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.

Joe And Mika Rehearsing For A New Show On Fox

Who knew that there was a travesty in America called “Trump University”? Wasn’t Donald Trump enough of a travesty himself without having to start a real estate school that promised to make little Trumps out of folks gullible enough to fork over $35,000?

The Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman, sued the Fox and Friends regular contributor and NBC “reality” star on Saturday, asking for $40 million in damages to be paid as restitution to Trump’s, uh, “students.”

Schneiderman, as USA Today reported, accused Trump “of engaging in persistent fraud, illegal and deceptive conduct and violating federal consumer protection law.” And:

At the seminars, consumers were told about “Trump Elite” mentorships that cost $10,000 to $35,000. Students were promised individual instruction until they made their first deal. Schneiderman said participants were urged to extend the limit on their credit cards for real estate deals, but then used the credit to pay for the Trump Elite programs.

Now, many of us already knew that Donald Trump is a phony and a fraud—his birtherism is enough to convict him—but that some government entity is willing to go after him for hucksterism is beyond gratifying.

What has been disheartening though is what I witnessed this morning on TV.  Of course I expected Fox and Friends to allow Trump several minutes to defend himself, mostly as the hosts cheered on his efforts. And of course, as with everything else wrong in the country, this was President Obama’s fault, as Trump made the suggestion that Schneiderman met with Obama and, voilà , a lawsuit was born!

Here’s how a clearly flustered Trump expressed it on Twitter:

trump on lawsuit

“Same as IRS etc.” Yes, that little blurb was added to ensure Trump keeps the Obama haters on his side, which Fox and Friends happily are. But I was sorely disappointed to watch this morning a segment on Morning Joe which essentially did the same thing as Fox and Friends did: give Trump an unchallenged platform to defend himself and spew his latest Obama conspiracy. It truly was sickening.

It’s one thing for Fox “News” to enable Trump, an incorrigibly ignorant, cartoonishly biased, embarrassingly boastful buffoon. It’s another for MSNBC to do so. But then MSNBC’s Morning Joe is often a safe place for conservative nonsense, as another segment aptly demonstrated this morning.

Politico’s Mike Allen was on the program discussing Colin Powell’s rebuke of the Republican Party for its anti-voting initiatives, as well as an article written by David Nather (“Obama’s big voting rights gamble“) in which it is alleged that the administration, as any Democratic administration should do, is “ramping up its push on voting rights by way of a risky strategy — and pledging more tough moves to come.”

Joe Scarborough couldn’t help himself. He challenged Allen, and anyone else, to tell him what exactly was wrong with the efforts in North Carolina and Texas and elsewhere to require folks to simply have a picture ID to vote:

I’ve just been reading this and I’ve been reading news stories on it and makes it sound like we’re going back to Jim Crow laws, that there are going to be white people with bull whips whipping black people if they come to vote, and Bull Conner is there ready to release German Shepherds. Again I ask innocently, does North Carolina or Texas require anything more than a picture ID, that when somebody shows up to vote, that the person has a picture ID with them that proves they are who they say they are?

Scarborough, not getting the answer he wanted, went on:

I’m not being cute here. I’m reading all of these stories that talk about basically you’re putting a white hood over the governor of North Carolina, putting a white hood over the entire Texas legislature. Most Americans would think it’s not racist to ask somebody to just have a picture ID when they show up at the voting booth. But you read The New York Times and you read these other media outlets that again make politicians in North Carolina and Texas sound racist for just saying, “Hey, you’re going to need a picture ID to prove you are who you are.”

Now, we all know that Joe Scarborough is a conservative Republican. It’s not strange that he sees nothing wrong with requiring folks who want to vote to show some kind of ID at the polls. What is strange is that he completely ignored all of the other things associated with the latest Republican efforts to suppress the votes of minorities and young people, including the fact that many of those minorities and young people can’t get the required IDs easily, including the fact that Republicans are closing polling places in Democratic areas, and including the fact that they are shrinking the times for early voting. (Mike Allen did make a valiant attempt to half-educate him, but it fell on deaf ears.)

But while it’s not strange for a right-winger like Scarborough to defend Tea Party-inspired voter suppression, it is strange for Morning Joe’s alleged Democratic host to do so. Mika Brzezinski responded this way to Scarborough’s rant:

Okay. So, I think that this is a really healthy discussion that has been had out in the media in a completely one-sided way and your side of it is a fair argument and no one goes there because it’s not PC…It’s a very legitimate argument.

She said nothing about the fact that minorities and young people—largely Democratic constituencies—would be disproportionately affected by these Republican schemes. She said nothing about making it inconvenient for Democratic-leaning voters to vote because of the reduction in polling places in strategically located areas. She said nothing of shrinking the days of early voting and eliminating voting on the Sunday before the election, which Democratic-leaning voters tend to do because they happen to be working folks who need the convenience of early voting. She said nothing about how historically hard it was for black folks to get to vote in this country and how unconscionable it is for conservatives to make it much more difficult for them to exercise that hard-earned right. Nothing. Silence about all that from Mika Brzezinski.

And that is why, on this day at least, on this day when Donald Trump needed a place to rehab his image, on this day when the Republican Party needed a place to rehab its image as a vote suppressor, that is why parts of Morning Joe sounded like a rehearsal for a new show on Fox “News” Channel.

Here is the Morning Joe segment on voter ID laws, and if you watch at the end, you will see The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein shaking his head in disbelief and trying to get a word in. Didn’t happen:

And if you can stand it, here is the segment on the (NBC?) rehabilitation of Donald Trump:

In Defense Of Lois Lerner

You’d think she killed somebody.

Lois Lerner, who on Wednesday invoked her right against self-incrimination, is being attacked, by nearly everyone in the country who knows who she is, for her role in the IRS v. Tea Party “scandal,” which, of course, isn’t quite a scandal yet, but Republicans keep trying. Some of the most vicious attacks are coming from Constitution-loving right-wingers, who can’t believe Lerner would actually use something other than the Second Amendment to protect herself.I Have Not Done Anything Wrong: IRS Official Lois Lerner Invokes 5th Amendment Right

MSNBC’s conservative gabber, S.E. Cupp, who provides a damn good reason not to watch that network’s afternoon show “The Cycle,” took to tweetin’ yesterday to say,

So, Lois Lerner is either a coward or a criminal, right? Tell me where I’m wrong.

Apparently, S.E. Cupp studied the Constitution at the Rush Limbaugh School of Law, which ought to be enough right there to tell her where she’s wrong.

And speaking of Professor Limbaugh, he said about Ms. Lerner:

Okay, let me tell you what happened today at the IRS hearings. Lois Lerner, who ran the whole kit and caboodle and was… By the way, this was the first time I had a close-up look at her. This is an angry woman. You have to be very careful in making judgments about people based on physical appearance, although I’ve gotten really good at it. I can spot people out there and I can tell you who the libs are pretty much by just what I see. But, in this case, I already know that she is.

I already know that she’s a liberal, I know that she is in the same mode as Barack Obama, and now I know this is a woman who’s angry…This is a woman obsessed with the Christian right, Lois Lerner. This is a woman obsessed with religious people.

Okay. So, from two popular conservative commentators (there are a thousand more to choose from) we know that Lerner, by refusing to testify, is an angry, Jesus-hating woman who is either a criminal or a coward. All because she dared to avail herself of a constitutional right. Hmm.

The honcho of the Republican National Committee, the insufferable Reince Priebus, himself issued a Tweet regarding his discussion with Sean Hannity about this mess:

…it’s lawlessness and guerrilla warfare and Obama is in the middle of it.

Yikes! Obama is a gorilla, uh, guerrilla!

In any case, Priebus, appearing on Morning Joe today, commented on Lois Lerner’s right-invoking committee appearance:

You don’t need to plead the Fifth if you have done nothing wrong…

Obviously, Priebus also attended Rush Limbaugh’s law school. Even though he was aggressively challenged by Morning Joe regular John Heilemann, Priebus didn’t back down. In Priebus’ strange and disordered mind, pleading the Fifth is tantamount to an admission of guilt, don’t you know. Damn those Founders!

But right-wingers aren’t the only ones saying such stupid things. This morning on Morning Joe, which prejudicially carried a graphic characterizing Lerner’s brief statement as “defiant,” I heard Andy Serwer, managing editor of Fortune magazine, for God’s sake, say this:

What an unsympathetic position. We just saw her pleading the Fifth. This is something that mafia chieftains do in front of Congress, not public officials, not someone from the IRS. Obviously everyone just wants to know the real story, we want her to come clean. How bad could it be? I’m sorry, “You need to tell what’s going on here,”  and, you know, to just do otherwise is just ridiculous, and the IRS is just going to continue to be a piñata. And obviously is not’s just right-wing groups who are upset with this, but every American citizen should be upset with this.

Mafia chieftain? Wow. So much for presumed innocence. I remind you that the man who said that is a, gulp, journalist.

Well, I may be the only one in the world who has sympathy for this woman, but I can’t help it. I still happen to believe in the noble and once-American concept of innocent-until-proven-guilty. And I really do believe in the Constitution, which also includes the Fifth Amendment’s right to remain silent should someone try to compel any person “to be a witness against himself.”

Republican legislators, who, like all Tea Party-drunk conservatives, claim to love, cherish, and lustily sleep with the Constitution, were upset on Wednesday when Ms. Lerner invokedLois Lerner her Fifth Amendment right just after she made a plea of innocence and after Darrell Issa, headhunting chairman of the House’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee, talked her into authenticating a document.

I watched as Trey Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor who now represents right-wing folks in South Carolina’s 4th congressional district, forgot that he was not in a federal courtroom but at a congressional hearing and insisted that Lerner “ought to stand here and answer our questions.” Uh, she was actually sitting at the time, but then, hey, maybe being a former prosecutor and current zealot entitles one to demand that witnesses stand during the inquisition. Heck, why not go the whole way and roll out the rack? Bones cracking would make good TV.

But that’s beside the point. Gowdy said of Lerner,

You don’t get to tell your side of the story and not be subject to cross-examination.

Whoa, cowboy. Settle down there. (Some folks in the gallery were applauding at Gowdy’s prosecutorial grandstanding, and Issa did nothing to stop them, by the way.) Lerner didn’t actually tell her side of the story. There’s a lot of story to tell, if she ever tells it, and she didn’t even come close with these words:

I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee. And while I would very much like to answer the committee’s questions today, I’ve been advised by my counsel to assert my constitutional right not to testify or answer questions related to the subject matter of this hearing. 

After very careful consideration, I’ve decided to follow my counsel’s advice and not testify or answer any of the questions today. Because I’m asserting my right not to testify, I know that some people will assume that I’ve done something wrong. I have not. One of the basic functions of the Fifth Amendment is to protect innocent individuals, and that is the protection I’m invoking today.

After initially and correctly telling everyone that they should respect Lerner’s Fifth Amendment right without prejudging her, Issa later put on his big-boy Tea Party pants and now agrees with Gowdy and others who believe she lost her constitutional right not to incriminate herself. He’s going to call her back to appear again. Whoopee! More good cable TV to come!  Maybe next time they really will crack her bones!

As with so many things in this litigious world of ours, there are at least two sides of this Fifth Amendment “controversy.” There are those lawyers who think she did not waive her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by offering a brief statement of her innocence. Of course, those lawyers did not attend the Rush Limbaugh School of Law, so what do they know?

And, of course, as Reince Priebus indicated, this all comes back to President Obama. Conservative Republican Joe Scarborough said on MSNBC this morning,

Why is the president allowing this to go on? This IRS story is another great example of just sheer incompetence at the White House to get their story out in a clean, effective way…

Yes, the Prez should simply strip Ms. Lerner of her constitutional rights, force her to tell Darrell Issa what he wants to hear, and then impeach himself after it’s all done. That, and only that, will satisfy the mob.

Finally, the truth in all this just may be found in a little article on The Daily Beast published today. The story quotes a man who used to hold the same position Lois Lerner now holds:

“It was inevitable something was going to happen,” said Marcus Owens, who served as director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division from 1990 until he retired in 2000. That was the same year that the 1998 IRS Restructuring and Reform Act was implemented, ushering in, he said, a culture of disorganization and miscommunication.

“Virtually all IRS executive positions were re-aligned and re-evaluated and a lot of field offices positions were eliminated. The channels of communication between field offices and the Washington headquarters were muddied,” Owens said. “Instead of having clear, hierarchical oversight, Cincinnati was given the responsibility to handle things that would normally be handled by the better-equipped Washington office.”

He went on to say,

“This is a case of funding problems and management problems. Everyone is thinking that the IRS was hunting down conservative organizations with bloodhounds or something when what they were really doing was opening the morning’s mail… The IRS is really a collection agency for the government. Tax returns that generate revenue must be accurate, but those that don’t generate revenue receive less attention,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”

I doubt very much if we hear a lot from Marcus Owens or hear a lot about the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998. But we should. (By the way, only two U.S. Senators voted against that bill, including that great progressive, the late Paul Wellstone, so that ought to tell us something.) The likelihood that we won’t hear much about Owens or that 1998 law tells us something very important about the state of journalism these days, perhaps something more important than a prominent journalist going on TV and comparing a Fifth Amendment-invoking IRS employee to a “mafia chieftain.”

_____________________________

[photo credit: Getty Images (top) and AP (bottom)]

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

The “Long Consensus”

E. J. Dionne was on Morning Joe this morning discussing his new book, Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent. The book’s argument is:

from the very beginning, our country has been characterized by a deep but healthy tension between our love of individual liberty and our devotion to community. Yet we seem to have forgotten our own rich history of balance, one reason for our poisoned political atmosphere.

This morning Dionne said:

In the U.S. we have been governing under a kind of a long consensus that we really established at the beginning of the progressive era. It was a consensus that saw a strong role for the market and a strong role for government. And I think now politics is roiled because one side of our debate wants to end that long consensus.

Now, that’s a legitimate position for them to hold, but I think it’s untrue to what made us succeed as Americans, which is a sense of balance: public-private, individual-community, national-local. We’ve always kept things in balance and I think there’s an attempt right now to push everything over on one side.

E. J. Dionne is one of my favorite left-leaning pundits, but he said something here I don’t agree with. He said that someone who wants to end the “long consensus” that “made us succeed as Americans” is holding a “legitimate position.

I don’t think so, and I think we need to metaphorically pound it into the heads of Americans that it is not legitimate.

Okay, let me backtrack just a bit: it is legitimate in the sense that it is completely legal to argue for a return to the era of the robber barons, this being a free country. But it is not legitimate in the sense of it being a reasonable position to hold. Scuttling that long-held consensus—which is the product of numerous ideological compromises—would bring ruin to the America we know and therefore is not a legitimate argument to make.

And, as I said, we need to keep reminding Americans that compromise and consensus are good things, and that the radicals in our midst who abhor them are not to be respected as holding “legitimate” positions.

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.

Earmarks And Architecture

Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey are sponsoring legislation in the U.S. Senate that would ban forever the practice of earmarking, which, despite occasional corruption, is how a lot of good stuff gets done in this country. Earmarking brought us, for instance, the mapping of the human genome.

Some people, like Scott Grisch and Sean Kelly of California State University, even argue that the earmark process “is typically more open to public scrutiny than alternative methods of spending taxpayer dollars.”

But Sen. McCaskill, something of a budget hawk, has always had a problem with earmarking, notwithstanding the fact that it is a relatively trivial part of the budget.  So, in the spirit of compromise, I won’t begrudge her a little passion on the issue.

I do, though, want to point out something that happened this morning on MSNBC, when she and Sen. Toomey appeared together to promote their effort.

McCaskill, in response to a suggestion that Missouri voters want legislators to “use common sense and get along,” said the following:

The amplification in our system occurs at the two ends. And states like Missouri and Pennsylvania produce moderates to the United States Senate because they are moderate states. They’re not bright blue and they’re not bright red…if we hollow out the middle we’re not gonna get those compromises and all we’re gonna have is dysfunction and gridlock.

Now, of course we need compromise in Washington; that’s how things have worked historically. But one of those who has done most to stymie compromise was sitting right there with Ms. McCaskill. And let’s think about what she said for a minute:  Missouri and Pennsylvania produce moderates?  Well, under that analysis it is hard to explain Missouri’s other senator, Roy Blunt, and past senators John Ashcroft and Kit Bond and Jim Talent, who McCaskill defeated in 2006. Those weren’t moderates by any elastic definition of the word.

And as for Pennsylvania, let’s just look at Pat Toomey, McCaskill’s anti-earmark partner.  He ran the extremist group Club for Growth—its membership overloaded with Wall Streeters—before entering the Senate. Club for Growth has a reputation for trying to take out “moderate” Republicans like John McCain for not demonstrating proper respect for starving government to death.

Toomey has extremist positions on nearly every issue you can name, from abortion to guns to homosexual rights to deregulation. Earlier this year he produced a federal budget that was even more extremist than Paul Ryan’s. Here’s how the liberal monthly, The American Prospect, described the Toomey budget plan:

Ryan’s plan has been in the spotlight for at least two months, but Toomey’s proposal is a little more obscure and considerably more radical….Of the $3.8 trillion in cuts, $1.4 trillion would come from repealing the Affordable Care Act; $1.1 trillion would come from Toomey’s plan to turn Medicaid into a block grant and slash federal funding by half; $900 billion would come from cuts to programs for poor and lower-income Americans, like food stamps and unemployment insurance; and $400 billion would come from other areas of mandatory spending, including cuts in education and social services. The Bush tax cuts are kept in place, and any revenue gained from closing tax loopholes is redirected into lowering tax rates. There are cuts to defense spending, but they are the modest ones proposed by outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities] appreciates the lack of a Medicare voucher program, but balances that with an important observation: “His even more severe cuts in Medicaid and other programs aimed at helping the most vulnerable Americans mean that his plan overall would be even more damaging than the Ryan plan.”

The Toomey plan got 42 Republican votes in the Senate, two more than the Ryan plan.  The American Prospect argues that Republicans today have “a near-theological belief in the healing power of tax cuts,” and I submit to you that Pat Toomey, sitting there smiling with Claire McCaskill on national television, is a high priest of the Church of the Tax Cut.

Keep that in mind as you read what Toomey said this morning, sitting beside our moderate Missouri senator:

I think we’ve got to acknowledge that the fundamental design of the big entitlement programs is unsustainable. The architecture doesn’t work, and it is not gonna work. That is what every bi-partisan commission has acknowledged; this is what anybody who has looked honestly at Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security has concluded. So we need to have the courage to change that architecture in a way that makes sense, a way that still serves the people who need those programs…

Not a peep from McCaskill after that. Not a word that she will fight Toomey to protect the “fundamental design” of our social safety net. Mustn’t interrupt a made-for-TV bi-partisan moment.

Given Toomey’s extremist brand of conservatism and his anti-tax zealotry, when he says “we need to have the courage to change” the “architecture” of our safety net, we know for certain that the change will come down on the backs of those who need the programs, not on Toomey’s wealthy constituents all around the country.

And there was Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, sitting there, smiling, because she was able to get an extremist Republican to take a stand with her against earmarks, which often do a lot of good and represent less than two percent of the budget.

It’s one thing to compromise with folks who don’t share your views, as long as it is a real compromise and not a throw-in-the-towel deal just to get something done.  And I am fairly confident that Sen. McCaskill does not share Toomey’s undoubtedly dark vision for the future of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

But, Ms.McCaskill, could you at least have interrupted the guy long enough to let Missourians know that his vision of America’s entitlement future is much different from your own?

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.

“We Don’t Have Enough Revenue To Pay For Decency”

Jeffrey Sachs, among other things, is an economist at Columbia University, and he is a fairly frequent critic of President Obama, essentially from the left (as he was this morning on Morning Joe). The following very short clips (both around two minutes, counting the commercial) feature a concise yet profound explanation as to just what is going on in America.

The first (which has a technical problem at the end) is an overview of non-security discretionary spending, and the second is a short talk on Medicare and the health care system:


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.

Claire McCaskill: Lighter In More Ways Than One

Claire McCaskill’s appearance on Morning Joe this morning was, I hate to say it, very discouraging for this Democrat.

But, on the bright side for her, what she said might encourage Republicans around the state, as they decide whether to vote for her or one of the right-wing extremists who will be running against her next year.

She talked about the Cardinals’ victory and her amazing weight loss (50 pounds), which was fine and dandy.  But it is what she didn’t say, I suppose, that has me worried. 

First, she was asked about the $60 billion infrastructure-jobs bill that is before the Senate, a bill which Republicans will soon kill:

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Does it have a shot of passing?

MCCASKILL: No.

BRZEZINSKI: What are we doing here?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think what we’re trying to do is—frankly—what we’re trying to do is make sure the American people understand the contrast that’s going on right now and how hard we’re trying to work this. I do think it softens the field a little bit, plows the field for us to get back to a two-year extension of the surface transportation bill, which is very, very important in terms of jobs and economic development.

There. That’s it. That’s all she had to say about jobs in the entire nine-minute segment. Not a word about how Republicans have been sabotaging President Obama’s jobs effort, as a whole and in parts.  Not a word about how important it is for her Missouri constituents without jobs to hear that she is in Washington taking on Republicans who refuse to bend on the jobs front.

But, dammit, she did have something to say that should give warm fuzzies to Republicans fixated only on the debt and deficit:

MCCASKILL: We had a big breakthrough yesterday, huge.  We had a bunch of Republicans sign a letter saying that we needed to go “big” in terms of the super committee, that we can’t nibble around the edges, that we really need to look at our long-term debt and do something more than the bare minimum. And they said that we should consider revenue…

Wow! That “big breakthrough” involved 40 House Republicans (including Ozark Billy Long, miraculously, but responsibly) and 60 House Democrats sending a letter to the super committee saying, “all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues must be on the table.”

Now, that is certainly good news, and it sort of qualifies as big news, but it would have been gooder and bigger news way back when the debt ceiling nonsense was going on. Today it is a blip on the economic radar, as far as I’m concerned. The big news now, and should have been for a long while, is jobs, jobs, jobs.

But McCaskill just wanted to talk about how great it was that we might be able to start compromising and working together to cut the budget, which has absolutely nothing to do with creating jobs, only eliminating them.  At one point, she said,

I know how much Missourians want us to cut spending.

Oh, my Allah.

Just today, the Associated Press reported:

The ranks of America’s poorest poor have climbed to a record high — 1 in 15 people — spread widely across metropolitan areas as the housing bust pushed many inner-city poor into suburbs and other outlying places and shriveled jobs and income.

New census data paint a stark portrait of the nation’s haves and have-nots at a time when unemployment remains persistently high. It comes a week before the government releases first-ever economic data that will show more Hispanics, elderly and working-age poor have fallen into poverty.

In all, the numbers underscore the breadth and scope by which the downturn has reached further into mainstream America.

So, you see, while it may be fine for Senator McCaskill—whom I personally like very much—to get all giddy over a handful of Republicans coming to their senses on revenues, and it may be fine for her to get all excited about slashing the federal budget, but if Republicans don’t soon come to their senses over jobs, jobs, jobs, then it won’t matter much to a lot of Americans what the super-duper committee does.

And that’s the message Ms. McCaskill should have sent loud and clear this morning, especially to struggling Missourians.

Here is the relevant part of her disappointing appearance:

Graphic Angst

A graph lover at heart, I culled some graphs from MSNBC to help explain (once again) the social angst around the country, including part of the angst at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement (other than the direct outrage over what the banksters have done), which surprisingly has now visited Pittsburg, Kansas, a mere 30 miles from Joplin:

Notice how the trend line for the top 1% begins to rise during the Reagan 1980s, but really takes off after the 1993 tax increases under Clinton. What does that say about the relationship of taxes with the so-called “job creators”?

Now let’s look at median incomes since the year 2000:

As you can see, median income declined during the recession in the early 2000s and then came back somewhat during the subsequent recovery, but then fell precipitously during the Great Recession.  And there is no sign that it will return to its pre-Great Recession level, not to mention the level before the recession of 2001.

But what about the upper income groups?  Let’s look at the top 10% of income earners since WWI: 

As you can see, the top 10% is doing pretty well. They account for 50% of all national income.  Again, notice that from post WWII through the late 1970s, the percentage of their income hovered around 35% of the total. Then during the age of Reagan they began to earn a larger share of the income, even under those so-called punitive tax rates passed in 1993, which Republicans repealed under Bush.

Let’s turn to the crème de la crème of income earners, the top .01%:

This group comprises about 15,000 people, according to Steve Rattner, who presented this graph on Morning Joe.  Rattner mentioned that the decline in 2008—from over 6% of total income to just over 5%—was due to the collapse in the stock market and has likely resumed its upward climb.  But think about it: 15,000 Americans earn between 5 and 6% of all income in a country of 309,000,000 folks.

Finally, what really explains the widespread angst across the land is found in another graph presented by Steve Rattner on Morning Joe:

Unemployment lasting a couple of months is one thing. Being out of a job for nearly a year is another.  And among young folks, the percentage of 16-to-24-year-olds who are working (45%) is at “the lowest level since the Labor Department began tracking the data in 1948,” the National Journal reported in July.

Put all of this together and you have Occupy Wall Street.  And you have members of one political party in Washington that, rather than address the angst in the country by working with the President to create jobs, are working among themselves to make sure Mr. Obama loses his.

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.

Remarks And Asides

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

Most to Blame for the Condition of the Economy  

                    Now         3/2010                7/2009       4/2009

Bush                26%           28                             30             33

Wall Street     25               22                             29             21

Congress        11                10                             12             11

Obama              8                 7                                4               2

All                     7                 7                                6               7

________________________________________

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

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

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

________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________________

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

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

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

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

________________________________________

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

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

“Happy Days” Is Here Again

In many ways, Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Republican Conference, is the prototypical contemporary conservative Republican: anti-choice, anti-stem cell research, anti-gay marriage, and so on. For my money, Hensarling, a rising star in the GOP, is the favorite to replace retiring Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2012. 

Congressman Hensarling was mentored in politics by none other than ex-Senator Phil Gramm, responsible for much economic mischief during the Reagan years. Gramm was also co-chair of John McCain’s failed 2008 presidential campaign, and just before the economy collapsed that year, he famously said:

Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day.

Apparently God wasn’t tuned into Republican prayers at the time, thus the Great Recession.

In any case, Jeb Hensarling’s mentor said that America had become “a nation of whiners” and that we were merely in a “mental recession,” not a real one.  As Phil Gramm’s state director in the late 1980s, this is where Jeb Hensarling learned to talk Republican nonsense.

Which leads me to what Hensarling said on Morning Joe this morning:

Let’s remember, again, that the main drivers of this national debt are three large entitlement programs, programs that have been of great comfort and assistance to my parents and grandparents, but are morphing into cruel Ponzi schemes for my nine-year-old daughter and my seven-year-old son.

You see how this works, right?  When Hensarling’s grandparents and parents were enjoying the benefits of our social safety net, entitlement programs weren’t Ponzi schemes, but sources of “comfort and assistance.” 

Today, though, those same entitlement programs are turning into “fraudulent investment operations“—the definition of a Ponzi scheme—because the Hensarling family—beneficiaries of years of socialistic welfare programs—receive their comfort and assistance at considerable cost to current taxpayers.  So, logic would dictate that the Hensarlings give up a little of that comfort and assistance, right?

Wrong.

Paul Ryan’s cynical budget plan—which Jeb Hensarling enthusiastically supports—doesn’t ask much of those 55 and over but asks a lot of younger folks.  Grandfathering in grandfathers and grandmothers is really a case of Republicans protecting those who are now comfortable, thanks to Social Security and Medicare, and who tend to vote for Republicans because they are so comfortable.

Hensarling suggests that his children will not get a good deal under the current system.  But the truth is that under the Ryan-Republican budget plan, the kiddies will really get the shaft. 

Those younger than 55 will be asked to continue to subsidize the older, more comfortable Hensarlings of the world—whose trillions of dollars worth of medical benefits will continue throughout their ever increasing life spans—while the youngsters will be lucky to get enough money under Ryan’s plan to pay for band-aids and aspirin, should they make it to a likely-increasing retirement age. 

That’s a pretty good deal for older Hensarlings, but not a good deal for the younger ones.  And since older folks vote in bigger numbers than younger ones, Republicans are hoping their own scheme—call it a “Fonzie” scheme—will work.

In case you are not an aficionado of the old 1970s Happy Days show, in a three-part episode, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, clad in trunks and leather jacket, jumped over a shark to prove how brave he was. The idiom “jump the shark” originated with this less-than-sterling example of 70s television. 

Wikipedia explains the connection to today’s Republican politics:

The usage of “jump the shark” has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment in its evolution, characterized by absurdity, when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery.

If that doesn’t define the Republican Party today, nothing does.

It might be helpful here to mention that the sensible, wholesome Richie Cunningham tried to tell the Fonz that jumping over the shark was stupid, to which the Fonz replied:

Stupid, yes. Also dumb. But it is something I’ve gotta do.

Exactamundo, GOP!

God And Donald Trump

When I have doubts about God, I think of Donald Trump.

I wonder just how there can be a God, an all-powerful being who loves us and cares for us, who would unleash upon us such an obnoxious, loathsome stream of diarrhea as the potential GOP candidate for president most certainly is.   

I mean, if God loves us, why is there a Donald Trump?

According to some of my conservative Christian friends, God is busy sending earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes and cancer and AIDS as punishment for our sins, so does that explain why there is a Trump?

Or, if not, why does God put up with him? Or with our fawning media, who treat him like he is some kind of ethereal being?  Mika Brzezinski, of Morning Joe, practically pees on herself, so excitedly grateful is she for being in the presence of The Donald, who appears too often on that show. 

But back to God. Just what Being worthy of worship could tolerate for long a creature who said this on Good Morning America:

Part of the beauty of me, is that I’m very rich.

The Republican Party, the Party of God, deserves this arrogant and ignorant bastard in its primary. 

Here, in case you didn’t see it, is his latest excursion into narcissistic nonsense, including the stupidity about Obama’s youth:


 

 

 
 
 

 

Libya: It’s Harder Than You Think

It appears that Qaddafi is well on his way to repelling the rebel assault in Libya.

This morning on Morning Joe I heard lefty Nicholas Kristof say the following about the Obama Administration’s position:

Question: What is now holding back the United States from acting in a forceful way, in a way that shows leadership, maybe even out front, but with the support of others?

Kristof: Part of the problem is that we have stalled too long.  I mean a no-fly zone would have been, I think, quite effective three weeks ago, I think, probably would have been very effective. At this point, when… Qaddafi has been able to move all of his artillery right next to Benghazi, there’ much less that we an actually do.  And so now the administration is talking about going way beyond and actually attacking tanks and having a “no-move” zone in eastern Libya, which actually makes me kind of nervous.

Question: Was there an opportunity missed here? What happened?

Kristof: Absolutely. Absolutely.  They were so nervous about a no-fly zone that they missed that opportunity. There was a real window here, when we could have moved in with, I think, minimal costs and peeled off the Libyan military from Qaddafi, but that window at this point has pretty much closed.

A bona fide lefty who thinks Obama should have acted sooner and that the “costs” would have been “minimal.”  Hmm. I’m not sure why he thinks that.

Now, let’s turn to the Right.   National Review was initially opposed to direct intervention in Libya, and wrote of the so-called no-fly zone strategy:

If we are serious about limiting his ability to massacre his countrymen, the no-fly zone would have to become a no machine-gun zone, too — in other words an honest-to-goodness military intervention to affect events directly on the ground. Deploying our air power while Qaddafi continued to kill with impunity would make us look more ineffectual rather than less. For now (perhaps this will change if Qaddafi begins to consolidate his position on the strength of his air force), the no-fly zone seems a classic case of looking for lost keys under the streetlight; it’s the handiest way for us to intervene, not the most effective.

That was written on February 28.  Yesterday, the same editors wrote this:

Qaddafi is a murderer of Americans with whom we still have a score to settle. If he survives after we and our allies sought his ouster (even if ineffectually), he will be even more unpredictable; he would be foolish not to restart his WMD programs as insurance against foreign intervention against his regime in the future.

Uh-oh. The Right talking about WMDs again? I suppose you know what is coming next:

All this means that we should want the rebellion against Qaddafi to survive. We initially opposed a no-fly zone, but circumstances have changed. We should establish both a no-fly zone and a no-drive zone in the approach to the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi to prevent Qaddafi’s armored vehicles from entering the city.

Make no mistake about this: That “no-drive zone” means war. And just how long would it be before that strategy would mean American troops on the ground in Libya?  Well, National Review’s conservative editors think of everything, don’t they? Try this:

We are not talking of a military operation comparable to taking and occupying Baghdad in 2003. If we check Qaddafi’s offensive, then we can consider other options. Perhaps we will only want to do what’s necessary to maintain the rebels’ enclave so they can fight another day; perhaps we will want to undertake decapitation strikes against the regime in Tripoli; perhaps we’ll want to use the threat of such strikes to try to bargain Qaddafi out of the country.

Or perhaps we will get ourselves involved in a mess that we can’t get out of. 

Even if we stopped Qaddafi’s advance into eastern Libya, namely Benghazi, then what?  Help the rebels overthrow him? We know next to nothing about the motives of the rebels. We don’t know they would be better or worse than Qaddafi himself.  We don’t know that if they were to overthrow him that they would establish a Madisonian democracy or call up Glenn Beck for instructions on how to establish a caliphate.

Besides all that, there is evidence that tribal loyalties were much misunderstood in the West and that the rebel strength was vastly overrated.  This point is made very well in an article by Vivienne Walt at Time, who quoted Mustafa Fetouri, of the Academy of Graduate Studies in Tripoli, as saying,

The West’s interpretation was very, very stupid. They just gambled on the wrong thing, and made a huge, stupid mistake.

The Time article continued:

One crucial error by Western leaders, says Fetouri, has been to downplay Libya’s complex web of tribal loyalties, which has helped to keep Gaddafi in power for more than four decades — an impressive achievement, given several assassination attempts and years of Libya being an international pariah under stiff economic sanctions. Some tribal alliances date back decades to the bloody rebellions against the Italian colonial forces before World War II, and even some tribal leaders who hold grudges against Gaddafi, for having failed to deliver services or cutting them out of certain privileges, rushed to his defense once the antigovernment demonstrations in Benghazi became an armed rebellion. For those people, says Fetouri, “they will die for Gaddafi, because he belongs to their tribe.”

And because the rebels adopted the same flag used by the much-despised monarch that Qaddafi overthrew in his 1969 coup, it became much easier for him to enlist volunteers, as Time put it, “to fight to hold Libya together.”

It turns out, as G. K. Chesterton told us long ago, that it matters what flag one flies.  Time:

That flag, says Fetouri, “represents the misery my country lived through as puppets of the West.” He cites one of his relatives — no fan of Gaddafi — who traveled 400 miles (640 km) to join the government forces against the rebels; he had driven from the Bani Walid area, the heartland of the Warfalli tribe southeast of Tripoli, which has long been the bedrock of Gaddafi’s support. Fetouri, who says he himself had been tempted to join the antigovernment protests before they morphed into an armed rebellion, asked his relative why he was “fighting for Gaddafi.” He said the man told him “it was about Libya the country, not Gaddafi.”

Thus, we are likely watching Qaddafi retake the territory he has lost, unless the West does something. 

I confess, I’m torn here.  Like a majority of the American people, part of me thinks we should not get involved. Mind our own business.  We’ve invaded two countries over there, enough is enough.

But part of me also believes that if we could help the rebels without a long-term commitment, we should.  We should be on the side of so-called freedom fighters, particularly since the Arab world is asking us to. What that involves militarily, I don’t know.  But I do know it should not involve putting one American on the ground to possibly die in someone else’s civil war.  Not now, not this war.

Some good folks are urging President Obama to act now.  They seem to know better than he does what is involved both in terms of his personal legacy as president and in terms of America’s larger legacy.  The New Republic writes that Bill Clinton “waited tragically too long” to intervene in Bosnia in the mid-1990s:

When Slobodan Milosevic and his Bosnian Serb allies launched their war of “ethnic cleansing,” while “the West”—which is always to say, first and foremost, the United States—wrung its hands, many tens of thousands of innocent people were murdered and raped before President Bill Clinton finally found the resolve to mix air power and diplomacy to bring the genocidal violence to a halt.

Therefore:

Qaddafi is the kind of neighborhood bully that Slobodan  Milosevic was. And he must be met by the same kind of principled power. For America to do less than that now—less than the minimum that the Libyan rebels and the Arab neighbors are requesting—would be to shrink into global vacillation and ultimately irrelevance. If Barack Obama cannot face down a modest thug who is hated by most of his own people and by every neighboring government, who can he confront anywhere?

It’s a lot easier to write that kind of stuff than it is to have to actually make a real decision, no doubt.  As for me, I can live with whatever limited intervention the President decides to undertake, or I can live with his decision not to intervene. But I won’t measure his presidency by this decision one way or the other.  It’s just not that simple.

And I don’t think that America’s global reputation hangs in the balance over what to do about Libya.  It’s not that simple, either.

What is simple to understand, though, is that being president these days is an especially tough job.  And I remain confident that the right man for these times is holding that job.

Out Of The Mouths Of Conservatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Republican Party has virtually destroyed middle America.”

The big corporations control the Republican Party.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

A Conservative Intellectual Punts On MSNBC

The Republican “News” Channel’s Bill Kristol made a rare appearance on MSNBC this morning on Morning Joe.  He was promoting a collection of essays written by his father, Irving, the New York intellectual who is credited with fathering neoconservatism.

Kristol was asked, of course, about his recent editorial, which criticized Glenn Beck for his “rants about the caliphate.” Kristol didn’t exactly take the bait and go after Beck:

I’m not gonna get in a debate with Glenn Beck here on MSNBC.  I’ll debate him on Fox where we’re  “fair and balanced,” where we have these debates among ourselves.

Ha.  Don’t put too much money on that debate materializing.

But Kristol did make some slight news regarding Sarah Palin, for whom he lobbied hard to make her not only the GOP vice presidential candidate in 2008, but, God help us, the Vice President of the United States.  Willie Geist asked Kristol if he overestimated Palin and if she was still “fit to be a national Republican leader“:

KRISTOL: Well, I think she’s still “fit” to be a national Republican leader. One thing I’ve never liked is a bunch of people like me telling everyone who’s fit to do what. If she wants to run she’s more that entitled to run. She’s earned the right, I think, to put herself before the voters…I have quite a lot of confidence in Republican voters to take a look at these ten or twelve or fifteen people who will be on the stage in debate after debate…and I think we’ll learn a lot as we go through that…I have a high regard for Sarah Palin, but I will say I’ve been a little disappointed since she resigned as governor.  I thought she had a real chance to take the lead on a few policy issues, to do a little more in terms of framing the policy agenda.  I don’t think she’s particularly done that, but she’s a shrewd woman and I certainly wouldn’t underestimate her.

GEIST: Has she lived up to the potential you saw in her in Alaska?

KRISTOL:  Maybe not quite.  But she’s young and she could do it in this campaign or she could do it four or eight years from now.

That, my friends, is the way it is on the intellectual Right these days.

Given a chance to thoroughly discredit Glenn Beck, who is clearly a citizen of a very strange and dark land, Bill Kristol punted. 

Given a chance to say what nearly all right-wing brains will admit after several glasses of Boehner-approved Merlot—that Palin is in over her head and will never become President of the United States—Kristol says he is “a little disappointed,” but she is a “shrewd woman,” who could still live up to her potential.

And so, the intellectual decline of conservatism continues.

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.

 

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.

It’s About Time NPR Fired Juan Williams

The buzz this morning on Morning Joe was over National Public Radio’s firing of Juan Williams.

The consensus was that NPR acted irresponsibly and with great political correctness over Williams’ comments to Bill O’Reilly regarding O’Reilly’s spat with a couple of The View girls over his statement that “Muslims killed us on 9/11.”  Billo had asked Williams what he thought about that statement, to which Williams replied,

I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.

Williams went on to try to explain to the hard-headed O’Reilly that it was dumb to blame all Muslims for the actions of a few extremists and it appeared that Williams, a regular on the Republican “News” Channel, was trying to “reason” with the unreasonable host.

Joe Scarborough, Pat Buchanan, and other Morning Joe regulars were beside themselves over NPR’s reaction, spouting the usual conservative line about political correctness and other nonsense and suggesting that NPR should hire him back.  They blamed left-wing bloggers (who, by the way, blog in their “underwear,” according to someone on the show) for starting the wave that ended in Juan Williams’ departure from NPR.

But while I agree that Williams’ comments in this case weren’t in themselves worthy of dismissal, the truth is that any regular listener to NPR, no matter one’s political affiliation, recognizes that NPR is merely protecting its brand of journalism, a brand that has behind it a steadfast commitment to the profession, as opposed to some of the stuff one witnesses on cable news channels day in and day out. 

Juan Williams, while still affiliated with NPR, decided to forsake his credibility as a journalist and associate himself with the mostly faux-journalism practiced on the Republican “News” Channel.  Good for him.  I’m sure he is paid well for his trouble.  NPR’s problem was that it didn’t fire Williams when he first made his move away from NPR’s brand.  NPR waited too long to cut him off and the exchange yesterday with O’Reilly was just a way to do something it should have done long ago.

Just recently, NPR issued a directive to its employees not to participate in Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” or Stephen Colbert’s “March to Keep Fear Alive.”  Participation in those events, which NPR will cover as a news outlet, would violate NPR’s Ethics Code.  Here are just two restrictions from the code:

1. NPR journalists may not run for office, endorse candidates or otherwise engage in politics. Since contributions to candidates are part of the public record, NPR journalists may not contribute to political campaigns, as doing so would call into question a journalist’s impartiality.

2. NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them.

The point is that journalism is a profession and journalists ought to act professionally.  News reporting should be as free from personal prejudice as possible, even if a reporter does have strong feelings about the issue on which he or she is reporting.  Prohibiting its employees from associating with the Stewart-Colbert rallies is an important example of NPR protecting its reputation as producing reliable journalism.

On the commentary side, NPR listeners, me included, who have listened to Juan Williams’ contributions to NPR  for years, were dismayed by his moonlighting at the Republican “News” Channel, particularly his association with Bill O’Reilly, where he has sometimes filled in for the blowhard.

In fact, in 2009, after Williams said some things about Michelle Obama that were right out of the right-wing nut playbook, NPR asked the Republican “News” Channel to stop identifying Williams as an “NPR news political analyst,”  even though many long-time NPR listeners believed, rightly, that he should have been fired for that appearance and those comments.

It’s been a long time coming, but NPR has finally done the right thing by getting rid of Juan Williams, who with every appearance on O’Reilly and other right-wing shows, tainted NPR’s brand name.  I know most conservatives believe NPR is a “liberal” news source, but then again those same conservatives think the Republican “News” Channel is “fair and balanced,” so it really doesn’t matter what they think. 

What matters is that NPR doesn’t succumb to the tendency these days of abandoning real journalism in favor of what passes for journalism today on cable “news” networks, particularly one that has an unapologetic and symbiotic relationship with the Republican Party.

“We’re At War!” He Shouted

Sometimes I think those 9/11 terrorists brought down more than the twin towers on that day.

I woke up this morning to the sound of Pat Buchanan, on Morning Joe, shouting that President Obama should send federal marshals down to Florida and stop that strange pastor from burning the Quran.

We’re at war!” Pat bellowed.  “The president should act.” “He’s the commander in chief.”

He then proceeded to give examples from history when presidents essentially violated our nation’s laws for the greater good in time of war.  Let the courts sort it out later, he said.

Wow.  I couldn’t believe my ears.

Buchanan further said that if President Obama does not act, and our soldiers die because of what happens, he “is not qualified to be the commander and chief of our troops.”

His words, “We’re at war!” keep ringing in my ears. 

War, indeed. But war on what? On whom?

On the eve of the ninth anniversary of an assault on our country, an assault designed to terrorize our population, change us as a people, we have a former Nixon foot soldier on national television urging the President of the United States to shut down the voice of a pathetic man in Florida.

A man who has been poisoned by the theological cousin of Pat Buchanan’s own brand of faith—conservative Catholicism—and a theological second cousin of the fanatic faith that drove and still drives Quran-loving young men to kill innocents.

Amazing. 

And disturbing.

Imagine if Obama did act in the way Buchanan suggests.  Imagine if he did play dictator-for-a-day and sent federal marshals to the pastor’s church and had him arrested or some such thing.

Forget for a moment, if you can, the disastrous and lasting effects on our national psyche such an act would have.  That act would play into every false charge made by the right-wing against President Obama, that he is a despot in democratic clothing, that he hates America and its values.

But I am thankful today that Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 and Pat Buchanan’s advice will go unheeded.  I won’t even speculate what a President John McCain would do, especially given the fact that Buchanan suggested the President’s poll numbers would shoot up by ten points, if he were to take his advice.

And I am thankful that we yet live in a place where both Pat Buchanan and Pastor Jones can speak freely, however crazy they sound.

How Safe Are We? Nobody Knows

Morning Joe this morning featured a segment with Dana Priest, who co-authored a Washington Post article on our nation’s intelligence apparatus.

As Morning Joe‘s Mike Barnicle remarked, the Post article is why we have newspapers and why they are indispensable—this was a two-year investigation. 

The opening paragraph of the Post‘s story, “Top Secret America grows out of control,” began like this:

The top secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

Now, whether you are a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, that is scary stuff.

The key part of the story is this line:

…the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

As the article pointed out and Dana Priest reiterated this morning, since there are so many government organizations (1,271) and so many private companies (1,931) and an estimated 854,000 people working on “programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in some 10,000 locations across the United States,” the responsibility for keeping us safe has been so diffused “that it’s impossible to tell whether the country is safer because of all this spending and all these activities.”

Army Lt. General John Vines, who conducted a review last year of “the method for tracking the Defense Department’s most sensitive programs,” said this:

I’m not aware of any agency with the authority, responsibility or a process in place to coordinate all these interagency and commercial activities. The complexity of this system defies description.

Because it lacks a synchronizing process, it inevitably results in message dissonance, reduced effectiveness and waste. We consequently can’t effectively assess whether it is making us more safe.

The inability to assess its effectiveness, and not the size or cost (the “publicly announced” budget is 2 ½ times the cost prior to 9/11) of our intelligence apparatus is the point.  If its size is making it less effective, it should be streamlined; if the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence needs Congress to give it “clear legal or budgetary authority over intelligence matters,” then Congress needs to do so.

But the Post article points out that intelligence collection systems “intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications,” and at the heart of analyzing all these data “are low-paid employees carrying their lunches to save money“:

They are the analysts, the 20- and 30-year-olds making $41,000 to $65,000 a year, whose job is at the core of everything Top Secret America tries to do.

Half of these critical analysts are “relatively inexperienced,” says the Post:

Contract analysts are often straight out of college. When hired, a typical analyst knows very little about the priority countries — Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan — and is not fluent in their languages. Still, the number of intelligence reports they produce on these key countries is overwhelming, say current and former intelligence officials who try to cull them everyday.

Whatever the reason for the inability to gauge the effectiveness of our intelligence capabilities, this should be something that Democrats and Republicans can jointly agree to fix.

After all, terrorists don’t care whether they kill “liberals” or “conservatives.”

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