Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bunning Attacked, Republicans Unscathed

Is this a metaphor for Republican obstructionism and Democratic acquiescence? (Or is "metaphor" the wrong term?)

The Associated Press reports

Sen. Jim Bunning on Tuesday again blocked the Senate from extending unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless.

The Kentucky Republican objected Tuesday to a request by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a fellow Republican, to pass a 30-day extension of jobless benefits and other expired measures. The measure would also extend highway programs and prevent a big cut in Medicare payments to doctors.

John Fritze writes in USA Today:

Democrats ramped up political pressure on Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who is blocking the $10 billion bill because he wants Congress to pay for it with unused economic stimulus funds.

Even Mike Madden at Salon:

Democrats have spent the day blasting the Kentucky Republican, whose personal filibuster against extending unemployment benefits past Monday's expiration date means about 400,000 Americans are in jeopardy of not getting checks they're entitled to.

Politico joined in:

The Kentucky GOP senator’s unilateral decision to block an extension of federally funded unemployment benefits and other popular provisions has united Democrats and sent Republicans hiding from the political backlash.

That's the company line- the company being the GOP-friendly corporate media- even if it's not entirely accurate. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) noted "it’s wrong to call this Jim Bunning’s filibuster. It was a Republican filibuster, as they offered “passive support.”

That was on the morning of Saturday, February 24, when Tennessee's Bob Corker, Alabama's Jeff Sessions, and Texas' John Cornyn, the latter being one of the five members of the GOP Senate leadership, were aiding Bunning. Jon Kyl of Arizona now has jumped in to help. This support is critical; as The New York Times reports "And Republicans said they were willing to hang tough like Mr. Bunning, who could not leave the floor since Democrats could have then pushed the proposal through without him being present to object."

Bunning has opposed unanimous consent for the continuing resolution and initiated the filibuster because, he says, the bill is unpaid for and thus would contribute to the deficit. No cheap shots here about Bunning's support for the tax cuts for the wealthy and the preventable war (funded partly off-budget) in Iraq championed by the President of his own party, or his vote against Paygo. (A cheap shot would be pithier.) Or that Bunning turned down Senate Majority Leader Reid's offer for a vote on paying for the current bill with unused stimulus funds, which the Kentuckian had said he wanted done. Or that the stunt has resulted in a 21% cut in Medicare fees to doctors, a curious move for a party that is wringing its hands over alleged cuts in Medicare in the Senate health care bill. Or that, as Rhode Island's Jack Reed pointed out

historically, whenever the unemployment rate exceeded 7.4%, Congress has always extended benefits, and that such extensions generally create $2 in the economy for every $1 spent (you could say that they pay for themselves, which was Bunning’s entire objection). (Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff) Merkley noted the expense to state unemployment agencies to send out notices to shut down benefits, only to start them up again if they are extended.

The Democrats- or, rather, the Senate Democratic leadership, a distinction likely to go unnoticed among most Americans- is not blameless. According to Roll Call (subscription required) via David Waldman at

Bunning’s filibuster angered Democrats, most notably Durbin, who organized a group of the chamber’s younger Democrats Thursday night to man the floor for a potential all-night session.

But after three hours of often heated debate — during which Bunning could be heard yelling obscenities at other lawmakers — Durbin dropped his efforts for the evening shortly before midnight.

Or, as Waldman blogged, "so they had him to the point where he was shouting obscenities on the Senate floor and decided... to let him go home for a good night's sleep."

Democrats prefer to call Bunning out, labeling his actions "obstructionism," rather than risk confrontation with the GOP. They could hold a vote rather than hold out for unanimous consent but that would be.... so partisan. Meanwhile, the leader of the Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (who forced his home-state colleague out of running for re-election because he was a likely loser), stays at arms-length from the filibuster. Yet, Republicans are sending a powerful message to their base- we stand against the federal government, against runaway spending (which it hardly is), and against the evil troika of Obama, Reid, and Pelosi. (The House already had passed the same bill.) When most of the funds eventually are restored, they still can say: our intent was saintly; we did what we could. (Years after Bush 43, after promising "no new taxes" during the 1996 campaign, had raised taxes, some stalwart Republican voters still were defending him as obviously well-motivated in having made the vow.)

A two-fer? Maybe a three-fer. Democratic leaders, including Senate Majority Whip Steny Hoyer and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, are using this episode to strengthen claims of a need to reform what appears to be a dysfunctional Senate.

Except of course this is not how the Senate functioned until very recently. Now, the GOP is doing all it can to bring effective legislative activity to a halt. With help from the mainstream media (and the right), the public does not view this as partisan obstructionism but as the failure of government to get anything done. That government currently is run (theoretically) by Democrats- the party of government. And when November comes, it appears, those voters are going to be revved up to run that party out of that government. Then if filibusters are more difficult to sustain, the GOP can make a run at Medicare and Social Security, successfully weakening the social safety net.
GOP Standing In Opposition

Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), the day before the summit, told GOP TV's Greta van Susteren "I think there's going to be a bit of a kabuki dance tomorrow." But he probably doesn't understand that, according to Wikipedia, "Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers," that "kabuki can be interpreted as 'avant-garde' or 'bizarre' theatre."

Instead, we all could have skipped the health care forum (transcripts of each speaker here) at the Blair House in Washington when, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, lead-off batter for the Republican Party of No, stated:

But we think to do that we have to start by taking the current bill and putting it on the shelf and starting from a clean sheet of paper.

John McCain added

So when my constituents and Americans now who overwhelming reject this proposal say go back to the beginning, they want us to go back to the beginning.

Representative Dave Camp of Michigan stated

And the American people are telling us that the individual -- the mandates, the requirements to buy insurance are something that they want us to scrap and start over on.

The GOP's newest policy wonk, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, similarly urged

So what we simply want to do is start over, work on a clean- sheeted paper, move through these issues, step by step, and fix them, and bring down health care costs and not raise them. And that's basically the point.

House Minority Leader John Boehner maintained

And I can tell you the thing that I've heard more than anything over the last six or seven months is that the American people want us to scrap this bill. They've said it loud, they've said it clear.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming claimed

....only one in three people of American support what is being proposed here. And that's why so many people, Mr. President, are saying it's time to start over.

Representative Peter Roskam of Illinois, after gravely noting "this is not a prop. This is the Senate bill," offered this metaphor:

And they say, look, take the Etch A Sketch, go like this, let's start over, let's do incremental things where there's common ground.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell remarked

The solution to that is to put that on the shelf and to start over with a blank piece of paper and go step by step to see what we can agree on to improve the American health care system....

But it was summed up best in the closing portion of the comments of Representative Joe Barton of Texas when he stated, really

So what we're saying, Mr. President, we're not talking about incrementalism. We're talking about, as Leader Boehner said and Mr. McConnell -- Senator McConnell said, let's start over in the sense that we change the vision and work together to do the things that we agree upon, but do it in way that doesn't destroy the fundamental market system that's made the American health care system the best in the world.

This is not serious. Eight Republican members of Congress know that Americans are tired of hearing about health care with nothing being accomplished. They know this is an election year and little gets done in even-numbered years. And their remedy: let's start over; re-invent the wheel.

But they were consistent. To Barton, it was "the American health care system" as "the best in the world." He wasn't alone- McConnell referred to "the American health care system which is already, as all of us agree, the finest in the world." And Boehner claimed "We may have problems in our health care system, but we do have the best health care system in the world by far.

Why wouldn't a Party whose leading congressional members believe we have the best health care system in the world want to destroy any chance at reforming that system? Well, not any chance- if it bolsters "the fundamental market system" that has given us the highest health care costs in the world, business (employment) decisions based on the cost of health care in an employer-based system, consumers dropped from insurance once they need it, denial of insurance because of pre-existing conditions, more than 39 million citizens without care, and inadequate outcomes, it would be just fine.

