Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nonsense Beyond The Issue of Birthplace

You know them when you see them, or at least when you hear them. The Village, the Washington Wise Men (and, increasingly, Women). They're the ones unimpeded by intense partisanship, sober in their judgement, moderate in their values.

In the starting lineup, perhaps even batting cleanup, of the Washington Wise Men is David Gergen. As with the others, you know them largely by their words, as when Gergen in November remarked "Either we can show that we are mature adults who know how to govern a society responsibly, or we can refuse to do that and just take this country straight off the rails."

Gergen, then interviewed by CNN's Ali Velshi, was talking about attempting to slash the national debt, which this Wise Man, being sober and sophisticated, was all in favor of:

We're too close, as you know, to the edge financially. You just mentioned how big the debt was compared to the GDP. It's around over 60 percent. That's up in a very, very problematic zone. It's heading toward 100, which is very dangerous.

The cut of $61 billion proposed by the GOP (later pared to $38.5 billion after negotiations amongst Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and President Obama) would have cut economic growth by 1.5 to 2.0 percent in the middle two quarters of 2011, according to Goldman Sachs; and it would have reduced real economic growht by 0.5% in 2011 and 0.2% in 2012 (resulting in theloss of 700,000 jobs), according to Mark Zandi of Moody's Econometrics. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke had testified before Congress that the short-term cuts would cost 200,000 jobs.

But Gergen has remained reasonably consistent. He called Paul Ryan's budget scheme a "serious proposal" when a few days later after Barack Obama's budget speech he commented

The president entered this year confident of re-election, but just to be sure, he adopted a clever political strategy to deal with a growing debt crisis: His budget would duck the hard question about deficits, leaving a vacuum for Republicans to fill.

Meanwhile, Gergen, ever wise, complains the media is

giving this guy tons of time, letting him run his mouth and, meanwhile, people can't find jobs and America is, you know- is rich. China is rising beyond us. We've got all these other issues. You know, so I, like most of America, would like to see the end of this today, and they'd like us to move on.

Yes, Donald Trump is a blowhard "with a very big mouth," as Gergen puts it. Trump placed his bet on Obama's birth certificate never being unveiled or, better yet, revealing the President as a native of Kenya, East Africa. He lost and looks all the more foolish for it. But Gergen and the other Wise Men have done something, if a little more sensible, is little more sensible and much more dangerous. With an official unemployment rate of 8.8%- and the unofficial mark much higher; economic growth generously described as sluggish; and a housing market mired in a deep slump, these folks want government to contract. It is foolish when the gravest immediate threat to the American economy is a lack of jobs.

The GOP's apathy toward unemployment is motivated by a desire to destroy government's ability to help ordinary Americans. But on the part of the Fourth Estate, it is prompted by an obsession with deficits.

Commenting on Ryan's Path to Prosperity, Paul Krugman (mentioning no one specifically), summed it up neatly:

Once again, let us wonder at the way this plan has been treated by the commentariat. A guy says, “I care deeply about the deficit!” And then he releases a plan that depends on finding $3 trillion over the next decade from some unspecified source — oh, and he comes from a party that has a 30-year track record of promising to reduce the budget deficit but actually increasing it.

And everyone takes him seriously!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Reconstructing Bachmann

In August, 2010 Paul Krugman, in his New York Times column entitled "The Flimflam Man," took on Paul Ryan's Roadmap for America's Future and noted

News media coverage has been overwhelmingly favorable; on Monday, The Washington Post put a glowing profile of Mr. Ryan on its front page, portraying him as the G.O.P.’s fiscal conscience. He’s often described with phrases like “intellectually audacious.”

But it’s the audacity of dopes. Mr. Ryan isn’t offering fresh food for thought; he’s serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce.

New Congress, same Ryan. Then it was tax cuts for the wealthy, the safety net, and Social Security; now it's tax cuts for the wealthy, the safety net, and Medicare. Now the attack on the middle class is in the form of "A Roadmap for America's Future." Krugman, justifiably, gloats:

Last year, when I described Paul Ryan as a flim flam man, many Beltway types were deeply annoyed. They had decided that he was serious and sincere — worthy of receiving fiscal responsibility awards — and did not want to hear any negatives. And even after the cracks in the House budget proposal became apparent, much of the commentariat clung to the view that whatever you might think of Ryan’s priorities, he really is serious and sincere.

But he isn’t.

Over at The New Republic, Jonathan Chait (e.g., "Debunking Ryan's Latest Spin," "A Nice Word About The Ryan Plan," "And Now, A Not-Nice Word About The Ryan Plan") has taken on the task of debunking Ryan's latest claims and eviscerating his plan. It is a critical role, given Ryan's influence, power, and popularity with a traditional media that idolizes him as "serious." Chait notes that the Wisconsin Republican's "assurances that leaving Medicare unchanged for those over 55 while phasing it out for those younger will never effect (sic) current beneficiaries are almost certainly false." He links to the Center for American Progress, which explains

As Ryan’s budget put it, “While there would be no disruptions in the current Medicare fee-for-service program for those currently enrolled or becoming eligible in the next ten years, all seniors would have the choice to opt into the new Medicare program once it begins in 2022. No senior would be forced to stay in the old program.”

That opens up the possibilities of private plans trying to lure away the healthiest beneficiaries (as is currently the case in Medicare Advantage) and of health care providers abandoning traditional Medicare patients for the higher reimbursement rates of private insurers. For chronically ill seniors who are more likely to remain in fee-for-service Medicare this means two things: higher costs (as the healthier beneficiaries exit the risk pool) and fewer doctors.

But if Ryan is (and he is), in Krugman's words, the "flimflam man," Michelle Bachmann is the "flimflam woman." Posting on on Thursday, she argued

We must keep our promises to those who receive Medicare benefits, and those who are nearing the age of Medicare eligibility.

Though quoting her in context, Media Matters placed that line in bold and maintained

As Bachmann hinted toward, it does not "keep our promises" to those nearing the age of retirement, not to mention their children and grandchildren.

Joan McCarter at DailyKos reprints the Media Matters post and similarly contends

You know that there's a serious problem with this plan when Rep. Michele Bachmann, of all people, starts to back off.

The really serious problem, however, is when Media Matters and a Daily Kos blogger get their hopes up as they are taken in by Bachmann's statement.

We must keep our promises to those who receive Medicare benefits, and those who are nearing the age of Medicare eligibility. Ryan has written that his plan "preserves the existing Medicare program for those currently enrolled or becoming eligible in the next 10 years (those 55 and older today)."

Although Ryan does not acknowledge the dangerous option CAP noted, the scheme does largely leave Medicare in place for individuals at least 55 currently- which no different than Bachmann's vow to "keep our promises to those who receive Medicare benefits, and those who are nearing the age of Medicare eligibility." She conceded nothing, "hinted" nothing, and merely repeated Ryan's promise not to abolish Medicare for old (and nearly old) people. Those currently under 55 will be out-of-luck; tax cuts are so much more important- and that goes for Michelle Bachmann as well as for Paul Ryan.

Simplistic Explanation

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus is right. Donald Trump never will be President

so we needn’t spend too much time contemplating his comb-over gone gray. Trump is more interesting as a phenomenon of modern celebrity culture than as a serious presidential prospect. He is the ultimate in bread-and­circuses politics: a glittery amusement for voters and an avalanche of free publicity for the man who craves it.

But at at least as many Republicans want Trump to be their party's nominee for President in 2012 as they do anyone else. Much of the support for the self-aggrandizing business tycoon is due to his emphasis on Barack Obama's birth, which most Republicans, even before Trump began exploiting the controversy, were unconvinced occurred in the United States of America.

