Thursday, June 12, 2008

Labor and Progressives responds to Obama's Furman Hire

This is fantastic news:
WASHINGTON -- Labor union officials and some liberal activists were seething Tuesday over Barack Obama's choice of centrist economist Jason Furman as the top economic advisor for the campaign. The critics say Furman, who was appointed to the post Monday, has overstated the potential benefits of globalization, Social Security private accounts and the low prices offered by Wal-Mart -- considered a corporate pariah by the labor movement.

Officials from several labor organizations phoned the Obama campaign to complain about the appointment and circulated e-mail messages containing quotes from some of Furman's work. Campaign officials responded that some of the quotes were inaccurate or out of context. They expressed confidence in Furman's abilities and said that Obama would be listening to an array of advisors.

The dispute is a fresh reminder that sharp divisions on economic policy remain in the Democratic Party, even though the bruising fight for its presidential nomination has ended. Those divisions are likely to present a recurring problem for Obama, especially as he tries to ward off GOP accusations that he is too liberal.

And Obama is not the first Democratic presidential candidate to confront the problem. Sen. John F. Kerry faced it in 2004. Going farther back, liberal activists resented former President Clinton's support for free trade, deficit reduction and other centrist policies.

Furman, 37, is linked closely to Robert Rubin, a Wall Street insider and Clinton economics aide who eventually became Treasury secretary. Rubin's views on global trade and deficit reduction riled liberal economists and labor activists, though his presence gave the Clinton administration valuable credibility in the business and financial communities.

"We are very much taken aback that Furman has been put at the head of this team," said Marco Trbovich, a senior aide to United Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard, whose support is considered crucial to Obama's success in heavily unionized areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota and other battleground states.

Trbovich worked with Furman during Kerry's presidential campaign, in which Furman was also an economic advisor.

"He is a very bright fellow, but he is an unalloyed cheerleader for the trade policies that have been very destructive to manufacturing jobs in this country," Trbovich said. "There are very serious concerns" about his appointment.

Perhaps the most enraging part of the record, according to Trbovich and others, were comments attributed to Furman on Wal-Mart.

In a paper presented in Washington, he suggested that there were some economic benefits from the company's low prices and other policies at a time when major labor unions had launched an anti-Wal-Mart campaign.

Furman worked most recently as a budget expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington heading the Hamilton Project, an economic policy research group. It was founded by Rubin, who now chairs the executive committee of Citigroup Inc.

Lori Wallach, a lawyer and leading opponent of free-trade policies, said the appointment was jarring from a policy and a political perspective.

"Furman seems like a liability, given his anti-worker writings and statements about Wal-Mart, fair trade and other middle-class issues," said Wallach, director of Public Citizen's global trade watch division.
From The New York Times:
Labor union leaders criticized the move, and said that “Rubinomics” focused too much on corporate America and not enough on workers.

“For years we’ve expressed strong concerns about corporate influence on the Democratic Party,”John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said Wednesday in a statement implicitly critical of the symbolism of the appointment, no matter Mr. Furman’s economic skills.

The Obama camp has cast Mr. Furman, 37, as an experienced operator in Democratic election campaigns, whose task is to tap the expertise of economists representing a broad spectrum of views. “My own views, such as they are, are irrelevant,” Mr. Furman said.

The Democratic Party often struggles to balance the conflicting demands of corporations and labor, and Mr. Furman’s appointment rang some alarm bells that Mr. Obama might be tilting toward the corporate side — a tilt that Mr. Rubin says does not exist. He argued in an interview on Wednesday that his views were essentially in line with Mr. Obama’s already stated policies.

“I totally support Obama,” Mr. Rubin said, acknowledging his long allegiance to Hillary Clinton. “I was not going to leave Hillary until she pulled out,” he said, adding: “I think Barack Obama is very well equipped to provide the presidential leadership that the country very badly needs in a rapidly changing world.”

Mr. Furman, who served as an adviser in John Kerry's 2004 campaign for president, came to his new post suddenly on Monday, moving hastily to Chicago, where Mr. Obama has his headquarters. Until Friday, he was director of the Hamilton Project, a policy research operation founded by Mr. Rubin, who is now chairman of the executive committee at Citigroup. Mr. Rubin provides financing for the project, along with other wealthy Democrats.

Of particular concern to labor is the Hamilton approach to trade. While labor wants restrictions that would preserve jobs, the Rubin camp wants free trade that might cost jobs but would be offset by a broader safety net channeling more income support and job training to the job losers. Mr. Obama talks of “fair” trade agreements that include labor and environmental standards, a position that falls short of what Mr. Sweeney has in mind.

In his statement criticizing Mr. Furman’s appointment, Mr. Sweeney said, “The fact that our country’s economic policies have become so dominated by the Wall Street agenda — and that it is causing working families real pain — is a top issue we will be raising with Senator Obama.”

This is a very good sign for the labor movement, we'll see how Obama moves from here to see if it's also a good sign for progressive economic politics in an Obama administration. One of organized Labor's problems has been it's inability to pressure the democratic leadership on labor issues, and stop the party from siding with big business interests. Well, clearly as this story shows that divide is alive and well, but the good news is that the labor movement is making their displeasure known, and hopefully that can serve as a warning the Obama campaign to stop fucking up.

Like I said, doing this isn't just the right thing to do, it's smart politics. It bothers becayse I think this stuff is horrific policy wise... but it bothers me just as much that he's associating with clods who think republican-lite economic policy will help him win elections. That's really dangerous, because these fucks obviously have trouble adding up their own win-loss records.

Here's how he recovers. At the start of next week, he goes to Ohio or Michigan, and he announces that he will co-sponsor a truly progressive bill, the TRADE Act. That would assure labor that he isn't selling them out (and making sure they give 110% to elect him) in addition to giving star power to an important piece of legislation. There's not a chance in hell of this happening, but hey, more free advice can't hurt right?


  1. It's nice to know that with regard to global trade we'll be voting in a one-party system. I hope he's not serious about this guy.

  2. Like I've always said, the man is not a progressive. I fear this is one of the first of a long string of future heartbreaks. But (sigh) he's what we've got.