Tea Party & the Auto Bailout

Duncan Black:

While our liberal media coddled and adored them, the truth was that the Tea Party never actually had anything to be angry about. Obama didn’t take their guns, or raise their taxes, or give free Cadillacs to strapping young bucks. He did continue to be black, so there’s that I guess. They couldn’t be mad at the Wall Street bailout, because that’s who was funding them. The only thing that kinda sorta made ideological sense was the auto bailout. So that became their thing.

Duncan’s link goes to a post at Media Matters by Eric Boehlert around rightwing hatred of the auto bailout and the electoral consequences of it for Mitt Romney.

There is something really bizarre about the frontal assault on the auto bailout from the right. It’s one of the most tangible and consequentially good moves of the Obama administration. Unlike the healthcare bill, it’s something that is fully realized today.

The Arguments Against Obama

As we approach the presidential election, there has been a new flurry of articles from radical and progressive leftwing writers on why not to vote for Obama, from various particular frameworks.

Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic had already been the focus of much of the earlier phases of this debate when he, a libertarian, identified lines in the sand that he viewed Obama as crossing regarding the President’s bombing campaign in Pakistan, his authorization of extrajudicial killing of American citizens, and his decision to wage a war in Libya without Congressional approval.

Over the weekend, Matt Stoller offered up a progressive case against Obama, a thorough and thoughtful look at the reasons, particularly in economic and housing policies, not to vote for the President. Stoller identifies the ways in which Obama has created a less equal society and solidified power in the hands of elites. Much of this critique is not new to Stoller, but this is piece is a comprehensive assembly of different threads of criticism into one larger argument.

Stoller’s piece relied in part on the arguments of philosopher and feminist Falguni Sheth, who argues against Obama from a framework built around criticism of his failures for women of color both in the US and around the world. This is an expressly more expansive framework of criticism than the often deployed one in defense of Democrats regarding the importance of the Supreme Court to protect reproductive rights.

Chris Hedges provides an argument for why he is voting Green that is also worth reading. He relies heavily on the statements and positions of Green Party candidate Jill Stein, as well as highlights the importance third parties have played in driving progressive political and social change movements in American history.

What should be clear to any thinking citizen is that there are ample reasons to decide to not vote for President Obama, just as there are even more reasons to not vote for Mitt Romney. The people making these arguments against Obama are doing so in good faith and opening themselves to massive amounts of criticism in doing so.

It’s unfortunate that the recent history in America includes Al Gore’s loss in 2000 – something many people have blamed on Ralph Nader. For a country that strongly favors narratives of personal responsibility, I’ve always found this fairly bizarre. But nonetheless, the debacle of 2000 is commonly viewed as a case against citizens voting for the politician they most agree with and instead limiting themselves to choosing one of the two major parties. The 2000 election and the conventional wisdom which emerged from it is undoubtedly poisoning much of the discourse offered by critics listed above (and others) about what the American left should do with their vote in this election.

Voting is a moral act. The vote you cast represents the normative view you have of our country. With your vote you will that your fellow citizens vote the same way. In my view you have zero obligation to vote for someone you don’t support. Given the way our electoral college makes all but a small handful of states competitive, I think this is especially true if you are in a non-swing state.

There are plenty of arguments to vote for President Obama and plenty of arguments that weigh heavily on electoral game theory for strength. But there are also strong, coherent, good faith arguments for progressives, radicals, liberals and even Democrats to note vote for President Obama. I really wish the public space was capable of handling these facts in an honest and forthright way, as they are fundamentally debates about who we are and what we believe in. Sadly, when I see the vitriol leveled at critics like Stoller, Friedersdorf, or Glenn Greenwald, I don’t think such a debate is too likely to happen in earnest. The meaning of these criticisms is too great and looking at them honestly is too hard for many people.

Taibbi on Obama & TBTF

Matt Taibbi responds to President Obama’s criticism of Rolling Stone’s coverage of his accomplishments, or lack there of, in passing effective financial reform. Specifically Taibbi goes after Obama for not addressing the problem of Too Big To Fail banks in an adequate way. He concludes:

The sum total of all of this is that Obama didn’t really do anything to alleviate the dangers of Too-Big-To-Fail. If anything, we now live in a world that is more concentrated and dangerous than it was before 2008. TBTF companies like Chase and Wells Fargo and Bank of America are even bigger and less-able-to-fail-ier than they were when he took office. This is why Obama’s answer to our interview question is so disappointing. If I’m understanding the president correctly, he basically says he doesn’t think Glass-Steagall should be re-instated, and beyond that, he just thinks Wall Street needs to self-regulate better.

