I have to begin here today by stomping all over a cutesy term the media has come up with for the upcoming economic "summit" George W. Bush is holding this weekend. The newsies, in their exuberance, have taken to calling this meeting "Bretton Woods II."
To which I say: "No, it isn't. Please stop using this term. Thank you."
Because Bretton Woods "I" was the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, which was held at the Mount Washington Hotel near Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, at the end of World War II. This meeting of 44 allied nations set up the International Monetary Fund, and what was to become the World Bank. It also tried to set up an International Trade Organization, a half-century before the World Trade Organization was born (the U.S. Senate turned down the I.T.O. proposal back then, effectively killing it). This historic meeting lasted more than three weeks in July of 1944.
Bush's meeting is going to last six hours. And nobody expects it to come up with anything even close to the same magnitude of what happened in Bretton Woods. Nobody sane, that is. So please, media types, don't call it what it's not. Let's have some truth in advertising here. Call it "Desperate Bush Lame-Duck Photo-Op With World Leaders Who Would Really Rather Be Talking To Obama," if you have to slap a label on it. Because that's a lot closer to what it's going to be.
[Full disclosure: I have spent a night in the Mount Washington Hotel, where the Bretton Woods conference happened. It is a beautiful and elegant example of the "grand hotel" of days past, and in addition to being able to see the conference rooms where the world's finances were hashed out, you can visit the working nightclub in the basement (in a cave, really) that used to be a speakeasy during Prohibition. How cool is that? Take a virtual tour of this National Historical Landmark to see what I mean. I was paid nothing for this endorsement, and paid full price when I stayed there.]
Before the field of Democratic candidates for president even emerged, I really wanted Senator Russ Feingold to run. You can see why, in this recent article in the New York Times about what Senator Feingold has been up to since the election:
Mr. Feingold has been compiling a list of areas for the next president to focus on, which he intends to present to Mr. Obama. It includes amending the Patriot Act, giving detainees greater legal protections and banning torture, cruelty and degrading treatment. He wants to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to restore limits on domestic spying. And he wants to roll back the Bush administration's dedication to classifying government documents.
Many reforms could be implemented directly by the next president. Mr. Obama could renounce Mr. Bush's extreme views of executive power, including the notion that in many areas, the president can act as he wants without restraint by Congress or the judiciary. Mr. Obama also could declare his intention not to use presidential signing statements as Mr. Bush did in record numbers to reject parts of bills signed into law.
The article ends on what is a fear for many of us out here who have actually read the Constitution:
Mr. Feingold is convinced that this is a critical moment. If the next president does not reverse the Bush administration's doctrines, he fears that they will no longer simply be the policies of one extremist president. The danger is that they will be the nation's new understanding of the Constitution.
Thank you, Senator Feingold, for standing up and saying what a lot of us out here have been waiting to hear. More power to you in your efforts to "support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic." All Congressmen take this oath, but few live up to it. For standing up for what is right, you are hereby awarded this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. And here's hoping President-Elect Obama takes your advice.
[Congratulate Senator Russ Feingold on his Senate contact page to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
A special Dishonorable Mention up front here for whoever sent white powder to the Mormon temples in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. Terrorism, even fake terrorism, is not exactly the way to endear people to your political stance, and should be roundly condemned by all -- opponents of California's Proposition 8 included. To whoever did this: you are not making yourselves any friends with tactics like these. Quite the opposite, in fact. Feel free to protest and boycott all you like, but this is crossing the line and needs to be resoundingly denounced.
But this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week goes once again to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Once again, he has shown ineptitude and incompetence in the handling of Joe Lieberman's situation. Can anyone tell me one good thing that Harry Reid has done as Majority Leader? Passing legislation the House has forced upon the Senate doesn't count. I may be being unfair, but I simply cannot remember anything in the past two years where Harry Reid actually led any battle effectively. OK, sure, there will be more Democrats in the Senate after January than before, but that's not really Harry Reid's triumph. So, I ask again, is there one thing that Reid has forcefully led on, where he could claim an absolute victory for some Democratic principle?
[lone cricket chirps]
For this abysmal lack of leadership, Harry Reid is awarded his seventh MDDOTW award -- more than anyone since we began handing them out. I am begging Senate Democrats -- please, please, see the light and elect someone else Majority Leader for the next year. There are so many better choices than Reid to lead you into the Obama Era. Hillary Clinton, Russ Feingold, Barbara Boxer (and many others just as worthy) -- just about anyone else would be an improvement, at this point.
Of course, every Democratic senator who (according to the current scuttlebutt) is going to vote to allow Lieberman to keep his Homeland Security Committee chairmanship will also be up for this award... but since that hasn't actually happened yet, they'll have to wait.
