Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Obama's Pay Freeze Helps Keep Frivolous Tax Cuts

Yesterday President Obama called for a two year pay freeze for federal workers, estimated to save the government up to $6 billion a year for the next ten years.*  This bit of preemptive capitulation hasn't pleased anyone, angering the President's supporters while emboldening his detractors who believe that the pay freeze is merely a first step. President Obama gave up this negotiating chit the day before meeting with Repulican leaders in their "Slurpee Summit."

I think this pay freeze is terrible policy for several reasons, especially with the dire state of our economy.  Using the projections of the President's economic team, this pay cut will cost the country 25,000 private sector jobs over the next two years. Despite what Eric Cantor and the Republicans may say, federal employees currently earn 22% less than their private sector counterparts according to the 2009 Office of Personnel Management report.

2009 pay disparity

How can we expect the government to do a better job than it is currently doing when we don't even want to pay the employees a fair wage?  How can we expect to retain the best people we currently have when they are now more open to recruitment to fill jobs in the private sector?** 

Meanwhile, the President still seems determined to allow the tax cuts to be extended permanently*** costing the country $370 billion per year.  He's covered the 2% the cost of these tax cuts with this middle class pay freeze... how will he cover the other 98%?

In 2012, President Obama will be running for his reelection, and the right will have two new memes to press in their campaign.  "President Obama wants to increase the pay of federal workers and raise your taxes."  Follow this up with equally untrue stories about his $2B trip to India, lack of birth certificate, and Muslim faith, and we'll be looking at a serious GOP tea party in November.

* I have seen some conservative commentators wondering how a 2-year freeze can equal ten years worth of savings, I can see how it'd be difficult to accept that not getting a raise this year will make the raises in the future relatively smaller.

** This fits into the long-term plan of the Republicans to shrink the federal government and hand it over to the private sector; as the best employees leave, the quality of work will drop, which tends to feed into more cuts/firings, which tends to lead to private contractors filling in at a much higher cost.

*** There's no doubt in my mind that if they are extended for even a year that they will be extended permanently when they come up to expire next.  If we can't allow them to expire with our large current majorities, what possibility will we have in 2011 or 2012?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Chase Bank - Preying on the Poor

Two decades ago, I opened a bank account at Washington Mutual, a regional bank here in the northwest.  At the time, they were a responsible and accountable institution and I was proud to be associated with them.  As time passed, they fell into the trap of so many banks and involved themselves with mortgage securities and eventually overextended to the point that they found themselves nearly bankrupt.

Financial giant Chase Bank swept in and bought out WaMu over a weekend, and before we knew it our friendly local bank became a cog in a cold international machine.  We customers received letters assuring us that our accounts would remain unchanged, aside from the drops in savings interest rates, CD rates, checking interest, and other changes.  Still, my free checking remained free, and I kept my account open with them as I had a number of automatic withdrawals funneled through my account.

Today, however, I received a letter from the bank announcing some changes to my "free" checking account.  No longer a free account, my new "Total Checking" account now carries a $10 monthly fee.  You can avoid this monthly fee if you meet one of the following conditions.

1: $1,500 minimum daily balance
2. $5,000 average monthly balance
3: $25/month other fees
4: One direct deposit of $500/month

Now, at first, the fourth option did seem to be somewhat reasonable... until you realize that it's not $500 worth of deposits per month... it's ONE deposit of that much.  So if you're an average person making an average wage and get a weekly paycheck - even if you deposit the entire post-tax amount - you'll still have to pay the $10 monthly fee.  That is, unless you happen to have a $1500 cushion in your account.

It's not even "poor" people who take home less than $500 a week.  That's nearing the median income, if you consider that $500 take-home is about $700 gross (or $35k/year) in the best case scenarios.  Take home $475 per week, every week?  Tough luck, that's going to cost you.

Shame on you, Chase Bank, for finding a way to screw over the hard-working middle class customers who manage to keep their checking accounts in positive territory and avoid ridiculous fees.  I've already made the calls necessary to cancel all of my direct payments through this account, and will be walking down to my local branch to close out my account as soon as this is posted.  I've had a savings account with my credit union for some time now, looks like they'll be receiving all of my checking business as well.  A change I'd say is long overdue.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Attempted Domestic Terror Plot Thwarted in Portland

Fox Tower At Christmas

Last night, Portland held their annual downtown lighting of the Christmas tree at Pioneer Courthouse Square.  As usual, I considered going, but didn't bother to cram in with the crowds for no particular reason.  The tree will remain lit up for the next month, and I'll have plenty of opportunity to see it, like I did in the above photo from 2007.  There's no need to jam into the square with thousands of fellow Portlanders to see it turn on.

As most of you have probably heard, the tight crowd also brought an attempted domestic terror attack, as a Corvallis man drove a van bomb to the area and attempted to kill some of the festival-goers.  Luckily, the FBI had foiled his plan and the bomb he tried to ignite was a dud.

