Remarks And Asides

Still good news for President Obama in the latest of four CBS News/New York Times polls done since April of 2009 on the question of:

Most to Blame for the Condition of the Economy  

                    Now         3/2010                7/2009       4/2009

Bush                26%           28                             30             33

Wall Street     25               22                             29             21

Congress        11                10                             12             11

Obama              8                 7                                4               2

All                     7                 7                                6               7

________________________________________

In Minnesota, the Democratic Governor, Mark Dayton, and GOP legislators are locked in a battle over how to close the state’s $5 billion budget deficit—with progressive tax hikes or with even more big budget cuts—eerily calling to mind our larger national issue.

And as the case with our national deficit, much of it is due to a former Republican executive, in this case Tim Pawlenty.  Rather than seek another term as the state’s governor and help fix the problems he left, Pawlenty, no doubt in a spasm of selfless patriotism, is seeking to bring his governing wisdom and fiscal responsibility to Washington, where, God knows, we don’t have enough Republican experts on how to ruin the economy and undermine government.

The deadline to avoid a government shutdown in Minnesota is midnight.  Tick, tock.

________________________________________

President Obama continues to suffer indignity after indignity at the hands of either right-wingers—Glenn Beck  calling him a racist who hates white folks and Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” at him during an address to Congress—or comedians—Jon Stewart addressing him as “dude” on The Daily Show—or journalists, like this morning when a big-time editor of Time magazine, Mark Halperin, called Obama a, uh, “dick” on Morning Joe.

MSNBC suspended Halperin, who is a regular on Joe Scarborough’s program and an analyst for the network.  And Halperin  apologized.

I was watching the event and I must say that I was personally offended by the fact that it was part of his wrongheaded “analysis” of yesterday’s press conference.  Halperin, who is paid handsomely to offer insightful critiques of such things, was dead wrong about Obama’s performance. 

The Time editor thought the President should not have been so rough on those mistreated Republicans and should have tried to understand John Boehner’s inability to get the votes to pass a budget deal that included tax increases and not have acted so, well, so dick-like by insisting that at least some (but not nearly enough) reality be part of the debate.

Halperin’s stunningly bad analysis was at least as offensive as the D word. 

________________________________________

And speaking of dicks and MSNBC, what’s up with former MSNBC star Keith Olbermann?  First he leaves MSNBC and begins another version of “Countdown” on Al Gore’s Current TV network, competing with Lawrence O’Donnell, who occupies Olbermann’s old spot on MSNBC with a show called The Last Word.

By the way, O’Donnell’s program is in many ways better than Olbermann’s original show.  O’Donnell is able to get opposition political guests on, which makes for entertaining television, and his “Rewrite” segment is often the best single segment on any cable news show.  And O’Donnell has worked in Congress, six years as an aid and senior advisor to Daniel Patrick Moynihan and a couple of years as the staff director of the Senate Finance Committee, maybe the most powerful committee in Congress.

In any case, Olbermann first tried to run his new show a little past the hour so as to cut into his former colleague Rachel Maddow’s show, but was duly criticized by his “fans,” and then apologized and pulled back to ending on the hour.  Then on Tuesday Olbermann tweeted (God, I hate that word and that method of communication) the latest ratings for O’Donnell, which dropped 12% in correlation with the debut of Olbermann’s new show (whose viewership is less than half of O’Donnell’s).

Jeeze, I used to like Olbermann, but this kind of behavior is so petty and so unnecessary.  With all the right-wing nuttery out there, one would think Olbermann would spend every single minute of his time taking care of that business rather than trying to embarrass fellow liberals.

________________________________________

Finally, Glenn Beck’s last show is tonight, in case you want to find out how the world ends.  After many episodes of leading us to believe that our demise is near, surely tonight we will have the demented denouement.

Prediction: There will be plenty of references to his “new” gig away from Fox, just in case Obama doesn’t destroy the country anytime soon.

Tea Party Governance In Kansas Means Regulating Abortion Clinics Out Of Business

Whenever you hear Republicans waxing nasty about all the government regulation that hinders businesses and therefore hurts the economy, most of the time you can be confident they are lying through their gold teeth.

Such is the case in neighboring Kansas, where the legislature, completely controlled by Republicans, and the governor, a right-wing Christian Republican fanatic, have conspired to close down the state’s three—three!—remaining abortion clinics by using, what else,  so-called safety regulations, thirty-six pages of which are designed only to put the abortion clinics out of business.

As The Kansas City Star editorialized:

The latest political attack on abortion providers in Kansas is misguided, arrogant and dishonest, and opens up a state struggling to pay for schools to a long list of clearly indefensible lawsuits.

This attack came in the form of what is known as a TRAP law, a “targeted regulation of abortion providers.”

Under the guise of ensuring the safety of patients, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature this year created a new regulation category for abortion providers, and gave the Kansas Department of Health and Environment broad authority to write the rules.

Officials gave the details to abortion providers in mid-June, noting that clinics had until July 1 to be in compliance or lose their license to operate.

The intent was to close down clinics and end the legal practice of abortion in Kansas.

The proof, as the Star offered, is that of the 241 ambulatory surgical clinics, “only the state’s three abortion clinics are subject to these regulations.”  And, “Many regulations have nothing to do with patient safety, and many are impossible to meet within two weeks.”

The editorial makes it clear that those who proposed these regulations aren’t really hiding their motivation: they want to make Kansas “the first abortion-free state.”

Religious zealots and anti-choice fanatics hitched a ride on the Tea Party train as it pulled out of Big Government Station just after President Obama assumed office in 2009, and after the train reached its November 2010 election stop, the zealots and fanatics got off and went to work attacking abortion rights.

The Star:

The attack on legal abortion is a cheap legislative trick to get around the law of the land. Legitimate safety regulations would be phased in, giving clinics time to get up to code. But these regulations were never meant to be legitimate.

Of course not.  And neither were the claims of many in the Tea Party movement who held signs at rallies around the country protesting the size and reach of government and making the outrageous claim that Obama and the Democrats were after our liberties.

What legitimacy there was in the Tea Party movement was soon undermined by Republican political operatives who moved in to take partisan political advantage of the Obama-induced angst on the Right by pretending to run “grassroots” operations.

And worse than that, Christian moralists and quasi-theocrats used the small-government, love-the-Constitution movement to gain power in order to enact their extremist anti-choice agenda, an agenda which includes using state governments to effectively eliminate in America the constitutional right to abortion.

Big government? You betcha.

Obama’s Presser: Here’s What He Said, Sort Of

In case you missed it, here’s what President Obama said today to various folks (more or less, in my stunningly accurate interpretation) during his press conference, the theme of which was, “Congress, get off your ass and go to work, the middle class is hurting“:

To those worried about jobs: There are plenty of job-creating bills in the congressional hopper right now that I would sign, if only Congress would act.  But speaking of acting, what the hell have you guys been doing?  While I’ve been dealing with Libya and handing over bin Laden to the bottom feeders, the Congress is here one week and gone the next.  Sheesh.  Good work, if you can get it.

To those who don’t want to raise revenues to help alleviate the deficit: Are you nuts? I’ve spent the last two years cutting taxes for ordinary folks, but the millionaires and billionaires and the oil companies and those who flitter about on corporate jets need to cough it up.  Come on, people.

To those who wonder whether Republican leadership will stop the nonsense and make a deal on the debt ceiling: My hope—and I confess at this point it is only a hope—is that despite all the teaparty talk, that eventually “leaders will lead” and do the right thing.  This debt ceiling business is not an abstraction.  It could kill the economy. The August 2 date is real and we won’t have any more “tools” to put off paying our bills.  Get busy.

To those who wonder what Obama’s stand on gay marriage is: Look, obviously I’m changing my mind about that issue but I’m not dumb enough to tell you that today because that’s all that would make news.  I came here to point out that Republicans have to get their act together on the debt ceiling negotiations and stop playing games.

To those worried about the National Labor Relations Board’s decision on Boeing:  Union folks, close your ears for a minute while I toss you under the bus:  The main thing is that as long as Boeing is keeping jobs here in America, nothing else much matters.  Okay, union folks, you can listen in again.

To those worried about over-regulating businesses: Don’t worry.  Businesses always complain about that stuff and we are working on eliminating a lot of previous regulations that we think are unnecessarily hindering business.  Give us a chance to get that done and you will be very, very happy.

To those making a fuss about his Libya policy: Are you kidding me?  Do you want to side with the American-killer, Kaddafi?  There’s no constitutional issue involved because I’m doing exactly what I said I’d do and this is nothing like Vietnam.  Do I look like Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon?

To those who note that Obama didn’t use the word “victory” in his talk about Afghanistan:  Victory?  No way would I use that word, but I will use the word “success.”  And by success I mean giving the Afghanis a chance to defend themselves, whether they ultimately can or not.  I don’t mean turning their country into some kind of Jeffersonian paradise.

To those worried about how we will prosecute future terrorist suspects who are apprehended:  We will deal with those individuals on an individual basis, but the American people should rest assured that our top priority is killing the bastards who want to kill us.

