Thursday, September 30, 2010

Jobs, Public And Private

It is stock conservative propaganda- private sector jobs decline while public sector jobs keep increasing. Accordingly, and going from insinuation to insinuation, Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday claimed

That's what Velma Hart was essentially saying to Obama. "I'm exhausted defending you. When's all this magic supposed to happen? Is this my lot in life? Is this my new reality?" You know, where's the new car, where's the new kitchen? You know, where's the vacation to Port-au-Prince? Where's my cruise ship food that I can throw away? Where is it? Not out there. No, but Bob, the Republicans, your expectations here -- nobody's gonna run for office bashing government jobs. Those are voters and there are more and more of them, there are millions of them out there, Bob. And, you know, the more government workers there are the less work each of them has to do.

Leaving aside Limbaugh's inferences about Velma Hart (did she really ask for a new car, kitchen, vacation, and cruise ship food), the remark "the more government workers there are the less work each of them has to do" conveyed two points to his listeners: government workers are lazy, and there are more of them than ever.

But the decline in the number of government workers has struck services provided to Americans throughout the country. The following graph from the Economic Policy Institute shows the trend from July, 2008 (approximately 6-7 months before the end of the Bush Administration) through July, 2010, 18-19 months into the Obama Administration.

Ross Eisenbrey and Kai Fillion summarize

Legislation passed the Senate last week to slow this tide of unemployment—$16.1 billion of funding for state Medicaid programs and $10 billion to save education jobs. We estimate that the Medicaid funds will save 158,000 jobs, including police officers, firefighters, and health care workers. But more than half the jobs saved will be in the private sector, including workers who contract for or supply services to state and local governments. The Department of Education estimates that the education funds will save another 161,000 jobs in public schools.

Were the money actually to save a full 161,000 teaching jobs (which it will not), it still would not compensate for the full loss of jobs in the public sector since assumption of the presidency by the "socialist" Obama. Meanwhile, the private sector continues to grow under our "Marxist" president, as this graph from Steve Benen of the trend from January 2008 through August 2010 indicates:

Oh, dear. As a Marxist and socialist who, as Limbaugh has contended before, is out to destroy the private sector, President Obama is doing a terrible job, presiding over a gain in employment in the private sector, following a Republican president who steered us to losses in private employment.

But.... Rush is right! He says "the more government workers there are the less work each of them has to do." That is undoubtedly true, as is its corollary: the fewer government workers there are the more work each of them has to do. And it seems likely that even with the rescue of some jobs, teachers across most of the country still will be themselves buying pencils and paper and chalk and other basic equipment for their students. They will be working more hours and taking on more assignments, as will public sector employees across the spectrum.

So, too, will workers in the private sector. It would be something special if, in the course of bashing public employees and exalting the private sector, Limbaugh might at least feign a little concern for workers in private employment.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Alternate View Of The Struggle Unfolding

It has been throughout, though inartfully expressed, argued here that the Republican objective is at least threefold:

- deregulation, for the benefit of powerful interests against those of consumers, workers and, generally, the middle class;

- exacerbating the gap between rich and poor and between rich and the middle class;

- opposing sensible, even conservative, reform in order to create gridlock- and subsequently the perception that government just doesn't work and the party more closely associated with it lacks legitimacy.

Things are rarely clean and neat and there are other objectives the GOP holds dear. But Open Left's Paul Rosenberg on Tuesday suggested that the overriding goal of the Republican Party is not ideological. He quotes Digby accurately observing that if President Obama

thinks he will be rewarded for being serious about balancing the budget he needs to think again. The Democrats thought they had banished the "big spender" label for all time when Clinton not only balanced the budget but created a surplus. The thinking was that nobody could ever say again that the Democrats were irresponsible stewards of the economy and they could finally "take that off the table."

I think it's fairly clear that didn't work out the way they planned it. The Republicans have a neat trick of running up huge debt and creating economic crises when they are in office and then vilifying the Democrats for what they have to do to clean up the mess.Once it's done they come back into power and pass out all the goodies to their rich friends. It's a clear pattern. There's no "taking it off the table."

Rosenberg cited other examples of Democrats imagining they could take an issue "off the table:" Clinton's "Sister Souljah" moment; JFK cutting the marginal tax rate; Mondale, leveling with the American people about raising taxes to pay off the debt President Reagan was rolling up; Dukakis pleading "it's about competence, not ideology"; and the party generally acquiescing in the extra-constitutional right of individual ownership of firearms. He concluded

Because that's what this is ultimately all about. It's not about policy x, y or z. It's not a battle about policy at all. It's a battle about identity, as in "who is going to be the boss, the ruler, the rule-maker, interpreter and enforced and who is going to be ruled." If there is anything that conservatives don't have that they want, then they are going to get it, and if they don't then they are going to scream bloody murder like a two-year-old until they get it.

That's what it takes to take things off the table: Handing the whole table over to conservatives.

And even that has to be done with a smile, or it just won't be good enough.

A little cynical, perhaps. (And it really doesn't matter if it's with a smile.) But a day earlier, as if to lend credence to the theory Rosenberg would propose, Ian Millhiser of Think Progress quoted The Hill as reporting

Sen. Jim DeMint warned his colleagues Monday night that he would place a hold on all legislation that has not been “hot-lined” by the chamber or has not been cleared by his office before the close of business Tuesday. Although the South Carolina Republican has objected for years to the hot-lining of legislation until his staff at the Republican Steering Committee has reviewed it, DeMint’s threat to essentially shut down legislation in the chamber is remarkable....

DeMint can get away with this stunt because the Senate’s rules are ripe for abuse. Unless all 100 senators agree to begin and end debate on a bill without objection, the dissenting senators can force up to 60 hours of uninterrupted debate before a final vote can take place. As a new CAP issue brief explains, by wasting 60 hours of the Senate’s limited time just to pass a single bill, a small number of senators can grind the Senate to a near-complete halt.

The following day, an intimidated John Cornyn, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, largely endorsed DeMint's power grab.

DeMint is, admittedly, arguably the most conservative member of the United States Senate. Still, this parliamentary maneuver is far less about ideology than about raw, naked power. At some point, observers need to look at Republican obstructionism- voting en masse (or nearly) against veterans' health benefits, loans to small businesses, extension of unemployment benefits, and other moderate measures- and ask, as Rosenberg has done, if the GOP is making a broader statement: We are the biggest, toughest guys on the block and you better get used to it.

Pledge To America: #6

They call it A Plan to Create Jobs, End Economic Uncertainty and Make America More Competitive. They promise “we have a plan that will help create jobs, end economic uncertainty, and make America more competitive.”

It’s never too soon for the GOP to start making good on the emphasis on jobs in its Pledge to America, especially in a nation increasingly losing jobs to other nations. So how is that “create jobs and make America more competititve” objective being applied?

We didn’t have long to wait to find out. Tuesday, Senate Democrats tried to bring to the floor for a vote S.3816, the Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act, which would, according to

1) exempt from employment taxes for a 24-month period employers who hire a employee who replaces another employee who is not a citizen or permanent resident of the United States and who performs similar duties overseas;

(2) deny any tax deduction, deduction for loss, or tax credit for the cost of an American jobs offshoring transaction (defined as any transaction in which a taxpayer reduces or eliminates the operation of a trade or business in connection with the start-up or expansion of such trade or business outside the United States); and
(3) eliminate the deferral of tax on income of a controlled foreign corporation attributable to property imported into the United States by such corporation or a related person, except for property exported before substantial use in the United States and for agricultural commodities not grown in the United States in commercially marketable quantities.

If you prefer the summary:

This bill would give companies a two-year payroll tax holiday, reducing the amount of Social Security taxes they would have to pay, for new employees who replace workers doing similar jobs overseas. It also revokes provisions of the tax code that Democrats say encourage companies to outsource their work force.

With five of their own members voting against cloture, Democrats were unable to break the Republican filibuster. There are 41 Republicans in the Senate; Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski did not vote and, with the five Democrats, there were 45 votes against cloture. Of the 41 Republican Senators, one missed the vote…. And 40 voted against American workers. All 40 Republicans refused the opportunity to vote to deter offshoring and encourage the creation of jobs in America for Americans.

The simple explanation is: the Party of No strikes again. In the interview with Rolling Stone to appear in the October issue but now available online, President Obama recalls

I'll tell you that given the state of the economy during my transition, between my election and being sworn in, our working assumption was that everybody was going to want to pull together, because there was a sizable chance that we could have a financial meltdown and the entire country could plunge into a depression. So we had to work very rapidly to try to create a combination of measures that would stop the free-fall and cauterize the job loss.

The recovery package we shaped was put together on the theory that we shouldn't exclude any ideas on the basis of ideological predispositions, and so a third of the Recovery Act were tax cuts. Now, they happened to be the most progressive tax cuts in history, very much geared toward middle-class families. There was not only a fairness rationale to that, but also an economic rationale — those were the folks who were most likely to spend the money and, hence, prop up demand at a time when the economy was really freezing up.

I still remember going over to the Republican caucus to meet with them and present our ideas, and to solicit ideas from them before we presented the final package. And on the way over, the caucus essentially released a statement that said, "We're going to all vote 'No' as a caucus.
And this was before we'd even had the conversation.

Of course, as we all know, the President took the wrong lesson from the Republican stance and failed to realize that no matter what he proposed, it would be opposed. And the uniform opposition to S3816 by the party rhetorically opposed to, and operationally supportive of, job loss may be due more to its reflexive opposition to anything proposed by Democrats. Condemning opposition to the legislation by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, a cynical, but realistic, Bernard Sanders (I-VT) noted

Of course they are (opposed). They much prefer paying people in Vietnam 20 cents an hour than American workers a living wage….. It is to their advantage, in many cases, to shut down plants here and pay people a fraction of the wages that American workers lose by going to China. What’s the surprise about that?
There is an added bonus for the American businesses which prefer to pay foreigners a paltry wage than a livable wage to Americans.

By giving the job to workers abroad (or, in this case, failing to bring them back home to the U.S.A.), the pool of workers in this country remains high, far below the demand for their services. (The most recent, reliable estimate: 4.7 workers in the U.S.A. for every job.) The cost of labor remains low as American workers continue to be paid a miserly sum compared to their bosses. Thus, they have cheap jobs in Asia with more unemployed workers, thus lower wages, in their own country.

For some American corporations and the Republican Party, that is a very satisfying twofer.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Drug Regulation, Sort Of

According to Rush Limbaugh (9/23), the Big, Bad Democratic Party is at it again:

However, the Democrats run the FDA, and the FDA is now threatening to ban this drug Avastin that can help women with breast cancer and shrink the tumor and extend life. And the reason they are doing this is because the drug's too expensive. Pure and simple. The results of this drug have been excellent. Any ban is due to the high cost of the regimen of the treatment.

So this to me is a little ironic. They are running around saying evil insurance, evil insurance, they can't cancel you if you're sick. But we in the government are going to make sure you don't get this drug if you have breast cancer because we think it's too expensive.

Go to the RedState post to which the transcript of this segment links and you could conclude (except that, well, it is that this is the beginning of death panels. Blogger Brian Darling claims "should the FDA agree with the advisory panel’s recommendation, private insurers and Medicare will drop coverage for the drug for breast cancer patients, despite the fact that the drug extends life for an average of six months."

The truth, not surprisingly, bears little resemblance to the tale spun by Limbaugh and arguably the blogosphere's leading conservative site. Avastin, developed by the South San Francisco California-Genetech facility of Roche Holding AC, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for brain, lung, and colon tumors. In 2008 the FDA granted the drugmaker conditional approval for use of the drug (alongside a chemotherapy drug) for breast cancer following a clinical trial which showed tumor growth stalled for 5.5 months (apparently the source of the claim of "the fact that the drug extends life for an average of six months")compared to chemotherapy alone.

But a clinical test later that year showed showed no significant benefit of Avastin, wherein it stalled the disease for a mere .9 months when paired with the chemotherapy drug, compared to sole use of the latter. The FDA advisory panel thus concluded that the benefit of the drug did not compensate for its side effects, including headache, irritated nose, protein in the urine, taste alteration, dry skin, rectal bleeding, tear production disorder, and inflammation of the skin. (Less likely: bleeding/hemorrhage, high blood pressure, nose bleeds, blood clots in veins or arteries, holes (perforations) in the stomach or intestines, and wound-healing complications.)

Although it generally does not do so, the FDA overruled the recommendation of its advisory panel, granting through its accelerated approval process acceptance of conditional use of the drug in patients with breast cancer. Genetech agreed to conduct more tests.

In 2009 a clinical test showed greater benefit than the immediate prior test, but only a reduction in tumor growth of 1.2 months. This past July, an advisory panel voted to recommend rescission of conditional approval, apparently because Avastin failed to show significant improvement in survival rates for breast cancer. Using the generic term, American Cancer Society deputy chief medical officer Len Lichtenfeld, MD observed: "The benefits of taking bevacizumab were clearly less impressive—and the side effects considerable—compared to previous reports.”

On September 17, the FDA announced it would delay until December 17 its decision regarding whether to accept the recommendation of its advisory panel and withdraw approval of Avastin for breath cancer. Genetech's own press release noted "There are no data available showing that Avastin improves disease-related symptoms or survival in advanced HER2-negative breast cancer" (this quote from a short, interesting, and oddly objective post on

The FDA still, in December, may choose to give Roche the go-ahead on its division's drug for use in breast cancer. In the interim, it can be used, with government approval, for brain, lung, and colon tumors. And without government support, it can be prescribed by doctors for breast cancer, though insurers- private insurance companies- would be reticent to pay for it.

Rush Limbaugh, a steadfast and enthusiastic supporter of the pharmaceutical industry (insert joke here), complains that the federal government won't permit use of a drug because of its cost. It thus far is a finding and recommendation, not a decision. It was based not on cost, but on lack of false hope. And the irony: the drug company will continue to manufacture the drug and private insurance companies can, if they choose, pay for it. That sounds a lot like the free market at work, with the insurance company at liberty to pay for use of a product if it finds the benefits outweigh the costs.

But Limbaugh is no dope. If, based on corroborating evidence, the FDA rescinds its approval, the system has worked- the system of the free market working effectively when it is sensibly regulated by the federal government. That brings into doubt- nay, refutes- one of the core principles of conservativism, the evil of regulation. And that is something Limbaugh, RedState, and Repub politicians fear.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Social Security, Simplified

Dick Armey, former Representative from Texas, chairman of Tea Party Express bankroller FreedomWorks, and dedicated corporate lobbyist, has said it. Rand Paul, who appears poised to replace Jim Bunning as a Senator from Kentucky, has said it (video, from Talking Points Memo, below). Ron Johnson, who has been reported to be leading incumbent Senator Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, now says it (video way below).

They've all characterized arguably the most popular government program in American history, Social Security, as a "Ponzi scheme." The eagerness to spread disinformation infects even the mainstream media. Matt Bai in The New York Times on August 26 claimed the only way the federal government can redeem the Treasury bills in the (dedicated) Social Security trust fund is "to issue mountains of new debt or to take the money from elsewhere in the federal budget, or perhaps impose significant tax increases." Appropriately exorcised with Bai, who ignorantly compared the system with the lottery, the Daily Howler's Bob Somerby explains

It’s true: The federal government has borrowed money from the Social Security trustees over the past 27 years. More specifically, it has borrowed the annual over-payment of taxes written into the system in the 1983 reforms authored by President Reagan. How were those (perfectly sensible) over-payments designed to work? Preparing for their future retirement, workers would pay more into the system each year than was required to pay the benefits of that year’s recipients. These over-payments would be borrowed by the federal government, thus reducing the amount of money the government had to borrow from other sources. These over-payments would be repaid to the trustees in future years, when retiring baby boomers began to place a stress on the system.

Boomers would pay extra money each year, then get paid back when they started retiring....

It’s true! To pay back the money it borrowed from the trustees, the federal government will have to “issue new debt, take the money from elsewhere in the federal budget, or perhaps impose tax increases.” That said, the government will basically “issue new debt”—it will simply borrow more money from somewhere else to pay the trustees back. But this is what the government always does when it pays back its many loans, whether to the Social Security trustees or to those big Chinese banks. Duh! The federal government runs big annual deficits; where do you think it gets the money to pay back the money it previously borrowed when such loans come due? The president doesn’t hike through the woods, hoping to find big sacks of lost money. To pay back its debts as they come due, the federal government borrows again! You may not like the fact that your government borrows money each year to fund its large deficits. But this is the way it repays its debts—all of them, to all its debtors.

Johnson, Paul, Joe Miller (Alaska), Sharron Angle (Nevada), Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania); these are only a few of the Republicans running for the U.S. Senate this year who have their eyes on Social Security funds, aiming to pleasure their Wall Street benefactors by privatizing the system or otherwise undermining it. It is a major reason there is no limit to how much a Congress dominated by hard-right ideologues may decimate the nation's socio-economic consensus.

Pledge To America: #5

Public Law 107-40 (pdf) was approved on September 18, 2001 and authorized the President to take military action against

those nations,organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed,or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.

Although this law applied to the Taliban government in Afghanistan, it did not apply to Saddam Hussein's government in Baghdad. Though the Bush Administration strongly implied, and wanted to believe, that Iraq was behind the attacks, the President could not have determined what there was little or no evidence of.

Yet, the war proceeded, with the aid of the joint resolution which made but one, brief, reference to the United States Constitution:

Whereas the President has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States....

This appears to run counter to Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grantign Congress the power to

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.

One may argue that Gulf War II was wise or unwise, constitutional or unconstitutional, but two things are clear: 1) the resolution referred to constitutional authority; and 2) it did not cite specific constituional authority. Nevertheless, and with no apparent grasp of their naivete, Republican leaders in their Pledge to America included within "A Plan to Reform Congress and Restore Trust" a proposal to "Adhere to the Constitution, by which

We will require each bill moving through Congress to include a clause citing the specific constitutional authority under which the bill is justified.

If the GOP proposal gained the force of law, a Democratic or Republican Congress probably would cite constitutional authority. It might distort a clause to cite specific authority or, if more convenient, keep it general, a la the "Pledge" itself. Either way, good luck fighting it in court, where that separation of powers undergirding much of the document might prove a problem.

But maybe this is not what the proposal really is about, anyway. If a bill is aimed at improving the lot of the middle class, workers, or consumers, "a clause citing the specific constitutional authority" would be mandated. Apparently, the GOP believes this point is enough to satisfy the hunger of those of its followers who believe that the Founding Fathers never, ever would have permitted a president such as the one whom we elected.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pledge To America: #4

In the section of the Pledge to America entitled "Permanently Stop All Job-Killing Tax Hikes," the GOP proposes "A Plan to Create Jobs, End Economic Uncertainty and Make America More Competitive," suggesting

We will help the economy by permanently stopping all tax increases, currently scheduled to take effect January 1, 2011. That means protecting middle-class families, seniors worried about their retirement and the entrepreneurs and family-owned small businesses on which we depend to create jobs in America.

The GOP is correct. There are tax increases which are "currently scheduled to take effect January 1, 2011"- just as President George W. Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress planned. As Michael Cohn explains on WEBCPA

The two laws in question were the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, also known as EGTRRA, and the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, also known as JGTRRA. Back when they were the majority party, Republicans managed to squeak the bills through the Senate using the same budget reconciliation tactics they tried to fend off for the health care reform bill this year. The budget reconciliation strategy required the tax cuts to sunset by Dec. 31, 2010, after which they were supposed to revert back to prior levels, in part to make up for the budget shortfalls they would inevitably cause.

There is no reason to believe that the Repub Party leaders fret about "seniors worried about their retirement." Republicans have struggled against old-age insurance from the beginning: Medicare described by Ronald Reagan (1961) as the destruction of liberty, by Barry Goldwater (1964)as "socialized medicine;" by Bob Dole (1965) as unworkable, and by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (1995) as a target for dramatic cuts. A privatization plan for Social Security hatched by President George W. Bush thankfully went nowhere, but now Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has presented a roadmap to ration Medicare and Social Security, the former through a voucher scheme, the latter through privatization.

But the thrust of this subsection of the GOP's pledge is stopping tax increases on "the entrepreneurs and family-owned small businesses" because "we depend (on them) to create jobs in America." Fortunately, however, the Democratic tax plan would affect an infinitesimal portion of small businesses, as described in The New York Times earlier this month:

Internal Revenue Service statistics indicate that only 3 percent of small businesses would be subject to the higher tax, and many studies of previous tax increases suggest that it would have minimal impact on hiring.

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, 97 percent of all businesses owners do not earn enough to be subject to the higher rates, which would be levied on income of over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for families.

Even among the 750,000 businesses that would be subjected to the higher rates in 2011, many are sole proprietors — a classification so amorphous it can include everyone from corporate executives who earn income on rental property to entertainers, hedge fund managers and investment bankers. Because 80 percent of America’s 32 million businesses are sole proprietorships, 90 percent of the tax cut would be derived from businesses without employees.

The administration (chart, from Ezra Klein, below) plans to increase income taxes on individuals earning over $200,000 annually and on households with annual income over $250,000. Republicans imply that this will harm the nation's small business climate

But much of the research over the last two decades has found that increases in top tax rates can lead to an increase in the formation of small businesses, as wealthy individuals apparently begin start-ups to avail themselves of the more generous tax breaks offered to businesses.

It was a country reeling from a recession partially engineered by Wall Street, an unpopular war (Iraq) and one (Afghanistan) growing in unpopularity, and a reviled president. Elected was a centrist president who now has been holding the line on middle class taxes, strengthening market-based health care, leaving large financial firms largely unconstrained by government, and generally following the advice of his generals in continuing wars launced by his Republican predecessor. And the Republican Party.... complains?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pledge To America: #3

A section in the GOP's Pledge to America is entitled "A Plan to Create Jobs and End Economic Uncertainty and Make America More Competitive" includes a subsection "Rein in the Red Tape Factory in Washington, D.C." It reads

To provide stability, we will require congressional aproval of any new federal regulation that has an annual cost to our economy of $100 million or more. This is the threshold at which the government deems a regulation "economicallly significant." If a regulation is so "significant" and costly that it may harm job creation, Congress should vote on it first.

Government overreach- such as in food consumption? According to congressional testimony (pdf) from Cosumers Union in April, 2008

Fish consumption is growing and it is estimated that 83 percent of the seafood we eat is imported. Of that, 21 perent comes from China and much of the rest from other developing countries in Asia and Latin America....

We have considerable evidence that seafood imports from China pose significant safety risks. In June, 2007 the FDA put five types of farmed-raised fish and seafood from China under a "detain and desist" order due to repeated findings that the fish contained chemicals banned from seafood in the United States.

