Category Archives: Politics

Auto Sales Up: Dealers Should Thank the U.S. Government (But They Won’t)

The New York Times reported this week that “October was the best month for new-vehicle sales in more than two years, outside of the brief period in 2009 helped by government rebates.”

Sales for the auto industry were up 13.4 percent over all from a year ago.  Sales for General Motors rose 4.2 percent, sales for Ford Motor Company were up 19.3 percent, and sales for Chrysler jumped 37 percent.

General Motors’ vice president for sales, Don Johnson, was confident that the American Auto industry has recovered from the economic crisis that left them on the brink of total collapse less than two years ago; “Signs are there that the recovery continues and that it will be sustained,” said Johnson. “We don’t see a big risk at all of a double dip.”

It looks like federal intervention saved the U.S. Auto industry.  You would think that American auto dealers would be grateful — out of patriotism or self-interest or both.

Think again.

Those U.S. flags they like to wave at auto dealerships don’t mean “thank you.”

Instead of thanking the federal government, auto dealers continue to be  some of the largest contributors to far-right, anti-government Republicans, who rail against the very programs that pulled them from the brink of collapse.

This right-wing, anti-government hypocrisy on the part of auto dealers is especially true here in Orange County, where auto dealerships — like Irvine Auto Center — have often served as staging locations for Tea Party rallies, and where our local  car-salesman-in-chief, auto dealer and Congressman John Campbell, continues to blast the federal government for providing the money that kept his family auto dealership alive.

My Kenyan Birth Certificate — Revealed!

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Auto Dealers Ending Their Cash for (Political) Clunkers Program

cash-for-clunkers-we-can-helpThe nation’s largest auto dealers association has apparently decided to end its long standing participation in the Cash for (Political) Clunkers program.

An historically dependable source of income for Republicans in the House and Senate, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) has long contributed about twice as much to Republican election campaigns than to Democrats.

In 2008, the NADA gave $968,000 to Democrats and $1,892,000 to Republicans ($923,000 to House Democrats and $1,679,500 to House Republicans; $45,000 to Senate Democrats and $212,500 to Senate Republicans).

In 2006, the results were similar – the NADA gave $842,600 to Democrats and $1,978,500 to Republicans ($752,600 to House Democrats and $1,827,000 to House Republicans; $90,000 to Senate Democrats and $151,500 to Senate Republicans).

The ratio was also similar in 2004 – the NADA gave $714,500 to Democrats and $1,888,800 to Republicans ($630,500 to House Democrats and $1,698,800 to House Republicans; $84,000 to Senate Democrats and $190,000 to Senate Republicans).

But for the 2010 election, the Auto Dealers’ political contributions have dramatically shifted gears.

So far, the NADA has given $134,300 to Democrats and only $43,000 to Republicans.  This figure includes $101,800 to House Democrats and $43,000 to House Republicans, and $32,500 to Senate Democrats and nothing at all to Senate Republicans.

The reasons for this unprecedented shift in the Auto Dealers’ political allegiance is pretty obvious: The Republicans have told Detroit and the nation’s auto dealers to drop dead, opposing both the Obama administration’s bailout of the U.S. auto industry and it’s hugely popular “Cash for Clunkers” program.

Here in Orange County, Republicans in Congress have benefited enormously in the past from the NADA’s political contributions.

In 2008, John Campbell (R-48th CD) – an auto dealer himself — received $10,000 from the NADA, which was the largest amount they gave to individual campaigns that year.  In  2006, the year that he was elected to his first full term, they gave Campbell $20,000, also the largest amount given to any campaign and twice as much as they gave to anyone else.

Dana Rohrabacher (R-46th CD) received $7,500 from the NADA in 2008, $5,000 in 2006, and $10,000 in 2004.

Ken Calvert (R-44th CD) also received $7,500 from the NADA in 2008, as well as $5,000 in 2006 and $5,000 in 2004.

What did the auto dealers get for their money?

Recently, not much.

On the Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act, the auto bail out bill, Campbell voted “present” (citing his personal financial interest), while criticizing those who voted in favor.

Calvert voted “No,” calling it the “nationalization of the auto industry,” and Rohrabacher did not bother to vote at all.

On the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save (CARS) program (the Cash for Clunkers bill), Campbell did vote “Aye” against his party, (apparently no longer concerned about his personal financial stake in the auto dealer business), as did Calvert, but Rohrabacher voted “No,” complaining that the bill is “nothing more than a subsidy to prop up auto manufacturers, many of which have already received billions in taxpayer money.”

