Tuesday, August 31, 2010

When You Wish Upon A Star

Glenn Beck's Restore America rally has come and gone, but whatever it represented probably hasn't.

Writing in Salon, Gabriel Winant draws a parallel between the Park51 controversy and the event at the Lincoln Memorial, which may have drawn more than a million people (Michelle Bachmann) or significantly fewer than 100,000. "What makes for hallowed ground?" he asks, noting "sacred places aren't sacred in the same way to everyone." Ironically, he observes

just a few feet behind Palin's podium on the Lincoln Memorial are Lincoln's own words, on just this topic, carved into the marble. At Gettysburg cemetery, he warned, "We can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground."

The rally wasn't about reality at all, only a comfortable perception of it. Beck proclaimed "Something that is beyond man is happening. America today begins to turn back to God."

One may be forgiven for asking: who in America has turned away from God? Apparently, Beck never quite said, though presumably he wasn't talking about himself, Sarah Palin, or the other politically conservative speakers. Nor did the self-described "rodeo clown" explain how the America first of slavery, later of lynchings and segregation, and now far removed from either, once had been a nation dedicated to the Lord, but no longer.

Sarah Palin struck a similar tone and message, declaring “We must not fundamentally transform America as some would want; we must restore America and restore her honor.” The reference to "transform America" probably was, as several people have suggested, a dig at the first black President, who famously asserted his intention to be a transformative President, albeit in the mode of President Reagan, an aim apparently lost on Republicans, who routinely condemn the incumbent.

Palin's confidence that her involvement would help "restore America and restore her honor" was of a piece with Beck's statements that his rally would prompt individuals "to turn back to God" because "something that is beyond man is happening." Winant quotes Beck, ignoring conservative opposition to the struggle for racial equality in the U.S.A., as improbably claiming "we will reclaim the civil rights moveent.... because we were the people that did it in the first place." The right wing, Winant observes

is busy evacuating the real, troubling meanings from important historical sites, and replacing them with legends of self-flattery.

This is an ignoble tradition that began after the Civil War. David Blight, one of our leading historians of the era, has shown how the process of reconciliation between North and South entailed an agreement that what the war was about was the valor of the soldiers , the romance of blue and gray. Countless memorial events and battlefield reunions featured veterans shaking hands. At newly-sacred places -- cemeteries, battlefields and memorials that still dot the South and the border states -- white Northerners and Southerners forgave one another and dismissed the meaning of the bloodletting. "I think that we were both right and both wrong," wrote one soldier, capturing the essence of the moment. "Life and history, and right and wrong and minds of men look out of more windows than we used to think! Did you never hear of the shield that had two sides and both were precious metal?"

The true, central catalyst of the war, which lent it its moral meaning -- that is, slavery -- was pushed out of mind.


This was, it appears, the guiding theme of the rally- pushing bad thoughts out of mind, imagining America not as a great nation warts and all, but as something that needs to be restored to its glorious, and yet placid, self. That was, as Winant notes, a "fictitious version: Americana-land. It's a place where everyone was in the right, and everyone got along, back when everything was sepia-toned and men were men and the whole town played baseball on Saturday mornings."

We have gotten so excited, the left happily so and the right unhappily so, of noting our growing diversity that we fail to realize that it never was quite so, as when Reverend John Hagee on Saturday contended "under the banner of pluralism we have embraced and worshipped the gods of this world.” Though we now have those pesky Muslims and Hindi to deal with, we always had Jews vs. Christians; Roman Catholics vs. Protestants; Roman Catholics vs. Eastern Orthodox adherents; and even Protestant vs. Protestant. (That would be Lutheran and Baptist and Episcopalian and Presbyterian and Pentecostal and Methodist and a myriad of others. And that's not even counting the three major Lutheran denominations, three major Presbyterian denominations, and some five dozen Baptist sects.) Nearly everyone in this country believes in God; who- or what- they perceive as God is all over the map.

Such is the annoying "pluralism" from which America must be rescued and restored. That would be the same pluralism in which a rally attended mostly by devout and wayward Protestants and Catholics can be led by a Mormon male, as well as a Protestant female, who adorns herself with the mantle of the Almighty while avoiding membership in a church for eight years. The homogeneity rally organizers prayed for never was, is not now, and never will be, and in some ways we're better off for it.




Monday, August 30, 2010

Another Alaskan Myth-Maker

Now we know why (other than the family feud) Sarah Palin actively supported political unknown Joe Miller in what appears to have been a successful primary race against the incumbent Republican, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska. Like the former governor, Miller doesn't get it quite right. Asked by Bob Schieffer on CBS (transcript here, in PDF) on Sunday about his support for privatizing Social Security, Miller replied in part

But to suggest that there is nothing that can be done that we have to continue as the way things are, ignores the fact that the trust fund is empty, it's full of IOUs. It ignores the fact that as of April this year there are more expenditures or there are more outlays coming out from Social Security than there are inlays.

Miller's latter assertion is accurate, inasmuch as the report from the Social Security trustees "anticipates a large deficit for 2010, due mainly to the recession’s negative effect on payroll tax revenues, followed by periods of declining deficits (2011-14) and small surpluses (2015-19) as tax revenues increase with the economic recovery from the recession and the ACA’s deficit-reduction provisions take effect."

The trust fund, however, is not empty but instead is expected to be exhausted in 2037- 27 years from now. Contending that the trust fund is "full of IOUs" is simplistic, an effort to imply that the fund is unstable and unreliable. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) on his website explains

The Social Security Trust Fund operates much like a bank or credit union. When you deposit money in your bank, the money just doesn't sit there, waiting for you to return and claim it. Rather your bank lends the money out to other customers, who then repay it with interest. However, the bank must maintain enough cash on hand so that when you chose to withdraw your money, you can.

Excess funds in the Social Security Trust Fund are invested in federal securities, which are owned by the Trust Fund and backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government. These dollars are then available to be spent for things other than Social Security.


These are not mere "IOUs"; rather,

The U.S. Treasury bonds issued to Social Security are financial assets in the same way that stocks, corporate bonds, or US Treasury bonds purchased by foreign investors are assets. They have the same status as US bonds owned by Japanese pension funds and the Chinese government. They represent a legal claim on revenue and are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.

Since the founding of the Republic, the federal government has paid off its debts. The federal government must honor the debt to the Social Security Trust Fund when it comes time to redeem the bonds.


The Center for Economic and Policy Research notes "it as almost inconceivable that the government will not honor its bonds, which is why the interest rate on long-term bonds is near its lowest level in the last 60 years."

Later Sunday, according to Think Progress, on ABC Miller claimed

....when you look at the Constitution and you evaluate what the plan was originally, it was for states to take on more power than the federal government, particularly in the areas of, such as those things that may promote the general welfare. It was not a federal role.

It seems the United States Supreme Court has had something to say about that. Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution reads in part

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.

According to the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School, Alexander Hamilton held a "broad, literal" interpretation of the clause while James Madison believed that it more restricted the federal government's power of taxation and appropriation. But "finally, in United States v. Butler,543 the Court gave its unqualified endorsement to Hamilton’s views on the taxing power" In an opinion written- ironically- by a Supreme Court Justice named Robers, the Court concluded "the power of Congress to authorize expenditure of public moneys for public purposes is not limited by the direct grants of legislative power found in the Constitution."

So in one day, Joe Miller lied about the condition of the Social Security trust fund, fostered misinformation about the nature of its reserves, and falsely implied that there is a serious question as to its constitutionality. This is not accidental: It is part of what a Firedoglake blogger described as an effort "to convince people that Social Security is in crisis, because the Trust Fund is illusory, and then use those lies to convince Congress and the public to accept cuts in Social Security benefits to 'save it.'”