But at least those health insurance companies are happy. No, there was nothing bizarre about the summit- which was as inconsequential as Senator Gregg thought it would be. It was just the same old Party, content with the status quo, standing as one and shouting: "Never!"

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Limbaugh Manipulative Machine: #2

Consider whether Rush Limbaugh chose to lie, deceive, or simply mislead when on February 25 he contended

The Limbaugh AP Tweak of the Day. Headline: "Initial Jobless Claims Rise Unexpectedly." Now, just yesterday we had news that there was an increase in mass layoffs, which is 50 or more, and that was not unexpected; and yesterday we heard 20% of ABC is going to bite the dust. That's not "unexpected." But they're blaming it now on the snow. They're blaming it on the snow. Global warming! At least they're not blaming it on Bush. "The number of new claims for unemployment benefits jumped unexpected last week as heavy snows led to higher layoffs...."

You know, it's amazing to me as I go through these stories every month, however often they come out, how far our great watchdog media is willing to go to try to explain away the bad numbers. It's always something. It's the weather, it was Thanksgiving and offices were closed out there.

It's just amazing they go out of their way to explain all of this. It's gotten to the point that they're blaming it on snow, blaming unemployment on snow.

At first glance, it's hard to understand why Limbaugh slammed the Associated Press' take on bad economic news rather than emphasizing the discouraging (well, not for him) news instead. But the key is in his reference to "our great watchdog media," Limbaugh always referring to "the state-controlled media" as if he hasn't noticed its Republican bias.

And the news from the Associated Press was bad:

In its report Thursday on jobless claims, the Labor Department said first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 496,000. Wall Street analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected a drop to 455,000....

This year, the improvement has stalled. The four-week average has risen about 30,000 in the past month. It's now well above the 425,000 level that many economists say would signal net hiring....

The higher claims figures in recent weeks means the unemployment rate likely rose in February and more jobs were lost. The unemployment rate in January was 9.7 percent, and employers cut a net total of 20,000 jobs. The Labor Department will issue the February employment report next week.

Rush is correct that the story included references to the impact of the stormy weather which has battered much of the country. But the effect cited by the AP was not that which Rush claimed.

Limbaugh maintains "they're blaming it on snow, blaming unemployment on snow." However, that was not their emphasis, as indicated by this passage:

In its report Thursday on jobless claims, the Labor Department said first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 496,000. Wall Street analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected a drop to 455,000.

The rise occurred mostly because state agencies last week processed a backlog of claims caused by snowstorms the previous week. The storms also increased temporary layoffs in the weather-sensitive construction and transportation industries.

Still, the four-week average of jobless claims, which smooths out volatility, rose 6,000 to 473,750. The average had fallen sharply over the summer and fall from its peak last spring of about 650,000.

Although the AP did maintain "the storms also increased temporary layoffs" in "weather-sensitive" industries, it referred to a "rise" in "first-time claims for unemployment benefits" occurring because of "a backlog of claims caused by" the weather. Continuing the theme, the following paragraph referred to "the four-week average of jobless claims." The CNN story to which Rush may have been referring had a similar emphasis, while the report regarding ABC News was completely unrelated to weather, as

Westin did not say how many jobs the company was seeking to eliminate but he said the restructuring of the news operation to take advantage of digital technology will result in "substantially fewer" people on staff at ABC News.

Emphasizing coverage of the news rather than the bad news itself is not an unintentional misdirection on the part of Limbaugh, but rather yet another saga of conservatives victimized by The Liberal Media. If Limbaugh had said "they're partially blaming it on the snow," there would have been an element of truth. But he did not. Whether it was the AP story (whose headline Limbaugh cited) or to the layoffs at ABC, it cannot be said accurately "they're blaming it on the snow." And given that Rush Limbaugh can read, his claim would be a lie.
Timidity On The Public Option

Yesterday on Democracy Now! Glenn Greenwald weighed in on the health care debate

Well, to me, the way in which the Democrats have conducted themselves concerning the public option is really quite amazing, not because of what they’ve done, but because of how blatant they’re being about it.

The public option, of course, all along was already a compromise from what most progressives wanted, who wanted single payer and were told by most Democratic politicians for a long time that single payer was the optimal course. The public option was already a means of doing nothing other than at least providing some competition to the private health insurance industry. And all year long, Democratic senators and the White House pretended that they were in favor of the public option. They kept insisting, “We’re behind the public option. We want the public option,” even though there was all sorts of evidence that the White House was secretly negotiating with the health insurance industry to make sure that it would be excluded from the final bill.

Amy Goodman then asked Greenwald "what kind of evidence?" to which he responded

Well, they’re the fact that senators ended up saying that in private meetings with the White House, it was made clear to them that the public option was not something that was a priority for the White House and that they would end up happy to see it gone. Health insurance lobbyists were coming in and out of the White House. And the reason they didn’t end up vigorously opposing healthcare reform was because there would be no competition for the private health insurance industry in the form of the public option. And, of course, the final bill didn’t have a public option, and the White House did nothing to support it.

But what’s most incredible was that the excuse that they gave to progressives was that the reason that we couldn’t have a public option was because there were fifty Democratic senators, or fifty-one Democratic senators, who supported it, but there weren’t sixty, and because of the filibuster rule, sadly, the public option just couldn’t get into the bill, and there was just nothing the White House could do, as much as the President wanted that to happen.

Well, now you have a situation where everybody is talking about doing healthcare reform through reconciliation, where only fifty votes, not sixty votes, are required. And what does the President do? He immediately, when he finally unveils his first bill, excludes the public option from the bill, even as he says we’re going to use a process that will only require fifty votes. And you even saw Senator Jay Rockefeller, who spent the year pretending to be so devoted to the public option that he said he will not relent in ensuring that it gets passed, that there is no healthcare reform without a public option, now that it can actually pass and become a reality, he turns around and says, “I’m not inclined to vote for it in reconciliation.”

This is what Democrats do. They use the filibuster rule as an excuse to their supporters to justify their inaction. They’ve been doing this for years. And now that the sham is exposed, because they’re really going to pass healthcare reform with fifty votes, they just turn around and so blatantly say, “Well, actually, we’ve been telling you all year we have fifty votes for a public option. Even now that we only need fifty votes, we’re still not going to do it.” It’s really quite extraordinary.

As Greenwald understands, the idea of a public option initially was a concession to liberals/progressives, who actually preferred the fairness and simplicity of a single payer system. The details of the public option were framed so as not to offend Republicans, given that it was to have covered a grand total of roughly 10 million Americans. Nevertheless, it was used as a whipping boy by the GOP (something would have to be), which figured out that the best strategy was opposition to anything and everything proposed by the President. On top of that, Senate Democrats, encouraged by Chief of Staff Emanuel, fashioned a bill of extraordinary complexity, which left it vulnerable to Republicans and tea party supporters who complained about its length and derisively charged that Democrats had not read their own bill.

Now that, as Greenwald explains, the public option is a real possibility (through reconciliation), there is no enthusiasm for it. Obviously, primary responsibility for this sleight-of-hand must be laid at the feet of the White House. Senate Democrats, perhaps still enamored of their historic president and clearly convinced they must hitch themselves to his wagon (and loathe to offend their benefactors in the insurance industry), have fallen right in line.

But Greenwald is unfair when he argues "this is what Democrats do." Notwithstanding that his reference to filibusters applies only to the Senate, he might have given a shout out to one Democrat who does not always roll over and play dead. (Two cliches are my limit for one sentence.) The Speaker of the House, from her closing remarks (video below) at the health care summit yesterday:

Mr. President, I harken back to that meeting a year ago. At that
time, Senator Grassley said -- questioned you about the public option. And you said, "The public option is one way to keep the insurance companies honest and to increase competition. If you have a better way, put it on the table."

