Thursday, June 24, 2010

How to deal with GOP Obstructionism - Open Letter to Harry Reid

Dear Senator Reid,

I realize that you and I aren't particularly close, but I am a long-time Democrat, and a watcher of all things political for a number of years.  I'm not a blogger by trade, actually, I'm an attorney and prior to that I worked in politics for a few San Diego candidates you've never heard of.  I also have lots of ideas that you probably disagree with - but that's a topic for another letter.

With that said, I am the kind of out-of-the-box thinker you need right now, because if the reports are right, if the current reports are correct, the Senate Republicans are about to filibuster the Senate jobs bill.  Not having this bill pass would be a disaster.  We all know people who are hurt by the "Great Recession" (or at this time, "The Less Than Ideal Recovery"), and they need help.  Moreover, the loss of income would probably plunge the economy back into a recession.  Given that the American people generally don't follow politics, and expect things to get done, the American people will blame the failure of doing something on the Democrats, and it is going to hurt the Democrats in November. 
But there's a way out.  Right now, not only does the Democratic Party have the Senate, but they hold the White House.  So, in concert with President Obama, do the following:

1) Force a real filibuster - that is, if the GOP wants to filibuster the jobs bill, make them stand on the floor and debate the bill.  Now, yes, this will stall the passage of the bill, but bear with me here, you actually want that.  Shutdown all business in the Senate if you have to, but keep the GOP filibustering the bill.

2) While the GOP is filibustering, get every Senate Democrat possible on every news show possible, slamming the GOP for shutting down business in the Senate to deny jobless Americans their benefits. 

3) Every week that the filibuster goes, have President Obama address the country from the Oval Office and criticize the GOP for the filibuster.

Now, the benefit of this approach is that the Republican Senators, most of whom have never actually filibustered anything, may end up folding.  But even if they don't, you will have spent months demonstrating to the America people that the Republican Party is causing the double dip recession.  Its a win-win communication strategy.

Thanks again,

Phat Jim

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Profiles in Fucktatude: General Stanley McChrystal

Well, talk about a turn of events - suddenly, the General in charge of the Afghanistan campaign is quoted in Rolling Stone criticizing the President, and is being recalled to Washington.  And by recalled, I mean the General was told under no uncertain terms to get his ass on a plane to DC ASAP.  While I'm not sure what will happen to McChrystal when he gets here, I sure as hell don't want to him right now.

Let's face it, Obama has easily moved into the most-shit-on President sweepstakes. I'm not saying he's the most shit upon, but he's definitely in the top five or six (FDR, Hoover, Lincoln, Bush, and maybe Madison).  He starts off having to rescue the economy, fix health care, deal with the BP oil disaster, fight two wars, and deal with the morons in Congress.  All the while, he also has to fend off accusations that he is a foreign Manchurian candidate who's going to turn over the country to the Islamists Socialists. Ugh.  Hell, even I've criticized his actions.

In other words, this guy probably has A LOT of reserved anger (which, by the way, I'm okay with him playing golf and basketball - he needs to get the anger out so he doesn't bomb some poor country into the stone age).  And here comes McChrystal criticizing him, not for substantive issues, but because Obama took time to listen to other opinions BEFORE GIVING MCCRYSTAL EVERYTHING HE WANTED.

So, as McChrystal makes the slow flight back to DC, Obama is going to seriously think about what he's going to do with the General.  His options are: 1) fire the guy immediately; 2) hear McCrystal out, and after getting the General to grovel, keep him on; or, 3) Be a total dick.

Given that McChrystal is coming back to DC, option 1 is out of the question.  Option 2 is still possible, but if I were McCrystal, I wouldn't bet on it.  If I had to bet, I'd bet that Obama will go with Option 3 - be a total dick.  He's going to make McCrystal grovel for his job, let him twist in the wind for a week, and then reassign him to the most humiliating job Obama can find.  And if McChrystal tries to resign, Obama will refuse the resignation (he can do that).

Now, in reality, Obama will probably not go as far as I just did, but he can.  And the problem with being a maverick like McChrystal is that there isn't anyone to back him up.  Thus, I'm fairly certain that McChrystal is going to get a taste of the shit Obama has been eating.  Good luck, General, you're going to need it.

Moral of the story - Never purposely shit on your boss when your boss is getting shit-on by the world.

UPDATE - McChyrstal has offered his resignation, and Obama has refused to consider it until after he speaks with the General directly.  My new bold prediction is that Obama gets his pound of flesh tomorrow, and then accepts the resignation.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Wild and Crazy Way to Stimulate the Economy

Okay, so with everyone freaking out about spending (including Germany's totally insane request for all governments to cut spending), and with the World (save South America) still in economic doldrums, and with long-term unemployment booming, let me add my two cents.

First, cutting government spending right now is madness.  There are three reasons to cut government spending: 1) Inflationary pressures, as in there's too much money in the economy and prices are going up; 2) High interest rates - Government is crowding out private investment by increased spending; or 3) No one will lend the country any money (See Greece).  Right now, NONE of these reasons exist.  Inflation is nonexistent (and deflation is still a threat), interest rates are low, and we still have countries willing to give the US money (and given the fact that we have the world's most powerful military, no one is really going to cut us off). 

Given that a national economy is a mix of consumer spending, business investment and government spending, cutting government spending when consumers and businesses aren't spending is a recipe for economic doom.  In fact, the Great Depression was extended by several years when FDR decided to cut government spending.

That said, I don't necessarily like the idea of having people on unemployment for as long as they are.  Unemployment payments are, by their very nature, temporary solutions.  Right now, unemployment benefits are stretching 99 weeks - almost two years.  And so, I don't think we can continue to go down this path.  Moreover, many of these long-term unemployed are long-term unemployed for a reason - the jobs they lost are, most likely, gone forever.

But that doesn't mean that we should lose hope.  I have one of those wacky, no-one-will-ever-consider-it ideas.  Let's give these long-term unemployed individuals small business loans of $10-$20 thousand dollars (or more, depending).  Give these people the capital to start their own business.  Now, most of the money, without question, will go down the drain.  But even if one-tenth of one percent of the loans actually works out, it'll be worth it because for that short period of time, we will have hope.

In the meantime, the U.S. should invest heavily in infrastructure improvements, and encourage local governments to streamline their regulatory processes.  Anyway, that's my idea.  Your thoughts?

So, how do we stimulate the economy? 

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Big Spill, Obama and Joe Barton

For the longest time, I believed that one political party in the U.S., the Democratic Party, my party, was exceptionally skilled at pulling defeat from the jaws of victory.  Like a jilted sports fan, I can go on and on about the various miscues and missteps made by members of my party.  But after seeing Joe Barton's performance yesterday - where he APOLOGIZED to BP for the perceived "shakedown" of the Obama Administration, and then had to retract the apology, I have learned that snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is common to both sides of the aisle.

Mere mocking aside, I cannot emphasize enough how damaging Joe Barton's apology was.  For the past several months, Obama has taken a beating on his handling of the BP oil disaster.  He's a consensus builder, a back scratcher, a strategist, but he's not a great tactician.  To use a "Godfather" analogy, he's a Michael - you might be able to spit in his face, but you and your family will be dead within six months.  In a disaster, people want the tactician - they want a Sonny (or a George Patton) - and Obama isn't that guy.  As a result, bullshit like this statement from Inhofe are coming from the GOP stating that this is "Obama's Katrina."  That's ridiculous, but it does play into the idea that Democrats are weak executives.  That's a good narrative for November.

But here comes Joe Barton.  When Obama finally looks like he's going somewhere, Barton APOLOGIZES TO BP.  BP, the FOREIGN OIL COMPANY who's negligence (at best) has destroyed fishing in the Gulf of Mexico for probably a generation, and who promises to look after "the small people." And why did Barton apologize to BP?  Because Obama pushed BP to put $20 billion into escrow to pay for its own mess.  Um, what?

And now ladies and gentlemen we have a new narrative - the GOP is in the pocket of Big Oil.  Every time a Republican criticizes the President, someone is going to bring up Joe Barton.  The narrative is completely broken.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Better Way to Study Political Science

As you might have heard, last night in California was an election night - we finally dispensed with the June primaries so that brought both the inevitable (Meg Whitman winning the primary after spending $110 MILLION), and the surprising (Prop. 17's loss).  Like most election nights since I became involved in politics, I went to the Downtown/Gaslamp section of San Diego, and watched the election results with friends. 

