Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Obama Needs to Halt Democrats' "Liberal Suicide March" -- Before It Halts Him

New York Times columnist David Brooks, a conservative but a moderate one, says liberal Democrats in Congress, all-too-rapidly, are getting out of step with the American people--just as conservative Republicans did before the November elections. He suggests that unless President Obama finds a way to be "feared as well as loved" by Democratic committee chairs, his agenda will get nowhere and the voters will punish Democrats in the next congressional elections. First, some excerpts from Brooks' initial paragraphs:

It was interesting to watch the Republican Party lose touch with America. You had a party led by conservative Southerners who neither understood nor sympathized with moderates or representatives from swing districts.

It’s not that interesting to watch the Democrats lose touch with America. That’s because the plotline is exactly the same. The party is led by insular liberals from big cities and the coasts, who neither understand nor sympathize with moderates.

This ideological overreach won’t be any more successful than the last one.

Brooks sees three phases so far to this "liberal suicide march:" (1) the stimulus package, which congressional Democrats used "as a pretext to pay for $787 billion worth of pet programs with borrowed money;" (2) the budget, which instead of "allaying moderate anxieties about the expected to increase the government debt by $11 trillion between 2009 and 2019;" and (3) health care. He continues:

Every cliché Ann Coulter throws at the Democrats is gloriously fulfilled by the Democratic health care bills. The bills do almost nothing to control health care inflation. They are modeled on the Massachusetts health reform law that is currently coming apart at the seams precisely because it doesn’t control costs. They do little to reward efficient providers and reform inefficient ones.

The House bill adds $239 billion to the federal deficit during the first 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It would pummel small businesses with an 8 percent payroll penalty. It would jack America’s top tax rate above those in Italy and France. Top earners in New York and California would be giving more than 55 percent of earnings to one government entity or another.

Who’s going to stop this leftward surge? Months ago, it seemed as if Obama would lead a center-left coalition. Instead, he has deferred to the Old Bulls on Capitol Hill on issue after issue.

Machiavelli said a leader should be feared as well as loved. Obama is loved by the Democratic chairmen, but he is not feared. On health care, Obama has emphasized cost control. The chairmen flouted his priorities because they don’t fear him. On cap and trade, Obama campaigned against giving away pollution offsets. The chairmen wrote their bill to do precisely that because they don’t fear him. On taxes, Obama promised that top tax rates would not go above Clinton-era levels. The chairmen flouted that promise because they don’t fear him.

And so here we are again. Every new majority overinterprets its mandate. We’ve been here before. We’ll be here again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Episcopal Convention Poised to End Moratorium on Ordaining Gay Bishops

Attending some meetings in San Diego, CA, I was pleased to learn from MSNBC and the Associated Press that the Episcopal General Convention, meeting this week in Anaheim not far away, appears poised to end its three-year old moratorium on ordaining gay bishops.

AP reports that lay and priest deputies to the convention had already approved an earlier draft of the new policy and that on Monday the House of Bishops "voted 99-45 with two abstentions for a statement declaring 'God has called and may call' to ministry gays in committed lifelong relationships." The House of Deputies is expected to give final approval by Friday.

Episcopal News Service seems to be trying to soft-pedal how controversial the change would be, headlining its report
"Bishops affirm openness of ordination process."

Yet the AP coverage accurately notes that the moratorium was intended to respond to pressure from the Global South conservatives in the Anglican Communion to undo the ordination of gay bishop V. Gene Robinson in 2003. Ending the moratorium will effectively throw down the gauntlet to those critics and by extension to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who requested the moratorium to calm the controversy.

The AP report notes sardonically: "Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who leads the Episcopal Church, was among the bishops who voted to approve the declaration." As primate of the Anglicans in the United States, she can expect her more conservative counterparts to vent their dismay any hour now.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Climate-Change Denial Is "Betraying the Planet"--Placing Future Generations in Peril

Paul Krugman, who won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics, normally focuses on that field in his New York Times columns and as Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University. But in his June 29th op-ed piece he took aim at the 212 members of Congress who voted against the recently passed Waxman-Markey climate-change bill--not because he disagrees with their position, but because they have no scientific, political or moral leg to stand on. He also pointed out that the know-nothings wildly over-stated the economic costs of the bill. Some of his better paragraphs follow:

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.

The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe—a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable—can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.

As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves—the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation—may become annual or biannual events.

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it—and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists—a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole—but the existential threat from climate change is all too real.

Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

Meanwhile, Thomas Friedman, another N.Y. Times columnist often quoted favorably here, had mixed feelings about the related energy bill that recently passed the House. His June 30th verdict: "too weak in key areas and way to complicated in others," and "appalling that so much had to be given away to polluters," but the bill still needs to be passed:

Why? Because, for all its flaws, this bill is the first comprehensive attempt by America to mitigate climate change by putting a price on carbon emissions. Rejecting this bill would have been read in the world as America voting against the reality and urgency of climate change and would have undermined clean energy initiatives everywhere.

More important, my gut tells me that if the U.S. government puts a price on carbon, even a weak one, it will usher in a new mind-set among consumers, investors, farmers, innovators and entrepreneurs that in time will make a big difference—much like the first warnings that cigarettes could cause cancer.

Ditto if this bill passes. Henceforth, every investment decision made in America—about how homes are built, products manufactured or electricity generated—will look for the least-cost low-carbon option. And weaving carbon emissions into every business decision will drive innovation and deployment of clean technologies to a whole new level and make energy efficiency much more affordable.