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Friday, November 30, 2012

Republicans really don't want the kids on their lawns

Gee, I wonder why conservatives are losing the young people:

Of course, old white guys lecturing everyone about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket is nothing new. Here's St Ronnie waxing on about the good old days (in a speech that sounds suspiciously like the scribblings of Peggy Noonan.)

I'm pretty sure I was among those unpatriotic young people he was talking about. But even at the time a whole bunch of young people were following his lead and as they grew older they turned into middle aged jerks and are now close to being senior jerks. They won't be a majority but they'll still be jerks (with a lot of money) and they'll still be pains in the ass. Even Bill O'Reilly was young once.

Getting to yes

by digby

Daniel Foster at NRO makes the case for Republicans going for the Corker Plan (which he describes as "Romney’s plan made flesh with more plausible math and greater respect for political constraints.")

But as a starting point for negotiations, the Corker plan has a lot to recommend it. Most critically, it meets the Democrats’ sine qua non of concentrating tax hikes on wealthier taxpayers. But it does so while making the Bush tax rates a permanent feature of the tax code, instead of the ever-expiring creatures of “reconciliation” gimmickry they currently are. This simple change will avert the regularly scheduled crises we’ve enjoyed for the last four years. It will mean Democrats can’t raise taxes in the future through mere inaction. It will dramatically simplify the twisted ways we talk about taxes (you’ll spend far less time explaining to your friends the difference between “current law” and “current policy”). And if you think that perpetuating the myth that raising rates on the rich will solve our problems is more pernicious than actually raising rates on the rich, the Corker approach will deny Democrats a cheap psychological and rhetorical victory. New revenue through limiting deductions can be plausibly sold as part of broader tax-code reform, not a capitulation on the overloaded question of whether the “rich” are paying their “fair share.” In the conservative long-game, having the first conversation instead of the second matters, big time.

I've always thought the Republicans might someday realize that some of their long-game goals were in reach with these negotiations if they could just find a way to finesse the pesky temporary tax hike issue. Whether they will is another story. Foster conveniently lays out the reasons why they may not do it:

Now, Corker might be overselling a bit. Such are our fiscal woes that taking a four-and-a-half-trillion-dollar bite out of the debt gets us roughly a quarter of the way home. So it’d be closer to right if Corker said that anything short of starting in earnest to solve the problem would be a failure. But you might think that only massive deficit reduction will do, and that the Republicans ought to offer dead-weight resistance to any plan that doesn’t, say, balance the budget over ten years or fundamentally restructure the size and shape of the federal government. Or you might think that the Republicans should back only a Band-Aid, do just enough to avert catastrophe (again) and wait for 2013 or 2015 to take another shot under more favorable conditions. And if you think either of those things, you probably don’t think Corker’s approach is the best thing going.

I'm going to guess that the real question is whether they want to take yes for an answer now on program cuts or wait until 2013 or 2015 to take another shot. The idea that they really care about massive deficit reduction is belied by their history.

And keep in mind that this "moderate" plan pretty much decimates the safety net in exchange for some tepid tax hikes. But that's still moderate in their eyes: if tax hikes are now the Democrats' sine qua non I think it's safe to say that stopping tax hikes has long been the Republican sine qua non as well. After all, there's only one president in the last 30 years who actually balanced a budget and left a surplus and it wasn't a Republican. (A lot of good that did for the Dems ...)


Maybe they shouldn't have nominated the vulture capitalist

by David Atkins

As Republicans face up to the reality that they have little leverage going into the "fiscal cliff," they're doing their best to shore up support for keeping taxes on the wealthy as low as possible on a variety of fronts. One of those fronts is capital gains income: namely, money made by sitting on one's behind and watching stock returns come in. Money that is taxed at an abysmally low 15% rate, as opposed to the much higher rate paid by people who actually work for a living.

Raising that rate a little won't cause a drop in investment: after all, unless the ROI is very low, a good investment is a still a good investment, whether the returns are taxed at 15% or 30%. There may be a few investment decisions on the margins of profitability that might be affected, but if we're going to be in the business of cutting deficits, the negative impact of those decisions wouldn't come close to the negative impact of taking money out of the hands of poor and middle-class consumers who spend their money directly back into the economy.

But these arguments are a distraction, anyway. Republicans aren't concerned about the health of the economy so much as about the offshore bank accounts of their wealthy donors. Those wealthy donors have been skating by politically on the fact that Americans vastly underestimate income inequality and don't understand the degree to which all the wealth has been concentrated at the very top. Most Americans don't know that capital gains investments are taxed at much lower rates than labor. If they knew and internalized that information, it would cause a political earthquake.

So maybe Republicans shouldn't have nominated a vulture capitalist who would ensure that the capital gains rate became a big campaign issue:

Clint Stretch, a former staffer at the Joint Committee on Taxation, said capital gains and dividends could play a role in a fiscal-cliff compromise, given that Republicans are saying they are open to revenue but not individual rate increases.

“Clearly, folks are motoring around, trying to find a way to raise taxes on high-income individuals without raising the top individual rate,” Stretch, most recently at Deloitte Tax, told The Hill. “There seems to be some softness on the treatment of capital gains.”

During the presidential campaign, Romney’s low tax rate received front-page coverage. The GOP nominee paid tax rates of roughly 14 percent on millions of dollars in income in recent years, in large part because of the preferential rate on capital gains.

“Mitt Romney’s personal situation didn’t do capital gains any favors,” Stretch said.

“The message that came across during the campaign became one of, ‘It’s not fair for somebody to make that much money and only pay that much tax,’ ” McCrery said.
The wealthy elite in America aren't really all that smart. They live in a social bubble that is largely disconnected from the real world. Most of them got fantastically lucky through social connections, having one bright idea once and the social capital to leverage it, or just being in the right place at the right time. And like everyone, they want desperately to be loved. More so, actually, since their wealth tends to give them an insecurity complex. Most of them know deep down that they don't really deserve to lead lives of palatial privilege compared to the rest of America. For many, that leads to a sense of noblesse oblige that understands the necessity to give back to the society that enabled their success. But for many others, a psychological retreat to Objectivism begins to self-justify and protect themselves from guilt.

Part of that process involved the attempt to send one of their own to the White House, a vulture capitalist who would receive an affirmative majority of the vote, proving that the American people would gladly accept the superiority of their social class.

They were wrong. The American people took a look at Mitt Romney, his preferential tax rates and his condescending attitude and said, "no thanks." And now those preferential tax rates may be in trouble.

Such is life, and such is the peril of hubris.

Peggy's fugue state

by digby

La Noonan is just so weary of the fight. And she knows who to blame:
You watch and wonder: Why does it always have to be cliffs with this president? Why is it always a high-stakes battle? Why doesn't he shrewdly re-enact Ronald Reagan, meeting, arguing and negotiating in good faith with Speaker Tip O'Neill, who respected very little of what the president stood for and yet, at the end of the day and with the country in mind, could shake hands and get it done? Why is there never a sense with Mr. Obama that he understands the other guys' real position?
Yes, that's a good question. Especially considering this from the first term:
"Obama Tuesday night trekked to the Chevy Chase, Md., home of conservative columnist George F. Will to talk politics and get to know some of his fiercest intellectual adversaries: Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Larry Kudlow, David Brooks, Rich Lowry, Peggy Noonan, Michael Barone, and Paul Gigot."
And this:
In the end, despite visiting Republicans in Congress Tuesday, stripping out two provisions the GOP objected to, and inviting several Republicans for drinks at the White House this evening, Obama did not get a single Republican to vote for the [stimulus] bill. Obama's efforts did win him some compliments from Republicans who figure they can make deals with the Democratic president when the bill goes to the Senate next week. ... "The president was clear that he was going to continue to reach out to us, continue to listen to our ideas and I think we have to remember we're at the beginning of this process," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told "Good Morning America" today. Those comments marked a softer tone from Tuesday morning, when Boehner and other Republican leaders tried to head off Obama's lobbying efforts by calling on Republicans to oppose the stimulus plan even before the president had met with them.
Or, perhaps this:
"Senators and Congressmen will come back in September afraid to vote against the American people," DeMint predicted, adding that "this health care issue Is D-Day for freedom in America."

"If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him," he said.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the opposition party has been the one that isn't arguing in good faith rather than the president. Nobody but a member of their own party could have reached out more. But then, according to Republican mythology, President Obama has been a socialist revolutionary bent on destroying all that is good and true about America, so in Noonan's conservative bubble none of that ever happened.

What Krugman Said

by tristero

Oh, yes. 

The important thing to understand now is that while the election is over, the class war isn’t. 
...the increase in life expectancy is concentrated among the affluent; why should janitors have to retire later because lawyers are living longer?
...there is, in fact, no way limits on deductions can raise as much revenue from the wealthy as you can get simply by letting the relevant parts of the Bush-era tax cuts expire. So any proposal to avoid a rate increase is, whatever its proponents may say, a proposal that we let the 1 percent off the hook and shift the burden, one way or another, to the middle class or the poor.
...you need to look very closely at any proposals coming from the usual suspects, even — or rather especially — if the proposal is being represented as a bipartisan, common-sense solution. 


Fiscal kabuki

by digby

I've gotten a number of questions about why I'm not more euphoric about the White House's demands in the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, so I suppose I should explain more fully.

This is the opening bid in a negotiation and we still have no idea what the bottom line will be. The best news is that the White House didn't capitulate prematurely, but then they have the tax cut expiration looming to force the issue, so they have strong leverage. On the other hand, the earlier negotiations still show just how far the administration has been willing to go under the debt ceiling pressure so the Republicans aren't operating completely without leverage (or information about the bottom line) either.

It is not unreasonable for activists to be leery of this deal for myriad reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the fact that negotiating deficit reduction in this economic climate and around the debt ceiling and the Bush tax cuts expiring is bullshit to begin with and never should have happened. And, I'm sorry, but the Grand Bargain is Obama's idea so he's partially responsible for getting us to this place. But considering how far down that rabbit hole we already are, this is a much better starting point than we might have expected. (Of course, one never knows how much the pressure the hysterical activists, unions and others may have had in making the administration take a harder line. The squeaky wheel and all that jazz ...)

In case you were wondering whether this really is negotiation kabuki, here's an interesting article from Ryan Grim about the background of this offer. The offer has been out there for some time but the Republicans didn't take it seriously. When Geithner presented it on the Hill it appears they decided it would be a good strategy to take it public.

Republicans in Congress reacted angrily to an Obama administration proposal delivered Thursday by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that offered to avert the fiscal cliff by raising $1.6 trillion in new taxes, in exchange for some $400 billion in cuts to entitlement programs to be negotiated next year.

But the proposal wasn't new. The offer that has Republicans furious was presented to them earlier this month by President Barack Obama at the White House, according to a well-placed Democratic source, and confirmed by two GOP sources involved in the talks.

What surprised Republicans wasn't the newest offer, but who delivered it. The original offer, delivered by Obama, simply wasn't taken seriously. Republicans assumed that Obama's initial offer floated to congressional leaders would go like many others he's made in the past, and quickly soften amid staff talks. That seemed to be happening, which left them taken by surprise by Geithner.

Acknowledging that Thursday's offer was essentially the same as the one presented by the president, a GOP aide said that White House "staff has been back-channeling flexibility up until now. This was the first time their staff echoed his fantasyland numbers." A second senior GOP aide called Thursday's offer "a more detailed version" of Obama's. "The day after the White House meeting, we gave them our framework. It took them 10 days for them to give us theirs and it didn't reflect any of the conversations we have had since then," he said.

A source involved in the talks provided HuffPost with a GOP summary of the White House offer as presented Thursday. A Democratic source involved in the talks confirmed that it accurately reflects the offer, adding that it's "no different than what was discussed last Friday."

It looks to me as if the Republicans are doing their usual whiny complaining about "unfairness" to me. And the White House doesn't seem to be taking their bait. So far, so good. The question remains: are they willing to go over "the cliff"? It's ok by me. Whether Washington is ok with it remains to be seen. Fasten your seatbelts.

Socialism is GREAT for profits

by digby

That is if you believe Obama has thrust socialism upon the good old US 'o A.

That is, by the way, an all time high for corporate profits according to a report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

To paraphrase Robert Reich, why is it they need all these tax cuts again?

Via Steve Benen, who quips:

It's against this backdrop that the right still complains bitterly that the president is a radical socialist who says mean things about "job creators." To ask slightly more of those enjoying record profits, Obama's detractors argue, is an outrage. Indeed, many of the business leaders who've benefited under the status quo invested heavily to defeat the president -- ostensibly because they've been so dissatisfied with the status quo.

Increasingly, their cries are literally unbelievable.

One might conclude that they're incredibly thin-skinned, dumb or greedy. My personal suspicion is, as David concludes below, that they are surprisingly a bit of all three. But they are not entirely irrational --- they have spent a lot of of their huge profits to buy both parties and they want something to show for it. They figured Mitt would be their best bet to make a killing but while they put on a show against the Democrats for appearances sake, they know that at the end of the day they own them too.

The good news is that the people intervened in the election (which I'm sure chaps the millionaires' hides) and it's just possible that President Obama has decided to spend his second term burnishing his legacy as a liberal instead of a centrist. At the very least he seems to have gotten the message that in order to make deals with lunatics he needs to stop pretending they aren't lunatics. We still don't know what he thinks the Democrats should be willing to "sacrifice" or how far he'll go to appease them but it's good news that they're at least starting from a position of strength.

I think we can be fairly sure that the millionaires will be just fine no matter what happens.


Yes, Romney really did think he would win

by David Atkins

There's been a minor argument in the blogosphere over whether team Romney really was shocked by the results on election night, or whether the supposed shock is a pretense to cover for lying to their base.

It looks increasingly like they did truly believe they were going to win. The New Republic has an exclusive look at Romney's internals. They were off--sometimes way off:

The first thing you notice is that New Hampshire and Colorado are pretty far off the mark. In New Hampshire, the final internal polling average has Romney up 3.5 points, whereas he lost by 5.6. In Colorado, the final internal polling average has Romney up 2.5 points; he lost by 5.4. “I’m not sure what the answer is,” Newhouse told me, explaining that his polls were a lot more accurate in most of the other swing states. “The only ones we had that really seemed to be off were Colorado—a state that even Obama’s people tweeted they thought it was going to be one of their closest states—and the New Hampshire numbers, which seemed to bounce a lot during the campaign.”

This is mostly true, but not entirely. Set aside Florida and Virginia, for which I don’t have internal poll numbers, but which the campaign apparently believed it was poised to win. Among those I do have, the Iowa number is also questionable, showing the race tied even though Romney ended up losing by almost 6 points. If Romney’s internal polling number in Iowa was roughly accurate, it would imply that Obama won every single undecided voter in the state, something that’s highly unlikely.
Wasn't the rationale for the Romney campaign that Mitt was a great executive who was good with numbers and could manage and hire smart, effective people?

It's increasingly obvious that at just about every level the wealthy elites in this country aren't nearly as talented or clever as people give them credit for. They're good at making deals. They know the right people. They have a good knack for social intelligence and little compunction about skimming a lot of money off the top of the labor of others.

But smart, talented and effective? Hardly.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jobs not austerity

by digby

Not that more than 300 economists could possibly have anything useful to say about our economy, but still, this is interesting:

The U.S. economy, once in free-fall toward a new depression, has begun to recover. But we are still mired in a prolonged slump marked by mass unemployment, rising poverty, and declining wages. And the fragile recovery is threatened by obsessive concern with cutting deficits that has infected both parties.

As even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recognizes, it is long term unemployment, not excessive deficits or debt, that is now inflicting the greatest human toll and economic damage. Polls show that voters agree joblessness and a bad economy are much higher priorities than deficits.

Yet too many in Washington are fixated on cutting public spending to balance the budget, not on how to put people back to work and get our economy going. There is no theory of economics that explains how we can deflate our way to recovery. Businesses are not basing investment decisions on how much Congress cuts the debt in 2023. As Great Britain, Ireland, Spain and Greece have shown, inflicting austerity on a weak economy leads to deeper recession, rising unemployment and increasing misery.

