The Case Against Mitch Daniels, Part 1

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is running for president.

Oh, he hasn’t said so for sure, but he is.  I watched him on the Fox-Republican “News” Channel yesterday and you can just see it in his nervous eyes. 

But one of the real reasons I am certain he is running is because he took the trouble to downplay his time serving as a W. Bush official. Unfortunately for him he was Bush’s first Budget Director. He served the administration for almost two and a half years, when drunken conservatives were spending Clinton surpluses on millionaires and billionaires and two wars and a Homeland Security behemoth and a new entitlement program, Medicare Part D.

As the Indianapolis Star reported in 2005:

Bush gave Daniels the nickname “The Blade,” but the administration’s tax cuts combined with an economic downturn put Daniels in the awkward position of watching a $236 billion annual surplus turn into a $400 billion deficit during his 29-month tenure.

Whoops!  But don’t worry. It wasn’t his fault.  He told Fox,

…nobody was less happy than I to see the surplus go away, but it was going away no matter who was the president.

Ha. That’s funny. But it gets better. He said to NPR’s Steve Inskeep this morning:

DANIELS: Look, I was proud to serve in that administration, but that surplus was going away, and it wouldn’t have mattered who was president, let alone in the supporting role of budget director. We had the collapse of the bubble, the recession…

INSKEEP: After 9-11.

DANIELS: Then 9-11, with all the costs that came with that, the whole new category we call Homeland Security and two wars — so, I mean, that deficit [sic] was going away and it wouldn’t have mattered who was in any of those jobs.

Another laugher. But this time with a twist. That “[sic]” NPR had to insert in the transcript tells a tale. A nervous tale.  He meant surplus, obviously, but deficits and his role in creating them are on his mind. The man is a little worried about how his role in the Bush administration’s mismanagement of the economy will play in Peoria.

I want to note that Inskeep should have asked him why, with all the massive government spending the Bush administration believed was necessary, didn’t Daniels advocate actually paying for some of that stuff?  Maybe someday out on the campaign trail we’ll get an answer to that question.

But Inskeep did get close:

INSKEEP: Would you not have, would you not have approved of those tax cuts?

DANIELS: I did approve of the tax cuts. And by the way, they were widely credited — and still are, by honest people, with the shallowness and the swiftness of recovery from that recession.

Like a good conservative, he did approve of the tax cuts. But what about that business about the “shallowness…of recovery“?  I, for one, won’t argue with that anxiety-induced admission.  But he’s clearly nervous talking about this issue.  That’s not good for  a man George Will claims has the “charisma of competence.”

But I want to continue on with what he said next:

That was lucky by the way, it’s only fair to say, President Bush never proposed those tax cuts as a stimulus as we now see matter, ’cause nobody knew we had a recession starting up. But the timing was somewhat lucky.

Now, let’s look at what Bush’s budget czar is saying here:

1) The Bush tax cuts had a positive effect on the economy: “they were widely credited…with…the swiftness of recovery from that recession.” 

There is a dispute whether those tax cuts had anything to do with the recovery. But let’s move on:

2) The tax cuts, which have deprived the treasury of at least $2 trillion and counting, were not intended as government stimulation of economic growth: “That was lucky by the way…President Bush never proposed those tax cuts as a stimulus.”

Hmm. Just lucky?  Doesn’t Mr. Daniels know that the First Law of conservative economics is that tax cuts = economic growth?  And if he thinks they weren’t designed to enhance economic growth, what was their purpose?  To destroy our fiscal health?  Huh?

And surely he knows that George Bush did in fact sell the 2003 tax cuts as stimulative. Bush said the following, when he was signing into law the final phase of the Bush tax cuts:

By insuring that Americans have more to spend, save and invest, this legislation is adding fuel to an economic recovery. We have taken aggressive action to strengthen the foundation of our economy so that every American who wants to work will be able to find a job.

It’s obvious Governor Daniels wants to run for president and wants us to forget his time and part in the previous mismanagement of our nation’s finances.  I don’t blame him for that. But the Bush tax cuts were a big piece of that mismanagement and are responsible for a big chunk of our debt, and their legacy continues.  Yet Daniels, who sees the debt problem as the new “Red Menace,” has learned exactly nothing from his previous role in the mismanagement of the economy:

INSKEEP: Uh, is the problem grave enough that those tax cuts should be allowed to expire? They’ve now been extended through 2012.

DANIELS: I think it’d be a catastrophic mistake…I think raising taxes right now in a very fragile economy, still, would be a real mistake.

Let’s see here.  Back in 2001, when we had budget surpluses, Republicans, including Daniels, argued that was the time to cut taxes. “Give Americans their money back,” they insisted.  Now, when we have enormous deficits, we must keep the cuts in place.  “We can’t afford to raise taxes,” they insist.

Perhaps you guessed by now that there is never—never—a time in which conservative Republicans believe taxes should be such that they pay for the size of government Americans have come to love.  And Daniels, who is widely praised as the best hope to defeat Obama in 2012, represents everything that got us to this point of unsustainable debt.

He also represents everything that is wrong with conservative thinking on today’s hot topic, public sector unions.  As NPR pointed out this morning, it didn’t take Daniels long to establish himself as a full-tilt conservative union-buster:

In 2005 on his first day in office, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed an order ending collective bargaining with public employee unions. He said it freed him to turn over some state jobs to private contractors.

If that doesn’t energize the labor movement against him, nothing will.

But beyond that, should Daniels decide to run, as I believe he will, Democrats need to hang the Bush tax cuts around his Bush-administration neck and make him defend them again and again, even while he hypocritically tries to convince voters that a deficit menace is our nation’s biggest threat.

You just can’t claim you’re serious about the debt problem and take taxes off the table.

Out Of The Mouths Of Conservatives

I know it’s common for people like me to say that the Republican Party is a footslave of corporations. And I know it’s easy for folks on the Right to tune out that truth, but what if it came from a right-winger?  Huh?  Would that help?

Yesterday on Morning Joe, during a discussion on the Wisconsin fiasco, conservative Republican Joe Scarborough asked conservative Republican Pat Buchanan a question relative to his presidential run in 1992 and 1996:

Scarborough: Pat, you have gone against the Republican Party time and time again; talked about the vanishing middle class; talked about over the last 30-40 years the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer…and a lot of people that supported Pat Buchanan n ’92-’96 were fed up union workers in the rust belt. So, I’m a little surprised by your position on collective bargaining, that you think they need to break these public unions.  Doesn’t that go against what you’ve been fighting for over the past 15-20 years?

Now, that’s just a wonderful question.  Although a Republican, Buchanan is not a believer in free trade, which has decimated many union jobs.  In fact, he wrote a book against free trade called, The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy.  I have sympathy for some of his arguments in the book, although I haven’t finally adjusted my erstwhile conservative thinking on the so-called free trade issue. It’s complicated, as they say.

But what is not complicated is that Republicans have completely sold out to what passes for free trade in this world and Buchanan has called them on it for years.  And Scarborough was right to point out his inconsistency in appealing to unionists in the past and his present defense of Governor Walker’s assault on public employee unions in Wisconsin. 

Here is Pat’s answer to Scarborough’s question, which was a dodge, but pay particular attention to the ending:

Buchanan: Well, I think the trade policy of the Republican Party has virtually destroyed middle America. It’s virtually destroyed these auto workers and these other unions, Joe, because, you know, people moving their factories out to China, it’s an easy thing to stop, but the big corporations control the Republican Party.

There you have it.  From the mouth of a conservative Republican:

The Republican Party has virtually destroyed middle America.”

The big corporations control the Republican Party.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

While We Were Away, Republicans Were Trying to Kill The Economy

While the mess in Wisconsin drags on, the economic recovery remains fragile and anemic.

And the Republicans in Congress—almost unnoticed—are doing everything they can to exacerbate its fragility and deprive it of much-needed iron—government spending.

Most every economist this side of Rush Limbaugh understands that there is a deficiency in demand in our economy.  That’s one reason (but not the only one) why American businesses are sitting on a Chris Christie-size pile of cash.   But what to do about the demand problem is the issue.

The Republican answer is austerity.  Crippling austerity, it turns out.  Last week, Speaker Boehner famously said he doesn’t much care (“so be it”) if the GOP spending cuts kill jobs, because they would be government jobs.

But yesterday, the Financial Times published a story indicating that it won’t just be government workers who take a hit from Republican budget-cutting hysteria. The headline was:

Goldman sees danger in US budget cuts

The story began:

The Republican plan to slash government spending by $61bn in 2011 could reduce US economic growth by 1.5 to 2 percentage points in the second and third quarters of the year, a Goldman Sachs economist has warned.

Even if—to avoid a government shutdown—Democrats managed to whittle down the budget cuts in a compromise deal with Republicans, say, to $25 billion, that will still “lead to a smaller drag on growth of 1 percentage point in the second quarter.”

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, and former John McCain campaign adviser, concurs:

The betting is that we’ll see cuts somewhere close to $25-, $30 billion that take affect beginning in the second quarter of this year. And that could shave growth by as much as a percentage point. So it would weigh on growth. It would have longer lasting affects, but near-term it would be a negative.

Kudos to at least one Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, who said,

This nonpartisan study proves that the House Republicans’ proposal is a recipe for a double-dip recession. Just as the economy is beginning to pick up a little steam, the Republican budget would snuff out any chance of recovery. This analysis puts a dagger through the heart of their ‘cut-and-grow’ fantasy.

Unfortunately, the cut-and-grow fantasy is not that easy to kill.

Paul Krugman, wrote a few days ago:

It’s amazing how this whole crisis has been fiscalized; deficits, which are overwhelmingly the result of the crisis, have been retroactively deemed its cause. And at the same time, influential people around the world have seized on the idea of expansionary austerity, becoming ever more adamant about it as the alleged historical evidence has collapsed.

Since the fall of 2008, there has emerged two diametrically opposed approaches to solving our (and the world’s) economic predicament:

(1) Stimulate the economy through government (deficit) spending until consumer demand picks up sufficiently to sustain a strong recovery

(2) Drastically cut government spending because deficits are a drag on the economy

It appears to me that the balance of economic opinion—from real economists—agrees with (1).  But Republicans—energized by anti-government deficit-phobes in the Tea Party movement—have successfully changed the debate from nurturing the economy back to health and creating jobs to killing labor unions, dismantling government programs, and making draconian cuts in government spending.

It’s fair to ask: What does killing Big Bird and collective bargaining have to do with lowering the unemployment rate?

Mark Thoma, Professor of Economics at the University of Oregon, wrote in The Economist:

Policymakers are not taking proper account of the risk of an extended period of stagnation. We should be pursuing additional fiscal stimulus along with quantitative easing as insurance against a stagnant economy that persists into the future, in fact this should have happened months ago.

He wrote that in October of 2010.

But Thoma is a real economist.  He doesn’t just play one on TV or radio.  And as Krugman said,

From where I sit, it looks as if the ascendant doctrines in our policy/political debate are coming precisely from people who don’t know and don’t care about technical economics. The revival of goldbuggy sentiment, the fear of hyperinflation in the face of high unemployment, the continuing force of the notion that tax cuts don’t increase the deficit, aren’t coming from some subtle battle among mathematical modelers; they’re coming from the same people who reject evolution, climate science, and more. They don’t need no stinking technical analysis. The truth is that the economics profession is proving far less relevant to public debate, even in the face of economic crisis, than was dreamed of in our philosophy.

Now, whether you think it good or ill that professional economists have lost their clout, the fact remains that in their place have come fiscal and monetary policy geniuses like Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck and, God forbid, Ozark Billy Long.  People like these three have more to do with how we are fighting this crisis than those who have spent a lifetime studying economics.

And if that doesn’t scare you, then you must be a wealthy Republican.

[J.S. Applewhite / AP (left, center); Cliff Owen / AP]

“Thanks A Million!” Says The Governor

“There’s nothing new here. There’s no news…he didn’t say anything that he hasn’t said publicly. So there’s no gotcha here.”

—Rush Limbaugh, on the prank call to Governor Scott Walker

“This tape would make Richard Nixon blush.”

—Wisconsin State Senator Tim Carpenter

Limbaugh says there’s nothing new. No news.  Which means, of course, that there definitely was news, from revealing that the whole thing is about breaking the union to revealing a trick to lure Democrats back to the state to revealing that he “thought about” bringing in “some troublemakers.”

But the odd thing is that during what he thought was just a pep talk from the Kochtopus, Governor Walker raised the issue of ethics:

…if the unions are paying the 14 senators—if they’re paying for their food, their lodging, anything like that, uh, we believe at minimum it’s an ethics code violation and it may very well be a felony misconduct in office… And we still’ve got, the attorney general’s office is looking into it for us. So we’re trying about four or five different angles, so each day we crank up a little bit more pressure.

Hmmm. Ethics. I wonder.

There is an agency in Wisconsin called the Government Accountability Board.  Within that agency is an Ethics and Accountability Division, which presumably investigates ethics complaints against state officials.

Yesterday, the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported that a state government watchdog group, Common Cause of Wisconsin,

called for an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s comments with a prank caller purporting to be a major donor.

Jay Heck, executive director of Wisconsin Common Cause, said Walker’s remarks seeking support for Republicans from swing districts from a caller posing as an energy industry executive should be reviewed by the state Government Accountability Board.

Coordinating campaign strategy with a group that conducts independent campaign expenditures would be a law or ethics violations, Heck said.

Here’s the relevant exchange between Fake Koch—”posing as an energy industry executive”—and the Governor:

Fake Koch: Yeah. Now what else could we do for you down there?

Gov. Walker: Well the biggest thing would be-and your guy on the ground [Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips] is probably seeing this is the, well, two things: One, our members originally got freaked out by all the bodies here… So one thing, per your question is, the more groups that are encouraging people not just to show up but to call lawmakers and tell them to hang firm with the governor, the better. Because the more they get that reassurance, the easier it is for them to vote yes.

Fake Koch: Right, right.

Gov. Walker: The other thing is more long-term, and that is, after this, um, you know the coming days and weeks and months ahead, particulary in some of these, uh, more swing areas, a lot of these guys are gonna need, they don’t necessarily need ads for them, but they’re gonna need a message out reinforcing why this was a good thing to do for the economy and a good thing to do for the state. So to the extent that that message is out over and over again, that’s obviously a good thing. 

Fake Koch: Right, right. Well, we’ll back you any way we can.

Get that?  The governor is asking for “Koch” to not only help get counter-protesters to the scene, but get them to call and encourage Republican legislators, in case they start to cave. 

But worse, he is asking for “Koch”—who gave Walker $43,000 and contributed $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on Walker and $3.4 million against Walker’s opponent—to spend money on behalf of those Republicans in the “more swing areas” who are “gonna need a message out reinforcing why this was a good thing to do for the economy and a good thing to do for the state.”

Another troubling exchange has raised ethical and legal questions:

Fake Koch: [Laughs] Well, I tell you what, Scott: once you crush these bastards I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.

Gov. Walker: All right, that would be outstanding. Thanks, thanks for all the support and helping us move the cause forward, and we appreciate it. We’re, uh, we’re doing the just and right thing for the right reasons, and it’s all about getting our freedoms back.

Fake Koch: Absolutely. And, you know, we have a little bit of a vested interest as well. [Laughs]

Gov. Walker: Well, that’s just it. The bottom line is we’re gonna get the world moving here because it’s the right thing to do.

My question, leaving ethics aside, is if the Governor is so confident in the righteousness of his cause, and if he thinks, as he indicated to Fake Koch, that he has the people on his side, why does he need Koch?

Oh, yeah.  The answer was in the way Walker ended his call:

Thanks a million!

Remarks And Asides

Just because it’s too funny for words, I want to mention that I heard Juan Williams, former journalist, now full-time Foxer, say this on Bill O’Reilly:

It hurts me to see a news organization get involved in politics to that level.

Williams, of course, was talking about CNN and its coverage of the massive—massive, I tells ya—scandal involving doctors writing excuses for teachers in Wisconsin.

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Good news: It appears President Obama has taken Social Security off the table in terms of deficit reduction talks.  A spokesman said that the program is solvent for “another 26 years” and that any reform talk should be in the context of “strengthening the program.”  Some of us were afraid the President would go all wobbly-kneed on this issue, but it looks like he’s standing tall.  For now.

____________________

More good news: The Obama administration apparently will no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.  The Justice Department wrote Speaker Boehner and broke the good news that Section 3 of the Act, “as applied to same-sex couples who are legally married under state law, violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.”

This is a courageous act by Obama, since there is very little to gain from it politically, and it will, no doubt, fire up evangelicals and other gay-bashers.  Kudos to the President.

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The Government Accountability Office is warning Republicans who want to play Russian roulette with the debt ceiling that it “could have serious consequences for the Treasury market and increase borrowing costs.”  Gee. Who could have guessed that?

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Fox “News” “reporters” have had a hard time in Wisconsin.  For the second time in a week, protesters chanted during an on-air segment.  The first time it was, “Fox lies! Fox lies!”  This time it was “Tell the truth! Tell the truth!” What these naive protesters don’t understand is that were Fox to stop lying and tell the truth, it would go out of business.  Ain’t happening.

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It’s now 3 games to 2, if you’re keeping score in the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act World Series.  This time U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington tossed a no-hitter and threw out a lawsuit brought by religious zealots, who claimed forcing them to buy health insurance violated their religious freedom.  It seems three of the plaintiffs in the suit believed that purchasing insurance would piss off God, who would then presumably not heal them of their diseases, God being a rather vindictive sort.

______________________

Speaking of being pissed off, potential Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich got a little perturbed at the president of the University of Pennsylvania Democrats because she dared to ask him about his serial marriages and his admitted affair with his current wife before she was his current wife and how all that comported with his religious values. 

Politico reported that the young Democrat “was clearly trying to embarrass him.” But I don’t think so because she was gracious enough not to mention Gingrich’s affair on his first wife. Nevertheless, the plump professor didn’t appreciate her restraint. He sarcastically praised “the delicacy and generosity” in the way her question was framed. 

If only Mr. Gingrich had been as delicate and generous with his previous wives.

______________________

Scott Walker’s move to kill public employee unions in Wisconsin will reportedly cost his state almost $47 million in federal transit funds, since federal labor law demands that transit workers have collective bargaining rights.  I predict that in a day or so, Republicans in the U.S. House will crap out a bill to amend that ridiculously pro-union provision of the law.  Maybe Ozark Billy will get to work on that, but someone will first have to explain to him what transit workers are.

Want To Make Yourself Sick?

If you want to make yourself absolutely sick, listen to the conversation below—posted today—between someone pretending to be billionaire and master of the conservative-libertarian universe David Koch and Governor Scott Walker. 

The Wisconsin governor was punked by current editor at the Buffalo Beast, Ian Murphy. The Beast is an online newspaper founded by Matt Taibbi.  As I said, it makes you sick to know for sure—of course, we always suspected it—that this stuff is going on behind the scenes. 

If you want a partial transcript go to the Beast site, but just to give you an example, during the conversation, “David Koch” says, “We’ll back you any way we can,” and then follows it with this:

David Koch“: What we were thinking about the crowds was planting some troublemakers.

