Don’t Miss The Forest For The Sleaze

Because I have watched MSNBC’s Morning Joe for so long now, I guess I have become sort of use to what has been happening. The show has, after all, become a platform for defending, advising, and promoting Drumpf, who is friends with or acquaintances of most of the regulars on the show. They just can’t bring themselves to admit the obvious about him.

Today was no different. Morning Joe’s opening segment at 7:00 am CST was all about that New York Times article (“Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private“) published over the weekend that documented some of Drumpf’s boorish encounters with women, claims of sexual harassment, as well as a few of the good things he has done in promoting women in his business. Morning Joe, though, was all about attacking the Times rather than criticizing Drumpf’s behavior. Panelist Donny Deutsch, who has admitted to being a Friend of Drumpf, even gave him a hint this morning on how to proceed: hit the whole Jeffrey Epstein-Bill Clinton thang. It really was an embarrassment for MSNBC, although it won’t stop. Drumpf = ratings. And insulting Drumpf = boycott. Thus.

I just wanted to remind you of something critically important that may, now, get lost because one of the women in the Times report said her story was misused by the newspaper and that she “did not have a negative experience” with Drumpf. What may get lost has nothing to do with that Times article. Anyone paying attention knows that Drumpf’s problems with women have much more to do with what he has said since he has been a candidate than any revelation that he once had the hots for a model, whom he outfitted in a bikini so he could show off her assets to a group of Drumpf groupies at a Mar-a-Lago pool party, the same model who now says she was flattered by the whole episode.

So, before it gets lost in the storm of nonsense and ugliness that is the Drumpf campaign, before it gets lost in the ADHD-like television coverage of that nonsense and ugliness, let’s look at a weird story, published in The Washington Post on May 13, “Donald Trump masqueraded as publicist to brag about himself.” I know by now you know most of the details—Drumpf posing as publicists “John Miller” and “John Barron”—so I won’t go into them. Suffice it to say that the story, if it weren’t about Drumpf, would, like so many other things he has said and done, doom anyone else. It would disgrace any other presidential candidate, who would slink away with a shame-hung head. But this is Drumpf. His answer to it? Lie. He didn’t do it. The voice that everyone knows was his, on those phone calls to reporters, wasn’t his, he says. And his groupies, both professionals and amateurs, are behind him. If he says it wasn’t him, it wasn’t. Move on. No biggie. There are more important things to talk about.

Surprisingly, the journalists I have seen covering this issue on television, and those paid to be “analysts,” have it all wrong. They are focusing on the lie Drumpf told. They want him to come clean about that. Their coverage goes something like this: “If only Drumpf would simply admit he was ‘John Miller’ or ‘John Barron’ and confess to doing something dumb, a joke really, this would all go away and we’d move on to something else.” I heard CNN’s Chris Cuomo say something like that the other day.

Well, no. That isn’t the point.

We all know Drumpf is a liar. That has been established beyond doubt, just as it has been established beyond doubt that he was John Miller and John Barron (he has actually admitted as much before). So, any revelation that he is currently lying about the fact he was pretending to be his own publicist would not be surprising. It would just be an addition to what we already knew. What we don’t know is what it is that makes a prominent man do something so clumsy and crass. What is it in his brain that makes him want to do it in the first place, but then—most important to mewhat makes him think no one would catch him doing it? That’s what has been lost in all this. There is, truly, something wrong with his mind, with his thought process, with his ability to understand what is going on in other minds.

I’ve said before that since I’m not a medical doctor, I can’t diagnose Drumpf’s problems—although others have done so. We can all see that he acts and talks like a narcissist. We can see that he lies, when telling the truth would be a much easier path to follow. His lying appears to be pathological. We can all see that Tiny Hands is insecure, which also appears to be some kind of disease. All that is troubling enough. But think about it. This man called reporters, reporters who knew his voice, pretending to be someone else. Why couldn’t he figure out in advance that those reporters would know it was his voice? That he would be asked about it? That he would be asked to produce John Miller and John Barron at some point, since they allegedly worked for him? Huh? And why can’t he see that now?

Disturbing stuff. And it isn’t just limited to gossip magazines or tabloids. It has real-world implications. Consider Drumpf’s embrace of Vladimir Putin. In that sorry case, did some kind of pathological disorder get the best of Drumpf? Remember that Putin, a murderous authoriatarian, said the GOP candidate was “a very bright and talented man,” and an “absolute leader.” Rather than responding as any normal American would do, that is, by rejecting the endorsement of a trained and practiced Russian killer, Drump said,

When people call you brilliant, it’s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.

“It’s always good.” Always. If Charles Manson calls you brilliant from his prison cell, that’s good. If Kim Jong-un takes time out of his busy day in North Korea and calls you brilliant, that’s good, too. For a Drumpfed-up mind, there are no conditions under which receiving flattery is a negative.

When confronted with the charge that Putin has either ordered the killing of journalists in Russia or created a climate in which they could be essentially killed with impunity, Drumpf has responded in different ways. Once he said, “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing, too…” Another time,

Nobody has proven that he’s killed anyone. … He’s always denied it. It’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody. You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country. It has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.

Now, that comes from a man who, with exactly no evidence to back him up, has questioned Barack Obama’s citizenship and Christianity, who says he sent investigators, perhaps John Miller and John Barron, to Hawaii and “they cannot believe what they’re finding.” It comes from a man who, just last year as a presidential candidate, said of President Obama, “I don’t know if he loves America.” Who said, “I wonder if President Obama would have attended the funeral of Justice Scalia if it were held in a Mosque?”

Giving the benefit of the doubt to a horrific Russian despot who strategically strokes your ego, while trashing the credibility of your own president, is a symptom of some profound personal problem, as far as I’m concerned as an American. It demonstrates that Drumpf’s awareness of himself, that his perception of others, is twisted. It proves that he is unfit to be our commander-in-chief because his judgment about what may be happening in the minds of other people, whether they are reporters or world leaders, is so utterly and hopelessly flawed.

Drumpf’s petty attempt to pass himself off as publicists John Miller and John Barron—and expect that he could get away with it—just adds to the case that he is a very disturbed man. But it is also disturbing that much of the press, at least on television, isn’t that interested in the original disqualifying behavior, but only in getting Drumpf to admit to it so cable news can move on to the next act in this gloomy Gong Show. Perhaps the only thing that can save us all is if Drumpf comes out soon and lets us in on his little joke. And The Washington Post can write a new article, “Donald Trump masqueraded as presidential candidate to brag about himself.”

[Mural image by artist Mindaugas Bonanu]



“Out-Of-Control Spending” Isn’t One Of Our Many Problems

Jonathan Chait, writing for New York Magazine, commented on a bizarre story that appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post. Chait said the story (“After six budget showdowns, big government is mostly unchanged“) was,

one of the weirdest, and most weirdly biased, news articles I’ve ever read in my life. 

The writer of the Post story is David Fahrenthold, who, as the paper tells us, “covers Congress for the Washington Post.” That would lead one to believe that Fahrenthold is a genuine news reporter, not a columnist or an editorial writer.

But as Chait points out, it is hard to tell that the Post story was written by an objective journalist, since it seems to push a Tea Party message that “government is not shrinking” and it is “really, really big.” I strongly urge you to read Chait’s piece, but I will post here a couple of graphs he used (similar to others I have used on this blog) to demonstrate why government is in fact getting smaller and why it is not as big as you might think:

This graph represents the federal workforce as a percentage of U.S. population. It speaks for itself. No one can seriously argue that, in terms of the size of the federal workforce, that government is getting bigger.

This second graph comes from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

U.S. Government Spends Less than Most Other Developed Countries

The article from the CBPP addresses the misleading meme, spread by right-wing government-shrinking radicals, that “government spending in the United States is 41 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).” As with all statistics, a little context is in order, which the CBPP article provides. To summarize slightly:

♦ That 41 percent number comes from the Organisation for Cooperation and Development (OECD) and which reflects “spending by all levels of government,” federal, state and local, with local governments spending about one-third of the total.

♦ The OECD uses a system of measurement developed for the United Nations, which significantly differs from measurements made by the federal government via the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (that explains the difference between the dark blue and light blue lines on the graph). The United Nations’ measurement includes, for instance, “the entire cost of running the public-university system, not just what legislators appropriate to supplement students’ tuition payments.”

♦ The year the 41 percent figure is derived (2011) “exaggerates the situation”:

Automatic increases in safety-net programs like unemployment insurance andfood stamps, plus recovery measures that Congress enacted, pushed up the numerator (spending), even as a slumping economy squeezed the denominator (GDP).  This happened in other countries, too.

