Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/28/09-Sebelius

Good evening once again from Montreal. Bad night for The Strike, as the Sharks fall to the Canadiens. But I will still perform my solemn duty and report on the day in politics.

SEBELIUS: The biggest news of the day is that Obama will reportedly tap Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services. Sebelius had indicated during the transition that she wanted to remain Governor, but she has apparently changed her mind. Sebelius was seen as the most likely choice to fill the position since former Senator Tom Daschle withdrew his name early this month because of tax issues. Sebelius, if confirmed, will be at the center of the fight for Obama's effort at comprehensive health reform. However, she will not have the dual role of health czar, as was planned for Daschle. That position will be filled separately in the coming days. Should she and Gary Locke both be confirmed, the cabinet selection process will finally come to an end.

There are a couple of interesting political consequences of this decision. First, the Kansas Senate seat held by retiring Republican Sam Brownback will almost certainly remain in the GOP column. Sebelius was considered the only Democrat to have any shot at winning a Senate seat in a reliably Republican state.

The current Lieutenant Governor is Mark Parkinson, a former Republican who switched parties to run with Sebelius in 2006. He has indicated that he will not seek reelection as governor in 2010. Therefore, it's likely that the next governor of Kansas will be Sam Brownback. Hello creationism!

FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT: Today at CPAC, two great Americans, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh inspired a generation of blue sports jacket and khakis-wearing right-wingers. Using the time-tested political strategy of completely belittling vast swaths of the American population, and mocking an enormously popular President, these fine individuals brought the crowd to their feet with some of these remarkable words:

-Ann Coulter rejected Obama's comparison to Lincoln because "Lincoln wouldn't have texted with Scarlett Johannsen and wouldn't vote present." (seriously Ann, you're still on that voting present thing? That was so...last May).

-Rush Limbaugh, in a speech that went an hour longer than scheduled, said that the Republican party should not try to have better policy ideas, but instead, should try to slow down the legislative process to highlight differences in philosophy. He also claimed that liberals have psychosis, that Obama wants the country to be fearful so he can implement his radically socialist policies. He also called us out on our true objectives: "They (liberals) see these inequalities, these inequities that capitalism produces. How do they try to fix it? Do they try to elevate those at the bottom? No, they try to tear down the people at the top." Got it.

Ladies and gentleman, your 2009 Republican party.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Daily Strike-Iraq and CPAC

Bon Sois from Montreal, where The Strike and Father Strike are traveling to watch the Sharks take on the Canadiens. The posts will be a bit shorter this weekend as a result.

IRAQ: Today President Obama announced a plan to draw down troops from Iraq. In the next 19 months, all but 50,000 troops will leave the region or be redeployed to Afghanistan. All troops will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011 according to the Status of Forces agreement made last year between President Bush and Iraqi President Maliki.

This plan comes as a bit of a disappointment to some of us who were expecting swifter action on this front. Obama made it clear on the campaign trail that he favored a 16th month withdrawal, with only some residual forces to protect the U.S. embassy and train Iraqis. 50,000 seems like a lot of troops to perform those duties. Apparently, this agreement is the result of a compromise between Obama and the Bush-appointed military brass. They may have a good idea of "conditions on the ground," but Obama must remember that he is protecting the broader strategic interests. That's why we have civilian control of the military. Hopefully Obama isn't intimidated when he's in a room with Generals.

CPAC: On a far, far less serious note, conservatives are gathered this weekend for the "Conservative Political Action Conference" in Washington DC. This is a bizzarro valhalla if I've ever seen one. In the past two days, various speakers have suggested that:

-Obama is not a natural born citizen of the United States (to wild cheers!)
-Chicago could be a target of a nuclear bomb from Iran (Thanks, John Bolton)
-the best way to get out of our economic crisis would be to eliminate corporate taxes
-Sarah Palin would have beaten Barack Obama in the last election
-That Obama is a socialist (pretty much every speaker) and a communist (Mike Huckabee)
-That the only reason they've lost in recent elections is that they weren't conservative enough and were blindsided by the "liberal" media.

Ladies and Gentleman, your 2009 Republican Party. If they keep acting like this, they may be looking at extinction in the relatively near future. The more they talk like this, the more they alienate large swaths of the American public. But on the other hand, if they don't say incredibly ludicrous things, the Rush Limbaugh's of the world will criticize them for not being conservative enough.

Either way, great news for us liberals!!

That's it for tonight. See you tomorrow!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/26/09-Budget Day

Good Thursday. A very busy day in Washington, especially with the unveiling of the President's budget proposal. Let's get to it.

BUDGET: The President unveiled his Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposal today, which projects budgetary levels for the next ten years. The budget is about $3 trillion and will bring the deficit up to $1.75 trillion, the highest percentage of GDP since World War II. But as much as the Republicans would like you to think otherwise, the money is not being thrown down the drain. For starters, the budget is an honest proposal. The previous administration used to use budget gimmicks to make the long-term deficit seem smaller. Obama's budget includes expected funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, additional money for money for a possible natural disaster, and even assumes that we'll need more money to bailout troubled banks. The budget also accounts for a vast array of policy initiatives, most notably in health care, energy and education (as mentioned in his speech the other night). Some highlights I've gleaned out:

-Health Care (probably the biggest news in this budget)
-Sets aside $634 billion to fund a new health reform proposal, which will presumably be worked out this year in Congress
-$6 billion in cancer research at the National Institutes of Health
-Builds on stimulus investment

-Invests in a new $2.5 billion program to help low income students attend college.
-Provides funding for additional charter schools
-Money to build on the $11 billion in the stimulus for a new electricity "smart-grid"
-"supports and secures development for clean technology"

So where will we find money to pay for this besides running up a deficit? For starters, tax cuts for those making over $250,000 will end starting in 2011 (much to the chagrin of some of us, who think they should be ended sooner). There will be new taxes on individuals and businesses who emit a lot of greenhouse gasses as part of a "cap-and-trade" proposal (of course that has to get through Congress first). Major cuts will be coming to a Medicare program in which the government pays private insurers to cover patients who would otherwise be covered by the public system. There are also cuts to "wasteful" programs in other departments, which will presumably be detailed with the President unveils his full budget in April.

This is a very ambitious proposal. It's not only unique in its intent to enact ambitious reforms in domestic policy, but it also is a budget, that economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said, is the first that will truly redistribute income in a generation. Liberals rejoice!

Republicans reacted as expected. The ranking member of the House Budget committee joined his counterpart in the Senate, traitor-extraordinaire Judd Gregg, to denounce the budget for not doing enough to cut the deficit. House Minority Leader John Boehner said that Obama's budget proposal makes Bush look like a "piker," whatever that means. There's probably so much in this proposal that they want to criticize (massive expansion in domestic spending, redistribution of wealth etc.) that we may be hearing criticisms for a long time. Just wait until the official proposal comes out and they can identify their little pork projects.

SENATE: The Senate today passed a bill giving the District of Columbia a voting member in the House of Representatives. The Republicans didn't make it easy however, making the chamber vote on a series of irrelevant amendments. It did get Senators on record on a bunch of controversial issues. Let's run down the votes:

-The first was an amendment, offered by Senator Kyl (R-AZ), that would have provided for the retrocession of DC into Maryland. In other words, DC would be a part of Maryland. That idea didn't fly so well. It lost 67-30. All yes votes were from conservative Republicans, with the odd exception of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson. I don't know why he would have done that.

-Next was an irrelevant battle on the so-called "Fairness Doctrine." Before Reagan canned it in the 1980's, the fairness doctrine mandated that the media devote equal time to all view points. Conservatives fear that the Rush Limbaugh show would be cut by an hour, God forbid. Anyways, Senator Durbin (D-IL) proposed an amendment that would have encouraged the FCC to promote diversity in media ownership (I don't know how you would enforce this) and to ensure that the public airwaves are used for the public interest. This amendment was basically an alternative to reimposing the fairness doctrine I guess. It passed 57-41 exactly along party lines. Next was an amendment from ultraconservative Jim DeMint of South Carolina that would outlaw the Fairness Doctrine. The folks at Fox News can rest a little easier tonight. The amendment was approved handily by a vote of 87-11. Dissenting Democrats: Bingaman (NM), Conrad (ND), Dorgan (ND), Feinstein (CA), Harkin (IA), Johnson (SD), Kerry (MA), Reed (RI), Rockefeller (WV), Sanders (VT) and Whitehouse (RI).

-The final irrelevant amendment, offered by Senator Ensign, would prohibit the District of Columbia from enacting gun control laws that would "violate the 2nd Amendment." Basically this amendment seeks to ensure enforcement of last year's Supreme Court Decision DC v. Heller in which the court ruled that the 2nd Amendment guarenteed an individual's right to bear arms. The amendment passed 62-36. By far the most interesting "no" vote came from Senator Gillibrand of New York, who admitted recently to keeping guns under her bed. I guess things change when you represent New York City AS WELL as upstate New York. I could see Chuck Schumer looming over the newly appointed Senator as she went up to cast her vote.

After disposing of these amendments, the Senate moved on to final passage. Because of an agreement by the two leaders, the final vote was subject to a 60 vote threshold. The bill passed 61-37, with the coalition we talked about the other day staying intact. The only Senator who switched his vote was Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

THE HOUSE: The House today postponed voting on a housing proposal that would allow bankruptcy judges to renegotiated the terms of mortgages. Some conservative Blue Dog Democrats thought that the bill went too far. It was a bad sign when 26 Democrats voted against the rule governing debate on the bill. They will make some changes before resuming consideration on Tuesday.