Governor Walker: We thought about that…

Here are the two parts of the conversation, which confirms what those of us on this side have said about Governor Walker’s motives:

George Will Rats Out Wisconsin Governor

George Will has done us a favor by ratting out Governor Scott Walker.

But first:

Will’s latest assault on public employee unions is full of his usual lack of candor dressed up as an excess of it.  Writing about the goings-on in Madison, Wisconsin, he says:

This capital has been convulsed by government employees sowing disorder in order to repeal an election.

The convulsion is, of course, a convulsion of democracy, which Mr. Will and his fellow conservatives like Glenn Beck—whom Will resembles more and more with each column—just don’t seem to like all that much.

Unless the convulsive sowers have tea bags hanging from their hats.

Beck said on his radio show on Tuesday:

What is the job of he AFL-CIO?  I contend the job of the AFL-CIO is to create a global disruption…sowing the seeds of a global revolution.

So we have:

Will: “government employees sowing disorder.”

Beck: “AFL-CIO…sowing the seeds of a global revolution.”

As they say, paranoid minds think alike.

George Will (or Glenn Beck) never once characterized Tea Party town hall protesters as sowers of disorder, whose delirious democratic seizures were by design intended to repeal the 2008 election.  Not once. 

But nevermind that inconsistency. Here’s the ratting-out part:

In his Beckish column, Will’s Reaganization—deification, for conservatives—of Governor Scott Walker merely repeats the half-truths, quarter-truths, and lies that is the “it’s my story and I’m sticking to it” strategy of the Governor and his Republican allies. 

But we’ve heard all the misleading statements of the Governor.  No need to recount those. What we haven’t heard, and what Will contributes to the controversy, is this little paragraph about Walker’s motives:

I am convinced,” he says, “this is about money – but not the employees’ money.” It concerns union dues, which he wants the state to stop collecting for the unions, just as he wants annual votes by state employees on re-certifying the unions. He says many employees pay $500 to $600 annually in union dues – teachers pay up to $1,000. Given a choice, many might prefer to apply this money to health care premiums or retirement plans. And he thinks “eventually” most will say about the dues collectors, “What do we need this for?”

There it is for all to see.  No need to learn it from a Democrat or a union leader. The Governor’s goal is to make unions unnecessary by starving them to death, sort of the way Republicans have starved government through massive tax cuts, hoping to shrink it small enough to drown it in a Koch cocktail.

From the start, this was all about killing the public employee unions and there is no hiding that fact now.

And we have George Will, who had hoped to apotheosize Scott Walker, to thank for it.

Wisconsin, Missouri, And Workers’ Rights

Governor Walker in Wisconsin—part of a Republican brigade waging war on the rights of the American worker—has made it clear that his motivation for creating havoc in his state had absolutely nothing to do with how much state workers paid for their health care or contributed to their pensions.  Nothing.

Now that the governor has rebuffed the public employee unions’ offer to give him every dollar he says he wants to address the state’s inflated budgetary woes, we know without a doubt that Governor Walker wants nothing less than to destroy unionism in Wisconsin. There is no point in arguing about that.

But a rational person would ask, why?  What’s going on?

Well, besides the obvious fact that unions and their members tend to support and organize on behalf of Democrats, we have the rather disconcerting reality that Republicans—including Missouri Republicans—see workers not as human beings deserving dignity and respect in the workplace, but as cogs in a business machine, and it’s the business machine that deserves the dignity and respect.

It wasn’t an accident that the conservative Republican Supreme Court breathed into corporate nostrils and turned them into living souls.  And it’s not an accident that Republican governors and legislators are attempting to bring down the labor force and make workers nothing more than business-serving beggars, who should be happy to have jobs anywhere and at any wage and under just about any conditions.

The only thing that stands in their way are labor unions and the Democratic Party, which thanks to overreaching Republicans, is—at least in Wisconsin—beginning to get loin-girded for a protracted battle.

Governor Walker, like all governors, including Democratic ones, wants his state to be attractive to business development.  Fair enough. But what’s the best way to attract businesses without alienating the people who will go to work for them?

Walker cut corporate taxes, which added to the state’s budget deficit, and which, of course, he expects government workers to pay for.  But does this strategy, which is being used by Republicans everywhere, actually work?   

In other words, is cutting business taxes and outlawing the rights of workers the way to create good jobs, or is there more to it than that?

As Mitch Albom wrote recently about this same Republican philosophy currently being applied in his state of Michigan:

…if all problems were solved by low business taxes, why isn’t South Dakota the most popular state in the U.S.? According to the Tax Foundation, South Dakota has the most business-friendly tax climate in America. Do you see everyone flocking there?

Now, stop and think about that.  Google or Microsoft or other such companies are not moving their businesses to South Dakota, even though it is true that the state does indeed havethe most business-friendly tax climate in America,” as conservatives measure it. Yet, as Albom points out,

Its growth rate was below the national level the last 10 years. It has three of the six poorest counties in the nation.

How can that be? Albom mentions how his governor, Republican Rick Snyder, used to head the computer company Gateway, which up until 1998 was headquartered in…South Dakota.  What happened next?

…the computer company moved to California… — the second-worst business tax climate in America — looking for a hipper environment and a deeper talent pool.

Actually, Gateway’s Chief Executive, Theodore Waitt put it this way, as reported by Business Week:

Why is Waitt leaving Sioux City, the land where his family raised cattle for five generations and where he has become a hometown hero? It’s essential for ensuring Gateway’s future, he says. Waitt wants the world’s second-largest direct marketer of PCs to increase revenues 40% to 45% per year, to hit sales of $25 billion by 2001. To get there, he needs the top managers and engineers he hasn’t been able to attract to South Dakota. ”It’s all about growth, at the end of the day,” Waitt says.

With better talent, Waitt figures he can tap into markets well beyond Gateway’s stronghold of selling consumers high-end PCs by phone.

Top managers and engineers.” “Better talent.” “It’s all about growth.”  Funny, but Mr. Waite never mentioned a damn thing about taxes when he went looking in business-unfriendly California for a way of “ensuring Gateway’s future.”

He also didn’t mention the minimum wage.  Or workers’ compensation. Or discrimination law.

Yet Republicans here in Missouri are worried about those things and falsely claim that “reforming” them will make Missouri “a more attractive and competitive place to do business.”  Again, if that were all there were to it, Sioux Falls would be the Singapore of the Midwest.

As part of redefining workers as cogs in our state’s business machine, Missouri Republicans are:

• Trying to weaken our minimum wage law—put in place by a vote of the people;

• Trying to further limit already severely limited rights of injured workers;

• Trying to make it easier for businesses to fire employees through amending our employment law. 

And they brazenly do this in the name of “promoting jobs in our state.”

About the effort to undermine worker protections in Missouri, Ray McCarty, president of the Associated Industries of Missouri, a “pro-business” lobbying group, said,

We’re asking the legislature to invest in Missouri’s economy through responsible policy change, and the dividend will be a stronger business climate that will lead to more jobs and more tax revenue in the long run.

Invest.” “A stronger business climate.”  That’s what the man said.  Well, let’s look at the conservative Tax Foundation again.  Here is a segment of the “business tax climate” map showing the ranking of Missouri and its neighbors:

You will notice something interesting.  Missouri by far has the “best” business tax climate of our neighbors.  In fact, it’s the 16th best in the country. If the Republican theory were correct, then Missouri would be flooded with businesses fleeing our neighboring states, and our unemployment rate wouldn’t be 9.5%, higher than the national rate and tied for 15th worse among the states.

No. This isn’t about attracting businesses to our state or Michigan or Wisconsin or anywhere else, as much as it is about a war on the rights of the American worker, who with unions and collective bargaining have a voice in the workplace, a voice that doesn’t beg on the floor for crumbs but negotiates at the table for a fair share of the feast.

Democrats Must Understand: “At Stake Is The Moral Basis Of American Democracy”

George Lakoff is a cognitive linguist who has famously applied his insights to the world of politics, especially in his expression of the differences between conservatives and liberals: the “strict father morality” and the “nurturant parent morality.” 

Yesterday, however,  he did Americans a favor by perfectly diagnosing exactly what is going on in contemporary American politics. Certainly every progressive-liberal should read his short essay, but it would behoove thoughtful (there are still a few, but only a few, left) conservatives to read it, too.  It’s thesis is:

Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life.

Lakoff begins:

The central issue in our political life is not being discussed. At stake is the moral basis of American democracy.

The individual issues are all too real: assaults on unions, public employees, women’s rights, immigrants, the environment, health care, voting rights, food safety, pensions, prenatal care, science, public broadcasting, and on and on.

Doesn’t that just about say it all?

Conservatives,” Lakoff argues, “believe in individual responsibility alone, not social responsibility.”  And this general belief has consequences:

The part of government they want to cut is not the military (we have 174 bases around the world), not government subsidies to corporations, not the aspect of government that fits their worldview. They want to cut the part that helps people. Why? Because that violates individual responsibility.

As for the upheaval in Wisconsin, Lakoff correctly points out that it was caused by the governor turning “a surplus into a deficit by providing corporate tax breaks, and then used the deficit as a ploy to break the unions.” He then explains in that context the philosophy of the dominant force on the Right:

The way to understand the conservative moral system is to consider a strict father family. The father is The Decider, the ultimate moral authority in the family. His authority must not be challenged. His job is to protect the family, to support the family (by winning competitions in the marketplace), and to teach his kids right from wrong by disciplining them physically when they do wrong. The use of force is necessary and required. Only then will children develop the internal discipline to become moral beings. And only with such discipline will they be able to prosper. And what of people who are not prosperous? They don’t have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. Helping others takes away their discipline, and hence makes them both unable to prosper on their own and function morally.

