Saturday, February 28, 2009

Obama’s Learning Curve

The president received a rude awakening on the bipartisan, sometimes called postpartisan front. In a similar fashion to the loading up of his government with Republicans and, in general, rightist oriented thinkers and ignoring progressives, he thought all he had to do was make nice with the opposition and Republicans and Democrats could then be all one happy family. So he stuffed the stimulus bill with idiotic tax breaks to please the Repugs and they responded by farting in his face with an almost unanimous no vote.

The Dems, true to form, still think they are helpless without approval from the Repugs, who, all they have to do is think filibuster, and the Dems instantly go flat on their back in submission mode. Why not let them make fools of themselves going all out in opposition to bills desired by the vast majority of Americans? It doesn’t take a master strategist to know that that is just good politics. Why can’t the Dems for once be known for standing up for something and not abject capitulation? Their job isn’t to boost the opposition, it’s to crush them, trample them, shame them and then toss the wreckage in the waste bin. Simple politics.

I’m not saying it has to be anything like the purely obstructionist, underhanded and mean spirited neo-con way of doing things: It can be totally honest, straightforward and fair minded. All they have to do is speak to the heart of Americans’ concerns and follow through. For instance, the vast majority of Americans favor universal health care and a clear majority do so even if it means increased taxes. Everybody knows that the insurance companies are a large part of the problem and yet they are part of all current thinking on the matter.

Former Senator and Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Obama’s first cabinet pick to deal with the problem has been deeply tied to the health care industry for a long time and was thus a terrible choice for the office. I especially despise the fellow for his embrace of Bush in his 2004 campaign ads. I was thrilled that he lost. How about picking someone with some new ideas, someone who actually believes in change?

And how about hiring people for his economic team who weren’t the ones who helped to cause the problem in the first place? An ungodly amount of money has been spent trying to beat dead banks back to life. It’s been common knowledge amongst all but those who created the mess that the big banks are insolvent and have been for a quite a while. Their liabilities are far greater than their assets. Their stock prices reflect hoped for bailout money, otherwise zero is their effective worth.

I imagine Obama thought he could placate the fat cats, soothe their nerves, by putting their own in charge, while he would maintain the final word. It may well work in theory but, by listening to the stupid ones and ignoring progressives, precious time, not to mention trillions of dollars, has been lost trying to avoid the inevitable need to nationalize the banks. Government, we’re told is not good at managing banks, but could the government possibly do worse than the bankers have?

It makes a difference who he takes advice from: there are any number of progressive voices that could‘ve provided alternative and far less costly visions.

The numbers involved in these bailouts are so great that the people, evidently including the president, are no longer able to grasp their significance. Forty billion dollars of aid to the states, who are in dire financial straits, was stripped from the stimulus bill to placate the Repugs while Citibank has already received $45 billion in a direct cash handout and hundreds of billions more has been committed in the form of guarantees to keep it afloat and it’s still insolvent. Meanwhile Citi’s capital value is $10 billion… does any of that make sense?

The president’s plan to halve the deficit is based largely on fantasy as it presumes a growth rate of more than 2% in 2010. Ain’t gonna happen folks: the trajectory is down, down, down; at best treading water. There is so much garbage in the financial system and economic insecurity on the part of the citizenry, it will take years to work it out. And that’s beside the point that we don’t want to get the country moving again, we want it to slow down, take stock and look for a genuinely new kind of economy; one that’s sustainable and easy on the earth.

Meanwhile, trillions of dollars will be added to the debt since he has no plans to raise taxes on the wealthy until Bush’s tax cut expires in 2011. That money is needed now. It does the economy very little good in rich people’s hands: far more important in reducing the deficit.

Besides, the economy will not be what we want it to be until income disparity is reduced to more ethical and moral levels. Also, to call $250,000 per year middle class and think everybody under that needs a tax break is ludicrous. People living on that amount are using way too much of the earth: it is absolutely impossible to build a sustainable economy when large numbers of people are living that high. At a minimum, everybody over $100,000 per year ought to see a stiff tax increase; to reduce the deficit now and later pay for a more intelligently designed and community oriented nation.

Personally, regarding the deficit, though I’m no professional economist, I wonder where all the money will come from to finance it. Considering countries all over the world are engaging in deficit spending, they will be competing for limited resources.

With stock markets halved, property prices plummeting and banks insolvent it will have to come from outside. But countries all over the world are in their own downward spirals. Japan, for instance, which traditionally has enjoyed huge trade surpluses and bought lots of US treasury notes, is now running deficits so will be pulling back its dollars. The US will have to borrow $1.3 trillion dollars next year, which hat will it be pulled out of?

But Obama is a fast learner and I believe his head and heart are in the right place, so he may well change the government’s tack before the burden of losses is too great. At best, the people will be saddled with huge debts for decades.

The Middle East will be an equal challenge. In many ways the election of Netanyahu as Israel’s next prime minister will serve to clarify the situation. Based solely on a short clip of a TV interview I saw him give about twenty years ago, I consider him a slimy creature. His words were so full of lies, he couldn’t bring himself to look at the camera.

Notwithstanding the fact that Tzipi Livni of the Kadima party and Ehud Barak of Labor speak in favor of a two-state solution, their actions belie their words. Since the beginning of the occupation, every government of Israel has continued the theft and colonization of Palestinian land. Settlement building was even accelerated under Labor, supposedly the party most committed to peace. Livni, who campaigned for a deal with the Palestinians, famously said during the recent Gaza carnage that Israel goes wild when put upon.

Therefore, much better to have someone in power who pays no lip service to policies he has no intention of implementing in a way that would satisfy the Palestinians. Makes things so much clearer. But also much harder for Obama who, in spite of obligatory obeisance to right-wing Jewish lobbies, has used words like fair and evenhanded in relationship to what needs to happen there.

Israel’s war machine and colonization program are a gift from the American people. Though it is by any standard a wealthy developed country, Israel gets more US development aid than any other recipient. While it’s possible they could carry on their dastardly policies towards the Palestinians without US largesse, it would require a real sacrifice on their part. now, with America’s help they can easily subsidize settlement housing to encourage people to move there.

So what will Obama’s response be when Netanyahu, who thought the Gaza attack didn’t go far enough, takes Israel on another rampage? Will he continue US policy of blaming the oppressed for resisting their subjugation? Or will he take the high road and explain to Netanyahu that America is no longer interested in subsidizing the theft and colonization of Arab land? Now that Israel has a leader who is not interested in a two-state solution - the conventional wisdom solution to the problem - there can be no pretense that lack of an agreement is solely the fault of the Palestinians.

Besides, with half million Jews now living on Palestinian land, the two-state solution is unthinkable. A unitary secular state where all are equal is equally unimaginable, so, Mr. President, welcome to the Middle East.

As for Afghanistan, it’s going to change its name to Afquagmirestan.

Within political correct, conventional wisdom, Obama is making all the right moves and has a large majority of the country behind him; but conventional answers are not going to work this time. The only question is how long it takes him to learn that hard lesson.

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