Saturday, September 25, 2010

What digby & Rachel said . . .

Digby: NY Times Miss Manners Hints At Truth
The New York Times features an interesting story this morning about a move across teh country to remove judges by people who don't like their decisions:

After the State Supreme Court here stunned the nation by making this the first state in the heartland to allow same-sex marriage, Iowa braced for its sleepy judicial elections to turn into referendums on gay marriage.

The three Supreme Court justices on the ballot this year are indeed the targets of a well-financed campaign to oust them. But the effort has less to do with undoing same-sex marriage — which will remain even if the judges do not — than sending a broader message far beyond this state’s borders: voters can remove judges whose opinions they dislike.

Around the country, judicial elections that were designed to be as apolitical as possible are suddenly as contentious as any another race.

In Kansas, anti-abortion activists are seeking to recall a justice. In Illinois, business interests are campaigning against the chief justice after a case that removed a cap on malpractice liability, prompting him to run a television ad that opens with the declaration, “I am not a politician.” And a conservative group called Clear the Bench Colorado is citing a host of decisions in seeking to oust the full slate of justices on the ballot there, urging voters, “Be a citizen, not a subject.”

It goes on to point out that the laws many of them were using were designed to remove corrupt or incompetent judges but are now being used to send a message that judges who do not adhere to certain views will be kicked out of office.

It also points out that there is big money involved, with the campaigns being underwritten by corporate interests and wealthy Christian groups.

But they forgot to connect the dots in this story. Do you notice something that all these cases around the country have in common? Yes, I knew that you could -- they are all being waged by right wingers. This "trend" is decidedly one-sided, run by a minority faction in America who have decided that their interpretation of the laws and the constitution will be imposed upon everyone.

Far be it for me to suggest that intimidating judges and replacing ones you don't like with social conservatives might be just a little bit theocratic and surely nobody can believe thatcorporate sponsored removal campaigns are designed to make it impossible for moderate or conservative judges to compete against business friendly judges. It would be very impolite to point any of that out, which is why, I'm sure that the New York Times didn't bother to do it.

They simply left some little hints for the discerning reader to sift through:

Brian S. Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, which has spent $230,000 on television ads criticizing the Iowa judges, said he understood that removing the three judges would not change the same-sex marriage ruling. (It was a unanimous ruling by the state’s seven justices.) But Mr. Brown said he hoped the judges’ ouster would help prevent similar rulings elsewhere by making judges around the nation aware that their jobs are on the line.

“It sends a powerful message,” he said, “That if justices go outside the bounds of their oaths, if the justices go outside the bounds of the U.S. and state constitutions they’re going to be held accountable.”

Bob Vander Plaats, who made opposition to same-sex marriage a centerpiece of his unsuccessful run for governor in Iowa, is leading the ouster campaign on behalf of the political arm of the American Family Association, a conservative Christian organization based in Tupelo, Miss.

“My bigger fear isn’t about injecting politics into judicial retention elections. The bigger fear is that we don’t hold them in check,” he said, warning that gun and property rights could be at risk.

Make of that what you will dear reader. But never say that the NY Times stooped to the level of shrill bloggers who suggest that the far right might have a radical agenda. Let no one say that the old Gray Lady is anything but well mannered.

DADT opponents find ally in Constitution

Jonathan Turley, Constitutional law professor at George Washington University Law School, talks with Rachel Maddow about Friday's ruling against "Don't ask, don't tell, the Witt standard, and the recent space of gay rights wins in court cases around the country.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Billionaires pump money into GOP campaigns

Rachel Maddow shares a report that 91 percent of the money contributed to a Republican group tied to Karl Rove came from just three billionaires. Chris Hayes of The Nation magazine joins to discuss the drastic inequality in income and influence in America.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Krugman: Who You Gonna Believe?

I went through my mail today, and got the usual batch of letters declaring that I’m wrong about everything, and that we should do the opposite of anything I say. Hey, it’s a free country.

But I found myself wondering, as I often do, about the determination with which people believe pundits who please them ideologically, no matter how wrong they have repeatedly been — wrong in ways that, if you believed them, cost you money.

Suppose you had spent the last five years actually believing what you read from the usual suspects — the WSJ opinion pages, National Review, right-wing economists, etc.. Here’s what would have happened:

In 2006 you would have believed that there was no housing bubble.

In 2007 you would have believed that the troubles of subprime couldn’t possibly spread to the financial system as a whole.

In 2008 you would have believed that we weren’t in a recession — and that the failure of Lehman was unlikely to have bad consequences for the real economy.

In 2009 you would have believed that high inflation was just around the corner.

At the beginning of 2010 you would have believed that sky-high interest rates were just around the corner.

Now, we all make mistakes and get things wrong — although it’s striking how often the trolls on this blog feel the need to accuse yours truly of saying things I didn’t. But after this string of errors, wouldn’t you at least begin to suspect that the people you find congenial have a fundamentally wrong-headed view of how the world works?

Guess not.

Ezra Klein: Obama on corporate advertising

The president's most recent radio address was focused on the aftermath of the Citizens United decision and the Republican filibuster against the Disclose Act that would force corporations to take responsibility for their political advertisements. But it ends on an oddly plaintive, almost fearful, note:

What is clear is that Congress has a responsibility to act. But the truth is, any law will come too late to prevent the damage that has already been done this election season. That is why, any time you see an attack ad by one of these shadowy groups, you should ask yourself, who is paying for this ad? Is it the health insurance lobby? The oil industry? The credit card companies?

But more than that, you can make sure that the tens of millions of dollars spent on misleading ads do not drown out your voice. Because no matter how many ads they run – no matter how many elections they try to buy – the power to determine the fate of this country doesn’t lie in their hands. It lies in yours. It’s up to all of us to defend that most basic American principle of a government of, by, and for the people. What’s at stake is not just an election. It’s our democracy itself.

A lot more people will see ads funded by corporations this November than will ever hear or read a word of this radio address.

Peter Goodman, who's been a rising star at the New York Times, covering the economy and business news, agreed this week to leave the paper and sign on with the Huffington Post. Goodman's move, a coup for the online outlet, is a reminder about just how serious a media powerhouse HuffPost is becoming.

But what seemed especially interesting about this wasn't the transition, but rather, the motivation behind it. Goodman chatted with Howard Kurtz about his reasoning.

"For me it's a chance to write with a point of view," Goodman says in an interview. "It's sort of the age of the columnist. With the dysfunctional political system, old conventional notions of fairness make it hard to tell readers directly what's going on. This is a chance for me to explore solutions in my economic reporting."

Goodman, who spent a decade at The Washington Post before his three years at the Times, says he will still rely on facts and not engage in "ranting." And while he was happy at the newspaper, he says, he found he was engaged in "almost a process of laundering my own views, through the tried-and-true technique of dinging someone at some think tank to say what you want to tell the reader."

It's been one of the most glaring flaws in major American media for far too long -- news outlets can tell the public about a story, but they won't tell the public's who's right. Every story has to offer he-said/she-said coverage, and every view has to be treated as entirely legitimate. ("Republicans today said two plus two equals five; Democrats and mathematicians disagree.")

To tell news consumers about a controversy is fine. To tell news consumers who's objectively correct is to be "biased."

For the public that wants to know who's right, and not just who's talking, it creates a vacuum filled by online outlets. For journalists who want to "tell readers directly what's going on," it creates an incentive to abandon news organizations that demand forced neutrality.

brooklynbadboy (Dkos): The wrong way to answer Ms. Velma Hart

First Read noted something that was obvious to me watching the President's town hall:

What was captivating about yesterday’s CNBC town hall with President Obama is that it gave voice -- from real people -- to the reason why his party faces the possibility of big losses on Election Day, which is now exactly six weeks away. That reason: His supporters aren’t fired up right now. “Quite frankly, I'm exhausted,” said one questioner. “Exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the man for change I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.”

That "deeply disappointed" person is one Ms. Velma Hart, who is an executive at the veterans service organization AMVETS. Ms. Hart is from what what most of us would say is the most loyal demographic of the base Obama voter: A middle class African-American mother of two, military veteran, wife, mainline protestant from the metropolitan East Coast.

Here she is at the town hall:

At the end, she said:

Quite frankly, Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly: Is this my new reality?

If I may paraphrase, "is this as good as we're gonna get from you?"

Obama responded:

"As I said before, times are tough for everybody. So, I understand your frustration."

The President then went on note a "whole host of things that do make your life better."

Wrong answer, sir.

Don't go telling Ms. Hart all what you've done for her when she is telling you "I can't feel it." Instead, you need to assert strongly where all these things you are doing are going to take the country. Ms. Hart wants strong action that makes a real, and immediate difference. And by action, she means action that is going to restore her faith in the American Dream: that you can work hard (direct federal hiring), play by the rules (regulate Wall Street), do right by your family (fix the housing market), be proud of your work and America (fair trade), and retire with dignity and respect (no catfood commission).

