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

Dear Greg Sargent: “Re your Morning Plum reference to Krugman’s column today”

Update appended below.

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After a two-and-a-half-month hiatus from regular blogging here—most of my few posts this summer related to my passion about animal rescue and animal welfare—I’m once again feeling like posting about politics, at least more regularly than I posted this summer. (And maybe soon I’ll once again feel like posting about legal issues, but I don’t yet, so y’all who’ve been waiting for that with bated breath, well ….)

I wanted a break from all-politics-and-law-all-the-time, and (mostly) took one.  My active reentry here at AB began with two posts within the last few days—one that I thought would get some attention, but did, not; the other that I thought would get little attention, but got more than a little.

After reading emailed Greg Sargent this afternoon an embarrassingly long… eeeek … rant about that post of mine that got little attention—and, while I was at it, about two of my current political obsessions: the silly Hillary Clinton presidential-nomination anointment, by the press and (unwittingly, I think, courtesy of the press) the Democratic Party; and the silly six-year failure of our current White House standard bearer to ever trouble himself to … y’know … like … engage in any refutation of misinformation by … y’know … stating facts, coherently and specifically—I jumped all-in (to use an “in” cliché that really annoys me, but fits here) today.

But since emails from no-names are treated, I’m sure, as emails from no-names, and because, well, I’m just really in the mood right now, I’ll share my rant with all you AB readers, should any of you actually be interested:

Greg, you write this morning in the Morning Plum:

“REPUBLICANS AND THE ‘LAZY JOBLESS’:  Paul Krugman’s column today marvels at the ways GOP lawmakers continue to suggest the unemployed are choosing their plight, even as benefits have been slashed and we’re treating them with “unprecedented harshness.” But why?”

The answer to your question is, of course, that most people have no idea that unemployment compensation benefits have been dramatically slashed and are, as Krugman highlights, far lower than they have been in relation to the level of involuntary short-term and long-term unemployment in many decades.

Just as most people have no idea about one after another after another other facts concerning public policy—in Florida, for example, there is a TV ad asking people to vote for Rick Scott against Charlie Crist because “Obamacare has raised healthcare costs” and is “taking money from your pocket,” or words to that effect.

And of course most people think government employment—federal, state, local—has increased during Obama’s presidency; of course, actually, it has decreased, dramatically.

And on and on.  Which has been the case throughout Obama’s presidency.  Neither of our two current Democratic national standard bearers, Obama and Hillary Clinton, would be caught dead actually educating the public about, y’know, actual facts; neither one will speak in anything other than banal generalities.  Clinton, who probably could actually educate the public about such things as facts, instead talks incessantly about how excited she is about her daughter’s pregnancy—because, y’know, we’re all so deeply interested in this–and makes childish jokes about her failure to declare an intention to run for the presidency, deigning to add a few banalities about such things as income inequality so that we all know that her heart is in the right place.

And because the punditry insists that Dem presidential candidates are fungible, Clinton’s home free.  Clinton, Warren, and male longtime progressives such as Sherrod Brown, who can’t run because, well, Hillary Clinton probably will run, are all the same; one’s as good as the other.  After all, didn’t Clinton say in some speech back in November 2007 that, yeah, maybe income inequality has become a problem? I mean, who needs any more evidence that she’s an economics progressive than that?!

Giving speeches is, of course, what Clinton does.  In November 2007 she had been a senator for nearly seven years.  During which she voted for a really bad bankruptcy bill, and did nothing at all, at least to my knowledge (or, I think, to anyone else’s), that could matter to, say, people who aren’t upscale women trying to break corporate-hierarchy glass ceilings and such.

I’m a contributor to the blog Angry Bear, and last Friday, after learning about Boehner’s comments from Krugman’s mention of it on his blog, I posted an item about it titled “John Boehner Says the Obama Economy Has Eliminated Involuntary Unemployment!  Seriously; that’s what he said. The Dems should use this in campaign ads.”  The title was not facetious; I pointed out that Boehner’s representation of fact necessarily presumes a thriving economy in which jobs are available for anyone who wants one; in other words, we really have full employment now.  My post gained no attention, best as I can tell, so I’d like to see someone whose blog posts do get attention make the point—because it is an important one. Isn’t it?  My post is [here].

Apologies for this lengthy rant.

Beverly Mann

As for Obama, coherency and specificity, which require actual explanation rather than sound-bite-speak, are just not his thing; I understand that.  By which I mean that I understand that that is so—and by which I don’t mean that I understand why it is so, although I suspect that the culprit is a stunning lack of mental agility coupled with an apparently overriding belief that he need not do anything by way of outreach, education and persuasion, that he doesn’t really feel like doing.

As for Clinton … well … speaking in specifics is not her thing, either.  It doesn’t pay well, and policy specifics would entail her actually learning specifics (better late than never, but, whatever) and maybe even proposing specifics of her own.  Okay, specifics that someone in her quarter-century “orbit” (the media’s euphemism for closed circle of decades-long Clinton operatives) learning specifics.  Sorta like what Warren and Sherrod Brown have done by themselves!

We’re all, of course, tremendously happy for Clinton and her husband that they’re about to become grandparents.  It’s just that we’re interested in other things, as well.  And just that other thing that she’s interested in: ridiculous, cutesy, will-she-or-won’t-she games.

