Everything A Moderate Republican Should Be
By William Neil
February 3, 2010 - 7:41pm ET
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February 3, 2010
EVERYTHING A MODERATE REPUBLICAN SHOULD BE
“‘Markets don’t just happen,’ (George) Romney declared with exasperation to the committee’s laissez-faire majority. Declaimed (Henry Cabot) Lodge: “‘No one in his right mind would today argue that there is no place for the federal government in the reawakening of America. Indeed, we need another Republican-sponsored Marshall Plan for our cities and schools.’” They received standing ovations from thirty members – and stony silence from the other seventy.”
Moderate Republicans testify before the Platform Committee,
Republican National Convention, 1964. From Rick Perlstein’s
Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the
Dear Citizens and Elected Officials:
We begin this post with a quotation and trip back to 1964, when “moderate” or “liberal” Republicans began their forced march to extinction, on their way to suffering the same fate as “rhinos” in the natural world. Today, some of their spirit lives on in “centrist” Democrats, like our current President. But if you ponder for more than a moment what Mitt Romney’s father and WASP archetype Henry Cabot Lodge said then, in 1964, it would place them outside the mainstream policy of most of the Democratic Party today – outside and to the “left,” at least as far as “urban Marshall Plans” go.
This little historical excursion was prompted not only by what President Obama said at the State of the Union address on January 27, but also his remarkable appearance before Republican congressional leaders in Baltimore two days later. Our President did himself no harm and probably much good in both performances, and for that, we should all be grateful. Yet behind the impressive tone and long-overdue rebukes to Republican Right obstructionism, and to the Supreme Court’s perfect illustration of what we meant by the Right’s “universal project” (in our January 11 essay) via their corporate $ campaign decision in Citizens United, there are still the structure and implications of the ideas the President put forth, and that will be the focus of what follows.
Let’s start with what the Congressional Budget Office had to say on the Tuesday before the State of the Union address. It had something to say about the size of the deficit and debt, certainly, but that’s not the most significant finding. Instead, here’s what caught our attention: “…the budget office forecast that the unemployment rate would remain at 10 percent through this year. That will keep Democrats on the defensive in a Congressional election year. But even by 2012, when Mr. Obama faces re-election, the jobless rate would be just below 9 percent…” (From “Obama, on Own, To Set up Panel on Nation’s Debt,” by Jackie Calmes, NY Times, Wednesday January 27, 2010, Page 1.) As readers can see from the title of this newspaper account, the President was scrambling to address the center and right, in both parties, and what he perceives to be the center of American public opinion on the budget situation. His pending Executive Order on that Commission, while an improvement over the defeated Conrad-Gregg amendment to bind Congress’s hands, and his proposal to freeze most of domestic spending starting in 2011, drew an angry response from the Left. Paul Krugman, writing on Wednesday morning before the big speech, declared “Obama Liquidates Himself…a spending freeze? It’s appalling on every level. It’s bad economics…It’s bad long-run fiscal policy…And it’s a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world-view…” (“The Conscience of a Liberal,” NY Times “blog.”).
You get the idea. Yet Krugman gave himself an out from this cry of despair: he hoped Obama was going to tie the spending freeze “to something that would actually help the economy, like an employment tax credit.” While Obama didn’t actually tie the two together, he does have plans for such a credit, and gave it added emphasis by his trip to a machine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Friday, January 29th, the same day he addressed the Republican leadership. The details of the $33 billion tax credit, for just one year, for small business job creation, can be found here in the NY Time’s article at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/30/business/smallbusiness/30small.html
Then, a few days later, Krugman realizes just what the Obama budget directions mean for the unemployed: “In essence, the administration is accepting mass unemployment as just one of those things we have to live with.” At http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/01/a-depressing-budget/
Now we hope the tax credit works, especially for those who need the jobs. But we have to voice our skepticism of the method, although the details are certainly better than the one proposed by Senators Charles Schumer and Orrin Hatch (the anti-labor, hard Right Senator from Utah) in their joint NY Times Op-Ed of January 26th, where the money was going to come from the Social Security trust, to be made up “with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget between now and 2015” - a policy proposal which is just a galling outrage, especially since Senator Hatch will be one of those pressing to cut SS benefits if he can get a handy mechanism to do it with. (Calling Schumer to protest did no good: after six or seven attempts and being directed to a machine which said the office was closed and please call between 9:00 and 5:00 – which was exactly when he was being calling – our conclusion is he doesn’t speak to non-New Yorkers, even as he dips into their retirement fund and seems to support “balanced budget” politics.
