Posts Tagged ‘George W. Bush’

The Whitewash Convention

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

Bill Maher on the Republican Convention Whitewash of the Bush years.

No Bush, no Cheney, no Rumsfeld, no Bachman, John McCain relegated to a short speech out of prime time and Sarah Palin was not only not invited to the convention, but her scheduled appearances on Fox were cancelled as well, leaving her sitting in Alaska whining to the country on Facebook.  

 

 

Laughable Republican Outrage About Defense Policy and Politics

Monday, May 14th, 2012

So, the Republicans win the award for chutspa this month for their implausible outrage over the politicization of the death of Osama bin Laden. To be sure, I thought that the president’s world tour to celebrate the death of bin Laden was a little overdone, but it paled in comparison to Bush and Karl Rove’s eight year politicization of the Commander in Chief position. As Jon Stewart hilariously pointed out, this is the same president who landed on an aircraft carrier wearing a giant stuffed jockstrap to early kickoff his campaign and declare victory in a war that would go on for another 8 years. 

As bad as I thought Karl Rove and Co. were for the country, I had to admire how good they were at playing the dirty game of politics. They took a decorated Vietnam war veteran, running against a draft dodger whose only previous military experience was defending the coast of Texas from the Red Menace, and made the war veteran into the guy who was afraid to defend America. They kept an entire nation in a constant state of fear so that they could maintain their power. The terror alerts were ubiquitous, and even the Secretary of Homeland Security said that he felt politically pressured to issue them at points that would increase the president’s chance at re-election. 

Their entire campaign in 2004 was based on “if you elect John Kerry, you and your family will die a horrible death from terrorism” During that campaign, the Vice President himself said “If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we’ll get hit again — that we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.”

I believe the next thing he said was “HWAAAAH…

Republicans have said that it’s allright to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden, but that suggesting that Mitt Romney wouldn’t have made the same decision is out of bounds. A close look at the record shows that Mitt Romney’s position on this has been nuanced (he attacked Obama for saying that he would violate Pakistan’s sovereignty to go after Osama bin Laden and other high-value targets, but under questioning clarified that he would “maintain that option”), but it’s certainly within bounds to ask whether the more cautious Mitt Romney would have gone against the counsel of his top defense aides to launch the raid.  More importantly, to hear the same people who attacked Vietnam War Veteran John Kerry as soft on defense in 2004 complain about this political line of attack is laughable.

Is it good for the country for the president to be using his record of defending the country as a way to score cheap political opponents on his opponents? Probably not.

But politics ain’t bean bag and the Republicans been doing it for years. I’m just happy to see that the Democrats stopped fighting for the most important position in the world with one hand tied behind their back.

Bin Laden’s Decade Ends With A Whimper

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Like a lot of Americans, I had a little more spring in my step on Monday with last Sunday’s news that justice was finally served to Osama bin Laden at the hands of an elite SEAL team.

It seemed surreal, but it was some of the best news that this country has heard in a long time.

Ten years can go by quickly in this life and September 11, 2001 sometimes seems not so long ago. But watching the college kids celebrate in front of the White House I was reminded that they were 8, 9, 10 years old when the Towers went down and that they had lived most of their conscious life in the post 9-11 world.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then, but 9-11 shaped most of America’s history for the past decade. Two months after 9-11, we launched the War in Afghanistan and it now ranks as our nation’s longest war. Even the best case scenarios envision us fighting there for years and maintaining a presence for even longer.

Mere months after the War in Afghanistan began, Bush Administration officials had pivoted and were already using 9-11 as justification for an invasion of Iraq. Just over a year after the Afghan war began,  in a vote held just before the mid-term elections, the US Congress voted to give the president the authority to invade Iraq. In March 2003 we invaded Iraq and the rest (as they say) is history.

Both wars looked like easy victories for the country, but as the insurgencies in each country dragged on, the wars bogged us down, sapped our collective energy and drained the Treasury of over a trillion dollars. Meanwhile, the specter of bin Laden hung above our heads, taunting us via video from some shadowy undisclosed location. Despite our 12 aircraft carriers stationed around the globe, we still couldn’t find the man who knocked down the towers with 11 men armed with box-cutters.

