Being mayor of New York is awesome, Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday during a speech at MIT.
“I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world,” Bloomberg said, according to the New York Observer. “I have my own State Department, much to Foggy Bottom’s annoyance. We have the United Nations in New York, and so we have an entree into the diplomatic world that Washington does not have.”
What a town! Bloomberg’s right, though. In September, NYPD Comissioner Ray Kelly told CBS News that his police force could take down an airplane “in a very extreme situation.” We don’t know by what means, of course.
Bloomberg went on to say that cities and mayors — unlike politicians in the beltway — can actually get things done.
“The difference between my level of government and other levels of government is that action takes place at the city level,” Bloomberg said. “The cities and mayors are where you deal with crime, you deal with real immigration problems, you deal with health problems, you deal with picking up the garbage.”
The Observerreports that Bloomberg’s speech at times seemed to flirt with the idea of a White House bid, an ambition the three-term mayor has long denied.
For the past five months, American Crystal Sugar, the largest sugar beet producer in the country, haslocked out 1,300 of its unionized workers in Minnesota who had the audacity to demand a fair contract with the company. Gov. Mark Dayton (D) has implored the corporation to renew negotiations, to no avail — instead of returning to the negotiating table, Crystal Sugar has hired replacement workers.
Over the holiday season the workers “struggle to survive,” Dayton said, and “the lockout has devastated families, communities, and the economy in Northwestern Minnesota.” Desperate to get back to work but determined to stand by their principles, the workers have had prayer vigils with faith leaders in the community.
But Crystal Sugar President and CEO Dave Berg apparently has absolutely no sympathy for his workers’ plight. In fact, at a recent meeting with shareholders, he compared them to a cancerous tumor:
In a meeting of company shareholders on November 7 in Grafton, ND, Berg likened the workers to a 21-pound cancerous tumor. According to an audio recording of the meeting, Berg told the story of a sick friend who was diagnosed with cancer and had a massive tumor removed. “That’s a scary deal. He was sick for a long time,” said Berg. “We can’t let a labor contract make us sick forever and ever and ever. We have to treat the disease and that’s what we’re doing here.”
Workers have responded with disappointment and outrage. Sarah Gust, who has worked at ACSC for 40 years remarked, “The fact that Dave Berg would refer to our union, our contract as a cancerous tumor is deeply offensive to me and many of my co-workers. Some of us have had cancer or have lost loved ones to cancer. It’s a tragic, devastating disease. And that’s how Crystal Sugar management sees our union. I tell you, this just shows how much respect Dave Berg and the management have for us workers.”
Discussing his strategy for dealing with the union workers, Berg again used the analogy: “At some point that tumor’s got to come out. That’s what we’re doing.” Sadly, comparing unionized labor to cancer is nothing new amongst conservatives, who evidently believe workers shouldn’t be able to bargain for fair wages, benefits, and working conditions.
Another locked out worker who has been with the company for 16 years said, “Our contract represents years of struggle to protect good jobs at Crystal and build a mutually respectful relationship with management. Now, Dave Berg is throwing all of that away for greed.”
Gov. Dayton has made it clear that it’s ASC’s recalcitrance and attempt to squash labor for profit that’s preventing a solution. “It is time for American Crystal’s management to reach a fair agreement with its workers, who have contributed so much to the company’s current profitability,” he observed.
**UPDATED: Barack Obama and the myth of the progressive ‘majorities’
JULY 16, 2011
To progressives who complain about Barack Obama “squandering” the progressive majorities he supposedly had going for him when he was elected president, I refer you to the above chart (from Wikipedia).
What the chart shows is the actual number of Democrats and Independents in the Senate from the time Obama was sworn in, in January 2009, through the present, when Democrats hold a slim, 53-47 majority in the upper chamber.
Of the 56 Democrats and 2 Independents caucusing with the Senate majority when Barack Obama took office, (there were two seats unfilled, due to a disputed race in Minnesota that wasn’t resolved until July, and the former Obama Senate seat in Illinois) — 17 represented red or red-leaning states:
Majority leader Harry Reid (Nevada)
Max Baucus and John Tester (Montana)
Ben Nelson (Nebraska)
Mark Begich (Alaska)
Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas)
Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire)
Kay Hagan (North Carolina)
Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan (North Dakota)
Tim Johnson (South Dakota)
Evan Bayh (Indiana)
Jim Webb and Mark Warner (Virginia)
Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefellar (West Virginia)
Claire McCaskill (Missouri)
Another 27 represented blue or blue leaning states:
Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (California)
Chris Dodd (Connecticut)
Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez (New Jersey)
Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall (New Mexico)
Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (New York)
Ted Kaufman and Tom Carper (Delaware)
Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (Oregon)
Daniel Inouye and Danidel Akaka (Hawaii)
Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island)
Dick Durbin and Roland Burris (until November 2009, when the seat flipped to Republican Mark Kirk)
Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders (Democrat and Independent, respectively, from Vermont)
Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (Washington)
Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin (Maryland)
Ted Kennedy and John Kerry (Massachusetts (Kennedy died in August 2010 and his seat flipped to Republican Scott Brown in February 2010)
The remaining 12 repped swing states:
Michael Bennett and Mark Udall (Colorado)
Sherrod Brown (Ohio)
Bill Nelson (Florida)
Bob Casey (Pennsylvania, plus Arlen Specter who switched parties in April 2009)
Tom Harken (Iowa)
Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold (Wisconsin)
Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow (Michigan)
Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
*Al Franken didn’t come on board until in July 2009.
In addition, there was Joe Lieberman, who by January 2009 was a reliable vote for the red state caucus on key legislation like healthcare, despite hailing from blue Connecticut.
Even if you generously put all of the swing state Democrats into the “progressive” group, and that’s stretching it when it comes to certain votes, that puts the president at minus18 reliable “progressive” votes in the Senate.
And because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear from the start that he intended to have his caucus use the filibuster on every piece of legislation, and vote as a bloc, forcing Democrats to always need 60 votes to pass anything, those numbers really matter.
[Sidebar: In the House, Democrats had both a stronger majority and a stronger progressive majority, with the progressive caucus outnumbering the blue dog caucus by something like 83-54 in 2009 (the blue dogs lost half their numbers in the 2010 elections.) That’s why the House was able to pass something like 400 bills, including lots of progressive legislation, fewer than a third of which ever made it to the Senate floor. The House is where ideological ideals live — on the left as well as on the right (witness the amount of right wing legislation that the tea party caucus, also about 83 strong, has passed, but which has gone nowhere in the Senate). The Senate is where they go to die, and actual law is made.]
Despite the myth-making on the left, Democrats actually held their tenuous 60-vote majority for only five months in 2009: from July of that year, when Al Franken was finally sworn in after winning the recount against Norm Coleman, through November 2009, when Democrats lost Barack Obama’s old Senate seat in Illinois to Mark Kirk. Then in a special election the following January, Scott Brown won Teddy Kennedy’s old seat, and was sworn in on February 4th.
Could Barack Obama have somehow rammed through the entire progressive wish list in five months? I find it hard to see how, given the unreliability of the blue dog Senators. Could he have convinced the conservative Senators to put a vote to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell through, at the same time they were struggling to get a healthcare bill done? Could he have gotten them to add DOMA to their task list, given the knock-down, drag-out healthcare fight and with the rising tea party town hall rebellion brewing? Maybe, but I doubt that, too.
Would it have made progressives happy if he had made a vocal, visible show of trying to do those things, and spoken out like a true liberal lion, lambasting Wall Street, calling for the heads of the banks on a platter or even ordering the Treasury Secretary to seize and privatize the big banks, and demanding that gay marriage be made the law of the land without delay? Sure. Would that have helped any of those things pass the Senate? Nope.
