Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Party of No

The unity of the Republican Party showed frayed edges when David Frum, former Bush speechwriter, dissented from the party's roadblocking of the healthcare bill. As benefits start to kick in and the bill becomes as much a part of the political backdrop of the country as Social Security or Medicare, will there be a slow peeling off of members of the Republican party?

In order to win elections, how many smart conservatives are going to look at campaigning on repealing low cost healthcare and balk? How many of them will defect? Will they run as Democrats? Will the defection come en masse, or will the purging continue until after the next national election?

With Tea Partiers splitting tickets, healthcare passing, and denial continuing to be the only viable position to remain in the Republican fold, is a long term Democratic controlled Congress before us?

Huh. Ideological purity is a tough row to hoe when it's kind of unpopular.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court and the Arc of Justice

The Supreme Court's decision today that there is no difference between free speech by an individual and corporate expenditures to effect political campaigns fails to take in to account either the ideals driving the corporation or the impact the application of this decision will have on the public interest. Free speech laws are often seen by the left as though they exist in a vacuum, but we make exceptions for things like hate speech. That said, I don't think arguing that spending money is not speech is the core fo the problem here.

The core, instead is whether or not corporations have the same rights as individuals, indeed whether or not corporations are people.

What a gross thought. Unfortunately, the court system has been moving this direction for a number of years, and this decision is essentially the ultimate ratification of that view.

Given that corporate expenditures are now the 800 lb gorilla in all campaigns, one extrapolates a few outcomes:
a) In order to get elected, candidates will be more beholden then ever to whomever underwrites their campaign. We will literally have the R. Kelly campaign for Senate, brought to you by Nabisco and 'Golden Shower' hygenic products.

b) Corporate contributions will far exceed the money that individual citizens can pony up in all but the most extreme circumstances. This will lead to many outcomes, but I'm particularly interested in one or two:
1. Only the most populist democrats will be able to really benefit from citizen contributions, meaning that the democratic party will be even further divided between corprate placators and Grayson like barn-burners. Passing bills with a unified party will be even harder, and
2. Citizens will choose to funnel their contributions in the most direct way possible, meaning unions and other entities other then the DNC could become a more powerful draw for small-donor contributions.

c) The biggest losers here will be tax-funded public institutions. The biggest recievers of corporate support will be candidates with a strong anti-corporate tax stance, meaning that the largest cut of the modern federal budget system begins shrinking with the next election cycle. Schools, transportation infrastructure, libraries, you name it, if it's funded by the public dollar it's days are numbered.

In short, this decision will pave the way for a society that caters to it's mightiest inhabitants, a Chicago School of Economics free-for-all the likes of which Milton Friedman could never have come up with in his wildest dreams. Money is now the biggest arbitor of political power, and the decending spiral of the interaction of the two without any kind of mitigating moral structure restraining the double helix means that the public is now essentially a bystander to the rise of the mega corporation. If you catch yourself thinking that this is where we've been all along, this is far, far more straightforward. The last vestiges of protection are essentially gone.

There are some fixes through legislation that could concievably get around this ruling, but bare minimum everything that's bad about our electoral system just got a whole lot worse. Hard to really see the long band of MLK's arc of Justice going the way he envisioned it right now....

Friday, December 4, 2009


I find myself in the new and unsettling position of apologizer. With his usual soaring rhetoric, our president (nee' the candidate) is now using his political capital to sell a war. Without getting in to the merits of it, here to fore, I've been against war. I'm still against war. For any reason, really.

And the energy bill is totally dead weight in the senate right now, vanquished by the healthcare bill. Which in and of itself is currently being beaten in to unrecognizeability by the echo chamber and special interests. And financial reform is basically a joke, which is unfortunate if you want to finance an economy with the industry it's failing to regulate.

On the up side, we're still mostly fighting over things that are bettter then they were eight years ago. But that's pretty weak sauce when most of us went in to this year hoping for Camelot.

So. Camelot it ain't. And it's only likely to get worse before any of this gets better. But.

The economy is showing some signs of life. He did still put $80 billion towards clean energy in his first three months in office, more then anybody ever. He did slow down one war with intention to withdrawl (though like any addict is starting on the next bender before the last one is even properly concluded). He's pushed health care further then anyone ever.

So it's ugly. But pragmacy is both boring and ugly. So maybe there's hope for the future. It won't be Camelot. Chicago, maybe. Corrupt as hell, dirty and sort of unpleasant some of the time, but a good heart, hard working, and at the end of it all still one of the best cities in the world.

I'd take that. But getting there? Nobody likes to watch sausage-grinding.

And I still don't like war.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

GW and pitching a shit fit about the future

So, after tons of effort (going from 190 yes votes in the house to 219 in the space of a week), my organization just had a heavy hand in helping to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act through the House. The bill is a nationwide attempt to pass a workable cap and trade program, and is the first of it's kind to ever make it out of committee in the House, let alone actually pass.

The bill is troubled. It contains a number of major concessions that may or may not wind up gutting the legislation over time, including but not limited to:
1. Most of the pollution credits are given away initially. This means that the cost of carbon will be very low initially, essentially blunting the intended purpose of the cap and trade program to add extrinsic cost to carbon emissions and thusly incentivize clean energy sources.
2. the Renewable Energy Standard requires that we get 20% of our energy from renewable sources, like wind, solar or geothermal power, by 2020. However, up to 5% of that can come from energy effeciency measures, and governors can petition to get up to 8% from effeciency measures. This is good, but in fact, the stimulus bill just passed will actually do more, and sooner; so this is sort of an afterthought.
3. It stops the EPA from regulating Carbon Emissions from currently existing power plants, a power they got about four months ago.
4. There are all sorts of lame ass rebates for producers of dirty energy, including a provision that madates that rebates to the coal companies be spent up to a certain astronomical amount on 'clean coal' research, a technology that is a fiction and is used by the industry to perpetuate their argument against clean energy investment and innovation.

All of the above are bad things. There a couple things to note about it, however:
1. It does not include money for nuclear power. Given that nukes still create nuclear waste, and our best plan for nuclear waste storage continues to be to ship it on Amtrak to a site that is so far unapproved but sits on a fault line (not to mention the indian burial ground which it displaces, which in and of itself sounds like the plot to a bad movie and implies that we'll wind up with nuclear powered ghosts haunting the joint), this is for the best.
2. It does actually create a national RES, which we didn't have before and is an enforceable standard that for sure will drive the creation of more clean energy.
3. It does include effeciency standards for all new governmental buildings, which is great.
4. It does actually create a cap and trade program, which is the first step towards actually dealing with this problem.

All of the above needs strengthening. But helping to pass this bill reminded me why I settled on the politics of incrementalism to begin with. By continuing to stretch the horizons of those who oppose, continually chipping down the boundaries, we're able to move forward, to continue to gain ground. To those who say that we need more, we need everything, and now, I agree. But up until you get the rest of America to agree with you and can rise up in armed insurrection, your argument will mean that we have to continue waiting. And we can't do that.

That being said, you always have to have a bottom line. This bill couldn't have gotten much more compromised before we would have stopped supporting it. And it will take a lot of work over the next decade to make sure that we strenghthen this thing, and make sure it's actually enforced once the pendulum swings back and people like us are swept from the seats of power.

That being said, this was a statement of intent by the President and the Speaker of the House, who rammed this thing through Congress (I thought inviting swing votes from Congress over to the White House for a Luau, including a 'dunk Rahm Emmanuel' booth, was a stroke of genius). These guys actually care about this, and though passing this thing was hard as hell and they had to give up some ground, they got it done. The opportunity will likely never be better, and they had the balls to take it.

Now let's hope that Harry Reid can take a cue from the Lady of San Francisco. I hope he's half the man she is.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Tampa wants to give you succor

I'm sleeping on a naked matress in a blank room in a house in Tampa, under a wool sheet. It's cold and I'm fully clothed. The sheet is sweaty, somehow. The house is surrounded by a chainlink fence with weeds growing so completely through it that the fence bristles; creeper vines hang down from the trees overhead almost touching the fence, giving the impression that the house is being reclaimed.

Mostly the house only contains records, keyboards, and amps. There is a wraparound couch in the living room, a turntable, and a glass endtable appropriate only for cutting lines on. The fridge contains only beer, and there is only one towel in the bathroom in a four bedroom house. The shower has never been used. None of the mattresses have sheets, although there is a couple year out of date Mac Book in one of the rooms, incongrous in it's clean shiny lines.

At 2:30 in the morning, a caterwauling sets up outside, 'Dee! Deeee!', a woman either jilted or angered somehow, suddenly a wierd part of my pleasent dream about my wife. It comes closer, increasing in volume, but muffled by walls and the enclosed front porch. Now it's pounding on the walls, jolting me awake disoriented. It is at the window, blows to the window even louder echoing in the empty room, calling for Dee desperately and all of the attendent fun of domestic disputes is with it in my mind. This woman is bereaved, desperate sounding. Is she covered in blood? Is someone coming after her?

Burrowing and ignoring it might work, but then I'm just going to feel bad about it later. So I get up and go to the garage door. A few helloes and I'm waiting for the worst, some lover's quarrel that is going to consume my night, a slasher movie right at the beginning. In my life story, I'm the protagonist, but in any story involving an ax, I'm going to be the nice guy who goes down right at the beginning. This lady will make it through, although her number of limbs will be in question.

But no, looming out of the nighttime mist, it is only the band Hellscape, here to spend the night after their show, and unable to get in touch with any of the people who live here, all of whom have left the house to me.

Steed, the pleasant, shaved head with the blond ponytail, rotting black clothing and the iphone who lives here has told these poor, beraggled folks that they can stay here. There is a lot of black denim, and patches. The lady's name begins with 'Ch', and her dress is very short and she has a short haircut and a lot of tatooes, but I don't catch a lot more. I point out the couches, and they unload more beer in to the fridge as I retreat.

The blanket they are sharing covers up the tatooes, and their faces are waxy and childlike in sleep as I leave at daybreak.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Paradise Lost or a new beginning

OK. So, BHO goes down to the Hill and personally lobbies representatives of the other party to pass the stimulus bill. He doesn't call names or threaten anyone politically, or invoke the anger of the people, or in any other way hurl invectives. He actually removes some pieces of the bill that the representatives find offensive, although does not give substantially.

When the vote comes, not a single one of the those representatives vote for BHO's bill. In fact, they come out in force on the television to shittalk the thing.

BHO, instead of launching a full-scale blame game, has them over for drinks that evening instead.

He's said from the beginning that he was going to change the tone in DC. His opponents have paid lip service to such a thing, but clearly have no intention of following through. But BHO is clearly in this for the long game. While not turning the other cheek, he's doing his best to include the other team.

This isn't a partisan thing. BHO is pure-bread politics; by remaining cool, friendly, and focused, (and winning at the same time), he's building his street cred with the people. By driving his agenda as quickly as possible, trying to bring others along and being incredibly (why not just say it) nice to them, he's not only accomplishing policy goals but laying groundwork for long-term grasp of power.

He's making them look like irritable children.

The more interesting part is whether or not this style will play in the Senate. While BHO has the party muscle to drive his bills through in the House, he lacks the necessary votes in the branch from whence he came. How will he finesse his way to victory there?

And, will the opposition party start picking up his vibes and following him or will they continue their petulance? What will that mean about policy designed to help this country from it's doldrums in the short term? What will it mean for the 2010 elections? What will it say about we, the American people, if we embrace the opposition's 'taxes, taxes, taxes' credo?

The best possible outcome, to my mind, here is that BHO drives the opposition party to some new understanding of partisan politics and drives elections that are debates over policy prescriptions, arguments about implementation of new ideas, that grapple with the problems of today.

The schadenfreude of watching the opposition double-down right now, even as they continue eating themselves from within in their own leadership contest, does nothing to ease my concerns on what the implications are for the next two years. If this kind of rancor from their corner continues, what is bad now in our society will only become worse.

Friday, November 21, 2008

An actual opportunity for change

The election by House Dems of Henry Waxman to succeed John Dingell as the chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee is a big deal. Dingell is literally married to GM (his wife was one of their lead lobbyists for years, and still senior executive for them). He has, since 1955 when he first took over the seat, derailed good environmental regulation of all sorts.

Dingell's been one of the leading voices against clean car legislation, which would mandate a cut in tail pipe emissions, and time and again stood up against the tyranny of higher fuel effeciency standards. His argument each time has been that the development of the technology necessary to implement such changes would amount to an unbearable burden by the auto industry.

As a contextual note, the Model T Ford got better gas mileage then the average American car on the road gets today. And somehow, without the burden of having to clean up, the auto industry is repeatedly before Congress now, hat in hand.

By contrast, Rep. Waxman is a champion for the environment, and has shown himself to be willing to speak truth to power. He was the primary author of the Safe Climate Act, to date the only major bill that has actually proposed to mandate the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions scientists the world over have said are necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change, 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

This change happened with the tacit support of the Obama administration (his transition team just appointed Waxman's former senior legislative aide as the congressional liason for his administration), as well as with that of Pelosi.

This is the real deal. This could and should be the start of sweeping change to energy legislation, creating a million jobs nationwide with an Apollo Project style commitment to clean energy sources. This could be new innovation, smarter use of existing technology. A rebuilding of American dominance of the energy market. An actual American commitment to being good at something again that's actually good for the world. An America that actually makes something.

This opens the door. I am enjoying looking through.