Well, I bring that up because we come such a long way. We're
talking about how close we are on this, how far apart we are here.
But as a representative of the House of Representatives, I want you to know that we were there that day in support of a public option, which would save $120 billion, keep the insurance companies honest, and increase competition.

Mrs. Pelosi went on to call out GOP Representatives Boehner and Camp. Drawing a distinction between the Democratic approach and the Repub approach and reminding President Obama of when he was in favor of a public option may not be a "profile in courage," but comes closer than we've become accustomed to seeing.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Across State Lines

One of the GOP's ideas for killing reforming health care is to permit insurance to be sold across state lines. At Thursday's health care summit in Washington (transcript of part two here, transcript of part 3 here), at least three Republicans advocated it. Charles Boustany of Louisiana argued

The same goes for purchasing insurance across state lines. I'm glad to hear our Democratic colleagues agree that this is an approach that needs to be taken to promote choice and competition. But again, we feel that this bill restricts those options too much. And we think we can do it in a responsible way. I believe we probably could come together on this, but I think the existing proposals restrict it far too much.

Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn later chimed in:

Now, a lot of the people that I talk to want us to start over in this issue and they want us to give them the ability to hold insurance companies accountable. One of those ways is through very robust competition. And when you have a district like mine in Tennessee, where the bulk of our constituents are within 15 miles of the state line, the ability for those individuals -- who have families and live and work and have employees on the other side of the state line who shop for major purchases every day -- is to allow them to be able to make those purchases.

In yet another concession to the GOP, President Obama suggested that he agreed with the concept, noting "That's something that I've put in my proposal that's actually in the Senate proposal. I think that it shows some promise." Later, he added, "I support the idea of purchasing insurance across state lines...." Fortunately, though, he cautioned

Bbut again, the one difference, as I understand it, and the reason you're not supporting the approach that we take, is what we say is there should be sort of a minimum baseline benefit, because if not, what ends up happening is you get a company set up in Nevada -- let's assume there were no rules there, there are no protections for the woman who's got breast cancer; they go into New York, they offer pretty cheap insurance to everybody who's healthy; they don't offer the same insurance to people who aren't so healthy or have preexisting conditions. They drain from New York all the healthy people who are getting cheaper rates, but now suddenly everybody left in New York who doesn't qualify for that cheaper plan is in a pool that's sicker, older, and their premiums go up.

So what we've said is, well, if we can set a baseline, then you can have interstate competition, but it's not a race to the bottom; rather everybody has got some basic care.

At the tail end of the forum, the President added:

what is absolutely true is that some states probably have higher mandates than others and so you can probably attribute a certain amount of the cost in a high -- a state that has more requirements for bare minimum coverage, doesn't allow drive-by deliveries or requires mammograms or what have you.

There is, as President Obama would put it, a basic "philosophical difference" here. Republicans recoil at the idea of minimum standards: they would be set by the federal government rather than individual state governments; and they would be imposed upon insurance companies and much of the party simply doesn't want any restrictions upon, or regulations on, a corporate powerhouse like insurance companies. This was highlighted in an exchange by two U.S. Representatives, Democrat Rob Andrews of New Jersey and Republican John Kline of Minnesota:

Rob Andrews: Let's take the case of a woman who has a baby by C-section, and she lives in one of the many states that say you can't be kicked out of the hospital after you've had a C-section until your doctor thinks it's time for you and the baby to go home.

Now, under the association health plan proposal, that rule wouldn't apply to that lady and her baby; that there would be no protection of her in that situation. We think, John, that there shouldn't be necessarily 51 different rules for each state, but there ought to be some minimum federal standards in these exchange to protect people in cases like that.

So I think the issue is, if we could find a way to agree, that in a case like this where a lady has a baby by C-section and has the ability to not have the insurance company get between her and her doctor, so the doctor makes the decision about when they go home, we could figure this out. And if you --

John Kline: If I could just respond to that, my friend knows very well that there are large companies today who operate under what I'm proposing for association health plans. They get a waiver, they don't have to comply with the individual mandates of all 50 states, and I don't hear people complaining about the insurance policies that they're getting from their big companies. In fact....

Certainly people do complain about the limited benefits of their health insurance; John Kline doesn't "hear people complaining" because he doesn't want to hear them. Perhaps his constituents believe it would be futile complaining to him, and it appears it would be.

But the most vivid illustration of the inadequate standards some states maintain could be found in the example given by Representative Louise Slaughter (R.-NY), who maintains

Eight states in this country right now have declared that domestic violence is a preexisting condition on the grounds, I assume, that if you've been unlucky to get yourself beaten up once you might go around and do it again.

Most people wouldn't consider domestic violence a pre-existing condition; almost no one would. Even most states- apparently 84%- don't increase rates for a woman because she has been physically assaulted. If insurance can be sold across state lines as Repub members of Congress evidently believe it should, the insurance companies aren't going to set up shop in the states with the most stringent regulations, any more than credit card companies have.

Still, as Republicans collectively shout "No!" while President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders plead (as in the old ditty, "pretty please, with sugar on top") for them to be reasonable, the goal posts get moved further and further.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Article Of The Week

Thomas Frank, writing in his Wall Street Journal column, "The Tilting Yard," has it approximately 98.2% correct, which is about his average. In "What's the Matter With Democrats," a takeoff of his "What's the Matter with Kansas," Frank notes "The laissez-faire system has just finished giving us a convincing demonstration of its viciousness, but the party of Franklin Roosevelt can't get out in front of the resulting anger."

The Democratic Party doesn't know how to deal with "angry, working class people" because

Many of the party's resident geniuses gave up on that constituency long ago, preferring instead to remodel their organization as the vanguard of enlightened professionals and the shrine of purest globaloney. They worked hard to convince Wall Street that new-style Democrats could be trusted.

Frank recognizes the symptoms and made the proper diagnosis, and realizes the bleeding might have been staunched had President Obama

helped in this regard, using the biggest megaphone in the land to tell us, in the Times's words, "why it happened and whom to blame." He might have explained to us how financial regulation was systematically undermined by his predecessors, how the prospect of quick profits bred conflicts of interest throughout the system, and how a delusional free-market superstition blinded the nation to the unsoundness of the financial structure.

contested the right's monopoly on the word "elite." He might have reached out to working-class voters in the only way Democrats can.

Frank sarcastically, but accurately, argues that was avoided because it "would have been divisive. That would have disturbed the confidence of the markets." Certainly, as he implies, President Obama has been somewhat intimidated by Wall Street. But it may go beyond that. On January 10, 2009 ABC News George Stephanopoulos wrote

I asked the president-elect, "At the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your presidency some kind of grand bargain? That you have tax reform, healthcare reform, entitlement reform including Social Security and Medicare, where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?"

"Yes," Obama said.

"And when will that get done?" I asked.

"Well, right now, I’m focused on a pretty heavy lift, which is making sure we get that reinvestment and recovery package in place. But what you described is exactly what we’re going to have to do. What we have to do is to take a look at our structural deficit, how are we paying for government? What are we getting for it? And how do we make the system more efficient?"

"And eventually sacrifice from everyone?" I asked.

"Everybody’s going to have to give. Everybody’s going to have to have some skin in the game," Obama said.

Recalling these remarks, Digby whacked Obama Wednesday:

The problem, of course, is that the best case has millionaires "sacrificing" being able to buy a bigger airplane while the average retiree has to sacrifice eating protein. This "game" we've all got our skin in has some much more serious consequences for some of us than others: since certain of the wealthy players just crashed the financial system a whole lot of soon-to-be seniors lost their nest eggs in both the real estate and stock markets (and are being priced out of the health care market just when they need the coverage the most.) If there's a worse time to require these particular people to sacrifice more I don't know what it is.

