January 2009


The U.S. is a better place this weekend than it was last with Rod Blagojevich no longer the Governor of Illinois.  Illinois has long had a deserved reputation for dirty politics and this is an opportunity for the state to clean things up once and for all.  A friend once worked for the state and the stories he’d tell of how jobs in state government were filled was truly frightening.  Competence or qualifications for a job were secondary to political party and how much you’d raised, even as a state employee, for the winning candidate.  It’s no one wonder almost every Governor of Illinois ends up in prison.

Further, the former Governor’s missteps in trying to “sell” Barack Obama’s Senate seat were but the most flagrant of his myriad of transgressions.   It has raised the issue, however, of how the U.S. goes about replacing Senators when they die or resign to do other things.  None of the experiences this year with Governors replacing Senators have been tidy, although none sink to the sordid depths of Illinois.  This week Senator Russell Feingold along with Senators John McCain and Mark Begich introduced a constitutional amendment that would require special elections for Senate vacancies.  (Information courtesy of CongressDaily 11:30 EXTRA yesterday).  It’s a great idea although it will be a tough row to hoe in getting the majorities required in both Houses, not to mention the requisite assent of states.  It needs to be pursued, however.  I’ll leave it to this Washington Post Editorial, entitled How Not to Pick a Senator which appeared on January 24, to make the case for special elections to fill Senate vacancies.  I agree with it completely.

As concerns the U.S. economy, the news continues to get worse.  We’ve driven off a cliff and it’s appearing that it will be a mighty challenge to get back to anything approaching normal soon.  It could be the rest of my working life, now unfortunately itself prolonged as a result of the depreciation in my life savings.  Having said that, there was blurb in yesterday’s New York Times business section entitled “A History Lesson” (which can be found in a larger story entitled Bank of America Needs a Nudge) that offered a little hopeful news to balance the doom and gloom.  I recommend giving it a read.  It points out that this isn’t likely to be the Great Depression.  I know I felt a little better after reading it.

Finally this week, I’d like to briefly address an issue that has the potential to get very heated in the months ahead.  It is the issue of labor unions and their role in our economy.  Our new administration will be much more friendly to labor as the Democratic Party owes labor a large political debt.  Paying off that debt may be very costly to the country and the economy.  Let’s begin with the news that unions at a number of petroleum refineries around the country are threatening to strike.  This news could mean shortages, at least regionally, of petroleum products like gasoline.  The issues include safety and wages.  While I understand safety, I cannot see the entire country being held hostage over the wages of employees of refineries.  If they don’t like their wages, I suggest they build their skill set and seek better paying jobs.  Right now there are surely many that could and would take their place for the salaries they currently receive.  That is the essence of the market.  Jobs that are in economic demand in relation to the supply of workers able to do those jobs get higher wages than those jobs where workers are a dime a dozen.  This apparently includes corporate CEOs who operate in a rarefied, and in my opinion perverse, market that I neither understand nor condone.  Unions, however, are able to interfere with that market by threatening significant economic loss (through a strike action) to the employer and potentially to the entire economy (in the case of petroleum refinery workers) if their demands for higher wages are not met, notwithstanding the fact that there are others who’d only be too willing to work for those same wages.  The market therefore gets skewed.  Wages end up being higher than the market tells us they should be and that impact ripples through the economy.  Eventually, things get so out of line that market prevails, as it has in the case of Detroit of late.  The wages and benefits extracted by labor over years of collective bargaining break the bank and it all comes tumbling down. 

So, immediately, with this potential of an economy-jolting refinery strike, the administration may be presented with a dilemma that is not unlike the one that hit President Reagan in his early days in the White House with air traffic controllers.  Then, Reagan told the air traffic controller’s union to take a hike.  This President will be unlikely to tell the refiners’ union to do the same and he will likely fail an important leadership test.  We’ll have to see.

Another leadership test will be in how the President handles union demands for enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act.  He’d like to put this bill off for as long as possible into his administration although Vice President Biden this week suggested that it would still be brought up for Congressional action within the year.  Expect a knock-down drag-out fight of huge proportions on this one.  Especially in a major recession, this is one I don’t see labor winning and if they do, it will be at great political loss for Democrats, as this will not sell well in most of America.  Already corporate America is circling the wagons and it will get nasty.  A good story explaining this looming battle can be found in a January 9 New York Times piece entitled Bill Easing Unionizing is Under Heavy Attack.  You can guess that I will be no fan of this legislation and will side strongly with corporate America.  This bill must be defeated, especially now. 