Last Sunday’s raid put all of that to an end.  To be sure, we still need to maintain our vigilance as a country and there will almost certainly be more attacks in the future. Bin Laden may be dead, but Bin Ladenism survives, as do the splinter groups of Al Qaeda. But it seems like a large weight has been lifted. The circle has been closed and justice has been served.  

The day after the raid that killed bin Laden, I watched Richard Engel being interviewed from Benghazi and he commented on the coverage he had been watching on Arab satellite TV. He said that, while the headline news story on Arab TV was the death of bin Laden, as the day wore on, the stations began to talk more about the “new core issues” of the revolution in Egypt, the revolution in Tunisia, the uprising in Syria and the war in Libya

There was almost a sense that bin Laden was a man of the past decade, and a lot of people in the Middle East want to put him behind them…. people wanted to focus on what really will matter for the future of the region going forward for the next ten years, and that is these uprisings.

Bin Laden dreamed of establishing a caliphate governed by Islamic law that would stretch from Spain to Afghanistan. But if the events of the past few months are any indication, the muslim world will be looking more to the freedom and liberty that those of us in the West cherish than to the fanaticism and strict religious rule of Sharia law that Osama bin Laden offered.

The sense that bin Laden was a figure of the past decade was mirrored here in the United States. I remember where I was when I watched George W. Bush’s “bullhorn moment” at Ground Zero and I remember thinking that I was watching something critical in American history. When Bush responded to a firefighter who had yelled that he couldn’t hear him, Bush yelled back into the bullhorn:

I can hear you. The people of the world hear you…And the people who knocked down these buildings are going to hear all of us soon.

It was raw. It was tribal. It was cathartic. It was one of the most iconic moments of George W. Bush’s presidency. 

Similarly, Rudy Giuliani also inspired America with his resolution, moral certainty and competence in the face of crisis.

Years later, the image of Bush at Ground Zero was replaced in the American psyche with one of him landing on an aircraft carrier in a ridiculous flight suit and making his “Mission Accomplished” speech. His leadership after 9-11 was tainted by using it as a pretext to invade Iraq. Similarly, the memories of Giuliani’s bold leadership were replaced with the equally strong sense of political opportunism that Joe Biden famously characterized as “a noun, a verb and 9-11.”

As I watched President Obama escorted by Mayor Giuliani to a firehouse in New York, I was struck by the sense in which bin Laden, Rudy Giuliani and George W. Bush were, in many ways, men who defined the past decade.

The ethereal terrorist in fatigues and turban who haunted our national conversation for the past ten years is gone. Our last image of him is not as a menacing terrorist, but a hunched over old man watching videotapes of himself on a tiny TV.

An era is ended and a new era begins.

The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get Poorer

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

There’s some astounding stats here.

If you want to skip the whole “Republicans want to give permanent tax cuts to the rich without paying for them, but cry poor about extending unemployment to people out of work” argument, just skip to minute 6.

So much for trickle down economics.

Amazing that Democrats don’t talk about this more.

Gingrich & Co Follow a Well Worn Path

Monday, August 30th, 2010

When I was a graduate student in Poli Sci at UC San Diego, I worked for a quarter as a Teaching Assistant for an Intro to Comparative Politics class. We taught a unit on ethic conflict and the main takeaway we wanted students to get from this section was that ethnic conflict is not indigenous (or primordial, as older political scientists used to argue), but that it is usually a result of political leaders who bring latent ethnic tensions to the fore as a way to gain or increase their political power. 

For instance, as in any multi-ethnic society, there were always some latent prejudice in the Balkans between the Serbs, Croats and Bosnians, but for 45 years of after World War II (and indeed during the World War II period when multi-ethnic groups fought against the Nazi’s), Tito’s Communist Party was able to keep Yugoslavia together and tamp down any ethnic strife by stressing the commonalities between the different ethnicities and not tolerating ethnic conflict. After the fall of Communism, politicians like Slobodon Milosevich and others filled the political vacuum and began to sew the seeds of conflict with divisive appeals to Serbian nationalism and political speech and action that exacerbated already existing tensions between ethnic groups. The rest, as they say, is history. 

As I watched the national freakout over the planned Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan,  I thought back to this theory as I heard Newt Gingrich rail against the “Ground Zero Mosque.”  Among the would-be- president’s  greatest hits we heard over the last few weeks were the following: “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” …and…allowing the Islamic community center to be built near Ground Zero “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.” In addition to these outrageous statements, Gingrich has proposed a Federal Law which would ban any court from using Sharia law as a replacement for American law (since this is such a burning issue in America).

