Mar 25th 2010

An Optimistic Democrat's Guide to 2010

by Dylan Loewe

Dylan is a regular op-ed contributor for The Guardian

It's been a pretty amazing week for Democrats. And for those looking for more good news, there is plenty to be had on the horizon. Democrats are still facing an uphill battle in November; without a miraculous economic recovery or a deafening Republican scandal, Democrats are almost sure to lose at least 15 seats in the House and at least a couple in the Senate.

That's the best case scenario. The worst case is that they lose upwards of 30 house seats and as many as 8 senate seats. The difference between the two is stark. If the losses are on the lower range, the president will still have a good chance of seeing his agenda through in 2011 and 2012. But on the higher range, his entire legislative portfolio will almost surely come to a halt.

The difference matters. And with that in mind, there are some exciting things happening now that should give Democrats plenty of reason to feel optimistic.

Health Care: "A Big Fucking Deal"
At this point it's unclear whether the health care bill itself will be of value to the Democrats in November. A recent USA Today poll had Americans favoring the bill 49-40. But those numbers have yet to be reconfirmed by another poll. If Democrats (and the media) turn out to be better at explaining the health care law than they were at explaining the health care bill, the package has the potential to gain in popularity, perhaps even in the short term. That would, of course, have substantial implications for the outcome of the November elections. But even if health care reform's contents continue to get mixed reviews from the public, its passage still offers plenty of political value to Democrats this year.

Had Martha Coakley won her race, had the bill passed in January instead of March, it would have done so at a time when the Democratic party was deeply divided. Howard Dean was repeatedly calling for the Senate bill to be killed. So were Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz. So were Markos Moulitsas and MoveOn.org. Had the bill passed in January, it would have done so without the support of large portions of the American left.

But after spending eight weeks convinced that Democrats had failed, that the health care bill, however imperfect, was dead, the left rejoined the effort aggressively. The bill's ultimate victory was aided by liberal groups funding extensive ad campaigns and organizing to pressure wavering Democrats. By mid-March, 83% of MoveOn.org members favored the bill.

In December, MoveOn.org called for the bill to be killed. By March, they were fighting for it to be saved.

The end of the health care battle unified the Democratic base once again, and in success, it energized it.

And it did more than that. It proved that the mission of Obama campaign could be accomplished through the Obama presidency. It proved that change can happen in Washington even when Washington is at its worst. At a time when Democratic candidates are struggling, the party just had its proudest victory since 1965.

Job Growth on the March
A new Bloomberg poll found that nearly two out of three Americans believe that the economy got worse over the last year. It's actually gotten much better. As the Bloomberg article notes, "During that period, a bull market has driven up the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 Index more than 73 percent since its low on March 9, 2009. The economy grew at a 5.9 percent annual pace during last year's fourth quarter."

The recovery is happening, but the most easily translatable measure -- job creation -- has characteristically lagged behind. This month may very well be the end of that trend. The economy lost 36,000 jobs in February, but many economists have speculated that if not for the major snowstorms that battered the East Coast, the country would have experience positive job growth that month.

What didn't happen for February may very well happen for March.

At some point soon, the country is going to start experiencing six-figure job growth month after month after month. Until that happens, the public is likely to continue to feel pessimistic about the economy. But when it does finally happen -- as it may this month -- it could change the public's perception entirely.

What's Good for the Tea Party is Good for the ... Democratic Party?
Harry Reid is supposed to lose his reelection. He's been spending enormous sums of money advertising his accomplishments back home in Nevada, and in return, his standing in the polls has gotten worse, not better. He has a favorability rating worth retiring over.

But now it appears that the Tea Party has qualified for the Nevada ballot, and that a Tea Party challenger might change the outcome of the race. A recent Rasmussen survey found Reid trailing both of his potential Republican opponents by 13 points. But when you add a Tea Party candidate into the mix, everything changes. Reid goes from down 13 to up 4, with the Tea Party candidate taking 18% away from the Republican.

All around the country, in congressional districts that don't get the kind of national media attention one would expect from a Nevada Senate race, Republican candidates are under siege from within their own ranks. In some cases, that will result in far-right candidates getting nominated in districts too moderate for a Tea Party ideology. In others, it will result in third party challenges, in Tea Party candidates stealing votes away from the Republican nominee during the general election. In either circumstance, Democrats benefit.

