THE GROFF/ELLISON POLITICAL REPORT

Dean’s Comeback or Healthcare Reform Slowdown?

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on March 26, 2009

images2Former DNC Chair Howard Dean found himself in a bizarre predicament at the end of the illustrious 2008 election cycle: on one hand he was credited with the re-emergence of Democrats in the 2006 mid-terms and the election of Barack Obama in ’08 – yet, on the other hand, he appeared (at least on the surface) to get little props from the new Administration when time arrived for recognition and reward.  He’s been in a sort of weird purgatory between being celebrated and being dissed.

However, recent reports suggest Dean is staging some sort of comeback.  Reports The Plum Line blog in WhoRunsGov.com:

The campaign will be called “Stand With Dr. Dean,” and its immediate goal is to build up a membership of a quarter million in the next few months, relying on the million-strong email list of Democracy for America, Dean’s political operation. The eventual goal is to organize and door-knock to build support for the public insurance option in Congressional districts across the country, DFA executive director Arshad Hasan tells me.

Is this good news for healthcare reform or Howard Dean?  Dean may be more interested in staging his own comeback at this point – and it could be that he’s privately vexed that he wasn’t plucked for anything.  This could be a way to make that happen.  Interestingly enough, this also comes at a time when there are whispers on Capitol Hill that healthcare reform efforts may, once again, fall to the wayside if nothing is done in rapid fashion this year.  The popular political counter to movement on healthcare reform is that the President is doing too much, too fast.  Which may usher in a leveled conversation on piecemeal approaches focused on greater efficiency in health records management through massive and centralized IT solutions.  Political gut points to some desire from the corporate community to, at least, pilot an alternative health care system as a way to reduce overhead.  The economic downturn will encourage the business community to produce at leaner capacity – that means less private spending on health care when the government is showing an itch to spend instead.

GUEST BLOG – Garland Nixon on “Shredding the Constitution”

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on March 26, 2009

images11The Bush Administration was frequently lambasted by their left wing opposition for violating, or “shredding” as it was popular to say, the Constitution. It seemed that the Constitution was at times viewed by the Bush people as an impediment to achieving what they believed were honorable goals. It was blatantly obvious to Bush’s detractors, and a number of Federal Judges, that they crossed constitutional lines on a number of occasions.

The term “shredding the constitution” became popular when it became clear that the Bush Administration was deliberately taking unconstitutional actions, hiding them from the public and Congress, and showing utter contempt for those who dared to question their actions. The legal decisions on which they based their actions were generally hidden, and most have been labeled as absurd once reviewed by competent legal experts.

Article I, Section 9; Clause 3 of the Constitution is quite clear, “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.” An ex post facto law is a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences of acts committed or the legal status of facts and relationships that existed prior to the enactment of the law. A Bill of Attainder is an act of the legislature declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them without benefit of a trial.

It seems that the “ends justifying the means” attitude in Washington did not leave when the Bush Family moved to Dallas. Congress has decided to take a page from the Bush Administration’s play book and deliberately violate the Constitution to achieve what they believe are honorable goals. In the political pandemonium that followed the revelations that AIG executives were taking huge lumps of taxpayer dollars in the form of bonuses in return for destroying the Company, Congress played the Bush card. They passed a law which retroactively taxes the unconscionable bonuses out of existence. Denying those who were either incompetent, unethical, or a combination of both the opportunity to fleece the US taxpayers is an honorable goal. However, Article I, Section 9; Clause 3 of the Constitution does not contain an exception for honorable goals. In a news interview, Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) never defended the Constitutional footing of the law in question; he simply indicated that the aggrieved executives would have to take legal action to overturn it. This statement infers that he had full knowledge that the law was unconstitutional and that the intent was to force the intended targets to challenge the law in court and face the subsequent negative press.

Clearly the AIG Executives have not earned these massive bonuses. However, a Congress controlled by the Democrats has no more right to “Shred the Constitution” than a Presidential Administration controlled by Republicans. In both cases the Parties involved in the act either new, or should have known that their actions constituted a Constitutional violation. It appears that we have finally found common ground between the Democrats and the Republicans in Washington.

GUEST BLOG: Garland Nixon on Steele’s Hip Hop Plan

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on March 17, 2009

images1In just a few short weeks Michael Steel has proven beyond a doubt that he is a hopelessly flawed leader with an impossible mission. In one of Mr. Steele’s first proposals, he has indicated that he plans an “off the hook” public relations offensive to attract young Hispanics and Blacks. He has stated that he intends to apply conservative principles to urban hip hop settings. Mr. Steele appears to believe that he need only repackage his message in a way that will be more alluring to the demographic he desires to attract.