And that’s it for this week.  For the record, I’m not sure that the Weekly Roundup is a sustainable feature of this weblog.  Writing a column every day of the week takes an inordinate amount of time and energy and by the weekend I need a mental break, if nothing else.  I always say to myself that I’m going to do a short one that won’t take more than an hour and then I conclude the piece at least two hours later.  We’ll have to see, but his could be the last.  All the best. 

Nothing on the American political agenda is as important right now as the country passing a stimulus bill that actually stimulates the economy.  This means a bill that begins to compensate through public expenditure for the staggering drop in private expenditure by Americans that is causing huge employee layoffs from one side of corporate America to the other.  We need a significant stimulus bill and we need it sooner rather than later.

This has been my message on this weblog for several days now: it has to be the right bill and one that does more good than harm.  And the bill that passed the House on Wednesday night was not the right bill and it was not one that will clearly do more good than harm.  However, some, like Eugene Robinson in his column entitled Blind Unanimity in the Washington Post today, seem to be arguing that the Republican opposition to the bill was not the consequence of legitimate substantive objections to the bill but that it was just Republicans being partisan and ideological Republicans (you know how those Republicans are).  This is most certainly not the case, as I discussed in my post yesterday.  A bill less one-sidedly put together and more the product of a thoughtful, bi-partisan effort placing greater reliance on expert economic opinion would surely have produced a healthy number of Republican votes, and may yet as the Senate takes its turn at producing a stimulus bill, hopefully a much better one.

There’s an Op-ed today in the New York Times by David Brooks entitled Cleaner and Faster that does a great job of explaining why the stimulus bill that passed the House this week was a bad one.  It is a MUST-READ.  Here are the opening paragraphs of the Brooks piece:

Throughout 2008, Larry Summers, the Harvard economist, built the case for a big but surgical stimulus package. Summers warned that a “poorly provided fiscal stimulus can have worse side effects than the disease that is to be cured.” So his proposal had three clear guidelines.

First, the stimulus should be timely. The money should go out “almost immediately.” Second, it should be targeted. It should help low- and middle-income people. Third, it should be temporary. Stimulus measures should not raise the deficits “beyond a short horizon of a year or at most two.”

Summers was proposing bold action, but his concept came with safeguards: focus on the task at hand, prevent the usual Washington splurge and limit long-term fiscal damage.

Now Barack Obama is president, and Summers has become a top economic adviser. Yet the stimulus approach that has emerged on Capitol Hill abandoned the Summers parameters.

In a fateful decision, Democratic leaders merged the temporary stimulus measure with their permanent domestic agenda…    

Indeed they did.  The bottom line is that the stimulus bill as it stands today is a failure to be as good as it can be.  While I suspect we would need weeks and months to create something approaching “perfect”, there’s still a chance that a significantly better bill can be crafted by the U.S. Senate over the next week or so.  Let us hope so.  The country cannot afford a stimulus bill where its consequences risk being worse than the cure.  And, it cannot afford to pass a bill this consequential without significant bi-partisan support.  Fixing one will fix the other. 

I am a fan of good government, period.  I detest ideologues especially when combined with partisan fervor.  If Michael Gerson’s column in the Washington Post on Wednesday is true, these ideologically partisans managed to pressure the Obama White House into firing someone who shouldn’t have been fired.  In the end, these partisan ideologues can claim a victory but at a cost to the U.S. effort to assist in the world’s crusade against AIDS.  Great victory.  Congratulations.  The Gerson story is entitled Weasels vs. AIDS Relief and is worth a read.   

The sad part of this story is that our hero in this story, the one who was fired by the White House, is Dr. Mark Dybul who was the architect of President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).  While widely supported, a small group, which Gerson describes as the fringe of the fringe (I understand the nature of “the fringe of the fringe” from observing Greenpeace and PIRG and a few other organizations over the years) sought his ouster on grounds that he advocated “abstinence only” programs in AIDS prevention.  Gerson contends that it is absolutely not true.  I believe him.