That's it for today, see you tomorrow night!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

UPDATE: Something I Missed

When listing the Democrats who voted against today's omnibus budget bill, I omitted perhaps the most interesting dissenter: Jackie Speier, who represents Father and Mother Strike in San Francisco/San Mateo, CA. I guess my eyes just couldn't believe that this staunch liberal would vote against her leadership on a spending bill. It turns out Speier is not happy with the process that produced the bill, and that the bill was not subject to proper oversight. She noted that it wasn't the amount being spent that was the issue, but "the principle of spending taxpayer dollars without appropriate accountability, transparency or oversight.” Ok. But most of this bill had gone through the regular appropriations bill last year, first of all, and second of all, seriously? Be a team player Jackie! I know that a lot of people in your district depend on you not to stand on principle, but to look out for your constituents.

Anyways, I regret the error in the earlier post.

The Daily Strike-2/25/09-Omnibus, DC Voting Rights, Budget

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The political world is still digesting the President's address last night, but plenty more went on in Washington today. Let's get to it.

HOUSE: The House today passed an omnibus budget bill funding federal programs though September 30th. The bill consists of unfinished appropriations bills that couldn't be worked out last year between President Bush and the Democrats in Congress. The Democrats added about $20 billion on top of last year's funding levels. The Republican minority used some procedural roadblocks to slow passage of the bill, but ultimately, it passed relatively comfortably. The first vote was a procedural vote on whether to proceed with the bill despite the fact that it added to the federal deficit (the Republicans love to have these votes to get members on record.) The motion passed 234-177, with 8 Democrats voting no and 1 Republican voting yes.

Next was a vote on "the Previous Question" which basically is a vote on whether to proceed with the bill. Usually the minority forces this vote to delay proceedings. The previous question was ordered on a vote of 393-25. Following this, the House voted on a special rule to govern debate on the bill, which passed 398-24. Interesting thing with these two votes (and an explanation as to why they were so lopsided): part of the rule for governing debate was a motion to cancel Representatives' scheduled pay raise. In other words, if you voted against the previous question, or the rule, you were voting to keep your pay raise (not exactly political gold back home). Next was a vote on final passage, which was 245-178. The vote, surprisingly, wasn't strictly on party lines. Here are the crossovers:

Democrats voting no (18): Bean (IL), Cardoza (CA), Childers (MS), Coooper (TN), Donnelly (IN), Dreihaus (OH), Giffords (AZ), Hill (IN), Kind (WI), Kratovil (MD), Marshall (GA), Matheson (UT), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ), Peterson (MN), Tanner (TN) and Taylor (MS). These are most of the House's Blue Dog fiscal conservative Democrats

Republicans voting yes (16): Bono Mack (CA), Brown-Waite (FL), Cao (LA), Capito (WV), Castle (DE), Dent (PA), Emerson (MO), Gerlach (PA), LoBiondo (NJ), McHugh (NY), Miller (MI), Murphy (PA), Reichert (WA), Upton (MI), Whitfield (KY) and Young (AK). These are the few remaining Republican moderates (at least realists) who are probably getting a piece of the pie for their districts.

The bill now goes to the Senate, and will be up for a vote there next week.

The final vote was on a "privileged resolution" (a resolution that deals with the safety or integrity of the House) offered by Rep. Flake of Arizona. He was objecting to earmarks in the bill to some lobbying firm who had engaged in shady dealings with various members of both parties. Flake is notorious for his "principled" objection to Congressional earmarks. The House voted to table (kill) the resolution by a vote of 226-182 (with 12 members voting "Present"). The vote pretty much broke down along party lines, with 17 Democrats joining all but 2 Republicans in voting against killing the resolution. This vote might have caused some more political heartache a few years ago, but seriously, do we think the main issue in the next election will be Congressional earmarks when the economy is in the tanker?

The House considers a pretty comprehensive housing bill tomorrow, but I haven't heard many details about it. I'll keep you posted.

SENATE: The Senate resumed consideration of a bill to give Washington DC a voting member in Congress (while also temporarily giving a seat to Utah). Senator Reid filed cloture on the bill tonight, because Republicans were stalling by bringing up some pretty absurd amendments. A vote to cut off debate on this bill will come in the next day or so. There will most likely be enough votes to get this bill passed. How do we know? Yesterday, the Senate voted 62-36 on a procedural test vote to move to consideration of the bill. Today, Senator John McCain raised a point of order claiming that the bill violated the constitution because it grants representation to an entity that is not a state. The point of order was determined null by a vote of, you guessed it, 62-36. It was an identical vote to yesterday. It seems like no matter how you slice it, 62 Senators want voting rights for DC. To see the voting coalition, check out yesterday's Daily Strike.

The only other vote was on a silly amendment offered by bizzarro Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, which would have substituted the whole bill and instead eliminate income taxes in DC. I guess the idea is that DC is a good laboratory for Democracy, and Coburn wanted to see what would happen to us those lab rats if they stopped paying taxes, you know, just for fun. It lost 91-7, only gaining the votes of Coburn, Graham (SC), Burr (NC), Wicker (MS), Kyl (AZ), DeMint (SC) and Bunning (KY).

THE WHITE HOUSE: A very busy post-speech day at the White House. First, Obama officially nominated former Washington Governor Gary Locke to be Commerce Secretary. Unless something comes up during confirmation hearings, it looks like the third time will be a charm when it comes to filling this position. Locke is a pretty non-controversial pick.

The only other cabinet position not yet appointed is at Health and Human Services. The position will become increasingly critical because it looks as if Obama is about to include a $634 billion down payment on Health Care reform as part of his budget proposal. Obama will meet with lawmakers in the coming months to hammer out exact details on how and when to achieve universal coverage, but with this budget proposal, he's making clear that his promise to enact health care reform this year is serious. Early indications are that the plan will be paid for by raising taxes on the rich, eliminating payments to private insurers to cover Medicare patients, and by limiting tax deductions on health coverage to high wage earners. We'll talk more about the full plan when we get the details.

Budgeting for the full health plan is a smart strategy, in my view. It gives Congress the broad cost parameters as it tries to enact comprehensive health reform. Unlike the Clinton health care debacle of 1993, Obama seems to be giving Congress leeway (or at least significant input) in crafting the plan. This will help avoid the very intra-party squabbles that helped doom the previous effort.

Another advantage Obama has this time, which is perhaps more important, is that all major stakeholders now seem to understand the urgent need for health reform. With the country in financial crisis, but business and labor have to bear the brunt of sky high health prices that fund a largely low-quality, inefficient health care delivery system. I expect groups like the Chamber of Commerce to be far more open to progressive health reform than they have been in the past.

That's it for tonight. We'd love to hear your comments and thoughts on the day in politics. Did I miss anything?

Big Picture's Analogies to Jindal's Speech

It's as if Mark Warner or some other conservative-looking governor in 2001 was like "Do you really trust the Republican Party to keep you safe with their agenda of taking the fight to the enemy? We know you rejected the Democratic Party because we strayed too far from our core principles as the party of peace and negotiation with our worst enemies."

Or Jerry Brown giving a response in '81 saying, "Do you really trust the Republican Party to manage the economy and keep you safe from our enemies? We know you rejected the Democratic Party because in recent years we were too thrifty with our spending, and too aggressive in confronting our enemies. We will return to the core principles of the Party of McGovern!"

Or McGovern in '69 responding to Nixon: "Do you really trust the Republican Party to maintain law and order and hold the country together? We know that you rejected the Democratic Party because we were too aggressive in squelching dissent and cutting off debate in Chicago last year. We will return to our core principles of putting the rights of protesters first!"

The Big Picture and the Strike React to the President's Address

The Big Picture: 1. Perhaps the clearest image of the night was the stunning contrast between the strength of the Democratic Party and the weakness of the Republican Party. Obama was pitch-perfect in his delivery of the speech, he looked great on the dais, framed by the exuberance of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, unmistakable proof that the Democrats control the government. He laid out a bold liberal agenda that fulfills the lifelong dream of Democrats even as it speaks to the most pressing concerns of the vast majority of the country. In contrast, the Republicans looked petty, weak, and frankly irrelevant. It was pathetic how they booed Obama for saying there were no earmarks in the stimulus bill, and refused to applaud for cutting taxes for 95% of Americans and for having an auto industry in America. Some conservative reactions to the speech were ludicrous: Michelle Malkin blogged "zzzzzz" and Republican House leader John Boehner said "I could have given the same speech." Mmmkay. Finally, Governor Bobby Jindal's response speech was frankly laughable. Most conservatives have derided it. The Picturette called him "creepy" and asked the question we were probably all asking, "Why is he talking like that?" As an immigrant herself, she was particularly dismissive of Jindal's absurdly corny, quite-possibly-made-up story of his dad in the grocery store saying "Americans can do anything!" Speak to us like adults. And he fit right into the Bizarro World framework of dismissing government without explanation or alternative, assuming his ideology is so obvious and popular he doesn't need to persuade anybody. It's very funny how the Republicans think they can counter the epochal, once-in-a-lifetime figure of President Obama with the two dark-skinned faces in their party, Michael Steele and Bobby Jindal, and both have looked ridiculous in comparison, as if they were trying to be mocked.