As has been most of the GOP strategies over the last several years, this one is remarkably flawed. Mr. Steele appears to believe that young Blacks and Hispanics attraction to the President is related to race and culture as opposed to policy. Were Mr. Steele truly in connection with that community he would have realized that President Obama is by no means a hip hop culture icon. President Obama is a supremely articulate Harvard Lawyer. The closest he comes to hip hop is wearing a designer business suit with no tie and his top button open. From the perspective of music culture, President Obama fits much better in the “jazz music cool” category than hip hop “off the hook”. We can much more easily picture our President wearing a pair of dark shades strumming a base guitar than we can wearing baggy jeans and gold chains spewing street slang.

Unfortunately for Mr. Steele, he must operate in an environment that will not, and can not admit that policy is the driving force behind President Obama’s youthful following. Admitting that “policy is the issue which creates the attraction” immediately begs the question whether the GOP is willing to question their current policies. Questioning GOP policies is extremely risky for Mr. Steele because the Party’s brittle dogmatic base may view that as treason and turn on him en masse. The GOP base, particularly the Southern Evangelicals, have equated their policies to a set of opaque moral values which ultimately means that questioning Party policy is an attack on morality from their perspective.

Chairman Steele is in an unenviable position. His Party obviously felt that the reactionary pick of a Black Committee Chairman to a Black President would counter the Democrats dominance in the Black community. His impossible job is to promote a set of policies designed to favor the wealthy and corporate class, placate the dogmatists, and attract people of color to a Party culturally associated with the Confederacy. Compounding Steele’s dilemma is the fact that his “less than stellar” political career indicates that he would likely struggle leading the GOP in the best of times.

Michael Steel may survive just long enough to be an effective scapegoat. Unfortunately for him, GOP leaders have discovered their error in assuming that choosing a Black Chairman would guarantee Black votes. They have also began to notice his conspicuously lacking administrative skills. It is not unreasonable to assume that a plan to unseat him has already been hatched and will be executed at first opportunity.

The irony in this political farce is that the anti-affirmative action Party selected a candidate for the RNC Chairmanship based almost solely on race and ended up with a seemingly incompetent Leader. Then again, maybe it was all just a devious well executed plan to discredit affirmative. Whatever the case, I doubt that Steele’s “off the hook” hip hop plan will either bear a great deal of fruit or save his job.

CBC Test

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on February 26, 2009

news1The Congresional Black Caucus meeting with a president is ordinarily no big deal, although there were not a lot of sit downs with President Bush during his two terms. But, this particular conversation is different.  The CBC has been somewhat petulent with the president and they didn’t quite fall over themselves in support of their fellow member during the 2008 primaries. We watched with some interest as CBC Chair Barbara Lee (D-CA) stopped Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and chatted aggressively in her ear for more than a few leisurely moments right before the President’s unofficial State of the Union te other night.  What was that all about?  And, was it an attempt by the CBC Chair to somehow play the Clinton hand in an effort to push Obama’s buttons?

Still, President Obama doesn’t appear to be the vindictive sort, so the meeting may ease any tension felt.  The creation of the urban affairs office by the president may also ease some concerns, but Black Members of Congress have to realize that the president has a much broader constituency.  His ultimate success benefits them currently and may benefit their longer term ambitions. That all said, we notice that the CBC has yet to produce a definitive agenda for the 111th Congress.  Not stimulus package response points; an actual point-by-point agenda that lays out a specific plan beyond the usual reactionary pose.

State of the Union by any other measure

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on February 26, 2009

newsDespite the massive challenges faced by the new President, he’s maintained quite a bit of composure and ease over the past month – a quality that makes him rather strong and solid as Commander-in-Chief.  The constant communication and focus on transparency (from simple efforts like a user-friendly White House website and Recovery.gov to frequent face time before the press) is putting him in a position of public strength. Overall, he’s done rather well this past month, particularly as he continues pressing for bipartisan cooperation amid Republican pettiness.

However, while understanding the necessity of an honest and frank ‘keep it real’ approach, the President would be wise to turn the somber tone down a notch.  He did that by far in his unofficial State of the Union before Congress. Some may argue that he’s been doing that the whole time.  Others may argue that he should continue keeping it real so he can claim major credit when the nation turns the corner.  But, there had been a noticeable grimness in the President’s tone as of late – we attest that to his finding the dirt under the White House rug, so to speak.  Finding the skeletons and dirty baggage in the closet when his predecessor finally left.  It must have been and still is very depressing – and it took him some time to grasp the magnitude of it.

Yes: we did inherit a mess.  Still: the American public is past the problem identification phase: and we appreciate his keeping us updated on how bad it really is.  But, depression is just as much a mental dynamic as it economic. Hence, more emphasis should be placed on problem resolution and helping people visualize the light at the end of the tunnel.  We saw light at the end of the tunnel that night before Congress. We’re not saying he should sugarcoat the issue or bamboozle expectations – we’re simply saying that he can also use his bully pulpit to keep it slightly upbeat and motivational.

Urban Decor and Definition

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on February 26, 2009

images12The composition of the Urban Affairs team draws two obvious points: 1) the White House is drawing experience from the nation’s largest urban model: New York City and 2) with Carrion’s appointment, there is a public effort to ease concerns over perceived lack of Latino leadership in the Obama Administration.  A marked focus on “urban affairs” is laudable in many respects, given the city-centered scope of our most critical challenges: from infrastructure to public health; from economic development to jobs; from public education to crime. These issues strike a strong personal chord with the President. It’s a clear departure from the previous Administration which didn’t appear to care very much about American cities while appeasing to a primarily suburban and rural base. And, this definitely gives Obama leverage in dealing with Mayors during a time of local budget shortfalls and rising unemployment.

Since, as the White House notes, 80 percent of the U.S. population is concentrated in cities, the effectiveness of this new Office will greatly depend on how it coordinates activities through other agencies. The White House must be certain that its definition of “urban” is clear and that it doesn’t brand one particular agenda or typecast one or two particular groups.  Urban will have to acknowledge cities as centers of commerce, culture and governance while addressing the many social, economic, environmental, health and political issues that are inextricably linked.
If careless, critics will have ammunition to accuse the White House of political window-dressing, with conservatives quick to criticize the ‘urban agenda’ as ‘too left.’  Others will watch cautiously, ensuring the office doesn’t become ‘racialized.’ That said, many advocates, particularly in the African American community, will expect sharper focus on issues impacting Black people.  And, although a focus on urban affairs is needed, let’s be mindful of the fact that many working to middle class city residents, especially African Americans, are being displaced or gentrified into cheaper suburbs.  Over time, the White House will have to find a way to address the rapid rise of suburban poverty, which recently outpaced its urban neighbor.

LENNY MCALLISTER – Can America Remain A Free Market Society?

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on February 21, 2009

images52Throughout the debate over the economic recovery package, TARP payments to banks, and other forms of bailouts, buyouts, and behavior geared to help the American economy get back on track, everyone seems focused on the role that government has taken. Conservatives continue to highlight their fears for the socialization of America, calls that were initially brought to us during the 2008 presidential campaign. Liberals tend to view the government’s response as a necessary and responsible approach to addressing a critical risk to our American way of life.

Regardless of one’s political leaning, it is clear to most that the role of government has expanded greatly. With this change, people are asking questions that seem core to the situation we face:

Should the federal government play the role of savior by bailing out failing organizations that made poor business decisions?

Should the federal government be in the business of keeping people in their homes after they fall behind or default completely on their mortgages?

Should the federal government in the business of providing the options for new jobs for Americans, particularly displaced workers?

These are issues worth the back and forth banter discussing their merits, but with the expansion of government, we should take one step back and ask a deeper, perhaps more pressing question:

Can America remain a free-market society?

People are asking this question based on economics while failing to look at the bigger picture. The behavior of economics exists primarily through the basic social behaviors enacted by the citizens engaging the economy.

A look at our current economic situation – and our national fiscal future – should be examined through our developing social trends.

Practically all of us have lived exclusively post-FDR’s New Deal. As well, multiple generations have lived after President Johnson’s Great Society movement. Many point to these legislative points in history as a reason behind the shift in thinking of what government should be for people. The expansion of government during these times redefined the American outlook on what legislators in Washington should devote their legislative and campaign efforts towards – namely, providing goods and services directed to American citizens and the voting public; (some would argue that this now involves providing services to those that fit into neither category, displaying a possible continued extension of governmental reach.) This is valid in some regards, although merely looking at the legislation without examining the factors prompting Washington’s actions (as conservatives are doing today) reeks of revisionist history at its worse. This is particularly true in the case of Johnson’s Great Society.

The turbulent 1960s were the aftermath of a bubbling society injustice incurred by African Americans for decades in America. Ironically, it took a mass movement, numerous deaths, and a wave of legislation to address the inequality faced by a significant portion of the nation’s people – of course, after a war was fought 100 years prior and a subsequent wave of legislation and social efforts followed it.

The same could be true for the treatment of women throughout American history until the 1960s. A similar example could be the treatment of American workers, prompting the existence of labor unions in the early 20th century.

The failure of American businesses to act responsibly – thus leading to this mass multi-tiered and –faceted bailout movement – is but a reflection of the same social traits that we exhibit towards ourselves.

Legislation that prompts us to adopt a pattern of behavior has always needed the force of additional governmental intervention (and more legislation) to ensure that the behavior was adhered to. American history shows us that everything from civil rights or gender rights and points in between (e.g., worker’s rights, child labor laws, etc.) needed the constant presence of the federal government for us to move forward. Each instance within American history where the federal government had to step in with legislation and other forms of hand-holding to guide the country back towards a sense of doing what it ought to do naturally, the result involved violence, bloodshed, loss of capital, and heavy social re-engineering before any successes could be found. We may not see the bloodshed that we incurred in the past, but we have already seen dreaded red ink and pink slips – and increased economic death – even after the first round of TARP distribution and various bail-out maneuvering.

Although we benefit ethically and fiscally from previous government efforts (and the maximized use of available American resources as a result), the inefficiency of government involvement to ensure good morals and common sense (backbone principles our nation was founded on) always risks a leakage of resource allocation that could be directed towards more beneficial and profitable endeavors. At a time when our resources are severely limited, we can ill-afford to waste anything: money, time, or manpower. As of now, we risk overextending all three to address this capital crisis.

The bigger risk, however, is not the allocation of American resources (be they money, legislative efforts, or human capital) to this problem. The larger social and political issue for America is that we have continued a pattern where government must set the direction for us to follow to guide ourselves out of difficulties and through situations we face. Some challenges may prompt action from larger authorities and organizations. However, we now live in a time where a growing majority of Americans look to laws to guide their morality and thinking. Repeated civil rights laws have been passed to prompt what should be obvious in a free market society: hire the best person for a job, regardless of skin color, so that you can maximize your business opportunities for success. Repeated laws and social “ways of being” have been incorporated to educate people on how to deal with particular life issues and problems. Legislation exists to make sure that common sense items like granting good parking spaces to the physically-challenged is ensured.

Should I really need a sign or an ordinance saying that I should give up my seat in the front of a bus to an 80-year-old with two bad knees, someone that I can clearly see is struggling to walk?

Some things can’t be legislated, not in a free market society.

Government continues to intervene in expansive ways. With the level of expansion that is going on – from the recovery package to whether you can appropriately spank your child – we dwindle the ability of the average American to make conscious, educated, and engaged decisions in everyday life, including economic decisions that impact not just her or his life, but the lives of neighbors all around as well. Without that fundamental ability intact, strong, and protected, the expansion of government will continue until we face a not-so-distant future where the socialization of America will have come about, not because of expansive government programs geared towards financially supporting major economic functions, but because American citizens are incapable of owning some responsibility within the economic to drive it as a free market society. Innovation involves both ownership and autonomy. Both of those traits require free thinking.

And at the rate of government expansion that we have seen in America over recent years, if we submit our free thinking to more legislation and government intervention, we forfeit our free market mentality as well.

SHARON TOOMER – Open Letter to the NY Post

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on February 19, 2009

newyorkpostfeb2009Dear New York Post: Thank you for reminding me of who and what you really are. Please don’t bother to offer up an empty apology for this latest offense.

This illustration is your authentic editorial opinion, and you have every right to have it. Just like I have every right to put your editorial board, reporters, editors, illustrators, copy editors and Rupert Murdoch in the category of blatantly ignorant, racist, incendiary and reckless. It is for these reasons I don’t buy your paper, never have bought your paper and never will.

The Black employees at the New York Post must find it that much more difficult to do their work. Based on the thinking behind the illustration and the editorial approval it took to get published, it seems like the Post might very well be fostering a hostile work environment for Black people.

Thanks again, for the reminder. It keeps me inspired to continue with BlackandBrownNews.com

Good riddance,

Sharon D. Toomer
Founder and Managing Editor
BlackandBrowNews.com

Stimuli

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on February 18, 2009

323e9e6e-8523-43b6-b51e-4f5a994ef92fh2There is a certain amount of simple genius to the stimulus plan in that it attempts a holistic approach – not only is it looking to put people back to work, but it simultaneously allows investment in infrastructure, education reform and safety net programs.  Not to mention smart investment in the explosive industry of renewable energy.   The question remains, however: is $787B enough?  The fairly grim response from the markets (with the Dow Jones dropping nearly 300 points) signals a rough road ahead for the stimulus.  Perhaps this is because the next phase is keeping track of the money, or managing where it gets spent.  The Administration’s Recovery.gov appears quite ambitious by fulfilling the task of transparency, but one can’t help wonder if this will be lost by the politics about to take place.

There is both an obvious public policy aspect to today’s signing and an underlying political angle. On one hand, Obama picks a state where people have been hard hit by rising foreclosures. But, on the other, you can’t negate the significance of signing this bill in a swinging battleground state that was once reliably red, yet voted for Obama in 2008.  In that respect, he’s definitely solidifying support for the mid-terms in 2010 and his re-election in 2012. We’re curious to see it items in the Act that seek to stem the rise of foreclosures, encourage steps towards universal health care reform and create jobs are points will have noticeable impact. What is noticed is the sharp turn in rhetoric – from the grim realism used to push the bill through cantakerous Congressional chambers to now a more hopeful “the beginning of the end” of our dire economic outlook.

The Disconnect

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on February 18, 2009

images23The disconnect between what is inside the Beltway and who is outside that twisted petty politrick of partisan rubble is a rather peculiar human state. To say D.C. is self-insulated from the rest of that which it governs is somewhat of an understatement. It’s peculiar because the nation’s capitol is a rather transient town, a shuffling hub of where it starts, where it ends and where it’s at. With a nativist Washingtonian pitch to kill any classroom dissent, a college professor once piped that while ” … New York City is retail, D.C. is wholesale.”

Cool, he’s right on many levels. But here’s a dribble of dissent: if that’s the case, how come Washington can’t get past its perception of itself or what it’s doing? There’s something insanely self-absorbing and masturbatory about Washington, the adulation it gives itself in abrupt defiance of the world around it. There’s a distressing Copernican play about it, but it’s the Washington we hate to love, love to hate. Without it being Washington, what is it then?

Still it’s no different from any other big town defined by its industry and chiseled further by its character. Centers of pop-culture dominance ripe for criticism and a curious sort of envy. Problem here is that Washington runs things, hence the expectation of representation is justified. This town’s disconnect with that expectation breeds a somewhat troubling trend, its inability to clearly elucidate its intentions wrapped in the eager gamesmanship we see each headline. Mostly conservative Republicans relegated to a whining minority appear to rant and stage fits on anything that they define as “liberal.” Democrats, barely managing the bloat of total power, are too ideologically disjointed to liberally respond, but smack back with lectures on the virtue of bipartisanship. The two parties are like angry tennis players sliding crazily on a clay court, banging away through annoyingly long sets. Point is, they don’t see or really care what we think after going at it for so long. And, we become mere spectators of the sport.

Giving fair credit to the president, this dude is moving at political light speed. Although old school wisdom teaches that the details always slip through the cracks of the bare knuckle bum rush, we understand that the times require dramatic measures. So, we’ll tolerate the missed step or two and deal with the consequences of political rapidity later. Still, the interesting thing about this massive push to revive our free falling economy is the disparity between how much the public knows about the politics behind it and the economic fundamentals which caused it. On the up side, this White House gets props for the great, open and rather transparent civics lesson taking place. But, the politics may be obfuscating the gritty reality of job loss, foreclosures and financial decay. As a result, fair-minded average folks struggling each day don’t understand the mechanics of this debate about what to do.

You know that when folks are hard pressed to ask the wonks and experts if they’ll be seeing any money in their hands anytime soon. One frequent question: why not give us the money? It’s a valid question given the fact we don’t know much about the use of the first $350 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program money. When you think about it, simple math could have invested a nearly $200,000 emergency foreclosure prevention loan per foreclosing household. But, o.k., sure – that’s too simple. And since we’re told that three quarters of the economy is driven by what we spend, the frustration level turns into outright resentment.

Economists smartly claim that it’s a tough proposition to simply cut stimulus checks and expect folks to spend it correctly since, on average, we only spend 40 percent of every dollar we make and save the rest. The purpose of stimulus is to act as a giant intravenous pump of fiscal adrenaline – saving money defeats the purpose. But, here’s where we the peeps get confused: isn’t one of the reasons we’re in this fix at the moment is because not enough of us saved? Our McMansionized appetite for leisure and excess outpaced sensible spending. We struggle to find the balance between the “you’re not saving enough” finger-point-in-the-chest lecture and a “spend it now” mantra. Economic reasoning clashes with the practical argument of what’s happening on the ground. Maybe that’s part of the problem.

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