I'm glad that nothing came of this, as from what I've read it could have killed some of the people in the area, and certainly would have injured many and traumatized my fair city.  My brother and I passed through the area on a MAX train last night as the festivities were underway, and the crowd was packed shoulder-to-shoulder, filling a block and a half.  I haven't seen any official estimates, but similar crowds are usually estimated at 10,000 or so.


From the details in the story, it doesn't sound like it would have been a particularly effective bombing anyway.  Pioneer Square is somewhat isolated from traffic, with MAX lines running along each side, with limited parking mostly on the opposite side of the street.  The one street with square-adjacent parking was closed off, so that means the van had to have been parked across the street from the square, with a lane of traffic and the MAX line between the square and the bomb, and the majority of the crowd further protected by a thick brick wall separating the sidewalk from the square.  These details a downtown Portlander would know, but a Corvallis resident probably wouldn't.

Either way, thank goodness nothing happened and everything went well at the square.  Congratulations to the FBI for catching this guy and likely saving lives, it's good to see law enforcement keeping people safe.

The details are still unclear at the time, but the story indicates that emails from the suspect to a contact in Pakistan were what tipped the FBI off in the first place.  When the Corvallis man was unable to get assistance from the foreign contact, the FBI stepped in and an undercover agent worked to help the bomber prepare for his attack.  While there may be some question as to whether the bomber could have gotten as far as he did without the FBI informant "assisting," the quotes from the bomber indicate he was determined to carry out the attack and maximize casualties, so it does seem likely that he'd have looked for a way to carry out the attack even if the FBI informant hadn't been involved.

Unfortunately, this attack has brought out the usual hateful anti-Islam commentary in the message boards.  Portland (and Oregon in general) isn't exactly the cultural melting pot you see in other parts of the country, so the modest community of Muslims and/or Africans in our city are probably going to face unwarranted discrimination over the next few weeks and months.  I don't really expect any sort of violence or serious vandalism in their communities, but I'd hate to be a Somali or Muslim reading any online commentary on the Oregon Live website over the next few months.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cenk Uygur's Plea to President Obama

Sometimes I regret not having cable.  While there's a lot of great television available over the internet, Cenk Uygyr's MSNBC Live is not available in its entirety.  Cenk is passionate and independent-minded, and has had some of the most on-point criticism of our President's reluctance to stand up for Progressives.  Here's an excellent example, really capturing the frustration I have with the current administration.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rep. Bob Inglis and the Difficulty of Being Reasonable

One of the casualties of the Tea Party craze sweeping the nation was South Carolina Republican Bob Inglis.  Inglis had a moderate/conservative voting record (based on contemporary US politics) but lost a primary challenge to a Tea Party candidate, after a lot of noise regarding his votes on TARP and other "liberal" programs.

Inglis has come out recently criticizing the leadership of the GOP, ridiculing such nonsensical positions as the "birther" issue as well as climate change denial.  I applaud him for being willing to stand up to this portion of his party, rallying behind the basis of scientific consensus and facts.  He said his party is arguing against global warming "(b)ecause 98 of the doctors say, 'Do this thing,' two say, 'Do the other.'"  This is a good thing to hear from someone on the right, even if it is someone who was defeated in his primaries and will be replaced by a farther-right partisan in January.

A few thoughts come to mind after reading about Rep. Inglis.  First off, why is it that only Republicans are covered in the press discussing the nonsensical nature of climate change denial?  Is it that they are the only ones standing up to say these things?  Or is it a matter of the press only wanting to report those who go against the grain?  I suspect it's the latter... there's no "news" in a Democrat standing up and defending the science of climate change, but when a politician stands against his party, even in the defense of overwhelming scientific consensus, it's more newsworthy.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, why do we feel that reasonable discussion and debate will change the mind of those so strongly opposed to our positions?  When someone like Rep. Inglis stands up against the partisan nonsense that has come to control the Republicans, he is shouted down as a sore loser by those on his side.  On the few issues that Inglis worked with Democrats, he is reviled by his fellow party members for being weak.

How do we liberals expect to have our voiced heard when even conservatives such as Inglis can't get their message across to those who mistrust science so badly?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On the New TSA Searching Procedures

I love to fly.  I flew for the first time in 2001, when I was 29, and afterward felt like a fool for never having enjoyed air travel sooner.  In the almost ten years since, I've flown dozens of times, and have never had what I consider to be a bad experience.  I just love the idea that I can board a plane in Portland and find myself thousands of miles away in just a few hours.  Having driven from Portland to LA several times, cutting the 18 hour drive to two hours still strikes me as almost magical.

I haven't had the opportunity to fly since the new TSA procedures have been put into play.  To be honest, I would expect that our security measures would be creeping back to a more reasonable state by now, but the fear machine must roll on, and now we're increasingly faced with either full body x-rays or intrusive pat-downs by TSA officials.  While I have nothing to hide (literally or figuratively, luckily I'm in pretty good shape) I am really shocked that the country as a whole is rolling over on this imposition of our liberties.