Sunday, August 29, 2010

Same Old, Same Old

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports

As Gov. Christie approaches rock-star status within certain circles of the Republican Party, candidates nationwide are turning to him for inspiration and advice for November's midterm elections.

The Republican Governors Association is so taken with its new poster boy that it is producing a 20-minute movie, to be released online Sept. 8, about Christie's upset victory over a millionaire Democratic incumbent, Jon S. Corzine, in a heavily blue state, and his first eight months in office.

"I think Gov. Christie is clearly being seen as a model for Republicans throughout the country," said Mike Schrimpf, a spokesman for the governors association. "


The quality that most sends the tingle up the legs of professional Republicans seems to be the audacity he displays taking on the liberal Democratic consensus of New Jersey politics. Republican strategist Bill Pascoe says

He doesn't hide behind staff, and he tells everyone he deals with - staff, political allies, political opponents, voters, residents, the guy who delivers his morning newspaper - the straight scoop. In a time when voters are ever more wary and distrustful of politicians, that candor is refreshing, and it'll take him a long way.

No doubt, because there is nothing a state needs more than a governor with the courage to yell at the paper boy. Apparently, a governor "doesn't hide behind staff" when his regime loses up to $400 million in Race to the Top Grants for education and says "I am accountable for what occurs in my administration," wrapped around blaming the Obama administration, an unnamed clerk ("clerical error"), and his Education Secretary. Presumably, Christie would have blamed also "the guy who delivers his morning newspaper" if he had remembered his name.

On This Week on August 22, Governor Christie told ABC's Jake Tapper

I think Republicans across the country need to get back to our brand, and I think that is the Republican brand. It's why I became a Republican: less government, lower taxes, less spending, and commonsense regulation that grows private-sector jobs.

It has been a long time since Republican congresses and Republican presidents believed in less government or less spending. This isn't your father's fiscally prudent GOP but the GOP of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, who famously said "Reagan proved deficits don't matter."

When Chris Christie advocates, euphemistically, "commonsense regulation," he is promoting less regulation, rather than more effective regulation. As if the near-destruction of the economy by financial institutions, the Upper Big Branch mining disaster, and the BP oil spill (while the regulators avoided regulation but literally slept with the industry) didn't make it obvious enough, now we have eggs:

Attention is also focused on the nation's food inspection system. CBS News obtained a series of state inspection reports of one of the companies linked to the recall -- Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa. Each report shows during separate visits last April, the state inspector did not check any of the 27 points on his safety checklist, including whether the facility was free from the "presence of birds, insects, rodents," and whether shell-washing equipment was in "clean and sanitary condition." A spokesman for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals says the inspector did not do more because the facility had "a full-time USDA inspector on site," as noted on the reports.

But

Inspections are the responsibility of the FDA, which had never inspected the farms.

"They don't have the inspectors and they haven't had the mandate to really do effective food inspection for these facilities," DeWaal said.

That may be the case at more than half the nation's food production facilities. An Inspector General's report in April found that 56 percent of food production facilities have gone without an FDA inspection for at least five years, despite recent recalls of tainted spinach, tomatoes and peanut butter.

Don't like eggs- or spinach, tomatoes, or peanut butter? How about fish? While there is disagreement about whether seafood from the Gulf is contaminated

The National Marine Fisheries Service says that 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. is imported, mostly from China, Thailand, Ecuador, Indonesia, India, Mexico and Vietnam.

"About 80 percent of the seafood we eat in the U.S. is imported, but less than 2 percent of those imports are actually inspected for contaminants like filth, antibiotics, chemicals and pathogens," Food & Water Watch's Cufone said.

The prevalence of harmful contaminants in some imported seafood is documented repeatedly in the small number of inspections that the Food and Drug Administration makes.

Many of the health hazards come from how the shrimp are raised overseas.

Properly run shrimp farms yield up to 445 pounds per acre. Food & Water Watch, which has long studied aquaculture, has documented that many foreign shrimp farm operators densely pack their ponds to produce as much as 89,000 pounds of shrimp per acre.

"The water is quickly polluted with waste, which can infect the shrimp with disease and parasites. In response, many such operations in Asia and South or Central America use large quantities of antibiotics, disinfectants and pesticides that would be illegal for use in U.S. shrimp farms," the group's researchers wrote in a recent report.

This is not a "maybe" situation, Cufone says.

"With imported shrimp, we see pathogens like E. coli and salmonella, and filth, which is the official name [for] things like mouse and rat droppings, hair, insects, and the assorted chemicals, antibiotic and disinfectants they're doused with to fight disease from the filthy conditions in which they're raised," she told AOL News.


That's right- whatever the health hazard the oil spill has brought to seafood caught in the Gulf of Mexico, it pales in insignificance to the danger of seafood from abroad, which constitutes the vast majority of the fish consumed in the U.S. and which is characterized by E. coli, slamonella, mouse and rat droppings, hair, insects, antibiotics, and disinfectants.

Less than two percent of this fish is inspected, but to Chris Christie, that's too much regulation. When the Food and Drug Administration rarely inspects egg farms, that's too much regulation. And when food production facilities are inspected less than once every five years, that's too much regulation. The health of the American people- why, that's way too much government.

These are the classic Republican talking points- less government (except when a GOP president expands it); lower taxes (that would be income taxes, not payroll taxes, so we can be sure most of the benefit goes to the wealthy); less spending (except when a GOP president spends more); and less regulation (because we like our eggs with salmonella, our fish with mouse droppings, and our spinach with e-coli).

Republicans swoon, the mainstream media swoons. Anti-worker and anti-consumer, Governor Christie is a Republican who ignores abortion and gay rights, so he is passed off in the media as a "moderate," a "pragmatist," and presidential timber.



Saturday, August 28, 2010

With Them, It's Nature, Not Nurture

Two are not quite a pattern but.... the similarity is striking.

First, it was Reverend Franklin Graham telling CNN's John King

Well, first of all, I think the president's problem is that he was born a Muslim. His father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim.

Now it is Alveda King, niece of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In Salon, Daniel Denvir writes that Ms. King, who will speak at Glenn Beck's "restoring Honor" rally in Washington today, apparently defends the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, maintaining "The book I go by says there will be wars and rumors of wars. It’s just the season. It’s where we are right now." She is director of African-American outreach at Piests for Life and

In 1994, she released a letter condemning Coretta Scott King’s support for abortion and gay rights, saying it would bring "curses on your house and your people ... cursing, vexation, rebuke in all that you put your hand to, sickness will come to you and your house, your bloodline will be cut off."

You will not be surprised that Ms. King is not a big fan of the late Mrs. King, of whose husband she remarked

I've got his DNA. She doesn't, she didn't ... Therefore I know something about him. I'm made out of the same stuff.

Whoa. I've got his DNA.... I'm made out of the same stuff.

Reverend Graham says President Obama has "the seed of Islam." Alveda King says "I've got his DNA." What is this focus on biology, the idea that genetics determines religious faith, or political ideology, or character?

Franklin Graham and Alveda King are only two individuals and their apparent in biological determinism does not make them eugenicists. But this is the kind of thing that can lead down the long slope to racial determinism and traditional racism. Theirs is a disturbing philosophy, and their apparent commitment to Christian belief does not make it any less so.



Thursday, August 26, 2010

Misdirection On Two Issues

This post is not about the Social Security trust fund but....

Daily Howler's Bob Somerby refers to a Gallup survey from July which found " Six in 10 Americans who have not yet retired believe they will get no Social Security benefits when they retire, more pessimistic than at any time since Gallup began asking this question in 1989." Continuing his campaign (usually justified, sometimes not) against liberals who sell out their principles to advance their career, Somerby points out

Tremendous energy has been invested in making Americans voters believe that there is something odd about the process which created this so-called fund. In fact, the story is simple, and here it is: In the past three decades, the United States government has borrowed lots of money, from many different sources. It has borrowed money from the Social Security trustees (those pre-planned over-payments). It has borrowed money from big Chinese banks, and from many other sources.