This conservative moral system adopts the “let the market decide” slogan because the market is The Decider:

The market is seen as both natural (since it is assumed that people naturally seek their self-interest) and moral (if everyone seeks their own profit, the profit of all will be maximized by the invisible hand). As the ultimate moral authority, there should be no power higher than the market that might go against market values.

Thus, government can promote the market, but must not “rule over it” through,

(1) regulation,

(2) taxation,

(3) unions and worker rights,

(4) environmental protection or food safety laws, and

(5) tort cases.

Further, this leads to the conclusion that government should not involve itself in public service programs —”health care, education, public broadcasting, public parks“—since, “the market has service industries for that.”  Lakoff says,

The very idea of these things is at odds with the conservative moral system. No one should be paying for anyone else. It is individual responsibility in all arenas. Taxation is thus seen as taking money away from those who have earned it and giving it to people who don’t deserve it. Taxation cannot be seen as providing the necessities of life, a civilized society, and as necessary for business to prosper.

From the strict father ruling the conservative household to the strict rule of the Lord of the Bible, conservatives naturally believe their values should rule society and thus in their black and white view, “progressive values are seen as evil.”  Therefore, in the fight against such evil, conservatives are free to use “the devil’s own means,” including “lies, intimidation, torture, or even death, say, for women’s doctors.”

The strict father metaphor extends to defining freedom, which is seen as “being your own strict father—with individual not social responsibility, and without any government authority telling you what you can and cannot do.”  And,

To defend that freedom as an individual, you will of course need a gun.

Of course.

The most challenging part of Lakoff’s analysis, for Democrats, is the following:

Budget deficits are convenient ruses for destroying American democracy and replacing it with conservative rule in all areas of life.  What is saddest of all is to see Democrats helping them.

Sad, indeed. Here is a list of how Lakoff sees Democratic complicity in the ongoing, in-your-face, conservative effort to transform America:

  • Democrats help radical conservatives by accepting the deficit frame and arguing about what to cut. Even arguing against specific “cuts” is working within the conservative frame. What is the alternative? Pointing out what conservatives really want. Point out that there is plenty of money in America, and in Wisconsin. It is at the top. The disparity in financial assets is un-American — the top one percent has more financial assets than the bottom 95 percent. Middle class wages have been flat for 30 years, while the wealth has floated to the top. This fits the conservative way of life, but not the American way of life.
  • Democrats help conservatives by not shouting out loud over and over that it was conservative values that caused the global economic collapse: lack of regulation and a greed-is-good ethic.
  • Democrats also help conservatives by what a friend has called Democratic Communication Disorder. Republican conservatives have constructed a vast and effective communication system, with think tanks, framing experts, training institutes, a system of trained speakers, vast holdings of media, and booking agents. Eighty percent of the talking heads on TV are conservatives. Talk matters because language heard over and over changes brains. Democrats have not built the communication system they need, and many are relatively clueless about how to frame their deepest values and complex truths.
  • Democrats help conservatives when they function as policy wonks — talking policy without communicating the moral values behind the policies.
  • They help conservatives when they neglect to remind us that pensions are deferred payments for work done… If there is not enough money for them, it is because the contracted funds have been taken by conservative officials and given to wealthy people and corporations instead of to the people who have earned them.
  • Democrats help conservatives when they use conservative words like “entitlements” instead of “earnings” and speak of government as providing “services” instead of “necessities.”

Ending on a hopeful note, Lakoff points out the tens of thousands of folks in Wisconsin who “are willing to flood the streets of their capital to stand up for their rights.”  He ends:

They are flooding the streets to demand real democracy — the democracy of caring, of social responsibility, and of excellence, where prosperity is to be shared by those who work and those who serve.

Wendell Redden, R I P

Permit me to step away from politics to pay a brief tribute to my cousin, Wendell Redden, who spent 44 years—44 years!—as the sports editor of the Joplin Globe and many more than that in sports journalism. 

Wendell passed away yesterday evening.

This is not a typical obituary, as that will be written by someone more competent than I.  But I did want to try to express to long-time Joplin Globe readers just what kind of guy Wendell was.  And I suppose the best way to do that, other than offer my own testimony, is to say that I have lived here more than 20 years and talked to countless people who knew Wendell, most of whom never knew I was related to him, and I never—never—heard anyone say even the slightest negative thing about him.  Not one bad word.

He really was that kind of guy.

Wendell’s mother and father, my Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Bill, was nice enough to allow me to stay with them, when I first moved to Joplin.  They had done the same for my oldest sister, many years earlier. Those two wonderful and kind people raised a son every bit as wonderful and kind, and a more devoted son could not have walked this earth.  Myrtle’s and Bill’s last days, like most, was not without difficulties, but Wendell was there beside each of them, sacrificing more than just time.

Wendell suffered other, more unspeakable, misfortunes, which might have made a lesser man a lesser man, but he remained solidly openhearted and gentle, a source of goodness and good cheer.

But I must mention Wendell’s love for and knowledge of local baseball. 

He was at one time working on a book on the history of area baseball, and while I was at his house one day, he handed me a copy of a photograph of the 1950 Joplin Miners, the Yankee farm team of the old Western Association, that happened to have on the roster some kid-shortstop named Mickey Mantle.  But Wendell didn’t just focus on Mantle.  He pointed out by name nearly every player in the photo, complete with position.  Such was his acquaintance with the history of the game, which, sadly, is now lost.

For many years, I coached local Little League baseball teams here in Joplin.  If I asked for a write-up in the paper on one of my All-Star teams, Wendell was more than glad to do it. In fact, he begged for more.  He loved to promote local sports. And every time I saw him during those years, he would never fail to ask how my two baseball-playing boys were doing.  He’d also ask about my two nephews, who played ball in Fort Scott, one eventually signing with the Detroit Tigers.  Wendell made sure to get that in the Joplin paper, too.

In 2009, Joplin Globe columnist Mike Pound was giving a speech at Spring River Christian Village, an assisted-living facility in Joplin. He told this little story:

When I finished talking, I asked if anyone had any questions. They did. Well, sometimes the folks didn’t have questions as much as they had statements. One woman wanted to thank former longtime Sports Editor Wendell Redden for writing about her son many years ago.

“And every time we saw Wendell, he always asked about him,” the woman said.

That’s Wendell, I told the woman.

Indeed, that was Wendell.

Republicans And The Neo-Feudal State

In Wisconsin, we have on display the strategy of the Republican Party to transform the entire country into something that will, in some disturbing ways, resemble the feudal states of old.

And Democrats everywhere need to pay attention.

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who is good friends with GOP budget guru Congressman Paul Ryan, is undertaking an assault—he has threatened to bring out the National Guard—on public workers and their unions that is unprecedented and it is being done in the name of “a fiscal crisis,” the contemporary battle cry of Republican insurgents. 

Bryan Kennedy, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, said of Walker and his proposal:

It is a power grab, a coordinated effort to kill the union here. This is essentially the governor saying, ‘Sit down, shut up and do what you are told.’

Kennedy said this morning that the governor’s scheme, “Guts workers rights and essentially takes away the right to collectively bargain.” 

William Gould, a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board—the arbiter of disputes involving private sector unions and employers—said about the assault in Wisconsin,

I think it’s quite possible that if they’re successful in doing this, a lot of other Republican governors will emulate this.

Of course they will.  But they will emulate it whether it is successful or not because Republicans believe this is the time to launch a full-throttled attack on the last remaining stronghold of progressivism and liberalism left in our economic life.

It is no secret that public employees and public employee unions have long been a thorn in the flesh of Republicans, particularly conservatives.  There is the obvious practical reason: These unionized folks are well-organized and can mobilize in support of those who support them, usually Democrats. 

But there is a larger, more philosophical, reason that conservatives want to unleash some pent-up hate on government workers, who, through collective bargaining, have achieved decent wages and working conditions and other associated benefits, which in turn help keep upward pressure on wages and benefits in the private sector.  Thus, the public employee unions represent the only bulwark against complete domination of American economic life by the business class.  Period. 

The governor of New Jersey, Chris Jesus Christie, the savior of the Right,* says public sector unions are “greedy, selfish, and self-interested.”   The truth is that Christie and other Republicans, who would never call multi-million-dollar-making CEOs, for instance, “greedy” or “selfish,” don’t like the idea that ordinary American workers can have some leverage in the workplace, some kind of voice that is powerful enough to stand up to the Voice of Business. 

And since Republican propaganda has been very good at turning most of the private sector against unionism, the last redoubts left are the public sector unions.  It’s just that simple.

And my message to Democrats, especially President Obama, is to not only stand with your friends, but get out on the front lines and lead, while there is still time. 

Mr. Obama, who hasn’t exactly been a fearless leader on this issue, did come to the defense of public workers yesterday:

As a general proposition, everybody’s got to make some adjustments to new fiscal realities…on the other hand, some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like more of an assault on unions.

And I think it is very important for us to understand that public employees, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. These are folks who are teachers and they’re firefighters and they’re social workers and they’re police officers. They make a lot of sacrifices and make a big contribution.  And I think it’s important not to vilify them or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.

So, I think everybody’s got to make some adjustments, but I think it’s also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to the well-being of our states and our cities.

Now, I know some liberals think that was a rather tepid response, but the Right saw it somewhat differently.  Here’s a headline from Fox “News”

Although all of us wish Obama would speak with a lot more lightning in his voice, that’s just not his style when he’s not on the campaign trail.  But it’s important to note that he did hit the right note in his assessment of what’s happening in Wisconsin.  After all, he did characterize it as “an assault on unions.”