And so, in an effort to head off this notion before it gains even more momentum, President Obama took to the podium Wednesday, presented his birth certificate, and confirmed his birthplace as Honolulu, Hawaii. But while Marcus wants "to look past the birther nonsense he has been spouting to consider the rest of the nonsense he has been spouting." Goldie Taylor of is incensed that "for the first time in recorded history, a sitting president of the United States found it necessary to produce his original birth certificate for public inspection."

In a commentary unfortunately featured on Wednesday's The Rachel Maddow Show, Ms. Taylor inferred that race is at the root of Donald Trump's nonsense and, it would appear, of all evil:

When they tell you this isn't racial, don't believe them. This controversy was constructed solely as a way to de-legitimize the presidency of a black man. Those who question the location of Barack Obama's birth are the very same people who would pack up and move out of the neighborhood if someone like me moved in next door.

When they say they want to take their country back, they mean from us.

A review of the website of The Goldie Taylor Project (Taylor's blog) reveals that Ms. Taylor is a very accomplished, and probably very affluent, individual. Now a blogger and executive consultant for NBC News, she recently was

an executive editorial and marketing consultant for TimeWarner/ CNN Worldwide where she co-led the development and marketing of marquee productions, including: League of First Time Voters, Black in America (I & II), Daughters of Legacy, Latino in America, The Atlanta Child Murders, and The Joy Behar Show. She developed the network’s daily tune-in strategy for both HLN and CNN prime time, and participated in the design of CNN’s 2008 Election Coverage.... (and has) has led public affairs, government relations and communications on behalf of some of the world’s best known brands—including The Home Depot, Procter & Gamble and Sara Lee Foods– and served as a senior executive with two of the largest global communications concerns.

Taylor alleges Obama birth skeptics "would pack up and move out of the neighborhood if someone like me moved in next door." Where "next door" is cannot be easily determined, given that Ms. Taylor "lives with her family in New York and Atlanta."

Taylor writes eloquently of her great great grandfather Major Blackard, who 112 years ago, was "snatched" from a street corner in St. Louis and ordered to "show me your papers!" Unable to produce them, he

was posted against the brick wall, cuffed and taken to the St. Louis city jail. Unable to prove his identity, he would spend the next 21 days in a cramped, musty cell. That's where his older brother Matt found him, beaten and bloodied. Matt returned with Major's employer later that day, wallet and identification card in hand, to post bond.

From her perch of relative privilege, Ms. Taylor sees President Obama as facing oppression similar to that of her own ancestor(s). Nineteen year old Major Blackard shouldn't have had to endure the indignity, against all decency, of presenting his papers. But Barack Obama showed his voluntarily. He did so, unlike Blackard, not to avoid being arrested and beaten but to enhance his re-election prospects. Blackard was being denied his constitutional, and human, rights; there is, however, no constitutional right for a president to be immune from criticism, however irrational.

Ms. Taylor, a skilled and successful professional who has worked for both Democrats and Republicans and plays in the rarefied atmosphere her ancestors could only have dreamt of, understandably- but regrettably- sees unreasonable criticism of Barack Obama solely in racial terms. That would contrast with President Obama himself, who is loathe to attribute a racial motive to his critics, or even to attribute any of his actions to racial identity, Rush Limbaugh's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Meanwhile, Ms. Taylor, quick to finger racial prejudice, ascribes to it the views of a whole swath of people she never has met.

Though not denying the racial component of the doubt about Obama's birthplace, tristero puts it in context when he notes

But let's not forget that there is a long, long history of the far right demonizing - not "portraying," but demonizing- Democrats as Not Real Americans. And they do so by playing not only the race card, but the class card, the gender card, the foreigner card ("He looks French!"), the gay card, the elitist card, and every other card they can think of playing. Nothing - absolutely nothing - is off limits.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Anyone remember this?

In late 2008, shortly after he had helped pull Iraq back from the brink of catastrophe, Gen. David H. Petraeus prepared to turn to that other American war.

“I’ve always said that Afghanistan would be the tougher fight,” General Petraeus said at the time.

Apparently, General Petraeus was right. Although- or perhaps because- the news from Afghanistan has been troubling, we read today

CIA director Leon Panetta will become U.S. defense secretary and be replaced at the spy agency's helm by U.S. Army General David Petraeus, current head of military operations in Afghanistan, ABC News reported on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama will also nominate veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker as the next U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, according to an NBC News report.

When The New York Times on June 23 published its report under the heading "Petraeus Is Now Taking Control of a ‘Tougher Fight,’" Alissa Rubin and Dexter Filins maintained

In Iraq, General Petraeus helped turn the tide not just by sending 30,000 more American troops into Baghdad, but also by fostering deals with insurgent leaders who had spent the previous four years killing Americans. As much as the surge, the movement in Iraq known as the Sunni Awakening helped set in motion the remarkable decline in violence there that has largely held to this day.

Rubin and Filkins noted the arduous task of turning around the American war effort in Afghanistan, and added

To turn the tide, General Petraeus will almost certainly continue the counterinsurgency strategy he devised with General McChrystal: protecting Afghan civilians, separating them from insurgents and winning public support. But he will also have to convince his own troops, who are increasingly angry about the restrictions on using firepower imposed to protect civilians.

And General Petraeus will probably also try to employ some of the same novel tactics that worked so well in Iraq. Most notably, he will continue to coax Taliban fighters away from the insurgency with promises of jobs and security. And he may even try to strike deals with senior leaders of the Taliban as well as with the military and intelligence services in Pakistan.

A former aide to General Petraeus in Iraq who is now in Afghanistan put it this way: “The policy is to make everyone feel safer, reconcile with those who are willing and kill the people you need to.”

As a candidate, Barack Obama emphasized that the U.S. national interests were far more at stake in Afghanistan than in Iraq. As President, Barack Obama asserted thirteen months ago in Kabul

We can’t forget why we’re here. We did not choose this war. This was not an act of America wanting to expand its influence; of us wanting to meddle in somebody else’s business. We were attacked viciously on 9/11. Thousands of our fellow countrymen and women were killed. And this is the region where the perpetrators of that crime, al Qaeda, still base their leadership. Plots against our homeland, plots against our allies, plots against the Afghan and Pakistani people are taking place as we speak right here. And if this region slides backwards, if the Taliban retakes this country and al Qaeda can operate with impunity, then more American lives will be at stake. The Afghan people will lose their chance at progress and prosperity. And the world will be significantly less secure.

Our broad mission is clear: We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al Qaeda and its extremist allies. That is our mission. And to accomplish that goal, our objectives here in Afghanistan are also clear: We’re going to deny al Qaeda safe haven. We’re going to reverse the Taliban’s momentum. We’re going to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces and the Afghan government so that they can begin taking responsibility and gain confidence of the Afghan people.

When the President assigned Petraeus the position of Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), it was widely hailed as a brilliant political move, virtually eliminating the popular general as a potential 2012 GOP presidential nominee. But assignment to the C.I.A. is not politically imperative.

Perhaps President Obama has given up on the war in Afghanistan. Or, less likely, he has given up on David Petraeus, arguably the most respected American general since Dwight Eisenhower, as a commanding general in the region from which terrorists intent on the destruction of this nation operate. Someone needs to ask the President (and Petraeus during his confirmation hearing) why he has decided to make this move- though it has been rumored for months- while we continue in combat with victory obviously not within our grasp. If the answers are unsatisfying, worth consideration is David Dayen's theory:

Panetta was Chief of Staff under Bill Clinton and before that a US Representative from the Central Coast of California. He’s been CIA Director in the Obama Administration, which as I understand it now is basically the Secretary of Defense job, given all the covert operations. And then you have a military commander moving to the CIA. So the merging of the military and the intelligence community is complete. Within a few years it’ll just be one big black op. The good news is they can cut the military budget then, and put everything into the secret, off-the-books intelligence budget so as not to raise suspicion.

