Saturday, June 14, 2008

Debunking resources

There are a number of good places to go to get the straight dope on whatever you might have heard or had drop in your e-mail box that doesn't sound quite right about Barack Obama.

The Jewish community has perhaps been the biggest target of scurrilous nonsense. A great resource for everything you need to rebut drivel of this sort is

Another excellent source is the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) also has a useful comparison of the two candidates here.

And of course there is the official campaign debunking site,

Almost as important as going to these sites is linking to these sites from any blog or web page you have control of. The more links, the higher these sites will appear when people do web searches.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Was your support of Bush worth it, Mayor Koch?

The following is an op-ed piece I wrote for the October issue of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice (subscribe here).

When Mayor Ed Koch faced off with Congressman Gerry Nadler during the 2004 Presidential campaign at a local synagogue, he tried to make the case that Bush was better for Israel and therefore deserved the Jewish vote. At the same time he acknowledged that Democrats up and down the line were better on domestic issues and Jews should vote Democratic for Congress.
Given the almost complete lack of US impact on the peace process and the mounting failure that is Iraq, I’d be hard pressed to conclude that the Mayor’s first contention was correct. Based on the state of America today, his second conclusion was right on target, begging the question, was your support of Bush worth it Mayor Koch?

At the time I argued, all too frequently I’m afraid, that Jewish law and Jewish philosophy (certainly from my Conservative Jewish perspective) gave extremely clear direction on whom to support for President and Congress, even for the Pennsylvania legislature in 2004. As we look at the results of Republican rule during 17 of the past 25 years in comparison to Democratic rule for most of the preceding almost 45 years and the most recent 8 year respite, I see nothing but confirmation of my read of political reality: Democratic philosophy is in tune with Jewish philosophy while Republican philosophy is antithetical.

While far from an expert in Jewish studies, I see over and over again support in the Torah for a progressive, Democratic style of governing and challenges to regressive, Republican governing practices. The need for communal structures to enable a just society is clear as is the need for equitable financial support for those communal structures. Similar are the exhortations on integrity and competence in communal leadership. Perhaps of greatest import in looking at Democratic versus Republican governing philosophies is the recognition, repeated in daily prayers, of G-d as the source of whatever good fortune that may result from seemingly personal efforts.

Republican governing principles, brought to stunning clarity in the hurricane Katrina disaster, at the most basic level call for the absence of government wherever possible, leaving personal responsibility and individual charity to fill the gap; to eliminate non-security government function is divine, to outsource a close second.

The push towards elimination begins with Grover Norquist’s “starve the beast” strategy; tax cuts skewed to those least in need of spending cash, serving to put the biggest possible crimp in the federal budget. Further, with elimination as the goal, the “FEMA corollary” is inevitable; competence is no longer even a consideration, let alone a requirement for political appointees. At every turn we see the Torah’s teachings left by the way.

Juxtapose Bill Clinton’s year-after-year improvement in average wages and reduction in poverty rates, balanced-budgets, even budget surpluses and, in comparison, stunning competence in executive appointments against the largest budget deficits on record, worst employment record since Herbert Hoover, stagnant wages for all but the wealthiest of the wealthy, increasing poverty rates (wiping out nearly all of Clinton’s gains) and clear incompetence in executive appointees, and well, we really have to ask Mayor Koch, was your support of Bush worth it?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Dueling Diagnoses => Actions speak louder than Words

(Cross posted at DailyKos)

Yet another diagnosis of the Democrats slide into near oblivion has made its way into my inbox recently, this one from James Kroeger entitled The Republican Nemesis, close on the heels of George Lakoff's most recent item, The Post-Katrina Era.

Kroeger's diagnosis is basically that "While Democrats knock themselves out every election cycle trying to talk to Swing Voters about The Issues, Republicans have calmly focused their attention on winning The Image Campaign. Quite simply: Democrats lose because they don't understand what moves their target audience." Republicans make themselves look good by making Democrats look bad and Democrats, in trying to maintain some semblance of civility, play right into Republicans' hands by giving them a measure of credibility. Democrats must slam Republicans whenever appropriate, laugh at the ridiculous claims they make of us and state clearly why we should all be afraid of electing Republicans - not particularly tough to do at the moment.

IMHO, Kroeger's analysis is accurate, as far as it goes. I believe, however, it is incomplete as it is missing that which Kroeger specifically chooses to dismiss when he writes that "George Lakoff says that the Republicans are especially talented at choosing words & associations that work for them. True as that may be, it becomes apparent with a little more reflection that it's not really the words or value-associations that matter so much; it's the emotions that are expressed when words are used. "

His dismissal way oversimplifies what Lakoff has to say, ignoring the multiplicative, reinforcing nature of repeated messages integrated into a consistent frame that, even without the loaded delivery, elicits emotional responses. This together with how Republicans cast Democrats and ineffective responses from Democrats made for a very steep decline indeed.

As Kroeger's analysis is incomplete, so too is his solution. It is necessary for Democrats to respond effectively to the inevitable Republican smears, however it is not sufficient. Democrats must also have a framework within which to fashion consistent messages that paint a positive self-portrait for the electorate. Bill Moyers outstanding series on Joseph Campbell And The Power of Myth comes to mind - storytelling is extremely powerful and Democrats must regain this critical skill. Lakoff provides a style guide as well as a content primer for stories. Kroeger provides insight into story teller traits needed to get the listener to both buy into our stories and reject that of our opponents.

There are two other elements that I think are needed to ensure Democratic resurgence - and no, it's not that Republicans keep shooting themselves in the foot, though of course more of that is quite welcome.

The first is that every single Democratic elected official, Party official, candidate, spokesperson, whatever, must be relentless in calling Republicans on the disconnect between their words and their actions. The phrases "Watch what they do, not what they say!" and "Actions speak louder than words!" need to be repeated over and over and over again.

Second, following on the storytelling theme, is that we need to recruit and train top notch story tellers. There is no excuse for settling for bar pour when only top shelf will get the job done.

By the way, do read Lakoff's piece - he does a good job of making a case for focusing on the philosophical underpinnings of the Katrina disaster - Republicans don't believe in government, how can they do anything but what they've done? It should be no surprise to anyone that they've managed to completely trash FEMA along with the FDA and EPA while hard at work to repeat the process in every federal agency.

Democrats, on the other hand, believe in government as the appropriate vehicle for effective common action for the common good and have repeatedly demonstrated that this philosophy leads to well run government able to get the job done for Americans and America. This of course dovetails nicely with Kroeger's exhortation to show the electorate why they should fear Republicans and elect Democrats.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Is "The World Is Flat" right?

I'm just past 1/4 of the way through Tom Friedman's latest book, The World is Flat (TWIF) and I've got a number of thoughts I'd like to share, as much to get them written down as anything else.
  1. Natural resources are finite. If China and India develop at the kind of accelerated rate that TWIF implies (Friedman talks about the potential to have 3 or 4 or 5 US economies chugging along) and there is not a parallel accelerated development of recycling technologies and practices, we're all going to be in deep shit.
  2. Finite Natural Resources corollary 1: The capacity for growth is finite - companies can't grow their business for ever (even if you were to believe that acquiring another company is the same as growing your own, which of course it isn't).
  3. Finite Natural Resources corollary 2: Corporate strategies predicated on a de facto belief that growth is always good are running at a brick wall (even if that wall may be far away at the moment).
  4. (Based on the Cliff Notes summary Friedman gave to Charlie Rose in May, 2005, recently rebroadcast) Given the complete inability of the Bush Administration to take any action to address world-wide flattening - evidence the "all fossil fuels all the time" energy bill and predilection for faith-based science - Friedman should be contributing heavily to Democratic candidates.
  5. Single-payer, government-funded health care should probably the most important goal of US business - besides the health care insurance industry of course.

I'll be back to update when I'm further along in the book.

Stuff to remember

I'm doing this mostly for myself as I get and find numerous items worth being able to reference as the Katrina disaster and its aftermath continues to unfold.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Opportunity to do more than write a check

If you are sufficiently disgusted with the miserable, quite possibly criminal inaction of the Bush Administration and can shirk your life responsibilities for 10 days or so, there are opportunities to do so.

If you live in PA go to for details. Oh, and FYI, I found out about this in an e-mail from the Pennacchio for Senate campaign.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Why we need the Estate Tax

An extremely important article, Wealth Happens (note this is a copyrighted article which I've posted under fair use doctrine rules - copies and a full summary can be found here) on the impact of GOP policies on wealth distribution appeared in the April 2002 edition of Harvard Business Review.

The article makes it clear that if the GOP continues to skew the tax laws in favor of unearned income and against taxes that tend to more evenly distribute wealth, like the estate tax, we are likely to hit a tipping point where we suddenly become Guatemala where as few as a half dozen hyper-rich control as much wealth as is now in the hands of several hundred thousand people.

The article discusses research based on the 1897 work of the Italian Pareto on wealth distribution where a computer model uses relatively simple financial transactions to show what happens to wealth distribution as you change the rules, for instance reducing capital gains taxes or eliminating the estate tax. The model accurately predicts exactly what we are seeing, and points to the highly likely end result - if the pattern continues - of hitting that tipping point.

Really scary shit.

I'd also like to take a moment to rebut the cornerstone of the GOP argument against the etate tax, double taxation. The reality is that the lion's share of assets subject to the Federal Estate Tax - which, one should note is completely separate from individual state taxes on estates that in some instances affect a significantly greater percentage of estates than the federal tax - are capital assets, things like stocks, bonds and real estate, that have appreciated substantially from the time they were purchased.

While it's true that the initial investment may well have been made with after tax earnings - though of course the assets may just as well have been purchased with an inheritance - the bulk of the value of these assets is from capital appreciation and, if the estate tax were to be repealed this appreciation would never be taxed - 0 tax, nada, nothing.

So, the real story is that the estate tax is the ONLY tax levied on the great majority of estate assets that are subject to the tax - which of course are assets in excess of the exemption, which is on the order of $1MM, and that aren't sheltered in things like a bypass trust (see and that haven't already been passed on under the $10,000/year/person gift exemption prior to a person/couple passing away.

More good ammo for keeping the Estate Tax can be found here.

And some more info on how the GOP's plans are bad even for a good chunk of already wealthy Americans (thanks to Kossack Irrelevant Prolixity for the link).

And, if the HBR article doesn't provide enough reason for keeping the Estate Tax, perhaps this article, Inequality kills, will.

And here's a link to yet more info on the nasty state of wealth distribution and the corrosive effects on our democracy:

PS The first page of the HBR article didn't scan very well - blow it up to %150 to read it...