Sunday, July 31, 2011

How Repugs Always Shift the Blame to Democrats

No matter how the debt ceiling non-crisis kabuki ends, President Obama and congressional democrats will get the blame. That's because repugs know how to play the game.

Steve M from December, regarding the repug victory on extending the bush tax cuts:

(Repug slogans are) simple and digestible -- who cares if it doesn't make any sense? It sounds as if it does. And, of course, it doesn't have to persuade everyone, or even be fully believed by everyone who takes it seriously -- as long as you float the idea that, for instance, Gingrich (or even Reagan) was responsible for the economic recovery in the Clinton years, you reduce the chances that Republicans will be thoroughly discredited during those years even among people inclined to give primary credit to Clinton. And then if, years later, the economy is bad in a Democratic era (as it is now), you pull this argument off the shelf and, to some in the middle (in addition to the usual folks on the right), it actually starts to sound reasonable.

The point is, Karl Rove is already thinking about what GOP messages will be two years from now -- or whenever the economy recovers. He's already laying the groundwork. I'm not sure there are any Democrats who are thinking yet about what their message is going to be next month.

Later, he wrote:

That's harsh, but I think there's truth to it -- that and the fact that we seem to believe that all we have to do is pick a hero (or set of heroes) and an enemy (or set of enemies), and if we can achieve victory for the good guy(s), everything will just fall into place. We won't have to keep fighting and keep persuading. All good will flow from a rider or riders atop one or more white steeds.

I saw this mindset in 2000 among Naderites. The two-party duopoly is hopelessly corrupt! Elect Nader! And if you had elected Nader, my Underpants Gnomes, what's Step 2? Wouldn't he be working with 535 legislators who were all (or nearly all) from the two-party duopoly? I also saw this mentality, with less pure heroes, in the great Netroots/50-State Strategy/Ned Lamont moment of 2006 and, needless to say, with Obama in 2008.

Of course, Obama did very little to disabuse supporters of the notion that he was, in fact, a messiah -- a good electoral strategy, perhaps, but it gets you in trouble when you can't deliver. Not that he tries very hard to engage the public. Atrios yesterday:


I guess that's my reaction to the budget Deal Or No Deal. The economy does need more stimulus and it does provide more of that than expected (recognize expectations game). But if the economy needed more stimulus, why haven't they been making it the case? I understand that stimulus has become a dirty word because, well, I have no idea why, but they could have called it Magic Ponies or whatever.

"Stimulus" has become a dirty word because Republicans never stop messaging and Democrats never start.

It's odd that we now have the sneering term "the professional left" because, literally, there is no professional left -- no set of institutions that effectively promotes progressive ideas (rather than liberal or people-we-hope-are-liberal politicians). There sure as hell is a professional right; every day it grinds out effective propaganda and gets right-wing ideas even more deeply embedded in the national consciousness. This is what progressives have to do -- sell the ideas. Sell them to people who aren't Democratic Underground commenters and Kos diarists. And think of electoral victories as won battles, not won wars.

Liberals don't let repugs get the rhetorical high ground, and don't let them get away with lies. Liberals call out the motherfuckers for lying about fucking their mothers.

Your Newest Unsung Heroes

From Pass The Doucheys:

Marcus Bachman must be twisting in his shorts at this……. news is emerging out of Norway of a heroic lesbian couple who not only rescued Utoya campers by boat during Anders Breivik’s rampage, they returned to the island FOUR TIMES to spirit away terrified campers. Via JoeMyGod and Just Out:

Hege Dalen and her partner Toril Hansen were eating supper in the camping area opposite Utoya [sic.] island when they started hearing gunshots and screaming….

Dalen and Hansen drove their boat to the island, and fished out of the water people who were in shock and young people who were injured and transported them ashore. Every now and then bullets almost hit the boat.

Since they couldn’t fit everyone into the boat all at once, they returned to the island four times. They might have saved as much as forty people from the clutches of the killer.

Cue the right-wing homophobes and conspiracy theorist nutbags to start screaming that the story is a plant for the gay Sharia agenda in 5..4..3..2..1.

Liberals celebrate as genuine heroes all those who risk or sacrifice themselves to save others.

How the NFL Players Union Beat the Owners

Seems to me the lessons here are clear: perfect solidarity, refusal to settle for less, ability to exploit current social, political and economic conditions, and a fighting, competitive spirit. Also, having as your opponents owner/management scumbags everybody hates really helps.

Dave Zirin at The Nation:

First and foremost, the players, led by NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, stood together. The hundreds of athletes showed extraordinary solidarity, considering that a typical pro career lasts only 3.5 years; the pressure to get back to work must have been intense. Divisions were more apparent on the ownership side, where many chief executives started to grumble that they were killing the golden goose, especially after a court ruled that they couldn’t receive network money for games that weren’t broadcast.

Second, the owners were wildly off in their prediction that fans would turn on the players. That’s the way it has always been in sports labor conflicts. At best, fans have seen it as “millionaires versus billionaires”; at worst, fans have jeered at anyone who would complain about “getting paid to play a game.”

But not this time. The most obvious reason for the profound shift in fan sentiment is that it was a lockout, not a strike. The players’ slogan, “Let us play,” reflected the fact that they—just like the fans—were happy with business as usual.

Also, there is far more consciousness now among fans about the physical toll—including concussions as well as the deadly disease ALS—that football takes on the human body. This is a sport with a 100 percent injury rate. The fact that commissioner Goodell would express sympathy for the physical plight of players even as he demanded two extra games in the season (which, according to polls, fans didn’t even want) seemed immoral and greedy.

Also, there is far more consciousness now among fans about the physical toll—including concussions as well as the deadly disease ALS—that football takes on the human body. This is a sport with a 100 percent injury rate. The fact that commissioner Goodell would express sympathy for the physical plight of players even as he demanded two extra games in the season (which, according to polls, fans didn’t even want) seemed immoral and greedy.

And finally, workers across the nation have taken it on the chin at the hands of big business. This lockout would have sent to the unemployment lines stadium workers, parking lot attendants and everyone else who scrapes by thanks to NFL Inc. Steeler All-Pro Troy Polamalu seemed to capture the moment when he said, “It’s unfortunate right now. I think what the players are fighting for is something bigger. A lot of people think it’s millionaires versus billionaires, and that’s the huge argument. The fact is, it’s people fighting against big business. The big-business argument is, ‘I got the money and I got the power, therefore I can tell you what to do.’ That’s life everywhere. I think this is a time when the football players are standing up and saying, ‘No, no, no, the people have the power.’”

Standing strong together and going for the win is an attitude NFL players have been taught from day one. It served them well in a lockout that no one predicted they would win. In fact, one anonymous source in the union said, “These guys are so competitive, some of them don’t want to settle for a bigger piece of the pie. They want the whole bakery!”

Winning this battle didn’t only secure for the players a fair collective bargaining agreement. It didn’t only increase the earnings of veteran athletes, strengthen benefits and mercifully keep the season at sixteen games. It also raised even more important questions, which NBA players should be asking as well: What do we need owners for? Players are the game—no one shows up at Cowboys Stadium to watch Jerry Jones pace imperially up and down the sideline. We should be asking why we can’t have more fan-owned teams, similar to the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers—that’s a team with 112,000 owners. Why can’t players get equity and even ownership of the franchises themselves? And why can’t a big chunk of the revenues that players produce go back to the communities where they play? A thick percentage of all proceeds at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field goes to local charities. Given the current state of our cities, this would be a huge benefit to urban America. Also, think about how this argument combines the logical and the radical. It opens up discussions about economic democracy that the people who run the NFL—and the people who run our country—would prefer we not have.

Pro football is a players’ and fans’ game. The fans come to see the players, and taxpayers build the stadiums. The one irrelevant element is the owners. It’s time for a change.

Such a victory will be much more difficult for NBA players.

Ari Paul in The Nation:

Despite the fact that many fans dismiss sports labor conflicts as squabbles between billionaires and millionaires, the current struggle between the National Basketball Players Association and the owners has much in common with classic labor disputes, including a misrepresentation of owners’ losses and so-called worker excess. The union, meanwhile, claims that at no point during this round of bargaining has it asked for anything more than a firewall against givebacks, and argues that the owners are using a weak economy to further erode the NBPA’s power.


But there is a broader class struggle in this dispute, and it extends far beyond the basketball court. It won’t just be the players who will lose paychecks if there is no resolution. The owners will also be effectively locking out a vast labor force surrounding the game. This includes everyone from the highly paid sportscaster to the low-wage coliseum parking-lot attendant to the part-time concession stand worker, all of whom contribute in some way to BRI, and all of whom have rent and mortgages to pay. Michael McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute at the University of Vermont, points out that without a season people may be less likely to buy sports apparel, a blow to the retail sector. And what will happen to servers at sports bars who depend on big tips on game night? “They’re the most vulnerable victims, because they have no seat at the table,” he said.