It's also true that often the people for whom "sacrifice" is nothing more than a minor inconvenience are prone to lecture those for whom is is quite painful. It's irritating.

Thomas Frank always has decried the failure of the left to have an "economic narrative to counterbalance the wisdom of Rush Limbaugh." Gay rights are imperiled in California or Maryland, the left responds; Rush Limbaugh yet again attacks black(s) because, well, they're black, even the mainstream media cries foul. In the economic realm, however, the response is puny: Democrats have, Frank notes, "accepted, for the most part, the deregulatory agenda of the Reagan administration; in fact, in some fields—banking, telecommunications, free trade—they went farther than Ronald Reagan dared."

It is one of the reasons genuine health care reform, so eagerly awaited upon the election of Barack Obama, is now such a dim memory.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Quote Of The Week

"The White House obviously has a loser mentality -- but America rallies around winners."

-Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is promoting the letter urging the Senate leadership to employ reconciliation to pass a public option for health care, in response to Presidential Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' remark indicating the apparent opposition of the White House to inclusion of the public option
Guns And Crime And Alabama

In the wake of the murders of three faculty members and wounding of two others by University of Alabama-Huntsville professor Amy Bishop, Howard Nemerov has written an enthused, if cursory, piece in the Austin Gun Rights Examiner opposing gun control.

Nemerov supports right-to-carry laws and opposes gun-free zones, such as the University of Alabama. However, he notes "nearly all post-secondary schools" prohibit individuals from carrying guns on campus- and, in fact, only in Utah are persons expressly permitted to carry weapons on a college campus. Sixteen states explicity prohibit weapons on college campuses, while twenty-two others (of which Alabama apparently is one) generally prohibit them at schools.

Gun-free zones are not the most effective form of gun control, although it can, if properly formulated, give prosecutors a weapon in prosecuting violent offenders. More effective measures typically are blocked by lobbyists in state legislatures or Congress. And, theoretically, Amy Bishop could have armed herself with a knife and gone from instructor to instructor, thrusting her knife into the five individuals. Theoretically, but not realistically.

But Nemerov, and most like-minded individuals, are little interested in determining the most effective means of reducing deaths from firearms. Nemerov, for instance, claims incidents such as the one in Huntsville "point to one inevitable conclusion: gun control failed," a curious conclusion given the extremely lax gun laws in Alabama.

Individuals determined to block any reasonable effort at reducing the number of firearms in the hands of criminals, the mentally unstable, and others who should not be possessing them should take heed of this chart. It indicates that the states with the five highest gun death rates are, from first to fifth: Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska and Mississippi (tied), and Nevada. Each has a gun ownership rate higher than the national average, ranging from 31.57% (Nevada) to 60.67% (Alaska), with Alabama at 57.2%. The five states (from lowest to highest) with the lowest gun rates are Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York; their gun ownership rates range from a high of 18.1 in New York to a low of 9.7 in Hawaii. (Even in this group, the gun ownership rate is highest in the state with the highest gun ownership rate.)

The correlation between the gun ownership, and the violent crime, rate is not nearly as strong as that between gun ownership and deaths by gun. Still, in 1997 only five states had a higher overall violent crime death rate than Alaska and Louisiana had the third highest rate in the country. (South Carolina had the dubious distinction of coming in #1.)

Admittedly, these intriguing statistics prove little- correlation does not prove causation. And in that, they are identical to virtually all the arguments of the pro-gun crowd: they demonstrate little if anything. Instead, common sense should prevail, in which case this nation would have considerably more restrictions on dangerous firearms than it now has.

Monday, February 22, 2010

War, Oh So Lovely

It was kind of a nondescript call and, given no way to verify anything the caller said, not of any importance. Still, something a fan of Rush Limbaugh said today sparked a recollection of mine from high school (or was it junior high?) days. Apparently, I was taught by a fascist, communist, socialist, traitor or, worse yet, a community organizer.

CALLER: You're welcome. So I'm a college student in Pittsburgh. I have an oral communications class, and a kid in my class was reading a song lyric or a song quote or whatever you want to call it from a song, and it said: to die for your country is not honorable and to die for the red, white, and blue isn't a good way to die, it's not respected, and to those types of tones, and at the end of this presentation everyone clapped, excluding me, I did not clap. And I got reprimanded for not clapping for him.

RUSH: Okay. What did the student say again, go a little slower.

CALLER: He said to die for the Stars and Stripes is not honorable, and to die for our country is not respected.

RUSH: So a student made the statement, and everybody but you applauded?


RUSH: And then what happened?

CALLER: And then my teacher yelled at me, she said, "Why didn't you applaud, why didn't you applaud for him?" And I said it's disrespectful and I don't agree with it, and I think our country is a great place, and she said --

RUSH: Why did she think you had to applaud? Just to avoid hurting the guy's feelings or did she agree with this student?

CALLER: I think she agreed.

RUSH: Why do I even ask, of course she agreed, she's a professor at a university. Why would I even think otherwise?

CALLER: Because at the end of the presentation -- he was the last presentation -- and at the end she stood up and she goes, "Very good, very, very well, very well spoken."

RUSH: Okay. Did you suffer any more than a reprimand, or did it stop there?

CALLER: I'm not sure yet. I haven't gotten my grade yet.

RUSH: Wow. Well, you hang in there, Kathryn. This is worth the reprimand. You heard it from me. We hear these kinds of stories periodically, kids call from all over with the stories of what's happening inside these institutions of higher learning. Thanks much, Kathryn.

Obviously, we can't confirm that Rush's fan was reprimanded. Or whether it was because the instructor agreed with the student. Or if the instructor liked the content of the "song lyric or song quote or whatever." Or what college this occurred at. Or even if the incident occurred. But, given that the item allegedly had something to do with the idea that dying for one's country is not necessarily honorable, it brings to mind a poem written by a fellow who volunteered at the age of 20 or 21 to fight for his country, England. He was sent to France on 12/31/16, saw a lot of action, and wrote numerous poems about his horrifying experience.

This is usually considered an antiwar poem, though you'll have to decide for yourself whatever relevance it may hold for the United States, or any nation, circa 2010. But it clearly is relevant to the idea, apparently appalling to Rush Limbaugh and to his caller, that war is not a glamorous enterprise. So, after all this ado (and with an explanation of the Latin at the conclusion of the poem), here is....


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

8 October 1917 - March, 1918

DULCE ET DECORUM EST - the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace). The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean "It is sweet and right." The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country.

Wilfred Owen- patriot, hero, victim- was killed in action days before the armistice was declared in November, 2018.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Thompson For McCain

The sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and Fred Thompson has endorsed John McCain over former Representative J.D. Hayworth for the Arizona Senate seat currently held by the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee. Thompson always has been reputed to be close to McCain, perhaps reflected in the failure of the former U.S. Senator (Tennessee), actor (Law and Order), and radio commentator (Paul Harvey News and Comment, The Fred Thompson Show) to make more than a token pursuit of the presidential nomination himself two years ago.

Thompson always has been a conservative, whether in the economic, cultural, or foreign policy realms, but also an establishment figure in the Republican Party. It is hardly surprising for him to have endorsed the incumbent, nor for him to emphasize the object of McCain's passion, foreign policy (or as the right-leaning mainstream media would have it, "national security," implying that the more liberal or dovish couldn't possibly support the security of the nation). But the former Tennessean did make an interesting leap of faith when he announced

I’m for John McCain. I hope he gets re-elected. I’ll help him get re-elected if I can. It’s more important for me, and I believe for the country, to have McCain’s leadership and the respect that he brings to bear on an issue. When he takes the floor on a national security matter. When he takes the floor and leads the intellectual effort the for the surge. When, without his efforts, I don’t think we would have ever had a surge and therefore we would never have had a victory in Iraq....

