Friday, January 30, 2009


President Obama, in remarks at the White House today:

I also believe that we have to reverse many of the policies towards organized labor that we've seen these last eight years, policies with which I've sharply disagreed. I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem, to me it's part of the solution. We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement. We know that strong, vibrant, growing unions can exist side by side with strong, vibrant and growing businesses. This isn't a either/or proposition between the interests of workers and the interests of shareholders. That's the old argument. The new argument is that the American economy is not and has never been a zero-sum game. When workers are prospering, they buy products that make businesses prosper. We can be competitive and lean and mean and still create a situation where workers are thriving in this country.

So I'm going to be signing three executive orders designed to ensure that federal contracts serve taxpayers efficiently and effectively. One of these orders is going to prevent taxpayer dollars from going to reimburse federal contractors who spend money trying to influence the formation of unions. We will also require that federal contractors inform their employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. Federal labor laws encourage collective bargaining, and employees should know their rights to avoid disruption of federal contracts.

And I'm issuing an order so that qualified employees will be able to keep their jobs even when a contract changes hands. We shouldn't deprive the government of these workers who have so much experience in making government work.

"[W]e know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement."

Yes. It's the dawn of a new day for labor in this country.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Your Liberal Media

Media Matters documents something that is readily apparent to any observer: Republicans commenting on the stimulus package are far more common than Democrats. The old rationale was that, well of course they do - they are running things. I wonder what their excuse is now?

List of Things Every Republican in the House Opposes

Courtesy of Clammyc over at Kos, here's a list of things that every single Republican in the House of Representatives actively opposes:

* An increase in the maximum benefit under the former food stamp program (now called the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP);
* An expansion of broadband internet access to rural areas of America;
* Programs to improve infrastructure and develop rural communities;
* Improvements to the criminal justice system;
* funding for science and technology research;
* Funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services;
* Funding to repair, maintain and renovate the Department of Defense (DoD) facilities;
* Energy efficiency projects and modernization of heating/cooling and electrical systems at the DoD;
* Improving Army barracks;
* Energy related research and development (renewable energy programs and expansion of existing weatherization activites);
* Funding for the Army Corps of Engineers (remember the levees in New Orleans that weren’t funded?;
* Modernization of the nation’s electrical grid;
* Construction and repair of Federal facilities;
* Funding for clean water programs and water infrastructure projects;
* Capital improvements and maintenance for Forest Service and National Park Service, the Superfund program and wildland fire management;
* Funding for the Department of Health and Human Services;
* Funding for labor and employment training programs/Department of Labor;
* Renovations to elementary and secondary schools;
* Pell Grants and other student financial assistance;
* Educational programs aimed at elementary and secondary education;
* Defense construction projects – including hospitals, barracks and day care centers;
* funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to be used on maintaining VA medical facilities and cemeteries;
* Funding for Information Technology projects at the State Department;
* Funding for highway construction;
* Funding for housing assistance programs administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development;
* Grants to states and cities for community development;
* Refundable tax credits for middle and lower income families;
* Increase tax credit for higher education;
* Extension of tax credit for renewable energy production;
* Increase the earned income tax credit for lower income families with three or more qualifying children;
* Increased funding for emergency unemployment benefits for those who exhaust the amount of benefits they collect;
* Temporary increase in amount of unemployment benefits;
* Assistance to states for spending on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program;
* Extension of Medicaid coverage to certain unemployed workers;
* Assistance with COBRA premium payments for certain unemployed workers; and
* Incentives for health care providers to use "health information technology" which would reduce health care costs for providers and lower premiums.

This is what the republicans feel is not as helpful to American families as capital gains and corporate tax cuts.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


This is a towering, monumental song, filled with compassion and grace, mixed with a kind of bewilderment at the madness that makes men practice war.

Want A Thriving Middle Class?

Robert Reich has a post over at TPM Cafe where he advocates strong unions as a means of reviving the long-term prosperity of the American economy.

Why is this recession so deep, and what can be done to reverse it?

Hint: Go back about 50 years, when America's middle class was expanding and the economy was soaring. Paychecks were big enough to allow us to buy all the goods and services we produced. It was a virtuous circle. Good pay meant more purchases, and more purchases meant more jobs.