To those concerned about our immigration policy: Nothing has changed.  We need comprehensive reform and we need to pass the DREAM Act. I’m shipping back more undocumented folks than any president in recent memory, so what more do you want from me?  Congress must act. 

To those worried about whether Sasha and Malia are getting their homework done: Look, my kids are more responsible than Republicans in Congress. They don’t wait ’till the last minute, when they know they gotta do something.

To those wondering whether the idea of cutting payroll taxes to stimulate the economy must be part of the debt ceiling agreement: Before I answer this one, I would like for all the Republicans to plug their ears: Hell no, it doesn’t.  I’m willing to wait on the stimulus as long as we get a deal on the debt ceiling. And I’m willing to say so right now, which means, of course, that I have lost my edge in negotiations.  Why the hell did I do that?

To those who want to know if Obama believes he can use the Fourteenth Amendment to get around the debt ceiling limitation statute:  I’m sort of not going to remember that Chuck Todd of NBC News ask me about that one.  Maybe I’ll just surprise you later.

Finally, to the middle class:  I think about you ever minute of every day because I know how desperate some of you are.  I came into this office pledging to fix the problems that plague you and most of the time the Republican leaders in Congress only want to play political games and look only to the near-term.  I’m a long-term sort of guy, and I am willing to make deals that aren’t that popular with the base of my party because I believe that in the long run fixing this economy and getting the deficit under control will serve you the best.

Obama’s Libya Policy Is Okay, Says The Congress

No matter what one thinks about it, for better or worse we live in a small world these days, especially in terms of how business works.

What is happening today in Greece matters to folks in Joplin, Mo., even if most folks in Joplin don’t know it.  The earthquake in Japan rattled economic windows here in the United States.  The so-called Arab Spring, a messy, frightening, encouraging, and confusing trend, definitely impacts not just American foreign policy, but because of the Western world’s heroin-like dependence on petroleum, it impacts our economy, too.

All of which leads us to what we are doing in Libya.

Unfortunately, much of the noise in the debate over President Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. in military operations in Libya is generated by concerns over his constitutional authority to continue our involvement in the NATO mission—yet another fight over the War Powers Resolution, which the Congress has not had the institutional chutzpah to actually test in court.

Despite all of the Republican handwringing over whether the President is in technical violation of the resolution vis-à-vis his Libya policy, it wasn’t that long ago that conservatives in both parties were close to repealing the act, and none other than current Speaker John Boehner actually voted to do so in 1995.

So Boehner’s newfound love affair with the War Powers Resolution has more to do with—again!—the GOP’s disdain for Barack Hussein Obama than any principled stand on the separation of powers.

Don’t get me wrong.  Whether—or more to the point, how—Congress can limit the power of this or any president to commit our country to war is a fundamentally important question, but the truth is that Congress has the unquestionable power to stop any president from making war by simply cutting off the funds. 

If Congress believes President Obama’s actions are unwise, it can simply stop paying for them.

That brings us to the question of the wisdom of the Libya policy itself, which has sort of got lost in the battle over presidential authority.

Unlike other parts of the restless Middle East, our actions in Libya—which are supported by other Arab countries—can have maximum impact with minimum cost.  That isn’t often the case in matters like this and that fact should mean something.  As Sen. John Kerry said, American troops are not on the ground or in the line of fire, and, unquestionably, Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya has prevented thousands of civilian casualties.

The current  NATO mission, of which we are a part, is responsible for keeping the pressure on Gaddafi to voluntary retire from the dictator business, and whether he goes on his own or at the point of a rebel gun, it is likely that his time can be measured in weeks.

I know, I know. We have been waiting for Gaddafi to get the message for months now, but as his ability to make war is daily degraded, his options have narrowed to a simple binary choice: go out standing up or lying down.  His recent offer to hold internationally supervised elections and then go away if he lost was, in the words of the U.S. government, “a little late.”  The rebels, of course, smell the dictator’s blood at this point and will accept nothing short of a Gaddafi-free Libya.

Here at home, a schizophrenic House of Representatives last week voted both to deny Obama the authority to use U.S. forces in Libya and to continue funding the use of U.S. forces in Libya.  That’ll show our unruly President.

In the Senate, yesterday the Foreign Relations Committee voted to authorize Obama’s actions in Libya but some of the members couldn’t resist taking shots at the Commander-in-Chief.  Sen. Richard Lugar, who is running for reelection next year and therefore has to sound as anti-Obama as possible for the next several months, said:

In this case, President Obama made a deliberate decision not to seek a congressional authorization of his action, either before it commenced or during the last three months. This was a fundamental failure of leadership that placed expedience above constitutional responsibility.

Most of the time Republicans accuse Obama of failing to show “leadership” by “dithering” on such decisions. But even when he acted decisively and relatively quickly on the Libya mission, he is still accused of having a leadership flaw.  Hmm. I don’t think Republicans like the guy.

In any case, the mission in Libya is one case in which we, in conjunction with our NATO allies, can do something good for this small world we live in, and we can do it with relatively little cost, at least in terms of American resources.  It matters in the long run whether we are on the side of the dictators or the side of those who are fighting the dictators.

And even the United States Congress, notwithstanding its protests about presidential war powers, agrees.

George Will’s Tanning Bed

George Will’s column on Texas Governor Rick Perry, which should have been titled, “Run, Rick, Run,” appeared in Monday’s Joplin Globe.  I want to point out a bit of, well, chicanery from the column, but first this:

Supposed examples of Perry’s extremism evaporate in sunlight.

Now, when you have to point out that your guy has an “extremist” problem, you have a steep hill to climb in elevating him to presidential status, no?

In any case, Will plodded on:

One is that he intimated support for Texas’ secession from the Union. After people shouted “Secede!” at a rally, he said he understood their frustration but added: “We’ve got a great union. There is absolutely no reason to dissolve it.”

The rally was an anti-tax tea party gathering in Austin, and Perry had entertained the crowd with suggestions that, in the words of the AP, “the federal government is strangling Americans with taxation, spending and debt.”

Strangling Americans.  Nothing extremist about that, I suppose.

Later, Perry was answering reporters’ questions and he said the following, only part of which Will quoted:

“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry said. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”

Will, who said “examples of Perry’s extremism evaporate in sunlight,” sort of kept his readers in the dark regarding Perry’s complete statement. Perry’s saying, “if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that,” sounds sort of, well, extreme doesn’t it?

But will had more strange sunlight to shine on Perry’s extremism:

He signed a law requiring women seeking abortions to be shown sonograms of their babies. Do people objecting to this mandatory provision of information object to the new graphic warnings on cigarette packs?

Hmm. What a clever use of deflection. Instead of thinking about Perry advocating government force to require women seeking abortions to look at sonograms of their “babies,” we are instead thinking about those nasty pictures on packages of smokes.

And we certainly don’t want to think about the fact that in order for the government to force women to view sonograms of their “babies,” they first have to force them to have sonograms in the first place, some of them possibly with vaginal probes.  That’s kind of like putting a picture of a charred lung on a pack of Camels, isn’t it?

Sunlight, indeed.

The truth is that there just isn’t enough sunlight to evaporate the extremism of Rick Perry, especially if that sunlight is really only a tanning bed in which conservative Republican George Will has tried to hide the truth about the Governor of Texas.

Barack Obama “Is No American,” Says A Guest Columnist For The Joplin Globe

Many readers of The Erstwhile Conservative are from places that the Joplin Globe, our local paper with which this blog is associated, doesn’t reach—unless, of course, one were to subscribe to the electronic version.

So, purely as a public service to those readers who don’t have the distinct pleasure of reading the Opinion Page of the Globe, I will give you a taste of what you are missing.

Today’s contribution is from someone named Mark D. Edmondson, who is featured—with a photo and everything—prominently on page 9A as a “Guest columnist,” who “lives in Neosho.” Mr. Edmondson has graced the Globe pages before, most notably a little more than a year ago, when he accused President Obama of being an enemy who wants to “destroy” America. He said at that time,

No one poses a greater threat to America and to our way of life than the man who currently occupies the Oval Office… All one needs to do is look at the people with whom Obama has surrounded himself. They are among the most radical people on Earth who have no great love for this country.

Well, that was last year. And Mr. Edmondson hasn’t much mellowed, despite the America-destroying enemy’s gracious and well-received presidential visit to Joplin about a month ago. Edmondson opened his latest offering with this:

Barack Obama may have been born in Hawaii, but he is no American.

Now, I don’t know why the Joplin Globe brass believes such malevolent moonshine—asserting that the President of the United States is not an American—is worthy of print. Perhaps there is an institutional fondness for provocation, or perhaps the brass agrees with the sentiment expressed, or perhaps Donald Trump owns stock in the company that owns the newspaper, or, my hope against hope, the brass is cleverly exposing the bigotry of a local writer under the guise of promoting it.

I don’t know.

