ChrisWeigant.com

Friday Talking Points [111] -- Use It Or Lose It

[ Posted Friday, February 12th, 2010 – 18:44 PST ]

President Obama this week has successfully put the Republican Party on the defensive. Now, this could be a fleeting thing, or it could be the start of a whole new way for Obama's administration to operate. Time will tell.

Obama started off the week putting Republicans on the defensive over a single Republican senator who had put "holds" on every single one of Obama's nominees awaiting Senate approval (the senator in question was in a snit over an earmark or two for his state worth around a billion dollars). The Republican, in a matter of days, removed his holds on all but three. Tuesday, Obama threatened to make a whole bunch of "recess appointments" if the Senate continued to obstruct him. Today, twenty-seven of sixty-three of Obama's nominees were approved by the Senate.

Super Bowl Sunday, Obama threw down a challenge to Republicans as well, in the form of a health reform summit meeting to be held between Obama and the Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress, which would be televised on C-SPAN. This was a gamble for Obama, but it already appears to be paying off, as Republicans scurry to figure out what to do about it.

This is called using political leverage. And it is what a lot of people have been waiting for -- for a long time, now. From Obama, from Democrats in general. The Democrats have an enormous majority in both houses of Congress, and it is about time they started acting like it, instead of behaving as if they're still somehow in the minority.

This means threatening Republicans. It means scaring them, using the "Party of No" label like a hobnailed club. The new message from Democrats, following Obama's lead, should be: "Obstructionism will no longer be allowed to happen outside the spotlights." It is one of the strongest political cases the Democrats have to make right now, and they should not be afraid to let the Republicans know that they're ready and eager to do so.

This is called driving the debate, or framing the discussion, and -- again -- it's about time.

Because political capital falls into the "use it or lose it" category. The more you use political capital to get good things done, the more goodwill and political capital you will reap from the voters. The less you use it when in power, the less you will have on election day.

Some may quibble about how effectively such political leverage has been used in the past week, but the fact that it's being used at all is a good sign, to me at least. Maybe it'll be used better in the future, since (as with just about anything) more practice using it will improve these skills. But for now, the fact that the Democrats are driving the debate for once is welcome enough news to me.

 

Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

President Obama certainly deserves mention here for his impressive use of leverage against Senate Republicans this week. A quick recap: last week, one Republican senator was identified as having put a "hold" on over 70 of Obama's nominees to key positions in the Executive Branch. He put this hold on everyone not for ideological reasons, but because he wanted a billion tax dollars for his state. Obama exposed this, and within days he had lifted his hold on all but three of them. This Tuesday, Obama met with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, and reportedly told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that he had a choice -- either stop the unprecedented delays on his nominees, or Obama would just go ahead and make "recess appointments" next week anyway, which bypass the Senate's say in the matter.

Today, right before the Senate knocked off work for yet another week of vacation, the Republicans gave Obama half a loaf. They blinked, in other words. They allowed votes to approve 27 of the waiting appointees. This is phenomenal progress for one day's work in the Senate, I should point out. Of course, this still leaves around three dozen nominees waiting, but it should be seen as a good start. Obama, in his announcement of the victory, threatened again that if the Senate didn't move on the rest of them in a timely manner, he'd use recess appointments anyway the next time the Senate goes home for a week (early next month).

Now, I should mention that Big Labor is not happy, since Obama seemed to have cut a deal not to make any such appointments next week in exchange for the movement on the 27 who got approved. And they've got a good point, since the National Labor Relations Board has only two people currently sitting on it, when there should be five. But, nevertheless, I have to chalk this one up as a victory for the White House.

Because of the half-a-loaf nature of the victory, however, Obama will only get an Honorable Mention as a result.

The Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award will instead go to Senator Chris Dodd, who appears to be fighting the good fight to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (C.F.P.A.), which would look out for the average guy trying to get a mortgage, rather than the health of Wall Street banks. Now, this award may prove to be premature, since Dodd has been known to talk a good line and then quietly do what Wall Street wants anyway when he thinks no one is looking, but we're hoping that he proves worthy of the award this time.

Dodd, as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, not only strongly came out for creating the C.F.P.A. this week, but also earned his award for a very interesting tactic. Dodd had been in negotiations with the ranking Republican on the committee, but Dodd finally threw his hands up in the air, and declared these negotiations weren't going anywhere. So Dodd instead decided to start negotiating with a freshman Republican senator instead. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee apparently has a much more open mind about politically which side of this debate it would be a good idea to be on, and seems to be willing to buck his own party on the issue as well.

Now, no final legislation exists or anything, meaning that whatever comes out of it may be disappointing, but Dodd deserves credit for his "divide and conquer" technique here. Because this is the way the game is supposed to be played by the majority party. Get one guy from the other side to see your point of view, and peel him off and get his support in the hopes that others will follow.

As I said, it's too soon to see whether it will be successful or not, but on tactical grounds alone, Senator Chris Dodd deserves being named the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. By doing so, he ties Speaker Nancy Pelosi for second place on the all-time list, with ten MIDOTW awards each.

[Congratulate Senator Chris Dodd on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

 

Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

Harry Reid, on the other hand, was not exactly a master of political leverage this week.

Today Reid slammed the door on the jobs bill being pushed by a Republican and Democratic senator, in favor of a much more limited version he will write. The jury's still out on whether this is going to be a smart move or not, since by breaking the bill down into tiny pieces it remains to be seen which pieces will be voted on, or passed. And there are some important pieces left behind by Reid, including an extension on unemployment benefits which will need to pass immediately when the Senate returns, or else the checks are going to stop for a lot of folks out there.

But Reid managed to win the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week for another reason. Because Reid was quoted shooting down the idea of reforming the filibuster in any way any time soon. Now, it's an interesting parliamentary question which is far too complex to go into here, but the upshot is that nobody's really sure how many votes it would take to change the filibuster. Some say 67. Some say 51 (at the beginning of a new session of Congress).

The trick here isn't to win this battle (which isn't by any means assured), the trick here is to make your opponents think you are serious about making the attempt. This scares the Hell out of Senate minorities, because it is a "nuclear option" which would change the Senate's dynamic in an enormous way.