She said to The New York Post:

"You can have all the hope in the world, but it has to be backed by action. It's been a long time since I had to make decisions about grocery purchases," she said.

Her oldest daughter, Christa, is preparing to go to college next fall and the $50,000 a year in expenses are deeply worrying her.

Hart said the accomplishments Obama rattled off don't help her with a home that has lost half its value, diminished retirement savings, a rising cost of living and stagnant wages.

Make no mistake, Ms. Hart isn't about to go and vote Republican. She remains, and I join her in this, a strong supporter of the President:

Ms. Hart, I think, personifies the enthusiasm gap. Base Democratic voters like her, and I'm sure many Democratic leaning independents, aren't teabaggers. They are people who simply expect this President to tackle the short term as well as the long term problems. If it isn't going to happen, or if they don't believe in the hope of it happening, they're going to stay home this November.

Pushing hard for a middle class tax cut (sigh), is nice. Getting a Christmas card from someone at work is also nice. What would really fire up the base is coming out swinging with an aggressive agenda for next year that includes direct, immediate action on the housing crisis, unemployment, and retirement. Bread and butter Democratic stuff. Tell America where this country is headed and how we are going to get there. That is how you put the GOP on the spot. Tell the story of what they are for (as this front page has advocated all year), and contrast it with where Democratic government will take us. Paint a picture of two American futures, and make sure ours is better. That how to get people like Ms. Hart fired up to win this damn election.

Ms. Hart said it best:

Quite frankly, I thought that my question would set the platform for a response that would almost be, I don't know, whimsical, magical, very powerful. On the fact that he does believe he's made progress, I know he's made progress. The issue for me is that I'm not certain that the progress is being felt deeply enough. And that is where I'm looking for the bang for the buck.

I couldn't agree more.

John Cole: The GOP Gay Outreach Continues at Top Speed

You stay classy, wingnuts:

I’ve just gotten off the phone with Atlanta Journal-Constitution political writer Jim Gallaway who says that Sen. Saxby Chambliss has confirmed that the “All faggots must die” comment left here on JMG earlier today did indeed come from his Atlanta office. Galloway reports that Chambliss told him his office is conducting an internal investigation.

The entire GOP is motivated by hate, fear, and greed.

*** Update ***

From the comments:

To be fair, it’s probably a staffer.

Of course it was a staffer. Chambliss was busy in the well of the Senate, the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” doing the official gay bashing as he voted against DADT.

Bellantoni (TPM): Al Franken Chokes Up Over Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Shortly after Senate Republicans and two Democrats blocked a vote to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Sen. Al Franken gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor.

Franken (D-MN) told a story about one of his trips to entertain the troops when he was a comedian, and started to choke up over the people who told him they were gay. You can watch him get emotional as he tells the story below.

Franken said the year was 2006 and it came at a time when the military had a tough time recruiting. He said they gave waivers for just about everything at the time.

"If you ask every man and woman on that base, who would you rather have standing to your right, standing to your left, that gay man or that gay woman who has been serving with you the last year, or somebody comes in here with a moral waiver and those troops who had moral waivers, many of them served very honorably and bravely, or some with a cognitive waiver, many of those flourished in the military and are doing great things," Franken said.

He added: "All gay and lesbian service members want to be able to serve. Instead, people are getting kicked out of the military. People who don't need any moral waiver, people who don't need standards lowered for them in order to serve. People who are patriotic and courageous and who have vital, irreplaceable skills."

Franken said the ban "makes no sense."

"It is foolish, it is unjust and we must end it," he said.

Read his statement in full here.

Sullivan: The Race Card, Refreshed

Patrick Buchanan plays it in an unexpected way, denigrating president Obama for failing to give black Americans preferential treatment:

[W]hile conservatives always get one of their own on every national ticket, and all of their own on the Supreme Court, African-Americans seem to settle for a few back-of-the-bus Cabinet seats. Say what you will about the right. But if their party took them for granted the way Democratic presidents take black constituents for granted in plum appointments, there’d be a whole lot of shakin’ going on.

Of course, if Obama ever did give blacks preferential treatment, Buchanan would be the first one to seize on the matter in the most demagogic way imaginable. And insofar as Democrats do take black constituents for granted, it is due in no small part to the fact that those constituents are powerfully averse to voting for the party of Pat Buchanan, who has replaced the outright racism of his early career with a new affinity, suddenly shared by so many on the right, for race-baiting.

John Cole: I’ll Let You Do The Math

Here are two posts, one from Greg Sargent, one from TPM. Read them, and then weep. Sargent:

If this new poll conducted for the labor powerhouse SEIU doesn’t persuade Dems to hold a vote on extending the middle class tax cuts, then nothing will.

