429 posts categorized "economy"

December 30, 2008

10 Phrases That Will Shape Politics In '09

In 2008, perhaps more than any year in history, words made a huge difference in politics.  If I had to pick one word that caused the biggest stir, my choice would be:  'lipstick.'  Yes, ma'am.  Sarah Palin's 'lipstick-on-a-pit-bull' moment at the 2008 Republican Convention rocketed her to the center of American life faster than Tesla Roadster, and will likely keep her there longer than most people would prefer.  Of course, more important than 'lipstick,' Barack Obama built the most significant election campaign in history out of the simple phrase: 'yes we can'--three little words whose iconic status will take up a well-deserved spot for posterity alongside 'I have a dream' and 'Nothing to fear, but fear itself.'  Yep, 2008 was a big year.  But what can we expect in 2009? 

Without further ado, here are the predictions from Frameshop of 10 words and phrases that will shape politics in 2009.

"Phased Withdrawal"
With so many voters believing they elected Barack Obama to get the U.S. out of Iraq, one of the first political phrases to be rolled out by the new administration will try to control expectations at home while setting in motion policy change abroad.  Already, the Obama-Biden transition team is using the word 'phased' to describe their gradual approach on a variety of policy areas, but the most prominent example is their proposal for Iraq.  'Phased Withdrawal,' will no doubt be presented to the American public early and often in 2009 and, as one might expect, will not satisfy very many people anywhere in the political spectrum.   Right-wing pundits will seize upon the phrase to attack Obama for being weak on defense.  Left-wing pundits will focus on the phrase to critique Obama for moving too slowly to end the U.S. occupation.  Oh, what a mess this debate will be. 

Health insurance is probably the influenza-stricken elephant in the room that nobody in American politics really wants to acknowledge, but this year the problem will grow too great to ignore.  With so many layoffs, the number of Americans without insurance will spike to even more shameful heights.  And yet, the real issue that will drive this discussion is not the un-insured, but the 'under-insured.'  This phrase will seize public attention because it will describe the rising panic amongst middle class families and retirees who have insurance, but are discovering at alarming rate that their coverage does not meet their needs. The realization that most people are 'under-insured' will sweep through America this year, leading to the first big moment of anxiety and impatience with Congress. While politicians have been able to hold the 'un-insured' at arms length, the 'under-insured' are increasingly organized and far more adept at making their concerns heard by politicians. 

With President Obama promising to invest massive amounts of money in public works projects, the big question on every state contractor's mind will be: Where's mine?  In an effort to explain to the public why some projects will get money sooner than others, the new administration and Congress will inject 'shovel-ready' into the media.  'Shovel-ready' is a great political phrase because it turns a very abstract concept--funding priority--into a very concrete image:  a steam shovel dropping its blade into the ground.  Moreover, by prioritizing projects that are 'shovel-ready,' the Obama administration will be able to re-frame economic investment in relatively non-political terms.  Despite having spoken about investing in 'green jobs,' the real test will be readiness, not environment--pragmatism, not ideology.   As one might expect, some green projects will be funded right away, but many will be not. Hence the phrase 'shovel-ready' will make environmental policy wonks (ehem...) hot under the collar.

"Civil Rights"
No matter how much Barack Obama says he supports civil unions for same sex couples, his inclusion of Rick Warren in the inauguration ceremony guarantees the the phrase 'civil rights' will dominate political debate for at least the first few months of 2009.  The terms of this debate have already been put in place by the 'Prop-8' campaign in California, and the fire will continue to spread. On on side, politically invested church group call for the 'definition of marriage to be protected,' claiming (falsely...as it happens) that 'marriage' has had the same meaning for 5,000 years (which, of course, it has not).  On the other side, activists for marriage equality call for the elimination of any barriers to civil rights.  This debate has an unexpected, if not very uncomfortable, aspect to it.  Many people who see their own identities through the lens of the Civil Rights Movement in the South, are offended by efforts to frame marriage quality in terms of 'civil rights.'   Given this situation, it is not difficult to predict many talking-head debates on the meaning of 'civil rights' to come in 2009.

"Bottled Water"
Believe it or not, one of the biggest trends of 2009 could be: drinking fountains.  The reason is that the phrase 'bottled water' is set to explode in the media as the environmental target for the year.  Driven by activists in the Great Lakes region and by environmental policy groups in DC, the anti-bottled water movement already has great momentum, but will take off big for summer.   Want to be cool at school this year?  Better get yourself an custom-printed, eco-friendly SIGG bottle.   Just like Exxon became the enemy of the clean energy movement, companies like Perrier will be the new environmental enemy of 2009.   It is likely that by the end of 2009, the White House and Congress will be pressured to eliminate bottled water altogether and return to water in sweaty pitchers and dripping glasses.  Why?  Because the critique of 'bottled water' is straightforward and the solution is easy as pouring a glass of water.   Actually, the solution is pouring a glass of water.

With credit card debt rising and credit card companies increasingly clamping down on delinquent accounts, a big story for consumer politics in 2009 will be 'layaway' programs at retailers.  'Layaway' is a ready made media feeding trough for a few reasons. First, it harkens back to days of yore when, instead of charging them to credit cards, Americans saved money to buy the things they could not afford ("Tell us another story, Grandpa!").  Second, while layaway works great for small retail items like toasters and TV, it is breeding ground for scams on large items like new cars.  Third, talking about layaway programs opens onto all kinds of political topics: middle class struggle, Depression-era conditions, bailout failure, and so forth.  By the end of 2009, the media-watching public can at least one high-profile story where a major retailer saved themselves from bankruptcy by promoting layaway on merchandise.  Politicians will not be able to resist talking about 'layaway' in this environment, because it provides a way to talk about 'responsibility' that is both new and old at the same time.  

"Digital Delivery"
Given all the hoopla over print newspapers failing in the economic downturn, the phrase  'digital delivery' will likely get lots of play in 2009.  Telling your readers that the paper that has always been tossed on their lawn by a pimply 13 year-old will now switch to 'digital delivery' is a way of saying, "We're bankrupt, but we're not giving up!"   But the larger discussion, here, is a topic that makes for good media banter: citizen journalists stealing market share from brick-and-mortar news outfits.  Moreover, Barack Obama is likely to be the most tech-savvy President of all time, and will no doubt be spotted in 2009 carrying a Kindle as he crosses the White House lawn en route to Camp David.   This incident will spark a whole series of media reports on the future of printed news and the rise of---'digital delivery.'   It may not seem like a big political story at first, but the coverage will lead to discussions between bloggers and print journalists about the future of political journalism, and likely open up the can of worms about the credentialing of bloggers at the White House and other high-profile venue. 

Americans already weary from trying to learn the names of foreign leaders and towns will need to swot up on Afghanistan once Barack Obama takes office.  Switching the focus of U.S. foreign policy from Iraq to Afghanistan is a slow moving freight-train that Democrats have been riding for several years, but it will finally happen in 2009.  As a result, the White House will need to inform the public on the new details of their policy, thereby pushing a host of names and places into the media.  Inevitably, there will be some setbacks and scandals as well.  As in any new military focus, Afghanistan is destined to create controversy in 2009.  Stay tuned, and keep your phonetic dictionary close at hand.

 "Zero To Five"

Although it may sound like a performance description for a new GM hybrid, 'zero to five' will be the heading used by the Obama-Biden administration for a bunch of education policy proposals aimed at boosting pre-pre-school programs for American toddlers.  By increasing funding for Head Start programs, day care, the new administration hopes to increase the number of working class children who succeed in school right out of the gate.  What could be controversial about this, you ask?  Shrinking the federal government's role in the education of America's children is a rallying cry for right-wing pundits, who will no doubt find a way to attack the new administration's 'zero to five' policies as being some sinister effort to 'indoctrinate' kids into communism (e.g.).  Pre-school children at the center of a right-wing media storm in 2009?  Stranger things have happened.

Global warming will continue to be a big issue in 2009, but the word 'sunlight' will take on a new meaning as a result of the massive effort by the Obama administration to include the public in the process of turning proposals into policy and law.  Already, the administration has set up an interactive website that allows citizens to ask questions about current issue, but the term 'sunlight' generally means 'secrecy and mystery begone.'  Federal contracts, corporate tax loopholes, lobbying influence, public spending, and the crafting of legislation are among the many things the Obama administration plans to expose to 'sunlight.'  Time will tell exactly how the process of governing will or will not change as a result of this new openness to and engagement with the public.  Meanwhile, including voters in the process of governing and shining 'light' on the scampering special interests who live in the dark corners of Washington--all that will make for plenty of good news copy in the months ahead, particularly on the Sunday talk shows.  If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the likes of Wolf Blitzer asking a White House spokesperson the ill-informed, but inevitable question, "Are you really going to hand over governing decisions to members of the general public?"  Ah, yes.  In 2009, the mainstream media will be roughly the same as it was in 2008.  Such is life.

December 05, 2008

An Open Letter To Ford Motor Company

TO: William Clay  Ford, Jr., Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company

RE: Leading A Real Discussion About America's Future

Dear Mr. Ford:

I write to you as a citizen concerned about America's future, at a time when so much seems to depend on the fate of the U.S. auto industry.

Continue reading "An Open Letter To Ford Motor Company" »

November 25, 2008

Obama's Economic Team (For Dummies)

If you are like me, you are following Barack Obama's appointees to top economic positions with keen interest, but cringe worthy ignorance about the actual posts these folks are about to take up. What the heck do these people do, anyway?  The following is a 5-minute Q&A Cheat Sheet on that very subject, written for those of us who should know what goes on in our government, but do not and are too embarrassed to ask.. Feel free to print out this cheat sheet and then email it to a friend with the subject line,  "I obviously know this stuff, but in case you don't."

Continue reading "Obama's Economic Team (For Dummies)" »

November 19, 2008

Mitt Romney's Ye-Olde-Times Plan For Detroit

In a Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times, Mitt Romney boldly invites Americans to view the auto industry through the economic lens of 1954.  As a foray into the troubled waters of the biggest industry crisis of our time, Romney's plan epitomizes how Republicans think about the economy:  by pretending we live in a Dickensian version of the Eisenhower era.  

Continue reading "Mitt Romney's Ye-Olde-Times Plan For Detroit" »

November 18, 2008

Rust-Covered Car Execs? Kick 'Em To The Curb

As Thanksgiving approaches and I watch the dire economic situation in Detroit unfold,  I keep having a recurrent thought:  Washington must try to prevent economic disaster for Michigan workers, but GM executives should get their gooses cooked.

There is no question that the collapse of the Big Three manufacturers in Michigan would have devastating consequences for millions of workers.  Bankruptcy proceedings for a huge company like GM, for example, would likely bring about a radical shift in retirement and health benefits to workers who gave their entire lives to American industry.  It is difficult to imagine anything more cruel and humiliating than that.  And yet, nobody with a conscience should shed a single tear for GM executives.

The history of GM executives throwing up roadblocks of arrogance in the face of change goes back half a century.  Perhaps the most famous example was the time management guru Peter Drucker came to write his masterful study of GM The Concept of The Corporation--and how GM executives ignored it with pigheaded ignorance.

Published in 1946, Drucker examined the dynamics of the new management style created by GM which had given rise to the enormous, centralized manufacturer.  John Kay of the Financial Times described the episode in a piece written shortly after Drucker's death:

The book was a bestseller. But its contents and its thesis were not what Sloan and Brown had envisaged. Both Drucker and GM understood that Sloan and his team had created the practice of modern management. Their organisational [sic] structures did not rely, as large businesses before GM had done, on the inspiration of idiosyncratic geniuses or on mimicking military hierarchies. These systems relied on professional managers with the same kinds of skills that were sought from lawyers, doctors or public service: refined intelligence, specific knowledge and commitment to professional rather than personal goals.

But while GM wanted to focus on the implications of these developments for the management of business, Drucker’s primary concern was with the consequences for the organisation of society. The professionally managed corporation was a new type of institution. Sloan and Brown wanted a description of its functioning to bequeath to their successors. Drucker wanted to explore the responsibilities of such an institution, and what rendered its enormous authority legitimate – questions his paymasters did not much wish to raise. GM ignored Drucker’s book.

Both questions – how best to run a large multidivisional corporation? and what is the proper role of business in society? – remain relevant. But never again would GM bring to them the intellectual firepower of Sloan and Drucker. The anti-intellectualism that Sloan’s team feigned would become real. In the 50 years that followed, General Electric, not General Motors, would pioneer the development of new management principles in practice. The results can be seen in the differing status of these corporations today.

(Financial Times, 29 November 2005)

John Kay was more polite than I would have been in that column when he used the word 'anti-intellectualism' to describe GM's executives.  I would have called them as idiots.

An executive cohort that willfully ignores advice to become more nimble,  innovative, and competitive to weather a shifting modern economy must be value idiocy over good business sense.

The fact that GM executives have barely begun to think about sustainable car models, production lines, and labor practices--while more nimble manufacturers elsewhere are already doing all three--points to the cancerous impact GM executives have had on the Big Three.

With decades of this retrograde management culture behind it, GM's executives have not only refused to understand change in the auto industry, but have also resisted understanding change in American society writ large. Perhaps the most important change has been the balancing of car production and use under the rubric of "sustainability."

What would it mean for GM to become a scion of the American sustainability revolution?  For starters, it would mean an embrace of a set of principles for sustainable industry with economy, ecology, and equality.

In theory, General Motors has already embraced sustainability as a founding member of the Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (SMSBF), although most Americans would hardly know it.  And yet, one might wonder how the continued investment in muscular, luxury hybrids does not undermine any possible commitment to sustainable manufacturing by GM's executives. 

One of the SMSBF reports available on the site discusses the organizations desire to shift the region towards 'Smart Growth,' defined in these terms:

Smart growth is community and regional land use planning that encourages:

• Mixed land uses
• Compact building design
• Housing opportunities and choices
• Walk able neighborhoods
• Distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
• Open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
• Direct development towards exiting communities
• A variety of transportation choices
• Development decisions predictable, fair and cost effective
• Community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions
• Minimizing impacts to the environment
• Improved economic competitiveness
• Brownfield Incentives

It is a great idea, except for one problem.  The SMSBF's idea of of Smart Growth--ostensibly endorsed by GM executives by virtue of their being a founding member--depends on a de facto agreement with the thesis that environmental degradation is caused by human factors, known more commonly as 'global warming.'  Too bad GM executives have spit on the idea of global warming in other contexts.

Robert Lutz, for example, a top GM executive in charge of much-talked-about Chevy Volt project only recently said that the theory of global warming, 'is a total crock of shit.' Even if GM executives put the company logo on a few sustainability forums, studies, and products, they spend just as much time dismissing sustainability as if it were a liberal hoax.

That Lutz is only one GM executive putz among many was made apparent by Carl Levin's (D-MI) recent statement on Meet The Press--that executives who ground GM into its current hole should be willing to resign if need be to facilitate a government relief package.  Levin was more polite than many would be at this point.  Like me, most Americans would just say:  GM execs?  Kick 'em to the curb. 

How can Washington play such a strong card on this issue?  For starters, the White House can convene a Presidential Forum on Sustainable Practice in the Automotive Industry and 'invite' executives from the Big Three to attend.  I put 'invite' in quotes because attendance at such a forum should be a prerequisite for federal receiving federal bridge loans.

The goal of such a forum would be to define a common set of principles for retooling the industry.  Moreover, the federal government should make it clear that it is not going to waste taxpayer time or money by listening to the same, arrogant and idiotic bunch of automotive executives that caused all the problems in the first place.  The Presidential Forum would, in other words, provide incentive and a deadline for GM, Ford, and Chrysler to ditch current deadbeat executives and replace them with management truly dedicated to sustainable practices.

Such a Presidential Forum would also make it clear that salvaging and retooling the automotive manufacturing sector in Michigan involves two steps:  short term loans, followed by long-term investment.  Executives who have hitherto thought of retooling as turning Cadillacs into luxury-hybrid-SUV Cadillacs--need not apply.

Ultimately, the new generation of automotive executives should be willing to do more than design electric cars. They must be willing and able to envison (1) a nation-wide revamping of automotive practices and (2) a state-by-state commitment to rebuilding environmentally sound, economically durable working communities.

Just imagine the floodgates of possibility opening were such a Presidential Forum were to be held.  All the innovative thinkers in the automotive industry would finally gather in one place, unfettered by the dismissive arrogance of the old school executives.   It would be the most exciting departure point for American innovation in decades.  It would also inject much needed optimism into a nation that knows it must embrace sustainable practice, but is not quite sure what that would look like.  Such a Presidential Forum would also be amazing for bloggers to write describe from the floor as it unfolded (ehem...hint, hint). 

As I see it, the next two weeks can lead to the worst Thanksgiving in recent memory, with millions of current and retired workers in Michigan worried sick about the future or--it can be a time of great optimism brought on by a massive and symbolic dumping of rusty automotive executives.

Washington and Michigan have a clear choice before them. 

July 03, 2008

Frameshop: The FISA...Situation

Just in case you were looking for a political issue to ruin your July 4th holiday weekend, but have yet to find a real doozy, allow me to introduce you to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008--which has sparked into a controversy engulfing the Congress, the Obama campaign and soon just about everything else.

In so many words, FISA (The Foreign Intelligence Security Act) passedin 1978 was abused by the President after 9/11.  The most high profile infraction involved a host of huge telecommunications companies who collected all kinds of information about the billions of phone calls going through their system and handed them over to the government--all on the idea that doing so was preventing terrorist attacks.  It was also (ehem) tantamount to shredding up the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, actions equivalent to surveillance in a police state, and--illegal, unless you believed the cockamamie 'unitary executive' theory that anything the President does is legal so long as the President says we are at war. 

Fast forward to H.R. 6304 (aka: "The Fisa Amendments Act of 2008) which, among other creepy provisions, would protect AT&T, Verizon and other telecoms from the 40 odd lawsuits pending against them for their alledged violation of the constitutional rights of their customers.  Seems like a no brainer that this should be booted out of Congress by the Democratic majority, right?  Well...that did not happen.

For reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, H.R. 6304  has been pushed by the Democratic leadership on both sides of Congress and supported by--so it seems and up to this point--by the Democratic nominee for President, Barack Obama.

All this led to a sizeable protest from supporters of Barack Obama.  While the rest of America packed water wings  for a weekend by the lake, over 15,000 supporters of Barack Obama (and counting) established a group on the My.BarackObama.com website called: Senator Obama Please Vote No On Telecom Immunity - Get FISA Right

Ahh...now you see the problem.  Campaign supporters of Senator Obama--many of whom have donated to the candidate multiple times--using the tools of the campaign to organize a political effort that criticizes the candidate's actions on the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.  Astounding.

Already, this effort has made headlines across the mainstream media, and I predict that the group will continue to grow in size until it reaches at least 25,000 members if not more.  Why?  Because supporters of Barack Obama believe strongly in civil liberties and they believed that Barack Obama believed in civil liberties, too.

This is a very, very tricky issue that is not easy to unpack, but let me try in several steps.

First step: The reason activists want to make sure the Telecoms do not get immunity is not because Democrats see AT&T, Verizon and the like as bad in isolation, but because these suits against the Telecoms are the only chance America currently has to bring to light the abuses of the Constitution that followd 9/11.  Telecom prosecutions for viiolating the law offer a way into the big issue of government abuse of ciivil liberties and, as such, offer a chance for the courts to officially strike down such heinous concepts as the 'unitary executive' put in place by President Buish and, as yet, largely untested.

Second step: Activists using the Obama website to influence Obama's Senate vote are using tools that were designed to help register voters and give the Obama campaign an edge in the 2008 Presidential election.  These activists support Obama and have said they will continue to do so, but they are effectively turning the campaign tools to a use the campaign never intended--albeit, they are engaging in the kind of citizen organizing that the Obama campaign wants to initiate with purpose built tools after the election.

Third step:  Even if the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 passes with Telecom immunity stripped from the provisions, it would be a terrible act vis-à-vis civil liberties.  The problem is, FISA was created in the first place to establish a court that could keep national security issues secret while still making sure the Executive Branch did not abuse its powers and violate civil libertiets. The Amdendments Act gives blanket provisions for the Executive Branch to opt out of FISA altogether in key instances. 

Fourth step:  There is a political argument to be made about passing the FISA Amendments Act of 2008--which is that doing so takes a political weapon away form the Republicans in the 2008 Presidential election.  That weapon is the oft-repeated canard that 'Democrats are weak on defense.'  To not pass a bill that 'strengthens' FISA can be construed by Republican strategiests as Democrats not acting on national security.  The problem is, even if Democrats post armed guards at ten meter intervals  across the entire continental U.S. and wiretap every phone, TV, computer, FAX machine, bank account, and portable sudoko device--Republicans are still going to accuse Democrats of being 'weak on defense.' 

Fifth step:  Given all this, the only logical thing seems to be to oppose this bill altogether, insist on a delay long enough to put forward another bill, and make sure that the new bill seeks to re-establish FISA as it was origionally intended:  a measure to make sure the nation was protected and that the Executive branch had a dedicated court system that could help make sure civil rights were  never violanted--by accident or on purpose--in the interest of protecting American citizens.

Phew!  That's a log to digest in one sitting--let alone while we are all trying to decide on 34 or 99 SPF sun lotion is best for the beach this weekend.

The Takeaway:  Restore FISA, Strengthen the Constitution
Amidst all this complex legislative and activist bruhaha, I am left believing that the best way to go is to insist that Congress 'restore FISA,' not come up with some new legislation that changes it to avoid all the complications of the last 8 years.

As a nation, it will be good for  us to go through the process of bringing to light the constitutional abuses that took place in the name of national security after 9/11.  That is a conversation this country sorely needs.  Any legislation that blocks that conversation--inadvertently or otherwise--is not one that will find much support.

Ultimately, what we want is a bill that restores FISA.  Nothing less will do.  A bill that protects Telecoms from suits incurred whenthey violated FISA--that undermines FISA and weakens the constitution.  Any short term political gain that  may (or may not) come of that will be undermined by the long term weakening of our national principles.

Should everybody sign up for the activist effort on the Obama website?  I leave that up to you.  That effort has been part of the process of bringing this issue to light--even if it seems to cross certain lines that may not be in the best long-term interests of the Obama campaign.

Frameshop thinks the best way to go is to stand with Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin who is working with Democracy for America to bring pressure on his colleagues.

You can support this effort by clicking on the badge and heading over to the Democracy for America petition page:

There you will find a video from Sen. Feingold and a way to support his effor to block the passage of a bill that would undermine FISA and weaken the Constitution.

And you can talk it up at the beach, too.

Continue reading "Frameshop: The FISA...Situation" »

November 08, 2007

Frameshop: Today's Newsmap (Open Thread)

Share your thoughts about Framing the Debate

Or just tell us what's on your mind...

September 11, 2007

Frameshop: In Memory


August 31, 2007

Frameshop: Dems Should Walk Away

According to the Washington Post, Harry Reid is again 'negotiating' with Senate Republicans about ways to end the nightmare on Baghdad Street often referred to as 'the war in Iraq' (i.e., it's not a 'war'--it's a burned-out military occupation).  What's up for negotiation this time? You guessed it:  Bush wants $50 billion more for Iraq.  Apparently, Republicans are willing to sit down and talk about legislation to get out of Iraq, with just a few conditions:  they refuse to use the words 'deadline' or 'timetable' or 'withdrawal.'  In other words, the Republicans are happy to negotiation with Democrats about ending the war on Iraq, but refuse to allow any of the words Americans use to talk about ending a war.

Now, I ask myself:  would I sit down at the negotiating table if the opposition put forward that kind of condition as their opening position?  Let me think...

Continue reading "Frameshop: Dems Should Walk Away" »

August 18, 2007

Frameshop: Orwell's Masterpiece on Coal Mining


The growing tragedy at the Crandall Canyon mine is enough to make anyone slump over in their chair and weep.  But do any of us really know what goes it means to be a coal miner?   In honor of the coal minors whose lives have been lost in Utah--and of all coal miners in America--I offer this diary reading of George Orwell's 1937 masterpiece The Road To Wigan Pier

Most people know Orwell for his writings about fascism or, for those who spend more time on it, for his writings about writing.  And yet, perhaps the greatest lines Orwell ever wrote are found in this book, wherein he describes the 'savage work' of coal mining.

As the miners and their families struggle in Utah, take a few minutes to read along with me.   This is a long diary, but I assure you it is well worth it to read this masterpiece by Orwell.

Continue reading "Frameshop: Orwell's Masterpiece on Coal Mining" »