But given all the vitriol that has surrounded President Obama’s tenure, particularly around the phony and embarrassing issue of his birthplace, I would think that our local newspaper would exercise a little restraint and not publish such tommyrot, even for grins and giggles.

In any case, I would be amiss by not at least letting you in on a little more of Edmondson’s sniping that followed the above remark, such sniping as regularly appears in the Globe courtesy of local letter-writers and columnists.

As he continues implementing his leftist agenda to “fundamentally transform America,” our beloved nation is sinking deeper into decline.

The dark cloud of socialism appeared over Washington, D.C., the day Obama first took office. Its inevitable spread to every region of America proved faster than the recent Gulf Oil spill, threatening the basic tenets of liberty and free market enterprise the country has traditionally stood for.

Seventy percent of Americans now say we are headed in the wrong direction. No doubt many of those who think this way rue the moment they marked their ballot for the man who has purposely driven this nation to the brink of economic collapse.

As Obama continues his brutal campaign of cutting America down to size, he does so in a way that our one-time adversaries and fiercest overseas competitors would have greatly admired.

None of this needs any further comment, except to say to those who don’t have the pleasure of routinely encountering such tripe on the opinion pages of the Joplin Globe: please pray for me.

Sabotaging The Economy: Cynicism Or Reality?

The opening segment of last night’s The Rachel Maddow Show was over sixteen minutes long.  It was one of those rare moments in cable television in which a lot was said that needed to be said and it was said by two very smart liberal commentators, St. Rachel and Chris Hayes, Washington editor of The Nation magazine.

The segment chronicled only some of the outrageous Republican hypocrisy evident since the Age of Obama.  We’re talking about policies that Republicans supported until they discovered that President Obama supported them too, including:

Pay-Go legislation, the bi-partisan deficit commission, cap and trade, the individual mandate for health insurance, trying terrorists in federal courts, raising the debt ceiling (done seven times under Bush with substantial Republican votes), a payroll tax holiday for businesses and workers, and the DREAM Act.

Toward the end of the segment, St. Rachel offered two competing explanations for such blatant and shameful duplicity: 

The nice interpretation of Republican hypocrisy:  Republicans are merely opposing things they use to support because President Obama supports them too.

The less nice interpretation of Republican hypocrisy: Republicans are opposing things they use to support because they believe those things will actually work and will improve the economy and thus improve Obama’s chances of reelection.  Therefore, they are sabotaging the economic recovery.

Chris Hayes pointed out that Republicans have,

starved the beast…they have cut taxes; now they’ve got everybody in the deficit-debt panic, and now the welfare state is in their sights…and they understand they’re gonna get one shot at it, and they also understand the only way to kill it is to get a Democratic president to do it.

Bush could not gut Social Security, couldn’t privatize Social Security…Barack Obama can. The only way to go after the big game they are hunting—which is Medicaid and Medicare—that’s the fundamental part of social insurance—is  to get a Democrat to do it.

Hayes also offered “an even more cynical interpretation” than Maddow’s suggestion that Republicans want to “take money out of the economy” at a time when the economy needs it:

HAYES: The one thing that refutes the deficit hysteria—which so benefits the Republicans in their mission to go after Medicare and Medicaid—is the fact that interest rates are at historic lows. So, you can say, “Oh, no one’s gonna lend us money,” and look out there and everyone’s lending us money at historically low rates.

What is the one thing that could screw that up?

MADDOW: Debt ceiling.

HAYES:  Exactly. A partial default, a delay in payments…all of a sudden if you had that you could point and say, “Look, the markets are panicked, the interest rates are up; we really have a debt and deficit problem.” The most cynical, the absolute most cynical interpretation of this is that they want some sort of crisis because that produces in the markets exactly the uncertainty they’ve been claiming was already there but has not manifested until now.

There you have it. A perfectly rational explanation of Republican behavior, particularly regarding the debate over the debt ceiling.

And the one thing that Republicans can do to prove wrong Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow—and top Democrats in the U.S. Senate, who have essentially suggested the same thing—is stop protecting the oil companies and the wealthiest Americans and agree to raise the debt ceiling before all economic hell breaks loose, if the Obama administration is forced to default on our debt payments.*

Here is the complete opening segment from last night’s show:

_____________________

*There is another possible out, a brief explanation of which can be found here and elsewhere. It involves invoking Section 4 of the 14th Amendment and it would be a very gutsy move by President Obama. In part it reads:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned.

It’s just possible that Obama can ignore the fact that Congress refuses to authorize an increase in the debt ceiling and continue to pay the nation’s bills and its other obligations under the authority of this provision.  Let the fun begin!

Good Conservative Commentary As Easy As 1-2-3

Good things come in threes, the superstitious often aver.  On two of the Sunday morning shows, I heard two different conservative pundits—George F. Will and David Brooks—say sensible things, in threes.  And after I throw in a little William F. Buckley, this will mark the first time in the history of this blog that I have favorably quoted three conservatives.

From ABC’s This Week, I want to bring attention to this brief exchange between two regular panelists, Martha Raddatz and Will, during the program’s segment discussing President Obama’s speech last Wednesday on the planned withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year:

MARTHA RADDATZ: I think the president has never wanted a full counterinsurgency. The president has never even mentioned counterinsurgency in December 2009 and he certainly didn’t mention it the other night.

I always had the impression that David Petraeus and Stan McChrystal before him were fighting a war based on counterinsurgency, but the president was never committed to that…

GEORGE WILL: Obviously Pakistan is key. If Afghanistan were next to Denmark, we wouldn’t be there, we wouldn’t be worrying about it the way we do, because it is next to Pakistan, a nuclear power.

I think Martha has got it exactly right, which is the commander in chief and his commander in the field are fighting different projects.

David Petraeus is the author, literal, of the book on counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency is nation building. The United States army — army has been engaged in 16,000 economic projects over there.

There are three problems with nation building. It’s expensive and we’re short of money. It takes time and we’re short of patience. And, three, we don’t know how to it. It’s like orchid building, nations are not built like tinker toys.

I think Raddatz and Will are pretty close to the mark, although calling them “different projects” is going too far.  But Petraeus and Obama are not exactly on the same page with the counterinsurgency stuff, as I suggested last week

And Will’s triplet formulation and criticism of the counterinsurgency strategy is right on:

1. It’s expensive and we’re short of money.

2. It takes time and we’re short of patience.

3. We don’t know how to do it.

I will insert here a quote from another conservative voice, William F. Buckley, related to the nation-building idea:

One should not tire of repeating the fatalistic but wise maxim of Senator Fulbright, that the United States government has no proper quarrel with any nation no matter how obnoxious its domestic policies, so long as it does not seek to export them. As much was said by President John Quincy Adams when he stressed that Americans were friends of liberty everywhere, but custodians only of their own.

I also want to point out another triplet advanced on Sunday by yet another conservative, David Brooks.  On NBC’s Meet the Press, this brief exchange took place:

DAVID GREGORY:  …I spoke to a CEO this week who said, “Yeah, you go around the world, in Asia and Europe, there’s this sense that Pax Americana is over.” But even in a more positive way, David, that American influence is waning because our politics is not up to the task of some of the challenges we face.

DAVID BROOKS:  Yeah.  We’ve got a government problem.  We don’t have a country problem.  We still have an entrepreneurial country.  We’ll still have the only country in the world, only big country, where people can come in from all over the world and magnify their talents.  But we have a government problem. 

We have to do three things.  We have to be fiscally sustainable, we have to do it in a way that increases growth, and we have to do it in a way that reduces inequality.  Those are three things that are in tension with each other.  So if any of us who watch Washington think that our political system is capable of doing two–three things in tension with each other all at once?  It means borrowing from column A, column B, I haven’t seen that level of borrowing.

Again, the triplet that Brooks advanced is sound:

1. We have to be fiscally sustainable.

2. We have to be fiscally sustainable in a way that increases growth.

3. We have to be fiscally sustainable in a way that reduces inequality.

While I tend to share Brooks’ pessimism about the ability of contemporary politics to achieve those three things, my admittedly liberal analysis leads me to believe that Democrats and Republicans all agree on the first two points, but the truth is that Republicans don’t give a damn about the third point: whether any fiscal solution involves the reduction of inequalities.

And that’s why they are willing to play chicken with the economy.

Eric Cantor: “I quit.” John Boehner: “Who, me?”

House Republican majority leader Eric Cantor is quitting half way through the infamous debt ceiling negotiations at the White House.

Cantor, in the spirit of the former half-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, stayed around long enough to do only the fun stuff: cutting what he claims is trillions from the federal budget.  The rest of the job—negotiations over revenue increases—will fall on the shoulders of Cantor’s boss, Speaker John Boehner.

Cantor said,

I believe that we have identified trillions in spending cuts, and to date, we have established a blueprint that could institute the fiscal reforms needed to start getting our fiscal house in order. 

That said, each side came into these talks with certain orders, and as it stands the Democrats continue to insist that any deal must include tax increases. There is not support in the House for a tax increase, and I don’t believe now is the time to raise taxes in light of our current economic situation. Regardless of the progress that has been made, the tax issue must be resolved before discussions can continue.

