Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 31, 2010

DON'T BLAME BOEHNER; HE JUST WORKS THERE.... President Obama hosted a meeting at the White House with the leadership of both parties, from both chambers, and the discussion reportedly turned to Bush's tax cuts. GOP leaders want all the cuts to remain in place, no matter how many billions of dollars it adds to the deficit. The president wants to keep the cuts for everyone except the very wealthy.

By all accounts, the chat wasn't especially constructive, but I was glad to see this exchange took place.

Mr. Obama, who did not join the Senate until 2005, reminded Mr. Boehner and the Senate Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, that the tax cuts' architects purposely left the deficit problem to a future administration, according to aides from both parties.

"I wasn't there," Mr. Boehner quickly countered. "I didn't structure that deal."

The room briefly went quiet as participants seemed to ponder that statement from a legislator first elected in 1990. "How long have you been here?," a Democrat asked Mr. Boehner, and the others broke out in laughter.

They're laughing at you, John, not with you.

It's a telling anecdote. The White House vision is to largely follow the game plan crafted by congressional Republicans less than a decade ago. It was the GOP's idea -- they passed tax cuts, which overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy, and set the cuts to expire at the end of 2010. The point was to obscure the cuts' cost, play a dangerous budget game, and make it so that the GOP wouldn't have to pay for their own experiment. We saw the results, which can only fairly be described as "total failure."

Obama is prepared to do part of what Republicans included in their own plan -- letting tax rates for those making more than $250,000 return to the same levels that existed when the economy was strong, as was outlined in the Republican plan of the Bush era. Reminded of whose idea this was in the first place, Boehner, in effect, argued that he has nothing to do with the plan he voted for, and which was crafted by his own caucus.

Indeed, Boehner was, at the time, responsible at the committee level for helping shape the tax-cut package, and was on hand at the White House for the bill-signing ceremony.

No wonder the room broke out in laughter.

As for the substance, Boehner told the president allowing the higher rates to return to pre-Bush levels would be bad for small businesses (small businesses that need some help, which Senate Republicans have blocked). As a policy matter, Boehner's argument is patently ridiculous, but the fact that he's pushing it in a private meeting confirms my suspicions -- Boehner actually believes his own nonsense, and isn't quite sharp enough to realize he doesn't know what he's talking about.

In the meantime, Boehner is also urging Republicans to stop referring to the Bush tax cuts as the Bush tax cuts. GOP members are supposed to fight for the failed former president's tax policy, but avoid using the failed former president's name.

They really do think voters are fools.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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A VICTORY LAP.... When President Obama intervened last year to rescue American auto manufacturers, Republicans were apoplectic, and felt they had all the proof they needed that the White House was bent on a radical, socialistic agenda to destroy capitalism. The GOP screamed that the industry rescue wouldn't -- and couldn't -- work, and that the entire scheme would be a disaster for taxpayers and our very way of life.

A year later, the president is understandably boasting about getting the policy right, and as the Washington Post noted this morning, "many of the critics have retreated from their sharpest attacks as they watch the auto industry once again turn a profit."

With this in mind, the president used his weekly address to take a victory lap, and explain that while the industry bailout wasn't ideal, he had to make the tough call -- a decision that we now know was correct.

Recording the address at a GM plant in Detroit, Obama explained, "[I]f some folks had their way, none of this would be happening at all. This plant might not exist. There were leaders of the 'just say no' crowd in Washington who argued that standing by the auto industry would guarantee failure. One called it 'the worst investment you could possibly make.' They said we should just walk away and let these jobs go. Today, the men and women in this plant are proving these cynics wrong. Since GM and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, our auto industry has added 55,000 jobs -- the strongest period of job growth in more than ten years. For the first time since 2004, all three American automakers are operating at a profit. Sales have begun to rebound. And plants like this that wouldn't have existed if all of us didn't act are now operating maximum capacity. "

The president made nearly identical points in a speech to factory workers yesterday. The point wasn't subtle, but it was accurate -- if we'd listened to Republicans, the American auto industry would be left in shambles, hundreds of thousands of jobs would be lost, and the backbone of American manufacturing would have been broken. At a moment of crisis, Republicans got it wrong. Again.

MSNBC's First Read noted yesterday, "We said it at the time: As the GM bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency. It was the bailout everyone in America could understand, and it wasn't popular.... A year later, however, the Obama administration believes it has a good story to tell."

There are worse things to base an election on -- Republicans were prepared to let the American auto industry fail at the height of the Great Recession, but President Obama rescued it instead. If the auto bailout and Obama's presidency are inextricably tied, the White House has reason to boast.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is the deeply offensive, increasingly-ugly conservative crusade against Muslims, which was initially limited to opposing the construction Islamic community centers and mosques, but it's metastasizing quickly.

On September 11, 2010, the extremist evangelical Dove World Church -- whose pastor, Terry Jones, has written a book called "Islam Is Of The Devil" -- plans to host "International Burn A Quran Day," when it will burn Muslims' sacred text and encourage others across the world to do so as well. Churchmember Wayne Sapp has even posted an instructional video that explains how and why to burn the Islamic text.

CNN host Rick Sanchez invited Jones on his show [Thursday] to ask him about the inflammatory action.... Jones later went on to explain, "What we are also doing by the burning of the Quran, we're saying stop, stop to Islam, stop to Islamic law, stop to brutality. We have nothing against Muslims, they are welcome in our country." When Sanchez asked him how he would feel if Muslims burned the Bible, Jones admitted he wouldn't like it but emphasized that it was his "right" to burn the Islamic text because "we live in America."

So, the anti-Muslim, Quran-burning preacher wants us to believe he has "nothing against Muslims." Why would anyone doubt that?

Another pastor from Dove World explained that his church believes in burning Islamic texts "because we're Christian," adding, "Being Christian does not mean you go to church. Being Christian does not mean you believe in God. Being Christian means you are Christ-like, or at least attempting to go in that direction. And Jesus, the Christ, he was sent -- he appeared -- to destroy the works of the Devil. So that's what we're gonna do."

Maybe there's some director's cut version of the New Testament I'm not aware of, featuring a hateful, book-burning Jesus.

For the record, the National Association of Evangelicals, the nation's largest body of evangelical Christians, has denounced Dove World's efforts.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Evangelical Christian minister Tim LaHaye, best known for helping write the best-selling "Left Behind" series, told Fox News this week that the Obama administration's agenda is bringing us "closer to the apocalypse." Asked if we're "now living in the end times," LaHaye said, "Very definitely." (thanks to reader D.J.)

* California Tea Party activist Diane Serafin organized a protest at a Riverside County-area mosque this week, and urged Christians to bring dogs to the demonstration because "they hate dogs." The point of the protest was to denounce the construction of a new mosque, which Serafin perceives as part of an effort to "take over our country." She told Evan McMorris-Santoro, "I want you to stress this -- I'm not prejudiced. I worked retail for nine years and I didn't even know my manager was gay until someone told me. And when I found out, I didn't care." I guess that settles it, then.

* Newsweek reported the other day that, over the last four decades, church attendance goes up when the GDP goes down.

* And Ted Haggard this week said he "over-repented" for having an affair with a male prostitute. Whatever you say, Ted.

Steve Benen 10:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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HEALTH-CARE SCHEME SCUTTLED IN FLORIDA.... It's a fairly straightforward strategy: get a measure on the state ballot in opposition to health care reform; boost right-wing turnout; and expect those voters to support GOP candidates while they're at the polls. We saw a similar strategy play out in 2004 with far-right activists getting measures on the ballot to prevent marriage equality.

Assuming that Republican voters hate the Affordable Care Act at least as much as gays, there's an effort underway to repeat the model in a variety of states. One party official conceded, "What we're trying to do is give voters an added reason to show up to the polls."

In Florida, the GOP-led state legislature did just that. Yesterday, a state judge threw the scheme out.

Calling the wording of a Republican-backed constitutional amendment on health care "manifestly misleading," a Circuit Court judge in Leon County has tossed it off the November ballot.

The proposal had been drafted and put forward by the GOP-led state legislature as a counter to the new federal health care plan. It would prohibit the state from participating in any health insurance exchange that compels people to buy insurance.

State law requires ballot summaries to be clear and accurate. Circuit Court Judge James Shelfer said a proposed ballot summary for the amendment contains several phrases that are political and list issues that are not addressed in the proposal.

The first sentence of the summary says the amendment would "ensure access to health care services without waiting lists, protect the doctor-patient relationship, (and) guard against mandates that don't work."

Shelfer said the amendment does not guarantee any of those things.

Imagine that -- right-wing Republicans making "manifestly misleading" claims about health care policy. Who would have imagined?

Of course, it's a cynical exercise anyway, since state measures, even those approved by voters, can't trump federal law. But the point had nothing to do with policy, and everything to do with Republicans' get-out-the-vote efforts.

While the issue in Florida is being appealed, identical efforts are continuing elsewhere. Ben Armbruster noted, "[N]ext Tuesday, Missouri voters will vote on a similar measure challenging the health insurance mandate Congress passed with the reform bill last year. The proposal 'would prohibit governments from requiring people to have health insurance or from penalizing them for paying health bills entirely with their own money.'"

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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AND THEN THERE WERE TWO.... Rep. Charlie Rangel's (D-N.Y.) ethics charges are obviously generating a lot of attention, but the issue will likely become even bigger if there are two long-time House members facing allegations at the same time.

Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, will face charges of misusing her office and is expected to contest the claims in a House trial, the second powerful House Democrat to opt for such a public airing in recent days, Congressional officials said Friday.

A House ethics subcommittee has charged Ms. Waters, 71, a 10-term congresswoman, in a case involving communications that she had with the top executive of a bank that her husband owned stock in while it was applying for a federal bailout in 2008, two House officials said.

Charges are expected to be announced next week, several Congressional officials said, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because the proceedings remained confidential.

In the meantime, there are now eight House Democrats calling on Rangel to resign. They were bolstered, at least indirectly, when President Obama told CBS's Harry Smith yesterday, "I think Charlie Rangel served a very long time and served -- his constituents very well but these -- allegations are very troubling.... He's somebody who's at the end of his career. Eighty years old. I'm sure that what he wants is to be able to end his career with dignity. And my hope is that it happens."

By all accounts, the president's comments didn't change matters for Rangel, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus were reportedly annoyed by Obama's criticism -- not because Rangel is innocent of the ethics allegations, but because Rangel "served our nation with honor and distinction for more than four decades, before ... the president was a twinkle in his parents' eye."

As for the charges themselves, a investigative subcommittee of the House ethics panel that oversaw the two-year probe into Rangel's alleged wrongdoing recommended that the New York Dem "be punished with a reprimand, rather than a more serious censure or expulsion from office," a recommendation that may carry "significant weight with the full 10-member House ethics committee."

While the Rangel and Waters allegations will no doubt be welcome news to Republicans, who'd love to exploit the ethics controversies for electoral gain, the GOP should probably be reminded of the dangers of throwing stones in glass houses.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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TAKING A CUE FROM ABE SIMPSON.... Way back in the sixth season of "The Simpsons," Springfield Mayor Joe Quimby was telling a group of seniors about a new highway, explaining that it would "bring increased commerce to our local merchants." Grandpa Simpson was unimpressed, asking, "What's in it for us?" Jasper added, "Yeah, give us something we like or we'll ride you out of town on a rail!"

The mayor, flustered, replied, "Well, uh, what do you people like?" Grandpa Simpson eventually says, "Maaatloock!" Quimby acts quickly, and declares, "Well, I suppose I could name it ... the Matlock Expressway." And with that, the seniors are happy.

This occurred to me when I saw the latest ad from the Obama administration related to health care policy. There's ample polling that suggests there are generational differences in how Americans perceive the Affordable Care Act -- and seniors' attitudes are easily the most negative. Given that the right went to great lengths to try to terrify the elderly with ridiculous lies, the polls aren't especially surprising.

So, the administration created a new spot starring ... Andy Griffith. The actor who played Matlock talks up the new law, telling a targeted audience, "With the new health care law, more good things are coming -- free checkups, lower prescription costs and better ways to protect us and Medicare from fraud.... I think you're going to like it."

The 30-second ad went live yesterday, and will air on four national cable networks: CNN, Weather Channel, Lifetime, and Hallmark.

If this doesn't help address seniors' concerns, I might recommend labeling the new law Matlock's Affordable Care Act.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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HALF NELSON.... Yesterday, Sen. Judd Gregg (R) of New Hampshire announced his support for Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination, bringing the total number of Republicans backing confirmation to five (and counting). For Democrats who might be looking for bipartisan cover, there's plenty here.

But for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), it's apparently not good enough.

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska announced Friday that he will not vote to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, becoming the first Democrat to oppose the president's nominee.

"I have heard concerns from Nebraskans regarding Ms. Kagan, and her lack of a judicial record makes it difficult for me to discount the concerns raised by Nebraskans, or to reach a level of comfort that these concerns are unfounded," he said in a statement. "Therefore, I will not vote to confirm Ms. Kagan's nomination."

But Mr. Nelson said that he would not join Republicans if they attempt a filibuster.

"In my view, this nominee deserves an up or down vote in the Senate."

Yes, let's all marvel at Nelson's graciousness.

This is all rather hard to believe. It seems unlikely Nelson's office lines have been burning up with anti-Kagan calls, and even if the senator has heard from some constituents on this, he should probably realize that organized right-wing activists aren't going to vote for him anyway, so there's no real point trying to impress them.

But note the specific rationale -- Nelson's heard from opponents of the Kagan nomination, which he's struggled with because of her inexperience as a judge. I'm not even sure what this means, exactly. He would "discount" far-right complaints if Kagan had been a judge? What does one have to do with the other?

For the record, the "lack of a judicial record" canard is still weak.

Kagan's legal experience is comparable to that of conservative justices, and experts agree that she is qualified for the Supreme Court. The American Bar Association gave Kagan its highest rating: well qualified. Justice Antonin Scalia reportedly said that he was "happy to see that this latest nominee" is "not a judge at all." Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said it didn't matter that Kagan had not been a judge. In addition, other legal experts and prominent conservatives reject claims that Kagan isn't qualified. At least 38 justices -- including two of the past four chief justices -- had no judicial experience when they were first nominated for the Supreme Court. And Kagan's legal experience is comparable to that of several recent conservative justices at the time of their nominations: William Rehnquist, Clarence Thomas, and John Roberts.

The Kagan confirmation vote will likely occur on Tuesday. Whether Nelson will switch parties won't be clear until January.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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July 30, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "Three U.S. troops died in blasts in Afghanistan, bringing the death toll for July to at least 63 and surpassing the previous month's record as the deadliest for American forces in the nearly 9-year-old war."

* The Bush Recession was even worse than we realized: "The worst U.S. recession since the 1930s was even deeper than previously estimated, reflecting bigger slumps in consumer spending and housing, according to revised figures."

* Federal court judge Susan Bolton, recommended for the bench by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), blocked the implementation yesterday of several provisions of Arizona's anti-immigrant bill. Now, she's facing death threats.

* Rangel's reprimand? "The subcommittee that investigated Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) has recommended that the embattled lawmaker face just a 'reprimand,' a mild form of punishment similar to that given to Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) when he was rebuked in 1997."

* Keep standing up for yourself, EPA.

* Happy Anniversary, Medicare. Here's hoping the next Congress doesn't try to subject you to a death panel.

* Something to keep an eye on: "The world's first authorized test in people of a treatment derived from human embryonic stem cells has been cleared to begin by the Food and Drug Administration. The trial will test cells developed by Geron Corporation and the University of California, Irvine in patients with new spinal cord injuries."

* Unacceptable: "Someone accused of killing a white person in North Carolina is nearly three times as likely to get the death penalty than someone accused of killing a black person, according to a study released Thursday by two researchers who looked at death sentences over a 28-year period."

* Rumor has it that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is one of the sharper members of the House Republican caucus, but when one considers his actual ideas, Ryan is still "stone-cold ignorant."

* Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) will vote to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. He's the fifth Republican senator to announce his support for the nomination.

* Even Robert Kagan, a bona fide neocon, supports ratification of New START. It just needs eight Republicans.

* Newt Gingrich is deeply confused, but so is his spokesperson.

* The GAO offers more support for those who believe there's money to be saved in the Pentagon budget.

* Sorry to see True/Slant close its virtual doors.

* There are no credible defenses for crack/powder sentencing disparities, but Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) gives it a shot (and fails miserably).

* Fixing California's higher education problems is harder than it looks.

* If it never occurred to you to connect "The Simpsons" to Weather Underground and '60s-era radicalism, then you're probably not watching Glenn Beck.

* And Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner continues to make a name for himself, this week suggesting it's time for Arizona to consider secession. He seems quite serious about it.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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A TEST FOR THE SENATE GOP 'MODERATES'.... It's been pretty unpleasant watching the Senate lately. The DISCLOSE Act came up, and every single Senate Republican joined together to block the bill from even getting a vote. A package of incentives and tax breaks for small businesses looked to be in good shape, but every single Senate Republican joined together to knock that down, too. Twenty obviously qualified judicial nominees were brought forward, and the GOP blocked votes on all of them. Medical care for 9/11 victims came up, and Republicans prevented it from passing, too.

And these are just developments since Tuesday.

But early next week, the chamber will have another important opportunity to pass a critical piece of legislation. Annie Lowrey reported:

[Thursday night], Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attached an amendment with funding to preserve teachers' jobs and to provide much-needed Medicaid funding to states to a Federal Aviation Administration bill. The amendment is fully paid-for, and the FAA bill is just a vehicle. Reid filed cloture, meaning the Senate will vote on the provisions on Monday.

The amendment includes $10 billion in funding for teachers' jobs and $16.1 billion in funding for the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages, or FMAP, program, which provides Medicaid funding to states. For offsets, it closes foreign tax credit loopholes to raise $9 billion; it also cuts $2 billion from Medicaid drug pricing, $8.4 billion in rescissions and $6.7 billion from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

There were no further details released at the time. At first blush, cutting food stamps to pay for Medicaid -- both problems aid the most economically distressed Americans -- and teachers' jobs seems like a hard compromise to swallow, though it is unclear when the cuts will take effect and what portions will be cut.

Paying for this through food stamp offsets is rough, but it may not quite as bad as it appears. A source close to the talks told me this afternoon that the $6.7 billion from SNAP won't go into effect until 2014 and the money comes from an increase that came through the Recovery Act. For Democrats, it seems like a reasonable trade-off -- they get to save a lot of jobs and bolster Medicaid in the short term, while having three years to replenish the extra funds for food stamps.

But what about for Republicans? What kind of resistance should Democrats expect when this comes up on Monday night?

I don't doubt they'll come up with something, but Republicans -- especially Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine -- really don't have any excuses here. This bill will help states, save jobs, and improve the economy ... without adding a penny to the deficit.

On Monday, Snowe and Collins specifically endorsed a Medicaid funding extension, but said they didn't want to vote for a bill that wasn't paid for. Well, this bill is paid for. Collins said the job-saving state aid should phase down over time. Well, to accomodate her concerns, this bill does exactly that.

So, Republican moderates, what's it going to be? Are you willing to take "yes" for an answer?

Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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SPARE US THE ETHICS LECTURE, FRED.... Last week, Republican pundit Fred Barnes did his very best to pretend to be outraged about the existence of Journolist -- the former listserv featuring left-of-center media professionals, scholars, and wonks (including, for the record, me).

"If there's a team, no one has asked me to join," Barnes said in a Wall Street Journal piece. "As a conservative, I normally write more favorably about Republicans than Democrats and I routinely treat conservative ideas as superior to liberal ones. But I've never been part of a discussion with conservative writers about how we could most help the Republican or the conservative team." Barnes added that he's pained by the betrayal of "traditional journalism."

The layers of misjudgment are numerous, especially coming from a shamelessly partisan Fox News contributor publishing an item on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal.

But Joe Conason takes this further, and notes that Barnes is very much part of "a team," which is evident every time Barnes helps Republican fundraising efforts and accepts tens of thousands of dollars from GOP organizations.

* In February 2006, Barnes was paid $10,000 plus travel expenses by Oregon's Lane County Republican Central Committee to deliver the keynote address at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner. (Thanks to Carla Axtman for research assistance.) These payments, recorded in filings with the Oregon secretary of state, were evidently made through the Premier Speakers Bureau of Franklin, Tenn., which represents other Fox personalities including Sean Hannity, Dick Morris and Mike Huckabee. Barnes is no longer listed on the Premier website, but the company did not respond to phone or e-mail inquiries about its relationship with him.

* In February 2007, Barnes spoke at the annual Lincoln-Reagan Dinner held by the Republican Party of Fort Bend County, Texas -- home of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who purchased a ticket to the event. The party organization's filing with the Texas Ethics Commission shows two payments of $5,000 each on April 26, 2007, to Premiere Speakers Bureau (with the notation "LRD 2007 Speaker - Fred Barnes") and travel expenses of $1,823. Photos of a smiling Barnes with various local dignitaries at the event, which netted a reported $70,000 for the party, can be viewed here.

* In early March 2008, Barnes served as the keynote speaker for the Republican Party of Palm Beach County at its annual Lincoln Day Dinner. Whether he received the customary $10,000 is not clear because the party's filing with the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections show only a single payment of $5,500 to Premiere Speakers Bureau on Feb. 18. The committee reported net $120,000 in net proceeds from the event.

Tell us again, Fred, about your unwavering commitment to the standards of "traditional journalism," and your independence from any "team."

And while you're at it, Fred, tell us how an online discussion group with media professionals is more offensive than your Republican fundraising efforts.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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ADL'S MOST MISGUIDED MOMENT.... When I heard that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) had issued a statement on the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero in Manhattan, I was relieved. Finally, I thought, a sensible, credible voice committed to combating bigotry and prejudice could remind the right-wing about the importance of respect, freedom, and how there are no second-class faith traditions here in the United States.

And then I read the statement, and my relief disappeared.

The ADL's statement started off really well. It reiterated its commitment to religious liberty, "categorically" rejected the "appeals to bigotry," and condemned those "whose opposition to this proposed Islamic Center is a manifestation of such bigotry."

But then the ADL went badly off course.

"The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process. Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found."

What? That doesn't make any sense. The right manufactures a controversy, motivated by nothing but bigotry, so the facility should be built elsewhere? Why, to reward the bigots? And how many blocks away would be necessary to satisfy these demands?

"Proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam. The bigotry some have expressed in attacking them is unfair, and wrong. But ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain -- unnecessarily -- and that is not right."

This is genuinely incoherent, and a statement I suspect the ADL will one day look back on with regret and embarrassment.

What the Anti-Defamation League is arguing is that the sensitivities of bigots are more important than the religious liberty of American Muslims. The ADL believes faith communities should be free to build buildings, unless it might bother those who hate those faith communities.

The ADL seems to acknowledge and fully appreciate the fact that opponents of the Cordoba House are motivated by bigotry, but inexplicably calls for the accommodation of that bigotry.

As Adam Serwer concluded:

Let's be clear. This is not about the proposed Islamic Center. There is already a masjid in the neighborhood, and it's been there for decades. This is about giving political cover to right-wing politicians using anti-Muslim bigotry as a political weapon and a fundraising tool. By doing this, the ADL is increasingly eroding its already weakened credibility as a nonpartisan organization.

I learned a very important lesson in Hebrew School that I have retained my entire life. If they can deny freedom to a single individual because of who they are, they can do it to anyone. Someone at the ADL needs to go back to Hebrew School.


Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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APPROPRIATELY NAMED BROTHERS.... It's almost enough to make me believe in karma.

Samuel and Charles Wyly, the billionaire brothers from Dallas who are large donors to philanthropies and to conservative causes, were charged Thursday with conducting an extensive securities fraud that the Securities and Exchange Commission said reaped $550 million in undisclosed gains.

The brothers, who founded Sterling Software, a business software and services company that they sold for $4 billion in stock to the software company CA in 2000, were also charged with insider trading violations from which they profited by more than $31 million, the S.E.C. said.

And who are the Wyly brothers? You may not recognize their names right away, but you no doubt know their friends -- the Wylys have given more than just about everyone else to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), and former House Republican leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), in addition to generous support for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R).

The Wyly brothers were also "substantial contributors" to the Swiftboat liars who smeared Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) military service in the 2004 presidential race.

Perhaps my favorite story involving the Wylys and politics relates to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). In 2000, the Wyly brothers created a front group called Republicans for Clean Air, whose sole purpose was to attack McCain in order to help then-Gov. George W. Bush's presidential campaign.

McCain accused the Wyly brothers of being corrupt, and having spent "dirty money" to "hijack" a presidential election. McCain even filed a complaint against the Wylys for allegedly violating campaign finance law. Six years later, McCain changed his mind, and begged the brothers for campaign donations.

And now these two find themselves with a serious SEC problem. What goes around comes around, I guess.

For the record, I think it's a mistake to condemn politicians for the actions of those who've raised money for them. Officials and candidates can hardly be expected to keep up on the shenanigans of every high-dollar donor, bundler, and financier, so I'm not suggesting these Republican candidates did something wrong by taking the Wylys' money (though in McCain's case, it was rather ridiculous).

I'm just saying, in light of their efforts, it's kind of nice to see the Wyly brothers run into some trouble.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In Florida's closely-watched Senate race, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Gov. Charlie Crist (I) still out in front, enjoying 37% support, followed by Marco Rubio (R) at 32%, and Jeff Greene (D) third with 17%. With Rep. Kendrick Meek as the Democratic nominee, Crist's and Rubio's numbers are a little higher, but the margins are about the same.

* On a related note, Quinnipiac also polled Florida's open gubernatorial race, and found an even more competitive contest. With Rick Scott as the GOP nominee, he leads with 29%, just two points ahead of state CFO Alex Sink (D) at 27%, and Bud Chiles (I) with 14%. If Bill McCollum wins the Republican primary, he's ahead 27% to 26% over Sink.

* In Nevada, a new Mason-Dixon poll shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) leading former state Rep. Sharron Angle (R) by just one point, 43% to 42%. The last Mason-Dixon poll showed Reid with a larger lead.

* Speaking of Reid, Kentucky Senate hopeful Jack Conway (D) has been under pressure from right-wing candidate Rand Paul (R) about whether he'd support Reid for Majority Leader if elected. This week, pressed on the issue, Conway hedged, suggesting Reid might still lose his re-election bid.

* We're just days away from Michigan's GOP gubernatorial primary, and a new EPIC/MRA poll shows a very competitive three-way contest. Rick Snyder is ahead in the poll with 26% support, followed by Mike Cox at 24%, and Pete Hoekstra at 23%. Among Democrats, Virg Bernero leads Andy Dillon by eight, 40% to 32%.

* If you're inclined to believe Rasmussen, right-wing businessman Ron Johnson (R) is leading Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in Wisconsin, 48% to 46%.

* In Nevada, Rasmussen shows Brian Sandoval (R) leading the gubernatorial race over Rory Reid (D), but Sandoval's lead is down to 10 points, and the poll was taken before Sandoval's controversial comments about Arizona's anti-immigrant policy.

* In Pennsylvania, Rasmussen shows former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) leading Rep. Joe Sestak (D) by six, 45% to 39%.

* And in the state of Washington, Rasmussen shows Sen. Patty Murray (D) leading GOP frontrunner Dino Rossi by two, 49% to 47%.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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IF SESSIONS WANTS TO COMPARE, WE CAN COMPARE.... Yesterday, Senate Democrats tried to win confirmation for 20 pending judicial nominees, nearly all of whom enjoyed bipartisan support at the committee level, and all of whom have run into needless Republican obstructionism. How many of the 20 were approved yesterday? None -- Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) blocked all of them.

"President Obama's nominees are moving considerably faster ... than President Bush's nominees," the right-wing Alabaman said on the floor. Senate Dems put together this fact-checking video, which makes plain that Sessions either doesn't know what he's talking about, or he's deliberately trying to deceive, hoping those listening don't know the difference between fact and fiction.

The White House has faced some criticism, much of it deserved, for not being more aggressive in sending judicial nominees for consideration. But it's certainly not the administration's fault that the Senate confirmation process is effectively broken, with Republicans using filibusters and holds to block votes on qualified would-be jurists.

The Center for American Progress released a report this morning, and the results are both striking and irrefutable. Even district court nominees, whose confirmations used to be routine, are being blocked in record numbers, thanks to Republican tactics that have never even been tried in the Senate.

From the report: "Such tactics are completely unprecedented, and so are their results. Fewer than 43 percent of President Obama's judicial nominees have so far been confirmed, while past presidents have enjoyed confirmation rates as high as 93 percent. And President Obama's nominees have been confirmed at a much slower rate than those of his predecessor -- nearly 87 percent of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees were confirmed."

congressionalnomineesgraphs1.png

The report added, "It is easy to manipulate the Senate rules to create a crisis. If a minority of senators broadly object to the Senate's entire agenda, then it is literally impossible to confirm more than a fraction of the hundreds of judges, executive branch officials, ambassadors, and other nominees that each president has a responsibility to appoint, even if the Senate shuts down all other legislative business to do so."

This political paralysis is unsustainable, and it's going to get even worse if the Senate Republican caucus grows in the next Congress, as seems extremely likely.

It's ridiculous to think of a judiciary filled with recess appointments, but it may come to that.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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A COMEBACK STORY AMERICANS (EVEN THE GOP) SHOULD LOVE.... The U.S. Chamber of Commerce gets a lot of things wrong, for a lot of wrong reasons. But of particular interest today was Steven Pearlstein's sweeping rejection of Chamber politics, most notably, how wrong it and its president, Tom Donahue, were about President Obama's rescue of the U.S. auto industry.

Perhaps none was more controversial than the decision to rescue Chrysler and General Motors, using $86 billion in taxpayer funds and an expedited bankruptcy process that wiped out shareholders, brought in new executives and directors, forced creditors to take a financial haircut, closed dealerships and factories and imposed painful cuts in wages and benefits on unionized workers. It was an extraordinary and heavy-handed government intervention into the market economy that left the Treasury owning a majority of both companies. As one participant recalls, public opinion was divided among those who believed that the companies should have been allowed to die, those who believed they would never survive bankruptcy and those who believed the government would inevitably screw things up. Among the most vocal skeptics: the Chamber's Donohue.

A year later, the auto bailout is an unqualified success. The government used its leverage to force the companies to make the painful changes they should have made years before, and then backed off and let the companies run themselves without any noticeable interference.

The results, which President Obama will tout on a visit to Michigan on Friday: For the first time since 2004, GM and Chrysler, along with Ford, all reported operating profits in their U.S. businesses last quarter. The domestic auto industry added 55,000 jobs last year, ending a decade-long string of declines. Auto sector exports are up 57 percent so far this year and, thanks largely to new government regulations, the industry is moving quickly to introduce more fuel-efficient vehicles. Most surprising of all, GM and Chrysler have already repaid more than $8 billion in government loans, while GM is preparing for an initial stock offering later this year that would allow the government to recoup most, if not all, of its investment.

There was a time, not long ago, when real business leaders encouraged these kind of public-private partnerships.

It's worth noting that the administration's auto industry bailout not only worked, it exceeded expectations. Just as importantly, it fit comfortably into an existing model -- every time the federal government bails out key national industries, the results are encouraging.

A year ago, the Monthly's Phillip Longman argued that "any honest reading of history suggests that the federal government has quite an impressive record of rescuing institutions considered too big to fail." Quite right. When the government bailed out Lockheed in 1971, the company thrived and taxpayers profited. The government bailed out Chrysler in 1980, and saw similar results. The government bailed out the railroad industry, and saw it flourish.

In each case, the government spent lots of taxpayer money, used bureaucrats to engineer the revival of an industry, recouped the money, and produced a success story. Conservatives howled in every instance, but as is usually the case, their complaints and dire predictions were wrong.

After Obama intervened to rescue auto manufacturers a year ago, the right insisted it was an example of his purported desire to be a communist dictator. A year later, his efforts look pretty smart, and his detractors' apoplexy looks pretty foolish.

For that matter, the conservative theme of the year is that government spending is the single most odious phenomenon in the known universe. And yet, it was government spending that prevented a depression, and it was government spending that rescued the American auto industry.
Maybe the right can pick something else to complain about? This talking point isn't working out well for them.

When the president takes a victory lap (so to speak) at a GM plant this morning, it will be well deserved. We can all be very thankful Obama didn't listen to conservatives, that there wasn't a conservative in the Oval Office, and that this industry was spared a looming catastrophe.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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A DEMOCRAT'S ETHICS PROBE VS. A REPUBLICAN'S CRIMINAL PROBE.... If the accounts from major media outlets are any indication, the political world is awfully excited about the ethics allegations against Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). To be sure, the interest is warranted -- the allegations against the former Ways and Means Committee chairman are serious; Republicans are thrilled; and the controversy has literally become front-page, above-the-fold news.

There may be some rule that I'm not aware of, prohibiting coverage of Republican scandals, but while a House Democrat's ethics problems intensify, a sitting Republican senator is still the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, which is also getting more serious.

The Senate on Thursday night quietly approved a resolution that will allow Sen. John Ensign's aides to testify to a federal grand jury investigating the aftermath of the Nevada Republican's extramarital affair with a former campaign aide.

By voice vote, the Senate approved the resolution that would authorize employees of the Senate to give testimony to a grand jury in Washington.

Senate aides said that the resolution was necessary because Senate rules would prohibit employees from testifying outside of the halls of Congress.

Politico added that the move, which nearly every major outlet ignored, "is the latest sign that the investigation ... continues to move swiftly."

This development comes just a week after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a former Ensign housemate, announced that he'd agreed to cooperate with the federal criminal investigation surrounding the conservative Nevadan. Coburn turned over more than 1,200 pages of documents to the Justice Department, including emails from Ensign.

And that development came on the heels of news that Ensign's aides have told investigators that the senator knew he was violating ethics rules on lobbying restrictions, but did it anyway.

As a rule, when a high-profile U.S. senator is facing a criminal investigation, the media shows at least some interest. When that investigation involves sex, the media tends to show quite a bit of interest.

But for reasons I still can't explain the Republican Nevadan is getting a pass. Here we have John Ensign, a "family values" conservative Republican, who had an extra-marital sexual relationship with his friend's wife, while condemning others' moral failings. Ensign's parents offered to pay hush-money. He ignored ethics laws and tried to use his office to arrange lobbying jobs for his mistress' husband. The likelihood of Ensign being indicted seems fairly high.

And yet, there's no media frenzy. No reporters staked out in front of Ensign's home. No op-eds speculating about the need for Ensign to resign in disgrace. Instead, the media's fascinated with Charlie Rangel.

Rangel is facing a probe from the House ethics committee, while Ensign is under scrutiny from the FBI.

Is this just the IOKIYAR rule taken to the extreme? Was there some kind of memo stating that only Democratic scandals deserve media attention in an election year?

Steve Benen 9:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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ECONOMY STILL GROWING, BUT NOT VERY WELL.... The good news is, the economy is still growing, and has grown for four consecutive quarters for the first time in three years. The bad news is, the growth in the most recent quarter -- April through June -- was weak and far short of what the country needs.

The recovery lost momentum in the second quarter as growth slowed to a 2.4 percent pace, its most sluggish showing in nearly a year and too weak to drive down unemployment.

Weaker spending by consumers, less growth coming from companies restocking shrunken stockpiles and a bigger drag from the nation's trade deficits were the main factors behind the second quarter's slowdown.

Economic forecasters were expecting that the GDP would grow in the second quarter at a rate of 2 to 2.5 percent, so the results are largely in line with expectations, but that doesn't change the fact that such sluggish growth isn't enough.

It's cold comfort, but it's worth noting that first quarter growth was revised upwards quite a bit. A month ago, growth from January to March was estimated at 2.7, but the Bureau of Economic Analysis this morning put the number at 3.7.

In the bigger picture, it's tempting to think weak growth like this would encourage policymakers to act, but all evidence suggests that's impossible. Republicans in Congress oppose any and all stimulus efforts, and won't let Democrats vote on any additional recovery initiatives. The GOP will, however, fight with everything they've got for massive tax breaks for the wealthy, which we've already seen fail as a measure of generating economic growth.

And with that, here's another home-made chart, showing GDP numbers by quarter since the Great Recession began in late 2007.

gdp_q2.png

Steve Benen 9:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (5)

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HOUSE GOP KILLS MEDICAL FUNDING FOR 9/11 VICTIMS.... Following up on an item from yesterday, it appears Republican reverence for all things related to the 9/11 attacks is officially over.

Congress turned thumbs down on the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act on Thursday night, raising doubts it will ever pass.

Most Republicans refused to back the measure, calling it a "slush fund," and saying it was another example of Democratic overreach and an "insatiable" appetite for taxpayers' money.

The bill would spend $3.2 billion on health care over the next 10 years for people sickened from their exposure to the toxic smoke and debris of the shattered World Trade Center. It would spend another $4.2 billion to compensate victims over that span, and make another $4.2 billion in compensation available for the next 11 years.

So, as Republicans see it, we can afford tax breaks for billionaires. But care for 9/11 victims, not so much.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), perhaps best known for his apology to BP after the company's oil spill, "said the rest of the country should not bear the brunt of helping New Yorkers cope with the aftermath of the terror attacks." [Update: To clarify, this is a paraphrase from the New York Daily News, not a direct quote of Barton.]

How could House Republicans kill the bill in a majority-rule chamber? As it turns out, Dems brought the measure to the floor as a "suspension bill," because they didn't want the GOP to try to gut the legislation with poison-pill amendments. But this strategy meant the bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass. The final vote was 255 to 159 -- far short of the two-thirds threshold -- with 155 Republicans in opposition, many of them saying they would consider supporting the bill, but only if the GOP were allowed to push unrelated amendments intended to embarrass the majority.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y), whose constituents include many directly affected by this legislation, wasn't especially impressed with the Republican argument:


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WHAT NOW ON SMALL BUSINESS AID?.... Going into yesterday, hopes were relatively high that the Senate would make progress on a package to aid small businesses, including tax breaks, new incentives, and an attempt to expand credit through a lending program that utilizes local banks. Hopes were dashed when Republicans, throwing a bit of a tantrum over the number of amendments they were allowed to consider, voted unanimously to block the chamber from voting on the bill.

There's no real mystery about the partisan gamesmanship on display.

Senate Republicans on Thursday rejected a bill to aid small businesses with expanded loan programs and tax breaks, in a procedural blockade that underscored how fiercely determined the party's leaders are to deny Democrats any further legislative accomplishments ahead of November's midterm elections.

The measure, championed by Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, had the backing of some of the Republican Party's most reliable business allies, including the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. Several Republican lawmakers also helped write it.

But Republican leaders filibustered after fighting for days with Democrats over the number of amendments they would be able to offer.

So, the bill with 59 supporters and 41 opponents is at least temporarily stuck. What now? The Senate leadership is moving forward on a separate measure to help states avoid teacher layoffs and cover Medicaid costs (EduJobs and FMAP), but there's still talk that aid for small businesses can survive.

At issue are Republican demands that they be able to offer amendments to the small-business package that have nothing to do with small businesses -- including border security and Bush tax cuts. They don't really expect the amendments to pass, but GOP leaders hope (a) that the votes put Dems in an awkward spot; and (b) the process of considering them will take up more floor time, and make it impossible to consider other legislation this year.

As it currently stands, after yesterday's nonsense, the earliest the Senate would approve the small-business package is September. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who's taken the lead on this bill, noted that for struggling businesses, that's not nearly soon enough. Republicans, in effect, replied that the number of amendments they'd be allowed to consider was more important than whether those businesses might fail.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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July 29, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* In Battle Creek, Michigan, federal regulators told Enbridge Energy Partners, a Canadian company, that its "monitoring of corrosion in the pipeline was insufficient." That pipeline has now spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into a major river in southern Michigan.

* Manhunt ends on the outskirts of Kabul: "The second U.S. sailor who went missing in eastern Afghanistan last week has been found dead and his body recovered."

* Despite some talk earlier today of a possible settlement, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) is now facing 13 charges of House rules violations.

* This afternoon, President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, giving tribes the right and resources to "investigate and prosecute rapes perpetrated by non-Natives on tribal lands."

* Is it really that hard to get a warrant? "The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual's Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation."

* The president maps out a defense of his education reform agenda.

* Better, but still too high: "The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance fell to 457,000 last week, a figure that signals the labor market will be slow to improve even as the economy grows."

* Citigroup settles with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

* Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee want a hearing on the New Black Panther Party. They're not going to get one.

* And the media rejoices: Shirley Sherrod intends to sue right-wing hatchet-man Andrew Breitbart.

* Congress is considering lifting a ban on Internet gambling, originally imposed by Republicans in 2006.

* Jonathan Cohn considers the "stupidity of liberal apathy."

* Brendan Nyhan considers the persistence of the death panels myth.

* Michelle Cottle watches Obama on "The View" so I don't have to.

* The End of Sallie Mae?

* If there's one thing the right-wing loves, it's selective editing.

* And Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) reminds us why he's definitely a #1 seed in the brackets for Most Conspicuously Unintelligent House Member contest.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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SCHLAFLY DOES IT AGAIN.... In Michigan's 9th congressional district, Republicans hope to take down freshman Rep. Gary Peters (D) in what has historically been a relatively "red" area. One of the leading GOP candidates is Andrew "Rocky" Raczkowski, who apparently thought it'd be a good idea to prove his right-wing bona fides by campaigning with Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the far-right Eagle Forum.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, for one thing, Schlafly could start sharing some of her radical beliefs in public. (via Melissa McEwan)

During her speech at a Saturday fundraiser at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy for Oakland County congressional candidate Andrew "Rocky" Raczkowski, Schlafly compared unmarried women to welfare recipients.

The conservative commentator is under fire from many women's rights groups for her comments.

"Seventy percent of unmarried women voted for Obama," Schlafly said in her speech. "And this is because when you kick your husband out, you gotta have Big Brother government to be your provider."

Schlafly went on to note that President Obama was elected thanks to support from "the blacks," before lamenting all the babies born "illegitimately" in the U.S. The Obama administration, she added, "wants to continue to subsidize this group because they know they are Democratic votes."

As for comment, Raczkowski said Schlafly's remarks did not "reflect" his "personal beliefs."

How big of him. Raczkowski has not yet apologized, however, for bringing his unhinged special guest to the area to spew her crazy nonsense.

It hasn't been a good year for Republicans and women's issues -- see Vitter, David among others -- but the ugliness and misogyny on display in Michigan are a reminder that matters might yet get worse.

Update: There are 75 Republican congressional candidates running this year who enjoy the Eagle Forum's endorsement, financial support, or both. One wonders whether they're comfortable with Schlafly's comments -- and her campaign contribution.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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THE 'LET THEM EAT WANT ADS' CAUCUS.... Some GOP officials continue to push the line that both parties support expanded unemployment benefits; they just differ on how (and whether) to pay for them. As the argument goes, Dems see jobless aid as an emergency, while Republicans didn't want the costs added to the deficit. But don't worry -- everyone just loves to look out for the unemployed.

This really is nonsense. Greg Sargent has labeled the conservative Republicans with ideological opposition to jobless aid as the "Let Them Eat Want Ads" Caucus, and it's a contingent that keeps growing.

Here's Oregon congressional candidate Scott Bruun (R), explaining why he would have voted against the extension:

"When we're talking up over close to two years and longer with jobless benefits, I think we really start talking about a European style system and all the problems that that sort of system brings if you try to bring that sort of system to the United States."

I don't know what that means, exactly, but Brunn went on to say unemployment benefits may be "encouraging people to stay out of the workplace longer."

This comes the same day as Delaware congressional candidate Michele Rollins (R) insisting that helping struggling families get by after a job loss encourages the unemployed to "do nothing for a very long time."

I'm probably missing some, but it seems like the "Let Them Eat Want Ads" Caucus is getting to be pretty big. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) dismissed jobless aid as money that offers "a disincentive" to getting a job, a sentiment endorsed by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R).

Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) compared the unemployed to "hobos"; Nevada's Sharron Angle blasted the unemployed as "spoiled"; Wisconsin's Ron Johnson said those without jobs won't look until their benefits run out; Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett said the unemployed choose not to work because of the benefits; and Kentucky's Rand Paul thinks it's time to cut off aid, whether it's paid for or not, because, "In Europe, they give about a year of unemployment. We're up to two years now in America."

GOP media personality Ben Stein went so far as to characterize those out of work as having "poor work habits and poor personalities."

The moral of the story seems to be that conservative Republicans just don't seem to like the unemployed. If every American who's had to rely on jobless benefits since the start of the recession was poised to vote in November, the GOP would be in a bit of panic right now.

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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LINDSEY GRAHAM'S CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT.... Remember, as far as much of the media is concerned, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is a reasonable, pragmatic Republican, with whom Democrats should have no trouble finding common ground.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced Wednesday night that he is considering introducing a constitutional amendment that would change existing law to no longer grant citizenship to the children of immigrants born in the United States.

Currently, the 14th Amendment grants citizenship to any child born within the United States.

But with 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, Graham said it may be time to restrict the ability of immigrants to have children who become citizens just because they are born within the country.

In fairness, Graham didn't come right out and demand an amendment, but he told Fox News he's close. "I may introduce a constitutional amendment that changes the rules if you have a child here," Graham told Greta Van Susteren. "Birthright citizenship I think is a mistake, that we should change our Constitution and say if you come here illegally and you have a child, that child's automatically not a citizen."

Asked if he'll seriously pursue this, Graham said, "I got to." He added that the 14th Amendment "attracts people here for all the wrong reasons," with pregnant women from other countries coming to the U.S. "to drop a child."

Maybe Graham is trying to repair his reputation with the hysterical right; maybe he actually believes this stuff. Either way, trying to address immigration policy through a constitutional amendment is pretty crazy.

Jamelle Bouie's take was spot on:

It's genuinely difficult to overstate the radicalism necessary to seek a transformation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was designed to ensure that slavery could never again happen in the United States and is now integral to keeping the United States free of a permanent underclass of immigrant workers. At its core, birthright citizenship gives immigrants a reason to stay and provide lasting contributions to the United States.

In assaulting birthright citizenship, Graham is attacking an incredibly important part of the American social contract. If the media has any sense, this should kill the narrative that Lindsey Graham is a maverick or a reasonable Republican.

It won't, of course, but it should.

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SENATE REPUBLICANS BLOCK BILL SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESSES.... It seems like the kind of bill that should pass pretty easily. As the job market continues to struggle, Democrats have proposed a package to aid small businesses, including tax breaks, new incentives, and an attempt to expand credit through a lending program that utilizes local banks.

Today on the Senate floor, it had 59 supporters and 41 opponents, which means it failed, and the entire effort is in jeopardy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) failed to break a weeks-long GOP filibuster of small-business jobs legislation and was forced to scramble to figure out his next move after Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) bitterly attacked his handling of the bill Thursday. [...]

But Snowe's attack on the Senate floor -- in which she accused Reid of performing "political theater. It's not about legislating anymore" -- clearly caught Reid and other Democrats off guard and forced the Democratic leader to make a last-ditch effort to salvage the bill.

(For the record, the final vote was technically 58-42, but only because Reid had to switch his vote for procedural reasons. Every member of the Democratic caucus opposed the GOP filibuster, and every Republican voted to kill the bill.)

In a display that can best be described as insane, Senate Republicans demanded all week that the chamber act on the small-business-incentives measure, and not waste time with measures like campaign-finance reform. But this morning, when the small-business package was ready to move, Republicans balked.

To hear them tell it, GOP senators aren't against helping small businesses -- at least not explicitly -- but they're filibustering to get more time for more votes on more amendments to the bill.

In other words, Republicans have gone from complaining about the bill not coming up sooner to trying to drag out the process out.

So, the good news is the bill isn't dead, at least not yet. The bad news is, Republican senators are acting like spoiled children, in the hopes of eating up valuable pre-recess calendar time, making it impossible for the Senate to do anything else with its limited schedule. The energy bill is in trouble anyway, but by playing games with small businesses, making any progress on energy is looking even less likely.

Olympia Snowe was especially embarrassing this morning. Her argument was that the Senate needs to act quickly to help small businesses -- which is why she's supporting the filibuster to prevent a vote on helping small businesses.

What a ridiculous mess.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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QUOTE OF THE DAY.... Brian Sandoval, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Nevada, was asked by Univision if he was at all worried about what might happen to his kids if they visit Arizona. The question was in reference to Arizona's anti-immigrant law.

Sandoval, Nevada's first Hispanic federal judge, said he wasn't worried -- because his kids don't look Hispanic.

Sandoval later denied (twice) making the comment, but reporter Jon Ralston has this item:

I have confirmed that Brian Sandoval, as reported by Univision's news director in a column and revealed in an earlier blog post, did indeed say that his children don't look Hispanic when asked by the Spanish-language station whether he was worried about his kids being profiled if they were in Arizona.

Sandoval denied (twice) making the comments during an interview with "Face to Face" this week. But the comments are on videotape, I have confirmed. Univision, however, is declining to release the tape, claiming (as most media organizations would) that it is work product.

My guess, too, is that Univision will not air the video now -- why wouldn't the reporter have used it originally???? -- because the station higher-ups are mortified about the disclosure of Sandoval's comments in a scathing column in El Tiempo by news director Adriana Arevalo. My guess is that station folks also are apoplectic that a news director would consider it appropriate to write a harsh column about a gubernatorial hopeful -- they are saying she did it in her capacity as an El Tempo columnist but she can't just wash away her TV title.

What is it about Nevada Republicans and bizarre remarks this year?

I haven't seen the tape, and maybe there's some exculpatory context I'm not aware of. But if the reports are accurate, it's a pretty awful comment. What does Sandoval think should happen to children in Arizona who do "look Hispanic"?

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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BIDEN LAMENTS 'BUSH RECESSION'.... Vice President Biden appeared on NBC's "Today" show earlier, and used a line I don't recall leading White House officials using before, at least not lately.

Ann Curry noted that the administration has been blamed for high unemployment rates, and asked, "Has this administration done enough?"

Biden replied, "Let me put it this way: there's never enough until we restore the 8 million jobs lost in the Bush Recession. Until that happens, it doesn't matter. I mean, it matters, but it's not enough."

Asked about his message to struggling families, the V.P. added, "My message is, keep the faith. We are moving in the right direction. We are not going to let you go without food or basic services. That will not happen in this country, in our administration. And secondly, we're creating new jobs that are going to be the kind you can raise your family on."

Maybe I've missed it, but the line about the "Bush Recession" struck me as new. Biden said it casually, as if it were common, but it's generally been a phrase Democrats have avoided.

Here's hoping it's the start of a new rhetorical emphasis. After all, Republicans have been candid about their desire to go back to the "exact same agenda" Bush/Cheney used to get us into this mess in the first place.

It is curious, though, why the White House didn't embrace this sooner. Maybe the line took on new urgency when Republicans started talking up their intentions to return to Bush-era policies more earnestly, but it seems overdue.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In Nevada, Rasmussen has shown Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) trailing former state Rep. Sharron Angle (R), but closing the gap. In its newest poll, Rasmussen has Reid climbing ahead for the first time, leading 45% to 43%.

* On a related note, Angle was asked yesterday about her approach to campaign finance reform. She insisted that the DISCLOSE Act is already law. (It's not.)

* The DCCC released a memo yesterday, making the case that the Democratic majority in the House will persevere through the midterms. Nate Silver didn't find it especially persuasive.

* A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) leading fired HP CEO Carly Fiorina (R) by five, 39% to 34%. The same poll also found state Attorney General Jerry Brown leading former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (R), 37% to 34%.

* In Missouri's closely-watched Senate race, Rasmussen shows Rep. Roy Blunt (R) leading Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), 49% to 43%. The results are largely in line with a Mason-Dixon poll released last week.

* In related news, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) endorsed Blunt in Missouri, which drew the ire of Bachmann's Tea Party allies, who don't consider Blunt extreme enough.

* In Florida, a new Quinnipiac poll shows challengers surging ahead in their primary contests. Rick Scott now leads state A.G. Bill McCollum in the Republican gubernatorial primary, 43% to 32%, while Jeff Greene leads Rep. Kendrick Meek in the Democratic Senate primary, 33% to 23%.

* On a related note, Meek was asked yesterday whether he'd support Greene if his opponent won the primary. Meek was non-committal.

* And in another of this year's electoral mysteries, former state Rep. Kevin Calvey was supposed to win the GOP primary in Oklahoma's 5th congressional district fairly easily, and enjoyed the backing of the party and right-wing activist groups. Instead, a camp director named James Lankford, who has never sought political office before, won the primary -- and no one knows how this happened.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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MOUNTAIN-TOP REMOVAL JUST NEEDS SOME REBRANDING.... Most reasonable people should be able to agree that mountain-top removal is an environmentally destructive practice. The idea is to mine for coal by literally blowing the tops off of mountains, which occasionally sends thick sludge into area waterways, poisoning nearby lands.

As Brad Johnson noted a while back, "Mountain-top mining has been more accurately described as the 'rape of Appalachia,' as rural communities are destroyed economically and environmentally for coal industry."

Rand Paul (R), the extremist U.S. Senate candidate in Kentucky, doesn't quite see it that way. Last year, the right-wing ophthalmologist dismissed concerns, arguing, "I don't think anybody's going to be missing a hill or two here and there."

Today, Evan McMorris-Santoro flags remarks Paul made to Details magazine, suggesting mining through mountain-top removal would not only be more popular if it was given a better name, but moreover, is actually a good thing.

Paul believes mountaintop removal just needs a little rebranding. "I think they should name it something better," he says. "The top ends up flatter, but we're not talking about Mount Everest. We're talking about these little knobby hills that are everywhere out here. And I've seen the reclaimed lands. One of them is 800 acres, with a sports complex on it, elk roaming, covered in grass." Most people, he continues, "would say the land is of enhanced value, because now you can build on it."

As for the destruction associated with the practices, Paul added that legal restrictions on gutting the regional environment are a mistake. "Let's let you decide what to do with your land," he said.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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I FEEL E.J. DIONNE'S PAIN.... The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. has long been a favorite of mine. I don't agree with every word of every piece, but for the most part, Dionne has been an insightful and clever observer for quite a while.

But I've noticed of late that Dionne, a pretty level-headed, even-tempered pundit, is getting increasingly frustrated, even agitated. I've noticed this because I can relate to the columnist's exasperation. Today, for example, Dionne asks a question I've asked myself: "Can a nation remain a superpower if its internal politics are incorrigibly stupid?"

The piece takes note of recent developments that seem to defy all reason -- despite talk of fiscal responsibility, Republicans are demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts, which they have no intention of paying for. Despite the overwhelming evidence on the efficacy of the stimulus, much of the nation chooses to ignore the facts and resist steps that would improve the economy. Despite the need for the government to be able to respond to challenges, Republicans won't let the Senate function.

I'm a chronic optimist about America. But we are letting stupid politics, irrational ideas on fiscal policy and an antiquated political structure undermine our power.

We need a new conservatism in our country that is worthy of the name. We need liberals willing to speak out on the threat our daft politics poses to our influence in the world. We need moderates who do more than stick their fingers in the wind to calculate the halfway point between two political poles.

And, yes, we need to reform a Senate that has become an embarrassment to our democratic claims.

Not surprisingly, I wholeheartedly agree with all of this. But the more interesting thing to keep in mind here is that while Dionne laments "incorrigible stupidity" today, he's been embracing this kind of tone more and more. His last column blasted Fox News and "right-wing propaganda." Two weeks ago, he took note of Tea Party racism. A few weeks earlier, he lamented "conservative militancy" and Tea Party "extremism." He's knocked down efforts to equate ideological purges in both parties, and he's taken a leading role in shining a light on conservative judicial activism.

To an extent, it's tempting to hope this is evidence of a larger phenomenon. Maybe millions of mild-mannered, center-left patriots are so bewildered by recent political nonsense, they'll turn out in record numbers, feeling exactly the way Dionne does about recent events. Or maybe not.

Either way, I can't help but enjoy -- and feel vaguely validated by -- Dionne getting angrier about what he perceives as the absurdities of the status quo. It's an emotion I can relate to.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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A BANNER DAY FOR THE GOP'S CULTURE OF CORRUPTION.... Sen. Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama made a name for himself in February, when he held several national security nominees hostage in the Senate, demanding to be paid off in pork. It was the kind of casual corruption of American politics that's been all too common.

As it turns out, Shelby may also be caught up with a more pernicious kind of corruption.

Since 2008, Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby has steered more than $250 million in earmarks to beneficiaries whose lobbyists used to work in his Senate office -- including millions for Alabama universities represented by a former top staffer.

In a mix of revolving-door and campaign finance politics, the same organizations that have enjoyed Shelby's earmarks have seen their lobbyists and employees contribute nearly $1 million to Shelby's campaign and political action committee since 1999, according to federal records.

It's quite a scheme, isn't it? Shelby's aides become lobbyists ... Shelby directs our money to his former aides' new employers through earmarks ... Shelby then gets campaign contributions from those employers.

This comes, by the way, the same day as a report on House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) new fundraising scheme, which effectively sells access to the man the GOP bills as the next Speaker.

But while the effort plays up Boehner's modest roots, the going rate to participate is pricey: According to materials distributed by Boehner's camp and obtained by POLITICO, lobbyists and other major donors across the country who give the maximum or help raise $100,000 will get meetings with Boehner, calls from senior aides with updates on the campaign and "VIP access to all events, including roundtables, briefings, breakout discussions and interactive panel discussions."

The initiative is being organized with the help of several corporate lobbyists "Boehner is close to."

And Shelby's and Boehner's schemes come to light just as we see House Minority Whip Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) support from Wall Street soar after he helped organize opposition to new financial industry safeguards.

For a cynical observer, [Cantor's outreach to Wall Street] appeared to be a signal that the GOP was prepared to do the financial services industry's bidding.

Either way, they appeared to have worked.... Data released on Wednesday morning by the good government group Public Campaign shows that Cantor received more than $460,000 from the financial sector during the second quarter of 2010. That total represents a "32 percent increase from the average of the previous five quarters," the group found. And the donors included some of the biggest names on the Street as well as those they pay to lobby on their behalf in Washington.

Cantor fights to kill Wall Street accountability, and Wall Street writes a bunch of checks for Cantor.

Care to guess who'll be writing the legislation if there's a Republican majority next year?

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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GOP OPPOSES MEDICAL FUNDING FOR 9/11 VICTIMS.... I was under the impression that the emergency teams who responded to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 are considered American heroes. The nation's support for these men and women is unequivocal and unending.

At least, that was my impression. I guess I underestimated congressional Republicans again.

House Republican leadership is advising its members to vote against a bipartisan bill that would, among other things, bolster medical support to Sept. 11 victims.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2009, sponsored by New York City Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D), provides medical monitoring to those exposed to toxins at Ground Zero, bolsters treatment at specialized centers for those afflicted by toxins on 9/11 and reopens a compensation fund to provide economic loss to New Yorkers.

And it's all paid for by closing a tax loophole on foreign companies with U.S. subsidiaries, Democrats say.

A policy statement from the House GOP leadership believes a victims' compensation fund is too large, and would remain open too long, which in turn creates a "massive new entitlement program" -- and Republicans hate entitlement programs.

As for financing, because the right pretends to care about the deficit, Dems made sure that every penny of the proposal is paid for. This, too, outraged House Republicans, because tax increases, even on foreign companies, even to benefit 9/11 victims, are always evil.

We're left with Republicans, in an election year, taking a bold stand against funding for medical care for 9/11 heroes.

Amazing.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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DEMS EYE A TEA PARTY WEDGE.... As you may have heard, the Democratic National Committee launched a new message campaign yesterday, called the "Republican-Tea Party Contract With America." The point is probably obvious: Dems intend to remind voters that when it comes to issues, priorities, and agendas, the Republican Party and the Tea Party zealots are effectively "one and the same."

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and several Democratic House members today unveiled the new Democratic midterm attack plan against Republicans: GOP = Tea Party.

In an effort to demonstrate what they see as the dangers of Republican Congressional control, Democrats will spend the next few months until Election Day trying to tie all Republicans to policies advocated by some members of the Tea Party, including repealing the health care and Wall Street reform laws, abolishing the Departments of Labor and Education and the EPA, and ending Medicare.

Kaine said the DNC has an "aggressive" plan, along with the White House "to make sure the American people know what the Republicans really believe what their blueprint for governing is," tracking candidates' comments on the campaign trail, distributing research, and airing commercials nationwide.

The initiative included the unveiling of a new video, highlighting the kind of specific policy efforts the country can expect from the "Republican-Tea Party Contract."

At first, I was a little skeptical about this tack. To be sure, the charge is accurate. My skepticism, though, has to do with public awareness -- do enough Americans even know about Tea Partiers' extremism? Or are we still at a point where Americans hear "Tea Party," and think of Boston colonists in 1773?

Presumably, the DNC has extensive polling data on this, which likely shows the American mainstream -- especially self-described "independents" and swing voters -- turned off by Tea Partiers' radicalism. Which leads to the stronger part of the Democrats' plan: it puts Republicans on the defensive.

Indeed, yesterday, GOP leaders were quick to denounce, and sometimes even mock, the new Democratic effort. But when reporters asked if the DNC's charges are true -- in other words, whether Republicans and Tea Partiers really are one and the same, with an identical right-wing agenda -- those same GOP leaders suddenly felt shy.

An RNC spokesperson "would not say whether the RNC disagrees with any of the 10 agenda items." A wide variety of Republican officials were quick to respond to the DNC's initiative, but not one was prepared to "refute specific points."

That's not surprising. When Dems insist Republicans and Tea Partiers are identical, GOP officials can either (a) disagree, and offend their base; or (b) embrace the criticism, and risk turning off everyone else.

Looking at the big picture, Dems have struggled to settle on a specific campaign theme. "Party of No" was dubious, in part because Republicans seem to like it. The ideal for the DNC, then, is to figure out how to characterize Republicans as the "party of crazy." Equating them with anti-government zealots and wild-eyed conspiracy cranks might just do the trick.

Marc Ambinder explained the strategy this way: "The Republicans want to be mayors of crazy-town. They've embraced a fringe and proto-racist isolationist and ignorant conservative populism that has no solutions for fixing anything and the collective intelligence of a wine flask."

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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A CHANGING POLITICAL LANDSCAPE FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM.... At the height of the debate over health care reform, a certain set of political assumptions set in -- the Democratic proposal was unpopular, thanks to a scathing misinformation campaign. Republicans would base much of their midterm strategy on running against the new law, while Democrats hoped to see the law's popularity grow as the right-wing lies faded.

We're not yet near the point at which the Affordable Care Act could be characterized as "popular," but Dems are likely pleased with the recent trend.

Opposition to the landmark health care overhaul declined over the past month, to 35 percent from 41 percent, according to the latest results of a tracking poll, reported Thursday.

Fifty percent of the public held a favorable view of the law, up slightly from 48 percent a month ago, while 14 percent expressed no opinion about the measure, according to the poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Since April, the tracking poll has found support for the health care reform law go up four points, while opposition has gone down five points. Less encouraging were results that showed more than a third of seniors still believe made-up "death panels" are real -- zombie lies are surprisingly hard to kill -- but overall, proponents of the ACA who predicted that blind hatred for reform would fade over time appear to be correct.

In fairness, not every recent poll offers such encouragement. A recent Pew Forum/National Journal survey (pdf) still showed opponents outnumbering supporters by a fairly wide margin.

On the other hand, last month, a national Associated Press-GfK poll found that support for the Affordable Care Act was not only on the rise, but had reached new heights -- health care reform's supporters outnumbered opponents, 45% to 42%. A week later, a Gallup poll found 49% of respondents agreeing that passage of the law is a "good thing," while 46% think it's a "bad thing."

The point isn't that all the recent data offers good news for ACA backers; the point is that assumptions that Americans hate the new law are wrong. House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office argued recently that "the American people remain squarely opposed" to health care reform, and pointed to "the rising public backlash against the new law."

The evidence to support such observations is still lacking.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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July 28, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* The Beige Book disappoints a bit: "The economic expansion has proceeded unevenly this summer, according to a new Federal Reserve report, with new pockets of weakness emerging in parts of the country."

* On a related note: "The latest report on orders to factory for big-ticket items on Wednesday offered another sign that the United States economy was losing strength in the second half the year."

* The oil from the disaster in the Gulf "appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected." This does not, however, "end the many problems and scientific uncertainties associated with the spill."

* President Obama talks up the Democrats' small-business-incentives bill in New Jersey: "The provisions of this bill are things that the Republican Party has supported for years," Obama said. "This is as American as apple pie. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. They are central to our identity as a nation.... I expect us to get this done."

* U.S. troops continue to return home from Iraq.

* Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) announced today she will vote for Elena Kagan's Supreme Court confirmation. She's the fourth Senate Republican to announce her support for the nominee.

* Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) is starting to lose some of his Democratic friends.

* A worthwhile first for the VA: "The Under Secretary of Health at the Veterans Administration issued a little-noticed directive to VA medical facilities recently, informing facilities that patients who legally use medical marijuana may not be denied access to health services because of their outside prescription."

* The sooner the Senate acts, the better: "The U.S. Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday approved the nomination of three new members to the Federal Reserve's powerful board, including Janet Yellen for vice chairman, clearing the way for a final vote by the whole Senate."

* Is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) obsessed with gutting the EPA? Yep.

* Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), still mad as a hatter.

* Not good: "There's not going to be enough money to fully fund Pell Grants, the government program that provides money to help low-income students to attend college."

* Jeffrey Lord just can't bring himself to shut up.

* Bill O'Reilly joins the rest of the sensible universe in opposition to Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

* Glenn Beck's Goldline scheme, illustrated.

* I intended to highlight the pathetic op-ed from Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen in the Wall Street Journal today, but just didn't have the stomach for it. Thankfully, Alex Pareene was on the case.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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SOMEONE BUY THUNE A CALCULATOR.... Politico reported this week that Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is trying to "build up his policy credentials," in advance of a possible presidential campaign in 2012. With that in mind, the conservative, unaccomplished senator intends to "make a name for himself on budgetary matters."

He's off to a rough start.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) -- the fifth highest ranking Republican in the Senate -- has a new plan for lowering deficits, and as you might expect from GOP leadership, it involves zero tax hikes. It does however, involve math and, if his appearance on Fox News last night is any indication, Thune finds math rather difficult. There's really no other way to explain his utter failure to remember the law of diminishing returns when he talked about the benefits of his deficit reduction plan.

Appearing on Fox News, Thune and host Greta Van Susteren discussed the bill's call for the creation of a Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, tasked with reducing the deficit 10 percent year over year.

"It would be required to find 10% in savings -- 10% of the deficit in savings every budget cycle," Thune said.

"So in 10 years we wouldn't have a deficit?" van Sustern asked.

"Theoretically, yes," Thune replied.

Mathematically, no.

Let's say the government starts with a $1 trillion budget deficit. If Thune's committee reduces it by 10%, it would be a $900 billion deficit a year later. The next year, it cuts another 10%. Would that bring it down to $800 billion? No, it'd be $810 billion ($900 billion - 10% = $810 billion). A year later it would be $729 billion, followed by $656 billion, and so on.

Thune thinks this approach would eliminate the deficit in 10 years, but he forgot to do the math, so he's off by an entire decade*. It's understandable for van Sustern to mess this up -- she's a Fox News personality -- but this is the senator's own plan, intended to give him credibility in advance of a national campaign.

Someone couldn't let him borrow a calculator?

Arithmetic aside, if Thune's idea is part of a larger effort to "build up his policy credentials," the senator might need a back-up plan. His scheme seems like a pretty thin gimmick -- task some committee with coming up with ideas to reduce the deficit without raising taxes. At that point, Congress would be free to ignore the committee's ideas.

The reason it's hard to take Thune's national ambitions seriously is that he doesn't seem to know anything about anything. Think back over the last couple of years -- when was the last time you remember Thune saying or doing something noteworthy? There was that time a year ago when he urged President Obama not to pick a gay Supreme Court nominee, which came soon after his argument that economic recovery efforts are bad because $1 trillion, if stacked by $100 bills, would make a very tall pile.

When Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) pushed a measure to protect victims of sexual assault who work for defense contractors -- the Jamie Leigh Jones effort -- Thune dismissed it as a "Daily Kos-inspired amendment." Soon after, Thune said a colleague often disagrees with Republicans because he understands policy details.

This guy has presidential ambitions? Please.

* Update: Brian Beutler emails to note that he had a minor math error of his own, and that Thune was off by far more than a decade. Using Thune's model, it would take 43 years to get deficits down to 1% of current levels, making his observation that much more incorrect. (And as some of you have also noted, if one reduces a debt by 10% a year indefinitely, it's impossible to ever eliminate the total altogether.)

Steve Benen 4:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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CLOSER TO SENTENCING SANITY.... Sentencing disparities when it comes to cocaine have been a national embarrassment for nearly a quarter-century. We've been dealing with an indefensible 100-to-1 ratio established in 1986 -- a person caught selling five grams of crack will face the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as someone selling 500 grams of powder cocaine.

Because the majority of crack convictions involve African Americans, while powder cocaine convictions tend to involve whites, there's also an obvious racial component to the sentencing disparity.

The Obama administration strongly endorsed changing the law and ending the disparity altogether. Regrettably, Congress wouldn't oblige. Lawmakers did, however, take a step in the right direction today, making the disparity less ridiculous.

Congress has changed a quarter-century-old law that has sent tens of thousands of blacks to prison for crack cocaine convictions while giving far more lenient treatment to those, mainly whites, caught with the same amount of the drug in powder form.

House passage of what was called the "fair sentencing act" sends the legislation to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The sentencing disparity has been a 100-to-1 ratio. Now, it will be 18-to-1. The House was prepared to go further, but ending the disparity ran into trouble -- where else? -- in the Senate. As a result, the law will be vastly improved, though the disparity will remain a problem.

Let's not, however, brush past how significant this is. The AP noted that the success of the Fair Sentencing Act marks "the first time in 40 years that Congress has repealed a mandatory minimum sentence."

That, alone, is pretty amazing. For over a generation, a vote like this would have been the subject of shameless "soft on crime" demagoguery. Instead, the Obama White House pressed hard for the change, with no real fear of political pushback, and Congress approved a significant improvement -- in an election year -- with no qualms about how this might be twisted into an attack ad.

David Dayen added, "[Y]ou know what we don't so a lot of in this country? Reduce sentences. Check out the makeup of the world's largest prison population and you'll see what I mean. 'Law 'n' Order' and 'Tough on Crime' remain shibboleths used by politicians to hammer away at criminal sentencing reformists. So ANY change in a positive direction takes a ridiculous amount of work and struggle. This is a small step, but it's a step in the right direction."

It is, indeed. And the fact that the right isn't running around screaming about "Democrats love drug addicts" this afternoon also reflects meaningful progress when it comes to our public discourse on this issue.

Here's some additional background on the details of the bill.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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QUANTIFYING THE GOVERNMENT'S RESCUE OF THE ECONOMY.... In politics, perceptions arguably matter more than anything, and when it comes to the federal government intervening to rescue the economy, the perceptions are less than kind.

If polls are any indication, the efforts launched by federal officials in 2008 and 2009, when the economy was teetering on the brink of wholesale collapse, were unacceptable. The financial industry bailout seems to be universally reviled, and last year's Recovery Act is only marginally more popular. (In fact, in many instances, the public thinks both efforts are the same thing.)

President Obama and Democrats routinely, if not explicitly, argue to voters that "it would have been worse." But is there way to prove that empirically? Two respected economists gave it a shot.

In a new paper, the economists argue that without the Wall Street bailout, the bank stress tests, the emergency lending and asset purchases by the Federal Reserve, and the Obama administration's fiscal stimulus program, the nation's gross domestic product would be about 6.5 percent lower this year.

In addition, there would be about 8.5 million fewer jobs, on top of the more than 8 million already lost; and the economy would be experiencing deflation, instead of low inflation.

The paper, by Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton professor and former vice chairman of the Fed, and Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, represents a first stab at comprehensively estimating the effects of the economic policy responses of the last few years.

"While the effectiveness of any individual element certainly can be debated, there is little doubt that in total, the policy response was highly effective," they write.

Zandi, by the way, was an advisor on economic policy to the McCain/Palin presidential campaign.

The two looked at the totality of the federal response -- TARP, stimulus, auto industry rescue, intervention from the Federal Reserve -- and concluded that the collected efforts prevented an economic catastrophe.

"When all is said and done, the financial and fiscal policies will have cost taxpayers a substantial sum, but not nearly as much as most had feared and not nearly as much as if policy makers had not acted at all," they write.

The economists didn't measure what would have happened if policymakers had followed the right's recommendations -- no TARP, no auto industry rescue, and a five-year spending freeze -- but the word "cataclysmic" comes to mind.

Indeed, the Zandi/Blinder paper concluded, "[I]t is clear that laissez faire was not an option; policymakers had to act. Not responding would have left both the economy and the government's fiscal situation in far graver condition. We conclude that [Federal Reserve Chairman] Ben Bernanke was probably right when he said that "We came very close in October [2008] to Depression 2.0."

Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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ARIZONA ANTI-IMMIGRANT LAW PUT ON HOLD.... Today's the day that Arizona's odious S.B. 1070 -- the notorious anti-immigrant law -- takes effect, but thanks to a court order today, the most problematic provisions of the law are now on hold. The Associated Press reports this afternoon:

A judge has blocked the most controversial sections of Arizona's new immigration law from taking effect Thursday, handing a major legal victory to opponents of the crackdown.

The law will still take effect Thursday, but without many of the provisions that angered opponents -- including sections that required officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws. The judge also put on hold a part of the law that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times, and made it illegal for undocumented workers to solicit employment in public places.

Until the court resolves the legality of these issues, the provisions will not take effect.

Lawyers for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) will no doubt appeal, and the New York Times noted that "legal experts predict the case is bound for the United States Supreme Court."

Update: CNN posted the entire ruling here (pdf).

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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HALPERIN ON 'THE MEDIA SPIRAL'.... At first blush, Mark Halperin's latest piece in Time deals with subjects I'm not inclined to read more about: O.J. Simpson's criminal trial and the media's handling of the Shirley Sherrod story. But there are actually some noteworthy observations in the piece, with real merit. (via Adam Serwer)

[T]he coverage of both sagas -- Simpson's, literally, for years; Sherrod's for the better part of a week -- was insanely overblown. The Sherrod story is a reminder -- much like the 2004 assault on John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- that the old media are often swayed by controversies pushed by the conservative new media. In many quarters of the old media, there is concern about not appearing liberally biased, so stories emanating from the right are given more weight and less scrutiny.

Additionally, the conservative new media, particularly Fox News Channel and talk radio, are commercially successful, so the implicit logic followed by old-media decisionmakers is that if something is gaining currency in those precincts, it is a phenomenon that must be given attention. Most dangerously, conservative new media will often produce content that is so provocative and incendiary that the old media find it irresistible.

So the news-and-information conveyor belt moves stories like the Sherrod case from Point A to Point Z without any of the standards or norms of traditional journalism, not only resulting in grievous harm to the apparently blameless, such as Sherrod, but also crowding out news about virtually anything else.

I take issue, from time to time, with Halperin's coverage of the political world, but on this, he couldn't be more right. It's an observation that usually goes overlooked, which makes it all the more encouraging that it's coming from Halperin -- who enjoys enormous credibility with the political media establishment.

He concludes that last week's obsession was a "low point" for political reporting, which should lead the media to "start climbing out of the pit."

Halperin doesn't explicitly call himself out on this -- The Page was complicit with last week's coverage -- and the piece brushes past the racial component of both stories. Nevertheless, he deserves a lot of credit for making plain how that conveyor belt operates, and highlighting why it's not working.

Here's hoping Halperin's piece is taken seriously by his colleagues.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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A POLL TAX FOR A NEW GENERATION.... One of the most amusing aspects of "Fox & Friends" is their habit of phrasing ridiculous points as questions. It's a classic cop-out -- they're not making an insulting point; they're just posing a question for debate. ("Are liberal Democrats more likely to hurt puppies? We're not saying they are; we're just asking a question.")

This morning, host/activist Steve Doocy posed a "controversial" question: "With 47% of Americans not paying taxes -- 47% -- should those who don't pay be allowed to vote?"

As is always the case, he's not necessarily saying they should be denied the ability to vote; Doocy was just posing a question.

Well, it's a stupid question. For one thing, Doocy's simply wrong on the facts. When he expresses amazement that 47% of Americans are "not paying taxes," he's making a deliberately misleading claim. Yes, many middle- and lower-class families get a break on their federal income taxes, but what Doocy neglects to mention is that these same folks still pay sales taxes, state taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare/Medicaid taxes, and in many instances, property taxes.

To suggest, as Doocy does, that 47% are somehow getting away with something is crazy.

For another, does Doocy think it's a bad thing that so many Americans get a break on their federal income taxes? As a Republican, wouldn't it be odd for him to support tax increases on nearly half the country?

And finally, even if Doocy's bogus claim were accurate -- it's not, but let's say it is for the sake of conversation -- in what universe would we deny Americans the right to vote based on the size of their tax burden?

Tune into "Fox & Friends," where you'll get a glimpse of Jim Crow laws for a new generation.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In California, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) building on her earlier lead, and now has a nine-point advantage over fired HP CEO Carly Fiorina (R), 49% to 40%.

* On a related note, PPP also found that state Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) leads former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (R) in California's gubernatorial race, but the leading is shrinking. Brown is now up by six, 46% to 40%.

* In New York, a new Quinnipiac poll shows state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) continuing to enjoy huge leads in his gubernatorial race, leading former Rep. Rick Lazio (R) by 30 points, 56% to 26%,

* Oklahoma will have its first woman governor next year, after yesterday's gubernatorial primaries. Rep. Mary Fallin, as expected, won the Republican nomination, and in a bit of a surprise, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins edged state Attorney General Drew Edmondson for the Democratic nod.

* As of this morning, former Rep. Rob Simmons' (R) on-again/off-again Senate campaign in Connecticut is back on again.

* If you're inclined to believe Rasmussen, Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) has a narrow lead over Rep. Mark Kirk (R) in this year's Senate race, 43% to 41%.

* In an interesting Democratic primary in Tennessee, Rep. Steve Cohen (D), a white lawmaker running for re-election in a majority-African-American district, now enjoys support from the Congressional Black Caucus for the first time.

* It almost certainly won't amount to much, but Rep. Mike Castle (R), the leading candidate in Delaware's U.S. Senate race, is facing a primary challenge from Christine O'Donnell. Yesterday, O'Donnell picked up support from the Tea Party Express, which has previously helped right-wing candidates in GOP primaries in Nevada, Kentucky, and Utah.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (7)

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LAY OF THE LAND.... The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's estimable Jay Bookman tried to wrap his head around the current political landscape, and felt like he'd fallen down a rabbit hole.

Here we are in the smoldering ruins of an economy recently wrecked by Wall Street greed, in a country where for 30 years almost all income growth has been concentrated among the richest 1 percent of Americans. Rising populist anger, massive long-term unemployment and record home foreclosures serve as counterpoints to soaring corporate profits, while the Supreme Court rules that corporations are people and can spend limitless amounts of money trying to elect candidates willing to serve their interests.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party defends massive tax breaks for the wealthy while blocking aid to the unemployed, fights bitterly against regulations designed to prevent a repeat of the Wall Street meltdown, blocks legislation that would at least require corporate and special interests to identify themselves when they invest in elections and does all that while proclaiming itself to be the party of the little people.

Do I have that right?

Yep.

I'd just add two things. One, congressional Republicans also hope to block a bill to offer economic incentives to small businesses, while blocking all related efforts to improve the economy, including aid to states.

Two, they're the party that's expected to do extremely well in November, all of these details notwithstanding.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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THE GOP'S WELL-HIDDEN AFFECTION FOR THE UNEMPLOYED.... A mistaken impression quickly took hold recently during the debate over extended unemployment benefits, and much of the media bought it. The assumption became that everyone on both sides supported the extension, it was simply a debate over how. Dems saw the aid as an emergency, while Republicans didn't want the costs added to the deficit.

In effect, the GOP argued, "We're not callous; we love the unemployed. We're anxious to extend benefits. We just want the kind of fiscally responsible approach we cared nothing about when we were in the majority."

They're still pushing this line, probably aware of voters' support for the benefits.

In a blog post yesterday, Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) argued that the "Unemployment Extension Should Have Been Paid For." Sen. Johanns works hard to defend the GOP, but in order to believe his excuses you'd have to ignore the past six months of Republican talking points, filibusters and anonymous holds.

"I don't know a single Senator in Washington who didn't want to see these benefits extended," Johanns claims.

This is pretty silly. As Alan Pyke noted, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) dismissed jobless aid as money that offers "a disincentive" to getting a job, a sentiment endorsed by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R) . For that matter, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) suggested that if you don't have a job, you might very well be a drug addict.

Johanns specifically referenced sitting senators, but if we expand the view a bit, we see even more Republican hostility towards the unemployed. One GOP congressman recently compared the jobless to "hobos." Nevada's Sharron Angle blasted the unemployed as "spoiled"; Wisconsin's Ron Johnson said those without jobs won't look until their benefits run out; Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett said the unemployed choose not to work because of the benefits; and Kentucky's Rand Paul thinks the jobless should just quit their bellyaching and "get back to work."

Johanns would have us believe that both parties were looking out for the unemployed, just in different ways. That's nonsense.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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CAN THE DREAM ACT BECOME A REALITY?.... The chances of the Senate taking up a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year are about zero. But there is time, and at least some political will, to tackle smaller measures related to the larger policy.

Some immigrant rights groups are shifting the strategy in their so-far unsuccessful push to overhaul immigration law: They're calling the new tactic the "down payment" approach.

"We are aware that the clock is running out, and there are no guarantees that a Congress that is supportive of immigration reform will be returned in November," said Antonio Gonzales, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a Latino public policy group. "We took a deep breath and said, 'Okay, we need a Plan B.' "

And part of Plan B is pursuing a measure called the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), which is sponsored by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.). I'd like to think a bill like this would be a no-brainer. Every year, tens of thousands of young illegal immigrants graduate from American high schools, but are quickly stuck -- they can't qualify for college aid, and they can't work legally. America is the only home they've ever known -- in most cases, they were brought into the country illegally by their parents -- but at 18, they have few options.

The DREAM Act provides a path to citizenship for these young immigrants -- graduate from high school, get conditional permanent residency status, go to college or serve in the military, and become eligible for citizenship.

The road ahead for the measure is tricky. On the right, Senate Republicans have predictably vowed to filibuster the measure. On the left, there are concerns that passing the DREAM Act might make passing a comprehensive bill more difficult. For now, however, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seems serious about trying to get it to the floor before the elections.

In theory, getting enough Republican votes to overcome a filibuster shouldn't be difficult. Not only is Lugar co-sponsoring the bill, but Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) helped write the policy a few years ago. Better yet, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), before his transformation into a right-wing hack, not only endorsed the DREAM Act, he offered congressional testimony in support of the idea, and promised the National Council of La Raza two years ago that he would support the bill if elected president.

To be sure, consistency isn't their best quality, but conservative Republicans have been on board with the DREAM Act for years. If just a few of them would let the Senate vote, up or down, on the bill, it stands a chance.

Update: As recently as April, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he was open to working on immigration reform. Today, commenting on the bipartisan DREAM Act, Cornyn said Dems are just trying to "play to the peanut gallery."

I sure hope he's not referring to those kids who need a hand.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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PREFERRING POLITICAL PARALYSIS.... If there's one thing that should be overwhelmingly obvious after the last four years, it's that the Senate process is broken. Obstructionist tactics that were once rare have been scandalously routine -- for the first time in American history, a Senate supermajority is necessary for literally every bill of consequence. The result is a legislative paralysis that undermines America's ability to thrive in the 21st century.

Except, it's apparently not obvious to all.

Senate Democrats do not have the votes to lower the 60-vote threshold to cut off filibusters.

The lack of support among a handful of Senate Democratic incumbents is a major blow to the effort to change the upper chamber's rules. [...]

Five Senate Democrats have said they will not support a lowering of the 60-vote bar necessary to pass legislation. Another four lawmakers say they are wary about such a change and would be hesitant to support it.

A 10th Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said he would support changing the rule on filibusters of motions to begin debate on legislation, but not necessarily the 60-vote threshold needed to bring up a final vote on bills.

Most of the support in the Senate for reforming the broken status quo comes from newer members of the chamber, but it's the Dems who've been around for a while -- those who remember being in the minority -- who are most inclined to keep things as they are, regardless of the consequences to the institution or the country.

It's a reminder that no one wants to give up a weapon they might want to use themselves someday. Republicans are abusing procedural rules now to undermine a progressive agenda, and some Dems are no doubt thinking they'll be able to abuse those same rules down the road.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) told The Hill, "I think we should retain the same policies that we have instead of lowering it.... I think it has been working."

I don't know what Senate Akaka has been watching, but it doesn't sound like this one.

With the Senate Democratic majority due to shrink, and Republicans becoming more hysterically conservative, these anti-reform Dems are inviting a disaster -- a government incapable of passing legislation.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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DEBATING DISCLOSURE.... I suppose what rankles most about Senate Republicans killing the DISCLOSE Act yesterday is just how modest the legislation really was.

For about a century, the country has prohibited corporations from sponsoring campaign ads. The Supreme Court concluded that such restrictions infringe on the First Amendment, so a majority of Congress decided, in lieu of a ban, to pursue disclosure. Corporations, labor unions, and non-profit organizations would have to tell voters that they're sponsoring their ads, and in some cases, divulge their donors. It's hardly unreasonable -- corporations can run their ads, but for the sake of the democratic process, everything should be out in the open for the public.

Every single Republican in the Senate disagreed, largely without explanation. Indeed, yesterday's GOP filibuster wasn't on the bill, it was on the motion to proceed -- every Senate Republican not only took a bold stand against basic campaign disclosure, they blocked the Senate from even having a debate. They're against disclosure and against talking about disclosure.

With that in mind, a quote collection was making the rounds on the Hill yesterday. The highlights included:

* Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) "believes that it is important that any future campaign finance laws include strong transparency provisions so the American public knows who is contributing to a candidate's campaign, as well as who is funding communications in support of or in opposition to a political candidate or issue."

* Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas): "I think the system needs more transparency, so people can more easily reach their own conclusions."

* Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.): "I don't like it when a large source of money is out there funding ads and is unaccountable... To the extent we can, I tend to favor disclosure."

All of them filibustered a measure to start a debate over a modest disclosure bill.

Jamelle Bouie added:

Between Citizen's United and the DISCLOSE Act, we've witnessed something genuinely incredible: in the interest of furthering the interests of powerful corporations, a narrow majority of Supreme Court conservative justices overturned decades of campaign finance precedent, and a small minority of conservative senators blocked congressional efforts at reform. At the risk of sounding really exasperated, this is absolutely insane.

If there's evidence to the contrary, I'd like to see it.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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CONGRESS OVERCOMES OPPOSITION, APPROVES WAR FUNDING.... The House approved a spending bill for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but included $23 billion in additional domestic funding -- including $10 billion in aid to states, intended to save thousands of teachers' jobs. The Senate rejected that version, passed a stripped-down $59 billion package that funded the wars and nothing else, and offered the House a take-it-or-leave-it message

Late yesterday, the House took it, but it wasn't easy. In particular, many liberal Dems had plenty of reasons to balk -- opposition to the wars, dissatisfaction over the scrubbed domestic spending, and revelations surrounding the WikiLeaks materials -- and opposed the spending measure in fairly large numbers.

The House of Representatives agreed on Tuesday to provide $59 billion to continue financing America's two wars, but the vote showed deepening divisions and anxiety among Democrats over the course of the nearly nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.

The 308-to-114 vote, with strong Republican support, came after the leak of an archive of classified battlefield reports from Afghanistan that fueled new debate over the course of the war and whether President Obama's counterinsurgency strategy could work.

Here's the roll call. A majority of Dems and a majority of Republicans supported the funding, but 102 Democrats joined 12 Republicans in opposition. The number of House Dems voting against the midyear war spending nearly tripled from a year ago, which underscores the growing opposition.

It's also worth keeping in mind that the $59 billion for the wars isn't paid for, and will be added to the deficit as emergency spending. There was some talk among Republicans in May about trying to pay for the funding -- a step they never even considered between 2002 and 2008 -- but that was never seriously pursued.

With that in mind, reader M.R. raised a good point via email:

Here's something to ponder as the debate over the Bush tax cuts: although there is no action required to cause tax rates to reset to earlier values, I wonder if the Dems could get some political benefit by tying their inaction on renewing the top cuts to the two wars. That is, we need to let the tax rates return to earlier values to pay for our two wars.

That strikes me as a very sound approach. Wars are expensive, and throughout American history, taxes have gone up to pay for conflicts. Lincoln raised taxes to pay for the Civil War. McKinley raised taxes to finance the Spanish-American War. Wilson raised the top income tax rate to 77% to afford WWI. Taxes were raised, multiple times, to help the nation pay for WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Even the first President Bush raised taxes after the first war with Iraq.

This year, taxes are scheduled to return to earlier levels anyway. If Dems let that happen, they can help pay for the war spending Republicans support.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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July 27, 2010

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Changes at BP: "Three months after its giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a chastened BP outlined a new strategy on Tuesday to revamp operations and practices around the world and turn it into a leaner operator under a new leader. But even as BP increased the money set aside for spill-related costs to $32.2 billion, executives reiterated that the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion was not a result of gross negligence by the company."

* On a related note, BP's Tony Hayward is leaving with a severance package that congressional Democrats aren't at all happy about.

* If only a couple of Senate Republicans cared: "Worldwide, 2010 is on track to become the warmest year on record. Scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies reported recently that the average global temperature was higher over the past 12 months than during any other 12-month period in history."

* What happened to the billions of dollars in the Iraq reconstruction fund between 2003 and 2007? No one seems to know.

* It's obscure, at least for now, but we should care about Basel III.

* Will Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) cut a deal with the ethics committee? It's looking a lot less likely.

* Volt gets a price tag: "The Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in car capable of driving about 40 miles at a time on battery power without using any gasoline, will have a sticker price of $41,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit, General Motors said Tuesday. G.M. will also lease the Volt for $350 a month in the hopes of attracting consumers who want lower monthly payments or would hesitate to buy the vehicle until they are more comfortable with its technology."

* FEC raises eyebrows: "The starter's gun went off last week in the squalid new race for unlimited campaign cash. The Federal Election Commission approved the creation of two 'independent' campaign committees, one each from the left and right, expressly designed to take advantage of the new world of no rules."

* Good piece on the aims and standards of conservative media.

* On a related note, conservatives won't want to hear this, but Journolist really was a terrific resource.

* When public colleges get less funding, but spend more on sports anyway, it seems problematic.

* And Dave Weigel lands on his feet, joining the staff at Slate. All's well that ends well?

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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OBAMA TALKS SMALL BUSINESSES, ENERGY, WIKILEAKS, JUDGES.... President Obama met this afternoon with the congressional leadership from both parties and both chambers today, and spoke afterwards about the agenda.

He began by endorsing the small-business-incentives bill that, according to the leadership, will be the next bill considered by the Senate, and may be voted on this week. The president transitioned to energy:

"We also talked about the need to move forward on energy reform. The Senate is now poised to act before the August recess, advancing legislation to respond to the BP oil spill and create new clean energy jobs.

"That legislation is an important step in the right direction. But I want to emphasize it's only the first step. And I intend to keep pushing for broader reform, including climate legislation, because if we've learned anything from the tragedy in the Gulf, it's that our current energy policy is unsustainable.

"And we can't afford to stand by as our dependence on foreign oil deepens, as we keep on pumping out the deadly pollutants that threaten our air and our water and the lives and livelihoods of our people. And we can't stand by as we let China race ahead to create the clean energy jobs and industries of the future. We should be developing those renewable energy sources, and creating those high-wage, high-skill jobs right here in the United States of America.

"That's what comprehensive energy and climate reform would do. And that's why I intend to keep pushing this issue forward."

I know a comprehensive bill probably won't see the light of day for several years, but it's nevertheless nice to hear a reminder that "our current energy policy is unsustainable," as the BP spill helps demonstrate. (The president has, by the way, been saying this for quite a while. It just hasn't gotten much attention.)

As for the Wikileaks story:

"I also urged the House leaders to pass the necessary funding to support our efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I know much has been written about this in recent days as a result of the substantial leak of documents from Afghanistan covering a period from 2004 to 2009.

"While I'm concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations, the fact is these documents don't reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan; indeed, they point to the same challenges that led me to conduct an extensive review of our policy last fall.

"So let me underscore what I've said many times: For seven years, we failed to implement a strategy adequate to the challenge in this region, the region from which the 9/11 attacks were waged and other attacks against the United States and our friends and allies have been planned.

"That's why we've substantially increased our commitment there, insisted upon greater accountability from our partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan, developed a new strategy that can work, and put in place a team, including one of our finest generals, to execute that plan. Now we have to see that strategy through."

And one of my personal favorites, the federal judiciary:

"Finally, during our meeting today, I urged Senator McConnell and others in the Senate to work with us to fill the vacancies that continue to plague our judiciary. Right now, we've got nominees who've been waiting up to eight months to be confirmed as judges. Most of these folks were voted out of committee unanimously, or nearly unanimously, by both Democrats and Republicans. Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that they were qualified to serve. Nevertheless, some in the minority have used parliamentary procedures time and again to deny them a vote in the full Senate.

"If we want our judicial system to work -- if we want to deliver justice in our courts -- then we need judges on our benches. And I hope that in the coming months, we'll be able to work together to ensure a timelier process in the Senate."


Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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SENATE GOP BLOCKS VOTE, KILLS DISCLOSE ACT.... We learned earlier today that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) would be away from Capitol Hill this afternoon, attending a funeral. At that point, it was all but certain that the DISCLOSE Act (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections) would fail today to overcome the latest in an endless line of Republican filibusters.

With every member of the Democratic caucus in the chamber, the bill would need one GOP vote. With Lieberman out for the day, it would need two. And when it comes to promoting campaign disclosure from corporations, labor unions, and non-profit organizations, we saw unanimous Republican opposition to even allowing the Senate to vote.

The final roll call this afternoon was 57 to 41. In a sane world, legislation with 57 supporters and 41 opponents would win. In the U.S. Senate, thanks to scandalous Republican abuses, it loses.

There's just no logic to the GOP refusing to allow a vote on this. It already passed the House -- with a Republican co-sponsor, no less -- and it's really not that controversial.

The DISCLOSE Act would require corporations and interest groups to identify themselves when they sponsor political ads and, in the case of smaller organizations, to reveal their donors.

President Obama and Democratic leaders hoped the bill would, among other things, help undo the damage of the recent Citizens United ruling, in which the Supreme Court threw out limits on corporate political spending. And since the bill merely called to publicize who was putting money into politics, rather than limit that money, Obama and the Democrats hoped they could peel off enough Republican votes to break a filibuster. They were wrong. Not one Republican voted to proceed with debate -- not even after the Democrats modified the bill, in order to address GOP arguments that it would treat unions differently from other groups.

Remember when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was a champion of campaign-finance reform? He refused to even let the Senate vote on a simple disclosure bill. Remember when Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) seemed like the kind of "moderates" who would support an effort like this? All three not only opposed the bill, but supported a filibuster to block a vote.

Democrats intend to use today's vote in the future as an example of ridiculous Republican values. In expectation of the vote, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said this morning, "Today's vote has the potential to be a defining one for the Republican party. This [is] a choice between the public and big corporations and the Republicans seem poised to vote en masse for the corporations."

Update: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), shortly before the vote: "This is a sad day for our democracy. Not only does the Supreme Court give those special interests a huge advantage, but this body says they should do it all in secret without any disclosure. That, my colleagues, transcends this election, transcends Democrat or Republican. It eats at the very fabric of our democracy. It makes our people feel powerless and angry."

Steve Benen 4:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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NO ONE NOTICES THE CONTRAST OF WHITE ON WHITE.... Fox News viewers have been treated with an overabundance of coverage of "news" about the New Black Panther Party and Shirley Sherrod, who at least initially, the network accused of discriminating against whites.

Isn't Fox News concerned about driving away its African-American viewers with such racially-charged coverage? Probably not -- the network just doesn't have many African-American viewers to drive away.

Fox News may be the undisputed ratings champion in cable news, but not among black viewers.

The New York Times' Brian Stelter tweeted that, according to Nielsen Media Research, Fox News has averaged just 29,000 black viewers in primetime so far this television season (9/09-7/10).

For comparison purposes, note that 20.7% of CNN's viewers are black. For MSNBC, the number is 19.3%.

For Fox News, it's just 1.38%.

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that this isn't likely to change anytime soon.

The National Association of Black Journalists has faulted Fox for years for inaccurately portraying blacks. And Mr. Beck called Mr. Obama a racist last August, prompting an advertiser boycott that continues.

