Reuters - President Barack Obama pressed Senate Republicans on Tuesday to pass his $30 billion plan to help banks boost lending to small businesses, blasting the opposition for playing "political games" with a measure he says will help generate jobs.
Billionaire candidate Jeff Greene, who's facing-off against Rep. Kendrick Meek in Florida's Democratic Senate primary, insists he's "not a partier" despite reports painting his 145-foot luxury yacht, the Summerwind, as a raging celebrity-clad party ship.
The latest in a string of accounts to surface offering a glimpse into the good times had by guests of Greene aboard the boat comes from Sharyn Peach, a former stewardess of the 350-ton vessel.
Peach writes about her experience working on the Summerwind in a first-hand account published by the Broward-Palm Beach New Times:
Working for Jeff Greene on the Summerwind was an experience I was hoping to forget. I almost did, until about two months ago. I was sitting on my couch in Fort Lauderdale, watching TV, not particularly paying attention to the commercials. Then I heard it. A voice I haven't heard in four years. It made me cringe. I looked up and started yelling, "Oh my God! Oh my God!" It was Jeff Greene, running for U.S. Senate. Are you freaking serious????? Do people really not know about him and his past behavior? I still cringe when his commercial comes on.
Working on Greene's 145-foot Choy Lee yacht was like being "locked" in Studio 54 in its prime. It was nothing short of, "Sex, Drugs, and Techno Music." Celebrities, "hired" party girls, mayhem, and debauchery. I saw more tits and ass in one night on Jeff Greene's Summerwind than I have for the past seven years on South Beach.
Greene attempted to dispel reports of the alleged partying that went down on his boat earlier this week.
"When I'm on my boat, we're kayaking, we're scuba diving, there's no wild parties," said the Senate hopeful at a press conference. "I think that people are trying to associate time I've been on my boat when I've had some different kinds of colorful guests. They're trying to associate me with that. But, look, I'm a 55-year-old man. I'm not a partier."
The "colorful people" alluded to by Greene could include Lindsay Lohan, who reportedly spent time on the yacht in St. Barth's last New Year's Eve, and former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, who has reportedly partaken in vibrant festivities aboard the vessel.
Peach recalls, "Mike Tyson got on board sometime in late August. I particularly remember serving Tyson a vodka and Red Bull while he was receiving oral sex from a hired entertainer."
Tyson, now sober, offered a detailed account of time he spent on Greene's yacht to Sports Illustrated last month.
"This [drug dealer] goes and gets me a big rock of cocaine," he said. "So pretty soon I got a party going on. I got everything: I got these rugby players. I got these naked girls, I got all these ... everything's going on in the room."
In the wake of the jaw-dropping description coming to light, Greene himself told Politico there's a "zero tolerance policy" when it comes to drug use on his boat.
When asked how he could deny stories of parties that took place on the Summerwind, Greene held his ground, calling the accounts "silliness."
"There were a couple of disgruntled employees that came out with these crazy stories about vomit," said the Senate hopeful. "If someone has a boat and they have a crew, why would there be vomit on it?"
Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution authorizes the president to appoint, "with the Advice and Consent of the Senate," all federal judges. It has never been clear precisely what the phrase "advice and consent" means. In practice, though, at least when it comes to the lower federal courts (that is, all federal judges other than Supreme Court Justices), the Senate historically has taken a highly deferential approach. Until recently, and going all the way back to 1790, the Senate has confirmed more than 95% of all lower court nominees.
In the first year-and-a-half of the Obama administration, however, the Senate has confirmed only 42% of the President's nominees. This is unprecedented.
In the first year-and-a-half of a newly-elected president's term, the Senate historically has confirmed almost 100% of all lower federal court nominees - until the 1950s. Then things began gradually to change. Since1980 there has been a steady decline: Reagan (92%), Bush I (72%), Clinton (67%), Bush II (59%), Obama (42%).
This is a matter of considerable concern. The lower federal courts make tens-of-thousands of decisions each year on issues as wide-ranging as freedom from discrimination, due process of law, religious liberty, freedom of speech and press, crime and punishment, the environment, immigration, workplace safety, privacy, intellectual property, bankruptcy, and access to the political process, to name just a few.
There are approximately 850 lower federal court judgeships. At present, a record 117 of these positions remain vacant. This represents a truly astonishing 14% of the federal judiciary. These vacancies add significantly to the backlog of cases and inevitably undermine the quality of justice Americans receive.