I’m a progressive who cares about more than 1980s-and ‘90s-era women’s issues. (And not just because I’m aware that it is no longer the 1980s or ‘90s; some of those issues remain potent and important, but they are not the end-all-and-be-all of progressive economic concerns, some of which actually have to do with men as well as women.)  I don’t want any more generic, look-at-who-I-am-rather-than-what-I’ve-actually-done theater-of-the-ridiculous. Been there, done that. (Okay, I was never a big fan of Obama, but supported him against Clinton because I feared another triangulator president—one who would be hemmed in by her husband’s 1990s policy choices, no less. One who still is hemmed in by her husband’s 1990s policy choices.)

I’ll end this rant by asking this question: Why have the progressives who want so badly to see a Warren draft not trying to encourage, say, a Sherrod Brown draft?  Wrong gender? Really?? Warren’s popularity comes not from her gender but instead from her economic population and deep knowledge of, emersion in, and passion for actual specific policy issues.  Brown has that, too.  And he, unlike Warren, may simply be waiting for someone to ask him to run.

Take a look, progressives. I’m serious.  It’s time now to support an economic progressive who’s the real deal, not someone’s who really just a political celebrity.  My dream ticket is Brown and Jeff Merkley.  Both have been in the economic-progressive trenches for decades. Neither is the spouse of a former president, even a popular and still-popular one who actually knows how to make a point without using a denegrating, condescending manner to do it.

That said, if what Dems are looking for, and if Dem presidential candidates really are fungible, then how about Kim Kardashian?  Who knows?  She may even be a genuine economic progressive.

We economic progressives finally have the ear of a large segment of the population.  And we’re going to squander it by nominating for president someone who’s little more than just a professional political celebrity?  Why?  Seriously; why?

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UPDATE: Turns out that I’m a few days late to this party, at least as it’s host.  Molly Ball posted a piece on Sept. 19 on The Atlantic’s website titled “Does Hillary Clinton Have Anything to Say?” Ball reaches the same conclusion that I do: The anwer is, no.

But there are, as I noted above, national politicians in addition to Elizabeth Warren, who do.

I mean, look: Just because your husband was a popular president in the 1990s doesn’t mean that you get to be the Democractic presidential nominee yourself.  Your prsumption to the contrary notwithstanding.

Although Molly Ball, Bernie Sanders and I are, thus far, the only partiers. Want to join us?

Updated 9/22 at 4:10 p.m.

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John Boehner Says the Obama Economy Has Eliminated Involuntary Unemployment! Seriously; that’s what he said. The Dems should use this in campaign ads.

John Boehner says that unemployed Americans are pretty clearly malingerers, bums on welfare who have decided that they don’t feel like working:

“This idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that you know, I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around. This is a very sick idea for our country,” he said.

“If you wanted something you worked for it,” Boehner said, adding, “Trust me, I did it all.”

John Boehner’s Theory of the Leisure Class, Paul Krugman, NYTimes.com, today

Okay, Krugman goes on to point out that overwhelming economic evidence refutes Boehner’s believe that the actual unemployment rate among people who want a job is zero. And he adds:

[W]hat really gets me here is the fact that people like Boehner are so obviously disconnected from the lived experience of ordinary workers. I mean, I live a pretty rarefied existence, with job security and a nice income and a generally upscale social set — but even so I know a fair number of people who have spent months or years in desperate search of jobs that still aren’t there. How cut off (or oblivious) can someone be who thinks that it’s just because they don’t want to work?

When I see stuff like this, I always think of the opening of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre:

“Anyone who is willing to work and is serious about it will certainly find a job. Only you must not go to the man who tells you this, for he has no job to offer and doesn’t know anyone who knows of a vacancy. This is exactly the reason why he gives you such generous advice, out of brotherly love, and to demonstrate how little he knows the world.”

It certainly is true that this idea that you know, I really don’t have to work–I don’t really want to do this; I think I’d rather just sit around–is a very sick idea for our country.

Which is why Boehner should have used a contraceptive rather than conceiving and giving birth to it.

But now that he has, the Dems should take this baby, remove it from the bath water, dry it off, and feature it in ads letting people know that John Boehner attests to the wild success of Obama economic policy.

The baby, by the way, has been christened Son of the 47%.  His birth father, who wants to work and therefore has a job, loves him very much, can afford to support him, and will fight the Dems for custody.

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Yes, Speaker Boehner, but WHOSE Fiscal Policies of the Present Are to Blame?

House Speaker John Boehner told a closed meeting of his colleagues that a Republican pollster found that for the first time, most Americans blame President Barack Obama for the economic troubles, not George W. Bush.

“Barack Obama came into office blaming George W. Bush for the state of the economy and the lack of job creation,” Boehner said, according to a source in the room. “For years, that pass-the-buck strategy worked. But at the end of last year, a turning point was reached. For the first time, a majority of Americans now say they believe the troubles in our economy are more the result of the policies of the present than the policies of the past.”

The poll, conducted by longtime Boehner ally David Winston, shows that in November 2013, 41 percent of those polled blame the economic woes on policies of the past while 49 percent blame policies of the present. After the 2012 election, 53 percent blamed past policies and 44 percent blamed today’s policies.