The thing with "nuclear options," though, is that you're never supposed to actually use them -- they're supposed to be a "deterrent." In this case, if you start fast and loose talk about doing away with the filibuster, and you do so constantly whenever Republicans force a "60 vote" cloture, then you make them think twice about how often they do so. There's a good example of how to do this correctly down in the talking points, from Senator Tom Harkin.

But the thing you don't do is to throw the leverage away before you can even use it. Harry Reid needs to take a trip to his home state's Las Vegas, and learn that when you're playing cards, you play your cards close to the vest and try to make the other guy guess what you are thinking.

Instead, Harry (once again) tosses away his most potent weapon, before the fight even begins. His comments leave no doubt that the filibuster's going to change any time soon, meaning the Republicans know it's an empty threat.

For tossing aside such powerful leverage, and (sadly, once again) gaining absolutely nothing in return for doing so, Harry Reid wins his record-breaking sixteenth Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact Senator Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 111 (2/12/10)

In the spirit of this section, I am going to outrageously spin the past few weeks to make myself look good. Ready?

Two Mondays ago, I wrote a column titled "Obama Should Hold Press Conference Soon" (which is pretty self-explanatory). Lo and behold, none other than the blog section of the Wall Street Journal picked it up. A few days later, the New York Times wrote a story entitled "Few News Conferences, but Still Taking Questions" (which somehow failed to cite my article, a mere oversight, I'm sure). Then a few days after this, the Washington Post chimed in (which also inexplicably left my article out). This Tuesday, President Obama surprised the White House press corps by appearing in the press room to answer their questions -- not a full press conference, but still the first time he had done so in quite a while.

Obviously, my columns are regular reading in the Oval Office, and the president is pondering my sage advice on a regular basis, as he well should.

Heh.

Anyway, in similar spirit, we present this week's talking points. The (loose) theme this week is for Democrats to beat your own drum. It's an election year -- how about making your case to the voters? The first item shows proof that this message just isn't getting through, making it all the more imperative to keep repeating this stuff, every chance you get.

 

1
   Democrats lowered taxes for almost everyone

Here is a fact which every Democrat in Congress needs rubbed in their nose in a big way: while Obama and the Democrats lowered taxes on 95 percent of the public, only 12 percent think that is true. This yawning chasm between fact and what people believe is the direct fault of the Democrats, who for some strange reason fail to understand that this is something they should be bragging about.

"Republicans love to say last year's stimulus package was a failure, but I personally can't understand why they would say that about something that lowered taxes on ninety-five percent of working Americans. Yes, you heard that right -- Democrats lowered taxes on all but the ultra-wealthy. These taxes will show up this year when Americans do their paperwork with the IRS, and I can't for the life of me understand why Republicans are still badmouthing the stimulus, since I thought they were supposed to be in favor of lower taxes. Democrats lowered taxes, Republicans voted against it. Voters should remember who got this tax cut passed this year at tax time."

 

2
   Gays in the military

Here is a winning item for Democrats, which the Republicans can be almost guaranteed to shoot themselves in the collective foot with, by going over the top in the language they use. Allowing gays in the military has overwhelming support from the American people. It is a wedge issue the Republicans have painted themselves into a corner on, and the corner is shrinking -- even though many Republicans don't yet realize it. So get out in front on this, and make it a big huge issue in Congress soon, because it will help Democrats politically (as well as being the right thing to do).

"Getting rid of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is not only the honorable thing for Congress to do, it is also widely supported by the American public. A recent poll showed that three out of four Americans support allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the United States military. Even 64 percent of Republicans think it's the right thing to do. I call on Democrats and Republicans alike to join together and get rid of this outdated policy for good. The American people are out in front of the politicians on this one, and I for one will support repealing the current policy and allowing gays and lesbians serve their country without having to hide who they are."

 

3
   Harkin on the filibuster

Senator Tom Harkin wrote a wonderful piece this week for the Huffington Post, which I encourage everyone to read in full. Below is an extended excerpt, as a talking point (actually, a collection of several similar talking points). Because it is so well-written, I'll allow Senator Harkin's words to make the case. Harry Reid really should be taking notes, here.

When many people think of the filibuster, it brings to mind the classic 1939 film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But Senator Smith -- Jimmy Stewart's character -- was a little guy using the filibuster to stop the special interests. Today, that has been turned upside-down. It is the special interests using the filibuster to stop legislation that would benefit the little guy.

Among other bills, Republicans have filibustered legislation to provide low-income energy assistance; efforts to strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ensure our children are not exposed to unsafe toys; and efforts to ensure that women are guaranteed equal pay for equal work.

The problem is not only that Republicans are using the filibuster to kill good bills that would help working Americans. The larger problem is that the Republicans' indiscriminate use of the filibuster has made it all but impossible to conduct everyday business in the Senate. On an almost daily basis, the Republican minority -- just 41 Senators -- stops bills from even coming to the floor for debate and amendment.

In the 1950s, an average of one bill was filibustered in each two-year Congress. In the last Congress, 139 bills were filibustered. The Republican abuse of the filibuster is unprecedented, routine, and increasingly reckless.

Just last week, a Republican Senator blocked the nomination of every single executive branch nominee -- 70 in all. This isn't about reasoned opposition. It is about systematic, indiscriminate obstruction of the majority's ability to conduct even routine, non-controversial business.

The Senate cannot continue down this path of obstruction, paralysis, and de facto minority rule. That is why I have introduced a bill to change the Standing Rules of the Senate to reform the cloture procedure in the United States Senate.

 

4
   Deficit reduction

Republicans are all set to use this as a political blunt instrument against Democrats. Democrats need to counter this by turning it around, which undercuts the Republicans' purposeful vagueness.

"I've been hearing a lot of hot air on the subject of deficit reduction from my Republican colleagues lately, but it's funny that they never seem to get very specific. Look at the federal budget, and please, let me know where all your magic deficit reduction is going to come from. First, we have military spending -- bet that's not on the Republican list for cuts, what do you think? Next, we have discretionary spending, which Obama is proposing a three-year freeze on. Republicans haven't supported such a freeze. Most of the rest of the budget is Social Security and Medicare. So, what exactly are the Republican plans for those? Do they agree with the House Republican who wants to just give everybody vouchers instead of Medicare? Are they going to slash Medicare funding some other way? Or are they talking about privatizing Social Security once again? Boy, that would have worked out just dandy for retirees when the stock market crashed. I'd really like to know from Republicans exactly where they're going to find all of these magical savings. You say you're serious about deficit reduction, well, where would you cut first?"

 

5
   Republican hypocrisy on stimulus funds

Once again, Democrats have to defend their own policies, instead of just assuming everyone knows all about them. President Obama has been leading the pack on this one, stating to the House Republicans "A lot of you have gone to appear at ribbon cuttings for the same projects that you voted against."

Keep this drumbeat up. This quote is from Ryan Rudominer, from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the guys responsible for trying to get more Democrats elected to the House), and it shows how to spotlight Republican hypocrisy beautifully.

Not only have nearly 70 House Republicans been caught trying to take credit for recovery funding that's brought the economy back from the brink of collapse, but now it's come to light some were writing private letters lobbying for projects in their districts while trashing the Recovery package publicly.

 

6
   Make political hay on the nominees

Don't just go gently into the night on this, Democrats. Make some political hay over it! Get the word out, instead of assuming that since everyone inside the Beltway has heard the story, that everyone in the country has heard it. Bang the drum!

"At this point in President Bush's term, the Senate had failed to act on six of his nominees to important jobs in the federal government. As of last week, the Senate had failed to act on over seventy of President Obama's. This is political obstructionism at its worst. Republicans have been using tricks to deny the president his chosen nominees in important positions, some of which relate to national security. That's right -- Republicans are playing politics with this nation's security. We have had enough, and President Obama has had enough. Last week we found out that one Republican senator had held up every remaining nominee -- all to get a billion dollars for his state. Republicans say they're against this sort of deal-making, except when it is one of their own doing it. This week, Republicans finally realized that holding up every nominee over a billion dollars for one state was indefensible politically, and we have since confirmed about half of those who were waiting for months while Republicans scored cheap political points and ground the Senate to a halt. We call upon them to move immediately on the remaining nominees when the Senate returns to business, or President Obama will be forced to use recess appointments to fully staff the government in these critical times."

 

7
   The GOP sends you a Valentine

Republicans have their usual crop of funny (to them, at least) Valentine's cards up on their national website. They're not as good as last year's, but I had to throw it in here at the end, just for the one with Rahm Emanuel's face on it -- because it is the perfect way to end the column. It reads (this has not been edited, this is exactly what it reads):

Happy <Expletive> Valentine's Day

 

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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground

Cross-posted at: The Huffington Post

 

-- Chris Weigant

 

40 Comments on “Friday Talking Points [111] -- Use It Or Lose It”

  1. [1] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Chris,

    "Dodd had been in negotiations with the ranking Republican on the committee, but Dodd finally threw his hands up in the air, and declared these negotiations weren't going anywhere."

    And that ranking Republican is...? Richard Shelby! The funniest thing about that billion-dollar tribute he wanted? I remember when a DEMOCRAT named Richard Shelby got elected by hammering the Republican incumbent over earmarks and pork.

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Osborne -

    Yeah, I don't know why I hid Shelby's name twice in today's article, unless it was possibly to deny him press he didn't deserve. But you are on top of the situation, and are right to point out that Shelby was both the extortionate GOP senator on the "hold" thing, as well as the one negotiating with Dodd.

    -CW

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Despite all the "Party Of No" wishful thinking, the fact is that the GOP does have a good health care reform plan. Even some on this forum have acknowledged.

    Because I am on a roll, prognostication-wise, here is my layout for the upcoming Kamikazee Summit.. :D I labeled it this way because it is obvious that the summit is a last-ditch desperate move by the Democrats to show at least a semblance of relevancy for the upcoming mid-terms.

    The illusion of the Party Of No label has been maintained by one factor and one factor only. The complacency of the MSM that is in bed with the Obama administration.

    This is slowly changing. The MSM is slowly seeing that the Emperor has no clothes. This process will get a big jolt into warp speed with the very public airing of the Republican's "Short Bill". One page long, costing a mere fraction of Democrat's CrapCare and is actually REAL reform..

    After the Kamikazee Summit, the American public will come to realize that, all along, it has been the Democratic Party that is the "Party Of No"..

    NO Good Ideas and NO Real Reform....

    Place yer quatloos... :D

    Michale.....

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    1} Democrats lowered taxes for almost everyone

    It's kinda hard to get excited about the cup full of water that Democrats pulled out of the Titanic.. :D

    2} Gays in the military

    While it's true that this has been a GOP hot button issue, the simple fact is, many Dem leaders are also against the repeal of DADT.

    I, personally, don't have a problem with DADT being repealed.

    But ya'all need to keep in mind that the military is NOT the place for social experiments. The one overriding factor in ANY decision pertaining to the military is "The Mission".

    Anything, and I mean **ANYTHING** that compromises the military's ability to perform "The Mission" is a no go..

    The ability to perform "The Mission" is the ONLY relevant consideration.

    3} Harkin on the filibuster

    I saids it before and I'll saids it again. Dems don't WANT to mess with the Filibuster because they know they will be the minority party in less than a year. I betcha that the GOP is just foaming at the mouth to get the Dems to threaten the Filibuster.

    "Go ahead. Make my day."
    -Dirty Harry

    I would be another win-win in a long history of win-wins for the GOP...

    4} Deficit reduction

    I don't know squat about economics, so I'll let this TP stand. :D

    5}Republican hypocrisy on stimulus funds

    Not only have nearly 70 House Republicans been caught trying to take credit for recovery funding that's brought the economy back from the brink of collapse

    Yea, and we have Biden and Obama taking credit for the stabilization of Iraq when they were so adamant against ANY action in Iraq in the Bush years..

    The nature of the political beast..

    Make political hay on the nominees

    See above regarding the nature of the political beast.. It's always dangerous for Democrats to "make hay" from the things they themselves do.

    They run the risk of being labeled hypocrites. And rightly so..

    7} The GOP sends you a Valentine.

    Happy Valentine's Day

    That's Rahm for ya.. :D

    Michale.....

  5. [5] 
    Hawk Owl wrote:

    The Republicans' tenacious loyalty to the Health Care System of the more "efficient" private industry model leaves me scratching my head:

    -- buried in the back pages of my local paper yesterday was a single paragraph based on annual reports and S.E.C. filings of the top five insurers (Well-Point, UnitedHealth Group, Cigna, Aetna and Humana).

    Their own numbers show that in 2009 they covered 2.7 million FEWER people than in 2008 and RAISED their profits 56%. Three of them CUT the portion of premiums spent on customers' medical care while using those funds to INCREASE salaries, administrative expenses, and profits.

    Years ago I heard Paul Samuelson, just before winning his Nobel Prize in economics, point out that "the greatest danger to capitalism is NOT communism or socialism [now this was only years after the McCarthy witch hunts, so he had everyone's attention]
    but oligopolies . . ."

    Our current system allows a few mega-corporations to make enormous profits [the top five earned $12.2 Billion in profits, not net income, but profits, in 2009] in an industry where effective competition for their services is dwarfed by their size & ability to function as a "virtual cartel."

    Capitalism really can be the most effective economic
    model, but it also can be distorted under the guise of straw-man fallacy "anti-socialistic" rhetoric to hide our current system's real failure to provide affordable health care for all Americans. I'm waiting for a real debate which addresses the real root of our health care failure to do that.

  6. [6] 
    Moderate wrote:

    I think Obama's "deal" not to make recess appointments during the break is a very savvy one. Given all his talk about "bipartisanship" and his clear tactic to shine a bright light on Republican "obstructionism", recess appointments may be spun against him by the GOP (they'll say that Obama's approach of riding roughshod over them forces them to become obstructionist).

    This way he still wields the big stick, but can retain the talk of working with the Republicans not against them. If forced to use recess appointments by further Republican "obstructionism" it gives him a perfect opportunity to shine a light on it. He can say "See, I asked them to work with me, but they just want to say "No""

    (For the record, I'm not saying recess appointments are wrong; they're entirely constitutional and Republicans have used them before.)

    Reid's worried about losing his seat. Not only are polls showing him with a 20% chance of retaining his seat against any of the likely Republican picks, the potential primary challengers have a better chance of retaining the seat than he does, which means he could possibly lose the primary if Democrat voters realise that he has little chance of keeping the seat.

    He needs to have something to campaign on, and this jobs bill could be his last chance to keep his seat. There's no way he wants to be the first Senate majority leader to lose their seat in something like seventy years.

    Republicans voted against the Stimulus, not tax cuts. The Stimulus contained a lot of very bad ideas, along with the tax cuts. Or what Michale said works equally well. Democrats cannot spin the Stimulus as a good thing because unemployment went up under it and they now need another bill to create more jobs. Good job!

    Meanwhile, the only thing that stopped a complete economic meltdown was the policies Bush implemented at the peak of the crisis. If it weren't for him, there wouldn't be a banking system worth toffee, and no banking system = no economy to save. Focusing on the Stimulus will help the Republicans.

    I'm with you on DADT. Democrats need to bang that drum as loudly as they can, in the hopes that the Republicans will come out with rhetoric that makes them look bigoted and out of touch with Americans. It could work too.

    By the way, Michale's right. The last thing Democrats want to do is eliminate the filibuster. How else would they block judicial appointments like they did with Bush? Besides, like Michale said, it's win-win. Either they reform, pass a raft of bad legislation and then get booted out (only for Republicans to then be free to push their agenda through, ensuring they win elections for a long time to come) or they don't reform and Republicans can save the American public from Obama and his terrible legislation. They win either way. ;-)

    All partisan joshing aside, the filibuster is designed to prevent tyranny of the majority. It's actually a lot less of a tyranny of the minority than is claimed; it could be a lot worse (could you imagine if it took 67 votes to break one?)

    By the way, back in 2005 when Republicans threatened reform of filibuster the Democrats said it required 67, so they can't insist on it being 51 now. Unless, of course, they want to appear as hypocritical. Again.

    Or are they talking about privatizing Social Security once again? Boy, that would have worked out just dandy for retirees when the stock market crashed.

    Heh. Well, in the UK our pensions are so crap that nearly everyone has some form of privatised retirement fund which is invested in the markets. This, by the way, wasn't to cut down costs; it's because our government is inept and ended up spending too much money. They then left themselves not enough money to adjust the pension properly for inflation. One of the biggest areas of government waste was, by their own admission, healthcare.

    As of last week, the Senate had failed to act on over seventy of President Obama's. This is political obstructionism at its worst. Republicans have been using tricks to deny the president his chosen nominees in important positions, some of which relate to national security.

    Ahem. Republicans aren't the ones blocking seventy nominations. One Republican is. A Republican who, as Osborne pointed out, used to be one of yours. Shelby isn't ideologically a Republican, he's one of those career politicians that does whatever it takes to get re-elected. Heck, the switch was only done because the Republicans won the majority (and I bet if the Democrats cut a deal to give him the billion dollars, they'd not only get the hold removed but they could probably get that 60th seat they want so badly in the wake of the Massacre in Massachusetts).

    Republicans have their usual crop of funny (to them, at least) Valentine's cards up on their national website.

    Hey! I resemble that remark (yes, I really did think most of them were funny).

    Years ago I heard Paul Samuelson, just before winning his Nobel Prize in economics, point out that "the greatest danger to capitalism is NOT communism or socialism [now this was only years after the McCarthy witch hunts, so he had everyone's attention]?but oligopolies . . ."

    And I agree with him. Which is why the correct reform is to allow greater competition by opening up the channels of interstate commerce. Let's not forget that the Democrats ideal model, if they thought they could get it passed, would be a single-payer option. In other words, a monopoly.

    Now, from my rudimentary understanding of economics, monopolies are worse than oligopolies. The Democrats, in other words, are suggesting that America jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. The government-run scheme could essentially be manipulated into a "stealth tax" very easily.

  7. [7] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Besides, comparing this point in Obama's President to Bush at the same point neglects a proper consideration of the role that 9/11 played in bipartisanship. This wasn't Democrats being helpful to their political opponents, but more an issue of not wanting to appear like they were anti-American.

  8. [8] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Having dug deeper and found the poll at the source of that 12 percent figure, it appears that when the tax cuts got to the ground they ended up being, for the average family, worth $13 a week. That's pittance and has little impact when it comes to stimulating the economy too. Chances are people didn't really change their habits thanks to an extra few dollars a week.

    They probably didn't spend any more, and probably didn't notice a huge hike in their savings either (would you notice an extra $13 on your life savings?).

    Which only adds more power to Michale's "cup full of water" point.

  9. [9] 
    Moderate wrote:

    On the issue of DADT, according to a CBS poll, whilst the majority do support revoking it (though slightly lower than the 75% in that other poll quoted over at HuffPost), the exact numbers depend on wording. It's an interesting insight into the the mindset of the average American when it comes to certain words:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2010/02/11/politics/politicalhotsheet/entry6198284.shtml

  10. [10] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Chris:

    "Anything, and I mean **ANYTHING** that compromises the military's ability to perform "The Mission" is a no go.."

    Anything? Like, say, needing a translator?

    I love it when imaginative guys who've never served a day in uniform tell me how the military ought to be run.

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    Besides, comparing this point in Obama's President to Bush at the same point neglects a proper consideration of the role that 9/11 played in bipartisanship. This wasn't Democrats being helpful to their political opponents, but more an issue of not wanting to appear like they were anti-American.

    I have to somewhat disagree here.

    I still have a dim (very dim, considering) streak of idealism in me.

    When something like a 9/11 happens, I feel that Americans come together and forget partisanship and political bickering and remember their common bond of citizens of this country.

    Maybe I just see what I WANT to see. It all can be (maybe is) political grandstanding.

    But it's nice to THINK that we can actually put aside our differences and rise to face a common enemy.

    Shirley:

    Anything? Like, say, needing a translator?

    One must offset the need for a translator with the alleged issues in the ranks that might arise of having an openly gay member on the team.

    And there IS some logic to that position. Can you imagine the reaction of a terrorist scumbag to being interrogated by a gay man?


    I love it when imaginative guys who've never served a day in uniform tell me how the military ought to be run.

    I *KNOW* you can't be referring to me. :D

    My military bona fides are well-established a long time ago..

    Michale.....

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    Heck, the switch was only done because the Republicans won the majority (and I bet if the Democrats cut a deal to give him the billion dollars, they'd not only get the hold removed but they could probably get that 60th seat they want so badly in the wake of the Massacre in Massachusetts).

    The Massachusetts Massacre...???

    I like that.. Has a nice ring to it. :D

    Michale.....

  13. [13] 
    Moderate wrote:

    When something like a 9/11 happens, I feel that Americans come together and forget partisanship and political bickering and remember their common bond of citizens of this country.

    I apologise for not being clear enough. That's actually what I meant. What I was driving at was it wasn't Democrats being receptive to a Republican agenda, but rather that there wasn't, for a while, a Republican/Democratic agenda, but only an American agenda.

  14. [14] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Actually, to add to Michale's response to 5, the Republicans have rightly said that they're simply making lemonade out of the stimulus' lemons. Surely it's the job of a politician to ensure that if there's money there, whether or not they think it should be there, their state gets some?

    It's not hypocrisy. It's just representing one's constituents. Now had they gone on record as criticising those who took stimulus money, that would clearly be hypocrisy, but that isn't the case. They criticised the existence of the stimulus itself, and that shouldn't stop them trying to make the most of a bad situation.

  15. [15] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    It's always dangerous for Democrats to "make hay" from the things they themselves do. They run the risk of being labeled hypocrites. And rightly so..

    you're right, there is definitely some level of hypocrisy there, but the hypocrisy goes both ways. If we measure objectively by the number of nominees held up, the republicans of this president's term are more than two and a half times as hypocritical as the Dems of the last president's first term. (to be exact, 177/70 = 2.53) Or to quote Senator Leahy,

    "Those who just a short time ago said that a majority vote is all that should be needed to confirm a nomination, and that filibusters of nominations are unconstitutional, have hypocritically reversed themselves and now employ any delaying tactic they can."

  16. [16] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Third time lucky. Having just read Sen. Harkin's post on HuffPost, I think there is a touch of merit to his ideas. For starters, he accepts the 67 votes required to reform. And he does accept that the traditional filibuster should remain (60 votes for the first attempt at cloture).

    What I'd propose is something similar, but spread over a longer time. The Senate is supposed to be a deliberative body, things are supposed to take a long time to get done. So I'd suggest that after six months on a particular bill, the requirement to break filibuster drops to 57 votes. After another six months it could be reduced to 55. But it should still require a sizeable majority, it must never be allowed to get as low as 51 (because the filibuster is meant to prevent tyranny of slim majorities).

    And be grateful. Our "upper house" in Parliament is entirely unelected, either hereditary or appointed for life. If you think having 41 elected people block the elected government is bad, try having a legislature where there are more unelected members than elected ones (the House of Lords has 700 members, the House of Commons has just 650)

  17. [17] 
    Moderate wrote:

    It's actually a lot less of a tyranny of the minority than is claimed; it could be a lot worse (could you imagine if it took 67 votes to break one?)

    Just discovered that it used to be 2/3rds of Senators present and voting, so it would've required 67 when all 100 Senators were present. Ouch.

    Besides, if the Democrats are being handicapped at losing up to seven seats in November, it's possible that even if 51 votes were all that were needed, they'd struggle to get them if all they have is 52 seats. Democrats are also defending twice as many seats as the Republicans at the next two elections.

  18. [18] 
    Moderate wrote:

    You won't believe this:

    http://www.americablog.com/2010/02/dick-cheney-today-said-its-time-to-end.html

    Seems like even DADT may not be the hammer to bash the Republicans over the head with anymore. They're coming off more liberal than the Democrats.

  19. [19] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    The first place I saw the term, "Massachusetts Massacre" applied to this January's election was in a column by Harvey Rosenfield on January 25. I doubt he's the one who coined the term, but it's a good article about what not to do in a crisis. I think CW and this community would appreciate the premises and conclusions - if only the president would as well.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harvey-rosenfield/barack-obama-meet-gray-da_b_435055.html

    I agree with Moderate about the filibuster. It might potentially be tweaked a bit, but certainly not eliminated entirely. the stimulus i think is like treating an amputated limb with a band-aid - i don't see why anyone would want to take credit for it, or TARP, or any other program that skirts the real issue, which is that our trade policies are incredibly unfair to American workers. That doesn't look like it will change anytime soon. Thanks, Supreme Court Rulers Of The United Money States! (do the acronym for yourself.)

  20. [20] 
    Michale wrote:

    Moderate,

    What I was driving at was it wasn't Democrats being receptive to a Republican agenda, but rather that there wasn't, for a while, a Republican/Democratic agenda, but only an American agenda.

    VERY well said...

    Kudos...

    Michale.....

  21. [21] 
    Michale wrote:

    NYpoet,

    Thanks, Supreme Court Rulers Of The United Money States! (do the acronym for yourself.)

    Now THAT was funny!!! :D

    Michale....

  22. [22] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Thanks, Supreme Court Rulers Of The United Money States! (do the acronym for yourself.)

    Heh.

    I agree with Moderate about the filibuster. It might potentially be tweaked a bit, but certainly not eliminated entirely

    I just think one of the great things about the US political system that I wish we had more of in the UK is the way that the system almost forces bipartisanship. For example here in the UK, the Executive branch is formed by the party that has a majority of seats in the Legislature. That means they can push their agenda through unchallenged for up to five years.

    There you have many cases where the Legislature is held by a different party to the Executive. Elections are held a minimum of every two years, but this is done in a way that doesn't entirely disrupt the government. Senate elections are staggered and Presidents are elected every four years instead of two.

    That way it prevents the kind of tyranny of the majority we can get over here a lot of the time, without needing the sort of chaotic government that some European countries (like Italy) have. Things like the filibuster only serve to further heighten the need to be bipartisan, which brings politics back into the centre and prevents far-right or far-left governments (and Europe is littered with examples of both during its history) from being successful .

  23. [23] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    "And there IS some logic to that position. Can you imagine the reaction of a terrorist scumbag to being interrogated by a gay man?"

    There is zero logic in that proposition. This is something American society accepts, Chris. The fact is, the Grand Old Party keeps hitting the same wedges but now those wedges are between them and the independent voter.

    As for the reaction: professional translators don't talk much about their personal lives. Someone might know this if they read the Field Manual instead of relying on Tom Clancy novels as research. The point is to elicit information, not to give it away.

  24. [24] 
    Michale wrote:

    There is zero logic in that proposition.

    And your supporting facts are... what, exactly??

    This is something American society accepts, Chris.

    And why do you think that is, Shirley??

    The fact is, the Grand Old Party keeps hitting the same wedges but now those wedges are between them and the independent voter.

    Seriously??

    It seems that all the wedges that exist today are between the independent voter and the Democratic Party??

    Or maybe you have forgotten Virginia, New Jersey and the Massachusetts Massacre???

    Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

    As for the reaction: professional translators don't talk much about their personal lives. Someone might know this if they read the Field Manual instead of relying on Tom Clancy novels as research. The point is to elicit information, not to give it away.

    And yet, ACLU types were showing terrorist scumbags photos and personal bios of their interrogators..

    You HONESTLY don't think that an interrogator's sexual orientation will come out??

    Honestly, what world do you live in, Shirley?? It must be a very nice place to visit..

    Michale....

  25. [25] 
    Michale wrote:
  26. [26] 
    Michale wrote:

    I just think one of the great things about the US political system that I wish we had more of in the UK is the way that the system almost forces bipartisanship.

    I am reminded of a quote from a 1960s novel, FAIL SAFE..

    In it, a Brit journalist was describing the US government..

    "Your system of government is fascinating. Two equal political parties wrestling for control. But one is slightly more equal than the other so things do get done, but at a snail's pace."

    Seems to fit very well. :D

    By the bi, if you ever want a lesson in the "The Ends Justifies The Means" adage, FAIL SAFE is a VERY good read that illustrates the point perfectly. :D

    Michale.....

  27. [27] 
    Moderate wrote:

    This is something American society accepts, Chris.

    He's Michale, not Chris ;-)

    The fact is, the Grand Old Party keeps hitting the same wedges but now those wedges are between them and the independent voter.

    Except we now have several prominent Republicans saying DADT should be repealed. Gates, Mullen, Olsen, Powell and Cheney. Gay Democrats are angry and disappointed in their own party's response to this, not the Republicans.

    (If you want more on this, read the Americablog article I linked to earlier)

    This isn't the first time this administration has begun isolating their support amongst the gay community. Remember the brief Obama's DOJ filed which likened same sex marriage to incestuous ones or ones with underage girls?

    That caused a massive uproar. You can argue that they had to support the DOMA (I'd argue they had no such obligation) but even if they did, the way they went about it ruffled a lot of feathers. Bear in mind that the guy who stood against Obama in 2008 opposed DOMA.

    So far the Republicans are coming off a lot better on DADT than Democrats. Trust me, I was as surprised as anyone to see this, but it is what it is. Obama needs to push DADT repeal through, and not just a partial reform either.

  28. [28] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Thanks for the book tip Michale.

  29. [29] 
    Michale wrote:

    He's Michale, not Chris ;-)

    Long story.. Just roll with it.. It's a lot more fun. :D

    So far the Republicans are coming off a lot better on DADT than Democrats. Trust me, I was as surprised as anyone to see this, but it is what it is. Obama needs to push DADT repeal through, and not just a partial reform either.

    This also isn't the first time that the GOP has co-opted a Dem staple issue and made it work for them. But it's by far the most effective job done to date.

    When you have Darth Vader himself supporting a very basic Dem issue, you KNOW the Democratic Party is in trouble..

    Thanks for the book tip Michale.

    I am actually surprised it hasn't been more widely read. I have always considered FAIL SAFE one of the giants of American Literature...

    If you do get a chance to read it, I would love to hear your thoughts on it, in the context of the terrorism/The Ends Justifies The Means debate..

    Michale...

  30. [30] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Excellent article nypoet, although I obviously disagree with the premises. The banks have actually already paid back their bailouts, with interest, it's the rest of TARP that's going to create a shortfall (AIG and the motor industry).

    Whilst the banks should probably pay back the AIG bailout (as it was in their benefit too) the motor industry should be forced to pay back its own.

    Meanwhile, I think breaking up too-big-to-fail banks is short-sighted and it actually misses the point. It was systemic risk, not individual banks, and any approach to prevent similar crises needs to prevent such massive levels of systemic risk appearing again (by setting and enforcing a 10-20% capital reserve requirement). Spreading the risk around by breaking the banks up would actually simply make it harder to see such a problem on the horizon, do nothing to stem the level of systemic risk and make decisions over TBTF that much harder to make (not to mention, more arbitrary).

    Breaking up the banks would do nothing to prevent the problem. Nor would the idea to split investment and commercial banking. Many of the banks that got into trouble did so by making stupid loans, not by buying securities. The ones who were involved in trading the securitised products - firms like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG - weren't involved in commercial banking

    The problem wasn't the risk taking. It was the leverage and margins. Bailouts would have been required even with all the proposed reforms; the only thing that would prevent future bailouts, or limit them, is capital reserve limits.

  31. [31] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Incidentally, I wholeheartedly support a windfall tax on bank bonuses, like we're implementing in the UK. 50% of any bonuses will be taxed under the scheme, on top of 50% of the bankers salary (under the new highest rate).

    The Obama bank fee will simply be passed onto customers. The idea that banks who do this will be less competitive misses the point; this custom probably ends up going to banks just under the $50 billion threshold and they'll end up paying the tax too, and passing on to the customers too...

    It's a vicious cycle with US taxpayers paying themselves back. Madness.

  32. [32] 
    Moderate wrote:

    With Bayh's decision not to run for reelection, watch talk of filibuster reform die. Although it's still a long-shot, the odds on a Republican majority, given how safe Bayh was in Indiana, have certainly been slashed.

  33. [33] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Moderate,

    First, you argue that the repeal of Glass-Steagall was partly responsible for the financial crisis and that this can in part be attributed to Democrats including Bill Clinton.

    Yet now you don't want to reinstate the separation of commercial and investment banks?

    I think a Glass-Steagall replacement would go a long way towards separating risky securities trading from safer consumer lending. And it would keep the gamblers from gambling with consumer assets.

    The bigger issue is that these consumer assets are backed up by the government. So the banks knew they could take a lot of risk and get bailed out. The investment banks ... different story. But I'm not concerned with bailing them out. They take the risk, they should go under.

    But it's banks like Citibank using consumer assets to role the dice in the securities market. This is what got them into trouble. Not bad loans. At least not directly. They thought sub-prime securities were safe investments.

    Requiring them to have greater capital reserves might help some, but it wouldn't have saved Merrill ... or Goldman ... or Citibank. The government now owns 36% of Citibank.

    Glass-Steagall worked for 70 years. And it also helped to prevent banking monopolies.

    Regulations can be a good thing for the economy!

    Remember the Savings and Loan Crisis? This came about several years after the S&Ls were deregulated in the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982.

    Proper regulations ensure that there is trust in the markets and that they benefit both producers and consumers. This trust is required for properly functioning markets. This is the role government should be playing.

    -David

    p.s. I'm with everyone who wouldn't end the filibuster. First of all, it's such a great name. And second, there's better ways. Shine a light on the obstructionist tactics instead!

  34. [34] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    You guys have been busy here...

    OK, I'm doing this from memory, but here's what I understand (this could be wrong). In about 1975 or so, the filibuster was changed from 2/3 of PRESENT members to a flat 60% of the entire Senate. Subtle, but it means no matter how many are present for any one vote, the number doesn't change. With 100 Senators, it's always 60.

    I believe Nelson Rockefeller, who was VP at the time, pushed this through. And he may have done so by bending if not breaking the rules as they stood (the rules are contradictory, a big part of the problem). Rockefeller was, by the way, a Republican, but the Senate had more Dems at the time, so this caused an uproar. In the midst of the uproar, Rockefeller (or perhaps the Senate itself) declared that even though he had used the 51-vote rule himself to change the filibuster, that from now on it would require 67. But it's never been put to the test, and like I said, the rules are contradictory.

    Meaning Biden could go down to the Capitol, and pretty much singlehandedly decide that 51 votes was OK with him, but only at the start of a new session (every two years, next one will be Jan 2011). Not that this wouldn't cause an uproar, but it's one of those balance of power things that has never adequately been settled.

    I believe also at the same time, the "cloture" idea came into being, so that Senators didn't actually have to stand up and filibuster, just hold a vote on their intent to do so.

    I've written about this before, because I consider changing filibuster rules fraught with danger, because the political pendulum ALWAYS swings. At some point, Dems are going to have less than 45 Senators, in which case they would want the filibuster back. It's one of those ideas (reducing the filibuster number), in my opinion, that looks better on paper than in actual use, because it can turn and bite your party on the ass.

    Besides, there's reconciliation, if anyone with a spine would actually start threatening it.

    Sorry for the complicated explanation, but it's a murky area in Senate tradition (not law, note, but Senate rules and tradition only). Michale, perhaps a "Fizzbin rules" quote would be appropriate here?

    "Only on Tuesday?"

    (OK, I did that from memory, it's probably wrong...)

    :-)

    -CW

  35. [35] 
    Michale wrote:

    Sorry for the complicated explanation, but it's a murky area in Senate tradition (not law, note, but Senate rules and tradition only). Michale, perhaps a "Fizzbin rules" quote would be appropriate here?

    "Only on Tuesday?"

    (OK, I did that from memory, it's probably wrong...)

    I was thinking of Fizzbin exactly, as I read your post about the Senate rules. :D

    Just so we're clear on the rules.

    * The game can be played with a standard Earth deck of cards, despite the slightly differing deck on Beta Antares IV.

    * Each player gets six cards, except for the player on the dealer's right, who gets seven.

    * The second card is turned up, except on Tuesdays.
    * Two jacks are a "half-fizzbin".
    * If you have a half-fizzbin:

    * a third jack is a "shralk" and results in disqualification;

    * one wants a king and a deuce, except at night, when one wants a queen and a four;

    * if a king had been dealt, the player would get another card, except when it is dark, in which case he'd have to give it back.

    * The top hand is a "royal fizzbin", but the odds against getting one are said to be "astronomical".

    Fizzbin and Temporal Mechanics always gives me nosebleeds..

    Michale.....

  36. [36] 
    Moderate wrote:

    First, you argue that the repeal of Glass-Steagall was partly responsible for the financial crisis and that this can in part be attributed to Democrats including Bill Clinton.

    Yet now you don't want to reinstate the separation of commercial and investment banks?

    First of all, I don't actually oppose the separation. I just think lauding it as "the solution" is short-sighted as there are other, more important, reforms that would do a lot more to prevent similar crises occurring. Glass-Steagall would have done little to prevent the crash; it just would've, arguably, made some difference to whether banks would needed bailouts afterwards.

    I'm thinking about ways to actually prevent a similar crises from occurring.

    And secondly, yes, having thought more about it, I can see some risks that Glass-Steagall could've made things worse. Systemic risk is, by definition, nondiversifiable, so the risk still would've been there, just less noticeable.

    That could have caused more problems. True, I also see your argument that perhaps some of those risks wouldn't have been taken if banks were on the hook for the potential loss. Which is why my solution wouldn't be to break up the banks, but to make changes to the FDIC scheme to limit insurance.

    Like the deposit insurance system in the UK, the FDIC scheme in the US is a mess. We, in the UK, insure deposits of up to £50,000 ($78,000) per bank account, and in the US I believe it's $100,000 per account. It's too much.

    I've long said (even before this current crisis) that the UK should insure only deposits of £25,000 ($39,000) and limit this to one account per person. This would equate to roughly an average year's salary in the UK (not sure what an average year's salary in the US is, but it should be that amount). This would bring down the debts of both governments drastically. The scheme is insane.

    Less protection from the FDIC scheme would've stopped banks taking those crazy risks with customer's money (as they're still on the hook for deposits) without requiring breaking up banks into tiny chunks and hiding risk.

    Note: I'm not opposed to separating investment from commercial banking if it can be done in a way that wouldn't hide the systemic risk. Tiny banks are not the solution, but a division between riskier securities trading and loans could certainly be helpful. The key is not to mask the systemic risk.

  37. [37] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Yes, I know shaking up the FDIC scheme won't be popular as it's consumer unfriendly, and therefore lacks the populist buzz of breaking up the banks. Which means it'll never get done because no politician has the balls.

    It's the right thing to do, as is taxing the hell out of bankers' bonuses. In no way am I a defender of the super-rich, but I also think that people are being quick to blame the banks and take no personal responsibility for taking out loans they could never hope to pay back. They bear some blame too.

  38. [38] 
    Moderate wrote:

    Oh, and I knew I forgot to add an interesting statistic for you guys.

    The government now owns 36% of Citibank.

    Our government owns over 74% of Royal Bank of Scotland (which, despite the name, is/was a privately owned bank). It owned 74% last November, and then decided to pump in another £25.5 billion ($40 billion)

    They also own 40% of Lloyds TSB and nationalised Northern Rock (so basically, 100% government owned). Our bank bailout dwarfed yours.

    TARP, which bailed out the auto makers too, cost $700 billion. Our bank bailout alone cost $1.3 trillion, and is projected to a cost a lot more once long-term effects are felt. Considering our vastly lower GDP (ours is $2.7 trillion, yours is $14.4 trillion), that makes the relative cost of our bailout that much worse.

  39. [39] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Moderate,

    The trouble here in the U.S., as you point out, is largely political and, to some extent, cultural.

    The situation, argued by most U.S. conservatives or at least the ones with large media networks, is that they oppose any government regulation. The belief put forth is that capitalism is a self-regulating system.

    Of course they primarily use this argument when they want to deregulate something. It takes the form of "let the markets work".

    Until they don't, that is. Then, it's "too big to fail".

    So I don't necessarily agree or disagree with your thoughts except to say I think some level of regulation is not only necessary, but beneficial.

    The big opportunity here, for either party willing to seize it, would be to take a different view than: "let the markets work". It would be a different view other than deregulation is always good. Something along the lines of "ensuring the markets work for everyone" or "the right amount of regulation" or even "preventing systemic risk" :).

    Until this happens and someone can make a sound economic argument that has a longer term vision and demonstrates the role of regulation in a well-functioning economy, I don't think there will be much change in the U.S.

    There's simply not enough political capital and the monied interests are going to continue to fight tooth and nail for continued deregulation. Unfortunately, it might take a complete collapse to hit at the heart of this guiding underlying philosophy is flawed.

    This is my primary objection to U.S. neo-conservative philosophy - that at it's heart, it's about helping the wealthy first and then hoping the effects trickle down. This is why they are able to argue for "letting the markets work" in some situations and large bailouts in others.

    I'd say that in order to prevent systemic risk, you need a functioning system with appropriate oversight, "sunlight", and regulation. To paraphrase Reagan, "trust, but verify".

    -David

  40. [40] 
    Moderate wrote:

    So I don't necessarily agree or disagree with your thoughts except to say I think some level of regulation is not only necessary, but beneficial.

    Utterly agree with you. I'm not an anarcho-capitalist, and whilst I think the free market is a great thing, it certainly needs regulation. Much of my political theory on things like drug control is that it's better to be legalised, opened to the free market and then regulated and taxed, than to use the criminal system for it. Tax dollars (or pounds) could then be used to fund programs to help people get off or get counselling if they need it.

    So I'm by no means opposed to regulation (or tax). In fact this entire crisis was clearly caused by a lack of oversight. Banks were over-leveraging themselves in the pursuit of greed, and there's nothing wrong with that, per se, as that's how capitalism works. But greed must also be counter-weighed by fear, and there was no fear. Moral hazard subverts capitalism and creates a win-win situation for business but a lose-lose situation for taxpayers and consumers, which isn't what capitalism is about. As you say, the goal is to ensure the market works for everyone, not just the big players.

    Capitalism is never self-regulating. For example true capitalism wouldn't give a jot for the environment, or for the welfare of its society, so if it were left with absolutely no supervision, our world as we know it would cease.

    This is my primary objection to U.S. neo-conservative philosophy - that at it's heart, it's about helping the wealthy first and then hoping the effects trickle down.

    Oh don't get me wrong, I do subscribe to supply-side economics, also often misnamed "trickle-down" economics (even though technically the effect is supposed to be felt at the bottom and filter upwards to the entrepreneur at the end of his/her labour). But that's not the same as helping the wealthy.

    And I think too many governments are guilty of the latter. It's not just the US, or even just the Republicans. Obama's Wall Street contributions in 2008 were huge, and McCain was dwarfed in comparison. Wall Street tends to go with whoever they think is going to win, in order to buy in some favours.

    Which is precisely why I can see Obama talking a good talk and then ending up watering down his reform proposals to appease the bankers.

    I'd say that in order to prevent systemic risk, you need a functioning system with appropriate oversight, "sunlight", and regulation. To paraphrase Reagan, "trust, but verify".

    Couldn't agree more. The free-market works best when subjected to just the right amount of regulation, not so much that it's stifled and can't grow, but not so little that it brings the entire world to its knees when things go wrong (as is precisely what's happened now).

    Unfortunately, with the financial sector so "in" with the politicians (Geithner, Paulson before him), I can't really see things changing anytime soon.

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