McLeod finds Palin's hypocrisy troubling. "The self-proclaimed queen of ethics has again crossed the line and violated her own oft- repeated ethics principles," McLeod declared. "This dog won't hunt."
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
The House Judiciary Committee chairman subpoenaed former White House adviser Karl Rove on Monday to testify about the Bush administration's firing of U.S. attorneys and prosecution of a former Democratic governor.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Such was the judgment of many Washington drama critics. But there’s a reason that this speech was austere, not pretty. Form followed content. Obama wasn’t just rebuking the outgoing administration. He was delicately but unmistakably calling out the rest of us who went along for the ride as America swerved into the dangerous place we find ourselves now.
Feckless as it was for Bush to ask Americans to go shopping after 9/11, we all too enthusiastically followed his lead, whether we were wealthy, working-class or in between. We spent a decade feasting on easy money, don’t-pay-as-you-go consumerism and a metastasizing celebrity culture. We did so while a supposedly cost-free, off-the-books war, usually out of sight and out of mind, helped break the bank along with our nation’s spirit and reputation.
We can’t keep blaming 43 for everything, especially now that we don’t have him to kick around anymore. On Tuesday the new president pointedly widened his indictment beyond the sins of his predecessor. He spoke of those at the economic pinnacle who embraced greed and irresponsibility as well as the rest of us who collaborated in our “collective failure to make hard choices.” He branded as sub-American those who “prefer leisure over work or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.” And he wasn’t just asking Paris Hilton “to set aside childish things.” As Linda Hirshman astutely pointed out on The New Republic’s Web site, even Obama’s opening salutation — “My fellow citizens,” not “fellow Americans” — invoked the civic responsibilities we’ve misplaced en masse.
These themes are not new for Obama. They were there back on Feb. 10, 2007, when, on another frigid day, he announced his presidential candidacy in Springfield, Ill. Citing “our mounting debts” and “hard choices,” he talked of how “each of us, in our own lives, will have to accept responsibility” and “some measure of sacrifice.” His campaign, he said then, “has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship.” But the press, convinced that Obama was a sideshow to the inevitable Clinton-Giuliani presidential standoff, didn’t parse his words all that carefully, and neither did a public still maxing out on its gluttonous holiday from economic history. However inadvertently, Time magazine had captured the self-indulgent tenor of the times when, weeks earlier, it slapped some reflective Mylar on its cover and declared that the 2006 Person of the Year was “You.”
It was in keeping with the unhinged spirit of the boom that three days after Obama’s Springfield declaration, a Wall Street baron, Steven Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group, a private equity and hedge fund, celebrated his 60th birthday with some 350 guests in the vast Seventh Regiment Armory on Manhattan’s East Side. To appreciate the degree of ostentation and taste, you need only know that Rod Stewart was the headliner, at an estimated cost of $1 million.
That same week the National Association of Realtors told less well-heeled Americans not to fret about its report that median home prices had fallen in 73 metro areas during the final quarter of 2006. “The bottom appears to have already occurred,” said one of the N.A.R. economists. Another predicted: “When we get the figures for this spring, I expect to see a discernible improvement in both sales and prices.”
We have discerned what happened to those sales and prices ever since. As for the Blackstone Group, it went public four months after its leader’s 60th birthday revels. Its shares have since lost 85 percent of their value, and Schwarzman’s bash has become a well-worn symbol of our deflated Gilded Age.
Yet the values of the bubble remain entrenched even as Obama takes office. In the upper echelons, we can find fresh examples of greed and irresponsibility daily even without dipping into the growing pool of those money “managers” who spirited victims to Bernie Madoff.
Last week’s object lesson was John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch. He was lionized as a rare Wall Street savior as recently as September, when he helped seal the deal that sped his teetering firm into the safe embrace of Bank of America on the same weekend Lehman Brothers died. Since then we’ve learned that even as he was laying off Merrill employees by the thousands, he was lobbying (unsuccessfully) for a personal bonus as high as $30 million and spending $1.22 million of company cash on refurbishing his office, an instantly notorious $1,405 trashcan included.
Thain resigned on Thursday. Only then did we learn that he doled out billions in secret, last-minute bonuses to his staff last month, just before Bank of America took over and just before the government ponied up a second bailout to cover Merrill’s unexpected $15 billion fourth-quarter loss. So far American taxpayers have spent $45 billion on this mess, and that’s only our down payment.
