Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Baker: Why isn't Social Security an election issue?

After stock market shocks and the housing bubble, social security more vital than ever before. But the money men hate it.
By Dean Baker
October 25, 2012 | AlterNet

Frum: Let's get real about abortions. (No, let's not.)

More heresy from faux conservative columnist David Frum:

If you're serious about reducing abortion, the most important issue is not which abortions to ban. The most important issue is how will you support women to have the babies they want.

As a general rule, societies that do the most to support mothers and child-bearing have the fewest abortions. Societies that do the least to support mothers and child-bearing have more abortions.

[...]  Abortion is a product of poverty and maternal distress.

No way: personal responsibility starts at the bright side of the birth canal!  Pull yourselves up by your diaper straps, you babies!

By David Frum
October 29, 2012 | CNN

Dems must fight any 'grand bargain' (aka austerity)

As Bill Black notes, it can only be Obama's "vanity" making him promise a "grand bargain" on spending and tax cuts if he is re-elected.  In fact, we are now in a classic period of debt-deflation, the only answer to which is more public spending.

Sadly, it sounds like Obama has swallowed the Republican Kool-Aid that we're facing a fiscal "crisis," and that something must be done now to dismantle or privatize Social Security, Medicare, SNAP and a host of federal agencies, or else somebody's grandchildren will have to pay higher taxes.  

(In fact, the CBO estimates that the Budget Control Act that the Right so desperately wanted will turn about 4.4 percent projected GDP growth in 2013 into a recession in 1H 2013 with measly 0.5 percent GDP growth for the year. Much like what is happening in Europe: see below).  

In other words, Obama seems to have embraced austerity, even though the U.S., which partially embraced fiscal stimulus, has been growing consistently since July 2009 (albeit slowly), and partly because of the stimulus and not despite it.  By contrast, the EU is sadly realizing that austerity has been self-defeating: in the EU, debt-to-GDP ratios are growingGDP is shrinking; and unemployment is growing.

If you still don't understand how that could be so, read this:

Why is [the EU's] fiscal consolidation so much more damaging now? Under normal circumstances a tightening in fiscal policy would also lead to a relaxation in monetary policy. However, with interest rates already at exceptionally low levels, this is unlikely or infeasible. Moreover, during a downturn, when unemployment is high and job security low, a greater percentage of households and firms are likely to find themselves liquidity constrained. Finally, with all countries consolidating simultaneously, output in each country is reduced not just by fiscal consolidation domestically, but by that in other countries, because of trade. In the EU, such spillover effects are likely to be large.

[...] The result of coordinated fiscal consolidation is a rise in the debt-GDP ratio of approximately five percentage points.  

P.S. - This makes 2001 posts to my blog, all-time, not counting the shit I deleted. So cue Strauss's Sunrise!:  "Buuum-buuum-buuuuuuuuuuum BUM-BUM! Boom-boom boom-boom boom-boom boom-boom boom-boom boom-boom boom!"

Reagan's 1981 recession v. W's Great Recession

Let's compare the 1981-82 recession to the Great Recession:
  • Duration:  16 months vs. 18 months
  • GDP:  -2.7 % vs. -4.1% *
  • Consumption:  +0.1 % vs. -2.3 %
  • Investment:  -9.3 % vs. -23.4 %
* The biggest drop in GDP since WWII.

Here are some more measures in 1981-82 vs. the Great Recession:
  • Personal income: +7 % vs. -1 %
  • Industrial production:  -8.6 % vs. -12 %
  • Dow Jones Avg.:  +9 % vs. -22 %
  • Housing prices:  +2.2 % vs. - 5.7%
  • Rate of foreclosures:  0.67% (max) vs. 4.3 % (2009)

Regarding interest rates, you can thank the Fed, which intentionally targeted a high interest rate to kill inflation.  With 11% inflation the 19% interest rate in 1980 was not so high in fact.

Regarding unemployment, it grew more during the Great Recession (5.1 percent) than during the 1981 recession (3.6 percent).  Unemployment rose for 22 straight months during the Great Recession, the longest period since WWII.  It was also the first recession when all 50 states reported increased unemployment, meaning you couldn't simply move to find work in another state.  Long-term unemployment was also worse during the Great Recession: 5.6 million vs. 2.6 million; and in October 2009, the average length of unemployment was 26.9 months -- the longest on record.

Finally, the Great Recession was also (and still is, in some countries) a global recession.  

So I don't want to hear any more about how all it would take is a President Reagan to pull us out of the Great Recession.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Republicans harass, threaten OSCE election monitors

Republicans can dish out the election monitoring all over the world but it looks like they can't take it.  

And dumbass Republican Rep. Connie Mack can't even keep the UN and OSCE straight: he mistakenly blamed the former for the latter's election monitoring plans in the U.S. this November.

I'll say it again: America is totally qualified to run the world, no sweat.

By Joshua Keating
October 26, 2012 | Foreign Policy

By Elise Labott
October 25, 2012 | CNN

Monday, October 29, 2012

Blogger buys Facebook users' data for $5

Facebook is probably freaking out not because some website sold their users' private data, but because they realized how bad their business model sucks.  They were probably like, "Five dollars, that's all he paid for more than one million FB entries was five dollars!  We were gonna sell it for waaaay more than that!"  

Seriously though, I wouldn't worry.  Zuckerberg seems like a pretty stand-up guy who has your best interests at heart.  He was like, you know, the good guy in that one movie.  You should totally trust him.  There is no black market for FB data, I repeat: no black market.  Your privacy is secure.  

By Dave Copeland 
October 26, 2012 | readwrite

Taibbi on Obama's criticism of RS's bank reporting

Here are the key points from Taibbi's response to Obama's straw-man criticisms of Rolling Stone's financial reporting. First:

But it's still odd that [Obama] would focus so intently on that one point [Glass-Steagall], given that the president himself proposed and supported a sort of new version of Glass-Steagall, called the Volcker Rule. Almost all the pro-reform voices I know on Wall Street and in Washington liked the original version of the Volcker rule, and many would have been content to forget about Glass-Steagall forever had the original version of the Volcker Rule that President Obama himself supported actually made it through to become law.

