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

Frannie [with heartbreaking addendum added]

St. Francis (Frannie) was first reported to our group – Val’s Pals GSD and Large Paw Rescue –  via another rescue named Forgotten Dogs of 5th Ward (in Houston). They are a group who has volunteers go into the 5th Ward area and feed the enormous number of homeless dogs. We were alerted to her on the evening of Wednesday, December 16th. The person who saw her noticed her eating on the carcass of another dead animal.

Abandoned German Shepherd Who Had Given Up on Life Makes an Astonishing Recovery, Melanie, via social media and then Life With Dogs, yesterday

I’m at it again.  Sorry; can’t help it.

Hey, I don’t post here at AB just to trash pols, journalists and judges/justices!  There’s method to my madness.


ADDENDUM: And then there is this, posted this morning on the Washington Post’s website:

The dog, a brown and black Yorkshire terrier mix, only had a purple collar on its neck and could be heard faintly whining when a couple found it last weekend, abandoned and covered in urine and feces inside a crate outside an apartment complex in Alexandria.

They took it to a nearby veterinarian clinic where it ultimately had to be euthanized because it was in such poor health.

The incident happened Sunday, and authorities in Alexandria are offering a $1,000 reward for information in the case that leads to a prosecution of the person or people involved.

Abandoned dog found covered in urine and feces in crate in Alexandria, Dana Hedgpeth

Added 8/19 at 12:40 p.m.

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Bobby Jindal Picks His Passion: Lieutenant Governors Should File Frivolous Lawsuits (Ostensibly) On Behalf of States


LOUISIANA SUING MOVEON FOR TRADEMARK INFRINGEMENT: In a move that has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the liberal group’s billboard and TV ad criticize Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to turn down the expansion of Medicaid, leaving tens of thousands of Louisianans without health insurance, the state says its lawsuit is just about the fact that the ads riff on their “Louisiana: Pick Your Passion” slogan, and that threatens to dilute the state’s brand. [Boldface mine.]

— Paul Waldman (sitting in for Greg Sargent), Morning Plum, Washington Post, today*

Lordy, lordy.

One of the few tacks of the Conservative Movement at its current stage that actually amuses me (well, you know what I mean) is that after a three-decades-long, intense, obsessive, stunningly successful campaign–in the U.S. Supreme Court, in state Supreme Courts, and through federal and state legislation–to end access to court by ordinary people to file lawsuits against corporations or local, state and federal-government entities, employees and officials, this crowd now routinely uses civil litigation in federal court to challenge the constitutionality of this or that law or public policy, or to distort beyond recognition certain federal statutes so as to flip their meaning.

For decades, these people riffed loudly and unremittingly on frivolous lawsuits, the definition of “frivolous” being defined, of course, as any civil lawsuit that does not attempt to advance a rightwing policy cause; beginning in, I guess, the early ’90s, that’s been the definition, anyway. But most people don’t know that that that what “frivolous” means in the mantra “frivolous lawsuits.”**

So, yes, for someone like me, who’s (all too) familiar with this mighty curious trajectory by the Conservative Movement, the Waldman post this morning was downright hilarious.

It’s especially funny for me. I’ve begun working on a book to be titled “Why Law Is Such an Inside Game.”  Most modern nonfiction books that argue a viewpoint have a catchy or cutesy one- or two-word title (often a pun) and then a subtitle like ““Why Law Is Such an Inside Game.” It’s apparently considered obligatory.  But not for me.

Me? I want my point to be in the title itself.

Anyway … I just thought I’d share the inside joke with y’all.  The article Waldman links to is on the New Orleans Times-Picayune site.  It’s titled “Louisiana sues over Bobby Jindal billboard,” by Lauren McGaughy.

And really, folks, it’s pretty funny.


*This post has been corrected to reflect that Paul Waldman, not Greg Sargent, wrote that blog post.  I also amended the title of this post to indicate that the lawsuit was filed by the lieutenant governor, not by Jindal.  The lieutenant governor will be a candidate for governor next year.

**Paragraph edited for clarity, after initial posting.  (3/18)  Not that it matters, since this post isn’t exactly breaking “hits” records.  Oh, well. 

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How the Democrats Should Deal With the AnthemBlueCrossCare Issue. Really.

Today, the House of Representatives will take up GOP Rep. Fred Upton’s proposal to ”fix” Obamacare by undermining it, and the vote is being widely cast on a referendum on whether Dems will continue distancing themselves from the law. Meanwhile Senate Dems are also still considering fixes of their own that could undermine it, though that’s subsided.

The Morning Plum: For Democrats, it’s gut check time, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, this morning

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus is not among my favorite political pundits, but the apt title of her column today–Obama’s political malpractice–sums up not just the current Obamacare-related debacle but my abiding assessment of Obama dating almost to the outset of his presidency.  Marcus’s column makes the point that Obama’s attempts, such as they have been, to gain control of this spiraling situation just make the situation worse. But that’s par for his course.

Actual smart and competent congressional Democrats and party leaders–four senators who come quickly to mind are Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Jeff Merkley, and Dick Durbin–need to grab the reins and use Democratic Party funds to establish a massive phone bank, and rent small neighborhood offices, where people who have received cancellation notices of their teensy-coverage plans can get quick easy assistance in learning of their actual options.  These Dems need to get the word out, loud and clear, that insurance agents are engaging, en masse, in misleading these people by, most conspicuously but not exclusively, telling them that the particular “replacement” policy they are offering or suggesting is the individual’s cheapest option.

I call it AnthemBlueCrossCare, because nearly every one of these misleading cancellation letters that I’ve read about is from one or another state’s Anthem Blue Cross or Blue Cross company; I keep wondering whether that is the only company that has been offering these teensy-coverage policies, or whether instead this company has just perfected the strategy to a science.

Occasionally, some diligent journalist will actually investigate the situation and will find that the individual or family actually has options that provide better coverage at about the same or less cost.  The 46-year-old woman, for example, who chafes at being forced to buy a plan that includes maternity care can get a plan for that costs the same or less than the one being cancelled that does not.  But by now, largely thanks to mainstream news media organizations such as the New York Times that have credulously published the Anthem-Blue-Cross-is-canceling-my-policy-and-only-offering-one-at-a-500%-increase-in-premiums-and-I’m-forced-under-pain-of-prison-to-not-look-elsewhere-for-health-insurance anecdote–and thanks (surprise, surprise!) to Obama’s failure to inquire into the actual options of these anecdotal victims–journalists’ refutations of these stories is, as my mother would say, like pushing back the sands.

But surely actual smart congressional Democrats and party leaders recognize that what matters to these people is not being able to keep their current plan but in not having to pay more, or a least not a lot more, to get acceptable coverage.  The 46-year-old woman who doesn’t want to pay for maternity coverage or, as she complains, coverage for stage-four-cancer treatment, or for sex-change surgery (surely something that represents most of the additional 500% increase in premiums from Blue Cross that this woman inferred was her only option since Blue Cross didn’t mention any other, because of the commonness of this surgery), might be happy to pay, say, an extra $100 a month for doctor and hospitalization coverage–which apparently her soon-to-be-cancelled policy does not include, since if it does it would have been the best-kept-secret-about-the-best-insurance-for-the-price-in-this-entire-country; hospitalization coverage for $100 a month!–in case, y’know, she needs an appendectomy or surgery for a broken ankle.

Okay, well, Obama apparently recognizes this too.  He just can’t trouble himself to assign a few people within the administration to, maybe, look into these anecdotes and report on their accuracy.  But the Democratic Party can pick up the slack, and the actual smart and competent congressional Democrats need to start aggressively picking up the slack and making that happen and getting out the word.

I’m sure they recognize by now that the next three years must be devoted to aggressively picking up the slack on a veritable slew of important policy matters and presenting facts and policy proposals clearly, loudly, and often, to the public.  Sure it would be nice to have the president do this, but the president won’t do this, probably because he can’t do this. I mean that literally; he lacks not only the desire but also the ability to do it.  But it’s critical that it be done.

And that it start en force immediately.

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What Dana Milbank’s Stunningly Awful Column Today Reveals About the Washington Press Corps – [UPDATED]

Okay.  There’s no way to do justice to Washington Post centerist columnist Dana Milbank’s column today about Obama’s “presser” yesterday by just summarizing it or quoting a sentence or short paragraph from it.  And justice for that column, titled “President Congeniality talks tough,” is what I want. So here are the first six (blessedly short) paragraphs of it:

“I’m a pretty friendly guy,” President Obama said near the end of his White House news conference Monday afternoon.

The claim might have been a touch more plausible if he hadn’t spent the bulk of the previous hour demonstrating just how adversarial he could be. Indeed, there was no precipitating event that led him to schedule the last-minute session in the East Room — lending credibility to the theory that he summoned reporters so he could bait Republicans.

“If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security checks and veterans benefits will be delayed,” the friendly president said, explaining his refusal to negotiate over increasing the debt limit.

Calling the opposition’s stance “absurd,” Obama advised Republicans that they “have two choices here: They can act responsibly and pay America’s bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. . . . And they better choose quickly, because time is running short.”

And that was just the opening statement. The hectoring continued through the Q&A. Exactly one month after the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Obama said of debt-reduction talks: “What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people.”

The Republicans’ view, President Congeniality added, “was rejected by the American people when it was debated during the presidential campaign. . . . But if the House Republicans disagree with that and they want to shut down the government to see if they can get their way on it, that’s their prerogative.”

I agree completely.  The president should never summon White House reporters to the White House press room in order to hold a press conference.  Or at least not to bait Republicans.

And, I guess, not even to respond to Republican daily baiting of him by falsely telling the public that a quirk in the law, requiring Congress to authorize the Treasury to pay the government’s already-incurred bills and bond interest, and pay such things as salaries to military personnel, air traffic controllers, Agriculture Department food inspectors, and Homeland Security airport marshals–not to mention not-yet-but-about-to-be owed Social Security payments, Medicaid payments to nursing homes, and Medicare payments to physicians and hospitals–is instead a request by the president and the Democrats in Congress to increase spending appropriations.  