FDA is actually very limited in what it can do to insure (sic) the safety of imports from China or anywhere else. Today it inspects less than 1 percent of food imports entering the country. Today, it inspects less than one percent of food imports entering the country. There are over 300 ports (many landlocked) where food can enter. At the peak of its funding, there were FDA inspectors stationed at only 90 of them, and the number of inspectors has dropped since then.4 This has led to a phenomenon known as “port shopping.” Indeed, if a shipment of seafood from China is rejected by FDA inspectors at one port because it has begun to decompose, there is nothing at all to prevent the importer from trying another port where FDA simply may not be present.

The US government does not protect the public from unsafe imports as well as governments of other developed countries do. While the FDA inspects just 2 percent of seafood imports, the European Union physically inspects 20 percent of fresh, frozen, dried and salted fish and 50 percent of clams and similar shellfish. Japan physically inspected 12 percent of fresh seafood and 21 percent of processed seafood in 2005. If a problem with an import is discovered as a result of people getting sick, the FDA does not have the power to issue a mandatory recall of the food—it must ask the distributor to recall the product.

As with fish, so with eggs. The New York Times reported in August:

Faced with a crisis more than a decade ago in which thousands of people were sickened from salmonella in infected eggs, farmers in Britain began vaccinating their hens against the bacteria. That simple but decisive step virtually wiped out the health threat.

But when American regulators created new egg safety rules that went into effect last month, they declared that there was not enough evidence to conclude that vaccinating hens against salmonella would prevent people from getting sick. The Food and Drug Administration decided not to mandate vaccination of hens — a precaution that would cost less than a penny per a dozen eggs.

Now, consumers have been shaken by one of the largest egg recalls ever, involving nearly 550 million eggs from two Iowa producers, after a nationwide outbreak of thousands of cases of salmonella was traced to eggs contaminated with the bacteria.

The F.D.A. has said that if its egg safety rules had gone into effect earlier, the crisis might have been averted. Those rules include regular testing for contamination, cleanliness standards for henhouses and refrigeration requirements, all of which experts say are necessary.

However, many industry experts say the absence of mandatory vaccination greatly weakens the F.D.A. rules, depriving them of a crucial step that could prevent future outbreaks.

So the GOP is loathe to acknowledge that deregulation harms the health of Americans and endangers lives. But at least they're concerned about regulations which "may harm job creation." Not so much, as indicated by Mitch McConnell's thus far successful effort to block consideration on the Senate floor of a Democratic corporate tax bill which, The Washington Post explains

includes three provisions. One would end tax deductions that companies may take for expenses incurred when they shutter a U.S. operation and shift the work abroad. The second would impose an income tax on products once made in the U.S. but now manufactured by foreign workers. The third measure would provide a payroll tax incentive for companies to create American jobs by shifting overseas operations back to the U.S.

Democrats said the bill's estimated price tag is $720 million over 10 years.

Business groups are strongly opposed to the Democratic proposal, as McConnell noted on the Senate floor Friday morning when he raised a procedural objection to Reid's maneuver, forcing a Tuesday vote.

"The majority has wasted months in this chamber trying to tell the private sector what to do instead of providing certainty to help them make investment decisions," said McConnell. Many U.S. companies, he said, open operations abroad not to dodge U.S. taxes and workplace laws, but to compete in foreign markets.

Deregulation of unsafe products? Good. Offshoring? Good. Domestic manufacturing? Bad.

Same old GOP. The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn writes

This is not a story that begins with the administration of George W. Bush. It begins, instead, with the administration of Ronald Reagan. Convinced that excessive regulation was stifling American innovation and imposing unnecessary costs on the public, Reagan's team changed the way government makes rules.

Prior to the 1980s, agencies like the FDA had authority to finalize regulations on their own. Reagan changed that, forcing agencies to submit all regulations to the Office of Management and Budget, which cast a more skeptical eye on anything that would require the government or business to spend more money. The regulatory process slowed down and, in many cases, the people in charge of it became more skittish.

Clinton didn’t share Reagan's antipathy to regulation. Prodded by consumer advocates and more liberal Democrats, his administration announced its intention to impose new safety requirements on the egg industry. But that happened in 1999, a year before Clinton left office. When George W. Bush succeeded him, the administration’s posture reverted to its 1980s version.

Like Reagan, Bush was skeptical of government interference in the market. And, like Reagan, he appointed officials sympathetic to businesses that wanted to avoid the cost of complying with new federal rules. It was not until 2004, five years after Clinton had proposed the new egg rules, that the Bush Administration issued actual regulatory language. And by 2009, when Bush left office, the administration still had not finalized the rule.

William Hubbard, who was associate FDA commissioner from 1991 until 2005 and now advises the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, tells TNR that the delay was not accidental:

The FDA simply couldn’t get through to the White House. They were very hostile to regulation. ... I was told that each time FDA tried to get the rule cleared through OMB, the response was that there were "not enough bodies in the street," -- that the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths did not rise to the level to justify greater regulation of egg producers. Obviously, public health officials felt strongly that there was a strong justification, but the prevailing attitude at the time within the Administration was that regulation was an evil that should be avoided unless there was a compelling argument for government action.

Yes, it's the same old Republican Party. The only things which change are the names of the corporate lobbyists setting its policies.

Pledge To America: #2

On his program yesterday, Rush Limbaugh boasted "So yesterday I predict to you that the media and the Democrats are going to say that the Republican Pledge is not specific enough. Do I know these people or do I know these people?"

Perhaps, Rush, that was because the document is extremely vague, coupled with the timing of your "prediction" on September 23, the day after CBS News obtained, and released, the final draft of the Pledge. Or because approximately 61,238 liberal bloggers and mainstream journalists already had reported that the document would keep to themes and avoid specifics. A prime example is the warning, in the subsection "Establish Operational Control of the Border," a section of "To keep our nation Secure At Home And Abroad" that

We must take action to secure our borders, and that action starts with enforcing our laws. We will ensure that the Border Patrol has the tools and authorities to establish operational control at the border and prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from interfering with Border Patrol enforcement activities on federal lands.

The GOP does not clarify "prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from interfering with Border Patrol enforcement activities on federal lands." Although there is no explanation, there might be unjustified "interference"- or it may be an attempt to foster fear of an unlikely eventuality, not unlike an imposition of sharia law that has Newt Gingrich in a lather.

Sometime during the past six weeks, perhaps those who framed this document forgot, as The New York Times then reported

President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law a $600 million bill to beef up security on the U.S. border with Mexico, and his aides pressed lawmakers to set aside election-year politics and work toward broader immigration reform.

With illegal immigration seen as a key issue in the November congressional elections, the Obama administration touted the border enforcement plan as laying the groundwork for a revived effort to overhaul the U.S. immigration system.

Congress passed the measure this week and sent it to Obama, who sought the extra funding amid complaints from southwestern U.S. states that the government was failing to seal the border from illegal immigrants and drug traffickers.

Less notable than what was said is what wasn't said. There was no mention of a (hard) border wall, deportation, or workplace enforcement. The GOP did not come out against comprehensive immigration reform, with or without a path to citizenship. Nor did it, oddly, voice support for Arizona's SB 1070, widely popular in a nation which sees it (accurately or otherwise) as a response to a federal government unable to control its borders. It may have been part of the GOP's avoidance strategy, or an aversion to risk any controversy on an issue the party once believed it could ride to electoral victory.

Pledge To America- #1

The GOP has released its "Threat Pledge To America: The New Republican Agenda." It is more vague than the "Contract On For America" because in 1994, the move was more of a shot in the dark, the GOP believing that it probably would not gain a majority in either chamber. Now, with a takeover in the House likely and one in the Senate a real possibility, the Republican Party must be cautious, lest it be held to any promises it makes.

Nonetheless, the Pledge contains a few curious, if not completely surprising, elements. In the subsection "Keep Terrorists Out of America," under the section "To Keep Our Nation Secure at Home and Abroad," we read

We will prevent the government from importing terrorists onto American soil. We will hold President Obama and his administration responsible for any Guantanamo Bay detainees they release who return to fight against our troops or who have become involved in any terrorist plots or activities.

First, terminology: kudos are deserved because of the use of the term "terrorist" rather than the generic term "terror" which has become so popular in the mainstream media. If "terrorism" is the topic (as it is), terrorism, not "terror," should be discussed. Unfortunately (though homey), the GOP does employ the generic "American" (soil); why it would consider importing terrorists to Canada, Latin America, or South America as important as "importing" them to the U.S.A., I haven't a clue. But language has implications, and "terrorism" is precisely accurate; "American" not so.

Enough semantics, which really is much more than semantics. The GOP decries the hypothetical release by the Obama Administration of Guantanamo Bay detainees "who have become involved in any terrorist plots or activities." One may respond: it's hardly hypothetical- it already has occured!

And apparently it has. The New York Times reported in January

Administration officials said Wednesday that a classified Pentagon report concludes that of some 560 detainees transferred abroad from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, about one in five has engaged in, or is suspected of engaging in, terrorism or militant activity.

The finding comes amid reports that one former Guantánamo detainee released in 2007 under the administration of President George W. Bush is now involved with a branch of Al Qaeda based in Yemen, a group that President Obama has said sponsored the attempt to bomb an American airliner on Christmas Day.

Mr. Obama announced Tuesday that he was suspending the transfers of additional detainees from Guantánamo to Yemen, even though he said he remained committed to his plan, now delayed, to close the prison.

A Pentagon report released last May found that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners who had been transferred had engaged in terrorism or militant activity or was suspected of doing so.

The report was vague, with only 29 detainees identified by name. Still, one searches the Republican document in vain to find any reference to the 534 Guantanamo Bay prisoners or to the 490 released by the administration of George W. Bush, not incidentally a Republican. (President Obama had, by that time in May, released 40 detainees.)

In the mid-range, perhaps the GOP is referring to the threat of Republican Representative Daniel Issa of California to increase staff radically and issue subpoenas liberally if he becomes chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2011. But if he were to do so, embarassing questions might be asked about the Republican acquiesence in- nay, support for- releasing suspected terrorists in the Bush administration. Meanwhile, this threat is not about terrorists, Guantanamo Bay, or even Barack Obama. It is about appearing tough: "We will hold President Obama and his administration responsible"- unlike, presumably, President George W. Bush, who was held responsible for nothing by the GOP or by the current, timid Administration.

Friday, September 24, 2010

O'Donnell vs. Gingrich

O.K., o.k., Newt Gingrich was playing to the audience and fomenting fear for political gain when he recently declared at a gathering sponsored by the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.

We should have a federal law that says sharia law that under no circumstance inany jurisiction in the United States will sharia be used by any court to apply to any judgement made about American law. And we should make clear to Justice Breyer and Justice Kagan, who both seem confused on this topic, that no judge will remain in office who tries to use sharia law to interpret the American constitution.

Neither the President nor Congress is expressly given permission in the U.S. Constitution to remove a judge from office. And removal of a judge "both of the supreme and inferior Courts" because of bad judgement might be a little tough given Article III, Section 1 of that American constitution Newt claims to hold dear:

The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation.

But at least Newt, who may seek the GOP nomination for president, may be nominated, and may be elected (a sequence of events highly unlikely) probably doesn't see any likelihood of sharia law being imposed by any judge upon the United States. It merely served its purpose as a good applause line for a Values Voter Summit sponsored by a culturally conservative interest group.

But how is this for an expression of American and Judeo-Christian values?

I‘ll tell you, I just came back from the Middle East, and it was refreshing. With all that is going on, it was refreshing not to be constantly bombarded with smut all the time.

That was Christine O'Donnell, discussing with talk show host Lionel on (Joe) Scarborough Country on March 23, 2004 the claim by shock jock Howard Stern that Oprah Winfrey had aired a piece which, had he himself aired it, would have prompted a huge fine from the FCC. (There was no clarification from O'Donnell, Scarborough replying "All right, Christine, we‘re going to have to leave it there". Heck of a job, Congressman.)

Perhaps that is the short answer to the criticism of the title- "American Taliban" of Markos Moulitsas' new book. Christine O'Donnell- not a child, not a college student, but someone introduced by Joe Scarborough as a "conservative columnist," was just fine with the sexual mores and punishment- and, hence, the status of women- in oppressive Muslim societies. Gingrich was arguably inventing, inarguably vastly distorting, the threat of sharia law in American society. O'Donnell was expressing sympathy, if not support, for the more onerous manifestations of sharia law.

And that is the state of the Republic Party, circa 2010.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Christine O'Donnell, In Brief

Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday took a call from a man who was critical of Delaware's GOP candidate, Christine O'Donnell, for "many outlandish and ridiculous statements." The conversation in part went like this:

RUSH: Well, give me some outlandish, ridiculous statement that Palin's made or that O'Donnell's made.

CALLER: Well, you can go back and there's a whole --

RUSH: Give me a couple, 'cause I can quote all kinds of ridiculous stupid stuff Biden said that Obama has said, that Ted Kennedy said, Harry Reid said, and they don't demonize them, they laud them, they make them heroes. Tell me something outrageous and outlandish Christine O'Donnell said.

CALLER: Well, I think it's outlandish that she was involved in witchcraft and that's not been taken to issue, for example, with the Fox network, whereas if that had been a Democrat who was running Fox would be all over it, they would have a witchcraft special. I think a lot of her comments on abstinence --

RUSH: You know, she dabbled in witchcraft and found out she didn't like it. She had a boyfriend dealing with it. She did it in high school! In the meantime, we have president who's destroying the United States economy! To me, that's outlandish! We have a man who's lying through his teeth about what he's doing with health care. We've got a disconnect. Outlandish? Witchcraft? And Joe Biden says he's number two in line for the presidency when he's number one? God, I wish he was number two, but that would make Pelosi number one. We're screwed! Snerdley, I appreciate that you want to try to find liberal callers. Can you find some that are not filled with cliches? Maybe it is impossible.

Just before cutting his caller off (you didn't expect anything else, did you?), Rush asked him to "Tell me something outrageous and outlandish Christine O'Donnell said."

We'll start with monkey cloning and move on to condoms.

On November 15, 2007, Bill O'Reilly interviewed Dr. William Morrone, a family doctor and medical researcher in Michigan, and then-political consultant Christine O'Donnell:

O'DONNELL: ... these groups admitted that the report that said, "Hey, yay, we cloned a monkey. Now we're using this to start cloning humans." We have to...

O'REILLY: Let them admit anything they want. But they won't do that here in the United States unless all craziness is going on.

O'DONNELL: They are -- they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they're already into this experiment.

O'REILLY: Alright. Doctor...

MORRONE: That's an exaggeration.

O'REILLY: you understand — do you understand her concern that there are people who are unethical who will do this kind of stuff for whatever reason? Do you understand her concern?

MORRONE: I understand her concern, but to me, the position of head in the sand is saying, "Don't do it; don't get involved; and don't set up guidelines." I'm saying this is the time to talk about it and this is the time to take it into alot of consideration.

O'Donnell's claim doesn't pass the smell test even with O'Reilly, who then remarks "I think it has to be very closely regulating (sic)."

