Sunday, July 31, 2011

White House releases victory statement:

Fact Sheet: Bipartisan Debt Deal: A Win for the Economy and Budget Discipline

Check it out.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

A harsh assessment of Obama:

From a liberal perspective (Michael Tomasky) in Obama Should Stop Being Reasonable

The second reason Obama probably won’t [go the 14th Amendment route] has more to do with his political philosophy. He apparently really believes—still!—in civic-republican notions of government as an arena for reasoned deliberation. That he could still think this is akin to a child believing in Santa Claus until he’s 15—but apparently he does. The journalist Alec MacGillis captured this conviction well in a profile he did of Obama for the British New Statesman back in 2008. Barack Obama, he wrote, “was running not on a record of past achievement or on a concrete program for the future, but instead on the simple promise of thoughtfulness.”


Friday, July 29, 2011

The unified message:

David Frum:
I listened to about 45 minutes of the first hour of Rush Limbaugh in the car today.

The dominant theme of the hour, repeated over and over: “You” – meaning, Limbaugh listeners – are not “losers.” It’s Obama’s who’s a “loser.”

The word “loser” must have been repeated dozens of times, half as reassurance (that’s what you are not!), half as epithet (that’s what President Obama is!)

The psychological interpretation of what’s going on here is almost too obvious to remark. But what I can’t decide is whether it’s more sinister or more sad.
Apparently Frum didn't read his Wall Street Journal this morning. Here's Peggy Noonan:
[Obama] is losing a battle in which he had superior forces—the presidency, the U.S. Senate. In the process he revealed that his foes have given him too much mystique. He is not a devil, an alien, a socialist. He is a loser. And this is America, where nobody loves a loser.
Which she repeated today on the Morning Joe program.


I think this pretty much says it all:
The Obama administration has urged its supporters to contact Congress and urge a hike to the debt ceiling. For the Twitter campaign, it's chosen as its hashtag "#compromise."


Thursday, July 28, 2011

James Fallows reports:

From his essay blaming the Republicans for the current debt limit impasse: (original emphasis)
It has turned into zealotry, by which I mean utter disregard for the practical consequences of acts. A Republican demand for $16 million in cuts from the FAA budget (plus some anti-union provisions) has led to an FAA shutdown that has in turn, as the NY Times reports, led to a $25 million per day loss in fees the airlines paid to the FAA. That is, zealotry on this point has already cost the government more than ten times as much as the cuts would have saved.
This is not a surprising development.


Where we are headed:

Over at Balloon Juice, DougJ writes:
I think that Washington’s embrace of Hooverism is of a piece with its embrace of global warming denialism. Once upon a time we were all Keynesians, just as once upon a time Tim Pawlenty and other Republicans supported a carbon tax. Then wealthy interests decided they didn’t want increased government spending during a recession, just as they had decided they didn’t want carbon taxes.

Pretty soon there were all kinds of pseudo-intellectual justifications: if you take a triple-backwards contrarian Amity Shlaes view of the Great Depression, Roosevelt made it worse, the economy is a Brooksian complex system that the enlightened know man can never understand, the earth could just be going through a warming cycle, a carbon tax will slow the economy and what we really need is a powerful economic juggernaut that will solve global warming through the magic of the free market, or maybe through some giant Nathan Myhrvold dome that will never be built if there is cap and trade.

Pretty soon the far-left position is that we should continue with traditional macroeconomic policy and accept the findings of climate scientists, while the far right position is that we should go on the gold standard and admit that snow in Buffalo proves the earth is not getting warmer.
Shaking that down a bit, he's saying that the current Tea Party influenced Republicans have moved away from conservative/Republican policy positions that they held as recently as 10 years ago. That includes the Heritage Foundation -style health care plan, Keynesian economics, global warming, and so on.

Republicans are in thrall to a movement, and it's still moving. If history is any guide, when a movement breaks out of the boundaries of logic, empiricism, and social convention, it doesn't stop. It builds to a frenzy.

And that's what we are witnessing with this debt ceiling debate. Do not be surprised if in the coming days you read about even more radical proposals (constitutional convention, anyone?) from House Republicans.

Unfortunately, movements like the Tea Party - substantially helped by eccentric billionaires - while they eventually implode, they cause a lot of damage before doing so.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

George Will loves negatives:

Negative words, that is. Here are some from his recent op-ed:
  • vanity
  • naivete
  • dangerous
  • pretenses
  • imperiously
  • chaos
  • tawdry
  • demagogue
  • histrionically
  • paltering
  • mendacity
How many of those were about Obama?

All of them.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Glenn Beck is still working hard:
Beck said that the Labour party youth camp on the island, where 68 people were murdered, bore "disturbing" similarities to the Nazi party's notorious juvenile wing.

Beck, a multimillionaire darling of the Tea Party movement, said on his nationally-syndicated radio show: "There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler youth. I mean, who does a camp for kids that's all about politics? Disturbing."



In Obama's speech to the nation this Monday night he said he wanted a fair budget deal that had everybody sacrificing, while protecting the vulnerable.

That could have been accomplished if he let all the Bush tax cuts expire last December. But, you say, won't that hurt the economy? Yes, so you don't do it right away. You let them expire two years from then, which is what would happen if no deal is made right now and if the president doesn't extend them again.

There is a solution to the debt problem Obama talks about all the time: delay, but eventually roll back the Bush tax cuts. Instead, we're hearing about plans that put the hurt on those lowest on the economic totem pole.


Do you believe it?

Ezra Klein reports:
We don't yet know what the final deal to raise the debt ceiling will be. But now that Harry Reid is developing a proposal with $2.7 trillion in cuts and nothing in revenues, it's a safe bet that it won't include any tax increases. Which means that whether Republicans realize it or not, they've won. The question now is whether they can stop. (...)

Obama still wants a big deal, reports Zachary Goldfarb: "Obama’s political advisers have long believed that securing such an agreement would provide an enormous boost to his 2012 campaign, according to people familiar with White House thinking. In particular, they want to preserve and improve the president’s standing among political independents, who abandoned Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections and who say reining in the nation’s debt is a high priority.
Will the debt deal be an enormous boost to Obama's 2012 campaign? It finally became clear that one major, if not the major, element of a deal was to secure Republican support for modest simulative policies (Unemployment Insurance extension, 2% FICA holiday for another year, highway spending) that were clearly directed at helping the White House recover from a too-small-and-misallocated stimulus plan of 2009.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why the budget deal is where it is:

First, what the White House has agreed to:
Among the provisions Obama to which Obama had said yes, according to a senior administration official, were the following:

Medicare: Raising the eligibility age, imposing higher premiums for upper income beneficiaries, changing the cost-sharing structure, and shifting Medigap insurance in ways that would likely reduce first-dollar coverage.

Medicaid: Significant reductions in the federal contribution along with changes in taxes on providers, resulting in lower spending that would likely curb eligibility or benefits.

Social Security: Changing the formula for calculating cost-of-living increases in order to reduce future payouts.

Discretionary spending: A cut in discretionary spending equal to $1.2 trillion over ten years, some of them coming in fiscal year 2012.
And why:
Obama and his advisers are looking at the same job numbers as the rest of us. And they think this budget deal could be their best, if not last, chance to get legislation that would boost consumer demand and jobs. According to a senior administration official, Boehner last week had indicated his agreement with an extension of unemployment insurance, some kind of renewal of the payroll tax holiday, and at least some "language" about future funding for highways. Together, those steps would likely have pumped about $160 billion, maybe more, into the economy over the next year.

I checked with a few economists. The consensus was that, very roughly, such a stimulus would lift gross domestic product by 1.5 percentage points. That would translate to about a million additional jobs.

The second reason was concern about the nation's credit ratings and how that factor might influence the economy.
To summarize:
  • Obama didn't get a decent stimulus package in 2009. Part of that was because a substantial portion was dedicated to inefficient tax cuts in a misguided attempt to bring Republicans on board.
  • The economic recovery has been very weak.
  • In order to remedy the situation, significant entitlement cuts that will last for decades are being offered up for a short term economic boost.
  • The second-stage "stimulus" is not particularly impressive (UI, FICA holiday, a vague and too-late-to-matter infrastructure program)
How would you feel if you learned that Harry Truman cut back on your current Social Security benefits so that the 1947 economy was given a boost?

Obama is sacrificing long-term programs for short-term gain. That's a bad bargain.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Say goodbye to democracy:

'Super Congress': Debt Ceiling Negotiators Aim To Create New Legislative Body: (Huffington Post, so take that into account; emp add)
Debt ceiling negotiators think they've hit on a solution to address the debt ceiling impasse and the public's unwillingness to let go of benefits such as Medicare and Social Security that have been earned over a lifetime of work: Create a new Congress.

This "Super Congress," composed of members of both chambers and both parties, isn't mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, but would be granted extraordinary new powers. Under a plan put forth by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his counterpart Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), legislation to lift the debt ceiling would be accompanied by the creation of a 12-member panel made up of 12 lawmakers -- six from each chamber and six from each party.

Legislation approved by the Super Congress -- which some on Capitol Hill are calling the "super committee" -- would then be fast-tracked through both chambers, where it couldn't be amended by simple, regular lawmakers, who'd have the ability only to cast an up or down vote. With the weight of both leaderships behind it, a product originated by the Super Congress would have a strong chance of moving through the little Congress and quickly becoming law. A Super Congress would be less accountable than the system that exists today, and would find it easier to strip the public of popular benefits. Negotiators are currently considering cutting the mortgage deduction and tax credits for retirement savings, for instance, extremely popular policies that would be difficult to slice up using the traditional legislative process.


Friday, July 22, 2011

The situation is not under control:

Thursday (Politico):
Latest debt deal under fire

White House debt talks were described at the “fish-or-cut-bait” stage Thursday night, as President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner sought to keep alive an estimated $3 trillion deficit-reduction package already taking fire from the left and right.

Budget director Jack Lew received a fierce, angry, even screaming reception at the Senate Democratic Caucus, and Democratic congressional leaders were called to the White House to meet with the president for nearly two hours Thursday evening.>
Is that true? Democratic Senators screaming at a White House member over the budget talks. Senators? Democrats?

What the hell is going on?


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Poetry corner:

When the Obots see the budget deal,
with a COLA that makes seniors squeal,
they'll shout out, "Don't you know,
this is only for show",
"What Barack signs will have more appeal".
(which it won't)

It takes a political dope,
to think that there's any faint hope,
that the cuts to S.S.
will have any success,
stopping plutocrats' financial grope.

When Obama plays his kind of chess,
even though it sure looks like a mess,
you'll hear words of praise,
about all the ways,
why the Beltway, he'll surely impress.

When Barack's at the bargaining table,
He tries hard, as much as he's able,
for a difference to split,
'cause he don't give a shit,
if you're poor, elderly, or disabled.


Obama's Waterloo?

If the president - goes along with the Gang of Six proposalS with its chained-CPI Social Security COLA formula, elimination of the mortgage deduction, and a further reduction in the marginal rate on the rich - just mention just a few items - he's toast. He will have effectively destroyed the linkage between the Democratic party and the New Deal and Great Society. It will be political suicide.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hitler couldn't have said it better:

Rep. Allen West (R-FL):
I believe we are headed towards the ultimate ideological clash in America. There is a widening chasm which has developed between those who believe in principled fiscal policies and those desiring the socialist bureaucratic nanny-state. ...

And all we hear from the President is talk about “shared sacrifice,” “tax the rich,” and “increase revenues by tax hikes.” It was just December 2010 that President Obama and the Democrats extended the Bush era tax rates for two years…now less than a year later they are flip-flopping! ...

I must confess, when I see anyone with an Obama 2012 bumper sticker, I recognize them as a threat to the gene pool.


Monday, July 18, 2011

This is a good evaluation:

Disgraced newspaper publisher Conrad Black, whose former ownership of The Daily Telegraph turned him into a bitter Murdoch rival, thinks his old foe is more like another polarizing historical figure – French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

Like Napoleon, Murdoch is a "great bad man," Black wrote in a column Wednesday for the Financial Times. "It is as wrong to dispute his greatness as his badness."

Black, who was convicted of fraud in 2007 and still has some prison time to serve, wrote that it would be "astonishing" if Murdoch's British newspapers didn't commit crimes while "reveling in the climate of immunity that has been the group's modus operandi for decades."

Although he stopped short of calling him a crook, Black lambasted Murdoch as an "an exploiter of the discomfort of others" and "a malicious myth-maker, an assassin of the dignity of others and of respected institutions, all in the guise of anti-elitism."
That sounds like an apt description of the Fox News Channel (especially that last part, "in the guies of anti-elitism").


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Where he's at:

Nate Silver of the New York Times looks at polling data on the budget issue:
One framework that President Obama has offered, which would reduce the debt by a reported $2 trillion, contains a mix of about 17 percent tax increases to 83 percent spending cuts. Another framework, which would aim for twice the debt reduction, has been variously reported as offering a 20-to-80 or 25-to-75 mix.

With the important caveat that the accounting on both the spending and tax sides can get tricky, this seems like an awfully good deal for Republicans. Much to the chagrin of many Democrats, the mix of spending cuts and tax increases that Mr. Obama is offering is quite close to, or perhaps even a little to the right of, what the average Republican voter wants, let alone the average American.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Washington Post speaks:

From their editorial:
entitlement reform — including reform that contemplates benefit cuts — is the truly progressive position
Here's the thing. A lot of the debt that people are freaking out about was the result of the Iraq war, which was not paid for with increased taxes at the time. So why isn't that being discussed? Why aren't those responsible being held to account? (Bush and Republicans in Congress, along with cheerleading by the Post). The failure to recognize that the debt didn't "just happen" but was the result of policy choices, and the insistence that only now can the fiscal problem be solved by cutting services for those lowest on the totem pole, is bizarre.


A history of the elites' selfishness leading to national decline:

Good stuff from the Washington Monthly. Excerpt:
As it happens, the willingness of the rich to defend their wealth from taxation to the point of national ruin is nothing new in world history, as Francis Fukuyama recounts in his magisterial new book The Origins of Political Order. The Han dynasty in China fell in the third century AD after aristocratic families with government connections became increasingly able to shield their ever-larger land holdings from taxation, which helped precipitate the bloody Yellow Turban peasant revolt. Nearly a millennium and a half later, the great Ming dynasty went into protracted decline in part for similar reasons: unable or unwilling to raise taxes on the landed gentry, the government couldn’t pay its soldiers and was overrun by Manchu invaders.

In the fifteenth century, the Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus persuaded his reluctant nobles to accept higher taxes, with which he built a professional military that beat back the invading Ottomans. But after his death the resentful barons placed a weak foreign prince on the throne and got their taxes cut 70 to 80 percent. When their undisciplined army lost to Suleiman the Magnificent, Hungary lost its independence.

Similarly, the cash-strapped sixteenth-century Spanish monarchy sold municipal and state offices off to wealthy elites rather than raise their taxes—giving them the right to collect public revenues. The elites, in turn, raised taxes on commerce, immiserating peasants and artisans and putting Spain on a path of long-term economic decline. This same practice of exempting the wealthy from taxation and selling them government offices while transferring the tax burden onto the poor reached its apogee in ancien regime France and ended with the guillotine.


Monday, July 11, 2011


Obama is panicking. He knows that he messed up when he didn’t get a debt-limit agreement back in December of 2010. It was obvious from the previous Congress that the Republicans were going to do the maximum to put him in jeopardy. And given the November election results it was obviously going to get worse. And it has.

So, with a weak hand, he’s raising the stakes in a misguided attempt to save himself. But that’s foolish. Any “Grand Deal” should happen at a later time when (a) the economy is more robust, and (b) when the composition of Congress changes for the better – which it will since the Teabaggers will most likely burn out fairly quickly.

Bringing in Social Security is most foolish and reassurances that he won’t “slash” that program is con-man talk. Same with “strengthening”. Face it, Obama is a conservative Democrat and he most definitely won’t make any effort on behalf of progressives. This was clear from the beginning when he brought in Summers et al, and was reinforced with the ludicrous Simpson Bowles commission.


Well, at least he's thinking about you:

Geithner says hard times to continue for many
WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (GYT'-nur) says many Americans will face hard times for a long time to come.

He says President Barack Obama rescued the United States from a second Great Depression and will keep working to strengthen the economy. But Geithner says will be some time before many people feel like the country is recovering.

Geithner tells NBC's "Meet the Press" that it's a very tough economy. He says that for a lot of people "it's going to feel very hard, harder than anything they've experienced in their lifetime now, for a long time to come."
This White House had better get theirs messaging strategy re-tooled if they want to command the allegiance of the electorate.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Talk about bad PR for the British prime minister:

You already have his former communications director (who used to be an editor at the News of the World) arrested. Now this: (emp add)
David Cameron defends decision to hire Andy Coulson

Guardian passed information on NoW's links to detective facing murder charge to Cameron aide before general election

David Cameron was forced to explain on Friday why No 10 ignored a warning before the general election that his communications chief, Andy Coulson, had employed a freelance private detective with a long track record of corruption who was at the time facing a murder charge.

The Guardian disclosed that it had passed to a senior Cameron aide information about the News of the World's links to the detective, Jonathan Rees, which could not at the time be reported because Rees was awaiting trial for an axe murder.
Turns out that "The trial later collapsed" and this was a peripheral character, but still, what a mess.


Friday, July 08, 2011

This is not effective messaging:

President Barack Obama cited gloomy jobs numbers as one more reason lawmakers must strike a deal soon to raise the debt limit, saying the impasse was fueling uncertainty within financial markets and in the business sector.

Obama said companies have been more reluctant to invest and hire because of several factors, including the debt ceiling impasse and turmoil in the global economy triggered by the crisis in Greece.

"The problems in Greece and in Europe along with uncertainty over whether the debt limit here in the United States will be raised have also made businesses hesitant to invest more aggressively," he said in an appearance in the Rose Garden. ...

He promised to "roll up" his sleeves to work with lawmakers on an agreement to raise the debt limit and reduce deficits.

"The sooner we get this done, the sooner that the markets know that the debt limit ceiling will have been raised," Obama said.
The "uncertainty" argument is a Republican talking point. As is the deficit.

Obama had better retool his public message ASAP.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

This will be the end of Obama:

Several news stories broke last night suggesting that President Obama wants to broaden the debt ceiling deal with Congress, reducing deficits by $4 trillion over a decade, rather than the $2 trillion previously believed. Here's Politico, here's the New York Times, and here's the Washington Post. The reports all suggest Obama will agree to cut Social Security and Medicare in return for higher revenue.
Obama blundered by not getting a debt ceiling deal last December and now he's trying to get out of a jam by conjuring up a bigger concession (in scope and particulars). But the amazing thing is for him to do the Republicans' dirty work of cutting Social Security and Medicare while leaving Bush tax cuts and the wars firmly in place.

It's a disgrace.

The situation is still fluid, but it appears that all Obama would get are minor tax changes (aka "closing loopholes") in exchange for substantial cuts in entitlements. And there is even talk that he'll do a deal on the Bush tax cuts which would remove any leverage the president might have had in late 2012 on that issue.


What's David Frum up to?

In a column at CNN, he write that Obama has done a poor job of handling the debt ceiling issue. He reviews the history and the potential events going forward. It's quite dispiriting. Excerpt:
Some may say: What could a president do faced with such implacable opponents? But the opponents didn't start implacable. Back in January, Speaker John Boehner said the possibility of a government default was "not even on the table."

The president's weakness, however, empowered the most radical Republicans. Would one more hard push extract one more big concession? The answer was always, "yes." So the radicals pushed -- and pushed again -- and incidentally pushed would-be dealmakers to the side.

Through it all, Obama has played nice, again and again entreating his Republican opponents to emulate his example and play nice too. It's not what Lyndon Johnson would have done. It's not what Franklin Roosevelt would have done. I doubt it's what Hillary Clinton would have done.

Which brings me back to my starting question: Why don't the Democrats rebel? Presumably, they elected Obama to stand up for their shared principles. But he's not standing up. He's rolling over. Or being rolled.
Frum has written similar pieces at his website, FrumForum, and they aren't much different in outlook - at least from a tactical analysis standpoint - from what you'd read on liberal blogs.

Sometime earlier, Frum stated his approval of stimulus spending, bank rescues, and a decent social safety net, which is anathema for Republicans these days. Maybe Frum is still influenced by his Canadian roots, where political extremism is less pronounced.

In any event, it's odd to find cautionary warnings about American politics from this guy.


Saturday, July 02, 2011

Ohio governor signs law allowing guns in bars

It's just the latest in a long series of such moves at the state level. Arizona and Tennessee, to mention a couple, have similar laws.

What's it all about?

It's not about guns. It's an expression of a libertarian, government-despising mindset. It's a mindset that animates the Tea Party crowd. It's a lashing out at a government that hasn't delivered the economic goods to most citizens (both parties are guilty of this, but the Republicans more so). With no credible leadership to assuage fears, a lurch towards "freedom" is viewed as some sort of escape. It isn't, though, but it takes a long time to restore the social fabric and confidence in the democratic process.

So expect more moves like this Ohio gun law.


Will Google+ beat Facebook?

Let's hope so. From a critic:emp add)
Facebook flattens our social relationships into one undifferentiated blob. It's almost impossible to organize friends into discrete groups like "family" and "work" and "school friends" and so forth. ...

In truth, Facebook started out with an oversimplified conception of social life, modeled on the artificial hothouse community of a college campus, and it has never succeeded in providing a usable or convenient method for dividing or organizing your life into its different contexts. This is a massive, ongoing failure. And it is precisely where Facebook's competitors at Google have built the strength of their new service for networking and sharing, Google+. ...

By far the most interesting and valuable feature of Google+ is the idea of "circles" that it's built upon. You choose friends and organize them into different "circles," or groups, based on any criteria you like -- the obvious ones being "family," "friends," "work" and so on.

The most important thing to know is that you use these circles to decide who you'll share what with. So, if you don't want your friends to be bugged by some tidbit from your workplace, you just share with your workplace circle. Google has conceived and executed this feature beautifully; it takes little time to be up and running.

The other key choice is that you see the composition of your circles but your friends don't: It's as if you're organizing them on your desktop. Your contacts never see how you're labeling them, but your labeling choices govern what they see of what you share.

I'm sure problems will surface with this model but so far it seems sound and useful, and it's a cinch to get started with it. Of course, if you're already living inside Facebook, Google has a tough sell to make. You've invested in one network, you're connected there; why should you bother? But if, like me, you resisted Facebook, Google+ offers a useful alternative that's worth exploring.
We'll see how Google handles privacy settings, but it's almost a sure bet it won't be the Gordian knot that Facebook presents.