2. Obama's eloquence, confidence, boldness, and political instincts - the demonstration that he "got it" - was extraordinarily reassuring. His speech last night reaffirmed why we elected Obama, why we elected a Democrat, and really why we choose to have a government at all. Jindal apparently thinks most people still agree with Reagan that "government isn't the solution, it's the problem," but Obama proved that we have a government and a President precisely for this moment: to rally the entire nation to deal with a crisis. Imagine if we were facing these problems all on our own, and there was nobody who could bring people together. Even though I follow politics closely enough that there wasn't anything really new about the speech, the image of him up there, addressing the nation, truly leading in a way I have not seen in my lifetime, was deeply inspiring.

3. However, I wish Obama's programs for economic recovery matched the boldness of his rhetoric and were worthy of the crisis we face and the man we have entrusted to solve that crisis. The stimulus, housing plan, and banking plan sound like exactly what we need and what the country is demanding, but in reality so far they are much too timid, far too responsive to conventional wisdom and not suited to the urgency of the situation and the breadth and depth of the nation's support for Obama. Obama and his advisers need to immediately realize that the political situation allows them to be much bolder, and the serious of the economic crisis demands it.

The Strike: Last night, America saw its leader focused, sincere and determined to solve problems. What we heard last night was a speech a lot of us have been waiting for going back several years. In the dark days of the Bush administration, Democrats in the House chamber would reluctantly stand and cheer as the President made the case for unjust wars and unwise tax cuts. We cringed at the thought of any of the proposals be coming law. I remember the pit in my stomach when the President in 2005 talked about the need to privatize Social Security, and all our side could muster was a few jeers from weakened minority. This time, I not only believed so strongly in what Obama was saying, but I could feel the hopeful energy from the chamber. Seeing Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden jump to their feet in applause reminded me that these long-time liberal stalwarts are finally seeing the day when the government tackles these problems. The President spoke about three main domestic priorities: health care, energy and education. In doing so, he told us that the financial crisis cannot be an impediment to reform in these areas, but must be an impetus to act. He also made some unequivocal statements that gave me a Chris Matthews-like “thrill up my leg,” like when he said that America will strive to have the highest rate of college graduation by 2020, that we will enact health care reform this year, that the United States does not torture and that we will end the War in Iraq.

Contrast the President’s radiant energy, inspiring words and bold leadership with the response from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. I won’t even get into the delivery which made John McCain’s green screen “That’s not change we can believe in” speech last June look like John F. Kennedy. It was the substance that not only annoyed me personally, but was so inadequate for the times. This speech could have been written for Goldwater in ’64 or Reagan in ’81. Its main theme of utter mockery of government rings so hallow right now for a number reasons, not the least of which that taxpayers are paying billions, rightfully, to help Louisiana recover from Hurricane Katrina. Jindal’s snide remark about how he can’t have trust in government after living through the hurricane was especially absurd, as if the utter carelessness and incompetence of the previous administration should somehow persuade us to do LESS for struggling people. Also criticizing individual items in the stimulus bill was just so bush league. The President of the United States has taken bold action in the face of unprecedented challenges, and you are trying to score a one liner? My guess is that Jindal’s speech was written by Republican consultants (who themselves have consulted Rush Limbaugh) who are convinced that the party must return to its “small government principles” and rail against the excess of government. What Jindal and the Congressional Republicans seem to be missing is that the era of small-government, free market fetishism has been repudiated

As for the President, the substance of the proposals are still being developed, and will surely be criticized from the right and the left. Some, like the esteemed Big Picture, are understandably worried that strong words are not translating into bold enough solutions. The Paul Krugmans of the world will warn us that Obama’s stimulus is too small, that his banking plan is too timid, and that his housing proposal is watered down. They may be, but the President’s task consists of so much more than coming up with perfect policy. It’s to restore trust and confidence in the government, and to galvanize the country around the moral cause of helping one another in a spirit of common purpose.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Big Picture: Obama In A Strong Position In A Favorable Political Landscape

As Obama prepares for what is essentially his State of the Union Address tonight, the political dynamics - which seemed to be drifting in a troubling direction for Obama, liberals, and the country's future a few weeks ago - are showing significant improvement on all fronts. Before Obama re-took the offensive in a speech to Democrats in Williambsurg (one that historians may see as a crucial early watershed moment for Obama's Presidency), the images of the major political players were unfavorable. Obama seemed to be shrinking from the task at hand by deferring to both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. He was tripped up by his own staff and cabinet appointees - in a time of economic crisis when people were demanding strong, bold leadership, he seemed too weak. He was drifting into the element of his personality that had concerned working-class union Democrats and their advocates: the intellectual professor, so concerned with elevating the discourse in his classroom that he would prove ineffectual at delivering help for people who urgently needed it, too aloof to connect with average folks struggling to get by. Liberal thinkers, activists, and interest groups seemed also shrink from the urgency of the situation, retreating into internal debates rather than coming up with bold solutions in a populist package that would tap into the outrage people feel at big business and the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats were falling back into the time-worn stereotype of greasy machine politicians who love to spend for spending's sake On the other side, cable media, conservative radio hosts, and Congressional Republicans were presenting a strong image: a unified opposition tapping into populist outrage about the direction of the country. The old political dynamics of the Reagan Era seemed to be re-asserting themselves in spite of the Three Big Truths: liberals are weak-willed, captive to special interests, can't connect with the concerns of the middle-class, and don't know how to effectively advocate their principles, while conservatives are strong, unified, and know how to exploit cynicism about the effectiveness of government. This drift was especially disconcerting because it seemed to be happening in the most favorable of circumstances: the Republican President and the Republican Party in general were very unpopular, Democrats had won resoundingly in two straight elections, and the debate was over a stimulus bill which contained a lot of compromising tax cuts during a time of economic crisis when most economists believed a big stimulus bill was necessary. The great fear was: if the dynamics are becoming so unfavorable now, when could they ever turn around?

But the dynamics have dramatically improved, reflecting the Three Big Truths and born out in unmistakable fashion in recent polling by the New York Times and the Washington Post. The average approval/disapproval ratings are 66-24, which puts Obama in a dominant position. 61% trust Obama to handle the economy, and only 26% trust the Republicans. By a margin of 56-30, people trust the Democratic Party more than the Republican Party to deal with the nation's major problems. All the media chatter about Obama failing to live up to his bipartisan promise has been clearly rejected by the public. 73% think Obama has compromised with Republicans, but only 34% think Republicans are compromising, and 3/4 say Republicans opposed the stimulus bill for political reasons, and not out of genuine policy disagreement. This leads to numbers that should embolden Obama and chasten Republicans: 56% say Obama should stick to the policies he campaigned on rather than being bipartisan with Republicans, while a whopping 79% tell Republicans to work with Obama and the Democrats rather than sticking to Republican policies. Only 17% think Republicans should stick to Republican policies! The media might, just might, want to reconsider its obsession with Obama being bipartisan. It also might want to re-think their understanding of people's priorities. Every time I turn on the TV, some talking head is obsessing about spending and bailouts as if that was people's biggest concern. Now it may be the concern of a few elites and of ideologues, but most people are much more concerned about the nation's economic situation. 55% of the country is struggling to get by, 64% are concerned that someone in their household will lose their job in the coming year. This is why about a consistent 63-64% of the country supports the stimulus bill, support the housing plan, and think more economic stimulus will be needed. A full 3/4 support stricter regulation of the financial industry.

These numbers make sense given the compelling images of the past few weeks, images that both reflect this favorable landscape, and which serve to make that landscape even more favorable. It is a landscape with a clear divide: a big proportion of the country believes that the overriding priority must be economic recovery and supports bold programs to create that recover. This big proportion trusts Democrats and especially Obama far more than it trusts Republicans. It supports politicians who are empathetic to people's concerns and who will try hard to help people with a focus on action and what works. A small proportion of the country, in contrast, believes the biggest problem facing the country the specter of "socialism" in America. In terms of policy, their major concern is that capitalism will be crippled by too much spending, too many bailouts of the "irresponsible", and too much regulation, and they want politicians to stand firmly on these ideological principles. Such a divide is a dream come true for Obama and the Democrats, because it solidifies their majority and pulls people in the middle toward their side, as the conservative minority retreats ever deeper into an alternative reality - what we call Bizarro World - that is ever more out of touch with people in the middle. It also leaves room for the left to be even bolder, because ideas and activists in the majority get the benefit of the doubt due to a) their connection with Obama, and b) their favorable contrast to the minority in Bizarro World.

This is positive polarization  — the dynamic that has enabled the major political changes in American history. Normally, the direction and alignment of American politics muddles along without major shifts to either the left or the right, because the center remains unaligned, distrustful of a big change in either direction. At certain pivot points, however, the dynamic of positive polarization develops, and one side is able to pull in the center and isolate the other side, creating a majority committed to major change. The Civil War was an example - the increasing extremism of the hardcore pro-slavery forces pulled them toward secession, repelling the center so that it no longer tolerated the system of slavery and finally supported the major political shift of abolition. The Great Depression was another example: the center embraced liberalism because it was repelled by Herbert Hoover's free-market conservatism response to the Great Depression - its incompetence, mean-spiritedness, and ideological extremism - and attracted by FDR's New Deal - its competence, empathy, and non-ideological can-do spirit. The conservative reaction that began in the Sixties was a third example. Conservatives finally attracted the center by appearing sober, responsible, stabilizing, and in touch with middle Americans' values and concerns. In contrast, the center was repelled by a liberalism it saw as irresponsible, destabilizing, out of touch with middle America and in thrall to an extreme Left. A common theme running through these periods of positive polarization is that one side displayed a keen awareness of the major concerns of the center and strove to persuade the center that it "got it". At the same time, the other side responded to a crisis not with pragmatic solutions but ideological one-upmanship, seemingly more concerned with retaining the support of an extremist base than with obtaining majority support. It becomes a self-reinforcing dynamic, because as the losing side gets smaller and smaller, it alienates and drives away the very moderating forces that could have pulled the side back towards the center. Meanwhile, the majority side becomes powerful enough to enact major changes and reinforce its reputation for competence with the center. We can see the same dynamic at play currently.

