Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Veterans for Dan French

Dear Veteran,

My name is Specialist Gary Gould and I’m a proud veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While I was overseas I constantly thought of the world I left behind. My service demanded that I live in many different locations, but I always considered Dutchess County home. Nothing means more to me, which is why I’m writing to you today.

War gives you perspective on what’s important and what you care about. It makes you realize what a true friend is and the importance of loyalty. My friend Dan French was there when I shipped off, but more importantly he was there when I came back. Anybody who has served knows that a homecoming is about more than parades and celebrations and Dan seemed to grasp that better than anyone else. Some people tried talking to me about what I had been through- Dan listened. He stayed by my side throughout my entire experience. He had been the first one to write, the first to show up when I needed him, and he is the last to leave.

This loyalty wasn’t unusual for Dan; it’s what everybody who knows him has come to expect. Dan is a loving husband-to-be and a devoted son. After the death of his father Dan did his duty and returned home to take care of his family. He put his life on hold, something that couldn’t have been easy, but for Dan there was no hesitation.

This Tuesday Dan is on the ballot to become our next County Executive. Dutchess County needs a leader, and I know from my service that good leadership can only come from a person of strong character. When I was young my father always told me that wisdom could be found either through years of studies or a single day on the battlefield. Dan French has spent the years needed to learn how to properly run a government. He’s a committed public servant, not another career politician. 

There’s nobody I would trust more to do what’s right for this county than Dan French. I know from my own experience that a vote for him is a vote for a good man. He’s been there for me, for his family, and I know that he’ll be there for Dutchess County. I urge you to consider him this Election Day.

Spc. Gary Gould

Monday, August 8, 2011

U.S. downgrade worse for S&P than Treasury rates?

Just as I supposed yesterday, the stock of Standard and Poor's parent company, McGraw Hill has taken quite a beating today- much worse than Treasury bonds. Yields on Treasury bonds are actually down today (that's a good thing, for those of you not up on your bond trading; the riskier the investment the more interest investors want on their loans) because of a sell off of stocks. McGraw Hill on the other hand, is down almost 9% at the time I'm writing this.

The point is, S&P downgraded the United States and everybody's realizing how unimportant this agency is. This is the group that said toxic Subprime Mortgage-Backed CDOs were AAA. They've lost their reputation and any relevance they had. Like I said yesterday, I think pointing this out diminishes the opportunity the President has to punish Republicans for their role in the downgrade. However, there are some Democrats in swing districts that could benefit from pointing out how insignificant this has turned out to be.

It's incorrect to say that this is going to have no effect on the United States. A lot of things affect treasury bonds, and the rates didn't go down today because something good happened. It's because something worse happened somewhere else and investors think US bonds are a safe place to put their money. Eventually though, this will result in slightly more interest on the government's debt. These numbers just reaffirm that things aren't as bad as some might think and that one rating agency doesn't have the power we might think it does.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Statement on the Downgrade of U.S. Treasury Bonds

President Obama released a statement on the downgrade of U.S. Treasury bonds that failed to mention Republicans or place any blame for S&P’s decision. To continue pretending both sides are to blame is dishonest and misses an opportunity to hold the GOP responsible for its actions. The following is what I think the President should have said. To read more of my notes on this speech, click here.

Good evening,

Moments ago, Standard and Poor’s released a report detailing their opinion on the credit worthiness of the United States. In the past century our debt has grown to become considered the safest investment in the world- an unofficial global currency. It has been so strong that, instead of cash, banks instead choose to hold our treasury bills. Today’s announcement puts that in jeopardy.  For the first time since this system began, our country’s credit rating has been downgraded by one of the major agencies. This is an unprecedented event and a sign of just how far our political system has fallen. It is an indictment not of the capabilities of the American people to work and build wealth, but of their government’s ability to responsibly collect and spend.

Notes on "A Statement on the Downgrade of U.S. Treasury Bonds"

Click here to read the speech itself.

This downgrade report is a gift to the President. It's a vindication of almost everything he's been saying and at the same time won't have a huge negative impact on the economy.

The first question in approaching the downgrade is whether or not to give Standard and Poor's their deserved criticism. After all, this rating is coming from the people who said subprime mortgage-backed CDO's were among the safest investments in the world. Their advice lags the market as a whole and serves little useful predictive purpose. There's also reason to believe they hold a grudge against the Obama administration for provisions in the Wall Street Reform Act.

I think people are going to be surprised how little difference this report makes. It won't surprise me if their parent company, McGraw-Hill, sees more downside to this on Monday than the Treasury does. So you could make a good case that this doesn't matter, but then you can't turn around and say that it proves you're right and the Republicans are wrong. Having to make a choice I would go on the attack, with a brief mention of having tried to stop the report to head off the attack you're enjoying this downgrade.

S&P's report has everything. It says there should be revenue increases in a budget fix. It says the uncertainty is a political issue brought on by the debt ceiling standoff, not a matter of the country's ability to afford its debt. It says the AAA rating will be restored if the Bush tax cuts expire and that the President was right to discuss entitlements. It just barely stops short of saying "this is the Tea Party's fault."

I don't see much of a downside to going on the offensive with this, mainly because I wouldn't see the point of having a second term that looks like these past seven months. I think Obama should go all in; make this a referendum on the antics of the 112th Congress. If he can convince people that Congress is dragging down progress in this country he'll have a second term and if he can't what good is facing more of these hostage taking scenarios? It doesn't let him have the Presidency he wants and weakens the Democratic Party. Hell, if this country could survive it, I almost think it'd better if he lost and ran again in 2016 against four years of Bachmann-Cain (or whatever nonsense he faces this year) so he could have a definitive win rather than face four more years like this one.

