Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Grand Bargain by the President

From the Washington Post

At the top of the priority list: a promise to forge a bipartisan compromise that reduces rampant government borrowing and makes long-postponed decisions about taxes and spending. In the interview, Obama called a budget deal “one of the best things we can do for the economy.”
“We’re going to be in a position where I believe in the first six months we are going to solve that big piece of business,” Obama said. “It will probably be messy. It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in [taxes], and work to reduce the costs of our health-care programs.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he had expressed concerns privately to the White House that Obama appeared to be steering clear of firm promises to protect entitlement programs. “Unlike four years ago,” Sanders said, “the president has not been outspoken in saying he’s not going to cut Social Security.”

Angry Bear has clear and thorough descriptions on why Social Security is a well running program and accomplishes its goals.

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Did Romney Begin to Reverse-Etch-A-Sketch Today?

CINCINNATI, Ohio — Mitt Romney tried Thursday to borrow the campaign themes that got President Barack Obama elected in 2008.

The Republican nominee repeatedly promised “big change” in Washington, a fresh phrase for him and one that he used more than a dozen times in a 20-minute speech at a rally that kicked off a day-long Ohio bus tour.

Romney borrows Obama campaign themes, James Hohmann, Politico, today,

Seems to me that Obama should point out what big changes would be in store.  He can start with Medicare and then get into some other highlights of the Ryan budget—and of Romney’s primary-campaign statements, and run ads using clips of Romney saying these things.

He can then point out that Romney is doing what he’s so good at: writing generic fine print that he can then point to and say, “But this is what I said during the campaign that I would do! Seeee??”

Sorta like, it depends on what the meaning of “Let Detroit go bankrupt” means.  Which depends on what the meaning of “managed bankruptcy” is, when you’re suggesting that the government shouldn’t provide GM and Chrysler with money to fund a managed bankruptcy that would not result in liquidation.  Which in turn, I guess, depends on what the meaning of liquidation is.  

Which a very large number of people who are now employed directly or indirectly by those companies would have no trouble defining.

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The Quiet Fact That Obama Should SHOUT About

Two articles published late yesterday in the New York Times, when juxtaposed with each other, pretty much encapsulate my frustration with this campaign.  One, titled “New Federal Rules for Debt Collectors,” by Edward Wyatt, reports:

Debt collection agencies, whose sometimes aggressive tactics have earned them scrutiny from consumer protection groups and state regulators, will come under federal supervision for the first time beginning Jan. 2, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau begins oversight.

The next several paragraphs of the article say:

In addition to companies that specialize in collecting money from consumers for personal, family or household debt, the consumer bureau will begin monitoring debt collectors that contract with the Education Department to collect overdue student loans. The department has more than $850 billion in student loans outstanding, officials said.

“Millions of consumers are affected by debt collection, and we want to make sure they are treated fairly,” Richard Cordray, the director of the consumer bureau, said in a statement issued before the public release of the bureau’s rules on Wednesday. “We want all companies to realize that the better business choice is to follow the law — not break it.”

The authority to oversee debt collection agencies comes under the portion of the Dodd-Frank regulatory law that deals with so-called nonbank financial companies.

The consumer agency will examine companies to ensure that they properly identify themselves to consumers and properly disclose the amount of debt owed. In addition, collectors must have a process to resolve disputes and communicate “civilly and honestly” with consumers.

Wow, I said to myself when I read the article last night.  Obama will mention this when he campaigns in Ohio, in Virginia, in Nevada.  Especially, please, in Ohio and Nevada. And all of us who are on the “list-serve” of the campaign will receive notice of the article.  Or at least of the fact that the article is about.

But we didn’t.  Instead, we received a lot of stuff about the Mourdock controvery and about Romney’s refusal to withdraw his support of Mourdock.  Which was fine, but not to the exclusion of the subject of the Wyatt article.

Wyatt is not a political reporter or pundit.  He’s a hard-news reporter, and in that article he reported hard facts.  Katharine Q. Seelye, who wrote the other Times article that got my attention, is a political reporter.  Her article is titled “Crucial Subset: Female Voters Still Deciding,” and it focuses on what she terms “waitress moms.”  Seelye’s report is from New Hampshire.