Last week, we saw the Bizarro world ecstatic about the outburst by CNBC's Rick Santelli, who "reported" from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade that real Americans like the stock traders around him hated Obama's housing plan because they didn't want to help out "losers" who were being foreclosed, that this was like Cuba "where they used to have mansions and now they drive around in '54 Chevys" and that real Americans would join him in a Chicago Tea Party to save capitalism. The traders and the other analysts on CNBC cheered, and Santelli's manifesto became a rallying cry for elites and conservatives who believed this was an authentic voice of the popular reaction to too much government. Given the state of the country, and the poll numbers shown above, Santelli's outburst is more accurately seen as a classic example of ideological one-upmanship, repelling the center towards Obama, not away from him. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was very smart to go after Santelli and heighten the profile of his elitist mean-spirited screed. The more Santelli plays on TV, the more people in the center harden their opposition to conservatives and strengthen their support for Obama and his agenda because they think, as prodded by Gibbs, "Wow, this is the opposition to Obama? We can't let those people have any power driving the agenda. I may not consider myself liberal, but Obama's side is the only one that's reasonable." It reminds me of Nixon's Administration, when his top adviser Pat Buchanan would be jubilant every time the Weathermen or Abbie Hoffman or the Black Panthers spoke out, because they made liberalism seem way too extreme, and Nixon appear moderate and reasonable. It also reminds me of FDR, who declared in campaign speeches, "The economic royalists hate me. And I welcome their hate," because he knew that when greedy aristocrats opposed him, it discredited the entire opposition to the New Deal.

The smug self-righteousness of Santelli and his Republican compatriots like Mark Sanford and Bobby Jindal in the face of economic crisis is not the only dynamic discrediting the conservative opposition to Obama. It's also the current division among Republican governors, well-chronicled by the Strike. A few weeks ago, it seemed as if all Republicans were unified in opposition to Obama's economic agenda, and even conservative Democrats were expressing grave doubts, which to the unaligned voter strengthens the legitimacy of opposition. That legitimacy is severely undermined when not liberals but fellow Republican governors accuse each other of putting ideology ahead of people's needs, and the unaligned voter sees centrists for the stimulus, not against it. This intra-Republican divide plays right into Obama's hands, clearly demonstrating that opposition to the stimulus was rooted in ideology and politics, not helping people. The hard pull of the Bizarro World base - demanding ideological orthodoxy in return for media support, fundraiser dollars, and primary votes - makes it very difficult for Republicans to effectively influence national politics. How do you appeal to the base and the center when they move ever further from one another?

Liberals, meanwhile, regained their courage and stood up for the stimulus package, supporting Obama's agenda in two ways. One, they are now doing a good job of making spending real - not dollar bills stacked to the moon, but real jobs, real health care, a real difference in people's lives. These powerful images help Obama make his case that his program is urgently necessary, not some liberal wish-list. Second, liberals are starting to do a better job of pushing from the left, making proposals that Obama couldn't initiate without appearing too extreme, pulling the political discussion further leftwards. Intellectuals like Paul Krugman made the case that the stimulus bill was too small, not too big, and this critique picked up steam among liberals. Meanwhile, on the same day as Santelli's rant, the mayor of Lansing went on the Fox Business Channel and pushed back against the smug talk about solving our fiscal crisis by "cutting the fat" i.e. slashing wages and the safety net. His populist outrage tapped into the mood of the country, and created a compelling contrast that furthered the "which side are you on?" dynamic of positive polarization: are you on the side of the stock traders who call middle-class folks struggling to get by and looking for a helping hand "losers", or are you on the side of the mayor looking out for his family, friends, and neighbors who are losing their jobs and health care?

Most importantly, President Obama has been stepping into FDR's shoes, demonstrating an understanding that the key to leadership in a time of economic crisis is establishing a strong reputation for a) empathy, b) persuasion, and c) action. Obama shed the tag of aloof professor, hopefully for good, when his passionate performances in Williamsburg and his press conference demonstrated that he really cared about delivering for people, and that he was the strong leader who wouldn't be bogged down but would actually deliver. And in his town hall appearances, Obama showcased his powers of empathy and of persuasion. He explained the crisis and the solutions in ways people could understand, but at the same time spoke to them as adults, as fellow partners in this effort, inspiring them to move beyond the games and slogans of the media and the Republicans to join him in the task of recovery.

Even more importantly, Obama showed that he "got it": he was the opposite of aloof as he spoke to people's most pressing concerns, hitting them not in the murky worlds of ideology but right where they lived. In the past couple weeks, the poll numbers back up my impression that Obama is rooted in the real world to a shockingly greater degree than the Republicans or the media. To me, the most powerful moment of the Obama Presidency came during his town hall in Fort Myers, as I lay on my couch sick with the flu. A woman broke down in tears as she described how she had lost her home and was living in a car. The woman was black, and in the Reagan Era one can easily imagine her dismissed as irresponsible, her homelessness her own fault, across an ocean from the political center and the middle class. But in a room full of middle class people in the foreclosure capital, there was a clear sense in the room of the spirit that enables liberal social reform: there but for the grace of God go I. She could be me. We're all in this together. Obama, whose politics can be boiled down to that very spirit, approached the woman, his arms outstretched to give her a hug. A white woman, who we could until recently imagine as the type to scold the homeless black woman and fear the black politician coming to her aid, instead looked at Obama as if he was the Messiah and said, "I love you Barack".

The Daily Strike-2/24/09-Pre-Speech Update

Good evening! Of course today's major event will be President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress tonight. We will cover that in depth with a Late Night Strike, with views and analysis from a few of our bloggers to the speech and the Republican response from Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. For now, let's talk about what happened earlier in the day.

SENATE: The Senate took two key votes today. The first was a cloture motion to proceed to consideration of a bill granting a House seat to the District of Columbia (and a temporary one for Utah). While the motion technically just permits the Senate to debate the bill, it's adoption makes the bill's passage a foregone conclusion. The motion required 60 votes to pass, and thus was done to test whether the bill would break a Republican filibuster. The motion was adopted by a vote of 62-34. All Democrats voted for the bill except for Senators Baucus (MT) and Byrd (WV). My impression is that both Baucus and Byrd are institutionalist and sticklers for the rules. Byrd is infamous for his strict adherence to the rules and structures of the Senate. Republicans voting for the motion:

-Cochran (MS) (That's a surprise, he's usually a mainstream conservative)
-Collins (ME)
-Hatch (UT) (He's cool with his state getting an extra House seat!)
-Lugar (IN)
-Murkowski (AK)
-Snowe (ME)
-Specter (PA)

If the bill passes the Senate later this week, it goes to the House, where it shouldn't face any trouble. President Obama will sign the bill into law. The question then becomes whether the bill will withstand a court challenge. As we talked about the other day, the constitution does say that Representatives The scome from "the several states," and DC is not a state. I'll go more into the legal issues once I consult with Sister Strike about this. It looks like the final bill will mandate expedited legal consideration so the constitutionality of the bill is determined before DC would elect its first Representative in 2010.

The second key vote was on confirmation of Hilda Solis to be Secretary of Labor (finally!). Republicans dropped procedural challenges to her nomination earlier in the day and agreed to a vote on final passage this afternoon. Republicans had expressed concerns about her previous work with a labor rights group (that makes her MORE qualified in my view), her vague statements on The Employee Free Choice Act (a bill to make it easier for workers to unionize) and her husband's tax problems. But after all that, Solis was confirmed surprisngly easily today by a vote of 80-17. All of the "no" votes came from Republicans. I'm frankly surprised at some of the "yes" votes, which include Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, John McCain and his sidekick Lindsey Graham, and Georgia's Saxby Chambliss. Solis will try to restore a department brutally damaged during the last eight years, when it was run by Elaine Chao and big business. Solis' confirmation is a victory for progressives. She has a staunchly pro-labor record, and has an inspiring story as the daughter of Mexican immigrants.

Her confirmation also brings the number of outstanding open cabinet positions to two: Commerce and HHS. Former Washington Governor Gary Locke is expected to be nominated for Commerce tomorrow. She also will be forced to resign her seat in the House, which will bring the whole number of representatives to 432, with the Democrats holding a 254-178 advantage. The two other vacant seats are those of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and appointed New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Gillibrand's seat, as we've talked about before, is the only one that will be closely contested.

HOUSE: The House disposed of many bills under suspension of the rules today. The most interesting was a bill to ban the domestication of primates. Surprisingly, 95 Representatives voted against this bill (93 of them Republicans). The House also voted to name a post office and recognize Black History month. It moves tomorrow to consideration of a bill to fund the federal government through September. The House will consider the bill under a rule prohibiting amendments. Therefore, Republicans won't be able to bring up 80 votes striking funding from Amtrak, the National Endowment of the Arts etc. The Republicans will be able to vote on their own alternative through a motion to recommit the bill to committee.