Several factors have contributed to this state of affairs. First, the realignment of the political parties over the past half-century has polarized American politics. When the Senate rejected President Nixon's nomination of G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court in 1970, 32% of Republicans voted against confirmation, and 31% of Democrats voted for confirmation.
That could never happen today. In 1970, there were many conservative (mostly southern) Democrats and many liberal (mostly northern) Republicans. These senators often voted across party lines. Today, almost every liberal senator is a Democrat and almost every conservative senator is a Republican. This has led to much deeper and more strident partisan divisions on a broad range of issues, including judicial confirmations.
Second, the process of judging has increasingly (and, for the most part, correctly) come to be understood as involving judicial philosophy, rather than just "calling balls and strikes." As a consequence, the overall judicial philosophy of nominees has increasingly come into question. The result is that senators are now much less willing to defer to the president. The result is gridlock.
One would expect this problem to be particularly acute when the opposing party controls the Senate. In such circumstances, the majority of the Senate can at least plausibly claim a legitimate interest in having a serious voice in judicial nominations. Thus, in President Reagan's first eighteen months in office, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed 92% of his nominees, whereas in President Bush I's first eighteen months, the Democratically-controlled Senate confirmed only 72% of his nominees.
The reduction in Senate deference to presidential judicial nominees has proved frustrating to presidents of both parties. President Clinton bemoaned the Republican-controlled Senate's "failure to act on my nominations, or even to give many of my nominees a hearing." Such conduct, he charged, "represents the worst of partisan politics." Similarly, President Bush II complained that, because of the recalcitrance of a Democratically-controlled Senate, "we face a vacancy crisis in the federal courts, made worse by senators who block votes of qualified nominees." "Such delays," he added, "endanger American justice."
The stunning thing about the first eighteen months of President Obama's term, however, is not only that the Senate has confirmed only 42% of his nominees - the lowest confirmation rate in American history, but also that this is happening even though the Democrats hold a 59-41 majority in the Senate.
Thus, it is no longer the majority that is blocking judicial confirmations, but a fiercely obstructionist minority. The practice of minority senators blocking judicial confirmations did not begin in 2009, but the Republicans currently in the Senate have turned obstructionism into an art. Using a variety of parliamentary maneuvers, the 41-member Republican minority has successfully paralyzed our federal courts - even with respect to nominees who have been unanimously approved by the bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee.
Of course, Senate Democrats are also accountable for this state of affairs. It is distressing that they do not seem to care enough about the federal courts to use their majority status to limit this chicanery. Ultimately, though, the primary blame must rest with Senate Republicans -- and this is especially true in light of the fact that, to the chagrin of liberals, President Obama, unlike President Bush II, has put forth a slate of nominees who are quite moderate in their views.
In such circumstances, if the word "obstructionism" has any meaning, this is it. The cynically partisan course of conduct of Senate Republicans on this issue threatens the quality of American justice, and therefore, the rule of law itself.
As Pomeroy and others see it, his bill would ensure that workers are given what they’re owed, that people can retire without being destitute, and that the collapse of major pension funds doesn’t spill over into the wider economy. Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA) is a Senate sponsor. Here’s betting that Republican candidates will try to force Democrats (who need union support) to answer the question: Do you support ANOTHER bailout?
By Erin McPike - August 17, 2010More Election NewsAfter nearly half a dozen Republican Senate recruits have fallen to more conservative challengers or Tea Party-driven candidates in primaries this year, at least one GOP candidate with deep experience in Washington has so far defied the anti-establishment trend.Former Rep. Rob Portman, the Republican in Ohio's open Senate race, has endured a spate of attacks from Democrats who refer to him as "the architect of President Bush's economic agenda," but polling in the state has been trending slowly in his direction...
Today, Canadians familiar with America's new healthcare law are recognizing remarkable similarities between our healthcare future and their healthcare past. Obamacare adheres closely to the Canadian rubric for how to nationalize a formerly private healthcare system.Republicans can stop this march back to the future if they win control of the House and Senate this fall, take the presidency in 2012, and commit to repealing Obamacare quickly and completely. Anything less will consign the United States to repeat Canada's 50-year journey toward socialized medicine. Receive news alertsTo...
Giannoulias runs ahead of Kirk by 37 percent to 35 percent with 9 percent for Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones and 19 percent undecided, in the PPP poll conducted Aug. 14-15. The margin of error is 4.1 points.