At the center of this virtuous circle were unions. In 1955, more than a third of working Americans belonged to one. Unions gave them the bargaining leverage they needed to get the paychecks that kept the economy going. So many Americans were unionized that wage agreements spilled over to nonunionized workplaces as well. Employers knew they had to match union wages to compete for workers and to recruit the best ones.

Fast forward to a new century. Now, fewer than 8% of private-sector workers are unionized. Corporate opponents argue that Americans no longer want unions. But public opinion surveys, such as a comprehensive poll that Peter D. Hart Research Associates conducted in 2006, suggest that a majority of workers would like to have a union to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions. So there must be some other reason for this dramatic decline. But put that question aside for a moment. One point is clear: Smaller numbers of unionized workers mean less bargaining power, and less bargaining power results in lower wages.

It's no wonder middle-class incomes were dropping even before the recession. As our economy grew between 2001 and the start of 2007, most Americans didn't share in the prosperity. By the time the recession began last year, according to an Economic Policy Institute study, the median income of households headed by those under age 65 was below what it was in 2000.Typical families kept buying only by going into debt. This was possible as long as the housing bubble expanded. Home-equity loans and refinancing made up for declining paychecks.

But that's over. American families no longer have the purchasing power to keep the economy going. Lower paychecks, or no paychecks at all, mean fewer purchases, and fewer purchases mean fewer jobs.

I would add: Dr. Reich didn't mention the provisions of Taft-Hartley that allow states to ban closed shops (in so-called "right to work" states), but repealing those parts of Taft-Hartley would go a long way to getting Southern workers into unions.

Bonus: Unionizing the South, where most of the "right to work" states are, would get Southern working-class voters voting for the Democrats, reliably, every single election.

Imagine grateful Alabamans, Georgians, Mississippians all voting gratefully for the party that helped them organize and improve their lot in life.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Christianity in America

Commenter David Raber over at Vox Nova comments on the extent to which the USA is a Christian country:

We might ask ourselves if the Christian religion has had much real effect at all on the way our government and society is organized. Do we have a society built more along the lines of Jesus’ teaching than say, that of ancient Rome? Well, we managed to get rid of slavery about a century and a half ago, and we don’t have gladitorial games anymore (not to the death, anyhow). So there’s that.

But to what degree are most people in their daily lives guided by Christian principles? We may have good intentions, but the fact is that we live in a world where such principles are virtually irrelevant.

For example, how do I love my neighbor as myself in a business transaction? Our whole economic system is based on the assumption that I will take my neighbor for just as much as I possibly can–”whatever the traffic will bear.”

Maybe one day we will figure out on the practical level how to live pretty much like followers of Jesus, with a lot less tolerance for everyday social sin; then perhaps we will look at our present system as something akin to gladitorial combat or slavery; but I don’t see that day coming soon.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Thoughts from a homeless guy

I just read this on craigslist, and it is an unvarnished look at what the concerns of the homeless are. "There but for the grace of God" is a cliche, but it could use a closer examination from most of us. I suspect that, with the current hard times, more Americans may come to appreciate what they have, even as they lose the less important things, the things that are more about status and prestige than about truth and real, eternal value. Please God.

The Rich are Still Hurting

A commenter on a thread over at TPM Cafe pretty much sums up my own view of the big picture of the financial crisis:

There are massive amounts of money to be made by engaging in the shell game financial industry. Our country lionized those who did that, always hoping some of it would dribble down to us. If that industry had been regulated the economy would have grown at a sustainable rate, fortunes wouldn't have been made, lost, made again in a single day of trading, and our major loss would have been a big reduction in billionaires - don't we need an endless supply of those? We sure acted like we did.

I Used to be a "Conservative"

I started my adulthood as a conservative Republican. I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, and for Bush the elder in 1988 and 1992. I argued against welfare, and for the Reagan arms buildup. Needless to say, things changed for me. Andrew Sullivan sounds like he's been on a similar journey:

But what has emerged in recent years is a darker, more authoritarian strain of conservatism - rooted in the cultural and racial conservatism of the South, partial to a near-dictatorial war-presidency, believing in American exceptionalism to the extent that it exempts America from the moral norms of the rest of the world, and rooting the legitimacy of the American constitution in only one religious tradition (narrowly defined).

