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Afghanistan an Election Issue?

July 2nd, 2010 No comments

I’ll finish up my blogging today with a brief thought on Afghanistan and whether the war will be a major factor this year’s mid-term elections.

In short, the answer is no. And that’s really a shame, because considering how much money we’re spending there in the midst of this recession in spite of the hopelessness of success, it really should be at the forefront of current political discourse.

The war got some renewed attention due to the replacement of McChrystal with Petraus in the wake of the Rolling Stone article, but the president made it clear that our strategy has not changed and it looks increasingly doubtful that we’re really going to begin withdrawing troops on the announced deadline of July 2011.

The sad truth is that Americans have become desensitized to ongoing war. This is not like Vietnam when videos of the actual horror found their way onto the news every night. Reporters in Iraq and Afghanistan are embedded with the troops and under strict guidelines as to what they can report and what kind of footage they can show.

The wars were only a major campain issue in 2004 when they were still relatively new and it was just becoming clear to most objective observers that we’d made a massive strategic blunder. Frustration with Iraq might also have been a huge factor in the democrats’ victory in the 2006 mid-terms. But by 2008 we were all focussed on the economy, and that’s where our focus remains. This November, people will go into the polls and vote based on their pocketbook–their feelings on the war will be an afterthought.

And unfortunately nobody is really making the case–with the exception of Alan Grayson and a few others who aren’t taken seriously by the establishment–that Afghanistan is an economic issue. Republicans want Americans to tighten their belts, but they refuse to cut military spending. To dig our way out of the recession they want to cut off unemployment benefits and go after social security, but they refuse to acknowledge the fact that over half of our discretionary spending (money we could spend however we like) is going to fund a war that most serious observers are now admitting is unwinnable.

Democrats, I know you’re afraid of being called “weak” and “anti-war” by the republicans, and its not good politics to stand in opposition to a president from your own party, but you should make Afghanistan an election issue because it’s the right thing to do. Ending the war will go a long way towards ending the recession, but the war is never going to end until we start paying more attention to it.

Glenn Beck’s Genius Rally Controversy

July 2nd, 2010 No comments

Progressives need to stop and think for a moment sometimes before laughing at their political opponents for things that appear to be stupid follies but are actually brilliant strategic calculations.

Glenn Beck plans to hold a rally to promote his new book The Plan on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and the latest news is that he apparently forgot to obtain a permit.

Bullshit. He knew exactly what he was doing when he began promoting the rally and inviting people even before securing the permit. He deliberatly chose the date of MLK’s famous speech to provoke his political enemies on the left into trying to block the rally. Now he’s made an enemy of Al Sharpton, one of the most reviled public figures among the political right. This is exactly the kind of fight he wants–it will no doubt boost his ratings and get more people showing up to the now-controversial rally if it takes place.

Progressives–please don’t take the bait. This is a win-win for Glenn Beck. If he gets to hold the rally, he’ll look like a hero who stood up to those goddamned liberals and won. If the National Park Service acquiesces to the protesters and denies Glenn Beck his permit, he’ll look like a martyr whose patriotic message was silenced by those goddamned government bureaucrats.

Either way, you can count on him crying about it:

Most Americans are Stupid

July 2nd, 2010 No comments

Well, maybe “stupid” is too harsh a word, but they are at least completely ignorant of what’s going on in their government. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post presents some disturbing new poll results:

New data from Gallup shows that independent voters now favor a generic Republican candidate for Congress over a generic Democratic candidate by 12 points, a trend that appears to be tied to their feelings about President Obama.

In more than 6,000 interviews conducted in June, 46 percent of independents said they would support a Republican candidate while 34 percent said they would vote for a Democrat. In April and May, Gallup polls showed Republicans with a 10-point edge among independents on the generic ballot while in March it was an eight-point margin.

This is what happens in a country where nobody pays any attention to the news. They just know that we’re still in a recession, unemployment is still high, and nothing in their daily lives has significantly improved since Obama was swept into office on his platform of Change. They know that the situation in this country sucks and they know that democrats are in control, so when they go to the ballot box they just blindly choose the other party, the republicans.

No, no, no, no, and no. Wrong! Bad move! That’s the last thing you want to do.

Look, I get that the democrats suck, and I completely understand the frustration with Obama (see my post below) but voting for republicans is not the answer! Half the reason this country is still stuck in the ditch is that republicans are blocking everything Obama and the democrats are trying to do. It would be one thing if we had two parties in this country that each had their own honest ideas about how to approach solving the mess we’re in, but what we’ve got is one party that won’t go far enough and another party that just wants to block everything with no regard for whether it’s good policy or not.

The republicans got us into this mess. The democrats may be failing to get us out, but that doesn’t mean we should just hand control back over to the republicans, the party that wants to freeze spending during a recession, cut-off unemployment benefits during a recession, and keep spending money on an unwinnable war during a fucking recession!

Unfortunately, this two-party system locks us into a choice of the lesser of two evils. As much as the democrats piss me off, they are much less evil than the republicans. If you can’t stomach voting for a democrat, don’t vote. But DO NOT vote for a republican unless you really want to push the country over the cliff.

Obama: Not a Sell-Out but a Fool?

July 2nd, 2010 No comments

Ever since becoming politically aware I haven’t been able to firmly decide if the government is made up of people who are knowingly and deliberately trying to screw us or if it’s actually just a bunch of clueless idiots who don’t know what they’re doing. To put it simply, is the demise of the average person a result of malice or just ignorance?

When it comes to Obama, I keep going back-and-forth as well. The weakness of health care reform and stories of backroom deals to get drug companies and private insurance on board led me to believe that he was a complete sell-out, another politician who won the presidency by outright lying about who he was and what he stood for. At worst, a complete tool of the power-elites, chosen and groomed for his ability to sell the American people on policies that would look like reform but would actually serve to make the powerful more powerful.

But there is the possibility that even if he was chosen and approved of by the power-elites, that he doesn’t actually know he’s working for them. He might really believe in the things he said on the campaign trail, and he might really believe that he’s doing the best he can for the American people.

Psycho-analyzing the president is always tricky business, but looking at his behavior in the run-up to the final passage of the financial reform legislation, it seems as though he really believes his rhetoric.

Ask a random economist, and it’s likely he’ll tell you that this Wall Street reform bill does even less to reform Wall Street than the health care reform bill did to reform health care. Dean Baker called it a “fig-leaf”. Paul Krugman wrote that our misguided policies are causing what will become a third Depression. John R. Talbott itemized every way in which the bill fails to implement meaningful reform.

And yet Obama is out there hailing this as the “toughest financial reforms since the ones we created in the aftermath of the Great Depression”. If he really understood what he was doing, and he knew that these reforms weren’t tough at all and another financial collapse is all-but-guaranteed, I doubt he’d be showing such swagger.

When the next financial crisis hits, he’s going to look like a damned fool. And that might very well be what he is. It’s no secret that he didn’t run on a platform of reforming the financial system. When he began his run for president, he thought he’d be campaigning against the Iraq war. He made his first major initiative health care, rather than financial reform. The guy might just not have a good grasp of macro-economics.

Neither do I, but I trust economists such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich who point out that it was increased spending that brought us out of the Great Depression and tough rules on the banks such as the Glass-Steagall Act which prevented another collapse from happening up until the time it was repealed in 1999. This is just history. You don’t have to be a genius to just look at the charts and graphs and understand what they mean.

And yet Obama surrounded himself right from the start with people like Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, people who are nothing if not creatures of Wall Street, who believe that when all is said and done the system is fine how it is. Sure, there was a bubble and it burst, but that was just a fluke—a once-in-a-lifetime thing. The bankers have learned their lesson and they won’t let another financial collapse happen again. They were telling Obama right from the start that the most important thing was to get Wall Street back in business and the rest would follow. He’d have to pass something called “financial reform” purely for the sake of public perception, but it shouldn’t be tough enough on the banks to fundamentally change the way they operate. Everything just needed to go back to the way it was before the collapse, and the bankers would take care of the rest.

It would seem that Obama bought into this bullshit. In which case, he is not a sell-out but a fool. The bankers will do whatever is in their best short-term financial interest to do. They do not care about the economic repercussions of their actions.

The problem that caused the crisis was that it became too easy to make shitloads of money by trading bundles of pools of mortgages sold to people who couldn’t afford to repay them. It’s still too easy to do that, so of course they’re going to keep doing it. The collapse may have been prevented if the ratings agencies whose responsibility it was to accurately assess the risks of these bonds weren’t being paid by the same banks whose products they were supposed to assess. It’s still in their best financial interests to give Triple-A ratings to crappy bonds that are bound to explode, so of course they’re going to keep doing it. And the taxpayer wouldn’t have had to bail out the banks if they were small enough to collapse and not bring down the entire economy with them, but they are still Too Big to Fail so of course they’re going to keep taking these disastrous risks if they know we still have no choice but to cover their losses.

But Obama thinks he got the job done. He thinks he’s FDR. He thinks he really gave the banks a run for their money and showed them who’s boss. Meanwhile, they are laughing at him.

Then again, maybe he knows exactly what he’s doing. Maybe he’s just as much the corporate tool as every single republican is, and he’s glad he was able to help out the bankers while making it look to the American people like he really accomplished something. But if that’s the case, you’ve got to wonder what his plan is for when the next financial crisis hits. Everybody is going to look back on this moment and say, “Um…you said you fixed it. What the fuck?”

What the fuck, Obama? You’re obviously an extremely intelligent guy. I can’t believe how someone so smart could be such a damned fool.