[Contact Senator Harry Reid on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 55 (11/14/08)
In honor of the state of the American economy, the Talking Points section of the column will run in seven directions at once, and have no conceivable underpinning logic.
Ahem. Well, maybe I'm not being fair. To myself, that is.
Because while the Talking Points aren't completely on one theme today, but they're still a lot more logical than listening to Secretary of the Treasury try to explain why what he told America just last month is now stupid and not worth doing... but hey, we've gotta trust him this time... because now he thinks he's got it all figured out.
This points out a very basic logical fallacy in the entire "let's fix the economy" soap opera going on in Washington -- that we have to rely on the guys who screwed everything up to fix it, because "they're the only ones who understand the complexities." I will leave spotting the monstrous and contradictory idiocy in those two statements as an exercise for the student.
But now it's on to the Friday Talking Points -- our weekly public service for Democrats everywhere who might find themselves being interviewed by the media this weekend. Without further ado....
Give Obama a chance
As the news media turns from its election frenzy to "Obama Cabinet" frenzy, I have to say to everyone involved -- please, for your own sake, take a deep breath. Rahm Emanuel was announced as Obama's White House Chief of Staff... and some immediately praised his choice, while others slammed it. And not just in the mainstream media, but out here in the pajama-clad blogosphere as well. Speculation runs rampant on who Obama will choose for this Secretary or that, with the pros, cons, and in-betweens immediately put under the media microscope.
But you know what? I'm of a mind to give the guy a little slack. And I think all Democrats owe it to him to do the same. So when asked about some speculation on a cabinet position, Democrats should respond with some version of the following:
"I trust President-Elect Obama to put together a spectacular cabinet of his own choosing, in his own time. The man won't be sworn in as our president until next January, and I think he has earned the benefit of the doubt up until that point. We will have plenty of time to see how Obama and his appointees, do their job after the transition. But, after running one of the best-managed political campaigns in American history, I am inclined to trust what Obama is doing now, and I think everyone else should, too."
"Your own money" versus "redistribution of wealth"
The Republicans are going apoplectic over the idea that the wealthiest Americans might soon have to pay a measly four percent more on their income taxes. But they shouldn't be allowed to get away with the gigantic and obvious U-turn they have taken on the language they use to describe tax cuts. And Democrats need to jump up and down on this with rhetorical hobnailed boots, or else the media (sheep that they are) will not notice the 16-ton elephant in the room (once again).
"Why is it that when Republicans support tax cuts it is 'giving the people back more of their own money,' but when Democrats support tax cuts on all but the wealthiest five percent it somehow becomes 'redistribution of wealth,' or even 'socialism'? Why is it that they only trot out these scare tactics when middle-class Americans are about to get big tax cuts, but also when the fat cats have to pay four more cents on each of the millions of dollars they make? When they were in power and proposing tax cuts, you certainly didn't hear them talking about 'redistribution of wealth,' did you? Furthermore, I would like Sarah Palin to explain to me in small words how Alaska's oil taxes -- which are returned to every state resident in a check each year -- is not 'socialism,' or 'redistributing the wealth.' If she can, that is."
Where is the "Plan B" for the US/Iraq SOFA?
It is now November 14, 2008. The legal framework for American soldiers to be in Iraq expires at midnight, December 31. This doesn't leave a whole lot of time, it should be noted. But we still have no Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with them over what will happen after the ball drops on New Year's Eve. We need to be working on a backup plan, in case the proposed agreement is turned down by the Iraqi Parliament. And some pressure needs to be put on President Bush to do just that, and right away.
"President Bush needs to announce what is going to happen if the Iraqi Parliament turns down our SOFA proposal -- which is looking like a distinct possibility. He needs to either get an extension of our U.N. authorization or an extension of the status quo with Iraq for a short period of time -- six months, say -- to allow President-Elect Barack Obama to negotiate his own agreement with the Iraqis. But so far, we have heard nothing about Bush's backup plans yet. If there is nothing in place on New Year's Day, then all U.S. forces will suddenly be confined to their bases, and flights over Iraq will cease by the U.S. military. This should not be seen as an option, and Bush needs to level with America about what he is doing to avoid that fate."
I'm sorry, there will be a small service charge for that...
I am no economic genius, I fully admit. But the banking bailout seems to me to be handled all wrong. Treasury Secretary Paulson seems to be handing out taxpayer cash like a drunken sailor. And when he wakes up with a hangover the next day, he politely pleads with the banks to use this free money wisely.
This is not the way to do it. Fortunately, the banks themselves have taught us all the proper procedure between someone lending money and someone receiving it. Which needs to be pointed out, in (literally) no uncertain terms.
