Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trouble in River City

Anne Laurie: Conservatives Against the Franchise

I wanted to front-page commentor Kay, because I agree this is the root of a lot of the current conservative strategy:

[T]here really is a basic split between liberals and conservatives on voting.

Conservatives focus on voter fraud. Liberals focus on voter access. One presumes denial of the franchise, the other presumes exercising the franchise.

There’s no middle ground, either.

I would fully expect the Bush DOJ to try to exclude, and I would fully expect the Obama DOJ to try to include.

It goes back to (IMO, but I think the state laws conservatives pass make this abundantly clear) that conservatives don’t really believe that voting is a fundamental right. They treat it as a privilege, legally, like driving is.

They can’t say that, it’s not mainstream, so they flip the liberal argument (disenfranchisement) on access, and claim that their votes are being diluted by access, and therefore they are disenfranchised.

In any event, I think it’s a fundamental liberal-conservative battle, and there’s not going to be a compromise. I’ve read on it for years, and I’m not budging. I don’t imagine Holder is either. We are not persuaded. Not a bit.

The fraud contingent gained a lot of ground in the years after 2000, which was the opposite of what I expected, after the Bush v Gore debacle. They passed a LOT of state law that went to fraud.

The fact is, the more barriers to voting you put up, the better conservatives do. They can’t expand their vote, so they work hard to limit the opposition’s vote.

Conservatives don’t want poor people voting, non-white people voting, women or urban renters or young people voting. An ‘Originalist’ society where only white property-owning men of a certain age were allowed to weigh in would be a happy happy world for the John Robertses, John McCains, Karl Roves, Rupert Murdochs, and Glen Becks among us. The rest of us forget that bedrock at our peril.

It’s not every day I have something good to say about a Politico piece about a Bush appointee, but I consider this story important:

A scholar whom President George W. Bush appointed as vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Abigail Thernstrom has a reputation as a tough conservative critic of affirmative action and politically correct positions on race.

But when it comes to the investigation that the Republican-dominated commission is now conducting into the Justice Department’s handling of an alleged incident of voter intimidation involving the New Black Panther Party — a controversy that has consumed conservative media in recent months — Thernstrom has made a dramatic break from her usual allies.

“This doesn’t have to do with the Black Panthers; this has to do with their fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the [Obama] administration,” said Thernstrom, who said members of the commission voiced their political aims “in the initial discussions” of the Panther case last year.

“My fellow conservatives on the commission had this wild notion they could bring Eric Holder down and really damage the president,” Thernstrom said in an interview with POLITICO.

FWIW, I find this New Black Panther story much more significant than the NAACP/Teatard dust-up. The NAACP is right to condemn teatard racism because (a) condemning racism is their job and (b) there have been numerous incidents of Tea Party racism, but that debate has tended towards abstractions about what racism is and who really is in the Tea Party.

The New Black Panther Party bullshit combines the young-bucks-buying-T-bones myth with the Weathermen-living-under-Joe-Klein’s-bed myth. It’s also the kind of thing a Boehner-led House would spend hundreds of hours investigating and the kind of thing David Broder, Charles Lane, and the rest will happily pimp as an important, possibly impeachment-worthy scandal.

If Republicans get control of the House or the Senate this fall, expect the next two years to be dominated by stories like this one.

The peaceful hamlet of Mason City, Iowa, hasn't been in the headlines much since it served as the model for River City in Meredith Willson's "The Music Man." But this week, Mason City raised a real Fuhrer.

The geniuses of the North Iowa Tea Party erected a billboard in town depicting three leaders: Adolf Hitler (with swastika), Vladimir Lenin (with hammer and sickle) and Barack Obama (with 2008 campaign logo). Over Hitler were the words "National Socialism," over Lenin was "Marxist Socialism" and over Obama was "Democrat Socialism."

"Radical leaders prey on the fearful & naïve," the billboard informed passing motorists.

Folks, we've got trouble in River City.

The Tea Partyers eventually took the billboard down -- to hush the national uproar they provoked, not because they thought they had done something wrong. "There's going to be a lot of billboards just like this across the United States," the group's leader told the Des Moines Register.

He's probably right about that. The vile sign in Mason City was not a one-off by a fringe group. It was a logical expression of a message supported by conservative thought leaders and propagated by high-level Republican politicians.

Late last month, Thomas Sowell of the conservative Hoover Institution penned an irresponsible column likening Obama's presidency (particularly his pushing BP to set aside funds for oil-spill victims) to the rise of Hitler in Germany and Lenin in the Soviet Union.

After the column came out, Sarah Palin tweeted her followers with instructions to "Read Thomas Sowell's article." Sowell's theme -- that Obama, like Hitler and Lenin, exploits "useful idiots" who don't know much about politics -- was strikingly similar to what wound up on the Iowa billboard.

Sowell to Palin to Mason City: They spread Nazi labels as smoothly as Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance turned double plays. And let's not deny an assist to Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who went to the House floor to read aloud the Obama-Nazi comparison by the "brilliant" Sowell.

Twenty years ago, the dawn of the Internet Age gave us Godwin's Law: If an online argument goes on long enough, somebody will eventually invoke Hitler. When that happens, it's basically the end of the conversation, because all rational discussion ceases when one side calls the other Nazis.

These sentiments have long existed on the fringe and always will. The problem is that conservative leaders and Republican politicians, in their blind rage against Obama these last 18 months, invited the epithets of the fringe into the mainstream. Godwin's Law has spread from the chat rooms and now applies to cable news and even to the floor of the House of Representatives.

Consider these tallies from Glenn Beck's show on Fox News since Obama's inauguration: 202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, according to transcripts, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels. Most of these were directed in some form at Obama -- as were the majority of the 802 mentions of socialist or socialism on Beck's nightly "report."

It's not strictly a phenomenon of the right. California's Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Jerry Brown, likened his opponent's tactics to those of the Nazis, while Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) talks blithely of a health care "holocaust" and an aide to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) dubs the opposition "Brownshirts."

But at the moment, the anger pendulum has swung far in the conservative direction, and accusations that once were beyond the pale -- not just talk of Nazis and Marxists but intimations of tyranny, revolution and bloodshed -- are now routine.

A few from recent weeks: Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) comes out in favor of lawsuits alleging that Obama was not an American citizen at birth. Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate challenging Sen. Harry Reid in Nevada, speaks about the possible need for violence to overcome the "tyrannical" government. Gohmert, the Sowell admirer, says the children of illegal immigrants are going to return and "blow us up."

Isn't there a grown-up to rein in these backbenchers when they go over the top? Don't ask House Minority Leader John Boehner, the man who would replace Nancy Pelosi as speaker. He accuses the Democrats of "snuffing out the America that I grew up in" and predicts a rebellion unlike anything "since 1776." Boehner also said one Democratic lawmaker "may be a dead man" for his vote on health care and predicted that the bill would bring "Armageddon."

Recall, Mr. Leader, the wisdom of the Mason City billboard: "Radical leaders prey on the fearful & naïve."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Your Mid-day Heartburn

Atrios: Reminders
Summers didn't help.
Romer had run simulations of the effects of stimulus packages of varying sizes: six hundred billion dollars, eight hundred billion dollars, and $1.2 trillion. The best estimate for the output gap was some two trillion dollars over 2009 and 2010. Because of the multiplier effect, filling that gap didn’t require two trillion dollars of government spending, but Romer’s analysis, deeply informed by her work on the Depression, suggested that the package should probably be more than $1.2 trillion. The memo to Obama, however, detailed only two packages: a five-hundred-and-fifty-billion-dollar stimulus and an eight-hundred-and-ninety-billion-dollar stimulus. Summers did not include Romer’s $1.2-trillion projection. The memo argued that the stimulus should not be used to fill the entire output gap; rather, it was “an insurance package against catastrophic failure.” At the meeting, according to one participant, “there was no serious discussion to going above a trillion dollars.”
I know I'm crazy, but I think sustained 9.5% unemployment is "catastrophic failure."
Kurtz: Vitter Blames 'Liberal Thought Police'

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is bitterly denying that he is a birther or even birther-curious and says his remarks over the weekend were taken out of context by the "liberal thought police."

The video of Vitter's original remarks pretty much speaks for itself: "I support conservative legal organizations and others who would bring that to court. I think that is the valid and most possibly effective grounds to do it.

JedL (DKos): NV-Sen: Mason-Dixon/LVRJ put Reid up by 7

Harry Reid isn't out of the woods yet -- and he won't be until the election is over -- but if he continues to run the kind of campaign he's run and Sharron Angle continues to run the kind of campaign she's run, there's no question but that he's going to end up the winner. LVRJ:

U.S. SENATE RACE: Reid takes lead on Angle

New poll shows Republican losing support among every voter group

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid has opened a strong lead over Republican opponent Sharron Angle after pummeling her in a ubiquitous TV and radio ad campaign that portrays the Tea Party favorite as "too extreme," according to a new poll for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Democratic incumbent's aggressive strategy of attacking Angle's staunch conservative views from the moment she won the June 8 primary has cost her support among every voter group -- from men and women to both political parties and independents -- in vote-rich Clark and Washoe counties.


The Mason-Dixon poll showed that if the general election were held now, Reid would win 44 percent to 37 percent for Angle. Ten percent were undecided, 5 percent would choose "none of these candidates," and the remaining 4 percent would pick another candidate on the ballot.

In another poll this week, Rasmussen showed Angle with a scant 3 point lead. Given Rasmussen's noted pro-Republican bias, Angle +3 actually meant that Reid must have had a healthy lead, and today's release of the Mason-Dixon poll confirms that.

Although the national focus has largely been on Angle's extremist views across the board, in Nevada the focus has been on Angle's tea party fueled economic views, including her pledge that if she were elected to the U.S. Senate, she would not work to create jobs in Nevada. About two weeks ago, Reid released an ad hammering Angle for saying "People ask me, what are you going to do to develop jobs in your state? Well that's not my job as a U.S. Senator."

As if she were a circus animal, Angle responded on cue, slamming Reid for having worked to save thousands of jobs at MGM's CityCenter project:

We know when they put those jobs at CityCenter, it was jobs that were taken away, business that was taken away from other areas, so it actually injured the economy of other businesses.

Angle doubled and tripled down on her bizarre zero-sum theory of economics in the following days and yesterday, Reid released a new ad firing back at her callous indifference to the plight of Nevada's unemployed:

Between Angle's general craziness, her extreme right-wing economic views, and her campaign's general incompetence, it's not hard to see that she's got virtually no path to victory, especially given the campaign team that Reid has put in place.

Drum: The Truth About Obama's Record

I've got some good news and some bad news for you today:

A broad overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system, intended to address the causes of the 2008 economic crisis and rewrite the rules for a more complex — and mistrustful — era on Wall Street, cleared one last procedural hurdle in the Senate on Thursday as it headed for final Congressional approval later in the day.

....With the Senate poised to send the bill to President Obama for his signature, the White House was already planning a ceremony — sometime next week — to mark completion of another landmark piece of legislation, following the enactment of the historic health care bill in March and last year’s major economic stimulus program.

Here's the good news: this record of progressive accomplishment officially makes Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. And here's the bad news: this shoddy collection of centrist, watered down, corporatist sellout legislation was all it took to make Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. Take your pick.

In any case, I think this probably marks the end of Obama's major legislative agenda. I don't give Congress much chance of passing a climate bill, and after the midterms the Democratic majority will either be gone or significantly reduced, making large-scale legislation just about impossible.

Still, if you're a liberal, this is the best you've had it for a very long time. Whether this is cause for cheer or cause for discouragement is, I suspect, less a reflection on Obama than it is on America writ large.

Part of me wondered if, after the Senate overcame a Republican filibuster on Wall Street reform, several GOP senators would go ahead and vote for it. After all, at that point, everyone knew it would pass, and who wants to take a stand against safeguards and accountability for a financial industry that nearly collapsed the global economy? Republicans had done what they could to kill the legislation, but going ahead and supporting final passage was a freebie.

Of course, that didn't happen, and only three Republicans broke ranks. An identical number of House Republicans voted with Democrats on the same bill a few weeks ago. With just four months to go before the midterm elections, what makes the GOP think it's a good idea to stand, en masse, with Wall Street lobbyists against a measure to bring greater economic security and stability in the wake of a crash?

The AP reported yesterday that Republicans have a plan. It's predicated on exploiting public confusion.

Not too long ago, senators from both parties imagined a bill with broad bipartisan support that reflected a consensus that the financial sector needed a new set of rules. These days, though, Republicans liken the legislation to Obama's health care legislation and the $862 billion economic stimulus package -- two initiatives that have not rallied public support. [...]

Republican operatives believe the complexity of the bill gives them an advantage.

"This bill, in the minds of most Americans, is just a big amoeba," said John Feehery, a Washington-based GOP strategist. "Because this bill is so complicated, it makes it easier for Republicans to oppose it, and by opposing it, call it a job killer."

Greg Sargent summarized the GOP line: "Never mind what the bill actually does. Never mind that the set of problems it's meant to address -- problems that brought about the near-collapse of our economy -- are also rather complex. As long as the public remains confused about it, so much the better for us!"

Republicans aren't just treating the public like fools, they're counting on the public to be dupes. When an entire political party takes on the role of a con man, on purpose, because it sees the electorate as a bunch of suckers, it's really not healthy for the political system.

  • DougJ adds:

    To my mind, this is one of the central problems of contemporary American politics: any reasonably complicated bill can be twisted into a soshulist, unAmerican, job-killing atrocity. The media doesn’t help, obviously. Conservative pundits are happy to help with the twisting, straight reporters mostly write “shape of earth, views differ”, and there’s always Charles Lane to tell us that, while, it isn’t truly a job-killing machine, there are legitimate concerns that we can read about in an American Enterprise Institute study.

    Clearly, the only solution here is to make sure that all bills are no longer than the Constitution.

mistermix: A Heady Mix of Incompetence and Self-Hatred
We Hate Ourselves.  It's  true.

This brand-enhancing ad was paid for by the Democratic Governors’ Association, who gave $782K to a 527 group trying to get Iowa Governor Terry Branstad beaten by his primary challenger. Someone needs to tell the DGA that the definition of ratfucking is not “fucking yourself with the opponent’s dick”.

Also, too: The answer to the often-asked question of why the Democratic Party isn’t better at promoting its core values is that an influential part of the party establishment is ashamed of those values and the party leaders who promote them.

  • The comment thread following this post is quite wonderful.

McClatchy's headline says quite a bit: "GOP: No more help for jobless, but rich must keep tax cuts." That says quite a bit, doesn't it?

Republicans will no doubt howl about "bias," but the article actually just presents facts as they exist. Whether reality has a liberal bias is up to voters to decide.

Republicans almost unanimously oppose spending $33.9 billion for extended unemployment benefits for some 2.5 million people who've lost them, because they say it would increase federal budget deficits.

At the same time, they're pushing a permanent extension of Bush administration tax cuts, especially for the wealthy, which could increase federal budget deficits by trillions of dollars over the next 10 years.

The article is filled with various rationalizations to justify this. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), for example, thinks this makes sense because "tax policy is dynamic." Good to know.

It's generally hard to guess what the public will find compelling, but if I had to guess, I'd say more Americans would rather spend $33.9 billion for extended unemployment benefits than $678 billion for tax cuts for the wealthy.

It's probably why the McClatchy article will be discouraging at RNC headquarters. Of course, if they Republican lawmakers don't like it, they could embrace a policy more in line with common sense, but that seems highly unlikely.

Kevin Drum: Time for a Timeout

Jon Chait:

One of the very few impressive things about conservatives over the last few years is that their opposition to President Obama, though frequently unhinged, misinformed, hypocritical, or outright dishonest, has generally lacked much in the way of racial animus. Obviously you can find some exceptions — Rush Limbaugh is a notable one, casting health care as "reparations" and trying to make his listeners fear that "in Obama's America," black kids can beat up white kids with impunity. Limbaugh has largely been an exception against the general trend of de-racialized nuttiness on the right.

What you're starting to see from Fox News now, though, is the most widespread and mainstream right-wing effort to exploit racial fears against Obama.

Hmmm. Is this really all that new? Yes, there's Rush Limbaugh. And the whole Jeremiah Wright flap during the campaign. And Glenn Beck saying on national TV that Obama has a deep-seated hatred of white people. And the obviously racially tinged birther nonsense. And the famous Drudge headline about Obama "playing the race card." And the endless obsession over Sonia Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment. And now Megyn Kelly's fixation on the trivial and laughable New Black Panther Party — except, as Dave Weigel points out, Fox has actually been beating the NBPP drum for quite a while:

The difference between the Panthers and other freakish groups that look good on the air, of course, is that that they threaten white people.

....How often does Fox bring on the Panthers, or talk about them? A Lexis-Nexis search finds 68 mentions of "Malik Zulu Shabazz," a leader of the NBPP. The majority are appearances on Fox News, where Shabazz is repeatedly brought on to act as a foolish, anti-Semitic punching bag. Among the segment titles: "Professor's Comments on Whites Stir Controversy" and "Black Panthers Take a Stand on Duke Rape Case."....This isn't journalism. No one cares what the NBPP thinks about anything. This is minstrelsy, with a fringe moron set up like a bowling pin for Hannity to knock down. And that's the role the NBPP plays on Fox, frequently.

Granted, most conservative pundits are bright enough not to go down this road themselves. And racism certainly isn't Obama's biggest problem. Still, there's unquestionably been a thread of it visible from the start, and also unquestionably, most conservative pundits have kept pretty quiet about it.

But they might be playing a dangerous game here. As Chait says, the Fox/Megyn Kelly crusade against the NBPP is taking this to a whole new level, one that's far more overt and far more incendiary than in the past. And there's no telling how that's going to turn out. As a friend puts it, "I think the reason why conservatives have so assiduously censored themselves from playing fast and loose with Atwater-esque racial overtones is that it can be a very difficult genie to put back in the bottle once released on a national stage." The press will start paying attention, tea partiers might feel freer to spout off, and the whole thing could turn ugly very quickly.

Or not. Who knows? But for reasons of both principle and self-interest, some of the conservative movement's big guns might want to think about weighing in on this before it gets out of hand. It can't hurt.


It seems clear what the media considers the question of the week. The NYT's Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes a political dynamic today that seems pretty familiar.

If passage of the financial regulatory overhaul on Thursday proves anything about President Obama, it is this: He knows how to push big bills through a balky Congress.

But Mr. Obama's legislative success poses a paradox: while he may be winning on Capitol Hill, he is losing with voters at a time of economic distress, and soon may be forced to scale back his ambitions.

Though the Stolberg piece was far more sensible, it considers the same question Politico asked yesterday. Obama keeps racking up breakthrough victories, the observation goes, and these successes are supposed to buoy a president's political standing, but polls nevertheless suggest Obama is on shaky ground.

It's not necessarily an unfair question, but it's probably a mistake to treat it as some kind of mystery. Kevin Drum noted yesterday that the simplest explanation happens to be the right one.

If you want to, you can come up with a thousand reasons why Obama is failing. But if the economy were doing well and Obama were riding high in opinion polls, [Politico's John Harris and Jim VandeHei] would come up with a thousand reasons why Obama is succeeding. Unfortunately, admitting that the economy is the overriding explanation for everything makes for a very short, very boring column, and no one wants to write it. It's still true, though.

Yep. The economy stinks, which puts a lot of Americans in a sour mood. Much of the public probably thought economic conditions would be a whole lot better by now, and voters are very likely feeling pretty impatient about the pace of progress. It's what happens when the unemployment rate hovers around 10% for a year, and "it could have been worse" fails to resonate.

So, Obama's standing, while still reasonably high under the circumstances, has faltered, and Republicans stand to do well in November. It's not rocket science.

Of course, as the economy improves and the unemployment rate drops, I'll look forward to the media coverage pondering how President Obama finally figured out how to start connecting with the public again.

Think Progress: Peter King: Republicans Shouldn’t ‘Lay Out A Complete Agenda,’ Because It Might Become ‘A Campaign Issue’
For the past year, Republicans have been desperately trying to show Americans that they have substantive policy ideas, and that they are not just “the party of no” that reflexively opposes anything President Obama supports in order to score cheap political points. “House Republicans have engaged with the American people to develop innovative solutions that meet the serious challenges facing our country,” House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) declared on the flimsy “GOP Solutions” website.

But Rep. Peter King (R-NY) was perhaps a little too honest yesterday, explaining to radio host Bill Bennett that Republicans shouldn’t “lay out a complete agenda,” because then people would be able to scrutinize it and make it “a campaign issue”:

BENNETT: Is it enough for Republicans to say we are opposed to what [Obama's] doing — stimulus, health care, we don’t like what he’s doing with the government, and look at the job situation — or do we need to have meat on the bones? And say, this is what we are for? Do we have to have positive proposals? [...]

KING: So, It’s a combination of being against what Obama is for, and also giving certain specifics of what we are for. Having said that, I don’t think we have to lay out a complete agenda, from top to bottom, because then we would have the national mainstream media jumping on every point trying to make that a campaign issue.

Of course, an agenda should be a campaign issue — the most important issue. But King’s political calculation reflects the strategies of several Republican candidates, like Sharron Angle and Rand Paul, to hide from the mainstream media, lest they accidentally reveal more of their extreme agenda.

And later in the interview, King offered a good example of why he probably shouldn’t be talking about policy. While saying that conservatives need to craft a “much more intelligent argument” to defend the Bush tax cuts, King argued that those tax cuts “saved our economy”:

KING: That’s where we have to make a much more intelligent argument and defend the Bush tax cuts. Because after all the years of the Bush tax cuts, after two wars, after September 11th, as of 2007, the deficit was down to $165 billion, which is almost chump change by today’s standard. No, the tax cuts is what saved our economy. People forget, they have this talk about how there was a $6.5 trillion surplus projected when President Bush come in. The fact is, he inherited a severe economic downturn — the third quarter of 2000, the first quarter of 2001, the economy was tanking. Then we had September 11th, then we did have two wars — both of which I’ve supported — and with all of that, the economy continued to add jobs, and by 2006, 2007 the deficit was being dramatically reduced.

Listen to a compilation here:

King’s claim that the Bush tax cuts increased revenues reflects the “view of virtually every Republican on that subject,” according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), but contradicts the facts and Bush’s own economic advisors, including former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.

Ride the crazy

digby: The Very Serious Conversation
Chris Hayes is so right about this:

This all seems eerily familiar. The conversation—if it can be called that—about deficits recalls the national conversation about war in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. From one day to the next, what was once accepted by the establishment as tolerable—Saddam Hussein—became intolerable, a crisis of such pressing urgency that "serious people" were required to present their ideas about how to deal with it. Once the burden of proof shifted from those who favored war to those who opposed it, the argument was lost.

We are poised on the same tipping point with regard to the debt. Amid official unemployment of 9.5 percent and a global contraction, we shouldn't even be talking about deficits in the short run. Yet these days, entrance into the club of the "serious" requires not a plan for reducing unemployment but a plan to do battle with the invisible and as yet unmaterialized international bond traders preparing an attack on the dollar.

Perhaps the most egregious aspect of the selling of the Iraq War was its false pretext. It never really was about weapons of mass destruction, as Paul Wolfowitz admitted. WMDs were just "what everyone could agree on." So it is with deficits. Conservatives and their neoliberal allies don't really care about deficits; they care about austerity—about gutting the welfare state and redistributing wealth upward. That's the objective. Deficits are just what they can all agree on, the WMDs of this manufactured crisis. Senator John Kyl of Arizona, speaking on Fox, has come out and admitted as much. All new spending increases must be offset, he said, but "you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans." So there you have it. (read on)
I feel exactly the same way --- that growing sense of disorientation and we seem to going full speed down the rabbit hole. (In that linked post, I attribute some of it to Very Serious people syndrome too, but there's more to it than that.)

And as Hayes points out it didn't exactly work out politically for the Democrats in the short run ---- and in the long run a whole lot of people died for no good reason. It's insane that we are watching this happen again.
Krugman: Redo That Voodoo

Republicans are feeling good about the midterms — so good that they’ve started saying what they really think. This week the party’s Senate leadership stopped pretending that it cares about deficits, stating explicitly that while we can’t afford to aid the unemployed or prevent mass layoffs of schoolteachers, cost is literally no object when it comes to tax cuts for the affluent.

And that’s one reason — there are others — why you should fear the consequences if the G.O.P. actually does as well in November as it hopes.

For a while, leading Republicans posed as stern foes of federal red ink. Two weeks ago, in the official G.O.P. response to President Obama’s weekly radio address, Senator Saxby Chambliss devoted his entire time to the evils of government debt, “one of the most dangerous threats confronting America today.” He went on, “At some point we have to say ‘enough is enough.’ ”

But this past Monday Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, was asked the obvious question: if deficits are so worrisome, what about the budgetary cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which the Obama administration wants to let expire but Republicans want to make permanent? What should replace $650 billion or more in lost revenue over the next decade?