Through that lens, the struggle is really not about billionaires versus millionaires but billionaires versus everyone else—including consumers, some of whom perhaps need to revisit a scene from the classic comedy Airplane! A young boy visits the cockpit of an airliner mid-flight and discovers the co-pilot is basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who denies his identity despite the boy’s adulation. But the star buckles when the kid says his father believes Abdul-Jabbar’s defensive game is lacking and that he only gives a hundred percent in the post-season. Insulted, Abdul-Jabbar grabs the boy’s collar and says, “I’m out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for forty-eight minutes.”

Basketball fans demand the best from players, and that makes sense. Fans are entitled to expect that if they are paying—whether through pricey tickets, premium TV or the tax dollars that finance stadiums—they should get the most bang for their buck. But basketball is work. And just as Abdul-Jabbar described, it is hard work the average person is incapable of doing. It requires constant practice, carries the specter of injury and can only be performed in an athlete’s youth. The same can be said of many other professions, such as firefighting. And while one might scoff that we don’t need basketball the way we need first responders, the reality is that any work stoppage in a major sports league has enormous and harmful economic consequences.

The reality here is that the owners are using a recessionary market to justify economic restructuring that would put more money in their pockets, taking it from the highly skilled laborers who make the product so singularly mesmerizing. There is an impulse in the United States to say to skilled workers that they can afford to take some cuts. But that impulse typically stops at CEOs and owners. Maybe this high-profile labor struggle is an opportunity to confront that logical inconsistency.

Liberals know that the real drivers of economic growth are workers, and liberals always take the side of workers against owners.

No Virtue, Only Lots of Danger in Centrism

Nothin’ in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.

- Jim Hightower

That was true 30 years ago when Hightower first made the saying famous, and the "middle of the road" represented the halfway point between liberals and conservatives.

And it's even more true today when "middle of the road" represents the halfway point between safety-net-destroying conservadems and crazier-than-a-shithouse-rat repugs.

Krugman on The Cult That Is Destroying America:

Watching our system deal with the debt ceiling crisis — a wholly self-inflicted crisis, which may nonetheless have disastrous consequences — it’s increasingly obvious that what we’re looking at is the destructive influence on a cult that has really poisoned our political system.

And no, I don’t mean the fanaticism of the right. Well, OK, that too. But my feeling about those people is that they are what they are; you might as well denounce wolves for being carnivores. Crazy is what they do and what they are.

No, the cult that I see as reflecting a true moral failure is the cult of balance, of centrism.

Think about what’s happening right now. We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating — offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion.

So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent — because news reports always do that. And we have influential pundits calling out for a new centrist party, a new centrist president, to get us away from the evils of partisanship.

The reality, of course, is that we already have a centrist president — actually a moderate conservative president. Once again, health reform — his only major change to government — was modeled on Republican plans, indeed plans coming from the Heritage Foundation. And everything else — including the wrongheaded emphasis on austerity in the face of high unemployment — is according to the conservative playbook.

What all this means is that there is no penalty for extremism; no way for most voters, who get their information on the fly rather than doing careful study of the issues, to understand what’s really going on.

You have to ask, what would it take for these news organizations and pundits to actually break with the convention that both sides are equally at fault? This is the clearest, starkest situation one can imagine short of civil war. If this won’t do it, nothing will.

And yes, I think this is a moral issue. The “both sides are at fault” people have to know better; if they refuse to say it, it’s out of some combination of fear and ego, of being unwilling to sacrifice their treasured pose of being above the fray.

It’s a terrible thing to watch, and our nation will pay the price.

Later, Krugman on "The Centrist Cop-out":

The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault.


Many pundits view taking a position in the middle of the political spectrum as a virtue in itself. I don’t. Wisdom doesn’t necessarily reside in the middle of the road, and I want leaders who do the right thing, not the centrist thing.

But for those who insist that the center is always the place to be, I have an important piece of information: We already have a centrist president. Indeed, Bruce Bartlett, who served as a policy analyst in the Reagan administration, argues that Mr. Obama is in practice a moderate conservative.

Mr. Bartlett has a point. The president, as we’ve seen, was willing, even eager, to strike a budget deal that strongly favored conservative priorities.


So what’s with the buzz about a centrist uprising? As I see it, it’s coming from people who recognize the dysfunctional nature of modern American politics, but refuse, for whatever reason, to acknowledge the one-sided role of Republican extremists in making our system dysfunctional. And it’s not hard to guess at their motivation. After all, pointing out the obvious truth gets you labeled as a shrill partisan, not just from the right, but from the ranks of self-proclaimed centrists.

But making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.

Steve M disagrees:

I agree that these people bear a great deal of the responsibility for our plight, but I don't really think they're a cult of centrism per se. If Barack Obama had taken office and pursued a genuine left agenda -- large tax hikes on the wealthy, nationalization of failing banks, a return to Glass-Steagall, single-payer health care -- I can guarantee you that any continued economic weakness wouldn't be blamed on "everyone." It would be blamed on liberalism. And the same would go for a debt crisis.

The cult only says that "everyone's at fault" when Republican extremism is at fault. That's because the cult's real problem isn't a lust for centrism -- it's an aversion to acknowledging that Daddy GOP beats us. It's the kind of denial that takes place in households where there's domestic abuse.

The anti-'60s backlash (which has now gone on about four times as long as the period to which it's a reaction), combined with GOP ref-working of the "liberal media," has left us with a political culture that really can't bear the thought that Republicans are consciously acting in ways that are detrimental to the country. If this culture isn't "wired for the GOP" (as Josh Marshall says), it's certainly wired to be in denial of what's wrong with the GOP.

At all times, the system accepts the notion that Republicans are good and decent and well-meaning, even in failure (see, e.g., George W. Bush). At all times, it accepts the notion that what Republicans are advocating is within the pale. If Republican extremism becomes so blatantly obvious that it must be acknowledged, extremism on the other side must be found (or invented, or blown up out of proportion), so Daddy GOP won't be charged with abuse -- the story we agree on is that "everyone" was fighting. And we just go on living that way.

Liberals know that centrism for the sake of centrism is a trap, because only conservatives ever win that game.

Obama's Fateful Decision

When the history of this administration is written, even if it ends in January 2017 with widespread national and global acclaim for Barack Obama, the accounts will highlight one enormous blunder that will rank high on any list of presidential unforced errors.

David Kurtz at TPM:

Revised government data released this morning shows the recession was significantly worse than previously thought. Instead of shrinking by 2.5 percent in 2009, the economy actually shrank by 3.5 percent.

Two points to remember about that:

The first is that all of those who argued that the early 2009 Obama stimulus was insufficient to plug the hole in the economy had an even stronger case than they realized (though you can be sure stimulus opponents will cite the same numbers to "prove" that the stimulus was even more ineffective than they've been claiming it was all along).

The second perhaps more important point is that by the fall of 2009, the Obama Administration had already decided the recession was so yesterday that it was time to shift into deficit-reduction mode. Stimulus was out, austerity was in.
Obama has since acknowledged that the economy was in worst shape when he took office than he realized at the time. These revised numbers show just how bad 2009 was and call into further question the combination of economic policy and political policy changes that the President implemented even as the country was mired in a 3.5 percent contraction of the economy.

Why is that important now? You can draw a straight line from the President's decision in the fall of 2009 to the current default crisis. I don't want to downplay the impact of the Republican Party taking over control of the House in the 2010 elections -- obviously that was a pivotal moment -- but the 2010 elections were contested on a battlefield of the GOP's choosing: that spending was wildly out of control, deficits were threatening the stability of the economy, and long-term debt would strangle the country. The President basically agreed, ceding vast acreage of political, rhetorical and policy ground to the Republicans.

And he continues to cede it today. The fact that the only way politically to avoid default and a downgrade in the U.S. credit rating is to impose huge spending cuts in a deal with Republicans reflects the framing of the problem that the White House adopted in the fall of 2009, with the economy in the depths of a great recession. We're still paying the price for that fateful decision. A huge price.

Liberals long ago learned the hard lesson: put not your faith in Big Daddy. We have to make the change we want ourselves, because no one will make it for us.

Does Beshear Have Enough Time to Blow a 24-point Lead?

You betcha.

The Courier:

Gov. Steve Beshear holds a commanding 24-point lead over his challenger, Senate President David Williams, in Kentucky's governor's race, according to the latest Courier-Journal/WHAS11 Bluegrass Poll.

The poll found that Beshear leads Williams 52 percent to 28 percent and that the incumbent governor is ahead in all but three demographic areas. Independent Gatewood Galbraith is a distant third with 9 percent of the vote.