I won’t spend the time deconstructing these statements because they are outrageous on their face. What I will point out is that Gingrich is engaging in a cynical ploy to gain favor in an increasingly small, insular and  Nativist Republican party in an attempt to blaze a path to the 2012 presidential elections. Similarly, perennial loser Rick Lazio, facing an impossible race for the Governorship of New York against Andrew Cuomo has made opposition to the community center his number one issue in the campaign, regularly appearing on national media to smear the imam and demand that there be an “investigation of the funding” for the development.

There is increasing evidence that the Republican party as a whole are taking advantage of  latent American Islamophobia to gain political advantage. While people like  former Congressman Joe Scarborough and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have been notable voices of tolerance, many other Republicans have eschewed George Bush-like rhetoric about Islam and joined the chorus of religion baiting. Unfortunately,  Obama’s initial statement in favor of the mosque has played right into the Republican’s hands, handing them yet another cultural issue to use against the Democrats.  

Whatever you thought of George W. Bush (and I thought he was a terrible president), he did get one thing right. Even as his Administration went to war with two Islamic countries and took advantage of American ignorance about the Muslim world to conflate Bin Laden with Saddam Hussein, he consistently made it clear that we weren’t at war with Islam and that Islam was a religion of peace. Whether you believe that last statment or not, that kind of national leadership was a critical component in tamping down ethnic tensions in the wake of 9-11 when many Americans were looking for revenge and ready to strike back at the people who perpetrated the attack on America. To a large degree, this effort worked. Although there was a big spike in anti-muslim hate crimes just after September 11th,  in the following years, these incidents subsided.   

Conservatives such as Charles Krauthamer and Jonah Goldberg have pointed to the liberal outrage about Islamophobia as yet another example of the liberals crying racism when their positions are not supported by Americans. According to these conservatives, the “Ground Zero” conflict is really just a debate about the location of the Lower Manhattan mosque, not whether Muslims can build places of worship. Certainly that’s true for some, but that argument loses some credibility when often vicious protests break out from Tennessee to Florida to Southern California over mosques that are being built within local communities.

Is the United States on the verge of some new Nazism or a Bosnian type ethnic cleansing with Newt Gingrich playing the role of Slobodan Milosevic?

Of course not. Despite the increase in incidents and protest against Muslims practicing their religion, most Americans are a generally tolerant and good people, and I’m hopeful that our better angels will prevail.  But when politicians pander to our worst prejudices and intolerances in an attempt to gain and keep political power, it tears at the fabric of American society, divides good Americans against each other and generally takes us further away from the ideals of tolerance and religious freedom that have made America great. This issue might help Newt win a few Republican primaries, but what he and others are doing is bad for the country.

It’s Way Too Early To Write This President Off

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

The Republicans have been positively giddy about President Obama’s falling poll numbers and probably every week and half my conservative uncle sends me a screed about how Obama is a failed president and America has irreversibly lost faith in him. This week it was this Op-ed from a columnist for Britian’s Telegraph.

We’ve been hearing this from the Right since a few months after Obama took office and it always reminds me of the parallels to the early 80′s when the shoe was on the other foot: the previous president had presided over a terrible economic time that the opposition party would end up using against him and his party for decades to come and a foreign policy that included some high profile blunders that shook Americans’ image of themselves.  Against this backdrop, a historic president took power with strong approval ratings, gave the country new hope and inspiration and successfully began the process of reorienting the country in a sharp departure from the previous president’s policies.

However, in the second year of his presidency the economy was slow to recover, the country began to lose faith in the president and voters seemed poised to hand his party a major defeat in the midterm elections. In polling, the president was ranked lower than his Democratic rivals for the presidency and the opposition increasingly saw him as a failed president. Desperate to stave off an embarrassing showing in the midterms, the president hit the campaign trail to explain that it was the previous president’s fault, while the opposition party shook their heads and asked how long the president was going to try to avoid responsibility for the state of the economy. 