So what did Obama and the Democrats accomplish in the window between January 2009 and January 2010, when they both gained, and lost, their 60 vote majority? Here’s the list:
And each of those bills had to get through a Senate which at any given time, had a “progressive” wing that at most, contained 44 Senators — not 60.
Remember: the Recover Act (a/k/a the stimulus bill) passed the Senate in February 2009 (before the country descended into the healthcare wars) — not with “60 progressive votes” – but with 57 Democrats, the two independents, and two Republicans: Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine. Roll call here.
It’s arguable that it was a mistake for the administration to leave so much of the work of passing healthcare to Congress, and especially to the Senate Finance Committee, led by blue dog Max Baucus. I’d probably make that argument myself. And maybe, somehow, the president could have hypnotized Lieberman into supporting a public option. But the fact is, whatever was going to pass had to get through a Senate that never had a 60 voteprogressive majority, but rather a cobbled together 60 vote Democratic-Independent majority, with anywhere between 4 and 18 conservatives holding sway over it, and the clock running out. The president and Harry Reid did what was pragmatic, to get a foundation laid down that can always be added to and improved. Compromise is part of the legislative process that progressives have to come to terms with, unless they put 60 progressives in the Senate (and with so many red states, that’s gonna be a tall order.)
Lastly, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal Act passed in December 2010, with 55 Democrats, the 2 independents and 8 Republicans. Remember, DADT was a law, which could only have been repealed by Congress. The Executive Branch had no power to undo it by fiat, and to simply stop obeying that law would have been unconstitutional, and probably impeachable.
Who’s not on that list? Russ Feingold, a hero of the angry progressives, and even Bernie Sanders, who some progressives would like to see primary Barack Obama next year. Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd were ill, and Jay Rockefellar abstained. Everyone else sided with Republicans.
Was it any better in the House? Nope. There, Democrats rejected the administration’s request for $80 million to begin closing Gitmo, too. And Democrats have also blocked the funds the administration would need to try KSM in the U.S. It’s easy to blame Obama for failing to keep a campaign promise there too, but without Congress’ consent, it cannot be done.
And while we’re at it, Reid has never been able to muster the 60 votes needed to pass card check, climate change legislation, or the DREAM Act. The votes simply aren’t there, nor have they really ever been.
Given the situational unreliability of much of the Democratic caucus (who, in fairness, represent more conservative constituencies and interest groups in their states than Senators from New York or Vermont or Massachusetts), it’s a wonder the president, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi got anything done at all, let alone the incredible volume of work they did. With all the challenges, the 111th Congress was the most productive Congress since the 1960s (just as the 112th Congress is shaping up to be the least.)
Progressives can be disappointed that lawmaking requires so many compromises, and I guess they can quibble with the fact that Barack Obama doesn’t talk more like Bernie Sanders (though if he did, he’d get even LESS done, since highly partisan, ideological rhetoric doesn’t deliver Senate votes, and doesn’t square with the moderate majority among the American people.) But they can’t claim there was some giant, wasted, “progressive” majority in the body that counts — the Senate — because there never was. The 60 votes was a great moment for Democrats, and a great media story. But it was never a guarantee that progressives would get the legislation they want.
Endnote: a lot of conservatives felt the same way about George W. Bush, who for much of his two terms (until 2006) held the golden triad of the White House and both houses of Congress, but failed to fulfill his campaign promises to conservative Christians, like pushing through a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a legislative or judicial end to legal abortion in America, or the conservative goals of privatizing Medicare and Social Security, shrinking government and reducing federal spending, while pursuing a more humble foreign policy. In fact, Bush did quite the opposite.
Bush, too, has been accused by the people on the right of having squandered congressional majorities, of spending too much money and embracing too many big government ideas like Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind, and increasingly, of wasting his post-9/11 mandate on an unnecessary war in Iraq and an unfocused one in Afghanistan. So I guess for presidents, disappointing their most ideological supporters comes with the territory.
And yet, the myth that Bush somehow rolled Congress to enact The Conservative Agenda is part of what fuels progressive anger at Obama, but like the rock solid 60-vote “progressive majority of 2009″ — it IS a myth. Bush did implement a broad, NEOCON agenda, but that’s almost the opposite on what he ran on, and certainly not what he promised either his supporters, or the country. As with anything, a little perspective helps.
UPDATE: an earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Amy Klobuchar as a Senator from Minnesota. Thanks to reader Dave B for catching the error. Also, Roland Burris’ tenure ended in 2010, not 2009. Kudos to TRR readers who are always on point!
I’ve mentioned this before, but I often think about Social Security at its origins. In 1935, FDR accepted all kinds of concessions, excluding agricultural workers, domestic workers, the self-employed, the entire public sector, and railroad employees, among others. And why did the president go along with this? Because Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to cut deals with conservatives, even in his own party — many of whom were motivated by nothing more than racism — in order to get the legislation passed.
When delivering red-meat speeches in public, FDR saw his Republican critics and “welcomed their hatred.” When governing, FDR made constant concessions — even if it meant occasionally betraying his principles and some of his own supporters — in order to get something done.
Obama’s focus on the Huffington Post is probably misplaced — there are far better examples — but the larger point seems persuasive to me. Wouldn’t FDR have faced a bitter backlash from the left? Wouldn’t Lincoln have drawn howls for compromising on the greatest moral crisis in American history?
I suspect we’d see and hear plenty about donor boycotts, talk of primary challengers, supporters lamenting how disappointed they are, columns about a lack of “leadership,” “failed opportunities,” “unmet expectations,” etc.
History and hindsight, I suppose, tend to round some of the edges over time.
Read the whole thing. Well worth it. And then, there’s this inconvenient truth for those constantly drawing comparisons between Obama and FDR, saying the latter was the better progressive:
Four years into Franklin Roosevelt’s first presidential term, the worst of the Great Depression seemed behind him. Massive jolts of New Deal spending had stopped the economic slide, and the unemployment rate was cut from 22 percent to less than 10 percent.
“People felt that there was momentum,” U.S. Senate historian Donald Ritchie tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered. “Finally, there was the light at the end of the tunnel.”
So Roosevelt, on the advice of his conservative Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, decided to tackle the country’s exploding deficits. Over two years, FDR slashed government spending 17 percent.
“All of a sudden,” Ritchie says, “after unemployment had been going steadily down, unemployment shot up, the economy stagnated, the stock market crashed again. And now it seemed we’d come out of the Hoover Depression to go into the Roosevelt recession.”
Similar decisions Roosevelt made about spending and austerity are being discussed at the White House right now. In the long term, both political parties say they agree that austerity is a good thing. But what about in the short term, while unemployment remains high?
In other words, today’s emo progressives would have been savagely attacking FDR the same way they’re attacking Obama now. And they would have had more grounds, between the internment of the Japanese, FDR’s initial failure to respond to the slaughter of innocents by Adolf Hitler (it was the Japanese we ultimately went to war against) and his ongoing refusal to address issues of racial segregation, lynching and discrimination against African-Americans, including in the armed forces. That and the compromises FDR accepted as part of the New Deal, including explicitly keeping racial parity out of the equation, would have made Roosevelt as great a villain to the purist progressives of today as Obama has become. And their disappointment would have been just as great.
The bottom line: Roosevelt was no less a great president — even a great liberal president. But being president requires compromises, often unpleasant ones, and there is no “perfect” example of caution to the wind liberalism for the purists to point to. They can feel free to demonize Obama, but not with the weight of history on their side.