You may not like the fact of this borrowing, but this borrowing has occurred. And guess what? The money all gets paid back! No one will ever tell those Chinese banks, “Sorry, we can’t pay you back. The money isn’t there –it’s already been spent!” But the loans from those payroll tax over-payments are no different from the loans from the Chinese. The money was borrowed, just as Reagan designed. And now, it will all be paid back.

Decades of aggressive, skilled effort have gone into that Gallup result. The conservative world invented a series of slick, slippery scams—and the liberal world slept in the sun. The fruit of that pairing can be seen in the numbers who think they won’t ever see any benefits. It may also be seen, in coming months, in new cuts to the program.

Sixty percent of Gallup respondents said they would never get any benefits! People like that are ripe for the slaughter—and decades of skilled, unrebutted disinformation went into preparing the feast. That said, we liberals have remarkable skill at failing to see how things really work.


It's not only Social Security about which professional conservatives have been bamboozling Americans. I've seen no polls, but if 100 Americans were asked whether the federal government played a major role in our economic collapse by aggressively encouraging individuals to buy homes when they were unable to do so, a sizable number would agree. Blameworthy are people like Rush Limbaugh, who on Monday ("The New American Dream: Renting Your House") claimed

In fact, the regime, forget who it is, I've got in the stack here, someplace the regime is saying that the American dream is now renting a house. You know, home ownership is fini, the American dream is now renting. People should have rented in the first place. This is from people who gave us the subprime mortgage crisis, encouraging people who had no business getting a loan to go out and buy a house they had no business buying because everybody knew that they would never be able to repay it.

Who are these people? President Obama? Rahm Emanuel? David Axelrod? Barney Frank? Chris Dodd? The entire Department of Housing and Urban Development? No one really knows, because Rush doesn't say, because Rush characteristically has no facts.

Generally, when conservatives repeat this myth- it was the government's fault!- they are alluding to the Community Reinvestment Act, enacted in 1977, decades before the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Most high-cost loans were made by independent mortgage banks or bank affiliates, which are not covered by the CRA. The CRA did have a minor impact- but only because in the 2000s, the act was weakened through regulatory and legislative reform, gutting enforcement of the law. These changes, opposed by community groups and some Democratic officials, were sought by industry and undoubtedly praised by Rush Limbaugh- if he even knew the CRA existed.

The right similarly exaggerates the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the housng crisis. These companies were never involved in the commercial real estate business, yet over half of all commercial mortgages due before 2014 were underwater as of October, 2009.

Another target of conservative myth-makers is Representative Frank, and not only because he is openly gay, Jewish, and a bad dresser. GWB economic adviser and tax-cut architect Lawrence Lindsey, though, has written "in fact, Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) is the only politician I know who has argued that we needed tighter rules that intentionally produce fewer homeowners and more renters. Politicians usually believe that homeownership rates should- must- go even higher."

Corporate shills like Limbaugh will never attribute responsibility to the huge investment banks, which popularized exotic financial instruments, or to the banks which promoted destructive NINJA loans. Nor will they raise the topic of racial discrimination by financial institutions such as Wells Fargo, which reportedly "pushed customers who could have qualified for prime loans into subprime mortgages" and whose " employees had referred to blacks as 'mud people' and to subprime lending as 'ghetto loans.'"

When Limbaugh decried public officials "encouraging people who had no business getting a loan to go out and buy a house they had no business buying," he should have been thinking of Lindsey's boss, whom the New York Times reported

pushed hard to expand homeownership, especially among minorities, an initiative that dovetailed with his ambition to expand the Republican tent — and with the business interests of some of his biggest donors. But his housing policies and hands-off approach to regulation encouraged lax lending standards.

It's a little better with housing than with Social Security. With the latter, the mainstream media is actively pushing the myth of insolvency; with the former, it is merely looking the other way in pursuit of a "balanced" approach that denies historical reality.




Keeping Simpson On

Back in April, Ashley B. Carson of the Older Womens League posted on The Huffington Post a blog criticizing Alan Simpson for misrepresenting the status of women receiving Social Security and for his remark "You've got scrub out the equation, the AARP, the committee for the preservation of Social Security and Medicare, the gray panthers, the pink panthers."

It looks like someone needs his nap (transcript from Firedoglake):

From: Alan K. Simpson
Sent: Monday, August 23, 2010 6:52 PM
To: Owl
Subject: To Ashley Carson re 4/27/10 article

Ashley B. Carson Executive Director, OWL

Dear Ms. Carson,

Someone was good enough to forward me your column of “Enough with the Pink Panthers Bit” of April 27, 2010.

Some of what you say is true. Much is not – but that’s nothing new about public life for me! I have news for you too, my friend. There may be no group called the Pink Panthers working to protect Social Security but I sure as hell am! I’ve spent many years in public life trying to stabilize that system while people like you babble into the vapors about “disgusting attempts at ageism and sexism” and all the rest of that crap.

Now hold on tight, because you won’t like what I’m sending you. You may obviously be aware that the Social Security system is “in trouble.” If you don’t agree with that, then there is no need to read any further. But I wish to share with you the presentation by Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration on May 12, 2010 to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. If you think the statistics on poverty for seniors are alarming – then you need to read this little pamphlet to know what is really alarming.

If we can’t get a handle on this system and make it sustainable and assure long term solvency, and make some changes that are “minor” at the present time and will become “major” as each year passes, then take a look at the chart on Page 6 which I hope you are able to discern if you are any good at reading graphs – or anything that might challenge your biases and prejudices.

Anyway, have a look at it and if you should choose, you might communicate with me. If you have some better suggestions about how to stabilize Social Security instead of just babbling into the vapors, let me know. And yes, I’ve made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know ‘em too. It’s the same with any system in America. We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits! Call when you get honest work!


Al

As Ms. Carson pointed out in April and former Senator Simpson now acknowledges, there is no "Pink Panthers" group associated with the issue of Social Security. Called on his apparent bias against women, he transitions into bias against the elderly, calling on Ms. Carson to "get honest work," decrying individuals who "babble into the vapors," and disintegrating into sexual crudity.

There have been several calls for Simpson's resignation and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have written President Obama, noting

Despite the many years of distinguished public service former Sen. Simpson has dedicated to this country, his recent e-mail indicates that it is no longer appropriate for him to serve on the bipartisan deficit reduction commission. Therefore, in order for your commission's recommendations to have credibility with Congress, we respectfully urge you to remove Sen. Simpson from the commission....

While there are honest differences of opinion as to how best to tackle this growing problem, we should all be in agreement that everyone working in this area — especially someone in as important a position as the [co-chairman] of your National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — has a responsibility to be as serious, deliberate and sober as the challenges we face.


This is not the first time the impulsive Alan Simpson has acted out. In June, Alex Lawson of Social Security Works caught Simpson coming out of one of the meetings of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, resulting in an agitated Simpson charging

We’re trying to take care of the lesser people in society and do that in a way without getting into all the flash words you love dig up, like cutting Social Security, which is bullshit. We’re not cutting anything, we’re trying to make it solvent.

Temperament aside, Simpson is trying to undermine Social Security while co-chairman of a commission charged with addressing the national debt, in which Social Security plays no role. After viewing the Lawson-Simpson video, economist James K. Galbraith testified before the commission, explaining

I note from Chairman Simpson’s conversation with Alex Lawson that the Commission has taken up the questions of the alleged “insolvency” of the Social Security system and of Medicare. If true, this is far outside any mandate of the Commission. Your mandate is strictly limited to matters relating to the deficit, debt-to-GDP ratio and fiscal stability of the U.S. Government as a whole.....(Social Security) is a transfer program and not a program of public spending in the economic sense. In particular it does not use capital resources and will not drive up interest rates.