The president, of course, was Ronald Reagan, who eventually cruised to a 19% point victory over Walter Mondale in an Electoral College landslide where he won all states with the exception of Mondale’s home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

Last week, while reading Steve Kornacki’s post about the parallels (and futility) of Obama blaming Bush and Reagan blaming Jimmy Carter in order to stave off defeat in the midterms, I stumbled across a good thread that sheds even more light on the parallels. As Kornacki noted at the beginning of this year, in October 1982 the unemployment rate was 10.4 percent–and rising, 2.9 points higher than when Reagan took office. Currently, the unemployment rate is at 9.5 percent, a rise of 2.3 points from when Obama took office.

He quotes the LA Times’ analysis of their November 1982 poll:

The survey, published in the paper’s Saturday edition, found a large number of moderate Democrats who supported Reagan in 1980 are turning against him because they are losing faith in his economic program and oppose his cuts in social programs. The poll found that if a presidential election were held today between Reagan and Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale, Mondale would win by six percentage points.

…The survey found 58 percent of those interviewed believe the economy is in “bad” shape, with 20 percent terming the situation a “major depression.” By a 2-1 ratio, those polled said they feel they are worse off personally because of Reagan’s economic policies.

In fact, looking at graphs of Obama and Reagan’s approval ratings for their first two years is like looking at a mirror image.

To be sure, the situation isn’t completely analogous. As many have pointed out, corporations are actually doing quite well in this economy and by some estimates are sitting on a pile of cash as big as $1.8 billion, but hiring has lagged. While some have pointed to the perception in the business community that Obama is “anti-business,” Ezra Klein points out that economic downturns that include financial crises have historically taken longer to recover from than those that don’t and that this problem is not so much the regulatory environment, but what he calls “the catch-22 of the recovery: businesses will start hiring when the economy recovers. And the economy will start to recover when businesses start hiring.”  Matthew Iglesias also points out the tougher row that Obama has to hoe based on economists’ growth projections. I would add to this the fact that the ability to run long term structural deficits that stimulate the economy is no longer an option given the pile of debt that the Reagan and Bush II era’s left us. 

The point of all this is not to make a prediction of how much economic growth we will have in two years, or where the unemployment rate will be at that time, but only to point out that it is too early to write the President off and all of the Republican fulminating about how Americans now see that President Obama is “a failure,” is overblown. 

As a smart man once said, “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” If jobs come back, the decisions that Obama made to insure an additional 30 million people, to work with Bernake to stop the bleeding on jobs and return us back to economic growth,  to make the largest investments in clean energy in our nation’s history with the stimulus plan, to save the American auto industry, to continue to stabilize the banking industry by adding Geithner’s “stress tests” to George Bush’s bank bailout, to pass the most wide ranging financial reform to mitigate the possibility of another financial crash imperiling the economy… all of these issues will be seen as important steps in our economic recovery and the total lack of Republican help on any of those efforts will be held against them. On the other hand, if jobs don’t come back, then all of those things will be used by Republicans to explain why they didn’t…and we may be looking at President Romney in 2012 (Of course, if the Republican’s are dumb enough to nominate Palin or Newt Gingrich all bets are off).

The point is that there’s a lot of water that’ll pass under that bridge before this president can be called a “failed president.” As I noted previously, a Republican takeover of the House could turn out to be the best thing that ever happens to Obama, as it would allow Obama to tack back to the center, both parties would be forced to take responsibility for the tough decisions that lie ahead and there would be a shared sense of blame that comes with the new Republican responsibility.

In the meantime, Republicans will no doubt continue to twist the facts to make Obama’s falling poll numbers fit their preexisting narrative. More discerning people will know that Obama’s presidency is not going to turn on whether he “believes in American exceptionalism,” whether he bowed to the Japanese Prime Minister, whether he wants to let Muslims have the same religious freedom under our Constitution that Christians have or whether almost half of the Republican party is too ignorant to know that he was born in the United States. It’s pretty simple. If the economy recovers and the country feels safe, the president will be in good shape in 2012. If not, then he won’t.   

Again, no predictions yet, but the Republicans might want to hold off on popping any champagne corks over the failure of Obama (and thus the country). One thing I can say with confidence is that two years is an eternity in politics and the last chapters of this book are not even close to being written.

Tax Cuts Do Not Pay For Themselves

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

With the Bush tax cuts about to expire and Democrats planning to make the argument over extending Bush tax cuts for the rich a key to their positioning for the November elections, there has been an increased focus on the effects of all of Bush’s tax cuts.

