Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Let’s Make A Deal

“I agree, Lord of Darkness, if you grant me the following wishes: First, I would like the nation to be hurled into an economic crisis caused by Wall Street greed and recklessness. This will discredit free-market fundamentalism once and for all.”David Brooks

I just read the David Brooks ode to liberalism article and I must say he makes a compelling case not for the decline of liberalism but for the decline of our shared consciousness. The problem with pundits is that everything happens in a vacuum in their world. According to him there are no connections between any of the events that he described except that they occurred while Mr. Obama was President. So the link is not the failed policies of the Right, but that liberals could not clean them up fast enough. So the future of our governance is not based on those who caused the disasters but on how quickly those elected to repair them can get them repaired.

Using that logic then if I start a fire in a building and then when the fire department gets there I cut the water pressure to the hoses and someone dies in the building then it is the firefighters fault for not putting out the blaze quicker. What Mr. Brooks and many of his talking head friends fail to realize is that very few of the upcoming midterm elections will be decided by national issues. So while they will be trumpeted as the beginning of the end for Obama what they fail to realize is that following the midterms in 1994 Bill Clinton won reelection handily. I suspect the same will be true for President Obama. It is one thing to win an election in South Carolina running on corporate largess and apologies it is a far different thing to win nationally running on those issues. It is amazing to me how quickly these clowns forget that when we had a national referendum of policies the country overwhelmingly chose the policies of the Dems. Are we to believe that after four years of Republican prostrations in front of the corporate gods that the majority of Americans will turn away from those who are at least trying to solve the gigantic problems facing this nation?

Are we also to believe that the majority of Americans will agree with the likes of Glenn Beck that this President is a racist? If I have any complaint towards Mr. Obama it is that he has been too cautious towards the issue of race in America. The reason we are not moving forward as a nation is precisely because we are so divided. As a nation we are not using all of our resources we continue to choose tribalism over nationalism. We will not be able to compete against the likes of China and India if we continue to be willing to marginalize large segments of our population. We are going to need every able body and mind if we are to overcome the problems of energy, climate change, and retooling America. I read that some black leaders are offended by Mr. Beck holding a rally at the Washington Mall on the day that Dr. King gave his dream speech. Their fear is that Mr. Back will somehow diminish the stature of Dr. King and what he accomplished. To me this is akin to worrying about Joseph McCarthy diminishing the legacy of FDR because he accused him of having Communist sympathies. The biggest challenge to blacks in America is not Glenn Beck it is our refusal to deal with the problem that we are allowing women to train up our boys and the outcomes are abysmal. Instead of holding a rally to combat Glenn Beck we need to be holding a rally to recommit to our children.

Another missing component from Mr. Brook’s fairytale is that the Dems are not a monolithic party like the Republicans. An example would be what is currently taking place within the Republican Party with the teabag crowd if this were a Democratic group the Dems would allow them to caucus but that would be the extent of it. No one would suggest and rightly so that the Dems should adopt the lunacy of the fringe but with the Republicans that is exactly what they are doing. I guess when you are void of ideas and critical thought then any ideas seems plausible. The election of 2008 demonstrated that the Republicans were bankrupt of ideas and I have seen nothing since then to make me think they have found any now. With the political landscape of today you will never be a majority party if you are appealing to a shrinking base of gun-toting, history revisionist, pseudo patriots. I don’t know many Americans who want to see America returned to the “good ole” days of intolerance, bigotry, and robber barons. But I could be wrong and if I am then were all in trouble anyway.

Finally, the devil in the details that Mr. Brooks has mischaracterized is that leadership is what we elect President’s to have, that and a vision. Sometimes when you are leading a ragtag mob like America you will appear unpopular because you have to make some unpopular decisions, but the alternative which the Republicans are offering is to continue to defer these difficult choices until they are no longer choices but we are left with imperatives. Prior to the spill in the Gulf we had choices about how to conduct deep water drilling, due to our refusal to stand up to corporations we now are left with an imperative. Plug the hole. My fear is that there are many who are willing to shy away from the difficult in search of the easy quick fix. However when it comes to the issues facing America (climate change, clean energy, unemployment, depression, etc.) there are no easy quick fixes. So if the Right wants to govern based on popularity I suggest the majority of us begin to prepare our tin roof shacks because we are not far from a banana republic.

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure , the process is its own reward. - Amelia Earhart

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Risky Business

“The first step in the risk management process is to acknowledge the reality of risk. Denial is a common tactic that substitutes deliberate ignorance for thoughtful planning.” - Charles Tremper

Is it just me or have we entered a stage in American business life where corporations and in some cases entire industries have thrown risk management out the window and have decided that all risk is acceptable? There was a time when companies did a series of calculations where risk was measured against not just the corporate good but the societal good, but that time has passed. It has passed because as we have allowed corporations to undermine our political and regulatory bodies their exposure to risk has been greatly reduced not because of better management techniques or greater technological advances but by the corresponding greed of our elected officials. As more money has been deposited into the already murky waters of Washington and state capitals the American public has seen its share of risk underwriting increase in direct relation to the reduction of underwriting by corporations.

As the disaster in the Gulf continues to play out instead of having a real national referendum on the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy technology we are treated to elected officials apologizing to corporations for their having to pay for the worst natural disaster in American history. The sad part is that this was not some natural disaster that no one could foresee it was a calculated series of premeditated violations and oversights for the sake of cost cutting and profits. Once again Mr. Paul with all of your teabagging cronies we see what happens when corporate America is left to its own devices. According to Mr. Paul the free market will protect us from these types of disasters because it was not in BP’s interest to drill a hole in the bottom of the ocean that they could not plug up, just as it wasn’t in Goldman Sachs interest to market and purchase credit swaps and derivatives. The crazy part about the smaller government crowd is that even despite the massiveness of this disaster their lesson from this is that government doesn’t work because it can't plug up a hole in the bottom of the ocean? That's like the lesson from Vietnam was that we should have stayed longer.

What corporations have earned from all of that campaign cash and straight up bribes is that the new risk mitigation program is the American taxpayer. Bring the economy to the brink of another Great Depression, no problem the taxpayers will bail us out. Drill a giant hole in the bottom of the ocean, no problem the taxpayers will pay for it. Unless of course you have a gangster government from Chicago in charge that does shakedowns of poor innocent corporations who were just minding their own business when out of nowhere this giant hole appeared under their deep water drilling platform. So what does the Supreme Court decide? That we don’t have enough corporate money in the process let’s give them unlimited access to public officials.

The sad truth is that what we are watching is the same thing that other empires and cultures have witnessed during the days of their demise. It isn’t the American people who will bring about the final demise of America (although in a sense it will be but through apathy) it will be the greedy and immoral political and economic leaders. The same leaders who are willing to risk our long term future not only as a nation but as a species on this planet for their short term profit. It has always been the corrupt rulers of an empire or culture that has brought about the destruction of that empire or culture. The role that we play as citizens is that we become so apathetic and jaded that we quietly sit with our heads between our legs while the plane is crashing. Where is the uproar? Mr. Barton should have been tarred and feathered and ran out of Washington on a rail. Unfortunately for America it is going to take some greater disaster than this for us to finally realize that the cheap oil party is over. It will take gas going up to 5.00 a gallon and electricity prices doubling before we will take clean energy serious and demand that our political leaders pass real energy reform legislation.

Just like every other monumental change in American history it is never from the top down that things get done, it is always from the bottom up. There will be no good guy riding in with the white hat on the white horse to save us. As long as we continue to accept that Chevron is in the human energy business, that banks are in the rebuilding America business, and that corporations are our benevolent friends whom we could never survive without then we will continue to have messes like this to clean-up. We have to understand and accept that it is not the President’s job to get Mitch McConnell, Joe Barton, and the rest of the corporate apologists on board, it is our job. It’s not like the President is the only one who is elected in this country. We have an opportunity to change the debate and the direction of this country forever and that thought is scaring the hell out of all of the energy companies. Will we demand the future or will we continue to cling to the past? The choice is ours.

If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. - Dan Quayle

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Slippery When Wet

We can’t impede progress in the name of environmental action that yields little for the environment and even less for our people.. and we should look at the environment as an economic opportunity. – Meg Whitman

As we enter the 60th day of the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico it has been amazing to me the outcry that has occurred from all camps concerning the responses to the crisis. The one which has troubled me the most has been the criticism which has been directed at the president. Let us be clear this disaster was masterminded and created by the profit seeking British Petroleum and they should be held responsible for all aspects of this disaster. My concern is with those who believe unrealistically that this or any president can somehow plug up a hole in the gulf that is 40 miles off-shore and a mile deep. Or that we have the technology to respond to such a disaster somewhere on a shelf somewhere and we are just not using it. The truth is that the majority of this country has been asleep on the possibility of a disaster like this because of our dependence on fossil fuels and the marketing of big oil.

Many of the critics have suggested the President institute special powers such as the war powers given during a state of attack by foreign powers or terrorists. The problem with these suggestions is that they ignore the reality of our current political state or the current state of our judiciary, specifically the Supreme Court which has shown recently its propensity for corporate bidding. Have these critics so easily forgotten the mantra of the right for the last two years that President Obama is a socialist looking to privatize all industry and undermine our way of life. Now they are suggesting that this same president seize BP to insure their compliance even temporarily is absurd. Not to mention the fallout from the oil industry lobbyists and their congressional minions. Does anyone think that this Supreme Court would allow such tactics without taking action to prevent it?

I understand that this is an environmental disaster of monumental proportions but let’s not be naïve enough to believe that the criticism from the teabaggers stoked by their Astroturf benefactors would somehow be silent because this is a national disaster. While for most Americans this is a tragedy of historical proportions for these folks it is just another opportunity to fault the President and his administration for not safeguarding our country. Unfortunately when disasters of this magnitude occur many folks are unable to get their heads around it and so they become overwhelmed and desensitized to the suffering of others. As a nation we have become more regional and isolated from each other and so if these types of things don’t directly affect us we tend to compartmentalize them as someone else problem and so it is difficult to craft national responses or national outrage. While those in the gulf and environmentalists understand the depth of the disaster there will be those who will attempt to minimize the human and environmental toll on this nation.

The tragedy in the gulf demonstrates our false reliance on technology or our belief in technology and how we have convinced ourselves that technology can and will solve all of our challenges. Many critics believe we have the technology to plug a hole in the ocean as if it were some hole in the bathtub to be plugged by so much silicone. Should we have had in place safety precautions to deal with this tragedy? Of course we should have been more vigilant in holding these corporations to higher safety standards, but let’s not forget that for years we have allowed these corporations to skirt safety and write their own rules. The answer to this disaster is not to criticize this President but to put in place the regulatory mechanisms to prevent future disasters and to hold BP responsible for the entire restoration and financial liability for this one. But let’s not kid ourselves into believing that those forces who want to keep us dependent on fossil fuels will go quietly into that good night.

Here are a few quotes that demonstrate willingness of these paid clowns to sacrifice the rest of us for their short-term gain.

"What better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig? I'm just noting the timing, here." —Rush Limbaugh

"Extreme deep water drilling is not the preferred choice to meet our country's energy needs, but your protests and lawsuits and lies about onshore and shallow water drilling have locked up safer areas. It's catching up with you. The tragic, unprecedented deep water Gulf oil spill proves it." —Sarah Palin

"From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented." —Texas Gov. Rick Perry

If the firms that employ an increasing majority of the population are driven solely to satisfy the owner's greed at the expense of working conditions, of the stability of the community, and of the health of the environment, chances are that the quality of our lives will be worse than it is now. - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Blanche Lincoln’s Victory

Blanche Lincoln’s victory or as some are calling upset over Bill Halter I think gives some important lessons to those who think you can come in and decide local elections by trying to nationalize the election. For years I have argued that voters in one district or in one state do not value the same characteristics or gravitate to the same issues as other voters. The netroots community and labor spent a lot of political capital challenging the incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln with many folks believing their own hype. The hype was that if the netroots community targeted a candidate then that candidate was in trouble. The problem is that with a big tent party like the Democrats you cannot conduct purity tests. They have never worked and they never will.

There are certain states where the electorate defies the talking heads, prognosticators, and any logical conclusions. The state that immediately comes to mind is Kentucky. Kentucky has continued to elect Mitch McConnell who is the poster child for receiving corporate largess and despite the media coverage of his unbiased defending of corporations he remains popular. Not only have they continued to elect Mr. McConnell they have now nominated Rand Paul as a senatorial candidate. Unfortunately in America people of like minds tend to live in close proximity to each other and thus they create these pockets of suspended disbelief and as a result we get elected officials that are not accountable to their voters.

What the netroots community did was to allow Blanche Lincoln to portray herself as a victim, a victim of outside agitators, corrupt unions, and special interests. She was able to present herself as a populist against not just corporations but also the unions. And in a right to work state like Arkansas unions are easy targets. Did everyone forget that Arkansas is the home of Wal-Mart public enemy number one for unions? Conservative or centrists Democrats will always be a part of the Democratic Party and as such the Democrats will continue to be a majority party while the Republicans continue to purify themselves in a bid to attract a shrinking electorate. The people of Arkansas have decided that they preferred Blanche Lincoln despite her shortcomings to the progressive community.

So what are the lessons to be taken from her victory by the netroots community? The first is the first law of politics and that is that all politics are local. They are local to the voters of whatever district or state that they are in. The second is that not all voters in all states share the same understanding or perceptions of the issues. The fact is that for all the talk of the intelligence of the American electorate the truth is that in many areas of the country the electorate is anything but intelligent. Too often we have seen voters who have been bamboozled by special interests to vote against their own interests. The third is that the friend of my enemy is not necessarily my enemy. There are some states or districts where a progressive candidate cannot win despite the best efforts of the netroots community. There are no moral victories in politics. Despite the ramblings of the talking heads on MSNBC tonight was a loss for the netroots community.

Poor Ed Shultz looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights following the election being called for Senator Lincoln. Ed Shultz was in Little Rock to celebrate the netroots victory of Bill Halter. The problem is that someone forgot to tell the voters of Arkansas. The public option was suppose to be her “Waterloo” and as with so many other Waterloo references in politics they were greatly exaggerated and unfounded. Once again we have to reexamine our current reliance on polls and how they really affect voters. The public option polled very well in Arkansas but when given the opportunity to punish a politician who voted against it the votes were just not there. So this tells me that it was not as great an issue with the voters of Arkansas as it was with the progressive community.

There will be a lot written about what happened in this election and what can be taken from it both in victory and in defeat. I don’t know what this says about the current mood of the electorate or how this plays nationally, but I do know that when preparing to wage war one should always count the cost prior to taking on an enemy.

“The enemy isn’t conservatism. The enemy isn’t liberalism. The enemy is bullshit." - Lars-Erik Nelson

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