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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Moment of zen

by digby

Uhm ...

In case you're wondering, that's Matt Lauer as Pamela Anderson.

Pirates! Argggggh!

by digby


Pictured to the right: Alex Lawson of Social Security works, crashing a public launch event for The Can Kicks Back—itself one of the manifold arms of the "Fix the Debt" movement.
It started off well enough. Nick Troiano, co-founder of the group, kicked off with short speech about the goals and dreams of the "nonpartisan millennial" group, which is concluding a tour of campuses and other places haunted by the young. Lawson and a videographer showed up earlier, finding a spot to the left of the stage and politely standing as Sens. John Thune and Tim Kaine gave short speeches about the threat of the national debt. Not until they finished did Lawson walk in front of the stage (and a small group of cameras) and start into his own speech.

"Aaar!" he said. "Fix the debt, but let me keep my corporate booty! Fix the Debt's founders have more than $500 million in offshore corporate booty."

He was quickly ushered away by—among others—the group's mascot, a man in a cartoonish dented can. Then he stood at the back and heckled (in pirate patois) until he couldn't.

What's the greatest threat to economic growth? It's climate change.

by David Atkins

Much as Republicans would like to pretend that Obamacare is somehow the reason why supply-side economics seems to have failed so dramatically, there is actually a looming threat to economic growth much more serious than even conservative economic theory. That threat is climate change:

Nearly a third of the world's economic output will come from countries facing "high" to "extreme" risks from the impacts of climate change within 12 years, according to a new report.

The Climate Change Vulnerability Index, an annual report produced by UK-based risk analysis firm Maplecroft, found that climate change "may pose a serious obstacle to sustainable economic growth in the world's most commercially important cities."

The index ranked the vulnerability of the world's countries, and the 50 cities deemed most economically important, to the impacts of climate change, by evaluating their risk of exposure to extreme climate events, the sensitivity of their populations to that exposure and the adaptive capacity of governments to respond to the challenge.

It said the combined GDP of the 67 countries classed as facing "high" or "extreme" risks was projected to nearly triple from $15 trillion to $44 trillion by 2025 -- meaning nearly a third of the global economy would be coming under increasing threat from extreme climate-related events. It projected the population of those countries -- currently estimated at more than 4.5 billion -- could exceed 5 billion by 2025.

The index's findings bore particularly bad news for Bangladesh, which topped both lists, with its capital, Dhaka, ranked the most vulnerable city due to its exposure to threats such as flooding, storm surge, cyclones and landslides, its susceptible population and weak institutional capacity to address the problem.

Along with the Bangladeshi capital, the four other cities categorized as facing "extreme risk" from climate change impacts were also located in Asia -- Mumbai, Manila, Kolkata and Bangkok -- and projected to be centers of high economic growth.
Yeah, that's not 20 or 30 years down the road. We're talking twelve years here. Like, toward the end of the Hillary Clinton/Ted Cruz Administration. That soon.

But it's just faraway places with in Asia somewhere, right? Wrong. First of all, climate change is already having dramatic impacts on drought, hurricanes and wildfires in the United States.

Second, there's a reason that even as the American middle class dwindles, American corporate profits and stock prices remain so high. Part of it is cheap goods manufactured overseas, and an even greater share of it is the growing middle classes of developing countries to which American companies sell a lot of products. If those economies tumble into crisis due to climate effects, that will have major ripple effects in the American economy as well, jacking up prices on manufactured goods while reducing consumer purchases of American goods abroad.

It's a major problem. How long will big business continue to support the Republican con artists who deny man-made climate change and pretend that Obamacare is a serious threat to growth, and how long will they wait before they realize that climate is a concern that even the billionaires need to take seriously?

That thing where a right wing immigrant wants to send a black American "back to Africa"

by digby

Meet Ted Cruz's daddy:

I guess no matter how much I observe the right wing I will never fully hear the dog-whistles. All my life I heard the phrase "send 'em back to Africa." But it took me until today to see how the "Kenyan" obsession is a direct echo of that ancient American racist war cry.

Here's a song about it:

Here are some fine Americans talking about it:

*Yes, I know about Lincoln, Liberia and all the rest. But just google the phrase to see who the people are who really like to use it.

Update: Apologizing in advance to Debbie Wasserman Shultz and Martin Bashir for being so rude as to bring this up. My bad.

Headline 'o the day

by digby
State Department Apologizes for Calling Unionization a Security Threat 
I don't know why. They were just following NSA "talking points" which say that everything they do is to thwart a security threat. And why in the world would the American government support unionization? Ridiculous!

More nitpicking from the self-centered wimminfolkz

by digby

Oh who cares about this. There are important things to worry about:
Less than a quarter of Republicans believe that electing more women to Congress would be a good thing, according to an ABC News/Fusion poll released on Wednesday. About 60 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of Americans overall said that it would be a good thing if more women were elected to Congress, the poll found. Only 23 percent of Republicans said it would be a good thing, while more than two-thirds of Republicans said it makes no difference to them. Currently, women make up slightly more than half of the U.S. population, but just 18 percent of Congress.

But Republican voters do not seem to be worried about the lack of women in Congress, for the most part, and they are not particularly concerned about women in the workplace. The ABC poll found that while 68 percent of Democrats believe women have fewer opportunities than men in the workplace, only 38 percent of Republicans agree with that statement, despite the wide and persistent wage gap."

Hey, women may be 50% of the population but having only 18% of them in political leadership positions is plenty. Men have been taking care of the ladies for a long time and know what they're doing. And I think we all know that it's no big deal if women make less money. They obviously prefer it that way or they'd be making more, amirite?

And anyway, there's no difference between the two parties on the important issues so it really doesn't matter. Carry on.

Also too, this:
I can't imagine why more women aren't right wingers.
Well that worked out well

by digby

And what's really awesome is that they now have us fighting over whether to cut the signature Democratic social insurance programs for decades into the future in exchange for restoring some of those cuts.

I don't think the Republicans planned this. They aren't that good. But they sure are lucky. Especially in their adversaries.

Libertarians and the hippies

by digby

The other day, Conor Friedersdorf wondered on twitter why so many liberals are hostile to civil libertarians who aren't partisan Democrats. I, unfortunately, read too fast and engaged in a long discussion under the impression that he'd said "libertarians" rather than "civil libertarians" which isn't quite the same thing. (It can be, but it isn't always.)

Anyway, there is a reason why lefty civil libertarians are hostile to Libertarians, capital L. It's because of this:
Twenty-two percent of Americans identify as libertarian or lean libertarian, according to a new poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Seven percent are "consistent" libertarians, while 15 percent lean libertarian, according to the survey.

The poll found that libertarians tend to be non-Hispanic white, young and male. Ninety-four percent are non-Hispanic whites, 62 percent are below age 50 and 68 percent are men.

Libertarians also typically identify with the GOP -- 45 percent are Republicans while five percent are Democrats.
The 5 percent who call themselves Democrats are probably women in the group who think their personal freedom and liberty shouldn't be considered silly "nitpicking over states' rights". But be that as it may, when you break down the issues, one would naturally assume that libertarians would split between the two parties, depending on how they prioritize their issues. But as you can see, that's not how it lines out. Far more Libertarians identify as Republicans.

And that's puzzling because one would certainly not suppose that Libertarians would find themselves in alliance with the Religious Right which seeks to impose its religious values on others and has traditionally seen any extension of liberty to minority populations as an affront to their prerogatives. But they are:
Only 12% of self-identified Republicans are libertarians, compared to 20% of Republicans who identify with the Tea Party, 33% who identify with the religious right or conservative Christian movement, and 37% who identify as white evangelical Protestant.
Libertarians also constitute a smaller proportion of the Tea Party movement than other core conservative groups. About one-quarter (26%) of Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement are libertarians, compared to a majority (52%) who say they are a part of the religious right or conservative Christian movement, and 35% who identify as white evangelical Protestant.
And despite the fact that the Republican Party is explicitly organized around the proverbial three legged stool of National Security-Low Taxes-Traditional Values, only one of which is a libertarian ideal, Libertarians not only refuse to align with progressives, many of whom agree with them on reducing the National Security state and ensuring personal privacy and civil liberties, they actively loathe them (us):
Notably, libertarians hold more negative views of Democrats than they hold positive views of Republicans. Nearly 9-in-10 (89%) libertarians have an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party including nearly two-thirds (64%) who have a very unfavorable opinion of the party.
Now, I'm not going to comment on the fact that nearly all of these people are young, white males because some of my best friends are young, white males. But it is a data point that you can't help noticing when you look at the make-up of the two political parties. One is majority white and majority male. The other is composed of a majority of people of color and women.

Setting aside any implications in that, one can assume that for all their alleged commitment to liberty and freedom, what they apparently care most about is low taxes and low regulation since that is the only policy area they have in common with the GOP. They obviously believe that government telling women what to do with their bodies on behalf of a bunch of theocrats is something they can live with but taxing millionaires to pay for public services is a betrayal of their principles.

It's too easy to conclude from all this is that many of these fine young fellows are really just conservatives who like to smoke pot (a pastime they also share far more with the left than the right.) But it's quite obvious that most Libertarians just don't like lefties. And that's their prerogative. But considering where their priorities obviously lie and who they consider to be good allies, I think you can forgive the civil libertarian left for being a little bit skeptical of their commitment.

The fact is that members of both parties suck when it comes to civil liberties.  They tend to follow the usual partisan line.  But there is just no denying that the members of one party suck a little bit harder.

This poll was taken before the Snowden revelations:

In 2007, when we were debating the fact that the Bush administration had blatantly disregarded the law and was spying on Americans without a warrant, less than 40% of Republicans gave a damn. Fast forward:

Three years later, partisan Democrats were more complacent about civil liberties. In fact, fewer members of both parties thought the government was going too far in restricting civil liberties. But a fat majority of 58% of Republicans believed the Obama administration wasn't going far enough.

Then in 2013, when the Snowden revelations were published, you see a switch. Suddenly both parties think the government has gone too far in restricting civil liberties.

As I said earlier, both parties (and Indies too) are fickle on these  issues. But this polling shows that there is a much more substantial core of civil libertarians in  the Democratic Party who not only maintain the principle regardless of whether their party is in power, but whose numbers grew in response to the Snowden revelations which reflected badly on "their" president. Is the Democratic majority a profile in courage? No.  But it's just a fact that there are a lot more stalwart, consistent civil libertarians on the left than there are on the right.

Having said all that, I welcome our Libertarian Republicans to the fold. (There are a number jumping on the bandwagon for a variety of motivations.) Maybe we can get something done on these issues with some bipartisan pressure.  But I also suggest that beyond valorizing Rand Paul and Justin Amash as the only Representatives who care about such things, they turn their attention to the much larger group of Democrats in the congress who've been slogging away on these issues for years: people like Udall, Merkeley,Wyden, Sanders, Holt, Lee, Grayson, Conyers  and others.

In fact, they might want to watch this Youtube which breaks down members of the two parties in the House by their records on civil liberties.
Here's the spreadsheet that lays it all out.

It's not like both parties aren't mostly working for the military/surveillance industrial complex.  We know that. But if civil liberties and anti-imperialism is what they care about, there's very little reason to think libertarians' influence will be better felt in the GOP. There are a lot fewer of them there.


The Tea Party learns from their close friends, the Religious Right

by digby

So apparently, the sad little rump band of living conservative intellectuals are all excited over looney Tea Party Senator Mike Lee's speech yesterday at the heritage institute.  He wasn't slavering like a rabid dog! He likes families. He's a man of ideas!

Here's one of them:
The federal government also needs to open up America’s transportation system to diversity and experimentation, so that Americans can spend more time with their families in more affordable homes, and less time stuck in maddening traffic.

House-hunting middle-class families today often face a Catch-22.

They can stretch their finances to near bankruptcy to afford a home close to work.

Or they can choose a home in a more affordable neighborhood so far away from work that they miss soccer games, piano recitals, and family dinner while stuck in gridlocked traffic.

The solution is not more government-subsidized mortgages or housing programs. A real solution involves building more roads.

More roads, bridges, lanes, and mass-transit systems. Properly planned and located, these projects would help create new jobs, new communities, more affordable homes, shorter commuting times, and greater opportunity for businesses and families.

Transportation infrastructure is one of the things government is supposed to do — and conservatives should make sure it is done exceptionally well.

Unfortunately, since completing the Interstate Highway System decades ago, the federal government has gotten pretty bad at maintaining and improving our nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Today, the federal highway program is funded by a gasoline tax of 18.4 cents on every gallon sold at the pump. That money is supposed to be going into steel, concrete, and asphalt in the ground. Instead, too much of it is being siphoned off by bureaucrats and special interests in Washington.

And so Congressman Tom Graves and I are going to introduce the Transportation Empowerment Act.

Under our bill, the federal gas tax would be phased down over five years from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents. And highway authority would be transferred proportionately from the federal government to the states.

Under our new system, Americans would no longer have to send significant gas-tax revenue to Washington, where sticky-fingered politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists take their cut before sending it back with strings attached. Instead, states and cities could plan, finance, and build better-designed and more affordable projects.

Some communities could choose to build more roads, while others might prefer to repair old ones. Some might build highways, others light rail. And all would be free to experiment with innovative green technologies, and new ways to finance their projects, like congestion pricing and smart tolls.

But the point is that all states and localities should finally have the flexibility to develop the kind of transportation system they want, for less money, without politicians and special interests from other parts of the country telling them how, when, what, and where they should build.

If only we can get the federal government to stop taxing us to pay for roads and bridges., every small town in America will step up to do the job. So its citizens can travel far away to go to work. If it wants to. I think. (And it's a darned good thing there's no such thing as climate change or all that driving with cheap gas might not be such a hot idea.)

Here's another pro-plutocrat cloaked family values idea they just love:

Another struggle facing working families is the constant challenge of work-life balance. Parents today need to juggle work, home, kids, and community. For many families, especially with young children, their most precious commodity is time.

But today, federal labor laws restrict the way moms and dads and everyone else can use their time. That’s because many of those laws were written decades ago, when most women didn’t work outside the home.

Because of these laws, an hourly employee who works overtime is not allowed to take comp time or flex time. Even if she prefers it, her boss can’t even offer it.

Today, if a working mom or dad stays late at the office on Monday and Tuesday, and instead of receiving extra pay wants to get compensated by leaving early on Friday to spend the afternoon with the kids, that could be violating federal law.

That sounds unfair, especially to parents. But how do we know for sure? Because Congress gave a special exemption from that law for government employees.

This is unacceptable. The same work-life options available to government bureaucrats should be available to the citizens they serve.

In May, the House of Representatives passed the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, sponsored by Representative Martha Roby of Alabama, to equalize flex-time rules for all workers.

And this week I am introducing companion legislation in the Senate

I'm going to take a guess that government employees are "exempt" from overtime because people like Mike Lee don't want to pay overtime to government employees, not because the government employees were just dying for the opportunity to work more for less pay.

Funny story. Many years ago, when I was a young person trying to come up through the pink collar ghetto in the corporate world, I was given a promotion. It would have a new title and I'd get invited to the monthly management meeting (where I served coffee.) I'd also get to go to the company retreat. My job responsibilities would remain the same as would my wages, but I was assured it was a big stepping stone. They were making me a junior executive. I was very excited. But when I got my first check it was substantially lower than it had been and I was told that it was because I was now an "exempt" employee, meaning that I was exempt from overtime. The 50 to 60 hours a week I had always claimed on my time card (and what the job required) would now only be compensated at the base salary. I was an executive now, dontcha know.

Years later I was in a compensation meeting (at a different company) in which our chief executive joked with other men in the meeting that we didn't need to give women raises because they'd always settle for an empty title and a better office. Hahahaha! Yeah, he said that while I was sitting there. And yeah, I laughed too. At my own foolishness. The 80s were fun like that. The same guy said that any employee who asked for comp time would go nowhere in his organization. It showed a lack of commitment; people who care about doing a good job don't complain when they have to work a few extra hours. And he needed people to be there when he needed them, not when they were "available."

The reason the 40 hour work week was established was because many employers exploited their workers. I know it's hard for Mike Lee and his ilk to fathom that the vaunted job creators of today might not really give a damn about the "family needs" of their employees and just want to pay them less for doing more work. (That's one way to get more "productivity"!)

All the extra hours in the world won't buy groceries or put a roof over your kids' heads. But I guess you'll feel all warm inside knowing that someday, possibly, your boss might approve you to take a couple of those extra hours you've earned in comp time to forage for food with your family. So it's all good.

Read Lee's whole speech. The Tea Party is taking a page from their allies in the Religious Right --- give sermons laden with lugubrious concern for the plight of the common man and offer up Randian gobbledygook as the answer to their concerns. Same as it ever was.


How much longer are we going to keep doing this?

by David Atkins

Most people haven't seen this color footage of World War I. It's amazing.

World War I is often forgotten and overlooked. Outside of an assassinated Archduke, unraveling treaties and an eagerness to test new weapons, most people couldn't tell you why it was even fought.

Yet it cost an astonishing 37 million people their lives. And for what?

At some point the people of the world are going to have to figure out that we're all in this thing together.

The global jet setting rich won't be content until they own everything and there's no middle class left anywhere. Many multinational corporations are now more powerful than most governments. The climate is warming out of control with no coherent plan to stop it. Nuclear weapons are proliferating such that it's only a matter of time before someone uses them again. We have resource shortages of all kind, from oil to water to minor but necessary metals. We are overfishing the seas and committing a genocide of extinction to the world's biodiversity. Developed nations have crises of aging populations and social insurance shortfalls, while developing nations have overpopulation problems. Fundamentalism of various kinds threatens global stability.

War isn't the answer. It will never be the answer. But then, neither is libertarianism. It, too, is the enemy of a stable future.

The global labor force is going to have to hang together to survive what's coming, or it will surely hang separately.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Baby steps

by digby

This is a step in the right direction. Via Huffpost Hill:

In what counts as a loss for the owners of Congress, a bill from Rep. Jim Himes (D-Hedgefundistan) garnered a ton more opposition this afternoon than its backers had expected. It sailed through committee 53-6 this spring, but since then liberals have organized against it.

Himes, who has been beefing with HuffPost over our coverage of his swaps deregulation, lamented the state of affairs on the floor. After noting how easily the bill passed last year, he said, "This year, exactly the same bill comes before us and we've ginned up the press, we've ginned up the bloggers. This has become a 'gift to Wall Street.' What is different? What is different from what passed happily in a bipartisan fashion last Congress?" Himes wondered. "What has changed is we no longer do the hard work of finding finely balanced regulation like we do on water or on air. In financial services, in Dodd-Frank today, we have a morality play."

If it was a morality play, the forces of darkness still triumphed, 292-122, but a majority of Democrats voted no.

Cold comfort, but at least most of the Dems got the word. That wouldn't have happened a year or so ago.

I don't know how long it's going to take to get a true progressive faction in the House that can operate with the same cohesion and effectiveness that the Tea Partiers have in the GOP. But it's clear we need one. And they do seem to be learning.

*And no this does not mean we don't need to be organizing outside the political system. But you simply cannot leave the state in the hands of the conservatives in both parties. Huge mistake.

Hunger games

by digby

I wrote yesterday about the looming cuts to food stamp benefits, and this story by Nat Resnikoff at All In fleshes the issue out substantially. Here's just a small piece of it, about just one person who's trying to get by:
[Food Stamp] cuts may be a political winner for a few politicians, but for people like Winsome Stoner, they could be devastating.

Stoner was among those to start collecting food stamps during the post-crash era. She was unemployed at the time, and her husband’s salary as a security guard was not sufficient to pay the rent and feed their five children. Now working full-time at the Bed-Stuy Coalition Against Hunger food pantry in her neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Stoner still collects $640 per month in food stamps. Even that, combined with her income and her husband’s income, is not enough.

“It does cushion me a bit, it helps,” she said. “But we still run out of food by the end of the month. The middle, sometimes.”

When there’s no more food left, and no more money to buy new groceries, Stoner and her husband go to food pantries. At the Bud-Stuy pantry, the largest emergency food pantry in New York City, Stoner is both an employee and a regular client.

Visiting food pantries is a common practice for those who can’t stretch their food stamp money, also known as SNAP benefits, until the end of the month, according to Lisa Davis, senior vice president of government relations for the national food bank network Feeding America.

“Right now SNAP benefits are not overly generous,” Davis told MSNBC.com. “They average out to be about $1.49 per person per meal, and we know from our food banks that many of the clients coming to them are those who are receiving SNAP, but the benefits aren’t getting them through the entire month.”

For Stoner’s seven-person household, a monthly SNAP benefit of $640 per month translates to about $1 per meal, assuming everyone in the family eats three meals a day. Thanks to the expiration of the stimulus package’sfood stamp provisions, Stoner has already received word that she might soon receive even less—and without knowing how big the cut will be, she’s terrified.  
“I don’t know if we’re going to get anything,” she said, her voice rising in agitation. “We’re not sure if we’re on it. I’m really worried, I really am.”
Winsome Stoner stocks the pantry’s refrigerator. Both Stoner and her husband work, but they have to use the food pantry themselves because their incomes don’t cover all their family’s monthly food expenses.
So, here you have someone who is working --- and her husband is working --- but they still don't have enough money to pay for food for their children. And yet the right wingers are still accusing them of being lazy and dependent and are determined to cut this program even more. And sadly I have no idea if the progressives in congress will get their act together to stop it. (They reluctantly voted for these cuts last time because it was the only way they could pay for healthy school lunches. That's what it's come down to.)

Meanwhile, just for kicks, let's take a trip across town and see how some of this lady's fellow New Yorkers are doing:
To determine the highest-earning hedge fund managers and traders of 2012, we examined hedge fund returns and worked to understand the fee and ownership structure of a wide array of hedge fund firms. Hedge funds generally reap fees equal to 20% of profits and 2% of assets, but we found all sorts of variations on this theme. In addition, our earnings figures include the personal gain or loss of each manager’s interest in their funds. Our figures are pretax, account for firm expenses and profit-sharing arrangements, and exclude gains or losses stemming from ownership in the hedge fund firms themselves or from investments held outside the managed investment pools...

The most surprising comeback was staged by Philip Falcone. His Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund firm, which at its peak managed $26 billion, blew a ton of money on LightSquared, a controversial attempt to convert satellite radio frequencies into a new cellular service that filed for bankruptcy protection. The Securities & Exchange Commission has brought a pending enforcement action against him that he is fighting. But Faclone’s hedge funds performed very well in 2012 after LightSquared bonds recovered and shares in his publicly-traded Harbinger Group, in which his hedge funds have a big position, soared. Since a big percentage of the assets managed by his hedge funds belong to him, Falcone made $250 million.
See? It's not all bad news ...

This is the problem in a nutshell.  We have working parents unable to pay for food for their children. And we have Wall Street titans scarfing up all the money and complaining that poor people aren't paying their fair share. It's always been this way to some extent.  But up until now the big money boyz haven't felt the need to subvert democracy to the point that people must literally starve. In their own city.


The political crisis caused by the decline in discretionary spending

by David Atkins

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a fantastic chart of non-interest federal spending today. As you might have known if you don't consume conservative media, government spending on things non-Medicare and non-Social Security expenses is decreasing:

As they say:

If we continue current policies, federal spending outside of interest payments on the debt is projected to decline in the decade ahead as the economy recovers. In fact, this spending (which analysts call “primary outlays”) has already fallen from 23.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009 — at the bottom of the recession — to a projected 20.2 percent of GDP in 2013. It is projected to fall further, to 19.5 percent of GDP or lower in the latter part of this decade.

While total federal spending will remain high throughout the coming decade under current policies, that’s mostly because of a marked increase in interest payments. In particular, as the economy recovers, interest rates will also rise, simultaneously increasing the interest we must pay on any given amount of debt.

Total non-interest spending outside of Social Security and Medicare — two programs whose costs are driven up by the aging of the population and the rise in health care costs throughout the U.S. health care system — will fall well below its 50-year historical average in the decade ahead.
This data, by the way, doesn't just make for good progressive talking points on the budget. It also creates crucial political and strategic problems for both parties.

The core conservative demographic at this point is seniors. Without the senior vote, the Republican Party would be in danger of disappearance outside the deep south. But there just isn't a lot of budget to cut much further without slashing either the military or programs that seniors depend on. They could (and do) go after certain popular programs like education, food stamps and Medicaid, but doing so only hastens their demographic demise among minorities and young adults. Not a lot of good options here for Republicans.

Democrats, meanwhile, face the opposite problem. Almost the entire progressive establishment is digging in its heels to protect Medicare and Social Security from the "Grand Bargain." That's a good thing, of course, but also leaves younger adults in the cold as discretionary non-defense spending only accounts for less than a paltry one-fifth of the federal budget.

Think about that for a moment. When progressives make arguments about all the great things government does, the go-to arguments are about street lights, roads, fire, police, education, public health, the space program, medical research, pollution control, Wall Street regulation. The federal government spends less than 20% of its budget on all these things combined. Sometimes that's because they're paid out of state and local coffers, but mostly it's that the military, Medicare and Social Security take up so much of the budget.

Now, that's fine and very important. Most of us will reach age 65, one hopes, and terrible economic conditions mean that most of us will be desperate for that lifeline when we reach that point. But I'm 32 years old. I will have eight more presidential cycles in my lifetime before I reach the age of 65. How many more grand bargains will have to be fought in the meantime? Are progressives my age (to say nothing of those just reaching adulthood) supposed to spend our organizing and waking hours fighting like the dickens for programs that we may or may not benefit from some 30 or 40 years down the road?

If Democrats continue to give away the store on discretionary spending on younger adults that invests in America's future in order to hold a Maginot line on Medicare and Social Security programs they may or may not live to see one day, why should younger voters care about which political party holds the reins?


It's always something

by digby

John Harwood of the New York Times discovers that race is at the heart of much of our political polarization. Imagine that:
Whites tend to hold negative views of Obamacare, while blacks tend to like it. Specifically, 55 percent of whites, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found this year, consider Mr. Obama’s health care law a bad idea, while 59 percent of blacks call it a good idea. On immigration, 51 percent of whites oppose legal status for illegal residents, but 63 percent of blacks and 76 percent of Hispanics favor it.

The statistics mirror the core philosophical division in Washington’s fierce battles over taxes, spending and debt. Whites say government does too much, while blacks and Hispanics say it should do more to meet people’s needs.

Those attitudes, and the continued growth of the nonwhite population, have produced this sometimes-overlooked result: American politics has grown increasingly polarized by race, as well as by party and ideology.

Overlooked by the mainstream media, maybe. But it's been obvious to the rest of us for well... forever.

Remember this stuff from about 10 years ago?

Bill explains that he "slid into the Minutemen" because he was disturbed by the way his neighborhood was changing, and the other Minutemen standing with him nod in agreement. "Dormitory-style homes" have popped up on their streets, Bill says, and the residents come and go at strange hours. Their neighbors' children are intimidated and no longer like to play outside, in part because "we've got about 17 cars coming and going from our neighbors' houses." Matt, another Minuteman who lives in nearby Manassas, claims that the police have busted prostitution rings operating out of nearby properties.

Bill doesn't want his name printed, he tells me, because he worries about retaliation from the local Hispanic gang, MS-13. Pointing to the cluster of day-laborers across the street, he explains to me that the Herndon 7-11 is "a social gathering place, too." Taplin has publicly objected to a regulated day-laborer site set to open in Herndon on December 19--proposed in order to combat the trespassing, litter, and nuisance complaints that have arisen in conjunction with the informal 7-11 site--because he worries that even a regulated locale wouldn't change "their behaviors." Even on the coldest mornings, more than 50 workers often convene at the 7-11, and Bill judges that sometimes only 10 or 20 get hired. "When," he asks me, "is it ever a good thing for 40 men to hang out together?"

These anxieties may be overblown, in some cases borderline racist; but they are not, unfortunately, outside the mainstream. In Mount Pleasant, the predominantly Hispanic, rapidly gentrifying Washington neighborhood where I live, complaints have begun to surface about the groups of men that congregate on stoops or outside of convenience stores at night. Those who have complained call it loitering, but one Hispanic resident told the Post that when the men gather outdoors, "[t]hey're having coffee; they talk about issues. ... It's part of our community." For the neighborhood's Hispanic population, this practice is a cultural tradition; for its newer batch of hip, ostensibly liberal urbanites, it is disturbing, and too closely resembles something American law designates a crime.

These are people who would never admit they share anything in common with the Herndon Minutemen. But like it or not, the Minutemen are acting on anxieties many Americans share--anxieties about the challenge of enforcing the law in towns that are swelling in size due to immigration; anxieties about the challenge of integrating and accommodating an immigrant culture. Border states like California have been grappling with these issues for years, in court battles about day-laborer sites and debates over concepts like bilingual education.

Often in these conflicts those who have presented cultural, as opposed to legal, objections to uncontrolled immigration are condemned as xenophobic or racist. But as my Mount Pleasant neighbors have shown, it can be tricky to disentangle legal from cultural discomfort.
A moldy oldie from me:
1955 - They are an inferior race
1965 - They aren't good workers
1975 - They make old white customers uncomfortable
1985 - Affirmative action means their diplomas are bogus
1995 - They're the victims of a culture of dependency
2005 - They're culturally out of step with the mainstream

It's always something.
What's astonishing is that the media seems to discover this every decade or so and then assumes it's gone away. And yeah, it is the basis for "the core philosophical division in Washington’s fierce battles over taxes, spending and debt. Whites say government does too much, while blacks and Hispanics say it should do more to meet people’s needs." And there's nothing new about it.

Henry Hyde's legacy lives on

by digby

One of the inevitable --- and fully predictable --- bits of fallout from the ACA is the further "Hydeification" of abortion rights. (God knows, fought it tooth and nail at the time. And we lost.) Now we are seeing the first results:
In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which, among many other things, provides for the establishment of state-level health care exchanges to assist individuals and small businesses in purchasing a private health insurance plan. Despite the fact that these exchanges will not be operational until 2014, some states have already enacted laws restricting the abortion coverage that will be available in plans purchased through the exchanges. But although federal health care reform may have renewed the debate around restricting insurance coverage of abortion, restrictive state abortion insurance policies are not a new phenomenon. Several states already restrict private insurance coverage of abortion; these restrictions will also apply to plans sold on the exchanges. More often, states have banned abortion coverage in public employees’ insurance policies or in other cases where public funds are used to insure employees.

8 states have laws in effect restricting insurance coverage of abortion in all private insurance plans written in the state, including those that will be offered through the health insurance exchanges that will be established under the federal health care reform law. 

 7 states limit coverage to life endangerment.
 1 state limits coverage to life, rape, incest, fetal impairment and “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
 7 states permit additional abortion coverage through purchase of a separate rider and payment of an additional premium.
 23 states restrict abortion coverage in plans that will be offered through the insurance exchanges.
 6 states limit coverage to life endangerment.
 2 states limit coverage to life endangerment and “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
 1 state limits coverage to life endangerment, “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function,” rape or incest.
 10 states limit coverage to life endangerment, rape and incest.
 1 state limits coverage to life endangerment, rape and incest, fetal impairment and “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
 1 state limits coverage to life endangerment, rape, incest and cases of “grave long-lasting physical health damage.”
 2 states prohibit any abortion coverage
It's important to emphasize that the ACA isn't responsible for all of this. A lot of states had these rules on the books before. But it accelerated the movement to do it. Mandated insurance for abortion coverage was just another casualty in the negotiations. Funny how that always happens around women's rights, isn't it? The good news is that they didn't buckle on the birth control mandate, which the same anti-abortion zealots objected to just as fervently.

Women who live in modern states with respect for women's rights will be able to buy private insurance that has abortion coverage. And many who have employer coverage will likewise still be covered. But the fact is that more women are not going to have this coverage than had it before now and any woman who is on medicaid is still out of luck --- it hasn't been allowed since the 1970s, thanks to Henry Hyde and the cowardly politicians who kow-tow to the religious right on this issue.

The Grand Bargain was not conceived as a budget negotiation

by digby

Just a reminder here that the Grand Bargain was not conceived as a "deal" between the Republicans and Democrats to cut the "entitlements" in exchange for some "revenue." That's the "Balanced Approach" that was set forth by the President in the 2012 campaign.

The Grand Bargain is an agreement between the government and the American People. This is Obama's vision of a Grand Bargain as told by E.J. Dionne back in January of 2009 before the president was inaugurated:
To listen to Obama and his budget director Peter Orszag is to hear a tale of long-term fiscal woe. The government may have to spend and cut taxes in a big way now, but in the long run, the federal budget is unsustainable.

That's where sacrifice kicks in. There will be signs of it in Obama's first budget, in his efforts to contain health-care costs and, down the road, in his call for entitlement reform and limits on carbon emissions. His camp is selling the idea that if he wants authority for new initiatives and new spending, Obama will have to prove his willingness to cut some programs and reform others.

The "grand bargain" they are talking about is a mix and match of boldness and prudence. It involves expansive government where necessary, balanced by tough management, unpopular cuts -- and, yes, eventually some tax increases. Everyone, they say, will have to give up something.

The "bargain"  was about a restructuring of government in which Americans would have to "sacrifice" because "the federal budget is unsustainable." But once that gets done we would get to have some neat new (cheaper) modern stuff because everyone will know the government is living within its means.

Again, this "bargain" was not about a negotiation with Republicans. It has morphed into that in the last couple of years due to the White House requiring some kind of revenues or loophole closing (or something) in return for "entitlement" cuts in various budget negotiations. But that's not the basis of this vision and never has been.

So, when Paul Ryan says the Grand Bargain is off the table because he won't agree to tax
increases, and Patty Murray says she won't budge unless we get some loopholes closed in the tax code, it's important to keep in mind that the Grand Bargain originally envisioned by Peter Orszag and the president way back when is still very much in play.


Silver lining Wednesday: Tom Delay isn't in government any longer

by digby

This was once one of the most powerful men in the world:
"Jesus died for our freedom," DeLay said. "And Jesus destroyed Satan so that we could be free and that is manifested in what is called the Constitution of the United States. God created this nation and God created the Constitution; it is written on biblical principles."
And you thought the current crop of Tea Partiers was uniquely looney? Nope. The right wing has been looney for a very long time.
DeLay went on to recount a recent experience he had in which he spent four hours "on a conference call with the Lord" during which God told DeLay that he is to write a book called "Shut It Down" about the need for Constitutional revival:
Somebody ought to ask the NSA who else was on that conference call.

Spying for fun and personal profit

by digby

Greenwald was on Anderson Cooper last night talking about James Clapper's contention that they need to spy on pretty much everyone in the world and will continue to do so whether anybody likes it or not. (Ok, I exaggerated a little.  But Clapper was pretty arrogant. )

Glenn makes a point that just cannot be overstated: yes, everyone spies on everyone. But there's only one nation that's making a fetish out of it with unlimited resources and no accountability. Glenn also appeared on Andrea Mitchell a couple of days ago and pointed out that it's entirely possible that the president didn't know anything about this.

We're dealing with an agency that's clearly unaccountable to anyone. The volume and complexity is just too great for anyone who isn't deeply enmeshed in the system to fully understand it. And on this issue of tapping foreign leaders, I'm going to guess it's actually likely they didn't tell the president they were doing it --- because he's a world leader too, a member of a very select club that probably doesn't much like the idea of other leaders being privy their private conversations. It's very believable to me that they'd think this was something he was better off not knowing about.

There is a long history in this country of rogue agency collection of dirt on politicians. There is every reason to believe that this "intelligence" was used by the head of the agency for his own purposes. I guess everyone assumes that was in the olden days and it could never happen again. I just don't know why they would think that.

Speaking of income inequality

by digby

Apropos of David's post below, here's Colbert:

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

The Dow hit another record high yesterday. So where are all the jobs?

by David Atkins

The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit another record high yesterday, closing at a nosebleed-worthy 15,680.35. This isn't exactly a surprise, given that corporate profits are at or near record highs and still growing strongly.

So where are all the jobs?

The entire economic battle between the left and right is about supply and demand. The right believes that if you boost the supply side the economy will grow and people will thrive. The left believes that the best way to economic prosperity is through boosting demand. The right says that if you cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy while cutting regulations, business will make more money which it can spend on investing in new products and new markets, thereby creating jobs. The left says that doing so will only put more money into the pockets of a few while generating no job growth, whereas boosting wages will grow middle-class consumer demand, thus creating the desire and capacity for new product purchases that companies will then deliver.

It's a simple debate. It's also one in which the media refuses to take sides, pretending that the answer is an elusive and ineffable mystery. This economic debate is considered a matter of opinion rather than of fact.

And yet, we have facts that are startlingly obvious and help us easily determine the victor in this battle of ideas.

It is a fact that taxes on the wealthy are at near historic lows, and that the share of the wealth controlled by the rich is at historic highs. It is a fact that corporate profits are at record highs, as is the stock market. Business, and big business in particular, is doing very, very well. Yet unemployment remains high, wages are stagnant, economic mobility is weak and the middle class is shrinking. Corporations are sitting on vast accumulated wealth, but are not investing that wealth in human capital that advances broad-based prosperity.

We do, on the other hand, have plenty of evidence that high levels of income inequality are very damaging to an economy. We have plenty of evidence that corporations are unwilling to invest in new products because they're not certain that consumers will be able to afford them. Moreover, we know that unemployment was lower and the nation more prosperous when taxes on the wealthy were higher, when regulations on Wall Street were more stringent, and when organized labor was more powerful.

The argument should by all rights be over. Much as in other areas of scientific debate, conservatives have plainly lost this argument in the realm of fact, and have resorted to restating ideological opinions in the hope that repetition will become accepted truth.

The difference is that the media have finally begun to accept and report that climate change and evolution are incontrovertible facts, while Young Earth creationism and climate denialism are fiction undeserving of publication.

The same standard should be applied to the obvious fiction of supply-side economics. Record profits, record stock values and record inequality coupled with high unemployment should end the argument among serious thinkers and objective analysts once and for all.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Political malpractice

by digby

Here is a perfect illustration of why so many progressives are downright distraught over the direction of the Democratic Party.  It's less about ideology and much, much more about basic strategic and tactical incompetence.

Get a load of this:

A group of nine Democratic members of the House of Representatives held a press conference outside the Capitol on Tuesday to demand Congress avert an automatic food stamp cut scheduled to take effect on Friday.

"The average family of four will see a $36 cut in their monthly benefits, bringing an accurate per-person benefit from $1.50 a meal to $1.40 a meal," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said. "Shame on this Congress for allowing this to happen."

But the cut, which will reduce monthly benefits for all 47 million Americans enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by roughly 7 percent, is happening thanks mainly to Democratic votes that hastened the demise of a benefit increase from the 2009 stimulus bill. Each of the representatives at Tuesday's presser voted with their party for a pair of 2010 spending bills that set the cuts in motion.

The first bill took money allocated for future food stamp use and used it instead to prevent states from laying off teachers. Democrats supported the bill grudgingly, lamenting that it would cause a food stamp cut in 2014. When it came time to support a second bill that raided future food stamp funds once again, pushing the cut to November 2013, they protested -- at least at first.

"This is one of the more egregious cases of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and is a vote we do not take lightly," more than 100 Democrats wrote in an August 2010 letter to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

But then President Barack Obama smoothed things over in a meeting at the White House, because the bill in question was the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act -- a priority of the first lady's. The measure provided free lunches and updated nutrition standards for schools.

"I am very pleased we were able to work together with the president and his team to address concerns regarding cuts to the food stamp program that are included in the child nutrition bill," Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said in a statement at the time. On Tuesday, Lee told HuffPost the president had pledged to support replacing the SNAP funds, a vow he fulfilled in subsequent budget blueprints that didn't become law. Congress and the White House have been otherwise silent about the issue for the past three years.

On Tuesday, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) defended the 2010 tradeoff.

"It was a piece of legislation that said let's change nutrition standards, let's get junk foods out of our schools, and let's make sure that our kids can have those fruits and vegetables," DeLauro told HuffPost. "There was no money for it. The price of it was $2.2 billion. That came from the food stamp program and all of us here complained. And we were opposed to that but we knew that it was a good first step in getting the Hunger-Free Kids Act."

Friday's cut is happening thanks to the expiration of a 13.6 percent food stamp boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus bill. Originally, lawmakers had planned to let SNAP's annual inflation adjustments catch up to the increase sometime after 2015. Canceling the enhanced benefits this November means the government will spend $5 billion less on nutrition assistance next year -- an annual SNAP spending cut 25 percent larger than what House Republicans are seeking in farm bill negotiations starting this week.

They are actually defending the fact that they were forced into choosing between vegetables and fruits for school lunches and food stamps for poor people. Our progressive representatives passively capitulated to the absurd notion that we could not do both. How many of these "deals" have Democrats made over the past few years?

This is just pathetic:

DeLauro pivoted from November's food stamp decrease to Republican demands that food stamps be reduced by 5 percent, or $40 billion over 10 years, though the two things are completely separate.

"This is about people wanting to make a $40 billion cut in the food stamp program," DeLauro said, "not to put in place a Hunger-Free Kids Act, but in fact to take food out of the mouths of our children, or seniors, and the disabled. A much different time, a much different place, and a much different set of circumstances."

Right, poor people are much more fucked than they were before and are about to get fucked even more.


The 400 wealthiest Americans are worth a record $2.02 trillion, roughly equivalent to the GDP of Russia. That is a gain of $300 billion from a year ago, and more than double a decade ago. The average net worth of list members is a staggering $5 billion, $800 million more than a year ago. The minimum net worth needed to make the 400 list was $1.3 billion. The last time it was that high was in 2007 and 2008, just before the financial crisis. Because the bar is so high, 61 American billionaires didn’t make the cut.


QOTD: Libertarian activist Preston Bates

by David Atkins

Mike Spies has profile of John Ramsay, the 23-year-old libertarian who inherited millions and has devoted millions to successful libertarian challenges in Republican primaries. His friend and fellow activist Preston Bates had this to say:

“I’m born owning myself,” he says. “And I think other people are born self-sovereign.” He pauses for a second, and then adds, “I’m not sure I believe in luck either. I hear the probability part of what you’re saying. Yeah, what was the difference between me being born Preston Bates or me being born this indigent, poor child? I don’t know if it was luck or if it was probability.”

Besides, he finishes: “What is a poor person in Baltimore like relative to a person in Pyongyang? At least the poor person in Baltimore is in the richest country in the history of the earth.”
I think it's a great idea that this guy who happened to inherit millions from his bank-owner father and his friends can spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, don't you? I can already smell the freedom.

And yet, perhaps we are wising up? Even just a little?

by digby

We are a barbaric, backwards people in so many ways. But maybe we're starting to evolve:
American support for the death penalty is at the lowest level recorded in more than 40 years, according to a new Gallup poll released Tuesday.

Sixty percent of Americans support the death penalty for convicted murderers, compared to 57 percent who supported it in 1972. Support in the survey peaked in 1994, when 80 percent of Americans supported the death penalty.

Eighty-one percent of Republicans and 47 percent of Democrats currently favor the death penalty. Support for the death penalty has declined among Democrats the most in the last 25 years, according to Gallup.
One of the more macabre stories I've read this Halloween week was about the fact that the states are running out of the lethal injection drugs used to execute people and can't get any more.

I'd say that's a sign that maybe we should just stop executing people.



by digby

Coburn gets a little bit sloppy:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) office responded on Tuesday to Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) comment on Monday in which he called Reid an "absolute a--hole."

"Nothing says 'comity' like childish playground name-calling, especially from a senator who has not sponsored a single piece of successful bipartisan legislation during his entire Senate career," Reid's spokesman Adam Jentleson told the Hill.

Coburn continued to bash Reid on Tuesday morning, according to the Hill.

"I think he's done more damage to the Senate than any majority leader," Coburn said.
But he's such a nice bipartisan, Christian politician.

Let's just hope Obama's favorite Republican doesn't decide to do an end-run and start talking to the White House on the budget. Reid is the one who's holding the line on cutting "entitlements" right now.

Some of us saw this coming ...

by digby

This segment from Chris Hayes' show last night about the "sticker shock" and cancellations of health policies under Obamacare is quite instructive. I think it pretty much spells out the problem --- and the problem with how the supporters are dealing with it.

I tried to warn people:

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Obamacare implementation: it's all about how people are supposed to perceive it

by digby

There is a lot of chatter about how people are supposed to react to the new health care exchanges. Hostile pundits seem to think that everyone's going to scream bloody murder at the potential rate increases while supporters of the plan think people who have to pay more will be fine with it because they are getting more for their money.

Hostile analysts like Avik Roy put it this way, writing about the new analysis of the Health Care exchanges that came out of California this week, showing that rates will go up, but not as much as experts had expected:
One of the most serious flaws with Obamacare is that its blizzard of regulations and mandates drives up the cost of insurance for people who buy it on their own.
Ezra, who I'm calling a supporter for these purposes, responds:
Some people will find the new rules make insurance more expensive. That’s in part because their health insurance was made cheap by turning away sick people. The new rules also won’t allow for as much discrimination based on age or gender. The flip side of that, of course, is that many will suddenly find their health insurance is much cheaper, or they will find that, for the first time, they’re not turned away when they try to buy health insurance.

That’s why the law is expected to insure almost 25 million people in the first decade: It makes health insurance affordable and accessible to millions who couldn’t get it before. To judge it from a baseline that leaves them out — a baseline that asks only what the wealthy and healthy will pay and ignores the benefits to the poor, the sick, the old, and women — well, that is a bit shocking.

According to the hostile analyst, Obamacare will hike rates because of added regulations and mandates. According to the supporter, Obamacare will hike rates because it makes the system more fair and offers better coverage. It's simply different interpretations of the same thing --- you'll notice that both agree that rates will be hiked. And both agree that it will be because the policies offered will be better due to the requirements of Obamacare and the elimination of pre-existing conditions --- also known as regulations.  (They also agree elsewhere that some of these rate hikes will be mitigated by the fact that poorer people will have subsidies that will help them.)

So the argument appears to be around how people are supposed tointerpret these changes, not what's actually happening. And it's concentrated around those people who are in the private insurance market already, many of whom will not qualify for subsidies but will see their premiums go up.

I will use myself as an example of how this plays out. I'm an older Californian, a decade away from medicare. A person my age needs health insurance but it tends to be quite expensive on the private market. My husband and I are lucky to be very healthy and had no pre-existing conditions. Nonetheless, we had to go without insurance for a time and when we became financially healthy enough to afford to buy it we went to an online "exchange" called eInsurance to compare rates. (This functions in similar fashion to the exchange the government is setting up, subject to Obamacare's new rules and regulations.)

The thought process was this, and it wasn't complicated: how much insurance can I afford? In a perfect world, we would have bought the insurance with the low deductibles, co-pays and out of pocket maximums. We knew that the odds of one of us getting very ill over the next few years is higher than before and that it was likely to be extremely expensive. We weren't living in denial. So, it's not that we didn't want the higher priced, full-service plan. We simply couldn't afford it. I am going to guess that's true for many people, certainly those who are older, middle class people like us.

At this point, I'm not even sure if the subsidies are tied to gross income or adjusted gross income so I'm not going to guess how it will work out for us. Maybe we'll qualify for subsidies, in which case, huzzah. And I'd be thrilled if our coverage is better and our out-of-pocket maximums are lower. Right now, the deductible is so high that it doesn't pay for us to use our insurance a good part of the time so we get some routine tests done through health fairs and the like because it's cheaper. It would be nice to have that whole thing streamlined.

If it turns out that we have to pay more (and yes, get better coverage) I'm going to be able to tell myself that it's for the greater good, that poorer people are now going to have health coverage, that those with pre-existing conditions are now getting the care they need. And for me, the bleeding heart liberal, that's something I am willing to accept. Indeed, during the health care debate I signed on to this knowing that was likely to happen.

But somehow, I don't think that argument is going to work on everyone. Appealing to the better angels in people who are going to find their rates have gone up and then pointing out that they're getting more for their money is actually fairly insulting. People who buy their own insurance know exactly what they're getting for their money --- most of them invested hours and hours learning all about that when they bought it. We're the most educated people in the country about the private insurance market. I just don't think it's reasonable to expect that all of those who are going to be paying more will be happy about it and lecturing them about how other people are now going to be covered is likely to make a good number of them very angry since that's exactly what they hate about all government programs.

I can guarantee you that the Avik Roy explanation that their rates have gone up because of "mandates" and "regulations" is going to sound very convincing to an awful lot of people. And they'll hate the fact that poor people are getting subsidies and not them. I don't know how many of them are out there --- the private insurance market is fairly small, after all. It's possible that a few naysayers will be so drowned out by the millions of low-income people with subsidies and the beneficiaries of the medicaid expansion that nobody will hear them.

But I really don't think that those who are trying to explain the virtues of Obamacare should count on that. If this is a debate that goes beyond one's personal needs and extends into citizenship, egalitarian principles, universality and the common good, it would have been smart to have made it about that from the beginning rather than obsessing about "bending the cost curve" and otherwise implying that people would be paying less. I never thought advocates were very honest about that and it's going to be a shock to some of those who will pay the price.

As I said, I'll have to find a way to pay the higher price if that's what happens. But I made my choices before knowing exactly what the trade-offs were and I don't need to be told that my "better coverage" under Obamacare will be worth it. I always knew better coverage was a good thing. I just didn't have the money. California is an expensive place to live. And I'm personally happy that we will all be pitching in to make it possible for the poorest and sickest among us to have health care. I don't need convincing on that --- I'll do my part without complaint.

But I'm going to guess that only the 20% of people in this country who identify as liberal like me will automatically accept that explanation as reasonable. It's going to take a more compelling argument from personal interest to convince the other 80% that the middle class paying higher rates was what Obamacare was all about. Luckily most people are covered by the government or their employers so this won't affect them. But the enemies of Obamacare are sure to exploit anyone who makes a fuss. I wouldn't be sure that these arguments I'm hearing from supporters will carry the day.

Update:  If I were the one making the wonkish argument for Obamacare, I think I'd emphasize the fact that while premiums may go up in the private market initially, the plan will eventually do something about this, which will likely lower costs all around eventually. A few of the more open-minded types who are usually hostile to government regulation might find it convincing.  Might.
I appreciate what the people in that Chris Hayes segment are saying. But I'm also hearing from middle class friends who live in LA and San Francisco, where their housing and transportation costs are very high, that they are being hit with huge sticker shock and don't qualify for subsidies. They are freaking out because they just can't afford to pay so much more even for the new bronze plan with high deductibles. I guess they can move, but this is where their lives are.

By the way, I tried to warn them too. But they are all big Democrats and wouldn't hear any criticism of President Obama so I gave up.

A program run amok

by digby

There are lots of people wondering just what got into Dianne Feinstein that has her suddenly all hot and bothered over the NSA revelations (which, up until now, she's defended to the hilt.)
One of the National Security Agency's biggest defenders in Congress is suddenly at odds with the agency and calling for a top-to-bottom review of U.S. spy programs. And her long-time friends and allies are completely mystified by the switch.

"We're really screwed now," one NSA official told The Cable. "You know things are bad when the few friends you've got disappear without a trace in the dead of night and leave no forwarding address."

In a pointed statement issued today, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein said she was "totally opposed" to gathering intelligence on foreign leaders and said it was "a big problem" if President Obama didn't know the NSA was monitoring the phone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She said the United States should only be spying on foreign leaders with hostile countries, or in an emergency, and even then the president should personally approve the surveillance.

It's interesting she's putting it in those terms when just about everyone else is rolling their eyes at the idea the US is any different than all the other countries who spy on their allies. (Well, no different except the trillion dollar surveillance program that dwarfs anything anyone in the rest of the world could possibly have.)

I think the problem here is that the political defenders, perhaps including the president as well, are finally recognizing that they are dealing with a rogue agency. A rogue agency that is spying on heads of state apparently without permission. Which means it might be spying on anybody without permission. Like Senators maybe. Or Presidents.

I always thought it odd that the first statement the president made after the initial Snowden leaks were made public included this odd little aside:

But my observation is, is that the people who are involved in America’s national security, they take this work very seriously. They cherish our Constitution. The last thing they’d be doing is taking programs like this to listen to somebody’s phone calls.

And by the way, with respect to my concerns about privacy issues, I will leave this office at some point, sometime in the last — next 3 1/2 years, and after that, I will be a private citizen. And I suspect that, you know, on — on a list of people who might be targeted, you know, so that somebody could read their emails or — or listen to their phone calls, I’d probably be pretty high on that list. So it’s not as if I don’t have a personal interest in making sure my privacy is protected.

But I know that the people who are involved in these programs — they operate like professionals. And these things are very narrowly circumscribed. They’re very focused. And in the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential, you know — you know, program run amok. But when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance.
I had guessed he was talking about that story that an NSA operative have read Bill Clinton's emails and he felt that issue had been properly dealt with. But it was still a little bit bizarre that he'd use the word "targeted" or even bring it up at all.

Now, you have to wonder --- if he really didn't know about Merkel, what else doesn't he know about?

A good idea

by digby

Many of the Republicans in this coalition would undoubtedly not join if there were a Republican in office and I'd imagine there would be a few more Democrats if George W. Bush was president. But it's also true that civil liberties always makes for strange bedfellows and in this case it's exceedingly important that it does. This is important.

From the ACLU:

A bipartisan reform bill to rein in the National Security Agency's bulk collection, analysis, and storage of Americans’ electronic communications was introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives today. The American Civil Liberties Union strongly supports the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), one of the original authors of the Patriot Act.

"The last five months have proven that the NSA cannot be trusted with the surveillance authorities they have been given by a secret court without the knowledge or approval of the American people," said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel at the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. "The only way to stop the NSA's collect-it-all mentality is for Congress to pass legislation that prohibits the intelligence community from engaging in the dragnet surveillance of Americans' communications. The legislation introduced today by Sen. Leahy and Rep. Sensenbrenner is a true reform bill that rejects the false and dangerous notion that privacy and our fundamental freedoms are incompatible with security."

The bill, The USA FREEDOM Act, would enact the following core reforms to NSA surveillance authorities:

It would end the bulk collection of Americans' records shared with third parties and put reasonable limits on Patriot Act powers targeted at people in the U.S. The new restrictions would apply not only to phone records collected under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, but national security letters and pen registers that have also been abused.
It would amend the 2008 FISA Amendments Act to require court orders before the government could use American information collected during foreign intelligence operations.
It would increase transparency by allowing communications providers to disclose the number of surveillance orders they receive, mandate the government publish how many people are subject to surveillance orders, and make public significant FISA Court opinions since July 2003.
It would create a public advocate that could advise the secret surveillance court in certain cases.
The bill pulls language together from the many House and Senate bills introduced over the last several months by members of both parties.

"The bulk collection of Americans' phone records is an extraordinary and intrusive power government should not have," said Richardson. "This legislation rightly shuts the program down and provides additional protections to ensure the government doesn’t engage in the bulk collection of any other records. Proposals described by the Intelligence Committees would only make the current situation worse by entrenching privacy-busting practices. Congress should focus on reforms like Sensenbrenner-Leahy."

The bicameral legislation has attracted prominent, bipartisan support.

In the Senate, 16 bipartisan cosponsors include Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

In the House, more than 70 bipartisan cosponsors include Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), John Mica (R-Fla.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.)

O'Reilly asks Cheney the perennial question

by digby

From Think Progress I find that Dick Cheney is thinks people are a lot dumber than they are. He was on O'Reilly last night who asked him about Iraq.

O'Reilly said, "they finger pointed you and Bush and I don’t want to do that,” O’Reilly said, “But we spent a $1 trillion on this with a lot of pain and suffering on the American military. What did we get out of it? Beside Saddam being out of there?"

While Cheney meandered for a few minutes, he finally settled on the main prize: an Iraq without weapons of mass destruction:

O’REiLLY: But what — right now, what do we — what do we get of Iraq for all of that blood and treasure? What do we get out of it?

CHENEY: What we gain and my concern was then and it remains today is that the biggest threat we face is the possibility of terrorist groups like al Qaeda equipped with weapons of mass destruction, with nukes, bugs or gas. That was the threat after 9/11 and when we took down Saddam Hussein we eliminated Iraq as a potential source of that.

Since Iraq didn't have any weapons of mass destruction maybe we could have saved ourselves some money and eliminated a cheaper "potential source of WMD" that didn't have any. Like "invading" Trinidad or something.

I'm frankly shocked that Cheney hasn't been able to develop a better line about this by now. But then, really, what can he say? There is no good reason. We went crazy. And everyone knows it.

There is no "center" left in America

by David Atkins

An ABC News poll confirms what most of us outside the beltway cocktail circuit already knew: America is a deeply divided country with differences that go beyond mere team spirit partisanship:

While these issues divide a variety of Americans, this poll, produced for ABC and Fusion by Langer Research Associates, finds that the gaps in nearly all cases are largest among partisan and ideological groups – so enormous and so fundamental that they seem to constitute visions of two distinctly different Americas.


• Among all adults, 53 percent think women have fewer opportunities than men in the workplace. But that ranges from 68 percent of Democrats to 38 percent of Republicans, a difference of 30 percentage points. Comparing the most unlike groups, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, it’s 76 vs. 35 percent.

• Forty-one percent overall think nonwhites have fewer opportunities than whites in society. Fifty-six percent of Democrats say so, as do 62 percent of liberal Democrats (more than the number of nonwhites themselves who say so, 51 percent). Among Republicans that dives to 25 percent.

• Forty-three percent of Americans say it would be a good thing if more women were elected to Congress – but the range here is from six in 10 Democrats and liberals alike to just 26 percent of conservatives and 23 percent of Republicans. Instead two-thirds or more in these latter two groups say it makes no difference to them.

• Just 23 percent overall say it would be a good thing if more nonwhites were elected to Congress; 73 percent instead say it makes no difference to them. Seeing this as a good thing peaks at 50 percent among liberal Democrats (far more, in this case, than the number of nonwhites themselves who say so, 29 percent). Among conservative Republicans, it’s 5 percent.

• Thirty-nine percent of adults say they trust the government in Washington to do what’s right; six in 10 don’t. Apparently reflecting views of the Obama administration, trust peaks at 62 percent of Democrats, as many liberals and 69 percent of liberal Democrats. Just a quarter of Republicans and conservatives, and 18 percent of conservative Republicans, feel the same.

• Support for legal status for undocumented immigrants, 51 percent overall, ranges from 77 percent among liberal Democrats to 32 percent among conservative Republicans. Views on this issue also show sharp differences among other groups – for example, nonwhites vs. whites, 70 vs. 43 percent; and adults younger than 40 vs. their elders, 61 vs. 47 percent.

• Fewer than half of all adults, 45 percent, say political leaders should rely somewhat or a great deal on their religious beliefs when making policy decisions. But again the range is wide: Six in 10 conservatives, as many Republicans and 65 percent of conservative Republicans hold this view. That falls sharply to 39 percent of Democrats and independents alike, four in 10 moderates and 32 percent of liberals.

Partisan and ideological differences of 20, 30, 40 and even 50 points raise challenging questions of how political accommodation can occur in this country – a consideration that may gain urgency in the aftermath of the 16-day partial government shutdown prompted by a political dispute over the new federal health care law. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll this week, 75 percent of liberal Democrats supported that law; 76 percent of conservative Republicans opposed it.
One of these two sides is going to win, and one of them is going to lose. As it happens, it's a pretty good bet that it won't be the conservative side as the electorate becomes browner and more Millennial:

RACE AND PARTISANSHIP – There are racial and ethnic differences in many of the attitudes measured in this survey, partly reflecting partisan predispositions. In ABC News/Washington Post poll data, 24 percent of whites call themselves Democrats and 30 percent are Republicans, while among nonwhites the gap is far wider – 43 percent identify themselves as Democrats, vs. just 10 percent as Republicans.

Including people who describe themselves as independents but say they lean toward one of the two parties, the gap widens even further. Among whites, 42 percent are Democrats or lean that way; 48 percent are Republicans or Republican leaners. That compares to a 70-21 percent leaned Democrat vs. leaned Republican division among nonwhites.

Nonwhites, separately, are 11 points more apt than whites to describe themselves as liberals.

MILLENNIALS – Millennials, another group on which Fusion will focus coverage, customarily are described as Americans born from 1982 to 2004; for adults, that’s age 18 to 31. They’re not much different from other age groups on most of the attitudes measured in this survey, with two exceptions. As noted, along with under-40s more broadly, they’re more apt to favor legal status for undocumented immigrants. And they’re 12 points less apt than their elders to say politicians should base policy positions on their religious beliefs, a result that fits with customarily lower levels of religiosity among young adults.

There’s another difference among millennials vs. older adults, reflecting another longstanding attribute of young Americans: Their comparative lack of engagement in politics. Among adults age 18 to 31, just 54 percent report that they’re registered to vote. That soars to 87 percent among those 32 and older. Indeed it increases steadily with age, peaking at 94 percent of seniors.
The sooner Democrats embrace progressive values and engage younger citizens and communities of color, the sooner we can settle this argument once and for all. It won't mean the end of the Republican Party--things will always balance themselves in a two-party system--but it will mean a major political realignment assuming there is no major crisis or coup in the intervening time.