In the meantime, maybe this downgrade will talk some sense into the GOP leadership. They still listen to what Wall Street wants. In a strange twist, Wall-Street's interests are more palatable than the desires of grassroots members in Congress. What an odd world we live in.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Dem's Missed Talking Point?

Here's a thought: What if every time you had turned your television on in the last three or four weeks you saw a Democrat talking about the military? "We can't play games with military salaries. If this debt ceiling isn't raised the Treasury Department won't just stop sending out Social Security checks- they won't have the money needed for our men overseas! What are Republicans going to say to the Army wife when she can't afford rent or food for her children because they forced this country into default?"

This is the card Republicans played as the nation approached the deadline for a government shutdown. I remember seeing on Facebook pictures of toddlers in front of the American flag with a caption reading, "Explain to HER why her father's checks will be late." But why can it only be Republicans that invoke the military? President Obama is the commander in chief. He's proven himself. He's presided over the surge in Afghanistan, he got 'combat' troops out of Iraq, and he ordered a gusty strike that killed Osama bin Laden- despite that fact it violated Pakistan's sovereignty. That's the kind of thing a Republican lives for. You got to kill the most wanted man in the world AND you had to disobey international law in order to do what was right?? For George W. Bush, that would have meant an automatic second term.

It's true, the public was on Obama's side in this fight. However, there's a difference between agreeing with somebody and being passionate about an issue. Two years ago we were witnessing the summer of the town-hall meeting. Congressmen across the country faced question after question from angry people concerned "death panels" and the death of Medicare. This wasn't all an organic movement that political science explains might arise given X, Y, and Z conditions. It was an organized effort. These people were there repeating GOP talking points verbatim. Republicans made health care reform relevant to people. But in the past month nobody ever heard about the debt ceiling outside of its effects on bond ratings and institutional investors. You tell them Republicans are going to stop Social Security payment and they're concerned- then tell them they're also going to stop paychecks going out to our men and women in uniform and they're downright disgusted.

If this was the message Democrats gave, what could the response be? Republicans could say that it just wasn't true.  I guess that would work on a small scale, but not if it got enough exposure. They could have passed a bill through Congress saying Treasury would have to keep paying military personnel after August 2nd. "Oh, so now Republicans ADMIT the country is about to default. Well what about Social Security and Medicare benefits?" If they passed a bill protecting all three you could point to another popular program, or you could start talking about the 401k plans that would become worthless. Any outcome, I don't think you would have actually lost anything from talking about it.

Democrats should stop conceding ground to Republicans because of past defeats. I think it's as true when it comes to the military as it was when the President didn't mention the budget balanced amendment in his prime time speech. Between those two issues you've given both defense and fiscal responsibility to the other party. If you keep conceding ground you'll always wind up on the defensive- just where Obama doesn't want to be in 2012.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Look Into the Future?

Good afternoon,

Over five months ago Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle agreed to form a bipartisan committee to tackle the issue of our fiscal deficit. They agreed that if this committee’s recommendations were not passed by the end of this year that automatic cuts would be made to defense and discretionary programs. In the subsequent months, the spirit of agreement and compromise that began these talks quickly vanished as leaks of the discussions made their way to embattled partisans.

The media blames both sides equally for what followed. That’s an appealing story. It sounds fair and is the safe thing to say. However, though I don’t agree with every faction of my party, I think it’s clear to the American people there has consistently been one side that’s shown a willingness to compromise in this process. Democratic members of the committee reluctantly accommodated the Republican pledge against increased revenues. Democrats agreed to put extension of the Bush tax-cuts on the table as a show of good faith, despite ultimately receiving nothing in return. I reject the characterization of each parties as duplicitous in this failure.

These recommendations are the capstone to what has been an entire year dominated by a Republican willingness to subvert serious discussion. Their Senate leader launched the new Congress by saying his party’s number one priority was not jobs or the economy, but preventing my reelection. They decided to risk this country’s good credit for an opportunity to amuse the most radical members of their base. They took what was a mandate from voters to cut the deficit and perverted it into a call to slash Medicare and hand money to the rich. They took this committee’s proceedings as seriously as they took their other responsibilities and have once again passed the job of governing along to someone else.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Debt Ceiling Primer

Sorry updates have been slow this week. House guests don't find speechwriting very entertaining! Here are some reads for the debt ceiling debate.:

Happy friday everyone. There will be a new post soon- assuming there's still a United States government to write about.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Tale of Two Speeches

President Obama and John Boehner each had their chance to talk to the American people last night about the debt ceiling crisis. They each gave their interpretation of the problem and their account of what's happened so far. So how did they do? What do the two speeches say about their positions?

I think the President gave a pretty fair explanation of what the debt ceiling is and how we got to this position. He mentioned the surplus that President Clinton left and placed the deficit blame squarely where it belongs, but without dwelling on the past. After introducing the debt ceiling he talked about what the Republicans in the House voted to cut and the tax cuts they chose not to remove. What he didn't mention was that the whole proposal was contingent on Congress passing the Balanced Budget Amendment and he probably missed an opportunity there.

When you hear people say that Obama has a messaging problem I think this is exactly what they mean. The majority of what the Republicans passed just amounted to bad cuts- the Balanced Budget Amendment is where they got aboard the bus to crazy town. Maybe the President thought people would agree with the sentiment of the amendment's name and not bother to understand its contents, but this was his speech and he had the opportunity to explain things as he sees them. For probably a majority of Americans this would have been the first they had heard of this particular "balanced budget amendment". He could have been the one that introduced it to them- without even using its GOP branded name- and explained how this country would be shackled in times of crisis.

"And Republicans made all of this contingent on Congress approving a change to the Constitution that would take future budget decisions out of the hands of the people. It would hinder all government actions indiscriminately and in times of emergency it would be downright dangerous. If this amendment had been in place the United States couldn't have spent the money it needed to fight World War Two."