The Senate Intelligence Committee (and the full Senate, which would confirm Petraeus for anything he's nominated to) and the media cannot have it both ways: either General Petraeus has been vastly overrated or something else is going on here. In this democratic republic, the 800 pound elephant must not be ignored.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jesus Christ On The Issues

It was just another narrowly focused commentary by Rush Limbaugh, touching on oil companies, the military, the value of the dollar, the decline of America, Jesus Christ, tax hikes, the deficit, entitlements, General Motors, and abortion. But he seemed particularly exorcised when he remarked

Folks, I cannot tell you how righteously offended I am at these people who 364 days a year try to make a mockery of Christianity and Christians, on one day a year now try to come out and appropriate Jesus Christ as their own. Not because of His message, but so they can manipulate it and further their agenda.

In January, 2008 Mark McDonald from the left whether we

Remember the "What would Jesus do?" campaign that was popular back in the 1990s? It was a slogan used by many Christians as a reminder to follow Jesus in their daily lives. These days, Republicans have borrowed the phrase as part of their creepy, ongoing deification of their hero, Ronald Reagan. Recently, right-wing hacks Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have been touting the Heritage Foundation's "What would Reagan do?" campaign. The "What would Reagan do?" slogan (often abbreviated as "WWRD") recently took off like wildfire across the right-wing Web. Wingnut bloggers pontificate on the subject and online merchants peddle WWRD T-shirts and other products.

From the right while writing on the website of right-wing World Net Daily, Rebecca Hagelin that same month asserted

Which brings us back to the thousands and thousands of candidates running for local, state and national offices this year. When pondering a policy question, they should ask themselves, What Would Reagan Do? The Heritage Foundation has partnered with talk show greats Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham in a new year-long campaign to invite citizens and candidates to ponder this very question. There is no better role model to help navigate the choppy waters of politics, today and well into the future.

Search on the website even today for "what would Reagan do?" and up pops "What Would Reagan Do?"; "Defense Spending: What Would Reagan Do?"; New Start: What Would Reagan Do?"; Heritage In Focus: What Would Reagan Do?"; "Immigration: What Would Reagan Do?: Heritage In Focus." The (four) authors may not have believed Ronald Reagan was the second coming, but they didn't mind if you did.

Three years ago, the right knew what Ronald Reagan and Jesus Christ would have decided on a wealth of issues. Now, Rush Limbaugh tells us what side Jesus would have taken on spending issues:

Taxes and budget cuts, what would Jesus do? Well, what would Jesus take? That's the question people need to ask to put this in perspective. Of course the answer is, nothing.

And you knew that Limbaugh, who neatly divides the country into "producers" and "non-producers," would shamelessly ask rhetorically

Would Jesus approve of Democrats fanning the flames of class warfare for the sole purpose of being reelected?

Unlike, evidently, Limbaugh, I've checked in vain to find the position statements of Jesus Christ (R-USA) and don't know if he would be aghast at class warfare, although it is written

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. (Matthew 21:12, ESV)

Monday, April 25, 2011

From An Educator, Foolishness

The right of freedom of expression in our country extends to all, including members of the clergy and other religious figures. But any individual serving a particular denomination injecting himself or herself into the political arena is immune from neither praise nor criticism, or even ridicule. If this is a nation valuing equal protection under the law, a nation of laws and not of men, it also is a nation in which statements deserve to be considered on their own merits.

On Tuesday, Governor Chris Christie, taking advantage of the rare moments he spends in New Jersey, visited a St. Augustine of Canterbury school in the middle-class suburb of South Brunswick, NJ. A community newspaper reported

The visit, which was closed to the media, saw the entire school community in grades K-8 warmly greet the Governor with welcome signs, applause and cheers of joy, said principal Sister Mary Louise Shulas.

"I was very excited because I never had the experience of having a governor come and visit my own school," Shulas said. "It was an honor and a privilege for him to come in and be our guest. He addressed the children beautifully and answered questions on a level that the students were able to understand and appreciate. He spoke about the value of receiving an excellent Catholic education and the importance of having respect for one another by reaching out and performing services that help other people."

Father Bob opened the Governor's visit with a welcome and prayer. Christie then spoke to the children about valuing their Catholic education and learning attitudes of respect and kindness, Shulas said. Before the meeting began, the children were asked what should be on their agenda for the day.

"I don't know," Samantha said. "We don't need any agenda, we have the Governor visiting us."

Shulas called the visit a wonderful memory in the history of the school and the lives of the students.

"The children came away from this with the knowledge that the Governor does care about students and their education in New Jersey," Shulas said. "That was his clear message to them. He confirmed the importance of the value of education, and in our case, a Catholic education. He made them feel as though they're a vital part of New jersey by taking the time out of his schedule to visit them at their own school on their invitation. Each child felt really important and valued."

No doubt the Governor, ever ready to demean the public school system, did "confirm the importance of the value of" "a Catholic education." And traveling to a sectarian school on the public's dime while commending that religion ("a Catholic education") does not conflict with the wall of separation understood to be guaranteed by the First Amendment.

But really..... the Governor does care about students and their education? This is the same governor who in November told high school students- students! at the Boys and Girls Club in the state capital, Trenton

These teachers have all summer off. Can’t they have their convention during the summer? They got to get two days off from school because, you know, they don’t get enough time off now, right? They get two weeks off at Christmas, they get all the different holidays, then they get all the summer off and now they need two more days.

Why do you think that is? Do you think If they cared about learning where would they be today?

No better way to strike a blow for education than to tell students that their teachers ae lazy and don't care about them. But then they were public school students.

A few months earlier, Governor Christie had remarked

Scaring students in the classroom, scaring parents with the notes home in the bookbags, and the mandatory 'Project Democracy Homework' asking your parents about what they're going to do in the school board election, and reporting back to your teachers union representatives, using the students like drug mules to carry information back to the classroom, is reprehensible.

Surely, there is no better way to encourage students than to liken their teachers to drug kingpins and the students themselves to drug pushers.

So, Sister Shulas, continue your foray into political commentary. You're an American citizen and your opinion is valuable, all the more so because of your position as a principal. But if you escape criticism, be assured that it's only because of the political correctness conservatives excoriate when politically convenient; that if you were not a religious figure, your remark would be viewed objectively, on its own merits. And that, in this country, is the way it should be with everyone.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spinning Economic Tales

It's part of the GOP economic myth that somehow President Ronald Reagan- who left office in January, 1989- created the economic boom which came about during the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton, which began in January, 1993. On Friday, leading storyteller Rush Limbaugh claimed

Intellectually, you and I know that the Clinton tax increases retarded economic growth in the nineties; that the economic growth of the nineties that happened was still an offshoot of what happened in the eighties with Reagan. Had the Clinton tax increases not happened, the economic growth would have been even better than it was. The American people simply were not able to be shut down and stopped.

As you might have expected, the man who said "intellectually, you and I know that the Clinton tax increases retarded economic growth" then went on to appeal to the intellect by citing no statistics, details, or facts. "Intellectually," indeed.

