Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Maybe it's time to switch to decaf

Incredulously, the gentleman from Florida, who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Unbelievable from a member from South Florida. It slashes Medicaid and critical investments essential to winning the future in favor of protecting tax breaks for Big Oil, millionaires, and companies who ship American jobs overseas." —Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Look, Debbie, I understand that after I departed the House floor you directed your floor speech comments directly towards me. Let me make myself perfectly clear, you want a personal fight, I am happy to oblige. You are the most vile, unprofessional ,and despicable member of the US House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up. Focus on your own congressional district! I am bringing your actions today to our Majority Leader and Majority Whip and from this time forward, understand that I shall defend myself forthright against your heinous characterless behavior……which dates back to the disgusting protest you ordered at my campaign hqs, October 2010 in Deerfield Beach. You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me! —Rep. Allen West

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Waterloo Part 2

Republicans slit their own throats. Again.

I borrowed the following column from Forbes. I hope no one objects.

GOP Passes Up Generational Conservative Victory In Order To Protect The Wealthy

Jul. 10 2011 - 5:48 pm

By Rick Ungar

Oh, the irony.

After generations of conservative dogma based solidly in the belief that fundamental changes to America’s entitlement programs are essential to the economic survival and betterment of the nation, that goal is now, finally, within the reach of the true believers.

Yet, remarkably, this dramatic change in national direction is being permitted to slip right through conservative fingers by the very people whom those ensconced on the right should be counting upon to bring home this great philosophical victory.

The fulfillment of the conservative dream is not vanishing from sight because Nancy Pelosi and the forces of progressivism are prepared to defend entitlements to the death. Nor is it happening because the President of the United States has counted up the votes and decided that messing with entitlements will cost him re-election.

It is not even the result of “bleeding hearts” like me rising nobly in defense of the needy and downtrodden.

Significant entitlement reform, long the goal of the fathers of modern day conservatism, is being flushed down the drain by the very Republican Party that has long battled to bring that goal to reality.

Somewhere in Connecticut, William F. Buckley Jr. is turning over in his grave.

On Saturday, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that the ‘grand bargain’ – rumored to bring $4 trillion in debt reduction over the next ten years through a mixture of entitlement reform, defense cuts and a measure of revenue increases resulting from cleaning up the tax code to get rid of some of the corporate entitlement programs that result in lower taxes and higher subsidies – is now off the table.

Apparently, Boehner could not sell the GOP Congressional Caucus on a deal that involved anything in the way of revenue increases- not even in exchange for accomplishing reforms for which his party has fought since the days of FDR and his “New Deal”.

True conservatives should not blame Boehner for this heresy as it appears that he is no happier with the position he is being forced to take than the President is with his proposal being rejected by House Republicans who don’t grasp the whole compromise thing.

What Boehner likely understands – better than those who he is supposed to be leading – is that the GOP is permitting the fundamental change, long at the heart of the conservative cause, to vanish into thin air and that it is happening in the name of protecting corporate subsidies that are the very antitheses of a free market economy – another of the inviolate tenets of conservative policy.

Subsidies that provide government incentives to industry are as anti-free market as government subsidies and controls that conservatives argue have skewed the costs of health care in America and led to our current crisis.

According to American conservative scripture, a truly free market requires that players compete on level ground – not with the edge that comes from government handouts and special tax breaks, whether they be for the benefit of a corporation or an individual.

Thus, the GOP is rejecting the opportunity to accomplish a landmark, philosophical milestone by protecting a policy that is, in and of itself, a violation of that same conservative philosophy.

Is the irony of this enough to make even the most ardent conservative believer question what in the world is going on here?

It certainly should be.

Could the explanation for this odd behavior be that the Congressional Republican Caucus has decided to turn its back on what is supposed to be their most fundamental beliefs because their constituents are demanding that they do so?

Apparently not.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the GOP Caucus does not appear to have any interest whatsoever in listening to its base.
“Two-thirds (67 percent) approve of making more of high earners’ income subject to Social Security tax, and nearly as many approve of raising taxes on incomes of over $250,000 (66 percent), reducing military commitments overseas (65 percent) and limiting tax deductions for large corporations (62 percent),” the Pew Research Center reported last month.

“Notably,” Pew found, “Republicans are as likely as Democrats to approve of limiting corporate tax deductions.”

Still, any kind of tax increases – whether it be a greater tax bite on the wealthy or on corporations seen as “job creators” – is off the table as far as large numbers of Republican House members are concerned.
Via the Christian Science Monitor
So, the GOP rejection of the debt deal is neither based in the free market philosophy nor the fundamental belief in entitlement reform. It is also not based on meeting their obligations to their constituents.

So, what is driving their rather remarkable position?

It must be jobs and the economy.

Surely, the Republicans in Congress are convinced that removing tax subsidies to the oil industry and cleaning up the tax code to get rid of corporate welfare that is no longer of any discernable value to the nation will make what is already a very bad jobs situation even worse.

Except that it turns out that you have to search long and wide to find an economist who supports this notion.
The other argument that advocates of tax cuts for the rich make is that many small-business owners would be see their taxes go up and thus would be discouraged from hiring workers. The facts do not support this. “Only 3 percent of small-business owners are in the top bracket,” notes Roberton Williams, a senior fellow with the Tax Policy Center, which is sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute. And, he adds, “They are not all what we think of as job-creating small businesses. A lot of them are hedge-fund managers and law-firm partners.” So other than perhaps a few restaurateurs on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the workforce is unlikely to be affected.
Via Newsweek
So, while Eric Cantor continues to try and sell his base on this argument, it’s pretty hard to find anyone who knows anything about economics who actually is buying the pitch.

If it’s not philosophical dogma or fulfilling their obligation to those who elected them and it’s not the economy and/or jobs, what exactly is their problem?

I don’t know about you, but I can only think of one other explanation – fealty to the wealthy corporations and wealthy individuals who keep your Republican leadership rolling in the campaign cash so they can remain in their powerful jobs.

Now, if you believe this is a good enough reason to risk the financial stability of the nation – and possibly the world – then it’s all good.

Personally, I’m a little concerned.

I fear we are witnessing one of the most perverse and dangerous games our leaders have ever embarked upon. I’m stunned by the sheer audacity of these elected officials so ready to play chicken with the financial lives of so many simply to benefit a very few.

But what really amazes are the millions of middle class Americans who continue to believe that these officials are somehow acting in their best interest.

As curious as I am to see what will ultimately come of this game, my curiosity is far more piqued by the possibility that these middle class Americans might finally understand that the Republicans they sent to Congress work for the big corporations and care little for their needs and problems.

Should that light bulb (incandescent or otherwise) finally turn on, these folks should be assured that nobody is expecting them to run into the waiting arms of the Democratic Party. They can still quietly send their Congressional representatives a message indicating that they would prefer not to be abandoned so that Exxon might keep the government checks flowing in while maintaining their standing as upright, committed conservatives.

If these folks could – just this once – grasp what is being done in their name and communicate their rejection of the behavior of their leaders, the rest of us would genuinely appreciate it.

A true conservative should be as disgusted with what the Congressional Republican Caucus is doing as the rest of us and probably a great deal more so.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

David Brooks: the voice of sanity

Here's an excellent column from New York Times columnist David Brooks. If only more Republican politicians thought like Brooks does.

The Mother of All No-Brainers

By David Brooks

Published: July 4, 2011

The Republicans have changed American politics since they took control of the House of Representatives. They have put spending restraint and debt reduction at the top of the national agenda. They have sparked a discussion on entitlement reform. They have turned a bill to raise the debt limit into an opportunity to put the U.S. on a stable fiscal course.

Republican leaders have also proved to be effective negotiators. They have been tough and inflexible and forced the Democrats to come to them. The Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill. They have agreed not to raise tax rates. They have agreed to a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession.

Moreover, many important Democrats are open to a truly large budget deal. President Obama has a strong incentive to reach a deal so he can campaign in 2012 as a moderate. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has talked about supporting a debt reduction measure of $3 trillion or even $4 trillion if the Republicans meet him part way. There are Democrats in the White House and elsewhere who would be willing to accept Medicare cuts if the Republicans would be willing to increase revenues.

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.

The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name. Economists have identified many factors that contribute to economic growth, ranging from the productivity of the work force to the share of private savings that is available for private investment. Tax levels matter, but they are far from the only or even the most important factor.

But to members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. They are willing to cut education and research to preserve tax expenditures. Manufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises, but members of this movement somehow believe such problems can be addressed so long as they continue to worship their idol.

Over the past week, Democrats have stopped making concessions. They are coming to the conclusion that if the Republicans are fanatics then they better be fanatics, too.

The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independent voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.


Bon appétit

From "The Delusion of Indispensability" by Christopher Badeaux (links added by Φ):
The problem is not merely the corruption of power. It is the flip side of the coin — the delusion of indispensability, a delusion brought a politician’s inner circle, by the legions of his fans (brought closer by today’s mass, instant communication streams), and, frankly, every fawning article in the nominally independent press reinforcing that image. A brave man will stand in the face of the worst storm if he perceives he is needed on the battlements. This, I suspect, is why Anthony Weiner continued for as long as he did. . . . 
As an aside, I suspect this is why President Obama — whose approval rating is trailing, and whose every domestic initiative has either been an expensive failure or an expensively unpopular ratings-killer — is seeking re-election. His fans basically called him the Messiah, and he did nothing to dispel that perception. When he came into office in 2009, he let everyone know that he believed we were essentially in another depression, and when his adoring fans in the press told him he could fix it, you know he cried in his head, Yes we can! His utter failure to accomplish anything is actually totally irrelevant to his self-perception, and that is why he is out now re-enacting Al Gore’s successful 2000 campaign. 
Is the president's approval rating trailing? Well, according to Gallup, it's at 46%, which is up from a low of 41%, and better than the approval ratings of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter at the same point of their administrations.

Usually when Republicans talk about the president's expensive, job-killing domestic initiatives, they're talking about health care reform. According to Politifact, the law is not job-killing, it does not "[crush] small businesses 'with billions in penalties,'" and it is not "the biggest tax increase ever in the history of our country." Politifact rated Paul Ryan's claim that the health care law "is accelerating our country toward bankruptcy" as barely true:
Almost every expert from every side on the health care law would agree that there's a lot of uncertainty involved in projecting its budget impact. Looking strictly at the CBO's analysis of the budget effect of the health care law, it is a deficit-reducer, both in the short and long term. But Ryan points to several legitimate concerns about the assumptions made by the CBO -- particularly whether reduced Medicare payments are sustainable -- assumptions that even the CBO and Medicare's chief actuary noted may be suspect. The fate of those cuts may largely determine whether the new health care law ends up in the red or black. For now, though, those cuts are law. Congress would have to act to reduce or eliminate them. So Ryan is overplaying his hand when he claims the law is "accelerating our country toward bankruptcy." We rate his claim Barely True.
Last year, Mike Pence claimed that the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill will kill jobs. Politifact also rated that statement as barely true:
Ultimately, even the supporters of the bill we spoke to acknowledged that some jobs will likely be lost, or never created, due to passage of Dodd-Frank. However, many of the experts we spoke to agreed that not passing the bill would put even more jobs in the greater economy at risk, not to mention countless nest-eggs, homes and other non-job-related concerns. Would potential job savings offset job costs? Unfortunately, there is no way to know. Still, Pence's comment ignores the principle that preventing financial shocks is job-saving. On balance, we rate the statement Barely True. 
Badeaux claims that every domestic initiative has been an expensive failure. Just one counterexample is enough to prove that he's wrong.

Did the president claim that we were in another depression in 2009? Well, in December of 2008, he said of the economic crisis, "as tough as times are right now, they're nothing compared to what my grandparents went through, what the greatest generation went through." He did say that "when you think about the structural problems that we already had in the economy before the financial crisis, this is a big problem and it's going to get worse." Well, what the hell do you expect him to say? Should he have declared the economy is fundamentally sound, as his opponent did? Besides, even if we were not in a depression, it was the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It was very very bad. Perhaps Badeaux doens't remember or simply didn't notice.

Has the president failed to accomplish anything? As the links above show, the president has accomplished much. So Badeaux's ridiculous claim is obviously false.

What I think happens to people like Badeaux is that they repeat their politically motivated bullshit so frequently, to others and to themselves, that they begin to believe it. They assert it freely in their own echo chambers where it goes unchallenged. It is eventually accepted as the gospel truth as a consequence. Bullshitters have no regard for the truth or falsity of their claims anyway, since the whole point of making claims for them is to achieve this or that goal; the truth or falsity of the claims is irrelevant.

Sadly, in the case of Badeaux, we have a man who is not only shoveling the bullshit, but is also gobbling it up.

Bon appétit!

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson