thedigbyblog at gmail Dennis: satniteflix at gmail Gaius: publius.gaius at gmail Tom: tpostsully at gmail
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David: isnospoon at gmail tristero: Richardein at me.com
Greg Sargent highlights a post by Brendan Nyhan about the myth that Reagan turned the American people against government and adds:
The key takeaway here is that public attitudes towards government are not fixed in stone, and if there's one thing that can get folks to rethink their supposed anti-government bias, it's actual cuts to government. Nyhan worries that Obama has internalized the "phony narrative of Reagan's presidency," and says this "is likely to lead him astray." But I think it's becoming clearer that Obama has not internalized this narrative.
Rather, as I noted below, it seems more and more obvious that Obama and Dems are placing a heavy bet on the very phenomenon Nyhan pinpoints here: People suddenly start to like government once officials start talking specifics about how to downsize it in the real world. Not even Saint Ronald Reagan could talk them out of this apostasy.
I think this is correct as far as it goes. Most people actually like government programs that benefit them and are usually hostile only to those they think benefit the "undeserving." But there is no doubt in my mind that Reagan and his progeny have made anti-government sentiment in general a baseline value among a large number of Americans, which has led to an ongoing, incremental degradation of the relationship of people to their government. People may not want their government services cut in the abstract, but with every vote for a Republican or Democrat who rails against taxes, they make it that much more difficult to deliver them. And being unable to deliver adequate services leads more and more people to vote for people who promise to lower taxes and spending.
This "starve the beast" approach has always been to rail against government and force tax cuts --- thus driving up debt. The cuts in programs are what follows. And they are quite successful at the first two elements. We know their anti-government rhetoric is nearly universal. It's almost impossible to find someone who says "I think the government does a pretty good job" even though they may personally have positive dealings with it. It just isn't socially acceptable. That's a huge political advantage for those of both parties who are most concerned with weakening the safety net, deregulation and low taxes.
Amid complaints about high taxes and calls for a smaller government, Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman's presidency, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data found.
Some conservative political movements such as the "Tea Party" have criticized federal spending as being out of control. While spending is up, taxes have fallen to exceptionally low levels.
Federal, state and local income taxes consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century.
Despite that, the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, even in light of their great comeback from the recession, is considered a model of future bipartisan behavior. I'd call that a big win for the Reaganites.
As Greg notes, we don't know how the administration and the Democrats in the congress will behave on "entitlements." (So it's probably a good idea to err on the side of caution and exert pressure wherever possible.) But I would just point out that the very argument Greg says the administration is putting forth is very, very close to the argument he used in the campaign to explain why Reagan was a transitional figure.
Greg writes this:
But it seems clear that Obama's gestures in the direction of austerity are more about creating a larger vision, a blend of fiscal discipline and sensible government spending, that the public will ultimately judge as preferable to the all-government-is-bad GOP approach.
"I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing."
At the time he said that virtually everyone was adamant that he didn't mean this in terms of policy, but rather as an illustration of how a president seizes the day to enact fundamental change. It was assumed that he saw his moment as a chance to do something similar in the liberal direction. But since it's impossible to argue that Obama's "larger vision of fiscal discipline and sensible spending" is some sort of progressive transformation (since that's been the mantra of most politicians of both parties for the past 30 years) it may be fair to assume that he really was endorsing Ronald Reagan's policy trajectory. (If you want to know how he felt about social security, click here.)
It's true that Ronald Reagan didn't end Big Government. Neither did Bush, Clinton or Bush II. But they all did their part in making it impossible to do anything that requires people to pay for it. That bill is coming due. It remains to be seen if Obama will be the one who finally picks up the tab.
BagNews is featuring a fascinating post about the Egyptian protest showing how up until this recent uprising the protests there were carefully controlled by the government. Here's a photo from last Wednesday, showing how it was usually done:
The photographer, David Degner says:
“What is so significant about the photo from Wednesday is that it possibly represents the last vestige of the old paradigm, of the exploitative tactics with policemen in a circle letting a show of protest go on. As of now, that system is gone. You do have to walk around the tanks to get into Tahrir Square right now, but once you’re in, it’s a free game. You can say anything you want. You can lead chants. It’s completely different.”
Ezra Klein tweeted that Judge Vinson's ruling today has a "Bush vs. Gore" feel to it. I'll say.
In his post on the subject, he points out that Vinson uses a variant of the old "this ruling applies to this case only" that the Supreme Court majority so memorably used to validate their partisan bias without endangering the entire American electoral framework.
This is all interesting, and I suppose that there's some use in having the public argument about the merits of the various cases and rulings. But in the end, this isn't a public issue anymore, it's an Anthony Kennedy issue. And while he may be subject to public opinion in his deliberations on some level I doubt it's very significant.
But Ezra does point out one very interesting aspect of this. Vinson may have moved the goalposts:
Vinson's ruling does not halt, slow, or otherwise impede implementation of the act. What it does do is speed the law's route to the Supreme Court, which is where this question will ultimately be decided. It could also have the effect of making the Supreme Court more comfortable with adopting Hudson's stance, under the theory that Vinson's ruling makes a limited rejection of the individual mandate seem less extreme.
If you have any interest at all in having one of the two major political parties in the United States being something other than a brothel servicing the wealthy and fundamentalist know-nothings, then you should be interested in this Down With Tyranny post which features this little piece of advice from a Democratic politician:
"There was a lot of money spent against Democrats by Democrats. That contributed to the scale of our losses... I think if we had avoided that, we would have saved, maybe, six or eight more seats,” said Lynch. “I don’t think it would have stopped the overall result, but maybe six or eight seats” could have been held.
Clearing primaries for members and discouraging liberal groups from spending against incumbents should be a priority for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he said. “It would definitely help, I think. You need to talk to those groups.”
Lynch basically wants to put the Democratic Party up for bid to big business, telling labor and liberals in the party to get with the program or shut the hell up. The people shall have no say in who represents them. This shall be done solely by the powers that be.
It's quite an interesting contrast to the GOP which really felt the lash of their Tea partiers and lost some long time stalwarts. Perhaps that's because they won big anyway, but their public response has been pretty muted nonetheless. Of course, their uprising is being financed by the same people who currently call the shots in both parties, so I suppose any conflict is more cosmetic than anything. And they are rarely contemptuous of their activists the way Democrats are.
This is incredibly arrogant and stupid. I suppose that the Democrats believe that they can shut liberals and labor out of the nominating process because at the end of the day, they will have to come back home and vote for any anti-choice, right wing shill the party vomits up. But as I've said before, they're playing with fire. This country is still polarized (at best) and they need every vote they can get.
After all, they lost the presidential election in 2000 by an extremely close margin in one state. We'll never know if the people who voted for Nader in Florida would have voted for Bush, Gore or stayed home, but we know damned well that nearly a hundred thousand Florida liberals were disenchanted enough with the Democrats not to vote for their presidential nominee. Indeed, there were over two million of them across the country.
We also know that the disenfranchisement of African Americans in Florida had an effect and the latest news from the Republicans is that they are putting a huge emphasis on vote suppression going into 2012. It will undoubtedly have at least some effect, particularly since the Democrats already helped them destroy one of their most important voter outreach organizations.
It's a huge political mistake for the Democrats to be telegraphing this attitude. But more importantly, it shows a total lack of respect for the democratic process. People have a perfect right to organize on their own behalf and try to gain proper representation in the congress. In our two party system this is done through the primary and caucus process. Since many Democratic politicians have made it quite clear over the past few years that they are unprepared to even consider arguing for progressive values in their campaigns and are instead merely using the Party as a convenient line on the ballot, primary challenges are inevitable.
The DCCC can "talk" all it wants to liberal groups but what's it going to say? Please don't run candidates against our corporate shills because then we won't be able to have a majority that works with corporate shills on the other side to sell out ordinary Americans? That even with a Democratic president and a large majorities in both houses we couldn't pass a public option or allow obscene tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, but we need even more conservatives and centrists in the congress? That's not very persuasive.
We all face the dilemma of going into the voting booth for the general election and picking our poison. I'm not going to tell anyone what to do in that situation. I have more often than not picked the lesser of two evils because that's how our winner take all system works. But I deeply resent this notion that we cannot even challenge incumbents in our own party and I think it deserves widespread condemnation. They might as well tell us to stop worrying our little heads about politics and go out any buy ourselves something pretty. This is the only electoral mechanism by which we can influence the party. If they want the left of the Party to split off and seek something outside the system, like third parties or nihilistic sabotage, this is the perfect way to go about making that happen.
I don't know about you, but it makes me want to redouble my efforts to support worthy primary challengers wherever they may be, for the principle alone. Who do these people think they are?
If you'd like an example of how much this has seeped into the conventional wisdom, listen to Chris Cilizza a few minutes ago on Andrea Mitchell's show, talking about how difficult it is for the President to stay on message when the world is full of crises:
Cilizza: There are just so many things that are distracting you at all times. We saw this in the run up to the 2010 election. The Obama administration kept wanting to talk about the economy and they got sidetracked by things like the "Professional Left".
I seem to recall that the Professional Left was quite concerned about the economy while the administration insisted that happy days were here again. But perhaps I was dreaming.
This made my morning. Apparently, even Fox has now been burned by a bogus Breitbart smear --- about Fox. From Media Matters:
Yesterday, we noted that Fox Nation amplified Breitbart.tv’s paranoid suggestion that CNN "sabotage[d]" Michele Bachmann’s Tea Party response to last week’s State of the Union address. That’s a crazy conspiracy theory for any number of reasons, not least the fact that Fox News itself was responsible for the video feed in question.
Now Breitbart.tv has noted Fox’s responsibility -- and suggests that the right-wing cable channel may have sabotaged the right-wing congresswoman:
On the other hand, Breitbart will tout this as proof that he is fair and balanced. Fox Nation, however, has even less integrity than Breitbart. They simply said, "Breitbart changes his allegation."
When you listen to phony Breitbartian conspiracies, embarrassment follows.
In the new session, 30 of the Senate’s standing committees will be led by Republicans; three will be led by Democrats. Twenty-nine will be headed by men; four will be headed by women. Nineteen will be led by senators from upstate; 14 will be led by senators from New York City and its suburbs.
But all the committee chairmanships share at least one characteristic in common.
Want to take a guess what that might be? Give that reader a kewpie doll!
“They’re all white,” said State Senator Rubén Díaz Sr., Democrat of the Bronx. “Everybody’s white.”...
True. But this is unfair:
The current group of 32 Republicans does not count a member of a minority in its ranks.
I don't think the reporter did his homework. It could be there's at least one Jew amongst them: Democrat Jeffry D. Klein (all committee chairs are appointed by the Republicans). Objectively speaking, Jews are as much a minority as any other in Our Christian Nation (tm).
Hey! If we look hard enough, maybe we'll even spot a Papist!
After the State of the Union address I mentioned the Frank Luntz "focus group" in which the Republicans and Democrats differed sharply on the need for bipartisanship. Dave Neiwert caught the clip and kindly transcribed it for us. Here's the pertinent passage:
Sean, I want to go to one clip we did, because Obama talked a lot about bipartisanship, and yet the Republicans didn't respond too favorably to that. The red line is Republicans, green line is Democrats. Watch how high the green declines and red falls when Barack Obama appeals directly to partisanship.
BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together or not at all, for the challenges we face are bigger than party, bigger than politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LUNTZ: So the question is, what is it about this appeal to bipartisanship that those of you on the Republican side don't like?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe it.
LUNTZ: Explain it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said that before. When he first got into office he was going to be the president to change everything, come across the aisle. It never happened.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is phony.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is bipartisan? Is it if you agree with me? I mean, we've got two sides here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to use one of those curse words we can't use. The Republicans didn't. The first thing he said was I'm not going to work with him. I'm not going to work with you. That's like throwing down the gauntlet.
LUNTZ: Hold on one second. Sean, you've got a question?
HANNITY: Yes, I do. Somebody said it. He said all of these things before. He said it last year, during the campaign. And this whole campaign it was only a couple months ago when he was calling Republicans enemies. They can sit in the back. For two years Republicans weren't invited to the table.
So in that sense are we just reading words from a teleprompter or has he lost the ability because he has two years experience for people to belief him?
LUNTZ: So here's the question, is it politics or principle that you heard tonight? Who would say politics, raise your hand. Who would say principle? You said principle, tell me why?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This president is doing the best he can at this point. He's trying to be in the center. He's not being -- it is not that he's trying to cause problems with the economy. He's doing the best job he can do. I think he's doing a great job. He's brought unemployment down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Experience, experience, and we are not making any progress whatsoever.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In 2000 he said Bush is not the real president. And then they are yelling at him for the same thing. Everyone is saying the same things again, it's 10 years later, the same thing, but we are worse off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two years of railroading legislation in Washington, rolling over Republicans, accusing them of being cynical. Now saying let's come to the table, have a drink and work together. It's nonsense.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like getting romantic talk from Tiger Woods. Are you going to put your trust in him?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They got a lot done this lame duck session. When they did come together and pass bipartisan support, things got an accomplished. You have people probably to the far right who don't want to see any time of compromise. When you have compromise, things get done, you get bills passed.
LUNTZ: Again, what is wrong with compromise? I want to understand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to have some compromise. Give a little on both sides.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's nothing wrong with compromise. People have to talk about what is good for each side and take the good together. Not everybody is going to be happy.
LUNTZ: Is Barack Obama sincere about bipartisanship?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know.
LUNTZ: One at a time. Is Barack Obama sincere?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he is. And I think it should be the American people what they want. We are all-American, not Democrat, not Republican.
LUNTZ: I get it. Sean, the State of the Union is supposed to bring people together. It is supposed to appeal to all Americans, not just the Americans from your political party. I don't think that has happened tonight. They are just as divided now as they were an hour and a half ago. Back to you.
This is the previously described "bipartisanship trap" in action--- Republicans obstruct and then blame the president for failing to fulfill his promise of bipartisan leadership. When you govern as someone who will change process and extol it as higher purpose than policy and principle, you give the other side a huge weapon with which to beat you. Democrats seem to really love the bipartisan promise, but I'm guessing that a good part of that is simply following the president's lead. They like it when he's "successful" which means lots of good press and signing ceremonies and they trust him to look out for their interests. So the Republicans have all the leverage --- and the President has every incentive to go along with them.
Here's the whole creepy focus group (which I fully acknowledge was rigged. But it doesn't change the upshot.)
Roger Stockham, a 63-year-old Army veteran from California who was reportedly angry at the U.S. government, was arrested by police in Michigan and charged for allegedly threatening to blow up a Mosque in Dearborn.
Dearborn police allegedly found Stockham inside his vehicle outside the Islamic Center of America with a load of M-80s in his trunk and other explosives, the Detroit News reported.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Counsel on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), told the newspaper that police told him the suspect was drinking in a Detroit bar on Monday and threatened to do harm to a mosque in Dearborn. An employee at the bar followed the man outside and wrote down his license plate which he reported to police, Walid told the newspaper.
The 63-year-old grandfather is charged with one count of a false report or threat of terrorism and one count of possession of bombs with unlawful intent, according to the newspaper.
"He's very dangerous," Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad told the Free Press. "We took his threat to be very serious."
Just to show how widespread this is, this fellow hailed from my neck of the woods. Of course, it also shows just how widespread ignorance is. He traveled to Detroit because of the large Muslim population but he could have saved the gas money. LA's is the second largest.
Howard Fineman has the unique capability of making people seem like even bigger assholes than they already are by damning them with his approbation. I'm sure you'll all recall his famous encomium to Bush:
FINEMAN (11/27/01): So who are the Bushes, really? Well, they’re the people who produced the fellow who sat with me and my Newsweek colleague, Martha Brant, for his first interview since 9/11. We saw, among other things, a leader who is utterly comfortable in his role. Bush envelops himself in the trappings of office. Maybe that’s because he’s seen it from the inside since his dad served as Reagan’s vice president in the ‘80s. The presidency is a family business.
