Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tearing the social contract apart

Christopher Hayes:

Aside from the practical consequences of altering the incentive structure, the Exxon case and other statutory caps on liability present a deeper threat to the American moral fabric. Set against the increasingly punitive posture of the state toward its citizens over the past several decades, the arbitrary limits on punishment available to a party like Exxon make a mockery of equal justice under the law. Our criminal justice system is the most punitive of any industrialized democracy. We have 2.3 million people incarcerated, half of them for nonviolent property and drug offenses. At least two dozen states have three-strikes laws, and in some cases citizens can face life imprisonment for minor nonviolent offenses. In 2003 the Supreme Court upheld a fifty-year sentence for a California man caught stealing videotapes.

And things are even harsher for Americans unlucky enough to need succor from the state to survive, a k a poor people. Just one drug-related felony conviction can get you booted from welfare, or from public housing (though if you own a house, the IRS will still allow you your mortgage-interest deduction). Under federal law, a drug bust disqualifies a college student from all federal student aid. As a result, between 2001 and 2006 almost 200,000 students lost access to aid. The greatest Congressional champion of this unforgiving policy was Mark Souder, the Indiana Republican who resigned after revelations of his affair with a staff member. In his farewell speech, he took solace in the possibility of forgiveness.

A punitive society is not the best kind of society: there's a real virtue in forgiveness, in second chances. But for years we've been applying Rand Paul's "accidents happen" principle to those at the top while heaping blame, scorn and draconian punishment on those at the bottom. Punitive damages are capped for corporations, while punitive policies proliferate for citizens. This tears the social contract apart, and the only way to repair it is to apply the same principles of accountability up and down the social hierarchy. We should start with BP.

McCarter (Dkos): It's a crime to be poor in America

Orrin Hatch wants the unemployed to have to pee in a cup in order to receive their benefits. Really:

Hatch introduced an amendment to the tax extenders bill that would require those who are applying for some of the benefits in that bill, including unemployment and welfare benefits, to pass a drug test in exchange for the benefits.

Being unemployed just isn't denigrating enough for Orrin Hatch. You have to be punished it for, put under suspicion. That's the Republican way. What's next? Poor houses?

Actually, it's debtors' prisons. Yves Smith at naked capitalism writes:

On Friday, I put up a short post alerting readers to a PR campaign apparently just getting off the runway to impress the average American of his moral obligation to honor his debts. The rise of strategic defaults (and perhaps even more important, the increasingly positive coverage it is getting in the media and the blogosphere) is generating heartburn among the banking classes.

One of the tidbits we pointed to was a YouTube snippet of Peterson Institute spokesman David Walker speaking fondly of debtors’ prison and the need to "hold people accountable when they do imprudent things." A couple of readers complained that I was being unfair, while others said they’d be happy to see the return of debtors’ prison as long at the executives at the TBTF banks were at the head of the queue.

Be careful what you wish for. Reader bill clued us in that people who fall behind on debt payments are being incarcerated in six states. While this is generally short-term, it is nevertheless a troubling development, since these are all involve private contracts and look to be an abuse of the court system.

Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Washington are the states where we know this is happening. People are being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts as small as $85. Bring down the global economy from your position on Wall Street, you get a bail-out. Miss your cell phone payment, you go to jail. Welcome to 2010, the re-Gilded Age.

Think Progress: Barbour Is Concerned That Escrow Account Will Cut Into BP’s Profits: ‘It Bothers Me’

The Obama administration announced this week that it wants BP to transfer “substantial” funds to an escrow account overseen by an independent third party that will handle claims from individuals and businesses affected by the company’s oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. “We need to make sure that the interests of people in the Gulf are protected,” senior White House adviser David Axelrod said on Sunday. Congressional Democrats have asked BP to create a $20 billion fund.

Sticking with the “Obama is a socialist” meme, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) called the account a “redistribution of wealth fund.” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) also thinks it is a bad idea. Although he noted on Fox News last night that BP is “saying that they have the ability to pay and that they will pay,” Barbour expressed concern that BP will lose some profits:

BARBOUR: If BP is the responsible party under the law, they’re to pay for everything. I do worry that this idea of making them make a huge escrow fund is going to make it less likely that they’ll pay for everything. They need their capital to drill wells. They need their capital to produce income. … But this escrow bothers me that it’s going to make them less able to pay us what they owe us. And that concerns me. … [I]t bothers me to talk about causing an escrow to be made, which will — which makes it less likely that they’ll make the income that they need to pay us.

Watch it:

Of course, the whole point of the escrow account is to assure that BP — not the taxpayer — is on the hook for the Gulf oil disaster bill. Despite CEO Tony Hayward’s recent claim that the oil giant has paid every claim, BP has actually paid fewer than half and has been less than transparent about the process.

