Monday, November 24, 2008

Bush's China Legacy

While election returns were coming in on November 4th I had a telephone conversation with a good friend of mine known in the blogosphere as UpInVermont. He blogs over at Duplicitous Primates and we've been conversing/debating about public policy for over twenty years since meeting in college (when the hell did I get old anyway?). My friend noted how desperate America was for China to continue financing our debt. He sagely warned that contrary to popular belief, the Chinese are not nearly as dependent on America anymore and could decide to stop anytime.

I thought of that conversation while reading Fareed Zakaria's article today about the American-Chinese relationship. It's a sobering read and painful reminder of another pathetic George W. Bush legacy: China has America by the economic short hairs.

America needs to spend its way out of our current economic morass. Obama is right to target massive spending on neglected infrastructure needs to repair our transportation, modernize America's approach to energy and create jobs. Most agree, including me that the deficit can't be a priority with millions of Americans on the cusp of homelessness and destitution. Yet as Zakaria writes,
"But to run up these deficits -- which could total somewhere between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, or between 7 and 11 percent of gross domestic product -- America has to get someone to buy its debt. And the only country with the cash to do so is China."
Zakaria references the analysis of Joseph Stiglitz and Niall Ferguson in noting that China has options other than bankrolling America's consumers. Indeed, the Chinese may well decide they're not getting enough of a return on such an investment and opt to finance their own consumers instead. Beijing recently announced their own massive stimulus plan of $600 billion. At all costs the Communist Party in Beijing wants to preserve stability to stay in power. Translation: they don't want unemployment and strikes facilitating a political climate that threatens their hold on power. If $600 billion isn't enough they will spend more. If that requires sacrificing their financing of American consumers we're in trouble. Then what?

President George W. Bush and his band of neocons justified their reckless pursuit of empire in the name of freedom. Ironic that America's economic destiny may be determined by Communist dictators in Beijing because of their combined policies of predatory crony capitalism, de-regulation and imperialism on steroids. I know Democrats are talking bipartisanship but I can't forget or forgive how conservatives have imperiled my country and the world.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

No To Hillary Clinton

According to recent media accounts, Hillary Clinton will be nominated as Barack Obama's Secretary of State. At one time I admired Hillary Clinton and often told friends I wished she was president instead of her husband. Whereas Bill Clinton was an undisciplined and feckless founding member of the DLC, Hillary Clinton appeared tough minded and principled. As a New Yorker I was thrilled when she became my senator after the 2000 election. I hoped she would be cut from the same cloth as Robert Kennedy: a steadfast advocate for economic and social justice at home and peace and human rights abroad.

Instead, Hillary Clinton opted to position herself as a hawkish/corporatist centrist and didn't even read the ninety page National Intelligence Estimate prior to supporting George W. Bush's folly in Iraq. I won't rehash the entire 2008 presidential primary campaign but Clinton's conduct prior to the Iraq war was the principal reason I didn't support her candidacy this year. Hence, even as I don't question her intellect or ability, I find it difficult to feel any enthusiasm for Clinton as our next Secretary of State.

Indeed, this sentence in Clinton's infamous October 10, 2002 Senate floor speech supporting Bush's war against Saddam Hussein forever damaged her credibility with me:
"He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001."
There was zero evidence of any relationship between Saddam and Al Quaeda and saying "apparently no evidence" of his involvement in 9/11 suggests some revealation was lurking just around the corner. Other Democrats like Joe Biden also wrongfully enabled Bush's war and apologized for their poor judgment. But Hillary Clinton did more than that. Her speech helped reinforce the Bush/Cheney false narrative about Iraq and 9/11. I for one can neither forgive nor forget. Hillary Clinton's support of Bush/Cheney fear mongering made her unworthy as a presidential candidate in my eyes. For damn sure it makes her unworthy to serve as America's voice to the world.