The fact that so many mainstream and even solidly liberal economists also think a tax credit is the best way to fight unemployment is troubling in its deeper implications. The tool, in fact, is designed to meet short term business hesitancy to hire, climbing up out of a “traditional recession,” not to meet the deeper and longer term structural shifts that underlie the changes in the nature of employment over the past 30 years, which we stressed in the recent essay Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Market. And the more one reads about how the tax credit works, the more it seems in reality to be tied to citizen sufferance upon “the mood” of the business recipients. Rather than actually creating greater demand for their goods and services, it tries to lure them to hire, hoping they can spot that demand on the horizon. The fact that so many observers didn’t buy the recently announced 5.7% jump in GDP growth rate for the fourth quarter of 2009 at its face value rests exactly upon this reality check: where will that consumer demand come from?
Republicans, both the congressional version and the preachers on Right radio have been blasting the stimulus bill – before - and since it was signed into law on February 17th, 2009, and from every conceivable angle – except the one that really matters: it was far too small, and due to Republican Right pressure, it did not spend enough to offset the deeply deflationary balanced budget slope of state governments, and spent far too much on tax cuts. Fortunately, we have an economist who can disperse the usual fog surrounding economic numbers to get to the essence of a problem, just like he did as early as 2002 in declaring a looming real estate price bubble, when very few could see one coming. So here is Dean Baker’s take on the stimulus and our calamitous “demand deficit,” which is the real “deficit” citizens ought to be focused on now:
The shortfall in annual demand for 2009 and 2010 was in the neighborhood of $1.3 trillion…The new package included only $700 billion in real stimulus money, less than $600 billion ($300 billion a year) of it to be paid out in the first two years. Taking into account that state and local governments were offsetting approximately half of this boost with budget cuts and tax increases needed to balance their budgets, the net stimulus from the government sector came to only about $150 billion a year, a bit more than one-tenth of what was needed to offset the demand lost due to the collapse of the housing bubble… (False Profits: Recovering from the Housing Bubble, pages 107-108. My Emphasis)
Economist Nouriel Roubini gets this. He told Bloomberg news that “more than half of the 5.7% expansion reported yesterday by the government was related to a replenishing of inventories and that consumption depended on monetary and fiscal stimulus. As these forces ebb, growth will slow to just 1.5% in the second half of 2010, he said… ‘I think we are in trouble.’” Here’s the link at:
(Editors note: We printed the Jan. 30th version of this article, which was less than one-half a page long. When we went, just one day later, to create this link, the story had grown to over a page and other commentators were added, some directly disagreeing with Roubini, which is fine. But it seems like someone at headquarters at Bloomberg may not have liked “Dr. Doom” getting back to his old bearish ways – no matter how much on target he has been. Bad for morale, it would seem. But who knows what really happened here?)
Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich also gets this: “…businesses won’t begin to create lots of jobs until they have lots of customers. And that won’t happen until lots more Americans have work. The only way to get them work when businesses aren’t hiring is for government to prime the pump.” Reich also emphasized the President’s role as “educator in chief.” And as chief economic educator, the President is simply not doing his job, “the debate is framed all wrong.” What Reich means is that President Obama is treating federal deficit spending as if it were analogous to careless household over-spending, which every Keynesian student knows is flat out wrong. The President is wrong twice over: calling for a three year federal domestic spending freeze and a deficit Commission: “In fact, it’s precisely because families have to pull in their belts that the federal government has to let its belt out.” At http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-reich/obama-needs-to-teach-the_b_44...
The question after the spectacular upset in the Massachusetts special senate election on January 19 is: which way will the President turn, left or right? Thomas Frank, writing in the Wall Street Journal on January 26th, takes note of the Beltway’s punditry urging a rightward turn (so what did you expect?) but cites polling data from Massachusetts indicating that working class voters and independents were sending a turn left signal, which Frank said should be directed towards Wall Street. (See his “Centrism Died in Massachusetts: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870390620457502748421024803...)
Obama seems to be obliging a bit with his sudden call for tougher financial regulations and his returning former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to a place of prominence at the Presidential ear. And he also, in his State of the Union Address, called for slashing the tax breaks which facilitate the offshoring of American jobs. Yet the overall framing of economic policy in this speech is clearly Center-Right, not left. He chided Republicans for not applauding his tax cuts from the past year: he repeated “tax cuts” six times as he worked his way through the different programs. He reminded everyone that “the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America’s businesses. But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.” If one steps back and looks at US economic history over more than two centuries, this is true. But there are times when private sector markets break down so completely that something much greater is called for from government. The 1930’s was one time, and 2010-2015 is now another.
And there are those of us who feel that something much more profound is under way in our particular era: the permanent devaluation of employment due to both ideological directions in public policy and structural changes in the nature of work, which include a dramatic increase in labor-replacing technology on a scope we have never seen before, as well as greater opportunities to outsource jobs. This is happening at the same time that there is a crisis in public revenue, as we have told our readers about in previous editions, which historian Tony Judt has likened to the crisis in 18th century French society. Simultaneously, and with a great deal of hypocrisy on the Right (and the Center), we have escalated our greatest disguised national public works program: national defense spending. Domestic infrastructure spending? Environmental restoration and alternative energy technology? Energy efficiency measures for buildings and residences? They get little gestures, but not the sweep and scope of the national defense spending, against enemies both real – and imagined.
The President holds out – on the distant horizon – good goals related to these little gestures – but then he lays out his true compass bearing: “But understand – understand if we don’t take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets…” We deliberately cut off his listing of damages because we don’t want to reinforce his bad economic advice, at least for the short and mid-term – five years out or so, maybe longer, depending on what else he does and how the economy responds. He needs a far more ambitious domestic Keynesian program, not foreign wars of his choosing, over the next five years. He can reassure the conservative budget balancing market god by noting that long term national debt is a factor that must and will be dealt with - in the proper time frame – but not now so as to strangle demand creation. To be blunt: even though the domestic spending freeze won’t kick in until 2011, his own budget data shows where we – and he - will be in 2012: 9% unemployment…and the Congress is stepping in with pay-go…so whatever gestures he’s making on job creation – everything but direct job creation – he’s canceling out the stimulus with his contradictory budget politics. This is a dangerous mistake. (Very shortly, below, we’ll see a very different take on the realities and unrealities of “balancing the budget.”)
And as for the depth of the anti-Wall Street “populist” directions? It was hard to miss the Presidential embrace for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was near the front row as a Cabinet member on State of the Union night, the same day he was grilled on AIG conflicts by a congressional panel. Readers who heard President Obama state that “we should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities – and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient, which supports clean energy jobs” – should compare the treatment “Green Collar Jobs” advocate Van Jones got (instant banishment) in the summer of 2009, when the Republican Right called for his head – to that warm endorsement for Geithner as the left and right call for his.
So we watched with additional interest the President’s artful performance in front of the Republican caucus in Baltimore on January, 29th, looking for further clues as to where he might come to alight on the slippery political spectrum when confronted, face to face, with the ideologues of the Right’s universal project. President Obama exclaimed at one point, and repeated the message – “I’m no ideologue” and indeed, he means it. But neither was FDR, Mr. President, and yet he delivered far more in the way of lasting contributions from public jobs – the WPA, PWA and the Civilian Conservation Corps and he gave the Right of his day far sterner admonitions than you have – even while sharing some of the same policy contradictions stemming from deficit fears – just revisit what happened in 1937. While we can applaud your courage and fine performance in front of your antagonists, we fear for your expectations of cooperation, and what you might give away in your attempt to chase that mirage-like middle ground of compromise with these – well – ideologues. (And we will conclude this little essay with more thoughts on “ideologues.”)
