Monday, January 31, 2011

Should Be Easy


First, it was John Boehner, who on January 6 said

that any move to increase the United States' $14.3 trillion debt limit must be accompanied by spending cuts.

"The American people will not stand for such an increase unless it is accompanied by meaningful action by the President and Congress to cut spending and end the job-killing spending binge in Washington," Boehner said in a prepared statement.


Later that day, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin acknowleged the same. MSNBC reported

Some conservative Republicans have urged their GOP colleagues to resist raising the ceiling -- which currently clocks in at $14.3 trillion -- under any circumstances. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is collecting signatures on her PAC's website "to force our elected officials to stop spending cold turkey," and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has advocated for a "big showdown" with Democrats by blocking the raise.

But House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan says that tactic isn't viable. "Just refusing to vote for it, I don't think that's really a strategy," he said, noting that a failure to raise the ceiling could result in the nation defaulting on its debts to investors.

"Will the debt ceiling be raised? Does it have to be raised? Yes," he said at an event sponsored by economics21 and the Manhattan Institute at the National Press Club Thursday.

Sunday, Speaker Boehner told Chris Wallace on GOP News Sunday that defaulting on the debt

would be a financial disaster not only for our country, but for the worldwide economy. Remember, the American people on Election Day said we want to cut spending and we want to create jobs. You can't create jobs if you default on the federal debt.

Listen, there has been a spending spree going on in Washington these last couple of years that is beyond control, and if the president is going to ask us to increase the debt limit, then he's going to have to be willing to cut up the credit cards. We've got to work together by listening to the American people and reducing these obligations that we have.


Asked by Wallace whether "defaulting on the full faith and credit is unacceptable," Boehner replied "I don't think -- I don't think it's a question that is even on the table."

Boehner and Ryan, inarguably the two most important Republicans in the chamber their party controls, have made it clear that, in the end, they would support raising the debt ceiling. They advocate doing so as spending is cut, but evidently would not balk at raising the ceiling even if it is not accompanied by spending cuts.

No doubt the President also fears defaulting on the debt. Still, in his State of the Union message (transcript here), the President who decided to jack up the deficit by $900 billion over the next two years declared his allegiance to cutting that deficit by cutting spending:

Now, most of the cuts and savings I've proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12 percent of our budget. To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough. It won't. (Applause.)

The bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year made this crystal clear. I don't agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress. And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it -- in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes. (Applause.)

This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit. The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit. Still, I'm willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year -- medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits. (Applause.)

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. (Applause.)

The GOP is determined- short of opposing raising the debt ceiling- to cut spending and starve government, thereby "drowning it in the bathtub," as Grover Norquist once put it. Obama, meanwhile, is committed, at least rhetorically, to trim the deficit in the short-term, notwithstanding the disastrous impact that could have on the economic recovery. And he is not hesitant to link Social Security, in the black with its dedicated source of funding, to the deficit, to the delight of the GOP and the mainstream media. All this is being done as Americans paid the lowest level of (state,federal, and local) taxes in 2009 (the last year for which full figures are available) than we have since the Truman presidency.

Late in 2010, President Obama engineered a deal that extended the Bush tax cuts on upper-incomes, arguing, generally, "the devil made me do it," that had he not gotten an extension of unemployment benefits, the Republicans in the next Congress would have extended the tax cuts without aid to the unemployed. No argument here about the devil, though Obama's failure to rein in budget-busting breaks for the wealthy while enjoying a Democratic-controlled House and Senate seemed a little too convenient.

Or maybe, to be generous, it was the best deal he could get. Now however, we know the best deal President Obama can get, and one he can get: the debt limit goes up, thereby assuring world markets and keeping government from shutting down. And he can get it with no cuts in spending. None. I could tell you whether he's going to achieve this or instead pull the rug out from under his own party, but then in early autumn, I thought the Baltimore Ravens would win the Super Bowl. So we can only wait.




Saturday, January 29, 2011

Beyond "Civil"

There has been a misunderstanding. Some of its is intentional, some unavoidable, probably some due to the 'fair and balanced' obsession of our President.

It is, of course, President Barack Obama who pleased virtually everyone (honestly) when in his speech at the memorial in Tucson he commented (transcript here)

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do, it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that -- that heals, not in a way that wounds....

And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy -- it did not -- but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.

The remark had something for both sides: conservatives eager to deny any responsibility for the climate of violence, liberals pointing to the need for "a more civil" discourse in the public square. But it was, on balance, little more and no less than a call for "civility."

And so Megyn Kelly of GOP TV (transcript from Crooks and Liars) would say to Allen Colmes on Friday

Well, that's the question. The theory is -- the theory is that this call for civility in fact an effort to silence critics who -- let me just finish the theory -- this is from this article -- the theory is -- other conservatives have said this -- that they're trying to silence Republicans or conservatives or Tea Party people who have been -- who have been successful in winning back control of the House, winning back more seats in the Senate, and they're worried about how successful they might be in 2012.

Colmes then took the bait, understandable inasmuch as the President has already set the terms of the debate, on Republican ground.

The issue is not one of "civility." Once one obsesses about civility, GOP politicians and pundits, wallowing in their "fair and balanced" mode, can plausibly claim: they all do it.

And a lot of Democrats, especially non-politicians on the far left, have been un civil. Many of us are uncomfortable sitting around a circle, holding hands (at other times wringing them), and asking if we can be friends. Rhetoric may not be civil; it ought, however, not be violent.

Criticizing Sarah Palin, on January 18 Chris Matthews noted

And by the way, nobody`s told them to, quote, unquote, "shut up." People have said, Stop talking about guns and raising the heat level about guns and your hatred of elected officials because somebody`s going connect those two issues, guns and how much they hate a politician. We know one guy did. No evidence he was politically inspired, but we know he shot a politician. We know he shot a lot of other people at a political event. And we know what else? He used a gun. I`m sorry, it`s related.

In January, 2010, before Sharron Angle became the Repub nominee for U.S. Senator from Nevada, she was interviewed by a right-wing talk show host and warned

You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it's good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years.

I hope that's not where we're going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I'll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.


In March, 2009 Michele Bachmann of Minnesota similarly warned:

I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us, having a revolution every now and then is a good thing, and the people — we the people — are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States.

Not to be outdone- he is never outdone- Glenn Beck on June 10, 2010 himself warned (FOX News transcript here)

Does she see the connection between guns, political hatred and targeting politicians, like she did in her TV thing with the crosshairs on it and talking about reloading and bullseyes? Does she see the connection between that and reality?

I will stand against you and so will millions of others. We believe in something. You in the media and most in Washington don't. The radicals that you and Washington have co-opted and brought in wearing sheep's clothing — change the pose. You will get the ends.

You've been using them? They believe in communism. They believe and have called for a revolution. You're going to have to shoot them in the head. But warning, they may shoot you.

Second Amendment remedies, armed and dangerous, shoot them in the head. These are not "a simple lack of civility" cited by the President but something beyond, and more threatening.

None of this may have influenced an apparently unstable individual who spent weeks checking out websites "covering lethal injection, solitary confinement and political assassinations" and proceeded to try to assassinate a Democratic congresswoman at a political rally. But it's not mainly uncivil, rude, hurtful, or hateful. It is mainly violent, a distinction seemingly lost on the President and Republicans alike.





Friday, January 28, 2011

Class Warfare, Now From Beck


We veer, temporarily or otherwise, from talk of State of the Union and of Rush Limbaugh and of Social Security to talk of.... Glenn Beck.

No, not the anti-Semitic Beck or the Beck who encourages violence but the Glenn Beck who, in his conversational and indirect style, pushes the conservative attack on "class warfare." On Thursday, Beck Beck said on his program on GOP TV

Why would we be pitted against each other? Is it on anything real?

Right now, we have -- being pit the rich and the poor, the wealthiest 1 percent, greedy bankers, doctors cutting off feet, evil oil companies. Big pharmaceutical won't make drugs. Fast food companies are trying to make you fat, you know? Conservatives just hate all minorities.

I don't know if you know this, but that person over there, they have it better than you. They have cable. You don't. Get 'em!

These are the kind of claims that are destroying the melting pot. There will always be rich and there will always be poor. There will always be black and white and brown.

It's good to see Beck acknowledge "there will always be black and white and brown;" better still, if he realized that black and white and brown resemble less a melting pot than a mosaic, by which we as a nation are richly rewarded.

Apparently, though, Beck's main thrust is that the enemies of bankers, doctors (doctors?), oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, fast food companies, and the wealthiest 1% are pitting rich against poor.

Pretty slick, Glenn is, positing that populists (i.e., enemies of bankers, oil companies, drug companies, fast food companies, and the very wealthiest people) are on the side of the poor against the rich. The middle class- who comprise the vast majority of Beck's audience- thus are left to choose between the rich and the poor and we know where his audience will line up.

But of course the class warfare being waged- and won- by the wealthy is not against the poor but against everyone else, the poor and the middle class. As the pie graph (below) of 2007 from the Economic Policy Institute reveals, 55.6% of all income growth of the previous three decades went to that top 1% Glenn Beck believes is unfairly castigated.




Not only did most of the income growth go to the top 1%, but from 1973-2006 the percentage increase in growth of income (approximately 250%) was greater for the upper 1% than for the bottom 90% (approximately 110%).




With the preponderance of increased income and wealthy having gone to the top 1% of the population, by 2007 35% of the net worth, and 43% of financial wealth, was held by the top 1%, as illustrated (below) by G. William Domhoff.





The contrast in wealth distribution between 1979 and 2007 is illustrated here by Domhoff:



Even after taxes, the share of the nation's income held by the top 1% more than doubled during this period, from 7.1% to 17.5%, as illustrated by the chart (below) from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, from Congressional Budget Office data:






Beck, like most on the right, would have us believe, "there will always be rich and there will always be poor." Yet, the distribution may vary widely over time. Although by 2007 only 65.4% of the nation's wealth was held by the bottom 90% of the population and 34.6% by the top 1%, in 1979 the corresponding figures had been 75.5% and 20.5%. And there really was a Reagan revolution: in merely ten years, in 1989, the numbers for the bottom 90% had declined to 64.3% while the percentage for the top 1% had risen to 35.7%. The war on the middle class was well under way with Ronald Reagan as its General. No wonder, then, that FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey would be aroused by dreaming "I always thought I'd only get one Ronald Reagan in my lifetime."


In April, 2008 The New York Times reported of the decline of the middle class:

The high point came in the 1970s, just as the United States was beginning to lose its controlling grip on the economies of the non-Communist world. Since then the percentage of people earning at least $20 an hour has eroded in every sector of the economy, falling last year to 18 percent of all hourly workers from 23 percent in 1979 — a gradual unwinding of the post-World War II gains.

That's a significant decline- from 23% to 18%- in the percentage of all hourly workers earning at least $20 an hour and came prior to the recent, devastating recession brought about by Wall Street. Wages, already plummeting in the U.S.A., likely have continued to drop while there are 4.7 workers for every job opening (chart below, also from CBPP, claims 5.0). When Glenn Beck and his ideological allies draw attention to the decline in wages or the share of wealth held by the middle class, they may have standing to whine about class warfare. Not before then.









Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pointing Us In The Right Direction


Bill Maher was on to something.

Following the President's State of the Union address on Tuesday, Bill Maher was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer. His nuggets of wisdom, included in the following portions of the discussion (video and text from Crooks and Liars):

BLITZER: I'm told, Bill, that the president of the United States has decided, despite what happened in Tucson, he will not specifically talk about guns in his speech tonight. He's going to do that down the road in a future speech in a few weeks. But, tonight, the word gun is not going to be there. You think that's a mistake, don't you?

MAHER: Oh, I do. That's a real shame.

And it's always down the road. And it's always finding common ground with this president. And that common ground always seems to be the ground where the Republicans are already standing on. So, no, that's a real shame, because this was again an opportunity, similar to the opportunity Ronald Reagan had in 1981, when he was shot.

At a moment like that, maybe people would be willing to go along with a -- sort of a different point of view. Even Dick Cheney said that. Dick Cheney seems to be to the left of Barack Obama on the gun issue. So, I guess it's true. He has moved to the center.

*****************************************************************************

BLITZER: Well, and it's helping him in the polls. There's no doubt about that. You can see, in our most recent job approval number, 55 percent. It was in the 40s, low 40s, not that long ago. So this move to the center, it certainly seems to be helping him with the American public.

MAHER: Well, we don't know what's helping him. Maybe it's the fact that there was a tragedy. People tend to rally around the president when there's any sort of a tragedy.

Remember, after 9/11, Bush's approval rating was 90 percent or something. I don't think that was because he got a lot smarter after we were attacked.

Maybe it's because -- Obama's popularity hiked because people have now seen the opposition. They got a good look at Boehner. Maybe they don't like that. Maybe people don't like someone who cries at the drop of a hat. People don't like a crier, Wolf.

*****************************************************************************

BLITZER: He's an emotional guy, John Boehner. You know, he's got -- he's got an incredible story. When you think about it, he was one of, what, ten kids growing up. His father had a little bar. They had a small House, one bathroom. And look, he's now the speaker of the House, second in line after the vice president to the presidency. So it's -- he's got an amazing story. And I can understand why he gets emotional.

MAHER: Wolf, first of all, get over it. That was a long time ago. It's America. Yes, we understand. People can rise up from places of humble beginnings and make something great of themselves. Most of that is anecdotal. Statistically, people don't do that any more.

America is not, I don't think, even in the top ten or maybe we're tenth in social mobility. Social mobility means the ability of one generation to do a little better than the generation that proceeded them, that spawned them. That used to be known as the American dream. That is the American dream. But we're like tenth in the American dream.


****************************************************************************

BLITZER: The fact that they got -- they're going to be sitting Democrat and Republican together tonight, date night on Capitol Hill. Is that good or bad?

MAHER: Oh, I think it's going to solve all our problems, Wolf. Yes. When a madman kills people at the Safeway, the problem isn't guns or nuts. It's that we haven't been polite enough to each other.

Yes, if Barney Frank and Rand Paul are sharing an armrest, I expect all our problems to go away.

You know, of course, as always -- as always, Wolf, it's symbolism. That's all we know how to do. We don't know how to actually solve problems anymore. We just know how to attack it symbolically.