Instead of explaining the amendment on his terms and using it to make Republicans look unreasonable he let John Boehner introduce it on his own terms.

Other than that the speech was fine; he did a good job explaining the problem without sounding "professorial" (which cable news seems to think is a big deal) and he sounded reasonable. I liked his sly list of  Presidents that supported a balanced approach to the budget process- Reagan, George H.W Bush, Clinton... I do wonder if he should have explicitly mentioned his campaign pledge when hr talked about taxes not increasing on those making less than $250,000 a year. On the one hand it was a chance to remind people that their taxes aren't higher and about this idea of his they supported in 2008. However, he may have decided that talking about a campaign wasn't Presidential or that it would be too partisan.

After the Presidnet was done, John Boehner spoke with a much different agenda. He didn't care to explain anything and made it seem like it shouldn't even need explaining. He had a real "there's a new sheriff in town" attitude about him, which I'm sure his party liked.

That was the real difference between these two speeches. The President was speaking to the country; the Speaker was addressing those who agree with him. Despite a couple of good lines like "the bigger the government the smaller the people," Boehner lacked the finesse Republicans usually have. His party has made an art out of saying something a wide audience might find reasonable while still giving nods to the desires of their die-hard supporters.

Any chance he had of appealing to the American people was severely deflated when he began his attacks on the President. Obama is still very popular in this country in spite of his lackluster job approval (in fact, that's the only reason his numbers are as high as they are). Boehner tried painting the Presidnet as demanding and unreasonable which doesn't fit with his image. He arguably even lumped the President in with "some politicians" worried about reelection. I think a lot of people might have stopped listening at that point. It gave the impression that Boehner was "just another politician," even though his words begged the audience to believe the opposite.

I think this gets at the heart of it: one of these speakers knows they are going to have to lead a party that didn't get what it wanted. The other is the President of the United States.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Talking Points for Liberal Democrats on the Debt Ceiling

As Nate Silver pointed out earlier today, John Boehner is at a make or break moment in the debt ceiling negotiations. He has unveiled his proposal to cut spending without any revenue increases and to raise the ceiling in two increments (crossing both of the President's lines in the sand). Now it's critical for him to get this through the House, because if he can't even do that it becomes obvious he will need Democratic votes and he'll have significantly less bargaining power.

A swarm of liberal Democratic House members need to take to the airwaves and make a case for their ideas. With somewhere between 40-60 GOP members being on record as not supporting any debt ceiling increase whatsoever, it seems likely that Nancy Pelosi has a hand to play here.

Here's some of what they should say:
  • Not a single Democrat will vote for the Speaker's plan. It will fail in the Senate and the President indicated he would veto a bill like this. It's a partisan team building exercise, not a serious proposal. Serious proposals don't get announced on the Rush Limbaugh show.
  • Republicans voted in April to gut Medicare. This latest proposal just shows they continue to place tax cuts for the wealthy and breaks on corporate jets before Medicare spending for the elderly
  • As many as 60 GOP members in the house have indicated they will never vote to increase the debt limit, no matter what the proposal. These are people who questioned newspaper reports of the Presidents birth and the word of the military concerning bin Laden's death. They could hear that a tornado was coming straight for their house, shake their heads and say "the liberal media's at it again." The Speaker will need some more level-headed thinkers; namely, Democrats.
  • While failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic, we aren't worried. Have you ever known the GOP to support a policy that would cost the richest Americans money? I'm confident when the hedge fund managers tell their Republican supporters how much they stand to lose, you'll see a renewed eagerness for bipartisanship.
If this is done right, Nancy Pelosi could be the hero of this story.

    Friday, July 22, 2011

    Convincing liberals to change Social Security or Medicare

    Things have been moving very quickly in the debt ceiling negotiations and the latest rumors are that John Boehner and President Obama are revisiting a "grand plan" that includes changes in Social Security and Medicare. Liberal groups are outraged at the mere suggestion of this. Fundraising "bundlers" are signing pledges promising to not raise money for Obama's reelection if either program is touched, and there's the usual talk of voting for a third party in November.

    All of this is premature. Nothing has been agreed upon (or at the very least written down), and we have no idea what's been discussed or even if the President is genuine in his efforts. However, there are some things genuinely worth changing to Social Security and Medicare that wouldn't affect the usefulness of the programs. If the President were seriously going to suggest making changes, here's how he might want to do it:

    "To my own party I say, don't let politics get in the way of good policy and don't oppose a measure just because it has some support across the aisle. These programs [Medicare and Social Security] provide an invaluable safety net for all Americans, but nobody would claim they are not without their flaws. I believe there are changes to be made that are consistent with our ideals and they shouldn't be rejected without proper consideration.

    Why, for example,  should Social Security be funded with a regressive tax which forces lower income Americans to pay a higher percentage of their salary? If it were changed to a flat or even a progressive tax system it would bring in trillions of dollarsin additional revenue. What if the percentage of benefits subject to income tax varied by a person's net worth, with 100% of benefits being taxed at the top of the scale? That could result in both more help for the people that need it most and improved solvency for the long term.

    When we were working to pass the Affordable Care Act, our goal was not just to extend coverage to uninsured Americans, but also to try reigning in spiraling healthcare costs. I don't know what's changed between then and now.

    The United States' government provides health coverage for more Americans than any private insurance company, but you wouldn't know it from how we bargain with providers. Private companies use their huge buying power as leverage to negotiate lower rates, but they answer to a board of directors rather than the US Congress. We can make care more affordable, but it won't work if we have people who are willing to use scare tactics with the American people to score political points. 