In the last month, Fox doggedly pursued an accusation of voter intimidation by a fringe hate group called the New Black Panthers on the day of the last presidential election. One news anchor, Megyn Kelly, devoted dozens of segments to the incident. (Ms. Kelly was even upbraided on the air by a Fox News contributor, Kirsten Powers, who accused her of doing the "scary black man thing."

Last fall, Fox's news programs gave heavy play to heavily edited tapes that appeared to show counselors at the liberal community organizing group Acorn giving advice to an ostensible pimp and his prostitute about evading taxes and setting up a brothel. [...]

Over the weekend, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, Howard Dean, accused Fox of pushing "a theme of black racism."


Steve Benen 3:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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SHOWING THE SCOUTS SOME LOVE.... The right gets angry about the strangest things.

Seizing on a report from CNS News' Penny Star, several conservative blogs are attacking President Obama for not speaking in person at the Boy Scouts' upcoming 100th anniversary jamboree because he will be in New Jersey to speak about the economy before heading to New York City to film an upcoming appearance on ABC's The View.

On his radio show, Glenn Beck also went after the president over the Boy Scouts' event, which suggests we may be hearing more about this from the usual suspects.

There's an obvious response here -- this isn't a snub. The president will address the Boy Scouts' jamboree via a taped message, and he already showed his appreciation for the group by hosting an Oval Office gathering just two weeks ago.

But if we're going to talk about politics and scouts, it's worth remembering that Beck and his cohorts are barking up the wrong ideological tree here. Did you ever notice the right's hostility towards the Girl Scouts?

A few years ago, James Dobson's Focus on the Family encouraged Christian fundamentalists to steer clear of the Girl Scouts because it made use of the word "God" in its oath optional. Another religious right group complained about the Girl Scouts' emphasis on "empowerment," which Robert Knight argued would "steer" girls "into collective action for liberal causes, such as environmentalism."

There was also the hatchet job Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote for National Review, which claimed, among other things, that that the Girl Scouts are under the sway of radical feminists and lesbians. "There are currently 2.7 million Girl Scouts in the U.S.," Lopez said. "That's a lot of liberal feminists to look forward to."

And the right wants to complain about Obama sending a pre-recorded message to the Boy Scouts? This is evidence of some kind of scout animosity? Please.

Steve Benen 2:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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QUIT WHILE YOU'RE BEHIND.... Yesterday, the American Spectator's Jeffrey Lord decided to go after Shirley Sherrod, this time accusing her of lying because she said Bobby Hall was "lynched" in 1943. Hall was beaten to death by a white sheriff and his two white deputies, but as far as Lord was concerned, rope wasn't involved. Ergo, Sherrod's credibility is in question.

As Adam Serwer responded yesterday, "A lynching is an extrajudicial mob killing. No one who worked to document the practice of lynching in the South limited the definition of the term to solely include those lynchings that occurred using a rope.... Now does three guys beating someone to death sound like an extrajudicial mob killing to you?"

Today, Lord answered that question and defended his offensive argument.

Random House Webster's College Dictionary defines lynching as: "to put to death, esp. hanging by mob action and without legal authority."

I have read the Court's decision. Three people are not a "mob." A mob is defined as a "large crowd." So there was no "mob action" because there was no mob.

Look, this is ridiculous. Lord wisely gave up on the whole rope line of argument, but now wants to parse the meaning of the word "mob." Three white cops beat a black man to death. They arrested him on weak evidence, beat him mercilessly for a half-hour, and dragged the man's unconscious body, feet first, through the courthouse square before his death.

If there were four white cops would Lord be comfortable with the word "lynching"? How about five? Emmett Till was killed by two men. Was he not lynched either?

But wait, there's more. Lord went on to suggest that people need to "understand the connection between what they are seeing in the headlines everyday -- and history."

There is, I'm sorry to say, a direct connection between Southern racists of yore and, say, the Obama Administration policy in Arizona. The Black Panther case. And what Ms. Sherrod was doing in her speech when she ever so casually linked criticism of health care to racism, which is to say not supporting a (her words) "black President."

This is all of a piece.... [W]hen Ms. Sherrod uses the highly inflammatory word "lynching" -- when it is quite specifically not so because of the above reasons -- what is she doing? Why is she doing it? She was factually wrong. She was legally wrong. She did it anyway.

Keep in mind, this is not satire intended to make conservatives look like deranged racists. Lord seems to be entirely sincere.

And the whole point of the exercise is to do what Breitbart tried and failed to do last week -- go after Shirley Sherrod. It's quite twisted, really.

Postscript: More than a few historians believe Jeffrey Lord has no idea what he's talking about, but I suspect that won't change his mind. We're well past the point at which reason and evidence have meaning with this guy.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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WHEN AN ENDORSEMENT BACKFIRES.... The conventional wisdom suggests Republican candidates, especially those in Republican primaries, are anxious to get an endorsement from former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R).

There are, however, exceptions.

A new Public Policy Polling survey in New Hampshire finds Kelly Ayotte's (R) appeal to moderate voters crumbled in the wake of her endorsement by Sarah Palin and her lead over Paul Hodes (D) in the U.S. Senate race has shrunk to its lowest level yet, 45% to 42%.

Key finding: "Most of the movement both in feelings about Ayotte and in the horse race has come with moderate voters. Moderates make up the largest bloc of the New Hampshire electorate at 47%, and Hodes' lead with them has expanded from just 8 points at 47% to 39% in April to now 21 points at 51% to 30%. Ayotte's favorability with them has gone from +5 at 32% to 27% to -19 at 27% to 46%."

To be sure, it's just one poll, so I don't want to overstate matters. But this nevertheless offers some evidence to bolster other recent polls that show a great deal of hostility for the right-wing Alaskan from everyone who isn't part of the far-right Republican base.

In the case of the PPP survey, it's pretty dramatic -- Ayotte was faring well among moderate voters, and now she's not. The only thing that's changed of late is the endorsement, which New Hampshire Democrats were anxious to tout among in-state reporters.

Indeed, there's a great irony here. For quite a while, Granite State Dems were anxious to tie Ayotte to Palin, noting the similarities between them (most notably, the fact that both quit their jobs, mid-term, to pursue grander ambitions). The charges didn't really connect in New Hampshire -- until Ayotte went ahead and accepted an endorsement from the conspicuously unintelligent Fox News personality.

Overall, Ayotte's lead over Rep. Paul Hodes has dropped from seven points to three fairly quickly. This is currently a Republican seat -- held by the retiring Judd Gregg -- and Democrats have long hoped to turn it into a pick-up opportunity.

Thanks to Palin, that opportunity is suddenly looking more achievable.

Steve Benen 1:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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AN OVERLOOKED HOUSE VOTE ON TRIBAL JUSTICE.... I mentioned briefly yesterday afternoon that Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) voted last week against a measure to make it easier "for Native American tribal courts to prosecute non-natives who commit rape and other crimes on tribal lands." King wasn't alone -- while the bill passed the House easily with bipartisan support, more Republicans opposed it than supported it. It was approved, 326 to 92.

What was up with those 92, all of whom were Republicans? I talked to a Hill staffer about this overnight, who explained what transpired. The staffer emailed me this, and I'm republishing the account with permission:

One real small correction in the bit you quoted -- tribal courts have no criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians (they have criminal jurisdiction over tribe members and, for reasons I'll leave to your imagination, over Indians belonging to other tribes, but not over non-Indians). And the tribal justice bill most definitely does not provide or create any new criminal jurisdiction over non Indians. In fact, in response to concern from Republican members on this exact issue, a specific provision was added during Senate process making totally explicit that the bill does not expand tribal jurisdiction to reach non-Indians and the Chairman of the House Natural Resources committee engaged in a colloquy on this very issue with Dan Lungren during floor debate. (Mr. Lungren ultimately supported the bill.)

The basis for the Mr. King's rejection of the bill (along with many other House Republicans) is hard to determine. It's a law-and-order bill, the centerpiece of which is to increase the authority of tribal courts to impose longer sentences on tribal offenders (current law limits Indian tribes to one year sentences per offense; the bill increases to 3 years per offense and 9 years max). The fact that there is a cap may itself be jarring, since tribes are separate sovereigns; on the other hand, tribal governments are not subject to the Bill of Rights and tribes -- unlike the states or the federal government -- can incarcerate people without providing them a lawyer, so it is a complex balance. The bill also enhances procedural protections for defendants in tribal courts -- requiring tribes to provide counsel for indigent defendants who face more than one year incarceration and requiring the proceedings be recorded/transcribed and that court rules and tribal criminal codes be publically available. But 92 House Republicans voting AGAINST longer criminal sentences is certainly an unusual thing.

The bill also enhances drug interdiction efforts, re-authorizes a range of programs to address root causes of crime (including drug and alcohol treatment, summer youth and juvenile delinquency programs, and others), ensures that tribal courts can get medical testimony needed from IHS for sex assault cases, facilitates tribal access to federal criminal information databases, eases the way for increased hiring and better training of BIA officers and tribal police, and creates a very significant tribal law and order commission that will conduct a two year study of public safety and criminal justice issues in Indian Country and report back to Congress.

The bill was unanimously passed out of the Senate, but faced more significant challenges in the House (an unusual state of affairs right there). House Republicans made essentially no substantive objections but simply complained about the process used to move quickly through the House (it was taken up directly on the floor after returning from the Senate, which ensured that the bill did not have to go through the senate two times). There was lots of chatter that the opposition was simply designed to obstruct the effort -- and deny House democrats of the political benefits of achieving this accomplishment for tribal constituencies -- but it's of course hard to know what lies in people's hearts.

It went largely overlooked last week, but it seems like an important measure. I'm glad President Obama will sign it into law, and I can only hope those 92 opponents are prepared to explain to tribal communities what possessed them to vote the way they did.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) made it official yesterday afternoon, announcing that he's running for governor in Colorado as a member of the extremist American Constitution Party. He has not, however, filed the paperwork with the Colorado secretary of state, nor has he registered as a member of his new party.

* Speaking of Colorado, it looks like Andrew Romanoff won't be ending his primary challenge to Sen. Michael Bennet (D) anytime soon -- the former state House Speaker sold his house so he could loan his campaign $325,000.

* In Wisconsin, right-wing businessman Ron Johnson (R), taking on Sen. Russ Feingold (D), recently disclosed that he owns as much as $315,000 in BP stock. On July 9, Johnson's campaign said he would move the investments into a blind trust. Yesterday, the far-right candidate started backing away from his pledge.

* In Florida's Senate Democratic primary, Rep. Kendrick Meek launched his first television ad of the year, going after billionaire Jeff Greene pretty aggressively.

* In Tennessee, the latest Mason-Dixon poll shows Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam leading the Republican gubernatorial primary with 36% support. Rep. Zach Wamp, who recently raised the specter of seceding from the United States, is second in the poll with 25%. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who doesn't believe Islam is a religion, is third with 20%. The winner will likely face businessman Mike McWherter (D) in November.

* In Maryland's gubernatorial rematch, a Gonzales Research poll shows Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) narrowly leading former Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R), 45% to 42%.

* It's primary day in Oklahoma, where both parties are holding gubernatorial primaries. Rep. Mary Fallin (R) and state Attorney General Drew Edmondson (D) are expected to win their respective races.

* And let this be a lesson to party activists: if you're going to remove your opponent's campaign signs on public property, look for cameras that might catch you in the act.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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DISGRACED FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER PRETENDS TO HAVE CREDIBILITY.... Oh good, Newt is still talking. (thanks to reader D.F. for the tip)

Newt Gingrich will deliver a major national security address at the conservative American Enterprise Institute on Thursday in which he will reprimand the Obama administration's "willful blindness" to the threat of extremist Islam.

The speech -- a direct challenge to the president's foreign policy judgment at a venue that's become an important stopover for Republican luminaries -- is the latest sign that Gingrich is serious about a potential White House bid in 2012. [...]

Never one to shy away from his somewhat professorial reputation, Gingrich plans to draw on "the lessons of Camus and Orwell" to explain "the dangers of a wartime government that uses language and misleading labels to obscure reality."

Of course, Gingrich, a pseudo-intellectual crackpot, only has a "somewhat professorial reputation" among those who neglect to listen to what he has to say. This is, after all, the same Gingrich who insisted on national television recently that it was acceptable to Mirandize shoe-bomber Richard Reid because he was "an American citizen." (In our reality, Reid is a British citizen of Jamaican descent.)

In light of the speech, Greg Sargent noted, "Newt Gingrich is set to duke it out with Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney for the title of leading GOP voice on national security."

I think that's right, but I also think it's an indictment of sorts. As potential GOP presidential candidates eye 2012, the leading Republican voices on national security are Gingrich, Palin, and Romney? Isn't that rather humiliating for a party that used to lead on these issues?

Gingrich has exactly zero experience on foreign policy, military affairs, and national security. Romney recently tried to pretend to understand these issues, and was utterly humiliated. Palin has said publicly she thinks she understands foreign policy because Vladimir Putin flew over her house.

The Republican Party likes to maintain the pretense that these issues "belong" to them -- all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding -- but the fact that their most noteworthy national luminaries on the subject are utterly clueless, and bring all the sophistication of a child to the debate, is pretty striking.

This isn't to say the entire Republican Party is devoid of credible voices on national security and foreign policy; that would be an overstatement. Current and former officials like Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), Brent Scowcroft, George Schultz, Colin Powell, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Reagan Chief of Staff Howard Baker, former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) all approach these issues with at least some seriousness and stature.

Of course, since this same group also happens to agree with President Obama on national security and foreign policy, that's probably not much help when it comes to GOP politics.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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'WHY DID YOU GET ME SO DRUNK?'.... There was a Republican majority in the House for 12 years, ending in 2006, thanks in part to public opposition to the war in Iraq and the increasing unpopularity of the Bush/Cheney administration.

But it didn't help that GOP lawmakers had become pretty comfortable with their excesses. Far-right lawmakers started sleeping around with increasing frequency; abuses of power became common; GOP members started getting arrested more frequently; and Republicans generally grew to tolerate an arrogant, permissive culture on the Hill.

After losing control, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) had no intention of moving his party ideologically -- if anything, the Republicans have grown considerably more extreme since becoming the minority party -- but he did set out to clean up his smaller caucus's act.

How's that working out? Well, the GOP is still in the minority, but it nevertheless may have held onto some of its bad habits.

Washington is abuzz with rumors of late-night partying and of House Republicans inappropriately hanging out with female lobbyists.

But not everyone was taken by surprise. Minority Leader John Boehner has been working behind the scenes to address the issue for at least the past year and a half.

The Ohio Republican has had private conversations with several lawmakers asking them to curb their inappropriate behavior. Boehner told the lawmakers that it was a "distraction" from the party's goal of taking back the House, according to several sources familiar with the one-on-one talks.

Despite Boehner's effort to head off a scandal, the issue came to the forefront last week when a conversation that Rep. Lee Terry [R-Neb.] had with a woman at a GOP watering hole became public.

The conversation in question happened at the Capitol Hill Club during President Obama's speech in June about the BP oil spill. Terry was reportedly overheard asking the women next to him, "Why did you get me so drunk?"

Terry denies having made the comment, but a longtime Capitol Hill Club member who overheard the exchange told Roll Call, "On the Hill, there's a lot of older men that just go home when they're done with votes. Then you have a smaller group that likes to knock back a few and have a good time."

The incident came on the heels of former Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) being forced to resign in disgrace, after the lawmaker noted for touting abstinence-only programs was found to have carried on an extramarital affair with a member of his staff.

And now we're seeing reports about Boehner intervening with other members of his caucus -- some who've crossed misconduct lines, and some who've come close.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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BRINGING INSTITUTIONAL REFORM TO THE SENATE.... When reviewing who and what are to blame for the death of the energy/climate bill, David Roberts labeled "the broken Senate" as the single most responsible factor. The "default supermajority requirement that's been imposed" was the "main" impediment, Roberts argued, adding, "[T]he supermajority requirement has perverse, deleterious consequences that extend much farther than most progressives seem to understand."

I'm comfortable describing this Congress as having been a historic success, but it's painful to consider what would have been possible if the Senate operated under majority rule -- the way it was designed to function, and the way it used to function. Accomplishments would have been even better; the economy would be stronger; and efforts that died would have survived -- if only the Senate could vote on bills and nominations.

There was a flurry of chatter in February about reforming the way the Senate operates, led in part by Sen. Evan Bayh's (D-Ind.) public expressions of frustration, but in time the talk faded away.

Ryan Grim and Sam Stein reported yesterday that the desire to reform the Senate hasn't disappeared entirely, and may be poised for a comeback.

Momentum is building to reform Senate rules that allow silent filibusters and force a 60-vote requirement for virtually any action, interviews with Democratic candidates and sitting senators indicate.

Democratic candidates said that they hear regularly from voters about abuse of the parliamentary tactic, which is likely to come up as the first vote new senators face in 2011. The supermajority requirement in the Senate has become such an obstacle to reform that it infiltrates policy discussions at every step. Last week at the Netroots Nation political conference, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) gathered environmental writers to discuss energy legislation; the first few questions were related to energy, the rest of the conversation was dominated by the filibuster.

"The use of the filibuster and the way it's led to backroom deals has created the impression in the heartland that the Senate is dysfunctional," said Jack Conway, a Democratic candidate facing Republican Rand Paul in Kentucky. "They don't understand why Washington can't address the issues people care about. People in Kentucky wanted people focused on jobs -- 14 months [of the health care debate] laid bare how broken the system was."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Netroots Nation conference about his support for reform, but it's not just the leadership. Some of the Senate's newer members -- Al Franken (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) -- endorsed reform, as did some current candidates who hope to join the institution -- Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), Elaine Marshall (D-N.C.) and Roxanne Conlin (D-Iowa). When I talked to Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) a couple of weeks ago, he seemed quite serious about this as well.

Of course, there's the small matter of how reform might work, and how it might get accomplished. That's still coming together, but a strategy is taking shape.

If Vice President Joe Biden -- who has spoken out against abuse of the filibuster and has been studying ways to reform it -- were to rule on the first day of the next session that the Senate has the authority to write its own rules, Republicans would immediately move to object. Democrats would then move to table the objection, setting up the key vote. If 50 Democrats voted to table the objection, the Senate would then move to a vote on a new set of rules, which would be approved by a simple majority.

Stay tuned.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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TWENTY YEARS LATER.... Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disability Act, and Democrats honored the occasion with some worthwhile gestures. In Congress, for example, Rhode Island Rep. Jim Langevin (D) presided over the House of Representatives, which wouldn't be especially noteworthy except for the fact that Langevin is a quadriplegic, and was the first person in a wheelchair to ever wield the gavel.

On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Obama hosted an event on the South Lawn, celebrating the ADA as "one of the most comprehensive civil rights bills in the history of this country."

"Today, as we commemorate what the ADA accomplished, we celebrate who the ADA was all about. It was about the young girl in Washington State who just wanted to see a movie at her hometown theater, but was turned away because she had cerebral palsy; or the young man in Indiana who showed up at a worksite, able to do the work, excited for the opportunity, but was turned away and called a cripple because of a minor disability he had already trained himself to work with; or the student in California who was eager and able to attend the college of his dreams, and refused to let the iron grip of polio keep him from the classroom -- each of whom became integral to this cause.

"And it was about all of you. You understand these stories because you or someone you loved lived them. And that sparked a movement. It began when Americans no longer saw their own disabilities as a barrier to their success, and set out to tear down the physical and social barriers that were. It grew when you realized you weren't alone. It became a massive wave of bottom-up change that swept across the country as you refused to accept the world as it was. And when you were told, no, don't try, you can't -- you responded with that age-old American creed: Yes, we can."

Around the same time, in Kentucky, Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul, who opposes the Americans with Disability Act, decided to skip a local event commemorating the landmark legislation, choosing instead to go to a fundraiser with Jeb Bush.

Paul's ADA opposition reminded Michael Tomasky to ask a good question: would the ADA pass today?

In 1990, it passed the Senate 76-8 and passed the House by unanimous voice vote. I think we can say with great confidence that those particular outcomes would never have happened today, and we'd have seen far more caterwauling about the impositions placed on business and so on.

I will grant that the ADA has cost businesses some money, and that there surely have been some nuisance lawsuits. But it's made the US a better place. In 1990, the GOP saw this. Today's GOP would never accept such regulatory "impositions" on the private sector. You might get eight or 10 of them to vote for such a bill, because they would make the decision as a party that overall they didn't want to be seen as picking on people in wheelchairs, but the distance from only a handful of Republicans opposing that bill to Rand Paul's comments in May is one marker of how extreme the GOP has become.

I'm not inclined to consider this a close call: the ADA would struggle to overcome a Republican filibuster if it were brought to the floor today. Twenty years ago, the legislation was championed by Democratic leaders like Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), but it also enjoyed the enthusiastic backing of Republicans like Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.). President George H.W. Bush was proud to sign that bill into law, and considered it one of the great achievements of his term.

But in 2010, the Republican base would very likely demand to know where in the Constitution it says Congress can pass a law protecting Americans with disabilities, and GOP lawmakers would no doubt ask that its provisions be voluntary, so as to not "destroy jobs."

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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CLIMATE PEACOCKS SHOW THEIR FEATHERS.... In early June, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) worked with oil company lobbyists to craft a misguided scheme. Realizing that the Environmental Protection Agency has the still-unused authority to regulate carbon emissions through the Clean Air Act, the plan was to strip the EPA of its authority to act.

It needed 51 votes to pass, but came up with 47. (The result, at the time, made clear that a meaningful climate bill would probably be impossible in this Congress.)

Murkowski's scheme failed, but the idea behind the effort hasn't gone away.

Coal-state Democrats, led by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W. Va.), Reps. Rick Boucher (Va.) and Nick Rahall (W. Va), are trying to limit the federal government's ability to control greenhouse gases from power plants.

The coal-state proposals, which would block the Environmental Protection Agency's authority for two years, would undercut what is widely seen as Obama's alternative climate policy, now that Congress has punted on cap-and-trade legislation for the year.... Rockefeller's bill is expected to reach the Senate floor at some point this year.

In a press release on Friday, Rockefeller said he was "continuing to push hard" for his legislation to suspend the EPA regulations "so that Congress, not federal regulators, can set national energy policy."

For the senators most hostile to combating global warming, this is one of the more common arguments. The EPA shouldn't intervene to regulate carbon emissions, the pitch goes, because it should be lawmakers' job.

And while that argument might appear sensible, it's hard to overstate how shallow it is. "Congress, not federal regulators, should set national energy policy"? Well, sure. But what happens when Congress won't, or can't, act? Rockefeller, in particular, has fought any effort to limit carbon emissions, helping bring the legislative process on the Hill to a halt. Now he wants the EPA to wait for Congress to do its job? Rockefeller is the one who doesn't want Congress to do its job.

This isn't complicated -- the easiest way to block the EPA from acting is for Congress to pass a real energy/climate bill. But those most opposed to the EPA route also happen to be the ones most opposed to congressional action. It makes plain the motivations at play -- this isn't about where regulatory power should lie; it's about killing any and all efforts to deal with the climate crisis.

Of course, it's not just Rockefeller. Indeed, most of the Republicans in the Senate have made the exact same argument, for the exact same reasons. The group has come to be known as "Climate Peacocks" -- they strut around, claiming to be serious about finding a solution, but like the "Deficit Peacocks," it's little more than an insincere charade.

If Rockefeller's measure, which may come up for a vote before year's end, should somehow pass, President Obama has already made clear his intention to veto it. If Republicans take the congressional majority, the effort is certain to be a major fight next year.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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A DEEP, MISGUIDED SENSE OF VICTIMHOOD.... Last week, Rep. Jan Schakowksy (D-Ill.) made a reasonable suggestion: now would be a good time for her opponent, Joel Pollak (R), to stop writing for Andrew Breitbart's Big Government website. As Schakowksy sees it, congressional candidates shouldn't be associated with a partisan news outlet known for publishing misleading propaganda.

Pollak was not only offended by the suggestion, he thought it appropriate to compare himself to a celebrated South African freedom-fighter killed by an apartheid government. Pollak's headline read, "Like Steve Biko, I Write What I Like."

My family immigrated to America in the same year that South African police murdered Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko. The racist regime that destroyed him viewed him as a threat because of his simple credo: "I write what I like." Biko understood that freedom of thought and expression were the greatest weapons against tyranny.

Last week, my opponent, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), called on me to denounce Andrew Breitbart and to end any further association with his website, BigGovernment.com.

Her attack was typical of a corrupt Washington elite that believes it is entitled to tell people what to say and where to say it.... The First Amendment is not a perk for members of Congress and their spouses.

As far as I can tell, Pollak wasn't kidding. He really is feeling so sorry for himself that he's lost all sense of reason.

Schakowksy suggested he shouldn't write for a website that misleads its readers. In response, Pollak not only suggested his free speech rights are under assault, he compared himself to a heroic activist who was killed by racist regime.

I really have to wonder -- where does the Republican Party find these guys? And what makes the GOP think they should be in Congress?

As Josh Marshall concluded, "It does get a little hard with these folks to pick apart the willful provocation from the simply pathological."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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July 26, 2010

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Tony Hayward is out as BP's chief executive: "On Monday, BP's board is expected to announce that Hayward, 53, will step down on Oct. 1. The departure, say people close to the company, will be his decision as much as the board's. Hayward, a geologist who has spent his entire career working for BP, is said to recognize that he has become a liability as the company tries to move forward."

* The materials on the war in Afghanistan published through Wikileaks are important, but they're probably not the Pentagon Papers.

* Despite an assumption that Senate Republicans will refuse to allow the chamber to vote on the legislation, the DISCLOSE Act will likely come to the floor for consideration this week, probably tomorrow. President Obama is pushing the GOP to let the Senate vote.

* Housing surprise: "New-home buying surged in June after a May plunge caused by the end of a government tax credit, according to a better-than-expected report on the ailing housing sector."

* If you're looking for the Senate Dems' scaled-back energy bill, its release has been pushed until tomorrow.

* On a related note, thanks to unexpected support from Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kas.), there's hope for a renewable energy standard in the bill.

* Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) thinks the war in Iraq is over. That guy is so deeply confused, it's painful to think reporters still consider him an expert on military matters.

* Are the ethics charges against Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) serious? Yes, they are.

* This year's deficit: $1.47 trillion. That's actually a little lower than previously estimated.

* It's sometimes fun to laugh at Rep. Steve King's (R-Iowa) extremism, but some of his positions aren't funny: "[King] last week voted against a bill making it easier for Native American tribal courts to prosecute non-natives who commit rape and other crimes on tribal lands." (thanks to B.D. for the tip) [Update: Here's some additional background information on the legislation.]

* I have low expectations, but I'm glad Senate reform continues to percolate.

* Thought-provoking piece from Van Jones on culture and technology in the wake of the Shirley Sherrod story. (thanks to T.D. for the reminder)

* Not all for-profit colleges are the same.

* If context is irrelevant, and misleading editing is acceptable, Breitbart appears to love al Qaeda.

* On a related note, many in the media would have us believe "both sides" do what Breitbart does. That's not even close to being true.

* Greg Sargent on the right's bizarre fascination with Journolist: "The real story here is that right wing media are engaged in a coordinated, conspiratorial effort to pretend that J-List represented a Vast Left-wing Media Conspiracy, when the evidence conclusively shows otherwise."

* And on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act, Rhode Island Rep. Jim Langevin (D) will preside over the House of Representatives this afternoon. Langevin, who is a quadriplegic, will be the first person in a wheelchair to wield the gavel.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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LEARNING THE WRONG LESSON.... Ezra had a fairly brief item today that summarizes a problem that comes up nearly every day.

Last year's stimulus worked exactly as it was intended to work -- in some ways, it even exceeded expectations -- but it was too small. There was a hole in the economy, which turned out to be even bigger and more serious we realized at the time, and policymakers only filled part of it. Ezra noted that part of the problem may have been an assumption that Congress and the White House would get another bite at the apple.

If all we needed was the $700 billion package, then great. But if unemployment remained high and the recovery had trouble taking hold, surely there would be the votes for further stimulus and relief spending. No one in the political system could possibly look at 10 percent unemployment and walk away from it, right?

Wrong. Ten percent unemployment and a terrible recession ended up discrediting the people trying to do more for the economy, as their previous intervention was deemed a failure. That, in turn, empowered the people attempting to do less for the economy. So rather than a modestly sized stimulus offering room leaving the door open for more stimulus if needed, its modest size was used to discredit the idea of more stimulus when it became needed.

This may seem like madness, because it is, but this is a fine summary of the status quo. Democrats wanted a bigger stimulus, but couldn't overcome Republican opposition. The recovery effort, then, was less successful, leading to a bizarre dynamic -- political rewards for those who were wrong, political punishment for those who were right. Those who screwed up the most before, during, and after the crisis are the same folks strutting around, proud as can be, unaware and unconcerned about how foolish reality makes them look -- because they're winning.

My favorite metaphor continues to ring true. Imagine there's a massive, dangerous fire. Those responsible for the blaze insist that some lighter fluid should take care of the problem, while the fire department recommends water. Forced to compromise, the fire department uses less water than is needed, and the blaze is only partially contained.

Those with the lighter fluid, who set the fire in the first place, see this and respond, "Told you so."

Now, ideally voters would find this insane, and ignore the lighter-fluid crowd's nonsense. But the public isn't engaged at that level -- they know what they see, and in this case, they still see the flames, and don't understand why the fire department didn't get the job done.

Ezra may be very well be right about the assumptions. To strain my metaphor a bit, maybe the fire department assumed they could always just send more trucks as needed. They couldn't.

Look, this is pretty simple. Early last year, the economy stood at the brink of an extraordinary collapse. There were effectively four options:

1. Pass a massive, ambitious economic stimulus.

2. Pass a trimmed down economic stimulus that could overcome a Republican filibuster.

3. Do nothing.

4. Pass a five-year spending freeze proposed by confused congressional Republicans at the time.

Left with limited options, Democrats went with #2, and disaster was averted. We would have nevertheless been better off with #1, but we can all be very thankful #3 and #4 were rejected.

But the economy still needs more, and it won't get it, in part because Republicans learned the wrong lessons, and in part because they hope to keep the economy down on purpose to improve the GOP's electoral chances.

Steve Benen 4:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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COMING SOON, TO A TERRORIST RECRUITING VIDEO NEAR YOU.... There's already a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, but as Islamic population grows in the area, there are plans to build a Muslim community center, which would include a pool and gym.

Local officials have already approved the plan to build the facility, but right-wing bigots in Murfreesboro are organizing in larger numbers to speak out against the community center.

With this in mind, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican gubernatorial candidate popular with Tea Party zealots, was asked at a recent event, "We've got a threat that's invading our country from the Muslims. What's your stand on that?" He replied by suggesting Islam might not be a religion that qualifies for protection under the First Amendment.

...Ramsey proclaimed his support for the Constitution and the whole "Congress shall make no law" thing when it comes to religion. But he also said that Islam, arguably, is less a faith than it is a "cult."

"Now, you could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult whatever you want to call it," Ramsey said. "Now certainly we do protect our religions, but at the same time this is something we are going to have to face."

The gubernatorial candidate went to suggest that the law-abiding Muslims in Murfreesboro might be "bringing Sharia Law here to the state of Tennessee."

Now, it's tempting to approach this rationally. One might want to explain to Ramsey what the First Amendment is, and why Islam deserves as much protection as every other faith tradition. One might also be tempted to explain that the local Muslim community has expressed no interest in "bringing Sharia Law" to Murfreesboro. One might even be tempted to describe Ramsey as blisteringly stupid.

But let's put all of that aside, and consider a separate angle: is Ramsey doing al Qaeda a huge favor?

Terrorists are desperate to convince Muslim populations that the United States is at war with Islam. Ramsey's moronic remarks, then, are practically custom made for a recruiting video -- here's an American official, running to be the chief executive of a state, arguing publicly that every religion deserves freedom under U.S. law except Islam, which he suggests might be a "cult." This message appeals to the American voters in the room, who make no effort to hide their hatred and mistrust of their fellow neighbors who happen to be Muslim.

I seriously doubt Ramsey is sophisticated enough to understand this, but his bigotry is the kind of approach that promotes and encourages the radicalism that undermines our security.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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HOUSE, SENATE REPUBLICANS LATCH ONTO NBPP GARBAGE.... Several congressional Republicans have said they would use their power, in the event of a new GOP majority on the Hill, to go after the Obama administration relentlessly. Threats of endless subpoenas and hearings aren't just bluster; they're what we could expect from a right-wing congressional majority.

But what would Republicans actually look into? Take a wild guess.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have requested a hearing to investigate alleged racial bias within the Department of Justice, according to a letter sent Friday to committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

The request came in relation to a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party that was first prosecuted as a civil action in January 2009, then dismissed for two of the three defendants the following May. An injunction was issued for the last defendant.

House Judiciary Republicans also moved for further investigation on Thursday, urging President Obama in a letter to direct Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor for the case.

This is hopelessly insane. There's just no way around this simple fact. The NBPP "controversy" is complete and utter garbage, a detail even many conservatives are willing to concede.

Judiciary Committee Republicans, I'm willing to bet, know this. They know the Bush Justice Department dismissed the issue as pointless; they know no one was prevented from voting or felt intimidated at that Philly precinct; they know that the New Black Panther Party didn't even support Obama.

But these congressional Republicans pursue transparent garbage like this for one reason: to stoke the fires of racial resentment. That's why Fox News has been obsessed with this story; it's why Senate Republicans want hearings; and it's why House Republicans want a special prosecutor. The desire to make white voters afraid is as obvious as it is shameless as it is ugly.

Republicans have worked to undermine the country in a wide variety of ways over the last 18 months, but deliberately trying to scare whites into fearing blacks with a trumped up story is arguably the most loathsome move yet.

Commenting on conservative media's interest in the NBPP story recently, Jon Chait noted, "What you're starting to see from Fox News now, though, is the most widespread and mainstream right-wing effort to exploit racial fears against Obama.... There has been a great deal of right-wing insanity unleashed over the last year and a half, but this is the first time that the fear has an explicitly racial cast. You now have the largest organ of movement conservatism promoting Limbaugh's idee fixe that the Obama administration represents black America's historical revenge against whites."

And now notice the next step. From Limbaugh ... to Fox News ... to the Republican base ... to House Republicans ... to Senate Republicans. This is the pattern that will dominate American politics in 2011 and 2012 if there's a GOP majority on the Hill.

(Note, these same Republican lawmakers saw no need for a single hearing when it came to the Plame scandal, Scooter Libby and his get-out-of-jail-free card, the warrantless-wiretap scandal, the torture memos, the purge of U.S. Attorneys for political reasons, the no-bid Halliburton contracts, the cost estimates of Medicare Part D deliberately hidden from Congress, Interior Department officials literally in bed with oil company officials, the pundits paid to toe the administration's line in the media without disclosure, the probably illegal fake-news segments the administration created to run on local news outlets without disclosure, the misuse of "faith-based" grants to help Republican congressional candidates, and Karl Rove's campaign "briefings" to federal offices in violation of the Hatch Act. But the NBPP story? That's worth investigating.)

I should be past the point of getting surprised, but this is disgusting -- and Republicans know it. I know RNC Chairman Michael Steele recently conceded his party relied on a racially-divisive "Southern Strategy" for at least four decades, but the sooner the public realizes that these same tactics haven't gone away, the better.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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THE RIGHT ISN'T QUITE DONE WITH SHIRLEY SHERROD.... Perhaps the only person who came out of the Shirley Sherrod controversy looking better was the one who was forced to resign from her job. The right went after Sherrod, but the result of the dispute was her looking like something of a hero, and her attackers losing all credibility.

But conservatives aren't quite done with Shirley Sherrod just yet. They've started with the conclusion -- Sherrod must be wrong about something -- and are working backwards to rationalize the preconceived narrative. To that end, the American Spectator has a piece today accusing Sherrod of lying about sheriff Claude Screws lynching Bobby Hall, a Sherrod relative.

If you're unfamiliar with the case, it originated in Baker County, in rural southwest Georgia, where Sherrod is from. In 1943, Screws, the white sheriff, arrested a black man, Hall, who was accused of theft and taken to the local courthouse in handcuffs. Upon their arrival, Screws and his two white deputies mercilessly beat Hall, by some accounts for as long as 30 minutes. Screws then dragged Hall's unconscious body, feet first, through the courthouse square. Hall died soon after.

Screws was convicted on federal charges, but the Supreme Court ultimately overturned the conviction over inaccurate jury instructions.

In her speech, Sherrod explained, "Claude Screws lynched a black man." The American Spectator wants readers to believe she was lying -- because Screws didn't use a rope. Hall was beaten to death, but to writer Jeffrey Lord, a former Reagan political aide, that apparently doesn't count.

As Paul Campos noted, "It's hard to understand how this kind of thing gets published in a world that includes editors, higher cognitive function, and/or common decency."

I'll just let Adam Serwer take it from here:

A lynching is an extrajudicial mob killing. No one who worked to document the practice of lynching in the South limited the definition of the term to solely include those lynchings that occurred using a rope. [...]

Now does three guys beating someone to death sound like an extrajudicial mob killing to you? Well Lord thinks it's merely "brutal fisticuffs" because under the definition of lynching he just made up, you need a rope to make it official -- I mean they didn't even set the guy on fire for crying out loud! It's almost as if instead of being a Southerner tortured by the knowledge of past racial injustice, he's someone who didn't know very much about lynching or segregation before he decided to call Shirley Sherrod a liar without bothering to use Google first.

The right's misconduct last week was nauseating, but the American Spectator's piece is beneath contempt.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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WAMP WALKS BACK SECESSION TALK.... Late last week, Rep. Zach Wamp, a leading Republican gubernatorial candidate in Tennessee, raised a few eyebrows with remarks about secession. "I hope that the American people will go to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012 so that states are not forced to consider separation from this government," Wamp told National Journal. Wamp went on to praise Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) for also raising concerns about the U.S. government's "oppressive hand."

Over the weekend, Wamp walked these remarks back, at least a little.

Republican Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee wants to make one thing clear: If elected governor, the Volunteer State will remain part of the United States.

"Of course we will not secede from the union," Wamp told reporters at a campaign stop in Franklin, Tennessee over the weekend, according to the Associated Press. "But we will also not have a governor who will cave in to Barack Obama."

Wamp went on to say, "We're going to be a proud partner as a member of the United States of America. But there needs to be a conflict between the states and the federal government."

A few things jump out here. First, I tend to be uncomfortable with any sentence that starts, "Of course we will not secede from the union, but..." It's the 21st century, for crying out loud.

Second, if Wamp is certain that secession is off the table -- how big of him -- why is it, exactly, that he said on Friday that state may be "forced to consider separation from this government"? Where does a sentiment like that come from?

And third, while federal-state tensions are inevitable in our system, to assume that there "needs to be a conflict" between the two is misguided.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In case recent developments involving Colorado Republicans weren't quite nutty enough, U.S. Senate hopeful Ken Buck -- the Tea Party favorite -- has been caught lashing out at his Birther supporters. Buck was filmed telling a voter, "Will you tell those dumbasses at the Tea Party to stop asking questions about birth certificates while I'm on the camera?" He walked back the language yesterday.

* If you're inclined to believe Rasmussen, Gov. Joe Manchin (D) has the early lead in West Virginia's Senate special election, leading John Raese (R) by 16, 51% to 35%.

* In related news, the race in West Virginia keeps getting more crowded. Including Manchin, the frontrunner in November, there are now 15 candidates, including 11 Republicans. The parties' primaries are scheduled for Aug. 28.

* Missouri is home to one of the more competitive Senate contests this year, a contest Democrats consider a pick-up opportunity. At this point, however, the GOP has the edge -- a Mason-Dixon poll shows Rep. Roy Blunt (R) leading Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), 48% to 42%.

* In case there were any doubts about how nervous Sen. John McCain (R) has been about his GOP primary against J.D. Hayworth, consider his FEC filings -- McCain spent more than $10.2 million in the second quarter alone.

* Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) told the Christian Broadcasting Network that GOP extremist Sharron Angle is "not mainstream for Nevada or probably most any other place in America."

* And in 2012 news, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has ruled out a presidential campaign, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) will likely launch his national campaign next year, regardless of what other potential candidates decide.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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GOVERNOR TANCREDO?.... Late last week in Colorado, former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) delivered a bizarre ultimatum to the Republican Party's two gubernatorial candidates: if they're trailing the Democratic nominee in the polls in mid-August, they should agree to drop out and let him jump in.

And what if the leading GOP gubernatorial candidates -- Scott McInnis and Dan Maes -- refuse to go along with Tancredo's scheme? The right-wing former House member said he'd run as a third-party candidate in the fall, seeking the nomination of hyper-conservative American Constitution Party.

As of today, the threat is apparently no longer operative -- Tancredo isn't waiting to see what the Republican candidates will do or what their chances will be in the fall.

Former Congressman Tom Tancredo is in the race for Colorado governor, he said this morning.

"I will officially announce at noon that I will seek the nomination of the constitution party," Tancredo told The Denver Post.

The Littleton Republican must file some papers with the Colorado Secretary of State and register as a member of the American Constitution Party, but then "he's ready to go," raising money, disclosing his platform and launching a website that is already put together.

It's not entirely clear at this point what prompted Tancredo to jump the gun, but it probably didn't help that he got into a screaming match this morning on a talk-radio show with state GOP chair Dick Wadhams, with both calling each other "liars."

It's already a bizarre race -- McInnis is the frontrunner, despite his humiliating plagiarism scandal -- but Tancredo will likely make this an even uglier circus. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) has been competitive in recent polls, but his odds will likely improve if Tancredo and the eventual GOP nominee split the right.

For his part, Tancredo, who sort ran for president in 2008, will no doubt love the added attention, though it's unclear if he will be able to shape a gubernatorial platform. His recent efforts have included a push to impeach President Obama and a desire to convince voters that the president is more dangerous than al Qaeda.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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STILL A REPUBLICAN IN GOOD STANDING?.... One of the key takeaways of last week's Shirley Sherrod controversy was getting a better sense of who Andrew Breitbart is, and what his right-wing operation is all about. As Joshua Green noted last week, "[T]he moral ugliness of what's just happened is glaring, and it's hard for me to see how the media can justify continuing to treat Breitbart as simply a roguish provocateur. He's something much darker."

But as scandalous as Breitbart's misconduct was, it's apparently not quite scandalous enough to bother the Republican National Committee.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has a party fundraising event coming up in August that is scheduled to feature a very special guest: Conservative media activist Andrew Breitbart, according to a copy of the invitation exclusively obtained by TPM.

The fundraising event, billed as an "Election Countdown," will take place from August 12-14 in Beverly Hills, California, and will also feature other politicians such as California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, and Nevada Republican gubernatorial nominee Brian Sandoval. Steele and Breitbart are scheduled to co-headline a welcome reception on the first evening, August 12.

When TPM got in touch with RNC spokesman Doug Heye he confirmed the existence of the event, but wouldn't comment on Breitbart's scheduled participation.

Now, it's possible that the RNC invited Breitbart to be part of the campaign/fundraising event before he promoted a misleading video that smeared an innocent Department of Agriculture official.

But last week was a permanent credibility-killer for the conservative media activist, and for Michael Steele to pal around with him for some Beverly Hills cash is ridiculous. The RNC is shameless, but is it this shameless?

If the RNC invited Breitbart to be a special guest before his recent hatchet-job, the party can simply change course, and announce that he will no longer be participating. But to go ahead with the Breitbart/Steele headlining now would be crazy, even for the RNC.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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EVEN THE WEAK ENERGY BILL ISN'T A SURE-THING.... Late last week, we received genuinely awful news out of the Senate -- Democratic leaders, unable to put together an energy package that could overcome Republican obstructionism, were throwing in the towel. Instead of a meaningful, ambitious bill, the Senate would take up a scaled-back, watered-down, weakened package that wouldn't even try to address global warming and carbon emissions.

It was cold comfort, but at least the bill would have a few worthwhile provisions, including new oil company regulations and Home Star (the program formally known as Cash for Caulkers). The legislation would be a shell of its former self, but the Senate has to pass something, no matter how narrow, and if this is the best we can do in our broken legislative system, it's the best we can do.

But it's worth remembering that the bill likely to be unveiled today -- the one that's been stripped of its most important elements, just to ensure its passage -- might fail, too.

A Senate Democratic oil spill response and energy plan -- scaled back to help ensure passage -- may still hit rough waters on the floor this week.

The evolving package of new offshore rig safety rules and other updates to shore up federal oversight and corporate responsibility in preventing and responding to major oil spills may include provisions Republicans and pro-drilling Democrats argue could hurt small- and mid-sized independent companies that drill offshore.

If this sounds familiar, it's because we saw this debate start to unfold in May with the "Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act." Under existing law, there's a $75 million liability cap for oil spills. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) proposed increasing it to $10 billion, but Republicans refused. The liability issue never really went away, though, and is drawing fire all over again.

The leadership, at least for now, still sounds optimistic.

Reid has confidently predicted that the package would get 60 votes, noting that each of the four sections has bipartisan support.

The package also includes an oil-spill response bill approved with bipartisan support in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee late last month. It will also have bills either approved last week by the Senate Commerce Committee or which its members will take up likely Tuesday or Wednesday in a less formal gathering off the Senate floor.

This includes the so-called SHORE Act requiring the Interior Secretary to consult with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before taking action related to offshore oil and gas development and giving NOAA unprecedented authority in the permitting process.

A second bill would expand the remedies and damages available for parties in maritime personal injury and wrongful death claims.


Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

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'THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NEWS AND PROPAGANDA'.... E.J. Dionne Jr. considers the smearing of Shirley Sherrod as a possible "turning point in American politics," but not for the reason that generated so much discussion last week.

For the Washington Post, the reason this is a "time for action" is the right has embraced "racial backlash politics" in the hopes of destroying President Obama, and news organizations -- treating extremist rants as "one side of the story" -- are accepting right-wing propaganda as legitimate.

Dionne laments the Obama administration's initial handling of the Sherrod matter, but noted that "the Obama team was reacting to a reality: the bludgeoning of mainstream journalism into looking timorously over its right shoulder and believing that 'balance' demands taking seriously whatever sludge the far right is pumping into the political waters."

This isn't a new phenomenon -- see 2000, presidential election of -- but it's getting worse.

There were no "death panels" in the Democratic health-care bills. But this false charge got so much coverage that an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll last August found that 45 percent of Americans thought the reform proposals would likely allow "the government to make decisions about when to stop providing medical care to the elderly." That was the summer when support for reform was dropping precipitously. A straight-out lie influenced the course of one of our most important debates.

The traditional media are so petrified of being called "liberal" that they are prepared to allow the Breitbarts of the world to become their assignment editors. Mainstream journalists regularly criticize themselves for not jumping fast enough or high enough when the Fox crowd demands coverage of one of their attack lines.

Thus did Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander ask this month why the paper had been slow to report on "the Justice Department's decision to scale down a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party." Never mind that this is a story about a tiny group of crackpots who stopped no one from voting. It was aimed at doing what the doctored video Breitbart posted set out to do: convince Americans that the Obama administration favors blacks over whites.

Dionne concludes that, in addition to the administration learning a lesson about overreacting to an inane media climate, "the mainstream media should stop being afraid of insisting on the difference between news and propaganda."

That's exceptionally good advice, which will almost certainly be ignored.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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THE FIGHT OVER TAX CUTS THAT DIDN'T WORK.... By any sensible measure, the Bush tax cuts failed as an economic policy. When approved by Republicans, we were assured they would create robust economic growth -- which never materialized. We were supposed to see millions of new jobs -- which were never created. When passed nearly a decade ago, we were told the tax breaks would keep the budget in balance -- which actually turned into massive deficits.

But one of the bigger debates in Washington in the coming months will be over whether to keep the tax policies in place, despite their obvious failure.

When Republicans passed the tax cuts, which overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy, they set the cuts to expire at the end of 2010. The point was to obscure the cuts' cost, play a dangerous budget game, and make it so that the GOP wouldn't have to pay for their own experiment.

While some Dems are wavering in the face of Republican demands, the Obama administration's line is the right one.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner pressed the case on Sunday for letting Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire later this year.

In appearances on two television programs, Mr. Geithner said that letting tax cuts expire for those who make $250,000 a year or more would affect 2 percent to 3 percent of all Americans. He dismissed concerns that the move could push a teetering economy back into recession and argued that it would demonstrate America's commitment to addressing its trillion-dollar budget deficit.

On "This Week" on ABC, he said, "We think that's the responsible thing to do because we need to make sure we can show the world" that America is "willing as a country now to start to make some progress bringing down our long-term deficits."

