Sunday, October 28, 2012

Obama, Republicans and Bipartisanship

Republicans have made a big deal about the lack of bipartisanship since President Obama took office. Of course, it takes two to be bipartisan. Let me remind you of one story from the early days of President Obama's term.

The Super Bowl was a week and a half after the inauguration. It just so happened that there were two republican senators from one team's state and two democratic senators from the other team's state -- so Obama invited all four senators to watch the game with him. To anyone who wanted to work together for the good of the country, this was a golden opportunity. Three plus hours with the new president in an informal setting. Plenty of time to get to know something about him, to present one's ideas and maybe make some deals.

You know how this story has to end: both republican senators turned the invitation down.

This set the pattern for the next four years. Time and again Obama adopted republican, conservative ideas -- only to have republicans immediately turn away from their own ideas, their own initiatives for the sole purpose of saying, in this election season, that Obama failed to get the bipartisanship he hoped for.

Do you want to reward this kind of behavior? Because if the Republicans win this election, it will validate their strategy and the next time they are in the opposition they will do exactly the same thing.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Difference Between Bush and Romney Policy

Some months ago I sent an email to all of you asking for the difference between Bush's policies and Romney's. The response was a deafening silence.

In the debate, when asked to differentiate himself from Bush, Romney's first item was energy policy. Romney wants to do a lot of drilling for oil. Bush was all for a lot of drilling for oil. I can't tell the difference either. I'm sure there are some somewhere, but I don't see any big ones. The similarities, however, are quite striking. Among other things, both favor:

  • Lower tax rates
  • Higher military expenditures
  • Reduced regulation
  • A bellicose, go-it-alone foreign policy

    The results of the Bush years are important to remember. They included:

  • Massive failure of the economy
  • Massive failure to control government finances (went from a balanced budget to a deficit of well over a trillion dollars)
  • Failure to win in Iraq
  • Failure to win in Afghanistan
  • Failure, in seven years of trying, to kill bin Laden
  • Failure to slow or stop Iran's nuclear program

    Romney advocates many, if not most, of the same policies as Bush. Why would you expect substantially different results from a Ronmey presidency?

  • Monday, October 8, 2012

    Islamic-Region Attacks on America, by President

    It is instructive to look at the history of terrorist attacks on Americans. Consider:

    Jimmy Carter -- Iranian students took American diplomats hostage. 52 were held for 444 days. Eight American servicemen died in a rescue attempt.

    Ronald Reagan -- Hezbollah killed 241 American servicemen, most of them Marines, with a single truck bomb. Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky by Libya killing 243 passengers and 16 crew.

    George H. W. Bush -- Iraq invaded Kuwait touching off a full scale war that killed 294 Americans.

    Bill Clinton -- al Qaeda blew up two US embassies in Africa killing over 200 people and wounding thousands. Al Qaeda attacked the U.S.S. Cole killing 17 American sailors. The Khobar Towers attack killed 19 American servicemen.

    George W. Bush -- al Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center and severely damaged the Pentagon, killing almost 3,000, and a fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania. The Riyadh compound bombings in Saudi Arabia killed 35 people including nine Americans.

    Barack Obama -- Four diplomats were killed in a recent attack on the consulate in Libya.

    Thus, we see that Obama has, so far, the best record of protecting Americans from Islamic-region attacks of any recent president.

    Obama and the Taliban

    When Obama took office, the Taliban had the initiative in Afghanistan and were making major gains in Pakistan. They controlled large and growing swaths of territory in both and had just taken over Swat, which is only an hour or so from Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. Remember that Pakistan is nuclear armed.

    Today the Taliban are on the defensive.  They have lost control of Swat and much of the rest of Pakistan.  They have lost control of a great deal of territory in Afghanistan.  Their leadership is dying under a hail of drone attacks.  Osama bin Laden is dead and the personal commitments the Taliban leadership made to him are gone.

    That is about as good as it gets in that part of the world.

