Ben Buchwalter

Is Party Affiliation Important? For Specter, Absolutely.
March 25, 2009, 8:23 pm
Filed under: 2010 and 2012, Congress, Republicans

Things are looking bad for Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. Club for Growth Chairman Pat Toomey  said recently that he would challenge the moderate Republican when he’s up for reelection in 2010, and a Quinnipiac poll released today showed Specter trailing the ultra-conservative wingnut by 14 points.

Right wing aside, though, Specter is very popular in Pennsylvania and was expected, until recently, to win reelection pretty easily. That is, if he survived the Republican Primary.

So this raises the question: should Specter follow in Joe Lieberman’s footsteps and run as an independent? Lieberman was forced to do this when he lost in 2006 to Democratic challenger Ned Lamont in the primary. Lieberman’s popularity in Connecticut carried him through, though, and he won the general election easily.

What’s the benefit of staying with the Republican Party as opposed to becoming an Independent? Well, for a popular incumbent in a solid blue or red state, the benefits are negligible. The GOP candidate in Connecticut, Alan Schlesinger, never had a chance and even failed to get a strong endorsement from the Bush White House.

But Specter’s situation is nothing like Lieberman’s. As we know from the “battleground state” moniker often bestowed upon Pennsylvania, statewide elections are always close, making way for moderates like Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, a Democrat. Democrats will always get a lot of votes, and Republicans will always get a lot of votes. So for Specter to remain a viable candidate as an Independent, he would have to keep 90% of his supporters even while losing funding and support from the Republican Party.

So I’d say that it’s Republican Party or bust for Specter. He’s screwed unless he finds a way to cuddle up with Pennsylvania conservatives some more. This explains why he said yesterday that he would vote against the Employee Free Choice Act, which he has supported in the past.  Expect to see Specter lurch dramatically to the right a lot more in the next year and a half.


Economy’s Impact on Charitable Giving
March 24, 2009, 7:57 pm
Filed under: Barack Obama, Economy | Tags: , ,

I really enjoyed Obama’s press conference tonight. I joked on Twitter that press conferences were more interesting when our Prez was a dolt. But really, I like it better this way (well, who doesn’t?). I thought one of the most interesting questions of the night came from Politico’s Mike Allen. The essence of his question (and I don’t have the text in front of me) was whether the implementation of progressive taxation would negatively impact charitable giving. The idea being that the country’s wealthiest individuals could be less likely to give to charity if their taxes are raised.

Obama said he didn’t agree with this reasoning at all. Raising taxes on the top 5% will not run them into the ground. Yes, people are saving everywhere they can and the current economic climate won’t be good for charitable giving. But that cuts across the board regardless of how people are taxed. Obama rightly concluded that what will permanently harm individual giving is allowing the economy to continue to tank. So if we think creatively about how to get us out of this mess, even if it means raising taxes a bit on the wealthy, then we could get out of this crisis faster and more permanently.

I was glad to hear Obama stick to his guns advocating for progressive taxation.

Union Day is Coming!
March 22, 2009, 8:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Did you know that six states dedicate a whole month (April) to Confederate History? And did you know that of the plurality of southern states that celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, two – Texas and Arkansas – celebrate it on January 19, also known as Martin Luther King Jr. Day? If you knew this, then it probably disgusted you. If not, then you probably just learned, and are disgusted.

I read in the Tribune today that a movement is fomenting in the South to extend Confederate Memorial Day in time for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in 2011.

These people want to set the record straight. They weren’t all bad! Take it from a credible source: commander in chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Charles McMichael. McMichael worries that “the Confederacy has gotten a bad rap because we ended up on the losing side and therefore the wrong side of history.”

NOPE! You didn’t get a bad rap because you lost. You got a bad rap because your side happened to fight for slavery under the guise of states rights. The bad reputation of the Confederacy is very well deserved.

This got me thinking. Why don’t we normal freedom-loving Americans celebrate the end of the Civil War? Consider this an official call to mark April 9, the day General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox,  as Union Day.

Earth Day 2
March 22, 2009, 3:48 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Old Tom Joad Calls for Nationalization
March 17, 2009, 9:14 pm
Filed under: Economy

As the economy took a dramatic turn for the worst in the past few weeks, prompting “tent villages” to sprout up in cities like Sacramento and Seattle, I had an unavoidable urge to re-read The Grapes of Wrath. I’ve only just begun, but one passage jumps right off the Kindle.

When a man comes to kick the Joads off their land – the land they lived on for generations – they don’t take too kindly to it. They ask, who is behind this decision to kick us off our land and make us starve? Surely, the men in charge of the banks have families and understand that you can’t just strip people of their livelihoods for no good reason.

They get this response:

No, you’re wrong there – quite wrong there. The bank s something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.

This is where capitalism falls short. In the past three decades, international events have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that capitalism is the best way we know to run a government. But there is something inherently harsh, mean, and inhuman about it.

I think that the majority people – even those most horrified by the actions of executives from Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG – would argue that we can’t do away with capitalism, which is essential to promote competition and keep us moving forward. So why, then, are we so angry at the banks that caused the financial crisis? Is it really appropriate to condemn financial institutions for doing what is central to capitalism – to make a shit-ton of money?

Well, yes. Even though these newly failed financial institutions were prime examples of capitalism for a while, we now know that their business model was incredibly unsustainable. If you make a lot of money for a few years and then lose it all, you don’t count for much IMHO.

The big problem here is that major financial institutions have too much power. If these businesses fail, everyone is screwed — even those who had nothing to do with them. We have given God-like power to people who are driven purely by capitalism to make as much money as possible.

So maybe nationalization of the banks isn’t such a terrible idea. If banks were nationalized, at least at least they’d be run by political appointees who would only keep their jobs if they kept things running smoothly and transparently.

But to me, the most comforting aspect of bank nationalization is that government does not run like a business. In government, people — not profits — are the most important factor. That’s why we pay taxes for Social Security, Medicare, and other social welfare programs. In government, you won’t see as many risks and massive profits, but you also aren’t likely to see massive economic destruction.

Government looks out for the Joads because government relies on their vote. Financial institutions as they currently exist, though, operate in an inhuman world that allows the Joads to starve because their land won’t produce crops. We shouldn’t accept this inhuman system simply because its the best way we know.

Maybe its time to give nationalization an honest try.

March 6, 2009, 2:09 pm
Filed under: Economy | Tags: ,

Kyle’s blog recently posted the above graph showing the Dow since 1928. I was struck by the fact that the Dow remained under 2,000 until the second half of the 1980s. But as far as I know, we did not spend half of the 20th century in a jobs crisis.

So here’s my thought (and I recognize that I might be WAY off base on this):

As the Dow continues to drop closer to 6,000, maybe we need to reconsider the ideal endgame here. Maybe the goal should not be restoring the Dow to 10,000 or above, but to learn how to create jobs in a world where the Dow is below 7,000, as it was before the mid 1990s. If we could do it then, something tells me we can do it now.

As of February 1997 (when the Dow was roughly where it is now), the unemployment rate was 5.2%. We learned today that as of February 2009, the unemployment was 8.1%.

The Dow is not the best way to judge our economy. But as far as I’m concerned, the lower the unemployment rate is, the better our economy is. So when do we decide that rocketing back above 10,000 isn’t going to happen and start to adjust?

I’d love for someone who knows a lot about this stuff to explain.

This is just to say…
March 4, 2009, 9:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

That I am still going to post on this blog. But since I am working at a blog all day now, I will definitely not post as frequently. Keep checking in, though. I’ll try to write at least a few times a week.

For now, check me out at TPMmuckraker.