In other words, the line Obama took during the presidential campaign is the same line the administration supports now. If we want to talk about mandates, this is the tax policy the public endorsed.

The NYT noted over the weekend that the issue will "move to the top of the agenda when lawmakers return to Washington in September from their summer recess, just as the midterm campaign gets under way in earnest."

Negotiations are expected to start in the Senate, where it is hardest for Democrats to advance legislation because of Republican filibusters. But some Democrats say a fallback plan would be to have their larger majority in the House approve a continuation of the lower rates just for the middle class right before the election, almost daring Republicans to oppose them.

In that case, Democrats say, Republicans who opposed the bill would be blocking a tax cut for more than 95 percent of Americans to defend tax cuts for a relatively few wealthy households.

Every time Republicans complain, the same answer should come to mind -- it was their idea for the cuts to expire. Maybe if the GOP hadn't left a $1.3 trillion deficit for Democrats to clean up, it'd be easier to talk about keeping more of the tax breaks Republicans love so much.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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WIKILEAKS AND AFGHANISTAN -- WHAT WE'VE LEARNED.... We knew the blockbuster story would come eventually; we just didn't know when or what revelations it might include. But this morning, the New York Times and the UK's Guardian report on tens of thousands of classified documents on the war in Afghanistan, revealed through Wikileaks.

There's no shortage of angles here, but I found Michael Crowley's take pretty compelling.

The Obama White House is furious this morning about the massive leak of military documents chronicling the unvarnished truth about the Afghanistan war. At the same time, though, there must be a certain sense of relief around the West Wing. When they first learned that the whistleblower website WikiLeaks had given the New York Times, among others, an astonishing 92,0000 documents, senior Obama officials must have been in a panic about what terrible secrets might emerge. But it turns out that most of the terrible aspects of the Afghanistan war -- at least those detailed by this trove of insider accounts -- are already pretty well known.

It's never been a secret, for instance, that the Taliban have proven more resilient than anyone expected; that U.S. special forces hunt and eliminate Taliban leaders without the courtesy of a fair trial; that elements within our putative ally Pakistan play a sinister double game with radical Islamists; that our troops kill innocent Afghans on a regular basis. It's not even a secret, as anyone familiar with the Pat Tillman saga knows, that the military sometimes manipulates facts about the war.

The trove of leaked documents affirms all these facts. And in their texture and detail--which it will take some time for other new outlets to sift in full--certainly offer a new appreciation for how difficult the war effort is. But based on their presentation by the news organizations given time by Wikileaks to study them before their release, the documents don't seem to reveal fundamental new truths.

That sounds about right. With 92,000 pages of materials documents being made public, I wouldn't be surprised if some additional revelations came to light, beyond what's been published in the media this morning, but for now, most of what we're learning seems to confirm what's already been reported, or is a little out-dated. Indeed, the documents cover January 2004 to December 2009, pre-dating the overhaul of U.S. policy announced by the White House late last year.

In the case of Pakistan's military spy service lending support to the Afghan insurgency, for example, that's important -- it's the lede of the NYT piece today -- but it's something we already knew. In fact, the president has already talked about it publicly, and more importantly, it's a dynamic that's improved of late, with Pakistani officials having moved away from the Taliban earlier this year.

This isn't to say it's a non-story, and there are some revelations that seem new. U.S. drone missions have apparently crashed far more than we'd been led to believe, for example, and the Taliban has heat-seeking missiles that we hadn't heard about. And while details like these clearly matter, they're not necessarily the kind of disclosures that are likely to fundamentally change the debate.

But for the administration, it may not be the specific details that matter most. Rather, this may be more of a sum-greater-than-parts situation -- the larger revelations may not reframe the entire conflict, but taken together, they still paint a portrait of a conflict that's gone very poorly for the last several years. If the administration's goal is to bolster public confidence in the mission, today certainly won't help.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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July 25, 2010

A 'SLAP IN THE FACE' -- IN 1981.... Charles Krauthammer had a surprisingly interesting column a couple of weeks ago, some of which I even found vaguely persuasive (an odd feeling given its author). But one paragraph in particular got me thinking.

The net effect of 18 months of Obamaism will be to undo much of Reaganism. Both presidencies were highly ideological, grandly ambitious and often underappreciated by their own side. In his early years, Reagan was bitterly attacked from his right. (Typical Washington Post headline: "For Reagan and the New Right, the Honeymoon Is Over" -- and that was six months into his presidency!) Obama is attacked from his left for insufficient zeal on gay rights, immigration reform, closing Guantanamo -- the list is long.

Just six months after Reagan's inauguration, was the "honeymoon" really perceived as over between him and the "new right"? A friend of mine dug up the article Krauthammer referenced, and it's almost amusing to read nearly three decades later.

It ran on July 21, 1981 (obviously, no link available), and it came in response to conservative outrage over the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

For some of the most vocal leaders of the New Right movement, the nomination was the latest in a series of slights and insults they have suffered from Reagan advisers which raise questions in their minds about whether the president is really their kind of conservative.

"The White House slapped us in the face," says Richard A. Viguerie, the conservative direct-mail expert. "The White House is saying you don't have a constituency we're concerned about. We don't care about you."

The "New Right" was defined, at the time, as breaking with the Goldwater old-guard and expanding the GOP with outreach to the fledgling religious right and use of "sophisticated campaign techniques," such as direct mail.

And six months in, the leaders of this faction weren't happy. The O'Connor nomination made them livid, and conservatives grew all the more frustrated when, despite an aggressive campaign involving "letters and telegrams," the right couldn't even find Republican senators willing to come out publicly against the nominee. (O'Connor was confirmed 99 to 0.)

But the anger and frustration was more expansive than one high court nomination. "In terms of having any real influence with the Reagan administration, we just haven't had any," Howard Phillips, at the time the head of the Conservative Caucus, said. "All they've done is throw us a few bones to keep the dogs from biting their heels."

The right was angry when George H.W. Bush, perceived as a moderate, was added to the 1980 ticket. Conservatives were angrier still when James Baker became Reagan's chief of staff -- a man activists on the right considered overly pragmatic and insufficiently conservative.

And by this time 29 years ago, conservatives could hardly contain their disappointment. Leaders on the right began complaining regularly that they "won the election, but lost the White House." Paul Weyrich questioned whether the relationship between his conservative allies and the Reagan administration was "salvageable."

And all of this came before Reagan raised taxes, extended "amnesty" to undocumented immigrants, expanded the size of the federal bureaucracy, tripled the deficit, negotiated with our most hated enemy without preconditions -- and became the single most revered figure in Republican circles of the 20th century, up to and including the RNC describing him, in all seriousness, as Ronaldus Magnus.

I guess the moral of the story is that perceptions can change over time.

Steve Benen 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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HARRY REID AND DAN CHOI AT NN 2010.... If you missed it, this was one of the more important and memorable moments from this year's Netroots Nation conference.

I don't doubt Harry Reid's sincerity on this for a second, and if he can get this done, I believe he will.

But time's running out, and if DADT repeal doesn't get finished this year, it may not happen for a very long time.

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (3)

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ANGLE VS. ANGLE.... It appears that Sharron Angle, the extremist Senate candidate in Nevada, is beginning to realize that her own views are too radical to get elected. So, she apparently feels compelled to start covering them up, hoping voters don't notice.

Speaking at a right-wing gathering in Las Vegas yesterday, the Republican Senate hopeful shared some thoughts on Social Security policy, saying she wants to see the government pay back the $2.5 trillion that's been "raided and pillaged out of the Social Security fund." More importantly, Angle insisted, "I've never said I want to eliminate, I always said I want to save Social Security by paying back."

I'm including this video to help highlight just how false her claim really is. Now that she's in the general election, Angle wants voters to believe she never intended to "eliminate" Social Security. But during the primary, Angle wasn't vague about her position: "We need to phase Medicare and Social Security out in favor of something privatized.... It can't be fixed."

Does she assume that these tapes no longer exist?

It's a reminder, though, that Angle is following Rand Paul's path -- honest radicalism is an electoral loser. If an extremist wants to get elected, he/she is going to have to pretend to have mainstream beliefs. If that means lying, and hoping voters are foolish enough to fall for it, so be it.

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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A CORPORATE CULTURE AND LOSING 'A SENSE OF SHAME'.... If you read one piece today, make it Dana Milbank's Washington Post item on the push and pull between corporate demands and government safeguards. It's an important column -- and it doesn't even include the usually-obligatory "both sides are bad" caveat.

What set Milbank off, for good reason, was Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship's appearance at the National Press Club this week. Blankenship is well known as one of the nation's most aggressive anti-union conservative voices, who rejects both the need for safety regulations and the science behind global warming. Blankenship's national notoriety grew in April when an explosion at one of his mines killed 29 miners, a tragedy that helped expose Massey's thousands of safety violations and reckless business practices.

This week, Blankenship told reporters that what the industry needs is not more oversight, but less. "We need to let businesses function as businesses," he said, with the government "leaving it alone." Legal safeguards, Blankenship added, are "impeding" businesses' "ability to pursue their careers, or their happiness." Milbank had seen enough.

Poor CEO Blankenship. That mean federal government is not allowing him to pursue his happiness, just because his employees are dead. It brings to mind the sad plight of the BP CEO, Tony Hayward, who visited the Gulf Coast that his company has wrecked and complained that "I'd like my life back." Happily, Hayward got his wish and returned to yachting.

It's easy to paint Blankenship as a villain, with his moustache, double chin and rough edges (he twice lamented the "abstract poverty" in the world). But his theme -- and his complete absence of corporate responsibility -- is very much the message corporate America has adopted in this mid-term campaign year: If you've got a problem, blame the government.

Consider the efforts this month by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, once a center of moderate Republicanism that worked with both parties but now a sort of radicalized corporate Tea Party, spending $75 million this fall mostly to defeat Democrats. The chairman of the group's board -- on which Blankenship served until recently -- accused the Obama administration and congressional Democrats of a "general attack on our free enterprise system." Specifically, the chamber accused the Democrats of "an ill-advised course of government expansion, major tax increases, massive deficits, and job-destroying regulations."

Taxes? The nonpartisan Tax Foundation in May described Americans' tax burden in 2009 as the lowest since 1959. Job-destroying regulations? The lack of regulation on Wall Street led to a financial collapse that killed millions of jobs. Massive deficits? One of the biggest causes of the gap is the $800 billion stimulus package supported by -- wait for it -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And the chamber wants the government to spend even more: It demands that Congress "quickly pass a multiyear federal surface transportation bill." That would costs hundreds of billions more. And let's not forget the chamber's desire to "get the money from the government" to help pay for the BP oil cleanup.

Milbank didn't emphasize the partisan/electoral considerations here, but there's no mystery -- Republicans are proud to stand on the wrong side of the fight. Indeed, they brag about it. Blankenship wants the government not to bother unsafe coal mine operators, and the GOP agrees. BP was responsible for the worst oil spill in American history, and the GOP took its side. Wall Street's irresponsibility nearly collapsed the global financial system, and when Democrats demanded new accountability, the GOP took their orders from industry lobbyists.

The column concludes that the "corporate culture" has "lost its sense of shame." By any reasonable measure, this will get considerably worse if that shameless "corporate culture" is empowered by a new Republican majority next year that intends to give Blankenship and his ilk everything they could ask for.

Steve Benen 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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'WE WILL REGRET IT'.... One of the more dramatic disappointments of the year is the apparent failure of comprehensive energy/climate reform*, which seemed to fail with a whimper this week. The Senate Democratic leadership felt like it had no choice but to scrap the effort, at least for now, in the face of an unyielding Republican filibuster.

Thomas Friedman spreads the blame around today, before concluding, "We will regret it." But instead of a traditional column, Friedman publishes a variety of items -- round-up style -- a couple of which stood out for me.

For example, our global competitors are thinking ahead while we're not:

Just as the U.S. Senate was abandoning plans for a U.S. cap-and-trade system, this article ran in The China Daily: "BEIJING — The country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target. The decision was made at a closed-door meeting chaired by Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission ... Putting a price on carbon is a crucial step for the country to employ the market to reduce its carbon emissions and genuinely shift to a low-carbon economy, industry analysts said."

Domestic industries are ready to expand, but they can't because our Senate is broken:

A day before the climate bill went down, Lew Hay, the C.E.O. of NextEra Energy, which owns Florida Power & Light, one of the nation's biggest utilities, e-mailed to say that if the Senate would set a price on carbon and requirements for renewal energy, utilities like his would have the price certainty they need to make the big next-generation investments, including nuclear. "If we invest an additional $3 billion a year or so on clean energy, that's roughly 50,000 jobs over the next five years," said Hay. (Say goodbye to that.)

And hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham wrote some wise words in a letter to investors:

"Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for ... what? Being needled by nonscientific newspaper reports, by blogs and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? I have a much simpler but plausible 'conspiracy theory': the fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results. I, for one, admire them for their P.R. skills, while wondering, as always: "Have they no grandchildren?"

* fixed

Steve Benen 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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OBAMA BORROWS FROM MADDOW IN NETROOTS APPEAL.... In a bit of a surprise yesterday afternoon, attendees at this year's Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas heard a pre-recorded message from President Obama. It was a reminder that as the midterms draw closer -- 100 days until Election Day -- Democratic leaders will be making a more concerted effort to appeal to progressives.

As for the president's message, it seemed implicit that the White House understands liberal frustration with the pace of progress, but Obama wants to remind the left "to consider all that we've accomplished so far."

At that point, the video stopped showing the president, and started showing a segment from "The Rachel Maddow Show," aired about a month ago. It showed the host pointing to some of the breakthrough accomplishments of the last 18 months: Wall Street reform, the Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act, S-CHIP expansion, Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, nuclear arms deal with Russia, a new global nonproliferation initiative, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, dismantled the MMS, and student loan reform.

The list didn't include, by the way, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, and the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years. These were probably left out of the litany to save time, which in and of itself seems significant -- the accomplishments are so plentiful, there's just not enough time in a four-minute presentation to mention them all.

The fact that the White House made use of the Maddow clip was also an interesting move. The president could have just as easily read the same list of successes himself, but the video instead relied on an outside voice to lend the accomplishments more objective credibility. That Rachel is probably more popular with many NN attendees right now than the president didn't hurt, either.

It's also worth noting that the clip wasn't just about Obama taking a victory lap. The president emphasized that "we're not done," and vowed to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell and to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Which led to the midterm pitch: "We're moving America forward. When we've come this far, we can't afford to slide back. And that's the choice America faces this November. Between going back to the failed policies that got us into this mess, and moving forward with policies that are leading us out. I don't need to tell you that. What I'm asking you is to keep making your voices heard. To keep holding me accountable. To keep up the fight. Change is hard, but if we've learned anything these past 18 months, it's that change is possible. It's possible when folks like you remember the fundamental truth of our democracy: that change doesn't come from the top down, it comes from the bottom up. It comes from the Netroots, the grassroots, every American who loves their country and believes they can make a difference. We've done it before. We can do it again. Let's finish what we've started."

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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July 24, 2010

OBAMA SHINES A BRIGHT LIGHT ON BOEHNER'S 'IDEAS' ON JOBS.... It was largely overlooked during a busy media week, but House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who's been reluctant to talk about his party's policy agenda in detail, was willing to outline three measures he'd pursue as Speaker to create American jobs. The list made it painfully clear -- to anyone who takes substance even a little seriously -- that Boehner has no idea what he's talking about.

In fact, the remarks were so patently ridiculous, President Obama devoted much of his weekly address to shining a bright light on Boehner's understanding of job creation.

After talking in some detail about his own approach to economic growth, Obama warned against going back "to the same ideas that created this mess in the first place," adding, "Unfortunately, those are the ideas we keep hearing from our friends in the other party."

"This week, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives offered his plan to create jobs," the president explained. "It's a plan that's surprisingly short, and sadly familiar. First, he would repeal health insurance reform, which would take away tax credits from millions of small business owners, and take us back to the days when insurance companies had free rein to drop coverage and jack up premiums. Second, he would say no to new investments in clean energy, after his party already voted against the clean energy tax credits and loans that are creating thousands of new jobs and hundreds of new businesses. And third, even though his party voted against tax cuts for middle-class families, he would permanently keep in place the tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans - the same tax cuts that have added hundreds of billions to our debt.

"These are not new ideas. They are the same policies that led us into this recession. They will not create jobs; they will kill them. They will not reduce our deficit; they will add $1 trillion to our deficit. They will take us backward at a time when we need to keep America moving forward."

If you listen really carefully at the 3:44 mark, you'll notice that the president actually chuckles, just a little, when describing just how ridiculous Boehner's approach to job creation really is.

That's what it has come to in 2010 -- the Republican agenda is so truly awful, it's hard to describe it without finding it literally comical.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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THE RETURN OF THE GOP'S SECESSION TALK.... The Republican Party's flirtation with political radicalism has been one of the more disturbing developments of the last 18 months. Rhetoric and arguments that were once considered extreme -- if not entirely beyond the norms of American mainstream discourse -- have become almost routine, not just with the Republican base, but with Republican lawmakers and officials.

But perhaps nothing -- not even frequent Republican efforts to compare the president to Hitler -- reflects GOP radicalism more than talk of secession.

This first popped up in earnest in April 2009, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) complained that the United States government has "become oppressive in ... its interference with the affairs of our state." He added, "We think it's time to draw the line in the sand and tell Washington that no longer are we going to accept their oppressive hand in the state of Texas." Soon after, Perry said he wasn't advocating secession, "but if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that."

A year later, we're hearing similar talk in Tennessee.

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-03) suggested TN and other states may have to consider seceding from the union if the federal government does not change its ways regarding mandates.

"I hope that the American people will go to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012 so that states are not forced to consider separation from this government," said Wamp during an interview with Hotline OnCall. [...]

"Patriots like Rick Perry have talked about these issues because the federal government is putting us in an untenable position at the state level," said Wamp, who is competing with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam (R) and LG Ron Ramsey (R) for the GOP nod in the race to replace TN Gov. Phil Bredesen (D).

Wamp isn't just some crazy person on talk radio -- he's an eight-term member of Congress who hopes to be the chief executive of a state next year.

To be sure, the right-wing congressman has a history of saying bizarre things. A month ago, Wamp suggested publicly that improvements to Chattanooga's economy were a divine reward from God for the city's lack of abortion clinics. The man has even said he sleeps with a gun, just in case.

But dabbling in Civil War talk is irresponsible, and frankly, dangerous. Those who love the United States should not go around carelessly threatening to secede from it. Even by modern GOP standards, this is just crazy.

If our modern politics were more grounded, we'd hear widespread denunciations of Wamp's talk, and he'd be forced to apologize for such extremism. In 2010, however, Wamp will face no punishment at all, and his gubernatorial campaign will probably not be affected, since he's appealing to the extremist elements of his party base anyway.

Be afraid.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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COMPARING THE TEA PARTIERS TO JESUS (SERIOUSLY).... Prominent right-wing activist David Barton recently equated anti-government zealots in the so-called Tea Party "movement" to the Founding Fathers. Yesterday, Barton went a little further, comparing the far-right activists to Jesus Christ. Seriously.

Kyle, the irreplaceable blogger at Right Wing Watch, posted the audio clip and transcribed Barton's comments on a right-wing radio program. Barton told listeners:

"[T]he media has decided to take on the Tea Party and whack 'em because really, the Tea Party, if they have their way, the liberal left is going to be on the outside in this thing.

"So the best you can do is try to villainize these guys. You know, when Jesus got a really big following, they started saying 'oh, he's a wine-bibber, he's a glutton,' they started all the name-calling and finger-pointing; you know, he's trying to install himself as king and he's going to kick out Caesar, trying to get the Romans stirred up.

"So they used all these ridiculous charges and so this is nothing new."

Got that? Tea Party extremism has become controversial ... just like Jesus was controversial. For Christians, Jesus was sent by God to bring salvation to humanity. Tea Partiers, meanwhile, are enraged about taxes and the president's birth certificate. How is it that I never noticed the similarities until now?

And who's David Barton? If the name isn't familiar to you, he's worth reading up on. Barton became a celebrity in the religious right in the '90s, serving as a pseudo-historian trying to convince fellow activists to reject the separation of church and state. Objective analysis of Barton's materials found glaring factual errors -- which often happens when someone pretends to be a historian.

More recently, Barton helped write the absurd Texas curriculum standards, despite his lack of credentials; became a faculty member at Glenn Beck's "university"; became a close political ally of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R); and was the subject of a fairly devastating Keith Olbermann segment.

And now he's publicly equating Tea Partiers with Jesus. The hilarity never ends.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is a disturbing trend in religious bigotry in the U.S. While the right-wing backlash against a Muslim community center in Manhattan has generated considerable attention, Evan McMorris-Santoro reported this week that similar ugly disputes are breaking out in a wide variety of communities.

Earlier this week, we delved into the growing anti-Muslim sentiment from conservatives -- often taking the form of outraged opposition to the construction of new mosques and Islamic cultural centers around the country. We offered three examples -- the vitriol aimed cultural centers set to be built in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Riverside County, California, and, of course, New York City -- to show that the real problem conservatives have with new buildings for Muslims to worship in isn't their proximity Ground Zero, but the very idea of new mosques themselves.

In the following days, reader emails poured in offering more examples of anti-mosque protests in all corners of the country. What's particularly interesting is it's not just new mosque construction that angers the right -- even the idea of Muslims reusing existing, non-mosque-looking buildings seems to be a step too far for many Americans.

The bigotry on display is blatant enough to be disgusting. A Muslim group on Staten Island, for example, is planning to convert an old convent into a mosque, prompting one local resident to tell a reporter, "We just want to leave our neighborhood the way it is -- Christian, Catholic."

The convent ultimately recanted its agreement to sell the facility to the Muslim group.

It is the 21st century, by the way. I just thought I'd mention that.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed a law earlier this month allowing locals to carry loaded firearms to services in houses of worship, as part of a congregation's "security force." This week, the executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops said guns will not be welcome in their churches. This will not run afoul of the new state law, which allows houses of worship to impose their own restrictions.

* Did Rupert Murdoch kill Beliefnet, one of the web's most popular and useful faith-based sites? Apparently so.

* The generation that created the religious right movement now has grown children -- who don't necessarily agree with their parents' rigid theocratic worldview. (thanks to D.J. for the tip)

Steve Benen 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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RANGEL'S IN TROUBLE, BUT ENSIGN'S IN EVEN WORSE SHAPE.... The Washington Post has run a couple of items over the last day noting the ethics allegations surrounding Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). Today's article noted that Rangel's intention to fight the charges "could wind up tarnishing the whole party just weeks before the midterm elections."

There's no doubt that the Rangel ethics matter is serious. It may even be time for the 20-term lawmaker to gracefully step aside before the probe permanently tarnishes his legacy.

But while the ethics investigation into a House Democrat has generated considerable attention, you may not have heard that a conservative Republican senator conceded yesterday that he's cooperating with a federal criminal investigation of another conservative Republican senator.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has turned over e-mails to federal authorities investigating Sen. John Ensign's extramarital affair with a campaign aide, the latest sign that the criminal probe into the embattled Nevada Republican is picking up steam.

Coburn told POLITICO that he is cooperating with the Justice Department in the investigation of Ensign, and says he's willing to submit himself to an interview with the FBI or Senate Select Committee on Ethics, which is conducting a parallel investigation into whether Ensign broke Senate rules.

"We've given them everything they wanted," Coburn said, referring to the Justice Department.

That's the right move for Coburn. A year ago, the right-wing Oklahoman suggested he might not cooperate, arguig that he, as a medical professional, considered Ensign his patient. (Given that Coburn is an OB-GYN, the argument defied any reasonable understanding of logic and anatomy.)

Coburn wisely decided not to pursue this. Rather than fighting, the Oklahoma Republican reportedly turned over more than 1,200 pages of documents to the Justice Department.

Coburn's revelations -- made late on a Friday afternoon -- come on the heels of news that Ensign's aides have told investigators that the senator knew he was violating ethics rules on lobbying restrictions, but did it anyway.

I continue to marvel at this scandal. Here we have John Ensign, a "family values" conservative Republican, who had an extra-marital sexual relationship with his friend's wife, while condemning others' moral failings. Ensign's parents offered to pay hush-money. He ignored ethics laws and tried to use his office to arrange lobbying jobs for his mistress' husband. The likelihood of Ensign being indicted seems fairly high.

And yet, there's no media frenzy. No reporters staked out in front of Ensign's home. No op-eds speculating about the need for Ensign to resign in disgrace. Instead, the media's fascinated with Charlie Rangel.

Rangel is facing a probe from the House ethics committee, while Ensign is under scrutiny from the FBI.

Why would Rangel "tarnish his whole party" in an election year, while Ensign's sex-ethics-corruption scandal be deemed irrelevant to the Republican Party?

Steve Benen 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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NOTHING 'REMARKABLE OR PARTICULARLY INTERESTING' ABOUT BUSINESS COMPLAINTS.... For about a decade, corporate America shaped the business landscape -- deregulation, tax breaks, easy money -- to its liking. The promised prosperity never materialized, and for most of the country, it was a lost decade.

The Obama administration is trying a new approach, and as Daniel Gross noted the other day, corporate America has begun whining incessantly, exhibiting "an unseemly combination of myopia and ingratitude."

After an eight-year slumber, the Environmental Protection Agency is again issuing regulations. Two years after an appalling financial debacle, Congress has finally moved to regulate Wall Street. But to hear our nation's corporate chieftains tell it, it's enough to plunge us back into recession. "We have to become an industrial powerhouse again, but you don't do this when government and entrepreneurs are not in sync," lamented GE CEO Jeff Immelt in a recent speech.

On July 12, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the National Federation of Independent Business held a "Jobs for America" summit. While President Obama met with CEOs at the White House, the summiteers called for -- wait for it! -- cutting taxes for companies, extending tax cuts for the wealthy, and opening up federal areas for resource exploration.

I was pleased to see Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner take a dismissive attitude of the complaints this week.

"Businesses always want their taxes lower and always want to live with low regulation," Geithner said. "There is nothing remarkable, or particularly interesting frankly, that we're in the midst of another debate, which you hear in almost any administration, with people looking for ways to help affect the outcome on the basic path of regulation and taxes."

"Every business in America today is in a much better position than they were, not just 18 months ago, but than I think many of them expected to be at this point," Geithner said at a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Geithner acknowledged that there is some uncertainty in the private sector for business, but said it is caused mainly by "deep scars" still left over from the financial crisis of late 2008.

Asked about the Business Roundtable's 54-page memo, asking for a return to a regulatory environment more in line with the Bush era, the Treasury Secretary described it as "a long, diffuse list of familiar concerns, again reflecting nothing remarkable … in the fact that business would like to operate with fewer restrictions."

Geithner's received some warranted criticism of late, but on this, I like his attitude.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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July 23, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* In the Gulf: "Ships relaying the sights and sounds from BP's broken oil well stood fast Friday as the leftovers of Tropical Storm Bonnie blew straight for the spill site, threatening to force a full evacuation that would leave engineers clueless about whether a makeshift cap on the gusher was holding."

* Oh my: "Long before an eruption of gas turned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig into a fireball, an alarm system designed to alert the crew and prevent combustible gases from reaching potential sources of ignition had been deliberately disabled, the former chief electronics technician on the rig testified Friday."

* European banks fared better than expected in their "stress tests."

* As the U.S. prepares for joint military drills with South Korea, North Korea is threatening a "physical response."

* Why congressional Republicans continue to cozy up to Wall Street is a mystery: "The government's pay czar announced Friday that 17 companies benefiting from federal bailout money handed out $1.6 billion in excess executive pay at the height of the financial crisis. The firms include Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America."

* As Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai considers outreach his fellow Pashtuns in the insurgency, he's losing one-time allies.

* With Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on board, there are now three Senate Republicans prepared to support Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination.

* President Obama takes a brief victory lap after some legislative breakthroughs this week.

* If you want to talk about austerity, let's talk about the Pentagon.

* Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), facing serious ethics allegations, doesn't know how to say "no comment."

* Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) sounds cautiously optimistic about New START ratification.

* We certainly should do better than sixth: "[T]he U.S. now ranks sixth in the world in terms of the percent of the population with college credentials."

* R.I.P., Daniel Schorr.

* The lunatics from the Westboro Baptist "Church" descended on Comic Con in San Diego this week. I greatly enjoyed the counter-protest; those are my kind of folks (the geeks, not the bigots).

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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NO PULITZERS FOR YOU.... It occurs to me that this has not been a stellar week for the American political media. The Shirley Sherrod story was, of course, a humiliating fiasco for a lot of people and institutions, but it was especially humiliating for Fox News, and should serve as a permanent credibility killer for right-wing activist Andrew Breitbart.

But there were other serious missteps. Consider some of the developments of the last few days:

* Just days after Breitbart published misleading garbage, and he admitted to not having done any due diligence or used any professional standards, Politico named the activist one of the nation's "50 Politicos to Watch." Breitbart is one of those special few, Politico said, who "set this city's agenda." The accompanying profile -- in the "scenemakers" category -- included quotes about his "mystique" and "wit."

* Politico Executive Editor Jim VandeiHei equated Breitbart with the Huffington Post, only one of which feature actual reporters, editors, and professional standards. He went on to equate MSNBC and Fox News, which is as common as it is misguided.

* Tucker Carlson, Jonathan Strong, and The Daily Caller became obsessed with a listserv made up of center-left writers, reporters, academics, and wonks. In the process, they ran pieces that "have misstated fact, misled readers, and omitted evidence that would contradict" the agreed-upon conservative thesis. [Disclosure: I was a member of said listserv.]

* Politico made a candid concession about its interest in traffic. Greg Sargent summarized, "This is actually an important concession: Frivolous items about Sarah Palin do degrade our discourse, but we need to do them, because the simple fact is that people click on them in droves."

When we consider complaints about the "cravenness of the legitimate press," it's weeks like this one that stand out as especially egregious. Indeed, there's no real sense that major outlets realize they've erred, that those with no credibility deserve to be treated accordingly, etc.

When the Obama administration evaluated its handling of the Sherrod matter, and realized it had made a mistake, it did what many news outlets didn't -- it apologized and tried to set things right. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday:

"Just as the Department of Agriculture and this Administration will review its actions, I also hope this starts a conversation in the media about how it operates."

I'm not optimistic.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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INHOFE STILL SEES 'GLOBAL COOLING'.... It happens every year. Winter comes, snow falls, and right-wing nuts start insisting that cold weather necessarily disproves global warming.

And perhaps no nut is as aggressive in his denialism than Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who continues to believe winters constitute evidence against climate change. But if the confused conservative senator considers January reason enough to reject the science behind global warming, what does he think of late July? ABC's Jonathan Karl asked him.

...Washington is sweating under record heat. Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that, globally, 2010 is the hottest year on record since record-keeping began in 1880.

Inhofe was still not deterred when ABC's Jon Karl invited the Oklahoma Republican to talk about the issue outside the Capitol building, in 95-degree, humid July heat.

"I say the same thing we said back in January and February when we had the coldest winter in a long time," said Inhofe, from a shady spot in front of the Capitol Building. ... "We're in a cycle now that all the scientists agree is going into a cooling period," he said.

And Inhofe would be entirely right, if by "all the scientists," he meant "all the lobbyists representing the oil and coal industries."

Karl talked to the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center, who was unequivocal. "What I don't understand is when you see evidence, that looks at all those indicators in one place, on one figure, decrease in glaciers, I don't see how any reasonable person can look at that and not agree that the globe is warming," Thomas Peterson said. "The indicators are irrefutable."

As for Inhofe's bizarre belief in global cooling, take a moment to consider this David Leonhardt piece from the other day.

All the while, the risks and costs of climate change grow. Sea levels are rising faster than scientists predicted just a few years ago. Himalayan glaciers are melting. In the American West, pine beetles (which struggle to survive the cold) are multiplying and killing trees.

According to NASA, 2010 is on course to be the planet's hottest year since records started in 1880. The current top 10, in descending order, are: 2005, 2007, 2009, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2004, 2001 and 2008.

The only thing more dangerous than Jim Inhofe's allergy to reason is a Senate that mandates supermajorities to approve all public policy. If the chamber operated the way it was designed and intended to operate -- the way every legislative body on the planet functions -- it could approve legislation to deal with the climate crisis. Instead, with a Senate featuring 59 Democrats, Inhofe's stupidity rules the day.

The consequences will be severe. History will not be kind.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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THERE'S THAT 'I' WORD AGAIN.... The far-right Washington Times published two op-eds, on the same page, on the same day, demanding the impeachment of President Obama. One was from the perpetually deranged Jeffrey Kuhner, who insisted, "Obama has betrayed the American people. Impeachment is the only answer. This usurper must fall."

The other was from Tom Tancredo, the former Republican congressman and presidential candidate, and apparent Colorado gubernatorial candidate.

Yes, Mr. Obama is a more serious threat to America than al Qaeda. We know that Osama bin Laden and followers want to kill us, but at least they are an outside force against whom we can offer our best defense. But when a dedicated enemy of the Constitution is working from the inside, we face a far more dangerous threat. Mr. Obama can accomplish with the stroke of his pen what bin Laden cannot accomplish with bombs and insurgents. [...]

Mr. Obama's refusal to live up to his own oath of office -- which includes the duty to defend the United States against foreign invasion - requires senators and representatives to live up to their oaths. Members of Congress must defend our nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Today, that means bringing impeachment charges against Mr. Obama.

Keep in mind, Fox News found this insanity worth promoting.

All of this, of course, brings me back to a point that I continue to ponder -- how seriously are Republicans prepared to take this whole impeachment idea?

Obviously, President Obama hasn't committed any crimes, and there are no sane reasons for anyone to try to impeach him. But House Republicans have been known to take some stupendously crazy steps, so it's hardly unreasonable to ask now -- before the election.

Remember, throughout 2006, when Republicans realized that Democrats had a very good shot at reclaiming the congressional majority, one of the single most common GOP attacks before the elections was that Dems would try to impeach Bush and/or Cheney if they were in the majority.

The talk was so common that Democratic leaders, much to the chagrin for the party's base, declared unequivocally before the election that presidential impeachment was "off the table."

So, are Republicans prepared to also take impeachment off the table in advance of these midterm elections? Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) has raised the specter of impeachment. So has Michele Bachmann, who recently said, "Everywhere I go, people ask me, 'Michele, can we impeach the president?'" Not surprisingly, Fox News is on board, too. Now, the Washington Times is running multiple op-eds on the subject.

Is it on the table for 2011 or not? Voters should know what to expect from the next Congress. At this point, there's no reason for the GOP to avoid the question -- they're the ones who brought it up, and apparently keep bringing it up. So, what's it going to be?

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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THE GOP'S BACK-DOOR REPEAL SCHEME.... Congressional Republicans still like to talk up the idea of "repealing" the Affordable Care Act, but no one takes this especially seriously. Even if the GOP claimed a House majority next year, Republicans could huff and puff, but they couldn't blow the law down. They'd need 60 votes in the Senate and a Republican president. At least in 2011, they'll have neither.

But notice that GOP rhetoric of late has emphasized a related-but-separate point. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) this week continued to blather on about "repeal and replace," but he also told attendees to a town-hall meeting that he has a back-up plan. If repeal fails, Boehner said, "They're not going to get one dime from us to hire these new federal employees to run this."

This might sound like hollow bravado, but it's important. I alluded to this last weekend, and today Brian Beutler fills in the gaps with an important report.

"The most serious, yet realistic, possibility is precisely the one that you're suggesting: what the Republicans can do through appropriations bills," says Paul van de Water, a health care expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In short, implementing the health care law costs money. "Some money was provided in the health reform bill itself, but not by any means all the administrative funding that will be needed," van de Water said. "If HHS and Treasury don't get appropriations they need to run the law well, that could be a real problem. It's not sexy but it's serious."

Norm Ornstein told Brian, "In theory [they] could cut the funding 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent. The problem is, you could do a lot of damage in a lot of different places." That could include Republicans deciding to "refuse to fund the entire Labor-HHS appropriations bill, or .. .pass an appropriation for Labor-HHS that does not include any funds for implementation of the health care plan."

Why haven't we heard about this before? In part because it has no modern precedent. After passage of milestone legislation like Social Security and Medicare, Republicans probably would have loved to try to defund the programs, but a) there were still GOP moderates at the time; and b) voters didn't reward Republicans by giving them control after these bedrock programs became law.

We'll see how all of this shakes out -- there's still a chance Republicans won't get a majority in either chamber -- but I wouldn't be too surprised if this pushed a Democratic White House and a GOP House to an impasse that could, as we talked about on Sunday, produce a government shutdown, a la 1995.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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KARL ROVE AND A FEW BILLIONAIRES WALK INTO A BAR.... About a month ago, a right-wing outfit called American Crossroads, created by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie to destroy Democratic campaigns, reported on its recent fundraising. After raising over $1 million in start-up funds, the GOP campaign operation had collected only $200.

While the figure prompted some guffaws, the delight on the left was short-lived -- because that initial fundraising report proved to be misleading. Rove's operation has actually collected $4.7 million since its launch, and a spinoff entity called American Crossroads GPS pulled in $5.1 million in June. All of these resources will go towards smearing key Democratic candidates over the next 100 days.

American Crossroads GPS can legally hide its donors, while the regular ol' American Crossroads is required to report on its contributions and expenditures. So, while secrecy rules the day for the spinoff operation, Justin Elliott reports on who's filling the coffers of Rove's original campaign operation.

Virtually all of the $4.7 million raised by Karl Rove's new conservative outfit was contributed by just four billionaires, three of whom are based in Dallas, Texas, and two of whom made their fortune in the oil and gas industry. [...]

Salon's review of its IRS filings show that four billionaires have contributed 97 percent of the $4.7 million it has raised to date. There are no limits on how much corporations, unions, and individuals can donate to 527 groups.

When Rove's attack entity was launched, it was billed as a "grassroots" effort. If you count for conservative, billionaire oil men as "grassroots," then American Crossroads is living up to its billing.

Also note, the original idea was for the outfit to raise $50 million for anti-Democratic attack ads. Kenneth Vogel reported this week, the goal was likely be easily surpassed: "A spokesman on Tuesday said American Crossroads GPS, combined with its parent group, intended to raise a combined total of 'approximately $50 million' to attack Democrats and boost Republicans headed into the 2010 midterm elections. But that seems to be a downgrading of ambitions, given that when American Crossroads publicly launched it boasted that it would raise between $50 million and $60 million, while the spin-off has set a budget of $43 million, according to the 'concept paper.'"

Democrats can take some comfort in the RNC's humiliating problems, but Rove and his cohorts are in a position to make up the difference. They won't legally be able to coordinate with the parties, but they'll be smearing Democrats relentlessly over the next couple of months, thanks to unchecked and unlimited contributions from billionaires to a shadowy GOP operation.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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MADDOW 1, O'REILLY 0.... On Wednesday night's episode, Rachel Maddow talked about Fox News' role in the Shirley Sherrod matter. "This is what Fox News does," she explained. "This is how they are different from other news organizations. Just like the ACORN controversy, Fox knows they have a role in this dance. That's not new; that's not actually even interesting about this scandal. Fox does what Fox does."

Bill O'Reilly responded on his Fox News program, "Which is kick your network's butt every single night, madam. And you have to be kidding me with this 'fake ACORN scandal' stuff? Unbelievable. Do you live in this country?"

Rachel responded on the air last night. If you haven't seen it, you should.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Here's the kicker: "Because when you got all 'kicked your network's butt' and 'madam' on me, you really weren't trying to tout your network's ratings. You were trying to take the attention off me saying that your network, Fox News, continually crusades on flagrantly bogus stories designed to make white Americans fear black Americans -- which Fox News most certainly does for a political purpose, even if it upends the lives of individuals like Shirley Sherrod, even as it frays the fabric of the nation, and even as it makes the American dream more of a dream and less of a promise.

"You can insult us all you want about television ratings, Mr. O'Reilly, and you'll be right that yours are bigger -- for now and maybe forever. You are the undisputed champion. But even if no one watches us at all except for my mom and my girlfriend and people who forgot to turn off the TV after Keith, you are still wrong on what really matters, and that would be the facts, your highness."

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (87)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In an entertaining twist in Colorado, former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) has delivered an ultimatum to the GOP's two gubernatorial candidates: if they're trailing in the polls in mid-August, they should agree to drop out and let him jump in. If they're inclined to ignore him, Tancredo has said he'll run as a third-party candidate in the fall.

* The DCCC reserves television time in 40 House districts: "The Democrats' strategy to preserve their House majority became clearer Thursday as the party made a $28 million investment in television advertising for the final weeks of the fall campaign, a plan that is designed to build a firewall to protect freshmen and longtime incumbents."

* In Florida's crazy primaries, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows Rick Scott leading Bill McCollum in the Republican gubernatorial primary, 43% to 29%.

* Speaking of Florida, it's a Rasmussen poll so take the results with a grain of salt, but the pollster shows Marco Rubio (R) narrowly leading Charlie Crist (I) if Kendrick Meek is the Democratic nominee, but Crist narrowly leading Rubio if Jeff Greene is the Democratic nominee.

* There's a crowded field of Republicans running for the Senate in West Virginia -- as of late yesterday, the field had 10 candidates -- but none are expected to be able to defeat Gov. Joe Manchin (D) in November.

* In Kentucky, a Braun Research poll shows Rand Paul (R) with a narrow lead over Jack Conway (D) in the U.S. Senate race, 41% to 38%.

* In Arizona's Republican Senate primary, J.D. Hayworth has a new attack ad, going after Sen. John McCain's previous support for a bipartisan immigration package, having worked with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy on a comprehensive bill. The ad has the advantage of being true.

* And in Kansas, The Hutchinson News endorsed Tracey Mann's (R) congressional campaign in advance of his primary, but that was before the paper's editorial board realized he "questions the citizenship of President Barack Obama despite evidence that is irrefutable to most objective, rational people." The paper has since decided to "withdraw that endorsement."

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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STEVE KING'S 'DEFAULT MECHANISM'.... Rep. Steve King (R) has repeatedly accused President Obama of harboring some kind of anti-white animus. As the right-wing Iowan sees it, the president has a "default mechanism" that "breaks down on the side of favoring the minority." This week, on a talk-radio show, King continued to push this line -- and the rhetorical envelope.

"Looks to me like the USDA was out recruiting people that might have [racial bias] built into them when they arrived at the job... I call it a default mechanism that's built within the Obama administration, breaks down on the side of favoring the minority, uh, because they've been rewarded politically for doing that."

So, if I'm hearing King right, he's arguing that the USDA hired Shirley Sherrod because the agency perceived her as a racist.

He wasn't kidding.

On a related note, King was also on Fox News yesterday, talking about immigration policy. He'd been part of a committee hearing where faith-based groups made a religiously-based argument in support of a comprehensive immigration plan. King was unimpressed. (thanks to D.B. for the heads-up)

"You know, God gave us rights. Our Founding Fathers recognized that. It's in our Declaration. It's the foundational document of America. And God made all nations on Earth and decided when and where each nation would be. And that's out of the book of acts; it's in other places.

"So, we can't be a nation if don't have a border, and if we grant amnesty, we can't define it as a border any longer, or ourselves as a nation any longer."

King seems to be arguing here that we can't pass comprehensive immigration reform -- because it's unbiblical. Or something.

I can't help but wonder how much power and influence this nut will have if there's a House Republican majority next year.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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MARK KIRK'S VERACITY BACK IN THE NEWS.... The good news for Rep. Mark Kirk, the Republican Senate hopeful in Illinois, is that he's gone a few weeks without new revelations surrounding his exaggerated past. The bad news is, the streak ended today.

Kirk -- if that is his real name -- has experienced a humiliating couple of months. He's been caught lying repeatedly about everything from his military service to having been a nursery-school teacher. He's made a wide variety of false claims about foreign policy issues, which is supposed to be an area of expertise for him, and has even been forced to literally flee reporters trying to get Kirk to reconcile his stories with reality.

Today, the Chicago Tribune finds yet another Kirk story that doesn't hold up. (thanks to reader R.G.)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk for a decade has told the story of how he nearly drowned when he was 16 while sailboating on Lake Michigan and how his rescue by the Coast Guard inspired him to pursue a career in public service.

The story is sprinkled with attention-grabbing details, but there are inconsistencies in Kirk's statements that suggest parts of his real-life drama have been embellished, a Tribune review has found.

In the most recent instance, the 50-year-old North Shore congressman told a boating magazine that he stood on his overturned sailboat and watched the sun set, when in fact he was rescued in midafternoon on June 15, 1976.

Kirk also has said he swam up to a mile in 42-degree water and that he was rescued with his body temperature hovering two degrees from death. Those declarations are questionable, based on interviews with an eyewitness and medical experts.

Look, I don't much care what happened to Kirk as a 16-year-old. He's described this "as one of the most important events" of his entire life, and I'm sure it was traumatic.

The point is the larger pattern -- Mark Kirk tells a lot of stories, asks voters to believe those stories, and then we find out that those stories aren't true. In some instances, Kirk's tall tales are demonstrable lies with no basis in fact, but more often, the Republican embellishes reality, giving the truth a more dramatic spin that makes him look better.

If it were just an anecdote here or there that was exaggerated for effect, this would be meaningless. But Kirk has done this repeatedly, with a wide variety of subjects over the course of many years, as if he has some kind of uncontrollable urge to mislead those around him about his own life.

It seems, in other words, Kirk can't seem to help himself when it comes to telling tall tales. How voters are supposed to find Mark Kirk trustworthy going forward remains a mystery.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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BLAME WHERE BLAME IS DUE.... What's become of the Senate energy bill is a profound disappointment to anyone who takes policy seriously. It's a shell of its former self, and it's painful to see this rare opportunity to make meaningful progress slip away. It's not that the legislation's remaining provisions are worthless -- there's some decent stuff in there, including Home Star -- but the bill needed to include at least some kind of cap-and-trade and renewable energy standards. It won't.

While there's still some talk about taking another bite at this apple before the next (more hostile) Congress, realistically, most participants in this debate seem pretty certain that nothing more will happen. As such, the circular firing squad is already starting to take aim.

David Roberts noted that as "frustrated" as he is with Democratic leaders for coming up far short, they're not ultimately to blame.

[W]e should be clear about where the bulk of the responsibility for this farce ultimately lies: the Republican Party and a handful of "centrist" Democrats in the Senate. They are the ones who refused to vote for a bill, no matter how many compromises were made, no matter how clear the urgency of the problem. They are moral cowards, condemning their own children and grandchildren to suffering to serve their own narrow electoral interests. There isn't enough contempt in the world for them. So when the anger and recrimination get going -- as they already are -- let's at least try to keep the focus on the real malefactors.

Agreed. In fact, conservatives aren't just rejecting a sound idea -- they're rejecting their own idea. David Leonhardt noted yesterday, "The sad paradox is that cap and trade -- which trusts in the efficiency of markets -- was originally a Republican policy."

The right used to consider cap-and-trade a reasonable, market-based mechanism that was far preferable to command-and-control directives that Republicans found offensive. The idea was embraced by H.W. Bush to reduce acid rain -- and it worked.

But the same mechanism has remained popular with Republicans until very recently. The political world seems to have forgotten this, but the official position of the McCain/Palin Republican presidential ticket, not even two years ago, was to support cap-and-trade. Not just in theory, either. The official campaign website in 2008 told Americans that John McCain and Sarah Palin "will establish ... a cap-and-trade system that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions." McCain/Palin's official position added, "A cap-and-trade system harnesses human ingenuity in the pursuit of alternatives to carbon-based fuels."
Democratic policymakers could, today, endorse the policy put forward by the Republican ticket from 2008, and GOP senators would filibuster it. That's what's become of the state of the debate.

So, is all hope lost? When it comes to legislating in 2010, probably. But one of the factors driving the debate on the Hill has been the EPA option hanging over the negotiations like the sword of Damocles: if lawmakers fail to act, the administration will. It's what gives Joe Klein some hope.

[T]here is a Supreme Court ruling, now three years old, that carbon dioxide is a poison that needs to be cleaned up. Next year, the Environmental Protection Agency will begin regulating the hell out of Co2. The business community won't like that, nor will many Republicans. "Putting a price on carbon is the only alternative," says Senator Maria Cantwell....

And so, yesterday's death of environmental legislation should be considered a pre-election maneuver. Given a choice between taxes and potentially punitive regulations, the wise -- the more elegant; the less expensive -- choice is a tax every time.

The sooner 60 senators wrap their heads around this, the better.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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INVESTIGATING IS EASIER THAN GOVERNING.... The political world may not fully appreciate just how ugly it might be next year.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has a plan for what the Republicans should do if they win control of the House of Representatives: Spend all their time investigating the Obama administration.