But it didn't. Instead, the Volcker rule was gutted from within by members of both parties during the Dodd-Frank negotiations, and as we reported on several occasions, it was Geithner and the Obama administration that were particularly aggressive in scaling it back behind closed doors. That was what we criticized the president for – not so much for failing to reinstate Glass-Steagall, but for allowing his own policy proposal to be punched so full of holes that it would never be an effective law.

Years after the passage of Dodd-Frank, even the critically-weakened version of the Volcker rule that did ultimately pass is still not officially federal law, its implementation recently delayed again until at least 2014.

But Glass-Steagall isn't all of this story of failed reform that goes back to the Clinton Administration and his Citibank buddies:

The repeal of Glass-Steagall was just part of the decades-long deregulatory effort that led to this toxic situation. Another Clinton-era law, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, contributed to it as well, by completely deregulating the market for derivatives (which were used to package all of those mortgages, were a major contributor to the collapse of AIG, and also played a huge role in the Jefferson County, Alabama disaster, among other things). Supreme Court decisions allowing interstate bank mergers where before they had been prohibited helped create the Wachovias and WaMus of the world. And a 2004 SEC decision to lift restrictions on leverage for the country's biggest investment banks allowed companies like Lehman to borrow forty dollars or more for every one they actually had.

Collectively, these and other policies created a market where banks were over-large, capital was lethally overconcentrated in the hands of a few huge firms, financial companies were all leveraged to the moon and the fates of federal insurance programs like the FDIC were suddenly tied to the gambling habits of some of the riskiest investment banks in the world. It wasn't just Glass-Steagall – it was Glass-Steagall plus all of this other stuff that made the world so dangerous.

So the first and most critical goal of any reform-minded administration should have been to alleviate these dangers by making things less concentrated, i.e. by making Too-Big-To-Fail companies small enough to fail. And Obama really didn't do that, on any front.

And then there is the issue of Too Big Too Fail, which with troubled bank "shotgun" mergers is now worse than ever:

Finally, Obama had a chance to physically reduce the size of Too-Big-To-Fail companies by supporting the Brown-Kaufman amendment to Dodd-Frank, which would have forced big banks to cap deposits and liabilities to under 10% of GDP. He didn't support that amendment and it died.

P.S. -- Never let it be said that I'm a hack who carries Obama's water.  He had an historic chance to put Wall Street in its place and a real bi-partisan sentiment against the bailouts and TBTF banks -- remember the Tea Parties were and are (they say) against TARP and the other TBTF bank bailouts??  But Obama let his opportunity slip.  Partly due to his inaction, then Occupy Wall Street got involved and the Right knee-jerk reacted against them, conflating OWS attacks against the bailouts and the financialization of the U.S. economy with an attack on capitalism, a reaction which the rightwing media happily helped foment.  Then the selfish, self-righteous Wall Street dickheads like Jamie Dimon who nearly destroyed the world suddenly became John Galt in the Right's eyes.

By Matt Taibbi
October 26, 2012 | Rolling Stone

USG finally getting serious about zombies

Finally, the U.S. Government is getting serious about an inevitable Zombie Apocalypse.  Seriously:  

"This is a very real exercise, this is not some type of big costume party," said Brad Barker, president of Halo Corp, a security firm hosting the Oct. 31 training demonstration during the summit at a 44-acre Paradise Point Resort island on a San Diego bay. "Everything that will be simulated at this event has already happened, it just hasn't happened all at once on the same night. But the training is very real, it just happens to be the bad guys we're having a little fun with."

Hundreds of military, law enforcement and medical personnel will observe the Hollywood-style production of a zombie attack as part of their emergency response training.

Meanwhile, America's zombie electorate is finally getting serious about the 2012 presidential race, which affects the living and undead alike.  Not seriously.

(My favorite zombie-voter complaint from a zombie Soccer Mom: "47% of zombies feel entitled to brain stamps, and the government should just hand out brains to them.")

Seriously though, zombie soccer moms aside, Republicans have the most to fear from zombies taking over America, because as every good Republican knows, dead people vote Democrat.  No exceptions.

Happy Halloween!

Bad news for gold bugs, but...

... good news for James Cameron's idle great-grandkids to-be.  Now they'll have something to retrieve from the bottom of the Pacific someday.

Yet another reason why gold as a currency is primitive.  I can transfer cash electronically with a few clicks.  

October 29, 2012 | AP

Back and forth on drones

I go back and forth on drones.  But I'm starting to go in favor.  Why?  Because it seems that today's armed Islamist militants (and they do exist, just not in the numbers some think) have a two-pronged strategy:

1) Seek "safe" haven in unstable countries (the irony is the more dangerous the country, the safer al Qaeda and other flag-less militants are there), and further destabilize these countries with their terrorist attacks;
2) Tempt the U.S. to put troops in these unstable countries so that the Islamist militants can take pot shots at them.

There are too many unstable countries these days; and the U.S. already has too few troops to cover two ongoing occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Anyway, putting boots on the ground is a losing strategy.  We know it, they know it.  When we come in, all they have to do is wait us out.  And occupations are damn expensive when austerity is in vogue.  

And so drones are one answer to our dilemma.  Drones aren't the only answer; nor should they be used willy-nilly; but I think it's right to keep on using them.

Look, countries that harbor or can't control the Islamist militants among them who operate with impunity -- like in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, etc. -- need to know that if they can't take care of free-ranging terrorist groups then then we will, in our own way.  For example, how many years has the U.S. begged Pakistan to do something about the Taliban, to no avail?  

Yes, I admit, drone strikes are a violation of other countries' sovereignty.  And even if our drones don't rile up the masses there, then they certainly tick off government officials in the country getting droned, because drones reveal they're incapable of stopping the U.S. from doing what it wants.  It's humiliating to them.  On the other hand, drones are a clear indication that we have no intention of occupying and ruling these countries; we just want to destroy the bad guys.  (Unfortunately we often kill a lot of innocent people in the process.)

So in this messy world we live in where the choices range between two poles -- do nothing; or invade and occupy -- drones are some kind of middle ground.  Are they morally and ethically OK?  Um, probably not.  But then most wars aren't.  

Kurt Volker's most disturbing point -- a question, really -- is what happens when countries like China, Iran and Russia start using drones how they see fit?  Will the U.S. have a moral or legal leg to stand on in opposing them?  I don't know.

By Kurt Volker
October 27, 2012 | Washington Post

Sunday, October 28, 2012

'Who's Creepier?' competition!

It's Sunday so let's have some more fun with video.  Who's creepier?  

Stone-cold starer all alone in a sea of happy chawmping Gators fans?

Or Josh "Evil cyborg banker" Romney with his eyes locked onto Obama at the third presidential debate?

It's a toss-up if you ask me.  Tell me your winner!

Americans totally qualified to rule the world, no sweat.


Americans are NOT stupid
By criminalkid
October 25, 2012 | Live Leak

Krugman: No way for 'V-shaped recovery' in 2009

Team Romney insists that the U.S. economy could and should have had a "V-shaped recovery" starting in 2009, despite all the historical and theoretical evidence to the contrary.

For the record, here's what Paul Krugman wrote in January 2008 (a year before Obama was President):

There’s still the question of how deep the slump will be. I can see the case for arguing that it will be nasty. The 1990-91 recession was brought on by a credit crunch, the 2001 recession by overinvestment; this time we’ve got both. I guess we’ll see. In any case, whatever happens will probably last quite a while.

By Paul Krugman
October 28, 2012 | New York Times

Democracy denied: 4th phase in U.S. voting rights history

History will not look kindly on what we're doing to restrict and suppress voting in America today.  

The argument on its face that we are justified in spending so much effort to make voting harder and more inconvenient in order to prevent fraud is absurd, considering it's a crime that doesn't exist.  It's a hyper-partisan attack aimed at the heart of our democracy: one man, one vote.

Incidentally, today I'm in another country with its own national elections.  It's a Sunday and polling stations are open from early morning till late evening.  Administrative judges are required to work all day to resolve, immediately, any questions about voters' registration.  Meanwhile, the United States routinely criticizes other countries' elections for not being free and fair.  Matthew 7:3-5 comes to mind.

Voter suppression efforts today echo 19th century efforts to block urban immigrant working class from casting vote.
By Paul Rosenberg
October 28, 2012 | Al Jazeera

Why are both candidates silent on mortgage crisis?

President Obama has done almost nothing to help Americans restructure their mortgages.  With HAMP, Obama pledged to modify 4 million mortgages; but in fact "more than 1 million homeowners have been bounced out of the program."  

Meanwhile, about one-quarter of all U.S. houses are still underwater to the tune of about $690 billion.

So why is Romney silent on Obama's failure?

Because Romney promises to be even worse.  He has not made one proposal for re-structuring mortgages to somehow reduce mortgage principles.  Indeed, Republicans believe underwater mortgages are an issue of personal responsibility, a sacred trust between the bank and the borrower into which Big Government shouldn't intrude.

My hero, economics professor Joseph Stiglitz, finds it "shocking" that both candidates have been silent about the housing crisis.  And it has a been "a gross miscarriage of justice" that not one banker has ended up behind bars, said Stiglitz.  Then again, we shouldn't be surprised, since both candidates are in the pocket of the TBTF banks.

October 24, 2012 | Reuters TV

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mourdock, rape and the Book of Job

Before I tell you why, let me quote two whole paragraphs from a rape apologist's apologist's blog post:

Bigger picture now: The essence of religious monotheism is that everything comes from one God, which naturally leaves humans befuddled when “Bad things happen to good people.” The faithful nevertheless persevere in their faith, believing that God is unknowable to human minds. This is the essence, for example, of the Book of Job, which I felt compelled to reread this afternoon. (It is a deeply disturbing story precisely because it raises these fundamental issues about the nature of God, good and evil, etc.) Suffice it to say the last place to delve into these matters is a U.S. Senate debate two weeks before the election.

No one has to believe this. Many people don’t. That is why it is better left out of political campaigns. (Repeat: [Richard] Mourdock will and should pay a price for this.) But Mourdock does believe this. No one who knows him or has interviewed him doubts that he’s a sincerely religious person. He was not expressing a lack of sympathy with rape victims (hence the term “horrible situation”).

And here is what Mourdock said in his own defense, clarifying his initial statement:
“God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that He does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick.”
But actually I don't want to talk about rape.  I want to talk about religion.

For me, what Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock said is important not because it reveals his true beliefs about rape or abortion -- why we continue to be "shocked" or "outraged" when knuckle-dragging fundamentalist Republicans admit to believing what we already know they believe is beyond me -- but because Mourdock's moment of honesty reveals the absurdity of believing that God decides what happens in our lives, and then praising God for pulling our puppet strings.

Mourdock should be getting dinged for saying something really philosophically stupid and self-serving, which was that: God doesn't intend for rape to happen, but if a rape does happen and it results in pregnancy, God does intend that to happen, and for the rape victim to carry that rapist's fetus to term.  Because life is precious, or something.

Let me make that real simple.  Rape = not God's fault.  Innocent life = God's plan.  See how God wiggled out of that one?  Pretty slick, huh?  

Moreover, people like Mourdock are the first to go Tebowing the instant anything good happens in their lives.  But when something bad happens?  It's because somebody sinned against God. Or, as Jennifer Rubin says above about evil, God's mind is "unknowable." That's just another double standard, I'm sorry. That's not even an attempt at theodicy, it's just an intellectual shrug of the shoulders.  We are letting God off way too easy here.  If God made us in His image then certainly He didn't intend for us to be so dumb.

Ms. Rubin also mentions the Book of Job in defending Mourdock, and, well, God. That's a funny choice. That's the one where Satan makes a bet with God that he can make holy Job curse God's name if Satan makes Job suffer enough.  God takes Satan's bet and gives him permission to put Job and his family through the wringer.  

Now, if you are a fundamentalist who believes that the Bible is God's word, then there is nothing "unknowable" about God's intentions in the story of Job.  It's written quite clearly and simply.  God made a wager with the devil and let one of his most devout children be tortured and played with to prove a point.  Job's friends, meanwhile, come to the very modern-Evangelical conclusion that Job must have sinned terribly against God to have earned so many creative torments, one after another.  That was just salt in Job's God-inflicted wounds.  Then toward the end of Job, God's voice rings out from the heavens and says Job isn't a sinner.  And God defends himself by telling Job and his accusers how hard His job is, and how men really aren't qualified to question His decisions.  Get over it, in other words.  