It’s unclear why Barbour is so worried about BP not having enough funds for the account. The company made $163 billion in profits from 2001 through 2009 and nearly $6 billion in the first quarter of 2010 alone. As the Washington Post noted, in the early days of the spill, BP paid $17.5 million per day while the company made on average $93 million per day in the first quarter.

In fact, throughout the oil spill disaster, Barbour has come to BP’s defense, downplaying its impact, blaming the media for his state’s economic woes, and even encouraging tourists to come to Mississippi’s oil contaminated beaches. “BP has never said no to any requests we have made,” he said. “I’m not going to complain.” Indeed, Barbour probably won’t complain because he owes the oil and gas industry for his rise in politics.

Think Progress: Palin claims that Netherlands and Norway can’t get their calls returned on the oil spill.

To respond to President Obama’s first Oval Office address, Fox News last night turned to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, whom Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) once said “knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America.” When asked about how to stop the leaking oil well, Palin said that the United States needs to accept more assistance from foreign governments:

O’REILLY: Do you know how to stop it?

PALIN: Well, then what the federal government should have done was accept the assistance of foreign countries, of entrepreneurial Americans who have had solutions –


PALIN: — that they wanted presented.


PALIN: They can’t even get a phone call returned, Bill. The Dutch. They are known, and the Norwegians. They are known for dikes and for cleaning up water and for dealing with spills. They offered to help and, yet, no, they too, with a proverbial can’t even get a phone call back. That is what the Norwegians are telling us, and the Dutch are telling us, and then the entrepreneurial Americans.

Watch it:

While it is true that many observers have criticized the administration for being too slow to accept some offers of assistance, Palin is simply wrong that no one is returning calls from “the Dutch” and “the Norwegians.” From Monday’s Washington Post:

In late May, the administration accepted Mexico’s offer of two skimmers and 13,779 feet of boom; a Dutch offer of three sets of Koseq sweeping arms, which attach to the sides of ships and gather oil; and eight skimming systems offered by Norway.

Think Progress: GOP congressional candidate: The federal government and BP colluded to spill oil in the Gulf.
Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, disgraced FEMA director Michael Brown went on Fox News and claimed that the Obama administration wanted the devastating oil spill as an excuse to backtrack on its offshore drilling plan. Around the same time, Rush Limbaugh unleashed a conspiracy theory suggesting that someone intentionally blew up the rig in order to “head off more oil drilling.” After widespread mockery and criticism, these types of oil spill truthers have largely gone quiet. Now, however, Bill Randall, who’s competing to be the GOP nominee in a congressional race in North Carolina and identifies with the Tea Party movement, is going even further by saying that the federal government and BP worked together to spill oil:

“Now, I’m not necessarily a conspiracy person, but I don’t think enough investigation has been done on this,” Randall said at a media conference on Tuesday. “Someone needs to be digging into that situation. Personally, and this is purely speculative on my part and not based on any fact, but personally I feel there is a possibility that there was some sort of collusion. I don’t know how or why, but in that situation, if you have someone from a company violating a safety process and the government signing off on it, excuse me, maybe they wanted it to leak.

But then it got beyond what was anticipated, and we had an explosion and loss of life. And, oh man, then we have panic. Is there a cover up going on? I’m not saying there necessarily is. But I think there’s enough facts on the table for people that (they) really need to do some investigative research and find out what went on with that and get a subpoena of records and everything else.”

The spokesman for Randall’s GOP primary opponent mocked his trutherism, saying, “Does Bill Randall also think we didn’t land on the moon?”

There were a fair amount of references to religion in President Obama's Oval Office address last night. He used the word "faith" three times; shared an anecdote about the role of clergy in "The Blessing of Fleet"; and concluded, "This nation has known hard times before and we will surely know them again. What sees us through -- what has always seen us through -- is our strength, our resilience, and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it. Tonight, we pray for that courage. We pray for the people of the Gulf. And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day."

Wouldn't you know it; Fox News didn't appreciate the president's religious remarks.

If there's one thing Fox & Friends loves, it's religion. Christianity, to be specific. The Fox News morning show hosts relish and celebrate those who are outspoken in their Christian beliefs and will not hesitate to defend anyone who mentions God in the public square. Except, of course, if that person is President Obama.

Implausible as it may seem, the crew of Fox & Friends this morning -- the same people who fawningly report on pro-God billboards and rally to the cause of book-banning activist Christians -- criticized the president for asking Americans to pray for the nation and for the people of the Gulf during his speech last night.

One of the cast members, co-host Gretchen Carlson, said "some people" heard the president's remarks and concluded the emphasis on faith "was disingenuous from a president who does not go to church on a regular basis."

Yes, "some people." Gretchen Carlson didn't say she believed such nonsense -- heaven forbid -- only that "some people" drew that conclusion. And who might those people be? Well, Carlson didn't say. (For the record, I spent some time today looking for someone, anyone, who publicly raised this concern in any form of media, before Fox & Friends aired this morning. I couldn't find a soul.)

I don't expect much from Fox & Friends, but even by this show's low standards, this was a rather pathetic display.

For the record, Ronaldus Magnus hardly ever attended religious services during his two terms, and George W. Bush's attendance was sporadic, at best. When Gretchen Carlson questions the sincerity of the religious rhetoric they used in office, I'll gladly praise her objectivity and consistency. Until then, I'll conclude she's a sorry excuse for a television personality.

  • from the comments:

    Having tried to lynch him for the church that he went to, they now try to attack him for being too religious??? Sheesh. YCOBTRIYAR (You Can Only Be Truly Religious If You're A Republican).

    Posted by: N.Wells
Bellantoni (TPM): GOP Shields Angle And Paul To Avoid Making Them Face Of '10

It's no accident or coincidence that Republicans in Washington are trying to shield Senate candidates Rand Paul and Sharron Angle from the national, and even local, press.

Remember the GOP establishment didn't want these far-right, insurgent candidates in the first place, and now Republicans fear that in the year of the tea party, Paul and Angle could become the face of the party for the midterm elections. That could present an image to voters that screams radical more than it does electable.

Each time Paul or Angle stray from party talking points by promoting Social Security privatization, abolishing the Department of Education or backtracking on the Civil Rights Act, more moderate Republican candidates have to field questions about whether they agree on those issues. And every day that the Republicans are having to defend themselves against those questions is a day they lose, rather than focusing it on the economy, Obama, and the Democrats' agenda.

The Democrats are happy to try and link the rest of the Republican field with Paul and Angle, whose positions are far more extreme than, say, GOPer Rob Portman in Ohio or Mike Castle in Delaware.

According to Think Progress, Paul (R-KY) has taken to demanding reporters submit questions in writing. He's keeping to Fox News and other friendly media outlets. Asked about Medicare reimbursement rates at a local event recently, Paul told a reporter to submit the questions "and we'll look at them." He said his goal was to campaign around Kentucky. The baffled reporter rebutted: "So you're not going to answer any questions in person?" (Watch the video here.)

Then there is Angle (R-NV), who campaigned on wanting to "phase Medicare and Social Security out," far from a mainstream Republican message.

NRSC Chairman John Cornyn told reporters last night that Angle wouldn't be ready to face the national press until she is "staffed up and prepared," and she's been huddling with Washington leaders this week to give her insurgent campaign an establishment makeover.

"I just think it's going to take a few weeks ... but you know it's really up to her," Cornyn (R-TX) told Brian when asked about Angle dodging reporters at the Capitol.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele tweeted this morning he'd had a "great meeting" with Angle in D.C., saying she's the woman who will help the Republicans "fire" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in November. She also wooed conservative press at the National Review by talking about home schooling.

The Democrats are using Paul and Angle's less mainstream views to rile up their own base, and to attempt to paint the Republicans as divided.

Case in point: DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) last week told reporters his view of the trend with Republican candidates: "I think you'll see increasingly these candidates avoiding the national press because as they are exposed to the national press they will increasingly face the scrutiny that comes with that. And their out-of-the-mainstream positions are not going to sell very well, so the less people know about it the better off they'll be."

The Democrats also highlighted Republican senators seemingly uncomfortable with Angle after meeting her yesterday on Capitol Hill, sending out several news stories driving home the point.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) told The Hill yesterday he is "not planning on getting involved" in the Angle v. Reid matchup this fall, despite it being a marquee race if the Republicans want to win back the Senate.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) told Politico that Angle's Social Security privatization push is not going to be part of the GOP's platform. "I'm not sure how she's going to develop her policy positions with regard to entitlement programs at this point," he said. "She's going to have to come out and define what it is she's for, what she's against - including probably some of her statements that she's made in the past and ... how she's them applying in the current economy."

Republicans would prefer to keep the message anti-Obama, anti-spending, anti-health care, and Democrats plan to hold candidates' feet to the fire over Angle's Social Security comments or her idea to eliminate the Department of Education.

Democrats, meanwhile, may just try to make the fall election about former President George W. Bush. The GOP says that's a tired strategy, but several candidates seeking office across the country hail from the Bush administration or the pre-2006 Republican Congress.

Team Reid this morning went live with a Web video mocking Angle for avoiding reporters. Watch:

Late Update: Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey weighs in, saying Paul was a "rookie" for going on non-Fox shows.

GOP candidates cower in right-wing media thicket
Chris Hayes, Washington editor for The Nation talks with Rachel Maddow about the new Republican strategy of avoiding having to answer any difficult questions by appearing exclusively on right wing media outlets.

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