John Boehner: Poll finds Obama to blame, Jake Sherman, Politico, today

Each time I read about some Republican pol blaming referring to the high unemployment rate as “the Obama economy” as a way to obtain approval from the Tea Party to support an extension of unemployment compensation for the long-term unemployed (which I the last few weeks has happened repeatedly), I momentarily, but only momentarily, expect Obama to make a statement detailing the dramatic reductions in public-sector employment, virtually across the board: federal, state and local throughout the country.  In that brief moment of reflex, I expect him to point out that this is unprecedented since the Hoover administration and differs dramatically from what occurred during and immediately after recessions ever since.

I expect him, in other words, to educate the public about basic Keynesian economics.  And to point out that the economy we have is in fact the one chosen by the Republicans, not by the Democrats in Congress and not by him.

Or, to borrow Boehner’s phrasing, I expect him to explain that the troubles in our economy indeed are more the result of the policies of the present than the policies of the past.  And to explain exactly what those policies are, and who has insisted upon them.  The specifics of the sequester, for example, might be a good thing to include in an explain.  Should he provide one.

He won’t, of course. That would require him to deviate from equating family finances and government finances, and back several years ago some political advisor told him that all economics matters must be presented to the public as analogy to family economics, even when the analogy is baldly false and undermines your position.  And, Obama being Obama, he not only believed it but hasn’t since noticed the ill effects of this on fiscal policy and consequently the overall economy.

Obama has the opportunity to upend the Republican claim that this is “the Obama economy, by providing a clear, detailed statement of the actual facts–statistics, competing policy proposals, and actual economics–in his upcoming State of the Union address.  He won’t, though; that would require actual specifics placed into a coherent explanation, rather than a one-off sentence or two.  It might even require charts and graphs!

Charts, graphs, statistics, economics, and other facts are people, my president.  Just like corporations.  In exactly the same way that Romney actually meant that corporations are people, my friend.  But, no matter. He won’t employ them.

But the slack can be picked up, to some extent, at least, by Senate Dems.  Dick Durbin, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Patty Murray, Barbara Mikulski, Chris Coons, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jeff Merkley, Tom Udall.  And, yes, Harry Reid.  Please pick up Boehner’s gauntlet, senators. And soon.

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John Boehner Demands Fairness to Arkansan Butch Matthews and His Wife, and Offers to Give Up His Own Healthcare Insurance, Just to Start the Fairness Thing Rolling.

WASHINGTON — House Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting on Friday with no new strategy to end the budget standoff and an angry plea to President Obama to negotiate over his health care law.

“This isn’t some damned game,” said Speaker John A. Boehner, his voice rising in anger. “The American people don’t want their government shut down, and neither do I. All we’re asking for is to sit down and have a discussion, reopen the government and bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare.”

With No New Plan, Boehner Makes Angry Plea on Shutdown, Jonathan Wiesmann and Ashley Parker, New York Times, today

I totally agree that we need fairness to the American people under Obamacare.  But which, presumably, Boehner means that Obamacare should be amended to ensure that everyone has medical insurance with full benefits (the “gold” policy) without struggling to pay the premiums.

No more having to pay $13,000 per year for a married couple with $10,000/yr., $150-per-office-visit, deductibles.  Even if, like Arkansan Butch Matthews and his wife, you’re a lifelong solid Republican.

No more being rejected for healthcare coverage because of a preexisting condition.

No more fear of bankruptcy or the loss of your home, or both.

No more being asked the status of your mortgage payments and car payments in a hospital emergency room, as a prerequisite to non-lifesaving but necessary emergency treatment.

No more not being treated like citizen of any advanced nation in the world except the United States, when you need medical care.  Which you probably aren’t. Or like you’re not a member of Congress or the spouse or child of one.  Also which you probably aren’t.  No, sir.  No, ma’am.

Oh, but wait.  I think I misunderstood Boehner’s comment about fairness to the American people—a comment he has made, repeatedly, this week.  Apparently, he didn’t mean that the multitudes of American people who now have no access to healthcare insurance, or have huge deductibles and struggle to pay the premiums and those deductibles because they have lower incomes than John Boehner and his colleagues, and who now will have medical coverage without struggling financially to pay for it while still worrying about the huge costs if they do need major medical treatment, will now have access to affordable and comprehensive medical insurance.

What he actually meant is that the Republicans are demanding that they and their congressional colleagues and their families henceforth be denied healthcare benefits for preexisting conditions; that those who have no persisting conditions and therefore can get medical insurance have huge deductibles and pay premiums that they can afford or instead have comprehensive insurance and pay their utility bills only every other month in order to be able to afford the premiums; and that they take pay cuts sufficient to make the payment of those difficult financially.

It is, after all, fairness that they’re demanding.  Parity.  And since they now say that they’d settle for just a one-year delay in Obamacare in order to pass a short-term budge and a debt-ceiling increase, they are demanding only a one-year removal of their own healthcare benefits.  At least until next year, when they renew their demand, for another year.

I suggest that Boehner contact Mr. Matthews and his wife directly and tell them the good news. They’re sure to welcome the fairness.

 

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John Boehner says “we do not have an immediate debt crisis.”

Via Salon, David Sirota points to statements by John Boehner and Rand Paul:

America owes this debt of gratitude to Boehner after he finally came clean on yesterday’s edition of ABC’s “This Week” and admitted that “we do not have an immediate debt crisis.” (His admission was followed up by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who quickly echoed much the same sentiment on CBS’ Face the Nation).

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John Boehner Needs a Dictionary

All of these bipartisan discussions are encouraging, and Republicans hope they will lead to real solutions that help American families. But presidential leadership is really what’s needed. By shifting the focus from charm to courage, and eventually action, we can guarantee our children a future where everyone has the opportunity to find work and pursue their piece of the American dream. That would be the grandest bargain of all.
Obama’s outreach is nice, but where’s the leadership?, John Boehner, Op-ed, Washington Post, today

I have what I think is a better question, this one for the speaker: Where’s a dictionary?

One of the most pernicious aspects of these phony, sequential fiscal crises is, in my opinion, the Republicans’ tactic of selecting single words or short phrases that have an appealing meaning and using them to mean something else entirely–often something the opposite of what the word or phrase actually means.  It’s so clearly concerted, political-consultant-suggested, Madison Avenue-type sales gimmickry; every few days there’s a new messaging word or short phrase, redefined or otherwise-misleadingly used, and then repeated, repeated, repeated … repeated.   

Enter “leadership.”  And now, “courage.”  As in: the president should demonstrate these qualities by delegating to the Tea Party the fiscal policy of the United States, because the Tea Party is now the Republican Party and it wants to disassemble the federal government and will settle for nothing less.* 

So I suggest that Obama offer Boehner a dictionary and ask him to point to where it defines leadership as abdication, and courage as cowering.  Whether you’re the president or, say, the Speaker of the House.  

Maybe more to the point, where in the dictionary definition of either leadership or courage does it define those words as including doing absolutely whatever is necessary to keep your position as House speaker, regardless of the consequences to the country you took an oath of office to serve?  Neither the Merriam-Webster’s nor the Oxford English limits those terms to references to the president of the United States.  The definitions do look broad enough to include the speaker.  And even the Senate minority leader.  Even ones who are petrified (literally, it appears from the look on his face these days) of being “primaried” by a Tea Party candidate.  

The Orwellian redefinition of words to mean the opposite of, or at least something entirely different than, their actual meaning is a standard propaganda and subterfuge tool of dictatorships. Mao Tse-tung was infamous for this.  And so, of course, was Hitler.  (The inscription in German, “Work will make you free,” remains above the front gate of Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, a permanent reminder of the deeply sinister nature of extreme semantics games employed in the service of political propaganda.)

That so much of the proud-centrist punditry and fair-and-balanced mainstream media have assisted Boehner & Friends in their sophistry in the last month is inexcusable, if no longer surprising.  If they agree with Boehner that the Ryan budget will guarantee our children a future where everyone has the opportunity to find work and pursue their piece of the American dream, then they should explain why.  If they believe instead that the Ryan budget will guarantee our children a future in which Atlas really has shrugged and everyone lives inside The Fountainhead (or maybe in the Pakistan of North America), then they should say that, and explain why. At least the news analysis writers and the centrist pundits should.

They won’t.  But maybe a few of them will point out that, with due respect to Mr. Boehner, the grandest bargain of all would be a free Webster’s Collegiate delivered to the Speaker’s office on Capitol Hill.

As for Obama, he got lucky in the last two days. The Ryan budget will disabuse a clear majority of the next poll responders that the GOP should be trusted with determining what cuts to make to the federal budget, and when. At least if the public actually learns the specifics. (That, of course, would have been true for the last few years, had Obama deigned to apprise the public of the specifics.) And the live “tweets” from the Republican House-member attendees during their meeting with him yesterday were so vile that Obama really needs now only to recite a few of them in order to fully open the public’s eyes, if and when he decides to speak to the public about the actual situation.  

And, who knows? Maybe he will, now that he’s checked off the extend-an-olive-branch box on the mainstream press’s list of what Leaders (if not necessarily Courageous ones) do, and therefore may even have their permission to do so.

*See Greg Sargent’s terrific Morning Plum column in today’s Washington Post.

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John Boehner Lists Our Presidential Thieves–And Ronald Reagan Is Among Them!

“The revenue issue is now closed,” Mr. Boehner said Thursday, before the House left town for the weekend without acting on the cuts and a Senate attempt to avert them died. Mr. Boehner said the dispute with Democrats amounted to a question of “how much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government.”

“I’m for no more,” he said.

Boehner Halts Talks on Cuts, and House G.O.P. Cheers, Ashley Parker, New York Times, today

So Ronald Reagan was a thief.  Who knew?  

And so, it’s now clear, was every president beginning with Abraham Lincoln. Until George W. Bush, that is.  Teddy Roosevelt? Yup. Calvin Coolidge? Uh-huh. Harry Truman? I guess that’s what they meant by “hell” that he was giving ’em. They each stole from the American people via income taxes to fund the federal government. 

But since FDR was the one who initiated the stealing to pay for such specifics as Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority and other New Deal programs, we’ll start with him.  He also stole–a lot–from American people to pay for WWII.  

Dwight Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter perpetuated this theft. Big time.  Of course, Nixon, who assured the country that he was not a crook, did turn out to be one after all, so in retrospect, his theft from the American people was just in character.  And we knew all along that Dwight Eisenhower was the perpetrator of the theft from Americans that established a Soviet-style interstate highway system–or so Florida Rep. John Mica, the last Congress’s chairman of the House Transportation Committee, would describe the socialist ownership of the interstate highways. (That is the way he described Amtrak. And he wasn’t talking about its slowness and disrepair.)*

That controversial statue of Eisenhower that’s planned for D.C. should be scratched, not because of its design, which his ancestors dislike, but because of his criminality.

LBJ, of course, stole a lot of money from American people in order to fund the Vietnam War, a theft that this country did pay a very high price for, although not in a lengthy prison sentence after indictment and conviction for grand larceny.  But if that weren’t bad enough–from a criminal-law standpoint, that is–he also stole lots of money to fund the student-loan program that helped so many baby boomers go to college and graduate school.  Some of them–the ones who became hedge fund managers, anyway–would now be in imminent danger of becoming crime victims themselves, rather than the beneficiaries of thefts past, but John  Boehner has infiltrated the den of thieves and had has called the FBI, which, luckily, still has some agents working full-time schedules, despite the sequester.

And we won’t even get into George H.W. Bush, who, as we all know, lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton partly because he had firmly and repeatedly promised during his first campaign to not steal more from the American people than was already being stolen, only to turn around and rob the American people blind. Luckily, he son was available eight years later to provide restitution, although his Department of Justice never did indict his father.  

And, speaking of Bill Clinton–well, they didn’t call him Slick Willie for nothing, did they?

But Reagan? Reagan?  Et tu?  Yup. I keep forgetting that tax rates were much higher during Reagan’s time as president then they are now, and that after lowering tax rates, he raised some.  He’s dead now, so he can’t be indicted.  And anyway, I think the statute of limitations has run. Which is too bad.

But Bill Clinton is very much alive, and active.  And since Obama seems unwilling to rebut Boehner’s and other Republicans’ intended inferential misrepresentation that Obama’s and the congressional Democrats’ tax-increase proposals, now and the ones enacted as part of the “fiscal cliff” resolution in early January, would tax Americans other than Americans who are quite wealthy, or who have income from capital gains or dividends and who still pay taxes for that income at lower rates than during the Reagan or the Clinton era, or who are corporate Americans.  

The Republicans expect that they will get a majority of Americans to believe falsely that the Dems are proposing to raise their taxes.  If Obama remains mute instead of correcting this misrepresentation, Clinton should step in and do that.  He should hang the taxes-as-stealing statement around John Boehner’s neck, and then tighten the noose by answering the question Boehner posed: How much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government?  He then should answer the questions, from which American people, and for what? And he should be specific.

But he also should ask this: Since when is it theft of Americans to institute tax increases that a majority of Americans who voted in the recent election actually specifically voted for? And he should point out that what Boehner really thinks the crime is is that public prefers that the federal government continue to fund Medicare and other social safety-net programs, as well as myriad other services, agencies and perks of being an American; the National Institutes of Health, the National Parks Service, FEMA, and the EPA come quickly to mind, but of course there are many others.

As criminality goes, the aggressive attempts to undermine the very nature of democratic government, through an unremitting series of stunts and use of bizarre language and concerted campaigns of disinformation, strike me as more serious ones than the theft of wealthy Americans through tax increases that would remain substantially lower than they were during most of the 20th Century.  

But, by all means, Speaker Boehner, bring on the theft language, again and again.  Keep it up, all the way through the 2014 midterm elections. Please. But if you don’t feel like it, hopefully the Dem congressional candidates will pick up the slack and help you out with that, in their TV and Internet commercials.  

It should help them steal some elections.

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*Parenthetical added after initial posting.

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Mitch McConnell Says the Congressional Republican Caucuses Are “The American People.” Got That, American People?

[O]ne thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to.

— Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, yesterday

He’s right, of course, since, by “Americans,” he means the roughly 278 Americans who comprise the House and Senate Republican caucuses.  

As Greg Sargent points out this morning, a recent Pew poll suggests that about ¾ of the remainder of Americans–the ones who are not among the “we” who already agreed to tax rate increases on couples with incomes of more than $450,000 and individuals with incomes of more that $400,000–actually beg to differ with Sen. McConnell on that assessment of what the American people will ever accept.

So, obviously, McConnell doesn’t mean those American people.  Even assuming that those American people are even Americans.  Or even people.  (No one’s polls corporate people, as far as I know, but I suspect that many of them would side with McConnell, so we’ll give him that. But that doesn’t meant that the Americans who were polled were people.  They may be cyborgs.  Or dogs.)

He also doesn’t mean the American people who voted by a majority of about 5 million last November for the presidential candidate who campaigned on a platform of raising tax rates on incomes of more than $250,000 for couples and $250,000 for individuals, and on closing tax loopholes and eliminating deductions available mostly to the wealthy.  Rest assured; he definitely does not mean those American people, most of whom committed voter fraud by voting in the election, since although they are people, they are, by virtue of their vote for Obama, not really Americans, whether or not they were born in Hawaii (or California or New York or New Mexico or New Hampshire) or instead in Kenya.  

Nor does he mean the American people who voted by substantial aggregate majorities to decrease rather than increase the number of Republican senators and representatives in the current Congress–a Congress whose members are not, by the way, the “we” in the “we already agreed to.”

The article I linked to above for that quote is one by Michael D. Shear in today’s New York Times, called “White House Counts on G.O.P. to Bend as Cuts’ Effects Are Felt.”  It’s chock full of great points, including that “[s]trategists for [John] Boehner believe that Republicans have been successful in branding the cuts as Mr. Obama’s idea.”  I hope so, since proposal of  “the cuts” at issue were the only alternative to a Republican-forced default on America’s already-incurred debt, including on treasury bonds, and since the cuts that were Obama’s idea probably are more popular than the cuts that are the Republicans’ idea-none to the Defense Department’s budget and draconian ones to almost every other discretionary program and agency.  

Which brings me to the newest journalistic gimmick in reporting on all this.  Well, I’ll just quote Shear illustrate:

In accepting the inevitability of an extended Washington stalemate, the White House is risking the possibility that Americans may eventually blame the president, not members of Congress, for job losses, smaller paychecks, longer lines at airports, a reduction in government services and a less well-equipped military.

Uh-huh.  The White House is risking the possibility that Americans may eventually blame the president, not members of Congress, for job losses, smaller paychecks, longer lines at airports, a reduction in government services and a less well-equipped military.  And the likelihood that that will happen is very high, since the Republicans are unwilling to trade more tax revenue from the wealthy and from profits-hoarding corporations for fewer job losses, no reduction in paychecks, ordinary-length lines at airports, little or no reduction in government services and a well-equipped military.  

Er, I mean, the American people are unwilling to make that trade.  But they won’t blame themselves.  Instead, they’ll blame Obama.  Who is, although certainly a person, not an American one.

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National Journal Editorial Director* Ron Fournier Missed Eighth-Grade Civics Class the Day They Discussed the Separation-of-Powers Thing. He Should Now Get a Tutor.

It’s hard to know who will end up taking the biggest political hit if the latest Washington-induced crisis moves from theoretical to real — but the answer may well lie in which side can get the public to buy into its finger-pointing at the other side.
That’s why the excuses matter: Polls show Obama has the upper hand now over unpopular lawmakers, but much can change if sequestration upends the country’s economic recovery and Americans lose their jobs and access to popular government services.

Sequestration: Excuses, excuses, excuses, Darren Samuelsohn and Scott Wong, Politico, yesterday

I agree.  If the sequester upends the country’s economic recovery and Americans lose their jobs and access to popular government services because of its deep cuts in federal spending, the public  may well rage against Obama for refusing to accede to the Republicans’ demand that federal spending be cut much more dramatically (except for the Defense Department’s spending, which would not be cut at all)–therefore costing at least as many Americans their jobs and further denying access to those popular government services and to additional ones.  They may well be livid with Obama that he wanted to lessen the number of job losses and the loss of access to popular government services by claiming more tax revenues from wealthy individuals and corporations.  

Especially since about three-fourths of the public supports Obama’s proposed route.  The public may be marching in the streets, demanding impeachment.   And demanding further deep spending cuts in order to cut more jobs and popular services, and lower taxes on the wealthy and on corporations. At least if they’re really, really angry about the job losses, the damage to the economy, and the loss of popular government services.

It isn’t a certainty that they will, though, even if they’re really, really angry about the job losses, the damage to the economy, and the loss of popular government services. Which is why the Politico piece says only that it’s hard to tell whether or not they will.  Such things just can’t be predicted with reasonable accuracy.

One thing John Boehner is right about: The public does understand–his word, not mine–that tax increases are off the table, because the Republicans agreed to $600 billion in tax increases on people with very high incomes as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal seven weeks ago.  

They also understand exactly why further tax revenue from the very wealthy is off the table. And they know that it’s not actually because the Republicans agreed to $600 billion in tax increases on people with very high incomes as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal seven weeks ago.  

The Politico piece, which I’m betting was not the idea of the two reporters but was instead an assignment handed to them, along with an opening script, by top management there–it is not a reporting piece at all–is an interesting variation on the highly-in-vogue-this-season pseudo-journalism pox-on-both-their-houses sequestration/fiscal-cliff/debt-ceiling/shut-down-the-government routine.  It passes for journalism.  But it is not journalism.  It is propaganda.  

The Politico piece subtlely varies the usual technique. Instead of saying, as most of the genre’s pieces do, that these crises really are the fault of both sides–equally, of course–this article says the public probably can’t distinguish between suddenly and dramatically cutting federal spending, causing substantial job losses and gutting popular government services, and cutting federal spending less and more slowly and helping to reduce the budget deficit by raising more tax revenue from the wealthy individuals and corporations.  

But most members of this Lewis-Carroll-as-journalists crowd do the straight from of it.  In fact, a few of them seem more like the Mad Hatter than like the Mad Hatter’s creator.  Ron Fournier appears to be among them.

For those of you who don’t know, and there probably are few of you who don’t, Ron Fournier is a Republican-leaning, somewhat controversial Washington political journalist who a few years ago was himself major news in journalism circles when he was appointed the Associated Press’s acting Washington bureau chief.  (Until I read his Wikipedia page a few minutes ago, I wasn’t aware that it was intended as just a temporary appointment.)  The Wikipedia paragraph about this explains the controversy:

In May 2008, Fournier was named the acting Washington bureau chief, replacing his “mentor” Sandy Johnson. Since taking over the position, Fournier has led a dramatic shift in the AP’s policy, moving it away from the neutral and objective tone it had become known for and toward a more opinionated style that would make judgments when conflicting opinions were presented in a story.

The judgments Fournier favored were ones that the Republican Party favored as well, if I remember right.  It wasn’t a hit with Fournier’s AP colleagues, nor apparently with many of the AP’s news media clients.  So he left the AP to become editor at the venerable National Journal, which, for those of you who don’t know, and there probably are a few of you who don’t, is a (mainly) print journal that at least in recent years quietly leans Republican but that clothes itself as neutral.  

Sort of like Politico.  Except that, unlike Politico, no one outside Washington reads it and no one outside Washington cares about it.  Which is understandable, since no one outside Washington has ever heard of it. (Except me, but I do qualify as someone who doesn’t read it and someone who doesn’t care about it.)

Anyway, Greg Sargent, who is inside Washington and who does read the National Journal, writes this morning:

To summarize, Fournier and Pfeiffer argued over who is to blame for the sequester. Pfeiffer criticized David Brooks’ “pox on both houses” column this morning and noted that only one side (the GOP) is not willing to compromise to avoid the sequester. Fournier, who also tweeted a link to Brooks’ column, replied with several tweets arguing that it’s on the President to secure compromise from the opposition, such as this one: “only one side is president. Both sides should be ashamed.”

This echoes Fournier’s recent column arguing that while Republicans have adopted a fundamentally uncompromising position (which to Fournier’s credit he’s been willing to acknowledge), “in any enterprise, the chief executive is ultimately accountable for success and failure.” Brooks’s column, meanwhile, argues that both sides are to blame, because Obama doesn’t have a plan to avert the sequester (which is false). So, some questions for the “blame it on both sides” crowd:

1) Let’s grant Fournier’s premise that a president should do all he can to secure cooperation from the other side. What more, if anything, could Obama actually do to win cooperation from today’s Republican Party on averting the sequester, short of giving in to the GOP demand that we replace it only with spending cuts? Republicans say no compromise to avert the sequester is acceptable. That’s not an exaggeration: It’s the party’s explicit, publicly stated position. What more specifically could Obama do to change this? If the answer is “nothing,” then why are both sides equally to blame?

Okay, look.  The president can be appropriately analogized to the CEO of the executive branch of the federal government.  It’s not a perfect analogy; obviously, there are laws that limit the president’s control over the executive branch–the Federalist Society’s silly Reagan-era “unitary executive” theory of law (don’t ask) to the contrary, notwithstanding.  But it’s a useful analogy nonetheless.  

But unless you recognize that Congress is not the president’s subordinate, whose membership he can hire and fire, and that federal fiscal policy is not established by fiat of top management, or unless you realize this but aren’t astute enough to understand that these are, to use a favorite word of lawyers, “material” differences between corporate CEOs and the president of the United States, you do know that it is deeply stupid to say that “in any enterprise, the chief executive is ultimately accountable for success and failure,” and not realize that some enterprises actually don’t have a chief executive and that the federal government is among those enterprises that do not.

I guess this is confusing, because, after all, the president is the chief of the executive branch of the federal government.  You have to know that this particular enterprise has three separate branches that, as per the Constitution, operate independent of one another, in order to understand the difference between being the chief of the executive branch and being the chief executive.  And Fournier apparently does not.

Greg Sargent, Paul Krugman, The New Yorker’s Jonathan Chait, Slate’s Matthew Yglesias, and a few other political writers have been sounding sirens of alarm and utter dismay at this increasingly dangerous and perverted juggernaut by so many self-styled neutral mainstream political journalists, including two days ago a Washington Post editorial writer, to engage in a campaign of deceit and propaganda in reporting on these sequential Republican-orchestrated federal fiscal crises.  

In my opinion, the very best of the deconstruction-of-the-pretzel-positions pieces–and one of the most piercing and quietly eloquent political opinion pieces I’ve ever read–is this one, from Wednesday, by Chait, which Yglesias linked to on Wednesday and which Sargent links to today. Yglesias’s excellent posts are here and here.

I think we’re about to reach an epiphany point, at which enough important journalists become genuinely scared of what is by now creepily similar to a government-controlled mainstream press in totalitarian countries that this will cease.  No, not by the stupid Ron Fournier or by the silly, robotic David Brooks.  But maybe at least by the Washington Post’s editorial writers and by reporters who certainly need their current jobs but who also are young enough to need reputations as credible and intelligent journalists, going forward.

And once that happens, maybe mainstream journalism will have a similar epiphany about the austerity juggernaut. Or, as Ezra Klein points out, mainstream journalism’s really weird role in it.

As for Fournier, according to Wikipedia, he’s won several prestigious journalism awards. But never one for commentary. Maybe this year.

*Originally, this post said Fournier was the National Journal’s title was editor.


POSTSCRIPT: I hadn’t seen this post of Paul Krugman’s from yesterday until just now. Talk about cutting to–cutting into, really–the heart of something slimy yet seemingly ever-evading analysis and puncture!

Enough. Enough. Time now to end it. Psychiatrists are standing by to offer withdrawal counseling.

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The Large Number of Hedge Fund Managers Near Fort Rucker, Ala. (A Suggested Response to the Republicans’ Simple Response(s).)

It’s unconscionable to use our military men and women in uniform as a bargaining chip to raise our taxes.

— Rep. Martha Roby, (R. Ala.)

Our taxes, huh?  Ours!  This actually is unexpectedly good financial news for most of, um, us. Not to mention very surprising news.

According to The New York Times today, Roby made the comment in an interview yesterday after a visit to the town just outside the Army’s Fort Rucker.  And presumably, she, and her family (thus, the “our” rather than a “my”), have substantial income from capital gains and dividends. Or maybe she or her husband is a hedge fund manager and would lose the “carried-interest” tax deduction, because the tax loopholes that Obama and the congressional Dems are proposing to close are those and similar ones. And she did say “raise our taxes.”  

Maybe both are hedge fund managers. She part-time, of course.  

Maybe not, though, since, by using that phrase, she intended to convey, falsely, that Obama was using our military men and women in uniform as a bargaining chip to raise the taxes of the our military men and women in uniform, most of whom have spouses who are hedge fund managers, and of the residents of the town just outside of Fort Rucker, most of whom live off of their capital gains and dividends, and none of whom, whether working or unemployed, receive assistance from the the federal food-assistance program.  

I know that latter fact to be true because the New York Times article says that House Republicans say they believe that the have “politically inoculated themselves against claims they are responsible for the cuts by approving measures last year that would have substituted reductions in government programs like food stamps for the lower Pentagon spending.”

Which itself undoubtedly is true.  Especially since Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan ran on just such a proposal last fall, and won.  I mean, lost.  By about 5 million votes.  

The Republicans must have received their inoculation serum through the Web. From a company in Afghanistan, maybe. 

Roby also said in that interview referenced in the Times article:

The president says he has to have tax increases to head off the sequester. Well, he already got his tax increase.

Indeed, he did.  He got a tax increase on individuals with non-investment income of at least $400,000, and on couples with non-investment income of at least $450,000, to Clinton-era rates, and slight raises on some investment income, to less than Clinton-era rates.  Clinton-era rates being rates at which we were able to have a budget surplus, without using our military men and women in uniform as a bargaining chip  for anything, and without cutting food assistance programs, including the assistance that goes to Alabamans, a few of whom may live in that town near Fort Rucker.  

So, I have two suggestions for Obama. Serious ones.  

Seriously.

One is that he travel to that town near Fort Rucker and explain, among other things, that salaries for our men and women in uniform are exempt from the sequester, and that, while we’re on the subject, of unconscionable political conduct, it’s probably a good idea to include the dispensing of false information to the contrary as fitting comfortably within that category.  He also should explain to the group assembled in the audience at the high school gym, or wherever, who it is exactly that will have their taxes raised by the tax raises included in the “fiscal cliff” agreement, and, especially, who it is exactly–exactly–that would have their taxes raised under Obama’s proposal to replace the sequester.  

Then he should ask for a show of hands, first, by those in the audience who will have their taxes raised under the “fiscal cliff” deal, and then by those who would have their taxes raised under a current proposal to replace the sequester.  His own proposal or the Senate Democrats’ or the House Democrats’.  In other words, a show of hands by “us”–as in “raise our taxes.”  

He also could, and should, explain how, and why, the sequester law came about–and what would have happened to this country’s credit rating and the financial system and the economy beginning in August 2011 without it.  I.e., explain again, as he did at his successful press conference in mid-January, what the debt ceiling, and raising it, are.

Obama of course instead could make these points in a short primetime TV address, one advantage of which would be a national audience.  That’s my other suggestion. He could do this in an address of under 10 minutes.  

If he took that avenue, he could even take advantage of the national audience to point out, within that under-10-minute address, that John Boehner wasn’t quite accurate when he said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday that:

[A]s the president’s outrage about the sequester grows in coming days, Republicans have a simple response: Mr. President, we agree that your sequester is bad policy. What spending are you willing to cut to replace it?

Yes, some–but not all–Republicans’ simple response is to fail to acknowledge that Obama is proposing replacing some of the sequester’s cuts with increased tax revenues achieved by closing tax loopholes on wealthy individuals and corporations.  Martha Roby is a Republican who does acknowledge this.  Her simple response is, rather than pretending that this is not so–that Obama has not proposed an offset by raising more revenue in the manner that he and the congressional Dems in fact have proposed–to instead misrepresent to all or most of her constituents that their (“our”) taxes would go up. It’s a statement either unconscionably deliberately deceptive or instead reflecting dismaying ignorance of the sources and amounts of income of at least some, probably most, of her constituents, unless her district is among the wealthier ones in this country.* 

Which, for all I know, it may be.  But if so, most of the residents of the town close to the Army base probably are not among the hedge fund managers in her district.  Nor even among the Apple shareholders.

Obama could of course both travel to the town near Fort Rucker and address the nation on primetime TV.  But only if the matter is really important.  Really important.  Which Obama may or may not think it is.  I mean … to each his own.

What I don’t understand about this White House is its failure to grasp that what matters is actual explanations and refutations of the Republicans’ incessant misrepresentations of fact–killing the Repubs’ constant representation of cliché  and generic slogans as facts–rather than silly Twitter tweets, attractive photos of Obama at work or play, or appearances on The View or interviews on 60 Minutes that do not explain substance and do not refute the opposition on issues of substance.

Actually, this one’s pretty easy to explain:  Raise our taxes?  Then the tax raise must also be on our income.  I guess we’re all hedge fund managers now.  (Seeee? I told you this was good financial news for us. Not to mention surprising financial news for us. And surprising employment news for, well, at least those of us whose tax raise will come from the elimination of the “carried-interest” deduction.)

Of course, now that I think about it, that little explanation in that last paragraph would fit in a Twitter post.  So maybe Twitter’s the way to explain and refute, after all.  At least when you’re camera shy.  Or just shy.

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*This paragraph was edited slightly for clarity, as were two or three sentences elsewhere.

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