Republican Hardball

So I’ve been wondering why the Democrats in the US don’t seem to have been able to take advantage of the landslide election of  Barack Obama.  Here’s one man’s answer:

When Republicans held less than 60 seats in the Senate and wanted to push through legislation, right-wing judges, etc., we never heard about how they lacked the 60 seats to pass whatever they wanted.

They played hardball, telling Democrats that if they dared to even consider a filibuster they would use the “nuclear option,” and Democrats curled up in the fetal position and waited until the Republicans had so badly damaged the country that the American people simply couldn’t vote for them anymore, and said, “We want the other guys.” Well, the other guys are in now, and they seem to have convinced themselves that they have neither the power nor the mandate to do the people’s business the way the people asked them to do. For those Americans who thought they might see things like comprehensive health care reform come out of this Congress and this Presidency, good luck. Unless the Democrats dramatically change course or the new President puts his foot down and reminds the American people who they voted for, any new legislation will have to pass muster with co-presidents Collins, Specter, and Snowe, and their shadow cabinet of Cornyn, Boehner, Shelby, and McConnell. The new co-presidents will not be able to do the kind of damage their party did over the last eight years, but they will be able to prevent the Democrats from fixing it—and to allow the radical conservatives to say “I told you so” in two years and take back large swaths of the House and Senate.

Drew Westen

Paul Krugman’s Stomach Problem

Barack Obama’s attempts to get bipartisan support for a stimulus package failed.  The result of his efforts is a watered down bill that won’t do the job and not one Republican vote, as many predicted.  Paul Krugman offers his view on the Obama administrations efforts:

… while Mr. Obama got more or less what he asked for, he almost certainly didn’t ask for enough. We’re probably facing the worst slump since the Great Depression. The Congressional Budget Office, not usually given to hyperbole, predicts that over the next three years there will be a $2.9 trillion gap between what the economy could produce and what it will actually produce. And $800 billion, while it sounds like a lot of money, isn’t nearly enough to bridge that chasm.

Officially, the administration insists that the plan is adequate to the economy’s need. But few economists agree. And it’s widely believed that political considerations led to a plan that was weaker and contains more tax cuts than it should have — that Mr. Obama compromised in advance in the hope of gaining broad bipartisan support. We’ve just seen how well that worked.

Now, the chances that the fiscal stimulus will prove adequate would be higher if it were accompanied by an effective financial rescue, one that would unfreeze the credit markets and get money moving again. But the long-awaited announcement of the Obama administration’s plans on that front, which also came this week, landed with a dull thud.

The plan sketched out by Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wasn’t bad, exactly. What it was, instead, was vague. It left everyone trying to figure out where the administration was really going. Will those public-private partnerships end up being a covert way to bail out bankers at taxpayers’ expense? Or will the required “stress test” act as a back-door route to temporary bank nationalization (the solution favored by a growing number of economists, myself included)? Nobody knows.

Over all, the effect was to kick the can down the road. And that’s not good enough. So far the Obama administration’s response to the economic crisis is all too reminiscent of Japan in the 1990s: a fiscal expansion large enough to avert the worst, but not enough to kick-start recovery; support for the banking system, but a reluctance to force banks to face up to their losses. It’s early days yet, but we’re falling behind the curve.

And I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach — a feeling that America just isn’t rising to the greatest economic challenge in 70 years. The best may not lack all conviction, but they seem alarmingly willing to settle for half-measures. And the worst are, as ever, full of passionate intensity, oblivious to the grotesque failure of their doctrine in practice.

There’s still time to turn this around. But Mr. Obama has to be stronger looking forward. Otherwise, the verdict on this crisis might be that no, we can’t.

Read the whole thing here

Oh Barack!

From Christina Page’s blog:

News story after news story reports that many Americans suffering through the collapse of the economy (like the 71,000 who were laid off yesterday) are, among other lifestyle changes, postponing having a child. Planning when to have a child based on whether you can support one seems like a pretty common sense approach. It could even be described as “responsible” — which, you will recall, was the overarching theme of our new president’s inaugural speech. One small part of the stimulus package the Democrats presented offered this family planning safety net for Americans who need contraceptive coverage but ordinarily would be ineligible for that assistance. The staged Republican freak-out revealed the degree to which they are out-of-touch with Americans’ lives, as if we needed another reminder. The more disturbing part is how quickly President Obama surrendered to this pressure. Without a single attempt to explain the importance of family planning in the lives of struggling Americans, the White House distanced itself from the provision. After a day of bizarre media misinterpretation of the proposal, Obama spokesman, Bill Burton, told Cybercast News Service that it was not Obama’s idea and that “the principles of what he thought should be in the package–that wasn’t part of that.”

Read all of it

Oh Ain’t It The Truth?

Glenn Greenwald at Salon:

The central tenets of the Beltway religion — particularly when a Democrat is in the White House — have long been “centrism” and “bipartisanship.”  The only good Democrats are the ones who scorn their “left-wing” base while embracing Republicans.  In Beltway lingo, that’s what “pragmatism” and good “post-partisanship” mean:  a Democrat whose primary goal is to prove he’s not one of those leftists.  The Washington Post‘s David Ignatius today lavishes praise on Barack Obama for his allegiance to these Beltway pieties — and actually seems to believe that there is something new and innovative about this approach …


Whatever else one might want to say about this “centrist” approach, the absolute last thing one can say about it is that there’s anything “new” or “remarkable” about it.  The notion that Democrats must spurn their left-wing base and move to the “non-ideological” center is the most conventional of conventional Beltway wisdom (which is why Ignatius, the most conventional of Beltway pundits, is preaching it).  That’s how Democrats earn their Seriousness credentials, and it’s been that way for decades

The “non-idealogical center”!!  Guffaw.

Why is it that Republicans manage to govern significantly to the right, in line with their base, and stay in office for eight years while Democrats have to move significantly to the right to stay in office?  If it’s actually true, maybe it’s because right-wing voters can  count on Democrats to to betray their base and govern significantly to the right.  If this isn’t an argument for the need for a truly revolutionary politics in order to inject the word “change” with basic meaning, I don’t know what is.

Read the whole thing here

More “Funny & Satirical” Stuff

From The Guardian:

An offensive, racially tinged song entitled Barack the Magic Negro has become an issue in the battle for the leadership of the Republican party.

The song was included in a CD distributed by Chip Saltman, who is seeking to be elected the next party chairman.

Saltman, former campaign manager for Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who fought unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination this year, sent out the CD as a Christmas present to party members. It is a compilation of songs critical of liberals entitled We Hate the US.

He defended his move, saying that anyone listening to it would know it was intended to be light-hearted and satirical, and the row had been created by the liberal media.

The racist dogwhistle has been replaced by an airhorn, as my friend mattt put it.

Labour & the Non-Bailout

From Salon:

The fiercest opposition to the loan proposal — and nearly a third of the 35 votes against ending debate on the deal — came from Southern Republicans, and the ringleaders of the opposition all come from states with a major foreign auto presence. Not coincidentally, nearly all of those states — except Kentucky — are also “right-to-work” states, which means no union contracts for most of the employees at the foreign plants. The Detroit bailout fell victim to a nasty confluence of home-state economic interests and anti-union sentiment among Republicans.

This week Southern Republicans had a chance to go to bat for foreign automakers while simultaneously busting a union. At a hearing last week, Corker explained that his constituents “have a tough time thinking about us loaning money to companies that are paying way, way above industry standard to workers.” Which may explain why his proposed alternative to the loan agreement between Congress and the White House would have required the United Auto Workers to agree to significant wage cuts next year, based on a spurious claim that union workers earn significantly more than non-union workers.

Even George W. Bush’s White House didn’t push to crush the UAW the way Corker and his buddies did, say Democrats involved in the negotiations with the administration. “It was all about the unions,” one senior Democratic aide said. “This is political payback for lots of things, and probably even more to come.” Labor officials expect Republicans to keep taking shots at unions whenever they can. “This cynical stance they took last night — they’re willing to jeopardize 3 million jobs so they could gain some advantage in their war against unions — is appalling,” said Bill Samuel, the chief lobbyist for the AFL-CIO.

As the Republican Party consolidates in the South, the fight this week could turn out to be a preview of many battles to come over Barack Obama’s economic plans. If those plans involve the domestic auto industry, the GOP pushback will come from somewhere down I-65, the new auto corridor that runs from Kentucky south to Alabama. Expect to hear more not just from the very vocal Bob Corker, but from the rest of a core group of Southern senators whose bread is buttered by the Japanese, Germans and Koreans. 

Read the whole thing here

Say It Ain’t SO!

From the Globe & Mail, dammit:

A $14-billion (U.S.) emergency bailout for auto makers collapsed in the Senate Thursday night after the United Auto Workers refused to accede to Republican demands for swift wage cuts.

The Senate rejected the bailout 52-35 on a procedural vote after the talks collapsed.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was “terribly disappointed” about the demise of an emerging bipartisan deal to rescue Detroit’s Big Three.

He spoke shortly after Republicans left a closed-door meeting where they balked at giving the auto makers federal aid unless their powerful union agreed to slash wages next year to bring them into line with those of Japanese car makers.   [more]

Holy crap!  What’s gonna happen then?  Are the Reprobates absolutely nuts?  Have they been spending time with Stephen Harper?  Or is it the other way around?

This is SO not the time to cut back on workers’ wages.  People are being encouraged to spend and invest to get the economy going again.  They’re not going to do that on lower wages. 

As Erin Weir noted when Jim Flaherty proposed to roll back and then freeze the wages of federal employees:

The household debt crisis was largely caused by stagnant employment income. A better response would be to increase the purchasing power of working Canadians by strengthening, rather than restraining, labour rights.

The UAW refused to allow wage roll-backs until current contracts expire in 2011 while the Reprobates wanted wage roll-backs by 2009.  We should remember that this year, in both Canada and the US, contracts that were negotiated by the CAW and the UAW contained massive concessions from the unions, lest we fall into the trap of believing that it’s the UAW that is to blame for this failure on the part of government:

Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) President Buzz Hargrove and his Executive Committee announced Monday that secret negotiations conducted with Ford Canada over the past month have resulted in an agreement on a Master Economics Offer (MEO) that will form the basis for a new contract with the auto giant effective through mid-September 2011. The offer, signed almost five months prior to the expiration of the previous contract with Ford, is unprecedented in the history of the union.

The agreement freezes current Ford workers’ wages for the life of the three-year deal, cuts 40 hours of vacation pay per year, tightens caps for long-term medical care, increases employee co-pays on prescription drugs, reduces pension entitlements, and freezes cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments for the remainder of the current contract and the first year of the new deal. It also lays the basis for the development of a two-tier wage system.

The MEO sets the stage for further layoffs with “improved restructuring benefits” clauses and ominously promises a “commitment to explore and establish a pre-funded, off-balance-sheet Retiree Health Benefit Fund.” This is a euphemism for shifting responsibility for managing pension benefits from the company to the union. Workers will be asked to permanently sell the gains won in decades of struggle for two one-time “bonus” payments totalling C$5,700.

The deal with Ford in many ways resembles the contracts struck by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union with the Big Three in Detroit last autumn. In that round of negotiations, the UAW completely capitulated to the demands of the automakers. It accepted a draconian two-tier wage system and massive benefit cuts and, in a watershed initiative, agreed that responsibility for managing and cutting “legacy cost” benefit programs should be shifted from the company to the union. In so doing, the UAW will quickly become one of the largest healthcare insurance providers in America, with a vested interest in squeezing its own membership.   [more]

I really should post this under “Ongoing Governmental Insanity”.

BTW, I guess I’m naive, but I can’t believe the mean, ugly, union-bashing and blaming comments at the Globe & Mail on the article referrred to above.  Who ARE these people?  The failure of the bailout belongs to the Reprobates, not the UAW.

UPDATE:  That G & M article has been edited even as I write.  It now points out:

Republican opposition to the bailout is also crassly political. Most of the Asian and European car makers now have plants in the south and southwest staunchly Republican states. These plants are all non-union, and their workers earn lower wages, pensions and benefits than workers at the Detroit Three.

UPDATE II:  The NYT‘s article on the failure of the bailout proposal takes a tone that is far less into union bashing.

From the NYT:

The automakers would also have been required to cut wages and benefits to match the average hourly wage and benefits of Nissan, Toyota and Honda employees in the United States.
It was over this proposal that the talks ultimately deadlocked with Republicans demanding that the automakers meet that goal by a certain date in 2009 and Democrats and the union urging a deadline in 2011 when the U.A.W. contract expires.

G.M. and Chrysler had already agreed to carry out sweeping reorganization plans in exchange for the help.

The negotiations over Mr. Corker’s proposals broke up about 8 p.m. and Mr. Corker left to meet with Republican senators to brief them on the developments. The Republicans emerged from their meeting an hour later having decided they would not agree to a deal. Several of them blamed the autoworkers union.

“Several” Republican senators blamed the autoworkers, as opposed to a newspaper ‘s headlines blaring blame in the direction of the autoworkers.  I’m sick of the G & M‘s slant.  I wish we had another national newspaper (sorry, I can’t count the National Post).

Also from the NYT:

Asia’s stock sank deep into negative territory on Friday in the wake of the collapse of a $14 billion bailout plan for the American auto industry.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index extended mild morning losses immediately after it became clear that drawn-out negotiations to extend a government lifeline to the automakers had failed to receive the needed Senate support. By early afternoon, the index was 5 percent lower.

The North American markets should look interesting today.  Good thing it’s Friday.

Some other problems with the bailout bill, noted at the NYT before it failed:

Most importantly, it fails to demand that top executives of any car company receiving taxpayer money step down. These companies need new managers who are not wedded to Detroit’s failed strategies. And the bill doesn’t set any conditions to ensure automakers invest in fuel-efficient vehicles. Any long-term plan must make sure the automakers don’t simply keep making gas-guzzling trucks and sport-utility vehicles, whose popularity — unfortunately — has recovered as gas prices have declined.

Can’t find anyone who was complaining about the union’s intransigence.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, complained that Republicans had attempted to turn the wage issue into a political matter about organized labor, instead of making it an “an economic issue.” With the economy in recession, he suggested it wouldn’t be fair to force auto workers to accept wage cuts in 2009. “I’m deeply saddened. But more than saddened, I’m worried,” he said. “This will fail, we will go home, and I’m afraid our country will be in deeper and deeper trouble.”   [more]

Why god?

Giving Up On God“:

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth — as long as we’re setting ourselves free — is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

The choir has become absurdly off-key, and many Republicans know it.

Katherine Parker at the Washington Post

via wood s lot

From The American Humanist Association:

“Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake,” proclaims a new holiday ad from the American Humanist Association. Already appearing today in the New York Times and Washington Post, the message will soon be blazoned on the sides, taillights, and interiors of over 200 Washington DC Metro buses.

It’s the first ad campaign of its kind in the United States, and the American Humanist Association predicts it will raise public awareness of humanism as well as controversy over humanist ideas.

“Humanists have always understood that you don’t need a god to be good,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “So that’s the point we’re making with this advertising campaign. Morality doesn’t come from religion. It’s a set of values embraced by individuals and society based on empathy, fairness, and experience.” 


h/t Rick