Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bad Economic News, Good Political News

by Norman Markowitz

Unemployment continues to rise sharply. The Consumer Price Index(CPI) which began in 1947 (ironically the year the concept of a "cold war," and policies like the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act at home and the anti-Communist, anti-left Truman Doctrine abroad were instituted) had a
drop of one percent the sharpest drop in its history.

While workers and consumers will be happy to see the CPI drop (retirees who have their benefits geared to it won't) this is further evidence of the dangers of a global depression, which the outgoing administration is doing nothing about and the Republicans in the lame duck Congress are actively seeking to prevent Congress from doing anything about.

The good political news is that President-elect Obama continues to address the peoples crisis and call for a stimulus package. In a long interview on 60 Minutes on Sunday he re-iterated these commitments and asked if he believed in a balanced budget said that he did, "but not now" in this crisis, In 1932, Roosevelt also called for a balanced budget but soon came to realize that federal aid to the people and to state and local governments, along with serious regulation of capital, was necessary to face the depression.

Obama has appointed Tom Daschle Secretary of Health and Human Services. Daschle, a longtime progressive Democratic Senator and leader in the Senate from South Dakota (targeted and defeated by the right in his state) is an excellent choice for this important position, since it deals with health care and social welfare policy. His past leadership role in the Senate will make it much easier for the administration to carry develop a national health care program and other necessary social service policies (this contrasts positively with Bill Clinton who turned over the construction of a national health care policy to Hillary Clinton, with disastrous results). Unlike Clinton, Obama is carrying forward the transition in a steady way, starting early and moving forward.Eric Holder, former deputy Attorney General under Clinton, who has not yet been appointed but is strongly rumored to be so, is more complicated. Holder is the son of West Indian immigrants who grew up in the Bronx and attended Stuyvesant High School (one of New York's elite public high schools for outstanding students and Columbia University and Law School). After work with the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, Holder worked in the Justice Department as a trial lawyer under both Carter and Reagan and gained a reputation as a foe of corruption, a reputation which grew when he became Attorney General. Ronald Reagan appointed him to a Superior Court Judgeship in the District of Columbia and in the first Clinton administration he served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

In private practice since 2001, Holder has represented powerful corporate clients, and has been involved as the attorney for Chiquita Brands in settling a Justice Department Case against them for supporting Colombian death Squads with a guilty plea and a twenty-five million dollar fine. That and the fact that he was initially appointed by Ronald Reagan will no doubt lead to criticism from the left, criticism that in the latter case Holder, in terms of Chiquita particularly and his other corporate clients, deserves to be questioned on, if he gets the nomination. Republicans are currently attacking him for his alleged involvement in Bill Clinton presidential pardon to corrupt financier Marc Rich (whose wife had been an important Clinton contributor). From my readings, there is very little there, and I doubt that they will criticize Holder's corporate clients.

But, from my readings, this is on far more important questions, a decent nomination. Holder has strongly criticized over the last four years the so-called U.S. Patriot Act, the use of torture as part of the policy of fighting "terrorism" and the violation of Habeas Corpus in government surveillance policy. If nominated, he would, based on his record, reverse the anti-civil liberties anti-civil rights policies of the Bush administration, which is the most important assignment for the next Attorney General.

Discussions continue concerning Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. While I would consider Bill Richardson a much better choice among those who have been suggested, Clinton would be implementing Obama's policy, not making her own. She would also be out of the Senate and not be in a position to play an obstructionist role against the administration (Lincoln in 1861 put his major opponent for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860 into his cabinet as Secretary of State, something that President Elect Obama well knows).

We can expect the administration at the top to be a mix of progressive and organization Democrats, similar to the early New Deal, except there a number of the leading progressives were former Republicans and/or independents. In the sub agencies, at the lower echelons, the New Deal from the beginning drew progressive activists, militants from labor and a variety of social movements which had been savagely attacked from WWI through the 1920s. Similar activists have been inspired by the Obama campaign and played a leading role in making Obama president. Now, hopefully they and we can act to make Obama, in the tradition of Lincoln and Roosevelt, a great president for the people, unlike Coolidge, Reagan and Bush, who were "great presidents" for the corporations and the rich until the money began to stop in 2008 in ways that are reminiscent of 1929.