“Abstinence only” is nonsense.  It is fantasy.  I am vehemently opposed to it but I am only too aware that a group of partisan ideologues kept cotinual pressure on the Bush White House to push abstinence only programs.  That they didn’t succeed in the PEPFAR program is to be celebrated and Dyson regarded as a hero.  Instead, he becomes the scapegoat for another group of partisan ideologues.  This is no way to govern. 

Let’s hope that President Obama can stick to his goal of changing the way America governs itself.  Post-partisan sounds awfully good to me.  Yet, with this incident and the President’s full support of a highly partisan stimulus bill this week in the House, the signs aren’t good.  Stay tuned.

The unanimous vote of House Republicans against the Stimulus Bill is a disappointment not because the Republicans voted no but because the House Democrats under Speaker Pelosi’s leadership made no real effort to accommodate their views.  That every Republican voted “No”, as well as eleven Democrats, is significant.  It signals clearly that the bill is one-sided, something I alluded to yesterday in a posting on this weblog.  A bill of this size and magnitude needs to be as bipartisan as possible.  It’s too important. 

While I might criticize President Obama for allowing this to happen, I will withhold judgement until after a Senate vote and a House-Senate conference on the two differing bills has taken place.  It may be that Obama is simply being very smart to let the House bill pass without his interference in the hope that saner heads will prevail in the Senate.  Meanwhile, he avoids a confrontation with Pelosi and keeps his lines of communication open with House Republicans by inviting them for cocktails at the White House (as he did on Wednesday night).  A shrewd man is this Barack Obama.

The stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post today on the House passage of the stimulus bill can be found in stories entitled House Approves $819 Billion Plan For Economic Aid and House Passes Obama Stimulus Package, respectively. 

My issue is the clear lack of an attempt on the part of House Democrats to reach a reasonable accommodation with House Republicans.  It is partly the consequence of the overly-ideological character of many of the stimulus components of the House Democratic package.  On a scale of A-Z, with liberal Democrats being “A” and conservative Republicans being “Z”, the House Democrats produced a bill that didn’t get much farther than “C” or “D”.  That’s not good enough in a bill of this magnitude and national significance.  With “M” representing the middle of the alphabet, I wouldn’t expect Democrats to compromise to “M” either.  They did win the election after all.  I would hope, however, that they could get to “H” or “I”.  That would demonstrate a real effort to produce a bipartisan bill and it would be rewarded by significantly more Republican votes than last night’s bill produced.

Would I have voted for the Republican substitute yesterday, presumably the “Z” bill?  Not for a minute.  First, I don’t agree with the Republican over-emphasis on tax cuts.  I’d support the tax cut approach only insofar as the cuts can be demonstrated to have a stimulatory effect on the economy.  In fact I think I’d be quit happy on the Democrat side of the A-Z continuum, again at perhaps “H” or “I”. 

What should the bill look like?  An Op-ed by “conservative economist” Martin Feldstein in the Washington Post today entitled An $800 Billion Mistakesuggests a potential answer.  His major point is similar to the one I made yesterday in my above-linked posting.  He advocates delaying “legislation for a month, or even two, if that’s what it takes to produce a much better bill.”  He goes on to say that ‘[w]e can’t afford an $800 billion mistake.”  No, we can’t.  It is important to note that Martin Feldstein is not in the group of economists opposing any Keynesian economic stimulus named in a full page ad in this morning’s Washington Post.  (A copy of the ad, sponsored by the Cato Institute, can be found here.)  In fact, I quoted Dr. Feldstein in my posting Keynes Lives earlier in the month.  He fully supports a Keynesian stimulus as do I.

There’s also a column on the stimulus today in the Washington Post by George F. Will.  It’s entitled Stimulus Math for the GOP.  While I don’t consider the column a must-read, I was struck by one particular paragraph.  It reads:

The opposition should oppose mere opportunism, which comes in two forms. One is presenting pet projects hitherto considered unworthy of funding as suddenly meritorious because somehow stimulative. The other attaches major and non-germane policy changes to the stimulus legislation, counting on the need for speed to allow them to escape appropriate scrutiny.

Clearly we need to think a lot more about the content of the bill before we rush to final passage.  We should be looking for the best stimulus bill possible, not the best stimulus we can get passed and signed into law by next week.  We need to eliminate the “unmeritorious” stimulus and strive for the best and most effective stimulus we can get.

