Friday, October 28, 2011

My plants are getting too big for my house!

Each year when I try to cram my plants back into the house, it gets harder and harder. This year with our abundant rainfall, the plants have become enormous and the challenge of getting them back in is greater than ever!

We are now at the point where only 2—-at the most 3--people can fit into our little sun room when the plants are back. I love my plants and am very happy they had a good summer BUT this is becoming a bit problematic.

And as always I am desperately trying to get them back in the house before a frost. I thought that when I was retired there would be no scrambling in November to get plants in before the first frost. Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out that way and I am as behind schedule as I was during my working years!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Case for Obama

I am so tired of left wing critiques of Obama that refuse to credit his achievements or acknowledge the constraints he has been under. His achievements, extremist criticism to the contrary notwithstanding, have been impressive.

Although now reviled by both the left and the right, the stimulus program, according to most economists, brought the economy back from the brink of real disaster. Yes, it should have been larger, but was arguably the best that could be done, given this dysfunctional Congress. Remember what a difficult time the President had getting three Republican votes in the Senate to pass the bill.

Despite implacable Republican opposition, President Obama, with a lot of help from Nancy Pelosi, still managed to pass a healthcare bill establishing access to heath care as a right of all citizens. Sure, it’s an imperfect bill, but once the economy revives, we will have the opportunity to improve it, just as we have had with other deeply flawed programs, such as Social Security. Just as Social Security, which excluded the majority of share croppers and domestic workers and thus effectively excluded the majority of African-Americans, was amended, this bill excluding undocumented workers and suffering from a number of other faults, can eventually be fixed.

The Republican attempt to repeal the bill is going to rub up against the genuinely popular parts of the bill, and will ultimately fail. Medicare at first met with fierce opposition, but gradually became an essential part of the social safety net. I expect the same to occur with Obama’s health care bill

Another accomplishment is the passage of meaningful—again not as much as we needed—regulatory reform. The dismantling of regulatory agencies at the root of the current economic crisis dates back to the Clinton years. This crisis was many years in the making and we in all probability have a long ways to go before real recovery. Reasonable people understand this.

Some of Obama’s achievements have gotten relatively little media coverage, and many voters have forgotten them. His overhaul of the college loan program resulted in significant savings for students, their families and the taxpayers, but has received little credit. Similarly, the rescue of the auto industry has earned the President nothing like the credit he deserves. And let’s not forget that Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan are on the Supreme Court: their nomination is a testament to Obama’s good judgment; their senate confirmation a testament to his political skill.

Considering the cards Obama was holding, his major achievements of the 2010 lame duck Congressional session—the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the extension of unemployment benefits—were far more impressive than most of us expected. The extension of unemployment benefits belies the charge that Obama is a poor negotiator. (For a similar point of view, read Jonathan Alters’ The Promise on the tough negotiating stand the President took during the bailout of the auto industry.)

Finally, consider Obama’s foreign policy achievements: He rid the world of Osama and finally brought the country some degree of closure after 9/11. Somewhat too slowly from my point of view, he is winding down the two wars he inherited. His policy in Libya, criticized as both too aggressive and too tepid, appears to have worked with the end of the Gaddafi regime. For anyone who reads the foreign press, there is no doubt that Obama has dramatically improved the image of the US around the world.

Many critics on the left make unfavorable comparisons between Obama and FDR-- ignoring real differences in historical context. FDR had a Democratic congress; Obama had one in name only—the Blue Dogs may have been Democrats but they were hardly supportive of Obama’s programs. In addition, globalization has changed the game; it’s much harder now for governments to have an impact on their national economies. Obama’s opposition is much stronger than Roosevelt’s was; for example, he is facing a capital strike right now, with corporate interests sitting on mounds of cash they refuse to invest. Is it because of uncertainty, as they claim, or are they are waiting for a Republican President and what they see as a more favorable investment climate?

There are far more constraints on Obama than there ever were on FDR. I can understand frustration that Obama has not used the bully pulpit as effectively as FDR (who has?), but let's be fair about what he’s dealing with and give credit where it’s due.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Just can't stop writing about politics

When I started this blog several years ago, I intended it to focus on retirement issues. However I’ve written 40 posts on politics, 26 on feminism for a total of 66 political(in the broad sense)themes and only 33 on retirement life. I guess this is no surprise as one of the reasons I retired was to have more time for political activism.

I had intended to take a break from political blogging but could not resist responding to a post on the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus list serve.

Marc Stier contended that Party Chair Bob Brady’s attempt to force judicial candidates running for retention to pay $10,000 each to be on the party’s sample ballot is “not in the least bit scandalous.” I think Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Rudolph Garcia got it right:

I think it's outrageous that the party is, as I understand it, asking for $10,000 per judge," Garcia said. "I don't see why printing costs for sample ballots should be anywhere near that amount. This is one of the things wrong with our system, and why we shouldn't be electing judges the way we do.

Also working to reform the Democratic Party does not preclude dealing with broader social justice issues. This is not an either /or. Those uncomfortable with reform often make the argument that this is too small to be concerned about; there are bigger fish to fry. But there will never be a time when undemocratic practices in the Democratic Party are the only item on the progressive agenda.

I was surprised to read Marc’s warning: “I hope you keep in mind that killing a dying machine without thinking realistically about what we are going to put in its place is a recipe for disaster.” I don’t think our still relatively small group is in a position to “kill” the machine and cause a “disaster." The machine is slowly dying by a thousand cuts. The Progressive Caucus is trying to build the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. We are trying to develop a strategy for 2014, when committeepeople and ward leaders will be elected. Previous efforts in the past decade have faltered because we started too late. We are now starting years in advance and also working to ensure that abuses like the Tracey Gordon case will not occur again. How can we hope to recruit energetic progressives if we cannot assure them that if they win election they will be seated?

And of course campaign finance reform ( not so easy I know) has got to be part of the long-term strategy.

I expected that there would be progressives-- especially elected officials, would-be elected officials, ward leaders—who would not be favorably disposed towards a progressive caucus. When they’re with progressives they emphasize their progressive policy positions; when they’re with the party machine types, their inner ward leader comes out. I’ve seen a few elected officials do this little dance for years. They are usually good people with genuinely progressive instincts, but for increasing numbers of grassroots activists, this is not enough. We don’t want leaders who take progressive policy positions, but ignore(and sometimes defend/participate in ) undemocratic practices. We are not going to attract talented committed folks, especially talented committed young folks without cleaning up the process.

Also, Marc states: “For all its flaws, we do a better job of turning out working class people in this city than in most other similar cities. How, with a weakened party, are we going to keep doing that? No city in America has found a better solution than something like a traditional party machine.” I would like to see those statistics that the Phila. Democratic Party does a better job of turning outworking class voters than Party machines in comparable cities. The numbers I’ve seen on the website are really depressing.

Anyway, I sure don’t have the answer to the political mobilization problems we’re facing. That’s why the Progressive Caucus was formed-–to encourage more progressives to work within the Democratic Party to make the party more transparent, more “small-d” democratic, and by doing so to make the party more attractive( especially to young people) and thus increase participation.

There’s a connection between an undemocratic machine and failure to win elections. As Jerry Policoff put it:

There is a reason why the Democrats struggle to win elections in a majority-Democratic State. It is because of corruption and hack politics.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

There's a reason the Philadelphia Democratic Party gets away with shaking down judicial candidates; it’s time to start connecting the dots.

There are real drawbacks to living in a one-party town. Recently the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
The city's Democratic Party organization invited 27 Philadelphia judges to a buffet breakfast this week and asked them to pay $10,000 each to assure party support when they face yes-or-no retention votes in November, according to judges who attended.
The figure is double what the party asked from sitting judges two years ago.
And the request was reportedly delivered with a warning from the party treasurer, former State Rep. Frank Oliver, that Democratic ward leaders would "cut" - withhold support from - judges who failed to pay, according to several witnesses.

Democratic Party Chair Bob Brady, who has a real talent for plausible deniability, left the room when the party treasurer made his pitch.
I don't know what was said at the meeting, because I wasn't there," Brady said Thursday. …. The Democratic Party, for the 25 years I've been there, has never endorsed or unendorsed anybody for monetary reasons. . . . A good-faith effort, that's what the party asks."

Of course nobody believes this. A Daily News editorial asks: "Dem Party courtship of judicial candidates a stickup?" Anyone who pays attention to judicial elections in Philadelphia knows the process is riddled with corruption. But our local press doesn’t connect the dots.

Reporters who are well aware of the corruption documented by both the Inquirer and Daily News articles have not wanted to report about the undemocratic practices in the Philadelphia Democratic party--to cite a recent example, the failure to seat duly elected committeeperson Tracey Gordon.(City Paper's Holly Otterbein who broke the Tracey Gordon story is a notable exception.)

Bob Brady and the Democratic machine can use judicial elections as a money-maker because he has for the most part a docile group of ward leaders and committeepeople who in many cases have political patronage jobs. (I’ve often wondered why there is no investigative reporting of what are often referred to as “sponsored" positions--city jobs doled out by ward leaders. Can an economically struggling city really afford this?)

You can run this kind of judicial shakedown operation only if you are confident that enough committeepeople and ward leaders will go along. Tracey Gordon did not intend to be a docile committeeperson who was there just to take orders. She was unhappy about the lack of voter participation in her neighborhood and ran to increase turn-out in her division. This may not be what some ward leaders want.

But energetic committeepeople who want to educate voters and increase voter participation are just what we need. We’ll never clean up Philadelphia’s political mess until more civic-minded people run for these slots. And how many of these folks will choose to run if they know that the ward leaders are allowed to ignore the will of the voters and to refuse to seat duly elected committeepeople they may not be able to control?

If we had more independent committee committeepeople and ward leaders, the kind of judicial shake-down operation reported by the Inquirer and Daily News would be a whole lot harder to pull-off.