These characters want to redefine conservatism around this theocratic, authoritarian, self-justifying ideology. I am more than happy to share the term liberalism with others. I am not going to have the word conservative coopted solely by these religious radicals.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Two Incidents Involving Planes and New York

Andrew Sullivan muses on the contrast between 9/11 and the heroic captain of the plane that ditched in the Hudson River:

Seven years later, two pilots who have since remained remarkably distant from media attention, were in a similar cockpit in the same crowded area and their over-riding concern was to prevent any civilian casualties at all. That's why they even avoided small airports which might have led to a crash into inhabited neighborhoods. With enormous expertise, gained by rigorous training in a civilized society, they managed to land safely on the river and save everyone both on board and on the ground.

It seems to me that dignity and training and expertise and humaneness are the values of our society at its best. All of them are self-evidently superior to the values of vainglory, amateurism, impulsiveness and cruelty that bedevil our enemies. If these are the grounds on which we fight this war - and they are ours to choose - then we will win. And we will deserve to.

GOP Lies About Stimulus Plan

Know that "Congressional Budget Office Report" that "shows" that the stimulus package won't actually help the economy for years? There's only one problem: The report...doesn't exist:

Reports of a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, showing that the vast majority of the money in the stimulus package won't be spent until after 2010, have Democrats on the defensive and the GOP calling for a pullback in wasteful spending.

Funny thing is, there is no such report.

"We did not issue any report, any analysis or any study," a CBO aide told the Huffington Post.

Rather, the nonpartisan CBO ran a small portion of an earlier version of the stimulus plan through a computer program that uses a standard formula to determine a score -- how quickly money will be spent. The score only dealt with the part of the stimulus headed for the Appropriations Committee and left out the parts bound for the Ways and Means or Energy and Commerce Committee.

Friday, January 23, 2009

James Howard Kunstler, On Obama's Meta-Task

Mr. Obama deserves credit for a lot of things, but perhaps most amazingly his ability to see "hope" in a public so demoralized by their own bad choices that the USA scene has devolved to a non-stop Special Olympics of everyday life, where absolutely everybody is debilitated, deluded, challenged, or needs a leg up, or an extra buck, or a pallet on the floor, or a gastric bypass, or a week in detox, or a head-start, or a fourth strike, or a $150-billion bailout. There's a lot of raw material from sea to shining sea, admittedly, but how do you re-shape it into a population guided by a sense of earnest purpose, with reality-based expectations, with habits of delayed gratification and impulse control, and a sense of their own history? That will be quite a trick. Many of us -- myself included -- will be pulling for Barack. Maybe the power of his rhetoric and his sheer buff physical presence can whip this republic of overfed clowns into shape.

That's a Good Thing, Marc...

Marc Ambinder, on the Employee Free Choice Act:

EFCA doesn't eliminate secret ballot elections. Since the National Labor Relations Act was passed, there have always been two ways to join a union, either through "card check" or a ballot election. Current law allows companies to force an election, even if a majority of workers have signed up. In effect, EFCA switches the choice to the workers; they can choose whether to hold a card check election or whether they want a regular secret ballot election. Effectively, EFCA would increase the frequency of card check elections, which are easier for unions to win.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hatred Hasn't Changed

This is appalling:

In the unseasonable cold of a clear January morning, Forsyth County mother of three and ardent Barack Obama supporter Pam Graf was sifting through the charred, hellish remains of what was once her home on Lanier Drive.

Graf's home had been burned to the ground. No one was in the home at the time of the blaze. Graf said her three children had been sent to stay with their father while she driving to attend the presidential inauguration.

Her trip to witness Obama make history taking the oath of office was cut short midway to Washington, D.C. Instead she returned to meet with county fire investigators and insurance providers. Now she's just trying to decide where to go from here.

In a time of jubilation for a large percentage of the country, Graf is stunned by the apparent hatred to which she has been subjected.

"I can't even make out the rooms," she said. "It's like everything collapsed into the basement. It looks like a bomb went off."

Graf's home burned down early Jan. 18 in what authorities are calling a "suspicious fire." Most shocking to Graf, and to some of the citizens of the county, state and nation at large, was graffiti the apparent arsonist left on scene.

Spray painted on the fence around the home it said, "Beware [expletive deleted] your black boy will die."

Billmon, On the Inaugural Address

If our new president really aspires to fix a broken economy, provide national health care, find alternative energy sources, restore the rule of law, withdraw from Iraq, win in Afghanistan (we could argue about that last one, but these are his priorities, not mine) and otherwise remake America -- or at least get a start on the process during his first term -- at some point soon he'll need to become a lot more explicit about what he is willing to do to his fellow politicians, as well as with them, to make it happen.