Conducted by SurveyUSA, the poll is based on computerized and live telephone interviews carried out from July 22– to 27. It includes the responses of 512 likely voters in the Nov. 8 governor's race and has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

Among Williams' problems, the poll found that more than a third of the voters don't like him, while Beshear remains in good standing with nearly half of the voters despite a sluggish economy.

The campaign of the most hated man in Kentucky brings the funny:

The Williams campaign expressed optimism that as voters learn more about Beshear and his record, they will turn to Williams.

“Beshear has a terrible record on jobs. He and (his running mate Jerry Abramson) are not pro-life,” said Williams campaign manager Luke Marchant. “They both openly endorse Obama's dramatically unpopular health care plan and war on Kentucky coal.”

Repugs have spent so many decades exploiting Kentucky's poor and the coal industry, they haven't noticed that the poor are benefitting from the Affordable Care Act and the coal industry employs a tiny fraction of the people it employed just 20 years ago.

Beshear can still lose this one if he maintains his more-conservatard-than-thou campaign, and if this poll doesn't make the repug big money boys write Williams off.

Fancy Farm is next Saturday. We'll see who can keep standing in the heat, humidity and crowd abuse.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster Joins the Army

Because a sense of humor will almost always save your ass.

Rock Beyond Belief:

Why the Flying Spaghetti Monster was bigger than Jesus in boot camp.

There are strict rules about what non-military texts you can posses during boot camp. They only allow one book, and it must be a holy book from your religion. As you’d expect from this rule, there were a few Bibles, a Koran, and even a Book of Mormon in various wall-lockers in my company. Most people just didn’t have a book at all.

I, however, brought my copy of The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

My book was incredibly popular, and people kept talking about it during the few short breaks you get during the typical boot camp day. Then other people would hear about it and ask me if they could borrow it. Everyone laughed like a bastard, and really enjoyed it.

Many people told me that the book really made some sense to them. I must have accidentally converted dozens of people, as the humorous parody religion’s messages actually sank in.

Drill Sergeant VS Flying Spaghetti Monster

At one point my Drill Sergeant tried to take it away from me. He thought it was just some book that I smuggled in. Keep in mind that Drill Sergeants are professionally trained in the art of not laughing at anything (yelling and freaking out are more appropriate responses to most situations.)

Anyway, this is the gist of the conversation:

Drill Sergeant: “Private Griffith – is that some contraband?”

Me: “No, Drill Sergeant. It’s my holy book.“

Drill Sergeant: “Give that to me…” *Yoink!* “Flying Spaghetti Monster!? What the fuck?”

Me: ”I’m a Pastafarian, Drill Sergeant.”

[he shot me a look like he was t minus 5 seconds from throwing me into the Sun]

Drill Sergeant: “Are you fucking with me? Are you fucking with me at 0600, Private Griffith? Before I even get some goddamned breakfast?”

[I did my best to return the intensely humorless stone face.]

Me: “No, Drill Sergeant.”

Drill Sergeant: “Flying Spaghetti Monster!? I don’t fucking believe it!!!”

Me: “I believe it, Drill Sergeant.”

Drill Sergeant: “What the hell is wrong with you, warrior?”

[I went for broke]

Me: “Drill Sergeant, I’m afraid I can’t really talk to you about this any further unless I’m in my religious clothing. I need to be in full pirate regalia, or at the very least wearing an eye patch.”

….Then he just looked at me for about 30 seconds. Crickets. Time stopped… The other soldiers that were around were extremely scared of the coming mass punishment they imagined that I had surely just earned them.

Then he flipped through the book. He read a few sentences out loud. And then it happened.

He smiled.

Then he handed me my book and told me to do some push ups – a slap on the wrist. And my punishment was really only for making him smile, not for anything else. He just couldn’t bring himself to treat this situation like every other situation.

Via PZ Myers.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Class War, Not Race War

If you've seen the full speech, you know that Shirley Sherrod's historical anecdotes were told to illustrate her real point: that the wealthy, the owners and corporations of this nation exploit racism to keep the poor of all races down.

Now she's getting her day in court against the scumbags who distorted her speech.

From Raw Story:

A district judge in Washington, D.C. ruled Thursday that a defamation lawsuit against conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart may proceed to trial, according to Legal Times reporter Zoe Tillman.

The suit, filed by former U.S. Dept. of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod, had faced a motion to dismiss or relocate, which was struck down.

Judge Richard Leon did not issue a written opinion on the case.

Last year, Breitbart published a video of Sherrod describing to an NAACP conference how she overcame her own racist attitudes. However, a video from that speech was deceptively edited to make it appear that she was describing how she used the power of the government against a white farmer.

As lifelong white man Senator Bernie Sanders wrote in The Nation last year, the rich are indeed the enemy:

The American people are hurting. As a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, homes, life savings and their ability to get a higher education. Today, some 22 percent of our children live in poverty, and millions more have become dependent on food stamps for their food.

And while the Great Wall Street Recession has devastated the middle class, the truth is that working families have been experiencing a decline for decades. During the Bush years alone, from 2000-2008, median family income dropped by nearly $2,200 and millions lost their health insurance. Today, because of stagnating wages and higher costs for basic necessities, the average two-wage-earner family has less disposable income than a one-wage-earner family did a generation ago. The average American today is underpaid, overworked and stressed out as to what the future will bring for his or her children. For many, the American dream has become a nightmare.

But, not everybody is hurting. While the middle class disappears and poverty increases the wealthiest people in our country are not only doing extremely well, they are using their wealth and political power to protect and expand their very privileged status at the expense of everyone else. This upper-crust of extremely wealthy families are hell-bent on destroying the democratic vision of a strong middle-class which has made the United States the envy of the world. In its place they are determined to create an oligarchy in which a small number of families control the economic and political life of our country.

The 400 richest families in America, who saw their wealth increase by some $400 billion during the Bush years, have now accumulated $1.27 trillion in wealth. Four hundred families! During the last fifteen years, while these enormously rich people became much richer their effective tax rates were slashed almost in half. While the highest-paid 400 Americans had an average income of $345 million in 2007, as a result of Bush tax policy they now pay an effective tax rate of 16.6 percent, the lowest on record.

Last year, the top twenty-five hedge fund managers made a combined $25 billion but because of tax policy their lobbyists helped write, they pay a lower effective tax rate than many teachers, nurses and police officers. As a result of tax havens in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and elsewhere, the wealthy and large corporations are evading some $100 billion a year in U.S. taxes. Warren Buffett, one of the richest people on earth, has often commented that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary.

But it's not just wealthy individuals who grotesquely manipulate the system for their benefit. It's the multinational corporations they own and control. In 2009, Exxon Mobil, the most profitable corporation in history made $19 billion in profits and not only paid no federal income tax—they actually received a $156 million refund from the government. In 2005, one out of every four large corporations in the United States paid no federal income taxes while earning $1.1 trillion in revenue.

But, perhaps the most outrageous tax break given to multi-millionaires and billionaires happened this January when the estate tax, established in 1916, was repealed for one year as a result of President Bush's 2001 tax legislation. This tax applies only to the wealthiest three-tenths of 1 percent of our population. This is what Teddy Roosevelt, a leading proponent of the estate tax, said in 1910. "The absence of effective state, and, especially, national restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise.… Therefore, I believe in a…graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate." And that's what we've had for the last ninety-five years—until 2010.

Today, not content with huge tax breaks on their income; not content with massive corporate tax loopholes; not content with trade laws enabling them to outsource the jobs of millions of American workers to low-wage countries and not content with tax havens around the world, the ruling elite and their lobbyists are working feverishly to either eliminate the estate tax or substantially lower it. If they are successful at wiping out the estate tax, as they came close to doing in 2006 with every Republican but two voting to do, it would increase the national debt by over $1 trillion during a ten-year period. At a time when we already have a $13 trillion debt, enormous unmet needs and the highest level of wealth inequality in the industrialized world, it is simply obscene to provide more tax breaks to multi-millionaires and billionaires.

That is why I have introduced the Responsible Estate Tax Act (S.3533). This legislation would raise $318 billion over the next decade by establishing a graduated inheritance tax on estates over $3.5 million retroactive to this year. This bill ensures that the wealthiest 0.3 percent of Americans pays their fair share of estate taxes, while making sure that 99.7 percent of Americans never have to pay a dime when they lose a loved one. It also makes certain that the overwhelming majority of family farmers and small businesses never have to pay an estate tax.

This legislation must be passed because, with a $13 trillion national debt and huge unmet needs, we cannot afford more tax breaks for millionaire and billionaire families. But even more importantly, it must be passed because the United States must not become an oligarchy in which a handful of wealthy and powerful families control the destiny of our nation. Too many people, from the inception of this country, have struggled and died to maintain our democratic vision. We owe it to them and to our children to maintain it.

