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!