That’s a pretty depressing take, at a time when even Sandy Weill – the bellicose Wall Street braggart who willed the now-infamous Citigroup merger into being and was a driving force behind Glass-Steagall – thinks that Too-Big-To-Fail companies should be broken up. The only hope we really have to fix many of these problems is to do just that, and we will need the chief executive’s help there. But President Obama apparently still isn’t willing to take that step, which is really too bad.

Dean Baker on Social Security

Dean Baker’s piece in The Guardian on the politics and economics of Social Security is must-read.

The story here is a simple one: while social security may enjoy overwhelming support across the political spectrum, it does not poll nearly as well among the wealthy people – who finance political campaigns and own major news outlets. The predominant philosophy among this group is that a dollar in a workers’ pocket is a dollar that could be in a rich person’s pocket – and these people see social security putting lots of dollars in the pockets of people who are not rich.

For this reason, a candidate who comes out for protecting social security can expect to see a hit to their campaign contributions. They also can anticipate being beaten up in both the opinion and news sections of major media outlets. While, in principle, these are supposed to be kept strictly separate, the owners and/or top management of most news outlets feel no qualms about removing this separation when it comes to social security – and using news space to attack those who defend social security.

This is the fundamental economics of social security that explains why it has not figured more prominently in the presidential race. If President Obama were to rise in defense of the program, he could count on losing the financial backing of many supporters. He would also get beaten up by the Washington Post and other major news outlets for challenging their agenda.

Earlier in the piece Baker notes that in the first debate President Obama said that he and Mitt Romney have essentially the same position on Social Security. Baker notes that Romney’s position is to have major cuts to Social Security, so this isn’t an admission which amounts to taking the issue off the table, but in fact means there is dangerous consensus to cut Social Security.

Baker’s arguments, quoted above, imply that were it not for the wealth of anti-Social Security donors to political campaigns, President Obama would hold a different position on Social Security. I’m not sure that evidence of this exists. All we know from the President is that he and Romney are in essential agreement when it comes to Social Security. We do not know if this is a craven position driven by the need for re-election cash or if it’s a deeply held belief that coincidentally aligns with his rich donors.


Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic on Robert Gibbs’ defense of the unjustifiable killing of a teenage American citizen by a drone strike.

note that this kid wasn’t killed in the same drone strike as his father. He was hit by a drone strike elsewhere, and by the time he was killed, his father had already been dead for two weeks. Gibbs nevertheless defends the strike, not by arguing that the kid was a threat, or that killing him was an accident, but by saying that his late father irresponsibly joined al Qaeda terrorists. Killing an American citizen without due process on that logic ought to be grounds for impeachment. Is that the real answer? Or would the Obama Administration like to clarify its reasoning? Any Congress that respected its oversight responsibilities would get to the bottom of this.

There are a lot of arguments to be made about how both the Bush and Obama administrations have waged a war against radical Islamic terrorists. But the idea that there is any justification, legal or moral, for the murder of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a sixteen year-old American citizen without any due process is simply outrageous. This was unjustifiable and it is one of the darkest stains on the Obama presidency.

Obama’s horrific coal attacks

President Barack Obama, in last night’s second presidential debate:

And when I hear Governor Romney say he’s a big coal guy, I mean, keep in mind, when — Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, “This plant kills,” and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you’re a big champion of coal.

So what I’ve tried to do is be consistent. With respect to something like coal, we made the largest investment in clean coal technology, to make sure that even as we’re producing more coal, we’re producing it cleaner and smarter. Same thing with oil, same thing with natural gas.

It was jarring to see President Obama attack Romney for saying true things about coal, particularly when those things are the same sorts of things environmentalists in the Democratic Party have been saying for years. It literally made my stomach turn when the President launched this attack.

This is not the first time the President has launched this attack on Romney for previously correctly noting that burning coal kills people. His campaign has had an ad up in coal country hitting Romney along for exactly the same statements:

Prior to this, the Obama campaign had run a similar radio ad in Ohio.

By way of disclosure, the organization I work for, Citizen Engagement Lab, works with an anti-climate denial project called Forecast the Facts. I consult on some of their campaigns, including one which called on Obama For America to remove this cynical television ad. That said, this post is my own and does not represent the opinions CEL nor Forecast the Facts.

The most charitable defense of Obama is that he is merely calling out Romney’s changing of positions from someone who recognized that burning coal kills people to someone who denies that burning fossil fuels cause climate change. It certainly is sad that Romney has walked away from a true position from nine years ago.