    Saturday, September 29, 2012

    Obama's Campaign Promises

    Like all candidates, President Obama made promises during the 2008 campaign, and like all candidates he delivered on some, partly delivered on some and failed on others. Also, like all voters we imagine he promised far more than he actually did. Right now I'd like to remind you of some of the promises that were kept and invite you to think about whether these would have happened under President McCain or Romney.

    Obama promised:

    • To get out of Iraq. We're out.
    • To focus on al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Afghanistan. Bin Laden is dead, al Qaeda leaders are dying like flies, and the Taliban have been pushed back in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    • To end 'Don't Ask Don't Tell.' It is gone.
    • To enact universal health care. It is enacted. The next step: 'Medicare for All.'
    • To cut taxes for the middle class. The stimulus contained the largest middle class tax cut in history.
    • To support green energy. PG&E, my utility provider, just sent me a chart of energy supplies. Renewables are 18%, compared with 19% for hydro, 22% for nuclear, and 25% for natural gas. In other words, renewables are almost as big as any other supply! And it is not just California. I flew across the country last May. Looking out the window I saw an America dotted with wind farms. Wind is the fastest growing energy supply in the US and now provides 3% of all US electricity.
    • To re-regulate the financial industry. Legislation has been passed, a consumer protection agency created, and government oversight strengthened.
    • To increase manufacturing. US manufacturing is up about 50%.
    • To turn the financial crisis around. Then the Dow was 8,000. Now it is over 13,000. Then we were losing 750,000 jobs a month, now we are gaining 100,000 or more. Then the financial sector was technically bankrupt, now it is much more stable. Then GDP was down about 9% for the year, now it is up 2% or more. Then two of the three US auto companies were headed for destruction, now GM is once again, for the first time in a long time, the biggest car maker in the world. Oh, and US companies are as profitable as they have ever been.
    • To focus on bringing loose nuclear material under control. This is vital to prevent a nuclear terrorist attack on American cities, the second worst national security issue we face today (the first is the Russian and Chinese nuclear arsenals). All around the world, over the last few years, poorly secured nuclear materials have been identified and either secured locally or, in many cases, shipped to the US for safekeeping. This may have been Obama's most important act, and one for which he will never get much credit.
    Obviously, there is a lot more to do, so if you want these sorts of things to keep happening, vote for President Obama and other Democrats this November.

    Monday, September 3, 2012

    Romney Takes Deceit to New Lows

    In a speech a few weeks ago, President Obama said "You didn't build that," where 'you' referred to business people and 'that' clearly referred to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure built by the government (see Cleaver editing of a video of the speech made it sound as if 'that' referred to businesses, which are obviously built by businessmen.  This edited video was played endlessly on Fox News and campaign videos with the inevitable nauseating commentary.

    Taking sound bites out of context is pretty common in election year politics, but what happened next took deceit to a new level.  When the fact checkers called Romney's campaign out on this, instead of backing away they made 'you didn't build it' a central theme of their convention and their election campaign.

    You can win elections with deceit and you can run tyrannies with deceit, but you cannot govern well with deceit.  Keep this in mind this November and vote.

    Sunday, July 29, 2012

    Romney, England, and Foreign Policy

    Romney is traveling abroad to build his foreign policy credentials.  Romney is familiar with the outside world.  He spent two years in France as a Mormon missionary and speaks fluent French.  He also had Bain invest in at least one Chinese company, in 1998 when he was very much in day-to-day control.  This particular Chinese company specialized in providing outsourcing services for American companies, i.e., shipping jobs from America to China. Although you might think Romney would be pretty good at diplomacy, he promptly insulted his British hosts on his first foreign stop by questioning their Olympic competence.  This was a major news story in the UK.

    This is a good time to look at Obama's foreign policy and, closely related, military record.  It is outstanding.  Consider:

    1. Our military is no longer bogged down in Iraq.
    2. Large quantities of loose nuclear materials have been brought to safety.  This significantly reduces the biggest security threat we face: loose nukes falling into al Qaeda's hands.
    3. Our overseas popularity is way up (for example, according to Time magazine this week, in Britain trust of the US President went from 16% before Obama to 80%).
    4. The al Qaeda leadership has been decimated, including the death of their top dog, Osama bin Laden.
    5. The Taliban have been pushed back in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    6. Iran is struggling under well co-ordinated international sanctions.
    7. Iran's nuclear program was severely damaged by a computer virus, probably planted by the US and Israel.
    8. North Korea is almost completely isolated.
    9. Cuba and Venezuela are struggling.
    10. Four Arab dictators have been toppled, and another (Syria's Assad) is in deep, deep trouble.  
    11. A number of African countries have made significant steps towards democracy.
    All and all, things have been going our way internationally.  You can think this is an accident, just luck, but if so Obama is very, very lucky.

    Unlike domestic policy where Congress holds a lot of the cards, foreign policy is almost entirely the responsibility of the President.  How things go overseas is a good measure of his leadership and Obama's lookin' good.

    Saturday, May 19, 2012

    Romney Lies Again, or Worse

    Five eyewitnesses and participants say that as an upper classman at his prep school, Mitt Romney led a 'posse' of kids to tackle, pin down, and then cut a younger classmate's hair as he screamed for help. Romney says he can't remember the incident. Here's why I think he's lying:
  • The five eyewitnesses remember it very vividly. Some deeply and frequently regret their part in it. One of them ran into the victim 30 years later and apologized.
  • I got in a few fights as a kid, the last in eighth grade. I can remember nearly every detail of every one. Who struck first, where the blows landed, the expression on their face, everything. Romney was nearly an adult at the time, I was in grade school.
  • It is politically incredibly convenient not to remember. It avoids having to answer a barrage of acutely uncomfortable and politically damaging questions.

    But what if I'm wrong, what if he really doesn't remember? What could that mean? I can only think of two possibilities:

  • That cruelty meant so little to him that he can't even remember it.
  • He did stuff like this so often he can't remember this particular incident.

    Either way, that's worse.

    Most likely, he's just a liar.

  • Sunday, April 22, 2012

    What is President Obama's Economic Record, Really?

    President Obama's economic record is very simple: he turned an economy in a death spiral into one of modest growth. The Republicans call this failure, but, of course, their policies set our economy on the path to that horrendous free fall and, if they gain power, they will go right back to those same policies.

    To see exactly how much improved our economy is, let's look at the numbers on 20 January 2009, when Obama took office, vs 20 January 2012.

    When President Obama took office we were losing jobs at a rate of roughly 750,000 per month. Now we are adding something like 200,000 jobs per month. Total improvement, nearly a million jobs per month (1).

    When Obama took office the GDP was dropping at a rate of over 8%/yr. Today it is growing at a rate of about 3%/yr, a swing of 11% for the better (2).

    When Obama took office the S&P 500 stock index was around 830. Today it is around 1300, an improvement of over 50% (3).

    Between 1 October 2008 (the beginning of the federal fiscal year) and Obama taking office, the U.S. government borrowed $502 billion. In the same period this fiscal year we borrowed $446 billion, a 12% improvement (4).

    When Obama took office all of the major U.S. financial institutions were in deep trouble, and any number of them could have easily gone bankrupt in a general financial collapse. Today these same institutions are in good shape.

    When Obama took office most of the U.S. car industry was on the brink of bankruptcy. Today the US car industry is very profitable and, for the first time in a long time, a U.S. car company, GM, is the biggest car company in the world.

    Republicans will claim, of course, that he should have done better. Let's look at the closest comparison: 1929. Not only did we see a similar financial crisis, it was also the last time (before the 2000s) that Republicans controlled the Congress and the Presidency for an extended period.

    Unlike this time, after the 1929 crash a Republican president (Hoover) ran the country for three more years on principles not that different from today's Republicans. How did things go? In 1930 GDP shrank by -12.0%, 1931 -16.1%, 1932 -23.2%. In other words, it got much worse every year. In 1933 a Democrat (FDR) came to power and pursued policies similar to President Obama's. In 1933 GDP fell by only -3.9%, in 1934 grew by 17.0% and in 1935 grew by 11.1% (5). I.e., things got better almost immediately.