The dramatic irony in all of it is that only the reader knows about God's bet with Satan.  Job remains clueless to the end that he was celestially punked.

Overall, Job is a great story.  It's one you'll want to tell your kids before bed, again and again, so the next time they say, "Why should I?" you can answer, "Because you're too stupid to understand why, so just do what I say."  Which is pretty much what religious conservatives believe parents should tell their children, and what they think CEOs and Republican Presidents should tell us adults.  

This is all a long way for me to say: the next time somebody says, "It was God's will," or "Thank God for your blessings," or "The Lord works in mysterious ways," you'll know that person is either dumb or full of shit. 

UPDATE: The Eds. at conservative National Review thought Mourdock's absolute pro-life stance needed their special defense.  But for the record, I'm not arguing the pro-life question in my post; I'm arguing about what is really God's fault, and how do believers explain evil in the world, like rape.  Or how something "good" (an innocent baby) could come from something bad (rape), and at what point in that chain of events is God involved or not involved.  Mourdock was just my launchpad into that discussion, which I find much more interesting and fundamental.

If you believe that great good can come from evil, then you are less likely to want government to help the poor and suffering among us, because, hey, it's all part of God's plan for them... or for their kids, or somebody three generations down the line.  Their suffering makes no sense and seems pointless to us, but it does make sense to Him, and that's all that matters.  --> That kind of attitude is a logical extension of what Mourdock, et al believe about God and evil.   

And that's why they must be exposed and opposed. Because their backwards thank/blame-God-for-everything attitude harms all of us.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Energy myths: POTUS and 'energy independence'

It seems my work is not done because I keep hearing two misconceptions in America repeated:

1) The President of the United States has something to do with gas prices; and 
2) The U.S. can and should be "energy independent."

The first is a myth because of supply and demand.  As for supply, with the exception of cartels, it's all poured into one big pool of oil, figuratively speaking.  As for demand, it's growing in China and other developing countries and there's nothing we can do about it. 

The second is a myth because there is a world market for oil, coal and natural gas, all highly fungible commodities.  America is not Venezuela and Obama is not Hugo Chavez: it's not "our" oil and gas, we don't nationalize it.  It belongs to huge MNCs like Shell and BP.

It does make sense to talk about "energy security," which Roger Altman explains: 

"Let's get to the point where the amount we import from rogue or potentially rogue nations who might be hostile to us is down to a point where, if suddenly that supply was interrupted or shut off, we go right on."

Even so, it's a global market and we must keep this caveat in mind:

Increased energy security on the supply side, however, does not mean energy independence on the economic side. A smaller share of the oil we use in the U.S. comes from foreign sources today than was the case a decade ago. But an increase in the world oil price has left U.S. consumers paying more at the gas pump and reminded them of their continued dependence on market events beyond White House control.

So if people want to blame something, blame capitalism.

By Michel Martin
October 25, 2012 | NPR

By Tom Gjelten
October 25, 2012 | NPR 

Jews now a minority in Israel

I know, I know, most American's eyes glaze over when somebody mentions the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But this is worth a look.

It reminds me of what Gary Brecher always says about war: "birthrate wins."  So Israeli Jews are now officially a minority in their own "democratic Jewish" state.  Now, Israel cannot even justify its apartheid state on the basis of a Jewish racial majority. 

Security has been a "primary justification" for Zionist policies of land expropriation and removal of Palestinians.
By Mark LeVine
October 25, 2012 | Al Jazeera

Poll: It's a black thing?

Thank goodness we're a post-racial society where people vote for their economic interests.

Oh, wait a minute....

Seriously though, one person already countered with that '90s line: "It's the economy, stupid."

You think so?  If that's so, then I guess that means only white men understand economics. And even they admit that Obama would do more to help the non-rich. Hmm... something doesn't add up....

Poll finds deepest racial split since ’88
By Scott Clement, Jon Cohen
October 25, 2012 | Washington Post

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Studies: Americans lie about skipping church

So 45 percent of Americans surveyed say they attend church every week, but more accurate Time Diary studies reveal that only about 24 percent do.  Unlike Europeans, who are honest about their low church attendance, Americans lie about it, just like they lie about how often they floss and work out.

I'm tempted to put this story in my "cheater nation" file, but on second thought, I think it just shows America's high level of religiosity, not religion.  Just like we're lectured about how flossing and working out are the "right" things to do, people don't do them because they (gasp!) don't feel like it.  But anyway when surveyed, they feel embarrassed and lie about it.  

But things are changing.  (Or going to hell in a hand basket, depending on your point of view.)  One out of five Americans is ready to tell Pew Research that they have no religious denomination.  This segues to my "spiritual not religious" pet peeve, but I'll save that for another day....

By Shankar Vedantam and Steve Inskeep
October 24, 2012 | NPR

Cincy ads scare, confuse black voters over a crime that doesn't exist

Yep, Cincinnati's showing once again it's the most conservative big city in America...and perhaps the most racist.

In Ohio, Signs of Voter Suppression Go Up -- And Come Down
By P.G. Sittenfeld
October 24, 2012 | Huffington Post

Dionne: No matter who wins, Tea Party already lost

It's a Wa-Po twofer today.

Here's the best line I've read in a while:  "Not to put too fine a point on it, but if the conservatives are forgiving Romney because they think he is lying [about his moderate stances], what should the rest of us think?"

Dionne points out that the Tea Party made election gains in an off-year when people were demoralized, distracted and too tired to show up.  It was no revolution.  Nobody wants to buy what the teabaggers are selling except that waning white sliver of conservative Republican "purity" that's shrinking visibly by the day.

By E.J. Dionne Jr.
October 25, 2012 | Washington Post

The right wing has lost the election of 2012.

The evidence for this is overwhelming, yet it is the year’s best-kept secret. Mitt Romney would not be throwing virtually all of his past positions overboard if he thought the nation were ready to endorse the full-throated conservatism he embraced to win the Republican nomination.

If conservatism were winning, does anyone doubt that Romney would be running as a conservative? Yet unlike Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, Romney is offering an echo, not a choice. His strategy at the end is to try to sneak into the White House on a chorus of me-too’s.

