Storm wreckage to disrupt election

Election Day is just two days away. The cost of Hurricane Sandy to the region is estimated to be around $60 billion. While the clean up crawls forward, tensions in the Northeast are running at an all time high. Many officials are now stating publicly that this untimely storm has had and will have adverse and unexpected consequences for the outcome of the presidential race.

In New Jersey, Connecticut, and parts of New York, voters will find it more difficult than usual to cast a ballot. Widespread damage from the storm and a lack of basic services is creating an organizational nightmare for election officials who must find adequate polling stations and resources to accommodate voters. In New Jersey, which absorbed the storm surge along its coast, state officials are finding other, novel means for voters to cast their ballots. Gov. Chris Christie announced yesterday that displaced citizens, and those living in areas hardest hit by the storm, may be able to vote this year by email ballot, an extreme measure for what many see as extreme circumstances.

Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno of New Jersey said voters may find polling stations at military trucks dispersed across the state with “a well-situated national guardsman and a big sign saying, ‘Vote Here.’”

The disruption of mail services across the Northeastern states will also slow the election process. In addition to absentee and mail-in ballots that are either delayed or gone missing, election officials are bracing for a larger influx of paper ballots that must be counted. All of these post-storm consequences are likely to delay the counting of votes and the certification of elections.

Even thought the states most affected by the storm sit firmly in President Obama’s column, some pundits are predicting that lower than average voter turnout in this region, increasing the likelihood of splitting the electoral college and popular vote. That scenario has been a popular one touted in policy and media circles the last few weeks as the race between Obama and Romney closed to a dead heat.

The President has pulled head slightly in some of the important swing states, but close polls show that America is still a nation more divided than ever by partisan lines—even during a time of national crisis.

Sandy douses Northeast, disrupts markets, campaigns and polling

Last year, Hurricane Irene was promoted by meteorologists and media-hype as the “storm of the century” but failed to develop the promised punch. This year, Sandy did not fail to deliver. The Category I hurricane slammed into New Jersey and New York, causing heavy damage and widespread flooding. There were also power disruptions across several states, leaving millions without electricity. Public officials estimate it will take days, possibly weeks, to restore the power grid.

Parts of lower Manhattan remain underwater today, as the tidal surge from Sandy deluged the coasts of New York and New Jersey.

Meanwhile, financial markets faced an unscheduled interruption on Monday and Tuesday as Wall Street shut down to brace for Sandy’s onslaught. The emergency conditions also disrupted the election as President Obama left the campaign trail to return to Washington Sunday night. In the early hours of Monday morning he declared New Jersey and New York and other parts of the Northeast federal disaster areas, and issued executive orders to ensure FEMA acted quickly to provide states with much needed resources. Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York praised the quick actions of President Obama and federal relief agencies.

The specter of Hurricane Katrina lurked in the background. The Bush Administration’s failure in 2005 to handle that crisis speedily and competently led to widespread criticism of both President Bush and FEMA. Former Gov. Mitt Romney is on the record stating that responsibility for large natural disasters should devolve on states and private actors, but that untenable position is viewed with skepticism and hostility in the face of large, regional disasters affecting multiple states.

Today, President Obama toured the heavily damaged region of New Jersey’s shoreline with Gov. Christie, leaving the campaigning to former President Clinton and others who have stepped up their efforts in the last week to get out the vote in key swing states such as Ohio and Florida. In addition to disrupting campaign events, the lasting damage of the hurricane will make polling impossible in some places before the election. Many pundits and pollsters alike are bemoaning this event, but the disruption of both financial markets and polling can also be viewed as a timely reminder that Americans can be bipartisan, especially during times of national crises.

It remains to be seen whether adequate power is restored and weather conditions permit voters to get to the polls on election day next Tuesday, raising concerns that the storm might tilt the election in favor of one candidate or another in some important states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Blame it on Obama? Don’t forget Republicans to blame for this mess

Tonight is the third and final presidential debate before the election next month. The primary focus of this debate in Boca Raton, FL will be foreign policy, but most commentators agree that the economy remains the number one concern on voters’ minds.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney will try to do two things in tonight’s debate:  capitalize on irrational anti-Obama discontent over the economy, and then displace it on the President’s record on foreign policy. Most experts agree that the Obama Administration has been deft and pragmatic on the international stage in a time of tumultuous change in the Middle East and a contracting global economy. Nevertheless, his detractors-cum-international-relations-experts grasp at straws. For example, they blame the President for the actions of Libyan terrorists in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens. They also claim he is at fault for the widespread discontent in the Muslim world over the same things they are angry about, including diminished economic opportunities and a growing sense that the “system” is out of control. That is a lot of responsibility for someone with so little control over the ways of the world.

Such misplaced blame is a little like blaming God for bad luck. Why do bad things happen to good people? Their reaction is much like the first wave of Job’s reaction to his own suffering:  blame God.  Yet, the answer is more simple if not difficult to acknowledge openly. Instead of being honest about their responsibility for facilitating the present economic mess, or even being realistic about its scope and the time it will take to clean it up, Republicans such as Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan prefer instead to be guided by their anger, even their xenophobic and irrational fears that Barack Hussein Obama is not an authentic American. They place everything that is wrong both home and abroad squarely on his shoulders, rather than seeing the situation for what it is—the harvest reaped by their own policies of economic deregulation, expensive pre-emptive wars, and stupid tax cuts that the country could not afford in the first place. Job, too, was blind before he could see.

The cultivation of these irrational impulses by Fox News, the Republican establishment, and wealthy billionaires who are spending record amounts of their personal money to influence elections through Super PACs and commercial lies is revealing. Times are tough, so blame it on Obama.

If you have lost your job because Wall Street traders, investment bankers, and business executives over the last decade made bad decisions on unacceptably risky calculations with no accountability for their actions, blame it on Obama.

If you cannot find a job because American corporations no longer make real products requiring good paying jobs, while sitting on record mountains of cash that inflate their bottom lines to prop up the short-term, short-sighted expectations of greedy investors, blame it on Obama.

If you think the rising cost of health care is crippling small businesses, but prefer to do nothing about it rather than risk taking any steps along the road to reform, blame Obama.

Never mind that to blame Obama for pursuing health care reform, you have to ignore that former Gov. Romney is the original architect of “Obamacare” in Massachusetts. The truth of the Affordable Care Act is that it uses market principles to ensure that competition among private insurers brings down the cost of insuring all individuals who otherwise could not afford it and whose health care costs would be absorbed by those of us who can afford it—through higher premiums and spiraling emergency room costs. In short, you have to believe falsely in the rhetoric that the ACA is a government takeover of health care, and ignore the fact that it simply incentivizes private insurance and requires all individuals to be responsible for their own health care.

Gov. Romney has done nothing but run a competitive campaign in an easy political climate. It’s an easy thing to blame one man on the world’s problems. That pretty much sums up the Republican policy for turning American around:  get rid of the sitting Democratic president at all cost. But let’s not forget how we got into this mess in the first place. Let’s not forget that America is in a time of crisis because policy choices were made in the past, and they were poor choices. Reversing the consequences of those choices is not something that can be done overnight, let alone in four years. Blaming the President won’t change the past, even if we try to forget that it is the past that is prologue.

If “some” Americans think we cannot afford four more years of Obama, they should consider that the reason America cannot afford much of anything right now is due primarily to those poor policy choices. Demanding that we return power to the party that not only made those choices but want to make them all over again, is not a solution to America’s problems—it is a suicide pact we “other” Americans are wisely unwilling to go along with.

Romney picks Ryan for running mate

At a campaign rally in Virginia this morning Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced he is choosing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to be his Vice Presidential choice. This choice proves once and for all that Romney’s economic policy will favor the rich and powerful, while fooling millions of hard-working Americans into believing he stands for their best interests.

Ryan is a controversial figure who is not worthy of presidential reach.

Ryan is a controversial seven-time Congressman from Janesville, WI who is also the Chairman of the House Budget Committee. He has been a long-time Washington insider promoting the interests of the wealthy and powerful by advocating to make the Bush-era tax cuts permanents, even though this policy has helped bring the country to the brink of economic disaster. By extending these tax cuts, which primarily benefit America’s wealthiest tax payers, and pave the way for middle-calls taxpayers to shoulder more of the burden for generating revenue, America’s cities, counties, and states run the risk of bankruptcy as revenue streams dry up. Americans who vote for this ticket can look forward to less basic services, a crumbling infrastructure, and more out-of-pocket expenses. Ryan is no candidate worthy of presidential reach.

The meme above sums up Ryan’s economic philosophical nicely. During the eight years of Bush the Younger’s reign in Washington America saw income inequality increase as the rich got richer and the middle-class got more into debt, record numbers of corporate bankruptcies and fraud such as the mighty collapse of Enron, a war in Iraq we could not afford and did not need, and the erosion of respect for the rule of law and government. In the last three years the Republican’s have continually laid the blame for America’s malaise squarely at the feet of President Obama, but history and the facts show otherwise.