The good news in Cantor’s statement is that it appears that Democrats are hanging tough on the issue of taxes, something many of us didn’t think possible.  The bad news is that no one knows what “trillions in spending cuts” means at this point.

Cantor claims—falsely—that, “there is not support in the House for a tax increase.”  John Boehner made the same false claim on Thursday.  What they mean is that there is not support on the Republican side of the House for a tax increase.  But most people forget that there are 192 Democrats wandering around the House side of the capitol, most of whom would certainly be open to revenue increases.

That means that Boehner cannot claim there is not support in the House for a tax increase, unless he admits that there is no way he could get a handful of Republicans to join Democrats to do the right and rational thing and vote for some kind of revenue increase. 

Right now there are 432 occupied seats in the House, meaning 217 is the magic majority number.  Assuming some very small number of Democrats behave like conservative tea partiers, Boehner would only have to come up with somewhere around 30 votes on his side of the aisle to get a deal passed that included tax increases.

Now, think about that.  We are talking about the debt ceiling and the full faith and credit of the United States.  We are talking about default and a potential economic catastrophe.  We are talking about geezers not getting their Social Security checks.  We are talking about international embarrassment.

Yet, John Boehner can’t come up with 25 or 30 Republican votes to save the day? Huh?

What kind of leader is he? What kind of party has the GOP become?

And that’s just the House side.

Over in the Senate, it is far from certain that rational behavior on the Republican side is any more reliable than in the tea party-dominated House.  Mitch McConnell is placing the burden all on President Obama:

Where in the world has the president been for the last month? What does he propose? What is he willing to do to reduce the debt and to avoid this crisis that is building on his watch? He’s the one in charge.

Forget the fact that Mr. Obama established the debt-ceiling talks in the first place and that Democrats, according to Cantor, have been agreeable to “trillions” in spending cuts.  We just aren’t dealing with serious people here. 

Once upon a time, the dynamics of these kinds of negotiations would always feature a lot of grandstanding, but in the end, we could count on there being enough serious and rational people who would do the right thing for the country.

One wonders these days if there are any serious and rational people left in the Republican Party.

The bottom line is that Democrats need to stand their ground and continue demanding a more balanced approach to addressing our debt problems. And if the Republican Party wants to risk an unprecedented economic meltdown—and have the blame for such a disaster follow them for a generation—then there is little Democrats can do to stop them, short of surrendering.

And for now it looks like Democrats have no plans to surrender.

I said, “for now.”  We are, after all, talking about Democrats.

It Doesn’t “Almost Make Me Wonder”

I opened my Joplin Globe today and I found this headline on page 4B:

Poll: Economy weakens support for Obama

The AP story opened this way:

WASHINGTON   — Mired in economic worry, Americans are growing gloomier about where the country is headed and how President Barack Obama is leading it. Opinions of the economy are at the lowest of the year as high gas prices, anemic hiring and financial turmoil abroad shake a nation’s confidence.

Now, that story dovetailed nicely with what the top Democrats in the Senate did on Wednesday, which essentially was accuse Republicans of sabotaging the economic recovery in the name of politics.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin said:

Our Republican colleagues in the House and Senate are driven by putting one man out of work: President Obama.

Senator Chuck Schumer said:

It almost makes you wonder if they aren’t trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.

Almost makes you wonder?

What the Dems are talking about is the failure of Republicans to support economic stimulus incentives that Republicans once enthusiastically supported, like, just as one example, the payroll tax cut for both employees and employers, tailor-made to jibe with Republican economic philosophy.  But Schumer says:

John Boehner called it a gimmick, Paul Ryan called it sugar high. Lamar Alexander and Jeb Hensarling both criticized it as short-term stimulus — apparently that’s a bad thing. Would Republicans really oppose a tax cut for business that created jobs? This is sort of beyond the pale. So if they’d oppose even something so suited to their tastes ideologically, it shows that they’re just opposing anything that would help create jobs.

You might think it is in bad taste for one party to accuse the other of such sabotage, so I will present to you one party accusing itself of, well, a kind of sabotage.  Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a fleeting moment of honesty, explained that recent Republican opposition to Obama’s Libya policy—remember, these are Republicans who have rarely, if ever, met a war they didn’t like, if not actually want to personally fight—is at least partly based on partisan considerations.

Via the Huffington Post, here is what McConnell said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor:

I’m not sure that these kinds of differences might not have been there in a more latent form when you had a Republican president, but I do think there is more of a tendency to pull together when the guy in the White House is on your side. 

So I think some of these views were probably held by some of my members even in the previous administration, but party loyalty tended to kind of mute them. … I think a lot of our members, not having a Republican in the White House, feel more free to kind of express their reservations, which might have been somewhat muted during the previous administration.

So, McConnell is saying that Republicans, whose first loyalty is apparently to their party, will tend to support their own president on war matters—even if they have “reservations”— but they feel free to thwart President Obama because he is of the other party.

Hmm.

Let’s go back to Chuck Schumer’s comment about Republicans one more time:

It almost makes you wonder if they aren’t trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.

Nope. It doesn’t almost make me wonder at all. 

_______________________

Here is the press conference on job creation by Senate Democrats in which some of them wonder out loud about Republican motives:

 

Here is McConnell’s statement:

Obama’s War, Act II

“If it were a kid, it would be in the fifth grade.”

Rachel Maddow, on the length of the war in Afghanistan

 

Modestly and wisely defying General Petraeus, Barack Obama, cautiously and conservatively, has decided to stick to his original rationale for the strategy in Afghanistan he outlined in December of 2009, and has begun to wind down the war there.

The Right, predictably, has said that Obama is “pulling the rug out from under General Petraeus” just when he was starting to see progress there and before his counter-insurgency strategy has had a chance to fully work. 

How convenient.

The problem, of course, is that there is exactly no evidence that the counter-insurgency strategy will ever “fully” work in Afghanistan, a place that has never known real nationalism and likely never will. 

Obama’s more limited goal, even if Petraeus wasn’t completely on board with the idea, was to stop the Taliban’s momentum—which it had gained through years of strategic neglect by the Bush-Cheney administration—and buy some time to, as Obama said in 2009:

seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan. 

That, in a nutshell, was the rationale for Obama’s approval of a 30,000 troop surge in 2009.  The long-awaited killing of Osama bin Laden represented the ultimate seizure of “the initiative” and now all that is left is a “responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.”  

But folks like John McCain are saying that Obama is taking a “gamble” and “risking a great deal,” and wannabees like Tim Pawlenty, who cannot be the GOP presidential nominee without pointing out that Obama has made a “grave mistake” by not becoming the footslogger of David Petraeus, says the goal should not be a “responsible withdrawal,” but a “win.”

Yes. We all want to win. But that win, such as it could be defined and achieved, would at least involve another decade or more of American military commitment—with thousands of lives lost and another trillion dollars spent—years upon years of dreaded nation-building in a decidedly hostile place for such dreams to come true.

We know Obama by now and we know that he is not the kind to radically alter course enough to please either his unpleasable conservative critics—many of whom want more, not less, war—or his more pleasable liberal ones—who want the troops out yesterday.

One can compare his 2009 speech to the one he delivered so adroitly on Wednesday night and you will see a nearly seamless garment, a continuity that we have come to expect from a man who puts a lot of forethought into his actions as President.  When someone like Mr. Obama spends a lot of time drawing up plans and laying a foundation for a house, it’s not so easy to wake up one day and decide he just wants to rent after all.

No.  Obama is staying true to his vision of how the strategy in Afghanistan would play itself out in the short-term, and he is, as agonizing as it is for some of us to stomach sometimes, constitutionally conservative when it comes to changing a course he has thoughtfully laid out.

I wish he would have taken advantage of the killing of bin Laden and dramatically moved away from his original strategy, bringing home the troops more quickly and transitioning to the inevitable Bidenesque counter-terrorism strategy much faster than his present timeline allows. 

The public is now firmly on the side of getting out sooner,  and despite the whining from the Sean Hannitys on the Right, President Obama’s decision to wind down the war even more quickly would have been good politics.

But, alas, he is the Commander-in-Chief.  He has obviously decided to ignore the politics, especially the politics of the Right and the Left, and do, what to his presidential mind, is the right thing.

Let’s hope, as even John McCain was willing to hope, that it is the right thing.

Remarks And Asides

Jon Huntsman, for a brief shining moment the only adult in a room full of Republican presidential hopefuls, essentially sealed his doom in the Republican primary by making the following statement about the Evil One, the America-hating Kenyan socialist, Barack Hussein Obama:

He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help the country we both love. But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President; not who’s the better American.

Nice knowing you Jon, even if it were only for a few hours.  Once upon a time, most Republicans were like you.  We will miss your kind.  How about becoming ambassador to, oh, I don’t know, say, China?

                                                                           [Photo by Pool/Getty Images North America]

________________________________

Speaking of Huntsman, even if his civility toward Obama doesn’t do him in, his expressed tolerance and “respect” for states that have legalized or may legalize gay marriage will.  Again, thanks for the memories, however brief, Jon.

________________________________

Speaking of “the gay,” former Texas A&M cheerleader and long-time governor of Texas, Rick Perry—who had a one-night-stand with secessionism—will be prepared, should he decide to run for president, to combat old rumors that he is, well,  a Kenyan homosexual.  According to Politico, Perry’s top strategist said:

…unfortunately there are always going to be some people who feel the need to spread false and misleading rumors to advance their own political agenda. 

Noooooooo.  Really? 

I don’t know just how Governor Perry can prove to conservative Republican primary voters that he doesn’t have the gay.  We all know by now that a Certificate of Live Heterosexuality won’t do. 

I guess we’ll just have to “take him at his word,” won’t we, Ms. Bachmann?

_____________________________ 

Fox “News” and other conservatives got their prayer shawls in a tangle over NBC Sports godlessly excerpting “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance during its golf telecast.  Now, I for one am comforted to know that conservatives, always eager to embrace policies that would take us back to the good old days, are content to stop at 1954, the year “under God” was wedged into the pledge.

That is progress.

_____________________________ 

Speaking of Fox, Ann Coulter, who makes a good living from saying dumb and outrageous things that have the virtue of being consumable by gullible conservatives with disposable income, said on Bill O’Reilly’s “show” Tuesday that Afghans are “perfectly happy being poor, ignorant and having a 30-year lifespan.”

That, my friends, passes for high-brow Christian comedy on Fox “News.”

Or, maybe it’s serious commentary.  It’s hard to tell.

_____________________________ 

Finally, and speaking of high-brow Christian comedy or serious commentary, I found the following on “The Blaze,” a website founded by the caliphate-obsessed, Obama-hating Mormon, Glenn Beck.  By the way, OIL_ROBB‘s comment, complete with misspelling and dumb insult, reads like it was written by a certain Globe blogger I know: 

Jo Ann Emerson Asks For Forgiveness?

In the run-up to the 2010 elections, many Missouri bloggers tried to remind folks about Roy Blunt’s connection to Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay, both convicted felons, as well as Blunt’s other rather extensive ties to lobbyists. 

He trounced Robin Carnahan by a 54-41 margin.

Many also tried to point out his crucial role in the last-minute passing of the Medicare Part D entitlement—unfunded—which he acted out by helping the House Republican leadership cajole and caress as many reluctant Republicans as they could in order to get their votes, sometimes getting them to switch their votes. (FiredUp!Missouri has a nice summary of the sordid tale here.)

After all, as The Washington Post put it, the House leadership made sure their members knew the prescription drug benefit issue was important “to the party and the president.”

Yeah.  And to the drug companies.

The pharmaceutical industry benefits from the legislation because most of the cost is picked up by taxpayers and the Medicare program is not allowed to negotiate prices with the drug companies. Not allowed by law.  By a law that was pushed by Tom DeLay and Roy Blunt and enacted in 2003 by a majority of Republicans, including by Representative Jo Ann Emerson, a legislative neighbor of Blunt’s here in Missouri at the time.

As former Reagan domestic policy adviser and Bush I treasury official Bruce Bartlett said, “the Medicare drug benefit was a pure giveaway,” and it, “had no dedicated financing, no offsets and no revenue-raisers; 100% of the cost simply added to the federal budget deficit.”  He added:

…anyone who voted for the drug benefit, especially someone who switched his vote to make its enactment possible, has zero credibility. People like Franks ought to have the decency to keep their mouths shut forever when it comes to blaming anyone else for increasing the national debt.

He finished with this:

It astonishes me that a party enacting anything like the drug benefit would have the chutzpah to view itself as fiscally responsible in any sense of the term. As far as I am concerned, any Republican who voted for the Medicare drug benefit has no right to criticize anything the Democrats have done in terms of adding to the national debt.

Well, Jo Ann Emerson, who represents the south central and southeast part of our state, was one of those Republicans who voted for the prescription drug bill to keep it alive in the House.  And she was one of those who changed her vote, at the behest of Roy Blunt.  And then she voted against it on final passage.

Go figure.

In any case, I’m not at this time going to knock Emerson for that vote-and-switch. That’s not the point I want to make.

I want to offer her some praise.

Perhaps out of some kind of legislative penance, she is trying to make amends.  According to Vermont Public Radio Emerson is co-sponsoring a bill with Vermont Democrat Peter Welch that would,

allow the federal government to negotiate prices for prescription drugs that are bought under the Medicare Part D program.

Congressman Welch has essentially called Medicare Part D a “corrupt bargain,” and claims that his and Emerson’s bill would save taxpayers $156 billion over the next ten years by giving the government the power to negotiate a bulk discount for drugs.

The idea has failed before but Welch is optimistic about the bill’s chances this time:

I think we’ve got a pretty good shot at passing it this year because there is such a focus on the budget. The total focus on the new Republican majority is on cutting spending. This is tailor-made to help them achieve that goal. It’s $160 billion in savings. I think it’s a very compelling argument and it will allow those who claim they want to taxpayer money a chance to do so.

I’m not exactly sure how proud Rep. Emerson is of her co-sponsorship of this bill, since I could find nothing about it on her website, but here’s hoping she will enthusiastically work out her penance for her past legislative sins, at least one of them at the urging of Roy Blunt.

And perhaps this proposal will serve as a test for those Republicans in Congress who talk big about the debt and deficit but often shrink in the presence of traditional Republican constituents like the drug companies.

Chris Wallace Admits Fox Is Biased

I watched Jon Stewart’s appearance on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.  Naturally the discussion focused on Stewart’s frequent criticism of Fox “News” for its obvious bias.  I know that Stewart’s calling Wallace “insane” has grabbed much of the attention, but here is the most important part of the interview:

STEWART: So, you believe that Fox News is exactly the ideological equivalent of NBC News?

WALLACE: I think we’re the counterweight. I think that they have a liberal agenda and I think we tell the other side of the story.

Now, here we have Chris Wallace, Fox’s most prominent journalist—and to the Fox brass, its most journalistically validating employee—admitting that Fox tells “the other side of the story.” 

What side is that?  Fox is supposed to be “fair and balanced,” remember? Wallace, basing his admission on the false premise that NBC News is “liberal,” is telling the world what the world already knows but what Fox journalists are loathe to admit: Fox does not do straight journalism.  It is designed to “tell the other side of the story.”

Conservatives are no longer able to deny that Fox, rather than a “we report, you decide” journalistic enterprise, is nothing more than a “counterweight” to the imaginary bias in the other major news outlets.

We know without a doubt now that the “news” side of Fox is biased, consciously so.  And the network’s most prominent journalist has said so.

And by the way, Wallace, when Stewart pointed out that Fox viewers were the “most consistently misinformed media viewers,” did not deny it. Instead, Wallace attacked Comedy Central.

That, folks, says it all.

Joplin Globe Poll: Tornado Relief Without Budget Cuts

For all you local conservatives out there who believe that Congress should find offsets in the budget in order to provide disaster aid to Joplin–in other words, all of you who would like to start a political fight over how federal dollars will end up in our community–I would like to present today’s “INFO POLL” from the Joplin Globe:

Do you think legislators are doing the right thing by packaging a budget cut in the same bill that would provide Joplin with federal tornado relief?

YES: 19%

NO: 81%

TOTAL VOTES: 652

The “total votes” number is unusually high for the Globe’s poll.  And the normal poll results usually skew very conservative.  So, this outcome is a bit surprising, particularly the lopsided nature of it.

And while it is not a scientific poll, it does demonstrate how far out of touch the Eric Cantors and Anson Burlingames are on this issue.

A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away, Radicals Didn’t Control The GOP

Once upon a time, even Republicans thought it was “nutty to fool around with the Social Security system.” 

Those words were uttered in 1988 by George H.W. Bush during the Republican presidential primary, in which Republican candidate Pierre Samuel du Pont IV proposed partially privatizing Social Security, an idea that fell flat even with the GOP electorate.

But Bush II campaigned in 2000 on the issue of personal Social Security accounts and by the time he was reelected in 2004, he thought it was time to advance the idea beyond campaign rhetoric.  In his 2005 State of the Union address he said:

As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts.

Thankfully, given what happened in 2008, we didn’t “fix” Social Security in the way that Bush II and other conservative Republicans wanted to.  Bush’s first major failure—in 2010 the former President said it was his greatest failure—of his second term was handed to him not just by Democrats and the public, who wisely didn’t warm up to the idea, but also by legislators in his own party, legislators who controlled both houses of Congress at the time.

Well, the failures in the past haven’t deterred today’s radical Republicans from attempting to enact their privatization scheme.  Paul Ryan’s original budget proposal, the so-called “Roadmap for the Future,” essentially reiterated Bush II’s 2005 idea. 

And less than two weeks ago, with not nearly enough media attention, House Republicans introduced more privatize-Social Security legislation, this version with an immediate partial opt-out of Social Security and an eventual full opt-out of the system.