I didn't really mind having to take off my shoes and put them through a machine, although it's silly and pointless, it's just an inconvenience.  The regulations against liquids kind of affected me, since I tend to fly without any checked baggage, but I adjusted... that rule actually seemed to make some sense.

These new scanning/patting methods, however, don't make any sense.  What are we afraid of? How many people have actually managed to sneak through security with explosives in the last ten years?  One?  Two?  And for this, we're spending a lot of money to prevent... um... well, it's unclear what we're preventing.*  Other than convenient, dignified air travel.

By now you've surely heard of the man who declined both a full body pat-down as well as the scan in San Diego last week, the "touch my junk" guy who has made headlines.  Earlier in the year, an airline pilot raised a similar fuss when refusing the same intrusive searches.  Two of the nation's largest Pilot unions have advised their members against going through the x-ray scans, citing the health concerns of radiation exposure.**  Even today's most well-known airline pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger has come out against the screening, suggesting our resources should be spent elsewhere.

As has become the norm in our modern day opposite sketch America a vast majority of Americans approve of the new procedures.  81% according to a CBS news poll.  81%!  Nate Silver, the polling genius at Fivethirtyeight has an interesting article discussing the reality of these numbers.  Considering that only about 40% of Americans fly in any given year, and only about 5% of those have been subjected to these scans/patdowns at this point, one has to wonder how this figure will hold up as time goes by.  Right now, it looks like the vast majority of supporters are happy about something they won't have to go through themselves.  It's easy to vote to take away rights when they don't affect you.

In 2002, I never would have believed that our country would still be so crazy worried about the phantom threat of terrorism in 2010.  Yet here we are.  Still freaking out about something that kills less Americans each year than falling out of bed.  Putting into place "remedies" that are so pointless, they almost write themselves as sketches for late night comedy.***

It's good to be able to laugh at such an absurd part of our lives, but really the constant attack on our freedoms (mostly from those claiming to be standing up for them) is a serious threat to the ideals of America.  It really pains me to see our country continuing down this road, where fear trumps reason and all money for the social good is funneled to pointless corporate profiteering.  If I couldn't imagine today's America back in 2002, I shudder to think where we'll be in 2018.

* As usual, I ask myself, could we save more lives if this money were spent elsewhere?  How about if it went toward safer roads?  Or health care, education, addiction treatment, poverty assistance, veteran's assistance?  How many people die from air terror compared to car accidents, addiction, or exposure?  Why is our priority on something that takes so much and gives nothing in return?

** Our air pilots are already under a ton of pressure, from their industry cutting costs at every corner, and this only adds to their difficult, important jobs.  Which has caused more airline-related deaths since 2002?  Airline employee error, or terrorism?  Is subjecting airline employees to more pressure really going to reduce the deaths associated with their industry?

*** I've been wanting to work in a Conan reference for the last week.  To be honest, this whole entry was built around that clip, and I almost cut it in the end because it's kind of clunky to include it in such a serious discussion.  I suppose we have to be able to laugh at these things, because if we can't all that's left is to cry.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

McConnell, Maddow, and Capitulating with Fox's Game Plan

In my previous post, I took some umbrage with what I felt was Jon Stewart's evasion of the toughest questions in his interview with Rachel Maddow. Whenever an interviewee fails to answer the tough questions in an interview, I feel his message is diluted, and the post-rally analysis of Stewart has had that result. Although I know my blog is new and doesn't really command much attention (certainly not anyone who can influence the media or government policy... no offense, dear reader) I would like to take a moment to point out an example of where Jon was right about the left mirroring Fox's game plan.

On Friday, the following segment was the top story on Maddow's show.

To summarize:

1. According to George Bush's memoir, Sen McConnell (R-KY) privately urged Pres. Bush in Sep 2006 to bring troops home from Iraq in order to boost the Republican's chances in the '06 elections. That is to say, he suggested drawing down troops for political benefit. Sen McConnell in Decision Points "Your unpopularity is going to cost us control of the congress."

2. Bush declined his request, saying he "...set troop levels to achieve victory in Iraq, not victory at the polls."*

3. Sen McConnell, on Sep 4-6, 2006, repeatedly publicly decried the Democrat's calls for troop withdrawal. "Cutting and running is not a strategy for protecting the American people," was the basic (and most polite) jist of his condemnation.

4. When Maddow's team asked for comment on this hypocrisy, Sen McConnell's team responded with a standard "No comment on advising the president" line, stating that "the public record is clear on his unwavering support" for the war.  He pointedly did not deny the President's recollection.

This "incredible story" of McConnell's "trouble on a grand scale" and "contemptible hypocrisy" makes up the first eleven minutes of Maddow's 46 minute show. I understand that hypocrisy is shameful, and McConnell has been caught red-handed. My question is, what difference does it make? Is this going to change anything? What makes this Kentucky story an "incredible" and "grand" national story?**

What I see is, McConnell supported his President publicly while disagreeing with him privately. I believe many of us have been upset with Reid and any number of our elected officials for not backing up President Obama publicly. I know I've written about how disappointed I am that Democrats haven't stood up for Obama's policies.*** McConnell did what the Republicans always do, he stayed in line and played ball. That's why they win elections and get things done when they're in power.

More importantly, why was this the most important thing to report on yesterday? Where was the reporting on supposedly impartial Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's serving as the keynote speaker at the Nov 9, 2010 conservative American Spectator event?  How about the reporting of Debt Reduction Committee co-chair Erskin Bowle's job on the board of financial giant Morgan Stanley? There are two great conflict of interest stories, both occurring right now and not four years ago, both very relevant to issues facing Americans today.

Is the McConnell story interesting? I suppose so. Is it a more factual version of sort of thing Fox News does to democrats on a daily basis? No doubt. However, it's nowhere near as relevant as the Bowles or Alito conflict of interest stories.  If Maddow or Olbermann were to cover them, they'd add a lot of legitimacy to them. The facts are out there, but if you search Google the links I've provided are the most legitimate media sources available. No matter how many links Think Progress, Truth Out, or I provide none of us have the legitimacy of MSNBC.

So while I agree that unilateral disarmament is a bad idea, Maddow and Olbermann and the rest of the media could take an important lesson from Mr. Stewart. Stop the sniping. There is plenty of fact-based information out there to take down the right. Let the right lie and name-call all they want, put the damning evidence we have out there, rather than letting it fester on the backrooms of the internet.

* I do find this hilarious. Either GW Bush spoke in talking points even in private conversations, or he completely fabricated the quotes of his own speech to match up to the talking points he was making at the time. I don't know which is a more ridiculous option.

** I remember in the '08 election, when Biden was chosen as Obama's running mate, there was a rehashing of how one time he forgot to attribute a quote in a speech. I got into an argument with a conservative acquaintance of mine about how silly this issue was. This McConnell thing has about as much national relevance in my opinion.

*** Forget that Bush's team was out there pushing the same policies as McConnell, while Obama hasn't made much of an effort to get out there and push anything. Sending out a YouTube video a week before the election is hardly an effort to equal Bush's six year non-stop fear machine.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Quick Bit of Frustration

I've been sort of reluctant to post in the last few days, partly because I've just been frustrated with the news coming out of Washington, primarily the ridiculous National Debt Commission chair recommendations, which were released to the press behind the President's back earlier this week.*  The press coverage has focused primarily on Social Security reductions (fueled by the oft-repeated lie that Social Security will be bankrupt in our lifetimes) and really didn't mention the 500,000 jobs that are suggested to be cut under the proposal.  Yeah, that's what we need right now, to cut half a million jobs.  All non-defense, of course.

On top of this is the "will they or won't they?" game the media is playing with the Administration's capitulation on the Bush tax cuts.  It's all pretty clever, as they have now moved the discussion from whether they will temporarily keep the tax cuts to whether they will permanently keep the tax cuts.  I'd like to see ALL of the the Bush tax cuts expire... including those on the middle and lower classes.  I'm more than willing to take the $10-14 a week in tax increases that will hit me if they expire... it's a very small price to pay to help get our country back in shape.  Realistically, I hope the true Democrats do stand up and prevent any extension of the cuts for $250k+.

Of course the headlines are almost all leading to the more tax cut, benefit cut philosophy.  I'm tired of seeing CNN opinion piece headlines such as "Is American Losing It's Influence?" which then suggests that our current path is what has lead us down this road to ruin.  That article particularly upsets me, as it is super light on specifics of how we've run into trouble, but very heavy on how tax cuts and benefit reductions will save us.  As usual, no talk of jobs or investment in our crumbling infrastructure.

Then again, it's no surprise that the media is aligned against us.  Rachel Maddow had Jon Stewart on as a guest last night and they discussed his false equivalencies between the right and left and their influence in the media.  Although I agree with Stewart's message of thoughtful discussion and maintaining a fact-based dialogue, I was pretty disappointed with some of the things he had to say to Maddow.  I felt he made a lot of excuses for the right and evaded more pointed questions about the differences.**

Almost seeming to be emboldened by the infighting on the left (and those who've taken Stewart's message to heart in some way) Glenn Beck is on a rampage this week with his nonsensical claims that George Soros controls the progressive movement and is building up to some violent revolution to conquer the US.  In reality, Beck is a more visible and manipulative puppeteer, and the calls for violence have been far more prominent on the right... but of course they want to frame the narrative that it's the left who are the bad guys.  It's all very scary... especially when you see the right wing corporate backed movement placing ads like this:


If this is what is being advertised on the centrist Huffington Post, I shudder to consider what lies and hatred are on the conservative websites.***

So it's been a little frustrating over the last week.  I've been kind of busy too, but it's the continued daily assault on my sensibilities that have kept me from trying to make a difference here.  It hasn't taken me long to remember why it is I stopped being involved two years ago... it's really hard when you keep getting hit in the face over and over again.****

* Notice the leading headline in that article.  "Panel Seeks Social Security Cuts and Higher Taxes."  The "higher taxes" bit is ridiculous, aside from the adjustment of a few fees and a modest increase in the national gas tax, there are few revenue increases.  No surprise, it recommends keeping the Bush tax cuts for the rich and suggests a corporate tax cut from 35 to 26% - that's about 1/3.  You have to read through 3/4 of the article to get to that point, of course... the headline would be far more accurate to read "...Additional Tax Cuts" rather than "Higher Taxes."