The right is going along because its partisans know Romney has no other option. This, too, is an acknowledgment of defeat, a recognition that the grand ideological experiment heralded by the rise of the tea party has gained no traction. It also means that conservatives don’t believe that Romney really believes the moderate mush he’s putting forward now. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if the conservatives are forgiving Romney because they think he is lying, what should the rest of us think?

Almost all of the analysis of Romney’s highly public burning of the right’s catechism focuses on such tactical issues as whether his betrayal of principle will help him win over middle-of-the-road women and carry Ohio. What should engage us more is that a movement that won the 2010 elections with a bang is trying to triumph just two years later on the basis of a whimper.

It turns out that there was no profound ideological conversion of the country two years ago. We remain the same moderate and practical country we have long been. In 2010, voters were upset about the economy, Democrats were demobilized, and President Obama wasn’t yet ready to fight. All the conservatives have left now is economic unease. So they don’t care what Romney says. They are happy to march under a false flag if that is the price of capturing power.

The total rout of the right’s ideology, particularly its neoconservative brand, was visible in Monday’s debate, in which Romney praised one Obama foreign policy initiative after another. He calmly abandoned much of what he had said during the previous 18 months. Gone were the hawkish assaults on Obama’s approach to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, China and nearly everywhere else. Romney was all about “peace.”

Romney’s most revealing line: “We don’t want another Iraq.” Thus did he bury without ceremony the great Bush-Cheney project. He renounced a war he had once supported with vehemence and enthusiasm.

Then there’s budget policy. If the Romney/Paul Ryan budget and tax ideas were so popular, why would the candidate and his sidekick, the one-time devotee of Ayn Rand, be investing so much energy in hiding the most important details of their plans? For that matter, why would Ryan feel obligated to forsake his love for Rand, the proud philosopher of “the virtue of selfishness” and the thinker he once said had inspired his public service?

Romney knows that, by substantial margins, the country favors raising taxes on the rich and opposes slashing many government programs, including Medicare and Social Security. Since Romney’s actual plan calls for cutting taxes on the rich, he has to disguise the fact. Where is the conviction?

The biggest sign that tea party thinking is dead is Romney’s straight-out deception about his past position on the rescue of the auto industry.

The bailout was the least popular policy Obama pursued — and, I’d argue, one of the most successful. It was Exhibit A for tea partyers who accused our moderately progressive president of being a socialist. In late 2008, one prominent Republican claimed that if the bailout the Detroit-based automakers sought went through, “you can kiss the American automotive industry good-bye.” The car companies, he said, would “seal their fate with a bailout check.” This would be the same Mitt Romney who tried to pretend on Monday that he never said what he said or thought what he thought. If the bailout is now good politics, and it is, then free-market fundamentalism has collapsed in a heap.

“Ideas have consequences” is one of the conservative movement’s most honored slogans. That the conservatives’ standard-bearer is now trying to escape the consequences of their ideas tells us all we need to know about who is winning the philosophical battle — and, because ideas do matter, who will win the election.

Zakaria: U.S. economy is recovering the fastest

Here's another must-read op-ed from Fareed's interns!

I'm not quite so optimistic as him, especially about housing when a quarter of U.S. homes are still underwater: that's just psychological ballast on consumption and investment.  Then again, Americans have short memories and may resume their free-spending ways again even if they cannot afford it, to every economist's delight.  

Now I know all my dear Republican friends will want to take issue with the following rosy analysis, but they should remember: no rooting against the home team!  Your psychic energy makes all the difference.  

By Fareed Zakaria
October 25, 2012 | Washington Post

The International Monetary Fund’s latest World Economic Outlook makes for gloomy reading. Growth projections have been revised downward almost everywhere, especially in Europe and the big emerging markets such as China. And yet, when looking out over the next four years — the next presidential term — the IMF projects that the United States will be the strongest of the world’s rich economies. U.S. growth is forecast to average 3 percent, much stronger than that of Germany or France (1.2 percent) or even Canada (2.3 percent). Increasingly, the evidence suggests that the United States has come out of the financial crisis of 2008 in better shape than its peers — because of the actions of its government.

Perhaps the most important cause of America’s relative health is the Federal Reserve. Ben Bernanke understood the depths of the problem early and responded energetically and creatively. The clearest vindication of his actions has been that the European Central Bank, after charting the opposite course for three years with disastrous results, has adopted policies similar to the Fed’s — and averted a potential Lehman-like collapse in Europe. (Mitt Romney’s two most prominent academic advisers, Glenn Hubbard and Gregory Mankiw, seem to recognize this, but Romney apparently doesn’t. As recently as August the Republican presidential nominee repeated his criticisms of the Fed and promised to replace Bernanke at its helm.)

In addition to providing general liquidity, the Fed and the Treasury rescued the financial system but also forced it, through stress tests and new rules, to reform. The result is that U.S. banks are in much better shape than their European counterparts. Consumers have also been paying off debt, thanks to a series of tax cuts and other forms of relief.

McKinsey & Co. study of crises in recent decades found that the United States is mirroring the pattern of countries with the strongest recoveries. It noted that “Debt in the financial sector relative to GDP has fallen back to levels last seen in 2000, before the credit bubble. US households have reduced their debt relative to disposable income by 15 percentage points, more than in any other country; at this rate, they could reach sustainable debt levels in two years or so.”

Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, the leading experts on financial crises, argue that the United States is performing better than most countries in similar circumstances. U.S. consumer confidence is at its highest levels since September 2007.

Every recovery since World War II has been led by housing, except this one.  But finally, housing is back. Two weeks ago, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, declared that housing had turned the corner and predicted that, as a consequence, economic growth in 2013 would be so strong the Fed would have to raise interest rates. Given his firm’s vast mortgage portfolio, Dimon has a unique perspective on housing, and he is a smart man who knows that the Fed has promised to keep rates flat for three years. Last week, data on new housing starts confirmed Dimon’s optimism.

U.S. corporations have also bounced back. Corporate profits are at an all-time high as a percentage of gross domestic product, and companies have $1.7 trillion in cash on their balance sheets. The key to long-term recoveries from recessions is reform and restructuring, and U.S. businesses have been quick to respond.