And also, I don't even think it's helpful on that level, because it's actually good to see the parties sitting apart from each other. Because then you see which one cheers or which one sits on their hands according to what the president says, and you get a real feeling for how they feel about him.

The irony- or disgrace- of Barack Obama publicly less sympathetic than Dick Cheney to gun control; people liking a President at the time of tragedy, and this President because of the abysmal quality of the opposition; Boehner's story increasingly atypical in an America with declining social mobility; "date night" as mere symbolism, and counter-productive at that. That's four-for-four, a good night even for Bill Maher.

Maher was wrong- briefly- when asked about the response to Obama Tuesday night by Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN.), Maher responded "I don't understand the decision by CNN to air it."

Pretty gutsy of Maher, criticizing CNN on CNN. But it was news, even if its sponsor, the Tea Party Express, is an astroturf operation. Better to have aired Bachmann's statement and explained that the Tea Party Express is headed by a GOP consulting firm of questionable ethics. But then, of course, CNN would have had to explain why it has agreed to co-sponsor with this Republican front group a GOP presidential primary debate.

And if the network had done so, the audience would have recognized that Maher was merely stating the obvious when he added

I mean, the Tea Party is the Republican Party. It's just a rebranding.

The Republican Party realized a couple of years ago they were very unpopular with the American public, possibly because all of their ideas had been miserable failures over the last 10, 20, 30 years. So they rebranded as the Tea Party.

Why don't you give equal time to the Democratic response, and then have Representative Anthony Weiner, who's from the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, why doesn't he get some -- some air time?

As far as is known, CNN did not give air time to someone "from the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party" because no one from the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party stepped out and requested the opportunity. And a great opportunity that would have been, presumably to suggest to the American people that there is an alternative to the corporate world view embraced by the Repub Party and encouraged by President Obama.

That response might question the impact of trade deals on employment of Americans during an economic downturn, lowering of the corporate tax rate, or the President's boast that he has "ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them." It might include the ideas of longtime consumer advocate Joan Claybrook, who on Tuesday on "Democracy Now!" explained that President Obama

has issued an edict that says that every government agency ought cut some regulations. Now, we’re not talking about some obscure thing. We’re talking about the environment, global warming, health, safety, pharmaceutical issues, auto safety, truck safety—all these issues that matter every day to Americans. And what that sends is a message. It sends a message to the civil servants who sweat to try and get these issues dealt with and to protect the American public that their president isn’t going to support them if they get into a controversial issue. And every regulation, almost, is controversial, because somebody doesn’t want it, particularly Big Business. And it sends a message to the business interests that they can go with impunity and oppose these regulatory programs, and they know that the President is probably going to clamp down on the people who are issuing the rules.

It need not have been a Democratic officeholder, who might fear retribution from the Obamites. Perhaps a widely-read and extraordinary blogger, David Sirota or one of many others, could have given a response to the neo-liberal vision of the President and the more gruesome one set out by Ryan/Bachmann. It would have been especially valuable, given that challenging Obama for the nomination in 2012 will not happen and could not succeed. Ours is, though, a President who responds happily to pressure and notifying the nation's voters that there is a Democratic opinion which contrasts with the center-right and far right viewpoints would have had a salutary effect on their outlook.









Be Wary


There was ample reason to believe, a few weeks ago, that President Obama intended to endorse, during his upcoming State of the Union message, a proposal to raise gradually the eligibility age for Social Security, alter the formula for determining the cost-of-living increase, or some other idea for reducing benefits. Privatization, however, would be, in media-speak, off-the-table. Or a non-starter.

Outrage by the left blogosphere apparently steered the President away from recommending any changes to undermine the system. Instead, Obama stated (transcript here)

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. (Applause.) We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans' guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market. (Applause.)

On Wednesday morning, White House adviser David Axelrod met with, as attendee Dave Bowers of Daily Kos termed it, "new media types representing center-left organizations" to address their concerns about the President's speech of the previous evening.

The first two questions pertained to Social Security, with Bowers coming to a few conclusions following Axelrod's response. He is convinced that the Administration is opposed to privatization, a conclusion easily reached by Obama's condemnation of "subjecting Americans ' guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market." But we already knew that; surrogate after surrogate has appeared the last few months on cable television and, when asked about cuts to Social Security, eagerly criticize privatization. It is only one concession, but a crucial one.

Nonetheless, as Bowers notes, "The Obama administration is not willing to repudiate the “crisis” narrative surrounding Social Security that dominates the national political media." The President raised the topic of SS in the context of the "the bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year," whose charge was to chart a strategy to reduce the national debt. And after the applause at the tail end of his remarks about SS, Obama followed with "and if we truly care about the deficit...." Contrary to the GOP talking point- which the mainstream media rarely disputes- Social Security does not contribute a dollar to the deficit. Or a dime Or a penny. Tuesday night, the President did nothing- nothing- to disabuse the nation of the notion there is a connection between the two.

From the press briefing, Bowers concludes also "President Obama strikes generally strong notes in defense of Social Security when it comes to other possible ways to cut the program." That is reassuring, in that the remarks of the President himself would indicate otherwise; or not reassuring, if one suspects that the bloggers were snookered.

Tuesday, the President urged we "find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations." There are two ways to "strengthen" Social Security: a) benefit cuts, which are usually the intent of those using the term "strengthen" in regard to SS; or b) raising additional revenue, such as by increasing the rate or, in what would be a more progressive and likely approach, raising the cap on Social Security donations. That would, however, be a tax and therefore resistant to a "bipartisan solution," given the GOP's opposition to anything which can be labeled a tax increase.

The President cautioned against a solution "putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities...." No, "current retirees" are not at risk; even most Republicans clearly are aware of the political backlash which would ensue if benefits were cut for current retirees, who know how valuable and sound the Social Security system. Younger people, however, have been fed the line that Social Security is at risk, will become insolvent, or that it will not be there for them when they get older. They can be cut, as the President implied.

Furthermore, President Obama ruled out "slashing venefits for future generations." "Slashing benefits" will not be tolerated. Cutting benefits apparently will.

No 'splitting hair' here and no trite "depends upon what the meaning of "is" is. Instead, this is a tiny bit of the famous interview of President Bill Clinton with PBS' Bill Lehrer on January 21, 1998:

JIM LEHRER: You had no sexual relationship with this young woman?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: There is not a sexual relationship. That is accurate.


In fact, that was accurate. There was at that time no sexual relationship; it already had taken place, and ended. President Obama has learned the fine, and complex, art of triangulation from President Clinton. Likely, he has learned also the fine art of very carefully calibrating his language and words, now to obscure his interest in reducing the benefits an individual several years from now will receive from the Social Security system.




Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Getting Spending Right- Or Wrong- Or Both


Blogging last night at 10:23 p.m., Paul Krugman observed of President Obama's State of the Union address (transcript here):

So, I’ve read the text, and find it hard to extract any theme. We’re going to invest in the future — but we’re also going to freeze domestic spending. So mixed signals —

The speech was nothing if not one of mixed signals- which might not be bad, given consistency as allegedly the hobglobin of small minds. The address was, further, one that was mixed and a little confusing viewed in light of Krugman's economic analysis in the pages of The New York Times a year ago. Since then, most indicators are up but unemployment remains dangerously high at 9.4%, not unlike the expectation of Krugman, who supported the stimulus but prophetically suggested it would prove to be inadequate. The Nobel Prize-winning economist explained:

Let’s talk for a moment about budget reality. Contrary to what you often hear, the large deficit the federal government is running right now isn’t the result of runaway spending growth. Instead, well more than half of the deficit was caused by the ongoing economic crisis, which has led to a plunge in tax receipts, required federal bailouts of financial institutions, and been met — appropriately — with temporary measures to stimulate growth and support employment.