The bill, H.R. 2109, was introduced by the head of the House Republican campaign committee, Pete Sessions (TX).  Get that? The head of the House Republican campaign committee introduced a bill that would effectively kill Social Security.  How bold is that?

All of this demonstrates what Luke Fuszard at Business Insider (“How Republicans Win, Even When They Lose”) describes as the GOP’s, “remarkable capability for patience in advancing its agenda.” Extremists in the party have done this by continually offering radical ideas and hoping each time that those ideas will get more mainstream support, thus moving the debate in their direction.

It’s all really beautiful, in a macabre sort of way.

Fuszard uses as his prime example of this phenomenon the once-kooky Republican ideas on tax policy and the federal budget, ideas we know today as supply-side economics.  Again, once upon a time, both parties, Republicans and Democrats, agreed that tax rates and tax revenues ought to be such that the federal government could pay its bills.

How novel a notion.

But with the rise of Ronald Reagan and the Laffers, what were once fringe ideas became mainstream ideas.  Fuszard summarizes them:

Drawing on Austrian thinking, supply-side economists advocated large reductions in marginal income and capital gains tax rates. The resulting federal deficits would be temporary, they argued, as lowering tax rates would raise the needed revenue by causing faster economic growth.

He notes that with the Reagan victory,

Liberated conservatives decoupled tax rates from balanced budgets and no longer had to insist on fiscal responsibility. The theory was political genius that was easily sold to the American public – all the growth with none of the sacrifice. Republicans were transformed from a balanced-budget party to a tax-cutting party. In 1981, Reagan slashed the marginal rates for the top tax bracket from 70% to 50%. Later he further reduced the rate to 28%.

The rest, as they say, is budget history.  We are still living with the results of this fiscal foolishness, and Republicans, including current Republican presidential candidates, are still selling it as mainstream economic thinking.

Fuszard uses Tim Pawlenty’s “Better Deal” economic plan as an example:

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, half of Pawlenty’s $7.6 trillion in tax cuts over the next ten years would accrue to people who earn $500,000 per year or more.

There’s nothing new, unfortunately, about Republicans proposing more tax cuts for rich folks or, God help us, proposing to privatize Social Security and Medicare.

What’s new is that they can be so bold as to broadcast their intentions to the public, seemingly without much hesitation or fear.

That’s how successful their long-term strategy has been.

Obama And The Economy: Going The Way Of The Timid

The President should advance ideas that work, and go to battle for them. 

—Robert Reich

Today’s Joplin Globe featured a column by Robert Reich in which the former Clinton cabinet member scolds President Obama for not being bold enough in “spurring growth of jobs and wages.”

Saying that Obama is embracing ideas that appeal to Republicans, including “a corporate tax cut, accompanied by the closing of some corporate tax loopholes,” Reich makes the point that all economists this side of Sean Hannity are making:

Can we get real for a moment? Businesses don’t need more financial incentives. They’re already sitting on a vast cash hoard estimated to be upwards of $1.9 trillion… The problem isn’t on the supply side. It’s on the demand side. Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren’t enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell… The reason consumers aren’t buying is consumers’ paychecks are dropping, adjusted for inflation.

Now, that’s a pretty standard analysis of the situation. Yet, mainly because of the fact that Republicans control the House and essentially control the Senate—the filibuster now gives the minority party veto power over everything—Obama can’t successfully act boldly to do what needs to be done.

Reich offers some ideas on how to solve the problem of the “continuing crisis on the demand side,” which includes:

♦ Exempt the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes for a year.

♦ Create a WPA for the long-term unemployed.

♦ Allow distressed homeowners to declare bankruptcy on their primary residence, thereby giving them more clout with lenders to reorganize their mortgage loans.

♦ Lend federal money to (rather than bail out) states and cities that are now firing platoons of teachers, fire fighters, and other workers because state and local coffers are empty.

Of course, there is about the same chance of Newt Gingrich becoming president as there is of seeing the kinds of things Reich proposes getting passed through Congress.  And part of the reason why is demonstrated by today’s editorial from the Joplin Globe, which—back to its usual conservative line—spurted the following falsehood:

Voters have rejected the liberal approach to spend our way back to prosperity. That approach has not worked as the economy teeters on the edge and unemployment seems to be unsolvable, at least in the short term.

The stimulus bill passed in 2009 was a relatively moderate approach to the problem of a severely damaged economy and, thus, it had rather moderate results.  But it did have results.  Now that the money from the stimulus has mostly made its way through the economy, what we have is an obvious need for more short-term stimulus to keep the recovery going. 

As was proved in 1937 here in America and in Japan in 1997 and as is being proved in the United Kingdom and Ireland and Greece and elsewhere in Europe today, cutting back government spending and emphasizing debt reduction in times like these is a recipe for stagnation, or worse.

Unfortunately, as Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, the Obama administration has bought into the idea that worry over deficits is more important than worry over jobs and wages. David Dayen notes that,

Republicans theorize that a deficit deal would increase confidence in the business sector and financial markets, spurring economic growth all by itself.

You hear that all the time from Republicans.  Business hates uncertainty.  Business needs confidence.   

Sadly, Mike Konczal, of the Roosevelt Institute, relays this:

Someone noted that with Goolsbee leaving all of the big names surrounding economic policy are no longer economists but lawyers and people associated with Wall Street. And it is also telling that, with the Larry Summers editorial from the weekend, all of the economists you’d recognize who have left the administration are calling for more stimulus, while it is those there now calling for confidence.

Confidence it is, I suppose. A Democratic administration, in the face of a turtle-like economic recovery, with a game-changing election on the horizon, appears to be going the way of the timid, embracing the tried-and-failed economic theories of the Republican Party.

Perhaps the administration and fanatical Republicans in Congress can come up with a way for challenged consumers to spend that magical business confidence at the grocery store or at the appliance store or at the car dealership.

Does Billy Long Support A Clean Aid Bill For Joplin?

Three weeks ago I ask Ozark Billy Long, congressman and colonel, about GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s controversial comment that offsets in the federal budget would have to be found before federal aid would flow to Joplin.

As of now, I don’t know if Billy Long has ever been asked by anyone but me about Cantor’s comment, nor, as far as I know, as he offered any criticism or support of Cantor’s offset idea. 

What I do know is that Long voted for an initial aid package for Joplin, but that vote was for something called the “Aderholdt Amendment,” part of the 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill. That amendment was a Cantorian offset, as it moved money from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program in order to provide aid to Joplin.

So, we have Billy Long on record as voting for a budget offset, but we don’t have him on record as urging his House colleagues to avoid a protracted an ideological budget fight over the issue of offsets and disaster relief to Joplin.  In fact, on Long’s website, he said:

“While we need to look everywhere to make spending cuts, making sure our first responder, disaster relief, and national defense communities have the tools they need will always be a priority while I am in Congress,” said Long.

Does that mean he is for or against Cantor’s offset scheme?

Beats me.  So, I called Long’s D.C. office this morning and talked to Molly, a very nice and polite intern.  When I asked Molly about Long’s position on aid to Joplin and budget offsets, she read me the statement above.  I asked her to clarify whether Long would support aid to Joplin, if there were no budget offsets.  She was unfamiliar with Long’s vote on the Aderholdt Amendment, so I explained it to her.  She then put me on hold for a few minutes to get more information.

She came back and said, “Here is what I have found out.” She then tried again to formulate a statement that would allow Long to have it both ways: “So far, offsetting hasn’t been an issue,” she said. and Congressman Long believes “funding to Joplin is most important,” and he “doesn’t want to waste time with a political debate.”

Okay, but will he support funding without offsets?  In other words, I ask her, will he support a clean aid bill for Joplin?

She then told me that if I wanted a more definitive answer, I would have to email Bret Funk, Long’s press person.  Okay, I said.  She gave me his address and I emailed him the following:

Simple enough, right?  It shouldn’t take five minutes to formulate a response to those questions.  After all, the issue has been out there for three weeks. I’ll let you know what I find out, if anything.

But in the mean time, today’s Joplin Globe editorial, avoiding its usual boilerplate conservatism, boldly and accurately proclaims:

Leave Joplin out of it

The editorial opens with this:

What does cutting funds for a program to encourage clean-car technology have to do with federal disaster relief in Joplin and elsewhere?

The answer should be “absolutely nothing.”

The editorial ends with this:

If legislators need to find cuts to the budget to make funds available for disaster relief, then that’s what they should do—separately from approving funds for Joplin and other towns and cities across the United States that have been hit hard by tornadoes and flooding.

At a time when our city is already suffering, we don’t need to be caught in the middle of political warfare.

Well, it’s about time the Joplin Globe took this position.  And now that the paper has come to its senses, maybe someone with a little more journalistic clout can ask our congressman about it.

Dear Tea Party: Should Price Gouging Be Legal?

The Kansas City Star reported on Friday that Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster “obtained a temporary restraining order” against an Independence, Mo., towing company for violating our state’s Merchandising Practices Act,

by towing semi-tractors and trailers damaged by the May 22 tornado and then demanding amounts that were  “considerably more than the fair market price in the area.”