    I believe we can continue providing the same coverage for less money. I think we can make Social Security solvent without reducing checks to recipients by one dollar. Take a look at the proposals and I think you'll find that we've seized this opportunity to make changes that won't just reduce the deficit, but will also move this country forward. I don't know why you would oppose that."

    Thursday, July 21, 2011

    A Plea for Education Reform for Governor Deval Patrick

    Click here for my notes on this speech.


    Almost one year ago I stood before an audience here at the State House and had the pleasure to announce Massachusetts’ successful placement in the federal “Race to the Top” program. This competition was set up by the Obama administration at the beginning of his presidency to seek out and reward states that showed initiative and innovation in public education. Over the course of the program we worked hard to compete by reexamining our standards and protocols, and at the end of the program Massachusetts had scored higher than every other state in the nation. We established ourselves as national leaders in education through our willingness to reject the status-quo and put children first. It’s that spirit of leadership and pursuit of selfless goals that I came to talk about today. We won that competition and should be proud of our achievements, but we still have a lot of work to do before our students in Massachusetts have all the opportunities they deserve.

    That quarter of a billion dollars of federal prize money went directly into our schools. Specifically, it went towards solving a problem that has plagued our state for decades. The phrase “achievement gap” gets used so often by politicians that you might forget the seriousness of what it refers to. It’s the name we give to the students we are failing; the gap between what different social and ethnic groups should be achieving and reality. Studies show time and time again that students from high income families attend school districts with better teachers, smaller class sizes, and better facilities, and that gets reflected in their test scores. No child in our state should ever be at a disadvantage because of where they were born or who their parents are, but unfortunately those are problems we face. The dropout rate for Hispanic students in our state is 26.5%. That’s more than four times the rate for other students. The rate for low income students is 22%- twice the average. There is no debate, these numbers represent an inequality that is totally unacceptable in Massachusetts and must be solved.

    Notes on "A Plea for Education Reform for Governor Deval Patrick"

    This was the first speech I wanted to write for this site, but I thought that the issue is so important that my first draft several months ago simply wasn't good enough.

    A decline in our nation's public schools might not have caused the many problems we face now, but there's no question that today it's contributing to them. There's been a feedback loop taking place for at least two generations now between those not properly educated and politicians who cater to them, demonize "elitism", and further de-fund schools. Things have gotten so out of control in the past few years that now we don't just have politicians who are catering to these feelings- now we have the true believers in power. People whose policy positions are more a matter of belief and faith than research and applied logic. People who, if they were comforted by thinking the sky way green, could never be persuaded otherwise by any amount of facts you present them.

    Poor education is why America has taken no action on global warming. The lack of financial knowledge and curiosity is partly to blame for the sub-prime crash (go ahead: ask a college freshman what an ARM is). It's why it was so easy to lead us into war with Iraq. It's the reason that on August 2nd the U.S. might face a debt default, causing a completely preventable global financial meltdown. To be a little more concise: it is not the reason we have disagreements in our politics, but it is ultimately the force keeping us from being able to agree on even the most basic of facts.

    We need a big push for better education now. Like I say in the speech, education reform takes 15-20 years to make its impact. That's a long time to be paying in the hopes that one day you'll get your money's worth. But to lift a line from the President, "if not now, when?" It's better that we see results in 2031 than 2036 or 2041. And, assuming no pressure ever comes from the federal level to reform schools, it will take one or two states sticking their toes in the water and seeing results before the other states follow suit. We could be halfway through this century before the message gets through. Let's hope that we can hold out until then, because at this rate I'm not sure.

    Sunday, July 17, 2011

    What Illinois Governor Pat Quinn needs to say to Catholic adoption agencies

    Last month, a new law went into effect in Illinois that legalized civil-unions between same sex partners and granted them the same legal rights as ‘traditional’ marriages. The bill lists some of the legal protections these new couples will have, including the same right to adoption services that married couples currently have. However, some Catholic adoption organizations are still refusing to help same-sex couples and are in violation of the new law. This has forced Governor Pat Quinn to not renew the state foster care and adoption contracts held by some these groups, and they have struck back with lawsuits saying that adoption is “part of [their] church’s mission,” and they should be exempt from the provision.

    Canceling these contracts was the right thing for the governor to do, but the next time he’s asked about these groups he should have a solid response prepared. The last time he responded to a question about these groups he said, “They made a choice... they have a law in Illinois. It’s the civil unions law. I signed it into law. We’re not going back.”

    Instead, I think he should say something more similar to this:

    “I respect the right of people in these organizations to believe what they want about homosexuality. They have that first amendment protection. But I reject the argument that this religious freedom automatically grants these groups the privilege of running adoption services, or that the state of Illinois can’t impose guidelines on what activities we are willing to fund. These groups will have to make a decision about which they believe to be a greater threat to their morality: same-sex couples raising children, or children growing up without homes.

    If we change the subject of this discrimination to any other protected class, the absurdity and prejudice motivating this legal challenge is readily apparent. What if a group said that they wouldn’t allow black families to adopt? Or naturalized citizens? Or, what if someone said that their religion forced them to use state money to discriminate against Catholics? I think if that were the discussion, some of these groups would find themselves opposing the arguments they make today.

    I ask the members of these groups to think about the children they mean to help. Different studies say that up to 10% of these children will at some point realize they are attracted to people of their same sex. Is an organization that believes homosexuals should be treated as second class citizens really a loving and nurturing place for these children? Will you really be able to turn them away when they come back to the agency as adults trying to adopt, without feeling the slightest bit of shame? Maybe the people of these groups can honestly answer yes to both of these questions, but my administration and the state of Illinois cannot.

    We will continue to enforce this new law, which specifically says civil-union partners are entitled to all of the same adoption services as married heterosexual couples. It will take another law passed by the legislature- which I would not support nor sign- to change my position on the matter.”

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Notes on "An Announcement for Andrew Cuomo on Hyrdaulic Fracturing"

    For Andrew Cuomo I think the answer to the hydrofracking issue comes down to this: I am not a scientist. You’re probably not a scientist. These people are the experts we chose to advise us on this matter, but the public largely doesn’t accept their findings. So, let’s send it back to a new group scientists. Eventually there will probably be a solution that makes drilling safe and then we will need to make sure that solution is properly enforced.

    Originally I was going to have Cuomo call for a doubling of the areas around drinking sources where drilling would be prohibited. That makes sense, would be supported by the public, and appeals to a desire for cautiousness. The thinking goes that if 500 feet is probably safe, then 1,000 feet is definitely safe. But the moment you talk about modifying that specific regulation you set yourself up as the final arbiter of every recommendation made by scientists. The most useful regulatory powers aren’t specified by lawmakers, but are rather broad tools handed to an agency along with a powerful mandate. This also happens to be easier to support politically.

    The risks of just lifting the moratorium are too great for the governor. The people who feel strongly about this issue are overwhelmingly against it. He needs to address their concerns and persuade those who can be persuaded. Being tough on the drilling corporations is an extremely good way to begin gaining the trust of these groups. At the end of the day he needs to make it abundantly clear that the state has given this subject the full time and consideration it deserves, and something like this is how you do that.

    Thanks to Dan Barbato for his advice on this topic!

    An Announcement for Andrew Cuomo on Hyrdaulic Fracturing

    Click here for my notes on this speech.

    In late June, the Department of Environmental Conservation released a report recommending guidelines for the safe drilling of natural gas in New York. When writing this proposal the paramount concerns of the agency were the health and well-being of all New Yorkers, as well as the safeguarding of their lakes, forests, and streams. I have complete confidence in the Department. I trust them with the safety of my family and neighbors and have no reason to doubt their impartiality or intentions.

    However, this report has quite understandably provoked strong feelings among the people in our state. They have made those feelings known with their phone calls, petitions, and rallies. They have written letters and performed in exactly the manner prescribed by our democracy. The issue for our state government today is not whether the DEC has made a proposal that will properly guard our drinking water. They are the experts we rely on; the Senate and Assembly are filled with politicians, not geologists and ecologists. The issue for us is whether this proposal has the full confidence of New Yorkers and whether the public thinks drilling is prudent. It’s clear they are unconvinced. No matter what happens in the scientific debate it is our duty to listen to the people that have entrusted in us the guardianship of their environment and their natural resources.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    What Michele Bachmann should say if she wants to be President

    Let me preface this like I did my post on Mitt Romney: I, like most Americans, definitely don't want to see a Bachmann presidency. However, I'd happy accept her as the GOP nominee, and think she could be to the United States what Christine O'Donnell was to Deleware.

    If she wants to become President, during the next debate I think she should make a statement to this effect:
    "In the past six years, we've gone through three 'change' elections and the leaders of the House and Senate haven't changed through any of them. Last year, in the midst of a ground-swell movement aimed at returning us to our founding principles, we were told that Tea Party activists could trust the Republican party to do what was necessary to solve the out-of-control government spending and stop the growth of our national debt. Then when it came time to turn words into action we had one GOP leader suggest we actually give Barack Obama more power so he could raise the debt whenever he wanted, and another that agreed to the end of the Bush tax cuts and a host of other job-killing tax hikes. That's not what we voted for, and it's not what the American people want! It's time that we give real change a try!"
    My advice to Bachmann is the same as my advice to Mitt Romney: she should play to her strengths, which lay with the Tea Party activists and her image as an independent figure. I don't think she has much of a chance of ever convincing the GOP leadership that she's the most capable candidate of beating President Obama. They're probably doing what they can to defeat her already. And the faction that backs her is going to be furious if the Mitch McConnell compromise is passed ( it looks like it will). They firmly believe that the country wouldn't be damaged if the debt ceiling wasn't raised, and that it would even prosper. They'll feel betrayed; the Republican party humored them to get their votes, with no intention of following through on their issues. They'll be right on the latter point, and delusional on the former.

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Notes on "A Presidential Address on the Debt Ceiling Negotiations"

    I began writing this on Friday just after hearing the terrible jobs report. The reaction at xpostfactoid was to wonder "Good God, is this the day the Obama presidency died?" I don't know that it died, but it's been made clear that it's in jeopardy. It's time for Obama to go back to the themes of his campaign and show some vulnerability and honesty. The unemployment report really emphasizes the danger of a second recession and should be a wake-up call to everyone involved in the debt ceiling negotiations. It is an opportunity to re-frame the debate and revisit the question of how wise massive spending cuts really are. Of course by late afternoon Eric Cantor said that it was a sign that the deficit had to be reduced solely through spending cuts, so... so much for that.

    I wrote this speech realizing that there are a lot of unknowns. Depending on the progress of private negotiations these statements might not make sense to deliver. There's definitely room left in the speech to talk about Medicare and Social Security, either to defend cuts or reject them. The real goal I had was to try shifting the debate. We're hearing a lot of back and forth, without the focus on jobs either party should have. I made the point in a comment on another xpostfactoid post, that Obama's accepted the premise that resolving the deficit is the most important issue. It's not- he should never talk about anything besides the economy and jobs. He's being goaded by Congress, but he's not going to be running against Congress in 2012. Mitt Romney's visiting factories where Obama heralded the stimulus package, and which has since been closed down. The crowds like that don't care about deficits.

    A few specifics on the speech itself: I replaced "deficit reduction" and similar phrases with "government spending" when talking about negotiations thus far. The Republicans are refusing to talk about revenue; they don't really care about the deficit (as should be obvious from Boehner walking away from a large deal in favor of a small one), they care about crippling government. Government spending creates jobs and contributes to the GDP, so I think the distinction is important. Also, he shouldn't give this speech alone from the Oval Office or the East Wing. He needs a crowd. Originally I wrote it with a joint session of Congress in mind, but nixed that idea (don't need the potential for any "you lie" nonsense overshadowing the speech). So probably something more like the news conference setting of today's remarks.

    A Presidential Address on the Debt Ceiling Negotiations

    Good evening,

    Over the past few months our nation and our leaders in government have been involved in monumental negotiations over the Federal budget, the statutory limits on our public debt, and in some ways, the fundamental principles of the country itself. These are all vital discussions. They have inspired a torrent of activism from both of our major parties and have taken such a powerful hold over our national conversation that there has been room for little else.

    In some ways these debates have taken the recovery from one of our greatest financial disasters for granted. Economic indicators early this year showed signs of promise. In March an earthquake pushed Japan- the world’s third largest economy- back into a recession. That disaster as well as conflict in the Middle East made it easy to dismiss a poor jobs report in May as having been outside our control. Today, however, new unemployment figures from the Labor Department confirm to us the harsh reality that our economic recovery is in peril. During a month in which economists predicted 125,000 new jobs, only 18,000 ultimately were created. That is less than the growth in population, and actually resulted in an increase in the unemployment rate. No matter what the cause this report cannot go ignored.

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    Notes on the "Remarks on the Minnesota shutdown for Sen. Al Franken"

    First of all, it is obvious that the drama in Minnesota is heightened by the budget talks at the Federal level. However, everyone speaking to Minnesotans must be aware of the important differences between these two situations and make an effort not to simplify or diminish the unique issues of the state by going overboard with the idea that this is a warmup act to the debt ceiling negotiation. It's not- this is the state's second shutdown in six years and the budget has been an issue for more than a decade.

    Still, there's no denying that the outcome of this dispute will be heralded by the cable news networks as an indicator of what might happen between the President and Congress. Through their 24/7 repetition, it might end up reinforcing one of these competing narratives; either that big government cuts are still as important to the people as they were in November, or that people think these new GOP leaders are being irresponsible with the economy and are unbalanced in their approach to deficits. Similarly, this outcome will have a big impact on the Republican presidential nomination, with Tim Pawlenty's term as governor setting the stage for this whole mess. It's shining a light on claims he's made which have so far gone unchecked (and which turn out to not really be true).

    I wrote the speech for Al Frankin, as he's a high profile politician, and is one of the few leaders with a genuine reason to talk both about the state's budget, and about the Federal debt ceiling. While I think it needs to be done subtly, someone should be trying to invigorate supporters with the argument that "the whole country is paying attention, and what we do could potentially help the President."

    As far as specific lines in the speech go, I thought it was important in the first paragraph for Frankin to preempt the attack that he's not in Washington D.C. during a legislative crisis. The truth of course is that Al Frankin isn't in the room with the President, the Speaker, and the Majority Leader, and that he's not going to have a lot to do with the negotiations. I think it would be good to for him to say that the Senate leader wants Minnesota to set an example for the country, and although it wouldn't stop the attack, his reelection is so far away it wouldn't be remembered. Also, in the second paragraph I thought it was good to echo Gov. Dayton's line about the Republican demands amounting to "more debt". Obviously the way talking points stick is by repetition, and it's important to brand the Republicans as using deceptive accounting tricks.

    Remarks on the Minnesota shutdown for Sen. Al Franken

    Hello, and thank you for welcoming me here today. We stand in the shadow of a state capitol that has shut down; where work has ground to a halt because of the unwillingness of Republicans to negotiate in good faith. This state faces challenges as severe as any we have faced before, and just like their allies on the national level, these lawmakers would rather watch the whole system burn to the ground than accept a proposal that has even a hint of bipartisanship. As we speak, the President is involved in his own around the clock negotiations, trying to build a compromise that will raise the federal debt ceiling and prevent another economic collapse. I intend to continue voicing Minnesota’s concerns in Washington, and during this brief time that I’m away from the Capitol I am in constant touch with my office. In fact, I just finished speaking with Majority Leader Reid who discussed with me this latest round of talks. He told me there’s more work ahead, but he’s sure an agreement can be made, and that he looks forward to Minnesota setting an example for the country by showing that citizens are willing to stand up for what is fair and right, and that means a balanced approach to balanced budgets!

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    A 30 Second DNC Ad on the Debt Ceiling


    A WOMAN is sitting down at the kitchen table: bills and opened envelopes scattered around her. She is writing a letter.

    WOMAN (V.O.):

    Dear Mastercard: I have received your letters, and while we are grateful for the credit you've extended to us, we unfortunately will not be able to make our payment this month. My husband refuses to agree to an increase in our debt ceiling, and paying you would put us over our currently authorized amount. I hope this doesn't affect your willingness to let us borrow from you in the future...


    You wouldn't do this with your bills. Tell your Congressman to stop playing politics with our country's finances.

    Wednesday, June 29, 2011

    Notes on "A Statement on the Recess Appointment of Elizabeth Warren"

    So it's pretty clear that Republicans in the Senate aren't going to allow a confirmation vote for Elizabeth Warren, because they don't actually want a director for the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. A recess appointment is Obama's only real chance of getting a director, especially the director he wants (or should want). I've tried to make a point in the speech that Republican senators are attempting an end run around the legislative process, and that this isn't what the Senate's confirmation power is about. There's a line that I wasn't able to fit without making the speech longer than it needs to be, "I won't allow technicalities to replace the legislative process; if the minority doesn't want this law to go into effect, they'll have to introduce a bill and get it passed". I think that claim that the Republicans are taking advantage of technicalities- which might at well be a four letter word in America- should be made repeatedly when people speak in support of this move.

