Schweich Versus Nixon

The Joplin Globe‘s Thursday editorial offered some criticism of Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich’s peevish lawsuit against Governor Jay Nixon. 

The paper said Schweich’s “timing couldn’t be more wrong.”

The Republican Schweich is suing the Democratic governor over Nixon’s methods—”unconstitutional” says the auditor—of making disaster relief funding available to Joplin and other disaster areas in the state, which methods involved withholding $170 million in funds that had already been appropriated for other uses—including an extra $300,000 for Schweich’s state office—and diverting them into disaster relief, a hefty chunk of which is designated for Joplin.

The Globe mentioned the issue of Schweich’s political motives involving the pantless party-troubled Lt. Governor Peter Kinder:

Schweich, in an interview Tuesday with the Globe, brought up Kinder before we did. He said the lawsuit has absolutely nothing to do with Kinder or politics. Asked if he would have filed the lawsuit had he been working with a Republican governor, Schweich was emphatic with his answer.

“Absolutely. I sent Nixon a letter about the audit findings and he’s blown me off. I would have done the same thing if that type of response had come from a Republican governor.”

You see?  Nixon’s real sin, apparently, is that he blew off the sensitive auditor.

The issue is interesting for another reason.  There is a battle of editorial positions of the state’s two largest newspapers over Nixon’s admittedly sneaky end-around.

A Kansas City Star editorial criticized Nixon for acting “at least unwise and arrogant” and for taking his “cutter in chief” reputation “too far“:

The Democratic governor has arbitrarily been altering the 2012 budget sent to him by the Republican-controlled legislature. He’s cut money appropriated for colleges and universities, the Parents as Teachers program, the state transportation department and other functions.

The paper suggests that Nixon’s motive for helping places like Joplin involves some politics:

Nixon can meet emergency expenses without further penalizing universities and people in need of social services. The obvious option is to tap the state’s $527 million rainy day fund. If flooding and tornadoes don’t qualify as a rainy day, why have an emergency account?

Using the fund would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature, and the money would have to be paid back over three years. Key lawmakers from both parties say they would be willing to authorize the spending. Nixon would have to share the credit for helping tornado victims, but at this point some esprit de corps would be a welcome change.

Yes, shame on a politician up for reelection for not wanting to share any credit that might come his way.  Shame, shame, shame.  But the Star does have a point about some of the budget cuts.  Part of the amount will come from general revenue, but the majority of it will come from cutting funding for state agencies and programs, including Medicaid and children’s services.

If a Republican were to do that, I think state Missouri Democrats would be, shall we say, not so supportive.

On the other hand, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized this way:

On its surface, the action might seem like just another example of a politician who equates governance with campaigning, a typical attempt at blatant partisanship wrapped up in legal arguments weaker than a first-year law student’s paper written after an all-night bender.

Ouch.

There’s more about that $300,000 increase in Schweich’s office budget:

In a nutshell: The governor is wrong to cut the auditor’s budget to pay for rebuilding the devastation caused by the Joplin tornado.

That’s right. Mr. Schweich wants the court and the public to believe that his budget is more important than helping a city rebuild from one of the worst natural disasters in our state’s history.

Mr. Schweich, were he granting interviews, probably would take issue with that characterization, but that’s what his lawsuit does.

And the final touché:

Were Mr. Schweich to win his legal argument, he would get access to his $300,000. The folks in Joplin would have to wait for the Legislature to decide whether they were as worthy.

As for the Joplin Globe, home of the largest disaster in state history, its editorial ended with this:

Now it will be up to the courts to decide if Nixon has overstepped the authority that comes with being governor.

We doubt the people who lived in the 7,000 homes destroyed by the tornado are going to care. We doubt the 545 business owners who are trying to get up and running are going to care.

It may turn out that Schweich is right about the process the governor used to find money to pay for Joplin’s disaster relief.

But his timing couldn’t be more wrong.

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Apathy Is Not An Option

I lifted some graphics from My Budget 360 and from MSNBC to encourage folks—scare, really—who may be frustrated with President Obama or Washington politics, and are a little indifferent to next year’s election or who may be thinking about sitting it out and not voting at all.

Bottom line: There’s too much at stake to simply do nothing. The income gap between the rich and everyone else is—for a democratic and capitalist society—dangerouslywide and widening.

The first graphic shows the distribution of household income in 2009:

The next one shows just how much of 2009 income went to the top 1% compared with nearly 50% of the lower-income earners:

Next, let’s look at the inflation-adjusted mean household income since the 1960s and see what’s been happening over time:

As Melissa Harris-Perry pointed out last night on MSNBC, those two flat lines at the bottom of the graphic essentially represent constituents of the Democratic Party. And that’s just it. That’s the source of much of the frustration among Democrats. While those in the upper income brackets have seen their fortunes rise and rise, the working class has pretty much been treading water.

That frustration, however, cannot lead to apathy.  Because look what has happened to the Republican Party:

Notice not only that Rick Perry—who has branded Social Security a Ponzi scheme and badmouthed both Social Security and Medicare as unconstitutional—is leading this frightening pack of politicians, but look at the support for some of the other candidates. Palin? Bachmann? Ron Paul? Cain?