IRAQ: Obama is expected to release the details of his Iraq plan in the next couple of days. The plan will apparently have most troops out in 19 months (three months longer than his campaign promise). He also will leave behind a residual force, which will include some combat forces. This seems to be a water-downed withdrawal that is a compromise between Obama's campaign rhetoric and the demands of the Pentagon brass that the U.S. not withdrawal "precipitously." This is very disappointing news to many of us who had hoped he wouldn't budge on this issue. I realize it's a complicated issue and the state of affairs in Iraq is fragile, but he can't morally justify continuing this war. His political rise was launched by his principled opposition to the war almost seven years ago. Let's just hope he never sacrifices that strong moral compass.

That's it for now, but we'll update you all later tonight!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/23/09-AWK-ward

A busy day at the White House, as the President hosted a couple of key meetings. Welcome to the Daily Strike!

WHITE HOUSE: Today, President Obama played host to two key meetings. The first was with the nation's 50 governors, who were in town attending that National Governor's Association meeting. Obama struck a pretty harsh tone against critics. He said that while concerns about the size and scope of the package were "legitimate," governors who are sniping on items that make up 1 to 3 percent of the bill appear to be "playing politics." Without mentioning anyone by name (man would that have been fun), Obama apparently looked in the direction of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Texas Governor Rick Perry. All of these Southern Governors have threatened to reject stimulus money.

What a great lesson for students of political science. The governors can yap all they want in their home states, but when you're at the White House, the President of the United States can criticize you in front of a large media audience without any chance for rebuttal. Two notable absences from the meeting were Alaska governor Sarah Palin, and former Commerce secretary nominee Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

The next meeting of the day was the so-called "Fiscal Responsibility" summit, attended by administration officials, a bipartisan delegation from Congress, and a whole host of "community leaders," ranging from representatives of the AFL-CIO to economists at far right think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation. Overall, the crowd at the White House probably topped 100. The summit began with a speech by the President, in which he had some choice words for his predecessor:

"The casual dishonesty of hiding irresponsible spending with clever accounting tricks, the costly overruns, the fraud and abuse, the endless excuses -- this is exactly what the American people rejected when they went to the polls," he said.

"We'll eliminate the no-bid contract that have wasted billions in Iraq. We'll end the tax breaks for companies shipping jobs overseas, and we'll stop the fraud and abuse in our Medicare program. And we will reinstate the pay-as-you-go rule that we followed during the 1990s, the rules that helped us start this new century with a $236 billion surplus," he said.

That was a reference to Bush's various accounting schemes, which made the projected deficit appear smaller than it actually was. The attendees broke into various "work groups" after the President's opening address to address topics ranging from long-term entitlement spending to the budget process.

Next was the extraordinarily awkward question and answer session. Apparently, Obama was in the front of the room at the podium while lawmakers sat below him as if they were members of the press core. Obama called on John McCain for the first question. McCain asked Obama (in what I think is sort of an f-you question) why the President's new helicopters cost as much as Air Force One. Obama joked that he had never ridden in the helicopter, and thought that the one he had now worked just fine. He later answered a question from Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) about why the stimulus process wasn't bipartisan. Obama answered that "On the one hand, the majority has to be inclusive. On the other hand, the minority has to be constructive…the minority has got to then come up with those ideas and not just want to blow the thing up.”

If I was a Republican critic of the President, which I'm not, I would mention that it's somewhat ironic to hold a fiscal responsibility summit a week after signing the largest spending bill in American history. But since I'm not that short-sighted, it's much easier to understand. The President knows that we need to spend money now to help people during a deep recession, but in the long term, we must decrease the federal deficit to avoid accumulating unsustainable debt and enduring high inflation.

COMMERCE SECRETARY: The other big news of the day is that Obama will likely nominate former Washington Governor Gary Locke to be the next Secretary of Commerce (take three on this post for the President). The Big Picture and I unfortunately remember Locke for giving an extraordinarily lackluster response to President Bush's State of the Union in 2003. Responding to a speech in which the President peddled false evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the best we could come up with was a dull-sounding governor. Thank God that the Democrats have expanded their bench since then. Of course none of this means that Locke won't be a fine Secretary of Commerce.

OMNIBUS BUDGET BILL: House Democrats have finally released their version of an omnibus spending bill which will fund the government through September 30th. The bill encompasses nine unfinished appropriations bills that Bush and Congressional Democrats could not agree on last year. This package adds $20 billion to current budget levels. Most of the additional funding is intended to forestall Bush administration cuts. Some of the domestic beneficiaries of the new bill will be the labor, education and health departments, food subsidies to women and children and the Federal Transit Administration. The bill will come to the full house for a vote on Wednesday. I expect that Republicans will raise objections to additional spending after last week's stimulus package. Ultimately, the bill will pass by a safe margin in the Democratic House. The Senate package could be voted on late this week or early next week. Passage there will be more difficult, although Senate Republicans were involved in negotiations last year that produced some of the increases included in this bill. Obama will probably sign whatever the Democrats produce. His real interest is the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, which he unveils Thursday. With this budget, he'll have a chance to radically change spending priorities and revenue sources.

ECONOMY: Today, the Dow dropped to its lowest level since 1997. A project for my loyal readers (for the comments section) is to see how many citations you can find of Republicans blaming the stock market drop on Obama. The winner will receive a shout out.

Also, the government is negotiating with Citibank regarding a possible partial nationalization. The administration has tried to assure the markets that the government is not interested in nationalizing banks. But with balance sheets the way they are, I find it pretty likely that some form of bank nationalization will take place in the near future.

That's it for us today. Tomorrow we'll do a short Daily Strike in the early evening covering some important Senate votes on DC voting rights and the labor secretary nominee Hilda Solis. We'll then come back with full coverage of the President's address to Congress in a special Late Night Strike.

The Weekly Strike-2/23-3/1

Happy Monday and welcome to the Weekly Strike. It will be a very busy week in the world of politics, and we've got you covered.

THE MAIN EVENTS: Tomorrow night, President Obama gives an address to a joint session of Congress. An address this time of year is normally referred to as "The State of the Union." While an address in the first year of a new President's term is technically not a State of the Union, it will have the media coverage and aura of the big event. Three years removed from having three gray-haired white guys up there (Bush, Cheney and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert), we will now have an African American, a woman (Speaker Nancy Pelosi) and...uh...a balding white guy (I guess he's Catholic, so that counts). The address will begin at 9pm EST when Obama is escorted into the chamber by a bicameral delegation of legislators to large applause. He then will hand a copy of his speech to Vice President Biden (who is also the President of the Senate) and Speaker Pelosi, before delivering his remarks.

The speech, all indications show, will be about the economy. Expect the President to defend the economic stimulus by showcasing projects that are soon to be underway. He'll also surely mention the fact that most workers will receieve more money in their paychecks beginning in April, due to a temporary reduction in the payroll tax.

Talking about the economy as a whole, Obama has to strike a balance between sober realism, and hopefulness in the future of the economy. This is the very reason why Obama is President, and Paul Krugman is not. Most economists will tell you that we're in deep hole, and it's not likely to get better anytime soon. But Obama's job is to help restore confidence and build national morale.

The President will also talk about the other major event of the week, the unveiling of the Fiscal Year 2010 budget on Thursday. The budget will reflect this week's theme of fiscal responsibility. Today, the President holds a bipartisan summit to talk about reigning in a growing federal budget. On Thursday, that talk is formalized by the budget proposal.

The proposal projects the deficit to be cut in half by 2013. The new sources of revenue would come from significant drawdowns of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for individuals and businesses making $250,000 per year in 2011. The proposal will call for closing tax loopholes to decrease fraud and increase revenue (every President says he's going to do this). The other big cut will be payments to the so-called "Medicare Advantage" program. This program pays private insurance companies money to cover senior citizens who would already be covered by Medicare. The program is a giveaway to insurance companies (who certainly don't need the money), doesn't help a single uninsured person in the country, and costs a lot of money.

So what will we be getting out of the budget proposal? The proposal will cover expected costs for significant health care reform, and energy legislation to be passed this year. It also is expected to include unprecedented investments in education and infrastructure (making the stimulus package a down-payment of sorts). It remains to be seen whether all of these programs will indeed be enacted this year. We will do a more in-depth entry this week on health care policy in the Obama budget.

The key things to look out for after the announcement of Obama's budget:

-Republicans who will undoubtedly call the proposal, "the biggest tax increase in the history of the United States"

-The reactions of House Budget Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND)

-How the media, which seems to love the idea of fiscal responsibility (especially the editorial pages) reacts to the proposal. I'm always amazed at how much the media emphasizes fiscal responsibility when evidence shows that people care a lot more about health care, energy and education.

THE HOUSE: Congress is back in session this week after a February recess. The House of Representatives today and tomorrow will consider non-controversial bills under supsension of the rules. The House adjourns early tomorrow so that they can do a security sweep of the chamber for the President's address. On Wednesday, the House takes up legislation enacting an all-encompassing (omnibus) budget to last us until October 1st. We are currently operating under the previous year's funding levels, thanks to a continuing resolution passed last September by Congress and President Bush. As I mentioned before, I expect the budget to be more Democratic-friendly (more funding for health care, clean energy and education), but they haven't yet released any details of the bill. It is also possible that the House considers the "Helping Families Save Their Homes Act," which would, presumably, reflect the housing proposals Obama offered last week. My guess is that consideration of this bill is postponed a week or two so that legislators can work out the kinks before it is brought to the floor. Barney Frank, the chair of the House Finance Committee, will surely want to implement some of his own ideas, as will Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel.

THE SENATE: The Senate has an equally busy week. Tomorrow, the Senate takes two key votes in the morning. The first is a motion relating to a law that would grant the District of Columbia representation in Congress. The bill would also temporarily give a House seat to Utah, in order to offset a Democratic seat with a Republican one. The bill passed the House in the last Congress, but was bottled up in the Senate by a filibuster and an expected veto by President Bush. With Democrats having gained 7 seats in the last election, and with President Obama's support, it looks as if the bill has a good chance of passing (whether it becomes law depends on what a bunch of judges interpretation is of "representatives from the several STATES.." in the constitution). The vote on Tuesday is a cloture vote on the motion to proceed. Basically, the Senate is voting on whether to consider the bill, subject to a 60 vote threshold. The reason Majority Leader Reid scheduled such a vote is to test whether the legislation could get the necessary 60 votes to defeat a filibuster. Should cloture be invoked, the Senate would debate the bill this week and vote on final passage Thursday or Friday. I expect the vote tomorrow to be close, probably winning with 60-63 votes. I also expect that some Democratic Senators may vote to proceed on the bill, but vote against final passage.

The Senate next votes on the nomination of Labor Secretary-designate Hilda Solis, after a month of delays at the committee level. Should Solis be confirmed, the only remaining cabinet vacancies will be at the Departments of Commerce and Health and Human Services. I expect that we may hear about nominations to those positions sometime this week. The Senate also might take up the Omnibus appropriations bill if the House finishes its work quickly. The current budget expires on March 6th (next Friday), so something has to pass before then (either this budget, or another continuing budget resolution) so that the government does not shut down.

I hope that gives you a good idea of the upcoming week in politics. We'd love to see some of your comments. See you tonight for the Daily Strike!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/22/09-Governors

Happy Sunday and welcome to the Daily Strike. Not much political news today, and I'm sure you're all watching the Oscars, so it will be a short entry tonight.

GOVERNORS: The Sunday talk shows featured a variety of GOP governors speaking about the stimulus. Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, who recently announced that he would reject stimulus money for unemployment insurance, defended his decision by arguing that it will cause future tax increases. Another southern conservative, Haley Barbour of Mississippi announced that he too would reject stimulus money. I'm sure Mr. Barbour is not on the unemployment roles.

Two other pragmatic governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Charlie Crist of Florida both talked today about how they have been forced to abandon their principles because they need stimulus money to get their states out of severe budget downfalls. Schwarzenegger even went as far as saying that Obama needs governors to be "team players." It seems like the battle lines have been drawn for 2012 already. Support the stimulus, and you are a principled fiscal conservative. Oppose it, and you are a Democrat-lite. I can't wait watching reasonable pragmatists like Crist being torn down by Governors Sanford of South Carolina and Jindal of Louisiana for accepting money to help laid-off, struggling constituents. I think the Republican primary electorate will largely be opposed to the stimulus (assuming nothing changes between now and two years from now), and thus the reasonable pragmatists will have little chance of winning the nomination. Probably good news for Obama.

STIMULUS WATCHDOG: President Obama announced a task force to oversee stimulus spending, which will be led by Earl Devaney, a former white-collar crime investigator. This week, Obama seems to be showcasing fiscal responsibility, which makes sense to appease fearful voters who are worried about huge budget deficits after the bank bailout and stimulus package. The fiscal responsibility theme should be prevalent in the address to Congress Tuesday night, as well as Thursday when Obama releases his budget.

That's it for tonight, a LOT more coming tomorrow morning in the Weekly Strike, when we preview a very busy week in politics. Enjoy the Oscars.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/21/09-Budget Matters

Happy Saturday and welcome to the Daily Strike!

BUDGET: The Washington Post, along with other outlets, is reporting on the early details of Obama's budget proposal, which he will unveil Thursday. As The Big Picture has said, this first paragraph is music to a liberal's ear:

"President Obama is putting the finishing touches on an ambitious first budget that seeks to cut the federal deficit in half over the next four years, primarily by raising taxes on business and the wealthy and by slashing spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, administration officials said."

The proposal aims to halve the current budget deficit by 2013, a tall task given the federal bailouts and the recently enacted stimulus. Obama also will not be using the same gimmicks Bush used to make the projected deficit seem smaller. Bush never put the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in his budget proposal. He instead would request it separately as "emergency funding." He also would pretend that Congress wouldn't provide a temporary fix each year to save millions of taxpayers from being affected by the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Obama's budget even accounts for spending on anticipated natural disasters, like hurricanes, and for ambitious proposals to fund health care reform and energy legislation. We'll wait until next Thursday to discuss the full proposal, but today's article gives us a clue as to how different the new administration's priorities will be.

BUDGET PROCESS: With this news, it seems like an appropriate time to go over the budget process, which is unnecessarily complicated. Obama will formally present his proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget on Thursday. The funny thing, is that we still don't have a completed 2009 budget. The fiscal year begins on October 1st, but Congress and the President almost never agree on a budget by then. Usually, they'll pass what's called a "Continuing Resolution" which funds the government at current levels. Bush and the Democratic Congress passed one of these last September to fund the government into early March. This week, Congress is expected to pass a budget for this year through September, which will reflect, most likely, some Democratic priorities (we still don't quite know what's in this proposal yet).

After this is passed, we can finally start thinking about next year's budget. Congress first has to agree on a non-binding budget resolution, which sets overall spending targets. The resolution usually passes on party lines, and is not subject to a filibuster. Next, each Appropriations subcommittee in the House and Senate (there are 13 of them) passes individual spending bills that conform to the budget resolution targets. The bills are voted on in each full chamber, and then reconciled in a conference committee before being passed and sent to the President. This whole process is usually very slow, since it is customary to allow all sorts of amendments to appropriations bills.

The other wrinkle is that usually only a few of the individual appropriations bills are sent to and signed by the President. The others are packaged together in an omnibus bill, which is usually a compromise reached between Congress and the White House. By the time the President has signed the full budget, it is frequently December or later. Therefore, the government usually is funded through continuing resolutions for at least three or four months. The process could potentially be easier since Barack Obama is working with a Democratic Congress.

Of course that whole process only applies to one particular type of spending, discretionary spending. The budget is made up of mandatory spending (which consists of programs already mandated by law, such as Social Security, entitlements, and other government programs) and discretionary spending. To change mandatory spending, Congress will typically include a "reconciliation order" in the budget resolution. This requires appropriate committees in each chamber to "reconcile" mandatory spending levels to an amount specified in the budget resolution. Once the committees finish their work, Congress must bass an Omnibus Reconciliation Bill, which combines all of the committee's revised budgets. This bill is also not subject to a filibuster, and is typically a vehicle with which the majority party exerts power to change budgetary priorities. Reagan used it to cut spending and cut taxes, Clinton used it to cut spending and raise taxes on the rich, and Bush used it for his 2001 tax cuts. If Obama wants to raise taxes on corporations/hedge funds etc. this year, he'll probably have to use the reconciliation process.

Phew. Any questions? This process is pretty complicated, so if you need any more information on it, and you don't want to read Wikipedia or, you can ask me.

OBAMA RADIO ADDRESS: The President's radio address centered around the stimulus bill. The biggest news making item is that the Treasury Department will soon adjust the withholding amount on most paychecks, meaning that the average tax payer will earn an extra 65 bucks per month, starting April. I'm not sure that this will be stimulative (people generally use this money to pay off debt) but it is politically smart, since people will be seeing the effects of the stimulus package promptly.

GOVERNORS: The nation's governors are meeting this weekend in Washington for the National Governor's Association's annual conference. One notable absence is Alaska's Sarah Palin, who is busy with who knows what. Other potential 2012 GOP candidates, like Charlie Crist of Florida and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana will be in attendance. Democratic governors today criticized some of their Republican counterparts for threatening to refuse stimulus money. Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania went as far as predicting that no governor will actually turn money down when all is said and done. Brian Schweitzer, the Democratic governor of Montana, implicitly attacked Bobby Jindal of Louisiana for refusing to accept money for increased unemployment assistance.

The governors meet tomorrow night at the White House for a banquet with the President.

Almost time for me to pick up Mother Strike from the airport. Have a good night!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/20/09-Mayors, Markets, Burris and More

Good Friday evening. We've almost made it though a full week without Congress in session. They're back on Monday. Now, onto today's Daily Strike.

MAYORS COME TO THE WHITE HOUSE: Today, President Obama spoke to a group of mayors at the White House. He asked for accountability and responsibility in spending taxpayer money. He also said that stimulus money could be available to states and localities as early as next week. The best thing that can happen politically for the White House, is for governors and mayors to show tangible results from the funding. The more photo ops in front of new construction sites, the better.

From a non-political perspective, this money is badly needed to help states facing massive budget shortfalls. The audience was friendly, which is to be expected from a group of mayors representing big cities. He did give a shout out to the Strike's former mayor, San Francisco's Gavin Newsom, for spearheading an effort to insure health care for thousands of uninsured San Franciscans.

MARKETS: There has been a lot of talk this week about how the market is sliding because investors are not confident in Obama's plans to ease the banking and housing markets. The angst came to a head yesterday from a reporter on CNBC, who railed against "bailing out losers" in the housing plan, and freaking out about public "intrusion" into private markets. The crowd surrounding him at the Chicago Stock Exchange mostly cheered this guy. Watch it and weep:

Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Secretary, responded sharply basically indicating that this guy is clueless. Luckily the "investor" class, at the ones like this guy, are a clear minority. Their power, however, lies in the market. Today when Gibbs indicated that the White House was not interested in nationalizing banks, the stocks stopped free-falling. The White House has indicated that they will not make policy based on the everyday fluctuations of the market. But it can be hard when the Dow drops 300 points whenever a new plan is introduced (Fox News and the Drudge Report are always happy to make the correlation). The administration needs to remember that the trusting the "market" in making policy decisions is part of what got us into this problem in the first place. Let's not forget that the Dow was at 13000 in 2007, and things weren't exactly going in the right direction.

BURRIS: I've been hesitating to talk about Roland Burris, the newly sworn Senator from Illinois, because it's such a stupid story. Apparently, Burris agreed to raise money for disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich in exchange for being appointed to the Senate seat. Burris has gone back and forth in his explanation of these allegations, but he admitted that he did indeed try and fail to raise money for the governor. Now everyone, including the new governor, is calling on Burris to resign. As a Democrat, it's incredibly frustrating to not just shore up this seat with someone with minimal ethical integrity, enough to at least get us to the next election. If Burris resigns (or is expelled by 2/3rds of the Senate), the governor has the power to make an appointment, although he has indicated that he'd rather have a special election to fill the seat. Which means that the Democrats could be one vote further away from breaking Republican filibusters. Come on, Roland.

STIMULUS REJECTION: We talked yesterday about Mark Sanford and his "reluctant" acceptance of federal stimulus money. Today, one governor is heroically walking the walk. Meet Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, the young Indian-American Republican who is seen as a rising star. Despite representing a state still marred by the ills of Hurricane Katrina, massive poverty, and unemployment, Jindal has decided to reject some of the stimulus money "on principle." Specifically, Jindal does not want to widen the pool of people eligible for unemployment benefits, and he does not want to extend current unemployment benefits another 20 weeks. His reasoning? It eventually will cause a tax increase on Louisianans. Of course, that probably won't be true, and even if it is, the increase would only affect those making above $250,000. Even if the tax increase affected lower income earners, it would be a few years down the line. In the meantime, Jindal will single-handedly deprive Louisiana's most vulnerable citizens of much-needed help.

Ladies and Gentleman, the 2009 Republican Party.

HEALTH CARE: The New York Times has an interesting article this morning about a series of meetings, spearheaded by Senator Ted Kennedy, to come up with a multi-stakeholder consensus on health reform. The group consists of representatives of labor, drug companies, big business and others. Apparently, a consensus is emerging around mandating that every citizen buy health insurance. While there are sticking points on how this will be achieved and enforced, it is striking that a diverse group of health care stakeholders would unite around a concept like this. Health care costs are hurting businesses in a number of ways, so for a change, their interests are aligned with labor and consumers.

The group's work is promising. As much as we'd like to vilify drug companies and big business, having them on our side while trying to enact health care reform will be an important advantage. As we learned from the stimulus debate, we shouldn't give up too much before we find out exactly how sincere they are in their cooperation. Another issue, sure to be brought up by Republicans, is how the process is happening behind closed doors. Few details about these meetings have been released. Republicans have so far rejected overtures to attend. Obama has criticized the 1993 Clinton Health Reform effort for not being transparent, so it is in his interest to try and make the process more open to the public.

Here we have another example of a time we need to abandon our ideology. Michael Moore would not be happy with having drug companies and corporations sitting at the table. But if it helps people get affordable health care, we need to do it.

One thing I think we can NOT compromise on is the creation of a universal public health care system. This system, which would be a version of Medicare available to citizens of all ages, would set baseline standards for price and quality. Therefore, if private companies wanted to compete, they'd have to either lower costs or improve services. Any thoughts on this? We would love your comments.

See you tomorrow night!

UPDATE: Vocab Correction

We wanted to issue a correction on our previous entry about the Canadian parliament. Father Strike has told me that the Party Quebecois, beyond their nationalist tendencies, is actually pretty liberal on both social and economic issues. In fact, Harper's government almost fell apart last year because the two liberal parties almost formed a coalition with the Quebecois.

Father Strike also informed me that Grandfather Strike (a native of Montreal) was a high school and college classmate of the founder of the New Democratic Party David Lewis. So my natural interest in Canadian parliament must be inherited.

Thanks to Father Strike for chipping in with this information.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/19/09-Oh Canada!, SPECIAL Vocab

Good Thursday evening and welcome to the Daily Strike! Obama took his first international trip today, and yes, it was to our friendly neighbors up North.

OBAMA TO CANADA: The President today traveled to Ottawa to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Governor General Michelle Jean (she's a representative of Queen Elizabeth II, who sure enough, is still the Head of State of Canada) and liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff. Obama and Harper talked about a number of things. They discussed Afghanistan, though Obama didn't pressure Harper to rescind his goal of getting all Canadian troops out of there by 2011. The two also discussed trade, with Obama assuring Harper that the U.S. will support expanding trade with Canada, not decreasing it, as he implied during the Democratic primary campaign. They also discussed energy and the economy.

The visit probably helped Harper much more than it helped Obama. Harper was forced to suspend the parliament last year because he was about to be ousted from his position over a budget dispute. Obama is very popular in Canada.

He helped his popularity by surprising people at an Ottawa market by making a few purchases on the fly, including a maple syrup cookie. The Canadian website (which the Strike sometimes goes to for hockey news) was marveling at how Obama tried to pay with Loonies (one dollar in Canadian currency) instead of U.S. dollars.

CALIFORNIA: Quickly disposing of other items: We haven't talked too much about state politics here, but the situation in California got crazy rather fast. Because of Prop. 13, an anti-tax ballot initiative passed in 1978, it takes 2/3rds of the state assembly to approve any tax increase. Why does this matter? California has a huge budget deficit, and was facing the potential of massive layoffs of state workers. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had been negotiating closely with the Democratic majorities in the state assembly and senate to enact a passage of tax increases and spending cuts as part of a new budget. Republican lawmakers wouldn't play ball for a long time, and because their votes were needed to get the necessary 2/3rds majority, they held a good deal of negotiating power. Up until yesterday, legislators were one vote short of a compromise, but couldn't get another Republican to sign on. It's not a surprise either, considering that the Republican senate leader was stripped of his title after agreeing to a tax increase during negotiations (talk about ideological purity!). The impasse was finally broken today when one Republican defected and decided to support the budget. You can thank Abel Maldonado of the Central Valley. Still, the budget cuts $15 billion from public education funding, which will make the already strained public school system even worse. Hopefully Obama's stimulus package will help to ease some of that pain.

SPECIAL VOCAB: Today, after a long hiatus, we bring you another vocab word. And since today was a slow day politically, we'll leave this country and stay with today's theme: Canada. Yes, today's term is "Canadian Parliament." Canada's government is a parliamentary system. It's head of state, as I mentioned above, is Queen Elizabeth who governs through the Governor General. The Governor General position is largely ceremonial. The real power lies, like in other parliamentary systems, in the House of Commons. The House of Commons has 308 members, elected from individual districts (called "ridings"). Unlike the United States, the executive and legislative branches in Canada are both vested in the parliament. After an election is held, the new members of parliament must form a government. Since there are multiple parties, oftentimes the "winning" party will not earn a majority of seats. Either they can combine with another party to form a governing coalition, or they can govern in a "minority government," which means that they form a government despite only holding a plurality of seats. Currently, the Conservative party has 143 seats, the Liberal party has 77 seats, the "Bloc Quebecois" (a group conservative group devoted to the sovereignty of the Quebec province) has 49 seats, and the center-left New Democrat party has 27 seats. The remaining two seats are held by independents. For those of you scoring at home, even if the two "left-wing parties" came together, they would only hold 104 seats, far short of the conservative party's total.

The leader of the governing party is the Prime Minister (currently Stephen Harper). The cabinet is made up of members of parliament from the governing party.

So basically, once your party has a plurality of seats, it can do pretty much whatever it wants. Since only a majority of the parliament is required to pass legislation, and executive power is vested in the parliament, there are no checks and balances (not like we do it here in America!). No vetoes, no filibusters, no shenanigans.

Oh yeah, except for the stupid Canadian Senate. This 105 member "upper chamber" must approve legislation as well, though in practice, they are mostly deferential to the House of Commons. The Senators in Canada are appointed by the Prime Minister and can serve until they are 75 years old. Apparently, there have been several movements to abolish the Senate, because many Canadians feel that the institution is unnecessary and undemocratic, but it still exists.

So what happened last year that threatened Stephen Harper's run as Prime Minister? In September, the Canadians held a federal election in which the conservative party gained seats, though they still did not have a outright majority in the parliament. After the election, the conservatives presented a controversial budget that drew the ire of all opposition parties. The parties were so angry, in fact, that they decided to come together and try to oust the parliament. The parliament can vote to dissolve the government in what's called "a vote of no confidence," which mandates new elections. If the two liberal parties were to combine with the more conservative Quebecois party, they would have had the votes to dissolve the parliament. So Stephen Harper, in desperation, asked Governor General Michelle Jean to "prorogue" (or suspend) the government to resolve the dispute. Jean consented to the request, and Harper had enough time to come up with a budget that the liberal parties could accept.

So there you have it. Those hockey-loving Canucks have an interesting system of government. And that's today's vocab.

Emergency Strike-When Standing on Principle Doesn't Quite Work Out

Look at this series of quotes issued by Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina this morning:


On the one side is South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, who refers to the spending package as “a tremendous mistake.”

“The spending plan will prove to be an absolute disaster,” Sanford said in an interview. “The bottom line is that it’s horrible.”

"The problem with the Republican brand is that we haven’t done as advertised. We ran as conservatives and didn’t govern that way,” said Sanford. “The way out of the electoral carnage of the last few years does not rest in being all things to all people. It’s delivering on what you promised.”

From CBS News:

“Being against it doesn’t preclude taking the money,” Sanford said on CBS. “I think there are a number of wrinkles that have caused a number of us to say ‘Wait a minute, let’s take a long look at whether or not this really makes sense for our state.’”

The inconsistency of these quotes from our favorite principled governor warrants a special code-red emergency strike. How can we let this go to waste?

First some background:

While congressional Republicans are almost uniform in opposition to the stimulus package recently signed into law by President Obama, there is an interesting divide growing among the 22 Republican governors that could give us a hint into the primary battle in the 2012 Presidential Election. I'll call this divide "Crist/Sanford Chasm."

Meet Charlie Crist, the popular Republican governor of Florida, the perennial swing state. Crist enjoys popularity in the 70% range. A couple of recent polls have shown that if he tries to run for the United States Senate in 2010 to replace the retiring Republican Senator Mel Martinez, he would win in a landslide. Ditto if he runs for reelection as governor. But Crist's life isn't so easy these days. Last week, he committed "heresy" by introducing Obama at an event in Florida promoting the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The right wing was up in arms, with some questioning Crist's conservative credentials, and criticizing him for taking money from what they feel is a bill full of useless pork.

Crist is no Rockefeller Republican, in fact he's pretty much a mainstream conservative. But Crist understands that his state is facing a severe budget shortfall, and a lot of people are hurting from home foreclosures, which are happening at a faster rate in Florida. So this fiscal conservative decided that he needed to act in the interest of his state (the website projects that Florida will gain 200,000 jobs from the bill). So Crist puts aside his ideology to take care of the pressing needs of his constituents. How dare he.

On the other end of the spectrum is South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. Mr. Sanford used to be in the House of Representatives where he took such "principled" stands as opposing a memorial for the Underground Railroad because it costed too much (he and Ron Paul were the only representatives to vote against it). But lucky Sanford gets elected in 2002 to "reform" government in the Palmetto state. Sanford certainly isn't making many friends. He has constantly battled the Republican-controlled legislature over the state budget, because he has sought enormous cuts in state programs that even conservative Republicans weren't comfortable with. He even brought in live pigs to demonstrate pork in state spending bills (this story helped the Strike ace a college presentation on Governors trying and failing to exert extraordinary executive power). Good old Sanford unfortunately lost most of these spending battles. A majority of his 100 vetoes have been overridden by the legislature.

Now that Republicans have lost badly in two consecutive elections, much of the party faithful is convinced that it can regain majority status by returning to the principles of strong fiscal conservatism. Heroically taking the mantle of fiscal conservative crusader, Governor Sanford took a post leading the Republican Governor's Association. He expressed early and frequent opposition to the stimulus plan even before it was formally presented. He took the airwaves telling people that the stimulus was just a giant pile of pork, and that the best way to stimulate the economy was to let the free market self-correct. He even publicly criticized Crist for endorsing the measure, questioning his conservative credentials. It looked like this taxpayer hero would show those spend-happy feds that he doesn't need their porky spendulous bill. After all, it's only gonna be used for resodding the mall and STD's, right? His principled stand went far enough that it looked like he would actually reject the stimulus money.

But then reality struck. South Carolina's Congressman, the House Majority Whip James Clyburn publicly feuded with Sanford about the bill and even managed to insert a provision saying that if a governor rejects stimulus money, the state legislature can still authorize it. Faced with growing unemployment and economic malaise, South Carolina desperately needs help. And after his tireless crusade, Sanford is forced to relent.

Amazingly, this is not the first time Sanford has been forced to abandon his ideological principles in the face of political pressure. Earlier this year, he made a big stink about rejecting federal payments for state unemployment insurance, but ended up taking the money when members of both political parties strongly objected.

So to review, Sanford stakes his political reputation going on TV derisively mocking a bill, saying that it's "horrible" and will "do-nothing," but he still does EXACTLY what Governor Crist did: accept the money. Sanford can no longer say to himself: " even though Governor Crist has high approval ratings, and endless opportunities for higher office, he's doesn't have what I have: absolute ideological purity!"


"Mark Sanford's wild ride over the past two months is a lesson for the kids out there. It seems easy and fun to drink from the seductive bottle of holier-than-thou ideology, but don't be lured in. The next morning, when the reality strikes that voters reward statesmen who deliver needed services not self-righteous ideologues, you'll have to vomit back up all that ideology, take the bitter medicine of government spending, and feel the soul-crushing humiliation that you were just exposed before the world as a buffoonish hypocrite who abandons his principles at the first sign of political trouble."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/18/09-Homes, Homes Again

Good afternoon. I'm writing an early Daily Strike today because Lady Strike and I are attending a hockey game this evening.

HOUSING PLAN: The big news of the day was the President's speech in Arizona unveiling the "Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan." The multi-pronged proposal will cost upwards of $75 billion. The plan is intended to help up to 7 to 9 million families restructure or refinance their mortgages to avoid foreclosure.

So what will the plan specifically do? The basic plan is that the government will provide incentive for lenders to lower mortgage rates. For example, if a lender agrees to lower a borrower's payment so that it makes up no more than 38 percent of his or her income, the government would pay to lower the payments to 31 percent of income. (I got that example from the Washington Post). This part of the plan will presumably be introduced in Congress in the coming weeks.

The other key component of the plan assists those who have made scheduled payments on their loans, but whose houses have lost value. Currently, loans covered by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do not can not be refinanced if the borrower owes more than 80 percent of the home's current value. Under this plan, Fannie and Freddie (which of course, have been taken over by the government)can refinance mortgages if they do not exceed 105 percent of the home value. So, in layman's terms, you can get new terms on your mortgage even if you owe more than the value of your house. Because the government owns these two entities, the administration can pursue this action without additional authorization from Congress. (the program launches March 4th).

Two other key elements of the plan: First, there will be an incentive for lenders that modify troubled loans. The government will pay lenders up to $1000 if each time they restructure a troubled loan. Second, homeowners will also be eligible for incentives if they stay current with loan payments. The government will give up to $1000 per year to decrease the balance of the mortgage.

A couple of thoughts on both the problem and the proposed solution: The housing crisis, obviously, has a ripple effect that poisons the whole economy. When people can't pay their mortgages and their homes are foreclosed, they have lost their assets, and can't contribute any money into the economy. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that 6 million homes will face foreclosure in the next three years. As Obama pointed out, home foreclosures significantly reduce the property values of surrounding houses. So to sum up, the problem is very urgent.

It also became more politically urgent due to the poor performance last week by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in laying out a plan to save the financial and banking systems. The way I see it, Obama is taking a three-way approach to the economic crisis: the stimulus, the financial plan, and the housing plan. Now that the stimulus is done, his goal is to restore confidence through banking and housing reforms. At first glance, his plan seems to be specific and reasonable enough to help out in the short term.

The next question is whether the plan is politically viable. I'm pretty convinced that these changes can make it through the Democratic Congress. I expect there to be significant Republican opposition (maybe even unanimous again), because ideologically, conservatives are opposed to initiatives that reward those who, they feel, have "failed" (remember the car bailout fiasco?). You'd think that they'd be more receptive to a plan like this because it has some Republican-sounding components, like incentives to reward good behavior among lenders and borrowers. Also, the Republicans were the ones during the stimulus debate who said that the housing crisis had to be solved first. But it remains to be seen if the Republican party in its current form will support anything proposed by President Obama and the Democrats.

HOLDER: Eric Holder, the newly-sworn Attorney General, gave a speech today at the Justice Department saying that there is a "nation of cowards" when it comes to addressing the problems of race. Ten bucks says you'll see that quote on every conservative website in the next couple of hours. His point was that despite the election of our first black President, and despite our racial progress, we don't talk about our unresolved racial issues enough. I happen to agree with him on this, but I do expect people to call HIM racist for even mentioning this subject.

FAIRNESS DOCTRINE: The President made one statement today that will make Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh very happy. He articulated his opposition to the Fairness Doctrine. The Doctrine, which existed until the late 80's, mandated that radio stations had to give equal time to all political points of view. Of course, the right wing dominates talk radio, so many Democrats in Congress have sought to revive the doctrine. I personally don't think we need a fairness doctrine. I'm not usually a "free-market will solve this problem" type of guy, but in this case I am. Unlike health care and other essential items that conservatives say should be left up to the free market, no one NEEDS talk radio. Therefore, I feel like it's ok to let some radio shows fail. If liberals can't make money doing a radio show, it's probably because there isn't much of a demand. After all, we control the "blogosphere" and choose to vent our views in that venue. I'd love to see some comments on this for those who disagree. But quite honestly, it really doesn't matter who has the right to yak all day on the radio show when people in this country are suffering from economic malaise.

That's it for today, see you tomorrow, when Obama ventures out of the country for the first time into Canada.