Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Roger Ailes, King-Maker


Say what you will about MSNBC and its stable of liberals. It has had Ed Schultz (suspended), David Schuster (fired), Keith Olbermann (dismissed), Lawrence O'Donnell, Rachel Maddow, and Chris Matthews- whom no liberal would claim as his or her own. (And who can forget Phil Donahue?) Matthews sometimes seem as if he's auditioning to replace Jay Carney, but MSNBC is not the leftist equivalent of the rightist Fox News and clearly not the communications wing of a major political party.

We know, of course, about Fox News employing as on-air talent Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin, then all prospective GOP presidential candidates. But it all began much earlier and goes way beyond Roger Ailes giving an extremely valuable forum to major Republican talent. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson writes that the dejure GOP political operative turned defacto GOP political operative in his role as head of the most profitable arm of News Corp

likes to boast that Fox News maintains a bright, clear line between its news shows, which he touts as balanced, and prime-time hosts like O’Reilly and Hannity, who are given free rein to voice their opinions. “We police those lines very carefully,” Ailes has said. But after Bush was elected, Ailes tasked John Moody, his top political lieutenant, to keep the newsroom in lockstep. Early each morning, Ailes summoned Moody into his office – often joined by Hume from the Washington bureau on speakerphone – and provided his spin on the day’s news. Moody then posted a daily memo to the staff with explicit instructions on how to slant the day’s news coverage according to the agenda of those on “the Second Floor,” as Ailes and his loyal cadre of vice presidents are known. “There’s a chain of command, and it’s followed,” says a former news anchor. “Roger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.”

When the 9/11 Commission began investigating Bush’s negligence in the lead-up to the terrorist attacks, Moody issued a stark warning: “This is not ‘What did he know and when did he know it?’ stuff. Do not turn this into Watergate. Remember the fleeting sense of national unity that emerged from this tragedy. Let’s not desecrate that.” In a 2003 memo on Bush’s overtures for Middle East peace, Moody again ordered the staff to champion the president: “His political courage and tactical cunning are worth noting in our reporting throughout the day.” During the 2004 campaign, Moody highlighted John Kerry’s “flip-flop voting record” – a line that dovetailed with the attacks coming out of the White House. In fact, Fox News was working ­directly with the Bush administration to coordinate each day’s agenda – as Bush’s own press secretary, Scott McClellan, later conceded. “We at the White House,” McClellan said, “were getting them talking points.” (Ailes and Fox News declined repeated requests from Rolling Stone for an interview.)

When Bush was re-elected, Murdoch and Ailes toasted the victory together in the control room of Fox News, celebrating until three in the morning.

Ailes deserved to take a victory lap or two. Indispensable to the election to the presidency of Richard Nixon, Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6), and George HW Bush (the latter by way of the racially-charged Willie Horton ad), Ailes left nothing to chance on election night 2000. Dickinson noted

The man he tapped to head the network’s “decision desk” on election night – the consultant responsible for calling states for either Gore or Bush – was none other than John Prescott Ellis, Bush’s first cousin. As a columnist at The Boston Globe, Ellis had recused himself from covering the campaign. “There is no way for you to know if I am telling you the truth about George W. Bush’s presidential campaign,” he told his readers, “because in his case, my loyalty goes to him and not to you.”

In any newsroom worthy of the name, such a conflict of interest would have immediately disqualified Ellis. But for Ailes, loyalty to Bush was an asset. “We at Fox News,” he would later tell a House hearing, “do not discriminate against people because of their family connections.” On Election Day, Ellis was in constant contact with Bush himself. After midnight, when a wave of late numbers showed Bush with a narrow lead, Ellis jumped on the data to declare Bush the winner – even though Florida was still rated too close to call by the vote-tracking consortium used by all the networks. Hume announced Fox’s call for Bush at 2:16 a.m. – a move that spurred every other network to follow suit, and led to bush wins headlines in the morning papers.

“We’ll never know whether Bush won the election in Florida or not,” says Dan Rather, who was anchoring the election coverage for CBS that night. “But when you reach these kinds of situations, the ability to control the narrative becomes critical. Led by Fox, the narrative began to be that Bush had won the election.”

Dwell on this for a moment: A “news” network controlled by a GOP operative who had spent decades shaping just such political narratives – including those that helped elect the candidate’s father – declared George W. Bush the victor based on the analysis of a man who had proclaimed himself loyal to Bush over the facts. “Of everything that happened on election night, this was the most important in impact,” Rep. Henry Waxman said at the time. “It immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds that he was the man who won the election.”

We never will know whether Osama binLaden was similarly exultant upon hearing of the election of George W. Bush to the presidency. He probably didn't know at the time, however, that the chance of success of his plan for a devastating attack upon the U.S.A. would be enhanced by the blind eye toward Islamic terrorism that would be turned by the new President.

Now, that was a cheap shot. But one that is as well-deserved as is grudging admiration for the powerful man who makes Republican presidents.



Avoiding The Ploy


Do they really need another reason? Speaker of the House John Boehner has scheduled for tonight a vote on a "clean" bill to raise the debt ceiling:

H.R. 1954: A bill to implement the President’s request to increase the statutory limit on the public debt.

SECTION 1. FINDING.

The Congress finds that the President’s budget proposal, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2012, necessitates an increase in the statutory debt limit of $2,406,000,000,000.

In the abstract, the American people, understandably unaware of the implications of a failure to lift the ceiling, are opposed to raising the limit. Boehner has, additionally, set a two-thirds requirement for passage of HR 1954, guaranteeing its defeat. The bill gives the House GOP majority an opportunity to flex its muscles by demonstrating to a portion of its base that it stands foursquare against spending.

The other portion- corporate- of the GOP base is on record as supporting an increase in the debt ceiling but supports also spending cuts.

The Chamber of Commerce and the financial sector realize that defeat HR 1954 increases the chances of ultimate passage of spending cuts with the inevitable increase in the debt ceiling. The vote thus is a freebee for Republicans, who later can accede to a rise after it is connected to spending cuts.

Jed Lewison, writing at DailyKos, hence advocates that Democrats vote en masse against the legislation. If every Democrat in the House were to support it, the measure still would fail- especially, but not only, because of the 60-vote requirement- with virtually every Republican grandstanding in opposition. There is, therefore, no reason for anyone (which means Democrats) to vote in favor. Oddly enough, House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer is urging his colleagues not to support the extension, as he

is warning his colleagues not to be "politically gamed" by Republicans and instead to either vote "no" or "present" to deprive the vote of any legitimacy. He told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday that if the bill is "simply a political charade in which the overwhelmingly majority or all Republicans are going to vote no, I'm going to advise my members that they should not subject themselves to the demagoguery that would surely follow."

We'll take it, though Hoyer did not acknowledge another reason to vote "nay": the need for Democrats to demonstrate that they are not willing to vote for raising the debt limit on GOP terms. It might not convince the Republican leadership, but it's a start.




Monday, May 30, 2011

And For Memorial Day, John McCain


Perhaps the two silliest remarks from a politician over the last two weeks have involved Senator John McCain: one about, and one from, him.

Former Senator and likely presidential candidate Rick Santorum appeared on the radio talk show (transcript of interview here) of conservative Hugh Hewitt. Asked about McCain's assertion that, in Hewitt's words, "there’s no record, there’s no evidence here that these methods actually led to the capture or the killing of bin Laden," Santorum responded

everything I’ve read shows that we would not have gotten this information as to who this man was if it had not been gotten information from people who were subject to enhanced interrogation. And so this idea that we didn’t ask that question while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being waterboarded, he doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works.

Not everyone would be as silly? stupid? reactionary? to suggest that John McCain, a subject himself of "enhanced interrogation" during the Vietnam War, "doesn't understand" torture. He easily could have said McCain is wrong (though he probably isn't) or stubbornly holding on to a prior position (though such perspective likely is valid) but "doesn't understand?"

But John McCain is nothing if not enigmatic (or perhaps contentious). Two-and-a-half years after an election loss precipitated in part by his vice-presidential selection, McCain told GOP News Sunday (transcript here)

I've never seen anyone as mercilessly and relentlessly attacked as I have seen Sarah Palin in the last couple of years. But she also inspires great passion, particularly among Republican faithful.

No one "as mercilessly and relentlessly attacked." McCain may have forgotten that when Kenneth Starr announced in November 1998 that no charges would be brought against Bill Clinton in the Watergate affair, it brought to an end "possibly the most politically charged case of journalistic malpractice in recent American history."

That was, unfortunately, only after the investigation leading to the impeachment of a President over sex was well under way. The formal charges pertained to lying to a grand jury about sex- but the entire affair (pun intended) was about sex. A President was impeached, though subsequently acquitted, for sex.

And yet Sarah Palin is uniquely victimized. The problem may lay in the increasing tendency of Republicans to see themselves as victims or instead over the view many of them hold regarding women in politics. When Luisita Lopez Torregrosa claimed that only Republican women have emerged as "major political voices," Kaili Joy Gray cited ten Democratic women, seven of them U.S. Senators, one a Secretary of State and former Senator, and two U.S. Representatives, including the former Speaker. She emphasized the "passionate" pro-abortion rights speech in February of Representative Jackie Speier and argued

I'll take our current crop of "pragmatic" Democratic women over the anti-woman "firebrands" who think busting the old boys' club is just a convenient campaign slogan, while they fight to roll back the very accomplishments that the "pragmatic" women Torregrosa dismisses have been fighting for since long before the Republican Party thought it could slather its misogyny in lipstick and call it feminism.

John McCain was a war hero in the extreme, in a manner in which extremism is no vice. But he also is making excuses for a self-obsessed blight on the American political landscape which, though a little troubling, may be unsurprising for a man who would offer his wife up for a wet t-shirt contest.



Sunday, May 29, 2011

Young And Old Targeted


There it is, in black and white, in the GOP's 2012 budget proposal, approved in the House and defeated in the Senate, entitled "The Path to Prosperity: Restoring America's Promise." In a nod to the doublespeak of George Orwell's 1984, Ryan titled a subsection "Saving Medicare" and claimed the plan would

Save Medicare for current and future generations while making no changes for those in and near retirement.

Uh, no. As Igor Volsky explains at Think Progress:

In 2022, newly-eligible beneficiaries would have to enroll in a private plan, but existing beneficiaries (those who are over 55 today) would also have the option of leaving traditional Medicare. 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 current retirees remaining in traditional Medicare will beginning in 2022, as Volsky speculates, face higher costs and fewer doctors, so will current retirees be faced with higher costs or reduced services beginning in October under the Ryan/GOP budget plan because

A new Medicare benefit that guarantees senior citizens free annual physicals and no co-pays for cancer screenings or mammograms would be repealed in October under a spending blueprint the House passed last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday.

That's because the Republican blueprint calls for repealing last year's health care reform law, Sebelius told reporters at a news conference.

House Republicans say their Medicare overhaul plan targets people under 55, but Sebelius and several Senate Democrats said the plan also would affect current beneficiaries.

Under the health care reform law, the "doughnut hole" in Medicare prescription drug coverage will gradually close.


But at least individuals currently 55 and over would not get shafted quite as much as those now under 55. That would apply only to the short term, however, given that, as Paul Krugman notes,

if you think about the political dynamics that would emerge once Americans born a year or two too late realize how much better a deal slightly older Americans are getting, you realize that this is a promise unlikely to be fulfilled.

Apparently, that is a Republican wet dream. Think Social Security, much of which Republicans also want to privatize. Individuals who invested wisely (or were lucky)- or at the right time- will profit somewhat, notwithstanding whatever is taken off the top by stock brokers. Those who invest at the wrong time will be out of luck- and will, no doubt, say "That's the breaks of the game. At least my neighbor prospered while I'm losing my home. Thank God for the market!"

Medicare, Social Security- it's all the same. Americans may be set against Americans, but at least Wall Street and the insurance industry make out like bandits.



Friday, May 27, 2011

Standing Short For Medicare


She is a Democrat. She represents a major swath of South Florida, including the retirement havens of North Miami Beach, Miami Beach, and Miami. Much of her constituency is elderly people, especially retired people who were reared in the relatively liberal northeastern U.S.

So what in the world was Debbie Wasserman Schultz following- and commenting on- the upset victory in N.Y. 26 of Democrat Kathy Hochul up to on Chris Matthews' Hardball (transcript here) maintaining

So, I mean, I think it is really -- it couldn`t be more clear that Republicans want to end Medicare as we know it and yank the safety net out from under our senior citizens, deny them affordable health care. And Democrats want to make sure that we can sit down around the table with Republicans, work to save Medicare, make sure that we can add to -- more to the long-term security of Medicare, like we did with the Affordable Care Act when we added 12 years of solvency to it.

She probably was up to the same thing she was the previous evening talking about the same issue to Lawrence O'Donnell (transcript here) on the same network:

....and make sure that we continue to draw the contrast that Kathy so successfully did between the Republicans who want to end Medicare as we know it and Democrats who make sure, like President Obama has talked about and Kathy did, that we strike the right balance and not balance all the pain on the backs of our seniors and people who can least afford. it....

I hope the message that Republicans got from this election result yesterday is that they should come to the table with us, sit down around the negotiating table and let`s work together to hammer out a reasonable compromise so we can preserve Medicare for the long term.


Schultz was touting, fairly gloating- as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, she has every right to- the upset victory in upstate New York by a nominee whom Wasserman Schultz herself attributed partly to Medicare. But instead of a full-throated defense of Medicare, she declares "We just need a willing partner to sit down and compromise with us" so the pols can "strike the right balance and not balance all the pain on the backs of our seniors...."

She wants to do that with a party which provided President Obama with zero (0) votes in the House and Senate for the Affordable Care Act and, after winning control of the House, proceeded to approve a repeal of health care reform, such repeal failing in the Senate notwithstanding every Republican standing in favor. It is a party 233 of whose 240 members House members have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge of Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, pledging never, evhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifer to vote in favor of increasing a tax or cutting a tax loophole. (Two Democrats currently in the House have signed.) And in a completely unrelated issue, it is a party whose members of Congress cheered on the Israeli Prime Minister after- and expressly because- he humiliated our own President (who, admittedly, is a willing victim).

The nomenclature is telling from the DNC head. Schultz wants to "preserve Medicare for the long term," mimicking Paul Ryan, who promises to "save" and "preserve" Medicare. Ryan denies that he is aiming to end, or even cut, Medicare. Why, he wants only to save and "strengthen Medicare by empowering seniors."

That sounds a lot like Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Moreover, she accuses Republicans of trying to "end Medicare as we know it." No, it's not "as we know it." It's ending Medicare. Period.

Perhaps Schultz deserves a break, seeming to take her talking points from the White House, which is negotiating (through surrogates Durbin and Biden) a cut in Medicare, after which it will tell its supporters that the program has been preserved against GOP attempts to end it. But as Robert Reich points out, this is the time for the Democratic Party boldly to propose Medicare for all, moving the goalposts to the left (which, in this environment, is toward the center), rather than to take a defensive posture. With a Democratic President, a Democratic Senate, and an electorate which wants its leaders to hold firm against the opponents of Medicare, America's less-conservative party can do better.



Thursday, May 26, 2011

Obama And Limbaugh Seeing Alike


New Jersey and You, then-N.J. Governor Tom Kean would say, "Perfect Together."

Rush Limbaugh and Barack Obama- not quite perfect together, but of one mind about N.Y.-26.

In her victory statement, Kathy Hochul touched on all the right issues- small businesses, jobs, off-shoring, oil subsidies, tax rates for the wealthy- but as in the campaign, she emphasized Medicare. She declared

And we can ensure we do not decimate Medicare.

We will keep the promises made to our seniors who have spent their lives paying into Medicare, so they can count on health care when they need it most.

Clearly, she did not clear her speech with the Administration. Congratulating the New York Democrat, President Obama stated

Kathy and I both believe that we need to create jobs, grow our economy, and reduce the deficit in order to out-compete other nations and win the future.

Memo to President Obama: you had the choice whether to concentrate on creating economic growth and jobs or reducing the deficit. You chose the latter. During an economic downturn.

Understandably, the President did not mention Medicare, which his personal Senator, Dick Durbin, and his vice-president, Joe Biden, are busy offering to cut as a sacrifice to deficit-cutting. Mr. Obama did not want to acknowledge the role of Medicare in Hochul's defeat of Jane Corwin who, until the waning days of the campaign, was a public supporter of the Ryan plan to rescind Medicare.

Rush Limbaugh didn't confer with Obama but he might as well have, given that on Wednesday the radio host remarked "The Medicare thing was not even really on the ballot."

Limbaugh, as an avid supporter of Paul Ryan and the decimation of Medicare characterizing the latter's budget, has a good excuse. He wants to destroy Medicare and the rest of the social safety net and with it, the Democratic Party's primary reason for being. He recognizes, but is understandably loathe to admit, that the American people, especially the elderly (which had taken to voting Republican in the age of Obama) like the Medicare system.

So, too, has Obama good reason to meet the other party halfway or more. He is a Democrat, his party controls one legislative chamber, the American people overwhelmingly oppose cuts to Medicare, and..... oh, never mind.




Wednesday, May 25, 2011

If Not For Monica Lewinsky


If only President Clinton had been removed from office rather than merely being impeached. Al Gore would have become President, would have won re-election, and wouldn't have headed off to some fake ranch when presented with the intelligence reading "bin Laden determined to strike inside U.S."

Speaking at the Peter G. Peterson's Foundation 2nd Annual Fiscal Summit, former President Clinton remarked

You shouldn't draw the conclusion that the New York race means that nobody can do anything solve the rising Medicare costs.... I just don't agree with that. I think you should draw the conclusion that the people made a judgment that this proposal in the Republican is not the right one. I agree with that, but I'm afraid that the Democrats will draw the conclusion that because Congressman Ryan's proposal, I think, is not the best one, that we shouldn't do anything and I completely disagree with that.

Backstage, he told Paul Ryan “I hope Democrats don't use this as an excuse to do nothing.”

Apparently, this willingness to sacrifice the elderly is nothing knew for Clinton. In 1998, he had turned his sights on Social Security:

"It would be unconscionable if we failed to act," President Bill Clinton said at a forum in 1998, when he made fixing the nation's retirement program a top priority of his second term.

Clinton's efforts then, in light of President Bush's now, induce an extraordinary sense of déjà vu.

Clinton appointed a bipartisan commission, which delivered in 1997 three options to save the giant retirement program. They included a now-familiar list of possible benefit cuts, from changing indexing formulas to raising the retirement age.


Then along came the Lewinsky scandal, about which Dean Baker has pointed out

As many former aids have acknowledged, President Clinton had been considering a variety of options for partially privatizing Social Security in the beginning of 1998 when the Lewinsky scandal exploded. With his presidency in jeopardy, Clinton had to rely on his core constituencies — labor, the African American community, women’s organizations — all groups that would have been infuriated by an effort to privatize Social Security. As a result, Clinton was forced to abandon this effort.

So, at the next affair you attend, don't forget to hoist a beverage of your choice and offer a toast to Monica Lewinsky, who may have played a major role in preserving Social Security.




Peace Nowhere In Sight


It began with President Obama's speech (transcript here) in Switzerland, where he helpfully remarked

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.

In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel – how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist. In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.


Prime Minister Netanyahu and supporters of his (mostly congressional Republicans) were, however, displeased when Obama added

The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

Acknowledging "that idea has been the working premise for negotiations since 2000," syndicated columnist, conservative Republican and Obama-hater Charles Krauthammer contended

Normal U.S. boilerplate except for one thing: Obama refers to Palestinian borders with Egypt, Jordan and Israel. But the only Palestinian territory bordering Egypt is Gaza.

Does Obama’s map force Israel to give up a corridor of territory connecting the West Bank and Gaza? This is an old Palestinian demand which would cut Israel inhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif two. Is this simply an oversight? Or a new slicing up of Israel?


When he spoke (transcript here) to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee three days later, Obama sought to quell concern of Israeli advocates when, to considerable applause, he explained that his formulation

means that the parties themselves -– Israelis and Palestinians -– will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.

Two days after that, the Israeli Prime Minister spoke (transcript here) to an adoring U.S. Congress. The same day, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who generally has found Netanyahu insufficiently committed to the peace process, asked

May I suggest a Tahrir Square alternative? Announce that every Friday from today forward will be “Peace Day,” and have thousands of West Bank Palestinians march nonviolently to Jerusalem, carrying two things — an olive branch in one hand and a sign in Hebrew and Arabic in the other. The sign should say: “Two states for two peoples. We, the Palestinian people, offer the Jewish people a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders — with mutually agreed adjustments — including Jerusalem, where the Arabs will control their neighborhoods and the Jews theirs.”

If Palestinians peacefully march to Jerusalem by the thousands every Friday with a clear peace message, it would become a global news event. Every network in the world would be there. Trust me, it would stimulate a real peace debate within Israel — especially if Palestinians invited youth delegations from around the Arab world to join the marches, carrying the Saudi peace initiative in Hebrew and Arabic. Israeli Jews and Arabs should be invited to march as well. Together, the marchers could draw up their own peace maps and upload them onto YouTube as a way of telling their leaders what Egyptian youth said to President Hosni Mubarak: “We’re not going to let you waste another day of our lives with your tired mantras and maneuvering.”

Crazy, I know. Bibi is reading this and laughing: “The Palestinians will never do that. They could never get Hamas to adopt nonviolence. It’s not who the Palestinians are.”

That is exactly what Mubarak said about the Egyptian people: “They are not capable of being anything but what they are: docile and willing to eat whatever low expectations I feed them.” But then Egyptians surprised him. How about you, Palestinians, especially Hamas? Do you have any surprise in you? Is Bibi right about you, or not?


Sadly, Benjamin Netanyahu is right about the Palestinians- or at least Hamas, which has inked a reconciliation pact with the comparatively moderate Palestinian authority. Upon the killing of Osama binLaden, the prime minster of the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniya of Hamas, remarked
http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
We condemn the assassination of a Muslim and Arab warrior and we pray to God that his soul rests in peace....

We regard this as the continuation of the American oppression and shedding of blood of Muslims and Arabs.


The elimination of the most famed, and infamous, terrorist in the world- a http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif"continuation of the American oppression and shedding of blood of Muslims and Arabs." This may be a reflection merely of a scurrilous terrorist organization or an effort to secure American support through intimidation. It does suggest that the Israel/Palestinian conundrum has relatively little to do with Islamic militancy. As Mitch Daniels, commenting on the "Arab Spring" understands,

what is going on in the Arab world these days has little or nothing to do with Israel or Palestine, it has to do with tyrannical regimes which have really stifled prospects for their people who are now restless for a better life. I think that should be encouraged. I think that tyrants who suppressing this human urge to greater freedom and prosperity ought to be sanctioned at a minimum. ... I don’t think right now it pays very much of a dividend to try to cut the Gordian Knot of Israel and Palestine.



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Better For Thou, Perhaps


Don't blame the 12 "regulars" of "The Chris Matthews Show," whom last week agreed that the better campaign position for both Democrats and Republicans would be, in Matthews' words, "compromise..... on party priorities like Medicare or tax rates."

It's a dumb question. Which priorities- Medicare, tax rates, or something(s) else? Judging from the transcript (here), we weren't told. But we do know that two- NBC's Kelly O'Donnell and HDNet's Dan Rather- of the four in-studio guests made no sense. A third, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, made a good point- and didn't answer the question. The fourth got it exactly right. The relevant portion of the program's transcript:


Usually we bottom line things with The Matthews Meter, 12 of our regulars. But let's start there this week. We asked the meter, which includes Kelly here, what will be the better political position for both parties to prepare for 2012, hold firm for your party's priorities like Medicare or tax rates, or compromise to get a deal? Well, it's unanimous, unusually. All 12 say compromise is the smarter presidential politics for both parties.

Kelly, explain that because so far you've seen the Republicans holding hard: no taxes, dismantle Medicare; Democrats holding back, not ready to make a deal. You're saying they're smart, both of them, to get in there and deal.

Ms. KELLY O'DONNELL (NBC Capitol Hill Correspondent): Well, compromise becomes very attractive in the 11th hour of the final day, and that's when people can begin to claim victory, they can define victory, and appear as if they are working together. Independents appreciate that. Most people live with a lot of compromises in their lives, and they find out that you can get along if you do that. It's just in the early stages it's most difficult, but those lawmakers who've got experience know that's where you've got to get. The newer ones are the most resistant.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the politics are there for the Democrats to actually cut into the bone of government spending, for the Republicans to actually raise taxes?

Mr. DAN RATHER (HDNet Global Correspondent): No. I think in the end everybody's kicking the can down the road, led by the president himself, who's kicking the can down the road in issue after issue. That--and Kelly's hit right on it, what this is about is listening very carefully, what do the independents and swing voters--who, after all, are going to decide the next cycle--what do they want? They've spoken in the polls that what they'd like to have is, you know, some sort of compromise. That's what they'll wind up with. A deal will get done because everybody's looking toward the 2012...

MATTHEWS: OK. So you say a deal.

Rachel, where are you on this?

Ms. RACHEL MADDOW (Host, "The Rachel Maddow Show" MSNBC): Well, I think when Kelly said we have to get past the primaries in order to start talking about this reality, the independent voters, that's key. And the primaries are going to take a long time on the Republican side.

Ms. O'DONNELL: Yes.

Ms. MADDOW: The last Gallup poll on the debt ceiling vote at the first week of May, end of the first week of May, 8 percent of Republicans, 8 percent, said they wanted their member of Congress to vote to raise the debt ceiling. Eight.

MATTHEWS: Just to--just to raise the debt ceiling.

Ms. MADDOW: Just to raise the debt ceiling. So we...

MATTHEWS: So they don't even want to--they wouldn't even go for a package of cuts and tax increases to get to that. They don't even want to raise the debt.

Ms. MADDOW: No. The--I mean, at this point you don't--you don't want to ask--you don't want the next question to be, `What would you like to set on fire?' I mean, when you're that extreme in your approach to it, anybody who's trying to woo Republican voters in the Republican primaries right now has no room on that topic.

MATTHEWS: Unbelievable. For the other--is that true, Michael, that they'd rather not even--they'd rather risk the government losing its credit rating and risk the government going into some kind of default rather than agreeing to the things you have to agree to in a compromise?

Mr. MICHAEL GERSON (Columnist, The Washington Post): I think Republican leaders understand the importance of a debt limit increase. I think they're likely to get some kind of discretionary spending deal. They're not going to deal with entitlements and tax increases and other things, they're just going to try to get past this. I--the grand deal, I think Obama would benefit most from. It would take the spending issue off the table going into a re-election campaign.

MATTHEWS: Yeah. So you agree that a compromise would be good for the Dems?

Mr. GERSON: It would be good for Obama.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

Mr. GERSON: It would require him to take on entitlements and throw most of his coalition under the bus, which I think would be very difficult.



Rather- probably the greatest broadcast journalist of his generation- suggests the familiar bromide that independents and "swing voters" decide elections, implying that the two groups are synonymous. Rather (pun intended), many independents are not swing voters but instead liberals or (more often) conservatives and are likely to vote for the party that more indentifies with those values.

No matter. When Kelly O'Donnell notes "the newer ones are the most resistant," she unwittingly argued against herself. The newer ones, not having the advantage of incumbency, were the ones most recently elected in part by appealing with a specific ideological agenda (or at least orientation) to voters. They know, for the most part, how to win in this environment.

And some of them did it by attacking what they contended were cuts in Medicare in President Obama's health care plan. Others did it specifically by alleging their opponents wanted to cut Medicare. These victorious candidates posing as defenders of that health care program for the elderly were Republicans. It seems like such a long time ago that the party which now wants to end the program at that time criticized Democrats for wanting to weaken it. Paradoxical, ironic, counter-intuitive, or all three- but true.

Some of these guys and gals won by seeming to stand up for Medicare. Now Kelly O'Donnell and Dan Rather seem to believe that the Democratic Party, which would be a permanent minority party were it not responsible for maintaining the strength of Medicare and Social Security through the generations, should compromise on its "priorities."

Somebody got it right, though, because not every Democrat would suffer by meeting the GOP halfway on entitlements:

MATTHEWS: Yeah. So you agree that a compromise would be good for the Dems?

Mr. GERSON: It would be good for Obama.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

Mr. GERSON: It would require him to take on entitlements and throw most of his coalition under the bus, which I think would be very difficult.


Most of that coalition, Washington Post columnist Gerson at least seems to understand, would suffer (being under a bus may be as uncomfortable as hearing the cliche) from voting to cut Medicare. It could come from a loosening of ties to the party's raison d'etre- the preservation of the social safety net- or from specific attacks upon incumbent Democrats by the Republicans who will challenge them in the fall of 2012. Long-term, Republicans can undermine entitlements; the party exists by calling for tax cuts, and then more tax cuts, and then even more tax cuts, and is continually revitalized by its corporate base.

When a compromise is reached- on Medicare, tax cuts, or whatever- the President, who presides over it all and commands broad media coverage whenever chooses, will reap some political benefit. The political blowback from the elderly and those who realize they will be elderly one day will be borne by the lesser members of his party. These Democrats would be better served by adopting Minority Leader Pelosi's line, “It is a flag we’ve planted that we will protect and defend. We have a plan. It’s called Medicare." "Get in there and deal," as K. O'Donnell counsels, and the Democrats obliterate Pelosi's message.

"Get in there and deal" and most Democrats will be damaged, some in the near term and some well beyond Mr. Obama's time.






Monday, May 23, 2011

Revoking Medicare


Eric Cantor says it. The House Majority Leader claims "The Democrats are doing "nothing to save Medicare from collapse" while "Republicans have offered a plan to guarantee benefits for seniors and those approaching retirement while ensuring that this important safety net exists for Americans under 54 years of age."

Mitch McConnell says it. The Senate Minority Leader contends "what Paul has done here is implement a premium support proposal at the end of the period, which is a very sensible way to go to try to save Medicare."

And of course, The Serious One, Paul Ryan himself, says it, hallucinating "We're saving Medicare for the elderly."

George Will disingenuously writes that Medicare "would be made permanently solvent." That might be technically true, given that Medicare would not be changed but instead eliminated, which would not leave the program insolvent. Or leave the program program at all.

The GOP has learned well one of the core axioms of politics: if you're explaining, your're losing. That is not far from "the best defense is a good offense," an invalid principle for a football or a basketball team, but a good one for a party caught red-handed trying to abolish Medicare.

We're not trying to eradicate Medicare, Republicans say, by radically restructuring it. We're trying only to save it from the other party, which wants to maintain the program. Or something like that.

But the Ryan budget, approved in the House with the support of all but four Republicans, does propose to end Medicare. When Politifact valiantly and dishonestly to claim that the voucher proposal is not intended to replace Medicare, Paul Krugman noted

I know that serious people are supposed to be shocked, shocked at the Democrats calling the Ryan plan a plan to dismantle Medicare — but that’s just what it is. If you replace a system that actually pays seniors’ medical bills with an entirely different system, one that gives seniors vouchers that won’t be enough to buy adequate insurance, you’ve ended Medicare. Calling the new program “Medicare” doesn’t change that fact.

Matt Yglesias explained

“Medicare” refers to a single-payer universal health insurance program instituted by the Social Security Act of 1965. If a political movement committed to having that program “wither on the vine” and die puts forward a bill to abolish that program and replace it with a system of private vouchers, then it doesn’t matter whether or not the voucher program is still called Medicare. That’s what House Republicans voted to do, and there’s nothing even slightly misleading about calling this an effort to end Medicare. What’s misleading is the effort to use nomenclature to obscure the nature of the change.

You may buy a Buick, a Ford, or a Honda and choose to call it a Mercedes. That would be your prerogative. Or a state government may give all its children a voucher they can spend on education at a private, sectarian or non-sectarian, school. That would not make it a public education, any more than your Ford Taurus is a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. And Paul Ryan's model for health care for the elderly is no Ford Taurus; more like a Yugo.




Sunday, May 22, 2011

Where Are The Jobs, Mr. Boehner?


It was only December, a few snowstorms ago, that GOP pundit/strategist Alex Castellanos had a rather quaint idea (transcript from The Situation Room, here):

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Priority No. 1 for the Republicans is going to be an agenda for jobs and growth, and that's what they're going to try to put, I think, on the table.

BLITZER: Does that mean repealing the health-care law? CASTELLANOS: I think the health-care law is going to be part of that, but it's not going to be, I think, what you see on day one. We don't want to fall in the same traps, I think, the Democrats did, which is they spent the year they should have been talking about the economy talking about health care. We don't want to flip that problem on its head, but...

BORGER: But they are going to...

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: ... smarter than...

BORGER: They are -- they're going to call for the repeal of health care.

CASTELLANOS: Sure, they're going to call for the repeal of health care. And it's going to be a big vote.

BORGER: The job-killing health-care bill.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: And it will pass the House and it won't pass the Senate, and then there will probably be a series of test votes throughout the year, repealing the parts that you don't want to keep, keep the parts that work. Veterans, things likes that. Deductibility.

But it's really going to be who gets to keep the focus on the economy, on jobs and growth. But first, whether it's the president or John Boehner, the first one to put something on the table called a strategy for jobs and growth and how we're going to compete with China is going to win.


Back when it needed to take back the House, last autumn, the GOP did emphasize the high unemployment rate and the importance of creating jobs. Control of the House flipped and during the lame duck period Republican pundits seemed to believe that the GOP really would concentrate on getting Americans back to work. As the short days of early winter have given way to the long days of late spring, that promise clearly has turned into a cruel joke, at least for the moderate voters who sprang for their message.

Let's check in on the GOP's gospel (though aided and abetted by the White House) of tax cuts. Jared Bernstein displays two scatterpoint diagrams (below), both comparing the Clinton years with the Bush 43 years. The first demonstrates a positive correlation between the top marginal tax rate and GDP growth; the second, between the top marginal tax rate and employment.








Bernstein cautions that this is "blogometrics," not econometrics and correlation is not causation. In one chart and two graphs on his post (click on the link, then on the graphs to enlarge), the Angry Bear demonstrates for a greater period, 1930 to 2009, "tax cuts are correlated with rapid growth in the first and second year after the cut, but even that degree of cherry picking indicates that the year of the tax cut, as well as 3 or more years out, growth is faster when taxes are hiked than when they are cut."




This still is not "proof," but further correlation. Still, it reinforces the reality that economists generally have failed to demonstrate a strong relationship between tax cuts and economic growth. Presumably, that would be significant if congressional Republicans were as concerned about jobs as they pretended to be during the campaign; or if their concern about unemployment were even a fraction of their concern about deficits (which, given the push for even more tax cuts, is itself a fraud). Unfortunately, the GOP's interest is in undermining the social safety net while jacking up the debt and destroying confidence in government to provide even a modicum of protection for the nation's citizens.

Let's check in on the "focus on the economy, on jobs and growth" Castellanos promised us. From The Hill:


Six Senate Republicans on Monday introduced legislation that would hit doctors with heavy fines and imprisonment if they fail to inform parents when their minor daughters seek an abortion.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), said that state laws requiring parental notification have helped to reduce teen abortion rates, but that these laws can be dodged when abortions are sought across state lines. He said a federal law covering all states would solve this problem, and that the proposal is widely supported across the country.

"Polls show nearly 80 percent of Americans agree parents should have the legal right to stop an abortion from being performed on their minor daughter," he said.
Under the bill, parents would have to be notified by certified mail that their minor daughter is seeking an abortion, and doctors would have to wait four days before performing the procedure. Anyone violating this requirement could face a fine of up to $1 million and a prison term of up to 10 years.

The four-day waiting period would give parents a chance to prevent the procedure by bringing a court action to block it. The bill says the district court would be required to issue an injunction preventing the abortion "until the issue has been adjudicated and the judgment is final."

"The court shall issue relief permanently enjoining the abortion unless the court determines that granting such relief would be unlawful," the bill says.
Other co-sponsors to the bill, S. 1005, are Sens. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and John Thune (R-S.D.).


This not being an abortion post, there will be no critique of the specific measures proposed by the Senators. But these Republicans have reminded us of their party's laser-like focus on the economy- and to their traditional dedication to the Tenth Amendment.




Saturday, May 21, 2011

Opportunity At Home For Chris Christie


The loss of Osama bin Laden may be a gain for the women of New Jersey.

Last summer, Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature which would have restored $7.5 million for family planning centers. Christie's budget completely eliminated state funding for family planning which, according to Planned Parenthood, the previous year had provided

-reproductive and preventive health care to 126,903 women and 9461 men
-breast examinations to 70,506 women with 4039 referrals for further evaluation ·
-pap tests to 65,252 women; ·
-HIV tests to 27,386 women and men; ·
-57,027 tests for Gonorrhea,
-7727 tests for Syphilis and 66,035 tests for Chlamydia; and ·
-services to 97,129 women and men without health insurance


An effort to override the GOP governor's veto failed on a party-line vote. New Jersey had been set to receive a 9 to 1 federal match in spending if the bill had been approved, Christie thereby having thrown away.... oh, you do the math. A lot of women's health would have been provided with very little expense to the New Jersey taxpayer.

The money may re-emerge, however:

On New Jersey 101.5's "Ask the Governor" show, Weinberg (D-Bergen), one of the bill's sponsors, informed Christie about Senate President Stephen Sweeney's decision to call another vote Monday on her bill to restore $7.45 million for the clinics.

"I hope this time around you will think about women's access to health care," Weinberg said.

Christie responded curtly, "Excellent, thank you very much, I will consider it when it comes."

The civility disappeared when the call ended.

"I don't think it's been in the best interest of the state for Sen. Weinberg to be around the state mischaracterizing women's access to health care," Christie said, saying women can get family planning services from other clinics and hospitals.

"This has become a political issue for Sen. Weinberg," he said. "She likes to throw around the political issues as much as anybody. I’ll decide what I think is the most responsible way to spend money."

Citing a tight budget, Christie eliminated the family planning clinic grants last year and later vetoed a bill (A3273) that would have restored them.


Apparently, though, New Jersey does have the money- and plenty of it. Recently, the state's treasurer revealed that $511 million more in revenue was expected to come in through June 2012 than esd expected in February, due in part to the surge in the stock market. Even before that, however, Governor Christie was creative enough to find perhaps $1 billion- that would be $1,000,000,000- to give corporate interests for an entertainment complex:

It was revealed last week that the state, lenders and Triple Five had reached an agreement for the developer to restart and expand the immense, unfinished Xanadu project. But no one provided any details until Tuesday, when state officials and executives of Triple Five held a news conference here and, for the first time, gave journalists in hard hats a tour of the almost-completed main building.

“It’s finally going to move forward now,” Mr. Christie said of the project, which has already burned through $1.9 billion and two developers, each of whom ran out of money.

“It’s going to move forward and be finished.”

The company unveiled artists’ renderings showing a simpler, more muted look both inside and out, including a largely pale blue skin to replace the exterior jumble of bright colors and shapes.

Triple Five revealed on Tuesday that it planned to spend $1.5 billion or more. It said it would expand the project to about 3 million square feet, from 2.2 million, by adding a water park and an amusement park, both under a climate-controlled, glass-and-steel dome alongside the New Jersey Turnpike. The firm has not yet acquired the land needed for that expansion.

New features will also be added to the main structure, including an ice-skating rink and possibly a rooftop outdoor movie theater, Triple Five said.

Officials with the state and Triple Five said the complex would draw more than 50 million people a year, even more than the 42 million who go to the company’s Mall of America, a similar but larger shopping center outside of Minneapolis.

The planned 2013 opening could have political implications for Mr. Christie, who expects to run for re-election in November of that year. The governor, a Republican, had vowed to resuscitate the project, which was devised and derailed under his Democratic predecessors.

Officials hope the mall can take advantage of the 2014 Super Bowl, to be played at New Meadowlands Stadium, a short distance away.

The state has already spent, by some accounts, as much as $1 billion on financing, tax breaks and highway improvements to support the development. The state will provide about $200 million in financing to Triple Five, and Mr. Christie has said that in return for such aid, the state must share in the benefits if the project succeeds.

The governor declined to say on Tuesday what financial arrangements would be made, but said, “we will get our investment back, and then some.”

That was disputed by Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who said the developer should be paying the state, which owns the land, rather than the other way around. He raised concerns about traffic and other environmental consequences of the project, adding, “New Jersey needs another mall like we need another Superfund site.”


In the wake of the elimination of Osama bin Laden, support for President Obama is way up and all possible opponents- including Chris Christie- come up short when matched against him. Although Christie may be eying a presidential run in 2016, the urgency that he establish and burnish a radically conservative profile for Republican primary voters or even corporate contributors has diminished. Not having to pander to a right-wing base gives him the opportunity to move toward the center and court independent voters while gearing up for re-election in a state in which his party is considerably more moderate than it is nationally. It won't turn Chris Christie into a liberal or good governor, but it gives him license to act as if he understands that fighting breast cancer and sexually transmitted diseases is good politics, as well as good policy.






Friday, May 20, 2011

Doing The Bidding For The Oil And Financial Sectors


Which is the GOP more dedicated to- the oil industry or the financial services industry?

On behalf of the oil industry: A procedural vote which would have enabled debate on S 258, the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, was defeated in the U.S. Senate on Thursday when it received only 52 votes, eight short of the needed 60. Oil companies receive approximately $2 billion a year in "incentives" and made approximately $38 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2011, The bill would have applied to the five largest, most profitable multinational oil companies: BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron and Conoco Phillips.

The debate on the motion to proceed to consider the bill to return some money to the Treasury received two (2) "aye" votes (the ladies Maine) from the (when convenient) party of deficit obsession, leaving 45 Republicans voting in favor of their oil industry benefactors. Fifty (50) Senators who caucus with the Democratic Party voted in favor of discussing a bill to end the tax breaks, with two (Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich) who voted with the GOP/oil industry representing states dominated by the oil industry.

Is there any mystery why nearly every Republican voted with the industry? As the chart, below, from the Center for Responsive Politics via DailyKos illustrates, the top six, and 12 of the top 13, recipients of campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries since 1989 are Republicans. Each of them voted no, as did Landrieu, the only Democrat, at #7, to crack the 13. The bottom 13 are all Democrats (including Independent Bernie Sanders, one of the few authentic Democrats left in the Senate) and they all voted to discuss the issue.




Loathe to admit they are doing the bidding of the corporate sector, Republicans instead argued, against all evidence, that removing the "incentives" would cause the price of gas to rise, presumably more than the roughly 27% it has risen in the past year, in presence of those "incentives." Supply contributed far, far less to the increase than have other factors, including speculation. As Reuters' David Sheppard explains

Goldman estimated in a research note on March 21 that every million barrels of oil held by speculators contributed to an 8-10 cent rise in the oil price. As unrest spread in North Africa and the Middle East, investors accumulated the equivalent of almost 100 million barrels of oil between mid-February and late March on top of their existing positions, adding approximately $10 to the 'risk premium', Goldman said.

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission said that as of last Tuesday, hedge funds and other financial traders held a total net-long positions in U.S. crude contracts equivalent to a near record 267.5 million barrels.

Using Goldman's estimates, that indicates the total speculative premium in U.S. crude oil is currently between $21.40 and $26.75 a barrel, or about a fifth of the price.


Pursuant to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, speculation in the oil futures market could be restricted by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, whose chairman earlier this year asserted "We could have helpful limits in place that could guard against markets being adversely impacted by excessive speculation. We could do that now if we wanted. And, as you can tell, I want." But as Pat Garofalo notes at Think Progress

even assuming the CFTC follows through with implementing the law, it will be hard pressed to enforce any limits if the budgets cuts envisioned by House Republicans are actually enacted. H.R. 1, the House Republican approved spending plan for the remainder of 2011, includes a nearly one-third cut in the CFTC’s budget. Such a draconian cut would require the CFTC to lay off more than 30 percent of its staff. “We’d have to have significant curtailment of our staff and resources,” CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler said. “We would not be able to police…or ensure transparent markets in futures or swaps.”

House Republicans are doing their share. On May 4

splitting along party lines, the House Agriculture Committee voted to delay by 18 months implementation of rules governing derivatives, the kind of complex financial instruments that were blamed for putting the financial system in jeopardy. The bill would require regulators to gather additional comments and further examine the potential downside of the rules.

Committee Chairman Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) said in a statement that he was trying to avoid rushed rulemaking. “We can’t ignore the concerns of businesses that we’re relying on to further our economic recovery,” Lucas said.


Translation: The casino will remain open- we can't impede the ability of corporations to bid up prices for the American consumer by speculation and other gambling in the derivatives market. While the goal is to rescind Dodd-Frank, the strategy aims to undermine the legislation because (not despite) "Unnecessary delay in implementing the Dodd-Frank Act will increase risk to the American people and leave significant uncertainty in the marketplace.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor admits, with no hint of shame,that he leans on counsel from the CME Group, which describes itself, with no shame but only pride, "As the world’s leading and most diverse derivatives marketplace."

While the CME Group specializes in trading contracts and derivatives products related to oil and food, Cantor was fourth in his chamber in campaign contributions from the securities and investment industry during the last election cycle. Number 10 was Spencer Bacchus, a Republican from Alabama. Once elected, the incoming chairman of the Financial Services Committee informed us

In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.

And so is Bacchus' party. Talking Points Memo reported earlier this month:

Forty four of their 47 members have signed on to a letter threatening to filibuster any nominee to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless it is dramatically weakened.

"We will not support the consideration of any nominee, regardless of party affiliation, to be the CFPB director until the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is reformed," reads a letter, co-authored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of the Banking Committee.

Congress created the CFPB, despite GOP opposition, as part of the Wall Street reform law, to protect consumers from predatory actors in the financial industry.


Shelby was #24 in contributions from the securities and investment industry and McConnell, #21 , despite hailing from states in which media buys are relatively inexpensive.

All is not lost. The presumptive- though far from inevitable- nominee for the Bureau is the extraordinary Elizabeth Warren and House Democrats are distributing a letter urging President Obama to tap her for a recess appointment. If Obama follows their advice, a major blow will have been struck for consumers. It would not be sufficient for reversing the three decades-long trend toward deregulation of the financial industry, but it is necessary.




Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Party Of Gingrich And Palin


David Gregory to Newt Gingrich from Sunday's Meet The Press (transcript here):

You gave a speech on Friday in Georgia, and you said the following about this president:

You want to be a country that creates food stamps , in which case frankly Obama 's is an enormous success. The most successful food stamp president in American history . Or do you want to be a country that creates paychecks?

REP. GINGRICH:
First of all, you gave a speech in Georgia with language a lot of people think could be coded racially-tinged language, calling the president, the first black president , a food stamp president.

MR. GREGORY:
Oh, come on, David .

REP. GINGRICH:
What did you mean? What was the point?

MR. GREGORY:
That's, that's bizarre. That -- this kind of automatic reference to racism, this is the president of the United States . The president of the United States has to be held accountable. Now, the idea that -- and what I said is factually true. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps . One out of every six Americans is on food stamps . And to hide behind the charge of racism? I have -- I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist.

REP. GINGRICH:
Well, what did you mean?

MR. GREGORY:
Well, it's very simple. He has policies -- and I used a very direct analogy. He follows the same destructive political model that destroyed the city of Detroit.


I had hoped to avoid the trifling controversy sparked by Newt Gingrich's obvious effort to bring race into the discussion of unemployment in the nation. One Friday the former House Speaker calls the black President "a food-stamp president. Two days later, he is called on it and, just so GOP primary voters know what he's talking about, he refers to "the same destructive political model that destroyed the city of Detroit." And he does so without explaining what that "destructive model" would be, leaving even less doubt that he doesn't care what this "model" is.

Perhaps he was referring to Detroit's status as having the second largest black population per capita of any major American city. Gingrich could have referred to Gary- the one city with a greater percentage of blacks- but a lot of people, including those primary voters, have no idea where Gary even is.

That does not make Gingrich a "racist" which, according to this excellent definition, is "a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others." That "inherent differences" element, admittedly, sets a high bar to hurdle, but that's why "racial prejudice" is an important concept.

Gingrich cleared that bar with ease. But it's not surprising that members of the the GOP, a party with no answer for high unemployment and little interest in finding one, would revert to the Southern Strategy initiated by presidential candidate Richard Nixon and perfected by Republican presidential candidate Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6).

Sarah Palin couldn't resist, contending

Well, talk about racism, that was a racist tinged question from David Gregory. He made it sound like if you're black, you are on food stamps and the President is referring to you as being on food stamps. I think that's racist.

Palin's comment fits in well with what Digby refers to as the GOP's "'I know what you are but what am I' politics." She cites "Andrew Breitbart insisting that if you call them out on their racism it makes you a racist" and this from the less conservative!) Senator from South Carolina:

“When Mr. Liu came to the Judiciary Committee and said that, basically, Judge Alito’s philosophy judicially takes us back to the Jim Crow Era, that to me showed an ideological superiority or disdain for conservative ideology that made him in my view an ideologue,” Graham told reporters off the Senate floor.

Digby observes "In other words, all criticism of conservatives is illegitimate. It's a neat trick."


Rivaling "I know what you are but what am I" politics is the "I was against it but now I'll take credit for it politics," which Gingrich illustrated when on MTP he claimed

I mean, I helped balance the budget for four straight years. We did it by cutting taxes and bringing the unemployment rate down to below 4 percent.

Gingrich is referring to the budget for fiscal years 1998-2001, all budgets for which President Clinton was responsible, which produced a surplus only when the Social Security trust fund was included..... budgets which were balanced only with a huge upper-income tax increase promoted and signed by Bill Clinton, which every Republican in Congress voted against, and which spurred then-Minority Leader Gingrich to vow

This is the Democrat machine's recession, and each one of them will be held personally accountable.

But since the Clinton Administration brought the largest sustained economic expansion in modern American history and Newt Gingrich was in the House of Representatives at the time, he now "helped balance the budget for four straight years"- despite fighting the policies which were responsible.

That doesn't have much to do with racism, racial prejudice, or Sarah Palin. But it is a reminder that racial bias is only a small part of the nonsense which has become routine in that party.




Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Radical Gingrich Not Radical Enough


What do you call a congressional effort to abolish one of the two most popular government programs in American history?

On April 20, it was "a good first step," according to Newt Gingrich, who told Time reporter/blogger Jay Newton-Small that "sure," he would have voted for Ryan's plan.

But hold on. Two hours later, The Weekly Standard reports, Gingrich on his Facebook page urged "Congress to move towards a 21st Century personal Medicare system that would allow seniors to choose, on a voluntary basis, a more personal system with greater options for better care."

On May 15 on Meet The Press (transcript here), it was "social engineering," with the Georgian explaining

I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left- wing social engineering . I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.

After all not-heaven broke loose, Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler sent an e-mail to The Weekly Standard arguing "There is little daylight between Ryan and Gingrich."

Despite the hysteria among conservatives over Gingrich's heresy, Perry is right: there really is little daylight between the two efforts to destroy Medicare. Clarifying on Sunday his remark, Gingrich further told MTP's David Gregory

I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the -- I don't want to -- I'm against Obamacare , which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.

The funny- no, not funny- thing about this is that Gingrich's framework is an orthodox conservative approach. While eschewing "radical change," he advocates solutions outside the Medicare framework- i.e., allowing individuals to choose a private option. Conveniently for conservatives, that would benefit the healthiest individuals, who might opt out of the program, whereas individuals in worse health would have no such option. (The right always has liked that Social Darwinism.) Eventually, the government "option"- Medicare- would be dominated by the sick and disabled and those clinging to life, relegating the program to a death sentence.

Not surprisingly, Tyler wrote the Weekly Standard

We need to design a better system that people will voluntarily move to. That is a major difference in design but not substance.... Radical means that politically you can't get to what Ryan wants from where we are. It will be demagogued to death. Right wing social engineer refers simply to compelling people to participate without giving them a choice. That is a political mistake.

As someone familiar with the Clinton-era Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party pre-Obama generally, Newt Gingrich figured Democrats would pounce on Ryan's effort to demolish Medicare and use it to demolish the GOP politically. That might be giving the Obamots too much credit. Still, Gingrich was offering the GOP a lifeline. Unfortunately for him, the party that would have sent the moderately conservative Ronald Reagan packing is way beyond that. Destroying a critical portion of the social safety net immediately, critical; destroying it gradually, by bits and pieces, far too reasonable.



Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This Is Not About Martin Luther


She's not even Lutheran, though she is a Protestant. But Katie Couric's obituary should read, "like Martin Luther...."

Martin Luther, a man of many character flaws- not the least of which was blatant anti-Semitism- nevertheless sparked one of the greatest social movements in world history, the Reformation.

And so it is with Katie Couric, a woman of many professional flaws, one of them on display on last Sunday's episode of 60 Minutes. Couric and Gates discussed "weapons of mass destruction" in this segment of the interview described by CBS News:

"What scares you the most? What worries you?" Couric asked.

"I think what I and most of us would say, it would be a terrorist with a weapon of mass destruction," Gates said.

"In this country?" Couric asked.

"Yes," he replied.

"Or anywhere in the world?" Couric asked.

"Well, anywhere, but especially in this country," Gates said.

Asked how likely that is, Gates said, "For years, we've received intelligence that they're trying to acquire a weapon of mass destruction. So far, they've been singularly unsuccessful, as far as we know. But it is the one thing that could be a huge challenge."


The flavor of this puff piece can best be appreciated by watching the video itself, available on the CBS website, though apparently not on youtube.

But the most significant part of the interview, which no one will recognize, is Gates' repetition of the term "weapons of mass destruction"- with no explanation or definition, and no request for clarification from Couric.

We've passed this way before. (Video of song by Seals and Crofts, which has nothing to do with this post, below. As to this issue, they were wrong. And on abortion, which is even more unrelated.) Dick Cheney referred to "weapons of mass destruction." George W. Bush emphasized "weapons of mass destruction."Secretary of State Powell, even in his detailed, albeit horribly misleading, address (transcript here) to the U.N. Security Council on February 5, 2003, employed the term "weapons of mass destruction" at least six times. The media repeatedly referred to "weapons of mass destruction" repeatedly and without clarification, helping lay the groundwork for public support of the war President Bush launched.

Repeat a phrase often enough and it becomes part of the lexicon, whether or not the individuals using the phrase, or their audience, know what it means or has any meaning at all. Presumably,if most members of the media had understood the phrase, they would have offered an explanation or at least asked the policymakers what they were referring to. Even now, many Americans regrettably believe chemical and biological weapons are of mass destruction.

This is not inconsequential because there was much evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and/or biological weapons but little reason to believe he had, or intended to develop or acquire, nuclear weapons. Moreover, Administration sources conflated biological/chemical weapons with nuclear weapons in part to exaggerate the destructive capacity of the former. In a post entitled "Saddam Does Not Have 'Weapons of Mass Destruction'," Timothy Noah on 8/27/02 explained

(Noah) That chemical and biological weapons don't deserve to be called "weapons of mass destruction" is a point long familiar to arms control experts. Here, for example, is Gert G. Harigel of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

The term "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD), used to encompass nuclear (NW), biological (BW), and chemical weapons (CW), is misleading, politically dangerous, and cannot be justified on grounds of military efficiency. …Whereas protection with various degrees of efficiency is possible against chemical and biological weapons, however inconvenient it might be for military forces on the battlefield and for civilians at home, it is not feasible at all against nuclear weapons.

(Noah) Wolfgang K.H. Panofsky spells out the comparative lethality of nuclear versus chemical and biological weapons in the April 1998 issue of Arms Control Today, in an article headlined "Dismantling the Concept of 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' ":

The weapons detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed about a quarter of a million people, had an explosive power about one-tenth that carried by a modern nuclear weapon. … If a 1-megaton thermonuclear warhead exploded at optimum altitude over a large city, little would be left standing or alive within five miles. A firestorm could be ignited, further extending the range of destruction. In a large-scale exchange, lethal fallout would cover an entire region.

(Noah) Biological and chemical weapons, though certainly very nasty, are not nearly so deadly:

If virulent BW materials were to be widely distributed over an exposed population, then the ratio of potential lethality to the total weight of the material could be comparable to that of nuclear weapons. However, for this horrifying scenario to occur, the materials cannot be dispersed by a single-point explosion, but instead must be spread by an appropriate mechanism such as spray tanks or by "fractionating" a missile's payload and dispersing separate mini-munitions over a wide area. Moreover, survival of BW material depends critically on local meteorological and other conditions which define the delivery environment. The survival of agents is generally of short duration and effects are delayed for days. … There is little question that the lethality of chemical weapons—as measured by per unit weight of delivered munitions—is lower by many orders of magnitude than it is for nuclear weapons or the undemonstrated and inherently uncertain potential of biological weapons.

Noah's piece is infinitely (o.k., much more; "infinitively" is like referring to chemical and biological weapons as those of "mass destruction") more informative than Couric's adoring interview. Still, if Katie Couric continues to be a substandard journalist, she will have performed in her professional career a service, though dwarfed by that of Martin Luther, which will have overshadowed any of her deficiencies.

For it was Katie Couric who ever will be remembered as the media personality who asked Sarah Palin what Supreme Court decisions, other than Roe v. Wade, she disagreed with and what newspapers and magazines she "regularly read(s)." Palin's response to those questions helped transform her image as a bold, candid maverick into an immature and unsteady running mate for a 73-year old man. Unfortunate statements and erratic behavior have followed, but Couric's interview helped sink the McCain-Palin ticket, thus shielding the nation from the risk posed of Palin being first in succession to the Presidency. The political career of the former Alaskan governor continues on a downward spiral. And however a McCain presidency might have turned out, that is a major contribution to civilization














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