Apparently, though, that wasn't the tune Rush was singing on July 20, 1993, two weeks before the Clinton budget, with a huge income tax increase, was approved by Congress with zero- 0- Republican votes. Then, despite eight years (ending 53 months earlier) of what he considered a virtual economic miracle, Rush maintained on his television show (as related by Salon's Steve Kornacki)

I want to stress something to the Republican Party that's watching this show and those of you who are members of it. The Republican Party staked out a claim as the party of middle class relief from oppressive government in the 1980s by doing what? By opposing tax increases and instead standing for tax rate reductions. The only difference between a Democrat and a Republican in this economic bill is the opposition to tax increases. It's the tax increases that are going to doom this plan. It's the tax increases that are going to stop this economy. It's the tax increases that are going to slow it down and hurt the people who make this country work.

If the Republicans decide to compromise on any tax increase, they are participating in the damage that this plan will cause the country. They are helping and are complicit in the damage this plan will cause to the people who make this country work. And by compromising on any tax increase whatsoever, the Republicans are then forfeiting any opportunity to say, Hey, it wasn't our idea. Hey, we had no part in this. Hey, we didn't have anything to do with it.' By going along with these tax increases on the wealthy, then the Republican Party or the members of the party who do that are forfeiting any political credibility in the future in opposing this plan and for their own future.

The Republican Party, I want to tell you right now, is never ever going to come back and win the White House unless they unite on the concept that this government needs no new tax rate increases to operate. This government simply has enough money to operate as it is. Tax rate increases slow down economic activity. It is not a theory. It's not an opinion. It is fact. It is true. And if the Republican Party can't unite around the idea that the way to cause economic growth, the way to create wealth is to rid people of the shackles of an oppressive government veer--via high tax rates, then the Republican Party is forever going to be disunified and is not going to be able to mount a credible opposition to the Democratic plan which is total tax increases, total big government.

Then, like the over 200 GOP members of Congress who rose in unison (well, not exactly in unison) to say NO! to the tax increase and YES! to continued budget deficits, Limbaugh was convinced that that "tax rate increases slow down economic activity."

Not so much, evidently. As this site documents, manufacturing, corporate profits, tax receipts, median family income, and the stock market all were higher in the Clinton Administration than during the Reagan Administration. Admittedly, overall home mortgage rates and poverty were lower during Clinton's term, but even some Republicans would agree that is positive. Whether because, or despite, the increase in tax rates Congress narrowly approved over unanimous GOP animus, tax increases did not "stop this economy" or "slow it down and hurt the people who make this country work." Heck, even the people Rush believes "make this country work" prospered during the last Democratic Administration; corporate profits increased by $143.5 billion during Reagan's terms and by $326.6 billion during Clinton's terms.

President Reagan had to run big deficits to get the American economy moving. Bill Clinton eventually balanced the budget and left George W. Bush with a big surplus, which he promptly squandered. Now while inheriting two wars, a deep recession, and an exploding debt caused most of all by tax cuts (graph, below, from Center for Budget and Policy Priorities), President Obama is condemned for jacking up the debt. Now, Rush and other Republicans have gotten religion and are now obsessed with red ink.

But as all the caterwauling indicates, most Republicans are much more exorcised about an activist government working on behalf of the American people than by the gap between revenues and spending. Otherwise, they would acknowledge, as Kornacki notes,

we have a decade's worth of compelling evidence that raising income taxes on the wealthy can reduce deficits and (at the very least) not inhibit sustained economic growth. And yet, Limbaugh is still telling his listeners -- in rhetoric that Republicans on Capitol Hill are still parroting -- that this has "never worked."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Again, The Right Labeled As The Center

Now, this, from Politico's Jake Sherman and Jonathan Allen, is as disturbing as it was predictable:

One day after being named to a presidential task force to negotiate deficit reduction, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor fired off a stark warning to Democrats that the GOP “will not grant their request for a debt limit increase” without major spending cuts or budget process reforms....

Republicans are floating a wide range of major structural reforms that could be attached to the debt limit vote, including statutory spending caps, a balanced budget amendment and a two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases and debt limit increases. Liberals want a “clean” vote to raise the $14.3 trillion borrowing limit.

Those in the center simply hope to find an accord that will prevent the nation from defaulting on its obligations and sending global markets into a tailspin.

How did the idea of responsibly raising the debt ceiling- as, according to Politico, apparently is favored by the socialistic Chamber of Commerce- get to be the left-wing position? Sherman/Allen adds

House Republicans are also trying to frame the debt ceiling increase as belonging to Obama: They say that if he wants to raise it he has to sell it to the American people. Democrats — in the House, Senate and White House — seem to have accepted the fact that the debt ceiling will almost certainly need to be coupled with other spending control measures.

With one congressional chamber controlled by Republicans and one by Democrats while the Presidency is in the hands of a Democrat (or so we've heard), it is Democrats who hasten to accept a fait accompli. Perhaps it comes when one party has no compunction against being reckless and advocates a "clean" bill, rather than attaching its own wish list its demands for a debt limit increase.

Democrats really should play on the same playing field as Republicans. Republicans want to turn Medicaid into a bloc grant? Why not a proposal to raise the income eligibility for Medicaid? The GOP pushes a constitutional amendment stipulating a two-thirds requirement for tax increases and debt limit increases? Why not a two-thirds requirement for tax cuts and a provision that the debt limit automatically increases unless Congress takes explicit action by a certain date each year? Or perhaps a provision that triggers an increase in Social Security payments when the consumer price index exceeds a certain rate?

Those goalposts may be heavy, but Democrats are not constitutionally prohibited from moving them themselves.


Friday, April 22, 2011

The Bergen And McCarthy Show

Barack Obama's Barack Obama is at it again.

Dick Durbin, a "liberal" Democrat, one of the three Democrats on the "Gang of Six" seeking agreement on a debt reduction package, commented in an interview for ABC's Subway Series

You have the House Republican budget from Congressman Paul Ryan, who I know and like, which is going to be placed somewhere on the right side of the spectrum. You have the president's suggestion, which will be on the other side of the spectrum. And if and when we reach an agreement, it will be in the middle, a bipartisan effort, which I think has a chance to succeed.

Somewhere on the right side of the spectrum? Would anyone three years ago- before Barack Obama was inaugurated- have suggested that eliminating Medicare and turning health care for the elderly over to private insurers is "somewhere on the right side of the spectrum?" And that a President bragging about "the biggest spending cut in history" (as all taxes as a proportion of personal income fall to the lowest level in over 60 years) would be considered alll the way on "the other side of the spectrum?"

No. And No. But Durbin wasn't finished, arguing "In 2037, as we know it, Social Security falls off a cliff. There's a 22 percent reduction rate in payments, which is really not something we can tolerate."

ABC News did not ask how a 22 per cent reduction in benefits is "falling off a cliff." Generally, when someone falls off a cliff, it ends horribly, in death. A 22% (actually, 23%) reduction is not falling off a cliff but apparently, in order to accept harm to one of America's two most cherished government programs, people first must be panicked.

Durbin might have suggested the cap on the income subject to payroll taxes be eliminated (or at least raised), but that wouldn't do, especially when the President who pulls his strings cut the payroll tax as part of the tax deal in December. Instead, the Illinois Senator advocates reducing Social Security taxes to the wealthy (whereupon they ultimately might be eliminated) because (sarcasm alert) there is nothing Americans like more than a welfare program.

Durbin believes the Gang of Six is "very, very close. And there's a sense of urgency. Our relevance is going to be hooked to our timeliness. If we wait too long, we may not be players. And a lot of people are counting on us to be players."

No doubt the Senator is particularly pleased with the reasonableness of Gang of Six member Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma. Recently, "The Last Word" host Lawrence O'Donnell presented an ode to Coburn who had, it is believed, stood up to Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform. The latter has had virtually every Republican in Congress sign his Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which opposes not only tax increases but also elimination of loopholes. On March 29, Coburn sent to Norquist a letter criticizing the powerful activist for opposing elimination of a tax earmark for movie producers and currently opposing an amendment sponsored by Coburn to eliminate an ethanol subsidy.

Both O'Donnell and the normally sober and insightful Jonathan Chait are both pleased that Coburn has challenged "Norquist's vision of conservatism." Maybe not so much of a challenge, however. The Hill's Michael O'Brien reports

Coburn, one of six senators involved in behind-the-scenes talks considered crucial if there is to be a deal, said that while it was possible that some voters could see their tax burdens rise, the “Gang of Six” talks would not result in a significant tax hike.

"There's no plan to have a significant tax hike on anyone," Coburn said on conservative talker Laura Ingraham's radio show. "I don't think there's any of the three of us who will embrace tax hikes."

Coburn’s comments suggest the senators are unlikely to agree to end the Bush tax rates for families with annual income above $250,0000, a priority for the White House.

Is Dick Durbin disappointed? embarrassed? chastened? Not in the least. The role of Obama's proxy has been to put Social Security onto the table, and to keep it there, meanwhile portraying the President's center-right plan as the only legitimate proposal on the left. (Durbin on Senator Sanders: "I think Bernie is going too far with his language.") President Obama hopes to swoop in at the last minute and negotiate a "compromise" on mostly Republican terms. But as Digby maintains

We must demand that Democrats just say no to any “grand bargain” that includes changes to the benefit structure of Social Security. Healthcare costs, a moribund economy and defense spending are driving the deficit projections, not Social Security. The trust fund is well-funded for some time, invested in the safest investment in the world: the U.S. Treasury bond. No good will come of touching the program right now. Literally.

The Republican Media: No. 30

Brian Beutler of the liberal blog Talking Points Memo doesn't care for Politifact's analysis of a new ad (video, below) by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee attacking the GOP for passing a budget resolution proposing the dissolution of Medicare. He remarks

If Democrats proposed to turn Medicare into a system that only provided free veterinary services to seniors, would Republicans be lying to say Dems wanted to "end Medicare," without including the caveat "as we know it"?

Of course not. But that's more or less the charge PolitiFact is leveling at Democrats over a new DCCC ad (below) which flatly charges Republicans with proposing to "end Medicare." The House GOP budget, which passed with all but two GOP votes over unanimous Democratic opposition, would over time replace the single-payer, government-run Medicare program with a different system that subsidizes private insurance plans for beneficiaries. Those subsidies would work like vouchers -- they would increase in value year-on-year at a much slower pace than the rate of the rise of health care costs, thus leaving seniors exposed to increasing costs as time goes on.

Republicans call this new health insurance system "Medicare." But it's a completely different program from today's Medicare. PolitiFact doesn't see it that way.

"But to say the Republicans voted to end Medicare, as the ad does, is a major exaggeration," PolitiFact writes. "All seniors would continue to be offered coverage under the proposal, and the program's budget would increase every year."
But that elides the fact that Medicare currently guarantees specific services, which the private insurers won't be bound to provide under the GOP plan. Indeed, the law President Lyndon Johnson signed in 1965 created a national health insurance system that entitled the elderly to have a defined array of health care services paid on their behalf by the government.

Nonetheless, PolitiFact calls the caveat "as we know it" -- as in "end Medicare as we know it" -- an important qualifier. And they conclude that because the DCCC eschewed this qualifier, and because the House vote on a non-binding budget resolution doesn't have the force of law, Democrats have told a "Pants on Fire" lie by stating "Republicans voted to end Medicare."

Beutler is too kind, as is Digby, who writes

Politifact also goes far beyond its mandate by telling the Democrats the terms they are allowed to use. (They say it would be ok if they say "end Medicare as we know it.") Message approval isn't their job. Their job is to apply a thick-headed literalism to everything they see. And it makes them useless.

It isn't clear Politifact is applying "a thick-headed literalism." It is more likely trying to mislead.

Politifact quotes an elder law expert arguing "Nobody voted to end it. They voted to hopefully change it one day, when they get a chance, but they would need a Republican-dominated Senate and a Republican president, neither of which they have."

So there we have Politifact's argument: The GOP did not vote to end Medicare because it won't be approved in the Senate. It's as if Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan had introduced a single-payer health care bill in the U.S. Senate, it passed on a party line vote, and Politico had concluded that the Democrats did not vote to create a single-payer system. Or as if Congress voted to end all military action in Libya or Afghanistan and Politico determined Congress did not vote to end the war- President Obama will veto it, anyway.

Politico maintains "budget resolutions are non-binding documents that cannot be viewed as the equivalent of legislation that establishes law. Deeply desiring something and accomplishing it are different." According to Wikipedia

a budget resolution is a legislation in the form of a concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget. The budget resolution establishes various budget totals, allocations, entitlements, and may include reconciliation instructions to designated House or Senate committees....

The budget resolution serves as a blueprint for the actual appropriation process, and provides Congress with some control over the appropriations process. A budget resolution binds Congress, but is not a law. It does allow for certain points of order to be made if the President does not follow the resolution.

It is not a law. But it is more than a wish list, something they'd like to see change if only, gosh, they had a chance someday. It would bind Congress and is the beginning of the GOP effort to end Medicare- not Medicare "as we know it," but Medicare. The GOP did "vote to end Medicare"; it was a vote for the purpose of ending Medicare.

A recent ad by the pharmaceutical front group, "60+ Association," reflects the understanding that the House vote was more than a symbolic resolution. An announcer claims of three Philadelphia-area congressmen "The House passed a budget that protects and preserves Medicare for years to come. And our congressmen -- Pat Meehan, Mike Fitzpatrick and Jon Runyan -- voted to protect Medicare and keep it secure for future retirees." Of course, they did precisely the opposite, joining an effort to kill Medicare- but you get the point.

Of course, even if Politifact were right technically, linguistically- as Digby too generously is willing to concede- it hardly would merit the "Pants on Fire" designation. Apparently, it earns that in part because

Still another problem with the ad involves who’s immediately affected by the Republican proposal. In one scene, the ad shows a senior citizen pushing a walker behind a lawn mower. A teenager looking on eats an apple and says, "You missed a spot." In reality, people 55 and older won’t see changes under the Ryan plan. It’s actually that teenager -- or anyone else 54 or younger -- who would pay extra money when they are older.

Right. But they would pay more when they are older- and the ad depicts an old man. The GOP plan would affect an individual when he or she is elderly, and the ad presented an elderly individual. Would Politifact have preferred a young person in the ad being harmed by the proposal? That would have been, at a minimum, misleading, disingenuous, and confusing.

Politifact, perhaps in a valiant effort to appear bipartisan, does quote approvingly President Obama, a putative Democrat, stating the proposal would end Medicare "as we know it." But that is grossly insufficient in a piece condemning an ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee which is largely, if not completely, factual.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

As We Drill, Baby, Drill

A year ago yesterday, 205 million gallons of oil and 225,000 tons of methane were released into the Gulf of Mexico, and eleven men died, following an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig off the coast of Louisiana. Though the greatest fears of the impact have not been realized, according to The Associated Press

biologists are concerned about the spill's long-term effect on marine life.

"There are these cascading effects," D'Elia said. "It could be accumulation of toxins in the food chain, or changes in the food web. Some species might dominate."

Meanwhile, accumulated oil is believed to lie on the bottom of the Gulf, and it still shows up as a thick, gooey black crust along miles of Louisiana's marshy shoreline. Scientists have begun to notice that the land in many places is eroding.

And the Center for Biological Diversity concludes

The price paid by wildlife in the Gulf for the BP oil spill will continue to rise. Although it is the largest to date, the Gulf oil spill was simply the latest in a string of ongoing and inevitable spills produced in the Gulf. More than 320 known spills involving offshore drilling have occurred there since 1964. Spills massively degrade ecosystems and all of the wildlife dependent on those ecosystems in the Gulf. Clean-up efforts only remove a fraction of the persistent oil and gas spilled. The remainder of the oil, including millions of gallons remaining in the Gulf, will continue to poison wildlife for generations. Besides the direct harm to wildlife, the spill impoverishes the people of the Gulf and the nation, who depend on this rich body of water for food, culture, environmental enrichment and recreation.

The Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa of California, notes in his report issued two days ago noting the harm to the victims of the region, the seafood industry, and the area's diverse habitats and ecosystems. But Issa, who demonstrated fealty to corporate America shortly before he became chairman, used the occasion primarily to blast President Obama, charging

the real and harsh effects the Administration’s subsequent assault on off-shore drilling has had on economically vulnerable communities. This retreat from efforts to achieve energy independence from foreign oil isn’t appreciated by Gulf communities whose local economies depend on off-shore oil production or millions of Americans who find themselves paying $4 gallon for gasoline. The legacy of this spill should be an increased emphasis on safety, not a full-scale retreat from off-shore energy production.

But in the past two months U.S. regulators have granted ten deepwater drilling permits despite the failure of the petroleum industry to rectify the problems which led to the blowup on the Transocean-owned rig. On March 24, Rachel Maddow found (transcript here; video below)

The blowout preventer is basically a piece of equipment that`s attached to the top of an oil well, right? And when pressure surges up the drilling well -- drilling pipe the blowout preventer is supposed to kick into action. It essentially seals up the well and holds all of that pressure in.

If the blowout preventer does not work, you get this. You get disaster -- disaster not just for the environment but for the crew that`s stationed on top of that malfunctioning oil rig. Eleven crew members were killed when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew in the Gulf of Mexico last April.

Soon after that explosion and the historic oil spill that followed, it was pretty obvious that the blowout preventer had failed to prevent that blowout. That was pretty clear. But what we know now, what we have learned this week in fact is that the blowout preventer in question was not built wrong, it wasn`t broken, and it was used as directed.

The Coast Guard hired a Norwegian firm to do an expert forensic analysis of what went wrong with that blowout preventer in the BP disaster. The Coast Guard, I should say, oversaw this. The government hired this firm.

The firm set up shop at a NASA facility in New Orleans in mid- November. Yesterday, they release what`d they found -- what they found is that in our metaphor from earlier, the air bags in this case, and maybe in every case, don`t work. More specifically, they found air bags work unless there`s a car crash, and then they don`t work.

The forensic analysis of what went wrong in the BP disaster found a big burst of pressure that causes a well blowout can also render the blowout preventer useless. If the shock that causes the initial accident misaligns the rig`s pipes and valves, the blowout preventer won`t be able to work, won`t be able to seal off the pipe, even when used as directed, even when you do everything right.

Noting that the blowout, the disaster which causes the need for the blowout perventer, blows out the blowout preventer itself, Maddow explained

fears right now about possible nuclear meltdown in Japan is because the backup plan there failed, right? An earthquake and tsunami knocked out the power at the reactor. You need that power at all times to cool the radioactive fuel rods. But don`t worry, there`s a backup power source. A backup power source that was also knocked out by the same quake and tsunami that knocked out the first-line power source. The same disaster that caused the need for the backup plan also killed the backup plan.

Used as designed, cigarettes cause cancer and other diseases. The blowout preventer can fail when operated as designed and is effective except when needed. Maddow's guest, former industry oil executive Bob Cavnar, maintains that the new regulations put into effect by the Department of Interior

are primarily around safety training and in third-party certification that supposedly assures the government that the companies who normally self-regulate are actually doing what they say they`re doing.

There`s real no -- no real change to deepwater drilling. The only real kind of systematic change is this subsea well containment procedure that they`ve developed, that a company has to certify that they are a part of before they receive a drilling permit....

There`s no fundamental change to the way we drill the deepwater, Rachel. We`re doing it with the same equipment, the same blowout preventers on all the deepwater rigs that are in the Gulf that failed on the Macondo well. And the issue here is that these new regulations regulate an unreliable piece of equipment, and regulating something that`s unreliable doesn`t make it more reliable. It just makes it more regulated.

Senate Democrats have proposed measures to increase our supply of oil, safely. That is not likely to impress Darrell Issa, who has cozied up to the petroleum industry. Not coincidentally, the push for a rational energy policy in light of the explosion in the Gulf seems to be as elusive as the effort to rein in the excesses of Wall Street after the financial catastrophe it was primarily responsible for.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Win For Bachmann

If today's interview on ABC's Good Morning America is any indication, Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), who is considering a presidential bid, is ready for prime time.

George Stephanopoulos had a legitimate excuse to bring up the "birther" issue (video and relevant portion of transcript, here, from ABC News) because one of the congresswoman's supporters in Iowa has introduced in Des Moines a bill which reportedly would require presidential (and vice-presidential) candidates to produce a birth certificate. Bachmann neatly switched the issue to a similar bill, vetoed yesterday by Governor Brewer, in Arizona. Implying- without stating- that she agreed with the governor of her own party, Bachmann commented "I have no problem giving my birth certificate, it wouldn’t bother me at all. I’ve got one, its authenticated, take it." Bachmann had casually and effectively inferred that President Obama could also offer a birth certificate, but did so without explicitly calling on him to do so or doubting his American origin. Nor did she definitively state that Barack Obama was born in the U.S.A.- not a good idea to tell your most avid supporters they are stupid, ill-informed, or simply wrong.

After Bachmann pirouetted from (the discomfort of) Iowa to (the comfort of) Arizona, Stephanopoulos, understandably anxious to get a straight answer out of the the Minnesotan, explained "According to the bill ‘a candidate for president or vice president shall attach to and file with the affidavit a copy of the candidate’s birth certificate certified by the appropriate official in the candidate’s state of birth.'" Bachmann stated "right" and Stephanopoulos continued

Well I have the president’s certificate right here. It’s certified, it’s got a certification number. It’s got the registrar of the state signed. It’s got a seal on it. And it says 'this copy serves as prima facie evidence of the fact of birth in any court proceeding.'

Alert the press! After a couple of years of controversy (legitimate or otherwise) over Barack Obama's birth, George Stephanopoulos has uncovered the birth certificate of the son of Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Hussein Obama!

Except that he hasn't. Stephanopoulos unveiled Obama's Certificate of Live Birth, which does in fact include the assurance "this copy serves as prima facie evidence of the fact of any birth in any court proceeding." (On his blog, Stephanopoulos referred to it as the Certificate of Live Birth though while linking to, which inaccurately labeled it "the original birth certificate.") It is possible that the original birth certificate, recently sought unsuccessfully by the Governor of Hawaii (an early supporter of Senator Obama), does not exist- and may never have existed. But after he commented about a bill requiring "a birth certificate," Stephanopolous intended to misinform the audience when he contended "Well I have the president’s certificate right here." Not surprising, then, that Stephanopoulos hesitated (ever so slightly) between the words "president's" and "certificate," casually omitting "birth."

Wisely, Bachmann let it go and, summoning her inner machismo, asserted "I take the president at his word and I think– again I would have no problem and apparently the president wouldn’t either. Introduce that, we’re done. Move on." Stephanopoulos had set out to get his guest on the record as being revealed as a "birther"- or opposing the action of a supporter in the critical, early state of Iowa- and had accomplished neither, in effect agreeing with Bachmann's conclusion "I guess it's over."

It was a good, and failed, effort by a veteran journalist.... and a seasoned performance by a veteran politician.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Disparagement of Obama

Paul Krugman, the other day, identified a double standard, blogging

At the beginning of last week, the commentariat was in raptures over the Serious, Courageous, Game-Changing Ryan plan. But now that the plan has been exposed as the cruel nonsense it is, what we’re hearing a lot about is the need for more civility in the discourse. President Obama did a bad thing by calling cruel nonsense cruel nonsense; he hurt Republican feelings, and how can we have a deal when the GOP is feeling insulted? What we need is personal outreach; let’s do lunch!

The easy, and perfectly fair, shot is to talk about the hypocrisy here; where were all the demands for civility when Republicans were denouncing Obama as a socialist, accusing him of creating death panels, etc..? Why is it OK for Republicans to accuse Obama of stealing from Medicare, but not OK for Obama to declare, with complete truthfulness, that those same Republicans are trying to dismantle the whole program?

Of course, it is fine for Obama to point out "that those same Republicans are trying to dismantle the whole program," given that they want- and have voted- to eliminate Medicare. And of course the traditional media would rather the President fall in line with its practice, calling it "reform" or the GOP's effort to address health care costs. Suggesting that when Obama calls out Republicans for wanting to dismantle Obamacare he is being less than civil or bipartisan is inconsistent, given the legitimacy given outlandish GOP claims (e.g., socialism, death panels) about Barack Obama's policies.

But to be fair, this apparent hypocrisy is less about doubting or criticizing Barack Obama than it is about the nature of the controversy. There is one controversy- a trumped-up one (pun intended) in which the mainstream media supports Barack Obama and finds criticism of him lacking civility.

There are examples throughout. Discussing with David Corn and Joshua Micah Marshall implications that Barack Obama was born abroad (itself ridiculed as "birtherism"), Obama supporter Chris Matthews yesterday exclaimed

So basically, that`s what the right are saying. You got to say stupid things because that`s the price of admission to our clubhouse. If you`re not willing to say he`s a -- he`s not an American, don`t talk to us. And I think that`s where the real dividing line here is between the guys who refuse to play -- get in the mud, like Romney and Pawlenty, and the guys who say if we`ve got to get in the mud, I`ll get in the mud first.

Support for the President against those who would ignore facts is not limited to his critics. On Inside Washington, designated centrist Nina Totenberg refers to "fringe, nutty people;" Charles Krauthammer calls Donald Trump "our Al Sharpton." And after criticizing Mike Huckabee for failing to label as "paranoia" questions about Obama's birth certificate, George Will went after Newt Gingrich, writing

To the notion that Obama has a "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview, the sensible response is: If only. Obama's natural habitat is as American as the nearest faculty club; he is a distillation of America's academic mentality; he is as American as the other professor-president, Woodrow Wilson. A question for former history professor Gingrich: Why implicate Kenya?

President Obama may be infected with an "academic mentality"- which Will neglects to explain, unsurprisingly- but charges that he wasn't born in the U.S.A. are characterized by "vibrations of weirdness." Will, were he not far more erudite than I, probably would have said: Obama was born in this country but he is an overly-educated left-wing naif. And skinny, no less.

There is no credible evidence that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States of America. There is no credible evidence that President Obama is a socialist, an advocate of redistribution of income, an avid partisan, "angry black guy," or a traitor "largely responsible for destroying our economy and the budget and the currency who is "never gonna do what's best for the society generally." As for these, after two years of the Obama presidency, we know those things are false. We have seen him in action and he has proven he is none of these and is not dismissive of the nation's best interests.

The dividing line, then, is not between President Obama and his critics. It is between questioning Barack Obama's origins, which has been deemed illegitimate, and unsubstantiated, ultra far right denunciation of his policies, which the Beltway crowd thus far has accepted as legitimate and to which it has granted thoroughly undeserved credibility.

Don't Just Do Something; Sit There

Standard & Poor's rating service yesterday issued a report (text, here) which had all of Washington atwitter and the stock market plunging. Its summary:

-- We have affirmed our 'AAA/A-1+' sovereign credit ratings on the United States of America.

-- The economy of the U.S. is flexible and highly diversified, the country's effective monetary policies have supported output growth while containing inflationary pressures, and a consistent global preference for the U.S. dollar over all other currencies gives the country unique external liquidity.

-- Because the U.S. has, relative to its 'AAA' peers, what we consider to be very large budget deficits and rising government indebtedness and the path to addressing these is not clear to us, we have revised our outlook on the long-term rating to negative from stable.

-- We believe there is a material risk that U.S. policymakers might not reach an agreement on how to address medium- and long-term budgetary challenges by 2013; if an agreement is not reached and meaningful implementation is not begun by then, this would in our view render the U.S. fiscal profile meaningfully weaker than that of peer 'AAA' sovereigns.

The hysteria extended to Rush Limbaugh, though it's often difficult to tell if he's really panicked by something or merely exploiting it for right-wing effect. He claimed

I told you they're scared to death by this. They're scared to death. They think this is Standard & Poor's telling the world that Obama is a disaster. That's what this is. This is purely a rating based on the Obama debt.

Actually, Rush is only half-wrong here. Standard and Poor's did not maintain "Obama is a disaster." Or not. Nor did it suggest that House Republicans are to blame. Or not. Instead, it (namelessly) spread the blame around, its credit analyst maintaining

More than two years after the beginning of the recent crisis, U.S. policymakers have still not agreed on how to reverse recent fiscal deterioration or address longer-term fiscal pressures.

Nor did the agency, in its fearsome analysis, shrink from praising the major players- President Obama and "key members in the U.S. House of Representatives," including Paul Ryan. Boldly, it "takes no position on the mix of spending and revenue measures the Congress and the Administration might conclude are appropriate."

Standard & Poor's argued "for any plan to be credible, we believe that it would need to secure support from a cross-section of leaders in both political parties." Given that the House, under John Boehner, is controlled by the GOP, the Senate is "controlled," under Harry Reid, by the Democratic Party, and the President (so we are told) has the power of veto, it is sage to assume that any plan adopted would have "the support from a cross-section of leaders in both political parties."

As the response from leaders of the two parties indicate, though, the report suggest a strategy of sorts for the federal government: don't just sit there- do something.

Except.... that is bad advice. According to Rush, "this is about the debt that Obama created. That's what that rating is all about." Not unless Barack Obama created the recession which began before he was nominated for President, initiated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lowered the 38.60% marginal tax rate for the very wealthy in 2002 while George W. Bush was head of state. (Yes, he extended them a few months ago but that hardly is what Limbaugh was thinking of.) The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, from CBO data, illustrates it:

Our political culture, The New York Times' David Leonhardt has explained

has made most tax increases, even to pay for benefits people want, unthinkable.

This is where the Bush tax cuts come in. They have created a way for inertia to be fiscally responsible.

They are scheduled to expire on Dec. 31 of next year, not long after the 2012 election. If Republicans win the White House and both houses of Congress, they will probably extend all the tax cuts, come what may for the deficit. If Mr. Obama wins re-election and Democrats control Congress, they are likely to extend the cuts on income below $250,000.

But if Mr. Obama wins and Republicans control the House, the Senate or both — an outcome that many analysts, at least for now, consider the most likely one — things could get interesting.

Republicans have said that they will not extend only part of the Bush cuts. Late last year, when the cuts first expired, Mr. Obama yielded to Republican demands to extend all the cuts (while insisting that they expire again after 2012). He was right to do so, in my view, given the fragility of the economic recovery.

Next year, however, the economy should be stronger. When the economy is in good shape, modest tax changes often have little effect on growth. Look at the 1993 Clinton tax increase, which didn’t prevent the 1990s boom. Or consider the Bush tax cuts, which were followed by the slowest decade of economic growth since World War II.

If Mr. Obama wins re-election, he could simply refuse to sign any budget-busting tax cut for the rich — who, after all, have received much larger pretax raises than any other income group in recent years and have also had their tax rates fall more. Republicans, for their part, could again refuse to pass any partial extension.

And just like that, on Jan. 1, 2013, the Clinton-era tax rates would return.

This change, by itself, would solve about 75 percent of the deficit problem over the next five years. The rest could come from spending cuts, both for social programs and the military.

Congressional Republicans not only supported the Bush 43 tax cuts- they still defend them, notwithstanding the budgetary consequences. Grover Norquist claims 247 members of the House of Representatives and 41 (all but one a Republican) members of the Senate have signed his Taxpayer Protection Pledge, vowing to oppose any increase at any time for any reason the marginal income tax rate for individuals and/or corporations and any "net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits." They are not serious; sincere, perhaps; serious, not. Paul Krugman notes

whatever they may say, Republicans are not concerned, above all, about the deficit. In fact, it’s not clear that they care about the deficit at all; they’re trying to use deficit concerns to push through their goal of dismantling the Great Society and if possible the New Deal; they have stated explicitly that they want to reduce taxes on high incomes to pre-New-Deal levels.

There may be several reasons Standard & Poor's won't commit to a particular "mix" of spending cuts and revenue increases. Among them would be that advocacy by a nonpartisan organization of even a slight tax increase- which would spark opposition, and no support, from Republicans- would force an acknowledgment that one party has no interest in responsibly addressing the national debt.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Republican Media: No. 29

It graced the Facebook page of Carol Costello and it also was on CNN, purportedly part of that "liberal media," on Friday:

Carol Costello: If you listen to our politicians this week, you might think America is at war. Not in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya, but right here at home in a kind of class warfare. [Excerpts of speeches by Obama, Orrin Hatch.]

From Republican Paul Ryan, Mr Obama's speech was the same old partisan politics:

Ryan: [video] "When the Commander in Chief sort of brings himself down to the level of the partisan mosh pit, it makes it more difficult to bring that kind of leadership."

Costello: groan It's deja vu all over again. Helloooo! 2008 anyone??? Will we see Joe the Plumber and President Obama calling Wall Street executives "fat cats" again?

At his inauguration Mr Obama urged both parties to rise above partisan politics. Now, says independent political analyst Jon Avlon, Mr Obama's speech opened him up to accusations of class warfare on the campaign trail going into 2012!

Wall Street vs main Street. As long as politicians keep reinforcing it, we will never get out of that partisan mosh pit.

So, talkback question today: Is class warfare the right political fight?

Apparently, it is the right political fight- and it is the political fight of the right. And it has worked, because it apparently has Costello buffaloed. The charts below, both from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities from Congressional Budget Office data indicate: a)from 1979 to 2007 the after-tax incomes of the top 1% increased 281% and of the top fifth, 95%; for the middle fifth, 25%; b)as a result, the share of the nation's after-tax income increased of the top 5th increased from 42.1% to 52.5%.

The disparity in wealth is greater even than in income and is highly likely to have grown since 2005. This is how class warfare really works, as illustrated by the Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi. He describes a program of the Federal Reserve and the opportunity it afforded two women: Christy Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley; and Susan Karches, the widow of Peter Karches, a close friend of the Macks who served as president of Morgan Stanley's investment-banking division. Consider this Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF):

Created just after Barack Obama's election in November 2008, the program's ostensible justification was to spur more consumer lending, which had dried up in the midst of the financial crisis. But instead of lending directly to car buyers and credit-card holders and students — that would have been socialism! — the Fed handed out a trillion dollars to banks and hedge funds, almost interest-free. In other words, the government lent taxpayer money to the same assholes who caused the crisis, so that they could then lend that money back out on the market virtually risk-free, at an enormous profit.

Cue your Billy Mays voice, because wait, there's more! A key aspect of TALF is that the Fed doles out the money through what are known as non-recourse loans. Essentially, this means that if you don't pay the Fed back, it's no big deal. The mechanism works like this: Hedge Fund Goon borrows, say, $100 million from the Fed to buy crappy loans, which are then transferred to the Fed as collateral. If Hedge Fund Goon decides not to repay that $100 million, the Fed simply keeps its pile of crappy securities and calls everything even.

This is the deal of a lifetime. Think about it: You borrow millions, buy a bunch of crap securities and stash them on the Fed's books. If the securities lose money, you leave them on the Fed's lap and the public eats the loss. But if they make money, you take them back, cash them in and repay the funds you borrowed from the Fed. "Remember that crazy guy in the commercials who ran around covered in dollar bills shouting, 'The government is giving out free money!' " says Black. "As crazy as he was, this is making it real."

This whole setup — in which millionaires and billionaires gambled on mountains of dangerous securities, with taxpayers providing the stake and assuming almost all of the risk — is the reason that it's insanely premature for Wall Street to claim that the bailouts have actually made money for the government. We simply can't make that determination until the final bill comes in on all the dicey securities we financed during the bailout feeding frenzy.

In the case of Waterfall TALF Opportunity, here's what we know: The company was founded in June 2009 with $14.87 million of investment capital, money that likely came from Christy Mack and Susan Karches. The two Wall Street wives then used the $220 million they got from the Fed to buy up a bunch of securities, including a large pool of commercial mortgages managed by Credit Suisse, a company John Mack once headed. Those securities were valued at $253.6 million, though the Fed refuses to explain how it arrived at that estimate. And here's the kicker: Of the $220 million the two wives got from the Fed, roughly $150 million had not been paid back as of last fall — meaning that you and I are still on the hook for most of whatever the Wall Street spouses bought on their government-funded shopping spree.

The public has no way of knowing how much Christy Mack and Susan Karches earned on these transactions, because the Fed has repeatedly declined to provide any information about how it priced the individual securities bought as part of programs like TALF.

Carol Costello doesn't want to dwell on this "partisan mosh pit." She and others might find out about the class warfare that has been going on for decades as the American taxpayer subsidizes wealthy investors, including offshore companies such as Waterfall TALF opportunity. Better to admonish Barack Obama for insulting Joe the sort-of Plumber and Wall Street- and to canonize Paul Ryan, whose formula for deficit reduction is elimination of Medicare.

As Digby notes,

This is the storyline for 2012. Get it straight. We're in "sacrifice" mode. And any of you who thought that Americans had already sacrificed quite enough of their futures already what with the ongoing high unemployment, health care crisis and foreclosures, think again. You don't know the meaning of the word. "Sacrifice" means paying more and getting less for the rest of your lives so that our productive overlords can make ever more money and employ more servants. If you object to that you are committing class warfare. Worse than that, you are boring the wealthy media celebrities, and that's simply unforgivable.


The husband-wife (or, rather, wife-husband) duo of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Martha-Ann Alito nee Bomgardner flew an upside do...