Government intervention assisted this process with banks, auto companies and even in housing. Romney is correct to point out that the Obama administration supervised a managed bankruptcy in Detroit — forcing the kind of reform a private equity firm would have (though, crucially, providing the cash that a President Romney would not have). The Economist magazine, which initially opposed that bailout, reversed itself because of the manner in which General Motors and Chrysler were made to cut costs and become competitive.

And then there is America’s energy revolution, which is also bringing back manufacturing. U.S. exports, which have climbed 45 percent in the past four years, are at their highest level ever as a percentage of GDP.

All these good signs come with caveats. Europe continues to weaken. The fiscal cliff looms ominously. But the fact remains, compared with the rest of the industrialized world and the arc of previous post-bubble recoveries, the United States is ready for a robust revival.  This is partly because of the dynamism of the U.S. economy but also because of the timely and intelligent actions of the Fed and the Obama administration.

The next president will reap the rewards of work already done. So it would be the ultimate irony if, having strongly criticized almost every measure that contributed to these positive tends, Mitt Romney ends up presiding over what he would surely call “the Romney recovery.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The best endorsement of Obama you'll read

It's not only well thought out and comprehensive, it's also frank about some of Obama's biggest failures, like doing nothing to help people facing foreclosure on their mortgages. This is definitely worth reading.

By the Editors
October 29, 2012 | New Yorker

The morning was cold and the sky was bright. Aretha Franklin wore a large and interesting hat. Yo-Yo Ma urged his frozen fingers to play the cello, and the Reverend Joseph E. Lowery, a civil-rights comrade of Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s, read a benediction that began with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the segregation-era lamentation of American realities and celebration of American ideals. On that day in Washington—Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009—the blustery chill penetrated every coat, yet the discomfort was no impediment to joy. The police estimated that more than a million and a half people had crowded onto the Mall, making this the largest public gathering in the history of the capital. Very few could see the speakers. It didn’t matter. People had come to be with other people, to mark an unusual thing: a historical event that was elective, not befallen.

Just after noon, Barack Hussein Obama, the forty-seven-year-old son of a white Kansan and a black Kenyan, an uncommonly talented if modestly credentialled legislator from Illinois, took the oath of office as the forty-fourth President of the United States. That night, after the inaugural balls, President Obama and his wife and their daughters slept at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a white house built by black men, slaves of West African heritage.

Obama succeeded George W. Bush, a two-term President whose misbegotten legacy, measured in the money it squandered and the misery it inflicted, has become only more evident with time. Bush left behind an America in dire condition and with a degraded reputation. On Inauguration Day, the United States was in a downward financial spiral brought on by predatory lending, legally sanctioned greed and pyramid schemes, an economic policy geared to the priorities and the comforts of what soon came to be called “the one per cent,” and deregulation that began before the Bush Presidency. In 2008 alone, more than two and a half million jobs were lost—up to three-quarters of a million jobs a month. The gross domestic product was shrinking at a rate of nine per cent. Housing prices collapsed. Credit markets collapsed. The stock market collapsed—and, with it, the retirement prospects of millions. Foreclosures and evictions were ubiquitous; whole neighborhoods and towns emptied. The automobile industry appeared to be headed for bankruptcy. Banks as large as Lehman Brothers were dead, and other banks were foundering. It was a crisis of historic dimensions and global ramifications. However skillful the management in Washington, the slump was bound to last longer than any since the Great Depression.

At the same time, the United States was in the midst of the grinding and unnecessary war in Iraq, which killed a hundred thousand Iraqis and four thousand Americans, and depleted the federal coffers. The political and moral damage of Bush’s duplicitous rush to war rivalled the conflict’s price in blood and treasure. America’s standing in the world was further compromised by the torture of prisoners and by illegal surveillance at home. Al Qaeda, which, on September 11, 2001, killed three thousand people on American soil, was still strong. Its leader, Osama bin Laden, was, despite a global manhunt, living securely in Abbottabad, a verdant retreat near Islamabad.

As if to intensify the sense of crisis, on Inauguration Day the national-security apparatus informed the President-elect that Al Shabaab, a Somali affiliate of the Al Qaeda network, had sent terrorists across the Canadian border and was planning an attack on the Mall, possibly on Obama himself. That danger proved illusory; the others proved to be more onerous than anyone had imagined. The satirical paper The Onion came up with a painfully apt inaugural headline: “black man given nation’s worst job.”

Barack Obama began his Presidency devoted to the idea of post-partisanship. His rhetoric, starting with his “Red State, Blue State” Convention speech, in 2004, and his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” was imbued with that idea. Just as in his memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” he had tried to reconcile the disparate pasts of his parents, Obama was determined to bring together warring tribes in Washington and beyond. He extended his hand to everyone from the increasingly radical leadership of the congressional Republicans to the ruling mullahs of the Iranian theocracy. The Republicans, however, showed no greater interest in working with Obama than did the ayatollahs. The Iranian regime went on enriching uranium and crushing its opposition, and the Republicans, led by Dickensian scolds, including the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, committed themselves to a single goal: to engineer the President’s political destruction by defeating his major initiatives. Obama, for his part, did not always prove particularly adept at, or engaged by, the arts of retail persuasion, and his dream of bipartisanship collided with the reality of obstructionism.

Perhaps inevitably, the President has disappointed some of his most ardent supporters. Part of their disappointment is a reflection of the fantastical expectations that attached to him. Some, quite reasonably, are disappointed in his policy failures (on Guantánamo, climate change, and gun control); others question the morality of the persistent use of predator drones. And, of course, 2012 offers nothing like the ecstasy of taking part in a historical advance: the reelection of the first African-American President does not inspire the same level of communal pride. But the reëlection of a President who has been progressive, competent, rational, decent, and, at times, visionary is a serious matter. The President has achieved a run of ambitious legislative, social, and foreign-policy successes that relieved a large measure of the human suffering and national shame inflicted by the Bush Administration. Obama has renewed the honor of the office he holds.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009—the $787-billion stimulus package—was well short of what some economists, including Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, thought the crisis demanded. But it was larger in real dollars than any one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal measures. It reversed the job-loss trend—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many as 3.6 million private-sector jobs have been created since June, 2009—and helped reset the course of the economy. It also represented the largest public investment in infrastructure since President Eisenhower’s interstate-highway program. From the start, though, Obama recognized that it would reap only modest political gain. “It’s very hard to prove a counterfactual,” he told the journalist Jonathan Alter, “where you say, ‘You know, things really could have been a lot worse.’ ” He was speaking of the bank and auto-industry bailouts, but the problem applies more broadly to the stimulus: harm averted is benefit unseen.