The good news is that the good guys are fighting back.  Thousands of protesters have met the governor of Wisconsin head-on this week, and schools are closed in Madison again today, because teachers are joining the fight at the Capitol.   The truth is, though, that Republicans will likely succeed in their union-busting assault in Wisconsin.

And if this sort of thing happens all over the country, it will mean that the last outposts standing against complete corporate dominance of the American workforce will have fallen.  More important, it will mean that the Republican Party—the party of business—will have gone a long way in transforming the country into a neo-feudal state.

______________________________

* Ann Coulter, the Anti-Christ, gets all soggy over Chris Christie.  She said the other day,

I don’t care if he wants to run, his country needs him.

Now, I just want to say, that if you make Ann Coulter soggy, you are a very bad man.  A very bad man, indeed.

Don’t Touch Our Government Spending! Says The Joplin Globe

The Joplin Globe has long been one of the state’s most conservative newspapers.  But sometimes it suffers from a sort of political schizophrenia.

This week was a perfect example.

Today the editorialist lamented Obama’s big budget numbers, arguing:

To keep on spending some $3.5, $3.6 or $3.7 trillion a year does not come close to limiting that government. Everyone wants to “share the wealth” in good times. We wonder who will agree to “share the pain” in times of need, locally and nationally.

We wonder who will agree to share the pain“?  Remember that. Although these are times in which government stimulus is needed to keep the anemic recovery going, the Globe speaks of sharing the pain of big budget cuts, even the local pain of budget cuts. 

Yet on Sunday, the Globe editorialist wrote:

Typically we believe that less government is more. But, in the case of airport subsidies, we need to apply some common sense.

Uh-oh.  By “common sense” the Globe means, “we think your airport subsidy should be cut, but we want the Joplin airport subsidy to continue.”  But, but, but…what about the pain? “We wonder who will agree to share the pain?” Remember?

Or take Monday’s editorial, in which the Globe (rightly) lectured Missouri Republicans on why it was simply unacceptable to return $189 million dollars of federal money, which didn’t arrive in time to stop most school districts from cutting jobs.  Keep the money! said the Globe, ending with this:

We hope Missouri’s Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly remember that they were elected to represent Missourians, not the entire country. We need them to do what’s best for the Show-Me State, not try to address national political talking points.

Do what’s best for the Show-Me State“?  But, but, but…what about the pain? “We wonder who will agree to share the pain?” Remember?

It’s only Wednesday, so stay tuned for more suggestions the Globe has for “sharing the pain” while simultaneously arguing, “Do what’s best for the Show-Me State” and the local Joplin economy.

It’s a good thing other cities and states don’t feel that way or we would have a massive public debt.

Right?

Charles Dickens Call Your Office

Most of the civilized world has evolved to the point where it is no longer debatable whether children ought to be sent off to work each day.

But not in neo-Victorian Missouri, if State Senator Jane Cunningham has her way.

Via FiredUp!Missouri, I learned that Mike Hall, at AFL-CIO Now, had written a post detailing what Sen. Cunningham has in mind for Missouri’s youth.  Mr. Hall commented on her proposal by calling it “insane.”  No, no, no.  It’s not insane in the context of Republican politics these days.  It fits perfectly.  Sure, it’s insane in the context of normal, civilized thinking.  But conservatism has devolved into a senseless, insensate, tasteless collection of absurdities.

And adding one more senseless, insensate, tasteless absurdity is perfectly compatible with a disordered political philosophy.

Here is SB 222 in all its glory, copied exactly from an official summary of the bill:

This act modifies the child labor laws.

It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen.

Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed.

It also repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed.

Children under sixteen will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished.

It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ.

It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.

Hoping that Joplin’s own Ron Richard, newly elected to the state senate, was not a part of this manifestly Dickensian nightmare, I  phoned his local office and talked with a very nice woman named Gwynn.  I identified myself as a Democrat and she very quickly assured me that my politics didn’t matter; she would try to help me.

I mentioned SB 222 and she said she had heard something about it.  She asked me what I thought of the bill and I told her.  At one point I ask her if she had ever read any Dickens.  Yes, she said, and she remarked that she thought about that when I was reading the official summary to her.  Good.  Then she said she would call the Jefferson City office and have someone get back with me.  She was true to her word.  She phoned me about 15 minutes later and said someone from Jeff City would be calling within about 45 minutes.

Sure enough, Kenny Ross, chief of Richard’s two-person staff, called me and assured me Mr. Richard “Doesn’t like” the bill and “doesn’t agree” with it.  “Ron’s all in favor of job creation,” Ross explained, but not in the way SB 222 does it.

Thank God and Charles Dickens for that.

___________________________

Political Fix relates the inevitable Jay Leno joke last night:

Missouri Statehouse received a nod Tuesday night from comedian Jay Leno, who mocked a Senate bill that would significantly weaken child labor laws.

And in Missouri, Republican state Sen. Jane Cunningham has introduced a bill that would eliminate her state’s child labor laws,” Leno said at the conclusion of his monologue on “The Tonight Show.”

Well, yeah, I mean, why should the 10-year-olds in China be getting all the good factory jobs?

Killing Abortion Providers May Soon Be “Justifiable Homicide”

Now  things are getting serious.

Maureen Holland at Whatever Works alerted me to a story on Mother Jones website provocatively titled,

South Dakota Moves To Legalize Killing Abortion Providers

A proposal, which has already been voted out of a House committee (“nine-to-three party-line vote“), would alter, according to Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones,

the state’s legal definition of justifiable homicide by adding language stating that a homicide is permissible if committed by a person “while resisting an attempt to harm” that person’s unborn child or the unborn child of that person’s spouse, partner, parent, or child. If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman’s father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one. 

Right-wing anti-choice bedfellows, including the misnamed Concerned Women for America and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, testified in favor of the law, which was allegedly designed as a “clarification of South Dakota’s justifiable homicide law,” but was further amended in committee by obviously militant anti-choicers, who hate big government unless it serves their parochial moral interests.

Basically, the law would allow as an affirmative defense against a murder charge, protection of an “unborn child.” An affirmative defense is a type of defense that admits an act was committed, but excuses culpability for the act. 

The proposed law is “entitled”:

An Act to expand the definition of justifiable homicide to provide for the protection of certain unborn children.

Here is the relevant text:

Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to harm the unborn child of such person in a manner and to a degree likely to result in the death of the unborn child, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.

Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant, or the unborn child of any such enumerated person, if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished.

Although this particular proposal is worse than most, there are other obstacles to choice that have been enacted or are pending in state legislatures all over the country, including here in Missouri.  Republicans (who are often aided by anti-choice Democrats) are violating the constitutional rights of women—while they simultaneously and falsely claim they are defenders of the Constitution—and it seems the abortion issue is something that many prominent national Democrats—including President Obama—want to avoid. 

Meanwhile, the Mother Jones article ends with this:

The South Dakota bills reflect a broader national strategy on the part of abortion-rights opponents, says Elizabeth Nash, a public policy associate with the Guttmacher Institute, a federal reproductive health advocacy and research group. “They erect a legal barrier, another, and another,” says Nash. “At what point do women say, ‘I can’t climb that mountain’? This is where we’re getting to.”

Obama On Entitlement Reform: Patience!

As I listened to President Obama’s press conference this morning, which was dominated by budget issues, I thought of the recent criticism coming from the Right regarding Obama’s alleged unwillingness to address entitlement reform, typified by a comment by the GOP’s star quarterback on budget issues, Congressman Paul Ryan:

Presidents are elected to lead, not to punt. And this president has been punting.

Hmm. “Punting.”  Why do coaches punt?  Often in a game, when fans and quarterbacks are clamoring to “go for it,” wise coaches punt.  They do so in order to preserve field position, so as to have a better chance of scoring later.  And it is thinking about that “later”—the long-term—for which coaches get paid, not giving in to “the moment.”

As Obama said today:

I’m looking forward to having a conversation, but… the key here is for people to be practical not to score political points. That’s true for all of us.  I think if we take that approach we can navigate the situation in the short term and deal with the problem long term.

Now, that’s  wise coach-talk, no matter what quarterback Ryan says.

In the case of entitlement reform, President Obama said today that “this is going to be a process” and that we need to have patience—something the press doesn’t have, he suggested—much like a coach would tell his star quarterback, who almost never wants to punt on fourth down. 

But the point here is not that the President or his team wins a political game, but that real entitlement reform happens, both to preserve entitlements for future generations and to ensure that they remain safety nets for the most vulnerable among us.  That’s the touchdown in this scenario.

Here was his full response to NBC newsman Chuck Todd’s question about entitlement reform and the President’s debt commission:

Part of the challenge is here is that in this town let’s face it, you guys are pretty impatient…

I think there’s a tendency for us to assume that if it didn’t happen today it’s not going to happen. Well, the fiscal commission put out a framework. I agree with much of the framework, I disagree with some of the framework. It is true that it got 11 votes. That was a positive sign. When it is also true is that the chairman of the House Republican budgeteers did not sign off. He’s got … concerns. I will need to have a conversation with him, and with those Democrats that did not vote for it.

There are some issues in there, that as a matter of principle I do not agree with, where I think they did not go far enough or they went too far. So, this is going to be a process in which each side in both chambers of Congress go back and forth and start trying to whittle their differences down until we arrive said something that has an actual chance at passage. And that is my goal. My goal is to actually solve the problem. It is not to get a good headline on the first day. My goal is that a year from now, or two years from now, people look back and say we started making progress on this issue.