On my way there, I began thinking about how little attention I paid to these elections.  I had a vague notion of what was at stake, but really, I have been much more focused on national politics.  And that's when it hit me - there are really two kinds of politics with vastly different approaches - macropolitics, or politics of nation-states, etc., and micropolitics, the politics of local elections.  While the two types of politics influence on another, they are completely different.

Macropolitics is all about policy.  Okay, its about policy and the candidate's control of mass media.  But because no one will ever actually meet or have a substantive conversation with a Presidential candidate, we are largely focused on things like where the candidate stands on various issues, and how good (or bad) they look on television.  So, crafting the right argument, making the right statements, polling, all play substantial roles in determining the outcome.

Micropolitics, by contrast, is almost all about personality and social networks, because unlike races on a national level, local elections have much fewer voters, can be swayed by a candidate's connections.  For instance, a friend of mine was "killed" in a local election yesterday, but lost only by six thousand votes.  Take a look at the local election results for San Diego here.  So a key endorsement here, or a personal tiff there, can make all the difference between winning and losing a race.  Moreover, on the national stage, we know everything there is to be known about the candidates.  At the local level, the candidate will probably know more about the voter than the voter will know about the candidate. 

In light of these substantial differences, I think the study of politics would be better served to acknowledge these differences in the same way economics splits a national economy (macroeconomics) from the study of business behavior (microeconomics).  Moreover, micropolitics, which is really the study of relationships within social networks, has a large part to play in study of comparative politics, because unlike macropolitics, micropolitics is not as affected by institutions, because again, its all about social relationships.  So, when looking at Iran, for instance, you don't study who has what vote, you study who's backing who, and by how much. 

So, for those of you out there who are interested in politics, don't forget about your local races.  They are often more dynamic and interesting than the national affairs.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Rant on BP. . .

So last week, I finally broke down and ordered HBO from my local cable outlet.  In the orgy of television watching the followed, I saw "Treme," David Simon's show about New Orleans post-Katrina (great show by the way).  Just as Simon's beloved Baltimore, New Orleans is basically a fucked up place, but beloved nonetheless. 

One thing that got me is how New Orleans has now gone from mostly fucked - as in, sure the town is destroyed, but there needs to be a city around the largest American port - to totally fucked.  The BP oil rig disaster is currently devastating a way of life - fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida - in ways beyond our comprehension.  Worst of all, it becomes clearer and clearer every day that BP, with the okay of the Feds, ignored all possible safety precautions that could have prevented the disaster. 

So, another day, another mess for the Obama Administration.  Never have I ever seen an Administration have to deal with so many crises at once.  And thanks to decades of deregulation, we're going to see one crisis after another pop up seemingly from nowhere.   Worst of all, our leaders are stuck in the Clintonian era of paying down deficits and deregulation.  Morons.

In this instance, and rather than consensus building, Obama needs to bring down the hammer.  Order the government to seize all of BP's assets to insure that BP has the money to pay for the cleanup.  Fire every Federal employee that he can, and who is responsible for this mess.  Push the DOJ to file criminal charges against all parties involved, and hire the local fishing fleet to clean up the mess.  Hire Samuel L. Jackson* to act as his spokesman for anything BP related.  "Yes, the President stripped BP of all of its drilling contracts, and I HOPE BP BURNS IN HELL!!!"

*Editor's Note: My suggestion of Samuel L. Jackson has nothing to do with anyone's race, but rather has everything to do with Mr. Jackson's ability to express righteous indignation better than anyone else alive.

Anyway, I think you get the idea. The thing is, the people are pissed, and someone needs to be made an example of.  And given that BP is an oil company, and a foreign company, and they've totally ruined the fishing industry in the Gulf for at least a generation, why not completely fuck them up? 

On Israel (part 2), Helen Thomas, and the Right of Return. . .