Are you kidding?

As for Mitt Romney, his famous flip-flopping always serves to put him on the side of many of the extremists in his party, so I see little difference between him and them, except that he may be more electable in the general election.

And speaking of more electable, if Romney doesn’t come out swinging soon against Rick Perry and distance himself in some way from the Texan’s tall extremism, instead of a Romney-Obama battle, we may have the following matchup, which should guarantee that every Democrat in the country, disaffected or not, will run not walk into the voting booth in November of 2012:

If that scary, too-close-for-comfort graphic doesn’t scare the apathy and frustration out of Democrats, I don’t know if anything will.

Ozark Billy Long: The Invisible Man

Sometimes you get what you ask for.

Here in Joplin, here in Southwest Missouri, we have voted time and again for right-wing politicians who tell us that government is the problem not the solution, who tell us that government is sucking the life out of the country, making everyone wards of a socialist state, taking our liberty, and killing our spirit.

In short, folks around here have said they are “fed up” with Big Daddy government, which is why Colonel Ozark Billy Long, who was “fed up” before Rick Perry stole his thunder, can belly-up to D.C. bars and rake in the cash on behalf of his constituents here at home.

As everyone around here knows by now, FEMA is running out of dough:

WASHINGTON — After a devastating hurricane swept across several East Coast states this weekend, the federal government has announced it will divert some of the long-term funding promised to rebuild roads, schools and other buildings destroyed by tornadoes in Joplin and other states.

Oh, don’t worry anti-government Joplinites.  FEMA says this only affects long-term funding and the short-term cash will still keep flowing into the area and into the bank accounts of many fed-up anti-government voters.

The Joplin Globe editorialized on the matter this morning:

Both Missouri Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt responded to the announcement with statements of reassurance that the needs of Joplin and other areas of the state would be met.  We’re still not sure where freshman Rep. Billy Long, a Republican from Springfield, stands because his office didn’t return our calls.  That’s troubling because Joplin needs to know the philosophy of all its legislators on funding for disasters.

Way back on May 24—two days after the tornado—I asked Ozark Billy the same question.  That was just after Eric Cantor, House Majority Leader, had started all the nonsense about budget offsets for disaster relief and the implication that budget battles over such relief would be part of the mix.

Long refused to answer me even though I looked him right in the eyes and asked him about Cantor’s remarks and about funding for Joplin.  His handler told me, rudely, that they would “look into it.”  Well, I called Long’s office the next day and ask the question again and was told that I would be receiving a response from Long’s press guy via email. 

I’m still waiting for that response, even after repeated attempts at the time to reach him.

It turns out that Long has responded to the recent FEMA announcement, courtesy of a statement released on his normally dormant website:

Rep. Billy Long, a Springfield Republican whose district includes Joplin, said he, too, would work to make sure Joplin gets what was promised.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to those on the East Coast that were affected by this hurricane. Those of us in southwest Missouri know just how devastating a natural disaster can be,” Long said. “My staff and I have been in constant contact with FEMA to ensure that FEMA keeps its promise that they would see the rebuilding of Joplin through.”

That response doesn’t exactly address the problem, does it?  The problem, as the Globe stated it quite accurately this morning is this:

Remember, FEMA isn’t driving the train on long-term funding, but Congress is.  Typically, Congress appropriates more money for FEMA when one disaster piles onto another.

But times are different in Washington, D.C., and we can no longer count on business as usual…

In the end, it will be up to Congress to make sure disaster promises are kept.

Yes, it is up to Congress, and Billy Long, contrary to the Globe‘s suggestion that we don’t know his philosophy on things like federal funding for disasters, obviously is trying to have it both ways. 

Long doesn’t want to cross Eric Cantor and the Tea Party in Congress on budget issues—remember Long’s philosophy: He is “fed up” with all the government spending—but he wants to come across as one who is fighting for his constituents here in Joplin.

Well, honestly, local media have allowed Long to have it both ways.  Colonel Billy, during his month-long hiatus from his demanding work in Congress—passing worthless bills that never become law is hard work, you know—as far as I know hasn’t had any town hall meetings anywhere in the district, except maybe Metropolitan Grill in Springfield, nor has he given any extensive interviews to reporters.

He has been invisible for the most part, and that’s no easy task for our capacious congressman.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if the disaster funding issue comes to a head this fall, we may have local reporters demanding some access to and some answers from Mr. Long, instead of merely accepting—as the Springfield News-Leader did in its story on this issue this morning—a short statement from Long’s website.

Rowan Ford And The Whys Of A Doubter

 
Nine-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella, Mo.—35 miles southeast of Joplin—was raped and murdered in November of 2007.  The two alleged rapists and murderers have yet to come to trial.

Rowan, as the Joplin Globe‘s Derek Spellman reported so movingly almost four years ago, was “a slender, brown-haired” kid “gliding along” the roads of Stella “on her blue-tinted Blossom Quest bicycle.”  She “read voraciously, worked hard and was well-behaved.” 

She loved Hanna Montana and Jesus.

Judy Innis, who taught Rowan at Stella Baptist Church, where the little girl spent Wednesdays and Sundays, said,

She would take your heart right after she met you.

If, of course, you had a heart.

The unspeakable details of the case have bothered me, as they have most folks around here, for a lot of reasons, including the fact that obtaining justice seems to be taking an inordinate amount of time.

Here is an update on the two men charged with the crime:

David Spears, Rowan Ford’s stepfather, was granted yet another change of venue. This time, though, the jury selection will take place in Clay County (includes North Kansas City) but the actual trial will take place, if it ever does, in Pulaski County (Fort Leonard Wood and Waynesville).  His scheduled trial date is, unbelievably, set for October 30, 2012, almost five years after the crime.

Christopher Collings, at whose home the rape and murder is alleged to have taken place, lived in Barry County (Wheaton). Collings also requested and was granted a change of venue to Phelps County (Rolla), but the judge declared a mistrial due to an insufficient pool of potential jurors qualified to hear the case impartially. The parties have agreed to select a jury from Platte County (think: Kansas City International Airport) and hold the trial in Phelps County.  His scheduled trial date is now set for—again, unbelievably—February 27, 2012. (For more on Collings’ disturbing background, see The Turner Report.)

Besides the delay in justice, besides the gruesome particulars of the crime, something else has bothered me about the Rowan Ford case and others like it.

Spellman’s November 17, 2007, article included these details about Rowan’s beyond-her-years spirituality:

When the pastor or other churchgoers arrived at Stella Baptist Church, she would be waiting, wearing her usual smile as she bounded down the stairs to greet them.

Ford, said Rev. Glenn Ennis, the pastor of the church, cared little for material things or the rat race. He described her as selfless. When she was at the church, she loved to sing, to color, to draw, to worship and, above all, to help, he said.

She set an example that others could follow, he said.

“How often do we overlook the example of a child?” he asked.

For me, I just could not overlook how this and similar cases over the years have made me think about God, prayer, and how much we pretend to know about things we cannot possibly know with certainty.

I wrote and published a piece in May of 2009 on the subject, which I will republish here because I am still asked about how I became a “former” evangelical Christian:

The Whys Of A Doubter

People ask me why I began to doubt my religious convictions, eventuating in a vigorous skepticism. A perfect example appeared in today’s Globe on page 4C. Headlined “Young mom charged with killing son on playground,” the story reports on the murder of a 3-year-old boy, suffocated by his homeless mother in Albuquerque.The sobering account of the act went like this:

The police chief said Toribio told detectives that she suffocated her son in Alvarado Park before dawn on May 13 by putting her hand over his mouth and nose.

She said she had second thoughts and performed CPR on the boy, resuscitating him, but reconsidered and smothered him again. Investigators said she then buried him under the climbing gym’s hanging bridge, where the body was found two days later.

Now, I know there are those who believe that God makes parking spaces at Wal-Mart available to them after a prayer request. And I know there are those who believe that God speaks to them, if not audibly, at least sufficiently understandably to encourage them to do things, like give money to televangelists or write letters to the newspaper.

There are also people who believe that God steers hurricanes toward sinful cities, causes earthquakes in reprobate regions, and brings plagues like AIDS upon hedonistic homosexuals. I know people believe such things because I know many of them.

But I don’t know anyone who can explain why God—who believers contend hears and answers prayers, who they insist is interested in every detail of life, and who they are certain is infinitely knowledgeable and powerful—could not persuade someone to go to Alvarado Park before dawn on May 13 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and stay the hand of that little boy’s mother, who not once, but twice, smothered him to a dreadful death.

I have read and studied more theology than I care to admit, and have listened to every conceivable explanation for the incongruence between believer’s speculations about the attributes of God and the testimony of reality in places like Albuquerque or—lest we forget Rowan Ford—Southwest Missouri.

Nothing in all the words written or spoken in defense of God, who allegedly can but won’t intervene in such horrific acts, serves to assuage my doubts and make me believe that there sits on a throne in heaven an omnipotent and omniscient being, full of Love, watching 3-year-old Tyruss Toribio suffer at the terrible hands of his mother without dispatching help.

Nothing written by earnest Christians on the opinion pages of the Joplin Globe about “the love of God”—or more often “the wrath of God”—or any other such fantasy, serves to explain why 9-year-old Rowan Ford was raped and murdered by (still, “allegedly”) two fellow-citizens, one her slobbish stepfather, the other his six-foot, six-inch ally, while God, who supposedly cares whether homosexuals marry each other, could not so much as whisper to one knee-bent believer that the little girl needed help.

And that is why I doubt.

Liberals And The Will To Try

Globe blogger and first-class thinker Jim Wheeler wrote an excellent piece on racial colorblindness, tribalism, the Civil Rights movement, and Martin Luther King. Most of the comments on the piece were thoughtful and enlightening, but I felt it necessary to chime in with the liberal view, which I expressed on his blog this way:

Yes, quotas may be abhorrent, but doesn’t Affirmative Action involve more than quotas in hiring? What about before hiring? What about education? Shouldn’t those who have historically not started out “even in life” (your expression) be given certain advantages in order to see that the score is somewhat evened?

Things like slightly lower admissions requirements and on top of that remedial help to get them up to the standards of the particular school they have entered? Wouldn’t that be beneficial in the long run? Sort of like the GI bill for blacks, but with an extra kick?

Now, since I am a liberal and since liberalism in contemporary America has been distorted and mocked and turned into a cartoon by conservative blowhards on radio and television, I am used to folks ignoring the actual arguments one makes and focusing instead on the source of those arguments.  And I think a mild case of that genetic fallacy materialized in the discussion on Jim’s blog.  Here’s my latest response:

To all:

I want to clear up just some things about my position, which has been criticized here.

1. My original point was that lowering standards slightly on admission requirements—on admission requirements—might help.  I did not suggest any lowering of academic standards or reducing the scholastic rigor in any particular school.  That is an important distinction, as PiedType’s slippery-slope argument, based on something I did not claim, demonstrates:

Lowering standards to accommodate poor students compromises the quality of education for everyone. It serves no one — and certainly not the future of the nation — to keep promoting illiterate, failing students from year to year and eventually graduate them.

You see how a simple misunderstanding or misapprehension of what I said led to “promoting illiterate, failing students“?  I was merely proposing,

a) that the way we evaluate students in order to admit them to certain schools might be part of a solution.  The admissions standards are somewhat arbitrary anyway—who’s to say what the correct standards are?—and it is not promoting illiteracy or lower academic standards to so accommodate members of an ethnic group that has been a victim of systemic, historical discrimination.  And I suggested,

b) that when such students are accepted into those schools, provide them with remedial help to get them “up to the standards of the particular school.” “Up to the standards,” I remind you. That’s what I argued, not what some of you seem to have thought I argued.

2.  It seems to me that it doesn’t do much good to acknowledge the existence of cumulative disadvantage among black folks and then not propose doing anything about it.  Say what you want about liberals and liberalism, at least liberals have actually proposed a remedy for fixing a historical problem.  Anson’s remedy is MERIT, MERIT, MERIT, without actually addressing the underlying and lingering problems in the black community, some of which, but not all of which, have historical antecedents.

3. Jim, kindly and delicately (which is his normal mode of argumentation) argues, too, against a position I do not hold, and as far as I know, have never expressed. He said,

Your thoughts on this echo my own, Piedtype, which is why I replied to Duane (below) as I did. I know that disappointed him because he is a strong believer in the power of government to fix society. He is a courageous and tireless campaigner for liberal issues here in a part of the country that largely disagrees with him.

Government was a vital force in the Civil Rights movement, but I agree that to expect it to achieve anything like true fairness, in light of human nature as you so well describe it, is unrealistic.

There is in this reply an idea, a friendly but (apologies, Jim) condescending caricature, really, of liberals. It is suggested that we believe, somewhat naively, that government can “fix” society and that we believe government can “achieve” “true fairness.” 

While I believe, like other liberals have said, that our problems are man-made and thus have man-made solutions, I, as one liberal, do not believe that government, and government alone, can fix all of our problems, nor do I “expect” that government will ever achieve true fairness. 

I do believe that it is incumbent upon us, though, to try, both to fix our problems and to achieve widespread fairness in our system.  And the “us” in that statement, in our democratic society, involves our government, the “we the people” in our preamble.

How can we ask of ourselves—of our government—anything less?

Duane

Never Fear, Pat Robertson’s Here

Thank God for Pat Robertson. 

Some storm tracks show Hurricane Irene heading for the nutty evangelist’s Magic Kingdom in Virginia Beach, so naturally he has more than a passing interest in the big storm.

Pat already has a couple of victories over hurricanes on his divine résumé.  He prayed away Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and Hurricane Felix in 1995, so Irene should be no match for his imprecatory powers.

Word has it that he petitioned God on Thursday to send the monster out into the ocean, away from his headquarters and by extension the rest of American civilization.

So, I suppose we shouldn’t worry about it anymore.

By the way, no word from the small-v vicar of Christ on just why the Almighty is sending Irene up the east coast.   Let’s see, Robertson suggested Hurricane Katrina was God’s way of punishing America for (I forget which) the sin of abortion or the sin of homosexuality or—worst of all—the sin of being a Democrat.

My money this time is on the fact that GOP Jesus is still a little pissed that North Carolina turned Democratic blue in 2008, helping put The Scary Negro in the White’s House.  Those disobedient folks should prepare for a heavenly beating this weekend, should the Republican Savior turn a deaf ear to his earthly champion in Virginia.

By the way, Tuesdays earthquake in the D.C. area—which reportedly happened while the evangelist was in the middle of yet another “end times” broadcast—apparently cracked the Washington Monument, which, of course, meant it also cracked Pat Robertson’s head:

It seems to me the Washington Monument is a symbol of America’s power. It has been the symbol of our great nation. We look at the symbol and we say ‘this is one nation under God.’ Now there’s a crack in it… Is that sign from the Lord? … You judge. It seems to me symbolic.

Now, I’m not one to question the Almighty’s methods, but it seems to me if God wanted to send the important message that America is in decline, he didn’t need to use that age-old natural disaster trick the Big Showoff always uses.

He’s done enough by telling Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry to run for president.

You judge.

The War On The Poor

Every liberal in America who is mad at President Obama should have watched Bill O’Reilly’s show on Wednesday.  Not only was his opening “Talking Points” segment a shallow, misleading, disgusting look at welfare in America, it was a sad example of how Fox “News” is the prime mastermind of the so-called class war that it accuses Democrats of waging.

The segment began with a lie:

As just about everybody knows, America is broke.

The government owes more than 14 trillion dollars. So, spending has to be cut, possibly including some welfare payments to the poor.

In 2002 the poverty rate in America was about 12%. In 2009 it was about 14%, up two points despite—despite—more than $4 trillion in welfare spending over that period.

O’Reilly then shows this graph:

That’s the redistribution of income,” O’Reilly says, helpfully.

He then says something remarkably strange, even for him:

Welfare spending is 15%—15%—of the entire federal budget. But that is deceiving because Medicare and Social Security account for 33% of all spending. If you take those mandated expenses out of the equation, then welfare payments account for 22% of the total budget and that’s a big number.

Why would O’Reilly exclude Social Security and Medicare from “the equation”? Obviously to make the welfare number look worse, which he thinks makes his class war offensive more devastating.

But the class warfare was just heating up. He then quoted a Republican Rasmussen poll that purported to show that Americans think there are “too many people” on welfare:

And a graphic that raised, of course, the “illegal immigrant” issue:

Noting that most of those “illegals” were children, he then said,

The democratic party in general does not want to cut government assistance programs to the poor or even to illegal aliens. The basic philosophy of President Obama’s party is to redistribute income, as we said, to those who do not have very much regardless of their status.

A fair system would hold those receiving government assistance accountable. That is, if they turn things around in their lives, they would have to pay back a portion of what they received.  And they would actively have to look for work, if they don’t, the benefits cease.

President Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Act in 1996, and that slowed the “entitlement industry” down a bit, but over the past few years it has picked up steam again. The feds must—must—impose discipline here and in every other federal spending situation.

No mention of why the “entitlement industry“—notice how he conflated welfare with Social Security and Medicaid?—might have grown or “picked up steam” “over the past few years.”  No mention, that is, of the Bush years and the Great Recession he bequeathed to America as one of his parting gifts, which caused many Americans to scramble for help from their government.

Now, match that horrific and sickeningly graceless O’Reilly segment with what is going on in Florida.  The governor, Rick Scott, a multi-million dollar Medicare cheat, signed a law that required welfare recipients—who receive a stunningly low $134 in average monthly benefits—to  undergo annual drug tests—which cost $30 each— (we had the same thing proposed in Missouri) in order to collect benefits. (Some claim that Scott benefits from the forced drug testing.)

Scott argued that ,”studies show that people that [sic] are on welfare are higher users of drugs than people not on welfare.” But the preliminary data from the new drug testing contradicts that claim.  From Tampa Bay Online:

 TALLAHASSEE — Since the state began testing welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent have tested positive, preliminary data shows.

Two percent.  The problem is that, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the number of “illicit drug” users in the entire population of the state of Florida happens to be around 8%.  Whoops.

The ACLU, which is threatening a lawsuit, says that the measly “apparent” savings associated with the program— the benefit cuts for those who test positive minus the cost of drug testing—has yet to be determined because administrative costs have not yet been calculated.

Derek Newton, a spokesman for the ACLU in Florida, said this:

This is just punishing people for being poor, which is one of our main points. We’re not testing the population at-large that receives government money; we’re not testing people on scholarships, or state contractors. So why these people? It’s obvious– because they’re poor.

Yes, it is obvious, but only to those who have eyes that are willing to see.  But Bill O’Reilly, Governor Scott, Fox “News,” and the entire conservative movement’s leadership are blind to the truth—no, actually they are trying to blind others to the truth.

As a final example: On Tuesday morning I watched Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom,” which follows the incomparably dumb Fox and Friends.  “America’s Newsroom” is supposed to be straight news on the Republican News Network.  If you believe that, I have a FEMA trailer to sell ya.

In any case, the guest host, Gregg Jarrett, said near the beginning of a segment on Warren Buffett’s recent argument that the super rich weren’t taxed enough that, “I did a little digging and here’s what I came up with…”  In other words, the news host was about to take on Warren Buffett.

What he came up with were a series of graphics, two of which were quite deceptive:

As you can see, Mr. Jarrett tried to make the point that the very wealthy were paying more than their fair share of taxes and, as he told his sycophantic guest, Stephen Moore, “more Americans are paying nothing [his emphasis].”  The problem was that his chart didn’t let viewers know that he was only talking about federal income taxes. A very different picture develops when all taxes are included.

Thus, we know that Jarrett’s overall claim is grossly false, as Citizens for Tax Justice pointed out and I wrote about a couple of weeks ago:

As the chart demonstrates, the total tax burden—which includes not just income taxes—but payroll taxes and gas taxes and sales taxes and so on, is only slightly progressive, in terms of the tax burden as a percentage of income. 

The truth is that the rich earn most of the income and thus pay a majority of the taxes in America.  But it’s simply not the case, as Mr. Jarrett tried to claim, that “more Americans are paying nothing.”

So, yes, we have a class war in America.  Conservatives started it just after the New Deal was born, and finally succeeded in taking real ground in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan, and have steadily taken a greater share of the country’s wealth ever since.

And now, after gaining so much ground, after decimating the middle class, they are hungry for more and have declared war on the poor.

Fussy Facts

I don’t much care for Paul Greenberg’s opinions, as regular readers of this blog know.  It’s not that he is a horrible writer or undeserving of his Pulitzer Prize. He’s a very fine writer and Columbia University is free to pass out Pulitzers to whomever it wants, especially to one who apparently was willing in the 1960s to defend civil rights in a most uncivil part of the country, the South.

There’ s just something about his tone, call it Arkansas Delta arrogance, a peculiar mix of experience-over-ideas conservatism and Southern sensibility and the kind of condescending charm that a man at war with the modern world passes off as genteel sophistication.

At least that’s how his prose rubs me.

In any case, Greenberg was at it again this morning in the Joplin Globe. After three nice introductory paragraphs about the upcoming campaign season, the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote:

Some candidates eventually prove great presidents — a Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt– and win eternal honor, or at least deserve to. Others are more like Jimmy Carter and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Now, let’s take a minute to consider those two sentences, which discredit two alive-and-well Democratic presidents and praise a long-dead one.

First the dead one: FDR is one of those Democratic presidents that even some Republican-minded folks occasionally like to praise.  Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of Tea Party Republicans only because they are ignorant of his many compromises as our president, particularly admired Roosevelt’s leadership:

His strong, gentle, confident voice resonated across the nation with an eloquence that brought comfort and resilience to a nation caught up in a storm and reassured us that we could lick any problem. I will never forget him for that.

Or consider Reagan’s calling Roosevelt, “an American giant, a leader who shaped, inspired, and led our people through perilous times.”

Ah, that must be what Mr. Greenberg means by praising the man who gave us America’s social safety net: Roosevelt was an American giant and inspirational leader. 

Okay. But I’ve never met a conservative Republican who had a good word to say about what Roosevelt’s domestic policies actually accomplished.  In fact, the entire modern conservative movement materialized in opposition to the New Deal and morphed into its current unseemly fanaticism while the New Deal was giving birth to its first child, the Great Society.

So, it’s hard for me, a non-Pulitzer winner, to understand what Greenberg can possibly mean by including Roosevelt in his list of “great presidents,” but I am sure he has his reasons.

And one of those reasons must be to contrast the mythical and historically sainted FDR with two of Mr. Greenberg’s favorite demon-Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

Carter’s name seems to pop up whenever Greenberg needs to stick a Pulitzer-blessed screwdriver in the eye of Mr. Obama, like last summer, when he wrote:

Surely it’s just my fallible memory, but I can’t recall a presidential address that has fallen as flat as Barack Obama’s last week, at least not since Jimmy Carter gave his (in)famous malaise speech back in the dismal summer of 1979.

Never mind that Greenberg, like all Republicans sympathizers, has it all wrong about Carter’s so-called “malaise speech.” (You can read why here or read the speech yourself here.)

Sure enough, Greenberg once again wielded his Obama-hater weapon, Mr. Carter’s presidency, along with the former president’s sidekick, Mr. Malaise:

The stubborn unemployment rate that refuses to subside, a national debt that grows from alarming to crushing, a Great Recession that won’t go away. No wonder there’s a sense of that old devil Malaise in the air. Again the word stagflation is heard in the land, and some of the leftier economists say a little inflation (which has a way of becoming a lot) would be a fine thing. As in the Carter years? Please.

The not-so-subtle implication here is that unemployment, the national debt, and the Great Recession are Mr. Obama’s doing. Never mind the facts; Mr. Greenberg has a job to do.

Now, this is going to be the strategy to attack Mr. Obama, as we move toward November of 2012.  Just yesterday, Jeb Bush, who received praise for telling GOP presidential candidates to stop “ascribing bad motives” to Obama, nevertheless ascribed bad policies to him:

He’s made a situation that was bad worse. He’s deserving of criticism for that.

But facts are not just stubborn things, they are eternal obstacles to the kind of revisionist nonsense that Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Bush are trying to peddle.

Rather than going from bad to worse, things have gone from worse to, well, not-as-bad.

Jobs were bleeding from the Bush-sized wound in the economy (Greenberg’s “Great Recession that won’t go away”) at an alarming rate when Mr. Obama assumed office.  And it took some time to stop the bleeding and close the wound. But it did stop and the wound is healing, albeit agonizingly slow. 

And what healing is happening has come despite fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers, who have en masse not only refused to help Democrats restore the economy to normalcy, but have steadfastly obstructed any efforts to do so.

And Mr. Greenberg’s “alarming to crushing” national debt is also an inheritance from Mr. Bush and years of Republican governmental malfeasance, based on unfettered free-market theology, which Greenberg enthusiastically endorsed in 2006. 

The recession is responsible for much of the ongoing yearly deficits, but particular and deliberate policies of the previous administration—those famous Bush tax cuts and wars—are also to blame for the shortfall and for the accumulation of massive debt.

Greenberg the war hawk was also an enthusiastic believer at the time in the power of the Bush tax cuts to heal the economy, all without ever mentioning the resulting deficits and debt.  In fact, I searched in vain for a bad Greenbergian word about deficits and debt under the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Even though now, in the Age of Obama, Greenberg clearly sees and writes about “a national debt that grows from alarming to crushing,”  he apparently didn’t see it as either alarming or crushing when policies that caused most of it were being debated and adopted by his fellow conservatives.

Thankfully, The New York Times, put it in a form that even a conservative columnist with a self-described disdain for the theoretical can understand:

So, Mr. Greenberg and other like-minded Obama-haters can take their shots at the current president via comparisons with Jimmy Carter and FDR, but some of us still have a working-relationship with the evidence, with those obstinate, unyielding, and fussy facts.

Cheer Up, Dems

Some nervous Democratic partisans are a little anxious by Gallup’s latest polling regarding President Obama’s chances against four “leading” GOP candidates.

First, here’s the bad news for those who tend to take these kinds of polls seriously this far out:

Now, does anyone believe that Mr. Obama would only beat Michele Bachmann by 4 points? That he and Medicare-is-an-unconstitutional-Ponzi-scheme-failure Rick Perry would split the vote?

How about Mr. Obama only beating Ron Paul (!) by 2 points? Or, God help us, Obama losing to my-3000-square-foot-beach-house-is-too-small-so-I’m-gonna-bulldoze-it-and-build-a-11000-square-foot-mansion Mitt Romney?

Come on peeps, cheer up.

Here’s the good-news skinny, thankfully, on just how inaccurate these types of long-distance Gallup polls can be, thanks to Steven Shepard of the National Journal:

♦ In August 1999, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush led Vice President Al Gore by 14 points. Gore ended up narrowly winning the popular vote.

 ♦ In August 1995, then-Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., had a two-point lead over President Bill Clinton. Dole lost by eight.

 ♦ In August 1983, Ronald Reagan had a slender, one-point lead over former Vice President Walter Mondale. Reagan would be re-elected by 18 points the following November, after economic growth spiked in the second half of Reagan’s first term.

♦ In August 1979, President Jimmy Carter and Reagan were tied at 45 percent. Reagan won by 10 points in 1980.

Look, no one is saying the road to reelection for Mr. Obama is an easy one.  But if Big O takes E. J. Dionne’s recent advice—”Go big, go long, and go global“—he’s got a very good chance of keeping his government housing, despite the angst among pale-faced teapartiers who want to throw him out of the White’s House.

Dionne says:

♦ Keep the current proposals to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, as well as patent reform.

Add to them:

♦ Aid to state and local governments, which are cutting budgets and killing jobs.

♦ Boost spending “on roads, bridges, transit and other building projects,” including rehabilitating “the nation’s dilapidated schools.”

♦ And a biggie: “Do far more to resolve the mortgage mess.”  Amen.

Dionne claims that “big investors and business leaders“—the “heart of capitalism“—are panicking and asking for “the world’s governments to step up to the challenge of avoiding a second recession by spending more money.”  Apparently, drunken overnight flirting with the Tea Party has succumbed to the sobering morning of economic reality, at least for now.

As far as the long-term deficit problem we have, Mr. Dionne has that covered too:

♦ “Obama should not be shy about urging eventual tax increases, particularly on the wealthy. And let’s be clear: these would not be immediate tax hikes; they’d kick in a year or two from now.”

♦ “A carbon tax, partly offset by tax cuts or rebates for middle-income and poorer taxpayers, could provide additional revenue.”

♦ “And we need to do still more to contain health care costs without hurting those who can’t afford insurance, and without voucherizing Medicare.”

Other Democrats, including former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, have even more ideas to help, including Medicare-for-all.

All of this stuff is easier said than done, obviously, but Big O has to think outside the Boehner box and start to channel Mitt Romney: A $12 million 3000-square-foot beach house in La Jolla is simply not good enough, what with all the children and grandchildren to consider.

Think big, Mr. President, think big.

Break ground on an economic-recovery plan that Mitt Romney’s kids and grandkids would be proud of.  Go for that 11,000-square-foot economic-policy.

The Best They’ve Got

Once upon a time, Jon Huntsman, GOP presidential hopeful, worked for Barack Obama, Democratic presidential hopeful redux.

Mr. Huntsman, obviously seeking what’s left of the reality-based vote in the Republican Party, said this on ABC’s This Week, hosted by Jake Tapper on Sunday:

HUNTSMAN: I think there’s a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party — the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people that would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.

When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science and, therefore, in a losing position.

Huntsman was also asked about Rick Perry slapping some Texas-ugly on a treasonous Ben Bernanke:

HUNTSMAN: Well, I don’t know if that’s pre-secession Texas or post-secession Texas, but in any event, I’m not sure that the average voter out there is going to hear that treasonous remark and say that sounds like a presidential candidate, that sounds like someone who is serious on the issues.