Liberals seek economic equality for all, and reject all attempts by the obscenely wealthy to redistribute yet more wealth from the poor to themselves.

Unions Are Growing - Even in the Unfriendly South

Think your workplace will never get unionized? Think again. If workers in Danville Virginia can do it, so can you.

From Bloomberg:

Workers at Ikea’s U.S. furniture factory voted to form a union, a victory for the labor movement seeking to rebound from record-low membership at private companies.

Employees at the plant in Danville, Virginia, voted 221-69 (Wednesday) to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the National Labor Relations Board said. The factory, operated by a subsidiary called Swedwood, makes low- cost bookcases and coffee tables for sale in Ikea’s 37 blue and yellow U.S. big-box stores.

“We fully support the right of our co-workers to make this decision,” said Ingrid Steen, a Swedwood spokeswoman. “We accept their decision and will work with their union in a mutually cooperative and respectful manner.”

Ikea Group Corp. is the world’s second-largest retailer behind Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), which has turned back union efforts by employees. Ikea, based in Odakra, Sweden, is the world’s largest home-furnishing retailer.

The Machinists union has targeted the plant since it opened in 2008 with $12 million in incentives offered by state and local governments.

“The primary issue that has driven this campaign from the beginning has been a plantation-like attitude by management,” said Bill Street, director of the woodworking department for the union who led the organizing campaign. “Mandatory overtime in New York City may not be a huge deal, but in a rural, family oriented small community with strong religious values, this treatment is unacceptable.”

Workers complained about low wages, discrimination, long working hours, eliminated raises, frenzied pace and mandatory overtime. Workers would find out on a Friday evening that they’d have to work a weekend shift, and there would be disciplinary action for workers who didn’t show up, Street said.

In addition, six black former employees filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming they have faced racial discrimination at the factory.

Steen declined to comment on the union’s statements.

Complicating the working conditions in Danville is a disparity between work rules in the U.S. and in Sweden. Fulltime workers in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days, including 8 days set by the company. Europeans collect a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and the government mandates five weeks of paid vacation.

The company also has a code of conduct called IWAY that guarantees workers the right to organize and stipulates that all overtime be voluntary.

“For workers in Danville, the knowledge that the company is capable of meeting a different business model enabled them to seek an alternative,” Street said.

The Danville union drive was followed by the media in Sweden, where many company workers are union members. The largest daily newspaper in Stockholm wrote that the company was behaving in an “un-Swedish way.”

In Danville, the company hired Jackson Lewis LLP, a law firm that helps businesses block unions, to fight the organizing effort. The company’s anti-union tactics were limited by not wanting to hurt their corporate reputation as being progressive, Street said.

With unions representing a record low 6.9 percent of workers at U.S. companies, and many organizing campaigns failing, the Ikea vote is a victory for the labor, he said.

“Virginia has the third lowest union density in any state in the nation,” he said. “If we can win in Virginia, we can win elsewhere.”

Liberals know unions are the strongest, best and most effective protection workers have from greedy owners determined to exploit them.

How Poor Do You Feel?

People who were born before WWII love to torture their children and grandchildren with this old refrain: "We were poor, but we didn't know it." That's because in the years before widespread television ownership, people did not have an easy way to compare their standard of living to the wealthy. Most of their neighbors lived the same way they did, so everyone thought life in cramped homes without new cars and restaurant dinners and away vacations - or even meat for dinner - was normal.

Today, it's true in a twisted way: the poor are in many ways much worse off than 80 years ago, but it doesn't seem that way because of the anti-worker economy of the last 30 years.

David Atkins "thereisnospoon" at Hullabaloo explains:

There are three key reasons that the lack of significant increase in middle-class wages vis-a-vis productivity and inflation since the 1970s has not led to the sort of riots and revolution we are seeing in the Middle East. The first is massive subsidies of agribusiness and processed foods in the U.S., which keep prices for unhealthy foods low, leading to America's poor rarely experiencing starvation, but often experiencing massive diet-related health problems.

The second is cheap prices due to globalization and lack of tariffs: even as jobs manufacturing microwave ovens in America have disappeared, leading to lower wages and higher unemployment, the price of a Chinese-manufactured microwave oven has become more affordable. Wage deflation due to labor arbitrage has also led to price deflation--particularly in the prices of the sorts of electronic goods like refrigerators and videogame consoles on which the Heritage Foundation places such a keen focus.

The third reason is the widespread availability of credit, which has served to mask the inability of middle-class and poorer American households to balance incomes and expenses. Shred the credit cards of every single American, and you would have riots the very next day. And in fact, that very explosion of credit in the United States that both keeps the pitchforks away from investment bankers' mansions in the Hamptons and makes those mansions possible, is part of what has driven the world economy into recession.

It's a nifty trick Heritage has pulled: promote agribusiness subsidy, free trade and credit expansion policies that kill domestic jobs while putting households in debt, but make DVD players and cheeseburgers cheap to obtain. Then criticize America's poor for being overweight, in debt, and owning a DVD player, in order to con the beleaguered American middle class into cutting taxes on billionaires.

Of course, good luck trying to explain that to the average American. They're a little busy these days trying desperately to make ends meet during their 10-hour workday, and compensating for it by at least relaxing in front of a movie on their cheap flatscreen TV at night. Altogether a quite convenient set of circumstances for Thomas Friedman's Flatworld utopians and the Heritage Foundation's wealthy donors, if somewhat inconvenient for those struggling to get by in today's America.

Via The Nation, watch Steven Colbert skewer the poverty-deniers:

Liberals know impoverished citizens lead to an impoverished nation. We all do better when we all do better.

Stop the Social Security Bullshit

The Villagers are doubling down on the lies, and Digby is pissed.

No matter how much time people spend talking about the issues, no matter how many fact sheets are distributed, it seems nothing will penetrate the wall of misinformation.

No matter what plan emerges from the debt talks in Washington, future Social Security benefits will be trimmed back.

As Congress and the White House continue their dysfunctional dance toward financial Armageddon, the elusive, $4 trillion Grand Plan that would include Social Security and Medicare reform has fallen off the table.

But in the early stages of the budget battle, a series of proposals surfaced that provide some clues about what broad reform of Social Security might look like.

There’s widespread agreement that the program needs fixing. When first created in 1935, the earliest retirement age was 65, a year older than the average life expectancy. Today, beneficiaries can begin collecting at 62, and can be expected to live another 17 years.


Meanwhile, the base of support from workers paying into the system has shrunk dramatically. In 1950, there were 16 active workers paying for every retiree. Today the ratio is three to one, according to the National Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, the authors of the so-called Simpson-Bowles plan to cut the federal budget deficit.

More bullshit.

This wouldn’t be the first time Congress enacted major changes to get Social Security back on track. In 1983, a series of tax increases and future benefit cuts extended the program’s financial lifespan. The full-benefit age was lifted from 65 to 67; a portion of benefits were subject to taxes; and cost of living adjustments were delayed by six months. The overall impact was to cut benefits for a current retiree by about 19 percent, according to the National Academy of Social Insurance.

None of the current proposals envisions a cut in current benefits. But they all employ a mix of future cuts, taxes, and changes in the cost of living formula.

Even more bullshit.

But it doesn't matter. These "truths" are pumped out by news organizations daily and there's just no stopping it. They are convinced that this raid on Social Security is legitimate and necessary and nothing will change their minds. And they insist that the only possible "fix" is to raise the retirement age and lower benefits even more with a new cost of living formula. It's a Village article of faith, validated by politicians of both parties. If you disagree you are a crazy, fanatical partisan and nobody should listen to you.

Back in January, priceless Senator Bernie Sanders told Ed Shultz the truth about Social Security.

Liberals know Social Security is solvent for the next 75 years, and lifting the income cap would make it solvent forever. Liberals tell the truth about Social Security and work to stop the lies.

"Compromise on Behalf of the American People"

No, Mr. President: it's capitulation on behalf of Wall Street and the austerity hysterics. Stop whining and just shove the 14th Amendment up their ass.

Full transcript here.

You Can't Understand History You Never Learn

To the long list of things we must teach young people ourselves because it's not being taught in public schools anymore, add the history of the labor movement.

Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

I’ve talked before about how young progressive bloggers don’t seem to have too much interest in labor history or labor issues more broadly. Of course, most of the voices in this debate are familiar. So it’s nice to hear someone I haven’t read before weigh in, a young writer at one of the Kos diaries. As a response to the left neoliberal conversation from the other day, eastern619 notes that it took him a long time to understand why labor was important:

One of the problems for young left wingers like myself is that we have no sense of labor history. I was born in 1987; during the height of the Reagan Era. I have no idea what life was like when the labor movement was at its peak. I have lived in a capitalistic system all my life, and even though I’m aware of alternative economic systems like social democracy, I have never experience it. Finally, like many college graduates, if I wanted to participate in discussions about class, socialism, and labor, I had to seek out my college socialist club because I wasn’t getting it from my political science major.

