Friday, April 2, 2010

"operating in a vacuum"

Marshall: Only Simple Addition Will Do

It's not enough that folks from the Birther & Death Panel set have convinced many good folks that the Census is a secret plot to steal their lawn furniture. There's another irony waiting. Historically, the real problem with underreporting has been in underprivileged communities -- particularly African-Americans and Latinos and especially in large urban areas. To that end, conservatives have worked for the better part of two decades to stop the Census from taking any steps to correct numbers in the face of widespread non-response: namely, statistical sampling. And in the face of that pressure, the current Census Director has ruled out using sampling in the 2010 Census.

Now, it's hard not to appreciate some of the irony in right-wing lies about the Census coming back to bite them. But it's really a loss for everyone if everyone in the country, irrespective of race, creed, ideological persuasion, region and whatever else, doesn't get counted.

But if there really is widespread undercounting because of the antics of folks like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), it'll just be tough luck. There won't be any solution.

David Brooks:

Let’s say you’re a political consultant. You’re sitting there in your West Hollywood bondage-themed strip club with party donors picking up the tab, and, of course, you’re thinking about what a great country this is. Swept up in the spirit of gratitude, you decide you’d like to give back. You’d like to solve the country’s looming fiscal catastrophe.

It's been an unpleasant week at the Republican National Committee, and party staffers no doubt hoped they could ride out the recent embarrassments surrounding Voyeur West Hollywood, and move on to less salacious matters.

Not quite yet.

The Republican National Committee inadvertently sent a fundraising mail piece earlier this month with a return number that leads to a phone sex line offering to connect callers with "hot horny girls ... students, housewives, and working girls from all over the country."

"We love nasty talk as much as you do," says a woman's voice on the sex-line's audio recording.

Doug Heye, the RNC's communications director, said ... the mix-up happened when the direct mail firm replaced the RNC's "202" area code with an "800" area code.

To be sure, it's an honest mistake that could have happened to anyone. At least, I assume it was a mistake -- if the party uses bondage clubs to impress donors, I suppose anything's possible.

But what I find especially amusing about this is that the fundraising piece in question was made to look like a census form, as part of an RNC scheme to sucker their donors into opening the mailed appeal.

A voter in Minnesota received the mailer and called the number intending to complain about the attempt to raise money with a form that looks like a government document.

But the Minnesotan was instead directed to a second toll-free number that greets callers as "sexy guy" before offering them the chance to talk with "real local students, housewives and working girls from all over the country."

In other words, the Republican National Committee's deceitful fundraising tactic accidentally encouraged its donors to call "hot horny girls." It's a great example of sleaze being compounded by additional sleaze.

For the record, the RNC's fake-census letters were so sordid, Congress changed federal law to make such fundraising letters illegal. And that was before lawmakers realized the RNC was inadvertently promoting a phone sex line.


In the late-March poll, the "angry" population overlapped generally with those who identified as Republicans. They were overwhelming white (94 percent) and conservative (73 percent).

Many of those who listed themselves as "angry" said they felt Congress was operating in a vacuum, removed from the problems encountered by average people struggling against a tepid job market, sagging home values and dwindling retirement funds. About 85 percent strongly disapproved of the way Congress is doing its job.

Much of the language echoed that of the vocal, conservative "tea party" movement, as well as conservative talk radio and blogs...

"I grew up in the '50s," said Hugh Pearson, 63, a retired builder from Bakersfield, Calif. "That was a wonderful time. Nobody was getting rich, nobody was doing everything big. But it was 'Ozzie and Harriet' days, 'Leave It to Beaver'-type stuff. Now we have all this MTV, expose-yourself stuff, and we have no morality left, not even by the legislators."

When it comes to the constitutionally-mandated national census, all Americans will receive a pretty basic form to fill out, and it's important that they do. But there's also something called the American Community Survey (ACS), which supplements the census with more detailed information on demographic, social, economic, and housing trends.