Yep. Me? I get the sense that Obama has iron backing up that velvet oratory. We'll see.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Rich, The Poor, and a Chasm

Years ago when I was in the Army, I was stationed in El Paso, Texas. El Paso is a border town; it and Juarez, Mexico are more or less one contiguous urban area, for quite a distance along both sides of the Rio Grande river.

One Saturday morning, I got up early and hiked from Fort Bliss all the way down to the border. Standing on the American side, I looked through someone's side yard, over their swimming pool, and on the opposite slope, from the Rio Grand all the way to the top, there was arrayed heartbreaking poverty: kids running around without shoes, shacks made of cinder block and tar paper, sewage running in open culverts.

All this within clear sight of the back windows of the opulence of American suburbia.

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell,[a] where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'

"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'

"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'

"Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'

" 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'

"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "

Luke 16:19-31

What I saw that day has shaped the way I view the world ever since. It made me question why peoples’ lives could be so different, based on the fact that there’s a notional thing, really just an idea, called a "border" that separates poverty from opulence.

I wonder if the rich man in the parable didn’t make the "chasm" himself – the one separating him from Lazarus.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Dream of a Color-Blind Society

I occasionally read and hear some folks arguing that the line in Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" Speech where he dreams that his children would "be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" means that the *means* of acheiving racial harmony is the "color-blindness" he describes.

The point is to have a color-blind society *after* healing the wounds of slavery and racism. *Then* King’s dream of a truly color-blind society will have been fulfilled. He was not proposing that as the means, but the dreamed-for end toward which we all should work.

President Obama's Inaugural Address

"He's For The Whole World"

"When people speak of Obama, we don't say he's Luo Obama," said Ogega, 27, referring to Obama's Kenyan ethnic group. "We say he's Kenyan. We hope he will help us see each other as Kenyans instead of certain tribes."

A group of young women studying for an exam in diplomacy echoed that idea.

"We hope he'll be able to straighten out some politicians of this country -- give them a straight deal on issues like graft," said Judith Ngandoki, 27, who is studying for a master's degree in international relations.

Not far away, Kadiro Ganemo, an Ethiopian immigrant, suggested that such hope stretches beyond Kenya.

"He's not just for Kenya -- he's for the whole world," said Ganemo, 28, who is not a student but joined the celebration because he didn't want to watch alone at home.

He confessed that he had not believed Obama could be elected, given the racism that exists in the United States. When the results came in, he said, he cried, as he expected he would again later Tuesday. "Maybe Africans can unite like people in the U.S.," he said.

Yes, please. This is what it looks like to lead the world.

Text of President Barack Obama's Inaugural Address

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Phoenix gets it

From a promising new blog by Phoenix:

"It is a hallmark of a sane and moderate society that when it changes leaders and regimes, those left behind should be abandoned to the judgment of history," writes Harvard's Charles Fried in Saturday's NYT op-ed. "It is in savage societies that the defeat of a ruling faction entails its humiliation, exile and murder."

While it remains to be seen if Erik "
Money Folder" Holder will sentence Donald Rumsfeld to death, it does appear that Mr. Fried is protesting a bit too much. He is not the first to trot out the shibboleth that punishing those responsible for the Bush administration's various humiliations of the law would do little more than establish a pattern of retribution against outgoing administrations. Leave aside the obvious point that an exiting Obama team guilty of such egregious assaults on the law would be prosecuted on day one (rightfully, albeit not without sanctimony or a moment's hesitation from the GOP and media). The easily elided point here is that we would need not fear this pattern, were an independent Justice department in existence and already in pursuit of those at the heart of the policies. Those perpetrators would have been put on trial in late '06, rather than the rotten fruit they bore.

Not a word there I disagree with.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sully Calls It

Andrew Sullivan, summing up the truth, and the consequences mandated by justice and simple human decency:

This is what happened. 9/11 occurred. Cheney and Bush decided that to get the intelligence they wanted and didn't have, they would start torturing prisoners for information. They told their legal people to provide legal defenses, however strained and bizarre, and talked themselves into believing that it wasn't torture. They set up a major torture camp in Gitmo and many smaller ones around the world; they told their military and CIA to take all the gloves off. They did this consciously and with clear pre-meditation. They stuck with their policy even after its essence was exposed so painfully at Abu Ghraib. They were in too deep to go back then. And they deeply believed that the constitution allowed the president unlimited powers in wartime - and that war time was now for ever. The Constitution, in Cheney's view, empowers the presidency to permanent near-dictatorial status for the indefinite future. The dictatorial powers - unencumbered by no law and no treaty - extend to American citizens and on American soil.

This is what they believed. And this is what they did. It was and is illegal. And immoral. And deeply destructive of the need to garner reliable intelligence and to protect American soldiers from future torture at the hands of the enemy. And the dreadful truth is: Bush clearly had no qualms or conflict in this. But he won't own it. History must make him own it. And the rule of law should make him accountable.

In a perfect world, Bush and Cheney would be arrested right after the Inauguration, and sent to the Hague to stand trial for war crimes.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Future Missed

I've always loved space exploration, particularly manned exploration. Arthur C Clarke once said that, had the US not spent itself financially and spiritually in Vietnam, the technology and expense depicted in this clip would have been achievable by the actual year 2001. This is lots of space geeks' favorite scene in the movie:

Frank Cocozzelli on the Passing of Richard John Neuhaus

The entire post is worth reading. I think the alliance of conservative Catholics and Evangelicals that Neuhaus represented and championed will be see by the long view of history as a mistake.

Secondly - and perhaps more importantly - Neuhaus was well grounded in both Protestant and Catholic perspectives. This understanding facilitated his ability to build political bridges between socially conservative Protestants and socially conservative Catholics. His passing leaves a void that is not easily filled.

Neuhaus struck me as a radical in search of a revolution to lead. After being part of 1960s far-left movements agitating for possibly violent societal change, by the 1980s he had moved towards, and then became part and parcel of the fringe-right movement of neoconservatism. And as his politics changed, so did his view of faith, going from mainstream Lutheranism to a form of orthodox Catholicism that was intolerant of dissent. While his political outlook changed, his strident nature did not.

I never rejoice at the passing of political opponents. I hope he has finally found peace. Looking beyond the life and work of Richard John Neuhaus, as a Catholic and a liberal, I think we will be better off when Catholic neoconservatism too passes away.

Cobra Breaking the Bank for Unemployed

Families USA released a new report which has revealed that for many unemployed Americans, COBRA health insurance is simply too expensive.

Families USA, the non-profit group, put out the report this week, focusing on COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985.

The goal behind COBRA was to make health insurance affordable for unemployed Americans.

Families USA has found though that this is not the case, as they compared the average monthly premium for family health insurance under COBRA to how much compensation an average unemployed American received.

They found that the average compensation is around $1,300 for an unemployed American, while the average monthly premiums for family health insurance coverage under COBRA is $1,000.

This leaves next to nothing for families to live off of, making COBRA simply too expensive.

Overall, only 25% of those who are actually eligible for COBRA sign up for it, mainly due to the high cost.

With 47 million Americans living without health insurance, this is not a positive sign.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Left Has An Uphill Battle... trying to sell its programs to the country. A big part of the reason is that the left is running against the headwind of competing against the Right's natural allies; millionaire television reporters, millionaire establishmentarian editors, millionaire anchors, all of whom have a natural sympathy toward the party whose natural constituency they are: the Republicans, The Party of Millionaires.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Lyrics of the Day

Of War and Peace
The Truth just twists
Its curfew gull, it glides

Upon four-legged
forest clouds
The Cowboy Angel rides

Preach it, Helen

But I was so happy to see my nephew home from Iraq. At least that is where I think he’s been. As a member of the special forces, he can’t tell me what he’s been up to. Instead he gave me a hug and told me he’s been getting the bad guys. I hugged him back and held my tongue because I support the troops.

Support the troops. You know saying those words takes about as much energy as putting one of those god awful yellow ribbon stickers on your car. It’s meaningless unless you follow it with action. When dealing with war, it’s more than the thought that counts.

If you want to support the troops then you do everything you can to work for peace. You march… you write letters to your editor… you call your elected officials…. and you teach your children that bad guys are rarely found on the field of battle.

Bush and Job creation: Yep

The great Billmon, in a diary over at Daily Kos, presents the following chart, ranked by the rate of job creation during their presidencies, of every post-war president. Notice the political party of every single person at the top of the list:

As Billmon says:

[E]ach and every Democratic President (including the much-maligned Carter) ranking ahead of every GOP president (including St. Ronnie). Draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Poverty effect

The only Graph you need to see: the top line is the hourly productivity of American workers. The bottom line is the median wage of those workers. Working harder, running in place.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

From Harper's...

Comes A retrospective of the Bush era

Portion of all U.S. income gains during the Bush Administration that have gone to the top 1 percent of earners: 3/4

Increase since 2000 in the number of Americans living at less than half the federal poverty level: 3,500,000

Percentage change since 2001 in the average amount U.S. workers spend on out-of-pocket medical expenses: +172

Estimated percentage by which Social Security benefits would have declined if Bush’s privatization plan had passed: –15 ...

Portion of the $3.3 billion in federal Hurricane Katrina relief spent by Mississippi that has benefited poor residents: 1/4

Saturday, January 03, 2009

One Year Ago Tonight

Nine Eleven Nine Eleven Nine Eleven

Americans act as if that day’s events were practically the worst thing to happen to any nation anywhere, ever. Well, sorry, but no, it wasn’t. To be sure, that day sucked, and I’d rather not go through that again; but more Americans died on D Day and Pearl Harbor than died on 9/11. More Americans are murdered in 3 months than were killed on that day. Twelve times as many civilians were incinerated alive in one night in Dresden Germany in World War II. Up to thirty times as many were incinerated in one night in Tokyo.

Has it ever occurred to the hawks in this country that by sending armies into the middle east, the US has given Osama Bin Laden exactly what he wanted?

Friday, January 02, 2009

My Predictions for 2008 2009

[Update: Title changed thanks to Henry in comments.]

This is the time when people are making predictions for 2009 (with the understanding from the reader that the diarist is pulling a good portion out of his you-know-where.

Given what the world looks like in early January 2009, this is bound to be more sober and somber than usual.

Before I get to the "list" part of this, let me say that in certain ways I am optimistic about this year. Obama is a charismatic, capable leader who has the broad support of the American people, and plans to move American policy, both foreign and domestic, in a decidedly more progressive direction. Anyway:

1. The headline Unemployment Rate will exceed 12% by year’s end.

I really hope I'm wrong on this one, but I don't see a significant turn-around in 2009. Stimulus will take time to show itself in the employment numbers; the economy is currently in free fall, and the first six months of 2009 will be looked back on as the nadir.

2. The Employee Free Choice Act will pass over the strenuous objections of Southern conservatives.

The Provisions of Taft-Hartley that allow Southern states to ban closed shops may (please, Lord) go down too. Leaving aside questions of social and economic justice for the moment, this would be an extremely shrewd thing to do for Democrats from a purely political perspective; Unionizing the South would allow southern working-class voters to see the benefits of having unions, and get them voting for democrats on a regular basis, forever undermining the "Solid South." The Southern elites know this, of course, so expect a fight of monumental proportions over this; conservatives would be fighting for their very survival, and would use every means at their disposal to try and stop the effort.

3. The US will be effectively out of Iraq by the end of the year. Casualties will be under one per week.

Please God...

4. Barack Obama will prove to be more popular in his first year than Ronald Reagan, Jack Kennedy or even Roosevelt were in their first years.

There will be widespread support for his economic initiatives; the only exception will be the previously-mentioned conservative anti-union redoubts in the south, but even there cracks will appear (see above).

5. The US railroad system, especially the passenger piece of it, will begin to be modernized on a large scale.

This is essential; not doing this will mean no one but the top income quintile will be able to travel long distances once the economy recovers and fuel prices resume their relentless long-term rise. Air travel as a mass-consumption phenomenon is, I'm convinced, going away rather soon (within 10 years would be my guess). The US used to have a passenger rail system that was the envy of the world. It only declined when Air travel became convenient and cheap; I’m convinced that increasingly-expensive plane fuel will return air travel from mass-transportation back to something only the elites do.

6. GM and Chrysler will still exist, but will also still be described as “troubled.” Ford will be in somewhat better shape.

I predict that the Pontiac division, and the US (but not Chinese) Buick division, will bite the dust, leaving GM with only the Cadillac (for luxury cars) and Chevy (for the rest of us) car-building divisions standing; GMC will remain as a truck-building enterprise.