And though he’s hardly made it an issue in this campaign, the President has made moves to reduce coal pollution. But when he’s attacking Romney for being critical of coal, it’s about being hawkish in Obama’s pursuit of fossil fuel votes in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. That he does this while not mentioning the danger of climate change even once last night is all the worse. Not only has the President staked a position where being critical of coal is meant to be a liability in 2012, he didn’t make a single energy policy argument that had to do with anything other than jobs and cheap energy prices.

Here’s more of the President’s words last night on energy policy:

Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment. But what I’ve also said is we can’t just produce traditional source of energy. We’ve also got to look to the future. That’s why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars. That means that in the middle of the next decade, any car you buy, you’re going to end up going twice as far on a gallon of gas. That’s why we doubled clean — clean energy production like wind and solar and biofuels.

And all these things have contributed to us lowering our oil imports to the lowest levels in 16 years. Now, I want to build on that. And that means, yes, we still continue to open up new areas for drilling. We continue to make it a priority for us to go after natural gas. We’ve got potentially 600,000 jobs and 100 years worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas.

And we can do it in an environmentally sound way. But we’ve also got to continue to figure out how we have efficiency energy, because ultimately that’s how we’re going to reduce demand and that’s what’s going to keep gas prices lower.

This summer, Bill McKibben had a seminal article in Rolling Stone noting that global consensus is that we cannot let the temperature rise more than 2 degrees Celsius if we want to stop catastrophic climate change. The problem, per McKibben, is that the amount of fossil fuels it will take to raise it 2 degrees is only 20% of the known fossil fuel resources on the planet. Energy companies already know where these fuels are and have plans to extract them and make trillions of dollars in the process. The result is we need to immediately change our fossil fuel consumption patterns to avoid blowing through this destructive mile marker — and this change has to happen in the face of some of the largest companies in the world being told they will not be allowed to realize their planned profits.

When President Obama talks about pursuing cheap energy and having 100 years worth of natural gas here in the US, it makes clear that he does not think climate change is a serious issue demanding immediate policy changes.

The great irony is that a massive shift towards green energy would create jobs. It would create more energy and lower the cost on energy as a result. It would be driven by domestic energy protection, providing greater national security. In short, an aggressive pivot away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy would be a move that achieves the jobs and costs goals the President is arguing for through the continued use of fossil fuels.

Climate change has been a complete non-issue in this election. While Obama has offered passing hints around reducing pollution and expanding renewable resources, he’s not explicit that this is meant to discourage climate change. More often than not he’s framing any energy issue around job creation and lowering energy prices. While Mitt Romney is undoubtedly worse than Obama on these issues, Romney too was once better on them. Both candidates have utterly failed to offer a vision for how they would address climate change. At this late stage, their denial of the dangers of this issue could well amount to a fatal blow to this planet as we know it. We simply don’t have the time for both major political parties to ignore global warming. And if ignoring it wasn’t bad enough, Obama’s cynical attacks on Romney for saying true things about the negative impact of coal make me ill.

About that fiscal cliff

Jonathan Chait:

Bipartisan agreement is not necessary to fix the debt. Nothing is necessary to fix the debt. It is as if the network of activists, wonks, business leaders, and Beltway elder statesmen who have devoted themselves to building cross-party support for a deficit deal have grown more attached to the means of bipartisanship than to the ends for which it was intended. The budget deficit is a legislatively solved problem. It is, indeed, an oversolved problem. In the absence of any agreement between the president and Congress, the deficit will shrink to less than one percent of the economy by 2018, and remain below that level through 2022. The budget deficit declines so sharply and so drastically, and in ways that neither party is entirely comfortable with, that the task for Washington is to pull back on deficit reduction.

Supreme Court locks in telecom retroactive immunity

Glenn Greenwald reports that the US Supreme Court has declined to hear a lawsuit by the EFF and ACLU that sought to overturn the FISA Re-authorization wherein Congress (including Senator Obama) granted US telecoms companies retroactive immunity for assisting the Bush administration wiretap US citizens without warrant. Greenwald has been writing on this issue since December 2005 when it first broke (as have I, though with less skill) and he has some strong reactions to the decision which are absolutely worth reading. Glenn concludes with tongue firmly in cheeck:

So congratulations are once again in order for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and the other national telecom giants. In a country that imprisons more of its ordinary citizens than any other on the planet by far, and that imposes more unforgiving punishments than any other western nation, our most powerful corporate actors once again find total impunity even for the most serious of lawbreaking.