The Merchandising Practices Act is essentially a consumer protection statute, being applied in this case to unfair pricing and the possibility that the company towed vehicles without the owner’s authorization.

In any case, just one day after the tornado, Missouri’s top law enforcement official put this word out:

Jefferson City, Mo. — Attorney General Chris Koster today warned individuals and businesses against price-gouging following the devastating tornado in Joplin.

“Missouri law is clear – price gouging is illegal and the Attorney General’s Office will investigate and prosecute instances of price-gouging to the full extent of the law,” Koster said. “The unimaginable disaster in Joplin will take everyone working together to recover. There is no room for anyone to try to take advantage of tornado victims in need.”

Koster’s office is sending investigators to the area to monitor for price-gouging and to examine any allegations on-site. The Attorney General urged any person who believes a business has suddenly and artificially raised the prices on necessities including gas, food, diapers, clean-up equipment, etc., should contact his office at 1-800-392-8222, or online at ago.mo.gov to file the complaint.

Now, I have some questions for all you free-market, anti-government regulation types out there:

Why shouldn’t businesses be able to charge any damn price they want to for any service or product, including necessities?  After all, if I have the only gasoline in town, why can’t I charge you, say, $20 a gallon to get it?  That’s capitalism, isn’t it? 

Even if I paid $3.50 a gallon for the gas, I know you need it. And I know you’re willing to pay much—much—more than what I paid for it.  In effect, the “fair” market price has instantly escalated due to the disaster. On what principle can you deny me the right to charge whatever the market will bear?

Huh?

America: Business Or Nation?

“Industry is primarily motivated by short-term profits and…it is up to government to set policies and regulations that will benefit the nation in the long term.”

Jim Wheeler, Joplin Globe blogger

The right-wing in this country inundates us with the notion that we need more business types to go to Washington and run the country.  Conservatives essentially want to manage the country’s business, well, like a business.

Congressman Colonel Ozark Billy Long, whose campaign pushed the idea that folks were Fed Up! with career politicians, said that “what made the difference” between him and his 2010 primary opponents was this:

I was the only candidate who, for thirty years, had signed the front of a paycheck and had hired and fired employees. Too many people make a career out of holding one office and then another before they come to Congress.

You hear that kind of talk a lot, mostly coming from right-wing businessmen and women who want to become, alas, career politicians.

But thanks to Jim Wheeler, who is the next-most-liberal Joplin Globe blogger,* we have a succinctly stated refutation of the idea that the government should be run like a bottom-line business, and by extension a refutation of the idea that the best people to run the government are bottom-line businessmen.

As Jim pointed out, the motivation guiding business decisions and government decisions is quite different: Short-term profits versus long-term national benefits.

Adding my two-cents to Jim’s dollar’s worth of wisdom, I would say that businessmen, while valuable contributors to the national discussion, would be the last ones I would want in complete control of the government.

It really is that simple, people.

And as the most popular Republican presidential candidate, “vulture capitalist” Mitt Romney, begins to tour the country auditioning for the job of our national CEO, we need to remember that Romney’s considerable business experience could be described as, “kill jobs first, ask questions later.”

In March, the DNC’s Rapid Response team released a “fact check on claims made by Mitt Romney,” which included the following excerpt from an article in, of all places, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post:

Romney’s Fortune “Was Made On The Backs of Companies That Ultimately Collapsed, Putting Thousands of Ordinary Americans Out On The Street.” (New York Post, 2/19/11)

The article, written by the Post‘s financial reporter, Josh Kosman, details how Romney was interested in “short-term earnings” (à la Jim Wheeler’s point) and states:

…there’s little question he made a fortune from businesses he helped destroy.

Nothing could confirm the wisdom and insight of Jim Wheeler’s statement more than that.

____________________________________

* Jim, of course, isn’t a liberal at all, but a thoughtful and sometimes militant moderate.

Remarks And Asides, Special Sunday Edition

I received notice from a Democratic friend in the know that our congressman, Ozark Billy Long, who was co-sponsoring a piece of legislation with Congressman Anthony Weiner, has withdrawn the bill prematurely. 

Apparently, it was a hard decision.

The bill, known as the Long Weiner Act, had a chance of coming to a vote, but something frightened the Long member of Congress and he pulled out before the act was completed.

Oh, well.  Better safe than sorry.

________________________________

Speaking of weiners, the National Association of Evangelicals—ever vigilant on the penis front—has come out against a proposal in San Francisco to ban the practice of male circumcision. It seems the potential ban does not exempt faithful snippers from exercising their God-given right to collect delicate but plentiful foreskin to demonstrate phallic fealty to the Almighty.

Perhaps now we know why the Long Weiner Act was withdrawn before it came to a head.

_________________________________

Speaking of crezzy Republicans, Michele Bachmann, who wants to be president, is not a fan of evolution. As a Minnesota state senator, she once uttered the following:

Where do we say that a cell became a blade of grass, which became a starfish, which became a cat, which became a donkey, which became a human being?

And Mizz Bachman also uttered this bit of Bible-inspired hope about the cancer-stricken singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge:

Unfortunately she is now suffering from breast cancer, so keep her in your prayers. This may be an opportunity for her now to be open to some spiritual things, now that she is suffering with that physical disease. She is a lesbian.

Where do we say that a cell became a blade of grass, which became a starfish, which became a cat, which became a donkey, which became a human being, which became a lesbian?

_________________________________

Speaking of Republican presidential politics, New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie is once again tweaking his GOP presidential résumé by proposing that New Jersey parents with two kids and who earn more than $103 a week would be ineligible for Medicaid. 

Oh, I know what you’re thinking, you bleeding hearts out there. But come on, people.  Anyone who earns that much money doesn’t need no stinkin’  Medicaid.  Times are tough out there for the wealthy, too, you know. 

And one of their champions, Chris Christie, understands how hard it is for our moneyed friends.  His 2011 New Jersey budget proposed lifting the estate tax exemption from $675,000 to $1 million and for those New Joisy residents who make more than 400 grand, he proposed allowing a temporary tax on them to expire.

He also vetoed a bill that would have raised taxes on the state’s poor millionaires that was designed to give some tax relief to those undeserving working class property owners.

God bless the rich!  “Cause if they’re happy, we’re all happy!

__________________________________

You know you live in a strange country when the headline is:

Saudi Arabia Urged To Halt Beheadings After Spike In Executions

__________________________________

Finally, The Wall Street Journal‘s, Market Watch, reported on a study that likely gives some of you some bad news, if you’re thinking of retiring on time:

Those who earned (on average over the course of their careers) less than $11,700 per year, the lowest income quartile, would need to defer retirement till age 84 before 90% of those households would have just a 50% chance of affording retirement.

Those who earned between $11,700 and $31,200 will need to work till age 76 to have a 50% chance of covering basic expenses in retirement.

Look at it this way: You’ll probably be dead before you retire, so what does it matter if you can’t afford it?

And it could be worse.

You could be living in Saudi Arabia New Jersey.

The Price Of Always Voting Republican

HLGaskins, a regular commenter on this blog, wrote the following yesterday in response to the post on Germany versus the United States:

The republicans talk about government costs, taxes, and economics but their underlying motive is really all about power and who has it. Their efforts aren’t directed at lifting people up or improving how America works, it’s about arresting power from the most numerous of Americans, the working class. They can’t beat us in a one to one vote unless they can also control the votes.

My reply:

HLG,

I know some people resist this argument, or perhaps the way I will premise it, but essentially we have two political parties here in this country, both, to be honest, seeking political power.  The one generally seeks power to further the interests of the moneyed class and the other generally seeks power to further the interests of everyone else. 

Unfortunately, as you suggest, there are too many folks in the “everyone else” class who have, through all sorts of clever manipulations, been enlisted to defend the interests of the moneyed class, something I find simply baffling.  It’s an amazing piece of propagandistic work, if you think about it. 

Here in my county, Newton, Barack Obama received 33% of the vote, and there hasn’t been a Democrat elected to a substantial office since Moses wore training pants. The median household income in Missouri in 2009 was $45,149 (ranking 36th against the national median of $50,221). In Newton County, where I live, the median income is $39,648, which is 88% of the Missouri number and 78% of the national median. 

I know that conservatives like to talk about some of our “failing” cities, most of them, they say, run by so-called bleeding heart liberals. You here that stuff all the time. But there is another story to be told about our economically challenged rural areas, most of them run by so-called sclerotic heart conservatives. 

Ah, you say, but the cost of living is so much lower here in Southwest Missouri than other places.  That fact offsets the low earnings, right?

Wrong.

If the U.S. average cost of living index is 100, Missouri’s index is 91.66, as of the 4th quarter of 2010.  The index for Joplin, part of which is in Newton County, is 88.8%—the utilities index is the highest in the state and higher (108.3) than the national average by far.  So, we have earnings at 78% of the national median and the cost of living at about 89% of the national index.  In other words, one could say that there is about a 11 percentage point penalty or fee for years of Republican governance here in this part of the state. 

