Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Obama's 2009 Environmental Record

Disappointed with Obama’s legislative agenda and his leadership style?

Too many compromises and concessions?

Don’t know what to tell your friends when they complain that the new prez isn’t progressive enough?

Take a quick look at this end-of-the-year report from the Natural Resources Defense Council outlining the administration’s direction and accomplishments on the environment.

Compare that to the previous group of plunderers and science-deniers who populated - and corrupted - the executive branch of the federal government.

Now keep in mind that the upcoming inauguration anniversary will trigger lots of media and internet chatter about where Obama has fallen short.

You won’t hear a lot about how this administration - through political appointments, departmental actions and executive orders - has made substantial progress on environmental preservation, conservation, protection and enforcement.

And, of course, there won’t be much discussion of other critically important matters such as workplace and consumer protections.

We’ll talk about that, among other things, next year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

End of the Decade Blog

The last year of the first decade of the 21st century ends and the first year of the second decade of the 21st century begins.

I was born during the second year of the second half of the 20th century when Harry Truman was a lame duck. So I was really an Eisenhower baby. Eisenhower was the only Republican candidate for president my father ever voted for. A working-class New York Jew, Irving Siegel broke from his New Deal roots to support the guy he called “his general.”

I watched John Kennedy wave from his convertible passing through Bensonhurst Brooklyn in 1960 and knew, three years later, that the rumor that he was dead was true when I saw the flag at half mast as I left junior high school.

I never really hated Lyndon Johnson even though I was rapidly radicalizing by the time he packed in his presidency. Even then, I was pulled to the center (I wore a “McCarthy supporters for Humphrey” button).

Nixon I hated, of course, and was certain that Watergate meant that conservatives were toast. I drank fairly heavily the night Reagan was elected and my father died the day before he was inaugurated.

I don’t want to talk about Michael Dukakis.

I loved watching Bill Clinton speak and constantly defended him. Then I just assumed that George W. Bush was a one-termer.

When Kerry lost I was worried sick that right wingers would rule for the rest of my life but then the Democrats took the Congress in ’06 and I cheered up. When the results came in on Obama’s election night I hugged a lot of strangers.

I’ve been on the Democratic Left for more than 40 years and have worked in the Labor Movement in Los Angeles since 1986.

Sometimes I’m pulled toward radical left ideology, but I’m more comfortable as an ordinary American. That can happen when you work with unions and their members.

You don’t have to be a genius to know that the Obama-era would be tough, that the new president was going to protect “elites” and piss-off his base.

Just like everyone else, I’m vulnerable to speculation that Obama was naive, timid, fearful, overly compromised and - oh no! - not really one of us; that he, his circle and Congressional Democrats have already blown it; and that our opponents are on their way again to steering the country back toward their particular brand of authoritarianism.

But, guess what, I’m not convinced.

Barack Obama is my 12th president, my sixth Democrat and the first one who’s younger than me.

It’s almost hard to believe that he’s still in the first year of his first term.

So, for God’s sake, don’t be gloomy. Democrats should enjoy the fact that we’ve gotten at least this far. Consider the alternative.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Union Threats and Militant Action on Health Reform

Criticizing the watered-down Senate version of the health reform bill, two high-profile national union leaders - AFL-CIO’s Rich Trumpka and SEIU’s Andy Stern - brought the Labor Movement to the front of the debate last week.

The well-covered story, of course, is that their remarks reflect a fracturing of the health reform coalition and represent a genuine threat that progressive Democrats will peel off.

We’ll know soon where Labor and other critically important Democratic constituency groups end up on the issue. But this week’s spotlight on Trumpka and Stern points to the difficulty faced by union activists to generate significant media attention and traction for their well-organized hard work on behalf of genuine reform.

While over-the-top expressions of outrage by Tea Party operatives are part of the “national conversation,” camera-ready actions by labor activists, including a coast-to-coast campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience at insurance company headquarters, has barely made a blip or a buzz.

It could be argued that these single payer advocates were cut off at the knees from the beginning because that position was not seriously considered by the administration or congress.

But are the angry and contrived outbursts of Obama-haters really that much more interesting and vital to the debate than the principled actions of rank and file union militants?

On Saturday, a local paper in Louisiana reported on a “24-hour rally” by union members on behalf of reform. While this demonstration seems to endorse the Senate bill, it received little national attention. And a campaign in California for a state-run single payer program (SB 810), gaining support from union activists in Los Angeles, will not be in gear until the federal legislation is settled one way or another.

Nevertheless, it may be that the general perception that Labor is an “inside player” in national politics, preempted the impact of its activities on-the-ground.

With the fate of reform now hostage to the “rule of 60,” Labor’s only leverage at this point are threats by its high-profile leaders to withdraw support.

That doesn’t preclude a union-led insurgency in 2010 on behalf of working-class interests. The question is whether it can match the fervor of the Tea Party movement and get the media - and ordinary Americans - to pay attention.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Paradox of Economic Recovery

Of course we’re hoping that conditions in this nation dramatically improve in 2010.

We want Americans to find work, feel more financially secure, buy what they need and enjoy their lives.

And obviously, as Democrats, we want the economy to show enough progress that we hold our own in the congressional midterm elections.

If the standard measures of growth are pointing north, it will blunt Republican charges that Obama and the Democrats have mismanaged the economy.

In that regard, I’m rooting for a conventional recovery:

Unemployment down a couple of points; consumer borrowing and spending up; the Dow above 11,000; and an uptick in home prices and housing starts.

Yet we also know the severe limitations of simply returning to those standard measures. A drop in unemployment, though vital, doesn’t correct massive inequalities in the labor markets; buying binges by Americans don’t reverse the depletion of domestic manufacturing; fattened investment portfolios don’t mean sustained prosperity; and a return to inflated housing prices don’t make it easier for working-class families to buy.

Even more to the point, those traditional indicators don’t evoke the real promise of the Obama era: a meaningful effort to close the wage and income gap, spurred by a reinvigorated Labor Movement, and a decoupling of economic growth from wasteful consumption.

But in the meantime, we want some basic relief for suffering Americans and better-looking economic numbers. In the short term, that will stifle our opponents and bolster our prospects for positive change in the next decade.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

High-Speed Rail - Manufacturers Commit to American Jobs

Lost among contentious battles over big picture issues - Afghanistan, health care, global warming - are Obama Administration initiatives which could transform America.

The effort to jump start high-speed rail projects across the continental U.S., for example, will have enormous impact over urban and suburban development patterns, energy use and, of course, intercity transportation.

The start-up $8 billion stimulus money is spurring state and regional action on land acquisition, engineering, contracting, and ultimately construction of these corridors. It will certainly be many years and decades before we see 220 mile-an-hour bullet trains connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco, Chicago to St. Louis, Houston to New Orleans, Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and Miami to Tampa, but these labor intensive projects will provide tens of thousands of high-wage jobs.

Spearheading the plan is the U.S. Department of Transportation, led by its energetic Secretary Ray LaHood, who before his appointment by President Obama was a Republican member of Congress from Illinois for 14 years.

The DOT recently announced that more than 30 rail manufacturers and suppliers have agreed that if they’re contracted to work on high-speed rail, they will operate out of U.S.-based production facilities. That means that the tracks, wires and station materials will be built right here in America.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hillary Clinton - Obama’s Kissinger?

A day after President Obama’s West Point speech committing 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on Capitol Hill explaining the policy, deflecting criticism and - side-by-side with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mike Mullen - adding a considerable dose of gravitas to Obama’s war strategy.

Then it was off to Brussels where Clinton met with European allies and, along the way, did some spunky interviews with, among others, NPR and PBS.

Hillary is emerging as a star player in the administration and someone who is essential to its - and the president’s - success.

With disapproval of the Obama “surge” arousing rowdy and near-hysterical disapproval within important factions of the Democratic Party, the Secretary of State could be pivotal in keeping these constituencies in the fold.

While Colin Powell gave - and ultimately forfeited - his credibility in service to George W. Bush, no Secretary of State in my memory has been so central to a presidency as Clinton since Henry Kissinger fashioned and carried out foreign policy for Presidents Nixon and Ford.

This must be an awful comparison for Kissinger-haters. Dr. Kissinger, the evil genius, never ran for office and in addition to his breakthrough diplomacy with the Chinese Communists, was involved in some of the most pernicious acts ever committed by this nation (the overthrow and murder of Salvador Allende in Chile is just one example).

Nevertheless, Kissinger’s influence was historical and enormous. And now, Ms. Clinton is taking center stage in the post-cold war era.

The move, a year ago, to offer her this key cabinet position may turn out to be President Obama’s most politically astute act and the one that could ultimately save his presidency.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Afghanistan Surge Opponents - Are You Sure?

The arguments many progressives are using to oppose Obama’s Afghanistan policy are very persuasive. Here are a couple examples of thoughtful analysis from two very bright guys: Tom Hayden and Robert Scheer.

I’m not smart enough to refute their reasoning and - frankly - I don’t want to make a big fuss against the anti-war passion that’s been stirred by the decision to add 30,000 troops.

If, in fact, Obama is leading us down a terrible path, the outrage is justified.

My problem is with the certainly of some of those who object to the President’s surge.

I don’t know if this military strategy will work or not. I hope it does. I would like if it stabilizes the region and ultimately spares Afghani women the horrors of Taliban rule. And sure, I would want Obama to get a political bump out of it which would strengthen - or maybe even save - his presidency.

But what do I know?

It’s possible, I suppose, that Obama just caved to the Generals, Gates, Clinton and Mullen. That Obama just doesn’t have the chops.

It didn’t seem that way to me when I watched the President at West Point but maybe I was just taken by the setting and the stagecraft?

So - no surprise here - I’m going to support and defend the president and, for the most part, leave the arguing to others.

Except this…

That I think the administration sees the Afghanistan conflict as pivotal in a long-term strategy to contain Islamic extremism. And it could take generations to find out whether they’re right.