Friday, April 30, 2010





The Limbaugh Manipulative Machine: #5

It's not only Rush Limbaugh, but the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party (but I repeat myself) which also have been appalled! appalled! at the budget deficits run up by President Barack Obama. (Aren't we lucky President Bush ran a surplus- oh, wait, that was President Clinton.) Still, Rush Limbaugh is kind enough to have most of his radio program put on-line, facilitating fact-checking. Limbaugh made this claim, as he has at other times, on February 1 of this year. Although a CNN report did not address his claim, statistics which were included refuted much of what Limbaugh would say two days later:

Last year's deficit surged to $1.42 trillion, more than three times the record of the previous year. An imbalance of $454.8 billion in 2008. So Bush's last year budget deficit was $454.8 billion. Obama's budget deficit last year was $1.42 trillion. That's nearly $1 trillion more that he added to it in fiscal 2009. This business that he "inherited a $1.3 trillion budget deficit" is a lie. It's a lie through and through. He has added $1 trillion. You did this, President Obama, not Bush, not the Republicans. You did this. Now, like I said in my letter to President Obama last week: It's time to man up and take responsibility for your disastrous and dangerous decisions. This is childishly immature.

Rush makes several charges:

* "Last year's deficit surged to $1.42 trillion, more than three times the record of the previous year."

This, astonishingly, is true: according to CNN, "the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says the budget deficit for 2009 was $1.4 trillion, slightly more than triple the $458.6 billion deficit for 2008."

* "Bush's last year budget deficit was $454.8 billion."

This, also, as spoken is largely true. CNN reports that the budget deficit in 2008- President Bush's last term- was $456.8 billion. But it is misleading. The budget goes into effect on October 1- hence, 75% of "last year's budget" applied to President Bush's budget.

* "Obama's budget deficit last year was $1.42 trillion. That's nearly $1trillion more that he added to it in fiscal 2009."

CNN acknowledges that the deficit last year was $1.42 trillion (though most of it should be attributed to Bush's last budget). But Obama did not add "nearly $1 trillion more," inasmuch as "the CBO issued a projection in January 2009, just days before Obama took office, that the budget deficit would reach $1.2 trillion that year, before the cost of any new stimulus plan or other legislation was taken into account." This, then, was a misleading claim, with $1.42 trillion minus $1.2 trillion equaling $.20 trillion (200 billion dollars), far less than $1 trillion.

The conservative/libertarian Cato Institute explains

What about the so-called stimulus, they will ask, with its $787 billion price tag? Or the omnibus fiscal-year 2009 appropriations bill? And how about Cash for Clunkers and Obama's expansion of the children's health insurance program? Didn't these all boost spending in 2009?

The answer is yes. But these boondoggles amounted to just a tiny percentage of FY2009spending — about $140 billion out of a $3.5 trillion budget...


Unless Rush is much worse at math than we could have imagined, he would be aware that his numbers are way off, and simply lied.

* "This business that he 'inherited a $1.3 trillion budget deficit' is a lie."

CNN notes

Obama was essentially correct when he said he inherited a budget deficit of $1.3 trillion. Though the budget deficit for 2008 was a then-record $458.6 billion, the CBO issued a projection in January 2009, just days before Obama took office that the budget deficit would reach $1.2 trillion that year, before the cost of any new stimulus plan or other legislation was taken into account.

Although no doubt aware that Obama inherited a significant budget deficit, Limbaugh may believe that the deficit he inherited was somewhat less than $1.3. We'll call this deceptive, given that he was trying to give the impression that the 44th President found little to no red ink upon assuming office.

* "This is just childishly immature." This is simply a judgement call with Limbaugh striving to equate honesty with immaturity. Otherwise, he might have to refute opposing ideas with facts, which would be inconvenient, tiring, and possibly bore his audience.

It's generally difficult to distinguish among lying, deceiving, and merely misleading. But for this, Rush Limbaugh appears to have lied and deceived only once while misleading his audience twice. Still, an impressive effort of manipulation in merely one paragraph.

Thursday, April 29, 2010



Voter Suppression, Indirectly

In March, 2007 Washington Post Writers' Group columnist Marie Cocco lamented the electoral tactics of the GOP, highlighted by the dismissal of federal prosecutors for partisan political reasons. Eight U.S. prosecutors, including David Iglesias were sacked because they reportedly "would not time indictments and investigations favorably for the Republican Party at election time."

Cocco noted that the right's portrait of a vast Democratic conspiracy spearheaded by ACORN to rig elections far and wide

The Justice Department’s own statistics show that of 87 ballot-fraud convictions obtained since the department launched its “voter integrity” initiative in 2002, 17 were for noncitizen voting and another six were for multiple voting. Most of the cases involved vote-buying schemes hatched by local politicians in Kentucky, West Virginia and elsewhere.

The charges against ACORN, of course, were a classic in Republican fear-mongering. Far before that organization was forced to disband, the U.K.'s Brad Friedman commented in October, 2008

Acorn verifies the legitimacy of every registration its canvassers collect. If they can't authenticate the registration, or it's incomplete or questionable in other ways, they flag that form as problematic ("fraudulent", "incomplete", et cetera). They then hand in all registration forms, even the problematic ones, to elections officials, as they are required to do by law. In almost every case where you've heard about fraud by Acorn, it's because Acorn itself notified officials about the fraud that's been perpetrated on them by rogue canvassers. Most officials who run to the media screaming "Acorn is committing fraud" know all of the above but don't bother to share those facts with the media they've run to. None of this is about voter fraud. None of it. Where any fraud has occurred, it's voter registration fraud and has resulted in exactly zero fraudulent votes.

Even though the ginned-up scandal against ACORN had not yet materialized, Cocco observed

the vote-fraud folklore serves its purpose. It enables Republicans to push through state requirements for photos and other forms of voter identification, rules that depress turnout and impact elderly and minority voters—that is, Democrats—most seriously. This is the real fraud.

And so it is. Rush Limbaugh yesterday commented about

the new Arizona immigration law: It is all about voting. If papers (ahem) are required to vote, the Democrats are finished. It's their only hope. I mean, look, they're the radicals. They are siding against the American people. This regime is siding against the American people. The only hope they have is for fraud and illegals voting, and you can't really get away with that if everybody has to have a photo ID and legal proof (i.e., papers) that they are citizens.

Ironically, Limbaugh, in his own hyper-partisan and fact-free manner, seems to recognize the underlying issue in the new anti-immigrant (or, euphemistically, anti-illegal immigrant) legislation (promoted largely by the state's GOP): preventing the Wrong Kind of People from voting. Greg Palast explains how then-Secretary of State (now Governor) Jan Brewer in 2005 used

a 2004 law, known as "Prop 200," which required proof of citizenship to register. It is important to see the Republicans' latest legislative horror show, sanctioning cops to stop residents and prove citizenship, as just one more step in the party's desperate plan to impede Mexican-Americans from marching to the ballot box....

State Senator Russell Pearce, the Republican sponsor of the latest ID law, gave away his real intent, blocking the vote, when he said, "There is a massive effort under way to register illegal aliens in this country."

How many? Pearce's PR flak told me, five million. All Democrats, too. Again, I asked Pearce's office to give me their the names and addresses from their phony registration forms. I'd happily make a citizens arrest of each one, on camera. Pearce didn't have five million names. He didn't have five. He didn't have one.

The horde of five million voters who swam the Rio Grande just to vote for Obama was calculated on a Republican website extrapolating from the number of Mexicans in a border town who refused jury service because they were not citizens. Not one, in fact, had registered to vote: they had registered to drive. They had obtained licenses as required by the law.


It is a (probably sad) fact about modern American politics: whites generally vote Republican; non-white ethnic minorities, Democratic. Oh, there are a lot of other variables, but racial (if including Hispanics as a separate race) status has become a better predictor than most of one's vote. And holding down the votes of minorities, including Mexican-Americans, is an effective way of getting Republicans elected. And if fearful Chicanos choose to move to California, New Mexico, or Mexico, all the better. Or as Palast concluded

that's the point, isn't it? Not to stop non-citizens from entering Arizona -- after all, who else would care for the country club lawn? -- but to harass folks of the wrong color: Democratic blue.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010




Probing Motive In Arizona

Interviewing a skeptical Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) on Monday night about the new Arizona anti-immigration law, Keith Olbermann asked

You just brought up a major point, Congressman, that I think has not been emphasized here. Ultimately, what do you think the point is of this law? Is it really just about immigration and a porous border? Or is there something in here about wearing out Latinos who want to live there, particularly those who want to go vote there?

Unfortunately, Gutierrez, an adamant critic of the legislation who nonetheless apparently was born yesterday, responded in part:

You know, I think they understand that the Latino community isn‘t going anywhere....

Kudos go to Olbermann, who at least briefly abandoned his Everyone Who Doesn't Agree With Me Is A Racist theme to raise the likely primary motivating factor for the law. Greg Palast, in an article very much worth reading, explains

In 2008, working for Rolling Stone with civil rights attorney Bobby Kennedy, our team flew to Arizona to investigate what smelled like an electoral pogrom against Chicano voters ... directed by one Jan Brewer.

Brewer, then Secretary of State, had organized a racially loaded purge of the voter rolls that would have made Katherine Harris blush. Beginning after the 2004 election, under Brewer's command, no less than 100,000 voters, overwhelmingly Hispanics, were blocked from registering to vote. In 2005, the first year of the Great Brown-Out, one in three Phoenix residents found their registration applications rejected.

That statistic caught my attention. Voting or registering to vote if you're not a citizen is a felony, a big-time jail-time crime. And arresting such criminal voters is easy: after all, they give their names and addresses.

Captives of Sheriff Joe's prison, Maricopa County, Arizona. So I asked Brewer's office, had she busted a single one of these thousands of allegedly illegal voters? Did she turn over even one name to the feds for prosecution?

No, not one.

Which raises the question: were these disenfranchised voters the criminal, non-citizens Brewer tagged them, or just not-quite-white voters given the José Crow treatment, entrapped in document-chase trickery?

The answer was provided by a federal prosecutor who was sent on a crazy hunt all over the Western mesas looking for these illegal voters. "We took over 100 complaints, we investigated for almost 2 years, I didn’t find one prosecutable voter fraud case."


(That prosecutor was the famous David Iglesias, then fired by George W. Bush and President Rove.)

There is, moreover, a template for this. In September, 2007, New York Times reporters Ken Belson and Jill P. Capuzzo showed how good intentions (if, like me, you supported the ordinance) or bad intentions (if, like most liberals/progressives, you didn't) can go awry. After Riverside, NJ enacted legislation "penalizing anyone who employed or rented to an illegal immigrant"
the local economy suffered. Hair salons, restaurants and corner shops that catered to the immigrants saw business plummet; several closed. Once-boarded-up storefronts downtown were boarded up again.

Meanwhile, the town was hit with two lawsuits challenging the law. Legal bills began to pile up, straining the town’s already tight budget.... last week, the town rescinded the ordinance.


The legislation proved counter-productive for Riverside as many of its (mostly Brazilian) immigrants left town, taking with them much of the economic vitality of the small, working-class town.

But if, as is likely, there will be a similar exodus from Arizona, that would be a boon to Arizona's ruling party, the GOP. Its politicians hardly could be oblivious to the probable impact upon the electorate of the anti-immigrant law they have enacted, nor of what transpired in one municipality in New Jersey. As Palast noted, the media was deluded, having attributed the recent legislation to "a wave of racist, anti-immigrant hysteria that moved Arizona Republicans." Probably, it was not primarily anti-immigrant, or anti-illegal immigrant, sentiment, but a classic Republican power grab.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010



Some Republican Reaction To Arizona

A Republican gubernatorial debate was held in South Carolina on April 23. Responding to a question about the recently enacted law in Arizona targeting immigrants, Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer commented (first paragraph from Politico, the second from the video posted by The Huffington Post)

If you don't have a workforce, people that are peach farmers, people that are in the hotel business, people that are in the construction business, they're going to go somewhere to fill those jobs.

The real problem is the work force. The problem is we have a give-away system that is so strong that people would rather sit home and do nothing than do these jobs. Laziness is not a disability. There are a lot of people that are flat-out lazy and they are using up the goods and services in this state.


Before there was Andre Bauer, there was John McCain. Not today's "I never considered myself a maverick" John McCain, trying to out-right Attila the Hun, or at least J.D. Hayworth. The old Senator McCain, working with Senator Edward Kennedy on "comprehensive immigration reform." The old John McCain, who in April 2005 told a gathering of AFL-CIO construction and building trades employees (video below; this never gets old for me)

Now, my friends, I'll offer anybody here $50 an hour if you'll go pick lettuce in Yuma this season and pick for the whole season. So -- OK? Sign up. OK.

You sign up. You sign up, and you'll be there for the whole season, the whole season. OK? Not just one day. Because you can't do it, my friend.


We know the head of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, favors government of, by, and for the wealthy. But what is it about these other Republicans- a general elitism or a specific contempt for the American people?

Significantly, in the case of McCain and Bauer, these remarks alleging the laziness of Americans were in service of excusing, and supporting, the use by employers of low-paid individuals competing with American citizens for jobs.

On a different note is former U.S. Reprsentative Tom Tancredo, the Colorado Republican nearly as identified with the anti-illegal immigration cause as was Lou Dobbs. Though Tancredo is not opposed to Arizona's law, he cautions "I do not want people here, there in Arizona, pulled over because you look like should be pulled over."

Tancredo's lack of enthusiasm is far more consistent with his prior position on immigration than generally supposed. In an online chat with Washington Post readers in March, 2006, Tancredo made clear the thrust of his concern with illegal immigration:

most of the 12-20 million illegal aliens in the U.S. came here for a job. But take away the jobs and, I think, you can stop much of the illegal immigration. The way you do this is first come up with a system that allows employers easily to check the legal status of their employees. We actually already have this -- the basic pilot program. Our bill makes that mandatory. Second, you go after employers who hire illegals. Last year, the government sent 3 -- count that, 3 -- notices of intent to fine employers for hiring illegals. You wouldn't have to construct a police state to get the job done. Just start trying to enforce the law, and after employers see the penalties of hiring illegals, they'll get the message.

For the past several years, advocates of what supporters call "comprehensive immigration reform" and critics term "amnesty" routinely attributed Tancredo's opposition to racism. In retrospect- and especially with the perspective of the new state law- Tancredo appears less a racist than (unlike Bauer, McCain, and some others) someone actually concerned about workers. Someone who thought employers should be discouraged from, rather than encouraged to, hire individuals in the country illegally and therefore easily exploited. He responded to one Post questioner by noting

President Bush likes to say that he just wants to match "willing workers with willing employers." The reason that a lot of these jobs are going unfilled is because they're not jobs that Americans are willing to do... AT THAT WAGE. Continued non-enforcement of our immigration laws will continue to drive down wages and convert jobs Americans will do today into jobs they won't do (at that price).

Clearly on the right track, Tancredo could be excused for not having realized that many Americans would be willing to perform the job even at a low wage. He is today, probably, a little conflicted, having devoted much of his political career to decrying illegal immigration and encouraging government on some level to act aggressively. Now the state of Arizona itself has responded with legislation which discourages immigration into that state.

But the law does more than that, targeting not illegal immigration but immigration. At times, it is difficult to determine by mere appearance whether an individual is from Mexico. But it is virtually impossible to determine from appearance that someone is here illegally from Mexico, a problem exacerbated by a provision in the law which, the Arizona Republic reports

would allow Arizonans to sue agencies if they don't believe an agency is complying with the law.

Police chiefs who oppose the bill have said these requirements will mean officers will have to make immigration enforcement their first priority over every other type of crime.


And stop people who don't look quite right. Certainly, Arizona's initiative is one which many opponents of illegal immigration, such as Lieutenant Governor Bauer and the born-again Johnn McCain, would love. But for those who have been not nearly as hostile to immigration as to illegal immigration, the act raises serious concerns.






Monday, April 26, 2010

Obama Responsible For Chicago Crime

Rush Limbaugh engaged in even more hysterics than usual today, remarking

Look at this from the Chicago Sun-Times, such a long list of real true violence in Obama's hometown. Folks, five pages of this, every crime in the recent past. Three dead, several injured from weekend violence. You know, you might think that Clinton and Obama would be worried enough to address this violence, but, instead, Obama and Clinton are out there (obsessed about Arizona).

Most people would believe that the President of the United States has about as much impact on crime in his hometown of Chicago as he does in, say, Dubuque, Jacksonville, or Olympia, Washington. Which is marginally more than you or I have, and marginally is headed out of town.

But let's take the bait. Figures for 2010 aren't in yet, of course, but for the first 5 and one-third months of Obama's presidency

Based on data released by Chicago Police, the first half of this year revealed 199 homicides versus the 229 for the same time period last year. Last year’s statistics indicated higher violent crime, but with fewer arrests.

Motor vehicle theft hit a home run with a decline by 23.2 percent. Overall crime rates dropped by 10.4 percent, and decreased or remained constant in all the 25 CPD districts, except for one. Violent and property crime declined in every category in every district. In general, violent crime diminished by 4.4 percent.


And in January of this year, Reuters found

The FBI's latest nationwide figures show that violent crime for the United States as a whole declined by 4.4 percent in the first half of 2009, compared with the first half of 2008, led by a 10 percent drop in murders.

Falling crime in urban centers such as New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles....


President Obama, as with any President, has virtually nothing to do with the crime rate. But for many of a right-wing mind, a crime spree over the course of one weekend trumps long-range or medium-range trends, or reason. This past winter, we were treated by the likes of Limbaugh and Beck to ridicule for believing in global warming (let alone its origin in human activities) because there was a snowstorm. At that moment. In one region of the country. For many of the disciples of the right, that was proof enough there is no climate change. (No doubt this lack of perspective will be absent upon the inevitable heat wave in the upcoming summer.)

In the same riff, Limbaugh commented

Well, you go to Chicago this past weekend, that list of crimes was this past weekend -- that's Chicago, Obama's monument for all of his years community agitating and organizing while in Chicago, and he has never gone back there.

At least twice since becoming President, Obama has gone to Chicago: for Valentine's Day weekend in 2009 and in June, 2009 for a speech on health-care reform. Either Rush forgot about both trips or he was lying. Your call.

Actually, Limbaugh's criticism of Obama for allegedly ignoring Chicago was quite mild. One can only imagine the vitriol if the President were to address directly urban problems in his own hometown. The man Rush Limbaugh condemns as a "racist" and concerned primarily with minorities would have come under far more scathing criticism.
Rush Limbaugh, No Psychic

January 6, 2010 is not a day which will live in infamy. It was just another day, one in which the gloom and doom economics of Rush Limbaugh proved less than prescient, and in which Limbaugh’s cheery-eyed climate observations proved terribly false.

On his website, in a section entitled “November Pending Home Sales Drop 16%,” Rush is quoted as saying:

"The number of people preparing to buy a home in November fell sharply in the latest sign that the housing market, which had been rebounding strongly," it has not, "may be headed for a 'double-dip' downturn over the winter." This is from the State-Controlled Associated Press….

“The figures echoed what homebuilders saw in November and showed how dependent" get this "the housing market is on government programs to lower interest rates and lure buyers with tax credits." Yet we know that all of these mortgage programs, the re-doable mortgage, are not working. They have not been made available to most people. The lesson here is the housing market may be headed for a double-dip because the government won't get out of it.

Inconveniently, The New York Times reported on April 23

The Commerce Department said that sales of new homes rose in March to their highest levels since last summer. Over all, the sales of new single-family houses in March were up nearly 27 percent at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 411,000 units, the Commerce Department reported. The increase, which was against a revised rate of 324,000 for February, exceeded expectations....

Economists said the figures suggested that buyers were taking advantage of an $8,000 government tax credit that was scheduled to expire at the end of the month.
But there were other factors beside the tax credit, like an increase in builder optimism and housing starts, that helped push sales higher.


The magic of the government gives way to the impact of the federal government, and the housing sector rebounds dramatically

The same day, Limbaugh exclaimed, under the heading “Global Warming? Record Cold Weather Grips World,”

There have been 1,246 United States winter weather record events since last Wednesday, 1,246 winter weather record events. Snowfall: 454 records. Low temperatures: 233. Lowest maximum temperature: 559. There have been 1,246 US winter weather record events since last Wednesday, and still I can show you stories in the Stack of Stuff about we gotta act fast on climate change and global warming.

The winter numbers now are in, and these also are inconvenient for Limbaugh and his right wing. For the 131-year period of global land and sea temperatures it has studied, The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association now reports: January, 2010 was the fourth warmest January; February, 2010 was the sixth warmest February; and March, 2010 was the warmest March. Overall, the January-March period in 2010 was the fourth warmest January-March period in the 131-year history.

And as for Limbaugh’s excitement over record snowfall and a spate of “winter weather record events” in a short period in January, the Chicago Tribune in February reminded us that

scientists have been warning for at least two decades that global warming could make snowstorms more severe. Snow has two simple ingredients: cold and moisture. Warmer air collects moisture like a sponge until it hits a patch of cold air. When temperatures dip below freezing, a lot of moisture creates a lot of snow.
A rise in global temperature can create all sorts of havoc, ranging from hotter dry spells to colder winters, along with increasingly violent storms, flooding, forest fires and loss of endangered species.


The bad news is that unpredictable (and extreme) weather events will only grown in frequency. The good news, however, is that Rush Limbaugh remains predictable, rarely getting it right.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bashing Israel, So Routine

On most major liberal/progressive blogs, no month will pass without an impassioned condemnation of the only democracy in the Middle East. And there was no need to fear the intrusion of objectivity into this post from Firedogake, beginning, ominously, "ethnic cleansing kicks off in the West Bank."

It is odd that Israel is accused of initiating a policy of ethnic cleansing with "the first eviction of a Palestinian, Ahmad Sabah, from the West Bank to Gaza, forcibly separating him from his wife and children." If it seems odd to remove forcibly an entire people from an area by evicting men and leaving women and children behind, it's only because it is. (One-by-one, I guess.) And it is extremely inefficient, calling into question hyberbole about "ethnic cleansing." But such it is, in the realm of anti-Zionist propaganda commentary.

The blogger concludes her post by arguing

we as a nation will continue to betray our own founding principles by helping to arm and fund the government of Israel, which is oppressing its Palestinian minority and laying seize (sic) to the people of Gaza.

"Laying siege to the people of Gaza?" Not by any objective measure. Charles Krauthammer, no more impartial than I but entirely accurate, explained
during the Israel-Gaza war early last year

Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger. Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis -- 6,464 launched from Gaza in the past three years -- deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people....

At war today in Gaza, one combatant is committed to causing the most civilian pain and suffering on both sides. The other combatant is committed to saving as many lives as possible -- also on both sides. It's a recurring theme. Israel gave similar warnings to Southern Lebanese villagers before attacking Hezbollah in the Lebanon war of 2006. The Israelis did this knowing it would lose for them the element of surprise and cost the lives of their own soldiers.


It was Israel, Krauthammer pointed out, which "gave the Palestinians their first sovereign territory ever in Gaza." He notes the result:

No roads, no industry, no courts, no civil society at all. The flourishing greenhouses that Israel left behind for the Palestinians were destroyed and abandoned. Instead, Gaza's Iranian-sponsored rulers have devoted all their resources to turning it into a terror base -- importing weapons, training terrorists, building tunnels with which to kidnap Israelis on the other side. And of course firing rockets unceasingly.

These are unpleasant facts, but facts nonetheless. But we'll give the last word to what the Middle East Media Research Group says is a communique from "the Gaza-based Salafi-jihadi group Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa'l-Jihad (JTJ)." And a fine excerpt, it is:

As for the descendants of apes and pigs [i.e. the Jews], we bring them the tidings that the wave of jihad is inexorably coming, and they, Allah willing, will taste the bitterness of the blows of the sincere and the harsh imprint of the monotheists [i.e. the Salafi-jihadis] on their lives and their property. Allah carries out his promises and makes his orders come to pass. If in the past they reeled under the blows of the nationalists, the pan-Arabists, and counterfeit jihadists, they will cry [tears of] blood over every drop of Muslim blood they spilled and the [women's] honor and the sanctities they violated when they see the fright of meeting the friends of Allah in battle. They will see men who love to be killed for the sake of Allah as much as they [the Jews] love life, men who throw themselves into the thick of battle and storm fortresses to separate their heads from their necks and to rip their hearts out of their bodies…

Nevertheless, to some people, or at least to one blogger, we "betray our own founding principles" by helping to arm and fund the government of Israel" because, I suppose, there is no threat to the nation by forces inside the Gaza Strip. Even by an organization considering Jews "the descendants of apes and pigs" and which pledges "to separate their heads from their necks and to rip their hearts out of their bodies."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Complex, If Not Convoluted

It goes by the name Senate Bill 1070, and Governor Jan Brewer signed it into law yesterday in Phoenix.