At least that’s the logic conservatives would use.

Duane

Remarks and Asides

Newt Gingrich’s staff has divorced him.

_______________________________

Rush Limbaugh, conservatism’s coronating coroner, has pronounced Mitt Romney’s presidential ambitions dead.  The killer was Romney’s outrageously mainstream views on climate change and energy efficiency.  Reuters reported Romney, in a rare moment of consistency, said to a crowd in New Hampshire:

“I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that,” he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.”

Bye-bye nomination,” said climate-science denier and radio climatologist Limbaugh.  The good news for Romney is that Rush once pronounced Obama’s presidential ambitions dead in 2008. So, don’t take any shit, Mitt!

_________________________________

Speaking of Mitt, for strategic reasons he has decided not to compete in the decidedly undemocratic Iowa Republican straw poll this August.  You know, that’s the poll in which, thanks to the media and the deep pocket$ of hopeful candidates, a handful of extremist conservatives get disproportionate attention and nominate either an extremist loser like Pat Robertson (1987) or, God help us, George W. Bush (1999). 

Just to put things in perspective, the victory in the poll for George W, which he said, “jump-started our grass-roots organization for the main event, the Iowa caucuses,” was achieved by purchasing—literally, purchasing—the votes of 7,418 zealots.  Those are the folks we first have to thank for the costly disaster in Iraq and the costly disaster in our economy. 

The folks we have to thank last for those costly disasters are, of course, the Republicans on our laughingly impartial Supreme Court, who put W in office.

_________________________________

The state of Alaska is ready to release thousands of emails emanating from the fingertips of Sarah Palin during what the AP reports as “her first two years as governor.”  First two years?  That must be sort of an inside joke among those AP types.  Always kidding around like that.

In any case, I’m just guessing here, but I bet that we will find, upon release of the 24,000 pages of emails, that Sarah Palin is really an accomplished policy wonk. 

I’m betting that those emails will be filled with much technical analysis of the economic trends in Alaska, the United States, and the world.  I’m betting there will be back-and-forth on such macroeconomic issues as inflation/unemployment in terms of expectations-augmented Phillips curve equations, or how price and wage spirals relate to inflationary expectations. 

Stuff like that.

What? You don’t think so?  Have some faith. After all, she was the Republican VP nominee last time.  Jeeze.   

_________________________________

Finally, speaking of brilliant conservatives, there’s this report:

A new Tennessee law makes it a crime to “transmit or display an image” online that is likely to “frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress” to someone who sees it. Violations can get you almost a year in jail time or up to $2500 in fines.

Get that? I guess I’m gonna have to stop sending this to my conservative Tennessee friends:

“The Original Welfare State” Versus America

About three years ago I was in Boston and I chatted with a couple of German salesmen who were staying at our hotel.  They were in the city on behalf of a German manufacturer of lab equipment, and they had an appointment at Harvard.

I was interested in their standard of living and the effects of reunification and they explained to be the differences between the former West German states and those in the East, and how those in the East were not as “productive” as elsewhere and it would take much time to integrate them into their way of life.

I thought about those two gentlemen yesterday, when on The Dylan Ratigan Show I saw some amazing graphics that compared the relative economies and economic policies of Germany and the United States.  It turns out that David Leonhardt, economics columnist for The New York Times, had previously covered this ground.  He pointed out that both liberals and conservatives have used Germany as an example to support a) stimulus and b) austerity as a way out of our economic mess.  But, he said:

the full story is more interesting than any caricature. In the last decade, Germany has succeeded in some important ways that the United States has not. The lessons aren’t simply liberal or conservative. They are both…

The brief story is that, despite its reputation for austerity, Germany has been far more willing than the United States to use the power of government to help its economy. Yet it has also been more ruthless about cutting wasteful parts of government.

The German economy has outperformed ours since the middle of the last decade, Leonhardt says, and in the process, “most Germans have fared much better than most Americans, because the bounty of their growth has not been concentrated among a small slice of the affluent.” Here are a couple of the charts used on The Dylan Ratigan Show:

And here’s the unemployment rate comparison:

Leonhardt noted that the Germans have made cuts to unemployment benefits and have reduced early-retirement incentives, as well as attempted to “move the long-term unemployed into the labor force.” These are the things that you hear conservatives in the media talk about, as they argue for drastic budget cuts here at home. But the truth is that in terms of safety-net benefits here in the United States, the German system is still relatively generous.

The real point, and the real difference between the United States and Germany, though, is this:

But the German story is not merely about making government more efficient. It’s also about understanding the unique role that government must play in a market economy.

That role starts with serious regulation. American regulators stood idle as the housing bubble inflated. German banks often required a down payment of 40 percent.

Unlike what happened here, German laws and regulators have also prevented the decimation of their labor unions. The clout of German unions, at individual companies and in the political system, is one reason the middle class there has fared decently in recent decades. In fact, middle-class pay has risen at roughly the same rate as top incomes.

Labor unions.  Dirty words here in the United States, thanks to Republican meme-making and legislation, but not in Germany. From Wikipedia:

German industrial relations are characterized by a high degree of employee participation up to co-determination in companies’ boards (“Aufsichtsrat”), where trade unionists and works councils elected by employees have full voting rights. Local trade union representatives are democratically elected by union members and formally largely autonomous. Central boards of directors (“Vorstand”) are elected by delegates.

Trade unions in Germany define themselves as being more than a “collective bargaining machine,” but as important political player for social, economical and also environmental subjects, especially also for labor market policy and professional education.

Hmm.

And we’ve all witnessed the war on collective bargaining waged by Republican governors and legislators here in the U.S., but in Germany most workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement:

The relative friendliness of the German government to labor unions and collective bargaining is perhaps the best reason to explain the following eye-popping income-disparity graphic from Ratigan’s show:

That graphic is difficult to fathom, and should be even more difficult to accept. The top 1% of wage earners here in America are cleaning up, while in Germany, the wealthy, while still doing well, are earning income at the same rate as 40 years ago.  Stunning.

Finally, Leonhardt says, there is the issue of taxes:

Germany does not have a smaller budget deficit because it spends less. Germany, you’ll recall, is the original welfare state. It has a smaller deficit because it is more willing to match the benefits it wants with the needed taxes. The current deficit-reduction plan includes about 60 percent spending cuts and 40 percent tax increases…

Here’s the chart: 

As Leonhardt says, no one is advocating “that the United States should want to become Germany.”  We are richer and still attract immigrants by, unfortunately, the truckload. But in our weakened condition we should be willing to deal with our weaknesses.  But we are not, at least in terms of the political parties cooperating with one another to address them.

Leonhardt:

Some Democrats say Social Security and Medicare must remain unchanged. Most Republicans refuse to consider returning tax rates even to their 1990s levels. Republican leaders also want to make deep cuts in the sort of antipoverty programs that have helped Germany withstand the recession even in the absence of big new stimulus legislation.

I resist the implicit “both sides are equally too blame” in that statement.  I don’t know many Democrats, if any, who say “Social Security and Medicare must remain unchanged.”  But there is a point to be made that Democrats must be willing to explain how those programs can be adjusted to keep them solvent in the future.

In the mean time, Republicans continue to insist that our problems should be solved on the backs of the poor, the disabled, and the soon-to-be elderly, as well as on the backs of our education-challenged children.  And they insist on these things while advocating even more tax relief for the wealthy.

Why, just the other day, one of their most viable, “adult” presidential candidates, Tim Pawlenty, came out with a budget proposal that would lower tax rates for both the wealthy and corporations to cartoonish levels.

And it would be as funny as a cartoon, if our economic troubles were merely part of a Looney Tunes script. But they are not, and the Germans seem to understand that.

Friends May Go

Friends may come and friends may go,
Friends may peter out we know;
We’ve been friends through thick and thin,
Peter out…or peter in.

—old toast

Anthony Weiner, famous now for acting like an unsupervised teenager, was one of my favorite liberals.  He took on the bad guys on Fox “News”; he took on the hard-right Republican rabble in the House; he articulated the kind of liberalism in which I strongly believe.

Which, of course, is why he has to go, has to sort of peter out.

It doesn’t matter to me that he broadcast his photogenic weenie all over creation, or that he had sex talk with consenting adults, or that he rubbed himself raw while doing either one of the above.

But it does matter that he could walk in front of his constituents, via the camera he loves so much, and tell a self-serving lie.  He should have either shut up or confessed or resigned.  Democrats believe in the authenticity of government, in the basic credibility of the political class.  Lying so blatantly, even about one’s weenie, undermines that credibility and undermines the Democrats’ argument for good government.

If Mr. Weiner really believes in the politics he’s been preaching, he will leave the scene.  He certainly realizes that the other side will use his continued presence to delegitimize not so much him, but his brand of politics and his political party, home to his kind of politics.

He owes it to the Democratic Party, to his fellow Democrats, and to his fellow liberals, to go home, peter out or peter in.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 586 other followers

%d bloggers like this: