Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"leaving an actual mark"

John Cole: Let the Fluffing Begin

So now that McCain has won his primary and no longer needs to cater to the wingnuts, how long before the beltway press begins to rehab his image? Who will be the first out of the gate with a “That’s the McCain I knew” piece?

My money is on either Halperin or Milbank.

mistermix: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Via the comments, here’s the story of a real American, who’s fighting for his and his community’s freedom from the yoke of oppressive taxation:

Doug Knox retired with his wife to a small ranch outside of Alturas. His driveway is lined with American and Confederate flags, and he is single-handedly leading the opposition to the parcel tax with radio and television ads.

“If it costs me $10,000 to $15,000, I’m willing to do it,” Knox says. “Because I do not believe that throwing money at a problem is the way to go it, and put it on the backs of the taxpayers.” But even the staunchly conservative county supervisors—who’ve come under fire for creating the crisis—admit the parcel tax may be the only choice.

That parcel tax will be used to finance the county hospital:

But it’s no exaggeration to say that the county hospital in Alturas — even with its limited services — is a lifeline to the people who live here. The closest full-service hospitals are hours away, and the nearby medical centers over the mountains are often unreachable during winter storms.

If the tax vote does succeed, we can only hope that Knox will challenge it in court to protect the Constitutional right of Modoc County residents to die in the back of an ambulance stuck in a snowstorm.

Barbara Morrill (DK): CNN goes for the racist's point of view on Park51

As the traditional media continues to flog the story about opposition to building a mosque at ground zero turning a Burlington Coat Factory in lower Manhattan into a community center, CNN decided that giving a known racist airtime to voice his deep thoughts on the subject was a good idea:

In an interview with CNN's Jeff Simon, [former Tea Party Express spokesman Mark] Williams said he's on a new mission when it comes to the Cordoba House -- he told Simon he will "personally commit myself to coming up with funding" for what he called a "mirror image" of Cordoba built in Mecca "that would be dedicated to showcasing American values."

"How about we reinforce the peaceful, moderate nature that Islam claims to be and how about we have an Uncle Sam center to introduce people to the understanding of human rights?" Williams told CNN.

The right to build such a building would be all it takes for Williams to "drop his opposition to Park51," he told the network.

Mr. Williams raised an interesting question. Others might be, why should zoning decisions made in New York City need a clearance from an out-of-work teabagger from Texas? Or, why does someone's support for tolerance and freedom of religion in America hinge on an imaginary building in one of the world's most repressive regimes? Or, most importantly, why is CNN giving a platform to this nitwit?

Publius (AmBlog): David Cay Johnston on the Bush tax cuts

Countdown had a nice Bush tax cuts segment, including an interview with David Cay Johnston (this guy). Johnston is always very clear and very specific. (I'm including the whole piece, including the lead-in bit from Meet the Press. The Johnston interview starts at 3:58.)

So from Johnston we learn:

    The Bush tax cuts were financed with $2.4 trillion in borrowed money.

    Interest alone on that: All income taxes paid in January & February of this year. (That's 1/6th, if you got through grade school math.)

    Right now, Small Business needs domestic demand, not tax cuts, to be profitable.
Which prompts me to ask, does Big Business need domestic demand? Because the rich are doing everything they can to kill it, and when the subject is money, those folks aren't stupid. (That's not a facetious question, by the way; it's worth pursuing. Do the rich still need the U.S. consumer?)

About that "relentless questioning" by David Gregory, I have the same media curiosity I had before. Assuming Gregory's not off the reservation, it seems he's busting Boehner's chops because:
  1. The fix is in to kill the Big Boy tax cuts, and this is his piece of it; or
  2. The fix is in to extend the tax cuts, and he's burnishing populist cred in spite of that.
Either way, he's leaving an actual mark on GOP chops — not something you normally see on the Sunday talks.
Terrific segment.
Boehner, Republicans' burden?
Jonathan Alter, Newsweek senior editor and columnist, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether a newly assertive John Boehner is an asset or a liability to the Republican Party.

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Chris in Paris
UK austerity programs hit the poor the most

Surely nobody thought the rich bankers who caused the financial meltdown would foot the bill, did they? Besides, poor families with kids are already too busy making ends meet to find time to voice their opposition and it's not as though they have the spare cash to throw at political parties to plead their case. If the GOP wins in November we should expect to see a lot more out of them that will look much like this. Wall Street has been sending cash to the Republicans who are revving up their engines, preparing to throw more handouts and tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.

So does anyone still like Nick Clegg? Somehow he makes Blair sound honest and sincere and that's no easy task. The Guardian:

In a direct challenge to Treasury claims that the package of spending cuts and tax increases announced in June was fair, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said welfare cuts meant working families on the lowest incomes – particularly those with children – were the biggest losers.

The IFS said it had always been sceptical about Osborne's claim that the budget was "progressive" but added that this instant judgment had been reinforced by a study of proposed changes to housing benefit, disability allowances and tax credits due to come in between now and 2015.

Passing judgment that is likely to make uncomfortable reading for the Liberal Democrats, the IFS concluded: "Once all of the benefit cuts are considered, the tax and benefit changes announced in the emergency budget are clearly regressive as, on average, they hit the poorest households more than those in the upper middle of the income distribution in cash, let alone percentage, terms."
Krugman: Orwell And Social Security

I have to say, after Bush’s Social Security scheme collapsed five years ago, I never thought I’d be back over the same old ground so soon.

But Social Security is actually a key testing ground — it’s the place where you really see what people are after, and also get a sense of whether they’re at all honest about what they’re trying to do.

So: Pat Toomey supports replacing much of Social Security with a system of private accounts, but denies that this is privatization — and denounces those who use the term:

I’ve never said I favor privatizing Social Security. It’s a very misleading — it’s an intentionally misleading term. And it is used by those who try to use it as a pejorative to scare people

Oh, my. Back in the 1990s the Cato Institute had something called The Project on Social Security Privatization, which issued papers like this one from Martin Feldstein: Privatizing Social Security: The $10 Trillion Opportunity.

Then the right discovered that “privatization” polled badly. And suddenly, the term was a liberal plot — hey, we never said we’d do that.

Wait, it gets worse: Cato not only renamed its project, but it went back through the web site, trying to purge references to privatization. Bush also tried to deny that he had ever used the word. More here.

And here we go again. So remember who originally called privatization privatization: the privatizers, that’s who.

Anti-choice Virginia A.G. makes de facto law with dirty tricks

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice in Virginia, talks with Rachel Maddow about back door tricks Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli is hoping to use to get around the law and shut down women's health clinics and discourage women from exercising their right to abortion services.

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This guy is a conservative, but literally the opposite of Cuccinelli.
E.D. Kain: Limited government can still be Big Government

One of the things that first drew me to conservatism and by extension libertarianism was the concept of limited government. Now, oftentimes people conflate the concept of limited government with small government. I don’t think the two are the same. And one of the things that’s pushed me away from both conservatism and ideological libertarianism (as opposed to the neoclassical liberalism that I’m working with these days) is that I don’t think many conservative policies lead to limited government (and libertarian policies often just serve to bolster conservative policies despite whatever good intentions). No, conservative politicking too often leads to small government in terms of size* but not limited government in terms of scope.

See, I’m all for big government. I’m perfectly comfortable with a very distributive tax system, with a very progressive tax code, with big government expenditures on things like high-speed rail and other infrastructure projects, with a robust private labor movement, etc. What worries me is not the size of government, the rate of taxation or any of that – indeed, I’ve argued before that for a free market society to truly function, for a liberal economy to be as liberal and free as possible, the state will need to provide a generous and constant welfare net. So sign me up for big government. If…

...we can also manage to limit the scope of said government. Scope is key, whether we’re talking about our bedrooms or our digital privacy or our ability to practice religion freely, build mosques, or say stupid hateful nonsense about other people. Let’s limit the ability of our government to create monopolies, to work in cahoots with big corporations to quash competition and hurt consumers. And let’s limit the power of the state to make war, to construct secret prisons, to torture our prisoners, to spy on or assassinate our own citizens. There’s plenty of evil a government can do whether it’s big or small. Limited government – as far as I’m concerned – has nothing to do with the size of the state, the tax rate, or the sorts of welfare programs we construct.

The point is we need a government that is not too top-down, not too much invested in our day to day lives, not too powerful or centralized – but rather a government that provides the support systems that keep people on their feet, keep kids from going hungry or people who lose their jobs from also losing their homes and healthcare, that helps enforce health and safety and environmental standards without placing undue burden on the working class.

If that’s all very meta, I apologize. I just read this passage from Kevin Drum and it got me thinking:

It’s useful to know where you can find political allies. If you can find liberals who favor charter schools, less regulation of small businesses, and an end to Fannie Mae, that’s well and good. But that’s 10% or less of my worldview. I also favor high marginal tax rates on the rich, national healthcare, full funding for Social Security, more spending on early childhood education, stiff regulations on the financial industry, robust environmental rules, a strong labor movement, a cap-and-trade regime to reduce carbon emissions, a major assault on income inequality, more and better public transit, and plenty of other lefty ambitions that I won’t bother to list. If we could do all that without a bigger state, that would be fine. But we can’t. When it’s all said and done, if we lived in Drum World I figure combined government expenditures would be 40-45% of GDP and the funding source for all that would be strongly progressive. “Statist” is an obviously provocative (and usually puerile) way to frame this, but really, it’s not all that far off the mark. It wouldn’t be tyranny, any more than Sweden is a tyranny, but it would certainly be a world in which the American state was quite a bit bigger than it is now.

Honestly, I’m not that opposed to anything Drum lists here, but there’s this nagging voice in the back of my mind that keeps saying – okay, in Sweden this might not be tyranny, but this is America we’re talking about. I know the politicians here. I know we can march off to war with Iraq unprovoked, can start a whole new culture war over whether drowning people in order to gain intelligence should be termed ‘torture’. Maybe we should strive to be more like Sweden, but we have a long ways to go before I trust our government to be both big and limited at the same time. Then again, I don’t trust it to be small and limited either.
  • Though often as not we see contracted private services replace government functions rather than any real dismantling of the state. See Will Wilkinson on so-called privatized prisons for more on this. I think privatized prisons are a very bad idea by the way.

You've likely heard about the egg recall that's currently underway, in the wake of at least 1,300 salmonella-related illnesses spanning 22 states over the summer. The Washington Post noted this week that the outbreak highlights the need to fix "the holes in the country's food safety net."

As we learn more about the story, we see that the salmonella problems stem from an uninspected producer in Iowa, with a record of health, safety, labor, and other violations that go back 20 years. Democrats in Washington are nearing approval of a new food-safety bill, but Jonathan Cohn takes a closer look this morning at pending egg regulations, which have been lingering for quite a while.

Cohn notes that the "saga of these standards seems like a case study in how conservative politics and conservative politicians have weakened federal regulation, exposing the public to greater health risks."

It begins ... with the administration of Ronald Reagan. Convinced that excessive regulation was stifling American innovation and imposing unnecessary costs on the public, Reagan's team changed the way government makes rules.

Prior to the 1980s, agencies like the FDA had authority to finalize regulations on their own. Reagan changed that, forcing agencies to submit all regulations to the Office of Management and Budget, which cast a more skeptical eye on anything that would require the government or business to spend more money. The regulatory process slowed down and, in many cases, the people in charge of it became more skittish.

Clinton didn't share Reagan's antipathy to regulation. Prodded by consumer advocates and more liberal Democrats, his administration announced its intention to impose new safety requirements on the egg industry. But that happened in 1999, a year before Clinton left office. When George W. Bush succeeded him, the administration's posture reverted to its 1980s version.

Like Reagan, Bush was skeptical of government interference in the market. And, like Reagan, he appointed officials sympathetic to businesses that wanted to avoid the cost of complying with new federal rules. It was not until 2004, five years after Clinton had proposed the new egg rules, that the Bush Administration issued actual regulatory language. And by 2009, when Bush left office, the administration still had not finalized the rule.

William Hubbard, who was associate FDA commissioner from 1991 until 2005, told Cohn the Bush White House simply wouldn't let the FDA act, because Bush's team was "very hostile to regulation."

This isn't quite new -- we've seen related outbreaks a little too often in recent years, and much of it stems from insufficient government safeguards. Relevant companies are doing what the industry is expected to do -- exploiting loopholes to cut corners and save costs -- but if policymakers simply let the free market guide the food-safety process, the results include the salmonella illnesses we're seeing now.

The answer, then, is a political one -- federal officials need to intervene to do what American consumers cannot do for themselves, in this case, imposing stricter safety regulations. For all the Republican hatred of government regulation -- "I don't want Obama's hands in my eggs!" -- recent developments should turn the anti-government crusade on its head.

A few years ago, Rick Perlstein coined the phrase "E. Coli Conservatism." The importance of rejecting that ideology keeps getting stronger.

Booman: Huge Upset in Alaska
It looks like Sarah Palin got the scalp she wanted most:

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is battling for her political life this morning against Republican primary challenger Joe Miller, the Tea Party-backed candidate who had a slim lead as ballots continued to be counted overnight. Miller, a Fairbanks attorney, led from when the first returns came in Tuesday night, and was on the verge of pulling off one of the biggest election upsets ever in Alaska. With 84 percent of Alaska's precincts reporting around 2 a.m., Miller had 45,188 votes to 42,633 for Murkowski.

Joe Miller is promising something unprecedented for an Alaskan politician. He's promising to kill off the federal spending that Alaskans depend on for their livelihood. The recently departed Ted Stevens made his entire career on hauling federal appropriations back to Alaska. His best friend was the long-time Democratic senator from Hawai'i, Daniel Inouye. They bonded over their shared mission to build their relatively new states economically. Now, suddenly, the Alaskan Republican Party has gone 180 degrees in the opposite direction and embraced the tea bag.

While it seemed unthinkable yesterday, there is now the prospect of Alaska having two Democratic senators. Whether Democratic nominee and mayor of Sitka Scott McAdams can capitalize on the schism on the right will depend on how angry Murkowski's supporters are with Sarah Palin and the outside influence of the Tea Party Express. Early indications are that feelings are raw.

Murkowski on Tuesday night took a shot at Palin, saying that when Palin resigned as governor last summer she said she would use her new national role to help out Alaska.

"I think she's out for her own self-interest. I don't think she's out for Alaska's interest," Murkowski said as she waited at her campaign headquarters for results to come in...

...Murkowski criticized Miller's campaign tactics, including the use of robo-calls. "It doesn't feel like it was a campaign that was run by Alaskans," Murkowski said on Tuesday night.

Despite the Tea Party's heavy investment and influence, abortion also played a major role in Murkowski's (seeming) defeat.

Murkowski's pro-choice stance is a particularly sore point, one that Miller supporters hammered her on.

Tuesday's primary election also included Ballot Measure 2, which would require parents to be notified before their teens age 17 and younger received an abortion. Miller said he thinks that brought out voters who supported him over Murkowski, even though she supported the ballot measure as well.

"The Prop. 2 supporters were our supporters, largely. ... Frankly I think the pro-life vote was important," Miller said on Tuesday night.

Of course, you wouldn't have known that Murkowski was pro-choice since she supported the parental notification ballot measure and voted against the confirmation of both Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Even so, Murkowski was what passes for a moderate Republican these days. Her biggest problem was probably the same thing that killed off Utah senator Bob Bennett's career. She is an appropriator who understands how the federal government functions and who takes responsibility for funding its agencies. At a time when the Republican Party is in full-minority opposition, there is no valid use of federal dollars in the minds of most GOP base voters. Of course, the second they have to take responsibility for funding the government again, all this bullshit rhetoric will be gone as fast as Dick Cheney can say that deficits don't matter.

This result reinvigorates Sarah Palin's profile, bolsters the Tea Baggers, sends a warning shot against even modest cooperation with the Democrats, and wipes out one of the few Republicans willing to vote with the Democrats at least some of the time. It's bad all around. It's bad for Alaska. Murkowski recently became the Ranking Member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, a position of great possible benefit to Alaska's economy. Now their senior senator will be freshman backbencher Mark Begich. Alaska hasn't been this bereft of seniority in living memory.

But this could open the way for Scott McAdams if he can successfully reach out to Murkowski's people. We shall see.

digby: Boring Boehner
I have to give it to Boehner. His speech today was almost elegant in its pompous vapidity. He's got a real gift for saying absolutely nothing with the careless aplomb of an empty playboy years past his prime.

Unfortunately, he's actually a thoroughly corrupt tool of corporate interests who wields great power over millions of people and as the potential speaker of the House his actions are of much greater interest than his shallow rhetoric.

Blue America and its partner Americans for America responded to his dull remarks with its latest ad set to start running tomorrow morning. His actions speak much louder than his words:

A big tip 'o the hat to Dan Manatt and his creative team at Americans for America for turning that ad around immediately upon hearing Boehner's plodding words this morning. But for the millions of Americans who are suffering because of Republican policies that created their problems and Republican obstructionism that's keeping anyone from solving them, it would be very hard to find inspiration in such drivel.

Update: Howie adds:

Notice this DNC ad below, which I like a lot. They used it yesterday-- while Justin Coussoule was racking up endorsements from Tim Ryan (D-OH), Steve Filner (D-CA) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus-- to ask for money: "Boehner's horrible; he's going to eat your children; send us your money." But not a world about Boehner having an opponent. But he does; it's Justin Coussoule and you can donate towards electing him and defeating Boehner right here. Remember, when Boehner is shrieking "Where are the jobs, Mr. President," it isn't the DCCC or DNC telling voters in southwestern Ohio that it was Boehner who engineered the 2008 no-strings-attached Wall Street bailout; it's Justin Coussoule. And it isn't the DNC or the DCCC telling voters in Ohio that the trade policies, like NAFTA, that Boehner has been pushing for two decades explains where the jobs are; it's Justin Coussoule. Let's help him.


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