His answer was breathtaking: “You do need to offset the cost of increased spending. And that’s what Republicans object to. But you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.” So $30 billion in aid to the unemployed is unaffordable, but 20 times that much in tax cuts for the rich doesn’t count.

The next day, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, confirmed that Mr. Kyl was giving the official party line: “There’s no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue, because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy. So I think what Senator Kyl was expressing was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.”

Now there are many things one could call the Bush economy, an economy that, even before recession struck, was characterized by sluggish job growth and stagnant family incomes; “vibrant” isn’t one of them. But the real news here is the confirmation that Republicans remain committed to deep voodoo, the claim that cutting taxes actually increases revenues.

It’s not true, of course. Ronald Reagan said that his tax cuts would reduce deficits, then presided over a near-tripling of federal debt. When Bill Clinton raised taxes on top incomes, conservatives predicted economic disaster; what actually followed was an economic boom and a remarkable swing from budget deficit to surplus. Then the Bush tax cuts came along, helping turn that surplus into a persistent deficit, even before the crash.

But we’re talking about voodoo economics here, so perhaps it’s not surprising that belief in the magical powers of tax cuts is a zombie doctrine: no matter how many times you kill it with facts, it just keeps coming back. And despite repeated failure in practice, it is, more than ever, the official view of the G.O.P.

Why should this scare you? On paper, solving America’s long-run fiscal problems is eminently doable: stronger cost control for Medicare plus a moderate rise in taxes would get us most of the way there. And the perception that the deficit is manageable has helped keep U.S. borrowing costs low.

But if politicians who insist that the way to reduce deficits is to cut taxes, not raise them, start winning elections again, how much faith can anyone have that we’ll do what needs to be done? Yes, we can have a fiscal crisis. But if we do, it won’t be because we’ve spent too much trying to create jobs and help the unemployed. It will be because investors have looked at our politics and concluded, with justification, that we’ve turned into a banana republic.

Of course, flirting with crisis is arguably part of the plan. There has always been a sense in which voodoo economics was a cover story for the real doctrine, which was “starve the beast”: slash revenue with tax cuts, then demand spending cuts to close the resulting budget gap. The point is that starve the beast basically amounts to deliberately creating a fiscal crisis, in the belief that the crisis can be used to push through unpopular policies, like dismantling Social Security.

Anyway, we really should thank Senators Kyl and McConnell for their sudden outbursts of candor. They’ve now made it clear, in case anyone had doubts, that their previous posturing on the deficit was entirely hypocritical. If they really do have the kind of electoral win they’re expecting, they won’t try to reduce the deficit — they’ll try to make it explode by demanding even more budget-busting tax cuts.

Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) really is conservative. I think I could count all the genuine Republican "moderates" in Congress on one hand, and Inglis wouldn't even come close to making the cut. He's a conservative lawmaker from a conservative district with a conservative voting record and strong ratings from conservative groups that give scores to lawmakers.

But now that Inglis is on his way out of Congress, he's sounding a whole lot more reasonable.

Inglis, of course, was recently humiliated in a GOP primary, losing by a ridiculous 42-point margin in a district he's represented for more than a decade. What precipitated such a defeat? Inglis expressed a willingness to work with Democrats on energy policy; he urged his constituents not to take Glenn Beck too seriously; and he said his main focus as a lawmaker was to find "solutions" to problems. Last year, Inglis said the Republican Party has a chance "to understand we are all in need of some grace." The result: GOP voters turned on him.

As his congressional career wraps up, the conservative South Carolinian is finding it much easier to speak his mind. Ben Armbruster flagged Inglis' appearance on C-SPAN today, where he didn't hold back.

On Sen. David Vitter's (R-La.) support for birther lawsuits:

"The president is obviously a citizen of the United States.... So, really we do lose credibility when we spend time talking about such things. Why do we do that? We do it because we want to vilify the other side. We want to make them into the big bad guys."

On his caucus' political strategy:

"We have basically decided to stir up a base, and that's a bad decision for the country."

On the right's Community Reinvestment Act talking point:

"What I'm supposed to do as a Republican is just echo back ... that yes, CRA was the cause of the financial meltdown in October of 2008. And if I said that to you, I'd be clearly wrong."

This is the same Inglis who, just last week, trashed conservative "demagoguery" during the health care debate; conceded that some of the right's hatred of President Obama in the South is driven by racism; and said, "I think we have a lot of leaders that are following those (television and talk radio) personalities and not leading."

I can't help but wonder how many other Republican members of Congress would be willing to endorse Inglis' sentiments, if they knew it wouldn't end their careers in GOP politics.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Distinct Lack of Magic Ponies

John Cole: Apart From Better Sanitation and Medicine and Education and Irrigation and Public Health and Roads and a Freshwater System and Baths and Public Order… What Have the Romans Done for Us?

This pains me, but Roger Simon at the Politico is on to something:

Who would have thought just a matter of months ago that the Republicans would be the party of enthusiasm? The Republicans were the party of tired old white men who had just been thrashed by the magnetic and mesmerizing Obama, whose words flowed like silver from his lips.

Then, a terrible thing happened: Obama began to do things. He saved the economy from disaster. He provided new medical coverage for children. He passed historic health care reform for the entire nation.

But who turned on him? Liberal Democrats. Eric Alterman, a liberal author and columnist for The Nation, wrote recently: “Few progressives would take issue with the argument that, significant accomplishments notwithstanding, the Obama presidency has been a big disappointment.”

I admit, I did not go on to read the remaining 17,000 words of the article — I am saving it for my next coma — and that is because I had trouble grappling with the phrase “significant accomplishments notwithstanding.” If you toss significant accomplishments out the window, how would FDR or Abraham Lincoln or George Washington do by that standard?

Aren’t significant accomplishments what presidents are supposed to accomplish? And isn’t it more than a little unfair to toss those accomplishments aside and then judge those presidents?

No. Not if you judge them by the loss of their mojo. Which is how some liberals are now judging Obama.

I’m not sure how much of rank and file democrats have turned on Obama, but quite clearly some of our elites and self-annointed elites surely have, and I do find it baffling. And before the concern trolls step in, I’m not demanding that everyone love Obama and that you tattoo hope and change on your chest. I just don’t understand why the most vocal folks on the left seem to just loathe the guy and dismiss what has been done.

  • Dennis G.

    Yep. He is spot on.

    Most of the trouble that Democrats are having these days is due to the folks who wanted the pony of their dreams and are upset because none of the many ponies delivered so far match up to the one in their rich fantasy life. And so they bitch. moan and complain that President Obama isn’t doing enough for them.

    The funny thing is that Alterman is far from the worst of the lot, but he is a good regurgitator of this idiotic POV.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Double dog dare the crazy people

Drum: Make My Day, GOP

Jonah Goldberg diagnoses the Democratic Party's woes following their early legislative successes:

Democrats steamrolled the most ambitiously liberal agenda in at least a generation. Yet liberals are miserable. Their lamentations over what they see as President Obama's lack of audacity punctuate the din, like ululating matrons at an Arab politician's funeral. This misplaced griping stems not from Obama's failure to "think big" but from a misreading of the political climate: Liberals thought they'd be popular.

Fair enough. A little florid for my taste, but then, I'm not a conservative. But it turns out that Goldberg has issues with his side too:

For a year or so, Republicans have been the so-called party of no. Contrary to the expectations of its critics, that tactic has been good for the GOP. It seems that the "tea parties," America's natural antibodies to Obamaism, have provided some vital stem cell therapy, helping to regrow the Republican spine.

But that spine is only valuable if you use it for something....Now is the time for the GOP to call Obama's bluff and offer a real choice. My personal preference would be for the leadership to embrace Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's "road map," a sweeping, bold and humane assault on the welfare state and our debt crisis. Doing so might come at the cost of trimming the GOP's victory margins in November, but it would provide Republicans with a real mandate to be something more than "not-Obama."

I swear, I would pay cash money if the Republican leadership would promise to actually do this. Goldberg thinks that liberals aren't popular? That's peanuts. If Republicans made a serious run at passing Ryan's road map the party would end up just slightly more popular than the Taliban. I think there would literally not be a single demographic or interest group in the entire country still supporting them. Even the tea partiers would start pretending to be Democrats. Hell, they'd probably take up the cause of repealing the 22nd amendment and allowing Obama to be elected president for life.

Of course, it's fine for columnists and pundits to say this kind of stuff. Just trying to move the needle, after all. But I sure wish party leaders would take them up on it once in a while. Democrats, for all their faults, generally do approximately what they say they're going to do and then either pay the price or reap the benefits. Republicans don't. They parachute into Tea Party gatherings and spout stemwinders about taking an axe to government spending, but when they get back to Washington they do just the opposite — all while figuring out ever newer and more inventive ways of providing tax breaks to favored industries. If they ever actually got serious about slashing all that government spending they claim they're so dedicated to slashing, the party of Lincoln would end up on the ash heap of history.

So I dare them. I double dog dare them. Let's hear about how you're going to cut federal spending by a trillion dollars over the next five years and by a third over the next 50. Details, people. Let's hear 'em. Make my day.

I'm beginning to better understand why, after a scandal-plagued tenure, HP fired its beleaguered CEO, Carly Fiorina.

Fiorina, who decided to parlay her professional failures into becoming the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in California, talked to a the CBS affiliate in San Francisco this week about her approach to tax cuts.

"Let me propose something that may seem crazy to you: you don't need to pay for tax cuts. They pay for themselves, if they are targeted, because they create jobs."

This is, in most respects, even more ridiculous than Sen. Jon Kyl's (R-Ariz.) assertion that shouldn't try to pay for tax cuts. For the Senate Minority Whip, tax cuts are always good, even if they increase the deficit, because they shrink government. For the deeply confused Carly Fiorina, the policy is more fantastical -- paying for tax cuts is unnecessary because once taxes are cut, more money simply materializes, magically, in the federal treasury. The deficit simply won't go up, she argues, no matter how much taxes are cut.

Thirty years ago, this raving stupidity had a name: "voodoo economics." More recently, it's come to be known as belief in the "Tax Fairy."

Regardless of the name, the notion that tax cuts necessarily pay for themselves is one of the more pernicious lies in the far-right arsenal. It's both gibberish and right-wing propaganda, but it's nevertheless repeated from time to time.

It shouldn't be -- the concept has been debunked repeatedly by those who care about reality. How wrong is the argument? The Bush/Cheney Office of Management and Budget and the Bush/Cheney Council of Economic Advisers rejected the notion that tax cuts can pay for themselves out of hand. Fiorina, in other words, is promising to be even more fiscally irresponsible than the bunch that added $5 trillion to our national debt in eight years.

Even a fired CEO should be able to understand the reality here. The single biggest cause of the current deficit is Bush's tax cuts. They didn't "pay for themselves"; they put us in a devastating hole.

In the same interview, by the way, Carly Fiorina said the Senate "doesn't have enough people who understand how the economy works." She didn't appear to be kidding, but coming from her, it was laughable.

Of all the misguided critics of last year's Recovery Act, arguably none has been quite as aggressive as House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va). As it turns out, of those same critics, arguably none has been exposed as being a bigger hypocrite than Cantor, either.

Today, for example, the frequently-confused Virginian will host yet another job fair made possible by the Recovery Act that Cantor claims to hate. It's the third time the Minority Whip has pulled this identical stunt, proving that he's either unaware of the hypocrisy or just too shameless to care. Lee Fang explained:

According to a ThinkProgress review of contracts from the website, employers at the Cantor job fair [today] have received approximately $52,716,129 from the stimulus.

While Cantor has tried to score political points slamming the stimulus as an utter failure, he has relied on it as a crutch to bring both private and public sector jobs to his district.

Remember, Cantor has pulled the exact same stunt before -- hosting a jobs fair with positions made possible, at least in part, by the same stimulus Cantor insists was a mistake.

Indeed, there's a clear pattern here. In April 2009, Cantor heralded a high-speed rail project in his district, made possible by the stimulus package. Just two months prior, Cantor fought tooth and nail to prevent that project from existing, and specifically mocked government funding on high-speed rail.

If Cantor were the only hypocrite in his caucus, the larger phenomenon wouldn't be nearly as offensive. But at last count, 128 House Republicans -- nearly three-quarters of the total -- have tried to claim credit for creating jobs through a Recovery Act that they fought to kill, and continue to disparage.

While GOP leaders in Congress no doubt hope you'll forget, dozens of congressional Republicans have admitted, in writing, that they believe the stimulus and federal spending is good for the economy and an effective way to create jobs.

If these Republicans were willing to apologize for the mistake -- or better yet, thank President Obama and congressional Democrats -- I'm sure the majority would be gracious about the whole thing.