Dubyah loves to wear the uniform—whatever the correct one happens to be for a particular moment. I counted no fewer than four changes of attire during the day trip we took to Fort Campbell in Kentucky and back. He arrived for our interview in a dark blue Air Force One flight jacket. When he greeted the members of Congress on board, he wore an open-necked shirt. When he had lunch with the troops, he wore a blue blazer. And when he addressed the troops, it was in the flight jacket of the 101st Airborne. He’s a boomer product of the ‘60s—but doesn’t mind ermine robes.
So what he up to now? Well, get a load of this piece about Obama:
Among his other attributes, Jay Carney is a cool dancer. I know that because I saw him and his wife, Claire Shipman, getting down on the tented dance floor of a fancy Georgetown wedding years ago. Jay Carney, who went to Yale and was a foreign correspondent in Moscow, is -- besides being smart, savvy, loyal and well-connected with the right sort -- suave.
Why bring this up? Because by choosing him as his new press secretary, President Barack Obama has completed his swift and thorough transition from crusading outsider to shrewd insider as he prepares to deal with the wild folk of the Tea Party, Karl Rove and the Republican kneecappers, and an electorate still fearful that the world is spinning out of control.
Say this about Obama: He is adaptable, he is a survivor and he has a supreme desire to win.
He is setting up his reelection campaign back in Chicago, but that is an expensive piece of window dressing unlikely to convince people that he is somehow still, if he ever was, a guy from the heartland. David Axelrod and the gang will be back in the Windy City, but the operation will be run by a Chicagoan-cum-Washingtonian with national and even global ties -- Bill Daley -- and a cadre of the best and the brightest of the Clinton administration who came to the city to do good and stayed to do well.
Obama came to the White House in the manner of Jimmy Carter, with whom he was, early on, mistakenly compared. But while Carter never expanded his circle beyond the "Georgians," Obama has, with stunning swiftness, retooled his administration to play hardball in the D.C. League.
I'm sure the President's Villager status is greatly satisfying to the likes of Fineman. I'm not so sure that Obama's political handlers would be so pleased to see him publicly extolled as such. "Insiders" aren't quite as revered in the rest of the country. In fact, it's the last thing most politicians would ever want, particularly now.
I'm not sure what "narrative" they think they're selling, but this isn't a good one:
Axelrod believes that a campaign is a "narrative." Carney, who wrote and reported plenty of cover stories for Time, knows all about the craft and the power of narratives -- and, presumably, will be more willing to spin them out in public than the cautious Gibbs seemed to be.
There are few better-connected couples in the Washington media and social scene than Carney and Shipman. Their children attend the Sidwell Friends School with the Obama girls. They are the kind of well-liked, Ivy-credentialed insiders who make the Tea Party boiling mad. But why should Obama care?
Gibbs, meanwhile, will go out on his own, where he can go on the soundbite attack, but do it from the aw-shucks stance of a guy who comes from the part of the country where people tend to cling to their guns and their religion.
Gibbs, the son of teachers at Auburn University, liked to celebrate Auburn football victories by wrapping White House trees in toilet paper. I could be wrong, but I don't think Jay has done or will do that for a victory over Harvard.
I'm about as far from the Tea party as you can get and I live in one of the most Democratic cities in the country. And that just about made me hurl.
Everything that's wrong with politics is in that one passage.
The advocates in Indiana, which national Tea Party groups say has the most organized of the primary efforts, point to Mr. Lugar’s push for the New Start nuclear treaty, which the Senate approved in December; his sponsorship of the Dream Act, which would grant a path to citizenship for limited groups of illegal immigrants; and his votes for President Obama’s picks for the Supreme Court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“The senator would call it bipartisanship, but we think you’re siding with the other side,” said Greg Fettig, a Tea Party supporter in Indiana.
Another, Mark Holwager, said, “He may have been a conservative at one time, but he definitely leans to the left now.”
It must be galling for a stalwart conservative like Lugar to realize that he didn't exist before the Tea Party came to power. These Know-nothing are going to oust him because he crossed the aisle on START and DREAM, two issues that were thoroughly bipartisan until five minutes ago and he voted to confirm Obama's two choices for the Supreme Court, something that used to be done as a matter of course.
His entire career is irrelevant:
In Indiana, several Tea Party supporters met with Mr. Lugar last month, and he argued his conservative credentials. Unconvinced, they announced that they would pursue a primary challenge, and that the first step would be to unify behind one Republican. Potential candidates include a state senator, Mike Delph, and the state treasurer, Richard E. Mourdock.
At the meeting this month, the Tea Party organizers signed a letter that “with deep gratitude and respect” asked Mr. Lugar to resign. With the rise of conservative awareness in America, “the emergence of the modern day Tea Party, and your own more social-liberal perception on issues, we find ourselves at odds,” they wrote.
Mr. Lugar won his last term with 87 percent of the vote after Democrats declined to challenge him. He says he intends to run aggressively, and not change his positions.
“A lot of conservatives believe you have to kowtow to the Tea Party,” said his spokesman, Mark Helmke. “We reject that premise.”
Mr. Holwager argued that there is a disconnect between Tea Party supporters and many of their representatives in Washington.
“Heartland America doesn’t feel the same way as people in the cities,” he said. “We do believe in religion, we go to church all the time, we shoot and fish, and love our families. Some of the time you wish folks in the cities would come live with us and see how we live.”
That's fine. But until they change the constitution to be more to their liking, they still share the nation with us city folks. And there's a whole bunch of us. Can they wrap their minds around that? And what that means in a democracy?
Good for Lugar. He may end up winning with Democratic votes if he keeps that up. Which is too bad --- it means the goalposts have moved so far to the right that it doesn't even matter anymore.
Since I am not an expert on Egypt and have no special knowledge to impart beyond "look at that" I'm not blogging much on the topic other than to share links and pictures if I think they're worth sharing.
This blog, called The Arabist, was passed on to me by email and I think it's worth reading. He said something that struck me as an interesting insight:
Something very fishy is taking place — the Egyptian people are being manipulated and terrified by the withdrawal of the police yesterday, reports (some of them perhaps untrue) of widespread looting, and yesterday's (during the day) relatively low military presence in the city. I can only speak about central Cairo, I suspect the situation is much worse in the Suez Canal cities, Alexandria and the Delta, and perhaps most of all the Sinai. I spoke to my former bawaab (doorman) who is near Aswan, where is he the police is still out and there is no military, although the local NDP office was ransacked and set on fire. So the situation is different from place to place, and there is very little national-level visibility.
There is a discourse of army vs. police that is emerging. I don't fully buy it — the police was pulled out to create this situation of chaos, and it's very probable that agent provocateurs are operating among the looters, although of course there is also real criminal gangs and neighborhoods toughs operating too.
That reflect quite a few comments I heard on various new broadcasts last night --- the fear of chaos. We have had some experience with that here, during Katrina. It tends to favor the authoritarian impulse --- which is why authoritarians use it.
Another blogger in Egypt, Jonathan Wright, posts this:
On the face of it, President Mubarak's decision to appoint intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as vice president and Ahmed Shafik as prime minister is hard to understand, and the analyses I have heard and seen haven't been very profound or convincing. Perhaps that's because outsiders assume that Mubarak's purpose was to placate the uprising in some way, so they have jumped to the conclusion that the appointment of Suleiman was a superficially 'honourable' way to abandon any plan to have his unpopular son Gamal succeed him. Others see it as part of a plan to arrange a safe exit for himself at some future date, under some highly speculative deal with the army which has saved him.
Others, including many of the protesters, suspect that Suleiman has the approval of the U.S. government, but reactions from the United States don't corroborate that theory in any way. Certainly that theory was widespread in Tahrir Square this morning and this has given Egypt's relationship with Washington more prominence in the uprising than at any time in the last five days, when the foreign dimension was largely absent. Protesters this morning called Suleiman a U.S. agent and banners recalled his collaboration with Israel and the United States in imposing the blockade of Gaza, which most Egyptians see as criminal.
That's not good. But it is understandable. If you haven't read Jane Meyer's New Yorker piece about Suleiman, read it:
One of the “new” names being mentioned as a possible alternative to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Omar Suleiman, is actually not so new to anyone who has followed the American policy of renditions for terror suspects. After dissolving his cabinet yesterday, Mubarak appointed Suleiman vice-president, and according to many commentators he is poised to be a potential successor, and an alternative to Mubarak’s son and intended heir until now, Gamal Mubarak. Suleiman is a well-known quantity in Washington. Suave, sophisticated, and fluent in English, he has served for years as the main conduit between the United States and Mubarak. While he has a reputation for loyalty and effectiveness, he also carries some controversial baggage from the standpoint of those looking for a clean slate on human rights. As I described in my book “The Dark Side,” since 1993 Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service. In that capacity, he was the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.
Read the whole thing. It's not pretty.
Unsurprisingly, John Negroponte on CNN a couple of minutes ago didn't seem to concerned about Suleiman taking over. Money quote: "the street is not democracy, let's not forget that."
Orangutans are skeptical Of changes in their cages And the zookeeper is very fond of rum. -Paul Simon
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore!’ -Edgar Allan Poe
The cat, of course, said nothing. -Kinky Friedman
Humans are silly creatures, particularly with our compulsive need to anthropomorphize our animal friends. You see what just happened there? I had an uncontrollable compulsion to say, animal “friends”. How do I really know they’re my “friends”? When I was a kid, I loved the Hanna-Barbera cartoons. There was nothing I enjoyed more than spending Saturday mornings watching Yogi and Boo-Boo copping picnic baskets. Now, let’s say I’m taking a nature hike on Kodiak Island, and suddenly, I find myself face to face with a 1500 pound bear. What would be my first “compulsion” then? Give him a cheerful greeting (Hey, Yogi! Whassup?”) and a high five? Not likely. I would probably acquiesce to my lizard brain response (i.e., soil myself and flee in the opposite direction).
In Nicolas Philibert’s Nenette, a documentary centering on a beloved 41 year-old female orangutan who has resided in the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris since 1969, a zoo visitor hypothesizes likewise. “The thickness of the glass…it’s in proportion to our fear of getting closer,” he muses. “She seems familiar to us, because we’re protected. But, if the glass were to break all of a sudden…you wouldn’t hear ‘my sweet Nanette’ anymore. You’d only hear, ‘Run for your lives!’.” Like I said- humans are silly creatures.
And, throughout the four decades since she was captured in her native Borneo and transplanted to the Jardin des Plantes, Nenette has watched the daily parade of silly creatures that point and gawk and endlessly pontificate about what she might be thinking. The director gives us lots of time to study Nenette’s (mostly impassive) reaction to all the fuss; because the camera stays on her (and to a lesser extent, her three fellow orangutans) for nearly the entire 70-minute running time of the film. The zoo visitors are largely heard, and not seen, save for their ephemeral reflections in the thick glass that separates the simians from the homosapiens. “She looks sad,” says one little girl. “I think she looks very depressed,” one woman opines; “Maybe she misses her husband?” wonders another.
Nenette has actually been “married” three times over the years, and has borne four offspring. One of her adult sons keeps her company (and to address the inevitable question that arises concerning the particulars of that living arrangement, a handler assures us that when Nenette’s son matured, it was decided that she be put on the pill, surreptitiously dropped into her daily bowl of yogurt). In my favorite scene, one visitor attempts to bond with Nenette’s son. Speaking in almost reverently hushed tones, she tells a companion that, unlike most zoo patrons, she “knows how to communicate” with the orangutans. “Sing for me,” this Jane Goodall wannabe coos seductively, and then begins kissing the glass (we assume, as the orangutan appears to be aping the gesture from his side). I suspect she is one of those people who, according to a handler, drop by for daily chats with the orangutans, as if visiting with a family member who is in prison.
Nenette, of course, says nothing. Orangutans are taciturn by nature, and not overtly demonstrative like some of the other great apes. I suppose this makes Nenette’s inscrutable countenance an ideal “blank canvas” upon which each chatty visitor can paint their own unique projection (if you planted a microphone behind the Mona Lisa, you would likely have a very similar collage of comments). Not surprisingly, it takes the observations of (someone we assume to be) an actor to ultimately put Philibert’s enigmatic and meditative film study into perspective. As he marvels at “the quality of (Nenette’s) idleness” which she executes “with astounding virtuosity” he is reminded of an exercise from acting class, in which the teacher instructs the students that “the space is yours…just be there.” He concludes, “She is fully there, that’s all.” Then again, for all we know, she’s pondering about how yummy a nice banana might taste right about now.
Digby's recent post debunking the latest bullshit from the right wing about slavery and the Founders reminded me that I wanted to let the hive mind know about a fantastic blog at the NY Times called Disunion which is a daily retelling of the Civil War 150 years later. There is a terrific array of Civil War scholars. Here's the kicker:
The don't assert that the reason the Southern states seceded was primarily to protect the institution of slavery rather than "states rights." Instead, they prove it. They prove it over and over again. They prove it over and over again by quoting contemporary documents written by leading secessionists, Southern legislators, newspaper publishers, and also Northern sympathizers.
It is quite clear, as if anyone sane and educated ever doubted it. Slavery wasn't one of many issues that led to disunion: It was by far the principal issue. It would hardly be much of an exaggeration to say that it was the only issue. Time and again, the states rights rhetoric was tied directly to the issue of slavery. Time and again, slavery was said to be an essential component of the effort to bring Africans closer to Christianity.
But Disunion is hardly focused on debunking modern racists. Mainly, the blog is telling an exciting and compelling story with the kind of detail and complexity it deserves. Through its multiplicity of voices, viewpoints, and styles, it's rarely less than a must read. And the many parallels between then and now are as striking (and as eerie) as the many differences.
It's Tom Paine's birthday. And considering what's going on in the world, this seems to be an auspicious day to read this:
The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankind are affected, and in the Event of which, their Affections are interested. The laying a Country desolate with Fire and Sword, declaring War against the natural rights of all Mankind, and extirpating the Defenders thereof from the Face of the Earth, is the Concern of every Man to whom Nature hath given the Power of feeling; of which Class, regardless of Party Censure, is the AUTHOR.
I thought Michelle Bachman's bizarre comments about the founders ending slavery came out of her own fevered brain. Unfortunately, it didn't. Seems the Teabag professor was there first, teaching it to his followers:
BECK: Yesterday -- or was it today? I don't even know. It was yesterday that they read the Constitution in Congress. It was today? Read the Constitution in Congress. And it was -- no, it was -- they edited the Constitution, not for time, but because they didn't want to offend anyone. And parts of it were outdated. You got to be kidding me. This, we're getting from the Republicans. Hmm. Parts of it are outdated and parts of it are offensive.
The three-fifths clause was offensive, and so they didn't do it. This shows such a -- either lack of understanding of our history, who the Founders were, what the Constitution says, or it is just cowardice in Washington. Three-fifths clause. African-Americans: three-fifths in the South, three-fifths of a human being. That's an outrage, unless you know why they put that in there. They put that in there because if slaves in the South were counted as full human beings, they could never abolish slavery. They would never be able to do it. It was a time bomb.
Progressives should love that. It was a way to take a step to abolish slavery. It is a tremendous story about our Founders, about the genius of the Constitution -- but that might offend some people, so they skipped it. They skipped it. That's offensive to me. [Fox News' Glenn Beck, 1/6/10]
I'm guessing he actually believes that.
Click the link to find out the truth, if you need to. Many historians (obviously aghast that anyone's uttering this nonsense in public) respond. Here's one:
Beeman: "My Goodness -- Glenn Beck Got It Completely Wrong." In response to a Media Matters email about Beck's comments, Beeman wrote:
My goodness -- Glenn Beck got it completely wrong. They put [the three-fifths clause] there because delegates from the Southern states would never have agreed to the Constitution unless some weight was given to their slave populations in the apportionment of representation. They wanted slaves counted 100%, but when they saw that they could not get that, they settled for 3/5. The practical effect of that, far from making easier to abolish slavery, made it more difficult. It gave added weight to southern political power in Congress, it inflated Southern power in the apportioning of electoral votes, which led to a succession of Southern presidents. Ironically, the best thing that could have been done with respect to making it easier to abolish slavery would have been to have given slaves NO weight in the apportioning of representation.