The point is that running big deficits in the face of the worst economic slump since the 1930s is actually the right thing to do. If anything, deficits should be bigger than they are because the government should be doing more than it is to create jobs.

True, there is a longer-term budget problem. Even a full economic recovery wouldn’t balance the budget, and it probably wouldn’t even reduce the deficit to a permanently sustainable level. So once the economic crisis is past, the U.S. government will have to increase its revenue and control its costs. And in the long run there’s no way to make the budget math work unless something is done about health care costs.

But there’s no reason to panic about budget prospects for the next few years, or even for the next decade.

Arguably, President Obama understands nothing better, and emphasizes nothing so much, as the contribution of health care costs to the nation's long-term debt. Last night he argued that "to tackle our deficit" involves

further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit. The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit. Still, I'm willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs....

But Krugman noted also

running big deficits in the face of the worst economic slump since the 1930s is actually the right thing to do. If anything, deficits should be bigger than they are because the government should be doing more than it is to create jobs.

True, there is a longer-term budget problem.


Unfortunately, Obama in his address suggested going in precisely the opposite direction. He promised "painful cuts" because he is "proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years" (which) "would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President." Nonetheless, the President added

Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like tightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you feel the impact."

It's not clear at all that Obama's "investments" in either "innovation and education" are of the sort that would create a significant number of jobs in the short term. It sounds, at least, like an increase in spending in the long-term; and given that much of that spending is likely to occur after the nation pulls itself out of the economic slump, the impact on job creation is questionable. Spending on innovation and education probably is a wise policy choice, adding to the cultural and economic vitality of the U.S.A. in the long-run. But as the engine for short-term economic growth, its value is likely to be limited while it increases future debt.

As politics, it works. Conservatives hear "reduce the deficit, "freeze annual domestic spending," and "painful cuts" and it sets their hearts atwitter. Liberals hear "investments" and "education" and "children" and think that the Barack Obama they worked, and voted, for, lives. The hope here, though against most available evidence, is that President Obama understands the need for short-term spending that boosts employment and the need to address the deficit once the nation pulls itself out of this economic mess created by Wall Street.




No Dwelling On The Present


In retrospect (with 20/20 vision, anything is possible), it should have been expected. Four hours before the President began to deliver his State of the Union message (transcript here), Chris Matthews stated

The administration`s focus will be on the economy, and on job creation, both public and private investment. The president will encourage Congress to make decisions that reflect what he calls "smart spending" -- spending that will produce jobs and greater economic growth in the future.

Well, no and yes.

The President certainly did obsess talk about the future. In only the first few minutes, he referred at least four times to 'the future':

.... but to win the future, we'll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.

As Robert Kennedy told us, "the future is not a gift, it is an achievement. Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

But if we want to win the future- if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas- then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.

And what better way to emphasize the future than to talk about education- which produces dividends in the future? So we learned about our nation's new role models, such that "nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in a new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science." Nevertheless, the President commented "our students don't just memorize equations, but answer questions like "what do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?"

The incongruity of youngsters being asked about changing the world in a math or science class (memorizing equations) didn't stop the President from spending 6-8 paragraphs pimping his wrongheaded Race to the Top program. Even then, Obama looked ahead, apparently concluding this theme by maintaining

If we take these steps- if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education.... by the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Applause! Applause! But he was not done, continuing "one last point about education."

The emphasis on education was part of the larger focus on the future. The President boasted that China and India are "investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became the home to the world's largest private solar research facility, and the world's fastest computer." "We need," Obama emphasized, "to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world." (Math and science, necessary; English, optional. We can "out" out anything.) And "the first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation," recognizing "our free enterprise system is what drives innovation." Further, "if we want to win the future- if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas- then we also have to win the race to educate our kids."

The emphasis on education, innovation- and technology, which is of a piece with the other two- fit in neatly with the President's focus on the future, even if it led him to curious free association about the old Soviet Union:

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn't even there yet. NASA didn't exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation's Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -- (applause) -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Matthews assured viewers the President would "focus" on "creation" and Obama did contend

Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans' paychecks are a little bigger today. Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year. And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.

Even there- in the one reference made by the President to creating jobs now- Obama applauded an initiative which he already has taken, neglecting to propose anything which would help individuals currently unemployed. The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman notes

And he cleverly laid down economic-development goals--targets for electric cars, clean-energy use, new teachers and test proficiency--that won't have to be met until a second term, if he gets one.

Hardly surprising, then, that the GOP has little to criticize in the President's speech while the mainstream media is generally laudatory. Education, innovation, research and technology entail long-term investments- not short-term spending which, as students of basic macroeconomics learn on Day 1, is critical to recovery from a recession. Republicans, who in times of inflation were complacent about deficits (Dick Cheney: "Reagan proved deficits don't matter") now are exorcised about spending when long-term interest rates and inflation still are relatively low. Further, who could be against education, innovation, research and technology? Probably not even Scrooge, especially with the recent cut in income taxes, which suggests that education, innovation, research and technology will not be paid for. Who is going to turn down a free lunch?

In the face of tight credit and 9.4% unemployment, the President's focus was not on the present but on the future. Stay positive, guy. Already, as Obama showers billionaires with tax cuts, no Republican dares call him a "tax and spend Democrat." Now, focused virtually entirely on the future, practically denying the unpleasant present, no Republican can call him a "gloom and doom Democrat."

Gerald Ford was slammed as saying of New York, "Ford to City: Drop Dead," which was an interpretation of a policy proposal. But with Barack Obama's good luck (a radicalized opposition party and a subservient Democratic Party), he won't have to face a similar observation: "Obama to the Unemployed: Drop Dead."





Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Intended Or Not, Pretty Slick


There will be two far-right responses to President's State of the Union address tonight. One is the official, GOP-sanctioned reply offered by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI). The other is from Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and is pre-recorded, broadcast through the Tea Party Express website (though CNN now has announced it will telecast the address.)

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), in her 7,986th appearance of the past year on MSNBC, stated

I’ve never seen, in the 20 years I’ve been involved in the political process, that there has been more than one response to either side’s presidential State of the Union address. We have differing opinions in the Democratic Party, but we don’t have a Blue Dog response. We don’t have a progressive response. We have the State of the Union, and then we have the Democratic response when there’s a Republican president. So I think it shows the deep divisions that exist and that the Republicans are really not able to be on the same page, and it’s shades of things to come as they move forward.

We have differing opinions in the Democratic Party, but we don’t have a Blue Dog response. We don’t have a progressive response. We have the State of the Union, and then we have the Democratic response when there’s a Republican president.

That's undeniably true- but beside the point. The State of the Union address tonight is being delivered by a President who has compromised with Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats the past two years and who thus is presiding over a country with an official employment rate over 9% and an unofficial, real unemployment rate far closer to 15%. And tonight will promise to be civil and compromise with those same Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats.

Bachmann, meanwhile, is on to something. And so is the GOP. The Minnesota congresswoman, contemplating a presidential run, presumably is motivated primarily by self-interest. But her ideological agenda, as well as that of her party, is well-served by issuance of a response even further right than the official tale to be spun by Ryan. It will move the political discussion even further to the right, no matter how difficult that is to imagine. It will allow President Obama to capitulate to negotiate with the GOP and receive plaudits from the mainstream media, which will gladly, and smugly, interpret it as a move to the center, bipartisanship, and a valiant effort to promote civility. Democrats in Congress, of course, will be further isolated, the "bad cop" in Obama's "good cop, bad cop" strategy.

This will improve the bargaining position of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), who appears ready to benefit from an implicit, de facto "good cop, bad cop" thing with Bachmann. Think Progress reports:

But at a breakfast event hosted by Politico’s Mike Allen this morning in D.C., which ThinkProgress attended, McConnell expressed a vision of cooperation that looks more like capitulation. McConnell said he is willing to work with Obama, as long as the president “is willing to do what I and my members would do anyway”:

MCCONNELL: If the president is willing to do what I and my members would do anyway, we’re not going to say no and –

ALLEN: But that’s not much of a concession. That’s not bargaining, to just give you what you want.

MCCONNELL: Um, I like to think I’m a pretty good negotiator.

The GOP to the President: agree with us, and we'll get along just fine. The President's response? tonight, 9:00 EST.



Different Styles, Different Sensibilities


On January 19, 2010 Representative Steve Cohen (D-Tenn), as heard on Rush Limbaugh's program, overreached on the floor of the U.S. House, asserting of the far-right:

They don't like the truth so they summarily dismiss it. They say it's a government takeover of healthcare. A big lie just like Goebbels. You say it enough and you repeat the lie, repeat the lie, repeat the lie until eventually people believe it. Like blood libel, that's the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it, and you have the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again.

Limbaugh justifiably criticized Cohen's remarks but unfortunately did so by comparing Democrats- mainstream Democrats, including two centrists- to the Third Reich's Minister of Propaganda:

It's parallel universe, alternative universe time. (sigh) We could point out countless Democrats who have perfected Goebbels. Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton could probably teach a course. Harry Reid.

But that wasn't the end of it. A few moments later, Limbaugh would skirt along the edges of anti-Semitism (never quite getting there) while plunging wholeheartedly into victimhood:

If you're gonna make a comparison with Nazi Germany, isn't it clear who the new Jews are? It sure as hell isn't the Democrats. Who are the new Jews, Congressman Cohen? It's not the Democrats. It's the Tea Party. Tea Party.

But it didn't stop even there. Today, Limbaugh told his vast audience

So we've got this guy Steve Cohen, and the media acts somewhat amused, and you have Sheriff Dipstick, and they act amused and then they're laudatory, Sheriff Dipstick and Steve Cohen, they're not backing down. When's the last time I was ever applauded for my courage in sticking to my guns? It doesn't happen.

I don't know who in the media is "somewhat amused" but if Rush doesn't make something up, he's not happy. And if he whips out his victim card by wailing "when's the last time I was ever applauded for courage in sticking to my guns?" it is standard fare for the right. Even $50 million a year doesn't protect from the sufferings of Job a man who courageously beats the drum for tax cuts for the wealthy.

But.... they're not backing down?

Asked by Ed Schultz on January 20 if he were sorry he "made the connection" between the Holocaust and vehement critics of the Affordable Care Act, Cohen replied "I definitely I am. And I`m sorry that any Jewish people, my Republican colleagues, or anybody got the wrong impression."

Asked if he would "say that you would not use that term again," Cohen responded, without qualification, "Never." Responding to the next question, the Democrat added "No. Well, I`m not going to do it again. I`ve learned my lesson."

And Rush Limbaugh says "they're not backing down." But this isn't about Rush Limbaugh- this is about liberal Democrats (such as Cohen) and conservative Republicans.

As recently as 1996, radical anti-abortion rights activist Randall Terry ran as a Republican for the Florida state senate. Now he is applying his obsession with abortion to a race for the Democratic nomination for President, announcing his candidacy outside of the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. Terry declared

We will run ads on the Super Bowl 2012 that show dead babies," he began, "the victims of abortion. We will, with the help of God, bring America face to face with the victims of Obama's policies. This campaign is about human rights, ladies and gentlemen.

"It will be first and foremost about the human rights of babies that are being brutally slaughtered and thrown in dumpsters and landfills. But it is also about the human rights of the slave labor force on Obama's plantation.

"We have a federal plantation - there's always work, there's always have a roof over your head as long as you'll be faithful to stay on the plantation. Well, there's a lot of slave laborers, myself included, that would like real freedom again.

"We will also focus on President Obama's foreign policy....

Pro-life activists frequently have claimed a parallel between the Holocaust and abortion. Roughly six million people murdered in an effort to rid Europe of a group of people erroneously considered a race by evil, genocidal maniacs heading an authoritarian state. Versus a controversial medical procedure willingly selected by individuals (pregnant women) of a free society and democratic republic.

Steve Cohen apologized; pro-life extremists invoking the Holocaust do not. We are waiting, but not holding our breath.



Of Two GOP Politicians


It's easy to be a bully, picking on the weak and powerless. Just ask Governor Chris Christie, running down teachers and other public employees, pandering to the extreme wing of his extreme party, and running out on New Jersey, apparently because his wife wanted to spend some time in Disney World.

But Justices of the United States Supreme Court? The Supreme Court is not only the highest court in the land, but virtually invulnerable, determining its own rules. Nobody, but nobody is the boss of the Supreme Court.

And so Politico informs us that

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has amended 13 years’ worth of disclosure reports to include details of wife Virginia Thomas’s sources of income, documents released on Monday show.

The documents indicate that Thomas’s wife, who goes by Ginni, had worked for Hillsdale College in Michigan, the Heritage Foundation and the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, among other entities.

Like all federal judges, Thomas must file annual disclosure reports on his personal finances, but he had omitted details of his wife’s earnings in what he wrote was a “misunderstanding of the filing instructions.” He also had checked a box marking no spousal income.

Thomas did not include in his new submissions any information about Ginni’s work for Liberty Central, a tea-party-affiliated group. The group’s 2009 990 tax form did not include any payments to her and she stepped down from her official role with the group in November.

Last week, watchdog group Common Cause reported that none of the nearly $690,000 the Heritage Foundation said it had paid Ginni Thomas between 2003 and 2007 had been reported on Justice Thomas’s annual financial disclosure forms.

One wonders: does the federal employee, whose pay President Obama and most congressional Republicans want frozen, hide the income of his or her spouse? Is the rare federal employee whose spouse has earned well over $100,000 per year, as Mrs. Thomas normally did, blissfully unaware?

Let's not, however, be exorcised about an Associate Justice hiding his wife's income from the Internal Revenue Service. It is an oversight, or omission, typical of that made by many Americans intent on lowering their taxable income, law be damned. Maybe you, too, forgot to mention your spouse's income of 2009 and are reading this from the federal penitentiary.

Perhaps Justice Thomas found it all too convenient to forget to remember his wife's work for the Heritage Foundation because, as Think Progress has found

In 2009, while the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the Citizens United case, Justice Thomas was featured at the annual fundraiser for the Heritage Foundation — and sat at a table for donors with investment banker Thomas Saunders and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC).

Anyone can make a mistake, though when Justice Thomas forgot to recuse himself from the Citizens United case (in which he voted on behalf of Citizens United and direct corporate funding of political campaigns), the mistake might appear to be quite deliberate. That is nearly as likely as it is reprehensible given, as Think Progress notes, Justice Thomas has appeared as a speaker at meetings held by corporate billionaire and oil tycoon Charles Koch, who in 2006

revealed to the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore that he coordinates the funding of the conservative infrastructure of front groups, political campaigns, think tanks, media outlets and other anti-government efforts through a twice annual meeting of wealthy right-wing donors. He also confided to Moore, who is funded through several of Koch’s ventures, that his true goal is to strengthen the “culture of prosperity” by eliminating “90%” of all laws and government regulations. Although it is difficult to quantify the exact amount Koch alone has funneled to right-wing fronts, some studies have pointed toward $50 million he has given alone to anti-environmental groups. Recently, fronts funded by Charles and his brother David have received scrutiny because they have played a pivotal role in the organizing of the anti-Obama Tea Parties and the promotion of virulent far right lawmakers like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). (David Koch praised DeMint and gave him a “Washington Award” shortly after the senator promised to “break” Obama by making health reform his “Waterloo.”)

But, then, Justice Thomas is not alone in actively fostering the corporate agenda, with Justice Antonin Scalia also having been a speaker at Koch events. Sure, asssisting a political fundraising event would be a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, if the Supreme Court had not exempted it and its employees from the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees.

That is especially convenient for Antonin Scalia, who now is addressing the Tea Party Caucus's first "Conservative Constitutional Seminar" event. It is open to the public, but closed to the media and there will be no official record of the event, demonstrating the commitment of the Republican ultra-right to transparency. And it is organized by Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), who is threatening to run for the GOP presidential nomination and is one of 63 House members to have filed a brief in support of the lawsuit by more than two dozen states challenging the Affordable Care Act. That likely to reach the Supreme Court and Justice Scalia is demonstrating his allegiance to judicial ethics by palling around with Bachmann.

The actions of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas may feature a splendid commingling of conflict of interest, greed, corporate power, and the appearance of corruption. (Common Cause petition, pertaining to Citizens United, here.) But they tell us nothing further about the commitment of either judge to GOP politics. Cenk Uygur, MSNBC host in the hour previously occupied by Ed Schultz, last night reminded us of Bush v. Gore, in which both Justices voted to stop counting election ballots. Barely suppressing a nod and a wink, Scalia assured the nation and its legal community that the decision never would be used as precedent. ("Hey, I know the ruling stinks, but five of us want a Republican President.") If anyone were concerned about the objectivity of these guys, Uygur noted, "that ship sailed a long time ago."




Joe Lieberman As Himself

When Joseph Lieberman, faced with near-certain defeat, announced last week he would not be running for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2012, several Democrats were effusive in their praise of the Connecticut senator. Very generous they, applauding the guy who lost the Democratic primary in 2006 and went on, with support from virtually the entire state GOP establishment, to defeat the Democratic nominee.

The New York Times' David Brooks reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote him an e-mail: "He was an integral part of the Democratic caucus and his dedication to public service, ability to work across the aisle and broad range of experience will be missed." Brooks received also an e-mail from Vice President Biden, who wrote "The Senate will not be the same without Joe’s leadership and powerful intellect. But it is his civility that will be missed the most." And Senator John Kerry said "He’s defined himself by his conscience and beliefs.”

There was no indication whether the "civility" Biden cited included Lieberman's lecture of Iraq war critics in December, 2005. Nearly accusing members of his own party of treason, he declared "It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril."

Whatever "conscience" John Kerry was referring to on Lieberman's part seems to have evaporated by the time the Senator had this transaction (video below; transcript from The Huffington Post) with Arianna Huffington on Thursday's Morning Joe:

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: It was stunning to hear you say that there was evidence that Saddam Hussein was working on weapons of mass destruction, given that even President Bush himself has now accepted that there had been no evidence. So on what basis are you saying that?

JOE LIEBERMAN: I'm basing it on the so-called Duelfer Report. Charles D-U-E-L-F-E-R conducted the most comprehensive report on behalf of our government. And it was, nobody thought it was partisan. I want to be very clear: he didn't find big caches of weapons of mass destruction. But he found, and proved I think, that Saddam had every intention, and particularly to develop nuclear weapons, was developing chemical and biological weapons, and had a structure in place including nuclear scientists that he was prepared to support if he broke out of the sanctions, which he was inclined to do. So I think that the evidence is clear that if we did not do what we did that Saddam Hussein would today have at least chemical and biological weapons and have a nuclear program probably like Iran's beginning to move toward capabilities, and that the entire world would be a much less...

HUFFINGTON: Well, based on this completely unfounded assumption, I sincerely hope for the sake of the country that you do not become Secretary of Defense.

LIEBERMAN: Now Arianna, these are not unfounded. Go read the Duelfer Report.

HUFFINGTON: There is nothing in the report that proves anything that you have said.

Lieberman would follow with "I don't think you've read it, sweetheart." Don't seat the condescension- no one has ever accused Joe Lieberman of being insufficiently sanctimonious. Nevertheless, there remains the substance of the Senator's claim that Hussein

was developing chemical and biological weapons, and had a structure in place including nuclear scientists that he was prepared to support if he broke out of the sanctions, which he was inclined to do. So I think that the evidence is clear that if we did not do what we did that Saddam Hussein would today have at least chemical and biological weapons and have a nuclear program probably like Iran's beginning to move toward capabilities....

Let's go to the Washington Post article of 10/7/04, in which Dana Priest and Walter Pincus explain

The 1991 Persian Gulf War and subsequent U.N. inspections destroyed Iraq's illicit weapons capability and, for the most part, Saddam Hussein did not try to rebuild it, according to an extensive report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq that contradicts nearly every prewar assertion made by top administration officials about Iraq.

Charles A. Duelfer, whom the Bush administration chose to complete the U.S. investigation of Iraq's weapons programs, said Hussein's ability to produce nuclear weapons had "progressively decayed" since 1991. Inspectors, he said, found no evidence of "concerted efforts to restart the program."

The findings were similar on biological and chemical weapons. While Hussein had long dreamed of developing an arsenal of biological agents, his stockpiles had been destroyed and research stopped years before the United States led the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Duelfer said Hussein hoped someday to resume a chemical weapons effort after U.N. sanctions ended, but had no stocks and had not researched making the weapons for a dozen years....

Hussein, the report concluded, "aspired to develop a nuclear capability" and intended to work on rebuilding chemical and biological weapons after persuading the United Nations to lift sanctions. But the report also notes: "The former regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions. Neither was there an identifiable group of WMD policy makers or planners separate from Saddam" tasked to take this up once sanctions ended.

Having announced his eventual departure from the Senate, Lieberman could have suggested he had reconsidered his support for the U.S. adventure in Iraq. Or merely that events since The Awakening had resulted in an Iraq creeping toward democracy and political stability. He could have demonstrated a little of that vaunted "conscience," honesty, or humility. But that would have been out of character and Joe Lieberman, to whom his former party has pandered for over four years, had no reason to display class which consistently has eluded him.










Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mere Coincidence


Good news- the FBI has made some progress in investigating the latest incident of right-wing violence, in Spokane, Washington, which we're not allowed to say is political. The News Tribune of Tacoma reported earlier today:

Federal investigators indicated Friday that they have made progress in their efforts to identify the person or persons who left a bomb Monday along the planned route of the Martin Luther King Jr. march.

“We’ve obtained quite a bit of clarity” as to the identity of those believed to be responsible, said Frank Har-rill, special agent in charge of the Spokane office of the FBI. “But we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”


We're to believe this and other incidents are isolated. Helpfully, Digby ticks off such random, isolated, and apolitical acts:

-- July 2008: A gunman named Jim David Adkisson, agitated at how "liberals" are "destroying America," walks into a Unitarian Church and opens fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others.

-- October 2008: Two neo-Nazis are arrested in Tennessee in a plot to murder dozens of African-Americans, culminating in the assassination of President Obama.

-- December 2008: A pair of "Patriot" movement radicals -- the father-son team of Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, who wanted "to attack the political infrastructure" -- threaten a bank in Woodburn, Oregon, with a bomb in the hopes of extorting money that would end their financial difficulties, for which they blamed the government. Instead, the bomb goes off and kills two police officers. The men eventually are convicted and sentenced to death for the crime.

-- December 2008: In Belfast, Maine, police discover the makings of a nuclear "dirty bomb" in the basement of a white supremacist shot dead by his wife. The man, who was independently wealthy, reportedly was agitated about the election of President Obama and was crafting a plan to set off the bomb.

-- January 2009: A white supremacist named Keith Luke embarks on a killing rampage in Brockton, Mass., raping and wounding a black woman and killing her sister, then killing a homeless man before being captured by police as he is en route to a Jewish community center.

-- February 2009: A Marine named Kody Brittingham is arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Obama. Brittingham also collected white-supremacist material.

-- April 2009: A white supremacist named Richard Poplawski opens fire on three Pittsburgh police officers who come to his house on a domestic-violence call and kills all three, because he believed President Obama intended to take away the guns of white citizens like himself. Poplawski is currently awaiting trial.

-- April 2009: Another gunman in Okaloosa County, Florida, similarly fearful of Obama's purported gun-grabbing plans, kills two deputies when they come to arrest him in a domestic-violence matter, then is killed himself in a shootout with police.

-- May 2009: A "sovereign citizen" named Scott Roeder walks into a church in Wichita, Kansas, and assassinates abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.

-- June 2009: A Holocaust denier and right-wing tax protester named James Von Brunn opens fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard.

-- February 2010: An angry tax protester named Joseph Ray Stack flies an airplane into the building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas. (Media are reluctant to label this one "domestic terrorism" too.)

-- March 2010: Seven militiamen from the Hutaree Militia in Michigan and Ohio are arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate local police officers with the intent of sparking a new civil war.

-- March 2010: An anti-government extremist named John Patrick Bedell walks into the Pentagon and opens fire, wounding two officers before he is himself shot dead.

-- May 2010: A "sovereign citizen" from Georgia is arrested in Tennessee and charged with plotting the violent takeover of a local county courthouse.

-- May 2010: A still-unidentified white man walks into a Jacksonville, Fla., mosque and sets it afire, simultaneously setting off a pipe bomb.

-- May 2010: Two "sovereign citizens" named Jerry and Joe Kane gun down two police officers who pull them over for a traffic violation, and then wound two more officers in a shootout in which both of them are eventually killed.

-- July 2010: An agitated right-winger and convict named Byron Williams loads up on weapons and drives to the Bay Area intent on attacking the offices of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, but is intercepted by state patrolmen and engages them in a shootout and armed standoff in which two officers and Williams are wounded.

-- September 2010: A Concord, N.C., man is arrested and charged with plotting to blow up a North Carolina abortion clinic. The man, 26-year--old Justin Carl Moose, referred to himself as the "Christian counterpart to (Osama) bin Laden” in a taped undercover meeting with a federal informant.

Each crime, domestic terrorism, or not, is different, carrying with it its own perpetrators, methods, and motivation. Still, questions need to be asked by a mainstream media too anxious to assume such incidents are completely unrelated to the political climate or to political ideology. Of Tucson, Michael Kinsley noted

Even more remarkably, in the past week, the question of whether a carefully planned assassination attempt on a member of the United States Congress might have had anything to do with politics has been mocked into oblivion. Well, let’s see. The dominant theme of Loughner’s ravings was suspicion of the government. He apparently didn’t believe in paper money and thought only gold has value. He believed the government was responsible for Sept. 11. And so on. This is not a random collection of nutty opinions. There is a theme to it, and it is not simply that the guy was crazy.

Meanwhile, our President, in his impressive speech at the memorial service in Tucson, warned the American people against "pointing fingers or assigning blame." No worry there- the mainstream media has practically ignored the bomb planted alongside the route of Spokane's Martin Luther King parade. Move along, folks- nothing to see here.





Here's.... Glenn!

It's hard to know where to begin with Glenn Beck.

Maybe we start with the racial arrow directed against the President of the United States. On July 28, 2009 he infamously remarked on" Fox and Friends"

This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don't know what it is, but you can't sit in a pew with Jeremiah Wright for twenty years and not hear some of that stuff, and not have it wash over.....

I'm not saying that he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem. He has a -- this guy is, I believe, a racist. Look at the things that he has been surrounded by.


On his own program the next day, he reiterated "And that is that I said yesterday on Fox & Friends, 'I think the president is a racist. I think he has race issues. Don't know if he hates white people, but there's something going on with the president.' Well, I stand by that...." Interviewed by CBS News' Katie Couric on September 22, Beck labeled his initial assertion "a serious question that I think needs serious discussion."

But this series of remarks probably was harmless. On his show of January 14, 2011 ticked off the names of nine individuals, according to Media Matters for America, whom he contended are employing propaganda to manipulate the masses and control their choices. He fingered the labor leader Richard Trumka and these others, as described thusly by Media Matters:

•Propagandist and ad man Edward Bernays, who revolutionized 20th century public relations.

•Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, who was Bernays' uncle and influenced his method.

•George Soros, who Beck claimed shared Freud and Bernays' philosophy that people are "animals" who can be "experimented with."

•Cass Sunstein, who Beck insisted "is Edward Bernays" and has called "the most dangerous man in America."

•Former SEIU president Andy Stern, who Beck said is part of a self-proclaimed "intelligent minority" of powerful men trying to manipulate the "bewildered herd" of America.

•Walter Lippman, a prominent columnist of the mid-20th century, who Beck accused of viewing government "as a way to control people."

•Frances Fox Piven, professor at CUNY, who Beck accused of "sowing the seeds" of revolution.

•Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania, who Beck said thinks of himself as "one of the elites that are there to guide the herd."

Respectively, they are a leader in public relations; finance and philanthropy; psychiatry; law; labor; journalism; social theory; political public service.

A pretty diverse lot, these eight, it appears- except for one thing: they're all Jewish. Beck managed to find nine indomitable villains- and eight of nine are Jewish!

Beck accuses Piven of a plan to "intentionally collapse our economic system," as he has put it, putting her, as a Beck critic has charged, in "actual physical danger of a violent response." Still, we should not hyperventilate about prejudices, even if they're toward blacks and Jews.

Or maybe not. Last July the San Francisco Chronicle reported

Convicted felon Byron Williams loaded up his mother's Toyota Tundra with guns, strapped on his body armor and headed to San Francisco late Saturday night with one thing in mind: to kill workers at the American Civil Liberties Union and an environmental foundation, prosecutors say.

Williams, an anti-government zealot on parole for bank robbery, had hoped to "start a revolution" with the bloodshed at the ACLU and the Tides Foundation in San Francisco, authorities said.

But before he made it to the city, Williams was stopped at early Sunday by California Highway Patrol officers for speeding and driving erratically on westbound Interstate 580 west of Grand Avenue in Oakland.

Police say he then initiated a chaotic, 12-minute gunbattle with officers, firing a 9mm handgun, a .308-caliber rifle and a shotgun. He reloaded his weapons when he ran out of ammunition and stopped only after officers shot him in areas of his body not covered by his bullet-resistant vest, authorities said.

On Tuesday, Williams, 45, of Groveland (Tuolumne County) appeared in an Oakland courtroom on charges that he tried to murder four CHP officers. Authorities described him as a heavily armed man determined not to return to prison. Bullets from the suspect's rifle could penetrate ballistic body armor and vehicles, police said.

In October, Media Matters' John Hamilton conducted with Mr. Williams an interview which included this transaction:

MEDIA MATTERS: When you talk about how conservative values have been lost in this country you were talking before about the liberal media. You were saying maybe Fox was the exception. You think Fox is worthwhile?

BYRON WILLIAMS: Well, I'm not gonna say anyone is worthwhile. But [unintelligible] I would've never started watching Fox if it wasn't for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind. I said, well, nobody does this.

Hamilton adds that Williams identified "other media figures -- right-wing propagandist David Horowitz, and Internet conspiracist and repeated Fox News guest Alex Jones -- as key sources of information to inspire his 'revolution.'"

In June, blathering on about something else, Beck warned his listeners "You’re going to have to shoot them in the head. But warning, they may shoot you.... they're revolutionaries. Nancy Pelosi, those are the people you should be worried about."

Unsurprisingly, Williams insisted to Media Matters' Hamilton, Glenn Beck is "like a schoolteacher on TV." Unfortunately, a very good one.



Claiming Victimization, Again And Beyond


It's not a joke anymore. Nor is it harmless.

Sarah Palin responded to the shooting in Tucson by claimning "especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."

But that was only the latest occasion on which Sarah Palin enthusiastically played the victim. (It is her trademark, a kind of calling card.) Nor is she the only conservative who has found victimhood politically advantageous.

Right-wing talk show host Mark Levin (think an angrier Sean Hannity, who is a big fan of his colleague). The Huffington Post reported January 14

Conservative radio host Mark Levin is threatening to sue Chris Matthews and anyone else who he feels is accusing him of having helped foment to political violence.

The impetus for Levin's threat was a statement Matthews made about him on his Tuesday show. Matthews had cited him and fellow right wing radio host Michael Savage as examples of incendiary media figures promoting ugly rhetoric--something that has come under scrutiny in the wake of the Arizona shootings.

"Every time you listen to them, they are furious," he said. "Furious at the left. With anger that just builds and builds in their voice and by the time they go to commercial they are just in some rage every night with some ugly talk. Ugly sounding talk and it never changes."

In response, Levin laid down a challenge to Matthews.

"I challenge Chris Matthews, I'll put $100,000 on the table, to find any example where Sarah Palin has promoted the murder of anybody," Levin said, though he added that calling for the killing of terrorists didn't count.

"A hundred thousand on the table if Chris Matthews can find anywhere Mark Levin has urged the murder of people who have different political viewpoints," he said.

He then threatened to sue not only Matthews, but practically all of MSNBC's biggest hosts, if he felt they had made any allegations against him.


It takes a special kind of talk show host, a special kind of whiner, to threaten to sue anyone for expressing his view of the impact of vitriolic rhetoric spewed by a public figure. But as one of the secondary leaders in the conservative movement, Levin knows his role: threaten and intimidate, always claiming that the left (Chris Matthews?) wants to shut you up.

But it has reached a new level. On Thursday, Rush Limbaugh reacted to the vitriolic comment (for which he later profusely apologized on The Ed Show) by Representative Steve Cohen (D-Tenn), in which the Congressman compared the GOP myth of the government takeover of health care with the tactics of Joseph Goebbels. Rush charged

If you're gonna make a comparison with Nazi Germany, isn't it clear who the new Jews are? It sure as hell isn't the Democrats. Who are the new Jews, Congressman Cohen? It's not the Democrats. It's the Tea Party. Tea Party.

Now we have Republican Party leader Limbaugh suggesting a nexus between criticism of the tea parties and pogroms conducted against Jews in Europe. The vast majority- virtually all, or perhaps all- criticism of tea party members or of their astroturf leadership is far milder and more respectful than that of Cohen. Nonetheless, it apparently reminds Rush of incidents like this:

Violence erupts in Poland. Three Jews are killed and more than sixty wounded in the town of Przytyk, Poland. In the days following the attack, the pogrom spreads to neighboring towns. Before the pogrom is ended, almost 80 Jews are killed and over 200 wounded. Violence against Jews is widespread throughout central Poland between 1935 and 1937. Anti-Jewish pogroms take place, for example, in Czestochowa, Lublin, Bialystok, and Grodno.

It happened in Poland, elsewhere in Europe, and, yes, in Arab lands. But, apparently, tea party members by the dozens are being attacked and killed here in the United States, right under our noses, undetected by the news media, our neighbors, and even Rush Limbaugh.

As Thomas Frank noted in "What's the Matter with Kansas?"

Conservatism, on the other hand, is the doctrine of the oppressed majority. Conservatism does not defend some established order of things: It accuses; it rants; it points out hypocrisies and gleefully pounces on contradictions. While liberals use their control of the airwaves, newspapers, and schools to persecute average Americans- to ridicule the pious, flatter the shiftless, and indoctrinate the kids with all sorts of permissive nonsense- the Republicans are the party of the disrespected, the downtrodden, the forgotten. They are always the underdog, always in rebellion against a haughty establishment, always rising up from below.

All claims on the right, in other words, advance from victimhood. This is another trick the backlash has picked up from the left. Even though Republicans legislate in the interests of society's most powerful, and even though conservative social critics typically enjoy cushy sinecure at places like the American Enterprise Institute and the Wall Street Journal, they rarely claim to speak on behalf of the wealthy or the winners in the social Darwinist struggle. Just like the leftists of the early twentieth century, they see themselves in revolt against a genteel tradition, rising up against a bankrupt establishment that will tolerate no backtalk.

The Republican cry of victimhood already had been established. However, references to "average Americans" and "always the underdog, always in rebellion against a haughty establishment, always rising up from below" seem to have foreshadowed the rise of tea party members, often falsely depicted as uniquely salt-of-the-earth.

With it all, though, overwrought rhetoric such as "blood libel" or "the new Jews" by conservative Republicans with a vast following suggest that we may be entering a new, uglier phase of victimhood as political strategy.



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