into the Bush43 years, but I wonder if my father would have held on to the GOP. I wonder if even we could have talked about it.

I never considered myself a Democrat particularly. I had opposed Kennedy's policy of sending "advisers" to IndoChina, and I picketed his White House over nuclear testing. Eventually I registered Democrat because I wanted a vote in primaries. Last year I was convinced I'd find some candidate out there who wasn't representing either major party, but I couldn't. I ended up voting for Obama with both reluctance and hope. My hopes soared at Inauguration...but now...but now...

I want 3 things politically these days. I want a clear history of what has happened to the United States as result of our own actions, and where the Constitution has been breached and laws broken I want justice done. I want President Obama to emerge with crisp consistency to what he pledged (dubious) and from one end of his policies to the other (essential). I want a sane, rational opposition to him and the Democrats.

I found a clear history I think in a lengthy article by historian Sean Wilentz. It was written a few months before the election of 2008, and strangely appeared in Rolling Stone. No one was more surprised than I that this rock 'n roll magazine and a fashion/design publication for the fabulously rich, called Vanity Fair, became the journals for me of the most concise and relentless reporting and analysis of the shift in American political power. The Wilentz article was titled "How Bush Destroyed The Republican Party," and can be read in its entirety beginning here~~~

Sean Wilentz, who professes at Princeton, previously had put his cards on the table in 2006, with a shocker in the same magazine titled "The Worst President In History?" The ax he grinds is not against Bush or Republicans. He went after the Obama campaign too, claiming liberals were giving this untested, cloudy, problematic candidate a free pass. What he opposes is political manipulation, and 6 months before the Bush Destruction article, he accused Obama of illusion and distortion---for which Wilentz was soundly thumped. Well, it's always good to see historians in the thick of contemporary battle.

This President is in the news everyday across the spectrum of critical issues facing us. One cannot discount the energy in and scope of what this administration is doing. For me about half the Obama news is good, and the other half very disturbing. I don't get this war policy---and I'm tired of being told I can't understand because it's all classified. We're not going to show you the pictures and we're not going to release the prisoners and we're not going to prosecute war crimes. OK, somebody else can do all that stuff---but there's one Commander in Chief, and I'm not sure what the mission is. And then there are the bailouts. I'm sure he's got a timetable for everything, but when does he talk to the base and explain how it all goes together?

As for the opposition, it gets worse and worse. Last Friday a Washington Post blog discussed the most recent poll~~~

"Lost in the news yesterday about the polls showing eroding support for Obama’s policies was a funny detail in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: The overall popularity of the Republican Party has now dropped below even the abysmal level of approval enjoyed by Dick Cheney.
"The poll found that 26% of respondents have a very positive or somewhat positive view of Cheney, up eight points from April. Meanwhile, it found that the GOP overall is viewed very or somewhat positively by only 25%, down four points from April.
"Okay, the difference is within the margin of error, making this a statistical tie. But still, this is pretty awful for the GOP, given that for a long time Cheney’s historic unpopularity seemed to define a kind of low-water mark among Republicans.
"There a couple of takeaways here. First, it appears that Cheney is doing a better job of making his own case than the current crop of GOP leaders are doing on behalf of the party as a whole, even though he’s no longer in office. And second, it gives the lie to the notion that Cheney’s ongoing media tour is helpful to the GOP overall, as some party leaders have publicly claimed to think. In reality, he only seems to be helping himself."

Speaking of "helping himself," hasn't that become the motto of the current Republican Party? William Rivers Pitt tallied up the cash from book deals doled to the Bush administration yesterday, and the total rivals the bailouts. See for yourself---and also catch a glimpse of the ex-President giving his speech in Erie last week.

If the Republicans are in complete, but wealthy, disarray, there's always Ron Paul and the Libertarians. I've been saying if the Repubs can't pull themselves together in the next several months and IF the Libertarians can find a worthy successor to Paul, Obama is going to have a run for the money in 2012. (The congressional elections next year will tell much more of the story.) Here's Ron Paul getting after Barack Obama yesterday...and as usual with Libertarians it's a precarious ride. Information Clearing House is a Libertarian news site, and it's well worth watching on a daily basis.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Spare Some Change I Can Believe In?

Illustration for Rolling Stone last August by Victor Juhasz
We invent nothing, truly. We borrow and re-create. We uncover and discover. All has been given, as the mystics say. We have only to open our eyes and hearts, to become one with that which is.
---Henry Miller
Something has to die in order for us to begin to know our truths.
---Adrienne Rich
Deep in the mountains,
In a tree on a farm,
A single dove sings out,
Searching: lonely voice of evening.
Since Barack Obama’s inauguration, many who campaigned hard for him down here in the grassroots have been surprised. I won’t say disappointed yet. Yes, he’s tackled many of the issues his supporters hoped for. But the wars rage on. Gitmo’s still open and torturing. Sure, he’s working on corporations and executive pay, but what’s all this with banks and Wall Street?
Many of us who ended up voting for him, and even knocking on doors to get people out on Election Day, did not have hopes as high as those on his bandwagon from the start. We had supported other candidates…and people like me, somewhere to the left of socialists, had had to settle for them. A visit to Athens by Michelle Obama had stirred me up, but her husband came within spitting distance of our town just before Primary Day, appeared at an exclusive, roped-off, invitation-only occasion at Hocking College, and didn’t take 5 minutes to swing around to Democratic Headquarters down here to cheer on hundreds of teen-age volunteers out on bicycles distributing his literature. When finally we traveled down to Portsmouth to see him, he was over an hour late but the speech was OK, promising CHANGE. I felt a distinct elite streak.
A year ago this summer, I looked forward to each new issue of Rolling Stone for an update by Matt Taibbi on Campaign ‘08. No one was more surprised than I that publications like Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair were becoming the journals of radical record in American politics. And this Taibbi guy, not yet 40, was turning out to be the most dynamic, original, and uncompromising reporter anywhere. Often peppered with obscenities, his dispatches were profoundly researched but overall revealed none of the candidates actually were showing him anything. Once it got down to Obama and McCain, Matt Taibbi just settled back to watch the Wall Street sharks move in.
On August 21st, his article Candidates For Sale appeared. I found, unfortunately, that reading it now is like a prophetic explanation of why the banks and brokers are untouched. They even had to ask permission apparently to pay back some of their bailout! How does that work? And just how detailed was that bank report card? How long does it take to audit banks as big as those thoroughly? Who are these guys running the Treasury Department? Is the fox guarding the henhouse again? Let me share a bit of Taibbi’s analysis back then with you~~~
"The truth is that the campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain are being inundated with cash from more or less exactly the same gorgons of the corporate scene. From Wall Street to the Big Oil powerhouses to the military-industrial complex, America's fat-cat business leaders know that the Animal House-style party of the last eight years that made almost all of them rich with bonuses, government contracts and bubble profits is about to come to an end, and someone is going to have to pay to clean up the mess. They want that someone to be you, not them, and they've spared no expense to make sure both presidential candidates will be there to bail them out next year.
"They're succeeding. Both would-be presidents have already sold us out. They've taken the money and run — completing the cyclical transformation of the American political narrative from one of monopolistic Republican iniquity to an even more depressing tale about the overweening power of corporate money and the essentially fictitious nature of our two-party system...
"Who knows — maybe Barack Obama will surprise us if he wins the election. But if you look at the money, it doesn't look good....
"Overall, Obama is flat-out kicking McCain's ass when it comes to Wall Street contributions, raking in nearly $9 million from securities and investment executives, compared to $6.2 million for McCain. Obama has received more contributions from Goldman Sachs than from any other employer — more than $627,000 at this writing — not to mention $398,021 from JP Morgan Chase, $353,922 from Lehman Brothers and $291,388 from Morgan Stanley. Even among hedge-fund executives, who have an unequivocal interest in electing McCain, Obama is whipping the Republican, collecting $500,000 more than McCain. All of which begs the question: Why would corporate giants like these throw so much weight behind a man who promises to strip them of billions in tax breaks?
"Sadly, the answer to that question increasingly appears to be that Obama is, well, full of shit. He has made no bones about his plans to raise income by soaking the rich, promising to roll back the Bush tax cuts for people making over $250,000, increase the top tax rate on capital gains to 25 percent and raise the top rate on qualified dividends. He has also pledged to deliver a real stomach punch to hedge-fund managers, raising the tax rate on most of their income from 15 percent to 35 percent.
"These populist pledges sound good, but many business moguls appear to be betting that the tax policies, like Obama himself, are only that: something that sounds good. 'I think we don't want to make too much of his promises on taxes,' says Robert Pollin, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts. 'Not all of these things will happen.' Noting the overwhelming amount of Wall Street money pouring into Obama's campaign, even elitist fuckwad David Brooks was recently moved to write, 'Once the Republicans are vanquished, I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that capital-gains tax hike.'
"Those worried that Obama might be all talk when it comes to needed reform had a real scare in July, when the senator failed to show up to vote for the Stop Excessive Speculation Act, a bill designed to curb rampant oil speculation. Oil speculators provide the perfect microcosm of what happened to the economy under Bush. Back in 2001, investment banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan got together and created an online exchange called the ICE for trading energy commodities. The ICE ended up buying the British-regulated International Petroleum Exchange; it then opened trading windows in the U.S., allowing Wall Street investment banks to make oil-futures trades on American soil, on their very own commodities exchange, without any federal regulation whatsoever.
"'In financial terms, they were playing blackjack at tables where they themselves were the dealers, in casinos they themselves owned,' says Warren Gunnels, a senior policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders. 'It was crazy.' Trading on the ICE had a massive impact on U.S. gasoline prices, and more than one legislator wondered if energy speculators were manipulating the market, as energy traders like Enron had been before. The speculation bill was designed to regulate the ICE and place limits on trades. But on the day before Obama returned from his eight-day, eight-country, megadazzling international photo op, Democrats failed by a vote of 50-43 to force a vote on the bill, as heavy lobbying by investment banks like Goldman Sachs torpedoed the effort.
"Not only did Obama not show up to vote, he appeared at a public forum three days later flanked by Jon Corzine and Robert Rubin, two former Goldman executives, to discuss how to revive the economy. Here you have the basic formula of campaign contributions in a nutshell: Powerful investment bank gives big money to candidate, needed reform requires candidate to cross said investment bank, candidate pussies out and finds way to be gone at the moment of truth, candidate resurfaces later in arms of aforementioned investment bankers.
"Obama's absence on oil speculation was eerily reminiscent of his previous decision to change his mind about giving retroactive immunity to telecom companies for spying on Americans. Obama withdrew his pledge to filibuster the immunity bill right around the time the Democrats announced that AT&T would be sponsoring the Democratic convention. So no filibuster on retroactive immunity from the top Democrat — but conventiongoers in Denver will get tote bags emblazoned with the AT&T logo. So that's something.
"Look, we all knew this was coming. Once Obama vanquished Hillary Clinton, it was inevitable that his campaign would start roping in the Clinton moneymen for the fall confrontation with McCain. Among those snagged by Obama were Iranian millionaire and former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Hassan Nemazee, venture capitalist Alan Patricof and the touchingly plugged-in Wall Street power couple Maureen White (First Boston) and Steven Rattner (Morgan Stanley). Rattner and White, the former chief fundraiser for the DNC, are longtime friends of the Clintons; she quit the DNC in 2006 to build Hillary's war chest, while he backed Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont and flirted with a Mike Bloomberg presidential run. Such are the people who are now whispering in Obama's ear.
"Over the summer, the Obama camp has relentlessly pushed the notion that its record fundraising is mainly the result of small online donations. The first presidential candidate to raise so much money that he could afford to eschew the spending limits that would be imposed if he accepted federal matching funds, Obama claims that he opted out of public funding so that he could have a campaign 'truly funded by the American people.' And indeed, he has a record number of small donors, with some 45 percent of his campaign cash coming from contributions smaller than $200.
"Which is a great percentage — but it's only eight points better than John Kerry in 2004 and only 14 points better than George Bush that same year. In truth, Obama is still raising tons of money from big corporate donors. In June alone, as Obama was raking in more than $30 million from small donors, he also bagged $6 million in a single fundraiser at Ethel Kennedy's home in Virginia and another $5 million at an event in Hollywood. But time and time again, you see Obama aides boasting about how the day of the big-dollar donor is over. 'More people are involved, and I think that necessarily dilutes the impact of any individual — which is probably a good thing,' one prominent Obama supporter recently declared. This staunch champion of the small donor happened to be none other than James Rubin, son of former Goldman Sachs co-chairman Bob Rubin.
"Obama's decision to embrace Clinton's moneymen coincided with his decision to attend a public forum on economic policy with an A list of Clinton-era economic advisors, including Rubin and Corzine. 'The message is that he's going to be a friend to Wall Street, just as Bill Clinton was a friend to Wall Street,' says Pollin. 'Wall Street will want to be at the head of the table.'
"By now it should be clear what type of service Wall Street will demand. The financial disaster dumped on us by eight years of Bush's mismanagement has left America with the prospect of short-term solutions in the form of massive government bailouts, and long-term solutions in the form of reform and regulation. A big chunk of the $1 billion in cash that will be spent on the presidential race this year represents Wall Street's desire to make sure that both candidates can be counted on to make the short-term bailouts large and passionate, and the reforms gentle and halfhearted. 'They want to make sure there's socialism when they need it — bailouts — and capitalism when they need that,' says Pollin....
"The point is that politicians are intensely loyal to the people who give them money — and not anywhere near as loyal to the promises they've made to suckers like us. No matter who's in the White House, the direction of the government has remained remarkably stable. Clinton's treasury secretary, Rubin, was a Goldman Sachs man; Henry Paulson, the current secretary under Bush, is also a Goldman Sachs man. It'll probably be a Goldman man again next year. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. In sickness or in health, the faces may change, but the money remains. 'It's not an accident that both administrations picked for leading economic advisers people from Goldman Sachs,' says Pollin."
I should interject here that while William Geithner is not strictly a "Goldman Sachs man," his mentors all were and his top aides are. Robert Scheer's comments on the Geithner-Goldman Connection can be read here~~~
But back to Taibbi~~~
"The really distressing thing about all of this is the signal it sends to Americans. Goldman Sachs posted a record profit of $11 billion last year, much of it from betting against the subprime mortgage market they themselves helped to fuck up. That little energy exchange Goldman set up, the ICE, made a profit of $240 million last year, as gas prices skyrocketed. It may suck to be you right now, but all that pain isn't so bad if you are a big oil speculator.
"When you live in million-dollar Manhattan townhouses and make billions in profits betting on the pain of the ordinary foreclosed homeowner, you shouldn't get to run around on TV with the prospective president on your arm. You should be hung by your balls. But that's not the way it works, and despite what you might have heard about 'change,' it probably never will be.
"For all the excitement that Barack Obama has garnered, and all the talk about a new day in Washington, it would be tragic if the real legacy of his election victory was to finally expose the essentially unchanging, oligarchic nature of our political system. It's the same old story: Money talks, and bullshit walks. And don't be surprised if we're the ones still walking after November."
The entire article still can be accessed here~~~
I hope you noticed mention of ICE in Taibbi’s research. Tuesday night, on NPR’s Fresh Air, the New York Times’ economic analyst Gretchen Morgenson mentioned that ICE probably will be Treasury’s choice to be central to regulation of derivatives. In her column on June 1st, she wrote,
"Analysts say that because major banks that deal derivatives are so closely affiliated with ICE, they could seek to have many of the products classified as 'customized' — the only category that would keep them off regulators’ radar screens under Mr. Geithner’s proposal.
"This worries Mr. (Tom) Harkin, the Iowa Democrat, whose constituents include agricultural concerns that want better oversight of trading.
"This is needed, he said, to 'add openness, transparency and integrity in futures trading to rebuild the financial system.' Letting 'customized' derivatives — like many credit-default swaps — trade without detailed disclosure is a way to keep regulators in the dark, he said.
"Mr. Harkin said Mr. Geithner visited the Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill three weeks ago. At that meeting, Mr. Harkin said, he challenged Mr. Geithner to 'define customized swaps.' Mr. Harkin said the Treasury secretary told him he would have to get back to him." (scroll down to the column just above Krugman’s)
If you’re interested in what Taibbi is up to these days, given that his Campaign series concluded (with him exhausted) you can check out a number of blogs and online writings that he continues, along with TV appearances now. Chief among his blogs is at Smirking Chimp, and take a look especially at his entry for Monday in response to a proposal in the Wall Street Journal to "enshrine" Henry Paulson as a "national hero."
Brother, can you spare some change I can believe in?