Roy Blunt And Republicans About To Exploit Public Ignorance

MSNBC’s star right-winger Joe Scarborough was all excited this morning about the fact that the chaos and confusion Republicans have been causing in Washington has finally started to pay dividends in the form of low approval ratings for the President:

obama job approval sept 2013

“Things are actually breaking our way for the first time in a couple of years,” Scarborough said of conservatives. Except things are not breaking their way. Bloomberg News, reporting on its own poll a few days ago, said the numbers for both Obama and the Republicans “are the worst ever for both.” So Scarborough was simply out of his mind.

But speaking of delusional thinking, perhaps the weirdest, most disconcerting moment on Morning Joe this morning was when Scarborough highlighted this frightening Bloomberg poll result:

debt ceiling result bloomberg

What was weird and disconcerting about the presentation of this particular poll result on Morning Joe was that no one seemed to be frightened by it. And if this poll result doesn’t frighten you, doesn’t scare the Cruz out of you, then you don’t understand what fooling around with not raising the debt ceiling will mean. (Go here to find out and then get really scared, and pissed, about the dangerous ignorance reflected in that Bloomberg poll.)

This dangerous ignorance on the part of the American people—which is partly the result of journalistic malpractice—would be harmless if it weren’t for the fact that it will undoubtedly encourage unhinged Republicans to exploit such ignorance and really push the United States into default, if they don’t get what they want. Just today Politico reported:

A large number of Senate and House Republicans are raising the threat of a debt default to curtail, delay or defund President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement. It’s a major gamble — risking the prospect of a first-ever default on U.S. debt — but it’s one seriously being considered by the same Republicans who have refused to join Cruz’s filibuster attempt of the stopgap spending bill to keep the government running.

Not only that, Politico noted that Speaker Boehner “has compiled a debt hike bill with a bunch of goodies that they think House Republicans will vote for, and red state Senate Democrats won’t want to avoid.”

People may think Ted Cruz is a wild-eyed extremist—and he is—but the only thing that distinguishes him from the rest of the Republican Party in Congress is that he and a few others are wild-eyed anti-establishment extremists. The rest of them are wild-eyed establishment extremists who are willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States to achieve what they could not achieve in the last election: ideological victory.

After not supporting the weird attempt by Ted Cruz to defund ObamaCare via a continuing resolution on the budget, Missouri’s Roy Blunt told Politico:

The debt ceiling provides more of an opportunity to get something than the [continuing resolution] does.

Got it? Using the threat of debt-default, using the threat of economic chaos here and around the world, dynamiting the full faith and credit of the United States, is an “opportunity to get something” says Roy Blunt.

This is dangerous territory. This is alarming stuff. This is Republican politics.

How To Think About The IRS Scandal

Before I begin a discussion on the newest scandal—the IRS targeting conservative groups for heightened scrutiny—that currently has Big Media engaged in an orgy of speculation, I want to remind everyone that whatever additional news that comes to light regarding the IRS’s indefensible actions, or, for that matter, whatever happens in the seemingly endless investigations over the Benghazi attacks, we should all remember that the greatest scandal of the last four years has gone mostly unreported by Big Media.

That great scandal, still ongoing, is the right-wing conspiracy—yep, there are real conspiracies—to destroy the presidency of Barack Obama by plotting against him and by trying to cripple the country’s economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, a crisis largely caused by right-wing philosophy and policies.  That’s the real scandal, but one that is so wide and encompassing—almost the entire leadership of the Republican Party is involved, along with nearly every GOP member of Congress—it lacks the simplicity of the much-hated IRS singling out “patriot” groups, or the death and destruction (complete with video that can be played again and again) surrounding the Benghazi tragedy.

That being said, what the IRS did, was, again, indefensible. In case you were celebrating Mother’s Day Weekend and not paying much attention to the news, the IRS apologized on Friday for inappropriately targeting conservative groups during the 2012 election, as part of its job of determining whether such groups were truly deserving of tax-exempt status. And every liberal, every Democrat, should be outraged at what the IRS revealed, and will further reveal, as the agency’s inspector general report is released in its final form.

Singling out this or that ideological group is completely contrary to the mission of the IRS, no matter who is ostensibly running the government at the time. At present, we don’t know enough about what happened to pin the blame, but we will find out. It’s important to remember, as just one point among many, that the IRS Commissioner in March of 2012, who told a House Committee that the IRS was not specifically targeting 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 organizations based on ideology, was Douglas Shulman—a George W. Bush appointee.

It’s also important to note that this scandal was first revealed on Friday by the IRS itself, in the person of Lois Lerner, who is the director of the agency’s Exempt Organizations Division—three levels below the IRS Commissioner. Asked about her agency’s handling of Tea Party applications for tax exemption, she said she learned in June of 2011 what was going on in a field office in Cincinnati—agents responsible for reviewing applications for tax-exempt status were over-scrutinizing groups with “tea party” or “patriot” or other favorite names used by conservative organizers—and she immediately put a stop to it.  Lerner also pointed out that not one of the scrutinized groups lost its tax-exempt status.

So, with all that in mind, and with more facts to unearth, let’s get to the Big Media hysteria over this issue. I will use only three examples of many available. This morning’s Morning Joe, the political show watched by most pols in D.C., featured this exchange:

WILLIE GEIST: There’s been many overblown claims of tyranny and abuse of power from the government of the last two years. We’ve heard those— “we’re coming for your guns,” that kind of thing—this is tyranny—

JOE SCARBOROUGH: This is.

WILLIE GEIST: —the government, a non-partisan agency coming after specific groups. This time its real. That’s tyranny.

Tyranny? Come on. Willie must have been huffing his wife’s nail polish remover over the weekend. That ridiculous claim is designed not to describe what the IRS did, but to win favor with those on the right who have, from the time the Scary Negro entered the White’s House, labeled him a tyrant. To seriously claim that giving extra scrutiny to right-wing groups seeking tax-exempt status from the IRS qualifies as tyranny, is, well, to not have the slightest idea what a real tyrannical government is like. Willie Geist should go here and see what genuine tyranny entails (warning: it is graphic).

In any case, there was more from Morning Joe’s host:

JOE SCARBOROUGH:  I can’t imagine much…worst than this. The Internal Revenue Service, the taxman, who, after all, we patriots, our forefathers and foremothers, did break away from the British government based on taxes, on the tax revolt. For the IRS to go after people because of their political beliefs…it’s unspeakable…

The British are coming! The British are coming! Oh,my. Unspeakable? Really? But speaking of unspeakable, Joe Klein, TIME’s political columnist, went there:

Yet again, we have an example of Democrats simply not managing the government properly and with discipline. This is just poisonous at a time of skepticism about the efficacy of government. And the President should know this: the absence of scandal is not the presence of competence. His unwillingness to concentrate — and I mean concentrate obsessively — on making sure that government is managed efficiently will be part of his legacy.

Previous Presidents, including great ones like Roosevelt, have used the IRS against their enemies. But I don’t think Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon. In this specific case, he now is.

I wondered over the weekend which journalist would be the first to compare Obama to Nixon, and Joe Klein, as far as I can tell, wins the prize. The prize in this case, of course, is Most Embarrassing Example of Inference-Observation Confusion By A Respected Journalist In 2013. Congratulations, Joe.

To say that “Democrats” are not “managing the government properly” is to say that Democrats are in fact managing the government. Most of the government is managed by bureaucrats—there are only two political appointees running the IRS for instance—and some bureaucrats are Democrats and some are Republicans. Perhaps at least one of those mischievous IRS agents in Cincinnati was a moderate Republican who didn’t like what extremists were doing to the GOP. Who knows at this point?

And if Joe Klein is so damned worried about “skepticism about the efficacy of government,” why not point out in his hysterical Obama-is-on-the-same-page-as-Nixon piece that it has been the Republican Party that decided to poison the country with its anti-government, Obama-is-a-socialist-tyrant message that this latest malfeasance by IRS agents feeds?

Further, to hold Barack Obama accountable, in a Nixonian context, for what IRS agents in a field office in Cincinnati do, without the slightest evidence that the President even knows an IRS agent in a field office in Cincinnati, is, again, exactly what is wrong with Big Media.

My third and final example of Big Media hysteria is from the otherwise venerable Chris Cillizza, who runs “The Fix” for The Washington Post. He included the following delirious nonsense from the lips of a man who masquerades as a Democrat on Fox “News”:

“Politicizing the IRS was one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon,” noted Doug Schoen, who handles polling for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “That being said, we are still a very long way from that point.” But, Schoen added: “The allegations are very, very serious and it is simply impossible to believe that it was just Lois Lerner and some low-level employees in Cincinnati who came up with this scheme to systematically focus on Tea Party and ‘patriot’ groups.”

Unbelievably, Cillizza led with that statement from Schoen. That should be a mini-scandal in itself. But impeachment talk, comparing Obama to the criminally disgraced Nixon, and suggesting that what some IRS agents did in Cincinnati amounts to tyranny, is how Big Media is handling this latest scandal.

Meanwhile, that other scandal, the one involving Republicans punishing the American people in order to punish the President, goes mostly unreported. And, quite ironically, the trouble the IRS has caused for itself and the President and those who believe government is mostly a force for good, will mean that those conservative “tax-exempt” groups that have been aiding and abetting the Republican conspiracy to destroy-the-Obama-presidency-even-if- it-wounds-the-country, will enjoy little or no scrutiny in the months and years to come.

Thus, if Obama is a tyrant, he’s not very damn good at it.

Bye Bye Barracuda

I was starting to forget her, then comes the news:

The relationship between former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Fox News has ended.

Some folks, like conservative Republican Joe Scarborough this morning, have suggested that, by this move, Fox “News” honcho Roger Ailes (who Scarborough claimed is the de facto head of the GOP) is trying to help the Republican Party become less, uh, stupid.

Hmm. Scarborough’s suggestion has the virtue of confirming four important facts about the American right-wing these days:

1) Fox “News” Channel is an arm of the Republican Party.

2) The Republican Party really has been “the stupid party.”

3) Fox “News” has been peddling stupidity for profit.

4) Peddling stupidity for profit doesn’t necessarily help elect Republicans.

Jeopardy

Change

I spent the weekend wondering if this time America would change.

I wondered if the reactionary forces protecting an absurdly expansive view of a centuries-old right to bear arms would finally meet their match via an outraged and determined public, a public whose common sense sensibilities may have at last been quickened, quickened at the sight of those harmless little faces who turned out to be, in ways unimaginable, in harms way.

One could be forgiven for being pessimistic, given what we have been through before, given the carnage behind us that materialized in our seemingly safest social settings, and given that nothing, absolutely nothing, not a jot or tittle of our gun laws or the way we deal with mental health issues, has changed.

But I woke up this morning, the morning after President Obama said at that remarkable Sandy Hook prayer vigil, “we will have to change,” and I heard a conservative Republican, Joe Scarborough, a man with whom I rarely agree, give all of us who hope for real change this time reason to believe that change will come:

Mandate? Whose Mandate?

Someone told me we had an election on November 6, discernibly about increasing taxes on the wealthy. And, I was told, President Obama won.

Yet, I heard some of the chatter on Morning Joe this morning regarding the negotiations over the coming austerity crisis, also known as the fiscal cliff, and guess what? It’s mostly President Obama’s fault that nothing has been accomplished so far.

The consensus appeared to be, among those around the Morning Joe table, that President Obama should be like Lincoln or Lyndon Johnson and essentially purchase House Republican votes with some kind of patronage scheme or go up to Capitol Hill and cajole Republicans in some unspecified way. All to get a deal on taxes.

Joe Scarborough mentioned that those House Republicans won their races, too, some of them with “a much,much higher percentage of the vote in their districts than the President,” and that the President should understand that,

They won as well. And so they have a mandate as well…you’d think this president, as a state legislator, would understand those dynamics, but he doesn’t.

Hmm. “They have a mandate as well.” “Understand those dynamics.” Let me get this straight: An indiscernible mandate of a congressman from, say, Southwest Missouri, is somehow on a par with a clear mandate of the newly elected President of the United States? Let’s think about that as we quickly look at my congressman, Ozark Billy Long, and how many votes he got on November 6:

Billy Long, Republican:   203,565    63.9%
Jim Evans, Democrat:      98,498    30.9%

You can see that Scarborough is right in one sense. Billy Long got a whopping 64% of the vote here in the Ozarks. That’s definitely more than the President got. But you can also see that Long got just over 200,000 votes. I wonder how many votes Barack Obama got? Oh:

popular vote totals 2012

Now, let me do some ciphering:

OBAMA:    65,355,488
LONG:            203,565
__________________
                    65,151,923

So, the President got about 65 million more votes than Ozark Billy, but in Scarborough’s world—and he was not contradicted by anyone on the set—Long has a mandate that President Obama is compelled to respect enough to go down to Long’s office and, uh, what? What is he supposed to offer Ozark Billy? A signed copy of his Hawaiian birth certificate? A free lunch at the White’s House buffet? An all-expenses-paid trip to Larry Flynt’s Holiday Poker Classic? (Billy likes to gamble.) Huh? Would any of that bring Billy Long to the light?

Mika Brzezinski, who often drowns in conversations like this one, actually piped up and said in response to Scarborough’s suggestion that Obama doesn’t understand the dynamics at play:

But what is he supposed to do with those dynamics?

Good question. And Jon Meacham, the now bestselling historian (his latest book is on Thomas Jefferson), added to Scarborough’s play for Republican respect by responding to Brzezinski:

Understand what the other guy feels like…That’s a huge part of what politics is. Henry Kissinger’s great insight: If you’re ever going to win a negotiation, if you’re ever going to have a result, you have to give the other guy a way out.

You know, he’s right. You do have to give the other guy a way out, a fig leaf, something which he can point to and say, “I got something out of the deal.” But what if what the other guy wants is totally unreasonable? What if what the other guy wants is his way or no way? What if what the other guy wants is the same thing he wanted before November 6? Before the election that saw President Obama get more than 65 million votes campaigning against what the other guy wanted?

Once again Republicans believe they are holding the country’s economic health hostage for the sake of protecting their wealthy friends, and they are trying to pretend the election on November 6 didn’t mean all that much. The problem with the political chatterers on television, most of whom are Beltway types, is that some of them respect the hostage takers more than they respect those trying to rescue the hostages.

So, sadly, Republicans are being aided in their efforts by some in the professional pundit class who are suggesting that the President is to blame for failing to satisfy the demands of the kidnappers.

Scarborough, without being challenged, looked into the camera this morning and emphatically gave the following advice to House Republicans on how to handle negotiations with President Obama:scarborough and fiscal cliff advice

If he doesn’t come to you with a deal, do-not-vote-to-raise-taxes-a-cent! Don’t do it! Don’t do it! You’ll get beaten! And Washington will spend that money and they won’t cut again and the deficit will be 18 trillion a couple of years from now.

The problem with Scarborough’s thinking, the problem with his blustery advice for Republicans, is that Mr. Obama now understands that a deal that pleases the right-wing zealots in the House of Representatives is not a deal worth making. He needs to make a deal with reasonable Republicans, if there are any left in Congress.

And if he can’t find any reasonable Republicans, if the country plunges off the cliff, falls off the curb, or waddles down the slope, however one wants to define what will happen on a deal-less January 1, the President knows that Republicans—Republicans—will get most of the blame:

fiscal cliff poll results

Bias

Liberal media bias? My ass.

Donny Deutsch—a regular guest on MSNBC’s non-liberal morning show, a guest who adds exactly nothing of substance to any discussion—said this morning that Romney’s “47% blunder” can be turned into a winner, if Romney will only “draw the harsh line” and say,

“You know what…maybe I didnt’ say it eloquently. The sentiment is right; this is an entitle [sic] country; it’s a weak country, and things have gotta change.” You take up the rage factor. I think there’s something there, I really do.

Yeah, Donny. That’s what Romney needs is more rage. That’ll get him those few undecided votes left.

But it wasn’t Deutsch’s stupidity that appalled me this morning. It was Joe Scarborough’s reply to it:

I really do, too. And Ronald Reagan, if he were around right now…Margaret Thatcher, other conservatives, would use this—and be optimistic about it; he’s been pessimistic about it—but would use this to say, “Listen, we’re getting to a point where one out of two Americans don’t pay income taxes, don’t contribute to the federal government, don’t contribute to schools, don’t contribute…”

Not one person on the weak panel, including Mika Brzezinski, who spends most of the show in silence in the face of such outrageous claims made by right-wingers, bothered to remind Morning Joe that he was an ignorant fool, that almost all Americans, and certainly all working Americans, do contribute to the national well-being, and most of them contribute a higher percentage of their resources than Mitt Romney, and, dare I say it, Joe Bleeping Scarborough.

As I said, liberal media bias my ass.

For the gazillionth time, here are the facts:

It’s true that some Americans don’t pay federal income tax. But virtually all Americans pay some form of tax, whether it’s sales, payroll, state income, or property tax.

Over 60% of those who don’t pay income tax are working; they pay payroll tax, which goes to support Social Security and Medicare. Another 22% of those who don’t pay income tax are the elderly; most of them don’t work.

In fact, only about 8% of Americans pay neither federal income tax nor payroll tax, because they are unemployed, are students, or are disabled.

What is missing from all this talk about tax is the fact that although the rich pay higher taxes than the poor, middle-class people actually pay a higher percentage of their income in total taxes. True, federal income tax rates are progressive, with rates going to 35% for the top earners. But deductions and special treatment of capital gains reduce actual tax rates for the top earners. So what we end up with is upper-middle-class taxpayers paying the highest actual percentage of their income, over 31%, according to a 2010 study by the group Citizens for Tax Justice.*

And finally, from the same article:

Digging deeper into why 47% don’t pay federal income tax, what we find are many former taxpayers: Twenty-two percent are the elderly, living mostly on Social Security, a benefit they got by working and paying payroll taxes. Others are unemployed or are paid close to the minimum wage, so they don’t have enough income to file any taxes.

What about Romney’s claim that these people believe they have a right to government assistance? Our research shows that over 50% of older people looking for work (but who are too young to collect Social Security) do not receive unemployment insurance or any other government assistance. They are living close to the poverty line with no help other than family.

Far fewer poor Americans get government assistance for low incomes. For the last 30 years, less than 4% of the U.S. population has received a full year’s worth of payments, like food stamps, which are based on level of income.

Romney can choose whom he cares about, but he can’t be allowed to choose his own facts and distort reality in service of divisive politics. Focusing exclusively on federal income taxes hides the fact that most Americans pay plenty of other taxes.

Finally, Romney says that the 47% can’t be convinced to take “personal responsibility.” Tell that to the single mother working the night shift to put her kids through school, or the 78-year-old widow living on Social Security, or the handicapped Iraqi war veteran who relies on government health care for his service to his country. Along with millions of working Americans, they are paragons of personal responsibility, not Romney’s caricature of self-pitying victims seeking to live off government benefits.

__________________________________________

* I add the following, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

When all federal, state, and local taxes are taken into account, the bottom fifth of households pays about 16 percent of their incomes in taxes, on average.  The second-poorest fifth pays about 21 percent.[8]

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

Republicans are a funny lot.

Yesterday, Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman and now morning blowhard on MSNBC, was adamant that Mitt Romney use the occasion of Todd Akin’s national stupidity as a “Sister Souljah moment,” a time to demonstrate his leadership over the extremists in the GOP by telling Akin “every day” to “get out!” of the race.

Well, Mittens failed to do that when given his first opportunity, of course, just as he has failed to assert any leadership over other extremists in his party—on the contrary he has essentially embraced them—whether it be Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh or Allen West or Michele Bachmann or, gawd, that list is almost inexhaustible.

But today’s Joe Scarborough was perfectly fine with Romney’s rather gentle suggestion that Akin,

take these next 24 hours to spend time with himself and his family and conclude what’s right for him and his family and also for the things he believes in for the country.

There was no Sister Souljah moment there. No demands that Akin leave the race and stop embarrassing not just his party but the entire country. Nothing like that. Oh, Romney did say Akin’s “comments about rape were deeply offensive,” but we got no sense of how deep was the offense. But we do know Romney’s comments fell way short of what Scarborough called for on Monday.

But this is Tuesday. Today Scarborough said,

I think Mitt Romney did what was, I think, politically best yesterday.

Politically best? Scarborough explained what he meant when he was challenged earlier:

What would happen if Romney said, “I’m offended by this” and “Get out of the race today!’ and Akin goes, “Screw you”? What are the headlines the next day going into the convention? “He can’t even control a little congressman.” We would all be saying it. “Nobody respects Mitt Romney!” “He can’t even control a little congressman who is an extremist in his party.”

I guess leadership means never taking a risk that someone won’t follow your lead, right, Joe?

So, today, rather than calling for a Sister Souljah moment, Scarborough opts for Pee Wee Herman.

Wealthy And Stealthy

Ann Romney now famously said about her husband’s tax returns:

We’ve given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and how we live our life.

And that’s that.

This morning I heard Joe Scarborough say that it is quite likely that Romney didn’t pay any taxes some years and had offshore accounts he doesn’t want to talk about. But, he assured us, that all was done legally and no one is suggesting Romney broke any laws.

Of course no one is suggesting he broke any laws in his rather nimble manipulation of the tax code. And that is the point. Romney not only wants to hide his relationship with offshore accounts and dodges and low or no tax rates, he also doesn’t want to reveal that what he has done is perfectly legal, even if it is perfectly unseemly to most folks.

The rich are different from you and me largely because they play by different rules, rules they mostly make up for themselves so that everything is “legal.” And God forbid that the rabble find out just how different the rich are and how the rules are designed to promote and preserve their well-being. Which is why, in her patrician wisdom and as a member of the stealthy class, Ann Romney can say:

We’ve given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and how we live our life.

More Falsehoods About Social Security And Medicare

By now everyone has heard the news:

WASHINGTON – The Medicare and Social Security trust funds are both on “unsustainable paths” — as they have been for years — and will be exhausted by 2024 and 2033, respectively, a trustee report released Monday said.

And by now maybe you have heard the misinformation.

Joe Scarborough said this morning that Social Security will be “bankrupt” three years earlier than projected last year and it will just keep ratcheting up until it will be no time until it is gone. “It’s going down,” he said. In fact, here was the graphic on the screen as the panel discussed the issue:

Social Security benefits to be depleted by 2033.” What tommyrot that is. Benefits, far from being depleted, will continue long after 2033, even if nothing is done.

But first, let’s look at Medicare. As the USA Today story noted:

The trustees have predicted the depletion of the Medicare Trust Fund every year since they first began issuing reports in 1970, and they ultimately extend the deadlines out a few more years.

Yes, look at this from the Congressional Research Service:

As you can see, since such reports have been created, the projections of insolvency have been fairly imminent. Consider this from Sarah Kliff at Wonkblog:

…the trust fund doesn’t really decide Medicare’s fate. Instead, it’s an accounting term. When we talk about the Medicare Trust Fund, we’re pretty much referring to where our payroll taxes to finance the insurance program get stored. If the Trust Fund runs out, that means it can no longer cover everything it’s supposed to pay for. But Congress could — and, many think, would — make up the difference by borrowing, cutting spending elsewhere and using the savings to plug the hole, or finding new sources of revenue.

“The fund is a fiscally neutral element in the goods and services of Medicare finances,” Theodore Marmor, Spencer Martin and Jonathan Oberlander wrote in one article on the topic. “Congress can change the taxes that finance Medicare if it has the will. Likewise, it can change the benefits and reimbursements of the program.”

So, you can easily see that Medicare won’t be “bankrupt” in 2024, even though there is a definite problem with its financing that has to be soon addressed (apart from just shifting the cost on to future seniors, as the Romney-Ryan budget plan does*).

Likewise, Social Security is not now bankrupt and won’t be in 2033. Why? It is simple, as John Harvey at Forbes pointed out:

It is a logical impossibility for Social Security to go bankrupt.

Here’s how the Social Security Administration explains it:

The current Social Security system works like this: when you work, you pay taxes into Social Security. The tax money is used to pay benefits to:

  • People who already have retired;
  • People who are disabled;
  • Survivors of workers who have died; and
  • Dependents of beneficiaries.

The money you pay in taxes is not held in a personal account for you to use when you get benefits. Your taxes are being used right now to pay people who now are getting benefits. Any unused money goes to the Social Security trust funds, not a personal account with your name on it.

Because wage growth has been slow, and because the economy hasn’t exactly been great, money going into the trust funds has slowed down, but Social Security is not—not—paying out more in benefits than it is bringing in. Payroll taxes, along with interest from the special issue Treasury bonds the program holds, plus taxes on Social Security benefits paid by high-income taxpayers, all add up to an increase in the Social Security surplus.

Get that? The program’s surplus is still growing.

But even though Joe Scarborough got it wrong about Social Security and bankruptcy, he did get something right. He said the program’s future finances could be fixed in about twenty minutes.

One way of doing that—without cutting benefits—would be to eliminate the Social Security tax cap, which is currently set at $110,100. Eliminating the cap would mean that those who make more than that (about 6% of wage-earners) would then have to pay Social Security taxes on all their wages. Just this simple move would guarantee payment of full benefits for at least 75 years.

So, although we will hear a lot of Republicans talking about the demise of the two most important social stabilizers we have, using trust fund projections as tools to severely weaken, if not destroy, our safety net, the truth is that the future of both programs can be fixed without dramatically altering their nature, if there is the political will to do so.

And it is up to voters to impregnate the Republican Party with that will.

_________________________________

* Sadly, Willie Geist, a fixture on “liberal” MSNBC from 4:30am until 8:00am, defended the GOP budget plan and Paul Ryan, saying,

He doesn’t do this because he likes throwing old people out on the street; he’s trying to make it solvent. He’s trying to save it in the long term…he’s trying to do something big…

Willie, of course, will never have to worry about surviving his old age on reduced Social Security benefits or worry about how he is supposed to come up with the thousands upon thousands of dollars to get health care when he is too old for television.

A Lesson In Tolerance

A weird conversation took place on Morning Joe this morning about Rick Santorum’s extreme position on contraception—Santorum is famously against it essentially because he believes sex should be about the begetting not the buzz.

Conservative Joe Scarborough actually played the role of sensible commentator, suggesting that Santorum’s position was way outside the mainstream, and sidekick Mika Brzezinski decided to wander off to the right of Scarborough and defended the extremism of the GOP’s current frontrunner.

After playing a couple of clips of Santorum expressing his fifth-century opinions on the matter—the most recent clip coming from last year—Brzezinski, a Catholic like Santorum, was asked about his views. She replied:

I just don’t think there is anything wrong with believing that. I really don’t.  I don’t think that means he’s gonna ban birth control across the board. Those are his personal beliefs. And I think as a father and a man who has held public office, he’s lived up to them, it appears, which makes it interesting for the conversation and it’s a conversation every family should have about birth control and its role in society with their own kids.

He’s got his own and he stands by them and I think he’s an interesting part of the national conversation in terms of where our society is going. And there is a lot of risky behavior that happens to be connected to birth control. But there’s a whole other side to this conversation and not once did I say, “should it be banned?” or “should it not be covered by health insurance?” but I think it’s okay to have those beliefs and those concerns.

At first hearing, one might think Brzezinski sounds reasonable. Santorum is, indeed, entitled  to his beliefs on contraception and in a strange and limited sort of way is to be respected, if he (with the consent of his wife) lives by them. But the real question is not Santorum’s fealty to his extreme doctrines, but the doctrines themselves.

Just to illustrate, let’s look at a different kind of belief that I think it is fair to say that nearly all Americans would find repulsive:

Imagine if there were a presidential candidate today saying that he personally follows the teachings of his church, especially that African-Americans should not be able to marry white Americans because their “dark skin” is a “curse,” since God chose to put them on the earth “in the lineage of Cain.”

Such a candidate might express agreement with a prominent leader of his church that “the Negro seeks absorption with the white race,” and “he will not be satisfied until he achieves it.”

And such a candidate might agree with that same church leader when he said he “would be willing to let every Negro drive a Cadillac if they could afford it,” but that they should “enjoy these among themselves.”

Now imagine if there were a video clip of this candidate saying,

I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change it?

With all that in mind, let’s go back to Morning Joe and Mika Brzezinski. Of such beliefs would she say,

I just don’t think there is anything wrong with believing that. I really don’t.  I don’t think that means he’s gonna ban interracial marriage across the board. Those are his personal beliefs.

Would she say that on television and expect her career to survive?

Or would she say,

I think he’s an interesting part of the national conversation in terms of where our society is going.

Of course she wouldn’t. Not in a million years.

But perhaps because she is a Catholic, or simply because she has some other reason to believe that birth control is somehow “cursed,” in terms of what perceived negative effects it has on society, she feels no social discomfort in stating that Santorum’s antiquated, offensive, and socially perilous views present “a whole other side to this conversation.”

Perhaps the day will come when Santorum’s extremist views on contraception will be as socially unacceptable to defend as the views of my imaginary candidate’s views are today. But obviously we have a long way to go.

Finally, and for the record, my imaginary candidate’s opinions were based on the teachings of an honest-to-goodness, high-ranking apostle of the Mormon Church, Mark E. Petersen, who expressed his beliefs in a speech in 1954, “Race Problems—As they Affect The Church.”

That such abhorrent ideas, expressed not that long ago, are no longer prevalent in civil society is because people of all races began to push back against them and ridicule them, not politely welcome their promotion, or in Brzezinski’s language, deem them an “interesting part of the national conversation.”

_________________________

Here are the two Santorum clips played this morning on Morning Joe followed by Mike Barnicle’s and Mika Brzezinski’s comments:

The Road To Oligarchy

Oligarchy…is a form of social organization in which political power is primarily held by a wealthy elite, who comprise a small minority of the population, and who use this power primarily to serve their own class interests.”

Wikipedia

Wanna know why the Supreme Court, controlled now by Republican conservatives, ruled the way it did in Citizens United?  Looky:

And that doesn’t even count the $38 million that Super PACs supporting Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry raised.

How about this headline from The New York Times:

Of course Romney received millions from folks in the financial industry— those are his peeps. But he also got $300,000 from a “Texas construction magnate”; he got $1 million from yet another Koch bro, William; he got more than $200,000 from members of the Walmart/Walton clan; he got $500,000 from “a wealthy home builder.”

That’s a pretty good cross section of America, don’t you think?

No? Oh. Okay. Let’s tell the truth then: The oligarchs are winning. They are trying to purchase our democracy, and, really, if they stick together, it won’t cost them all that much.

Especially considering the payoff at the end.

And don’t believe the bulldooky about how union donations offset the advantage. Even if they did, which they don’t, that money comes from thousands upon thousands of working folks who know about hedge apples and hedgerows but not a damn thing about hedge funds or hiding money in tropical locations or in Swiss banks.

The golden road to oligarchy is paved by people who need people like Mitt Romney, who undoubtedly understands the very different world these folks live in, and who can represent their very special interests.

Romney’s win in Florida demonstrates the essence of his campaign. The big win was bought and paid for my moneyed interests who can rain down cash when and where it is needed most.

I heard Rep. Connie Mack, who wants to be Senator Connie Mack, speaking for Mitt Romney this morning on MSNBC. Incredibly, he said this:

We want a candidate who knows how jobs are created, who knows how this economy works, who has been in the real world, who has had successes, that’s who we’re looking for and people in the state of Florida spoke loudly tonight that that is the message they reacted to.

We all know that the people reacted mostly to all of the negative, anti-Gingrich ads that Romney’s wealthy donors funded through a Super PAC. That’s what we know. But that’s not all we know. We know that to say that Romney “has been in the real world” is to redefine the world that most of us live in.

Romney’s real world is not the world where a person gets up in the morning, goes to work, works hard all day, comes home and tries to forget that he or she is only a pink slip away from disaster, that pink slip sometimes generated by “vulture capitalists” like Romney who work hard to profit from dismantling companies not building them.

This morning Joe Scarborough was critical of what he called “those crazy Newt Gingrich Bain Capital attacks brought to you by Michael Moore.” Evangelical extremist Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (a tentacle of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family), agreed with Scarborough and added:

Why are we beating people up over things we support?

Now, I have been an evangelical and I think I understand the evangelical mind a bit, but for a leading evangelical to enthusiastically support the kinds of things Bain Capital did is to promote a gospel with which I am not familiar.

It seems to me that if Bain Capital and Mitt Romney had had a table in the “den of thieves” that was the courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day, the Savior would have given them the left foot of fellowship.  After all, by cleansing the temple Jesus was essentially condemning those who were exploiting the less fortunate.

But in our day, a prominent evangelical is on television defending predatory capitalism. That simple fact tells us how far we have come down the road to oligarchy.

Yep, the oligarchs are winning. And now they would have us believe Jesus is on their payroll.

How Anti-Obama Memes Are Made

Yesterday on Morning Joe, and throughout the goofy right-wing blogosphere and on the even goofier Wall Street Journal editorial page, much was made of an excerpt, apparently not originally aired by CBS’s 60 Minutes, from an interview of President Obama, who uttered a fairly standard defense of his accomplishments so far, saying they would compare favorably with other presidents at the same point into their terms.

Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman who never tires of telling us how awesome he was in Congress, was beside himself that Mr.Obama would be so uppity as to say he was “the fourth best president.”  Here was the graphic displayed on MSNBC while the discussion over the remarks took place:

Image

PRES. OBAMA COMPARES HIS RECORD TO LINCOLN & FDR” and “4th Best President?” Wow, what an uppity guy who sits in the White’s House. Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s header:

Image

Whenever the right-wing gets all nasty with Big O like this, trying to create yet another anti-Obama meme that supports the weird conservative critique of the President, it becomes necessary to look at what actually was said. Here is the complete question and answer from the interview:

KROFT: Tell me, what do you consider your major accomplishments? If this is your last speech. What have you accomplished?  

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, we’re not done yet. I’ve got five more years of stuff to do. But not only saving this country from a great depression. Not only saving the auto industry. But putting in place a system in which we’re gonna start lowering health care costs and you’re never gonna go bankrupt because you get sick or somebody in your family gets sick. Making sure that we have reformed the financial system, so we never again have taxpayer-funded bailouts, and the system is more stable and secure. Making sure that we’ve got millions of kids out here who are able to go to college because we’ve expanded student loans and made college more affordable. Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Decimating al Qaeda, including Bin Laden being taken off the field. Restoring America’s respect around the world.  

The issue here is not gonna be a list of accomplishments. As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history. But, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do. And we’re gonna keep on at it.

First, note that he was actually asked about his accomplishments, which he did a decent job of listing. But then notice the offending sentence:

I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history.

Where in there did he say he was “the fourth best president“? Where in there did he say he was better than any president? No where, that’s where. To put something up “against” something else is to say that a favorable comparison can be made, and naturally Mr. Obama, like any leader, believes some of the gargantuan things he has done will be viewed kindly by history.

But he was only talking about “our“—our!—”first two years” in office, not an entire presidency. The Wall Street Journal wrote:

Perhaps President Obama has been taking history lessons at the knee of Newt Gingrich. His recent self-assessment of his tenure rivals any historical analogy that the former Speaker and college professor has come up with…

Newt Gingrich? They are comparing Obama to Newt Gingrich, whose appetite for self-aggrandizement is just slightly smaller than his appetite for waste-aggrandizement? Huh? Newt thinks he is the savior of Western civilization, for God’s sake. Not only has he compared himself to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and Henry Clay and Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and both Roosevelts, he has compared himself to Sam Walton and Ray Kroc!

In any case, that is how it happens these days. Obama says something rather normal for a man in his position—running for another term and thus necessarily talking up his accomplishments—and his uppityness so outrages folks on the right that they have to say nasty things about him.

Like comparing him to Newt Gingrich.

GOP Frontrunner: “Erratic And Undisciplined”

Bragging about his 95% rating from the American Conservative Union, former congressman Joe Scarborough—who worked with Newt Gingrich and says he has “known him for twenty years“—said on his show this morning that Gingrich was “erratic and undisciplined.”

And those were the nice things he said about the former Speaker.

Here’s more:

…his life has been a train wreck, politically he’s been a train wreck. The words that have come from his mouth, the things he has done, would have destroyed him and any other candidate any other year but in 2012. But this weak field is producing the possibility of a Newt Gingrich nomination.  

Mark Halperin, on the Morning Joe set at the time, responded to Scarborough’s (and Mika Brzezinski’s) criticisms of Gingrich this way:

HALPERIN: He’s got a new wife. And he’s converted to Catholicism. And he’s a grandfather. Do you two hold open the possibility that he could be a changed man, and a different man than the one who you think would be dangerous?

SCARBOROUGH:  I’ve gotta answer that because, no…it’s all about what Newt was saying, what comes out of his mouth. He called Kathleen Sebelius, who is a very nice lady…you could disagree with her… he compared her to Joseph Stalin just this year. He said the Democratic Party was…a socialist, secular machine that poses a greater threat to America than Nazism. No. He called the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] a socialist scheme basically to take down America. No. He is not a nice human being. He is a bad person, when it comes to demonizing opponents.

As George Will said, he would have made a marvelous Marxist because he dehumanizes anybody that gets in his way…Just over the past six months he has said some horrific things about people with families, with children. When he puts on his political helmet, he is a terrible person. He dehumanizes people, like Glenn Beck, calling them racists and bigots and Marxists and socialists…People who don’t know Newt at home need to know this.

Thank you, Joe. I couldn’t have said it better.

Have Foul Mouth, Will Travel

“I, too, think you could go back to what I was saying in kindergarten and it would be quite consistent with what I’m saying now…”

—Ann Coulter, on Morning Joe, 11/29/2011

 

I don’t know why anyone would want to spend time with Ann Coulter, and I certainly don’t know why anyone at MSNBC would think she should take up valuable time on its network, when there are so many other places where she could go to spit.

Today on Morning Joe, Coulter was explaining why conservatives should not only ignore former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s flip-flops, but should try to understand them. He can actually beat Obama, she now says, even though earlier this year she predicted Romney would lose. About Republican primary voters she said:

What do they not understand about Massachusetts—most liberal state in the union—he ran against Teddy Kennedy? I mean, you’re flipping from positions you held when you came within five points of taking out that human pestilence…

There it was. That’s why, I suppose, a cable television producer—even on so-called liberal MSNBC—would book a guest like Ann Coulter. That quick little cheap shot at a dead man, that blasphemous, slanderous attack on not just a late liberal hero, but a man who served his country for nearly 50 years, is how Ann Coulter has grown rich.  She has no other perceivable talent outside of her ability to present a practiced profaneness, a rehearsed rudeness, an oddly skillful scurrility, all, unfortunately, made for cable TV.

The only Morning Joe panelist who responded, albeit feebly, to what Coulter said about Ted Kennedy was Mike Barnicle, who was good friends with the former legislator.  Barnicle meekly mumbled something in protest, saying “We miss him in Massachusetts and, I think, the country,” then going on to claim that if Kennedy had been alive during the protracted health care debate, he would have shut it down after five months, or something like that.

Not much of a defense from a friend.

Mika Brzezinski was silent. Joe Scarborough said, “Alright, let’s go to news.” That was it.

Sensing something was wrong with what they had done, or not done, the team came back, after a visit with Buddy Roemer, with an obviously ad hoc segment dedicated to the memory of Ted Kennedy, complete with much praise and video of someone Scarborough called at least three times, “a great man.”

But by that time Coulter was safely on her way to another gig, another opportunity to practice her pornographic trade.  Turning tasteless rhetorical tricks is how she makes her living, you know.

And we who watch cable television are her johns.

“Both Sides” Are Not To Blame

The worst thing about the failure of the supercommittee to reach an agreement is not their failure to reach an agreement but the failure of the media to emphasize just why the effort failed: Republican intransigence on the tax issue, particularly their refusal to raise taxes even a teensy-weensy bit on America’s wealthy elite.

The kind of misleadingly even-handed reporting associated with this issue will simply lead to more gridlock and dysfunction. (Let’s forget about Fox “News,” which for the most part blames Democrats for the failure.)

Oh, I know you think you have heard the truth about Republicans’ intransigence reported in the mainstream press, but it is almost always accompanied by something like this: Democrats have refused to budge on entitlements. That sort of negates the first point, doesn’t it? It’s the media’s reflexive “both sides are guilty” reporting. It’s the failure of generic “Washington” or the failure of a bipartisan “Congress” to come to an agreement, not the failure of the GOP to break its pledge to Grover Norquist.

I heard on Morning Joe this morning a man disguised as a Democrat—former congressman Harold Ford, Jr.—say this, as the opening shot on the segment discussing the failure:

This is two times since August, since summer, that Congress was presented with a chance to do its job and it failed—both parties.

“Both parties.” That’s the media mantra.

Here, read this paragraph from a CNN story on the failure:

Democrats have blasted Republicans for not being more receptive to higher taxes on the wealthy, while Republicans insist Democrats are unwilling to make necessary spending cuts to popular domestic programs.

That’s pretty much the way the thing has been reported, even though President Obama and the Democrats did offer significant entitlement cuts in the ambitious “grand bargain” the President was negotiating with Speaker John Boehner this summer.  Republicans just wouldn’t budge on tax increases for the super-rich. But the mess gets reported as a they-said, they-said story. 

Television news, especially cable news, is particularly eager to report on the propaganda wars between spinners in the two parties. It’s the easiest and cheapest kind of journalism to do: get a couple reps from each party and let them do their thing on camera.

What makes this kind of journalism so worrisome is that reporting on the propaganda wars between the two sides rather than putting out the facts that led to the failure will lead to even more of the same kind of failure after next election. People who don’t pay all that much attention need to be informed, or they will continue to vote blindly.

On Saturday, as the supercommittee failure was eminent, Dana Milbank was on MSNBC saying things like this:

The public is gonna blame everybody.

To the extent that’s true, it’s because Beltway commentators like Dana Milbank don’t make it absolutely clear every time they move their lips in front of a television camera that it is not “everybody’s” fault.  Milbank said on Saturday something I have heard much too often on cable news:

Hopefully, somebody at some point will grow up around here.

Except that it’s been clear to those of us paying close attention just who the grownups have been in this process. But instead of placing the blame where it belongs, we are treated to things like this:

Here’s a message to Washington politicians: duck.

Your failure is now complete. You were faced with a generational challenge to save Americans from the type of collapse European countries are now facing and you blinked. Actually, you did worse…

Watching them all trot their tired lines out on the Sunday talk shows made me sick. Democrats were blabbing on about hiking taxes and Republicans were prattling on about slashing spending. Both were accusing the other side of intransigence while standing in a block of ideological cement.

That was an excerpt from an op-ed piece in Politico written by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and read on Morning Joe this morning. And that sentiment pretty much represents the disgust many people feel.  But think about it for a minute: even if Democrats were “standing in a block of ideological cement” in protecting the working class and the poor from severe budget austerity, is that on a moral par with Republicans’ ideological devotion to keeping taxes low on the wealthiest Americans, who have been thriving for the past thirty years? Huh?

Do Democrats, even in the worst case scenario, deserve to be painted with the same moral brush as no-tax-increase ideologues in the Republican Party?

Yet Scarborough, a conservative Republican working inside that fortress of liberalism, MSNBC, wrote:

Our leaders are unworthy of our trust. They have no moral authority to lead. The President is weak and not up to the task of running the White House. Congress is even worse, with an approval rating mired in single digits. If the cavalry is coming, it better ride in from the west quick. We’re in a hell of a mess and thanks to Washington’s bumbling, I fear it is all going to get much worse.

Neither side, in Scarborough’s estimation, has the moral authority to lead. You see? That’s how it works these days in the “news” business. Both sides are to blame, both sides are equally guilty, both sides deserve our condemnation.

Scarborough is right about one thing. With that kind of sentiment permeating the airwaves, things will get much worse because too many ignorant people will keep voting for conservative Republicans.

How Republicans Get Away With It

Liberal media bias? My donkey there is.

Even when talking TV heads take a break from the Herman Cain nonsense long enough to talk about the dysfunction in Washington, they still manage to get it all wrong and mislead the American people in the process.

A discussion on Morning Joe Friday morning—all too typical of how cable news is interpreting current events—about the failure of the Democrats latest attempt to get Senate Republicans to help with the economic recovery had me fuming and illustrated just what is wrong with American journalism—a strong right-of-center bias—and also demonstrated how Republicans have been able to literally get away with serial governmental nonfeasance.

The discussion involved former radical conservative congressman (essentially his own description) Joe Scarborough (it’s his show, of course, on that “liberal” network MSNBC), along with his sidekick, the occasional Democrat and former journalist Mika Brzezinski, and frequent guests, Time magazine’s senior political analyst Mark Halperin (who once called President Obama a “dick” on the show) and Mike Barnicle (an “award winning” columnist who resigned from the Boston Globe amid charges of fabricating a column and plagiarizing George Carlin).

The conversation essentially began with Brzezinski reading an excerpt from a fantastic column by Paul Krugman and then an editorial from the New York Times, “Putting Millionaires Before Jobs“:

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, bitterly accused Democrats of designing their infrastructure bill to fail by paying for it with a millionaire’s tax, as if his party’s intransigence was so indomitable that daring to challenge it is somehow underhanded.

The only good news is that the Democrats aren’t going to stop. There are many more jobs bills to come, including extension of unemployment insurance and the payroll-tax cut. If Republicans are so proud of blocking all progress, they will have to keep doing it over and over again, testing the patience of American voters.

The conversation soon headed off to crazytown when Scarborough noted all the wonderful things that Paul Ryan and the Republicans in the House have done to try to create jobs (don’t laugh, he was serious), involving “15 jobs bills” that were sent to the Senate where Democrats let them die. Let’s pick it up from there:

SCARBOROUGH: I gotta say by the time the election comes along Republicans are gonna be in pretty damn good shape, when it comes to obstructionism. Because they’re doing something and the Democrats are killing it. Now you’ve got the President finally trying to do something on jobs and the Republicans are killing it. It’s a wash.

HALPERIN: Well, there’s no question Republicans don’t get a fair shake in the media in general on those two points and they have a point on both of them. But those aren’t views that can get a majority in this country…if people want to spend the next year posturing, they can, but it’s not the right thing for the country, and the President needs to convince Republicans and his own party that we don’t have a year to waste.  Unfortunately, right now that’s the trajectory we’re still on.

SCARBOROUGH: And, Mike, that’s where we are. The Republicans are passing their bills, which the Democrats are killing. Democrats want to pass bills that the Republicans want to kill. This is the time that Tip O’Neill would put his arm around Ronald Reagan and they’d sit down in the White house and they would actually work for what’s best for America.

BARNICLE: Exactly. But I mean this last line of the Times editorial [reading]: “The Republicans, if they’re so proud of blocking all progress, have to keep doing it over and over again, testing the patience of American voters.”  People on the Times editorial board ought to take a walk around the building that they’re housed in. Most Americans, I venture to think, think what’s happening in Washington is a virtual clown show—both sides.

SCARBOROUGH: Both sides!

BRZEZINSKI: Polls show it for sure.

First, let us understand that Scarborough, who was part of that extremist class of Republicans that first took over the House in 1994, is, only in the context of current crazy conservative politics, sounding quite reasonable: sit down and make a deal he says to both sides—even though “both” sides are not guilty of not wanting to make a deal. (The legislation offered by the Democrats is essentially already bipartisan in nature.)

Second, let us understand that Mark Halperin has a history of selling Republicanism to the public (see, for instance, here and here).  Besides calling the President names, his most recent badge of honor is a puff piece he did for Time on Rick Perry, introducing him to the world. Even given his obsession with bending over for Republicans, for Halperin to say that they “don’t get a fair shake in the media in general” on the jobs issue sent my piss meter spiking once again.  Was he trying to be funny?

Throughout the episodic budget battles over the past two years, continuing into the current fights over how to help the economy create jobs, Republicans have enjoyed universal media equality with Democrats, in terms of having pure motivations and in terms of culpability for failure.  “Both sides” are morally and ideologically pure and “both sides” are equally guilty of not compromising. 

That bulldook analysis is how the mainstream, Beltway media often presents the political and economic news to Americans, even forgetting the one-sided coverage on Fox “News.”  Halperin says,

the President needs to convince Republicans and his own party that we don’t have a year to waste.  

As if Democrats have been committing mutiny against the President’s proposals and are equally to blame for nothing getting done! It’s a preposterous lie and Halperin knows it, but he has some kind of unhealthy need to appear “balanced,” when there is no balance to the matter. 

The last vote on the infrastructure-jobs bill that “failed” in the Senate (even though it got a majority of votes) received all but one of the Democrats’ votes, and every single Republican senator voted against the damn thing.  So how is it that President Obama should be convincing “his own party that we don’t have a year to waste“?

Mark Halperin is a paid analyst, for both Time and MSNBC.  For God’s sake, the man gets paid, handsomely, for this stuff!

It’s sickening is what it is. I believe I could go to a Joplin Walmart and randomly pick out a patron from the produce section who could, while testing the tomatoes, present a more accurate picture of events in Washington than Halperin’s.

And then we have journalist-columnist Mike Barnicle, who plays the “everyman” on Morning Joe. His toilet-paper-thin analysis of most issues belongs on Fox and Friends, not on a show that tries at times to have a serious discussion of current events.  Barnicle says “both sides” are clowns, “both sides” are thus guilty, “both sides” are thus the problem.

That’s like saying the cops and robbers are both to blame for the increase in crime.  It’s preposterous and it would be hilariously preposterous, if there weren’t so much at stake.

Again: There is no damned overall liberal bias in the press. Friday’s segment and others like it on Morning Joe and elsewhere on “liberal” MSNBC prove it. Would to God there was such a bias. 

Loud-mouthed conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and the Fox stable of reactionary blabberbots have been so successful in convincing mainstream journalists that there is a bias against conservative ideas, that those mainstream journalists take the easy road out and present a distorted version of events, a fuzzy and vague picture of what is really going on in America, a picture in which both parties are to blame for the dysfunction.

What is really going on is that Republicans are sabotaging Barack Obama’s presidency and they don’t give a damn if millions of Americans suffer another year or two until the job is done. 

And even if journalists rightfully refuse to call it “sabotage,” they ought to at least forego reporting as news the “both sides are guilty” lie.

The Republican Health Care Plan In Three Words

Monday night’s Republican debate on CNN featured another one of those moments—last week it was the audience cheering the execution of 234 people in Texas—that tends to surprise people who haven’t been paying attention to the devolution of the Republican Party. 

Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul about the welfare of a guy who gets sick, goes into a coma, but lacks health insurance: “Are you saying society should just let him die?” Blitzer asked.

Paul’s answer, which essentially was that such an unfortunate fellow should rely on volunteers and churches for his care, was drowned out by shouts of “Let him die!” from the Republican debate-watching crowd.

Let—Him—Die.

I’m reminded of former congressman Alan Grayson’s presentation on the House floor in 2009:

If you get sick in America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly.

Here’s a short discussion between Republican Joe Scarborough and Pulitzer-winning columnist and Democrat-leaning Eugene Washington from Morning Joe this morning:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: …the crowd last night at one point cheering the possibility of the death of a young man in a coma—I guess in 2008 we had “drill, baby, drill”; last night it seemed to be “die, baby, die.”

I think CNN may have magnified a political segment of this society beyond the representation of the general population.

EUGENE WASHINGTON:  That’s probably true.  There was an air of unreality to the debate last night. It was as if we were in some sort of parallel universe…

The truth is that what was on display last night at that Republican debate reflects the reality of Republican politics these days.  Those shouts of “Let him die!” were not made by some extremists who snuck into the debate against the wishes of the candidates or the planners or CNN.  Those folks are mainstream Republicans these days.  And their disturbing shouts—which no candidate on the platform bothered to contradict—represent how far right the GOP has moved philosophically, and they came as no shock to those of us who have been following that movement.

Whether it is shouting out heartless things about uninsured, comatose people, cheering executions, raucously applauding the labeling of Ben Bernanke as treasonous, loudly supporting Michelle Bachmann for her stand against raising the debt ceiling—all things that have happened in just the last two GOP presidential primary debates—we cannot take any comfort from pretending that the people who did these things are somehow on the fringe of the Republican Party.

They are, sadly and regrettably, its heart and soul.

This Is Not Your Daddy’s Poker Game Anymore

Normally, watching politics unfold is like watching a movie in which you know that before the last credits are run there will be some kind of acceptable denouement and the fun is watching the characters get there, watching the plot develop. 

But this fight over the debt ceiling is turning out to be something else.

Anyone who loves high-level politics, as I do, in a sense loves what’s been going on in Washington the past few weeks.  It’s intriguing, entertaining, even compelling. Politics is part art, part science, and part poker.

Mike Viqueira of NBC News reported today that someone from Chicago playfully said to President Obama after an event this morning that he had met him before and that the President owed him a poker game. Obama replied:

I’ve got a high-stakes game of poker going on right now.

Well, not exactly.  It’s sort of gone beyond poker.  In a poker game, in the end everyone gets up from the table, some as winners, some as losers, or all winning some and losing some and getting the most out of the opportunity. But they all get up.

We need new metaphors now.

Steven Rattner, financier and economic analyst—and the man who helped President Obama rescue the auto industry—was a guest this morning on Morning Joe. He had his own metaphor. He said the following in response to Joe Scarborough’s question as to how the current stalemate can get broken:

I wish I knew. You know, the problem with this is it’s like a form of economic terrorism. I imagine these tea party guys are like strapped with dynamite standing in the middle of times square at rush hour and saying, “You do it my way or we’re going to blow you up, ourselves up, and the whole country up with us.”

So, you tell me how those kinds of standoffs end.

Economic terrorism?  Hmm.  That can’t end well, can it?

 

None Dare Call It Radical

lt is clear that the Ryan budget plan has now become a litmus test for conservatives. 

When I heard Newt Gingrich criticize the plan on Meet the Press on Sunday, I assumed he would get some flak from conservatives, but I didn’t think conservatives would attack him so vehemently, so mercilessly.  It just shows how much Republicans have invested in their Murder Medicare scheme, and how they can’t afford to tolerate criticism of it from anyone on their side.

Gingrich said about the Ryan-Republican plan:

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

Charles Krauthammer, who less than a month ago wrote that Gingrich was a “smart guy…a Vesuvius of ideas,” pronounced dead Gingrich’s presidential aspirations by calling his views  “contradictory and incoherent.”  Joe Scarborough this morning echoed that sentiment, accusing Newt of not being a real conservative.  Other prominent conservatives have said much the same.

As for the architect of the plot to kill Medicare, the Associated Press reported:

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan said Monday that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich does not fully understand a GOP proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system, dismissing criticism from the former House speaker that the plan would be a radical change.

The “smart guy,” the “Vesuvius of ideas,” just doesn’t understand the plan.  He doesn’t get it.  If only he could see that the plan, in Ryan’s words, “is one of the most gradual things one could do.”  As if the slow death of Medicare is somehow less offensive than a speedier one.

But the truth is that Gingrich does understand the plan. He correctly labeled it as “right-wing social engineering” because that is exactly what it is, although one could say “re-engineering.” In fact, Gingrich said—confirming Krauthammer’s “contradictory and incoherent” comment—that he would have voted for the plan because it represented “the first step.”

That first step, of course, is destroying Medicare as we know it.

What conservatives and Republicans are afraid of, obviously, is that Democrats will use Gingrich’s language against every single Republican running next year, not just those House Republicans who voted for it.  (Senate Republicans haven’t yet been forced to vote on the plan, although Sen. Harry Reid keeps promising he will force them to do so.)

As it stands, not one single serious Republican presidential candidate or potential candidate has actually endorsed the plan, although Mitch Daniels labeled itserious,”  and Tim Pawlenty said Ryan offered “real leadership,” and Mitt Romney said Ryan is “setting the right tone.”

Despite the fact that the national candidates are reluctant to actually go with Paul Ryan and his fellow Republicans as they slip into Medicare’s bedroom and murder it in its sleep, they appear to be willing to wait in the getaway car outside, as the culprits do the dirty work.

And that’s the purpose of the conservative litmus test. If one goes to jail for this crime, all go.  At the very least, GOP candidates will not be allowed to openly criticize the budget plan.  If they do, they will receive the Gingrich treatment, essentially a pair of cement loafers and a trip to the North Arabian Sea to visit Osama bin Laden.

Thus, Democrats need to expose not only the actual killers, but the accomplices, those Republicans who remain silent as the murderous plot unfolds.

Trumpula

The Donald Trump orgy continues on “liberal” NBC and MSNBC. 

Only in America can a man as ignorant as Donald Trump go on a major television network—whose news division shamelessly promotes the embarrassingly shameless self-promoter—and pretend he is running for President of the United States by talking nonsense about the world, including stupidly questioning the birthplace of the current president.

I watched Morning Joe in agony this morning as every libidinous panelist—including today’s host, Willie Geist, the so-called liberal Donald Deutsch, and the former Democratic—Democratic!—governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, service Mr. Trump like fluffers on the set of a Ron Jeremy porn-flick.

At least Ron Jeremy is the real deal.  In terms of political brilliance, Donald Trump talks like John Holmes, but the truth is he carries a small stick.

Fortunately, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski—committed Trumpeteers—were absent today, or a Caligula-like love fest would truly have ensued.

In the mean time, even while NBC and MSNBC have given Trump plenty of room to spout birther conspiracies as a way of attracting attention to his NBC television show, his attractiveness to Tea Party Republicans, who fail to understand Trump’s candidacy deceit, is increasing.

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Trump trailing leader Mitt Romney by only 4 points, 21-17.  Among teapartiers, though, Trump leads Romney by 3 points, 20-17.

In the mean time, Celebrity Apprentice sits in 19th place in the top 25 broadcast TV ratings, between Biggest Loser and Mike and Molly.

NBC and MSNBC have more work to do.

Monday Morning Presidents

“Left unaddressed, the growing instability in Libya could ignite wider instability in the Middle East, with dangerous consequences to the national security interests of the United States.”

                        —Barack Obama, Letter to the Congress regarding the commencement of operations in Libya

 

Each political party is split over Libya.  War does that.

Democrats, some with legitimate concerns about executive branch overreach, are coming down on each side. Dennis Kucinich has even suggested impeachment, although he dialed that back on Monday night. 

Republicans are both for and against the President’s actions, some taking both positions at the same time.  Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana is even worried about the cost of the Libyan action, the years and years and billions upon billions of dollars spent in Iraq-Afghanistan apparently having escaped his notice.

Movement conservatives, as usual, are hysterical, albeit in disparate ways.  Newt Gingrich, when Obama hadn’t acted, wanted him to act. When Obama did act, Gingrich changed his mind. Sort of. 

Frank Gaffney, who has obviously lost command of his faculties, wrote the following on Big Peace, a site created by the morally-defective Andrew Breitbart:

What I find particularly concerning is the prospect that what we might call the Qaddafi Precedent will be used in the not-to-distant future to justify and threaten the use of U.S. military forces against an American ally: Israel.

I will spare you the details of this Beckian conspiracy, but suffice it to say that the whole Libyan thing is a pretext for “raining down cruise missiles on Israeli targets in the West Bank.”

Joe Scarborough, whose rantings this morning were not a substitute for a coherent position, said this morning that Obama handled the crisis perfectly last week but this week he “stumbled into an African civil war.” 

Scarborough, like others, played the “double-standard” card, asking why we aren’t in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and on and on.  Never mind that the Arab League or the United Nations or Europe aren’t interested in going into those places and thus we would have to do it alone, something Scarborough claims, speaking out of the other side of his mouth, we cannot do.

Or Scarborough and others ask why we didn’t go into Rwanda or Sudan or, again, on and on.  Never mind that Barack Obama was not president during those times and thus is not responsible for our failure to act at the time.  In any case, does the fact that we failed to do something we maybe should have done in our history obligate us to keep on not doing it? Huh?

Pat Buchanan claimed, and received much agreement among Morning Joe panelists, that Obama’s actions, including bombing Kaddafi’s Bab al-Azizia military compound in Tripoli, went beyond the U.N. resolution authorizing the Libyan assault.  Except that all one has to do is read that resolution and see how wrong Buchanan and others are about that. 

While the Security Council excludes “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory,” it does authorize “all necessary measures” to “protect civilians.”  Before going on television and spouting such nonsense, these people should at least read the damn document.

I heard some say that since Obama claimed Kaddafi “must go,” if we fail to get him to go, the mission is a failure. Anyone who thinks that doesn’t understand the difference between the President’s desire and the objective of the actual mission.  Nowhere in Obama’s direct statements about the mission does he say the point is to remove or kill Kaddafi.

I confess that the more I listen to Obama’s critics, both left and right, the more I am convinced his actions were wise—under the circumstances.  This is one of those times when there is an intersection between our national interests—regional stability including oil price stability during these tenuous economic times—and our concern for humanitarian interests.  And in his letter to Congress, Obama made both of those points:

U.S. military forces commenced operations to assist an international effort authorized by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council and undertaken with the support of European allies and Arab partners, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and address the threat posed to international peace and security by the crisis in Libya.

And,

Left unaddressed, the growing instability in Libya could ignite wider instability in the Middle East, with dangerous consequences to the national security interests of the United States.

Sure, we have interests in the Middle East, most of which revolve around our dependence on oil and thus our dependence on relatively stable and predictable oil prices.  There’s not a damn thing wrong with the United States protecting its interests, economic or otherwise. 

What galls some on both sides of the ideological divide is that we are also making the argument that our actions are based on humanitarian considerations. They claim we are being hypocritical. No. We’re not.  As the Obama quotes above make clear, we are acting for both reasons.  And we are acting in concert with Britain and Europe and the Arab world.  For a change.

As Ed Rendell pointed out this morning, what would these critics of the Libyan intervention be saying today if instead of acting, we would have stood by and watched the slaughter of thousands upon thousands of civilians at the hands of a man who vowed to show no mercy to them?  Many of the same critics would ask why we let that happen, when all we had to do was institute a no-fly zone. 

Clearly, Mr. Obama’s worst critics, as usual, want to have it both ways. He dithered. He stumbled. He waited on the French. Yet, he acted too swiftly. He violated the Constitution. He should have waited on a vote of the Congress.

Except that the time had run out. It was either act or likely thousands would have died.  As I have said previously, I could understand the motive to both act and not act.  But now that I have heard the Monday morning presidents talk, it appears to me that Mr. Obama—so long as he remains true to his statements about the limited nature of our actions—has done the right thing.

And now that the immediate mission seems to have succeeded, the President needs to clarify what our mission is going forward. There is still a messy civil war going on in Libya and certainly we have taken sides.  Just how much more we will do on behalf of the rebels is the great uncertainty at this point.

It remains for Mr. Obama to explain what comes next, if anything.

The Day After The Deal With The Devil

“He has darted now to the far right, economically.”

—Joe Scarborough, conservative Republican

This morning on Morning Joe, the discussion, naturally, focused on President Obama’s deal with the right-wing in Congress.

Joe Scarborough, speaking from the right, summed up his view of Mr. Obama:

After this, you cannot say he’s a socialist.  The right has been calling him a socialist forever. This is income redistribution, but it’s taking it back to the rich.

I mean, millionaires are getting tax cuts.  Billionaires are getting tax cuts…They’re lowering the estate tax. They’re giving payroll tax breaks for the next couple of years.  My God, I would be afraid to campaign on this, as a conservative with a 95% lifetime rating—actually, I did campaign on stuff like this…it is stunning…He has become a Jack Kemp Democrat.  He needs to embrace it.

Now, there’s no doubt that Scarborough has overstated the case.  President Obama did not become a supply-sider overnight.  He made this deal with the devil because, as he said, “these are not abstract fights for the families that are impacted“:

As for now, I believe this bipartisan plan is the right thing to do.  It’s the right thing to do for jobs.  It’s the right thing to do for the middle class.  It is the right thing to do for business.  And it’s the right thing to do for our economy. It offers us an opportunity that we need to seize.

Obviously, Mr. Obama was in a difficult place.  He acknowledged that, “political wisdom may dictate fighting over solving problems,” but, he said,

I’m not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington.  And I’m not willing to let our economy slip backwards just as we’re pulling ourselves out of this devastating recession.

Fair enough.  Except that the main reason the President found himself in this position at the end is because he was so weak at the beginning.  After the November 2 election, he essentially waved the white flag and invited Republicans to come in to finish the rout.

And, being Republicans, who know how to play hardball politics, that is exactly what they did.  Yesterday, here’s how John Boehner played it:

It’s encouraging that the White House is now willing to stop all of the job-killing tax hikes scheduled for January 1.

Get it? That’s the way it will play out, as this thing goes forward.  Obama will get exactly zero credit for any benefits from this deal.  Republicans will take all the praise and leave him with the ill effects. Despite what Scarborough says, Obama will still be a big-spending, liberal, socialist, anti-American scoundrel.

In his statement yesterday, liberals would have at least liked to hear our President call out the Republicans for what they have done.  But this is the closest he could get:

Now, Republicans have a different view.  They believe that we should also make permanent the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  I completely disagree with this.  A permanent extension of these tax cuts would cost us $700 billion at a time when we need to start focusing on bringing down our deficit.  And economists from all across the political spectrum agree that giving tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires does very little to actually grow our economy. 

This is where the debate has stood for the last couple of weeks.  And what is abundantly clear to everyone in this town is that Republicans will block a permanent tax cut for the middle class unless they also get a permanent tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, regardless of the cost or impact on the deficit.

All of that is, of course, true.  But it lacks the fighting force of Boehner’s “job-killing tax hikes” rhetoric. 

So, since Mr. Obama simply refuses to tell it like it is, I will revise his statement to read more Boehner-esque:

Now, Republicans have a different view.  And I not only completely disagree with their view, I believe it is chicken crap. They want to give the richest Americans, who already are cashing in big time in this otherwise dreary economy, a $700 billion dollar bonus.  Wait. That’s worse than chicken crap. That is a Joe Dirt, wagon-sized turd ball is what that is.  There isn’t an economist this side of the Heritage Foundation who thinks that it will help the economy.

And, yes, I screwed up at the beginning of this thing and allowed the Republicans to play me.  I know that.  And I’m sorry.  But now it has become abundantly clear to everyone in this town that Republicans are willing to screw 99% of the American people just to put more jingle in the pockets of their country club friends, no matter the impact on the deficit that they claim to be so damned worried about.  And I just can’t let that happen.

I promise to do better next time.  For now, I’ve got to do what I think is right for the American people.  But I will not let the Republicans do this to me again. 

And I will not let them do this to you again.

 

Remarks and Asides

Yet another federal judge rejected arguments that our new health care law’s insurance mandate is unconstitutional.  This time it was in Virginia, via a lawsuit brought by Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, which is where Baptist brains go to die.

The “university” sued claiming not only that the Commerce Clause cannot be used to justify the mandate, but that the law violates the university’s religious rights (universities have religious rights?) because it forces the anti-choice zealots to subsidize abortion in some strange way that nobody can understand, including those who actually wrote the law. 

Oh, well.  It’s on to the Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court, where the zealots believe they have a fighting chance with their fellow zealots who happen to control the court.  God is good, you know.

________________________

Republican presidential hopefuls are demonstrating orgasmic enthusiasm for doing something about the WikiLeaks fiasco.  Something violent.

Mike Huckabee, whom God made governor of Arkansas as part of his Plan to make the Huckster president (it worked once before), not only wants to execute the source of the leaks, he also wants to execute the New York Times for publishing some of the leaks.  How do you electrocute a newspaper?  

Sarah Palin wants the President to hunt down WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is from the Land Down Under, like a terrorist marsupial:

Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?

Oh my God!  First Afghanistan, then Iraq, now Australia! 

________________________

Speaking of Sarah Palin, Joe Scarborough, a conservative with his own show on “liberal” MSNBC, has officially taken her on.  Well, actually he has taken on the Republican establishment for not taking her on:

If Republicans want to embrace Palin as a cultural icon whose anti-intellectualism fulfills a base political need, then have at it. I suppose it’s cheaper than therapy.