Ms. O'Donnell has had a few things to say about condoms over the years:

According to Media Matters, she was quoted in The Washington Times on 12/1//95 as saying

We're doing a great disservice to our young people because the only protection is abstinence, as condoms have been proven fallible....The federal government should not be telling young people to use condoms....It's also an insult to teenagers, reducing them to the level of a dog that can't control its hormones.

Apparently, O'Donnell not only finds condoms distasteful, she also has a couple of misconceptions about them. According to Think Progress, on 12/17/99 she remarked on GOP TV's Hannity & Colmes

Even not from a moral perspective, if you take it just purely from a health perspective, condoms will not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases. There’s a 20 percent failure rate that it will protect from pregnancy.

Condoms, apparently, are to be disliked, misunderstood, and falsely compared to drunk drivers (also on Hannity & Colmes and according to Think Progress, on 6/6/00):

go ahead and have a condom. That’s like saying, don’t drive drunk but if you do, make sure you wear your seat belt. It’s going to kill.

(Condoms, Christine, don't kill. But you already knew that. Presumably.)

Those are only a few of Christine's greatest hits, as noted by Think Progress, on subjects that range far beyond her favorite topic. Evidently, the nation is "having weekly shootings, practically" because of the absence of prayer in the public schools; the ACLU is "trying to institute a communist country;" and President Obama is "anti-American."

The Sopranos, however, "shows that America still has a longing for that traditional upbringing.” Because Barack Obama may be un-American but nothing says family values better than murder for fun and profit. Especially for a pro-life political consultant.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Health Care Reform, Compromised

At least he's consistent. At a DNC fundraiser in Connecticut last week, President Obama yukked it up:

Democrats, just congenitally, tend to get -- to see the glass as half empty. (Laughter.) If we get an historic health care bill passed -- oh, well, the public option wasn't there. If you get the financial reform bill passed -- then, well, I don't know about this particularly derivatives rule, I'm not sure that I'm satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven't yet brought about world peace and -- (laughter.) I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.) You know who you are. (Laughter.)

On Monday night at the Pyramid Club in Philadelphia, according to Jake Tapper, the President remarked

when I hear Democrats griping and groaning and saying, ‘Well, you know, the health care plan didn’t have a public option;’ and I don’t know, ‘The financial reform -- there was a provision here that I think we should have gotten better’; or, ‘You know what, yes, you ended the war in Iraq, the combat mission there, but you haven’t completely finished the Afghan war yet’; or this or that or the other -- I say, folks, wake up.

Those silly Democrats- believing what Barack Obama said during the campaign about health care! Imagine that- pushing for a public option when other reforms, with little regulation, will make keep the insurance companies honest and caring.

Maybe not. The Denver Post reports

Health-insurance companies are raising rates in Colorado, ending sales of child-only policies and blaming their actions in part on the federal health reform law, moves that regulators call "bizarre" and consumer advocates are vowing to watch....

At least six major companies — including Anthem, Aetna, Cigna and Humana — have said they will stop writing new policies for individual children not covered by their parents' or other plans, insurance officials said.

They blamed health reform mandates taking effect Thursday requiring companies that write such policies as of that date to also cover sick children up to age 19.

Some of the same insurers, meanwhile, have filed proposed rate increases with Colorado for individual policies, hiking premiums by up to 27 percent, regulators said.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a 2,400 page (albeit with large font, triple spacing, wide side margins) document. Although Republicans used the length of the bill to gin up opposition to the legislation, a piece of such length is a boon to lawyers and the bane of regulators. There are likely to be more loopholes than effective regulations.

Senator Bernie Sanders' single-payer bill, which eventually was pulled by the author when Senator Coburn (R-OK) threatened to exploit it as a delaying tactic, was 767 pages long, simpler, and would have averted the problem of private insurers refusing to write policies for children- as well as, obviously, soaring insurance prices for their policies.

As Firedoglake's Jon Walker wrote Tuesday

Democrats actually chose to expand coverage to millions by forcing them to buy insurance exclusively from these same misbehaving private companies. If Democrats really believe the job of the government is to insure every American, then they should have had the government do it directly–and more cost effectively–through expanding Medicare for all or a public option, instead of outsourcing it to untrustworthy private insurers that put profits before people.

Yet, hours after the Denver Post report, the President quips "Well, you know, the health care plan didn’t have a public option." No, it doesn't; and the private insurance companies have no competition, face inadequate regulation, and are making the President's critics on the left look prescient and the President himself, a little foolish.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Limbaugh Critiques Powell

It wasn't a firestorm General Colin Powell ignited on his appearance on Sunday's Meet The Press (transcript here), but it was a brush fire. Asked about the Support Prison Privitization Act (more commonly thought of as the immigrant legislation) in Arizona, General Powell responded

The American people want their borders to be protected. There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with making sure that people come across our borders, particularly our southern border, in a legal, safe manner. But, at the same time, we have millions and millions of illegal immigrants in our country, undocumented individuals, who are working, who are doing things we need done in this country. They're all over at my house doing things whenever I call for repairs, and I'm sure you've seen them at, at your house. We've got to find a way to bring these people out of the darkness and give them some kind of status.

Powell grabbed the fire hose and issued a clarification on Monday, stating

I don't hire illegal immigrants. On Meet the Press yesterday, I referred to illegal immigrants working around my house. I was referring to the many service contractors who work in my neighborhood, using mostly immigrant workers, who do good work. Some may well be 'illegal.' There are 11 million illegal immigrants in this country and most are working somewhere in our economy.

Somehow, between Sunday morning and Monday morning (inclusive), "they're all over at my house doing things whenever I call for repairs" became "immigrant workers," "some" of whom "may well be illegal," "who work in my neighborhood." Perhaps General Powell was hallucinating, imagining that he saw immigrant workers on his property when he actually had seen them only as he was driving down the street.

At first read, Powell was lying on Day 2 when he claimed "I don't hire illegal immigrants" or on Day 1, by embellishing his argument that illegal immigrants are ubiquitous (a fact of American life we cannot wish away), claiming that they even work at his house. Either way, we were reminded that politicians are not the only public officials who lie.

Or maybe not. Like a stopped clock- right twice a day- Rush Limbaugh is right at least twice a year, and yesterday he met half his quota. Criticizing Powell on Monday for his initial remark, Limbaugh apparently was informed by his producer mid-stream that the General had issued the "clarification." Rush said Powell

told USA Today that he doesn't hire illegal immigrants. Well, he said they're all over his house but he doesn't hire 'em. The contractors hire 'em, but he knows the contractors. But he's not hiring them, he's hiring the contractor. Now, this is splitting hairs because it's General Powell's payments to the contractors that permit....

Apparently even before being updated, Limbaugh had commented (emphasis mine)

So he admits that he's hiring illegal immigrants. Maybe not directly, maybe just in the companies he hires to repair things in his house, and that includes all the rest of us. "I'm sure you've seen 'em." If illegal aliens currently in the country were all give an amnesty and were all to begin to pay taxes, Powell would start hiring the next wave of illegals for the same reason he hires the ones he does today. Why does he hire them? Why do you think he hires them? It's 'cause they're cheaper! It's cheaper to hire illegal aliens than American citizens who have to pay their taxes -- Social Security, other taxes. After all, the general's six-figure retirement income only goes so far. You have to make it work any way you can. But this is striking, is it not?

One qualification needs to be made- Rush mistakes a "path to citizenship" with "amnesty." Were illegal immigrants required "to begin to pay taxes," they would not have been granted amnesty but rather placed on a road to citizenship. Still, Limbaugh's comment suggests, accurately, that Powell was not really lying when he maintained "I don't hire illegal immigrants." Not directly, he doesn't. But although, as Powell was asserting, there are illegal immigrants working at many homes throughout the U.S.A., his comment, suggesting a disturbing comfort with this state of affairs, was striking.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The "Center" On The Move

Chris Matthews on Hardball on Monday commented

What about people like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, who have their living in the center?