** Sam Seder did a good analysis of Stewart's interview on his Majority Report podcast today.  He discussed a few things I thought stood out from Stewart's interview... among them, the way he made excuses for Bush and his "Weapons of Mass Distruction" claim, equating it to a six year-old desiring car ownership.  If we invaded every country who "sought out" WMDs in such a broad, long-term sense, we'd have to invade every country on the planet.  He also failed to address the idea that claiming Bush is a war criminal (which he admitted was technically true) is the same as claiming Obama is a secret Muslim Socialist born outside the US.  Tsk tsk.

*** And how many lies are in that simple ad?  Unconstitutional?  Just because you disagree with something doesn't make it unconstitutional, despite how many times people repeat it.  Government Run?  There's nothing in our watered down health care legislation causing it to be government run, any more than regulations run every aspect of our lives.  Of course in an ad like that, you can just say whatever you want, and put it on a news site...

*** Having to provide these links to back up my arguments doesn't help.  Nor my inability to keep it short or to-the-point.  I should start writing outlines rather than just rambling on like I do...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Tea Party's Vision for the Future?

I'm not a fan of privatizing many government services.  I can't think of any current government services I would like to see privatized, but then I don't think about that a whole lot.  Whenever I do hear the right suggest that a lot of government should be privatized, I like to ask what specifically they mean.  Should we privatize roads?  The police?*  Fire service?

I can usually make a pretty strong argument against privatizing any of these things, especially as people look at the costs of laying roads or fighting their own fires.  However, the backlash coming from Fountain Hills Arizona's decision to consolidate trash pick-up service shows that privatization of basic services is a fight we'll see more and more.

The decision is expected to save the city of 25,000 over one million dollars a year, as well as add recycling pick-up to a city that currently is without.  They will replace the five companies providing service with one company to serve the entire population, which is expected to reduce noise and pollution as it synchronizes pick-ups across the town.

Tea Partiers have fought this decision by the council, arguing that "trashcare" will eliminate choice and somehow threaten the liberty of the citizens.**  According to AZ Central, a flier was circulated around Fountain Hills with an ominous icon and the phrase, "The Hills Will Have Eyes," and that claimed the "Fountain Hills Green Police" checked residents' garbage and recyclables, and as a result, "you are wanted for questioning." 

Although I strongly disagree, I can understand the Tea Party's argument for "more choice" and even their anti-environmental dislike of recycling, but isn't saving government money part of what drives these groups?  Shouldn't a government agency finding a way to "cut waste" and save a million dollars in a small town budget be a positive thing in anyone's eyes, let alone the "cut government spending"-happy Tea Party?


* We've actually seen a lot of this, at least here in Portland, where you see far more private security guys running around on the street than you do police.  These private security cannot, of course, do anything to help the general public (they aren't allowed by their employer) but do help cover the gaps left behind after tax cuts cause budged cuts to public security.

** I wonder, do these same Tea Partiers feel that grocery store employees keeping an eye out for shoplifters are threatening their freedom?  How about gas station employees watching for those who leave without paying for their gas?  Or restaurant managers calling the police on dine-and-dashers?

Why I Have Trouble Maintaining Hope

In 2008 I supported John Edwards, moved primarily by his "two America" philosophy.  I felt this was the most sincere and direct words I'd heard from a politician regarding the problems facing our country today.  In hindsight, I can say we're lucky that he lost the primary race, and after he did it was pretty easy to switch my allegiance to Barack Obama.  Hillary Clinton, I felt, represented the middle-of-the-road corporatist policies of, well, President Clinton.  Obama promised hope and change, and I felt that he represented a new progressive voice in America.  His forceful and inspiring speeches and (at the time) obvious desire to lead inspired me as the summer went on.

Unfortunately, as he filled his cabinet with Clinton and Bush folks in early 2009, I realized that maybe I had been taken in by rhetoric.  As January 20 came around, I said, "Give the guy a chance!  He'll show us that he can lead and take these people down the right path."  Unfortunately, a quick series of corporatist policies followed.  An undersized, tax-cut-heavy stimulus package.  Failure to investigate the crimes of the Bush administration.  Abandoning the Public Option.  Giving up on DADT.  Failing to lead in general... where was the great orator we saw in the summer of 2008?  Why wasn't Obama on TV every week fighting for his principles, leading progressives and persuading the independents of the value of his plans?