As for systemic reform, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which Obama signed into law in July, 2010, tightened capital requirements on banks, restricted predatory lending, and, in general, sought to prevent abuses of the sort that led to the crash of 2008. Against the counsel of some Republicans, including Mitt Romney, the Obama Administration led the takeover, rescue, and revival of the automobile industry. The Administration transformed the country’s student-aid program, making it cheaper for students and saving the federal government sixty-two billion dollars—more than a third of which was put back into Pell grants. AmeriCorps, the country’s largest public-service program, has been tripled in size.

Obama’s most significant legislative achievement was a vast reform of the national health-care system. Five Presidents since the end of the Second World War have tried to pass legislation that would insure universal access to medical care, but all were defeated by deeply entrenched opposition. Obama—bolstered by the political cunning of the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi—succeeded. Some critics urged the President to press for a single-payer system—Medicare for all. Despite its ample merits, such a system had no chance of winning congressional backing. Obama achieved the achievable. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the single greatest expansion of the social safety net since the advent of Medicaid and Medicare, in 1965. Not one Republican voted in favor of it.

Obama has passed no truly ambitious legislation related to climate change, shying from battle in the face of relentless opposition from congressional Republicans. Yet his environmental record is not as barren as it may seem. The stimulus bill provided for extensive investment in green energy, biofuels, and electric cars. In August, the Administration instituted new fuel-efficiency standards that should nearly double gas mileage; by 2025, new cars will need to average 54.5 miles per gallon.

President Obama’s commitment to civil rights has gone beyond rhetoric. During his first week in office, he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which protects women, minorities, and the disabled against unfair wage discrimination. By ending the military’s ban on the service of those who are openly gay, and by endorsing marriage equality, Obama, more than any previous President, has been a strong advocate of the civil rights of gay men and lesbians. Finally, Obama appointed to the Supreme Court two highly competent women, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, the Court’s first Hispanic. Kagan and Sotomayor are skilled and liberal-minded Justices who, abjuring dogmatism, represent a sober and sensible set of jurisprudential values.

In the realm of foreign policy, Obama came into office speaking the language of multilateralism and reconciliation—so much so that the Nobel Peace Prize committee, in an act as patronizing as it was premature, awarded him its laurels, in 2009. Obama was embarrassed by the award and recognized it for what it was: a rebuke to the Bush Administration. Still, the Norwegians were also getting at something more affirmative. Obama’s Cairo speech, that same year, tried to help heal some of the wounds not only of the Iraq War but, more generally, of Western colonialism in the Middle East. Speaking at Al Azhar University, Obama expressed regret that the West had used Muslim countries as pawns in the Cold War game of Risk. He spoke for the rights of women and against torture; he defended the legitimacy of the State of Israel while offering a straightforward assessment of the crucial issue of the Palestinians and their need for statehood, citing the “humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation.”

It was an edifying speech, but Obama was soon instructed in the limits of unilateral good will. Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Hu Jintao, and other autocrats hardened his spirit. Still, he proved a sophisticated and reliable diplomat and an effective Commander-in-Chief. He kept his promise to withdraw American troops from Iraq. He forbade torture. And he waged a far more forceful campaign against Al Qaeda than Bush had—a campaign that included the killing of Osama bin Laden. He negotiated—and won Senate approval of—a crucial strategic-arms deal with the Russians, slashing warheads and launchers on both sides and increasing the transparency of mutual inspections. In Afghanistan, he has set a reasonable course in an impossible situation.

The unsettled situations in Egypt and Libya, following the Arab Spring of 2010, make plain that that region’s political trajectory is anything but fixed. Syria shames the world’s inaction and confounds its hopes of decisive intervention. This is where Obama’s respect for complexity is not an indulgence of intellectual vanity but a requirement for effective action. In the case of bin Laden, it was necessary to act alone and at once; in Libya, in concert with the Europeans; in Iran, cautiously but with decisive measures.

One quality that so many voters admired in Obama in 2008 was his unusual temperament: inspirational, yet formal, cool, hyper-rational. He promised to be the least crazy of Presidents, the least erratic and unpredictable. The triumph of that temperament was in evidence on a spring night in 2011, as he performed his duties, with a standup’s precision and preternatural élan, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, all the while knowing that he had, with no guarantee of success, dispatched Navy seal Team Six to kill bin Laden. In the modern era, we have had Presidents who were known to seduce interns (Kennedy and Clinton), talk to paintings (Nixon), and confuse movies with reality (Reagan). Obama’s restraint has largely served him, and the country, well.

But Obama is also a human being, a flawed and complicated one, and as the world has come to know him better we have sometimes seen the downside of his temperament: a certain insularity and self-satisfaction; a tendency at times—as in the first debate with Mitt Romney—to betray disdain for the unpleasant tasks of politics. As a political warrior, Obama can be withdrawn, even strangely passive. He has sometimes struggled to convey the human stakes of the policies he has initiated. In the remaining days of the campaign, Obama must be entirely, and vividly, present, as he was in the second debate with Romney. He must clarify not only what he has achieved but also what he intends to achieve, how he intends to accelerate the recovery, spur employment, and allay the debt crisis; how he intends to deal with an increasingly perilous situation in Pakistan; what he will do if Iran fails to bring its nuclear program into line with international strictures. Most important, he needs to convey the larger vision that matches his outsized record of achievement.

There is another, larger “counterfactual” to consider—the one represented by Obama’s Republican challenger, Willard Mitt Romney. The Republican Party’s nominee is handsome, confident, and articulate. He made a fortune in business, first as a consultant, then in private equity. After running for the Senate in Massachusetts, in 1994, and failing to unseat Edward Kennedy, Romney relaunched his public career by presiding successfully over the 2002 Winter Olympics, in Salt Lake City. (A four-hundred-million-dollar federal bailout helped.) From 2003 to 2007, he was the governor of Massachusetts and, working with a Democratic legislature, succeeded in passing an impressive health-care bill. He has been running for President full time ever since.