In closing let me note that I am not saying that the House bill that passed last night isn’t adequately stimulatory, merely that we can do better andmake a better effort to accommodate Republican concerns.  As for the stimulatory impact of the bill, there was a good segment on last night’s Lehrer Newshour entitled Stimulus Debateand there’s an analysis by David M. Herszenshorn in today’s New York Times entitled Following the Money that would suggest the bill will stimulate the economy, in some cases very well. 

I submitted my resignation this week to the District of Columbia Republican Committee.  It was time.  Here is a copy of the letter I sent to Chairman Robert Kabel.

This letter is to inform you of my decision to resign from the District of Columbia Republican Committee effective immediately.  It is a result of the Republican Party’s continued drift to the right.  It is no longer a party that represents my political views and I do not see the party changing, as it will eventually need to do, in the next decade.  Should it win nationally again in the decade I fear it will be because the Democrats have failed and not because the party has reformed and moderated from its present extremism.  With the Democrats apparently following the British Labour Party’s strategy of actively moving to the center and Republicans continuing to move right, I think the Democrats have a good chance of governing for the next decade or more in the U.S.

The local party has long sought to build its membership in the District.  This will not happen as long as the party is associated with the national party as closely as it is.  To increase our local membership we in the DCRC would have to break radically from the national party in terms of policy.  We appear unwilling to do so.  That so many of our key leadership supported Gov. Romney for president this year convinces me that the Republican Party in the District will not be willing to make the changes necessary in order to grow significantly in the years ahead.

I was also deeply disappointed in the local party’s support of Patrick Mara for DC Council.  Just because a candidate is Republican doesn’t mean he or she is worthy of support.  Mara’s primary campaign, funded as heavily as it was by non-Republican and even non-District of Columbia special interests, was despicable.  That we rushed to support him after the primary when it was clear he could not win and that only Carol Schwartz could was further evidence of the degree to which the DCRC is heading down a wrong and futile path.

In closing, I attach a column by Charlie Cook that was published in the National Journal on January 17, 2009.  It expresses well the concerns I have with the party.  I am convinced the party is going to have to follow a path similar to that followed by the Conservative Party in Britain in order to learn some necessary lessons.  There, it has take them over a decade to learn that they will not win again unless they change.  They have finally changed.  I fear that my Republican Party will need to learn that lesson as well if it is to win again or at least deserve to win again.

 At this juncture I will remain a Republican although I reserve the option of registering as an Independent should the Democratic Party fail under President Obama and an unreformed Republican Party appears likely to win either the Presidency or control of Congress.  In that case, it is my view that the only way out for the country will be electing significant numbers of independents who could moderate the extremes of the existing two parties.  America is a centrist country and the path forward will be one where ideology and party identification are secondary to solving our country’s daunting problems. 

It is my intent to continue to enunciate my perspective on politics on my daily personal blog, What Should Be

Best of luck with your efforts to reform the Republican Party and build membership in the District of Columbia. 

 

Here’s an example of why the American political system is in trouble.  It’s an advertisement that the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee will apparently be running in Nevada against Senator Harry Reid in a first salvo against the Senate Majority Leader in his 2010 Senate re-election bid.  I’m no fan of Senator Reid.  He is overly partisan and part of the reason our system isn’t working, but this is an irresponsible and disgusting advertisement.  Most economists think the country needs a stimulus bill that is large, probably approaching $1 trillion.  One can criticize, as I have, the precise terms of the stimulus, but a categorical indictment of anyone who votes for the stimulus bill is not right. 

Republicans are right to express alarm at this stimulus bill.  However, there’s more at risk to the country than passing a hasty and less than ideal bill, it also risks President Obama’s grand “post-partisan” experiment.  As for the stimulus bill itself, here is an excerpt from one of my first postings about a stimulus bill three weeks ago:

Legislators need to do their job and take a good hard look at the administration’s proposals.  Our job as informed citizens is to keep the pressure on all of our political leadership to make certain that the stimulus package is as focused as possible on actually stimulating growth, now and well into the future. 

While part of the opposition is politics–clearly some Republicans will oppose any stimulus that’s not predominantly comprised of tax cuts–politics does not explain all of the opposition.  There are good reasons for thoughtful and conscientious Americans, who are otherwise inclined to be supportive of President Obama, to express concern.  It is because the country is rushing into this and risking making a very grave error.  President Obama needs to slow the train down a bit; It is better to get it right than to get it fast.  This is too much money to do it wrong.