Yesterday, right-wing blogger and CNN contributor Erick Erickson announced he would refuse to answer ACS questions if asked, regardless of legal obligations to cooperate with the Census Bureau. "I dare them to try and come throw me in jail," Erickson declared on a radio show. "I dare them to. Pull out my wife's shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at the door. They're not going on my property."

Remember, CNN pays this man to offer on-air political analysis. Indeed, the network has boasted of Erickson's "exceptional knowledge" and his "important voice."

Jon Stewart reflected on CNN's bizarre decision with a great segment last night.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
CNN Hires Erick Erickson
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care Reform

Be sure to watch to the end, when Stewart suggests the Erickson hire explains CNN's new slogan: "CNN: We Have No Idea What The F@#k We Are Doing."

Kurtz (TPM): Beyond Weird

As we were digging in to find out more about this Christian militia in Michigan called the Hutaree, we came across a bizarre 20-minute video on YouTube in which one of the defendants "stars." The creators seemed to fancy it as a low-budget movie, complete with what is supposed to be acting. But it's exceedingly amateurish and disturbing (our Zack Roth calls it "shockingly puerile"). To give you an idea, the opening scene includes accused militia member Kris Sickles, who sometimes goes by the name "Pale Horse," nearly nude with a George W. Bush mask stuck to his genitals.

Within a few hours of us stumbling across it, the video was yanked from YouTube, but TPM Reader AS had grabbed the file. We've posted a 5-minute excerpt here (NSFW).

It's difficult to describe the video. Think Jackass meets The Birth of a Nation. It leaves you wondering how these immature, crude, stunted personalities end up as radicalized militants. Or maybe that explains it.

Everyone, even shameless right-wing hypocrites, deserve the presumption of innocence. That said, Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, facing an ongoing FBI investigation, sure does look guilty.

Senator John Ensign sought financial backing for a troubled Nevada energy company in 2008, and at the same time he urged the company to hire his mistress's husband, according to people involved in the matter.

At the request of the company, P2SA Equity, Mr. Ensign had two senior aides contact one of the nation's largest oil pipeline businesses, Kinder Morgan, about forming a partnership, two executives associated with the project said.

Mr. Ensign's dealings with P2SA are at the center of a federal criminal inquiry into his efforts to line up lobbying work for Doug Hampton, a former top aide whose wife had an affair with the senator.

Investigators appear to be looking into whether Mr. Ensign sought to ingratiate himself with P2SA so that he could ease Mr. Hampton out of his office in Washington. Former Capitol Hill staff members like Mr. Hampton are barred from lobbying for a year after leaving their jobs, and if Mr. Ensign knowingly helped him evade that restriction, he could face ethics or criminal charges.

Two years ago, Ensign attended a breakfast meeting with top executives at P2SA, and a related company, BioDiesel. The Republican senator, desperate to find a job for his mistress's husband, urged the executives from both companies to hire Hampton as a lobbyist. At the same meeting, the executives said they were looking for money to build a new processing plant, and urged Ensign to reach out to a third company about arranging a financing agreement.

Ensign's office said last month that the senator had provided any assistance to P2SA. That now appears to be untrue -- the senator's office did as the executives asked and helped try to find a financing partnership for the company. At the same time, Ensign's team continued to press the companies to hire the senator's mistress's husband.

One senior Ensign aide reportedly told BioDiesel officials, "If you want John Ensign to work with you, you have got to hire Doug Hampton."

Let's not forget the larger context. Douglas and Cynthia Hampton couldn't work for Ensign anymore -- because, you know, the senator was sleeping with Cynthia -- so Ensign was apparently trying to help them make up the lost income. The allegations for months have been that Ensign leaned on corporate connections to hire Douglas as a lobbyist. Those allegations look more and more credible all the time.

Also note, there are laws prohibiting aides from lobbying for a year after leaving the Hill, but Ensign and the aggrieved husband seemed prepared to simple ignore the rule. For that matter, the senator used his office to cater to the needs of those who hired -- or were even thinking about hiring -- his mistress's spouse.

I'm well aware of the IOKIYAR rule, but I nevertheless have a hard time imagining how Ensign survives this scandal politically. Having sex with an aide, after running on a family-values platform, is merely humiliating. But the far-right Nevadan, as part of an apparent effort to clean up a personal scandal, seems to have broken a few laws -- and left a paper trail to prove it.

I know political reporters tend to care about these scandals only when a Democrat is involved, but we're talking about a controversy featuring a sitting senator's adulterous affair, plus alleged ethics violations, hush money, and official corruption. An ongoing FBI investigation appears to be heating up, and by some accounts, expanding.

Still waiting for that media frenzy to force Ensign to resign in disgrace.

DougJ: The long goodbye

Dan Quayle, of all people, has a piece in Kaplan about how woefully the tea baggers are being treated by the media:

Since the very first tea party gatherings, the national news media has covered this movement in the only way it knows how—as something grubby, impertinent and possibly dangerous. Of course, in any movement, violence and unlawful behavior are always to be condemned without reservation. But attempts to portray the tea partiers as a surly mob have the contrived feel of a political strategy.

That seems to be the theme du jour for conservatives, whether it’s Ann Althouse saying that Teabonics is a product of photoshopping or Lew Rockwell blaming Tea Party excesses on federal agents or Charles Lane favorably comparing baggery with pre-Civil War “extremism”.

It’s all a clear sign that Republicans will double down on the tea in 2010 in 2012 (you probably knew this already, but I’ve only become convinced in the last few days). None of this makes any sense as a long-term political strategy for Republicans, but it’s what they’re doing.


Not quite two weeks ago, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared on Fox News with a new warning for those concerned about health care reform:

"Ten billion dollars and 16,000 new IRS agents to make sure that everyone buys the health insurance that the government decides you have to have."

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) went a little further, saying there will be 16,500 new IRS agents, each of whom will be "armed."

Boehner and Paul were blatantly and shamelessly lying. looked into this and concluded that it's a "wildly inaccurate claim." The Affordable Care Act, the researchers concluded, "requires the IRS mostly to hand out tax credits, not collect penalties. The claim of 16,500 new agents stems from a partisan analysis based on guesswork and false assumptions, and compounded by outright misrepresentation."

The IRS' main job under the new law isn't to enforce penalties. Its first task is to inform many small-business owners of a new tax credit that the new law grants them -- starting this year -- which will pay up to 35 percent of the employer's contribution toward their workers' health insurance. And in 2014 the IRS will also be administering additional subsidies -- in the form of refundable tax credits -- to help millions of low- and middle-income individuals buy health insurance.

The law does make individuals subject to a tax, starting in 2014, if they fail to obtain health insurance coverage. But IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman testified before a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee March 25 that the IRS won't be auditing individuals to certify that they have obtained health insurance. He said insurance companies will issue forms certifying that individuals have coverage that meets the federal mandate, similar to a form that lenders use to verify the amount of interest someone has paid on their home mortgage. "We expect to get a simple form, that we won't look behind, that says this person has acceptable health coverage," Shulman said. "So there's not going to be any discussions about health coverage with an IRS employee." In any case, the bill signed into law (on page 131) specifically prohibits the IRS from using the liens and levies commonly used to collect money owed by delinquent taxpayers, and rules out any criminal penalties for individuals who refuse to pay the tax or those who don't obtain coverage. That doesn't leave a lot for IRS enforcers to do.

How'd this nonsense get started? Apparently, some Republican staffers on the Hill concluded that it may "may" be necessary for the IRS to add "as many as 16,500" additional employees to enforce the law. The GOP staffers apparently made up the number, based on bizarre assumptions.

From there, Boehner, Paul, and other assorted Republican voices on the Hill and on Fox News' payroll (that means you, Brian Kilmeade) began presenting this foolish claim -- and adding ridiculous details -- to Americans as if it were fact.

Is it any wonder the public is confused about the policy when professional liars have been spreading garbage like this?

Yglesias: De Rugy Responds

To recap a controversy I didn’t have time to fully explore yesterday, Veronique de Rugy, a veteran of various right-of-center think tanks, produced a study purporting to show that an overwhelming preponderance of stimulus funds were being allocated to Democratic congressional districts. Nate Silver retorted with an effective counterargument:

The three districts receiving the largest amount of stimulus funds are home to the capitals of the three largest states — New York, California, and Texas. Let’s pause for a moment and make a bold prediction. I’ll bet you that the district that ranks 4th on the list will contain the capital of the 4th largest state, Florida.

Bingo. Up 4th on the list is Florida’s 2nd Congressional, home to Tallahassee.

Fifth is Pennsylvania’s 17th, which hosts the state capital, Harrisburg.

The sixth through tenth districts contain the capital cities of other large states: Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, Illinois and New Jersey, respectively. They are followed by districts that include the state capitals of Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia — then another part of Austin, Texas — then Arizona, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Finally, in 19th place is South Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, which does not host a state capital.

Which is to say that clearly the stimulus reporting is done in such a way that all grants to state government are coded as grants that are “in” the state capitals even though in reality the beneficiaries of state fiscal aid (people who don’t have their sales and property taxes raised) are distributed throughout the state.

This would have been a good time for De Rugy to say “ooops!” but instead she offers a lengthy reply that barely acknowledges the weight of the evidence against her. Here’s her discussion of the issue:

I will also check for state capitals. While is no doubt that since the reporting only includes primary and sub recipients, it might be the case that money is being disbursed from the capitals. However, after skimming government documents about how the money is allocated there is no clear evidence that this is the case. I will look into it with Mr. Silver’s comments in mind.

Obviously opinions about what is and isn’t “clear evidence” can differ. But Silver has shown both that the eighteen largest recipient districts include state capitals, and also that the very largest recipients are specifically the capitals of the states with the largest population. That’s pretty clear evidence if you ask me. I would further add that though these are largely Democratic districts, they’re largely not districts represented by the most senior Democrats. Representatives from Sacramento and Albany and Tallahassee and Austin aren’t in the leadership and don’t chair important committees.


Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, spoke to Detroit Public Radio yesterday, and acknowledged a fact conservatives are generally inclined to deny. WDET's Craig Fahle brought up a variety of recent instances involving U.S. extremists, and it led to this exchange. (thanks to M.D. for the tip)

FAHLE: We've had a few incidents in the last year. You had the police officers in Pittsburgh killed by a gentleman who said he was concerned that the Obama administration was going to take away his guns. You have the recent incident where the anti-tax person flew a plane into the IRS building in Texas, killing a Vietnam veteran by the way.... So there have been instances of violence, and stuff that was based on anti- government feelings. Is this something we need to keep better track of, because many would consider these acts of domestic terrorism.

HOEKSTRA: They would, and they would be right. Those are acts of domestic terrorism. You know they've resulted in the death of Americans and they resulted, they came about because certain people were just very, very frustrated and angry with government and sure, we do have to keep an eye on that.

At first blush, this may not seem like much of a concession, but I'm actually quite pleased to hear it. For many on the right, an act of deadly, politically-motivated violence doesn't qualify for the "terrorism" label unless the perpetrator is (a) a non-American; (b) a Muslim; or (c) both.

Indeed, in the case of the deranged Texas man who flew a plane into a building, not only were conservatives reluctant to label this terrorism, but prominent conservative voices joked about the incident, expressed sympathy for the suicide bomber, and in Scott Brown's case, suggested the terrorist's motivations reminded him of his own Senate campaign.

Violent incidents from domestic extremists have been common enough of late that it's become difficult to keep track of them all. It's politically inconvenient for the right to label anti-government nuts as terrorists, which is why it was all the more heartening to hear Hoekstra acknowledge what is plainly true.

Of course, thinking about all the recent incidents of domestic terrorism, it's hard not to think back to one year ago. It was last April when the Department of Homeland Security published reports on the threats of potential violence posed by radical extremists. As I recall, conservative Republicans were apoplectic about the reports -- which were, by the way, originally requested by the Bush administration -- and some GOP lawmakers called for Janet Napolitano's resignation.

If these same Republicans who whined incessantly at the time wanted to apologize, I'm sure the administration would be gracious about it.

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