Both candidates have struggled against damaging stories about them during the campaign. Kirk came under fire for misleading statements he made about his military service and Giannoulias has suffered because of stories about his family's failed bank and some of its practices.
Thirty-five percent say Giannoulias is unethical, 30 percent regard him as ethical and 35 percent are not sure. Twenty-eight percent of likely voters consider Kirk to be an ethical person while 25 percent regard him as unethical, with 46 percent not sure.
Both candidates are seen unfavorably by a plurality of voters, although 32 percent say they still don't know enough about Giannoulias to express and opinion and 40 percent are in the same boat when it comes to Kirk.
Giannoulias is seen favorably by only 51 percent of fellow Democrats while Kirk gets positively ratings from only 49 percent of Republicans.
Independents (26 percent of the sample) regard both unfavorably -- with Giannoulias being seen far more unfavorably by them. Kirk leads Giannoulias among them by 36 percent to 20 percent with 12 percent for Jones and 32 percent undecided.
PPP's Dean Debnam says that while Illinoisans who are most likely to go to the polls in November don't have very positive views of Giannoulias, President Obama or the man who is filling Obama's former Senate seat, Roland Burris, "they're still barely willing to give Giannoulias the nod to keep the Obama-Burris seat because he's a Democrat in a Democratic state."
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Portman leads Fisher by 45 percent to 37 percent with 5 percent preferring some other candidate and 13 percent undecided. The margin of error is 4 points. At the beginning of the month, Portman had led 44 percent to 40 percent. His biggest previous lead in matchups with Fisher in nine polls that Rasmussen has done this year had been 6 points.
When Rasmussen includes "leaners" in the totals, Portman's lead is 48 percent to 39 percent. Leaners are those who initially indicate no preference for either of the candidates but answer a follow-up question and say they are leaning towards a particular candidate.
Fifty-one percent say they are certain at this point on how they will vote while 31 percent are not certain, with 18 percent expressing no initial preference. About a quarter of voters say they don't know enough yet about Portman or Fisher to be sure of their opinions of them.
Portman is doing better among Republicans than Fisher among fellow Democrats -- 87 percent compared to 75 percent. Portman leads among unaffiliated voters by 47 percent to 21 percent with the balance undecided or preferring some other candidate.
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Aside from the fact that the Sestak-Specter primary race is settled and the election drawing nearer, PPP puts more importance on this than past polls because it is now surveying likely voters. In June, when it polled registered voters who might or might not go to the polls, the two were tied at 41 percent each.
Toomey and Sestak still have a ways to go in familiarizing themselves to voters. About a third say they don't know enough about either to express a favorable or unfavorable opinion.
Toomey leads Sestak among self-described conservatives (44 percent of the sample) by 75 percent to 8 percent while Sestak leads among moderates (39 percent of the sample) by 51 percent to 25 percent. The balance are undecided.
Toomey holds a 50 percent to 23 percent lead, with 27 percent undecided, among independents, although they make up only 9 percent of the survey's sample.
The poll suggested that Sestak may be paying a price for President Obama's declining popularity in the state, where 55 percent now disapprove of his performance while 40 percent approve. PPP says this is one of the biggest declines for Obama since 2008 that it has seen anywhere in the country.
"This race is suddenly looking less a toss-up than previously, and while Democrats have a large registration advantage, they are simply looking less inclined to vote than are Republicans, and the state's poor economy is surely having an effect on the incumbent party," said PPP's Dean Debnam.
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MILWAUKEE — Flying thousands of miles to reap millions of dollars, President Barack Obama is dashing across the country to help his party retain power, essentially offering one familiar argument: Republicans don't solve problems.
"Don't give in to fear," Obama said Monday in his latest ominous vision of a country led by the opposition party. "Let's reach for hope."
Obama has settled on his message for the pivotal midterm elections, which means what he said Monday in Milwaukee will sound like what he says Tuesday in Seattle and Wednesday in Miami. He is covering more than 8,000 freewheeling miles in three days, the kind of personal attention that gets donors to the door.
This week offers not just a window for Obama to campaign – Congress is gone, his summer vacation awaits – but also a window into his thinking about the fall campaign. Despite deep voter impatience over the sickly economy, the White House is betting people will stick with Democrats if the choice is framed as one between those who act and those who obstruct.
On Monday, he warned of reliving a dreadful past, saying Republicans want voters "to be afraid of the future."
"The worst thing we could do is to go back to the very same policies that created this mess in the first place," Obama said at a fundraiser in Wisconsin. "In November, you're going to have that choice."
Obama has advanced all the big parts of his agenda – the massive stimulus spending bill, health care reform, the rewriting of rules for Wall Street – with little or no Republican support. Republicans counter that the president's policies have come at a huge cost to taxpayers far into the future without the payoff many voters want most: jobs.
Obama's campaign speech is filled with lines he has used for weeks. As intended, they usually yield fresh laughs and applause from local, friendly audiences who have never had occasion to hear them before. Like his metaphor about Republicans and driving: put the car in "D" (as in Democrat) if you want to move ahead, "R" if you want to go backward.
As leader of the Democratic Party, even with diminished appeal, Obama has political job description that demands he help elect lawmakers and state executives who support his agenda. He needs them, too.
In Milwaukee, Obama spoke at a basketball arena to raise money for the state Democratic Party and for Tom Barrett, the city mayor who is running for governor in a competitive race. Campaign officials refused to say how much Obama raised. Lunch tickets cost $250, but getting a photo with the president could be had for $10,000 donation.
By evening, Obama was in Los Angeles for a glitzy fundraiser expected to raise $1 million for Democratic congressional candidates. The event was hosted by television producer John Wells, whose hits include "The West Wing." Filmmaker Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. founder Jeffrey Katzenberg are among the hosts, but were not expected to attend the event because of schedule conflicts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was scheduled to be there with Obama.
The president is also raising money over the next two days for Sen. Patty Murray of Washington; Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio; and the Florida Democratic Party. By pairing official events each day with political ones, the White House can bill taxpayers for most of the cost of the trip, a tradition that predates Obama and one he plans to continue aggressively.
In November, all 435 House seats, one-third of the Senate, and a majority of governor's and legislative jobs will be on the ballot. Democrats now control the House and Senate, but the hurting economy has turned voters against incumbents.
Obama's official agenda each day is to underline his efforts to jump-start the lumbering economy. That was his message at ZBB Energy Corp. in Menomonee Falls, Wis., where he told workers they are helping rebuild America.
Before his plane even landed, White House spokesman Bill Burton offered unsolicited criticism of comments by Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, who was quoted as saying he wished Republicans had been to able to obstruct Obama even more. Obama later mocked McConnell's words, too.
"Obstruct more? Is that even possible?" Obama said. "Apparently that's their plan for the future: No we can't."
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart responded that Senate Republicans, "like most Americans," opposed what he called a government takeover of health care. He stood behind GOP efforts to stop the stimulus and financial regulation bills, describing them as costly bills that won't work as promised.
Democrats, particularly House candidates who have taken tough votes in support of Obama, have been clamoring for him to get more aggressive. But that comes at some risk for a president who pledged to change Washington's tone as a candidate, then recommitted to doing it in his second year as president.
When asked if Obama was exacerbating the same partisanship he pledged to end, Burton was unapologetic, saying certain moments help make the choice stark for voters. "The president," he said, "is happy to showcase those moments."
Associated Press writer Michael Blood in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Last week CNN called the Senate primary between Arizona Democrats Randy Parraz and Rodney Glassman "THE primary to watch." Citing Parraz's "message, momentum, and support" as responsible for the "dead heat" presumed front-runner Glassman now finds himself in, "Latinos, the GLBT community and many independents" are breaking towards Parraz as name recognition and knowledge about the candidates increases.
Certainly Randy Parraz's insurgent campaign - along with his uniqueness in being the only Latino running for Senate - can be partially credited for the support he is receiving. In a political environment where descriptors such as "incumbent" and "establishment candidate" elicit even less warmth than they did in 2008, Parraz's campaign appeals to the same demographic that turned out in droves two years ago.
Establishment favorite Glassman hasn't helped himself much with respect to winning over Obama voters. His refusal to boldly state his opposition SB1070 (the Arizona immigration law), even when confronted in a televised debate, seems misguided at best. According to a release by America's Voice, three recent polls indicate that immigration is the top issue for Latinos. How candidates react to the debate will determine how enthusiastically these voters will turn out this cycle, as well as the loyalty they feel towards the party those candidates represent.
Comments by Glassman, a Republican donor as recently as 2004, indicate he would be a better fit for 80's style sensitivity training than for a modern Democratic party. When asked what would be the toughest thing he expected to do as a Tucson City Councilmember, the newly-elected Glassman responded, "The toughest thing for me to do will be to sit next to an openly gay councilmember."