This obviously did not come without controversy, with the Arizona Republic reporting more than 1500 people gathered in Arizona's capital to pray or to cheer or denounce their state's governor amid what the newspaper termed "civil unrest."

The Mexican government, understandably exorcised by anything which threatens to stem the tide of unemployed nationals to the U.S.A., was relatively mild in its criticism, lamenting

that Arizona lawmakers and the executive branch didn't take into account immigrants' contributions - economically, socially and culturally.... The criminalization isn't the path to resolve the undocumented-immigration phenomenon.

Similarly, President Obama said the law is "misguided" and will "undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us he safe." He added

Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others. In fact, I’ve instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation. But if we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country.”

Criticism from others was not so measured. David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo asks rhetorically if the Arizona governor will "feel the pangs of conscience that Earl Warren later expressed over his role in the internment of Japanese-Americans?"

No, this is not tantamount to, or even analogous to, internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Individuals who were legally residing on the West Coast were imprisoned in what should be referred to as concentration camps (the Nazis having popularized death camps). Individuals in Arizona legally and who are stopped- whether or not simply because of appearance- will not be interned in prison camps. Nor, for that matter, will those found to be here illegally be interned. Neither an American jail nor being returned to Mexico qualifies as interned (which necessarily excludes trial). To suggest otherwise is to diminish the actions taken upon Japanese and Japanese-Americans some 70 years ago.

Nor does this legislation provide for establishment of a "police state," as another blogger claimed. Fortunately, we Americans have not had to endure a Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, mainland China, or Syria, nor will inhabitants of Arizona.

Overheated rhetoric also came from Representative Raul Grijalva, who represents Tucson and is co-chairman (or chairperson, chair, or human equivalent of sitting furniture) of the Progressive Caucus, warned "Arizonans will be subjected to unnecessary indignity at the hands of a racist law.”

Grijalva deserves a little slack, now that he has had to close his Phoenix and Yuma offices amid what appear to be several threats of violence. But it is not "a racist law."

Yes, racism has become almost synonymous in public discourse with bigotry, or in even more extreme cases, with That With Which We Disagree. Still, we should not let sloppiness with language obscure the definition of racism:

According to Merriam-Webster, "racism" is

1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2 : racial prejudice or discrimination


Racism requires a belief in the inherent superiority of a race, although ithas become almost synonymous in public discourse with bigotry, or in even more extreme cases, with That With Which We Disagree. Still, we should not let sloppiness with language obscure the definition of racism. Tossing around words without sufficient regard for their meaning- think "amnesty" or "socialism" is the right's modus operandi. Let's avoid playing their game.

Which is not to suggest that this law is sensible. Perusing the major provisions of Senate Bill 1070 can make one's head spin; it seems to target clear language as its enemy. But one strong problem with the legislation is one which Digby, amid a wide-ranging attack on the approach to immigration in Californina, slips into a post yesterday. In what was apparently a Be Careful What You Wish For moment, she writes (almost in passing)

And lest all the racists congratulate themselves too much, they ought to keep in mind that because the cops are not going to want to be accused of racial profiling, they are likely going to be stopping non-latino looking people for no good reason just to prove they are color blind. I hope nobody protests this un-American activity or has anything to hide....

Morality of profiling aside, the law will come under immense scrutiny by the federal government and others (as Governor Brewer emphasized yesterday). There will be a strong incentive for police to place a large segment of the population under scrutiny to avoid the charge of profiling. That is not only inconvenient; it presents an almost insurmountable challenge to law-enforcement. Strip away the (unavoidable) arguments between those who believe the law to be hostile and discriminatory and those who are devoted to ridding their state of illegal immigrants. As currently written- and at, admittedly, first glance- this legislation is an invitation both to abuse and confusion.



















Complex, If Not Convoluted

It goes by the name Senate Bill 1070, and Governor Jan Brewer signed it into law yesterday in Phoenix.

This obviously did not come without controversy, with the Arizona Republic reporting more than 1500 people gathered in Arizona's capital to pray or to cheer or denounce their state's governor amid what the newspaper termed "civil unrest."

The Mexican government, understandably exorcised by anything which threatens to stem the tide of unemployed nationals to the U.S.A., was relatively mild in its criticism, lamenting

that Arizona lawmakers and the executive branch didn't take into account immigrants' contributions - economically, socially and culturally.... The criminalization isn't the path to resolve the undocumented-immigration phenomenon.

Similarly, President Obama said the law is "misguided" and will "undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us he safe." He added

Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others. In fact, I’ve instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation. But if we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country.”

Criticism from others was not so measured. David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo asks rhetorically if the Arizona governor will "feel the pangs of conscience that Earl Warren later expressed over his role in the internment of Japanese-Americans?"

No, this is not tantamount to, or even analogous to, internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Individuals who were legally residing on the West Coast were imprisoned in what should be referred to as concentration camps (the Nazis having popularized death camps). Individuals in Arizona legally and who are stopped- whether or not simply because of appearance- will not be interned in prison camps. Nor, for that matter, will those found to be here illegally be interned. Neither an American jail nor being returned to Mexico qualifies as interned (which necessarily excludes trial). To suggest otherwise is to diminish the actions taken upon Japanese and Japanese-Americans some 70 years ago.

Nor does this legislation provide for establishment of a "police state," as another blogger claimed. Fortunately, we Americans have not had to endure a Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, mainland China, or Syria, nor will inhabitants of Arizona.

Overheated rhetoric also came from Representative Raul Grijalva, who represents Tucson and is co-chairman (or chairperson, chair, or human equivalent of sitting furniture) of the Populist Caucus, warned "Arizonans will be subjected to unnecessary indignity at the hands of a racist law.”

Grijalva deserves a little slack, now that he has had to close his Phoenix and Yuma offices amid what appear to be several threats of violence. But it is not "a racist law."

Yes, racism has become almost synonymous in public discourse with bigotry, or in even more extreme cases, with That With Which We Disagree. Still, we should not let sloppiness with language obscure the definition of racism:

According to Merriam-Webster, "racism" is

1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2 : racial prejudice or discrimination


Racism requires a belief in the inherent superiority of a race, although ithas become almost synonymous in public discourse with bigotry, or in even more extreme cases, with That With Which We Disagree. Still, we should not let sloppiness with language obscure the definition of racism. Tossing around words without sufficient regard for their meaning- think "amnesty" or "socialism" is the right's modus operandi. Let's avoid playing their game.

Which is not to suggest that this law is sensible. Perusing the major provisions of Senate Bill 1070 can make one's head spin; it seems to target clear language as its enemy. But one strong problem with the legislation is one which Digby, amid a wide-ranging attack on the approach to immigration in Californina, slips into a post yesterday. In what was apparently a Be Careful What You Wish For moment, she writes (almost in passing)

And lest all the racists congratulate themselves too much, they ought to keep in mind that because the cops are not going to want to be accused of racial profiling, they are likely going to be stopping non-latino looking people for no good reason just to prove they are color blind. I hope nobody protests this un-American activity or has anything to hide....

Morality of profiling aside, the law will come under immense scrutiny by the federal government and others (as Governor Brewer emphasized yesterday). There will be a strong incentive for police to place a large segment of the population under scrutiny to avoid the charge of profiling. That is not only inconvenient; it presents an almost insurmountable challenge to law-enforcement. Strip away the (unavoidable) arguments between those who believe the law to be hostile and discriminatory and those who are devoted to ridding their state of illegal immigrants. As currently written- and at, admittedly, first glance- this legislation is an invitation both to abuse and confusion.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Steele, Again

Michael Steele has committed another gaffe, as Michel Kinsley would define it. On April 20 the Republican National Committee chairman told students at DePaul University in Chicago:

We have lost sight of the historic, integral link between the party and African-Americans. This party was co-founded by blacks, among them Frederick Douglass. The Republican Party had a hand in forming the NAACP, and yet we have mistreated that relationship. People don't walk away from parties, Their parties walk away from them.

For the last 40-plus years we had a 'Southern Strategy' that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South. Well, guess what happened in 1992, folks, 'Bubba' went back home to the Democratic Party and voted for Bill Clinton.


Steele's comments hold some merit coming from a political scientist or historian. In "Steele Cage," printed in the February 4 issue of The New Republic, Jonathan Chait noted the GOP's failure "to acknowledge the link between segregation and conservative ideology." Though conceding "these facts don't make conservatism racist or wrong," Chait explained

white Southern conservatives defected to the GOP precisely because the Democratic Party turned against Jim Crow. Strom Thurmond joined the party in 1964, and never renounced his openly racist past. Lott continued into the 1990s to build open alliances with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a successor to the White Citizens’ Councils that fought integration. National Review opposed the Civil Rights Act and endorsed white supremacy.

Steele, then, has again made Republicans shake their head and probably, understandably, boil with anger as their chairman has suggested a legitimate reason for blacks to back Democrats, and done so without the usual (disingenuous) Republican charge that Democrats are taking African-Americans for granted. Still, he hasn't been fired- voted out- and ultimately there is only one reason, as Steele hinted at in an interview in November with Roland Martin:

MARTIN: But your candidates got to talk to them. One of the criticisms I've always had is Republicans -- white Republicans -- have been scared of black folks.

STEELE: You're absolutely right. I mean I've been in the room and they've been scared of me....


Republicans have a big problem- a spokesman who damages the party and the image it's intending to foster. But he's a spokesman who thoroughly intimidates them.

In his piece, Chait remarked also that "it feels ridiculous to have to point out this history." It does feel ridiculous. But thanks to Michael Steele's candor, it shouldn't any longer be necessary.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Offensive Language

There are at least three words which should not be used generically but only to describe those historical acts. One of them is "holocaust," periodically used by abortion rights opponents to describe abortion. Recent comments by two other prominent individuals highlight hyperbole run amok.

The Arizona legislature has passed a bill, now awaiting the governor's expected signature, which

would require immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times and require police to question people if there is reason to suspect they're in the United States illegally. It also targets those who hire illegal immigrant day laborers or knowingly transport them.

On his blog, Cardinal Mahony, head of the largest archdiocese in the U.S.A., remarked

The Arizona legislature just passed the country's most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law.

Perhaps (more on the bill in a later post). But he wrote (typed) also

I can't imagine Arizonans now reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation.

No, this is not quite "German Nazi" techniques. And Americans, not even Arizonans, are Nazis.

What kind of post would this be, however, without criticism of at least one Republican? If Cardinal Mahony was out of line, so too was an ex-college football star, intelligent enough to realize that he had no future in the National Football League, who became a Congressman- and not a very good one at that. Think Progress reports this exchange that took place at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference earlier this month in an interview with former Representative J.C. Watts (R-OK):

ELSWICK: We were talking about social programs, and J.C., she calls them the new slavery.

WATTS: Dave I think that’s a legitimate claim if the programs aren’t improving people’s lives or getting them into a life of productivity. It’s just like, we could say I think it’s slavery to give your kid an allowance unless you say you gotta take the trash out, you gotta keep your room clean. Parents usually don’t give their kids an allowance without saying you have to do something.


Yep, that's the ticket: giving your son or daughter an allowance while expecting nothing in return= slavery.

Representative Watts in 1997 implied that support for abortion was akin to support for slavery (though in my opinion, not quite equating the two things). A decade later and by then a CNN contributor, he tastefully included Reverend Jesse Jackson in a list of "race-hustling poverty pimps," who "talk a lot about slavery, but they're perfectly happy to have just moved us to another plantation." Apparently, Watts likes throwing that term "slavery" around- nothing like diminishing the horror of owning another human being.

Some terms, like Nazi and slavery, simply shouldn't be trivialized.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Critics Of The Middle Class

On April 15, Rush Limbaugh stated

For starters, almost half of US households aren't paying any income taxes on their 2009 earnings. The exact figure is 47 percent, says the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute," a far-left-wing bunch, by the way, "and Brookings Institution, two think tanks. Among elderly households, 55 percent pay no income tax; among all households with children (including those headed by single parents), the nonpaying share is 54 percent." So depending on which group demographically you look at, well over half of some groups are not paying income taxes. Now, they are paying Social Security taxes and sales taxes and all that, but they're not paying income tax.

But this isn't about only Rush Limbaugh who, to his credit, noted that the federal tax burden is not limited to income taxes but extends to "Social Security taxes and sales taxes and all that." O.K., so "Social Security taxes" are FICA and apply to both Social Security and Medicare, "sales taxes" are excise taxes (including for gas), and "all that" probably would be corporate taxes. Still, Rush is on his best behavior at these few times that he's not actively misleading his listeners.

Not so, apparently, Phyllis Schlafly on April 13 wrote

Income tax day, April 15, now divides Americans into two almost equal classes: those who pay for the services provided by government and the freeloaders. The percentage of Americans who will pay no federal income taxes at all for 2009 has risen to 47%.

This is a critical part of the right's narrative- most people are freeloaders while "productive" Americans carry them on their back by paying confiscatory fees to the federal government. Or, as Schlafly so insensitively, demagogically and inaccurately (a trifecta!) calls it, "a massive transfer of wealth and a soak-the-rich racket."

There are two problems with this formulation. It is, as David Leonhardt explained on April 13-14 in The New York Times, misleading.

Of course, the wealthy must pay a disproportionate share of federal taxes- that's where the money is, and increasingly is, despite a theoretically progressive tax system. A study by Emanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley covering the period through 2007 found that the share of national income held by the wealthiest .01% of U.S. families increased in 2007 to 6.04%, the highest on record. The share of national income held by the wealthiest 1% increased in 2007 to 23.5%, the second highest on record. Further, from 1993 to 2007, average real income growth fell to 1.3% annually for the bottom 99% of individuals; for the top 1%, the corresponding figure was 5.9%.

Where it was once said "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer," the current reality is "the rich get richer and the middle class gets poorer."

While the share of federal income tax paid by the wealthy has inevitably, and fairly, grown, more than three-fourths of American households paid more in payroll taxes than in income tax. (And that was before the Obama income tax cuts, which has cut the effective federal income tax rate for the vast majority of Americans.) Leonhardt notes "the reason is that poor families generally pay more in payroll taxes than they receive through benefits like the Earned Income Tax Credit." The EITC was begun under President Ford (a Republican who, by the standards of most Republicans today, would have been a Socialist), heralded by President Reagan (ditto), and expanded by President George W. Bush (whom, as a right-wing failure, many GOP pols don't even acknowledge),and Bill Clinton.

The progressivity of the income tax system is further eroded by underreporting income. Generally, as this paper indicates, the upper class hides more of its income than does the middle class, in part because the source predisposes the income to be opaque.

While both Limbaugh and Schafly specify the income tax, they conveniently neglect to note that they are speaking only of federal taxes. State and local taxes generally are more regressive than federal taxes on the whole (and especially the federal income tax) and take a disproportionately large bite out of the middle class while leaving the wealthy relatively unscathed.

But there is something else which has gone largely unmentioned. If 47% of Americans are paying no federal income tax and the vast majority of citizens are of the middle class, most of the individuals benefitting are of the middle class. That's right- Limbaugh, Schlafly, Hannity (who approvingly quoted from Schlafly's piece), and the other conservatives whining about the 47% of Americans not paying any net income tax are complaining about the middle class. Sure, poor people are effectively paying no federal income tax- but they're outnumbered by their middle class brethren whom, these purveyors of privilege claim, are getting off scot-free.

Barack Obama has cut income taxes for the vast majority of working Americans. So when Phyllis Schlafly is exorcised about the income taxes paid by the top 10% of the public or Rush Limbaugh about "subsidizing certain activities and subsidizing certain people," they are complaining about the same thing: assistance for the middle class.
Cleaving To Wall Street

Let's give the Republican Party some credit. Let's assume its sincerity. By that standard, Senator Orrin Hatch is only partially paranoid. Daily Kos reported Tuesday that the Utah Republican

seemed to imply on Fox News today that the administration may have pushed for a civil suit against Goldman Sachs to be filed at a time that benefited Democrats' financial reform push, saying that "the timing is very suspect."

"This whole Goldman Sachs thing, isn't that a little odd that all of a sudden, right at the height of this legislative period, we suddenly have the SEC filing suit against Goldman Sachs?" Hatch asked.

"I think the timing is very suspect," he said.

He continued:

There's something terribly wrong here and I don't know what it is, but to do that right at this particular time, you know, the timing is very suspect in my eyes.


If that seems a little paranoid, though, it's nothing compared to the conspiracy Rush Limbaugh uncovered today:

The regime is denying any conspiracy between themselves and the SEC and Goldman Sachs over an effort to get this financial regulatory reform bill passed with Honest Obe heading to the Cooper Union Thursday in New York to make the first big pitch.

So now President Obama and the Securities and Exchange Commission and Goldman Sachs are in it together! Therefore, you might conclude, Rush is in favor of reform of the financial industry. You would be thinking logically, but would be wrong:

Folks, let's go back to the premise of this whole financial regulatory reform bill. The whole premise of this is that is based on the fact that Wall Street's to blame for the financial meltdown, and it's not. Government is to blame for the meltdown....

"Whoa, what happened there? Why, how did those people on Wall Street pull the wool over our eyes on this one? These thieves! We gotta go in there and regulate these people. Why, look! You can't trust the private sector at all. Private sector always screws you." That's why we're here. The whole thing, the whole Dodd bill for financial regulatory reform is bogus. The only reform that's need is a reformation of government, a reformation of the Congress, a reformation of what's going on at the White House. I mean, even without getting into any other specifics, the whole premise of this is wrong. A lot of us are, frankly, fed up. Every time the government makes a mistake, which is frequently, they sit back and turn it around and blame it on the private sector, which is the golden goose of this country, and they exonerate themselves!


This really is genius- no, really. The President, dictator that he is, controls the SEC; Obama decides to persecute Goldman Sachs, which is in on the conspiracy; Wall Street, however, is blameless because government, which is conspiring with Goldman Sachs, is completely to blame. This particular firm, which has a connection with Robert Rubin and other powerful Democrats, is thus demonized- and so is Barack Obama and the federal government. But no regulation of Wall Street, on which Goldman Sachs is a prime player, can ever be justified.

It may not make sense, but as a way of ginning up hostility to financial regulation and not appearing to be supportive of a mega-corporation under a criminal cloud, it is even more brilliant than Senator Hatch's more pedestrian fantasy.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Judicial Activism

On Friday, University of California, Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee considering his nomination by President Obama for the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals. There were questions about Liu's qualifications, policy positions in his academic writings, and a remark he once made in opposing confirmation of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.

Whether justified, they are legitimate issues to raise. Republicans were concerned Liu would give short-shrift to judicial precedent, though the nominee maintained "I would approach every case with an open mind. The role of a judge is to faithfully follow the law as it is written." Nonetheless, ranking Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama called Liu "the very vanguard of what I would call an intellectual judicial activist."

This was intended as an insult. That might be obvious- but shouldn't be. On September 27, 2005 Senator Sessions voted to confirm Judge John Roberts as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. That would be the same John Roberts who fifteen days earlier, in his opening statement to the Judiciary Committee, sounded just the right note:

Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them.

The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules.

But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.


Instead, Chief Justice Roberts has presided over an activist court because of Chief Justice Roberts. As The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen noted in the wake of the 5-4 Citizens United decision

The voting-rights case may help explain why Roberts didn’t take a similarly conciliatory posture in Citizens United. After all, one was certainly available. Just as Roberts had implausibly but strategically held in the voting-rights case that Congress intended to let election districts bail out of federal supervision, he could have held--far more plausibly--in Citizens United that Congress never intended to regulate video-on-demand or groups with minimal corporate funding. As with the voting-rights case, judicial creativity could have been justified in the name of judicial restraint....

....the opinion is aggressively activist in its willingness to twist and overturn precedents, strike down decades of federal law, and mischaracterize the original understanding of the First Amendment on the rights of corporations. “The only relevant thing that has changed” since the Court’s first encounter with McCain-Feingold in 2003, Stevens wrote, “is the composition of this Court”--namely, the arrival of Roberts and Samuel Alito.


As the sweeping nature of Citizens United indicated, the Chief Justice, who remarked during his confirmation hearing "Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent," is himself a judicial activist- one of the right. During the confirmation process, Roberts misled Congress and the public, as have numerous other judicial nominees of both the conservative and the liberal variety.

But it is only liberals who get tagged with the dreaded "activist" label. In this period when Tea Party activists and others claim some free-floating allegiance to the Constitution, it is damaging for the nominees of one party to be identified with judicial activism while the others are presumed to be dedicated only to law and precedent.

Goodwin Liu may be derailed by, or survive, the charge or have his nomination falter for another reason. In any case, the controversy over his appointment should highlight the messaging problem facing the Democratic Party in staffing the third branch of government.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Limbaugh Manipulative Machine: #5

It is Republican lore, faithfully repeated by the mainstream media (or, as Sarah Palin delightfully calls it, "the lamestream media"), that Republicans always "lower taxes" while Democrats always "raise taxes."

Perhaps it's the media's attempt to be "fair and balanced" that little is done to refute this urban myth, or why Rush Limbaugh yesterday could claim of President Obama

He hasn't cut anybody's taxes. The Recovery Act, stimulus bill, it's more like loaves and fishes. There are no tax cuts in that. There were some tax credits. It's all bogus.

Non-Christians and Christians take note: Rush Limbaugh, having ridiculed the miracle of the "loaves and fishes" of the Gospels by equating it with a "bogus" claim of Barack Obama, apparently is a non-believer. Until it's more convenient for him yet again to accuse Democrats of being anti-God.

But more important that Limbaugh's denigration of a Scripture passage is his claim that "he hasn't cut anybody's taxes," especially because most people believe it. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports

Middle-income households are paying overall federal taxes — which include income as well as payroll and excise taxes — at or near their lowest levels in decades, according to the latest data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

But was Rush actually lying when he maintained "he hasn't cut anybody's taxes" and "the Recovery Act, stimulus bill, it's more like loaves and fishes. There are no tax cuts in that. There were some tax credits."


Further,

This year, the Making Work Pay tax credit, which President Obama and Congress enacted as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is providing a credit of $800 to married joint filers ($400 to single filers). A median-income family with two children thus will receive an $800 tax cut in the return it files this year.

With the new tax cut, the median family’s federal income taxes will equal just 4.6 percent of its income in 2009. That is lower than in any year since 1955 (the first year for which these data are available) except for 2008, when another stimulus-related tax cut was in effect.

The 4.6 percent effective tax rate — the percentage of its income that a family pays in taxes — is well below the 15 percent marginal tax rate that a family of four in the exact middle of the income spectrum faces. Typically, such a family reduces its effective tax rate by taking the standard deduction (or, in some cases, itemized deductions), personal exemptions, and tax credits such as the child tax credit. The Making Work Pay tax credit further reduces that family’s effective tax rate.


The effective tax rate has gone down- almost exclusively with credits which, CBS News found, include:

*An increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit

*An expansion of the Child Tax Credit

*For those who work, the Making Work Pay tax credit offered $400 per individual and $800 per couple

*For those who lost their job, there was a 65 percent tax credit to help cover the cost of health care. The first $2,400 in unemployment benefits went tax-free

*Up to $2,500 under the American Opportunity Credit for students and parents paying for college tuition

*$8,000 for first-time home buyers

*A deduction of state and local taxes paid on a new car

*Up to $1,500 for home improvements to increase energy efficiency


One may conclude, then, that Rush is not lying: credits (rather than a cut in rates) account for virtually all of the decline in taxes. This is extremely misleading, but not a falsehood- except for the deduction of state and local taxes paid on a new car and "provisions allowing small businesses to write off a wider range of business expenses," praised by the conservative Americans for Tax Reform.

Not only, then, are Limbaugh's comments deceptive, but inaccurate when he states that "no one" has gotten a "tax cut." (Obviously, the remark "it's all bogus" is ludicrous, but that one is too easy.) Some individuals have gotten a cut quite apart from credits- but whether Limbaugh has chosen to avail himself of that information is unknowable.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss, especially when you're Rush Limbaugh.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Financial Reform Opposition

The chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Chris Dodd, and the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank, have unveiled bills designed to prevent another bailout of financial industry giants. House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, is not pleased, declaring on the Senate floor

We cannot allow endless taxpayer-funded bailouts for big Wall Street banks. The way to solve this problem is to let the people who make the mistakes pay for them. We won't solve this problem until the biggest banks are allowed to fail.

Sounds like good rhetoric, and that's exactly what is- rhetoric, and nothing McConnell believes. A Time magazine blogger caught the similarity between McConnell's jargon and that of pollster Frank Luntz, a favorite of Fox News who works with Republicans:

Luntz: "The single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout."

McConnell: "We cannot allow endless taxpayer-funded bailouts for big Wall Street banks. And that's why we must not pass the financial reform bill that's about to hit the floor."

Luntz: "Taxpayers should not be held responsible for the failure of big business any longer. If a business is going to fail, not matter how big, let it fail."

McConnell: "[The Dodd bill] gives the government a new backdoor mechanism for propping up failing or failed institutions.... We won't solve this problem until the biggest banks are allowed to fail."

Luntz: "Government policies caused the bubble and its ultimate crash. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Reserve, and the Community Reinvestment Act all had a role in the catastrophe. The government inflated economic bubbles with easy credit policies."

McConnell: “It also directs the Fed to oversee 35 to 50 of the biggest firms, replicating on an even larger scale the same distortions that plagued the housing market and helped trigger a massive bubble we'll be suffering from for years. If you thought Fannie and Freddie were dangerous, how about 35 to 50 of them?"


Not a coincidence, not even close. (Luntz's advice came before there was any bill.) If one were to listen to the Kentucky Senator, one would be tempted to believe that the intent of the proposals was to expand corporate power and influence. Dodd's initiative is a little weak but at least points the federal government in the right direction as

The bill also creates for the first time a legal method to wind down failing large, systemically-important financial firms. This is an authority federal regulators consistently argue that they lacked during the financial crisis -- the reason, they cite, for using hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out private banks and financial firms.

If Senator McConnell truly were interested in preventing "people who make the mistakes" from being rewarded, he would be encouraged by Representative Franks' bill, which

creates a Financial Stability Oversight Board that will monitor the activities and practices of large financial institutions, but if they run into trouble the Board becomes a death panel. If a Wall Street bank or investment bank begins to fail, threatening the safety of the financial system, it will be put to death. End of story. Shareholders are wiped out, unsecured creditors are out of luck, management and every employee that is not required to shut down the company is fired. And even secured creditors may be required to take haircuts. The industry pays into a fund to put the institution to death, and this fund is only used to protect the system and our economy when the bank fails.

But McConnell, feigning concern about "too big to fail," wants to continue as one of Wall Street's stealth champions, Fox Business reporting on April 12:

As a financial reform bill starts to take shape in Washington, two key lawmakers came to New York City last week to explain what it means for Wall Street, and how financial executives might help prevent some of its least market-friendly aspects from becoming law by electing more Republicans, FOX Business Network has learned.

About 25 Wall Street executives, many of them hedge fund managers, sat down for a private meeting Thursday afternoon with two of the most powerful Republican lawmakers in Congress: Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and John Cornyn, the senior senator from Texas who runs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, one of the primary fundraising arms of the Republican Party.

The stated topic of the meeting: The Financial reform bill being sponsored by Senator Chris Dodd, the Democrat and chairman of the senate banking committee. Both McConnell and Cornyn listened to numerous complaints the executives have with the bill. These included complaints about provisions that allow the government to continue to prop up financial institutions that are “too big to fail.”


The Republicans noted they expect to pick up several seats in the Senate and take control of the House. but cautioned

in order to assure those gains, and add even more, McConnell and Cornyn made it clear they need Wall Street's help.

We've seen this all before- just recently, in fact, with health care. Unmoved by the need to prevent another financial meltdown, the GOP on Friday sent to Majority Leader Reid a letter, signed by all 41 in their caucus, declaring

We are united in our opposition to the partisan legislation reported by the Senate Banking Committee. As currently constructed, this bill allows for endless taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street and establishes new and unlimited regulatory powers that will stifle small businesses and community banks.

This might have seemed a little more sincere if the Dodd bill had not been crafted with the assistance of Republican Senator Bob Corker (not a RINO, he) of Tennessee- or if the GOP senators had not planned earlier in the week to send a letter pledging to filibuster the bill, only to be stymied by one senator (Collins of Maine) who who was reluctant to commit to a strategy of blocking debate.

But this requires, in what Digby recognizes as "a kabuki dance," someone pretending to play the honest broker. The previous day, Judd Gregg (R-NH) had been asked on MSNBC about the possibility of compromise and replied

The question is how do we get back to the table. I think Senator McConnell is absolutely right. He's saying, hey talk to us on this issue. If you're not going to talk to us then we're not going to support taking the bill across the floor and we'll use our capacity to stop the bill, but what we really want to do is sit down and reach agreement because these agreements should be very doable.

That same day, however, Ezra Klein noted

if you're looking for help predicting the ultimate amount of bipartisan cooperation on this bill, the fact that Cornyn and McConnell are basing their fundraising strategy around their opposition to financial regulation should offer a clue.

We've seen this all before- quite recently, in fact, with the health care "debate." Digby, with insight rivaling that of Thomas Frank, has it figured out:

Judd's job is to ensure that the bill is watered down to something that Wall Street is happy with, but which Republicans can still vote against in the end, this time saying "it doesn't go far enough." It worked with health care.

The difference this time is that liberals are not nearly as invested in this bill as they were in health care. There could easily be defections on the left if they water this thing down any more than it already is. Nobody's life is literally at stake and Obama can't keep going to the "my legacy depends on it" well.

The Dems would do better politically to tell the Republicans to go to hell, pass a tough bill and take it to the people. Conservatives voting against financial system reform are in a much more difficult political position than liberals because everyone knows that Republicans are the party of big business and have been for a century. They'll try to muddy it up with cries of socialism, but only the veriest teabagger will be able to absorb the dissonance in all this without their heads exploding. If the Democrats allow the GOP to water down their bill even further so they can then vote against it in a faux populist hissy fit, they get what they deserve. They'd be better off walking away and running the fall campaign on the GOP's obsequious obeisance to Wall Street bankers.


Or, the Democrats can, as with health care: allow the GOP to move the goalposts and compromise till the bill is substantially watered down; watch as they nonetheless face a wall of opposition from the GOP; and listen to the mainstream media blame them for refusing bipartisanship. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice....
Sliding Left, The Governor Does Right

Two cheers for Charlie Crist!

It would be three cheers, except that Crist's days as a Republican seem to be numbered, anyway. The New York Times reports that the Florida governor, locked in a battle he's losing for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, vetoed on Thursday a bill which would have eliminated tenure for public school teachers and based "renewal of teacher contracts and at least half their raises on how well students did on standardized tests."

Although the bill was, not surprisingly, supported by the state Department of Education and statewide business groups and opposed by the state teachers' union, Governor Crist contended there also was "incredible outpouring of opposition by teachers, parents, students, superintendents, school boards and legislators." (This runs counter to the common cry of politicians that they are taking the "politically unpopular" action, thus staking a claim to boldness.)

Crist, a very popular governor when times were good in Florida, is a "moderate Republican" who has been badly trailing the hard-right Marco Rubio in the polls. While speculation abounds that Crist will choose to run in the primary as an independent, April 30 is the deadline for switching parties and the Times' reporters suggest it is uncertain how the veto will play in the GOP contest.

This is not going way out on the limb: not well. In fact, probably quite poorly. Crist may do the honorable, courageous thing and fight as a Republican for principles unpopular in his party, but impending defeat has a way of focusing the mind.

The governor's veto, however it may play out politically by November, was the right move programatically. In what may be the year's most "politically incorrect" remark, a teacher at a rally on Monday declared "I am not a puppet master; I can’t pull strings and make them perform. I can’t even make them come to school."

Imagine that- some students in some school districts at some times are actually somewhat responsible for their own learning. It is, it would appear, a novel concept; the idea that it is not only teachers, the union, society, the school board, parents, and politicians who bear responsibility, but even the students themselves. This is a dangerous point to make, likely to inconvenience those adults who are frightened by young students and afraid to hold them at all accountable.