In defending the extentions the Republicans have backed themselves into a bit of a rhetorical corner. Specifically, they just spent two years complaining incessantly about the $9 trillion dollar deficit that Obama has somehow created in just two years (as if they were asleep during the previous 8 years) and now they are proposing to continue the tax policies that have significantly contributed to those deficits. In an attempt to justify this irresponsible policy, a number of Republicans have fallen back on the familiar supply-side argument from the Reagan years that “tax cuts pay for themselves.”

In addition to this general statement, I have also heard from some Republicans recently that “there was no revenue problem” during the Bush years and that if spending hadn’t increased at the time, Bush would have been able to balance the budget. While that may be technically true, it fundamentally ignores the fact that the Bush tax cuts tacked on an additional trillion and a half to a budget that was aleady bloated by recession and two wars (wars that almost all Republicans supported).

A few minutes of Google research was enough to dispel the fantasy that tax cuts pay for themselves. Studies by both the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the free market Heritage Foundation have both pegged the cost of the Bush tax cuts at close to $1.7 trillion over a ten year period. Even the most conservative estimates of the stimulative power of the tax cuts assume that they would have created a 25% increase in tax revenues during that period, making the cost of those tax cuts at least $1.3 trillion (if not more).

Going forward, the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for all income brackets is estimated at $3 trillion over 10 years.

So now Republicans–who complained seemingly non-stop for two years about how Obama had created trillion dollar deficits–are in the position of running for office on a plan to keep all the Bush tax cuts in place, but not providing any plan to offset the estimated $3 trillion revenue loss.

This dichotomy was on display pretty dramatically on Meet the Press last Sunday. The week before David Gregory had Alan Greenspan on and had asked the former Fed Chairman if he favored extending the Bush tax cuts. “I’m very much in favor of tax cuts but not with borrowed money” he said, “and the problem that we have gotten into in recent years is spending programs with borrowed money, tax cuts with borrowed money; and at the end of the day that proves disastrous.”

Gregory probed more: “you don’t agree with Republican leaders who say tax cuts pay for themselves?”

“They do not,” replied Greenspan. 

When Boehner was on last Sunday, Gregory played Greenspan’s clip from the week before and asked him how he could be concerned about the deficit, but at the same time in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts indefinitely.

“Do tax cuts pay for themselves?” Gregory asked.

Boehner was evasive, but Gregory kept at him until he burst out that Gregory wanted to “get into this Washington game…and their funny accounting over there.” 

Nice try Boehner, but this isn’t a Washington game, and it’s not a trick question to ask if you have a plan to pay for the $3 trillion in tax cuts that you are proposing, especially if you just spent the past two years blaming Obama and Pelosi for the deficit.

We just finished a long debate over the health care reform bill and the Republicans’ main argument was that we couldn’t afford to move toward universal health care and that they didn’t like (or believe in)  the way it was financed. That’s fair enough, I didn’t like how it was financed either, but it was financed, which is more than we can say about extending the Bush tax cuts, or the Medicare prescription drug benefit that the Republicans passed under Bush.

We are closing out 30 years of history in which the Republicans have consistently said that they would cut government, but when push came to shove, just cut taxes and let government increase in size. Does anyone think that we should just trust these guys to do the right thing this time?…and more importantly, if anyone does believe that they have a plan to balance the budget, don’t we deserve to know what that plan would look like?

As I’ve said before, I think that there are good arguments to maintain low taxes for the next couple of years to stimulate the economy (I would rather see the income tax cuts be replaced by a short-term payroll tax holiday), but we are facing a $9 trillion deficit over the next ten years and neither party seems serious about the changes that will need to be made. Canceling  the tax cuts would slash that deficit by one third overnight and make the job of deficit reduction significantly less daunting.

Americans need to understand that hard choices (on both benefits and taxes) need to be made, and we should have a debate that illuminates this reality. The politicians are doing what they always do. Obama promised not to raise taxes on the middle class, so he’s in favor of extending the tax cuts for everyone but the top 2%. Republicans like low taxes more than they hate deficits, so they’re in favor of adding on another $700 billion over 10 years for the top 2% (while they filibuster jobless benefits because “we can’t afford them”). Both sides complain about deficits, but both sides are also in a mad dash to stuff the budget full of their individual priorities before they have to start negotiating on what programs to cut and what revenues to raise.

The country deserves a debate on bigger issues instead of a narrow debate along the partisan lines that the parties have layed out. We deserve a rare outbreak of candor from our politicians. 

This may be to much to ask right now, but dispensing with the canard that “tax cuts pay for themselves” is a good start.

Lockbox

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

A few weeks ago, NBC debuted SNL’s Best of the 2000′s. Included was the now classic skit where Al Gore and George W. Bush are asked to sum up their campaign in one word. Gore (Darrel Hammond) thinks a while and then replies in his thick-as-honey Tennessee accent “…Lockbox.” Bush (Will Ferrell), looks straight at the camera and says with Bushlike certainty “Strategery.”

That skit has become iconic, but when I saw it, I was reminded that at least one politician did see the oncoming crisis and had a plan to deal with at least part of it. For the past year and a half (ever since Barack Obama was elected and the Republican’s discovered that deficits were bad), I have wondered many times how we could have gotten into this situation. For years it was clear to anyone who took a look at budget projections that Baby Boomers were going to start retiring and becoming eligible for Medicare and Social Security soon. Entitlement spending would increase at the same time that the number of people paying into the system was going to decrease. This system resembled a ponzi scheme more than a funding mechanism.  Who, I thought to myself, is responsible for the fact that we now are facing this situation and everyone seems to be acting as though it is a surprise to them?

Well, the answer is that we all are. For years, we elected politicians who said that they were going to balance budgets, but when the rubber hit the road, didn’t. Not only did we not kick these people out of office, we encouraged them to act irresponsibly by punishing any politician who promised to increase taxes or actually did increase taxes in order to balance the budget, and we punished any politician that tried to cut benefits by kicking them out of office (Think Walter Mondale in 1984, Gorge HW Bush in 1992, or Congressional Democrats in 1994).

Being good at their profession (getting elected), it didn’t take the politicians long to figure out this game. Anyone who acted responsibly and asked for sacrifice from individuals for the good of the nation was punished, so politicians just gave the voters what they were requesting through their votes: big government and low taxes.

On each side of the aisle, you can see the cynical calculations taking place over the past decades. The Republican strategy was called “Starve the Beast.” The idea was that you would continue to cut taxes so much that there would be no money for social programs. Then when a crisis hit, the “Permanent Majority” that Karl Rove was carving out would cut social programs and say that they had no choice.

The longstanding pattern was pushed to its most outrageous lengths under the Administration of George W. Bush. Bush and Congressional Republicans pushed through close to $1.8 trillion in tax cuts, while at the same time increasing both domestic discretionary spending and fighting two wars. For the first time in American history, taxes were decreased while America was at war. Included among Bush’s increased domestic spending was a ($500 billion over 10 years) Prescription Drug Entitlement Bill. This bill was passed with absolutely no funding.

Think about that for a second. For all of the Republican fulminating about the gimmicky accounting for the funding of the health care bill, at least it has funding. This prescription drug benefit’s costs were tacked on directly to the deficit. Imagine if Obama had tried to do this in 2010. The Republican’s would have tried to gouge his eyes out. In 2003, they barely batted an eyelash.

Republican’s have made stimulus a bad word over the past year and a half, but looking back, the entire Bush presidency looks like a giant stimulus plan, with trillions of dollars being pumped into the economy through tax cuts and increases in government spending.

Like most politicians, Barack Obama learned his lessons from this history. Not to be outdone by Republican’s, Obama ran on a platform of rescinding the Bush tax cuts for the top income tax bracket, but leaving in place all other Bush tax cuts. In addition, he also proposed an additional tax cut of $500 for individuals and $1000 for families not among the top 5% of earners, even if those families or individuals only paid payroll taxes for the year.

The Democrats in Congress and President Obama followed up their tax cuts (slightly cut down and lasting for only two years) with a long awaited plan to move the country toward providing the benefit of health care that every other industrialized country has. But instead of having a real debate about the coming deficit avalanche, they pushed through Health Care Reform with a budget that was narrow enough to fund the specific plan, while ignoring the fixes that will be needed for the coming crisis. In fact, as funding for half of their plan, they used $500 billion of cuts in Medicare services over a 10 year period. While this technically qualifies as funding, it basically cuts an existing “entitlement” program that is in crisis to fund a new entitlement. The tactics here are different, but the strategy is the same: put a popular status quo (near universal health care) on the table as the starting point for negotiations.