Well, yeah. it's not like the slaves got 3/5th of a vote.
This makes my head hurt. But keep in mind that Beck is hugely influential in the Tea party --- he is their most admired man. Millions of people are like Bachman and believe him, they home school their kids to believe the same garbage and you finally reach a point where it's open to interpretation as to whether the 3/5th compromise ended slavery.
There's a lot of this going around lately. Recall Haley Barbour has been telling us that Jim Crow wasn't all that bad and that white southerners were the biggest proponents of the civil rights movement. Next thing you know we'll be told that slavery didn't happen at all --- it's just a sob story made up by a bunch of liberals and blacks to demonize southerners. After all, if the founders ended slavery ...
By the way, responding to Chris Matthews uncivil comments about Bachman's ignorance in which he called her a balloon head, Beck had this to say:
"You sir, are a balloon head that was taught by a balloon head and all you did because you're a balloon head was sit in your stupid balloon head Ivy League classroom and be indoctrinated by a balloon head and never ever used your balloon head to ask an intelligent question of the balloon head in the tweed jacket! You self-sanctimonious, self-important balloon head, America has had enough. Do your own homework.
Matthews went to Holy Cross, but whatever. Do your own homework anyway.
If you are trying to follow the story this week-end on CNN and Fox you will have noticed that the anchors they've called in couldn't find Egypt on a map. Or worse. Raw Story caught this one:
CNBC contributor Erin Burnett said Friday that oil prices would skyrocket if countries in the Middle East broke out from under the rule of brutal dictators.
Appearing on a Friday broadcast of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Burnett said that the ongoing revolution in Egypt could threaten US interests in the region due to Egypt's history as an ally on matters pertaining to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
She added that as one of the most developed economies in the Middle East, it was surprising to see many of the society's wealthiest individuals supporting regime change. Tens of thousands of protesters across the country have taken to the streets the last few days, demanding President Mubarak resign.
"One more thing," Burnett remarked. "If this spreads, the United States could take a huge hit because democracy in a place like Saudi Arabia, you've talked about who might come in power, what that means for oil prices. They're going to go stratospheric."
"There's no doubt about it,' MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said. "No doubt about it!"
You'll find quite a bit of "gas price" scaremongering all over the place, usually among the anchors,not the analysts.
Unfortunately, most of the nation is not allowed to see Al Jazeera English television because our corporate overlords are convinced that it will be used to brainwash us into joining Al Qaeda or something. (Since every network now has at least three channels on my system, I doubt it's a matter of money or availability.)
Anyway, you've noticed that there is often news from the middle east. And by all accounts Al Jazeera is the best at providing it. It's a legitimate news organization and it should be available to the American people. Not all of us are children. Not even the Republicans. (I'm kidding ... civility, civility.)
An interview with Evva Pryror, a social worker and consultant to Miss Rand's law firm of Ernst, Cane, Gitlin and Winick verified that on Miss Rand's behalf she secured Rand's Social Security and Medicare payments which Ayn received under the name of Ann O'Connor (husband Frank O'Connor).
As Pryor said, "Doctors cost a lot more money than books earn and she could be totally wiped out" without the aid of these two government programs. Ayn took the bail out even though Ayn "despised government interference and felt that people should and could live independently... She didn't feel that an individual should take help."
But alas she did and said it was wrong for everyone else to do so.
With his father’s passing, young Paul collected Social Security benefits until age 18, which he put away for college. To make ends meet, Paul’s mother returned to school to study interior design. His siblings were off at college. Ryan remembers this difficult time bringing him and his mother closer.
That's Paul Ryan, Rand worshipper and scourge of social security.
I have to wonder if his mother took out federally funded school loans "to make ends meet" as well. It doesn't make a lot of sense otherwise.
Ezra Klein has a good post with an interesting graph showing what I am seeing among my friends:
That doesn't count the underemployed, which afflicts even more people my age. They lost good paying jobs and are now toiling at part time work or contracting that pays substantially less than what they made before. Strangely, it turns out that nobody is eager to hire 50 year olds at the wages they spent 25 years working their way up to and they aren't very excited about having a bunch of old duffers around the office or the factory when they can get young people to do it for much less and lower health care costs.
Here's the political problem with this scenario. This is the baby boom and there is a huge number of them. You can ignore them and pretend that it doesn't matter that this huge group is rapidly going through their meager retirement savings, but unless you are prepared to kill them, they're going to be around for quite a while. And they are getting poorer rather than richer, what with the real estate and stock market crashes at the worst possible time in their lives --- they're still putting kids through college and taking care of aging parents. It's a real squeeze.
I know it's fashionable for Democrats these days to write the baby boom off as a lost cause --- apparently, it's assumed they're all going to vote for Republicans forever because the oldsters are all voting for them today. But it's really not a good idea to let that happen -- there are simply way too many of them and they will vote far more reliably than under 30s do. Older people are just more interested in politics --- especially when they are financially screwed and have no time to make the money back.
We can thank Joe Lieberman for one thing: he shot down the Medicare buy-in for 55 year olds, which would have been a huge, huge benefit for all these people and cemented their loyalty to the Democratic Party for the rest of their lives. But that would have made the hippies happy and Holy Joe was having none of it. Too bad.
Update: I also have to point out that for those of us in the individual health insurance market --- as most of those unemployed 50 somethings are --- the health care bill is extremely inadequate. It's very expensive for us and when I did the famous HCR calculator, I found out that my savings from the bill will be minimal. And I don't make much money. I suppose a few of them will qualify for medicaid, but if you have any assets at all, you're stuck in the private market and it's brutal for people over 50 --- just when your health usually starts to be an issue.
I think this is a political time bomb. The only thing Dems have going for them is that Republicans are trapped in their ideology and can't really do much of anything but lie and misdirect. But that's a very thin reed.
One of the most linked posts I ever wrote was called "The Sodomized Virgin Exception", about the comments by a South Dakota lawmaker as to what might constitute a legitimate reason for an abortion. Here's the gist:
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Napoli says most abortions are performed for what he calls "convenience." He insists that exceptions can be made for rape or incest under the provision that protects the mother's life. I asked him for a scenario in which an exception may be invoked.
BILL NAPOLI: A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.
I commented at the time:
Do you suppose all these elements have to be present for it to be sufficiently psychologically damaging for her to be forced to bear her rapists child, or just some of them? I wonder if it would be ok if the woman wasn't religious but she was a virgin who had been brutally, savagely raped and "sodomized as bad as you can make it?" Or if she were a virgin and religious but the brutal savage sodomy wasn't "as bad" as it could have been?
Certainly, we know that if she wasn't a virgin, she was asking for it, so she should be punished with forced childbirth. No lazy "convenient" abortion for her, the little whore. It goes without saying that the victim who was saving it for her marriage is a good girl who didn't ask to be brutally raped and sodomized like the sluts who didn't hold out. But even that wouldn't be quite enough by itself. The woman must be sufficiently destroyed psychologically by the savage brutality that the forced childbirth would drive her to suicide (the presumed scenario in which this pregnancy could conceivably "threaten her life.")
This was in 2006, and there was a fair amount of blowback that I was (as usual) being hyperbolic and rude, that this was a fringe sweller and I was unfairly tarring the good hearted pro-lifers as extremists.
Fast forward five years later. Nick Bauman in Mother Joneswrites:
For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman.) But the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases.
With this legislation, which was introduced last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to "forcible rape." This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible. For example: If a 13-year-old girl is impregnated by a 24-year-old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion. (Smith's spokesman did not respond to a call and an email requesting comment.)
Given that the bill also would forbid the use of tax benefits to pay for abortions, that 13-year-old's parents wouldn't be allowed to use money from a tax-exempt health savings account (HSA) to pay for the procedure. They also wouldn't be able to deduct the cost of the abortion or the cost of any insurance that paid for it as a medical expense.
There used to be a quasi-truce between the pro- and anti-choice forces on the issue of federal funding for abortion. Since 1976, federal law has prohibited the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, and when the pregnancy endangers the life of the woman. But since last year, the anti-abortion side has become far more aggressive in challenging this compromise. They have been pushing to outlaw tax deductions for insurance plans that cover abortion, even if the abortion coverage is never used. The Smith bill represents a frontal attack on these long-standing exceptions. "This bill takes us backwards to a time when just saying no wasn't enough to qualify as rape."
No word on what constitutes "force" but I'm quite sure that Bill Napoli's comments serve as a working definition for most of these people.
In 2009, Republican Edward Mangano was one of the first politicians to channel the Tea Party’s anti-tax fervor into a political victory when he knocked off Democrat Tom Suozzi for Nassau County Executive in New York State. Suozzi was a major political figure with ambitions for statewide office, and Magnano was a local legislator “given little chance of winning leading up to Election Day.”
Upon taking office, Mangano — who ran on both the Republican and Tax Revolt Party lines — made good on a key campaign promise. On his inauguration day, Mangano signed a repeal of an unpopular home energy tax, instituted by Suozzi. The tax was implemented two years before as part of a deferred-pay deal Suozzi brokered with public worker unions, which was intended to spread around the sacrifice to deal with the county’s budget problems.
In a special report, Reuters details how the repeal of that tax lead to a budgetary crisis and ultimately a takeover of the county’s finances by a state-appointed fiscal overseer. Noting that Mangano’s actions are “a black eye for the Tea Party,” the report explains how the Tea Party county executive had no plans for how to replace the lost tax revenue.
Weren't these people the ones who railed against bail-outs?
LOOKOUT:Â What are the protesters angry about, and what do they want done?
M.D.: Protesters have a large number of economic, political, and human-rights grievances. Widespread youth unemployment, rigged parliamentary elections in November 2010, and the prospect of President Mubarak (in power since 1981) beginning another term--or being replaced by his son--are the sparks that set these demonstrations off. The demonstrators are asking for Mubarak to step down and make way for an interim government to prepare for free elections.
LOOKOUT: Is there a real chance that Mubarak's government might fall?
M.D.: Yes, there is a real possibility, but that does not seem to be imminent yet. As in Tunisia, the regime would begin to be uncertain if internal security services could not handle demonstrations and the army were called in. Armies generally don't like firing on their own civilians and sometimes will choose keeping the loyalty of the population over defending an unpopular ruler.
LOOKOUT: If so, what might replace Mubarak's regime? What role might ElBaradei play?
M.D.: There is a shadow government and parliament, formed in December, that has positioned itself as the opposition party with which the government can negotiate if things reach that point. But things are very fluid right now. ElBaradei could possibly play a leadership role within the opposition, although up until now he has been more effective at articulating popular grievances than at organizing or leading opposition groups.
LOOKOUT: How might a shift in power affect U.S. interests?
M.D.: U.S. interests are being challenged here.Â The United States has been tepid in supporting human rights and democracy in Egypt for years and has to deal with the resentment among Egyptians because of that.Â Partly for that reason, and partly because of the close association of the United States with Israel, any alternate group that comes to power might distance itselfÂ from the United States to some extent.
LOOKOUT: What role, if any, is the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamic groups playing?
M.D.: The Muslim Brotherhood, while still the single largest opposition group in Egypt, is not at the forefront of these protests. Rather, they are trying to get on the bandwagon at this point.
LOOKOUT: What are the similarities and differences between the situations in Egypt and Tunisia?
M.D.: Similarities include the fact that young people are leading the protests and that many of the grievances are common between the two countries: youth unemployment, corrupt government, human-rights abuses, and a leader in power for an entire generation who showed no sign of being ready to leave.
Differences include the fact that the Egyptian government has had far more experience with handling demonstrations; the Tunisian government seemed surprised and folded pretty quickly.
John Bolton was on Fox earlier pimping the idea that this is the work of the Muslim Brotherhood or radical extremists and fretting over the toppling of this "secular" government. If he's any gauge, the Right is reverting to its natural impulse: supporting dictators. They aren't "pro-life" when it comes to the "birth" of democracy after all.
Tax revenues are projected to drop to their lowest levels since 1950, when measured against the size of the economy.
Oh, wait. That's not Bizarroworld. That's real. I guess the the fetishists who are lying about this and continue to agitate for even lower taxes have a new target: 1850.
You really should read the article, however. It's not about that. It's all about the deficit and how spending is just going to have to be slashed or ... well, I just don't know.
They do mention this in passing:
The latest deficit figures are up from previous estimates because of bipartisan legislation passed in December that extended George W. Bush-era tax cuts and unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and provided a 2 percentage point Social Security payroll tax cut this year.
Who could have predicted?
And then there's this:
CBO predicts that the deficit will fall to $551 billion by 2015 — a sustainable 3 percent of the economy — but only if the Bush tax cuts are wiped off the books. Under its rules, CBO assumes the recently extended cuts in taxes on income, investment and people inheriting large estates will expire in two years. If those tax cuts, and numerous others, are extended, the deficit for that year would be almost three times as large.
What do you suppose the chances of that happening are with the House in GOP hands in an election year? Yeah, me too.
Someone should give Grover Norquist a prize. "Starve the beast" is working perfectly.
Reader Brew writes in to give us some context to Palin's "Spudnut" tale:
Palin's quirky invocation of the "Spudnut Shop" here in Richland Washington as an example of American "can-doism" is far more ironic than you and most of your readers likely realize.
The fact is, the town of Richland was literally built by the federal government as a part of the Manhattan Project. All of the houses that surround the Spudnut shop were built by the Army. To this day, the only employer in Richland of any consequence is the Department of Energy and the contractors that work on DoE contracts at the Hanford site, just north of Richland. As a result, virtually all of the Spudnut shop's customers are paid by tax dollars. Those that aren't are retirees, drawing government pensions and social security.
Were it not for government spending, the Spudnut shop would be bankrupt in a week.
Funny. But since a good many of Sarah's Tea Partiers proclaim that they want the government to keep its hands off their Medicare, I'm not sure they would get the irony.
Current GOP Conference Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) is one of those conservatives who blasted the health care law for cutting Medicare. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last month, Hensarling noted that the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission had few health care recommendations. He called this a “bow to the left and the White House, which cut Medicare by $500 billion to finance a corner of ObamaCare”:
Yet, incredibly, the Simpson-Bowles report has almost nothing to say about the runaway health-care entitlements. This is a bow to the left and the White House, which cut Medicare by $500 billion to finance a corner of ObamaCare and wants its signature achievement untouched. But this is like doing a Pentagon budget review and excluding Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans ought to reject the report on those grounds alone.
Yet the National Journal reports this morning that none other than Hensarling is pushing for his fellow Republicans to support the privatization of Medicare and the moving of the eligibility age for the program from 65 to 69, which would involve enormous cuts:
PUSH TO PRIVATIZE. House GOP members are considering a measure to convert the government-backed Medicare program into a voucher system. The measure would be part of the House budget, which will be shaped next month. Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas said the he expects Republicans to support the provision, which would require Medicare to give seniors an allotment of money to buy private coverage starting in 2021. The eligibility age would also be raised, from 65 to 69.
Hensarling’s proposal appears to be along the lines of House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) “Roadmap For America’s Future Act,” which would involve the most dramatic cuts to Medicare the program has ever seen. Under the Ryan plan, “Medicare would be cut 76 percent below its projected size under current policies, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In other words, by 2080, the vouchers that would replace Medicare would receive one-quarter of the resources that Medicare would otherwise use.”
Needless to say, it is incredibly cynical for Hensarling — and any of the other Republicans who support the Ryan plan — to complain about cuts to Medicare Advantage under Obama’s health law while simultaneously backing a proposal that would essentially end the program as we know it and leave millions of seniors on their own to contend with the health insurance industry.
In a normal country this would be considered incoherent at best. But in this country that kind of cynicism is called "savvy" and is the kind of thing we reward our winners in life for doing. Hensaerling will fit in perfectly on K Street as soon as he's done doing what he can to destroy the safety net. (And to those who think it's impossible for the Republicans to maneuver the Democrats into a bipartisan agreement to cut SS benefits and then use it against them in the next election, take heed. It's really not that hard.)
It's important to note one thing about this one, however. This is being done to position the Republicans for the looming "entitlement" battle. They will pretend to fight for this insane proposition and then reluctantly give it up in the "compromise." The Democrats, meanwhile, are floating a slight raise in the payroll cap or perhaps means testing of social security for which they too will fight until they are forced to give those positions up in the "compromise." And what will be left after both sides have given up their cherished desires?
You tell me. (And I'm sure you can see the problem here.) Whatever happens, the Democrats will undoubtedly tell us that the compromise saved the country all from crazy GOP privatization plans and we should be grateful for their stalwart defense.
MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, I think that -- as I said, I think his interest is in seeing the program strengthened, and there are certain things that are not just non-starters for him but I think many, many members of Congress, and that includes privatization, which Congressman Ryan has opposed, for example.
Privatization of Social Security has been off the table ever since the crash and burn of the Bush attempt in 2005, and certainly since the stock market crash of 2008. Indeed, until the last couple of weeks, the only people who even mentioned it were tough talking Democrats who used it as a straw man to show how serious they were about protecting Social Security (and Paul Ryan.) But it's creeping back into the conversation for good reason. It's a very useful negotiating chip.
So the president has appointed ex-Time Magazine journalist and current VP spokesman Jay Carney as the new press secretary. I'm hearing that people really like his taste in music. And he is nice looking.
But this article by Rick Perlstein is worth remembering before we all get too excited. On the the new blog Swampland back in 2007, Carney wrote a typical Villager piece of conventional wisdom of the time about how Bush would focus on the things people really cared about, Iraq not being one them. Perlstein chronicled the reaction:
[T]he commenters unraveled the entire foundation of Carney's argument. He had said that, because "Americans reward presidents who, even in the face of enormous distractions, focus on issues that matter to them … Bush won't spend much time tonight talking about surging troops in Iraq or the Global War on Terror." But, as writers identifying themselves as "jjcomet," "dmbeaster," and "Newton Minnow" pointed out, the issue of greatest concern to the nation "is far and away the war in Iraq, at 48% the only issue in double digits." Another made a similar point, shall we say, more qualitatively: "The Iraq War is a DISTRACTION?? Are you serious? Am I wrong or did he compare the Lewinski scandal to Iraq??? What is the matter with you!?!?"
At which Carney snapped back so churlishly ("the left is as full of unthinking Ditto-heads as Limbaugh-land") that, for a moment, it was hard even to remember--why was it, again, that we were supposed to defer to the authority of newsweeklies (and the mainstream press) in the first place? Carney was rude and wrong. The barbaric yawpers of the netroots were rude and right.
Perhaps he's changed. But this is a seasoned product of the Village. I would doubt that he is any more enamored of the barbaric yawpers of today than he was then.
Be sure to click over to Perlstein's whole essay because it's not only a good reminder of the Villager essential mindset, but it's a good reminder of the value of the dirty hippies in the first place:
All in all, a rough day for Jay Carney. It inaugurated a rough week for those who still wish to uphold a model of cultural authority in which the fact that someone is a professional with a famous name-- credentialed by other professionals with famous names--can serve as a reasonable proxy for trustworthiness. It marked one more step in the arrival of our new, more uncomfortable media world--one in which, to judge a piece of writing, we must gauge not the status of the writer, but his or her words themselves, unattached to the author's worldly rank.
That's all right by me. In his brilliant 1990 study The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America, literary scholar Michael Warner argues that this is precisely why so many founding fathers insisted that public debates be carried out by pseudonym. "Publius," he points out--the pen name under which the newspaper arguments for ratifying the Constitution collected as the "Federalist Papers" were published--"speaks in the utmost generality of print, denying in his very existence the mediating of particular persons." In other words, it wasn't supposed to matter that the author was the distinguished gentleman Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, or James Madison. You were just supposed to judge according to the words on the page.
That's changing rapidly these days as the blogosphere becomes more and more professionalized and "credentialed." But it was an interesting moment. And the barbaric yawpers still exist --- ironically they are especially active at Swampland, where the commentariat is one of the most engaged with the writers of anyplace on the internet.
Jonathan Schell at The Nation has written an excellent critique of the president's speech that captures the nagging problem I've had with it since I first read the transcript. As with so many policy discussions lately, it seemed to be forcefully addressing a problem that isn't acute and ignoring the ones that are:
Why has that moment, now more than a half century past, been dragged out of obscurity to define the present? And why was the associated theme of American competitiveness in the world market chosen as the theme of the president’s State of the Union speech? After all, no superpower is aiming terrifying new weapons at the United States, as the Soviet Union seemed to be doing with its ballistic rockets during the cold war. As a matter of fact, even this was an illusion. The Soviet lead in rocketry almost immediately gave way to clear US superiority, although the mistaken belief in a “missile gap” persisted for years and was in fact instrumental in producing the Cuban missile crisis.
Neither does any economic event or trend seem to explain the use of this historical reference point. It’s true that the United States’s educational system is measurably slipping. It’s also true that the country’s infrastructure has decayed badly. And yes, the United States would benefit from whatever technical innovation it can bring off, just as any country would. But none of those problems, needful of attention as they are in their own right, is the chief cause of the United States’s economic doldrums—its stubborn high unemployment, its persisting housing bust, its galloping economic inequality. These were the fruit of an economic crash brought on by a misguided, corrupt, incompetent, larcenous, unregulated financial establishment. The relevant remedies are not better technology or some contemporary equivalent of sending a man to the moon. (In any case, although Obama insisted “We do big things,” he didn’t offer one.) The remedies needed are a re-regulation and reconstruction of the financial system, plus a major, Keynesian style stimulus program to create jobs and purchasing power, and so to jar the economy out of its stupor. But none of that was in Obama’s speech. On the contrary, his proposal to freeze spending for five years threatened more economic stagnation.
It seems, then, that our new “sputnik moment” is no more real than the first one. The difference is that it took a while to puncture the illusion of the original while the emptiness of the remake is immediately apparent.
He goes on to write that in his quest for bipartisan favor the president sought to give a speech that "disturbed no one and no one was disturbed." But I actually think he did something more than that. Evoking Sputnik was no accident. The subtext of that whole speech was that the Chinese are "beating" us and we need to get into the race and beat them. The problem, of course, is that if we are going to "compete" with China on the terms that actually exist today, we are going to be racing to a lower standard of living for American workers and higher profits for American companies. I suspect that's the unspoken goal of many members of the global elite (and perhaps it's even inevitable) but I'm not sure Americans would see that as "winning the future."
It does, however, offer the promise of bipartisan support in some fashion. Democrats are leery of China's human rights record and safety and labor practices while Republicans simply see them as "Evil Empire Part II, must dominate." I suspect there will be plenty of "common ground" there, and I feel quite certain that American companies are going to be well taken care of by both parties in the process.
I have to say though, that if you're going to go for it, the tried and true policy that brings everyone together is war. Too bad we're already fighting a hot one in Afghanistan already and mired in a quasi-occupation in Iraq (not to mention outposts all over the planet.) It could be a big bipartisan winner.
This is the modern Republican Party in a (spud) nutshell:
No one should have to explain that the "Sputnik Moment" is in reference to the United States entering the space race and winning it, not the Soviets winning it and ending up spending and losing ... oh, whatever idiotic gibberish it is she said. And no one should have to explain that the founders did not work tirelessly to end slavery, much less "filled the trees and clogged through the land." But this is what we've come to.
It's very hard to see this country "winning the future" with leadership like this. Indeed, the fact that they are considered national leaders at all indicates that we've already lost it.
I'm beginning to think this is a strategy to discredit women in politics.
My favorite thing is that they seem to have used an African American voice and have staged it in what appears to be an urban back alley. If this is in fact real, which is hard to believe, you almost have to love their clumsy cluelessness.
Q Bill Scher with Campaign for America’s Future. As you know, Campaign was pretty pleased with what the President said -- the President had to say about Social Security last night, although noting that the door is still open with some changes to the program. I was curious, what is the polling telling the White House and telling you as his political advisor how best to approach Social Security? Our polling is showing there’s been a lot of opposition to raising the retirement age, for example. But is your polling telling you anything similar or different in how that will inform the President going forward?