One of the best criticisms of Zionism that I've heard, and somewhat clumsily stated by Helen Thomas recently, is that while a homeland for Jews is all well and good, but why put it in Palestine.  I can imagine my reaction if I was told that I was being forced to move from my apartment because the land was wrongly taken from the Sycuan Band a hundred years ago (which it probably was), would be something like "Wait, what?"

Now consider the rationale for Israel as presented to the Palestinians:
"Two thousand years ago, one group of Europeans (the Romans) utterly and completely destroyed Israel, and then for the next two thousand years, other Europeans had either shit on the Jews, or sought their complete annihilation.  So, to prevent any problems in the future, the Jews are setting up a homeland on your property.  Leave now." 
Their reaction has been pretty much what you expect - either the desire to destroy the invaders, or to point out the fact that it would make more sense to punish Germany and/or Europe by putting the Jewish homeland on German and/or European soil.  Which, I have to admit, makes some sense.

From the perspective of everyone else, though, putting a Jewish homeland in Israel/Palestine makes perfect sense.  First, it was where the Jews wanted to set up their homeland.  Second, Israel/Palestine has little to no resources, and its chief economic engine - that it sits smack dab in the middle of trade routes - has already been negated by modern technology.  In other words, the land in Israel, in the eyes of everyone but the Palestinians, is pretty much worthless, except for religious and historical tourism.  Given that the Jews could've asked for much, much more (and gotten it), everyone (except the Palestinians) recognized this solution as being a good one. 

This is especially true given that much of the discrimination against Jews came from their without a nation status, and providing a homeland would alleviate the core problems that bred the environment which produced the genocidal behavior found in Europe, and culminated in the Holocaust.  Given the history of the Jews, having a place to go when shit starts to get bad is a phenomenal idea.

At the same time, let's not forget that the Palestinians are basically getting fucked in the deal.  While its true that Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jews, thanks to the efforts of some of my ancestors (*ahem*), Palestine is the actual homeland of the Palestinians.  And when the Jews moved in, most Palestinians ended up in refugee camps - where they've lived for over fifty years. 

And before I get to what should be done about the Palestinians, let me make this very clear - the whole line about Palestinians being Arabs, and that they should simply move to other Arab countries is ridiculous.  It would be like arguing that the Austrians should all move to Germany because they're Germans.  The fact is, Germany and Austria are different countries for a reason - the people have different histories and have developed different traditions.

Of all the countries in the Arabic World, real or imagined, the would-be Palestinian state is probably the closest to an actual nation-state.  The Palestinian people share the same religion, the same ethnic identity, and the same culture.  During elections, the Palestinian political parties (Hamas and Fatah) are formed around ideological differences, not sectarian ones. The debate is over what to do, as opposed to who we are.  So, I could see the Palestinian state succeeding if it managed to get past the whole have absolutely no economic resources thing.  (Seriously, look it up.  Palestine and/or Israel is like Ireland without the acres and acres of arable land).

So what should be done?  Well, first, the right of return (allowing Palestinians to go back to their homes) is basically DOA.  The whole point of Israel is that its a Jewish state, and an influx of Palestinians would fuck up everything.  But, I do think some kind of reparations need to be made to the Palestinians.  In this country, when the government takes property, it pays fair market value for what was taken.  Given that these people lost their homes, its only fair that the international community (particularly the EU) pay for their loss, particularly in light of the fact that the creation of Israel is a good thing.  Second, any time Israel wants to create a settlement or whatnot, the rule should be that the Israeli Government has to pay the Palestinians affected by the new construction fair market value of the property its taking. 

Doing those two things would help alleviate the economic problems inherent in the region.  Give these guys a passport to wherever along with the chunk of change, and people are less unhappy.  Who knows, maybe they'll find land that is, you know, arable and has some natural resources.

Third, there needs to be an independent Palestinian state.  How to connect Gaza to the West Bank, I don't know, but for the good of all parties involved, the occupation must end.  Otherwise, Israel will continue to devolve into an apartheid system akin to South Africa, and the Palestinians will continue to get shit on, be upset and engage in acts of terrorism.

Friday, June 4, 2010

On Israel. . .

There have been a lot of articles written about the most recent incident involving Israeli commandos attacking a flotilla of ships heading for Gaza in international waters, and from a variety of perspectives.  So, to add to the cacophony, I figured I should add my own two cents.

Fundamentally, the attack on the flotilla was phenomenally stupid.  Supernaturally stupid.  For the past forty years, Israel's Arab enemies have stated that Israel is an aggressive, oppressive regime that commits human rights abuses in violation of international law.  So, what does Israel do?  It attacks a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian supplies in international waters, killing several people in the process in violation of international law.  All this to prevent the people of Gaza, one of the most shit on people on Earth, from getting some form of aid.

Now, I could go on and on about the moral issues involved here.  And certainly Israel has the right to defend itself from threats.  But there's a right way, a wrong way, and a stupid way to go about it.  Israel is choosing the stupid way.  And unlike the U.S., Israel can't afford to be stupid.

The thing we have to remember is that Israel is a very small country.  Its about 8,000 square miles of territory, holding around 7.5 million people.  By contrast, San Diego County is around 4500 square miles, and has 3.5 million people.   That's tiny as far as countries go.   Because its so small, Israel's internal market cannot provide enough of a market for what goods its produces and so, Israel depends on foreign trade to survive economically.  Additionally, because its neighbors are or were hostile, Israel spends a lot on its military.  To do that, Israel depends on infusions of cash from the United States.  Israel is the number one recipient of American foreign aid, and has been for some time.

In other words, to survive and thrive, Israel needs international support.  More importantly, it needs American support.  To that end, Israel has been exceptionally skilled - it has appealed to the Jewish elites of the American left while simultaneously appealing to the Christian conservatives on the American right.  Through AIPAC, even criticizing Israel is politically risky.  It helps that several of Israels founding politicians, like Golda Meir, were Americans by birth.  But Israel was also smart about using force, unlike the recent attack on the flotilla.

As Israel becomes more and more aggressive (and it really has been aggressive), it has alienated potential allies in Europe, Russia, and the moderate Arabic World.  Moreover, it is progressively losing the support of American Jews.  If Israel were to become an international pariah, its economy would completely fall apart.

Now, this is a risk that might be worth it if Israel was facing enemies like Syria and Egypt, but its not.  In fact, Israel is at minimal risk of the kind of attacks it faced in the 1960's and 1970's, because the State actors have simply decided its not worth the effort.  Israel's military is ridiculously powerful, it has nukes, and if push came to shove, the U.S. would help out.  So, military action isn't worth the effort.

Instead, Israel is facing the Palestinians, and that's a big, big problem, because for the Palestinians, the fight is worth the effort.  These people are literally fighting for everything they have (which ain't much to begin with).  And when the Palestinians have nothing left, they commit suicide by strapping a bomb to themselves so that they can take a few Israelis with them.  I can't stress this point enough - the suicide bombers aren't just killing themselves to spread terror - they're killing themselves for the same reason people everywhere kill themselves - to put an end to their own suffering.  Sure, the terrorist organizers are exploiting the opportunity, but the opportunity was there to be exploited. 

Machiavelli wrote, and wisely I think, that the worst place for a leader to be in is to be hated by his people.  Or mathematically: Fear > Love > Hate.  The problem with hate is that it overwhelms fear.  People with hate in their hearts don't care about themselves or their families anymore.  All that matters is killing the enemy.  And the less people have, the less they have to lose, and the more likely they are to lash out.  That's what we've been seeing from the Palestinians for the past twenty years.

The attack on the flotilla was so awful because it reminded everyone of how shit-on the Palestinian people (particularly the Gazans) have it.  So they look like victims, while at the same time, are shit-on even more.  In this environment, Israel looks like assholes or worse, and the Palestinians remain in a position to be exploited by terrorists.  The whole thing is a shitstorm.

Let me end this by saying that I support the existence of Israel.  In modern history, no one has been braver than the Jewish people and the founders of Israel.  And no one kicks more ass.  But the fight that Israel is in right now isn't about bravery or asskicking, its about being smart.  Its about seeing that your enemy has something to live for, as opposed to something to die for.  To survive, Israel has to get smart - and it has to seek peace.   Otherwise, Israel will be turned into a pariah, and it will collapse.