The (pro-Iranian) government is more stable than previously and casualties are down. But "victory" in Iraq? Leila Fadel reports in Wednesday's Washington Post:

But this time, there will be no outsider acting as a buffer between the warring sects. U.S. military officials acknowledge that as Iraq regains sovereignty, their influence is waning. A senior U.S. military official who has spent years in Iraq said he fears that as the drawdown begins, American forces are leaving behind many of the same conditions that preceded the sectarian war.

"All we're doing is setting the clock back to 2005," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a stark assessment. "The militias are fully armed, and al-Qaeda in Iraq is trying to move back from the west. These are the conditions now, and we're sitting back looking at PowerPoint slides and whitewashing."

This may be overly pessimistic. Or not. Certainly, this is not what General Douglas MacArthur meant when he wrote "There is no substitute for victory."
But neither is the deterioration of security and stability the anonymous official perceives akin to "victory" in the modern, less ambitious, sense.
The Armey At CPAC

Understandably, this year's Conservative Political Action Conference produced some truly outrageous statements.

Young America's Foundation spokesman Jason Mattera compared the gathering to Woodstock, quipping "except that unlike the last gathering, our women are beautiful, we speak in complete sentences and our notion of freedom doesn’t consist of snorting cocaine, which is certainly one thing that separates us from Barack Obama.”

Speaking of Tiger Woods' wife, Tim Pawlenty joked "I've had enough. We should take a page out of her playbook and take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government."

Introducing fanatically pro-corporate and anti-income tax crusader Grover Norquist, Human Events editor Jed Babbit stated "I'm just really, really glad it wasn't him identified as flying that plane into the I.R.S. building."

Dick Armey did not disappoint the attendees, declaring (first video below) of President Obama "You're intellectually shallow. You're a romantic. You're self-indulgent. You have no ability.... There's nothing so arrogant as a self-righteous income-redistributor."

It was the most offensive remark made by the former Texas congressman and current chairman of Freedom Works, of whom Chris Matthews said (remark at end of video, the second below) on Thursday "I like Dick Armey a lot." It rivaled in bad taste Armey's comment when he appeared (third video below) with Salon's Joan Walsh on Hardball, twice condescendingly telling her "give it a rest" and then blurting "I am so damned glad that you could never be my wife because I surely wouldn't have to listen to that prattle from you- every day."

But neither of those was as ridiculous as another comment (fourth video below) made by Armey at CPAC, wherein he referred to the U.S.A. as having "the greatest health care in the world," with, among other things, the "greatest accessibility.... and that which is in fact copied by the rest of the world."

No need, here, to go into the statistics demonstrating that our nation on health care spends more than twice as much per capita as any other developed nation with outcomes no better than most. Or that over 30 million individuals residing here legally lack health insurance. Or that no other nation is rushing around to mimic our heath care system. It has been explained and described by so many others.

The New York Times noted in an editorial printed yesterday that a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in Michigan "settled" with regulators for a 22% rate increase after seeking a 56% increase. In California, Anthem Blue Cross, a subsidiary of Well point, has announced an average increase of 25% for persons in the individual market. Paul Krugman noted in his New York Times column yesterday

what WellPoint claims is that it has been forced to raise premiums because of “challenging economic times”: cash-strapped Californians have been dropping their policies or shifting into less-comprehensive plans. Those retaining coverage tend to be people with high current medical expenses. And the result, says the company, is a drastically worsening risk pool: in effect, a death spiral.

Krugman points out that "California's individual insurance market is already notable for its lack of regulation, certainly as compared with states like New York — yet the market is collapsing anyway." This makes a farce out of Armey's claim "the solution is not more government control, the solution is less government control."

Few Republicans these days are so bold, and absurd, as to claim there is not a serious health care problem in this nation. Still, no Republican, and few members of the mainstream media, will stand up to denounce Armey's ridicule of a "crisis in health care" as "a notion you're (Obama) getting away with peddling."

Democrats should be assigned some responsibility, after a year of health care debate, for not having so demolished the self-interested complacency of individuals who spread such myths. Nonetheless, the primary blame needs to be assigned to Dick Armey and others acting out of self-interest who refuse to address, and only obsure, our health care crisis.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Article Of The Week

Former Bush 43 press secretary Ari Fleischer sees the very wealthy paying a disproportionate share of income taxes and calls it "redistribution of income, and it is getting out of hand."

Rush Limbaugh believes President Obama "thinks that the poor and lower middle class have had the wealth that is rightfully theirs stolen by other people. It is his intention to return the nation's wealth, quote, unquote, to its rightful owners."

Senator John Thune (R-SD), who liked the bailout of huge financial institutions when it was proposed by, and approved during the administration of, a Republican President, is aghast that President Obama wants to limit the ability of banks to make risky investments and threaten another economic cataclysm. He claims Democrats want to "create enough animosity toward Wall Street and corporate America, they get into this traditional sort of Democrat rhetoric and tap into the populist anger out there. For Democrats to be successful they’ve got to create a sense of class warfare and an us versus them mindset."

It's a slightly more modern variation of the "Democrats are waging class warfare" that the late syndicated columnist Robert Novak used to be obsessed with. And to be sure, class warfare has been waged in this country for some time.

Only the attack has been on the American middle and lower classes and not on the wealthy, as pointed out by Jon Perr in "The Bush 400" on February 19. (Another splendid piece on the distribution of benefits to the wealthy came from Perr last April.)

Reprinting a portion of a chart from The New York Times, Perr notes "the income share of the 400 richest Americans doubled over the past decade. From 2001 through 2007, the average income (in thousands) of the 400 Americans with the highest income soared from $131,099 to $344,759. The average income of the individual in this class rose from $263.3 million to $344.8 million (a 31 percent increase) from 2006 to 2007 alone. This was nine times the rate of increase for the bottom 90 percent of the population. Income of the bottom 90% of the population crawled from $33,445 to $33,546. For all millionaires, after-tax income rose by 7.6%, "while the gains for the middle quintile and bottom 20% of Americans were a paltry 2.3% and 0.4%, respectively."

Here are some of the facts:

* The effective tax rate of the 400 richest taxpayers in the nation dropped from 29.4% in 1993 to 16.6% in 2007. During that period, their income went up more than seven-fold, to an average of $345 million. Income of the bottom 90% increased from $29,577 to a mere $33,546, far less than 20%. That would be an advantage of more than 35 times, during which the share of all adjusted income of the privileged group rose from .52% to 1.59%.

* Among those 400 eligible to pay the top rate in 2007, only 33 actually paid that 35%.

* From 2006 to 2007 alone, the average income of the bottom 90% rose only 3%, but 31% for the top 400, whose share of adjusted gross income rose by .28% while their effective tax rate dropped by .55%.

* The highest marginal tax rate for single filers (not in constant dollars): in 2010, 35% for income over $373,650; in 1993, 39% for income over $250,000; in 1986, 50% for income over $88,270; and in 1980, 70% for income over $108,300.

Over the last three decades, the top tax rate has continuously dropped. The percentage of national income possessed by the wealthiest of all Americans has steadily increased (although not in 2008, due in part to the plunge of the stock market). Though outside of the scope of Perr's post, this would be less disturbing if real income of the middle class had risen significantly during this period. But it hasn't, and given Republican hostility to the middle class masked by charges of "socialism," the growing gap between the two Americas, the wealthy and the rest of us, may be our biggest challenge.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Limbaugh Manipulative Media Machine: #1

Is it a lie, deception, or merely misleading? There is a difference- according to Merriam-Webster, to lie is "to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive;" deceive "implies imposing a false idea or belief that causes ignorance, bewilderment, or helplessness;" and to mislead is "to lead astray; give a wrong impression" (not necessarily intentionally).