    The Republicans would have you believe that Mitt Romney, who was very good at making money buying companies with borrowed money, can do a better job with the economy than Obama. Maybe. But there is no evidence this is the case. There is ample evidence that Obama can improve the economy, by a lot, and that Republican policies were a disaster the last two times around.

    The data are clear: if you want a strong economy, vote for President Obama.

    (1) Source: for 2009 for 2012.

    (2) Source:

    (3) Source:

    (4) Source:

    (5) Source:

    Sunday, March 25, 2012

    Is Romney a liar?

    That depends. If someone deliberately, grossly, and unapologetically tries to mislead you, is he a liar?

    Essentially all politicians, and most people, will lie and mislead at least to some extent. Most, when caught, will apologize and correct. For example, in a Wall Street Journal article trying to pooh-pooh forces under Obama's command killing bin Laden in a gutsy, on-the-ground raid, Karl Rove quoted Bill Clinton as saying "I would have done the same." What Clinton actually said was "I hope I would have done the same," which completely changes the meaning. When this was pointed out, the Wall Street Journal printed a retraction and corrected the piece on their web site. You see, the Wall Street Journal believes in telling the truth.

    Romney, apparently, does not. I will limit myself to two examples.

    1. In one of the Republican debates, Newt Gingrich complained about a misleading attack ad directed against him. Romney defended himself by saying he hadn't seen it, suggesting that the ad must have been from a SuperPac not under his control. Later in the debate, the moderator revealed that the ad ended with Romney saying he approved it -- the ad was from the Romney campaign after all! It is possible that the campaign put the endorsement on without Romney's knowledge, but Romney did not apologize, did not correct, did not investigate, and no one at the campaign was punished for misrepresenting the boss.

    2. In Romney's very first TV ad there is a segment where you hear Obama's voice saying various things. The last bit goes "If we talk about the economy, we lose." This seemed odd to me because Obama talks about the economy all the time. It turns out Obama said that in 2008 and was he quoting the John McCain campaign when the rapidly declining economy was a huge minus for Republicans. When this was pointed out Romney said (I'm paraphrasing) "We hit him, and we're going to keep hitting him!" In other words, grossly, deliberately and unapologetically misleading you is a good thing and he intends to keep doing it.

    You can win elections without the truth, but you can't govern America well without it. Remember that this November, and remember how Romney is treating you now.

    Thanks to Rachel Maddow for pointing out the Karl Rove angle and for spreading this meme far and wide.

    Sunday, January 8, 2012

    Romney: A Very Capable Big Money Corporate Guy

    Willard (Mitt) Romney looks like he will be the Republican candidate for President. Who is he? A lot of things, but at his core he seems to me to be a very competent big-money corporate guy. Let's take these one at a time, although in a different order.

    Big money. Romney was born to a very wealthy family. All his life there has been money, big money, all around him and in his pockets.

    Very capable. Romney has been able to take his money, his talents, and the connections and advantages big money gave him and create a very large fortune, somewhere around $200 million. While it is easy to make money when you've got money, Romney has gone far beyond this in his acquisition of great wealth. Romney also did an excellent job of running the Utah winter olympics and a decent job of running Massachusetts as governor -- including implementing near-universal health care. Romneycare was so successful that Obamacare mimics its key features: an individual mandate and health exchanges, although at the national level these will not kick in for another year or two.

    Corporate. Romney's business experience doesn't come from making things, or servicing things, or building things; it comes from manipulating corporations. His firm bought corporations, usually with money borrowed against the firm's assets, extracted as much profit as they could, and sent them on their way. Some prospered, some failed, but Romney almost always made money either way (see 'Very Capable').

    So here's the question of the year: do you want a very capable, big money, corporate guy to be President?