Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Not Crazy, Only Uninformed

Markos Moulitsas summarizes the findings of Public Policy Polling, Harris, ABC News, and Vanity Fair-60 Minutes, observing "the modern conservative movement's craziness." (The purpose of the post, however, was to demonstrate that whatever the legal dispute between Daily Kos and R2K, polls across the board are showing similar misconceptions about Barack Obama.) The surveys indicate that, depending upon the question, a majority, or a large minority, of Republicans believes Barack Obama is a Socialist, or a Muslim, wasn't born in the U.S.A., should be impeached, is replicating Hitler, or may be the Antichrist (no, no- really).

The best query was "Do you think Barack Obama was BORN IN the United States, or do you think he was born in another country?" The result:

Hawaii 39%
Kansas 1
Someplace else in the U.S. 3
Not sure which state 20
Kenya 6
Indonesia 2
Someplace else outside the U.S. 5
Not sure which country 11

Obviously, having 24% of the country (that includes Obama voters- for Republicans, the number no doubt was far higher) believing that the President may not have been born in the U.S.A. suggests significant animus. But only 39% of respondents know that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii; that is, fewer than two-thirds of those who realize he was born in this country know in what state he was born.

It would be easier to understand if our President were born in Indiana and many people thought he may have been born in, say, Ohio; or he were born in Kansas and they mistakenly thought his birthplace was Nebraska. Or perhaps confusing Washington (State) and Oregon, or New Jersey and Delaware, two geographically small, similarly-shaped states adjacent to each other. But this is Hawaii.

However, if the ignorance is astounding, it is understandable and not without cause. Listening to right-wing talk radio can do that to people. Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh played this exchange between Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan:

COBURN: If I wanted to sponsor a bill, and it said, "Americans, you have to eat three vegetables and three fruits every day," and I got it through Congress, and it's now the law of the land, does that violate the commerce clause?

KAGAN: It sounds like a dumb law.

COBURN: I got one that's real similar to it I think is equally dumb.

KAGAN: But I think that the question of whether it's a dumb law is different from whether -- the question of whether it's constitutional. And I think that courts would be wrong to strike down laws that they think are senseless just because they're senseless.

COBURN: Do we have the power to tell people what they have to eat every day?

KAGAN: Senator Coburn --

COBURN: What is the extent of the commerce clause? We have this wide embrace of the commerce clause which these guys who wrote this never, ever fathomed that we would be so stupid to take our liberties away by expanding the commerce clause this way.

Rush then commented

She would not deny that the federal government has the power through the commerce clause to tell us what we can and can't eat.... If our reproductive rights, or at least a woman's, are totally off the record and private, then how can our digestive rights not have equal rights to our reproductive rights? Why is it written that our digestive rights must be subordinated to our reproductive rights? I can't believe we're even talking -- yes, I can believe we're talking about it because this is where we are in 2010, run by a bunch of Nanny State Marxists.

Obviously, insofar as a "nanny state" pertains to abortion, it would restrict abortion. It's tough to excoriate the "nanny state" simultaneously with implying abortion should be strictly regulated by the state, but Rush can do it.

But the larger point is: whatever does the interstate commerce clause have to do with abortion? The heart of Justice Blackmun's majority opinion in Roe v. Wade may be summarized as:

This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy....

Where certain "fundamental rights" are involved, the Court has held that regulation limiting these rights may be justified only by a "compelling state interest...."

The decision expanding the right to an abortion- constraining the right of the nanny state to restrict the procedure- was based upon a perceived constitutional right to privacy. It had nothing to do with the commerce clause and, if it ever were invoked in the abortion controversy, it probably would be by opponents of legalization.

Rush can contest the legal underpinning of Roe v. Wade, though that would involve an uncharacteristic attention to detail. Certainly, scholars- and laypersons- far more informed and honest and moderate than Limbaugh have done so. But raising the issue of abortion in the context of an exchange about the Commerce Clause is not only disingenuous and manipulative, but is likely a conscious attempt to dumb down an audience. It is the stuff of which an uninformed electorate is made. For those who listen daily to a Limbaugh, Hannity, or Beck, attempting to become informed is a nearly impossible task.

With misinformation the currency of much of conservative talk radio, it should surprise no one that some Republicans believe President Obama is a Socialist Muslim from abroad trying to emulate Adolph Hitler.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

House GOP Leader going after Social Security

Please pray for the health of (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi. In an editorial on June 24, The Washington Post commended House Majority Leade Steny Hoyer for, as the paper put it, urging "that lawmakers should consider raising the retirement age and making Social Security and Medicare more progressive. (Translation: lower benefits for wealthier seniors.)"

We should hope not only for the health of Nancy Pelosi, blocking the way for Steny Hoyer to become Speaker but, for the same reason that the Democratic Party maintains control of the House of Representatives.

House Minority Leader, Ohio's John Boehner, is doing his part. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the would-Speaker "said he’d favor increasing the Social Security retirement age to 70 for people who have at least 20 years until retirement, tying cost-of-living increases to the consumer price index rather than wage inflation and limiting payments to those who need them." He added "If you have substantial non-Social Security income while you’re retired, why are we paying you at a time when we’re broke?"

There are two reasons which come to mind. One was noted by Dean Baker when he responded to the Post's references to "wealthier seniors" and "more progressive":

....very little money can be obtained by cutting benefits for the small number of genuinely wealthy elderly. The only way to save large amounts of money from these programs is by cutting benefits for large numbers of people, including people who are not wealthy.

Everyone in the debate knows this, but since cutting benefits for middle-income families who paid for these benefits with their taxes is not popular, we get nonsense lines about cutting benefits for "wealthier seniors" to make the program "more progressive."

And another: means-test Social Security and it ceases being a social insurance program and a covenant between the older and the younger generations, and it becomes a welfare program. If Social Security recipients are demonized now, just consider how they will be when they are increasingly considered to be welfare recipients.

Of course, "we" are not "broke" in the least because of Social Security, whose surplus funds have helped keep the federal government afloat while Boehner and his cronies have been continuously cut taxes for the wealthy. Even so, the Social Security trust fund is projected to be fully solvent for more than 25 years from now.

But let's be thankful for small things: Boehner wants to increase the Social Security retirement age to 70 only for individuals with 20 or more years until retirement- or so he claims. He's banking, obviously, on what he hopes is the selfishness of the currently elderly- that as long as they are getting theirs, they won't mind stiffing the younger generation. His view of Americans (elderly, in this case) may not be positive, but it seems to run in the (GOP) family.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Neglecting History

Paul Rosenberg at Open Left eviscerated a segment served up by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on June 25. Following is Rosenberg's edited version, while the transcript is here and video below:

It turns out that a lot of things that have happened in the less than two years of this administration are the biggest or first or most important in generations. On the occasion of the Wall Street reform announcement today, Taegan Goddard at "CQ Politics" wrote, "Not since FDR has a president done so much to transform this country."

Even before today`s historic Wall Street reform agreement, President Obama, of course, did what politicians have been trying to do for more than 60 years. He passed health reform, which, for the first time, establishes government responsibility for the health care of American citizens.

Consider also the stimulus bill. It didn`t just throw a lasso around our entire economy and yank and yank it back from the brink. It also pumped about $100 billion into the crumbling embarrassment of our national infrastructure and transportation system.

It was the largest investment in infrastructure since Ike....

But presidential legacies are complex. Not even the Reagan administration`s legacy is pure as the conservative-driven snow. But Taegan Goddard at "CQ Politics" was right today about nothing this big happening since FDR.

The list of legislative accomplishments of this president in half a term even before energy reform which he`s probably going to get to is, to quote the vice president, "a big freaking deal." Love this administration or hate it, this president is getting a lot done.

The last time any president did this much in office, booze was illegal. If you believe in policy, if you believe in government that addresses problems, cheers to that.

Not only that, he calmed the sea, fed 4,000 people, destroyed a fig tree, walked on water, and turned water into wine! (Rachel especially liked that one.)

Maddow may be only 37, but that doesn't excuse her for not reading about the achievements of President Lyndon Baines Johnson (noted by Rosenberg), which included:

Civil rights
* Voting Rights Act of 1965
* Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965

War on Poverty
* Upward Bound
* Head Start

* Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965
* Higher Education Act of 1965

* Medicare
* Medicaid

Arts and Culture
* National Endowment for the Arts
* National Endowment for the Humanities

Consumer protection
* Cigarette Labeling Act of 1965

* Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965
* Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965
* Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act of 1965

On a darker note, another former President had a far greater impact than President Obama has had, or is likely to have. As part of a "Reagan Revolution: Home to Roost" series, Dave Johnson of the Campaign for America's Future explains:

So with the conservative government of Reagan and then later under the all-out anti-government conservative administration of George W. Bush we have had the opportunity of seeing just what happens when these "free market" ideas are given free reign to replace democracy. Anti-government zealots were put into positions inside the government and used that power to take apart the protections that We, the People had painstakingly built.

Taxes were cut to "defund" government in order to "starve the beast." The strategy was create huge deficits so the public would later demand cuts in government benefits. In the meantime the deficits would be used as an excuse to cut government oversight, inspections and enforcement of rules restricting the activities of big corporations. But all they did was create huge deficit that added up to massive debt.

Katrina was the first clear, public demonstration of the governing offered by conservatives. When they talked about replacing progressive ideas of "we're in this together" and "watching out for each other" with "personal responsibility" they meant it. And the country saw what that meant to real people in real trouble.

More recently we have been hearing about disaster after disaster and catastrophe after catastrophe, all caused by businesses running out of control, aided by conservative government that relaxed or just stopped enforcing regulations and laws. Each catastrophe is beyond the scope or willingness of private businesses to repair, requiring public intervention, at great cost. (But never any suggestion of "clawback" - or getting back the profits that were made while creating the catastrophe.)

We all certainly know about the Wall Street financial crisis caused by the big banks and insurance giants. We heard about the SEC ignoring warnings about Bernie Madoff and Goldman Sachs and all the others. We've seen hearings about the things that WaMu was doing, and loans going to people who couldn't read, and brokers making up incomes on "liar loans" and ratings agencies giving top ratings to "designed to fail" bond deals that investment banks and hedge funds had put together so they could make huge "swap" bets against them when the loans went under... The government, under control of "free market" conservatives looked the other way the whole time.

They brought down the economy of the whole world, requiring government bailouts that added up to more money that has been spent by our government in the history of the country. And now they are fighting tooth and nail to keep We, the People from passing financial reforms to bring Wall Street back under control.

Just recently there was the West Virginia mining disaster caused by deregulation, sweet deals between the company and regulators and lack of enforcement. The CEO of the Massey Energy had literally bought himself a judge, who then voted in favor of Massey Energy. Corrupted absolutely, 29 dead later.

And now, the huge, huge catastrophe in the Gulf.

This is the Reagan Revolution coming home to roost....

Although George W. Bush was a far more conservative and confrontational president than was Ronald W. Reagan, the undermining of American society, including the diminution of the middle class, either began or was given its biggest boost under the 40th President. Two-thirds of the most far-reaching social safety net (Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security), federal aid to education, and application of federal power in the cause of civil rights should be attributed to Lyndon Johnson. And Rachel Maddow believes an astonishingly weak health care bill, a trimmed stimulus bill that has helped bring unemployment down to 9.7%, a reshuffling of the Minerals Management Service after the greatest environmental disaster in American history, and a feeble financial services reform bill (not yet passed by Congress) are evidence of "nothing this big happening since FDR."

If this were FOX News reporting on a Republican president, it at least would be understandable. But from Rachel Maddow, it was surprising, disappointing, and remarkably lacking in perspective.

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

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Another Frightened Republican

The date was May 12, 2010 when Chris Matthews on Hardball first challenged any Republican to come on the air and disagree with Rush Limbaugh. Matthews reiterated (video below) the challenge two days later. Thirty-nine days after that- on the 43rd day since his gracious offer- Matthews interviewed U.S. Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Here is the transcript, from June 22, 2010:

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Today, as we reported, a federal judge blocked President Obama‘s six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling.
Joining me right now is Congressman Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana.
Congressman, I have to ask you this. Here‘s Rush Limbaugh on the Joe Barton comment today.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It was a shakedown, pure and simple. And somebody had the audacity to call it what it was, and now everybody is running for the hills.

MATTHEWS: Well, that was yesterday, actually, but it‘s been 42 days now since we have been asking Republican members of Congress to stand up and say Rush Limbaugh doesn‘t speak for the Republican Party.
Congressman Scalise, here‘s your chance. Is it Rush Limbaugh or your leadership that is right on Joe Barton?

REP. STEVE SCALISE ®, LOUISIANA: Well, first of all, Joe Barton has apologized. I spoke with him the other day. And I accept his apology.
What frustrates me is that you still don‘t see the sense of urgency from this administration. And they have got the legal responsibility to direct the efforts on the ground. And they‘re just not doing it. That is what angers people back home in South Louisiana, where I just came back from over just earlier today.

MATTHEWS: Well, my job is to ask these questions. Do you think that Rush Limbaugh is right, it was a shakedown? Is he and Barton right? Or is the leadership right in saying it was wrong to apologize on the part of the Republican Party to BP?

SCALISE: Well, unfortunately, I didn‘t get the opportunity to listen to his show. I like his show. I think he offers a lot of good, interesting commentary.
But the bottom line is, when you look at what‘s not happening on the ground—and our local leaders will tell you, just the other day, we had vacuum barges that were sent back to the docks by the Coast Guard, and they gave absolutely no reason why those barges, which would have been sucking up oil, that would have prevented oil from getting into our marsh, were sent back to the docks.
It—spent over a day where the Coast Guard gave absolutely no explanation. And the federal government, still to this day, won‘t tell us who is in charge when problems go on the ground like they‘re doing just two, three days ago. I mean, this is inexcusable. We cannot afford these kinds of delays.

MATTHEWS: Well, what about the big news that the federal government has asked BP to set aside a $20 billion escrow account? Some Republicans like Joe Barton have said that that‘s a shakedown, that that is wrong, it‘s a slush fund.
Rush Limbaugh agrees with that point of view. Your party leadership doesn‘t. Who speaks for you, your party leadership on that point or Rush Limbaugh on that point? Who is your leader?

SCALISE: Well, Chris, I speak for myself. And John Boehner is the Republican leader. But if you look at what‘s going on out there, we haven‘t been given any details on how this money is going to be spent. I sure hope it doesn‘t become some kind of a slush fund where Washington bureaucrats spend the money on things that aren‘t related to people on the ground.
My main concern is that the money gets into the hands of those people who are affected.

MATTHEWS: How is that, wait a minute. What is that—what is that attack you‘re making here? First of all, will you answer the question? Is Rush Limbaugh right here or wrong?

SCALISE: Well, again, I didn‘t listen to his comments earlier, Chris. But what I‘ve said is, I want real transparency and accountability with the money.
MATTHEWS: He called it a shakedown. Is it a shakedown?

SCALISE: I wasn‘t in the meetings, Chris. But, I mean, again, where is the money going to be spent?

MATTHEWS: Why are you guys—why is everybody in the Republican Party afraid of Limbaugh, a radio talk show host? When he says something totally contradictive to your party leadership, can‘t you say, “I‘m with the party leadership”?

SCALISE: Of course, I speak for myself. I told you who I speak for, and that‘s myself. Nobody else speaks for me. And ultimately, I‘m trying to solve problems on the ground and they‘re still not getting fixed.

MATTHEWS: OK. OK. Just to make it simple. Rush Limbaugh does not speak for you on the issue whether BP was shaken down or not?

SCALISE: No, he doesn‘t speak for me. I speak for myself.


SCALISE: But ultimately, I‘m going to continue fighting to try to make sure that the money gets into the hands of those people who are affected, and many of them still have not gotten help. But ultimately, that our leaders get the help they need on the ground, to get the oil out of our marsh. And they‘re not going a good enough job at that right now.

MATTHEWS: What don‘t you like about the decisions of an escrow account? You‘re accusing the administration of taking the money and putting it into some sort of political patronage fund. What makes you believe that the administration will decide where that money goes? Where did you get that idea?

SCALISE: Well, Chris, first, I‘ve never made that accusation. What I‘ve said is—

MATTHEWS: Well, you‘re saying it.

SCALISE: I‘ve asked to find out where that money is going to go, how it‘s going to be spent. I think even the guy running the fund over the weekend wouldn‘t really tell anybody how it‘s going to be set up. So, ultimately, when you‘re talking about $20 billion that‘s supposed to go for people in the Gulf Coast who are affected by this oil spill, I think we all want to make sure that it‘s spent helping those people whose way of life right now is destroyed.
I don‘t think people want to see that wasted on government bureaucracy here in Washington. It needs to get to the hands of people on the ground.

MATTHEWS: Well, whose—who said 1 cent of it is going to a bureaucracy in Washington? Who says that? Where do you get that idea from that you‘re concerned about?

SCALISE: I‘ve never said—well, I never said I‘ve got the idea.
I said I want to make sure that doesn‘t happen because no one will tell us.
MATTHEWS: Well, what makes you think it would happen? Why are you going after a straw man—a red herring here?

SCALISE: -- because it‘s happened before.

MATTHEWS: Where has it happened before?

SCALISE: -- to Social Security trust fund—

MATTHEWS: Oh, here we go. This is—

SCALISE: -- everyday on things that have nothing to do with Social Security. I want to make sure that fund gets in the hands of people who deserve it. And no one told us what that money is going to be used for yet. I think we deserved that answer.

MATTHEWS: In other words, you are using—this is just—this is just pure, pure partisan politics, what you‘re doing here.

SCALISE: You know, Chris, I don‘t know why you‘re not concerned where the $20 billion is going to go.

MATTHEWS: Because you‘re attacking something that‘s never happened. It‘s never happened with this. You think BP is going to make some checks out, to what, welfare recipients, or are they going to make checks out to people who have legal claims against them?

SCALISE: Do you know? Because right now, we‘re not seeing the stuff getting down—

MATTHEWS: Because the only way they‘re going to spend a nickel is if their own fiduciary responsibility allows them to make payments which could only be the people with legal claims against them.

SCALISE: So, you‘re telling me that BP is going to run this fund?
Who‘s going to run the fund, Chris?

MATTHEWS: Apparently, it‘s going to be run—

SCALISE: I don‘t know if you know that. I sure don‘t. I‘d like to know. I think the people on the Gulf Coast have a right to know.

MATTHEWS: OK. So, you‘re accusation—

MATTHEWS: OK. Right. Well, that‘s fair enough. It‘s just—it‘s just pure politics. Thank you, Congressman Steve Scalise for joining us now.

Matthews at his worst can be very bad. Matthews at his best, however, can be extraordinary, as he was here. Seven times (as italicized) the host gave the Louisianan an opportunity to repudiate the de facto leader of the Republican Party, or at least say that he didn't completely agree with him. Scalise could manage only a lame (but slick) "No, he doesn't speak for me. I speak for myself." This apparently satisfied Limbaugh, who on June 23 devoted a segment to the Matthews-Scalise confrontation and, tingle up his leg, pronounced himself a Scalise fan:

go, go, go Steve Scalise. The easy thing would be, under that onslaught -- I mean you got spittle and everything else coming out of Matthews' mouth there. He's foaming! The easy thing would be to say, "Uh, yeah, Limbaugh is a little off the beaten path," and Matthews would have been thrilled! I mean, that would have made his last six weeks! This is what he's been looking for. Scalise wouldn't give it to him and it ruined his whole show.

This response proved Chris Matthews' point. No one, but no one in the GOP questions Chairman Rush Limbaugh- and lives not to apologize for it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Limbaugh Manipulative Machine: #7

Is it possible- at all- that Rush Limbaugh doesn't know of the filibuster and that there are 61 Republicans in the United States Senate?

I'm guessing not, although it is possible. Striving on Friday to extend unemployment insurance, save jobs, and extend tax breaks (HR 4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Bill), Senate Democrats

failed for the third time in three weeks to defeat a Republican filibuster. As a result, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] is giving up and moving onto other legislative matters. “We can’t pass it until we get some Republicans… It’s up to them,” Reid said.

All Republicans plus Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE] voted “no” today on a “cloture motion” to end a Republican filibuster and move forward on debate of the bill. Cloture motions require 60 votes to be approved under Senate rules. That means that Republicans were able to sink the bill despite having only 41 votes today in the 100-seat Senate.

The process is a little complicated but the arithmetic isn't. Republicans filibuster. "Three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn" (60 if no vacancies, as currently the situation) needed to defeat a filibuster. 59 Democrats (including Lieberman and Sanders, both part of the Democratic caucus) and 41 Republicans in the Senate. All Republicans (40 of 41) present voted nay; all Democrats but two (one voting nay, one absent) voted in favor. If Nebraska's Ben Nelson had voted in favor, rather than against, cloture, Democrats would have had 58 votes; if, additionally, West Virginia's Robert Byrd had voted, the Democrats would have had 59 votes for cloture. They still would have needed one Republican to vote to cut off the filibuster to reach 60 and thus succeed.

The bill was defeated by the GOP. Period. But not to Rush Limbaugh, who the day after remarked

There's a story in the stack today, the Senate shot down this latest stimulus bill, the so-called $100 billion jobs bill, and it ends unemployment benefits for a lot of Americans. This is because of the pressures of reelection. However, I want you to listen to how the Associated Press presents this: "Republicans Kill Jobless Aid Measure in Senate." The Republicans can't kill anything. It's a damn lie. How can the Republicans kill a bill? They can't kill anything. They don't have the votes to kill anything. All they can do is kill themselves, which some might argue that they're doing a halfway decent job of. But they can't kill legislation. And yet look at this headline: "Republicans Kill Jobless Aid --" it's a damnable lie.

Does Rush not know it's not "a damnable lie" but objective fact? Is it possible for someone to be on the air bloviating about politics 3 hours each weekday, 5 days most weeks, 40+ weeks a year, over two decades and believe that 60 votes are necessary to pass some bills- and that Democrats have only 59 votes by themselves?

I doubt it, which, ironically, would make "a damnable lie" a lie.

The Limbaugh Manipulative Machine: #6

It’s not a lie because it’s a judgment call. But it is oh, so deceptive.

On June 25, Rush Limbaugh told his listeners

"The economy didn’t grow as much as the Obama administration first claimed in the initial quarter of 2010, the Commerce Department reported today. The Q1 GDP was first announced at an annualized growth rate of 3.2%, revised downward now to 2.7%." Can we all declare that Obama's grand stimulus bill has been a spectacular failure? Yes, we can. And if you can't, you should join us, because it has been.

Okay, with these revised GDP numbers in, again, I think we can all declare Obama's grand stimulus bill a spectacular failure. We certainly have not had a winter of recovery. We did not have a spring of recovery. Given what we've seen in the housing market, unemployment numbers, why would anybody believe there's going to be a summer of recovery as Vice President Bite Me and President Obama are suggesting. The president and his accomplices in the Democrat Party took $1 trillion, folks, $1 trillion from taxpayers, they threw it down a slush fund rat hole called economic stimulus. They said it would stimulate job and economic growth. Two possible ways to look at that. Either they were wrong or they lied to us. Whichever answer, it's unacceptable.

Limbaugh’s information may have come from the report that

US first-quarter economic growth was revised downward to 2.7 percent, official data showed Friday, on the eve of a G20 summit set to focus on protecting the fragile global economic recovery. The US Commerce Department said revisions to consumer spending and imports forced a downward adjustment of growth in the January-March period, which was initially calculated at 3.2 percent before being revised to 3.0 percent in May. The third and final reading was weaker than the average analyst forecast of 3.0 percent, and well below the 5.6 percent pace for the final quarter of 2009, the strongest in six years.

But it marked the third consecutive quarter of growth for the US economy, after it emerged from the country's worst recession in decades, and contained some positive signs, analysts said.

In a statement, the Commerce Department said that the final figure reflected "an upward revision to imports and a downward revision to personal consumption expenditures that were partly offset by upward revisions to exports and to private inventory investment."

A downward revision of consumer spending from 3.5 percent to 3.0 percent led the cutback in the overall figure for the quarter.

The growth rate for the first quarter was revised downward and consumer spending was bad news but “was still the highest personal expenditure level since the first quarter of 2007.” And it’s an incredible- literally- leap from anything in this report to a conclusion that the stimulus program “was a slush fund rat hole” and “a spectacular failure” which proved “either they were wrong or they lied to us.”

It’s inconvenient for facts to get in the way of sparkling rhetoric and right-wing bias, but a month ago that emblem of the liberal media, Fox Business News, noted

The $800 billion stimulus package has had a slightly bigger impact on the U.S. economy than was projected when it was passed more than a year ago, the Congressional Budget Office estimated Tuesday. Through the first quarter of 2010, the stimulus boosted employment by an estimated 1.3 million to 2.8 million jobs, about a quarter or half million more than projected. Gross domestic product was 1.7 to 4.1 percentage points higher than it would have been without the stimulus, the nonpartisan budget office said.

That would make Rush’s description of the stimulus “a spectacular failure” clearly deceptive- unless, of course, Limbaugh believes that creating 2.8 million jobs constitutes a disaster. Which may be the case.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lock Up The Unemployed!

As we all are aware,

Republicans on Thursday defeated Democrats’ showcase election-year jobs bill, including an extension of weekly unemployment benefits for millions of people out of work more than six months.

The 57-41 vote fell three votes short of the 60 required to crack a GOP filibuster, delivering a major blow to President Barack Obama and Democrats facing big losses of House and Senate seats in the fall election.

The rejected bill would also have provided $16 billion in new aid to states, preserving the jobs of thousands of state and local government workers and providing what White House officials called an insurance policy against a double-dip recession. It also included dozens of tax breaks sought by business lobbyists, and tax increases on domestically produced oil and on investment fund managers.

The demise of the bill means that unemployment benefits will phase out for more than 200,000 people a week. Governors who had been counting on federal aid will now have to consider a fresh round of budget cuts, tax hikes and layoffs of state workers.

Thursday night, Rachel Maddow effectively summarized (transcript here; video below) the implications of the defeat of the legislation, as well as the nature of the GOP opposition. Included in comments by Republicans disdainful of the American worker was one in which Utah Senator Orrin Hatch sarcastically remarked

You know, we should be giving people cash who… who basically are just going to blow it on drugs.

Maddow added "Senator Hatch actually proposed an amendment to the jobs bill earlier this month, to force anyone getting unemployment benefits to submit to a drug test, because, you know, land of the free and all that. Now pee in this cup."

Aside from holding a contemptuous attitude toward unemployed workers, Hatch must have forgotten that he is supposed to be against big government. Back in March, he told CNN's Campbell Brown "Those on the other (conservative side of the health care debate, of whom he was one) feel deeply about the big spending, big government, big controls, and, of course, some of the provisions of this -- of these two bills."

Yet, Hatch apparently wants to jack up the size of the federal government, and increase its costs, by establishing a whole new function- testing applicants for unemployed benefits. Or perhaps he wants the state government to fund the entire procedure because, after all, what the 50 states need more than ever now is another unfunded mandate. Drug testing is, of course, more than drug testing. It is training employeees for the procedure, setting up an appointment for (presumably) urinalysis, administering the test (in-house or contracted out), evaluating the results, and taking the action prompted by the results.

The action prompted by the results gets into real money. When, as is inevitable, people start testing positive for illegal drugs, law enforcement will need to be notified and can hardly turn a blind eye to a violation of criminal law. And what this country needs more than anything is more citizens incarcerated for non-violent offenses, at least victimless crimes. (Yes, drug possession is victimless. Some people argue otherwise. They would be wrong.) Among steps taken by states to reduce expenditures on criminal justice and hold their budgets in check, according to USA Today in March, 2009, were:

• A California panel of federal judges recommended last month that the cash-strapped state release up to 57,000 non-violent inmates from the overcrowded system to help save $800 million.

• Kentucky officials last year allowed for the early release of non-violent offenders up to six months before their sentences end to serve the balance of their time at home.

The budget crunch in most states, and thus consideration of drastic measures to reduce costs, has only intensified in the last sixteen months. And Orrin Hatch wants to find men and women who have lost their jobs and use illegal drugs so that they can be denied benefits and, unavoidably, prosecuted.

Some Republicans will go to great lengths to bar the American people from helping Americans who are down-and-out.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Oh, But I Like Him Personally"

You probably heard, if not the report itself, of its finding, a couple of months ago:

A new national poll suggests that President Obama is personally more popular than his policies.

Three in four Americans say President Obama has the personal qualities a president should have, the poll shows.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, released Monday, also indicates that 63 percent of Americans approve of how Obama is handling his duties as president. One in three questioned in the poll disapprove.

Democrats overwhelmingly approve of how Obama is handling his job as president; 61 percent of independents agree. Only 28 percent of Republicans say the president is doing a good job in office.

The survey, released two days before Obama marks 100 days in the White House, indicates that three in four Americans feel Obama has the personal qualities a president should have. But when asked whether Obama agrees with the respondent on the issues, that number drops to 57 percent.

"Americans have two different assessments of President Obama. One, personal. The other, policy," CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider said.

There are four possible interpretations of this conclusion:

1) It is both accurate and significant. This is about as likely as snow this weekend in south Florida because if accurate it is only because of #2.

2) This is the way it typically runs with a U.S. President. Unless given good reason to think otherwise, we like our presidents; they represent us to the world. They symbolize America, not unlike the U.S. soccer team competing in the World Cup.

3) Hey, the guy's black. Do you think I (a poll respondent) am going to tell you I don't like him? (Note: Please don't confuse this with racism.)

4) It's a mistaken impression. It's difficult, particulary in this super-charged, partisan, and hostile atmosphere, to disagree with a president's policies but actually to like him. Probably, we (think Rush Limbaugh) will believe him stupid, deceptive, or racist. Or maybe a Muslim or a foreigner.

The meme that Obama- but not his policies- is popular serves the purpose of a mainstream media which, generally, always has liked Obama, was excited about being a part of history being made, and would like him to govern from the center. But it's simply not accurate.

On Tuesday night, Rachel Maddow interviewed Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Rieckhoff has evinced no evidence of being a partisan Republican, but, discussing General General McChrystal and Afghanistan, he made a few critical remarks (italicized) about Barack Obama:

MADDOW: So, President Obama made clear today that this is a change in personnel, not policy. Would this have been the right time to reassess the overall counterinsurgency policy in Afghanistan?

RIECKHOFF: I think we should be constantly reassessing our policy in Afghanistan. I think folks on the ground are constantly reassessing it. But I think, you know, there‘s also a larger message here. I don‘t know if the American public is really engaged here and I don‘t know if the White House has been fully engaged.

Now, look, McChrystal was out of lines and what he said definitely was out of bounds and he sends a poor message to the troops. But I think there‘s something to be drilled down in here. For the counterinsurgency doctrine to succeed, you need that full support of everybody in the civilian authority. You need that full support of every political resource. And there are a lot of folks who believe, who follow parts of what McChrystal said and feel like they‘re not getting those resources.

If you‘re a soldier on the ground in Afghanistan right now, you know you have the bullets, you know you have the bombs, but you don‘t always feel like you have all those bits and pieces alongside you to commit to that fight.

MADDOW: In terms of the relationship between the political debate here, Paul, and what‘s happening on the ground, I thought one of the things that Michael Hastings highlighted effectively in this “Rolling Stone” piece was soldiers complaining to General McChrystal about counterinsurgency.

Is there a lack of buy-in on this doctrine from frontline soldiers and from frontline soldiers who are coming home as new vets?

RIECKHOFF: I think there‘s a lack of buy-in nationwide. I don‘t think everybody is absolutely clear on what we‘re doing in Afghanistan. And I think that‘s in part because the president hasn‘t been focused on it. And I think we‘ve really got to drill down deep and hear part of what‘s coming out of the military.
McChrystal was a rock star. A lot of people in the field really support him 100 percent, feel like he has a sophisticated understanding of what‘s happening on the ground. He comes from the Special Operations community. All those pieces are critical.

But there are a lot of folks who feel like he wasn‘t getting the support he needed. And that maybe comes out in the wash over the next couple of weeks. Petraeus, everybody loves Petraeus. That‘s going over very well.

But the question is: what happens to the guys on the ground in the next couple of months when the casualties do increase and the fighting does get more complex?

MADDOW: What kind of support would McChrystal need in order to alleviate some of these doubts? What kind of focus would need to be demonstrated on this issue that would make a difference both to soldiers in the field and to the military brass that need to make decisions about how connected they are to political leadership?

RIECKHOFF: Well, I‘d ask you and I ask everybody watching right now:
how much are we talking about Afghanistan last week? How much were we talking about Afghanistan over the last month? I mean, folks have focused on BP, with good reason. People are focused on the economy.
But for the most part, I think a lot of folks on the ground feel like the country is not always paying attention. And if there is an upside that comes outs of all of this in the next couple of weeks and all the controversy that follows, I think we‘re going to be focused on Afghanistan, and that‘s something that‘s good for the folks on the ground, that‘s good for the country.

If we have a re-evaluation of the policy debate, that‘s a good thing. If it gets more attention, if only from the bully pulpit, and if only from the president, to commit to those folks on the ground when we really needed it, then that‘s going to be a positive outcome of all this controversy.

MADDOW: Let me ask you, though, Paul, in all honesty. And you and I have known each other a long time. Is it always a net benefit to have jerks like me and talking heads on television, partisan or not, talking about the war effort and talking about strategy, talking about tactics when we‘re this removed from it? I mean, I don‘t buy you have to listen to the generals on the ground and civilian leadership doesn‘t have a role. I‘m certainly not part of civilian leadership, but recognizing that I‘m part of the echo chamber and part of the political—I guess, political sphere in this country, sometimes, I worry about that we‘re just spinning our wheels and we‘re not actually helping when we do talk about it.

RIECKHOFF: There‘s a divide. There‘s clearly a divide. In the last couple of days, I‘ve been frustrated because a lot of people on television talking about counterinsurgency, talking about the Uniform Code of Military Justice, who have no idea what the heck they‘re talking about. And that is frustrating for somebody who comes from the military.

But there‘s also a frustration with the White House. They‘ve been missing some of the easy things, things like going to Arlington on Memorial Day. Things like—there‘s a director of Wounded Warrior Foreign Policy named Matt Flavin focused on the veteran groups and military groups, he‘s left and going over to the Department of Defense. Nobody has replaced him.

Michelle Obama has talked a lot about military families. But we don‘t see any points on the board. He‘s an anti-war Democrat who doesn‘t have a history of serving in the military. He‘s got to work harder to bridge that gap and he‘s got to work on it harder on all the time.

MADDOW: How do you get—how do you shed the label anti-war by doing
when you tripled the number of troops and leaders since you‘ve been president?

RIECKHOFF: Look, I‘m telling you about—there‘s always going to a rub with the military. When he comes in as someone who hasn‘t served on the ground, who is anti-war in his campaign stuff.

Now, he‘s changed that. I‘m not saying that you go can‘t support the troops and be anti-war. But he‘s got to work harder at it. This is an area of vulnerability for him. Command and control, understanding the military has always been an area of vulnerability for him and he has to work that much harder to get support of folks in the field.

MADDOW: Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, somebody who I have always enjoyed fighting with these things about—thanks a lot for your time. Good to see you.

RIECKHOFF: My pleasure, Rachel. Thank you.

Paul Rieckhoff is only one person, but a representative of an important organization. And what is the common thread in his criticism?

He is criticizing Barack Obama. Not President Obama's policies, but Barack Obama. The White House has not been "fully engaged;" the President "hasn't been focused;" Obama has not yet "commit(ted) to those folks on the ground;" there is a "frustration with the White House" (which should have) "gone to Arlington on Memorial Day;" Obama lacks an "understanding (of) the military" and thus has failed "to get support of folks in the field."

But most telling was the remark

He‘s an anti-war Democrat who doesn‘t have a history of serving in the military. He‘s got to work harder to bridge that gap and he‘s got to work on it harder on all the time.

Rieckhoff and Maddow were talking about Afghanistan. Afghanistan, the country the last President virtually ignored, shortchanging the American soldiers there while concentrating on a war (in Iraq) of far less strategic significance in a nation of far less strategic importance. Afghanistan, a war whose importance Senator Obama emphasized and to which President Obama has committed 30,000 additional soldiers. Afghanistan, a war in whose command he has now placed the most respected and revered general alive in America.

Yet Paul Rieckhoff, discussing the war in Afghanistan, calls President Obama "an anti-war Democrat." The war is going poorly but President Obama, with an opportunity to begin withdrawal of the soldiers or de-emphasize the mission, now has pledged "unity of effort across our alliance and across my national security team" in the effort to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda" (love that alliteration).

But Rieckhoff calls Obama "an anti-war Democrat." Maybe he is "anti-war" at heart and/or by instinct; not, however, by policy, at least so far. Rieckhoff is couching an animus toward Barack Obama the man (a legitimate point of view) in policy terms. Barack Obama seems anti-war; his background is anti-war; he is a black man from Harvard Law; gosh, he must be anti-war. That is what Rieckhoff is reacting to. His problem (and perhaps that of the soldiers he believes he is representing) is not with the President's policy but with Obama. However, he won't quite say so..... not unlike all those people, whom CNN believes, like the guy, but not those darned liberal policies.

Decisive, With An Exclamation Point

Just as I suspected, I would have told myself if this article had been written, and I had read it, a week ago. President Obama seemed intimidated by the Pentagon. Michael Hastings noted in Rolling Stone

The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" by the roomful of military brass.

Gee, I guess, not anymore:

President Barack Obama fired his top Afghanistan commander on Wednesday over inflammatory comments that enraged the White House, and vowed not to let the military shakeup undermine the U.S. war effort.

In an extraordinary turn of events, Obama called General Stanley McChrystal on the carpet at the White House, relieved him of command and replaced him with his boss, General David Petraeus, architect of the Iraq war turnaround.

Obama had summoned McChrystal from Afghanistan to answer for remarks he and his aides made in an explosive Rolling Stone magazine article that disparaged the president and other civilian leaders.

"The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden as he announced McChrystal's dismissal.

Periodically, politicians and media figures blithely identify the President of the United States as "commander in chief." Ironically, rarely (from what I could tell) was that term used today, although this was a situation to which Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution applies:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States....

General McChrystal deserved to be fired; or, as in this case, to have his resignation accepted. And President Obama needed to reassert the principle of civilian control over the military.

Replacing McChrystal with General David Petraeus, although an obviously wise option strategically and politically, was a stroke of genius. Unexpected by the media, it nearly removes the threat Petraeus posed as a possible candidate for the Republican nomination to oppose Obama in 2012. If the war in Afghanistan continues to go badly, it will be tough for Petraeus to mount a serious campaign, especially with the blemish on what is now his extraordinary public image; if the war effort turns around and Petraeus is nominated by the GOP, he will be running against the President who presided over the war. Besides, Petraeus is the individual given greatest credit for what is perceived as renewed success in Iraq- and Afghanistan now is the most important theatre in American foreign policy.

President Obama does not always convey an image of strength. Today, June 23, 2010, however, he became President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, enjoying one of his best days since January 23, 2009.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

And Now, Obama

It may have started with Jeanne Kirkpatrick in 1984. In a speech to the Republican National Convention, Kirkpatrick, President Reagan's national security advisor, referred disdainfully to "San Francisco Democrats." Then, as now, San Francisco had plenty of competition as the most liberal city in the U.S.A. but no real competition as the least heterosexual. This was apiece with that year's "Mondale Eats Quiche" bumper stickers, a reminder that, as was commonly quipped then, "real men don't eat quiche."

At the GOP convention in 1988, it was one of the mainstream (a redundant adjective for 1988) media's favorite governors, the overrated New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, who referred to "pastel patriots." (Would a real man even consider wearing pastel?) That year, the Harvard Law graduate who faced George H.W. Bush was accused of having a "boutique" foreign policy. (How many men frequent a "boutique?")

It wasn't only Republican slander against Democrats. Bush 41, a combat war veteran, was accused of being a "wimp"- but that charge lost its potency when rumors arose that the elder Bush was having an affair. Not only did Bush deny the charge but a counter-rumor suggested, probably accurately, that the speculation of an affair was initiated by the Bush camp to erase any doubt that he was a man's man.

The stereotype of the wimp was laid typically at the feet of Democrats. Following his loss, Michael Dukakis was derided by Republicans and the mainstream media alike as having lost considerable credibility by riding around a tank and looking, well, like a little man, a child trying to make like a man. (The actual film probably had less effect on Dukakis' loss than it was argued, but that might have been the point- the guy lost, it must have been because he came off as a girlie-man.)

And then there was John Kerry. In 2003, the New York Times quoted an unnamed GW Bush advisor as saying the Massachusetts Senator "looked French" (and Senator John Edwards as the "Breck Girl" of politics). The "French" references were almost never-ending: right-wing columnist R. Emmet Tyrell said Kerry "looks French," Bush Commerce Secretary Don Evans reportedly characterized him as "a fellow of a different political stripe who looks French," and Wesley Pruden, head of the conservative editorial section of The Washington Times, opined "You have to feel a spot of sympathy for someone who looks as French as John Kerry," who is the "French-looking senator." Never one to be left out of the fun, Rush Limbaugh referred to Kerry as "John Cheri" and "John F. Cheri" because he was "French-looking."

President Carter was mocked for having fended off a "killer rabbit" and for what became known as his "malaise" speech. Carter never actually used the term "malaise" but it did comport with what was viewed as a weak, almost impotent, presidency.

And so we had one of the bright spots of the candidacy, and presidency, of Barack Obama. No one would accuse a black man of being less of a man because, of course, we all know black men have.... (fortunately, I caught myself in time). And no one (aside from an occasional arugala reference) did suggest Mr. Obama is French or unusually effeminate until.... now.

Recently, Maureen Dowd, who likes to ridicule prominent Democrats because she perceives femininity, wants Obama to take "fast, muscular and proficient action" and wrote

Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama, who has forced himself to ingest a load of gulf crab cakes, shrimp and crawfish tails, whinged to Grand Isle, La., residents on Friday. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

Or as Digby put it, "See, Obama had to force himself to eat a plate of food in order to prove his heartiness. Get it?" (The next thing you know, we'll be hearing Obama eats French food!)

If that isn't obvious enough, Michael Gerson, columnist and former GWBush speechwriter, contended

The setting of the Oval Office creates an expectation of decisive executive action.... Obama urges others to take action, kibitzes with corporate executives, shifts some government personnel and signals the start of a review process. A crisis is met with a study. The action verbs in this speech have somehow gone missing. It is all rather limp and weak.

Obama is a limp-wristed liberal! And he "kibitzes," like an old Jewish woman at brunch! Worst yet, he believes in review and study! When, oh when, will he become a man?

The right would love to call Obama gay but as an insult, that is oh, so politically incorrect. Ditto for implying that the President is effeminate which, even in an age of increasing female participation in the democratic process, is still a characteristic voters don't want in their politicians. (Note that Sarah Palin is always striving to project an image of strength and deemphasizes her femininity.) The GOP is sensitive to charges of sexism and racism- there is a little matter of an extremely embarassing party chairman who knows how to hold on to a job- but if it can caricature the opposition as borderline gay without being called on it, it's full steam ahead.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Shilling for BP, As Expected

Sometimes it's not just Rush Limbaugh. It's also his listeners, or at least those sufficiently manipulated and animated that they call in to him. From Monday's episode:

CALLER: I don't think BP should be responsible for the regime's decisions -- i.e., the stopping of the offshore drilling and all those people down there unemployed because of it. There's no way that BP is responsible for that, and they're not responsible for the delayed cleanups, either.

RUSH: All of this is true. Let me translate this folks. What he's talking about here is there are going to be beaucoup oil workers out of work because Obama has shut down all oil drilling in the Gulf. We have 33 rigs out there and in Alaska now, and BP is been forced -- by the way, part of this slush fund, there's a hundred million dollars BP has to pay so that Obama can give the out-of-work oil workers in the Gulf of Mexico their payment, their checks.

Contrary to the assertion of the caller and agreement by Limbaugh, President Obama hardly is responsible for "all those people down there unemployed because of" the stopping of offshore drilling. Offshore drilling, in the wake of the BP disaster, has not been "stopped"- a moratorium has been ordered. Previously, on April 1, in what we now wish were an April Fool's joke, the Washington Post reported

In what could represent the biggest expansion of offshore energy exploration in half a century, Obama announced that he will open the door to drilling off Virginia's coast, in other parts of the mid- and south Atlantic, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and in waters off Alaska.

Odd that both the caller and Limbaugh, who claims "it's not BP's fault that the government was lax in doing what it could have done." Under President Obama, Limbaugh continually maintains, the U.S.A. is hurtling toward socialism; yet, when a mammoth oil company creates an environmental disaster, it is that government which needs to save us all. Or at least save BP from itself and from the anger of the American people.

Only Rush Limbaugh and the confederation of corporate shills in right-wing talk radio could hold the federal government or Barack Obama primarily responsible for "the delayed cleanups." Writing in Rolling Stone, Tom Dickinson explained

Nowhere was the absurdity of the policy more evident than in the application that BP submitted for its Deepwater Horizon well only two months after Obama took office. BP claims that a spill is “unlikely” and states that it anticipates “no adverse impacts” to endangered wildlife or fisheries. Should a spill occur, it says, “no significant adverse impacts are expected” for the region’s beaches, wetlands and coastal nesting birds. The company, noting that such elements are “not required” as part of the application, contains no scenario for a potential blowout, and no site-specific plan to respond to a spill. Instead, it cites an Oil Spill Response Plan that it had prepared for the entire Gulf region. Among the sensitive species BP anticipates protecting in the semitropical Gulf? “Walruses” and other cold-water mammals, including sea otters and sea lions. The mistake appears to be the result of a sloppy cut-and-paste job from BP’s drilling plans for the Arctic.

The oil behemoth Rush Limbaugh (and much of the GOP) defends never prepared any realistic plans for dealing with an oil spill. Surely, the federal government deserves blame because it failed to regulate the industry, allowing it to regulate itself. It was a triumph of the modern deregulatory ethos pioneered by Ronald Reagan, endorsed by the Republican Party, pursued vigorously by the GW Bush administration, and tolerated by the Obama administration, especially by its Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar.

Establishment of the $20 billion escrow fund, one would expect, would at least be recognized by both parties as a simple, humanitarian gesture. Sadly, it has been attacked as "a shakedown" by some Republicans and, additionally, as a "slush fund" by Limbaugh. Define "slush fund" specifically as a "fund for buying votes or bribing public officials" or more generally as "money stored for illegal or dishonest purposes." Either way, it is yet one more example of the contempt Rush Limbaugh has for ordinary American citizens that he would denigrate as a "slush fund" an effort to reimburse individuals and families which have been devastated by the appallingly bad behavior of a corporate giant.

If only we could say that Limbaugh has reached the depths of his loathing for the American people. Unfortunately, he has not.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Schultz Wisdom

Bob Somerby of Daily Howler frequently criticizes "our side" for failing to build a progressive politics. He comes down especially hard on Washington Post columnists, New York Times columnists, and MSNBC anchor persons for various sins, including an emphasis on the sexual (Maureen Dowd among the offenders), racism of white conservatives (Keith Olbermann among the offenders), and distorting and manipulating the statements and record of Vice-President Gore, leading to the Bush presidency (Chris Matthews, Eugene Robinson, and a whole lot of others).

But he was wrong last Wednesday about MSNBC's Ed Schultz:

SCHULTZ (6/14/10): And here’s what I don’t want to hear tonight. I don’t want to hear anything about bipartisanship. Liberals, we’re supposed to be in the majority here. I don’t want any more olive branches. I don’t want any more reaching across the aisle—didn’t we do that dance during health care and where did it get us? Don’t be offended by this, conservatives, but damn the Republicans, this country can’t afford any more political games. We are in crisis. The majority of Americans believe we are in crisis right now and we have to stop what is happening in the gulf.

Say what? Whatever could have made Schultz thought that liberals are in the majority? For a small reality check, just review the polling numbers on the Obama health plan, which is now law. Review the polling on the Arizona immigration law, a measure which liberals have denounced as strongly as any in recent memory. In no way are liberals/progressives in the majority, and it’s stunning to see that major liberals and progressives don’t know that. How can we build a winning progressive politics if we are thus deluded?

Somerby correctly asserts that there currently is no liberal majority in the country, the mandate for progressive politics existing in autumn of 2008 having evaporated, or been squandered or destroyed. But Schultz is recommending that liberals/progressives not behave defensively- "I don't want any more olive branches. I don't wan't any more reaching across the aisle. Didn't we do that dance during health care and where did it get us?"

Where it got us, indeed. Somerby argues that a review of the numbers on the health care plan refute the idea of the popularity of liberal initiatives. But as the health care debate wound on, the President "reached across the aisle," seeking bipartisanship and compromising with Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats for one more (pleeese!) vote. All the while, support for reform eroded. And deals with the pharmaceutical and hospital industries, hardly liberal or pro-Democratic interest groups, hardly enhanced reform's popularity.

While Somerby accurately suggests that Arizona's new immigration law is popular, it is far from clear what that support implies. Results from polling questions on immigration/illegal immigration are notoriously susceptible to wording of the question and, given little analysis of the actual content of the Arizona legislation, it is unlikely that the American people are aware of critical details of the bill. Ask respondents what they think about immigrants not being able to speak English, and the results would be depressingly (to the left) conservative; ask them about the idea of "rounding up" illegal immigrants, and the result would be depressing for conservatives. Or at least the conservatives who want illegal immigrants deported which, for example, would not include Rush Limbaugh.

There is nothing which has eroded President Obama's popularity more than the still-lingering recession. Nothing succeeds with the public more than success, and Obama has not had much bringing unemployment numbers down.

But it didn't have to be that way. Liberal economist Paul Krugman blogged in January 2009 and reiterated in October 2009 "This really does look like a plan that falls well short of what advocates of strong stimulus were hoping for — and it seems as if that was done in order to win Republican votes." It would, he expected in January, limit the rise in unemployment, whose rate eventually would decline, but slowly.

The inadequacy of the stimulus was unsurprising to major economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Budget Director Christine Romer. But a larger stimulus, the President reasoned, would prompt attacks from the right and little cooperation from Republicans. And with the relatively measly stimulus, Obama got- attacks from the right and little cooperation from Republicans.

Obama's positions generally have been too timid, in terms of the policy and the politics If the President's radio message Saturday is any indication (which it probably isn't), the message may have finally gotten through to the administration- stake out a position, fight for what is right, project strength, and compromise only when necessary.

Merely The 44th President

It is not for me to be a defender of Bill Clinton (who as president made many mistakes, especially in this regard), a role Chris Matthews lately has taken on with a vengeance. (Matthews loves the staunch support the Clintons have been giving to President Obama). But sometimes the past ought to be revisited.

Campaigning for his wife in January, 2008 between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, former President Clinton- according to ABC's Jake Tapper under the headline "Bill Seems Flustered"_

Second, it is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, numerating the years, and never got asked one time, not once, 'Well, how could you say, that when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution? You said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war and you took that speech you're now running on off your website in 2004 and there's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since?' Give me a break.

"This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen...So you can talk about Mark Penn all you want. What did you think about the Obama thing calling Hillary the Senator from Punjab? Did you like that?"

Not surprisingly, Senator Majority Whip Richard Durbin, Senator Obama's colleague from Illinois in the United States Senate and an ardent support of Obama, differed:

I’m really troubled by his questioning the sincerity of Barack Obama’s opposition to the war in Iraq. I really think it is unfortunate to question Barack’s sincerity on the war. He has been there from the start, opposing this war.

A fellow named Gene Byrd blogged on 1/8/08 "Poor Bubba! He sounds like a fool and is such a poor example of how an ex-president should behave." Further, he quoted CNN's Jessica Yellin defending candidate Obama, who noted "he has previously said he did not support the war" and maintained that Senator Obama made the comments Clinton referred to largely because he did not want to contract his party's nominee, John Kerry.

Even the reliable and presumably objective CBS News weighed in with an "analysis," contending "When Bill Clinton referred to Obama's claims of consistent opposition to the war in Iraq as "the biggest fairy tale that I have ever seen," many blacks heard more than policy criticism. They heard a dismissive attack on the first black with a real chance of winning the White House. They heard echoes of racial battles of the past. And they heard it from someone who was supposed to be on their side."

It is difficult to assess the sincerity of Senator Obama when he opposed the Iraq war- or when he supported it. Still, it is nearly 17 months since he assumed the presidency; 90,000 American soldiers are still in Iraq, the political and cultural system in that nation remains unstable, and it is looking increasingly likely that State Senator Obama, who delivered the famous speech opposing the war, was awfully fortunate that he represented a very liberal Chicago district. Had he not, he likely would not have delivered the speech and would not have been the Democratic nominee.

Although he doubtless would refuse to admit it now, Bill Clinton had a legitimate point in early 2008. But the larger problem was the easy tendency to resort to the race card. CBS News said "many blacks heard more than policy criticism. They heard a dismissive attack on the first black with a real chance of winning the White House. They heard echoes of racial battles of the past. And they heard it from someone who was supposed to be on their side." "Many blacks" here can be interpreted as "and we think they're right."

Have we come much further since this "historic" election? Consider this from, commenting on the decision by South Carolina Democrats not to challenge the victory in the U.S. Senate primary of political unknown Alvin Greene:

In any case, the SC Dems probably figured that in the absence of proof, or Greene coming forward to drop out, there was no way to dislodge Greene, an African American and a vet, and make Rawl, who is white, the winner. Had they tried to do so there could have been long-term problems within the party, given the race of the two candidates--whether or not Rep. Jim Clyburn's supported some sort of investigation or recount or ruling. More broadly, the SC Dems probably resigned themselves to the fact that this wasn't a fight worth fighting against a Republican incumbent with plenty of money in a conservative state in what is expected to be a bad Democratic year anyway.

The Democratic Party- not the party frightened to replace its inept national committee chairman because he's black- will not try "to dislodge" the African American candidate because "had they tried to do so there would have been long-term problems within the Party, given the race of the two candidates." Party leaders are afraid they would be charged with racism- even though the dominant political figure in the state party is black (and the third ranking member of the U.S. House delegation).

As Will Bunch, in the wake of the President's speech this week pertaining to BP, explained

Look (as Obama is famous for saying), it's just a bad idea for people who care about this country or thir political ideals to put their faith in any one man. That's as true for conservatives and George W. Bush (or Ronald Reagan) as it is for liberals and Barack Obama (or John F. Kennedy). They will always disappoint us -- just some more than others.

Barack Obama was sold as a transcendent figure, someone Americans could "put their faith in"; or, as the campaign put it, "change we can believe in." But as events from Iraq to South Carolina have since demonstrated, Senator Obama was merely the superior candidate with the far superior running mate. That may prove good enough, but to have imagined anything more was foolish and self-delusional.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


In retrospect, it was kind of predictable.

Alex Lawson of Social Security Works recently nailed an interview (video below) with former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) of the President's Fiscal Commission on the national debt. The characteristically belligerent Mr. Simpson, appointed co-chairman by none other than President Barack Obama, conceded that the 18-member commission is considering raising the retirement age for Social Security, though he disingenuously denied that it is a cut, which, paradoxically, inadvertently confirmed his support for the cut.

But the more disturbing portion of the transcript ran:

LAWSON: But what about the $180 billion in surplus that it brings in every year?

SIMPSON: There is no surplus in there. It’s a bunch of IOUs.

LAWSON: That’s what I wanted to actually get at.

SIMPSON: Listen. Listen. It’s 2.5 trillion bucks in IOUs which have been used to build the interstate highway system and all of the things people have enjoyed since it has been setup.

LAWSON: Two wars, tax cuts for the wealthy.

SIMPSON: Whatever, whatever. You pick your crap and I’ll pick the real stuff. It has to do with the highway system, it was to run America. And those are IOUs in there. And now there is not enough coming in every month.

Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher explains:

Simpson starts from the premise that the Treasury will default on the bonds issued to the Social Security trust fund, because all the best people apparently know that it’s better to default on America’s senior citizens and plunge them into poverty than it is to default on, say, the Chinese.

(Refutation of Simpson's other claims is here.)

But we were warned:

*The former Senator, while lashing out at the elderly, was asked in February by CNBC what cuts he would recommend to the legislative and executive branches. With Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security in mind, the co-chairman, an appointee of Barack Obama, eloquently declared "we are going to stick to the big three."

*Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee in January, Ben Bernanke, appointed by President Obama to a second term as Federal Reserve Chairman, advocated cuts in Social Security and Medicare because "That's where the money is."

*Two of the Democratic congressional members of the commission are from Illinois: Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, an early and active supporter of Barack Obama's presidential candidacy; and Jan Schakowsky, who was determined to get a public option in the health care bill until she wasn't.

*The other co-chairman of the Fiscal Commission, Democrat Erskine Bowles, served as President Clinton's intermediary when the 42nd president almost struck a deal with House Speaker Gingrich to undermine Social Security. Bowles, like Simpson, is an appointee of President Obama.

*All this might not matter were it not for the support of President Obama, who even as president-elect threatened to take aim at Social Security and Medicare.

Meanwhile, Ben Bernanke, appointed by Barack Obama (have I mentioned him?) for a second term, continues his assault on the elderly, telling Congress earlier this month "The entitlement programs are not self-funded. They are unfunded liabilities. They are the single biggest component of spending going forward.” Characterizing these programs as "unfunded liabilities" sounds far more ominous than need be. And it is a bizarre inference from a guy who wants to raid the system because "that's where the money is" (which, ironically, runs counter to the argument of Simpson, who wants us to believe the money is not there.) Perhaps Ben Bernanke will debate Ben Bernanke.

Robert Kuttner notes

Social security taxes wages. Get wage growth back to historic postwar norms, and Social Security is in surplus forever. Restore the traditional fraction of wages that are taxed, so that affluent people do not get a free ride on part of their income, and the proclaimed crisis disappears. There is no need to further cut benefits, or further raise the retirement age, or raise taxes on working Americans. If only Citigroup's balance sheet were as healthy as Social Security's!

Kuttner's reference to Citigroup is instructive because, as he points out, Wall Street is eager for privatization so it can get its hands on all this money. Republicans, meanwhile, want to undermine the system because Social Security and Medicare are embarassments to the anti-government party, always advocating a reduction in the size of the public sector (except when one of its own is president).

What, then, is Barack Obama's excuse? In the short term, he may want to cut the programs while the federal government continues to raid the accounts and tax cuts for the wealthy are maintained (which he probably thinks will help keep the GOP off his back). Or he may be thinking long-term, aiming to be the president who finally slays the Social Security dragon, confirming that "yes, we can" squash the elderly.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Danger Awaiting

It was back on January 19 that Glenn Greenwald wrote in Salon of

the grotesque immorality of the "Look Forward, Not Backwards" consensus which our political class -- led by the President -- has embraced. During the Bush years, the United States government committed some of the most egregious crimes a government can commit. They plainly violated domestic law, international law, and multiple treaties to which the U.S. has long been a party. Despite that, not only has President Obama insisted that these crimes not be prosecuted, and not only has his Justice Department made clear that -- at most -- they will pursue a handful of low-level scapegoats, but far worse, the Obama administration has used every weapon it possesses to keep these crimes concealed, prevent any accountability for them, and even venerated them as important "state secrets," thus actively preserving the architecture of lawlessness and torture that gave rise to these crimes in the first place.

Every Obama-justifying excuse for Looking Forward, Not Backwards has been exposed as a sham (recall, for instance, the claim that we couldn't prosecute Bush war crimes because it would ruin bipartisanship and Republicans wouldn't support health care reform).

How has that bipartisanship been working for you, Mr. President? To Rush Limbaugh, the $20 billion fund (to be administered independently government) President Obama has persuaded BP to set aside to reimburse victims of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history is a "slush fund." To Texas Representative Joe Barton, he of the on-again, off-again apology, it is a "shakedown." But it's not only the hard right of the GOP with Rachel Maddow explaining Thursday that

Joe Barton is not an outlier here in the Republican Party. And this is the most important thing about what happened today. He is not an outlier by any stretch of the imagination.

Yesterday, after the White House got BP to agree to set aside $20 billion for oil spill victims, the House Republican Study Committee blasted out a statement declaring, quote, “The Obama administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics.” Just like Joe Barton, attacking the White House for getting BP to set aside $20 billion for BP oil spill victims, even using the same shakedown epithet.

The House Republican Study Committee isn‘t a little outlier either.

It‘s not some, one random congressman from Texas tied to the oil industry. The House Republican Study Committee is 114 House Republicans. It‘s two-thirds, nearly two-thirds of all Republicans in the House.

But at least the GOP appreciates the President's ongoing effort to "reach across the aisle," appeal for bipartisanship, and search for consensus, rather than to take the advice of Greenwald and other silly liberals interested in justice.

Not so much. Politico reports

Rep. Darrell Issa, the conservative firebrand whose specialty is lobbing corruption allegations at the Obama White House, is making plans to hire dozens of subpoena-wielding investigators if Republicans win the House this fall.

The California Republican’s daily denunciations draw cheers from partisans and bookings from cable TV producers. He even bought his own earphone for live shots. But his bombastic style and attention-seeking investigations draw eye rolls from other quarters. Now, he’s making clear he won’t be so easy to shrug off if he becomes chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2011.

Issa has told Republican leadership that if he becomes chairman, he wants to roughly double his staff from 40 to between 70 and 80. And he is not subtle about what that means for President Barack Obama.

At a recent speech to Pennsylvania Republicans here, he boasted about what would happen if the GOP wins 39 seats, and he gets the power to subpoena.

“That will make all the difference in the world,” he told 400 applauding party members during a dinner at the chocolate-themed Hershey Lodge. “I won’t use it to have corporate America live in fear that we’re going to subpoena everything. I will use it to get the very information that today the White House is either shredding or not producing.”

In other words, Issa wants to be to the Obama administration what Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) was to the Clinton administration — a subpoena machine in search of White House scandals.

This is a party, intimidated by the Tea Party, Glenn Beck supporters, and Rush Limbaugh which has been taken over by the far right, even to the point of undermining its own conservative members of Congress (remember Dede Scozzafava?) when they're suspected of being reasonable. They do not play by the Marquess of Queensberry rules and if they win control of the House of Representatives later this year, they're coming after Barack Obama. And it's not to congratulate him on being the first black President.


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