    I also revisited the reasons for a consumer protection bureau. It's important for people to be reminded who the real villains of the financial crisis were, and that the Republicans are fighting so that they'll be able to continue taking advantage of people.

    Of course, we'll see when the next opportunity the President will have to make a recess appointment. During the Memorial Day weekend Republicans took turns presiding over an empty chamber, and it looks like Congress will be in session over the fourth of July so Obama wouldn't be able to do just this. Of course, the Dems control the Senate, and can force a recess with a vote, but they'll have to wait until the debt ceiling is raised, to avoid the appearance of closing the Senate while there's crucial work to be done. Hopefully there will be a chance to make this appointment at some point this summer.

    A Statement on the Recess Appointment of Elizabeth Warren

    Click here for my notes on this speech.

    Hello, and good morning.

    One year ago I signed into law the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act- an historic piece of legislation designed to change the reckless financial practices that led to the banking crisis of 2008. In the months leading up to the passage of the bill, there was a terrific debate in this country about what kind of oversight the government should have over financial service companies. Specifically, whether or not a new agency should be created to protect consumers from predatory lending, and to help inform them of the services being sold to them. In the end, Congress decided to pass the law with this new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau included, and charged me with appointing its director. Today, with the Congress in recess, I have used the authority granted to me by the Constitution to appoint Elizabeth Warren to that post for one year. I am extremely confident in her abilities, and know that she will work diligently on behalf of the American people.

    Sunday, June 26, 2011

    What Mitt Romney should say if he wants to be President

    First, let me start off by saying that it's my sincere hope Mitt Romney doesn't become President. But if he would like to (which I think he does), I think he should say something to this effect at the next debate:

    "I want to reduce spending and the federal deficit as much as anybody else on this stage, but at the end of the day we must raise the debt ceiling. The results of not doing so would be catastrophic both to this nation's economy, and to our international standing. There's a delicate balance of power between the United States and the nations we've outsourced our debt to, and the implications of a shift in that balance could literally end up costing American lives."

    For starters, it's the right thing to do. This might not be worth much to a political chameleon like Mitt Romney, but he knows it's what has to be done, and so does every other serious Republican. It's fine to use leverage to negotiate something you want, but at the end of the day you can't be responsible for a second worldwide financial disaster. Every Republican is refusing to play the part of a leader- to be the grown up and sit the kids down and tell them "it's time to do this." It's an opportunity for Romeny to look Presidential, rather than just another politician (which, again, so far hasn't been his strong suit).

    The sooner Romney realizes that he can't out tea-party Michelle Bachman, the better off he'll be. Everybody sees Romney's recent catering to the ultra-right for what it is. This has always been a problem for him, going back to his flip flops on abortion, health care, and pretty much everything else in the Republican platform. Anybody who identifies with that movement has better, more genuine options than the Mormon from Massachusetts- wait no, Utah- no, Michigan- no, New Hampshire! Right now Romney doesn't really stand for anything, so why not try to paint a picture of him as the no nonsense independent ('maverick'?). That's what voters in New Hampshire- the crucial state in his strategy- like to see.

    Pragmatism is all that Mitt Romney has going for him. That pragmatic attitude that he's the best candidate to beat Obama in the general election is why he's the front runner in polls and fundraising. So why not build on top of strengths, rather than weaknesses? Because, if this is a race to see who can appeal most to the tea party of 2010, then Mitt Romney can't win whatever he does.

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    Notes on Oil Prices speech

    So I began work on this speech on Saturday, finished it today, and lo and behold, what do I find when I turn on the news? That Secretary Chu has announced a 30 million barrel release from the reserves! I'm glad he did it, but really, he couldn't have waited a day?

    I'm not incredibly surprised, because it makes a tremendous amount of sense. With Republicans saying no to everything in the House of Representatives, releasing oil from the SPR is one of the few things Obama can do to try to improve this economy. The price of oil is really slowing growth, and the simple act of the government introducing even a small amount should be able to deflate some of the speculation, and send a signal to the markets that this is something they're willing to do. We're seeing the effects already. Oil futures were down $5 a barrel after today's announcement.

    Here's the difference between what happened today, and what I had happen in this speech: 1) The release of oil reserves was followed up with a call for reforming commodities trading, and 2) There was a promise (albeit, purposefully vague) that if nothing changes, there will be another release. Both are important so that this isn't just a temporary fix. When a doctor sees a patient with high cholesterol, he gives him medicine, and then insists that the patient follows it up with better diet and exercise. It's the diet and exercise that can actually make improvements for the long term, but it's not as easy. Hopefully in the coming days, we will see more of a longer prescription from the President.

    A Presidential Announcement Regarding the Price of Oil

    Good Afternoon,

    For the past several weeks, various economic indicators have suggested the U.S. economy is struggling to grow at anticipated rates. During this season of spirited debates about the budget and the role of government, it’s important to remember that our primary concern must continue to be the rebuilding of our nation’s economy. While there are many factors, one of the more agreed upon causes of this setback is the skyrocketing cost of oil. You don’t have to be an economist to realize that gas prices in excess of $4 a gallon will slow down consumer spending. And it isn’t hard to realize how $100 or more for a barrel of oil can raise the cost of everything from food to children’s toys. While we continue our efforts to promote alternative energies, it’s an unavoidable fact that oil is the current lifeblood of our economy. That’s why earlier today I signed two different directives, with the goal of lowering the price of oil in both the short, and the long run.