Just in case you haven’t heard them yet, Thomas Frank had some wise words on negotiating with the Republican Right: “Last year’s dream of bi-partisanship was an attractive one, but it should be clear to you by now that you will never win over the GOP…try to remember that, for the most part, they are not your friends…many of them took the financial crisis as a signal to dedicate themselves even more wholeheartedly to the laissez-faire superstition. You cannot appease these zealots. No one can.”
So you shouldn’t beat your head against the wall trying. Instead, we have some suggestions for you that would be good policy, good populist politics, raise revenue, and expose the Right for the obstructionist ideologues that they genuinely are. They are also “educational” in nature and potential. The first measure we introduced in our “Helping Haiti by Taxing Speculators” post of January 20th, the call for a Financial Transactions Tax, an international one, we believe would be best, and still raise $150 billion for the U.S. The second is for you to publicly endorse and campaign for Senator Carl Levin’s “Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act,” S-506, with its House companion bill, H.R. 1265, which has 67 sponsors already, including Representatives Edwards, Cummings and Van Hollen from Maryland. Just so we are clear about the mission here, Senator Levin is talking about places like Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man, and the Cayman Islands, with its infamous Ugland House (so aptly named), where half of the 18,800 registered corporations have a billing address in the U.S., but were not actual occupants of this magical structure. According to the work done by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, these tax havens and offshore shelters are costing our treasury – and the average tax payer - more than $100 billion a year: $40-70 billion from evading individuals, and $30-60 billion from canny corporations. To flesh this out for you a bit more, here’s a selection from the Senator’s Statement (Part I):
In January of 2009, Senator Dorgan and I released a report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) which shows that out of the 100 largest U.S. publicly traded corporations, 83 have subsidiaries in the tax havens. Of the 100 largest federal contractors, 63 have tax haven subsidiaries. Using data from their corporate filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, GAO listed the number of tax haven subsidiaries for each of these corporations…Morgan Stanley has 273…while Citigroup has 427, with 90 in the Cayman Islands alone. News Corp. has 152, while Procter and Gamble has 83, Pfizer has 80, Oracle has 77, and Marathon Oil has 76. My subcommittee is currently engaged in an effort to understand why so many of these corporations have so many tax haven affiliates. To do that we are going to have to battle secrecy laws in 50 different jurisdictions.
Because we believe in a fair distribution of the burdens for backing this measure, we have already asked Maryland Senators Benjamin Cardin and Barbara Mikulski why they’re not on Senator Levin’s bill, S-506 (Email question, January 31st.) Once again, that old Congressional Switchboard Number is 202-224-3121. We’re certain that our two Senators will be delighted to learn about these issues, because they couldn’t possibly be for “hardworking Maryland families” and support speculators and wealthy tax haven seekers at the same time, could they? After all, when he was still a Senator, President Obama himself supported an earlier version of Levin’s current bill as did a certain Representative from Illinois named Rahm Emanuel. That’s all the more reason to ask why they have let them slip from the agenda, and the public’s attention.
So, combine closing tax havens with a Financial Transactions Tax, and you’re talking about more than $200 billion in annual revenue, which is one way of being fair to the average citizen and addressing deficits without resorting to premature Commissions which are advocated by those most interested in cutting Social Security. And perhaps, President Obama, you could ask your Secretary of the Treasury, once again, what he thinks of these proposals – before giving him a push out the door after he tells you he doesn’t support either one.
There’s one more request we have of President Obama, seemingly now lost in his balanced budget and pay-go political strategies, hoping that the public will not notice the ratification of mass unemployment that these policies imply and that the Congressional Budget Office laid out in its pre-State of the Union statistics, as we noted above. And that would be to call for a modern, updated version of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the famous and popular “CCC” from the New Deal, one of the first programs FDR launched, and one of the last to go under as World War II reworked the domestic policy landscape. It is one of the great wonders of the current political landscape that with the enormous scope and budgets of the combined national, state and local conservation groups – a vast non-profit infrastructure that hardly existed in the 1930’s – there seems to be total silence on this obvious response to mass unemployment, neglect of sewer, water and park infrastructure, and the crying need to scale up the energy efficiency renovations for more than 100 million office buildings and homes.
Rather than the military-supervised operations of the old CCC – which was a joint venture with the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Labor Department and the military, a new CCC would rely on federal funding (and possibly state and non-profit contributions as well) and the private non-profit world for its administrative and supervisory functions, and for many of the projects. The best way to imagine this on the ground is to consider the needs for the states of the immediate Chesapeake Bay watershed. One would think with all the heartbreak over the failed Bay clean-up over the years, which we have documented (see Where Wall Street Drains into the Bay, Feb. 4, 2009), that a CCC would be on the policy lips of everyone who wants to work on the Bay and fight Global Warming, because the two causes meet easily in the project of “planting trees-increasing forest cover,” the only questions being where and what to plant. Ditto for reducing energy consumption through efficiency renovations. Because the Bay and its needs and its surrounding land-uses are some of the most studied environmental problems ever, it shouldn’t take more than a month to pull together what Maryland’s state conservation departments and the federal EPA have already mapped and highlighted. And we hope the folks over at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation are also reading this, because we’re sure they have their wish lists for more ambitious programs.
Editors Note: We had no sooner written the above section than someone tipped us off that Delegate Maggie Macintosh and Senate President Mike Miller have a bill, S-311, calling for a “Chesapeake Conservation Corps.” After giving it two reads, our conclusion is that it’s not a jobs bill, although indirectly it will create some; it is more like the federal AmeriCorps service form, a domestic environmental version of the Peace Corps but with a heavy emphasis on “stipend paid volunteers.” And it’s not clear what the enrollees and trainees will be paid. The bill is oriented towards youth and training, which is fine, it’s just not a jobs bill in the way that we need and that the CCC was. The “elderly” are pushed towards volunteer work: guess things are going so swimmingly in Maryland that they don’t need jobs. Funny how many we saw turn out at a jobs fair for older workers (civilian surplus?) right here in economic Utopia - Montgomery County. And that was before the economic crisis. Saddest sight we’ve seen at the job fairs we’ve attended. We’re more than happy to be corrected on this, and won’t oppose the bill, and it could work with our call for a national CCC, which follows below. The funding mechanism in this bill – whatever the real intent – looks to be the kiss of death: an electric surcharge on consumer’s bills….ironic because one of the listed “project goals” would be energy efficiency aimed at reducing those same bills (!).
So for once, why don’t we raise the bar for endorsing gubernatorial candidates, and call upon Governor O’Malley not only to endorse a CCC at the national level, but to issue the orders for the preliminary state and local watershed and energy conservation projects that need to be carried out. That shouldn’t need any new state funding, but getting the state primed and ready for federal funding is crucial to overall success. But of course, it sure helps if the Governor appreciates that the unemployment crisis and the environmental needs aren’t going to be contained to just the next two years: they’re going to be part of the local and national landscape for decades. And while we are raising this employment and environmental bar, let’s ask him to endorse the Financial Transactions Tax and the “Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act” which will help pay for the new CCC program. And, since our readers know that we are the truest of true “bi-partisans,” avidly supporting “moderate or liberal” Republicans whenever we can locate them, let’s pose these challenges to whomever is Governor O’Malley’s opponent.
Our sense that the time is right to call for a CCC again was prompted in part by a press release that came from the Maryland Governor’s office, dated January 26, 2010. It was about the creation of 200 new jobs at General Motor’s Powertrain Plant near Baltimore, where the company will be producing new “electric motors and related electric drive components.” This was good news, naturally, as can be seen from the headline in the release, with Governor O’Malley, Senators Cardin and Mikulski, Rep. Ruppersberger and Baltimore County Ex. Jim Smith all crowding in for a bit of the credit. The early part of the release tells us that GM itself is investing $129 million for the expansion, but the reader who goes a bit further into the release finds out something which complicates this picture – just a bit. And that would be that taxpayers are also contributing – and no small change either: $115.6 million, to be precise, nearly as much as GM. The public share comes from a $105 million grant from the US Dept. of Energy (stimulus $? It’s not clear.), $3 million from Maryland Economic Development funds, $1.5 from the Maryland Dept. of Labor, $6 million from Baltimore County and another $150,000 from the county’s Training grant fund. All’s that missing is a donation from the local Kiwanis Club. So the total cost for creating 200 new jobs is $244,000,000 in public and private investments, roughly $1.2 million per job.
So what if we just took the public share of that, $115,600,000, and did direct job creation, via Civilian Conservation Corps jobs which paid $30,000 per year? Some rough math says that you could get about 3,850 jobs for that amount. Naturally, there is an administrative and start up price that goes with job creation, so it costs more than $30,000 per job if that’s the intended salary range, and we think it should be in that vicinity. However, that’s the point in our little excursion on how a Civilian Conservation Corps might work today, in 2010. Unlike the New Deal’s CCC, which in September of 1935 had 502,000 men enrolled in 2,514 camps, (From Robert D. Leighninger Jr.’s Long-Range Public Investment:The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal) a lot of the overhead cost of an updated version is going to be eliminated because of the already existing public environmental programs and their comparable structures at the non-profit organizations. Not all, to be sure, but a lot. And the more ground work that is done in advance of the national funding, planning ahead, in other words, the lower the costs of operation when it gets up and running – just as soon as our political leaders decide that mass unemployment isn’t as good for their futures as their present budget balancing inclinations.
What’s that you say, that budget balancing is going to win out? May we remind our readers of a line of reasoning from a book we’ve frequently mentioned, James K. Galbraith’s The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too. It has a chapter, the fifth, entitled “The Impossible Dream of Budget Balance.” Now how could that be, an Impossible Dream? Well, if our readers only listen to the center-right dialogue then they wouldn’t be aware of the ideas laid out in Galbraith’s concluding paragraph from that chapter:
…balancing the budget is a mission impossible and a fool’s errand. For practical purposes, the realized budget deficit no longer depends on federal budget policy decisions, but rather on international trade and the financial position of the private sector. So long as American foreign trade remains in a permanent state of deficit – which it has to do, so long as a growing and unstable world economy requires dollar reserves – the federal budget deficit is basically permanent. Policymakers and pundits can say what they like about budget deficits. Nothing sustainable can or will or even should be done about them, except through a change in the world’s financial system. That may come eventually. It may, for that matter, be in its early stages at this writing. (Editor’s Note: published in 2008, pre-financial crisis) But whatever the future holds, it is in the global financial system, and not in the hall of Congress, that the future fiscal balance of the U.S. government – and whether it really matters to the well-being of Americans – will be decided. (The Predator State, page 64.)
Please note that’s a very different take on budget deficits, than say, for example, Peter Peterson and the crew over at the Washington Post have been pushing, isn’t it? Galbraith is getting at the deeper realities of the budget deficits, the ones that existed prior to the money spent to bail out Wall Street and to keep demand up after the collapse of the private sector. Americans have to make a choice, and Galbraith is supplying the unconventional wisdom, just like Keynes did in the 1930’s, to illuminate that choice: we need sustained investments in public and private job creation if we are to save, and improve our economy from the trajectory it is still on, and we can’t do that if we make balancing the budget the immediate, or even the medium term objective of public policy. Of course that’s what Obama holds up in lofty long-term goals, but he can’t supply the scope necessary in the short, medium or long-term if he is juggling those goals with budget balancing in the currents terms put forth by the Right and the Center of the spectrum.
So, given the fact that most state laws require state budgets to be balanced, how is the Progressive community in Maryland reacting to these stringencies? The answer is that they’re forced to pursue policies and strategies that don’t cost much, if any, money. So the Progressive Working Group (PWG), a coalition of 24 groups and allies which grew out of the Takoma Park-based Progressive Neighbors organization and now has spread to Prince Georges, Baltimore, Howard counties, and Baltimore City, has come up with an agenda for Annapolis in 2010: to give the average citizen and reforming groups more equal “standing” with the professional lobbyists (see H.B. 344 below); for public financing of campaigns, and for greater financial accountability for corporations who try to evade their fair share of state taxes (combined reporting). Wally Malakoff, of Progressive Neighbors and PWG, has been crucial in getting these coalition efforts off the ground. Mike Hersh also has also been a tireless organizer and supporter of the PWG, which aims to get as many different progressive organizations as possible to work together on a jointly selected Annapolis agenda each year. Mike maintains two blogs for the organizations, and you can stay up-to-date with the issues and legislative bills at:
Thanks also to Sharon Dooley, Norm Oslik, Dana Beyer and Mike Tabor for their extended efforts on behalf of PWG.
Another good way for citizens to stay abreast of progressive causes in Annapolis is to sign up for the information updates put out by Common Cause of Maryland, headed by Ryan O’Donnell, who’s doing a great job with limited resources, especially on campaign finance reform. Drop him an Email to get on the list at email@example.com
Among the fastest out of the gate in 2010 for progressive bills is Delegate Heather Mizeur’s “Maryland Open Government Act,” House Bill 344 (details at http://mlis.state.md.us/2010rs/billfile/HB0344.htm ), which seems to have caught the legislature in a mood of “populist anxiety,” as it now seems anxious to make it easier for citizens to follow the legislative maze – after so many decades of making the maze so intricate that only the best positioned professional followers (that’s a euphemism for lobbyists) had the real inside track on what was coming up and when. Progressive working group members Luis Zapata and Shelley Fudge have done impressive work with their MD TEAG Coalition (Maryland Transparency and Equal Access in Government Coalition); you can get in touch with them via MDTEAG@gmail.com .
Readers who want to hear how Maryland and Montgomery County are coping with the national financial crisis and its fallout on our budgets are welcome to come to a briefing at the Wheaton Library, first floor large meeting room, 11701 Georgia Avenue, Wheaton, MD 20902 at 1:30-3:30 pm on Sunday, February 7th. Confirmed panelists are Delegates Brian Feldman, Sheila Hixson and Roger Manno; County Council President Nancy Floreen and School Board President Pat O’Neill. The event is being sponsored by the Greater Silver Spring Democratic Club and the Montgomery County Progressive Alliance. For further info, contact Mike Hersh of MCPA at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mark Woodard of the GSSDC at email@example.com
And last, but not least, a word about the Supreme Court decision in the Citizen’s United vs. Federal Election Commission case, decided on January 21, 2010, and which will have national and state ramifications for everyone concerned about their ability to be heard in the political arena. Here is the direct link to the 168 page decision at
We had the pleasure of listening to a conference call, along with hundreds of worried citizens, sponsored by People for the American Way (PFAW) the very next day after the decision. Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin gave all the listeners a masterful overview of how an aggressive court went out of its way to render a broad, sweeping decision when it had other sound, narrower grounds to rule in favor of this particular defendant and still preserve precedents. There are a range of legal and legislative corrective options now set in motion, everything from a constitutional amendment distinguishing between corporate and citizen rights under the first amendment to legislative changes in the definition of corruption and or corporate “personhood,” to measures that would require corporate shareholders to approve of political campaign spending. While this is not the time or place to go into the details of the options, we did want to say a few words about how we arrived at this place in legal and political history.
