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

The Silence of the Lambs

Update appended.


Last week, dozens of Republican volunteers packed Mr. Gardner’s campaign offices in the college towns of Boulder and Fort Collins to get a handshake or selfie with the amped-up candidate. Spotting a boy in a Denver Broncos football jersey, Mr. Gardner whipped out his cellphone and showed him a photo of John Elway, the Broncos’ general manager and Hall of Fame quarterback, who has donated to Mr. Gardner’s campaign.

The boy’s father, Dave Holdbrook, a truck driver who has been on disability for several years after a job-related injury, said he had already mailed in his ballot for Mr. Gardner.

“I’m really concerned about what’s going to happen with Obamacare,” he said. “Spending’s just out of control, and Udall’s lined up with Obama 100 percent of the way.”

Republicans Setting the Early Pace in Colorado With 104,000 More Ballots, Jack Healy, New York Times, yesterday

Okay, so Dave Holdbrook thinks social-safety-net federal spending—basic income support and comprehensive healthcare insurance, which federal disability insurance includes—should be limited to him.  Or else he thinks the State of Colorado, together with a gift to him from Anthem Blue Cross, are providing these.  And eventually he will reach the age of 65, and if Medicare hasn’t already been privatized or unabashedly ended with the help of Sen. Gardner, Mr. Holdbrook will angrily tell Democratic members of Congress to keep their government hands off his Medicare.

Too bad basic knowledge and logic won’t be requirements to vote under the voter-ID law that Colorado surely will have by the next election if the Republicans regain control of the statehouse and governorship next week.

Elsewhere within the last two days I read a quote from an Iowa voter who already has voted for Joni Ernst to replace retiring Sen. Tom Harkin because “of what Obama and Harry Reid are doing to the deficit.” (Something like that; I don’t have the exact quote handy.)  Presumably, that voter is not a farmer and so doesn’t receive federal farm subsidies.  And in the last week, Ernst began running ads featuring pigs, and saying in the ads that she’s for cutting pork.  (Although not cutting the actual farm product, or the farm subsidies that support the product, I assume.)

I read about the ad but haven’t seen it, but I assume it says something about “what Obama and Harry Reid are doing to the deficit.”

The budget deficit, of course, has dropped dramatically since 2010.  And basic government agencies such as the National Weather Service, the National Institutes of Health, and the Veterans Administration are being drastically curtailed, as are other critical functions of the federal government such as basic infrastructure upkeep and federal financial assistance to states for, among other things, funding for their state universities and colleges.

On Friday, on the New York Times blog Taking Note, David Firestone wrote that ‘it’s clearly too much to expect that Democratic candidates would tell voters that a smaller deficit is the last thing the economy needs right now. Not even Senator Elizabeth Warren campaigns that way. But,” he asked, “given the universal mythology that a lower deficit is always a good thing, would it kill Democrats to point out that the deficit actually has fallen by more than 50 percent since President Obama took office?”

His question was rhetorical, of course.  It wouldn’t kill them; they’re just told by their consultants and operatives that it would.  Firestone noted that in an interview late last week with the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Guy Cecil, the director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said that his organization didn’t want its candidates to “nationalize” the election in this way.  “It is our job to make Senate races about the two people on the ballot,” he said. “Our advice to candidates is that when somebody disagrees with the president, they should say so, and that when somebody agrees with the president, they should say so.”

Yup.  Wouldn’t wanna distract from the “personhood” issue by setting the record straight on trivia such as that the federal deficit actually has fallen by more than 50 percent since President Obama took office.  And by mentioning such dramatic budgetary facts as those cited in the op-ed about the National Weather Service and those discussed recently by NIH director Dr. Francis Collins.  Or by noting the drastic cuts in infrastructure upkeep and in financial assistance to state and local governments.  And you certainly wouldn’t wanna point out the direct effects of these cuts.

Bridge collapses, potholed highways, the sudden inability of the National Weather Service to warn of a hurricane’s path, a massive snowstorm, or tornadoes pale in comparison to a “personhood” constitutional amendment that would have less chance of actual passage by Congress and ratification by the necessary number of states than a polar bear will have of survival in Alaska in a few years. So do advances in medicine, warnings of tornadoes and major storm paths, and bringing down what are now spiraling state university and college costs and student loan interest rates.

Firestone continues:

Maybe I’ve missed it, but I haven’t heard any of the Democratic Senate candidates talking about that, or putting it into their ads. None of them mention that the budget is in far better shape largely because taxes went up on the rich, and because health care costs are falling. It’s unusual even to hear that unemployment is down to 5.9 percent, or that 5.5 million jobs have been added since 2009, which is four times more than under all eight years of George W. Bush. (If there are candidates who are exceptions to this, let me know and I’ll mention them here.) Mr. Obama, at least, talks about this all the time. “Deficits have come down,” he said today in Providence. “Health care inflation has come down. There’s almost no economic measure by which we haven’t made substantial progress over this period of time. We’re better off than we were.”

Obama talks about this all the time?  Who knew?  I sure didn’t.  And obviously either did anyone else.  Other than, I guess, David Firestone.

The time to talk about the reduction in the debt was, of course, during the series of budget-brinksmanship games in mid-2011, late 2012, early 2013 and late 2013.  Sequestration beginning in the spring of 2013 has brought down the deficit to its current low level.  But at what cost? Obama didn’t talk about this at any of those junctures.  At least not in the only way that would matter: a national primetime televised address, stating—OMG, no!—the specifics.  But he reportedly feels uncomfortable doing that.  And, first things first. His comfort level is what matters.  But there was nothing—other than the director of the DSCC, of course, and the rest of the it’s-always-1995 national Democratic campaign-industrial-complex—to stop the Senate candidates from campaigning on these facts.

I’m tempted to say that the lessons from this campaign are that Democrats, not Republicans, are the ones who need to nationalize elections, and that they need to recognize that what matters most to many men and a majority of women—and clearly to young female and male voters—are broad economic-populist issues.  That’s because it’s no longer the 1980s or ‘90s.

And those certainly are important lessons.  But there’s an even more important lesson for the Republicans.  To win Senate and House races, all they have to do is nominate someone who has made a comment supporting “personhood.”  Like a racehorse wearing blinders, the Republican’s Democratic opponent will be sure to see only that red herring—and only women voters who have that singular focus and don’t much care about storm warnings, highway potholes, or fiscal economics—all the way through to election day.


UPDATE: Hear, hear, Leo Besarra!   Amen.

There are indeed so many other issues.

11/3 at 2:46 p.m.

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Marco Rubio Says Farm Subsidies and Hurricane-Disaster Funds Should Not Be Federal Programs. Really. [Updated and typo-corrected.]

For a senator who likes to hold himself out as the future of the Republican brand, Marco Rubio has come up with a remarkably retrograde contribution to the party’s chorus of phony empathy for the poor: Let the states do it.

All anti-poverty funds should be combined into one “flex fund,” he said in a speech on Wednesday, and then given to the states to spend as they see fit. He actually believes that states will “design and fund creative initiatives” to address inequality.

Rubio Demands States’ Right to Ignore the Poor, David Firestone, New York Times, Jan. 9

The last seven days were Marco Rubio’s lucky week.  And not just because the media-declared frontrunner for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination collapsed as a viable candidate even for local dog catcher, should he need a job by the next presidential election. And not because he was smart enough, unlike some other prominent Repubs and pundits, to recognize how breathtakingly offensive the Bridgegate events are across the political spectrum, and to simply demur from comment.

But also because he gave his big speech on poverty on the very day that the bridge scandal broke nationally, and diverted media and the public’s attention from the speech.  A speech that was, in substance, ridiculous.

Firestone notes some highlights from the speech:

“Washington continues to rule over the world of anti-poverty policy-making, with beltway bureaucrats picking and choosing rigid nationwide programs and forcing America’s elected state legislatures to watch from the sidelines,” he said. “As someone who served nine years in the state house, two of them as Speaker, I know how frustrating this is.”


“It’s wrong for Washington to tell Tallahassee what programs are right for the people of Florida,” Mr. Rubio said. “But it’s particularly wrong for it to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country.”

After thinking about this for a few minutes–I read the Firestone piece this morning–I’ve concluded that Rubio is onto something.  I, too, think it’s wrong for Washington to tell Tallahassee what programs are right for the people of Florida. The programs I have in mind aren’t the one’s he’s talking about, but they are nonetheless federal programs that assist certain Floridians.  Such as Floridians who have large financial interests in the sugarcane industry.  And Floridians who live in areas hit every few years with devastation from hurricanes.

A key difference, of course, between programs such as farm subsidies and natural-disaster assistance, on the one hand, and the Medicaid and food stamps, on the other, is that the latter are “federalism” federal-state-partnership programs in which states opt into program and the federal government and the states share the costs, with the federal government paying the far greater share.  Non-federalism federal programs that provide financial assistance to certain constituencies–including wealthy farmers, the sugarcane industry, owners of beachfront properties, and small businesses in hurricane country–are funded entirely by the federal government.

But Rubio’s complaint isn’t the manner in which these programs are funded. Instead, it is that people in Florida and Kansas, unlike those in Michigan, California and New York, who can’t afford enough food and who are ill but have no access to medical care don’t really need enough food or access to medical care. He does, of course, want the federal government to continue to pay the states large amounts of  money.  He just thinks there should be no strings attached.

It’s particularly wrong for the federal government to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country. But it’s right for the federal government to continue to give money to the states without determining how the money should be spent.  And particularly right for the federal government to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country when doling out farm subsidies, as long as the federal government continues to recognize that what’s right for Florida is huge subsidies to the sugarcane industry.

So, folks, what other federally funded programs do you agree with Rubio and me should be funded by the federal government but should actually not be federal programs?* The Comments section awaits.

And how many of you share Firestone’s and my dismay (so to speak) that the self-styled standard-bearer for future of the Republican Party hasn’t noticed that, whatever else the effects of Obamacare, the law as it has played out spells the end of new federalism-funded social-safety-net programs?  It does, of course, leave intact the non-federalism federal social-safety-net programs, such as farm, logging, and oil-and-gas-industry subsidies.  The Koch brothers need not worry.


UPDATE: In a blog post this morning discussing the Republican Party’s decades-long campaign to institutionalize in American society the demeaning of ordinary workers as unworthy of respect, Paul Krugman highlights Rubio’s take on whether a raise in the minimum wage is important: “Raising the minimum wage may poll well, but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American dream.”

Krugman writes:

In a sense, he’s right: if the American dream means getting rich, then $10 an hour isn’t living that dream. But most people aren’t and won’t get rich. Raising the minimum wage would mean higher incomes for around 27 million people; in many cases the gains would amount to thousands of dollars a year, which is really a lot in low-income families. So what are all these people, chopped liver? Well, yes, at least in the eyes of the GOP — or maybe make that chopped losers.

Actually, making a living wage is exactly a central part of the American dream, and while a wage of $10 an hour isn’t really a living wage, it comes substantially closer to one than does $7.25 an hour.  Which may be why it polls well.

*Sentence typo-corrected to insert the key word “not,” inadvertently omitted from original post. 3:08 p.m.

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