GM a Few Months From Extinction

November 13, 2008

Many people call GM’s vehicles dinosaurs, which could be weirdly prescient in that analysts say that GM will become extinct in early 2009 unless it receives billions from the government.  Just last year of course the authomobile industry required $25 billion of loan guaranties from the government.  Now GM needs about that amount in cash.

Like Thomas Friedman, I am sick and tired of the automobile industry thinking that it can susrvive by paying money to lobbyists, blocking environmental laws, and disregarding the needs and concerns of consumers.  American auto manufacturers used to plan the obsolescence of the cars they manufactured in the interest of causing people to need new ones.  Their utter disregard of consumers is tantamount to planning their own obsolescence.

There is no way taxpayer should support the disreputable and irrational behavior of the American auto industry, at least not without some serious concessions.  The government ought to get whatever equity there is held by the stockholders and the officers and directors should be held accountable.  That means fire them without a parachute of any sort.  The salaries of their successors, considering what these companies have done to their industry and to the country, should be dramatically reduced.

Celebrations in DC and Seattle

November 10, 2008

Here’s an email from my daughter Amy, who works in Washington DC and was somewhat overwhelmed by the Tuesday night post-election celebration there. Below that is a copy of my reply to her  about the celebration here.

From Amy:

DC on election night was absolutely amazing.

I watched the election at a friend’s house in Maryland, then headed back into town after the speeches. As we got close to DC, we heard yelling and honking, that got louder as we rolled into the city. When we hit Capital Street, we decided that we should joint the celebration, so we rolled down the street honking, yelling, and waving to passing cars. Everyone in the cars were looking for people to shout to and didn’t seem to miss any opportunities. It was certainly the most collegial honking I have ever encountered in this city.

We parked the car at my apartment then walked up to U-Street. For people unfamiliar with DC, U Street is an historically African American that was a cultural center for much of the 20th century. It was Harlem before Harlem. It was also the center of the DC race riots, when many of the U Street businesses were destroyed. It was particularly poignant to see the celebration there on Tuesday night.

We spent two hours walking down U Street. When I say we walked down U Street, I mean we walked right down the middle of it (I’m talking yellow line). People drove their cars onto U Street then stopped them, leaving radios blaring. Cars were stopped on both sides of the street with people sitting and standing on top of the cars cheering and holding signs and chanting and honking. Walking down the street we walked by the cars high fiving everyone and cheering with them. Pedestrians were hugging, high fiving, and just erupting into spontaneous cheers together. (I haven’t hugged so many strangers since the 1995 playoffs.) People were chanting O-BAM-A, Yes-We-Can, and Si-Se-Puede (all, conveniently the same number of syllables I couldn’t help but notice), as well as general celebratory yelling. If someone started yelling or chanting, everyone around him/her would yell or chant in response.

A couple drummers set up shop on a corner and a huge group of people were jumping up and down (my kind of celebration) and chanting. It wasn’t aggressive jumping at all, just everyone celebrating together. I could go into the group do some jumping then come back out again. It was very cool. In the middle of another block, a giant ring of people, probably four or five people deep, were chanting O-BAM-A. I snuck in to get a closer look and two guys were break dancing to the chanting. They would pause and encourage the crowd to chant louder, then start dancing again. A young skinny white guy jumped in the middle of the group and started doing some decidedly un-break dancing and everyone cheered and chanted for him too.

It was without a doubt the most diverse celebration I have ever seen. It was diverse in every sense of the word. Beyond the racial diversity, I saw all kinds of people out–from goths to grandmas, and everyone was celebrating together, and happy. I saw parents out with their little kids (only three or four years old). A grandma-aged lady was in the in the front row of people watching and chanting for the break dancers. It was clear that everyone wanted to celebrate, but also to be there and experience history occurring. There seemed to be a feeling that everyone was experiencing something much bigger than themselves.

It was truly one of the most memorable and moving scenes I’ve ever witnessed. I took some pictures. They aren’t impressive photographically, but perhaps you can get a sense of the what was going on.


My reply:

It would be interesting to have a study of the celebrations in the different communities, then make bold generalizations about the places where the celebrations occurred. Seattle had a celebration break out on Broadway, near Seattle Central CC. There was merrymaking aplenty with a crowd of similar diversity, although weighted toward younger people and there were many fewer than the number of DC celebrants. When the police showed up and got out of their cars, people feared a confrontation, only to discover that many of the cops had left their vehicles to join in the dancing. Led by a drag queen, the throng marched to the area of the market to continue its revelry.

Startled and rather proud of this exhibition of politically correct glee, news media swarmed the group of celebrants, as SUVs and smart-looking vehicles arrived from the nether regions with occupants eager to join in the event. Encircled by media with periodic infiltration for an interview, the celebration became self aware and dissipated eventually. Nonetheless this may have been the first spontaneous street gathering and unlicensed parade since the Vietnam War. (I’m not counting the WTO activity as an unlicensed parade.) I can’t think of a time that the police joined such a party, except maybe at the end of the Second World War.

Alex, who was working as the Smith Tower night watchman, said that he saw groups of men walking by weeping, most of them homeless people on their way to the mission down the street.

A Triumph of a Foundational Belief

November 5, 2008

Our country has come a remarkable way in my lifetime.

I was born in a racially segregated country with laws impairing the black’s right to vote. There were neighborhoods in Seattle with covenants that made it unlawful for blacks to live there. When I was in college, black people could not buy property in my parent’s neighborhood. For that matter they would not even sell to Jews. In the 1960’s there were people living who had been slaves and several who had parents who had been slaves. Society was racially segregated and racism was rather obvious.

I’ve see the Supreme Court declare racial segregation to be unconstitutional. The civil rights movement was an enormous effort by many, many people and the experience became deeply imbedded in the participants’ consciousness. There was a sense of camaraderie among the participants in the movement not unlike the what happens among troops in a war. There was real grief over the assassinations of civil rights leaders and people still get deeply moved hearing Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. It was truly a profound experience full of struggle and violence and doubt and faith.

The country has made mighty efforts to overcome the ghetto-ization of the descendants of the slaves. Every step was marked with controversy, extremely high emotions, and great uncertainty about the benefits of the undertaking. The resistance to the movement included outspoken racists, but far from only those people.

Many, many people were not remotely racists but worried about the preservation of the fabric of society, going too far and too fast. Many of the “civil rights” efforts seemed artificial and meaningless. Many felt that the efforts were going way too far and penalizing non-blacks by usurping opportunities precious to struggling whites. Emotions always ran high with everyone on all sides seeing himself or herself fighting against injustice on the other side and saw the risk of the country’s doom hovering above everything.

It seemed to me that everyone in the last few decades has been fighting for opportunity as that person perceived it. Beneath all the squabbling was a foundational belief that this is the land of opportunity.

Many on the left despaired that with the demise of affirmative action, we were shirking our moral responsibility. Many felt that with the reduction in social services assured the further decline of people in the cycle of poverty. Many saw the Bush administration as having put us back toward the inequities of the 1960’s.

Out of this seething cauldron of accusations, distrust, blame, failed hope and sharp division steps a black president, calling for unity. For me he represents, not a triumph of the civil rights movement, but a triumph of the American experiment. People on the right who opposed the civil rights “social engineers,” who opposed formulaic affirmative action should feel vindicated. Out of the impossible tangle of competing ideas we have elected a black president, something no industrialized western country has done. Thirty-five years ago this was utterly inconceivable. Our foundation belief in opportunity has triumphed.

George F. Will Finally Says It: McCain Has No Clothes.

September 23, 2008

McCain seems to have lost it.  McCain has been the foot soldier of deregulation for decades.  He chose as his top economic adviser the architect of deregulation, Phil Gramm.  He has denied there was a problem with the economy the entire time he has been running for office.  He advocates deregulation insurance, eliminating the tax credit for employers who provide healthcare insurance to employees, and he even last week sang the praises of the successful deregulation of the financial industry.  (Obama has been contending that the economy is flawed all along.)

McCain then blames the recent collapse on Obama of all things and trumpets himself as the person to bring regulation to the financial industry.  Last week he falsely claimed that Obama was being advised by the ex-chief of Fannie Mae.

That same week he began smearing the reputation of Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and said that he would fire him. At one point McCain even wanted the head of the Federal Reserve fired, which of course the president cannot do.

George F. Will was particularly interested in McCain’s attacks on Cox.  He concludes (in an article in the Washington Post today that I am apparently unable to link to) that McCain is probably not fit to serve as president and recommends Obama as the better choice after McCain’s meltdown.

After the Sarah Palin choice and other examples of bad judgement, Will does not even trust McCain to choose federal jusges:

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

One Heart Beat Away

September 2, 2008

I have mentioned that unless Wasilla is a very unusual town of 6,000, that there might be some question about giving its mayor the reins of the world, even with a year and a half on the Alaska governor’s office.

Apparently I was not alone in that concern.

Hold it.  I undersold Ms. Palin.  This  interview with Mrs. McCain informs me that Ms. Palin was president of the Wasilla PTA and that Wasilla is closer to Russia than any of us are, so she has lived national security and knows the enemy, I guess.

Play the Daily Show on this website to get many people’s reaction, presented in Jon Stewart’s inimitable style.  On the clips of the announcement look at McCain’s face.  Is it my imagination, or does he look worried and upset.  How would you like to be greeted by his smile?

Adding Up the Score so Far

September 2, 2008

One person who commented said that that the social conservative wing of the Republican party in apparently controlling McCain’s choice for vice president had prompted him to leave the party, at least until it returns to champion more traditional conservative values. This view is commonly shared. Some of my friends have said they will no longer vote Republican because of the war mongering and corruption at the national level. All of these things depart from traditional conservative values.

The choice of Palin certainly appears to be an example of form prevailing over substance. Except that one can clearly discern from Palin’s record rather abject adherence of the tenets of the religious right. As to matters relating to governance and national issues there is a void.  Here is a disturbing explanation of the choice.

I have written how McCain has abandoned the principles that he espoused when he was labeled a maverick. He is now even campaigning on issues that he has actually voted against not just recently but for years! For example alternative energy, and minimum wage increase.

His choice of Palin demonstrates a commitment to do whatever it takes to get elected as opposed to adherence to any principle whatsoever. His economic proposals will only augment the policies that created our present situation by increasing the deficit and enhancing the decline of the middle class. His foreign policy is more martial than Bush’s policy and his history of positions with respect to the use of the military over the past ten years has been errant to say the least.

But this attention to style is not just a Republican preoccupation. Obama trumpets national health insurance and proposes a plan that fairly drips skepticism, as discussed in this article by Chris Hedges. Obama, like McCain, voted against a single payer plan that would actually provide national health care but which is ardently opposed by the insurance industry.

Obama obviously thinks that going against these powerful corporations would be foolhardy. With last year’s Energy Bill he supported largess for big oil and he voted for retroactive immunity for telecoms that violated citizens’ rights to privacy. When he talks about taking on the big corporations his plans are not as bold as some think.

My sense of it is that in terms of standing behind what they say, McCain is duplicitous and cynical, and Obama is Machiavellian and weaker than his oratory. Supporters of each candidate excuse this saying that it is what is required to get elected. Once elected there are also plenty of excuses.

In my mind the critical difference is that Obama in fact will depart from Bush’s policies and pandering to the so called “religious right.” Objectively his economic policies, like those of Clinton (the only president to balance the budget in decades), do offer a means of escaping the downward spiral of the national deficit and will benefit the middle class. On matters of foreign policy he seems more thoughtful and judicious.

My views of course may change over the next two months as we hear more from the candidates, but that’s how I see it now.

Sarah Palin

August 29, 2008

This is an interesting choice for vice president.  The few Clinton defectors for McCain I’ve seen briefly interviewed (I have never actually met one) say that they cannot vote for Obama because of his lack of experience.  This harkens back to a Clinton speech in which she said that McCain would be better able to serve as  commander in chief than Obama.

McCain selects a woman who is two years out of Wasilla, serving as its mayor, and who is younger than Obama.  This suggests to me that he believes that he can forge a majority with Bush’s Republican far right wing base and women who would have voted for Hillary and just want a woman (other than as First Lady) in the White House, regardless of her policies.

Geraldine Ferraro’s presence on the ticket with Mondale did not bring independents into the fold, nor did it keep Democrats from voting for Reagan.  McCain is hoping that a woman on his ticket will attract that same group (although the Reagan Democrats tended to be male but then again Ms. Palin’s bathing beauty background might appeal to this group).  It seems like a lunge at the Clinton supporters who said they would not vote for Obama.

What is interesting is that this undercuts the rationale for switching parties presented by this group.  If experience is really the critical factor in their vote (which seems preposterous to me), then why would you want Wasilla’s mayor of two years ago “one heart beat away” from the nuclear button.

This choice puts McCain’s age to the forefront as an election issue, something that McCain wants to downplay.  How can the oldest first term candidate in the history of our country running with a 44 year old governor of two years, question the qualifications of the Democratic ticket to govern?  While Obama was pursuing public interest work in New York and Chicago before law school, Ms. Palin was being crowned Miss Wasilla and later runner up Miss Alaska.

This suggests to me that McCain does not believe that the election will be determined by policy decisions or substance so much as impressions and psychological associations.  I hope that I’m wrong, but it does not in my mind augur well for the kind of principled, high minded campaign that Obama called for.

At least some Alaskans are amused by this choice.  Remarkably the Internet videos of our v.p. candidate in beauty contests have been disabled.  This could turn out to be like McGovern’s selection of Eagleton in terms of blowing up in the face of the candidate.  I sincerely hope though that both sides show restraint in the coming months and that the campaign is one of ideas.

The DLC and the Conservative Faction of the Democratic Party

August 27, 2008

The Democratic Party is using its convention to among other things bridge the widening cleft between its populist base and conservative leadership.  By repeatedly underscoring that the alternative to a Democratic win is four more years of Bush policies, the party leaders are calling attention to the fact that the party rank and file have no place to turn but to the party for any sort of change, even if that change does not approximate the hopes of the party faithful.

The Democratic Leadership Council spearheads the conservative faction of the party.  Its position is that the party must move rather dramatically to the right to avoid obsolescence.  Recognizing that this view is not shared by a majority of Democrats Bill Clinton campaigned as a populist, then actualized welfare reform that Reagan did not dare champion, promoted and got NAFTA.

He avoided much criticism from the right by usurping positions on the right.  Bill Krystal was so impressed with Clinton’s record as a conservative that he expressed wonderment that the right had any objections at all to Clinton.  Meanwhile many progressives felt betrayed.

In 2004 Howard Dean captured the imagination of the populist anti-war movement and was actively opposed by the DLC, which favored Kerry.  Recognizing that the anti-war movement was strong enough to effect election results, Kerry after incoherent blathering about the war, became an opponent of it, undercutting some of Dean’s support.

Progressives or what is sometimes called the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party fear that Obama has done exactly what Bill Clinton did in getting the nomination.  That is appealing to Democrats as a progressive candidate, then after securing the nomination becoming for many practical purposes a Republican.

Remember Clinton’s opinion poll policies.  He would let Republicans launch a campaign for or against something, wait while opinion polls came then make a decision, often doing what Republicans advocated.  This approach was successful if that is measured by tenure in office.  Many would argue that it was not successful if measured against progressive policies.

The cleft in the party relates to fears that Obama has followed Clinton’s formula, trading on charisma while sacrificing policy.  Without out a doubt he has moved to the right since securing the number of delegates for the nomination.  This in itself is not betrayal and is an almost inevitable shift among Democratic candidates, just as moving to the left is typical of Republican candidates after nomination.

Part of this reaction from the left is due to the almost unimaginable hopes that were posited in Obama by the left.  Clinton was the DLC’s candidate of choice and this time, in contract with 2004, the candidate with populist groundswell support carried the day.  Clinton seemed to suffer a bit for not seeming to come out unequivocally against the war until late in the game.  As a result her anti-war position was never entirely believed by the people defining themselves as anti-war.

Obama in contrast seemed to be clear and unwaivering.  That is until his nomination seemed secure.  Then he ousted his anti-war advisors and substituted Clinton Administration hawks.  His speeches began to emphasize the conditions of withdrawal and looking at all the circumstances.  He seemed to adopt Clinton’s initial position about the war.

Then after all the debate talk about the purity of his anti-war sentiment as opposed to Clinton’s vote for the war, he chose as his running mate the man who perhaps more than anybody was the Democratic Party point man for the war.  Biden has changed his tune but he certainly rattled more sabers than Clinton before the war and following the invasion.  Biden too was an ardent proponent of the anti-consumer bankruptcy bill and was one of the few Democrats to vote for it.

Obama has revealed another Bill Clinton tactic that is far from comforting to the left.  He has demonstrated Clinton’s penchant for adopting Republican positions when his position appears to be unpopular.  Not only has he done this with off shore drilling but so has Nancy Pelosi.

Bush also took misleading positions to get into office.  Remember his sanctimonious statement in his debate with Gore that he would never allow our country to get into nation building abroad?  That turned out to be what his administration was all about.  Bush of course became historically unpopular but he was like Clinton elected twice.  These seem to be good models for getting into office even if the endings have been unhappy.

The Peace Demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention

August 26, 2008

The Denver police are prepared to arrest thousands of people at the convention, having converted warehouses to holding tanks. My question is why were arrests on such a massive scale anticipated or at least prepared for?

The Democratic Party overseeing the herding of demonstrators into warehouses? Surely they were not anticipating massive demonstration from people on the right. Placards saying “Save Gitmo,” “keep our troops in Iraq'” “Don’t Tax the Rich,” “no welfare for injured troops,” “support pharmaceutical companies,” “a pox on the middle class,” “Let
Them Eat Cake,” that sort of thing. Probably not likely.

The demonstrators are largely involved in peace demonstrations. To my knowledge there has been no hint of unruly behavior other than some groups being in the streets. There is something a little off putting about abruptly jailing these people as the self declared but now apparently hedging candidate for peace accepts the party’s nomination. Presumably many of those jailed are people who voted for the candidate inside the building secured largely through corporate sponsorship.

I wonder if they fear something like the 1968 Chicago demonstrations which resulted in a police riot and seek to avoid that by the early jailing of anyone protesting. Kind of an ironic solution.

I wonder if this signals that Obama and party leadership are aware of a significant cleft between the party and the peace movement.

I wonder whether the peace demonstrators will be able to see from the warehouses the speech that Obama will give on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. King of course led peaceful demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Pretty ironic that they want the streets cleared of anti-war demonstrators so they can commemorate a great anti-war demonstrator.

Convention Coverage by Amy Goodman

August 26, 2008

People looking for different perspectives on the Democratic Party’s convention must listen to Amy Goodman. (In Seattle she carried on 91.3 FM at 6:00 am and 5:00 pm.) Has anyone else noticed that her cadence and emphasis is exactly like those of Walter Cronkite? The same dramatic silences and slowly building sentences. Her interviews are masterful in the way that she never diverts attention from the person she is interviewing. She is just a stage hand assisting with the telling of a story.  When she does not believe that the whole story is being told, however, she is insistent on a rational answer to followup questions.

My admiration grows for her as times passes. There has certainly never been a television and radio reporter like her. Every day for years now she has been reporting what is actually happening on the street and often behind the scenes. Her interviews and interviewees never cease to interest me.    She has been at it long enough and has won enough awards to have more access than she did a few years ago, but that has not tempered or altered her reporting or interviewing at all.

Amy reports that Denver’s efforts to keep the streets clean don’t stop with moving the homeless people. The police with names tags removed have been making mass arrests of protesters, striking early and without warning apparently in order to maximize the period in which the protesters are detained and away from the streets.

The Democrats have learned from the Republicans. They have given the delegates talking point memos with instructions about how to answer specific questions and with scripted answers. An enormous amount of labor has gone into maintaining the appearance of unanimity. This of course relates in substantial part to the Republican efforts to court disaffected Clinton supporters. (The attendees have a mantra: “Differences within the party pale in comparison to differences between the parties.”)

But the threat of splintering is not just from the right edge of the party but from the left as well, principally because of Obama’s close association with the hawks of Bill Clinton’s Administration and his scaled-down talk about getting out of Iraq.

In yesteryear conventions were a time to sort out these issues as the party wrestled with its choice of a candidate. Those days are long gone, as conventions are now more like a book launching party, or rock tour launching party. But parties are fun, while Amy Goodman interviews the wait staff and activity outside the living room.