I am not saying we shouldn’t move expeditiously, but this is too fast, too one-sided, too partisan and, frankly, too laden with ideologically-inspired spending.  And Republicans aren’t the only skeptics according to a Washington Post story today entitled Democrats Among Stimulus Skeptics.  Here’s an excerpt: 

In testimony before the House Budget Committee yesterday, Alice M. Rivlin, who was President Bill Clinton’s budget director, suggested splitting the plan, implementing its immediate stimulus components now and taking more time to plan the longer-term transformative spending to make sure it is done right.

“Such a long-term investment program should not be put together hastily and lumped in with the anti-recession package. The elements of the investment program must be carefully planned and will not create many jobs right away,” said Rivlin, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. The risk, she said, is that “money will be wasted because the investment elements were not carefully crafted.”

For some House Democrats, the problem is less a matter of balancing the short and long term than a shortage of focus and will on the part of the administration. Their disappointment centers on the relatively small amount devoted to long-lasting infrastructure investments in favor of spending on a long list of government programs.

There is a lot of fine coverage on the stimulus today, coverage that I regard as balanced and fair.  Even from that bastion of liberal journalism, The New York Times, we are getting stories that communicate broad concern.  In addition to the story in the Washington Post already noted above, there are two must-read New York Times stories, both under the broad headline “Stimulus Plan Offers Road to Retooling Social Policy”: Relief for Jobless and States on Health Care and New Flood of Aid at All Levels of Education.  This bill needs to be about stimulus and not include efforts at aimed radical social restructuring.  This is a prime example of the gross danger, that many of us have been enunciating for many weeks, that the liberal majority in the U.S. House of Representatives under Nancy Pelosi poses to the Obama presidency.  Left uncontrolled it will threaten the opportunity that President Obama has to establish a new “post-partisan” way of governing in this country.  Even John McCain, who’s vowed to support President Obama wherever possible in bailing on this stimulus bill.  Rahm Emanuel, this is part of why I thought Obama hired you–to get tough with Pelosi and her ideological ilk.  Here’s an excerpt from the second New York Times story linked above:  

The economic stimulus plan that Congress has scheduled for a vote on Wednesday would shower the nation’s school districts, child care centers and university campuses with $150 billion in new federal spending, a vast two-year investment that would more than double the Department of Education’s current budget.

The proposed emergency expenditures on nearly every realm of education, including school renovation, special education, Head Start and grants to needy college students, would amount to the largest increase in federal aid since Washington began to spend significantly on education after World War II.

Critics and supporters alike said that by its sheer scope, the measure could profoundly change the federal government’s role in education, which has traditionally been the responsibility of state and local government.

And two excerpts from the first Times story above:

Excerpt 1:  With little notice and no public hearings, House Democrats would create a temporary new entitlement allowing workers getting unemployment checks to qualify for Medicaid, the health program for low-income people. Spouses and children could also receive benefits, no matter how much money the family had.  In addition, the stimulus package would offer a hefty subsidy to help laid-off workers retain the same health plans they had from their former employers.

 Excerpt 2:  As Congress rushes to inject cash into a listless economy, it is setting aside many of the restraints that have checked new domestic spending for more than a decade. The White House said the changes contemplated by Congress would provide coverage for nearly 8.5 million newly uninsured people who had lost their jobs and would protect Medicaid for many more whose eligibility would otherwise be at risk.

Of the $127 billion cost, the Congressional Budget Office said, $87 billion would be used to increase the federal share of Medicaid, $29 billion would subsidize private insurance and $11 billion would finance Medicaid for unemployed workers who could not otherwise qualify.

Most of the aid is billed as temporary. But Republicans fear that states would get hooked on it, just as they might grow accustomed to a big increase in federal aid to education, also included in the bill.  

There are several other stories worth reading.  Two of these concern President Obama’s significant and most welcome outreach to Republicans:  Obama, Visiting G.O.P. Lawmakers, Is Open to Some Compromise on Stimulus (Times) and Republicans Urged to Back Relief Package: Obama Meets With Lawmakers for Hours (Post).  Another is an analysis by David Leonhardt in the Times business section.  It’s entitled A Stimulus With Merit, And Misses.  Leonhardt seems less concerned with the massive federal intrusion into education (he seems to see some merit) and other areas than he is with the lack of infrastructure building in the bill.

I don’t have enough information to make a complete assessment myself.  I would like to see additional efforts to remove the bill’s “social engineering” components (such as the $335 million Medicaid provision Obama has agreed to drop), especially those components that either aren’t sustainable or verifiable in their stimulatory effect.  The most important thing that I’d like to see for now is to slow this train down for two weeks to leave more time for thoughtful commentary and beneficial amendment.  I’d like pragmatic non-ideologues like Steny Hoyer and John McCain to sit down with the President and his people and work something out that’s more broadly acceptable to everyone, Democrats and Republicans, and that meets certain essential criteria:  that it actually stimulates growth; that it can be spent rapidly; that the spending can be verified; that the spending doesn’t create new and ongoing federal programs; and that a significant part of it can fuel growth well into the future as well as now.  That’s the stimulus this country needs.  If we rush through with this bill and if most Republicans fail to support it, President Obama’s great post-partisan experiment will likely be dead before it has begun.  This would be even more tragic than passage of this stimulus bill.      

It’s wonderful having opinions, especially if they’re not constrained by facts or reality.  It’s why I think it’s so important to have quality newspapers available to keep us informed through both stories, in theory just presenting us with factual information, and opinion pieces, which provide us with not only factual information but perspective.  While stories are important, it’s the opinion pieces where I really learn about the world.  It’s where I can begin to see the gray the exists between the black and the white.  The Washington Post’s Outlook section this Sunday was a wonderful case in point.  It provided with information that helped refine my picture of the world in a number or areas.  There was nary a piece that didn’t in some way change my opinion of the issue addressed.  I think I read Outlook cover to cover on Sunday.  I won’t link to all of the pieces today, but to a good number of them.  What did I learn?

I learned more about Israel’s dilemma in dealing with its neighbors where its decisions are often in the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” category.  The piece, Israel Must Stop Fanning the Flames That Will Consume Us, by David Grossman explained why the author thinks the recent, and perhaps just postponed, war in Gaza has been a mistake and is likely to have done more harm than good.  It is valuable information on the road to meaningful ”opinion.”  I really can’t imagine forming an relevant opinion without having this kind of perspective. 

On the financial crisis, in Sebastian Mallaby’s What OPEC Teaches China, I received a perspective on the relationship between the crisis and Chinease economic policy.  It was important new information.  Likewise in David Ignatius’ Scary Financial Movie I learned additional things about the damage being done to the banking system, and the role of that in our financial crisis, by the toxic assets that are corroding the system.  I received a perspective that supported my evolving view of what the developing economic “stimulus” plan should look like in a Washington Post editorial entitled Priming the Pump.  I agreed with the Post editorial staff that there is much that is good and some that is not in the House stimulus bill.  Unfortunately there is much that simply isn’t “stimulus”.  And, that is not or at least should not be a partisan issue.  Republicans are right to object.

In Teacher on a World Stage by Jim Hoagland I was given the opportunity to think about how President Obama is going to be received by the world and, particularly, other world leaders.  Most of these leaders are enthusiastic now, but will he ask too much of them?  As Hoagland puts it in his concluding sentence: “There is no reason to think that the political earthquake Obama launched in the United States three years ago will stop at the water’s edge or has already run its course.” 

Concerning Guantanamo, Karen J. Greenberg in a piece entitled When Gitmo Was (Relatively) Good, informs us that at its infancy, the Guantanamo facility as run by the original military task force under Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert had the makings of utilitarian facility to house enemy combatants.  This was because Gen. Lehnert felt he had little choice but to meticulously follow “the Uniform Code of Military Justice, other U.S. laws and, above all, the Geneva Conventions.”  He also invited in and worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross to improve conditions.  All that changed under directives from Donald Rumsfeld and the rest is history.  President Obama has announced that the facility will soon close.  The column leaves us with the impression, however, that the Guantanamo story could have been different had the original rules been followed.  In such an event President Obama might not have had to announce its closure in the first week of his presidency.  It could have remained an viable option for America to house “the worst of the worst”, which now must still be dealt with in some other workable and acceptable way.

Finally, there was a piece by George McGovern entitled Don’t Lose Your Way in Afghanistan, Mr. President.  While I’ve rarely ever agreed with George McGovern and credit him, more than anyone else, for my decision to become a Republican in 1972, he offers a perspective on Afghanistan that is important.  A similar perspective is also communicated in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War or the book Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.  It is essentially a message that military might alone cannot win a war such as the war being waged in Afghanistan and the remote regions of Pakistan.  There must also be significant amounts of humanitarian assistance in the form of food and the building of educational facilities to come out on top.  While McGovern would argue for a complete end to military involvement, I would argue for both but with a much increased emphasis on the humanitarian side.  

Americans have a number of problems in staying adequately informed.  First, we don’t really care about much other than America-focused news and all too often that is of a superficial nature, overly-focused as it is on sports and entertainment.  Second, we don’t read newspapers, and the internet, while amazing, can’t substitute for a newspaper as a one-stop source of comprehensive and reliable information.  Third, the newspapers we do read in our small towns and even most of our large cities in America are pretty terrible when it comes to presenting important national news and opinion.  There are really only a handful of really good newspaper in the U.S. today and far too few Americans read any of them.  It is why I put such little stock in public opinion polls.  It is because the “opinion” that is reflected in these polls is so substantively deficient that it will rarely tell the country’s leadership what it should do or what the right thing to do is.  It will tell them what is “popular”.  It’s why at times I feel like throwing up my hands and screaming.  Yet I don’t and for now I persist in my Quixotic quest by writing this column.  What I am convinced of is that there is almost always a “right thing to do”.  Getting there is the challenge.  It takes abundant information and a good faith effort.  Our hope is that we seem to now have a president who seems genuinely inclined toward trying to achieve the right thing.  His challenge is in “leading” an America and indeed a Congress that doesn’t have enough information nor the desire to amass enough information to contribute to, let alone not sabotage, that effort.  We can only hope that Obama keeps aiming high and resists the temptations himself to do the politically expedient.            

“A joke made its way around the Capitol yesterday: How do you know the 2008 election is really over? Because John McCain is causing trouble for Republicans again.”  So begins a story in the Washington Post yesterday entitled Senate Gets Reacquainted With McCain the Maverick

McCain can only be McCain when he’s genuine and listening to himself.  His attempt to become the Republican that the Republican Party now by and large represents was a disaster.  First, the message is tired and no longer resonates as it once did with America at large, and second, that message did not emanate naturally from the mouth of John McCain.  It came across as false.  It came across as lines being uttered by an actor playing an unfamiliar role and therefore overacting the part.  The jingoistic rhetoric of the campaign in the final days was completely over the top and not of the real John McCain.       

So I welcome the real John McCain back on the scene.  Not perfect and not always right, he is, however, always a breath of fresh air in a stale Senate chamber.  We need the voice of that maverick who’s not afraid to speak his mind. 

As for the Republican Party, while clearly in trouble, it still represents a significant swath of the American electorate and can’t be completely shut of the process.  I argued in my posting yesterday that the Democrats can’t run roughshod over the Republicans just because they can.  First, there is no doubt that broader perspectives will yield a better final product.  Second, for our system to work well again we must bridge the partisan gap and that gap can only be bridged by the two sides working together to produce, to the extent feasible, a product in which both parties can be perceived to have participated.  That the Democrats shut the Republicans out of writing the stimulus bill is wrong.  This doesn’t mean I think that the majority should completely cave to Republican demands such as Minority Leader Boehner’s call for more tax relief and less direct government spending in the stimulus bill.  In my mind there is only one criterion that should attach to any spending (or tax relief/incentives) under the bill:  Does it actually stimulate economic growth in the next 12-18 months?  Anything less is not stimulus but is rather spending designed either to satiate partisan interest groups or to advance ideological objectives, or both.

As concerns the state of the Republican Party, Charlie’s Cook column in the National Journal a week ago, was a gem.  I could not agree with him more.  It’s entitled Self-Destructive Conservatism: From the Look of Things, the Republican Party Is In Danger of Cannibalizing Itself.  Mr. Cook also argues that by becoming ever more conservative it is discouraging Republican lawmakers, fearful of primary challenges from the right, to make compromises in the national interest on important legislation, such as the stimulus bill.  This hurts the country, not just the party.  Here are several of Mr. Cook’s observations:  

Most voters are fairly centrist, sitting between the 35-yard lines.  Democrats are on the left end of the field; Republicans on the right.  The theoretical center for each party is roughly the 25-yard line on its side.

[T]he center of the Republican Party has moved to the right, between the 15- and 20-yard lines.

This shift means that GOP primaries have become more conservative, putting pressure on incumbents to chart a more rightward course than they would otherwise take. And it means that GOP primaries, particularly in open-seat races, will be even more likely than in the past to nominate ideologues.

But if Republican lawmakers have to look over their shoulders and worry that backing a balanced stimulus plan would trigger serious primary challenges, they could be intimidated into jeopardizing measures needed to get the country out of the recession, into further isolating their party by making it more extremist, or both.

Shifting focus, the country will soon have a new “centrist” Senator from New York.  While I’m not sure I like her particular brand of centrism, from her 100% approval rating by the National Rifle Association to her having opposed last year’s Wall Street Relief legislation, I nonetheless applaud her appointment.  Diversity is OK.  That she apparently didn’t get along with Nancy Pelosi is also a good sign.  The story on Kirsten E. Gillibrand in today’s New York Times is entitled Gillibrand Is a Centrist With a Tenacious Style.  There are also suggestions in the article that she has national ambitions.  Given the trend lines of the parties (both parties moving to the right), perhaps it will be Gillibrand vs. Palin in 2016.

On the subject of energy policy, there was an Op-ed in today’s New York Times that I believe offers a perspective that is an important one.  The piece is entitled A Better Shade of Green and is by J. Wayne Leonard, the chief executive of the electric company Entergy.  There is a rush in America, especially at the state level, to enact renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) that mandate that a certain percentage of the electric supply come from a renewable source.  I don’t like RPSs because I don’t like top down decision-making, also called central planning.  It didn’t work in the Soviet Union and its not going to work in America.  The answer is in mechanisms enacted by the government that allow the market to work.  Let the market decide the winners and losers, not bureaucrats.  There’s no question we need more power to be produced from renewables, but it needs to happen for the right reasons and in the right way.

That wraps up the Roundup for this weekend.  I consider it to have been a great week for the country and President Obama did not disappoint.  He is the right man for the times. 

The House Committee on Appropriations and the House Committee on Ways and Means marked up bills this week that will together comprise the House version of the stimulus bill.  According to the Washington Post in a story this morning entitled Stimulus Plan Meets More GOP Resistance, no Republicans on either committee voted for the bill.  Why?, you might ask.  Because they had ZERO input in writing the bill.  What was Nancy Pelosi’s reaction.  According to the Post story it was “Yes, we wrote the bill.  Yes, we won the election.”  So much for a post-partisan America. 

While it is all but certain that some Republicans would have voted “No” no matter what the bill said, others would almost certainly have supported it had there been a conscientous attempt to accommodate Republican views.  It doesn’t mean the bill has to be 50/50, merely that Republicans are consulted and accommodated where possible and appropriate.  To craft a bill of this magnitude and importance with no Republican input is a complete travesty.  That Speaker Pelosi’s response is basically, “so what, we won the election” shows just how wrong a person she is for this job and why President Obama has his work cut out for him working with her and her band of partisans.  She makes Newt Gingrich sound downright accommodating and reasonable. 

America deserves a real attempt by Congress, working with thenew President, to try to govern in a new way.  We need less partisanship and more focus on solving our daunting challenges in non-ideological ways.   American’s are tired of games of the kind being perpetuated by Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives.

This morning President Obama met with House and Senate leaders from both parties and reiterated the need for urgency.  According to Congress Daily’s AM Extra, Speaker Pelosi apparently indicated that she would consider additional Republican ideas although “some Republican ideas are already included.”  How noble of her. 

What this country needs is for this bill to pass with substantial Republican support.  It would send an important signal to the country.  Such a result on the House bill, however, would seem at this juncture to be unlikely.  That’s very disappointing.  Besides signalling an overtly partisan beginning to the Obama years from the House side of the aisle, it means that the bill will also not be as good as could ber.  I dearly hope that saner heads prevail in the Senate and that the final product gains strong support from Democrats and Republicans alike.  

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