In less lofty precincts of the American economic spectrum, the numbers may be different but the ethos has often been similar. As Wall Street titans grabbed bonuses based on illusory, short-term paper profits, so regular Americans took on all kinds of debt wildly disproportionate to their assets and income. The nearly $1 trillion in unpaid credit-card balances is now on deck to be the next big crash.
This debt-ridden national binge of greed and irresponsibility washed over our culture not just through the Marie Antoinette antics of a Schwarzman and a Thain but in mass forms of conspicuous consumption and entertainment. Cable networks like Bravo, A&E, TLC and HGTV produced an avalanche of creepy programming catering to the decade’s housing bubble alone — an orgiastic genre that might be called Subprime Pornography. Some of the series — “Flip This House,” “Flip That House,” “Sell This House,” “My House Is Worth What?” — still play on even as more and more house owners are being flipped into destitute homelessness.
The austerity of Obama’s Inaugural Address seemed a tonal corrective to the glitz and the glut. The speech was, as my friend Jack Viertel, a theater producer, put it, “stoic, stern, crafted in slabs of granite, a slimmed-down sinewy thing entirely evolved away from the kind of Pre-Raphaelite style of his earlier oration.” Some of the same critics who once accused Obama of sounding too much like a wimpy purveyor of Kumbaya now faulted him for not rebooting those golden oldies of the campaign trail as he took his oath. But he is no longer campaigning, and the moment for stadium cheers has passed.
If we’ve learned anything since the election, it is this: We have not remotely seen the bottom of this economy, and no one has a silver bullet to arrest the plunge, the hyped brains in the new White House included. Most economists failed to anticipate the disaster, after all, and our tax-challenged incoming Treasury Secretary may prove as evanescent as past saviors du jour. As we applauded Thain in September, we were also desperately trying to convince ourselves that Warren Buffett’s $5 billion investment in Goldman Sachs would turn the tide, and that Hank Paulson, as Newsweek wrote in a cover story titled “King Henry,” would be the “right man at the right time.”
Obama couldn’t give us F.D.R.’s first inaugural address because we are not yet where America was in 1933 — in its fourth year of downturn after the crash of ’29, with an unemployment rate of 25 percent. But no one knows for sure that we cannot end up there.
On Tuesday, our new president did offer one subtle whiff of the Great Depression. His injunction that “we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off” was a paraphrase of the great songwriter Dorothy Fields, who wrote that lyric for “Swing Time” (1936), arguably the best of the escapist musicals Hollywood churned out to lift the nation’s spirits in hard times. But Obama yoked that light-hearted evocation of Astaire and Rogers to a call for sacrifice that was deliberately somber, not radiantly Kennedyesque.
That call included the obligatory salutes to those who serve by parenting, firefighting or helping strangers when natural disaster strikes. But he also cited one less generic example: “workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job.” There will be — there must be — far larger sacrifices in that vein yet to come. No one truly listening to the Inaugural Address could doubt that this former community organizer intends to demand plenty from us as we face down what he calls “raging storms.”
Last weekend, Bob Woodward wrote an article for The Washington Post listing all the lessons the new president can learn from his predecessor’s many blunders. But what have we learned from our huge mistakes during the Bush years? While it’s become a Beltway cliché that America’s new young president has yet to be tested, it is past time for us to realize that our own test is also about to begin.
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
Saturday, January 24, 2009
After a month of rumors, New York Governor David Paterson has selected 42-year-old Kirsten Gillibrand as the replacement for now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Gillibrand has just begun her second term as the Representative from New York’s 20th district—one of the most conservative districts currently held by a Democratic House member.
Gillibrand is a member of conservative Blue Dog caucus. She is the only NY Democrat to have voted against the TARP legislation both times it came before the House, and has supported the renewal of Bush tax cuts.
Gillibrand has also been criticized for her close ties to the NRA. Her positions on gun control are likely to earn Gillibrand a primary challenge from Long Island Representative Carolyn McCarthy.
Gillibrand’s positions on some social issues is, shall we say, a work in progress. Once maligned for her less than clear statements on abortion rights, Gillibrand and her supporters now make it clear that she is solidly pro-choice. Gillibrand has also moved to support full marriage rights for same-sex couples; a position she was much less clear about just weeks ago. (Her new position is stronger than either that of current Senator Chuck Schumer or former Senator Clinton.)