The key to achieving an agreement on how to reform entitlements is, as Mr. Obama put it, to make sure that both parties get “in the boat at the same time, so it doesn’t tip over.”  In other words, to prevent demagoguery by leaders in either party, nobody is going to go it alone.  

Obama’s latest budget, which he knows is not the final word on the subject, was an attempt to send a signal to everyone that he is serious about tackling deficit spending—”stabilizing the current situation,” as he put it—even though it dealt only with discretionary budget reductions. 

Today’s press conference was designed to send the message that he is willing to compromise on entitlement reform, as long as there is someone reasonable on the other side to deal with.  He thinks there will be, although he expects “all sides will have to do some posturing on television” before it’s all said and done.

Far from the hysteria surrounding our deficit and debt issues—many conservatives routinely refer to failure to radically cut spending as America “going off the cliff”—Obama’s demeanor and his conversation today was reassuring.  He was calm, sober, and free from the anxiety that characterizes much of the debate, particularly among those who want to use the debt problem as an excuse to kill government.  He was also confident about progress and its ancillary benefits:

In terms of the markets, I think what the markets want to see is progress. The markets understand that we’re not — we didn’t get here overnight and we’re not going to get out overnight. What they want to see is that we have the capacity to work together. If they see us chipping away at this problem in a serious way, even if we haven’t solved 100% of it all in one fell swoop, then that will provide more confidence that Washington can work.

And more than anything, that’s not just what the markets want, that’s what the American people. They just want some confirmation that this place can work. And I think it can.

The underlying message from Coach Obama is that it’s not necessary to panic.  Act like adults, get in the huddle together, and get the job done. 

Time will tell whether the President will give away too much in any possible compromise with seemingly unbending House Republicans, but I was encouraged by his statement that his deficit commission did recommend some things that he disagreed with on principle. And he reaffirmed today his opposition to tax cuts for the wealthy.  Although those tax cuts contribute to the deficit, more than that they symbolize the Republican duplicity on the deficit issue. Obama said,

… when it comes to, over the long-term, maintaining tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, that will mean additional deficits of $1 trillion. If you’re serious about deficit reduction, you don’t do that.

Finally, the President essentially challenged Americans to have an “adult conversation” about national priorities, about “what’s important, and here’s how we’re going to pay for it.”  You want a strong military?  Veterans Benefits? Health care for seniors?  Want to help your neighbors during a natural disaster?  That stuff requires taxes. At one point he said,

If we’re cutting infant formula to poor kids, is that who we are as a people?

Ultimately, the answer to that question of identity rests with the American people. Those things do need to be discussed, and Mr. Obama and the Democrats need to keep reminding all of us that we will have the kind of government we are willing to pay for or else we will see a gradual decline—not a precipitous drop—in American fiscal and social well-being.

And for my money, President Obama is the leader in these times of choice, even though Republicans in Congress—and ultimately the people who sent them there—may very well choose decline over progress.

The Real Bill O’Reilly

Bill O’Reilly called MSNBC “anti-American.”  Last night, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell hit back and captured Bill O’Reilly and Fox exactly—and I mean, exactly—right, and it is a pleasure to watch:

McCaskill Answers The Challenge

Last night on Rachel Maddow’s show, our own Claire McCaskill rose to Saint Rachel’s challenge last week and appeared on her show to defend McCaskill’s willingness to look at disposing of the federal mandate at the center of the health care reform law. 

The discussion was interesting, and McCaskill held up her difficult end fairly well. Rachel also asked her to defend her support of the controversial Boeing C-17 cargo plane, which costs $250 million each. Defense Secretary Gates and President Obama and even John McCain oppose continuation of the program, saying additional planes are unnecessary. 

The problem for McCaskill, who fashions herself as a deficit hawk, is that even though there are a lot of people who want to get rid of the C-17, about 1,000 St. Louis jobs are connected to it. Parts of the plane are manufactured all over the country (in 44 states involving 30,000 middle class jobs) and the program has an estimated $8.4 billion national economic impact, but a whopping $700 million of that is connected to the Missouri economy

In 2009, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that McCaskill had sort of a come-to-Jesus moment when Boeing “convened a strategy meeting with local labor leaders…at its St. Louis offices”:

Shortly after the meeting, Soutier [president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council] criticized McCaskill in the St. Louis media, questioning her support for thousands of local jobs. McCaskill responded quickly. She defended her C-17 bona fides and in May announced she was sending a letter to Obama and Gates emphasizing her backing for the Boeing cargo aircraft.

To be fair to McCaskill, her spokesman said there was merely “a misunderstanding” on the issue and that McCaskill had actually always supported the program. But all of the controversy around the C-17 and other military programs just shows how difficult it is to kill anything in the Pentagon’s budget, especially because manufacturers are careful to spread the wealth around the fifty states. 

In any case, here is the segment from Saint Rachel’s show featuring Missouri’s McCaskill:

Unimaginable

Two years ago, who would have thought that the Huffington Post, a liberal-minded news source, would have headlined a story with this:

Here’s the opening paragraph:

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, less than two months after signing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans into law, is proposing a budget to congress that attacks programs that assist the working poor, help the needy heat their homes, expand access to graduate-level education and undermine that type of community-based organizations that gave the president his start in Chicago.

And who would have thought two years ago that a Republican—Ron Paul—would appear on television and in the context of the budget call our Democratic president a “warmonger”?

All weekend I heard Jack Lew, Obama’s budget director, on the cable shows trying to explain why the President’s cuts were not only necessary, but courageous.  Well, okay.  But they certainly aren’t representative of the Democratic Party I used to know.  I’ve never heard of a Democrat arguing, for instance, that we should cut $100 billion from Pell Grant programs, have you?

Mr. Lew, who was President Clinton’s last budget director,  was on CNBC’s Squawk Box this morning, again defending the President’s budget, due to be released today.  He did make one good point:

I left this job ten years ago with a surplus of $5.6 trillion over the next ten years; I came back with deficits of $10 trillion over the next ten years. 

I suppose it’s bad manners these days to point out why Mr. Lew found things in such bad shape, or maybe it’s simply that everyone has forgiven the Bushies for their tax-cutting frenzy, since Mr. Obama seems to have partially embraced their strategy, too.

But I find it bad manners to talk about massive budget cuts—domestic discretionary spending, as Obama bragged this morning, will go back to Eisenhower levels—without talking about the enormous revenue short fall, brought on by a starve-the-government-beast philosophy. I never heard Mr. Obama mention that in his short budget speech this morning.

Such a philosophy used to be the property of the Republican Party, but it is increasingly being embraced, to some degree or another, by Democrats.

The federal government is spending about 25.3% of GDP.  But it is taxing the country at about 14.4% of GDP.  What’s wrong with that picture?  Why should all of the pressure be on the spending side, especially when Democrats—which is supposed to be a goverment-friendly party—control the White House and the Senate? 

To be fair, the budget projections in the President’s new budget do show that in ten years, revenues would be 20% of GDP, and spending will decrease to 23.1%.  But no one believes House Republicans will agree to raise revenues so responsibly.  There mission is to kill government, not fund it.

In any case, the President’s $3.73 trillion budget contains some $1.1 trillion in budget cuts over the next ten years, which according to The Wall Street Journal, amounts to about  a 14% reduction in the projected debt over that time.  About one-third of the savings would come from tax increases, including some on the wealthy, but not nearly enough to make up for the tax-cut deal Obama made with Republicans at the end of last year.

Besides the cuts noted at HuffPo, the budget does manage to offer up $78 billion in defense cuts, even as we are spending somewhere around $2 billion a week—that’s every week—in Afghanistan and another $ 1 billion a week in Iraq. 

On both issues—tax hikes for the wealthy and defense budget cuts—Obama would have the American people with him if he were to go farther.  A poll at the end of last year showed that 61% of Americans prefer tax increases for wealthy Americans as a “first step” toward tackling the deficit.  Next in line was cutting defense spending, at 20%. So, there is room to act responsibly on the revenue side, as well as the spending side.

Predictably, the Right says Obama’s budget doesn’t go far enough.  Speaker John Boehner said Obama’s budget “continues to destroy jobs by spending too much, borrows too much and taxes too much.”  He also falsely claimed, “We’re broke.”

Congressman Paul Ryan, budget guru for the fiscal-sky-is-falling Republican Party, said,

Presidents are elected to lead, not to punt. And this president has been punting.

Even  deficit hand-wringers on the Democratic side are chiming in with criticism, not of the President’s dramatic cuts, but of his failure to do more. Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chairman of Obama’s debt commission, said:

The budget goes nowhere near where they will have to go to resolve our fiscal nightmare.

Republican Joe Scarborough said this morning on his show that the whole thing was “depressing.”  He complained that the administration is “slashing like crazy” the relatively small discretionary part of the budget—about 15% of federal spending—while “they don’t the courage to go after the part of the budget that causes the debt crisis.”

By courage, of course, Scarborough means going first on offering cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  But why would Obama want to do that?  Tea Party Republicans claim they were elected as serious budget cutters, pledging to change the game in Washington.  Why not let them offer up their “courageous” plan first?  So far, they have offered nothing on entitlements, hoping, I suppose, that Obama would take the bait and offer up something first. 

But I can still remember the last campaign in which many Republicans demagogued cuts in Medicare Advantage, which cuts were used as a partial funding instrument of the health care reform act. They tried to sell senior citizens on the idea that Democrats were jeopardizing Medicare.  So, this time, Republicans get to go first.

John Boehner did pledge that “it’s all coming,” speaking of the GOP’s long-term deficit-reduction strategy.  And when it gets here, Obama’s budget cutting, which doesn’t look all that good right now to many liberals, may suddenly look pretty good.  And the President may be able to take advantage of the division in the Republican ranks between the kill-government-at-all costs wing and those who just want to wound government so severely it will never walk again.