The toplines of the poll, which were first reported by Alex Burns, are striking enough: In seven core battleground states, a big majority, 62 percent, favor extending the middle class tax cuts while letting the high end cuts expire. That’s exactly what Dems are mulling a vote on.


Could it really be true that the House is going to adjourn this week and doing nothing on taxes at all? That, of course, would deprive all congressional Democrats of a galvanizing issue and also allow the Republicans to argue that all Democrats had “raised taxes” on everyone. I have a hard time believing this is more than an unfounded rumor. But it would be a good way to knock 10 or 20 more seats out of next years House Democratic caucus.

It doesn’t exactly take Nostra-goddamn-damus to figure out what the gang that can’t shoot straight (unless the gun is pointed at their head) is going to do here, does it? I mean, it’s obvious. Of course they’ll adjourn without doing anything.

  • from the comments:


    Of course they’ll adjourn without doing anything.

    You don’t see the big picture. If Dems schedule a vote on extending tax cuts for $250k and under while letting cuts over that expire, Rs will get mad at them and call them names. There’s nothing they can do. Isn’t that the mantra?

Sullivan: The Stoppable Sarah Palin, Ctd

Douthat discounts Palin:

It is extremely unlikely that the political landscape in the winter and spring of 2012 will resemble the political landscape in the autumn of 2010. Even setting aside the unpredictability of economic developments, foreign-policy crises, and everything else that could shift the ground beneath our feet, the reality of having a more empowered Republican Party in Washington and a weaker President Obama in the White House will almost certainly work profound changes on the country’s mood — and yes, in the mood of the Republican base as well. (It’s hard to be quite so fired up and furious about socialism when Washington is mired in gridlock, and it’s hard to be quite so outraged at RINO perfidy when you’ve kicked a lot of the RINOs out of office.)

The temper of conservative politics in the fall of 1994, the off-year election cycle that most resembles this one (it was a year, as Rich Lowry notes, when a former homeless man defeated the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee), bore little resemblance to the temper of conservative politics in 1996, when Bob Dole cruised to the Republican nomination over more base-pleasing candidates like Pat Buchanan and Phil Gramm.

Ross may be right, but I think he ignores just how much more radical the GOP base has become since 1994, how enraged they have become over the years by what they see as condescension and betrayal by their own elites, and the rise of Fox News and the Malkin/Reynolds blogosphere and Levin-style talk radio. I also think that the people to whom Palin appeals will be as economically distressed in 2012 as they are now, since their jobs are overwhelmingly the ones that are gone for ever.

Ross has fed and ridden this tiger for a while now. He cannot pretend it's a pussycat any more.

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's Monday.

Kurtz: Inspires Confidence
White House strenuously denies NYT report that it is considering getting aggressive about winning the midterm elections.

Ezra Klein: The difference between the parties

The fight over 1099 reform is one of the best case studies of the differences between Republicans and Democrats that we've seen this year.

Quick background: 1099 reform deals with a tax change in the health-care bill. The provision seeks to recoup taxes that small businesses should currently be paying but aren't. The problem is that the mechanism would mean a lot of paperwork. Enough, actually, that it's probably worth scrapping it. But that means you need to make up $17 billion.

Republicans wanted to do that by cutting public-health subsidies for the poor. Democrats said no. Democrats wanted to do it by cutting subsidies for oil and gas companies. Republicans said no. Democrats came up with another way to do it, this time by closing a tax loophole that allows hedge-fund managers to be taxed at a much lower rate than people in other professions. Republicans don't like this, either.

I really don't understand the vision of the economy, or of need in general, where it makes more sense to cut public-health spending than treat the income of hedge-fund managers like the income of, say, small-business owners. Is there some reason we want lots more people to enter the hedge-fund industry? Or that government should be directly subsidizing oil and gas production? I can at least understand the rationale for public-health programs. That sort of collective action is something you need government to organize. The presence of generous financial incentives for entering the hedge fund industry really isn't.

Drum: A Simple Look At Income Inequality

Will Wilkinson is unimpressed with Tim Noah's recent series on growing income inequality. He cites several recent pieces of research to suggest that, in fact, inequality hasn't been growing as fast as we think:

Robert Gordon, an economist from Northwestern University....reports that improved use of income datasets "shows that there was no increase of inequality after 1993 in the bottom 99 percent of the population, and can be entirely explained by the behavior of income in the top 1 percent."....Christian Broda and John Romalis find that "the relative prices of low-quality products that are consumed disproportionately by low-income consumers have been falling over this period. This fact implies that measured against the prices of products that poorer consumers actually buy, their 'real' incomes have been rising steadily."....Using an updated price index, Christian Broda, Ephraim Leibtag, and David Weinstein find that the real wages at the 10th percentile increased by 30 percent from 1979 to 2005.

There's long been a cottage industry in efforts to show that income inequality isn't as bad as the raw numbers say it is. Until recently, the most popular tactic was to insist that we should look at consumption instead of income. This was mostly just an attempt at misdirection, but in any case the great credit bubble and bust has made it plain that a lot of recent middle class consumption was fueled by refi and charge card binges that ended disastrously. If anything, this strengthens the case of those who say that income matters after all, so we don't hear this argument much anymore.

But there are plenty of others. We're measuring inflation wrong. Cheap plasma TVs and Chicken McNuggets have made the life of the poor better than you'd think by just looking at their earnings. The whole thing is just a statistical artifact of the 1986 tax reform bill. The composition of households has changed, so household income goes farther than it used to. Income distribution looks better if you count government transfers. Etc. etc. etc.

There are bits and pieces of truth to some of these things, but for the most part they don't really address income inequality at all. They just move the spotlight to something else. Are households smaller than before? Yes, which is why I usually prefer to look at statistics for individuals. Have consumption patterns changed? Maybe so, and taking that into account in an effort to get a handle on the actual lived experience of the poor/working/middle classes is an interesting exercise. Is CPI the right inflation measure? I prefer it, but it's an arguable point.

But regardless of the answers to all these questions, there's still the raw fact that the flow of money in America has changed dramatically over the past few decades. That's why one of my favorite charts is the one on the right. It's updated from the older version that I posted a couple of days ago, and the data comes from an annual CBO report that shows the share of total earnings going to various income levels.

It's not perfect, but it's pretty good. Since it shows income shares, inflation measures don't matter. It doesn't try to measure consumption, it just measures who the money is going to. It includes pensions and government transfers. It accounts for reporting changes due to the 1986 tax reform bill. And it uses tax data to get a cleaner look at the top of the income distribution.

(Drawbacks: It doesn't include healthcare benefits, which would change the shape of the curves slightly. And it uses households as its unit of account. That's not the way I like to look at things, but it's pretty standard in the field.)

If you look at the raw CBO figures, they show that a full tenth of the national income has shifted since 1979 to the top 1% of the country. The bottom quintiles have each given up a bit more than two percentage points each, and that adds up to 10% of all earnings. That 10% has flowed almost entirely to the very tippy top of the income ladder.

Is the middle class worse off because of this? Of course they are. Income matters even if plasma TVs are cheaper than they used to be or if CPI mismeasures middle class consumption or if average households now contain 2.6 members instead of 2.7. If this massive income shift hadn't happened, middle class earnings would be higher, they'd be able to buy more stuff, and they probably wouldn't be in debt as much. And the top 1% wouldn't have quite so much idle cash lying around to do stupid things with.

This income shift is real. We can debate its effects all day long, but it's real. The super rich have a much bigger piece of the pie than they used to, and that means a smaller piece of the pie for all the rest of us. You can decide for yourself if you think this is something we should just shrug our shoulders about and accept.

There was an interesting item in The Hill last night noting that White House officials, most notably President Obama and Vice President Biden, are "concerned that liberals disappointed with Obama's policies might stay home this November," and are taking steps they hope will prevent a disaster.

Adding Elizabeth Warren to the president's team might help, and it probably wasn't a coincidence that when Biden raised his profile, he was sure to spend quite a bit of time with Rachel Maddow. Indeed, during the interview, he specifically told "our progressive base... you should not stay home." The V.P. added, "You better get energized, because the consequences are serious for the outcome of the things we care most about."

The next question, then, is how to get the left energized before the well-documented enthusiasm gap moves Congress sharply to the far-right. In the midst of a campaign, there are generally two choices, energize the base by: (a) pointing to a record of accomplishment or (b) pointing out the radical qualities of the other side. Republicans are excelling exclusively on the latter; for Dems it's more complicated.

The majority party shouldn't have too much trouble reminding the Democratic rank-and-file about the threat posed by radicalized Republicans -- by nominating so many hysterical extremists, the GOP has made that task easier. Besides, as we continue to struggle with crises left over from the Bush/Cheney era, the stench of Republican failure is still very much in the air.

But what about the record of the last 20 months? I've long believed, and continue to believe, that there's a chasm between perceptions and reality when it comes to the White House's policy accomplishments. Ezra Klein had an item the other day that rang true to me, and I hope he won't mind if I quote it at length.

The White House held a conference call today for Elizabeth Warren and various bloggers and writers. Most of it was what you'd expect, but Warren did mention that Rep. Barney Frank once told her that getting a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was a "pipe dream."

I think some people will see that as a mark against Frank, but he was right, at least judging by Washington's record over the previous 20 or 30 years. In fact, a lot of the Obama administration's accomplishments were pipe dreams.

A near-universal health-care system? Why would Obama and the Democrats succeed when Truman, Nixon, Carter, and Clinton had all failed, and politicians as adept as FDR and LBJ refused to even make the attempt? They've seen the numbers, right? The health-care industry is bigger now, and richer, and there are no more liberal Republicans. There's no way.

A $787 billion stimulus? Yes, it was too small. But everything Washington does is always too small. And within the confines of that stimulus, the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress managed to make a host of long-term investments that would've been considered huge accomplishments in any other context, but are largely unknown inside this one. Huge investments in green energy, in health information technology, in high-speed rail, in universal broadband, in medical research, in infrastructure. The Making Work Pay tax cut. The Race to the Top education reform program. No recent president has invested in the country on anything like that level.

If voters who backed Obama two years ago are prepared to make an evaluation based on accomplishments, and decide whether to vote in 2010 accordingly, the White House has a compelling case to make, the popularity of these successes notwithstanding.

As unsatisfying as it seems to grade on a curve, it's worth noting that while Obama took office with sky-high expectations, he was also against the backdrop of a country that was practically in free fall. Arguably no president in American history started his first day with a list like this: the Great Recession, two deadly wars, a jobs crisis, a massive deficit and budget mess, crushing debt, a health care system in shambles, a climate crisis, an ineffective energy policy, an equally ineffective immigration policy, a housing crisis, the U.S. auto industry on the verge of collapse, a mess at Gitmo, a severely tarnished global reputation, an executive branch damaged by corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement, and an angry, deeply divided electorate.

The president was told to clean all of this up, quickly, without the benefit of a minority party willing to play a constructive role. And just to make things really interesting, Obama was also told that for the first time in the history of the United States, every initiative he came up with would need mandatory supermajorities just to pass the Senate.

And despite all of this, what have seen? The Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act, Wall Street reform, student loan reform, Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, nuclear arms deal with Russia, a new global nonproliferation initiative, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years.

But what about the unpopularity of the Democratic successes? Why are Democrats understandably reluctant to run on the most successful two years of policymaking in decades?

The White House's message machine has often fallen far short of late, but part of me thinks the pitch at this point should go something like this: we were moving in the wrong direction, but we've made some unpopular moves to get back on track.

It's like a recovery from a serious illness -- you feel miserable, the medicine tastes awful, and the shots hurt. You're left frustrated, weak, and maybe even embarrassed. The physical therapy and recovery process takes too long and leaves you wondering if it's even worth it.

But it is. Recovery happens. It wasn't pleasant, and the illness wasn't your fault, but you make progress and you get better, even if there are times when that seems that's unlikely.

Getting back on your feet and thriving again may seem like a "pipe dream," but once the toughest moves are behind you, real progress lies ahead -- that is, unless you decide to go back to the quacks who got you sick in the first place.

John Cole: Where Have They Been

If this is true, this is just gross political incompetence at the White House political division:

President Obama’s political advisers, looking for ways to help Democrats and alter the course of the midterm elections in the final weeks, are considering a range of ideas, including national advertisements, to cast the Republican Party as all but taken over by Tea Party extremists, people involved in the discussion said.

White House and Congressional Democratic strategists are trying to energize dispirited Democratic voters over the coming six weeks, in hopes of limiting the party’s losses and keeping control of the House and Senate. The strategists see openings to exploit after a string of Tea Party successes split Republicans in a number of states, culminating last week with developments that scrambled Senate races in Delaware and Alaska.

“We need to get out the message that it’s now really dangerous to re-empower the Republican Party,” said one Democratic strategist who has spoken with White House advisers but requested anonymity to discuss private strategy talks.

Apparently, the only places left on earth where they do not realize that the tea party is a GOP operation are Fox News and the White House.

Krugman: The Angry Rich

Anger is sweeping America. True, this white-hot rage is a minority phenomenon, not something that characterizes most of our fellow citizens. But the angry minority is angry indeed, consisting of people who feel that things to which they are entitled are being taken away. And they’re out for revenge.

No, I’m not talking about the Tea Partiers. I’m talking about the rich.