The American Conservative Union rating for McConnell is 96% for his votes in 2009 and 89.66 lifetime; for John Boehner, the comparable figures are 96% and 94%. Digby remarks, in a post entitled "Moving Goalpost Alert," "that's what Matthews considers the center."

But so it goes in the Obama/Palin age. In his live CNBC townhall event (video, from Think Progress, below) on Monday, the President, questioned by a hedge fund manager, commented in part

After a huge crisis, the top 25 hedge fund managers took home a bilion dollars in income that year. A billion- that's the average for the top 25.

A major source of contention, the President continued, is

carried interest, which basically allows hedge fund managers to get taxed at 15% of their income. Now eveerybody else is getting taxed at- you know, a lot more. But the secretary of the hedge fund is probably getting taxed at 25, 28, right? And these folks are getting taxed at 15.

Good point, Mr. President, but.... 28%? That would be an unusually fortunate secretary to get taxed at 28%, given the 28% tax bracket in 2010 of $82,400-$171,850 ($34,000-$62,400 for the 25% bracket). Perhaps if his/her boss is taking home one billion dollars, that secretary should be getting paid over $82,000. Alas, that's hardly likely.

But it is a measure, albeit one fairly minor example, of the goalposts moving right. Maybe it's ignorance, or wishful thinking, or a conceit of the privileged class (which would include most successful politicians of the state or national level) that hard working members of the middle class are being paid by their generous bosses eighty, ninety thousand dollars a year.

The problem is not Barack Obama or those movers and shakers who would not be offended if such individuals received generous salaries, but those who find the economic status quo, including hedge fund managers and others being taxed at a rate effectively below persons of modest means, just fine. That would include most Republican politicians and, unfortunately, some Democrats.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Michael Dukakis riding in the tank, Al Gore allegedly being encouraged by Naomi Wolf to become an "alpha male," John Kerry with the sneers about windsurfing and looking "French."

Until recently, however, we had been spared most of these inferences, not coincidentally in the age of the first black president of the U.S.A. But the tide may be turning.

Carl Paladino, the Republican nominee for Governor of New York, has sent an open letter to challenger and favorite Andrew Cuomo, goading him into a debate. He wrote

Frankly, i dont think you have the cojones to face me and the other candidates in a open debate. I dont think you have the cojones to answer direct questions regarding the mistakes you made at HUD in pushing a sub-prime mortgage scheme that cost taxpayers $2.4 trillion dollars and cost most New Yorkers the value of their 401-Ks. I dont think you have the cojones to answer questions about why you embraced ethically-challenged Charlie Rangel while pledging to clean up corruption. I don't think you haved the cojones to defend why some were prosecuted in the Hevesi Pension scandal while others - including many of your key supporters - were not.

So Andrew, for the first time in your life be a man. Don't hide behind daddy's coattails even though he pulled strings to advance your career every step of your way. Come out and debate like a man.

And in case we weren't sure that Paladino, at least, is a real man, the Republican claimed that he never has debated in his life "except maybe in a bar." Because, aside from frequent and spontaneous sex, nothing proves masculinity more than arguing over a beer or two.

And speaking of sex- as she historically has not been reluctant to do- Christine O'Donnell got into the act in her recent (succesful) Senate primary campaign against Representative Mike Castle in Delaware. On the website of a consulting that previously had represented O'Donnell, a video (below) appeared in which a man off-camera asks "Isn’t Mike Castle cheating on his wife with a man?" The female actress playing a newscaster smiles coyly and responds "That's the rumor."

Upon hearing that the GOP in Delaware, supporting Castle, had filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against her

O'Donnell blasted the legal action as "cheap, underhanded," and "unmanly." She added, however, that she would expect no less from "Obama's favorite Republican -- Mike Castle."

The conservative Senate candidate concluded: "Mike this is not a bake-off. Get your man-pants on."

Then there is the former half-term governor of Alaska. On August 2, the New York Daily News reported

President Obama doesn't have the "cojones" to protect America's border with Mexico, Sarah Palin charged Sunday.

In lashing out at the President's manhood, the former Alaska governor was lamenting a federal judge's decision last week to toss key parts of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's controversial immigration law that lets cops detain people who they suspect are illegal immigrants.

"Jan Brewer has the cojones that our President does not have to look out for all Americans, not just Arizonans, but all Americans," Palin said on "Fox News Sunday."

The last thing you would want to do, we're supposed to believe, is vote for those effeminate, maybe even gay, Democrats. Stick with us tough guys. And what is it with these "cojones" references? Surely, the Republicans who use it must know that it is a profanity in Spanish. Imagine, the GOP offending minorities- I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

Probably coincidentally, the religious right appears to have returned to prominence in the Republican Party- just as their sex-crazed candidates are returning.

The Return Of Barack Obama

Hooray! He's back!

Barack Obama is indeed back. Some criticize him for not being sufficiently progressive or bold or being able to change the contentious atmosphere inside the Beltway. Jason Linkins in The Huffington Post argues "Where Obama is shedding support by the metric ton, is within the cohort of the electorate known as 'independent voters.'..... I have to imagine that a large part of it is that the boldness that attracted them to the Obama campaign has only shown itself in fits and starts since. And so, they drift away."

But the old Obama has returned. It is, after all, Senator Barack Obama who at a fundraiser in San Francisco informed us

And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Some of us thought the patronizing guy from Hawaii by way of Chicago was gone.

But at a fundraiser- a fundraiser, again- on Thursday in Connecticut (Chris Dodds' home state; pretty fitting, huh?), Obama sneered

After being in this job for two years, I have never been more optimistic about America. I am optimistic partly because we did some really tough things that aren't always popular but were the right things to do. Š Democrats, just congenitally, tend to get -- to see the glass as half empty. (Laughter.) If we get an historic health care bill passed -- oh, well, the public option wasn't there. If you get the financial reform bill passed -- then, well, I don't know about this particularly derivatives rule, I'm not sure that I'm satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven't yet brought about world peace and -- (laughter.) I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.) You know who you are. (Laughter.)

Still patronizing, but now Obama adds a feature: rubbing it in. Linkins notes

the left-most health care activists and legislators actually conceded single-payer in advance in an effort to have a health care reform package that stood a fighting chance of passing Congress.

Usually, the left gets little credit for how tremendously accommodating they were during that debate, so it's nice to see the President acknowledge that the point of contention eventually became the public option and the way he screwed over everyone who had originally accommodated him.

Shorter Obama, in imaginary quote: "Sucker! I told you I was pushing for a public option when I really wasn't. Now that the GOP has gone off the (right) deep end, you're stuck with me." Or as Jane Hamsher puts it, perhaps the Democrats mocked by the President "are not being negative, maybe they’re just smart enough to know when they’ve been conned."

A transcript, though no video, of the event was released by the Democratic National Committee, for whose benefit it was held, at the home of Richie Richman (Ellen and Richard Richman) in an exclusive development in exclusive Greenwich. Glenn Greenwald comments- charitably:

Sitting at a $30,000 per plate fundraising dinner and mocking liberal critics as irrational ingrates while wealthy Party donors laugh probably does wonders for bruised presidential egos, but it doesn't seem to be a particularly effective way to motivate those who are so unmotivated. Then again, Barack Obama isn't actually up for election in November, so perhaps the former goal is more important to him than the latter. It certainly seems that way from these comments.