I can’t say that I’m surprised that the Supreme Court – a consistently radical conservative body – stood on the side of the telecom companies. It was less surprising given that this is an area where bipartisan consensus was effectively that the telecoms should not be punished for helping the Bush administration illegally spy on Americans. The FISA Re-authorization Act was passed after 10 months of liberal opposition, lead by my former boss Senator Chris Dodd. One of the votes for the legislation was Senator Barack Obama, who had the nomination secured at the time of the vote, but during the Democratic primary had promised to filibuster any legislation that contained retroactive immunity. Thus President Obama entered the Oval Office as a firm, documented supporter of retroactive immunity for the telecoms, joined by essentially all of the Republican Party and nearly half of the Democrats in the House and Senate. There are few issues where real bipartisan consensus can be document in both rhetoric and action as the move to protect these telecoms from criminal sanction. The Court’s position, while radical in a true sense, is sadly squarely in line with what the other two branches of government believe. There is no abuse they deem fit to check, there is no extreme they must act to balance.

Seven years after the New York Times revealed a regime of flagrant, systemic violations of a duly-passed law whose efficacy of being implemented in ways that allowed law enforcement to protect our country, the book is essentially closed on any chance for accountability. As we have seen over the last four years regarding Wall Street accountability, there is no desire by either party’s leadership to enforce the law when major corporations are caught breaking it.

Having spent a significant amount of time working to stop and writing in opposition to retroactive immunity for telecoms (just as I’ve now spent a significant amount of time pushing to hold Wall Street banks accountable for their criminal behaviors), it’s incredibly sad for me to see this issue comes to what will almost certainly be its final resolution.

The pursuit of retroactive immunity for flagrant, documented lawlessness by the telecoms makes clear that not only are the most powerful corporations subject to a genuinely different regime than the rest of us, but that when such a regime of protection does not immediately exist, political elites will work tirelessly to create a haven for their financial elite friends and backers. For all the talk of the greatness of our country, our Constitution, and our foundational belief in equality in the eyes of the law, it’s clear that these are nothing more than warm aphorisms with the operational force of a slight breeze so long as the well-being of the powerful is at stake.

As frustrating as this is to see, it’s equally informative. Seeing the alignment between Republicans and Democrats, especially leaders like President Obama, on this issue is telling. While I may not be happy that this is where President Obama stands on this issue, he has been clear and consistent in his position since 2008. For all of those Democrats who fought tooth and nail from 2005 until the passage of retroactive immunity in 2008, I hope that you will remember this issue and this fight. What has happened this week is no less outrageous than the passage of retroactive immunity in July of 2008 and no less outrageous than the implementation of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping programs in the first place. It is a black mark on our country’s reputation for upholding the rule of law and one which we won’t likely remove for a long time.

OFA’s Big Bird Ad & Wall Street Accountability

This is a funny, hard hitting ad by the Obama campaign on what may have been the biggest mistake Mitt Romney made in last week’s debate.

Except David Dayen notes that the OFA ad has a bit of a problem with who it puts up as Wall Street criminals:

Let’s look at that litany of Wall Street “criminals” and “gluttons of greed,” which later get juxtaposed with Big Bird. You have Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay and Dennis Kozlowski. So two CEOs prosecuted and convicted by George W. Bush’s Justice Department, and Madoff, whose son turned him in before Obama took office, in December 2008, and who pleaded guilty.

So the Obama campaign could not fill a list of three Wall Street criminals that the Obama Justice Department actually sent to jail. Heck, they couldn’t fill a list of one!

This is despite Eric Holder telling students at Columbia University in February of this year that his Justice Department’s record of success on fighting financial fraud crimes “has been nothing less than historic.” But not historic enough that his boss could point to, well, one Wall Street criminal behind bars as a result of DoJ’s actions.

That’s painfully telling. Nobody from Bank of America or Wells Fargo or Citigroup or JPMorgan Chase or Goldman Sachs or Bear Stearns or Morgan Stanley or Merrill Lynch or even Countrywide or Ameriquest was available to stand in as a “glutton of greed” in this advertisement. Literally no major figure responsible for the financial crisis has gone to jail. So the campaign has to use two CEOs from a decade-old accounting scandal, and a garden-variety Ponzi schemer. The financial crisis plays no role in this advertisement trying to juxtapose cuts to PBS with the financial crisis!

Yeah this is pretty revealing and it’s not flattering towards the President and his Department of Justice at all.

As is so often the case with President Obama, the rhetoric sounds a whole lot better on first blush than on close examination.