"Secretary Paulson should make the banks sign a lending agreement before they get one more thin dime of taxpayer money. Here is how it would work. Taxpayer money gets loaned to the bank. If the bank spends six billion dollars of this money on bonuses for executives, then their public creditworthiness rating drops, and the loan with the taxpayers is immediately bumped up to credit-card rates -- and credit-card rates for bad financial risks, at that. You spend billions on unearned bonuses? Then you pay back your loan to us at the new rate of 29.99%. And don't forget your minimum payment each month, or we will sell the asset -- at 29.99% -- to China, who can foreclose on you, for all we care. Your bank spent zillions on spa retreats for executives out of taxpayer money? Oooh, sorry, there's going to be a slight service charge on that -- of ten times what you just spent, which is due and payable to the food bank in your local area. If it is not paid in three days' time, we will close out your account and confiscate whatever assets remain in your institution. You used taxpayer money to buy another bank? Well, there's a small transaction fee on that -- you need to immediately hand over the stock you now own in the new bank to the U.S. Treasury, who will sell it off and use the proceeds to pay your transaction fee (but not the principal -- you still owe us that, in full, with interest). Banks have imposed draconian fees and surcharges on American consumers for decades, and now that the shoe is on the other foot and we are loaning them money, we the people should treat them exactly the same as they have been treating us all these years."
String that money up tight
[OK, I have to admit, that last one was fun to write.]
Now the automobile manufacturers have their hands out for taxpayer bailout money. OK, fine, but the money will be given out the same way federal research dollars are doled out to universities -- with lots and lots of strings attached, and lots and lots of accounting rules to prevent misuse.
"If the automobile manufacturers need some money, then we will provide it -- with the strictest of rules on how it is to be spent. This money will go only to research and development of the automobiles of the future. The technology exists, you can see it in the many cars which are built right here on American soil by American factory workers -- for foreign car companies. Detroit will have to agree that within four years they will be under new fuel economy (CAFE) standards which will be much, much higher than they are now. They have resisted changes of this sort for over three decades now, and they have sown their own destruction as a result. Innovations, I'm sad to say, now happen elsewhere in the world, and not in Detroit. This money will change all of that, and within four years the American auto industry will provide the way into the future. They had better, or else they're not getting the money. If they whine, then I would remind them that we cannot legislate against the future, and if they are adamant about remaining in the past then they can go bankrupt as a result. If we saved every industry that was being surpassed technologically, then we would still be propping up the whale-oil lamp industry and the buggy whip industry."
RNC gets last laugh on Palin clothes?
Sarah Palin's shopping spree was paid for by the Republican National Committee, and has been the butt of many jokes since. But I am predicting that they will ultimately get the last laugh on this one. Democrats need to admit this before it happens, to get out in front of it, and not look stunned when it does happen.
"You know, there have been a lot of jokes about the RNC buying Sarah Palin a wardrobe. But my guess is that they will end up profiting on the entire deal. Those clothes are owned by the RNC, and (once they are all returned) there is nothing stopping them from using them as fundraisers. I can easily see some sort of auction where wealthy Republican donors get into bidding wars over owning an outfit worn by Governor Palin. An outfit that cost the RNC $5,000 could wind up making them tens of thousands of dollars from a donor who wants to wear an authentic Palin outfit, or give one to their wives (in the case of male donors). So the RNC had to endure a lot of jokes, but they could wind up getting the last laugh on this one."
George W. Bush's contribution to world diplomacy
This is just too funny, on several levels. The Times (London) is reporting a story about French President Nicholas Sarkozy meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during the crisis in Georgia last summer (while President Bush was enjoying himself at the Olympics). Here is the conversation as reported:
With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr. Sarkozy told Mr. Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia's Government. According to Mr. Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. "I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls," Mr. Putin declared.
Mr. Sarkozy thought he had misheard. "Hang him?" -- he asked. "Why not?" Mr. Putin replied. "The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein."
Mr. Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: "Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?" Mr. Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: "Ah -- you have scored a point there."
This one is easy to turn into a talking point.
"It has been reported that during the Russia/Georgia standoff this year, Putin was said to have wanted to hang Georgian leader Saakashvili 'by the balls' since 'the Americans hanged Saddam Hussein.' French President Sarkozy's response was to warn him: 'do you want to end up like Bush?' So there you have it folks -- Bush has proven to the world that when foreign leaders cite him as a 'worst case' precedent in world diplomacy, the only saving grace is that Bush's own 'worst case' end to his presidency and his own 'worst ever' historical legacy is all that restrains them. Even Vladimir Putin doesn't want to end up like George Bush."
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground