Obama On Defensive

Obama’s campaign is starting to seem entirely defensive to me. This is a bad sign. He has lost the initiative. The effectiveness of the right’s smear campaigns can’t be underestimated.
Obama to Deliver Patriotism Speech

Dogged by Internet rumors about the Pledge of Allegiance and the flag on his lapel, Sen. Barack Obama today is flying to Harry Truman’s home in Missouri to deliver an address on the meaning of patriotism.

He takes the White House position on FISA because he doesn’t want to reinforce the rumors that he is weak on national security. He quits his church. Etc..

More War

Congress passes new Iraq war funds,

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved $161.8 billion in new funds to continue fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the next year, without timetables for withdrawing combat troops.
. . . The Senate’s 92-6 vote to pass the war-funding bill marked a victory for Bush, who has vigorously opposed any move by Congress to impose timetables for ending the Iraq war, now in its sixth year.
. . .The new money for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan puts the war tab since late 2001 at more than $800 billion, with most of that money going to Iraq.

It made me think of this:

Governor Howard Dean, M.D., Address to California State Democratic Convention, Sacramento, California, March 15, 2003
What I want to know, what I want to know, is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting the President’s unilateral intervention in Iraq? [cheers].
What I want to know, is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting tax cuts which have bankrupted this country and given us the largest deficit in the history of the United States? [cheers].
[. . .] What I want to know is why the Democrats in Congress aren’t standing up for us joining every other industrialized country on the face of the Earth in having health insurance for every man, woman and child in America? [cheers, chants “Dean”].
[. . .] As Paul Wellstone said . . . I’m Howard Dean, and I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. [cheers].

Economy, Stocks, Housing, Oil – How Far Can It Fall?

Which way will the economy go next? Here’s a hint: I just read that it will cost the average family in the North East U.S. an extra $2000 to heat their homes this coming winter.
So you tell me – is the economy going to be better? Are people going to be having a grand old spendup this Christmas season?
The public in 2000 chose to “elect” oil company executives to run the government. Immediately the Enron scandal ensued, with the obvious collusion of the recently-elected administration.
Then the public chose to re-elect them in 2004.
So let’s not hear any complaining from anyone who voted for these clowns. OK?
Oh, and by the way, the National Debt, which was getting paid down quite rapidly before Bush was elected, is now approaching $10 trillion. That’s trillion with a ‘t’.
Update – And the government run by oil company executives is refusing to allow solar power plants on government land in the Southwest. Are you surprised by that?

Supreme Court Strikes Down “Millionaire’s Amendment”

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Nearly every Supreme Court ruling is 5-4 these days, with the far-right winning over the right. I guess they understand the need to dance with the wealthy corporatists that brung them. And I think they understand that this balance could change next year so they are rushing to establish as many far-right precedents as they can before that happens.
This one today is rich – literally. The Court ruled that allowing candidates to raise extra money if they face a self-financed millionaire violates the self-financed millionaire’s freedom to use money to dominate all speech. Do you think I’m joking?
Supreme Court strikes down part of campaign finance law

The Supreme Court struck down on Thursday part of a U.S. campaign finance law that relaxes contribution limits for candidates facing wealthy, self-funded opponents, a ruling that could affect congressional elections in November.
By a 5-4 vote, the high court declared unconstitutional the provision known as the “millionaire’s amendment” that Congress adopted out of concern that rich, self-financing candidates would have a competitive advantage.
Alito agreed with the arguments by [the rich candidate] that the law violated the constitutional free-speech rights of self-financed candidates, impermissibly burdening [rich candidate’s] rights to spend his own money for campaign speech. [emphasis added]

Enabling the other candidate to raise as much money – from regular people – is “burdening” the rich guy. Wow.

Obama’s at the country club looking for the real killers

“Obama’s the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by” (Karl Rove).
The key to the statement is that in the image he is with ‘a beautiful date.’ Not Michelle Obama …. When you think of a “beautiful date” specifically at a country club, do you picture an African-American woman? Would Rove’s target audience? Or do you picture him there, a black man, smoking a cigarette indoors at a country club, with a white woman on his arm?” (HW at Talking Points Memo).
What you picture is O.J. Simpson at the country club with Nicole — or, more recently, O.J. with a different white woman at the country club where he’s looking for “the real killers”, the way Obama will be using ineffectual police measures to find the terrorists.
Fortunately, the other black man in America’s country clubs is Tiger Woods. But for that, Rove’s meme would have won the election. Give him points for virtuosity and effort.

Money people unclear on the concept

Apparently Obama is talking to Hillary’s money people, and they’re not too happy with him. First of all, they want him to pay Hillary’s campaign debts. Second, they want him to make some concessions on the issues.
WTF? Money people are asking Obama for money? It’s like going in to a bank and having the banker ask for a small loan. Those guys seem to think they’re playing hardball, but I’m trying to figure out what it is that they’re threatening Obama with. Are they going to refuse to ask him for money in the future?

What Is A Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax?

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
My post on the NASA climate scientist the other day mentioned a “revenue-neutral” carbon tax.
Here is the idea: You tax carbon-based “fossil fuel” energy at the source: when oil or coal or gas is originally extracted and sold you tax it. Then you divide up that tax money equally and give it to each citizen.
Giving the entire tax back makes it “revenue-neutral” meaning exactly as much that is taxed is given back. This means that the net effect on the overall economy is neutral. But it promotes the use of renewable, non-polluting energy sources which overall has a very positive effect on the economy whether you worry about global warming or not. (A more energy-efficient economy means everyone spends less to get the same results.)
What would this mean to most Americans? A $200 per ton carbon tax would roughly mean a $9000 check to each American family each year. This check offsets any higher prices that might be caused by the tax. If you use less carbon-based energy you come out way ahead financially. If you use more you pay more. Economists say that 4/5 of us would come out ahead. Only the richest 1/5 would pay more. And THEY can pay less by CHOOSING to using less energy. (What would a $9,000 check mean for families in this economy?)
This creates a huge incentive for everyone to become more energy-efficient, which means your costs go down. If you are a business energy-efficiency means you increase profits. If you are a family it means you spend less on electricity and natural gas. it’s the same idea as buying a Prius and then spending less on gasoline. But becoming energy-efficient means that those costs go away forever. If you install solar panels you never pay another electric bill. If you add insulation to your house your heating and cooling bills go down forever.
A carbon tax means that WE get that money, not the Middle East. It means that we have incentive to start building mass transit again. It means that research into alternative energy sources (killed by Republicans) gets started again.
AND it means that we are putting less and less carbon into the air.
You can learn more at the Carbon Tax Center.
Click through to Speak Out California

Communicating With the Public

This post originally appeared at the Commonweal Institute Blog.
Many progressive think the public already understands a lot of what progressives stand for. But this is not the case. This thinking comes from already being a progressive, and talking to lots of other progressives. But we need to understand that the public in general is not well educated about progressives, and that communicating needs to start with basics.
I learned this in business, when I was doing direct mail marketing: It’s a core mistake to think that the audience you want to reach thinks the way you and I do as we spend time on blogs like this one. You have to learn NOT to trust your instincts and instead trust market testing and other scientific methods to get a read on what the target audience is thinking – and what they hear when you talk to them. The mass market out there is very different from the people who want to reach them, both in products and political ideas.
If you think about it for a minute, this has to be the case or you wouldn’t be trying to reach them in the first place – they would already know what you want them to know. The people who make a product already know what it does, how it is used, etc… So they just can’t relate to people who don’t yet. There are things they take for granted, but the target audience has not yet been exposed to. So in products you wouldn’t need to market your product if the customers out there already understood what it is and what it does for them. In our case here we wouldn’t need to explain progressive ideas and policies if the public already understood why they want them. But they don’t. If we want to persuade the public to share our values and support our ideas we have to explain to them the benefits THEY will get out of doing so. To do that we have to learn what THEY hear, and how they hear things, before we can reach them.
We have to realize that the people who already understand these concepts today are fundamentally different from the rest of the public. (Try to write a product manual telling an elderly person how to use your software and you will see what I mean.) We seek out the blogs, and read lots of news. Much of the public is almost the opposite of this. They don’t read newspapers, they don’t watch the NewsHour, and they are not scouring the internet and critically evaluating what they find. (NO ONE but us knows about the billions in cash that were shipped to Iraq and disappeared, for example, but it is part of the foundation of our understanding of what is happening to our country.) But the right does reach them. They have figured out how to trigger the word-of-mouth channels through which people come to know what they “know.” How many people STILL believe that Iraq attacked us on 9/11?
In direct mail I learned that the stuff that makes me and probably you retch is the stuff that sells the most product. I have to tell you I learned it the very hardest way because I would not expose my customers to that crap. And then a third party company did a test mailing and the sales tripled. So I learned from that.
I don’t mean to sound like I am lecturing. I’m trying to share some lessons I learned in some very hard ways – that you just have to trust scientific methods to learn what your target audience thinks, and understand the we are often unable to know that ourselves.

NASA’s Climate Scientist Says Try Oil CEOs For Crimes Against Humanity

This is one of the most important things to read in a very long time. NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen spells out just how close we are to global warming tipping points. Then he says that CEOs of oil companies should be tried for crimes against humanity for spreading propaganda that is intended to boost their own wealth at the expense of the rest of us and the planet.
Dr. James Hansen: Twenty Years Later: Tipping Points Near on Global Warming:

Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including disguised funding to shape school textbook discussions.
CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature. If their campaigns continue and “succeed” in confusing the public, I anticipate testifying against relevant CEOs in future public trials
Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on a runaway climate to our children. Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes. Loss of countless species would leave a more desolate planet.

Hansen says we need a big tax on fossil fuels, but that the tax be entirely given back as a dividend, equal amounts to each person.
Here is how it works. Let’s say you collect $280 billion in CO2 taxes. You then give a $1000 check to each American. People who spend less than that in CO2 taxes benefit. People who spend more than that are given a huge incentive to cut back or switch to other forms of energy.
It is a great idea. It is one answer to the problem. It benefits everyone except the big polluters. Exxon will fight that tooth an nail.