No, sir.  Much better to allow the Republicans to prey on the public’s misunderstanding of the phrase “raise the debt ceiling.”   

Pass the ransom note, Republicans. Just do it through the mainstream media, as you have been doing.  They’ll happily repeat your message, complete with disinformation, without adding their own: a brief explanation of what the debt ceiling actually is.  Apparently, congressional reporters, unlike the White House press corp, don’t mind being summoned as bait.  Nor do the Sunday talk-show folk.  

Worms, all.

Milbank does allow that:

Arguably, Obama’s no-more-Mr.-Nice-Guy approach is good politics. His first-term experience made clear that he gained nothing from Republicans when he took a passive approach. When it comes to getting things done in Washington, there’s no substitute for forceful presidential leadership. Teddy Roosevelt, whose oil-on-canvas likeness gazed at Obama from an East Room wall, probably would have approved.

Actually, not even just arguably, Milbank conflates statements of fact–in this instance, fact about what the debt ceiling is–with politics.  Certainly, correcting the opposition’s campaign of disinformation, and educating the public about a critical but technical statute that almost no one other than Washington pols, fiscal-policy wonks, and journalists who cover these people and subjects are familiar with, is damn good politics.  It is, in fact, absolutely necessary politics.  It’s dereliction-of-duty-for-failure-to-do-so politics.  

But statements of fact, and statements of policy based on the statements of fact, are not themselves mere politics.  They’re statements of fact and statements of policy based on those facts.

What’s most disturbing about this column is not that one high-profile political columnist confuses these things, but that he says that the entire White House press corp in attendance at the press conference yesterday does.  

So I suggest that they get out more.  Milbank, for example, might consider stepping out of Washington and into, maybe, Baltimore.  Not a long drive, really.  There, he could stop in at a coffee shop or mall and maybe ask people whether they had heard or read of Obama’s comments yesterday and, if so, whether they understood more now about the what debt ceiling statute is than they did a day before.

Then he can report his findings to the rest of the White House press corp.  And offer a different theory about the reason Obama summoned them to the press room yesterday.

Or he could just start reading Angry Bear.  

Seriously, I hope Paul Krugman and other “names” will expose Milbank’s argument for what it is. Obama has that tendency to cower whenever a media meme takes hold on fiscal-policy issues. Milbank and the White House press corp don’t read Angry Bear, but they might read Krugman’s blog. 

  Nah; probably not.  It’s not like Krugman’s a centerist, or anything. Still, it’s worth a shot, especially since what matters most is that Obama or someone close to him might.
This Bear is really ANGRY today.



UPDATED:  Well, I woke up this morning to a few congratulatory emails, including from some Bears, telling me that Paul Krugman linked to my post yesterday in a blog post of his.  Awesome!  (Thanks, Prof. Krugman. And thanks to everyone for the congrats.)  

But I also want to republish here as an update an exchange between Bear JazzB. and me in the comments to the post:

JazzBumpa:   I always thought Milbank was more or less OK.

But this is really stupid.

Me:  Milbank was terrific back when he was the Post’s WH correspondent during the first G.W. Bush term, JazzB. But he rarely writes anything in his column that I think is really insightful or informative, and sometimes he writes a column that’s just baffling. Like yesterday’s.

What really dismays me is that he and some of the other “name” pundits flat-out missed the purpose of Obama’s Monday press conference. Obama was explaining what the debt ceiling law actually is–and what it is not. An explanation that was (and is) necessity because it’s a law that sounds like it means something that it does not, and that means something that it does not sound like it means–a fact that the Repubs have abused nearly every time one of them says anything publicly about it.

Dave Weigel wrote a [Politics article]* on Slate on Monday after the press conference that started out sounding like he missed the point–and then, wham!  He hit the nail on the head, pointing out that back in Sept. Obama said he planned to speak much more, directly, to the public and explain policy issues.  Weigel said that the Repubs mocked that then, but learned on Monday what he meant.  

And it does seem that the Repubs did learn a lot on Monday, because since then, several have publicly acknowledged that the debt ceiling game is over.  Yet Milbank and a few other pundits didn’t catch on.

And as long as I’m updating here, I’ll indulge myself and republish another exchange I had in the Comments to the post–this one with FastCommerce:

FastCommerce:  Worms. You an idiot.

Me:  Oh, dear. FastCommerce, it looks like you took the BAIT.

So sorry, folks.  But I couldn’t resist.

*In my original comment, I said Weigel wrote a blog post.  Actually, what he wrote was a full-length article, not a comment or short piece on his Slate blog.  (Those of us who are longtime Slate addicts know there’s a difference.)

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Call This Spade a Spade: The ‘DEADBEAT’ Threat. I.e., Deadbeatism.

[I]sn’t it paramount the president explain to the public what the debt ceiling issue actually is, rather than allowing the Republicans to keep misinforming the public that it’s an increase in budget allocations rather than a payment for budget allocations already made?  This quirk in the law–the requirement that Congress authorize payment of costs already budgeted, already promised (e.g., in bond interest, Medicare payments, Social Security payments, veterans benefits)–is something that almost no member of the general public knows.

Obama keeps saying, in a single sentence, that he won’t allow default on money already appropriated and owing.  That’s nice.  But does he really not understand that this goes right over most people’s heads, because the Repubs keep telling them the opposite, and because the debt ceiling law is a technicality that most people simply don’t know about, and because that technicality has no counterpart in, say, normal living experience?

This is beginning to seem to me like the 2009-2010 ACA debate, redux–with the rightwing misinforming the public, and Obama thinking that the public knows specifics that the public flatly does not know.

So here’s a suggestion: Obama’s shown a fondness for adopting the Republicans’ messaging by analogizing the federal government to a family’s finances, even though this analogy, when it involves economic stimulus and other fiscal-appropriations issues, actually amounts to a misrepresentation of fact.  But on the debt ceiling matter, the government-is-similar-to-families analogy is exactly apt.  If someone already runs up large credit card bills, he owes the money even if he decides to rip up his credit cards and stop running up personal debt.  If he doesn’t pay the credit card bills he’s accrued, he’s DEFAULTING on those debts, and his credit rating will plunge.  And if someone owes monthly mortgage payments, he can’t simply stop paying them, and expect to keep his home.  He’ll lose the home in a foreclosure proceeding.

See? Not hard to explain.  But if Obama can’t or won’t explain this, some other Democrat who can garner the public’s attention should.  My suggestion: Bill Clinton.  And if Clinton won’t, then maybe Joe Biden can.

I opened that post on Monday by quoting from a Greg Sargent blog post from that morning, and so I “tagged” Sargent by name on my post.  I think he read my post.  And maybe maybe Nancy Pelosi did, too.  (Nah.  The post didn’t get that many hits.  Although I did post something similar as a comment to a Dave Weigel article in Slate, and Weigel “liked” the comment using the “like” button on the comment. Maybe Pelosi read the Weigel article and my comment.)

Anyway, here’s what Sargent wrote in his Morning Plum blog piece this morning:

It is one of the most remarkable GOP spin jobs in recent memory : Republicans are painstakingly redefining raising the debt ceiling as something that would constitute giving something to the President, when in fact it is something that is necessary to avert financial disaster for the whole country.

Republicans are being very transparent about the goal of redefining the debt limit on these terms. For instance, the Hill reports today that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are diverging on how to handle the next round of fiscal talks. Senate Republicans want a more aggressive approach to debt ceiling hostage taking than House Republicans do, in the belief that it is the GOP’s primary leverage point to get the spending cuts they want. John Boehner recently said he believes the sequester gives Republicans more leverage than the debt ceiling does, but Senate Republicans disagree:

Boehner said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester give Republicans their best opportunity to push Obama to accept reforms.

But Senate Republicans think the debt ceiling is a stronger lever.

“The debt ceiling has a fair amount of leverage. It’s the only thing that I can think of for the foreseeable future that the president needs Congress to do,” said a Senate Republican aide. [Sargent’s bolddface.]

Get the trick here? Senate Republicans are describing the eventual hike in the debt ceiling as something the president needs from Congress, not something the whole country needs from Congress. Of course, Boehner is already on record admitting in 2011 that not raising it would constitute “financial disaster,” which may explain why he is backing off the claim that the debt limit gives GOP leverage. McConnell, apparently, disagrees.

This is only the latest sign of GOP disarray around the party’s debt ceiling strategy. Even if the party is struggling with their strategy here, however, it’s worth noting that it has been successful in redefining the meaning of debt ceiling hikes. Note that this subtle redefinition of lifting the debt limit as something that would constitute a favor to Obama has passed almost entirely unnoticed, and has essentially been internalized and accepted by many political observers. Which brings us to the next item.

As the above suggests — and as polls confirm — Dems need to better educate the public about what the debt ceiling is and what default would actually mean. The GOP has successfully spun their intransigence as synonymous with holding the line against spending, when in fact it amounts to nothing more than threatening to default on debts that have been already been incurred.

Yes.  And I have one further suggestion: In explaining what the debt ceiling actually is, and what will happen if the Repubs do what they threaten to do, Obama and the other Dems should use a word that chrystalizes the Repub threat: Deadbeat.

Call this spade a spade.  The threat is to force the federal government to become a deadbeat.  And point out that deadbeatism–I just coined that word, but I won’t copyright it; the Dems can use it, if they’d like–is now part of the Republican policy playbook.

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See Harold Meyerson’s Washington Post Column Today

This shift from wages to profits is called redistribution. It is the central fact of American economic life. And it is the primary reason that economic inequality in the United States has skyrocketed.

Yet wages, which are descending, are taxed at a higher rate than income derived from corporate profits — capital gains and dividends. Far from mitigating the consequences of this shift, the U.S. tax code reinforces the redistribution from wages to profits. Broadly speaking, it rewards the winners of this epochal shift and penalizes the losers, who are the vast majority of Americans.

The lower tax rates for capital gains and dividends, then, effectively reward offshoring more than work done within the United States, increase economic inequality and deprive the federal government of revenue it will need to support an aging population and meet its other obligations. None of this upsets Republicans, but it would be nice if Democrats realized that these tax breaks undermine everything they stand for.

A tax deal only the ultra-rich could love, Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, today

Yesterday I wrote that I expect the Dems to recapture control of the House in the 2014 election, despite the current extreme-gerrymandering.  I listed reasons why, and noted that while it’s been reported that in order to do that the Dems would have to win nationally, in the aggregate, in House races by between 7% and 8%, they did that in 2006 and 2008; at least that’s what I read recently.  

A main focus of that post was on the importance of ensuring that the public actually understands that “raising the debt ceiling” is not raising appropriations but, instead, simply authorizing payment by the Treasury of already-appropriated expenditures.  

But there are other tremendously important facts that the Dems badly need to tell or explain to the public.  One is something that I was shocked to read a day or two: that Defense Department appropriations have doubled in the last decade, from about $270 billion to (if I recall correctly) about $580 billion–during a decade of dramatic tax reductions.

Another is that the budget deals of the last two years, including the “fiscal cliff” one, coupled with a (however-slowly) recovering economy (fueled partly, at least in the rust-belt Midwest, by the auto-industry bailout), will have reduced the national debt by about $2.7 trillion dollars.  A fourth of that (if I correctly recall the article I read) is from the tax hikes in the fiscal cliff deal.  Y’know, the part of that deal that the Republicans fought so hard against and that most of their House delegation voted against.  The remainder comes from–yup–reductions in federal spending. 

Obama of course will tout the reductions in federal spending, in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses.  He probably also will mention the added revenue from the fiscal-cliff-deal tax-rate increases on the very wealthy.  

But he also needs to point out–to say and then explain–what Meyerson does in his column today.  

Obama, it seems, thinks that explaining anything economics-related to the masses is like explaining rocket science to people like, say, me.  It’s not. He needs to do it.  He needs a speechwriter who, rather than concentrating on writing memorable, lofty lines–the standard job of presidential speechwriters–actually understands fiscal policy and can, and will, craft a speech that explains it in the way some of the best liberal pundits do.  

But if he doesn’t do that, others, I trust, will.  And soon.  They’ll do effectively enough to create a public groundswell that will win the House for the Dems next year.

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The Republican Congressional Delegation’s Oddly Faulty Memory of 2004 — UPDATED

House Republicans argue that voters handed their members a mandate as well, granting the party control of the House for another two years and with it the right to stick to their own views, even when they clash strongly with the president’s.
And many Republicans remember well when the tables were turned. After Mr. Bush’s re-election in 2004, Democrats eagerly thwarted his push for privatization of Social Security, hobbling Mr. Bush’s domestic agenda in the first year of his second term.

Events Recall a More Bipartisan Era, and Highlight Gridlock of Today, Michael D. Shear, New York Times, today.

Whoa.  Funny, but I too remember the weeks following the 2004 presidential election. Which immediately followed the 2004 presidential campaign.  Which I also remember; it wasn’t all that long ago.  

And I remember that during that campaign, Bush never mentioned his plan to privatize Social Security.  

Yes, that’s right.  Bush waited until immediately after the election to announce his intention to privatize Social Security–outraging not just Democrats but millions of Independents, some of whom had voted for him, and even some Republicans.  

The main focus of the 2004 presidential campaign was national security.  Privatization of Social Security was not an issue at all in 2004.  Not until after the campaign, that is, when Bush not only announced his plan but also then campaigned intensely for public support for it, to no avail.  The proposal quickly proved deeply unpopular.  And congressional Republicans began to run from it.  The Republicans, who controlled both houses of Congress, did not even put it up for a vote, in either house, if I recall correctly.

So if Republicans think they remember that the tables were turned–a metaphor that refers to actual similarity, or at least some semblance of it–they might consider seeing a neurologist.  Or maybe just reading news accounts from the period between Bush’s announcement of his proposal and the death of that proposal early in 2005.  They also can search for reports of any mention–any suggestion at all–by Bush during the campaign that he was planning to propose the privatization of Social Security.  I wish them luck.

As for their claim to a mandate because they retained control of the House, the speciousness of this assertion has already been documented and discussed in the mainstream media, largely because a Washington Post reporter (I wish I could recall his name, but I can’t) meticulously researched the campaign results, congressional district by congressional district, and then did something that modern Republicans don’t: math.  Republicans lost, albeit narrowly, the aggregate popular vote in House elections nationwide.  They retained control of the House only because of extreme gerrymandering last year in some states, most notably in Pennsylvania and Texas, but in other states as well.  

The word “mandate” in this context leaves room for debate about what percentage of victory in the popular vote constitutes one.  But a victory in the popular is a prerequisite to that debate.  The Republicans don’t have the prerequisite, nor do they claim to have it; they simply misuse the word “mandate”.  Like so many other words.  

But at least it’s not false for them to note that they did retain control of the House.  What is baldly false, though, is their characterization of late 2004 and early 2005 as tables turned.  Unless, of course, there’s such a thing as a retroactive mandate for a policy that wasn’t disclosed during a campaign and is announced as a surprise only afterward.  Immediately afterward.

Which, now that I think about it, probably is what happened in 2004.  no, the public isn’t clairvoyant.  But we did know during the campaign that a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress in the current era will always want to privatize Social Security, and will waste no time (literally, in that case) in trying to do that when they hold the White House and majorities in both congressional houses.  We just forgot that, to our near-detriment–a mistake that, I trust, we the public won’t make again, however much Republican candidates insist otherwise during the campaign.  Because the Dem candidates will remind the public, during the campaign, of what happened after the election of 2004.  And of the current congressional Republicans’ claim in that New York Times article that a clear election victory is not a mandate on issues that were at the express and constant heart of a national campaign, because, after all, the opposition party doesn’t recognize as a mandate a vital policy proposal made only after the election that retroactively turned out to be all about that vital policy issue after all.  I mean, who knew?  Well, the Republicans did.

And now we do too, and it will be a prominent factor in campaigns to come.  The sheer trickery;  the attempt, in 2004 and now, to utterly undermine the very concept of democracy.  The current congressional Republicans’ express equating, as Shear reports, of a policy issue clearly at the heart of a campaign with a policy not even mentioned during the campaign.  It’s of a piece with the Romney campaign’s modus operandi of incessant, outright misrepresentations of fact.  And also of a piece with state and federal Republican legislative and executive-branch officeholders’ policy of delegating to lobbying groups the actual writing of legislation, including during lame-duck periods, enacting policies never proposed and, in some instances, expressly rejected by the officeholders, pre-election.  (Think: Michigan, Dec. 2012.)

But there’s also a separate issue of the messenger’s’–Shear’s–curious acceptance of the false equivalence of Bush’s and Congress’s handling of the Social Security privatization issue in late 2004 and early 2005 and resolution of the tax and spending issues of the fiscal cliff.  Shear mentions that Obama’s current approval rating in this week’s polls is his highest since shortly after bin Laden was killed.  He doesn’t mention that Obama’s approval rating has been above 50% throughout the post-election period, including the period before the Newtown shooting rampage, when the cliff talks were the news story, daily.  And that Bush’s approval rating plummeted once he announced his Social Security privatization plan.  And that the juxtaposition of the drop in Bush’s approval rating and that announce was not coincidence; the polling on that issue was awful for him.

We all are, by now, used to the news media’s acquiescence in the Republicans’ false-equivalency game. This Times article, by a reporter whose reporting is normally of high quality, makes me wonder whether there’s just is no limit to even the reporter-as-mindless-stenographer-for-fear-of-appearing-to-be-anti-Republican mindset at even the very highest level of the mainstream media.*

*This sentence had a large cut-and-paste error in it, and has now been corrected.


UPDATE:  Well … in the comments to this post, reader CasualObserver wrote:

Watch at the 5 min mark you will find that the faulty memory is all yours.

To which AB regular contributor Bruce Webb responded:

Well I don’t relish being the skeleton at the feast here, but Bush made his intentions on SS crystal clear when he set up his CSSS (Commission to Strengthen Social Security) in 2001 with six specific guidelines. one of whic categorically ruled out Payroll tax solutions of the sort Dale and us put forth as the ‘NW Plan’ and another nandated that private accounts had to be part of the package.

CSSS rolled out its recommendations right on time, unfortunately for Bush that time was right after 9/11. Absent that, which the Bush Administration was not expecting at all, we could have expected some analogue of the 2005 Social Security Tour being rolled out in 2002. The Bush Administration apparently took the intention for the deed and after fighting out the mid-terms and the 2004 presidential elections almost solely on national security somehow got the idea that yhe time was ripe to push the ‘Bi-Partisan’ Model 2 CSSS Plan, though at first with the flimsy vover of the near identical Posen Plan. because Posen, like a full half of the CSSS was a Democrat.

Anyway by Nov 26th 2004 Bush could plausibly claim that his plans for Social Security were fully spelled out after a ‘bi-partisan’ process for the last three years and so were at least implicitly on the table during the 2004 campaign. perhaps counting on the fact that no one was paying attention. and he almost won that bet, the fond belief by Dem leaders that they shot down Model 2 is not supported by the chronology instead the SS Tour was stopped in its tracks by the blogger led ‘There is No Crisis’ movement (in which I had an informal role but which was led by Dave Johnson and some others).

So no there was little to no talk of Social Security privatization on the hustings, and unless you were predisposed to be a SS geek that “I have got capital” move would indeed come out of thin air. Me I set up a new Social Security blog within 48 hours ( and started lobbing SS Report tables at figures with abandon. Because for my sins I was already seven years into this SS thing. And as such knew what Bush was about.

For which I am deeply grateful, Bruce, since after I read CasualObserver’s comment and did watch the video clip–which shows presidential-debate moderator Bob Schieffer asking Bush about his proposal to allow people to use part of their Social Security taxes to invest in the stock market rather than have the money go to the U.S. Treasury–I was dismayed.  How could I, who was downright obsessed with the 2004 presidential campaign and its outcome, not recall that Bush had campaigned in 2004 on his plan, announced years earlier, to partially privatize Social Security?

The answer, it turns out, is that Bush didn’t campaign on that plan during the 2004 campaign.  Schieffer was asking him about what had transpired before 9/11, and his commission’s recommendations, released in 2002.  To his credit, Bush, unlike a certain Republican presidential candidate in 2012, didn’t deny that he had done and said what Schieffer said he had.  Nor did he flip-flop.  He answered, straightforwardly, that this was his intention, and made a brief argument for the policy.

But Bush himself did not raise the issue during the campaign, and certainly did not campaign on the issue; that answer to Schieffer’s question probably is the only time he mentioned it during that campaign, unless maybe some other reporter asked him about it at some other point.  And Republicans had held control of both houses of Congress throughout Bush’s term, yet neither Bush nor the congressional Republicans had attempted to enact this into law.  That, of course, is because it was a very unpopular proposal.  

So CasualObserver is right, and I was wrong, that Bush made clear at some point during the campaign that he wanted to propose a plan to partially privatize Social Security.  But CasualObserver is wrong in suggesting that Bush campaigned on this.  He did not; he said, once or perhaps twice, in answer to a question, that he planned to do this.  But there was little expectation that such a proposal, if actually presented as a bill in Congress, would go very far.  And it did not go very far, not, as the current Republican congressional delegation claims, because the Senate Dems threatened a filibuster, or whatever, but because the polls were consistently showing–to Republican members of Congress as well as to Dem ones–that there was strong, broad-based opposition to it among the public.  So strong, in fact, that Bush’s 2005 attempt to have this policy enacted played a role in the unexpected change of both houses of Congress to Dem control in the 2006 election.  This, even though there weren’t enough Republican members in either house in 2005 to push this through.

The 2004 election was almost entirely about national security–at a time when, polls showed, about half the public still believed that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, and many still thought he had had weapons of mass destruction.  Virtually no one, Republican or Democrat, viewed the central issue in the campaign as anything else.

Suffice it to say that it is delusional–or maybe just a desperate political gimmick–for the current Repub crowd to claim an equivalence, in any substantive respect at all, between the 2005 Social Security privatization issue and the fiscal-policy controversies at issue in the current situation.

Including, not incidentally, that the Social Security privatization issue didn’t threaten to bring down the economy in 2005.

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A Victory for the Reality-Based Community! Oh, Know! Er, Oh, No!

Every four years, the race for the White House ends in accusations of deceit. Each side says the other spent millions of dollars to lie and skew the outcome. This year’s post-election accounts of backstage calculations and fateful turning points continue that tradition. But if you read these accounts carefully, you’ll find a happy surprise beneath the spin and recriminations: Lies failed. Truth prevailed.

Saletan goes on to discuss the several critical points during the campaign that pundits say are what ultimately led to Romney’s defeat, including the impact of Hurricane Sandy and of Romney’s appalling Jeep-jobs-to-China ad in Ohio last week.  You know, the one that said, “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.”

Saletan points to a delicious comment by a Romney fundraiser to Washington Post reporterPhillip Rucker—“A lot of people feel like Christie hurt, that we definitely lost four or five points between the storm and Chris Christie giving Obama a chance to be bigger than life,” a Romney fundraiser tells Rucker”—and nicely refutes its premise, voiced also by numerous pundits during the last week.  He points out that Obama wasn’t acting, or looking, presidential.  He was instead being presidential; he was performing his job.

Saletan’s article in mostly terrific.  But it—like most of the other pundit assessments—fails to mention the actual key factor for why Hurricane Sandy made it impossible for Romney to win: That the public learned of Romney’s primary-campaign statement that he wanted to remove disaster relief and all sorts of other federal programs as a federal responsibilities and place the responsibility for them on the states.  The very premise of this surely struck a large percentage of the population as nutty.  This ideology was at the very heart of Romney’s campaign, yet most people didn’t know that until a week before the election. 

The Sandy effect, in other words, had less to do with Obama’s “looking presidential” than Obama’s being presidential, as Saletan notes, but that’s because the public learned then pretty much what the difference was between Obama’s idea of what the federal government, rather than the states, should do.

Another important factor was, as this article and many others point out, Romney’s appalling ad last week in Ohio about Chrysler and Jeep, but I think the ad’s importance went even beyond the obvious problem that it intended to perpetuate a clearly erroneous fact.  Everyone in any way connected to the auto industry knows that Chrysler could not have survived at all without its purchase by Fiat.  Everyone who is currently employed because of Chrysler’s continued existence—including employees of Chrysler’s parts suppliers—knows that there would be no Chrysler, and therefore no Jeep jobs to be sent to China, or not—were it not for the sale of Chrysler to Fiat. 

So the ad, in addition to being flatly false in suggesting that the Jeep factory in Toledo was being shuttered, made no sense.  And it made no sense in a way that everyone recognized made no sense.  The ad, although it ran only in Ohio, got lots of publicity nationwide because the auto executives’ stunned and angry refutation, and Obama’s comments in Toledo about the ad, were big political news around the country.

The only conceivable reason that the Romney campaign gambled by putting out an ad that so obviously could backfire exactly as it did is that they already knew they were losing in Ohio and were willing to try, literally, anything.

These two factors, the hurricane and the Toledo Jeep factory, both of them coming in the closing ten days of the campaign, actually summed up the Romney campaign: mendacity as its prime modus operandi,and Tea Party ideology, both of which depend upon a concerted removal from the fact-based world.  

I suspect that it will be a long time before another Republican presidential nominee tries either of these.  At least until he or she is inaugurated. 

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The Best Revenge: Pointing Out that Romney Keeps Pretending to Be Stupid. Or That He Really IS Stupid.

Yesterday in Springfield, Ohio, the crowd listening to Barack Obama booed when the President brought up Mitt Romney and the Republican Congress. That prompted Obama to say:

“No, no, no — don’t boo, vote. Vote! Voting is the best revenge.”

Romney promptly pretended to be very outraged by this. He told his supporters:

“Yesterday, the President said something you may have heard by now. That I think surprised a lot of people. Speaking to an audience, he said, ‘voting is the best revenge.’ He told his supporters — voting for revenge. Vote for revenge? Let me tell you what I’d like to tell you. Vote for love of country.”

“Did you see what President Obama said today? He asked his supporters to vote for revenge — for revenge…Instead, I ask the American people to vote for love of country.”


Mitt Romney insults the Americanelectorate one last time, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

For me, one of the most frustrating aspects of this campaign is the failure of Obama and of the news media, time and again, to pretend to accept at face value that when Romney misinterprets the meaning of a word, a phrase or a fact, it because Romney really thinks that that’s what the word, the phrase, the fact means or indicates

There are now only one-and-one-half days of campaigning left.  Pleeease, Mr. Obama: Ask people whether they really want a commander-in-chief and a budget-and-tax-policymaker who thinks that “voting is the best revenge” means “vote for policies of revenge.” 

English is not this guy’s second language.  And he attended a fancy college-prep school, Stanford University, Brigham Young University, Harvard Law School and Harvard’s graduate school of business.

Here’s betting that he learned his English-language interpretation skills in law school and business school. 

If you get my drift.  And I bet you do.

Update:  Dan here…pgl takes a shot…comments worthwhile too

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It’s Happening. The pundits are now recognizing what HAPPENED last night.

Okay, thus far it’s just one major pundit, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, whose column posted at 1:58 p.m. demolishes the media’s Conventional Wisdom of last night and this morning, which focused mainly on Romney’s two gaffes, and concluded that Obama had won but only barely.  Binders-full-of-women is irresistible fun, but ultimately unimportant; Romney just misspoke, G.W. Bush-style.  And the clarity of Obama’s Rose Garden statement could be debated; it could depend on what the meaning of “is” is.

But now the focus among the punditry will change.  Dionne captures it:

Any high school debate coach would tell a student that declaring, “Believe me because I said so,” is not an argument. Yet Romney confused biography with specificity and boasting with answering a straightforward inquiry. “Well, of course, they add up,” Romney insisted of his budget numbers. “I — I was — I was someone who ran businesses for 25 years, and balanced the budget. I ran the Olympics and balanced the budget.” Romney was saying: Trust me because I’m an important guy who has done important stuff. He gave his listeners no basis on which to verify the trust he demanded.

Romney’s stonewalling was so obvious that it opened the way for one of Obama’s most effective lines of the evening: “If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then we’re going to pay for it, but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it, you wouldn’t have taken such a sketchy deal. And neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn’t add up.” Obama sought to make that point in the last debate. This time he had a metaphor and a story to go with the arithmetic.

Romney also covertly disclosed that he, like George W. Bush before him, has every intention of cutting taxes on the rich. Like Bush, he used stealthy language to try to achieve a great fiscal coverup.

Here was Romney on Tuesday: “I will not, under any circumstances, reduce the share that’s being paid by the highest-income taxpayers.” Here was Bush in 2000: “After my plan is in place, the wealthiest Americans will pay a higher percentage of taxes [than] they do today.”

This really matters: Romney intends, as Bush did, to push for steep tax cuts for the wealthy. His only pledge is that he’ll keep the share of the total tax take paid by the wealthy unchanged, presumably by reducing other taxes too. And this is supposed to lead to lower deficits? How?

The most instructive contrast between Debate I and Debate II was the extent to which Romney’s ideas crumbled at the slightest contact with challenge. Romney and Paul Ryan are erecting a Potemkin village designed to survive only until the polls close on Nov. 6. They cannot say directly that they really believe in slashing taxes on the rich and backing away from so much of what government does because they know that neither idea will sell. So they offer soothing language to the middle class, photo ops at homeless programs to convey compassion and a steady stream of attacks on Obama, aimed at shifting all the attention his way.…

In the first debate, Obama let Romney back into the race by failing to shake his opponent’s self-presentation. But Romney also put himself into contention by pretending to be a moderate, shelving his plutocratic side and hiding his party’s long-term objectives.

In the second debate, the disguise fell. Romney revealed more of himself than he wanted to and asked voters to endorse a radical tax-cutting program without providing them the details that matter. Sketchy is one word for this. Deceptive is another.

Romney’s candidacy will not survive an ad by the Obama campaign that explains what the meaning of “reduce the share” is.  In actual math.  And that asks voters whether they think Romney intended that they think he meant … something else.

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