The same force that has energized the Republican party will almost certainly be responsible for holding it back.

Republican Leadership Has Gone MIA
As retribution for the passage of health care reform, Senate Republicans have decided they aren't going to work passed 2:00pm. They've announced it. They've even found an obscure Senate rule that makes it binding. It sounds made up. It isn't.

It's one thing to obstruct policy. But this is obstruction without reason. Obstruction without purpose. This is not going to go over well with the public in 30 second ads.

In other news, Tea Party protesters called John Lewis a "nigger." They called Barney Frank a "faggot." They spat on Emanuel Cleaver. They tried to cut the gas line at Tom Perriello's house -- and cut his brother's line instead. They sent faxes of nooses to Jim Clyburn and Bart Stupak. They placed a coffin on Russ Carnahan's lawn. Ten Democratic members of Congress have had to get increased security.

You'd think that the Republican party would be falling all over itself to disavow these kinds of tactics. You'd think the Republican leadership would be smart enough to see how dangerous it can be to be affiliated with this kind of violence.

But they are nowhere to be found. Instead of denouncing the Tea Party, they are still trying to co-opt it.

Just because Democrats control Congress and the White House doesn't mean the Republican party is somehow impervious to public opinion. Already, a new Democracy Corps poll found that Republican favorability among independents has dropped 11 points. It's dropped 12 points on the generic congressional ballot.

If that trend continues, the conventional wisdom about November's outcome will be completely upended.

The 2010 Obama Agenda
The Democrats have put forward an ambitious agenda for 2010. New financial regulations, a major overhaul of education policy, immigration reform, and a comprehensive energy policy.

With so many issues moving forward at once, it's going to be more difficult for Republicans to demonize each piece of legislation as effectively as they were able to when health care was moving forward alone. And with each issue, the GOP faces serious potential pitfalls if they choose to obstruct and oppose.

The Republican party is going to have a very difficult time explaining their opposition to financial reform to swing voters. They are going to have an even harder time explaining their opposition to immigration reform to a Hispanic voting bloc that they already may have lost for a generation.

If they vote against education reform, they'll be voting against policies they have advocated for years -- like bringing accountability to teacher performance. If they vote against energy policy, they'll be voting against other pet policies -- like new domestic drilling and new nuclear power plants.

If Republicans vote yes on any of these bills, they hand an enormous victory to the president and the Democratic party.

But if they vote no, they hand a bruising set of liabilities to themselves.

We don't know exactly how things will shape up seven months from now, but we do know this: The Democratic party has seen rock bottom. January and February were rock bottom. From here on out, almost everything facing Democrats is upside.

Now as they march toward November, they do so with momentum at their back, the kind that can only come from a genuinely big win.

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May 23rd 2020
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May 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "LONDON – The new Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion ($547 billion) European recovery fund could turn out to be the most important historic consequence of the coronavirus. It is even conceivable that the deal struck between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron might one day be remembered as the European Union’s “Hamiltonian moment,” comparable to the 1790 agreement between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson on public borrowing, which helped to turn the United States, a confederation with little central government, into a genuine political federation."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "In April 2011, Donald Trump, then considering a run for the presidency the following year, said that he had sent investigators to Hawaii to check out rumors that President Barack Obama wasn’t born there, but in Kenya, which would disqualify him for the presidency. His investigators, Trump declared, “cannot believe what they’re finding.” I can find no record of Trump being challenged on this outlandish claim at the time. In the fall of 2016, Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, was convinced by his staff that he had to abandon this “birther” nonsense. He did so reluctantly, charging – also with no evidence – that such rumors had actually been initiated by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There, in a nutshell, is Trump’s modus operandi: he’s not just a liar but a fabulist, seemingly unconcerned with whether his fictions will be exposed. If they are, the world simply moves on as he invents fresh distractions."
May 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Li, a doctor, was purportedly silenced and chastised by Chinese officials for warning on December 30, 2019, about a new virus in the Wuhan hospital where he worked. When it became evident that he was on to something serious – so serious, in fact, that it ultimately killed him – the Chinese government changed its tune and celebrated Li’s bravery. If only that had happened sooner, the argument goes, the world would have avoided this horrific pandemic.................... But that’s not what happened."
May 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Jana Winter and Hunter Walker at Yahoo News broke the story that 11 Secret Service agents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Likely some of them served in the West Wing. This week it was revealed at that a US military valet who brought Trump food came down with the virus, sending Trump into a “lava level” rage. Two aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive. Some observers are afraid that the virus is circulating in the West Wing itself."
May 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much debate around the world about the source of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from a laboratory to Wuhan’s seafood market to some other form of animal-to-human transmission. While there is no proof (yet) that the virus may have been inadvertently released from one of the two biological research laboratories located at Wuhan, there is evidence that viral release has occurred in the past, and a host of additional data that point to a laboratory connection. "
May 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "A better bet is that nothing will be the same. Wealth will be destroyed on a catastrophic scale, and policymakers will need to find a way to ensure that, at least in some cases, creditors take part of the hit, a process that will play out over years of negotiation and litigation. For bankruptcy lawyers and lobbyists, it will be a bonanza, part of which will come from pressing taxpayers to honor bailout guarantees. Such a scenario would be an unholy mess."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "We need the twenty-first century’s two superpowers, America and China, to set the example, by burying their rivalry and uniting all of humankind around a collective response to the current crisis, and to those that await us. As COVID-19 has taught us, the old international system can no longer guarantee humankind’s safety and security. We cannot afford to be taught that lesson twice."
Apr 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "It should come as no surprise that Trump has abused his power in orchestrating the federal response to the pandemic. For example, he made sure that Colorado received 100 much-needed ventilators, and made sure that Colorado voters knew it, in order to help re-elect troubled incumbent Republican senator Cory Gardner.  More alarming, Trump effectively threatened to wage germ warfare against US Postal Service workers by denying them congressionally approved virus-mitigation aid unless the USPS quadrupled rates on packages. Trump’s actual target was Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post."
Apr 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "These ten risks, already looming large before COVID-19 struck, now threaten to fuel a perfect storm that sweeps the entire global economy into a decade of despair. By the 2030s, technology and more competent political leadership may be able to reduce, resolve, or minimize many of these problems, giving rise to a more inclusive, cooperative, and stable international order. But any happy ending assumes that we find a way to survive the coming Greater Depression."
Apr 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Federal Reserve will buy unlimited quantities of Treasury bonds, the Bank of England will purchase £200 billion ($250 billion) of gilts, and the European Central Bank up to €750 billion ($815 billion) of eurozone bonds. Almost certainly, central banks will end up providing monetary finance to fund fiscal deficits. The only question is whether they should make that explicit."
Apr 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "Even if you’re not enamoured with creepy crawlies, their gradual disappearance from the places they were once numerous is an ongoing crisis for the natural world. Insects and small invertebrates occupy the bottom rungs of most terrestrial ecosystems. As ecologist E.O. Wilson once observed, if you take away the “little things that run the world” then most of the creatures occupying niches further up the food chain will disappear too, and that includes humans. That’s why a 2017 study in Germany rang so many alarm bells – it reported a 75% decline over 27 years in the local biomass of all kinds of flying insects."
Apr 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "By 2000, China had already established near monopoly status on the manufacture of a whole range of products that the world rapidly consumes. Just a decade ago, 91% of all personal computers, 80% of all air conditioners, 74% of global solar cells, 71% of cell phones, and 60% of all cement were being manufactured in China. The world was hooked on Chinese-made products and the Chinese government had its way with foreign companies choosing to manufacture goods there, enforcing many draconian operating requirements in an environment that most companies would never have agreed to endure anywhere else."
Apr 20th 2020
Extracts: "Long before people and goods were traversing the globe non-stop, pandemics were already an inescapable feature of human civilization.........Nearly two millennia before London’s Great Plague, during the epidemic that killed at least one-third of Athenians near the end of the Peloponnesian War.............Epidemics not only ravage economies, but also throw societal inequalities into sharp relief, deepening deepen mistrust in the status quo........... Machiavelli, who witnessed – and probably died in – the plague in Florence in 1527, viewed the outbreak as the direct result of misrule. Criticisms of China, Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and others have echoed this sentiment....Others view epidemics through the lens of conspiracy theories. Marcus Aurelius blamed the Christians for the Antonine Plague. In Christian Europe, the fourteenth-century Black Death was blamed on the Jews......Despite these similarities, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to stand out in a crucial way: it is unlikely to upend the established order. The Antonine and Justinian Plagues encouraged the spread of Christianity throughout Europe. The Black Death drove people toward a less religious, more humanistic view of the world – a shift that would lead to the Renaissance. The Spanish flu prompted uprisings, massive labor strikes, and anti-imperialist protests; in India, where millions died, it helped to galvanize the independence movement."
Apr 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "From peddling disinformation about the virus to disbanding the National Security Council directorate overseeing pandemic threats, Trump has squandered multiple opportunities to get ahead of the COVID-19 crisis. The health and economic consequences that we are now experiencing have long been predicted. US intelligence analysts were warning about precisely this scenario for at least 12 years. But even they could not foresee that America would end up with a president willing to sacrifice so many lives on the altar of his ego."
Apr 9th 2020
EXTRACTS: ".........[1] The average bankruptcy takes 260 days to work out. During that period, businesses will have a hard time rebuilding.......[2]...consider the complexity of the global supply chain. More than 90% of Fortune 1,000 companies have at least one tier-2 (secondary) supplier in Hubei, the Chinese province around Wuhan.........[3]...disturbingly, 40% of all US corporate debt was rated BBB, just above junk, going into the crisis, while only 30% of the world’s outstanding stock of non-financial corporate bonds were rated A or above..........[4] Despite central bank interest-rate cuts, borrowing costs for companies are now rising dramatically. With further downgrades from credit ratings agencies all but guaranteed, especially with many big earnings announcements due after Easter, some companies will lose access to credit altogether. Moody’s estimates that the default rate for junk-rated companies could hit an astounding 10%, compared to a historical average of 4%......[5]...flu vaccines are relatively ineffective. They reduce your risk of becoming ill by 40% to 60%, compared to 97% for measles vaccines and 88% for mumps........[6] Lockdowns might end, while other measures like social distancing, limits on gatherings and travel restrictions continue – perhaps on a seasonal basis......[7] South Korea could be a glimpse into the future. It has so far avoided an Italian-style health crisis without a lockdown, but has still imposed various restrictions on the economy."
Apr 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "A recent study, published in the British Medical Journal, suggested that 78% of people with COVID-19 have no symptoms. The findings are in line with research from an Italian village at the epicentre of the outbreak showing that 50%-75% were asymptomatic, but represented “a formidable source” of contagion. A recent Icelandic study also showed that around 50% of those who tested positive to COVID-19 in a large-scale testing exercise were asymptomatic. Meanwhile, a WHO report found that “80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe infections and 5% are critical infections................The new BMJ study is seemingly different to the findings of studies from earlier in the pandemic, which suggested that the completely asymptomatic proportion of COVID-19 is small: 17.9% on the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship and 33.3% in Japanese people who were evacuated from Wuhan.”
Apr 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "Spooked by COVID-19, Americans not only stripped supermarket shelves of toilet paper and pasta, but also drove gun sales higher than ever. Apparently, many of these recent gun buyers never purchased a firearm before. Lobbyists for the US gun industry want gun stores to be counted as “essential” businesses, like food shops and pharmacies. A number of states have readily complied, as has the Department of Homeland Security. Jay Pritzker, Governor of Illinois, declared that “firearm and ammunition suppliers and retailers, for purposes of safety and security” should indeed be allowed to continue supplying these alleged necessities."
Apr 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "........until the health crisis is resolved, the economic situation will look exceedingly grim. And even after an economic restart, the damage to businesses and debt markets will have lingering effects, especially considering that global debt was already at record-breaking levels before the crisis began..............Given that the 2008 financial crisis produced deep political paralysis and nurtured a crop of anti-technocratic populist leaders, we can expect the COVID-19 crisis to lead to even more extreme disruptions. ............it is possible that stock-market losses so far have been less than those of 2008 only because everyone remembers how values shot back up during the recovery. But if that crisis does turn out to have been a mere dry run for this one, investors shouldn’t expect a quick rebound."
Apr 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "We are feeling the anxiety effects of not one pandemic but two. First, there is the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes us anxious because we, or people we love, anywhere in the world, might soon become gravely ill and even die. And, second, there is a pandemic of anxiety about the economic consequences of the first. These two pandemics are interrelated, but are not the same phenomenon......................a contagion of financial anxiety works differently than a contagion of disease. It is fueled in part by people noticing others’ lack of confidence, reflected in price declines, and others’ emotional reaction to the declines. A negative bubble in the stock market occurs when people see prices falling, and, trying to discover why, start amplifying stories that explain the decline. Then, prices fall on subsequent days, and again and again."