That is if he doesn’t cut another deal with them.

The Revisionism Has Begun: George Bush Is The Hero Of Egypt

Charles Krauthammer wrote this incredible paragraph, which is only a part of the Right’s campaign to revise history and resurrect the political carcass of Bush II:

Today, everyone and his cousin supports the “freedom agenda.” Of course, yesterday it was just George W. Bush, Tony Blair and a band of neocons with unusual hypnotic powers who dared challenge the received wisdom of Arab exceptionalism – the notion that Arabs, as opposed to East Asians, Latin Americans, Europeans and Africans, were uniquely allergic to democracy. Indeed, the left spent the better part of the Bush years excoriating the freedom agenda as either fantasy or yet another sordid example of U.S. imperialism.

It’s as if the preemptive invasion and occupation of Iraq never happened.  All that is left is Bush’s and the neocon’s “freedom agenda,” which according to many on the Right is bearing fruit in Egypt today.

Here is what Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser in the W. Bush administration said recently:

The Bush administration pushed hardest on democracy in Egypt in 2004 and 2005 and got some results. 2005 is when Mubarak, for the first time, actually had a presidential election; prior to that he was selected by the parliament without even a fake election… so there was some movement in Egypt in 2004, 2005 when we were pushing hardest.

See there?  The Bushies are taking credit for fake elections!  But here is what the Brookings Institution wrote in 2009 about Bush’s efforts:

Bush’s bombastic rhetoric alienated the Egyptian president, but produced some small gains in political freedom in Egypt that were quickly reversed when Bush’s pressure on democracy let up in 2006.

Abrams also wrote a column about Bush’s “freedom agenda,” extolling Bush for a speech he gave in 2003, which defended the idea of Arab democracy and self-government. Here’s how the Washington Post presented Abrams’ column on January 29:

Egypt protests show George W. Bush was right about freedom in the Arab world

Let me see.  Why did Bush had taken an interest in Arab freedom in 2003?  What happened that year?  Oh, yeah: We invaded Iraq and took over the country and found no WMDs there, thus instead of a whoops! we got the “freedom agenda.”

In fact, here’s how the Washington Post opened its story on the speech on November 6, 2003:

President Bush today portrayed the war in Iraq as the latest front in the “global democratic revolution” led by the United States.

Those were heady days, I suppose.

Maureen Dowd wrote half apologetically last week:

President George W. Bush meant well when he tried to start a domino effect of democracy in the Middle East and end the awful hypocrisy of America coddling autocratic rulers.

But the way he went about it was naïve and wrong. “In many ways, you can argue that the Iraq war set back the cause of democracy in the Middle East,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who worked at the State Department during Bush’s first term, told me. “It’s more legitimate in Arab eyes when it happens from within than when it’s externally driven.”

All of this is not to say that efforts to stir up democracy in the region by both Bush and Obama—remember the Cairo speech?—were of no effect.  But no one outside of Egypt can take credit for what has happened there and therefore the main responsibility for what happens in the future is on those inside Egypt.

We can and should do all we peacefully can to aid and abet any forthcoming Egyptian democracy, but William F. Buckley was fond of quoting John Quincy Adams in this regard:

…the American people are friends of liberty everywhere, they are custodians only of their own.

It’s just sort of pathetic that apologists for the last administration are setting the Egyptian uprising in the context of Bush’s “freedom agenda,” and using this opportunity to try to make us forget that his agenda had more to do with justifying his disastrous invasion of Iraq than anything else.

[top image from Huffington Post; bottom from Reuters]

[From HuffPo]

The Gadsden Guerillas Want To Evict The Uppity Negro From The White’s House

As a difficult-to-perform public service to my readers, and while the world was focused on the confusion in Egypt, I listened to Michele Bachmann and others speak today at the gathering of Gadsden Gorillas Guerrillas, also known as CPAC.

At least one of the things Bachmann said demonstrates her intermittent connection with reality:

Obamacare is quite clearly the crown jewel of socialism.

Now, you might not like the Affordable Care Act; you might think it won’t do much to keep health care costs down; you might even think it will destroy the country.  But only a colossal fool like Michele Bachmann would say “Obamacare is quite clearly the crown jewel of socialism.”  Would to God it were, but given how it props up the private, employer-based health insurance system, it would be more accurate to call it the “crown jewel of capitalism.”

Bachmann, who suffers from the delusion that she could possibly be President of the United States, has used this nonsensical metaphor before, both during the so-called debate in the House on repealing the health reform law and last week at a Republican dinner in Montana, where she put it in this incomprehensibly dramatic way:

I take my first political breath every morning with one thought in mind – repeal Obamacare. That’s my motivation in life. … This bill is something else. It is the crown jewel of socialism. President Obama, and I’m willing to say it, ushered in socialism under his watch.

There are four possibilities that account for such agonizingly incorrigible ignorance:

1) She doesn’t understand “Obamacare.”

2) She doesn’t understand what the term “crown jewel” means.

3) She doesn’t understand what the term “socialism” means.

4) All of the above.

Oh, there is a fifth:

She’s nuts.

In any case, Bachman, who seems to have a strange fascination with despotic headgear, also talked today about the “Triple Crown of 2012,” which, in case you don’t know, involves Republicans maintaining control of the House, a conservative takeover of the Senate, and, of course, the crown jewel of the Triple Crown: throwing the Uppity Negro out of the white’s house

That seemed to be the theme of the day, perhaps of the conference, since Bachmann said, “all our chips are in on 2012…this is it!” and a plump Newt Gingrich, who never misses a chance to diminish the value of his college degree, naturally changed the metaphor from crowns and poker to food:

2010 was the appetizer; 2012 is the entrée.

If Gingrich becomes president he will eat us all.  And he could do it.

Rick Santorum, who has been crowned the “relentless ethicist” by George F. Will, made an appearance today and regaled the crowd with more relentless moralizing and exploitation of our social differences.  Besides expressing his support for a military dictator in Egypt, Santorum used yet another bleeping political metaphor, this time the old three-legged stool of fiscal policy, national defense, and, his speciality, social issues:

When you start throwing away the third leg of a three-legged stool, it is not going to be stable very long.

I happen to subscribe to the four-legged school of political metaphors, which, I think, is much sturdier. The fourth leg is sanity.

Speaking of the missing fourth leg, Donald Trump, whose Michele Bachmann-sized ego has convinced him he has a chance to be president, made a surprising appearance today.  Who knew there was a Gadsden flag flying over Trump Tower? 

Anyway, besides truthfully trashing Ron Paul (“Ron Paul cannot get elected. I’m sorry folks.”) and essentially trashing the country (the “United States is the laughingstock of the world.”), Trump trumpeted his greatness and told the hopped-up Gadsden guerillas that he was a pro-lifin’ gun lovin’ tax hatin’ Republican, and that, if he ran and won, “this country has a chance of being respected again.”

What he didn’t tell his frothy admirers is that he is a billionaire whose financial savvy is so spectacular that he used bankruptcy as a way of forcing investors in his business competence to take hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.  I can’t wait for President Trump to restore respectability to our declining land. We would be so fortunate if he allows us the honor of voting for him. What a guy! 

And what a day!  I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s festivities.

How Democracies Begin

[Published February 10, 2011, at 8:00 am]

_________________________________

UPDATE, 11:00 am:

_________________________________

CNN  correspondent Arwa Damon left the upheaval in Cairo and traveled an hour to the farmlands of the Nile Delta to get an idea of how rural Egyptians were experiencing the country’s crisis. 

Damon described the lives of the villagers she found as a “monotonous but desperate struggle to survive.” Most of her report centered on a mother of three girls who works at a doctor’s office making less than $30 a month, which she said was not even enough to pay the electric bill. Her husband is a day laborer, who was off looking for work when Damon visited, and who hasn’t been able to find much work since the demonstrations began.

Behind closed doors, the incredibly hospitable woman described herself as “uneducated and illiterate,” who can’t feed her children.  She didn’t know anything about geopolitics or even the politics of her own country. “I don’t know if the government should stay or go,” she admitted. And she added:

All I know is that people like us need to be able to live.

Arwa Damon picks up the narrative:

She called her children inside, pointing to them, saying, “Look at how dirty they are, their stained clothes. I can’t bear them having to live like this. Please! Please! We just need help! We just need jobs!” she begged.

Hoping that by risking speaking out to us, the world will listen.

Well, someone is listening.  His name is Wael Ghonim.  He is on leave from his job as the head of marketing for Google Middle East and North Africa, which is headquartered in Dubai Internet City.  He turned 30 years old six weeks ago.

Mr. Ghonim is credited with helping to spark the first demonstrations—through his Facebook page, which had 400,000 followers—and has emerged as the first national symbol of the revolution in Egypt, a revolution significantly attributable to the Internet Age.  His page was titled, “We are all Khaled Said,” named after an Alexandrian businessman who died in police custody.

The Egyptian government imprisoned Ghonim himself and kept him blindfolded for 12 days, and upon his release on Monday he gave a TV interview, which, in the words of the BBC, “gripped Egyptian viewers” and “re-energized the movement just as it seemed to be losing steam.”

The BBC reported what Ghonim said during that appearance:

“I’m not a hero, I slept for 12 days,” he continued.

“The heroes, they’re the ones who were in the street, who took part in the demonstrations, sacrificed their lives, were beaten, arrested and exposed to danger.”

He was shown video of some of those who had died during the protests, events he was seeing for the first time.

He burst into tears, insisting it was the fault of the authorities, not the campaigners, and left the studio—a human response that provoked a wave of sympathy.

We have heard a lot of “take our country back” nonsense from American tea partiers this past year and we have heard some talk of “Second Amendment remedies,” as if America was suffering the ravages of a brutal Obama dictatorship. 

But if you want to get an idea of real courage in the face of real hegemony, read the following transcript I made of a very powerful interview of Wael Ghonim broadcast last night on CNN’s Parker-Spitzer. Speaking of the deaths of the protesters, through defiant tears he said:

You know, I can’t forget these people…This could have been me or my brother…and they were killed—you know if these people died in a war that’s fair and square…you hold a weapon and someone is shooting and you die, but , no, none of them.  And those people who were killed…they did not really look like they were going to attack anyone…A lot of the times…the policemen sat on the bridge and shot people down. This is a crime. This president needs to step down because this is a crime.

And I’m telling you I am ready to die. I have a lot to lose in this life…I work in the best company to work for in the world. I have the best wife and I love my kids. But I’m willing to lose all of that for my dream to happen. And no one is gonna go against our desire. No one! And I’m telling this to Omar Suleiman. He is gonna watch this. You are not going to stop us! Kidnap me! Kidnap all my colleagues! Put us in jail! Kill us! Do whatever you want to do. We are getting back our country. You guys have been ruining this country for thirty years. Enough! Enough! Enough!

If you want to watch the interview, you will have to endure a short commercial, but it’s worth it:

 

 

A Sickness Unto Death

And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.

—The Gospel of Luke, 9:50

 

By now you have heard about the focus group of Iowa Republican caucus voters put together by GOP message-meister Frank Luntz, which was featured during a segment on Sean Hannity’s Comedy Hour on Monday.  

In what can only be seen as a criminal indictment of the blessed concept of democracy—these people are voters!—a full 40% of the pale-faced folks admitted to the world that they were simpletons, when they volunteered to Luntz that they believe the President is a Muslim. 

And one got the impression while watching the segment that even those who don’t think Obama is exactly a Muslim believe he is “sympathetic” to Muslims, whatever in Allah’s name that means. Did I mention that these Hannitized folks vote?

In a recent column by George Will, extolling the god-awful Rick Santorum, I learned that 60% of Iowa caucus voters are “born-again and evangelical Christians.”  I’m only guessing—going way out on a limb—that most of those who think Obama is a Muslim are washed-in-the-blood, born-again and evangelical Christians.   

Now, that’s kind of strange when you think about it, isn’t it?  I mean, Obama has repeatedly acknowledged his Christian faith—even describing Jesus as his “Lord and Savior,” which is the standard formulation for those who advertise their heaven-bound eternal security. One would think that people who claim that belief in Jesus is the entire point of existence, would at least be able to put political partisanship aside long enough to call the President, Brother Barack.

But because I know evangelicals—I used to be one, remember—it’s not so strange to me.  In his column, George Will referred to Rick Santorum, an ultra-conservative Christian, as a “relentless ethicist“—and he meant it as a compliment!  What that goofy characterization demonstrates is that right-wing Christians are given way too much credit for their allegiance to morality.  I suppose since they talk it about it all the time—relentlessly—that people confuse the talk for the walk.

But in Frank Luntz’ Iowa caucus sample, we have the truth revealed: when it comes to evangelicals and politics, morality be damned.  Conservative Christians cannot call the President of the United States a liar—without having any evidence whatsoever to back it up—and then claim they value morality.  It’s one thing to claim Mr. Obama is a Muslim and present an interview or a video or some other evidence that shows him saying the equivalent of, “I believe in Islam.”  It’s another thing to claim he’s a Muslim despite an ark-load of evidence—including his own statements—that he is a Jesus-is-my-Savior Christian, something that would be impossible for a Muslim to utter.

I heard Andrea Mitchell say today, after reviewing the “Obama is a Muslim” idiocy from Hannity’s show, that it shows “just how conservative” those Iowa Republican caucus voters are.  No, it doesn’t.  While it’s tempting to conflate ignorance and bigotry with conservatism, that’s not the case here.  There are plenty of conservatives who don’t believe that Obama is a Muslim. 

What the Luntz segment shows is the pathology of fundamentalist-evangelical belief, when it is mixed with politics. This pathology is so profound that people who purport to believe in Truth and in “speaking the truth in love”* are willing to tell lies about Barack Obama and essentially call him a Christian impostor, a fraud, a phony, a fake, a Muslim.

And if conservative Christians continue to mix their theology with their political ideology, their theology will die, even if their politics survives.

___________________________

Here is the cringe-inducing segment:

___________________________

*Ephesians 4:15:

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Missouri Politics Catch Up Day

Claire McCaskill is making news, and it’s not a good sign for liberals. Here is the header on an article at Politico:

The article suggests that McCaskill and other “moderate” Democrats are “looking for ways to roll back the highly contentious individual mandate,” and that’s not all:

The senators are prepared to break with the White House on a wide range of issues: embracing deeper spending cuts, scaling back business regulations and overhauling environmental rules.

While there was no hard evidence presented to support these assertions, and while McCaskill has been a fairly solid supporter of President Obama, McCaskill did find herself prominently featured in a segment on The Rachel Maddow Show, in which Saint Rachel mailed a life-sized cutout of former Senator Blanche Lincoln—who ran away from the Democratic Party and got trounced in Arkansas—to remind McCaskill of what will happen if she waxes Lincolnesque in Missouri:

_________________________________

FiredUp!Missouri alerted us to an outstanding piece at the Riverfront Times by Chad Garrison.  Provocatively but understandably titled, “Does Making Missouri More ‘Job Friendly’ Always Require Screwing the Working Class?” Mr. Garrison explores the consequences of our fanatically “pro business” anti-worker Republican legislature:

One of the proposals would repeal Missouri’s minimum wage law, allowing employers to pay low-wage employees even less. Another would make it easier to terminate employees. Also in the sights of Missouri legislators is an effort to eliminate the state income tax and replace it with a higher sales tax — a move that allows poorer Missourians to shoulder more of the state’s tax burden.

I recommend all readers go to the site and read the entire piece, which among other things discusses Missouri’s 2006 Proposition B. The initiative passed in every county in Missouri and statewide garnered 76% of the vote, in support of raising the state minimum wage and indexing it to inflation. Garrison points out that Darden Restaurants, which has two franchises in Joplin—Red Lobster and Olive Garden—donated $25,000 to an effort to kill the proposition.  Various McDonald’s also donated money to stop the effort to raise the minimum wage.

As Garrison notes, the beef with the wage mandate is this:

Missouri law states that tipped employees must be paid half of the prevailing minimum wage (a.k.a. $3.63 per hour), which is more than the federal law for tipped employees of $2.13.

Oh my God. Pay them $3.63? Why, that’s outrageous.

All Missouri workers should read Garrison’s piece, especially those working stiffs tempted to support Republicans, who are doing everything they can to wage war on those who make the country what it is.  Garrison links to an organized effort in Missouri to change Missouri’s labor laws—which are already heavily tilted in favor of employers—to make them even more anti-worker.

 _________________________________

Closer to home, Ozark Billy Long made the local paper.  The front page of Sunday’s Joplin Globe prominently featured an article on the possible elimination of a federal program that subsidizes airline service to about 150 cities around the country, including here in Joplin.  Whoops!  When we sent Ozark Billy to Washington to shrink the government, we didn’t mean shrink the part of the government that makes life easier for business travelers and other local bigwigs who can afford to pay the expensive fares to fly out of Joplin!

Our airport manager and city officials, according to the paper, say the subsidized service is “a vital link to economic development.”  Yeah, that’s what they all say.  These officials will, of course, lobby our legislators to keep the subsidy in place.

As for Ozark Billy, the Globe points out that he is a member of the House Republican Study Committee, a radical bunch of tea partiers that has already proposed killing the subsidy program, which will pay American Eagle nearly $3 million annually for service to Dallas twice a day.

But the paper reported that Ozark Billy “wasn’t sure where he might come down on the proposal.”  Ah…It’s so easy to talk all that smack about cutting government spending, as long as it is spending on the poor or the working class.  Cut! Cut! Cut! says our congressman. But when it involves cutting subsidies for business travelers and wealthy jetsetters, it gets a little harder for some Republicans.

[Photo: Globe/T. Rob Brown]

First, Stop The Bleeding

“It is hemorrhaging revenue.”

—Senator Kent Conrad, on the U.S. tax code

The AP informs us that tax revenues are at a 60-year low.  But, of course, we already knew that.  Our deficits have been telling us that for years.

Obviously, as the story points out, the crippled economy is partly to blame.  But nationally, as well as in many states like here in Missouri, the tax code has evolved into something less than a way to collect revenue to run the government.  The AP writes that the code,

grows each year with new deductions, credits and exemptions. The result is that families making as much as $50,000 can avoid paying federal income taxes, if they have at least two dependent children. Low-income families can actually make a profit from the income tax, and the wealthy can significantly cut their payments.

“The current state of the tax code is simply indefensible,” says Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “It is hemorrhaging revenue.”

Lest anyone think that the shortfall in revenue can be cured by a rebounding economy, try this:

In the current budget year, federal tax receipts will be equal to 14.8 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, the lowest level since Harry Truman was president. In Bush’s last year in office, tax receipts were 17.5 percent of GDP, just below their 40-year average.

Here is a chart from the conservative Heritage Foundation, reflecting the changes in the percentage since the end of WWII:

As you can see, when Republicans say taxes are too high, they are lying.  And although tax increases alone won’t cure our budgetary problems, it is a good place to start.  And until Republicans—and some Democrats—acknowledge this reality, many of us won’t take them seriously about the economic apocalypse they warn us is coming.

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