In a deep recession, deficit reduction is a moving target. If you cut spending and consumer purchasing power in an already depressed economy, unemployment rises and revenues fall — and the goal of a smaller deficit keeps receding like a mirage in a desert. When private purchasing power is depressed by the aftermath of a financial collapse, only public investment can make up the gap.

The budget hawks have the sequence backwards. Public outlay for jobs and recovery come first, growth is restored, and revenues follow. Budget cuts in a deep slump lead only to a deeper slump.

The government should invest in areas vital to our economy — to repair crumbling infrastructure, to build 21st-century smart-grid, public transportation and renewable energy systems, and to create public and private sector jobs. We should also help states prevent layoffs of teachers and other public servants, make early care and higher education more affordable, and create public service jobs throughout the nation. It can do so by borrowing at record low interest rates. We can also stimulate recovery without increasing deficits by increasing taxes on the wealthy and pumping the proceeds directly into the economy.

Both bipartisan and conservative deficit reduction plans — Simpson-Bowles, Rivlin-Domenici, and the Republican budget — magically assume a recovery to "normal" levels of employment. Yet, the economy is nowhere near normal growth, and budget cutting will only retard growth. At the end of the year, we face a congressionally-created "fiscal cliff," with automatic "sequestration" spending cuts everyone agrees should be stopped to prevent a double-dip recession. That threat has led to backroom negotiations, backed by a multimillion dollar public relations campaign, toward a "grand bargain" that would maintain tax give-aways for the rich; cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; and impose new, job-killing spending cuts. This is no bargain, and it should be rejected.

President Obama should be commended for proposing a new jobs program. But unless the balance of power in Congress changes dramatically, there is a serious danger that after the election the austerity lobby will prevail.

We need jobs first. With recovery, deficit reduction will come of its own accord thanks to increased revenues in an improving economy. That was the case in the three decades after World War II — when the debt to GDP ratio declined from over 120 percent of GDP in 1945 to under 30 percent by 1978.

In 1945, our leaders placed a priority on putting people to work, not cutting spending. So government doubled down with public investments like the GI bill, housing, and highways — and widespread collective bargaining and equal opportunity laws made sure the rewards of growth were widely shared. Today, we need the same scale of public investments that made sure the greatest generation and their children enjoyed growth, opportunity, and shared prosperity.

In the face of today's weak economy, the Federal Reserve has vowed to sustain extraordinary measures until unemployment comes down and the economy picks up. But as Chairman Ben Bernanke observed, very low interest rates alone cannot fix this economy. To make sure the American people are not crippled by another lost decade of joblessness, we need presidential leadership — and congressional action — to spur jobs and growth, not dangerous austerity.

Let's not try to actually fix our problems. Let's stage a full blown hysterical meltdown for no good reason instead.

Opening bid

by digby

So apparently the Republicans went running to the press with President Obama's opening offer for the fiscal cliff negotiations, and hare having themselves a good old fashioned cry about it:

House Republicans said on Thursday that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner presented the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a detailed proposal to avert the year-end fiscal crisis with $1.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years, an immediate new round of stimulus spending, home mortgage refinancing and a permanent end to Congressional control over statutory borrowing limits.

The proposal, loaded with Democratic priorities and short on detailed spending cuts, was likely to meet strong Republican resistance. In exchange for locking in the $1.6 trillion in added revenues, President Obama embraced $400 billion in savings from Medicare and other entitlements, to be worked out next year, with no guarantees.

He did propose some upfront cuts in programs like farm price supports, but did not specify an amount or any details. And senior Republican aides familiar with the offer said those initial spending cuts might well be outnumbered by upfront spending increases, including at least $50 billion in infrastructure spending, mortgage relief, an extension of unemployment insurance and a deferral of automatic cuts to physician reimbursements under Medicare.

“The Democrats have yet to get serious about real spending cuts,” Mr. Boehner said after the meeting. “No substantive progress has been made in the talks between the White House and the House over the last two weeks.”

Maybe someone should tell Boehner that the idea here is for him to make a counter offer. I would expect it to be the Ryan budget on steroids. And then we can get back to reality.

I am pleased that the administration didn't open with their bottom line this time. Although his proposals all come from his budget and deficit reduction plans from earlier it will be very interesting to see how the Villagers react to the heresy of failing to propose massive cuts in vital programs. That is, above all, what's expected of any "serious" proposal.

Let the games begin.

One woman leaves the Fox News cult

by David Atkins

Witness Fox News cult deprogramming in action:

The movie in question is Chasing Ice, a documentary about receding glaciers due to climate change. I'm told it's very good, though I haven't seen it yet myself.

But regardless of the documentary's merits, it's instructive to note why this woman disbelieved so fervently in climate change. She just trusted Bill O'Reilly. She didn't look into the evidence or consider alternate views. She just trusted Bill.

That's how the Fox News cult works: repeat an endless stream of false drivel that conforms to certain people's false and prejudicial expectations for how the world works and a lot of people will believe it because the authoritative man on the teevee said so.

There's no "winning the argument" with these people, a few lifechanging experiences like this woman's notwithstanding. If the Fox News watchers are to be reached at all, there has to be action taken to break the bond of codependent trust they've developed with their cultic abusers.

Update by digby: Dennis Hartley review the film Chasing Ice, here

It's not just the Tea Party anymore

by digby

This is good news. Apparently, liberals on the hill and outside the beltway were not pleased by that report in Politico this morning and have come out swinging:

Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the chairman of the 77-member Progressive Caucus, told Salon that his members would not support entitlement cuts. “Any agreement to meet our end-of-the-year deadlines will need a large portion of the House Democratic Caucus to pass. Progressives will not support any deal that cuts benefits for families and seniors who rely on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to put food on the table or cover their health costs,” he said.

Outside groups took an even tougher line.

“If this report in Politico is correct, then some ‘senior Democrats’ are sorely misguided about where their base stands. So let me be crystal clear. Any benefit cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, including raising the retirement or eligibility age, are absolutely unacceptable,” Ilya Sheyman, the campaign director at MoveOn.org told Salon. “More than 80 percent of MoveOn’s seven million members say they want us to fight a deal that cuts those benefits, even if it also ends all of the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent. And that’s a mainstream position everywhere except in the lobbyist-cash-infused DC cocktail circuit,” Sheyman continued.

There will be consequences, he warned, for Democrats who support a deal that cuts entitlements. “Bottom line: Any Democrat who votes to cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits does so at his or her own peril, and shouldn’t be in the least bit surprised to be held accountable by MoveOn members in the next primary election.”

Now, there are cuts to the programs that would not hurt beneficiaries, and that offers up some wriggle room. (Why democrats want to do that is unclear since the Republicans have shown they will run against them on the issue as they did in 2010, but everyone's so hooked on the delusion of deficits that I suppose that's a problem for another day.)

The details of the cuts in the Politico article were vague, and it’s unclear if they represents real cuts to benefits or not. “That’s a crucial distinction,” said Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “What’s worried some about the Politico article is that it kind of tossed in reforms or efficiencies along with talk about raising the Medicare retirement age or adjusting the cost of living adjustment — those two things would essentially start a nuclear war on the left,” Green said. “Those are the two big things. Those are benefit cuts. Those actively hurt seniors.”

As I wrote earlier, this is not something about which liberals either in the House or outside should trust the administration. The White House already showed its hand a year ago and we would all be fools to think they won't go there again if they can get away with it. Ellison's words are very welcome.

Update: I should add: will they make a difference? Who knows ...

Nice little right you have there ...

by digby

Sure, you've got a constitutional right to abortion. But nobody's guaranteeing you access to it:

Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the only abortion clinic in the entire state of Mississippi — has been fighting to remain open after Republican legislators, aiming to force the clinic to close, passed a restrictive regulation requiring its doctors to secure hospital admitting privileges. A Bush-appointed federal judge temporarily blocked the measure in July to give the clinic’s doctors more time to apply for privileges at area hospitals, but that order expires in early January. And so far, all seven hospitals in the area have denied privileges to the doctors.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a motion Wednesday asking a judge to stop the law from being implemented — and forcing the clinic to stop providing abortion care — before January 6, 2013. If it closes, women in Mississippi will no longer have access to abortion in the state.

This was the way it went back in Jim Crow, too. "Sure, you have civil rights in theory. But we don't have to enforce them." But then states have more rights than individuals do in our country so I suppose that's just the way it goes.


What's still on the table in the Grand Bargain talks?

by digby

Not that anyone cares, but it seems that a vast majority of the American public think raising the Medicare eligibility age is stupid:

Greg Sargent talks about this issue in depth in this post. He says that the Republicans are refusing to name their demands on "entitlement" cuts, instead saying that the Democrats must first say what they are willing to give. That's very cute, but it doesn't really work that way and they know it. If the Democrats are dumb enough to do that then we are all screwed.

But don't be surprised if they do. Greg reports that Democrats are not entertaining doing this at all but I'm sorry to say that's just not true. On raising the medicare eligibility age, there have been some powerful Dems out there endorsing it:

Kent Conrad and Chris Van Hollen have both said it. Recently. This is from November 15, 2012
Conrad:  I wouldn’t want that to be the starting point, but as part of an overall package, that’s balanced and fair. Given that we now have exchanges to purchase insurance because of the president’s health-care reform law, it makes it much more acceptable, much more reasonable, over a long period of time to gradually increase the age given that people are living so much longer. 
This is definitely on the menu. It's not just lame duck deficit hawks:
On Capitol Hill, it isn’t clear how strenuously Democrats will resist cutting entitlements. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) said he and others were open to changes as long as they were done in a measured way and were part of deal that included tax increases. Mr. Van Hollen also said changing Social Security and increasing the Medicare eligibility age above 65 should be part of negotiations. 
“I’m willing to consider all of these ideas as part of an overall plan,” Mr. Van Hollen said Tuesday at the Journal’s CEO Council. 
White House officials in 2011 were in advanced talks with Mr. Boehner that would have agreed to some of these changes, notably raising Medicare’s eligibility age. That is one cause of liberals’ anxiety about how the coming talks may unfold.
Indeed. Until the administration takes that off the table, I think we would be wise to be concerned about it. After all, this didn't come out of the blue:
In what may be one of the most under-reported stories of the debt ceiling talks, Politico’s Jen Haberkorn notes that before negotiations broke down on Friday evening, President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner tentatively agreed to gradually raise the Medicare eligibility age as part of a “grand bargain” to increase the nation’s borrowing limit:
Details of the plan were not yet finalized before the Obama-Boehner talks collapsed on Friday. But in general, the agreement called for very gradually increasing the eligibility age from 65 to 67 over about two decades, according to administration and Republican congressional sources.
One pathway would call for increasing the age by one month per year beginning in 2017 until it reached 66 in 2029. In 2030, it would increase two months per year until it hit 67.

The administration’s willingness to entertain the idea may have given “a controversial idea more legitimacy and high-profile support than it’s ever gotten before,” Haberkorn observes, and it is likely to rile progressives who question the wisdom of the compromise.
And that's not the only problem. You've got Clyburn talking casually about changing to the Chained CPI just two days ago, which will effect programs all across the government including Social Security and Veterans benefits. If they want the Republicans to be the ones to own these cuts then maybe they should stop going on TV and offering them up.

I'm sorry to say that Obama's 2011 offer is the baseline. He showed what he was willing to give up and the Republicans know it. Everyone knows it. The rest of this is kabuki around tax hikes, which was the sticking point in that negotiation as well. The cuts were never at issue since Obama was prepared to deliver them and Pelosi and Reid signed off:

That night, Obama prepared his party’s congressional leaders. He warned Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that he might return to the position under discussion the previous Sunday — that is, cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in exchange for just $800 billion in tax increases.

Would they support him?

The Democratic leaders “kind of gulped” when they heard the details, Daley recalled.

By this time, Obama had become the face of the bitter debt-ceiling talks and his poll numbers were dropping. His allies on Capitol Hill cringed at his predicament but also at what he was asking them to do.

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, recalled that the president and his team felt the weight of the global economy “on our shoulders.”

“Is there political benefit to coming to a big budget deal with John Boehner? Sure,” Pfeiffer said. “But every other political and message imperative was thrown out the door to prevent a disaster and do the right thing for the country. That’s why we were willing to do things we wouldn’t normally do.”

Reluctantly, Reid and Pelosi agreed to do their best to support the plan.

Everyone knows this happened as well.

It will be better if we just let the Bush tax cuts expire and reset. Unless they do, that earlier negotiation will haunt the Democrats.


Even Newt Gingrich knows the "fiscal cliff" is a scam

by David Atkins

Deficit hysteria is an integral part of the Republican Party's starve-the-beast economic sabotage. The idea is to spend like crazy on wars, tax cuts for the rich and boondoggles to favored corporate interests, blow the up the deficit, and then declare a crisis, demanding spending cuts that directly hurt people as human sacrifices to the Bond Lords, Confidence Fairies, and other Objectivist gods.

But when curbing deficits actually means increasing taxes on the wealthy, suddenly those who are more interested in preserving their bloated offshore bank accounts than in their ideology find that the scam doesn't look so good after all.

One such huckster is none other than Newt Gingrich, who stopped by Simi Valley and had this to say:

Politician and author Newt Gingrich, speaking in Simi Valley on Wednesday night, said there is no pending "fiscal cliff."

The "fiscal cliff is a fantasy. It is an excuse to panic," said the former speaker of the House and candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Gingrich told a sold-out audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum that the fiscal cliff is a way to scare politicians into raising taxes.

"It is a device to get all of us running down the road so we accept whatever Obama wants, because otherwise we will have failed the fiscal cliff, and how can you be a patriot if you don't do what the fiscal cliff requires?" Gingrich said.
Gingrich, of course, frames the whole deal as a con of the President's creation to raise taxes. He's a gasbag. But the point remains that he knows it's a scam, and doesn't want to see his precious wealth impacted by an artificial deficit crisis.

The only people who don't know it's a scam are the Very Serious People in the beltway, their ideological friends, and those disconnected 20% who depend more on the stock market for their retirement and their wealth than on their actual wages plus medicare and social security.

It may well be that going over the cliff is temporarily bad for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and might impact a few 401Ks for a while. But the Dow Jones has been doing extremely well as the rest of the country suffers. Maybe it's time the Dow Jones investor class crowd felt a little bit of the pinch, too, rather than people on fixed incomes and those who depend on Medicaid.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tipnronnie trope never gets old

by digby

This exists:

I think at this point the mythic Tipnronnie crapola would make even Tip and Ronnie roll their eyes and groan with boredom.

What's really sickening is that people are being paid huge money to hype this garbage.
And it is completely meaningless.


Panther pee

by digby

You've probably already heard about his, but in case you haven't, Glenn "don't tease the panther" Beck is trolling for attention again:

I must say that one of my proudest moments in recent years was being featured on the back of Beck's book as an example of a crazed leftist freak:

To think  it was just three years ago that only Bill Clinton, George Bush and Nelson Mandela were more admired than Glenn Beck. Now he's selling his own urine.

Capitalism that works for working people, in action

by David Atkins

With all the negativity around the Grand Bargain, it's good to see a heartwarming tale of capitalism done right for a change:

Just in time for Christmas, a retiring Minnesota grocery store owner is giving his roughly 400 employees quite a gift — ownership of his three stores.

Instead of accepting any of the multiple offers he received from large national chains to purchase his stores, Joe Lueken, 70, will transfer ownership of his two Lueken’s Village Foods in Bemidji, Minn., and another one in Wahpeton, N.D., to his employees as part of an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). The transfer of ownership from the Lueken family to the employees will begin on Jan. 1, and will not cost the employees any money.

The amount of shares each employee receives will be based on length of service and salary. The program is expected to pay the Lueken family off for the sale in three to five years, according to a report by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“My employees are largely responsible for any success I've had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that," Lueken told the Star Tribune. "You can't always take. You also have to give back."
If the current economic models are to work long-term, employee-owned corporations are going to need to be a big part of the solution.

The long march of Grover Norquist

by digby

Ezra Klein has published an interesting post today showing that regardless of whether Norquist's pledge is "violated" he's still won. I think he's right and have been saying for a very long tedious time that the entire formulation of the "balanced approach" that asked for the rich to "pay a little bit more" in exchange for two to one cuts to vital programs was a fools game. 

In fact, I wrote this over a year ago:

What do you suppose would happen if the Republicans decided that forcing the Democrats to cut social security, Medicare and Medicaid (not to mention dozens of other programs)in the lead up to an important election was worth "confronting" Grover Norquist and demanding that he allow some token, temporary tax hikes or cuts in subsidies? Would he do it?

Let's see how this might work out. Weeks of haggling and back and forth about the huge, onerous tax hikes demanded by the Democrats. Slowly, they lower their requests until it's more of a symbolic thing, designed to "force the Republicans" to give in on Norquist's pledge, rather than actually raise much money. The Republicans give in, Norquist "loses" and the Democrats "win," right?


Keep in mind that Grover Norquist actually has a bigger agenda than his tax pledge:

"Every time you cut programs, you take away a person who has a vested interest in high taxes and you put him on the tax rolls and make him a taxpayer. A farmer on subsidies is part welfare bum, whereas a free-market farmer is a small businessman with a gun."

"My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

"We want to reduce the size of government in half as a percentage of GNP over the next 25 years. We want to reduce the number of people depending on government so there is more autonomy and more free citizens."

Would he give up his role as tax enforcer in order to make the Democrats enact the biggest and most unpopular cuts to the safety net in history? I don't know. But if you don't think it's at least possible then you don't really understand Norquist's goals.

Via Brendan Nyhan:

RICK PERLSTEIN: Of course Grover Norquist wants to get rid of Social Security and Medicare. It's his life's work.

GROVER NORQUIST: No, I don't. Don't tell me my position, sir. I've written a book on the subject.

RICK PERLSTEIN: You said that you're a Leninist and these things are thirty-year projects. These things are on the record.

GROVER NORQUIST: We're not name-calling and I'm a Leninist? Hey, wait a minute, grow up. I'm not a Leninist. I'm an American, thank you. I fought Leninists all my life. And we crushed the Soviet Union, thank you.

RICK PERLSTEIN: Have you ever said you had Lenin as a hero?



He was.

I would imagine that Grover thinks it's all the more delicious that it's being done immediately after the Democrats won a big election with a liberal coalition.

The long grudge

by digby

I could hardly believe what I was hearing when this came up this morning:
[Senator Susan]Collins said Rice’s response to Benghazi had an “eerie echo” of the 1998 bombings of two African embassies, which occurred when Rice was an assistant secretary of state for African Affairs.

“Those bombings in 1998 resulted in the loss of life of 12 Americans as well as many other foreign nationals, and 4,000 people were injured,” Collins told reporters after her hourlong, closed-door meeting with Rice.

“And what troubles me so much is that the Benghazi attacks echoes the attacks on those embassies in 1998 when Susan Rice was head of the African region for our State Department. … She had to be aware of the general threat assessment and of the ambassadors’ request for more security.”

Right. But she could probably find something a bit more recent than that if she wants to see a great example of government officials ignoring threat assessments. September 11th, 2001 comes to mind.

Just as they convinced themselves that Whitewater was their Watergate, they think Benghazi is their 9/11 commission. I assume they persist in this endless round of idiotic payback politics because it's just in their nature. It serves a political purpose too, of course. It's a great distraction and destroys comity and purpose on the other side as even liberals with common sense start abandoning the field either because they buy into the "smell test" theory or figure they should cut their losses.

But in the end, I think it's just because the right wing personality is one that holds grudges forever and always always hits back, no matter how long it takes. My observation of this phenomenon over the years leads me to believe that the most successful liberals are those who show resilience in the face of these attacks. It's not a matter of being aggressive, it's a matter of being tough.

As for the press, they are as easily duped as ever. To take a metaphor I've used many times before, they are like baby birds waiting to be fed something juicy and they gulp it down without even knowing what it is. And the result is inevitable.

This one's dumber than usual but you have to give the Republicans credit for finding the energy for it even in the face of their epic loss. If nothing else, they've got moxie.

Guess what? "Reforming entitlements" isn't necessary

by digby

Following up on my post below, I think this piece by Jonathan Cohn is also an important addition to the growing body of work out there that shows this Fiscal cliff and Grand Bargain nonsense is focused on solving problems that are not acute and don't have to be solved. Cohn is a health care expert and his views on how these "entitlements" work and their impact on the deficit are worth paying attention to:

Conservatives and groups like Fix the Debt have set some fairly ambitious goals for deficit reduction, at least on paper. But the long-term goal of fiscal policy should be to stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio—in other words, to make sure federal debt isn’t rising out of proportion to the wealth that the nation is generating. As a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities pointed out, it’s possible to achieve that goal for the next decade or so without dramatic cuts to entitlements. Stabilizing the debt-to-GDP ratio after the next decade would indeed require additional revenue or spending cuts, but, at this point, why not wait and see whether the Obamacare reforms do the job? It’s entirely possible they might. If they don’t, we can make further adjustments in the future, whether those involve agreeing to higher taxes, lower spending, or bigger deficits.

No, that’s not an appealing option. But neither is cutting benefits now. Jared Bernstein, the former Obama Administration economist now at the CBPP, put it well on his blog: “Now’s the time to watch and evaluate, not to reduce access to what is a highly efficient, effective form of health coverage for the nation’s seniors.” The advocates for deep entitlement reductions don’t seem to realize that the people on Medicare and Medicaid need the protection those programs provide—and that, without those programs, they’d suffer. Given the very significant chance we can reduce health care spending without reducing benefits, we have an obligation to try. It’s the compassionate thing to do. And the smart thing, too.

So, again. We have a jobs crisis in the short term, which will likely be extended or made worse by this focus on the deficit. And legislation now to avert projected long term deficits are not necessary and may be counter-productive. moreover, the bond vigilantes and confidence fairy have been missing in action throughout the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, so that rationale is inoperative.

No, the only reason to do this is to use the temporary deficits caused by bad wars, stupid tax cuts and an epic economic downturn as an excuse to destroy vital programs that Americans rely upon. That's a very bad reason. And it is likely to cause even more economic distress in both the short and long term. Just say no.

If politicians wanted to solve real problems instead of phony ones ...

by digby

Celebrated silent film star and Huffington Post pundit C.A. Rotwang explains the foibles of the so-called fiscal cliff and properly defines the leftmost side of the current argument as centrist. This strikes me a particularly relevant:

I have just elaborated a serious, centrist view of the budget. Now you could argue that a centrist approach is necessitated by the political reality of the House of Representatives -- it is controlled by moonbats. But if you combine centrism and moonbattery, you get half of each, and who needs that? Obama's initial negotiating position is as cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes. Worse, support for Obama tends to morph into acceptance of his policies as a matter of principle, rather than the least-bad of available choices.

That is unfortunately, too true. Obama the alleged socialist has an amazing talent for making centrist policies the new liberal true north, which is the saddest political consequence. It's like swimming upstream.

But Rotwang offers up a different vision that is hardly ever spoken of:

What about a progressive view?

A progressive view starts with the recognition that the current tax system, with revenues of less than 16 percent of GDP, is appropriate to the Federal budget of the 1950s. At minimum we ought to be looking at getting the share of GDP back up to 21 percent, as in the Clinton years. Unfortunately, this will require Clinton-era tax rates on households below the current, more conservative Administration's (roll that around in your head for a second) fabled $250,000 a year income.

One of Obama's two original sins (the other being the celebrated "pivot" from Iraq to Afghanistan) was promising a slim revenue system. (With ACA he violated this pledge, since low-income persons will be required to buy health insurance, which the Supreme Court classifies as a tax, but I digress.)

The proper progressive object of higher taxes is higher social spending: public investment, aid to state and local governments, and expansion of social insurance. Remember the poor? Remember New Orleans? Remember Long Island and the Jersey shore?

On the spending side, rather than balanced spending cuts, the object is a transfer of resources from defense to not-defense. Here again the reductionist, arithmetic view is a distraction. The real question is not how to achieve some kind of "fair" cut out of defense. It is, what are we doing, and why? We are presently defending Europe from nobody, and defending the rich nations of South Korea and Japan from the impoverished nation of North Korea. We have an empire of bases dedicated not to defense but to meddling in the affairs of all the world. Now is the time for a peace dividend. An army of assassins to go after the truly deserving bad guys would be very cheap, compared to the current Pentagon money pit.

That's a progressive budget view. Support for the president's pragmatic, debatable negotiating tactics should not ratify fundamentally illiberal principles. There was a great candidate who talked a progressive game in 2008... oh wait.

Never mind.

I do cut Obama a little bit slack on the "revenue" side. Raising taxes on everyone would be counterproductive at this point in the economic cycle. Better to get some tip money from the rich and borrow cheap money for a while until the economy is rolling. (Of course, once that happens, the "it's your muneeee!" circus will be back in town.) But yes, there's no reason that the current low Bush tax rates should ever be written in stone by progressives. I say we just keep extending the middle class "cuts" until such time as they can expire without economic consequences. Once they're extended forever, it will be a huge lift to raise them again. And they do need to be higher at some point.

Bravo to Rand Paul

by David Atkins

Rand Paul is doing his part to quash the Grand Bargain:

While some Republicans have indicated they may break their no-tax-hike pledge, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is not among them:

"I made a pledge to the people of Kentucky that I'm not raising taxes. I took a pledge. I signed a statement, an oath that I wouldn't raise taxes, and I'm going to adhere to it," Sen. Paul told Fox New's Greta Van Susteren Monday night.

In fact, if Paul had his way, he says he'd lower taxes:

"I think you should balance budgets, not spend more than comes in, and I think you should lower taxes, not raise taxes. In fact, if you want to stimulate the economy, I'm for cutting tax revenues. All these Republicans who want to give up their taxpayer pledge and raise taxes, I'm the opposite. I want to lower taxes because that's how we'd get actually more economic growth and maybe more revenue, if you cut tax rates.
One mark of a moron is not to know a good deal when they see one. So thank goodness for morons like Rand Paul, the kind of people who still think tax cuts for the rich pay for themselves and don't realize that this is their one big chance to cut Medicaid and Medicare in exchange for easily replaceable tip money for the rich, and blame it on the Democrats to boot.

The Grand Bargain would be much more likely without such useful idiots, and that would be awful. So bravo to you, Rand Paul. Keep that venal stupidity coming all the way through the end of the lame duck session, and best of luck with the 2016 GOP nomination.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

And they don't even have to be virgins

by digby

Here's a CNBC celebrity having a fit when Raul Grijalva suggests that Medicare shouldn't be cut:

She seemed to be having a very hard time controlling herself.

Meanwhile, let's have a little fact check, shall we? The Medicare cuts they are anticipating would likely affect people younger than the current crop of allegedly wealthy baby boomers.

And how are those damned boomers really doing anyway?

Americans nearing retirement age have suffered disproportionately after the financial crisis: along with the declining value of their homes, which were intended to cushion their final years, their incomes have fallen sharply.

The typical household income for people age 55 to 64 years old is almost 10 percent less in today’s dollars than it was when the recovery officially began three years ago, according to a new report from Sentier Research, a data analysis company that specializes in demographic and income data.

And this:

According to the Social Security Administration, the average worker's Social Security income for current retirees is about $1,233 per month, and the average spouse's income is $610 per month, for a total of $1,843 per month...

The median amount of annual income in 2010 is $42,700 for families headed by a person age 65 to 74 and $29,100 for households headed by someone age 75 and over. One important reason for the large difference between these two age groups is that the 65-to-74 age group includes many households where one or more people still work, while the age 75 and over household is probably fully retired.

Yeah, they're all living large all right.

But the angry celebrity TV hostess said they should be means tested, by which I assume only those at the very top would be out of the program. The problem is that all the wealth in this country now belongs to a very tiny group of people. There just isn't much money in means testing those who can truly afford it. So, we'd have to means test anyone who isn't living in dire poverty. Which would put them in dire poverty. But then, that's their problem, right? They should have gotten rich when they had the chance.

But all of that hardly matters. Failing to cut Medicare is upsetting the "Market" and SACRIFICES MUST BE MADE:

This is all faith based nonsense as that angry celebrity hostess proved when she nervously pointed to the stock market ticker and implied that Raul Grijalva even talking about going over the fiscal cliff was making the Market Gods angry. The sooner we recognize that the better.


Median income lowest since 1969, so let's cut healthcare for poor people

by David Atkins

Natasha Lennard at Salon shows with data what we all know is true: the middle class is suffering its worst economics in over forty years:

New research from NYU economics professor Edward Wolff, flagged by Think Progress, found that the median wealth of American households plummeted over the years 2007 to 2010, and by 2010 was at its lowest level since 1969. Meanwhile, the late 2000′s saw a high rise inequality: while the median wealth fell, the top 1 percent increased their wealth by 71 percent between 2007 and 2010 (a statistic almost ready-made for an Occupy Wall Street banner).

Wolff argues that while “the debt of the middle class exploded from 1983 to 2007, already creating a very fragile middle class in the United States… their position deteriorated even more over the ‘Great Recession.’” His research also detailed how the household wealth of racial minorities and young people dropped to an even greater extent in the wake of the housing bubble’s burst, when house prices collapsed...

[S]tudies of income inequality also support Wolff’s pessimistic account of growing inequality: they’ve found income inequality has risen in almost every state over the last 30 years and that the middle class has just suffered its ‘worst decade in modern history.’"
Now, it's certainly true that we live in a brave new world that structurally advantages the wealthy: labor is global and expendable, jobs are increasingly mechanized, the world is flattened, vertical integration and economies of scale are commonplace. But as Hacker and Pierson persuasively argue, this is also a product of intentional public policy, including (as I have frequently argued) an obsession with inflating assets over wages.

But regardless of the causes, to even think about slashing healthcare for the poor and elderly at times like this is morally insane. A society so economically sick as to drag middle class wages to a 40-year-low while giving all the rewards to the already wealthy is just as politically sick if it throws the sick, poor and elderly onto the bonfire in a sacrifice to the Bond Vigilantes and Confidence Fairies.

That a supposedly "Democratic" Administration is considering doing this in exchange for a few tax increases the wealthy will barely notice makes it even worse.

Today's Fiscal Flim Flam update

by digby

Yesterday the White House met with business leaders and the president of the Chamber of Commerce so I guess this was "get the left onboard" day since they trotted out Dick Durbin (an odd choice considering his total cave on Simpson-Bowles) and a big meeting with all the important unions and assorted lefty groups.

Dday has the whole story, which basically says that Social Security is off the table (which we knew was likely for months) and Durbin danced around the issues of medicare and medicaid leaving more questions than answers.

I think dday's conclusion gets it just right:

Overall, Durbin tried to put a happy face on a grand bargain deal expressly to encourage the Professional Left in DC. Many of them came out of a meeting at the White House encouraged by the Democratic lineas well. I think there’s a serious case of “trust but verify” needed here. And it should be noted that this is where the party is at before one minute of negotiation with the other side.

Right. But then the president has been very explicit in his desire to have a "balanced approach" where he rich are asked to "pay a little bit more" so they didn't have much to work with unless they were very willing to go over the cliff (which, unlike others, I believe they are terrified of actually doing.)

Ryan Grim reports that Durbin tried to clarify his remarks, but it's still unclear to me what specifically they're talking about:

"What I'm saying is, what I'm talking about now is the immediate -- what takes us to the end of the year to avoid the fiscal cliff," he said, adding that Medicare and Medicaid should not be part of those talks. But, he said, "When you're talking about long-term deficit reduction, $4 trillion worth, entitlement reform needs to be part of it."

Social Security, too?

"No. Social Security you take off the table and put in a separate commission," Durbin said.

If David Corn is any indication of what the liberal establishment thinks about this, the necessity of making a "deal" is so paramount that the crazy hippies are just going to have to be willing to "give something up" on entitlements in order to make it happen. On Martin Bashir's show earlier, he seemed not to understand that unlike the whining billionaires, we crazy hippies aren't screaming because we have to give something up. It's not personal, fercryingoutloud. We're screaming because vulnerable people who cannot afford to have the slightest bit of their meager benefits slashed without dire consequences are being asked to put their "skin in the game" with plutocrats for whom there will be no consequences at all. This amount of money is insignificant to them. That's not a good deal by any definition. Exhorting the left to "give something up" is telling us to make the weakest members of society suffer in exchange for nothing --- and for what? A terrible deal to solve a phony "crisis" that doesn't need solving? This is crazy talk, particularly since the alleged crisis that needs solving will be magically fixed if they don't make a deal!

This isn't really a poker game, guys. The stakes aren't abstract numbers on a computer model. These are real human beings being used by politicians in a beltway power play. And the losers in this game are not going to be beltway celebrities or Senators or members of the Chamber of Commerce, no matter what happens.

Update: Greg Sargent spoke with some of the people in the meeting today and they are encouraged.

Update II:  Oh hell. 

And from what I hear, some people in that meeting today are not so sanguine about the possible cuts.

The (political) war without end

by digby

As we watch the wrangling over whether and how to cut entitlements, you might find this conversation between Harold Pollack and Paul Starr on the history and future of Obama care to be enlightening.

Here's a little sample:

Pollack: I assume you are relieved by the election. But I take it that you are pretty concerned moving forward. What do you see as the two or three biggest challenges between now and 2014, when the exchanges officially are slated to kick in?

Starr: The biggest challenges before 2014? In the fall of 2013, open enrollment is supposed to begin for the insurance exchanges. Yet according to Ron Pollack of Families USA, a recent poll by Celinda Lake showed that 78 percent of the uninsured are unaware of the new opportunities for coverage under the law.

Moreover, the legislation did not provide any funds for public education, and the 30 or so state governments controlled by Republicans aren’t going to spend money to educate the public about the exchanges. So there is a significant possibility that the number of people insured through the exchanges will fall substantially short of projections.

In addition, it’s not clear yet whether the federal government will have the capacity to launch a federal exchange successfully. It would be one thing if a federal exchange had been planned from the beginning; it’s a different matter when states decide to leave it to the federal government with less than a year before open enrollment, and without a specific appropriation for a federal exchange. How this is going to work is at least unclear.

And then there’s the likelihood that many states will not carry out the Medicaid expansion, at least not to start with.

The whole thing is quite interesting (and not too long) but I think this observation is key:

Starr: Health care is so large a part of the federal government that presidents cannot avoid the issue. But if the ACA fails, will another Democratic president attempt to achieve universal coverage a different way? I’m not sure.

It depends how bad things get. If the Republicans had won the election, repealed the ACA, and block-granted Medicaid under the formula that Paul Ryan favored, we’d be looking at 60-70 million uninsured. That still might happen after 2016, and it might prompt yet another effort. This battle is going to be with us a long time.

We're still fighting them on the New Deal programs and they were conceived nearly 80 years ago. I can't imagine that the right is going to stop attacking health care reform and the complacency of many on the left about this continues to astonish me. The idea that the Republicans will not only give up on repeal but allow the Democrats to add to the program as needed (which many ACA advocates promised would happen) has always struck me as a utopian view of current American politics. What happened in the past is not a good guideline for an era of extreme polarization and an ideologically rigid opposition. These things were very hard to do even in a time of liberal consensus.

But we live in hope. What else have we got?

Illegitimate presidency

by digby

I'm fairly sure that within a short period of time a large number of Americans will truly believe that the 2012 election was stolen through voter fraud. Considering all the hype before hand and the fact that they had convinced themselves they had it won, I suppose it was inevitable.

But stories like this are starting to crop up all over the place:

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) told a radio host he completely agreed with her assertion that investigations are needed to determine why President Obama lost “every one” of the states with photo identification requirements for voting, yet won re-election. Cuccinelli, who has lost most of the major legal cases he has brought since taking office in 2010, told the host she was “preaching to the choir.”

I know it's hard to believe they would actually be that gullible, but consider that 30% of Republicans believe Obama is a practicing Muslim. Clearly, millions of them will believe anything.

Propagandists only need apply

by digby

We often talk about how the media is driven by pre-established narratives and facts are assembled to validate it. Here we have a case in which they literally put it in the job description:

Cox Media Group, the parent company of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, plans to launch an "independent (nonpartisan), anti-propaganda" national news website for conservative audiences that is "rooted in the South away from the right and left coasts."
From the editor's ad:

He or she will be the face of the publication on TV/radio talk shows and in the public arena. This editor will set the voice and tone of the publication and drive national public conversation. This editor will mentor a small team of editors working on the 24/7 news site and offer fans/readers instant insights with humor, intelligence and transparency. The editor must establish a strong ideological narrative and lead the editorial team to find stories that mirror or magnify it. This editor embodies the soul of the publication and will be responsible for setting and meeting overall product goals and launch milestones throughout 2013 and beyond.

It will, of course, be fair and balanced.

Elections may come and go but wingnut welfare is always there. But then it stands to reason there would be good money in a "movement" financed by CEOs and billionaires.


This is all we've got

by David Atkins

For reference, this is the size of our planet compared to various stars, including our sun:

And here's how this planet scales compared to the universe:

This little speck of ours, Sagan's pale blue dot, is all we have. It's our own common possession and our one common heritage. If relativistic mechanics holds up as a barrier, the solar system and maybe a few other stars are all we'll ever have, and the challenges of terraforming anywhere else are enormous.

The idea that God cares what we do with our private parts, or who owns what particular parcels of land in this context is utterly ludicrous. There are likely millions of planets teeming with life more and less advanced than human beings. If we extinguish ourselves we'll have no one but ourselves to blame, and nothing out there will care or miss us when we're gone. We have the tools to destroy ourselves and most every other living thing on the planet. We're already well on our way to getting there.

The world-destroying challenges we face are so enormous at this point that anyone who doesn't get this concept loud and clear needs to be removed from every position of power. Every government that tries to limit human potential in the cause of some delusional neanderthal philosophy of selfishness or racial and sectarian dominance must suffer the fate of Ozymandias.

The stakes are too high to allow the stupidities of the past to prevent us from salvaging our future. This is our only home. We can't allow the idiots to wreck the place.

Plouffe lays out WH thinking on the "fiscal cliff"

by digby

If you are curious as to what the White House really thinks about the fiscal cliff, I'd have to guess that David Plouffe would know:

I urge you to watch that all the way through, it's only three painful minutes. He lays it out in all its Village glory.

It would seem that the administration is still believing its own hype, even after all this time. They still believe they can end these pesky partisan battles for all time (or at least the next 20 years) with one Grand Bargain and then move on to curing cancer, reversing climate change and bringing peace to all mankind. The fact that Bill Clinton left a surplus just 12 years ago has apparently eluded them. And one can only assume that they're so pleased with the untried Rube Goldberg contraption called Obamacare that they've decided we don't really have much need for these creaky old single payer systems anymore.

This is called hubris and it's mind boggling considering just how weak this economy is. Apparently, they believe that they won because everyone just loved the past four years, not because the Republicans have gone batshit insane.

It was somewhat stunning to find out that Fox and the Romney campaign were so caught up in the alternate reality they created that they didn't believe they could lose the election. It would seem the Democrats have created one of their own.

Buzzflash wrote up the Plouffe comments:

Obama senior adviser David Plouffe predicted that the fiscal cliff negotiations are "going to get hairy" in the coming weeks, saying President Barack Obama is committed to achieving the elusive "big deal" on taxes and spending he and Speaker of the House John Boehner have tried to strike for more than 18 months.

In post-election remarks at the University of Delaware, Plouffe warned of "paralysis" if both parties remain beholden to their base, saying Obama is looking for a deal that sets the country on the right fiscal path for a 10- to 20-year period.

"The only way that gets done is for Republicans again to step back and get mercilessly criticized by Grover Norquist and the Right, and it means that Democrats are going to have to do some tough things on spending and entitlements that means that they'll criticized on by their left," Plouffe said at his alma mater in conversation with former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt.

The senior White House adviser repeated Obama's opposition to extending the Bush tax cuts on those earning more than $250,000 a year, but expressed openness to a tax reform deal that could potentially lower what the wealthy pay.

“What we also want to do is engage in a process of tax reform that would ultimately produce lower rates, even potentially for the wealthiest," he said, referring to benefits from corporate tax reform.

Plouffe added that while the White House wants to engage in comprehensive tax reform, they know they must also "carefully" address the "chief drivers of our deficit": Medicare and Medicaid.

And then we'll all live happily ever after.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Atomic History

by digby

I'd just like to give a shout out to tonight's episode of The Untold History of the United States on Showtime. It' all good, but tonight's episode about Hiroshima is especially mind-blowing (no pun intended.)

To get a sense of it, this interview with Oliver Stone by Greg Mitchell will clue you in. I find myself both depressed at how little things have change and impressed that the species has so far been mature enough not to drop one of those horrible bombs again. (Not that we haven't done much that is equally reprehensible, mind you.)

Stone wrote on his Facebook page today:

For those of you protesting Untold History is not on free TV, the reason is that no free TV station would take it. It was extremely courageous of Showtime to put this on the air and we are happy that eventually it will get out to the broadest public and disseminated through the world, free, YouTube, piracy or whatever you like. This is a different kind of history.

Here is the first hour:

It's a truly great series so far, highly recommended.


Game on!

by digby

Yay! Via Shakesville I read that Little Ricky may be planning another run:

"I'm open to it, yeah," Santorum replied. "I think there's a fight right now as to what the soul of the Republican party's going to be and the conservative movement, and we have something to say about that. I think from our battle, we're not going to leave the field."

Oh goodie. That gives me one last opportunity to play my favorite campaign jingle of the 2012 cycle:

GAME ON! Victory's in Sight
We've got a Man who Understands 
that God Gave the Bill of Rights

There will be hope for our nation again ...

Revisiting religious liberty

by digby

Unfortunately, I don't think this one is going to work out for the good guys:

A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2011 unanimously concluded the university's lawsuit should be blocked on jurisdictional grounds. There is no indication when the appeals court will revisit the issue in the wake of the high court's order.

After the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's funding mechanism -- the so-called individual mandate requiring nearly all Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a financial penalty -- it tossed out all other pending appeals.

Liberty University then refiled its lawsuit, saying its objections to the law should be reconsidered in light of the court's 5-4 ruling affirming the overall law.

If they find that "religious liberty" allows religions to opt out of government regulation we are going to be in for quite he legal whirlwind. Considering America's very broad definition of religion and the likelihood of right wing mischief in applying it to all manner of regulations of which they disapprove, it could be quite the challenge. If he high court decides to allow individual employers to claim religious liberty in this way, all bets are off.

Meanwhile, here in the modern world:

Pediatricians treating teenaged girls should consider writing just-in-case prescriptions for the morning-after pill, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said on Monday.

It’s the second recommendation in a week from a major doctor’s group that would make contraception more widely available to women. Last week, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended making all birth control pills available over the counter.

The Food and Drug Administration says emergency contraception – the so-called morning after pill – should be available to any woman who needs it without a prescription. But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA a year ago. Now, federal policy says girls under 17 need a prescription to get it.

AAP says many teenaged girls need emergency contraception, and their pediatricians should help make it easy for them to get it. “Studies have shown that adolescents are more likely to use emergency contraception if it has been prescribed in advance of need,” the group said in a policy statement.

Not that they know anything mind you. Even the president decided that it would be better for young girls to get pregnant than have easy access to birth control. The conservatives nearly had a mass nervous breakdown at the mere idea that anyone would "condone" birth control among those who are the most likely to have unprotected sex. Somehow, I think it will be a long time before we get sane on this issue.


Climate change is a disaster that isn't just about poorer countries

by David Atkins

One of the most problematic aspects of the climate change debate is the way it has been framed even by some climate activists as a social welfare issue for poor nations. Consider this lede from a Reuters article about the World Bank reporting a four-degree Celsius increase in temperatures is likely by the end of the century:

All nations will suffer the effects of a warmer world, but it is the world's poorest countries that will be hit hardest by food shortages, rising sea levels, cyclones and drought, the World Bank said in a report on climate change.

Under new World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, the global development lender has launched a more aggressive stance to integrate climate change into development.

"We will never end poverty if we don't tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today," Kim told reporters on a conference call on Friday.

The report, called "Turn Down the Heat," highlights the devastating impact of a world hotter by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, a likely scenario under current policies, according to the report.
And while help to poorer nations in moving beyond carbon-emitting fuels is a crucial part of bringing down CO2 levels, that aspect of the climate talks in Doha is also driving a narrative of climate change as rich-versus-poor issue.

Remember: we're talking about a four-degree Celsius temperature increase. That's 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit. 30-year-olds alive today will live to see a world that is nearly eight degrees Fahreneit hotter than it is now.

What does that mean? David Roberts can tell you:

The World Bank has more:

"Recent extreme heat waves such as in Russia in 2010 are likely to become the new normal summer in a 4°C world," the authors write. "Tropical South America, central Africa, and all tropical islands in the Pacific are likely to regularly experience heat waves of unprecedented magnitude and duration. In this new high-temperature climate regime, the coolest months are likely to be substantially warmer than the warmest months at the end of the 20th century."

In addition, sea levels will rise by at least 0.5 to 1 meter by century's end, coral reefs and many other marine organisms could go extinct, and many farming areas may have to be abandoned due to higher sea levels and expanding drought.

The report also warns that adaptation efforts may not be enough in world overheated by 4 degrees, especially given the risk of going over climate tipping points.

"There is [...] no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible," the report says starkly.

"The Earth system's responses to climate change appear to be non-linear," explains, John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) which co-authored the report for the World Bank along with Climate Analytics. "If we venture far beyond the 2 degrees guardrail, towards the 4 degrees line, the risk of crossing tipping points rises sharply. The only way to avoid this is to break the business-as-usual pattern of production and consumption."
Or here's Der Spiegel:

Agricultural yields are expected to decrease for all major cereal crops in all major regions of production. The availability of water will be affected by melting of glaciers, particularly in areas such as the Indus basin and western China, where much of the river flow comes from melt water. Population increases, combined with changes in river run off as a result of changes in rainfall patterns and increased temperatures, could mean that by 2080 significantly less water is available to approximately 1 billion people already living under water stress. For many areas of the world sea level rise, combined with the effect of storms, will threaten low lying coastal communities. There are often very dense populations living along coasts, as well as important infrastructure and high value agricultural land, which makes the impact of coastal flooding particularly severe. The intrusion of salt water on farming land, and the risk to lives of flooding events could affect millions of people worldwide every year.

The impacts are frightening, and the list is not exhaustive. However, the map represents a world where climate change has gone unmitigated, where we have continued to emit greenhouse gases at the rates we are today. If we continue to do this, then the likelihood of the planet warming by 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) increases, and as it does so the risk of these impacts being realised also increases. By taking strong and effective action to curb greenhouse gases emissions, it may be possible to limit this temperature rise to 2 debrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit). Although this would still bring some adverse impacts, the risk of the very severest impacts, as shown in the Met Office Hadley Centre map, is significantly reduced.
There is no more important issue than this. None. Not deficits, not social insurance, not terrorism, not religion, not nuclear proliferation, not corporate malfeasance. None of it matters almost a whit compared to this.

And yet climate change didn't even get a mention during the last presidential debates.

This is not some far-off problem. There are a billion people alive today who are likely to experience a 7-degree-fahrenheit-hotter world during their lifetimes. And that doesn't even begin to describe what would happen in runaway climate scenarios that go higher than that.

It's a life-or-death issue for humanity and most of the world's species. In seventy years, almost everything else we did in politics will be mostly irrelevant if we don't tackle this.