♦ The CPBB notes that government spending is decreasing and that “the Congressional Budget Office projects that federal spending will continue to decline through mid-decade as a percent of GDP.”

♦ Finally, the CPBB makes two more important points that anyone interested in this stuff should know:

First, this doesn’t mean that government controls about 40 percent of the U.S. economy.  The bulk of government spending goes for payments to individuals through transfer programs such as Social Security, and most of the goods and services that people buy with these payments are privately produced.

Second, government spending in the United States — by the OECD’s broad measure—remains about 2 ½ percent of GDP below the OECD average, and about 8 percent below the average level among countries that have adopted the euro.  While the United States faces plenty of long-run fiscal challenges, out-of-control spending today isn’t one of them.

A “Post-Truth” World

In an excellent blog post at Media Matters, Jeremy Holden reviews the incessant lies and disregard for fact-checking by the Romney-Ryan campaign, especially the lies about Obama’s so-called “apology tour” and Obama’s alleged elimination of the welfare work requirement.

Holden offered a tweet from a political reporter for the Boston Phoenix, which pretty much sums up the dilemma facing journalists:

Now what, indeed.

But Holden points out that The Washington Post—which employs Glenn Kessler as its fact checker, a fact checker who has given RomneyFour Pinocchios for months” but “Romney keeps saying this” —has its own problems with the truth, mainly because it continues publishing lies that have been fact checked by, uh, Glenn Kessler!

Among the culprits are Post columnist Marc Thiessen, who started that whole false meme about Obama and the security briefing (which caused John Sununu to call the President “lazy”).  Kessler gave Thiessen three Pinocchios for that one.

But prominent among offenders at the Post, offenders who practice what David Roberts of Grist has called “post-truth politics,” is Charles Krauthammer.

The Post publishes many questionable assertions written by Krauthammer, but perhaps most perplexing is why it continues to publish his columns that include references to that non-existent “apology tour.” Just today Krauthammer wrote:

Four years later, mid-September 2012, the U.S. mission in Benghazi went up in flames, as did Obama’s entire Middle East policy of apology and accommodation.

I don’t know how a reputable newspaper can employ a fact-checker and at the same time publish columns with claims that the fact-checker has repeatedly shot down as false.

But then The Washington Post is not what it used to be.

Meanwhile, another “news” organization, Fox, has been pushing an “Obama lied about Benghazi” meme night and day. And I mean night and day.

With only the flimsiest of evidence (that’s enough for Fox, when it comes to Obama) Fox has featured folks like Rudy Giuliani, who said yesterday on Fox’s Three Stooges and Friends:

I think there is no question that the administration was covering up from day one.

No question. None.

Mike Huckabee compared the whole thing to Watergate today on “America’s News(!)room”:

Let’s just get blunt. No way to sugar coat this — We’ve been lied to. We have flat-out been lied to. They know they’ve lied…Richard Nixon was forced out of office because he lied and because he covered some stuff up. I’m going to be blunt and tell you this — nobody died in Watergate. We have some people who are dead because of this. There are some questions to be answered and Americans ought to demand to get answers and it doesn’t matter what the politics are.

Yeah, it doesn’t matter what the politics are to right-wingers on Fox, right?

This afternoon I heard Fox’s Megyn Kelly ask Andy Card, George Bush’s chief of staff, this breathtaking question:

If George W. Bush had been the president and had sent Ambassador Bolton out to tell the world that these were spontaneous attacks, not pre-planned [sic], all over a video, and then it became clear that the intel community knew something very different all the while, what do you think the reaction would have been by the press?

CARD: I think the press would have been up in arms about President Bush.

Up in arms my ass. After the 9/11 attacks, the press fell into the arms of the Bush administration, as did all Americans. It wasn’t a time to throw rocks at the president (that would come later when it was revealed that a month before the attacks Bush had received a “presidential daily brief” titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” a story that did not get wall-to-wall coverage on Fox of course).

Neither was it the time, immediately after the murders in Benghazi, to do what Mitt Romney did—with the aid of Fox “News”and before the bodies were cold—when he began criticizing Mr. Obama shamelessly. There would be plenty of time to see what, if anything, the Administration did wrong in Libya, but shouldn’t we have an investigation and get the facts first? Huh?

It may well be that someone in the Administration purposely mislead reporters about the nature of the attacks, but what is more likely is that there was, and appears to remain, much confusion about them. Let’s see before we call this a Watergate or an October Surprise.

Meanwhile, a real scandal, but one involving Republicans and voter fraud (isn’t that ironic?) has been revealed and Fox, which pushed night and day the phony story in 2008 about ACORN and voter fraud, is, uh, busy with other things.

From Media Matters today:

In fact this morning, Brian Kilmeade hosted a Fox & Friends panel discussion about voter fraud. In 2008, the allegation that ACORN submitted questionable registration forms was routinely referred to and condemned as “voter fraud” on Fox. (To this day, Fox treats misaddressed voter registration forms as “fraud.”) But this morning, Kilmeade and his guests made no mention of the fact that the Republican Party was just forced to fire a consulting firm for submitting potentially bogus voter registration forms; forms being reviewed by local law enforcement.

Nothing is a scandal on Fox unless it is a Democratic scandal, real or imagined. And that is why Republicans spend much time bashing mainstream journalism and don’t give a damn about fact checkers.

Romney’s Assault On Fellow Student Just Not That Big A Deal Compared To Barack Obama’s “Sordid High School Past”

The right-wing lying machine is an amazing thing to behold.

The ink was still damp on the Washington Post story about Romney assaulting a fellow high school student with a pair of scissors (even if it was only to cut his hair), when the fun began:

That story called the assault on John Lauber a “relatively innocent” high school prank. You know, sort of like giving someone a wedgy or something.

Breitbard also featured these “stories”:

My favorite of those was the “Does WaPo Know Obama Shoved a Little Girl?” You sort of have to read it to understand how stupid it is, but suffice it to say that a very young Obama giving a girl a “slight shove” on the playground because other kids were teasing him about being her boyfriend is not even remotely the same thing as an 18-year-old Romney forcibly cutting the hair of a boy suspected of being gay.

But we are talking about some serious Obama-haters at Breitbart, so this is not a surprising take.

Some Things You Just Don’t Forget

Mittens was a bully in high school? Who could have guessed that?

And now he’s lying about it? Who could have guessed that?

The Washington Post story of a preppy high schooler named Mitt Romney unable to tolerate the nonconformist behavior of a “presumed homosexual” was verified “by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another.”

John Lauber made the mistake of coming to the elite, all-boys prep school one day, “with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye.” Little did he know that the son of the Michigan governor would take it upon himself to make the world safe for tie-wearing and briefcase-carrying future vulture capitalists everywhere.

The young Romney demonstrated his fledgling leadership skills by leading his prepped posse in an assault against Lauber, tackling him and pinning him to the ground:

As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

Oh, but the story was fifty years ago, says the Romney campaign today. These and other stories “seem exaggerated and off base and Governor Romney has no memory of participating in these incidents.”

No memory? You don’t remember that you held a kid down and forcibly cut his insubordinate hair?  John Lauber doesn’t remember the incident either. But that’s because he’s dead. Is Romney dead, or is it just his sense of decency that has passed on to the Mormon version of heaven?

Yesterday on The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd, I heard Ed Gillespie, senior adviser for the Romney campaign, say this:

Governor Romney doesn’t remember that incident at all. It’s understandable, it was in high school.

You know, come to think of it, I don’t remember all the times I bullied people in high school either. But maybe that’s because I didn’t bully anyone in high school.  I didn’t assault anyone with scissors during a hysterical, homophobic manhunt for my own manhood.

But Gillespie has it exactly wrong. You see, because the incident happened in high school is exactly why it is not understandable that Romney doesn’t remember it. High school has a way of staying with you, for good or for ill.

When I was in Fort Scott Senior High School, most decidedly not a fancy prep school, I had a horrendous case of acne and hair down to my shoulders, curly and fuzzy and culturally defiant, which, of course, was the point. Naturally, with hair like mine, going to school in a rural town of 9,000 folks earned me a lot of attention, almost all of it negative. And I remember, vividly, the few times that I was actually threatened by bullies, amid the normal day-to-day ridicule.

To be fair, I suppose it is possible that bullying has become so commonplace for Romney that the incident involving John Lauber simply blends in with all the rest. I mean, maybe he really doesn’t remember that first, early assault. Romney said yesterday on Romney-friendly Fox radio:

I had no idea that this person might have been gay.

This person.” Is it too much to ask of Romney to give John Lauber a name? But keep that statement, as well as his campaign’s statement that he had “no memory” of the incident, in mind as we go on.

Romney continued:

As the article points out, I participated in a lot of high jinks and pranks during high school, and, uh, some may have gone too far, and for that I apologize.

Okay. So he acknowledges the substance of the Washington Post story and he is sorry that some high jinks and pranks “may have gone too far.” Now, let’s move on to a later interview he did with Neil Cavuto on Fox TV:

I don’t recall the incident myself, but I’ve seen the reports and [I’m] not gonna argue with that. There’s no question but that I did some stupid things when I was in high school.

Clearly, Romney says he doesn’t “recall” the incident involving John Lauber. He doesn’t remember it. If it happened, he’s not going to “argue with that.” Now, the problem with all that is earlier in the day, remember he said,

I had no idea that his person might have been gay.

So, how does Romney not recall the hair-cutting assault but does definitely recall that he “had no idea” that John Lauber “might have been gay”? Huh?

There is little if any doubt that Romney did what the sources for the WaPo story said he did way back in high school.  And there isn’t much doubt that what Romney is really more defensive about today is the reason he did what he did.

He doesn’t really mind all that much that we think of him as some kind of rules enforcer at an elite, leader-making school in Michigan. But he doesn’t want us to think of him as singling out someone who was perceived to be gay, who dared to be different in an environment where rigidity and conformity and ties and briefcases were the norm.

And while I don’t blame him for wanting to hide that dark truth about his high school days, wouldn’t it have served him—and all of us—better if he had just admitted the incident, apologized to the memory of John Lauber, and then used this moment to tell homophobic Americans that, like that young Mitt Romney, they have some growing up to do?

Social Security And Journalism’s Failure To Inform

Journalists are supposed to inform us.

What one means by “inform” is, I suppose, in the news consumer’s mind, but the point is that anyone who regularly partakes of American journalism should at least understand the basics of any given issue in the news.

Alas, that is not the case. Journalism, and journalists, are letting us down.

As just one example, Trudy Lieberman of Columbia Journalism Review points out the gross deficiencies in media coverage of “the Social Security debate”:

For nearly three years CJR has observed that much of the press has reported only one side of this story using “facts” that are misleading or flat-out wrong while ignoring others. Whatever the reason—ideology, poor understanding of how the program works, gullibility, or plain old reportorial laziness—news outlets have given the public a skewed picture of the financial health of this hugely important program, which is the sole source of retirement funds for millions of Americans and will continue to be for decades to come.

Lieberman points out that Social Security, while “not in perfect financial health,” is nevertheless a tweak or two away from extended solvency, a fact which has not “been discussed much in the press.” The reason it hasn’t, Lieberman suggests, is “because it doesn’t fit into the doom-and-gloom narrative that has proved politically expedient to tell.”

The result of this misreporting or underreporting or non-reporting is that people—many of them young people—are losing their faith in Social Security, which plays right into the hands of right-wingers, who have always hated it:

“The elite press repeatedly quotes the commentary of the devoted opponents of social insurance retirement programs,” says Yale professor emeritus Theodore Marmor. “But they appear unaware of how they are supporting a strategic attack on social insurance that has been going on for years.”

Singled out for bad reporting and bad journalism is The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery, the once-respectable paper’s budget correspondent. Montgomery pushes a narrative that fits nicely in with the narrative pushed by conservatives in the Republican Party: in order to come to grips with our financial problems, federal social programs—including Social Security—have to be sliced. There is a “surprisingly broad consensus” for that view, Montgomery’s reporting insists.

The Post’s Robert Samuelson is also specifically cited as pushing the “popular message” that Social Security is a welfare program that “is slowly and inexorably crowding out the rest of government.”  Other journalist at other outlets have done the same thing, which leads Lieberman to surmise:

With that kind of news reporting, young people…can be forgiven for misunderstanding the concept of social insurance and believing Social Security is almost dead. Over the decades since the passage of Social Security in 1935, the media have used the term “social insurance” less and less, which of course keeps people in the dark about what it really is. In 1930, The Washington PostThe New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune together published nearly eighty articles with the words “social insurance” in the headline. In 1990, there were at most two—one in the Times and one in the Post. By then the Cato Institute and other conservative think tanks were well on their way to changing the media’s narrative and description of Social Security. The program was no long to be described as social insurance, but as an investment that fell short of what people could achieve on their own by saving and managing their payroll tax contributions. It was not a good deal for younger workers.

Lieberman tells us how the right-wing Heritage Foundation has “systematically” attacked “the country’s most popular social program” by deliberately using a “Leninist” strategy, including “guerrilla warfare against both the current Social Security system and the coalition that supports it.” Part of that guerilla warfare involves gaining “the support of key individuals in the media as well as to win over vital constituencies for political reform.”

Sadly and disturbingly, not only have individuals in the media been won over, many Democrats have been compromised, too:

The media haven’t reported much about how the nuts and bolts of proposals to fix Social Security would affect ordinary people, but they’ve done a super job of showing how Social Security’s opponents have brought one of the biggest segments around to their way of thinking—Congressional Democrats, including the second ranking member of the Senate, Dick Durbin, who is often the media’s go-to guy for the progressive perspective. It’s kind of a validation of Cato’s manifesto…

“We used to have Democrats speaking out (in support of the program) which we don’t have today, “ says Eric Kingson, co-director of the advocacy group Social Security Works.

Well, I still hear some Democrats speaking out, but I admit their voices are not as loud and aren’t heard as often as they used to be. And part of the reason for that is because journalists have largely bought into the Social-Security-is-dying propaganda and are failing to inform the public as to what is really going on.

Thankfully, one outstanding journalist, Trudy Lieberman, is trying to do something about it.

Did Mr. Obama Lose His Way Last Summer?

Jonathan Chait wrote a disturbing—no, very disturbing—piece on the so-called Grand Bargain deficit-reduction talks last summer. The piece was titled:

How Obama Tried to Sell Out Liberalism in 2011

Chait’s commentary was based on a Washington Post story—also disturbing—allegedly detailing President Obama’s failure—yes, unbelievably, that is the way the story frames it—to get a budget deal with Boehner and the Republicans, as the debt-ceiling limit was purposely and purposefully expiring.

Remember all that senselessness and stupidity we went through? Remember how Republicans yet again held the country hostage and engaged in economic jihad to protect the wealthy and cut entitlements?

It turns out that our man in the White House—who a few months earlier had made a very courageous decision to kill Osama bin Laden—may have been just as courageous in his willingness to send liberalism to the bottom of the sea.

That is, if the Post story is completely accurate. There is a weaselly “appeared to accept” at a crucial place and the story does include a pushback from the White House, most notably a denial that it ever agreed to the Republican economic fiction—a piece of trash conservatives never tire of peddling—that reducing tax rates stimulates economic growth and thus increases revenue.

The whole Post narrative is hard to believe, mainly because I don’t want to believe it. But admittedly there does appear to be a large amount of truth to it, a truth rooted in another truth we liberals have to keep relearning: Mr. Obama, for all the good he has done—and there has been a lot of good—is not Bernie Sanders.

As Jonathan Chait points out,

It has previously been reported that Obama had offered to John Boehner to make a series of cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and the domestic budget, to reduce top-end tax rates, and to prevent the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, in return for increasing tax revenue (over current tax levels) by about $800 billion over ten years.

What we didn’t know until the Post story, was,

that even the $800 billion in tax revenue offered by Boehner was not, in fact, $800 billion in tax revenue..

That $800 billion, the Post reported, “came with strings attached,” including lowering the tax rate paid by wealthy Americans. That’s right. I said lowering the rich’s tax rates. But there’s more:

Much of the $800 billion  would have to come from overhauling the tax code — not from higher tax rates. The Republicans believed lower rates and a simpler code would generate new revenue by discouraging cheating and spurring economic growth. If the White House would agree to count that money, the Republican leaders said, then they might have a deal.

As Chait points out, any agreement based on Republican tax philosophy would insure,

that the burden of any higher revenue would fall on the non-rich.

Let that sink in. Let it permeate your progressive pores. Then absorb this:

Obama, incredibly, agreed to that — he agreed to a debt reduction plan that would exempt the wealthy from any sacrifice, and indeed protect them from the possibility that their tax rates would rise when the Bush tax cuts expire.