But it gets to a broader of, you know, the fact that, you know, we’ve had so much hope and hype in politics the last little while. We’ve found ourselves at the extreme ends of the political spectrum. And people are crying out for us to get back to some level of sensibility…

TAPPER: So do you think that Governor Perry is unelectable? Were he to get the Republican nomination, he would lose to President Obama?

HUNTSMAN: I think when you find yourself at an extreme end of the Republican Party, you make yourself unelectable.

And Mr. Huntsman was asked about Michele Bachmann’s “crash-and-burn approach” to the debt ceiling issue:

HUNTSMAN: Well, I wouldn’t necessarily trust any of my opponents right now who were on a recent debate stage with me, when every single one of them would have allowed this country to default…

Wow.  Here’s one Republican who gets it, no?

Well, not exactly.

He was asked about that unfortunate but revealing moment during the Fox “News” debate in which every single Republican–including Jon Huntsman–used his or her raised hand to signal surrender and future obedience to Grover Norquist and his drown-the-government-in-the-bathtup pledge. 

TAPPER: When S&P devalued the U.S. from AAA to AA-plus, one of the reasons, they said, was the dysfunction in Washington. They didn’t have confidence in either side to come together to make a compromise to get the country on the right fiscal path.

But you, along with all of your Republican competitors, raised your hand and said that you would be unwilling to accept a deal of 10-to-1 spending cuts for tax increases. That would be if you just eliminated the Bush tax cuts for those who make more than $1 million a year, by one computation — that would be $6 trillion in spending cuts. Aren’t you buying into the same brinksmanship that you’re criticizing?

HUNTSMAN: Jake, it was a nonsense question. And the fact that you can even ask a question that is that important with such profound implications for the United States, to answer by show of a raised hand, I mean, come on. What have — you know, what have debates gotten to, in terms of how we discuss the truly important issues of the day? I don’t think tax increases are good for this country right now. In fact, I think it’d be the worst thing that we can do.

TAPPER: So are you sorry you raised your hand for the, quote, “nonsense question”?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I’m just sorry that the debate resorted to a raising of hand as opposed to some discussion about where this country needs to go in terms of overall tax policy.

Clearly Huntsman regrets getting caught up in that tribute-to-Grover-Norquist moment, especially since Huntsman has refused to sign Norquist’s tongue-tying pledge.  But the fact remains that he did get caught up in it, and it wasn’t because the question was a “nonsense question.” 

No, the question, like the one on evolution and global warming, revealed something important about the candidates who answered. And Jon Huntsman, however much he wants to be the Republican From Reality, had his moment of truth, a moment when he could have simply kept his hand at his side and thereby demonstrated that he is not a promoter of the collective delusion—shared by all of his GOP colleagues—that our country’s long-term fiscal problems can be solved by spending cuts alone.

He had his chance that night to really prove that he has more than one foot planted in this world, but he failed.  That failure, however, wasn’t exactly the first time.

As we see Libya today on the brink of permanent separation from its long-time dictator, we should remember that not long ago Jon Huntsman, a loud critic of Mr. Obama’s Libya policy (“we just can’t afford it“), had this exchange with a New Hampshire voter:

VOTER: “You mentioned Libya, and you mentioned the Constitution a couple of times. The president has decided to make Congress irrelevant, go around Congress, not — not go to Congress and ask for whether permission to go to war for — with, with Libya. He takes, what he thought, a UN resolution as his mandate to be able to go to war in Libya, do you think that’s unconstitutional in what he’s doing in Libya right now?”

HUNTSMAN: “Well, last I looked the UN was not our Constitution. We ought to recognize who’s responsible for declaring war and giving the approval for these kinds of things, and get back to the basics of who should be driving these decisions.”

VOTER: “What should Congress be doing in the fact that he went around Congress and he’s, he’s not abiding to the War Powers Act?”

HUNTSMAN: “I think, I think Congress is, is in a mild uproar about it.”

VOTER:
“It’s very mild.”

HUNTSMAN: “I have a fundamental problem, generally, I mean beyond this decision, just with the decision that has been made to get involved, in Libya, in a tribal country, when we have no definable interest at stake, we have no exit strategy. Look in Afghanistan, you want to get involved in tribal government? How hard it is to extricate yourself once you’ve gotten involved? Let history be your guide. Thank you.”

VOTER: “Do you think it’s impeachable?”

HUNTSMAN: “I’ll let Congress make that decision.”

Another moment in which a man who worked for and wants to be the President of the United States could have firmly grounded himself in the reality of this world, but instead chose to fly with the unbalanced butterflies in his party as they flit from one fanatical flower to another.

What is profoundly sad about all of this is that Jon Huntsman is the best candidate the Republican Party has to offer the country. But that judgment is obviously based on a relative comparison.  As he tries hard now to separate himself from the silliness of the other candidates, we know that somewhere inside of Jon Huntsman is a vexing vein flowing with the same kind of silliness, the same kind of Tea Party tackiness.

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