Another concern I have is that Clinton will staff the State Department with her own cronies. Certainly she would never accept the position without assurances about autonomy to pick her own staff. In fairness, Clinton should not be expected to accept such a post and be gelded like Colin Powell was with people inside the State Department who undermined him at every opportunity. Of course Clinton should be surrounded by personalities she trusts. And yet one can easily envision a soap opera in which the National Security Council contains Obama loyalists while the State Department becomes perceived as a fifth column serving Hillary Clinton. That is a recipe for disaster both at home and abroad.

Oh I can see the logic of it. In terms of raw politics, with one stroke Obama neuters a potential rival power base inside the Democratic party while giving both Bill and Hillary Clinton a stake in his presidency. Furthermore, Hillary Clinton's celebrity can be an enormous asset on the world stage and allow Obama to focus on domestic issues during a time of economic crisis. Her appointment adds to Obama's image as a self-confident post partisan leader who unlike Bush doesn't need to surround himself with rubber stamp cronies. I acknowledge those points. Perhaps it will work out for the best. I hope so but I have my doubts.

Also, even though I voted for Clinton's primary opponent in her 2006 Senate re-election campaign on principle (yes she really did have a primary opponent), New York can't afford to lose her now. Clinton is understandably frustrated by her lack of seniority in the world's most deliberative body. Yet I believe Clinton underestimates just how much clout she truly has. Hillary Clinton emerged from this year's campaign with a distinct political brand as the voice of working people who garnered 18 million votes. It may not be a powerful committee chair but that kind of demonstrated constituency means leverage. Other Senators hope to cut deals with figures possessing that kind of brand to enhance their stature and benefit from political cover.

Now more than ever New York needs that kind of clout. Even though a Democrat will occupy the White House, reliable blue states such as New York will still have to compete for their share of federal aid with traditional battle ground states. True New York's senior Senator Charles Schumer is no shrinking violet but following Wall Street's implosion the Empire State needs all the clout and leverage it can muster.

So as both an American and a New Yorker I hope the media is wrong about Hillary Clinton becoming Secretary of State. Others can serve Obama just as ably but few New Yorkers can accomplish what Hillary Clinton can for our struggling state.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reflections Eight Days Later

Since the election I've opted to breathe, reflect and contemplate our country's new political order. I've forced myself not to post online in recent days and decompress after a frenetic pace of activism as well as three years of blogging in opposition to America's corporatist theocracy. Was it really two years ago that I phone-banked in October 2006 with a sore throat in desperation to retake congress? Only a few months ago I anguished over which of the Democratic candidates to support during the primaries. Thankfully, my preferred candidate John Edwards did not get the nomination.

Like many of you I responded to Howard Dean's clarion call in his magnificent March 2003 "What I want to Know" speech. Eight days after electing our first black president Dean's closing paragraph seems especially poignant:
"I want my country back! We want our country back! I am tired of being divided! I don't want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore! I want America to look like America, where we are all included, hand in hand. We have dream. We can only reach the dream if we are all together - black and white, gay and straight, man and woman. America! The Democratic Party! We are going to win in 2004! Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Stand up for America, Stand up for America, Stand up for America!!"
One of the first things I did the morning after Obama's election was re-read the entire text of that speech. Howard Dean started the fire that achieved critical mass with Barack Obama's candidacy. He would make an ideal choice to be Secretary of Health and Human Services and Obama should pick him over anyone else.

Four years ago while phone-banking for John Kerry I realized Democrats were in trouble when speaking to an out of work laborer who claimed he preferred Bush because Kerry wanted to "take my gun." Several weeks ago I felt a spark of hope when calling a blue collar man in Ohio who observed that "Maybe I have more in common with blacks who know something about hardship than those fat cats on Wall Street."

Shamefully, even as we elected our first black President the electorate displayed intense homophobia with numerous ugly state ballot propositions as was the case in California. Gay rights are human rights and we can't ignore the dignity of homosexual Americans while celebrating Obama's achievement. I suspect President Obama will not want to expend political capital on the cause of gay rights while dealing with the economy. Hence, the human rights of our fellow citizens will have to be taken up on the grass roots level to facilitate change.