Jim Messina, director for President Obama’s reelection campaign, summed up Ryan’s foolish economic views nicely in a statement released immediately after Romney’s announcement:

“In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy. The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid. His plan also would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors. As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes.”

A vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket by any middle-class American, indeed anyone making less than $250,000 is a vote for cutting off one’s own nose to spite one’s face. America is at another crossroads, and the Republican route is one we have been down before and cannot afford to go down again.

Romney’s recent attacks mimic Republican lies on “welfare queens”

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney attacked President Obama on the campaign trail, claiming that an executive order issued this week through the Department of Health and Human Services significantly weakens work requirements for welfare recipients. Romney claims as a result that freeriders will increase the welfare rolls in states across the country, shirking their duty to work and increasing the burden on taxpayers like us.

Obama should run this recent Onion meme in response to Romney’s lies about welfare.

This spindrift spread quicker than one can say “Cadillac driving welfare queens”—which is Republican code for lazy African American women with lots of children who game the welfare system while being discouraged to work.

Romney’s attack is a cheap but familiar ploy in the Republican Party establishment. The phrase “welfare queen” was first introduced into the lexicon of American politics by President Reagan in his failed 1976 presidential campaign, and was later modified by former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, a speech writer for both Nixon and Reagan with well-documented racist views.

Let me be clear:  Romney’s assertion is a lie. The Obama campaign and many independent media and policy sources contend that the rule change does nothing of the sort. Rather, it gives states the kind of flexibility to make their own determination what counts as work and whether it changes the status of recipient benefits. Under the current austerity measures most states have adopted this will have the likely effect of decreasing rather than increasing the number of welfare recipients. This outcome is consistent with the purpose of welfare reform in the 1990’s that was—shockingly—spearheaded by bipartisanship between former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former President Bill Clinton.

Romney’s lie also highlights two facts about his own position and track record that Americans should consider closely. First, Romney says he is for “states’ rights” and as governor asked for this same flexibility concerning welfare requirements, so any rule change by HHS to grant states more authority to determine their own requirements is consistent with his position. Second, the implicit claim that Obama is being easy on welfare recipients belies Romney’s own track record as governor of Massachusetts. The AP reports that “as governor, Romney offered welfare recipients free auto insurance, registration, inspections and memberships in AAA.”

Grandstand politicking and election year spindrift pushed aside, the rule change for welfare that gives states more authority to run their own show highlights a different issue that neither candidate has much traction on:  what do about unemployment, declining wages, and job insecurity.

Although Obama consistently hammers on the message of economic recovery and economic justice going hand in hand, there is a deficit of real policy prescriptions forthcoming about how to reverse the plight of working Americans who are hurting more than ever thanks to Republicanomics. He has been unable to get the Jobs Act passed by a recalcitrant and pitiless Congress. Romney’s record on jobs at Bain Capital is well-known:  lower wages, less job security, outsourcing, and anything else to make a fast buck.

The problem is that welfare is increasingly necessary in an economic climate where recovery is slowly grinding forward by the numbers, but without real jobs to make it effective and lasting. Moreover, economic inequality in this country is at its highest point since the Great Depression—the wealthiest Americans are reaping the most rewards while the rest of us are suffering. Furthermore, corporate profits and the mountains of cash they are sitting on are at near-record highs, but they refuse to invest in their country.

Forget about the facts, please. Let’s talk about those rich black “welfare queens” and how they are cheating us hardworking white males. That’s the real message Romney is purveying and it is putrid, ugly, and profoundly un-American.

July jobs report confirms weak pace of jobless economic “recovery”

The Labor Department released July’s employment figures today and once again there is little good news. According to the report the economy added 163,000 jobs last month even though the unemployment rate ratcheted up slightly to 8.3 percent. The number of additional jobs is mediocre by any other name, but the figure is double the jobs added in June and exceeded Wall Street’s doom-and-gloom forecast. This tarnished silver-lining was enough to provide the Obama administration with some spin traction by claiming that the “pace” of job growth is picking up.

Alan B. Krueger, the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, said that Obama’s jobs plan would help those economic sectors that are struggling the most during this jobless recession, namely, public sector employees and construction workers.

“If you look at today’s jobs report, where we saw declines were construction and government education jobs,” said Krueger. “The main components of the Jobs Act would target exactly those two areas, by investing more in infrastructure and helping local governments keep teachers and first responders on the payrolls. I think it’s the kind of medicine that’s well targeted to the continuing areas of weakness in the job market.”

The devil is in the details, of course, and today’s report also provided Republicans with ammunition for their nauseatingly familiar mantra:  less government, less regulation, and less taxes means more investment by the private sector. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, rehearsed the same tired lyrics Republicans have been singing for decades, laying the blame for America’s economic woes at the feet of the man who inherited the mess three years ago.

“This is an extraordinary record of failure. The president’s policies have not worked because he thinks government makes America work. He’s wrong,” Romney bleated.

Never mind that Obama has spent his first term cleaning up the mess left in the wake of Republican economic policy during the two terms that they controlled both the White House and Congress. Never mind the surpluses left by Clinton that Bush squandered. Never mind that the largest expansion of government spending since the New Deal was brought on by two wars and an expansion of Medicare. Never mind that the Republicans irrational fear of taxes has a created a climate in which it is impossible to govern because revenues are hamstrung by unaffordable tax cuts they want to keep extending into infinity. No, never mind the facts.

Admittedly, Obama’s economic policy has been less than admirable. Under Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, many of the same Wall Street-favoring features of the Bush years have continued:  bail outs for irresponsible (indeed, criminal) investment banks, failure to regulate volatile markets like derivatives where trading smoke-and-mirrors continues with no accountability, failure to regulate investment bank shenanigans, and an ineffective response to Republican rhetorical nonsense on taxes.

Nevertheless, it is doubtful that an economy as large and complex (and corrupt!) as America’s can be turned around on a dime, let alone a single term, so Romney’s exhortations ring as hollow as the Republican economic fantasy that markets can do everything if we just leave powerful private actors to do as they please.

Fed warnings on economic recovery accentuate stark political choices

In the minutes from its June meeting several Fed policymakers warned that the economy could worsen due to a number of factors, including Congressional failure to avert tax hikes and deep spending cuts that start at the end of this fiscal year. In addition, the minutes revealed a deep concern that Europe’s debt crisis will continue to hamper U.S. growth.

Some of the weaknesses highlighted included the following:

  • The economy created 80,000 jobs in June, which is the third consecutive month of weak job reports. The unemployment rate stands fixed at 8.2 percent, which is also a conservative estimate of the true and much larger toll taken during this so-called jobless recovery.
  • Employers added an average of 75,000 jobs a month in the last quarter, and only 1/3 of the 225,000 jobs a month created in the first three months of the year, showing that hiring and job creation has slowed to a near standstill.

While several Fed Members claimed the economy might continue to grow moderately, that assessment was significantly weakened last week when the Fed lowered its growth forecast due to the weak labor market and slow consumer spending. The Fed also stated that it does not expect the unemployment rate to fall any further this year, so the fact that unemployment remains significantly high has put the economy squarely at the center of this presidential election, a fact that will unlikely change between now and November when voters cast their ballots for two radically different economic perspectives.

Despite criticism that President Obama’s economic policies are doing little to help, and may be harming economic growth, the Romney alternative of returning America to the economic policies that initiated a decade of corporate greed, followed by the Great Recession, seems less viable than sticking to the course Obama has laid out.

The President sharpened his differences with Romney this week on the campaign trail, claiming in no uncertain terms that voting for Romney would be putting the same people back into power that helped create the economic mess. That message will be hard to sell the closer we get to the election as voters’ inevitably vote with the vicissitudes of their pocketbooks rather than their reflective conscience.

Greece votes to stick with euro zone

After months of political turmoil, a slim majority of Greek citizens voted for the center-right New Democracy Party in a signal that Greece will stick with the euro zone in spite of widespread opposition to financial austerity policies imposed by the EU in the face of uncontrollable debt.

World markets reacted cautiously but favorably to the news, which turned the tables in the wake of last month’s vote in which a sizeable majority of Greeks voted for the left Socialist Party, which promised to roll back austerity policies and press the EU for better repayment terms for loans. Investors appeared cautious about the news, in part, because of the volatility of the Greek situation. A large and vocal portion of the population blames the economic catastrophe on the financial collapse globally and political corruption locally, leading to massive ongoing protests and violent clashes with police in that country.

However, in mixed news Spain announced over the weekend that its borrowing costs have already exceeded its ability to pay back loans, in spite of the widespread and harsh austerity measures imposed there. Along with that country, Italy similarly appears to be on the edge of bankruptcy as its borrowing costs soar and credit rating slides. Although EU officials claim the euro zone will maintain its integrity, increasing doubts about the ability and willingness of countries like Germany and France to extend large lines of credit indefinitely to countries with terrible records for keeping balanced budgets, collecting taxes, and living within their means.