Charlie Crist's veto of a bad bill may prove to have been merely opportunistic. But for now, in the age of thoughtless anti-government rhetoric and Tea Party mania, let's celebrate a politician doing the right thing, for whatever reason.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Unfortunate Comment, A Worse Response

As with most states, New Jersey has a considerable budget shortfall. The new governor, Chris Christie, has decided to make cuts throughout the budget while proposing not to renew the increase in the tax rate for the wealthiest 2% of his state's residents. As the Philadelphia Inquirer fairly generously describes it

Christie has proposed cutting $820 million in state aid to public schools as part of an effort to close an $11 billion budget hole in a total budget of about $29 billion. Some districts would lose all of their state aid as a result of the cuts, if the governor's budget is approved by the Legislature.

The governor has aimed his rhetoric squarely at the teachers union, calling for school districts to reopen contracts with teachers to negotiate wage freezes and other concessions to save money.


The Governor could choose, amid applause from the Democratic-controlled legislature, to renew the increase in the income tax rate of the wealthiest 2% of New Jerseyans. Or he could suspend state payments to charter schools instead of increasing them. But he has chosen not to do so, while the bargaining position of the New Jersey Education Association was somewhat weakened when news came of a memorandum from one of its county units to its locals in which was included:

Dear Lord this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman, Billy Mays. I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor.

A bad joke in bad taste. The union official, Joseph Coppola apologized while Christie blasted the remark. NJEA President Barbara Keshishian requested a meeting with the Governor to apologize personally.

Always ready to seek common ground with his adversaries, the Governor used the hours before the meeting to call publicly for voters in New Jersey municipalities to reject the school budgets they will be voting on later this spring. When Keshishian and the Governor met, the latter called on Keshishian to fire Coppola, a move the state union official noted she did not have the authority to make.

This was probably a little difficult for the Governor of New Jersey, in whom the state constitution grants more power than any chief executive of any state, to understand. This also appeared to mystify the governor's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, who

said that if a student had made similar comments about a principal, he or she would undoubtedly be suspended and investigated by police.

"Do we think it was a threat? No, but it was a wish," Drewniak said.


The mind reels. Could it be that the Governor's office does not understand the difference between the two situations? Let's compare: in one case, a threat is made by a student- a juvenile- against a teacher, who acts in loco parentis. In such a case, the comments understandably would not be interpreted as a joke, but rather as a threat of violence against a private citizen.

A union official including this "prayer" at the tail end of a memo is not threatening- as the governor's spokesman admitted- a private individual, but is expressing his hope as pertains to a public official. It is tasteless and reprehensible but the writer clearly is protected by the First Amendment. (And he is also expressing a sentiment others have about the Governor, the President, and many public officials.)

Misunderstanding seems to abound in the Governor's office, in which

Drewniak called the refusal to ax Coppola “a ridiculous double standard. If anyone on the governor’s staff had done what he did they would have been shown the door in an instant,” he said. “If you can’t do that than how can we have a civil dialogue.”

The spokesman claims to believe that "if anyone on the governor's staff had done what he did they would have been" fired immediately. This is curious: first, it's unlikely that anyone on the governor's staff would have publicly wished the governor dead.

Presumably, Drewniak was not referring to that individual wishing the Governor dead. But who would have been the subject of the remark? the local official? the state official? He apparently did not bother to say. This is not insignificant. It would not only be tasteless and inappropriate for someone on the governor's staff to make that remark about a union official, it also would be, well, strange. What actual power does that union official have- expecially as compared to that of the Governor of the State of New Jersey? Why would the staff member even be concerned about the union official?

But there is a more fundamental misunderstanding here. The union official is elected by the membership, serves the membership, and is paid by the membership. A member of the governor's staff is paid by the taxpayers of New Jersey- and, depending on the position, serves not the Governor but ultimately the people of New Jersey. For the governor to suggest that the labor official be fired- not even repudiated or voted out, but fired- is beyond overreaching.

Any other governor attempting to impose his/her will by making precipitous, radical changes to his state (as the N.J. governor is doing) would be said to be "throwing his weight around." Alas, that would bring more whining from the Republican mainstream media. So let's not say that he is throwing his weight around. Or that he is a beligerent extremist intent on destroying the teachers' union and the public school system in New Jersey. That would be rude and uncivil.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Well, Here's Another Nice Mess You've Gotten Me Into

It's hard to believe that a health care bill so mild and moderate and, yes, capitalistic, that it took its inspiration from the conservative Heritage Foundation and its blueprint from Governor Romney's Massachusetts, could have proven so unpopular with the American people.

But as Firedoglake's Jon Walker has noted, the Democratic Party lost the messaging battle on health care. When early CBO scores estimated that reform would increase the budget deficit, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck (and probably other right-wing talk show hosts), as well as their callers, trumpeted CBO scores. Individuals (such as Dick Cheney) who disregarded deficits as long as they were produced by tax breaks for the wealthy became born-again deficit hawks. And so, Walker reminds us, Senate Democrats "probably wasted well over two months just waiting for CBO scores and making small changes so the bill was found to be deficit reducing."

Ultimately, CBO scores turned positive, suggesting that the legislation passed by Congress would not explode the deficit, but rather cut it significantly over the next two decades. Though the deficit-reducing impact of reform was not acknowledged by the right, continuing criticism of the bill(s) was complicated by the CBO scores. As the (not Crimson) tide turned, the conservative critique shifted from a (disingenuous) concern about deficits to outrage over "tax increases"- shown here in quotes because, conservatism often being a fact-free zone, little detail generally was provided.

As the House was on the verge of passing the industry-friendly, free enterprise-preserving Senate bill, the Christian Science Monitor summarized the tax increases included in the bill. The writer breaks it down into five areas, here reprised in order of greatest revenue producer to the least: higher medicare taxes on rich people, fees on health care industries, new tax on expensive health insurance, medicare cuts, and a tanning tax:

- As of January 2013, for individuals earning over $200,000, or couples earning over $250,000 yearly, "Medicare Part A (that’s hospital insurance) tax rate would be increased by 0.9 percent, to 2.35 percent. Second, the bill creates an entirely new tax of 3.8 percent on unearned income (dividends, interest, stuff like that) for people in those same income brackets."

- As a result of deals (which probably will cost consumers more than they will save taxpayers) made with different sectors of the health care industry, "Drug manufacturers would pay the US a total of $16 billion between 2011 and 2019. Health insurers would pay $47 billion over the same period. Medical device manufacturers would pay a 2.9 percent excise tax on the sale of any of their wares, beginning Jan. 1, 2013."

- Dubbed the "Cadillac tax" (but these days, probably more appropriately the "Lexus tax"), beginning in 2018 there will be "an excise tax on insurers of employer-sponsored health plans that cost more than $10,200 annually for individual coverage, or $27,500 annually for family coverage. The tax in question would be 40 percent of the cost of the plan that exceeds those dollar thresholds."

- Cuts to Medicare, which Republicans trumpet and President Obama denies, will consist of relatively small custs to certain hospitals, somewhat larger cuts to home health care, and much greater cuts "to Medicare Advantage – plans run by private insurers that are an alternative to traditional Medicare – (which) would be reduced by $132 billion over 10 years under the health care reform bill. (Those plans now get around 14 percent more per person than traditional Medicare does.)"

- There will be a 10% tax on indoor tanning services.

The Democratic Party, led by President Obama and Vice President Emanuel, made reduction of deficits a fetish and increased various taxes. But voters, aghast at tax increases which they believe (in most cases, falsely) will apply to them, hold "Obamacare" responsible. And, as an added political bonus for the GOP, they still believe that reform will increase the deficit.

This was a fine case of political bungling. The tax on strong health care plans, for instance, has weakened President Obama's standing with the base, while the GOP, which has little problem with weakening health care plans, has given him no cover. This could be considered a metaphor for the entire effort, which produced a Republican-lite health care bill with no votes and considerable condemnation from the GOP. Unfortunately, Democratic members of Congress up for (re-)election this November will have to deal with the political fallout.

False Reality, False Hope

On Friday's episode of " The View ," host Caryn Elaine Johnson , known professionally as Whoopi Goldberg, took exception ...