These are terrible times for many people in this country. Poverty, especially acute poverty, has soared in the economic slump; millions of people have lost their homes. Young people can’t find jobs; laid-off 50-somethings fear that they’ll never work again.

Yet if you want to find real political rage — the kind of rage that makes people compare President Obama to Hitler, or accuse him of treason — you won’t find it among these suffering Americans. You’ll find it instead among the very privileged, people who don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.

The rage of the rich has been building ever since Mr. Obama took office. At first, however, it was largely confined to Wall Street. Thus when New York magazine published an article titled “The Wail Of the 1%,” it was talking about financial wheeler-dealers whose firms had been bailed out with taxpayer funds, but were furious at suggestions that the price of these bailouts should include temporary limits on bonuses. When the billionaire Stephen Schwarzman compared an Obama proposal to the Nazi invasion of Poland, the proposal in question would have closed a tax loophole that specifically benefits fund managers like him.

Now, however, as decision time looms for the fate of the Bush tax cuts — will top tax rates go back to Clinton-era levels? — the rage of the rich has broadened, and also in some ways changed its character.

For one thing, craziness has gone mainstream. It’s one thing when a billionaire rants at a dinner event. It’s another when Forbes magazine runs a cover story alleging that the president of the United States is deliberately trying to bring America down as part of his Kenyan, “anticolonialist” agenda, that “the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.” When it comes to defending the interests of the rich, it seems, the normal rules of civilized (and rational) discourse no longer apply.

At the same time, self-pity among the privileged has become acceptable, even fashionable.

Tax-cut advocates used to pretend that they were mainly concerned about helping typical American families. Even tax breaks for the rich were justified in terms of trickle-down economics, the claim that lower taxes at the top would make the economy stronger for everyone.

These days, however, tax-cutters are hardly even trying to make the trickle-down case. Yes, Republicans are pushing the line that raising taxes at the top would hurt small businesses, but their hearts don’t really seem in it. Instead, it has become common to hear vehement denials that people making $400,000 or $500,000 a year are rich. I mean, look at the expenses of people in that income class — the property taxes they have to pay on their expensive houses, the cost of sending their kids to elite private schools, and so on. Why, they can barely make ends meet.

And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it. “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes — but that was a long time ago.

The spectacle of high-income Americans, the world’s luckiest people, wallowing in self-pity and self-righteousness would be funny, except for one thing: they may well get their way. Never mind the $700 billion price tag for extending the high-end tax breaks: virtually all Republicans and some Democrats are rushing to the aid of the oppressed affluent.

You see, the rich are different from you and me: they have more influence. It’s partly a matter of campaign contributions, but it’s also a matter of social pressure, since politicians spend a lot of time hanging out with the wealthy. So when the rich face the prospect of paying an extra 3 or 4 percent of their income in taxes, politicians feel their pain — feel it much more acutely, it’s clear, than they feel the pain of families who are losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes.

And when the tax fight is over, one way or another, you can be sure that the people currently defending the incomes of the elite will go back to demanding cuts in Social Security and aid to the unemployed. America must make hard choices, they’ll say; we all have to be willing to make sacrifices.

But when they say “we,” they mean “you.” Sacrifice is for the little people.

John Cole: Poor Little Rich Boys

This piece, titled “The Rage of the Privileged Class,” is guaranteed to give your blood pressure a good bump:

As the hue and cry to return the money grew, the traders had thought that Liddy would stand up for them. The ruddy-faced, 63-year-old former Allstate CEO, who had been installed by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in September, was, if not exactly one of them, at least someone who understood the rules of the game as it had been played—and who understood what they were entitled to under those rules, even if those rules were unspoken. In AIG’s glory years, executives like Joseph Cassano, the former head of financial products, took home more than $300 million. That was the kind of money you couldn’t talk about.

But as Andrew Cuomo stoked public outrage by threatening to release the names of the bonus recipients, it became clear that the game was changing. When AIG employees had arrived at their desks that morning, they found a memo from Liddy asking them to return 50 percent of the money. The number infuriated many of the traders. Why 50 percent? It seemed to be picked out of a hat. The money had been promised, was the feeling. A sacred principle was at stake, along with, not incidentally, their millions.

We’re talking about people at a company which, without considerable taxpayer largesse, would cease to exist. They would be getting nothing. They would not even have jobs. But the idea of giving back just half their “bonuses” when their company was a stinking shitpile costing hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars- that was just too much for them. There was a “sacred” principle at stake. It gets worse:

“No offense to Middle America, but if someone went to Columbia or Wharton, [even if] their company is a fumbling, mismanaged bank, why should they all of a sudden be paid the same as the guy down the block who delivers restaurant supplies for Sysco out of a huge, shiny truck?” e-mails an irate Citigroup executive to a colleague.

“I’m not giving to charity this year!” one hedge-fund analyst shouts into the phone, when I ask about Obama’s planned tax increases. “When people ask me for money, I tell them, ‘If you want me to give you money, send a letter to my senator asking for my taxes to be lowered.’ I feel so much less generous right now. If I have to adopt twenty poor families, I want a thank-you note and an update on their lives. At least Sally Struthers gives you an update.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, there you have it- Freedom Fonzarelli’s “producers.”


Remember, as far as the media establishment goes, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is a "visionary" worthy of respect, despite his frequent slips into madness.

[P]erhaps the former House Speaker's loudest applause [at the Values Voter Summit] came when he weighed in on the controversial Islamic center and Mosque proposed to be built near Ground Zero, declaring, "We as Americans don't have to tolerate people who are supportive of violence against us, building something at the site of the violence."

"This is not about religious liberty, if they want to build that mosque in the South Bronx, frankly they need the jobs," he continued. "But I am totally opposed to any effort to impose Sharia on the United States, and we should have a federal law that says under no circumstance, in any jurisdiction in the United States, will Sharia be used in any court to apply to any judgment made about American law."

Note the classic non-sequitur -- converting a clothing store into a community center, in Newt's twisted mind, is part of an effort to impose Sharia on the United States. At least, that is, what he wants his easily-confused audience to believe.

But I'm especially impressed with the legislation Gingrich wants to see. To hear him tell it, we need a law to prevent U.S. courts from basing rulings on Sharia. Are there any U.S. courts doing this? Well, no. Have there ever been any U.S. courts doing this? Nope, not one. Is there any evidence at all to suggest U.S. courts might ever do this? Not even a little. This is the talking point of fringe, unhinged radicals.

But Gingrich wants a law anyway. I was disappointed he didn't also call for a federal law that says, under no circumstances, will Bigfoot be allowed to run for Congress. Also, unicorns must not be permitted to roam the streets, and flying saucers must not land within 100 yards of a school. We must think of the children, you know.

The disgraced former Speaker added that the Democrats' "secular socialist machine" is comparable to "radical Islamists," and that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius relies on "the spirit of Soviet tyranny."

Major media outlets, however, have no qualms about considering Gingrich a credible, mainstream figure.
  • TPM Reader NR ... adds:
    I know it's obscure and hidden in the voluminous federal law and Supreme Court Decisions so possibly Newt would have missed it, but there is already fairly well established federal law making it illegal to impose Sharia law on the United States. After an exhaustive search, I found this:

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."


In May, right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul, shortly after winning Kentucky's Republican Senate primary, agreed to appear on "Meet the Press." Upon realizing the candidate might be asked to explain his extremist ideology, the Rand campaign quickly walked away from the commitment.

Four months later, right-wing activist Christine O'Donnell, shortly after winning Delaware's Republican Senate primary, agreed to appear on "Face the Nation" and "Fox News Sunday." And wouldn't you know it, after realizing O'Donnell may be asked about her witchcraft-dabbling, gay-hating, anti-masturbation-crusading, delusion-sharing background, the Republican nominee discovered she has other plans tomorrow.

Yes, just one day before her scheduled appearances, O'Donnell backed out.

Campaign spokeswoman Diana Banister cited scheduling conflicts and said O'Donnell needed to return to Delaware for commitments to church events and afternoon picnic with Republicans in a key county where she has solid backing.

"Tomorrow the priorities are back in Delaware," Banister said. "Those are people who supported her, who were very helpful to her in the campaign, and she feels obligated to be there and thank them."

The campaign spokesperson added, "We felt really bad."

Of course.

It's one thing to duck "Face the Nation"; Bob Schieffer leans to the right, but he's a media professional who would have asked real questions. But O'Donnell also bailed on Fox News, suggesting either she, her team, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, or some combination of the three aren't even confident in her ability to handle questions from a Republican cable network.

Noting recent examples -- Palin, Angle, et al -- David Kurtz added, "It's become a staple of the tea party candidacy. You make a big splash onto the national stage then quickly retreat from any press scrutiny because you are so unprepared and ill-equipped for the rigors of the job that tough questions will expose you as the charlatan you are."

It's worth noting that Chris Coons, the sane candidate who's on track to defeat Christine O'Donnell, hasn't been invited onto any of the Sunday shows, even after her cancellations. Imagine that.