Indeed.  What Obama needs most in swing states such as Ohio, Nevada, Virginia and New Hampshire is to have white so-called working-class voters—men and woman—step into the voting booth and quietly, maybe even suddenly, decide to vote for him.  And the way to do that, at least with respect to those whose main concern is their own precarious economic situation, is to highlight concrete facts that actually could matter all-too-concretely in their lives. 

Like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other important legislation and regulations that limits the power of banks and other financial institutions, and that Romney surely will try to reverse.  What about the law that became effective in the summer of 2011 that significantly limits bank fees, for example on checking account inadvertent overdrafts—something that matters even to people who are not waitress moms?

PrioritiesUSA, the pro-Obama PAC, has a new ad that I love.  But so many of the pro-Obama ads lately have left me really frustrated, because they mostly focus on some particular phrase rather than on making a point of fact.  Slate yesterday had an article about Romney’s infamous Nov. 18, 2008 “Let Detroit Fail” New York Times op-ed, and that a huge number of people accepted Romney’s and Obama’s Monday-night invitation to check out the op-ed itself.  In a comment to the Slate article, I wrote:

What bothers me even more than that Romney is lying about what his position is is that this is the guy who claims that his business expertise shows that he knows how to create 12 million jobs.  
This guy who thought a federal bailout by the Bush administration to tide the companies over, and who thought that the bailout in early 2009, would virtually guarantee the demise of the Big Three, is so adept at understanding business and how to create jobs that he should become president, on that basis??? 
Why on earth the Obama campaign isn’t putting up ads on this is a real mystery to me.

To which someone responded that the campaign was doing just that in Michigan and Ohio. To which I replied:

No, the ads focus only on the “Let Detroit go bankrupt” language–which lets Romney get away with doing an “It depends on what the meaning of ‘bankruptcy’ is” routine. That’s soooo not enough to make Obama’s point.

The polls now are looking like enough people are figuring this out for themselves; the op-ed speaks for itself, quite well, thank you very much.  And Obama’s current focus on trust—pointing out that the words “trust” and “Romney” are mutually exclusive—is terrific.

But Obama could put this election away within the next few days with a few clearly-stated, specific facts of this sort, in ads and in campaign appearances.  

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Robert Waldmann on CEO diseases

Lifted from Angry Bear Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts, and Brad Delong and Naked Capitalism beat me to it…oh well:

I have always assumed that Romney must be smart, because of the way in which he acquired great wealth.  Yes he was ruthless and dishonest (the real scandal is what is legal).  But there are lots of greedy ruthless dishonest people and the vast majority are no where near as good at it.

But he’s campaigning like an idiot.

Affirmative action sometimes puts some people in very uncomfortable situations — admission to a ruthlessly competitive University based on the assumption that a student’s potential exceeds academic performance so far (due to say come on being taught at school in Malay-Indonesian  for much of one’s childhood) puts gigantic pressure on some people.  One reacted by acquiring work habits and self discipline I can’t even dream of. 

Being sole shareholder chairman of the board of directors CEO and President of a company can put people in a too comfortable position — surrounded by flatterers and able to settle all debates by authority.  I suspect that this can lead to an erosion of the ability to think critically.  Romney seems to think that he still has the power to settle debates just by saying they are settled.  If so he can’t campaign or govern. 

How many CEOs have ever gone on to be successful at anything else ?  Unless you define being a CEO as success by definition (as we do) how many have been successful CEOs ?  The only standard of comparison is other CEOs — if they are generally incompetent because of vanity and lazy brain syndrome how would we know.  Is there any evidence against the wildly speculative hypothesis that  the vast majority have lost their ability to think straight, because of years of flattery

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The GOP, rape and abortion, and the place of God in political discourse

by Linda Beale

The GOP, rape and abortion, and the place of God in political discourse

Remember GOP candidate Akin and his comments about no-pregnancies-from-legitimate-rape, suggesting somehow that most rapes are not legitimate and are maybe sought after by the one raped as well as by the rapist?  Akin revealed an incredible lack of understanding about what rape means to women in terms of the devastiating difficulty of the experience itself and its long-term impact on a person’s well-being and sense of self.  At the same time, he showed an incredible naivete or lack of competence in judging science from hearsay in his belief that women who are raped can prevent pregnance (apparently by some kind of magic).  Akin has come to symbolize for me the problem of the far-right’s dominance of the GOP in terms of inability to distinguish fact from convenient fiction, scientific theory from dogmatic beliefs and wishes, or societal realities from ideological wishes.