Simpson now has issued to the OWL a non-apology apology, in which the subject invokes a form of the word "apology" to avoid saying that he/she was wrong for making a comment, which was misinterpreted. Still, it was something that could be labeled an "apology" and was good enough for the one person whose support really matters, as indicated by the statement from Obama spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki:

Alan Simpson has apologized and while we regret and do not condone his comments, we accept his apology and he will continue to serve.

Alan K. Simpson may not understand the Social Security system and does not hesitate to offend women or elderly people. But he is just fine by Barack Obama because when it comes to undermining one of the most popular and successful government programs in United States history, there can be no better ally for a transformative president.



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dire Prediction Derailed

He wasn't lying or even manipulative, just wrong. And careless.

On Monday, Rush Limbaugh remarked

This is the Wall Street Journal: "U.S. Saw Drill Ban Killing Many Jobs." The Obama administration knew that their moratorium is gonna kill at least 23,000 jobs; they did it anyway. This we knew, but the Wall Street Journal here is making it official.

Limbaugh's website linked to the article in the WSJ, in which Stephen Power and Leslie Eaton wrote

Senior Obama administration officials concluded the federal moratorium on deepwater oil drilling would cost roughly 23,000 jobs, but went ahead with the ban because they didn't trust the industry's safety equipment and the government's own inspection process, according to previously undisclosed documents.

These documents

show the new top regulator or offshore oil exploration, Michael Bromwich, told Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that a six-month deepwater-drilling halt would result in "lost direct employment" affecting approximately 9,450 workers and "lost jobs from indirect and induced effects" affecting about 13,797 more. The July 10 memo cited an analysis by Mr. Bromwich's agency that assumed direct employment on affected rigs would "resume normally once the rigs resume operations."

Hooray for Rush Limbaugh! He has, uncharacteristically, favorably referred to a report from the Obama Administration. Unfortunately, this is one time that he should not have done so, the prognostication having been inaccurate. Three days after the WSJ article appeared, The New York Times reported

When the Obama administration called a halt to virtually all deepwater drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon blowout and fire in April, oil executives, economists and local officials complained that the six-month moratorium would cost thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Oil supply firms went to court to have the moratorium overturned, calling it illegal and warning that it would exacerbate the nation’s economic woes, lead to oil shortages and cause an exodus of drilling rigs from the gulf to other fields around the world. Two federal courts agreed.

Yet the worst of those forecasts has failed to materialize, as companies wait to see how long the moratorium will last before making critical decisions on spending cuts and layoffs. Unemployment claims related to the oil industry along the Gulf Coast have been in the hundreds, not the thousands, and while oil production from the gulf is down because of the drilling halt, supplies from the region are expected to rebound in future years. Only 2 of the 33 deepwater rigs operating in the gulf before the BP rig exploded have left for other fields.

While it is too early to gauge the long-term environmental or economic effects of the release of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the gulf, it now appears that the direst predictions about the moratorium will not be borne out. Even the government’s estimate of the impact of the drilling pause — 23,000 lost jobs and $10.2 billion in economic damage — is proving to be too pessimistic.


In an unintended and unexpected benefit, Times writers John M. Broder and Clifford Krause found

Oil companies used the enforced suspension to service and upgrade their drilling equipment, keeping shipyards and service companies busy. Drilling firms have kept most of their workers, knowing that if they let them go it will be hard to field experienced teams when the moratorium is lifted. Oil companies have shifted operations to onshore wells, saving industry jobs.

Consequently

The moratorium is likely to have a modest immediate effect on domestic oil production. The Energy Department projects that the moratorium will bring a decline of 120,000 barrels a day in deepwater production in 2011, but domestic daily crude oil production is still expected to increase by 30,000 barrels a day, to 5.46 million barrels.

Other nations, unencumbered by legislators determined to deregulate industry to protect its corporate benefactors, appear to have implemented sensible regulation, wherein

Britain has stepped up inspections of offshore rigs. Brazil has announced a safety review that will take a year to complete before it makes any regulatory changes related to its fast-growing offshore drilling industry. Angola has increased inspections.

Rush cries The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling! But the sky isn't falling, notwithstanding what the GOP and the oil industry (pardon the redundancy) are claiming. Limbaugh, as the leader of the Republican Party, has led the chorus but in relying on the piece in The Wall Street Journal, was probably unaware of the complete picture. After all, aside from manipulating his audience and tirelessly carrying the torch for the wealthy against the middle class, Rush Limbaugh is, periodically, simply uninformed.



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Immigration Opinion

Jonathan Chait argues that with liberals who want President Obama "to make a straightforward defense of government" and conservatives who "want him to create a Clintonian, Third Way rubric," Democrats have nothing which can "work as a bumper sticker solution. He concludes "ultimately, I think 'we're for what works" is probably as good an answer as you can find, though it is unsatisfying strategically.

Democrats- at least those not completely beholden to corporate interests- have a more positive message than merely "defending government," though if there is any motivating factor to the Obama presidency, it has been to do "what works," nothwithstanding any ideological or political implications.

But Chait has a stronger case when he notes

One of the old but vital aphorisms of American politics is that Americans are ideological conservatives but operational liberals. They oppose government in the abstract, but favor it in most of the particulars. (The primary exceptions being programs seen as benefitting only the poor, only the rich, or only foreigners.)

If only Chait realized just how strong his position is. The exceptions to it, he acknowledges, are "programs seen as benefitting only the poor, only the rich, or only foreigners."

Make that "programs seen as benefitting only the poor or the rich." The liberal/progressive response to illegal immigration is: 1) discourage employers from hiring illegal immigrants; 2) give those who already are here a chance at the American dream by bringing them out of the shadows and a path to citizenship.

Conservatives never argue that employers should have a free hand at hiring individuals in the country illegally (though, arguably, some believe they should). A path to citizenship, the core of the (never passed) McCain-Kennedy bill and the Schumer-Graham framework, clearly is an effort to "benefit foreigners," as Chait would put it.

A New York Times/CBS News poll taken 4/28-5/2/2010 asked a battery of questions about immigration, including (#65) "which comes closes to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.? 1) They should be allowed to stay in their jobs and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship; or 2) They should be allowed to stay int heir jobs as temporary guest workers, but not apply for U.S. citizenship; or 3) They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the U.S." A clear plurality- 43%- opted for the first choice (4% as DK/NA).

More recently, a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey taken July 27 and 28 asked "If it were possible to locate most illegal immigrants currently in the United States, would you favor deporting as many as possible or would you favor setting up a system for them to become legal residents?" A plurality, 49%, opted for "setting up a system for them to become legal residents" while 45% opted for the deportation option (7% undecided).

While it is true that both surveys found strong support for the Arizona immigration/illegal immigration law, that merely bolsters the thesis, cited by Chait, that "Americans are ideological conservatives." Their emotions and instincts are usually conservative but they usually (with a lot of exceptions) back liberal policies. Support for the Arizona law would not make respondents "operational conservatives. The law is poorly understood, interpreted in various ways, and has resulted in emotional, almost instinctive reaction by both the left and right. And clearly much of its support has been prompted by great frustration at inaction by the federal government- and an inability or unwillingness to deal with the problem in any effective manner.

That may account for one of the major traits of modern American politics: while liberals often avoid specifics, conservatives do so routinely.




Monday, August 23, 2010

Taking The Wrong Path

On Hardball this evening Howard Fineman of Newsweek favorably contrasted President Ronald Reagan's "sunny optimism" with the negative and nasty conservatism of the Obama era. In November, Fineman had written

A democratic president, you'd think, would stick to Franklin D. Roosevelt or Jack Kennedy as role models. Not Barack Obama. As he faces tough times—economically and politically—I am told that he and his advisers are turning to an unusual source for inspiration: Ronald Reagan. Looking back, it shouldn't be a total surprise. On the campaign trail in 2008, Obama said nice things about the Gipper. Reagan, Obama said, "tapped into what people were already feeling, which was: we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to a sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing."

This is an adjunct to The Village's bipartisanship: angry-bad; happy (of whatever political ideology)- good.

Except that this, in part, is what got us where we are now- and that isn't good. The Washington Post interviewed chief executive officers in in large and mid-sized businesses "in the heartland of America" (apparently, if you're on the East Coast or West Coast, you're not real Americans. Or more difficult to patronize.) They are reluctant to hire more workers as corporate profits soar and

They blame their profound caution on their view that U.S. consumers are destined to disappoint for many years. As a result, they say, the economy is unlikely to see the kind of almost unbroken prosperity of the quarter-century that preceded the financial crisis.

Across the industrial parks and office towers of the Chicago region, in a more than a dozen interviews, senior executives said they see Americans for years ahead paying down debts incurred during the now-ended credit boom and adjusting spending to match their often-reduced incomes.

"It's a different era," said Daryl Dulaney, chief executive of Siemens Industry, which has 30,000 U.S. employees who make lighting systems for buildings and a wide range of other products. "Our hiring and investment decisions have to be prudent and reflect that."


How times change. Conservative Andrew Bacevich explained how voters evaluated in 1980 the different approach and style of President Jimmy Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan. Outlining in his infamous "malaise speech" a strategy for eventual energy independence, Carter deplored "this intolerable dependence on foreign oil" and warned "there (was) simply no way to avoid sacrifice." Bacevich remarked

As an effort to reorient public policy, Carter's appeal failed completely. Americans showed little enthusiasm for the president's brand of freedom with its connotations of virtuous austerity. Not liking the message, Americans shot the messenger.

Carter's speech did enjoy a long and fruitful life--chiefly as fodder for his political opponents. The most formidable was Ronald Reagan. He portrayed himself as conservative but was, in fact, the modern prophet of profligacy--the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption. Beguiling his fellow citizens with talk of "morning in America," Reagan added to America's civic religion two crucial beliefs: credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due. [Emphasis mine -- RD] Balance the books, pay as you go, save for a rainy day--Reagan's abrogation of these ancient bits of folk wisdom did as much to recast America's moral constitution as did sex, drugs, and rock and roll.


As Will Bunch points out, President Reagan jacked up military spending while drastically cutting the tax rates of the wealthy and in so doing turned the U.S.A. from a creditor nation to a debtor nation for the first time since World War I. Unfortunately

earning power for middle-class Americans has barely budged since the dawn of the Reagan era. So in order to take part in the great festival of materialism that Ronald Reagan called "Americanism," people borrowed. The 40th president tried to make that easier by deregulating the savings-and-loan industry -- which proved to be a massive boondoggle that cost taxpayers $160 billion even as policy makers failed to learn the lessons of the S&L debacle. Still, people found many ways to borrow and buy, mainly on credit cards. In 1980, the typical American saved 10 percent of what he or she earned, but by 2004 that plunged to zero. Household and consumer debt went from 100 percent of the U.S. GDP in 1980 to 177 percent today. If you've been around for the last 25 years, you saw how this was accomplished through the chasing of bubbles, first on Wall Street and then in the housing mania of the mid-2000s. Now, with falling home prices and record foreclosures, there are no more bubbles to inflate, which is why the Reaganist chickens of our unsupported spending binge are finally coming home to roost.

It didn't have to be this way. Had the U.S. pursued more sensible policies in the 1980s --if all the dollars funneled toward the top 2 percent of American millionaires and unnecessary weapons had instead gone into rebuilding our infrastructure, making America the world leader in alternative energy that it is not because of Reagan's short-sighted policies, and a better education system -- we would not be facing this massive hangover that could now lead to a lost American decade.


The WaPo quotes David Speer, chief executive of Illinois Tool Works in Glenview, Illinois, remarking

It took us a decade to get in the ditch we are in. There isn’t going to be instant gratification to get us out of it. We’re going to have to get used to a lower growth economy, and that is going to be a big adjustment for all of us.

Three decades, actually, since an American president first bought fleeting prosperity on cheap money, a massive defense buildup, tax breaks for the privileged, and a growing economy built on sand. Now, many business leaders believe the country is on course for a long period of lower growth, and that view has serious implications for our national economy and position of leadership in the world.

Ronald Reagan brought a smiling face, a warm feeling all over, and renewed faith in materialism, leaving the legacy that proves the old adage: if it looks good enough to be true, it probably is.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Seed

What makes a Christian? And are there any theologians- better yet, anthropologists- in the house?

To the Reverend Franklin Graham, as he told (transcript from Crooks and Liars) John King of CNN,

you can't be born a Christian. The only way you can become a Christian is by confessing your sins to God, asking his forgiveness and by receiving Jesus Christ by faith into your heart.

That Christ died for our sins. Shed his blood on Calvary's cross and that God raised him to life. If you're willing to accept that and believe that, and let Jesus Christ be the lord of your life, God will forgive your sins, he'll heal your heart. And that's the only way you can become a Christian.


This runs contrary to Franklin's contention in the same interview that "The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother." In the secular sense, the reference to "seed" is ugly, implying a racial basis for Islam and Judaism, while Christianity is a matter of faith ("let Jesus Christ be the lord of your life..... the only way you can become a christian). But in the sacred, indeed Christian, sense, something else is inferred.

In Galatians 3:27-29, Paul writes, according to the New International Version translation

for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Most Bible commentaries- at least those which are Protestant, as are Rev. Graham and Barack Obama- maintain that Paul was not suggesting that baptism leads to salvation, but that it is an outward sign of the identification with Christ treasured by Graham.

Barack Obama was baptized in the early 1990s at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. He contends that he is a believer in Jesus Christ- no mortal can know for sure, but Graham himself concedes "of course the President says he is a Christian and we have to leave it at that." To Graham that means "That Christ died for our sins. Shed his blood on Calvary's cross and that God raised him to life." And in the explanation (which almost surely Graham would agree with) of the highly regarded Bible commentary published by Zondervan, Jesus "is the seed to whom the promises were made. Believers enter into the promises by entering into him and become spiritual seed to God as well."

This would in a spiritual sense suggest that Barack Obama and Franklin Graham belong to the same "seed." In strictly biological terms, Obama no more belongs to the "seed" of Islam than he does to the "seed" of Judaism, the religion to which Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary, belonged. That would be the same "seed" to which Franklin Graham belongs.

Certainly, though, Graham doesn't see it that way. It's unlikely that he considers Obama spiritually, or biologically, akin to himself. Barack Obama, to many on the Christian right such as Reverend Graham, already has failed the test of Christian identity. The latter is not asked the right questions, and he's not going to volunteer anything controversial. But the growing skepticism about Barack Obama's religious identity or faith goes beyond his race and complicated spritual background.

Soon after Ronald Reagan died in 2004, The Washington Times editorialized

His works reflected his faith as well. He spoke against abortion and for prayer in schools. He transformed cultural conservatism's frown at vice into a smile at virtue.

The right wing knows that Ronald Reagan was a Christian. They know it not because of any expression of faith as an adult in Jesus Christ as his personal savior, as Reverend Graham characterized Christianity, or because he chose to worship and glorify God at least once a week (he didn't), but because he believed in the right things. Or, rather, because he advocated the right things, whatever he might have believed. Those items, you probably will not be surprised to learn, had nothing to do with redemption, grace, or salvation. They had to do with abortion, the first Amendment, and the warm, fuzzy feeling he gave tough-guy conservatives when he "smile(d) at virtue." Unlike President Obama, Ronald Reagan had the right politics- and as you know if you're a modern-day conservative, that is what God really cares about.



Saturday, August 21, 2010

Article Of The Week

Lower the flag to half mast. It’s bad enough that Thomas Frank has to announce “ This is my last weekly column for the Wall Street Journal,” but concluding “As for me, it's two cans of beer and the escape chute to terra firma. Goodbye and good luck” sounds vaguely ominous.

Frank has appeared in the right-wing libertarian Wall Street Journal for a little over two years now, which would be analogous to Christopher Hitchens being featured in L’Osservatore Romano. Fittingly, his last column, "The Economic Crisis: Lessons Unlearned," is a retrospective, not of his career, reflections, or life journey, but of this nation's politics since autumn of 2008. At the time, he recalls

We were descending further into the worst recession I had ever seen, but at least we were finally going to be done with the farcical intellectual and political consensus of the preceding decades.

Never again, I thought, would journalists fall over one another to flatter CEOs, nor would pundits build careers by finding clever ways to equate the workings of markets to democracy itself. Management theorists would cease to be public intellectuals, and the political advice of stock pickers would henceforth be treated like the toxic sewage it clearly was.

"The market god has failed," I wrote in this space in February 2009, and I thought its flop augured not only a massive reconfiguring of the relationship between investment banks and the rest of society but a complete overturning of the comfortable assumptions of the pundit class.


But, Frank notes those were intellectuals, bound by a different code than politicians and pundits" and

As the right howled "socialism," President Obama took pains to demonstrate his loyalty to the exhausted free-market faith. On trade issues and matters of economic staffing, he loudly signalled continuity with the discredited past. On the all-important issue of regulatory misbehavior—a natural for good-government types—he has done virtually nothing.

The real audacity has all been on the other side. Many Republicans chose to respond to the crisis not by renouncing the consensus faith of the last 30 years but by doubling down on it, calling for more deregulation, more war on government.


Without so characterizing it, Frank indirectly returns to his signature issue, noting "the burgeoning populist movement that now stands beside the GOP, transforming anger over unemployment into anger over the auto bailout and the good pensions enjoyed by public workers." You've seen the script: the GOP right turning not only voters against government, but black against white, worker against worker, middle class against lower class, neighbor against neighbor. Frank is most disappointed in "the world of professional punditry"- it's not only Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck anymore, though they're best at it.

Meanwhile, the left blogosphere urges reform of the filibuster to enable passage of good legislation by the current Democratic majority. This would be, it would seem, sowing the seeds of its own destruction, or at least that of progressive governance. Most of the pundits rate as better than even money election of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives this fall; election of a Senate composed of mostly Republicans is a distinct, though less than 50-50, possibility. And there is little doubt that when there is a majority of Republicans in both chambers, as will happen eventually (as do floods, tornados, hurricanes, and blizzards), it will be controlled by the GOP in a mannner Democrats, under the leadership of a president with a fetish for bipartisanship, have failed to do.

Taking heart from Barack Obama's effort to weaken Social Security, the GOP will eviscerate it; financial reform will be reformed to strengthen the market positionof the largest financial institutions, harmig smaller banks and the public; and health care reform will be undermined. Some Republicans have pledged to rescind health reform; worse yet, they would be likely to revoke only the better parts, giving the insurance industry the goodies President Obama handed to the hospital and drug industries.

Hopefully, traditional and the alternative media will be there to expose the GOP as it continues, with increased power, on its path of destroying the middle class. Thomas Frank will be among, if not the, most insightful of that group, wherever he is writing. I'll be looking for him, and you should, too.



Palin To The Defense

It's not easy to ignore Sarah Palin. Not only because she is so entertaining, willing to exploit almost any controversy, but also because ignoring the comments of any would be demagogue and presidential candidate does no one but her any good.

The woman who couldn't quite handle a full term as governor continues to delight many on the right, this time with a Facebook defense of Dr. Laura Schlessinger (transcript of the infamous conversation, here). On Thursday, Palin wrote

Does anyone seriously believe that Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a racist? Anyone, I mean, who isn’t already accusing all conservatives, Republicans, Tea Party Americans, etc., etc., etc. of being racists?

Adversaries who have been trying to silence Dr. Laura for years seized on her recent use of the n-word on her show as she subsequently suggested that rap “artists” and other creative types like those producing HBO shows who regularly use the n-word could be questioned for doing so. Her intention in discussing the issue with a caller seeking advice was not to be hateful or bigoted. Though she did not mean to insult the caller, she did, and she apologized for it. Still, those who oppose her seized upon her mistake in using the word (though she didn’t call anyone the derogatory term) to paint her as something that she’s not. I can understand how she could feel “shackled” by those who would parse a single word out of decades of on-air commentary. I understand what she meant when she declared that she was “taking back my First Amendment rights” by turning to a new venue that will not allow others the ability to silence her by going after her stations, sponsors, and supporters.

I, and obviously many others, have been “shackled” too by people who play games with false accusations, threats, frivolous lawsuits, misreporting, etc., in an effort to silence those with whom they disagree. That’s why I tend to defend people who call it like they see it while others stop at nothing to shut them up. I learned this valuable lesson when the partisan obstructionists in my state tried to shackle, bankrupt, and destroy my family and supporters, and my record, with endless frivolous litigation when I returned from the Vice Presidential campaign trail. In order to shake off the shackles they wanted to paralyze us with, I handed the reins to another, much like Dr. Laura is doing, so that these obstructionists who hated a Commonsense Conservative agenda wouldn’t win. I didn’t retreat; I reloaded in order to fight for what is right on a fairer battlefield. So, more power to someone with good intentions who refuses to be shackled by their detractors when they are falsely accused of being racist.

Dr. Laura did not call anyone or any group of people the n-word. Curiously, the same criers over this issue didn’t utter a word when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel called a group protesting the Obama Administration’s actions, “f***ing retards.” When this presidential spokesman uttered this term I commented that the President would be better off not including Emmanuel in his circle of advisers, and my opinion was based not just on the crude and disrespectful term Emmanuel used to label people, but because he too often gives the President very poor advice. I was called intolerant and narrow-minded by many on the Left for commenting on that issue. Many of these same Leftists are now spinning the Dr. Laura issue into something it is not. As usual, their hypocrisy and double standard applications are glaring.


Palin is correct when she remarks "creative types.... who regularly use the n-word could be questioned for doing so." But she is wrong about almost everything else.

- Adversaries who have been trying to silence Dr. Laura for years. Who are these unnamed "adversaries?" Dr. Schlessinger herself has pointed the finger at Media Matters for America- but Palin specifies no group or individual and, in either case, Media Matters is not "adversaries" but "adversary.

- Her intention in discussing the issue with a caller seeking advice was not to be hateful or bigoted. Uttering the "n" word once probably is a slip of the tongue or some other mistake; twice, it may be that; eleven (11) times was hateful and bigoted, and intended to be so.

- Though she did not mean to insult the caller.... Dr. Sclessinger's intent was to insult the caller. How else to interpret her remarks: using the "n" word eleven times; "My dear, my dear" (to someone who already had identified herself by name, albeit a fictitious one); "Chip on your shoulder. I can't do much about that.... Yeah. I think you have too much sensitivity.... and not enough sense of humor;" "If you're that hypersensitive about color and don't have a sense of humor, don't marry out of your race."

- though she didn’t call anyone the derogatory term. No, she didn't call any one person- "Jade" or anyone else- by the derogatory term. Only an entire race of people.

- I can understand how she could feel “shackled.” Oliver Willis at Media Matters explains "Lets begin with the idea that anybody has shackled Palin or Schlessinger. They are both well-off media figures in the 21st century. Unlike slaves who were actually shackled and in shackles, neither Palin or Schlessinger are anyone's property, and they both have the freedom to speak, marry, vote, and engage in all the other privileges of being a citizen of the United States. In other words, they aren't shackled at all. Here is Palin in her home (from mlive.com), free to go as she pleases, and here is the very un-shackled Dr. Laura in what looks like a nice home (from YouTube). By comparison, here is a drawing of a person that was in shackles (from Jack and Jill Politics). Just so we're clear."










Was "shackled" simply insensitive- or deliberately provocative? You make the call.

- I understand what she meant when she declared that she was “taking back my First Amendment rights” by turning to a new venue that will not allow others the ability to silence her by going after her stations, sponsors, and supporters. The Bill of Rights protects people in the U.S.A. from an overreach by government; it limits the powers of governments, not of individuals, pressure groups, or anyone else. But she knew that, didn't she? Further, Dr. Schlessinger has not been "silenced;" she has chosen on her own to spread her gospel by other, public means. In fact, she maintains that she was not thrown off the air, pressured to change her approach, or even to make an apology- that was alll her own decision, or at least she claims.

During an earlier controversy pertaining to Dr. Schlessinger, Brent Bozell, chairman of the conservative watchdog Media Research Center and defender then and now of Schlessinger, remarked of her critics "I don't fault them for their tactics. It's perfectly acceptable for an organization to lobby to cancel a program they think is inappropriate. I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all."

Bozell' opinion is questionable- the tactics are questionable- but that's the way the game is played, especially by the right. If it's not illegal, immoral, or fattening, turnabout is fair play.

- I, and obviously many others, have been “shackled” too by people who play games with false accusations, threats, frivolous lawsuits, misreporting, etc., in an effort to silence those with whom they disagree. That’s why I tend to defend people who call it like they see it while others stop at nothing to shut them up. I learned this valuable lesson when the partisan obstructionists in my state tried to shackle, bankrupt, and destroy my family and supporters, and my record, with endless frivolous litigation when I returned from the Vice Presidential campaign trail.

No time now to explain that the "endless frivolous litigation" was nothing of the sort. But here again, Palin demonstrates that she is today's classic conservative. It's in the self-congratulatory message ("I tend to defend people who call it like they see it"); the martyr complex ("tried to shackle, bankrupt, and destroy my family and supporters, and my record"); the rationalization ("handed the reins off to another" because of "these obstructionists"- not to become fabulously wealthy touring the country without being burdened by the mundane responsibilities of governing a state day-to-day); and, above all, the mantle of victimization, with which her rant is saturated.

- I didn’t retreat; I reloaded in order to fight. It really is a win-win with the base; Palin gets to cry about being victimized because she is a woman, while employing traditional macho language of not retreating but instead reloading (she loves to use this firearms metaphor).

- Dr. Laura did not call anyone or any group of people the n-word. In not calling "any group of people the n-word," presumably Schlessinger was referring to all Americans by that term. Or at least that's the obvious implication.

- Curiously, the same criers over this issue didn’t utter a word when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel called a group protesting the Obama Administration’s actions, “f***ing retards. The left- or at least what Gibbs/Obama considers the "professional left"- was critical of Emanuel. But while Palin justifiably condemned Emanuel's "crude and disrespectful term, she ignored or failed to notice the statement of your most important supporter "But our politically correct society is acting like some giant insult's taken place by calling a bunch of people who are "retards," "retards." And that was not in private- wrong, though it was- but on the public airwaves, there to encourage others to use the term.

Laura Schlessinger, though a bigot, is a serious person with a few opinions reflecting traditional values. Sarah Palin is not a serious person- but she is a serious threat to the Republic and should be neither ridiculed nor ignored but confronted, and continually.




Friday, August 20, 2010

The Mosque Myth Continues

Opponents- or those who pose as opponents- of construction of Cordoba House in lower Manhattan must find ways to denigrate Islam, Muslims, and supporters of the project.

And of course Rush Limbaugh is in the forefront, claiming on August 18:

Don't think otherwise. They're trying to make it look like the people in opposition to this are a fringe group. And even the latest polling data, 63% oppose this. 9/11families oppose it. Many of the first responders in New York oppose it. And Nancy Pelosi wants all those people investigated. Now, the imam is an envoy of the State Department. He's touring the Middle East representing us, sent there by the State Department, Obama.

Whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi actually wants "all those people investigated," no one could know- except God, of course, with whom Rush periodically confuses himself. But clearly she never said such a thing, hewing in an interview with Politico to the position of the Interfaith Alliance:

I support the statement made by the Interfaith Alliance, that ‘We agree with the ADL that there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center. At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center.

The California Democrat believes the public should know who is funding the effort to build the Islamic center and who is funding its opponents. Limbaugh's charge, therefore, is not only incomplete but also a gross distortion of Pelosi's position. It is also a lie, if in fact Limbaugh understands the meaning of "investigate," a typical definition of which is "conduct an inquiry or investigation of." Representative Pelosi has advocated an investigation of no group or individual, merely urging that the names of the individuals funding both sides of the controversy be revealed.

The cleverness of the Republican Party head cannot be overestimated, however. He maintains "Now, the imam is an envoy of the State Department. He's touring the Middle East representing us, sent there by the State Department, Obama."

That is, almost unbelievably given it is from Limbaugh, true. Feisal Abdul Rauf is being sent to the Middle East by the Obama State Department, according to the Murdoch-owned conservative tabloid New York Post. However, as The Huffington Post notes

Feisal Abdul Rauf was dispatched on speaking tours by the past State Department on multiple occasions to help promote tolerance and religious diversity in the Arab and Muslim world. In 2007, he went to Morocco, the UAE, Qatar and Egypt on such missions, a State Department official confirmed to the Huffington Post.

In 2007, if memory serves, George W. Bush, a Republican who publicly differentiated between radical Islam and Islam, was President. Pointing that out, however, would undermine the right's campaign to link the proposed worship center (termed "mosque") with Barack Obama, whom one is to suspect is a Muslim.

The effort to link Nancy Pelosi with this unpopular project is of more than academic interest. Conservative Republicans such as Limbaugh are not about to differentiate ideologically among the House Speaker, President Obama, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. To much of the GOP, they're all the same, all part of the conspiracy to shred the Constitution and, above all, to destroy the America the right wing believes it is destined to shape in its own image.



Reload, Sarah, Reload; Then Reload Some More

Laura Schlessinger had it right.

No, not in her recent racially-saturated rant directed against Nita Hanson, the black woman who called the physiologist for marital advice and was advised she might be too sensitive to have married a man of another race.

And not because soon after Governor Sarah Palin was selected as the GOP vice-presidential nominee in 2008, Dr. Schlessinger blogged

But really, what kind of role model is a woman whose fifth child was recently born with a serious issue, Down syndrome, and then goes back to the job of governor within days of the birth?

There is some merit in that criticism, given Schlessinger's argument

Certainly, if a child becomes ill and is rushed to the hospital, and you’re on the hotline with both Israel and Iran as nuclear tempers are flaring, where’s your attention going to be? Where should your attention be? Well, once you put your hand on the Bible and make that oath, your attention has to be with the government of the United States of America.

No, Dr. Schlessinger, a committed conservative, acknowledged

I’m stunned - couldn’t the Republican Party find one competent female with adult children to run for Vice President with McCain? I realize his advisors probably didn’t want a “mature” woman, as the Democrats keep harping on his age.

A mature woman. It's only appropriate, then, that on Thursday Palin tweeted

Dr.Laura:don't retreat...reload!(Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2 Exist thx 2activists trying 2silence"isn't American, not fair")

Others have pointed out that critics exercising their right of free expression by criticizing a talk radio host's words are not abridging that host's "1st Amend.rights." There is no Constitutional right to a radio program with 250 affiliates. But the former governor seems to have a particular affection for a firearms metaphor.

"Don't retreat.... reload! Palin tweeted. Does she ever actually write anything enabling more than 140 characters? Oh, yea, Facebook. And here she is on her very own Facebook page yesterday arguing that both she and Dr. Schlessinger are, oh, so persecuted by political opponents: "I reloaded in order to fight for what is right on a fairer battlefield."

Speaking at a Tea Party rally in March in Searchlight, Nevada, Palin exclaimed

Now when I talk about "It's not a time to retreat. It's a time to reload. Now, media, try to get this right, okay? That's not inciting violence. What I'm talking about (is political involvement).

I'm so glad she cleared that up. She was not advocating assassination of political figures- just rallying the troops. Try to get this right, okay, you media morons?

It probably is less incendiary, though, than plain immature, illustrating Laura Schlessinger's point back in September, 2008. If, however, McCain's advisers didn't want a mature woman, I think they were reflecting the sentiment of the candidate himself. Fortunately, that immature sentiment of theirs helped bring us President Obama.



Thursday, August 19, 2010

Over-Enthused

In late June, awaiting the final passage, and the President's approval of, financial reform legislation, the Washington Monthly's Steve Benen commented

And in the larger context, this will add to an impressive list of historic accomplishments spanning President Obama's first 18 months in office....

In the same piece, Benen noted Taegan Goddard's observation "Not since FDR has a president done so much to transform the country." That week, Peter Beinart gushed in The Daily Beast

Decades later, liberals and conservatives still disagree about whether Reagan’s reforms changed America for good or ill. What they don’t disagree about is the fact that they fundamentally changed America. Those changes made Reagan one of the most consequential presidents in American history. Eighteen months in, it’s a good bet that historians will say the same about Barack Obama.

If the federal government were a baseball or basketball season (hardly; no one gets 162, or even 82, shots at victory) or even a football season (a more-realistic 16 games), President Obama's won-loss record would in fact be very impressive. In a June 28 piece in which Benen quoted Beinart, he noted Rachel Maddow having observed

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.

But, alas, government- and life- don't mimic a professional sports season. And the President's enemies, whether the "professional left" his spokesman scolded, conservative talk radio, and even the Repub Party weren't the primary catalyst behind the economic catastrophe which awaited Obama upon taking office. Upon signing the financial reform bill, the President attempted to assuage our concerns about the power power behind the throne that brought us here, claiming

There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts. Period. If a large financial institution should ever fail, this reform gives us the ability to wind it down without endangering the broader economy.

Or maybe not. Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi concludes "Wall Street's Big Win" by noting that MIT economist Simon

Johnson was part of a panel sponsored by the nonpartisan Roosevelt Institute – including Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and bailout watchdog Elizabeth Warren – that concluded back in March that the reform bill wouldn't do anything to stop a "doomsday cycle." Too-big-to-fail banks, they said, would continue to borrow money to take massive risks, pay shareholders and management bonuses with the proceeds, then stick taxpayers with the bill when it all goes wrong. "Risk-taking at banks will soon be larger than ever," the panel warned.

Without the Volcker rule and the ­Lincoln rule, the final version of finance reform is like treating the opportunistic symptoms of AIDS without taking on the virus itself. In a sense, the failure of Congress to treat the disease is a tacit admission that it has no strategy for our economy going forward that doesn't involve continually inflating and reinflating speculative bubbles. Which sucks, because what happened to our economy over the past three years, and is still happening to it now, was not an accident or an oversight, but a sweeping crime wave unleashed by a financial industry gone completely over to the dark side. The bill Congress just passed doesn't go after the criminals where they live, or even make what they're doing a crime; all it does is put a baseball bat under the bed and add an extra lock or two on the doors. It's a hack job, a C-minus effort. See you at the next financial crisis.


The old saying, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me," seems uncomfortably applicable.




Privatization Possibility

The Hill reports that at a small town-hall gathering in Columbus, Ohio, the President stated

Social Security is not in crisis. We're going to have to make some modest adjustments in order to strengthen it.

That is necessary because, he claimed, "the population is getting older."

Though undeniable, the aging of the population has resulted in large measure because of the sharp decline in infant mortality rates, suggesting that while there are more old Americans than in the past, there also are more individuals who live into, and through, their prime earning years.

Hopefully, the President's statement on the aging of the population is no more misleading than his comment

I have been adamant that Social Security should not be privatized, and it will not be privatized as long as I am president.

We are meant to be assured that Social Security will remain an insurance program, guaranteed to provide benefits without exposing it to the giant casino of Wall Street. And in fact, when then-President Bush proposed that workers should be permitted to divert one-third of their payroll tax or 4% of their earnings into a privatization account, Democrats- justifiably- attacked it as "privatization," in part because it might have succumbed to the slippery slope of eventual control by Wall Street. Nevertheless, when President Obama pledges that Social Security "will not be privatized as long as I am president," he he does not say that the system will not be partially privatized while he is president.

Perhaps this is mere semantics, a matter what the meaning of "is" is. But consider a portion of President Obama's approach to financial reform, as laid out by Matt Taibbi. Taibbi explains that, responding to apparent populist anger supposedly embodied by the election to the U.S. Senate of Scott Brown, the President "pulled a 180 and announced his support for the (Paul) Volcker rule," which was "designed to restore the firewall between investment houses and commercial banks." Later, the Merkley-Levin amendment, whose focus was enactment of the Volcker rule, was emasculated by the insertion of a "de minimis" exemption. Senator Brown had pushed the change (to benefit Massachusetts banks. But "the driving force behind the exemption," Taibbi explains, "was not Scott Brown, but the Obama administration itself."

This would not be Anderson Cooper, but Barack Obama (by way of Treasury Secretary Geithner), doing a 360. Against effective financial regulation, then for, then against.

This strategy of acquiescing to powerful financial institutions may be repeated when the President considers the "reforms" likely to be proposed by the deficit reduction/entitlement evisceration commission he established. Consider that Obama has effectively cut income taxes for 90% of non-wealthy Americans and wants to reinstate Bush-era taxes at least for the middle class, prompting the GOP to charge him with wanting to enact a massive tax increase. It's nearly impossible, then, to imagine the six Commission members who are GOP Congressmen- Representatives Paul D. Ryan, Dave Camp, and Jeb Hensarling and Senators Judd Gregg, Michael D. Crapo, and Tom Coburn- supporting elimination of the cap on Social Security taxation or any other means to increase revenues. They will, however, consider privatization, an issue which is, Marshall Auerback notes

germane when one considers the members of the Commission approved by the President. There are questions of possible conflicts of interest. As James Galbraith has noted, the Commission has accepted support from Peter G. Peterson, a man who has been one of the leading campaigners to cut Social Security and Medicare. It is co-chaired by Erskine Bowles, a current Director at North Carolina Life Insurance Co (annuity products are a competitor to Social Security and would almost certainly be beneficiaries of the partial privatization). Mr. Bowles’ wife, Crandall Close Bowles, is on the Board of JP Morgan, and she is also on the “Business Council,” a 27 member group whose members include Dick Fuld, Jeff Immelt, Jamie Dimon and a plethora of other Wall Streeters.

At the very least, these kinds of ties raise questions in regard to proposals for dealing with Social Security. Many members of the Commission stand to become clear direct and indirect beneficiaries of the privatization that the President is now warning against.

Warning against, absolutely. Expecting- possibly.



False Reality, False Hope

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