Now, never mind that even this sellout to conservative teapartyism wasn’t enough for conservative teapartiers, as Chait emphatically notes. They want a total rout. What we should be concerned about—particularly should there be a second term for Obama—is that the President did not tell the tea party hacks to get the hell out of his office, taking their oversize teabags with them.

Jonathan Chait put the matter in about as succinct terms as possible:

The central fiscal issue in American politics is the Republican Party’s insistence on cutting taxes for the rich everywhere and always with no compromise possible. The Post’s story suggests that there was zero progress on this impediment, and Obama wanted a deal so badly he wanted to proceed as if this could be ironed out in the details.

No. There is no ironing out differences with these people. There is no compromise possible with them. They are on a mission from a very strange God and nothing short of complete capitulation can be offered to them that they will feel compelled to accept. A compromise involves concessions on both sides. It means the other side has to move your way, accept things it doesn’t want to accept. But these tea party and tea party-ish folks are willing to hold out until our side completely submits, even if it means The End.

The way to combat these people, as Mr. Obama seems to have lately learned, is expose them. Hold up their regressive and regrettable ideas to the light—the American people—and let everyone see what fanaticism looks like, what unadulterated zealotry would beget if given the fertile ground of surrender.

But having said that, I am forced to confront the most frightening line in the Washington Post story about the Grand Bargain—and one I adamantly refuse to believe is true:

White House officials said this week that the offer is still on the table.

If that is true—and I won’t believe it until I hear it from Mr. Obama himself—then the leader of the Democratic Party has not only lost his way, he has lost his political mind.

Run, Ryan, Run

Jonathan Chait, in a surprisingly persuasive piece, proposes that Paul Ryan may actually run for President after all:

When you have the power to set your party’s vision of government for the next fifty years, and nobody in the party is allowed to disagree with you, or even dodge paying fealty to you, then you already are the party leader. Ryan’s disavowals of interest never struck me as terribly strong.

Indeed.  Chait also points out that Ryan opened the door fairly wide by telling Fox’s Neil Cavuto that, “I think I want to see how this field develops.”

I, for one, hope he does run.  We need to have that national fight.

And if he does decide to enter the race, as Chait points out, he will certainly be the front runner.  In fact, I think he would, without much of a fight, become the GOP nominee.

An important consideration is that Ryan has a fairly friendly press on his side. As Paul Krugman notes, “much of the punditocracy (myself obviously not included) still has a crush on him.”  All one had to do to confirm that was watch Meet The Press last Sunday.  It was hard to take.

It is agonizing to hear the discussions of the Ryan-Republican budget plan on television for the reasons Krugman and others point out.  Ryan is always credited with courage for his efforts and Republicans in general are given good marks for solidarity. And the pundits rarely get it right about the nature of the plan, about its extremist design.

But Democrats must never tire in pointing out the obvious: The Republican plan for Medicare and Medicaid would dramatically change those programs, essentially killing Medicare.  As Steve Benen puts it:

Congressional Republicans have a plan to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher scheme. The proposal would not only help rewrite the social contract, it would also shift crushing costs onto the backs of seniors, freeing up money for tax breaks for the wealthy. The plan is needlessly cruel, and any serious evaluation of the GOP’s arithmetic shows that the policy is a fraud.

Benen asks:

Which part of this description is false? None of it, but apparently, Democrats just aren’t supposed to mention any of this. One party is allowed to present this agenda, but the other party is expected to sit quietly on their hands.

Well, if Paul Ryan does make a run for the presidency, there can’t be any Democrats sitting quietly on their hands because all hands will be needed to prevent the decimation of our current social contract. Needless to say, were he to run and win, America would look very different.

And that’s why he needs to run.  We need to find out if Americans really want to live in a Tea Party Nation.

Because I like metaphors, particularly in this case, I thought I would offer yet another one, in the form of an analogy by Paul Krugman, who also takes a shot at The Washington Post and the whole “Ryan is courageous” meme:

…think of Medicare as a footbridge that is deteriorating and will eventually become unsafe. You could propose structural repairs to fix its faults; Ryan doesn’t do that. Instead, he proposes knocking the bridge down and replacing it with trampolines, in the hope that pedestrians can bounce across the stream. And the Post declares that he deserves credit for pointing out that the bridge is falling down, and proposing a solution. Um, we knew that the bridge was in bad shape — and his solution is a fraud.

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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