For my generation, its very easy to go through life without ever questioning our capitalistic system. Given the limited power that workers have today, it’s very easy for my generation to assume that this is how the world always worked. As in, its easy for us to assume that employers always had an advantage over the employees, and the lack of workers rights is simply the natural result of our changing economy and society. It’s easy to believe that so long as you are not aware that since the 1970′s there has been a very deliberate effort on the part of businesses to weaken the power of workers by destroying their unions.

This is just one opinion here, but it makes some sense to me. Last month, when making this point, Yglesias found some numbers suggesting that young people were as pro-union if not more than older people. Can’t find the link now, but it’s interesting. I don’t know. Could be true. I’m not going to argue against numbers with my anecdotal information, but I don’t think that translates to much in practical terms. I’d guess that those numbers reflect that young people aren’t per se opposed to the idea of a union when it is mentioned to them, but still don’t know much about what it is. Since the fall of the Soviet Union there hasn’t been a legitimate system to use as a counterweight to capitalism. The widespread assumption that free-market capitalism was the only workable system has created ground for embracing it in its extremist form, as we are seeing in today’s Republican Party.

Everything young people have been taught about extremist capitalism is that it’s the perfect economic system. So why wouldn’t most people think this was true. After all, they all have video game systems. This is the first time that faith may be questioned, with high unemployment rates for the young and a persistent economic crisis. I have only had the chance to teach labor history once and this was in the spring of 2008, just after the recession began. Much to my surprise, students were really into it. So maybe there are more young people like eastern619 out there. And whether that’s true, we should be trying to make it so. There are millions of young Americans unsure about the future. Making a concerted effort to get them to see that labor unions could be part of the answer should be a top priority.

UPDATE: Matt sent me his post on the demographics of union support.

Liberals trust students to draw their own conclusions about American history - if and only if they get all the facts.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Don't Run Away From Obama; Run AT Him

Three and a half years ago, I urged people to judge Democratic presidential primary candidate Hillary Clinton not on her claims of liberalism but on her actual record in the Senate. Don't listen to what she says, I wrote: pay attention to what she has done. Like vote for the invasion of Iraq and for the despicable Patriot Act.

William Greider looks at what Obama has done, and judges him accordingly.

The most distressing outcome of the deficit hysteria gripping Washington may be what Barack Obama has revealed about himself. It was disconcerting to watch the president slip-slide so easily into voicing the fallacious economic arguments of the right. It was shocking when he betrayed core principles of the Democratic Party, portraying himself as high-minded and brave because he defied his loyal constituents. Supporters may hope this rightward shift was only a matter of political tactics, but I think Obama has at last revealed his sincere convictions.
If he wins a second term, he will be free to strike a truly rotten “grand bargain” with Republicans—“pragmatic” compromises that will destroy the crown jewels of democratic reform.

The president has done grievous damage to the most vulnerable by trying to fight the GOP on its ground—accepting the premise that deficits and debt should be a national priority. He made the choice more than a year ago to push aside the real problem—the vast loss and suffering generated by a failing economy.

As a conservative reformer, Obama embraced a bizarre notion of “balance.” The budget cuts he first proposed would have punished the middle class and vulnerable three times with a big stick, shrinking Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits while hitting the wealthy only once with a modest tax increase. When Democrats complained that this wasn’t fair, Obama adjusted the “shared sacrifice” to a dollar-for-dollar ratio. Take a dollar from working stiffs who need these programs, take a dollar from the superrich who don’t need a tax break. How fair is that?

Obama’s facile arithmetic essentially scrapped the Democratic Party’s longstanding commitment to progressive taxation and universal social protections. The claim that cutting Social Security benefits will “strengthen” the system is erroneous. In fact, Obama has already undermined the soundness of Social Security by partially suspending the FICA payroll tax for workers—depriving the system of revenue it needs for long-term solvency.

The mendacity has a more fundamental dimension. Obama helped conservatives concoct the debt crisis on false premises, promoting a claim that Social Security and other entitlement programs were somehow to blame while gliding over the real causes and culprits. Social Security has never contributed a dime to the federal deficits (actually, the government borrows the trust fund’s huge surpluses to offset its red ink).

This mean-spirited political twist amounts to blaming the victims.


The White House evidently thinks it’s good politics for 2012 to dismiss the left and court wobbly independents. Obama no doubt assumes faithful Democrats have nowhere else to go. It’s true that very few will wish to oppose him next year, given the fearful possibility of right-wing crazies running the country. On the other hand, people who adhere to the core Democratic values Obama has abandoned need a strategy for stronger resistance. That would not mean running away from Obama but running at him—challenging his leadership of the party, mobilizing dissident voices and voters, pushing Congressional Democrats to embrace a progressive agenda in competition with Obama’s.

To be blunt, progressives have to pick a fight with their own party. They have to launch the hard work of reconnecting with ordinary citizens, listening and learning, defining new politics from the ground up. People in a rebellious mood should also prepare for the possibility that it may already be too late, that the Democratic Party’s gradual move uptown is too advanced to reverse. In that event, people will have to locate a new home—a new force in politics that speaks for them.

For another take on what we're up against, read this piece by Michael Tomasky on why Obama won't invoke the 14th Amendment, even though not doing so will destroy his presidency, his party and the nation.

The only thing standing between us and the utter catastrophe of another all-repug government like the one we got in 2002 is Barack Obama.

But the only thing standing between Barack Obama and total capitulation to Wall Street's vision of a lords-and-serfs economy is .... us.

Poll Tax Returns

Via Zandar, Rep. John Lewis, who knows from voting rights, calls out the motherfuckers for fucking their mothers:

"Mr. Speaker, voting rights are under attack in America. There's a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their Constitutional right to engage in the democratic process. Voter ID laws are becoming all too common, but make no mistake: Voter ID laws are a poll tax. People who struggle to pay for basic necessities cannot afford a voter ID. The right to vote is precious and almost sacred, and one of the most important blessings of our democracy. Today we must be strong in protecting that blessing."

When everybody votes, democracy wins.

Norway Victims Not Socialists You Can Demonize

No surprise that the true nature of "socialist" flew right past a greedy, self-centered, anti-American repug like whasisname.

John Nichols at The Nation:

The young people who gathered at the camp on the Norwegian island of Utoya were the opposite of Hitler Youth. In fact, they were the direct descendants, individually and ideologically, of the courageous young socialists who played such a vital role in the Norwegian resistance to the Nazis.

The campers who were attacked were members of the Norway’s Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking (AUF), the Workers’ Youth League that is the youth wing of the country’s social democratic Labour Party. In the aftermath of World War II, the Oslo Trade Union Confederation purchased the island and given as a gift to the AUF in recognition of the sacrifices that young socialists had made in the struggle against fascism.

When Hitler’s Nazi armies invaded and occupied Norway in 1940, they banned the AUF and imprisoned its leader, Gunnar Sand. His successor as head of the AUF, Trygve Bratteli, led the Labour Party’s crisis committee following the Nazi invasion of Norway before his arrest by the Germans in 1942. Imprisoned in a series of concentration camps, he was liberated in April, 1945, Bratteli returned to Norway as a hero who led the AUF in the postwar years and eventually became Norway’s prime minister.

So Beck has got things exactly wrong with his reference to “Hitler Youth.”
But what he really got wrong was the notion that there is something wrong, something “disturbing,” something foreign, about young socialists gathering to listen to music, to dance, to swim and play sports and to imagine a better world.

This is an international tradition. And it is an American tradition.


The truth is entirely opposite what Beck says. The young people who gathered on Utoya did so as champions of ideals that inspired young Americans a century ago, that inspired those who opposed Hitler seven decades ago and that inspire those who challenge the bigotry and violence of modern-day neo-Nazis, fascists and extreme-right fanatics.

Liberals know that virtually every step of social progress in this country in the past 150 years can be traced back to the socialist movement. People who demonize socialists are the ones on the wrong side.

Middle-Class Tax Cut Not Worth Preserving

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

The only leverage that Democrats hold, the only thing they have that Republicans want, is the coming expiration of the Bush tax cuts. That was true at the end of 2010, when they extended them for two years and got some more, mostly tax-side, stimulus as a result. It’s true at the end of 2012, when the hope is, if we avoid a default-caused depression, the economy will be on stronger footing. So there’s a belief that this leverage can be converted into a bold tax reform that would end loopholes and create a fairer tax code.

Except that the President has been trying to give away the Bush tax cuts throughout the negotiations. He’s not interested in using that leverage; he doesn’t want the fight. He would rather get the relatively meager revenue gains from canceling the tax cuts above $250,000 of income and be done. This is because of a stupid campaign promise that has put tax policy in a straightjacket.

As Matt Yglesias shows with the above chart, the benefits of the so-called “middle class” Bush tax cuts actually go disproportionately to the rich. We have marginal tax rates in this country, so the rich feel all the benefits on the cuts in the smaller tax brackets. These are not well-designed policies, and so just extending them rather than letting them expire and writing a new set of better-distributed policies misses a big opportunity. Anyway, a policy that allows low taxes for people making not enough to live but practically no services for them doesn’t really help them out.

The truth is that, if we had the same distributional impact in tax policy at the individual and corporate level that we did in the 1960s, we wouldn’t have a budget deficit. But Democrats are afraid to say that. They’re afraid to get into any argument about taxes for fear that they cannot win. And as a result, poorly-designed tax policies that benefit the rich – even when at a headline level they’re supposed to benefit the poor – predominate.

Crooks and Liars has the appropriate audio:

In keeping with our current preoccupation with taxes, the deficit and spending, I thought I would run an address President Franklin Roosevelt gave while campaigning for re-election in 1936.

Seems the subject of taxes has been with us for a very-very long time. And it also seems the ones doing the most complaining haven't changed very much in the past 200 or so years.

Comforting, I suppose. But you'd think by now it would get a little tired.

In 1936 though, FDR had a few choice words nestled in what has become a timeless address.

President Roosevelt: “In 1776 the fight was for Democracy in Taxation. In 1936 there is still the fight. Mister Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said ‘taxes are the prices we pay for civilized society’. One sure way to determine the social conscience of a government is to examine the way taxes are collected and how they are spent. And one sure way to determine the social conscience of an individual is to get his tax reaction. Taxes, after all are the dues we pay for the privilege of membership in an organized society. And as society becomes more civilized government, national and state and local, is called on to assume more obligations to its citizens. The privileges of membership in a civilized society are vastly increased in modern times. But I am afraid we still have many who still do not recognize their advantages and want to avoid paying their dues.”

Tax breaks for the wealthy were a concept well in place by the time Hoover was President.

FDR: “To divide fairly among the people the obligation to pay for these benefits has been a major part of our struggle to maintain Democracy in America. Ever since 1776, that struggle has been between two forces; on the one hand there has been a vast majority of citizens who believe the benefits of democracy should be extended and who are willing to pay their fair share to extend them. And on the other hand, there has been a small but powerful group which has fought the extension of these benefits because they did not want to pay a fair share of their cost. That was the lineup in seventeen hundred and seventy-six and it’s the lineup today. And I am confident that once more, in nineteen thirty-six democracy in taxation will win. Here is my principle, and I think it’s yours too; Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle.”

So hearing this now and knowing it was from the dim-distant past of 1936, it makes the current situation and posturing that much more absurd. Unfortunately if it were only absurd it would be laughed off. But it has become deadly serious business in the ensuing years.

And I keep reminding myself that Fair is a place in Pomona California where people get together once a year and show cows.

Click here for audio.

Liberals know the middle class is the foundation of American Greatness, and only an economy that works for all will protect that foundation.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Austerity DINOs and Other Villains of the Piece

Whatever happened to the proven fact that the only way out of a recession is government spending leading to economic growth? It's still here, says Josh Marshall, it's just been smothered by the insanity of repug politics.

I'm talking about the broad proposition of that in the face of a dramatic shortfall in demand following an economic crisis, the government plays a critical role as the provider of demand of last resort in getting an economy back on its feet. In the context of the moment that means a big role for government spending. (Put me down in the group of those who think we'll do better getting the indebtedness problem under control by focusing on jobs and growth that will provide revenues to in large measure grow our way out of the problem.)

The difficulty we find ourselves in is that we came into the crisis already having built ourselves a major structural budget deficit. So we face real long-term indebtedness issues right at the time we need the federal government to pick up the slack. Obviously, these arguments have been rehearsed endlessly for the last couple years and then more broadly back into the 1920s and 1930s.

What's changed? Not the economics, but the politics. And as grievous a price as I suspect we'll pay, I'm not certain it should greatly surprise us. Something similar happened, though less acutely, with Franklin Roosevelt in the late 30s, when he was convinced -- for a mix of political and economic reasons -- that it was time to start budget balancing. The economy lurched back into a second, albeit less acute, stage of the Depression.

There's something in the nature of the political economy, forces vastly stronger today than they were 80 years ago that leads to this. And there's a simple paradox. It does make some intuitive sense that the government should have to tighten its belt when the rest of the country is. Only it's not true. And like a disoriented pilot without instruments to guide, what definitely makes sense can prove fatal.

So what's wrong with the politics? A president unwilling to accept the fact of repug insanity, according to Ari Berman in The Nation:

“Our plan includes more cuts,” Chuck Schumer bragged at a news conference on Capitol Hill yesterday when comparing Harry Reid’s debt plan to John Boehner’s.

That fact that Senate Democrats are trying to out-cut the cut-obsessed Republicans pretty much sums up the current political debate in Washington. “Harry Reid’s plan wins the austerity sweepstakes,” Adam Serwer wrote yesterday. “It's the austerity party vs. the austerity party,” blogger Atrios tweeted.

President Obama has actively shifted the debt debate to the right, both substantively and rhetorically. Substantively by not insisting on a “clean bill” to raise the debt ceiling at the outset and actively pushing for drastic spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs as part of any deal. And rhetorically by mimicking right-wing arguments about the economy, such as the canard that reducing spending will create jobs (it won’t), or that the government’s budget is like a family’s budget (it isn’t), or that major spending cuts will return confidence to the market and spur the economy recovery we’ve all been waiting for (Paul Krugman calls it “the confidence fairy”).

“For the last few months, I and others have watched, with amazement and horror, the emergence of a consensus in policy circles in favor of immediate fiscal austerity,” Krugman wrote on July 1. “That is, somehow it has become conventional wisdom that now is the time to slash spending, despite the fact that the world’s major economies remain deeply depressed. This conventional wisdom isn’t based on either evidence or careful analysis. Instead, it rests on what we might charitably call sheer speculation, and less charitably call figments of the policy elite’s imagination.”

In the last few weeks, the austerity hawk choir has only gotten louder. President Obama has successfully used the bully pulpit to undermine the case for progressive governance.

Even after the 2010 election, which supposedly was a referendum on government spending, there was little evidence that the public cared about the deficit and a lot of evidence that they wanted Washington to address the jobs crisis. For example, 56 percent of Americans ranked the economy and jobs as their top priority for the new Congress following the election, while only 4 percent named the deficit.

By a two to one margin, according to a July Quinnipiac poll, Americans still believe that reducing unemployment is more important than cutting the deficit. But they only narrowly believe that reducing unemployment is more important than reducing federal government spending, by a 49 to 43 margin. And the public now says that “major cuts in federal spending” would help, not hurt, the economy, a 15 point reversal from March.

Things might have been different had President Obama made an aggressive and sustained argument that the government still has an important role to play in spurring an economic recovery and creating jobs. Instead, the president sided with the austerity hawks and strengthened the elite Washington consensus.

Throughout the debt ceiling debate, Obama keeps touting how he’s bucking the activists in his own party. It seems as if the president wants to run against the Democratic base in 2012 and position himself as the supposedly sensible centrist candidate. As a result, the president’s approval ratings among liberals are at the lowest point of his presidency.

That “triangulation” strategy worked for Bill Clinton in 1996, although he had the benefit of a rapidly growing economy. My guess is the 2012 election will be much more like 2004 than 1996, when the country is fiercely divided about the incumbent leader, unsure of the opposition, and in a politically restive mood. If that’s the case, Obama will need his base to knock on doors, make phone calls and persuade undecided voters who to vote for. That’s how Bush won in ‘04, by ratcheting up Republican turnout in states like Ohio. The more Obama bucks his supporters—and keeps ignoring the jobs crisis in favor of deficit hysteria—the dicier his path to re-election becomes, especially if the economy continues to lag.

But let’s forget about the 2012 election for a moment. Right now, the public is being deprived a real and vital debate about how to solve the economic crisis. Obama is governing like a moderate Republican. Republicans are governing like Grover Norquist. The net effect is that US politics keeps shifting further and further to the right.

Liberals know you can't cut your way out of a recession, and you can't reason with drunk, crazy or stupid people.

Good Carbon News for Carnivores

Your carbon footprint may be easier to cut than you think.

Kevin Drum:

Matt Yglesias is startled by the chart below, which shows the greenhouse gas emissions produced by various kinds of food: "The carbon gap between lamb & beef on the one hand and pork & chicken on the other is larger than the gap between between pork & chicken and vegetarianism."

Ezra Klein reposts something from a column he wrote a while back:

Two researchers at the University of Chicago estimated that switching to a vegan diet would have a bigger impact than trading in your gas guzzler for a Prius. A study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that the average American would do less for the planet by switching to a totally local diet than by going vegetarian one day a week....A Montanan who drives 40 miles to work might not have the option to take public transportation. But he or she can probably pull off a veggie stew.

This, of course, highlights the genius of the best answer to all of this: a carbon tax. If you tax carbon, nobody makes these decisions for you. You make them for yourself just by deciding what you want to spend your money on. If a carbon tax increases the price of carbon-intensive activities, some people will prefer giving up their hot rod to going without beef. Some will prefer eating more vegetables to giving up their SUV. Some will end up doing neither and giving up something else. But whatever it is, each individual will reduce his or her carbon use in the way that's the least personally onerous. No regulation can do that and no PR campaign can do that, but a price on carbon can. And in addition to all the awesomeness of letting the market work its magic to reduce carbon emissions with minimum pain and maximum consumer surplus, it also produces a pot of money that can be used to motivate research into better energy alternatives for everyone. We are almost literally insane for not doing this.

Liberals promote policies - like a carbon tax - that make fiscal sense, environmental sense and common sense.

The Cult That's Killing Us All

There's a movie cliche about political killers that goes something like this: a lone assassin who is determined to kill and willing to die cannot be stopped. The point is that without conspirators, hesitation or self-preservation to exploit, law enforcement has no opening to prevent the crime.

Democrats in Washington face a similar obstacle in trying to deal with nihilistic repugs in Congress.

David Atkins (thereisnospoon) explains it all as "Jonestown D.C."

The big picture is that America is being held hostage by a conservative movement that behaves much more as a bizarre religious cult, than a legitimate political entity. It is perhaps the most dangerous cult to have ever held sway over a major nation-state in modern times.

It is a cult founded on a number of dogmatic beliefs that have no basis in reality. These are people who believe that the inflection point of the Laffer Curve is somewhere in the low single digits, and that cutting taxes to insanely low levels will magically lead to revenue increases. These are people who believe that government itself is basically unnecessary but for a private property protection scheme, and that the unfettered market will provide all that society needs, and will dole out the appropriate price for all goods, wages and services with zero inflation through the magic of the market. These are people who believe it is impossible for humans to affect the climate, and that it is better for humans to attempt to magically adapt somehow to a much hotter world than to do anything to even curb the behaviors that might be making it hotter. These are people who believe that the proper way to punish corporate evildoers is to not punish them at all, because people will simply stop purchasing from corporations that poison their water and air and crash their economies--because the average consumer presumably has the secret market-given wisdom, and magic powers necessary to make financial choices to punish Koch Industries and Goldman Sachs if necessary. These are people who view Objectivism as a legitimate and serious philosophical discipline, and the fictional works of Ayn Rand as gospel to live by.

The fact that no country on earth has attempted to operate by these principles in the modern era is irrelevant. These people do not operate according to facts, but according to a deep and abiding faith in a wholly untested set of principles that can only be put into place upon the destruction of the current order.

As with any cult, the prospect of Armageddon is not troubling to them. Thus, the answer to exponentially rising healthcare costs is to do...nothing. The answer to rapidly increasing global temperatures is to do...nothing. The answer to a devastating default on the faith and credit of the United States is to do...nothing.

The possible outcomes of any and every imaginable crisis are only two: 1) give the cult everything it wants, when it wants it; or 2) do nothing and let the world burn. Which is fine, because once the flames have died down, the cult can at last build their Kingdom here as it is in Milton Friedman's heaven. If healthcare costs explode, then the system collapses and the people who are left will only buy the healthcare they can afford at market prices. If global temperatures rise, then Social Darwinism will preserve the deserving. If the American economy collapses, then it can be rebuilt, minus the surplus population and those pesky Keynesian programs that kept it afloat and alive. 2nd Amendment remedies will deal with the lesser people who resist.

One can rage all day and night, and legitimately so, at the failures of the Left and Democrats over the last 30 years. It would take an encyclopedia to count them all.

But one also must remember that the American political system is facing perhaps the most dangerous enemy it has ever faced: an intransigent cult of individuals who simply do not care if everything goes down in flames around them, so long as the sacred tenets of the cult remain unchallenged.

Read the whole thing.

Liberals know that you cannot compromise, negotiate or even reason with people whose only goal is mass murder-suicide.

Remember the Bonus Marchers

Seventy-nine years ago today, on a sweltering day in Washington, D.C., the United States Army, led by three officers who would later become icons of military heroism, acting on the orders of the President of the United States, attacked and killed peacefully demonstrating World War I veterans, their wives and their children.

From Wikipedia:

The Bonus Army was the popular name of an assemblage of some 43,000 marchers—17,000 World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—who gathered in Washington, D.C., in the spring and summer of 1932 to demand immediate cash-payment redemption of their service certificates. Its organizers called it the Bonus Expeditionary Force to echo the name of World War I's American Expeditionary Force, while the media called it the Bonus March. It was led by Walter W. Waters, a former Army sergeant.

Many of the war veterans had been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression. The World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 had awarded them bonuses in the form of certificates they could not redeem until 1945. Each service certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment plus compound interest. The principal demand of the Bonus Army was the immediate cash payment of their certificates.

Retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of the most popular military figures of the time, visited their camp to back the effort and encourage them. On July 28, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the veterans removed from all government property. Washington police met with resistance, shots were fired and two veterans were wounded and later died. President Herbert Hoover then ordered the army to clear the veterans' campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur commanded the infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children were driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned.

A second, smaller Bonus March in 1933 at the start of the Roosevelt Administration was defused with promises instead of military action.

From William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream:

"In the desperate summer of 1932, Washington, D.C. resembled the beseiged capital of an obscure European state. Since May some twenty-five thousand penniless World War veterans had been encamped with their wives and children in District parks, dumps, abandoned warehouses, and empty stores.

"The vets had come to ask their government for relief from the Great Depression, then approaching the end of its third year; specifically, they wanted immediate payment of the soldiers' 'bonus' authorized by the Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 but not due until 1945. If they could get the cash now, the men would receive about $500 each. Headline writers had christened them 'the Bonus Army,' or 'the bonus marchers.'

"They called themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force." BEF members had hoped in vain for congressional action. Now they appealed to President [Herbert] Hoover, begging him to receive a delegation of their leaders. Instead he sent word he was too busy and then proceeded to isolate himself from the city."

The following is a combination of paraphrase and quotes of Manchester's book:

... at about 11:00 in the morning of July 28th, a former Brigadier General named Pelham D. Glassford -- who was now the Chief of Police in the District of Columbia -- took on the onerous duty of rousting the squatters of the Bonus Army. Glassford, who had made no secret of his compassion for the unemployed veterans, was in an absolutely untenable position.

The Attorney General, William D. Mitchell, had ordered the BEF to be moved off of government property, despite the fact that some of the abandoned and dishevelled buildings and lots occupied by the veterans had only recently been purchased by the federal government. The problem was acute. The Bonus Army was there and they had nowhere else to go, for there were fifteen million people unemployed in the States, and more than two million were homeless and wandering.

At 10:00 AM Treasury Agents went to bonus marchers on Third at Pennsylvania and told them to leave immediately. Then they left and the bonus marchers stayed. So Glassford formed up his police detachment and began clearing some of the abandoned buildings at about 11:00 AM, on a typically hot and humid D.C. summer day.

There were no incidents to begin with, according to Manchester, who writes on the eviction of the Bonus Army with great passion. But by the early afternoon, the greater part of the Bonus Army moved to cross the Eleventh Street bridge from Anacostia, where they had made a huge campground with ramshackle huts and tents. When the police tried to raise the bridge, they found that they were too late, and the surge of ragged veterans became a general melee'. Bricks were tossed and curses exchanged and the melee' became a riot. In one desperate moment the police officers opened fire on the Bonus men. Eric Carlson, a disabled veteran from Oakland, California, was "mortally wounded." William Hrushka, a butcher, of Chicago and the 41st Infantry was shot dead, a bullet to his heart.

Within minutes the word of this rioting and bloodshed was communicated to Herbert Hoover. He was having lunch when he heard the news. As Manchester relates it, "the President told Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley to use troops" against the Bonus marchers. Hurley communicated this order to the Chief of Staff for the Army, and his principal assistant.

In the summer of 1932, that was General Douglas MacArthur and one Dwight David Eisenhower, a Major. There were, naturally, some delays in getting things organized, not the least of which were caused by the insistence of MacArthur that armored tanks be brought over with the infantry from Fort Myer. The great general proposed to use tanks and bayonets against unemployed veterans, many of whom were camped in shantytown conditions with their children and wives. The only shots fired thus far had been fired by policemen, and the men killed were Bonus marchers.

By late in the afternoon of this sweltering July day, MacArthur and Eisenhower were in uniform and the troops were assembling. Among the detachments were troopers from the 3rd Cavalry, under the command of Major George S. Patton. They advanced with sabres drawn, and the column following them included machine guns and elements of the 12th Infantry and the 13th Engineers.

"The operation was the worst-timed in MacArthur's career. Fifteen minutes earlier [ 4:30 PM ], the District's civil service workers had begun pouring into the streets, their day's work done." As Manchester describes it, "twenty thousand of them were massed on the sidewalks across from the bewildered, disorganized veterans. Someone was going to get hurt if the cavalry commander didn't watch out". In an incredible moment of irony, the Bonus marchers first applauded the arrival of Patton's 3rd Cavalry troopers, thinking that the soldiers had been ordered to parade for their benefit. They and the thousands of workers watching were badly disillusioned within minutes.

Without "the slightest warning," as reported by J.F. Essary of the Baltimore Sun, the troopers charged into the crowd, which meant that both men and women were "ridden down indiscriminately". George Patton liked action and he wasn't ashamed to see his troopers ride down the innocent bystanders ... including U.S. Senator Hiram Bingham of Connecticut. MacArthur was similarly inclined to take drastic measures. Three thousand gas grenades had been provided to the infantrymen and they used them without hesitation or provocation. Within a few hours most of the Bonus marchers had recrossed the bridge to Anacostia and the main encampment. Herbert Hoover then sent a message to Douglas MacArthur instructing, forbidding, the deployment of any troops across the Eleventh Street bridge "into the largest encampment of the veterans". MacArthur chose to ignore this direct order and marched his soldiers, with Dwight Eisenhower by his side, over to Anacostia and into the campgrounds.

"The Anacostia camp was a jumble of packing crates, fruit crates, chicken coops, burlap and tar-paper shacks, tents", writes Manchester. "It didn't seem possible that anyone could have become attached to so preposterous an array of junk, but it was the only home the BEF families had."

By 10:00 PM the infantry was in the camp and they routed the Bonus Army and their children with their tear gas bombs. The vegetable gardens planted by the homeless veterans were trampled and by 10:30 most of the shacks and tents were a-blaze. The bravado of MacArthur's troops was considerable. A seven-year old boy was bayonetted in the leg for trying to save his pet rabbit and more than a hundred other casualties were reported. Two infants died of asphyxiation from the irritating gas. The final agonizing irony of this scene from Dante's Inferno came at about 11:15.

"Major George S. Patton, Jr. [led] his cavalrymen in a final destructive charge. Among the ragged bonus marchers routed by their sabers was Joseph T. Angelino," notes Manchester, "who, on September 26, 1918, had won the Distinguished Service Cross in the Argonne Forest for saving the life of a young officer named George S. Patton, Jr."

MacArthur compounded the tragedy in the hours and days after the Bonus Army was routed. He never mentioned Hoover's direct orders not to cross the Eleventh Street bridge and instead, praised the President for reacting to "a very grave situation". Later he said that the Bonus marchers were "insurrectionists". He was quoted as maintaining that ... "if there was one man in ten in that group who is a veteran it would surprise me." Herbert Hoover and his aides made the situation even worse by laying down an official line that the Bonus Expeditionary Force was under the leadership of communists and criminals. And that there were not that many veterans among them.

Liberals know that when you push people into desperation, then attack them for exercising their Constitutional right to seek redress from their government, the backlash is more horrible than you imagine.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Crime of Voting Democratic

Because it's still all about making sure minorities and poor people don't vote.


A coalition of 115 House Democrats have signed a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on the Justice Department to vigorously oppose voter ID laws that are sweeping state legislatures across the country.

"Many of these bills only have one true purpose, the disenfranchisement of eligible voters -- especially the elderly, young voters, students, minorities, and low-income voters," they write in the letter.

"Restrictive voter photo identification legislation has the potential to block millions of eligible American voters, and thus suppress the right to vote. We urge you to exercise your authority to examine these laws so that voting rights are not jeopardized," the members write.


"The bottom line is that we want every eligible American to be able to cast a ballot and have their ballot counted," Wasserman Schultz said. "Things like voter-ID laws, restrictions on voter-registration drives, rollbacks on early voting and the rest of these Republican-sponsored laws only serve to make it harder for eligible Americans to vote."

The full letter is here.

Katrina van den Heuvel explains that democratic disenfranchisement is not just widespread in states, but getting increasingly blatant:

Even in the face of such overwhelming evidence (that voter fraud occurs less than once in 1 million votes), there are still conservatives who audaciously claim that these restrictive laws are not intended to shrink the electorate. Defenders point to the fact that, in addition to young people and minorities, the elderly, who tend to vote for Republicans, are among the groups likely to lack an ID. True. But rather than exonerate Republicans, this information is even more damning. Take Texas for example: This year Texas passed a voter ID law, but wrote in a provision that explicitly exempts the elderly from complying with the law. The law also considers a concealed handgun license as an acceptable form of ID, but a university ID as insufficient.

The most recent example is Wisconsin, where demanding government-issued IDs wasn't enough for the repugs; they also ensure that getting said IDs would be impossible for non-white, non-wealthy citizens.

karoli at Crooks and Liars:

As if it's not bad enough that Republicans are wrecking what little financial stability we have left with their ridiculous debt-ceiling chicken dance, they're also working hard in the states to disenfranchise voters. In Wisconsin, the preferred method is to require voters to present valid photo identification at the polls. The Voter ID law passed under Scott Walker's watchful eye earlier this year, with all due credit to ALEC for their helpful drafting of the legislation for lazy lawmakers.

One Wisconsin Now explains how that impacts voters:

Wisconsin's population is substantially less likely to have a state-issued identification. Those without state-issued photo identification and who would need to obtain one under the Wisconsin Voter ID bill include:

23 percent of all elderly Wisconsinites over the age of 65
17 percent of white men and women
55 percent of all African American males and 49 percent of African American women
46 percent of Hispanic men and 59% of Hispanic women
78 percent of African American males age 18-24 and 66 percent of African American women age 18-24

Yes, the bill as written does have a provision to provide free identification for some Wisconsinites. Each and every one of these people would have to take the time off (in many cases unpaid) from work or family obligations to flock to Wisconsin DMVs. However, access to the DMV is a problem in Wisconsin; Indiana provides its residents exponentially more access to its Department of Motor Vehicles offices to obtain identification.

That post was written in January. It's now July, and guess what? Governor Scott Walker, citing budget squeezes, is closing 10 DMV offices throughout the state. But these aren't just any old DMV offices, no. They're conveniently located in Democratic districts.

Michael Shatz, a Wisconsin blogger:

This story shows just how stupid neoconservatives think the public really is. Walker and his ilk pass a bill requiring voters to present valid photo identification at the polls. Then, in the same breath, Walker and his ilk propose a bill to close the identification issuing centers (the DMV’s) in the Democratic districts, making ID’s more difficult for low-income voters to obtain.

Brad Friedman has the video:

"This is what voter suppression looks like."

Those are the words on the final title card in the video [embedded below] shot by a Wisconsin woman documenting her experience at the DMV in Madison last week. The video purports to illustrate the ridiculous extra, and invasive efforts many previously-legal voters in the Badger State will now likely face in order to exercise their right to vote in the state since the passage of the GOP majority's newly enacted voter suppression laws.

In this case, the woman was trying to help her son get a free Photo ID at the DMV, as is his right under the new statutes. At first she was told the charge for the supposedly-free ID would be $28, and that was only after she convinced a clerk that there had been enough "activity" in her son's bank account, as used by the clerk to determine whether or not he actually resided in the state.

And that was for an affluent white resident. If you're a homeless person in WI, as the woman's interview with another clerk in the video suggests, you can pretty much just forget about being able to vote at all under the new law.

Zandar sums it up:

Right. More IDs are needed, so in order to meet the demand the state closes DMV offices in primaritly Democratic districts and makes up for it by extending hours in Republican ones. Even better, Wisconsin's law says these offices only have to be open 20 hours a week, meaning if you want a Voter ID in Wisconsin, you'll have to take time off from work to drive further away.

You don't get much more scumbag than that, folks. This is how Republicans play ball: take your right to vote away from you and use the power they get from the people to make it harder, more difficult, more time-consuming and more expensive to have the right to vote at all, just to keep the numbers down and in their favor.

It will never end until they control everything.

Liberals demand that states accommodate every adult citizen's right to vote.