    I’ve ordered Energy Secretary Chu to release 30 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the course of sixty days. This crude oil will hit the market in two weeks, and should help alleviate the high prices the country has faced, while at the same time reducing the deficit anywhere from $2 to $3 billion. Supply in the market will rise, and the speculation bubble built on the uncertainty of that supply will be deflated. After Hurricane Katrina, a smaller release from our reserves resulted in over a 12% drop in prices, and a release of similar size during the first Gulf War cut oil prices by one third in a day. We believe our results will be somewhere between these two examples, and that this release will send the vital message to Wall Street that we cannot afford, and will not allow energy to become the next boom and bust market! And with that, let me make a promise: if the conditions we face today return in the future, I will not hesitate to issue this order again. This is about not letting this economy stumble, and on that there can be no negotiations.

    Notes on "A Call to Increase the Minimum Wage"

    This is (hopefully) one of the few speeches that I'll publish without a particular politician in mind. I started out writing it for President Obama, but realized two paragraphs in that it's impossible to deliver this message without using the type of heated, populist, progressive rhetoric that he avoids at all cost. All Presidents try to stay above the fray, but he particularly has to always be aware of how his opponents will try to spin his words to fit their narrative of him as an anti-capitalist.

    There's also the minor caveat that the proposal in this speech has no chance of succeeding in today's Congress (I think it's obvious enough why). Every time the President calls for something, but fails to deliver he is weakened. That's why I think this speech would work best for a candidate for Congress, running in a blue state, who readily identifies himself as liberal or progressive, and who is either running in a primary or struggling to gain attention from fundraisers. Unfortunately there are few people that fit that description- maybe there's someone in a state like Vermont. It's too bad- I genuinely think this would be a great boost for the economy, and would really help both the deficit and the working poor.

    A Call to Increase the Minimum Wage

    These last few years our nation has faced the crippling combination of huge deficits and the harshest recession in generations. The last time this country faced such troubling economic times Franklin Roosevelt put the nation back to work with monumental public projects. We built the Hoover Dam. We brought electricity to the South. We constructed the Triboro Bridge, and the Lincoln Tunnel, and built scores of public schools and roads whose names are not familiar, but whose benefits have improved thousands of lives. Sadly, these options have not been available to us during our Great Recession. Instead of learning our lessons from that crisis and making use of an opportunity to reform our society, we have instead handed over renewed tax cuts to millionaires, and given billions of dollars to investment banks to cover their bad bets. We have paid to subsidize failure, and paid to create a gap between rich and poor that’s unprecedented in modern history. The time is long overdue for a little stimulus for the working people in this country, and for big business and Wall Street to start paying their fair share of it!

    Saturday, June 4, 2011

    Remarks for former Sen. Russ Feingold on Wisconsin's recall election

    Fellow Wisconsinites: the next battle for this state’s workers is here!

    Earlier this year our government jammed through this illegal, unconscionable legislation, and now it’s time that they face the consequences of their actions. They had tried to gain political advantage by stepping on the backs of public employees, and never dreamed we would fight back the way we did. We made sure the entire country heard our voice then, and today with the certification of these recall elections, it is time to do it again!

    This has become more than just another budget battle; more than just a give and take between the state and its servants. Our struggle has resonated with the entire nation. It has become a symbol of the inequities in our country between the classes, and of the way the rich and the powerful maintain their status by cheating working people. Just 45% of Americans had jobs last year. Millions of our citizens are forced to work long hours with no overtime pay and no benefits as “at will” employees- expected to feel lucky to even have a job. Real pensions have given way to a halfhearted system of 401k accounts, and real healthcare coverage has been replaced by copays and vouchers. We have been told by the corporations, and now by the Wisconsin state government that we have to compete against one another over who will work the longest, for the least. These state union workers aren’t greedy. They are merely the last, and strongest group of Americans to continue fighting for what is fair and decent.

    Let’s all be clear. This has never been a fight about the budget. These workers agreed to all salary demands. This is about destroying a group that is willing to fight for their rights. It’s a campaign bankrolled by billionaires who would love to see a further emaciated work force. And it’s being perpetrated by these Republican senators and the governor who would all benefit from the death of the labor union.

    Americans have for too long allowed themselves to be pitted against one another! In the South, the plantation aristocracy succeeded at creating hatred amongst the white poor towards the penny-less freedmen. McCarthy made marked men out of actors and playwrights who dared to join groups that aimed to give workers more power. Ronald Reagan pointed his finger at fictional “welfare queens” that bled America of Cadillac cars and food stamps. Speak today of the injustices of this country’s society, and you will surely be met on the other side by a smirking lobbyist who speaks of “class warfare”. Well, there is class warfare taking place here, and it’s being perpetrated by rich men who fight so they can have more, and you can have less!

    We have two options. Either we can continue to look at what our neighbor has and hate them for it, or we can stop and ask, “Why don’t we have it ourselves?” “Why don’t we collect with our peers to demand better treatment from our employers?” “Why don’t we fight for vacation, and healthcare, and sick days?”. We agree to sign contracts that give up our rights, and we do it because it’s what everyone has come to accept. Why don’t we show them that we will are willing to take a stand? Nobody was given the things that today we take for granted. The 40 hour work week had to be fought for! Child labor laws had to be fought for! Safety and health regulation, meat inspection, Social Security, anti-discrimination laws- people fought and died to gain these! And at the very beginning there was a desperate struggle for the right to organize with your fellow workers and negotiate with employers as a group. It’s up to us to not forget the sweat and the blood that was spilt fighting for that right!

    They have attempted to take yet another step backwards towards that gilded age. They took a historically unprecedented move with this legislation, and bent the law until it broke. Now we have responded with setting a precedent of our own; we have launched more recall elections this year than previously in the entire history of this state! Tell those brave Senators that used every method at their disposal to stop this legislation that you fight beside them. Tell those that used every extraordinary measure to pass it that democracy still works, and it’s the people that are still in charge! And finally, let’s all send a clear message to Governor Walker that his time is coming soon!