That is the context in which to evaluate most of what Rush Limbaugh has to say. He is someone we periodically need to listen, and call out, given that he is the de facto head of one of the two major political parties, which he aims to make the only political party. If Republicans Michael Steele, Mark Sanford, Rodd Tiahrt, Jim Tedisco, Eric Cantor, and Zach Wamp, and recently, Sarah Palin have had to apologize, deny what they said, or maintain a double standard (see Palin, Sarah) because they may have had offended Limbaugh, he's a force to reckon with.

As with most lawyers and politicians, Rush usually does not lie- he generally is careful not to state clearly, definitively, and without equivocation what he knows to be false. Still, it is worthwhile, in this first installment of what will be a periodic effort, to consider whether a particular statement made by the bloviating talk-show host is merely misleading, deceptive, or an actual lie.

Yesterday, Limbaugh ranted about climate change, referring apparently to the interview conducted by the BBC of Phil Jones, the director of the Climactic Research Center at the University of East Anglia. Among the claims made by Rush were

Well, we just had Phil Jones, the architect of all of this, and Michael Mann, the guy at Penn State who put together the bogus hockey stick graph, have admitted -- Well, Jones has admitted - - there hasn't been any warming since 1995. The Medieval period was in fact warmer than it is today....

Charge #1: "The Medieval period was in fact warmer than it is today."

Here is the exchange between Roger Harrabin, reportedly the BBC's environmental analyst, and Jones on the issue of the climate of the Medieval period:

G - There is a debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was global or not. If it were to be conclusively shown that it was a global phenomenon, would you accept that this would undermine the premise that mean surface atmospheric temperatures during the latter part of the 20th Century were unprecedented?

There is much debate over whether the Medieval Warm Period was global in extent or not. The MWP is most clearly expressed in parts of North America, the North Atlantic and Europe and parts of Asia. For it to be global in extent the MWP would need to be seen clearly in more records from the tropical regions and the Southern Hemisphere. There are very few palaeoclimatic records for these latter two regions.

Of course, if the MWP was shown to be global in extent and as warm or warmer than today (based on an equivalent coverage over the NH and SH) then obviously the late-20th century warmth would not be unprecedented. On the other hand, if the MWP was global, but was less warm that today, then current warmth would be unprecedented.

We know from the instrumental temperature record that the two hemispheres do not always follow one another. We cannot, therefore, make the assumption that temperatures in the global average will be similar to those in the northern hemisphere.

Apparently, there are records indicating it was very warm during the medieval period "in parts of North America, the North Atlantic and Europe and parts of Asia." But "there are very few paleoclimatic records" of "the tropical region and the southern hemisphere."

Nonetheless, Joe Romm of Climate Progress notes

We already have major studies concluding it was not warm in the Arctic.... and plenty of other analyses showing that it did not extend over many large regions of the planet. It appears the tropical Pacific was actually on the cool side.

What little data there is of the southern hemisphere, observed the National Research Council in its 2006, indicates it "does not appear to show much of a medieval warm period," And The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research reported in September of a study which incorporated geologic records and computer simulations, "Arctic temperatures in the 1990s reached their warmest level of any decade in at least 2,000 years, new research indicates."

Rush, then, had insufficient data, or reason, to argue that the medieval period was warm- much less that it was warmer than the current age. His statement, nevertheless, that "the Medieval period was in fact warmer than it is today," is merely misleading.

But wait- immediately prior to that remark, Limbaugh said "Well, Jones has admitted - - there hasn't been any warming since 1995." In full, that would be "Well, Jones has admitted - - there hasn't been any warming since 1995. The Medieval period was in fact warmer than it is today." The juxtaposition was an obvious attempt to say- and certainly was an inference- that Jones himself had said "the medieval period was in fact warmer than it is today." He did not say that, Rush implied that he did, and the statement thus was deceptive, imposing a falsehood that caused ignorance or bewilderment.

But what of

Charge #2: "Jones has admitted - - there hasn't been any warming since 1995?"

This is quite different. The question from Harrabin and the answer from Jones:

B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

Rush said "Jones has admitted there hasn't been any warming since 1995." If one ignores a portion of the question- "statistically significant"- one might conclude that Jones has "admitted there hasn't been any warming." But the question did specify "statistically significant" and Jones' response referred to "significance level" twice and "statistical significance" once. And it wasn't a long answer- his three references came in the midst of a measly five sentences; it was difficult nearly impossible to miss.

Further, asked "how confident are you that warming has taken place and that humans are mainly responsible?" Jones replied

I'm 100% confident that the climate has warmed.

Regardless of Jones' definitive statement that he believe "the climate has warmed," within his short response to the issue Rush addressed- global warming since 1995- Jones did not say there has been no global warming, only that achieving statistical significance for such a short period of time is extremely difficult. John Cook of Skeptical Science explains

Phil Jones is saying there is a warming trend but it's not statistically significant. He's not talking about whether warming is actually happening. He's discussing our ability to detect that warming trend in a noisy signal over a short period.

Phil Jones said twice that he believes global warming has occurred. In the latter response, he was "100% confident;" in the former response, he said "the trend is positive" and "is quite close to the significance level." And three times in that response he referred to statistical significance. Phil Jones clearly "did not admit there hasn't been any warming since 1995." Here, Rush Limbaugh did not merely mislead or deceive. He lied.
Feeling Tough

Speaking of Rachel Maddow and Representative Aaron Schock (R.Ill) on Meet The Press, host David Gregory asked Shock about former Vice-President Cheney's contention that the Obama Administration considers terrorism criminal acts rather than acts of war. Shock responded

Well, look, all I can tell you is what my constituents are telling me and where I think most of Americans are, which is they see an American citizen who attacks their soldiers at a, at a base in Fort Hood, Texas, tried in a military tribunal. And they see a foreigner who comes to our soil for the sole purpose of attacking our country and our American citizens and he's read his Miranda rights. The majority of Americans, the polls indicate, do not support the president and this administration's plan to try these people in civilian court.

Maddow had to explain to Shock

there have been three convictions under military tribunals, three, and two of the people convicted are now free. It's no great guarantee that anything awesome is going to happen in terms of guaranteeing guilt and guaranteeing a long sentence to do the, to do the tribunal route.

She then very effectively quoted the Judge William Young, who sentenced Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, to life imprisonment on January 30, 2003 in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. From the transcript:

We are not afraid of any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is all too much war talk
here. And I say that to everyone with the utmost respect. Here in this court where we deal with individuals as individuals, and care for individuals as individuals, as human beings we reach out for justice. You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist.

You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist. And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not treat with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice. So war talk is way out of line in this court.

You're a big fellow. But you're not that big. You're no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders.

Glenn Greenwald notes that at his Combatant Status Review Tribunal Hearing (military commission), Khalid Sheikh Mohammed made a similar argument, comparing himself to George Washington.

Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch maintains

The warrior mystique helps them to recruit glory-seeking young men to join their cause. It helps them justify the killing of their enemies and portray all of their victims as casualties of combat. It enables men like Osama bin Laden to portray themselves not as outlaws hiding in caves but leaders of great armies, confronting the world's superpower on a global battlefield.

While terrorists think of themselves as big, tough guys involved in a war, conservatives think of themselves as big, tough guys involved in a war. No law enforcement for these guys. With all that testosterone flowing, at least on our side we have the ability to do what's best, not necessarily what makes us feel warm and cuddly. Fortunately, that would include the Justice Department, which wrote in the 24-page memorandum, "Preserving Life and Liberty"

Altogether, the Department has brought charges against 375 individuals in terrorism-related investigations, and has convicted 195 to date. While every component within the Justice family has contributed to the fight against terror, the men and women of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Criminal Division, the U.S. Attorney's Offices, and the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review have led the Department's work to protect America from terror.