At the G20 meetings this week in Mexico world leaders are expected to encourage EU leaders to act quickly and develop a comprehensive plan for bringing its debt under control and paving the way for a more stable financial framework. Otherwise, mounting debt and the potential bankruptcy of some of the world’s largest economies threatens to not only to frustrate an economic turnaround globally, but may plunge them—and the rest of the world—back into recession.

Disturbing statistics on WI recall vote

Like support for Prop 8, a supermajority of contributions in the WI recall election came from out-of-state donors.

$63.5 million: The minimum amount spent by both sides in the recall

70 percent: How much more expensive the governor’s recall election is than the state’s second-most expensive race (the 2010 gubernatorial campaign)

$30.5 million: Amount raised by Walker to fight off the recall effort

$3.9 million: Amount raised by his challenger, Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee

About 2/3: Proportion of Walker’s donations that have come from donors outside Wisconsin

About 1/4: Proportion of Barrett’s donations that have come from donors outside Wisconsin

Unlimited: Maximum individual donation Walker may accept under state law

$10,000: Maximum individual donation Barrett may accept under state law

$16.3 million: Amount spent by pro-Walker independent expenditure groups, which have invested $22 million in the Wisconsin recall

Some of the biggest contributions and expenditures in support of Walker:

$510,000 to Walker from Diane Hendricks, Wisconsin’s richest businesswoman and a member of Charles and David Koch’s million-dollar donor club

$490,000 to Walker from Bob Perry, a Houston homebuilder who with his wife has spent more than $8 million on the 2012 elections

$260,000 to Walker from David Humphreys, a member of the Kochs’ million-dollar donor club

$250,000 to Walker from former Amway CEO Dick DeVos of Michigan, a member of the Kochs’ million-dollar donor club

$250,000 to Walker from Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who with his wife has spent more than $25 million on the 2012 elections

$100,000 to Walker from Wyoming investor Foster Friess, a member of the Kochs’ million-dollar donor club

$100,000 to Walker from New York billionaire Louis Bacon, a media-shy hedge-fund trader

$100,000 to Walker from Dallas oil and gas billionaire Trevor Rees-Jones

$6.5 million on ads spent by Americans for Prosperity, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and the anti-labor Center for Union Facts

$4 million on ads spent by the Republican Governors Association‘s Right Direction Wisconsin PAC; only about $7,000 was raised in-state. The RGA got $1 million from David Koch in February. It’s also received $500,000 from the US Chamber of Commerce

Walker survives recall election by outspending his challenger 7-to-1

It’s another disappointing day for “free-and-fair” elections in America.

In his bid to retain office, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin outspent Democratic challenger Tom Barrett 7-to-1. Despite fallacious Republican rhetoric about states’ rights, Walker won the recall election with the help of millions of dollars from out-of-state and corporate campaign contributions.

It would be difficult to determine exactly how much each candidate spent to buy a single vote due to lax and convoluted campaign finance laws. However, here are some facts that can help form a rough estimate.


1. Walker spent about $32 million total in the 2012 recall election, the supermajority of it coming from outside the state by special interests including wealthy individual donors, special interest groups, and SuperPACs. This figure represents almost twice as much as both Walker and Barrett spent together in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

2. Roughly 38 percent of Walker’s individual donations came from WI residents.

For example, the Republican Governors Association alone used independent expenditure and phony issue ad groups, spending an estimated $5 million to sponsor numerous TV ads that claimed voting for Barrett’s would lead to higher taxes and lost jobs.

3. By contrast, Barrett spent about $5 million in this election much of it coming from middle class donors and labor unions representing state workers, teachers, police, and firefighters.

4. Roughly 74 percent of Barrett’s individual donations came from WI residents.


1. Walker took 53.1 percent of the vote with 1,334,450 ballots.

2. Barrett took 46.3 percent of the vote with 1,162,785 ballots.

3. The difference is 171,665 ballots.


1. Walker and his out-of-state supporters effectively paid $23.97 per vote.

2. Barrett and his supporters paid $4.35 per vote, about five times less than Walker.

This is American democracy at its finest in the Age of Money and Propaganda. If political commentators are wondering why Walker is the first governor in American history to survive a recall vote, the answer is clear. He spent more money—most of it coming from people who are not even his constituents.

Instead of reconciling themselves to the inevitable, and going along for the sake of getting along, WI voters would be in their right mind to revolt against state government, which apparently no longer represents them, either by demanding legislation to end campaign contributions from out-of-state contributors, or by storming the state capitol in Madison with pitchforks and torches.