Sunday, November 30, 2008

If I had the floor at the auto rescue talks


OK. It's a fantasy. But if I had five minutes in front of Congress last week, here's what I would've said:

Good morning. First of all, before you ask, I flew commercial. Northwest Airlines. Had a bag of peanuts for breakfast. Of course, that's Northwest, which just merged with Delta, a merger you, our government, approved -- and one which, inevitably, will lead to big bonuses for their executives and higher costs for us. You seem to be OK with that kind of business.

Which makes me wonder why you're so against our kind of business? The kind we do in Detroit. The kind that gets your fingernails dirty. The kind where people use hammers and drills, not keystrokes. The kind where you get paid for making something, not moving money around a board and skimming a percentage.
You've already given hundreds of billions to banking and finance companies -- and hardly demanded anything. Yet you balk at the very idea of giving $25 billion to the Detroit Three. Heck, you shoveled that exact amount to Citigroup -- $25 billion -- just weeks ago, and that place is about to crumble anyhow.

Does the word "hypocrisy" ring a bell?

Protecting the home turf?

Sen. Shelby. Yes. You. From Alabama. You've been awfully vocal. You called the Detroit Three's leaders "failures." You said loans to them would be "wasted money." You said they should go bankrupt and "let the market work."

Why weren't you equally vocal when your state handed out hundreds of millions in tax breaks to Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Honda and others to open plants there? Why not "let the market work"? Or is it better for Alabama if the Detroit Three fold so that the foreign companies -- in your state -- can produce more?
Way to think of the nation first, senator.

And you, Sen. Kyl of Arizona. You told reporters: "There's no reason to throw money at a problem that's not going to get solved."

That's funny, coming from such an avid supporter of the Iraq war. You've been gung ho on that for years. So how could you just sit there when, according to the New York Times, an Iraqi former chief investigator told Congress that $13 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds "had been lost to fraud, embezzlement, theft and waste" by the Iraqi government?

That's 13 billion, senator. More than half of what the auto industry is asking for. Thirteen billion? Gone?


Where was your "throwing money at a problem that's not going to get solved" speech then?
Watching over the bankers?

And the rest of you lawmakers. The ones who insist the auto companies show you a plan before you help them. You've already handed over $150 billion of our tax money to AIG. How come you never demanded a plan from it? How come when AIG blew through its first $85 billion, you quickly gave it more? The car companies may be losing money, but they can explain it: They're paying workers too much and selling cars for too little.
AIG lost hundred of billions in credit default swaps -- which no one can explain and which make nothing, produce nothing, employ no one and are essentially bets on failure.
And you don't demand a paragraph from it?

Look. Nobody is saying the auto business is healthy. Its unions need to adjust more. Its models and dealerships need to shrink. Its top executives have to downsize their own importance.

But this is a business that has been around for more than a century. And some of its problems are because of that, because people get used to certain wages, manufacturers get used to certain business models. It's easy to point to foreign carmakers with tax breaks, no union costs and a cleaner slate -- not to mention help from their home countries -- and say "be more like them."

But if you let us die, you let our national spine collapse. America can't be a country of lawyers and financial analysts. We have to manufacture. We need that infrastructure. We need those jobs. We need that security. Have you forgotten who built equipment during the world wars?
Besides, let's be honest. When it comes to blowing budgets, being grossly inefficient and wallowing in debt, who's better than Congress?

So who are you to lecture anyone on how to run a business?

Ask fair questions. Demand accountability. But knock it off with the holier than thou crap, OK? You got us into this mess with greed, a bad Fed policy and too little regulation. Don't kick our tires to make yourselves look better.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


I was never much taken with John McCain. Even in 2000, when he made a good run against Bush in the Republican primaries and was horribly smeared by the Rove machine, he still seemed, insofar as actual policy was concerned, just another Republican, with enough charm to make him seem slightly different to the easily fooled media. Then during the years of the Bush regime, he started becoming even more conventional, kissing Jerry Falwell's ass (see here), and sucking up to Bush himself. But I was not prepared for the complete abdication of principle that has characterized his campaign for the presidency, especially in recent weeks.

The ads now running for the McCain-Palin ticket in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and a handful of other swing states are beyond contempt, and they insure that John McCain will be remembered as one of the great hypocrites of our age (for a sample, see here).

All the polls suggest that these ads are having little effect on the election. They are, by all reasonable assessment, not convincing independents and late deciders to move to McCain. But I fear that they will have another impact, one that is likely to poison further, if that's even possible, the nature of culture and politics in America. Because McCain and Palin have opted to take the low road, millions of Americans are convinced that Barack Obama is a socialist, a threat to families, a friend of terrorists, even the anti-Christ. Obama will be facing monumental problems when he takes office: unemployment, foreclosures, the world financial crisis, two wars going badly, the imminent apocalypse of climate change--the Bush years have left our country in such a shambles that the list of problems is more or less endless.

For McCain and Palin to spew out such venom as they have the last few weeks makes Obama's challenges more difficult. Millions of ordinary Americans will live in fear that Obama is about to loose the Muslim hordes on them, at the same time that he sends their children off to a madrassa. McCain and Palin are hurting our country terribly. Their lies and innuendo are polarizing, divisive, and as mean spirited as anything we have ever seen in our political culture. John McCain knows that Obama is not a socialist or a terrorist, yet he traffics in slander and threat, thus, in fact, actually terrorizing those Americans susceptible to his vile smears.

McCain's motto is "Country First," yet he clearly is putting his own ambition ahead of country. By continuing to pour out this filth, by filling the airwaves of Pennsylvania and Ohio with this garbage, McCain, once a war hero, is committing nothing short of treason.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vote YES on Proposal 2

We urge you to say Yes 2 Proposal 2 and Yes 2 Cures this November 4th.

Proposal 2 has one purpose: to allow researchers the ability to find the cures and therapies that millions of Michigan families desperately need right now.

The procedure required to conduct vital stem cell research is criminalized in Michigan, even though it holds the greatest hope of cures for deadly and debilitating diseases and conditions including Parkinson's, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's, sickle cell anemia, MS, Cerebral Palsy and spinal cord injuries.

It's in our grasp: we can find cures for the diseases that affect our friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. It's the right thing to do for Michigan families who deserve to have hope, and need our help.
If you want to learn more, visit for facts and details.

Tell everyone you know to Vote YES on Proposal 2 November 4th!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Joe Biden in St. Clair Shores

"In John McCain’s America, we wouldn’t guarantee that more of energy would come from wind, solar, and other renewables. The minimum wage would still be $3.35 an hour. There would have been 100,000 fewer police on the beat. There would have been no national domestic violence hotline for the 1.5 million women who were in crisis and needed somewhere to turn."

Joe Biden was eloquent in St. Clair Shores on Monday, exposing the destructive policies of John McCain and advocating for the change we need. He and Barack Obama know that we're all in the same boat, and they want to steer us in the right direction!

Check out the complete speech at

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Plan to Renew the Promise

Published this month, Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama's Plan to Renew America's Promise is a book that lives up to its title.

Following a foreword by Obama and an introduction entitled "Hope for America," four chapters in "Part I: The Plan" describe what his administration would work to accomplish: "Reviving Our Economy: Strengthening the Middle Class," "Investing in Our Prosperity: Creating Our Economic Future," "Rebuilding America's Leadership: Restoring Our Place in the World," and "Perfecting Our Union: Embracing America's Values."

The book's second part, "The Call," features seven speeches by Obama, from his "Declaration of Candidacy" in Springfield, Illinois in February 2007 to his July 2008 address in Berlin, "A World That Stands as One."

The four chapters in "The Plan" set forth a catalog of policy proposals and reforms that are almost dizzying in their number and variety. Each one is mentioned only briefly and is sure to tantalize readers who feel passionate about it. The seven speeches, elegant and energizing, offer an inspiring counterpoint to this program for action.

While the speeches are splendid, it was the contents of "The Plan" that had an abiding effect on me, an effect greater than the sum of its parts. For while the federal government under any administration engages in numerous activities, what the Obama campaign advocates is something more than tremendous variety. It proposes governance that is bold and beneficial, confident and humane. In sharp contrast to the dysfunctional, negligent administration of the last two terms, Obama communicates something exciting, a commitment to leadership not dominated by secrecy and fear and polarization, but one that respects and trusts the American people. Barack Obama believes that citizens and government can enter into a powerful partnership yet again for the benefit of the nation and the world.

"The Plan" is conservative in the best sense because it recalls moments in American history when ordinary people took risks on behalf of freedom and justice. It is also a progressive manifesto, inviting the America of today not to surrender to complacency or despair, but to walk with determination into a bright future of increased equality and opportunity for all people.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Liberals, Be Proud!

Here, verbatim, is Bob Herbert's column from the New York Times earlier this week. All liberals should read it carefully. It might help some of those people who call themselves conservative see things a little clearer, too.

Hold Your Heads Up


Ignorance must really be bliss. How else, over so many years, could the G.O.P. get away with ridiculing all things liberal?

Troglodytes on the right are no respecters of reality. They say the most absurd things and hardly anyone calls them on it. Evolution? Don’t you believe it. Global warming? A figment of the liberal imagination.

Liberals have been so cowed by the pummeling they’ve taken from the right that they’ve tried to shed their own identity, calling themselves everything but liberal and hoping to pass conservative muster by presenting themselves as hyper-religious and lifelong lovers of rifles, handguns, whatever.

So there was Hillary Clinton, of all people, sponsoring legislation to ban flag-burning; and Barack Obama, who once opposed the death penalty, morphing into someone who not only supports it, but supports it in cases that don’t even involve a homicide.

Anyway, the Republicans were back at it last week at their convention. Mitt Romney wasn’t content to insist that he personally knows that “liberals don’t have a clue.” He complained loudly that the federal government right now is too liberal.

“We need change, all right,” he said. “Change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington.”

Why liberals don’t stand up to this garbage, I don’t know. Without the extraordinary contribution of liberals — from the mightiest presidents to the most unheralded protesters and organizers — the United States would be a much, much worse place than it is today.

There would be absolutely no chance that a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin could make a credible run for the highest offices in the land. Conservatives would never have allowed it.

Civil rights? Women’s rights? Liberals went to the mat for them time and again against ugly, vicious and sometimes murderous opposition. They should be forever proud.

The liberals who didn’t have a clue gave us Social Security and unemployment insurance, both of which were contained in the original Social Security Act. Most conservatives despised the very idea of this assistance to struggling Americans. Republicans hated Social Security, but most were afraid to give full throat to their opposition in public at the height of the Depression.

“In the procedural motions that preceded final passage,” wrote historian Jean Edward Smith in his biography, “FDR,” “House Republicans voted almost unanimously against Social Security. But when the final up-or-down vote came on April 19 [1935], fewer than half were prepared to go on record against.”

Liberals who didn’t have a clue gave us Medicare and Medicaid. Quick, how many of you (or your loved ones) are benefiting mightily from these programs, even as we speak. The idea that Republicans are proud of Ronald Reagan, who saw Medicare as “the advance wave of socialism,” while Democrats are ashamed of Lyndon Johnson, whose legislative genius made this wonderful, life-saving concept real, is insane.

When Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law in the presence of Harry Truman in 1965, he said: “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine.”

Reagan, on the other hand, according to Johnson biographer Robert Dallek, “predicted that Medicare would compel Americans to spend their ‘sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was like in America when men were free.’ ”


Without the many great and noble deeds of liberals over the past six or seven decades, America would hardly be recognizable to today’s young people. Liberals (including liberal Republicans, who have since been mostly drummed out of the party) ended legalized racial segregation and gender discrimination.

Humiliation imposed by custom and enforced by government had been the order of the day for blacks and women before men and women of good will and liberal persuasion stepped up their long (and not yet ended) campaign to change things. Liberals gave this country Head Start and legal services and the food stamp program. They fought for cleaner air (there was a time when you could barely see Los Angeles) and cleaner water (there were rivers in America that actually caught fire).

Liberals. Your food is safer because of them, and so are your children’s clothing and toys. Your workplace is safer. Your ability (or that of your children or grandchildren) to go to college is manifestly easier.

It would take volumes to adequately cover the enhancements to the quality of American lives and the greatness of American society that have been wrought by people whose politics were unabashedly liberal. It is a track record that deserves to be celebrated, not ridiculed or scorned.

Self-hatred is a terrible thing. Just ask that arch-conservative Clarence Thomas.

Liberals need to get over it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Heroes, Kings, and Old Men

I must admit I feel sorry for John McCain. It's not because he may lose the election for president. It has to do with something else, something that will remain with him whether he loses or wins. The problem I see is one that is writ large in his life, but appears also in the lives of many men who do not appear in the news.

McCain refers very often to his military service and to his time as a prisoner of war. Lots of other people talk about this time in his life, and even his opponents refer to him as a hero. His later decades, including several terms in the Senate, appear almost as an anti-climax.

Perhaps the young McCain was a hero. Certainly on behalf of his country he suffered in ways that no one should have to suffer. But heroism is for young men, perhaps also for those in middle age. McCain is now past seventy, and as Aaron Kipnis has said, "There are no old heroes--only wise or foolish old men." Someone McCain's age can be a credible senator or president. But by that point in life, heroism needs to give place to something greater. The hero must become the wise old man. If not, then he turns into the foolish old man, somebody stuck in the past.

John McCain is the third of that name. His grandfather was an admiral, and his father was also. The current John McCain never became an admiral. I wonder how much he is haunted by this. I wonder also how much he is haunted by having served his country inside an enemy prison rather than in a position of high command. That was a hell of a hard way to become a hero.

If these are McCain's preoccupations, then he has company. Many men have difficulty letting go of heroic expectations about themselves or even heroic realities. When I was in college, I met a World War II veteran, a relative of one of my friends. Within the first ten minutes of our acquaintance, he was reciting with gusto stories of the dangers he had faced in that war thirty years earlier. It was as though nothing had happened since then. Whether a man is acknowledged as a hero or not, he may not learn that there is life afterward, and that his final decades are inevitably characterized by either foolishness or wisdom.

Another stage can occur between the young hero and the old man. That is the stage of the king. Kings can reign well or poorly. They can preside over territories large or small: not only entire nations, but businesses, classrooms, and families. Richard Rohr has said that a man is rarely in touch with his king energy before the age of fifty. When there's a true king in the room, you know it. He's robust, confident but not arrogant, and embodies a zest for life. The true king makes others feel safe and appreciated.

I've learned a lot about John McCain in recent months, as many Americans have, and I find little or no evidence of positive king energy in what he does. People who know him well, even some who share his political perspective, find him hard to get along with. The greatest leaders add luster even to high office. Others fulfill their roles with dignity and competence. The record suggests that McCain does not belong to either of these groups.

Barack Obama is still in his forties, yet he strikes me as a man moving from hero to king. His mother, his father, his stepfather, and his grandfather are all gone, and he has separated himself from his spiritual father, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Becoming a good king often involves saying farewell to parental figures and leaving mentors behind. The end of these relationships brings grief and sometimes conflict. Obama's words and actions demonstrate that he has negotiated these transitions in a thoughtful way. He lives in the present moment, not the past.

I feel sorry for John McCain, but I will not vote for him. On the other hand, Barack Obama makes me hopeful. Whether or not he's elected president, Obama will serve our country with positive king energy and in time become an old man of uncommon wisdom.