After several months of disappointment, I finally gave up on believing.  I don't remember what it was exactly that caused me to lose hope, there are so many capitulations and concessions that our President has made to the right that I can't even count them.  So I stopped being involved, and over the last two years watched the extreme right take over the narrative of the country.  I imagine the independents did the same, and lacking political allegiance, jumped on the Tea Party bandwagon.

Realizing the error of my apathetic ways, I'm trying to get involved again.  Then I hear the President on sixty minutes saying the same thing's he's been saying for the last eighteen months, and it makes me wonder why I bother.

Here are a few quotes: "You know, now I will say that when it comes to some of my supporters, some of my Democratic supporters who express some frustration, part of it, I think, is the belief that if I just communicated things better, that I'd be able to persuade that half of the country that voted for John McCain that we were right and they were wrong.

And, you know, one of the things that I think is important for people to remember is that, you know, this country doesn't just agree with The New York Times editorial page. And, you know, I can make some really good arguments defending the Democratic position, and there are gonna be some people who just don't agree with me. And that's okay. And then we've got to figure out a way to compromise."

Where did the President get the idea that he needs to persuade the half of the country who voted for McCain that he is right?  Why is this a priority?  We didn't vote in the President in order for him to win the 2012 election with the help of the right.  We voted in the President so he could fix the country with progressive policies.  I believe this WOULD have won him a larger majority in 2012 (as well as kept most of the people voted out in 2010 in their jobs) but we'll never know that now.  Instead, our President basically abandoned many promises of his campaign and instead adopted positions akin to some hybrid of Mitt Romney and Bill Clinton.

Is it any consolation to know the President "can make some really good arguments defending the Democratic position."  Personally, I can make a savory meatloaf with au gratin potatoes and a nice salad with a delicious chocolate cake for dessert.  I've never done such a thing, but that's not important, because I CAN do it.  I guess the slogan "Yes We Can" was right... we should have insisted on "Yes We Will," because the President has certainly shown us that just because he can do something doesn't mean he will.

Another quote, from the same page in the transcripts:

“Part of my promise to the American people when I was elected was to maintain the kind of tone that says we can disagree without being disagreeable. And I think over the course of two years, there have been times where I’ve slipped on that commitment.”

I'd like to know what he is talking about here.  When has the President ever taken a hard line on anything?  All he has done is say "Let's meet in the middle.  Let's try it your way."  And of course every time he does this, the right says "No, let's move further to the right."  And we do.  Further and further to the right, and the President continues to insist that "Oh, it's not you, it's me.  I'll try it your way."  He did it with the public option, with the stimulus, with Afghanistan, with climate regulations, the Bush tax cuts... the list goes on and on.  And today, he's still doing the same.

I want to believe.  I want to hope.  I want to have a President that will lead us to the left and help the country recover from the three decades of right-wing corporatist policies that have bankrupted our country and left all but the wealthiest worse off than we we before.  Unfortunately, Obama has not shown any real evidence of being that President.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rising From the Ashes

It's my hope that the losses of last Tuesday will spur progressives across the country to stand up for our values and get our voices out. There's some sign that this might be the case, the blogs I've been reading have been pretty consistent on that tone. I think Keith Olbermann's suspension (and hasty reinstatement) will serve as a reminder to the power of the true left, and how we are capable of rallying together. Let's hope we can do so for our country which, no offense to Mr. Olbermann, is a much larger issue than an influential news personality.

One voice I am glad to see return to the national dialogue is Sam Seder. Sam was one of the original Air America radio hosts (hard to believe that was 6 years ago!) and has been sort of hard to hear from in the last couple of years. He has started a new daily podcast, "The Majority Report," which can be downloaded from Majority.FM, or subscribed to through iTunes or any RSS reader. He's only done a couple of episodes so far, he's calling these first shows their beta, but they're already well worth listening to.

If you're not familiar with Sam, he's funny and smart. While he is unhappy with the weak-kneed policies of the outgoing congress, he does realize that the Democrats are the best chance we have to improve our lot in the current system. Since he's also a pretty funny guy, I think his voice is one that could really help shape the dialogue over the next few years. If nothing else, he'll make it easier to get through the difficulties of the 112th Congress.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rachel Madow Discusses Right Wing Echo Chamber

In my previous post discussing the fabricated claims of Obama's $2 Billion Trip to India, I opined on the right wing echo chamber and how we face a real uphill battle fighting it. This clip from Rachel Maddow discussing basically the same thing is a lot more persuasive (and entertaining*) than my modest contribution.

* Did you know Rachel Maddow is a lesbian vampire? If you've watched the video, you've learned THE TRUTH!

Right Wing Media's $200 Million Field Day

I'm constantly surprised by the ability of the right wing media to make up crazy stories out of thin air, and how quickly they can spread across the public consciousness via the conservative Echo Chamber. The most recent wild accusation coming from the right is that the Obama administration is engaging in a $200 million per day trip to India. That link will take you to a Fox News clip where they list a number of fictional allegations against the President.

Snopes.com has quickly put up a response to this nonsense, disputing nearly every point made by Fox and other media outlets. There is also a great dispelling of the points over on Talking Points Memo. The compelling TPM article really makes me wonder how the right is able to come up with such a crazy narrative in such a short period of time.

I won't go into dispelling them here, as it's been done by people smarter than me, but I would like to comment on how these fabrications are even possible. The security of the President has been increasingly amped up over the last few decades, presumably starting with the assassination of JFK and accelerated by the attempt on Regan in '81. Due to these security concerns, the government is unable to reveal specifics on the number of people being sent in the President's entourage, as well as the number of vehicles/rooms/meals, etc. being purchased in the destination.  It seems like overkill, if you ask me, but I can understand it; it's just part of our modern times.

Since no clear figures can be provided by the government, it leaves the window open completely for people to speculate and point fingers. Needless to say, commentators such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh who are not beholden to truth can just make stuff up without any clear facts available to refute them. Since this is the only information out there, it is repeated and taken by many as reality.

Most people don't have time to research information for themselves (and who can blame them? It's taken me an hour just to research the links provided in this post) and have no way of instantly debunking this nonsense. For example, I had no idea that the "34 warships" claim represents 10% of the navy. Looking at the information in the TPM article, most of the claims from the right are obviously ridiculous, but difficult to respond to because they are not commonly understood.

Hopefully, the mainstream media will dispute the lies and try to set the record straight. Unfortunately, as is evidenced by the presistent birther and Muslim lies about Obama, I imagine the $2 Billion India trip meme will be repeated endlessly from the far right and take a "Weapons of Mass Destruction" level place in the American consciousness.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Great Discussion of Progressive Disappointment with Obama, Democrats

Really interesting clip from the Dylan Ratigan show, with some great points being raised by panelists Cenk Uygur (The Young Turks) and Glenn Greenwald (Salon.com) about the disappointment of Progressives from the last two years.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On 2010 Results, Oregon's Governor's Race


I attended the Kitzhaber "victory" party last night, thrown by the Democratic Party of Oregon in downtown Portland. It was a nice party and it was fun to see the candidates who spoke there. You can see additional photos of them on my flickr page.

The overall election for the nation went about as I expected. The Democrats got hammered in the house, and lost a lot of ground in the Senate. I suspect the overall spin will be that the election was a repudiation of the progressive agenda, and that the President should move even further toward the right with additional spending on tax cuts for the wealthy, additional spending on the military, and less spending on social programs.

However there is some light for progressives, as the House results show that the progressive caucus held 76 of 80 seats, while the Blue Dog Republican Lights Democrats lost more than half their caucus vacating a surprising 29 seats.*

Despite the loss of Sen Feingold (D-WI) (who tried to run a progressive campaign on the coattails of Obama/Reid's corporatist successes) the progressives did very well. If anything, the Democrats should learn that voters appreciate people who stand up for their values, who promise a progressive vision for the future. I seem to recall a black guy getting elected president running on that platform... whatever happened to him?


Here in Oregon, we were fortunate enough to hold on to our four Democratic congressional seats, with two moderately contested races holding true for Reps. Wu and DeFazio. We had a very mixed bag of ballot measure results, with progressive parks funding passing, along with a conservative (unfunded) mandatory minimum sentencing measure... both by similar margins. Our neighbors to the north really took it hard when it came to state revenue, all three Washington state tax measures fell on the tea party side of the vote by considerable margins.

Two important Oregon races remain up in the air at this time... the race between former Governor John Kitzhaber (D - Picuted above at last night's rally) and former Trailblazer (and Camas, Washington resident) Chris Dudley. Their race is down to the wire, with the final votes from Multnomah county being tallied to decide. It looks very likely the final count will fall within the 3000 votes requiring a mandatory recount, so it will be days before the results are know.

Also still up in the air is the Metro Presidency, with a very close race between progressive Bob Stacey and slightly less progressive Tom Hughes. While I would like to see Stacey win (I applaud his views on the urban growth boundary) it looks likely that Hughes will hold on to take it down. As a bicyclist, I hope Hughes' "Bike Registration Fee" plan doesn't actually materialize.

Can't wait to see the results, and it'll be an interesting journey to 2012.

Update: Kithaber pulled ahead with the Multnomah county results and ended up winning a third term (non-consecutive) as Governor with a 1% margin. Congratulations, Governor! At this time, the Hughes/Stacey race is too close to call, the current margin is within 0.2%, which means an automatic recount will be required. Thank goodness for our mandatory paper write-in ballots!

* The numbers aren't quite equal in those two articles. The first lists 77 of 80 seats holding for the progressives, while the second lists 75 of 79. I split the difference with my figure, but the point is the progressives held.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Boogeyman China Headlines Delusional Anti-Government Ad

A very disturbing ad is making the conservative rounds, featuring a glimpse into a so-called future where China is inexplicably mocking the United States of 2010. I saw this ad over on The Consumer Trap today, where the overt racism is decried. Setting the racism aside (I can't imagine any self-respecting actor of Chinese descent signing up for this commercial) this ad is full of ridiculous misrepresentations and misdirection.