In the service of that ambition, Romney has embraced the values and the priorities of a Republican Party that has grown increasingly reactionary and rigid in its social vision. It is a party dominated by those who despise government and see no value in public efforts aimed at ameliorating the immense and rapidly increasing inequalities in American society. A visitor to the F.D.R. Memorial, in Washington, is confronted by these words from Roosevelt’s second Inaugural Address, etched in stone: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide for those who have too little.” Romney and the leaders of the contemporary G.O.P. would consider this a call to class warfare. Their effort to disenfranchise poor, black, Hispanic, and student voters in many states deepens the impression that Romney’s remarks about the “forty-seven per cent” were a matter not of “inelegant” expression, as he later protested, but of genuine conviction.

Romney’s conviction is that the broad swath of citizens who do not pay federal income tax—a category that includes pensioners, soldiers, low-income workers, and those who have lost their jobs—are parasites, too far gone in sloth and dependency to be worth the breath one might spend asking for their votes. His descent to this cynical view—further evidenced by his selection of a running mate, Paul Ryan, who is the epitome of the contemporary radical Republican—has been dishearteningly smoothHe in essence renounced his greatest achievement in public life—the Massachusetts health-care law—because its national manifestation, Obamacare, is anathema to the Tea Party and to the G.O.P. in general. He has tacked to the hard right on abortion, immigration, gun laws, climate change, stem-cell research, gay rights, the Bush tax cuts, and a host of foreign-policy issues. He has signed the Grover Norquist no-tax-hike pledge and endorsed Ryan’s winner-take-all economics.

But what is most disquieting is Romney’s larger political vision. When he said that Obama “takes his political inspiration from Europe, and from the socialist democrats in Europe,” he was not only signalling Obama’s “otherness” to one kind of conservative voter; he was suggesting that Obama’s liberalism is in conflict with a uniquely American strain of individualism. The theme recurred when Romney and his allies jumped on Obama’s observation that no entrepreneur creates a business entirely alone (“You didn’t build that”). The Republicans continue to insist on the “Atlas Shrugged” fantasy of the solitary entrepreneurial genius who creates jobs and wealth with no assistance at all from government or society.

If the keynote of Obama’s Administration has been public investment—whether in infrastructure, education, or health—the keynote of Romney’s candidacy has been private equity, a realm in which efficiency and profitability are the supreme values. As a business model, private equity has had a mixed record. As a political template, it is stunted in the extreme. Private equity is concerned with rewarding winners and punishing losers.  But a democracy cannot lay off its failing citizens. It cannot be content to leave any of its citizens behind—and certainly not the forty-seven per cent whom Romney wishes to fire from the polity.

Private equity has served Romney well—he is said to be worth a quarter of a billion dollars. Wealth is hardly unique in a national candidate or in a President, but, unlike Franklin Roosevelt—or Teddy Roosevelt or John Kennedy—Romney seems to be keenly loyal to the perquisites and the presumptions of his class, the privileged cadre of Americans who, like him, pay extraordinarily low tax rates, with deductions for corporate jets. They seem content with a system in which a quarter of all earnings and forty per cent of all wealth go to one per cent of the population. Romney is among those who see business success as a sure sign of moral virtue.

The rest of us will have to take his word for it. Romney, breaking with custom, has declined to release more than two years of income-tax returns—a refusal of transparency that he has not afforded his own Vice-Presidential nominee. Even without those returns, we know that he has taken advantage of the tax code’s gray areas, including the use of offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands. For all his undoubted patriotism, he evidently believes that money belongs to an empyrean far beyond such territorial attachments.

But holding foreign bank accounts is not a substitute for experience in foreign policy. In that area, he has outsourced his views to mediocre, ideologically driven advisers like Dan Senor and John Bolton. He speaks in Cold War jingoism. On a brief foray abroad this summer, he managed, in rapid order, to insult the British, to pander crudely to Benjamin Netanyahu in order to win the votes and contributions of his conservative Jewish and Evangelical supporters, and to dodge ordinary questions from the press in Poland. On the thorniest of foreign-policy problems—from Pakistan to Syria—his campaign has offered no alternatives except a set of tough-guy slogans and an oft-repeated faith in “American exceptionalism.”

In pursuit of swing voters, Romney and Ryan have sought to tamp down, and keep vague, the extremism of their economic and social commitments. But their signals to the Republican base and to the Tea Party are easily read: whatever was accomplished under Obama will be reversed or stifled. Bill Clinton has rightly pointed out that most Presidents set about fulfilling their campaign promises. Romney, despite his pose of chiselled equanimity, has pledged to ravage the safety net, oppose progress on marriage equality, ignore all warnings of ecological disaster, dismantle health-care reform, and appoint right-wing judges to the courts. Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices are in their seventies; a Romney Administration may well have a chance to replace two of the more liberal incumbents, and Romney’s adviser in judicial affairs is the embittered far-right judge and legal scholar Robert Bork. The rightward drift of a court led by Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito—a drift marked by appalling decisions like Citizens United—would only intensify during a Romney Presidency. 

The consolidation of a hard-right majority would be a mortal threat to the ability of women to make their own decisions about contraception and pregnancy, the ability of institutions to alleviate the baneful legacies of past oppression and present prejudice, and the ability of American democracy to insulate itself from the corrupt domination of unlimited, anonymous money. Romney has pronounced himself “severely conservative.” There is every reason to believe him.

The choice is clear. The Romney-Ryan ticket represents a constricted and backward-looking vision of America: the privatization of the public good. In contrast, the sort of public investment championed by Obama—and exemplified by both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Affordable Care Act—takes to heart the old civil-rights motto “Lifting as we climb.” That effort cannot, by itself, reverse the rise of inequality that has been under way for at least three decades. But we’ve already seen the future that Romney represents, and it doesn’t work.

The reelection of Barack Obama is a matter of great urgency. Not only are we in broad agreement with his policy directions; we also see in him what is absent in Mitt Romney—a first-rate political temperament and a deep sense of fairness and integrity. A two-term Obama Administration will leave an enduringly positive imprint on political life. It will bolster the ideal of good governance and a social vision that tempers individualism with a concern for community. Every Presidential election involves a contest over the idea of America. Obama’s America—one that progresses, however falteringly, toward social justice, tolerance, and equality—represents the future that this country deserves.