“It’s time to expose the lies for what they are. The One Percent have rigged the deck over the last three decades to accomplish the most massive upward redistribution in the history of the world. These are not people who care about budget deficits or free trade or free markets. They care about making themselves richer at the expense of everyone else.”—Dean Baker (via azspot)
Central Banks Take Joint Action to Ease Debt Crisis
By BINYAMIN APPELBAUM
Published: November 30, 2011
WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve moved Wednesday with other major central banks to buttress the financial system by increasing the availability of dollars outside the United States, reflecting growing concern about the fallout of the European debt crisis.
Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy, left, spoke with the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, at the start of a European Union finance ministers meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.
The banks announced that they would slash by roughly half the cost of an existing program under which banks in foreign countries can borrow dollars from their own central banks, which in turn get those dollars from the Fed. The loans will be available until February 2013, extending a previous endpoint of August 2012.
“The purpose of these actions is to ease strains in financial markets and thereby mitigate the effects of such strains on the supply of credit to households and businesses and so help foster economic activity,” the banks said in a statement.
The move makes clear that regulators increasingly are concerned about the strain that the European debt crisis is placing on financial companies. European banks in particular are facing difficulty in borrowing through normal channels the money that they need to fund their obligations.
On Wall Street, markets reacted to the announcement by racing ahead at the opening bell. After an hour of trading the Dow Jones industrial average was up 400 points, or 3.5 percent, and the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index gained 3.6 percent; European markets were up more than 4 percent in late trading.
The cost for European banks to borrow in dollars in the open market has climbed to the highest level in three years, and the European Central Bank borrowed $552 million from the Fed last week to meet the rising demand for dollars from European banks. That brought the value of the Fed’s outstanding currency loans to $2.4 billion, all to the European Central Bank except $100 million on loan to the Bank of Japan.
The Fed’s vice chairwoman, Janet L. Yellen, underscored “the urgency of strengthened international policy cooperation” in a speech Tuesday in San Francisco in which she said that “the global economy is facing critical challenges.”
The terms of the revised agreement announced Wednesday reduces to half a percentage point an existing premium of one percentage point. Since the underlying price of the loans — the dollar overnight index swaps rate — stands at less than one-tenth of a percentage point, the move cuts the cost nearly in half. The most recent loan to the European Central Bank, which carried an interest rate of 1.08 percent, now would cost 0.58 percent.
The other central banks said they had also agreed to make similar loans of their own currencies as necessary, but they noted that the only extraordinary demand at present was for dollars.
The arrangements carry little risk for the Fed, which swaps the dollars for the currency of the borrowing country, together with a commitment to reverse the transaction at the same exchange rate. It is also modestly profitable, as the foreign central banks remit to the Fed the interest payments that they collect from borrowers.
The Fed operated a similar program with a broader range of central banks from December 2007 through February 2010, then allowed it to lapse because demand had dried up amidst signs of improvement in the global economy.
But the Fed was quickly forced to reverse course, announcing the new program in May 2010.
The Democratic Party will begin a campaign on Wednesday to attack Republican lawmakers for pushing cuts to Medicare benefits during the latest round of failed federal deficit talks, a new turn in a drama that not long ago featured top Democrats expressing a willingness to tinker with the popular entitlement program…
The offensive will begin Wednesday with a flurry of automated phone calls to voters in 30 Republican-held congressional districts, accusing the GOP of “forcing” a supercommittee failure because they wanted to protect tax breaks for the wealthy by cutting Medicare.
“The supercommittee failed because Republicans insisted on extending the Bush tax breaks for millionaires and refusing to include a jobs proposal – while ending the Medicare guarantee,” a recorded voice tells voters, according to a script released by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which sets party strategy for House races.
The caller then adds: “By rejecting a balanced approach, Republicans chose to protect the wealthiest one percent at the expense of seniors and the middle class.”
Such an attack probably would have been difficult had the supercommittee been able to reach an agreement involving cuts to Medicare and Social Security, because Democratic complicity in a deal might have forced a detente on entitlement politics.