Our readers are by now familiar with our emphasis on the rise of the Republican Right over the past 30-40 years as another example of one of history’s grand “universal projects” to remake all of society in conformity with a stark ideological template. An important part of that project is to convince citizens that they no longer have a friend in government, that the private marketplace dominated by entrepreneurs and corporations will be much better for them in the long run than what they received under FDR and the New Deal, for example. (And which, by the way, still had plenty of corporations and entrepreneurs; they just had some new unions to share the workload with.) Most Americans don’t realize how, in the early days of our Republic, corporations were given public charters by state governments for the carrying out of specific public purposes, and were, in brief, given limited life and rights by the very government which is now denounced for standing in their way. Professor Raskin is entirely correct to portray the situation, as he did in his comments for PFAW, as the creation turning against its creator, with private corporate power now able to reach into its deep corporate treasuries to spend unlimited amounts in campaign ads for or against specific candidates – especially ones that might want government to return to its earlier and limited visions of what powers corporations might properly exercise. The irony of conservative courts handling this under the category of “free speech” for the very entities which so dramatically, and in so many other ways have worked successfully to legally limit the expression of speech by their very own employees once they step inside the corporate doorway, or even so much as consider forming the word “Union” upon their lips – becomes too much to bear. If you need some convincing on this aspect, just do a little Googling on “Wal-Mart and Home Depot & Union Attitudes” to see exactly what we mean.
Just four days after the court reached its expansive reinterpretation of the relation between money, politics and corporate power, we learned a little more about who was paving the path to the decision. On January 25, The New York Times ran an insightful article on long-time conservative legal activist James Bopp, Jr., who, we learn, was the one who first advised “Citizens United” to use the fate of its film about Hillary Clinton as “a deliberate test of the limits on corporation political spending.” It was no impulsive lark of a cause for Bopp, however: “‘We had a 10-year plan to take all this down…and if we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance reform.’” He is also “a veteran member of the Republican National Committee,” and a “leader of a movement to deny party support to any candidate who fails to affirm at least 8 of 10 principles…” Readers of the essay Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Market would not be surprised to learn that Mr. Bopp, at the age of 29, became the first general counsel of the Indiana Chapter of the National Right to Life Committee, having been introduced to the chapter by famous conservative M. Stanton Evans, a logical progression for an Indiana University undergrad who also served as the head of its Young Americans for Freedom chapter. But here’s the thing about that logical progression: how do you go from a defender of the obviously defenseless and innocent fetus to the cause of defending the …most powerful and wealthy private legal entities that the world has ever seen: the modern business corporation? The very incongruity of this progression, does however, get right at the nature of the world’s strangest political alliance, the one between the religious fundamentalists and the market fundamentalists that make up the Republican Right.
And that leads directly to the question of what it means to be an “ideologue.” President Obama says he is not one – of the left, that is - despite his portrayal as such by rabid Right radio and its allies in the Republican Party. Robert Kuttner didn’t like this denial by the President, though undoubtedly the President is correct, he is not one. Here’s how Kuttner responded on the Huffington Post on January 31, 2010 to the President’s walking into the lion’s den gathered in Baltimore on Friday, January 29th:
You’re not? Then why bother? Ideology is not some arbitrary penchant for clinging to stale ideas. It is a principled set of beliefs about how the economy and society work, and should work. To be a conservative Republican is to believe that markets work just fine, people mostly get what they deserve, and government typically screws things up. To be a liberal Democrat is to believe that market forces are often cruel and inefficient; that the powerful take advantage of the powerless; and that there are whole areas of economic life, from health care to regulation of finance, where affirmative government is the only way to deliver defensible outcomes for regular people. That’s an ideology, one that progressives are proud to embrace. So why does Obama think it virtuous to disclaim ideology in general? The problem afflicting America is not ‘ideology.’ It’s the hegemony of rightwing ideology. And given presidential leadership, most working Americans – most voters – identify with the progressive view of how the world works, especially in an era where conservative ideology has produced financial collapse. At
We think that’s a good way to leave the situation as we find it on February 3, 2010.
Until the next post, the very best to our readers.
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