First off, the presenter suggests that America fails because they "turn their back on the principles that make them great." I don't disagree with this basic premise, we're in a lot of trouble right now because we've done exactly that, turning our back on the principles of the 20th century that saw us rise to world prominence. From 1936 to 1980, our top marginal tax rate was at least 70%... during this time America became the industrial and manufacturing powerhouse that won WWII and lead the technological revolution for the world. We turned our back on this progressive tax code in the 1980s, and the massive tax cuts of 2001 continue to ravage our economy today.

Unfortunately, this isn't what the message is in the commercial. As an example of the "turning our back" idea, they list the US Stimulus package, and refer to it as "so-called" and "massive". This idea is ridiculous on the surface, as China enacted a much larger stimulus package at the same time as ours (representing 1/6 of China's economic output), 38% of which was directed toward infrastructure improvements.

The ad also decries the health care overhaul of the Obama administration, a convenient talking point of the right, which is entirely out of context when comparing our industry-oriented reforms to China's state-based free insurance. If the right's suggestion that Obama has made US health care state-run were true, wouldn't the Chinese applaud this change to something more similar to theirs?

Finally, the commercial makes the point that US debt is largely owned by China. While this is partially true (they hold 20.6% of our outstanding foreign debt) they own less of us than Japan and the UK combined, neither of which would take a pro-US stance versus China. On top of this, a large majority of our debt is held domestically, with foreign debt making up less than $5 trillion of the $13 trillion debt. The implication in the ad, of course, is that Obama and progressives are somehow responsible for China holding our debt, when a majority of our outstanding debt was accumulated under President Bush. Not to mention that China holds a smaller percentage of our debt today than they did at the beginning of the Obama administration.

Unfortunately, none of these facts are convenient for the anti-tax anti-spending message of the commercial, and it's not likely people will go to the work of researching this information for themselves. It's much easier to ignore the facts and stir up emotions when people are justifiably afraid that our country has fallen behind in many areas. This commercial, sadly, blames the very things that could help us catch back up with China and the world.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Blogging to Restore Sanity

I've been a fan of The Daily Show for many years. I've long been a critic of the media and their sensationalist bent, and have been particularly disappointed over the last decade as they've slid further and further into a divisive fearful agenda. Jon Stewart (and later Stephen Colbert) have provided me some hope with their satire of these biases in the news over the years, and I was particularly encouraged this fall when I heard of their Rally in Washington.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the rally, other than to see a lot of people get together to enforce the underlying message of tolerance and civility. It was inspiring to see so many people show up (estimates ranged from 150-250,000+) for what was, essentially, a comedy rally asking everyone to play nice.

I watched a couple hours of the rally afterward streaming on CSPAN, and I have to admit I was disappointed in the content. While it was entertaining enough, it wasn't nearly as fun or substantive as I had hoped. Part of my disappointment came from the music-heavy content, but the guests just weren't all that funny or compelling. The "Law and Order" guy reading the poem was OK, but the Myth-Busters at the beginning dragged on needlessly, as did some of the comedy bits. As a daily viewer of both Stewart and Colbert, maybe my expectations were too high.

Regardless, the message of the rally was important and I was inspired to see that so many people across the country are willing to stand up for civil discourse and reason. I attended a satellite rally here in Portland, and was proud to take part with 700 fellow moderate Portlanders. In a rare turn of events, I left my camera at home for this rally, but did bring my video camera and have put together a short video which I've posted on YouTube. It'll be at the end of this post as well.

After attending the rally, and watching the DC rally online, I thought about how I've been trying to remain outside of the debate for the last few years. In 2008 I was reasonably vocal in my support for then-candidate Obama, and I alienated a couple of my conservative friends over the course of the election season. After the '08 election, I felt bad for this divide, and decided that I would tone down my politics in my social networking. As the President took office and started disappointing me with his centrist corporatist approach to governing, I basically gave up on political involvement altogether. Since then, I've been very discouraged by the rise of the far right, whether it be tea party enthusiasts or global warming deniers, but have maintained a basic silence in my political opinions.

With the 2010 election projections hanging grimly over my head, and the hope of seeing 200,000 or so moderates gather in Washington, I've decided I need to share my opinions on these subjects once again. Even if it's just to let off some steam when I see an article that offends me, or to express my frustration at the lack of consideration I see in some online discussions... I just need to get it out. Keeping it inside for the last two years has caused me too many sleepless nights and stomach aches... hopefully, writing things down here will help me keep a sane approach to discourse and prevent my head from exploding after seeing unsubstantiated attacks on the moderate improvements our President is working toward.

I tend to ramble on. Heh. Here's the video I made from the Portland Rally to Restore Sanity, including a motivational speech from Oregon state Representative Jefferson Smith (D-47).