Rodney Glassman's homophobic comment is not the only questionable statement he has made in his official capacity as a public figure. When asked why he hires women, Glassman responded, "because when you have the choice of looking at a hot chick or a dude all day, I'd rather surround myself with hot chicks."
Compare Glassman to his opponent, Randy Parraz, Randy Parraz is a father of two girls, an economic populist and opposed SB1070 before it was passed into law, citing both moral and economic arguments. Rather than hedging the issue of Marriage Equality as Glassman has, Parraz stated on the record "that calling 'Gay Marriage' something besides 'Marriage' is like saying, 'You are less than me.'"
Parraz's boldness in the midst of what Chris Cillizza calls, "the return of social issues" demarks a new front in the culture wars, a line that runs right through Arizona and between the candidates Randy Parraz and Rodney Glassman. But unlike past culture wars, this one is taking place within a single party, the Republicans having already picked what side of history they plan to join.
Establishment Democrats unsure about adopting a new generation's sensibilities will be looking at the August 24th primary as a test of the current political climate. The competition between Randy Parraz and Rodney Glassman something to watch, not only because Parraz's surge threatens to upset the establishment candidate, but also because of what it will say about the values of Democratic voters and their willingness to hold candidates accountable.
South Carolina Democrat Alvin Greene -- the come-from-nowhere U.S. Senate candidate taking on Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) -- reacted emotionally after the issue of his recent indictment was raised during an interview over the weekend.
In an exchange at his home with a reporter from North Carolina-based station WCNC, Greene signaled he doesn't plan to drop his campaign in the wake of the escalating legal controversy.
When pressed to elaborate on the indication, the Senate hopeful ordered the reporter to "leave [his] property" and "go away."
When [the reporter] stopped briefly to talk with Greene's brother Jimmy, Alvin Greene began howling and wailing the words, "no" and "go."
Greene continued to wail loudly as Jimmy Greene said that his brother had never talked to him about what happened in the library of the University of South Carolina last fall.
The AP relays the background:
Authorities said he approached a student in a University of South Carolina computer lab, showed her obscene photos online, then talked about going to her dorm room.
A Richland County grand jury indicted Greene, 32, for disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity - a felony - as well as a misdemeanor charge of communicating obscene materials to a person without consent.
If convicted, Greene could face up to three years in prison for the misdemeanor or up to five years for the felony.
In the wake of Greene's indictment, South Carolina Democrats have revived calls for the unlikely Senate nominee to terminate his campaign.
"In June, I asked Mr. Greene to withdraw his candidacy because of the charges against him," said Caroly Folwer, Chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, in a statement. "It will be impossible for Mr. Greene to address his legal issues and run a statewide campaign. The indictment renews concerns that Mr. Greene cannot represent the values of the Democratic Party or South Carolina voters."
President Barack Obama's endorsement of the "Ground Zero mosque" during a speech on Friday night spurred some hope among supporters that a forceful case could be made for both the project's constitutionality and its larger geopolitical impact.
That hope was short-lived. By Saturday, the president clarified that he was not speaking about the "wisdom" of the Islamic cultural center per se, just the right of the group to build the Cordoba House in downtown Manhattan.
And on Monday the highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate officially came out against construction of the mosque in its current location
"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," reads a statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office (D-Nev.). "Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else. If the Republicans are being sincere, they would help us pass this long overdue bill to help the first responders whose health and livelihoods have been devastated because of their bravery on 911, rather than continuing to block this much-needed legislation."
Combined, Obama's clarification and Reid's opposition represent a double dose of bad news for progressives and even Republicans who believed that a strong case could be made in favor of Cordoba House. If anything, it's clearer now than it was last week (when Democrats were mostly silent on the matter) how deeply the party just wants this entire issue to go away. Reid, after all, only issued the above statement after his Republican opponents began hitting him for going silent on the matter.
Tea Party-favored candidates have done well in several of the Senate primaries held around the nation so far this year. But as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, the way votes will be cast Tuesday in Washington state is likely to work against the candidate who has the most Tea Party support.
George Packer's recent New Yorker piece "The Empty Chamber - Just How Broken Is the Senate" leaves no doubt that our "most deliberative body" does barely any deliberating at all. Instead, it's a pathetic nest of nasty egotists, damn-the-facts party loyalties and take-no-prisoners special interests.
Just down the Conde Nast hallway at Vanity Fair, Todd Purdum answers the question "How Broken Is Washington?" in depressing detail, revealing the overwhelming obstacles the executive branch faces in trying to get anything done. (Factoid: The Chamber of Commerce's lobbying expenditures outstrip the entire congressional payroll.)
If you don't have time for Purdum's ten thousand words -- or would rather spend it reading Esquire's explosive Newt Gingrich profile, which nails that "family values" hypocrite via testimony from one of his ex-wives -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel gets to the core of Washington culture with one word: "Fucknutsville."
Meanwhile, the Judiciary furthered the ongoing dysfunction of its sister branches earlier this year when the Supremes, with characteristic 5-4 wisdom, gave corporations -- to which they'd previously conferred the status of human beings -- the right to spend unlimited funds on political campaigns. This makes the dominance of mega-bucks in future elections -- the root of all the other problems -- even tougher to transcend.
But lest the healthy anger of progressives during the Bush years curdle into full-blown, hide-under-the-covers depression, it's worth asking: When did Washington work, anyway?
Was it better during the 20th Century's two World Wars, Depression, Vietnam, Hoover, Harding, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, a succession of corrupt House Speakers and pork-obsessed Senators? Stacking the Supreme Court and picking candidates in smoke-filled rooms? And those Eisenhower '50s about which conservatives love to wax nostalgic? Please. Tens of thousands of Americans were killed in Korea; Joe McCarthy saw Communists under every rock; and violent homophobia, alcoholism and lynching were commonplace.
It would take far more than ten thousand words to describe the dysfunction of the 19th Century, when Constitutional crises, genocide of Native Americans, fraudulent elections, slavery, imperial wars and widespread poverty were the norm. Abe Lincoln may have been our greatest president -- and his administration a portrait in bipartisanship -- but while he was running things, the whole country was literally broken.
It's natural to be discouraged by Washington's impotence in dealing with such crises as deepening unemployment, the BP disaster in the Gulf and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. And many on the Left, Right and in between can point to trends that indicate America is on a severe downward track -- economically, politically and culturally -- for the first time in our history.
But it does no good to mourn an imagined golden past or indulge in "if only" future scenarios, in which something else -- something out there just over the horizon -- will make everything okay.
Politics is ugly, always has been and, in a country that endeavors to bring together so many ways of life and points of view, will continue to be. But the framers invented a government that would embody all the messy contradictions without threatening the collapse of the system.
Freud said that depression is anger turned inward. What's really dangerous is that the Right seems to have most of the anger these days, while the Left is left with the depression.
If despair makes liberals and progressives stay home instead of staying on Obama's case -- the system gives him plenty of unilateral power to, for instance, ratchet down our involvement in Afghanistan -- pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan shows that "in spite of the empirical record we continue to project into the future as if we were good at it."
This may seem negative, but it can also be a tonic, since it underscores the truism that the only thing we can be sure of is our inability to predict the miracles, disasters and surprises of the next moment, let alone the coming years and decades. (Gregg Easterbrook's 2007 New York Times review of the book notes the Washington Post's 2004 declaration that the demise of the cosmos would require 30 billion years. The paper wisely hedged its bet by adding, without irony, "It remains impossible to predict the fate of the universe with certainty.")
There's no getting away from it: Things look pretty horrible for the short term. But the long-term future is up for grabs. If the system seems hopelessly broken and you feel helpless to fix it right now, remember the old Crosby Stills Nash & Young tune Helplessly Hoping. I never knew what the hell the lyric meant, but I've always loved that title.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is out to make sure his presence pays for Democrats, launching a three-day fundraising trip on Monday in which he will touch nearly every region of the nation and play up his economic agenda.
Obama will spend the heart of his Monday in Wisconsin, raising money for gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett and other Wisconsin Democrats. Barrett was an early supporter of Obama's once long-shot White House bid.
He will cap his day at a glitzy fundraiser in Los Angeles for congressional Democratic candidates.
With Congress gone and much of Washington in vacation mode, Obama is squeezing in a largely political trip that foreshadows how he will campaign in the fall – aggressively, in places where is he wanted. Over three days, Obama will be raising dollars for Democrats in five states, from the Midwest to the West, Northwest to Northeast, South and back home.
The presidential agenda each day will underline Obama's efforts, supported mostly by Democrats in Congress, to turn around a lumbering economy by investing long-term in a new foundation. On Monday in Milwaukee, the president will speak at ZBB Energy Corp., a company that makes batteries and fuel cells that use renewable sources of energy.
By pairing official events with political ones, the White House can bill taxpayers for most of the cost of the trip.
President to all but leader of the Democratic Party, Obama has a political job description that demands he help elect lawmakers and state chief executives who support his agenda. And that often means showing up to support their campaigns.
"The president takes that role seriously," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "And we obviously are getting closer and closer to some very important elections."
In November, all 435 House seats, one-third of the Senate, and a majority of governor's and legislative jobs will be on the ballot. Democrats now control the House and Senate, but the ailing economy has turned voters against incumbents.
All together, Obama will visit Wisconsin, California, Washington, Ohio and Florida before returning to the nation's capital Wednesday night. Each stop involves tight races in states that could be vital to Obama himself in 2012.
What's the difference between mainstream Republican leaders and the Tea Party extremists that have been winning Republican primaries across the country?
The main difference is the willingness of the Tea Party gang to say what they believe out loud. This, of course, is driving Republican political consultants crazy. Republicans have never gotten elected by laying out to the voters the core components of their economic agenda. When they have been successful it has generally been by soft-pedaling or sugar-coating the things that mattered most to their corporate backers and playing instead to the fears and anxieties of their rank and file voters.
During his campaign for re-election in 2004, George Bush never uttered a word about his plan to privatize Social Security, cut guaranteed benefits and replace this massively popular retirement system with a risky investment scheme that allowed Wall Street to get its hands on the Social Security trust fund. But that was exactly his major policy initiative once he was re-elected.
In the 2000 election, Bush didn't focus his campaign on his plan to slash the portion of taxes paid by the wealthiest two percent of Americans and preside over a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich. And he certainly didn't explain the policy of pre-emptive war that resulted in the trillion dollar foreign policy disaster in Iraq.
Nor, of course, did Bush campaign on the pledge that he would take the long-term surplus in the federal budget he inherited from Clinton and turn it into more debt, during his term, than all of the Presidents before him in American history put together.
This year, the Republican establishment is not worried about the primary victories of Tea Party candidates because they will advocate "far out" extremists policies. Most of the Republican Party leadership agrees with those policies. The problem is that these candidates don't seem to have enough sense - or political experience -- to know that they're not supposed to go around talking about those policies before they're elected.
Take Ken Buck, the winner of the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Colorado. He has made it crystal clear that he simply does not believe in Social Security. In fact he said that Social Security is "horrible policy." According to Politico, Buck told a right-wing audience last spring that "I don't know that the federal government should be involved in a retirement plan," adding that the very idea of social insurance is "fundamentally against what I believe."
Now the actual content of this position is not really at variance with true Republican orthodoxy. The Republican Party opposed Social Security when it was founded seventy-five years ago, and fundamentally Republicans have never supported the notion the Government should be running a pension program. They believe in what President Bush referred to as the "ownership society." Basically that means that the "private market" should take care of things, and that if you're not tough enough or smart enough to make it by yourself, you're "on your own, buddy."
When it comes to Social Security, Republicans have been trying to privatize it and cut back benefits for three quarters of a century..
This year, they are particularly keen on taking action to cut back what they call this "entitlement" because they don't want the wealthy to have to take a hit when it comes to closing the long-term structural deficit that they created with their massive Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and two costly wars.
Republicans would much rather cut the pensions of middle class retirees - to whom Social Security pays the princely average of $14,000 per year -- than they would see tax rates for the rich go back to where they were during boom years of the Clinton Administration. That's because the Bush tax cuts for the rich saved each of the tiny number of taxpayers making over $1,000,000 per year over $100,000 per year in taxes. For the truly wealthy "masters of the universe" on Wall Street we're talking millions of dollars.
Who can blame them? I'm sure most voters would agree that it's more important to save millions for the guys who sunk the economy and still make $10 million dollar bonuses - rather than protect the income of $14,000 per year retirees. Actually, maybe not. And that's exactly why most seasoned Republican candidates keep their mouths shut about such things - but not the Tea Party gang.
Then there is Nevada Senate candidate Sharon Angle's support for the proposition that Medicare should be abolished and replaced with vouchers for private insurance. No worry that virtually every Medicare beneficiary you talk to loves the program -- and that almost everyone over 55 years old can't wait to qualify so that they no longer have to take their chances with ravenous private insurance companies.
Of course, like Social Security, Republicans have opposed Medicare from its very inception as well. In 1996, Bill Clinton ran commercials of an iconic speech by his opponent Bob Dole bragging about how "he was there, fighting against Medicare." And there was Newt Gingrich's famous pledge that Medicare should "wither on the vine." That makes it doubly absurd that Republicans campaigned against health care reform by repeating over and over the false claim that it would "cut Medicare." But truthfulness has never been endemic to the Republican approach to political debate.
In fairness there are some major, establishment Republican leaders who believe that they should actually argue the merits of their totally unpopular positions on issue like Social Security, Medicare and tax cuts for the rich. Congressman Paul Ryan, who would be Chairman of the House Budget Committee if the Republicans were to take back control of the House, has published a detailed "Roadmap" on how he would privatize Social Security and abolish Medicare and replace it with vouchers for private insurance. Much of that "roadmap" was actually included in the Republican budget alternative that Ryan convinced the Republicans to support last year. Now that vote has begun to come back to haunt some of the Members who would just as soon keep their economic views safely in the closet before the voters cast their ballots.
Over the next 90 days many Republicans may rue the day that they took that vote - or were seduced into believing that they could safely take the covers off their true views on Social Security, Medicare and tax breaks for the rich.
The problem is that many of those swing districts that they would so dearly like to win this fall have lots of senior voters. They had been counting on scaring those voters into supporting Republican candidates with visions of "death panels" and lies about health reform-induced cuts in Medicare. Many of those seniors don't like "government spending" - but by that they are definitely not referring to their Social Security or Medicare. They view both as social insurance - as programs they have paid into throughout their working lives in expectation that they would be entitled to the advertised benefits - the same way they would under any insurance plan. In focus groups the moment you tell these voters that Republicans support privatizing Social Security or replacing Medicare with vouchers for private insurance, Republican support plummets.
The public soundly rejected President Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security in 2005. You'd think that the experience of the stock market meltdown where millions of people saw their life's savings go up in smoke would be enough to convince even the most orthodox right-winger that it's a terrible idea to tie Social Security to the ups and downs of the stock market. But economic reality doesn't seem to break through the Republican's ideological and self-interest blinders.
Major Progressive organizations have launched a new coalition to press Members of Congress to defend Social Security and Medicare, and the issue has vaulted to the top of the issue agenda for Democratic candidates across the country. Democratic House Members conducted over 100 events to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of Social Security over the last weekend - and to pledge their opposition to privatizing Social Security or cutting its benefits. That includes commitments not to raise the retirement age - an idea that is just terrific for guys who fly around in corporate jets, but doesn't go over so well if you happen to haul bricks on construction sites or flip mattresses in hotel rooms for a living.
Americans United for Change - which was first organized to run the successful campaign to defeat Bush's 2005 attempt to privatize Social Security - has launched a major new initiative to stop the "Republican sneak attack on Social Security and Medicare."
The Republicans have a lot to worry about when it comes to these issues. Polls show that if the voters are talking about Social Security and Medicare on November 2nd, Republican fortunes will drop like a rock. In fact, these two issues are like kryptonite to Republican chances. That's why you'll see mainstream Republicans scramble like mad to downplay their true intentions - and change the subject over the weeks ahead. Republican Leader John Boehner - who completely supports Ryan's "Road Map" -- made the mistake several weeks ago of blurting out that he supported raising the Social Security retirement age to 70. Since then he has ducked and weaved when it comes to Social Security.
But the issue won't go away, and the Republican record is clear. Tea Party extremists who haven't learned yet to moderate their language - and earnest true believers like Paul Ryan who think they can convince America that what's bad for them is good for them - have complicated the Republican problem. But the real problem is that Republicans don't believe in Social Security and Medicare - and if the spotlight shines long enough on those subjects, their true colors will ultimately show through. It's up to us to make sure that it's not just a spotlight but a laser.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.
One thing is certain: the mosque will now be a hot issue in the midterm elections and a litmus test for candidates across the country. It would serve Obama right if he loses his House and Senate majorities over his support.There was a better way. It came from Gov. Paterson, whose offer to help the mosque developers find another location held the potential for a harmonious settlement.But without even a serious conversation, they rejected the offer, reinforcing suspicion that provocation to the memory of 9/11 is part of the developers' plan.