MR. AXELROD: Well, I think all of that is pretty consistent. What informed his thinking on this is that what is true is that in the long term there are issues on the horizon relative to Social Security, as you know, because you’re obviously a student of research. Among younger Americans, there’s a profound suspicion that Social Security isn’t even going to be there. And among older Americans, there’s a great deal of anxiety about tampering with it.
And our goal is to make sure that the program is strong and secure. The President laid out his principles last night, and we’re willing to have a discussion, but those principles are going to inform the discussion.
Q Speaking of those principles -- I’m Chris Bowers with Daily Kos.
MR. AXELROD: How you doing?
Q I’m doing good. President Obama came out in opposition to benefit cuts and also to privatization. Would he still be willing to talk about those as part of a bipartisan solution, or is he more inclined to veto any bipartisan deal that includes either benefit cuts or privatization?
MR. AXELROD: Well, first of all, I think that -- as I said, I think his interest is in seeing the program strengthened, and there are certain things that are not just non-starters for him but I think many, many members of Congress, and that includes privatization, which Congressman Ryan has opposed, for example.
But I don’t think -- I mean, this is a delicate time because I don’t think you want to start pre-negotiating or pre-discussing issues to the point where people say, well, there’s no point in even sitting down and talking about this stuff. So I’m not going to, here, start parsing the President’s words and so on.
I will say this. I don’t think -- there’s not going to be a bipartisan agreement for him to veto. I think if there’s a bipartisan agreement that it’s going to be hammered out around the principles that he articulated last night or it’s probably not going to move forward. Just the nature of the issue.
So we’ll see what ensues from here.
I would appear the bipartisanship is what is sought on this. And I would guess that bipartisanship isn't going to be hard to come by. This is from last week:
The White House and a bipartisan group of senators are focusing on restructuring the tax code and entitlement programs such as Social Security, which could have more dramatic impacts on the deficit in the long run but would do little in the short term. White House officials say Republican calls for $100 billion in spending cuts this year would choke off the economic recovery while doing little in the long run to tame the deficit.
"The American people say, don't touch Social Security, don't touch Medicare, don't cut defense. That's 84% of the federal budget," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D., N.D.). who is retiring when his term ends in 2012, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "If you can't touch 84% of the federal budget...you're down to 16% of the budget at a time we're borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend."
Conrad doesn't seem to be worrying about "strengthening" social security in that conversation. But I have no doubt that is how they plan to sell it. After all, people are already signing on to the idea that because social security will have a slight shortfall in 2040 or so, we need to cut the program right now. It's one of those Orwellian "war is peace" things: strength through weakness.
If I hadn't seen the administration negotiations of the past two years on such things as tax cuts and stimulus and health care, I might be more sanguine about this one and give the benefit of the doubt about what they mean by principles. But that would be foolish at this point.
[T]he seeds of cautious optimism rest in the Senate, where Conrad is expected to lead the charge along with three others who voted in favor of the Bowles-Simpson proposals: liberal Dick Durbin of Illinois (also the Democratic whip) and conservatives Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mike Crapo of Idaho.
Conrad has already said he would only support a long-term extension of the nation's debt ceiling -- set to expire March 31 -- if accompanied by a package similar to the $4 trillion in spending cuts the commission proposed.
Signs of a thaw in the political deadlock over the debt were evident in the public reception to the Bowles-Simpson recommendations. Outrage was surprisingly muted over some of the panel's supposedly suicidal proposals -- like raising the retirement age and limiting the mortgage deduction. In other words, this time voters apparently meant it when they told pollsters that the government's massive borrowing was one of their greatest worries.
Other signs of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill include a proposal by Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee and Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri to bring spending down to a historical average of 20.6% of GDP over the next ten years. The plan includes a trigger that gives the House and Senate 45 days to offset any increase in spending.
On the House side, Republican Budget Chair Paul Ryan voted against the debt commission proposals. Nevertheless, he has partnered with former Clinton budget director (and fellow debt commission member) Alice Rivlin on a Medicare savings plan.
Under that plan, seniors who turn 65 in 2021 or later would not enroll in existing Medicare but instead would receive vouchers to purchase healthcare in the private market -- an effort to inject price competition into the system.
The Ryan-Rivlin plan is certain to draw plenty of incoming fire. But the partnering of these two brilliant minds -- one a free-market Republican "young gun," the other a Clinton era veteran and critic of Reaganomics -- on a such a revolutionary reform shows how much the political ground has shifted.
Meanwhile, a tenuous bipartisan consensus is emerging over Social Security reform -- plans that include some mix of means testing for the wealthy, raising the retirement age, bumping the payroll tax and limiting cost of living adjustments. That's a big leap from just five years ago, when George W. Bush's attempt at Social Security reform left him bruised and battered.
As far as I can tell from Axelrod's conversation with the bloggers and everything we've seen and heard from the political establishment, the only real "principle" here is bipartisanship. Obama gets high marks from the Villagers and Democrats when he forges a bipartisan deal with the Republicans --- no matter what the deal is. That he was praised and rewarded for cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans in a time of deficit fever tells you how far the American people have fallen down the rabbit hole. Don't think he doesn't get that.
The debt ceiling is pure kabuki. If the president allows them to use it, whatever "compromises" he makes will be because he wants to. The Republicans have already acknowledged that they must raise it. Here are the two real hostages that the bipartisan budget slashers have taken:
If the new Congress doesn't act, debate over how to control the federal debt will be one issue at the forefront of the 2012 presidential campaign. That may be fine, but MacGuineas worries that pushing action into 2013 means flirting with the possibility of an event that triggers a debt crisis. Even then, she says, "It's not clear the markets don't lose patience with us before 2013."
The "markets", of course, which care deeply about cutting social security even though it doesn't contribute to the deficit, and care nothing for health care costs, which are strangling the nation. Markets aren't very bright, apparently. But still, let's this could all cause a huge crisis and then where would we be?
But the big, important hostage is the election, isn't it? They are threatening that this is going to be the huge issue unless Obama does exactly what they want. Of course, it will be a big issue anyway, and Obama will be accused of hurting seniors anyway, but Democrats and Villagers will be thrilled because he worked in a bipartisan fashion so maybe it will all work out for him. Sadly, I don't think it will work out as well for Democrats who follow him. They will be subject to ads like this all over the country:
Who is the "60 Plus Association"?
On its Web site, the 60-Plus Association describes itself as a "non-partisan seniors advocacy group with a free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach." They list their main issues as the "death tax" (estate tax), energy, health care and Social Security. 60 Plus is registered as a 501(c)(4) non-profit with the Internal Revenue Service...
A February, 2003 report in the AARP Bulletin called 60 Plus a front group for the pharmaceutical industry. The author, Bill Hogan, wrote that 60 Plus, along with Senior Coalition and United Seniors Association, "claim to speak for millions of older Americans, although as recently as 2001 none of the three listed any revenue from membership dues on their tax returns." The article added: "virtually all of their largest contributions in recent years have come from the same source -- the nation's pharmaceutical industry."
In the wake of Citizens United, a thousand "60 Plus Associations" will be formed, with much more shadowy provenance than this.
Now here's the really fun part. Even though I've heard that Obama plans to "make the Republicans own" social security reform right along with him, there will be no ads like this against Republicans. That's because the president will have boisterously declared "Mission Accomplished" and even Democrats who voted against it (few as they will probably be since politically dangerous "bipartisan" legislation is passed with a huge number of Dems and a handful of Republicans) won't want to taint him with this bad message. And we know who these shadowy corporate front groups are really working for, don't we?
This race for the money is going to be a huge problem for Dems, and when you cut through the crap, that's what this is. No matter how thoroughly they sell out (or how much they truly believe) they are always going to be at a disadvantage as long as they have groups like unions and racial minorities and do-gooders in their coalition. Corporate America would much rather work with the compliant Republicans who truly buy into their agenda and only hedge their bets with Dems in order to have leverage when the Republicans inevitably screw up. They are always the bridesmaids, never the bride.