Now we learn that Richard Mourdock, GOP Senate candidate in Indiana, supports banning abortion in all circumstances other than when the life of the mother-to-be is endangered.  When asked about pregnancies that result from rape, he insisted that he thought the woman should be forced to carry out the pregnancy because “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.”  (He has since “apologized”, if you can call a statement that others have “misinterpreted his comments” an apology.  See Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza, Mourdock apologizes for ‘misinterpretation’ of rape comments, Obama campaign pounces, The Fix, Washington Post (oct. 24, 2012).

This is just another example of the GOP’s deaf ear to what they impose on women–even what may be construed as a “war on women” because of their unwillingness to treat women as equals in so many ways, including in having appropriate choices about their own bodies.  Because the mostly white males that make up the GOP political class never are in the position of being impregnated by a criminal rapist or carrying an embryo from a few cells through its development into a fetus and then delivering a baby that they will need to love and cherish throughout its life, they can easily say that if you got pregnant in a rape, the new life form that is represented by the joining of your egg cell and the rapist’s sperm cell is something “God intended to happen” and therefore you must preserve that life.  Mourdock doens’t understand what it means to become pregnant and carry that pregnancy through to fruition or what it would be like to carry the child of your rapist and to give birth to that child.  Mourdock, I dare say, doesn’t begin to comprehend the violation to self that rape signifies to women.  And the Obama campaign is correct in noting that “a Republican Congress working with a Republican president Mitt Romney would (feel) that women should not be able to make choices about their own health care.”  Id.

GOP NRSC chairman John Cornyn supported Mourdock, saying that we all “believe that life is a gift from God.”  Id.  But it is an obvious fact that we humans destroy life on a massive scale–from baby lambs slaughtered to “celebrate” Easter to mature wild horses slaughtered to satisfy other countries’ craving for meat, from death penalty murders by the state to drone murders by the military.  The right’s fixation on abortion appears to have much more to do with the desire to keep women in a submissive state than it has to do with cherishing  lives-to-be or existing life.  If life is so cherished, why doesn’t the GOP support a vegan diet, elimination of the death penalty, funding for adequate pre-natal and post-natal care for those in the lower 40 percent of the income distribution, and diplomacy over military solutions to international disputes?

Of course, there’s another issue here, one that cannot seemingly be addressed any more in the public arena.  It is politicians’ pervasive reliance on their own personal beliefs in and about “God” as a justification for political and governmental action or inaction, the incremental encroachment of an outspoken minority’s religious beliefs on the available options for the vast majority who may not share them.  Mourdock’s statement implies that all Americans must necessarily believe in (his version of) God, since he is asserting that legislation on abortion must take (what he deems to be) God’s plans into account.   And whatever happens, it must be (his) God’s intent.  Thus, in spite of Mourdock’s denial that he is saying that (his) God preordains the rape as well as the pregnancy, it is hard to escape the conclusion that he must ultimately believe that, since the pregnancy would not have happened in these cases without the rape.  And thus he ultimately is suggesting that rape isn’t quite so bad as any woman who has been raped– or has imagined being raped, or has known someone who was raped –knows it is.

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Romney’s Prescience—a.k.a., The OTHER important point about Romney’s auto-bailout position

IF General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.

— Mitt Romney, Let Detroit Go Bankrupt, New York Times, Nov. 18, 2008

The problem for Romney?  That the turnaround that Detroit needed could not have occurred without that check.

The solution for Romney?  Say that he was proposing a “managed bankruptcy” rather than a liquidation bankruptcy, and pretend that those two things are mutually exclusive.  And—voila!—everyone’s focused on whether Romney was or was not proposing a liquidation of GM and Chrysler. 

Which, of course, he was, because, well, the turnaround that Detroit needed could not have occurred without that check. 

But in that op-ed, Romney said—unequivocally—that receipt of that check by the auto companies would spell the demise of the American automotive industry.  He said he could virtually guarantee it.  

That’s right, folks.  The man who claims that his business savvy means he will, if elected president, cause the creation of 12 million new American jobs didn’t know that there was no private-sector financing available to fund a non-liquidation managed bankruptcy for these companies.  And, even more important, he thought that federal funding would spell the demise of the automotive industry

In other words, even more important than that this guy is the Houdini candidate is that, by his own accounting—by his own words in that op-ed—he economics prowess is an apparition.  

Well, it isalmost Halloween.

Good thing that guarantee was only virtual.

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