That was 2005. Perhaps John Ashcroft was not as simplistic and narrow-minded as some of us thought he was, or at least today's Republican Party makes him look reasonable.
Money For Us, Not For Anybody Else

38-year-old Adam Schock, a U.S. Representative from the 18th congressional district in Illinois, may be "a very nice man," as Rachel Maddow (nice touch, R.M.) called him on Sunday's Meet The Press, but he couldn't have been very happy at what hit him. A figurative 2X4, it would appear. As Schock argued the importance of "creating certainty in the markets through certain tax incentives. And that's where we'll be on a jobs bill," host David Gregory responded "So it sounds like you're--you like what the Democrats are doing here?"

The following exchange (video below) ensued:

REP. SCHOCK: Well, I don't like all the pork that was in the bill. Seven hundred eighty-seven billion dollar stimulus bill, the largest spending bill in, in history, one of the reasons why it didn't create long-term growth is it didn't have stimulative tax cuts in it, but rather a lot of pork and spending.

MS. MADDOW: Which are the least stimulative things in the stimulus. I mean, when you assess what creates jobs, in the stimulus band it's the tax cuts that were put in in order to try to win Republican votes that didn't come anyway that are the least effective thing in the stimulus bill. So the theory doesn't match the practice here.

But, I mean, you, in your district...

REP. SCHOCK: Well, I, I can assure you...

MS. MADDOW: ...just this week you were at a community college touting a $350,000 green technology education program, talking about how great that was going to be for your district. You voted against the bill that created that grant. And so that's happening a lot with Republicans sort of taking credit for things that Democratic bills do, and then Republicans simultaneously touting their votes against them and trashing them. That's, I think, a, a, a problem that needs to be resolved within, within your caucus, because, I mean, you seem like a very nice person, but that's very hypocritical stance to take.

Schock shortly thereafter would plead "With all due respect, Rachel, does that mean you're going to give back your Bush tax cuts that you continue to rail against?" but the damage was done. Maddow didn't even respond to this false analogy. Schock might not have understood, or at least would have pretended not to understand, the critical distinction between not turning back to the federal government money you have saved by getting a tax cut, and "touting a $350,000" grant. There is nothing intellectually dishonest about a congressman voting against a stimulus package he believes does not serve the interests of the nation and then simply accepting the money from that program. But voting against the bill, then bragging about bringing the money to your district, is qualitatively different.

To be sure, it's not only Aaron Schock. It's almost a virus among GOP members of Congress. Shoot off your mouth about the evils of government spending while attacking the stimulus, then brag to your district about the money you've brought to it, or about the projects the funds brought about, or about its value to the district or state, or at least ask the federal government to steer money to your constituents.

Think Progress includes these House members among them: Representatives John Boehner of Ohio, the Minority Leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Minority Whip; Jack Kingston of Georgia, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, Mary Fallin and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma; John Mica of Florida; Dan Lungren and Ken Calvert of California; Phil Gingrey of Georgia; Mike Coffman of Colorado, Dave Reichert of Washington; Heath Shuler (the only Democrat cited), Blue Dog of North Carolina; Bill Shuster and Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania; Greg Walden of Oregon; Leonard Lance of New Jersey; Don Young of Alaska; Blaine Leutkemeyer of Missouri; Michael McCaul and Pete Olson of Texas; Geoff Davis of Kentucky; Pete Hoekstra of Michigan; and Adman Putnam, Cliff Stearns, Bill Posey, Tom Rooney, Ginny Brown-Waite, Mario Diaz-Balart, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Florida Representatives who "signed letter asking federal government for waiver to access recovery funds." Senators include Republicans Mike Crapo of Idaho, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Kit Bond of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isackson of Georgia, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bob Bennett of Utah, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

(In this video- way below- Maddow has a somewhat different list.)

This might be a case of I've Got Mine, Jack. Or, alternatively, maybe the Congressman really does understand the value of this approach in increasing employment, with the negative rhetoric and vote a matter of political posturing and strategy. Either way, if the mainstream media were not intimidated by the GOP, it might ask:

Why is there an apparent inconsistency? And the follow-up: why deny to the rest of the country the benefits of a program which aids your constituency?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Approval Deferred

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein on Friday noted

The administration scored a big victory last night, or at least it thinks it did.

On Thursday night, the United States Senate approved by unanimous consent 27 of 63 appointments President Obama had made to federal positions which had been held up by the holds various Senators had placed. The President in his statement afterward "warned"

While this is a good first step, there are still dozens of nominees on hold who deserve a similar vote, and I will be looking for action from the Senate when it returns from recess. If they do not act, I reserve the right to use my recess appointment authority in the future.

But this may be a pyrrhic victory, if any victory at all. Klein points out

At this point in his presidency, George W. Bush had made 10 recess appointments. Over the course of his presidency, he would make almost 200. Bill Clinton made about 150. In describing recess appointments as "a rare but not unprecedented step," Obama made it harder to actually make any, because he's defined the procedure -- which, unlike the hold, is a defined constitutional power of the president rather than a courtesy observed in the Senate -- as an extraordinary last-resort. He also promised, later in the statement, that he wouldn't make any appointments this recess.

Not only have recess appointments commonly been made in the recent past, but the hold placed by the two Alabama senators, Pete Sessions and Richard Shelby, bring to mind the deals Republicans famously derided as the "Louisiana Purchase" and "Cornhusker Kickback" and are reminiscent of the "lobbying and horse-trading" decried by the President in his State of the Union address. (The hold doesn't prevent an up-and-down vote, but it would require 60 votes for cloture.)

The Senators from Airbus still are holding up the nomination of two especially impressive nominees. Frank Kendall, who would serve as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (PDUSD) for Acquisition and Technology, "appears intent on fixing some of the urgent management and cost problems with defense acquisitions."

And then there is the matter of Dawn Johnsen, who should already be in charge of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Johnsen has withstood the confirmation process and is highly, perhaps uniquely, qualified to provide the independent, apolitical, and expert legal advice the Attorney General and the President must be given- and which President Bush so rarely received from Jay Bybee and the notorious John Yoo. But Johnsen, a supporter of abortion rights and opponent of torture, is offensive to many Republicans and Senate Majority Leader Reid refused over several months to post her nomination for a vote while his party had a 60 vote majority.

At one time, Republican Arlen Specter was an avowed opponent of Johnsen; now a Democrat, the senior Senator from Pennsylvania supports her. Ben Nelson (D-NE) apparently has remain opposed to Johnsen, but Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana has announced his intent to vote for her.

If Harry Reid believes that he and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin could not muster the 60 votes needed to impose cloture and get Dawn Johnsen approved, there is an alternative- a recess appointment for her and the 36 other nominees still being held up by the GOP. Klein believes the White House "promptly shot itself in the foot" when the President, in his statement Thursday night, said

I told Senator McConnell that if Republican senators did not release these holds, I would exercise my authority to fill critically-needed positions in the federal government temporarily through the use of recess appointments. This is a rare but not unprecedented step that many other presidents have taken.

Certainly, that does complicate any effort by Obama to make recess appointments, now that he has termed it "a rare.... step." And it is possible that Barack Obama, who ran an extraordinary, nearly flawless campaign and whose oratory may be second to none, simply goofed and painted himself into a corner.

Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps the language serves an intended purpose. Once Specter held a second meeting with Johnsen and then announced his support of her, Reid had at least 59 votes. Ben Nelson contends that he was never asked to support her, and it is unlikely that Senators Snowe and Collins of Maine would have voted against cloture. But Ryan Singel at Wired/Threat Level recently argued

The FBI and telecom companies collaborated to routinely violate federal wiretapping laws for four years, as agents got access to reporters’ and citizens’ phone records using fake emergency declarations or simply asking for them....