The cumulative result of this recklessness is dramatic. In 2010, tax rates were the lowest that they have been in 50 years (47% of people paid no federal income tax) and federal spending was the highest it has ever been. Not coincidentally, deficits were also at record highs.

To be fair, much of this is an artifact of the unprecedented steps the government has made to keep us out of a Great Depression and I support many of them. In the short term deficits are appropriate and necessary. But for the long term, we need a plan to get our accounts back in balance.

In a recent debate with my conservative uncle, he tagged me for always referring to Bush Tax cuts as “Tax Cuts for the Rich” and pointed out that everyone got a tax cut under Bush (although, to be fair, the rich got hell of a lot more). “Do you support rescinding the Bush Tax cuts for the other 95% of the population,” he asked (assuming that he knew the answer). I thought about it for a second and then responded: Yes. Yes, of course. Because this is a huge crisis and what’s at stake is the future of America.

Look, I know what it feels like to get a check that barely pays your bills and then have the government take more out of it. And I’m sure that if I was lucky enough to be making over $200K, it wouldn’t be fun to have 40% taken out of my paycheck from that point forward. But as conservatives like to say, “Freedom Aint Free.” You can’t maintain a military that polices the globe and provide even the lamest social safety net for 300 million people without raising a lot of revenue.

So I’m open to ideas on how to solve this mess, but I think we need to level with ourselves and accept that it can’t be done without cuts in spending as well as tax increases. If anyone tells you something different, they’re either lying or they don’t know what they’re talking about.

The bottom line here is that, for years, politicians acted irresponsibly and voters allowed them to or even encouraged them to continue those policies. For the past few decades, the question shouldn’t have been “how big of a deficit should we be running,” but “how much of a surplus do we need to be saving so that we don’t have to face a massive fiscal crisis once the Baby Boomers retire?”

Unfortunately, for the past decades we didn’t ask those questions, our politicians didn’t encourage us to ask those questions and the media was (as always) asleep at the switch. Now we face the worst of both worlds. Just as we are recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression, we are going to be forced to make tough choices that will necessitate sacrifice from all of us.

I don’t expect any progress to be made on this in the months ahead. Requests for sacrifice will not be on the minds of too many congressmen in the months before the election. But the months after the election will be key. Whether the Democrats maintain control of the House is an open question. But certainly, the House will be more conservative in 2011. Soon after their election, the new Congress will be splashed in the face with a cold bucket of water called the Simpson/Bowles Budget Deficit Reduction Commission. In it will be a plan to cut deficits to $550 billion by 2015. The debate that follows should highlight the crisis that we are in…as well as the stakes of failure. It will allow us to take real measure of the seriousness that our elected leaders bring to their job. As we watch the debate unfold, we are going to see whether each party can finally live up to the rhetoric it has espoused for years. We will finally see if Republicans are really concerned about deficits, or if they just want tax cuts. We will finally see if Democrats are willing to ask Americans to sacrifice for the benefits that they have supported for years through borrowing.

The results should be illuminating.

Time for Leadership, Mr. President

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Along with the rest of America, I have watched the ever present images of the oil leaking from this gusher with a mixture of disbelief, rage, sadness and a sense of hopelessness. Much has been made of President Obama’s responsibility for the spill and his reaction to it.

As far as his “responsibility” for the actual spill, I think that most American’s are wiling to give him a mulligan on this one. For decades, the people that have been tasked with regulating the oil industry have maintained a “cozy” relationship with the people they were supposed to be regulating. The organization tasked with regulating the oil companies, the Mineral Management Services (MMS) had a giant scandal break in 2008. Among the highlights:

Their alleged improprieties include rigging contracts, working part-time as private oil consultants, and having sexual relationships with – and accepting golf and ski trips and dinners from – oil company employees.

One office manager–while he weren’t busy accepting bribes from the oil companies he was supposed to be regulating– was busy shagging his employees, buying blow from them, snorting meth off of a toaster and getting blow jobs from a subordinate as he drove around the neighborhood.

That being said, as much as Bush’s regulators were in bed (literally) with the people that they were supposed to regulate, this was known before Obama came to office and Ken Salazar’s appointment as Interior Secretary was intended to clean up this mess. Obviously, they didn’t work fast enough to deal with those issues, they didn’t look into the shocking lack of technical progress in the methods of dealing with the deep water drilling spills, and they didn’t even review BP’s plan to deal with spills, which seems to be cut and pasted from an old document.

This is just another example of how in hock the government is to the big corporate interests that it is supposed to regulate. In the year and a half that Obama has been in power, it’s clear that it wasn’t a priority to make real change on this front. In fact, Obama’s approval of additional offshore drilling (as a way to gain support for his Climate Change bill) was obviously made without an understanding of how perilous the consequences of a deep water spill would be.

As far as the response, there is no question that Obama owns it and the results so far have been mixed at best. Much of the coverage has focused on whether the president has shown the requisite amount of rage over the spill. Maureen Dowd and James Carville savaged Obama, with Dowd ridiculing him as President Spock and decrying his inability to reflect Americans’ feelings. Carville made a particularly emotional appeal, calling the president’s response lackadaisical, and saying, “These people are crying, they’re begging for something down here, and it just looks like he’s not involved in this.”

Obama and his advisors took the bait, attempting to counteract these claims and showing how enraged the president was about the situation. This culminated with his interview with Matt Lauer where, in a response to a question about whether it was time to “kick some butt” and Obama responded by saying that he  was meeting with experts to find out “whose ass to kick.”

On Sunday, Fareed Zakari criticized the media’s focus on Obama’s emotion, decrying how the media has trivialized the political discussion.

Aside from the media sideshow about President Obama’s emotional response, there is the question of the actual emergency response to the crisis. Without exception, there seems to be agreement that the response has been lacking. Rachel Maddow has done some amazing reporting on the lack of technology to clean up spills as well as the lack of focus on the cleanup while everyone was focused on capping the well. Images of untended boom material that is sagging, untethered and clearly ineffective were difficult to watch and her reporting on the potential damage to the wetlands and it’s impact on the region shows how high the stakes are for the gulf region.

In an investigative piece today, the New York Times described the response as chaotic and fragmented and pointed out the inefficiencies at every level with regards to the cleanup. The Obama Administration’s response team would do well to read that article very carefully. 

The next few weeks will be pivotal. Now that we know that the flow of oil will most likely continue through the summer, it’s time to focus more intently on making sure that PB does a better job on the herculean task of managing the cleanup and efforts to minimize the impact on the gulf coast.  John Heilemann has encouraged Obama to consider turning these efforts into a massive jobs program funded by BP to clean up the Gulf and to create a new national volunteer service organization dedicated to the cause. Others have argued vociferously that we need to follow Saudi Arabia’s lead and comandeer oil tankers to siphon up the oil and haul it away. To date, both the government and BP have avoided answering questions about why this is not being done.

In the meantime, President Obama would do well to use this crisis as an opportunity to not only make sure major changes are made to deep water drilling regulation and response efforts, but also to reorient the country towards a new future and begin the process of weaning ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels.

You can pick your metaphor, but I like one I heard from a number of commentators last week. This is our Sputnik.

It’s our time to realize that political paralysis, government capture by the corporate interests and a public unwillingness to sacrifice individually for the common good has already put us behind the rest of the world in the development of green technology. We need to act now to correct this. It’s been over 35 years since the oil crisis of the 70’s and every president from Carter to Obama has talked about the need to wean ourselves off oil. In spite of the many crises and turning points that could have been a catalyst for this effort, we have failed to make the investments that most American’s agree we need.

The President needs to pivot tonight from crisis management to a broader vision on energy and then he needs to push for that vision. If Republicans and conservative Democrats block his initiatives, he should make this a central issue in the campaign going forward and continually bash them over the head with this issue to lay the groundwork for its passage in the new Congress.

This is a crucial test for this president. Whether it’s an effective cleanup response or a vision for a clean energy future, we need his leadership now more than ever.

“Obama’s Katrina”

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

I keep flashing back to this John Stewart piece about how conservatives are always looking for the perfect analogy between something that goes wrong in the Obama Administration and something Bush screwed up.

“It’s like no matter what happens during the Obama Administration, there’s the perfect Bush fuckup” for conservatives to compare it to.

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When it’s so painful to watch, you have to laugh every once in a while.