Not funny at all

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BooMan: On the Fringe
I think Bill Scher is spot-on in everything he has to say about the Tea Party and its historic and contemporary place in American politics. But there is one very important thing that he misses. He's completely correct in saying this:

The Tea Party is nothing new. It is merely the latest incarnation of the right-wing fringe that predictably overheats whenever a left-of-center reformer is elected to the presidency. It was the John Birch Society and the National Indignation Convention in the early 1960s, the Moral Majority and other "New Right" groups in the late 1970s, and Rush Limbaugh's "dittoheads" and the militia movement in the 1990s.

I have said these same things many times. But the difference between now and the 1960's or even the 1990's is that the fringe of the right-wing has now spread to the whole carpet. Sure, only 18 percent of the electorate self-identifies as a Tea Party supporter, but that's a huge percentage of the Republican electorate (and, yes, they are almost all Republicans). Fringe has built upon fringe.

How many Republicans have had to back down and apologize to Rush Limbaugh for contradicting or criticizing something he's said on the air? Republican politicians are dealing with an insane base that's been fed on paranoid hate-filled garbage from 'entertainers' for decades. It's a rare Republican who's willing to tell it like it is to these people. After Rep. Bob Inglis told South Carolina Republicans to stop listening to Glenn Beck, they gave him a meager 29% of the vote in the primary. His opponent got 71%. Here's what Inglis says now:

Republican Rep. Bob Inglis, who last month lost a primary battle to retain his seat, is now taking aim at some members of his own party - the second ousted Republican to express frustration with the GOP in as many weeks.

In an interview with the Associated Press and confirmed to CNN by his office, Inglis targets the "death panels" phrase made famous by Sarah Palin when the former Alaska governor inaccurately claimed the Democratic-backed health care legislation would ration health care for the elderly.

"There were no death panels in the bill … and to encourage that kind of fear is just the lowest form of political leadership. It's not leadership. It's demagoguery," said Inglis, who lost his primary challenge to conservative Trey Gowdy by 42 points last month and faced heavy criticism for voting in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2009.

What's changed is that the nutcases on the right are capable of beating a sane Republican incumbent by 42 points if they step out of line. Believe me, every member of the GOP in Congress is aware of this fact. They have to eat chicken dinners with these people and ask them for money. Arlen Specter knew his goose was cooked as soon as he saw the reaction to Sarah Palin. In fact, it was the selection of Sarah Palin to be a vice-presidential candidate that put this Tea Party movement into overdrive. Up to that point all their energy was being put into Ron Paul's delegate-deprived run for the presidency. McCain made the single most irresponsible political decision since a lame-duck James Buchanan sat silently while half the country seceded from the Union.

But I'm getting off my point. My point is that, while Scher is correct to point out the Tea Party is merely the latest incarnation of the right's rage at being governed by a Democratic President, and to point out their overall numbers are small, he's wrong to give the impression that we're not dealing with something extremely dangerous. Because, if you haven't noticed, the Republicans are voting in absolute lockstep, and they're dancing to the Tea Partiers tune. They are terrified of opposing them. And even when they do oppose them we see outcomes like Rand Paul crushing the establishment candidate in a socially conservative (i.e., not a libertarian) state.

I've never seen a fringe movement take control of a party's soul and mind like this before. I was hoping that the governance of Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and Karl Rove was the worst the right could offer, but it's not even close. The Republicans have been cynical so long that they've been taken over by the duped.

Actual Republican congresspeople (with a handful of exceptions) have no interest in the Tea Party's priorities. Want proof? Read the Mission & Platform just passed by Maine's GOP. It's cuckoo land. And that might be the saving grace for this country, because the establishment GOP doesn't intend to become the party of Rand Paul. They just want to use that energy to get back into power and take the gavels back from the Democrats. But, first of all, we just saw what 'reasonable' establishment Republican politics can do to our country, so we can't take much solace from the fact that that establishment is taking their cynicism to eleven by playing footsie with these people. Secondly, a bunch of the new Republicans elected this November are going to be certifiably Michele Bachmann-insane. And just like with the Republican Class of 1994, sixteen years later some of the people will be governors and senators.

The Republican Party that impeached Clinton was dangerously insane. They took it up several notches after 9/11. But what we're witnessing now is of a totally different scale. The parasite has taken over the host.

So, I don't dismiss these people at all. I think they rank with climate change and nuclear proliferation as threats to humanity. And we have no time to be dicking around arguing over the soul of Barack Obama.

mistermix: Fighting For The Constitution, Pre-14th Amendment

Here’s the Tea Party USA’s response to a NAACP resolution calling them racists:

“This is indeed the kettle calling the pot black,” Mark Williams, national spokesman of the conservative grassroots group, told CNN.

“We’re fighting the government programs that have emasculated the black family,” Williams said.He added: “It’s the Obama administration that rolled back civil rights to a pre-civil rights era with ‘Obamacare’ in which they removed the concept of individual rights…it’s the Obama administration that put a tax on white people with a tanning salon tax. I mean, this is the kind of stuff the Tea Party movement is fighting. We are fighting for the Constitution of this country, which, by definition, makes this a human rights movement – a civil rights movement.” (via)

On the same subject, BuffaloPundit has the story of a local tea party leader who’s sending around links to a Little Rascals re-mix that “depicts Farina as Obama, makes jokes about Joe Lieberman and the Holocaust, and likens Nancy Pelosi to a whore”.

Think Progress: Bachmann Hints At Bid To Overthrow GOP Leadership With True ‘Constitutional Conservatives’

Last weekend, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) helped headline the Western Conservative Summit in Denver. Bachmann fired up attendees with an anger-filled speech repeatedly comparing America under President Obama to slavery, reports the Colorado Independent. “We will talk a little bit about what has transpired in the last 18 months and would we count what has transpired into turning our country into a nation of slaves,” thundered Bachmann at one point.

After her speech, Bachmann took questions from the audience, including one from a woman concerned that the Republican leadership does not share Bachmann’s dedication to “spreading the word.” Bachmann agreed that “Republicans need to have one voice on all of this.” She then argued that although she is “not in leadership,” it is “extremely important” that the Republican “leadership is made up of constitutional conservatives” if the GOP takes back Congress:

Q: Your colleagues are not out there spreading the word, not out there saying, ‘yes it’s going to be tough, we have to give up a lot that we have right now to move forward to do what we need to save this country.’ And, you’re good at it. There a couple of other people who are good about it, but there are an awful lot that are just quiet out there, especially on the state level. [...]

BACHMANN: Right, what I think you’re saying is that Republicans need to have one voice on all of this. And I would agree with you. I’m not in leadership, but that why I made in my remarks that its extremely important that you know if the gavel turns, that the leadership is made up of constitutional conservatives. All of you can you put that pressure on. Because the people who send Congress, to the House, to the Senate, you put the pressure on them, you elect constitutional conservatives for your leadership, that’s what happens.

Watch it:

Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Bachmann’s closest ally in Congress, has similarly expressed frustration that the Republican leadership — Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) — are not sufficiently right-wing. At a rally in Iowa in April, King complained openly that Republicans, including members of the leadership, would not support his campaign to repeal health reform “100%.” At a St. Louis conference earlier this year, King complained that GOP leaders had warned him in the past against attacking the science of climate change, instead preferring for him to stick to the economic argument against clean energy reform.

Perhaps Bachmann would like to see “constitutional conservatives” like King and herself in leadership, rather than the current Republican leaders.

BooMan: GOP Charade
Steve Benen caught something most people missed. Senate Minority Whip, Jon Kyl of Arizona, went on Fox News yesterday and made an alarming declaration.

"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."

He was responding to a question about how to pay the $678 billion price tag of maintaining the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy over the next ten years, and his response was that Congress shouldn't have to pay for them at all. Benen's response was spot-on.

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.

Of course, writing this is redundant because you already knew that the GOP's economic agenda is a charade. All this talk about balancing the budget is nothing more than an argument about who benefits from government spending. The GOP runs up deficits when they are in power and the Democrats try to clean up their mess. Republicans only object to raising revenue, not spending it. That will never change.

Chapter and Verse.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke to reporters on Thursday, and stressed the importance of extended unemployment insurance. It's not only vital to offering some relief to the jobless, the Speaker said, but also serve as "one of the biggest stimuluses to our economy." Unemployment benefits are "spent quickly" and that money "injects demand into the economy," she explained, making the investment "job creating."

The right seemed to find this ridiculous. High-profile right-wing bloggers characterized the remarks as "laughable" and "lunacy." A Fox & Friends co-host said she didn't understand the "logic" of the argument. The publisher of the conservative Las Vegas Review-Journal said anyone with "half a brain" would disagree with Pelosi.

The intensity of the right's response is matched only by how terribly wrong conservatives are.

Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody's and a former adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said Friday that Congress needs to hurry up and reauthorize expired jobless aid or risk derailing the nascent economic recovery.

"The odds that the economy will slip back into the recession are still well below even," Zandi said during a conference call with reporters. "But if Congress is unable to provide this help, those odds will rise and become uncomfortably high." [...]

Zandi said the deficit dithering is just bad economics -- it's more important to get the benefits to the people, who will immediately spend the money and help the economy. "Paying for it should not be a necessary condition for passing it," he said. "In my view, the risks are just too high."

Zandi said it would be a good idea for Congress to plan to offset the cost of benefits -- but not this year or the next year.

Even conservatives should be able to understand this. The Congressional Budget Office has documented that aid to the unemployed is one of the highest-scoring stimulus policies (pdf) for exactly the reasons Pelosi explained. In terms of fiscal bang for the buck, Zandi's analysis found that the single most stimulative investments the government can make comes from a temporary increase in food stamps -- but extended unemployment benefits were a close second. (Both perform far better than tax cuts.)

It seems those with even "half a brain" should appreciate the concept. The point of any stimulus exercise is to inject money into the system. If the government provides a benefit to an individual, and he or she sticks the money into a savings account, that's not stimulative. But when the jobless receive benefits, they tend to spend it all quite quickly -- they have no choice; they're struggling to get by.

That Republicans and Ben Nelson think the deficit is more important than this is misguided. That media conservatives find this incomprehensible is bizarre.

Atrios: Deficit Hawks Don't Care About The Deficit
Some just want to cut spending that might benefit poor brown people, most just want to cut taxes paid by rich people. They don't actually care about the deficit. Nobody does except maybe CBO actuaries.

Prediction: the catfood commission's major tax increase will be... increasing the bottom tax bracket from 10 to 15%.
Atrios: Electorally Fearful
The problem is that the catfood commission comes out after the November election, meaning that a bunch of crappy Democrats who just lost their seats might feel free to "vote their consciences" and starve your granny.

The main hope is that any tax increases will be a poison pill.
As of late yesterday afternoon, the pieces appeared to be in place to finally complete work on Wall Street reform. The majority had 57 Democratic votes -- the entire caucus, sans Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) -- and needed three Republicans. Maine's Susan Collins endorsed the bill last week; Massachusetts' Scott Brown agreed yesterday morning; and Maine's Olympia Snowe announced her support late in the day. It seemed 60 votes were in place.

Indeed, soon after Snowe issued her statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced, "We will finish our work on this bill this week to ensure that these critical protections and accountability for Wall Street are in place as soon as possible." It seemed a Thursday floor vote was likely.

But as we've learned, nothing is ever easy in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) vowed Monday to move forward with a financial regulatory overhaul this week, despite last-minute waffling by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) that could throw that schedule into doubt.... Reid needs the support of Nelson, who is suddenly showing signs of wavering.

Specifically, Nelson said late yesterday, "You don't know who's going to be head of the consumer protection bureau. You can't just send a rogue agency out on its own."

The comments were a reminder that of why Nelson is so often a confounding disappointment. The provisions related to the consumer protection agency have been debated for months. He waited until the week of the vote, after 60 votes were in place, to start making threats? After he already voted for the same provisions a month ago?

It's very likely this is yet another attempt for the conservative Nebraskan to gain leverage over his colleagues. Here's an idea: maybe Ben Nelson should hold the bill hostage until he works out a secret deal behind closed doors that gives him unique influence over the process. That worked out for him so well the last time he tried such a stunt.

Roll Call reported this morning that Democratic leadership aides are "confident they can persuade Nelson to vote for the measure and deliver on Reid's vow to finish the bill this week." If Nelson betrays the party again, the leadership will either a) find another Republican supporter, which seems highly unlikely; or b) wait until next week, when the late Sen. Robert Byrd's (D-W.Va.) temporary replacement is expected to be in place.

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.