The Obama administration retroactively legalized the entire fiasco through a secret ruling from the Office of Legal Counsel nearly two weeks ago.

That’s the same office from which John Yoo blessed President George W. Bush’s torture techniques and warrantless wiretapping of Americans’ communications that crossed the border.

Given that Johnsen would now head that same office, and one blogger at Firedoglake contends that Obama, Emanuel, and Reid

did not really want a true advocate for governmental transparency, a critic who excoriated Bush/Cheney policies on warrantless wiretapping, torture, indefinite detention, ignoring international treaties and conventions, and concentration of power in a unitary executive; all policies the Obama Administration has substantially co-opted as its own.

The nomination of Dawn Johnsen and many others is not dead. But the response of President Obama, thus far, has been- intentionally or otherwise- inadequate.
The Commission Idea

First, the good news: New Hampshire's Judd Gregg, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, doesn't like it. Criticizing President Obama's plan to establish a bipartisan commission to tackle the national debt, Gregg stated in an interview

I don't think it accomplishes the goal.... Stop spending. Let's stop spending. Let's stop adding to the debt.

But any commission would serve little purpose. Robert Kuttner writes that The New York Times has found only 7% of the current deficit resulted from the stimulus package proposed by the President and enacted by Congress; only 3% from domestic spending. An increase in defense spending accounted for 20%, but the commission hardly would confront that. Obama's proposed budget provides for a 2% increase beyond inflation in defense spending aside from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps the only area the Republican opposition is happy to see an increase. While 37% of the deficit results from the recession, there is little a commission can do about that, except effect a reduction in spending, thereby worsening the recession and exploding the budget.

Gregg's bill, co-sponsored by moderate? neo-liberal? Kent Conrad (D-ND), would have mandated an up-and-down vote following the November elections, with debate limited and amendments requiring a supermajority for adoption. Needing 60 votes, the measure went down 53-46 with opposition from 23 Democrats and 23 Republicans, the latter most concerned about the possibility that tax increase(s) would have been imposed.

But that wasn't the objective of Senator Conrad, who irresponsibly implores his colleagues to "stop spending" in the midst of a recession marked, and exacerbated by, a sharp reduction in spending by the private sector and the public. Another Republican, if more ridiculous, is at least a little more straightforward. The "Roadmap for America's Future" proposed by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin would partially privatize Social Security, and privatize Medicare for individuals now under 55 years of age, while cutting benefits for relatively high-income individuals who are older.

Nonetheless, exasperated by the inability of a House with 255 Democrats and a Senate with 59-60 Democrats to enact health care (and other) legislation, there are many Democrats and liberals hankering for limiting the use of the filibuster. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow is one of those urging Democrats to enact reform of the dysfunctional legislature, which has become a popular cause among the progressive blogs.

In the same vein, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) is proposing adoption of what he terms "the constitutional option." Currently, he notes,

it is not possible to limit debate, or end a filibuster, without three-fifths, or 60, of all Senators voting to do so. In the past several years, the use -- and abuse -- of filibusters by both parties to obstruct the Senate from functioning has become the norm. But it hasn't always been this way. Such cloture votes used to occur perhaps seven or eight times during a congressional session, but last Congress there were 112 - most occasioned simply by the threat of a filibuster.

Accordingly, Udall plans to limit use of the filibuster by "call(ing) on the Senate to exercise its constitutional right to adopt its rules of procedure by a simple majority vote."

Clearly, the GOP has hamstrung the Senate by its promiscuous use of the filibuster, or the threat thereof. But Democrats and the left ought to remember: be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.

With deep and widespread dissatisfaction in the electorate for numerous (clear and ill-defined) reasons, the Democratic majority in the Senate is likely to be reduced to 53-54 seats next January. Even with reform of the filibuster rule, enactment of progressive legislation would be far from certain. With 60 Democrats (59 pre-Franken), Senate Democrats and President Obama were unable or unwilling to use their political capital- emerging from two election cycles disastrous to the GOP- to challenge corporate power to enact reforms strengthening the poor and the middle class. House Speaker Pelosi has appeared to be the only leader committed to the change Senator Obama promised to pursue if he became President Obama.

The Democratic majority in the Senate will be diminished by this fall's elections and may disappear four years hence. Senator Gregg and Representative Ryan have done at least this: they have laid out, if not a roadmap, at least a sketch of where their party intends to go when they eventually have the majority. They will have the example of the self-defeating obsession of the Democratic Party with bipartisanship as a lesson. They will not act timidly, but rashly, in pursuing their agenda- and go hard after Medicare and Social Security. The power of the filibuster may be the only thing standing between them and their plans for the elderly.

Meanwhile, President Obama has, as expected, pledged to sign an executive order creating a bipartisan commission to deal with the deficit. Having not been created by legislation, it will not be as powerful as the one envisioned by Senators Conrad and Gregg, the latter of whom hopefully will be proven psychic. He has predicted that the commission will produce "just another good report that ends up on a shelf somewhere."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Article Of The Week

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons, who defended President Bill Clinton in The Hunting of the President, has written (here appearing in Slate) "Don't Give in to Media-Inspired Criticism," arguing

The raw political truth is that the GOP reacted to its 2008 electoral losses by elevating party over country. The fundamental strategy has been to harass the Obama administration with hysterical falsehoods, prevent it from getting anything important done, then argue that Democrats are incapable of governing. So far, they appear to be getting away with it.

He believes the Democrats should hold the health care summit proposed by Barack Obama "without them. Then pass the bill without them, too. The president must lead his skittish party."

Lyons maintains that calling the GOP's bluff would be good strategy, noting

How long did it take House Republican leaders to start crawfishing away from Obama's proposed nationally televised healthcare summit? Also two days. See, the last thing GOP leadership wants the public to understand are the bill's conservative elements: its reliance on private, not government insurance; that it will cut the deficit and slow spending growth; that it gives consumers more choice, more security and more freedom.

Pushing back against congressional Republicans appears to be effective strategy. Lyons recalls

How long did Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby persist in putting a "blanket hold" on administration nominees after his attempt to blackmail the administration into awarding a defense contract to (Alabama-based) Northrup over Boeing once the White House made it front-page news? Two days.

And there is additional precedent, not cited by the columnist. On September 9 Republican Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina famously yelled during the President's State of the Union address "You lie!" after the President stated "the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."

Five days later the House passed a "resolution of disapproval," officially rebuking Joe Wilson for his breach of decorum. But it was not without controversy. Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele wrote "If we are going to march members down to the well of the House to apologize, Joe Wilson is going to have to get in line behind Nancy Pelosi, who attacked the intelligence community who protects us, Charlie Rangel who cheated on his taxes, Jack Murtha – a walking scandal, and we all know how the Democratic leadership tried to protect William Jefferson." Noted conservative columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin added "Nary a peep about corruptocrat Charlie Rangel or CIA-smearing Nancy Pelosi or unhinged Pete Stark Raving Mad, etc., etc. etc."

This GOP talking point was repeated by several others including Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, Megyn Kelly, Monica Crowley as conservative Republicans hinted at retaliation against Democrats for rebuking Wilson.

The rest is history or- in this case, not history- there was little or no retribution by the GOP. It is often said that "payback is a b----" but here there was none. We refused to give up our lunch money to the bully and he slinked away. Gene Lyons may have been referring specifically to health care legislation but the application is broader: "The GOP can make Obama look weak only if he helps them."


This  is a reasonable question. If going to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood to harass and intimidate Jewish people at a synagogue is no...