But if the party of Ronald Reagan, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio wants to return to the White House anytime soon, it’s time that Republican leaders started standing up and speaking the truth to Palin.

Why speak the truth to her?  Why piss her off?  She’s not going to run for president, and anyone who wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party will need her loyal legions, whom she commands through Facebook and Twitter.  And it would be dumb, and unpresidential, to attack her for her anti-intellectualism, since that is what makes her so attractive to her anti-intellectual followers.

What was Scarborough thinking?

__________________________

Speaking of anti-intellectuals, in case you missed it, Steve King, Republican congressman from Iowa, has his hood and robe all in a tangle over the fact that black farmers might get their due, after the USDA admitted it had discriminated against them between 1983 and 1997 by not loaning them money to purchase farms or to save the farms they had. 

King, a follower of Jesus Christ, said,

We’ve got to stand up at some point and say, ‘We are not gonna pay slavery reparations in the United States Congress.’ That war’s been fought. That was over a century ago. That debt was paid for in blood and it was paid for in the blood of a lot of Yankees, especially. And there’s no reparations for the blood that paid for the sin of slavery. No one’s filing that claim.

But besides all that, did you know Obama supported the black farmers?  And did you know Obama was (whisper) b-l-a-c-k?  Well, actually King said Barack Obama was “very, very urban.” Apparently, that’s how folks in Sioux City and Council Bluffs refer to “negroes.”

Another fun fact about Steve King: Last year, the House voted to place a plaque in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center that would acknowledge the role of slavery in the construction of the Capitol.  The measure passed 399 to 1.  Yep. You guessed it. Here was part of King’s explanation:

This is just the latest example of a several year effort by liberals in Congress to scrub references to America’s Christian heritage from our nation’s Capitol. Liberals want to amend our country’s history to eradicate the role of Christianity in America and chisel references to God or faith from our historical buildings.

Our Judeo-Christian heritage is an essential foundation stone of our great nation and should not be held hostage to yet another effort to place guilt on future Americans for the sins of some of their ancestors.

This man sits on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil LibertiesWho knows, next January he may be the chairman. God willing.

It’s A Strange Question, If Sarah Palin Or Donald Trump Is The Answer

America is in a strange place, if both Sarah Palin and Donald Trump think they can become president. 

Ms. Palin, who celebrates her self-described commonness, and Mr. Trump who revels in his self-described uncommonness, each have the nothing-better-to-do media types infatuated with whether one or both will run to become the Most Powerful Person On Earth

Think about that.

I’ve already said that Sarah Palin will not run for president in 2012.  Her goal is to keep speculation alive long enough to accumulate sufficient cash to purchase Alaska, so she can have it all to herself.  And right now she is able to routinely separate enough gullible commoners from their disposable income that someday that dream may come true. Good for her.  But president?  Come on.  Nobody believes that, even if she really wanted to go for it.

That leaves us with Donald Trump.  What is it about rich jerks like The Donald, who think the world pines for their pomp and longs for their leadership?  Nature kicked Trump out of the safety and comfort of his mother’s womb into the safety and comfort of a womb of wealth.  His father was a prosperous New York real estate developer.  Go figure.

Yet, despite such a head start in life, Mr. Trump managed to get himself in financial trouble in the 1990s (remember “junk bonds”?). From a 1991 article in Time:

Meet Donald Trump’s bankers. Like the characters in the fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes, a gaggle of major financial institutions has finally been forced to admit, after lending Trump billions of dollars, that there’s a lot less to the emperor — or at least his empire — than the banks had believed. Not quite nine months after bailing out Trump with a rescue package that gave him $65 million in new loans and eased credit terms on his bank debt, Trump’s bankers last week stopped the game. Already more than $3.8 billion in the hole and sliding perilously close to a mammoth personal bankruptcy, the brash New York developer had no choice but to accept the dismantling of his vast holdings. Meeting round the clock at secret Manhattan locations, Trump’s lawyers and bankers by week’s end had begun to hammer out a complex series of agreements on the distribution of some of his assets.

However, unlike you and me and most of the world, Trump was simply too big to fail completely.  He was so far in debt, his creditors had to cut him a deal in order to keep from losing even more money than the hundreds of millions they reportedly lost on his ambitions.  And through it all, The Donald kept his humility in check:

…despite his desperate situation, Trump, who has always prided himself on his mastery of dealmaking, once again seems to have come up with a strong hand. Pooh-poohing any notion that he was cornered, Trump insisted last week that the talks were friendly. “I have a great relationship with the banks,” he said, adding airily, “The 1990s are a decade of deleveraging. I’m doing it too.”

Yeah, it’s nice to have a “great relationship with the banks.”  I certainly have a great relationship with my bank: Everyone there knows where I live and if I don’t make my car payment, they will send someone out to check on me, and then they will tow my car away.

Donald Trump’s life, past and present, is God’s way of rubbing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s terrible truth in our face: the rich are, indeed, different from you and me.

Trump has confessed to us that he is thinking about running for president, as a Republican, of course.  I recommend everyone watch his interview with George Stephanopoulos.  You will find that he is willing to start a trade war with China, that he finds Sarah Palin interesting and he likes her, but you won’t find out his position on abortion rights, because he’s not ready to reveal that piece of information just yet.  He was asked,

Are you pro-choice?

Trump: I don’t want to discuss, right now, but you will be shocked when I give you that answer…I’m gonna make a decision and when I make a decision I’ll let you know about that. But I think you’ll probably be surprised.

Everyone knows you can’t win a Republican primary and be pro-choice on abortion, so, no doubt, Mr. Trump has to figure out not what he believes, but what he needs to believe.  He’s flexible. How thoughtful.

He confirmed his presidential ambitions this morning on Morning Joe.  Mika Brzezinski, who falsely represents political balance on the show, asked him this question:

So, this frustration you feel, is that why you were thinking of running for president, and would you run as a Republican?

TRUMP: Well, I am a Republican—I’d run as a Republican. And I haven’t decided—I’d prefer not running. I’m having a great time, as you know, doing what I’m doing. 

Yes, like his party comrade Sarah Palin, The Donald doesn’t really want to run for president.  He’s got better things to do. Both of these stunningly patriotic Americans suggest that their lives are full of wonderful things, like grizzlies and Fox “News” and skyscrapers and casinos and lots and lots of cash, but they would give it all up—except the cash—just to be our leader, if we really, really needed them.

When Joe Scarborough asked him this morning to rate Barack Obama as a leader, in his typically Trumpish way, Trump said:

Well, you know, I respect him, I like him, I think he is wonderful in many ways.  I think he has not been good for business and honestly and very sadly the world does not respect this country, and therefore I assume the world does not respect our leader.  He’s a nice man, I think he’s totally over his head.

Barack Obama is a nice man.  But he’s bad for business.  He’s over his head.  And The Donald knows this because, as he told Stephanopoulos,

I have many people from China that I do business with, they laugh at us.  They feel we’re fools.  And almost being led by fools.

There you have it.  A man who thinks he can be president bases his opinion of our country’s standing in the world, and our President’s ability to lead, on what his Chinese business friends tell him about America. 

As I said, America is in a strange place these days.

America Is Not A Center-Right Nation—Just Ask Tea Party Leaders

Joe Scarborough, of Morning Joe, often talks about how America is a “center-right” nation.  And he often talks about how Barack Obama should recognize that fact and govern that way.  Here is a typical example from the other day:

…he’s got some great opportunities, but he’s going to have to come to the middle. And if he comes to the middle where America is—not the middle as defined by left-wing bloggers and other people. If he comes to the middle where America is, he’ll be just fine.

Well, Scarborough is a conservative Republican, so it’s understandable how he might project his politics onto the whole country, but he uses polling to support his point. He claims, based on a Gallup poll, that 40% of the public think of themselves as conservatives and only 21% call themselves liberal.

But since most people aren’t political junkies, and since it’s hard for even junkies to accurately define what it means to be a liberal or a conservative, the simple truth is that it is impossible to say the country—in whole or in part—is this or that based on what people tell pollsters.

And even if it were the case that one could call the country this or that politically, what does that have to do with how President Obama–or any president–should govern the country?  Is that Scarborough’s definition of leadership?  To simply lead people where they are already going? 

Thankfully, the Founders didn’t feel that way or we all might be speaking London Cockney today.  And thankfully Harry Truman didn’t feel that way or we might still have an all-paleface military to match our all-paleface Tea Party.

The truth is that our ideological national identity cannot be defined by what people tell Gallup or any other polling group about their ideological preferences. Over time, what it means to be a conservative or liberal has changed and keeps changing, and people just don’t keep up with the changes. 

I can make a good case that, if anything, the country is more center-left than center-right, just by noting what people who call themselves conservatives believe about ideas that used to be thought of as liberal ideas.

For instance, it’s no secret that conservatives abhor any hint of socialism, and frequently attack liberals for being socialists.  Yet, it’s obvious that you won’t find much support among conservatives these days for abolishing Social Security and Medicare.  And there is absolutely no doubt that those two programs represent the closest thing we have to socialism in America. They represent, to date, the crown jewels of liberalism.

And so it is that we have people who identify themselves as conservatives who often vigorously defend those socialistic programs and certainly won’t vote in droves for candidates who propose their demise.

Even Tea Party fanatics—the right wing of the right wing—won’t touch the socialistic programs.  Last night on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, a fascinating segment with four major Tea Party leaders revealed just how slippery the terms liberal and conservative are, as well as how unfocused the Tea Party movement is in general.  

Watch the following video clip and ask yourself just what the term “conservative” means, if uber-conservatives aren’t willing to acknowledge, not to mention abolish, socialism, as it is practiced in the United States:


It may be true that twice as many people call themselves conservative as call themselves liberal, but what that means is not as clear as people like Scarborough think.

As Lawrence O’Donnell demonstrated, when hard-core conservative activists either don’t see or don’t care that Social Security and Medicare are socialistic endeavors, then conservatism certainly doesn’t mean what it used to.

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