Friday, July 27, 2012


The heavyweight Republicans featured in the video--including Mitt Romney--supported the Vietnam war, but pulled various strings to avoid serving themselves. This is not news for most of us, but really; which of Romney supporters can honestly say that if the circumstances were reversed, they would not have howled endlessly about the horrid hypocrisy? Imagine if Obama had demonstrated in favor of Vietnam, Iraq, or wherever, including support for the draft, and then skipped out of that same draft and went to, of all places, France?

You know damn well that teabaggers would be apoplectic with rage.

Republicans viciously denounced Bill Clinton as a draft dodger, but have no problem when Romney bailed, Bush used his connections, and Dick Cheney said he had "other priorities." The difference is Bill Clinton opposed the war, period. Each Republican featured in the video below was in favor of sending others to die in their stead. These are the same people who have consistently supported tax cuts for the wealthy, knowing full well that that each of these horrifically expensive wars would not be paid for and would add grievously to the federal debt. 

Never forget these are the same people and party that were able to convince many voters that decorated combat veteran John Kerry was a traitor. Imagine if Obama had national guard records that suddenly went missing, like Bush's did.

Nice comparison with Muhammad Ali, who stood on principle and willingly paid the price. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Scary Black Man Gonna Getcha!

Republicans want so desperately to convince just enough Americans that President Obama is not one of us; too dark, funny name, Kenyan, a fascist and a Marxist. And even if he was born in Hawaii, that's not authentic enough.

And Mitt not-his-real-name Romney? He's one of us, except maybe for the magic underwear, and his $250 million net worth, and his overseas bank accounts. The Internet is crawling with trolls that somehow think the fact that Obama once went by the name of Barry is proof the man is hiding something, but don't give a rat's ass that their man is named after a baseball glove. 

The latest smear is much like others in recent months: lift a quote out of context, insist upon the most asinine conclusion possible, get absolutely hysterical about it, and then pound it repeatedly into the heads of your listeners. I'm looking at you, Fox.

You know the story. I know you know. President Obama supposedly claimed that all you successful business owners out there didn't really build your own business. He must be claiming that you are just lucky to inherit it, or government gave it to you. Must be, huh? Sort of a "Limbaugh said it, I believe it, that settles it," exercise in shutting down your mind.

Here's the quote, which I have transcribed from the video below:
"If you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own....If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen...The point is that we succeed because of individual initiative, but also because we do things together."
It is that line in red that was lifted out of context and which has caused so many conservatives to foam at the mouth. But only those with their brain up their ideological ass, those willfully ignorant, cannot see that President Obama was referring to roads and bridges when he said "you didn't build that."

The President then gave an example of how business benefits from the Internet, noting that it was government action that made the Internet possible. You can easily come up with your own examples: physicians may have worked hard to get through med school, but they didn't build the hospitals, or discover the procedures they now use, or create Medicare to help them get paid. They didn't invent the malpractice insurance they have, or train the lawyers and accountants that advise them, or design and build the BMW they drive to the golf course they didn't build.

It's all obvious and indisputable, really. No one denies that untold numbers of people have contributed to make what America is today. As Issac Newton said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Few would see any of this as controversial. But this is election season and Republicans are spending millions to manipulate the evidence, make fantastic claims, and hope you won't notice that they are lying through their teeth.

And once again, Mitt Romney continues to lead by example. Recall that Romney more than once has lifted an Obama quote laughably out of context, a stunt that is easy to catch because of little things like cameras and the Internet.

And just so this doesn't end up as a "that's-your-opinion" type of thing, and because I like to use real evidence, here is the video that shows the out-of-context quote straight from the President, along with Romney flat-out lying about it. Listen carefully to what Romney says he stands for and compare it to what the President says. You won't see this on Fox.

Others have also slapped down the breath-taking attempt to make it seem Obama said what he didn't; here, here, and here.   

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Avoiding the Real Issues

As America continues to struggle, many have reminded us of the value of innovation-- in technology and commerce, mostly, --but also in education and government. President Obama himself has often stressed the importance of innovation; how we once had it in abundance, how it now is eroding, and what we must do to get it back. The value of innovation would seem to be something that progressives and conservatives could mostly agree on, and that helps explain why the President talks about it. There is, of course, less agreement on just how innovation should be enhanced, and what the proper role of government should be.

When President Obama talks about the importance of innovation, he has often, inadvertently or not, draped it in conservative talking points. We need to "work harder", "stay in school", --or go back to school-- and get that degree or those credentials. It's a competitive world out there; if you can't get the job you want, it's because you are not properly trained and credentialed. And, of course, you cannot blame corporate America if you don't have the proper skills. We must not let down them down; work harder and prove your value to the job creators.

This storyline is not so wrong as it is incomplete. Obviously, there is much to be said for staying is school, seeking additional training, or more broadly, the role of innovation. American commerce still provides sundry example of where hard work and innovation can take you; they are the twin edges we must sharpen if we are to meet future challenges.

Every speech devoted to either of these takes the focus away from the underlying causes of US difficulty; jobs, to be sure, but also wage levels for the jobs we still have. Most people are in fact employed, and most jobs have not been outsourced or lost to foreign competition. What is not being acknowledged is that a disproportionate number of the jobs Americans now have face little foreign competition. That's the good part; the bad part is modest wages, benefits, and skill requirements for so many of these jobs. You don't need a degree to work fast food, retailing, and the like. And what about that other more technical job you went to back to school for, got a degree in, and now are heavily in debt for? Sorry, that job has been filled.

The problem of our sluggish economic growth is not a lack of innovation. We have bought into an economic doctrine that sanctifies free trade, financial deregulation, including unfettered flow of capital, and an obsession with credit and debt. It is a system designed by and for banks and the investor class, with little regard for main street or the middle class. The result is an indifference to massive trade deficits, dangerously leveraged banks, and an increasingly ability of the wealthy to avoid taxation and accountability.

Employees are seen as a mere input in this profit model. Low wages are good since they improve the bottom line. If workers are recalcitrant and actually want a living wage, management should be free to outsource production to low wage countries. To hear some tell it, management is virtually obligated to fire its American workers and seek cheap unregulated workers abroad, for improving the bottom line is management's only real responsibility. It's what the investors want, you know.

And the people who work for the company? That's labor, an input. Lower input costs mean higher profits. Why pay more? Any manager who does not seek to maximize profits is doing a disservice to investors, just like they were all taught in American business schools. It's all very rational and efficient, don't you see?

Innovation does not directly address any of this. We have innovated like crazy and what are the results? Entire industries have been shipped overseas. Because we have allowed our industrial base and concomitant skills to erode, seeking out overseas producers has become a default position. A generation has grown up assuming that American reliance on foreign manufacturers is the natural order of things.

Nor do the calls for greater innovation say who will benefit from the results. Asia is a huge beneficiary of US economic policy. For generations our tax dollars have poured into basic R&D, much of it going to public universities. It has been a great success story, and it has played a key role in America's development. And like the recent round of stimulus spending, much of those tax dollars ends up in Asia. Working harder, as even Obama has exhorted, does nothing to change the imbalances. US corporations already have what they always want; cheap labor, huge profits. The investor class took a hit in 2008, but they have recovered nicely, and have fat dividends and lightly-taxed capital gains to show for it.

So the middle class needs to work harder? For them? Because the job creators need help? Americans are already working harder than elsewhere in the OECD; we also have, in recent decades, relatively little to show for it. Wages have been suppressed, union membership has plummeted, and pensions and benefits have become even more rarefied. All of this is the direct result of flawed policies made in response to legitimate economic challenges.

Innovation will help; it always has. But the role of innovation has been undermined for the same reason our techno-industrial base has. Economic history is very clear on this: Nations that vigorously promote and defend their industrial and technical base have thrived. Those that didn't, and let their financial sector dominate, have crumbled.

America will not be an exception.

Monday, July 9, 2012


We heard a lot of criticism directed at President Obama when gasoline prices started to climb earlier this year. Republicans, knowing how easily many voters can be manipulated, thought they had a campaign issue: just remind everyone that gas prices are going up, ignore the complex set of factors that explain the rise, especially Wall Street speculators, and just blame the President.

They lined up at the mic to do just that:
      In February, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the laughably inane claim that “This President will go to any length to drive up gas prices and pave the way for his ideological agenda.”
      In March,  Mitt Romney declared, “He gets full credit or blame for what’s happened in this economy, and what’s happened to gasoline prices under his watch..."
     In April, House Speaker John Boehner said, “The president holds the key to addressing the pain Ohioans are feeling at the gas pump and moving our nation away from its reliance on foreign energy. My question for the president is: what are you waiting for?”

As it turned out, Boehner didn't have long to wait. Now that gas prices are falling, he and other Republicans have grown silent. Romney said Obama deserved credit, as well as blame, for what has happened. That is simplistic nonsense, of course; the fact that Congressional Republicans have spent three years obstructing the President apparently is not a factor for Romney. Let's be clear on that point: you may agree with Republican tactics and say the Dems must be stopped, etc., but you cannot later ignore the Republicans' role in the Washington logjam and pretend it wasn't a factor.

In any event, Romney is a little slow about giving Obama "full credit" on gas prices. Now one might say that Obama doesn't deserve much credit or blame: The White House inherently has few short-term options on oil prices and cannot be expected to simply step in and ratchet down gas prices. American presidents do not have that kind of power.

But that doesn't mean Obama didn't have some options, or that he didn't use them.

What's that? You didn't hear all about it? And some people still think our corporate-owned media has a liberal bias. To make a bad situation worse, the White House has done a poor job of sharing Obama's message and accomplishments. It's as if he believes the media is an honest broker and is motivated to get the full story out. Peter Cohen, writing for Forbes, captures this frustrating imbalance:
When he was running for President in 2008, Barack Obama struck me as a gifted orator. But now that he’s running for re-election, it feels to me that the messaging power of his political opponents is like Hurricane Katrina blowing against a chipmunk’s squeal. So I am confident that a piece of excellent news for drivers resulting from a little-noticed policy from Mr. Obama will get no attention at all from the media.
In April, I predicted that President Obama’s $52 million plan to increase the margin requirements and otherwise tighten the screws on oil speculators — who borrow huge sums to bet on the direction of oil without taking delivery — would cut oil prices by 10 percent. He’s beaten that prediction, and the lowered price of gasoline has added $78.4 billion to its consumers’ spending power.
Cohen has much more to say on the specific steps Obama has outlined to combat high prices, including:
  --Increase by a factor of six Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) surveillance and enforcement staff “to better deter oil market manipulation,
  --Boost 10-fold, to $10 million, the civil and criminal penalties against “firms that engage in market manipulation,
  --Give the CFTC authority to increase the trader margins — the amount of their own capital that traders must set aside for each bet...
These and other factors, including increased domestic oil production, have driven down oil and gasoline prices. Cohen puts it in human terms:
So just how much has Mr. Obama stimulated the economy through his April crackdown on oil speculators? Well, if my experience is any indication, the answer is quite a bit. After all, I was paying about $4.05 a gallon for mid-grade back then and this week the price had fallen to $3.49.

That 56 cents a gallon decline would amount to me saving about $582 a year — assuming that I fill up my 20 gallon tank once a week. But if the AP is right, that same 56 cent a gallon drop would add $78.4 billion to U.S. GDP.

That’s not much for a $15 trillion economy, but it represents a 1,508 percent return on Mr. Obama’s $52 million investment, in two months.
In the final analysis, I notice a double standard. Republicans attack Obama for not doing something about high gas prices. He, in fact, did something, including increased drilling and permit approval. Not a sound of approval from his critics, and not much coverage in the media. In the spring, Obama also outlines his plan to rein in speculators. By the first day of summer oil prices were off 21% from their April highs.

Republicans blame Obama for not doing something about gas prices even as they insist government should stay out of free markets. He does something, brings down prices, and they call it government meddling. Weren't you the guys blaming him for not doing anything?

Feckless assholes