Monday, July 12, 2010


Kurtz: Not Out Of The Woods Yet

In case you thought Democrats had overcome their inability to translate good policy into winning politics:

At the glittery Aria Casino in Las Vegas on Thursday night, Mr. Reid proudly told thousands of supporters waiting to see President Obama, "We're going to finish that conference report!"

Despite the enthusiasm behind the words, Mr. Reid's use of cryptic Washingtonese to describe the most far-reaching restructuring of the financial regulatory systems since the Great Depression drew no applause.

Go! Fight! Win Conference Report!

Atrios: Confused About The Politics
So let's say Obama's people have correctly deduced that there's no chance in hell of getting anything through Congress. They have two basic options. First, they could get on the teevee every day and say, "This is my plan to help. Republicans in Congress won't pass it." They could hold rallies in Maine. Allies could run ads. At least people would know who is for and who is against...and just what it was that people are for or against.

Option two is back off proposals you've previously made and have Axelrod get on the teevee and say, "there is some argument for additional spending in the short-run to continue to generate economic activity.”
Ackroyd is Helplessly Hoping
I still don't hear anybody who says that Krugman and the other Keynesians are wrong, that another stimulus directed to job creation would not decrease unemployment without any significant risk of inflation or any real danger to the bond markets.

They all say stuff like "You have to be realistic" "Change is very, very hard." " So therefore, what? Out with the old, in with Boehner, Issa, Romney? Then what?"

Or Gibbs yesterday:

The, the point the president was making and the point that the president will make this fall is, do you want to go backward to an economy that led us into this mess, that saw the greatest financial calamity since the Great Depression, that turned record surpluses into record deficits? Or do you want to continue on the track that the president has put us on, that has started to create private sector jobs.
And, therefore, we should........

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) spoke to Fox News' Chris Wallace yesterday, and spoke with unexpected candor about the foolishness of his fiscal attitudes.

Wallace, to his credit, raised a good point -- the "Republican growth agenda" is predicated on keeping "the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy." Wallace said this would cost $678 billion over 10 years, and asked Kyl how the GOP would pay for them. Kyl dodged the question, and talked about how great those tax cuts were.

So, Wallace asked again how the cuts would be paid for. Kyl responded, "You should never raise taxes in order to cut taxes. Surely Congress has the authority, and it would be right to, if we decide we want to cut taxes to spur the economy, not to have to raise taxes in order to offset those costs. You do need to offset the cost of increased spending, and that's what Republicans object to. But you should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans."

At that point, the discussion moved on, and there was no follow-up.

To my mind, Kyl's remarks were every bit as ridiculous as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) comparing the financial crisis to "an ant," or Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologizing to BP. Kyl's entire defense was sheer nonsense.

Bush's tax cuts, which failed miserably in their stated goal of producing robust economic growth, also failed to keep the balanced budget Clinton left gift-wrapped on Bush's desk. Kyl insists we should keep the failed policy in place, which in and of itself is a reminder of how truly bizarre the Republican approach to the economy really is.

But for all the talk about how desperate Republicans are to lower the deficit, when asked how the GOP would pay for $678 billion in tax cuts, Kyl said what he actually believed: he wouldn't pay for them at all. Spending requires budget offsets, tax cuts don't. Indeed, in Kyl's confused mind, one should "never" even try to pay for tax cuts.

It's quite a message to Americans: Republicans believe $30 billion for unemployment benefits don't even deserve a vote because the money would be added to the deficit, but Republicans also believe that adding the cost of $678 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy to the deficit is just fine.

The lesson couldn't be any more obvious: the GOP's economic agenda is a pathetic charade. Kyl and his cohorts failed with Bush's tax cuts, failed to prevent massive deficits, and failed when given a chance to set things right. That one of the Senate's most powerful Republicans wants to go right back to the policies that didn't work, and put the tab on future generations, is, as Jay Bookman put it, "both very telling and very worrisome."

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I've been marveling in recent months at the ways in which Republican lawmakers and candidates seem to actively dislike -- on a personal level -- those who've lost their jobs in the recession. It's kind of odd, given that the unemployed don't seem to have done anything to offend the GOP and earn the party's disdain.

In the latest example, we see Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett (R), the frontrunner in this year's gubernatorial race, arguing publicly that jobless workers in his state are choosing not to work, preferring to live on meager unemployment aid.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett on Friday accused some jobless Pennsylvanians of choosing to collect unemployment checks rather than going back to work, prompting swift criticism from his Democratic opponent and one of the state's top labor leaders.

"The jobs are there. But if we keep extending unemployment, people are just going to sit there," Corbett told Harrisburg radio station WITF at a campaign stop in Elizabethtown. "I've literally had construction companies tell me, 'I can't get people to come back to work until . . . they say, "I'll come back to work when unemployment runs out." ' "

I obviously can't speak with confidence about what some guy told some other guy who in turn told Corbett. But the general argument is getting quite tiresome.

"The jobs are there"? No, they're really not. Nationwide, there are five applicants for every one opening, which is a terribly painful ratio. Pennsylvania's unemployment rate is currently at a 26-year high.

Corbett not only seems confused about economic conditions, but his animosity about the jobless' attitudes is awful. Yes, I can appreciate the fact that an unemployed worker who's exhausted his/her benefits will be more desperate to take any job than an unemployed worker who's still receiving public aid. But this dynamic matters a whole lot more when there are plenty of job opportunities for those who want them. That's just not the current reality.

To hear Corbett tell it, the unemployed prefer to be unemployed -- turning down job opportunities that pay more, choosing to rely on aid that offers far less. Worse, Corbett doesn't seem to realize that his approach makes the larger problem worse -- cutting people off from unemployment benefits undercuts consumer spending, which in turn leads to less demand and fewer job opportunities.

And in the bigger picture, Republicans' efforts to castigate the jobless continues to strike me as bizarre. Sharron Angle, the extremist Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, considers the unemployed "spoiled ." One GOP congressman recently compared the unemployed to "hobos." In the House, GOP lawmakers tried to eliminate a successful jobs program. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) actually started pushing a measure to require the unemployed to take mandatory drug tests in exchange for benefits. Kentucky's Rand Paul wants the jobless to quit their bellyaching and "get back to work."

And, of course, in the Senate, Republicans have refused to allow a vote to extend unemployment benefits, and won't even consider aid to states that would prevent hundreds of thousands of additional layoffs.

What did the unemployed ever do to offend the Republican Party this much?

John Cole: Jobs Jobs Jobs

Obama and company just really do not get it, it appears. Jobs are what people want and need:

It was a finely honed machine, this United States Census team, and it had a good run. But in the coming days and weeks, many of its members will experience the pain of unemployment — once again.

Christine Egan, a 31-year-old massage therapist, says her census job offered shelter from the economic storm last year. “The economy was terrible; there was nothing,” she says. “I’ve already gone through ‘horrific,’ so I’m immunized.” She smiles, optimism almost extending to her eyes. “It must be better now, right?”

For some, it is:

While much of the country remains fixated on the bleak employment picture, hiring is beginning to pick up in the place that led the economy into recession — Wall Street.

The shift underscores the remarkable recovery of the biggest banks and brokerage firms since Washington rescued them in the fall of 2008, and follows the huge rebound in profits for members of the New York Stock Exchange, which totaled $61.4 billion in 2009, the most ever, The New York Times’s Nelson D. Schwartz writes. Since employment bottomed out in February, New York securities firms have added nearly 2,000 jobs, a trend that is also playing out nationwide at financial companies, commodity contract traders and investment firms.

It is almost like these things are related:

While the $700 billion bailout of banks has been credited with containing the financial meltdown of 2008, many lawmakers who voted for it—Republicans as well as Democrats—have found it to be a political albatross in this year’s elections, the New York Times reports.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was proposed by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, with the backing of then President Bush and the Democratic congressional leadership. But in this election year with its strong anti-Washington overtones, members of Congress who voted for it are finding themselves under attack for promoting big government and fiscal irresponsibility, the Times says.

While Democrats have been coming under fire from Republican challengers for support of the bailout, one of the twists in the current midterm contests is that Republican incumbents who voted for the program are being pummeled by both Republican and Democratic candidates, as well as drawing the wrath of Tea Party activists.

Everyone is broke, the rich get richer, the banks, which we bailed out, post enormous profits while the Senate dithers on unemployment benefits for the people hurt by reckless bank behavior suffer, the blue dogs join with Republicans to block jobs bills, the WH seems to sort of just throw up their hands and sigh, and then, to top it all off, the only people getting hired are more Wall Street leeches. Even more depressing, they can’t even muster the votes for financial regulation in this climate.

What shocks me the most are the conservative Democrats, who are going to be the ones wiped out this fall. Liberals in safe seats will be fine. But the blue dogs, running around with their masturbatory deficit language while concern trolling unemployment benefits extensions, will be thrown out of power and replaced by Republicans, who will then just do the bidding of their corporate masters. The inability to defend the stimulus, which worked, is even more flabbergasting- all around me there are roads that had not been paved in a decade which are now new and safe and provided much needed jobs, and the people driving on them, local teachers, police, firefighters, etc., all have been helped by the stimulus. Yet the WH and Democrats can’t make the case.

The future does not look good for the little guy.

  • from the comments:

    El Cid

    And the AP finds that it’s the fault of Senate Democrats that Republicans filibustered unemployment extensions, because, you know, it just is.

    WASHINGTON – Keeping unemployment benefits flowing for millions of workers whose jobs were eaten by the recession should have been a slam dunk in an election year.

    But until this month, Senate Democrats have been unable to bring themselves to pass a simple bill that just does it. Instead they’ve demanded a series of unrelated and often controversial tax and spending add-ons that have enabled Republicans to mount successful filibusters.

    Now that the legislation has been shorn of all the extras, the bill could win final passage soon.

    See? If only the mean greedy Dems had constructed a bill without other stuff, the Republicans would have just jumped up and help pass it because they have great concern for our unemployed.

    Also, if you had just rewritten the health care bill and the stimulus to meet their concerns, they would have voted for it too.

  • Nick

    Obama “gets it,” that’s why 55% of people think he’s a socialist.

    I find it funny, cause Atrios says this;

    They have two basic options. First, they could get on the teevee every day and say, “This is my plan to help. Republicans in Congress won’t pass it.” They could hold rallies in Maine. Allies could run ads. At least people would know who is for and who is against…and just what it was that people are for or against.

    They did all this. Obama has, quite a few times, most recently in Ohio, called out Republicans…no one reported it. Obama was in Maine in April raking the GOP on healthcare, no one paid attention. I’ve seen SEIU and other allies run aids on energy and jobs, but, you know, only when no one is watching.

    Would people know what is what that people are for or against. Would it matter?

    Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

    Krugman and Atrios said the administration isn’t even trying. I say they’ve tried and found it futile. I know I have.

There's supposed to be a pattern. Policymakers consider action on a large-scale idea, but progress remains slow and the public remains unengaged. Then, a relevant disaster strikes; the public says, "Gee, someone really ought to do something"; and the idea gets new life.

It seemed at least possible that we'd see this dynamic play out on energy/climate policy this year. A proposal that's been stuck in a dysfunctional Senate generated renewed attention in the wake of the BP oil spill disaster. But demand for real change has nevertheless failed to materialize -- and this rare opportunity appears likely to slip by.

[F]or the environmental groups trying to break this logjam, it's hard to imagine a more useful disaster.

The BP oil spill has made something that is usually intangible -- the cost of fossil-fuel dependence -- into something tangibly awful. Environmental activists have held "Hands Across the Sand" events at gulf beaches to protest offshore drilling, and in the District they spelled out "Freedom From Oil" on the Mall with American flags. They have organized calls to Congress and have held viewing parties to watch films about oil dependence.

"This is probably our last best chance to pass a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill," said Dan Lashof, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center. "This is the moment to choose."

Perhaps, but at this point, the "choice" seems to favor the broken status quo.

The pending energy/climate bill appears to have everything going for it: the proposal would overhaul a broken energy framework, combat global warming, make America more competitive globally, lower the budget deficit, create jobs in a burgeoning industry, and do all of this without significantly raising costs for consumers. And in case the need for a new energy policy wasn't quite clear enough, the Deepwater Horizon disaster seemingly hit the country in the head with an oil-soaked hammer.

And yet, nothing. Republicans still won't let the Senate vote on the bill, and the public demand has not changed noticeably.

The environmental, ecological, and economic effects of the worst environmental crisis in American history will be severe. The political effects are largely imperceptible.

  • Joe Sudbay (DC) adds:
    I hope this isn't a reflection of the idea that our leaders can't solve problems. GOP leaders do seem determined to instill that mindset in the American people by refusing to help solve any of the problems the U.S. is facing. The worst part is that the GOPers created a lot of the problems (i.e. the economy and the weak regulations that led to the oil spill, the list goes on and on) that they won't help solve.
digby: More Burrowers
... and not enough will to get them out.

When he ran for president, Barack Obama attacked the George W. Bush administration for putting political concerns ahead of science on such issues as climate change and public health. And during his first weeks in the White House, President Obama ordered his advisors to develop rules to "guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch."

Many government scientists hailed the president's pronouncement. But a year and a half later, no such rules have been issued. Now scientists charge that the Obama administration is not doing enough to reverse a culture that they contend allowed officials to interfere with their work and limit their ability to speak out.

"We are getting complaints from government scientists now at the same rate we were during the Bush administration," said Jeffrey Ruch, an activist lawyer who heads an organization representing scientific whistle-blowers.

Scientists and environmental groups have lauded Obama for appointing highly regarded scientists to top posts within the administration. But so far, critics said, those appointments have not eliminated the problems faced by lower-level government scientists..."Basically, science is still being scuttled," Fite said. "We are heartbroken."

Most critics said they were disappointed that protection of science and scientists did not become more of a priority after the election.

Eric Glitzenstein, a Washington attorney who has filed suit to block projects approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies, said he had expected the culture to change under Obama.

"The administration's been in long enough that if that was going to happen, we should have seen it by now," he said. "We simply haven't."

I don't know if it's a matter of poor management or philosophy or both, and perhaps a thorough housecleaning is underway. I certainly understanding that reforming bureaucracy is harder than moving a mountain. But there can be no doubt that this sort of thing should have been a top priority of the new reality based administration. Continuing the criminal neglect of science and reason in policy making is governing malpractice.

Post partisanship or "changing the culture of Washington" was always a facile pipe dream based upon the delusion that Obama's personality was so intense that he could mesmerize Republicans into doing his bidding. But the one thing he does have the capacity to reform is the executive branch, which had been turned into a partisan patronage machine under Bush and still has people working in a political capacity. So far that doesn't seem to have happened.

Read the whole article for the examples of scientific finding after scientific finding all over the federal bureaucracy being suppressed. It's depressing.

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