A little less charitably, Hamsher insists

Nobody in the history of electoral politics, and I mean nobody, believes that telling people to “get over it” will get them to the polls. (Well, nobody but Spiro Agnew.) And you can bet your bottom dollar that come 2012, when Obama’s own electoral future is on the line, that won’t be his message.

She's right, of course, that "when Obama's own electoral future is on the line, that won't be his message." But it's not "on the line" now, so we shouldn't be shocked that the President may not only be disinterested in motivating the base, but trying actively to discourage it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Moving The Goalposts With Haley Barbour

Robert Reich looks at the far-right Republicans, citing Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Ken Buck in Colorado, and Sharron Angle in Nevada who have won state primaries. He argues

Some Democrats think all this is wonderful because it boosts the odds of Democratic wins, not only in the midterms but also in 2012 when the Republicans put up Palin, Gingrich, or someone equally bizarre. Even voters who are are unenthusiastic about Democrats will be motivated to turn out if they fear that crackpots will otherwise take over our government.

I’m not as sanguine about what’s happening. Political discourse in America is important. What candidates say can legitimize hateful or divisive views that would otherwise never see the light of day.

A further problem is that these are merely a few of the wingers who are outside of the political mainstream but which the GOP is attempting to foist (as U.S. Senators) on the country. Reich even omits Joe Miller (video, from Crooks and Liars, below) in Alaska, who believes unemployment compensation, Medicare, and Social Security are unconstitutional. (For good measure, he lies about the latter, claiming "its trust fund is empty.")

But there is an even bigger problem. These characters drag the conversation to the right, wherein viewpoints slightly to the left of theirs are considered the norm. Sometimes, opinions of the far right are considered the norm, if uttered by individuals who seem to be sane and sober.

Lamenting the takeover of the GOP by extremists, Samuel Jacobs in The Daily Beast writes

If Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint are the patron saints of hard-right anti-establishment types, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is their counterpart in the center. The wily head of the Republican Governors Association, a possible contender for president in 2012, preaches a big-tent philosophy that contrasts sharply with the ideological purification drive on the right.

To which Digby notes

Things have moved so far to the right that Haley Barbour is a centrist now.

It's true that he's a "Big Tent" Republican, at least to extent that he can get away with it. But it's not because he wants a bunch of lily-livered moderates in the party, but because he knows there aren't enough hardcore nuts in the country (yet) to sustain a far right majority. But that doesn't make someone a "centrist." It makes him a practical power broker.

Haley Barbour is hardcore conservative and a corporate whore. Unless you define Joe Lieberman as the far left, he most certainly is not a centrist.

This is the same Governor Barbour who, in a recent interview (video of part 1, here) with the conservative magazine and website Human Events, tried to lay the blame for Southern segregation on the Democratic Party and the credit for its elimination on "my generation," which led the South to embrace the Republican Party. His faulty recollection (oh, sure) was eviscerated by syndicated columnist Eugene Robinson, who explained

Not a word of this is true.

Barbour did not attend “integrated schools,” if he’s referring to his primary and secondary education. Mississippi ignored the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that was meant to end separate-but-unequal school systems. Eventually, officials implemented a “freedom of choice” desegregation plan—but black parents who tried to send their children to white schools were threatened and intimidated, including by cross-burnings. Finally, in 1969, the Supreme Court ordered Mississippi to integrate its schools immediately. The long-stalled change took place in 1970.

That was long after Barbour had graduated from high school in Yazoo City and gone on to attend the University of Mississippi—the “integrated college” he mentioned in the interview. The federal government had forced Ole Miss to admit its first black student, James Meredith, in 1962; he had to be escorted onto the campus by U.S. marshals as white students rioted in protest.

The following year, a second black student was admitted. In the mid-1960s, when Barbour was attending Ole Miss, it’s no wonder that he “never thought twice” about integration. There were only a handful of black students, and by all accounts—except Barbour’s—they were isolated and ostracized by their white peers.

The governor’s assertion that segregation was a relic of the past “by my time” is ludicrous. He was 16, certainly old enough to pay attention, during the Freedom Summer of 1964, when civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Miss. He was a young adult, on his way to becoming a lawyer, when the public schools were forced to integrate. I’ll bet Barbour could remember those days if he tried a little harder.

Equally wrong—and perhaps deliberately disingenuous—is his made-up narrative of how the South turned Republican. Let me correct the record.

As he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, Lyndon Johnson is supposed to have said that the Democratic Party had “lost the South for a generation.” Among those who voted against the landmark legislation was Sen. Barry Goldwater, who became Johnson’s opponent in the presidential race that fall.

Johnson scored a landslide victory. Goldwater took his home state of Arizona and just five others: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. It was the first time those Deep South states had voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Reconstruction—and marked the moment when, for many Southern voters, the GOP became the party of white racial grievance. It wasn’t “a different generation from those who fought integration” that made the switch. Integration was the whole reason for the switch.

And then there is the case of Verna Ann Bailey, the first black female to attend the University of Mississippi and who sat next to Barbour, who describes having established a rapport with her. McClatchy picks up the story:

Bailey, reached by phone, reacted to Barbour's story with surprise that bordered on confusion.

"I don't remember him at all, no, because during that time that certainly wasn't a pleasant experience for me," she said. "My interactions with white people were very, very limited. Very, very few reached out at all."

Bailey is now the principal of an elementary school in Beaverton, Ore. While she may have seemed like just another student to Barbour, history hasn't viewed her that way. For her role in the civil rights movement, she was inducted into the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame and has a scholarship named after her.

She's sometimes asked to speak to groups about her experience. Her recollections are filled with details of pain, humiliation, isolation and courage.

She left Mississippi at 24, following her brother to the more liberal Pacific Northwest. It seemed beautiful and welcoming. She worked in Seattle, and eventually was recruited to Oregon. She got a master's degree, began a doctoral program.

She'd go back to Mississippi to visit her parents. Her father was a prominent local civil rights leader who didn't share Barbour's view of Republicans as enlightened on the issue. Both her parents are deceased.

Barbour left Ole Miss before he finished his bachelor's degree to work for the Nixon campaign, then came back to earn his law degree. Bailey said she finished her undergraduate degree in three years, not because she was a great student, but because she wanted to get out of Oxford, Miss., as fast as she could.

She recalled dancing in Oxford Square once with another black student at a school celebration when a crowd of whites began pelting them with coins and beer. "It was just an awful experience. I just saw this mass of anger; anger and hostility. I thought my life was going to end."

A campus minister, one of the only whites she remembers showing her kindness, took her by the hand and led her to safety. She said the minister was ostracized.

During her undergraduate days, she was inundated with intimidating phone calls to her dorm from white men. "The calls were so constant," she said. "Vulgar, all sexual connotations, saying nigger bitches needed to go back to the cotton field and things of that nature." She'd complain, have the phone number changed. Then the calls would start again. Funeral wreaths with what appeared to be animal blood on them were found outside her dorm.

In one science class in a lecture hall, no one would sit near her. The only class in which she remembers alphabetized seating was a Spanish class where the teacher seemed empathetic to her. Bailey figured that was because the teacher was from South America, not Mississippi.

Barbour said they had a literature class together. Bailey remembers taking a literature class, but nothing about it. "It wouldn't surprise me if I allowed someone to copy my notes because that's just someone I am," she said. "I did that as an undergraduate student, as a graduate student."

Robinson believes Barbour is trying "to shake its image as hostile to African-Americans and other minorities. It would be consistent with this attempted makeover to pretend that the party never sought, and won, the votes of die-hard segregationists." Barbour's is a severely dishonest account, one intended to appeal to moderates and mainstream journalists, but merely putting a different package on the same product Palin, Angle, O'Donnell and the less discreet radicals are pushing.


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