Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Obama Can Salvage the Economy -- and His Presidency -- By Pushing for Simpson-Bowles

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman posted an excellent analysis yesterday, arguing that the only way Barack Obama can salvage the economy -- and his presidency -- is by making the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction recommendations his own and fighting to implement them between now and election day.  Friedman isn't the first or the only commentator to suggest this, but his arguments may be the most compelling anyone has made so far.  And, for good measure, he includes criticism of Obama from none other than Warren Buffett, who is trying to tell the president that he's running out of options fast.  Excerpts of the column follow.

President Obama has a clear choice on how to approach the 2012 election: He can spend all his energy defining Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich or whoever ends up as the Republican nominee in as ugly a way as possible, or he can spend all his energy defining the future in as credible a way as possible. If he spends his energy defining his Republican opponent, there is a chance the president will win with 50.00001 percent of the vote and no mandate to do what needs doing. If he spends his time defining the future in a credible way and offering a hard, tough, realistic pathway to get there, he will not only win, but he will have a mandate to take the country where we need to go.

I voted for Barack Obama, and I don’t want my money back. He’s never gotten the credit he deserves for bringing the economy he inherited back from the brink of a depression. He’s fought the war on terrorism in a smart and effective way. He’s making health care possible for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, and he saved the auto industry. This is big stuff. But, as important as all of these achievements are, they pale in comparison to the defining challenge of Obama’s presidency: Can he put the country on a sustainable economic recovery path at a time when, if we fail, it could be the end of the American dream?

I believe the best way for Obama to do that is by declaring today that he made a mistake in spurning his own deficit reduction commission, chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, and is now adopting Simpson-Bowles — which already has Republican and Democratic support — as his long-term fiscal plan to be phased in after a near-term stimulus. If he did that, he would win politically and create a national consensus that would trump his opponents, right and left.

“I think what happened with Simpson-Bowles was an absolute tragedy,” Warren Buffett said on CNBC last week. “They work like a devil for 10 months. ... They compromise. They bring in people as far apart as [Democratic Senator Dick] Durbin and [Republican Senator Tom] Coburn to get them to sign on and then they’re totally ignored. I think that’s a travesty.”

I think America’s broad center understands very clearly that the country is in trouble and that the Republican Party has gone nuts. But when they look at Obama on the deficit, they feel something is missing. People know leadership when they see it — when they see someone taking a political risk, not just talking about doing so, not just saying, “I’ll jump if the other guy jumps.” In times of crisis, leaders jump first, lay out what truly needs to be done to fix the problem, not just to win re-election, and by doing so earn the right to demand that others do the same.

What would it look like if the president was offering such leadership? First, he’d be proposing a deficit-cutting plan that matches the scale of our problem — one with substantial tax reform and revenue increases, a gasoline tax, deep defense cuts and cutbacks to both Social Security and Medicare. That is the Simpson-Bowles plan, and it should be Obama’s new starting point for negotiations. The deficit plan Obama put out last September is nowhere near as serious.

Second, he’d offer a plan in which the wealthy have to pay their fair share and more, because they’ve had a great two decades. But everyone, including the middle class, has to contribute something. This has to be a national effort. Third, he would offer a plan that is aspirational. It would not just be a roadmap to balancing the budget but to making America great again through reignited economic growth.

My gut says that if the president lays out such a plan — one that begins with him taking all the political risks on himself and then demanding the G.O.P. and his own party follow — he will be both defining himself and the future in a way that would earn him so much centrist support and respect that it would leave every possible Republican opponent in the dust, no matter how obstructionist they are or want to be.

Go big, Mr. President. You will win, and so will America.

Friday, November 04, 2011

On Second Thought: Devil Doesn't Make Gays Do It, Catholic Newspaper Decides

The Pilot, which is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston, now says "our bad" regarding a column it published October 28th that made the devil responsible for same-sex attraction.

A low-level staffer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops evidently authored the piece.  He says it was "not authorized for publication"--although one might wonder who authorized him to write it at all.

However, the newspaper's editors and even a spokesperson for the archdiocese have all been quick to say that the devil-theory is a theological error that is not the position of the Catholic Church.  A Jesuit priest chimed in to agree that The Pilot was right to retract the column and apologize for running it.

The following is The Huffington Post's coverage of the faux pas:

A controversial column suggesting same-sex attraction was the work of the devil has been retracted from the country's oldest Catholic newspaper.

The piece by Daniel Avila, an associate director for policy and research for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was published in The Pilot on Oct. 28 and was pulled from the publication's website Wednesday, Nov. 2 accompanied by an apology, The Associated Press reports.

The nearly 900-word column ponders the origin of homosexual attraction from a "born this way" standpoint. It stated:

Disruptive imbalances in nature that thwart encoded processes point to supernatural actors who, unlike God, do not have the good of persons at heart.

In other words, the scientific evidence of how same-sex attraction most likely may be created provides a credible basis for a spiritual explanation that indicts the devil...

...whenever natural causes disturb otherwise typical biological development, leading to the personally unchosen beginnings of same-sex attraction, the ultimate responsibility, on a theological level, is and should be imputed to the evil one, not God.

Avila later stated that the commentary was "not authorized for publication" and that he apologized for the "hurt and confusion" the piece caused. In an editor's note, the publication said it was sorry for "having failed to recognize the theological error in the column."

"As we absorbed what was in the paper, we said, 'Whoa, that's a problem' Terrence Donilon, a spokesperson for the archdiocese told the Boston Globe about the column. "That's not the position of the church or the archdiocese."

Avila also acknowledged that he does not support unjust treatment or violence toward anyone.

A printed apology will appear in this week's issue of the publication, the Boston Globe reports.

UPDATE:  12:42 p.m. --

Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, supports The Pilot's decision to retract the column.

"Satan doesn't create homosexuality any more than Satan creates heterosexuality," Martin told The Huffington Post in an email. "God creates gays and lesbians, loves them into being, and love them into eternity.

"Opining that their sexuality comes from satanic forces seems to be in opposition to the Catechism," he added.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

"Stick to Being Bulls. Stop Being Pigs." -- Thomas Friedman Advises the Top 1%

In his column published in the Houston Chronicle on October 30th, New York Times writer Thomas Friedman, a three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, pinpointed exactly why the Occupy Wall Street protests have found such resonance, both across the United States and around the globe: like the Arab Spring protesters in Tharir Square in Cairo, Occupy Wall Street is primarily a cry for fundamental economic justice.

Friedman says that despite causing the economic collapse and arousing the animosity of the public and progressives in Congress, the large U.S. banks and other Wall Street institutions still don't get it. He suggests that they pay attention and repent--before things get really ugly. And since repentance seems unlikely, he also proposes four essential reforms--none of which the financial services industry, or their cronies in Congress, will like.

The second half of Friedman's column follows (reformatted in places for added emphasis).

Our financial industry has grown so large and rich it has corrupted our real institutions through political donations. As Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, bluntly said in a 2009 radio interview, despite having caused this crisis, these same financial firms "are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they, frankly, own the place."

Our Congress today is a forum for legalized bribery. One consumer group using information from calculates that the financial services industry, including real estate, spent $2.3 billion on federal campaign contributions from 1990 to 2010, which was more than the health care, energy, defense, agriculture and transportation industries combined. Why are there 61 members on the House Committee on Financial Services? So many congressmen want to be in a position to sell votes to Wall Street.

We can't afford this any longer. We need to focus on four reforms that don't require new bureaucracies to implement.

1) If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big and needs to be broken up. We can't risk another trillion-dollar bailout.

2) If your bank's deposits are federally insured by U.S. taxpayers, you can't do any proprietary trading with those deposits - period.

3) Derivatives have to be traded on transparent exchanges where we can see if another AIG is building up enormous risk.

4) Finally, an idea from the blogosphere: U.S. congressmen should have to dress like NASCAR drivers and wear the logos of all the banks, investment banks, insurance companies and real estate firms that they're taking money from.

Capitalism and free markets are the best engines for generating growth and relieving poverty - provided they are balanced with meaningful transparency, regulation and oversight. We lost that balance in the last decade. If we don't get it back - and there is now a tidal wave of money resisting that - we will have another crisis. And, if that happens, the cry for justice could turn ugly.

Free advice to the financial services industry: Stick to being bulls. Stop being pigs.