Overall, we progressive/liberal activists must remain vigilant. Already the corporatist theocratic vultures are circling and claiming Obama doesn't have a mandate for anything beyond being different than George W. Bush. We must not let them get away with it. Now is not the time to go wobbly and accept "half a loaf" while millions don't have health insurance, wage earners and small business entrepreneurs are under siege, people in poverty are ignored and America's infrastructure is crumbling. Now is not the time to become hesitant while our planet is faced with the calamity of global warming and America's military continues to occupy two countries. Now is not the time for caution while America is competing in a global economy with a second rate education system.

It is up to us to embolden President Obama, congressional Democrats as well as governors and state legislatures when they're addressing the moral center of economic and social justice, civil liberties and transitioning America from an empire culture to become better global citizens. In doing so they will be virulently attacked by elements of the old order such as the corporatist media, economic predators and religious zealots.

Equally important though is that we never neglect our roles as truth tellers when progressive core values are compromised for expediency. The first step was winning on November 4th. However, there remain plenty of Democrats who supported torture and looked the other way during the worst excesses of the Bush Administration. We should seize opportunities to challenge them in upcoming primaries as a reminder that we have long memories and have taken names.

The years ahead will be lean thanks the mess left behind by the conservative nomenklatura. Municipalities and industries nationwide are severely strapped as multiple sectors of our economy are in a crisis mode. Geopolitically, the world is not only confronted with global warming but the economic collateral damage of globalization.

Yet I am cautiously optimistic we'll dig our way through. Necessity is a mother to invention and even following the dark legacy of predatory conservatism I still believe we can achieve a society based upon liberty and justice for all.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The End of the Beginning

History turned a page with Barack Obama's ascendancy to the presidency last night. Not so long ago black Americans helped defend this country against tryanny in World War Two only to return home to a land of segregation and injustice. Although racism remains very much apart of the American fabric we now have tangible proof that all our citizens can aspire to the highest elected office in the land.

The challenges ahead for the Obama Administration and our country can not be overstated. Eight years of George W. Bush's reign of indecency and rank incompetetence have placed America and the planet itself in great peril. All of us as Americans are culpbable for our country's bad behavior as global citizens as well as facilitating economic and social injustice at home. Hopefully, Barack Obama's presidency means we will all be part of the solution. Hence, last night's election merely represents the end of the beginning.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Memo To My Fellow New Yorkers

One of my blogging regrets this election season is I haven't posted more about local politics in my home state . While New York is a reliable blue state and safely in Obama's column, my fellow progressive New Yorkers should remember two things about tomorrow.
  • 1. Control of the state senate is at stake. For the first time in decades, Democrats have an opporunity to control the entire state government. It terms of public policy this means the imbalance in funding for New York City schools may be addressed. For too long public education in New York City has been underserved and underfunded. There are also national implications with the state senate because of the 2010 census. Two years from now the state electoral district map will be redrawn. Obviously the party in power controls how that map is redrawn. I am not an advocate for "gerrymandering." However, as state senator Liz Krueger pointed out to me in a podcast interview last year, simply drawing the map fairly will benefit Democrats in the House of Representatives and help secure a progressive majority in Congress.

  • 2. Liberal New Yorkers should also remember that our state allows for fusion tickets. A candidate may be on the Democratic Party ballot as well as the Family Workers Party ballot. That happens to be true of Barack Obama who will appear on both ballots tomorrow. I therefore urge my fellow New Yorkers to pull the Family Workers Party lever tomorrow. For example, that is how I will cast my vote for Barack Obama. Every vote this party receives strengthens their leverage to fight on behalf of wage earners in Albany. It is important that the Albany power brokers both respect and fear the Family Workers Party so they can be more effective advocates on our behalf. So when you go inside the voting booth tomorrow, be sure to confirm that your candidate is on both the Democratic Party and Family Workers Party ballot and please vote accordingly.