"Oh, I think that's all we should do," Bachmann told the Three Fingers of Politics website. "I think that all we should do is issue subpoenas and have one hearing after another, and expose all the nonsense that has gone on."

To be sure, it was farcical on the Hill in the mid- to late-'90s. Rep. Dan Burton (R) of Indiana and his House committee on administrative oversight launched pointless investigations into every wild-eyed Clinton-related accusation unhinged activists could manufacture.

And I mean "every" quite literally. In one instance, Burton held hearings -- for 10 days -- on the Clintons' Christmas card list. In another, Burton fired a bullet into a "head-like object" -- reportedly a melon -- in his backyard to test his conspiracy theories about Vince Foster. Over the last six years of Bill Clinton's presidency, Burton's committee unilaterally issued 1,052 subpoenas -- that's not a typo -- to investigate baseless allegations of misconduct. That translates to an average of a politically-inspired subpoena every other day for six consecutive years, including weekends, holidays, and congressional recesses.

A Republican House majority in the next Congress would likely take this even further. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has already made clear that he intends to make Burton look like a meek, submissive toady, leaving "corporate America" alone, so he can attack the White House relentlessly.

For that matter, let's also not forget that some Republicans, including two members of Congress, have raised the specter of presidential impeachment once there's a GOP majority. One of them is Bachmann -- who thinks "all" Republicans should do in the next Congress is launch witch hunts.

As Paul Krugman noted recently, "[W]e'll be having hearings over accusations of corruption on the part of Michelle Obama's hairdresser, janitors at the Treasury, and Larry Summers's doctor's dog."

If this seems like a joke, now would be a good time to adjust your expectations.

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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REVERBERATIONS FROM THE RNC'S HIDDEN-DEBT PROBLEM.... Other news stories this week helped keep the Republican National Committee's problems off the front page. That's a silver lining, however, to an otherwise massive cloud.

We learned on Wednesday that the RNC's own treasurer believes the party deliberately failed to report more than $7 million in debt to the Federal Election Commission recently, as part of a scheme to make the RNC's finances look better than they really are. Hiding off-book debts is not only illegal, it also points to more system problems at party headquarters.

The Republican National Committee's disarray -- ABC characterized it as a "civil war" -- comes at a bad time for the party, and Marc Ambinder reports that Republican strategists fear the "chaos" at the RNC could lead to electoral consequences.

During midterm elections, the national committee plays two essential roles. First, it serves as a bank account that can be drawn upon to shore up House races or put others into play. Second, it coordinates the party's field operations and funds joint "Victory" committees with state parties. The RNC, at the moment, is barely fulfilling the second function and has less than $10 million on hand, so it cannot help much with House races. [...]

The degraded political environment, the sluggish or non-existent economic recovery, and the enthusiasm of Republican base voters are intangibles that, properly harnessed, could easily put Republicans over the top. But without a solid field program to bring voters to the polls, and with ranks of well-funded Democratic incumbents, that edge could be lost on election day.

The party's well-regarded political director, Gentry Collins, has seen his budget slashed considerably, and state parties have complained about the condition of the party's Voter Vault datamart. Many state parties are outsourcing their targeting operations, which would have been unthinkable during the flush years of the Bush-Cheney administrations.

The latest scandal, involving $7 million that the RNC's own treasurer categorized as unreported debt, will undermine any opportunity the party has to regain its financial footing before the election.

Remember, as we talked about the other day, what makes this story serious is the fact that it has multiple angles, all of them bad news for the RNC. We have (1) the in-fighting among RNC officials, with the chairman going up against his own treasurer; (2) potentially illegal accounting tricks; (3) weak RNC fundraising in advance of a critical election season that necessitated the illegal accounting tricks; (4) another distracting scandal for Steele to deal with, just a few weeks after the last one; and (5) the fact that the controversy itself steps all over the Republican message of fiscal responsibility.

Oh, and for good measure, also note that if the FEC penalizes the party for its accounting tricks -- which seems likely -- the RNC would likely have to pay fines before the election. That's money the party would much prefer to spend on competitive races.

There's a reason Democrats tend to look at Michael Steele as the greatest party leader of all time.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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SENATE MOVES ON SMALL BUSINESSES, WAR FUNDING.... It was a busy night in the Senate, and it's worth taking a moment to review what transpired.

First, senators finally secured 60 votes for a key measure in the small-business incentives bill.

The Senate voted on Thursday to include a proposed $30 billion lending program in a package of aid for small businesses, as two Republicans joined with Democrats to support the amendment. [...]

Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana and chairwoman of the small business committed, waged a fierce fight in support of the $30 billion lending program, which would be administered by the Treasury Department through local community banks.

"This is something that we want to do to help Main Street, to help small business," Ms. Landrieu said in one of a series of floor speeches. "This isn't about Wall Street. It's not about bailouts. It's not about troubled assets. It's not TARP. It's a small business lending fund, a strategic partnership with community banks."

The vote on the measure was 60 to 39, with two Republicans -- Sens. George LeMieux of Florida and George Voinovich of Ohio -- joining Democrats in support.

The Senate still has to break the Republican filibuster of the entire legislation, and the GOP still hopes to undermine the effort through pointless amendments, but the overall odds have improved considerably over the last 24 hours. The bill includes $12 billion in tax breaks for small businesses and an expansion of existing government lending programs, in addition to the community banks provision.

Soon after that vote, the Senate took up a war funding measure passed by the House. The package included the must-pass spending for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the House included $23 billion in additional domestic funding -- including $10 billion in aid to states, intended to save thousands of teachers' jobs. (The White House strongly disapproved, because the House paid for the funding by cutting the budget for education reforms.)

To keep the House version alive, the Senate needed to find 60 votes. It got 46. In the process, the Senate told the House it has to pass the stripped-down $59 billion package, lacking all of the additional domestic funding.

It's unclear how the House will respond to the take-it-or-leave-it message, but if the chamber balks at the Senate version, the Pentagon is going to be put in an awfully tricky position.

As for the funding to save thousands of teachers' jobs, Senate Dems still intend to get this done through a separate effort, but it's not clear how or when, or whether it'll be paid for.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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July 22, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Not exactly what response teams in the Gulf need right now: "BP's ruptured well will remain capped if ships evacuate the Gulf of Mexico because of a looming storm, the federal government's oil spill chief said Thursday. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said growing confidence in the cap's security convinced scientists it was safe to leave it unmonitored for a few days."

* In the meantime, China is dealing with a massive oil spill of its own.

* As of 5:15 p.m. (ET), the bill to extend unemployment benefits was literally in the car, on the way to the White House.

* Last week, the new jobless claims were encouraging. This week, not so much: "New U.S. claims for jobless benefits climbed more steeply than anticipated last week, the latest sign that the moribund labor market is struggling to recover."

* The signing of the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (IPERA) shouldn't get lost in the shuffle today: "In a bid to show voters his administration is concerned with reducing wasteful government spending, President Obama signed a bill aimed at cutting improper payments to individuals, organizations, and contractors."

* The next step in the two-year review into Charlie Rangel: "The House ethics committee has launched a separate panel to determine whether Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) has violated House ethics rules. The panel, called an adjudicatory subcommittee, will hold a public organizational meeting July 29."

* Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner praised Wall Street bailout watchdog Elizabeth Warren today, saying she'd be "a very effectively leader" of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. He added, "She is one of the most effective advocates of reform in the country."

* The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been fighting tooth and nail against initiatives launched by the Obama White House -- but it's the USCOC that keeps losing.

* If Senate Republicans block ratification of the New START treaty, "American credibility on nuclear issues would evaporate," and every country that's signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty would ask itself, "If the U.S. is unwilling to live up to its commitments, why should we live up to ours?"

* Ugh: "Nonprofit BlueCross and BlueShield health plans in several states, including Tennessee, stockpiled billions of dollars during the past decade, yet continued to hit consumers with hefty premium increases that could have been reduced in some cases, a new consumer study contends."

* Given the interest in the Obamas' travel plans: "Before beginning their long-planned summer vacation on Martha's Vineyard, America's first family will head to Florida's oil-stricken Gulf Coast."

* One of the unfortunate side effects of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) siding with Republicans on Wall Street reform? He wanted the bill to get stronger, but Feingold's efforts inadvertently made it weaker.

* Megyn Kelly, still confused about current events.

* Welcome transparency: "Soon, families might have a slightly better idea what they might actually pay to attend college."

* If I haven't mention it lately, Sam Seder is a very clever man.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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PLENTY OF BLAME TO GO AROUND, BUT NOT IN EQUAL AMOUNTS.... Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized to Shirley Sherrod yesterday, and today she spent some time chatting with President Obama, who expressed "regret" over this week's events, and urged her to continue "her hard work on behalf of those in need." At this point, Sherrod says she's unlikely to return to the USDA, but time will tell.

The New York Times' report noted the bigger picture: "Pretty much everyone else [other than Sherrod] had egg on his or her face -- from the conservative bloggers and pundits who first pushed the inaccurate story to Mr. Vilsack, who looked stricken as he told reporters he had offered Ms. Sherrod a new job that would give her a 'unique opportunity' to help the agency."

That seems like a fair assessment, though it's probably worth emphasizing the fact that some faces should have more egg right now than others.

I'm not going to defend the administration's handling of this matter. On Monday, faced with a race-related story that the media was likely to obsess over, officials panicked and made a rash decision without getting all the facts. At the time, it probably seemed like a smart political move -- react quickly and move on -- but it backfired. The desire to quickly put out a fire before it spread led to an embarrassing overreaction.

I am, however, inclined to defend what the administration did next. Less than a day after forcing Sherrod's ouster, everyone from Vilsack to the president's press secretary had admitted publicly that the administration made a mistake. Sherrod deserved an apology, and she got one. Within 36 hours of the forced resignation, Sherrod was on the phone with the president directly.

Ideally, an administration avoids making dumb mistakes, but it matters how an administration corrects those missteps once they happen. In this case, there's something to be said for the president's team doing the right thing -- acknowledging the mistake quickly, sincerely apologizing, and swiftly trying to put things right.

We had an administration for eight years that never admitted an error, and always found someone else to blame, no matter what. This administration is taking a more mature, responsible approach, and it's a sign of progress.

But the blame the administration deserves pales in comparison to some of the other players in this mess. Josh Marshall's item this morning rings true.

...Breitbart got a piece of video he knew nothing about and published it with a central claim (that it was about Sherrod's tenure at the USDA) that he either made up or made no attempt to verify. No vetting, no calls, no due diligence, not the slightest concern to confirm anything or find out what was true. Even setting aside the fact that, as Josh Greene ably notes, most of Breitbart's scoops center on race and/or race-baiting, for anyone else practicing anything even vaguely resembling journalism, demonstrated recklessness and/or dishonesty on that scale would be a shattering if not necessarily fatal blow to reputation and credibility.

Yet most of the coverage has been along the lines of Breitbart sparks debate about racism or White House pratfall on prematurely canning Shirley Sherrod. Indeed, ABC tonight is sending out an exclusive on Breitbart, which is ... a puff piece about how he got his start in new media.

Or what about the Fox News? To use to terminology of infectious disease, Fox was the primary vector of this story. And to the best of my knowledge, there's been not only no disciplining of anyone in the news room but as far as I can see no retraction, apology (with the exception of a semi-retraction, on a personal basis, from Bill O'Reilly) or even discussion of their primary role in an obvious smear. The only 'press criticism' I've seen is this piece by my friend Howard Kurtz which can't be called anything but a white-wash, even including a self-serving internal email leaked from Fox about taking a careful, thoughtful approach to the story. (My god!)

The administration's overreaction, to be sure, matters, and I can only hope officials have learned a valuable lesson here about the media and smear campaigns. But to make Obama and/or Vilsack out to be the principal culprit in this fiasco is to badly miss the point.

Steve Benen 4:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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LEFT WITH NO CHOICE, DEMS TO PUSH 'NARROW' ENERGY BILL.... The Senate Democratic leadership, looking at the pre-August schedule, has said the chamber would take up an energy bill next week. The question has long been what kind of energy bill it'd be, how comprehensive it'd be, and whether it'd be any good.

We got our answer this afternoon. It was a disheartening one.

After a meeting of Senate Democrats, party leaders on Thursday said they had abandoned hope of passing a comprehensive energy bill this summer and would pursue a more limited measure focused primarily on responding [to] the Gulf oil spill and including some tightening of energy efficiency standards.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a champion of comprehensive climate change legislation called the new goal "admittedly narrow."

At a news conference, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, blamed Republicans for refusing to cooperate. "We don't have a single Republican to work with us," Mr. Reid said.

The "admittedly narrow" legislation won't be completely useless; it just won't do what we need it to do. The plan is to have this bill include new oil company regulations, cover spill liability issues, reinvest in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, put some money into manufacturing of natural gas vehicles, and create some jobs through Home Star (the program formally known as Cash for Caulkers).

The list of key provisions that aren't in this bill isn't short -- any kind of cap-and-trade, renewable energy standards, etc. -- but the leadership is convinced it just doesn't have a choice. "We know where we are," Reid told reporters. "We don't have the votes."

So, is that it? Is the congressional effort to combat global warming dead? Probably.

To be sure, leading Democrats tried to suggest otherwise. Reid told reporters, "This is not the only energy legislation we are going to do." Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who's shown tremendous leadership on this issue, said he still thinks it's "possible" to find a Republican willing to do the right thing, and that the narrow bill that will be considered next week "does not replace comprehensive energy legislation." In fact, Kerry said he spoke to President Obama this afternoon and he told the senator "point blank that he is committed to working in these next days at a more intensive pace together with Carol Browner and other members of the administration to help bring together the ability to find 60 votes for that comprehensive legislation."

But one can only put on a brave face for so long. With very little time, and unbreakable Republican obstructionism, the odds are probably close to zero. If the Senate were to vote on a comprehensive bill, it'd probably pass -- such a bill already passed the House last summer -- but the GOP simply will not allow such a vote.

Unless there's an unexpected breakthrough after August, the future of energy/climate legislation will a) depend on voters expanding the Democrats' congressional majorities this year, an exceedingly unlikely scenario; b) be put off for several years, at a minimum.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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UNEMPLOYMENT AID FINALLY EXTENDED.... It never should have taken this long, but at least it's done.

Congress has approved a six-month extension of emergency jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. On a vote of 272 to 152, the House gave the measure final approval and sent it on to the White House, where aides said President Obama plans to sign it immediately.

The Senate passed the measure Wednesday.

The bill will revive a program that provides up to 99 weeks of income support to those who have exhausted state benefits, restoring aid to nearly 3 million people who have seen their checks cut off since the program expired June 2. Advocates for the unemployed said checks in some states are likely to go out quickly; in others, people can expect a delay of several weeks.

Here's the final roll call in the House. Note that 31 Republicans broke party ranks and supported the extension, while 10 House Democrats -- 9 of them Blue Dogs -- voted in opposition.

The measure extends benefits through Nov. 30, at which point the fight can begin anew.

As glad as I am to see this task completed, it's worth noting that we just witnessed a months-long dispute over the bare minimum -- unemployment benefits. This bill should have included aid to states, a modest extension of the $25-a-week Federal Additional Compensation, and long-sought Medicaid funding, among other things. These additional provisions were in the bill, and should have been protected, but had to be scuttled -- "moderate" Republicans wouldn't let the Senate vote on the bill unless all of these additional provisions were removed entirely.

Have I mentioned lately that our legislative process doesn't seem to work?

On a more encouraging note, Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) said today he's prepared to vote with Dems to break a GOP filibuster of the small-business incentives bill, including the $30 billion lending program that would make credit available to small businesses through local banks, which we talked about earlier.

With LeMieux on board, the bill's prospects have improved greatly.

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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ARE REPUBLICANS ON BOARD WITH RYAN'S RADICAL ROADMAP?.... While most congressional Republicans seem to be allergic to offering an alternative agenda in advance of the midterm elections, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, released a blueprint he calls a "roadmap." His GOP colleagues seem to generally approve of the plan, but they're terrified to say so.

Derek Thompson reports that Ryan explained to a Brookings audience yesterday that congressional Republicans are simply too worried about how the public would respond if the party truly embraced the plan.

When asked why Republicans aren't flocking to his bold government reform, Ryan responded, without hesitation: "They're talking to their pollsters and their pollsters are saying, 'Stay away from this.'"

Ryan's plan would dramatically change the country's tax and entitlement system. It would introduce a value-added tax, eliminate the corporate income tax, phase in deep Medicare cuts, and partially privatize Social Security, among other things.

I'm inclined to give Paul Ryan, a devoted fan of Ayn Rand's novels, at least some credit for putting his beliefs on paper, and subjecting them to public scrutiny. He has a plan to radically transform governmental institutions and Americans' way of life, and he's not afraid to say so.

Indeed, many on the right are on board with the radical Ryan plan. Jonah Goldberg loves it, and when it comes to deficit reduction, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) described Ryan's proposed $1.3 trillion in potential cuts as "a pretty good list of options."

So, why are Republicans being told to "stay away from this"? Why, by Ryan's own estimation, is his party deliberately putting politics above principle? Because if the public came to think of the radical Ryan roadmap as the party's official approach to budget issues, the GOP would lose practically every federal election for at least a generation.

But in a way, the party's cowardice is a real shame. Ryan's gone to the trouble of presenting a plan, and encouraging his party to support it. The plan raises taxes on everyone except the wealthy; it privatizes Social Security; it eliminates Medicare, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and most of Medicaid; and it wouldn't actually get rid of the deficit anyway. The whole plan offers a breathtaking vision of how the government would operate in the 21st century if conservative Republicans had their way.

Ryan thinks it should be part of the debate -- and he's right! In fact, Republicans expect to make Ryan the chairman of the House Budget Committee six months from now, where he'll have a chance to do some real damage to Americans institutions.

Forget what the GOP "pollsters are saying." Are Republicans on board with Ryan's roadmap or not? Is his plan a reflection of what GOP candidates would do with their majority? Shouldn't voters have a chance to hear from Republicans about this before there's an election?

These need not be rhetorical questions. The leading GOP official on budget issues has a plan. It's not unreasonable to think every Republican candidate should say, before November, whether they think it's a plan worth pursuing.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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BOEHNER TRIES, AND FAILS, TO OFFER POLICY DETAILS.... A couple of weeks ago, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke to the Washington Post's Dan Balz about what voters could expect from a Republican-led chamber. It didn't go especially well -- Boehner refused to offer any kind of details to back up his platitudes.

Yesterday, at a Christian Science Monitor luncheon, Boehner tried to offer a little more substance, but for anyone who takes policy matters at all seriously, it was a sad display.

In a meeting with several reporters this afternoon, House Minority Leader John Boehner outlined the top three measures he'd pursue if he becomes Speaker of the House next Congress to create new jobs. But, those who thought he'd outline specific programs and how they would create jobs were disappointed with a familiar litany of wish-list items: repeal health care reform, eschew climate legislation, and renew the Bush tax cuts.

In other words, repeal a program that largely hasn't yet taken effect; prevent new legislation that is also not in effect; and keep a current tax structure in place. Step four: profit. Or jobs.

Let's take Boehner's approach to job creation one point at a time.

1. The would-be Speaker thinks the Affordable Care Act is an "impediment for employment," in part because it "will it ruin the best health care system in the world." This is idiotic. There's evidence to suggest the ACA will create millions of jobs, and no evidence of the law discouraging job creation. Indeed, the law has barely even started -- what Boehner wants is the old, dysfunctional system that wasn't doing any favors for the economy.

2. Boehner thinks saying "no cap and trade" will help create jobs. In reality, the Democratic energy/climate proposal would create a lot of jobs in a growing global industry, but there's also the question of logic -- Boehner thinks opposing a policy that does not yet exist will create jobs. In other words, a key part of Boehner's jobs agenda is to ... absolutely nothing.

3. Boehner's convinced that Bush's failed economic policies, if we just leave the tax rates in place, will eventually work. Sure, they failed miserably in the last decade -- worst modern presidency for job creation, massive deficits, weak economic growth -- but why should failure discourage repetition?

I have several concerns when it comes to John Boehner's role as a congressional leader, but near the top of the list is the fact that he doesn't seem to know anything about public policy. He's presumably had time to read up on such things, but he's chosen not to. Worse, Boehner seems to think he knows quite a bit about these issues, despite his apparent bewilderment.

I care that Boehner is wrong about practically everything, but at least one can have a reasonable debate with knowledgeable people with a different perspective. With Boehner, it seems he's just clueless, uninterested and ignorant about the basics of contemporary policy disputes. Can anyone think of a time they've heard John Boehner speak intelligently about any subject? Ever? Can anyone identify an issue where Boehner has demonstrated even the slightest bit of expertise? Or even knowledge?

If he's the best House Republicans have to offer, we're all in very deep trouble.

Steve Benen 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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DGA UNVEILS 'NEVER SURRENDER' VIDEO.... The Democratic Governors Association hinted this morning that it was launching a new grassroots effort today, as the election-year drive grows more intense. I just didn't expect it to be this amusing.

This video, which the DGA press release concedes is "provocative," features a great movie montage of inspirational moments. The clip, called "Never Surrender," includes scenes from Animal House, Network, Lord of the Rings, 300, Miracle, Cool Runnings, League of their Own, Rocky, and perhaps most amusingly, a line from Die Hard 2. "Never Surrender" will be formally unveiled at Netroots Nation 2010 in Las Vegas.

It's all part of what the DGA's "Fight the Right" initiative. In a press release, DGA executive director Nathan Daschle said, "This is a volatile political environment -- all the more reason to rally our base. Today's Republican party is dominated by the Tea Party-Sarah Palin fringe, which is forcing candidates further and further to the right. Governors are traditionally immune to ideological purity contests, but today's GOP won't accept anything short of rigid adherence to an out-of-touch dogma. All this at a time when the stakes in the 37 governors' races this fall couldn't be higher -- they'll affect Congressional majorities, redistricting, the 2012 Presidential race, not to mention the lives of hardworking men and women."

If you're interested, you might want to check out the video sooner rather than later -- if any of the movie studios happen to notice the clip and raise a fuss about copyright issues, the DGA might not be able to keep "Never Surrender" up very long.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In Connecticut, former Rep. Rob Simmons (R) was running for the Senate, but said he'd end his bid if he failed to secure the nomination of the Connecticut Republican Party. Then he changed his mind. Then he changed his mind again and suspended his campaign. Now, Simmons has changed his mind once more, and has begun airing campaign ads this week. His primary against former wrestling executive Linda McMahon will be on August 10.

* In Colorado, Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck raised a few eyebrows yesterday when he told a voter he deserved support "because I do not wear high heels." Buck said his comment was in response to his primary opponent, Jane Norton, running an ad attacking his attacks through independent groups. "You'd think he'd be man enough to do it himself," she says in the ad.

* It's Rasmussen, so take the results with a grain of salt, but the pollster's latest results in Kentucky show a U.S. Senate race that's staying largely the same. Right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) leads state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) in the poll, 49% to 41%. The results are nearly identical to other Rasmussen data from the last several weeks.

* The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is running attack ads against Rep. Joe Sestak's (D) Senate campaign in Pennsylvania, but two Pittsburgh-area television stations have agreed to stop airing the spot, concluding that the criticisms are inaccurate.

* Gov. Joe Manchin (D) is the favorite to win this year's Senate special election, but it looks like he'll have a primary opponent. Former West Virginia Secretary of State Ken Hechler (D) filed to run this week, but it's unclear how serious Hechler is -- the man is 95 years old.

* In Kansas, Rep. Jerry Moran continues to lead Rep. Todd Tiahrt in their Republican Senate primary. The latest SurveyUSA poll shows Moran up by double digits, 50% to 36%.

* In Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) is facing a primary challenge from right-wing lawyer Joe Miller, but support from the Palins apparently isn't helping. A new poll from Anchorage-based pollster Ivan Moore shows Murkowski leading by a two-to-one margin, 62% to 30%. The primary is on August 24.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (11)

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REMEMBER THE PUBLIC OPTION?.... Even after Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) forced the removal of the public option from the health care reform package last year, proponents of the idea said the setback was temporary. The popular measure, generating competition between private and public insurance, would return, again and again.

As it turns out, it's returning right now.

At a time when both political parties are worrying about the federal deficit, an unexpected and unorthodox proposal is coming back from the shadows of last year's health-care debate the "public option." The idea of creating a major government health insurance program was roundly rejected last year, but the 128 House Democrats pushing to reconsider the idea are now advancing the argument that it would help hold down federal spending.

Their bill, which faces long odds, would allow Americans who do not get insurance at work to choose a government plan for their health coverage starting in 2014.

"There is all this concern about the deficit," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., a leading champion of the proposal. "Well, guess what, this would reduce the deficit because it saves so much money."

Why, yes, as a matter of fact it does. When policymakers were weighing provisions of the legislation that would produce savings, one of the most effective measures was always the public option. For conservatives, however, the debate was always more about ideology than pragmatism.

But if deficit reduction continues to dominate much of the public discussion, public option advocates have a new pitch: the CBO believes the idea could save the federal government $68 billion between 2014 an 2020.

Deficit hawks consistently say lawmakers are going to have to accept some choices they don't want to make in order to get the deficit under control. Well, what do they have to say about $68 billion in savings from an idea that most of the country consistently loved during the health care debate?

Even proponents don't expect action on this in the coming months, but Woolsey vowed to keep fighting for the idea. Good.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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THE HOUSE TEA PARTY CAUCUS GETS TO WORK.... There's been ample evidence of late that the overlap between the so-called Tea Party "movement" and the Republican Party's far-right base is overwhelming. They are, in effect, one and the same.

The intersection of Tea Party politics and Republican politics became even more dramatic yesterday, with the formal launch of the House Tea Party Caucus, led by frightening right-wing Minnesotan, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R). Dana Milbank had a good report on the kickoff event.

There and then -- on the Capitol grounds 104 days before the midterm elections -- Tea Party activists and Republican officeholders set aside any pretense about the two groups being separate. They essentially consummated a merger: The activists allowed themselves to be co-opted by a political party, and the Republican leaders allowed themselves to become the faces of the movement.

Naturally, both protested that nothing of the sort was occurring.... With a dozen House Republicans surrounding her, Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, announced that her group "wanted to make sure the people in Congress don't become a mouthpiece for the movement."

Sorry, ladies. When Tea Party leaders join Republican lawmakers for a private strategy session followed by a campaign rally in the shadow of the Capitol, each has essentially endorsed the other.

As the overlap becomes formalized, Republicans may want to remember what it is the party is enveloping. At yesterday's gathering, Mark Meckler, a leader of a group called the Tea Party Patriots, tried to distance their efforts from "fringe" elements.

Soon after, speakers at the rally accused Democrats of "21st-century Marxism," compared President Obama to Hugo Chavez, and complained bitterly about "socialism."

That, we're supposed to believe, isn't "fringe" at all.

We also learned yesterday precisely what Republicans/Tea Partiers are concerned about when it comes to their collective public image: "Members of the freshly minted House Tea Party Caucus spent their first day trying to quash accusations that they represent a racist movement." Given the frequency with which it came up, the right-wing activists seem pretty sensitive about the allegations. (One speaker insisted, "We are not terrorists," though I'm not sure anyone has accused this crowd of terrorism.)

As for the caucus itself, as of late yesterday, the House Tea Party Caucus reportedly has 29 members, with a membership list that's nearly identical to that of the right-wing Republican Study Committee. There is, however, some ongoing controversy on this front -- some of the members included on Bachmann's list of caucus members hadn't formally given their permission to be included in the group.

Sounds like they're off to a good start.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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AT ARM'S LENGTH WITH SHARRON ANGLE.... Sharron Angle (R), the extremist Senate candidate in Nevada, has gone to great lengths to avoid media scrutiny since winning her primary campaign, at one point literally running away from a journalist asking about her public statements.

In recent weeks, Angle has been a little more willing to answer questions, but only from outlets like far-right talk radio, Fox News, and radical TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. She conceded last week that she only wants to talk to media that will let her beg for cash on the air. If an outlet doesn't mind being used by Angle as part of a fundraising ploy, she's willing to chat.

It was a pleasant surprise, then, to see that the Angle campaign scheduled a press conference yesterday, and invited reporters. The bigger surprise, though, came when the candidate refused to take questions.

Press-shy Nevada Republican Senate hopeful Sharron Angle walked out of a campaign stop Wednesday without answering questions from reporters, even after the event was billed by her campaign as a news conference.

Held at a Reno-area business, the event was promoted on the Angle campaign website as a "press conference" in which Angle was to publicly sign a "death tax repeal pledge."

But after delivering a short speech, Angle turned away and left the event without allowing reporters to ask questions. Local media outlets followed Angle out of the business and to a vehicle.

Maybe Angle's confused about what a "press conference" is.

Speaking of Angle, while the Senate hopeful keeps the media at arm's length, she's still palling around with Mark Williams and his notorious Tea Party Express, whose racism has been denounced by other groups and leaders within the "movement." It was Williams and his group that effectively made Angle a competitive candidate, and as such, her campaign refuses to denounce his ugly, divisive rhetoric.

Indeed, as of this morning, Williams' Tea Party Express is still raising money for Angle -- and Angle's still accepting the support.

Angle won't make time for professional reporters' questions, but she will make time for some scurrilous characters that even other conservatives want nothing to do with.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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CONRAD SIDES WITH GOP ON TAX BREAKS FOR WEALTHY.... It's become common enough to be predictable -- lawmakers who claim to be deeply concerned with the deficit also take a firm stand in support of tax breaks for the wealthy, regardless of what it would do to the deficit.

Alas, it's not just Republicans playing this annoying game.

A fiscally conservative Democrat who chairs the U.S. Senate's budget committee on Wednesday said he supports extending all of the tax cuts that expire this year, including for the wealthy.

"The general rule of thumb would be you'd not want to do tax changes, tax increases ... until the recovery is on more solid ground," Senator Kent Conrad said in an interview with reporters outside the Senate chambers, adding he did not believe the recovery has come yet.

Conrad did not say tax cuts would pay for themselves -- he's not quite as irresponsible as his Republican colleagues -- but Reuters' report added that Conrad wants lawmakers to "find offsetting revenue to pay for the lower rates for wealthier Americans."

There's some deep confusion on display here. Conrad is worried about the health of the economy, which makes sense. He also wants to cut federal spending to offset tax cuts for the wealthy, which doesn't make sense.

But in the larger context, Conrad's position, which is apparently also endorsed by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), another pseudo deficit hawk, signals more trouble for common sense in the Senate. It's tough enough going up against a united Republican caucus with economic priorities that range from confused to illiterate; center-right Democrats siding with the GOP makes matters considerably worse.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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WHEN THE RIGHT HOLDS AMERICA TO LOW STANDARDS.... Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has -- big surprise -- declared his opposition to a proposed Muslim community center a couple of blocks from 9/11's Ground Zero in Manhattan. That, in and of itself, isn't especially interesting.

It's why Gingrich opposes the Cordoba House that matters. From his blog post on the subject:

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over. [...]

Those Islamists and their apologists who argue for "religious toleration" are arrogantly dishonest. They ignore the fact that more than 100 mosques already exist in New York City. Meanwhile, there are no churches or synagogues in all of Saudi Arabia.

So, by Newt Gingrich's estimation, Saudi Arabian officials are wrong to squelch religious liberty in their country -- so we should be equally wrong in ours. Gingrich sees Saudi Arabia discriminating and showing a lack of tolerance for spiritual diversity and, in effect, concludes, "Let's follow their lead."

This conservative worldview comes up from time to time, and it always amazes me. You'll recall, for example, that during the debate over whether the U.S. should utilize torture -- that there was even a debate continues to be remarkable -- it was not uncommon for the right to demand a single standard. If terrorists and America's enemies used torture, the argument went, then we should, too.

Since the problem with this line of thinking is apparently not as obvious as it should be, let's make this clear: the United States is supposed to be held to the highest standards. Our country should strive to be a beacon of hope and liberty, a shining light for others to aspire to. We're not supposed to lower ourselves to the levels of those we find offensive.

This continues to be a glaring point of contention between the left and right. Liberals see terrorists engaging in torture and authoritarian governments denying their people the freedom of religion, and we say, "We're better than that."

The right sees the same landscape and thinks, "No, we're not."

For America to endorse the construction of the Cordoba House would be a reminder to the world of how we, unlike less-free countries, celebrate our diversity and refuse to treat our neighbors as second-class citizens. It's genuinely sad that Gingrich and his ilk prefer to see us aim lower as a nation.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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JOBLESS AID PASSES, BUT WILL SENATE GOP KILL HELP FOR SMALL BUSINESSES?.... It was a very busy afternoon in the U.S. Senate yesterday, with a flurry of important votes. Members considered a measure to block the Justice Department from pursuing legal action against Arizona's anti-immigrant law, but rejected it. Likewise, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) pushed a measure to permanently end the estate tax, which also failed.

Perhaps most importantly, the Senate was finally able to pass an extension of unemployment benefits, with a 59 to 39 vote. The House is expected to approve the same measure today, and President Obama will sign it into law as quickly as the bill can reach his desk.

So, what's next? A measure to help small businesses -- which Republicans are also trying to kill.

Perhaps the last best hope of Democrats to pass legislation aimed at creating jobs before the November elections seemed to be crumbling in the Senate on Wednesday as Republicans signaled that they would block a bill to expand government lending programs and grant an array of tax breaks to small businesses. [...]

[W]ith some Democrats viewing the small-business bill as critical to their political prospects in November, Senate Republicans were not about to let it through easily, and have insisted on a chance to offer amendments.

Yep, Republicans are fighting against a measure to help small businesses because it's more important to undermine Democrats than it is to help the economy.

Indeed, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who isn't exactly a liberal firebrand, noted what appears to be plainly true -- that the GOP leadership wants to reject a measure to help the economy for purely political reasons. "I think Senator McConnell knows and believes this bill could actually create millions of jobs and doesn't want to give the president and Democrats credit for doing what we do, which is standing up for the middle class," Landrieu said.

The main point of contention in the bill is a "$30 billion lending program that would make credit available to small businesses through local banks." It has broad Democratic support, and has been endorsed by the Independent Community Bankers of America and 29 state community banking associations.

But Republicans said it's a deal-breaker -- not because the lending program wouldn't work, but because it reminds them of TARP. Even Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who's supposed to be one of the more reasonable ones, said she'd block a vote against relief for small businesses if it includes the lending program.

Watching the Senate can be exceedingly unpleasant.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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July 21, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Latest from the Gulf: "BP has temporarily corked a relief tunnel deep beneath the sea floor as tropical rainstorms move toward the Gulf of Mexico. The tunnel will be used to blast mud and cement into BP's leaky well, hopefully sealing it off for good. But the threat of a tropical storm has prompted the oil giant to shut off the tunnel to keep it from being damaged."

* Not exactly reassuring: "Ben S. Bernanke, the Fed chairman, told Congress on Wednesday that it would take 'a significant amount of time' to restore the 8.5 million jobs lost in the United States in 2008 and 2009, and warned that 'the economic outlook remains unusually uncertain.' He also warned that financial conditions, particularly the European sovereign debt crisis, had 'become less supportive of economic growth in recent months.'"

* Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack held a press conference late this afternoon, apologizing to Shirley Sherrod and for the debacle. He's asked her to return to her job, and Sherrod is reportedly considering it. [Update: Vilsack has reportedly offered her a unique new position at the agency, not the position from which she was forced to resign.]

* Eyeing Pyongyang: "The United States Wednesday unveiled new sanctions against North Korea after the sinking of a South Korean warship and said the attack could be the start of more provocations by the communist state."

* I'd hoped for more, given the seriousness and scope of the scandal: "The Bush administration's Justice Department's actions were inappropriately political, but not criminal, when it fired a U.S. attorney in 2006, prosecutors said Wednesday in closing a two-year investigation without filing charges."

* Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination picks up another GOP supporter -- Indiana's Richard Lugar.

* Why would gunman Byron Williams have an interest in targeting the Tides Foundation? It's hard to say for sure at this point, but Glenn Beck talks about the foundation quite a bit.

* Chait on the conservative pseudojournalist method.

* More Americans are going to college, but more Americans are also starting to wonder if it's worth it.

* The right is still working on Journolist conspiracies. In the process, they're making stuff up.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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SHERROD FLAP LEADS TO APOLOGY.... In a rarity, CNN aired the White House press briefing live this afternoon, entirely because of the one subject the press corps was most interested in. The landmark Wall Street reform bill being signed into law? The vote on unemployment benefits Republicans are still blocking? Conditions in the Gulf of Mexico?

No, the story on the minds of political reporters is the firing of Shirley Sherrod.

One of the things I find interesting about the media's coverage today is that it's not following the usual model. There tends to be a trend -- conservatives get worked up about something; Republicans make irresponsible allegations; and political reporters push the White House to respond. But in the Sherrod matter, Republicans aren't saying a word -- the media is interested because ... the media is interested.

What's more, note how that interest is manifesting itself. The media isn't excoriating Breitbart, digging to find the original source of the video, or noting the racist themes in far-right attacks of late. Instead, it seems news outlets are fascinated by process, demanding to know who knew what when. Rather than quoting conservative Republicans in Congress going after the White House, the media has taken to highlighting concerns raised by liberal bloggers who are going after the White House.

For what it's worth, the press briefing that got more attention than most featured a well-deserved apology.

The White House offered a full-throated apology to former Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod, calling her ouster as the result of an out-of-context video an "injustice," and said the agriculture secretary is attempting to contact her to discuss "next steps."

Press secretary Robert Gibbs conceded Wednesday afternoon that the government had acted rashly and without all the facts when it sought Sherrod's resignation for racially themed comments she made during a recent speech to the NAACP. But Gibbs would not say whether Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will offer her job back.

"The secretary is trying to reach her. The secretary will apologize for the actions that have taken place in the past 24 to 36 hours," he told reporters. "On behalf of the administration, I offer our apologies."

Gibbs said he had talked about the situation Wednesday with President Obama, and said the president believes that "an injustice" had been done.

Good move. I get the sense that many of those who've been critical of the administration's overreaction are looking for evidence that officials realize a mistake was made. The White House made that recognition clear.

The press secretary also suggested that it's worth taking some time to consider how this mess happened in the first place -- and that includes reporters he was speaking to directly: "I think everybody has to go back and look at what has happened over the past 24 to 36 hours, and ask ourselves how we got into this. How did we not ask the right questions? How did you all not ask the right questions?"

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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THE RNC, A 'CIVIL WAR,' AND A HIDDEN DEBT.... It's clearly a busy media day, with a variety of stories generating plenty of discussion, but the RNC's hidden-debt controversy is probably under-appreciated at this point. It has the potential to be a very big deal.

A GOP civil war has broken out between RNC Chairman Michael Steele and RNC Treasurer Randy Pullen.

The dust-up reveals new levels of dysfunction at the RNC and suggests the Republican National Committee is having real money problems.

In a memo obtained by ABC News, Pullen makes startling allegations against Steele's chief of staff, accusing him of trying to hide unpaid invoices and causing the RNC not to report more than $7 million in debt in its April and May filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Now, we know that at least some of what Pullen is charging is already true -- the RNC had to file amended reports to explain previously unreported debt. But according to the RNC's own treasurer, Steele and others at party headquarters did this deliberately, allegedly going to literally criminal lengths to hide party debts and financial troubles.

Ed Morrissey, a prominent conservative blogger, added, "If Pullen's claims turn out to be true, it's a potential disaster for the RNC and Republican candidates, and not just because of the restricted cash flow. The GOP has been arguing that they are the party of fiscal responsibility and reform."

Right. What makes this story serious is the fact that it has multiple angles, all of them bad news for the RNC. We have (1) the in-fighting among RNC officials, with the chairman going up against his own treasurer; (2) potentially illegal accounting tricks; (3) weak RNC fundraising in advance of a critical election season that necessitated the illegal accounting tricks; (4) another distracting scandal for Steele to deal with, just a few weeks after the last one; and (5) the fact that the controversy itself steps all over the Republican message of fiscal responsibility.

Steve Benen 3:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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BREITBART'S VERSION OF REGRET.... There's been some talk about whether Andrew Breitbart would get around to apologizing for the Shirley Sherrod fiasco. It's even been a topic for conservatives -- Jonah Goldberg thinks Breitbart should apologize; David Frum predicts he won't.

We got a better sense of Breitbart's perspective today when the right-wing media activist told MSNBC, "I feel bad that they made this about her, and I feel sorry that they made this about her. Watching how they've misconstrued, how the media has misconstrued the intention behind this, I do feel a sympathy for her plight." He added that he's "sympathetic" to the fact that the media "went after her and not after the NAACP."

So, in Breitbart's mind, the media is to blame -- apparently because news outlets ran with the story that Breitbart gave them.

David Kurtz calls the remarks "almost sociopathic." Simon Maloy labels Breitbart's response "pathological."

These aren't unreasonable responses. Breitbart pushed a deliberately misleading video that went after Shirley Sherrod for no reason. He proceeded to label her a "racist" who "racially discriminates against a white farmer," and demanded that the NAACP "denounce the racism in the video." That, of course, would be the racism that didn't exist when listening to the remarks in context.

Breitbart's racially-motivated media stunt cost Sherrod her job, at least for now. But he regrets that "they went after her"? That he said this with a straight face is disconcerting.

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ANOTHER MILESTONE ACHIEVEMENT -- WALL STREET REFORM BECOMES LAW.... President Obama this morning signed into law the most sweeping reforms of the financial industry since the New Deal. In an 18-month stretch that includes a variety of historic achievements, Wall Street reform has to rank pretty high on the accomplishment list.

Here's some video from this morning's bill-signing ceremony, and a link to some of the reasons the new law is so important. In addition to creating a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the new law strengthens the integrity of the industry in a wide variety of ways, including giving officials an ability to wind down failing firms without the need for taxpayer-financed bailouts -- an observation that drew sustained applause at the White House event today.

As for that list of accomplishments, Wall Street reform now joins health care reform, an economy-saving Recovery Act, a long-sought overhaul of the nation's student-loan system, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, and the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, among other things, on the collection of breakthrough accomplishments of the last 18 months.

As Rachel Maddow recently observed, "The last time any president did this much in office, booze was illegal. If you believe in policy, if you believe in government that addresses problems, cheers to that."

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, who huddled with Wall Street lobbyists to try to kill the proposal, continue to insist that if they're given power, they'll repeal the new reform law and return to the regulatory structure that was in place for (and helped lead to) the 2008 crash that nearly collapsed the global financial system.

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A PERNICIOUS SHIFT TO AN ANNOYING TREND.... The notion that conservative outrages tend to be manufactured nonsense isn't new. The last 18 months has been filled with them.

Remember how excited the right was about the Gerald Walpin firing? Or the time conservatives were convinced that the White House was closing car dealerships based on owners' political contributions? How about the time the right was apoplectic because the president urged kids to do well in school when last year's school year began? And who can forget when Republicans discovered job offers to congressional candidates and compared it Watergate?

Inexplicably, several major news outlets responded to stories like these by insisting that the media should do more to take seriously the kind of stories and ideas that bubble up on conservative websites and talk radio.

More recently, however, the larger trend has taken a turn for the worse. It's not just that the right gets worked up over stories that fall apart after minimal scrutiny -- though that's part of it -- it's also that the trumped up garbage is starting to get more focused. Kevin Drum raised an excellent point today:

There have been three big conservative outrages that have choked the airwaves over the past couple of weeks. #1 was about a bunch of scary black men, the New Black Panther Party. #2 was about a bunch of scary Muslims who want to build a triumphal mosque on the sacred soil of Ground Zero. #3 was about a vindictive black woman who works for the government and screws the white people she deals with. The running theme here is not just a coincidence.

This, by the way, coincided with leading Tea Party zealots blasting the NAACP as "racist," and a coordinated attack against Thurgood Marshall by Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There have to be some decent folks on the right who are uncomfortable with this. I know RNC Chairman Michael Steele recently conceded his party relied on a racially-divisive "Southern Strategy" for at least four decades, and that animosity towards Barack Obama is exacerbated by race, but conservatives -- Fox News, GOP activists, prominent far-right media voices -- continue to push the boundaries of acceptable discourse here. We've gone from conservatives making up scurrilous nonsense to gin up excitement with far-right voters to conservatives making up racist nonsense to gin up excitement with far-right voters.

And as the midterms draw closer, the ugliness seems to be intensifying. Where are the Republican grown-ups willing to say, "Enough"?

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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WILL VOTERS RESPOND TO A PRO-GRIDLOCK MESSAGE?.... As Democratic strategists continue to push various campaign narratives to undercut Republicans ("Party of No," "Bush Republicans," "BP Republicans"), the congressional minority has a few ideas of its own.

GOP leaders are expanding their calls for repeal of the new health care law into a broader campaign theme that electing Republicans will provide the "check and balance" needed to parry Democrats and the Obama administration on an array of topics, with few specifics attached. [...]

Republicans hope to make the case to independent voters in particular that casting a ballot for the GOP is the way to restore balance and rein in Washington.

Funny, these folks didn't seem to think "checks and balances" were necessary when there was a Republican Congress and Republican White House through most of the Bush/Cheney era.

Nevertheless, if this seems vaguely familiar, it's because John McCain's (R) presidential campaign tried the same line two years ago -- only at that point, he said voters should elect a Republican president to serve as a check against the Democratic Congress. The key, the Republican ticket said at the time was to "market divided government more directly ... as part of a summation targeted at undecided independents."

When Barack Obama won the highest popular vote margin for a non-incumbent in more than a half-century, it seemed clear McCain's gambit didn't work especially well. Maybe it'll find more favor in 2010, but I continue to find the argument odd.

For one thing, it's not as if Congress has become some kind of rubber stamp for the Obama administration. The president has achieved some amazing legislative breakthroughs in the last year and a half, but none of the successes has been easy.

For another, what the GOP argument is based on, in effect, is a pro-gridlock message. Republicans are saying people should vote for them, not because they're right, but because they'd make governing in Washington that much more difficult.

The argument, in a nutshell, is: "Vote GOP so Washington can become considerably more dysfunctional and achieve far less. If you like partisan spats, government shutdowns, pointless investigations, and a federal system paralyzed by ideological piques, you'll love what happens when there's a Democratic president and a Republican Congress."

As things currently stand, the federal lawmaking process already struggles badly to vote on legislation, staff the executive branch, fill the federal judiciary, and approve necessary treaties. The new Republican line hopes voters will want to actively make matters much worse.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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WEDNESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* To the disappointment of the Republican establishment, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) announced this morning that she will not run in a Senate special election this year. Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, who launched his campaign yesterday, is now an even heavier favorite to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D).*

* In Georgia's gubernatorial primaries yesterday, former Gov. Roy Barnes (D) won his party's nod with 66% support, while former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and former Rep. Nathan Deal will face off again in an Aug. 10 runoff.

* In Nevada, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) with a narrow lead in his re-election bid, up by two over former state Rep. Sharron Angle (R), 48% to 46%.

* The DCCC and NRCC both raised about $9 million in June, but the Democratic committee still enjoys a considerable lead when it comes to cash on hand.

* In related news, when it comes to the Senate campaign committees, the DSCC raised over $7 million in June, compared to the NRSC's $4 million haul. When it comes to cash on hand, the DSCC has $21.5 million, while the NRSC has $19.7 million.

* In his new defense, former Rep. John Kasich, the Republican gubernatorial hopeful in Ohio, tells voters in an ad that he didn't "run" Lehman Brothers. He was, however, one of many managing directors at Lehman while the infamous investment firm was collapsing.

* In Florida, the latest survey from Public Policy Polling shows state CFO Alex Sink (D) with six point leads in this year's gubernatorial race over both of the leading Republican candidates, state Attorney General Bill McCollum and disgraced former health care executive Rick Scott.

* With two weeks left before Michigan's competitive Republican gubernatorial primary, a Detroit News poll shows Mike Cox (R) with a very narrow lead over Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R), 26.4% to 25.6%,

* And in Virginia, where Republicans desperately hope to defeat Rep. Tom Perriello (D) in the 5th congressional district, the GOP got some encouraging news yesterday when a SurveyUSA poll showed Perriello trailing state Sen. Robert Hurt (R) by a whopping 23 points. Most recent polls have found the race far more competitive.

* fixed

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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MORE THAN 'A ROGUISH PROVOCATEUR'.... The Atlantic's Joshua Green, a Monthly alum, notes this morning the political media pattern that was common for most of the '90s.

Awhile back, particularly during the Clinton administration, the media would flagellate itself every so often for rushing, lemming-like, to cover some story or other that was being touted on the Drudge Report, and then, after a period of reflection, deciding that it shouldn't be. There was usually a Howard Kurtz column to demarcate such an episode. But the recidivism rate was high. Invariably, the media would chase the next Drudge rumor, and the whole cycle would repeat.

It happened with surprising frequency, and every time, we'd see media pieces acknowledging that reporters really should know better the next time. They never did.

Now, as the Shirley Sherrod story helps demonstrate, it's Andrew Breitbart pulling the strings, and the same pattern emerges.

[W]hat's galling to me -- gut-wrenching, really, like watching old news footage of blacks being beaten and clubbed at lunch counters -- is that Breitbart obviously understood the powerful effect his tape would have, posted it anyway, and then assumed the role of ringmaster, expertly conducting the media circus, fanning the flames. It's hardly the first time. But the moral ugliness of what's just happened is glaring, and it's hard for me to see how the media can justify continuing to treat Breitbart as simply a roguish provocateur. He's something much darker.

But it doesn't seem to matter. CNN had Breitbart on last night, and he went after the Spooners -- the family Sherrod helped rescue. This morning, he was given another platform on "Good Morning America." The "moral ugliness" doesn't seem to be interfering with Breitbart's media schedule.

There's no shortage of institutional mistakes when it comes to the Sherrod story. The Agriculture Department was wrong to overreact; the NAACP was wrong to agree; and obviously Breitbart was wrong to launch a dishonest smear campaign against an innocent woman who'd done nothing wrong. But if the cable networks could take a moment to recognize their own culpability, it'd be a step in the right direction.

Of course, if history is any guide, it'd be a step the outlets immediately took back the next time Big Government pushes a phony story.

Steve Benen 11:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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ANOTHER ROUND OF ANTI-GOVERNMENT VIOLENCE.... Over the weekend, a well-armed unemployed carpenter named Byron Williams allegedly initiated a shootout with police in Oakland. Williams' mother told reporters her son, who survived the ordeal, was angry at "the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items." Another report indicated that Williams has a history of opposing "liberal causes."

I held off on writing about this, waiting for official confirmation about the gunman's motivations. Alas, the early reports were correct -- Williams was an anti-government zealot, hoping to start a "revolution." (via Oliver Willis)

Convicted felon Byron Williams loaded up his mother's Toyota Tundra with guns, strapped on his body armor and headed to San Francisco late Saturday night with one thing in mind: to kill workers at the American Civil Liberties Union and an environmental foundation, prosecutors say.

Williams, an anti-government zealot on parole for bank robbery, had hoped to "start a revolution" with the bloodshed at the ACLU and the Tides Foundation in San Francisco, authorities said.

But before he made it to the city, Williams was stopped at early Sunday by California Highway Patrol officers for speeding and driving erratically on westbound Interstate 580 west of Grand Avenue in Oakland.

Police say he then initiated a chaotic, 12-minute gunbattle with officers, firing a 9mm handgun, a .308-caliber rifle and a shotgun. He reloaded his weapons when he ran out of ammunition and stopped only after officers shot him in areas of his body not covered by his bullet-resistant vest, authorities said.

Remarkably, no one was killed, though Williams was firing a rifle with ammunition that "could penetrate ballistic body armor and vehicles, police said." He was in court yesterday, and will face all kinds of criminal charges, including the attempted murder of four police officers.

But stepping back, every time there's violence like this, I'm reminded of the concerns raised by the Department of Homeland Security last year, about potentially violent anti-government extremists -- concerns that appear increasingly prescient.

These examples of politically-motivated attacks seem to keep piling up. Just this year, John Patrick Bedell opened fire at the Pentagon; Joe Stack flew an airplane into a building; Jerry Kane Jr. and his son killed two police officers in Arkansas; and the Hutaree Militia terrorist plot was uncovered. Last year, James von Brunn opened fire at the Holocaust memorial museum; Richard Poplawski gunned down three police officers in Pittsburgh, in part because he feared the non-existent "Obama gun ban"; and Dr. George Tiller was assassinated. In 2008, Jim David Adkisson opened fire in a Unitarian church in Tennessee, in part because of his "hatred of the liberal movement."

Let there be no doubt: deranged madmen are responsible for their own violent actions. But in the wake of these attacks, I don't think it's unreasonable to wish that some of the leading far-right voices would lower the rhetorical temperature a bit, helping to cool the tempers of those who might be inclined to hurt others.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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BEN STEIN AND 'POOR PERSONALITIES'.... Republican criticisms of the unemployed have been in abundance lately. Those who've lost their jobs in the brutal recession have, just recently, been labeled "spoiled" and "hobos." Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) thinks if you don't have a job, you might very well be a drug addict. A common Republican talking point is that the unemployed are just lazy folks who choose not to work, preferring government aid.

But Ben Stein pushed the anti-jobless line to new depths this week.

The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I say "generally" because there are exceptions. But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day's work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job. Again, there are powerful exceptions and I know some, but when employers are looking to lay off, they lay off the least productive or the most negative.

Stein went on to suggest that young people learn lessons on "how to do a day's work." Among the things he wants folks to learn: call your colleagues "sir" or "ma'am," and remember the importance of "not talking back."

His antiquated employment tips notwithstanding, Stein's notion that those who've lost their jobs are necessarily to blame for their condition -- they have "poor work habits and poor personalities" -- is just crazy in the midst of an employment crisis with five applicants for every opening. What's more, it's based on literally nothing but his own twisted perceptions.

That wouldn't be especially troubling -- there are plenty of dumb columns out there -- were it not for the fact that Stein remains a prominent voice in media: "Using the Critical Mention media search engine, ThinkProgress finds that the name 'Ben Stein' was mentioned 64 times in major television media networks within the past thirty days alone."

There's no reason for this. Stein has odd connections to a sleazy financial services company; he has truly insane beliefs about modern science; and in 2007, as the sub-prime bubble began to burst, Stein used his media perch to tell the public the crisis "will all blow over." (It didn't.)

I vaguely recall the point, some years back, when Stein was considered something of a mainstream figure at the intersection of politics and entertainment. He'd show up as a cable news talking-head, in between Hollywood cameos and hosting a game-show. He seemed quirky, conservative, and harmless.

Those days are long gone.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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THE RNC'S HIDDEN DEBTS.... I've lost count of how many times it's looked like a new controversy would force former RNC Chairman Michael Steele from his job. But in each instance, Steele looks ridiculous, the story eventually fades, the party doesn't want to go to the trouble of ousting him, and he lives to screw up another day.

The Washington Times reports today, however, on a new matter that has nothing to do with Steele's notorious gaffes, and more to do with his notorious mismanagement.

The Republican National Committee failed to report more than $7 million in debt to the Federal Election Commission in recent months -- a move that made its bottom line appear healthier than it is heading into the midterm elections and that also raises the prospect of a hefty fine.

In a memo to RNC budget committee members, RNC Treasurer Randy Pullen on Tuesday accused Chairman Michael S. Steele and his chief of staff, Michael Leavitt, of trying to conceal the information from him by ordering staff not to communicate with the treasurer -- a charge RNC officials deny.

Mr. Pullen told the members that he had discovered $3.3 million in debt from April and $3.8 million from May, which he said had led him to file erroneous reports with the FEC. He amended the FEC filings Tuesday.

When it comes to consequences, the financial problem could cause all kinds of trouble for Republicans. Deliberately filing deceptive FEC reports is criminal, and could lead to stiff penalties -- if not formal charges -- before the elections.

And while the Republican National Committee is already downplaying the significance of this, there's reason to believe the party is aware of the seriousness of the situation.

The Washington Times also has learned that former Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael E. Toner has been retained as outside counsel to the RNC, a move Mr. von Spakovsky called unusual and significant.

"The RNC normally uses its own inside counsel to deal with the FEC," said Mr. von Spakovsky, a Heritage Foundation legal scholar. "But if I had a really serious problem with the FEC, Michael Toner is one of the first guys I would turn to help me out."

Not only could this generate real legal problems for the RNC, if the allegations are true, there's also the unfortunate political message -- when Republicans can't manage their own books, they play accounting tricks and hide off-book debts, regardless of the law.

It's a story to keep an eye on.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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MAKING THE UNEMPLOYED WAIT FOR NO REASON.... There was quite a bit of attention yesterday afternoon when the Senate, after multiple tries, finally overcame a Republican filibuster on extended unemployment benefits. It was welcome, overdue news.

What got far less attention was what happened next.

Under inexplicable Senate rules, after a filibuster is broken, the minority trying to block passage can delay a final, up-or-down vote for 30 hours. Democrats hoped Republicans would agree to waive this pointless delay, and allow the Senate to vote on jobless aid. Republicans, who know the bill is going to pass anyway, refused without explanation.

Why would they bother? It's not just about Republicans being callous misanthropes -- though that's likely part of it -- it's also a matter of running out the clock. There's just not much time left on the Senate schedule, and the GOP wants to use up as much of the calendar as possible to prevent other bills and nominations from coming to the floor.

If that means needlessly delaying aid to struggling families for a couple of days, Republicans see this as a small price to pay. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) spoke on the chamber floor last night, lamenting the pointless holdup. "I want everyone watching the proceedings tonight to again understand what the Republicans are doing," Reid said. "We just passed badly needed legislation to help 2.5 million unemployed. To show the lack of understanding and feeling and compassion of the Republicans, they're making us waste 30 hours. There are people who are desperate for this money -- desperate. And they're making us wait because that's what the rule of the Senate is.

"Now, I hope the American people understand how callous this is. People are desperate, can't make house payments, car payments, can't pay for kids' food. And they are having us wait for 30 hours after cloture's been invoked. We only need a simple majority to pass this bill now, but they're making us wait. I just can't articulate in strong enough feelings how unfair this is to 2.5 million people.... Every hour that is delayed is more misery for 2.5 million people."

I should also note that, under these same rules, the Senate can't take up any other bills or nominations while waiting for the 30 hours to elapse. In effect, it's like a mini-filibuster that gets tacked on to the failed filibuster.

If Republicans push this to its limit, the Senate won't vote on the extended unemployment benefits until 9 p.m. (ET) this evening.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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VILSACK TO RECONSIDER SHERROD FIRING.... The full video of Shirley Sherrod's remarks to the NAACP in March has been posted, and there is no longer any doubt that she's been treated unfairly. Indeed, far from being offensive, the video is actually quite endearing -- we hear from a Southern, African-American woman overcoming division and racial acrimony to do the right thing, learning a valuable lesson about helping families in need.

Fox News pointed to the truncated video as "Exhibit A" of "what racism looks like." That's backwards -- it's a heart-warming example of someone rising above racism. Her remarks weren't offensive; the right-wing scheme to destroy her is.

Andrew Breitbart's initial claim that the video is "evidence of racism" is the exact opposite of reality. The only way to smear Sherrod is to remove every shred of relevant context, which is exactly what the right-wing Big Government website did. Two days after the edited, misleading clip was pushed onto the national scene, with the intention of destroying Sherrod's credibility, the video has backfired -- destroying the credibility of those who went on the attack.

The NAACP, which initially endorsed Sherrod's forced resignation on Monday, has since changed its mind. Late yesterday, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous conceded in a statement that his organization was "snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart."

It's time for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to acknowledge he made the same mistake. As of this morning, he's at least willing to do what he should have done Monday -- take a closer look at the facts.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday he will reconsider the department's decision to oust a black employee over racially tinged remarks after learning more about what she said.

Vilsack issued a short statement early Wednesday morning.... "I am of course willing and will conduct a thorough review and consider additional facts to ensure to the American people we are providing services in a fair and equitable manner," Vilsack said.

Look, there's an obvious path for the secretary to follow here. Vilsack made a mistake when he fell for a right-wing con. It happens. The Agriculture Department has an unfortunate history when it comes to race and discrimination, and in his drive to improve the agency, Vilsack overreacted, not realizing just how deceptive conservative smear campaigns can be.

It's a forgivable offense -- if the secretary puts things right quickly, acknowledges his error, and begs Sherrod to come back to work.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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July 20, 2010

TUESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Another possible option in the Gulf: "The federal government's spill chief is considering whether to pump heavy mud and cement through BP's experimental well cap that's keeping oil from the Gulf of Mexico. Retired U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen says Tuesday that the procedure would make it easier to complete the permanent fix of plugging the oil from the bottom of the blown out well because the oil would be smashed in from two directions."

* And what about that seepage? Officials apparently believe it's coming from a different well.

* The Senate voted 60 to 40 today to end a Republican filibuster of extended unemployment benefits. Two Republicans -- Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe -- sided with the majority, while one Democrat -- Nebraska's Ben Nelson -- fought to prevent a vote on the legislation.

* If only there were 60 votes for aid to states: "Since the start of the recession, at least 25 states and the District of Columbia have curtailed programs that include meal deliveries, housekeeping aid and assistance for family caregivers, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research organization. That threatens to reverse a long-term trend of enabling people to stay in their homes longer."

* Under the circumstances, this seems more than fair: "Senior Democrats on the [House Energy and Commerce Committee] -- Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) -- used a hearing on the Interior Department's role [in the BP oil spill] to trace the disaster back to former Vice President Dick Cheney's energy policy task force."

* When Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) says the White House has never called him, he's not telling the truth.

* Harold Pollack on HIV policy: "[Last] Tuesday, the Obama administration released its National HIV/AIDS Strategy. It's imperfect, but its authors should be proud. Whatever criticisms one may have of this administration, its policy analysts are allowed to discuss serious problems as mature adults, with a minimum of the embarrassing oversimplification, euphemism, or blatant political shading. In areas such as HIV and drug policy, this is refreshing."

* In our reality, congressional Republicans have fought for weeks to oppose extended aid to the jobless. In Rep. Steve King's (R-Iowa) reality, accurate observations are "crazy."

* This clearly isn't a great time to be a recent law school graduate.

* I have to admit, I find the ongoing conservative hyperventilating about the now-defunct Journolist pretty amusing. If folks were talking about signing their names to an open letter -- a letter I signed, by the way -- then maybe it wasn't a secret plot?

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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THE CIRCUMSTANCES BEHIND SHERROD'S OUSTER.... We talked earlier about the latest Breitbart/Big Government clip, which may have forced the resignation of a capable administration official who did nothing wrong. There's been some interesting discussion this afternoon about all the blame that can be spread around.

To quickly review, a video from the right-wing website shows USDA official Shirley Sherrod, who has been the director of regional development in Georgia, talking to the NAACP about an instance in which she didn't work as hard as she should have for a white farmer because she was "struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farm land." What the clip didn't show was that Sherrod was talking about an incident from 24 years ago -- long before she joined the USDA -- in which she eventually worked with that farmer to help ward off foreclosure of his farm.

While there's been ample criticism of Breitbart/Big Government for releasing the misleading video, in some circles, there's been nearly as much criticism of the Obama administration. After all, Sherrod said today that she was forced to step down from her post after receiving "at least three calls telling me the White House wanted me to resign."

The point, obviously, is that the administration shouldn't act too hastily in response to some right-wing hatchet job. It's understandable that officials would be concerned about some new media "scandal" -- one probably intended to generate racial tensions in advance of the midterm elections -- but it's preferable to get the facts first.

This afternoon, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose department oversees the USDA, said he's the one who made the decision -- the White House didn't pressure Vilsack or Sherrod. From the cabinet secretary's statement:

"Yesterday, I asked for and accepted Ms. Sherrod's resignation for two reasons. First, for the past 18 months, we have been working to turn the page on the sordid civil rights record at USDA and this controversy could make it more difficult to move forward on correcting injustices. Second, state rural development directors make many decisions and are often called to use their discretion. The controversy surrounding her comments would create situations where her decisions, rightly or wrongly, would be called into question making it difficult for her to bring jobs to Georgia.

"Our policy is clear. There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA and we strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person. We have a duty to ensure that when we provide services to the American people we do so in an equitable manner. But equally important is our duty to instill confidence in the American people that we are fair service providers."

That's fine, but I'm left with two questions:

1. The next time a right-wing website releases a video like this, can skepticism please rule the day until all the facts are out?

2. Since Sherrod didn't do what she was accused of, can Vilsack re-hire her for the job?

Steve Benen 4:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (66)

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THE 'FAMILY VALUES' PARTY.... In Louisiana, retired state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor launched an unexpected primary campaign against Sen. David Vitter (R) recently, citing concerns about Vitter's character. That seemed like a sound rationale -- Vitter ran on a "family values" platform, and then got caught with prostitutes. Vitter also paid a violent criminal to oversee women's issues for his Senate office, despite the aide having attacked his ex-girlfriend with a knife.

As Traylor conceded, the issue wasn't ideological -- both he and Vitter are very far to the right -- but was based instead on integrity. Traylor would have the moral high ground, the argument went, while Vitter wouldn't.

So much for that idea.

Traylor has his own ethical questions that could threaten the upstanding image his campaign has opted to present. They include ... his complicated romantic history, including allegations of affairs with two married women.

As sleaze goes, this gets pretty ugly, even for the right-wing. According to the allegations, Traylor got involved with a married woman, whom he later married after her divorce. When she later died, Traylor began another affair with the wife of his stepson.

As Justin Elliott summarized, "Louisiana Republicans are facing a choice between a family values incumbent who solicited prostitutes and a family values challenger who is currently sleeping with his stepson's estranged wife."

And did I mention that Traylor considers himself a Christian conservative, whose most notable accomplishment was "protecting traditional marriage" in Louisiana?

Of the two, I suppose one has to give the edge to Traylor -- his sexual escapades are bizarre, but at least they're not illegal, as was the case with Vitter and his prostitutes. But the details of both are a reminder that when Republicans claim to be the party of "family values" and the arbiters of morality, there's no reason the public should take this seriously.

Steve Benen 3:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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REPUBLICANS JUST DON'T LIKE THE UNEMPLOYED, CONT'D.... Just yesterday, President Obama spoke on the importance of unemployment benefits, and the misguided Republican argument that jobless Americans choose to stay that way -- on purpose -- because they're receiving benefits.

"That attitude I think reflects a lack of faith in the American people, because the Americans I hear from in letters and meet in town hall meetings ... they're not looking for a handout," Obama said. "They desperately want to work. Just right now they can't find a job. These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who've fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm."

But Republicans keep making the argument anyway. Sharron Angle, the extremist Senate candidate in Nevada, has already pushed this line, calling the unemployed "spoiled." Greg Sargent reports this afternoon on two more GOP Senate candidates making the same case. Here's Ron Johnson, the right-wing Republican taking on Russ Feingold in Wisconsin...

"When you continue to extend unemployment benefits, people really don't have the incentive to go take other jobs. They'll just wait the system out until their benefits run out, then they'll go out and take, probably not as high paying jobs as they'd like to take, but that's really how you have to get back to work."

...and here's Sen. Richard Burr (R), seeking a second term in North Carolina:

"The wrong thing to do is to automatically today extend unemployment for 12 months. I think that's a discouragement to individuals that are out there to actually go out and go through the interviews."

It's not just Senate candidates -- a couple of weeks ago, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett (R), the frontrunner in this year's gubernatorial race, argued that jobless Americans choose not to work. "The jobs are there," Corbett said in a state facing unemployment levels at a 26-year high. "But if we keep extending unemployment, people are just going to sit there."

Look, if Republicans want to make the case that the deficit is more important than the plight of the unemployed, fine. It's a debate they'll lose, but at least it's something to talk about.

But this notion, pushed by Republicans for months, that jobless aid creates a disincentive for people to work, is misguided.

Yes, I can appreciate the fact that an unemployed worker who's exhausted his/her benefits will be more desperate to take any job than an unemployed worker who's still receiving public aid. But this dynamic matters a whole lot more when there are plenty of job opportunities for those who want them. That's just not the current reality -- we're in the midst of an employment crisis, and there are five applicants for every job opening.

For leading GOP officials and candidates to keep arguing that joblessness is something people choose shows a striking detachment from the lives of real people.

I don't know what the unemployed did to offend the Republican Party this much, but I can only hope the GOP gets over it.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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KAGAN ADVANCES -- WITH GRAHAM'S BACKING.... There wasn't any doubt that the Senate Judiciary Committee would approve Solicitor General Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court today. There was interest, however, in how the vote would go.

The committee endorsed Kagan on a 13-to-6 vote, with every Democrat supporting the nominee. The surprise came when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), joined with the majority.

The South Carolina conservative delivered a fairly lengthy speech on the nomination, and conceded he could think of "100 reasons" to oppose Kagan. But he would back her anyway, because of her qualifications and character. "At the end of the day, after the hearing, it was not a hard decision for me to make," Graham explained.

As for what's next for Kagan, her nomination now heads to the Senate floor, where final confirmation is expected before members break for their summer recess.

But what's next for Graham? Chris Cillizza noted today that his support for Kagan "is likely to further incite conservatives already unhappy with him and, according to close observers of the state's politics, ensures he will face a serious primary challenge in 2014."

Graham's apostasy on Kagan comes after other high profile breaks with conservatives in his state (and nationally) over climate change and immigration reform and will likely make him a central target of those tea party Republicans who helped oust Utah Sen. Bob Bennett in his bid for renomination earlier this year.

"It's no longer a question of 'if' but 'who' and 'how many'," said one South Carolina Republican operative about a Graham primary challenge. The source added that Graham's approach on high profile issues of late is "putting Lindsey's friends and supporters in a really tough place."

Richard Quinn, a Graham consultant, defended his client -- noting that the Senator is "not a demagogue." Added Quinn: "He's a thinking person's conservative. I expect him to do well among voters with IQ's in triple digits."

It seems that when Democrats make remarks like these -- the right may not like Candidate A, but smart voters will -- cries of "elitism" are hard to avoid. (Imagine what the media would do if David Axelrod said today that he expects President Obama to do well in 2012 "among voters with IQ's in triple digits.") I guess Republicans can get away with it more easily?

But putting that aside, I still find the right's outrage over Graham to be pretty silly. He's voting for a qualified Supreme Court nominee? The horror! Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed on a 96 to 3 vote when her nomination was sent to the floor. How many of those Republicans were threatened with primary challenges because of it?

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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MEET SHIRLEY SHERROD.... It looked like Breitbart and the Big Government website had gotten the goods on another one of their enemies. But as is often the case, there's more to this one than meets the eye.

The story involves USDA official Shirley Sherrod, the director of regional development in Georgia. She spoke recently at an NAACP event, and Big Government posted a portion of her remarks. As far as the far-right site is concerned, Sherrod "admitted" that she's used her "federally appointed position" to "discriminate against people due to their race."

At first blush, the allegations almost seem fair. The video shows Sherrod talking about a deliberate decision not to help a white farmer because she was "struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farm land."

Obviously, we can't have administration officials engaged in this kind of behavior, so Sherrod was forced to resign -- a decision initially endorsed by the NAACP, which called Sherrod's remarks "shameful."*

You can probably tell there's a "but" coming. In this case, the conservative Big Government site showed the part of the speech it wanted people to see, and Fox News to air.

Jay Bookman notes today that there's relevant information and context Breitbart's project didn't offer.

...Sherrod said what online viewers weren't told in reports posted throughout the day Monday was that the tale she told at the banquet happened 24 years ago -- before she got the USDA job -- when she worked with the Georgia field office for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund.

Sherrod said the short video clip excluded the breadth of the story about how she eventually worked with the man over a two-year period to help ward off foreclosure of his farm, and how she eventually became friends with the farmer and his wife.

"And I went on to work with many more white farmers," she said. "The story helped me realize that race is not the issue, it's about the people who have and the people who don't. When I speak to groups, I try to speak about getting beyond the issue of race."

In fact, as it turns out, Sherrod worked so hard to help that white farmer and his family they consider her a "friend for life."

Somehow, this didn't make the cut in the Big Government clip. The far-right site has the entire video, but only released the part that served the right's purposes.

And in this case, the right's purposes are trying to spur racial animosity, taking the remarks of an African-American American official to the NAACP and removing the context, all in the hopes of generating white resentment.

The anti-ACORN crusade -- and its creative editing -- should have been the first clue that right-wing video clips released by Breitbart and Big Government may not be what they seem to be. Shirley Sherrod offers another painful reminder.

* Update: Today, the NAACP walked back yesterday's criticism, and is reportedly investigating the matter.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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CRIST ISN'T DONE EVOLVING.... It's been kind of fun watching Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (I) try on different personas. When launching his Senate campaign, Crist was a moderate Republican and the favorite to win in November. When GOP voters decided they hate moderates, Crist tried, awkwardly, to move to the right. Now he's an independent, and Crist is leading once more.

Indeed, there's some evidence to suggest the governor is practically running as a Democrat.

Mr. Crist this year vetoed an education bill and an abortion bill sent to him by the legislature, which won him praise from many teachers and liberal women's groups. Now, in calling a special legislative session to discuss a state-constitution ban on oil drilling in state waters, he is gambling that voters will see him as protecting Florida's tourism industry in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill. [...]

Despite pledging as a Republican to help repeal President Obama's health-care overhaul, Mr. Crist now says he does not support such a move. He has long called himself "pro-life," doing so even in the interview last week. He is now quick to add that while he personally opposes abortion, he would not seek to overturn Roe v. Wade and supports abortion rights.

He came out last year in opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, but now says that he "probably" took that position because he felt pressure from the GOP primary. Asked if he felt differently now, he said: "Perhaps."

Jon Chait makes the point that Crist's shameless approach to transactional politics is "refreshing" -- the governor is adapting to changing circumstances, positioning himself to win, and doesn't bother to maintain the pretense of principled consistency. There's something to be said for that.

But also note, as Florida's Democratic Senate candidates so far struggle to break through, Crist is filling the void -- not being shy about running as a de facto Dem. That includes increasing praise for the Obama administration and Democratic candidates in Florida, but it also means reaching out to labor and hiring Democratic aides.

When Crist left the GOP, I expected him to falter without the backing of a political party. What I didn't realize is that he would get institutional support -- it's just Democratic support. For Crist, it means a coalition that can help him cross the finish line. For Florida Dems, it means beating Rubio and, quite possibly, getting another independent senator who'll caucus with Democrats in 2011.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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TUESDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* It took longer than expected, but state lawmakers in West Virginia approved a measure yesterday to allow for a special election this year, allowing voters to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd's (D) vacancy. A deal was struck when Republicans demanded that a sitting U.S. House member -- in this case, Shelley Moore Capito, believed to be the leading GOP candidate for the Senate race -- can run for re-election and in the special election at the same time.

* And in related news, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D), as expected, announced this morning that he's running to fill Byrd's vacancy.

* Voters in Georgia will head to the polls today, with both parties holding gubernatorial primaries. Among Dems, former Gov. Roy Barnes is favored to defeat state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, and among Republicans, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel is leading a multi-candidate field, and may be forced into an Aug. 10 runoff.

* In Florida, a new survey from Public Policy Polling shows Gov. Charlie Crist (I) leading in the Senate race with 35% support. Marco Rubio (R) is second with 29%, followed by Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) with 17%. Libertarian Alex Snitker is a distant fourth with 4%. The results are largely unchanged from a similar poll taken in March.

* Scott McInnis, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Colorado mired in a plagiarism scandal, made his first public appearance yesterday since the controversy erupted last week. He vowed not to end his campaign: "These boots are made for walking, and I'm ready to fight."

* In Idaho, Rep. Walt Minnick, easily Congress' most conservative Democrat, received an endorsement from the Tea Party Express a few weeks ago. Yesterday, citing concerns over racism, Minnick said he no longer accepts the support.

* In Arkansas, a poll commissioned by Arkansas-based Talk Business shows incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) trailing Rep. John Boozman (R) badly in this year's Senate race, 57% to 32%.

* The same poll shows Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) leading challenger Jim Keet (R), 49.5% to 40.5%.

* And former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) tends to avoid "establishment" Republican candidates, giving her endorsement to more right-wing challengers, except in Iowa and New Hampshire. I wonder why that is.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (10)

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GENERIC BALLOT, CAVEAT EMPTOR.... In late May, Gallup's generic congressional ballot, pulled together from daily tracking data, showed Republicans with one of their biggest leads over Democrats ever, 49% to 43%. Loyal Bushie Peter Wehner, among other Republicans in media, was overjoyed, and used the results as clear evidence that the "political noose continues to tighten around the necks of Democrats."

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Not quite two months later, Gallup's new generic congressional ballot shows the mirror opposite. As of now, it's Democrats who are leading, 49% to 43%. As the pollster noted, it's "the first statistically significant lead for that party's candidates since Gallup began weekly tracking of this measure in March."

I suspect a poll like this will be a morale booster at DNC headquarters, but I'd caution against taking any of these results too seriously.

Looking at that Gallup chart, the trends appear pretty erratic, and don't seem to reflect any meaningful rationale. Wehrer's misplaced excitement notwithstanding, there was no real reason for Republicans to have jumped out to a six-point edge in late May, just as there's no real reason to think there's been a 12-point shift in Democrats' direction in less than two months.

Sure, Republicans haven't had a great summer thus far -- Joe Barton's apology to BP got the ball rolling in Dems' favor lately -- but I'd be surprised if that explains the jump in the Gallup results. If so, every generic-ballot poll would start to show a similar shift.

For that matter, not everything in the Gallup data was good news for Democrats. The poll found the "enthusiasm gap" getting worse for Democrats, with 51% of Republicans saying they are "very enthusiastic" about voting this year, the highest number in months. In a midterm cycle like this one, enthusiasm may mean the difference between majority status and minority status.

My advice, for what it's worth: no one should get too excited something like this. Wehner shouldn't celebrate when the GOP is up six, and he shouldn't contemplate jumping out the window when Democrats are up six.

It's one poll, and an erratic one at that. The Gallup numbers could be the result of the unemployment fight, the Wall Street reform vote, and the recent Republican controversies, or they could just as easily be statistical noise.

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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NO WONDER FOX NEWS VIEWERS ARE SO CONFUSED.... If reducing the federal budget deficit is one's top goal -- and in a weak economy, it shouldn't be -- the solution is hardly a secret, at least in the general sense. The government will need some combination of tax increases and spending cuts to help close the gap.

If you're a "business expert" for Fox News, however, you have a slightly different understanding of reality. The perpetually-confused Stuart Varney was on "Fox & Friends" this morning, talking about how awful it would be to extend unemployment benefits, because aid to jobless Americans would be added to the deficit.

In the next breath, Varney was outraged by the notion that Bush's tax cuts would expire next year. Democrats, Varney insisted, are going to "swell the deficit" in the coming years by "raising taxes ... which increases the deficit."

First, Democrats aren't "raising taxes," so much as they're following the Republican plan to let breaks for the wealthy expire on schedule. If Varney doesn't like it, he should blame the GOP for coming up with this tax scheme in the first place.

Second, if Fox News' "business expert" seriously believes the deficit goes up when tax rates increase, he's in the wrong profession. It's sheer nonsense, and a reminder of why a) Stuart Varney is something of an embarrassment to himself; and b) Fox News viewers struggle so badly with current events. An audience bombarded with incoherent propaganda is bound to get confused.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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GOP JUST CAN'T QUIT BUSH.... The notion that Democrats would gain traction this year by tying Republican candidates to George W. Bush's failed presidency has always seemed implausible to me. The GOP's lack of popularity still stems from the previous administration's catastrophes, but it seems challenging, at best, to keep connecting the party to Bush two years later.

Fortunately for Democrats, Republicans are making it easier. In recent months, leading GOP candidates and officials have made no real effort to hide the fact that the Republican agenda in 2010 is effectively identical to the agenda of Bush/Cheney. They're even praising the failed administration while embracing its policy ideas.

This culminated over the weekend with National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) suggesting on "Meet the Press" that his party wants to "go back to the exact same agenda" they pursued during the Bush/Cheney years. A day later, the DNC put together this video, highlighting not only Sessions' remarks, but the consequences of a return to policies we already know don't work.

"Republican candidates should expect to see this ad on a television station near them this fall,"a DNC official told Greg Sargent. "Republicans have given us an opening to tie them back to Bush and have also helped us frame this election as a choice -- between Obama and Bush."

I don't doubt that Democrats face a very challenging cycle, and have every reason to be nervous, but the easier Republicans make it to tie them to George W. Bush, the better off Dems will be.

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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ZEALOTS FIND FAN CLUB IN U.S. HOUSE.... Just what Congress needed, another right-wing fan club made up of House Republicans.

The House Administration Committee on Friday officially approved Rep. Michele Bachmann's request to form the House Tea Party Caucus, the Minnesota Republican announced on Facebook and Twitter on Monday.

The tea party protest mainstay, who found out about the confirmation Monday, now becomes the chairwoman of the caucus, institutionalizing the movement that has been gaining significant steam in tax day protests and GOP primaries around the country.

"She's excited to get the ball rolling," Bachmann spokesman Dave Dziok said. "The next step will be getting Members on board."

There's already been some success on this front. Yesterday, Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) was asked if he'd join Bachmann's group. "You betcha," he said.

Will the rest of the GOP leadership, which wasn't notified in advance of Bachmann's plan, also join? At this point, it's less than clear. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he doesn't join any of the various caucuses, and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and his chief deputy, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), are on record as "undecided" about Bachmann's club.

Indeed, it's hardly a stretch to think GOP lawmakers may struggle, at least a little, with the decision of whether to be associated with the House Tea Party Caucus.

Indeed, the tea party movement is a loaded political weapon for Republicans heading into the midterm elections.

Until now, they have had the luxury of enjoying the benefits of tea party enthusiasm without having to actually declare membership. But now that Bachmann has brought the tea party inside the Capitol, House Republican leaders and rank-and-file members may have to choose whether to join the institutionalized movement.

It's probably a harder question now than it would have been a year ago. As more Americans have had a chance to get a better look at this so-called "movement," Tea Partiers have become more closely associated with extremism, and in some cases, even racism. Republicans have been thrilled to take advantage of the passion and enthusiasm of the confused, unhinged activists -- the overlap between Tea Partiers and the GOP base is overwhelming -- but taking the next step and officially joining a caucus tied to radicalism may prove to be more difficult for some.

But then there's the flip side -- what happens when the activists start considering membership in Bachmann's club something of a litmus test? What will reluctant GOP House members do when they're told by Tea Partiers, "Join the House Tea Party Caucus or you'll be ineligible for our endorsement"?

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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SENATE POISED TO EXTEND JOBLESS BENEFITS.... Last month, Senate Democrats tried three times to pass extended unemployment benefits, and in each instance, Republicans (and Ben Nelson) refused to allow the Senate to vote on the measure. If all goes according to plan, the fourth time will be the charm this afternoon.

Around 2 p.m. (ET), Carte Goodwin will be sworn in to temporarily fill the vacancy left by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D), bringing the Senate Democratic caucus to 59 members. Literally minutes later, the leadership will bring the unemployment bill to the floor. With Maine's Olympia Snowe (R) and Susan Collins (R) set to break ranks, that should leave the majority with the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican obstructionism.

With President Obama raising the heat on the issue yesterday, congressional Republicans spent the afternoon insisting they'd just love to extend aid to jobless Americans, just as soon as Democrats offset the costs elsewhere.

"The president knows that Republicans support extending unemployment insurance, and doing it in a fiscally responsible way by cutting spending elsewhere in the $3 trillion federal budget," Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said in a statement Monday. "At a time of record debt and deficits made worse by Washington Democrats' massive spending spree, that's the right thing to do and the right way to do it."

Of course, Republicans have spent the last few weeks arguing that hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy don't have to be paid for, so the GOP requirement that $33 billion in aid for jobless Americans be offset with cuts elsewhere seems a little silly.

But it's also worth keeping in mind that what Boehner and his cohorts are demanding has no modern precedent. In recent decades, extended unemployment benefits have either been considered emergency spending, and therefore added to the deficit, or offset with tax increases. Arthur Delaney did a nice job digging up the details:

...Congress has, in fact, offset the cost of unemployment benefits -- but Congress has never substantially cut spending elsewhere in the budget to fully pay for them as Republicans now want to do.

For instance: In 1991, the elder President Bush signed a bill for 13 additional weeks of jobless benefits at a cost of $5.5 billion, fully offset with tax hikes. The New York Times reported at the time that the extension would be "financed through changes in the tax law that will require higher corporate estimated tax payments, increased taxes on lump-sum pension distributions and a one-year elimination of the personal exemption for high-income taxpayers."

It's almost amusing to think how much more conservative Republicans are now than in 1991, when such a deal was still possible.

Also note, we're already in unprecedented territory: "Congress has never allowed extended unemployment benefits to lapse at a time when the national unemployment rate is above 7.2 percent."

Sixty senators should put things right in about six hours.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (19)

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July 19, 2010

MONDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Uncertainty in the Gulf: "A pressure test of BP's undersea well that has kept fresh oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico will be allowed to continue for another day, despite concerns about potential new problems near the well, the government official overseeing the spill response said Monday."

* Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told reporters there are leaks, but they're not a major concern yet. As for the seepage, Allen believes it may be unrelated to the wellhead.

* Iraq: "Two suicide bombings targeting members of local guard forces killed at least 48 people Sunday and heightened concern about the future of the groups as the number of U.S. troops in the country is reduced."

* A fascinating Washington Post report: "The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work." Plenty of good analysis on this today.

* Sixteen "notable economists and historians have joined in a consensus statement" to endorse additional government stimulus. Good advice.

* Glenn Beck's friends at Goldline may be facing some legal trouble.

* Looks like the White House signing ceremony on Wall Street reform will be on Wednesday.

* Bradford Plumer takes a look at where things stand on the energy/climate bill, and whether the bill would still be worthwhile if it lacks cap-and-trade.

* It's hard to feel sorry for CEOs who get "everything they want, yet still they whine."

* Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) knows exactly where to turn for a 10-minute interview that ignores all of his recent controversies. (I'll give you a hint: it rhymes with Rox Snooze.)

* I'm delighted the United Nations ignored congressional Republicans and extended accreditation to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

* Sounds right: "If students aren’t ready for life after high school, provide them with what they need to get there. Perhaps equally important, if they’re ready for college, they can just go there."

* Leading Tea Party activist Mark Williams has apparently been deemed a little too racist for his own right-wing "movement."

* The FBI worked with a company called Blogetery over the weekend to shut down some servers after officials found al Qaeda materials, child pornography, bomb-making tips, and a list of Americans appearing on a "hit list." Tea Party Nation was outraged, and suggested this might a "dry run" for the government shutting down websites "critical of the [Obama] regime." The hysterical paranoia just never ends.

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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WHEN TRENT LOTT IS THE VOICE OF REASON.... As much of the Republican Party is prepared to keep moving to the far-right, we talked over the weekend about whether the GOP still has any grown-ups left to temper the demands of extremists. As it happens, there are Republicans willing to argue that the Tea Party crowd and its allies on the Hill are over the top, but they tend to be those who no longer worry about re-election.

Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), now a D.C. lobbyist, warned that a robust bloc of rabble-rousers spells further Senate dysfunction. "We don't need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples," Lott said in an interview. "As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them."

But Lott said he's not expecting a tea-party sweep. "I still have faith in the visceral judgment of the American people," he said.

This apparently isn't going over well in right-wing circles.

The Club for Growth waded into the debate over the Tea Party on Monday, knocking former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) for comments he made disparaging anti-establishment candidates. [...]

"To paraphrase the former Leader himself, if recent Senates had had more Jim DeMints and fewer Trent Lotts making economic policy, 'we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years,'" he said.

While this back and forth is of some interest in its own right, the point that I take away from this is that Trent Lott -- yes, Trent Lott -- has suddenly become a voice of reason in Republican Party politics in 2010. That's not a sentence I ever expected to type.

I'm reminded of a study Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson did some years back, comparing congressional Republicans of different eras. They found that Republican lawmakers in 2003 were 73% more conservative than the median GOP member of the early '70s.

Seven years later, Trent Lott is getting slammed by right-wing leaders for being too moderate.

Something to remember the next time the David Broders of the world insist the political process would be much better off if Democrats simply worked in good faith with Republicans to find moderate solutions to national problems. The last three GOP Senate Majority Leaders -- Dole, Frist, and Lott -- have all been deemed wholly unacceptable to the Republican base, and the base is calling the shots.

Steve Benen 4:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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DODD CONCERNED ABOUT WARREN OVERCOMING OBSTRUCTIONISM.... By most measures, Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren seems like the obvious choice to lead the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Agency. The bureau itself almost certainly wouldn't exist were it not for Warren's work, and by most accounts, she's the one who proposed creating the office in the first place.

White House senior adviser David Axelrod told reporters the other day that Warren, currently the leading watchdog of the financial industry bailout, is "a great, great champion for consumers," adding that she's "obviously a candidate to lead this effort" at the CFPA.

This isn't to say there aren't other qualified candidates, but Warren appears to be in a class of her own. So, what's the problem? There have been widespread rumors about Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner raising concerns, but today, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) suggested there's a more obvious impediment.

Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said he sensed rumblings among colleagues that Warren, the chairwoman of the panel overseeing the 2008 Wall Street bailout program, might not get the 60 votes necessary to win confirmation.

"I think Elizabeth would be a terrific nominee," Dodd told NPR's Diane Rehm on Monday. "The question is, 'Is she confirmable?' And there's a serious question about it."

"The question is, can we get someone who is confirmable? She may be, but that's not the only potential nominee -- there are many fine nominees," he said.

Just so we're clear, in a 59-41 Senate, with the White House's party in the majority, the president may be discouraged from nominating the most qualified choice to lead a key consumer protection agency because conservative senators probably won't let her have an up-or-down vote.

Perhaps now would be a good time to mention that this is no way to run a government.

Steve Benen 3:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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THE ELECTORATE.... Paul Krugman's NYT column today is an important one, which raises several points that haven't received significant attention from major media outlets. In particular, he predicts that if the midterm elections go very badly for Democrats, "the usual suspects will say that it was because Mr. Obama was too liberal," which would be both foolish and wrong.

And while it's hardly the most important point, Krugman also noted that policy issues don't seem to matter to voters, "in part because voters are often deeply ill informed." The column left the public off easy: "There's no point berating voters for their ignorance: people have bills to pay and children to raise, and most don't spend their free time studying fact sheets. Instead, they react to what they see in their own lives and the lives of people they know."

Isaac Chotiner is less forgiving.

There are certainly voters who work multiple jobs while feeding multiple children, and probably do not have time to educate themselves about politics. And a number of political issues -- particularly economic issues -- are very hard to understand, even if you do spend time reading up on them.

But when you live in a democracy, there are very few good excuses for not having minimal knowledge about what is going on in the world. How much newspaper reading would it have taken to realize that between 1992 and 1996 the deficit decreased? Or to realize that Saddam did not have a hand in 9/11? Now ask yourself how much time the average American spends watching mediocre television. Voters can choose to be ignorant or disinterested, but that choice is fundamentally their own.

I understand Krugman's point, and for families juggling schedules and struggling to get by, I imagine it's incredibly difficult to keep up with the details of current events.

But in general, I'm more persuaded by Chotiner's take. The political system relies heavily on an informed electorate, and the more voters are uninformed, the more our democracy suffers.

And when I say "suffers," I don't just mean voters rewarding the wrong candidates or parties; I mean the entire political process is undermined. When voters are ignorant, candidates are more likely to lie, confident in their ability to get away with it. When the electorate is disengaged, policymakers feel less pressure to exercise good judgment, knowing they can just pull the wool over the public's eyes later.

I'm obviously engaged in politics, and if you're reading this, you are too. Not everyone shares our interests, and that's fine. For that matter, most people have hectic daily lives, and don't have time to read eight newspapers a day. That's fine, too.

But many Americans make time for the things they find important. They spent time watching sports, or keeping up on celebrities, or whatever. And while it would be the height of arrogance to suggest the public change its leisure habits, our political system relies on a certain level of sophistication among the public, and there's ample evidence that we're just not at that level.

In human history, it's never been easier to get -- and stay -- well informed. Folks just have to take some responsibility. If they don't, the result can be a dysfunctional democracy.

As Digby put it a while back, "We simply cannot adequately govern ourselves if a large number of us are dumb as posts and vote for reasons that make no sense."

Steve Benen 3:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (54)

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WHY WON'T FOX NEWS AIR A VETERANS' GROUP'S AD?.... As ads on energy/climate go, the new one from VoteVets, a progressive organization founded by veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a little harder hitting than most.

The spot features commentary from retired Brigadier Gen. Steven Anderson, who was the chief of logistics for U.S. forces in Iraq under Gen. Petraeus, and who is now urging the Senate to pass a clean energy plan.

In the ad, Anderson tells viewers, "[B]reaking our addiction [to foreign oil] must not only be a military priority, but America's mission, and why the Senate needs to pass a clean energy climate plan. It'll put Americans to work developing new energy technologies that'll save lives overseas, make us less dependent and more secure.... It's time for our senators to choose: Pass a clean energy climate plan that makes us more secure, or let America keep paying the price."

It's a powerful argument from a compelling figure, and VoteVets is reportedly spending a half-million dollars to run the minute-long ad on national cable networks.

But not Fox News. CNN and MSNBC began airing the commercial today, but the Republican network has rejected the ad without explanation.

If this sounds familiar, it's because it's happened before. In May, VoteVets put together a similar ad, which Fox News deemed "too confusing" for its audience.

It also seems to fit into a pattern. A few years ago, the Center for Constitutional Rights tried to buy an ad criticizing torture, but Fox News refused to air it. Bill O'Reilly soon after insisted the ad was "anti-American."

In 2005, Fox News also refused to accept an ad criticizing then-Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. And in 2006, Fox News was one of several networks to reject an ad from the United Church of Christ that told viewers, "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."

The rejected ads have something in common -- a progressive message that Fox News would prefer its viewers not be exposed to.

Steve Benen 2:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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GOP BLASTS DEMS FOR STICKING TO A REPUBLICAN PLAN.... As bad as the Republicans' "Tax Fairy" nonsense is, the notion that a "Democrat [sic] tax hike" is on the way is every bit as absurd, and arguably even more dishonest.

Chances are, you haven't heard about a Democratic plan to raise taxes on "every" American -- including those in the middle class -- probably because such a proposal doesn't exist. But Republicans, including Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, is pushing nonsense in the hopes voters won't look too closely and notice his shameless dishonesty.

The pitch is simple: if the massive, reckless Bush tax cuts expire as planned, taxpayers will go back to the rates they paid in the 1990s (when the economy was strong and the deficit was nonexistent). Since Democrats don't plan to maintain Bush's failed tax policies, Republicans are arguing that Dems are necessarily planning to raise everyone's taxes.

There are, of course, two problems here. The first is that Democrats plan to keep some, and perhaps even all, of the existing tax rates, a detail the GOP is pretending to ignore. The second is that Democrats, if they were to allow the lower rates to expire, would simply be following the policies set out by Republicans. Ezra Klein had a good item on this today.

To understand what's going on here, you need to go back 10 years to the passage of the Bush tax cuts. In order to maximize the size of the cuts, Republicans had to minimize the influence of minority Democrats on the package. So they chose to run the bill through the reconciliation process.

But that posed some challenges. Budget reconciliation had never been used to increase the deficit. In fact, it specifically existed to decrease the deficit. That's why one of its rules was that you couldn't use it to increase the deficit outside the budget window. Republicans realized they could take that very literally: The budget window was 10 years. So if the tax cuts expired after 10 years, they wouldn't increase the deficit outside the budget window. They'd also have the added benefit of appearing less costly in the Congressional Budget Office's estimates, as the CBO duly scored them as expiring after 10 years, which kept the long-range budget picture from exploding.

Exactly. Republicans couldn't address their cuts through honest budgeting, so they played a game -- claiming the cuts would expire, obscuring their cost, and making them eligible for an up-or-down vote. The GOP could have done their due diligence, and found a way to pay for their own policies -- in other words, they could have acted like Democrats who've paid for their major policy initiatives -- but they refused.

Legislatively, it worked; the cuts passed. Economically, it failed -- the robust growth never materialized; job growth was abysmal; and the deficit soared.

So, faced with a budget mess created by Republicans a decade later, Democrats are inclined to follow the Republican policy -- let some of the cuts expire, eventually, just as the GOP's law mandated. This, in turn, will help lower the deficit, which the GOP pretends to care about. Republicans are screaming bloody murder about a "tax increase," but in reality, Democrats aren't raising taxes, so much as they're executing the Republicans' plan and allowing the lower rates on the wealthy to revert back to 1990s levels.

In effect, the GOP is whining incessantly about Democrats following the Republican script too closely. The GOP shouldn't complain -- this was their idea.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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GETTING A LITTLE FIRED UP OVER UNEMPLOYMENT AID.... If all goes according to plan, the Senate will try, for a fourth time, in recent months, to extend unemployment benefits. With the Senate Democratic caucus growing to 59 members tomorrow afternoon, the prospects are relatively strong that it'll pass.

But President Obama nevertheless used his bully pulpit this morning, not only urging senators to do the right thing, but also taking some not-so-veiled shots at those who've been fighting so hard against jobless aid. He stood alongside three Americans who've been struggling and need those benefits.

"For a long time, there's been a tradition -- under both Democratic and Republican Presidents -- to offer relief to the unemployed," he said. "That was certainly the case under my predecessor, when Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits. But right now, these benefits -- benefits that are often a person's sole source of income while they're looking for work -- are in jeopardy."

With the volume of his voice clearly rising, Obama went on to say, "And I have to say, after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn't have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn't offer relief to middle-class Americans like Jim or Leslie or Denise, who really need help."

"The past few weeks, a majority of senators have tried -- not once, not twice, but three times -- to extend emergency relief on a temporary basis. Each time, a partisan minority in the Senate has used parliamentary maneuvers to block a vote, denying millions of people who are out of work much-needed relief."

Responding to one of the GOP talking points, the president went on to say, "These leaders in the Senate who are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job should talk to these folks. That attitude I think reflects a lack of faith in the American people, because the Americans I hear from in letters and meet in town hall meetings -- Americans like Leslie and Jim and Denise -- they're not looking for a handout. They desperately want to work. Just right now they can't find a job. These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who've fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm."

There are multiple reasons for remarks like these. Obviously, the White House hopes to generate some support in advance of tomorrow's vote. But as the presidential remarks helped underscore, the administration also hopes to make abundantly clear which party stands for more aid, and which is inclined to leave struggling families on their own.

Indeed, though Obama seemed reluctant to use the word "Republican," he left no doubt how frustrating it is to see the GOP approve extended aid through deficit financing before, just like Republicans cut taxes and boosted spending through deficit financing, only to see them take a stand now on the backs of the unemployed.

It's a message we're likely to hear again throughout the campaign season.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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MONDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) hoped to see the state legislature approve a new measure over the weekend on holding a special election this year to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd's (D) vacancy. That didn't happen, legislators have adjourned, and no one's sure what will happen next.

* In Colorado, gubernatorial hopeful Scott McInnis (R) is still reeling after his plagiarism scandal, and some of his top staffers are starting to run for the exits.

* On a related note, a SurveyUSA poll of Colorado Republicans found 64% want someone other than McInnis as their gubernatorial nominee. Leading the pack: former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R).

* In Arizona's Republican Senate primary, Sen. John McCain, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, and political newcomer Jim Deakin held two debates in the last three days. In Friday night's event, Hayworth noted, "It's really sad to see John McCain, who should be revered as a statesman, basically reduced to a political shape-shifter. John, you've changed positions so much in this campaign maybe we'll have to set up an extra podium for you depending on which John McCain is going to answer which question." By Saturday, it was perfectly clear that "these two guys really don't like each other."

* In Nevada, the Senate race is getting increasingly interesting, but the gubernatorial race isn't -- the latest Mason-Dixon poll shows Brian Sandoval (R) leading Rory Reid (D), 47% to 36%.

* It's Rasmussen, so take the results with a grain of salt, but the pollster released its latest results in Delaware's Senate race, and it's a little closer than I'd expected. Rep. Mike Castle (R), the heavy favorite, leads New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D) by 11, 47% to 36%.

* And in Nebraska, Democrats will field a gubernatorial candidate after all, with attorney Mike Meister allowing the state party to place his name in nomination at the state Democratic convention next weekend. He'll face incumbent Gov. Dave Heineman (R), who'll be the overwhelming favorite.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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TAX FAIRY WATCH.... Roll Call had a fascinating headline today, following Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) appearance on CNN over the weekend. The headline read: "McConnell Blasts Deficit Spending, Urges Extension of Tax Cuts."

It's part of the newest push in Republican politics -- the notion that tax cuts don't add to the deficit, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, because they pay for themselves. Thirty years ago this was considered "voodoo economics" by even many Republicans, but more recently, it's been labeled belief in the "tax fairy."

Credible economists dismiss the argument as nonsense, but the Republican Party in its entirety doesn't seem to care. Yesterday, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) toed the party line.

"The reality is that as you study -- when President Kennedy cut marginal tax rates, when Ronald Reagan cut marginal tax rates, when President Bush imposed those tax cuts, they actually generated economic growth, they expand the economy, they expand tax revenue," Pence said.

This morning, Florida's GOP Senate hopeful Marco Rubio demanded more tax cuts for the wealthy. When asked how he'd pay for them, he replied:

"Well, the question is they will be paid for because they create economic growth, especially in the long-term."

As a substantive matter, all of this is gibberish. The problem is the ubiquity of the gibberish in GOP circles.

This most recent push started about a week ago with Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) insisting that spending increases need to be paid for, but lawmakers shouldn't even try to pay for tax cuts. California Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina (R) soon followed, declaring, "You don't need to pay for tax cuts. They pay for themselves." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) soon added that Bush's tax cuts, which created huge deficits, actually "increased revenue." Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) agreed that "tax cuts should not have to be offset." A few days later, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) managed to sound even dumber, insisting that $678 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy are "not a cost."

As we talked about last week, these developments have made abundantly clear that conservative Republicans don't care at all about reducing the deficit, but that's really just the beginning of the larger revelation here. By embracing economic nonsense with such enthusiasm, Republicans are also making it painfully obvious that they don't care about reality, either.

Krugman's label -- "invincible ignorance" -- continues to ring true.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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THE STONE AGE.... In 21st century America, we could be investing more in infrastructure, but that's expensive. It's cheaper to simply move away from paved roads.

Paved roads, historical emblems of American achievement, are being torn up across rural America and replaced with gravel or other rough surfaces as counties struggle with tight budgets and dwindling state and federal revenue. State money for local roads was cut in many places amid budget shortfalls.

In Michigan, at least 38 of the 83 counties have converted some asphalt roads to gravel in recent years. Last year, South Dakota turned at least 100 miles of asphalt road surfaces to gravel. Counties in Alabama and Pennsylvania have begun downgrading asphalt roads to cheaper chip-and-seal road, also known as "poor man's pavement." Some counties in Ohio are simply letting roads erode to gravel.

The moves have angered some residents because of the choking dust and windshield-cracking stones that gravel roads can kick up, not to mention the jarring "washboard" effect of driving on rutted gravel.

But higher taxes for road maintenance are equally unpopular.

Of course they are. The WSJ noted one North Dakota resident who voted against a ballot measure to raise taxes to pay for paved roads, right around the time she wrote to the governor, urging him not to allow a major road in her area to be converted into gravel.

Folks want more public services while opposing efforts to pay for them. Imagine that.

As for the bigger picture, public officials looking for stimulative investments in infrastructure don't have to look too hard. I'd personally like see far more spending on rail, but helping communities have paved streets not only seems reasonable, it would also create some jobs and improve local commerce.

If there were 60 votes in the Senate for infrastructure, this might even happen.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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LIE OF THE DAY.... For all of their many faults, the message discipline of Republican lawmakers is a sight to behold. Here's Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on CNN yesterday morning:

"The last year of the Bush administration, the deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product was 3.2 percent, well within the range of what most economists think is manageable. A year and a half later, it's almost 10 percent."

Around the same time, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) said this on NBC:

"You know, in the last year that President Bush was in office, 2008, the deficit was 3.2 percent of the gross domestic product. Today it's 10 percent."

Republicans desperately want Americans to believe Democrats nearly tripled the deficit. Here's the reality: when Bush/Cheney left office, they left behind a $1.3 trillion deficit. We don't yet know exactly what this year's deficit will be, but most estimates point suggest it'll be about $1.4 trillion.

With that in mind, there are a few angles to consider here. First, while there's probably a shortage of calculators in the Republican cloak room, even GOP leaders should understand that going from $1.3 trillion to $1.4 trillion isn't an especially significant increase given the size of the economy and the budget, and it's certainly not a tripling of the deficit as they're suggesting.

Second, despite the fact that Bush is gone, the single biggest factors driving the deficit are Bush/Cheney policies. That's not opinion; it's fact. McConnell and Cornyn may not like it, but reality doesn't care.

And third, Bush, McConnell, and Cornyn added $5 trillion to the debt in eight years. They approved tax cuts, two wars, Medicare expansion, No Child Left Behind, and a massive financial industry bailout -- without even trying to pay for literally any of it. If they think they have credibility on fiscal responsibility, they're out of their minds.

Update: Paul Krugman takes the claim on in more detail, and includes a helpful chart. Take a look.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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HAS THE GOP COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN 2001 TO 2009?.... It was a hard-to-forget treasure from the 2008 presidential campaign -- South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), a leading candidate at the time for the Republican presidential ticket, was asked on CNN to name any differences between George W. Bush and John McCain. He couldn't.

Maybe now would be a good time to start asking Republican congressional candidates the same question.

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) was asked about what Republicans would do with a majority. After struggling badly to think of anything substantive, he eventually said, "We need to go back to the exact same agenda that is empowering the free enterprise system rather than diminish it."

"We need to go back to the exact same agenda." In context, the agenda Sessions seems to want "to go back to" was that of the Bush/Cheney administration and the Republican Congress.

Indeed, GOP leaders are not only urging a return to failed Bush policies, they're even praising the failed former president.

The chairmen of the two Republican campaign committees defended the presidency of George W. Bush in television appearances over the weekend, a preview of the GOP's planned pushback against expected Democratic attacks on the last president.

"People had jobs when Republicans were not only in charge but George Bush was there," said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press".

John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program that "Bush's stock has gone up a lot since he left office," adding: "I think a lot people are looking back with more fondness on President Bush's administration, and I think history will treat him well."

To be sure, we've heard some of this before. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said in April that Bush "will go down as a very, very good president," adding that the former president deserves support from anyone "who is not a rank political hack." Around the same time, former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) was roundly applauded when he praised Bush at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference this month. There's even been some talk in GOP circles of a "Bush Restoration Project."

But Republican committee chairmen like Sessions and Cornyn are supposed to know better. Indeed, the entire campaign is quickly becoming inexplicable.

In recent weeks, we've seen high-profile Republicans urge the party to return to Bush's economic agenda, Bush's Social Security agenda, Bush's tax policies, and Bush's regulatory agenda.

With just four months to go before the midterm elections, Republican candidates seem to seriously believe if we just go back to the policies that failed miserably, and created our current mess(es), we'll all be better off. Dems have been trying to push this argument for months, and for some reason, the GOP now appears intent to help. It seems more than a little risky.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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SHINING A LIGHT ON 'A PRETTY GAUZY AGENDA'.... "Meet the Press" aired an interesting discussion yesterday between the four campaign committee chairmen -- the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate campaign committees -- with host David Gregory raising an increasingly important question.

It's clear what the GOP will say "no" to -- everything Dems want -- but what will they say "yes" to? The responses were important.

Gregory started with NRCC Chair Pete Sessions (R) of Texas, asking what his party would do with a majority. Sessions danced around for a while, talking about the "need to live within our own means." Gregory said it sounded like "a pretty gauzy agenda," and tried again, asking for specifics, and wondering "what painful choices are Republicans prepared to make."

Sessions hemmed and hawed, saying something about entitlement spending and the need to "empower the free enterprise system." Gregory kept asking for some kind of details, and Sessions kept refusing.

The host eventually gave up, and asked NRSC Chairman Jeff Cornyn (R) of Texas if he could offer any specifics. Cornyn said something about waiting for the debt commission to say something.

"But wait a minute," Gregory replied. "Conservatives need a Democratic president's debt commission to figure out what it is they need to cut?" Apparently so; Cornyn didn't have an answer.

This continues to be a problem for the Republican Party. They want power, but don't want to tell anyone why until after they have it. Given the spectacular failures of the last attempts at Republican governing, the GOP is effectively urging voters to take a leap of faith -- give power back to those who screwed up last time, and hope that their well hidden agenda doesn't prove to be too radical and dangerous.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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'REFUDIATING' PALIN'S INANITY.... In some far-right circles, a proposed Muslim community center in Manhattan has become an important -- and ugly -- rallying cry. As is often the case, though, a certain former half-term governor managed to push the matter to new depths.

The proposed facility at issue is called the Cordoba House. Despite some claims to the contrary, it would not be built directly at Ground Zero, but rather, two blocks north. The center would include "a prayer space, a performing arts center, a swimming pool, and other amenities," and has been spearheaded by a longtime local imam, who's committed to fighting radicalism, and considers the building a monument to tolerance and respect. The project was endorsed overwhelmingly by a local community board.

But that was before right-wing activists got involved. The far-right Washington Times argued a Muslim community center may represent "an attempt to hijack the memory of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks," a sentiment endorsed by Liz Cheney's right-wing activist group. A far-right radio host told listeners he hopes "somebody blows it up" if the Cordoba House is built. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is disappointed that, under the First Amendment, the facility cannot legally be blocked.

And yesterday, Sarah Palin, the dumbest person in American public life, decided to stand up for the bigots. Relying once again on Twitter, where there are no follow-up questions, the bizarre Fox News personality said:

Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate

Putting aside the fact that "refudiate" is not a word -- though Palin, who's used the word before, seems convinced that it is -- the message itself is nothing short of pathetic. Mainstream, law-abiding Muslim Americans want to build a community center in Manhattan for other mainstream, law-abiding Muslim Americans. The "heartland" (i.e., "real" Americans) disapproves? "Peaceful Muslims" should denounce their own faith tradition?

Palin then deleted that tweet, and tried again:

Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real

That's an awkward use of the word "refute" -- you can always tell when Palin writes her own missives -- and the argument is still incoherent. The pain is "too raw" for whom? Anti-Muslim bigots who don't want a community center built in Manhattan? Would Palin allow these Americans to build a facility three blocks away? How about four? At what point is it no longer "too real"?

Soon after, Palin, perhaps realizing her argument wasn't going over well, tried once more:

Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing

I'm fairly certain she doesn't understand what "provocation" means. As for whether a community center "stabs hearts," that only makes sense if your principal concern is with the sensibilities of bigots.

Finally, responding to her difficulties with English, Palin conceded that "refudiate" isn't a word, but compared herself to the Bard: "Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!"

In terms of analysis, it's hard to know where to start with such painful, abject stupidity, but it's worth noting Palin's framing of the issue: as she sees it, there's a burden here, and it rests on "peaceful," mainstream, law-abiding Muslim Americans. They've done nothing wrong, but Palin nevertheless expects them to accommodate the ignorance and hatred of the closed-minded by "refudiating" a proposal to build a community center committed to respect, healing, and tolerance.

The implication isn't subtle -- some Muslims want to build the facility in Manhattan, but peaceful Muslims should oppose it. In her twisted little mind, Palin thinks those fighting radicalism deserve our fear and mistrust, while bigots deserve our understanding.

Sarah Palin is a small, sad extremist, who embarrasses herself on a nearly daily basis, but yesterday's display was genuinely pathetic, even for her.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (84)

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July 18, 2010

WHEN THE FRINGE IS THE MAINSTREAM.... Dana Milbank had a very worthwhile column today, noting, among other things, the larger significance of a billboard in Mason City, Iowa.

You're no doubt familiar with it by now. This is the billboard "depicting three leaders: Adolf Hitler (with swastika), Vladimir Lenin (with hammer and sickle) and Barack Obama (with 2008 campaign logo). Over Hitler were the words 'National Socialism,' over Lenin was 'Marxist Socialism' and over Obama was 'Democrat Socialism.'"

The billboard was sponsored by local Tea Party activists, who eventually backpedaled, not because they realized their sign was insane, but because the media coverage made them look bad. The importance is the larger context: "The vile sign ... was a logical expression of a message supported by conservative thought leaders and propagated by high-level Republican politicians."

Quite right. Milbank notes, for example, a recent screed from Thomas Sowell, who equated the Obama presidency with the rise of Hitler. It was quickly touted by a right-wing member of Congress and a certain former half-term governor of Alaska.

These sentiments have long existed on the fringe and always will. The problem is that conservative leaders and Republican politicians, in their blind rage against Obama these last 18 months, invited the epithets of the fringe into the mainstream. [...]

Consider these tallies from Glenn Beck's show on Fox News since Obama's inauguration: 202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, according to transcripts, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels. Most of these were directed in some form at Obama -- as were the majority of the 802 mentions of socialist or socialism on Beck's nightly "report." [...]

Isn't there a grown-up to rein in these backbenchers when they go over the top? Don't ask House Minority Leader John Boehner, the man who would replace Nancy Pelosi as speaker. He accuses the Democrats of "snuffing out the America that I grew up in" and predicts a rebellion unlike anything "since 1776." Boehner also said one Democratic lawmaker "may be a dead man" for his vote on health care and predicted that the bill would bring "Armageddon."

The speed with which conservatives went from zero to hysterical in 2009 was impressive, but it's the mainstreaming of sheer madness that doesn't get the attention it deserves. As Milbank noted, "[A]ccusations that once were beyond the pale -- not just talk of Nazis and Marxists but intimations of tyranny, revolution and bloodshed -- are now routine."

And they're common, not just among fringe media personalities and activists, but with the Republican Party establishment.

It's tempting to think there will be eventually be a Joseph Welch moment, but no one in the party seems willing to step up and acknowledge that Republicans shouldn't follow the orders of unhinged zealots. On the contrary, they're afraid to disappoint the radical base, which may in turn undermine the GOP's "enthusiasm gap" edge.

And so the Republican Party shows no meaningful qualms about becoming the party of conspiracy theories ("Birthers," Gulf oil spill was deliberate), wild-eyed accusations (ACORN, "re-education camps," Gestapo-like security forces, New Black Panther Party), and radical policy positions (a five-year spending freeze to address a global economic crisis, the belief that tax cuts pay for themselves, a freeze on federal regulations, willful ignorance about energy, health, and education policy, the entire Sharron Angle/Rand Paul platform).

Rage and paranoia are not an attractive combination, but they're driving the GOP talking points and the larger political discourse. So, when a member of the Republican leadership talked about the GOP emulating the Taliban, no one in the party deemed this controversial. When Republicans regularly compare U.S. leaders to Germany in the 1930s, the party mainstream barely bats an eye. When GOP policymakers openly discuss the prospect of state nullification of federal laws, no one in the Republican ranks steps up to say, "Good Lord, these people are mad."

Best of all, Republican "leaders" are content to keep it this way. Indeed, it seems to be the centerpiece of the midterm election strategy.

The point isn't that political radicalism is new; it's clearly not. Rather, the key development over the last 18 months is the ways in which right-wing extremism has gone mainstream -- with the consent of the Republican Party, which sees the electoral benefits of blind rage and fear.

That Mason City billboard warned the public that "radical leaders prey on the fearful & naive." On this, the Tea Partiers were far more correct than they probably realize.

Steve Benen 11:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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ODDEST. MEDIA STRATEGY. EVER.... Try as I might, I just don't understand how Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) thinks. Today, the scandal-plagued conservative complained that President Obama, who's personally visited the Gulf Coast four times since the oil spill crisis began in April, hasn't been back to the region in a month.

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace, Vitter said the president is trying move the Gulf oil spill out of the media spotlight by not returning to the region to oversee cleanup operations. The Louisiana senator said that move by Obama was politically motivated.

"I think he has tried to deal with this problem politically by not coming back and moving it off the front page," Vitter said.

I'm trying to understand the logic here. The president visited the region four times as the disaster grew more devastating. Was this part of a White House media strategy to get the story onto the front page?

Obama's last visit to the region was one month ago today, and since that time, Vice President Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, and members of the cabinet have all gone to the Gulf Coast. Is this evidence, in Vitter's mind, of an administration that's deliberately trying to ignore the region?

Thanks to the developments of the last few days, the wellhead is contained, and oil is no longer gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Vitter believes the president visited Maine so there'd be less media coverage of the good news?

If there's a coherence to Vitter's whining, I don't see it.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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A LIKELY SCENARIO IN 2011.... It's hard to say with confidence which party will hold the congressional majority next year, but Paul Krugman noted yesterday that "fake scandals" will be all the rage in the 112th Congress if there's a Republican majority.

[W]e'll be having hearings over accusations of corruption on the part of Michelle Obama's hairdresser, janitors at the Treasury, and Larry Summers's doctor's dog. If you don't believe me, you weren't paying attention during the Clinton years; remember, we had months of hearings over claims that something was fishy in the White House travel office (nothing was).

This may sound hyperbolic. It's not. In the Clinton era, House Republicans held two weeks of hearings investigating the Clintons' Christmas card list, and the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform fired a bullet into a "head-like object" -- reportedly a melon -- in his backyard to test his conspiracy theories about Vince Foster. All told, over the last six years of Bill Clinton's presidency, that same committee unilaterally issued 1,052 subpoenas -- that's not a typo -- to investigate baseless allegations of misconduct. That translates to an average of a politically-inspired subpoena every other day for six consecutive years, including weekends, holidays, and congressional recesses.

It would almost certainly be worse in 2011 and 2012. Indeed, the man positioned to lead the committee -- reformed alleged car thief Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) -- has already said he's inclined to leave "corporate America" alone, so he can attack the White House relentlessly.

For that matter, let's also not forget that some Republicans, including two members of Congress, have raised the specter of presidential impeachment once there's a GOP majority.

But Krugman also flagged this item from John Quiggin, reflecting on another likely scenario in the event of a GOP House majority.

What surprises me is that no-one has drawn the obvious inference as to what will follow, namely a shutdown of the US government.

It seems obvious to me that a shutdown will happen -- the Republicans of today are both more extreme and more disciplined than last time they were in a position to shut down the government, and they did it then. And they hate Obama at least as much now as they hated Clinton in 1995.

Agreed. John Boehner (R-Ohio) has already made some noises about refusing to fund health care programs, and given the party's desperation to please its right-wing base, it stands to reason Republicans would gladly shut down the government as a means towards obstructing the agenda approved in 2009 and 2010.

If I were laying odds, I'd say the chances of a prolonged government shutdown next year are well over 50% -- if there's a Republican majority, that is.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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THE WRONG NBPP QUESTION.... In general, most legitimate news outlets have treated the right's hyperventilating the phony New Black Panthers Party "controversy" as unimportant. The restraint is welcome -- the rule usually is that whatever conservatives are worked up about necessarily must be taken seriously.

Of course, in this matter, it helps that a) the underlying accusation is transparently foolish; and b) there's bipartisan agreement, even from Fox News contributors, that this is a non-story.

But the Washington Post has taken a slightly different tack. The paper ran an article on Thursday, which at least referenced the baseless nature of the accusations, but which nevertheless characterized the overwrought complaints as a "political bombshell."

Today, the paper's ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, who seems sympathetic to far-right media complaints with increasing frequency, argues the Post should have acted sooner.

Thursday's Post reported about a growing controversy over the Justice Department's decision to scale down a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party. The story succinctly summarized the issues but left many readers with a question: What took you so long?

As it happens, I had the opposite reaction. While the Post, at least the print edition, wisely ignored a story that no serious person finds credible, it eventually pointed to a "bombshell" that doesn't really exist. The question isn't, "What took the Post so long?"; it's, "Why'd the Post cave to Fox News viewers?"

Alexander added, in reference to J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department lawyer who's doing his best to push the trumped up allegations:

If Adams is pursuing a right-wing agenda, he should be exposed.

Too late; he already has been. More than once.

In reference to the article the Post ran this week, Alexander concluded:

Better late than never. There's plenty left to explore.

Really? Like what? Observers from across the ideological spectrum have concluded there's nothing left to explore, because there's no real controversy here. This isn't just the judgment of liberal bloggers; it's the conclusion reached by conservatives who want to go after the Obama Justice Department over real issues, rather than racially-motivated nonsense.

The pattern here is a familiar one: "Fox News picks up a story from the conservative media, then attacks the 'mainstream media' for ignoring the distorted story." Media outlets with professional standards need not play the game.

Steve Benen 9:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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STATISTIC OF THE DAY.... During George W. Bush's two terms as president, he spent all or part of 977 days at Camp David or at a ranch in Texas. That's the equivalent of more than two and a half years, and it set a modern record -- no president has taken more time off than Bush since records started keeping track of such things.

With that in mind, it's amazing to see this become a topic of conversation.

President Obama and his family arrived Friday for a weekend getaway in Maine, but along with a little rest and relaxation comes criticism that the president is taking it easy with the Gulf of Mexico oil crisis in a critical phase.

The Obamas plan to spend the weekend on Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park. The trip marks the president's third weekend vacation since the oil disaster began in April.

The Republican National Committee launched a website blasting what it considers Obama's "leisure activities or missteps" during the oil disaster, like playing golf, attending concerts and vacationing in Asheville, North Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; and now Maine.

Of all the things for Republicans to whine about, this is the new complaint?

In his first 18 months in office, Obama has taken 65 days off. At this point in Bush's first term, he'd taken 216 days off -- well over triple Obama's total.*

Republicans seem to be arguing that it's different now, because the current president takes occasional breaks while there's an oil spill in the Gulf. But Bush took 216 days off in his first 18 months -- a period that included the attacks of 9/11 and the launch of a war in Afghanistan. Hell, a terrorist tried to blow up an American passenger jet in December 2001, and Bush not only stayed on vacation, he didn't even mention the incident for nearly a week.

There have to be more interesting lines of attack for the GOP. This is mind-numbing.

* Update: The 216-days-off figure came by way of CNN, who said it was the number tallied by CBS's Mark Knoller. However, reader S.S. emails to note that the number may be inflated -- the AP puts the total for Bush at this stage at 120. That's still about double Obama's total, but it's clearly far short of the figure CNN cited.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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WHEN EXTREMISTS FIND ONE OF THEIR OWN TOO EXTREME.... Tea Party Express chairman Mark Williams has made quite a name for himself since becoming a leader of the right-wing "movement." His CNN appearance in September is still hard to forget -- Williams not only called the president a "Nazi," but agreed with his own characterization of Barack Obama as "an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug and a racist in chief."

This week, however, Williams seemed to push his luck, lashing out at the NAACP, first insisting that the civil rights organization makes "more money off of race than any slave trader, ever," and then publishing a racially-charged blog post, accusing the NAACP of being "racist."

In the larger context, the NAACP hoped to shine a light on the racism that too often appears within the Tea Party "movement." Williams went on the attack, and in the process, inadvertently helped bolster the NAACP's point.

As a result, even right-wing Tea Partiers have decided they may not want to be associated with one of their ostensible leaders.

At the start of the week, Williams was listed as a "vice chairman" on the website for the Our Country Deserves Better PAC. Now, the site shows Williams listed as a "spokesperson" for the PAC. The same goes for the Tea Party Express website -- it still listed Williams as the group's chair until [Friday], when it was changed to reflect Williams' resignation from the group in June.

Joe Wierzbicki, the coordinator for TPE and the PAC, confirmed that the changes were made to the websites Friday after press inquiries surrounding Williams' controversial blog post. Williams removed the post Friday, but the controversy surrounding it has continued.

"That was what prompted reporters to ask," Wierzbicki said of the controversy, "and so we thought 'we better go get [the website] addressed right now.'"

When even the Tea Party crowd wants to keep one of their own leaders at arm's length, it suggests Mark Williams has become something of an embarrassment, and undermined his "movement" in the process.

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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July 17, 2010

ELECTION DRAWS CLOSER, OBAMA UPS THE RHETORICAL ANTE.... For the past couple of weeks, most Democrats and many on the left have been outraged by Republicans' willingness to block extended aid to the unemployed, while simultaneously pushing for massive tax cuts for the wealthy. Today, President Obama expressed that same indignation in his weekly address.

In general, these weekly messages from the president aren't especially acerbic, but as the election season intensifies, and Obama's patience for GOP tactics wears thin, I suspect we'll see the president throwing more elbows the way he did today.

In this address, Obama noted struggling businesses and workers looking for relief. "For months," the president said, "that's what we've been trying to do. But too often, the Republican leadership in the United States Senate chooses to filibuster our recovery and obstruct our progress. And that has very real consequences." After noting some of the steps Democrats want to take to help small businesses, Obama added, "[A]gain and again, a partisan minority in the Senate said 'no,' and used procedural tactics to block a simple, up-or-down vote."

To hear the president explain it, the GOP doesn't even get the basics right: "Some Republican leaders actually treat this unemployment insurance as if it's a form of welfare. They say it discourages folks from looking for work. Well, I've met a lot of folks looking for work these past few years, and I can tell you, I haven't met any Americans who would rather have an unemployment check than a meaningful job that lets you provide for your family. And we all have friends, neighbors, or family members who already knows how hard it is to land a job when five workers are competing for every opening.

"Now in the past, Presidents and Congresses of both parties have treated unemployment insurance for what it is -- an emergency expenditure. That's because an economic disaster can devastate families and communities just as surely as a flood or tornado.

"Suddenly, Republican leaders want to change that. They say we shouldn't provide unemployment insurance because it costs money. So after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, including a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, they've finally decided to make their stand on the backs of the unemployed. They've got no problem spending money on tax breaks for folks at the top who don't need them and didn't even ask for them; but they object to helping folks laid off in this recession who really do need help."

Obama went on to explain the stimulative nature of extended unemployment benefits -- a detail the GOP usually forgets -- and urged lawmakers not to "go back to the same misguided policies that led us into this mess."

In the larger context, the president is really just asking for the bare minimum here -- aid for the jobless and loans for small businesses. What I'd really like to see is the White House craft an ambitious jobs/stimulus bill with a demand that Congress vote on it before wrapping up for the year. Give Democrats something to fight for, and the base something to get excited about.

That said, Obama's clearly right to demand that Congress at least tackle jobless aid and small businesses loans -- and soon. Just as importantly, it's heartening to hear the president call Republicans out with more partisan rhetoric than we're accustomed to.

More of this, please.

Steve Benen 11:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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KARL ROVE'S 'BIGGEST MISTAKE'.... The key to dealing with Karl Rove's presence in American politics is understanding the role he plays. Once one fully appreciates the extent to which he's a poison in our democracy, smearing our institutions with a pernicious venom, it becomes easier to endure his nonsense without developing an antacid addiction.

But once in a while, Rove's pathological tendencies are a little harder to take.

This week, for example, the man affectionately called "Turd Blossom" by his boss, used one of his media perches to highlight his "biggest mistake in the White House." It was a provocative headline, suggesting Rove might actually offer some regret about one of his many damaging missteps, or at least acknowledge an instance in which he was wrong.

What we found, however, was the opposite. Rove's "biggest mistake," he said, was not fighting harder against Democrats who questioned Bush's honesty on the war in Iraq. His column came seven years to the day after Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) concluded that Bush and his team "put a spin on the intelligence and a spin on the truth." It wasn't long before this obvious truth became the standard position of the Democratic mainstream.

Rove, in retrospect, believes the real problem wasn't the Bush White House's deceptions, but rather, the Bush White House's tolerance for those who pointed out those deceptions. (thanks to reader F.B. for the reminder)

At the time, we in the Bush White House discussed responding but decided not to relitigate the past. That was wrong and my mistake: I should have insisted to the president that this was a dagger aimed at his administration's heart. What Democrats started seven years ago left us less united as a nation to confront foreign challenges and overcome America's enemies.

We know President Bush did not intentionally mislead the nation. Saddam Hussein was deposed and eventually hung for his crimes. Iraq is a democracy and an ally instead of an enemy of America. Al Qaeda suffered tremendous blows in the "land between the two rivers." But Democrats lost more than the election in 2004. In telling lie after lie, week after week, many lost their honor and blackened their reputations.

I honestly can think of very few people in American public life who lies as frequently and shamelessly as Karl Rove, making his admonishments as ironic as they are infuriating.

In Rove's bizarro world, it wasn't Bush's spectacular failures that undermined the nation, it was the nerve of Democrats to point out that nearly all of the claims the former president made about a war turned out to be false. In this strange alternate reality, those who lied and failed are the heroes, while those who called out the liars "lost their honor and blackened their reputations."

It's quite literally nauseating.

But as long as Rove's interested in the anniversary of Ted Kennedy's criticism, let's also note what else happened the week of July 15, 2003. The estimable emptywheel reminds us that the day before Kennedy pointed to the Bush administration's falsehoods, a column from Bob Novak ran, outing Valarie Plame as a CIA operative. It was published soon after Karl Rove and his fellow hatchetmen worked the phones, leaking classified information, including an effort to punish and discredit Plame's husband for telling the truth about Saddam Hussein's non-existent nuclear program.

But now Rove would have us believe the White House decided not to respond to critics.

Karl, get help. It's just not healthy to be this far detached from reality.

Postscript: By the way, if you wanted to help remind Rove of what his actual "biggest mistake" might be, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments section.

Steve Benen 11:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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PUTTING AN END TO A RIGHT-WING 'FANTASY'.... If you haven't heard much hyperventilating about the New Black Panther Party lately, then you haven't been watching Fox News.

The "story," such as it is, hardly seems worth a fuss. On Election Day 2008, two men were recorded standing in front of a polling station in Philadelphia. They were reportedly members of the New Black Panther Party, which didn't necessarily support Barack Obama anyway, and one of the two was holding a nightstick.

No voters complained, but a few Republican poll monitors accused the pair of criminally trying to intimidate voters. Officials in Bush's Justice Department looked into it and concluded it wasn't worth pursuing.

That should be the end of it, but in some Republican circles, this exceedingly dull story is being treated as a major scandal (at least, they're pretending to consider it a scandal, in the hopes of generating racial tensions before the midterm elections). In just the last few weeks, Fox News has aired 95 segments -- that's not a typo -- about the issue. Megyn Kelly, the hyper-partisan activist/anchor, not only aired 45 segments in 15 days, she lashed out at a conservative guest who dismissed the relevance of the story.

To his credit, Politico's Ben Smith ran a piece late yesterday that effectively ends the "controversy."

A scholar whom President George W. Bush appointed as vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Abigail Thernstrom has a reputation as a tough conservative critic of affirmative action and politically correct positions on race.

But when it comes to the investigation that the Republican-dominated commission is now conducting into the Justice Department's handling of an alleged incident of voter intimidation involving the New Black Panther Party -- a controversy that has consumed conservative media in recent months -- Thernstrom has made a dramatic break from her usual allies.

"This doesn't have to do with the Black Panthers; this has to do with their fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the [Obama] administration," said Thernstrom, who said members of the commission voiced their political aims "in the initial discussions" of the Panther case last year.

"My fellow conservatives on the commission had this wild notion they could bring Eric Holder down and really damage the president," Thernstrom said in an interview with POLITICO.

Those pushing this garbage aren't exactly subtle in their intentions. Why hyperventilate about a two-year-old story that Bush's own Justice Department found too insignificant to care about? Because some Republicans hope to generate racial animus before the elections, trying to get white voters angry with the Obama administration.

Jon Chait explained this week, "What you're starting to see from Fox News now, though, is the most widespread and mainstream right-wing effort to exploit racial fears against Obama.... There has been a great deal of right-wing insanity unleashed over the last year and a half, but this is the first time that the fear has an explicitly racial cast. You now have the largest organ of movement conservatism promoting Limbaugh's idee fixe that the Obama administration represents black America's historical revenge against whites."

It's as disgusting as anything we've seen from the right in the past 18 months.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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THIS WEEK IN GOD.... First up from the God Machine this week is a fairly contentious dust-up in progressive faith communities after the latest offensive from deranged media personality Glenn Beck.

Beck picked the fight in March, urging his followers to abandon houses of worship that believe in "social justice," which he considers to be code for some kind of communist plot. Time's Elizabeth Dias reported this week that Beck is growing increasingly agitated about churches whose commitment to the downtrodden and powerless he finds politically offensive.

"If you just tuned in, boy, this has got to be the weirdest damn episode you've ever heard on the Glenn Beck program," Glenn Beck admitted late last night, as he took another shot at Christian social justice missions. This time he claimed that black liberation theology -- theology that believes Jesus saves victims from their oppressors -- forces whites to unnecessarily confess to racism and inspires the government to redistribute money from wealthy whites to victimized minorities. Because Jesus is not a victim, in Beck's words, "Social justice isn't in the Bible."

However three days before the resurrection, Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, himself was tortured and hung on a cross. Beck says that even then Jesus was only a victor -- "If Jesus was a victim he would have come back from the dead and made the Jews pay for what they did." But the Jews did not kill Jesus, the Romans did. And revenge does not exactly sound like Jesus' command to love one's neighbor. Moreover, liberation theology does not mean Christians must be victims to be saved. Liberation theologies emerged across the globe in the 1960s to respond to social injustices, often at the hands of colonizers. Black liberation theology certainly is not the only version out there -- Latin American liberation theology, Palestinian liberation theology, and Minjung liberation theology also draw attention to suffering around the world in order to find hope from a God who has suffered too.

A core Biblical command is to follow Jesus' example of humility, not of conquering, and to show compassion for the least of those in our midst.

Beck's attacks on churches that preach about social justice have generated a strong response from Faithful America, which unveiled a new Christian radio ad campaign this week, airing spots in several cities Beck visits on his national summer tour. As Faith in Public Life explained this week, "The ads are part of Faithful America's 'Driven by Faith, Not by Fear' campaign, an effort to counter the fear, lies and hateful rhetoric of extreme pundits and the Tea Party."

The radio ad, which you can listen to here, asks listeners, "Would you support a leader who said Jesus' teachings can lead to Nazism, or who attacks Christians pastors for preaching the full gospel? Then why do so many Christians tune in to Glenn Beck?"

Also from the God Machine this week:

* In the wake of its international scandal involving the sexual abuse of children, the Vatican this week "issued new internal rules making it easier to discipline priests who have sexually abused minors." But in a move that "infuriated victims' groups and put United States bishops on the defensive, it also codified 'the attempted ordination of women' to the priesthood as one of the church's most grave crimes, along with heresy, schism and pedophilia." Victims' advocates were also disappointed by the new rules' omission of possible punishment of bishops who looked the other way when priests molested children on their watch, and the failure to require "mandatory reporting of sex abuse to civil authorities even in countries where it is not required by civil law."

* In Nevada, the Canyon Ridge Community Church has offered support to pastor Martin Ssempa, a Ugandan anti-gay activist helping drive the country's "kill the gays" bill. As a result, the Southern Nevada Health District in Las Vegas will no longer work with the church on public health issues.

* And working under the assumption that AIPAC "pulls some punches," the Emergency Committee for Israel is getting to work, combining the efforts of far-right neocons like Bill Kristol, and evangelical Christians like Gary Bauer. (thanks to D.J. for the tip)

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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BOEHNER'S DEREGULATION AGENDA.... It's been challenging to keep up with Republican jaw-droppers of late. A leading GOP lawmaker is apologizing to BP? Well, that'll be tough to top. The would-be Speaker is dismissing the importance of the financial crisis? Wow. The entire party believes the nation can't afford unemployment benefits, but can afford $678 billion in tax cuts for the rich? That seems tough to spin.

But yesterday's remarks from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) deserve a place on the growing list. Boehner organized a Washington event yesterday with business lobbyists, encouraging them to help shape the still-non-existent Republican policy agenda. The lobbyists decried consumer protection and workplace safety regulations, and like a puppet whose strings had been pulled, Boehner rushed to a microphone to declare:

"I think having a moratorium on new federal regulations is a great idea it sends a wonderful signal to the private sector that they're going to have some breathing room."

To be clear, Boehner hasn't been saying this all along. He only adopted this remarkable position because lobbyists, in effect, told him to. It's Boehner's brand of leadership in a nutshell -- elect him Speaker, so he can serve as the mindless, toadying middleman between corporate interests and the policymaking process.

Even for Boehner, this is pretty crazy. David Kurtz suggested it's the "dumbest idea of the year."

...Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) today is publicly proposing a moratorium on any new regulations by the federal government for one year. Yeah, that's right. The promulgation of any new government regulation would be stopped for a year, except emergencies like the BP spill.

Presumably this would halt all the new regs being written to implement health care reform, the ones that will soon be written to implement financial reform, and of course the gazillions or more obscure regulations that are written every day as part of the essential functioning of government.

With everything going on right now, the second highest ranking Republican in Washington wants to basically shut government down for a year. Brilliant.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but federal regulations are a driving force of what the government does. Hundreds of agencies are responsible with crafting regulations every day for everything from veterans' care to law enforcement to immigration to food safety. Boehner's willingness to impose a flat ban is just plain nuts.

The office of the actual Speaker took a few minutes to review some pending regulations, and noticed that Boehner's plan would shut down proposed safety standards for baby cribs, greater transparency for government contracting, and expanded consumer protections for air travelers.

As a rule, these are the kinds of regulations voters tend to like -- and rely on.

For context, I should note that Boehner's deregulation agenda, while bizarre, isn't entirely new. A nearly identical plan was pushed 15 years ago ... by disgraced former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who shaped his plan after a meeting with business lobbyists, soon after the GOP had won its House majority. DeLay, at the time, said a moratorium on regulations would give officials "breathing room."

Sound familiar?

The Republican agenda of the 21st century -- start with a base of Bush/Cheney, throw in a heaping tablespoon of Tom DeLay, and add just a pinch of the John Birch Society. Heat to a boiling point and serve.

Steve Benen 8:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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PRIVACY RIGHTS (FOR SOME) RESTORED IN ARIZONA.... Thank goodness Arizona is once again taking due process and privacy rights seriously.

At the first tick of the clock Friday, an array of automated cameras on Arizona freeways aimed at catching speeders were to stop clicking.

There is no glitch. The state, the first to adopt such cameras on its highways in October 2008, has become the first to pull the plug, bowing to the wishes of a vocal band of conservative activists who complained that photo enforcement intruded on privacy and was mainly designed to raise money.

Arizona has been using 76 cameras, which in turned improved public safety, produced a significant drop in fatal collisions, and brought $78 million into the paltry state coffers.

But according to her spokesperson, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) was, among other things, "uncomfortable with the intrusive nature of the system." It's a sentiment that widely endorsed by conservatives in the state legislature.

Of course, if there's one thing conservative Arizonans know all about, it's intrusive state laws.

I'm reminded of this recent exchange between state Rep. Carl Seel (R), a leading critic of the remote speed cameras and a co-sponsor of Arizona's anti-immigrant law, and The Daily Show's Olivia Munn:

MUNN: So, is it a conflicting message to support immigration law 1070 and also be against the camera system?

SEEL: No, the photo radar [is] unconstitutional, definitely an invasion of privacy. As to 1070, the enforcement law, the police officers must have probable cause.

MUNN: Such as.

SEEL: If a vehicle is going down the road at an excessive rate of speed, that's probable cause.

MUNN: What the [bleep]? So, speeding is probable cause to check immigration status, but speeding is not probable cause to give you a ticket for speeding.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (33)

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July 16, 2010

FRIDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* Not awful, but not quite the results we were hoping for, either: "The federal pointman for the BP oil spill says results are short of ideal in the new cap but the oil will stay shut in for another 6 hours at least. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said on a Friday afternoon conference pressure readings from the cap have not reached the level that would show there are no other leaks in the well."

* Maybe now the Fed can stop worrying about inflation? Please? "We aren't technically in a period of deflation yet, as core inflation continues to remain positive. But last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said this morning, the United States experienced the third straight month of technical deflation, with the price of consumer goods falling 0.1 percent."

* Public support for the U.S. policy in Afghanistan is not only faltering, it's reaching new lows.

* It was the warmest June on record. If only 60 senators cared. (thanks to R.K. for the tip)

* American soldier suicides: "Soldiers killed themselves at the rate of one per day in June making it the worst month on record for Army suicides, the service said Thursday."

* Bybee speaks: "A former Bush Justice Department official who approved brutal interrogation methods by the C.I.A. has told Congress that he never authorized several other rough tactics reportedly inflicted on terrorism suspects -- including prolonged shackling to a ceiling and repeated beatings."

* Argentina joins the fairly small group of countries that have embraced marriage equality. It's the first country, however, to do so in Latin America.

* One of the standard GOP talking points on tax rates for the wealthy is to express concern for small businesses. Don't believe it.

* Ta-Nehisi Coates on the dispute between Tea Partiers and the NAACP.

* Chris Hayes on the similarities between the argument on deficit reduction and the argument to sell the war in Iraq.

* Wouldn't Elizabeth Warren be a fine choice to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Board?

* Community colleges may be hot, but they're really going to have to pick up their game.

* Apparently, an aide to former one-term Gov. Mitt Romney (R) had some unkind words about former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R). A Palin aide talked to Politico, which published my favorite sentence of the day: "'For Washington consultants to sit around and personally disparage the Governor anonymously to reporters is unfortunate and counterproductive and frankly immature,' the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, continued."

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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THE PROBLEM WITH SHORT MEMORIES.... Given all the public confusion, it's sometimes surprising President Obama's approval rating isn't lower. Take this tidbit from the latest Pew Research report.

Only about a third of Americans (34%) know that the government's bailout of banks and financial institutions was enacted under the Bush administration. Nearly half (47%) incorrectly say that the Troubled Asset Relief Program -- widely known as TARP -- was signed into law by President Obama.

I guess the frequent Republican complaints about "bailouts" led much of the public to not only forget what year TARP passed, but also forget who supported it.

For the record, the financial industry bailout passed in October 2008. It was requested by a conservative Republican administration (George W. Bush and Dick Cheney). It was enthusiastically endorsed by the House Republican leadership (John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Roy Blunt), the Senate Republican leadership (Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl), both members of the Republican presidential ticket (John McCain and Sarah Palin), and assorted, high-profile conservative voices (Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck).

At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot less than 34% of Americans knew this, too.

Is it any wonder Republican attack ads routinely try to exploit public confusion? The GOP assumes voters have short memories, and under the circumstances, that's not a bad assumption.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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WE CAN'T WAIT THAT LONG.... The Senate Democratic leadership intends to bring an energy/climate bill to the floor a week from Monday. The details of the bill's contents are still in flux, and it's far from clear that the majority will be able to assemble the support to overcome yet another Republican filibuster.

But it's worth keeping in mind that the problem is not limited entirely to Republicans.

President Barack Obama's next big legislative priority -- a comprehensive energy and climate bill -- sits in limbo in no small part because of wavering senators from his own party.

About a dozen Democrats -- from the Great Plains, Midwest, Appalachia and the South -- continue to resist the idea of putting a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

And despite months of legwork by the president's Senate allies, few of these so-called Brown Dogs are biting. [...]

"I think it's still a work in progress," said Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who worries that a cap would be a loser for Democrats in November. "You know, it took 50 years on health care."

That's not exactly encouraging. As Jon Chait explained, "Actually, the time span between Harry Truman proposing universal health care and President Obama signing the Affordable care Act was more like 60 years. But that's okay! I'm sure nothing irreversible will happen to the atmosphere between now and 2070."

Policymakers talked about health care reform for a century, as the system grew increasingly dysfunctional. When it comes to the climate, we already have a crisis. We're putting 90 million tons of carbon emissions into the air every day, and if McCaskill is content to let that continue for another five decades, she's making a terrible mistake.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) added that she'd like to see Congress take this up "in the early part of next year." Perhaps Feinstein hasn't heard, but November is likely to be pretty rough for Democrats, and the party that perceives climate science itself as a Marxist plot will probably make significant gains, if not take control over part (or all) of Congress. If Feinstein thinks the politics of an ambitious energy bill are difficult now, wait until the party that took BP's side in the oil spill crisis has more power over the policy debate.

It's why the fierce urgency of now is largely unavoidable. Those hoping to make a positive difference don't have five decades, they have five weeks. If the Senate comes up short, the climate crisis will get worse, the solution will get tougher to achieve, and the politics will get worse. If this isn't obvious to policymakers, they're not paying close enough attention.

As for the state of the debate, there have been some fairly constructive talks this week between utility companies and environmentalists on a plan to reduce carbon emissions that, they hope, could generate broad support. (The idea is, utility companies would be able to make the case to conservatives, while groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council can get the left on board.)

Participants signaled cautious optimism, and are scheduled to reconvene on Monday.

Steve Benen 4:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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VITTER MANAGES TO SHED ANY PRETENSE OF CLASS.... In light of all his scandals, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) really should know better than to take cheap shots at women. But the right-wing senator who's been struggling to hold onto even a shred of decency just can't help himself. Greg Sargent reports today:

On a right wing radio station this morning, Senator David Vitter appeared to suggest that MSNBC host Rachel Maddow only looked like a woman "a long time ago," a crack that was greeted by uproarious laughter by the radio hosts.

The exchange came on Rush Radio 99.5 in New Orleans this morning, during some banter about how they all looked a long time ago. The hosts suggested Vitter should produce images of his youth, and one brought up Maddow's high school yearbook photo, which has been making the rounds on the Internet, joking that she looked "like a woman" in the picture.

Vitter laughed and said: "Must have been a long time ago."

Look, I'm not exactly a neutral observer here; I consider Rachel Maddow a friend. But one need not know Rachel personally to be insulted by Vitter's cheap and stupid remarks.

At this point, it's hardly unreasonable to conclude David Vitter just has a problem when it comes to women. It's the kind of thinking that led him to betray his wife with prostitutes, and it's the kind of thinking that led him to pay a violent criminal to oversee women's issues for the Senate office, despite the aide having attacked his ex-girlfriend with a knife.

Now Vitter's of the opinion that Rachel Maddow doesn't look like a woman? Are we to assume the right-wing senator is now taking an interest in the haircuts of media professionals?

For crying out loud, Vitter's a United States senator. Given how humiliated he's been with his extra-curricular escapades, Vitter should be going out of his way to show at least a little class.

Update: Vitter has apparently apologized to Rachel in a note.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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THE (TEMPORARY) SENATOR FROM WEST VIRGINIA.... West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) has selected Carte Goodwin, his former chief counsel, to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy left by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D).

Goodwin, the youngest among those considered potential choices, worked on Manchin's 2004 campaign for governor before becoming his chief lawyer. He served in that post until shortly after Manchin began his second term in 2009, leaving for his family's law firm. [...]

Last year, Manchin tapped Goodwin to lead an extensive review of the state's judiciary amid complaints from business groups and conflict-of-interest scandals involving state Supreme Court justices. Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor served as the study commission's nonvoting honorary chair.

While Manchin's general counsel, Goodwin was considered key in drafting mine rescue and safety measures passed after fatal accidents at West Virginia's Sago and Aracoma coal mines in early 2006.

MSNBC has a good bio on the 36-year-old Goodwin, who, despite experience in government, has never held elected office or worked as a lawmaker. Nevertheless, the early reports out of West Virginia suggest the selection is being well received, even by the state Chamber of Commerce.

The plan is to swear Goodwin in on Tuesday afternoon, at which point the Senate Democratic caucus will once again stand at 59 members. His presence will probably be put to good use fairly quickly -- the leadership wants the Senate to vote on Tuesday on an extension of unemployment benefits, and Goodwin's vote will likely be necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster.

The temporary senator will serve though November.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (4)

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IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.... You've probably seen this chart today; it's been making the rounds. But it's a stark and painful reminder of the scope of the nation's unemployment crisis. Just as importantly, it raises questions anew about why policymakers aren't acting.

brookings.jpg

The chart was put together by the Brookings Institute, and highlights how long it will take our economy to return to the unemployment levels that existed before the Great Recession began. If the economy added an average of 208,000 jobs per month -- a rate we're still not close to reaching -- it would take 136 months to get back to where we were. That translates to more than 11 years.

That's not a typo. Moderate monthly job growth would get us back to a pre-recession job market in 2021. That's how deep a hole we fell into. Obviously, more robust economic growth would get us back to pre-recession levels much faster, but by any scenario, we're still years away.

David Kurtz added, "Unless something changes -- and the deeply troubling current emphasis on deficit reduction suggests nothing will -- we're looking at a decade or more of chronically high unemployment. It's a situation that is not sustainable economically or politically."

It's that point about deficit reduction that stands out for me. As awful as the realization is about how long it will take to recover, the insult that gets added to the injury is the fact that the status quo isn't perceived as necessarily scandalous or devastating. The Washington establishment sees the numbers, but doesn't feel the need to leap into action.

On the contrary, we can't even extend unemployment benefits because Republicans won't let the Senate vote on them. When President Obama called on an emergency measure to prevent massive layoffs at the state level, Congress balked -- it was considered too tough a vote in advance of the elections. Additional stimulus and/or an ambitious jobs bill are effectively off the table entirely, in part because the GOP will refuse to allow a vote, and in part because Blue Dogs want to focus on deficit reduction and spending cuts.

It doesn't have to be this way, but the political will to act doesn't exist, and the only segments of the public screaming for political attention are deeply confused anti-government zealots who want the unemployment crisis to be slightly worse.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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BOEHNER EYES A RETURN TO FAILED REGULATORY POLICIES.... One of the more commonly overlooked failures of the Bush/Cheney era was in the area of regulatory policy. Specifically, the administration didn't believe in it.

From Wall Street to the oil companies, workplace safety to E. coli, EPA to SEC, the agencies tasked with protecting workers and consumers by regulating business practices were gutted. Budgets were slashed, scientists were muted, personnel were cut, and enforcement was stopped. President Obama has begun a large-scale effort to put things right, making the kind of changes that have an enormous impact on the public good, but which voters are largely unaware of.

Whereas Republican administrations deliberately stunted federal regulatory power -- business interests always trumped consumer interests -- Obama is taking positive steps to emphasize strong federal oversight, and evidence-based analysis, with the public's interests in mind.

Congressional Republicans saw the ways in which Bush's approach failed the public miserably, but nevertheless want to bring those days back as quickly as possible.

As promised, House Minority Leader John Boehner, along with Reps. Aaron Schock (R-IL) and Peter Roskam (R-IL), huddled this morning with representatives of the most powerful conservative business and trade groups in the country to field policy ideas and build a legislative agenda ahead of the November elections, when Republicans could retake the House. If what they discussed in any way resembles the coming GOP platform (and, of course, it does), then get ready for more tax cuts and deregulation.

Dan Danner of the National Federation of Independent Businesses spoke up, outraged about "a whole host of new proposed regulations that are going to add costs to...business."

A representative of the American Hotel and Lodging Association actually complained about workplace-safety laws being enforced -- followed by complaints about those breaking the laws facing consequences.

Boehner took the next logical step, explicitly endorsing "a moratorium on new federal regulations."

I suspect much of the country gives very little thought to regulatory issues, and wouldn't necessarily recognize why this is radical and dangerous. I'll just put it this way: if you love lead paint from China, you'll love the Republican deregulation agenda.

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (17)

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THE RATIONALE FOR KEEPING AN AGENDA SECRET.... Jonah Goldberg argued this week that the "party of no" strategy has been a great success for Republicans, but suggested it's time for the GOP to "call Obama's bluff and offer a real choice." By actually presenting a policy agenda, the GOP could achieve "a real mandate to be something more than 'not-Obama.'" That sounds about right to me.

So, is there any chance congressional Republicans will take Goldberg's advice and tell voters what they'd do with power? Not so much.

Yesterday, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) endorsed the notion of the GOP giving "certain specifics" about what the party supports, but he doesn't want to see his party go into too many details.

"...I don't think we have to lay out a complete agenda, from top to bottom, because then we would have the national mainstream media jumping on every point trying to make that a campaign issue."

Heaven forbid.

As King sees it, Republicans could present an agenda, giving the electorate a sense of how the GOP would govern, but the fear is that the party's ideas might become "a campaign issue."

Perhaps King doesn't fully understand the words he's using here. If congressional Republicans have actual policy ideas -- a dubious proposition, to be sure -- they can offer them to voters as an alternative to the status quo. The media might scrutinize those ideas, but the GOP should welcome the chance to talk about the direction they'd take the country if given the chance. It's what elections are for. A party's ideas should be "campaign issues"; that's the point of campaigns.

It's about having the courage of one's convictions. Deliberately hiding one's ideas for fear of examination is not only cowardice, it's indicative of a party that suspects its own beliefs would be rejected by the public.

Of course, this isn't just about King. Note that would-be Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sat down with the Washington Post recently, and refused to give any details about how Republicans would govern.

It's not a mystery why -- GOP proposals would likely cost the party dearly if the public got a chance to consider them -- but that's hardly a good excuse.

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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FRIDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* In Nevada, a new Las Vegas Review-Journal/Mason Dixon poll shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) taking the lead over Sharron Angle (R), 44% to 37%. It's Reid's best showing in a Mason-Dixon poll this cycle.

* Multiple news outlets are reporting that West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) will appoint his former general counsel, Carte Goodwin, to temporarily fill the Senate vacancy left by the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D). At 36, Goodwin will be the youngest senator in the chamber, replacing the oldest.

* In Colorado, Denver's Fox affiliate reported that the Republican Governor's Association has withdrawn its financial support of Scott McInnis' (R) gubernatorial campaign, and has begun cancelling fundraisers that were previously scheduled for him. McInnis has vowed to stay in the race.

* Former Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor, who's taking on scandal-plagued Sen. David Vitter in a Republican primary this year, explained yesterday that Vitter has failed to be an "effective senator," adding that the senator's missteps amount to more than "personal sins." Democrats have been saying the same thing for a long while.

* In Connecticut, a new Quinnipiac poll shows state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) leading former wrestling executive Linda McMahon (R) in this year's U.S. Senate race, 54% to 37%.

* In Wisconsin, two new polls offer conflicting results. A University of Wisconsin Badger Poll shows Sen. Russ Feingold (D) leading right-wing businessman Ron Johnson (R), 33% to 28%. Rasmussen, which should still be taken with a grain of salt, shows Johnson up by one, 47% to 46%.

* Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio has raised quite a bit of money for his U.S. Senate race, but he's spent nearly all of it already.

* And the DNC this morning issued a memorandum, highlighting the differences between 2010 and the last two cycles in which Congress changed party hands (2006 and 1994). It concluded that there is no GOP "wave" on the way.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (6)

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KRAUTHAMMER LOOKS AHEAD, SEEMS WORRIED.... Going through Charles Krauthammer's latest column with a scalpel, it's easy to find more than a few errors of fact and judgment. But it's the larger point that's a bit of a surprise.

The errors, to be sure, are glaring. Krauthammer misstates the scope of the Affordable Care Act, exaggerates the size of the Recovery Act, misleads on energy policy, blames this president for the last president's deficits, takes a foolishly alarmist line on "national insolvency," and seems oddly confused about Medicare reductions.

And while an abundance of mistakes tends to undermine the quality of a column, Krauthammer nevertheless gets around to saying something interesting. In particular, the far-right pundit explains, "I have a warning for Republicans: Don't underestimate Barack Obama."

Obama is down, but it's very early in the play. Like Reagan, he came here to do things. And he's done much in his first 500 days. What he has left to do he knows must await his next 500 days -- those that come after reelection.

The real prize is 2012. Obama sees far, farther than even his own partisans. Republicans underestimate him at their peril.

That strikes me as reasonable advice.

Krauthammer makes a variety of other predictions -- most are misguided -- but he concludes that the president has invested his political capital and will spend the next couple of years "consolidating these gains (writing the regulations, for example) and preparing for Act Two." That sounds about right.

The columnist sounds genuinely concerned. It's probably a good sign.

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GOP SEEMS SERIOUS ABOUT 'REPEALING' WALL STREET REFORM.... Before the Senate had even approved the legislation, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters that Republicans would like to "repeal" the Wall Street reform package. Soon after, President Obama noted, "[A]lready, the Republican leader in the House has called for repeal of this reform. I would suggest that America can't afford to go backwards, and I think that's how most Americans feel as well. We can't afford another financial crisis just as we're digging out from the last one."

It seemed possible that Boehner's remark was just an off-the-cuff remark that the GOP would not repeat, but as it turns out, Republicans actually seem serious about this. George Stephanopoulos reported this morning:

...Boehner's call was backed on "GMA" by Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate banking committee.

"We would like to repeal it," Shelby said.

I just didn't see this one coming. Much of the country is still deeply disgusted with a financial industry that nearly destroyed the global financial system, and then took a massive taxpayer bailout to survive. The circumstances that led to the 2008 crash included, at the heart of the matter, the wild-west like regulatory system, which allowed the industry to be as reckless and irresponsible as it wanted.

The new legislation brings safeguards and accountability to a system that desperately needs it. And yet, the new Republican line is that they'll bring back the 2008 framework, if given a chance.

Putting aside the fact that Obama would veto any kind of repeal attempts, I'm curious: who, exactly, is supposed to find this argument persuasive?

Pat Garofalo highlights some of the consequences that would come with repealing the reform package. It wouldn't be pretty.

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THE MOST CYNICAL OF CALCULATIONS.... Part of me wondered if, after the Senate overcame a Republican filibuster on Wall Street reform, several GOP senators would go ahead and vote for it. After all, at that point, everyone knew it would pass, and who wants to take a stand against safeguards and accountability for a financial industry that nearly collapsed the global economy? Republicans had done what they could to kill the legislation, but going ahead and supporting final passage was a freebie.

Of course, that didn't happen, and only three Republicans broke ranks. An identical number of House Republicans voted with Democrats on the same bill a few weeks ago. With just four months to go before the midterm elections, what makes the GOP think it's a good idea to stand, en masse, with Wall Street lobbyists against a measure to bring greater economic security and stability in the wake of a crash?

The AP reported yesterday that Republicans have a plan. It's predicated on exploiting public confusion.

Not too long ago, senators from both parties imagined a bill with broad bipartisan support that reflected a consensus that the financial sector needed a new set of rules. These days, though, Republicans liken the legislation to Obama's health care legislation and the $862 billion economic stimulus package -- two initiatives that have not rallied public support. [...]

Republican operatives believe the complexity of the bill gives them an advantage.

"This bill, in the minds of most Americans, is just a big amoeba," said John Feehery, a Washington-based GOP strategist. "Because this bill is so complicated, it makes it easier for Republicans to oppose it, and by opposing it, call it a job killer."

Greg Sargent summarized the GOP line: "Never mind what the bill actually does. Never mind that the set of problems it's meant to address -- problems that brought about the near-collapse of our economy -- are also rather complex. As long as the public remains confused about it, so much the better for us!"

Republicans aren't just treating the public like fools, they're counting on the public to be dupes. When an entire political party takes on the role of a con man, on purpose, because it sees the electorate as a bunch of suckers, it's really not healthy for the political system.

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THE SIMPLEST EXPLANATION IS ALSO THE RIGHT ONE.... It seems clear what the media considers the question of the week. The NYT's Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes a political dynamic today that seems pretty familiar.

If passage of the financial regulatory overhaul on Thursday proves anything about President Obama, it is this: He knows how to push big bills through a balky Congress.

But Mr. Obama's legislative success poses a paradox: while he may be winning on Capitol Hill, he is losing with voters at a time of economic distress, and soon may be forced to scale back his ambitions.

Though the Stolberg piece was far more sensible, it considers the same question Politico asked yesterday. Obama keeps racking up breakthrough victories, the observation goes, and these successes are supposed to buoy a president's political standing, but polls nevertheless suggest Obama is on shaky ground.

It's not necessarily an unfair question, but it's probably a mistake to treat it as some kind of mystery. Kevin Drum noted yesterday that the simplest explanation happens to be the right one.

If you want to, you can come up with a thousand reasons why Obama is failing. But if the economy were doing well and Obama were riding high in opinion polls, [Politico's John Harris and Jim VandeHei] would come up with a thousand reasons why Obama is succeeding. Unfortunately, admitting that the economy is the overriding explanation for everything makes for a very short, very boring column, and no one wants to write it. It's still true, though.

Yep. The economy stinks, which puts a lot of Americans in a sour mood. Much of the public probably thought economic conditions would be a whole lot better by now, and voters are very likely feeling pretty impatient about the pace of progress. It's what happens when the unemployment rate hovers around 10% for a year, and "it could have been worse" fails to resonate.

So, Obama's standing, while still reasonably high under the circumstances, has faltered, and Republicans stand to do well in November. It's not rocket science.

Of course, as the economy improves and the unemployment rate drops, I'll look forward to the media coverage pondering how President Obama finally figured out how to start connecting with the public again.

Steve Benen 9:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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BEN NELSON AND 'DOING THE JOB' HE'S ELECTED TO DO.... Several months ago, as the Senate was getting ready to bring a health care reform bill to the floor, Republicans had vowed to filibuster the motion to proceed. In other words, every member of the Senate GOP caucus was not only prepared to block a vote on the legislation, they also wanted to block a vote on having a debate about the legislation.

At the time, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was far from sure about the bill, but balked at the Republican tack. The conservative Democrat said the motion was merely "to start debate on a bill and to try to improve it." He added, "If you don't like the bill, then why would you block your own opportunity to amend it? Why would you stop senators from doing the job they're elected to do -- debate, consider amendments, and take action on an issue affecting every American?"

I don't know, Ben, why would a member stop senators from doing the job they're elected to do?

Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska said Thursday he would not support a procedural vote later this month to begin debate on a climate bill that includes a cap on electric utility emissions, a declaration that underscores the tough climb that Majority Leader Harry Reid will have in trying to cobble together a 60-vote supermajority on the controversial issue.

"A carbon tax or trade piece would significantly increase the utility rates in Nebraska for businesses, agriculture and individuals," the Nebraska Democrat told POLITICO. "I don't think that's an appropriate way to go. And while I'd usually vote for a motion to proceed, this is so extraordinary, that I just can't bring myself to do that."

Keep in mind, Nelson hasn't even seen the bill. But if the legislation tries to limit carbon emissions at all, he'll side with Republicans and try to prevent the Senate from even talking about the energy/climate bill.

It's too soon to say how big a problem the vote on the motion to proceed might be. In 2008, a bipartisan climate bill was brought to the floor with overwhelming support, with Republicans approving the motion to proceed on the bill they opposed because they were anxious to attack it. That may yet happen again.

But in the meantime, I'd love to hear Ben Nelson answer his own questions: "If you don't like the bill, then why would you block your own opportunity to amend it? Why would you stop senators from doing the job they're elected to do -- debate, consider amendments, and take action on an issue affecting every American?"

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GREENSPAN STEPS ALL OVER THE GOP MESSAGE.... One of the week's more relevant political debates has been over tax policy -- specifically the Republican argument that Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy have to be extended. Pressed on how those cuts would be paid for, the Republican leadership has insisted, evidence be damned, that tax cuts don't need to be offset by anything.

Alan Greenspan is rarely helpful in debates like these, which is why it came as something of a pleasant surprise to see him reject the entire Republican line of thinking. (via Atrios)

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, whose endorsement of George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts helped persuade Congress to pass them, said lawmakers should allow the cuts to expire at the end of the year.

"They should follow the law and let them lapse," Greenspan said in an interview on Bloomberg Television's "Conversations with Judy Woodruff," citing a need for the tax revenue to reduce the federal budget deficit.

It's worth noting that when it comes to tax cuts, Greenspan went even further than most Democrats want to go, arguing that all of Bush's tax cuts have to expire on schedule, including those for the middle class.

The former Fed chairman said he wants to see tax rates return to '90s levels in order to curtail the deficit.

I guess he hasn't heard the news about tax cuts paying for themselves?

Joan McCarter added, "Of course, note that [Greenspan] doesn't say that he was instrumental in enacting those major tax cuts. Bygones."

Right. The Bush tax cuts passed at least in part because Greenspan assured lawmakers the policy would improve the economy and that the nation could afford them. Republicans heralded his genius and followed his advice. We now know he, and they, were wrong.

Now, however, comes the fun part. Nearly a decade after following his guidance and passing reckless tax cuts that failed to produce, Republicans on the Hill get to scramble to tell us that Alan Greenspan has no idea what he's talking about.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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July 15, 2010

THURSDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* As if this wasn't a big enough news day already, Goldman settles: "Goldman Sachs has agreed to pay $550 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the largest penalty ever paid by a Wall Street firm, to settle charges of securities fraud linked to mortgage investments. Under the terms of the deal, Goldman will pay $300 million in fines to the Treasury Department, with the rest serving as restitution to investors in the mortgage-linked security. Goldman will not admit wrongdoing, though it will admit that its marketing materials for the investment 'contained incomplete information.'"

* Still high, but much better: "Today, the Labor Department announced that weekly initial jobless claims had fallen to a nearly two-year low -- declining 29,000 to 429,000." The totals far exceeded expectations.

* I guess Petraeus proved to be persuasive: "In a welcome step forward for the Obama administration's beleaguered war strategy, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has approved a U.S.-backed plan to create local defense forces across the country in an attempt to build grass-roots opposition to the Taliban, U.S. and Afghan officials said Wednesday."

* On a related note, Fred Kaplan argues that Petraeus really has begun making improvements, "but they won't matter if Karzai doesn't reform."

* House Ethics committee takes a closer look at eight House members "who solicited and took large contributions from financial institutions even as they were debating the landmark regulatory bill, according to lawyers involved in the inquiry." Five of the eight are Republicans, three are Democrats.

* For the first time, First Lady Michelle Obama has issued a formal statement on pending legislation. In this case, she's praised the Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act, which was approved by the House Education and Labor Committee today.

* Port au Prince, six months later.

* An anti-Muslim ad from the well-funded, hysterical National Republican Trust PAC has been rejected by CBS and NBC.

* How irresponsible are Republican demands for an extension of Bush's tax cuts? Even Alan Greenspan thinks the cuts should expire as scheduled.

* You may have heard the rumor out of Minnesota that felons voting illegally helped propel Sen. Al Franken (D) to victory. Don't believe it.

* Speaking of manufactured Fox News garbage, Jon Chait takes a look at the ridiculous New Black Panther Party "story" and "the most widespread and mainstream right-wing effort to exploit racial fears against Obama."

* College attendance rates are higher than ever. Whether the students graduate is another matter.

* I often wonder whether House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) believes his own nonsense. I'd feel better about him if I knew Pence was just deliberately trying to deceive the public.

* And in response to the NAACP condemning Tea Partiers' racism, Tea Party Express chairman Mark Williams is lashing out in jaw-dropping ways. Any chance Williams is a liberal plant, intended to make right-wing zealots look ridiculous?

Anything to add? Consider this an open thread.

Steve Benen 5:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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OIL WELL SEALED (FOR NOW).... As of an hour ago, the wellhead gushing oil since the Deepwater Horizon explosion was fully contained.

BP said Thursday that it has stopped oil from leaking out of its blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. The gusher has been throttled for the first time since the April 20 blowout on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon.

Kent Wells, BP's senior vice president of exploration and production, told reporters that a new capping mechanism shut off the flow of crude from the Macondo well at 3:25 p.m. EDT. He made the announcement after engineers gradually shut off valves to test the pressure. The engineers are monitoring the pressure to see whether the new cap and the well bore hold.

Watching the live feed, it's clear the oil that was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico has, at least for now, stopped entirely. To put it mildly, it's a welcome sight.

The new containment mechanism has been delayed a bit in recent days, but officials shut the various valves today as part of a long-awaited "integrity test," and so far, so good. The "pressure test" will continue over the next 48 hours.

So, are we in the clear? Crisis over? Not yet. The seismic tests will tell us whether to the cap should stay on.

If the well can handle the high pressures, BP could leave the well shut in, and it would not further pollute the gulf.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs discussed the hazards of the test Wednesday. "If the structural integrity of the well bore isn't strong, what you'll get is oil . . . coming out into the strata," he said. That could mean leaks "from multiple points on the seafloor."

If the pressure readings are too low, BP will abandon the test. The well will be reopened and gush anew.

If the new mechanism either has to be removed or fails, MSNBC notes that BP still "expects to be able to siphon up most if not all of the oil starting next week."

Also note, even under the best of circumstances, if the current containment mechanism continues to operate as it is right now, it's still not a permanent solution. That's likely to come from the relief wells, which are very close, but have been halted during the pressure test.

For the first time in a long while, there's reason for optimism -- cautious optimism.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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WALL STREET REFORM BILL CLEARS CONGRESS, HEADS TO THE WHITE HOUSE.... It wasn't easy, and it took a little longer than expected, but one of the pillars of the Democratic agenda -- a sweeping Wall Street reform bill -- cleared Congress today, and is poised to become law.

The Senate voted, 60 to 39, to approve an overhaul of the financial regulatory system on Thursday, heralding the end of more than a generation in which the prevailing posture of Washington toward the financial industry was largely one of hands-off admiration.

"We all know Wall Street isn't going to reform itself," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today. "Those who vote 'no' are standing with the same bankers who gambled with our homes and economic security in the first place."

The final roll found three Republicans -- Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Scott Brown (Mass.) -- joining the entire Democratic caucus, except Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), in supporting the bill. It now heads to the White House for President Obama's signature.

There's some confusion, apparently, as to exactly when that will happen. The Hill reports that the president may sign the legislation into law today, while the New York Times reports it's likely to be next week. Given the fact that Obama is in Michigan today, I'd be surprised if the signing ceremony were ready for this afternoon.

Either way, the reform package, formally called the "Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act," represents the biggest regulatory change for the financial industry since the Great Depression. Kevin Drum had a good item recently, highlighting several of its key provisions. He concluded, "Given the alternatives, anyone who cares about financial reform should support this bill."

In the larger context, Wall Street reform also gets added to the list of breakthrough accomplishments of the last 18 months, a list that now includes health care reform, an economy-saving Recovery Act, a long-sought overhaul of the nation's student-loan system, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, and the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, among other things.

As Rachel Maddow recently observed, "The last time any president did this much in office, booze was illegal. If you believe in policy, if you believe in government that addresses problems, cheers to that."

Of course, the president's leadership made progress on this agenda possible, but kudos also obviously have to go to the House and Senate leadership, especially on Wall Street reform, which looked to be in deep trouble more than once. Time will tell what happens in the midterms, but Americans haven't seen a Congress as successful as 111th in at least a generation.

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THE WISDOM OF A LIBERATED HOUSE REPUBLICAN.... Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) really is conservative. I think I could count all the genuine Republican "moderates" in Congress on one hand, and Inglis wouldn't even come close to making the cut. He's a conservative lawmaker from a conservative district with a conservative voting record and strong ratings from conservative groups that give scores to lawmakers.

But now that Inglis is on his way out of Congress, he's sounding a whole lot more reasonable.

Inglis, of course, was recently humiliated in a GOP primary, losing by a ridiculous 42-point margin in a district he's represented for more than a decade. What precipitated such a defeat? Inglis expressed a willingness to work with Democrats on energy policy; he urged his constituents not to take Glenn Beck too seriously; and he said his main focus as a lawmaker was to find "solutions" to problems. Last year, Inglis said the Republican Party has a chance "to understand we are all in need of some grace." The result: GOP voters turned on him.

As his congressional career wraps up, the conservative South Carolinian is finding it much easier to speak his mind. Ben Armbruster flagged Inglis' appearance on C-SPAN today, where he didn't hold back.

On Sen. David Vitter's (R-La.) support for birther lawsuits:

"The president is obviously a citizen of the United States.... So, really we do lose credibility when we spend time talking about such things. Why do we do that? We do it because we want to vilify the other side. We want to make them into the big bad guys."

On his caucus' political strategy:

"We have basically decided to stir up a base, and that's a bad decision for the country."

On the right's Community Reinvestment Act talking point:

"What I'm supposed to do as a Republican is just echo back ... that yes, CRA was the cause of the financial meltdown in October of 2008. And if I said that to you, I'd be clearly wrong."

This is the same Inglis who, just last week, trashed conservative "demagoguery" during the health care debate; conceded that some of the right's hatred of President Obama in the South is driven by racism; and said, "I think we have a lot of leaders that are following those (television and talk radio) personalities and not leading."

I can't help but wonder how many other Republican members of Congress would be willing to endorse Inglis' sentiments, if they knew it wouldn't end their careers in GOP politics.

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HEADLINE OF THE DAY.... McClatchy's headline says quite a bit: "GOP: No more help for jobless, but rich must keep tax cuts." That says quite a bit, doesn't it?

Republicans will no doubt howl about "bias," but the article actually just presents facts as they exist. Whether reality has a liberal bias is up to voters to decide.

Republicans almost unanimously oppose spending $33.9 billion for extended unemployment benefits for some 2.5 million people who've lost them, because they say it would increase federal budget deficits.

At the same time, they're pushing a permanent extension of Bush administration tax cuts, especially for the wealthy, which could increase federal budget deficits by trillions of dollars over the next 10 years.

The article is filled with various rationalizations to justify this. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), for example, thinks this makes sense because "tax policy is dynamic." Good to know.

It's generally hard to guess what the public will find compelling, but if I had to guess, I'd say more Americans would rather spend $33.9 billion for extended unemployment benefits than $678 billion for tax cuts for the wealthy.

It's probably why the McClatchy article will be discouraging at RNC headquarters. Of course, if they Republican lawmakers don't like it, they could embrace a policy more in line with common sense, but that seems highly unlikely.

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THAT WAS QUICK.... A couple of hours ago, the Senate was able to put together 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster on Wall Street reform. This afternoon, the legislation, at long last, will get an up-or-down vote and then head to the White House for President Obama's signature.

But before the Senate even votes, Republican leaders have already begun talking about -- what else? -- repeal.

They're not campaigning on it in earnest -- at least not yet -- but Republican leaders say that, given the power, they would like to do away with Wall Street reform much like they have already discussed repealing health care reform.

"I think it ought to be repealed," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, in response to a question from TPMDC, at his weekly press conference this morning.

One of his top lieutenants, Republican Conference Chair Mike Pence agrees. "We hope [the Senate vote] falters so we can start over," Pence told TPMDC yesterday. "I think the reason you're not hearing talk about efforts to repeal the permanent bailout authority is because the bill hasn't passed yet."

GOP leaders can throw around silly "repeal" rhetoric when it comes to health care reform, in large part because an aggressive and dishonest campaign had made the Affordable Care Act controversial. The Republican base is pleased with the boasts, and most of the political mainstream doesn't take the promises seriously anyway.

But talking about repealing Wall Street reform is much dumber, since the effort is far more popular. Boehner & Co. consistently forget this, but Americans still tend to be pretty annoyed with the financial industry that nearly destroyed the global economic system, and which was bailed out by taxpayers. The available evidence suggests voters want the new reform measures, if only to help keep the industry that ran wild in check.

Arguing that new safeguards and accountability measures should be "repealed," before they even pass, makes it sound as if Republicans -- if given a chance by voters -- plan to go out of their way to look out for the Wall Street lobbyists and hedge fund managers that brought the system to the verge of collapse. (Those would be, by the way, the same Wall Street lobbyists congressional Republicans huddled with when plotting how best to kill reform legislation.)

Boehner's remarks aren't surprising, of course. He did, after all, recently suggest accountability measures are a "nuclear weapon," being used to kill "an ant." But it's nevertheless a message Republicans may not want to take to the public: "Vote GOP: We'll put Wall Street safeguards back to 2008 levels!"

Steve Benen 1:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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A TOOL THAT WON'T BE AVAILABLE IN 2011.... The Democrats' House majority is the biggest in about 20 years, and the Dems' Senate majority is the biggest in three decades, but the legislative process has been anything but easy. Next year will almost certainly be worse.

It didn't generate a lot of attention, but two weeks ago, the House voted 215 to 210 to approve a "budget enforcement resolution," which is sort of like passing a budget, but not entirely. As Ezra explained recently, "It does the main work of the budget, which is telling the appropriators how much money they have to spend, but it includes few details beyond that. The absence of those specifics means House Democrats aren't voting for a budget with a trillion-plus-dollar deficit, which is a vote they don't want to take, and it spares the House leadership the trouble of navigating the normal budget-related squabbles."

The rationale is probably obvious -- House Dems are nervous enough, and saw a budget fight with a huge deficit as a sure loser in a tough election environment -- but the consequences are probably less well known.

Annie Lowrey explains today that with no budget, there will be no Senate reconciliation efforts next year.

While the distinction between an enforcement resolution and a full budget is largely technical, there is one crucial difference: Under the enforcement resolution, Democrats can no longer use a parliamentary tactic known as budget reconciliation next year -- a process Democrats had hoped might allow them to pass key pieces of legislation, such as a jobs bill, with 51 votes in the Senate, as opposed to the usual 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

Under the arcane rules of the Senate, budget reconciliation can only be used if it was written into the budget rules passed the previous year. With no full budget, there can be no reconciliation. As a consequence, Democrats lose a valuable tool for passing budget-related items on a majority-rules vote. Stimulus and jobs measures, if they combined short-term spending with longer-term deficit reduction, would have qualified for reconciliation.

Trying to get anything done with a 59-vote caucus has proven to be excruciating for most of this Congress. With Republicans likely to gain seats in the Senate, it makes the prospect of any legislation passing next year seem fairly remote. Reconciliation would have helped, but it's now off the table.

For what it's worth, Nate Silver thinks there's a 26% chance Senate Democrats will gain a seat in November, at least putting them in a position to overcome GOP obstructionism. But that still means there's a 74% chance the upper chamber will be even more dysfunctional next year. It probably won't be pretty.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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THURSDAY'S CAMPAIGN ROUND-UP.... Today's installment of campaign-related news items that wouldn't generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers.

* Sen. David Vitter (R) may be plagued by multiple scandals, but as the incumbent, it's largely assumed he'll enjoy the support of the party establishment, both in D.C. and Louisiana. But as of this week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has declined to endorse Vitter in his primary campaign.

* Democrats in Rhode Island hope to win back the governor's mansion this year, and those odds probably improved a bit yesterday when the party managed to avoid a primary. State Attorney General Patrick Lynch signaled his intention to end his campaign, clearing the way for state Treasurer Frank Caprio.

* The sketchy infomercial probably didn't help J.D. Hayworth's Republican Senate bid in Arizona. A new Rocky Mountain poll shows incumbent Sen. John McCain (R) crushing his primary challenger, 64% to 19%.

* It's a Democratic poll, not an independent one, but the latest numbers out of Nevada show Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) leading Sharron Angle (R), 44% to 40%.

* On a related note, Angle is no longer threatening to sue Reid for re-publishing her old website online. In all seriousness, the Reid campaign has to be disappointed, because the lawsuit would have been campaign gold.

* In Connecticut, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Ned Lamont leading Dan Malloy in a Democratic gubernatorial primary, 46% to 37%. Either Dem leads Tom Foley (R) by double digits in the general election.

* Speaking of Connecticut, is former Rep. Rob Simmons (R), who suspended his Senate campaign six weeks ago, seriously thinking about getting back into the race? It sure sounds like it.

* In North Carolina, the latest SurveyUSA poll shows incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) leading Elaine Marshall (D), 46% to 36%.

* And in Georgia's Republican gubernatorial primary, former Rep. Nathan Deal is slamming former secretary of state Karen Handel for not hating gay people.

Steve Benen 12:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (3)

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DOES POLITICO ACTUALLY READ LIBERAL BLOGS?.... Following up on the last item, there was something else in that big Politico piece about the president's fortunes that rankled. John Harris and Jim VandeHei came up with six reasons why President Obama isn't faring better politically, and the fifth blamed "the liberal echo chamber."

Polls show most self-described liberals still strongly support Obama. But an elite group of commentators on the left -- many of whom are unhappy with him and are rewarded with more attention by being critical of a fellow Democrat -- has a disproportionate influence on perceptions.

The liberal blogosphere grew in response to Bush. But it is still a movement marked by immaturity and impetuousness -- unaccustomed to its own side holding power and the responsibilities and choices that come with that.

So many liberals seem shocked and dismayed that Obama is governing as a self-protective politician first and a liberal second, even though that is also how he campaigned. The liberal blogs cheer the fact that Stan McCrystal's [sic] scalp has been replaced with David Petreaus's [sic]*, even though both men are equally hawkish on Afghanistan, but barely clapped for the passage of health care. They treat the firing of a blogger from the Washington Post as an event of historic significance, while largely averting their gaze from the fact that major losses for Democrats in the fall elections would virtually kill hopes for progressive legislation over the next couple years.

This leaves me with the impression that John Harris and Jim VandeHei don't read many liberal blogs. I read quite a few, and their analysis strikes me as largely bizarre.

There was plenty of coverage of Petraeus replacing McChrystal, but progressive critics of the U.S. policy in Afghanistan uniformly noted how little the war would change.

There was plenty of coverage of the health care debate, but to argue, simply as a matter of fact, that that liberal blogs "barely clapped" when the Affordable Care Act became law is just ridiculous.

There was plenty of coverage of Dave Weigel getting screwed, but to argue that liberal blogs are "largely averting their gaze" from the midterm cycle and Democrats' expected losses is completely at odds with reality.

Greg Sargent nailed it: "It's one thing to criticize liberal bloggers for having unrealistic expectations, given whatever we're supposed to agree represents 'reality' in Washington.... However, to make the argument that liberal bloggers have their heads in the sand about Dem losses this fall is just flat out false. All VandeHarris are revealing is that they don't regularly read liberal blogs -- and that they know they can count on the fact that the Beltway insiders who will snicker knowingly about this article don't read liberal blogs either. And that's fine: Don't read them! But please don't make stuff up about them and call it journalism."

* Yes, Politico managed to spell both Gen. McChrystal's and Gen. Petraeus's names wrong. Sure, I have more than my share of typos, but if I'm writing a piece for publication, I'm inclined to check the names of those with stars on their shoulders.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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'BIG-GOVERNMENT LIBERALS'.... It appears that the story of the day -- at least the one that's generating the most discussion in political circles -- is the big "Why Obama loses by winning" piece in Politico today. It covers a fair amount of ground, but it also includes a fair amount of misjudgments.

The article, written by John Harris and Jim VandeHei, ostensibly seeks to explore why President Obama keeps racking up historic accomplishments, but is nevertheless struggling politically. We see that the left's unhappy; the right's enraged; "independents" (whatever that means) have "turned decisively against the man"; and House Dems "are in near-insurrection."

Harris and VandeHei have come up with a half-dozen possible explanations, but some of their assumptions leave much to be desired.

[O]n the issues voters care most about -- the economy, jobs and spending -- Obama has shown himself to be a big-government liberal. This reality is killing him with independent-minded voters -- a trend that started one year ago and has gotten much worse of late. On the eve of his inaugural address, nearly six in 10 independents approved of his job performance. By late July of 2009 -- right around the time Obama was talking up health care and pressuring Democrats to vote on cap-and-trade legislation -- independents started to take flight.

Looking at "independents" as a coherent, self-contained group continues to be a mistake -- there are different kinds of independents, and most don't even agree with one another. But more importantly, Harris and VandeHei state, simply as fact, that the president "has shown himself to be a big-government liberal" on the economy. That's an exaggeration that badly misleads readers.

Indeed, "big-government liberals" wanted a far bigger, more ambitious Recovery Act last year, but the president accepted a scaled-back package, despite the fears of White House economists, in order to overcome Republican obstructionism -- GOP "moderates" wouldn't let a better stimulus bill come up for a vote. The result was a Recovery Act that was very effective and did exactly what it set out to do, but has struggled to help generate a robust economic recovery because it needed to be bigger.

In other words, Harris and VandeHei have it largely backwards. Obama would be in a stronger position if he was more of a "big-government liberal," not less.

It's not just the stimulus, either. The White House has generally held back from pushing for more government intervention in the economy, in part because of legislative paralysis brought on by scandalous Republican obstructionism, and in part because the political team in the West Wing perceives the public as being hostile to more spending and higher deficits. Harris and VandeHei make it seem as if the president has been using Krugman columns and EPI reports as the administration's economic game plan. That's not even close to true.

I've found some of Obama's moves to be terrific, and others far less so, but for Politico to simply accept as fact the notion that the president "has shown himself to be a big-government liberal" on the economy, which in turn sends voters fleeing in the other direction, just doesn't match up to reality.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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STRANGE BEDFELLOWS.... The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has sought accreditation from the United Nations for several years, in the hopes that it would be among the many non-governmental organizations to have input into the institution's debates. The Obama administration supports the IGLHRC's application, and a U.N. committee is expected to vote on the respected international gay rights group's application next week.

This has sent some conservative Republican lawmakers scrambling to undermine the position of the United States. Specifically, Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) have sent letters to foreign delegations, hoping to find international allies to oppose next week's vote, arguing that advocacy of gay rights may ultimately undermine human rights. Rachel Slajda reported yesterday:

Smith is the Republican congressional representative to the U.N. and Franks leads an international religious freedom caucus in the House.

They wrote the letter to representatives from many of the other countries on the Economic and Social Council.

Countries on the council include places where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by imprisonment, whipping, or death: Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Egypt and Pakistan are the most famously harsh countries. Homosexuality is also illegal in Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco, Mauritius, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Zambia.

IGLHRC's mission is focused on eliminating such laws, and they advocate against state-sanctioned violence based on sexual orientation.

What's interesting to me is that conservative Republican lawmakers in the U.S. hope to find allies in foreign governments that conservative Republican lawmakers would generally disapprove of.

This isn't uncommon. During the Bush/Cheney era, when conservatives pursued their agenda at the United Nations, they often did so by teaming up with Islamic theocracies. While U.S. allies took progressive approaches to forge international consensus on issues ranging from children's health to women's rights and global family planning, conservatives partnered with Syria, Libya, Pakistan, and Sudan -- because those were the countries most inclined to agree with the Republican line on social issues.

Now, with the Obama administration moving in the opposite direction, and working with our traditional allies on progressive goals, U.S. lawmakers on the right have resorted to reaching out to countries like Saudi Arabia on their own.

Strange bedfellows, indeed.

Steve Benen 10:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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RAND PAUL, NOT EXACTLY 'FORTHRIGHT'.... Kentucky's Senate hopeful, right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R), used to be quite candid about his radical political beliefs. Social Security? It's a Ponzi scheme. Medicare? Obviously socialism. The Civil Right Act and Fair Housing Act? Both are examples of abusive government intervention.

But as the Senate election draws closer, Paul's extremism has been muted. Talking to National Review, the Republican candidate effectively conceded he's trying to keep the truth from the public in order to get votes.

"No one [in the Republican Party] is forcing me to do anything. I do exactly what I want, but I am also realistic about what it takes to run a campaign and get elected."

For instance, instead of calling for the elimination of many federal departments -- as his father, Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican congressman and former presidential candidate, regularly does -- Paul says he is trying to "nibble around the edges," to "not be the person who says he will eliminate every department in the federal government. My dad freely will say that, that he would eliminate at least half of the departments, but he is just more forthright."

As a rule, candidates for statewide office don't admit to being less forthright, but Rand Paul is special. He could talk about his actual beliefs during the campaign, and try to persuade the public that he's correct, but the far-right Kentuckian has decided it's much easier to hide his principles to win votes.

Of course, Rand Paul wasn't always a Senate candidate. Back in the 1990s, he appeared on several episodes of "Kentucky Tonight," a state-based public affairs show, and "talked about the elderly dying at the hands of Medicare rationing; the need to privatize Social Security, which he called 'a Ponzi scheme;' and the rights of the government to invest in racist companies." In one episode, he even equated Medicare with the Soviet Union.

Voters won't hear much about this during the election -- Paul just isn't "forthright" enough.

On a related note, Paul also insisted recently that he's running to help Kentucky get a better return on its federal tax dollars. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, "When tax money flows to the nation's capitol, half stays there, half is wasted and half of it goes to political cronyism, Paul said."

Putting aside the fact that a dollar can't have three halves, Alan Pyke reminds the right-wing candidate, "When Kentucky sends a tax dollar to Washington, it does miraculously turn into three-halves of a dollar. Kentucky gets at least $1.51 back from the federal government for every $1.00 that it contributes to the nation, placing it near the top of state rankings. Paul is in effect saying that if he is Kentucky's next Senator, he will work to reduce his state's share of federal spending, thus hurting his own constituents."

Steve Benen 9:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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WILL PLAGIARISM LEAD TO MCINNIS' OUSTER?.... If Republican Colorado gubernatorial hopeful Scott McInnis (R) expected his plagiarism controversy would be a one-day story, he's no doubt deeply disappointed. The scandal may even end his campaign.

In the latest revelation, the engineer McInnis blamed for the plagiarism is pushing back, making a compelling case that the Republican is lying. The charge adds new pressures to a campaign that appears to be in deep trouble.

Republicans in Colorado say he's a dead man walking, and they are exploring the ins and outs of what they can do to get another nominee. [...]

Sources in Colorado Republican circles say it's likely a matter of when, not if, McInnis will exit the race.

"Almost without exception, they think he is done," said one senior Colorado Republican granted anonymity to speak candidly.

"He may be the last one to know it, but he's dead in the water," said another. "It's likely he will resist heavily, but at some point he's got to realize this is a fact of life."

If the controversy does force McInnis from the race, the Denver Post reports that the state Republican Party faces a complicated procedural future. The conservative former congressman has been the presumptive gubernatorial nominee for quite a while, but the primary is not until Aug. 10. Most of the state will hold a vote-by-mail primary, and the ballots are due to go out by Monday.

The state GOP doesn't have confidence that businessman Dan Maes, McInnis' Republican opponent, can win the statewide contest, but state law seems to suggest that the party can't appoint a nominee unless both Maes and McInnis drop out. Colorado Department of State spokesperson Rich Coolidge is apparently researching this point further.

In the meantime, Republicans have already begun conversations with potential replacements.

For its part, the Denver Post, Colorado's largest newspaper, has called on McInnis to quit the race: "After revelations of plagiarism and other cases of questionable judgment, it's clear the GOP candidate is not fit to be governor."

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (9)

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ECONOMIC ILLITERATES.... It hasn't been an especially good week for the Republican Party and economic literacy. Indeed, with each passing day, it appears the GOP simply has no idea what it's talking about when it comes to one of the nation's most pressing issues.

It started with Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) insisting that spending increases need to be paid for, but lawmakers shouldn't even try to pay for tax cuts. California Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina (R) soon followed, declaring, "You don't need to pay for tax cuts. They pay for themselves." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) soon added that Bush's tax cuts, which created huge deficits, actually "increased revenue." Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) agreed that "tax cuts should not have to be offset."

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) appeared on C-SPAN yesterday and managed to sound even dumber.

"Continuing the [Bush] tax cuts isn't a cost, if you added new taxes, new tax cuts, I would agree that's a cost. It's not a cost. That's where we are today. That's the baseline. It doesn't score anything to continue them. It costs money if we increase, which I would be willing to do. I think we ought to cut corporate taxes."

This makes absolutely no sense. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy were approved nearly a decade ago, and they helped add $5 trillion to the debt. They're now due to expire. If policymakers extend the cuts into the future, Coburn thinks it would cost literally nothing. He's only off by at least $678 billion.

This week's developments have made abundantly clear that conservative Republicans don't care at all about reducing the deficit, but that's really just the beginning of the larger revelation here. By embracing economic gibberish with such enthusiasm, Republicans are also making it painfully obvious that they don't care about reality, either.

Krugman's label -- "invincible ignorance" -- continues to ring true.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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July 14, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S MINI-REPORT.... Today's edition of quick hits:

* On hold in the Gulf: "The government ordered BP to postpone a critical test on the runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico until scientists could determine whether the test on the new containment cap would not put damaging pressure on the well that could ultimately jeopardize the plugging of the leak. As of late Wednesday afternoon, BP officials and government scientists, including Energy Secretary Stephen Chu were meeting to discuss the test procedures, and how best to minimize any risks."

* By another account, government officials are "conferring Wednesday with BP executives and engineers about whether, and how, to proceed with the all-important 'integrity test' that could temporarily shut down the well and could potentially throttle the flow permanently."

* A devastating day in Afghanistan: "Eight American troops were killed in a series of attacks in southern Afghanistan, officials said Wednesday as Taliban militants pushed back against an effort to secure the volatile region."

* Stimulus facts are stubborn things: "White House economists praised the government's $787 billion stimulus program as a success on Wednesday, saying it had saved or created 2.5 million to 3.6 million jobs since it was signed a year ago.... The White House also estimated that gross domestic product, a measure of overall economic output, was 2.7 to 3.2 percent higher than it would have been without the stimulus. The new estimate is in line with projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office."

* On a related note, Larry Summers is making the economic case for extended unemployment benefits.

* Right off the bat, 41 million Americans will benefit from this: "From counseling for kids who struggle with their weight, to cancer screenings for their parents, preventive health care will soon be available at no out-of-pocket cost under consumer rules the Obama administration unveiled Wednesday. That means no copays, deductibles or coinsurance for people whose health insurance plans are covered by the new requirements."

* Indeed, the list of changes that benefit consumers from the Affordable Care Act is surprisingly long.

* The White House unveiled the "first formal national HIV/AIDS strategy, a plan that aims to reduce the number of new cases by 25 percent in the next five years, officials said."

* Encouraging ruling: "A federal judge on Wednesday blocked a new Nebraska law requiring mental health screenings for women seeking abortions because the measure could have made it impossible to get an abortion in the state."

* Dems hoped to convince Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to break from the GOP on a bipartisan campaign finance reform bill. That's not going to happen.

* Matt Miller wonders why "America's business ingrates" are so irrationally hostile to the Obama administration.

* Telling the truth about cheating in higher ed.

* And in Mason City, Iowa, the North Iowa Tea Party purchased a billboard this week equating President Obama with Hitler and Lenin, declaring, "Radic