© 2009 Independent Media Institute.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Last week, House Democrats released an $825 billion economic recovery package, which consists of $550 billion in government spending and $275 billion in tax cuts. The provisions in the plan were marked up by various congressional committees this week, with the goal of passing a full stimulus package sometime in mid-February. Though they voiced some support when President Obama initially laid out his vision for a stimulus plan, conservatives balked upon seeing the bill that emerged from the House. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) made his opposition known by simply saying "Oh. My. God." Conservatives have coalesced around "alternative" stimulus proposals like one crafted by the Republican Study Committee (RSC). But in their opposition, conservatives have propagated several myths about the stimulus and its potential effect on the economy. Here are the three most prominent conservative stimulus myths, and why they amount to nothing more than hot air.
MYTH 1 -- SPENDING IS NOT STIMULATIVE: In response to the stimulus plan, conservatives on the House Budget Committee released a report stating that the proposal "pours taxpayers' money" into projects, "many of which may be worthy in themselves, but have little to do with 'stimulating' the economy." Harvard professor Robert Barro derided the plan as "voodoo economics," while right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin claimed that it will "at most be useless." However, an analysis by Moody’s Economy.com found that government spending results in more significant "bang for the buck." For every dollar invested in specific types of spending, the boost in real GDP is more than $1.30. The most benefit comes from extending unemployment benefits ($1.64) and increasing food stamps ($1.73), but strong returns result from infrastructure investment ($1.59) and aid to state and local governments ($1.36), as well. Furthermore, Moody's also noted, "A well-timed, targeted, and temporary stimulus could in fact cost the Treasury less in the long run, since a debilitating recession would severely undermine tax revenues and prompt more government spending for longer." Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's and former adviser to Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) presidential campaign, released his analysis of the House plan on Wednesday, and concluded that it would "provide a vital boost to the flagging economy," without which full employment would not return until 2014.
MYTH 2 -- STIMULUS WON'T CREATE JOBS: Last week, Boehner claimed, "When it comes to slow-moving government spending programs, it's clear that it doesn't create the jobs or preserve the jobs that need to happen." Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said that "even if consumption were to bump up, it would not lead businesses to expand and to add jobs." However, as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explained, "The stimulus plan will create jobs repairing and upgrading the nation's roads, bridges, ports, levees, water and sewage system, public-transit systems, electricity grid, and schools." It stands to reason that investing in infrastructure is going to lead to job creation, as someone needs to be hired to actually complete the various projects. By investing $100 billion in clean energy infrastructure alone, the Center for American Progress (CAP) has estimated that 2 million jobs can be created in the next two years. Aid to states through bolstering Medicaid also "generates business and gets people into jobs," as a recent report by Families USA showed: "The new dollars pass from one person to another in successive rounds of spending, generating additional business activity, jobs, and wages that would not otherwise be produced." Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Christina Romer and Vice President Biden aide Jared Bernstein, meanwhile -- by using the "1% of GDP equals 1 million jobs rule of thumb" -- estimated that a stimulus plan will create or save three million jobs. According to their calculations, "30% of the jobs created will be in construction and manufacturing," while "the other two significant sectors that are disproportionately represented in job creation are retail trade and leisure and hospitality."
MYTH 3 -- PERMANENT TAX CUTS ARE THE BEST STIMULUS: The only stimulus idea that conservatives are wholeheartedly supporting is permanent tax cuts. At a hearing before the RSC, Romney, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist all claimed that the stimulus should include permanent corporate tax cuts, while Barro claimed that fully "eliminating the federal corporate income tax would be brilliant." But CAP'sWill Straw explained, "The track record for such steps is poor in general, but they are particularly ill-suited for a recessionary period. After all, the reason that businesses and individuals are not investing at the moment has little to do with the taxes they may pay in the future and everything to do with a fear of losing money because there is no demand in the economy." The Heritage Foundation, meanwhile, proposed an "alternative" to the House stimulus: "permanent tax reductions such as the ones Congress passed in 2003." "Tax cuts like those have a proven track record of encouraging economic growth," wrote Heritage. But this is simply the same supply-side approach adopted by the Bush administration, and the evidence that it helps economic growth is "weak at best." An analysis by the Center for American Progress Action Fund shows that every $10 billion spent on this kind of cut would create or save just 10,000 jobs, "versus nearly 60,000 jobs which could be created or saved by extending unemployment benefits and food stamps or investing directly in energy, transportation and education infrastructure." Furthermore, permanent measures will exacerbate the long-term debt much more than temporary measures will.
Copyright 2009 thinkprogress.org