As we get closer to the 2010 campaign, we’ll see whether the auto dealers again make the mistake they’ve made in the past of giving cash to these political clunkers.

So far, it seems that they’ve shifted gears and are driving in another political direction.

Across America’s Racial Divide: Michael Jackson, Rest in Peace

michaeljackson.01Barack Obama has certainly brought Americans together in unprecedented ways, but America’s black and white racial divide still exists.

And every once in a while, an event happens that starkly reveals how just deep this racial divide remains.

The untimely death of Michael Jackson is such an event.

Last week, at a meeting of progressive Democrats in Southern California, I heard speaker after speaker bemoan the fact that Michael Jackson’s death had taken over the cable news, shunting to the side what they believed to be obviously more significant topics – the revolt in Iran, the fight in Congress for new health care legislation, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I see similar comments from many of my politically progressive Facebook friends.

None of them seems remotely aware that their disdain for the wall-to-wall news coverage of Michael Jackson’s death is a reflection of their own racial perspective – or that black people might view it differently.

For many, perhaps most, white people, Michael Jackson was, at best, a fading pop star and entertainer, someone whose music and persona they may have liked in their childhood but not now.

For black people, Michael Jackson was, and remains, a cultural figure of heroic, almost mythic, proportions, someone who changed not just music but the world, and who tirelessly worked for African and African-American causes and charities.

Today Michael Jackson will be honored and memorialized as a hero.

As a white American, I may not really get it.

But I get why I don’t get it.

And for that reason, I give my respects today and I say:

Michael, Rest in Peace.

Is Sarah Palin Coming to Your Neighborhood? (California, Here She Comes!)

palin.terminator1.If I’m correct that Sarah Palin resigned as Alaska governor in order to lead a right wing movement that is ostensibly independent of the major political parties, then the next question is: where will she establish her new home and base of operations?

The Northeast is too liberal, the South is too connected to racial politics (and there’s too much competition for conservative leadership and not enough big money), Washington, D.C., is too much of an enemy camp, and the Midwest doesn’t have enough access to the media.

Texas is certainly a possibility, but I don’t think she’ll want to compete for power with the Bush clan.

Florida also is a possibility, but I don’t think she’ll want to compete for conservatives with both Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist.

Utah is solidly Mitt Romney and Mormon territory, and Arizona belongs to former running mate (and now political rival) John McCain.

And while Idaho might have the most ideologically receptive population, it is so far off the media radar that she might as well stay in Alaska.

That leaves California.

Specifically, Southern California.

And more specifically, Orange County.

Orange County is rich, conservative, and close to Los Angeles’ enormous media network.

And California has no nationally known conservative political figure (Arnold doesn’t count) to offer her any real competition.

In fact, the California Republican Party is so fractured because of the budget battle and the hang-them-all ideology of its tea party militants that the Republican establishment wouldn’t be able to offer any real competition to Palin’s brand of radical right-wing conservatism.

It might be very bad news for more moderate Republicans like Meg Whitman and for the statewide chances of the Republican Party, but you can bet that John and Ken would welcome her with open arms (and air waves).

Are you ready for the new Terminator?

California, here she comes!

Sarah Palin Declares Her Independence

palin.flag.01Sarah Palin is not done causing headaches for the leadership of the Republican Party.

In fact, my guess is that she is going to cause them far more pain in the near future than they or the media could ever have imagined.

At this point, politicians and the press are trying to decipher Palin’s motivation for her stunning announcement yesterday that she is resigning as governor of Alaska.

The standard analysis is that she is resigning in order to concentrate her efforts on securing the Republican nomination for president in 2012.  As Bill Kristol told Fox News after Palin’s speech: “We just saw the opening statement of the 2012 campaign.”

Others — including NBC’s Andrea Mitchell — think Palin is stepping away from politics for good.

And some claim that Palin is resigning because of soon-to-be-announced scandals, including an alleged federal criminal investigation into the rebuilding of Palin’s home.

I think they’ve all missed the forest for the trees.

Sarah Palin isn’t done with politics.

But she might well be done with the Republican Party.

Rather than relying on alleged experts (who are not in Palin’s close circle) or taking the supposed word of unnamed sources, I suggest that the best indication of why Palin resigned – and what she plans to do – comes from Palin herself.

In her speech, she specifically states that she is not stepping away from politics.  On the contrary, she repeatedly emphasized that she going to continue to work to “effect positive change,” although it would be from “outside government at this moment in time.” She was, she said, following in the never-give-up tradition of General Douglas MacArthur.  “We’re not retreating,” she said, “we are advancing in another direction.’” (As the New York Times points out, Palin got the author of the quote wrong; it was not said by MacArthur, but by Maj. Gen. Oliver Prince Smith.)

She also was clear about the kind of “positive change” she planned to effect: she was going to continue to fight against “the heavy hand of federal government [intruding] into our communities with an all-knowing attitude,“ fight against “the obscene national debt that we’re forcing our children to pay because of today’s big government spending,” and “protect states’ rights, as mandated in the 10th Amendment.”

As she did during the 2008 campaign, Palin cast herself as the champion of the people: those  “hardworking, average Americans fighting for what’s right” and those people “who still believe in free enterprise and smaller government and strong national security for our country and support for our troops and energy independence and for those who will protect freedom and equality and life.”

In other words, Palin sounded much same as she did during the presidential campaign – and she certainly didn’t sound like a person getting out of politics.

But there was a difference from her speeches during the presidential campaign.

And the difference involves the political party that she supports.

In her resignation speech, Palin said: “I’ll work hard for and I’ll campaign for those who are proud to be American and who are inspired by our ideals and they won’t deride them. I will support others who seek to serve in or out of office, and I don’t care what party they’re in or no party at all, inside Alaska or outside of Alaska.”

Repeatedly referring to her course of action as “unconventional,” “a new direction” and “no more politics as usual”  — and comparing her actions to those of William H. Seward, (Lincoln’s Secretary of State who negotiated the purchase of Alaska  — ”Seward’s Folly”), who took the “the uncomfortable, unconventional but right path to secure Alaska, so that Alaska could help secure the United States” — Palin dropped clue after clue that, like Seward, she too was going to take an “uncomfortable, unconventional but right path” to “help secure the United States.”

I think Sarah Palin told us what she is planning to do.

Yes, she is running for President.

But not necessarily as a Republican.

Sarah Palin has declared herself the leader of a movement, not merely a political party.

It was not a coincidence that Palin gave her speech on the weekend of Independence Day.

She just declared her independence from the Republican Party.

The New Attack on Democracy: What the Founders Knew But We’ve Forgotten

constitutionOne of the foundational principles of American democracy is under attack.

When the nation’s Founders crafted the United States Constitution in 1787, they were careful to include a requirement that:

“The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States.” (Art I, Sec. 6, Clause 1).

A similar provision for compensation applies to the president:

“The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.” (Art II, Sec. 1, Clause 7).

The Founders understood that providing compensation for the new government’s elected officers was not a trivial matter, but an essential and cutting edge principle of the new democracy that they were striving to create — and one that directly and profoundly affected the kind of people who would be willing and able to serve as representatives of the people.

They knew too that no other nation on earth insisted on compensation for its elected officials.

In England, members of parliament as a rule served without pay.  In colonial America, candidates for public office usually followed the practice of their English counterparts and promised to serve without compensation.  In the states themselves, only Pennsylvania provided for “wages” from the “state treasury” to “all lawmakers.”

The Founders knew that this English aristocratic practice of not paying public officers created an enormous disadvantage for less wealthy candidates who could not afford to serve without receiving an adequate income for their efforts.

The Founders did not want public service to be a genteel avocation reserved for men of independent wealth, as it was in England, but wanted instead to create a system in which – as James Madison said – public office would be open to “those who have the most merit and least wealth.”

Fueled by the rhetoric of anti-government and anti-egalitarian demagogues (mostly in or allied with the Republican Party), this foundational and deeply American egalitarian principle is now under attack in this country – especially in California, where voters are responding to the state’s budget crisis by cutting the salaries of legislators and city officials, and where our billionaire governor constantly rails against legislative salaries and supports a 10 percent pay cut in legislative compensation.

But as the Founders knew – and we clearly have forgotten – adequate compensation for public officials is an essential element of a democratic government.

Cutting the salaries of public officials will mean that only the rich will able to serve – and when only the rich can serve, we will have the opposite of the government that Madison envisioned – one in which our representative have “the most wealth and the least merit.”

The Founders would not be pleased that the people are now so willingly – even eagerly – abandoning one of the fundamental principles of the American democracy that they fought to create.