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

President Chauncey Gardiner: ‘Being There’ at the Bait-and-Switch [Updated]

But one of Trump’s campaign advisers suggested Wednesday that Trump might indeed change Social Security and Medicare — but only after he has been in office for a while. “After the administration has been in place, then we will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare,” Sam Clovis said during a public forum, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Has Donald Trump stolen Paul Ryan’s party out from under him?, David Fahrenthold, Washington Post, today

As the above quote illustrates, Donald Trump hasn’t stolen Paul Ryan’s party out from under him.  Fahrenthold didn’t write the headline; he just wrote the article, and the headline writer missed its point, reversing the puppet and the puppeteer.

Unlike Chance, Trump knows he’s being coopted by the Republican establishment and that he is perpetrating a coup-like bait-and-switch on a sizable swath of his primary voters.  The most dangerous thing about Trump isn’t even the breadth of his ignorance but instead the casualness with which he has decided to simply front the Club for Growth agenda.

But he does have this in common with President Chauncey Gardiner: the sheer depth of his dumbness.  And therefore the completeness of his manipulability.  He’s switched entertainment genres, from reality TV to puppet theater.

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UPDATE: Last weekend after reading an article or two about Trump’s statement to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that he would like to see the minimum wage increased but wanted it left up to the states, I recognized that Trump was parroting the leave-the-minimum-wage-up-to-the-states standard Republican line, which one of his campaign officials had fed him.  I assumed that he knew this was the standard Conservative Movement invocation of “federalism”—a.k.a., states’ rights!—in the service of the Chamber of Commerce/Club for Growth anti-regulatory agenda.  These folks, after all, don’t put Republican state legislators and governors into their elected positions for the fun of it.

But I was wrong.  The articles I read didn’t quote enough of Trump’s answer.

I just finished reading a post by Paul Waldman on the Washington Post’s Plum Line titled “Trump is waging an assault on the entire structure of our democracy. Now what?”, in which Waldman uses as an illustration Trump’s statements about the minimum wage last fall and his several statements about it within the last four days.   Waldman writes:

Speaking [to reporters after his meeting with Trump today, Paul] Ryan said, “It was important that we discussed our differences that we have, but it was also important that we discuss the core principles that tie us together,” and that “Going forward we’re going to go a little deeper in the policy weeds to make sure we have a better understanding of one another.”

This is a fool’s errand, not just for Ryan but for us in the media as well. And it poses a profound challenge to democracy itself.

Just in the last couple of days, something has changed. Perhaps it should have been evident to us before, but for whatever reason it was only partially clear. The pieces were there, but they didn’t fit together to show us how comprehensive Trump’s assault on the fundamentals of American politics truly is….

The foundation of democratic debate is policy, issues, the choices we make about what we as a nation should do. That’s what the government we create does on our behalf: it confronts problems, decides between alternatives, and pursues them. That’s also the foundation of how we in the press report on politics. Yes, we spend a lot of time talking about the personalities involved, but underneath that are competing ideas about what should be done. Should we raise taxes or lower them? Spend more or spend less? Make abortions easier or harder to get? Give more people health coverage or fewer? How do we combat ISIS? How should we address climate change? How can we improve the economy? How can we reduce crime? What sort of transportation system do we want? Which areas should government involve itself in, and which should it stay out of?

We all presume that these questions (and a thousand more) are important, and that the people who run for office should take them seriously. We assume they’ll tell us where they stand, we’ll decide what we think of what they’ve said, and eventually we’ll be able to make an informed choice about who should be the leader of our country.

Donald Trump has taken these presumptions and torn them to pieces, then spat on them and laughed. And so far we seem to have no idea what to do about it.

Let me briefly give an illustration. On the question of the minimum wage, Trump has previously said he would not raise it. Then Sunday he said he did want to raise it. Then in a separate interview on the very same day he said there should be no federal minimum wage at all, that instead we should “Let the states decide.” Then yesterday he said he does want to increase the federal minimum wage.

I clicked on one of the links, which was to the transcript of the Meet the Press interview.  Here’s the full exchange between Todd and Trump on the minimum wage:

CHUCK TODD:

Minimum wage. Minimum wage. At a debate, you know. You remember what you said. You thought you didn’t want to touch it. Now you’re open to it. What changed?

DONALD TRUMP:

Let me just tell you, I’ve been traveling the country for many months. Since June 16th. I’m all over. Today I’m in the state of Washington, where the arena right behind me, you probably hear, is packed with thousands and thousands of people. I’m doing that right after I finish you.

I have seen what’s going on. And I don’t know how people make it on $7.25 an hour. Now, with that being said, I would like to see an increase of some magnitude. But I’d rather leave it to the states. Let the states decide. Because don’t forget, the states have to compete with each other. So you may have a governor —

CHUCK TODD:

Right. You want the fed– but should the federal government set a floor, and then you let the states–

DONALD TRUMP:

No, I’d rather have the states go out and do what they have to do. And the states compete with each other, not only other countries, but they compete with each other, Chuck. So I like the idea of let the states decide. But I think people should get more. I think they’re out there. They’re working. It is a very low number. You know, with what’s happened to the economy, with what’s happened to the cost. I mean, it’s just– I don’t know how you live on $7.25 an hour. But I would say let the states decide.

Trump wants to leave minimum-wage legislation entirely up to the states so that the states could compete with each other on how low the wages of their fast-food workers, Walmart employees, hospitality industry workers and home-healthcare aides can go, folks.  This would be his aim as president.  Because he thinks these workers should get more because they can’t live on $7.25 an hour.  And because less is more.  And more is less.  More or less.

What’s happening here is that Trump hears terms, phrases, lines, clichés that people who talk about policy use, and since he doesn’t understand anything, he just says a memorized policy bottom line—the minimum wage should be left to the states, for example—fed to him from the Republican policy playbook.  And then, when asked to elaborate, he starts spewing terms, phrases, lines, clichés that he’s heard people who talk about policy use.  And—voila!—we have … non sequiturs.

Popcorn, anyone?

Update added 5/12 at 6:58 p.m.

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Paul Ryan and Scott Walker Come Out for Repeal of Federal Child-Labor Laws, Because the Kids Insist. Coming soon: Talking polar bears pleading for more oil drilling.

Oh, my — not only was Paul Ryan’s hunger=dignity speech appalling on the merits, the anecdote he used to make his point was fake — a distortion of a real story with a completely different point.

I’m actually not happy with this discovery; the crucial point here should be that even if the story of the kid who wants brown bag lunches were true, it would be a terrible argument against school lunches and the social safety net in general. In a way it’s a bad thing to have the conversation shifted instead to Ryan’s failure to get simple facts right.

— Into the Mouths of Babes, Paul Krugman, nytimes.com today

Here’s what Ryan said yesterday in his speech to the CPAC convention, as related by New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait:

In his vacuous, sloganeering speech today at CPAC, Paul Ryan argued that “the left” — the term he used to describe not the actual left, but the Obama administration — offers Americans “a full stomach — and an empty soul.” What soul-emptying ways is “the left” filling people’s stomachs? Ryan has a story from his fellow Republican, Eloise Anderson:

“She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch — one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.”

Anderson is a longtime anti-safety-net crusader and currently a member of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  Ryan was paraphrasing testimony gave to the House Budget Committee, which Ryan chairs, last summer.  Greg Sargent details the controversy here, and links to Glenn Kessler’s and Wonkette’s investigative reports on it from last night.

I initially had the same reaction as Krugman: that this under-oath fabrication of fact by a witness at a congressional hearing who is a key member of Walker’s administration, would become the news story, rather than that Ryan used the anecdote to come out for repeal not just of the school lunch program but also of child-labor laws.

But upon reflection, I think the revelation that this Walker appointee gave fabricated testimony to a congressional committee–stunning, in itself–is a net plus, because it brings far more public attention than otherwise to the premise of this Walker appointee (and therefore of Walker himself) and Ryan: that children from poor families, including, presumably, infants and toddlers–these people want to kill the food stamp program, too–should work for their food.

This odd conflation of parent and child, by both Anderson and Ryan, is so weird and ridiculous–and so stunningly offensive, surely, to most Americans–that its mere verbatim recitation will, I think, be a gift that keeps on giving during this year’s campaigns.  But it also highlights this: that the Republicans appear to be unaware that a large percentage of school-lunch-program or the food-stamp-program (or both) recipients come from households headed by someone who works, often full-time, at a very low-wage job or at a combination of low-wage jobs.

Or else these pols are claiming that no one should work at very-low-wage jobs, and should instead find a way up the socioeconomic ladder.  In which case, they are saying that Walmart and the fast-food and hospitality industries should pay their employees more.  I mean, shouldn’t be able to find employees. (Not ones who’ve fed themselves and their kids, anyway.)

Paul Ryan and Scott Walker turn out to be pro-labor, after all!  Who knew?  We Dems need to start appreciating the annual CPAC conference for it’s, um, newsworthiness.

These people’s weird obsession with killing the social safety net is shared by–what?–15%-20% of the public? They themselves seem to recognize that outrageous that the people who want this is small, and the people who obsess over it and privilege it over all other policy matters, is really, really small.  Which presumably is why they keep fabricating stories.

This is part and parcel of the genre that until yesterday most recently featured as its top stars Julie Boonstra and Emilie Lamb.  What’s next? Talking polar bears pleading for more oil drilling?

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As an aside, I think that if Walker is serious about running for president, he needs to fire Anderson.  She fabricated a story, under oath, at a congressional hearing.  That’s not a trivial matter.

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Justice Scalia Says Rightwing Economic Ideology is Mandated By the Constitution. Really.

Scalia regularly bars video or voice recordings of his off-the-bench speeches, and in at least one fairly recent instance, the details of which I can’t recall, he employed a member of the U.S. Marshals Service to enforce his policy.  If I recall correctly, a member of his security detail confiscated a reporter’s or law student’s audio recorder as the audience was leaving the room after the speech; something like that, anyway.

But recently he spoke publicly to a group somewhere in Italy, the speech was recorded, and National Law Journal reporter Michelle Olsen obtained and posted access to a web page that, the How Appealing blog reported, “was then providing access to download the mp3 audio of Justice Scalia’s remarks.”  The remainder of that How Appealing post, from yesterday, relates what happened next:

Yesterday, however, Michelle noted that the link to the audio of Justice Scalia’s remarks at that web page had disappeared. Nevertheless, the audio file itself remained available for download from the server for those who possessed the original download link.

Today, Michelle has not only posted the audio of Justice Scalia’s remarks to SoundCloud, but she has also located online another place where the audio of Justice Scalia’s remarks remains available for download (70.7 MB mp3 audio file).

Today, How Appealing follows up with this post:

“Scalia on the Judiciary and Economic Liberty”: Josh Blackman has this post today at his blog.

Blackman, an assistant professor of law at South Texas College of Law in Houston, begins his post by expressing appreciation to Olsen “for retrieving Justice Scalia’s speech in Italy from a new ring of Dante’s inferno (where off-the-record recordings of Justice’s speech wither away in limbo).”  He then quotes from the part of the speech that he listened to; he says he’ll post further after listening to the remainder.

A two-paragraph excerpt and a couple of additional quotes that Blackman adds are, in my opinion, jaw-dropping for their bald assertion that the Constitution mandates the particular economic ideology that Scalia ascribes to and therefore prohibits many (most?) of the economics-related laws enacted by Congress.

One added quote has Scalia saying that John Locke was the “guiding light of American independence.” Blackman then writes:

Scalia notes that the structural provisions of the Constitution are most fundamental to protecting economic liberty. He mentions the doctrine of enumerated powers, the Due Process Clause, the takings clause, and the contracts clause.

“Our Constitution provides property owners with relatively few substantive rights. Almost all of our private rights in the Constitution are in the Bill of Rights, which was an afterthought  . . . . Judges cannot enact atextual rights to enact their preferred policies.”*

The rightwing justices are big these days on attributing much of their peculiar brand of constitutional jurisprudence to what they say is the “structure” of the Constitution–usually things that are not stated expressly in the Constitution but that conservatives nonetheless claim are inherent in the document.  Especially extreme and sometimes bizarre declarations of states’ rights, which, according to this crowd, oddly enough or conveniently enough regularly trumps individual rights, including such individual rights as due process and habeas corpus, and narrower rights such as the right to the assistance of counsel, that underpin the more general ones.

Or, likely, the supposed structure of the Constitution that, in the absence of a specific useful provision, will suffice sometime in the next four weeks to justify voiding a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.  The Fifth Amendment doesn’t expressly require due process for states, as it does for “persons,” and has never before been held to incorporate within it “an equal protection component” similar to the one in the Fourteenth Amendment protecting “any person,” as it has for “any person.”  But, absent a formal pronouncement by the Court that states and voting districts within states are people too, the Constitution’s structure will suffice, if the oral argument this spring in the current Voting Rights case is an indication.

But I digress.  What we have right  now, from one of the mouth of one of the five horses, is an express adoption of an extreme laissez faire economics policy agenda in the ostensible name of the Constitution.  I hope that Democratic congressional candidates make this known when they address their constituents at Town Hall meetings and are asked about economic-policy issues.  We now have a Supreme Court justice who has publicly vowed to use his official position to undermine economic policy that he claims the Founding Fathers–followers of John Locke all, he says–would disapprove.

It’s struck me in recent weeks that statements by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and other congressional wingnuts acknowledge that the Republicans are attempting to stage what amounts to a non-military coup.  They lost the popular vote for the House, and soundly lost the White House and the Senate, last fall, yet they will bring down the economy of the United States and will routinely refuse to confirm the president’s judicial and agency-head appointments, and will disallow funding for statutorily mandated agencies and programs, because–as Ryan said a week or two ago–they believe that the Republican policy agenda is better policy.

And now we have a Supreme Court justice announcing, if quietly, that he will try to use the Court to do the same.**  In the name of John Locke, no less.

*Indent-format-corrected to show boundary of quote.

**Sentence typo-corrected.

 

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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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Oh. Guess the Paul Ryan Bubble Finally Has Burst. So Sorry For Your Loss, Paul.

In subtle ways, Ryan’s budget acknowledges the results of November’s election. He isn’t seeking to do away with tax increases that have already been approved, and he accepts that tax revenue will be 19.1 percent of the economy in a decade, up from the 18.7 percent he assumed last year.
But otherwise, he continues to peddle the same ideas: the partial privatization of Medicare; a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce; and cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, education, job training and farm programs.
Public Radio International’s Todd Zwillich pointed out that Republicans lost the presidency, House seats and the combined popular vote in House races. “People outside this process might wonder if elections have consequences,” Zwillich said.

“Look, whether the country intended it or not, we have divided government,” Ryan replied, suggesting that Republicans somehow won the debate while losing the election. “Are a lot of these solutions very popular, and did we win these arguments in the campaign?” Ryan asked himself. “Some of us think so.”

Paul Ryan’s magical budget, Dana Milbank, Washington Post

And those very same some of us think upside-down is rightside-up and aliens from Mars ate their calculator and their voter tabulations.  They need antipsychotic medication.  

He proposes abolishing Obamacare — a futile gesture — but would pocket for other purposes $1 trillion in tax increases that came with the program. …

CNN’s Dana Bash asked whether Ryan was being “disingenuous” by including new taxes that he opposed.

“We’re not going to refight the past,” he explained.

If Ryan is “not going to fight the past,” Fox News’s Chad Pergram asked, why is he still trying to repeal Obamacare?

“This to us is something that we’re not going to give up on,” Ryan answered, “because we’re not going to give up on destroying the health-care system for the American people.”

Even a skilled illusionist can have the occasional Freudian slip.

Paul Ryan’s magical budget, Dana Milbank, Washington Post

Game’s over.  The mainstream media has had enough. They’re finally calling this spade a spade. Joe Welch would be proud

At long last, Congressman, the people who matter see that you have left no sense of decency. Nor a semblance of mental health. Like Joe McCarthy.

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Paul Ryan Is the Joe McCarthy of Our Era. Maybe the Mainstream Media Finally Will Recognize That. Then Again, Maybe It Won’t.

Paul Ryan is, in effect, the Joe McCarthy of our era.  He consistently spews outlandishly false statements of fact, never offers actual evidence in support of them and never refutes factual challenges using actual and full facts, and tries as a matter of routine to obfuscate his specific and broader objectives and therefore to trick the public.  

He is a serious nutcase.  And yet he has garnered mainstream media attention as though what he puts out is credible.  We have a mainstream media that treats this nutjob as though he were a legitimate policy wonk. And that acts as though facts are legitimately in the eye of the beholder.  

If only Obama were more like Ike. And if only there were an Edward R. Murrow around now, although a Walter Cronkite would do, too. If only.  

Broadcast news, of course, no longer has nearly the power and audience it once had, but we now have the veritable reverse of what this country once had in its highest-profile journalists. and we have a president who cowers in the face of whatever media juggernaut is currently saying “boo.”  

True, Ike was buoyed, not hindered, by the mainstream press when he helped end the McCarthy stranglehold. And McCarthy and Eisenhower were, technically anyway, members of the same political party, so there was no insistence that Eisenhower humor McCarthy in the name of bipartisanship. But there’s also no law that requires the president, this one or any other, to mindlessly do the mainstream media’s bidding if that bidding is in the name of bipartisanship. At least not when bipartisanship means delegating fiscal policy to a rightwing faction of a minority party that a majority of voters recently pretty-darned-clearly rejected.

This is getting really, really scary.  

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The links are to two Matthew Yglesias posts in Slate this morning.

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Killing Mitt Softly: His Not Being In a Position To show Leadership By Persuading Rightwing Republicans to Agree to Their Own Policy Proposals

Both Romneys said he would be more effective at navigating the current political moment.

“I’ll look at what’s happening right now, I wish I were there,” Mitt Romney said. “It kills me not to be there, not to be in the White House doing what needs to be done. The president is the leader of the nation. The president brings people together, does the deals, does the trades, knocks the heads together; the president leads. And — and I don’t see that kind of — of leadership happening right now.”

Mitt Romney: ‘It kills me’ not to be president, Reid J. Epstein, Politico, this morning, reporting on Mitt and Ann Romney’s recorded interview with fox News’ Chris Wallace,* aired yesterday

Seriously, Mitt?  Seriously?  

You ran on a Tea Party fiscal agenda of lowering tax rates by 20%–a huge tax break for the wealthy–and increasing defense spending, and absolutely gutting social-safety-net spending.  You chose as your running mate the very architect of most of this fiscal plan, the exceptions being the across-the-board 20% tax cuts and the increased defense spending, although the tax cuts, if not the increased defense spending, would probably be an easy sell to the Tea Party folks.  And you claim that your superior leadership skills would enable you to persuade the Republican congressional delegation to agree, grudgingly, of course, to go along with this?


Yes, it would be a tough, uphill battle.  But onward, Mormon soldier.  Especially one with leadership skills.

The easier part, I guess, would be persuading the Senate Democrats to go along with this, by throwing them a bone or two–e.g., I’ll agree to not completely gut the Medicaid subsidies to elderly nursing home residents, since many nursing home owners vote Republican, and I’ll persuade the Tea Party legislators to give in on that!–and by reminding them that we just held an election that amounted to a referendum on my proposed fiscal plan versus the Democrats’ fiscal plan, and I won.  

And by reminding the Dem senators who are up for reelection in 2014 that their electoral “district,” unlike the House members’ districts, can’t be gerrymandered.  Not without changing the boundaries of your state, anyway, which might be hard to do.

And, well, since the Dem senators aren’t, y’know, Republican senators, much less Republican House members, they would understand that in fact we did just have an electoral referendum on these very issues.  And they would have enough respect for the concept of democracy to agree to compromise somewhat.

Elsewhere in that interview, Romney attributed his loss to the 47% videotape and to a wholesale (my word; not his) rejection by racial minorities.  Which he was tremendously effective in navigating as part of the current political moment when, a week after the election, when he no longer was soliciting campaign contributions from very wealthy Republicans but was instead apologizing to the ones who donated generously, he effectively reiterated his hostility and condescension toward both the 47% and racial minorities by attributing his loss to minorities–mainly Hispanics–who were eager for the gifts (his word; not mine) Obama was giving them, especially the gift of “free” healthcare, through Obamacare.

Yup, that’s what made the difference in the election. Not a rejection of the Tea Party/Ryan/Romney fiscal plan, but gifts to Hispanics via Obamacare.   

Cluelessness continues to be a hallmark of Romney’s better half, as well.  Wife Ann, not to be outdone by her husband in missing the message of this election–that, by about five million votes in the presidential election. about one and one-half million votes in congressional elections, and by a clear majority in Senate elections, as well, the electorate rejected what Romney says his leadership as president would lead to–said all that was necessary for her husband to have won was for the public to learn how kind he is to members of his church, and to others he knows personally, when they need some kindnesses.

Really, Ann?  You really think that?

In an article today in the New York Times titled As Automatic Budget Cuts Go Into Effect, Poor May Be Hit Particularly Hard, Times reporter Annie Lowrey reports that federal housing vouchers, including to many disabled people, in New York City and Seattle and other high-rent cities, are about to be cut off, as are federal financial assistance to homeless shelters.  But few of the people, at least outside Utah, who will be affected are members of Romney’s church or know him personally.  So neither Romney’s kindnesses in his personal life nor his leadership skills as president, had he won the election, would have helped them, although his wife fails to understand this.  

The fact is that Romney is not in the White House because a majority of the electorate disagrees with him, and with the Tea Party, about what needs to be done. We do nonetheless await with bated breath his more effective navigation of the current political moment.  Assisted by wife Ann, his navigator.

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*CORRECTION: This post originally said the interview was with NBC’s David Gregory. My sincere apology, NBC and Mr. Gregory. Obviously, I didn’t watch the interview; I just read about it.

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Yup, John Boehner and Paul Ryan Are Right: The economy contracted in the fourth quarter because #spendingstheproblem and Keynesian Economics Doesn’t Work.

Construction has been one of the more encouraging sectors, adding jobs each of the last four months. The hiring there was probably because of a combination of rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy, unseasonably warm weather that led to fewer work stoppages, and the nascent housing recovery, said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomic Advisors.

Retailing, health care and the wholesale trade also added positions in January, while the government again shed jobs. Government payrolls have been shrinking most months over the last four years.

Job Growth Is Steady Amid Snags Holding Back Economy, Catherine Rampell, New York Times, today

Bring on the sequester, I say!  Let’s get that economy going again!

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Brian Williams Thinks Raising the Debt Ceiling Means Increasing BUDGET APPROPRIATIONS. O Peter Jennings, Walter Cronkite, and Edward R. Murrow, Where Art Thou? — [UPDATED]

I watched NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams last night.  Big Mistake.

Big mistake.

Because now I’m really confused.  I was pretty darn sure until then that “raising the debt ceiling” meant allowing the Treasury Department to pay financial obligations already incurred, such as interest on bonds, Medicare payments, and contract obligations, and to allow continued payments for ongoing financial obligations such as Social Security payments, Veterans’ benefits, and salary payments to federal employees, some of whose jobs are sort of important.  (Think: air traffic controllers.)  I had thought that because I had followed the recurring-crisis news reports about it since 2011, when the first of the crises began.  And because Obama had actually explained it in his Jan. 14 press conference.

But now, well, I think I might have misunderstood, because after Williams reported that the Senate yesterday had approved the House bill to “suspend” the debt ceiling through May 19, he added, shaking his head in disapproval, something like: “This is Washington’s version of kicking the can down the road.  Our debt is now more than a trillion dollars.”

I suggest that next time Williams is onboard one of NBC’s corporate jets, he might read, say, Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times.  It doesn’t explain the difference between the debt ceiling statute and budget-appropriations statutes, so Williams will continue to conflate the two until he digs deeper and reads earlier Krugman columns or other mainstream-media articles that did that.  But it does (yet again)–to borrow a phrase from Paul Ryan in his Meet the Press interview aired last Sunday–debate the efficacy of Keynesian economics, and whether anti-Keynesian “austerity” measures reduce or instead increase national debt in real terms and, more important (although Williams apparently doesn’t know this), decrease or instead increase debt relative to GDP.

But if he is going to wait until he’s up there in the air in that Learjet to read the Krugman column, I hope the trip occurs before May 20.  

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UPDATE: Additional recommended reading for Brian Williams: Joe Scarborough, Paul Krugman and the economist-pundit divide on debt and deficits, Neil Irwin, Washington Post, yesterday.

Scarborough, though, at least knows what the debt ceiling law is, and that it isn’t the same as budget-appropriations legislation.  He does, after all, work for MSNBC, not, say, NBC News.

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Paul Ryan Says Taxes Should Be Raised to Pre-Bush-Tax-Cut Levels. But the Republicans Will Opt Instead For the “Sequester.” Unless, Of Course, the Koch Brothers Intervene.

There were three big political stories that came out of David Gregory’s fabulously interesting interview of Paul Ryan aired last Sunday on Meet the Press.  One was that Ryan said:

Well, we can debate the efficacy of Keynesian economics or not. And I don’t obviously believe– I think the debt is pretty clear it doesn’t work.

Another was that he said that if Bill Clinton were president, we would have solved the budget-deficit problem, a statement that he presumably bases on the fact that when Bill Clinton was president, he solved the budget-deficit problem.

The third headline-grabber from that interview was that the Republicans will allow the “sequester” to take effect, presumably because they think it’s pretty clear that Keynesian economics doesn’t work, and because Bill Clinton is not longer president.  If Bill Clinton were president, the Republicans would allow him to raise tax rates to the level he did in 2001, this time without having to have the vice president cast the 51st vote in the Senate for the tax increase, and with enough Republican votes in the House to allow a vote on the tax increase.  

In other words, if Bill Clinton were president, Ryan and his compadres would not keep refusing to allow the Bush tax cuts on annual incomes of less than $450,000, and tax cuts on corporations, capital gains, and dividends, to expire.  But because Obama, rather than Clinton, is president, they won’t. They should be allowed to expire, Ryan says.  But they won’t be allowed to expire, because Obama is president.

Instead, the Republicans will opt to test out the the efficacy of Keynesian economics, or not–depending, probably, on whether the Koch Brothers pick up the phone and disabuse Ryan of his belief that Keynesian economics doesn’t work.  Before Wall Street does.  

Here’s what I obviously don’t believe: That if Ryan actually obviously doesn’t believe–thinks the debt is pretty clear it doesn’t work–he has even basic knowledge of past and current economic fact.

I’ll take his word for it that he was being truthful about his belief. But I sort of expect that the Koch brothers and others will educate him and other congressional Republicans who hold that belief, very soon.

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